A Diary of My Day at #NERDCAMPMI 2019

Nerd X3: Nerdy Reader, Nerdy Writer, Nerdy Teacher

summer teacher conference

#NerdCampMI in Parma, MI may be one of the best educational experiences a teacher can ask for in the summertime. Let me be clear: I was already tired from writing camp and wrapping up the school year. But, something about experiencing NerdCamp for the first time left my heart full and my mind open to possibilities in my classroom as a teacher and in my own life as a writer. It didn’t matter how tired I felt; I was ready to be a nerd.

You can visit the NerdCamp website to get more information, but NerdCamp is an informal educational conference and experience that offers two days of sessions, author visits, and speakers that are meant to ignite and excite the inner book lover in all of us. Day one is set up like a traditional conference with speakers and sessions to choose from, and day two is set up in a manner that would allow participants to lead and take part in their own sessions. 

I was only able to attend day one this year of #NerdCamp, but I look forward to attending both days next year in 2020. 


My Diary Entry Schedule:

9:45 am Arrival. I wasn’t prepared to see the parking lot as full and everyone parking already on the grass. The line was down the sidewalk!

10:00 am -10:30 am I wandered around to get the lay of the land. Colby Sharp, teacher, and founder of Nerd Camp put an amazing walkthrough video on Youtube that I referenced throughout the day in case I needed to find my way around. Bookbug, my local independent bookstore, was already hopping with people. 

10:30 am-11:20 am The Feminism Author Panel started during this time. Cue thinking about the presence of feminism in the books that I teach and in the environment in my building. I also was pondering the conversations around “boy books” and “girl books” that have happened in my building in the past few years, and how those conversations are now obsolete. 

11:20 am-11:40am Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Meet people. Meet people. Meet people.

11:45 am-12: 50 pm The opening ceremony with #NerdTalks. Authors sharing messages. Laurie Halse Anderson made me want to be a warrior in my building for teaching about consent. 

12:50pm-1: 00 pm Wander over to the middle school when I shouldn’t have...getting lost helped me find my way later on in the day. 

1:15 pm-2:05 pm Session 1! Dionna Roberts led “Engaged in Being Lit Across Content Area” in a breakout room. 

2:20 pm-3:05 pm Session 2! Molly O’Neill in “Nerds Write Together.” She answered questions about book publishing and creating a writing group from those in attendance at #NerdCamp

3:25pm-4:15pm Session 3! Pernille Ripp inspired anyone who has struggled to get kids to enjoy reading with her presentation, “Now What? Helping Students Become and Remain Passionate Readers.” My hand furiously took notes, and I scrambled to take pictures of slides so I could remember key points for the back-to-school planning time. 

Note: You may have noticed I didn’t say lunch...I didn’t eat all day, and I was so into all of the sessions that it didn’t even cross my mind. Not the healthiest decision...but a testament to how amazing the sessions were for getting inspired!

4:30 pm-5: 15 pm Jason Reynolds was introduced by a student from Parma, MI who did a speed painting of him in 10 minutes. It was amazing. Then, Jason Reynolds took the stage to remind us to be who we are: the lead talkers in our fields. He talked about his new book Look Both Ways coming out in October, and immediately wanted to find a copy wherever I could (No copy was to be found...so October it is).

5:15 pm-6:25 pm Stampede and Author Signing! I got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson and Alicia D. Williams. Emmy Kastner also signed my book when I ran into her in the stands. 

My Journal Notes:

Reflections for Summer 2019:

Teaching is all about community, but it is also about putting yourself out there solo. I didn’t attend this conference in a group or with friends per say. I drove by myself. I think it is important to remember to put ourselves out there sometimes to meet others and to interact with others outside of our comfort zone. I was grateful to find some familiar faces in the crowd of people at NerdCamp, but it also was a good test of my confidence to push myself to meet others. Teaching is about community, but how often do we limit ourselves to the small communities that we know that are all too familiar? One of my personal goals is to push outside of my introvert nature to make sure I am meeting other awesome educators.

I am a writer. I want to write stories. Writing is part of my identity, and I have always been called to write something...I just didn’t know what if it wasn’t a blog post. I love teaching the writing of fiction, I love writing poetry, and I particularly have always wondered if I were to make a professional teacher text, what would it be on? Now, these ideas are widespread and not focused at all, but I appreciate the fact that I have writer dreams. I rediscovered these dreams at NerdCamp. As I was listening to Molly O’Neill, a literary agent from Root Literary, I came back to my story idea that I had from a while back. I immediately wanted my pencil, paper, and Pinterest to get working on my story (I use Pinterest for character boards). This source of creative inspiration alone was enough to be grateful for the moments shared at NerdCamp. Since camp, I have renewed my interest in setting up my writing routine.

Laura Halse Anderson reminded us all in her #NerdTalk that we need to fight for the power of consent at a young age. Her book Shout was simply a work of art. Jason Reynolds put on the table that it may be the most important book to read right now in our time. Her talk was about equality, feminism, and the push to start teaching about consent at a younger age. I found my wheels turning early in her talk as I think about situations that happen in school. Some standout thoughts I had were:

Hugs need permission (Talk before touch).

Language is powerful. 

The materials teachers use should not be limited or censored.

I was reminded about my reflections this past school year to go back to empathy and teaching those critical human skills first before anything else. I want to be clear about my intentions for the 2019-2020 school year, empathy and reading are my two main concerns. They will be my mantras for each lesson idea and lesson plan submitted. I am going to post these in my room as a reminder of this moment when I felt inspired. 

I got to learn and be inspired by a teacher friend. My friend Dionna, gave me some inspiration for my fall back to school professional development. Her blog Adventures in Literacy is a great read, but also she is the one who inspired me every year at Third Coast Camp for Young Writers. Her session, “Engaged in Being Lit Across Content Area,” was geared more toward elementary school teachers, but I have been reminded how many times (too many to count) not to think that an elementary session does not offer anything to my middle school teaching toolbox. I walked away thinking about connections to a professional development I am designing in the fall, a reading strategy I know kids will love that involves salad and pizza, and some awesome book recommendations. 

Pernille Ripp reminded me why I fight for young readers each year. If you look at the second page of my notes at the beginning of this post, it is all Pernille Ripp. I have so much respect for this human. I furiously took pictures of slides and tried to make mental notes as I write down reflections for the school year. Here are some key points I want to remember when I sit down to lesson plan in August:

  • Take the time to make reading rights with my students, in my interdisciplinary team, and in my building this year. 

  • Talk to kids about book selection.

  • Teach reading motivation not through rewards, but through conversation.

  • Set reading goals with students and revisit them every trimester.

  • Jot notes down during reading conversations-Don’t make this form complicated.

  • Pernille Ripp sees 2-3 students each day with reading conferences. My mantra will be: You cannot possibly see all 33 in one day…start each day with 2-3.


Jason Reynolds told a story, and he made the connection that we are all lead talkers in our classrooms and communities. He started his closing speech with a history lesson on Go Go Music growing up in Washington, D.C. He walked every one in the audience through the examples and different positions involved in the music and described how the lead talker of the band would make people in the audience feel “seen.” As lead talkers in our classrooms and educational fields, we have the power to recognize the amazing students in front of us and make them feel seen each day. Jason reminded the teachers in the audience that he wasn’t an educator, but we all have Jasons in our classrooms each year. The reminder to see each child on an individual basis is a powerful one amidst a constant stream of oversized classes and demands to meet data goals. 


Lastly, the author highlight of the camp is when I wanted to see Alicia D. Williams of Genesis Begins Again as my last stop of the day. I got her book back in April, and it has remained on my nightstand for the sake of being a source of joy and inspiration. 

Here is the Amazon summary:

“There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?”

All kids should be reading this book. It is powerful and poignant. Alicia is also a teacher, so I am always drawn to support books that were written by current or former educators. She was sincere and a joy to be around. 

alicia d williams

Writing Mindset Reflection: Have you been in #NerdCamp or another state’s #NerdCamp? What were your takeaways from the conference?