This past Saturday I attended EdCampSouthJersey in Mays Landing at William Davies Middle School. I arrived around 8:45am and immediately saw some familiar faces: Art LaFlamme (@artlaflamme), Justin Aion (@JustinAion), Brian Costello (@btcostello05), and Justin Schleider (@SchleiderJustin). We chit chatted for a bit, talked about the session board and basically wandered around meeting other folks.
I met up with Glenn Robbins (@Glennr1809) for a quick hello and told him I was mulling whether or not to lead a session on coding. He convinced me to go ahead and do it and so I did — Coding Without A Computer.
Then right on schedule, the opening announcements were made — general greetings to all, what an edcamp is, the rule of two feet, raffle, lunch, and the after party. And a few minutes later, we were all off to the first session.
I attended “How To Make $#!+ Stick” by the trio of Brian Costello, Justin Schleider, and Douglas Timm (@DougTImm34). It was a great session as they opened with their own videos on how they make $#!+ stick. And in true edcamp style, they literally turned the mike over to the audience to share how they (an individual from the audience) motivate, engage, and keep the attention of their students. One person said they let their students sit on their desks. Another said that they allow students to, in effect, do what they want provided two basic conditions: their behavior not be disruptive to others and their focus remain on the subject matter. Another said that they let their students explore all the standard course curriculum through a topic that the student is interested. They cited an example of a student who really liked trains and so through trains there was an exploration of mathematics, engineering, science, history, law, etc. Another person said that for math activities they choose activities from http://www.estimation180.com/ to get their students thinking about the lesson at hand. There were a lot of good ideas and great approaches. My input to the session was that I try to get my students to laugh. That’s all I need to get them to be comfortable with being in the classroom and letting go of their math anxiety, hate, fear, etc.
A great job by Brian, Justin, and Doug.
The next session I attended was my own “Coding Without A Computer”. The purpose of this session was to talk about programming elements and algorithmic thinking before writing code. It was also meant to be a session for those classrooms that have little to no access to in-class technology. The showing was fairly small (only 5 people total), but we had a lively dialogue. I presented several exercises to help distinguish between the automatic / natural processes that humans have versus the incredibly micromanaged and detailed processes that we have to give to computers. I started this off with the “doodle exercise”.
The doodle exercise amounts to the following: students should partner up with one student facing the blackboard / whiteboard / chalkboard / screen while the other student having his / her back to the screen. The instructor doodle something on the board — literally anything that isn’t easily classified as an already known object, basically just scribble, but don’t make it impossible to describe. The goal is for the student viewing the screen to give accurate, explicit instructions to the other student to draw. The purpose of this exercise is to recognize that when we speak to each other, we tend to speak in vague, non-specific ways, even about something specific. Here’s a random doodle to try to get someone to draw who has never seen it before.
We then discussed giving instructions to a robot. I was the robot. And initially, I possessed natural language processing. Then as we continued, I proceeded to reduce the manner in which we could speak to me (the robot me). The purpose of this exercise was similar to the doodle exercise — mainly to understand the vagueness in our commands. For example, when asked to take one step to the left — what does that mean? Whose step? Should I turn to the left first or just sidle to the left? How big should that step be? When asked to raise my right hand, what does that mean? How high should I raise it? What arc should I use? Should I raise it from my side or from in front? Should I raise it above my head? And so forth. We also recognized that this robot (me) is equipped with highly functioning video sensors (my eyes). How will this work with an actual robot?
Next we discussed algorithms and “objects” via the preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich. What ingredients did we need? Bread, cheese, butter, a pan (or toaster oven), a spatula, etc. We immediately saw that there were two versions of a grilled cheese (open face and not-open(?) face). Then we started to discuss what “bread” meant. What kind of bread? Rye? Jewish Rye? Seeded Jewish Rye? Marbled Rye? Seeded Marbled Rye? Seeded Jewish Marble Rye (is that possible?)? And we quick got lost in all the “dimensions”.
This led to a mini discussion about the word dimension. Students are taught that there are three (physical) dimensions, length, width, height. But in reality we (even students as young as kindergartners) operate in 50+ dimensions at a time. So I wanted to try to get us identify as many dimensions as possible for a cube. We quickly identified length, width, height. But then we had to think about what more dimensions existed. One person suggested “distance from the viewer”. Brilliant! Another person said “orientation”. Also brilliant! Another person said “hollowness or solidness”. Brilliant!! (I accidentally said, “not really” to this, but that was more because of my misunderstanding / misstatement about the cube I was discussing versus the cube they had in mind — my cube was drawn on the whiteboard and I wanted to discuss its dimensions, they had envisioned an actual three-dimensional cube. I later corrected myself.) As we continued we identified “color” as a dimension, and then we started firing off property after property and eventually we were talking about a fairly complex object, entirely more than three dimensions. One person concluded that a dimension is just another property attributed to the object. We also were able to have a mini-diversion about continuous versus discrete dimensions, which led to still a mini-conversation about The Argument Of The Beard, because we had ultimately come back to our seeded rye bread and wanted to know how many seeds are needed on a slice of rye for it to be considered seeded.
And then time was up!
On to lunch! More socializing, too many slices of pizza. I got to chat with Joy Coster for a bit (@joycoster) — we talked about, among other things, the Four Color Theorem and math enrichment activities. I ran into Louis (@AppleLouChi). Lou and I had met at a previous edcamp and he had attended my “There Is No Wrong Answer In Math” session. He told me that instead of having his students correct problems marked as incorrect, he had them identify what they did wrong! Brilliant! He told me that what he’s been observing so far is far more deep than what he had observed with students just fixing problems to be correct. I’m excited to continue to hear how this will work out in his classroom.
Then it was the final session of the day. I attended a session on parent and teacher engagement. The conversations were interesting. We discussed a general disconnect that parents feel when interacting with the school system and a sometimes disconnected feeling that teachers have when trying to interact with parents. Some floated a longer term approach rather than a one-time approach that has to be reworked every year. There was also a discussion about the size of meetings with parents, especially when having to discuss a struggling child. Why outnumber the parent(s) five or more to one when discussing their child? It creates a hostile / intimidating environment. There was a discussion about the edu-jargon that educators tend to use with each other that they then also use with parents, creating more disconnectedness. Lots of good questions and discussions. The point wasn’t necessarily to resolve all questions in that one, one-hour session, but rather to get the dialogue started and hopefully keep it going outside of the edcamp. My two cents were: a) as I work with parents regularly, I hear only the bad things they have to say about teachers, the Common Core, and how school is ‘stupidly different’ and b) in practically every other environment where one person has to have a discussion with \(n\) other individuals, it is rarely a good thing; so, even though the five to nine educators present to discuss a child with their parent may be in the best of intentions, it is breaking a lot of social protocol. Why do it this way? One person suggested a video introduction of all the people who will be present and what they can discuss as a way to let the parents know that everyone present is present for the child’s best interest. Great idea.
And finally, the day was coming to an end. We had the raffle as well as the App Smackdown. All in all, a very productive and professional day. I hope to meet more folks at the next edcamp I attend and I hope to keep in touch with those I met at this one.
Thanks a great bunch to Jay Eitner (@iSuperEit), Glenn Robbins, Brian Costello, and the many other dedicated educators for making the inaugural EdCampSouthJersey a success.
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