Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thoughts on EdCampSFBay

I went to my first EdCamp yesterday. Here's my review. (Note: Re-reading this, it sounds overall negative. It's not. It was a mostly positive experience. Just keep that in mind)

The Good:
In a Shifted Learning podcast, Jen Orr spoke of the ISTE conferences as foremost a place to connect with passionate people. I'd say the same thing about EdCamp.

I stood around at lunch talking with Paul Oh and Erin Wilkey Oh from the National Writing Project. We didn't talk about the NWP at all, but as soon as I got home I went home and started browsing the website because if thoughtful people like Paul and Erin were there, I want in.

I spent most of the day hanging with Frank Lee and his colleague Karen, who were up from LA. I'd love to be on staff with them.

Anytime you can hear Dave Orphal say anything (and he says a lot) take that opportunity.

I met Tim Monreal, Jeff Silva-Brown, Catlin Tucker, and a bunch of other folks.

Everyone was just good people.

The Bad:

The sessions were eh. They ranged from moderately interesting to downright terrible. I know, I'm supposed to vote with my feet but the other options didn't really interest me either. At one point I tweeted this:
Twitter / @jybuell: I don't think I'm the targ ...
I don't hold this against EdCamp. I'm not the target demographic for anything edtech and I realized this when I signed up. There were sessions on flipping the class, ipads, collaborize, live binders, and all sorts of things like that. Now, collaborize and live binders both look pretty cool, but tech is like 13974th on my priority list. (edit: I'm adding class dojo to the tech list. Also looks interesting) It ranks somewhere below teen pregnancies but above Accelerated Reader. Even if I thought flipping the class was a good teaching model (I don't for most things), more than half my kids don't have internet access at home. I sat in a session with a guy claiming tablets would completely take over education in "18 months to 5 years." My school is still mostly on overheads and we've got maybe 5 LCD projectors for the whole school.1  We're definitely on the far end of his time frame. The far, far end.

Honestly, if I could buy two iPads or a set of new chairs for my class (a reasonable cost comparison), I'd take the chairs in a second. It's not that I don't think tech is useful, it's just that I'm not on the same level of Maslow's hierarchy of school needs as most of the EdCampers.

Although this is something you'd see at any place that attracts the EdTech crowd, the low turnout really made it worse. I'd guess we had 40ish people there and slightly more than half of those were classroom teachers. I had 3-5 session to choose from in each time slot. Apparently EdCamp Boston had 300 people turn up. I don't know the deal with us. Bad marketing? Looser knit community? School just starting for most of us probably didn't help.

There's an Ed Camp for social studies in Philly next year. That could be really cool.

The Ugly:
It's not widespread, but there's definitely an ugly undercurrent I don't like both at Ed Camp and within the blogotwittersphere. There are three parts:

  1. There are some teachers who aren't interested in learning or getting better at all. 
  2. These teachers are old.
  3. I know this because they aren't on twitter/blogs/EdCamp/whatever conference I go to and whenever I show them Diigo/GDocs/blogging/my wiki they're not interested.
Look. I agree with number 1. 2 and 3 are a load of crap though and I need to do a better job of speaking up. I'm not going to address number 2 because we can all think of teachers at our school who are in their second or third decade of teaching who still kick butt every single day. 

As for number three—everyone has a different way of developing. Some teachers use twitter and blogs. I am one of those teachers. Others read books. Others talk to other teachers in...wait for it...real life. Others spend time finding primary sources to give their kids. There are some who spend hours a day reading children's books just in case a kid asks for a recommendation. I know a teacher who just this year has had a baby, finished her PhD, and is teaching two methods classes for science teachers at two different universities and you know what? She's never read my blog. I know. Shocking. At my school I'm notoriously resistant to any district-led PD and I can guarantee you there are teachers in my district that think I'm not interested in getting better. Different methods of access for the same goals. Hopefully that sounds familiar to the SBG people who are reading this. 

Second, just because I showed someone how teh awesome #scichat is and they didn't immediately sign up for twitter doesn't make them a crappy teacher.2 We just don't all have the same priorities. I have no interest in skyping another class. Why? Because I have to work hard all year just to get my kids to talk to the person in the next chair. And if I have to choose (and in school, you always have to choose), I'm choosing developing good relationships with the people they see every day. Just because you see the need to get all the kids signed up for a blog doesn't mean your colleague does too. And that doesn't make them a bad teacher.

Like I said, it's a small undercurrent but it surfaces every once in awhile. I hate it and I hate it that I don't speak up enough about it.

Final thoughts:

Now that that rant is done here's where I am. I believe in the EdCamp model. I think that's solid. If there were more diversity in the attendees, I'd be happier, but I'm not sure what can be done about that other than better PR. Since this is still a new thing I assume natural growth would occur.

Dan Callahan led a session on bringing the model back to your school. I was at another session so I don't know what he recommends. Me? I'd definitely love to have something like this instead of a district PD with an outside consultant person. I'd probably modify it a bit.

I teach in a K-8 district. Less than 10% of us don't have "reading" as an official subject to teach. I envision a crap load of reading strategy and ELD sessions. The ability to "request" certain sessions ahead of time would be helpful. You could have teachers each state something they'd be interested in and post them. Then we could all look at the list and hopefully there'd be a lot of, "Oh, I know how to do that." and then start proposing the session ahead of time. Teachers would still be free to move around from session to session if they liked but you'd get a wider range of teachers who'd be willing to lead a session.

There's another benefit to planning the sessions ahead of time. I think if EdCamp was mandatory (which it would be if it replaced a district PD) I'd be a little pissed if I prepped for a session and nobody showed up. Since EdCamp is voluntary, it's no big deal. If I was forced to go? I think that'd be different.

As for my recommendation, I'd go again next year, but wouldn't pay if they charged, nor would I go out of town and stay overnight. There aren't too many conferences I would be willing to pay for so that's not necessarily a knock on EdCamp. It just didn't blow me away enough for me to pay for room and board.

If you go, think of it as going for the people and because you believe in the model.

1: You know who buys iPads? The same schools that bought IWBs for each class. Which were the same schools that bought laptops for each kid 10 years ago and the same schools that had classes full of Apple IIe's in the 80s.

2: There also might be the just the teeny tiniest possible chance that I have done a crappy job of showing it off. That's probably not it though because the first time I show my kids the periodic table they immediately take to it and spend their free time pouring over it. If they don't, well, they're not interested in learning.


  1. I'm with you. I feel there's a belief out there that if you're not active in the edublogotwittersphere, then you're not as good an educator as someone who is. I do also sometimes feel that there's a "cool kids table" in the edublogotwittersphere, and it's tough to try to get people to get over the frustration and embrace the benefit it provides when they get no responses to their initial forays.

    Your rant on Ugly #3 is well-founded, and well-stated. Like you, I hate my district PD, and learn better by following blogs (and sometimes posting) and by following Twitter (and sometimes interacting). It works for me - I'm not about to tell someone it HAS to work for them, but that they should try it.

    I think that's a big frustration of mine, when I ask my colleagues how they learn and grow, and they can't give me a good answer.

  2. I've never been to an EdCamp but I find it intriguing. Your reflections are helpful because they're clearly thoughtful and thorough.

    On a side note, check out the local writing project workshops and summer institutes in the future. I did our summer institute this summer and it was fabulous. Very intense, thought-provoking, and well worth my time. I would guess they would be thrilled to have a science teacher in the mix.

  3. Thanks for the shoutout! It was great meeting you in real life.

    I totally agree with believing in the EdCamp model and meeting wonderful people. Although I felt let down by the sessions, I don't hold that against anyone. EdCamp executed the model wonderfully and I'm thankful for all the presenters who put themselves out there and tried to make this a beneficial experience for everyone.

    The beauty and risk of the EdCamp model is it provides the autonomy for its participants to take the conversation where they want to take it. If the participants, like me, don't contribute their own piece, then they can't really expect to get much back. I couldn't (and I didn't) expect to just show up and have a conference cater to my needs. Maybe for a conference I pay for and knew it's specific goals ahead of time. But especially for EdCamp, I know I should have some goals or an agenda ready, or hold no expectations.

  4. Now I want you to introduce me to the periodic table.

  5. @Alex - Agreed. Twitter is an especially weird place. It takes awhile to find value and it seems like everyone knows everyone at first.

    @Jenny - Thanks for the heads up.

    @Frank - Yup. At one of the sessions they mentioned maybe it'd have more catchet if it cost money. I don't know about that. What I do know is that I wouldn't go. And if I did, I'd expect a whole lot more.

    @Sarah - Sarah, this is the periodic table. Periodic table. This is Sarah.

  6. It's ironic how sometimes IRL events can bring out the best and/or the worst in us teachers, sometimes both at the same event. It always makes me remember something Dale Carnegie wrote, namely, "When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity." I think some teachers *go* to things like EdCamp with the best of intentions, but then get nervous or competitive or just freak out. Others become defensive about their own practices, as if they are coming to this thing to get praise and reinforcement for the old stuff they do now instead of getting exposed to new ideas they might try in the future.

    People are sometimes downright strange at these things. But people can also be wonderful, and so I find it worth the risk because I occasionally meet people like you and Avery and Bree and Sue Van Hattum and Kate and Sam and Greg and Ashli and CalcDave and Julie and Anne and Park_Star (international member, woo-hoo!) and all kinds of other inspiring role models and colleagues.

    And having watched my mom over a 25-year teaching career without the benefit of the twittersphere and blogosphere, I appreciate how difficult it is to find even one or two kindred teaching spirits out there. The T-sphere/blogosphere has streamlined and accelerated the process of finding like-minded people out there so that these connections can happen and benefit our schools and our communities.

    I think we are somewhat ruined by the speed and ease of connection we've gotten used to in the T-sphere/blogosphere. Most of real life is bound to be disappointing by comparison. But that makes the wonderful real-life meet-ups even more wonderful when they happen.


    Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  7. I was going to make a snarky comment about how if you wanted an awesome session to go to, you should have led one. But Frank already said it, and he said it nicely.