My First Edcamp!!!!

I did it! I went to my very first edcamp, edcampWNC, yesterday…and now, I am HOOKED! I loved every minute of it and I can’t wait to share my experience with you all!

I have been reading about edcamps for a couple of years, now. I knew they were “informal” conferences of some sort for educators (who Tweet a BUNCH) but wasn’t informed much on the agenda, structure, purpose, etc. My PLN on Twitter talk about their favorite edcamps ALL the time, but since I had not yet shared the special experience, I couldn’t relate and, honestly, dismissed much of what they said. Well, dismiss no more! I am a proud edcamper alumni and I want to share my experience with YOU so that you can join me at the next one (or go to one near your home).

I first learned about edcampWNC on Twitter (I mean, seriously? Where else would @Thatmathlady hear about something related to education?) from my NC PLN. I think @jaymelinton is the first person I saw tweet about it, followed by @mrjamesfrye and then @curriculumblog. These are PLN members who I have followed on Twitter for a very long time and I really wanted to meet them face-to-face. So, I signed up for edcampWNC not really knowing where I was going or why I was going other than to meet these fabulous North Carolinian educators.

I drove 3 hours (yup, left the house at 5:15) and started my journey into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I pulled up to the North Carolina Center for Advancement of Teaching campus around 8:30 with some butterflies. I was on the doorstep of my first edcamp and I still had no clue what I was in for! But I immediately spotted @jaymelinton and @ashleyhhurley – and they immediately recognized me and greeted me so warmly – and I just knew I was in for a treat!

Breakfast was still being served, so I surveyed the room of NC educators, desperately searching for faces I may recognize from Twitter. I didn’t recognize a soul, so I grabbed some coffee and sat down on the floor next to a teacher who was hanging back and people-watching like myself. I’m not one to start up conversations with strangers, but I’ve learned that I can talk to almost any teacher about any school topic. Teresa (@NRMSLiteracy) and I chatted about her doctoral work, my aspiration and obsession with starting grad school, and this, that, and the other thing. Before I knew it, our first session was ready to begin! So, the cool part about edcamps is that there is no hidden…or obvious…agenda. The participants create the agenda on the spot in the first session. (We used Google Moderator to “shout out” and “vote” on ideas. I will DEFINITELY be using that in the future!) After 15 minutes or so, we had 16 unique sessions to choose from throughout the day. Wow, just like that. Now, I just had to choose which sessions I wanted to participate in. So many great choices! Can’t I attend them all!? Well, yeah, I could have! Edcamps allow you to move in and out of sessions as you choose. In fact, it is in the “Edcamp Rules” (See: The Rule of Two Feet). The “Rules,” – totally thought of Fight Club when Jamie read these off – which aren’t really rules, prevent you from wasting your time in a session that doesn’t work for you and promote genuine think-tank type of conversations.  

While I saw a few individuals duck in-and-out of sessions, most people who wanted to attend each session participated and were fully engaged in hearty conversations about…well, almost everything education! I went to sessions about implementing 1:1 blended learning, creating learning spaces, things that suck about education (and how to fix those things) and classroom management. I felt like the day was totally tailored to MY needs as a teacher. I needed to talk about ways to improve my classroom – both the relationships with kids and the furniture they sit in – and I wanted to know how other districts roll out 1:1 programs with success. To be honest, I felt like this edcamp was designed specifically for me! I can only hope other educators felt the same way.

But, the best part of my edcamp experience? It was the connections I made face-to-face with the other educators I admire and follow on Twitter. I have an amazing PLN on Twitter, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I really learned that I have an amazing PLN within my home state of NC. I realized during lunch that edcamps draw the best and hardest working educators together to share ideas  and promote growth within the profession. While we were there to learn, we were also there to share ideas to make our community of professionals BETTER! Do all teachers do this? No, not all. But can you imagine how much stronger our schools would become if they did?!  

Needless to say, yesterday’s experience at #edcampWNC was amazing. I have already signed up for my next TWO edcamps in the Queen City. I can’t wait for January and February to get here so I can do this all again!!

Book Review: This is Not a Test

I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Jose Luis Vilson, at the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Jill Biden in early May. While we introduced ourselves, Mr. Vilson shared with the group that he had recently published a book. Based on Jose’s charisma and strong views on education, I immediately knew I would want to read this book.

I came home from that luncheon and ordered the book on Amazon. I love Amazon because you can conveniently get almost anything delivered to your porch…and fast! I had failed to realize, unfortunately, that my mom’s previous home address – 45 minutes away from my front door – was listed as the delivery address from a previous order. When I put two and two together to find out that my copy was sitting on a some lucky new homeowner’s front porch, and not mine, I just looked at my husband and he exclaimed, “Road trip!” We pulled up to Mom’s old house and my book was still in the mailbox! (Whew! Crisis adverted.)

So, to start off, getting this book was neither convenient nor fast. Despite the unexpected time and energy it took to finally get the book, I had a feeling that it would all be worth the read.

I was right.

This is my first year as a middle school teacher. It is also my first year teaching in an underprivileged, urban school. On the one hand, I wish this book would have been available to me before I started my new teaching position this year – it would have taught me a great deal! That being said, I would not have fully appreciated nor valued Vilson’s take on (inner-city) public education before being thrust into the experience first-hand. Our experiences in urban school settings are different and they are real. Real to the point of surrealism. Our students experience hardships that middle-class suburbanites and rural folk cannot relate to on a personal level. These kids come to school with worries far greater than what our lawmakers expect of them on standardized tests. I guess I say all this to make the point that Vilson understands all of this and preaches it in his own unique teacher voice. His observations are quick and he calls it as he sees it. It was comforting to read his vignettes and realize that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that this struggle is universal. This retelling of his struggles and triumphs gives me hope that there is even more hope for our students and the communities that support them. We just need to raise our voices.

Anyways, back to the book. There were two chapters in this book that stood out to me the most:

1. White Noise (On Behalf of Ruben Redman) This chapter, about a young man in a classic scenario of “wrong place, wrong time,” gave me chills. I know many of my students could easily be victims of this same scenario, and it just isn’t right. And, of course, there is little you can do to prevent this from happening other than trying to influence our kids’ choices positively. Yet, we continue to pour our hearts into their educational lives and futures, hoping that our efforts can help magically lift them out of their life’s circumstances.

2. Where the Hustle Comes From What do you do with the student who can’t see past the drama at home – whether it be absent parents, lack of food, sketchy neighborhood, gangs or some other instability – to focus on school work? How do you reach him and make him realize that the time he puts in at school can create opportunities to lift him out of his neighborhood one day and provide him with the American Dream? How do you show him that, although you may look different on the outside you look much closer on the inside, and that you want nothing but the best for his future? Can you reach him? What can you do? Well, Vilson lists some excellent tips for educators in this chapter, including ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE and DON’T TRY TO CHANGE THEM, GET TO KNOW THEM.

Other points of Vilson’s that stuck out:

  • There is a clear-cut dichotomy between schooling and education. Education is for everyone. Schooling is not. (What Happened)
  • There will be times when you let your students down. Times get rough and it will happen, sooner or later. But don’t let it affect you. Learn from the experience, get back up, and try to do better the next day. (The Homeroom is a Home)
  • Students NEED to know that underneath that mask of professionalism, you are a compassionate human being who cares for them.  (God Got Jokes, Son)
  • Change in education starts with teachers, not with policy makers. (How to Drop the Mic)
  • Despite how hard you try, there may always be that 10% you cannot reach. [SIGH] (Every Day Above Ground is a Good One)

This book – now plagued with highlighter marks and jammed with make-shift Sticky Note bookmarks – will stay on my teacher’s desk next year as a reminder of why I teach and that, despite the many obstacles of NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core, standardized testing, or any other asinine education policies they throw at me, I CAN and WILL make a difference in my students’ lives. I always thought this, but now I know because Mr. Vilson says so.

If you want a copy of Vilson’s book, you can visit his website: http://www.thisisnotatest.us/ 

You can also purchase the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/This-Not-Test-Narrative-Education/dp/1608463702/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402622276&sr=8-1&keywords=this+is+not+a+test

 

On a scale of 1-5, I rated this book 5 stars on Goodreads and added it to my list of Favorites. Yes, it is really that good. 🙂

Kickstarter Education Projects

I was first introduced to Kickstarter by my husband last year. He stumbled upon the website after he had heard about a new video game console that was being developed…that is, only if it was “backed” by enough friends and followers via this website. Neat concept: you have a dream project, but need the public to front you the money to create it, so you present your concept on Kickstarter and Voila! If enough people buy into your project, you get the money to build, create, and design your heart out.

What happens if you don’t get enough supporters and you don’t achieve your financial goal by the deadline? Nothing. They don’t lose their money, which means you don’t get it, either. Either give up or try again. (You can find more information about how it all works on the Kickstarter 101 site.)

Many of the projects will give back in thanks for your support, too. When you find a project you like on the Kickstarter website, scroll down and look at the right-hand side of the page. You’ll see a list of ways the project creator will give back to you if you pledge a certain amount of money towards their dream. If you pledge enough money, it can be a win-win for everybody!

Teachers and educators have caught on to this and are also using Kickstarter to develop educational tools. You can find – and “back” – the creation of various apps, games, videos, websites, and MORE just by searching the site for keywords like “math” or “education.”

Here are a few examples of Kickstarter education projects for you to check out and support. If you like what you see, I highly recommend you go to Kickstarter and back these projects…and fast! Some of them only have a few days left before their deadlines!

A special shout out to Stephanie Glen (http://www.statisticshowto.com) for introducing me to her dream project, The Number Hunter!