TOP TEN Ways NerdCampMI Saved Our Professional Careers by Jennifer Sniadecki, Melanie Roy, and Kelly Vorhis
NerdCampMI is an “ed camp” annual event where teachers from all over the country (and the world!) meet in Parma, Michigan to learn together with authors, illustrators, and other fabulous educators. We feel that the event is hands-down the best summer professional development out there. Nerd Camp Michigan started 5 years ago and has grown – hosting 1600 teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and creators of books this summer! Melanie Roy, a library teacher in Rhode Island, Kelly Vorhis, a high school English teacher in Indiana, and Jennifer Sniadecki, a middle school teacher/librarian in Indiana talked about how NerdCampMI saved their professional careers over a hotel breakfast, anxiously and excitedly preparing for the two-day event.
- NerdCampMI made me a better reader.
I registered for this year’s Nerd Camp in February. I knew it was going to be THE way to meet authors and illustrators of my favorite books. I also knew there were hundreds of books out there that I hadn’t even heard of yet. As authors were added to the program, I looked up their titles and biographies. Learning about the authors’ and illustrators’ personal stories makes me want to read the books even more. I can pass that passion and interest on to my students, and they can become better readers, too.
- NerdCampMI made me a better reading teacher.
If I know how to read better, I can pass on my own learning. My vocabulary is stronger, and I teach students how to find definitions and use words more successfully in their own reading and writing lives. My own knowledge of historical events stepped up when I read more nonfiction with my students in social studies class. My students read more at school, and request books from the library to take home with them (practicing reading and sharing books with families). My students know what ARCs are, and asked me to bring some home for them. (ARCs are Advanced Reader Copies, which are promotional materials — people can read and review the books before the publish date.) Kids LOVE to be the first to read new books – students tell their parents, “It’s not even out yet, but WE got to read it!” My students are excited about reading; that’s the ultimate goal.
- NerdCampMI made me a better advocate for literacy education.
The conversations inside (and outside) the sessions at Nerd Camp made me want to speak loudly about the need for choice in the classroom, the need for independent reading in the classroom, and the need to read diverse books in schools and at home. My favorite part of NerdCampMI this year was the pre-conference panel on “30 Reasons You Need Diverse Books In Your Classroom.” What an eye-opening experience! The speakers were awesome, real, intelligent, and funny. I also have a whole new TBR (To-Be-Read) list to tackle this fall. I will continue to speak and write about literacy issues in education. That’s my biggest take-away from NerdCampMI.
- NerdCampMI plants seeds.
I came away with ideas from sessions that changed my teaching for the better. I am so grateful for last year’s session about getting more books into colleagues’ hands. Although it didn’t have the impact on colleagues that I had hoped for, my weekly book recommendation blog was a game changer for kids, families and me. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own. Last week I was pleasantly surprised when a teacher stopped me to say the ideas from last year’s Mock Newbery session completely changed her teaching for the better. Seriously. She whipped out her phone and showed me a video of her students’ reacting to their Mock Newbery winner. It was amazing! And I’m not sure why I was surprised. That’s the power of bringing like-minded people together to explore and discuss topics close to our hearts.
- NerdCampMI may just be the best PD of your career.
When you work for a school system, you sit through the professional development they provide. Sometimes it’s relevant to you and sometimes you come away inspired. But it doesn’t happen often enough. At NerdCampMI you get to choose the topics you want to learn more about, and you are invested. When you learn about a topic you hadn’t given thought to before and are excited to explore, you are growing. And you get to sit in a room full of people who also believe it was important enough to give up their summer time to be there. The worst part is knowing there are at least 6 other sessions you wish you could attend at the exact same time, but that is the best problem to have! And thank goodness for the notes from every session to look back and reflect on later.
- NerdCampMI is filled to the brim with authors and illustrators who are just as happy to be meeting you.
How many of your colleagues are on a first name basis with authors and illustrators? I would bet very few. And the thing about meeting authors and illustrators? It never gets old. Because what you learn at NerdCampMI is that authors and illustrators are just really incredible human beings. They look at educators as their heroes, and are filled with praise for the work we do. When author Josh Funk saw me “fan-girling” over Donalyn Miller and her family in the hotel lobby he teasingly said, “Relax. They’re just people.” Yes, Josh, but they’re my very favorite kind of people! And I still have a hard time “keeping it cool.” When you meet authors and illustrators, you bring an enthusiasm back to your students that is infectious. It helps build that reading community within your classroom and school.
- NerdCampMI is a bright light in the darkness of educational mandates and programs.
The organizers of NerdCampMI, namely Colby and Alaina Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Sue Haney, Suzanne Woolworth, Jess Keating, Suzanne and Stan Gibbs, and the staff at Western Schools of Parma, Michigan are the most positive, creative, organized people, and it’s so nice to share time with them talking about literacy education. Also, BookBug Independent Book Sellers and all the supporters who gave time, effort, and money to the cause are awesome and make us smile. NerdCampJr, an evening with kids of all ages who were excited to meet authors and illustrators and received their own books, was the icing on the cake! Everyone was there for the kids. Kids who read rock!
- NerdCampMI provides me with the research.
One of the things I love about NerdCampMI is the fact that everything is steeped in research. It doesn’t matter at what level an educator teaches, studies have been conducted, surveys have been given, and data has been collected. I have found that with each year I attend, more and more educators are conducting their own action research studies in the classroom, which I find fascinating. Sharing the results of these studies with each other as we continue our work in our classrooms and buildings is so very important. As Donalyn Miller’s blog post states, “I’ve Got Research, How ‘bout You?”
- NerdCampMI feels like a “home away from home.”
In 2015 I drove two hours north to participate in my first NerdCampMI. I walked into a building alone knowing that once inside I’d be surrounded by friends even though I’d never met ninety-five percent of them in person. You see, these “friends” were, and are, part of my PLN, and without them, I wouldn’t still be in the classroom today. When I walked into that building in Parma, Michigan, it literally felt like coming home. I was welcomed by friends whose names and faces I recognized and felt as if I’d known them my entire life. Each year my “family” grows and I am so very thankful for each and every one of them.
Melanie, Kelly, and Jennifer agree — The NUMBER ONE way that NerdCampMI saved our professional careers is…
1.NerdCampMI has the most amazing energy!
There is nothing like being in a room full of people who love kids and kid lit the way you do. Let’s face it: most people in your everyday life are slightly bemused by your enthusiasm, but don’t quite get it. Most of the time you feel kind of alone. When you come together with these “nerds,” you recharge your batteries to get ready for another school year. And it works. You look around and know that you’re not alone. And it’s the best feeling in the whole world.
Jennifer Sniadecki will start her 21st year in education as a School Librarian in South Bend, Indiana, and she cannot be more excited about the opportunity. She is an avid reader, and will read anything the Nerdy Book Club or her friends recommend. She especially loves middle grade novels and her middle school students who read them. Jennifer can be found on Twitter, and contributes to #g2great chats for fun. Check out her posts at @jdsniadecki or on her blog, http://www.readingteacherwrites.com.
Kelly D. Vorhis teaches high school English in Nappanee, Indiana, and is passionate about literacy, books and project-based learning. She is a strong advocate for student choice in reading and writing in her classroom. Kelly always has a book with her so she’ll never find herself with a ‘book emergency.’ She can be found on Twitter at @kelvorhis, on Facebook at Kelly Vorhis, and on Instagram at Kelly D. Vorhis.
Melanie Roy is a former 4th grade teacher and current teacher librarian for grades 4 and 5 in Barrington, RI. She is passionate about creating lifelong readers through choice and student voice. She happily reads aloud to her five-year-old son every night using the hashtag #bedtimebookaday. You can find Melanie on Twitter at @mrsmelanieroy or visit her library blog at hmslibraryri.wordpress.com.