edcamp Philly: Words Cannot Explain....


As many readers may know, myself and a team of dedicated, innovative, collaborative and fun-loving educators put on the very first edcamp unconference here in Philadelphia.

We have been working tirelessly since November when we attended our first ever Barcamp to put together an education-focused professional development experience unlike any other.

In my humble opinion, we succeeded. Succeeded beyond all of our expectations.

So what made edcamp so successful?

  • We had a team of organizers that most people only dream of.
  • We had a diverse group of attendees, many of whom did not know each other or us personally. 
  • The attendees were brave enough and inspired enough by the 'vibe' to sign up on the spot to run a session.
  • The attendees were not shy to having informal, open discussions that sometimes veered off topic.
  •  We stayed true to the barcamp model, letting the attendees essentially run the conference.

The most amazing take-aways for me are that, while I moved around from room to room, trying to peek in on as many sessions as possible, I found it hard to get up and leave because I wanted to stick around to hear the rest of the conversation. At one point, that little voice in the back of my head said, "Wow. I helped PLAN this!"  It was something that I would want to attend!

Another unique and exciting aspect of running an edcamp is that nearly all of the work happens before the sessions start, and then it's smooth sailing. I'm convinced that part of that ease was due to our amazing team, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is a product of the model itself.

Since the presenters are all attendees and no one is getting paid and no one paid to be there, it takes the pressure off of everyone and allows everyone to enjoy themselves.  In addition, once the schedule is set and everyone understands how it works, it basically runs itself.  Session leaders tweeted out invitations to their own sessions. Attendees tweeted out interesting sessions for others to find. If anyone needed something, often an attendee was able to offer help (like a laptop dongle for lil' old me!).

Our job as organizers that day was simple: be welcoming, be friendly, be helpful and participate!  Of course, there was the whole get up at 4:45am and get to Drexel to set up thing plus almost 6 months of non-stop planning, but the day itself was fun AND enjoyable!

The final most AMAZING thing is how quickly people have pulled together to run their own edcamps!  Within 24 hours we had educators from up and down the East Coast and the Midwest discussing hosting their own unconferences!

Thank you SO much to the attendees. You made the conference. We merely provided the venue, tee shirts and coffee!  We also had some generous and helpful sponsors to boot.  I can't wait for the next one. Hint, hint: bring a friend!

To my fellow organizers: I now consider each and every one of you a close friend and I am so blessed to have met all of you. This experience has been invigorating and life-changing!  We did it!

For information on how to set up your own edcamp unconference, check out our wiki: http://edcamp.wikispaces.com

There have also been a number of blog posts about edcamp Philly. Here is short list:

Scriddleblog Edcamp Philly by Patrick Hourigan

Scriddleblog Edcamp Philly! Part 2

Rita's Posterious: Edcamp Philly by Rita Sorrentino

Relax. No, really.: If We Build It by Shelley Krause

On #edcamp by Dan Callahan

Edcamp Philly: A Recap by Kristen Swanson

My edcamp by Andrew Marcinek

Share your blog post(s) here:

Reflection blogs for edcamp Philly

organizer photo by Kevin Jarrett on Flickr
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Encouraging Dialogue


This evening my blog became a place of heated dialogue surrounding two of my posts, Politics and Education and The #140 Character Conference.

Interestingly, the dialogue is less about my post and more a dialogue amongst commenters. It started as a dialogue between myself and a frequent commenter on blog and turned into an all out comment war.

I hate war.

The commenter often presents a view that is contrary to my posts. I appreciate his comments because he doesn't always agree with me, and I like to see things from as many angles as possible. However, his latest comment was full of extreme language and statements.  I felt the need to respond strongly.  His response was a repeat of the extreme language and tone with many references to education and business and pop culture with an underlying distrust for all educators and education itself.

I replied, "We'll just have to agree to disagree :)" I felt that going back and forth with him would waste both of our time since it was obvious (especially after reading his blog) that we would not find much to agree on in general.  I am not a fan of arguments for the sake of arguments, and blog comments are not the best forum for deep and meaningful discussion when two people disagree so much. We can't read each others' body language or facial expression, or most importantly, tone of voice.

Then, my PLN got involved in the conversation. I learned so much from the dialogue that started there. But again, I didn't learn more about my viewpoint on the posts, but rather my viewpoint on dialogue itself.

I love dialogue in my blog comments. I have often been forced to look at things differently based on comments left on my posts. Just recently, on my post, Fitting Creativity into Assessment, my friend Chad Sansing pushed me to rethink my definition of creativity, and my friend Gerald Aungst reminded me that I am lucky to live in a country where politics can be discussed freely in his comment on my Politics and Education post. As I stated in this post, "If no one ever challenges my ideas, how will I know what I truly believe?"

As a result of the dialogue that occurred tonight, I decided to come up with a list of blog commenting tips.

When commenting on a blog, DO

  • Use your name. Anonymous comments are meaningless and are often a way for someone to say something they would never say face to face while hiding their identity
  • Read the post carefully and respond ONLY to the post itself. Adding additional arguments to your comment that are unrelated don't help create dialogue.
  • Refrain from using extreme language that can detract people from the point you are trying to make.
  • Re-read your comment to check for spelling errors or statements that could be misconstrued or are vague.
  • Use good manners. Pretend you are speaking to the post author or fellow commenter face to face and act accordingly.
  • Know when to let it go. Don't get caught up in back and forth arguments and know when to end it when you become uncomfortable or the conversation goes in a direction that strays from the topic at hand.
One of the most amazing things about blogs is that anyone can read them and anyone can comment.  You are opening up yourself to the world, so you must prepared for what it has to offer.  At the same time, as digital citizens, we must remember that we need to maintain professionalism in the online world just as we would face to face.

In addition, we need to model for our students and other young people (and sometimes adults) how to comment appropriately and construct a meaningful dialogue.

I want to thank all of you who have left comments on this blog for your encouragement, for challenging my ideas, for asking good questions to help me build my own knowledge and understanding of teaching, learning and life.

I want to personally thank Paul Bogush for his level-headed advice and for reinforcing the importance of accepting all opinions, even if we don't agree with them.

I also want to thank Wm Chamberlain for inspiring me to write this post.

And of course, feel free to comment!
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Fitting Creativity into Assessment


This tweet came to me from Greg McVerry during this week's #edchat conversation about promoting creativity in schools.  The discussion thread was about assessing creativity.

While I do not think that creativity itself can be assessed, I do think that it needs to be part of the assessment process.

And I'm not talking about the creative pictures students make with Scantron bubbles or turning test papers into origami.

I believe that as education becomes more individualized and differentiation becomes a mainstay in classroom delivery, it is important that we assess students the way we are expected to teach them.

If we discover that a student finds it easier to write out a math answer in paragraph form, or that a student expresses ideas best through drawing, why do we test them the same way--death by bubble?  If we know that a student needs to move to learn, or that a student works better with background noise, why do we test their knowledge while they sit sedentary in a silent classroom?

I am reminded of the wonderful story that Sir Ken Robinson tells in his TED Talk and in his wonderful book, The Element, about Gillian Lynne, who was thought to have a learning disability as a child due to her restless nature. Through the wisdom of an insightful psychologist, it was discovered that there was nothing wrong with her.  She was just a dancer. She ended up being a world famous choreographer with Broadway productions like Cats on her resume. Her grades in academic subjects even improved once she started dance school.

So what should assessment look like if we are to include our students' creativity in the process?

I believe that the way our students attack a new situation, a new problem or challenge forces them to use their creative strengths.  We, as teachers, need to know these strengths as well as foster them and expand them.

So how do these strengths fit into the assessment process?

Back to the bright, colorful tweet at the top of the page.

Student-assembled portfolios.

Allow students to choose the assignments, projects or achievements that best show how they have met the learning standards set for them at the start of the year.  Allow them to keep a blog, an online portfolio or website. Allow them to verbally present these portfolios if they choose to. Challenge them to explain the process they went through picking each piece, much as a researcher or scientists explains the process by which he or she reached a conclusion.  Challenge students to reflect on their own accomplishments, their own learning. Allow their creativity to shine. Even a first grader can put together a small portfolio of his or her best work. I'd love to be a fly on the wall as they explained each choice!

This of course requires us, as educators, to provide a variety of learning experiences and assignments and well-defined expectations for quality work.

But we're already doing that. 

OK, Devil's advocate. I know, I know--how can we measure AYP goals in this manner?  Let the students still take the darned tests. But don't let them be defined by them.

Another post to ponder
What is creativity anyway?  by Elizabeth King

Critical Thinking Sites by Jerry Blumengarten
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Tweet and Blog for Ed Tech


Today, ISTE is urging anyone involved in Education Technology to speak out in support of the Enhancing Education Through Technology (ETTT) program, which has been merged with a new program, Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education.

President Obama has called for the merging of these programs, effectively ending the ETTT program as it currently exists. What this means is that there will no longer be separate funding just for educational technology.  Those of us who integrate technology into our teaching on a daily basis understand its vital place in our classrooms.

Please make your voice heard! You can send your story to your Congressperson, or contact your Congressperson to tell them not support the end of this important program as it currently exists.

Also follow ISTE Connects on Twitter for more updates and important tweets or join the campaign by writing your own post and tweeting in support of the program using the hashtags #edtech and #ettt.
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My Guest Post at TransLeadership


Just recently one of my valued PLN members, Tony Baldasaro, asked me to do a guest blog post on his blog, TransLeadership on the topic of Leadership in Education.

I was honored by the invitation and excited by the topic.

You can read my post, Teachers as Leaders, here.

Please stop by and leave a comment.

There are some amazing guest bloggers coming this month, so check out the other posts as well!
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Politics and Education


When I first entered the world of education as a freshman in college, teaching was all about reaching my students, making connections, conveying knowledge and creating exciting learning opportunities for them.  I spent a month in Tohatchi, New Mexico teaching at a boarding school on the Navajo Reservation.  This experience opened my eyes to all of the politics surrounding education.  The history of boarding schools, the socio-economic status of Native Americans, societal issues, cultural issues, it was all in my face.

It didn't stop there.

When I entered my first teaching position in Philadelphia I was exposed to how political education was.  I am still saddened at how education has become a pawn in the politics game.

Whether it's unions versus school boards or government officials who run on the "hold bad teachers accountable" platform just because it's in style. Whether it's our own Secretary of Education and President touting charter schools as the fix-all for public education while local neighborhood schools are depicted as chaotic, dangerous places of little learning or their condoning of blanket firings of teachers in Rhode Island while teachers blast them for these actions and words.

Politics has even pitted teachers against each other as states applied for Race to the Top money, a political agenda created to make big government appear to be taking a stand for 'better education.'

Unions stand strong against any kind of change in 'how things are done' in fear of giving an inch and losing a mile. Sometimes it is necessary to get with the times and realize that things can't always be how they always were.  I am of the opinion that my own union traded a benefits package deal for signing the Race to the Top paperwork when negotiating our new contract.  Many of the new contract stipulations were right out of the RTTT wording.

These are the real reasons why innovation and meaningful change seem so unattainable these days.

When I was a child I figured, when I became an adult, that everything would make sense. I figured that adults would be just, fair, level-headed and mature.

What I discovered was that adults are often senseless, unfair, irrational and immature.

I have accepted the fact that my profession of choice is politically charged whether I like it or not. My position, however, will be as it always is. I will side with my students' best interests and I won't pick sides blindly and I will stay open to all viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not.

I challenge you to do the same.

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