EdCamps: What Could I Possibly Learn?

     Before I attended my first EdCamp, back in February, I seriously thought, “what could I possibly learn from this experience?” The short answer to that question is, as much as I want to about anything I want to learn about. During that first EdCamp (ICE EdCamp after Dark) I figured that I would go all in and offer up sessions on maker spaces/the maker movement and gamification. I had learned enough about these emerging topics in education to be dangerous. What surprised me about the EdCamp experience was that there were other people in the session about maker spaces that knew a lot more about the topics than I did but in the session on gamification I was the one who shared a lot of the resources I had, offered up basic explanations, and co-moderated the discussion. It was kind of scary and exhilarating at the same time.

     I now have three EdCamps under my belt (EdCampIowa – Bettendorf and EdCampTC – Burnsville, MN) and I am planning a trip to EdCampMKE – Milwaukee. Four EdCamps in four months in four different states! You might be asking yourself, “why has this guy who is just a substitute teacher become an EdCamp junkie?” The short answer is because I learn about anything I want to learn about and I get to meet fellow teachers and administrators who are also life-long learners. 

     The EdCamp experience has helped me build relationships with people in the larger educational community in the Midwest as well as opened my mind to new ideas about education. Teachers learning from each other and sharing with each other as professionals while enjoying each others company is leading to many long-term relationships. 

     Yesterday (a Saturday), I woke up at 4 AM to get ready to attend EdCampTC. I have known some of the other attendees via twitter for a few months, so I was really looking forward to meeting many new friends and learning and sharing with a new group of people. My second tweet of the day, before the EdCamp even started was, “What kind of teacher gets up at 4 am to drive 2 1/2 hrs to attend #EdCampTC ? The kind that’s dedicated to his students & the profession!” EdCampTCLogoI learned about coding, resources for building apps, some ideas for genius hour/P3BL (problem-passion-project based learning), ideas for maker spaces. I also shared and co-moderated sessions on P3BL and gamification/game based learning and got to spend time talking with friends over an extended lunch. Twenty-four hours later I am still continuing the discussions (via Twitter) and learning from yesterday as well as planning how I can use these ideas to help my students learn how to learn better. If you still have doubts about the power of EdCamps, then read these two articles 10 Myths About Edcamp and It Made Me Tweetless.

     Does this make me a better teacher? Yup. Was this a cheap and efficient way to do quality professional development? Yup. Will my students benefit from the time I spent at EdCamps? Yup. Will my school district benefit from my attendance at these professional development opportunities? If they value me as a professional dedicated to self improvement and putting students first, Yup. See you at an EdCamp soon!


Students First

     Throughout time there has been a lot of open debate in education about how to best meet the needs of students. My question has continually been, if each and every student comes to school with different and varied needs, wants, and desires, then how can we take an antiquated curriculum and process every student through it like beans in a canning factory? I remember pedagogical discussions from years back in which colleagues would state that the gap between the top students and bottom students is so large that we ought to just aim for a middle ground. I was never satisfied with that line of reasoning, and seeking ways to make things better and more engaging for my students helped me become a better learner and leader.

Put Students First

     I have never a big supporter of common assessments for students. A common assessment is just another way of saying, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”


Used with permission.

It’s a different way of preparing students for the industrialized notion of sorting students into five or six pigeon holes and getting ready for testing. Many administrators and researchers will turn to industry and economic movers and shakers to glean the types of skills that employers are looking for. Just because Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world does not mean that he knows what should be taught in schools, and if we believe that the industrial model of education doesn’t work anymore, then why would we turn to business for guidance on educational issues? After all, the bottom line for business is to make money and the more money the merrier. See, at the current rate of change, content that is accurate when a kid is twelve might be completely irrelavent upon graduating from high school. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that knowing or accessing “content” is what we want from kids as preparation for college or careers. The best thing we can do for kids is to model a burning desire to learn more and the tenacity or grit to go out and learn. For me, it is an insatiable quest.

Do we really believe that doing well on a test is what matters in this world? Wouldn’t standards based grading be a great first step toward personalizing learning for each unique student? Personally, I believe that it is.

Love of Learning

     In my world view, I want to help kids sustain their love of learning. I overheard someone at a conference this year state, “…the kids are really upset with the work they are getting in math class so she must be doing something right.” This was not said tongue in cheek it was said with all seriousness! Well, if the goal of that math teacher is to have her kids become grumpy pencil pushers that excel under the leadership of a dictator, then I would say that she is well on her way to the goal.
     I do not want kids to become automatons that simply do as they’re told, regurgitating information and processes. Variety is the spice of life and I would rather be with a whole load of boat rockers than sailing in languid waters. There is a whole world of knowledge to plunder and I want true, spirited pirates on my boat while I’m out to sea. I think that what we truly want and need from the educational community is to help students be excited learners, questioners, researchers, creators, innovators, teachers, and problem solvers.

Students can make a difference today! 

     Every day there are reports about students making positive impacts on our world. Recently, there was a report about an eighteen year old who was not satisfied with the designs of the brassiere industry so she created her own and started her own line lingerie called raspberry. Also, a fourteen year old boy found that the federal government could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by simply switching the font that they print documents with.

The world and technology are changing rapidly 

     The change is so rapid that many people are getting new cell phones every two years, whereas I spent the greater portion of eighteen years with the same corded phone attached to the kitchen wall. I am writing this blog post using a blue tooth keyboard and mini iPad connected wirelessly to the Internet where my document is physically nowhere but the cloud and maybe digitally on Evernote’s servers. I will never see this post on paper. Change is the only constant in life and students need to be able to adapt to that change. Now, I don’t mean change just for the sake of change but the ability to adapt to changes rapidly. Gone are the days where people answer the question “why are you doing that?” with “because we have always done it that way.” It’s not good for society and kids will refuse to buy into it.
     Technology is certainly not a panacea, and just being able to Google the answers faster than anyone else is not good enough. I was raised to believe that through hard work and by getting a degree my efforts would be rewarded by getting and keeping a good job with benefits. Happiness was not even talked about in my world. A good work ethic is not enough any more. My dad did tell me one time to do something I  was good at. Being good at something doesn’t necessarily bring with it happiness or fulfillment. Fortunately, I selected a career that I am passionate about filled with people that I care deeply about.

Next steps

     I get to encourage the future through my efforts today. I get the chance to help make people happy today and excited about the world of tomorrow. I know that I can create classroom experiences that I can sell tickets to! (I know that’s a bold statement but after being encouraged by Dave Burgess, you too might be bold enough to make that statement) Bettendorf High School, in eastern Iowa, has embraced the mottoes, “Passion, Purpose, Pride.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Students First.” If everyone in education embraced these mottoes, then kids would become life-long learners with the fortitude necessary to tackle the ever present changes in our world.

GBL vs. Gamification a Video Blog Post

Transcript of Video
Hi there, welcome to educational technagogy. BAAAAAAAA!
ya that’s a sheep you heard. Did you know that sheep had knuckles? That’s what the first dice were played with sheep’s knuckles. Well, they were made out of a sheeps knuckles.
BAM! Yeah that’s right, football <cheers> WhoYa Fumble!
I’d like to tell you a story. The ancient Lydianswere a group of people that lived around three thousand years ago in the Mediterranean area the world most likely near present-day Turkey. They had a problem, no this problem didn’t have anything to do with sheep knuckles, they had a problem with food. There was a great famine throughout the land that lasted at least two decades.
And, what these people decided to do to handle this famine was they would eat one day and the next day they would play games the entire day without eating. This would take, playing games, would take their minds off the fact that they didn’t have enough food. And so they ate every other day and played good hard games the other days of the week. They did this for at least eighteen years so the story goes whether it’s true or not, we’re not quite sure but we have found, through research, that games do even today help take our minds off of the awful things that may be happening in our lives.
BOOM! <crack> Baseball! it’s a game it’s not just a game some people make a living at baseball.
<noises from device> Oh mighty Time Lord! yes my sonic screwdriver just like Doctor Who I can pretend to be in a game.
Game-based learning
Game-based learning, GBL, is simply taking games and implementing them into your curriculum. It can be as simple as taking an off-the-shelf game such as Monopolyto teach economic facts or it can be using computer-based games such as doctor Kurt Squire from University Wisconsin used in his doctoral research Civilization 3. Civilization 3 he found really helped his students to understand geographical concepts through time. He was hoping that it would help them
understand history better but going through these periods of time they learned geographic concepts much better than historical ones. But, games can be used to learn any number of concepts. There aretons of games available and game-based learning is something that we’ve been doing throughout time.
I was thinking just the other day how could I take a twenty sided and in use in my classroom? Hmmmmmmmm……..
Gamification is basically taking game dynamics and game mechanics and using them in non-game settings such as a classroom. Game dynamics are kinda the touchy-feely sort of stuff the narrative, the relationships, the emotions, progression, and storyline. All these things are qualities of good game dynamics. Game mechanics also need to play into gamification this is HOW the game is played it’s the rules it’s things like leader-boards, levels, resources, badges, how are you going to win? what are the winning conditions? challenges, quests. These are the mechanics that make up a good game.
Some of the story lines that people use are story lines from great games such as World of Warcraft, Game of Thrones is a good excellent story line The Hunger Games is a story line that’s often used, Some people have even used the different factions from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series as a setting for their games.
I think that’s all I’m going to go over for this week. Join me next week for a further discussion of gamification in education. Go ahead roll the dice, and see if you can implement games in the classroom.
Thanks and have a great week! yeah

Commercial by Lars and Kat.

I wonder if John Green started out this way?