Over the last few years I have heard a lot about the Edcamp movement. Nearly everything I have ever read about Edcamps is positive, with many teachers raving about how invigorating it is to attend a camp. This weekend I finally attended my first Edcamp, along with two of the most innovative teachers I know (my wife and my brother) and I was impressed.
Edcamps are a free conference (or unconference) meant to provide a participatory environment that meets the needs of teachers looking to share ideas while networking with like-minded educators. One of the major differences between an Edcamp and a traditional conference is that there are no sessions set ahead of time. As participants arrive, they propose session ideas they would like to facilitate. The sessions themselves also differ from a traditional conference. Rather than one presenter sharing their expertise, the session leader acts as a facilitator, leading a discussion that draws upon the collective expertise of all in attendance. Attendees are encouraged to find sessions that meet their needs as educators and, thus, are encouraged to leave a session if they do not feel they are benefitting from the discussion.
Edcamp Iowa, with 5 locations across the state, was the biggest Edcamp event in the country. I attended the Central Iowa event at Southeast Polk Junior High School. Immediately upon entering the building I began making connections with other educators, a trend that would continue throughout the day.
The first session I attended was “Establishing Collaboration and Inquiry within School and District.” This session resulted in a good discussion about PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) within schools and districts as a means of collaboration. Teachers, administrators, and representatives from the Iowa and Nebraska Departments of Education all chimed in with their own experiences and thoughts about the benefits as well as problems with implementing PLCs. I enjoyed the discussions of how schools can best facilitate teacher learning and the importance of allowing teachers some freedom in their professional growth. I was also very impressed to hear about Waukee Schools’ implementation of PLCs on a district-wide basis that allows for collaboration between schools on a regular basis.
My second session was “Sharing Technology Between Classes.” This was a much more sparsely attended session with only 6 participants, but it resulted in a good discussion of technological resources different teachers have utilized, problems teachers have faced with technology, the roles that students/teachers/administrators can or should play in integrating technology in a school/district, and what the integration of technology should look like in a classroom. I enjoyed this discussion and I learned of a few new resources that I need to check out. I was also very impressed with a high school principal that attended this session. It was very exciting to see a principal seeking out the opinions of the teachers and technology coach in the room as to what building leadership can do to help with technology integration.
The third session I attended is the one I felt like I knew the least what to expect from. This session was called “Rocks or Sucks,” which apparently is a staple of Edcamps. The facilitator calls out a hot topic in education (such as homework, network filters, Common Core, etc.) and participants move to a side of the room to indicate whether they feel this “Rocks” or “Sucks.” Those that are unsure (the mugwumps—because their mug faces one way, while their wump points in the opposite direction) are able to stay in the middle. Each group has one minute to discuss their feelings with the other people who share their beliefs. Then there is a five minute discussion/debate where each of the three groups (rocks, sucks, and mugwumps) explains the rationale for their beliefs. This was kind of a fun session which resulted in some lively discussions of current issues in education.
The final session I attended was “Teaching Problem Solving & Critical Thinking Skills -- How to Make Kids Think!” I had a lot of interest in all of the sessions, but this one seemed especially intriguing to me as I have tried hard to make my classroom a student-centered, inquiry-driven learning environment. It was interesting to hear the strategies different teachers have tried to promote problem solving and critical thinking within the classroom. The discussion also turned toward ways that teachers can promote more parental involvement in implementing problem solving strategies away from school. This topic is of great interest to me and the discussion at Edcamp Iowa led me to want to seek out more strategies promoting problem solving and critical thinking within my class.
In addition to the sessions I attended, I also followed #edcampiowa on Twitter throughout the day. This allowed me to gain some insight into other sessions occurring at all 5 sites across the state of Iowa. It was interesting to hear about the different sessions around the state, while following discussions that began in sessions and spilled over to Twitter after the sessions ended. There were also people who posted resources for those of us who were not in attendance at different sessions.
My first Edcamp experience was definitely a positive one, and one that I will seek out again in the future. It was very motivating to be surrounded by so many passionate educators who sought out this opportunity to learn from others to improve their ability to educate young people. I enjoyed the format of Edcamp and its participatory nature. My wife (who is a middle school social studies teacher) equated it to a Twitter chat. I think this is a very good analogy; both are very participatory in nature and place a good deal of emphasis on the needs of the participants over the agenda of the presenter. Edcamp Iowa also allowed me to make a lot of new connections and to expand my PLN.
After my experience with Edcamp Iowa, I am going to try to attend Edcamp Omaha in two weeks on March 22.