EdcampNYC, Take Two!

This past Sunday I attended EdcampNYC at Avenues: The World School in Manhattan. If you are unfamiliar with Edcamp, a prior post details what Edcamp is all about, while another post describes how we have adapted this model to work with our building-based professional development at the elementary school level.

EdcampNYC was divided into three one-hour time slots.

Session 1:

First, I went to Andrew Stillman’s session on Doctopus. Doctopus is a Google Drive add-on that extends the functionality of what can be accomplished with the Google tool. According to its official description, Doctopus is a “Teacher-built tool for scaffolding, managing, organizing, and assessing student projects in Google Drive.” In other words, Doctopus is all about getting the most out of teacher and student workflows. It was both interesting and impressive that the session began with a discussion about the problems that exist within Google Drive, which then transitioned to how Doctopus can solve these dilemmas. Stillman also conducted a short demo of Goobric, which is an “extension [that] adds rubric grading functionality to the Doctopus Apps Script document management utility for educators.” While there was not enough time to view everything that these programs have to offer, Stillman’s presentation provided me with more than enough motivation to sit down and teach myself how to use them, as I was clearly able to see their educational value.

Session 2:

For the second time slot I led a session on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In order to guide the discussion, I made use of a slide deck (featured above) that quickly summarizes my four blog posts on the topic. Everything went very well, and there was not a dull moment during the hour-long dialogue. In fact, I do feel that we could have easily continued to talk about BYOD for at least another hour or so. While the majority of the conversation focused on digital citizenship and/or how to obtain buy-in for BYOD, a second hour could have definitely been spent on such subtopics as devices, apps, professional development, etc. It was also wonderful to have two of my colleagues, Larry Reiff and Megan Wilson, come to the session and participate with thought-provoking comments.

Session 3:

The last time slot was spent in a discussion on iBeacons, which was led by Megan Wilson. Admittedly, iBeacons are a topic about which I know almost nothing, but what I heard provided me with a solid starting point. iBeacons seem to function in somewhat of the same fashion as QR codes in that they trigger events. However, they can do so automatically and seamlessly, without the users having to take any action on their end. Wilson set up a backchannel in which participants loaded resources. I have taken a few of these resources and posted them below (since these backchannels always expire):

EdcampNYC was a great excuse to head to New York City, eat tons of food, and be a part of some valuable learning on a beautiful day. Also, it was a pleasure collaborating with/seeing Larry Reiff (@mrreiff), Megan Wilson (@ipodsibilities), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Courtney Pepe (@ipadqueen2012), Adam Goldberg (@Adam_G88), Reshan Richards (@reshanrichards), Rob Pennington (@robpennington9), and Sean Junkins (@sjunkins).

Now I have Edcamp NEPA to look forward to on May 10th, followed by Edcamp Philly on May 17th!

1 Edcamp and 3 Pizzerias!

1 EdcampLucali

This past weekend I attended EdcampNYC, at The School at Columbia University in New York City.  After hearing promotion for the event at last month’s Edscape Conference, I decided to make the trip. This journey meant heading into Brooklyn straight from my Pennsylvania elementary school on Friday, and then getting up early Saturday morning to take car service up to Columbia.

This was my third Edcamp, but the first one at which I led a discussion. (An Edcamp consists of discussions or conversations, and not presentations. In other words, it is the facilitator’s job to get everyone talking around a topic, rather than standing up in the front of the room as the expert.) In the past, I simply wanted to experience what the Edcamp model had to offer. However, now that I have led my first Edcamp discussion, I will feel more comfortable in doing the same throughout the future, including at Edcamp New Jersey on November 23rd.

My discussion, which took place during the first time slot, focused on technology integration with Common Core mathematics. Meg Wilson (@iPodsibilities), a fellow Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), was kind enough to assist me with my session by helping with the technical aspects of getting my MacBook projected properly and by initiating conversation amongst those in attendance. As conversation starters, I simply used a handful of the slides from the Common Core mathematics slide deck from my district’s last professional development day. Also, in order to encourage opportunities to respond and effective collaboration, I created a Google document in which attendees inserted their favorite resources for Common Core mathematics. This file is significant because it is now a live document on the Internet that allows for anyone to benefit from our discussion (even if they did not attend the session or conference). Overall, I was pleased with the session as about halfway through it I was able to stop talking, aside from the occasional comment, and I simply listened to what everyone else had to offer. In my opinion, this is the way the majority of professional development should be performed, as the smartest person in the room is usually the room.

For the second time slot, I made my way across a few different discussions. Music making on the iPad was led by Adam Goldberg (@Adam_G88), another ADE. Admittedly, I know almost nothing about composing music, but watching Adam in action was entirely inspirational. I have come to realize that I do not need to know more than my students in order for them to thrive in a certain area or with a certain activity. Perhaps I can find a way to effectively weave some music making into my curriculum. Next, I caught the tail end of Reshan Richards’ (@reshanrichards) session on screencasting. Reshan, who is yet another ADE, created the tremendously popular iPad app, Explain Everything. Screencasting is currently one of the hot trends in education, due to (1) the way in which it emphasizes the process and not the product by focusing on student metacognition, and (2) the abundance of iPad apps that simplify the screencasting process.

For the final time slot, I attended Meg Wilson’s session on the iPad and global collaboration. The majority of Meg’s discussion promoted the use of the Book Creator app for collaboration amongst schools from across the globe. Along with Explain Everything, Book Creator is another app that is a must download for any classroom iPad. Although I have been using the app extensively for the past few years, Meg provided me with some ideas as to how I could leverage the tool to “break down the walls of my classroom.”

Throughout Edcamp I also enjoyed collaborating with other educators, including Courtney Pepe (@ipadqueen2012), Andrew Gardner (@agardnahh), who are both ADEs, and Katie Regan (@katieregan88).

3 Pizzerias

Along with the Edcamp, I ate at three Brooklyn pizzerias throughout the weekend: Franny’s on Friday night, Lucali on Saturday night, and Motorino on Sunday morning. Here’s a brief review of each, without getting into too much detail.

On the lists of best pizzerias in New York City (or the country), Franny’s usually falls just below the heavy hitters. However, I can say with confidence that this pizza is comparable to any pie I have ever had. After a forty-five minute wait and three pizzas later, I was simply blown away.

Lucali is the best pizza (and calzone) in New York City. Period. This was my second time there, and it was even better than the first. Also, with a 10:30 pm reservation, my party ended up closing the restaurant, and at no point in time did we feel rushed. The owner Mark Iacono was a class act, and I was able to score a photograph with him on my way out. I was completely starstruck, and this was the highlight of my weekend!

Motorino was also good, but not a place that I would go out of my way to visit again. This was a disappointment, as it was on the top of my list of pizzerias that I needed to visit. I am glad I went, but it was probably both the first and last time.

Nothing beats a weekend of one Edcamp and three pizzerias, all taking place in none other than New York City.

Another Edscape Reflection

Last week, despite coming down with a sore throat and a possible fever, I managed to role out of bed early Saturday morning and travel with one of my colleagues to the Edscape conference at Eric Sheninger’s New New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey. Last year, after attending the same conference, this was one that I did not want to skip. Although, I was disappointed as I missed out on conducting a presentation as I procrastinated on my proposal and ended up overlooking the deadline. Next year, this will not happen!

According to the Edscape website, “Edscape is a conference intended to bring together passionate educators who firmly believe that innovation is essential to increasing student engagement and achievement. Innovation begins with a desire to change. Edscape will provide attendees with the inspiration, strategies, and the confidence to actively pursue a transformation in teaching and learning practices.”

Conference highlights:

The conference keynote was George Couros, a Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division located in Stony Plain, Alberta Canada. Out of all of the conference keynotes that I have seen, this one easily tops the list. Couros’s message was not overly convoluted or research-based, and his slides were not full of countless lines of text. Reflecting upon all that he did, his take-home message would probably be something like, “The world is rapidly evolving, and in order for educators to keep up with our students we must meet them where they are by using technology, by daring to risks and be innovative, and by connecting and working together with other educators from around the world.”

As someone who has a newfound interest in slide design (after seeing Nancy Duarte present this past summer), I am now in the habit of closely observing the ways in which presenters utilize their slides as a part of their presentations and to communicate their messages. Couros took a unique approach by using a great deal of video and photographs in order to “attack” the emotions of the audience (as apposed to going into the intricate details of why change is necessary). This idea of targeting how people “feel” rather than how they “think” is a method that can effectively promote change, but is a tactic that is not often used. In fact, according to John Kotter, neglecting to take this approach is one of the primary mistakes that change leaders often commit.

Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity to sit through a one-hour session with Adam Bellow. After watching Bellow’s TEDx Talk from New York, and his keynote from ISTE 2013 (International Society for Technology in Education), I had wanted to witness one of his presentations in person. Throughout his presentation, he talked about the need for change, while constantly citing examples from the multiple jobs that he has had as an educator, and from the perspective of a parent of children attending school. What was most impressive about Bellow’s presentation was his magnetic personality and communication skills, and his ability to keep the audience engaged even though his slides had self-destructed not long before the presentation took place (as he had announced).

The day ended with a session from Brad Currie and 10 Ways to Spice Up a Faculty Meeting. Currie is someone who I follow on Twitter, as he runs Saturday morning’s #satchat, which I attend on a semi-regular basis. The “10 ways” are hyperlinked above, so there is no reason to list them. However, as an assistant principal, it was obvious that Currie is passionate about this topic, and that he has actually used some (if not all) of these techniques in his very own meetings. Also, throughout the presentation, he constantly cited the work of Todd Whitaker, and he had a few of his books on hand to show to the audience. I have yet to read any of Whitaker’s books, but I plan on doing so in the near future.

Overall, I am glad that I made the trip to New Milford, as there are easily a handful of takeaways that I have from the conference. I am always looking for inspiration and new ideas that can help me to push the envelope with my teaching, and Edscape provided me with exactly what I needed.

Reflection From My First Edcamp

EdcampYesterday, my principal and I attended Edcamp New Jersey at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick. This was my first ever Edcamp, and I was anxious to see firsthand what all of the excitement has been about. Edcamps are categorized as educational technology unconferences, because they are participant-driven and with no top-down organization. According to the official Edcamp website, an Edcamp has the following features: it is free; it is non-commercial and with a vendor free presence; it can be hosted by any organization or anyone; it is made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event; anyone can be a presenter; and it is reliant on the law of two feet. (Edcampers are encouraged to get on their feet and leave sessions that do not meet their needs.) While headed to New Jersey, I was just as interested in the format of the unconference as I was in the content that I would be learning from its actual sessions.

As my principal and I walked into the middle school, we took a long look at the “schedule” for the day. This schedule was located on a hallway wall. It was in the form of a grid, complete with session times running vertically along the right side, and room numbers running horizontally across the top. Willing presenters were encouraged to fill the middle of the grid with sticky notes that contained their session topics. (Throughout the day, an electronic version of the schedule was updated on the Edcamp website, so participants would not have to continuously return to the physical schedule in order to determine where to go next.) As this was my first Edcamp, I opted not to present, as I simply wanted to take in the experience and learn all that I could. In the future, I would not hesitate to conduct a session (now all I need is a worthwhile topic).

The day began as participants gathered in the school’s cafeteria for some light breakfast (I can never get enough of those Panera bagels!) and some brief opening remarks. What was most notable was when one of the Edcamp organizers, Jeff Bradbury, opened by announcing, “Today, you are going to learn what you want to learn.” How many times have we heard a statement like this when it comes to teacher professional development? Choice is so powerful.

Throughout the day, my principal and I attended a handful of presentations. The first was titled “Conversations on Strategies for Expanding your PLN,” and it was hosted by Tom Whitby. The session was conversational and informal (as are most sessions at Edcamp). Whitby mentioned such resources as: Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, and SmartBlog on Education. He also talked about the ways in which Twitter can be used in order to promote professional development. During this time, Whitby announced, “In order to be a relevant educator, you need to be on Twitter,” and, “The conversations on Twitter are two years ahead of the conversations in schools.”

Another noteworthy session focused on Edmodo, which is a social learning network for teachers and students. Currently, my school district uses Moodle as its learning management system (LMS), but I have been looking at Edmodo as a way to promote more sharing and collaboration amongst students. As of now, I believe that each system has its own purpose, and they could both be used simultaneously. This session provided me with a basic overview of Edmodo, and the next step would be to do some experimenting on my own.

Now that the unconference has come to a close, I am left pondering the ways in which its format can be used in order to promote professional development at the building and/or district level. Often times, teachers must be on the same page when it comes to learning new information (Common Core, teacher evaluation system, RtII, etc.), and therefore they must all experience the same professional development. However, all teachers possess different needs, and an Edcamp approach to professional development could help to effectively meet these diverse needs while at the same time empowering multiple teachers to present on their areas of expertise.

Edscape 2012

About two weeks ago, my principal, another teacher in my building, and I attended the Edscape 2012 Conference at New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey. “Edscape is the innovative learning conference designed to transform your teaching and learning practices… Edscape’s goal is to explore how learning environments can be established to promote critical though, inquiry, problem, solving, and creativity.” I heard of the conference through tweets from the high school’s principal, Eric Sheninger (who is known to the education world as “Principal Twitter” or @NMHS_Principal), and through tweets from Vicki Davis (@coolcateacher), the keynote speaker for the event. During the conference, I attended Vicki’s keynote and four different sessions.

I first heard Vicki Davis speak at the 2011 Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE&C). Since that time, I have been following her blog, and I recommended her book – Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time – to my principal. (He is in the process of reading it, and I will soon do the same.) Hopefully, this is a resource that will help to take our school “more global.” During Vicki’s keynote, I did not take notes, but I did occasionally send out a tweet. Here they are, verbatim:

    • “What you believe, you receive!” – Davis, in reference to having high expectations for your students
    • Love the idea of explicitly teaching collaborative writing!
    • “If people mirror you, what will they look like?” – Davis
    • “The top 10% in each field read for an hour a day.” – Davis
    • “We don’t make copies in our schools, we make originals.” – Davis, in reference to how students should be treated

Along with these ideas, one of the main points from the speech was the suggestion that we (teachers) should be primarily concerned with improving ourselves and not everybody else around use (since we are the only person over whom we have complete control, and changes in ourselves will ultimately affect everyone else). Countless times throughout the keynote, Vicki Davis declared, “Who can I change? ME!”

Along with the keynote, one of the day’s more inspiring sessions came from Joe Mazza, an elementary school principal from Philadelphia, along with Gwen Pescatore, a parent from his school. This was unsurprising, considering this presentation was one of the reasons why I traveled to the conference in the first place. Mazza is someone who I have been following on Twitter. I have become inspired with the ways in which he and his school utilize social media, and my district or school could benefit from adopting some of these ideas. I also made sure that my principal attended this session along with me, as he is the one with the “power” to make these changes happen.

A great deal of the presentation focused on the idea that “Schools must meet parents where they are if they are committed to building and maintaining partnerships.” Before any drastic changes are made, the community must know why these adjustments will occur and how they can get the most out of what is taking place. For example, schools should not assume that parents know how to use Twitter, nor should they assume that these parents possess the technology to do so. Also, throughout the session I was exposed to many resources that I could see myself using in the future: ZippSlip, Remind101, AnyMeeting, Twitterfall, and Ustream. All of these tools can be used in order to enhance communication between the school and home.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my time at Edscape 2012. It is always a pleasure to be surrounded by forward thinking educators who are willing to take risks in order to see their students succeed at the highest level. Also, I know that I can also speak for both my principal and fellow teacher, when I say that they too were inspired by the event.

Google Teacher Academy

On April 4th and 5th, I attended this year’s Google Teacher Academy (GTA), which was held at the Google office in London, England.

“The Google Teacher Academy is a free professional development experience designed to help K-12 educators get the most from innovative technologies. Each Academy is an intensive, one-day event [with an optional second day] where participants get hands-on experience with Google’s free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and immerse themselves in an innovative corporate environment. Upon completion, Academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn with other K-12 educators in their local region.”

Throughout my time with Google, I attended sessions on Google Apps for Education, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Art Project, scripts, Google Maps, YouTube, Google+, Google Chrome, and more. Most of the sessions focused on unique ways in which the products could be used, both inside and outside the classroom. The instructors assumed that attendees already possessed basic knowledge of these programs, so they instead focused on “hidden gems”.

The majority of the resources from the GTA are featured on a Google website (see link below). It felt like each session served as a preview or tease of its designated topic, and then the attendees were left to further explore the subject matter on their own time through the website. In the near future I plan to take a thorough look at the website, so that I can make use of some of its resources during the 2012-2013 school year. Through professional development, I would also like familiarize other teachers with what the website has to offer.

Although it is too soon to offer a comprehensive list of my favorite resources and ideas that I will put into action, there are a few that currently come to mind: Google Search Curriculum, Google Art Project, TEDEd, Flubaroo, animaps.com, and flipteaching.com. Also, after sitting through a few “YouTube in the classroom” sessions, it is hard not to think about what my students could accomplish if my classroom had its own YouTube channel.

The passion and knowledge of the presenters helped to make the GTA unforgettable. Many of them were seasoned teachers and presenters, while others worked directly for Google. Either way, they all displayed in-depth knowledge of Google tools and how to get the most out of them.

Furthermore, enough cannot be said about the 49 other teachers who attended the conference. Throughout the two days, I had the opportunity to interact with almost all of them in one way or another. The members of this diverse group work across all educational fields, and they are from all parts of the world. I look forward to collaborating with a handful of them throughout the future.

Finally, one of the highlights of the GTA was the opportunity to video chat with Google engineers from Mountain View, California. Through a handful of sessions, we communicated with workers from several product departments, such as Google Docs, YouTube, and Google+. Each time, we were provided with the opportunity to ask questions. Also, and to my amazement, each engineer offered a brief demo of a few features/upgrades that Google will be releasing within the next year or so.

Overall, the Google Teacher Academy was two days of professional development that were both absolutely inspiring and entirely educational. As someone who is more familiar with Apple products, I appreciate the way in which my new resources and information will drive me to stretch myself when it comes to my areas of proficiency, and in terms of the level of education that I can provide for my students.

Google Teacher Academy Resources