HICKORY — Educators from 21 different school districts across North Carolina teamed up Saturday at Grandview Middle School to submerge themselves into unique classroom topics and resources.

“We got the idea for this event about a year ago,” Aaron Joplin, principal of Grandview Middle, said. “A couple of colleagues of mine and I attended an Ed-Camp at Western Carolina and we thought it would be fun to host one here at Grandview.”

Designed to encourage educators to learn more about topics that are applicable to their own classrooms, the Ed-Camp allows attendees to be the leader.

“This is different from traditional staff development in that the teachers vote on the topics that they would like to discuss,” Joplin said. “We do not have pre made presentations or anything like that.”

Weeks before the event, educators created ideas for the sessions and they chose which sessions that they wanted to participate in.

“They may be discussing different makerspaces in the classrooms, which is very technologically focused now, or they could be learning about Google apps for education,” Joplin said.

Educators are able to share resources at the Ed-Camp and create a common document online for note taking.

“One of the great things about this is also networking opportunities,” Joplin said. “They meet people who are enthusiastic about the same things as they are, which is very beneficial.”

To get started on bringing an Ed-Camp to Catawba County, Joplin contacted Dr. Carol Moore, who is the STEM Coordinator in Hickory.

“STEM West brings business people in, local government and local educators together for our mission,” Moore said. “Basically, we looked at why and what we have to teach in schools, what businesses need for their employees and how we can align those two interests.”

STEM West advocates and supports the alignment of educational and occupational objectives through the regional workforce and community partnerships.

“School is boring if you just teach by the book and kids aren’t learning, and they are too wired now to be taught in the traditional way,” Moore said. “These kids want to make a difference, and they are actually making differences within these businesses.”

By teaming up, the Ed-Camp featured free community resources that educators were encouraged to take advantage of.

“Once a teacher partners with one of our partnered businesses, they identify a real problem within the business and create a project for their classrooms,” Moore said. “Then, once the students create a solution, it is then offered to the business to be used as an actual solution for the business.”

Joplin, Moore and others worked continuously on this event for several months and had more than 200 educators across North Carolina register.

“We have people from places like New Bern and Charlotte-Mecklenberg, so they’re coming from all over the state and staying at hotels for this event,” Joplin said. “We have a lot of local people, too.”

The turnout was around 130 educators, Tonya Scott said, who is the curriculum coordinator for math and science for Hickory Public Schools. She said she was thankful for those who attended.

“I am very excited to be a part of this Ed-Camp, because this is the first Ed-Camp that I have had the opportunity of helping organize,” Scott said. “This is a great way to showcase our community and our collaboration between school systems.”

If the collaboration between the different school systems in the county was not enough support for the Ed-Camp, the donated refreshments and other items from local vendors was.

“We had Chick-fil-a, Krispy Kreme and a ton of other businesses donate food and prizes to give out to the educators,” Joplin said. “The community support has been massive and very appreciated.”

The event is referred to as an “un-conference,” where the participants create their own agenda at the start of the event and have the control of the conference in their hands.

“Instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions,” Moore said. “People could pay hundreds of dollars to attend another conference, or they could go to Ed-Camp for free.”

One of the sessions available at the Ed-Camp was about virtual reality, where educators were able to have a hands-on experience with the technology.  

“Stacy Lovdahl is the instructional technology facilitator for Catawba County Schools and she is a great resource for the virtual reality session,” Scott said. “I was really excited to bring this opportunity to our teachers in Hickory for them to have some professional development on the topics that they chose to learn about, like virtual reality.”

Another activity offered at the Ed-Camp was a hands-on experience for educators in the library.

“We’ve been revamping our library up with media technologies activities for the kids, so we’re working on building up a makerspace with different circuit building models and coding,” Vanessa Lain, the media coordinator at Grandview Middle, said.

Traditionally only used for literary resources, the library at Grandview Middle is trying to find different tech-savvy projects for students to get involved with.

“Our students are able to build radios and see how circuits work hands on, which is really great,” Lail said. “Hopefully, we will be able to add more technology opportunities in the near future for not only Grandview students, but for all students in the county.”

All educators at the Ed-Camp were seen floating around the sessions and engaging in discussion about the topics that they chose.  

“I love the concept of people being here, because they want to be here and not being forced to be here, because they are actually interested in what is going on in the sessions,” Scott said. “This is hopefully a first annual event that will cycle through different locations in the county.”

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