Monday, February 9, 2015

EdCamp Maryland - BEST Professional Development EVER!

How true is this quote for teachers?  

Think about it - time and time again we are in meetings where more than half the time, things are going in one ear and out the other.  We might be tuned out because we're tired or maybe we're thinking about the things we have to get done at school or at home.

So if that's the case, how can we as educators, get through to other educators?

The answer - EDCAMPS!

I went to my first edcamp on Saturday and the experience is one I will not soon forget!

Below is a letter I sent to my principal, assistant principal, and staff development teacher detailing my day. 
Note: Some things have been edited from the original letter:

Dear Staff,

I wanted to share with you the experience that I had today!

I was lucky enough today to go to EdCamp Maryland where I had the most awesome, amazing, spectacular, fantastic time! Seriously, the most fun professional development I've ever had!

What is EdCamp?  "EdCamp is an "unconference" specifically designed for teachers and their needs. What makes Edcamp an unconference? Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the people running the conference, Edcamp has an agenda that’s created by the participants at the start of the event. Instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions. Sponsors don’t have their own special sessions or tables, all of the space and time are reserved for the things the people there want to talk about. People could pay hundreds of dollars to attend another conference, or they could go to Edcamp for free." - Edcamp website.

We started off the morning with a live chat on Twitter! (Today was my busiest day ever on Twitter! I NEVER spend that much time on there!)

Dr. Jack Smith, former Deputy Superintendent, was also at the conference!

I went to 4 amazing sessions. (Actually 5.) Edcamp has the rule of 2 feet. Basically, if I'm finding that the session that I'm in doesn't meet my needs, I can get up and go to one of the other sessions. I did that once.

I went to sessions on parental involvement, teacher / district collaboration, turning what we already do into common core, blogging, and web tools for PBL. (I’m bringing back a zillion and one ideas, some of which I think would be great to implement at school!!!!)

There were all sorts of freebies which I brought home a TON of. There were raffles for AMAZING prizes!

There was a contest for the most Maryland Spirit.  I came ready to win that one.  I wore lots of red, yellow, black, and white.  Of course, I won!  My prize was a MSDE bag, a thermos, and an awesome shirt that says "From Chalkstar to Rockstar!"  

Here is my outfit!

Here is a pic of me with one of the organizers - Angie!

One of the awesome things about this edcamp was that I met and collaborated with so many people from outside Montgomery County! There were people from Howard, Frederick, Carroll, PG, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Hartford, Dorchester, Caroline, and Worcester Counties. Such amazing connections were made today!

I truly hope to go to this event again next year! That is up to the lottery however. In order to go to this event, everyone had to register for the wait list. In January they picked 140 people / 330 (Or was it 350?) who wanted to come. (They only had room for 140.)

Amazing day! So much information and ideas to process!  

Here are some of the things I want to share with you.

Session 1: Increasing Family Engagement  (Warning: This section will have more notes than the others!)

1.  For PTA nights, one school has food donated from local restaurants. This way both parents and kids can be fed and it’s one less thing for parents to worry about.  

On top of that, this school has their daycare provider (similar to bar-t) there to babysit the kids so the parents can attend the meeting.  

This school has between 75-100 families turn out for their meetings.  (This was made possible by donations, PTA funds, and sometimes principal funds.)

2.  Another school does something that I would really like to try.  Each student has a composition book.  Every week, the students write a letter home to their parents telling them what has happened in class that week.  (It can be one or two things so it’s not very long.)  The teacher may also choose to write a positive note in there as well, but it’s not totally necessary. The parent reads it (or the child can read it to them.)  The parent then writes a letter back to the student.  That next week, the students share what their parents wrote!

I then posed the following problem. “At my school, we have a large percentage of parents who don’t speak English.  How would you do this at my school?”  She told me that the students can still write in English, have someone translate the letter into Spanish, or have a sibling or other family member who is bilingual translate for the parents.  Those students can also choose to write to an adult in the building instead of their parents.   

By the end of the year, the students have a composition book filled with memories! They can see how their writing has improved as well.

3. One school has a Latino parent coffee night.  It was run completely in Spanish.  Sometimes it's once a month.  Sometimes it's twice a month.  (This particular school had a Spanish speaking employee at this event to talk with parents and translate.)  All of the notes that were taken by this employee were then posted in the lounge.

4.  A school in Takoma Park had an employee who owned a school bus.  On activity nights / PTA nights, he would drive around to pick up families who wanted to attend - for free! He would take them to and from the school.

5.  One school has learning parties.  They use the Ready at 5 curriculum.  ( They train teachers on how to have learning parties.  They use the 7 domains.  The learning parties take place once a week for 4 weeks with the families.  

At the learning parties, the leaders take the parents, teach them how to do certain things. Ex: They teach them how to read a book with their child at home.  Students are in another room doing an activity.  Eventually they come back together and the parent then reads to their child in the room with the way that they taught.

6.  One school recorded videos for parents on the common core skills.  They were then posted on the school website. (The vision I had in my brain was as follows:  Take parts from the parent curriculum guide to make a video of! Perhaps even have videos on how to read the report card and how grades are determined.)

7.  I brought up how we have student led conferences and how each student has a data notebook.  First of all, everyone in the room LOVED what we do!  Second of all, they asked me to send them some of the pages from our data notebooks and the tabs that we use as talking points! They are very interested in having student led conferences!

A PG county teacher whose children go to school in Anne Arundel, mentioned how her own children have student led conferences.  She agreed with me on how fantastic they are.  She then said their data notebooks are slightly different than ours.  How so?  Each child gets a HUGE 3-ring binder that they take with them to each grade level so by the time they leave elementary school, they have this HUGE portfolio from their elementary school career.  I think this would be awesome to do!   

Session 2: Part 1: Teacher / District Collaboration Discussion

I didn’t stay in this session for too long but while I was in there, one person mentioned that at her school, the staff development teacher sent a survey to the staff asking what their needs were for PD.  Based on their feedback, she was able to tailor the meetings to what the staff felt they truly needed.

The other thing that was mentioned while I was in there was to make meetings (staff meetings / grade level meetings / PD meetings,) more like the EdCamp model.  What will each staff member bring to the table?  What are our own needs / wants? How are we as a whole school looking at what we need to advance?

Session 2: Part 2:  Turning What We Do into Common Core

This group was very small and one of the people in their was a middle school librarian.  She was sharing some links that she uses with her students.  The one that I thought could be very useful with our students is This website allows you to research a topic with an interactive map that can be customized and shared.  What’s really awesome is you can choose the difficulty level of the results.  (Think of all the differentiation from this website!)

***In between sessions 2 and 3 was a smackdown where people got up and shared a website they found useful.***

Session 3: Webtools: Blogging, eBooks, Edmodo

1. Some people were comparing Edmodo to Google Classroom.  They can do almost the same exact things.  (Very few things are different.)

2.  Award winning blogger Jon Harper said blogging is a great opportunity for reflection.  Everything we have to say is important.  A phrase or song lyric might trigger a blog entry.  When writing an entry, describe the moment almost as if they are there!  Explain that moment - set the scene!  (I think I’ll be restructuring how I write my blogs!)

3. A teacher in Dorchester County blogs with his students.  The students find out that their piece is going to be published online and they are very excited and motivated to write!

Session 4: Web Tools for PBL, PBL, and Makerspace (yes, PBL is supposed to be there twice.)

1. A Makerspace is a fancy term for a space, box, room full of items that students can use to create their project.  It can consist of pretty much ANYTHING.  Some schools have a makerspace box.  Some schools have a makerspace room.  Some schools even have a makerspace area in their library!

2.  This website was shared.  It’s the coolest website ever!  
Side Note:  I shared that website with my co-teacher and I thought his eyes would pop out of his head!!!!

3.  This book was also mentioned.  It was said that this book is the roadmap to makerspace:

4.  The following websites were also shared:

5.  Someone suggested having a makerspace box for indoor recess!


I would LOVE to have an edcamp on one of our professional days.  Check out this blog post for information on school based EdCamps!   (A friend of mine from college is at the school mentioned in the entry!)

This was truly a spectacular day!


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