Kent ISD — Five educators used their imagination and 20-sided dice to transform into heroes on a quest — while learning how to teach social and emotional learning using fantasy role-playing games — in a conference room at Kent ISD’s Educational Service Center.
Kent ISD STEM consultant Du Bui served as the game master, or narrator, for the group during their play through of Critical Core, described as “a social-skills intervention in the form of a tabletop role-playing game.” Players engage in virtual social situations to “learn communication and collaboration skills, develop frustration tolerance and build empathy.”
Bui set the scene, prompting each teacher’s role-playing character to make decisions and work with the others to complete their quest. After an hour, the heroes returned to reality and moved on to their next session of EdCampGR. The informal, free and collaborative program for educators, hosted Aug. 15 by Kent ISD, was the first one held since 2016.
‘No one is expected to be the expert. We’re all learners together.’— Kent ISD Educational Technology Consultant Ron Houtman
Discussions Built from Passions
The “unconference,” as it was frequently referred to, brought together educators of all grade levels from across Michigan. Attendees chose topics they wanted to discuss, wrote their ideas on large fluorescent sticky notes and organized their schedule of events on a large whiteboard.
Some, like Bui, led sessions based on topics they felt passionate about or had questions about and wanted to hear input from their peers. Others joined groups that sparked their interest, like how to apply Artificial Intelligence to your classroom or how to create sensory-friendly learning environments.
After participating in Bui’s session, Oakland County teacher Victoria Agne shared her experience of using similar games with her students.
“I taught my kids how to play Dungeons & Dragons in schools and parents didn’t complain because the kids were learning how to problem-solve and deal with social situations,” she said. “Attendance also increased because students didn’t want to miss my fourth-hour class.”
No Set Agenda
Moderated by Kent ISD educational technology consultants Ron Houtman, Sarah Wood and Keith Tramper, educators had the freedom to hop between sessions and stay for as long as they wanted.
“People don’t want a set agenda,” Houtman said. “This agenda gets set as people arrive based on what people want to talk about and learn more about. It also provides a comfortable space for teachers to suggest topics and learn from each other.”
He added: “No one is expected to be the expert. We’re all learners together.”
After her first time at EdCampGR, Grandville High School English teacher Sheri Gilreath-Watts said she enjoyed the conversations and relaxed atmosphere the day provided.
“I love the fact that it’s all about collaborating,” Gilreath-Watts said. “It’s not set up in a way that someone is lecturing and, while I’m totally fine with that, it allows me to open up instead of being closed to receiving information.”
Lisa Britten, Lee High School’s secondary instructional coach, also said her first time at EdCampGR was a positive experience.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I liked how the attendees got to propose sessions at the start of the day, which meant that the topics generated were current interests or concerns related to education,” she said.
Britten sat with six other colleagues to discuss addressing requests to censor books in school and classroom libraries.
“We had a great discussion about what policies each of our districts have in place currently and brainstormed ways to address parent or community concerns while also protecting students’ right to read,” she said.
Educators also earned six SCECHs (State Continuing Education Clock Hours) for their professional development portfolios for attending EdCampGR, and won door prizes throughout the day, donated by various sponsors.