Guest Post: The CMS Un-Conference

Today we have a guest-post from Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain), Educational Technology Specialist for Center School District #58 in Kansas City, MO. Colleen is a former elementary school teacher turned #edtech maestro! She oversaw the implementation of a 1:1 technology initiative at Center Middle School (6th -8th grades) during the 2013-2014 school year. CMS gave each student and staff member a Chromebook. For her efforts, time, patience and mastery of her work, she was voted as Teacher of the Year in the entire district by the staff and administration. Looking for a two-peat of the award, Colleen now looks forward to the implementation of a 1:1 technology initiative at Center High School. You can check out the blog that she keeps for Center School District by clicking here. She is also the recent founder of the new chat for Center teachers, #CenterSD.


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I was asked recently by the very innovative teacher, Alec Chambers (@ChambersAlec), to write a guest post for his blog.  Now, most of my blog posts are tech tips for classroom technology integration where some are nothing more than an app overview and suggestions for use, but I had a feeling Mr. Chambers was looking for something different.  A bit more depth.  A possible game changer.  I had just the topic for him.  EdCamps.


Recently, Alec and I attended #EdCampKC.  I have to say we both were very impressed with the format of the day.  EdCamps are sort of like teacher conferences, except it’s the teachers presenting, teachers sharing, teachers collaborating, teachers learning from each other and teachers wandering finding sessions that best fit their needs.  Did you notice the common thread – teachers were in control of their own professional learning.  And it was free!  So I guess it’s not really like other teacher conferences at all.  

So, a quick format overview.  EdCamp organizers find a location, set a date for the event and then get the word out.  That’s about all the upfront planning that goes into it.  There are no vendors, no registration fees, no call for presenters, and no official approval of sessions.  Presenters and sessions are all determined the day of the event.  That’s right – the day of the event!  At EdCampKC, it literally was butcher paper on tables, divided into grids indicating session times and room numbers, with markers for attendees to write down what they were going to present. 

I use the word “present” loosely.  Sessions at an EdCamp are all about collaborating.  Sometimes the presentation is a facilitator posing a question that the attendees discuss.  Sometimes sessions really are more of a presentation.  Regardless of the format, the topics are a variety of educational topics, where everyone can find something that interests them – Google Docs and Drive, Socratic Seminars, 1:1 Roll Outs, hottest current apps – you get the idea.

And here’s the power of teachers being in control of their own PD – attendees vote by their feet!  Don’t worry – everyone wore socks and shoes at EdCampKC.  This style of voting is one where participants have the option (and are encouraged to take it) to leave one session that might not meet their needs and join another session already in progress.  It’s not at all uncommon to see teachers collaborating in the halls during sessions, attending a variety of sessions, soaking up all that they possibly can.

Pretty powerful stuff. 

The challenge for me was bringing this format back to the district for powerful, in-house, professional development.  As the educational technology specialist for the district, I find myself conducting a variety of professional development sessions for our teachers.  An EdCamp format is the perfect opportunity for our teachers to come together to ask questions, share resources, suggest ideas – in general, learn from each other.  After all, who knows better than those that are in the trenches with you!

We recently had an afternoon of learning EdCamp style at our middle school.  My confession is I had about half the sessions, with teachers to facilitate, already determined.  I knew this would be a new approach to afternoon PD, so I purposely structured it with an overview of the EdCamp philosophy, and also built in brainstorming time for teachers to come up with their own hot, current topics for our afternoon breakout sessions. 

After the short explanation, and brainstorming time, we were ready to sign up for sessions and proceed to our afternoon of learning from each other.  As I went from room to room, I was very excited with what I saw.  Some rooms, you couldn't even tell who the facilitator was.  Chairs were in a circle and everyone was sharing and collaborating.  Some rooms had a recorder of sorts, who was recording all the ideas teachers were sharing, which was shared back out with the attendees.  There was even one group which, after attending the first session, developed their own second session which was a continuation of previous discussions!  I couldn't have asked for more. 

Teachers learning from teachers.

Pretty powerful stuff!