Edcampusa, pedagogy not policy

Monday June 9th, 2014


Four days ago it was my youngest son’s birthday. I woke up early and made him breakfast in bed, handed over presents of a Lego Steve and toy light sabers (he is way too young for a real light saber), then I packed my bags.

lego steve lightsaber


My wife and I had debated driving all night on the 4th, but instead decided we really didn’t have enough resources to drive the family 1,000 miles away in a car with well over 200,000 miles on it just so dad could go to a conference. Again and again I’ve had to justify to my wife why I was spending my own money to go to Washington DC for a conference. She is used to losing me for the occasional Saturday, especially when the conferences are free, this time I spent close to $400 to pay for the trip.

Luckily I have relatives who would have taken offense if I didn’t sleep in the guest room and eat all their food because my district won’t pay for out-of-state conferences. I also used vacation days, I don’t earn professional development credit, and as career networking goes, well this is education and an edcamp to boot, there just won’t be high-powered executive looking to hire away great talent. I love my job, but occasionally I dream about being able to pay the mortgage on a regular basis.

On Friday June 6th 7:30 AM I showed my driver’s license to the security guard and was permitted to enter the hallowed halls of the Department of Education. Over the past several months an energetic and very excited teacher fellow, Emily Davis (I think the only person, besides myself, at the edcamp who follows more people on twitter then she has followers), had worked hard to carve out space for us edcampers to do what we do at edcamps right there under the noses of the driving force of programs such as Race To The Top.

nametagdoe badge

Mr. Duncan stopped in for a few minutes in the morning and then was off.  The cynical amongst us called it a drive by, others reasoned that one should not expect the Secretary of Education to dump his entire schedule to chat up a random selection of teachers. (Rumor has it that he had an interview with NPR.)


There were some folks from the Department of Education in the sessions with us, some more obvious than others. The great thing about an edcamp is one person is the same as another. Perhaps if Duncan had stuck around, all the sessions he took part in would have devolved into a group of people trying to talk at him, (and occasionally throwing tomatoes). It may have been for the best that he left us alone to try to do what we do at edcamp.

topicsThere are always a few session on policy at an edcamp. This of course was edcampusa, some, perhaps all, thought is was the opportunity to have real teacher voice heard at the Department of Education. Whatever, we aren’t the first group of teachers to visit, though perhaps the first grassroots group of teachers.  Edcampers are by no means a political organization, rather they are educators who are actively stepping up to make changes in their schools and classroom.  I guess, being invited to the Department of Education felt like being asked to consult on policy.

policyDuring edcampchicago in 2012 (maybe 2013) I led a session on the RESPECT document. A paper written by former Department of Education fellows about how they envision a “renewed and transformed teaching profession in the 21st Century.” I talked to one of those fellows during that time and she said that as Arnie went on a bus tour around the country they would set up shop at each stop and ask teachers to comment and improve the document. There was space online at the Department of Education website, that allowed interested educators to comment on the document. During my session at edcampchicago of 300 attendees I think 4 showed up.

At edcampusa my session on webmaking with Mozilla was only attended by one person. (the session on maker spaces had 6 I think) She knew more about the subject than I did. As a college professor she was excited to see what happens when kids get a hold of tools such as webmaker and Scratch. On the other end of the spectrum, sessions on “How we should schools be evaluated” and “Measuring Education” were generally full.  I guess we should forget about the classroom and focus on fixing education, isn’t that the way most reformers do it?

At work as a technology integration and professional developer I spend a lot of time talking about pedagogy.  Using technology is not about the technology, it’s about quality teaching practices. The teachers don’t like it, the new boss wrote me up for it. Yet, I refuse to change, I refuse to be a person who teaches tools. (Seriously, when was the last time your boss hired someone to teach you how to use the accounting software at work?)

Most teachers and edcampers aren’t policy wonks, they are interested in changing classrooms. This can be seen as policy talk, but what we really do at edcamp is talk pedagogy, even if we don’t call it pedagogy. Pedagogy is the basis of quality classroom instruction, it is also the bedrock under which we should write school policy.

The natural question is how much of the policy talk actually made it across to the people in the Department of Education. Were the people from the Department of Education, that joined us in session mostly teacher fellows, there for a year and gone, or were they full-time staffers who actually have a voice in creating education policy? (How many people in these huge public buildings actually affect policy and how many just keep the government running?) We certainly had a star-studded group of educators who could speak well on such topics as education policy. Just these 8 could make a think tank worth millions.

Then again, to not have heard what we have been saying for so many years, testing is being misused and is statistically useless for evaluating teachers, schools need to be more student-centered, teachers need a voice, the model of schools we use is hopelessly outdated, and more. All of these things are not new, they are not a big secret. Heck, most of them are in the RESPECT document. They are just not being implemented.

Did we need to go to the Department of Education to tell them? Or do they need to come to us and see what we really do? Tom Whitby suggested that instead of doing a bunch of edcampusa in Washington DC, the staff should leave Washington and visit edcamps around the country. I know they have gone out in the past to visit schools, but the dog and pony shows that happen when outsiders visit a classroom is not a true indication of what really happens in our schools. Take a Saturday and spend 5 or 6 hours with teachers, don’t even tell them you are from the DOE, edcamps are like that, they don’t check your credentials at the door. Just be careful you might learn something.

Philosophy of Education at a School

The Academy will prepare elementary school students for rigorous secondary studies through exceptional foreign language programs, outstanding academics, and rich extracurricular activities. Its innovative interdisciplinary programs will instill within its graduates a global perspective.

Based on a pressing community need as described by local parents and community leadership, the Academy will prepare students in grades K-6 for both knowledge-based careers and lives as members of a democratic society through classwork that emphasizes global awareness and continual enrollment in foreign language classes.

This is the philosophy of education of a charter school. I took the above from a website and removed the name, but honestly is it any different from most schools? Are they really saying anything?

Rigorous – a word without a clear meaning https://plus.google.com/102111820124999073838/posts/hezKi7ckUv8

Outstanding academics – has anyone really believed that schools would skimp on the academics?

Rich extracurricular activities – I love how this is a bonus in charter schools, but an extra available for cutting in public schools.

Prepare students for knowledge based careers; lives as members of a democratic society; and global awareness (through foreign language) – I think this is part of the mission statement of every school in the country.

When we think philosophy of education why are we thinking content? Why don’t we think of method of delivering content? Especially at a charter school.

Try this for a philosophy at your school – We will meet our mission blah, blah, blah, all the stuff above, through classrooms that emphasize student independence, project based learning, critical thinking, measured through informal formative measures daily. Graded through student portfolios.

Or perhaps that is too liberal and wishy-washy. Your school would rather emphasize a back to the basics curriculum. – We will meet our mission blah, blah, blah, all the stuff above, through strict classroom discipline, expert content delivery, measured through objective testing, and graded through accomplishment.

Now which school would you like to send your child too? Better yet rewrite a school philosophy that works for you.


Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



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I’m reading through this “Implementing Common Cores State Standards: The Role of the Secondary School Leader Action Brief” by http://www.achieve.org/ direct pdf found here (http://www.achieve.org/files/RevisedSecondaryActionBrief_Final_Feb.pdf)

When I come across this section.

fluency in mathematicsI read the number 3 there and I think to myself. That’s just wrong. I finally put in my notes that it is an incomplete definition of fluency. There can be no doubt that fluency includes being able to recall simple math facts quickly and accurately, but it means so much more. (quickly recognizing common factors, fast estimation, finding patterns etc…)

Then I read number 4 and I think I have to blog about this. Teachers who read number 3 will naturally assume that math is practicing calculation. The same thing we have done for years. But going to number 4 is says specifically that math is ‘more than “how to get the answer” ‘ “more than a set of mnemonics or discrete procedures”.

So should I have students “memorize, through repetition” or not?

Sure this is an action brief for high school teachers. Students should have their basic math facts down pat, but are we expecting third grade teachers to spend most of the year forcing students to memorize the facts?

If education with Common Core State Standards  CCSS is a spiraled curriculum and “The CCSS require educators and school leaders to make fundamental shifts in practice…” shouldn’t that shift be universal? Shouldn’t we teach fluency through “…profound changes in the way students learn and are assessed, in the way teachers teach,…”

Why should one area be expected to “…memorize, through repetition…”? Be a little more clear in your writing. Instead say, something to the effect of, “Students will have enough practice through real-life experience that they will memorize, through repetition the basic facts of mathematics.”

Or should third grade teachers teach memorization?

ICE13 Reflections

I’m getting pretty sick of Facebook. I come home from work and find myself spending too much time reading cutesy sayings and memes. So it was a surprise that after a full day at ICE13 and getting home after dinner I completely forgot to check Facebook. Not, an I’ll check it later after playing with the kids. I just completely forgot. The day actually didn’t seem like it was going to go all that well. I missed most of the morning Keynote (Wesley Fryer) because of traffic and my own late start. Then I spent most of the time there trying to get connected and orientating myself. It wasn’t until after my first session started that I finally broke down and asked for help. I just handed my computer to a guy with a red shirt (got PLN official tech service personnel)  he connected me and handed it back. Literally, the only word said during the entire exchange was thank you.

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Connected and ready to learn I finally started paying attention to the session. Embracing Failure by Diana Laufenberg. I missed the tinyurl she put up, but here are three different places she seems to have placed resources for this talk. Mentor Mob, Word Press, Wiki. Takeaways (not necessarily what she said, but what I understood):

  • Lessons learned from success are fleeting, but lessons learned from failure last a lifetime – paraphrase from a NASA quote.
  • Honda is proud of their failures because it means they are pushing the edge.
  • Students should be taught to celebrate failure instead of trying to hide it.
    • Her favorite engineering class would cheer when someone failed (in a good way not a mean way)

What we can do in our schools?

Diana Laufenberg


  • Work with students to build a mindset and skill set to be resilient to failure
  • Create a culture that is less about finding blame and more keyed towards praise

What to watch out for:

  • When our top teachers stop learning
  • Critical indicators of roadblocks
    • not communicating on same wavelengths etc…
  • People who drain us
  • Placing blame on outside forces

Lunch Keynote with Scott MCleod

Personalization or Individualization

Personalization – giving students a personal map leading to the point we want them to go. For example an adaptive computer program that pretests students then gives them appropriate problems based on their level of knowledge.  Ending when they reach mastery of the goal set by the programmers. Individualization – Allowing students to decide at least one of the four negotiables of student learning from Peter Pappas  

  1. Content
  2. Process
  3. Product
  4. Evaluation

Interestingly enough I was in a workshop the next day about Illinois Shared Learning Environment and that was all about personalizing education, not individualization of education. Scott did talk about the SAMR model of technology adoption.

  1. Substitution
  2. Augmentation
  3. Modification
  4. Redefinition

With that in mind I wonder if it is necessary for the majority of public education to make the step of personalization of education before we can as a group move to individualization? After lunch was a bit of a break and then Scott Moderated a

technology is a given not a debate

A slide from the panel

panel on leadership. First suggestion was that we are getting better at professional development for teachers, but we are forgetting about principals.

If we give every student a device doesn’t that mean we they should use it? Scott Meech so Scott Mcleod followed up with, “Can a teacher be a good teacher without technology?” Which of course was slightly misunderstood as can a lesson be good without technology, but in the end the consensus became that teachers should not have a choice. They must incorporate technology , but it is not necessary to force the use of technology. Twitter of course had to join the discussion CLOUDUCATION_: @dendariRelevant post from Scott McLeod:http://t.co/TKuYZv6F6e. Does this happen in any other sector? Should teachers get the right to refuse to use technology? An unqualified no. Some other random thoughts from the session:

  • We wrote a responsible use policy and not an acceptable use policy.
  • Discussion of technology use was the big conversation of the board in the first year. Second year the conversation was about workflow.
  • Use your network to get an idea of what technology might be suitable for use in your school. Don’t go wandering around the vendor hall and let them tell you what you need.
  • Social media does not cause problems it reveals them!!!


I was given the opportunity to return using my boss’ registration. Over breakfast I got to talking, this is very unusual because I never talk to strangers, and missed the first session. Beth Grafton, who would later present Using Technology in an Inclusion Classroom, was very interesting. Soon our table mate, Brendan, (how cool is that same name and all) asked a few questions. Something like two hours later we finally broke up and went our separate ways. I did go to see Beth’s session later in the afternoon, but it turns out I had heard the gist of it while she was talking to Brendan. I think it amazed some teachers how she could pull up the revision history of a Google Document and show in detail how she mentored a student from outline, to topic sentences, to paragraphs,  and finally a finished paper. It amazed me how well her students responded when she gave them freedom to choose (al la Peter Pappas) and they responded. They responded so well in fact, that one regular ed teacher couldn’t  believe her student was capable of turning in the work he did turn in. In between seeing Beth twice I stopped by the ISLE session. Here district 87 and ISBE are working on a virtual environment (inBloom) that will allow employees to have a shared place to house all data that collected about students. (SIS, Tests, etc…)

From ISLE and district 87 slide deck

Teachers will also be able to share lessons tagged with metadata that will allow them to search and match data not just to specific standards, but also to specific classrooms and students based on need. Thus allowing schools to personalize instruction for each child. I think this is a huge step in the right direction. Anyway that we can bring content to students in ways that are more suited to their learning styles is a bonus. Anyway we can learn more about our students, (data) is a good thing. As I mentioned earlier; I wonder if it is necessary for the majority of public education to make the step of personalization of education before we can as a group move to individualization?

I Am Not A Twit

Originally posted on my work blog http://techintegrationblog.blogspot.com/

Some basic resources for effectively using twitter as a teacher.

A wiki to introduce people to twitter. Yes, you can tweet all about your boring breakfast (and worse) but if you would also like to get past that you can.

A wiki specifically for teachers to learn about using twitter in education.

The real question is:

Why would I bother using twitter as a teacher?

It does make one wonder. This Internet time suck used by celebrities and sports stars, how can it possibly be an effective tool for a serious endeavour like teaching?  

That is the beauty of twitter, you make of it what you want or need. Twitter, along with many other similar social media sites (Google +, Facebook, “yes, facebook”, pinterest, scoop it, etc…), has the ability to connect like minded people. Imagine if you will the teachers lounge, except the other teachers don’t know your students. All they can do is respond to questions with best practice advice, what I did in similar situation, what worked for me.

Twitter in this case has suddenly become what they call a Professional Learning Network as described in “The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age” by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.

Professional Learning Networks are about individuals gathering information and sharing resources that enhance their personal and professional learning.

That’s great if I want to spend my evenings with teacher talk. Is it possible to be a bit more formal with our professional development?

As a personal learning resource use one of the links up top to find thousands of quality teachers to follow then check in once a day to see if there is anything interesting. Of course going through thousands of tweets is time consuming. We can sort through all of that by getting out daily twitter paper delivered right to our laptop.

Paper.li collects all the links and articles referenced in my twitter stream and  organizes them in a newspaper format based on how often they were tweeted out.

Still that isn’t formal learning. It isn’t professional development.

Social media is about connecting like minded people. Twitter and other media are great places to begin, to get ideas, but they are also great places to meet and connect while working as a more formal group. Below are a list of great weekly teacher meetings held on twitter.

General chates

#ntchat – New teacher chat – learn or mentor – http://newteacherchat.wikispaces.com/

#edchat – The grandaddy of them all a general education chat – http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage
#cpchat – connected principal chat – http://cpchat.org/
#spedchat – Special Education chat – https://spedchat.wikispaces.com/
#sschat – Social Studies –http://sschat.ning.com/
#musiced – Music
#scichat  -Science

There are hundreds more find and learn about them here

Spending an hour once a week chatting on twitter doesn’t seem too big of a deal at first, but then again when it becomes a requirement it can be a big deal. Imagine this scenario though: This weeks #mathchat is “Is mathematics more important than numeracy?” this would be a great topic for elementary teachers to discuss. We decide to discuss it as part of our regular professional development in school. 

A professional learning community, again defined by Beach and Hall.

Professional Learning Communities are traditional school-based structures in which staff–both teachers and administrators–learn together with the goal of improving student achievement.

A teacher(s) or principal could participate in the #mathchat (held at noon or 7PM) then during regular team meeting times a discussion could be held. If nobody can make the chat, or even if they did, the archive can be distributed to the team and a discussion can be based on that. http://mathschat.wikispaces.com/Archive+of+mathchat

Discussions are held, teaching practices are modified or strengthened, and the school as a whole is improved.

So there you have it, two, of many, ways twitter can and does provide professional development for teachers. There are more, many more ways networking through twitter and social media can be a catalyst for growth in our personal and professional lives. I can directly connect my twitter use to a graduate school program, CPDU opportunities, and and even a few job opportunities. In the end though twiiter is what you make of it, good or bad.

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Leadership Week 1

Week 1 is finished with the JHU / ISTE program. our first week in reading and discussing Effective Leadership. Leadership is a good sized topic and I won’t bother writing what I think about it at the moment because we have another eight weeks of study and I’m sure my opinions will be evolving over the next two months.

What I did learn what that I love this format. Read discuss reflect online. For the last few years this has been exactly what I have been doing on a variety of subjects. I’ve even been known to say that my twitter and blogging has taught me more about education that I learned in m first six years being an educator. Now to have the opportunity to do the same, but with the guidance and focus of a teacher.

One is like trying to drink out of a firehose and the other is more like being served tea in fine china. I’ll let you decide which is which.

Sometimes I love directing my own learning and just going where my whims take me, but sometimes, quite often actually, I feel like I’m being overwhelmed and I have to back off a bit. Having someone direct my learning give me the chance to allow someone with experience to filter out the possible choices and I can concentrate on soaking it all in. This isn’t to say I turn off m brain and follow directs, but rather I can focus my attention on the primary subject and let my instructor worry about the quality of the material. later in the program I can and probably will reflect on the quality of the readings and perhaps bring in alternative voices, but for the moment I can feel comfortable that all of the learning material will be of high quality.