Extending the Edcamp Philosophy to School-based PD

I recently attended EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a wonderfully organized and attended event.  There were educators from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even New Hampshire in attendance.  These committed professionals gave up a Saturday to share their expertise with like-minded peers.

If you are unfamiliar with the edcamp philosophy, the following explanation appears on edcampbmore’s website:

“An unconference is an open, participant-driven conference. The content is proposed and provided by the participants, and is often determined on the day of the event. This style of learning is not new. It stems from the model of barcamps, which were originally focused on software, web applications, and open source technology. Unconferences rely heavily on the passions and interests of the participants. Because of this, unconferences have become an extremely popular form of professional development.”

The website also includes this table that explains the differences between traditional conferences and edcamps:

Conference vs Edcamp

Baltimore’s edcamp was organized by Shannon Montague (@montysays), Molly Smith(@historyfriend), Jenna Shaw (@teachbaltshaw), Jen Filosa (@jafilosa), Chris Shriver (@ccshriver), and Margaret Roth (@teachingdaisy).  These amazing ladies pulled together the resources to provide an exceptional professional development experience for those in attendance.

The range of topics covered included:

  • flipping professional development
  • project-based learning
  • school leadership
  • chromebooks
  • student behavior
  • standards-based grading
  • school culture
  • social media community building
  • CCSS
  • early childhood technology
  • blended classrooms
  • engaging students through gaming
  • genius hour
  • maker spaces
  • the role of the school counselor
  • student entrepreneurship
  • thinning the classroom walls

I had trouble getting to sleep that evening because it occurred to me that the edcamp philosophy could easily be translated to school-level professional development.  As a firm believer in the collective intelligence of schools, it concerns me that we don’t always tap into the knowledge of the teachers in our buildings.  In fact, one of the most popular forms of PD over the past 30 years has been the use of outside experts to train teachers in the pedagogy du jour.

The edcamp philosophy eschews this approach in favor of professional development that is created by, and shared with, those working in the field.  Our teachers have interests and strengths that can be enhanced when they are given opportunities to discuss their practices.  So much of the time that we give teachers for planning is taken by the functional aspects of teaching.  Very little of it is spent in fostering creativity and improving the profession.

The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession.  How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways?  I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out.  Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp.  Now I’ll never get to sleep!

The Maker Movement and Genius Hour

School leaders have a responsibility to stay abreast of cutting edge approaches to teaching.  They should push, prod, and motivate their teachers toward finding the best practices for their students.  If you have been in education long enough, you have seen the pendulum swing back and forth several times as it relates to effective teaching.  The high-stakes testing era essentially eliminated teacher creativity and forced schools to abandon engaging methods of instruction.

With a swing back toward rigor and the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards, we may now begin to revisit teaching methodologies that celebrate real-world, hands-on learning.  In the past year or so, there are two growing movements that may have a significant impact on all levels of instruction.  These movements are so exciting and filled with possibility that school leaders and teachers should consider investigating them further and now.

The Maker Movement and Genius Hour offer two viable ways of integrating STEM practices throughout all instructional content.  These initiatives are about getting students to take ownership of their learning.  They empower students to investigate the world and share their learning with others.

In August, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager wrote about the Maker Movement and noted that, “(the) Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity and 21st-century skills. To achieve these goals requires taking a hard look at both what we teach and how we teach it. The Maker Movement offers lessons, tools and technology to steer a new course to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for all students.”

The Genius Hour concept grew out of Google’s practice of letting their engineers spend 20% of their time working on their own pet projects.  Their website states that, “Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.”

When educators question how they will meet the rigor of new standards, they need look no further than these two promising resources for active engagement and real-world connections.  We have an opportunity to bring back passion and excitement to the teaching and learning process.  Let’s get going before the pendulum swings back in the other direction.