Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: edcampNJ and so much more! A good year for NJeducators!

The first edcampNJ took place on Saturday, December 1, 2012. This event was a labor of love for a number of people (see photo below).  I know at least one person is missing from the photo, but you get the picture.  For me the journey to December 1st started almost a year earlier when I decided to start using Twitter for professional purposes.  My first attempt in 2008 was traditional and did not provided me with much value; however, the second go around gave me a whole new perspective on the world of education and the people who are out there simply working to connect and learn from one another!
edcampNJ team
As I began to connect with some amazing educators, a sort of cadre of New Jersey folks began to form.  It was nothing formal, just a bunch of people from the Garden State who seemed to have similar interests in connected learning and personal/professional improvement.  After some time, the bonds among strangers became stronger and things like #NJED came about.  Wow, New Jersey educators had their own twitter chat (1st and 3rd Tuesdays @8:30pm EST). +Dana Sirotiak and +Bill Krakower took it upon themselves to  get things rolling and start bringing us together.  I had the privilege of co-moderating one of the earlier chats on preparedness for the Common Core.  Honestly, it was exhilarating connecting with all of these other people in my own state who were as jazzed about this stuff as me!

After some time, I connected with +Jeffrey Bradbury who created and runs TeacherCast, an amazing resource site for all educators.  Jeff's vision and tech skills helped to foster even greater connection between New Jersey educators.  He began podcasting about #njed and more people started to become a part of the fold.  Some of the people in this group had been to some wonderful professional development days that took place on Saturdays, didn't cost anything, and were participant driven, called edcamps.  After some back and forth on twitter, it seemed like we needed to meet to discuss the ideas.  A meeting was organized on Big Marker.  After our first meeting we began to meet more frequently on both Big Marker and Google+ Hangout. Between the focused discussion and the laugh-out-loud fun we were having, the group seemed to gel and the decision was made that we needed to have our own edcamp: edcampNJ.

edcampphilly team
edcamp leadership team
This is the point where things truly changed for me.  I met up with Dana and Bill and we drove down to edcampphilly.  This experience changed the way that I look at professional development.  You can see my reaction in this post from June of this year.  After initially hearing about the edcamp movement, I was intrigued and interested in being a part of organizing one; after attending an edcamp, I was hooked.  Soon after, I registered for edcampleadership, which took place in July and thought about attending edcampNY, but it conflicted with Teachers College Readers and Writers Project Saturday Reunion.

In the meantime, some other amazing educators began a venture that was spurred on by their love of twitter and its power to bring people together.  +Scott Rocco and +Brad Currie co-founded #Satchat.  As per its facebook page, "Satchat is a weekly discussion on Twitter that takes place every Saturday morning at 7:30EST.  School leaders from all areas of education are welcomed.  Feel free to sip and chat." +Bill Krakower joined on as a co-moderator and the discussions are phenomenal each week.  I couldn't believe that others would get up at 7:30am on Saturday morning to have educational dialogue, but they did and #Satchat has grown to include a West Coast version that takes place 3 hours later.  Once again, New Jersey educators making a statement in 2012.

These are just some of the things that happened in #njed and led up to the hosting of #edcampnj. at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ.  After doing my small part with the crew to organize the event and working that morning to set up, it was heartwarming to see that 200+ participants showed up for a day of professional learning.  A live #satchat was held to kick off the day, Teachercast was creating videos of events and sessions throughout the day, a Guidebook app was created to assist participants, the session board filled and we needed to open additional rooms, and a great time was had by all connecting and learning.  New Jersey educators showed their support for victims of Hurricane Sandy through the purchase of t-shirts and a toy drive for Toys for Tots.  Please visit the #edcampNJ site for more information and pictures! You won't be disappointed. Here are two reactions to the day:  +Damian BariexcaEdcampNJ Two Weeks Later and Kate Baker: My EdcampNJ Highlights.  Please add any others in the comments section below. Now it is only another 11 months or so until edcampNJ 2013!  Check out the great photos by +Kevin Jarrett and other from the 1st edcampNJ!

As if all of that were not enough, +Jeffrey Bradbury also started another NJ virtual gathering place after edcampNJ to help facilitate even greater New Jersey connections.  If you have not checked out, you need to do so.  This is a new landing spot for New Jersey educators to connect and learn.  Jeff has been working tirelessly to make this a functional and valuable tool for New Jersey educators.  It is a community that will grow and looks to provide a one-stop location for all of the needs of the NJ educator!

I must add a little disclaimer to this post.  It has been a crazy year.  I haven't touched on half of the amazing things that have changed my perspective on connected learning and education in general during 2012, so if I got some of the events/facts above out of order, please forgive me.  It is hard to keep all of these great things straight.

I am proud to be a New Jersey Educator and I am looking forward to an even better 2013!
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Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Reflection On The Media Coverage of the Tragedy in Connecticut

First and Foremost, I must express my most heartfelt sorrow and condolences for the senseless act of violence that took place on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  I cannot imagine the pain that the community is feeling as they mourn the loss of so many innocent lives.  This was truly a dark day for  humanity and for our collective innocence.  The bravery of teachers and first responders in keeping safe as many of the children and adults as possible is inspirational.

The purpose of my post today is to reflect on my experience watching the 11 o'clock news last night.  When I returned home from school on Friday, I intentionally kept the news off and the conversation on other things because my 6 year old daughter was playing with her 5 and 4 year old cousins.  This was a reaffirming sight that helped all of the adults during this difficult evening.  Once all went home and both of my daughters went to bed (the 13 year old was at a friend's house until 10pm), my wife and I watched the 11 o'clock news.  This probably was not the wisest move before bed as it kept me up until about 2am and caused me to sleep through the 7:30am #Satchat twitter chat in which I intended to participate.

The news of the day was clearly disturbing, as it was for all of the world.  As an elementary school principal it was difficult to process what I was seeing and hearing, but one thing that was clear was that I did not like the way it was being reported.  I switched channels and found that it was no different on any channel.  Here is my problem...

This event evokes the most visceral emotions imaginable.  While I was at school, I basically read a bulleted list from the Associated Press and every fiber of my being was shaken and I felt sick to my stomach; there was no need for the news to amplify the feelings that I was already feeling.  Now, when I watched these 11 o'clock newscasts, I was disgusted by the need to further scare the public and magnify the already unimaginable feelings that we have been experiencing.

It was like reading essays in a creative writing competition.  If I was judging these newscasts as pieces of fiction, I would have been praising the use of descriptive language and literary conventions in bringing the scene to life.  The use of words such as, slaughtered, madman, evil, lifeless bodies, carnage, diabolical, and so many others would have been perfect for evoking images in my mind as I read a James Patterson novel or a Steven King story; but for this real-life tragedy, it just seemed in bad taste.  I think that sometimes in the name of informing the public our news outlets focus so much on outdoing one another that they forget to be cognizant that there are humans on the other end of their broadcast.

Please don't think that I want to limit news coverage or prevent anyone from learning the facts.  I just think that there needs to be some thought given to when a story needs to be left alone and simply reported.  I assure you that all of the feelings that were intended by the gruesome descriptions on the news were evoked without the use of the most horrible adjectives the writer could find.  I am a true proponent of 24/7 news.  I love my smartphone and having the option to engage with the news when I want to and in a personal and private fashion.

One other pet peeve of mine is the blanketed coverage of the event that is nearly impossible to avoid.  Working with and having young children makes it important for me to be assured that I am in control of what their ears hear.  It is nearly impossible to put on the television at all when they are awake for the coming days because I lose that control as a parent.  I wish that the news would be as sensitive with this devastating information as it is with the results of the Olympics.  During the two weeks of the Olympics the evening news casts read a disclaimer letting the viewing public know that if they do not want to know the results, they should turn down their volume or look away.  With these kinds of warnings parents could have more control.

I realize that the issues that I am having with the news coverage will likely not change and that I just need to deal with it; however, I can always dream.  Of course, things are raw for all of us at this moment and I know that I am over-sensitive to everything, but I think that we need to realize that there is truly only so much our hearts and minds can take.  On Monday when I return to school with the staff, we will be dealing with our own emotions about this tragedy as we address the many needs and emotions of the children.  I know that we, as adults need to take great care in what the children see and hear on the television, but what about the adults.  Do we really need to be treated as though we aren't able to form our own emotions?  Do we really need a news writer to amplify them for us?  I don't think so.
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

edcamp - My post that went awry? - Camping vs. edcamping

Warning: This post was supposed to be my reflection on edcampNJ, but it quickly took a strange turn.  I kind of liked it, so I went with it.  I will reflect upon edcampNJ in my next post. I'll even use the same picture as the one below.  I made some references to our recent edcampNJ in this post, but it is mainly about edcamps, in general.  Enjoy!

I think it is apt that the event is called edcamp because so many parallels can be drawn between childhood camping experiences and those associated with edcamp.  Here are a few of those connections.

  1. Eager Anticipation! - As a child it was so exciting to think about an overnight camping trip with the Scouts or family.  edcampNJ provided me with the same exhilarating feeling of anticipation.  As the date came closer, it was exciting to think about how the day would unfold, what learning would take place, what connections would be made, and  what fun would be had.  Camping always held this kind of magic as a child.
  2. Preparation - Neither camping nor edcamping just happen without planning.  In the case of camping there are the obvious preparations; gear, food, supplies, maps, etc.  edcamp requires similar planning for the attendee; registering, gear, food plans, supplies, maps, apps, etc.
  3. A Desire To Go - It may seem silly, but camping is something that you have to want to do in order to  put forth the effort to plan the trip and take it.  edcamp is similar in that it generally takes place on a Saturday and requires that the educator wants to spend their day off from work learning with colleagues.
  4. Initial Bewilderment - For the first time camper and edcamper it can be a little intimidating to take that first trip.  Campers quickly find out that there are many people to help and/or campgrounds to look to for assistance.  When you walk into your first edcamp there is always that feeling of, "What do I do?"  Fortunately, within moments it is easy to find helpful folks who are eager to assist in making the edcamp experience a positive one.
  5. Camaraderie - Anyone who has camped with others understands the camaraderie of the camping experience.  There is a sense of bonding with each other through spending time within nature.  edcampers quickly learn that those other folks who decide to spend their Saturday at an edcamp are often like minded educators who want to continually improve their practice and learn new things.  This connection creates an instant camaraderie and collegiality.
  6. Freedom - Camping is a very freeing experience in that it allows the camper to leave behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life, slow down, and spend time enjoying one's surroundings.  edcamping provides a similar freedom from the typical professional development experience.  It does not rely on the boundaries of experts and lectures.  It is much more organic and free-flowing.  edcamps are a reflection of the attendees.
  7. Learning - It is difficult to escape a camping trip without learning something.  I find that every time I have been camping I learn something about nature, about myself, or about others.  edcamp provides attendees an opportunity to learn so many new things and just like camping, it is almost impossible to guess what those things might be!
  8. Fire - No one feels that a camping trip is complete unless there is a campfire, campfire songs, and possibly S'mores.  edcamp has its own version of this.  Most attendees of an edcamp get truly fired up and leave with lots of literal and figurative songs and S'mores.  Sometimes it is the fire ignited to learn more about something or the kindling of an idea that may start a fire back in your district.  And of course there is the obvious need to come back for s'more (couldn't resist)
I am sure that I am taking this comparison way to far, but I wanted to help myself understand the name.  I am an edcamp junkie now and look forward to future events.  With three under my belt (few compared to some), I know that this is my favorite form of professional development.  If you haven't tried one, I would register for the next one near you because it really is worth your while.

If you have any other camping comparisons for your edcamp experiences, please comment and share.

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