Educators from nearly 50 schools learn, connect, and share at GPS.
On the wettest day this year (four inches accumulated!), 130 educators from nearly 50 schools braved torrential rain on January 19 to spend their Saturday at GPS. They came for EdCamp GigCity 2019, billed as Chattanooga’s UNconference for Educators.
Unlike traditional professional development seminars, which can cost hundreds of dollars, EdCamp is free and participant-driven. There are no hour-long presentations, no slideshows—not even an agenda until the day of the event.
“People just meet organically and you have those who are frustrated and want to learn more, and others who have worked through some of the issues and can help,” says Daniel Millbank, Director of IT at GPS and a member of the EdCamp organizing committee.
As always, topics were determined that morning over coffee and (free Julie Darling) doughnuts. Sitting at large round tables with Post-It notes in the middle, attendees were asked two questions: What are you frustrated about? and What are your core skills or strengths? The 400+ responses were arranged on a big wall by category, allowing organizers to quickly decide the schedule and assign classrooms throughout campus for each topic.
There were three sessions throughout the day with 10 topics per time slot. New this year was a fourth “encore” session, which included a more traditional conference format of presentations by local experts. Topics of the day included everything from teacher motivation and managing oversized classrooms to digital storytelling and MakerSpaces. While the conference has a reputation for being IT-focused, subject matter includes anything pertinent to today’s educator.
“There isn’t a theme; it just happens that many topics relate to technology,” explains Millbank. “I think that’s because this type of conference attracts teachers who are innovative thinkers and welcome change.”
Throughout the event, attendees are encouraged to “listen to their feet” and leave if a topic is not interesting to them. Since they obviously can’t attend every session, participants are given access to a Google Docs folder where everyone’s notes are accumulated, thanks to QR codes at the event.
EdCamp GigCity began five years ago with 50 participants. The host school changes each year, alternating between private/independent and public schools in the Hamilton County area. Generous community sponsors make the event possible, donating food as well as items to be raffled off at the close of the conference such as tech equipment, classes, and books.
Given its unique format, EdCamp can connect local teachers to more than new ideas and concepts. This year an elementary school teacher shared that her classroom currently had no technology due to budget constraints, and GPS was able to donate a projector.
“That projector will change the way she educates her kids,” says Millbank. “We are always happy to donate out-of-use equipment but often we don’t know who needs it. EdCamp helps connect those dots.”