We know that engaging in personalized learning requires that we think differently about learning and teaching, yet for most educators, professional development sessions typically involve sitting in a conference room for the better part of a day, leaving with a binder full of ideas. Clearly, there is a lot of high quality professional development occurring in these traditional or legacy models. However, we couldn’t help but wonder why we ask educators to think and work differently, while at the same time, bring them back to the same traditional conference rooms for professional development. With that frame of mind, one cold, snowy afternoon last winter, the Institute team wondered what could happen if we changed the physical context of professional development. Would educators think differently, participate in a different way, if we broke away and left our conference rooms behind? Could we, as facilitators, give up our Power Points, Prezis and Smart Boards, and still help educators learn and grow? We decided to give it a try, and early in August, we joined forty educators in a beautiful park on the shores of Lake Michigan for the first annual Institute Summer Day Camp.
Our first day of camp was called The Spark. Sessions were designed for those who were relatively new to personalized learning. One of our first camp experiences was to describe our views of being an educator using the format from Six Word Memoirs. Jessica Hollow of Racine shared “Success comes from a shared classroom.” Another camper wrote “Summer Camp: I love my job!” After an overview of the core components of personalized learning, participants conducted an experiment based on the video, When There is a Correct Answer. Everyone was given a sheet of paper with a small triangle on it. Half of the educators were told to complete the picture. The others were told if they completed the picture correctly, they would be entered into a special drawing. As you might imagine, those who were given the directions to complete the picture correctly were much more controlled and less detailed in their drawings, while those given free reign drew much more creative pictures. Clearly, for our campers, there is most definitely a relationship between rewards and creativity! After lunch and recess, typically spent walking along the lakefront, educators rolled up their sleeves and dug into work around learner’s profiles and personalizing learning units.
With another beautiful summer day upon us, our second day, The Kindling, was planned to help those who had some experience in personalized learning take their practice to the next level. Participants engaged in discussion, journaling and teamwork around topics such as the role of assessment in personalized learning, and how we can more effectively help students develop efficacy, ownership and independence. Our final day, The Bonfire, was created for the teacher leader. After a session on leadership for transforming learning, campers headed to break-outs on educator effectiveness, the Common Core State Standards and new assessment systems, and communication and messaging around personalized learning topics.
For those of us who facilitated sessions, we found it both challenging and energizing to think outside the presentation box. Because there was no electricity available, we didn’t have our usual bells and whistles, and instead relied on low-tech tools such as chart paper and markers, and of course, our most important resource, the participants themselves. It was helpful for participants to see these low-tech options in practice. One of them said, “Guidance was practical – it would be hard for attendees to say “this is very nice, but my district/school won’t let me do this.” Or, “I don’t have the stuff.”
For participants, Summer Camp was an opportunity for a different kind of reflection and planning for the new school year. One participant said, “Hooray for thinking outside the (conference room) box!” Another said, “Love it! Thanks for bringing the Institute to camp.” Would we do it again? Absolutely!