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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!

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!