‘Edcamp Northern Illinois’ to provide free day of professional development for area educators

edcamp logoEducators are invited to attend edcamp Northern Illinois, a day of free professional development that offers opportunities to share new classroom techniques, discuss teaching innovations, and make connections with like-minded professionals.

This innovation in professional development will be held Saturday, April 20, at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. The event is open to K-12 teachers and administrators, university faculty and NIU teacher candidates.

In contrast to traditional professional development that incorporates external speakers and experts, NIU is looking to recruit local experts to share innovative ideas that are being put into practice across the region.

NIU planners of edcamp Northern Illinois include the Center for P-20 Engagement, External and Global Programs Office in the College of Education, Partnership Office in the College of Education and the Professional Development Schools Office in the NIU University Office of Teacher Certification.

Tris Ottolino, Professional Development Schools (PDS) coordinator, says edcamp Northern Illinois will include a unique group of participants.

Tris Ottolino and Kristin Brynteson

Tris Ottolino and Kristin Brynteson

“K-12 teacher and university faculty usually attend separate conferences, and teacher candidates do not often participate in professional conferences of this type. Edcamp will offer sessions for people working at NIU’s PDS sites. I am delighted that several of our co-teaching pairs, classroom teachers and candidates who work together throughout the school year, have volunteered to lead sessions on PDS issues, successes, and challenges.”

“Edcamp Northern Illinois is not your typical conference,” says Kristin Brynteson, assistant director of the P-20 Center. “The format is based on an ‘unconference’ model that focuses on participant-driven programming in a high-tech, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment.”

Instead of attending the usual panel or lecture presentations, edcamp participants will decide what topics are most important to them and then engage in free-flowing conversations about those topics. Organizers expect the discussions to focus on shared challenges for area school districts such as implementing Common Core Standards, technology in the classroom, professional development schools, co-teaching, and conducting action research.

Here’s how an edcamp works:

  • Before the conference, educators who register to attend may suggest topics for sessions.
  • In the first hour of the conference, participants get to know each other and vote on the topics they want to discuss.
  • During each session, participants are encouraged to “vote with their feet,” meaning that if they do not find a topic valuable, they can jump to another conversation.

Edcamps are also marked by their use of social media.

Throughout the sessions, participants are encouraged to tweet ideas at #edcampNI and to share session materials and related weblinks on Edmodo, a social networking site for educators. Organizers hope to create an ongoing online community where participants will continue to share ideas and strengthen professional ties after the conference ends.

“This model saves school districts money and takes the commercialization out of the conference experience. There is no vendor floor. It’s not about getting a bunch of swag in another free tote bag. It’s about the energy, and ideas, and connections that teachers will make,” Brynteson says.

“The most valuable ideas I bring home from most conferences come from discussions I’ve had in the hallways outside of sessions, at lunches, even in the lobby at the end of the day. These conversations are the times when people come alive and spark ideas off one another,” she adds. “We wanted to bring that kind of energy to edcamp.”

Sharon Smaldino and Terry Borg

Sharon Smaldino and Terry Borg

Sharon Smaldino, Morgridge chair and director of the College of Education’s Office of Partnerships, works regularly with partner schools throughout northern Illinois and was excited to help provide a platform for them to share innovative ideas.

“By bringing NIU’s students and researchers together with educators, we can share knowledge across the teaching spectrum. Each group brings a unique prospective to the conversation and every group can learn something new.”

Terry Borg, director of the External and Global Programs Office in the College of Education, says he hopes participants will come away with strong, actionable ideas that are useful right away: “ We want you to learn something on Saturday that you try out in the classroom on Monday.”

Edcamp Northern Illinois will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kaneland Harter Middle School, 1601 Esker Drive. Lunch will be provided to all participants at no charge.

Educators can learn more and register to attend at edcamp Northern Illinois and follow #edcampNI on Twitter for up-to-date announcements.

Edcamp Northern Illinois sponsors include SimpleK12 and Flocabulary.com. The sponsors are providing door prizes and free subscriptions to edcamp participants. Other interested sponsors should contact Brynteson at kbrynteson@niu.edu.

by Gillian King-Cargile

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