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EdCamp Philly! Part 2

Posted by phourigan on May 24, 2010

My session three was “Problems with Problem Based Learning” with Aaron Eyler (@aaron_eyler), and evolved into a great discussion about teaching and learning.

My take-aways:

Backchannels in class – I still can’t get over this.  Aaron has his students conduct backchannel discussions as part of class!  He admitted he had all AP and honors students, but there’s no reason that other classes couldn’t give this a try.  I contacted him afterward and found he uses Backnoise to hold these discussions.  I’m going to have to give this a try, if I have the guts.

“Does anyone realize that everything our kids do they’ll be able to go back and revisit?” – an excellent point.  My immediate reaction was to take this as a negative; after all, my Dean of Students role often has me talking to students about taking down their inappropriate posts and pictures from social networking sites.  However, when I thought more about this statement as a positive, there’s a lot of potential here.  My past papers, essays and tests are lost to history, but it would be an extremely interesting exercise to have students rewrite a paper that they wrote their freshman year, for example.  Digital portfolios should move with the student and be accessed and re-accessed, just like social networking sites.

“Our students turn in work that only one person sees. How useful is that today?” – Students turn in school work to their teacher.  They put their homemade videos online where they’re seen by two million people.  Which do you think is more rewarding for that student?

“Problem-based learning gives students a bigger audience.” – The connections made in the investigation of the problem make this statement ring true.  Expanding your classroom to include the larger world as a resource inevitably increases the number of people who are curious to see if the students can pull it off!  You can almost guarantee that if you bring in an expert from the professional world as a resource that that person will be interested in following up to see how everything went.

Trenton Barracks project – Barracks was going to be closed because of budget cuts.  Final exam – Save the Trenton Barracks!” – Students ran with this challenge, creating an online petition, calling politicians and even convincing an IHOP to donate a portion of a morning’s proceeds to the cause.  Amazing!  Forty-four students created their own portfolios to demonstrate they’ve done everything in their power to Save the Barracks, and must send their proposal to the state capitol.  My initial concern with a project like that is how to grade it, but if the students must keep a portfolio all along to PROVE that they were involved and making an effort, that would be enough information to allow me to grade the project properly.  Of course, the ultimate grade is the success or failure of the campaign, I suppose.

“Main roadblock to Problem Based Learning – the blocking of web 2.0 in schools” – I couldn’t agree more.  This morning in advisory, my boys were discussing their upcoming Health test and I could tell they were getting the definition of Blood Alcohol Content wrong.  I asked them to look it up.  They stared at me.  I said, “Take out your internet-ready device and find out the answer.”  One student guiltily took his iPhone out of his pocket (“I forgot to put it in my locker,” he said sheepishly) and got the job done.  Even with a teacher telling him to use it he had reservations.  We’ve brainwashed these kids into thinking that there’s something wrong with having the world’s knowledge in the palm of your hand.

“We fear for our students’ ability to face disagreement” – another point I’d never thought of.  In pre-Internet days, you had to deal with people who disagreed with you.  Now, you unfriend them or block them.  There’s no incentive to produce a thoughtful response.

I left this session feeling so inspired to take chances with my own CEC class next year.  Aaron works in a public school and has state exams to worry about, yet he’s plunging forward.  What’s keeping me and our teachers at this independent school from making the same commitment?

Session four turned into a short talk with Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyfj), a middle school teacher at my school’s sister school.  I had a family issue arise in the afternoon and was going to take an earlier train, but took some time to connect with her and hear about some of the great teaching and learning that’s happening in her classroom.  She’s using Wikis with her sixth grade girls and has had a positive response with them.

EdCamp Philly was tremendous.  I can’t wait until next year.


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