We are off and running. The conversations are going pretty strong. We started with the topics of African – Americans and public opinion. The public opinion group is more lively. They have reverted back to talking about 5th grade history and now the discussion leader is trying to bring the conversation back. I am working hard to stay out of it. One student leader just asked me for a computer to look up her notes. That conversation has stalled. Now there is a back and forth between the groups. Students are wondering about how war affected people’s opinions about African-Americans. The leader has now taken charge now that she has her notes. For the first group, I am letting them go ten minutes. After that, we will try to lengthen. This is really hard for students. All the more reason I need to do more of it. Students need to own their learning. They are too used to being told what they should know. Good question about south and Emancipation Proclamation.

Second group is starting off strong with presenters about women and foreign countries taking charge. My only concern is that they will just say everything they know and then look at each other. The shared leadership of the group talking about women in working well. I am hoping to see the other students get involved in the discussion. The discussion about foreign powers seems to be involving other members more. So far, this round is more focused. I think that the awkwardness is diminishing. The ten minutes is almost up and they are still talking, although they are winding down.

Round three – technology in the Civil War and leadership in North and South. Again, both groups are starting out strong. The tech group is talking about railroads. I wonder if they will move beyond that. They are now moving onto medicine. Now they are moving to weaponry. The leadership group is taking turns talking about North and then South. Note to self – I am going to try to ride this model into discussion next class, when I give them the first ten minutes to debrief the homework reading without me talking. There are some students who are asking really good questions. One thing I like about this is that I am hearing voices I rarely hear in full class discussion led by me. One student is using a laptop for notes, and the other is using his phone. The tech group seems done but leadership is still going. One more minute. If I look up they will try to get me to pull the plug.

Now the smack down where students each write a one sentence takeaway from the discussion.

EdCafe – take two. We constructed the grid. Turns out that the sessions are uneven. Since it is really about topics, in Edcamp spirit, I am letting it go. So far, the conversations are off to a pretty good start. Looking around the room, not everyone is visibly engaged. I will keep monitoring to see if it is the subjects or just the beginning. The discussion leaders are doing a good job. Now I need to pay attention to the non-presenters.

Second group starting now. People seem more engaged. I do not think it is the topics; it is more that they are warmed up. I wonder if I need to build into this process a warm -up activity other than just constructing the schedule. In fact, someone in the last class suggested that we should construct the grid ahead of time. Okay – one group is completely off topic, but the discussion leader has now taken charge again bringing the focus back to the subject. One group has shifted to current events.

Last groups starting now – a second session on photography and one on Confederate generals. The groups are comfortable and the discussions are interesting. Groups are losing steam with about five minutes left in ten minute session. Now they are coming back. It is hard to keep from jumping in, but I think they can get more depth if I stay out of it and resist the urge to cut it short. There is the chance that they will quit, but I need to take that risk. It is more about process than information. I wonder what the smackdown will look like for this class. Some of the discussion is interesting, and the topics are not as mainstream. For Confederate generals, they did not do Lee.

Now heading to the smackdown and debrief. In the debrief, I heard some of the same ideas as th previous class had. Most involved some amount of planning. I explained that while I could see their point, I did not want this to be another presentation. They need to work on participating in discussion, even where they do not have extensive information. Some kids suggested that people divide up topics and research different parts of it, and that the discussion groups should be even in numbers. I explained the autonomy and the spirit of choice in Edcamp. We have a little way to go, but I am optimistic we will get there.

Gotta run, but I want to publish without editing, in the spirit of live blogging. Tried to be careful. Forgive the occasional typo, please.


Free Blogging: True Confessions – I would have been the student…

who had no idea what to do. Yesterday, I asked my students to come to class and blog about anything they wanted. Some were prepared and jumped right in. Others took a moment but also quickly got focused. Then, there was a third group who wanted me to assign a topic. I thought about how they were unprepared for the freedom of choice, used to being restricted by the system, etc. I had experienced this before with free research days. What was new to me yesterday was the realization that I would have been one of these students who struggled with the choice, and for many reasons.

I would have wanted to know what my teacher really wanted so that I could do it. I would have worried that something I chose myself would not be interesting enough – something about the pre-approval of a teacher created question is very appealing. I would have wondered what everyone else was writing about and self-consciously compared myself. I would have worried that others could read it and joyously judge me. In other words, I was fairly confident in my ability to follow teacher directions and execute reasonably well. I was not at all confident in myself or comfortable in my own skin.

So – have I gotten over those fears? What would I do today given free reign on my blog Technically I do have that since I choose to blog. But I find that I have created a niche for my blogging. I only blog about my teaching and my classes, really. So here goes…

Technology outside of the classroom. I am a bit of a tech junkie. I check email, Facebook and Twitter regularly. I like to stay on top of things. Having an iPad has made the situation both better and worse. It is better because I do not have to get up from the couch to do any of those things. It is worse for the same reason. I like feeling connected and have been well served with the commiseration I get from Facebook and the inspiration I get from Twitter. Yet, the ways tech is creeping in are growing, including my new obsession with watching the points go up (or down – thanks to my Green Bay defense last week) in my Fantasy Football games. I like keeping up, but I am less focused on the game (unless it it the Ravens). The experience is altered. I think I need to try to watch an entire game without checking anything at all. One of my students wrote about mindfulness yesterday. I may need to work on that – being present, in the moment. So, this Sunday, I will leave the iPad aside and try not to miss it too much.

Having said all of this, the Presidential Debate would have been very dull, even unwatchable without the chat room on TodaysMeet with other teachers and students.

Am I wondering if anyone will read this and how someone might respond? Do I worry that people I know and do not know will judge me? A little bit. Will I ever be completely comfortable with blogging? I don’t know. Is this good for me? Absolutely.