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EdCamp CT: The K-12 Professional Development “Unconference”

EdCamp CT — ​​Connecticut’s premiere professional development event that “unconferences” the traditional conference format by organizing sessions around attendee suggestions and participation —worked their magic organically this summer through conversations designed to direct their true purpose.  Education World watched, as they hungrily fed from one another’s abundant positive energy. 


Educators happily packed the halls of The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT as they ate well, chatted with excitement, and joked about their K-12 experience with ample joy for the profession. Discussions ranged from utilizing Instagram and other forms of social media in the classroom to the role of gamification in engaging students throughout the year. Other conversations covered the action of professional development in-depth, while still others centered in on engaging parents, dealing with districts, and how to appropriately tackle digital citizenship and coding inclusion while meeting expectations in test scores and standards implementation. 


Dan Callahan, a training and professional learning specialist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, is one of EdCamp’s co-founders. Additionally, he’s a professor at Antioch University New England, an Edutopia community facilitator, and an ASCD emerging leader. Essentially, Callahan breathes K-12 education. 


“Teachers are generally frustrated when they don’t have a voice in their professional development and have the ability to make meaningful choices to make sure that the professional development is something that will help them in their classroom,” said Callahan. 


“The main solution is to make sure that teachers are involved in the planning process so that they can make sure that their voices are clearly heard, and they can have meaningful input in the design of professional development to make sure that it’s meeting the needs of all of the teachers.” 


Conversations generally went long, averaging a bit over 45 minutes each, and were rich in thought and engagement — ideas striking like bolts of lightening. For instance, a session on using Instagram in the classroom blossomed into a conversation on social media overall, along with optimal engagement tactics. 


“It’s interesting on privacy levels; and are you posting as personal, as the classroom teacher, so I just thought that was fascinating. Also, who is your intended audience? Are you looking for the students to be your audience, or the parents, or the community? So those are all important factors,” said Lisa Polack, a middle and elementary school librarian in Ellington, CT, that attended the session on using Instagram in the classroom. 


Attendees were so enthusiastic, many stuck around in room 315, a third floor science classroom, for the next conversation on gamification. 


“I’m really looking for ways to support teachers. In my current role I support teachers. I was a social studies teacher before, so now I’m trying to broaden my focus around how I can show teachers how to use technology to really transform their teaching, noting that he aims to pick up methods that will also empower students to use technology to their learning advantage,” said Michael Nash, an instructional technology specialist at Ellington Public Schools for grades 7-12. 


He was one of the most vocal participants during the Instagram/social media discussion. 


“A great conversation, I think, about seeing [what] some of the other schools are doing when it comes to trying to break down some of the barriers in social media in school. It was enforcing some of the things that we’re trying to do in our school,” said Nash. 


“Also, a lot of great ideas from other participants about good classroom tips and tricks, and things like that.” 


Many other teachers lingered afterwards to chat and exchange information. Networking seems to be one of the most important steps in finding solutions for these educators, as many of them have strategies and advice to share. Guidance spreads over from person to person in a united front of mentorship, and its contagious. 


“I was just talking with another teacher, and I would just really like to break down the four walls of my classroom, and make what my students do more accessible not only to parents, but to community members. I’m not sure if Instagram will be the way I go necessarily, but definitely some sorts of social media will be used to portray student work,” said Keegan Radziwon, a high school life sciences teacher at Bristol Eastern High School. 


This was one of the event’s most common sites. 


“The best part of it is the connections that you make while you’re here,” said Callahan. 


The talk on gamification went much like the one on Instagram: intense with activity, knowledge, and experience. 


“I want to hear what teachers are thinking about these days. They help us inform our own research and I think that they also kind of push us to address concerns that maybe we wouldn’t think of cause we’re kind of insiders, and we don’t really think of all of the practical concerns and drawbacks that teachers face every day.” said Mike Young, Associate Professor of Education Psychology at the University of Connecticut. 


He also noted that stigmas around gaming, such as violence and sexism, must be examined and addressed to fully apply the method of gamification in classrooms, and that researchers must do a better job of exploring these serious concerns that educators are presenting. 


“I think there’s the social concerns,” said Young, citing that many educators expressed that they were new to gaming, and were apprehensive about their use of technology with students in a classroom setting. 


When it came to leadership, Young tried his best to step back, but still, many relentlessly called to him for guidance, and while he was eager to observe, he dove in gracefully with great authority. 


“I think those who are familiar with game mechanics can adopt things very easily; things like Kahoot! or ClassDojo, and just start substituting points systems and achievements for what they usually do with their assessments,” said Young. 


“But the next level of that is to really understand how badging and achievements can be an alternate way got kids to show off they know, and that those student learning outcomes now become their possessions; things that they earn and they keep, and feel proud of. And that’s a very different kind of motivator, I think, than just simply the receiving of points and exchanging them for some cool thing in school.”


The spirit of EdCamp CT is movement. Ideas that can cover a year’s worth of classroom momentum, and capture that feeling within a single day, are churned out from a mill deep in the river of effectiveness. 


“A lot of people were able to share a lot of the things that are working in many places, because it can be frustrating when you’re in a place that’s having a hard time [knowing] what can work,” said Callahan regarding the session he led on professional development, noting that it wasn’t about complaining about administrative failures, but rather finding solutions to the obstacles they have faced in tackling unsatisfying professional development. 


Callahan tackled describing that spirit philosophically, expanding it out with two simple questions to the education community in Connecticut: 


“What are the good things that are happening? What are the good things that you might want to try?” 



To learn more about EdCamp CT, visit here.



Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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Copyright © 2015 Education World


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