Teacher conference takes innovative approach

Educators 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 on April 20 at Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove. The event is open to K-12 teachers and administrators, university faculty, and Northern Illinois University teacher candidates.

NIU is recruiting 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.

“K-12 teachers and university faculty usually attend separate conferences, and teacher candidates do not often participate in professional conferences of this type," said Dr. Tris Ottolino, Professional Development Schools coordinator. "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,” said Dr. Kristin Bryntesen, 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.”

Edcamp participants will decide what topics are most important to them and engage in free-flowing conversations about those topics. Organizers expect the discussions to focus on shared challenges such as implementing common core standards, technology in the classroom, professional development schools, co-teaching and conducting action research.

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 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,” says Brynteson. “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.”

Dr. Terry Borg, Director of the External and Global Programs Office in the College of Education, says he hopes that 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,” he said.

Educators can learn more and register at http://tinyurl.com/a7f7mjb and follow #edcampNI on Twitter for up-to-date announcements.

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