I was super excited to go the first ever unconference with EdCamp Singapore (@edcampsg) hosted by the wonderful Kim Beeman and Karen Blumberg last weekend. This blog is all about what an unconference is, what the advantages are and what I learned during this experience.
Until last week the idea of an “unconference” was entirely new to me. In traditional professional development the sessions are prepared well in advance and whilst there may be discussion and activities in some workshops, the vast majority rely on an “expert” imparting knowledge. This is super useful if there’s something that you want to learn more about; but what happens if there’s just a question that’s been bugging you that nobody ever seems to talk about: “Does learning always have to be fun?” “How do you convince parents that a small degree of danger is good for children?”
The key difference in an unconference is that there is no fixed schedule, nobody prepares powerpoints or activities – instead you can offer to facilitate a discussion on something that interests you. No one is an “expert” and by sharing our experiences we learn from others who share similar educational interests. You can rock up to the day and decide 10 minutes before that you want to facilitate a session!
I arrived, grabbed a coffee and contemplated running a session myself; I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on the inner-voice of my students and how it can impact their wellbeing (await next week’s blog!). As I didn’t have to prepare a presentation or prove to anyone that I was the most knowledgeable in the room, I felt comfortable adding “how can we help our students create a positive inner dialogue?” to the board. I hoped that a few other people might be interested to have a chat and I might be able to move my thinking forward (or steal a few strategies for encouraging positivity!).
Facilitating my session was harder than expected mainly because there were various interpretations of “how can we help our students create a positive inner dialogue?” For many people in the room this was about creating activities that allow students to feel like they can be successful. My intention at the start was to discuss the explicit ways that we can make students more aware of that internal dialogue during failure “I just can’t do this” “I’m terrible at chemistry”. I learned the importance of articulating questions and really thinking about what you want out of a conversation before you start. Regardless of this, there were still some amazing take-aways for me. I considered how I could make links with other activities (sports, music) that kids have put lots of effort in to improve and remind students that chemistry is no different. It also encouraged me to think about possible ways that I could encourage diary writing with my students – maybe in the form of a daily ’emotional check-in’ instead of full written pieces.
Kurt Wittig was facilitating the other conversation I chose to be a part of – “How to promote books throughout the school?” We are getting mini Chemistry libraries for our classrooms and I was excited to hear about the ways I could get my students curious and wanting to read my new shiny books. When I arrived, the session had many librarians and I worried that I wouldn’t learn anything. As the conversation went on, I found it surprisingly interesting to learn about how important it is for students to read in their mother tongue, the impact of having regular lessons in the library and how dressing up during book-week can really engage students. None of these things were “goals” for my learning (or even on my radar!) but actually hearing people discuss books so passionately was genuinely inspiring. It might sound like it wasn’t useful which is completely untrue – I also learned about the power of teacher recommendations and my brain was on fire with strategies to get kids to review books!
Although neither of these sessions gave me “all the answers” to my problems, that’s not really what I wanted. I can confidently say that the conversations allowed me to move to the next stage of thinking around both topics. Also – I genuinely had a really nice time just having a chat about things with people who are as passionate and energetic as I am.
The last session I went to was run by Kim Beeman and Karen Blumberg about “Building your network and sharing where to locate good ideas.” I don’t even know where to begin with discussing how useful and interesting this session was. Whilst it wasn’t a “conversation” as such, it was a mass sharing of great people to follow on twitter, podcasts to listen to, web resources, facebook groups, twitter hashtags…. the list is endless. I’ve still yet to work out what’s useful/not useful to me but I love the general idea of this session which was:
“Let’s get more people heard! People do things in isolation, and if they’re not amplifying themselves by choice, let’s help them”
Overall it was an awesome morning. The thing I love about the unconference model is how much control teachers have over the day. Imagine a PD day where you can just chat about all the things that you’re interested in and find out how other people do stuff. Finding inspiration from the people around you rather than “experts” all the time; it turns out there’s probably people in your city who already know the things you want to know. You’ve just got to get out there and find them!