“EdCamps” – A PD Opportunity unlike any other!

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Quick:  When I say “Professional Development”, what comes to mind?  Are you conjuring up images of a big meeting room, with a lot of blank stares and a presenter that is droning on, actually reading every line of their slides…?!  All the while, you’re thinking “I could have used this time so much better..!”

Now, imagine if that same “PD” experience was with a group of energized, passionate educators, and the presenter was showing you something relevant to your teaching – something you could actually *use* in your classroom tomorrow?!

If the latter vision sounds too good to be true – it isn’t – it can be found at an EdCamp!

An EdCamp is a relatively new style of professional development where the presenters are often ordinary classroom teachers.  There isn’t one presenter explaining one topic, there are several sessions going on in different conference rooms at the same time, each session on a topic chosen by the presenter.  Thus, no agenda, or conference schedule, is defined ahead of time.   In fact, an EdCamp is often referred to as an “unconference”..!

An EdCamp venue provides meeting spaces with lots of break out rooms, and a blank wall where participants post what topics they want to present (or discuss) at a given time and in a given break out room.  You, the eager educator, look at this on-the-fly agenda on the morning of the EdCamp, decide what you want to learn, then go to that break out room and become part of the discussion – if you wish.

The best part of it all is that you judge how worthwhile the presentation/discussion is when you get there.  If it turns out to be something you didn’t expect – or if the presentation isn’t providing you with the information you need – you get up and leave!  The EdCamp folks call this “voting with your feet.”  It’s not rude and it’s not frowned upon – it’s a way to say “Hey, my time is valuable and I can do better elsewhere.”

I attended my first EdCamp in May – it was called EdCampBoston.  I have to admit, I was extremely hesitant.  After all, I was giving up an entire Saturday to go someplace where I had no idea what was going to be discussed..!  It all sounded too crazy and unstructured for me.  However, so many people I conversed with in the Twitter universe talked this up and had positive things to say, that I felt I had to give it a try.

So, I registered online for one of the 250 available (free!) slots and got my confirmation.  As it turns out, that was a smart thing to do, as all the slots ‘sold out’ in a matter of hours.  At 8am on a Saturday in May, I dutifully arrived, with my laptop in hand and a wary smile on my face.  I immediately struck up a conversation with Rik, a High School Math Facilitator from Wilmington.  I was quickly impressed with his energy and excitement.  He had great things to say about previous EdCamps he attended, so he put me at ease.

Over the next 30 minutes, while participants signed in (and got coffee – thank you, sponsors!), I had more conversations with other passionate educators.  By 8:45, I was actually pumped up and looking forward to watching the schedule take shape.

Everyone gathered around the ‘big wall’, as available times and room names were arranged in a giant grid.  Anyone who wanted to lead a discussion/presentation grabbed a piece of paper, wrote a brief blurb about their topic and taped it to the wall, thus claiming one of the rooms for their own!

This is what it looked like in progress:

(http://t.co/J4gtiaeCRp)

When the board was filled and all the topics were finalized, the organizers of EdCampBoston copied the agenda board into a GoogleDoc that we could access throughout the day from our devices.  This is a link to the complete agenda: http://goo.gl/yQtrb .

For me, the hardest part of EdCamp was deciding what sessions to attend, as there were SO many I wanted to be a part of.  In the end, I had time for four:

  • Blogging in the HS classroom

  • Using Socrative to check for Understanding

  • Using SCHOOLOGY to collaboratively create a US History course.

  • Edcamp in the Classroom

I’ll cover these sessions in depth in future posts, but I hope I’ve said enough to have you consider attending a future EdCamp – you won’t regret it

John Padula has been teaching Middle School Social Studies for seven years – all in the Boston Public Schools.  He is an avid reader of Young Adult fiction and works hard to maintain a solid classroom library for his students.  Last year, I was honored to be a Fund For Teachers Fellow and traveled to South Africa in the summer to learn more about education and Apartheid.

Prior to teaching,  he spent over 20 years in a variety of positions in the software engineering industry.  Despite my high-tech background, I was *still* blown away by a PD course called Teaching History With Technology (from EdTechTeacher) and have been working ever since to infuse more technology in my classes.

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