Teachers get a turn to go ‘camping’

In an environment where dollars for professional development are increasingly hard to come by, two Jefferson City High School (JCHS) Spanish teachers have hit upon a way to share teaching ideas almost for free.

Called “Ed Camp JC,” the free event is designed to bring together educators so they can share their best teaching practices with one another.

The day-long meeting is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 11 at JCHS. Out-of-town attendees can stay at Capitol Plaza Hotel for a reduced rate. People interested in signing up can visit: http://edcampjc.wikispaces.com/Registration.

Unlike a traditional conference — dependent on costly rubber-chicken banquets and one-way lecture styles — the Ed Camp movement touts itself as a participant-driven, flexible “unconference” that harnesses the power of social media and technology.

In fact, bringing a tablet or laptop is almost mandatory to participate, because so much information will be shared online, said Chris Johnson, JCHS Spanish teacher. People who can’t attend are encouraged to follow along at #EdcampJC on Twitter.

The first Ed Camp was held in May 2010 in Philadelphia.

“But there are Ed Camps all over the world now,” said Shane Williams, Spanish teacher.

The camps are generally free or low cost, but they are dependent on audience participation. Instead of a presenter, volunteers are invited to step up and share what they know. Usually a facilitator keeps the conversation flowing.

Both Johnson and Williams are excited about the opportunities the camp holds for educators who want to learn more about using technology to teach students. They are hopeful as many as 150 people will choose to attend this first-time event.

Both men feel modern technology is transforming the way educators teach and students learn.

More and more, just like every other experience, teachers are searching for ways to personalize the learning experience with differentiated instruction.

“A traditional textbook is necessarily vague and doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for individualized instruction,” Williams said.

A more personalized approach might allow him to tailor his Spanish classes more narrowly for his students. For example, a student interested in a nursing career might find medical vocabulary more helpful to know.

Williams noted few adults turn to textbooks when they want to know the answer to a question, and neither do students.

“They go to the web,” he said.

That means that teachers must transform how they teach, he said. Instead of giving lectures in class, teachers can record their remarks on video for students to watch at home. That way, when students arrive in class, the teacher has more time to answer students’ questions and respond to “homework” problems.

And it allows teachers to send students to different stations to relearn concepts they didn’t get — maybe they didn’t do the homework — or move on to assignments that allow for more creativity and enrichment — when they have already excelled. A student who is a slow learner can pause the video and replay it again. And students are encouraged to take notes as they watch, which means they’ll probably perform better on quizzes later.

“It’s called Flipping the Classroom,” Williams said.

Those teaching concepts, and many more, are likely to be shared at Ed Camp JC.

“It’s all about problem solving. It’s very solution-oriented,” Johnson said.

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