Edcamp is about taking control of your professional development and embracing rather than surviving your teaching career. I found Edcamp when I needed it most, in the midst of a teaching rut. I am passionate about teaching and working with students, but we all have times where it feels a bit less magical than usual. Those moments when the lesson plans weren’t flowing or your progression as a teacher felt stagnant. This is often accompanied by feelings of mild peril and questioning your life choices.
Luckily, I stumbled across a wonderful article called Twitter is my Teacher Superpower, hopped on Twitter (@Mrs_Geology) and discovered a powerful new dimension of education and the offline offshoot of Twitter collaboration, Edcamp. I had no idea what Edcamp actually was, but everyone was tweeting about how much they were learning, people they were meeting and how much they just loved Edcamp. So I signed up for free, drove down to Denver one Saturday, and found enough passion, ideas, and camaraderie to inspire me for years to come. I could not have defined Edcamp succinctly after my first Edcamp, but after my second and my third, I’m ready.
The Basics of Edcamp
The Fundamental Assumption of Edcamp: Teachers are experts and their knowledge and experiences are the basis for a successful Edcamp. Click To Tweet
Who: Teachers, Educators, Tech people, Department of Education employees, anyone interested in education.
What: An unconference focused on education. What? Yes, that’s a real word. According to Oxford Dictionaries, an unconference is a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events.
Where: Typically at a local school or educational building, but some edcamps happen in other fabulous locations. Edcamp Minneapolis-St. Paul 2014 took place at the Minnesota History Center, while EdcampKC (Kansas City) 2014 took place at the gorgeous Nelson Atkins Museum of Art (Seriously, I wish I could have been there).
When: Often on a Saturday from 8 AM-2 PM or 9 AM-3 PM, Edcamp organizers know that you are have lessons to plan and papers to grade and never waste your time.
Take a few minutes to watch Kristen Swanson, one of the founders of Edcamp, explain how Edcamp came to be and show you what an Edcamp actually looks like.
Kristen does an amazing job explaining the glory of Edcamp. It is liberating to be welcomed to a space where your ideas and opinions are valued. Even if you adore your cohort of teachers and the administrative team at your school, Edcamp reminds you of the bigger world of education and gets you out of your comfort zone. It is so easy to get lost in your program and your content and your kids, but there are more ways of thinking, learning, engaging and growing. At Edcamp, you can learn whatever you want and no one will stop you and question your motives. There is no accredited program list to choose from or a select few courses offered by your district on how to use a Smartboard. This is relevant, practical, and deep learning about anything you choose.
For those of you already yearning for the exhibit halls of a national conference, many Edcamp organizers contact organizations like Remind, Edutopia, Doceri, Dave Burgess, etc. for donations and occasionally prizes. EdcampDenver has even had breakfast and lunch donations when I have attended the past 2 years. In my personal opinion, the amount of knowledge and the relationships that I have formed from Edcamp have done more for my students and my sanity than any free posters or classroom supplies I have received at a traditional conference. Let’s take a look at how Edcamp compares to a traditional conference.
Full disclosure: I have attended large traditional conferences that I have adored, particularly National Science Teachers Association and Geological Society of America conferences. I have had meaningful discussions, met incredible educators, and made valuable changes to my instruction that increased student engagement and learning as a result of these conferences. However, I can go to Edcamp for free a few times a year in my own hometown and have an equally if not more meaningful experience with local teachers sharing what they have tried and tested in their own classroom. I trust teachers more than edu-industry representatives and appreciate their experiences and the ability to contact those local teachers with questions and feedback.
Preparing for Edcamp
How do you know what will happen at Edcamp? You don’t.
This can be exhilarating and also terrifying for teachers who are often embroiled in schedules, structures, and rules. It makes the night before Edcamp feel a lot like Christmas Eve. You are blissfully excited about the prospect of the next day but also a little anxious since you don’t know exactly what what will be under the tree or what will happen at Edcamp. If you are feeling particularly nervous, bring a teacher buddy with you as long as you promise to attend some sessions separately and meet new people!
To walk in to Edcamp feeling confident and ready to go you only need to bring following:
- A water bottle or coffee Thermos to keep you hydrated appropriately.
- A charged laptop or other technological device and a charger. Keep an eye on your battery levels and go sit next to an outlet if necessary.
- An open and engaged mind, ready to collaborate and connect with other educators.
Once you arrive at Edcamp, start here:
- Make a name tag if available. Edcampers want to get to know you, make it easy for them.
- Sit down with other people and introduce yourself. Ask them if they have been to an Edcamp before, where they are coming from and what kind of sessions they might be interested.
- Get connected to the wifi and ask someone if you can’t figure it out. Even if you aren’t going to engage in social media, amazing resources will be coming your way through the online channels.
- Figure out the session board (more below).
Building the Session Board
The most mysterious part of Edcamp for newcomers is the Session Board. If you have never been to an event without a schedule, it it unnerving. When you get to your Edcamp, there will be time in the morning for people to mingle while drinking their coffee and brainstorm what sessions they might want to partake in and what sessions people would like to attend. Some Edcampers come with an idea in mind for a session to lead, some come with a presentation they have already given at a traditional conference and want to share with more educators in a discussion-focused setting. Many people come to Edcamp looking to learn and absorb and hope to lead a session in the future.
Once Edcampers determine the sessions that would suit them, they go to the session board. The session board is either a physical or virtual space with the rooms and time slots available for sessions. The image below shows the physical session board that was used for morning brainstorming and there was also a virtual session board that we used as we moved through sessions the rest of the day.
Once the session board is created, you choose which sessions you want to attend in each time slot and you go there! The session board can change during the day, if someone decides they want to add a new session or a session leader decides they want to attend another session, so check it during Edcamp to make sure you aren’t missing something that you didn’t see first thing in the morning.
You may have noticed that there are many sessions on technology at Edcamp, know that Edcampers are open to assisting beginners and that there are many sessions on a variety of topics. Some past sessions have included:
- “Design” as a Way to Unleash Innovation and Collaboration in Students and Teachers. From @savinay at edcampDenver.
- Social Media/Twitter 101 for Classroom and Building PLN. From @DianaRAC13 at edcampHarrisburg.
- The Chromebook Classroom. From @historytechie at edcampLA.
- How to transition high school students from lecture based learning in math to student-centered learning. At edcampNorthCarolina.
- 1:1 Teacher Perspective, Bringing a 1:1 to your school. From @carbsareyummy and @lrdavis15 at edcampPhilly.
Networking at Edcamp
Networking, or if that feels icky to you, connecting with other educators is one of the highlights of Edcamp. Edcamp is designed to allow you to meet, interact, and engage with other educators. Whether you are closeted in your own classroom or part of a vibrant PLC at your school, it is still beneficial to meet new educators. They can share new perspectives and techniques with you and give you local and in-person sources of awesome and reputable information. Part of being an educator is creating your Personal Learning Network or your PLN. Your PLN is the group of people that you connect with and exchange information and ideas with, whether on line or in-person, and your new Edcamp friends can be part of your PLN.
To network as much a possible, I recommend the following:
- Get to Edcamp early or at least on time. Figure out the layout and the schedule and then go find a person or a group to sit down and have coffee with.
- Connect with one person during each session. Ask for their opinion or experiences and then connect with them on social media.
- Try not to avoid the social parts of Edcamp like lunch, the smackdown, and the afterparty (if there is one). You might be overwhelmed, but you won’t regret connecting with awesome Edcampers.
- Think of your fellow Edcampers and organizers simply as other attendees, and try to avoid the edu-celebrity mindset. You can introduce yourself to that teacher you love to retweet or the organizer that is blowing your mind, they are simply fellow educators who love learning and want to connect with other educators.
At the end of Edcamp, I always feel invigorated by new connections and learning but also a little overwhelmed as to what to do with my new connections and learning. So I give my self a day to process and then on Sunday afternoon I take 15-20 minutes to reflect on Edcamp. I take time to write about what I did at Edcamp, the people I met, my goals for my own classroom, and planning for the my next Edcamp.
I pulled together my informal reflection process into a more complete guide that I now use to reflect on each Edcamp experience. I am excited to share my Edcamp Reflection Guide with you to help make your Edcamp experience more valuable and to integrate what you learned at Edcamp into your classroom.
The Future of Edcamp
Edcamp is truly a movement rather than another fad in education. It continues to grow because it appeals to so many educators and the model is easy to replicate in any location with any group of educators. In it’s first year of growth, the number of Edcamps went from 8 to 51, a whopping 637.5% increase. If growth continues at the expected rate, we can anticipate 375 Edcamps taking place in 2015 in a multitude of countries.
Edcamp has also continued to adapt to meet the needs of educators with Edcamp online (from your laptop in your pajamas!), Higher Edcamp in Illinois, Edleaders Edcamp in Manitoba, and padcamp for education with tablets in K-12 education. Burlington Public Schools hosted a 4 part Edcamp summer series on Tuesdays. Kristen Swanson recently posted about a new version of Edcamp, Edcamp Express, short 2 hour edcamps for weekday mornings or evenings. There are 2 sessions, minimal planning, and a continued focus on teacher-centered learning and collaboration.
Edcamp is a movement because it is a powerful paradigm shift from someone telling educators what to learn to educators sharing their own learning with each other. Edcamp continues to adapt to the needs and wants of educators, making relevant, high quality professional development readily available for all teachers. If you are are to own your professional development and embrace your professional learning and keep the love and the spark in your teaching, it’s time to find an Edcamp near you.
- Find out if and when an Edcamp is happening near you here. If you don’t immediately see an Edcamp near you on the upcoming events list, scroll down to see if there has been an event in your area in the past. You can click through to find the website or the organizers for those past events to determine when the next one will be.
- Report back in the comments: Are you planning to attend Edcamp in the future? or if you’ve been to Edcamp Where did you go to Edcamp and what was the best part?