Monday, 13 April 2015

RedCamp 2015- The First Time Participant Perspective...

This is a guest post by first time RedCamper, Cathy Dohn. You can find the original post on her blog at CATHERINED2014
 Sean Grainger, Redcamp organizer,
speaking to the group about the day
I was lucky enough to be part of an intrepid group of teachers who got up extra early this Saturday morning to make a road trip to Red Deer. What was happening that would cause us to make such a trip – Redcamp2015 of course. This was going to be my very first Redcamp, so I was quite excited.

For those of you that haven’t actually gone to an edcamp before, you honestly do not know what you are missing. An edcamp is where you are in charge of your own professional development, you get a say in what you want to learn about. You share topics that interest you on the edcamp board, then people vote and pick those topics that most interest them and then the edcamp is built there right on the spot. It is a very exciting process. Then you go about your day, going to those sessions that most interest you. And if the session is not quite what you were looking for, you are welcome to get up and go to a different session. No one is going to stop you or say “Hey, what are you doing?” It's encouraged, because this is your day and you go to those sessions that speak to you.

So, fast forward to Redcamp which was held at the Glendale Science and Technology School (which is a very beautiful and welcoming school by the way) in Red Deer. When we got there, I was excited to see there were quite a group of people there to participate – people ranged from administrators, to teachers, to ed students on their own journey to becoming educators, learning coaches, other specialists and there even was a group of grade 7 and 8 students on hand to help out throughout the day. They volunteered on a Saturday to help people get to their sessions, to show them where the food and facilities were and all did this with a welcoming smile on their face. (so thank you to them for a job well done) They even came to a few sessions, but I will get to that later.

I was lucky enough to present a few things while I was at Redcamp. While I would not say I am an expert by any means, my good friend Kelli Holden (an amazing educator from Spruce Grove) and myself co-chaired a session sharing our experiences on different ways we connected our students using Skype and other forms of social media. It was great because everyone that came had a story of their own to share, which is the genius of edcamp. It is like one big collaboration of educators – everyone sharing and asking questions. While there were people that hopefully took away some ideas for their own classes from what we shared, I know for myself I also got some interesting ideas that I am going to bring back to my own school.

My next session I chaired on my own and it was a session on a passion of mine – using Minecraft as a teaching tool. Now what you need to realize is that this whole being the person in charge, the person who speaks is something very new to me, it is something I have just started doing this year, so I still get very nervous about speaking in front of others. The funny thing was that while I was nervous about speaking about Minecraft to a bunch of educators, I actually had a few Glendale students come into my session as well. And trust me, students are definitely the experts when it comes to this topic (so I was honestly a bit intimidated) However, again it was fun to share some of the different things I had done to use Minecraft as a way for my students to share their learning. There were many questions and ideas shared amongst the group and it was great to again see collaboration taking place.

Now the fun thing about edcamp is how quick everyone is to start talking and sharing ideas even though you may come from different towns, grades or even teaching situations. There was a brave group of us who took the “school shuttle” to the local lunch spot and we enjoyed having the chance to just talk about whatever – our classes, what was happening in our schools or even things not school – related (go figure).

The most interesting part of my redcamp experience was being part of a conversation in the afternoon dealing with Curriculum Redesign. There were a large group of us there to talk about where this was at in our different districts. Someone from Alberta Ed was going to come to speak as well, but we all know since an election had recently been called, that was now not going to happen. But it was still interesting to see where different people were at with this as well as the common obstacles and questions most of us were facing. The one thing I took from the conversation was that it was important for me as a teacher to use my voice and not be afraid to speak up about Curriculum Redesign. If I believe in this direction Alberta Ed. is taking (and I do), it is important that I speak up and share this with my colleagues, however challenging that may be.

The day ended with us all coming back together. One of the main organizers, Sean Grainger, shared something that was I guess a school motto and it really spoke to me. It will be something I will take back to my own classroom….
“If you’re having fun but not learning, that’s bad. If you’re learning but not having fun, that’s worse. If you’re learning and having fun, then that’s our classroom.”
To the organizers of Redcamp, thank you for a wonderful day. I left rejuvenated and excited about this job I do. It might have been my first Redcamp but it definitely won’t be my last.

P.S. The quick trip we made to the Donut Mill was an added bonus.

My Redcamp swag
My Redcamp swag

Sunday, 12 April 2015

RedCamp15- All In For Education Improvement...

Glendale Science and Technology School hosted its third edcamp yesterday. RedCamp as we like to call it, has been an annual event at Glendale for three years now, and it continues to gain momentum. Once again, an incredibly diverse group of educators, pre-service teachers, administrators and senior administrators, learning specialists, agency representatives, community members, other edcamp organizers, parents, students and others invested in better teaching and learning came together for social collaboration and connected learning.

In the morning we spoke about social collaboration and how important it is to optimize environments of innovation and growth. If we take a closer look at the social collaboration pyramid we will see that the efforts made below the surface wave closely align with the spirit  and culture of what edcamps are all about. Everyone who attended RedCamp15 yesterday made themselves visible and participated. They shared what they knew, had and thought. They found and discovered people; both those who shared their views and perspectives, and those who had alternative views and perspectives... a necessary condition for authentic cognitive dissonance. They connected and related to each other and certainly contributed their experience, knowledge and perspectives to the event and the thought streams that emerged as the day progressed. This is what happens at edcamps. This is what sets up the form, storm, norm and reform process (that occurs above the surface wave) for success. If the below the wave efforts aren't made, the above the wave efforts tend to lack substance, purpose, meaning and authenticity. As is often the case, the real work happens below the surface.

Making Ourselves Visible and Participating...
Edcamps are very much about connection. Each of us who attended RedCamp15 yesterday took time on a Saturday to attend a professional development event because we care about what we do and we want to be connected to the process of doing it better. I was speaking with a colleague later in the day about the concept of change agency. I don't think edcamps are about change; I think they're about improvement. Participants at RedCamp15 celebrated much that is good, effective and purposeful in education yesterday, but they also worked hard at discussing and sharing ideas about how it could be better. I think I'd like to call edcamp participants "improvement agents" instead of change agents because of this. Edcamps are bursting with positivism and pro-activism designed to move things to better places understanding there is always room for refinement.

Share What You Know, Have and Think...
The Learning Pyramid below is an accurate representation of what happens at edcamps... and what happened yesterday at RedCamp15. Once again, it's not about contextualizing the "lecture" as a bad thing, but rather about putting it in its place and understanding that optimized learning happens in different ways and in different contexts. At edcamps there is a heavy emphasis on demonstrating, discussing, practicing and teaching others during sessions that emerge through the suggestions of participants on the morning of the event. The lower four elements of the Learning Pyramid are the ones that edcamps emphasize making them a pretty good bet for those looking for optimized learning, and for those engaged social collaborators who attend them.

Finding and Discovering People...
We had such an incredibly diverse group of people join us yesterday. Perhaps the most interesting and hopeful cohort among them were the dozen or more pre-service teachers who joined the conversation and shared their passion for teaching and learning. One of them was a first year pre-service teacher. I mentioned early in the day how impressive it was that these fine young people took their time during exam preparation to join us, and how some of the rest of us who may be in the hiring mindset in the near future should take note. That kind of commitment is commendable and noteworthy.

We managed to round up this group of happy RedCampers before they left for
the day with their fancy new RedCamp15 tees!
At RedCamp15 I was fortunate to connect with an administrator that I attended high school with and hadn't seen since then. My wife made a similar connection after encountering two teachers who went to junior high school with her back in her home town. We shared great memories and stories about where we all come from in a positively nostalgic context. Another respected colleague of mine made a connection with an educator who used Mine Craft ubiquitously in her classroom simply by asking her prior to her session if she would be interested in collaborating in support of Reading College, an initiative he spearheads in cooperation with Red Deer College on behalf of entering third grade students in Red Deer. No matter if the connections were new, or previously constructed, I couldn't have counted the total number and different nature of people connections that were made yesterday... too many to count for sure!

Connecting and Relating at RedCamp15...
Everyone at RedCamp 15 was there because they wanted to be there... this makes connecting and relating pretty smooth:) We even had a crew of outstanding student volunteers who supported RedCamp by hosting delegates, attending sessions, setting up and taking down, preparing food and a bunch of other helpful contributions. How cool is it that a group of 7th and 8th grade kids get up at 6AM on a Saturday to go to school when they don't have to! One RedCamp'er commented via Twitter following the event...
I promised to take the kids out for lunch to the plaza down the street from the school to show appreciation for their commitment, and it struck me just before getting on the school bus "why not invite everyone?" So I did and from the look of it in this shot we were able to grab after arriving at the plaza, the adults and kids were connecting and relating just fine, and we acted responsibly by car-pooling too!

All day long if you were at RedCamp15 you would have witnessed folks talking, shaking hands, laughing and generally looking like they were enjoying each other's company... this is a good thing! At the closing address for the day I explained one of the mantras often spoken at our school...
If you're having fun and not learning, that's bad. If you're learning and not having fun, that's worse. If you're having fun and learning, that's our classroom."
Like-minded people addressing commonly held interests sharing a passion for learning and a desire to create optimized teaching and learning environments; that's what you'll encounter at an edcamp. If you're an educator, why wouldn't you want to experience this environment, and have a bunch of fun while you're doing it? I know; I can't figure out why you wouldn't either:)

The first wave of RedCampers gathers early in the morning anticipating
the purposeful social collaboration to come throughout the day...
Probably more than anything, I think the reason people are motivated to attend edcamps  is their desire to contribute to the art and science of teaching. People who are drawn to the edcamp style of professional and personal development are those that understand the value of face to face interaction with others. They understand that to contribute purposefully it makes sense to be present; in person physically, emotionally and cognitively... exposed and vulnerable as learners and teachers. At RedCamp we invite a cross section of people who understand the value added nature of being present, exposed and vulnerable. There are no egos at an edcamp, nobody gets payed and there are no sages on stages. Edcamp participants know that the answers come most genuinely from the middle; the room contains the answers when everyone in the room plays on a level field without any hidden agenda or ulterior motivation. When the playbook gets opened for all to see the most amazing dialog emerges, the box disappears and great ideas start to weave their way through the room, intertwining into neural strings connecting us in cerebral learning circles. Limbic loops are formed when smart, committed and open-minded people sit down in person to talk about topics, challenges, issues and ideas that they share a common interest in.

Edcamp participants are these people. They are the ones all in for education improvement.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

RedCamp15 Is One Week Away!

There are exciting developments as RedCamp15 quickly approaches... it's only one week away! We would like to share these with you in anticipation of spending an outstanding and relevant day of  learning with you on April 7th.

Some Participant Stats To Date...
  • So far we have 21 Alberta school districts represented at Redcamp15 
  • We also have school based administrators, senior administrators, local and outside of Red Deer teachers, FNMI educators, private school teachers, substitute teachers, school counselors, learning service specialists, external agency learning support representatives, pre-service teachers, university professors, provincial politicians, business leaders students and parents joining us. What an incredibly interesting and diverse mix of RedCampers! The dialog that will evolve amidst this group is sure to inspire us.
Our participant numbers continue to grow as we receive new registrations every day. We have a fantastically diverse group of passionate folks ready to take on some serious social collaboration next weekend!

 Swag at RedCamp15...

Once again we are so thankful to receive the support of both ATA Locals 60 and 80 for RedCamp this year. Their combined and shared support allows us to provide a continental breakfast to all participants, free t-shirts for the first 100 or so and door prizes too!
  • Our feature door prize item will be one of 25 relevant and current education trade books... We have 5 each of 5 different books to give away this year... (click the images below and to the right as you read the rest of this post to see the Amazon page for each book).
  • Once again this year Biteslide™ is sponsoring our event and has provided a special offer for all RedCamp15 attendees giving them a FREE 6 month trial of our School Pro license (worth $474)! That means that once participants redeem the offer they can also share Biteslide™ with up to 50 teachers in their school! Awesome!
 A New and More Authentic Format...

In keeping with the true spirit of edcamps, we have no predetermined "sessions" this year at Redcamp15. What we plan to do is post all suggested topics of discussion first thing in the morning at the event, and spend some time 'mulling' which ones will be the most popular among participants. (We're going to do this via shared Google Docs. Chrome Books will be provided for participants that don't have a personal device with them... see below:) The most popular topics will be assigned rooms on the schedule and off we will go. It's important to remember also that the 'vote with your feet' principle applies to all topics, and any topic that isn't chosen for submission to the official schedule can still become a "pop-up" session for any Redcampers that still want to dive into it. There is plenty of common space around the school to do this, and we'll have our very own     Story Café and Learning Commons open for these dialogs to take place at various times of the day:) Ambassadors Are Back! 

We were so lucky last year at RedCamp14 to be supported by a group of Glendale Sciences & Technology School middle school student ambassadors. This year this group of students is representing our Inspire Leadership student government. We're hoping a group of them will suggest a session explaining the United Nations Associated Schools Project Network context of their efforts at Glendale, but we'll see. You will be able to identify them by their baby blue t-shirts with the Inspire logo on the front. They will once again this year help us out by selling fresh smoothies at our smoothie bar aka "TNT" (Totally Nutritious Things) and new this year in the Story Café they will offer for sale fresh baked treats and hot coffee. Both locations offer casual seating for your pop-up conversations, but we highly recommend the Story Café for its coffee shop ambiance:) The weather for April 7 is predicted at a balmy 12C with clouds, so inside might be a better early spring choice:)

RedCamp15 Tech...

We have a large supply of Chrome Books at Glendale. The school has graciously offered them for use by any RedCamp15 participant arriving without a personal device. This is especially important first thing in the morning during the mulling process when we will be crowd-sourcing our topical content for the day. We will be collectively accessing the official Google Doc containing each previously suggested topic, and also those added that morning during the topic mulling process. Our wifi password will be provided in the morning, and our GUEST network functions pretty well. Here's the official Topic Possibilities document as it stands so far... 
Twitter... We are @redcamp15 and our official Twitter feed hashtag will be...            
We are fooling around a bit with live streaming this year... more to come as we learn about the possibilities here... no guarantees at this point:) Of course we prefer to collaborate with you in person, but if we can get some live (free) streaming going, what the heck, we'll do that!

We have a RedCamp15 app once again for your app'ing pleasure... we are set up with YAPP and you can download the mobile app here, or by scanning this QR Code with your device.

We encourage your use of this app, not just so we can broadcast photos, blog entries, comments etc., but also to provide an opportunity to explore and learn about the use of apps in schools as a potential to grow the levels of social collaboration in education.

Old School "Dot-mocracy"

The "voting" process we will use in the early morning of April 7 is decidedly old school:) We will have sticky dots available for all who will in turn place them on the sessions each one of them feels particularly intrigued by. The topics with the most 'dots' once mulling is over get a place on the official RedCamp15 Board that lists the room assignments and session times. Any topic that doesn't make the official cut won't just go away though. As we said pop-up spaces will be available all day long... all you will need is at least one other participant to join you and off you go!

So, that's enough for now... we will provide further updates as (if) they arise leading to next Saturday. We are SO excited to see you at RedCamp15! Don't forget, walk-ups are more than welcome so bring a carload of friends! Here's the registration link for those who know ahead of time they'll be joining you.

See you next Saturday!