Really, I have done other things this summer other than attend technology conferences!  I’m taking a blended class on teaching writing, I’m working to keep up my garden, and we just got back from a few days in Door County, Wisconsin (a beautiful place!).  I’ve even read a few books, not at much as I’d hoped, but it is what it is.

However, I couldn’t pass up a chance to hit an edcamp within two hours of my home.  This was the brainchild of Steve Kwikkel (@skwikkel) from last year.  I remember him tweeting out about having an edcamp where there was more than just the edcamp, that it gave people a chance to get together and socialize outside of the venue.  That’s exactly what happened, with activities planned both the Thursday evening before and the Friday night afterwards.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t something I was able to do, but am all ready planning on doing one of them next year.  I’ll have a daughter in Europe next year at this time, so it will work out great! 🙂 Steve made me realize that I probably need to update my profile picture as I’ve shaved off my goatee.  As the edcamp was rolling along, he looked over at me and said “Darin! I thought you were around here, but didn’t recognize you without your beard!” Yeah, I shaved that off after I noticed it was more gray than anything else. Getting old stinks! 🙂

Now the event! It was held in the historic Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  Yes, the last place where Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens played before their untimely deaths.  What I didn’t know is that it’s a major icon in American music hosting people like Count Basie to ZZ Top, Roy Orbison to Lynryd Skynyrd. I walked in and saw some of the signed pictures and had to check the history part of this great place.  If you’ve not made the trip to Clear Lake to check this place out, it’s worth it for that alone!  I first ran into Jen Houlette (@JenHoulette), a Twitter friend for a while.  It’s great to make these connections with people you’ve communicated with, friends you’ve made.  Soon after, Kory Grahm (@korytellers) came by and I could have gone home happy, having met three major people in my PLN.  Between Steve, Kory, and Jen, I’ve learned and grown so much from them.

This is the first edcamp I’ve gone to where I didn’t take notes. I was there for the experience and to share my own learning out.  The live schedule page is not populated with note that were taken by various participates (found here) but I’ll add my own thoughts from the sessions I attended.

First, we talked Global Classrooms.  Much of our session focused on how to create that idea of pushing your classroom out to the world or inviting them in.  Skype in the Classroom was mentioned, but so were the various groups found in Edmodo, Schoololgy, and Google Classroom where teachers could connect with other teachers.  As we make those connections, it’s important not only to set the times and dates, but to really connect with that teacher so things go off without a hitch.  Blogging was also talked about in terms of having a conversation with different cultures, and again, front loading that by teaching how to comment, what’s appropriate to say, just the basics of digital citizenship.

Next session, Ditiching Textbooks, led in part by Karin Hogen (@KarinHogen), co-founder of a company called DocentEDU (@DocentEDU). Not many times have I seen teachers get overly excited about an extension before, but I heard the terms “game changers” and “this is the missing link” said out loud as Karin talked about her company.  Before she jumped into Decent though, we shared out a little bit about what we’ve been doing to “ditch” textbooks, and some different resources, many open sourced kinds of things, were shared out.  Then Karin gave us a little peek at what DocentEDU can do for us in terms organization, ease of use, and how it can be used in all subject areas.  It’s a one stop kind of extension, allowing teachers to go to a web site and insert questions, both multiple choice and open ended, video clips, self-grading quizzes, and all through a Google sign in.  No, it’s not free, but it’s very inexpensive for what you get.  I’ve signed up and look forward to putting this to use in my RLA classes. This can be found at

Place-based Learning came next in our sessions, and it was amazing to hear the different areas and projects that teachers had students working.  As I listened in, the biggest takeaway I had was make it work for you.  There is no magic bullet for how this is done.  Some talked about a Genius Hour method where students are coming up with their essential question and going forward.  Others talked about how projects were tied into and assessed through standards.  It’s about making it work for what you want it to work for.  One comment struck me, that once you go to a project based model, the traditional way of grading become much more difficult.  As our district moves forward with standard based grading, I can see something like this fitting into what many of us will be doing in our classrooms.  On a side note, these notes are why I stopped taking notes. They are, as my daughter says, on point! 🙂

After a great talk with Jen and Kory at lunch, we came back to Tech in the Classroom, which was just a different kind of discussion.  It wasn’t the “oh check out this cool app” that you’d see elsewhere.  It was more about the problems and solutions we see in the classroom, trying to integrate technology.  Problems ranging from just a lack of good technology to MacBooks or Chrome books, we hit a variety of topics.  We went through social media a bit and Leslie Wenzel (@LeslieWenzel1) talked about a book called Complicated: The Social Life of Networked Teens. She said it gave her a good perspective on why teens tend to let it all hang out there in social media, because that’s there way of communicating to their target audience.  While she didn’t agree with all the book said, it was a good read for her understanding some of the behaviors of middle/high school students.  A free PDF of this book can be found here.

Our last session of the day was Tween Centered Classroom, led by Steve Kwikkel.  In the linked notes, there’s an article that we references from about “tween centered classrooms”, giving different ways that we can change our rooms to help fit those who are coming through the doors.  Movement, the social aspects, how we treat them, how they want to be treated are all topics we spoke about.  Much of it came down to this: make a relationship with that student, and while life won’t be easy, it won’t be as hard.  Learn about them, talk to them, show an interest in who they are.  When it comes time for a tough situation, you’ll have developed a measure of trust that will help.  Why don’t we do this? Why do we hear this time and time again?  However, great discussion in this group as well.

Finally, prizes were passed out, we said our farewells and the two hour drive back home was made.  All in all, this day was a great for meeting some new people in my PLN (Sarah Staudt @Sarahstaudt, Larry Wolfe@LarryJWolfe, and many others)    and making connections with those who’ve I’ve talked to for a while now.  Make your calendar: July 14, 2016, the next edition of #EdCampSurfIA will be happening.  Yes, @AnIowaTeacher will be there and yes, I hope to meet you if you can make it!

Plus, there’s live music in the park that evening. I’m a sucker for live music in the summer! 🙂