Tuesday, May 19, 2015

EdCamp Detroit from an EdCamp Newbie

Early in the morning on Saturday, May 9, I wished my husband luck with our lively 2 year old son all day and headed to my very first Edcamp. I had heard about Edcamp Detroit on Twitter and seen it mentioned by so many great educators online that I knew it would be a great opportunity to advance my learning.

In order to reflect on the great experience and share with others, I thought I'd write about what I experienced at Edcamp Detroit from an Edcamp newbie's eyes.

What is an Edcamp?

  • Edcamps are not your typical educational conferences
There was no keynote speaker, no lengthy program describing who would be speaking and what their credentials were, no session guide to view online the night ahead of time, and no vendors there to promote their products. In fact, it very purposefully lacked these things. 

Although, there still was some pretty great swag-I'm looking at you bright orange Edutopia bottle. 
  • At Edcamp, the attendees are the experts
It lacked all of the previously mentioned typical components of an educational conference because at Edcamp, it is all about learning from each other. The attendees share what they know, what they've done, and how it has impacted their classroom. You are actually hearing from other educators about their experiences in the classroom or school. A giant grid with room numbers and times was written on a white board and the attendees who wanted to present filled it up with topics that they were interested in. While many came prepared with presentations or slideshows, it was clear that others just had something great to share and this was the perfect platform.

Photo courtesy of Ben Rimes

  • You have a voice (and others want to hear it!)
When I attend educational conferences, I typically expect a sit and get experience. However, at Edcamp, your voice is encouraged. Not only to present, but to participate in sessions, ask questions, and even share your own experiences. Plus the sessions were in classrooms, not huge conference halls, which certainly added a level of comfort and familiarity that encouraged active participation. I was happily surprised to find myself asking questions and sharing my own experiences at different sessions, when all I thought I would be doing was listening to others. It made it so that the sessions truly became applicable to what I am doing and helped me to build connections with other educators who have similar interests.
  • You decide where to go and for how long
We were told right from the start, by Edcamp leader Nick Provenzano, to vote with our feet in the sessions. If we decided we weren't interested or wanted to hear someone else speak too, it was totally encouraged to get up during the session and leave. That was a foreign concept to me. Yet, plenty of people came and left throughout the sessions that I attended and nobody batted an eye. I actually had planned to leave one of the sessions I was at halfway through to catch another one, but I was so engaged in what the speakers were sharing, that I forgot all about it. While that option does exist at all conferences (you know, free will and all), it certainly isn't always encouraged. I thought that really gave people the freedom to make sure the conference met their needs and to make every minute count.



Lessons from the Sessions
  • Re-designing learning spaces can create opportunities for more collaborative learning and more engaged students
Furniture photos courtesy of Ann Smart 
I attended a session led by Ann Smart and Lauren Villaluz all about redesigning learning spaces. They both had spent time researching effective learning spaces and helped schools to redesign learning spaces in a way that would make learning more collaborative, flexible, and engaging. I was very interested to hear how the Media Center at an Adrian school had been transformed from an unused area to a hub of activity. Luckily, our Media Center already is a hub of activity (just stop by right when school opens and you'll see what I mean), but it certainly had me wondering how I could make the environment even more student-centered and allow for more flexible learning spaces. They spoke about everything from choosing mobile furniture that serves multiple purposes to the type of lighting being used. It was awesome to hear from the kids themselves how school had changed for them because of the redesign. In the classrooms they had everything from mobile chairs and tables that made it easy to collaborate to smart TV stations so students could share tech projects with peers. The Media Center had more comfortable gathering areas, an array of seating types, and Hokki stools, which I think would be a great addition to our Media Center. A really key message that they had was to ask the students. That seems so simple, but really, how often do students actually get to give input on what their classroom or Media Center will look like? I loved the approach at Adrian Schools to give students the leadership role in their redesign. This session helped me to really view our school learning spaces and consider how they could better encourage collaboration, flexibility, and learning for our students.



  • The Maker Movement is making its way to classrooms and Media Centers everywhere!
  I also had the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Bond and Michael Medvinsky talk about their experiences with Makerspaces within their classrooms.They kicked off the session with an activity to remind us that we are all Makers. They shared great Maker projects that their students had done and really discussed with the group what it means to be a Maker and the collaborative nature of Making. When talking about assessing what students create within Makerspaces, they said that their rubric is asking if you solved the problem. They talked about Making as looking at problems or challenges and finding ways to solve them. With Jennifer’s group, the students were tasked with creating Rube Goldberg machines that required them to analyze the situation to create a functioning machine. Listening to students discuss the elements involved in making the machine function as they hoped it would, emphasized just how important the process of creating and collaborating really is.




Our Makerspace
The various Maker sessions that I attended reaffirmed to me how important it is that our students are given the opportunities to design, explore, create, solve problems, collaborate,  tinker, and make mistakes. Whether it take place in a dedicated school Makerspace, a mobile Makerspace, or through classroom projects and activities, the opportunity to be a Maker allows our students the chance to drive their own learning and collaborate in an authentic manner.

Collaborative learning in our Makerspace




And if the conference weren't enough...

The food trucks were pretty great too!



Enough said.




Obviously I had a great time at EdCamp Detroit and I really recommend it to all educators who are looking to expand their knowledge and inspire their learning!

Photo from EdCamp Detroit