Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Tale of Two EdCamps

I spent a lovely weekend in Barrie, Ontario, this past weekend, visiting friends we hadn't seen in over a decade, and attending EdCamp Barrie. This was my second EdCamp experience, having helped host EdCamp Manitoulin Island this past May, and found it to be a completely different experience.

Which, I guess, if you're going to call something an "un-conference," it would be expected that each EdCamp be vastly different and unique to that setting.

Both EdCamps drew passionate educators from all over the province, bringing a wealth of experience and viewpoints with them. At both venues, the conversation was rich and meaningful, and everyone came away invigorated to try new things in their schools. And, of course, we got t-shirts from both EdCamps! But that's about where the similarities end. 


Photo by @aforgrave
Our little EdCamp on Manitoulin was a purposefully small affair. We had 20 participants, which pretty much filled the main room at the Red Lodge Resort on beautiful Lake Manitou. We moved back and forth between rooms that overlooked the water, and rooms that had a roaring fire in the fireplace. The day started with the World Café, as Jenn Chan (@jennzia) led the group through doodles & discussion about where we are as educators along our journey of learning.
Photo by @fryed
Photo by @CarolineBlack39
Breakout sessions were chosen by people announcing topics on which they would be interested in leading discussion, and then as per EdCamp tradition, we "voted with our feet," moving from session to session as we saw fit. 
Though we ended up with a good variety of topics, many were very vague, and we were encouraged to split up into further subgroups as we saw fit.
Just out of photo: the roaring fire in the fireplace to the left of the group.
I was lucky to get connected with Andrew Forgrave (@aforgrave)- a well-known educator in gaming in the classroom circles - to learn more about using Minecraft with my students. Of course, that required time spent PLAYING Minecraft...
Take THAT, creeper!! Photo by @exhibit_change
Thanks to generous sponsors, we were able to have lunch catered by the Red Lodge staff, and we had a sit down lunch. This was a great way to touch base with everyone about what they had talked about during the morning sessions.

While I met a lot of people from diverse backgrounds (I had only met two or three participants face-to-face before the event), the experience still felt small. I came away initially feeling unsure of what I had learned - I tend to be a very structured person, so the whole concept of "learn what you want to learn" left me feeling a little uneasy. In retrospect, I know I got a lot out of it, but at the time, I wasn't sure I liked the idea of these unconferences. I thought I wanted something more concrete, but I wasn't sure.

It did, however, greatly prepare me for the EdCamp Barrie experience.


Photo by @lv2learn2
EdCamp Barrie this past weekend was on a completely different scale. There were about 100 educators in attendance, and the venue was a high school at the north end of the city. As a result, spaces were larger, conversations were continual, and there was much more choice in terms of sessions and spaces in which to work. Even though the event was larger and more structured, it felt less structured and more fluid. It wasn't as cozy as EdCamp Island, but with so many people, a bigger venue was a necessity.
Some of the participants at #edcampb. Photo by @aforgrave
Unlike EdCamp Island, the schedule was built through an entirely collaborative process. On stickies, we all wrote down the questions that drive us as educators, and plastered them onto the wall. The organizing committee took the time to categorize all our questions into main topics, which we then voted on using stickers. The most-wanted topics were selected and the schedule was created. As the day went on, extra sessions (such as the mental health one) got added as teachers found each other and started up a discussion.
Photo by @aforgrave
Thanks to EdCamp Manitoulin Island, I was much more open to just doing my own thing and learning "from the room" instead of from a particular person or focusing on a particular skill. I was also more comfortable with contributing my own experiences to the conversation. I was more ready to step up and talk about what I've learned rather than passively absorbing information, and chose to go to a couple sessions because I could share.

In a session on Math & Technology. Photo by @lv2learn2
The sheer number of connections made at EdCampB was mind-blowing. Meeting up with people I hadn't seen since EdCamp Island, finally meeting people I had previously connected with on Twitter, and getting to know passionate educators with whom I had never before crossed paths made the day that much more worthwhile.

Both my husband and I came away with some amazing ideas to implement over the next few months. We both feel empowered by what we learned, and despite taking up an entire Saturday, we feel rejuvenated by the experience.

There was nothing but positivity throughout the day - from fun activities like the green screen photo booth, to the technology slam at the end of the day, to the upbeat music being played whenever we entered the main meeting space, it seemed people were always smiling. (The poutine truck was also pretty awesome.) I can't wait to experience something like this again.

Back to my Roots

Though I had such a great time at this recent, larger EdCamp, I am already looking forward to helping out again with our small, intimate version of an unconference as we prepare to host EdCamp Manitoulin Island again in May 2015 (I doubt I'll get to another EdCamp before then). I have a much better idea of how informal learning like this works, and I'm anxious to both contribute to sessions and absorb from others. You are all invited!

Have you been to an EdCamp before? What did you think of it? Were your expectations met?

1 comment:

  1. I am trying to get an better understanding of the un-conference. This was very helpful!


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