EdCamp YYC Style

On April 21, I attended my first ever EdCamp. Not really knowing what to expect, but hearing the rants and raves about how great edcamps are, I figured it had to be a win-win situation. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed in the least!

The day began with coffee and networking in the morning. It’s always nice to finally put a face to a twitter “avatar.” We continued into the gym for our keynote speaker, Sharon Friesen, who gave a wonderful discussion on the new Inspiring Ed document, and the need to move towards student based learning, but not the “fluffy” inquiry-based learning type. From there, the day was divided into four different sessions that participates could attend. These were the sessions I attended and a brief blurb of the incredible knowledge shared:

1) Apps in the Classroom: Due to the fact that our group was so large, we broke apart into grade level groups to discuss the types of apps or tools that we are either using as teachers or with our students. We had a great discussion about what’s working, the challenges with tech/wifi, but the biggest things that I took away were two resources to use in the classroom.
a. PuppetPals2 app – If you’ve used tellagami or sock puppets, this is an app very similar to those, except new and improved, I would say. You can choose the basic free version, but if you upgrade the variety of characters and scenes as well as the ability to place your own head onto characters’ bodies is allowed. I haven’t tried it yet with my students, but can definitely foresee high levels of engagement and a lot fun! Download it, if you haven’t already!

b. Tikatok Website – An online tool to allow students to create their own digital stories. You can initially sign up for a free trial, but once that expires, costs $19/year for the basic version, then jumps up to $99 for the next membership. Regardless, the projects that the students can make are fantastic! Check it out.

2) Genius Hour: This topic, again, has been something that I’ve done a lot of research looking into but haven’t seen it hands on in a classroom. It was a privilege to see a class example, the incredible things the students were creating, and the positive feedback from the teacher. Here are a few tips that the facilitator suggested:
a. Introduce the concept to students by posing the question, “What have you always wanted to learn about or do, but never had the chance to?” Then show them this video to get them thinking.

b. Steer students away from a “research” type project but more towards what are you planning on creating. You want to be looking at the process through the entire project.
c. Meet with students frequently during class genius hour times to discuss what level of blooms they’re at, and how to help them move among the levels. Where can they improve? Where do they need help?
d. A final project could be a Ted talk, whereby students describe how they felt at the beginning of the project, what the process was like, and share their final project if there is one.

Within our busy class times as teachers, giving students “free” time can be a scary idea. What subject do you pull the time from? Is it really important? After seeing the example projects and these students’ ted talks it was incredible to see how enthusiastic they were about their learning. What else could you want as a teacher?

The facilitator showed this little video to prove the point of the need for genius hour and no time constraints on learning.

3) Coding: Again, this is another hot topic that I know little about and wanted to learn more. We had a small group of teachers in this session, but I was still given a good amount of information on coding and the place for it in the classroom. There were a couple of ideas that were given in this session that really sunk the message in and the value of coding in the classroom:

Here are more resources that can be used to help with coding in your classroom:
Cayly Dixon Presentation
Scratch
MindCraft Edu
Lego Mindstorms
Makey Makey
IFTTT – If this, then that
Apps for Teaching Coding

4) GAFE: We currently aren’t using Google Apps in my school system, but I feel it’s still important to learn about all tech related concepts, regardless of if they are the ones your school adopts or not. This session was filled with effective ideas for using Google Apps, and how seamless they can work within a classroom environment. Here are a few links provided during the session:
Ninja Program
5 Google Demo Slams Worth Watching
GAFE Facilitator Document

After this amazing learning and collaborative day, and reflecting on my experience during this past week, it was obvious to me why an edcamp style PD works. Here’s my summary why:
1) It’s free! There’s nothing teachers love more than free things!
2) Choosing topics the day of = engagement! We’re always looking for engagement in our students, yet we are just like them. When we have choice about what we want to learn we’re more likely to be active participants, and interact, collaborate, and share our ideas with others.
3) Teacher Expertise! There’s nothing better than learning from a fellow teacher. Someone who is in the classroom, experiencing what you’re experiencing, and at your level. Sharing the great things happening in your school and classroom offers an incredible amount of empowerment to teachers.

If you haven’t been to an edcamp before, I highly recommend you do, and if you have continue to explore them. This is a great movement, and I believe that if we continue towards this edcamp model for all types of PD the benefits are endless!

Why Genius Hour?

It has been my own personal goal this year to learn and understand more about the idea of “Genius Hour,” and how and what it would look like in the classroom. It is a constant buzz word that always includes the ideas of passion, engagement, and self-directed learning for students.

Genius hour is a relatively new movement in education based on the idea started by Google, whereby employees are able to spend 20% of their time working on projects they are passionate and excited about. You could refer to it as “free time.” A chance to explore and research something that interests you. The ideas are entirely student generated, and of course will vary as student passions are different.

On paper, the idea sounds great, but in the crazy life of the classroom, where would this fit? How do teachers find the time to implement yet another idea? What program or subject do you ignore? In the end, is it worth it?

Tonight the topic of the twitter chat #mnlead focused entirely on genius hour. The passion, energy, and belief in the benefits were apparent with every participant. It was an incredible chat to be a part of. Here’s a quick summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What do you think of when you hear the term genius hour or 20% time?

Question #2: How do students benefit from a genius hour philosophy in the classroom?

Question #2 Follow Up: How do teachers benefit by allowing students to learn focused on their passions?

Question #3: How can genius hour projects be celebrated within the classroom, school, community?

Question #4: What are some of the challenges facing an implementation of genius hour in the classroom?

Question #5: As a leader, how can you support and promote genius hour?

Question #6: What possibilities does the genius hour concept have for professional development?

The discussion tonight further reinforced my preconceived ideas of the benefits of genius hour. When you give students choice, when you take the time to build relationships with them, when you allow them to be advocates for their passion, and when you embrace their learning (whether it’s successful or a failure) an opportunity for growth and further learning continues. This is exactly what genius hour provides!

Here are further resources on genius hour:
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour Resources
Mr. Solarz’ Class Examples
Genius Hour Starter Questions