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Thursday, February 25, 2016

SLedCamp (Student Led edCamps)

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to the idea of Student Led edCamps. Being a Public Relations Coordinator for edCamp Oshkosh and a total believer in the power of the learning that can happen through an edCamp, I was all for trying the idea out. All I needed were some test subjects teachers who would be willing to work through what it would look like when it was implemented. Lucky for me, three of my fifth grade teachers were up for the challenge.

Fortunately, most of us had been to an edCamp and knew how sessions were grown organically by the attendees of the conference. What we didn't know was what it looked like when students took the helm, so I decided to research what others have done. I researched and researched and researched. I found blogs and articles on the benefits of Student Led edCamps and teachers who had implemented it and found it to be a wonderful way to empower kids and engage them in their learning. What I didn't find were any resources on HOW to implement such a project. I wanted perimeters (if there were any), timelines, guidelines...but I couldn't find any of that. So, we started from scratch, and my hope in posting this information would be to share what we did, what was successful, what failed, and what will be done differently next time.

Around this same time, I had just finished the book The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. He spoke about Identity Days at his school where students and staff were able to present on a topic that they were passionate about. In one chapter he says, "Allowing students to share their interests created an environment where they felt that their voices mattered and that what they cared about mattered as well." I loved this idea, and at the first brainstorming meeting I suggested that we did a mashup of an Identity Day and a Student Led edCamp. These are the basics of what we ended up with on our planning doc:

  • Students could volunteer to lead a 20 minute session on a topic that they are passionate about. If they wanted one partner that was also passionate about the same topic, that was ok.
  • We wanted students to TRY to incorporate some sort of academic skill. For example, if a student decided to present on baking, they could also talk about fractions and how they relate to a recipe. More on this later...
  • I would offer (as the technology integrator) my services at some designated lunch recesses to assist the leaders with anything they needed as they planned such as presentation help (although presentations did not need to be done on technology - it was the choice of the student), connecting with experts in the field that they were passionate about, or planning out what they were going to say.
  • The majority of the planning and work for the SLedCamp would be done on the students' own time either at home or when they were done with work in class.
We really had no idea if the kids would go for this or not. Even though they could talk about something that really interested them, they had to do all the work on their own time, and weren't required to even participate and it wasn't graded. I think that my three teachers were skeptical that the students would take something like this on.

Our next step was to get all the fifth graders together to show them a presentation showing them an example of a teacher edCamp and explaining what we were thinking. They were instantly excited and students began signing up to lead sessions. We began with 63 total students and, after a couple of changed minds, 38 asking to lead a session either individually or with a partner. 

We gave the students two weeks to get ready for their sessions. I met with them during recess several times to try to help them in any way I could. One issue we had was that there were not enough computers available for students to work, and some didn't have computers at home to work. Our computer lab was reserved during many of the days that I had available to work with the students, so we did the best we could and the teachers tried to allow time in the computer lab.

Close to SLedCamp Day, we had all students choose the sessions that they wanted to attend. We were afraid that there would be some sessions that nobody would choose, and truthfully we weren't sure what to do if that happened. Fortunately, it did not. This was our final schedule.

The day of SLedCamp really went well. We had very few behavior issues because students were engaged in the learning. One teacher stayed in each room with the students to supervise, but students watched the clock and transitioned without much prompting. They felt in control of their SLedCamp. The Leaders were amazing. Even students who would typically not get up and present were enthusiastic. Many students were absolutely natural teachers and it was obvious that some teaching strategies were modeled for them. For example, in a drawing session, I heard the leader say, "Everyone give me a thumbs up if you're ready to move on!"
Segway Demonstration

Group Cheesecake Creating

Cupcake Selfie

He was so excited for the Drone session that he brought
his own iPad to record the presentation.

Overall, our first SLedCamp was a huge success. The students were excited about what they learned from their peers.
"It inspired me to want to learn more about technology."

Upon reflecting upon the day ourselves, we found that the next time, we wouldn't bother asking the students which session they wanted to go to and scheduling them out. I think that our worries were unfounded that some students wouldn't have attendees. Also, the next time that we have SLedCamp, our sessions are going to be more academic and possibly we will try to embrace more of the true edCamp style where the sessions are grown organically from the participants. Only about half of the students included any kind of skill into their sessions, so that was a fail on our part for not making that more clear. For the first time, this time, the way we did it was great. We created buy-in and the students said that they would not have been comfortable presenting immediately without time to prepare. Regardless, it was an awesome experience for both us as teachers to see that side of the students and the students to be given the chance to show a part of themselves that they might not have otherwise shown.

I hope this post was helpful to anyone thinking of taking something like this on. If you have any questions, please let me know!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The First Post

The first post is the hardest. It has to be. There’s no established writing style, no inside jokes from another post to fall back on, no knowledge of my credentials or if what I have to say is worth the five minutes you found to read blog posts that will challenge your thinking and improve your teaching. However, when speaking about goals, one of the smartest guys I know asked me “Why not?”, and I couldn’t answer him with anything that didn’t involve me showing a complete lack of faith in myself - something I would never have allowed in my students. Therefore, welcome to my first blog post.
I didn't set out to be a teacher. To be honest, when I went back for my Bachelor’s degree my own kids were little and the summers off sounded fantastic. Being done for the day when they were done: phenomenal. Spring break. Winter break. Snow days. A magical place called “Teachers’ lounges”. Need I say more?
When I was hired for my first job in a middle school I was terrified. I thought middle schoolers were narcissistic, cruel, and wore their pants down to their knees. They swore like pirates while looking like 12 year olds, made crude hand gestures, and might even try SMOKING for goodness sakes. I was fairly certain that they were going to eat me alive and laugh while they were doing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took me about three months to figure out that my strong suit was humor and making connections to the students and I loved them. LOVED them. Many of them I loved like my own children. I had been right. They could be narcissistic, cruel, and all the other preconceived characteristics that I described...sometimes, but mostly they had moments of being little kids again loving a five minute hand-eye coordination game, crying when someone hurt their feelings, and were just trying to navigate their way through middle school unharmed which was not much different than what I was doing. I think they recognized that in me, and there was a great deal of mutual respect and affection because of it. Since then, I’ve always said that there is nothing like teaching middle schoolers, and I mean that in the kindest, most wistful way possible.
When I moved to teaching elementary school, I treated my students like a family. I didn’t know how else to treat them. There were days that I saw those kids more than I saw my own. I designed my classroom to look as much like a living room as possible. I had a couch against everyone’s better judgement. “I’d have lice” they said. “They’ll fight over spots” they said. And they did, no doubt. One year I even had to have a schedule on who could sit on the couch at what time, but they did it because they loved that old, ratty, 70’s style brown and orange couch. When they would leave for the year, they would say good-bye. To the couch. But, it was because it had been part of their home for a year. Before I left the classroom, I had so many different chairs and spots to sit that nobody had to fight. I was doing flexible seating before I knew what flexible seating was. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten rid of desks all together. Those moments of allowing the students to sit where they wanted, work how they were comfortable, even if it meant me getting down on the floor to hold our reading group, connected the kids to each other and to me in a way that desks couldn’t facilitate. There is more to flexible seating than a choice in where to sit. It helped build my classroom community.
My last experience as a classroom teacher I had looped from fourth to fifth grade with the same students. The students had the chance to opt out of my class for fifth grade and not a single one left. Having the same class two years in a row, especially the class I had, was truly the best experience of my career and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any teacher lucky enough to be given the chance. At some point in that year I discovered that I belonged in education. Actually belonged there, like a club that I originally didn’t want to be a part of. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without the influence that all my students have had on me. I wouldn’t be the professional that I am if my students, and now other classroom teachers, hadn’t  inspired me to continue to learn and grow. So, for the teacher who didn’t want to be one, and a believer in the fact that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, I am truly grateful for teaching and how it has shaped my life. The education profession is like no other in the type of relationships you create and the influence you have on students, and we are all fortunate that our paths have brought us to students to love, protect, and teach.