Top 4 Take-Aways from EdcampUSA

edcampusaIt’s been less than 24 hours since I left Washington DC and returned home to Iowa after having the privilege to attend Edcamp Us DOED a collaborative effort between the Edcamp Foundation  and the United States Department of Education. This ” intimate gathering of teacher leaders and policy leaders in order to discuss the most important issues in education” ignited excitement in the heart of this small-town Iowa girl.

On July 8th, 150 educators from across the nation, members of the US Department of Education, and other educational thought leaders gathered at the US Department of Education for EdcampUSA. The majestic ambiance of the location, along with the professional discourse throughout the day makes me proud to be an educator.

Edcamp is a Global Movement, and together, we CAN create change! Three incredible women helped make EdcampUSA possible: Hadley Ferguson, Shannon Montague (Hamilton Fanatic, email junkie, and general organizer of chaos), and JoLisa Hoover  (whose warm smile lit up the room and who also has a new role this fall with our youngest learners).

I was fortunate to reconnect with Hadley Ferguson and talk a bit of Edcamp shop. As Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation, Hadley’s role is multifaceted. During our conversation, two points resonated with me, first, no one knows for sure how many edcamps there have been or how many educators have participated. Collecting that data is difficult and relies heavily on self-reporting; still, it is essential to have this information for future funding and discussions. Second, Edcamps have been attended by thousands of educators and continue to grow by the month. Together, that collective voice could be strong – so how do we harness this power to work together, and how do we encourage other educators who are unaware of Edcamps to attend and join the conversation? (Please send all easy answers to Hadley and Shaelynn)

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John King, Secretary of the US Department of Education gave the opening address. Mr. King took some time to reflect upon the current violence happening in our nation and the effects it has on our kids. He urged us all to “create the time and space” to work together to improve outcomes for all students, reminding us on the Civil Rights Legacy and the need for equity and excellence in education found in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education is central to a democratic society, and our students must see a diversity in teachers and administrators around the nation!

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There were many notable conversations and shared stories; here are my Top 4 Take-Aways:

  1. Open Education Resources (OER) – In a time when technology can afford equitable access to the most relevant content, best instructional strategies, and engaging lesson designs, OER should top the list of every educator. Applying the 5 R Permissions of OER: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute helped many of us create a working definition of OER. Kristina Peters, K-12 Open Education Fellow at the US Dept. of Ed shared insights of this emerging focus at the DOE  sharing, “OER is changing conversations at a district level for intellectual property. As a member of an OER platform  via Amazon Education, Amazon Inspire, I see this culture of sharing happening daily! Kaye Henrickson shared the movement of OER in Wisconsin, WISELEARN. OER is a way to support each other collegially by sharing rich content and pedagogical strategies that work best for our students. But as with all groups, Steve Dembo (incredible thinker, educator, and favorite thought-provoker) offered these considerations: Free does not necessarily equal open, reallocation of funds must be considered, how can the best resources bubble to the top in these curation receptacles?  This, of course, launched into further discussions which sparked a “hallway” conversation and future actions. ThinkOER!  ThinkOER
  2. Literacy – Literacy is the responsibility of ALL educators. In multiple sessions I attended during the day, the importance of literacy resonated throughout. Technology has not only opened the floodgates to global information, but brought with it the opportunity for students to read, write, communicate, and learn in multimodal means. The evolving definition of literacy and what makes someone literate penetrates all grades and disciplines. To simply ignore this reality is detrimental to the success of students. Digital literacies is a passion of mine. It is my focus and drives much of what I read, write, and learn. It was only fitting to include literacy throughout the day. Whether in Genius Hour or Passion Based Learning, equipping students with the skills and strategies to discern digital resources and to create their own seeped into many conversations. Along with that, I was fortunate to meet both Barry Saide and Juli B two passionate literacy educators I have connected with virtually for years, but only face to face at EdcampUSA. These two consistently fuel my passion and shared snippets of literacy love throughout the day!                            IMG_0428 (1)IMG_0395
  3. #BlackLivesMatter: Social Justice and Culturally Relevant Practices in the Classroom – One of my favorite discussions during the day focused on social justice and cultural relevance in the classroom. Many ideas were shared, rhetorical questions asked, and passionate stories told from the group. Shout out to Valerie Lewis (an incredible educator from Atlanta) for Periscoping the session to share with the world! Watch it here. Literacy was again referenced as a way to not only build connections and relationships but as a model to reinforce diversity in learning. Juli and her colleague Justin shared insights from the book by Chris Emdin For White Folks who Teach in the Hood, “ in schools, urban youths are expected to leave their lives at the door and assimilate to “school”  causing trauma to the child and the “village”. How then can we expect young people to invest in their community? Adam Bellow (an incredible educator who  is now CEO of BreakoutEdu and gets to drive a cool bus around)  raised a great point, “often times we begin with Slavery and America, ignoring the important contributions and victories won dating back to Ancient Civilization.” This lack of balance across all content areas reduces diversity to an event or celebration. It needs to be assimilated into the curriculum and an intentional part of the agenda!IMG_0437 (1)
  4. Connected Education – My final takeaway reaffirmed the importance of being a connected educator. There are so many passionate educators who are helping to make education great, get out there and meet someone new. Attending an edcamp at a new location helps to foster new connections! First, it was incredible to be reunited with Krissy Venosdale, Wanda Terral, and Chris Aviles; we were all in the final Google Teacher Academy together, and as Chris said, “broke the mold.” I was also grateful to have the opportunity to connect with Josue Falaise, an incredible eduleader with vast knowledge in professional learning and leveraging community support! Kharima Richards,  Joyce Valenza, and Matt Frat were among the many educators that I met throughout the day whose thoughts and kindness made me pause and think! Finally, I am fortunate to be surrounded and supported by a group of educators who push my thinking and offer an endless supply of laughter and good times – thank you, Kristina, Bob Dillon, Kaye and Adam . My first time in DC was Epic! YOLO!                        All session resources can be found here!IMG_0445

Blogging in the Classroom: Student Roles

blogging in the classroomIn 2009, I began my personal journey in blogging, as well as implementing blogging into my classroom. Josh, a senior that year, walked into my classroom and told me and his peers that he hated writing and was going to hate this class. Instead of questioning him, I simply stated that this year we were going to try something new with in our writing class and I hoped that it would change his mind – Blogging.

Fast forward 2 months, and Josh had a personal blog, a classroom blog, a large following of readers, and had changed his views on writing overall. In fact, I often brought him with me to speak with other educators and students on the power of blogging, student choice, and a public audience. Not only did he revel in this new found role in speaking, but he became a writer, and actually enjoyed it.

Blogging is the one strategy, that I share with other educators, as the most powerful shift in my teaching with the integration of technology into the traditional ELA classroom. My students were empowered to share their voice, honed multimodal communication skills, and wrote real pieces for a different audience than the traditional, lone teacher.

I am often asked for blogging advice to support educators new to blogging in the classroom, so, this will be the first post in a series I will write. You can find my “Classroom Blogging Expectations” HERE. Feel free to use these as a starting place for your own classroom.

When considering the roles of student bloggers I offer the 5 following considerations for you and to be shared with the students:

Student Roles

  1. Write, Write, Write – Blogging requires students to write, and write often. To maintain an engaged audience, students must write and publish frequently. On average, my students publish two posts a week. Not only did this require them to be constantly writing, but to have multiple pieces started and in different places in the writing process. The amount of student writing inside the classroom doubled, but the most interesting surprise was the amount they wrote outside of the classroom, to keep their readers satisfied and wanting more!
  2. Purpose and Voice – While this did not happen overnight, students soon realized their writing required purpose to appeal to their readers. Through blogging, students discovered their own, unique voice and their purpose for writing was uncovered. Starting off with a general blog was how many students began their journey, but the more they practiced and published, and the more they read posts from other peers and writers, they realized that most blogs had a niche; and they needed one as well. From original music, xbox tips and videos, to a co-authored blog publicly debating controversial issues; my students refined writing skills, uncovered and developed their own niche, and unearthed their voice as a writer.
  3. Publishing – Another student role in a blogging classroom is the responsibility of publishing regularly on a public platform. Publishing their work to someone different than the traditional, lone teacher increased engagement and developed explanatory and argumentative writing skills. It also provided students an opportunity to shift from digital consumers to digital creators. Having spent most of their lives reading online, students now created the same types of texts they read daily. This exposure to practice writing multimodal texts demanded knowledge and demonstration in structure, format, design, audio, visual, etc. (some posts were in the form of images or vlogs – video blog posts) .
  4. Community – Starting off, I knew the pitfalls of having students blog; one being who would read their posts. Before I introduced blogging to the students, I connected with other educators across the country to develop a blogging community for the students. This way, not only would they have their peers reading their thoughts, but also peers from around the country would be reading their work on a regular basis. This element is essential. Plan carefully to ensure someone reads what your kids post, or else it will loose purpose and engagement will dwindle. This community of writers was created to share ideas and encourage growth in all kids. Students commented on and followed each others blogs. Their charge was not one to edit or evaluate each other, instead, to be an active participant in this learning community and respond in a way that moved all writers forward. (How I taught my students to respond is found in the blogging expectations linked above). This collaboration and connection provided powerful reinforcement for writing!
  5. Finally, it is a student’s responsibility in a blogging community to not only reflect and respond on the other writers in the group, but also a personal reflection of growth as a writer. This was done throughout the year and ended in a reflection sheet containing links to posts in which they felt demonstrating their strongest displays of writing or which met standards. They reflected on their growth as a writer and their contribution to the community as a whole. They reflected and shared stories of their own writing, but also included stories how they helped other writers move forward!

There are many roles and responsibilities of student bloggers that could have been included on this list, but in retrospect, this list encompasses the top 5 roles my students found themselves in most frequently.

Next time, I will share the roles and responsibilities of the teacher in a classroom that blogs!

#EdCampIowa 2016

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(A few of my favorite quotes from the day, I’m a collector)

Yesterday, I attended my 10th (roughly), Edcamp. EdCampIowa is, unofficially, the biggest EdCamp event in the country. A one day, 5 different locations simultaneously hosting educators; free, unconference!  This year, I chose to attend the Cedar Rapids location.

IMG_20160213_150154Over 100 educators spent the day at Iowa Big, an exceptional model for the possibility of what learning could look like for all kids; with my good friend, Matt Townsley . Along with the inspiring conversations, passionate educators, and a learning space that enticed one to think differently; I noticed a shift in focus that has been widely missing at a few recent Edcamps I have attended.

The words me, teachers, and I were replaced by students, kids, and my kids. Passion poured out of a young teacher wanting her student to find life success, not just standardized test success. Another spoke with authority on the best practices for students with dyslexia and shared the act of handwriting helping her students understand multi-syllabic words. A librarian who had students devouring texts from both traditional texts and epubs and spent countless hours and money to keep their library stocked. If you wnat to get money, get a loan, but before you can apply, you must be qualified. To know what are the qualifications, visit gadcapital.com This shift to student-centered was refreshing, our choices should be made for students, not at the sacrifice of them; and it is important that our actions and language supports this, even at an EdCamp!

Thank you to Trace Pickering, and his staff (made up of current and former students) for an unforgettable experience!

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Edcamps. Please Don’t Kill Our Passion!

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This past Saturday I attended EdcampKC. While Kansas City Edcamp was a first for me in that state, overall, the number of Edcamps I have attended has now reached into the double-digits. Edcamps fuel my soul and help me approach educational issues with a divergent mindset by providing room at the table for all voices.

Edcamps are well-organized, free, learning opportunities which sprung onto the education scene in 2010. Attending an edcamp is voluntary. There are no “presenters” or scheduled sessions, no topic is off-limits, and educators from all disciplines, levels and roles are in attendance. The rapid growth of the Edcamp movement over the years has provided educators around the globe a similar experience. While no two edcamps are identical, I believe there are definite components in place that are designed to foster this successful, unconference experience for all attendees.

  1. Independently organized by a group of volunteers. (shoutout to Brent Catlett, Laura Gilchrist, Kyle Pace, Michelle Nebel, Mimi Jones Lachi, and all of the other educators who helped to make EdcampKC a memorable experience).
  2. The schedule is crowd-sourced the morning of the event. There are no “presenters” or slides. Instead, conversations by all those who are interested in the topic as it is being suggested and slotted.
  3. With sessions ranging from Bitmoji to close reading in the primary grades, attendees decide the topics; and if you aren’t interested in the direction the conversation turns, you “vote with your feet”. Edcamps are individualized professional learning at it’s finest.
  4. Edcamps are free! Typically held on Saturdays, edcamps are not mandated by administration, have a hefty price-tag attached to tickets, or sign-in sheets at each sessions. Instead, what you will find is a passionate group of educators, ranging from teachers to principals, to college professors and pre-service educators, gathering together to share, learn, and grow for student-benefits!

(I am sure there are other components veteran edcampers would add to my list above, I chose 4)

One of my favorite sessions I attended at EdcampKC was facilitated by Hadley Ferguson, Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation. In both small and large groups, we discussed the evolving face of edcamps, ideas for the future, and benefits gained through this type of personalized professional learning. Hadley Ferguson, Kristina Peters, and I had a brief conversation that was connected to thoughts that have been swimming around in my head for the past few years. On the long drive home I had time to reflect and am now finally able to structure my thoughts into coherent, or somewhat coherent paragraphs.

When I hear a conversation about credit being tied to an edcamp, or credit offered to educators who attend, I cringe.

Please, Please, Please! Do NOT kill my passion!

Edcamps are FREE. Edcamps are Voluntary. And what you find at any edcamp you attend, are passionate educators who WANT to be there. Everyone may not have the same opinions, roles in the education system, or home state; but everyone has an unquenchable desire to learn, grow, and are motivated to be there by the same thing – the student!

Attaching credit, hours, or monies to attendance at edcamps taints the intent and motivation of those who attend. Some attendees may be forced by administration to be there, or are motivated extrinsically instead of intrinsically. It could also have the potential to alter the structure of edcamps. For instance, would there be a sign-in sheet at each session, a track designed for certain credits, follow-up homework to complete, or a signature required by an organizer to prove you were there? No longer would you be able to vote with your feet, attendance for each session would be tracked. When sanctions are added to edcamps, the once grass-roots movement shifts ownership of the learning from the educator to the credit-disperser.

“External rewards and punishments – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. But they can be devastating for heuristic ones.” (Daniel Pink, Drive).

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, was one of my favorite reads last summer. I often refer back to his quotes and images when discussing motivation and reward systems.  In one example, he describes an artist who finds it difficult to complete a contract, commissioned by a large business who wanted specific design elements, colors, and materials used in the piece. It was not because the artist lacked skill or time, in fact, her passion was squashed because of the money attached to it. When money is in the picture, it greatly affects everything like the business or the person. With that, in case you need an informative post concerning the process of lending money and its broker, look for loanovao.co.uk. It is the same reason I caution educators against grading genius hour projects or passion-based learning. I would hate to be the one that killed a student’s passion. Payday loan with no broker loansstores are usually very easy to deal with. They have convenient hours that are typically more flexible than what you’ll find with a bank. For example, they might stay open until eight o’clock at night so that you can deal with them, have email and phone support and some even have live chat. This makes it easy for you to get payday or cash advance loans and easier to make your repayments on time.

Edcamps are heuristic, not algorithmic, and just as Pink suggests in his book, rewarding or punishing an educator based on their attendance and learning at an Edcamp could lead to devastation, not only for the individual, but for the edcamp concept that drives 100s of educators each weekend to attend.

Please, don’t Kill my passion, I have EdcampIowa coming up and can’t wait to learn, share, and grow with passionate educators from around the state!

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Patrick Larkin: Iowa 1:1 Leadership Day

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to attend #EdCampIowa in Cedar Falls. The day was filled with thought-provoking conversations with passionate educators connecting and collaborating for the betterment of student learning. A common theme appearing in multiple sessions spanning from Special Education and Inclusion to the final session Matt Townsley and I facilitated Rocks and Stinks was Professional Development! During an extended conversation over lunch, Townsley shared a term known as “Apprenticeship of Observation” coined by Dan Lortie. In essence, teachers teach as they were taught, their beliefs formed early in their educational careers when they themselves were students. And even though many have had opportunities to explore new research, attend professional development, and view model teaching; most educators revert back to their beliefs, which at times, they know are not best for student learning.

Besides opportunity to reflect upon these ingrained beliefs, evaluating their usefulness and letting go of the ones that deter student learning and engagement; administrators also need to model best practice during staff meetings and professional development, avoiding their own beliefs that may contradict what they expect to see in their teachers’ classrooms.

This modeling of expectations made me connect immediately to the April Leadership Day at the Iowa 1:1 Conference. Below is an interview I had with Patrick Larkin about the day. Larkin plans to facilitate a day with school leaders that promotes engagement and social learning so that the experience provides a frame of reference for administrators as they plan professional development in their own digitally-rich schools.

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“I am coming to learn, facilitate learning, and provide a social learning experience to school leaders.” -Patrick Larkin, highlighting his agenda for the Iowa 1:1 Conference Leadership Day.

Three years ago, Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent from Burlington Public School in Massachusetts, made the long trip to attend the 2nd Annual Iowa 1:1 Conference. His objective was to meet, face to face, the Iowa connections he had made online and to deepen his knowledge of 1:1 learning within an educational environment. This year, Larkin returns to Iowa to facilitate a Leadership Day prior to the April 10th conference.

Speaking to Larkin, it is clear that student learning is at the forefront of all decisions he makes. In fact, part of the reason his district chose ipads for implementation was to allow students to customize their device. Now, in year three, Larkin has approached  his leadership team with the idea of  leaving device selection up to each individual student. The school would provide choice, allowing the learner to select the device that best meets their needs.

Although Larkin was personally educated in a traditional environment, as a leader in a 1:1 school district he recognizes three advantages students in technology-rich districts have:

1.  Access. Students are able to connect with learners and experts anytime, anywhere.

2. Organization. “The dog ate my homework,” is no longer an excuse. With a personal device, students are able to organize and access their material with ease.

3. Digital Footprint. Students are able to build something positive online. Their contributions becoming their digital footprint, consistently updating their “brand” which Patrick denotes as today’s resume.

Similar to student advantage #1, Larkin’s goal is to provide a social learning experience for leaders attending the pre-conference day on April 9th. High levels of engagement is common in classroom that promote collective learning opportunities. Larkin feels that educational leaders need to experience this social learning and echo it within the Professional Development they design for staff. His challenge for the day is for,“educational leaders need to come prepared to share, struggle, and think!”

When:  April 9, 2014 from 1pm – 4pm
Where Iowa Events Center
Cost:  $50 per participant (This fee is in addition to the regular conference fee)
Who:  School leaders – Principals, teachers in leadership positions, technology staff members, superintendents, or anyone in a leadership position