Sunday, May 22, 2011

This is ALL it Takes to Create an EdCamp

       The following items were accomplished in 5 to 10 hours over several days.  Feel free to use this template for your own edcamp.  My last blog post will also tell you my perceptions of what it takes to run a good edcamp.  It was written as I attended a very successful edcamp in Plano Texas.

     Things that have to happen: (1) find a venue, (2) make sure there is sufficient wifi, (3) make sure there is a good date, (4) create a webpage, (5) create a Facebook page, (6) get people involved to help you, (7 - ???) whatever else might head your way.

     Finding a venue:  For EdCamp Manor I decided that I wanted the have the name Manor in the title and that, pretty much, required me to hold the event at our school.  But, there needs to be a place where a couple of hundred people (with wifi-needy tech) can congregate.  This meant that we need to use our cafeteria.  So, I took care of checking off (#2) wifi, by sending an email to our asst. superintendent for technology.  I let her know that what we would need and that it would be on a Saturday and I am still waiting to hear back from her.

     Get a good date:  For this, and for anybody with a major university in town, I needed to make sure that the University of Texas Football schedule had an open date that didn't conflict with any other important dates.  I literally got October 22nd as the only good date from the beginning of school to the Holiday Break in December.

     I've looked at several of the edcamp webpages from the original (Philly) to Plano's and I decided that I liked the idea of creating a wiki.  So, I opened Plano's wiki and set mine up just like theirs.  There was a couple of reasons on this.  First, I was familiar with it, having looked at it off and on since the beginning of the year.  And, second, I wanted to learn how to create a wiki.  As a high school teacher I never thought about creating a wiki but I know many elementary teachers who use wikis all of the time.

     On my wiki home page I decided, like Plano, to have a link to a facebook page.  This meant that I needed to set up a facebook page.  It only took a few minutes and I had something to link to.

      The remainder of the time spent was dealing with crossing t's and dotting i's.  But, through this process I learned how to embed a widget for a twitter hashtag feed and a widget for a Wall Wisher page (to allow people to submit ideas).

     Now I just need to hear whether I can have the date and wifi.  If I get that answer then I'll go live on the wiki and the facebook page.
     Hope to see you in Manor, in October.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts on my First Edcamp

      As I sat there in Plano Texas, (drinking coffee and eating some fruit provided by a sponsor), I had already decided that there was no reason why we couldn't make this happen in Austin.  What follows are some observations I made during the day.   {Before I go any further, if you don't really know what an Edcamp is here is a link to the Wiki we used for Edcamp Plano.}

     First observation:  You need to have food and swag (duh, right?).  The Edcampplano folks really out did themselves.  They used Jason's Deli who ALWAYS does a nice job with these sorts of things.  We use them regularly in the Austin area as well.  As for Swag, the highlight was a SKYPE Webcam.  Looks like there were several great vendors willing to donate money or in-kind time on their websites.  The guidance given me by the EdCamp guys was to "just ask."    More on the Swag, later.

    Second:  Although, on the surface, there doesn't seem to be toooo much to do to get ready for an edcamp, you better have a cadre of friends/coworkers who you can meet with prior to the day and you can count on to be there early to cross the t's and dot the i's.   Edcampplano get's a big up check for this.  Things appeared incredibly organized (which means the elves were taking care of putting out the fires before we noticed them.)

    Third:  Give the attendees time to meet and socialize prior to the first "presentation."   There was about an hour to eat and socialize before they made the introductions and got things started.  This gave people an opportunity to plan their strategy for the day and to encourage potential presenters to sign up for a time slot.  We got to meet people who were only avatars minutes before and that moment was special.

    Fourth:  Have 15 to 20 time slots for people to sign up for.  EdCamp Plano had 4 time slots (2 morning/2 afternoon) in 6 rooms for a total of 24 possible presentations.   3 or 4 slots weren't used by the end of the day which means about 20 presentations happened.  There would have been more but at the end there was an App Smackdown which got most of the attendees attention.

    Fifth:  Limit the size to about 200 and make sure you have wifi and connectivity for half to three fourths of that number.  Smart phones take care of some of the issues with connectivity and there will be some people without the need of wifi.  There needs to be one big room for all of the attendees to meet in and then rooms that can handle up to 40 or so.

    Finally:  Have enough swag so just about everyone "wins" something.  T-shirts and bags of goodies can go a long way.  Having 3 or 4 'big prizes keeps the attention of the attendees.  At EdCamp Plano there were 2 iTouches and an iPad2 purchased with donated funds as the big prizes.

   I was really proud to be a participant in the first Texas edcamp in Plano.  They have set the bar high so those of us wanting to do the next one will need to bring their A game.  Austin should be next and then we can hand it off to our friends in Houston or maybe back to the Dallas/Ft.Worth area.  Either way, I learned a ton. I met great people. And, I look forward to getting this going in Austin.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Let's Take It From The Top

   So, it's time to start setting up my plan for the summer rebirth of my teaching.  The beauty of being a teacher under the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) is that we have some great rubrics that identify what it is that is considered "Great Teaching."
     With Tap there are three areas of teaching that have been recognized as separate entities. They are "Designing and Planning Instruction," "The Learning Environment," and " Instruction."  Too often teachers spend an inordinate amount of time in one of these areas rather than seeing that a good teacher will have all three areas fine tuned.
    As for my self, I have identified classroom management as my downfall.  It would be easy to just say that I need to improve "The Learning Environment" area.  But classroom management comes easier when a teacher has done a great job of "Designing and  Planning the Instruction."  And, if the "Instruction" itself isn't spot-on then that will lead to students who are bored, confused, or (worse) both.
     In this post I'll look at what the topics are I want to focus on and then, over the next 2 months, I will make an improvement plan.  I'll start with "Designing and Planning Instruction," (DPI).
     In DPI there are 3 areas of refinement:  Instructional Plans, Student Work, and Assessment.  The area that can cause the most problems for a teacher with poor management skills is Instructional Plans.  If the plans aren't cohesive then when we get to the instructional piece, during class, the structure and pacing, the activities and materials, and student motivation parts are less effective.  This leads to timing issues and students, like sharks and other animals of prey, can smell the blood in the water - let the frenzy begin!
     The second area is called "The Learning Environment," (LE).  In LE there are 4 areas of refinement:  Expectations, Managing Student Behavior, the Environment, and Respectful Culture.  These are obvious choices for areas of improvement for the teacher with poor management skills and so I'll address them each in a future post.
     The third area is simply called "Instruction."   There are 12 areas of refinement, in Instruction, and these are so important that TAP schools focus on these and we call the entire body of management "The Instructional Rubric."
     As with DPI, the Instructional piece will help define classroom management problems because it is all about the structure and the pacing and students know when teachers aren't operating at the top of their game.   The main points of refinement I will hit on during the next few months are the "Teacher Knowledge of Students," the "Standards and Objectives," "Motivating Students," "Presenting Instructional Content," Lesson Structure and Pacing," and the "Activities and Materials."
     The remaining areas of refinement within Instruction will be addressed in a separate post near the end of summer as I complete my plan for improvement.  As always I hope to see comments as I embark on this journey of reflection and planning.

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been, er, Gonna Be

     Not sure what I should think about this school year that is about to wrap up.  On first glance our school is finding itself with tons of offers to share what it is that we do.  We have hoards of people coming through learning about the way we do Project Based Learning (PBL).  
     We have our first full class of seniors about to graduate.  I have seen this senior class since they were sophomores and many of them have matured beyond my wildest expectations.  There are some who may never mature but that is true of every senior class since senior classes were invented.
     As for our staff we are about to see some changes.  Officially we had to downsize and one teacher had to be asked to leave.  And, just today, our superintendent made it clear that there will be additional budget cuts next school year and I think we'll see another one or two of us being asked to leave 12 months from now.  I also see one or two other teachers leaving to continue with their education or to pursue career improvements.  So, I think we might look quite different come August.
    Where does that leave me?  Unfortunately, (if you have read my last post), I have dug myself a pretty big hole here.  As they would say just before a shootout: "it don't look pretty."  I came to this school to be the "old math guy" and I was just that and old math guy.  Like a much older man, I did not respond to the pressures of bringing our school's math scores up and I really let our principal down.  That has proven to be something that I may never overcome.  It's hard to ever get back trust and my boss just doesn't trust me.
    Last year was even worse.  We had a combination of a large number of students with poor math skills and a large number of a certain minority who were represented by these students with poor math skills.  I was paired with a super, young, math guru and we couldn't get the job done as a team.  The scores of that group of students ended up forcing our school to attain a rating that was extremely low.  Once again I personally had let my boss down and the school down and any hope of improving my standing with him vanished.
     Now, this year, I am the lowest rated teacher at our school (according to the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, rating numbers).  Just stating that out loud makes me want to throw up and I'm nothing but a joke to the other teachers.  Sure, I'm a nice guy, so I still get invited to parties and get-togethers.  (But I'm not exactly picked for kick ball, if you know what I mean).
    So, we can expect to have teachers asked to leave by the end of next year, hmmmm who might that be?  Well, I think I'm going to surprise you after starting off so negative here.  It ain't going to be me.  I owe it to myself and my family to be gainfully employed, with a contract in hand, 12 months from now.  So that means I need to get my butt in gear.  If you haven't read my last post then this might be a good time to look at it.  There's much of what I wrote here in that post.  But I don't think I really knew just how bad I was as a teacher until all of these straws started piling up on my camel's back.  I heard it creaking but I'm not going to let it break.
    If you do end up reading this then leave a comment.  I could use the spiritual backing of others and I want to know that one or two of you out there are going to be rooting me on in my quest to "not be the worst teacher in my school!"  The following year I'd like to, not only be employed, but I'd like to think that teachers think enough of me to consider me for professional guidance.  And, most of all, I'd really like to see an offer of doing some professional development, PD,  (summer of 2012) where I am doing the PD and it is on a bigger stage than our school district.