Sunday, March 23, 2014
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, Here I am at . . . EdCampOmaha - Learning at an "Unconfernce"
After my experience at EdCamp Iowa, I decided to attend EdCamp Omaha. Prior to attending an EdCamp, I was a little skeptical. I was afraid that the "unconference" idea would result in unorganized sessions with a few people dominating the discussion by bragging about everything they do with little helpful advice for others or that it would become a gripe session with a small number of outspoken individuals complaining about all the problems they have to overcome. I can be a bit of an introvert at times, especially if I don't have a predetermined role, so this idea was a little intimidating to me. However, my qualms have proven unfounded as my experiences with EdCamps have been very positive. The people I have met are passionate educators who love what they do and although many of them are already innovators, they continue to seek the input of other people without any preconceived notions of who is worth listening to. Despite my hesitation, I have found myself speaking up and becoming a part of the conversation and it has been very rewarding. I have met a lot of educators with whom I will continue to connect and who will further my ability to be an effective teacher.
I began EdCamp Omaha by attending a session on Twitter for educators. A good chunk of this session focused on the benefits Twitter can offer educators and how to maximize these benefits. Although I have some experience using Twitter for professional learning, it was nice to hear some different ideas about using social media to form an effective PLN. This session allowed me to expand my PLN while learning of some new hashtags to follow and new ed chats that I plan to check out. I also learned of several new tools for managing Twitter feeds. I have not played with these yet, but based on descriptions in this session, they seem to have promise. IFTTT allows users to automatically have favorited tweets saved to Evernote, creating a system for bookmarking from Twitter. Topsy is a tool for searching Twitter. Echofon, Twitterrific, and Tweetbot are tools for managing tweets.
The second session I attended was about connected learning environments. This session consisted of small group discussions on several different topics then we shared takeaways with the large group. There were some very informative, thought-provoking discussions about what connected learning looks like, instructional strategies that promote connected learning, necessary elements (devices, support, etc.) that allow for connected learning, and how to overcome potential obstacles. One of the best things about this session was having the chance to discuss what others are doing and how different educators view connected learning. I enjoyed the structure, which allowed for smaller, intimate discussions, while still providing an opportunity to hear from those in other groups. My group also discussed the importance of teaching digital citizenship so students learn how to interact with others online. I feel pretty strongly about the possibilities offered by connected learning and the benefits it can offer students and I enjoyed discussing how to move everyone (district/building leadership, teachers, students, and parents) toward this mindset.
After lunch I attended a session on game-based learning. Much of the discussion in this session focused on ways to gamify a class, even without the use of technology. Attendees shared ways of using badges (both digital and paper) as a reward system, methods to frame competency-based activities as levels, and student-created board games. There was also a brief discussion of the use of Minecraft as an instructional tool. There were some good discussions in this session and I did take a few ideas away that I can apply to my classroom, but I felt that much of the discussion was focused toward younger students than I see in high school.
The final session I attended dealt with creating global connections for students. Once again, many of the examples and ideas from this session might be more relatable for younger students, however, there were definitely some things I can apply and/or adapt to meet my instructional needs. I have heard of mystery Skyping, but had never talked to anyone who has done it with their class, so that was definitely interesting. I also enjoyed hearing the various ways educators have promoted collaboration and sharing by connecting their students to other classes or experts around the globe. Participants shared ideas about using Skype in the Classroom, EduHangout, blogs, read alouds, and passion/genius hour projects. The idea of creating a more globally connected classroom is something that I have been wanting to incorporate into my teaching, so it was good to hear some ideas of how other educators have implemented plans to do so.
Overall, I felt like my day at EdCamp Omaha was a very rewarding day. I learned a lot, met a number of innovative, enthusiastic teachers, and I left feeling very energized about implementing new ideas within my classroom. I have had great experiences attending EdCamps and I plan to attend more in the future. And, as an added bonus, I won two boxes of golf balls, a golf towel, and an EdCamp Omaha t-shirt in the drawing at the end (this might have been a little more exciting if I was a golfer!).