She’d come back with all these camp songs, camp stories, and had camp friends. I had nothing–a summer where internet hadn’t been invented, no one had smartphones, and there were only three channels on TV in our region of Connecticut–Channel 8, Channel 3, and maybe channel 10 out of Providence if you had a really good antenna. Technically, there were four channels, but nobody counted PBS, because that was only about education, not fun. Victory Garden and This Old House were shows for adults punishing kids after the news was already over–because CNN didn’t exist either, and Anderson Cooper was probably doing the same thing I was–sitting around waiting for the Internet to be invented not going to camp himself.
When I was in high school, everyone went to basketball camp. Coach told me I should go, too. I’m not sure if he wanted me to feel like part of the team, finally getting my chance to go to camp, or because I really and truly sucked that bad and it was a basketball emergency. In either case, it was very, very expensive, and I couldn’t go. My teammates went, and whether or not it helped them in their game, they got to hang with Ray Allen back when the UConn basketball program was still struggling with its SATs. I didn’t even get to meet the freshman who got the water for Ray Allen. I stayed home.
Well, yesterday, all that changed. I got to go to camp for the first time in my life, EdCampRI. I didn’t get to sleep there, it wasn’t like the Startup Weekend recently hosted by Johnson & Wales in Providence, where you have to stay for 54 hours straight drinking Red Bull and coffee until you create a product or Red Bull ends up on backorder. But I did get a camp t-shirt and an awesome Edutopia water bottle, so it counts, even though we didn’t sing any songs. Really, what do a bunch of tech-loving teachers, ed tech founders and ed tech developers sing about, anyway? The next version of IOS?
I was excited to learn some cool stuff–EdCamp started three years ago to create “organic” professional development for teachers who were tired of attending workshops that weren’t helpful to them. I love this–I, myself, have sat through presentations on how students should be hydrated, presentations about technology the school didn’t actually own, and an awesome motivational speaker who made us get up and hold hands, but didn’t teach us anything about education. I’m not a fluffy person. Loquacious, yes, fluffy, no. And each of these consultants got paid a hefty chunk of change–I’d have done it for half price. Or an extra cup of coffee. EdCamp is different, and it’s free–participants write what they want to present on the board, and people “vote with their feet.” We talk, network, learn, and attend as many full or half presentations as possible. I actually attended two presentations at the same time–I sat in one and participated in the live #edchatri Twitter chat moderated the next room over. Virtual bilocation–you can’t beat it!
I presented Learnist–my first official tech presentation. I showed my Learnist material on my class blog, and demonstrated how Twitter helped me to notify students of blog posts and the Learnboards I made.
Next, I went to Sarah Krakauer’s presentation on Global Learning, and then got a chance to participate in a heated ed policy debate in an activity called “Things that Suck.” It was an engaging activity I’ll definitely modify for use in my classroom after I find a synonym for the word “suck.” I debated the necessity of homework with several educators, including principal Dan Kelly, who surprisingly thought less of homework than me, handing me a resounding defeat with Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth. Dan is one of the most inspirational educational leaders in the region. He’s technified his school and even partnered with Bryant University in bringing his students the Confucius Institute, a program that encourages the learning of Chinese language and culture. With this being the century of US-Asian relations, that’s a big win for his students.
EdCamp let me talk about how to get more technology in my school. I spoke with people who have been there and jumped the hurdles of funding, regulations, and infrastructure. People who have made technology shine in their schools–schools with resources and schools where resources were more difficult to come by.
Finally, I got to connect with some amazing developers and founders like Harsh Patel, developer of a platform called Portfoliyo which seeks to unite parents and teachers through “frequent and streamlined contact” using a texting dashboard. Harsh drove all the way from New York because “it’s really difficult to get teachers to look at my stuff.”
That was truly humbling. I’ve looked at a few programs and platforms for developers and sent feedback–I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. Harsh convinced me otherwise. In a system where teachers are constantly being barraged by new mandates and negativity in the news and society, there is an entire group of people who are grateful to teachers for a little chunk of their time, including one who was willing to drive 250 miles after a hurricane that shut down his city to do so–and he had a decent product. I’m rooting for him.
I met Alan Tortolani who developed award-winning free educational games for kids called ABCYa.com, but insists on keeping his company in Rhode Island, betting that the Rhode Island economy is ripe for resurgence, and that it will be in tech. I agree. Shawn Rubin was there, too. He was one of the organizers of EdCampRI, and is the director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute. He also has a startup called Metryx. It’s a tool for formative assessments (quizzes and tests) that helps teachers to analyze the results of what they are doing in the classroom. Shawn is doing a lot to develop all things technology in Rhode Island–I predict that his group The EdUnderground (full disclosure: I’m a member–and it’s awesome) co-sponsored by the Highlander Charter School and supported by the Business Innovation Factory in Rhode Island will be a force multiplier in Rhode Island.
So, even though I didn’t get to toast a marshmallow–they are not vegetarian anyway, and I didn’t tell one ghost story, sneak out of a cabin, color a Sharpie mustache on a sleeping camper, or silly-string anyone…I didn’t go hiking, boating, swimming, or sailing, I did meet new camp friends. And I will talk to them and learn from them frequently. AND, I didn’t have to pay a dime.
[Image Credit: This photo is from illustrator Emely Rodrigues, who is awesome. Please visit her blog. http://blog.emelyrodriguez.com]