It’s not exactly camping weather, but I’m talking about professional learning here, or Education Camp . I was invited to EDCAMP 2015, held at Cambie Seceondary School on January 23. Schools participating included Cambie, Boyd, Burnett and McRoberts Secondary schools. The idea was to use a common Professional Development day to try out the EDCAMP format together.
I think we’re all beginning to understand that the most high-impact professional learning happens when people get together to talk about new ideas, try things out, talk some more and support and problem solve with each other as they go. No matter how dynamic the speaker, simply listening to a presentation and going back to the classroom is a recipe for inertia. The handouts go in a file, and nothing really happens. Like all learning, things go places when we have the chance to talk, try things, get feedback, try again and feel supported by colleagues as we go.
So what’s EDCAMP anyway? The short story is it’s a customized and informal way of learning together about topics of interest. The day at Cambie started with cross school department meetings which included, among others, mathematics teachers, modern languages teachers, educational assistants and teacher librarians. These job-alike meetings were a big hit, as people from different schools rarely get the chance to talk with each other about their work. An hour wasn’t enough for some of them, so they continued the job-alike conversations into the next session. That’s the beauty of EDCAMP – you can make choices like that.
Other options included sessions around questions such as:
- How can we better use formative assessment/feedback?
- How can we better differentiate instruction in our classrooms?
- What are some cool apps, website or technology that you’re using?
This is just a sampling – there were many other pithy questions posed and sessions held. I ended up at a session that combined the first two questions. I think that was due to a room mix up, but it turned out that the two topics were complementary, so we had a great discussion. Did we answer all questions and solve all problems? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The idea is to share perspectives on the questions and discuss possibilities.
Our group was diverse and ranged from teachers struggling to teach two (or more) grade levels in one class to those wondering how you can plan in a way that addresses varied needs and understandings without feeling as if you’re throwing a dinner party and serving up five completely different meals at the same time. This can be crazy making, not to mention unsustainable.
This actually led us to the formative assessment question. People seemed comfortable with the idea of working with clear criteria, different levels of understanding and giving kids feedback along the way as they learn . But then there’s the report card . . . This led to a full stop in the conversation. As a system, we haven’t reconciled sharing criteria with students and using assessment as a way to help them to learn with that row of numbers in a marks book that leads to a percentage and an “objective” letter grade on a report card.
That’s the dilemma – are we supporting students as they learn in different ways and at different rates only to end up comparing them and sorting them into winners and losers in the end? Do letter grades always mean numbers and percentages? What exactly do they mean? Looks as if we already have some good questions for the next EDCAMP.