Thursday, May 23, 2013

Traditional PD

On Tuesday, I attended a professional development experience on Genocide.  The conference was held at Ramapo College, and while it was raising awareness of several examples, the Armenian Genocide of the First World War era was the focus.

The conference began in typical fashion--opening remarks  and a mention (by the fantastic Paul Winkler) of the Holocaust/Genocide mandate for schools to discuss the Holocaust and Genocide (their website has some great resources).

Next, Michael Bobelian gave us some information in lecture form about the Armenian Genocide, giving us the basic outline likely in his book, Children of Armenia:  A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice.

Here's where I started to struggle.  It became clear that the lecture format of PD just wasn't going to work for me.  I took excellent notes, but struggled in general with the presentation.  See, he had a powerpoint with some incredible resources.  But, he didn't share it with us.  Copies of his book were around the room, and a quick flip through it showed me that the resources in his presentation weren't even there.  Luckily, I'm a Google Fanatic, and was able to find some of the resources, supporting information, and the like by searching on my own, and you can see those links in my notes.  But the idea of "sage on the stage" instruction is

By this point, I had looked around the room a few times and noticed something else that was very different from my recent PD experiences.  After requesting the wireless password (I was told they didn't have one, and would try to get it), I helped one woman connect using her ipad.  There were a handful of ipads, one or two besides me with laptops, and every one else of the 70 or so participants had a pad and paper.  A pad and paper that would probably go into a desk drawer to only be found at the end of the year or when he/she cleans out the desk one day.

As much as I dislike group work or forced collaboration at conferences, it is clear how much more engaging a presentation becomes when you turn to someone to discuss--even if it's just because you're listening to someone else's ideas and/or voice!

The next piece of the conference was two high school teachers presenting on the pedagogy of teaching Genocide.  YAY!  Teachers vs professors, I had high hopes for collaboration.  Alas, it was again more presentation (though much more sharing of the resources).  There seemed to be more time for questions, but it really was a "here's how I do it" sort of thing.  That's not to say it wasn't valuable; in fact, there were a ton of resources shared and instructional/assessment tools that could be applied to areas of Social Studies beyond Genocide.  It's just something different from what I expect from PD these days.

After an hour for lunch (everyone at my table was wondering what to do with themselves for the remaining 40 minutes after finishing!), we heard from a panel of survivors.  For some reason, despite this again being listening with no graphics, it was incredibly engaging.  Hearing their stories, hearing what they think we should be doing to stop Genocide, hearing their takes on the big picture, really had a huge impact.  When considering how best to present Genocide to students, clearly survivor stories and testimony is the way to go.  Nothing humanizes inhumanity better than hearing stories from survivors (and their descendants, as the case was for one woman on the panel here), and few things work better for history than storytelling.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Saturday was my second visit to #Edcampphilly, and I had a great time and learned about so much.  Most notable about this time around was that I actually got up the nerve to present something.  Yes, it was in a large group of presenters, but it's saying something that I got such gumption.  We shared thoughts on Flipped Classroom, Paperless Classroom, 20% Time, and Edmodo.  Here's our Session Doc, and the Q and A was run via Today's Meet (at the bottom of the Session Doc).

In the first session, I participated in a discussion about Being Kind Online and using the fantastic novel Wonder as a starting point for those discussions.  I found some great resources (shared in the Google Doc), but also got some great ideas for parenting my young elementary school aged son.  It really got me thinking about the idea of Googling yourself---everyone always says you should do this, but I've been so very nervous to do so.  It all started way back when ratemyteacher was new.....  I need to figure out how to develop a thicker skin, really.

In the second session, I did a little bit of session hopping.  I finally settled down in Gerald Aungst's session "Preventing the Zombie Apocalypse," where there was some great conversation happening about how teachers can keep students engaged in school!  Gerald started the conversation with his own sons to demonstrate the ways that grades and scores don't really measure a student's engagement in the content.  Some great conversations here about engagement and what schools do/don't let students and/or teachers do.

We had a fantastic (though hurried) lunch down the street at Picnic.  It was a ten minute hike there and another ten minutes back, so we had to eat quickly in order to prepare for our third session presentation.

I think on the whole, our session went really well, and I'm really proud of all of us!  We had too much to talk about, though, which is the problem of cramming four different people into one short presentation space.  Our time was more of a presentation with some Q&A time; had we had less topics to discuss, we could have structured it more like a discussion.  The good, though, was that we shared a lot of our thoughts and materials on the session's GDoc, so everyone could check them out at will rather than us having to share them on the projector.

Finally, I ended up in a conversation about Doing What's Best for Kids without Getting Fired.  Interestingly, the conversation went in the direction of opting our own kids out of state tests and the movement of folks doing so.  This was not really a problem solving session of any kind, but rather, a sense of validation.  Everyone in the room expressed that he/she is an outcast at work, so it's refreshing to be in a room of "crazy people" who are all trying to do what's best for kids and embracing some new methods that don't necessarily involve worksheets to do so.

Here I am in the Smackdown, sharing the great Financial Literacy/Being a Good Human Being website,, and looking slightly less dorky than at EdcampNJ.
Edcamp Philly 2013
Photo by Kevin Jarrett,
I love the conversations that happen at these events.  I love the ideas, I love the backchanneling, I love the networking.  It's exciting to be surrounded by educators who are on the cutting edge of what is happening in schools in the area.  This style of Professional Development, where you're learning about or talking about cool things in classrooms, where you're participating (and not necessarily exclusively in a "turn to your partner and share your thoughts" kind of way, where you can feel free to leave a session that's not meeting your needs, where you're surrounded by people who want so much to be there that they are coming to do PD on a Saturday, is completely amazing.

Check out the archive of all the #edcampphilly Tweets, compiled by Brad Currie.

PROPS to the Edcamp team!!