Student Voice and Edcamp “Unconferences”

Shawna Ford is the Innovation/Digital Learning Coordinator for Weatherford ISD in Weatherford, Texas. She believes in the importance of inviting and encouraging students to be a part of rethinking and reshaping education.

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Conversations about learning and school change tend to involve administrators and hopefully teachers, but oftentimes we leave out one of our most important stakeholders – our students. Including student voice, their ideas, opinions and perspectives, could certainly help as we work to better meet the needs of our learners.

One way we decided to include students was to invite them to our local edcamp. If you aren’t familiar with edcamps, an edcamp is an “unconference” for educators, usually held on a non-work day, and is strictly voluntary. During an edcamp, participants determine the topics and sessions when they arrive, there are no “canned” presentations, and participants are encouraged to use the “rule of two feet” to find sessions that meet their learning needs.

As we planned our 3rd Annual Edcamp Parker County, we reached out to student groups at our middle schools and high school and invited them to attend a day of learning with area educators. This was not “come earn service hours” but was a way of adding student voice and perspective to the conversations and learning that day. And on that sunny Saturday in October, learners of all ages and from all over North Texas gathered at Weatherford High School to participate in the edcamp.

It was amazing to see the number of people willing to come together on a Saturday! You could tell it was going to be a great day when at 8:15 am someone asked if we had any more name tags because we were out! That meant that over 100 people were already here. The library filled up with students and educators, and there was definitely a buzz of energy in the room as sessions were suggested and the schedule was completed.

Our district librarians set up a makerspace area that was an instant hit! Attendees were able to try out different gadgets that they might want to add to their own makerspaces. Our student attendees were familiar with campus makerspaces and definitely enjoyed this area. They helped our adult learners feel more comfortable exploring the different maker activities.

Our students chose sessions to attend, just as the adult learners did. One of our student attendees, Reagan, said,

“It’s interesting to see how teachers develop ideas for classroom material. I guess I thought they just pulled things out of the air when actually there is science behind the ideas that support why the ideas work. As a future educator, it’s interesting to see what lies in my future.”

Edcamps differ from other professional development conferences in many ways, one way being the participant’s ability to learn and apply the learning almost immediately. Participating in an active learning environment helps teachers see the benefits of this type of learning experience for students.

Just as with the makerspace, a green screen area was set up for people to use and discussions centered around how easy it would be to add something like this to a classroom, whether it be a setup with fabric & lights or just green paper on the wall. Students tried this area out and offered ideas of how it could be used in classrooms to showcase learning.

As you moved from room to room, session to session, you could hear great ideas being shared. Our student attendees were encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, which was uncomfortable at first due to this being a new experience.

In the virtual reality session, learners of all ages enjoyed trying out the viewers. Some of our students suggested that this would be perfect in a social studies classroom. Several of our student attendees helped facilitate sessions on student-led classrooms and Canvas LMS. These opportunities were helpful for teachers as they listened to the way students were using Canvas and how easily students could identify when Canvas was being used in a way that was impactful for student learning.

A powerful part of an edcamp is the connections made with other passionate educators, and in the case of Edcamp Parker County, Texas, connections made with students. Gage, a high school student who attended said,

“I feel like Edcamp without students isn’t as productive as with students. When I was there the teachers and staff seemed very interested in our input considering we are the reason for the Edcamp, so I feel that we should have a say in what is talked about.”

Edcamps happen all over the country throughout the year and provide a great opportunity to involve students in creating student centered learning environments. Their insight and perspective is invaluable to us, we just have to give them a seat at the table. Consider inviting students to your next edcamp and see the positive impact it has on both teachers and students.

 

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