Finally, My DENSI Recap

I didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to feel. As many of you know, attending DENSI (Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute) this year was different for me – I was back as a teacher, not “working” the event as a Discovery Education employee. Overall, there was a lot of excitement. I haven’t been around most of my former colleagues much in quite some time and I was really looking forward to seeing them. The smiles, hugs, and handshakes were so great. Working the Summer Institute in previous years didn’t allow me to enjoy the conference as much as attendees get to. I was really glad I could enjoy it again and not have to worry about setting something up or being “on.” I probably reminded Porter, Emily, Steve, Dean, and Kyle of this more than they would have liked. For the record, I know how much work goes into this event and the team did an amazing job despite their limitations this year. Well done!

There were many things I was looking forward to this week – most involved seeing people I don’t get to see enough. In Vermont, I got to know Brandon and Lindsay, and we’ve become pretty good friends over the years. We’ve communicated with each other almost every day for the past couple of years. This was going to be the first time we’d all be together in two years. As many of you know, the online relationships and friendships are so good, but seeing friends in person makes it even better. Time with these two was awesome. Having Brandon as a roommate was great, he’s become one of my very good friends. If we both apply and get accepted next year, I’m hoping we can room together again, we are on the same page so much (yes, that’s scary). We laughed a lot, and laughter is so good.

I was happy to present this year, sharing some of the things I’ve done with students last school year. I think the session went well and I picked up a few things from Amber, Cathy Jo, and others who also taught me a few things. I liked attending the sessions to, this time I had a purpose – to find things to bring back to my teachers and students. (Here’s a link to my presentation if you want it).

The thing I was most eager to share was my DEN Speaks talk. I’ve actually been thinking about my story for quite some time. This community is a huge part of my life and I wanted to share my experiences – both to thank those who are a part of it and to also let the newer people they are part of something special. I spent a lot of time on the slides, searching through tons of old event pics, and working on the script. My first run through came in around 8 minutes. It needed to be 5. After plenty of editing, I had it to about 6 and was going to go with that. When I connected my computer to the projector, I couldn’t see my speaker notes, which was a problem. While I had a lot of it memorized for the most part, I screwed up the ending because I couldn’t remember what I wrote. Sure, I could have easily solved this problem when I first connected my computer, but I was nervous and didn’t want to ask for help.I was also surprised how my emotions got to me a couple of times. I received nice feedback after the talk, but wasn’t really happy with how it turned out.

I made some new connections this year and got to spend some time with people I didn’t know as well prior to DENSI. It’s a tough balance spending time with so many great people. Many of us have friends we’ve known for years, and we want to spend time with them. On the other hand, there are so many great new people, finding time to get to know them is equally important. Despite the dry campus, many of the evening and late night activities were beyond expectations. I think we got robbed during the DENmazing Race, but still had a blast with my team. It was definitely a swing and miss! I wish I was a better lip syncer. Playing games, talking, and just hanging out with great people were just what I needed. Of course, as the saying goes, there were things that happened at DENSI, that are staying at DENSI. 🙂

So what happens next? I will stay connected with many of the people from DENSI. I’ll be taking some of their ideas and using them this year. I’ll communicate with them via social media. I’ll help spread the word about Discovery Ed in my district. It’s underutilized and that’s a shame. I’ll value the friendships and connections and look forward to seeing people when I can. I’ll think about DENSI 2016.

Why I Attend ISTE

This summer, I attended my 7th ISTE/NECC Conference. I didn’t write up a conference reflection post when I got back, but was thinking recently about why I attend, despite several reasons why it may not be a great idea.

The timing of the conference isn’t that great. It falls right in the middle of Summerfest and I love attending this festival with family and friends. My kids also have games or tournaments and I usually miss some of their events. ISTE is also about a week before DENSI, which is another week long PD opportunity I love attending. ISTE is expensive. I pay for most, if not all of it, out of my own pocket. When I worked for Discovery Ed, I attended for work and didn’t have many of the out of pocket costs, but also had differently responsibilities. This year, like most years, I’m attending again on a personal level. Between airfare, lodging, and food, it’s not cheap.

Despite these reasons and a few other minor ones, I still go back. Why? It’s pretty simple. It’s fun, I learn stuff, and I get to see friends I don’t see very often. This year, I didn’t register for the full conference. The main reason for this was financial. In the past, I haven’t attended a ton of concurrent sessions and didn’t feel the $400+ registration was worth it if I didn’t attend many of these. I was able to get an Exhibit Hall Pass (thanks Kristy) and that worked out great. This year, I hung in the Bloggers’ Cafe, checked out the Poster Sessions, other common areas, and explored the exhibit hall. This was plenty for me and certainly met my needs.

For me, having a chance to sit in a small group setting to chat or learn about something new is much better than racing from session to session and sitting in a big room while someone talks for an hour. I don’t like how the Bloggers’ Cafe has turned into a mini vendor hall. If one person from a start up is there working and talking to people and not passing out a ton of t-shirts or something, I’m okay with it. However, when 5-8 people from a company take up an entire corner of the area, I don’t like it. The vibe of the area has changed quite a bit over the years. With that being said, I did have a great conversation with Craig Jones from Formative about his product and it’s something I definitely want to explore more.

I also love the evening social activities. I have made quite a few friends over the years at conferences and love catching up with them. I had a great dinner with a huge group of people on Sunday that provided a lot of laughs, caught up with other friends all week, and just enjoyed some time with good people I don’t see enough. So many of the conference reflections I read this year have focused on the people. It’s the connections, the conversations, and the networking that are critical. I cannot stress enough how a quality network can help you professionally and also personally.

ISTE is a great experience. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it’s worth it to me. I don’t know if I’ll be there next year or not, but if I’m not, I know I’ll miss it.

Define Rock Star

It starts with a tweet.


And then a discussion breaks out.  Tonight, it centered around the idea of ed tech “Rock Stars.”  Michelle Baldwin, Jen Wagner, and Rafranz Davis had the conversation going when Paul Wood, Josh Stumpenhorst, and I jumped in.  In a nutshell, the discussion centered around the idea of “Rock Stars” at ISTE.  Who are these people?  How did they get that status?  Do they want that status?  How do these “Rock Stars” act when approached by others.

Here are some things I wonder and a few thoughts.  If you have other ideas, please let me know.

  • What makes someone a rock star?  I think people think of others as rock stars based on how often they hear the person’s name, how often they see the person tweeting and sharing online, how often they are speaking at conferences, and how many followers they have.
  • Do they like the rock star title?  I think some do, but for the most part, the so called rock stars that I’ve met are great people and don’t consider themselves anything special.
  • Do you think there’s a common list of these people?  How many are on the list?  I bet there are only about 10-15 common names and the rest of everyone’s list varies quite a bit.
  • Do people have generally positive experiences when meeting one of these people for the first time?  I’d say yes.
  • Do we need rock stars?  I think we do, and Lisa Parisi agrees in her recent post, even though Michelle Baldwin disagrees somewhat.  However, I think we each need to figure out who our own rock stars are and shouldn’t worry about some top 50 list.

This isn’t a new discussion, but one that often pops up after a major conference like ISTE.  If you have thoughts, share them – it’s how we learn.

Remembering #ISTE13

After returning from San Antonio and the ISTE conference, my fourth in five years, a lot of thoughts were racing through my head.  As I tried to think about how I could organize things into something meaningful, I realized that coming up with a bulleted list might be the way to go.  Here we go.

  • This was my first ISTE as a non-teacher.  I’ve been working for Discovery Education for about a year and a half and didn’t attend this conference last year.  It’s a very different feeling attending a conference when you’re not looking for ideas to take back to school and use right away.
  • For me, and others, it’s still about the people.  I consider myself pretty connected and I really enjoyed connecting with others and sitting down to have great conversations.  I have no idea how someone can get as much of out this conference and everything that goes with it, if they aren’t a connected educator.
  • I had a chance to meet several new DEN members and chat with some old friends at the DEN Birthday Bash, which I helped coordinate.  Most of my Monday involved this event so I didn’t get to do as much at the conference that day as I would have liked.  The event was a great success and celebrated the 8th year of the DEN, the best educator community around.  There are so many great people in the DEN.
  • I’m still amazed when people come up to meet me and take a picture.  I’m nothing special.  Regardless, it’s very flattering, and it helps me put faces to names and build my PLN.  There were a lot of new faces I met, especially several DEN members, and I’ll be seeing some of these people in 2 weeks at DENSI.
  • I didn’t get to as many sessions as I would have liked, but I did attend a web 2.0 session presented by Leslie Fisher.  I picked up a few new things, I used Tube Chop already.  She’s a great presenter and I’ve always enjoyed her sessions.
  • There are still A LOT of newbies at the conference.  Many, many educators are just beginning their ed tech journey and as a result, we will still see many sessions on new tools and ideas many of us have been using for quite some time.  I have to remind myself that this is okay.  There were others that helped me get started years ago and I have to do my part to return the favor.  We can’t look at these people negatively.  We all know people in schools who aren’t up to date with what’s going on in the ed tech world, we need to help them learn and keep moving forward.

The list of my personal conference highlights is rather long, but here are several that stood out.

  • Walking into registration and running into Rushton Hurley and Adam Bellow.  Little did I know that the picture Adam took of Rushton and me with his Google Glass would show up in the keynote.
  • Saturday golf with Dean, Scott, and Randy.  We didn’t laugh at all, especially after Scott’s bank shot birdie.  Maybe Shareski will get off my back now about bailing on previous golfing adventures.
  • A 2.5 hour team dinner.  Okay, the dinner was nice, but it was a little long 🙂
  • Lunch at Rosario’s with Ken.
  • The DEN Birthday Bash.  Seeing so many DEN faces and Discovery Education coworkers was awesome.  And the cupcakes, wow.  If you ever need cupcakes in San Antonio, I highly recommend Kate’s Cupcakes.
  • The Canadian DEN get together.
  • Meat sweats with Chris Craft.  2 guys, Texas de Brazil.  No vegetables allowed.
  • David Jakes leaving his phone open to his Twitter account and Paul Wood getting blamed for a mischievous tweet.
  • Watching the Stanley Cup finals with Blackhawks fans while eating lots of wings.
  • Realizing, again, that I actually work with and get to learn from Steve Dembo and Dean Shareski on a daily basis.  They are awesome people and this conference reconfirms they’re on another level in the ed tech world.
  • The ISTE Mansion.  If you were there one of the nights, you’ll understand.  Thanks Paul, Lee, and Lisa and the many others who were there.

Again, ISTE is one of the highlights of my summer.  It’s because of you.  If I chatted, tweeted, dined, smiled, laughed, learned, and shared with you in San Antonio, THANK YOU!

Do You Remember Your First Time?

What a difference 5 years makes. This time, back in 2008, I was heading to San Antonio for NECC, a newbie to the Ed tech world. I was traveling to the conference alone, not really knowing anyone with the exception of a few online friends I was hoping to meet face to face for the first time. Looking back, I must have been nuts. I remember walking in to the massive conference center and setting up shop in the Blogger’s Cafe at a table by myself. Hoping someone would come up and say hi. I think I might have even tweeted to my 3 followers that same message. I’m not really the kind of person who walks up to strangers to introduce myself, in fact, I’m terrible at it. Luckily people came up to me and introduced me to others. I did get to connect with people and built some great friendships that week, but I wonder what newbies are going to experience this year. Will they have that same trepidation that I had? Will they feel like the new kid walking into a new school? Will I reach out to them and say hi like others have done to me?  If you want to read my reflection from 2008, here you go).

When I attended in 2008, I didn’t have the online network many first timers have today. I didn’t have the DEN. When I show up this year, my 4th ISTE in 5 years, it’ll feel more like a reunion. I’ll get to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while, but have had some interaction with in recent times. For many people I see, it’ll be a simple “Hi, how are you?” For others, there will be longer conversations. I’m looking forward to the connections, even the simple wave from across the room means more than you can imagine.

Heading back to the Bloggers Cafe this year, 5 years since this amazing journey started is going to be great. Never in a million years would I have thought so much would happen and change in 5 years, but it has. And I’m happy because of it.

Retaining Quality Teachers

In my first reflection of EdCamp Madison, I mentioned the final session of the day, centered around finding and maintaining quality teachers.  Interestingly enough, the session was led by a school board member.  I thought it was great that a school board member attended the event, and even more impressive that they led a session.  My experience bargaining four contracts in my former district gave me a good insight into the topic because I’ve worked closely with Administration and Board members and saw the impact certain decisions had on teacher moral.

When I got into the room a few minutes late, the discussion was just getting started.  People were going around the room saying one thing they thought was important.  Soon after, a deeper discussion took place with others responding to comments and sharing their thoughts. A few of the main points that came up centered around support from administration, quality leadership, and trust.

Many mentioned that the administration, at various levels, needed to support their teachers.  The support needed to come in the form of time to learn, specifically on topics the teachers felt were important.  Allowing professional development to take the form of an EdCamp or unconference style.  In addition to time, many people mentioned the fact that teachers aren’t often supported when they want to take chances and try something new.  It’s not always something that administrators are willing to do.  The room, felt they should.

In addition to support, the discussion brought up quality leadership and how that can have a huge impact on how teachers feel about their job.  It’s essential the building principal be the lead learner and model their learning as well.  The principals also need to know what is going on in their building and make appearances in the classrooms.  When principals don’t have a clue about what is going on in classroom, teachers can grow.  The principal is supposed to help teachers get better and when they are not leading by example, it’s not good.

The third main point discussed centered around trust.  Several people mentioned that they aren’t trusted as professionals.  Keep in mind, this is Wisconsin, and the educators here haven’t exactly been treated very well over the last couple of years in particular.  Teachers want to be trusted to make the correct decisions for their students and trusted to learn what they feel is important.

I do want to mention that most of the people in the room weren’t necessarily complaining about their situation.  Many were expressing positive experiences and wanted to relay those ideas to others.  There quite a few building principals in the room and they gave great perspective on what they are doing to create a positive environment and also sharing things they do to make the best of situations where they don’t have as much control.  It was a great session and the input was great.  Looking back, someone in the room should have been taking notes because I know there were ideas and suggestions that I’m not remembering.

I certainly hope that the school board member takes the ideas back and shares them in her district.  I hope she sees the value in the type of learning that took place at EdCamp and works to incorporate it in her district.  I only hope more Board members can experience an EdCamp and are willing to listen to teachers and principals to make their schools better.

I Went to EdCamp and All I Got Was…

shirta t-shirt.  Well, that’s not all I got.  I recently attended EdCamp Madison (WI) and enjoyed the day.  It was held at Sun Prairie High School, one of the most beautiful schools I’ve seen.  I joked with my friend Stuart Ciske, who lives in Sun Prairie, that his tax dollars are paying for a great facility.  There was a large number of people at the event, over 150, and probably close to 200.  Like most EdCamps, we got started in the morning by putting together the schedule for the day.  There were 4 times slots of presentations and 8 options during each time slot.  The sessions I attended (more in a bit on those) had at least 20 people in the room, which made for great discussion.   I probably would have preferred 5 time slots based on the fact that there were over 30 presentations, but I shouldn’t complain.

The first session I attended was one I suggested.  We discussed how to building community in your school and how to get more teachers connected.  There were a number of great ideas suggested, but one stood out to me.  When trying to get others involved with Twitter or some other educational network, show them with a distinct purpose.  Don’t just show them Twitter on a random Tuesday and expect them to get it.  They won’t.  It takes time, some suggested a “30 day trial” knowing it’ll take time to build the connections.  The main suggestion was to introduce Twitter around a specific event – a conference where you can follow a hashtag and see who is tweeting what.  Or, during a scheduled #edchat.  To me, this was a great takeaway.  We also talked with the first time attendees in the room about how they heard about the event and what brought them there.  Basically, it was the encouragement of a colleague.  My take away from this was that we can’t just tell people about this online world we’re engaged in, but we must bring people with us.

I attended another session on Web 2.0 tools.  I’m not sure why, but it seemed the best option at the time.  The person organizing the session tried to create a Google Doc for us add sites to, but the shortened link they shared wasn’t working and they had trouble getting it working correctly.  I tried setting one up for the group on my iPad, but I learned that my inexperience of creating and sharing a new GDoc on my iPad caused a delay.  I eventually got it set up and shared with the room, but no one entered any of the sites.  This was disappointing.  I haven’t look at the doc since the session because the list is incomplete and there are no links to the sites or apps.

The 3rd session I attended was on Chrome apps and extensions by Chad Kafka and Tammy Lind.  I walked away with a few new tricks and extensions that I’m going to try out.  One that I know I’ll share with my daughter is Read and Write.  It’s a Chrome extension that does text to speech, but only works with Google Docs.  I already tried it out and it works great.  I’ll share my thoughts on the others after test driving for a bit.  Here’s the doc they shared for the session.

The last session was actually led by a school board member and the topic was how to attract and retain great teachers.  I enjoyed this session a lot, but figure my thoughts on it deserve a separate post.  Stay tuned.

Overall, a good day.  It was nice to see some online friends I haven’t seen in a while and make some new connections with Wisconsin educators.  I stuck around at the end hoping to win an iPad mini.  It didn’t happen.  I did, however, get a great EdCamp Madison t-shirt.

I Have A Job For You

5032405706_6b3da2bd08I woke up early on Saturday, January 27th to help out with a virtual event for work, and in the process, learn. The Discovery Educator Network was hosting Techbook LIVE!, a full day professional development opportunity centered around science instruction and Discovery Education’s Science and Social Studies Techbooks. I spent two hours in the morning listening to Lance Rougeux shared about the Common Core and then watched a livestream of teachers and students in Florida talking about how they use the DE Techbook in their classrooms. Lance’s session was great, but it was fun to hear from teachers and students about what they are doing in their classroom related to science and technology.

Shortly after these sessions ended, I jumped on Twitter to see what was happening at EduCon. If you’re not aware, EduCon is weekend event held at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I’ve never attended EduCon, but have tried to follow the tweets and see what’s being shared and discussed. For those who’ve attended, the experience has been a blast.

This may not have been a typical Saturday, with two events occurring at once, but I believe, on many weekends, there learning opportunities out to be found. Perhaps it’s an EdCamp, like EdCampMadison, which I plan on attending in February. The conference season is also here, with FETC beginning this weekend and a Discovery Education precon event today. I think many connected educators are aware of these opportunities, but we need to do a better job of sharing our learning with our colleagues who aren’t as connected as we are.

Here’s a job for you. It’s one I’ll try to do as well. The next time you’re learning online, whether it’s following along an in-person event like EduCon, a DEN event, or a tech conference, or a virtual event like DEN VirtCon or a Twitter chat, share the experience with a non-connected colleague. Tell them your plans ahead of time and how you’re going to learn. Get together at a coffee shop or some other place and learn together. Explain what you do, how you connect. Help them out. Chances are, they’ll learn something in the process and possibly get hooked like we are.

Photo Credit: klbeasley via Compfight cc

K12 Online Conference, A Great Opportunity

I’m a big fan of learning.  Educators need to constantly be learning, not only for themselves, but to model learning for their students.  I particularly like learning when it’s free.  And when it’s online where I can learn at my own pace whenever I’d like, from the comfort of my own home or mobile device.  The K12Online Conference meets of those requirements.  If you’ve never checked out the K12Online Conference, you’re missing out on a fantastic learning opportunity.  There are plenty of sessions on a variety of topics for a variety of educators.  The 2012 K12Online Conference has begun – take a look at the schedule and see what peeks your interest!

My Favorite ISTE Tweets

I didn’t attend ISTE this year, but tried to follow along on Twitter as best I could.  There were a lot of great conversations but I was disappointed in the lack of sessions being streamed.  In the past, people would fire up their laptops, open UStream and those not in attendance could follow watch some of the presentations.  For whatever reason, this didn’t happen this year, which was a bummer.  Oh well.

I still have to sift through the stream and the tweets I marked as favorites.  I’ll get to those eventually and share what I find.  However, I do want to share a few of my favorite quotes that came through during the conference.  These statements from conferences attendees really stood out to me.  I’m not sure these statements are originals from the people themselves, but either way, I’d like to thank them for either coming up with these ideas or restating them.

  • From Chris Lehmann – “Inquiry isn’t us asking kids questions we know answers to. It’s asking questions we don’t know answers to.”
  • also from Chris – “Pave the Road – make it easier for people to change – give people a way to change.”
  • From Jen Wagner – “What i learned today #iste12 — without a relationship, tech is just a tool. With relationship, tech can transform”
  • From Yong Zhao – “Test Scores do not show your teaching ability, your student’s learning, or the quality of your school.”