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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Extraordinary Edcamp Boston 2013

In so many way edcamp Boston was extraordinary.

First, how often do a number of individuals volunteer countless hours in an effort to bring people together in conversation to better the work we do?  That's what happened at edcamp Boston. Dan Callahan, Karen Janowski, Laura D'Elia, Liz Davis, Steve Guditus and Tracy Sockalosky contributed significant time, talent, and experience to run the day with ease and excellence.

Then, many organizations and individuals contributed time, money, materials and space to make the event a success. We gathered at Microsoft in Cambridge. The space was well suited for approximately 400 educators representing all levels of education. Dan introduced the day with a clever Star Wars theme. After that the edcamp Boston team led us in an ice breaker. Next we started a day of multiple choices for discussion and share.

I found myself seeking answers about forward movement in education as I engaged in conversations related to gaming, coding, Minecraft, the new science standards, and learning design.  There were many valuable takeaways from the day.

Gaming is here to stay. As explained by Shawn Rubin, gaming and coding are apples and oranges. Jason Garzone further added that making games is a terrific inroad to coding. During that discussion I was led to the following resources for coding and gaming: Scratch, StarlogoTNG, Pixel Press Game, Gamemaker, Kodu, Gamestar Mechanic, hopscotch, Learning Games Network, civilization, codable, HakitzuAPK generators, hackasaurus, playforceorgBootstrap (teaches algebra) and Minecraft.

Why gaming?  Gaming is engaging. Creating games develops systems thinking, an important skill for all learners in all disciplines.  Gaming is one way to learn skill, concept, and knowledge in both independent and collaborative ways.  Games like Minecraft and others build creativity and problem solving skills. Gaming and making games create paths to an interest and a desire to code, and coding provides students with an essential literacy for today's world.  Rubin supported the notion of a scope and sequence for coding in schools today. The Learning Games Network is one place where teachers and students can access professional development in this area.

Edcamp sharing made me think a lot about the tech tools in schools today as well as access to those tools. At the end of the day, I believe that schools should support multiple tools for student learning. Schools will need to purchase and welcome (BYOD) tools that respond to testing requirements since new tests will be taken online, hence those parameters need to be met.  Tools should also include tools that are mobile, able to serve as content creation resources, and app friendly. Systems for tech access in schools should be streamlined, efficient, and responsive to students' needs.  Systems that are too cumbersome or slow will not be responsive to today's quickly changing educational landscape and students' ready attitude and ability to learn. At my level, I believe the ideal would be for two classrooms to share a class set of laptops (macbooks since that's what we have) and a class set of iPads (with keyboards).  Then I believe that we should welcome Kindles, mobile phones, Galxies, and other devices that student use regularly at home to access apps, books, and other learning resources.

During the second session of the day I was involved in a conversation about the new science standards and science education led by Sean Musselman. Musselman felt that the standards were moving in the right direction.  Others involved in the conversation expressed a hope that the MCAS test in science would turn to a hands-on type of assessment of science thought, problem solving, knowledge, and skill.  During this session we discussed the science classroom including "take apart" and maker stations, choice time, 3-d printers, inquiry based learning, letting students struggle, and science equipment such as goggles, lab coats and exploration supplies. Many commented that the Magic of Reality book and app was a must-have resource for science teachers and students at all levels. We discussed thematic science study and noted resources such as the Einstein's Workshop, The Maker Faire in New York City, and Gary Stager's Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute. This conversation led me to the idea that every school system should create and/or continue to develop science student/teacher teams to investigate, explore, foster, and implement state-of-the-art STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and math) teaching.

After a delicious lunch of deli sandwiches and cookies, we started the afternoon sessions. My colleague, STEAM savvy educator, Susan Cherwinski, and I led a discussion on learning design.  We gathered on cozy chairs in the Microsoft reception area. During the discussion, the group of educators representing all levels as well as public and private education essentially created a collective list and description of essential learning design categories including essential questions, reflection, assessment, "more of them (students), less of us," blended learning (multiple tools, processes), design thinking/process, choice, differentiation of process and product, audience, relevance and meaning.  During this session I was also introduced to 30Hands, a terrific storytelling app which I plan to explore soon.

Hallway and lunch time conversations were just as informative and enlightening as the sessions. I spent a good amount of time with my Twitter colleague, Nancy Carroll, who I look to for great 4th grade ideas and teacher/student best practice. I spoke to Shawn Rubin about his start-up, metryx, a data tracking venue that I want to explore with regard to student data, RTI, and the new evaluations system. Hillary Ornberg introduced me to her student service start-up, Switchback Education Services, and I met Eric Esteves, Lesley College's Director of Learning Design and Instructional Support.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) was also well represented. Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association, attended.  His latest letter in the MTA newspaper demonstrated his interest and support for moving education forward with technology and other student-friendly processes and strategies.  He affirmed edcamp Boston's energy and effort by saying that the NEA would love seeing all these energized teachers gathering to learn and develop their craft during a beautiful Saturday in May. Meg Secatore, Director of MTA's Professional Learning efforts also attended the event. Last summer Meg was one of the leaders who led the MTA's wonderful Summer Conference which hosted an unconference (an edcamp-like event) during the early-August gathering at Williams College.  The MTA will offer this event once again, and I highly recommend that educators take a look at the offerings and think about signing up to jump-start the new school year with ideas and innovation. Sarah Nathan from the MTA was also at the event. Sarah is leading the ED Talks event this summer, and looking for innovative educators to share their education practice, vision, and ideas. Information about the summer conference and the ED Talks can be found via this link.

Thanks to the edcamp foundation, edcamp events occur all over the world serving educators in their efforts to innovate, educate, and serve children well.  Yesterday's event was a kaleidescope of ideas, educators, and connections.  My only regret for the day was that I didn't have the time to attend all the wonderful offerings, and converse with all of the invested educators there.  Thanks edcamp Boston for a terrific day!