The EdCamp Experience: Where Voice and Choice Matter

“We want to do something that is cross-curricular that all the 5th grade teachers [on this campus] can participate in. We want to try something new where students truly have a voice in how they learn.”

multiethnic group of children thinking a over white background

Editor’s note: ALP guest blogger Cathy Hill is a Learning and Teaching Coach in Lake Travis ISD (TX). The original publication of this post can be found at the Opening Paths blog.

Kathy Austrian, 5th grade teacher at Serene Hills Elementary in Lake Travis ISD, made the statement above while I met with her and teammate Amanda Reedy. Both have been part of our NextGen program this year—a program that gives support to teachers willing to try new strategies in their classrooms. I am the instructional coach that worked with them. Neither had any idea what to do to bring this to fruition…nor did I.

An online article describing a teacher who had done an EdCamp in his classroom provided inspiration (Seliskar, 2014). Although we agreed that this idea could work, we also knew we needed more structure. The 5th grade class had almost 180 students and seven teachers. What would EdCamp look like when implemented on this scale?

Kathy and Amanda began to raise awareness with their team about the concept of EdCamp. All the teachers were receptive, but the vision of how to implement this on a daily basis over a two-week period was still unclear; successful execution rested on Kathy and Amanda bringing it into focus. They started with a definition of and reasons for providing an EdCamp experience for students; then, they developed a theme (“Share Your Passion”) and a driving question (“How will you inspire others?”). To provide consistency among the seven classrooms, they clearly outlined daily activities with period by period instructions, video links, questions, and major points. They acknowledged that, as the process evolved, changes would likely occur, and they remained open to suggestions from their teammates regarding design, potential problems, and possible solutions.

Setting the stage for the students was a priority. Day 1, students arrived to butcher-papered hallways proclaiming, “What do you want to learn? Bring your passion! Bring your voice!” Students brainstormed topics they would like to learn about, writing on sticky notes and posting on the butcher paper. The hallway on Day 2 boasted the caption, “What will you teach? How will you inspire? Share your passion!” Students learned about different personality types and identifying strengths. This again led to discussions about passions, why people have different ones, and how to pursue them.

The remaining days leading to EdCamp included a variety of learning experiences. Students wrote proposals that included learning outcomes, identified materials needed (technology, props, etc.), and outlined presentations with time limits for each section. They learned about asking questions that prompt higher-order thinking and about facilitating discussion. They also practiced some classroom management skills to regain the attention of their audience, if needed. In the two days prior to EdCamp, students had the opportunity to practice their presentations, receiving feedback from the teacher and students in their classroom.

Throughout this time, Kathy and Amanda continued to provide daily agendas. With help from their team, they organized the sessions, reserved classrooms, and prepared sign-up sheets. There would be eighty-five presentations—eighty-five shared passions—in ten classrooms. Sessions were color-coded according to category (technology, arts and crafts, etc.) and enrollment in each was limited to twenty students so that all would have attendees. Students eagerly awaited the day before EdCamp when they would be able to sign up for the nine 15-minute sessions they would attend.

The day of EdCamp arrived, and a banner proclaiming, “edcamp – Where Voice and Choice Matter” greeted the excited students. Young presenters shared passions such as Creating Harry Potter Potions, Mysteries of the Deep, Channeling Your Inner You Tube, Advanced Bicycles, Bonjour-Learn about France, Tricky to Please-Architecture and Design, Flippin’ Fun Gymnastics, Flowering Photography, Personal Finance and Business, Oncology, The Cupcake Fanatic, 3-D Printing, Acting with a Twist, and many other topics. Quiet students came alive when talking about their passions. Inclusion students shared their passions and received high praise from their peers. Students learned about themselves and others, about interests and strengths that were previously unrecognized. Teachers were simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Students were given voice and choice—and it was incredible.

EdCamp was a concept that started small…just a couple of teachers wanting to do something out of the ordinary. It spread to a team of teachers who were willing to trust each other and take a risk for their students. It further encompassed 180 normal students, transforming them into enthusiastic learners/presenters who flourished in the freedom to study and share their passions. For all involved, EdCamp provided an extraordinary learning experience.

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