Education Opinion

EdCampBLC Represents another Teacher-Led PD Success

By Justin Reich — July 24, 2012 6 min read
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Today I have a guest post from Tracy Sockolosky sharing her experiences from EdCampBLC. EdCamps are unconferences where teachers design their own professional learning experiences. Tracy describes herself on Twitter as “Educator, Ed Tech Specialist, Wife and Mom of 4, and a reality tv junkie...and will probably always be an 8th grade history teacher at heart.” I’m very pleased to be able to share Tracy’s insights, and I’m happy to post any recaps from EdCamps on this site.

EdCampBLC Recap!

This past week was packed! I spent Monday at EdCampBLC, Tuesday at EdCampBHS, Wednesday working on a project for a grad class I crazily agreed to take this spring/summer, Thursday and Friday working with Beth Holland and EdTechTeacher leading some fantastic educators in workshop about leveraging technology for differentiation, and then this beautiful weekend playing with my three kids. My brain is on a bit of overload so I decided to reflect and absorb via a blog post that is so long overdue. Here are a few of my takeaways from the week.

1. Workflow is critical for efficiency

One of the best conversations I had at EdcampBLC was about Evernote and whether it was worth the hype. I admit that I use it but am by no means an apostle of the Evernote holy zone. Others involved in the discussion are, and others were looking for a reason to be. The conversation quickly became one about workflow and where we store the massive amount of digital data we read and come across on a daily basis. We agreed that it is the workflow that creates the efficiency, not the tools, and furthermore, that this workflow is personal and must fit the person.

Jeremy Agnoff, fellow EdCampBLC organizer and techie extraordinaire, introduced me to IFTTT. Not surprisingly I already had an account, but equally less shocking was that I had never used it or even really knew what it did. (Note to self: go through LastPass vault and see what accounts I have out there!) By creating “recipes” I was able to correct inefficiencies and now have filters on my gmail, tweets being archived in a specific folder and feel much less like a hoarder. (Second note to self: subjecting some of my coworkers to digital hoarders - the desktop series- might provide me with a chuckle or two. Yes, I realize it would not endear me to these colleagues but let’s be honest, even if I buy them coffee and bagels, serenade them and laud them with sunshine, smiles and support, they don’t really like me anyway.)

2. Function before tool choice

I spent yesterday doing puzzles with my 2 year old. She was adamant that the duck piece go next to the horse because they were friends. After several minutes trying to explain that it just doesn’t fit that way, I conceded that the duck could live next to the horse with its long neck sticking out of the cow spot (and then put it in the correct place when she looked away, because yes, I am that anal). When moving on to the next game, put mommy to sleep (one of my favorites!), I realized that this exchange oddly resembled many of my experiences working with teachers on technology integration. An unknown number of technolgy tools exist today. If we start our lesson design with the tools we are pulling the 2 year old maneuver of trying to force the duck to fit in the cow spot. It might fit partially, but eventually you will give up and move on to the next activity and the duck never really finds it home. Seems fine for a the two year-old game, not so great when it means that the lesson design thwarts proper pedagogy. We have to always remember to start with the lesson goals. We must determine the desired outcome and only then can we choose the tool to help us accomplish this mission. True backwards design should not be lost in the digital age!

This past week Beth Holland and I had the pleasure of working with 21 educators from around the world at an EdTechTeacher summer workshop. This group not only welcomed new information and ideas, but sought more. They focused on student needs, frustrations and inefficiencies they hoped to meet or change with new ideas that were being shared and discussed, not on the challenge of learning technical details that will come with time. Several shared lesson goals or classroom management goals and asked which tool would best meet their vision. I love working with educators like these.

3. No such thing as expert in education.

I consider myself to be a fairly savvy instructional technology specialist, but yet still I spend hours reading blog posts, tweets and seeking out more conferences and opportunities to learn. Education and the tools that support it are changing at such a rapid rate that it would be virtually impossible to stay ahead of everything, or even be cognizant of all that is out there. Some like to pretend that they are experts in education and technology, but this person simply does not exist. We all need to embrace change, absorb the passion of others, and willingly and purposefully share our own. If we can become experts in this mindset, education will thrive.

4. We can change the world in 60 minutes

Did you know that in 60 minutes a passionate group of people that are willing to work together can change the world. At EdCampBLC a group of educators let by Jeremy Agnoff and Dan Callahan worked to find a way to change the world in 60 minutes. They succeeded. For more information, go to this great post by Diana Marcus details the achievement. Because of their genius a young lady in Uganda will have enough money to buy supplies to bake bread for her village. And all it took was 60 minutes of passion from a group and a few clicks on my laptop. Amazing.

5. Learning is fun - thanks to my PLN for making me a better educator!

I cannot figure out why educators are not lined up down the street to get in through EdCamp doors. In May of 2010 I saw a tweet from Liz Davis about EdCampBoston and decided to give it a try. I was feeling extremely isolated in my school and thought that I was the only one that was passionate about using technology to advance learning. Thank you Liz for that tweet that day because it has changed my career. I entered EdCampBoston knowing two people and left with the start of an actual PLN, I discovered the true power of twitter and most importantly I became reenergized and excited that I am an educator. A little more than a year later I have been to eight edcamps and am now on the organizing team for both EdCampBoston and EdCampBLC.

I cannot even begin to itemize what I have gained from these experiences. Each time one of the days end I look forward to the next, spend hours online continuing the conversations that were still going when the day closed, and then spend several days going through all the data and material colleagues shared. Then I reach the point that I am at today...frustration. Why aren’t more educators at these completely FREE, amazing professional development “unconferences?” I sent out emails to hundreds of current and former colleagues, tweeted like a madwoman and directly contacted administrators in my district and yet I was the sole person from my school district at the event last week. We will know that education has turned the corner and is heading in the correct path when this is no longer the case. I am confident that if schools were filled with the kinds of educators I have had the pleasure of working with at EdCamps, that education would be a different industry. If classrooms and learning opportunities could resemble the learning, collaboration and passion that radiates within edcamps, our vision of a true 21st century education may actually come to fruition. Until such time, I will continue to attend as many edcamps as I can and absorb as much as can. I will share new ideas that I learn. And I will continue to thank my PLN, many who I am proud to call friends, for constantly reminding me what a difference we can make when allow our passion and intellect to guide the way, not the state frameworks or antiquated education policy.

Until my next rant...onward and upward. Cheers.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.