100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Singing Kumbaya at Nerdcamp

I regret that I had but one set of eyes and ears at Nerdcamp.

– Nathan Hale¹

¹Loosely paraphrasing here.

Nerdcamp is one of those things that, when taken out of context, can make for an entertaining interaction. I know this because about a month ago my wife Allison noticed it on my calendar and asked me about it.

Allison (sporting a confused look): What’s … Nerdcamp?

Me (smiling, thinking about all the possibilities I could say, including “yeah, just meeting up with some dudes to wear our pocket protectors and roast marshmallows over Bunsen burners): Well …

I attended Nerdcamp Battle Creek (MI) yesterday and I can tell you these two things: Nerdcamp is a conference where learning is directed by the attendees (in this case librarians, teachers, school administrators, authors, and illustrators), and it didn’t even need s’mores – it was excellent without them. I came away feeling like everyone (in pretty much every field) should give this sort of thing a shot.

Birthed from the mind of fourth grade teacher Colby Sharp (Nerdy Book Club co-founder (hence the “Nerd” part of the title)) and based on the Edcamp model, this was an event I didn’t want to miss. Not even this could dampen my spirits:

Notice the moody black and white filter. It’s an early morning. Ah, who am I kidding? We have a nine month old baby, so I’m no stranger to the fives.

After hitting the road (and passing the time with a back-to-back comparison of the new Jay-Z and Kanye West albums – advantage nobody, unfortunately) I arrived at Lakeview High School ready to take part.

Here’s the parking lot scene:

There were over 150 attendees. I’d say that’s an excellent showing.

After registering, the attendees met in a large room. There was definitely anticipation in the air. At one point I thought that it might turn into something akin to that new ABC murder mystery reality show, but that was fleeting and ridiculous.

It was also sort of a Twitter comes alive moment, with Colby Sharp setting the stage on the mic and all sorts of people in the room whom I’ve only met online.

It was time to get down to business. Here’s a look at the schedule of sessions:

That’s right – empty. Herein lies the beauty. It’s a spontaneous conference – nothing planned in advance. During the first 30 minutes of the day, people volunteer to lead sessions. Some are experts on their topic and ready to share, others just have a question (like how to reach reluctant readers), and hope to gather people together to brainstorm an answer.

The session board began to fill up quickly. It was a good crowd.

So what did I learn? I attended sessions on school-wide literacy programs, book clubs, and the aforementioned reluctant reader session. Each and every one was useful. I have pages of notes that I can’t wait to run with when the school year starts up again.

The entire schedule is here. You can get detailed notes from all the sessions by clicking on the room numbers.

Another plus of the Nerdcamp/Edcamp model – everyone’s an attendee, and therefore on the same level. This means that sessions were often more discussion driven than speaker driven. If you’ve ever attended a conference where you felt you had ideas to share but didn’t want to step on the speaker’s toes, you would have loved Nerdcamp.

It was a wonderful day of connecting with people who care about the same things and learning together. There’s only one thing left to do:

I can’t wait for Nerdcamp 2014.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Tonya Brownfield says:

    I am so sending this to my EVERYONE I know. You defined the experience better than I ever could have. This too, was my first Ed camp, and I LOVED it. I LOVE being a nerd, and can’t wait to tell all of my students how much I love it. I came away with so much, and I know my students and the staff I work with will benefit from all the desire and passion that was shared during our bonding at nErD camp. The discusses alone were chalk full of reflection and ahh haa moments, and it was refreshing! Hope to see you in October at the next next edcamp.

  2. Sandra Delgado says:

    I appreciate this, Mr Jonker! I couldn’t attend, so this is the next best thing! I HOPE, HOPE to attend next year! :)

  3. Excellent recap! This was not my first EdCamp experience, but it was the best because it was full of Nerdybookclub members meeting and sharing.

  4. I didn’t learn of this opportunity until the Monday before the conference. All roads and calendars cleared themselves and I attended with another spontaneous adventure spirited colleague. This was such a great experience and a hopeful model for that I hope can end some silly professional development I have had to endure in the last few years.

  5. Great recap, Travis! What a wonderful experience it was, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

  6. Allison says:

    This is very cool – thanks for sharing the list of workshops too.

  7. Travis,

    Thank you for sharing this. I might try to do this for our teachers during teacher workdays coming up in August. Ok, out of five days, we may try this for one day.

    Were there any anxieties to the “no plan ahead of time” conference model?