Want to foster rich academic discussions? Try a student #Edcamp

Like Seliskar, Bedley focuses these events on a particular subject, such as science or history, and then turns his students loose to choose their own topics. He tries to hold a student Edcamp about once a quarter.

“The conversations are awesome,” Bedley said, recalling one discussion that centered on whether time travel was possible. “When you allow kids to have a voice and a choice in their learning, it increases their level of investment.”

He said it’s impressive how much his students know about various topics: “People might assume that kids don’t know that much, but you’ll get a kid with a passion for history sharing all these facts about George Mason’s house, for instance.”

The Edcamp model is a great way for students to practice their presentation skills in a non-threatening manner, Seliskar noted. He finds that his students aren’t as intimidated by the Edcamp format as they might be when presenting in front of the entire class.

“They are more easily able to talk in front of their peers in small, informal groups,” he said—especially when they know they have an audience of students who share their interest in a topic.

Questions to consider

If you’re thinking of trying the Edcamp model in your own classroom, there are several logistical questions you’ll have to consider. For example, where will students hold their conversations? How will you plan the topics and determine who will attend each session? How long should you make each session? How much direction will you give students?

After showing his students a video of an Edcamp, Seliskar didn’t have to do a lot of coaching, he said: “The kids got it right away.”

However, educators will need to be sensitive to their students’ feelings, he added. When one student only had two others attend his session, Seliskar explained to the student that this was actually a good thing, because it would lead to a deeper discussion of the topic.

Bedley introduced the concept to his class by forming a small discussion group and showing his students what an Edcamp session would look like. “I think it’s important to model this activity for your students, or else you might not get the kind of discussion you want,” he advised.

To organize the sessions, Bedley puts up a grid on his whiteboard and has his students fill it in with different color-coded cards: One color is for students who want to present on a topic, and the other is for students who simply want to attend a session.

Both educators recommend becoming familiar with the Edcamp model by attending an Edcamp for yourself (a complete calendar is available online). And Bedley suggests that you include a reflection period at the end of each event, to discuss with your students what you can do to make these more effective.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to connect and have academic conversations with each other,” he concluded.

Seliskar, who has made Edcamps a monthly occurrence with his students, shared some of their comments after he first tried it out last year. “This is the funnest time of my life at school,” one student declared, while another wrote: “I hope that all the kids who came [to my session] learned a lot. … I felt very grown up.”

The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for nearly 20 years. Dennis can be reached at denniswpierce@gmail.com.

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