Learning at Edcamp Edmonton

The learning and sharing board at Edcamp Edmonton.
Photo by @EchoTasha

I first heard about Edcamps through my PLN on Twitter and was so intrigued that I immediately began a search for any upcoming local ones. With my insatiable desire for learning, participating in professional development that allows for free thought, expression and exploration with other dedicated and passionate educators was exactly what I needed.

Redcamp , held in Red Deer, Alberta, was my first introduction to how an Edcamp comes together. I gathered with educators whom I had never met and had meaningful discussions surrounding assessment and technology. The environment was incredibly rewarding and expanded my learning in ways I had never had the opportunity to experience.

Since that day, I have been keeping a close eye on the Edcamp Wiki in the hopes of another local event. Today was that day, as I just attended EdcampYeg in Edmonton, Alberta. I knew this was going to be a special one as my PLN has grown exponentially since May and I have connected and collaborated with many attending educators via Skype, Twitter and Google Hangouts. This would be the first time I would meet them all face to face and be able to learn with one another side by side outside of our usual tech avenues. The minute I saw Theresa Wells-Taylor and Bill Schlacht who I co-moderate Cdnedchat with and Kelli Holden whose students and mine have connected over Twitter and Skype, it was like I had known them forever. That is truly the power in connection; the creation of bonds and friendships.

Once settled in, everyone came together and created two lists : “What Do You Want To Learn?” and “What Are You Prepared To Share? .” The first was easy as I had many items to add to what I wanted to learn more about ranging from e-portfolios, game-based learning, to inquiry and technology tools, however I noticed that the second list made me nervous. I don’t think of myself as an expert as I am always learning and applying and so what could I possibly have to share? I was having that very discussion when approached by one of the organizers. We  discussed the concept of an Edcamp and how its different from traditional PD. It’s not about expertise, but about conversations, to put forth what you are doing and to have a group of knowledgeable individuals build on it together. Along with Kelli Holden, I mustered up the courage and put up a share session on passion projects. To see that I could be a contributor, fuelled my passion for the day.

The lists were then curated and we all check-marked our chosen sessions. I decided to attend the following sessions: The use of apps in the classroom, Inquiry-based learning and Game-based learning. I wanted to focus on areas that I am applying currently but wanting to expand on knowing the wealth of knowledge that I had the opportunity to access today.

I came out of the first session with an incredible amount of new apps to try to implement in my class with my students. This was very important to me because in September, I reset all of my classroom iPads  and began to install apps that allowed for universal use and the ability to connect and create. I wanted to move my students away from the click and go type apps, and more towards apps that allow them to express their thoughts and learning.

We discussed the use of Socrative, Explain Everything, Evernote, IBrainstorm, FlipBoard, Zite, My Script Calculator, Sound Note and Join Me just to name a few. The possibilities are endless and I will now get to play with these to find out which would work best for my current group of students and our learning.

Directly following that session, I attended another one about Inquiry-based learning. This is an area I am passionate about as I have witnessed how deep learning occurs when students are researching and breaking apart concepts with an intrinsic need for answers. There are many variations on inquiry-based learning and I wanted to learn more about the process and what it looked like in the classroom of other educators. We discussed the importance of scaffolding and assisting students in the understanding between questions and comments, how to collaborate and gaining access to student resources. What I enjoyed most was the support I received for the activities my students are engaged in. It can be difficult to implement new ways of learning and to challenge the ways in which things have always been done in support of student growth. Finding that support and connecting with others also on the same journey makes it that much more important and provides me with comfort knowing I’m not venturing into change alone.

After lunch, we engaged in a form of group debate called “Things That Suck”. Organizers displayed topics on the screen and attendees split into three groups : Agree, Maybe, Disagree. The topics were homework, report cards, closed networks and cellphone use in the classroom. We had 2 minutes per topic and a microphone was passed around for us to discuss why we were standing in each group. I found this activity to be extremely valuable as not all of us agreed and we could challenge one another to think differently. I was surprised to see myself take the microphone not once but three times. My passion for students’ rights and access to learning and success took over and I couldn’t not express my thinking.  I appreciated the varying positions expressed and the reasonings educators had.

What followed next was a session about game-based learning, one that I was intrigued with from the start. I love playing games using any platform whether on X-Box, PlayStation, iPad or Nintendo, because they are fun and engaging. My students are no different and their conversations revolve around the games that they play together. Our curriculum may dictate what we have to learn, but it doesn’t indicate how we need to learn it. I have connected my Nintendo Wii to my SMART Board on numerous occasions as an extension to our Physical Education outcomes for dance, motor skill development and fun of course. We also have Minecraft installed in our classroom and my students have been using it to create and build volcanos erupting molten lava in our rocks and minerals unit.

This session provided an even more extensive list and ways to use games for learning in the classroom. Jen Deyenberg facilitated and I could have spent a few more hours learning from her and her passion for game-based learning. Here are just a few of the games discussed that could be used in a learning environment on varying platforms: Minecraft, Endless Ocean, Wild Earth African Safari, Eden, Topple. World of Goo, Machinarium, Roblox, Amazing Alex, Scribblenaughts and SimCity.

The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” couldn’t have been more true for today. I am so thankful for the organizers who provided us with the opportunity to connect, share and learn with one another. My mind is filled with ideas of how I can continue to grow not only my student’s learning but my own, and for that I thank all who contributed today in implementing change and growth.

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