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What is Media Literacy?

On the first day of #SXSWedu I went to a panel session around media literacy. The panel consisted of educators and representatives from KQED and PBS. During the course of the discussion, one of the panelists mentioned that the term “media literacy” is really built around new forms of media.

When becoming literate in film, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, social media, etc, it’s about learning new forms of media. The term “literacy” is still centered around reading and writing. Thus, anything listed as “Media” literacy must be new.

I looked up the official definition of “literate” on Merriam-Webster’s website and this was the result:

In this definition, reading and writing is tied to literacy. However, some of the other definitions like “having knowledge or competence” is an interesting angle that is used with media literacy. Adding the word “media” as stated in the definition would mean you would have knowledge or competence of the media.

A different panelist brought up the point that if you have an Alexa or Google Home in your house, that you’ve just included a new form of media (A.I.) to learn and become literate in. That said, many people add these tools without thoughts of learning how to really use or leverage them.  They don’t think about the long-term consequences of a tool capturing your verbal data over time. As I wrote about last year, one of my main parenting fails was buying and Echo Dot for each of my kids, so this really hit home with me.

That said, I think that banning or turning away all new forms of media is also not productive or a good long-term solution.  Becoming literate in a tool, as by the definition above, means you understand the downsides as well as the positives to using such a tool.  That’s what we need to be teaching kids.

I threw out this concept around the term media literacy on Twitter during the event:

Here were a few of the responses:

Patrick’s thought here is where I was leaning originally and would be more in line with the Merriam-Webster definition. Just list items that have tech in them as media items that we need to become literate in, but then list the more traditional (books) as literacy. However, when he mentions digital or analog, it starts to throw me off a bit as digital means technology.  In an attempt to summarize: Not all technology is media, but some could be considered literacy.  Here’s a series of thoughts that I grouped together:

 

 

All of the above tweets refer to how the term can influence certain thoughts. This is where I really started to have a conundrum. In some ways, the way I was posting and gathering this data on Twitter is considered a form of (social) Media literacy. The idea that reading=consuming media and writing=creating media seems to make the most sense to me.

Using those ideas and removing the term “media” would insinuate that the person that has set up an AI home assistant would know how to “consume” it (have it play you music, give you a joke) as well as “create” with it (have it add to a shopping list or program it to flash your lights when a message comes in).

This new form literacy in the AR/VR world looks fairly weighted at the moment to the consumptive side of literacy. We are interacting and consuming virtual worlds or augmented material, but very few are actually creating in this space. My thinking is, as this becomes much more user-friendly through apps like ARMakr or Panoform, we’ll start to create with these tools and become more literate in their use as a result.

After writing all of this, I’m now beginning to wonder if the definition of literacy or to be literate needs to be rexamed. One of our amazing middle school teachers shared this:

It’s clear in the future, that students (and adults) will need to interact with multiple forms of media. Becoming literate in those forms of media will not hurt them, it can only help to give them an advantage in the future work place. Knowing that, we would be doing a disservice to the future of our students to not show them how to interact with multiple forms of media. Making them literate, thoughtful, empathetic and impactful members of society is one of the most powerful things we can do as an institution.

Creating this literacy doesn’t happen without the right tools, teachers, leaders, and mindsets when it comes to using all of this “media” in our world.

A Look Back: Bold Predictions for 2018

Making predictions isn’t easy folks. Let’s face it, even Miss Cleo sometimes got her prognostications incorrect.  Every year as the calendar turns, I attempt to take a stab at some things I predict will happen in the upcoming year.  These predictions are loosely based around education and technology and sometimes I get them right on the mark (like when Pearson lost its testing contract in Texas).  Other times, I was way off. Like the time I predicted that someone would develop a Star Wars-themed charter school (although, of that, hopeful I am). Looking back at my 2018 predictions, it was a mixed bag as per usual but overall, my best year yet in terms of predictions. Let’s see how I did.

Prediction: AR will help us “see” students’ level of engagement

Outcome: Very Close

My main thought on this was that augmented reality would tell teachers student engagement levels by merely holding up their phone or iPad and seeing the students’ thoughts via an engagement meter. I was off on that part, but imagine my surprise when Adam Phyall (@askadam3) and I visited the start-up village section of #ISTE18 in Chicago and stumbled across BrainCoTech. This company specializes in helping kids focus and engaged with brain exercises where you control something on a screen the more you focus. Sound like science fiction? Or maybe something from a Black Mirror? Check out the video evidence below:

Prediction: A school will fully implement AI to help with learning disabilities

Outcome: “Alexa, is this true?”  “Not quite yet”

As witnessed by my parenting fail with Amazon’s Echo Dot, we’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to AI and our kids. Artificial Intelligence has been used more and more in the classroom and most people probably didn’t even realize it. Any time a student using speech-to-text or a teacher asks Siri a question, the AI kicks in. While no school that I can find has “fully” implemented AI as the prediction states, there is some potential for AI to help with learning difficulties. Microsoft recently revealed their Presentation Translator and Seeing AI app to help with students that have visual or auditory impairments. The future on this is closer than we think. Now if I could just get Alexa to put away my laundry….

Prediction: “4D” technology will help kids truly experience history

Outcome: Still a little ways off

During a trip to Orlando last spring, I got to experience “The Void” – a 4D experience with Star Wars as the main theme. How it works: You and a team of 4 put on VR headsets and haptic-enabled vests. As you move through what is essentially a giant warehouse, you can actually reach out and touch objects, door handles, and even R2D2. During one treacherous mission, I had to walk on a catwalk over hot lava and could smell and feel the sulfuric heat beneath me. Theres some tremendous potential for this in the classroom, but I can tell you the cost to do this would quickly snap you back to reality. (see what I did there?)

Prediction: A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)

I don’t think was that much of a bold prediction, but who would predict that the present would tweet about pardoning himself as he did on June 4th of this year?

 

Prediction: This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

Outcome: Snap, Snap, Snap

With some ambition and a super-talented line-up of Ed Tech powerhouses, we were able to make this prediction a reality. Need proof? It’s now expanded to an international location thanks to Brett Salakas bringing it down under this past October. As far as the ISTE event this past summer, you had to be there to believe it. From Lisa Johnson’s and Brianna Hodges’ powerful words to Felix Jacomino’s campy Gilligan’s Island remix, for one magical night in Chicago, we were moved by just words. When all was said and done, Steve Dembo walked away with the championship belt with this stirring slam that invoked a TON of ed tech tools in a poetic way. (Come to Austin on June 12, 2019 for #LearnFestATX to see him defend his title!)

Prediction: A ride-sharing app for parents will be invented

Outcome: It already happened…sort of…

Apparently this was already the beginning of a thing when three moms launched the company HopSkipDrive in Los Angeles in 2014. However, this past summer, the company expanded to Denver and is looking to expand to other locations throughout the US. Drivers have to have a minimum of 5 years child-care experience and must past a 15-point background check before being hired to chauffeur kids as young as 6 to their next soccer game or play date. I can see it now: Teachers! Need to make some extra cash and have a car? Have I got the job for you!

Prediction: Oprah will run for president

Outcome: Incorrect

What next? Maybe Mark Cuban will run….

Prediction: Drones in education could be a thing

Outcome: Technically, correct

Hey, I did say drones “could be a thing” right? While this one is still a bit of stretch I did visit a school in McAllen, TX this summer that is having students work along side search-and-rescue and local agencies to use drones to track down criminals or find missing people. Now, if only they could get a cat out of a tree….

Prediction: “The Learning Festival” aka LearnFestATX launches with some unexpected twists

Outcome: Nailed it

The theme for this past summer’s event was “beta”.  We limited registration to 200 people in order to test out 7 new concepts that we hadn’t seen at a conference or learning event before. The result? Mixed. Some of the experiments worked while others failed. But three of the best will be on FULL display this summer as we open up LearnFestATX to a wider audience and promise to bring “unique engagement” to each attendee. (Early bird pricing now available!)  You’ll have to come to find out which won out.

Prediction: My new children’s book gets a publisher and is actually published!

Outcome: Nope

This marks the second year in a row that this has been a miss-hit on my predictions list. It’s time to think outside the box for 2019 as I’m now almost finished with it. Stay tuned.

Prediction: A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Outcome: TRUE

This was just for fun, but sure enough, following the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story movie, the announcement was made this past May with James Mangold from Logan fame directing. I can’t wait!

So ends my 6th year of making predictions. Like I said in the open, this was my best and most accurate year to date as I hit at greater than 50% for the first time. Tune back in some time early in 2019 for what is sure to be my best bold predictions ever!

If nothing else, I can guarantee one prediction to come true: It will be marginally entertaining.

21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2018 Version)

In 2014 I wrote what would be my most popular blog post ever. Little did I know what impact (both positive and negative) this post would have in the educational world. Part of the popularity of the post was due to the Sean Junkins created infographic that accompanied the post. For the most part, people tended to look at the infographic and pass judgement on whether or not these were things that teachers “should” do in the classroom without reading the blog at all. All that to say – Congratulations! If you are reading this post it means that you have taken the time to click on a link before just looking at the infographic.

Seeing that the world and education has changed (especially in the areas of technology, privacy, etc), I thought it might be a good time to rewrite the post before the start of the 2018 school year. Before I do that, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in public education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in public education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2018 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”. A handful of these are carry overs from the 2014, but the majority are not. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement. 🙂

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog.  While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student “guest author” write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class.  This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter or Instagram account to post about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  One of my Ed Techs (Ashley Pampe) actually created a “Social Media” team on her elementary campus. She vets and reviews all their images and blog entries before posting, but it’s an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there to help with this but my favorite is Keynote (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

4. Debate a topic virtually and face to face

Lately the internet and social media have become a stomping ground for people to share their opinions, often in ways that they wouldn’t in a face to face conversation. We need to have students understand this medium as well as how to have an educated argument in person. Creating an environment where cordial discourse is encouraged and modeled, will help our youth as they enter what appears to be an increasingly tumultuous online future.

5. Go paperless for a week

Let me define paperless here as “no worksheets”.  I do thinking taking notes in a journal or Sketch-noting are valuable for learning, but for this I’m thinking more of the daily minutia. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp?  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month…it’s much harder than you think.

6. Have a “No Tech Day” to reflect on our use of technology

Technology and devices have become engrained in much of what we do on a daily basis. The notifications, alerts, constant connection can do some harm if not properly balanced. For this challenge, have a day without technology. Then, have your students reflect on the experience the following day. What areas did they find a struggle? What did they notice about their daily routine?

7. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? How might hey help us in the future?

8. Fly a Drone (and discuss it’s impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples out there now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

9. Facetime with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

10. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

11.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Google cardboard and Nearpod VR, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

12. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of our middle schools did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

13. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

14. Identify fake news and internet bots

With the current political climate and the increasing use of bots to sway public opinion, we need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.  It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

15. Establish a space for student voice

Student voice (and choice…coming up later) is something that classrooms of the 20th century really struggled with. A teacher may ask for feedback or an answer to a classroom, calling on those with the courage to raise their hands. What if some truly incredible ideas were out there but students were too shy to share? Using tools like FlipGrid (free for educators now), you can ask for each student to give feedback to a question or even submit an online poetry slam around a scientific fact.

16. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools, some of which is true some of which is not (see #14).  While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech (see #6), we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

17. Utilize robotics to tell a story

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

18. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the Walmart raiding of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma), you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#16), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project (see #12) gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2018

Tim Ferriss, the renowned and often maligned podcaster and author, doesn’t make resolutions for the new year. Instead, he likes to reflect on the year that has been and look at what events in his life brings him joy and what events do not. Using that data, he then makes sure to schedule more of what brings him joy in the year to come. Not all of us have that freedom, but I do like the intent behind his reasoning in doing so.

For me, I too don’t make resolutions, I make predictions. Predictions that are not always that likely to come true, but may not be that far-fetched when it comes to technology and our classrooms. Consumerism and pop-culture certainly play a huge role in the creation of this list. For instance, the Netflix series Black Mirror and the book Ready Player One definitely had some influence on this year’s list as both propose alternate, but possible futures.

As Tim does, it’s always good to go back and reflect before moving forward. If you would like to go back and look at the previous 5 years worth of predictions, look here. While I try and stick to education and technology’s influence on learning, I do sometimes stray to the world of pop-culture, politics, and everyday life.

And with that, I present this year’s bold predictions sure to go wrong in 2018:

AR will help us “see” students’ level of engagement

A few years back, the Melon Band was looking for funding on Kickstarter and I wondered what the possibilities would be for kids in school.  The premise- you can actually see what your focus looks like via an app on your smartphone. Now extrapolate that technology out a few years and add a level of augmented reality. I predict there will be a future where the teacher can hold up their phone or a tablet and instantly see what the level of student engagement is in their class.  I bet with some upgrades, you could even change your voice to the Charlie Brown teacher voice, “Wah wah wah wahhhhh” and watch their engagement tank.

Digital badging will replace college degrees

In a future world where you need to be adaptable in an unpredictable work force, being badged as an expert in several different areas could be highly marketable. Rather than spending 4 years working on one field of study, why not spend a few weeks or months getting credentialed as an HTML5 coder or a social media guru? The other benefit (besides saving more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt), would be that current employees could use badging to continue to grow, learn and improve on their craft as well as other topics they are passionate about. The flexibility and targeted focus of micro-credentials could help a company improve in areas where they have weaknesses not by hiring more people, but by improving their existing work force.

A school will fully implement AI to help with learning disabilities

Sugata Mitra had the idea of putting a “computer in the wall” to help kids teach themselves through student agency back in 2005. While this concept showed that kids with proper motivation can learn just about anything, there were still some holes to fill. With artificial intelligence and enough data points, we could get to a future where schools and classrooms can immediately learn a student’s behaviors and preferences that help them learn. The role of the teacher would be more of a project manager and instructional designer for each student in their class as they use the data to create experiences that help their students expand their future ready skills both as an individual and as a member of team.

“4D” technology will help kids truly experience history

My friend and colleague Tim Yenca (@mryenca) just returned from a trip to Disney World and recounted his experience with the Pandora ride there. The ride involves the use of virtual reality goggles and physical experiences (such as the feel of the beast you are riding actually breathing on your legs) to immerse the player into the world. With improving VR technologies and high-end resolution, it’s only a matter of time before that experience is combined with some of haptic suit (via Ready Player One) to have your students truly experience an event in history. Imagine, being in the theater when President Lincoln was assassinated? Or being on the ground when the troops stormed the beaches at Normandy? That’s the kind of experience that you can’t get from reading a textbook.

A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Really? Is this that hard to envision in today’s political climate?

This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

My attempt at #EdTechPoetry

Shout out to Lisa Johnson (@techchef4u) for getting this idea started at the last iPadpalooza when we took 12 speakers from around the country and threw them on stage for 3 minutes without anything (no props!) except their words and microphone. I’ll admit this isn’t that bold of a prediction as I know there will be a version of this at Tech & Learning Live in Chicago (May 11) and also a soon-to-be announced exclusive after hours event during this year’s ISTE. Stay tuned for more details on that….

 

A ride-sharing app for parents will be invented

I have to give credit for this to my own local group of amazing community parents who brought up the need for this at a recent tech talk. Our students have tons of after school activities that they attend. You see a parent pick up their own kid to take them to the same place you are going with your kid after school. Rather than having parents play chauffeur to their kids and never have time to run other errands, why not coordinate all of that in an Uber-meets-NextDoor type app? This app would allow parents in a community to coordinate driving kids to similar activities thus cutting back on traffic and helping connect people with similar interests. Of course, the old fashioned way to do this would be just to go talk to another parent about this, but who does that these days?

Oprah will run for President

Just making sure you were still paying attention, but she did deliver a powerful Golden Globes speech!

Drones in education could be a thing

While the rules and regulations around drones seem to be ever-changing and all over the map, the role of these devices in our future is certainly going to be disruptive. Knowing that these devices will play a part, what do we need to teach kids about it? How can we use this technology to give us a different view on learning? This is more than a lesson on how to build a drone for sure. The sky’s the limit….(get it?)

“The Learning Festival” aka LearnFest launches with some unexpected twists

This past year was the last of our iPadpalooza event. The rebranding of this event into “LearnFest” has been a long time coming and this year will only feature a smaller prototype version of the event (LearnFest launches to the public in June of 2019).  That said, there are a couple of ideas we’ll be trying that I can promise you have NEVER been done at a conference or learning event. Keep alert for special invites to this year’s event by following the @TheLearnFest twitter account or this blog.

My new children’s book gets a publisher and is actually published!

This is less a prediction and more of a call for help.  Maybe I should launch it on Kickstarter….

A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Just making sure you read until the end. It’s been rumored but this is the year it becomes official! 🙂

Happy 2018 everybody!

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!

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2017

Every year I embark on an expedition to either look brilliant or embarrass myself. (Let’s be honest, that’s more like every day in my life) Since 2013 I’ve set out to make a series of predictions, mostly in the Ed Tech world, that are bold. Now, let’s look at the definition of “bold” below before we get started.

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-3-33-51-pmWhile all of these certainly can be applied, I’m going to focus on the final definition and say that some of these predictions stretch the usual limits of conventional thought or action. Last year for example, I predicted that schools would start to implement self-driving buses.  As crazy as this may sound, about a month after the prediction, a company in Perth, Australia, began to pilot the self-driving bus in their community.  It’s only a matter of time before schools use them right?

You get the idea. Some of these are crazy, others actually just make sense, and some I just wish would happen.  So, with that in mind and stressing that this is a “no judgement” zone, let’s proceed:

A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language

The immersive dual-language movement has been going on for decades. Why not treat coding as a foreign language? If we really believe that we are preparing kids for a global society, then why not teach them a language many of them will find useful later in life? This does not mean that learning an actual foreign language is any less important, it’s just that we should probably start to value coding and programming on that same level in schools. One sign that this would become a reality would be if a school district actually gave a language credit to those learning to program and code. Talk about taking “hour of code” to the next level!

The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union

I’m not even touching the political side of this, but instead, let’s focus on the medium to which our future president will use to communicate the State of the Union with the masses. I get the feeling that Twitter will not be enough for him in the future. I mean, either they’ll have to change their limit of 140 characters (not likely) or he’ll choose a different way of communicating. Enter SnapChat! What a great way to make a bold statement and then have it disappear (sort of) just a few seconds later. Does this sound all that crazy considering where we are today with social media, politics and the recent election?

The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza

iplza-logo-2017-pokemon

iPadpalooza 2017: “Learning on the GO”

Every year, iPadpalooza tries to center our attention around a certain theme. Last year we let the “Learning be with us” via a Star Wars-focused theme centered around looking into the future. This year, we take the PokemonGo phenomenon and flip it on its head with our “Learning on the GO” theme. I mean, what good is it to have all of these mobile devices in schools when kids are forced to sit in desks in rows learning the same traditional content the same traditional way? During this year’s event, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ going on with sessions centered around the theme and even a new type of session called a “Walk n’ Talk” where attendees will actually walk around the campus with a presenter sharing an idea. You’ll want to have a good pair of walking shoes before you join us this summer!

Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education

Speaking of PokemonGO, it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an app that has some of the same addictive…er…engaging pieces of the widely popular Niantic app. I know there already is a PokemonEdu Facebook group and Twitter hashtag centered around using the characters from the app in an edu setting, but I’m talking something bigger here.

Imagine it.  As a teacher, you have access to a platform that allows you to upload little learning nuggets into a platform.  Students then actually get up and physically leave the classroom to discover these learning nuggets. Working in teams, they put the nuggets together and get certain badges for completing certain challenges. There could even be time limits, based on the class schedule, so you don’t just have kids wandering the halls all day. It’s like taking the APPmazing Race to a whole other level….hmmmmm….

Data actually gets sexy

I’m always reading stuff about “Big Data” and hearing about some fancy things happening with the IBM Watson project, but in truth, I find data to be extremely boring in its traditional, spreadsheet-focused format. I equate it to going and getting a physical. You don’t want to do it, but you need to if you really want to improve your health. Let’s face it, unless you are an accountant or testing coordinator, you’d rather find something else to do with your time rather than pouring over hundreds of color-coded graphs.

But this year, I think that will change. Now, I’m cheating a little bit here as I’ve been privy to a new program (called CatchOn) that actually puts usage data in a simple, clean, fantasy-football-like format. Gone are the days of me logging into different programs to look up usage statistics and figure out the ROI of a particular program. In this not-so-distant future, we’ll actually be able to see everything that’s being used on a district or school level right on our phone and then adjust accordingly. As someone who delivers professional learning in my district, being able to see this data instantly and beautifully would be powerful in steering what we need to help train teachers on or what we need to get rid of. Now that would be sexy (and save us money)!

Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom

Virtual Paper Football!

Virtual Paper Football!

For the past couple of years, there have been several one-off ideas of using some sort of mixed reality in the classroom. Maybe it’s virtual through programs like Google Expeditions or Nearpod VR, or maybe it’s augmented like using the Aurasma app to see hidden things (something I attempted to do with my book series). Either way, mixing realities can provide a powerful way to engage students into certain content areas and up until now, it’s largely been seen as a niche or fun side activity. As witnessed by this recent Kickstarter called the ZapBox, it’s not too hard to see a future where the holograms actually do pop up on the desk so you can interact with them. Now, if only they can invent a way to create virtual versions of those paper footballs that I used to flick across the classroom.

VR-Enhanced Movies!

Piggy backing on the VR concept and expanding into pop culture, I see hollywood grabbing onto the VR the concept and expanding it to the viewer. Now, as someone attending a VR-enhanced movie, you put on the VR goggles, much like you do now with 3D glasses, and are instantly in the middle of the movie. You look around at all the characters around you and actually sit in the middle of the room where the action is taking place. Imagine sitting in a car from Fast and Furious 15 as it launches out of a plane and lands on a boat! Or imagine sitting in the living room during Halloween Part 13 and instead of yelling at the screen for the actor to turn around, you can actually turn around as the killer approaches? Doing it in a movie theater gives everyone the same shared experience and you could even make movies more “Choose your own adventure-like” where half the audience goes down one hallway and the rest go down the other. Sound crazy or genius? I’m not sure where I fall on this yet, but hope it happens.

The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank

With devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa really taking off in the consumer market, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that we would soon see an educational version of these tools. I think it should be called something like “Frank”. Frank would be like a fact-checking teacher’s assistant that all the students could also use. “Frank, when was the battle of 1812?” or “What is Bohr’s law?” or maybe “What is my teacher’s favorite treat?”  All of these could be useful in saving time in the classroom and help dive into even deeper learning and higher Bloom’s level thinking. However, I imagine it might also come with a lot of new classroom management issues.  But hey, for every challenge comes an opportunity, right Frank?

I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!

Yes, I know this was on last year’s predictions, but I sort of had that whole Mobile Learning Mindset book series to finish first. With that series finally complete, I’m ready to embark on a new journey. I’ve got a lot of good ideas for a tech-centered children’s book that will definitely be some sort of mixed reality book too. It might even come with it’s own pair of VR goggles attached on the back. Like a virtual pop-up book of sorts. Now, if only I can find a publisher willing to take a risk….

There you have it.  A few bold and bolder predictions that may happen this year. What do you think? What do you predict? Add your comments below and maybe together, we can make the future a better place for learning too!

Happy New Year!