Thursday, November 1, 2018

Edcamp Loyola Part II: This Time, It's Personal

A great sequel is difficult to pull off. For every The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II there are fifty Jurassic Park: The Lost World entries. Most sequels simply seek to profit off of the success of the original without giving too much in return. Much to my pleasant surprise, the second Edcamp Loyola fell into the former category of sequels. Like The Empire Strikes Back, I can, without hesitation, say that this year’s undertaking actually surpassed its ancestor in scope and energy.

As with last year’s Edcamp Loyola, I was fortunate enough to work on the volunteer committee. Part of what made this year so excellent was the sheer number of extra volunteers, each bringing his or her own area of experience and expertise. There was so much less stress on each individual volunteer this year, and it seemed as if, on the whole, everyone’s energy levels stayed high and gave the committee as a whole even more momentum.

This energy seemed to pass onto the participants. While October 27, the day of the Edcamp, dawned gloomily with rain in the forecast, we welcomed more than twice the number of participants from 2017’s inaugural Edcamp. With more people came more ideas for the Big Board, more engaging discussion, and more fun! Everyone seemed to be in a great mood, and having DJ Sarah Thomas on the turntables didn’t hurt when it came to getting everyone excited about the day.

The Big Board was quickly filled to capacity, there was a BreakoutEDU room open all three sessions, and we had a Digital Playground, as well, where Edcampers could experience all manner of makerspace electronics. There was literally something for everyone! The conversations in the rooms were constant and rapid. Everyone wanted to share and no facilitators were really needed. Sometimes the room even broke into two or three groups to form mini-sessions and then reform into one larger group to discuss. I’ve been to a number of Edcamps, and this was, by far, the most energetic and active I’ve seen.

This concept of energy was echoed by Mitsuko, a participant who spoke up during closing activities. She said she had been to an Edcamp in Japan and couldn’t believe how excited everyone was here. Whether it was dancing, breaking out of boxes, or cheering loudly when someone won one of the many donations from some incredible vendors, the joy of the day was surpassed only by the extreme learning and sharing accomplished by the participants!

I wanted to give you a small sense of this excitement and joy, so I created a Wakelet with the tweets of the day, all curated with #EdcampLoyola. Perusing these tweets, you will see all the reactions from so many people. You’ll see the small additions at Edcamp Loyola that you won’t find everywhere: a live DJ; a live Tweet and Talk during lunch, hosted by EduMatch with a six-person panel discussing connecting globally; a digital petting zoo in the Digital Playground; the entire room learning to Floss at the end of the day. The list goes on and on. You can see, as well, all the wonderful donations and donors in the Wakelet.

Having experienced both Edcamps hosted by Loyola, I can honestly say this one left me with goosebumps, eagerly awaiting the third installment next year. If you couldn’t attend this year, I do hope to see you in 2019! If this thing grows exponentially, you will be in for one heck of a ride! Don't just take my word for it, though. I think the following tweet shows exactly how much the Edcampers enjoyed the 2018 version and sums up the general vibe of the day:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Free PD

This past Saturday, I had the opprtunity to guest moderate the #PD4uandme Twitter chat. We gathered to discuss our experiences at ISTE 2018 and #NotAtISTE18. While we joined the chat to share our learning, our favorite sessions and resources, and our greatest experiences, the conversation took a raid turn into a tangent of large conferences: the large costs associated with them.

This tangent ties in closely with our final grad school prompt of the semester: In what ways has (or can) free virtual PD helped you become a better educator? Free online professional development is an alternative for those who cannot or do not want to shoulder the enormous financial burden of attending a conference, which usually includes not only registration fees but travel, hotel, and car rental costs, as well.

In an EduMatch interview with Tara Linney, she said, "When you connect with others, you build on your own professional practice and grow so much..." While it is fun to meet with other educators at conferences, we can connect just as well though free forms of PD. The Twitter chat I referenced above is just one example. There are hundreds of chats online every week on Twitter, and every educator can find one that relates to what they are doing in the classroom. Even better, each educator has the choice of what chat to participate in, and thus the intrinsic motivation to learn from one of these chats is even greater. I have become a huge fan of Twitter chats because they connect me with like-minded individuals who really want to explore educational topics. By choosing three or four weekly Twitter chats I enhance my own practices through engaging with others, sharing practices and ideas, and incresing my PLN nationally and internationally.

Photo Credit:

In a chapter of EduSnap17, Christy Cate and Cathy Wolfe discuss creating new visions in education through Voxer. Voxer is a free walkie-talkie app that allows educators to connect asynchronously. I have used this platform to connect with large groups, such as The Innovator's Mindset book group, and smaller groups, like my graduate school cohort. Like Twitter chats, educators choose which groups to join, and in seeking out their own tribes, they can better their own practices with no cost to them, while at the same time connecting with fantastic educators. 

In our final reading of the week, a chapter of EduSnap16, Dr. Nikol Howard and Dr. Sarah Thomas write, "Instead of traditional conferences, where organizers usually serve as gatekeepers and must approve which kind of knowledge can be provided by whom, edcamps work differently. Conversations are the platform for the sharing of information. The key to it all is that edcamps cultivate a space filled with choice and voice. For years, teachers have been told what they need to learn, where the learning will take place, and how they will apply the new knowledge."

Photo Credit:

They bring up two exceptional points here. First, at conferences, we are limited by what the organizers deem the most appropriate sessions and vendors. Free PD like Edcamps allow us to choose what sessions are best and what topics deserve attention. Second, teachers have choice and voice at Edcamps. Too often, excellent educators never get the opportunity to deliver an ISTE keynote or present at a major conference. At Edcamps, however, everyone has the chance to share and to learn, and this is a hallmark of the free PD model.

I love a good conference, but part of being a teacher is being paid just enough to get by. And so I have to be conscious of not only my desire to learn from other educators but also my checking account balance. Fortunately, through Twitter, Voxer, Edcamps, and other forms of free PD, I have been able to connect with exemplary educators and learn on my own timetable and without paying an arm and a leg for the privilege. While I certainly won't stop going to conferences like ISTE, having free options is not only nice but is a necessity for many teachers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

ISTE 2018: How's Your Fifth Day Going?

For those who do not know me well, I teach at a private, Catholic, all-boys high school in Baltimore, MD. An important part of our students' education is rooted in service learning and retreats are one focus of this service learning. In their junior year, all students participate in the Junior Retreat, a three-day experience where they get to know themselves and their classmates on a much deeper level. Students are removed from day-to-day school life and travel to the Monsignor O'Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, MD, to give them them focus and the peace they need to look within.

What does this have to do with ISTE, you may be asking? Great question, and I hope my answer is satisfying. You see, I attended the high school where I now teach, and I attended this same Junior Retreat in 1991 and again in 1992 as a Senior Leader. What I remember most about the experience is one of the last talks one of the speakers gave, which asked a simple question: "What are you going to do on the Fourth Day?"

The Fourth Day is an important concept. The 3-day retreat changes many students. They discover so much inside of themselves and their classmates. Epiphanies are achieved, tears are shed, bonds are strengthed. But we stress that everything gained and learned cannot be contained and limited to the three days in Sparks. The tough part is the transition back to the "real world," everything after the retreat. That is the Fourth Day. It is what students become, who they are, and how they change after they leave the retreat house.

ISTE begain in earnest on Sunday, June 24, and ended with Nadia Lopez's scintillating keynote Wednesday afternoon, four exhausting days of connecting, learning, and bonding. I heard wonderful speakers, pondered new concepts, connected with friends old and new, Periscoped and live tweeted sessions, and celebrated friends' book releases. I saw people moved to tears by students and educators speaking from the heart, and I found joy in failure. And last night, as I sat in Midway Airport and saw all the shirts from ISTE and continued connecting, I was filled with that form of joyful exhaustion that comes with doing a conference experience correctly. The four days of the main ISTE conference (and the unconference day on Saturday) were incredible. Whether you were in Chicago or particiapted through the hashtag #NotAtISTE18, you absorbed a wealth of information.

ISTE is insignificant, however, if your Fifth Day is not just as exciting and relevatory as the four days of the conference. Did you sit and listen and connect and share only to leave ISTE and change nothing about your practice and pedagogy? Were you excited and motivated as you listed to Luis Perez share his keynote about turning toward the light, but now that you're back in the "real world," you're sitting comfortably in the dark, unmotivated to grow? Day Five, which starts today and extends to June 23, 2019, the beginning of ISTE 2019, is what matters most. How will you change, grow, develop, and achieve as an educator now that ISTE is over? How will your students feel the effects of your growth, prompting them to reach new heights and achieve more than ever? How will the bonds you formed at ISTE be nurtured, blossoming into not only PLNs but friendships and families that will support and motivate you as you progress from what you were pre-ISTE to who you are today?

Now we all need and deserve a day or two to reflect, relax, and recover from the ISTE experience, but then we must act. In one of the sessions I attended at ISTE, Adam Bellow and Steve Dembo quoted Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who said, "The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer." ISTE often felt like a dream to me, filling my mind with possibilities and hopes for the future. To make these dreams come true, however, the Fifth Day needs to be about doing and not simply hoping our dreams come true.

Welcome to the Fifth Day. Make it incredible, make it real, make it transformative. And keep asking yourself and your PLN, "How is your Fifth Day going?"

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday at ISTE

ISTE kicked off today, and it was a roller coaster of highs and lows. The lows were few, but quite noticeable. I think everyone who attended will agree that the inability to get into many of the People's Choice sessions was the frustrating part. On a positive note, this is a wonderful problem to have. So many people are flooding the halls of ISTE that there isn't room for them in the sessions. And certainly the crowds were exacerbated by the absence of an open Expo Hall, but clearly this is something that ISTE could address before Philly next year. Perhaps the People's Choice sessions could be ticketed; perhaps overestimation of crowd size should be the rule. No one should have to stand in line for two hours to ensure a seat in a session.

The only other low, for me, was also, in a way, a positive. The keynote session was highlighted not by David Eagleman, the "official" keynote speaker, but by Patricia Brown's TED-esque talk about race relations and digital and media literacy and the student panel hosted by Jennie Magiera. Kiara, Marley, Rose, and Ian stole the show with their honesty and passion, helping the audience understand how we can better assist our student leaders change this world of ours. Eagleman's keynote address was interesting and full of brain science, but it wasn't what the day needed. We needed the voices that set up Eagleman, and I wish we could have listed to those opening voices all night.

So, there were a few areas that could use some attention. Beyond those, I found the ISTE magic I'm used to. In a recent podcast, I preached the virtue of flexibility at ISTE, and, forced to abandon early plans, I stumbled into an incredible session on social media presence hosted by Julie Willcott and Audrey O'Clair which made up for any aborted plans. If you'd like to experience their presentation, check out this link. I then got to meet a personal eduhero of mine, Tisha Richmond, in her session on gamification. Her experiences with her Culinary Arts classes and gamification should be required reading or listening to anyone thinking of gamifying their classes. Tisha understands that gamification isn't about making everything a game, but is all about bringing in elements from games that help motivate students, elements like competition, adventure, and story. These help engage the class and create passionate learners. She has a book coming out soon with Dave Burgess Consulting, and I cannot wait to read it!

The rest of my time today was spent connecting with educators in the Blogger's Cafe and checking out today's Poster sessions, which had a full complement of students presenting, which I always love. Tomorrow, the Expo Hall opens, which means Google will have sessions from their educators at the booth, there are more overall options for sessions, posters, and snapshots and ISTE will be in full swing. I'm pacing myself well thus far, but I know I'll need lots of energy for tomorrow. I'll let you know what happens.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Overcoming Barriers with Connection

Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance - the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest. -- Emily Greene Balch

Balch, an American economist, Nobel Prize winner, and social justice warrior, lived from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th Century. I only point this out because her quote above, while focusing on technology that is considered archaic and outdated today, is more applicable that ever, especially when considering PLNs and educator connectivity.

This week, I was asked to consider the following question: "What kinds of barriers can connecting help educators (and/or students) overcome?" The instinctive, snarky part of me wanted to immediately answer, "Duh, all barriers," but I decided to repress my inner Sheldon Cooper and attempt to be a bit more thoughtful.

While Balch rightly mentions time and distance as barriers that technology easily overcomes (and for educators, these barriers are huge in their own rights), I prefer to think of the barriers of heart and of inspiration. More than any other barriers, and more crucial to my own connection to other educators, these are the two that technology has helped me overcome.

One of the greatest boons of connection with my PLN has been finding educators who are basically kindred spirits. While we may disagree on specific topics, out approaches to education, to learning, and to life and inherently the same. Many of my PLN members are separated by those dastardly barriers of time and distance, but technology enables me to keep up with their lives on a daily basis. To me, this goes far beyond minutes or miles. My PLN isn't like keeping up with business clients whose yearly order I am afraid of losing. It is more like a family, and some of the best people I know in this world, I have met online. I was talking with one member of my PLN family earlier this week, and she mentioned how close we were, even though we had never met. Some may consider this odd; I consider it the beauty of technology. It brings like-minded people together in a world where this is desperately needed.

Along with heart is the barrier of inspiration. I am a huge fan of Twitter, and one of the hallmarks of Twitter is the hashtag and the Twitter chat. There seems to be a Twitter chat for every topic these days, but that again is where technology overcomes barriers. As Tammy Neil mentions in her "One Rural Teacher's Journey to Passionate Teaching," she was able hunt down teachers in rural communities and connect to discuss issues, concerns, and solutions to shared problems. They became their own resource because their situation was special to them.

Consider a potential situation in my own classroom. I'm teaching Frederick Douglass's Narrative and I want an idea for a lesson that will light a fire in my students. Yes, I could Google it, but connection with educators on Twitter, Voxer, or YouTube gives me a more personal method of learning from them. Technology does, indeed, shrink the world for educators, and whether a like-minded teacher is down the road in Washington, D.C., or across the globe in Perth, Australia, I can learn at a moment's notice from educators with a specific expertise.

Technology may never substitute the feelings of meeting and relating to someone in person. It's why I'm so excited for next week's ISTE conference in Chicago; I'll get to meet and see again many of those I connect with online. But beyond simple time and distance, technology allows me to hurdle the barriers of heart and inspiration and provides support, fresh best practices, and sometimes just a caring, thoughful word from those in a similar situation to mine. Technology, used appropriately, spreads empathy, and if Emily Greene Balch were alive today, she would be more impressed than ever with its potential.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Notes From #LearnFestATX

"Learning is an active sport."

With these words, Carl Hooker set up the day's action at LearnFest, a beta conference where everything is a risk, nothing is guaranteed, and the expectation is that attendees will become the lifeblood of the experience.

I was smitten.

LearnFest is a rebranding of the popular iPadpalooza that was held for six years. The idea was to de-specify and make it not so much about the iPad but about far-ranging topics, everything from tech tools like Desmos and Flipgrid to ways of thinking, like Genius Hour and mindfulness, itself.

Everything has changed, and all for the better, it seems.

The day began with a brief tutorial but also with a incredible panel of previews of sessions to come. It was an onnovative move to whet the appetite. Presenters spoke for a few minutes on what they would present later in the day, and attendees got to see a bit of what was to come instead of relying on the brief blurb in the Attendify app. It was a stroke of genius.

After the opening ceremonies, all attendees moved to the Interactive Playground. What made this Playground so special was that it was Silent Disco Style. The concept of a silent disco came about when someone looking to throw a block party was banned for noise violations. So he had music pumped to headphones that only the attendees could hear. At LearnFest, there were three simultaneous sessions, all in the same room. Whichever color you tuned into gave you a different presentation. It takes the "rule of two feet" idea from Edcamp and lets multiple sessions be held in a confined space with no stepping on any toes.

Looking across the room, you could see focus on everyone's face as they tuned into their own sessions. Some moved from session to session while others simple changed the color of their headphones and listened to another session from afar. It was an incredibly novel concept.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in more traditional presentations, but even throughout these, the day was punctuated by LeanrFest's unique brand of trying new things and not being afraid to fail. At lunch, there was a game of bingo inspired by Apple Keynote. Through the afternoon sessions, participants kept tabs with one another through Attendify's Activity Stream. So while I was in the sessions on Mindfulness and Hashtag Data Collection, I was also learning new ways to use Desmos, SeeSaw, and developing a Blended Larning Toolkit.

The best part: this was only Day One. Tomorrow, there's a Shark Tank and an UnFestival to look forward to, and more than a few other innovations, I am sure.

While the structure itself is original and fun, it's the participants that truly are making this experience what it is. Everyone is excited to try something new and share ideas, and the camraderie developing is something that is special to conferences like LearnFest. The small, intimate nature of LearnFest is creating not just a community but a feeling more akin to family.

I'll report back tomorrow after Day Two, exhausted and full of new ideas!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

"The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; 
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good." -- W.H. Auden, "Stop the Clocks"

There comes a time in every person's life when death affects them with what seems like a personal vendetta. When we are young, we don't notice death all that much. In fact, we feel downright immortal at times. When we are extremely old, I would hope, we've come to accept death as a part of life, and if we are fortunate, we are at peace with ourselves and our own inevitable demise. It's that sweet spot that is anything but where I reside now, where my heroes, idols, and and spiritual mentors are leaving this plane of existence and forcing me to reflect on grief, loss, and my own place in this life.





And today, the world lost Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer, world traveler, human. Everyone knows he wasn't perfect, dealing with addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts. But as I tell my literature students, it seems all the geniuses of this world are severely screwed up in some way. Their genius is an outlet, a way to deal with a world where they don't fit, where they are tormented, where they hurt. And so with the majesty of what they produce, we often discover a boatload of underlying pain, as well.





Bourdain, though. He gave me so much hope. When I first read Kitchen Confidential, over a decade ago, food writing and cooking shows weren't in vogue, as they are now. His blunt, divisive, absolutely cutting approach to writing was as beautiful as it was unpolished and unsentimental. His expose of the restaurant industry didn't make me revile eating out; it mesmerized me. I wanted to know more. I began devouring every book on cooking that I could.





Tony's life was messed up. Late nights followed by drug and alcohol binges was a life I could not fathom and never desired. But his was so adventurous. He would try anything. He would do anything. And he survived it all. And he mellowed, a bit anyway. When he brought No Reservations to television, I was hooked. Here was a show that spanned the globe, celebrating countries both revered and underdeveloped. His shows focused on the people he met as much or more than the food he found, and from when it began airing in 2005 until its final episode in 2013, Tony taught us that the world and the people in it are beautiful and aren't to be feared. He saw war. He saw famine. But the underlying message of every episode was that we are privileged to live on this planet. Parts Unknown picked up where No Reservations left off, and it will be missed. For thirteen years, an extraordinary run, Bourdain essentially lived to remind us all that the world is good, even when it's bad, and we should relish it and its people. 

“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.” -- Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

I'm not naive. I know a lot of people disliked Bourdain. For his drug use; his alcohol use; his excessively foul mouth. He was coarse; he was blunt. But now, more than ever, we need his brutal honesty, his unabashed truthfulness, in this world. For me, the world is terribly smaller for his passing. 

And now I wonder who is next. I'm not even close to being finished hurting for Tony, and I worry who is next. And it's on this fear that I must dwell for a moment. Tony, like Robin Williams not so long ago, dealt with something in his final days that I don't understand. I don't know what it is to consider taking my own life, but I feel as if it would be terrifying, paralyzing, and depressing. As a teacher, and as a human, I beg you: if you see a student, a friend, a co-worker, someone you dislike, someone you love, anyone dealing with anything resembling depression or suicidal thoughts, please call someone. Here is a link for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number, accessible 24 hours a day, is 1-800-273-8255. Share this with people you fear may need help.

Thanks for listening to my cathartic vent. I needed to get this out.

Anthony Bourdain (June 25, 1956 - June 8, 2018)