June 29, 2012

Updated! Courage to Be Real - ISTE12 Reflections

I boarded my connection from Las Vegas to San Diego and waited to see who would take the middle seat.  Fortunately for me, the woman who sat down next to me, Miriam, struck up conversation.  After a few minutes of conversation we realized that we lived in neighboring cities in Indiana.  Our conversation continued and I discovered that this was no ordinary woman.  Miriam loved school when she was young and had wanted to go to college but put aside her aspirations for marriage and raising her 3 sons.  With a twinkle in her eye, she told me her story of receiving her Bachelors degree at age 65 and how much she had desired her own cap-and-gown moment.  Now at age 73, she wants to get a Masters degree, perhaps in Hebrew because it's something she has never studied.  Miriam is leaving her job soon to become a full time caregiver for her husband and she was adamant about needing to keep her mind engaged.  "My mind is as hungry as my body has ever been," she said, ever so poignantly.

That statement resonated with me in many ways.  At present I resemble Miriam's remark as I am intentional in my professional learning and growth, an information omnivore at times.  But I was struck by this statement and was in awe of this woman next to me who was a voracious learner.  I can only hope to have her hunger for knowledge and connection when I am 73.  We talked at length about how much we both love technology and our devices, so I encouraged her to start a blog and share her amazing story.   She laughed and said I was probably the 45th person who had encouraged her to blog. Then Miriam looked at me and quietly said that she had written a book once, it was titled, The Courage to Be Real.  I told her it was the perfect title for her blog.

My ISTE experience began with an inspiring and meaningful conversation that formed a new friendship.  I walked off the plane in San Diego feeling confident that I would make the most out of ISTE.  Miriam gave me that extra push, the courage to be real, to be open to the unknown experience that was before me.  I met so many friendly, charismatic, welcoming, talented people and shared amazing experiences and stories with them.  My new learning is tremendous and will have lasting impact on my professional practice.  Presenting my poster station about student blogging was exhilarating and satisfying to engage in professional and pedagogical conversation.  ISTE was a place where we all spoke the same language and were passionate and enthusiastic about the same things.  I loved the energy each morning as a new day of eager learning began.

As I waited for the airport parking shuttle at 2:30am this morning, a gentleman and I were discussing our flight's hour wait on the tarmac when we realized we had both attended ISTE.  Our mutual excitement led to yet another meaningful conversation.  My ISTE experience is wrapped in a tapestry of remarkable conversations held on common ground and in unexpected ways.

I am leaving ISTE with a remarkable PLN who are all so truly supportive and inspiring, and taking with me a deep appreciation for the courage to be real.  I am so grateful for having connected with Tracy Watanabe, Joan Young, Jerry Blumengarten, Rurik Nakerud, Jena Sherry, Paula Naugle, Lisa Sjogren, Heidi Ellis, Matt and Dan at Kidblog, Angela Seits, and Caroline Haebig.  I can't wait to see you all again at #ISTE13!

Miriam and I have a lunch date planned and we'll be setting up her new blog.

June 17, 2012

Worth the Risk?

Photo by venspired.com
Today I had the chance to catch up with an old friend and former colleague.  In our brief chat, I learned how he was following his passion to start a new venture as an educational consultant and coaching high school football.  Tone can be tricky to read in a chat, but with the smiley faces and exclamation marks, it was easy to read the spark and joy behind these decisions.  He joyfully took a risk to leave the classroom and start out on a new journey.

Taking risks - big life-changing, jumping-off-a-cliff type risks - is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.  I know this from first hand experience.   Recently, I made the choice to leave the comfort of my 3rd grade classroom and become an elementary STEM teacher and coach.  At present, I don't know which school I will be at or the specifics of exactly what my role entails as this is a brand new position, but opportunity knocked and called and tweeted and... well, I couldn't do anything other than answer.  Exhilarating and terrifying!  

This jumping-off-a-cliff risk is a career defining moment for me.  I chose to try something new where I can focus my passions and enthusiasm and I can guarantee that my teaching and learning will never be the same because of this risk.  

The first weeks of school I always talk with my students about taking risks in the classroom.  Risk is unnerving, it's anything but comfortable, and the potential for failure is looming.  Fail?  Terrifying!  So what, go ahead and fail.  Failure is a part of life, you will fail at something sometime.  There is always a lesson to be learned in mistakes and failing, even if it's learning how to accept failure graciously.  But what if you take the risk and succeed?  Exhilarating!  

In my situation, the goal of being able to focus my passion and enthusiasm is well worth the risk of leaving my 3rd grade classroom.  It's important, necessary, to create a safe classroom environment which supports students taking goal-oriented risks and learning to grow from their successes and failures.  Blogging is one way my students took risks this year as they put their thoughts out into the world, transparently sharing their writing and finding their voices.  Comments and feedback, or lack thereof at times, have been teaching tools in the risk-taking of young blog authors.  Through the collective experience of blogging and commenting as individuals and part of a class, my students were able to take different risks with their blog posts, some more serious, some more often, some still lurking.  I believe that as these students become young adults and find their passions in life, they will be all the more prepared to follow these passions, having had supportive experiences in taking risks.

How do you follow and sustain your passion?  How do you encourage students to take risks in the classroom?  

June 13, 2012

Off to Camp: EdCampIndy

My first edcamp experience this week was fantastic at the first edcampIndy.  Reading about the "unconference" style and loose planning made me a little wary about topic choices, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Frankly, I should have known better, because in a  room full of educators who have sought out the edcamp experience, someone was bound to have an opinion and something good to share.  And WOW did these teachers share!

Discovering new web tools was very exciting, like symbaloo, where you can create a webmix of your favorite bookmarks in a visual app-style layout.  This symbaloo features several web tools shared at edcampIndy.  Organizational tools like Evernote, Diigo, and LiveBinders were also popular topics.

Some new favorite web search tools are InstaGrok, a concept map style search engine, and StumbleUpon, which "stumbles" you through the internet based on your interests.  

For curriculum support, check out Thinkfinity and Edutopia, but I really got excited about Edsitement which focuses on Humanities and has lesson plans complete with helpful resources.  

Discussions about flipped classrooms (or flipping the teacher) came up in every session, and these resources shared as support for the flipped environment included Sophia.org, Hippo Campus, and of course, Khan Academy.  Along with flipped classrooms, we talked about open source content and flex books, like the ones found on CK-12.  To display content in a different way, try ThingLink and make an image interactive with media, or students could create their own infographics with Visual.ly.

edcampIndy was a great place to meet like-minded educators, like Justin Vail @TheVails and Jen Wells @madamewells who were powerhouses of information to share and facilitated great discussions. 

I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and open discussions, where there were no dumb questions.  The session facilitators did a great job of getting the conversations started and then turning over the dialogue to others.  At the end of the day there was a Smackdown of final thoughts, resources and take-away moments, which was a really fun way to end the day.  Overall, edcampIndy was a great success and I will be back next year!