Notes from #EdcampLdr Boston

Have you ever thought about attending an Edcamp?  Here are my notes from my experience at Edcamp Leadership held at Bedford High School in Bedford, MA on 7/13/15.

Entering the school, I saw a couple of former colleagues, Dan Richards and Henry Turner  and it was great to re-connect with both of them.  As I entered the auditorium, I started to recognize several people, many of whom I know as Twitter Rockstars, including Tom Bresnahan, David Hochheiser, Rik Rowe, Brian McCann, Marty Geoghegan, Patrick Larkin, Steve Guditus, Tara Bennett, Jamie Murray Armin.  It is very exciting to be able to make real-world connections with folks who have been so active and supportive via social media.

The formal activities of the day began  at around 9:00 AM with a welcome presentation by Henry Turner during which he oriented the group with the idea behind the Edcamp model.  By a show of hands, the majority of attendees were new to Edcamps and this shows that the idea is spreading.  Today’s camp here in Boston is happening at the same time in locations around the US and even in South America.  If you haven’t experienced an Edcamp, I highly encourage you to take the plunge.
You only have to bring an open mind and a device to be able to build your own Professional Learning Network.  Henry explained that all edcampers are encouraged to put a question on the big board with a large sticky note.  You don’t have to be an expert and present; rather, you just need to have a question and be comfortable acting as a facilitator.  The board was populated by ad-hoc “courses” over the course of the opening hour, while folks were sharing coffee with colleagues in a very informal, welcoming environment.

In the first hour-long discussion session that decided to attend, a group of 16 educators got together to discuss #Makerspaces.  Brian McCann facilitated a discussion with the opening question, “What exactly is a Makerspace?”

Participants shared that it is more about problem-solving than creating an actual space.  It’s a concept that could be done in specific classrooms that use the idea to help students solve problems that are hands on.  Or you could incorporate the Makerspace model in common areas of one’s school, like the media center.  Some examples provided by participants are “Create your own bookmark using LED lights and simple circuits” and “Using 100 styrofoam cups, who can create the tallest tower.”

The conversation really took off from there and it became really hard for me to follow.  Participants began sharing resources immediately to the shared google doc for the whole session.  I got lost trying to find the link for that google doc.  I tweeted out a request using the #EdcampLdr hashtag for the google link and waited for a response on Twitter.  I know I could have just asked someone in real time what the link is, but I already asked another edcamper while walking to the first session and I could not find the link where it was described to me to be.

The really cool part about Edcamp is that we are all here to learn together, collaborate and network.

Many of the participants came to learn about Makerspaces while others came because they are experienced with the concept and want to share ideas and build on what they know.

How do you get folks in your building on board with this idea?

The whole purpose of Makerspaces is to get kids to experience hands-on learning.  This idea is going to be something that teachers agree with.  It’s not an initiative that needs to come down from above.  It is better incorporated in a grass-roots kind of way.

While I was trying hard to keep up with the energetic discussion, I received a notification on my Twitter account and received the link for the google doc.  If you’d like to check it out, click here.  On this big board, you can click on the specific session and see the running notes that are being put up by participants in each session.  At edcamp, we are encouraged to “vote with our feet” and using this big google doc helps us do that by giving us the chance to monitor in real time the discussions that are taking place in the classrooms nearby.

If you take a look at the google doc notes for the Makerspace class during the 9:30-10:30 block, you will see that participants who shared in the live session also posted their thoughts and resources on the google doc.

Session 2 10:30-11:30 How to overcome leadership roadblocks

Participants gathered in BHS’s Large Group Instruction room to participate in a discussion with EdcamptLdr New Jersey via Google Hangouts.  The central question was “What roadblocks have you encountered and how have you overcome them?”  If you’d like to read the notes taken by participants, here’s the link to the google doc.

This was not my first experience using Google Hangout, but it was the first time I’ve seen it used to facilitate discussion between two groups of people in different locations.  This would be a great way to have discussions among educators in different schools around a district, as well as allowing classrooms of students to discuss with other classrooms around the state or the country.

The discussion was hampered at first by some small technical gliches, getting used to the sound and managing the feedback loops that occur when multiple mics pick up the live audio.  However, it didn’t take long for the discussion to really take off, as the notes suggest, and I just enjoyed listening to the comments more than trying to take accurate notes on this post.

Session 3 11:30-12:30 Learning Walks: How to open up those classrooms

Ann Jones opened by sharing how she used learning walks with teachers to help support a cohort of beginning teachers in her building by creating collegial relationships among new and more experienced staff.

Some of the questions we discussed:

How do you get experienced staff to open up their classrooms to new teacher?

How do you make the peer observations happen?  Schedule them or let them happen more organically?

How do you help teacher-observers know what to look for when they are observing?

How do you build the culture where teachers welcome peer observation?

How can your admin team use learning walks to improve their practice and comfort level with walk thrus?

It’s important for all staff to realize that we’re all in it together and the point of Learning Walks and evaluations is to learn and grow, not gotchas.