Monday, June 30, 2014

ISTE Day 3

My first day of ISTE 2014 was all about navigating my new surroundings. My second day of ISTE 2014 was all about meeting new people. It seems that my third day of ISTE 2014 has me thinking about the importance of conversations.

I once again had a full day of workshops all scheduled for myself. I attended sessions on various topics, ranging from Project Based Learning to Web tools for the classroom. I even found time to attend one of the much-hyped ISTE Ignite Sessions today. And as is typical of most conferences, my engagement in these presentations varied. Through no fault of the presenters, I found myself less and less excited to sit and have someone talk at me for an hour, regardless of how exciting their topic or prominent their edu-fame. I know this is an overused comparison, but I was thinking of my students all day and how tedious it must be to attend a traditional school where they have to endure 8 hours of this day in and day out.

This evening, I began mentally reflecting on the highlights of the day, and realized that the moments when I was most engaged were when I was having a conversation with someone. Here are some examples.

I was able to squeeze some time in to visit the Expo Hall this morning. Having wandered around the vendor hall at many conferences, I've observed that many people seem to visit the vendors for one of two reasons. One, they want to collect as many free pens, treats, frisbees, or whatever other "gifts" the salespeople are passing out. Two, there is some sort of challenge the attendees are participating in, be it sharing tickets for drawings, or getting a card punched, which is occurring here at ISTE. While I don't begrudge other people the chance to enjoy the Expo Hall on their own terms, reasons #1 and 2 just aren't for me. I really detest all that useless giveaway plastic and the wasteful society it perpetuates (a trip to the soapbox for another day), and competition has never really been an extrinsic motivator for me (an additional soapbox for another day), so this is not what draws me into the Expo Hall. I created a short list of vendors I really wanted to talk to ahead of time, and then efficiently progressed from one to the next, checking them off my list as I went. I like to chat with vendors of products that I use and love, or products that I'm kind of interested in but haven't been about to completely wrap my head around yet.

Well, today I had some great conversations with genuine people who were knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. My first stop was Nearpod (one of those products I couldn't quite wrap my head around yet), and had a great discussion with 2 of their representatives and a random teacher who joined the conversation to tell me why he loved it. I next went to Vernier (one of those products I love), and got a straight-forward, honest answer from a helpful rep who explained how all we needed was a software update and some apps to accommodate our old probes on iPads. I learned from the IXL people that they have an app out, and then was snagged by some folks from Knowre, who are also originally from MN and attended a rival college of my own at about the same time as me. When I stopped by the Airwatch booth (this is the device management system our district uses) it turned out that Matt, the rep that I had been in a webinar with last week, was actually there, and we chatted for a while.  I checked in with the folks from My Molecule and got all excited about the potential inquiry uses of their molecular modeling app, and then ended my tour with a great rep from Curriculet who cleared up some grey areas for me and made me wish I taught English instead of science.

The other ISTE session today during which I participated in some great conversations was the Birds of a Feather Flipped Learning session. First of all, I have to commend Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams for planning the session in such a way that it truly capitalized on the collective knowledge of the room. We were able to discuss in small groups, share out to the large group, and build a body of knowledge that didn't come from just one or two speakers, but a roomful of wise and talented educators. I really enjoyed sharing with and listening to all the ideas that were put forth. This was by far the most engaging session of ISTE today.

So, when I look back at what have been my favorite parts of ISTE thus far, it comes down to one thing: conversations.  It makes me think that my days of attending traditional conferences, or at least traditional sessions, might be numbered. For me, engagement comes from more of an EdCamp-style conference, where the interests and passions of the participants drive the topics and discussions.

And, as always, I am again thinking about my students and how I can give them more choice and voice in their classroom so that they can have more conversations. Even though the learning didn't occur at a formal presentation today, I'm thankful that I'm leaving ISTE 2014 with new thoughts about creating a more student-centered classroom.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

ISTE Day 2

If yesterday was a challenge to my inner-planner, today was a challenge for my inner-introvert (is that redundant?). I think I do a pretty good job of suppressing my introverted nature in my role as a teacher, but it certainly never goes away. I always feel a little out of sorts in a group of people. So ISTE is a true test of my socialization stamina. Large crowds, lots of noise, the social pressure to just go out and "meet people." All of this saps the energy of an introvert like a leaky faucet. However, this introvert had some pleasant surprises today, which I'll get to eventually...

I had every minute of today pretty much planned out (reference the ISTE Day 1 post for that particular piece of my crazy), and things kicked off with a presentation on Hacking the 1:1 iPad classroom, which ended up being quite a bit about an Education course at a University in NC that is flipped. It was an engaging presentation, but I didn't come away with a lot of new information.

Next, I waited in my first ISTE line. I avoided them yesterday, but today I needed breakfast! So I hustled down to the Expo Hall, wandered around looking for the breakfast table, found the long line, and decided it was worth the wait. It actually moved pretty quickly and I was re-energized in no time.

Fueled by breakfast carbs for the remainder of the morning (or at least until my blood glucose crashed), I was able to get to Chris Lehmann's presentation "Technology Transforms Pedagogy" in plenty of time to get a good seat. And this is when the theme for my day started to evolve.

I sat down next to a gentleman from Arizona, who turned out to be a tech coordinator for the school district in Apache Junction (which happens to be where my grandparents retired to!). His name is Jon Castelhano; we had a great conversation about managing devices and other techie stuff, and eventually exchanged Twitter handles (@jcastelhano). Then I overheard a conversation at the other end of the table about modeling instruction in science, and it turned out that Casey Rutherford (@rutherfordcasey), a math instructor from MN that I had been following on Twitter, was chatting across the way. After a quick hello with him, I learned that he's planning an edCamp for math and science teachers in MN in October. Yeah! Count me in! In the midst of this, Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe), who I only met face to face yesterday, included me in a group tweet to get some lunch. I had plans to meet with Chris Crouch,(@the_explicator), host of #edbookchat (had also never him face to face) around that time in the Blogger's Cafe, so to make an already long story shorter, I ended up having lunch with Adam, Chris, Casey, and a bunch of other great educators I had never met before. One of them, Kelly Stidham (@kastidham) was kind enough to help me figure out how to set up and join a Voxer group over lunch.


I went to a couple more workshops after lunch, but nothing incredibly inspiring. I was pretty wiped out by the end of the day (again, my introverted nature being pushed to its limits), but I decided to stick around a little longer for the Birds of a Feather Science gathering. I randomly sat down at a table, started chatting with the teachers around me, and was able to meet some amazing people. Barbara Bilgre (@babilgre) teaches Biology in Africa. It turns out that we have some common interests in PBL and blended learning. I'm also intrigued about teaching abroad and excited to have her as a contact. Katie Page (@katiecpage) is a Physics teacher in the Chicago area that had me nodding along as she described her interests: flipped learning, 1:1 iPads, digital portfolios. We are already hoping to reconnect in person for the NSTA conference in Chicago this March.

Here's the thing...I read a lot of "Planning for ISTE" blog posts before attending for the first time this year. They all had some common pieces of advice: Wear comfortable shoes - check. Bring all your chargers - check. Leave time to connect with your PLN - ch...uhhh, really? I'd only connected virtually with most of my PLN prior to ISTE. It's asking a lot of this introvert to break out of her shell and connect on a more personal level. But this turned out to be the highlight of my day. I'm excited about the people I've met in person at ISTE and the conversations we've had are invaluable.

Just so you know, I'm still a proud introvert though.  How did I end my day? I grabbed an unwich and a cookie at Jimmy John's, ate supper by myself in my blissfully quiet hotel room, and then took a nice, long bath. Energy refreshed, mind at peace, and then it was time to blog.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

ISTE Day 1

I'm a planner. I like to have all the details of a trip completely organized before venturing forward. So, in preparation for ISTE 2014, I read the blogs, downloaded the apps, scoured the ISTE2014 website, and listened to podcasts.  There were still too many unknowns for my taste, however: How would I get from the airport to my hotel? Where would I eat? (I'm kind of particular about my meals too.) Was the Invent to Learn workshop really at a sports bar?

Well, the fact that I'm currently blogging from the Georgia World Congress Center, in the ISTE Blogger's Cafe, should be an indication that everything turned out fine and I worried for nothing. The shuttle from the airport to the hotel was so simple and easy to find. My hotel room is great, and I had a yummy sushi dinner last night. I ran in the fitness center this morning and decided to walk the 1.4 miles from my hotel to the Invent to Learn workshop (yes, it was in a sports bar, but a very nice one nonetheless). By the way, the weather during my first day in Atlanta has been very nice - not nearly as hot as I thought it would be, and the humidity is comparable to Minnesota in the summer (sticky, but bearable). My walk this morning was really nice.

Anyway, onto the Invent to Learn workshop...

When I received the e-mail about this workshop this spring, I felt that this was an event I needed to take a chance on. I've played with some Maker-ish things with my own boys (Mindstorms, Raspberry Pi, Scratch), but I've been wanting to see what this "Maker Movement" is really all about. Is this something that we should incorporate more into our own school? So, I took the leap and registered, not knowing much about the event.

The workshop was run by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, authors of "Invent to Learn" (I'll admit, a book I have started, but not yet finished).  Both of them are very passionate about the Maker Movement, and inspired me with some of their introductory comments.  Here is what I tweeted out during the workshop intro:

"Kids should have the ability to solve the problems school never anticipated."

"Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity."

“Programming gives kids agency over an increasingly technological world.”

“Making is a stance! Write, don’t just learn about writing.” Do science, don’t just learn about science.

One of the main ideas that resonated with me is "making" allows those kids that might not be "school smart" to pursue a different type of passion and feel success. In one of the videos Gary shared with us, a boy was standing, pumping his fists in the air, excited that he had gotten something to work. It brought back memories of our Jr. FLL season last year and how my son could hardly contain himself from hopping around as they programmed the robot.

After the short intro, we were given the rest of the day to play with all sorts of Maker stuff.  Here's how I spent my day:

I made some "wearable tech." This bracelet was constructed by sewing a snap to a battery to an LED to another snap with conductive thread. When the 2 snaps are connected, the circuit is closed and the LED "should" light up. Mine did not light up, but I intend to keep working on it to see what I can do. This was the last project of the day, so I ran out of time! 
This was my first experience with Little Bits, which I learned are a more "mature" version of Snap circuits. We played with a couple projects: making sound waves in milk by connecting my iPhone and playing music, triggering a light sensor with an infrared LED. These "bits" are especially nice to use because they're magnetic and therefore can't be put together the wrong way. The problem-solving we had to use to figure out some of our glitches was a lot of fun.
One of the components for Little Bits - I just thought it looked pretty!

I finally got a chance to try out Makey Makey. It was also a lot of fun, and it's a good introduction to circuits for kids. Once you get past the initial "I can make a sound with a Bagel," though, the fun in Makey Makey has more to do with the programming behind it (Scratch) and not as much with the interface. Which is fine. I'm just curious to know if kids will take it this far. I think I want to purchase a Makey Makey kit for our Jr. FLL team to use at one of the early team meetings as an introduction to programming.
I'm forgoing the Ashley Judd keynote for tonight to write this post (although I am overhearing some conversations of people saying we might be able to hear it here), but afterwards I'm headed to the poster sessions.  Any wonderful things I learn there will have to wait until tomorrow's post.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How My Dad Made The 3 R's Into The 3 P's.

Now that I have my own children, I am reminded daily of the importance of being fair. Did both boys get exactly the same amount of cake? Did I give my oldest son the same amount of attention as my youngest today? Well, it turns out that parents like to be treated fairly too! I wrote a blog post for my mom on Mother's Day, and it only seems appropriate that I do the same for my dad on Father's Day. Both of my parents had a tremendous influence on my journey as a teacher, and it becomes more apparent to me with each passing year.

My dad is an incredibly patient person. Either that, or he hides his frustration and anxiety really well. I can't remember him ever raising his voice when speaking to us kids. I'm sure he did at some point, but what's important is that I don't have any recollection of it. My brothers and I did plenty of things to work up his ire, but he consistently reacts to everything in life with a calm and even disposition. This is the same peacefulness that I try to achieve with my students. There are a lot of behaviors and circumstances that push me to the edge of losing my cool in the classroom every day. But I dig down deep, focus on that quiet, inner core of strength my dad modeled for me, and pause to collect myself before reacting to an incident.  Because I can channel my "inner Dad," I'm able to promote a safe, comfortable environment for my students.

The "Mastery Mindset" is a theory that as been making its rounds in education circles for a few years now, and I am a huge proponent of its message.  However, I have to break the news to Carol Dweck (the principal researcher of the theory) that my dad had this all figured out a long time ago. When I was young, I can distinctly remember my dad listening to tapes, yes cassette tapes, of motivational speakers during his down time. He also read many books by authors such as Lee Iacocca and William Bennett. Although none of these authors specifically promoted a mastery mindset per se, the way my dad interpreted and internalized their work resulted in his own personal mastery mindset. Despite being a young father with a two-year accounting degree, he was able to buy and successfully expand his own business over the past 20 years. He had many set-backs, but always found a way to continue moving forward in his business.  This forward momentum is partially due to his confidence in taking risks, expanding the business when others might have been hesitant. This is the exact same way I approach my career as an educator. If a new strategy for the classroom is proven to improve student learning, I jump in with both feet. When I hit a roadblock in its implementation, my first question is, "How can I fix this?" If I wasn't comfortable in taking some risks in my professional life, I would stagnate as a teacher. I thank my dad for instilling in me a positive, problem-solving mindset that has enabled me to find joy in teaching each and every year.

If you would spend any amount of time with my dad, you would find that he has this quality that puts others at ease.  I don't know exactly what to call it, so I'll say he's personable, but it's really so much more than that.  It doesn't matter if he's playing with his grandsons, talking with the parish priest, joking with the employees of his construction business, or golfing with fellow business owners, but anyone who spends time with him immediately recognizes that they can be themselves around him. I honestly don't know how he does it, but I have a feeling it has something to do with his humble manner and self-depreciating humor. I try to create this same experience in the classroom for my students, but it is something I'm constantly working toward and trying to improve. How can I be a leader around whom others feel comfortable? How do I develop trust and confidence in my circle of students and colleagues? My dad has a natural talent for this, and I think it's amazing how he has become a leader in his community in such an unassuming manner.

Although the traditional foundation of education for many years has been the 3 R's, Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic, my dad has influenced my educational career with the 3 P's of Patience, Positivity, and Personability (okay, not a word, but neither is 'Rithmatic!). I'm not sure if he would agree with all of the praise that I'm heaping on him, but what's more important than whether or not he intentionally strives to cultivate these talents is that I perceive them as a positive influence in my life, and they have thereby become "real" to me. I may never know which students I'll impact that most or what I'll do that will result in that lasting influence, but if I'm patient, positive, and personable, those interactions will organically occur. Thanks, Dad, for living these qualities on a daily basis. Whether you know it or not, I've noticed, and so have a lot of others who love you.  Happy Father's Day.