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NKYEC’s Edcamp provides professional development opportunity for educators — and they turn out

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By Nick Gonnella
NKyTribune Correspondent

School administrators and educators gathered for four hours on a cold Saturday morning at Boone County High School to learn how to enhance the ways they can positively impact the lives of youth.

Sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Education Council, the second annual Northern Kentucky Edcamp enabled teachers to take charge of their own professional development.

According to Polly Lusk Page, executive director of the NKYEC, educators can put themselves in a learning role to deepen the opportunity to learn from each other and acquire new ways to reach out to students.

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“This is the professional development that involves teaching and learning,” said Page. “This puts them in a learning role, as well as a teaching role. If you expect others to learn, you can see yourself as a learner as well. It’s a chance to look at yourself and say, ‘am I doing this in my classroom? Is that something I could implement? How is that going to help me with my students?’”

NKYEC, through its College and Career Readiness Action Team, welcomed about 350 attendees to the high school in Florence. Edcamp is the creation of a group of educators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2010 as a form of free professional development that expanded conversations taking place on social media platforms. Communities around the world have successfully implemented Edcamps based on this first model.

Erika Bowles, principal of Longbranch Elementary in Boone County, emphasized that Edcamp is all about making a connection with other educators using innovative methods rather than a formal presentation.

“The purpose of Edcamp is to give teachers the professional development that they’ve always wanted,” said Bowles.

Teachers were in charge of designing their own sessions and coming up with their own discussion topics. After registering, teachers had their discussion topic ideas put on a large electronic board for others to see what topics they can sign up for.

Before gathering into classrooms for the four, 18-topic sessions, each lasting a half hour, teachers had the chance to network with each other over coffee to start the day.

Boone County science teacher Tricia Shelton leads EdCamp session (Photo by Nick Gonnella)

Boone County science teacher Tricia Shelton leads EdCamp session (Photo by Nick Gonnella)

“We allow plenty of time to network,” said Bowles.

According to Bowles, the awareness of Edcamp spread by word of mouth, email and social media sites – primarily Twitter. Edcamp hosted educators from levels Kindergarten through 12th grade.

“This is not a formal presentation at all,” said Bowles. “Edcamp is an unconference. There’s no plan until the day of the event, and there are no rules. It’s very laid back. It’s only 30 minutes long, and it’s going to go really, really fast.”

Page pointed out that teachers are isolated in the classroom during school hours, as contact with other teachers is limited to lunch breaks in the staff lounge or faculty meetings, for example.

“That’s the beauty of these edcamps,” she noted. “This isn’t your stand-and-deliver professional development. While the amount of teaching we have is during the school day, we also think about what happens outside of the school day – so it’s a chance to broaden that, too.”

Page added that not only are educators passionate about their careers, but they’re also passionate about learning from each other.
“This is really educator-to-educator,” she said.

Different topics covered in various sessions included Conceptual Math for Elementary, Teacher and Student Blogging, Co-Teaching, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Google Apps for Education in the Classroom, and Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Google Forms.

Ericka Bowles welcomes educators to the camp.  (Photo by Nick Gonnella)

Erika Bowles welcomes educators to the camp. (Photo by Nick Gonnella)

Bowles, a member of the Edcamp planning team, helped lead a demonstration of Voxer – a messaging app for smartphones that uses live voice text, photo and location sharing.

Page said she was excited to see educators and teachers discover what 21st-century classrooms look like.

“This is such an opportunity for everybody,” she said. “Look at the numbers that are here today, on a cold Saturday, not being paid. This is outside of their school time, and they’ve all come because they’re so passionate about what they do. You have 350 people here because they’re passionate about their careers. That’s what’s important.”

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