Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Traditions, Transformations and Transitions

Practicing lab skills during Cal Poly Summer Institute 2010
Over my 24 years as a teacher, I have made it my habit to recharge in the summer. I am not talking about going on vacation to rest - I do that too; but I try to find real professional and mental battery boosting events. Each summer, I find a conference or workshop and go to "camp" to learn something new and interesting in my field. Some of these programs have been content specific - focused on teaching my science curriculum. Others have been pedagogy related -designing lessons to enhance the curriculum I teach to making it more interesting and accessible for all students. Since I have done this almost every summer since entering the teaching profession, I suppose it is what you would say a tradition.

Last year, I had 3 career changing experiences in the spring and summer. First, I signed up for the Computer Using Educator Annual Conference in Palm Springs in March of 2012.  Most of the courses I took were awesome. I brought home several ideas to infuse into my teaching for the following Monday. Of particular use in my practice were "50 Ways to Use Discovery Education" and a discussion of Flipped Instruction by Catlin Tucker. There was also a cool app "slam" session in which several presenters got up in front of the crowd and gave a 6 to 8 minute mini-lesson on a favorite app. Though I did not yet have an iPhone or iPad, I was open to learning how those tools could be useful to my practice.

There were a couple of sessions that were particularly important - not as much for their content as for the networking opportunities that I would make from them. The most astounding of those was with a guy named Jon Corippo - An Apple Distinguished Educator who was teaching us how to make Chuck Norris Style Presentations using Apple Devices. I cannot describe adequately how energetic and engaging he is as a presenter. I attended 2 of his workshops, just so I could replicate some of that energy for my own classroom. From the discussion of his practice and what his school does, I felt like I'd "drunk the koolaid" with respect to technology in my classroom.  After learning about the one to one program at his school and the technology academy they start with at the beginning of the year, I thought to myself, "I'll have some of that, please!" He mentioned a summer conference called CUE Rock Star Tech Camp.

Next, I traveled to Solvang, CA for the CUE Rock Star summer 3 day professional development. My head is STILL SPINNING from what I learned there. Things started with late sessions lasting about 2 hours, a 2 hour lunch (provided by the workshop) and another 2 hour session in the afternoon.  The begin late and end early with long lunches in between to increase the networking possibilities among participants. Rock Star faculty encouraged us to create a twitter account to start a back channel conversation and to further those connections. They also demonstrated how to use some apps for polling and for managing "student" participation for the large group. It was a light hearted atmosphere that helped us feel connected to each other and to the presenters. It really was a dynamic way bring some new components into my practice.

The sessions were well designed. Each class that I attended was of a practical nature. The focus of each course was using some area of technology, Google docs, Sketch-up, creating and editing PDF forms, and even creating movies for flipped lessons. The staff introduced the process for just a few minutes to get us started and the participants used the applications while the teacher circulated among the students to coach and help learn more about the applications we were using. I had several classes that allowed me to build and prepare some new activities for my classes for when we returned to school in August.

Motion Machine at Discovery Headquarters
My third transformative experience happened during the last week of the summer. I was accepted as a 2012 Discovery Siemens STEM fellow. Our focus was increasing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for all students at various levels in public and private education. Fifty teachers from all over the United States came together in the Discovery Channel's headquarters at One Discovery Place in Silver Spring, Maryland.

2012 Discovery Siemens STEM Fellows
During the week, we had special presentations by people such as Reed Timmer, Hall Davidson, and Lodge McCammon. We learned to use Edmodo and Discovery Education's new Science Techbook. We networked with educators and scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, College Board, and NASA. We even visited the White house and had an hour long meeting with officials in the US Department of Education. I got to write a computer program (on my own) that could be used to turn on and off LED lights and sounds on a computer card. While this experience was less about the day to day journey I take with my students, my confidence with technology and my willingness to experiment increased so that I feel more positive about the work I do with my computer, my iPad and my camera.

Throughout this school year, I used many of the skills and web based tools I found during my experiences. I processed what I learned during these "summer camps" to use in my curriculum. It was exciting to incorporate common tools such as cell phones into my lessons. My skills as a presenter have been transformed as I continue to practice using different technologies within the scope of the content area that I teach. The transition to using more technology to enhance how my students learn or how they interact with each other and me about their learning continues to be a focus for my work.

To continue with my traditional summer activity, I will be attending 2 summer workshops this year to learn more and practice these important technical skills. However, this year, I have added something new to my agenda. I will be a faculty member at one of the summer CUE Rock Star sessions, so I can share my enthusiasm for using technology in communicating and demonstrating what we have been learning.


  1. Kathleen your post was exceptional. It is so important that we all be constant learners. Engaging in the activities you took part in can really energize you. I bet you were anxious to get back to your classroom and try out the things that you learned.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. My family and friends know my passion for learning. I never thought anyone else would care about it. I know it is good for me to have a place to reflect on my practice. But after reading other people's blogs, I realize that I have some good things to share, too. I will be testing the waters more often now that I realize how hungry we all are to learn from one another.

  2. Kathleen your passion for learning is inspiring and how you are embracing technology in your classroom is exciting. Way to go!

  3. Sandy, thank you for the kind words. I appreciate you reading my first blog post.