Edcamp KC – What to expect and what to bring

We are just one month away now from the 2nd annual Edcamp KC (Kansas City)! I am really excited that we were fortunate enough to again have another Edcamp KC this year. I cannot believe how quickly the time flies. I believe we were one of,  if not THE first Edcamp to happen in the Midwest. I’m proud of that! I am also very proud to be part of something bigger that is the Edcamp movement happening all around the country. I need to give a big thanks to folks like Josh Allen, Steve Moore, and others that have helped to plan another great day of learning and networking as well as all of our fantastic sponsors. If you’re not familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, everything is 100% sponsor driven. We do not charge anything for folks to attend, and any logistical cost associated with putting on the event comes completely from sponsor donation. For us, this is how we covered costs such as liability insurance. Through generous sponsor donations we are also able to provide some small giveaways,  a light breakfast,  and lunch for everyone! Yay sponsors! If you haven’t yet signed up to join us please do so now and please share with people in your school, district, and community about this great day of learning and conversing about all things education. Teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members are all welcome!

What to expect

An Edcamp isn’t your traditional conference. In fact, there’s really nothing traditional about it at all. Our sessions for the day are not published, or even known, ahead of time. That’s right, you’re going into the day not quite sure what you’re going to learn about. Stay with me here, don’t back out just yet! 🙂 Since the day is 100% driven by you, the attendees, that is where the session (conversation) ideas come from. You (plural) are our leaders (facilitators)! What does this look like you ask? When you arrive in the morning we’ll begin with breakfast and some networking time (meet and greet). On the wall you’ll notice a very large piece of chart paper. This will have on it our shell of the day’s structure. You’ll see what classrooms we’ll be using as well as the different session times for the day.

Do you have an idea for a session you’d like to lead or a conversation to facilitate? Simply head up to the chart and write it in for the classroom and time slot you’d like. It’s as simple as that. In a very short amount of time, the session board will be filled with an entire day full of sessions. As Josh Allen calls it, it’s an “old school wiki” at its best!

Now, don’t worry if you don’t have a full blown presentation with slides, handouts, and the like ready to go. That’s not necessary. If you do, great! If you don’t, that’s probably better. There will be a projector in each room for anyone to connect their device to if needed for showing supplemental material. Just because you added the session/topic to the session board doesn’t mean you have to be the only voice during that entire time slot. In fact, we don’t want you to be. This needs to be a learning conversation around a particular topic. We need you to facilitate and give us focus and let the other folks in the room take it from there. Throw together a wiki of information resources as you learn together or build a Google doc. As a group do whatever you need to do to make the learning relevant during the time (and to help make it stick after the time).

So you might be thinking, what if I start in one session and after a few minutes discover it’s not for me? Here’s what you do: vote with your feet. If you’re not getting out of it what you need, go to another session. That’s OK to do during an Edcamp! Traditional conference settings this is usually frowned upon or seen as rude. Not here! We want you to get the most out of your day of learning. It’s your day. If you need to, go revisit the session chart and head somewhere else.

You’ll likely see conversations continuing during lunch and throughout the day. Some may carry over into other sessions, some folks may skip a session to head to the commons area to continue a conversation. Again, while informal and non-traditional, it’s all acceptable.

What to bring

Here are some things you might want to bring with you:

1. An open mind

2. A laptop, tablet, smart phone, or other preferred device. These come in handy for needing to email, tweet, blog, Google doc, etc. during a session.

3. Your passion for education and desire to make it better for kids.

4. A plan for sharing what you learned. We must take these new ideas, information, and conversations back to those that weren’t at Edcamp KC.

5. A friend, colleague, or an administrator! The more the merrier! 🙂

Whether you’re attending Edcamp KC or attending another Edcamp closer to you, I hope you find this information beneficial to get a better understanding of what an Edcamp typically looks like.

Get registered and additional info about Edcamp KC here: http://edcampkc.wikispaces.com

Find out even more about the Edcamp movement here: http://edcamp.wikispaces.com (lots of great resources and help here from my Edcamp Philly friends)

Other Edcamps happening around the Midwest:

Edcamp STL (St. Louis) February 11, 2012

Edcamp Omaha  March 24, 2012

Letting Go…Eventually

When I was meeting with a teacher earlier this week, the teacher said to me, “I’m just having a hard time letting go”. This was in reference to a current method of instruction because of a new piece of instructional technology I was supporting her use of. I honestly don’t remember what the technology was because this past week was a crazy one. This teacher’s comment resonated with me though. By the way, my response to her comment was something along the lines of, “That’s OK. Change is hard but doesn’t have to be instant”. In my efforts to support this teacher in a new endeavor of  instructional technology, it would be unfair of me to push too hard. Don’t you agree? Should there be a speed limit on the change process?

Teachers need a continual support system in place with any instructional strategy, technology or not. They need the initial formal PD upfront, classroom visits if necessary, ongoing communication to “check in”, and then more formal PD to build upon existing skills. More specifically to technology, however, if a financial investment is made and a plan is not in place to support it (continually), then we have not only failed our teachers but we are also failing our students. When I say “we”, I don’t mean there is a finger-pointing at any one leader (principal or other administrator), I mean “we” as a collective body of leaders that want what’s best for students.

I think sometimes we try too hard to exceed the speed limit in the change process. We get excited and want to buy everything and we want everyone to change right now. We’re at a point in education where change is inevitable, and necessary. We shouldn’t forget the old adage, “Talk is cheap”. However, how fast is too fast to expect change? Teachers are going to have a hard time “letting go”. Do they need to eventually “let go” 100%? I think they do.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

— John F. Kennedy

Let’s be ready to support teachers appropriately but also remind them in their effort to try something new, change doesn’t have to happen overnight. However, it does need to happen.

Just some thoughts on the matter. Thanks for reading.

What’s done is done…some thoughts on Missouri SB 54

'The Straight and Narrow Path' photo (c) 2009, Eric Nielsen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There has been no shortage of tweets and blog posts around this new legislation that is MO SB 54. You can read the full legislation, which is known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and establishes the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, here. The part of this legislation that is creating a stir is SECTION 162.069 Paragraph 1 which states:

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Everyone is in an uproar about this. Why? The legislation has been passed and was signed by Governor Nixon three weeks ago. Sure, I think it’s unfortunate that we are legislating common sense to Missouri educators. Why is this law being geared solely at school districts? Are private schools having to follow this same mandate? Are any other institutions that work with children having to fall in line and follow the same rules? It’s unfortunate that we’ve passed legislation against the medium, rather than the behavior. Am I incorrect here? Here’s where I’m headed back to: where was everyone before this bill was signed on July 14th? I heard nothing about it before it was too late. Who failed who here? Had Missouri school district and teachers been better informed could something have been done before this bill was signed into law? I digress, since the title of this post is “What’s done is done” after all.

So my question is, to Missouri school districts, what are you going to do now that what’s done is done? Do we want to take the wider, more traveled path (blocking and banning and such) or the narrower, less traveled path (making this a priority to educate our teachers and students on positive and effective use AND allow it). Why weren’t we already widening the narrow path?

Missouri, let’s head down the narrow path as a state please. I would hope we can protect children and also be effective in our instruction by continuing to move forward rather than remain stagnant.  I’d like to see teachers and students work together in the process of creating this new policy.  To other districts in other states not wanting repeat legislation, what are you going to do?

So what can be done now? Here are some thoughts I have about it. Please note: this is my opinion only and does not reflect what’s going to happen in my school district. Please consult with your administrator to confirm policy specific to your district about what is permitted and what is not. If you’re in a district that allows teachers to use Facebook to communicate with students, obviously teachers are going to need to delete any current or former students they are “friends” with on Facebook. Note the definition of “former student” included in the link mentioned above:

Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Remember, it is possible to still use Facebook as a communication tool without having to “friend” students. This is where it comes in handy to know how to create a Facebook page. You can get all the info on how to create a page that students, parents, and the community can “like” in the Facebook help center. Start here to learn what a Facebook page is, then you can read further on how it differs from your personal profile, and then how to begin creating your page. If you want to see some examples of how Facebook pages are used in education here are a few to check out:

Lee’s Summit School District – Lee’s Summit, MO

New Milford High School – New Milford, NJ

Winecoff Elementary School – Concord, NC

There are many more great examples I’m sure and please feel free to leave a comment and share yours. More information can be found on Facebook’s page for teachers called Teaching Digital Kids, which has great information on how to use pages with students and parents  as well as suggestions for best practices and keeping students safe. At the bottom of that page you can also download the free Facebook for Educators Guide (PDF).

If Facebook is not allowed in your district then perhaps another alternative could be Edmodo or Collaborize Classroom. Both of these tools are very education friendly and allow teachers to create a secure environment to communicate with students and facilitate discussions, etc. outside of the regular school day. Edmodo does offer a parent access option and once you have created a Collaborize Classroom site you can also invite administrators and parents to join as well so they may access the classroom communication that is happening. Another post I would recommend reading for some additional information is this one by Audrey Watters.

Of course, if you’re looking for a classroom communication tool you certainly don’t need to look much further than Twitter. Students, parents, and administrators can visit your Twitter page to get your classroom updates in 140 characters or less. This information can be accessed without even needing a Twitter account. Provide the address to your classroom Twitter page and that’s all parents and students need. With the mobile options available for many of these tools this also makes it not only easier for students and parents to access the communication, it makes it easier for the teacher as well to post new items of information.

I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there about this, ask some questions, and offer some suggestions that will hopefully help whether you’re a teacher in Missouri or not. I welcome your comments.

Thanks for reading.