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Tired of the same old professional development? Try Edcamps

The first Edcamp was organized in Philadelphia in 2010 by a team of like-minded educators who were frustrated by one-size-fits-all professional development experiences.

As educators gear up for a new school year, they’ll be doing some learning of their own in professional development workshops and sessions. Unfortunately, district and school-based professional development is often described as tiresome and irrelevant, but there are alternatives. One of these alternatives that’s quickly catching on is an Edcamp “unconference”—the antidote to mandated professional development.

Edcamps are free, organic, one-day, participant-driven professional development gatherings organized by educators for educators. Typically held on Saturdays in educational facilities, Edcamps have no pre-set presentation schedule, nor any pre-selected presenters. Instead, participants volunteer to facilitate conversations and hands-on activities among peers.

The first Edcamp was organized in Philadelphia in 2010 by a team of like-minded educators who were frustrated by one-size-fits-all, passive-learning professional development experiences. Inspired by Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, the originators felt that their intrinsic motivation for self-directed learning was a more powerful incentive for professional development than district imposed “sit-and-git” training. They first met at another unconference for people in the local technology community, called BarCamp, to share their best practices and brainstorm solutions to common problems in education. It was there that the idea of the first Edcamp was conceived.

The current Edcamp schedule lists 164 events, starting with the original Edcamp Philly in May 2010 and running through February 2013. Some districts, like Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, have adopted the model for weekly professional development meetings—strictly voluntary, and open to all. While most Edcamps are organized regionally, some target specific audiences, such as superintendents, principals, a specific discipline like art or social studies, or a theme—like Edcamp CommonCore. There are even rumors of an upcoming Edcamp organized and facilitated by students—a vehicle for honest dialog between educators and students, education’s most important stakeholders.

Edcamps generally follow a similar timeline. An event is organized, registration opens (some fill up fast), and an online sharing space (where participants can initiate conversations about topics of interest before the event, post content for sessions during the event, and comment about discussions afterwards) is created. Here is a typical schedule for an Edcamp:


Text: Jeb Bush’s ed speech at GOP convention

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addressed the Republican Convention on Thursday night, giving a speech about education reform that is likely to fuel talk that he could be Mitt Romney’s education secretary should Romney win the presidential election, the Washington Post reports. Here’s the speech by Bush — who predictably attacks President Obama and teachers union — as well as remarks by a Florida teacher and student…

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Is education a privilege for the elite?

In June, Mitt Romney told Virginians on the campaign trail that he wanted “to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity…” the Huffington Post reports.

“…where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot of realizing their dreams.”

Except if everyone is to have “a fair shot,” then they likely need to get more education than they “can afford.” July 12, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, along with eight students, filed a lawsuit against the state and the Highland Park School District for failing to see that children were reading at their grade level…

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Chicago teachers vote to strike on September 10 if no deal

The Chicago Teachers Union voted on Thursday to allow its first strike in 25 years starting on September 10 in the nation’s third-largest school district if negotiators cannot reach a contract with city officials, Reuters reports. The strike would start during the second week of classes for most of the system’s more than 400,000 students. The last Chicago teachers’ strike lasted four weeks in 1987. The union representing more than 26,000 teachers and other professionals wants improved job security, a raise, a new curriculum and a nearly 20 percent increase in instructional time, following a push by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a longer school day. Public schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has said that with a projected $3 billion deficit over the next three years, the school system cannot afford the raise the teachers want…

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Not all private schools parallel Romney education plan

Expanding school choice is a central piece of Mitt Romney’s education platform. But allowing more public dollars to follow low-income and special-needs children to private schools — one of Romney’s main proposals for reforming American education- does not guarantee those schools will open their doors to them, says the Hechinger Report. For example, a private school not far from the convention center — highlighted on the GOP Convention website as one of Florida’s best independent schools — did not take part in Florida’s first voucher program, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2006. And Tampa Preparatory School — founded in 1974 by a group of Tampa citizens, including Al Austin, chairman of the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee for the Republican convention — does not participate in the state’s current school choice programs…

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Google Fiber could widen digital divide in Kansas City area

The city’s school district is worried that many of its buildings will be left without the fiber optic connections that will blossom in areas that are better off.

She has no internet access at home, so Robinett Foreman sweats over lost computer time at school.

The 17-year-old is one of 11 students out of 18 without home access in her business technology class at Kansas City Public Schools’ Central Academy of Excellence.

Stress builds in class, she said, “when I’m on a project, trying to do research, and [the internet] is running slow.”

Her high school, with its overwhelmed internet connection, sits in a neighborhood lagging well behind the pre-registrations Google requires to light up its cutting-edge web access.

“It’s not fair,” said Mona Price, Central’s dean of instruction. “It’s not fair to the kids in urban settings who are trying to get an education.”

Many of the schools, libraries, and poorest neighborhoods given first shot at drawing Google’s ultra-fast internet service look in danger of missing out on Kansas City’s digital revolution.

See also:

Broadband: Huge potential, but access barriers remain

School program makes use of new skills, old computers

Many low-income students struggle with lack of internet at home

Despite an offer by the tech giant’s Google Fiber operation to virtually give away some internet service to customers, the areas most lacking in online connections also appear the most likely to be left behind in Kansas City’s leap ahead on a light-speed network.

Less than two weeks remain for dozens of neighborhoods to sign up enough potential customers to qualify for Google’s service before a Sept. 9 deadline. But many neighborhoods—chiefly the least prosperous pockets of the metro area—remain far behind the pace needed to hit the Google-established thresholds of customer penetration.

That means many of the free connections Google agreed to make to schools, public buildings, library branches, and community centers won’t happen.

Google insists it’s too early to write off any of what it calls “fiberhoods.” It has begun to fix problems that have complicated apartment dwellers’ efforts to sign up for its service. And, most critically, the company points out that it has every incentive to round up as many customers as possible—and to expand to more neighborhoods rather than fewer.

Yet the Google Fiber rollout is driven by very real logistic and economic factors that make it impractical to offer the service where few people show an interest in buying service, even if that means a neighborhood school won’t get wired to tomorrow’s internet.


$2,500 for environmental programs

The foundation supports projects that: 1) Promote understanding of environmental issues; 2) Focus on hands-on involvement; 3) Involve children and young adults 6-18 (elementary through high school); 4) Promote interaction and cooperation within the group; 5) Help young people develop planning and problem solving skills; 6) Include adult supervision; 7) Commit to follow-up communication with the foundation (specific requirements are explained once the grant has been awarded).


$10K for student innovation

The 2012-2013 Spirit of Innovation Challenge encourages students from around the world to create products to solve global challenges for the benefit of humanity. Student teams are invited to submit one-page abstracts detailing their innovations. The competition encompasses four challenge categories: Aerospace and Aviation, Cybertechnology and Security, Energy and Environment, and Health and Nutrition.


$20K for essays on national, global challenges

Rand McNally and USA TODAY Education invite students in the 7-12th grades to tell our President what’s on their minds via Rand McNally’s “Dear Mr. President” essay contest, running from August 15 through November 27, 2012. Maybe it’s climate change, or the challenges of managing our scarce natural resources. Or is it health care, the cost of college, or possibly the economy? From the submitted essays, ten finalists (five from 7-9th grade submissions and five from the 10-12th grade submissions) will receive a three-day, two-night WorldStrides DiscoverNOW! trip for two to Washington, D.C. The trip is sponsored by WorldStrides, the global leader in accredited educational travel programs. Two Grand Prize winners will be chosen, one from the 7-9th grade finalist entries and one from the 10-12th grade finalist entries.  Each Grand Prize winner will receive a $5,000 529 Scholarship.  The schools for the Grand Prize winners will each receive $5,000 of Rand McNally product.