An UNconference Experience

EdCamp

I like to try new things, so when I heard that SPU was hosting an Edcamp  I knew it was my opportunity to experience an unconference.  To be honest, I thought I’d go to this one just to observe and learn, but it turns out that the format of the sessions lends itself to sharing. I ended up asking questions and offering some of my own ideas and classroom practices in the small group sessions. Edcamp is a great place to meet educators from other schools, learn about what is happening in other school districts, and make some connections. If you have never been to an Edcamp event before, I urge you to give it a try.

A visit to the Edcamp website will give you information on where and when you can find the next Edcamp.  It also explains their four tenets.  Ed camps are:

  • Free and open: open to all educators of all levels and subjects
  • Participant-driven: educators collaboratively decide on session topics
  • Experience, not Experts: participants facilitate sessions and share experiences
  • Rule of two feet: stay in the session if it meets your need, if it doesn’t, leave and find another session that will

The first ISTE standard for educators is Learner: Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. This standard calls for educators to pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks. On this Saturday morning I was with about fifty other educators from the greater Seattle area who were at Edcamp to share their practical classroom-tested ideas and learn about other innovative classroom-ready ideas from others. The fourth ISTE standard for educators is Collaborator: Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems. They dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology. The unconference model of Edcamp is a great way for teachers to fulfill this standard.

By the time I arrived in the main conference room, the whiteboard was covered in a number of topic suggestions. Participants had started voting for the sessions they were most interested in by adding a checkmark to the topic.  I checked two or three ideas, and then added another of my own – not sure if anyone would checkmark it at that late stage. After listening to the SPU facilitators introduce themselves, explain how the sessions would work, and playing a quick icebreaker, I looked back at the whiteboard and saw that the topics with the most votes had become sessions and were given venues.  And yes, there were a few checkmarks for my contribution to the board – Robotics. I have just recently started teaching a robotics elective and need all the help I can get.

The first session I chose was NeuroScience and the Brain. We were a large group.  The session began when a participant asked the question: does anyone know anything about brain breaks? After that, teachers around the room shared their insights, experiences, books they had read, best practices, and funny stories about brain breaks.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson, is a game changer when it comes to thinking about how our students deal with classroom stressors. Siegal and Payne Bryson explain that when a student has ‘flipped their lid’, the part of the brain where they make decisions, show empathy or have self-control becomes ‘unavailable’, so teachers need to help the student calm down before trying to rationalize with them.  When a student becomes upset, the teacher needs to first connect with the student right brain to right brain – empathy, validate feelings, listen and reflect before redirecting their behavior to the left brain activity of making amends and finding a solution to their particular problem. The Montessori Notebook website provides a great summary poster of The Whole Brain Child.

I also learnt that I have a lot of research to do because Bruce Perry’s Social Attachment theory and the Six Core Strengths for Healthy Child Development, and Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline , and The Orchid and the Dandelion by W. Thomas Boyce sound awesome. Prior to this unconference, I had never heard of any of them or their works.  

Some of the ideas that were shared were not new to me, but confirmation that I am on the right track. I often ask a student to walk with me when we have had an issue in class and need to address it. What I didn’t know is that there is some science behind that practice. I had never heard of ‘mirroring’ as a technique. Co-regulation by matching your step with a student, or when drinking tea, lifting cups together creates a space for empathy.

Teachers shared their experiences using brain break techniques which they found on websites such as Blissfulkids.com (has a great list of mindfulness games for students of all ages,) and Mindfulschools.org which highlights challenges faced by students such as anxiety, trauma, distraction and isolation. The website also has resources for educators to use to prevent issues such as toxic stress, mental health, and burnout. Mindful Schools offers a curriculum as well as training for educators to establish sustainable, positive learning environments. Other brain break activities can be found at sites such as GoNoodle.comMindup.org

And that was just the first session that I attended. Although I could not be a part of the rich conversations that were happening in each session, participants added questions and notes to a shared Google Doc template which can be referred to later at their leisure.  So, even though I was only able to be at three sessions, I also have all the wonderful golden nuggets from the other sessions. 

One of the most valuable aspects of Edcamp is being able to access the vast amount of experience and ideas from many experts and share those ideas with others.  I am not a math teacher, but I know our math teachers are always looking for innovative ideas to add to their curriculum and now I can offer them the notes from one of the sessions I did not attend – Journal Math, thanks to the shared Google Doc.

Being in a room filled with other educators from various districts, various public and private schools, teachers of different grades and subjects, it struck me that we all took a precious Saturday morning away from our families to spend together for one very special reason – one special student. I know we see and teach many students in a day, but it was plain to me that each teacher in that room valued the uniqueness of each kid in their room.   That thought made me happy.

                                                            References

“ISTE Standards for Educators.” ISTE https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

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