Yesterday I attended EdCamp Philly, my very first unconference. As the excitement about the event built on Twitter, I found myself feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. I had never attended an unconference before and I had no idea what to expect but I felt it held promise as a day full of learning. I must admit that when I first arrived at the Wharton School of Business I was a little starstruck. I was in the same room as people who I followed on Twitter, people whose blogs changed my thinking on education, reform and technology. With stars in my eyes, I eagerly welcomed the opportunity to learn from such innovative teachers, thinkers and leaders.
The hardest thing to get used to at an unconference is the “two-feet rule.” Because an unconference is meant to be organic professional development with minimal structure, you’re allowed to walk out of a session if it’s not working for you or if you want to catch part of another one. I was so used to the typical conference model, I found myself uncomfortable using this rule until I realized that unconferences are about taking learning into your own hands and making sure that you get something out of every session you go to.
In the Web 2.0 in the Elementary Classroom session, I found out about using Edmodo with elementary students who love how much it looks like Facebook. I’ve used Edmodo in graduate classes but it was nice to see examples of teachers using them with younger students. Tagul creates word clouds with live links to the word search in a search engine. Kids’ Zone has great tools for having students create graphs online. Tons of resource websites were shared by people in the sesion. My favorite was this one.
Education Transformation via Social Media was led by Shelly Terrell via Skype. Social media is often feared but it is a powerful tool for spreading messages virually. Teachers need to share with each other, parents and administrators what they’re doing in their classrooms and how their students are learning passionately and creatively. “Just reaching one other person sends a message to people about what education can be like” -Shelly.
Getting Districts to Adopt the EdCamp Model for PD with Kevin Jarrett was all about changing professional development. Using TodaysMeet, we had a discussion within a discussion with people sharing stories about implementing the EdCamp model at their schools. As shared in the session, edcamp can be a little intimidating for people but it can be adapted to best fit one’s school community.
My favorite session was Writing the eBook on 21st Century Literacy with Kristin Hokanson and Mary Beth Hertz. This session was all about the evolving definition of literacy and how that impacts our teaching. There is often a disconnect between what students learn at school and what they are able to do with the tools they have at home. It is so important for educators to have conversations with kids about attribution and fair use because there is so much confusion of what can be used fairly and most people think everything on the Internet is free to be used. Creative commons photos can be found on sites such as Creative Commons, flickrCC, Comp Fight or Behold. Instead of simply sitting around and talking, our group became creators producing an ebook.
At EdCamp Philly, I got to be a part of my very first SMACKDOWN! At a smackdown, people come up and quickly share different websites and web 2.0 tool that they really like. I learned about so many new websites that my head is spinning! All of the resources from the Smackdown and more can be found here.
EdCamp Philly exceeded my wildest expectations. It was exactly what I always believed professional development and personal learning communities should be: groups of educators sharing what they know, using each other as resources and having discussions driven by passion. I loved meeting such valued members of my learning community in person, seeing old faces and meeting new people that I can learn from. Edcamp is a quickly spreading movement that is revolutionizing the way schools do professional development and putting it in the right hands: the hands of educators. It was so amazing to see so many people who decided to spend their Saturday learning when they didn’t receive an credit or professional development hours. To me, that just shows how many teachers are truly dedicated to improving their teaching and improving the school experience for students. Would I recommend edcamp to a current or aspiring teacher? In a heartbeat! :-)
(The EdCampPhilly logo is a cc Image from kjarrett)