#edcampss in Philly!

“It’s the best PD I’ve had as an educator.” That’s the way I like to begin explaining both Twitter and edcamps. For many people who have not been Twitterized, it may be a little difficult to understand, but the simple fact is that I enter a virtual conference of cool history teachers, engaged administrators and empowering thinkers every time I log on to Twitter. The same thing happens when I go to an edcamp unconference. I just walk into an actual room and am surrounded by the same people. It’s the best.

Where did I go?

Here’s the board. In the beginning of the session, the routine is that all of the interested participants come up and put a card on the time and the room they like. They host the sessions. Feet do the walking. You leave if you want to and no one’s feelings are hurt.

Teaching History without the Textbook

This was my first session. It was led by a Twitter colleague that I’ve never met in person before, @historyfriend. She has been a strong voice for innovative and reflective teaching on the #PLN (personal learning network on Twitter, specifically #sschat). Here are some of the notes I took on Google Docs:


  • Creating content is a powerful motivator for students.
  • Ask yourself what we are doing with textbooks that we can’t do without.
  • Using a textbook makes students dependent on the textbook.
  • Textbooks are written for general information.


  • Choices.edu
  • Crowdsource history content from the web?
  • GilderLehrman site for online content
  • Zinn education project
  • Reading the Wikipedia page with the students (determining sources)
  • Screencasting sections of texts (getting a world perspective)
  • RAFT assignments? Maybe tougher with the higher grades.
  • Facebook pages for Negro League baseball players?
  • Template for using Google Docs to create a fake Facebook page.
  • Wikispaces (student wiki spaces)
  • Livebinder
  • Evernote
  • Portfolios/eportfolios

Recommended Books

How to Engage?

  • Are we preparing students with the skills necessary for college (notes, index, etc.)?
  • Are organizational issues a challenge?
  • Password protecting PDF’s? How to do this?

 AP Social Studies

I stayed in the same room and began the next session with a great group of #APUSH teachers. The session was led by @Aaron_Eyler. He showed us his website and raised interesting questions about the philosophy and business of the College Board and its effect on student learning/test taking. We discussed depth and coverage, and it was a great exchange. Aaron demonstrated how he organized his Socratic Seminar, and that was really helpful.


The third session was on @Evernote. How to describe it? Evernote is a multi-device tool for recording information. It can be used in the classroom in a number of different ways. We brainstormed a few here:

Video record
Multiple tags
Text conversion
Document camera
Photos of student work
Collaborative emailing
Student emailing with subject tags/folders
Pushing content out
Distribution of materials with shared folders
Folder of students
Folder of classes
Folder of assignments
Save PPT as PDF for Evernote
Student taking notes by photo.

Shawn McCusker led the session. Truth be told, he was the second educator I found on Twitter when I joined about a year ago. I think it was one of the best ‘draft picks’ I ever made. He is an outstanding educator, an engaging leader, and a hell of a Words with Friends player. Greg Kulowiec was also in the session with us and he, as usual, brought up some very interesting comments about our practice and its purpose. He mentioned explaining ‘how’ before ‘why’ in classrooms with students, and also raised the question of whether it was a good idea for students to take photos of a notes board in class on Evernote vs. writing the information down themselves. Which is the better learning experience?

In all, it was a really good session. For me, one of the biggest take-aways was meta-tagging and how important it can be. How do I sort the information that I am bringing into my personal and mostly professional life? What are the tags and folders that I should use? I began, and still am, reflecting on this idea. Someday I may figure it out.

How can I help my students ask better questions?

Its hard to choose a favorite session, because they really are relavent and great, but this was a completely interactive session led by Mary J. Johnson, @JohnsonMaryJ. She brought out printed primary sources, such as photographs, songs, poems, diary entries, posters and more from the theme of westward migration in US History, and we broke up into groups following guidelines for asking better questions. While we were doing this, Mary had us reflect on how and why we were doing it – and what experiences this would mean for our students when they did this project in class. This is the photo my group and I explored:

We had a great time making observations, drawing inferences and then framing questions concerning the content of the photo. At the end of the session, we were allowed to take as many of the printed primary sources home. I grabbed a bunch. Oh, each of the photos also had a QR code on the back, which I thought made a lot of sense. Students could use their phones to scan the QR codes to get the Library of Congress website link to that particular document and instantly have the information about it for their use.

Project Based Learning and National History Day

The last session that I attended was mostly focused on National History Day. We looked at previous projects by students and heard stories of teachers working with their kids to complete the tasks over a series of months. We asked questions about the process of doing this event and some of the details (cost) and resources (travel) required. We also helped each other explore the idea of having something like this be mandatory or optional, since it requires a heavy time investment. It’s something that I have always been interested in trying and I am looking forward to bringing this experience to my students next year, whether as a club or formal class activity.

EdcampSS Ends…

The ending of the workshop was fun and engaging. If you’ve ever been to an edcamp unconference before, you know that the final activity is almost always a Smackdown. Participants get a set amount of time (about 1 minute) to explain something that they’ve learned or a resource that they’ve used, for the crowd. All of the participants gather and many are taking down websites as the line forms. It is always interesting! Finally, we had a closing activity from the keynote speaker to the conference, Kenneth Davis (author of the ‘Don’t Know Much About History’ series. He brought a timed buzzer game set with him to Philadelphia and asked teachers to become contestants in a quiz show. People volunteered and the game began! Many of the trivia questions were tough, but Ken explained each before moving on to the next. It was both educational and fun, and something he does when he travels to schools around the country.

As I left, I said goodbye to the many people I have been conversing with online for a year but never met in person. It was a lot of driving to go down on a Friday afternoon and night while returning Saturday afternoon and night, but worth every minute. I am truly glad for the experience and very thankful for all of the work of the organizers.

Edcamps rock! Next one is in Boston in one week!

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