Edcamp light on structure, heavy on learning

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Eminence Elementary School (Eminence Independent) 5th-grade teacher Donnie Piercey checks-in Johnna Scogin, a Scott County teacher, during the EdCamp Kentucky conference in Bardstown. Photo by James Allen/Oldham County Schools, Oct. 25, 2014
Eminence Elementary School (Eminence Independent) 5th-grade teacher Donnie Piercey checks in Johnna Scogin, a Scott County teacher, during the EdCamp Kentucky conference in Bardstown.
Photo by James Allen/Oldham County Schools, Oct. 25, 2014

By Brenna R. Kelly
Brenna.kelly@education .ky.gov

Would you go to a conference if you didn’t know who the speakers would be, what the sessions would be about or even how long it would last – on a Saturday?

Nearly 200 teachers from Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana did just that recently at the first Edcamp Kentucky at Thomas Nelson High School in Bardstown.

“Edcamp is what’s called an unconference,” said Donnie Piercey, a 5th-grade teacher at Eminence Independent Schools and camp organizer. “At Edcamp there’s no set schedule until the day of.”

Participants volunteer to facilitate discussions and sessions are scheduled as the conference begins. At Thomas Nelson, teachers quickly filled a Google spreadsheet with 21 session topics such as paperless schools, the Voxer app, school counseling, project-based learning, “gamifying” the classroom, Google Apps and more.

“It’s rethinking what professional development is supposed to look like,” said Piercey, who is also a technology integration specialist at Eminence. “It’s meant to be a place where teachers can come in kind of a laid-back atmosphere and really share ideas with one another, find out what’s new and connect with teachers from across the state.”

The free camps are becoming popular professional learning opportunities for educators across the country. On the same day as the Kentucky camp, teachers were holding similar events in nine other states. Since the first Edcamp was held in Philadelphia in 2010, there have been more than 550 such events worldwide, according to the Edcamp Foundation.

As the participants at Thomas Nelson High checked the newly created schedule on their phones, tablets or laptops, Heather Warrell, a camp organizer and vice principal at Thomas Nelson (Nelson County), reminded them that the sessions were meant to be discussions, not lectures.

“This is not a sit-and-get kind of day, this is a day for you to share your brilliance, your insight and to join the conversation,” Warrell said. “It’s all about learning and growing together today.”

When she arrived at Edcamp, Johnna Scogin, a media arts teacher at Elkhorn Crossing School (Scott County), had no idea that she would be a presenter. But she decided that other teachers might benefit from her experience with project-based learning, so she volunteered.

“I really believe in the Edcamp concept,” she said, noting that the schedule said she was facilitating, not presenting, the session.

“I think that’s really appropriate because my whole philosophy as a teacher is that I facilitate,” she said. “I see the whole Edcamp idea as being a similar model. You learn from others. It’s going to be a discussion that everybody is contributing to.”

In another session, Brooke Whitlow, a technology education teacher at East Hardin Middle School (Hardin County) shared her #3B4ME strategy. Whitlow requires her students to try to find the answer to their technology questions three ways before they bring it to her. Students can use Google, ask a classmate or try another resource.

“It’s inspired a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes, because a lot of kids are really stressed with technology,” she said. It also teaches students to be more self-sufficient, said Whitlow, who also helped organize the camp.

Two Boone County educators, Longbranch Elementary Principal Erika Bowles and Boone County High School science teacher Tricia Shelton, held a session about Voxer, a walkie-talkie-like app they use to connect with students and fellow educators both in their buildings and across the country.

Edcamp presenters and participants used Twitter and the hashtags #Edcampky and #Edvolution to disseminate notes, conduct live Twitter sessions and share pictures of themselves posing with Genny, Thomas Nelson’s purple cow.

Several teachers said they came to the unconference for the opportunity to learn about a variety of things in just one day. The event followed the “law of two feet,” meaning that participants were free to move about the simultaneous sessions to find the one that best met their needs.

Many of the sessions focused on using technology in the classroom.

“I’m a first-year teacher so I’m looking for any leg up to keep the students engaged, and technology is the wave of the future,” said William Shultz, a teacher at Bardstown Middle School (Bardstown Independent) who attended the Voxer session. “I have to be able to change technology with them.”

Jamie Chenault, a science teacher at Lakewood Elementary (Hardin County) said she was learning about technology tools she can use in her flipped classroom –  one where students are introduced to concepts at home through online videos prior to classroom work on the topic.

“This is my favorite type of professional development,” she said. “I absolutely love it; I get more out of this than a sit-and-get type thing. You’re up, you’re moving around. It’s so laid back.”

Piercey, Whitlow and Warrell organized the event along with Mike Paul, a student-teacher at Bardstown Independent; James Allen, library media specialist at Oldham County High School; and Wes Bradley, Thomas Nelson’s principal. The team began planning the Edcamp after meeting at an International Society for Technology in Education meeting last year in Atlanta.

“We wanted to bring the excitement of connecting with other passionate educators to Kentucky,” said Whitlow. “We wanted to share ideas, to learn from one another, and to better ourselves as professionals … all for the sake of our students.”

Piercey said he hopes that Edcamps will be held several times a year at different locations throughout the state.

“We don’t just want this to be a one-time deal,” Piercey said. “EdCamps are very, very addicting.”

The next Edcamp Kentucky, called Edcamp nKY, is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Boone County.

Teachers who attended the Bardstown camp received six hours of professional development credit, but Piercey believes they took away much more than that.

“Teachers who attend EdCamps, they don’t necessarily come just because they need PD hours,” he said, “they come because they want to be around some like-minded teachers who want to see what’s innovative and who want to try to change what the classroom looks like in Kentucky.”

MORE INFO …

Donnie Piercey Donnie.Piercey@eminence.kyschools.us Twitter: @mrpiercEy
Heather Warrell Heather.Warrell@nelson.kyschools.us Twitter: @HeatherWarrell
Brooke Whitlow Brooke.Whitlow@hardin.kyschools.us Twitter: @Lincolnslady96
James Allen James.Allen@oldham.kyschools.us Twitter: @TLjamesA
Wes Bradley Wes.Bradley@nelson.ky.schools.us Twitter: @_wesbradley_
Mike Paul Michael.Paul@bardstown.kyschools.us Twitter: @mikepaul

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