Yesterday I had the wonderful fortune to be able to attend an Edcamp. It didn’t take much to convince me to go since it was held at the little elementary school in Yosemite Valley. Yes, THAT Yosemite, the one that also happens to be a national park, and one of the most beautiful places on this earth! It never takes much to get me to take the drive to Yosemite. But give me the chance to go there and hang out for a few hours with other educators who want to talk about how we can all get better at what we do, and I am in! Throw in an Instagram pre-session, and I don’t know how to stay away.
The edcamp model is something fairly new to me. You do not have to sign up months in advance and walk a stack of paperwork through the school district system hoping it does not get misplaced. Once the paperwork is done you find yourself going through the program and figuring out the schedule for the event. Nor do you have to submit a proposal for a presentation for the conference to get a free admission. All you have to do is sign up for a ticket. They are free, and usually on Saturday (at least in my limited experience) so you don’t have any district paperwork! Can I get a woot for no district paperwork? You do have to sign up, because they often sell out! But that is not the best part. The best part is the way the sessions are scheduled.
When you check in at an edcamp you are given a pen and a piece of paper and asked “what do you want to learn about?” You write down a topic and it is placed on a schedule board. All of the different topics are clustered into logical groups and assigned rooms and times. Yesterday several people wrote that they wanted to learn more about Minecraft, so a Minecraft session was held during the first session in the multipurpose room. John Miller, @room162 on twitter, was on hand and is a passionate user of Minecraft in the classroom and attended the session to lend his expertise. Other people had heard of “App Smashing” and wanted to learn more, so a session was held on that. A session called “Things That Suck” was a big draw, and a lot of fun. The great part is that the schedule is built that day, based on the needs and interests of those there that day, not months ahead of time! You get to learn about what you want to learn about.
I really wanted to learn, as Jon Corippo says, to “Avoid the Suck.” (Jon is on twitter @jcorippo) The suck is that time in the middle of an assigned project when the enthusiasm has waned, but the work isn’t done. Jon says when the teacher says “I am going to give you lots of time for this project” students hear “I don’t have to start this for a long time!” There was a session about avoiding the suck. I don’t think I found a silver bullet on this topic, but I am thinking about it a little differently.
Because I often present at conferences to “pay my way” I am often stressed out going in. I am worried about my presentation; have I prepped enough, am I going to have network issues, what if no one comes… Traditional conferences are all about sage on the stage. If you know me and my classroom style it is anything BUT sage on the stage. I don’t do direct instruction well or often. I do not like being the expert in the front. At an edcamp there is no sage on the stage, just a group of people talking about a topic they are all interested in, and that, in my book, is great professional development.
From here on out, if there is an edcamp in driving distance, I am in!