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Shooting “womp rats”: Why trying something BIG fuels innovation and cooperation

Wow… edcampHOME. Were you there? I hope you stopped by even for a few minutes to watch the adventure unfold. An experience like #edcampHOME deserves a big metaphor and while the best metaphor of the day for edcamp was made by Curt Rees:

Curt Rees Apollo

You did notice that edcampHOME happened on the anniversary of the first moon walk in 1969.

But for me trying to pull off edcampHOME was more like a small band of misfit rebels trying to destroy the Death Star and take down the Empire.

star wars

If you don’t know anything about the Empire in the movie Star Wars their society started as a democratic Republic, but then they were beset by a storm of troubles, including a civil war (masterminded by one very evil person).The troubles made citizens feel that a one size fits all solution was the answer for everyone. (Does that sound familiar to most professional development experiences?)

Eventually the mastermind of the civil war transformed the Republic into an Empire. In order to insure complete compliance the Empire built the ultimate deterrence. A battleship the size of a small planet called The Death Star. The Death Star is capable of destroying an entire planet in one blast.


Recently I just came back from the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago. Chicago is famous for its unique architecture. One of its most famous architects is Daniel Burnham. His quote rings in my ear and will be one of my personal motto’s for the rest of my life:

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Think big.” Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)

Ever since I went to my first edcamp (my take on the experience) I kept thinking how I wanted to learn edcamp style, but from people who are from other areas of the country and world. I mean WHY should I be limited to the people who can make it to the edcamp?

Additionally, it saddens me that some people might live too far away from an edcamp, or that they need to stay at home to take care of their kids or parents. Edcamp is WAY too awesome to limit it by geography or situation:  it needs to be available for everyone.

Sean Cole 2

I want to learn from Sean Hampton-Cole! but he lives in South Africa. My wife recently joined twitter and more than half of the things she shares with me come from Sean Hampton-Cole or Matt Gomez. 

So the creators of edcampHOME identified a huge, scary enemy: Boring professional development that is NOT teacher centered. And the enemy was too big to even THINK of tackling.  (I mean how in the heck can we have people from ALL over the world participate in an edcamp without spending a fortune on airfare?)

When Karl and I first started this project there was always a small suspicion that things could get sideways on us in a hurry, but the stakes were too important not to try it. We were going to die trying to make this happen.

Luckily we are both idealists and never let our fear get in the way. We were naively optimistic and had no clue what we were up against:

Luke: “But it’s not impossible. I used to bull’s-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home, and they’re not much bigger than two meters!”

Wedge: “Yeah, and were the womp rats shooting at you with turbolaser cannon?”


I mean Karl and I were going to do this, just the two of us, with a WordPress.com site, a cobbled-together logo and Google Docs. We had a plan but it was just us flying an X-wing held together with duct-tape and bailing wire. We needed some serious help and planning.


Karl and I were rebels but to do a job this big we needed help. Luckily help showed up.

edcamphome super heroes

Kelly Kermode aka @coachk and Shaun White aka @swpax

What was so weird was that we didn’t ask or seek out Shawn and Kelly, they just popped into a Twitter conversation and volunteered to help. They started talking all crazy interweebs/website stuff and Karl and I did our best to act cool. (we were dying for them to join our adventure) I think they just wanted to help, but Karl and I made them full-fledged admirals in our crazy assault on the #eduDEATHSTAR.

So it’s the day of the event and the website looks awesome, our plan looks great, we had just finished our intro’s. Speaking of the introductions. It was SOOO weird speaking to a computer screen and not seeing an audience. I mean I knew there were hundreds of people watching me, but I couldn’t see them. What’s worse is that you can see your own face while you are talking. I ended up feeling a bit like this:


Then the session board goes live and BOOM. Our first big conflict. The session board gets so crammed with ideas that we are never going to be able to straighten it out. I mean the session idea cards were about 100 deep. Luckily Kelly worked some “Force Power” magic and fix the whole thing… like some crazy old man shutting down some tractor beams on a battle station.


Okay we escaped that catastrophe, smooth sailing right? WRONG. We knew all along there was the potential for a Google Doc melt-down when we went live with a public free-for-all sign-up for the Google Hangouts. We wanted to preserve the excitement of the edcamp session board, but that was a big mistake. Not only did the doc crumble under the weight of the participants trying to sign up, but it was besieged by casual onlookers who wanted to see what was happening. We were losing participants fast. People were getting locked out and we were falling behind in our schedule of events timeline.

Kristen Swanson Tweet

As the frustration mounted I started feeling a bit like this:


But then Karl or Kelly or Shaun would do a little of this


And we were back on track to destroy the #eduDEATHSTAR

The people who couldn’t get into the event are the characters in Star Wars who died fighting the Empire. They are Obi Wan Kenobi, the Red Squadron pilots like Theron Nett, Jek Porkins, and many more. Without their deaths in the movie, we fail to see the power of sacrifice.


During the edcampHome the Tweets and pleads to get in a session made the drama and stakes even higher. If everything went super smooth it wouldn’t have been as memorable. And as the tension rose, people stepped in.

JR Help

Then there was Craig Yen. He’s a teacher who was brand new to Twitter, couldn’t get into the event, and yet was HELPING out the event because he instantly saw the value and how big the stakes were.

Craig Yen help

Other teachers helped with reporting Spam

Colin help

Thanks Colin and Stephanie (you should follow both of them. PS- if Stephanie ever invites you for a friendly game of hockey, you should walk away slowly cause IT’S A TRAP!)

And this wasn’t a four person operation. When you watch Star Wars you forget about the Generals, the planning room, the droids, the mechanics, the families. Help was everywhere:

Moderator lower third

On his own Kevin Ashworth aka @slolifeKevin created a Moderator badge

So Theriault… who was Luke Skywalker? I mean every story has to have a hero. Well the hero was a young teacher who had just started using Twitter a week before he signed up for the event. In fact he snagged the very LAST ticket.

Colin last ticket

So not only is he brand new to Twitter, and snags the last ticket to the event, but he shows up at the end of the even ON THE LIVE ON AIR SLAM!

Nate and Colin

Do you see who is on the live GOA SLAM on @naasz computer screen?


You know what happens next… BOOM!

So did it work? Did we blow up the Death Star?



oh is that Isaac from MEXICO learning with others from everywhere?

AND how about….

Map of EdCamp

Click on this image or any image in the post to view a larger version

This is a map of the world with edcampHOME participants. It’s not even everyone because at the VERY least we are missing Sean Hampton-Cole from South Africa and Luke Dyer from New Zealand. And how many more were just WATCHING that we don’t even know about let alone those who watched weeks later because the whole thing is archived on YouTube.

So why did so many people answer the bell? Why did so many people jump on board something this big and something with a good potential to have a ton of problems?

Went Big 2

Did you see that last tweet. You know the one from Craig Yen who was a Twitter newbie and volunteered to help during the event even though he wasn’t IN any of the sessions? The secret to getting people involved, the secret to making an event memorable. We went first, but more importantly


We didn’t think about doing a GHO/GOA with our school, our district, our state or even our nation. We made edcampHOME something for the whole world. When people see themselves as a part of something special, as a part of a movement, a change-agent and not just an isolate event. They JUMP IN. Having a big event adds gravity. A big event is like a large celestial body that attracts other shining stars. We threw out an idea and people way more amazing than Karl and I (well Karl is pretty amazing… let’s just say more amazing than me) showed up, helped out, sacrificed and made edcampHOME feel like a giant celebration.


I felt more like R2-D2 after the Battle of edcampHOME

RECAP: So let’s recap what you need if you want to do something memorable-

  • The goal needs to be BIGger than you think possible
  • You’re going to need a little bit of luck
  • You’re going to need a few people with some skills who are willing to help
  • You’re going to need that youthful enthusiasm. The belief that what you are doing (destroying the death star) is just a bigger version of something you’ve done before (shooting womp rats in a canyon). For us edcampHOME was just a Google Hangout with 200+ people, mixed with a website and some shared Google docs.
  • You’re going to need to realize that your goal is not the end, but just a step in the process. Keep working and it’s only going to get better. Even though the Death Star was destroyed the rebels still had to defeat the Empire. Our edcampHOME 1.0 is just the beginning.

I’m so looking forward to edcampHOME 2.0 (hopefully we can skip the whole The Empire Strikes Back and just jump straight to The Return of the Jedi)

If you want to read more about edcampHOME you should check out this online collection of over 30+ blog posts about edcampHOME


  1. David – You know I’m a sucker for anything Star Wars, and this post was no exception. This is another great peek into the EdcampHome process – like watching Mon Mothma and General Ackbar plan the 2nd Death Star strike. Thank you for sharing your work. The spirit of EdcampHome lives on.

  2. David,

    You, Karl, Kelly, and Shawn did a remarkable job in planning and executing EdCampHome. While things didn’t work exactly according to plan, they still worked. That is the beauty of edcamp learning. You can’t predict what will be learned, but you know that learning will happen because it is based on the interactions of those in attendance. You all certainly knew that and you created an environment to allow it to happen.

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