Nerdy about #nErdcampMI: My "Camper" Origin Story
Updated: Jul 3
Last year when I told a few of my teacher friends that I was attending Nerd Camp, they all looked at me with squinted, skeptical eyes. "Nerd Camp?" "Really?" "Dionna, are you making this up?" I was not making it up although it was one of those learning opportunities that seemed a bit unbelievable. Too good to be true. Might you allow me to tell you how I happened to find this amazing place?
I was initially made aware of this cool, quirky, not-your-average literacy #conference (#nerdcampmi) when I attended a Literacy Symposium at Western Michigan University, in October of 2017. The Book Whisper, Donalyn Miller, was our presenter for the day. (A-mazing!) I sat in total awe, listening, and learning about the #advocacy work that she is involved in, promoting literacy for ALL children across the country. During her presentation, she mentioned two things that gave me that goose-bumpy, cold and prickly skin feeling as the details spilled out into the audience. That day with Donalyn Miller I was introduced to The Nerdy Book Club and this magical place for #teachers like myself, called Nerd Camp.
The Nerdy Book Club is an "online space designed to give teachers, authors, and illustrators, and book lovers a home to share that love of reading with others". This online space was co-founded by Donalyn and super teacher/author Colby Sharp in 2011. Since learning about The Nerdy Book Club, I've written for the nerdy blog twice. My first published post appeared March 4, 2018, a Top Ten List, dedicated to poetry as mentor texts for young writers. My teacher heart was filled with nervous excitement knowing that my words and book recommendations were being read by so many!
Two days after my first nerdy post went LIVE, I met Mr. Colby Sharp at the West Michigan Early Literacy Conference in Kalamazoo, MI. *squeal* Sitting through his session, hearing about all of the great work being done in his classroom and school community, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had to make it to Parma, MI to attend Nerd Camp. By any means necessary! It was too good of an opportunity to let pass me by. It was super affordable (free ninety-nine) and jam-packed with quality sessions led by librarians, teachers, authors, and illustrators.
July 2018, I attended #nerdcampmi for the very first time. It was better than I had imagined. To me, Nerd Camp is best described as this non-traditional education conference-type (but not boring) event where the intentional focus is on #reading and #writing. It is this extraordinary place where teacher, author, illustrator, and inspiration collide and then explode into passionate classroom practices. The highlight of Nerd Camp 6.0 for me was the keynote speech given by author Dav Pilkey. Hearing his story about growing as a learner, reader, and writer reminded me of a special little guy in my life.
My son is one of Captain Underpants' biggest fans. In second grade he was challenged by his teacher to begin reading more chapter books because after all, he was getting older and would be a third grader soon so, "it was time". The ONLY chapter books that he trusted and truly liked at this time was Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series. His teacher wanted for him to read with more variety, but with variety came challenges for my son. Without pictures at that time, he was lost. With too much text on the page, he'd disengage and meltdown. It was painful getting through chapter books that he didn't like simply to satisfy AR quiz requirements. After two or three of these "suggested" chapter books from his teacher, I'd had enough. "Can he just read what he wants during at-home reading time?" For the remainder of the school year, he made it his personal goal to five more books in the Captain Underpants series before the release of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (June 2017). He worked hard and reached his goal!
When I told him the following year that I was attending Nerd Camp and Dav Pilkey would be there, my then third grader gave me very strict instructions, "Mom, can you PLEASE ask Dav Pilkey sign my Dog Man collection?" Well, I couldn't disappoint. One and a half hours later, after standing in the mega amusement park-like line, his book collection was signed complete with a doodle of George Beard. I truly felt like a superhero that day to be able to give such a special gift to my son (no cape required).
This year I am attending #nerdcampmi 7.0 on July 8 & 9 as both attendee and presenter! I cannot accurately describe the butterflies in my stomach as I have been preparing for the event. I see this as important work. This is a unique opportunity to learn and share in the presence of humans who love literacy as much as I do. This year there are over 1,500 participants registered to attend. Last year, I journeyed alone to experience the phenomenon of this camp, not truly knowing what to expect. This year I will return, joined by three teaching colleagues, fully knowing and with an even greater expectation.
As an added bonus, my three children and FIVE of their friends are attending Nerd Camp Jr. as well! "Mom, will Dav Pilkey be there again?" my son asked in wide-eyed excitement. I had to break it to him easily that he wouldn't be meeting Dav Pilkey this year, but he would have an opportunity to draw and meet other authors!
The work being done in Parma, MI as it relates to #literacy is much too good to keep to myself. Any opportunity given to tell others about it, I take. I hope to see you next year!