Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Ups & Downs of Organizing Edcamp Phoenix 2016

After much hard work, a lot of collaboration, and EXTENSIVE emailing, Edcamp 2016 is in the books. In many ways, I believe this was our best event yet, from an organizer’s perspective. It is the 4th Edcamp I’ve put on, with a spectacular team of planners to assist. Here are some of the challenges we worked at and some of the big wins from the event.

  • We had a really difficult time getting financial contributions this year. However, this was also the first time we specifically stated that we were mainly looking for financial contributions. We did have two groups step up about 10 days out and donate a large chunk of money between the two of them, and that helped immensely.
  • Getting the word out is always our biggest challenge, because social media cannot be counted on to draw a large audience (at least not in our neck of the woods). Hence, we rely on contacting districts individually and hoping they pass the information on to their teachers. Out of the 30 districts valley-wide, I’m guessing the information was only communicated to the staffs of maybe 8-10 of the districts.
  • Google has served as the backbone of a lot of what we do, from our Google+ Hangout meetings with organizers to our Google Site to our collaborative documents among team members as well as participants. However, this year, since Google separated all of it’s editing into standalone apps, it added a significant number of steps between clicking on a Google link and being able to edit it. This was a huge headache and detracted from people wanting to use the collaborative documents.
  • Our caterer, who was great last year, misunderstood the time and was planning on delivering the food at 1:45 instead of 11:45, which I had even confirmed earlier in the week. So when I called at 12 because the food wasn’t there, they apologized profusely and started it right away, which meant it didn’t arrive until 1:00. So, I told our hungry Edcampers even more apologetically that our food wasn’t here and to go do session 3, and come back for lunch afterwards.

  • It was so nice to talk to first year teachers and know that they were walking away with a wealth of resources, information, and contacts. That’s exactly what they need to carry them through the rest of difficult first years.
  • We had Heather Jancoski and her student assistant conducting short sit-down interviews with participants about why they like the Edcamp model. This happened during lunch time. This will be woven together by her journalism students into a new promotional video for us next year, which should be lovely. This should also be an inspiring piece for us to use in our promotion tools next year.
  • My favorite thing about Saturday was the number of people asking how to do this in their district. Some had come with the express intent of finding out how this might look in a school or district setting, and others came and were inspired to find out how they could use it in their own setting. We’ve never had people ask about that before, so I’m taking that as validation that we’re doing something right :-)
  • The whole process of dealing with the prizes was so much better this year, from an organizer standpoint. We have so often spent tons of meeting time trying to figure out what was the best way to hand out prizes to make it so that people got useful prizes to them, but didn’t take tons of time during the day with people sitting around not winning, and didn’t allow people to take things they didn’t win. So, based on other Edcamp organizer feedback from the Edcamp Organizer Voxer group (another one of my favorite things), we decided that we weren’t going to solicit prizes from companies. Those prizes that were offered anyway would simply be given away as incentives for participating in the video. People who were interviewed got to choose any prize they wanted. This was the quickest, easiest, least stressful distribution of prizes we’ve ever had, and all parties involved were happy.
  • One funny story during the day: One of the sessions was about Lego Robotics and Makerspaces. One of my 8th grade Lego Robotics students was serving as a volunteer for the day so I told him to go get his kit and participate in the session, so people could see the kit and what it could do. He did it and thoroughly enjoyed himself. (Another of my students that was there refused to step foot in the door.) He enjoyed himself so much, that I told him to go to one of the next sessions just so teachers could hear student input on the topic (social media in the classroom), even though I knew none of his teachers used social media in the classroom. When he came back, he said it was great. I asked what happened and he said, “I lead the whole session. I talked about how you could use Kik and Snapchat in the classroom.” (which of course doesn’t happen in his own classroom). So I’m very curious about the feedback from that session :-) But he was inspired himself and really enjoyed being a resource for grown-ups :-)
  • Another first: According to our lead session collector and organizer on the screen, Session building was easy and went super smoothly. I am usually the one talking participants through what Edcamp is at the time, so I’m not participating in the organization of the session board, but it never looks fun. So I was thrilled to hear how well it went this year. One of our ideas was that it might have been that the sessions came in slowly instead of all at once. Whatever we did, it worked well :-)
  • When I asked how many people had been to an Edcamp before, a lot of people raised their hands, which was exciting, because it is still a very foreign concept to most in our area. So, slowly but surely, we’re spreading the word.
And finally, a great list of participant takeaways from the day. Lots of positives :-)

Edcamp Phoenix 2016 Recap

Edcamp Phoenix has come and gone, and what an event it was! Participants came in to a sponsor-supported breakfast of Chompies bagels and bananas. They were grateful for a Squirrels lanyard with a 20% off coupon for Reflector 2, an app to project mobile devices to a classroom screen. Upon arrival, participants spent some time discussing in small groups what ideas created sparks for them, and began generating session ideas, which the Edcamp team assembled into our session board for the day. 

After I (Dierdre Shetler, lead organizer) explained the basic principles of Edcamp (share what you know, vote with your feet, take responsibility for your learning), participants made their way to their first sessions. Topics for the day included the following (and then some):
  • Google Classroom
  • Makerspaces
  • Digital Portfolios
  • Literacy and Assessment
  • Guided Reading
  • Building Classroom Community in Middle School
  • After-School STEM clubs
  • Socrative Seminars

While the original plan was to do 2 sessions, come back for lunch, and then finish with one more session and a sharing round, plans changed. A snafu on the part of the restaurant meant our lunch was unexpectedly an hour late! Hence, we did a quick switcheroo, and thanks to the Gumby-like flexibility of our teachers, we just went ahead and did our third session and had a lovely lunch afterward. Over a meal of taquitos, rice, beans, and excellent salsa, our participants networked and discussed our learning of the day with each other, and generally made great professional connections.

To close, participants shared their Wows, Hows, and Nows of the day (Wow-a big takeaway, How-a remaining question, Now-something to implement Monday), These were captured on a Padlet, one of our featured and modeled tools for the day. And finally, we ended with lightning round sharing of web tools, which included the likes of digital music creating sites to going on online historical adventures to creating blended learning lessons using a variety of technology tools.

All of our Lightning Round sites were collected in an editable Google Doc, where people can continue to add more to share with the group over time. This was not the only use of collaborative writing that we did. We used shared Google Docs as well to create session notes for the day. These remain a source of knowledge for those in the sessions, who can continue to add to them over time, as well as for those that wished they could be in two great sessions at once. And finally, for a little levity (because believe it or not, kids, teachers like to smile!), we had an Edcamp meme contest (via a shared Google Slides presentation), which resulted in a win for Alexis Brady, a newbie teacher but an Edcamp veteran.

And to close, a word of affirmation to one of our organizers:

"I just wanted to tell you how much fun I had a Edcamp on Saturday!  It was so informative, a great way to learn new tricks for the classroom without the boring professional development feel and it was FREE!  The day flew by!  As you know, I was a little hesitant going with me being an art teacher but I learned so much! I endorsed the Edcamp PD to my Student Achievement Teacher, my Instructional Coach and to the rest of the district art teachers, hoping to get more people to go next time!!!  Thanks again for sending out the email!"

Thanks again to our major sponsors! Without the contributions of Piktochart,, and Squirrels, we would not have been able to keep hungry tummies happy!

Our sponsor, Squirrels LLC, developed an affordable classroom screen mirroring app that is used in more than 100,000 classrooms in more than 200 countries. Reflector 2 is an app that runs on a teacher’s computer and receives a real-time “mirror” image of classroom iPads, iPhones, Chromebooks, Android devices, and Surface Pros.”