Fun, Fame, and Fighting: My ISTE conference take aways….

Well almost everyone who is engaged in educational technology or EdTech as many conveniently call it, converged on Denver, Colorado over the last few days. ISTE or the International Society for Technology in Education is a global organization who is attempting to redefine learning for students all over the world, create global citizens and enhance classrooms worldwide through the effective usage of technology. Although I was an ISTE conference newbie, I was prepped by veteran attendees on what to expect, things to look out for, and given a general game plan for attacking this event. I was grateful and definitely took all of their wise advice into consideration. Here are my takeaways from my first ISTE experience I wanted to share.

Meeting people you respect, appreciate, and admire in real life is the coolest!

There are quite a few people that I have connected with online, gotten a great vibe from, and many I can call friends. Being physically in their presence really took our interaction to another level. The first time I met a few of these individuals I even became a goofy and awkward teen fan girl with them (luckily they still decided to talk to me again).

 

It is so important when navigating new waters (the EdTech community in my case) to have allies and people you can be yourself around, trust, and know they are genuinely themselves around you. It is great to know these connections and face to face interactions provide opportunities to actively keep moving our educational system in a positive direction. Educators, remember we all have our own pockets of influence. It is imperative to connect with educators in real life as well as via social media to magnify our pockets of influence and our voices. When we collectively raise our voices and the bar above status quo norms, we will make things better for all students in every school. ISTE provided me an excellent opportunity to finally meet educators all over the world I respect tremendously, allowed time for fun and engaging face to face conversations and ultimately helped to continue to strengthen our friendships and rapport.

 

 

There are still people that don’t get it.

I know, I know, I come off that great high talking about meeting great people in education and then my inner negative Nancy come out. Yes, there are people that think it is all about them. Yes, there are still people in this (education/EdTech world) for selfish reasons and attention. In the social media world, you can get a sense of who some people are but the interaction in real life really pulls away all masks that the internet can provide. It was interesting to see people in real life and watch them maneuver the conference in ways that reminded me that my idealist way of thinking about all educators is, unfortunately inaccurate. Swag in a bag was more important than connecting. Looking important was more pressing than learning from people doing it better. Crowded buzzword filled sessions were in some cases less impactful than small, sincere group conversations. Individuals whose intentions and motivations are not in the right place (doing this work for students) are people that cause me to want to work harder to combat the poor behavior/attitudes they are bringing into our schools and districts. Unfortunately, not everyone is in education or EdTech for the right reasons, which isn’t okay, but the conference was a reminder that I need to keep fighting for what is right and there is still work to be done.

 
Edu-fame is real….well just at ISTE.

As a new kid on the block, I take Twitter followers, retweets and likes with a grain of salt. I like who I am on and off social media and am good in the friends department, so I don’t use my social media presence as a gauge to determine if I matter. These past few days many of my friends and even I (shocking, huh?) got approached not by a hello, but instead “aren’t you are so-and-so, I follow you on Twitter!” How do you respond to that? I honestly had no clue and stumbled around my words and said: “really, okay thanks, that’s great.” It might have seemed condescending but how should we really respond? Greeting a person in that manner, what is the motivation? Are you trying to let me know that I’m important? Are you trying to make yourself feel important? I don’t know the answers, but I am grateful for all the genuine people I’ve connected with via social media. The difference between the ones I’m grateful for and others is this: I’ve engaged in conversations with them, supported and cheered their work and efforts, and actively built a sincere rapport with them. As mentioned in a previous post I wrote, like is an emotion that is fleeting, respect is what I always aim for. Although this weekend reminded me that Edu-fame is still very real for many, it’s not my cup of tea.

Here’s a little advice (albeit unsolicited) to those new or not as connected to the education social media train should always remember:

  1. Don’t try so hard to fit in by using social media and your Twitter presence as a form of validation.
  2. Actions always speak louder than words.
  3. Do the work. Remain humble.
  4. Sincerely support and encourage others.
  5. Always remember why you are in education. Edu-fame is not real.

 

Silenced and oppressed voices are making moves but there is still a long way to go.

Kudos to ISTE for getting Dr. Michio Kaku and Dr. Ruha Benjamin as keynote speakers, bringing diverse voices of color in front of thousands of people. Although it was my first time attending ISTE, it was also great to see a good number of people of color leading sessions and sharing their voices at this massive event. With those positives being said, improvements can still always be made. The EdTech community has been a certain way and filled with certain voices for a very long time. Breaking through the glass ceiling can be painful and tiresome, but is a necessary process. With strong leadership and active efforts from groups like EduColor, the Digital Equity PLN, and EdSpeakers, I hope ISTE continually sees the value, importance, and works to empower diverse perspectives, rather than diversity and inclusion being the new flavor of the month.

Can’t wait to rest from ISTE and catch back up on the things (family time and grad school work) that I missed while I was in Denver. This was definitely a very memorable experience but I’m sure glad to be home.

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That one time at STEM camp….

Earlier this year during a Voxer chat, one of my friends mentioned her plans of running an innovation camp for students this summer. It was so awesome to hear her excitement about this venture and the experiences it would provide her district’s students. This excitement was infectious and sparked feelings in me to create and make available a camp experience for Creekland’s students. Even though I had doubt in my ability to make a camp happen,  I presented my proposal to run a STEM/Maker camp to my principal in late March. I told him wanted to create a camp experience that allowed for new and engaging learning experiences helping to serve as a springboard for the direction our school wants to go next year. On the spot, I received his blessing. Soon after his approval, I was lucky enough to get one of our school’s top teachers to offer to lead the science and math sessions at camp. After receiving support from these two key individuals, my excitement levels increased, I turned down the volume on my internal doubts, and the first annual Creekland Middle School STEM/Maker camp was born.

 

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Organizing and leading a camp for the first time was quite a learning experience. During this process, I was able to learn a lot about myself as well as learn more about Creekland’s students. Here are my takeaways from my first year running a STEM/Maker Camp:

  • Be organized. I am very detail oriented, type A personality which was tremendously helpful for creating this event. Developing a clear plan for the STEM/Maker camp and organizing that vision into a tangible step by step checklist was huge. From having lunch provided at a reasonable price delivered on time, to developing the daily schedule, to printing certificates, being organized was a key to successful camp. So make sure you have your spreadsheet skills ready!
  • Get crafty. One of my participants gave me feedback and said she wished there were more arts and crafts. Art is something I am not comfortable with (I know it is not about me), but with my first year running camp I wanted to stay in my lane. We had two sessions daily for students to rotate between science and math in one room and technology and engineering in the other. I know next year I need to do a better job of incorporating more maker, creativity, artsy activities during camp to spark excitement in all participants.
  • Allow students time to be heard. I made a point to allow all of the participants to express themselves. Some expressed themselves vocally during camp, others used our anonymous survey on the last day to express themselves. Their expression gave me raw, unedited feedback which is best to hear so that I can improve. It also empowered the participants because they realized I cared about their camp experience and their opinions. Providing time for students (yes even middle school students) to give feedback is not only helpful for the camp organizer but gives those students a bit of ownership of their camp experience.
  • Allow variety. Camp helped me realize once students receive the opportunity and are lukewarm or cold towards it, it’s my responsibility to offer on the fly the chance to tinker with something else that captures their interest. I learned after the first day of camp, not all students wanted to code. Although I think coding is an excellent activity for students to experience, it is not something all the campers enjoyed doing. So day two when students were in the technology/engineering session with me, I made an effort to offer alternative activities besides coding. Students could build with Legos or Strawbees, tinker with SnapCircuits, and even do a little exploring with a Google Cardboard. I think introducing some variety during sessions our campers really appreciated.
  • Don’t compare and be uncomfortable. I mentioned in a previous post that comparison is dangerous and can be so deflating. I had to catch myself falling in the comparison black hole, measuring my abilities against others and my camp against other camps. I harshly examined all my shortcomings during the camp planning and even had a relapse after a successful first day . Here’s the list of shortcomings I devised in my head:
    • Lack of experience with coding
    • No experience running a camp
    • No experience with maker ideas
    • Not a large number of camp registrations
    • No cool swag or gifts to give campers

Remembering that camp was not about me and my ego but instead about providing a new experience for at least one student at my school, I was able to be content with being uncomfortable and watching the magic of camp happen. I remembered to not let what I don’t know or have never done hinder me from enjoying camp for what it was, a fun learning experience for our participants and me.

 

Overall, we were blessed with a successful first ever STEM/Maker camp at Creekland Middle School this week. Although I was extremely exhausted after Thursday, I was also very happy to provide this awesome opportunity for our students. Based on the feedback I received from kids, they truly enjoyed camp and are excited about the possibility of making, tinkering, creating, and coding more once we return to school in August. In my role as technology coordinator, I will continue to brush aside the thoughts of inadequacy, and the  “we’ve never done that before” statements and continue to change people’s mindsets including my own. This STEM/Maker camp was a huge nudge in the right direction for my vision to use technology to enhance learning and to provide innovative opportunities for all students at our school. Our students, teachers, administrators, and parents are starting to realize this is a new and exciting time at Creekland Middle School. With our collective efforts, students will continue to experience great things when adults get out of our own way, think outside of the box, make an effort, and have fun!

 

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2016 Creekland MS STEM/Maker Camp Participants

 

Opening My Eyes

Adobe Spark

After a comment made by a friend who I admire immensely,  I decided to write this post about one of my children. Being a mother for seven years has been one of the most tiring, motivating and rewarding experiences of my life. My children have constantly chipped away at my fragile ego, lack of patience, and black or white thinking making me a better person in the process.

Both of my children  have really pushed me to better understand and respect creativity, which is a huge departure from my analytical ways. My daughter Caylan has really pushed (well more like shoved) me out of my comfort zone as a parent and educator with her innovative and imaginative thinking. Recently, I stumbled across this article by Adam Grant about how to foster and encourage a creative spirit in children and it got me to thinking….am I doing a good job of this for my daughter? Am I doing a good job of this for students in my building?

For someone like me who has no ounce of creativity in her blood, it is sometimes hard to grasp what my daughter is thinking when she creates. Her mind is like the end of a fiber optic cable branching into tons of directions with ideas. She sees something and finds ways to “remix” these items with determination, pleasure, and joy.  Piggy backing off Rafranz Davis who wrote a great post regarding feedback for creative children, here are some additional ways us non-creative folks can help a creative child to flourish.

Realize you won’t always understand the why. I agree with what Rafranz mentioned about asking questions or the “why” about creative people’s work. I would like to take that a step further. I have begun to remind myself that Caylan’s “why” might not make sense to me and that’s okay. It is not necessary for me to understand Caylan’s creations completely. Instead, my job is to embrace her creations, give her a safe place to create without fear of ridicule and allow her the opportunity to flourish.

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Created a vending machine with a variety of snacks.

Opportunity. This is the one that I have embraced the most in my journey raising a creative child. I am constantly looking for ways to provide outlets for her creative juices to flow. From Minecraft to Raspberry Pi, Legos to Snap Circuits, or even just extra cardboard boxes, giving Caylan a variety of potential creative spaces is essential to the creative mind. By not affording ample opportunities to explore and create I become stifling and do her a major disservice.

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Initial set up of Raspberry Pi3

Be involved within reason. In providing opportunities and asking questions I also need to remember to pump the breaks and not hover over Caylan during her creative moments. It is okay for her to work alone, get frustrated and struggle some. Not being a helicopter parent with her creativity but allow her to experience some failure and setbacks during her creative processes is essential. It helps her build problem-solving skills and builds confidence in her abilities when she is able to move from setback to success.

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Combining two of her faves Minecraft and coding.

Attention and Care. This one has been hard for me because it is sometimes exhausting to be completely engaged in the hundreds of creations Caylan works on regularly. I’ve been  better (it is still a work in progress) at focusing and really listening to her  explain her creations to me without distraction.  I have to remind myself her creativity is a God-given gift that needs my regular attention and encouragement. I don’t want to be the cause of her losing her spark or become the adult that pulls the rug out from under her when she decides to share her gift by my lack of attentiveness.

 

 

As a parent, I want to give both of my children the best and all the opportunities that I can, but I have decided that this should be a concerted part of my work efforts too. Raising a creative child has sparked a desire to foster creativity in students and teachers in my building. My plan is to use my position to make necessary changes at my school so that it can become a safe and empowering place for our creative individuals to thrive. I will remind myself not to stifle creative individuals in my building, but instead build platforms and opportunities for the spotlight to shine brightly on their work.  As we embark on summer break, most educators are already planning for the fall. I challenge you during your planning to make the decision to be the adult in the classroom, school, or school district that allows the Braedens and Caylans of the world a space to shine. Be willing to open your eyes to experience wonderful glow the creative genius radiates giving you a glimpse into these individuals’ unique and beautiful souls. I promise you will not regret it….

 

 

 

If only…..

 

Regrets…..

Complacency….

Excuses…..

“If only” is a sentence starter that demonstrates an ultimate expression of excuse and regret. I have begun to hear quite a few people make “if only” statements regarding certain aspects of their lives. The reasoning behind “if only” statements is summed up with one word: Comparison.

We live in a society where we have the means to compare ourselves to others every minute of the day. A friend posts about their amazing significant other on Facebook and we examine our relationship. A teacher tweets about their new promotion to the district office and we wonder why we don’t get promoted. And a mom post on Instagram her picture perfect personally-made Olaf-shaped snacks for their one-year-old child’s Frozen themed birthday party and we devalue our ability as a mother. We can look at these joyous events/things on social media and say to ourselves and others “if only” and dilute our thinking. Instead of looking at others’ positive experiences/events at face value, many of us determine our value as people based solely on the highlights of others. These things are called highlights for a reason….they give bright, shiny attention to something I want you to see, which averts your attention from something I maybe don’t want you to see.

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Comparison ruins and handcuffs so many people, unfortunately, it can be just as paralyzing as fear. Comparison creates a defeatist attitude within us and is the pathway to mediocrity. What we think on and look at regularly, what our focus becomes, naturally affects our hearts. Our hearts will be restless and actions meaningless when I constantly live in an “if only” mindset. If I’m consistently focused on comparing my marriage, job, or students against others, how will I ever become content? If I regularly make excuses or place limitations on myself because I see the great things others do, how will I progress and grow? How easy is it to blend in the bell curve middle rather than be an outlier on the graph of life?

Individuals who are focused on comparison are like large buckets selfishly collecting experiences and accolades, brimming with blame, and usually filled with stagnant water. Those who are content, but still strive for improvement are like pipes. They do not interfere with others’ movement, remain very grounded, and act as a passageway of positive energy, experiences, and ideas. “If only” mindsets and comparing, will cause us to become buckets swimming in complacency and excuses rather than becoming content and purposeful pipelines to those around us.

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Instead of using your energy and time on comparison filled excuses and becoming stagnant, grow where you are planted.  Make progress daily. Continue to form genuine connections with others, especially those people who are better than you. Sincerely be happy for others’ successes. Be patient, diligently working towards your own success. Be a pipe rather than a bucket. Understand comparison and excuses do nothing but steal your joy and dampen everyone else’s parade.

If only we stopped the comparison filled excuses, how much joy and contentment would we all experience in this thing called life? Growth and excuses both take energy, time, and effort, which will you chose?