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School District 833 teachers get amped for Ed Camp

A staff member watches the opening of Ed Camp 833 in the gym at Park High School on Friday, March 7. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

School District 833 may not have the largest budget, Superintendent Keith Jacobus said Friday, but the intellectual wealth embodied by its teachers is incalculable.

“Collective wisdom is coming together and sharing our thoughts,” he said. “It’s about working to leverage our own resources and doing everything possible so we are the very best at our craft. I think that, as a learning organization, we should lead with learning, and it’s all about what happens in the classroom.”

Jacobus addressed his remarks to over 1,000 teachers who gathered in the gym at Park High School in Cottage Grove for Ed Camp 833.

He cited “David & Goliath” by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell. The book examines why disadvantages were often instrumental in helping people achieve success.

Ed Camp is a relatively new trend in professional development. Instead of a traditional in-service day, teachers teach each other by sharing perspectives and comparing testing and teaching methods. District 833 held their first Ed Camp last fall.

Ed Camp uses a crowdsourcing approach to learning. Instead of sitting in classrooms listening to Powerpoint presentations with titles like Smartboard Curriculum Development, teachers can choose sessions pertinent to their particular needs. And should they not gain anything from the “Flipped Classroom” session, teachers are free to leave and seek another session more relevant to their needs.

This a la carte approach got high marks from Katie Peterson, an orchestra teacher at Woodbury and Oltman middle schools. Rather than attend, say, a session for math teachers, she sought out workshops that pertained to music instruction.

“The whole thing about Ed Camp is that it’s differentiated,” Peterson said. “You get what you need out of it. You go to topics that will benefit your classroom. It’s very useful. It’s time well-spent.”

“It is completely participant-driven instead of district-mandated,” said Brian Boothe, coordinator of integrated professional development for District 833. “They know what works and doesn’t work and we value that in a great way. We just want to tap into that.”

At each session, teachers took notes and made recommendations. The information was compiled on a Google document and will be reviewed by the administration and made available on their professional development website, Boothe said. A follow-up survey will be given to teachers in three weeks.

“Quite a few of the questions will focus on the implementation of strategies or ideas,” Boothe said in an email. “We will ask our teachers if they implemented something they learned at Ed Camp 833 and if so, what did they implement?”

The first Ed Camp was held in 2010 in Philadelphia. Organizers modeled it on BarCamp, an “unconference” of computer hackers. Dan Callahan is chairman of the board of the Ed Camp Foundation, a Delaware-based nonprofit.

Over 400 Ed Camps have been organized worldwide since 2010, he said.

Anybody can organize an Ed Camp, and the foundation doesn’t charge licensing fees. But in order to use their name, organizers must make the event free and open to everybody, Callahan said.

“Teachers love it,” Callahan said. “The main reasons they love it is that it’s a professional development program that empowers them and respects them as professionals.”