nErDcamp: Kids Comics in the Classroom

Feature image, Weird Tales of the Future, public domain, Key Publications, March 1952

We’re kicking off Kids Comics go to Class with nErDcamp. This is a two day conference with loads of information for teachers, librarians, and all other forms of educators to learn new approaches to promote literacy.
nerdcamp, alaina sharp, colby sharp
Attendees will get the opportunity to attend workshops, meet cool authors, and mingle/collaborate with their peers. Discussions include topics across the board, such as close reading, small group instruction, writing workshops, argumentative writing, twitter chats, and, best of all, using comic books to encourage reading.

The days are split into sessions with some talks focused on elementary ed, secondary ed, and all-ages ed. It will take place Monday, July 7th and Tuesday, July 8th in Parma, Michigan. Registration is open online. Did I mention that it’s free?

This year the event is also hosting nErDcamp Junior, with fun workshops on illustration and writing along with several sessions where kids can meet popular authors including Jerzy Drozd, Kelly DiPucchio, and Nancy Cavanaugh. nErDcamp Junior will be held on July 8th at the same location.

Alaina Sharp, a founding member of nErDcamp, along with her husband Colby Sharp, took the time to answer some questions about the unconference.

What first made you and Colby decide to start nErDcamp?

Well, Colby and Suzanne Gibbs (another one of our amazing nErDcampMI team members) were talking about the Edcamps, and how awesome it would be to start a literacy-themed Edcamp with the same “organic,” participant-driven feel, but with an emphasis on literacy. With a little more discussion about logistics and feasibility, BOOM, nErDcamp was born.

It’s wonderful that the event is free for all to attend. How is nErDcamp funded?

We don’t really HAVE to have any funding. Because the sessions are all participant-led, and the site is a public school, there is really no need for any money to be exchanged. That is also one of the requirements of an Edcamp (that it be free to participants). We make sure we adhere to all of those requirements. However, through generous donations by various sponsors, we are able to make things more appealing to participants. For example, this year, Western Schools is graciously providing breakfast and coffee to all participants. Several publishers are providing free book swag, and tons of local businesses are pitching in money for prizes. Sponsors were HUGE for nErDcampJR especially. Our local ISD has been a phenomenal help in supporting this effort, both financially and logistically.

What criteria do you use when selecting speakers? Do you try to book Michigan based authors/educators?

This year, we started recruiting for our brand new “Day 1,” which is less like an Edcamp and more like a traditional conference. Since we are trying this for the first time, we started with people who had previously mentioned that they would be interested and available in speaking about reading, writing, or technology in the classroom. We have presenters from all over. We love Michigan, but we know other states have lots to offer too. 🙂

Your bio says that you actively search for creative ways to incorporate reading into your chemistry curriculum. What methods have you applied to make this happen?

I think just being a participant in the conversation has made me more open to ideas on how to incorporate literacy into my classroom. These incredible people have so many great ideas and are always willing to share and/or brainstorm ways that I could cater it to my classes. I have also had to learn how to be a risk takersome of these ideas are a little scary to try at first (especially for a high school, non ELA teacher), but they have huge potential. One of my favorite risks that I took this year was incorporating the character “Scaredy Squirrel” into my laboratory safety unit. We read the Scaredy Squirrel books, and then students created a narrative project based on the character that was focused on lab safety.

Are there plans to extend nErDcamp into a longer event?

Not currently, but we never thought it would turn into what it has. Never say never. 🙂

Would you ever consider expanding nErDcamp Junior into a full scale sleepaway camp for kids?

Again, we don’t have plans for that right now, but it sounds really cool. And maybe a little terrifying.

What do you think are some of the largest challenges obstructing teachers from promoting literacy?

As a non-ELA teacher, I think it’s the conflict between the demands of your curriculum and the reality of the school-day/school-year schedule. Basically, it boils down to time. It’s one more thing to have to think about, plan, and incorporate, and it’s one more thing to compete with your existing curriculum. The key is to find a way that it can enhance your curriculum instead of compete with it.

What do you remember about your own experience as a kid learning how to read?

I remember sitting with my grandpa learning how to read and with my grandma, who was a fantastic story teller. I also remember going to the library to sign up for summer reading and devouring book after book. I loved to read and I think a lot of the success I had as a student was a direct consequence of my reading ability.

Do you feel that eBooks are having a positive or negative effect on children’s literacy? How about for adult literacy?

eBooks are just one more way for people to get their hands on books, which can only increase the number of people with access to books they’ll love. To me, this is a positive effect on literacy in both adults and children.

What can you tell me about other projects you have in the works?

Between teaching full time, coaching, nErDcamp, and three crazy kids, most of the time I’m struggling to keep it together. I pretty much have my hands full. . . at least for right now. 🙂

Thanks again to Alaina Sharp for taking the time to do this interview. I can’t wait to go to nErDcamp!

Romona Williams

Romona Williams

Romona Williams is an ex-librarian, current tutor, and constant writer. She can usually be found in antiquarian bookstores, curiosity shops, and carnivals after dark.