At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we have a number of student-teachers every quarter. I take this as a compliment to the quality teachers we have and the desire for colleges to have their student-teachers learn from great practitioners. I’ve been every impressed by one young man from The Ohio State University named, Johnathan Duff (@mrduffedu), because of the way he engages students in the classroom and for his eagerness to learn. He attended Edcamp Columbus, so I’ve asked him to share his experience with us:
On Saturday March 1, 2014, the second annual EdCamp Columbus was held at Gahanna Lincoln High School’s Clark Hall. As a student teacher working in Clark Hall, I could not pass up the opportunity to engage other educators and to further my professional development in the very building I have been working in since August.
EdCamp Columbus comes out of the EdCamp movement that was started in Philadelphia in 2010. EdCamps are opportunities for educators to come together, share ideas and discuss what matters to them, and become drivers of their own professional development. EdCamp labels itself as an “unconference.” Rather that having a pre-determined schedule with session identified well in advance, the sessions held at each conference are determined by the attendees the day of the event. Have a topic you want to present or to discuss with fellow educators? Find an open slot on the day’s schedule (a.k.a. The Big Board) and write it in. Other attendees will see your proposal and those who are interested can attend. It is as simple as that.
A focus of my student teaching and my work as a Masters of Education student at the Ohio State University has been on making connections between my students’ service, their learning, and their understanding of civic engagement. I teach 5 sections of Government and work with all Seniors who have to complete a service component called the Service Activity Project. From a young age, service has always been very important to me. My focus on service learning has allowed me to align a personal passion, the reality of my classroom, and the research I am doing for Ohio State. Coming in to EdCamp Columbus, it was my hope that there would be a session related to service learning or civic engagement. As the time before the first session dwindled, openings remained on the Big Board and there were no sessions on service or civics. Seeing this as an opportunity, I decided to embrace the spirit of the “unconference” and proposed a session entitled “Connecting learning and service towards critical civic engagement.”
I was very happy to find out that I was not alone in my interest on these topics. The session was attended by a range of individuals – elementary teachers, high school teachers, government teachers, science teachers, and even a district’s technology specialist. Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools were well represented with GLHS science teacher, Jason Hardin, and Jefferson Elementary teacher, Ashley Sands, both attending and actively participating.
What is great about EdCamp is that sessions can be more of a discussion than a presentation. To borrow educational terminology, EdCamp is “attendee-centered” rather than “presenter-centered.” I kicked off the session by introducing myself and why I proposed the session – I am a pre-service teacher who is passionate about service and works with students who are doing service. I am interested in ways to connect students’ classroom learning with their service with the aim of getting them to think more critically about their role and engagement in society. Towards this end, I designed a service project in which students spent a Saturday conducting home repairs for an area senior. While successful, I am interested in other ways to improve my practice of connecting learning to service and civic engagement. Other session attendees shared their background and interest in the topics before we turned to the issues at hand.
Throughout the session, discussion flourished. As a group, we discussed the service requirements that exist in our schools and examples of service learning that we have participated in. Vibrant discussion was held around civic education and how it needs to start at a young age and extend beyond just the social studies classroom. The concept of the “common good” is not something that is limited to the study of the social world and thus work towards it should not be limited to social studies.
An item that became a major focus of the session was student choice. Rather than the focus and design of the service being determined by the teacher, attendees agreed that students should be involved throughout the process. Asking students “What do you care about? What do you want to work on?” will empower them and make their service and the learning that accompanies it all the more meaningful. The role of the teacher then becomes to guide and scaffold them through the process. Teachers also play the important part of helping students reflect on their service. Teachers should guide students to reflect before, during, and after their service. This can be done through discussion, writing assignments, and the strategic use of technology. It is important that the reflection that is done is critical and challenges the students to reflect on their lives and the nature of society and its institutions.
As the session was attended by a diverse group of educators, the topic of cross curricular collaboration was heavily discussed. Just as civic engagement can incorporate multiple content areas, so too can service and it need not be compartmentalized – government, science, and english teachers (just to name a few) can all collaborate. Ideas such as having students research the need and causes of the need of service, working with students to write grant proposals, using various mediums to document and tell the story of service all provide opportunities for skills from various content areas to be incorporated into service to others.
EdCamp sessions were blocked out in 50 minute time slots. By the end of our 50 minutes, the discussion was in full swing and participants were not ready to wrap up. It was decided that to continue our conversation, we would move our discussion online by creating a shared Google Doc. Herein lies the great value of EdCamp – not only do we get to come together with like minded educators to share ideas, but the conversation does not have to stop there. Bring a group of passionate educators together and the learning community they develop will extend beyond the Saturday they spent together in Clark Hall.
I applaud Johnathan for not only taking the time to attend his first Edcamp, but for having the courage to lead a session. This is an excellent example of what the Edcamp experience is all about!