Remember summer camp? The adventures, the friendships, the challenges, the mosquito bites? Well, when you think of professional development, bandanas, s'mores, and campfire songs might not be the first things that come to mind. Yet when we designed the kickoff for our school's first Technology Summer Camp, those festive features helped us set the mood right from the start -- this wouldn't be your ordinary PD.
What Is Technology Summer Camp?
Technology Summer Camp is an exploratory, collaborative, self-paced professional learning experience. It's designed to get teachers playing with digital tools to create and share various types of media -- just as our students do. In the process, we discover new classroom tools, learn about ourselves as teachers and learners, and build our professional community.
Tech Camp aims to:
- Offer friendly, shared, hands-on practice with technology
- Build a common baseline of knowledge and skill with digital tools
- Develop firsthand experience with digital creation, collaboration, and sharing tools that work for students
- Support the development of a cohesive approach to authentic technology integration
Here's what it looks like. A teacher camper goes to our Technology Summer Camp website to choose a challenge. Let's say he chooses Challenge 4: Skitch. Upon completing the task (capturing a photo and annotating it with a circle, arrow, pixelation, and text), he posts the resulting image to our private Kidblog, along with a brief reflection. As the teacher explores the app and creates the annotated image, he thinks about how the tool works, what it could be used for, and how and whether he'd use it with students. Over the course of the summer, each teacher selects eight of the ten challenges to complete and share. Teacher campers comment on each other's posts with compliments, questions, and implementation ideas. Most of all, they explore, play, discover, and share!
Here's What Makes It Work
It's relevant to our teaching.
Apps selected for Tech Camp have to be creative, flexible, and usable across the curriculum. The create-and-share cycle of camp mirrors the type of work that students do. This way, as teachers navigate the challenges, they can also ask themselves, "How did this go for me, and what would this experience be like for my kids? Would I use this in my classroom, and if so, how?" Our play is a foundation for improving teaching and learning school-wide.
It's social and supportive.
Knowing that you have an audience matters, and being part of an online community means that we can all celebrate, struggle, reflect, and figure things out together -- even from the comfort of our summer break hammocks. Blogging about our shared learning builds faculty cohesion and generates a spirit of curiosity and courage. Keeping the blog private ensures that teachers feel safe to share and take risks.
The challenges are creative, relaxed, and enjoyable, and the camp theme builds camaraderie and good cheer. If you're wondering whether all that really matters, see the excellent post by Carl Hooker on this topic.
Campers work at their own pace.
Hey, it's summer. If teachers want to finish all the challenges in the last day or two before formally returning to work, no judgment. On a more pedagogical note, this also allows hesitant campers to dive in after more confident or experienced peers create models to follow.
Counselors are available to help.
Each challenge has a tech committee "counselor" for emergency support via email. We also offer tutorials and guidance on our website. For teachers who prefer face-to-face support, we offer Campfire Days at school, where counselors help campers complete the challenges in person.
Success is recognized -- and incentivized!
At the end of camp, teachers receive a certificate with badges for the challenges they completed, as well as special recognition for Intrepid Campers, Comment Champions, and more. And in year one, completing eight challenges and ten blog comments qualified campers to receive a teacher iPad for classroom use. Not only was this a motivating incentive, but it also meant that teachers would return to school with the equipment to implement some of their new learning right away.
Using the Tools
After our first Technology Summer Camp, teachers had certainly expanded their digital toolkits. When it came time to plan classroom technology integration during the following school year, the camp experience informed the choice of tools and also shaped how teachers structured lessons to support student success. Creating and sharing in the role of a student can be humbling and eye opening as we notice our own struggles with apps, self-consciousness about voice recordings, and technical stumbling blocks. This awareness helps us help our kids use technology with confidence.
One unexpected but equally significant benefit: Through camp, we strengthened our relationships with one another. One commonly heard response was, "I feel like I know my colleagues so much better now." When we as professionals see how technology can enrich our own learning community, it inspires us to offer that same powerful opportunity to our students.
While we experienced a great deal of learning and collegiality during year one of Tech Camp, it's important to note that this isn't the full professional development package. It's more of a virtual playtime with some great tools for the classroom. Following up with conversations about pedagogy and implementation is essential to ensure that the background built in Tech Camp translates into meaningful transformation in the classroom. However, with the shared camp experience behind us, those conversations were able to begin several steps ahead.
Without even a single mosquito bite.