What do teachers have in common with balloon twisters? I recently learned about a professional development opportunity called Edcamp, and I went to two of them these past two weekends — in Portsmouth and Providence. Edcamp is an unconference for teachers. This means that a bunch of educators get together and anyone can lead a workshop or discussion on a topic that will help them be better teachers. While Edcamp is about teaching more than it is about technology, it attracts people who are innovative and use lots of new technologies in their classrooms. Basically, it’s fabulous.
I couldn’t help but notice that Edcamp is a lot like a balloon twisting convention. For those of you who didn’t know, I work some weekends as a professional balloon artist at parties. In order to keep up my balloon twisting skills, I regularly attend balloon twisting conventions. I never thought that balloons would be such a big part of my life, but it just sort of happened. At school, I am Ms. Krakauer, but in the balloon world I am a globetwisting balloon artist. The name just fits perfectly for a globe trotting, balloon twisting teacher like me.
Here are my TOP TEN ways that EdCamp is like a balloon twisting convention:
10. Both offer open space for people to be creative together. At balloon conventions, there’s a jam room where people can just sit around and make stuff. It’s a lot like musicians jamming. At Edcamp, workshops and conversations are also organic, and spur from whatever will help people learn best together. I couldn’t help but cut together a little video that shows the comparison:
9. Both are for people who love kids. They get together and tweak their skills because they are passionate about giving kids the best experience possible!
8. Both offer opportunities to share and teach each other. I’ve always been amazed by how generous balloon twisters are. Even though many of us compete for the same jobs, most balloon twisters are willing to sit down and share their secrets with other twisters.
Similarly, I was really impressed with the people at Edcamp. So many teachers are willing to hand over their curriculum so that others can benefit from their work. I will definitely be borrowing ideas from people like Tracy Sockalosky and her awesome technology literacy class or Dan Kelley and his presentation introducing newbie teachers to Twitter.
7. Both find a beautiful balance between serious study and play. Balloon twisters can get serious about strategies for marketing their businesses, and Edcampers can play silly games and share goofy tools like Cinefy, an app that allows you to add dinosaurs and other effects into your videos. Both communities take their work seriously while having fun. This might be my favorite footage I’ve taken at a balloon convention:
6. Both have chances to give and receive new information. At these gatherings, there’s room for everyone to be a teacher. Whether sharing my Global Education Resource Guide or how to make a balloon bicycle, I’ve always been able to find ways to give back. And I came home from both events with freebies and swag, from Edutopia water bottles to copies of Balloon Magic magazine.
5. At both, you can hang out with experts and “celebrities.”
Balloon artists know that Marvin Hardy is like the Michael Jordan of balloons. Maybe you’ve never heard of Larry Moss, Ed Chee, Rie Hosokai, or Brian Asman, but if you saw their work, you’d also be humbled by them. The same is true in the Edcamp community. You don’t have to spend too much time in a room to know whose voices are golden. I recently met Maria Knee, whose gotten her kindergarten students blogging and Bob Sprankle, who had his third grade students creating their own podcast in 2005. And of course, Edcamp’s very own co-founder, Dan Callahan inspires many.
4. Both offer a chance to learn about new tools available in the field.
There’s always some new toy out on the market, and these kinds of gatherings offer participants a chance to see all the new options out there. For balloon artists, there are new shapes, sizes, and colors of balloons. At Edcamp, the day always ends with a “tech smack-down,” where participants share out their favorite resources. I learned about all sorts of new kinds of websites which I hope to try, many of which are free for teachers:
- Portfoliyo — forum for teachers to communicate with parents via texting
- LessonWriter — helps teachers adapt any online reading into a full lesson
- ClassDojo — an online tool to track and encourage positive class behavior
- SumoPaint — free photo editor like Adobe Photoshop
- LiveBinders — a 3 ring binder on the web, used to organize information
- Diggo — web or mobile way to organize information in the Cloud
- LearnZillion — lessons that can be used today to teach the Common Core
- VoiceThread — Before your voice and have conversations in the Cloud
- GoAnimate — Help students make their own animated videos
- SoundGecko — Listen to web articles while you read
3. At both, it’s really all about the people. People crave connections with others who share similar values and passions. I really got into balloon twisting because of the people I met, and not just the balloons themselves. The same is true for Edcamp, which is nothing without without the amazing people who attend. Either both communities just attract creative personalities, or anyone can do amazing things with the right community backing them up:
2. People come home from both re-energized. It’s impossible to come home without a list of ideas that you want to start experimenting with! When I come home from balloon conventions, I’m psyched to practice my new creations, from hula dancers to ninja turtles. Now that I’m back from Edcamp, I’m brainstorming new ways to teach students digital citizenship, among other things. I’m not the only one who learned a lot. Yesterday at Edcamp Rhode Island, I modeled for people how easy it is to use iMovie, and we made this little video about Edcamp take-aways in less than 15 minutes using just my phone’s camera.
1. Both show me how much I still have to learn. Sometimes when people see me create balloon sculptures, they say things like, “that’s the best balloon __________ I’ve ever seen!” I try to be gracious and say thank you, but I always think that these people have no idea about what’s possible. They haven’t seen the talented artists I’ve met at conventions. Compared to them, I am a real amateur. Likewise, I recently got a lot of positive feedback from the colleagues at Teachers for Global Classrooms on my work with this blog. However, being at Edcamp has made me realize how new I am to using technology in the classroom. I’ve been exposed to a whole community of people who have been working on integrating technology in their classrooms for years, and I am just beginning to explore what is possible.
I’ve been going to balloon twisting conventions since 2006, but now I think I’m hooked on Edcamp. My new twitter identity (@globetwisting) will be keeping me connected to both communities. Join me there, or find your own passion. There’s probably a community gathering where you can geek out too.