Students learn best when they can apply and teach their knowledge to others in real-world situations. Edcamps are becoming a popular form of professional development for educators. Edcamps are participant-driven experiences where educators can network, share ideas, and learn from one another in an informal, organic manner. This sharing and teaching model is ripe for implementing with students in an organized, educational setting.
Recently, my 4th grade colleagues and I implemented a student-led edcamp at our school. As we wanted to find a good mix of student choice and project structure, we decided on thirteen topics from which the students would present. The topics were a combination of academic content we had learned over the course of the year, such as equivalent fractions and the three branches of government, to technology and presentation formats, such as Genius Hour, Google tools, Microsoft Sway, Buncee, and code.org. Every 4th grade student worked with a partner in another class to construct a short 15-minute informal presentation on at least one topic to present to a small group of their peers. The students indicated which topic they wanted to present on and what topics they were interested in attending. With that input, the teachers put together a master schedule of all the students consisting of six 15-minute blocks of time and whether each student was presenting or attending an edcamp session during one of those time slots.
After a minute or two of finding their location and getting settled, the students took off. Student presenters took charge of their topic, showcasing their own student-created examples of work, and student participants were active listeners, paying attention and asking appropriate, content-driven questions. During the transition time between sessions, many students asked if we could do this again soon. Students were engaged in purposeful learning and owning their own education. Even though the students were familiar with all the topics to varying degrees, each learned something new from their peers. Because students from three fourth-grade classes were participating simultaneously in one edcamp, students learned new specific strategies about academic content and technology tools that may have been featured more prevalently in one classroom than another.
When students are charged with explaining their thinking and relying on student-created examples, the academic content becomes more concrete in their minds; they begin to better internalize the material. They begin to own their own learning. Students also must adapt to being the “teachers” and conveying the material in a clear, concise message. Students are practicing their speaking and listening skills in a small group setting that feels safe and comfortable. As teachers, we were able to walk around the room and observe the handful of small groups conducting lessons at one time. This was our first attempt at a student-led edcamp, but it will not be our last. Student-led edcamps are a powerful way for students to own their learning and use creativity and student-choice to share, teach, learn, and grow.