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Monday, November 3, 2014

EdCampKY, a Postscript

Whoa! Wow! (And afterwards: Whew!)  Just over one week after the first EdcampKY in Bardstown, Kentucky, I am still trying to decompress the good ideas from the "unconference," and can't wait for it to continue on a regular basis throughout the state.

I'll get to a list of my takeaways from EdcampKY in a moment, but first things first.  As powerful as Twitter and other social media platforms are, it's always a treat to see colleagues face to face again  (Donnie Piercey, James Allen, Loretta Shake, Matt Arledge), or for the first time (Mike Paul).

Before I forget, I should also mention that it was a pleasure to meet the principal (Wes Bradley) and assistant principal (Heather Warrell) of the host site, Thomas Nelson High School.  Only three years old, it is built for innovation and collaboration.  Several times I wandered into a classroom and couldn't tell if I was in a high school, or a college campus, or a corporate retreat.  The culture of learning is palpable.  (I took several Twitter pics of the facility, so scroll back through my tweets if interested.)

So, narrowed down, here are six things I learned from Edcamp.

1. The "unconference" approach to PD:  As an organizer of professional development myself, it is extremely hard to see how you could leave it to chance and teacher initiative what the topics of sessions might be until the very morning of your conference, much less who might moderate or facilitate them.  But that's what an unconference does.  Although session assignments are sometimes done with index cards taped to a wall, Google Sheets filled out by the Edcamp organizers provided a digital way to keep the latest session information on track. Also, a true session in such an environment is more of a "give and take" discussion than a "sit and get" presentation.  I think there was a bit of a struggle sometimes to accept this, both for moderators wanting to share their expertise and for the attendees.  However, some of the best sessions were ones where educators popcorned their thoughts around the room.   In the end, an unconference model may just be a cure for the summertime PD blues -- creating opportunity for teacher leadership, time for discussion, and immediacy for feeding educators the exact learning they need, when they need it.

2.  KET Board Builder: Amy Grant shared several of the resources available through the various KET digital resources of EncycloMedia (PBS LearningMedia, Discovery Education, and KET ED On Demand).  While I knew there was plenty there, I usually don't have time to explore it, so that was appreciated info. One of the bigger finds was the Board Builder, a way of creating a electronic "poster" by only adding multimedia from within KET's own resources, making it filtered and vetted.  These Boards require a login and can only be shared with other users within the site, but it might especially be a welcome multimedia tool for those wanting a safe project tool for younger students.

3.  Google Form Add-Ons:  Recently I have experimented with running scripts with Google Forms, giving you ways to unlock even more powerful tools. (If you are interested in the same, here's a page about them.)  Scripts are not easy, and have to be installed every time you want to run them.  However, Google Forms finally have Add-Ons (as a menu choice at the top of an opened Form), some of which recreate functions previously available only in complicated scripts.  Better than that, once installed they can be used over and over and in an easy to use way.  My favorites so far are Choice Eliminator (which takes a multiple choice option away as someone choose one and submits the form -- perfect for scheduling meetings or "first come first serve" project choices) and Form Values (which allows you to save recurring lists of answer choices for questions, like all the schools in the district, to easily insert them repeatedly into Forms).

4.  Shelfies.  A librarian shared this term in one of the session discussions, and I love the idea.  Take a picture of your bookshelf and share it with others.  That lead me to brainstorm a little app-smashing: annotate the picture with Thinglink, adding URLS to author websites, book trailer videos of students chatting up the book, or text-based information.  Stick an iPad near the shelf with the Thinglink on view, and your "shelfie" will now come to life for students, becoming an interactive kiosk. (As it turns out, I'm not the first to brainstorm this idea.  For example, here's one in German.)

5.  NewsELA.   This site takes actual up-to-date news articles and provides an incredible service for teachers and students needing differentiation and more non-fiction, as required by Core Content: you can scale the reading by adjusting the complexity of the text at one of five different levels.  Most have comprehension quizzes as well.  You are limited to five articles without registering, but once you do, you have unlimited access.

6.  Photomath.  This free app is currently available for iOS and Windows (Android coming in 2015); with it, Mike Paul easily won the Edcamp Tech Slam.  It's not hard to see why.  Magic seems the only plausible way that it can work. Using a bit of augmented reality technology, scan a math worksheet that is printed (NOT handwritten) and Photomath will not only solve the equation, but show you the steps on how to get there.  Scary?  A bit. It's technology like this that reminds us that students can get the answers without us, so it is up to teachers to change the questions and make sure students can do the thinking.  Here's a video of it in action:


PhotoMath from MicroBLINK on Vimeo.

Looking forward to returning to another Edcamp soon.   Until then, I'll occasionally check in on the hashtag #edcampky and continue following their Twitter account.

Have you used any of the tools above?  Do you have questions about an "unconference"?  If you went to the 10/25 EdcampKY, what did you think?  Please Comment below.


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