Thoughts from an Edcamp Rookie: Educators Connecting And Making Progress

If I were asked, “what is Edcamp?” My answer would be this:


What I experienced at my first Edcamp was exactly that…a group of educators who want to connect and collaborate with their peers in order to move education forward and have the greatest impact on the lives of the students they teach.

Edcamp Basics:

Edcamps are professional development opportunities created by teachers, for teachers. They are filled with passionate, energized, and committed learners who wish to continuously improve for the sake of their students. Edcamps are interactive, participant-led sessions centered on the interests and questions of the attendees. Edcamps are like no other form of professional development out there because they are places where meaningful and relevant connections are made and the result is progress in education, one classroom at a time!

My First Edcamp:

I experienced my first Edcamp in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday, May 4th, thanks to the connection I made with Tracy Sockalosky, one of the Edcamp organizers. Tracy invited me to attend Edcamp, after a Google Hangout on Friday morning, and although it was the first weekend in three years where I did not have to focus on grad school, I was intrigued by the idea and Tracy sounded very excited about it, so I grabbed a colleague and headed off to Boston bright and early on Saturday morning.

Friday night, I read the website and I knew that it was an “unconference,” meaning there was no predetermined agenda. Unlike most highly structured educational conferences I’ve attended, Edcamps are “based around the interests, passions, and questions” of the participants. Attendees are called “participants” because sessions are expected to be interactive, not simply one person standing at the front of the room lecturing while the audience passively listens, and struggles to stay awake, especially if the session happens to be after lunch!

At Edcamp, the agenda is built the morning of and participants are encouraged to share and collaborate within the sessions in order for them to “work.” In fact, it’s completely acceptable to go into a session and then leave at any time if it wasn’t what you expected, there is another session taking place at the same time that you also want to attend, or if you feel the session has turned into a sales pitch (which none of them did by the way).

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced that the whole Edcamp concept was going to “work” for me, but within the first minute of the first session I attended, I was hooked. The rest of the day exceeded my expectations and I’m now looking forward to attending another Edcamp this summer.

The Edcamp Boston sessions I attended were:

1. Blogging in the high school classroom- facilitated by Dawn Casey-Rowe, @runningdmc

2. Getting faculty to innovate (how do we reach EVERY teacher?)- facilitated by Wendy Espinoza Cotta, @edtech2innovate

3. BYOD/BYOT Why, How, What-facilitated by Jeremy Angoff, @mytakeonit

4. Defining the vision of what students today should know-facilitated by Liz David, @lizbdavis

I actually planned to attend a fifth session, but missed it because I ended up having an amazing conversation with Wendy Espinoza Cotta after her session on “Getting Faculty to Innovate.” I had read that it was common for participants to engage in side conversations at an Edcamp, which essentially become sessions within themselves, however I didn’t think that was going to be a part of my day, nor did I think that I would gain so much professionally from one conversation with a colleague. The conversations with colleagues continued throughout the day and were by far what the entire Edcamp experience was all about.

The session I attended after lunch (delicious by the way) was on defining the vision of what the students of TODAY should know. Liz Davis, co-organizer of Edcamp Boston, facilitated the session. Liz wanted participants to formulate a vision of what students should know and be able to do in the 21st century. Liz prefaced the session with this; “I came up with a new word for 21st century learning…it’s called TODAY!” I couldn’t agree with Liz more…how far into the 21st century do we need to go to start referring to “the future” as “now?”

Liz encouraged session participants to brainstorm a single word that could be used as the universal vision of learning within a school. After small group discussions, participants shared what they came up with and there were lots of great ideas about what we need to do to prepare our students to be successful.

As I reflected on Liz’s challenge, I thought of the term “REACH.” I have seen too many students work just enough to “get by.” I don’t want my students to settle for mediocrity in school, or in life. In order to be competitive, they simply cannot accept doing the bare minimum. We have to continuously raise the bar for our students. I also happen to believe, and I think this a philosophy many of my fellow Edcampers would agree with, that all students have the potential to achieve at a high level. As educators, we have to figure out a way to ignite the spark that will motivate our students to realize and reach the potential we know they have, and push themselves to reach that potential.

How do we get our students to REACH higher?

Reach Higher

Image Credit: Joe Thorn

My strategy for influencing students to REACH higher includes:

1. Real-world learning opportunities

2. Engage; technology is one way to engage many of our current learners and also allows for differentiated instruction

3. Achieve; a concentration on developing higher-order thinking skills so students achieve at high levels

4. Connect; allow students to connect with peers and adults locally and globally and contribute positively to their digital footprint

5. Help; give students the chances to not only make themselves better citizens, but also their community as a whole a better place.

Here are several specific examples of how I have been working throughout my career to encourage my students to reach higher.

Real-World- I’ve created “Shark Tank” and “Apprentice” style projects in my Marketing & Business Management classes. Students have presented to actual investors after creating business plans, and in my former district, teams of students competed against each other in “Apprentice” style projects where they were able to work with local businesses to create marketing and promotion plans. Students also gain real-world business and marketing experience through running the school store and participating in DECA.

Engage- The effective integration of technology in my curriculum has increased student engagement and has also allowed me to more effectively differentiate instruction. I have incorporated Edmodo and Google Docs to improve communication and collaboration between students and to help them create an organized, digital workflow. Students are also able to choose various web 2.0 tools to demonstrate mastery of core competencies. I left Edcamp Boston with all kinds of new technology tools to experiment and play with and I’m particularly excited to use doctopus!

Achieve- Through participation in DECA, students are able to prepare for state and national competitions. Many students in my program earn top honors at the state competition and move on to competing at the national level. The sense of achievement student’s gain through this participation builds their confidence and motivates them to continue to work towards their goals.

Connect- We must teach our students the importance of connecting with others “locally and globally.” Many Edcamp session participants agreed that students must develop their ability to build a network in order to accomplish their professional and personal goals and become self-directed, life-long learners. Modeling the way we connect with each other through our PLN’s is one way to demonstrate the power and importance of global connectivity.

Help- Creating service-based learning opportunities, which allow students to help their community, are crucial. Our current generation of learners wants to give back to those in need. Last month at the DECA national conference, students raised over $2,200 in one minute for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Along with many other schools across the country, my marketing students raised $700 for the victims of Sandyhook. Currently, video production students at my school are working on projects that will honor the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy. It is obvious that our students recognize their responsibility in giving back. It is our job as educators to help facilitate and encourage this process.

So there are my thoughts as an “Edcamp Rookie.” It was truly a one-of-a-kind day of professional development. I’m hopeful I’ll be attending a few more this summer and that I’ll be able to try the potato chips everyone seems to be raving about!

For those of you who have never been to an Edcamp, but are thinking about it, I would tell you this…GO! I guarantee you will find Educators Connecting and Making Progress and will realize that an Edcamp is what all professional development should be like!




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