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Edcamp Delta

I went to Edcamp Delta last Saturday at Delta Secondary School. For those unfamiliar with how an Edcamp works, David Wees summarizes it nicely on his blog. Coincidentally there were two other Edcamps running on the same day: Coquitlam and Santiago. I arrived in Delta at 8:30 am after only 2.5 hours of sleep which is a record since I never had less than three hours of sleep a night even during my four years at UBC. There were free lunch and snacks which I wasn’t expecting because the website said we would be responsible for bringing our own food.

Unfortunately the topic that I most wanted to talk about, What do Grades Mean,was left out. There was an overlap of similar topics such as Technology 101 – Social Media, Technology in Science, Google apps in Education and Twitter in the Classroom. I thought those four topics could have been combined into broader ones so we would have more of a variety of topics to discuss. I was considering to propose my own topics Knowledge vs Critical Thinking Based Learning and Math Education but it was my first time at an Edcamp and I didn’t know what to expect then.

My first workshop was Formative Assessment. I wanted to stir up a debate whether the BC Provincial Exams and FSA should be mandatory, but we didn’t get enough time. A main concern among educators is how to personalize education for each student given the time constraints and when class sizes are 30+ students. There were three interesting points brought up:

  • Fist to five method – Students show using their fingers how much they know about the current unit. It’s a quick way to see if everyone is on the same page. I would question whether that method measures more of a student’s confidence or their actual understanding of a topic.
  • Choice – Students would be able to choose to do a play, painting, sculpture, etc… instead of being forced to write an essay each time to represent their learning.
  • Blogging – One high-school teacher gets his students to blog about what they’re learning which comprises 20% of one’s mark. I see potential in that since students reflect on what they’re learning and they get to see their peers’ interpretations of various issues.

The second workshop was What Must Stay and What Must Go in Education. The discussion centered around the babies and bathwater metaphor. I didn’t understand the metaphor, but did get the point that some things needed to stay (the babies) in the education system and some things needed to go (the bathwater). Again the teachers recognized the education of the masses system is not ideal. It was suggested that teachers streamline learning outcomes (go with the flow) rather than have an absolute standard that every student has to meet. I also mentioned that education is lifelong and shouldn’t be restricted to schools. To be honest, all the important life skills and lessons I know, I learned outside of the classroom. If I wanted to know the pathway of glycolysis or which hormones are secreted from the anterior pituitary, I can get that information within two minutes on my phone. Some babies mentioned were integration of subjects, focus on students and relationships, portfolio of learning (ie keep records of learning), passionate teachers and eco-literacy. Some bathwater mentioned were the numbered grading system, report cards and knowledge-based learning. I ended the discussion by asking what is the purpose of education (I blogged my answer here). Once we find an answer we will have a better idea of what the babies and bathwater should be.

My third workshop was Project Based Learning. It is synonymous with problem based learning, but our group treated the two as the same. Apparently the teachers had trouble coming up with PBL ideas for science courses and not art courses such as English and Social Studies. I find that counterintuitive since science is all about answering questions and solving problems. I thought the time could have been better spent since people mostly discussed the different PBL activities they have used in the past. I also got the feeling that many teachers were unsure of how to carry out PBL effectively and there was no one at the session who could give advice.

The last workshop was Helping Students Learn for Knowledge’s Sake. One teacher suggested replacing the numbered grading system with a comments section. Instead of receiving a percentage, students would get comments such as good, satisfactory, needs improvement etc. on their report card. However I argued that  is very subjective since what does satisfactory mean to each person? We should keep the grading system, albeit imperfect, rather than abandon it since we still need a way to distinguish students who are applying for scholarships, universities, professional schools etc… The problem is that grades extrinsically motivate many students to learn so removing the grading system will not address that issue. Instead we need to find a way to intrinsically motivate students to learn. Unfortunately we didn’t stay on topic to discuss that.

Although the level of discussion wasn’t the same as the ICE event at UBC last October, I enjoyed my day in Delta very much. Most of the participants were high-school teachers and administrators so the crowd was homogeneous, but there were still lots of interesting discussions. It was amusing how everyone I met asked me what I teach since they assumed everyone there was a teacher. My biggest complaints were that I had to trek all the way from Vancouver and it was on the same day as the UBC Student Leadership Conference. I look forward to attending the next Edcamp event. Hopefully I will be able to lead my own discussion too.

Categories: Education
  1. January 17, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    I also hope to go to the next one. And likewise, I’m also looking for a “What do grades/evaluations mean/measure?” session…

  1. November 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm

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