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Edcamp participants to take ideas back to their schools

It's just one of those things you don't think about, Sarah Graham said.

Joey Till said folks at his school didn't think about it either.

When schools outfit students with take-home laptops or tablets, administrators and teachers typically worry about preventing damage to the computers and blocking access to inappropriate websites. Who anticipates the need to put bar codes on the chargers?

But identification numbers create accountability, meaning a careless student who loses his electrical connector can't swipe another student's charger without repercussions.

That was just one of dozens of tips shared Saturday during Edcamp, a daylong education workshop at Wayne New Tech Academy. The event asks participants to brainstorm session topics the morning of the workshop. The only limitations are participants' imaginations and willingness to get involved.

"A session can't happen if nobody is willing to lead it," organizer Riley Johnson said as the bleary-eyed educators initially struggled to compile a schedule for the day.

Shyness melted away as caffeinated drinks kicked in, prompting suggestions such as Google apps, project-based learning, student engagement and social media/digital citizenship.

"It's the scariest part of something like this," Johnson said later about the agenda-building process. "You really don't know what's going to happen."

About 50 people attended the free workshop, which included two morning and two afternoon blocks with four simultaneous sessions each.

Johnson, who teaches social studies at Wayne New Tech, attended an Edcamp event in Indianapolis last year with four colleagues from his school. The educators were so inspired that they wanted to host a session here.

Nine people participated in the session on managing pitfalls that pop up when each student is issued a computer to use for the school year.

Till, who teaches seventh-grade math at Wabash Middle School, said teachers there use digital formats for all assignments. They also grade students' work with notes in the margins, he said. No printing is necessary.

Janelle McLaughlin, curriculum director for Manchester Community Schools, said her school system is planning a three-year transition to computerized school work.

Some teachers are having trouble coping with the idea, she said.

"We have a lot of retirements happening this year – 10," she said.

Michelle Houser, a Bellmont High School librarian, said North Adams Community Schools is offering teachers numerous training opportunities during the summer.

Houser encourages teachers to offer homework assignments digitally and serves as a training resource for teachers struggling to master the format.

Graham, a librarian at Maconaquah High School near Kokomo, also is the go-to tech person at her school. She walks teachers and students through the tough stuff.

"Make sure the whole staff knows where to send students for help," she said.

Jenn Brower, a librarian at New Haven High School, recommended establishing a website with answers to common student questions about using school-issued computers. Students need to develop their ability to do basic troubleshooting when they run into computer-related problems, she said.

Johnson, Edcamp's organizer, spent a few minutes in each of the four classrooms where the first round of discussions were happening Saturday morning. He was excited to hear four conversations headed in distinctly different directions – but all focused on education and engaging students.

The attendance was the day's only early disappointment. About half of the 100 people who registered for the event didn't show up, but Johnson said free events carry that burden. People are more committed to attend something they've invested money in, he said.

But, Johnson added, if the participants take new ideas back to about 20 home schools, the innovative approaches shared Saturday can spread quickly. And that could stoke enthusiasm for a local Edcamp event next year.

sslater@jg.net

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