Monday, August 12, 2013


I just participated in my first EdCamp at #edcampsfbay this past Saturday, and I'm still feeling the adrenaline from it. The "unconference" was one of the single best experiences I've experienced of sitting in a room and having a conversation with other people who share interests and passions of mine. I left Hillsdale High School on Saturday afternoon believing that I could do anything and that there is an army of people who also believe this and are available to help.

The session discussions were amazing (cf. below), but the best part of events like this is the face-to-face interaction: I finally had the opportunity to meet in person some of the brilliant educators with whom I've been having great conversations on Twitter. Steven Johnson is certainly correct in believing that "the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop" (Good Ideas 61).

If unfamiliar with EdCamp's "unconference" model, it's very simple: show up at the appointed time and talk with people, while ideas for sessions are posted on the board. The ideas can be on anything, and one need not be an expert on a given idea in order to propose a session. Then, once the sessions are set, you can go to any of them you choose, including leaving a session for another, should it not be what you anticipated. Within the sessions, formal presentations (e.g. slides or handouts) are strictly forbidden. Finally, a demo slam at the end of the day gives everyone a chance to share something they've learned.

In the morning, +Alice Keeler set the tone for the day by exclaiming that EdCamps are not "tech" conferences, which is absolutely true. Aside from taking notes in each session (found here), we spent the entire session in conversation that was always open and helpful.

20% Time Projects

The first session I attended was on 20% Time or "Genius Hour" (cf. an introduction to the idea), which I'm considering offering to my 9th-grade Latin III course next year, focusing on Classical reception. We spent some time discussing how "creativity loves constraint" and that it's critical to help students develop specific questions to explore, when working on #20time projects. Moreover, it's important to work with students throughout the process of the project, rather than simply assessing the final product.

One participant shared the positive effect that mentors can have in doing #20time work with students, and I'm going to suggest to colleagues that they consider working with our alumni office to find volunteers who could help them with #20time projects. We have a rather large alumni base that would be more than happy to work with students to do creative work, I'm sure, and I imagine that our students would love to work with them too. I'm not sure that our community includes many Classicists, but we have plenty of other fields to work with.

It was also suggested that #20time projects be connected to field trips, in that students could explore a
physical space and develop the kinds of specific questions that are perfect for #20time work. For instance, one class explored a historic site of importance for California history, and her class then developed #20time projects around the questions they wanted to investigate in relation to the site.

#20time projects are then shared with each other through blogs, TED Talks, or other interactive methods that promote students learning from each other and generate excitement that rewards the hard work put in by the students.

The final board 

I've become deeply interested in gamification, and so I was happy to see a session devoted to it. Despite thinking about gamification for the better part of the summer, this session added a new dimension to my ideas. In particular, I'm considering using badges within Latin IA game modules to a greater extent than I thought I would by connecting them more closely to our class standards, e.g. offering levels 1-5 (or perhaps even "Servus", "Libertus", "Civis", "Senator" levels, etc.) for verb master and adding even more levels as we meet subsequent tenses. Doing something like this could, in principle, allow for more differentiated learning by letting students move at their own pace.

I'd also like to offer students the possibility to earn their own unique badges, and I think that #20time projects could be a great way to accomplish this. In other words, if a student wanted to learn more about Roman culinary practices, the "Roman Foodie" badge could be the reward. Likewise, the "Consul" badge could be awarded to students who investigate Roman politics. I don't know of any good way to create and store badges for students yet, and so I enthusiastically welcome any input or advice.

Even though I find gamification very exciting, I'm very concerned about connecting badges to grades on account of the potential backlash.  I'll have to think on this and test out some ideas this fall.

Reorganizing Physical Space

In many ways, +Alice Keeler's proposed session on "Rethinking the Classroom" was the most interesting of all. Though I'd been thinking about ways to transform pedagogy for quite some time, I haven't yet put much thought into reorganizing my classrooms' physical spaces. The point that " physical environment can affect relationship between teachers and students" was made repeatedly, and now is the time to change (or at least shift ) school culture toward an improved awareness of classroom organization, considering what we want our learning to actually look like.

It's true that we have too many traditional desks at our school that reinforce the lecture model of learning. Several, if not the majority, of our classroom spaces could be significantly improved by the addition of more tables, couches, and even movable beanbags, in place of the desks. And after seeing entire walls at Google Chicago covered with IdeaPaint, I have it in mind to remove the whiteboards from classrooms and cover walls with it. Imagine classroom space with no clear front or back, where students and teachers mingle freely and put work right on the walls as needed. Going even further, imagine a similar space for teachers and administrators to work together. I believe more than ever now that rigid physical space imposes rigid intellectual thought.


I left #edcampsfbay with all sorts of ideas to work on for the coming year, in addition to those outlined here. Thanks to the experience, I'm even more excited for PlaydateLA this coming Saturday, 8/17, which will be more of a hands-on technology conference, and I'm already looking forward to #edcampps on Saturday, 9/14 in Palm Springs.