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I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again? Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?
One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.
So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in? The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).
After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.” Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.
The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.
The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking. During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”). Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.
So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.
As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.
Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:
It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.
“Don’t think outside the box. Think without a box.”
That quote by opening panelist Chris Budzynski (@chrisbudzynski) really summed up much of what was discovered and discussed at the recent School CIO summit hosted by Tech and Learning Magazine (@techlearning). These summits provide excellent opportunities to connect with other leaders across the country as well as provide resources and tools to help districts continue to lead and innovate. This post is a reflection of some of the things I discovered and a couple of wishful thoughts on things I hope we get to do in my district.
Design Tech High School Visit
Imagine if you found an abandoned warehouse, threw a bunch of tools, whiteboards, technology and high school kids in it. What do you think might happen? The “DTech” high school is just that. Students don’t have a bell schedule or a series of classes to sit through. Instead, they are working on design projects that incorporate the core content areas as well as some serious soft skills that they’ll need in their future.
“Principal” Ken Montgomery took us through a tour of his facility and their day to day schedule. I put the word principal in quotes, because he’s really part-principal, part-passion driven student advocate, and part crazy (in a good way). This school is based somewhat on the Stanford DSchool concept and has been built out of a partnership with local tech giant Oracle and their Education Foundation.
While classes were over for the day when we walked up, I noticed quite a bit of students hanging out on a Friday, not ready to leave. What does that say about the school when kids are running to the weekend? I stopped to ask one of the students what they thought about the place and concept. He replied, “I love it.” When I asked him why he said, “The people. They love it here and they care about us and our learning. It shows.”
I think that quote could be shared about any great teacher, but it was clear for this young man, the school provided him with an opportunity that he might not have received in a more traditional setting. The few students still milling about inside the building/warehouse were finishing a robotics project or studying Mandarian just….because. Next year, the students of DTech will move into a brand new innovative building on Oracle’s campus, but for me, I really loved the messy feeling of this old warehouse. The imperfections and griminess left me with the impression that this building (and program) are very much loved.
Opening Panel on Blended Learning
The following day, we were treated to an opening panel that featured 3 school leaders from very different places. Emily Garrison (@emilyagarrison) from Palo Alto Unified School District was up first. Her school district is considered a “sister” school district of Eanes ISD, so I was curious to hear her thoughts on how to make things more blended for students. Their program began with one teacher several years ago and was built on the iNACOL framework for blended learning. While there were various models presented from in-house to twilight (after hours), the program’s growth and success was largely due to the focus on mindset and strong professional learning for staff. Their mantra for the program of “Time, place, path, and pace” helps guide students towards different opportunities for learning success.
Next up was Chris Budzynski who I mentioned at the open. Chris’s district just outside of Chicago, has also purposefully grown a blended learning model where students have multiple periods a day to learn in a blended setting (usually first or last period). Additionally, with the opening of a new hospital near their high school, they partnered with the doctors in providing the first of it’s kind, high school hospital internship program. A group of students spend part of their school day shadowing and helping staff in the hospital while still taking a full course load. An incredible opportunity to any young person thinking of working for the medical industry.
The final panelist was Bryant Wong from Summit Public Schools. Summit is a blended charter that has over 100+ schools all over the country and is focused on both diversity and success after college. Their format provides a playlist of learning options for each student, creating a personalized approach to its learners. With help from Khan Academy and Facebook, they have been able to freely provide opportunities to kids that might not exist where they live. While I’m a fierce advocate for public schools, this charter seems to have its heart in the right place.
Here’s a sketchnote of their session that I did in an attempt to recall all that was shared:
Besides site visits and hearing from innovative leaders in the K-12 space, the summit also provides time throughout the day to share best practices in working group meetings. I presented some of the ways we have tried to educate both parents and students on digital citizenship. In talking with the others in the group, Common Sense Media continues to be a national leader on the subject in their freely provided content.
For the second working group on learning spaces, I got to play the role of learner. One of the main presenters was Michael Morrison (@mytakeontech) from Laguna Beach USD. He shared their “4CLE” project that focused on furniture, lighting, and color as part of a positive student learning environment. One thing that really stuck with me, besides the super cool use of Hue bulbs to change classroom color digitally, was that they used a lot of flat screen TVs in their rooms. Many of the rooms had 2 or more TVs that Michael mentioned could cost around $150 (for a 32″). An interesting idea and break from the single expensive projector at the front of the room approach that we usually take in classrooms. The TVs all connect via a hub and teachers or students can project their work on the screens.
It’s clear to me that there is a lot of good happening in education around the country despite what some news articles may say. These school leaders shared many valuable resources and research in their efforts to help each student along their own personal learning journey. For me, I want to take back the idea of really examining our school schedule and the limitations it might be having on learning for some students. I know many of our kids excel at playing the “game of school” but for some, as witnessed by early success of our WHS Incubator class, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to student learning. Giving more of our students agency in their learning needs to continue to be a focus of ours as we travel into the second iteration of our 1:1 mobile device program and flexible furniture pilots.
I was approached a couple of weeks ago by the good folks over at ISTE to create a commercial for my book series Mobile Learning Mindset. My only perimeters were that it had to have a holiday theme and I had to shoot, edit, and publish it completely on my own with no budget. Back in the stone ages, I used to teach a “young film makers” class with students and have always enjoyed the iPadpalooza Youth Film Festival, but I rarely ever got to make a video on my own.
So, knowing that I had no budget and no actors, I decided to recruit my own children to shamelessly plug my book series. If you know me, you’ll know that I did this totally tongue-in-cheek because I’m not a fan of self-promotion. (some of you are thinking…”yeah, right”)
However, I truly love the film making process. From storyboarding the script, to preparing the room, the lights, the props and getting the kids in make-up and costume. It was a fun event for the whole family and made me realize that I live with a bunch of divas. My youngest, actually refused to say her line so I had to bribe her with chocolate and get my wife to shoot the seen with her. In the end, I like the result and the girls are already asking when we’ll make the next one. (stay tuned for a “Shamwow-like” infomercial coming when the last two books are published)
I hope you enjoy the outcome and the little glimpse into the lives of my family members who have to put up with me on a daily basis:
Meetings have become part of the necessary evil woven within the fabric of business and education. Some meetings are fruitful, others are a complete time-suck. Many books have been written about how to get the most “meeting” out of your meeting. Having norms, creating agendas, sharing ideas, these are all important parts of making a meeting more productive, but do we ever think about what we could be doing instead of being in that meeting? I’ve started to look into the book Boring Meetings Suck and will try to use some of the ideas within that book to get more out of the meetings I attend. However, that still doesn’t help with the question, should we be doing something else as administrators rather than being in a meeting?
The last couple of years I’ve tried to “give up” something for Lent. Two years ago it was email in my #NoEmail4Lent challenge (that lasted 19 days). Last year I tried to give up search engines. That lasted for 2 days. My first inclination this year was to give up meetings for Lent. While that would be drastic and interesting, I don’t think it actually provides much challenge for me to just not go to a meeting. Also, with some major decisions around devices in our schools, summer professional learning, plus general team-building, I think it would hurt myself and future plans if I just didn’t show up.
So I can’t give up meetings completely, but I also noticed within my tenure as an administrator that I spend less and less time on campuses. It’s true that the old adage of the longer you have been removed from a classroom, the less connected you become. I know it’s an issue when I walk onto a campus and I hear phrases like, “Wow! What brings you here?” or “I haven’t seen you in forever.” These are both statements meant to make me feel missed, but I also hear the subliminal message being conveyed….I am not present on their campuses enough. To make this better I’ve tried tricks like being a Student for a day, subbing for a teacher, and this year giving each Ed Tech a free day off on their birthday while I sub for them.
But it’s still not enough.
When I am on a campus I feel refreshed and re-energized. Sure, I’ll also discover technical problems or falsely assumed intentions that tend to float around when someone isn’t there, but I also feel more a part of the learning community.
So I have two problems here:
- I spend a lot of time in meetings
- I don’t spend enough time on campuses
And a single solution to help with both scenarios. For the next 40 days, for every minute I spend in a meeting, I will spend an equal amount on a campus. This means I’ll be working remotely more often (this is when it helps to be paperless), but also that I will be physically present on each of our 9 campuses much more than in the past. Being a bit of a data guy, I’ve been tracking my time on campuses and in meetings nightly since the beginning of this semester. Here’s what I found out:
Out of 225 hours working, I have spent 26.4% (59.25 hours) of it in meetings. I have spent 8.9% (20 hours) on a campus.
Starting tomorrow, my goal every week will be to balance that equation. Many of my meetings are pre-scheduled (approximately 8-10 hours a week) so that means that I’ll need to make sure I’m not just waiting until Friday to go hang out on a couple of campuses. To make this work, every time that I schedule a meeting, I’m going to schedule the same amount of time on a campus.
What do I hope to gain from this experiment?
- Be more connected with staff on campuses.
- Work more with our amazing students.
- Share stories from campuses to the meetings I attend.
- Be more cognizant of my time spent away from campuses.
- Be more productive during my meeting time.
I’m excited to begin this challenge and I’m hoping that by doing this other administrators around the country will also reflect on the value of their presence on campus. I also hope that a part of this will stick with me going forward even after Easter Sunday and I’ll continue to be more proactive about being on campuses for the rest of my time as an administrator.
The beginning of a new year brings with it hope and eternal optimism. We set resolutions that we hope to keep and dream about what possibilities lie ahead for us in the coming year. Over the last several years, I’ve written a blog post predicting a few things I think might be possible both in and out of education. Some of these I feel fairly certain about and others…well….there is the word “BOLD” in the title right? In looking back at my past predictions (here are 2013, 2014, and 2015 for point of reference), I think I’m hitting at around 50% on some of these. Some notable favorites were last year’s prediction that the state of Texas would drop out of its contract with Pearson and my 2014 prediction that wearable technology would start making its way into the classroom. That said, I also predicted that at some point we would ban the all-in-one classroom desk and that my “Giving Up Google For Lent” experiment would be the stuff of legends (I made it all of 2 days). But hey, they can’t all be gems right?
So, with an eye on a hopeful future, here are my predictions for 2016:
A School will try a Self-Driving Bus
I’ve gone on record for saying that I want to own the first legal self-driving car in Texas. Not only do I think that it would help me multi-task, I think it would be a great hand-me-down car for my daughter when she becomes legal driving age in 2024. Believe it or not, there’s actually hope for this as Google started testing their self-driving “Art Cars” here in Austin last fall. But this isn’t about me, it’s about education. So here’s a BOLD prediction that actually makes sense if it’s safe enough: Self-driving school buses. Think about it, there are tons of accidents with buses already and the driver is constantly distracted by what the kids are doing. So why not turn the driver into a monitor and let the computer do the driving? You may laugh but people are already using the Uber-like service called “Shuttle” to take kids to and from school, this just seems like the necessary next step.
MYOT – Make Your Own Textbook Becomes a Reality
Many have dabbled on the fringes of this idea whether it be creating their own iBook or online course, but I think the time is ripe for us to eschew the major textbook companies and begin to design our own. Our own government is promoting more and more free OER content which could really help make this prediction a reality. I know I ranted about how the textbook should go extinct in this post, but think about it. We’ve evolved in so many ways with technology, so why are we still trying to make our textbooks fit inside virtual brown-paper bag covers? (remember those?!)
A “Teen Social Media Prediction” app will be invented
With some of the latest news about apps like Brighten and After School making the rounds before the holiday break, parents are exasperated. They want to know how to stay ahead of the kids to keep up to date on where they are “hanging out” virtually. The truth is, I’m not sure there will ever be a way to do this, but since data privacy and big data seem to be converging, it would make sense that a clever coder somewhere would be able to use some predictive analytics that would show us where teens are going next. Take those analytics and put them together into a snazzy little app that notifies parents and Kazaam! You have a million dollar idea right in your pocket. It couldn’t hurt to try at least right?
An app will be invented to combat the above “Teen Social Media Prediction” app
And the second that app is invented, another app will be invented that falsly tells parents which platform they think their teens will go next just to throw them off the scent. However, along the way, some will discover that parenting is still parenting regardless of social media, devices, or even the great 21st century debate about “when should my child get a smartphone?”
In a district far, far away….someone will develop Star Wars school.
It’s happened with teaching like a pirate and even to some extent with zombies, so why not a school based on the popular film series? After all, Richard Wells (@eduWells) already designed these 10 awesome posters integrating Star Wars legos and education. If you had a school that used a project-based design, you could have the students answer the really important questions like: How fast is 12 parsecs? (I know, technically, it’s a length of measure not time) What is the mass of the Death Star? Why does Darth Vader need that mask to breath biologically? Did Greedo shoot first? These and many more questions can be dissected over several interdisciplinary units of study. And even better…when you graduate you go from Padawan to Jedi master!
Speaking of Star Wars…the Learning will awaken at iPadpalooza this summer
If you can’t tell by our 2016 logo, this year’s iPadpalooza will be a summer blockbuster of epic proportions. I’m not allowed to say much more than that, but do know that one keynote will be absolutely magical (Simon Pierro, the “iPad Magician” of Ellen fame) and that we’ll likely be the only educational event you attend this year where people dress up like their favorite science fiction characters. (Queue geeky Wookie roars here)
The Election Will Be Televised…via Periscope
With major presidential elections happening in the U.S. every four years, it’s kind of cool to see how much has changed in the technology field over that time. President Obama was known as one of the first to embrace social media as a means of connecting. Much like JFK and television, that connection really came in handy on election day. This year, with major news organizations already promoting their own agenda and affiliates, I really think using platforms like Periscope, SnapChat and the like will help individualize what we want to learn and hear about the candidates. Or at the very least it will provide some fun reality TV-like media fodder when a candidate uses the social media tool incorrectly. (you paying attention Rick Perry!)
The “Undead” learning movement will happen!
At last year’s iPadpalooza event I gave a mini-keynote about how the only days where learning doesn’t happen in schools is during mandatory state testing days. I called it “Undead” learning because in an essence, our students’ brains are much like those of zombies in terms of which synapsis are firing during this time of year. What we learn from their testing data is kind of like an autopsy too since we don’t actually discover what they learned until they’ve left the school year. While, I do think there are good ways to measure student growth, this year I’m asking that we start a mini-revolution by simply snapping a #2 pencil in half during testing season and posting it to social media with the hashtag #UndeadLearning. My BOLD prediction: Hundreds of educators will participate!
A School will go 1:1 cardboard
Virtual reality is becoming more and more of the rage in the business world. With Microsoft’s Hololens as well as other players already entering, leaving, and potentially re-entering the market (Hello, Google Glass), it makes sense that schools will want to embrace some of this technology too. The truth of the matter is that schools can’t afford a HoloLens for every student to make virtual a reality. (See what I did there?) Enter the Google Cardboard Expedition. Google’s latest low-cost gadget leverages schools already using a BYOD or 1:1 device to takes students on virtual field trips all over the world. Many schools are experimenting with this technology now and I’d bet this year, a school officially becomes a “1:1 cardboard” school.
I’ll Write a Children’s Book
With my 6-part book series on Mobile Learning Mindset completing at some point this calendar year, I might actually try my hand at a modernized, mobile-friendly children’s book. Think zombies meets Star Wars meets Harry Potter…ok, so it might need some work. Oh, and I while I’m at it, I might also need a pen name. Especially if there’s any hope of getting it onto the shelves of schools around the country. 🙂
Making predictions can be a messy game. I mean not all of us can have a Miss Cleo in our back pocket for getting things right. Part of why I do these predictions is to get me to think about the future direction of educational technology, including some likely absurd ideas. The other part is what I’m doing right now; reflecting on the year that has been and how many of these actually came true. In looking at 2014’s review, I hit on a few, missed on a few (giving up Google for lent? C’mon!) and sort of in between on others. In January of this year, I made a set of ten more predictions that I thought were sure to go wrong in 2015 (remember, “bold” is in the title). Now for the moment of truth, let’s see how I did.
1. Classrooms will become automated
Outcome: Not yet
I’ve seen more sessions at conferences around the idea of automated or “smart” classrooms, but the technology is still a far ways off. I think as beacon technology becomes more ubiquitous and more and more devices enter schools, this one will become a reality. I do think with the recent debates over student privacy, we will have to go through some legal loopholes before a truly automated classroom becomes a reality.
2. Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas
I am actually still in a state of shock that Texas would go a different direction, but with the exception of a few hold over assessments, we essentially dropped our contract with Pearson. While I’m still not sure that replacement system ETS is much better, one thing is for certain, those people looking for jobs scoring 4th grade writing tests on Craigslist are surely going to be disappointed.
3. Wearables will take over the world…and then regress
Outcome: Getting warmer
I made some jokes about the soon-to-be-formed P.A.W. (“People Against Wearables”) but in reality wearables came on like gang-busters in 2015, especially early in the year. After the Apple Watch hit the market, it became commonplace to see people checking their wrists for cute emoji-based text messages. While I heard some rumors of a school in Australia going 1:1 with Apple Watches (for health data research), I think the fervor over wearables, coupled with the afore mentioned data privacy has slowed down the wearable market. It still didn’t stop me from wearing this cool Matrix-like light up shirt at iPadpaloozaSouthTx this past summer!
4. A human battery level app will be invented
So we haven’t entered cyborg-level yet, but I can tell you this partially came true this week when my dad went in to replace the battery on his heart defibrillator. That’s close right?
5. This year’s iPadpalooza APPmazing Race will bend the mind.
Outcome: Not quite, but it was a blast!
We ramped up the challenges to over 30 in the 3 days of iPadpalooza and dozens of teams rose to the challenge. We had people doing “jumper” pics into swimming pools, putting bunny ears on Felix Jacomino, and tearing up the stage at lunch-time karaoke. The winning team each walked away with their own Apple Watch! All of this sets up for a crazy 2016 race as we continue to raise the bar and up the ante. Check out the highlight video here and be sure to register now as the early bird rates are going on through the holidays!
6. 3D Printers will become common classroom (& household) items
Outcome: Still a ways off
We did see the price of 3D printers continue to drop and even got introduced to these snazzy $99 3D doodler pens, they are not quite common place yet. I do think in several years we will be at a place where we can truly “download” the parts we need to fix something, but for now I’ll just patiently wait for hours as this machine prints out a mini-bust of my own head.
7. Someone will complete the 21 things every 21st century educator should do
Outcome: Not yet
This blog post made the rounds for the past year and half as a list of things every teachers should try to do in their classroom. Many tried it, but I’ve yet to find one person who completed all of them. Rather than rest on my laurels, I decided to up the game and create this “36 Weeks of Innovation” post for teachers to try one thing in their classroom every week. As of this writing, I know of many that have done some, but none that have done them all.
8. Drones will make their way into education
This was sort of a joke when I wrote it last January, but it is actually now becoming a reality. Last week we completed our national “Hour of code” and I saw many posts on social media about kids programming and coding their own drones. In fact, amazingly enough, I may have predicted what iPadpalooza Keynote Adam Bellow would do this year during his presentation. During the middle of his keynote, he use the Tickle App to successfully program and fly a drone out into the crowd and then watch it turn around and come back. Check out his full keynote (post on YouTube for the first time today!) below and watch the magic happen:
9. Someone will complete the Billy Madison #Student4aDay Challenge….maybe me?
Outcome: Not even close
I had grand plans this past year to follow up my #Student4aDay challenge in 2014 with a gauntlet of going through every grade level as a student. While I’m not dismissing this one for myself, I did see more and more people trying the #Student4aDay challenge in their own schools. I think it’s one of the best ways to really experience what kids go through on a daily basis as well as seeing how administrative decisions (like 1:1 technology) impact the classroom.
10. Carl Hooker will FINALLY publish a book
Outcome: TRUE! (in 2016)
This was more of a way to blackmail myself then anything, but after searching for a publishing house in early 2015, ISTE Publishing came knocking on my virtual door. I am excited to announce that I will be creating a 6-book series titled “Mobile Learning Mindset” in 2016 & 2017. Each book will focus on a different area of the school environment. The first two books (focusing on district and campus leadership) will hit shelves in early March of 2016. The last four books will dive into mobile learning in the classroom, professional learning, technical support and the role of parents and community during a mobile learning initiative. While I’m extremely honored and blessed to be a published author, I can tell you that it is NOTHING like blog writing. I’m hopeful that these books will go a long way in helping schools on their own mobile learning journey and can’t wait to see them in print (both real print and virtual).
And that puts a bow on 2015. All in all, I was surprised by some of the results and not so much about others. I’m now going to start brainstorming for 2016 and will publish those after the New Year. What did you think about these predictions? What predictions do you have for 2016? Comment below, and if I use it in my next post (as a “guest prediction”) I’ll give you full credit!
The past week has been a whirlwind. Running an event like iPadpalooza takes energy, effort and organization. But more than that, it takes heart. I saw and felt the love this week from all of those that came to share and learn. While we all came to Austin with our own perspectives and differences, I get the feeling we all left with a little piece of inspiration to push us through whatever life has to offer us in the future.
As host, I miss a lot of the individual sessions and the attendee experience. Actually, I don’t think host is the right word…more like “ringmaster”. This event was a circus. Complete with unicorns and flying drones and ASL interpretations that I can’t quote on this blog. I’ve told people running something like this learning festival is like coordinating 15 weddings all at once. Music, food, travel, speakers, sponsors, schedules, apps, volunteers, and building all have to flow seamlessly to create an atmosphere of contagious learning. My true joy comes from seeing others engaged, laughing and enjoying their experience. That said, I do have moments of joy myself and here are just a few of the highlights from the perspective of the ringmaster.
He’s the kind of guy you feel like you should call by first name. I first met Adam Bellow a few years ago at ISTE in 2011. He was this funny guy walking around with a blue tooth in his ear and seemingly always smiling. It’s the kind of smile that seems like he knows something. That “something” is the truth about what’s real and what isn’t in education. Last November, Adam and I spent a day wandering around the convention floor at GaETC. I was trying to get a handle on the man that had closed down ISTE 2013 with tremendous praise. He had to be our opener for this year because no one else could bring that kind of compassion and enthusiasm to the stage at Westlake high school. Being the tone-setter for an event is nothing to take likely and he did not disappoint.
I always feel kind of a sense of waste when I attend a conference and I don’t have a session to attend or no one to talk to (I know hard to believe, but sometimes I’m shy). The APPMazing race was born out of the need to have fun and collaboratively learn and create with others. While this year’s race was intensely memorable, I love the inventiveness of the teams and their spirit in fighting for whatever bonus points they could muster. I found it interesting that the winning team scored the most creative bonus points by taking huge risks (like taking their “jumper” pic by jumping into a hotel pool fully clothed and hanging out the back of a food truck for their “foodie” pic). It reminded me that sometimes you have to take risks to succeed.
“I’m just ready to get on with my life”
Kids say the darnedest things. During this year’s youth film festival, one of the participants mentioned that he was in fact ready to put this behind him and move on with his life. While it was both honest and hilarious, it made me think about how much we push our kids to do sometimes. My personal highlight of the week also came during this evening event as I got to see my 6-year old daughter take a seat as one of the film finalists. She was deathly afraid to come up and speak in front of a crowd of strangers, but she did it. When I saw her crack me that halfway-Sophia-smile (like looking in a mirror) my pride was actually physically welling up inside of me as a father. While I would cry both at the event and the next day at the closing, I couldn’t help but also be excited for what the future has to offer her and her sisters. I’m just glad I get to play a part of that future as both a parent and an administrator in the district she attends. (Ok….now my tear ducts are filling up again…enough!)
3 to 4 Minutes
One of my favorite moments of ADE2013 was when they had 10 speakers attempt to get out an idea in exactly 3 minutes. Once their three minutes was up their microphone went dead and the spot light turned off. While I liked the concept I felt like it left people stressing time more than the message. The “mini-keynotathon” on day two was my attempt to remix that concept only with the message taking precedent over the time. And as was witnessed by both Jennie Magiera and Richard Wells, the message took precedent over slides even. From Felix Jacomino‘s take on a Frozen classic to Amy Mayer all telling us that change is good and “you should go first” the inspiration was being thrown from the stage like a peanut vendor at a ballgame. One of my personal favorite moments of all-time came as I looked down at this lineup of Ed Tech all-stars that I felt honored to listen to and even more honored to call friends.
Eric and Guy
Having these two goliaths in their industry close down day 2 and 3 was a huge coup. Getting Guy Kawasaki was solely the magic of Lisa Johnson as she was able to parlay a SXSW breakfast conversation into him enthusiastically wanting to speak at our event. Eric Whitacre has always been inspirational to listen to during his TED talks, but hearing him in person was way more impressive than any video I have ever seen. My personal joy moment came when I looked down on the 12th row and saw my music teachers all beaming from ear to ear. We need to remember that art and innovation go hand in hand. These two keynoters exemplified this belief.
11th Hour in the Green Room
With one hour to go before the close, I needed to find a place to put together my closing slides. I was going to find a quiet corner in the green room when I noticed some laughter from the back table. Seeing George Couros, Cathy Hunt, Richard Wells, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Rafranz Davis and several others sharing stories around a virtual campfire was too tempting to resist. All of these amazing educators in one room and I’m trying to find a quiet corner? Forget that! So I picked up my MacBook and pulled up a chair around the fire. While I wont share the stories we shared (those are for me), I can say without a doubt this was a professional highlight of my career.
That brings me to the title of this post. We all find inspiration in different places. Some of us find it in art or music. Some of us find it in technology. One person found inspiration in a unicorn mask. Many of us find it in learning and teaching. I find it somewhere else.
I find it in people.
Being surrounded by people that are truly captivated by learning and sharing is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. It’s an infection that I don’t want a cure for and have a desire to spread to others. June 21, 2016 can’t come soon enough for me and the traveling circus known as iPadpalooza.
Thank you all for being my inspiration!
p.s. Couldn’t attend this year but want to experience some of the magic? Check out this highlight video by Spiral Stair Media –
Have you ever been inspired? I mean truly inspired to do something different? A quick check of the word “inspire” in Dictionary.com reveals the following four definitions:
I was witness to all of these the past two days at the first annual iEngage-Berwyn event in that took place in the suburbs of Chicago. Event organizer Shannon Soger (an inspirational person herself), calls this a mash-up of all the best parts of conferences she’s attended in the past. Take the site visit portion of EduCon, the playfulness and interaction of iPadpalooza, the story sharing of an EdCamp, and sprinkle in some engaging Keynote speakers and you have iEngage.
Here are some of my favorite moments from the conference:
There’s nothing like seeing learning in action. At Berwyn South, they use the moto “Teach Above the Line” (re: SAMR) and they mean it. So much so I actually saw this sign in one of the 4th grade classrooms. This school is 80% low-economic and ALL of the students take their school-issued iPad home with them. The students were extremely comfortable sharing their stories and Shannon mentioned to me they get site visits almost weekly to see this magic in action. During my site visits I saw students creating projects, interviewing guests, solving problems, collaborating on concepts and learning how to read in two different languages…..all on a random Friday at the end of the school year. Incredible!
One of the schools we visiting (Pershing Elementary) had really done a great job of using what I call “dead spaces” in the hallways and stair wells to utilize the mobility of the devices to expand the learning beyond the classroom walls. One student actually interviewed myself and Brad Waid in one of these alcoves with some pretty hard-hitting questions, the hardest of which was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer: I don’t ever want to grow up 🙂
The MyON Dream Big Film Festival
On the first night of the event we got to watch 15 incredible student films centered around a favorite book they read and how it inspired them to dream big. Co-sponsored by MyOn (an online reading tutorial program), these students each shared their tales about how reading about a hero like Harriet Tubman or Jackie Robinson had opened up their mind to a greater cause. I love the use of mixed media to not only show the books they loved by but also using video to express how they were inspired by them.
Saturday morning keynote speaker John Antonetti said it best when he said, “Engaging without cognition is really just having fun without achieving anything.” The technology usage during the two days was engaging, but also extremely meaningful and encouraged learning. From the APPmazing Race to the outstanding sessions shared by teachers, leaders, and students, learning was interactive and it was everywhere. Closing keynote speaker Kevin Honeycutt‘s always entertaining and poignant words were the perfect wrap-up for this event. One of my favorite sessions was by Pershing Principal Marilyn McManus and all the ways she uses social media like Twitter and Instagram to share the story of their school. As a leader, I found it inspiring to see someone modeling the very things she wants her students and staff to do. Here’s a sketchnote of that session:
Lastly, an event like this isn’t possible without a tremendous crew of dedicated people. One thing is for certain, these people LOVE their jobs. This amazing group of educators are all working together for a common goal…to truly celebrate higher-level learning with technology. Jordan, Meagan, Jim, Ramona (“Mona”), and the iEngage posse were extremely open and candid with the struggles they overcame to make this work. It was obvious to me that their dedication and passion for the schools in which they work really drove this initiative to the success it has become. The fact that there were 50+ students on a Saturday volunteering and sharing their story really drove home the point that this was in fact a complete “learning community.”
I thank you all for letting me be a part of your community for the past two days and hope that others will get to experience your event in the future!
Having just returned from my annual trek 6 miles down the road to the TCEA conference, I noticed something about the participants of that event and the one held the previous week in the same location (TASA Mid-Winter). The TASA event had one MAJOR difference….suits.
And I mean a LOT of suits.
It’s an event focused on school leaders and things school leaders like (apparently wearing suits is one of those things). While the attendees at that event seem to be fairly one-dimensional, an event like TCEA brings all kids of people from all different walks of life. Teachers, librarians, administrators, tech people, all co-mingling around the concept of technology integration in schools. These people are far from one-dimensional and they rarely wear suits. That said, as we are a society that likes to categorize people, I found myself starting to do the same this past week.
Let me start out by saying that I have been EVERY one of the people on this list. I know that’s kind of like me saying “with all due respect” right before I insult you, but it’s true. That said, I present to you the 8 types of people that attend ed tech conferences:
#1 – The Mind Blower
I find the phrase “mind blowing” overused a bit in our field. I think there are a lot of great ideas out there and if someone is inspired by one, I think that’s a huge win. That said, can someone’s mind truly be blown at every session they attend. In fact, just trolling the #TCEA15 and searching for the term “Mind Blown” brings up a couple of dozen tweets on the topic. Quotes like “Google Slides are blowing my mind right now” or “Come to booth 807 to have your mind blown” seem to be common. I don’t want to diminish the excitement of attendees and I’d be honored to in fact blow their minds, but really? I mean look at this crazy tweet –
#2 – The Internet Shopper (A.K.A. Pinterest Junkie)
As I sit quietly in my sit and get session taking down notes, I’m distracted by the heavy internet shopping of the lady to my left. Without being too obvious, I glance over to take a look at the cheetah-patterned lamp shade she’s debating on buying. What does this have to do with Ed Tech? Well…at least she’s using her device for something right? We’ve all been in sessions that are just not that compelling and I’ll admit to my mind wandering toward a twitter stream to see if there is a better session taking place. But I usually don’t find myself searching Pinterest to find new ways to cover my ottoman or a creative way to make valentine’s day cards that will make all the other kindergarten parents jealous. Now….that said….if a particular sporting event or zombie show was on…it might be a different story.
#3 – The Exhausted/Overwhelmed Person That Needs More Caffeine
It’s 8:57am on the first day of the conference and this person is already overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge being thrown at them. Add to that the fact that it’s been 13 minutes since their last double-expresso upside-down caramel latte and it’s a wonder they can function at all. I find myself becoming this person somewhere between 3:00 and 3:15 generally, so I understand the feeling. Much like my #student4aday Challenge, there is just so much you can cram into your brain attending back-to-back sessions and hope to retain some of it. As for caffeine, well, think of it as oxygen at events like this.
#4 – The Session Hopper
Forget internet shopping or being overwhelmed, this person just can’t stand to be in a session from more than about 9 minutes. Call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or just someone who likes to optimize their seat time, but I see people bouncing in and out of sessions pretty much regularly (Shameful admission – I did this twice this past week). I can’t really blame people for doing this though. After looking over the session titles, it’s hard to really glean how good a session or presenter will be when it’s called “Top Google Tools” or “The iPad Classroom”. It would be great if someone invented some sort of rating system for presenters or content….hmmmmm.
#5 – The “Can’t Leave Work Behind” Person
I’m trying to listen and learn from this presenter but I can’t seem to get away from my email. The world isn’t going to stop if you don’t read those emails for the next hour, but your learning will. With the multitude of devices and “notifistractions” we encounter, it’s hard to focus on learning when you are putting out little fires each day. Do yourself a favor and try leaving all your devices behind one day to see what happens. You might be amazed that the sun still comes up the next day.
#6 – The After-Event Social Butterfly
Ok. I’ll admit it. This was (and sometimes still is) me. For some, it’s the offering of free food and drinks. For others, it’s an opportunity to let loose away from the office. Either way, the larger the event the more corporate-sponsored after-hour gatherings take place. Being a major extrovert and social butterfly myself, I can’t blame these people for wanting to let loose or connect with others. Learning can happen in many different forms and arenas. Some of the connections I’ve made at social events have really helped me as an educator. That said, it’s hard to get up and learn at an 8:00am session when you just got in a couple of hours earlier. My (unasked for) advice? Choose one night to have fun with colleagues and friends, but don’t over do it. Afterall…you never know what will get posted on social media…(see image to the right)
#7 – The Serial Social Media Poster
Again, I can’t point fingers without pointing them at myself on this one. There’s a fine line between “over-sharing” and sharing though. I draw it somewhere in between – “Just had some bad indigestion from that food trailer burger across the street #burp” and “I just had my mind blown while typing this tweet.” (see #1)
#8 – The Cyberstalker/Twilebrity
In my history of Ed Tech conferences I’ve been on both sides of this (although stalking is a bit of a strong term). I remember vividly sitting in the lobby of BLC ’09 with my wife and then one child as I saw the likes of David Jakes, Alan November, and Howie Diblasi gathering. My wife could tell I was excited but I didn’t know what to do. My go to move when spotting an actual celebrity is pointing at them and shouting their first and last name (Matt Damon!!) but as I that might come across the wrong way, I decided instead to send my toddler in as a method of introduction. I still find myself star-struck from time to time, but now I’m starting to receive that same kind of treatment (which is very humbling). Tom Whitby wrote a great post about this a couple of years ago and I find a lot of his message really hits home. You never know who you might influence or who might influence you in this world, but in the end, remember we are all just regular people.
#9 – The Exhibit Floor Swag Hoarder
Everyone loves a free T-shirt, especially me. But is it really necessary to have every single pen and piece of candy offered in the vendor hall? One year when I was still in the classroom I once spent two days gathering as much free stuff as I could to take back to my kids. Last year we even ran a contest during TCEA where we gave a major prize to the attendee that gathering the most swag. The winner picked up more than 600 different items! At some point there will be a intervention type show on TLC for these folks, but until then I’ll happily listen to your 15-minute sales pitch in order to win that USB Aroma2Go oil diffuser!
As stated at the outset of this post, I can honestly say I have been each of these attendees to Ed Tech Conferences in the past. I reflect on them more for my own amusement and they aren’t intended to offend, but rather provoke thought. Are there some that I left off the list? If so, please comment below.
After reading these, I’m sure you might feel a little bit overwhelmed, but I’m really just hoping you’ll leave this post feeling like your mind was blown.
Tomorrow I will become a high school student. Now I know that some of you that know me well could probably make the case that I’ve always been a high school student at heart, but tomorrow it really happens. No this isn’t some sort of weird Billy Madison-esque thing where I have to go back to school to get my diploma, it’s actually part of an experiment.
Inspired by both Grant Wiggin’s post and our own Kacy Mitchell’s challenge to be a middle school student for a day, I’ve decided to place myself right in the middle of Westlake high school for a day. But before I embark on this challenge, I thought it might be a good idea to reveal why I’m doing this and make a few predictions.
Why Become a Student For a Day?
As an administrator, I’m faced with making decisions about major items on a daily basic. I spend time in meetings discussing and planning those decisions. I spend time speaking to parents about the rationale behind those decisions. And I train staff on the impact those decisions will make in their classrooms. However, the one group I feel I don’t have a strong enough grasp on is the most important group of all…the students. It’s my hope that by becoming a student for a day I can a small glimpse into what their daily academic life looks like. How do they use technology? How well do they interact in class with the teacher and with each other? How prevalent (and often) is their use social media throughout the day? How uncomfortable are those desks they have to sit in?
These are just a few questions that I’ll be focusing on as I go through my day. My schedule will follow that of
a typical sophomore which encompasses the following subjects:
1 – English
2 – Chemistry 1
3 – Interactive Media
4 – Lunch
5 – World History
6 – Geometry
7 – Choir
8 – Business Information Management
I’ve already contacted all the teachers of those courses to let them know I’ll be doing this challenge to learn more about the kids and that it won’t be a teacher observation. I’ve also asked them for any relevant homework that I’ll need to be prepared for when I show up (I was a little stressed to discover I need to re-read Catcher in the Rye all the way through chapter 17). That said, in being a student for the day, I thought it would be fund to make a few predictions of what I’ll discover. Here are 5 that I’ll be looking for:
1. Kids will always be on their phones between classes – I hear that this is always the case so I wonder what it is they are doing. Is it just texting or are their selfies taking place all over? Will I be late to class if I participate?
2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – I’ll blame the fact that I’m recovering from a cold, but I’m going to guess I’ll make a lousy choir student. Hoping no one records this class and posts it on YouTube.
3. The desks will hurt my back – I have an ergonomically correct chair in my office for lower lumbar support and a standing table for when I need to stand and type. That won’t be an option tomorrow.
4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – While this schedule lends itself to some high end technology use (I’ll be in a couple of computer labs), I’m curious to see how much the iPad plays a role throughout the day. Although, the English teacher already emailed me to tell me it’s a completely paperless assignment in his class which makes my heart warm.
5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – This might be the one prediction that will definitely come true. I’ll have access to my email and I’ll know be the “tech guy” in the classroom that can fix any technical problem. Hopefully I’ll be treated like a regular student, but just like Reality TV, that’s not a real possibility.
While I’m going to do my best to be a focused student in the class, I’ll also be live-tweeting the day via the hashtag #Student4aDay. I hope to use this hashtag to help me reflect on the day later but also as a way for those of you on “the Twitter” or Instagram to follow along.
Lastly, while I know I’ll gain a lot of valuable information by doing this, it’s my hope that other leaders will follow suit and do the same. Like I said before, we make decisions all the time that affect kids. I think it would be a great idea for every administrator and teacher to try the #Student4aDay challenge and see the world from a different perspective. If you do decide to do this, make sure you reflect about it in public and then share with the world. We can all learn from each other!