'EdCamp' Turns Teachers Into Grassroots Idea Hackers

The informal gatherings allow teachers to collaborate and hone specific skills.

Where does a teacher turn to learn how to incorporate technology into her classroom or find innovative ways to teach reluctant readers? For generations of educators, the answer was to head to a big professional development conference that offered general resources. But thanks to the growing popularity of EdCamp, they're increasingly taking advantage of free, grassroots gatherings to organically collaborate and take control of their own learning by building specific skills.

The EdCamp model borrows from the "unconference" structure of BarCamp, participant-driven meetups of tech hackers that began happening around the world in the mid-2000s. In 2010, a group of Philadelphia teachers who had attended a BarCamp decided to create a similar space where their peers could hack the theory and practice of K-12 education.

The gatherings have two basic rules: Everyone must be able to "share and learn in an open environment," and instead of passively listening to tips from a presenter who hasn't been in a classroom in 20 years, teachers are "the main actors of the event."

EdCamp sessions aren't predetermined—attendees simply show up for a day of shared learning. After some welcoming activities, people write on a large schedule the specific skills or knowledge they'd like to share. Participants then look at the posted topics and decide which sessions they want to access. If a session isn't meeting an individual educator's needs, she can vote with her feet and "simply get up and move on to another room."

No preparation is required to attend an EdCamp—influential educator Lisa Dabbs, the co-founder of the first EdCamp in California who is hosting a second one in Orange County on January 28, told TeachHub that "the best things that a participant could bring would be a friend to bounce thoughts off of, as well as their ideas and questions." That willingness to share and collaborate, Dabbs says, makes EdCamp a unique opportunity to experience the "energy of the power that educators bring to creating their own learning."

Nearly 20 EdCamp gatherings are scheduled in the United States and Sweden over the next two months. As they evolve, the gatherings seem poised to become a true professional learning community for educators.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user NJ Tech Teacher

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