The Summer Spark experience

Thanks Adam Schoenbart  and The EduCal for the opportunity to share what a great event this was for everyone.

summerspark2016

The Summer Spark Experience

By Rachelle Dene Poth

What is the Summer Spark? In the words of lead organizer, Chuck Taft, it’s a conference with the goal to “set the the stage for all participants to innovate, collaborate, and connectate (Chuck’s word) and set the stage for exciting summer PD, renewed enthusiasm in the profession of teaching, and get fired up for their best ever year of teaching.” I can tell you that the Summer Spark delivered all of this and much more.

The Summer Spark was held at the University School of Milwaukee on June 13-14, 2016. I discovered the event through Twitter, and I am excited to share my Summer Spark experience from this year’s event.

A Great Start to Summer

If you are looking for a great way to kick off your summer learning, I highly recommend joining Summer Spark next year! Mark the dates on your calendar now: June 12th – 13th, 2017. Learn more about the event here and start planning your trip. No matter where you live, traveling to USM is well worth it!

It was two days full of learning opportunities which included keynotes, networking time, tracked sessions, workshops, unconferences, fabulous food and a ton of fun. The days included presentations led by authors including George Couros, Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Shelley Burgess, Don Wettrick, Julie Smith, Michael Matera, Matt Miller, and Quinn Rollins. Each day kicked off with a fabulous keynote speech, inspiring all of those present to seek more opportunities for themselves and for their students and calling on all education professionals to take action and expand their learning possibilities. #USMSpark was trending, and Twitter was full of inspiring posts and pics to share the experience with those in attendance and people everywhere. Check out the Twitter feed for quotes, pics, and inspiration.

Summer Spark 2016 Begins!

It started with a welcome breakfast, which was fantastic, and time to meet and greet. For me, it was the opportunity to finally meet a friend in person and learn together in the same place, rather than learning virtually, as we had for the past few years. For many, it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from last year’s conference, to meet “tweeps” face to face, and to make new friends as well. For everyone, it was the start of what would be an inspiring and invigorating two days of learning and growth. No matter where you looked, people were engaged in conversations, smiling, laughing, taking photos, posting tweets and having a lot of fun together.

The Summer Spark conference had sessions organized into strands for learning which would help attendees to select a particular learning topic and find sessions most relevant in their area of interest. There were so many opportunities for networking and personalized learning with the great offering of presentations, so many in fact it made it hard to narrow down to just one choice for each time slot. However, with so many opportunities to sit down and talk with one another, plus the availability of presentations and collaborative notes through the conference site, there were alternate methods of gaining new knowledge and ideas, even if you couldn’t attend all the sessions you wanted at the same time.

And at the end of Day 1, there were 25 teams racing against the clock in a Spark Treasure hunt, frantically trying to solve various puzzles and tasks, engage in “tomfoolery” to unlock the box. Congratulations to Team Typewriter! A thrilling end to the first day, fueled by innovation, collaboration, and “connectating.”

Day 2 was no different, kicking it off with another motivating keynote by Don Wettrick, with the message to “accept the challenge: I don’t care if you teach 20 years, just don’t teach the same year 20 times.” The keynote was followed by “unconferences” in the traditional EdCamp style, and attendees were called on to come to the front and pitch a session (which also gave you some extra tickets for those great raffle prizes). There were a lot of great topics ranging from alternate assessments to Google Classroom, infographics and interactive lessons, gamification, elementary apps, creating an innovative genius hour, getting started with Twitter, and so much more.

There were additional presentations before and after another tremendous lunch buffet, some trivia games and the day was rounded out with 90 minute workshops allowing for a deeper dive into the morning’s topics. It was a fantastic two day learning experience that drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the raffle and announcement of the dates for next year’s Summer Spark.

My Takeaways

It was such a phenomenal event, led by the host Chuck Taft and his team who provided everything and more that you could possibly want. The welcome, the students helping the attendees, the tech support, the staff and everyone at the school made this a truly outstanding experience for everyone. There were lots of highlights throughout the two days, new connections made, friends meeting face to face finally, and lots of fun and excitement.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend Summer Spark and be able to share some of my knowledge, but more importantly, to meet and learn from so many others. The trip from Pittsburgh was well worth it and I look forward to attending again next year. Conferences like this connect people, enable Twitter friends to meet face-to-face, or to make new friends and to walk away at the start of summer with some new ideas and new directions to go. I’m thankful to have left energized and excited for the future.

Thanks Chuck Taft and all of the Summer Spark conference planners for a truly amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been able to be a part of this experience.

Thoughts from Attendees

Here are some thoughts from other participants about their Summer Spark experience:

  • “The atmosphere was electric” (Nick Davis)
  • My brain won’t stop thinking about all of the amazing ideas I got from #USMSpark. I dreamt about it last night! (Neelie Barthenheier)
  • “Already going through withdrawals after a 7 hour drive home, missing the magic, excitement, and connectedness of the conference. I know the magic of being around so many teacher authors/ entrepreneurs was empowering“ (Dean Meyer)
  • “I was blown away by @USMSpark! Thank you so much for an amazing 2 days of learning and growing!” (Rebecca Gauthier)
  • “You knocked it out of the park! #USMSpark was a fabulous conference!” (Tisha Richmond)
  • “Truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many passionate, visionary educators. I wouldn’t miss #USMSpark” (Brian Durst)
  • “Can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication, positive, encouraging, energizing nature of the the heart & soul of #USMSpark “ (Jason Bretzmann)
  • “A big thank you to a terrific host @Chucktaft at #USMSpark. So many new friends, ideas, and passion as a result” (Mike Jaber)
  • “So much learning and working together…this is what it’s about. Getting better so WE can make education better!” (Brit Francis)
  • “Wanted to make sure I told you how awesome #USMSpark was & loved meeting you in person! I’m excited about coming back next year :)” (Mandy Froehlich)
  • “Thank you for your passion, commitment, enthusiasm, & humor. Thanks for igniting the spark” (Yau-Jau Ku)
Learning Together Finally!
Thanks #usmspark!

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. Rachelle enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She serves as the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, and is the PAECT Historian. Additionally, Rachelle is a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer and also participates in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. Connect with Rachelle on Twitter @rdene915.

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