Looking Back on EdCampCT 2012

Welp...a second EdCampCT has come and gone. EdCamps are always a great time for learning and meeting people you've only interacted with online. This EdCamp was special- as a co-organizer, it still amazes me that I had a part in bringing 100ish educators together to learn from each other. As an organizer, the day of EdCampCT was a bit hectic, but I was able to attend several sessions, talk to lots of people, and think a little about who attended and what was going on at EdCamp.

Attendees

It's great that EdCamps are conferences where 100% of the attendees actually want to be there. I've been to several education conferences where the majority of attendees were required to go by their administration. Some of those conferences were good, though most weren't. When the attendees want to be there and have a personal stake in the content of the conference it makes for a much happier conference culture and more involved attendees.

We don't have exact counts, but based on the simple number of hands that were raised when we asked participants if this was their first EdCamp, it looks like it was the first time for about 50% of EdCampCT 2012 attendees. Though I have zero actual data to support the following assertion, it seems like many newcomers heard about EdCampCT through word of mouth recommendations from participants of previous EdCamps.
For example:

Things to consider for future EdCamps

  • First, there seems to be demand for future EdCampCT events. Let me lay everyone's worries to rest and let you know we are planning on holding EdCampCT 3.0 in 2013. Keep an eye on the official website and twitter feed (@EdCampCT), though we probably won't be announcing the date for the next EdCampCT until early 2013. If you'd be interesting in helping organize next year's EdCampCT, drop us a line1.
  • It's exciting to introduce so many educators to the EdCamp movement. It does make me worry that we might not be meeting the needs of first time EdCampers as well as we could, however. In general, I think the whole ideology behind EdCamps helps include newcomers, but there's always room for improvement. Did we explain the EdCamp ideology/format in a way that made it clear to those who are unfamiliar with EdCamps? What more could we do to encourage first time EdCampers to lead sessions? If you have any ideas or insights, I'd love to hear them in the comments.
  • EdCamps are definitely becoming a thing that happens more and more frequently. The only EdCamps that were held in New England prior to the first EdCampCT in 2011 were EdCamp Keene, EdCamp Boston, and EdCamp NYC. In between EdCampCT 2011 and 2012 there were eight EdCamp events in New England- and that's only counting the recurring EdCamp BHS & RSD6 events as one each. Before 2012 is over another four EdCamps will be held in New England2. I love that there's such a high demand for EdCamp-style professional development. I wonder, though, what effect the increasing ubiquity of EdCamps will have on attendance at any one EdCamp:
    • Will average attendance decrease because educators can attend EdCamps closer to home?
    • Will attendance increase because more people will be exposed to EdCamps (and obviously love it) and thus want to attend more events?
    • If more and more schools adopt EdCamp-style professional development as a regular part of the school year, will the demand for "special event" EdCamps (like most EdCamps held to date) decrease?

    While I'd miss the "special event" EdCamps when they're gone, I think it'd be a major feather in the hat of the EdCamp movement to have had a major effect on professional development all over the world. In this hypothetical future, I'd bet there'd still be room for a few "special event" EdCamps if for no other reason than because it's always fun to meet with people from outside your school and district. I'm sure EdCampCT would be one of those that'd still go on even after we've totally revolutionized PD across the world- after all as the EdCamp Foundation Chairman of the Board says:


    🙂

Possible Improvements

  • Overly technology focused? Personally, I'd like to see a little less of a focus on technology and a greater focus on effective teaching & learning in general. Maybe this is just a somewhat selfish hope from someone who has been paying attention to the EdTech world for several years now. The conversations & sessions I've really enjoyed at EdCamps have focused primarily on some aspect of teaching other than explicitly on technology (on Standards-Based Grading, for example). That said, there's no doubt that the technology-centric sessions are extremely popular- and I recognize that these sessions are great for teachers who are getting started with technology in the classroom.
  • Better outreach & publicity. We (the organizers of EdCampCT) tried pretty hard to spread the word about EdCampCT to as many educators as possible. There's no doubt, however, that Twitter is how a lot of people hear about EdCampCT. This likely means there's a bias in who attends the event towards educators who are already at least somewhat tech-savvy. I wonder what else we might do to spread the word about EdCampCT to those who might not use (or even heard of) the Tweeter. Certainly these teachers could benefit from the EdCamp PD model as well.

Other Items of Note

  • EdCamp Food. It seems we've become known as the EdCamp of tasty food. This is not a bad thing. We're pretty lucky that our host, The Ethel Walker School, has a food service crew that is also used for special events held at the school (weddings, alumni events, etc.). They know how to make super tasty food. I'd have to say that although the potato chips- which earned international acclaim last year- were still super delicious, the rest of the food was also wa-a-a-a-ay above average. I realize the food isn't what makes an EdCamp great (it's the learning & sharing, natch), but if we're lucky enough to be in a position to also provide tasty food it ain't gonna hurt the learning that happens. 🙂
  • The second time around. Last year I can remember being seriously worried that nobody would sign up for the first ever EdCampCT. I remember worrying that we wouldn't have enough people who would be willing to lead sessions. This year- the second time around- I wasn't nearly as worried. In fact, the whole planning & preparing for EdCampCT 2012 involved much less all-around anxiety- not because it was necessarily less work the second time- but rather because we already had the experience of organizing one EdCamp under out belt. Something I need to work on is taking time to talk and connect with people a little more at EdCampCT. As an organizer I wanted the event to go smoothly for everyone so I found myself leaving conversations to go check on this or that. While there are a lot of things that I do need to help with as an organizer, it's probably well worth taking a little extra time to make connections and have conversations.
  • Session/Conversation Trends.
    • iPads were again a hot topic: There were five individual sessions that focused specifically on iPads. That seemed a big increase from last year, but it turns out there were four iPad sessions last year. So, the trend continues.
    • Evernote and Symbaloo seemed to be hot topics on Twitter. Each tool had its own session, but it definitely seemed that the sharing went beyond just the participants in those sessions (Unless the people who attended those sessions were just tweeting like crazy). While I've been using Evernote for awhile now (mostly for recipes, actually), Symbaloo was new to me. It's now on my short list of things to check out before school starts.
    • A few tools from the SmackDown (see the full list of tools shared here) that I really like and fully endorse:
      • DarkSky App: An iPhone/iPad app that gives very detailed forecasts one hour out. For example, it'll tell you something like, "Moderate rain will start in 10 minutes and last 35 minutes." It's already been useful helping me decide when I should go out for a run and mow the lawn.
      • Caffeine: An app for Macs that does one simple thing- it keeps your computer from going to sleep. If you ever use your computer to present or watch longer form videos, it's a great thing to have. It's also free.
      • Waze: A mobile GPS navigation app (available for most smart phones) that uses community information to determine the best routes. What's great is that it uses information from Waze users to update traffic conditions. If there's a slow-down on the highway that will automatically show up on the map with the average speed of traffic. It'll also look for faster alternative routes. I've been using Waze for a couple years and it's saved me from getting caught in nasty traffic many times.

    And not least

    Finally, it was great to work with such a great group of co-organizers to help put this event together. Thanks Sarah, Jen, and Dan! It takes a good bit of work to pull off EdCampCT, but everything always goes smoothly because of the dedicated work of all my co-organizers. I also want to give a special shout out to Sarah- who as a result of working at The Ethel Walker School (in addition to being amazingly awesome) always gets stuck with putting in more work than any of the other organizers.

    I look forward to helping plan EdCampCT events for many more years! 🙂

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    1. The best way to do that would be by either: posting a comment to this blog, sending a tweet to @EdCampCT or any of the organizers (Sarah- @sedson, Jen- @jweeks21, Dan- @DanAgins, or Ben- @WillyB). (back)
    2. EdCamps Hudson Valley, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and SeaCoast (NH). You should check them out. (back)

Why attend EdCamp CT?

I have a love/hate relationship with professional development. I like getting better at teaching. I like hearing from people who are smarter and/or more experienced than I am. Unfortunately, my experience with "official" school-district provided professional development is too often...um...less than stellar.

This less than stellar PD is one of the main reasons Twitter has been an amazing resource. It allows my professional development to be self-directed: focusing on what I want help with when I want help with it. As great as the Twitter was (and continues to be) for this, I missed the face-to-face interactions that can't happen over the Twitter.

Fortunately, EdCamp is a thing. It combines the just-in-time, self-directed professional development I enjoy from Twitter with the great face-to-face conversations I value so much from traditional professional development. It also happens to be free (which is a bonus, because it's worth my hard-earned money).

What makes EdCamp different?

Well, quite a lot, actually.

  1. It's democratic. At the beginning of the day the participants propose sessions and design the schedule for the day.
  2. It's participatory. Sessions at EdCamps are encouraged to be conversations between the session leaders and participants. No hour long terrible comic-sans slide decks with one person droning on. I promise.
  3. It's organized and run entirely by volunteer educators. Sure there are sponsors to help pay for lunch, prizes, and so on, but there's no exhibitor hall with salespeople hawking their wares or sessions that are just sales pitches. In fact, if such a sales-pitch session did happen you would be encouraged to...
  4. ...vote with your feet. If you find yourself in a session that just isn't the topic you had hoped it would be, you can leave. It's not just okay to walk out, it's encouraged. We don't want you to waste your time sitting through a session you don't find applicable to your needs. In fact, you can wander in and out as you please. Or skip a session if you simply need time to organize your thoughts or even take a break.

If you're free August 10, 2012 and in the New England region, you should attend EdCamp CT. It'll be a great day of professional development with passionate educators from all over the region1. You can register for EdCamp CT here. I hope to see you there!

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  1. There might even be amazing potato chips again... (back)

The "It's been awhile" update

So, yeah...it's been a while...

I'd better do an update, since a few things have happened since my last post in...um...May:

EdCamp CT

A few short months ago Dan Agins and I were attending EduCon in Philly when fellow Connecticutian Sarah Edson waltzed up nonchalantly and pitched,  "I think we should throw an EdCamp in Connecticut this year, you in?!!"  We were in, and it'll be happening in just under a week (as I write this). There are 125 people signed up (plus a wait list!), and we are all1 really excited to meet every one and learn all we can next week.

Wedding/Travel

My brother got married in July, which gave my wife and I an excuse to visit Chicago and traipse across the MidWest and take in ballgames at two new ballparks together2. We both grew up in in Michigan and Chicagoland,  so it was nice to spend the week eating at all the restaurants visiting places we missed.

Back to school

I taught Physics for 5 years (even though I wasn't "highly qualified" in Physics) several school years ago and really enjoyed the entire experience. Ever since I've talked about going back to get my Physics certification. Due to some new circumstances I'm planning on taking a year off from teaching so I can go back and get both my Physics and Chemistry certifications.

I'm not crazy about being out of the classroom for a year (not to mention the lack of a regular paycheck), however, I think this will open up new teaching opportunities that will be both rewarding and challenging. It's a risk3,  but one I hope will pay dividends in the end.

In addition, since I'll be taking Calculus-based Physics this fall I've also been working to brush up on my calculus skills. I did decent in calculus during my undergrad years,  but my last calculus class was held in the fall of 1997. I'm a bit rusty. To brush up, I've been using MIT's OpenCourseWare to "take" their Single-Variate Calculus class this summer. I've discovered so far that I can do the calculus, but my algebra and trigonometry need some work.

Blog plans

This year's been a bit rough on the ol' blog. My posting hasn't exactly been regular. However, I've repeatedly found that the simple act of writing out my ideas in this public format helps me to think more deeply about instruction and education. While the feedback I receive from readers is also greatly appreciated, simply forcing myself to turn ideas in my head to text on the page is valuable enough to continue writing4.

Since I've been slacking on the writing I need a plan. Here it is:

  1. Post 1-2 times a month with a project or lesson that I've either used successfully in the classroom but haven't shared yet or sharing a new lesson or project that I've just created. I'm (perhaps unnecessarily) worried that I'll lose my instructional design chops. I'll hopefully design these lessons around content I'm covering in my classes this year.
  2. A "What I'm Reading" series. I tend to read a lot of science-y or education-related books, and I'd like to share basic reviews of these books here. I'll be a bit selective here. If I get into teenage vampire literature, for example, I probably will not include those books in the series. However, you can follow everything I read using the handy LibraryThing widget located on the right sidebar of the blog. Or you can view my LibraryThing library directly. I also welcome your suggestions. Drop 'em in the comments or send them to me via twitter. These will be posted as I finish the books.
  3. Sharing websites, posts, images, videos, etc. that relate to the general science and education theme of this blog. While  I do have a posterous site where I share all the "Random awesomeness I encounter," I'll try to keep the posts to this site more focused. I'll plan on posting in this category approximately once a week.
  4. Some personal photos, reflections, stories, etc. I'd like this space to be a little more "me" as opposed to just the science and education "me." Postings will occur as the whim occurs.
I'm creating dedicated "writing time" a few days each week to keep up with my plan. Feel free to call me out if I start to slack. 🙂

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  1. Let me not neglect Marialice Curran, Stephanie Fuhs, and Tracy Mercier, who are also co-organizers and have done a ton of work getting EdCampCT ready to go.     (back)
  2. We're attempting to visit every major league ballpark, and picked Miller Park in Milwaukee & PNC Park in Pittsburgh on this trip, which I believe has us up to 15 ballparks total.     (back)
  3. The economy is not exactly stellar, but a teacher with Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics certifications should be able to find jobs no problem. Right? RIGHT?!     (back)
  4. I imagine the readership of this site isn't very large given my erratic posting as of late.     (back)