In September 2011 a group of tweeps engaged in a chat about the deficits of the present conference / CPD model which then moved onto dreaming about how good a DIY conference could be. Tim Rylands suggested that we could use his shed to host it and so #Shedfest was born – this then morphed into #CampEd12 as we realised that we were competing with a San Francisco wine festival.
I was privileged to be able to work with Dughall McCormick and Helen Daykin trying to turn the kind offer from Helen’s mum, Sue, of the use of her farm into a reality. We ended up in discussions about people to portaloo ratios, risk of frost, hog roasts, moving fish & chips at speed and preventing dogs from eating ducks!
The vision which came through from the google doc and the resultant wiki was that those attending didn’t want it to be a technology freakout, it should be child and family centred and that discussions would come through the serendipity of being at the same session rather than organised salon sessions. This was both very exciting and frightening as we didn’t know what the activities would be and who would lead them. We just trusted that it would be alright on the night.
In the week in the run-up to #CampEd12 we had endless rain and panics but soon the 4th May arrived and the Lords set off with our caravan for the trip to Oxenhope. One very excited Bill, three slightly bemused and nervous others and a dog little aware that he was going to get more than 50 walks in three days!
We arrived on the Friday night and met with Helen, Sue, Chris, Dughall and his son. After enduring beaching our caravan and a vomiting child on the first night we were able to meet everyone on the Saturday morning.
I have to admit that I have rarely been so nervous as we waited for people to arrive but throughout the morning some familiar faces, twitter names and friends to be made arrived and it became clear that everything that we had hoped for had a good chance of happening. Over the morning more and more cars came down the incredibly steep hill put in place by the great team of marshals. Bit by bit tents went up in the most wonderful surroundings.
We used a high tech approach to record which sessions were being held by chalking everything onto the barn wall which seemed to match with the DIY approach of the weekend. The first sessions were the trip to the local Steam railway, a walk over the Moors, Geocaching and Mission Explore. I went on the moor walk with Dina and had the pleasure of chatting to a range of people who I would not normally have the chance to meet. For me this was one of the key elements that I was looking for in a successful #CampED12 and a great start to the weekend for me. It was great to have time with Graeme and Kim Eyre, Chris Mayoh and Tony Parkin. I had not met Graeme and Kim before and had rarely had more than two minutes to previously chat to Chris and Tony. The walk was led by Ken Eastwood who lives locally and runs the fascinating consultancy Digital Nomads working in the field of mobile and flexible
working. In the meantime my daughter fell in love with geocaching with James Langley and my son chose Mission Explore. I suspect that this was driven by the fact that his family weren’t in the session but he came back very enthusiastic and commenting that in three and a half years of secondary geography he had rarely if ever left the classroom. He was even considering speaking to his Head of Geography to tell her about Mission Explore!
Gabbie loved the geocaching which, it turned out, was actually led by James Langley’s son Joe – again #CampED12 in action!!!
After the walk a group of us nipped up to the pub at the top of the lane to watch the cup final where I was able to chat to Dawn and James Hallybone and Alex Bellars. I felt as though I had known Alex for years but this was the first I had met him – in the space of a football match we discussed all sorts of topics from school inspection, the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur, how to perfect poor parenting skills and making learning more engaging.
In the evening I had the privilege of watching my teenage son brought into a band made up of the Daniel Willshaw, Kevin McLaughlin, Dan Bowen on guitars, Tony Parkin in Bez mode and voices added by Bev Evans, Alex Bellars, Jamie Hallybone and others. I will always be grateful for the kindness shown by Dan who mentored Josh as his rhythm guitarist – it made squeezing his amp and guitar into the car all worthwhile! We had a wonderful barbecue put on by the pub and was a great chance for people to chat.
We woke from a cold night to wonderfully sunny morning and three sessions to experience. In the morning I did Bev Evan’s Art session even though I possess very little artistic talent! I also nipped across to see how Dughall was getting on with his den building (which is something I have done with my classes in the past). Both of these sessions were wonderful.
Over the day there were also opportunities to do exciting science with Jo and Richard Badge, Mathematical Origami with Lois Lindemann, more Geocaching with the Langley boys, Den building and Daytime Astronomy with Tom Briggs.
My personal highlight was my daytime astronomy with Tom. The group attending it ranged from Susan Banister who had brought her star gazing live info guide with her, Phil and Nicki Allman’s daughter who had a book about astronomy and people like me who struggle to name two planets in the right order! Tom opened the session by saying that all he wanted to do was to give us moments where we said wow! Tom had people lined up in orbit around Chris Mayoh who was the sun whilst sat on a space hopper and then gave us some amazing pieces of information about the solar system, taught us some words which sounded made up and showed us how John Travolta can help you locate Betelgeuse!!!
The session was so successful that Tom’s reward was to repeat straight afterwards for another group!!!
In the evening we all moved up to the pub for a collective meal which was a wonderful way to finish the festival.
So after a slightly milder night we all departed in the morning with new friendships made and hints being dropped to Sue that we wanted to come back next year.
Was it worth the effort?
So the question is whether it met the dreams we had when we were chatting back in late September. There was always the hope that the event would be child centred and at the same time adults would be brought together and given the opportunity to chat. We hoped to bring together people from different fields and see what would happen and finally I had the hope that it wouldn’t be the characters from teachmeets or twitter who would necessarily come to the fore.
At the end of the three days I had a sense of disappointment that despite all of the opportunities I still failed to chat with people who I had not met and so I could have done with even more time at the event! I felt that the two days were an incredible opportunity to bring people together and the child centred activities were wonderful. It was also great to see how different people reacted to the different sessions and as someone recently appointed to a Primary Headship I was completely fired up by what we will be able to achieve in our school.
I also loved that the unofficial motto of the weekend was something along the lines of “#CampED12 – not as bad as the spouses thought it would be!!!”
There have been some excellent blog posts which are all collated on Dughall’s blog and some excellent questions being posed. The key one coming from Matt Pearson is whether there is a responsibility on us to widen this approach from the ‘middle class’ grouping of educationalists to kids who simply would never get this opportunity. The other question which strikes me is whether Hardnaze Farm is the right location for #CampEd13.
For me laying on something which is wider than what we did is fraught with complications, concerns and reasons not to do it – such as funding, the potential needs for new CRB forms, purchasing tents, food etc. However, I think that there is a lot of potential in it and wonder whether actually the best location is not Hardnaze Farm for something like that. At the same time as organising #CampEd12 I have been working with a coach at my son’s athletics club to organise a training camp during a half term. The locations we looked at included outdoor education centres, scout hostels and even private boarding schools all of which aren’t used during school half terms or bank holiday weekends. The other alternative is to use a school site – the school I will be working in has several acres of grounds and accessibility to toilets, showers and cooking facilities but is not situated in such beautiful surroundings as Hardnaze Farm.
So could we widen it? Yes, but it would need to be much more organisation than took place for this year’s event possibly with charitable status. I suspect that there are already groups out there who could support us in doing it though. For it to be successful we would need to start very soon if it is going to happen in 2013.
In terms of location I am questioning whether we will be able to use Hardnaze Farm again for a larger event for a couple of reasons – firstly I think that we would struggle to take in significantly more people than attended this year as the barn was comfortable but wouldn’t take many more people, the pub was full when we ate up there on the Sunday night and finally Justin (the hero with the tractor who pulled my caravan off the site) kept stressing how lucky we had been with the weather and how bleak it could be in the rain!!!
Conclusions and questions
- We do need to make sure that #CampEd13 takes place as I believe that the model is excellent and achieved so much of what we wanted in terms of child centred learning providing opportunities for adults to get together.
- We need to look to widen those who attend – I was struck by the fact the Rachel Willshaw had felt cheeky signing up when she didn’t know anyone there. We need to overcome the sense that it was for the ‘twitterati’ but more about bringing as wide a group as possible. It was great that there was a mix of students, young teachers, more experienced teachers, academics, advisers, school leaders and those from outside education.
- Widening or increasing the attendees does mean that we might need to find another venue whether it be in the same area or in a different part of the country. Hardnaze Farm was beautiful, we were able to use the moors and fields for our sessions and the barn was such an amazing meeting space so alternative locations would have a long way to go to come up to that standard.
- Would the loose model of organisation of sessions work second time around? I do think that we were lucky in the sessions provided in the fact that there was such breadth offered and session leaders like Bev Evans, the Badges, James Langley, Tom Briggs and Dughall McCormick were happy to run their sessions more than once. The downside of this is the fact that they then missed out on other people’s sessions
- Now that PeLecon13 is looking to replicate the model as part of their 3 day conference (which is a fantastic development) there is a sense that the model could be widened so do we need to evaluate what took place more deeply than we have
- Will our dog survive another #CampEd? Jasper is a very friendly dog and we estimate that he had 23 walks on Saturday courtesy of the wonderful children who attended!