Philly students might soon see augmented reality in the classroom.
That was just one of the education apps discussed at the first EdTechTeam Pennsylvania Summit, a two-day conference on how to use tools such as Google Drive to enhance urban classrooms. The summit, which drew teachers from across the East Coast, was hosted at Temple University and organized by Breaking The Code, a Philadelphia education collective based out of the Fountain Insight Studio.
Dr. Jamie Bracey, one of the seven lead organizers of Breaking The Code, said the inspiration for the summit came from Virginia, where one of her co-workers from the Temple School of Engineering attended another education tech conference.
“I thought, why can’t Pennsylvania have something like this?” said Bracey.
The challenge came in “putting a Philly twist” on it, one of Breaking The Code’s goals for the weekend.
With the EdTechTeam Pennsylvania Summit, Bracey said she wanted to address teachers directly, rather than students, and provide them relevant tools that will help them enhance the learning experience in their classrooms. To help, the Philadelphia School District offered to pay the $199 – $299 fee for any teacher who registered for the two-day conference. The District used federal Title I and CTE funds to pay for attendees, Bracey said.
Philly teachers and District tech staff made up 30 percent of the nearly 200 attendees at the conference, Bracey said, while teachers from Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and other parts of Pennsylvania made up the rest. Two hundred attendees is lower than the normal 500 or so attendees that Google usually sees at these summits, Bracey said. She added that the Philly turnout was lower than expected but hoped to increase that number this fall, when she hopes to host the conference again.
Google, one of the main partners for the event, sent three certified Google Apps instructors to Philly to lead workshops on everything from Google Forms to Docs to Sites — and even search.
“I tell my students, when you search something, if what you’re looking for doesn’t come up in the first four links, you’re doing it wrong,” said Michael Wacker, one of the Google Apps instructors. “Everyone searches. Not everyone finds.”
In addition to Google Apps workshops, the EdTechTeam Pennsylvania Summit also offered a class on Augmented Reality apps.
In the session, recent Penn Graduate School of Education graduate Christopher Rogers explained how to use Aurasma, an app that allows users to record super-short videos about a place or thing, and save them for future reference. Anyone with the app can access these videos by pointing their camera at the object, say a dollar bill or a framed photograph.
Aurasma is free in the Apple App Store and in Google Play — meaning the biggest barrier to integration in the classroom isn’t cost or access, but planning ahead and intending to use said tools.
Like many who attended the summit, Rogers emphasized the idea of classrooms as an integrated space, where educators learn from students and vice versa. On their website, Breaking The Code, a group with self-identifies as “culture hackers”, reiterates these basic principles: that classrooms should be restructured around openness and access to all.
While there is much work left to do in terms of education and policy reform, small changes seem to be happening.
A sixth grade teacher at South Jersey’s Mansion Avenue Elementary School, Christine Fox said that her students can check out laptops at school if needed for an assignment, but they must return them at the end of class for the next group of students.
However, according to Fox, the school principal Eric Miller wants to get Chromebooks for all sixth grade students in the near future. It’s a direction that Philly’s Science Leadership Academy is moving in, too.