I arrived at City Charter High early and sat in the shadow of a vine canopy, pretending to be mysterious and watching other people approach the building. Once TMC goddess Lisa Henry arrived, we went inside and began filling our name tags with our twitter handles and super powers.
The format for EdCampPGH was different than that of TMC in that the sessions were not preset. When we entered, we were asked to fill out 3 Post-It notes with things that we would like to learn and 1 that we could teach to others. There was a giant board where, if you wanted to lead a session, you picked the time and place. If people were interested, they came to your session. If not, they didn't! There was an amazing variety of topics and sessions, all which can be found on the EdCampPGH site.
Dr. Rob Furman spoke with us about what it means to be a connected educator and how the technology can never replace teachers. Well designed technology programs provide professional development and time for teachers and students to become familiar before full implementation.
The first session I attended was "Strategies for being a connected educator" facilitated by Jolene Zywica and Courtney Francis of Working Examples. Our discussion began with trying to define what it meant to be a "connected educator" and ended up as a discussion of how to teach students to be responsible digital citizens. We heard from people who teach in districts with a variety of cell phone policies that ranged from a complete ban to almost a free-for-all and heard about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The more I think about it, the more I am opposed to cell phone bans in school. We know that schools with abstinence-only education have higher rates of teen pregnancy. This is attributed to the fact that students are going to be having sex anyway but without the proper education, are not being safe about it. I feel this applies to technology as well. When we ban phones from schools, we are not teaching the students how to properly use them in an appropriate and safe fashion. I need to think about this more.
In between sessions, I had a long conversation with Matt Friedman, the assistant superintendent of Mars Area School District, about reflective practices and becoming more involved in the education community as a whole, examining the resources that are available for teachers if they would only reach out. We discussed aspects of teacher reluctance to leave their comfort zones and attempt new things, including Twitter.
For the second session, Lisa Henry led a discussion about building a community of like-minded teachers and finding and utilizing the resources that exist. She, Jami Packer and I spoke about our experiences with Twitter Math Camp and the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere in general.
At lunch, I had several conversations with some of the students who were there, getting their perspectives about Doctor Who and the Cup Game.
After lunch, physical science teacher Doug Hastings talked about the problem-based learning approach that he has taken in his class. He brings in experts from industry to talk to his students about the projects that they work on. He has also been collaborating with the math teacher in his school and they have been building lessons together. When a teacher in the room asked how it could be applied in math class, Jami and I got our chance to talk about Mathalicious and the great problems and projects that they are developing over there.
Then I was off to my own session! I led a discussion on "The Importance of Being Silly!" After a conversation with Max Ray, I had been thinking quite a bit about letting your walls down as a teacher and the advantages and disadvantages of that. If you would like me to lead this discussion at YOUR school district or educational conference, please contact my booking agent. I take payment in the form of a mint-condition TI-92+.
It had a different feel than TMC, but that wasn't a bad thing at all.
It was excellent getting perspectives not just from other teachers in different types of schools, but also several community members, entrepreneurs, business leaders and administrators. I was VERY impressed with the administrators that I met, not only because of the conversations that we had, but having them there at all showed me that they were very serious about the direction of their districts and were not simply paying it lip-service.
I would like to see more district administration involved in these types of events.
Weird moment for me: After introducing herself around the breakfast table, one of the teachers turned to me and said "You're Justin. You're famous!"
I think I may be tweeting too much...