Friday, March 21, 2014

Tales of A Conference Junkie

My name is Kathy Diver. 
I am an addict. 
I am a Conference Junkie.

Wait....What? Am I addicted to conferences and workshops??? 

Missing CUE 2014 but I'm
getting info from my Tweeps
I have asked myself this question several times over the last few days. All these tweets about the CUE 2014 Conference in Palm Springs has me missing an event that I have attended several years in a row. I am watching my twitter friends and CUE RockStar colleagues enjoying their sessions, presenting to attendees and going to the keynotes and wondering why I decided to schedule my spring vacation in Colorado at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I am having a great time on my vacation- hiking, bicycling, brew tasting, and spending a quiet week -just my husband and myself. But I have to admit, there is a big part of me that would rather be in a crowded conference room learning new tech things and listening to the keynotes by Lavar Burton and Sal Kahn.

OK- Now that the admission is out of the way, I suppose I should explain why I consider myself a conference addict.

Conferences and workshops take time, energy and money. The resources I gain from attending professional learning events also take a great deal of effort and planning to incorporate into my lessons and teaching. What do I do to make it work and to get the most out of my experience?

How do I afford it?
John Stevens presents at our district
wide collaboration
I mentioned earlier that it takes time, energy and money to attend conferences. So here is what I do to pay for my conferences. First, I look for learning events that are FREE.  Obviously, the free short term events are great because you only have to spend your time and energy to get there. Many of these are held on Saturdays or after school hours. These days, Twitter, EdCamps and PlayDates are important components of my "free" learning. I use these sources for learning about technology use for my classroom. And I rarely pass up an opportunity to learn some new things on my local scene. Years ago, my former districts offered tech classes and Spanish classes after school during the week. My current employer recently had a district wide collaboration which I attended on a Saturday.

It IS a sacrifice of time. You have to decide if your personal obligations can allow for some professional enhancement. When my own kids were younger, the Saturdays were filled with soccer games and Girl Scout activities. After school hours were spent helping with homework and creating dinners. Family time was not a good trade off for my professional learning. When they were young, I was able to attend more summer activities. I tried to squeeze in occasional after school or weekend events during the school year. The calendar was more difficult to manage at that time in my life. Now that they are both grown up, I have more time to commit to my professional development.

I also pay for some conferences and workshops. INVESTING in my own learning makes me take it more seriously. Over the last 15 years, I have attended several California Science Teacher Association and CUE conferences on my own dime. Mostly, I pay for the travel and living expenses, while my principals have often found funding for the registration or substitutes. They know I will bring back new skills and ideas to share among my colleagues.  For them, it is a good investment of funds, because I am willing to share and teach others what I have learned.

There are a number of professional development opportunities for teachers to attend conferences that PAY a stipend to help compensate for expenses.  Some are sponsored by a local school district or county office of Education. Others are paid through grant funding from agencies such as National Science Foundation or NOAA. Still others are available because of the philanthropic nature of the "for profit" companies such as Discovery Education and ETS. I have participated in a number of these institutes over the years. They are generally competitive and require an extensive application. A simple internet search for "paid summer teacher workshops" or "paid summer teacher internships" will turn up a huge variety of learning opportunities. The sooner you check it out, the more opportunities you will find since many of applications for the competitive summer institutes close in the spring.

What I do when I am at a conference?
I PLAN my session choices depending on what I need to learn or what my school needs. I usually like to FOCUS ON A SPECIFIC AREA of interest for my practice. For example, the focus for my last trip to CSTA was to learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards. I was also looking for more lab activities to infuse into the current classes I am teaching (college prep biology). I looked at the sessions a couple of days ahead of time and planned out each of my days with the understanding that I also needed some time for some random things that might spark an interest. This concept of having a focus helps me to avoid "conference overload," where a participant may get too much of a good thing. Too many divergent concepts could create a head spinning and overwhelming feeling that there was too much to know and not enough time or brain power to understand it.

Participants at CUE Rock Star Napa
In order to get the best "bang for my buck," I plan to attend almost every session available, so that means I arrive a half hour or more before the first session starts and leave room in my schedule to stay until after the last session closes. If there are sessions that have similar classes or offerings more than one time, I try to work out my schedule to its best advantage, so that I can get the most from my experience. I try not to take breaks during session times unless there is no session of interest for me.

I try to get to the session EARLY so that I can sit close to the front. I have learned that arriving early to a session is better especially as I am now at an age when I do not want to sit on the floor when there is no seating space left in the room.  I like to interact a little bit with the presenter as they are preparing for their discussion. I have offered to help set up or even break down after a session. During the presentation, I like to ask questions that can help me in my practice. I try to get any paper resources if they are available for participants (an advantage for coming early).  For my last several conferences, I have used my iPad or computer to take notes and pictures so I can review them later to help infuse ideas into my teaching. I always save internet resources directly into my computer for later perusal. Even now, I use internet resources that I bookmarked 5 or 6 years ago at a conference.

I always try to bring small snacks (apples, string cheese, crackers, carrots) and water or iced tea. That way, I don't have to wait in line to pay conference venue prices for snacks or drinks on the go. If I am going to a conference with another person I know, I try to spend "free" time with them, so we can discuss what we have learned during the sessions. I like lunch and scheduled breaks for this kind of networking. It's also ideal if you have to "commute" with someone to the convention location. You can use that commuter time for debriefing and learning what they found out in the sessions they have  attended.

I also try to NETWORK with other conference participants. I have recently been active in the twitterverse and I now have many "cyberfriends" with whom I can share and discuss about the things I am learning. I love meeting up with these people face to face. Some of my twitter pals include some of the foremost people in their fields and seeing their presentations puts a new perspective on what is possible in my own teaching. These collective discussions create a bigger pool of learning where I can tap into and glean out precious nuggets for my own classroom. It is especially good for times like this week, when I am not on the conference site and I am still able to learn from the folks in my twitter feed to see if I can get any new resources for myself.

What I do when I get back to my classroom?
Prepping for future lessons
I like to DISCUSS my sessions with someone. My poor husband is sometimes my target, but I usually try to chat with others in my profession, so I can review and reflect on what I have learned. The day after my conference, I like to organize my notes and paper resources. At that time, I will review and rewrite all electronic notes I have taken during my sessions. I will reorganize the bookmarks I have made of any of the internet resources I have found. I look over my lesson plans for the next week, so that I can find some ways to incorporate at least 2 of the simpler things within the next few days. When there are more complicated and time consuming things, I tend to leave some of those for later use within the next month.

I try to INFUSE the most useful and interesting things as soon as I can. It keeps the ideas fresh in my mind. For example, I attended a screen casting session at CUE 2012. This was months before I had ever heard of "flipped instruction," but I could immediately see a use for recording my notes and lectures, so the following Tuesday, my students had to watch their very first screencast of class notes.

I will be attending Manhattan Beach CUE Rock Star
Yes, I am missing hanging out with my friends at CUE 2014 this week. I am sad that I am missing the Google Summit happening on the weekend. I know there will be other learning opportunities for me. In the meantime, I will feed my addiction to conference learning by having an informal 'appy hour or coffee cue with teachers in my school in the next week or so. I will be heading to San Francisco in April for the University of California Curriculum Integration Institute with my friend Mary Haus. I will be attending a district collaboration with the focus on NGSS for biology teachers early in June. I plan to attend the CUE Rock Star in Manhattan Beach with several colleagues late in July.

I have been thinking of using this topic as a conference presentation. I wonder if others feel the way I do about conferences and workshops. I have decided that being an addict of learning is really NOT a bad thing. If you are not a conference junkie yourself, maybe you should follow the process I have outlined above and infuse some excitement into your own practice. You won't believe how great it feels to be a lead learner among your students. They can sense your newfound energy and appreciation for learning and it will become an important model of what it is for all of us to be a life long learner.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Do I Push Myself?

Official Presenter Tag for #cuerockstar Napa
Yes, I did it! I decided I could actually present outside my district again. After whining about the attendance numbers at my first attempt, I wasn't sure I wanted to even try this again. However, I sent in my application to present at CUE Rock Star Napa and was told by THE Jon Corippo that it was mine if I wanted it.

Now, the nerves. Now, the anxiety. Now, the self doubt. Who am I to be teaching alongside the likes of Will Kimbley, Nicole Dalesio, Jennifer Kloczko and Jon? These people are the superstars in the CUE world. Me? I don't even have very advanced tech skills. I like my computer, camera and iPad. But by no means am I a whiz at using any one of these tools.

My Presentation Tools
I have never had formal Google training (although I am about to fix that). I use a small number of iPad Apps- all related to classroom functions. I'm not a GCT or an ADE; nor do I have any other 3 letter title I could put on my business card.  Does the DEN count? It stands for Discovery Educator Network and I only have to talk about Discovery Education a couple of times a year to keep my status, and that is really easy. Except for educational authors Jonathan Bergmann and Dave Burgess, I don't have any famous contacts or friends in my twitter followers. I don't even follow many celebrities unless you count Hall Davidson, Reed Timmer and Dr. Lodge McCammon. These guys are only in my Twitterfeed because of my connection with Discovery Education. I am not a big fish in my own district. I wasn't even invited to present at our upcoming Technology For Instruction Saturday Workshop next week. Needless to say, I am not highly sought after as a speaker.

Day 1 Shred Session- CUE ROCK STAR  Napa
SO why do I push myself to present and invite myself to apply when I know I am not one of the popular kids on campus? I could just continue my work with my students - which is my PRIMARY goal anyway - without having all these anxious moments.

Last night, I just had a twitter conversation with one of my tweeps (@mhall209) about this very thing. How do I get better at presenting? Of course, I next wondered...Why do I do put myself through this? What do I want out of it? I had to give this some thought.

I always want to learn more. I am 54 years old and did not go to a premiere university for my undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology.  I was NOT a brilliant scholar of science, probably because I do not enjoy doing the math. I CAN do math, I just don't like it very much. I am actually more of a linguist. I love to read and write. I am proficient in Spanish and French. Language concepts seem to come easier than some of the more technical aspects of science content like Chemistry and Physics. Still, I would consider myself a true "Jack-of-All-Trades" and a "Master of None." I am kind of good at a bunch of things, but not great at any one thing.

Summer Learning- Micropipettes and Gel Trays
I am curious by nature and I want to know about all kinds of stuff. It follows that I would also like to learn more about the technology that I use in my practice as a teacher.  I learned a lot during those undergrad years in college, but we never really used any high tech equipment. I had to find ways to introduce myself to PCR and gel electrophoresis. I had to get more advanced science and technology skills to stay up to date with the textbooks in my classroom. I have been to many STEM summer workshops to learn more practical and technical skills for teaching my content.

My student learning to use a micropipette

I push the envelope for myself because I want to know if there is anything I can improve to help my students learn the concepts and skills I teach. If I learn ANYTHING that can have a positive impact on JUST ONE STUDENT, then I  have now made a difference to that kid- for life!  Still that does not explain why I am not satisfied to just stay in the seat as a learner, so that I can absorb more and pass it on to my students.

My student using the iPad to demonstrate learning.
Maybe the reason I want to present to adults is because I see that there is a need for those beginner level learners of new tech skills. I want others to be excited about the POSSIBILITIES for enhancing the experiences they provide for their students. I think having a role model like me- gray haired as I am- will show other seasoned teachers that learning is a fluid, constant process. We CAN meet the challenges that our students present to us with their gadgets and gizmos. We don't have to ignore the tools that they use inherently. We can be the classroom content expert and still provide opportunities to learn information and skills in a manner they understand with equipment they know how to operate.

Most of the tech presenters I admire are years younger than I. Most of the ones that are close to my age have been in educational technology far longer than I. I am at an age where others might think that I "should" be winding down; not ramping up my learning. In a way, that is WHY I do this! I want others of my age to know that if I can do this, so can they.   I also want those who are younger than I to get ideas for content and classroom management. I believe it when Jon says that WE ARE THE ROCKSTARS! I drank that Rock Star Kool Aid a couple of years ago. I do it because I believe there is a need for educators to see others in the practice doing what they do best!

We are all tasked with being leaders! I want to learn from anyone willing to teach me what they know.  If you have not considered being a presenter to other teachers, you should. Whether you show others what you know informally or at a "professional" workshop,  do it! I am certain that you have something vital to share- even it if isn't tech related.

Some of the most engaging presenters I have learned from in the last few years include:

Jon Corippo (CUE- Apple)
Rushton Hurley (CUE)
Will Kimbley (CUE)
Nicole Dalesio (CUE- Apple)
Jen Roberts (CUE)
Catlin Tucker (CUE)
Ramsey Musallum (CUE)
Lodge McCammon (Discovery Education)
Hall Davidson (Discovery Education)
Lindsey Hopkins (Discovery Education)

Let me know what you think? I would love to hear your ideas on how to improve my presentation skills. I would also love to hear why you present to other people in your profession. And if you are not a presenter, what is holding you back?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflex vs Reflect: Which Promotes Change?

Question: What did you like best
about our learning environment?
I asked my students to reflect on their Fall Semester performance and after reading their reflections, I figured that I had better do some reflecting myself. 2013 was really different for me in many ways. I created a number of changes during the Fall of 2013 and I wanted to look back and see what was successful and what needed adjustment for the Spring semester.

This part of the year is always a time for me to review what I have done during the past 12 months. Typically, I get maudlin' over what I have forgotten to do and then I plunge ever forward in an automatic manner whether I am considering my personal life or my classroom.  In other words, in the past, things generally did not alter all that much from year to year. Reflex reactions do not necessarily promote positive or productive change.

Here are three things I did differently this year:

1)  I have been reducing the amount of copy paper I use in my classroom. One example of this is that I used to have students use a bi-weekly calendar that I copied and gave out. We went to using the Student Handbook that has an assignment calendar inside. Many students used to throw the Handbook away. Now my students also have access to schedules, school information, contact data and their assignments in my class and others as well. By the end of the year, this act alone will save approximately 8 or 9 reams of paper. I have been trying to reduce the volume of paper I copy and hand out all year. Before I print a copy of anything, I ask myself "Could this be done digitally? Could students use their spiral notebook to record their answers?" Things like lab conclusions are now done entirely online, using Quizzes are done on smaller documents, so that I can print a couple or three answer sheets on a single piece of paper.
One of the Apps I use to reduce
paper in my classroom

Here is why I am working toward paperlessness: A) The cost of paper and printing is ever increasing B) Physical papers get lost- but if you save/file the work correctly in the cloud- digital work stays where you put it and C) Reducing paper is better for the environment in many ways- reduce the energy/resources to make the paper and print on it as well as reducing the landfill pressure.

I will continue pushing to reduce my paperwork ever further. Until I have a class set of Chromebooks or iPads, there will still have to be a certain quantity of paper associated with some of the work my students do.

2)  I have been working toward "Flipping" the instruction in my classes over the last couple of years. I eliminated some lessons and paper based work in favor of a more exciting, dynamic learning environment. I have not completely gotten rid of all powerpoint lectures,  and worksheets but most of them are now available in some form of digital format or a screencast video to be watched outside of school hours. This school year I have taken it further by having students doing more lab activities and more content discussion than I had in the past. I have added some projects designed to be used for review prior to tests. We are doing fewer paper/pencil vocabulary quizzes in favor of team flash cards, individual white board activities and "Bring Your Own Device" electronic tools to record learning and to help students prepare for tests.
New Flipped Lesson-  Lab Instructions using the
Tellagami App to explain how the activity is set up

Here is why I have moved toward a more interactive (flipped) learning environment: A) Students can adjust the pace of the screencast lecture based on their individual learning style. B)
Students who are absent during a vital learning experiences often have trouble catching up. If lectures are recorded the information is available to absentees and while class discussions and labs support the learning of those present, the base information is available in a format designed to be reviewed by anyone. C) Discussion and Lab activities are powerful motivators for learning - students perceive this kind of learning as "more fun". Students often need a hands on experience to help them bridge the content gap from knowledge level to deeper levels of Bloom's such as application and synthesis.

I will continue to expand the variety of learning opportunities for students of every learning level. I hope to reduce and eventually eliminate unit summative multiple choice style testing, but I find that big summative projects and essay style tests are very time consuming for me to provide timely feedback. I need to find a happy medium in which I engage students in more projects, but that can be easily reviewed to determine the level of mastery my students have achieved.

My Blog helps me focus on what I am currently doing
and my plans for future instruction
3) I started blogging about my experiences in the classroom and as a learner to document and analyze changes I am making. I am using my blog as a sort of journal of my experiences as a teacher and as a learner. I am proud to say I have averaged about 1 post per month. It takes me a long time to compose my work, mostly because I am a picky writer (Thanks a lot, Miss Schowalter). I always write too much and have to reduce my language to keep focused on the task I set for myself. Finding some quiet time to think about my posts can be difficult. I have begun rising at 5 AM just to get a few moments to myself with nobody demanding attention or intruding on my thought process.

Here is why I have been blogging. A) When I am considering "how things are going," I find that I have to slow down and think about what is going on around me. B) I have become more of an author of my educational destiny rather than a reactant in a series of events happening around me. I can direct my learning and focus on my response to events happening in my world. C) My blog has caused me to be braver and more self confident in my activities. A couple of my posts have helped me to make important career decisions.

I will continue to blog and maybe try to increase the number of posts I make. My posts are long, so perhaps I should attempt break them into smaller chunks. I have several future blog posts rumbling around in my head and even a couple started on the boiler plate for future writing. So far, the blogs have really been for myself, but when I finish a post, I have published it to my PLN, so they can know me a bit better and maybe glean some ideas out of my musings. I will continue to reach out to other educators to adjust my learning for myself and for my students. I would like to help my students to develop a learning network of their own.

I want the remainder of this school year to be one in which I reflect and revise, rather than do things reflexively- they way they always have been done. I have several areas I want to adjust and I need some time to consider what I can do to make those parts of my learning, teaching and personal life more productive.