There's nothing like an 8-hour infusion of passionate, creative and focused problem-solving.
Presented by Steve Hargadon (FutureofLearning, Teacher2.0), EduBloggerCon is an "unconference," where presenters self-nominate, and are voted on by the attendees. The sessions themselves are less one-way presentation and more of a collaborative discussion. This makes for a fascinating cross-pollination of ideas and experiences.
There are a few interesting ideas that are emerging this year.
1. "Flipped" Classrooms
We're now in a world now where any student can find any information any time. With this reality, some opportunities emerge. Can we, for instance, flip the classroom such that students receive the bulk of the content outside the classroom (via video or podcast), and use class time for more authentic experiences, synthesizing the information, collaborating with peers to apply it, and/or using it to instruct others?
There are some interesting possibilities for the role of the teacher.
- A number of teachers use video -- of other experts or of themselves -- to deliver the lesson. Interestingly, one teacher required the students to participate in a back channel when watching a video to encourage discussion and inspire deeper thinking about the ideas presented.
- An AP History teacher lectures in the traditional sense for the first half of the year, then flips the classroom in the second half, with a podcast at home, and small group discussion time in the classroom. He makes the groups small -- 3 or 4 students -- so that each one has to participate (he roams the room to make sure). He changes the questions out every 5 minutes or so to keep things going.
- Many teachers cited another common benefit of this approach: Students can view the content at their own pace, and review to sections that didn't make sense.
- This idea of a "flipped classroom" worked better for high school levels, as younger students needed more direction.
2. Digital Learning Toolsets (Formerly Known as "Textbooks")
On a related note, there was also a lot of talk about the changing role of textbooks. As more classrooms move to a digital model, these books are becoming increasingly multimedia, student-centered, and interactive. Indeed, one discussion started with a question of whether there is really anything "texty" or "booky" about these new digital learning toolsets.
There are an increasing number of ways to deliver content digitally. Moodle is a popular one, which is free and open-source.
There are a multiplicity of benefits of these DLTs, let's call 'em. The content can be customized for each class, and lessons can easily be differentiated. You can include video, audio, slideshows, links to primary sources, and you can easily update them (for free!) to keep them current. Other interesting ideas included having an online community of students connected, like a learning hub, so they could support each other.
There was also a suggestion that traditional textbooks shouldn't necessarily be abandoned in this new model -- they can simply be another source for students to evaluate. Many educators noted that textbooks are often for the benefit of the parents, who want a familiar form to follow.
3. Videogames in the Classroom: World of Warcraft
Wait. What? World of Warcraft? The huge commercial videogame? In school?? Check it: At-risk students play World of Warcraft as a language arts elective in a North Carolina middle school. It's developed to meet common core language arts standards, and is available for other educators via the Creative Commons license, for free.
And, according to the program developers, Lucas Gillespie, Peggy Sheehy and Craig Lawson, these kids can't get enough of this game, which is helping them develop writing, spoken language, critical thinking, and social skills.
The genius in this is that "loremasters" (teachers) Gillespie, Sheehy and Lawson have written a curriculum around the game that maps to -- drumroll -- the Hero's Journey. A ha! Of course. The Hero's Journey is one of the most archetypal stories on the planet, and this game is a blockbuster precisely because it is a Hero's Journey -- the classic of all classics! How wonderful for educators to reclaim this tale, and update it for the 21st century, with the student as the protagonist!!
4. Management of Digital Life
As we rhapsodized about all the amazing benefits of technology, another theme surfaced: How to manage all this bloody information so it's not ruinous to one's sanity. One discussion covered the "negative impact that connectedness has had on personal relationships," focusing less on the classroom and more on our real lives. Many educators reflected quite personally on how they've gotten sucked deeply into the social web and how it's taken a toll on their family and close friendships. Many have had to pull back and create stronger boundaries to preserve their real world connections.
Similarly, there was another discussion where educators shared tips to keep from going crazy with information overload of social media. How can we possibly keep up with it all? (Answer: We can't.) So the trick is to be discriminating about where we give our precious attention. Following specific hashtags as opposed to all your friends was a common way that people took back control of their time. Another was setting a timer and only checking in at certain intervals.
I was glad to hear such a thoughtful and honest discussion of these issues. It's easy to polarize around technology -- to exalt in it's benefits or to demonize it for melting our brains. But the middle path is the way forward. Technology and the "always on" connection are not going away, so it's important to have an open and honest dialog about how to manage this in real world terms.
Some Cool New Tools of Note
Speaking of more information to manage, here are a bunch of handy new tools that educators are talking about.
Qwiki A multimedia wiki, with audio and slide shows. Browse "Daily," "Interesting," "Monuments," "Wonders," "Animals" and "Celebrities." A great tool for research.
Shmoop.com Oh, how I wish Shmoop had been around when I was in school. Integrated learning guides for social studies, literature, math and music. Test prep and teacher guides, too.
The Week in Rap Produces a weekly roundup of current events, presented in a rap video. Also has longer-form history lessons, also rapped.
Stencyl Allows kids to understand the basics of programming. They can make Flash games. Also has an api that allows kids to make their own iPhone apps.
Gamesalad A free games development platform, in HTML5, which will work on all platforms. No coding, it's drag and drop.
Storybird A collaborative storytelling environment. They provide illustrations and the interface, the kids provide the story. The result: A beautifully produced book that can be viewed by others.
Pixlr.com A quick way to edit images. I use Photoshop Elements for very rudimentary image editing. This is a quick and easier cloud-based solution.
Are you in Philadelphia for the conference? Or following along via the interwebs? I'd love to hear what you're seeing, hearing, learning, doing!