Category Archives: Conferences

An interesting discourse

I have been attending the SxSWedu convention in Austin this week. It has been a good experience – I have learned new things, been in rooms with people who don’t just talk about changing things, they are actively involved in that change. My highlight, however, took place, for the most part, this afternoon and evening when I participated in a social event designed like a game called Learning is Earning 2026.

The game, designed by Jane McGonigal and in collaboration with the Institute for the Future and the ACT Foundation, is centered around a world where education has been transformed into a social credentialing system. Citizens earn “edublocks” when they learn something new and are encouraged to do so through a points system, as well as potential job opportunities and student loan payoffs. Once a person has learned something, they are encouraged to teach others.

The game I participated in this evening was designed to engage its participants in thoughtful dialogue about the pros, cons, potential impacts, and other important considerations surrounding this idea. I have to say that when I first watched the promo video for the “Ledger” system that would house edublocks, I was excited at the possibilities – and I still am. However, the act of participating in the conversation tonight really got me thinking about all of the potential problems that would have to be solved before a system like this would work.

I won’t go into details about all that I learned tonight – I fully intend to explore these possibilities further. What I would like to say is that the entire platform, where my participation was encouraged by a points system and possibilities of “leveling up” and even potentially being invited to the Institute offices in California, was extremely engaging. The diverse opinions and perspectives of the group, coupled with the incentives, kept the conversation lively and made me more likely to play devil’s advocate to dive as deeply into the content as possible.


My original character on UO

Is it my old gamer self shining through (I used to spend hours and lots of real dollars on my citizenship on the Great Lakes shard of Trammel in the Ultima Online MMORPG, or is it a generally competitive human nature that fueled my participation? I believe some of the people I had discussions with this evening would say – Does it matter?

My big question from tonight is – Can the incentive to learn be material (money, points, prestige) or should it be a desire to learn for the sake of learning?

Reflections on GTAATX 2014

When I came home from the Google Teacher Academy in Austin last week, I was exhausted, but in a good way. I wanted to write a reflection, but I also wanted to let the experience simmer a bit so that I would write one that was not influenced by the “high” that was GTA.

Today, I read posts from fellow GTAATX folks, including a very thoughtful and honest one from Karl Lindgren-Streicher and a data-filled one that made my science heart leap by Matt Vaudrey. Although the latter made me a bit sad since the data doesn’t lie and the data says I was one of the two oldest people in the room, both of the posts gave me the opportunity to reflect almost a week after the first day of the event. What the reflection revealed to me is the topic of this post.


Photo by Danny Silva

I agree with Karl that the Academy was an awesome experience that could have been even more awesome. I was energized and encouraged by a fantastic group of educators who, like me, believe that together, educators can truly change the world. I also felt sad that we didn’t get more time to plan and develop the strategies that will begin the transformation. Although the sessions were helpful in their own right, I found my mind wandering back to my project and the work I was anxious to get started.

My inner science and sociology geek absolutely loved the session from Chris Aviles (@techedupteacher) where he shared several resources that provide all the data needed to get conversations started in nearly any content area. Data that is relevant to students because it has been gathered through Google and social media outlets.

I loved the information Amy Mayer (@friEdtechnology) provided and her down-to-earth style of discussion. It was also really cool that for the first time ever, a Google Teacher Academy included a student of hers!

The problem-solving and design parts of the Academy were the most beneficial. Not only did I have the opportunity to sort through and begin working on my own project, I got valuable feedback from the minds in the room. It was also a great way to learn parts of the Google design process, which I will find useful in my experience as a presenter and coach.

I won’t go into details about the tools I learned about – you can check out the GTAATX hashtag to see all the things that were shared over the two days. The Google training team did a great job – tweaking the sessions to meet our needs and they were super receptive to feedback with a strong desire to improve future academies.

I am so thankful I was a part of the experience and I hope that I will be able to continue the momentum!

Getting myself to move – Day 1 of #GTAATX

It was with mixed feelings that I traveled to Austin in the wee hours of the morning so that I could attend the Google Teacher Academy. Mind you, this is an opportunity only given to 52 educators out of hundreds of applications. It is an opportunity to sit in the collaborative, ideation tank that is Google for two days, immersed in networking and learning with some of Google’s brightest, and over 52 of the most creative leaders in education technology.

Still, I was tired, having spent the evening at a ladies event at my church and finally pulling into the hotel parking lot a little before 2 a.m. (after stopping three times because I was falling asleep at the wheel). Would I get enough out of these two days to make the trek worthwhile? Would I feel okay about missing two days of work and putting out fires in order to have this experience?

After Day 1, I have to say there is nowhere else I could have been today. Sitting in a small room with so many people who share the same vision and have the same out-of-the-box ideals and hopes was energizing. As I worked through the Google design process today, I remembered why it is that I am so passionate about the things I pursue in education. I could see that passion ignited in the others, who, as we had conversations at our tables, began to realize they were truly preaching to the choir – no longer speaking so passionately to deaf ears, their cries of reform and relevance were falling on ears just as enthusiastic as they were themselves.

This has been such an inspiring semester for me. The four-session series called the 4C Cadre (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking) at my district has reignited the creativity that had gone dormant in me. Miami Device in November put me with some of the greatest minds in EdTech so that I could realize the I, too, had something important to contribute.

  • Today, at the Google offices in Austin, I learned about the concept of moon shots and realized that, although my philosophy has always been about allowing baby steps from the teachers who I support, I needed to have a much bigger vision of where we are heading in order to make those baby steps mean something.
  • Today, I learned that there are a lot of people just like me out there – trying to change the world one teacher/student at t time.
  • Today, I learned, as Joe Marquez said, that “this is not MY classroom, it is OUR classroom” and we all share the same responsibility to teach and should be given the same opportunity to reach.

Blown away.

DENSI Sunday (losing track of days!)

Today was a great day. It included the culminating event for the LC pre-con and the arrival of all the folks for DENSI. 

In the morning, we made sack lunches and created sock monkeys to donate to a local homeless shelter. The monkeys, along with books that LC members brought with them, will be given to children. At the beginning of the sock monkey creation, none of us really knew what we were doing. With Dacia’s expert direction, we got into a pretty decent assembly line. Many of us began to take a special interest in the monkey we were making and by the time it was time to add a birth certificate and box them up, it was hard to let them go. Here is the monkey I dressed. I named her Summer:


Special thanks to Matt Graves, who took the picture. Matt also was the recipient of the first DEN finger for DENSI 2014 for being such a great example of the DEN by making many trips to the airport to pick up folks, including me! Thank you Matt!

As attendees arrived in the afternoon, it was so cool to see their excitement. Those who are attending DENSI for the first time renewed my own excitement as their shining faces and huge smiles were very contagious!

In the evening, we had a barbeque, which was delicious, and exchanged our state gifts. I got a wonderful pecan pie from Susanne Mahone, who is from Alabama. The pecans are significant to her state, but she also had a great story to tell about why pecans are significant to her. I love this tradition!

At the opening session, Porter announced keynote, Greg Siers, who is a TV and film producer. Greg kept apologizing for not being an educator, but his perspective as a gifted and bullied student who has made a huge success of his life was something no teacher could have given us. His story hit so close to home for me, I was moved to tears at least a couple of times. I feel moved to respond in some way, and will definitely be trying to find a way . . .

After dinner, we met with our teams for the week. It was great to begin to hear the stories as we did a teambuilding question and answer session. I can’t wait to learn more about Team Neene!


Today, we joined the Principal Summit for an unconference. This was really cool because today was also EdCamp Fort Worth, which I was supposed to be at as a member of the planning team. I still got to unconference and watch both streams (#DENSI2014 and #edcampfwtx) on Twitter.

The blending of DEN LC members and principals was a unique opportunity and ended up providing a great diversity of perspective into the sessions. My day started off with a session I proposed, which was the gamification of professional development. The double room I was scheduled in was packed and we had a balanced blend of teachers and administrators in the room. Lots of resources were shared but the thing I’m most excited about was the decision to attempt to come up with a framework and basic “game” written by DEN members that can be used in any school or district. Many districts do not have the staff or the resources to pull something like this off very quickly, so here is another chance for the DEN to provide a much-needed resource to those who need it most!

Next, I went to a session led by Howard Martin about how resources can be shared within the Discovery Education platform. This discussion led to some great ideas and suggestions for future development by DE.

While the principals went to a session led by DE staff, the LC broke out into their teams for planning. I’m a part of the blog and social media team. I won’t tell you the things we discussed in there because I want them to be a surprise if they ever happen! What I will tell you is that the blog and social media team is filled with a terrific bunch of ideators who brainstormed enthusiastically the whole time. Lots of great stuff being talked about!

After lunch, I went to a session about online spaces. This session was facilitated by DENnis Grice and Marita Diffenbaugh. They shared the platforms their districts have used and/or have quit using to open up the discussion about providing online spaces for students and teachers. A lot of discussion was given to Edmodo and Schoology and the logistics of rolling out a new platform.

The mid-afternoon session was when many of us became overwhelmed with the activity for the day and a few even participated in #napchat which was held in the second floor lounge area. I went to a session in the cinema hosted by Sandy MacDougall, where he shared ways his district has developed and used PD.

During the 3:00 session, I spent time in a discussion facilitated by Rachel Yurk to toss around the idea of a way to tap into the talent that exists in the DEN. It was a great discussion, and I think some really cool things will come out of that session.

At the end of the day, we gathered in the cinema for a closing by Jannita. In it, she encouraged us to decide who we are and what our goals are, then do something about it. She awarded each of us the “Light Award”, which was a really powerful way to remind us that we make a difference every day.

All of the session notes are attached to the unconference schedule. You can access it here.

The evening festivities included a bus trip to the Wildhorse Saloon. It was perfect. There was good music, fun dancing, and space to talk with friends.


DENSI field trip fashion

I’ve been participating in the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (affectionately called DENSI) since Saturday. Today, we took a field trip to Yellowstone National Park. This trip brought the number of things that DENSI has crossed off my bucket list to three:

  • Visit Montana
  • Visit Wyoming
  • Visit Yellowstone National Park

It was a great trip, and if you do a search for #DENSI2012, you will find all kinds of pictures on Flickr, tweets on Twitter, and probably blog posts from other participants.

What I want to talk about today is gear. This institute is all about technology, so everyone always brings lots of it. I have been experimenting over the last year with scaling down, so the tech I brought with me fit into a small bag. In the spirit of my experiment, I thought a lot about what I wanted to take with me on the field trip.

As we loaded on to the buses, I saw lots of people with stuffed backpacks. I even saw some taking large tripods. I know that a place like Yellowstone definitely calls for tripods for some serious photography, and this post does not mean to say the people who took them are wrong. On the contrary, I would say that for them, it was definitely right. Do a search on Flickr for #DENSI2012 and you will see some incredible photos and I bet some of them were taken by the people who took their tripods.

I had carefully chosen the items I would take with me. Here is my photo, just before getting on the bus. I would like to suggest that my choice of gear was appropriate – for me. I do not have a nice camera, and as I said before, I am experimenting with traveling light. Take a look at the photo and tell me what I missed.

Did you guess what I forgot? Yes, I have a bright red forehead now, because I decided I didn’t need sunscreen. Oh well, the rest of my gear served me well. I got some decent pictures with my phone because of some tips we received from a professional photographer on the way to the park, I got some videos to add to the institute video collection, and I looked cool with my tripod hanging off my wallet, just like the guy in front of me in the line to get frozen yogurt looked cool with his gorilla tripod hanging out of his back pocket.

How about you? What would you take?

Igniting and restoring passion

Today was the first official day of Podstock. Brad Flickinger was the keynote speaker this morning and many of the things he said really resonated with me. The title was “The Secret Path to Great EdTech Lessons”.

Brad quickly revealed the “secret” is passion. Igniting passion in students is the only way to get them excited about learning. The first step was instilling curiosity and he showed some of the ways that he does that – through projects and extracurricular activities. He said once students get just a taste of success, they will continue to work hard and do well. It is human nature – we feel that small indicator of success and we want to try again – and do it better next time.

Brad is a dynamic speaker. His style pulled me in and even though he was talking about elementary projects, I could see ways that his ideas could work for my schools. He talked about making everything seem real so that students will work harder – if they know something is contrived, they will give less effort to it.

I sat listening to Brad’s sincerity, being pulled in to the peaceful idea of students achieving because they are excited about what they are doing, when he decided to give us the real “secret”. This secret wasn’t about igniting passion in students, but was the surprising benefit of focusing on students . . .

Teachers regain their passion for teaching when students are passionate about learning.

So many teachers are burned out – tired of the administrative tasks, tired of the uncertainty of political agendas, tired of fighting against apathetic students. Many of them end up leaving the profession or retiring at the earliest possible moment because they just can’t continue. What Brad talked about just might be a solution.

Later in the day, as I introduced myself for my presentation, I talked about the Girls of Technology – an organization I co-created to build a sense of community among girls who have chosen to follow STEM career paths. What it has become is so much more, and I have found myself even more passionate about that organization than I was the day we first began brainstorming the creation of it. I thought about what Brad had said – that the passionate students didn’t even have to be the ones in your classroom – they could be an after-school organization, a sports team or a band – the result is still a teacher with a renewed passion for education.

I thought back to my first year teaching, when seeing just one student’s face light up during a pond water lab gave me the energy to teach another year, and I really understood what Brad had said.

We saw a similar dynamic yesterday during LaunchMe, when Ben Honeycutt gave his presentation about Open World – a solution created by students to solve a real-world problem. His talk, and the passion behind it, ignited passion in the educators who witnessed it and helped us remember the reason we are all here.

Let’s all try to find our own passion by igniting passion in our students. It is all about them, but what an awesome and unexpected result – loving our jobs again, remembering why we started in the first place, and making a difference in somebody’s life.