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My Attempt at Retreat 2.0

I’ve been in education for almost 20 years and some of the campuses I’ve worked for have made attempts to do a “retreat” as a way of team-building and goal-setting. When it comes to retreats run by public education, we are a bit limited in scope. As we are funded by tax payers, we can’t take our employees on a boat cruise to Hawaii or a weekend in Vegas. Private companies have been hosting get-away retreats for years as a way of celebrating past successes and setting goals and benchmarks for the future. In general, the anatomy of a retreat is made up of the following items:
  • An off-site location
  • Some sort of team-building activity
  • Some time dedicated to goal-setting

While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat.  Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time).  We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:

  • Inspiration
  • Appreciating our differences
  • Problem-solving in collaborative teams
  • Opening up avenues of communication between the team
  • Identifying passion projects

Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.

Location

Finding places to meet around Austin isn’t a problem.  Finding FREE places to meet that also cultivate creativity is an issue. So rather than just meeting at a local coffee shop, I contacted Joshua Baer (@joshuabaer), head honcho at Capital Factory – the epicenter of entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the city.  Josh was kind enough to set us up in the “Willie Room” on the 16th floor of Capital Factory (located in the Omni downtown).  What I love about this space is not only the breathtaking views, but also the openness of the space and proximity to other start-up companies working in the same space. that we have access to for free.  With our base location set-up, it was time to build the agenda.

Ed Techs gathering in the Willie Room at Capital Factory (Can you see Willie in the background?)

Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who

During the retreat, we working on getting to know each other better. The first thing I sent the group was a pre-survey that asked them a few basic questions.  Some of these were for future activities, but for the retreat specifically, I asked the team to identify the following:
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What app do you love?
  • What was your childhood nickname?
  • Where is your dream place to visit?

Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item.  While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.

This game could have gone on for a couple of hours, but after a few rounds and my “Who’s line is it anyway?” type scoring, we ended in a tie and then went through the remaining cards to guess who said what. This activity was a great way to start out the retreat and it really highlighted the unique-ness of each of us, including our strengths and weaknesses and ways in which we can support each other. Finding out that Ed Tech Debbie Smith (@dsmitheisd) had a fear of small spaces made it particularly interesting for an upcoming challenge where we all crammed into an elevator together.

Goal-setting (Individual & Team)

This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:

  • What is something that you want to learn this year?
  • What are goals for your campus?
  • How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
  • What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)

We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step.  I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.

VIP Tour & VR Room Experience

Another benefit of hosting the meeting in Capital Factory (besides the free food and beverages) was the VIP tour that we got of the complex for one of our breaks. One stop on the tour was the Virtual Reality Room. We each got to participate in a wide variety of games and simulations. I was immediately blown away with how far these VR simulations have come in recent years. In talking with the resident VR resident (who went by the name “Justin”), it was clear to see the educational impact a VR environment could provide to students and their learning experiences. One thing that was even more compelling was the idea that students could create and program their own worlds, which is certainly an area we want to investigate bringing into our schools in the future.

iVenger Fred & Chris (background) experiment with VR as Han Solo watches on frozen with anticipation

Creating Avenues for Collaboration

I’ve been experimenting on ideas to get our team to cross-collaborate more often. One of the benefits to having campus-based Ed Techs is that we are able to have a lot of just-in-time learning opportunities for staff on campuses. However, this does create more silos when it comes to the team sharing and collaborating on ideas. To battle this isolationism, I’m testing out something new that I call the “Ed Tech ShareCase“.  The concept is that one Ed Tech is the campus Lead and two other Ed Techs collaborate with them as assistants so to speak.  They collaborate on a project or professional learning experience for the campus and then go there to help deliver it.  My initial goal is for the team to do this a couple of times throughout the year in an effort to build cross-collaboration. Then, during our monthly meetings, Ed Techs will not share their own work, but instead the work of others that they are supporting.  

Going on an Adventure!

With some goal-setting and team-building under our belts, and a much needed lunch break, we set out for our next challenge. Using the EventZee app that we’ve used at past iPadpalooza events for photo-hunts, I created a city-wide scavenger hunt for the team to complete. My goal for this part of the retreat was not just getting everyone up and moving around our fabulous city, but also getting breaking up the teams into groups that don’t get to collaborate often. A couple of days before this challenge, I actually walked the course myself as I wanted the hunt to end in a specific final location. (see below). I perched myself on top of a tall parking garage structure to see the teams walking towards various clues throughout the city and sent them occasional alerts when their time was running out. I love the scavenger hunt concept for the competitiveness and collaborative problem-solving aspects. Plus the walking makes for a great “after lunch” activity.

Ed Techs Tanna Fiske, Lisa Johnson, and Rich Lombardo caught wandering down a random alley during the Scavenger Hunt

Escape!

The final stop during our retreat was the Escape Game Austin. Having never been a part of an escape room experience I didn’t know what to expect, but this ending event really brought our team together and as a great way to wrap up the retreat. The rooms/games you can choose from vary in size (4 to 12 people) are complex and really encourage collaboration, communication and problem-solving. The particular room we chose was called “Playground” and actually involved several elements from a school (ironically enough). Once I heard about escape rooms, I’ve always wanted to do one with this team.  I brag to anyone that listens to me about how clever and collaborative our team is and how we would escape without an issue despite the 11%-15% success rate of most teams.
I’m happy to share we escaped with 10+ minutes to spare!

The iVengers Escape!

Summary 

The retreat was a major success in accomplishing the goals we set forth at the beginning. While there were a couple of activities we didn’t have time to accomplish, it did a great job of getting us all on the same page and also gave us much fodder to harass each other for the rest of the year.  If you are planning a retreat, think about the experience and what you hope your team to gain out of it. And what ever you do, don’t just make it a meeting only longer. Otherwise, you may have your team trying to escape!

Giving Parents a Voice in a 1:1 or BYOD Environment

Our focus in education has always (or at least should always) been on the kids.  They are the reasons the school building exists.  However, we’ve blurred the lines in modern education between school and home. Once you start inviting technology into your school (via BYOD) or you start supplying the technology (via 1:1) you instantly put some pressure on parents to not only comply but be on board.

Where most districts fail (and where we failed initially) is that thinking a “parent night” type meeting or newsletter would be enough to notify parents of this disruptive change. I use the word “disruptive” here not as hyperbole, but to really drive home the point that many parents are not ready for the digital world that lies ahead for their teens.  Whether you are doing any type of mobile device initiative or not, there NEEDS to be conversations taking place on your campuses about this from elementary through high school.

I feel like as a district, we’ve improved from the unidirectional communication methods to more of a collaborative conversation with our parents around technology usage and their kids. I’ve written in the past about our Digital Parenting 101 course.  This semester’s 6-week course had over 130 parents involved and one of the best parts of the course is the discussion forums.  As an administrator it’s such a blessing to be able to have insight on the struggles of the community with screen time, gaming addiction and social media troubles.  It helps me stay informed as well as finding resources to help parents in this digital era.

Yesterday, we took the discussion a step further.

With the help of a parent (Jeff Brantley – father of 3 boys and a guru at facilitating discussion) and a couple of my team members (Tim Yenca and Kacy Mitchell), we started our first of many parent-led collaborative workshops.  In the spirit of sharing,  here’s just a few highlights and a fabulous infographic that Kacy designed to summarize the meeting.

Sticker Dot Activity (before the meeting begins) –

As parents walked into the meeting they were presented with some sticker dots.  Around the room, we had posted the top 5 biggest issues for parents (based on the discussions in the iTunesU course and informal discussions with community members).  Those 5 issues were:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.27 AM

We gave every parent 5 stickers and told them they could place as many as they wanted on the posters.  In retrospect I would have only given them 3, which would have forced them to decide on just their top three topics.  Doing this tells the facilitators which topics are the most pressing for the parents.

Line-up Activity:

B2u6gOECUAAj3TC.jpg-large

Social Media partner activity

Following some brief introductions, we asked parents to line-up based on how “Social Media Savvy” they felt they were.  I first saw this done by Tim Lauer at iPadpalooza last summer.  Once the line was successfully flattened (they tend to group in the middle) we folded the line in half so that the least savvy person was paired up with the most savvy person.  Once in partners, they discussed their views on social media both with themselves and their kids.  After a few minutes, we had the pairs group into quads and continue the discussion.  This served a couple of purposes:

1. It forced the parents to be in groups with people other than their friends, thus avoiding the “echo chamber effect.”

2. It opened up discussion amongst each other around ideas and strategies when it comes to social media.

Round-robin Activity:

Staying in their teams of 4, the groups then went to one of the 5 topic posters around the room. It worked out that there were 5 teams in the room, but you could have them combine if there are more. Once at their poster they were given three different color post-it notes to relay either strategies, problems, or quotes they hear around their house about these topics.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.36 AM

B2vBInZCcAAG25K.jpg-large Parents discussion strategies, problems and quotes.

The discussions within these groups were incredible!  After rotating every 5 minutes and insuring that every group had time in front of a station, we had them come back and regroup for a final activity.

Final Report Out:

Now that parents had spent time in at a station, we let them choose the one that they were most concerned with and regroup with “like-troubled” parents. The final group’s job was to discuss the problems and report out some final strategies that parents can use to solve the challenges presented.  While we didn’t solve everything we did open up several connections within the community and came away with a wealth of discussion and resources.

Here’s an amazing infographic that Kacy Mitchell captured and created to synthesize the day’s activities:

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I’m looking forward to continuing these parent-led collaborative workshops throughout the year and the data that they will yield.  One word of caution is that it may be necessary to frame the day for parents prior to starting. Mentioning the goals of the workshop are to find solutions rather than ranting about issues would be a good thing. It could be easy for one or two parents to turn this from a positive experience to a negative one if they have an axe to grind so going over norms would be good.

The APPMazing Race: A Great Way to Increase Collaboration and Learning at an Event

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.19.08 PMThis year at iPadpalooza we were looking to do something a little different with all that “transition” time in between sessions. Often times, when you attend a conference, you find yourself in complete session-mode. You rush from session to session, never taking time to reflect, interact or collaborate with others at the event.

And so, the APPMazing Race was born. When the team at iPadpalooza started brainstorming ideas, the thought of some sort of app-based Olympics was being passed around. Last year, we did an Aurasma scavenger hunt to get people interacting with their space. It was a great time-filler but was purely for individuals. Inventing a challenge based on teamwork would make the actual event even more meaningful was the hope. We ended up with 47-teams of 3 to 4 players signing up for the race by the end of the opening keynote. At midnight of the first day, they received their instructions of what they had to accomplish in the next 36 hours.

Unscheduled Challenges:
1. CREATE – A logo and team name for your team
2. LISTEN – Create a 15-20 second audio podcast that summarizes your favorite session. (background music/sound effects for a bonus point)
3. CONNECT – One team member must make a new friend from somewhere else (not on their team) and find 3 things they have in common. Create a Thinglink to represent your new friend and the 3 things you have in common. (Bonus point for finding someone from a different state or country)
4. SNEAK – A team member photo-bombs an Eanes iVenger (hint: they will be wearing red crew shirts on Wednesday) Clarification: A proper photo bomb is when someone sneaks into a photo from behind.
5. CAPTURE – Take 5 selfies with vendors and post to Instagram with hashtag #iplza14 and your team name. Capture all 5 for final submission video. 1 point per selfie.
6. EAT – Create a Canva poster based on your favorite food item from the food trucks.
7. DRAW – Using a drawing app, create your best caricature of another team member.
8. CHALLENGE – Create and post a Vine of a team member asking a presenter a question. (please don’t interrupt a session just for this – that could result in a deduction)
9. OUTREACH – Connect with someone over FaceTime who is not at the event and show them around. Take a screenshot that displays evidence you are here.
10.SHARE – Upload and share your final video submission somewhere visible on the web. Your final video must be no longer than 2 minutes.

We  also had two scheduled challenges from 3:30-4:30 in the main room of iPadpalooza on Day 2 where the teams had to complete these –
1. DRIVE – Control a Sphero through an obstacle course. 5 attempts per team. Bonus points to the top 3 teams that take the shortest time to complete the challenge.
2. SMASH – Create an Appsmash LIVE during the day 2 closing activity. Theme of the smash will be given at 3:30. You must smash as many apps as you have team members +1 (so a team of 4 must smash 5 apps).

Bonus points we possible for teams with evidence of the top tweets and creativity of final video submission. While we could have just made it a checklist of items and drawn names out of a hat, we decided instead to judge their final submissions. Rather than fact check every item, the 2-minute video was the proof teams had to submit to at noon prior to the closing.

We had an amazing 18 teams complete the challenge and many were made up of people from completely different districts. In retrospect I would have loved to given every finishing team an award, but we ended up just awarding the top three prizes. Here is what the winning video submission looked like from Team “FargoFromDownUnder Appletes”

While there are always areas to improve, this race was successful in bringing colleagues together (either from the same district or even different countries) to engage and collaborate with an event rather than just being an passive participant.  We look forward to even more teams competing next year and know now that the bar has been raised!

Official APPMazing Race Rules & Challenges 2014 PDF