Top Ten Things from nErDcampMI We Want to Try in Our Work by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan

nerdcampjrWe attended nErDcampMI for the first time this summer.  It was not only our first time at nErDcampMI, it was our first edcamp.  Given that we are not only book nerds, but also PD nerds –we loved everything about it!!  We have been trying to capture what made this experience so powerful for us.  How is this experience different from other professional development sessions?  Why is it called an “unconference?”  We believe that choice, voice and collaboration are essential components of learning and these were overwhelmingly present throughout the entire “unconference.”


This experience left us thinking about how we could incorporate some of these ideas and components into “mandatory” professional development.  Just because it is mandatory doesn’t mean it has to feel mandatory.  We would love to bring some of the “magic” of nErDcampMI to life in our professional development work this year.  Here are the top ten things we want to try to include in our work:


  • Teacher Talks: nErDcampMI opened with Ted Talk style speeches from some teachers.  They were short, fast paced and connected to the topic of reading.  Wouldn’t it be great to have teachers volunteer to share ideas, reflections, and responses at the beginning of professional development sessions?
  • Book Talks: So many sessions included teachers sharing favorite books and how they are using these texts with students.  We want to think about how we can have teachers sign up to give Book Talks during professional development sessions.
  • Giveaways: It was like the Oprah Winfrey show!  Everywhere you turned there were free giveaways.  So many teachers spend their own money on books and supplies for their classrooms.  We want to think about how to get advanced copies; free books and even supplies to have more giveaways during our sessions – it was just plain fun!!
  • Build the Schedule: This we LOVED!!!!  We want to use this strategy during our full day professional development days.  Teachers can offer a session or suggest a topic for discussion.  This would give teachers an opportunity to share expertise and collaborate together around the focus of the professional development session.  It is a way to provide choice and voice during sessions that are focused on a mandatory topic.  We can also use this “unconference” structure for some of our half day sessions with schools.
  • Questions Before Breaks: There was often time for participants to come up and share questions or ideas they wanted to explore throughout the day.  While this was used to create sessions, we could also use this idea to help us differentiate and focus our professional development throughout the day.  This would be an opportunity for formative feedback so we can adjust our instruction.
  • Music Between Sessions: It seems minor, but it really impacted the tone and energy of the day.  It was a release and a motivator at the same time.  We are going to try playing music as teachers arrive and during breaks.
  • Time to Talk and Connect: We always provide breaks during our sessions, but these breaks were different.  There was planned timed for teachers to talk, connect and learn from one another.  Some of best learning happened during these breaks.  It felt a bit like networking – we heard about new books; learned about new resources and met teachers to add to our PLN.  How can we weave this into our sessions and give teachers time to create PLN within their school and district?
  • Note Takers: Each presenter was responsible for assigning a note taker for the session. This person(s) volunteered to take and share notes with the group electronically.  We loved this idea.  We find that when we read each other’s notes we often focus on different things.  We learn a lot from reading notes taken from someone else’s point of view.  When this role is rotated it provides an opportunity for everyone to support each other.
  • “Voting with Your Feet”: This is central to the philosophy and spirit of nErDcampMI.  Adult learners need to see a purpose and practical application for their learning.  If the learning is not connecting or if we want to split the focus of our learning, we should walk to where our head is focused.  We want to include some time in our sessions to give participants the opportunity to “vote with their feet.”  We might need to organize it ahead of time or provide choices during a section of our day.  We are not sure how to make it happen, but we plan to give it a go!
  • Reflections at End: nErDcampMI ended with participants lining up to share their reflections, enduring questions and aspirations.  We not only got a glimpse into what people learned and wanted to learn next, it left us with a feeling.  A feeling of community.  A community of lifelong learners committed to inspiring young learners.


nErDcampMI brought Ben Franklin’s quote about teaching and learning to life,

“Tell me, I forget. Teach me, I remember. Involve me, I learn.”


By giving so many opportunities for participants to join, lead, learn, and listen, the lines between participants and presenters blurred.  Everyone’s voice was heard and learning was active.  This fall we hope to bring some nErDcampMI magic into our professional development sessions.  Thanks nErDcampMI for inspiring us and motivating us with new ideas.


Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan currently lead Teachers for Teachers. They provide professional development to several districts as external staff developers. Tammy and Clare are the authors of Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers.You can find them on Twitter as @clareandtammy and online at