My friend - the awesome Debbie Ridpath Ohi - has been going almost since the beginning and has praised the meet-up. This year, I finally made it. And... wow, was she right.
These are strange days in education. I've written on this blog before how saddened I am by the loss of libraries in schools. Well, this was gathering of people who are dealing with that (and more) first hand and are fighting against the trend.
The Nerd Talks opened up day1. All the speakers were amazing, but a few really knocked me for a loop. (I doodle while I listen to people talk instead of taking pics.)
Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller are two founders of this whole thing and welcomed everyone by talking about how crucial books and stories are for giving kids the skills they need. Donalyn even suggested cancelling fines for kids who return books late as a way to level the playing field.
Chad C Everett gave a speech saying that the times for some books for some kids are over. All kids need to have access to stories in today's revolutionary times. It was a call to action across all the boundaries that separate us in schools and in the world of kids lit.
Sarah K Ahmed
talked about being a hyphenated American and what that means in today's world. Look out for each other. Tells your stories and listen to other people's stories, not just the ones you already know.
Pernille Ripp talked about how books can offer paths out of depression and sadness for kids, especially ones experiencing bullying. (She's been sharing some tough personal stories on her blog which you should definitely check out.)
If I have one criticism it's that there are TOO many interesting sessions. I gave one on using humour to trick kids into learning. But I also snuck peeks at others, including Arree Chung talking about his beautiful (and wickedly clever) new book Mixed.
Then it was an hour of book love from Mr. Schu. When he gives out books he loves to a hepped-up crowd it's like watching The Price is Right. Maybe the Print is Right?
And then it was one of my heroes Dav Pilkey, who closed out day1. I've had a chance to meet him a couple of times and he as down-to-earth and nice a guy as you can ever hope to meet. He also writes great books.
He gave a tribute to him mom, who helped him adapt to his ADHD and dyslexia by letting him read whatever he wanted to read. (I actually, appropriately enough, nerded out on him in the hallway after the speech to tell him how moving it was.)
All the speakers hit the note that we seem to miss in so much "high-level" education chatter about standardized tests and quality metrics - that each individual kid has individual needs and talents.
And books are one of the best ways to get those kids to find their own path to knowledge and curiosity.
And, yes, there is a lot of talk here of "fighting" and "revolution"and the people at NerdCamp did come to the event to arm themselves - with skills, strategies, ideas - to fight.
BUT not to fight against anything but for every single kid in their classrooms or libraries or (from an authors perspective) their readership.
And this is all done by Volunteers. VOLUNTEERS. Using their summer vacation to gather and share info on the best way to get kids to read, to learn to think.
The theme of "fighting" continued in informal discussions with educators about the battles they are having to keep books for "different" kids in their libraries and schools. But they are not giving up. And we authors need to keep writing those books and keep visiting and supporting those schools.
So, I'll be up front. I went into this NerdCamp experience slightly depressed about the state of the world, and also very cynical about talking about education. Every single person I met there helped me feel better. One teacher I spoke with the first night said she feels like she's coming home to her family the second she arrives at Nerd Camp. I get that 100%.
And meeting all these people inspired me. This is where the battle for a better world will be fought and eventually won. It's the long game. And I'm in.