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Professional Development Thoughts: Part II

Although webinars are convenient, (see part I) I feel like they are a new way of doing traditional professional development. And frankly traditional professional development utterly pales in comparison to the kind of peer created and peer led professional development we could be doing.

When I taught in Chicago I was part of a group of physics teachers that met monthly to share (for me: absorb) ideas. It was similar to the “Physics camp” the teacher we skyped with advocated. In the summers I’ve been attending teaching methods workshops that are led by veteran high school physics teachers. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 95% of my best ideas were not my idea first.

What if, next in-service, we had one 1-hour session where instead of meeting as a huge group with such widely ranging age levels and subjects we met as a science department or English department etc. In each meeting there would be a list of numbers on the board where teachers would write their name to create a presentation list. Each presenter would take between 1 to about 5 minutes to very informally share one good idea. The idea might be a specific lesson,  activity, classroom procedure, demonstration, lab, assessment technique, tech tool, discussion technique, even a good explanation for a hard to teach concept, or anything else that would be valuable to a portion of the department. After the presenter finishes sharing, the audience might ask a few questions or start a brief discussion before moving on.

For example, I might share “fist-to-five” a neat little informal assessment I learned this summer. The basic idea is to ask students to raise their hand with anything between a fist (no clue) to five fingers up (I could teach it) to gauge understanding of a particular topic/question. It’s useful because its fast, non-verbal, you see where all students are individually, and more importantly allows students to express “I don’t understand” while still saving face (by putting up two or three fingers).

I think the vast majority of teachers would be willing to share one good idea with their department (goal: all?). Depending on the time and after everyone who wanted to present had a chance, teachers with more then one good idea could repeat. I’m confident we have enough good ideas out there to not only do this once, but many times.

What do you think? Is it practical? Would you be comfortable presenting? Do you think you could learn from this? Have you already participated in something similar? Please comment below!

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Professional Development Thoughts: Part I

Yesterday I attended my first webinar. The topic was using Edmodo (social networking) safely in the classroom. In some ways, attending a webinar seemed similar to a traditional lecture driven professional development session but there were also some differences. Like an “old school” presentation, the presenter talked through a PowerPoint presentation. The presenter was obviously knowledgeable and the presentation was smooth.

Since I was as interested in learning about webinars as I was social networking, I also signed up for the backchannel were audience members kept a running conversation during the presentation. While listening to a traditional session tends to be very passive the webinar was the opposite of that. While I was listening to the presenter, reading the PowerPoint and jotting down notes I was also trying to follow the backchannel conversation and fiddling with the webinar software (not smart). It was a little overwhelming. In the future I will need to be more careful with my attention especially with the backchannel. It can be very interesting but also distracting.

Overall, I think the advantages of webinars over traditional sessions are: some additional choice of topic, a small classroom feel (quite uncharacteristically for me, I even asked a question!) and convenience.