How Nerd Camp Transformed My Teaching by Holly Schlan
BNC (Before Nerd Camp):
I would like to think that before I attended Nerd Camp I was a pretty good teacher. I loved my students and wanted them to love learning. I differentiated instruction and taught them based on their needs. I was a pioneer in integrating technology for student reflection and engagement. I searched Pinterest for every new activity I could find for teaching my students in creative ways. Most importantly, my students were gaining knowledge and showing great progress. I know I was a good teacher. But it was my experience at Nerd Camp that helped me understand that I was still missing something HUGE.
DNC (During Nerd Camp):
Nerd Camp was an amazing experience, and I don’t think anyone who has attended would say otherwise. Throughout a packed two days, you are mingling with some of the best authors and illustrators of our time, making connections with educators and librarians who are excited to learn from others, and listening to sessions run by some of the most influential people in education.
Who knew that something so amazing was taking place and I had NO IDEA?
My mom knew. As a children’s librarian, she has been following people like John Schu and Colby Sharp on Twitter for years. And when she asked me if I would go with her to Nerd Camp, I thought she was a little crazy, to be honest. Who travels to a different state to attend a conference created by people you only know from following on Twitter? I was not really a Twitter user at this point. However, I was intrigued because I am a teacher who loves learning from others and my mom was REALLY excited. So we got in the car at 5am and drove to Parma, Michigan, for a conference that I now believe every passionate educator should attend.
ANC (After Nerd Camp):
It wasn’t until I had a chance to reflect on the whole experience on the drive home that I truly appreciated what I had learned and realized what my teaching had been missing for the last nine years. Although I was 100% enthusiastic, engaged, and invested in my students and my job, I needed my students to be equally invested in their learning. I made a lot of changes this year, and the difference was remarkable!
I remember telling my students’ parents at curriculum night briefly about my experience at Nerd Camp and that my main goal for the upcoming year was for every student to LOVE books and reading. I wasn’t exactly sure at the time how I was going to do it, but I knew that I had to make some changes if I was going to be the teacher I wanted to be.
One idea that I wanted to try from Nerd Camp was the idea of creating book raffles. Another was the #bookaday concept. I decided these practices would be my first strategies to get my students more invested in books.
Every Friday, we would take all of the read alouds I used throughout the week (at least one book a day) and raffle them off before Free Read Friday. The students would each put two tickets in buckets to try to “win” the books of their choice. The “winners” were the first students to get to read the books before the rest of the class could get their hands on them. We posted pictures of the winners holding their books on our classroom website to keep track of all the books we read throughout the year. The students’ favorite day of the week became Friday because of Book Raffle and Free Read Friday. They would clap and cheer for the winners and then find a cozy spot to curl up with some books of their choice. Free Read Friday was the best because the students got about 20 minutes to read anything they wanted, with anyone they wanted, wherever they wanted in the classroom. Book raffle books are passed around the rest of Free Read Friday after the winners are done reading them.
Next up, Global Read Aloud. Pernille Ripp was also at Nerd Camp and although I didn’t have a chance to hear her presentation, I became familiar with Global Read Aloud and knew it was something I had to experience with my students. For the first time, I turned to Twitter. I used the Global Read Aloud hashtag and made a great connection with a class across the country. Global Read Aloud turned out to be better than I could’ve imagined. Not only did my students have a chance to make friends with kids thousands of miles away, but they connected through digital projects and reflections based on a wonderful set of books. And I FINALLY understood the magic of Twitter!
As Global Read Aloud was coming to an end, Picture Book Month was just beginning! Everyday my students would race into the classroom to see what the book theme of the day was. It was such a good feeling to see how excited the students were about reading. And I became obsessed with finding the next project to emerge them in. I literally packed my school year with amazing literacy activities, and my students were HOOKED.
December and January were Mock Caldecott.
February was World Read Aloud Week.
February and March were Monarch Awards.
March was March Book Madness.
April was Poetry Month.
And how did I realize my students were invested as much as I had hoped? I had a meeting the morning of the announcement of the March Book Madness winner. The first students came bursting into the classroom and ran over to our March Madness bracket. They looked at me and said “Who is the winner???” I hadn’t even had time to check or think about it, but that is what they were thinking about. I knew at that moment that all of the projects that I had put in place this year had helped me accomplish my goal.
Looking to the Future:
I was a good teacher before Nerd Camp. But I am an even better one now. This past year of teaching, my tenth year, was by far the best year I have ever had. And there are a few reasons. Nerd Camp opened my eyes to things I didn’t even know existed. There were so many ways to get my students more invested in their learning, and I didn’t even know that was something I was missing. I have slowly started to build a professional learning community on Twitter. Even after going to technology conferences based around educators using Twitter, I didn’t understand how it could help me until Nerd Camp. It was there I learned the most helpful people and hashtags to follow in order to stay current in the world of children’s literature. I am completely inspired and in awe of all the educators who take their time to go above and beyond to create these amazing literacy experiences for kids. I feel lucky to now be able to participate in such events with my students. Nerd Camp truly did transform my teaching. I can’t wait to see who I can connect with and learn from at Nerd Camp 2016!
Holly Schlan is a 1st grade teacher in Lincolnshire, Illinois. She has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction and an ELL endorsement. Please connect with her on Twitter @hollyschlan and view her classroom website at goo.gl/0xZSMC