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Monday, May 6, 2013

EdCamp Boston: Using the Unconference Model for Professional Development

EdCamp Boston, held at Microsoft's offices in Cambridge this past Saturday was, as expected, just great. I seemed to be following a "professional development" track through the schedule (Google Doc).

"Sharing strategies to get kids GLOBALLY connected" focused on a process to slowly introduce students to understanding other cultures via engagement from clicking on videos, to actual conversations to impacting the world. If anything, the leader talked too much about her work before letting attendees team up and brainstorm ideas to engage students. To my dismay, her introduction included no maps at all! My groupmates immediately told me of the great National Geographic maps but didn't seem familiar with any other resources they might explore. On the other hand, they were quick to whip out iPad apps including one called simply "cultures." I'm wondering if some content, if not in an app, will be invisible in some teaching environments.

"Getting Faulty to Innovate (How do we reach every teacher?)" was about the successes of professional development for reluctant technology adopters. One school awarded "cash" in the form of wooden chips for innovation that could be used for tech (iPad mini's are the hotness just now). Another used 21 minute mini-classes, before school, after school and online to teach new technology. There was a lot of interest in this topic; some 40 people squeezed into the 25 person room.

"What's working for Professional Development" was a sort of continuation of the previous session, but the topic with the most questions was implementing an in-school EdCamp for professional development. Stories were told of two hour and full day offerings. Some hosts primed the pump by listing topics ahead of time and finding session leaders, while others trusted the traditional process (organizing the sessions and leaders on the fly at the beginning of the event). Some invited administrators for the first iteration, other suggested waiting until the attendees (not just teachers, but support staff, bus drivers and others in some schools!) were more experienced with the model. No matter how these EdCamps started, the feedback was the same. The attendees loved it and got more out of it than "traditional" professional development (what some educators called "sit and get" or "death by PowerPoint").

Since I'm attending Esri's EdUC and its part-day un-conference planned for Sunday, I asked about the challenges of that event:
  • the size (1000-ish)
  • the mix (administrators, educators, students, facilities people)
The responses from those in the group were unanimous:
  • Big group? Get a bigger grid for the schedule!
  • Split up attendees by title? No way - the mix is key!
"Edcamp in the Classroom" refers to using the unconference model within a class period, in this case, for English literature. Students pick the topics, lead and manage the discussions (they are required to lead so many as part of course requirements) and this is the best part: they get to use these discussion to develop their paper topics!

The leaders of the session I attended included both the educator and one of her students who participated in what they call "Ed Cafes". I love the idea and the implementation in English class seemed to make sense. I discussed how to implement EdCafes with a Spanish teacher and a tech teacher; we didn't see a simple way to use the technique. Still, we were intrigued.

"Defining the vision of what students today should know" was a bit of selfish exercise by the leader. She was looking for a simple form to basically "market" a vision of education within her school and administration. She started with this vision (complex, but most of us like what we saw, a vision of problem based learning or perhaps the scientific method) and asked us to simplify it. It was a challenge - my group came up with the tic/tac/toe board answer which I explain as:

  • find a problem that worries/bothers you
  • take action and investigate it
  • show and tell a solution (to make change)

We wrapped up with a Smackdown (where attendees show off cool tools). I confess none of them were important enough to me to write down for later exploration (but here's a list). But, those around me were writing furiously and asking for the names over and over.

All that said, I did win a door prize: a 1 year GlogsterEDU License. Since I don't have a class just now, I'm happy to share it with any educator who can use it. Just shoot me an e-mail!