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.

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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.

Tough School


I have known for a long time that public schools, especially the ones in Chicago are doing a better job than most people give them credit for.


Like this post from four years ago. “many students feel safer in their classrooms than outside of them. ”


Today I finished listening to part two of a This American Life broadcast about Harper High School.


HarperHS_ServiceDay_Aug1_2011_JBarr (31)

HarperHS_ServiceDay_Aug1_2011_JBarr (31) (Photo credit: cityyear)


Did you watch “Waiting for Superman”? I didn’t, I figured it for a bunch of propagandist crap. These teachers though; these teachers, councilors, principals, security guards, they are superman. For the children of this school they might just be the only thing standing between them and the abyss.



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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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Edfutures, Reality Games, and Trends

The world is changing that is a fact. Education is changing. We seem to be transitioning from a set quantifiable collection of facts that make up being educated and we are moving towards an idea of lifelong learners or critical thinkers or creative learners. At least educators are doing this, it seems that the politicians are doing the best they can to stop the march of change.

Edfutures started this week talking about creating an artifact. We want to create something so when we come back years later to reference what we learned in this course we would have something to point to. But in reality the creation of an artifact is just the top level of Bloom’s taxonomy. We are creating something new from what we learned. What we are doing this week is discussing creativity and critical thinking.

Then I listen to Jesse Schell and his Designing Outside the Box presentation at DICE. And he talks about games. As he started talking about Facebook and Farmville and how those games caught all game designers by surprise and they seem to be taking over the world I at first stated thinking about sending this to my mom and wife (the two biggest Farmville addicts I know). I had already sent this article explaining how Farmville was basically a waste of time and contributed nothing to the world, whereas games should actually create a higher plain of existence and the inspiration we get from games can be brought back for us to try to implement and start creating Utopia, or so the Greek thinkers postulate. (A really a big paraphrase there) Of course sometimes I disagree with that hypothesis because I think Farmville creates a marketplace of sharing and favors between friends. So when Jesse went on and started talking about how games were starting to leak into reality it really made sense.

The reality is that Farmville and games like it are creating a way for people to socialize, but not just talk, rather they are creating an entire marketplace where I might do favors for you on the game and you might return the favor with babysitting services so my spouse and I can have date night. And who knows what else. Who knows what else because listening to the end of the talk Jesse ends with the idea that if our legacy is being preserved in the game “that maybe I should change my behavior a bit and better than I would have been. They might inspire us to be better people if the games are designed that way.”

So back to education the original point of this whole thing, if the game designers don’t get together and design altruistic games. Or if the games aren’t all created by entities with our best interests in mind, or the best interests of the world in mind, than it is incumbent on the educational system to create educated individuals who can see past the game and not be controlled by the game.

At the moment games are usually designed by corporations whose only intent is to make us consumers. Honestly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The game makers want us to buy something and we can already see that they are doing a pretty good job. Judging by the number of new toolbars on my wives computer I would say they are getting pretty good at convincing us to buy crap we don’t really need.

It has been pretty big news that Obama used advertisements in games and leveraged social media to help with the 2008 presidential election. While some may point to that as the first of many sucker punches the games industry is aiming towards the general population. The reality seems to be that if our students don’t start learning solid critical thinking skills then we truly are setting them up to be suckers for every Tom, Dick, and Harry with an idea for a game.

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Quality Education – The beginning

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I’ll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the http://schoolfinder.globalscholar.com/blog/

Education – The beginning

18, 2008 – 8:29 am by

The first step in
ensuring quality education for your children starts at home. Let’s
face it no matter how great the schools, the neighborhood, or how
smart your child is he/or she will someday struggle in school. This
is a good thing, if your child doesn’t struggle then he or she
isn’t getting the full benefit of a quality education. Many times
the struggle to solve a problem is what a student uses to take
ownership of the concept. Ownership in teaching lingo is what
teachers say when they mean a student knows a concept well enough to
apply it to different situations.

As parents one of
our most important jobs is to prepare our children to make it on
their own. If we can get this job done right in 18 years then we are
lucky. School is a great place to practice that independence. From
the first day when we let go of their hands to the day they walk
across the stage to receive their diploma our children are growing

Fostering the
confidence and independent spirit necessary to over come difficulties
often requires us to stop helping. For me this is one of the hardest
parts of parenting and teaching. To stand back and wait while
students slowly piece together bits and pieces of a lesson can
sometimes be excruciating. If you have ever heard the
of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly

you will know how important working through struggles can be.

When a child or
student does finally figure out a skill or concept after struggle it
is often called an a-ha moment. Yes, they really do say that
sometimes. So the next time you hear your child getting frustrated
over that difficult homework assignment don’t rush right in to save
the day, give you child time to figure it out by himself.

Monday we will
discuss ways to teach that independent spirit.