A teacher at my school, who really has more energy and follow-through than I could ever muster, did a mini PD session on Ed Camps in the classroom a couple of weeks ago. She talked about how she would go to “Un-conferences” with other educators and instead of having a set guide of sessions and times, teachers would bring up topics of interest or concern and meet in rooms based on those interests to work together share ideas, discuss topics, and solve problems. In a recent session, teachers worked on talking about how to incorporate Ed Camp into their classrooms in a way that students could participate and grow from these experiences. Lo and behold, they developed great ideas which she brought back to our school and helped other teachers implement with astounding success!
It starts with a question: What do you want to know more about?
That simple question starts a roll of ideas and curiosities. Teacher at our school used this as a project/assessment at the end of a unit so students had already gained TONS of background information on a topic, so they knew what they knew and where there were gaps. A list of questions grows on the board and then students decide which question on which they will focus for their independent research. Some students end up in groups and some work by themselves. They decide how to research, what the end product will be, and how they will present their findings to the rest of the class. They are wide open in creativity and the path they choose to complete the project, but that means they are learning about how to organize their time as well as learning about the topic.
When I attended the mini session, I assumed it wouldn’t really apply to my groups. I have small groups and I don’t cover information units (we’re generally learning skills and strategies). But then I realized that questioning IS a reading strategy and research is a reading and writing strategy and this absolutely makes sense for my small group reading intervention students.
We had just finished an article (from Newsela) on a family of Syrian refugees. As we were reading, the students were interested in where they came from, why they were leaving Syria, and what life was like for them. They had a million directions to go and this was the perfect time to try Ed Camp.
Students listed off all the things they still wondered about the article we read and we built a list on the board. The next day, they chose topics. Each student ended up choosing a separate question so they all worked individually. They had just a few days (we had more limited time) and started looking up information and taking notes. My intention was that they would have a presentation to give the rest of the group, but we ran out of days leading up to winter break due to special events, in-class activities, and other unforeseeable situations. Instead of giving a formal presentation, students went around the circle and shared their topics and what they’d learned in the process. It wasn’t the most mind-blowing information, but the students were excited to be experts and focused on something they actually wanted to know more about.
When I do this again (and I will!) I’ll give the students more time to research and develop their ideas. I think this concept benefitted them in more ways that they or even I realize!