Edcamp: Learn tips and takeaways from a successful example
Edcamp started in 2010 in Philidephia, Pennsylvania, and continues to take off as a professional learning trend in education. It’s designed to be free, have noncommercial sessions, and use the ‘Rule of 2 Feet’ where participants can come and go as they please during sessions. Session topics are created by the participants on the day of the edcamp. Anyone can be a presenter or a learner, and many times will be both within the same session!
Hamish Brewer @BrewerHM, Principal at Occoquan Elementary School (the “O”), and I held our own regional edcamp on August 17, 2015 called Power Up Edcamp. Over 130 educators from as far away as 80 miles joined in! This included teachers, assistants, administrators, directors, supervisors, and superintendents. Check out some of our thoughts and tips for running an edcamp:
Edcamp taps into a few vital aspects in learning that we believe in strongly. Choice. Ownership in the creation process. Movement. Enthusiasm. Focus on the participant looking for takeaways that will directly impact instruction.
Educators are a unique breed. We are passionate to learn, to discuss, and improve ourselves all the time. Edcamp provides a venue to do what educators love to do best, talk!
How did we do it?
We first brainstormed topics the old-fashioned way with sticky notes on massive rolled paper. As participants came in, we asked them to talk and consider what they would like to learn about. This board began to fill up quickly!
We created a schedule using a laptop tied to a projector. We used Microsoft OneDrive to create a shared and public Excel file so that participants could pull it up on their phone and we could share through social media. Huge shout out to RJ Lucciotti, Assistant Principal (future principal) for manning the board and typing the sessions on the spreadsheet! We definitely recommend putting at least one person to just focus on this since it can be a lot to do. We spent the time hyping up the crowd, welcoming participants, and helping them understand the process. Of course we promoted Twitter #PowerUpEdcamp during this time. Luis Hernandez, 4th grade teacher, even started a session on the fly teaching others how to use the hashtag and get online!
Our edcamp was half-day because it was a very busy time of the year, just before the teachers came back full time and there was a lot other professional development going on in the Division. We held 2 sessions about 45 minutes each with a little break in between for participants to come back and get coffee, snacks, and reflect. We advocated the “Rule of Two Feet” so that participants could bounce between sessions as they saw fit. We asked each group to write their notes from the session on chart paper to help them focus and share with others. Sessions sizes ranged from a few people to over a dozen. We even caught one group standing up and acting out a specific strategy as a group.
We brought everyone back to the gym for a ‘Session Smackdown‘ where we had give-aways and asked participants to share with the group on a takeaway. We also had each group bring back their notes from their session to post in the gym so we could follow along with their thoughts and learning through a gallery walk. Overall, we were blown away at the passion in the room!
In reflecting, we did notice some items that we will improve for the next time. We also asked for a lot of feedback through video interviews, Twitter, and a survey.
Be organized, but let others help. We created the plan and were prepared with cards for participants that had a map and general information. Others jumped in to help set up, figure out sessions, and basically help with whatever was needed. Be open to the help. In fact, that goes along with the whole premise – we want others to be involved and feel like they have ownership in the learning process. Thank you so much for those of you that jumped right in!
Be exciting and make sure others are enjoying themselves. It’s basic psychology – when we feel safe, when our basic needs are met (we had food!), and when we are having fun, we are more likely to be engaged and remember what we learned. We made two promotional videos (1st video, 2nd video) in advance to spark enthusiasm. We included door prizes, music, a photo booth, and t-shirts. We also tried to include a lot of sharing in a variety of ways.
Express the responsibility of the participant to be actively engaged, positive, and identify take-aways for them to bring back to their classroom or school. We had them write them down and share with others. Each session took notes on chart paper that we posted back in the gym for all to read.
Sessions can be literally all over the place. In our venue, we had sessions located throughout the school. Since it was summer, they were not all together in one area. Feedback from surveys was to make sure, if possible, that the rooms were close together so participants didn’t waste time wandering to find the next room. Ideally, they are all right next to each other so they could be easily accessible for those that wanted to maximize the “Rule of 2 Feet.”
Ask leaders to step up and share what they know. Make sure your leaders are taking these opportunities and realize how much they have to offer others. With open-ended session discussion, there is a risk of not feeling fulfilled. Of course, that could happen with regular presentations at conferences as well. We’ve been to many where we sat there counting the minutes, and not really taking much away at the end. Next time, we will ask for more participants to step up and lead sessions on specific topics.
Use social media to pull in participants from all over the region. Include your information on edcamp.wikispaces.com as well. We had some participants find us through this edcamp wiki. We also had others attend from joining our regular edchats. You never know where the connections will come from! That’s what makes this really special.
Consider using a sponsor for food and prizes. Edcamp should not have sponsors leading sessions, so make sure you stay true to the edcamp spirit! This is one of the biggest differences between modern conferences and edcamp. Almost every modern conference session has a program, company, or sponsor being pushed at the participants. Ed Holstrom and his Istation team did a great job of helping with food and prizes and then participating just like any other member of the group. We chose Istation, because it is a program that both of our schools already use and with successful outcomes.
“Connecting topics to music, so that students remember fast.”
“There are so many ideas in the room, so many things that teachers are passionate about, and that they want to share and learn about, that it’s infectious and want to learn more.”
“Get out of your school, see other places, collaborate with others around the state and country.”
“Teachers need to reflect on how enthusiastic we are during the year, because the adults set the tone.”
“Importance of having conversations that are honest and constructive with your colleagues.”
“Ideas of how to collaborate with others in your professional community outside your school in order to bring back to your team.”
“Connect to students. Let them know you.”
“Passion and fun are essential.”
“It’s all for the children, that’s what I remember from today, we do it all for the children.”
In our survey, participants expressed they took as many as 8+ takeaways from the edcamp! Whoa!
Consider bringing an edcamp to your region, school, or classroom! How would this look for students? Since this session, we have tried this with a school staff meeting. Our central office team have changed up some of their professional development to include this as well. Each time, we learn more about what motivates and engages teachers. Comment here and on #powerupedcamp with your thoughts! If any of you are going to try this in the classroom, please let me know! I would love to see and write about how you engage your students in this way.
P.S. Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves and have fun!