5 Tips for Planning a Kidcamp, the Student-Driven #Edcamp

column | Maker and DIY Movement

5 Tips for Planning a Kidcamp, the Student-Driven #Edcamp

By Chrissy Romano-Arrabito (Columnist)     Apr 10, 2018

5 Tips for Planning a Kidcamp, the Student-Driven #Edcamp

By now you’ve probably heard of edcamps—free, organic, participant-driven, “un-conferences” that empower educators to maximize professional learning experiences and peer networks. As a longtime enthusiast, what I love most about the movement is that at its heart it’s all about educators teaching and empowering other educators. So, what if we gave our students the same opportunity their teachers have to learn alongside one another, lift each other up and maximize their learning experiences, all while promoting empathy and kindness?

PD After Hours

Earlier this year, Hackensack Public Schools hosted its first edcamp at Nellie K. Parker Elementary School. This event was open to any staff from across the district and in other schools throughout the tri-state area. Before the event, the NKP staff was buzzing with excitement, which piqued the curiosity of the students. Kids volunteered to make signs and asked about other ways they could be a part of the event. The organizers were short on time but promised there would be something for them in the future. Edcamp After Hours, the first of its kind in northern NJ, ended up being a big hit. The energy and enthusiasm filtered down to the students, who then asked if they could hold an edcamp of their own.

As one of the organizers of Edcamp After Hours, I gave this some serious thought and asked my class of 4th graders if this was a model they would be interested in trying out. I explained what edcamp is all about for grownups and asked them how we could bring this type of learning experience to them during the school day. After some brainstorming we decided we would give it a try during our last period of the day, where students in our class could volunteer to facilitate sessions to teach other students about things they are interested in and knowledgeable about.

Let the Kids Take the Lead

In the end we came up with the idea of partnering with a younger class the way the 3rd grade did last year with their Kindergarten “Reading Buddies.”

Our first try at “Kid Camp” had some of our students facilitating sessions for other students in our own class. This was a big hit! We have been exploring lots of different coding and making tools this year, including Osmo, Bloxels, Tynker, Scratch Jr., and Ozobots. Some kids have become experts on certain platforms and volunteered to teach their classmates who wanted to learn more. Stations were set up around the room to give kids the opportunity to observe, jump in or bounce from station to station depending on their interests. At the end of the hour the overwhelming response was that they wanted to do this again, and also to share this experience with other students in their school.

Stacy Carela, a Kindergarten teacher, and I planned for a meetup of her kindergarteners and my 4th graders. My kids decided amongst themselves who would man each station and what they would teach to their “Kinder Buddies.”


Prior to our first Kid Camp I explained to my students about patience, kindness and to remember that their proteges are only 5 years old and may need more guidance than their 4th grade peers. When our Kinder Buddies arrived Mrs. Carela and I took a backseat and let the 4th graders take over. We were there for support if needed, but spent most of the time observing and making note of things we would discuss during our reflection time with students afterward. At one point, Mrs. Carela even got in on the action to learn how to code using Scratch, Jr.!

Throughout the hour-long session, Mrs. Carela kept remarking about how engaged her students were and that some of her ESL students who never make a peep in class were talking a blue streak with their 4th grade buddies. One little boy even screamed out, “I did it!” after completing an activity on his own for the first time. Seeing him excited and happy like that made our day—and it was just one of many inspiring examples we witnessed.

Take Nicholas for instance. He came to Kindergarten this year with minimal skills compared to the average 5-year-old. He was very disinterested in school and learning in general. He entered the room and perused each station cautiously until he decided on the Bloxels center. He immediately picked up the colored blocks and with a few instructions he got right to work. During his time in Kid Camp it seemed like something clicked. He was thoroughly engaged and Mrs. Carela whispered to me that that was the first time she has seen a spark in him all year. She was shocked at how much he wanted to listen and participate. When he began to play the video game that he just created—-to see him smiling from ear to ear—brought tears to her eyes . Without a doubt this first session was a success!

Kid Camp in 5 Easy Steps

Porting the edcamp model over to students can be a challenge. Here are some tips to make the most of the experience.

  1. Propose the opportunity with your students. Share our story. Tell your kids about what Edcamp does for educators like you. Ask your students when was the last time they were able to choose what they wanted to learn or what they wanted to share with their peers. This conversation should build interest and excitement in Kid Camp.
  2. Start small. According to David Weinberger, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” Ask your students what they are “experts” at? What are they passionate about? What are they dying to teach their classmates? Give your students time to think about what they want to share with their peers and then build your session board. Let the kids decide what they want to share and then pick a few sessions for your first Kid Camp. Post those sessions somewhere in your room and give your kids anywhere from a few days up to a full week to prepare.
  3. Set clear expectations. Before you embark upon Kid Camp, discuss the expectations you and your students expect to glean from the experience. Then, take the time to talk with all students who will be taking part in Kid Camp. Stress the importance of patience, encouragement and kindness with those facilitating the learning. Remind the attendees to be gracious to their hosts. They shouldn’t worry about making mistakes during sessions, and encourage them to ask questions. Explain how much time they will have and whether or not they are allowed to use the “rule of two feet” and bounce from session to session if they realize it isn’t what they expected it to be. Most importantly, emphasize that Kid Camp is student driven and ultimately they have control over what they want to learn and share with other students.
  4. Make time to reflect. In teaching, and life in general, I find reflection to be the most important part of any experience. Build in time at the conclusion of each Kid Camp to reflect together as a whole group. You can gather together on the rug, turn and talk or do a whole group share out of the “glows” and “grows” of the experience so the next time can be even better. You can have the kids fill out a simple Google Form or exit ticket asking them what they enjoyed the most and what they would do differently next time.
  5. Partner with another class. Now that you have done this a few times within your own classroom, go out and find another teacher who is willing to take a risk, step back and put their kids at the helm. Age or grade level doesn’t matter. We started out partnering our 4th grade with Kindergarten but eventually ended up opening our learning space to 2nd and 3rd graders as well.

Final Thoughts

Our 4th grade class has since partnered with at least four other classes to host #kidcamp and we continue to open our learning space to others to learn and grow together. Facilitating Kid Camp was an enlightening experience for my students. They gained a new level of respect for their teachers and are now able to empathize with what it feels like to be in the driver’s seat when teaching others. One student said she now understands how hard it can be to find different ways to explain something to someone who doesn’t get it the first time.

These experiences have boosted self esteem and promoted a positive attitude toward learning. Students—including some I never would have expected—are more willing to take risks, create opportunities for their own success, and build relationships with other students to foster a sense of community in our school. I think we may even have some future educators in our midst!

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