Friday, April 11, 2014

Debating the necessity of keynotes

The EdCamp model of professional development has spread drastically this year. Each day, I am invited to a new EdCamp. In fact, this week alone, I have two EdCamps and I'm planning a small one for my high school. However, the EdCamp model is unique. It involves teachers planning the course of their own professional development. When you first arrive, there is no formal area. Instead, you're handed a Post-it note and told to write down ideas you want to learn or facilitate (not the word "facilitate" and not "teach"). Those notes are categorized into strands and, the notes that reoccur the most become sessions. Teachers look at those sessions and those who feel most confident, step up and facilitate.

It's that simple.

No keynote, no closing. Just learning. Just sharing.

So, in planning a conference - not an EdCamp, but one embodying modern professional development, do we need keynotes and closings? What is the benefit to them? Do educators get more value out of authentic sessions displayed at an EdCamp or an awing keynote/closing?

At the end of the day, what is going to get educators to go back and innovate? What is going to help them facilitate better and to help students learn? Keynote or teacher-driven sessions?

Or, is their a continuum we need to allow teachers? Do we need to, first, introduce teachers to the idea of modern professional development with innovative techniques and learning spaces? And, then, introduce the idea of EdCamps and authentic PD?

Are all teachers ready for the EdCamp model?

Last year, at our first Ninja Academy, we had teachers attend who had never gone to an educational conference designed to inspire and grow teachers. And, we did not lose any - in fact, they wanted more. So, I believe in exposing educators to new PD and getting them inspired and ready to learn. For those who are already at that point, it is important for them to branch out and facilitate.

What do you think? Do keynotes play a role in educator innovation in the classroom?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Privacy? What's that?

On April 22, our #gtachi Google Certified Teacher crew is hosting a Twitter chat on Google's revelation last month that they were "data mining."

Essentially, Google admitted to data mining on student edu accounts. However, the question is - how many other companies have done this without openly admitting it. Though, we can agree that data mining is not what we would want out of student accounts, how many companies do this? And, though these are on free educational accounts, how many other free educational companies harvest data? How many times are students subjected to privacy invasion? I think that is the larger question - not whether or not Google is doing it - but why is privacy a foreign concept?

In an era of sharing and collaboration, privacy comes with a cost. But, how can we better educate students, parents, teachers, and community members to understand modern privacy? How can we make them better digital citizens? That is the question I believe we should be focusing on as that is the larger issuer at hand?

Monday, April 7, 2014

As I enter the final months of this school year...

I think about what a whirlwind of change this year has been - starting with my decision to apply for the Google Teacher Academy-Chicago, nearly one year ago today. At the time, I was just starting to organize my first-ever conference, gather a cohort for one of our district's first online classes, and start plans for my school's first competition robotics program. But, it was my experience at the Google Teacher Academy that propelled all of those into action. It was the connections I made at the academy that fueled my dreams throughout the year. So, now, when I reflect, I am preparing for year two of the Ninja Academy and am starting a series of PD for teachers and students.

I feel I am a different educator. I no longer look at what I do as a separate field, but as one working to achieve best practices. I no longer wonder How I will do something, but When will I do something? I am no longer afraid to try something new. I now have a network of support uncomparable to other co-workers. It is that network that I wish my co-workers and fellow teachers had. It is that cohort that continuously pushes me to change.

On the other hand, I want that spark to reignite me for the next year. Conferences have not left me with the same excitement that I felt being surrounded by top educators. And, I think to all of the educators who never had this experience - how would they change or who would they change if they had this experience? How would their classroom's look and who would they inspire?

So, my question is this: How can we provide teachers with their own version of the Google Teacher Academy? I know how many and how many things I impacted as a result of it. Imagine an education landscape where everyone felt as inspired....

What would you do?

Friday, April 4, 2014

#warriorcode Day 5: Lessons Learned

We are on our last day of the first ever #warriorcode event at Westwood. Though our numbers were not exactly what we wanted, the act of still getting students to participate was beneficial.

Next year, I'd like to promote better and not shy away from terms. I'd also like for there to be at least two strands: a learners' strand and a coders' strand. One for basic introduction to code and another for projects and solutions. With both strands occurring, students could learn and code.

And, if the events were held twice a year - once in fall and once in spring, those who learned in the fall could code in the spring and so forth.

And, I'd like to start hosting nights throughout the year, alerting students and teachers to the following learning sites:

Stay tuned as we prepare for more code events in the future. And...more ideas are welcome!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Day 3 of #warriorcode: Lessons Learned

We are now starting Day 3 of our #warriorcode event. During Day 1, we had a random assortment of students attend - most of whom did not register. Sadly, many of the select students who did register were "no-shows."

Thanks to MakerSquare, students have a specific program of challenges to follow, however. And, all who attended Day 1 returned for Day 2 and, hopefully, Day 3. So, even though the numbers are small, the retention rate is high. Therefore, the content and having a learning-based curriculum has been effective. Next year, we may run two programs - one for learning and one for challenges. We could do a learning program after school and a challenge-based one during lunches or before school. It has been very helpful to have MakerSquare and experienced programers on hand to guide the students and prompt the students to make the decisions we would not know.

So far, we would like to try the following next year:
  • Better promote the idea of #warriorcode to students
  • Don't shy away from the word "hack" as it has an appeal to students 
  • Send through Remind 101 or other outlets students check
  • Get groups like MakerSquare onboard early and advertise they are there
  • Lay out a specific program 
  • Set constraints on teacher-sourced problems so they can be solved in one week
  • Add in a "wow-factor" to get students excited about it (goal is to get more kids interested in code and programming in addition to providing education and challenges to those already interested)

Stay tuned for more lessons learned as we wrap up our first event!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 1 of #Warriorcode - Lessons Learned

This year, our high school library is celebrating Teen Tech Week. As our premiere event for the week, we wanted to do a hackathon of sorts. And, that's where our journey began.

From the beginning, we decided to have students source the logos, banners, and name. So, we consulted our graphic design classes and tasked them with developing logos, banners, and names. Within two days, we had a name, a logo, and a flyer to begin promoting the event. We created Google Forms for volunteers, student registrations, and teacher-sourced problems.

However, we quickly realized we had an issue - we weren't getting student registrants and the teacher-sourced problems were not problems beginners could solve - the same beginners who still needed to learn the fundamentals of code (HTML, CSS, Java, etc.). And, with two librarians and myself (all who only had a vague familiarity with code), we grew nervous.

So, we began recruiting. We already had four volunteers, but that was moot if we did not have students. We realized that students did not check their school email accounts for a variety of reasons. Therefore, they did not get those notices. And, despite the colorful student posters, students did not pick up on wall-hangings. We took the announcement to our journalism crew and they wrote it up and tweeted about it. Each time, we earned about one more student. However, we only ended up with approximately ten kids in a school of 2600 students. Frustration high, we did not know what to do.

As a co-organizer of EdTech Austin, I decided to send a Facebook post about it to our member base while another organizer sent it out via our Website and listserve. Within the day, we had a bite - a call from Makersquare in Austin, Texas.  Makersquare not only gave us ideas, but agreed to come in and work with our students to teach them code. Though this changed the original idea of having students solve problems, it gave our students the chance to make connections and actually learn code - our main goal.

Questions for the future:
How do we get more kids interested? This seems to be the most important question.

Stay tuned for updates as we continue our #warriorcode event.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What makes you creative?

A friend of mine and super educator, Tracy Clark, recently shared this image with me:

And, I decided to share it with the staff I work with because creativity is the foundation of innovation. Without creativity, we don't have innovation and we don't have change. Our students need to be able to be creative in order to produce those changes we so desperately need. However, we are "educated out of creativity" from an early age. An art teacher friend of mine once told me that every one of us is an artist, but we are educated out of it. We are told our products aren't true art or that they are wrong or not "good." But, what is "good"? Isn't art and creativity a reflection of us and our thoughts? If so, is it wrong?

Interesting enough, when I had the staff pinpoint those creative moments, they were all either:
  • outside
  • being alone
  • in a clean, organized environment
  • at a time when there were not time pressures 
  • exercising
But, I thought about what my old classroom looked like and what the classrooms look like that I enter now - and very few meet all of these needs or, for that matter, any of those needs. Most ask students to think when they are confined and sitting in rows, surrounded by other students, with time pressures. Isn't that the purpose of modern technology - to free students and teachers from the confines of a classroom?

When we search for innovation in our students and in education, we must first foster the environments that produce creativity. What can we do to create these environments so students and teachers not only feel creative, but know their creativity is valued?

Thanks to Tracy Clark for the image and quote to spur this blog post.