May 242011

As I said in my previous edcamp post, the movement elicits a lot of emotions and with those emotions come opinions, many positive and some not so. A common criticism is that “Edcamp sessions never bring me to the point of mastery of a topic” or as Bud Hunt puts it:

While Bud asserts that he was merely asking a question, his statement above is also an indictment of the Edcamp model, essentially that Edcamps are vacuous pursuits, devoid of substance. The implication here is that mastery learning does occur at other conferences but not Edcamps.

I’m calling shenanigans! That’s right! Shenanigans!

I find these statements to be either superficial or, to some degree, disingenuous because the dirty little secret of most conferences is that they have very little to do with learning something while attending. In general, conferences are really about networking, sharing ideas, fostering future collaborations. We go to specific sessions to determine whether we would like to follow a particular person’s work more closely, form a collaboration with them, or find ideas to explore further. Any learning that occurs can hardly be called mastery. (See References Below) The Edcamp model is honest about this. It recognizes that conferences are really about finding and planting the seeds of learning, finding individuals to serve as informal mentors, foment future collaborations, or test our own ideas.

To base judgements on Twitter twaddle or the lack of artifacts of mastery learning is to miss the the point. The real meat of an Edcamp, just like any other conference, is people, not content. The big difference is that the egalitarian nature of Edcamp shifts the focus from the presenters to the audience because they are one in the same. It is no longer a one way relationship. For many educators, Edcamp is the first PD experience where they matter and that’s your sizzle.

*I recognize that conferences sometimes have workshops attached to them where content and learning is the focus. It is completely reasonable to expect mastery learning to occur here. I have not included them in this post because these workshops cost an additional amount and are not open to general conference attendees


1. Berry, B., Daughtrey, A., & Wieder, A., (2010). Preparing to lead an effective classroom: The role of teacher training and professional development programs. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, Center for Teaching Quality, Retrieved from ERIC database.

Research has found that when educators possess self-awareness and engage in a professional network, they are more likely to deepen their pedagogical expertise and closely monitor student learning (Berry, Daughtrey, & Wieder, 2010, p. 6; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, and Yoon, 2001, p. 920).

2. Boyle, B., While, D., & Boyle, T. (2004). A longitudinal study of teacher change: What makes professional development effective?. Curriculum Journal, 15(1), 45-68. doi:10.1080/0958517042000189470.

A body of literature has emerged focusing on descriptions of, and definitions for, ‘effective’ professional development for teachers. The international literature indicates that traditional approaches to professional development, such as workshops or conference attendance, do foster teachers’ awareness or interest in deepening their knowledge and skills. However, these approaches to professional development appear insufficient to foster learning, which fundamentally alters what teachers teach or how they teach. (p. 47)

Thank you to Chrissi Miles for providing the research. It is nice having a smart lil’ sis.

May 232011

Edcamp elicits lots of emotions. For me, I love meeting members of my PLN in a casual setting. I have made personal and professional connections and even genuine friendships. Like so many others, I come away from an Edcamp day feeling energized and invigorated. I also have the added layer of pride seeing something that I helped to create grow at an almost exponential rate.

Map of Edcamps To Date

Map of Edcamps To Date

The thing that I really enjoyed about Edcamp Philly 2 was seeing how the topics have matured. I participated in a presentation by Brian Jeans, a trainer from Comcast, where he discussed how the company prepares its army of 100,000 technicians to install and troubleshoot equipment in a timely manner. Where trainers once adopted a top down, trainer driven, transference of knowledge approach, they now build peer-to-peer learning networks. Brian explained that does this because the trainer driven model did very little to prepare the technicians for the unique situations presented by each home that they entered. It gave me insight to how things are done in the private sector and re-assured me that what I had done with the Integrated Studies Program was the right thing to do. (Whew, I am not crazy!)

I then presented Integrated Studies to a group of about 20 folks. They asked tough questions. They made me defend my ideas and actions. They made me a better educator for it. I hope that I inspired some of them to take the leap into progressive education. At the very least, I made a number of connections and hope to the continue the conversation.

At the grand finale of Things That Suck, Dan Callahan facilitated a large group discussion centered upon sensitive school issues. We blew off steam, we commiserated, we challenged each others perceptions all in an open and respectful manner. Even though Dan has retired his series of Things That Suck, I hope that it becomes a staple of edcamps much like smackdowns.

I caught the tail end of David Timony’s talk on resident scholars. He discussed the need for schools to diversify the learning experience by providing space for outside experts to work on the campus while in exchange for working with the students. The example that I have heard him discuss in the past is the collaboration between Miro Dance Company and Girard College. It is a fantastic way for students to truly explore passions and also breaks the echo chamber that many schools become.

Finally, I listened to Kim Sivick share her amazing experiences in global learning through her collaborations with a small village in Uganda. She talked of the struggles, the conditions, and the strong community ties that people experience there. She told us about her one contact to whom she sends funds so that he may climb half way up a mountain for a few minutes of internet service to have conversations with her classroom. Her story is truly touching.

All and all, Edcamp Philly 2 was even better than the first. The conversations, connections, potential for future learning, and inspiring work of the attendees all give me hope for the future of schools. We have a long way to go but there are people pushing in the right direction. If you are considering attending an edcamp, DO IT! Go, bring a friend, and share your ideas. Put yourself out there. You won’t regret it.

My Edcamp Reflections Part 2 – Dirty Little Secrets coming shortly.

May 102011

Easy going attitude

Easy going attitude By pierre pouliquin

While optimizing my site tonight, I learned a new method for making the posts accessible to wide a cross-section of people. I did this by adding two plug-ins, odiogo and wptouch, to wordpress. The result is a blog that can be easily read on a mobile device, be read out loud to a person on any device, or saved as an mp3 and taken offline. Admittedly, there is a high geek factor here but what is important is the underlying philosophy – How do we build learning environments that are accessible to all learners? How do we create systems that are adaptable to the needs of every individual within the system?

Try looking at your classroom from this perspective. I bet it looks quite different.

May 042011

Cross-posted at RE:School
Recently, I was part of great conversation on twitter with @8Amber8 @ToddWhitaker @Matt_Gomez @kylepace on rules in school and their implications for individual classrooms. An area upon which we all agreed was that good teachers tend to stretch the rules. They recognize the difference between equal and equitable and equitable treatment for students but they also recognize the need to justify the stretching.
The second area of agreement was upon the need for consistency. Predictable environments are safe and students need that in order to learn effectively. The juxtaposition of these two ideas led to a question – what happens when individual teachers stretch rules in different ways? The consensus was that teachers need to communicate with one another to maintain consistency, but does this really solve the problem? It is impossible for a teacher to know how all of his or her colleagues are doing something unless it can be witnessed regularly. After kicking the idea around for awhile, this tweet summed up the conversation up perfectly:
via @Toddwhitaker

via @Toddwhitaker

My assertion through the entire conversation was this: Inconsistency is created by the organization of the school environment (schedule, content area classrooms, students scattered across multiple teachers). Isolated classrooms allow for derivations of behavior to occur. This, in turn, creates frustrations for students because there are different expectations in every class and breeds behavioral problems.

To overcome the challenge of consistency, schools have adopted a number of strategies. The Professional Learning Community (PLCs) creates a more formal system of collaboration for the faculty ensuring greater continuity of practice. Small Learning Communities (SLCs) extend the concept of PLCs to the students. Each PLC is now responsible for a common group of children making it easier for teachers to agree upon common practice and maintain consistency.

In my personal practice, my colleagues and went beyond the PLC and SLC structure in our Integrated Studies Program by also placing students and teachers in a common space. By grouping everyone together and working asynchronously, the teachers were able to observe each other on a daily basis. We adopted each other’s methods, created a common classroom language, and promoted the principles of the classroom in similar ways. The asynchronicity and common space also allowed us to involve students more deeply in developing common practice. We invited them to form advisory and judiciary communities, giving students a strong voice. A socially constructed learning community sprang forth because of one change – shared physical space. Inconsistencies and the need to “stretch the rules” evaporated because the community dictated the principles of classroom process and behavior for students and adults alike. It does not get any more consistent than that.