Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ed Camp Ottawa

This past week was a whirlwind of professional development for me and for many of my colleagues. On Thursday, we had a PED day with mini-sessions run by teachers within the school, covering website building, using Google Drive, and using iPads in the classroom. It was an outstanding day, and I learned quite a lot. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I believe it was a productive day.

Friday was the annual QPAT teacher's convention downtown. I attended a few sessions, and it was interesting. It followed a more traditional model of professional development, in that an expert presented to a group of teachers. I know that I learned a few things that I will be able to implement directly into my classroom, but I also spent some time just listening to incredibly intelligent and well-informed people talking about the state of education in the world today.

Image: edcampottawa.wordpress.com
On Saturday, I had a unique opportunity. I went to Ottawa to attend an "ed camp." This was a new experience for me, and I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew was that my twitter sphere was buzzing with excitement about the event, and it was being offered for free.

Thus, with the mindset that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, off I ventured to Ottawa.

When I first arrived, I was a bit confused. There was a registration desk, I dutifully filled out my nametag with my name, my twitter handle, and a little self-description ("James, a huge Google nerd."). I looked at the activity board, and I was a bit concerned. There were several events posted for the first slot, a few for the second, but the third and fourth slots were looking kind of bare.

This is the first big difference between a conference and an edcamp.

The session board at the beginning of the day.
Image: @edcampottawa
Ed camps don't follow a set agenda that's published beforehand. Sessions evolve from what people are doing on the day. Everyone is invited to offer something, and topics cover a broad spectrum of interesting things. My first session was on the maker movement in education, and we had a great discussion, got to see a 3D printer in action. Since this is a topic that is close to my heart, I really enjoyed the opportunity to explore the situation today, discuss how it is affecting education, and what the future may hold for our students.

Exciting stuff, and more than that, exciting people. The best part of the session was not seeing the 3D printer in action. It wasn't learning about the Maker Clubs. It wasn't taking notes about the resources available for teachers. It was meeting and connecting with amazing, intelligent, innovative teachers who had remarkable observations about the state of education and the impact of the maker movement.

That was how my day started...

A unique feature of an ed camp is how it evolves as the day goes on. It started off excellent, and things improved from there. By the end of the day, the session board looked completely different - it was covered in topics that people had offered. And the atmosphere was lively, energetic and creative. People were talking. People were excited. People were engaged. More than that, people were co-creating knowledge.

To my mind, this is the most appealing feature of an ed camp. It's a living thing, evolving, changing, and developing as it happens. In fact, one of the sessions I attended was how to host an ed camp! It hadn't occurred to me before, and here I was, talking with people who were just like me - individuals who were interested in approaching professional development in a new way. They had put in the time and effort to create this event, which was done on a minimal budget, and was accessible for everyone who was interested.

An ed camp is a crowd sourced, open-source professional development event.

By the end of the day, the session board was very different.
Image: @edcampottawa
I knew about self-directed professional development already. I'm a regular attendee of #cdnedchat on Monday nights on Twitter. I subscribe to many education blogs. I follow incredible teachers on Twitter, and I'm always learning.

But I had never considered that you could open-source your PD in the physical world. It just didn't occur to me that you can put together an event like this. By the end of the day, the session board looked completely different.

Overall, I had an incredible and inspiring day. In fact, I was so inspired by what I had learned, that when I came home, I completely trashed the work I had done for my Google Summit talk, and started from scratch. Not because what I had done was wrong, but because what I had learned was better.

As a teacher, I am constantly learning. I am always looking for new ideas. I am willing to try new things. Perhaps most importantly, I am willing to take risks in order to innovate. I don't always have the best ideas. I don't always like what I try. I don't always succeed. But I'm always growing, and that, for me, is the key to being a good teacher.