HESSTON — From tables piled high with children's books to the reading-themed apparel worn by many of the attendees, a love of literature was evident at the second annual nErDcampKS, a literacy-based "unconference" for educators, held Tuesday at Hesston High School.
Educators and librarians from across the state gathered to discuss all things related to reading. Organizers Rachel Harder, Danae Kaufman, Megan Kohlman and Rachel Yoder noted registrations had more than doubled from last year's event.
"Attendees come for the collaboration with peers, to meet authors, to get fresh ideas for the next school year and to build their professional network," Yoder said.
"nErDcampKS was a wonderful experience," said Angie Boone, special education teacher for Cheney Middle School. "Participants help determine the sessions, which makes it a powerful conference. We discussed topics that were important to classroom teachers regarding literacy."
The event is set up so that the topics discussed are decided by attendees on that day, giving them the chance to converse about their most pressing issues with professional peers.
"There were a wide variety of general and specific topics related to literacy — everything from small group literature circles to collaboration between grade levels to makerspace and genius hour conversations," Yoder said. "The point of (educational) camps and nErDcampKS specifically is for participants to drive the conversations, so topics are dependent on what they would like to discuss."
Some were drawn to nErDcampKS for the first time this year, including 17 authors of children's books.
"Having authors join us was the big new thing, and we felt like that was a good addition for year two," Yoder said, "and the number of authors who donated prizes is too many to count."
The buzz of numerous conversations between sessions filled the air as teachers and librarians talked to each other about strategies to inspire a love of reading.
"I loved the discussions with the authors about engaging reluctant readers and using books to teach social emotional skills," Boone said.
Not only did participants talk face to face, but they also conducted conversations online, sharing their personal takeaways from the sessions.
"Social media is also just a great way for educators to connect with each other," Yoder said. "There were many of us who met each other for the first time today, even though we feel like we know each other already because of our conversations online. These connections continue when people share notes and quotes from the keynote speaker and their sessions on Twitter, and continue conversations even after today."
Hosting nErDcampKS at Hesston High School provided multiple meeting spaces for the attendees.
"The layout of Hesston High School is unique, but it is easy to get around and rooms are close together, so there's good opportunity for easy networking with each other," Yoder said. "We also have a great commons space to begin the day. We are proud to host nErDcampKS at Hesston High School and don't have any plans to change location."
The organizers said the work that goes into planning nErDcampKS was challenging, but worthwhile.
"It takes a lot of work to organize an event like this, and it is a definitely a team effort," Yoder said. "But it is enriching work to organize an event where teachers who care about students and improving the way they reach them through literacy can come together to learn from each other."
To learn more about nErDcampKS, visit nerdcampks.weebly.com.