Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reflections: EdCamp Atlanta 2012

September 8, 2012 was an epic day in my life.  After just five short months of planning, the EdCamp experience came to Atlanta, Georgia.  The turn out of teachers at 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday was phenomenal.

My first exposure to the EdCamp experience was two years ago at EdCamp Birmingham in Alabama.  I heard about it through connections I had made with other educators on Twitter.  I was excited about meeting some of my favorite tweeps face to face like Julie D Ramsay, Amanda Dykes, and Jerry Blumengarten (aka: @cybraryman1)  

The most exciting thing about EdCamp Birmingham was that it was a day of professional learning that wasn't like any other professional development I had ever attended in my 20 years as an educator.  At  EdCamp events  there are no rules and no themes. You decide what you want to learn for the day. Session topics can be absolutely anything such as new teacher tips, ed reform, classroom management, digital projects, or the latest cool webtools. Throughout the day, you get to decide which sessions to attend.  If a session doesn't meet your needs, it’s perfectly acceptable to get up and move to another room.

At the end of the day I was hooked on EdCamp.  I had to have MORE!  I just knew that there had to be an EdCamp in Atlanta....but there was none to be found. Thus began my quest to bring an EdCamp to Atlanta.

The search sputtered and spun until this past March when Dan Callahan connected me with Wanda Hopkins-McClure.  That's when the stars aligned and EdCamp Atlanta was born.  Wanda and I immediately clicked and plans for EdCamp Atlanta took off at a super sonic rate.  

Because the EdCamp process is a collaborative effort, Wanda and I began our search for other like minded educators who wanted to help bring this dream of ours to fruition. We began by making connections on Twitter and quickly set up a date, place , and time for anyone interested in being a part of the process to meet face to face to plan.  Sixteen people showed up for that first historical meeting; including Jaime Vandergrift, who was living in Texas at the time, and joined the group via Google+ Hangout.  

Left: Tracy Schutz @tracyschutz, Shervette Miller @ATLTeach, Cutia Blunt @Appsforclass, Ron McAllister @rondmac, Greg Walkup @teamwalkup, Nikki Robertson @NikkiDRobertson, Jaime Vandergrift  @JaimeVanderG (via Google Hangout), Wanda McClure @WandaMcClure, Kendrick Myers @MyersMr
Right: Shelley Paul @lottascales, Paula Boston @paulaboston, Kathy Shields @KathyDShields, Angie Griffin @AngieEdDirector, Glenda Wheatley @gewheatley, Cindy Dixon @DixonCindy

From that meeting came the date and location for EdCamp Atlanta as well as the forging of friendships with Shelley Paul, Jaime Vandergrift, Catherine Flippen, Shervette Miller-Payton, Kathy Shields, Paula Boston and Janelle Wilson.  

After that initial meeting it was simply a matter of planning finite details, reaching out  for donations and keeping registered attendees informed and excited about the upcoming event. 

The night before EdCamp Atlanta around 25 people, including some of my favorite EdCamp Birmingham people, showed up to help set up the venue. After setting up a few of us went to the Manchester Arms English Gastro Pub to celebrate with old friends and new found friends. One new found friend for me is Sue Levine.  I can't even begin to put into words how completely awesome Sue is, but I will say I would love to hang out with her all the time.  She is energetic, funny, smart and an amazing school librarian. 

Left to right: Lara McDonald, Dr. Stan Johnson, Sue Levine, Angie Griffin, and Janelle Wilson

Left to right: Tommy Wandrum, Jeff Richardson, Suzan Brandt, and Sharon Mumm

Left to right: Nancy Blair, Shelley Paul, Jaime Vandergrift, and Paula Gentry

The work for an EdCamp event doesn't REALLY start until the day of the event when all of the innovative, transformative teachers psyched up about EdCamp arrive.  It is the job of the participants to fill up the blank session board with round table style topics of discussion and then participate fully in the sessions by sharing their own unique experiences as well as asking questions and learning from others in the sessions.

The session boards filled up quickly, breakfast & socializing was enjoyed and then we kicked off the event with a special Skype session with Tom Whitby. Then it was time to disburse to the sessions of your choosing.

I love that by the very nature of the EdCamp philosophy, I could (while "managing" behind the scenes details) session surf (like channel surfing) roaming from one session to another session adding to and collect information from conversations in each room.  Session surfing can be unnerving to those not familiar with the organic nature of EdCamp events and may even come across as rude, but in reality, EdCamp sessions are not "sage on stage" lecture based presentations.  EdCamp sessions are designed specifically to give everyone in the session a voice.  A true round table format.

I was able to stick my head in on one session discussing the Flipped Classroom concept.  I shared about my friend, Trey Armistead, a high school Physics teacher from Van Meter School in Iowa who has successfully flipped his classroom but in a slightly modified way.  When Trey first flipped his classes he received a variety of feed back from students including some who loved the flipped classroom to those that preferred traditional lecture style teaching and everything inbetween. From there he now approached his class to meet the particular learning needs of his students.  Some students work through his entire course independently by watching his lecture videos at home and scheduling the associated labs and tests with him.  Other students bring their own devices to school or use computers provided I the back of the classroom to listen on headphones to his lectures and complete the required coursework.  Then others participate in a more traditional classroom setting where Trey lectures and students work on coursework, labs and tests together.  Using this method, the students can proceed throught the course at their own pace.  Several students have completed the entire Physics course in just a few short weeks and have then been able to take more advanced classes through online formats that otherwise they would not of had the ability to do if they had to keep pace with the class instead of "marching to the beat of their own drummer".

Another session I surfed into was  a Twitter Basics session.  As an experience Twitter 101 presenter for the Georgia Educational Technology Conference, Alabama Educational Conference, Cullman County Educational Conference, Simple K12, and other organizations, I shared my "must know" tips for finding the right people and groups to connect with; the essential key to successfully using twitter to become a connected educator.  Jerry Blumengarten (@Cybraryman1) has a wonderful list of educators he recommends as top educators to connect with on twitter.  See his PLN Stars page here:
He also lists great educational hashtags that will help you get involved in great collaborative opportunities.  You can find his Educational Twitter Chats list here:

After that I drifted into a room where the topic of schools blocking access to great educational sites. This topic is a frustrating one for me in my own school district.  I would love to use Google Apps for Education but am unable to do so.  Why?  It is strictly forbidden in my district to use any other IOS than Internet Explorer.  Internet Explorer and versions of Windows older than Windows 7 do not "play well together", thus preventing our schools from using a very valuable learning resource.  I showed the group two articles related to this topic.  The first was written by Tom Whitby, The World's Simplest Online Safety Policy.  The second was from the United States Department of Education, Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites.  I have discovered that school districts block sites for four main reasons: 
1. They do not have the infrastructure to support the technology requested
2. They do not know how to accommodate the unblocking requests
3. They are not knowledgeable of the child protection laws as spelled out int the DOE article
4. They have chosen not to allow certain sites

By the middle of the day #edcampatl was trending number one in Atlanta and by the end of the day we were trending number one in the world!  For those of you not familiar with trending on Twitter--- it's a big, BIG accomplishment.

 [The Twitter microblogging site operates an algorithm to determine which topics are the most discussed via Twitter users at any given time. The most popular topics are known as "trending topics." Significant world events, international sports results, and news about popular celebrities are among the items that commonly "trend" on the Twitter site.]

Before I knew it the sessions for the day were over, lunch had been served, and it was time for my all time favorite part of EdCamp: SMACKDOWN!  The SmackDown portion of EdCamp is fast and furious as participants come to the front and share their favorite Web 2.0 tool, app or any other thing they felt was a "must know" item in two minutes or less.  EdCamp Atlanta participants shared an amazing list of resources that are available on this Google Doc:

We wrapped up the day by joining a Google+ Hangout with Shelley Terrell and Adam Taylor. Here is the link to the YouTube video of our conversation:

Here is a slideshow of some pictures taken during EdCamp Atlanta:

If you took pictures at EdCamp Atlanta please email them to us at so that we can add to this slideshow.

I can't wait for EdCamp Atlanta 2013!  

Be sure to save the date and reserve your spot for EdCamp Atlanta 2013 here:

Nikki D Robertson, Shelley Paul, Wanda Hopkins-McClure, Jaime Vandergrift

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