Yesterday, I attended my very first Edcamp Columbus. I, along with my principal and two colleagues from my school, were intrigued to experience self-directed PD. All of us were new to Edcamp with no idea what would transpire. Trying to explain to others what Edcamp is proved challenging. “It’s a conference that has no specific topic, no specific agenda and no planned breakout sessions.” I anticipated responses like, “Sounds like chaos to me. Have fun with that.”
Edcamp is an “unconference” designed for the teachers needs. The Edcamp website states, “Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Teachers who attend Edcamp can choose to lead sessions on those things that matter, with an expectation that the people in the room will work together to build understanding by sharing their own knowledge and questions.”
I was going to spend my blue sky, sunny Saturday indoors, and I had no idea what would happen. As with any PD experience, I always ask myself “What can I take back with me to use in my classroom?” The PD would be worthwhile if there is something I can take and use in my classroom. For me, this question has always been the hallmark of a good PD session. Would Edcamp Columbus be productive and a worthwhile day of professional development?
Upon arriving, I saw many familiar faces from my district. Edcamp had been buzzing around the Twitterverse for some time. I also saw some familiar faces that I’m used to seeing in small profile picture boxes on my Twitter feed. Hmm...here was a room filled with around 140 characters accustomed to chatting in 140 characters.
After a quick meet and greet with new and old colleagues, it was time to build the board. Educators in the room were encouraged to submit ideas for sessions. Not presentations per se, but more discussion-based sessions. The layout of the day became more apparent as text filled in blanks squares on the projected session board. I scoped out the four hour-long sessions that interested me with topics that ranged from: creating a flipped classroom, restructuring the school day, defining personalized-learning and discussing how classrooms are like gaming. After each session, I left the room without handouts. I typed hardly any notes that I could take back to my classroom. Were these sessions worth it? Had I just wasted 4 hours without a new strategy or resource to start using in my classroom on Monday?
Driving home, I talked with my principal, Jacki Prati, about our impressions of the day. What were our take-aways from the sessions? Is there something that we can take back for school or classroom improvement? Our conversation was peppered with non-committals: “Hmm, I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “That’s a great question” or “I’m going to need to think about that.” We sat there with so much swirling around in our heads. I continued to think at home: What were the take-aways?
What can I take and use in my classroom? Nothing.
But, I had been asking the wrong question. I should have been asking myself: What can I take and use to be a better educator for my students?
I believe the purpose of Edcamp is not learning specific new strategies to use in the classroom. It’s about building an understanding of what really matters in the classroom: Empowerment. Involvement. Risk. Relationships.
- Is personalized learning different than differentiated learning?
- Does flipped classroom open doors to students or limit the role of a teacher and stifle classroom community?
- Should our classrooms be more like the video game our students play (Power-ups, cheat codes, passing levels, global collaboration)?
- How can schools restructure the school day to allow for more teacher collaboration?