Monday, April 13, 2015

Edcamp Branford: Reflections

My experience, limited though it may be (but growing), tells me that each Edcamp has something unique to offer. Edcamp Branford, held this past weekend in Branford, FL, certainly helped prove this theory. Thirty minutes off the interstate in rural Suwannee County, Branford High School is the very definition of a rural, small town public school. In fact, Branford is actually a grades 6 to 12 institution with about 700 students. It was clear from the start that small town did not mean short on enthusiasm for sharing and learning.

Making new connections is part of the Edcamp experience
Photo Credit: @jen_williams & @la_Profe_s

The 8:00 am start time meant leaving Tallahassee at around 6:00 am. Early for a Saturday morning. I was thankful that the Starbucks in my neighborhood opens a six, and my venti dark roast almost lasted the entire drive. Well if the coffee had not done the trick, the school band entertaining teachers as the entered the school cafeteria would certainly help get the blood moving. It was awesome to see kids investing in their teachers professional development. Student involvement throughout the day was one of the hallmarks of Edcamp Branford. In every session that I attended, students were actively participating in discussions. Whether it be about the value of homework, the burden of testing, or the use of Google applications in the classroom, student voice was a major part of the day's learning.

Getting ready to kick-off my PLN session
This was an inaugural event and Tammy Neil and her team did a great job in making sure everyoneTammy approached me as I entered the door and asked that I do a session of Twitter and PLNs. I pulled some slides out of the can and tackled the first session of the day. True to Edcamp form, those that attended my session made my job easy. Only about half of the 15 or so teachers in the room had used Twitter, and most left eager to employ social media in establishing and building a PLN.
had a valuable PD experience. I had intended to attend this Edcamp without signing up to share a session, but

Jerry Swiatek of Edcamp Citrus has been doing a session entitled Things That Suck for the last year or so, and it has become a favorite of mine. The idea of  the session is to give teachers an opportunity to discuss "hot topic" issues in education - thing that suck. The topics to be discussed are crowd-sourced through a Google Doc. Homework, testing and cellphones in the classroom received the most votes. While there were some real differences of opinion on each of the topics, the most valuable contributions were made by the students in the room. I guess the big takeaway from this session - and really from the entire event - was the value of student voice. We need to do a better job at including them at the table when decisions are being made.

Students talking homework at the Things That Suck Session

Sean Farnum of Edcamp St. Augustine led a discussion on Genius Hour (20% Time) that drew a pretty good crowd and lots of good discussion. I suspect their were those like me that have wanted to implement a Genius Hour in our classes, but needed to hear from those that have made it work in their classrooms. Genius Hour is built on the idea of providing students with time to follow their passions, to work on a project that they care about. While Sean was able to share his experiences in an elementray setting, Sergio Yanes of Chiles HS (and Edcamp Leon) in Tallahassee talked about how he has made it work in his high school language arts class. Sergio shared how he was inspired by the work of Kevin Brookhouser and his #20time Project. Sean also mentioned the work of Joy Kirr as a resource for anyone wanting to take the leap. I am determined to make this part of what I do with my students in 2015-16.

Edcamp Branford is sure to become a regular event on the Florida Edcamp circuit. Congrats to Tammy and her team. If you have still not experienced the power of Edcamp, I urge to checkout the schedule of events coming up and spend a day that will change your life. If you are in my nech of the woods in North Florida, here are a few events that you won't want to miss:

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