PLN

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

Published originally on Getting Smart 

One of the most important roles for educators today is that of being a mentor. As educators, we are often called upon to mentor the students in our classroom, as well as colleagues in our school. Throughout our lives, we have all had at one time or another a person who has served as a mentor, whether they have been selected for us or it is a relationship that simply formed on its own. Take a moment and think about the different mentors that you have had in your life. How many of them were teachers? How many of them were other adults, such as family friends or perhaps even coaches? How many of your own mentors have been the colleagues in your building or members of your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network)?

There may be a few that come to mind immediately, both because you remember having a specific time that was set aside to work with your mentor, maybe during your first-year of teaching or as a teacher who needed some guidance while working through some of the challenges of teaching. There is probably a mentor that comes to mind because you credit them with some aspect of personal and or professional growth. For myself, I have been fortunate to have some supportive mentors that have helped me to grow professionally and taught me what it means to be a mentor. These relationships are so important because it is through mentorships that we continue to learn and grow and become a better version of ourselves. In the process, we also develop our skills to serve as a mentor to someone else and continue the practice promoting growth.

Getting Started with Mentoring

Take a moment and think about your classroom or your school and the types of programs which may be already in place in your building. Are there specific times set aside for teachers to act as mentors for students? To their colleagues? In my school district, Riverview, we implemented a homeroom mentoring program a few years ago, as part of our RCEP (Riverview Customized Educational Plan) which we were making available for our students. A few years prior to that, we began with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and our school was among the first schools in the United States to achieve national/state recognition for bully prevention. Through the program, we implemented a variety of learning activities, with the goal of engaging students in learning and collaboration, to promote a positive school climate and to create opportunities for students to build positive and supportive peer relationships.

For our Homeroom Mentoring Program, small groups of students in grades 9 through 12, are assigned to a homeroom, with a mentor. By having these smaller groups, the teachers are able to serve as a mentor for each student, working with them closely, to not only support them during their high school experience but also to prepare them for their future after graduation. It is a way to provide a more personalized learning approach for each student and for each student to know they have support available to them. These mentoring homerooms meet on a regular basis, providing ongoing opportunities for the teacher and students to interact in team-building and work on fostering peer relationships. During these homeroom meetings, some of the activities include pride lessons, goal-setting discussions, career exploration surveys and job shadowing, community service experiences and other topics which come up throughout the year. It is a good opportunity for the students to have a small group to work with and to develop critical skills for their future, such as communicating, collaborating, problem-solving, and developing social and emotional learning skills as well.

In addition to the planned activities, a key part of our mentoring program is the creation of a “portfolio” which includes samples of student work, a job shadow reflection, resume, list of volunteer experiences and additional artifacts that students can curate in their portfolio. The past few years, students have organized these materials into a binder, which has been kept in the mentoring homeroom. The materials become a part of their required senior graduation project. This year, we have started creating an e-portfolio, using Naviance, a program that promotes college and career readiness. Students begin by creating their online profile and sharing their activities and interests. Using the program, students can take surveys to learn more about their own skill areas and interests, learn about colleges which might match their interests, and also continue to build their digital citizenship skills. According to one of our guidance counselors, Mrs. Roberta Gross, the mentoring program was implemented to help students make transitions toward post-secondary goals and plans, and moving to the e-portfolio is creating more opportunities for students to explore their own interests and create their online presence.

There are many benefits of having students create an e-portfolio. Moving to an e-portfolio makes it easier to access the information for each student, it can be shared with parents and it opens up more conversations between the students and the mentor teacher. It is important to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them beyond high school graduation, and working with them as they grow, in these small groups, really promotes more personalized learning experiences and authentic connections.

As a final part of this program, our seniors take part in a senior “exit interview”, a simulated job interview with a panel of three teachers, a mix of elementary teachers and high school teachers. It truly is a great experience to have time to see the growth of each student, learn about their future plans and to provide feedback which will help them continue to grow and be better prepared for their next steps after graduation. And for students, being able to look through their portfolios, reflect on their experiences, self-assess and set new goals, knowing they have support available, is the purpose of the mentoring program.

Resources on Mentoring

There are many resources available that can provide some direction for getting started with an official mentoring program.

  1. The “Adopt a class” program, founded by Patty Alper, who also wrote a book on mentoring called “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.” Alper talks about the impact of mentoring and how her view of it is towards an “entrepreneurial” mindset, preparing students for the future, with the skills they need. Alper breaks down the process into practical steps, with examples and encouragement for those new to the mentoring experience.
  2. The national mentoring partnership “MENTOR”, offers a website full of resources and ways to connect with other mentoring programs. MENTOR even held a Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C., this January, where professionals and researchers gathered to share ideas and best practices for starting a mentoring program. Be sure to check out their monthly themes and presence on Twitter.
  3. The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a collection of different resources for mentoring include manuals, handouts and a long list of additional guidelines for different content areas, grade levels, culturally responsive materials, toolkits and more. The website has most of the resources available as downloads.

How you can get started

I would recommend that you think about mentors that you may have had at some point during your life. What are some of the qualities that they had which made them a good mentor and why? For me, I felt comfortable talking with my mentor, being open to the feedback that I would receive, and I knew that my mentor was available to support me when I needed. Another benefit is that we learn how to become a mentor for others, and when we have these programs in place, our students will become mentors for one another. I have seen the positive effects in my own classroom, and many times, these new mentorships have formed on their own.

 

A phenomenal mentor that taught me what it means to be an educator.

DSC00538

DSC00515

Thrilled to have an awesome mentor and professor, thank you Bruce Antkowiak

I wrote this about a month ago…time flies when you’re spending it with your PLN! #iste18 #RealEDU #USMSpark #ST4T #tlap #FETC Connecting is everything!

135692

 

 

unset

ISTE

 

img_20180611_2006221

Live tweeting for #tlap at Summer Spark

unset

Women in EDTech Ignites

Why you need a PLN

One of the many benefits of being part of a PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) is having a constant system of support. Because of my PLN, I have access to new ideas, tools, methods at any time. Being “connected” means having a personal and professional support system, whenever you need it and wherever you are. We can connect in person with colleagues at our schools or during conferences, but at times this can be difficult because of the availability of time or based on location. The solution? Technology. We can connect virtually through the numerous forms of social media and web tools that promote anytime collaborating, communicating and conferencing. We become “connected” by connecting.

Gone are the days where educators have to scour the Internet for resources, search through books, or even travel for professional learning. We don’t even have to leave our homes to participate in professional development.  (Although it is nice to get out and meet our PLN F2F). And when it comes to our teaching practice, we don’t necessarily need to create all of our own materials or wait in line at the copier. (if we are in the habit of making packets, but that is another conversation entirely #paperless).

 

We have access to support and thousands of resources instantly, simply by connecting through our devices and reaching out into our “network.” The power of connecting and collaborating. Sharing our own ideas and gathering new ones, building on our strengths and honing in on areas in which we need to grow. Through our PLN, we have these opportunities and whatever we need, available to us at any time. It just takes one tweet, one post, one Vox, and the connecting begins and the support is available.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unexpected PLN

Sometimes we just happen to become part of a PLN, or a PLF (Personal or Professional Learning Family). The same can be said for mentoring. Sometimes we make these connections, develop relationships that grow into something powerful and life-changing, without even realizing it as it is happening. When I first heard about the “power of a PLN”, I really didn’t get it. I thought it was the same as being a “colleague” or having “work friends” as they are often called. But I have learned that I was way off about this, and I am glad to know that I was wrong (again). I have become “connected” through several PLNs, that have also somehow interconnected with one another.  It has become a super PLN, or mega PLN. And it evolved through Social Media, which I was so wrong about the value for education.

 

My first true PLN is referred to as the “53s”. A group that grew from a Facebook group of ISTE goers, created by Rodney Turner, that then evolved into a Voxer group. Rodney’s message was to make connections, see someone sitting alone, ask them to join in. As a group, we met face to face at ISTE 2016 in Denver. There are also a few members of this group that I met through Twitter chats and then met in person at other conferences, and had time to spend with them learning in the same physical space. We welcomed our friends into the group and continued to build a core PLN. We have come together to be the 53s, a name significant to us. A name which evolved after our initial core group grew. A group based on trust, transparency, empathy, kindness, pushback, fun and passion for education and the power of learning. And most importantly, true friendship.

These people, my friends, are my source of inspiration and the ones that I rely on heavily each day. We are a unique group that spans the United States and Canada.  I am so fortunate to be a part of a core PLN that I know will be there for me no matter what. The only thing I wish I could change is our geographical locations. We are from different states and a different country, and so time together does not happen that often. But when it does, it truly is the best time ever. #singoff #booksnaps #carpoolkaraoke.  LOVE our times at FETC, Summer Spark, ShiftinEDU and ISTE and more to come!

I am not sure where I would be without my 53s. The times we have shared are so special, and I am so thankful for this group and wish for everyone to have a core PLN like this: Evan Abramson, Jarod Bormann, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Jaime Donally, Mandy Froehlich, Tisha Richmond and Rodney Turner. Add to that our awesome Snapchat singing group which also includes Tara Martin, Andrew Easton and Mandy Taylor. They are an amazing group of educators, who would drop everything to be there to support you. I am proud and honored to call them my friends.

Another PLN: adding to the PLF

I am also fortunate to be connected with two other tremendous groups (my PLF) and cannot wait to meet more of them in person.  The #4OCFPLN and Edugladiators! Loved the adventures trying to meet up in Chicago!

 I had read the book “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz  and was part of a Voxer group doing a book study. Once the book study ended, many members of the group stayed connected and kept the conversation going. A group that stayed together and continued to connect and grow long after the book study had ended. We have become a real PLF and I enjoy learning new things from this group every day and knowing that they are there when I need them. “We” have had our picture taken with many authors and we have stickers and our own hashtag even #4OCFPLN. And stickers too! Shirts on the way.

4OCFPLN

There are so many great conversations, a lot of laughs and fun that happens within this group every day.  I love knowing that I can reach out to this group at any time. It is a very supportive and fun group with a lot of diverse perspectives and a bond that continues to grow and get better. Laughs, inside jokes, challenges, pushback, inspiration and amazing connections. REAL connections. We know more about each other and learn and push boundaries of learning every day.

Everybody needs to be part of a PLN. Depending on your time and what you’re looking for, there are lots of options available for making these connections fit with your schedule and based on your interests. It might be formed through Twitter and it might be through a book study or other focus group using Voxer,  or one of the other social media tools out there. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you make connections that will help you to continue to grow and have the support you need when you need it. Whether it is a group you join, a chat you follow, or a mix, get out there and connect. The best is when we get to spend time together, learn from each other, share the same nervousness before giving an ignite, and knowing that there is always someone there to help you whenever you need. (ST4T Tech Fail, thank you David Lockhart and Nik!)

We are better together!

Love meeting up with my #4OCFPLN, Fellow #Edugladiators Core Warriors, Edumatch PLF, Buncee Family, Future Ready PLN, the Women in EdTech and of course, the 53s.

And a tremendous surprise having one of my students be in Chicago during ISTE. That may have been the best part! Sharing some of the awesomeness of ISTE and the people there.

 

 

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hard to believe that I have been back home almost two weeks since ISTE. The conference seemed to fly by this year and I am still trying to process my thoughts and reflect on what my takeaways are for this experience. I initially get stuck on thinking how do I begin to describe the awesome learning experience of ISTE? The anticipation of such a tremendous event and what it involves can be overwhelming. There are so many benefits of attending ISTE: the opportunity to spend time in the same space with Twitterverse/Twittersphere and Voxer friends, meet up with one’s PLN, to have so many choices for learning opportunities, networking, social events, are just a few of the possibilities. But where to begin and how to find balance? That is always the question.

 

I’ll admit that as my departure for San Antonio approached, I was full of anticipation and excitement, but also a bit anxious and nervous all mixed up in one.  Without even realizing, I had created quite a busy schedule for myself this year, even though I had planned to set out to have a lot of time to explore.  I simply kept adding things to my schedule, trying to make sure to have time to see everyone and figured I would get a better look at everything, a few days before leaving.  For my personalized professional development, I had not looked at the schedule too much, but I knew of some areas that I really wanted to grow in, and I was excited to connect with my friend Jaime Donally, who I consider to be an expert in AR/VR and many other areas, and definitely wanted to learn from her.

 IMG_20170628_111914745.jpg

I was very excited to connect with the Edumatch family, to finally connect with people I have come to know well over the past year through the Tweet and Talks, Edusnap books and Voxer discussions. We met at a luncheon on Sunday afternoon, celebrated the launch of the Edumatch cookbook and even did some carpool karaoke while heading back in the Uber to catch the Ignite talks. It was great to see Jaime’s and Kerry Gallagher’s Ignites on Sunday afternoon, and hear from so many educators and students about what they were doing in and out of the classroom.

It was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from FETC and meet others face to face, for the first time. For me, as the conference approached, it seemed more about finding time to connect with my friends and making sure to have time for those conversations in person that we don’t often have time for, rather than focusing on sessions and planning my schedule. 

IMG_20170625_133148212.jpg

One part of the ISTE experience that I was thrilled about was the opportunity to present with two of my good friends, Rodney Turner and Mandy Froehlich during the conference. Knowing that we would be sharing our work together and interacting with others was a high point for me. The bonus of having that definite period of time set aside to spend with them, especially after we had such a great time in Orlando at FETC (also with Jaime!). Rodney and I presented at the Mobile Learning Network Megashare on Saturday (which I almost missed because of late flights), and the three of us presented at the Monday poster session and during the ISTE  Teacher Education Network Playground on Wednesday.  It was a really great experience to share with them and I enjoyed learning from them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fun on the Riverwalk

I am very appreciative of the opportunities I have through being involved with several of the ISTE communities, PAECT, Edumatch, and the chance to meet up with friends and other “PioNears” and “Ambassadors” from some of the different edtech companies that I am involved in. Being able to run into so many friends on the Riverwalk, take some selfies, was phenomenal. The social events and time for networking were the highlights of this year. Starting with Saturday night at the Participate event, there was a lot of time to connect with friends and meet some for the first time F2F. And I am thankful to my PAECT friends for inviting me to have dinner with them, and for their willingness to put up with my shenanigans at times. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The experience this year was quite the change from two years ago when I attended my first ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I knew a few people but the experience then does not compare to the way it was this year. Having made more connections over the past two years, especially through these different ISTE and PAECT learning communities and the group of educators I have met through Edumatch.  Being able to walk and run into friends along the way and be pulled in an entirely different direction was so much fun.  We even ran into some of our friends from Peekapak along the Riverwalk! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Three very different ISTE experiences and I can’t say that I prefer or recommend one over the other, because just like preparing for ISTE, what works best for me will not necessarily work best for somebody else. We each come in with our own expectations and leave with different, unique experiences. I think the common factor is looking back on the relationships and the people that we interacted with. Whether through the connections made in a Voxer group, a Twitter chat or through email, having even a quick moment to interact with those people (and take a selfie) is tremendous. Thank you ISTE!

Next post: Learning opportunities and things to consider

IMG_20170626_205417708.jpg

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is the third part of a series on how I learned the value of social media platforms for becoming connected and professional development.  I was wrong.

LinkedIn

I have not been on the job search. I did not have an account with LinkedIn. If I were  seeking employment, I would go directly to classified ads or employment websites. As for LinkedIn, I had heard of it, but I had never used it. Last year I had several people ask me why I did not have an account, and honestly I really didn’t want another account with more notifications. I had not considered using it since I thought it was simply for people who were actively looking for employment or who were recruiters.

While all that is true and it is a platform and a means for people looking for and posting employment information. It is really quite a professional community similar to the other platforms for people to share information, to learn, grow and connect with one another. I think that depending on who you are, what you do and what you need, you could decide to have accounts with each of these platforms I have mentioned, or simply choose one of them and try it out for a period of time. You might really be surprised at what it adds to your personal and professional life. Constant stream of information available, learning potential and power for becoming more connected.

LinkedIn differs from the others in that even if you are not actively looking for employment, it is a way to display your professional appearance/ persona and show people what it is that you do, share your interests, highlight your skills, for a few uses. But beyond these “postings”, it is also a way for people to support you because they endorse you for these skills. I have been in conversations with mixed viewpoints on these features, but I guess the thing to remember is that not everyone will find the same value, benefit for these, the important thing is that there are choices available for people to make their own decisions about what works best for them .

To create an account or not….

Now some people have accounts with all three of these and the way they interact with each of them varies, depending on role/profession in society, you may be very active and share your information freely. Or you may be more private and use each one of these in a different manner. It’s just about choice and preferences. But what I like is that with any of these you can share with others who you are and what you are about. And maybe more importantly, you are available for supporting and adding to conversations, communities and more.

I enjoy having options available as a professional, finding the right balance between all of these can be tricky, but better to have choices than not. 🙂

 

Next up…Walkie Talkie??

voxer

Rachelle Dene Poth

 

***This is the first in a series of posts about the benefits of social media tools for education, and how I learned the value of them for becoming more connected.

I was not always into social media and cannot say that I truly saw the value of what each platform might have to offer. Part of this is my fault because I did not take time to learn about Twitter or Facebook and the others, and I had some misconceptions about what each social media platform was being used for. The other part is that I relied on the comments and experiences of others to judge the value and the benefit of trying any of these for my own use.

I love technology.  Ever since I was a child, I have been interested in trying new things, spending time learning and working with all things tech. I was fine with communicating through email, text messaging, and the occasional phone call.  I held off on creating a Facebook account because I thought that it was just a way to tell people what you were doing on a daily basis, “status updates”. I had the perception it was just about updating everyone on the  basic chores and daily life habits that we all take part in. I also did not consider using Twitter because I thought it was simply a way to keep up with what celebrities were doing and I had other ways to do that. Being an avid reader of publications like People magazine or US for many years, I kept up with what was going on in the celebrity world. Enough anyway.

So for me, I didn’t really think about or see any benefit personally, nor professionally, for having either of these social media accounts. So what led to the change? Class reunion planning. I had the task of locating classmates for an upcoming high school class reunion. I graduated with nearly six hundred people, and knew it would be a very tedious task. My options were to spend time looking online or flipping through the pages of a telephone book,  assuming that people still lived in the area or that I could easily locate their information using these methods. The possibility of Facebook had not entered my mind until a friend suggested it. So I gave in, created my Facebook account and little by little, sure enough, I began finding some of my classmates, friends from childhood and college and even making new connections.

Once I started using Facebook more,  I realized that I had been mostly wrong. I found out that not everyone used Facebook as I had thought. It really was a way to locate classmates, reconnect with friends and I started seeing that Facebook could be valuable and not at all what I had thought.

I found different learning communities and groups to join through Facebook. It became a great platform for sharing information, adding resources and amazingly, not that I thought this years ago, has the capability of being a tremendous tool for learning and professional growth. It is a way for people to connect instantly with anyone throughout the world, at any time and can be used as a system of support. You can keep up with friends, family, colleagues, and see how people live in other places of the world by sharing photos or going “live”.

So I discovered that I was wrong. I had this idea of Facebook and its uses in my mind and actively stayed away from it for years. So what is the lesson I learned? I learned that in order to really understand the benefit and use of something, you have to investigate it yourself. You have to take that chance, take a step, take a risk and look into something before making a judgment about its value. (A lesson for life as well). But the flip side is that you can’t just start using something because everybody else is, or you “heard” that it was the best way or best method of doing something. Everybody is different and everything affects people in different ways. I’ve always said that we can all read the same book but get a different story. And that’s the case with Facebook.

Thank you Facebook for being the means through which I have been able to reconnect with friends, join new learning communities and keep up with family and members of my PLN who I do not get to see very often.  It is a means to share good news and bad, but the main point is that it is a way to become connected and we all need to be connected to someone and something.

So I was wrong about the power of social media….and that’s okay, because I know the possibilities now and learned the lesson of keeping an open mind, judging for myself, and then reflecting.

 

Next up….Twitter!

Posted on TeachThought, January 5, 2017

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This YearRachelle Dene Poth

There are so many digital tools available today to promote student learning in the classroom. The task is in figuring out what you need for your classroom. What could benefit your students the most?

Over the past year, I took as many opportunities to learn as I could, spending time gathering information from reading books and blogs, staying active through social media in Twitter chats, Voxer groups, and by attending many conferences, both physically and virtually. I created long lists of new ideas, new tools, and created new accounts for many digital tools and tried as many as I could.

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This Year

Communication, Collaboration

Technology can help give students a voice, where otherwise they may not be willing to or want to respond, especially within the traditional classroom space.  Here are the tools that changed our classroom this year and why.

1. Recap recap pioneer badge 2017 (1)

A video response tool that can be used for many purposes including formative assessments, student reflections and for sharing student work with parents. One of the biggest benefits of using Recap is that it provides a comfortable way for students to connect with their teachers, to share their ideas, thoughts or reflections, in a way which promotes student voice.

After using Recap with students for assessments, for providing their feedback to me about what they liked and did not like about class, and more, I could see that they were comfortable being able to speak freely, in their own space. I like being able to ask questions, provide different prompts, give feedback, and receive the daily reel that Recap compiles, to make reviewing it an easy process.

2. Voxervoxer

I found out about Voxer after being invited into a group created for ISTE Denver 2016. It started with a group on Facebook, and led to the implementation of Voxer as a means to connect everyone, build excitement for the conference and much more. I was amazed with the diverse uses of Voxer, ranging from individual conversations, a specific topic focused chat focused, a book study and much more.

Becoming more familiar with the different uses  got me to thinking how I could use it as a way to be accessible to students when they needed help with assignments. I had already been using various platforms including a messaging app and an LMS, but thought I would try Voxer out with a small group of students. The students loved it and used it for a few Spanish projects and even on a personal communication basis. After some time reflecting, I thought it could probably be a good tool to use for speaking assessments and to get the students involved in having conversations in Spanish with each other.

There are many uses for Voxer in general, but as an educator, it can be a good way to become more connected, receive and provide support for colleagues and students.

3. PadletPadletBlended

Padlet, which is equated to being a virtual wall, kind of like writing on a bunch of post it notes, has emerged as quite the multi-purpose tool in my classroom. What initially began as a way to have back-channel discussions, emerged as a means to communicate with other classrooms on Digital Learning Day, to have students quickly research and post pictures for a fun class activity, to curate student projects for easy display in the classroom, and even for students to use to create a project which included activities and multimedia links.

The uses keep emerging and I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to turn to the students for some extra ideas of how you can use some of these tools in your classroom.

4. PiktochartPIKTODash

A tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, presentations and more, Piktochart has become one of the tools that my students enjoy because they find that it is easy to use and enjoy the options which enable them to really personalize and make their project authentic. I have used it to create visuals such as birthday cards, classroom signs, Twitter chat graphics, and also for creating presentations for conferences. Regardless of what your needs may be, if you want to give students an option to create something visually engaging, personal to their interests and which enhances their creativity, according to my students this is something that you should try.

5. Vismevisual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024x590

Several of my students who have been very hesitant to use anything other than traditional presentation tools through Google or Microsoft Office, have found Visme to be a tool which encouraged them to take some risks and try new things this year. Students had to create a timeline about their summer, or basically anything they wanted, as a back to school project. At first, several asked to use something different, but they quickly found how easy it was to create something and have fun in the process.

Several students enjoyed it so much that they contributed to two blogs about the use of audio and the benefits of it for education as well as other areas. (hearing from the student’s perspective, and seeing them featured for their work was a great experience). So if you want to try something more engaging that promotes creativity, helps to build those vital technology skills and also lets students have fun in the process, then this could be a tool to try in the new year.

You can create infographics, reports, presentations, social media flyers and more. It is an easy drag and drop tool, that encouraged those “hesitant” students to take some risks and try new things. Check out Visme’s video series for “how-to” information!

6. Nearpodnearpod4

This is one of the game changers in my classroom this year. After many years of using the same Spanish reader in Spanish III, I wanted to add to the learning experience of students by enabling them to see some of the locations described in the book. I had found many videos and magazines, but I found Nearpod to be a much better way to really engage students in the lesson. Not only did students enjoy the lessons because of the interactive nature of it, they were overwhelmed by the ability to become immersed in the virtual field trips and feel like they were in the places they read about in the book.

I knew it was working when those students who were constantly watching the clock move were the last to leave the classroom. The only thing that made this better was when students created their own lessons and took over the classroom, becoming the teachers and giving me the opportunity to become the student and experience it from their perspective. There are many uses for this in the classroom: interactive lessons, multiple question formats, ability to upload content, assigning a lesson for practice and more.

It is definitely worth taking some time to try out, even looking over some of the lessons available in the Nearpod library, and asking your students what they think. And the Nearpod for Subs is AMAZING!

7. FormativeGoForm

A tool that can be used for having students complete formative assessments either live in class or as practice outside of the classroom, and a great way for teachers to get students more involved and be able to provide real-time feedback so that they can continue their learning process. Formative is a tool that has gone through many tremendous changes and improvements throughout the course of this year which make it a great tool for teachers to use for assessing students.

Formative is another tool that my students enjoy using because of the individual benefits of having feedback sent instantly and directly to them, being able to “show” their work or have their answers corrected immediately. It has been a way to create a more interactive classroom and also another tool which I have used to flip roles with students so that I could also learn from their perspective. It is something which students ask to use and which they are excited to tell others about, which is why I know that it is having a positive effect in my classroom.

Join #formativechat on Monday nights

8. QuizizzQuizizz1

A way to involve students in game-based learning in the classroom and also to provide more personalized instruction, based on the feedback you receive when students participate in a live lesson, or when you assign it as a homework practice assignment. I have enjoyed seeing students create their own Quizizz games, which I have found provides more focused practice for the students because they choose the material they need to practice.

Another benefit is that it also enables me to share these resources with the class and with individual students who may need some extra practice There are many features offered by Quizizz, and if time is lacking for creating your own Quizizz, you can gather questions and edit from all the public ones available. Try the game with your students and see what they think, and use their input to help plan the next game!

9. Buncee

The first time I created my own Buncee, I was amazed by the number of choices available for adding elements into my creation. I found myself thinking about how much the students would enjoy creating using it and having so many choices available. I have some students who like to “dab” every time they get an answer correct and so I quickly realized they would really love the fact that they could add a dabbing dancer into their presentation.

I created a Buncee for our annual Open House and was able to record my voice and add extra elements in from the diverse library of choices.  Being able to create a Buncee like this, is a great way to share the information with parents who may not be able to attend. I had students create projects with themes ranging fr9. om a medical chapter to a lesson on teaching verbs and more. Students love the choices and the ideas for how we can use this tool keep growing. But the best part of it is that it enables every student to find something to add into their project and to bring out their creativity. And it definitely builds confidence with a lot of fun in the process.

10. Blendspace TES Teach

A few years ago I found “Blendspace” and it was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted an easier, more reliable way to share some websites with students to use for practice during and outside of the classroom. I had been doing this, by typing the links on paper, but the problem was that deciphering the link (between i’s, l’s, for example) sometimes made it a bit challenging. So when I started using Blendspace, now “TES Teach,”  it was simply as a way to put activities and resources into a lesson and share one link which would open an entire page full of possibilities for enhanced learning.

But over this past year I have found many more uses for it, ranging from providing an asynchronous lesson, curating professional resources, storing student projects for easy presentation in class, and mostly for the simplicity of building a digital lesson full of multimedia resources, from scratch to share with students and colleagues. Creating a lesson is easy to do and can be done quickly when using the TES resources or when adding your own content.

Students can also use it to create their own presentations and this is a great way for them to incorporate a variety of media and to have everything available in one “lesson” using one tool. Accounts are free and you can have students join your class through a “pin” or Google Classroom or through a link. Teachers can also look at the lessons available through TES Teach and try some in the classroom.

11. Storyboard ThatSToryboardCH

Storyboard That is an online tool that is used to create storyboard and provide a way for students or anyone to tell a story in a comic strip presentation Style. You can create by choosing from so many different characters props background scenes comma speak Bubbles and so much more. It is easy for students to create as this work as a drag and drop tool. It is a lot of fun for students to be able to really personalize the characters and create a very authentic and meaningful representation of the story they are trying to tell.

There are many characters and backgrounds related to specific times in history, you can change the color of the characters, their clothing, adjust their movement and more. It’s really nice for the students because they can customize so much according to their personal needs which really enables them to be creative and have fun and be more engaged in their learning.

Another benefit is that by having an account with school, there are lesson plans and examples available that can really help to see how to integrate StoryboardThat into your classroom, or really into any type of setting, to communicate information in a more visual, creative and innovative way. Another nice feature is that students can use it to present in class and have it presented similar to a power point.

12. BloomzApp bloomz1

Bloomz is a tool which I began using at the end of the past school year, to see how it could enhance my classroom and open up more communication with parents. Bloomz offers a lot of great features, integrates the features of a messaging app, LMS, an event planner and more. It even provides translation capabilities with translation into 84 languages. Teachers can quickly create an event, share permission slips, create a sign-up sheet, track RSVPs, send reminders, and share photos and videos with parents.

Bloomz also enables teachers and parents to communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed each day throughout the year. It recently added the features of a student timeline for building a digital portfolio to share with parents, as well as a behavior tracking program, for communicating about student behavior and providing positive reinforcement.

Conclusion

Even with all of the great digital tools available, we have to make some decision about what will work the best for our classrooms. What is the purpose for the implementation of technology? In looking over this list, are there any that you think might help to enhance, amplify or facilitate student learning in a more beneficial way than what you are currently doing in your classroom? Determining the answer is the first step, as we know that using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. However, when we use technology in a way that enables us to help students find their voice, discover more about what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, makes sense. These are some of the tools which helped my students and had a positive impact on our classroom and learning experiences this year. To get started with the new year and some of these tools, my advice is to simply choose one of these tools and try it out.  See how it goes and be sure to ask your students for their feedback as well.

Posted by on September 7, 2016 .

Piktochart is the perfect example of a tool that can be used by anyone for almost anything. You can create flyers, brochures, presentations, and reports. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in because any of the templates can be used by anybody.

For example, as a teacher, I can create posters for my classroom or presentations for my lessons. I can have my students use Piktochart to create projects for our class. Piktochart can be used for conveying information for professional development, to show evidence of learning, and so much more. I’ve even used it to create a birthday card for a friend. You can download the image, share it, or print it, and they always look amazing.

books-school-field-pencilIn addition, students have a tremendous amount of choice when it comes to creating with Piktochart. Even students who say they are not creative find that their creativity comes out once they get started.

I have some quotations that I plan to incorporate into a poster for my classroom, and by having so many design options within Piktochart, I know I can create something personal, vibrant, and visually engaging for my students. I feel confident that even though I’m not a designer, I can still create something that will stand out and make my students curious about how they might be able to create something similar.

You might think that these ideas won’t work for you because you don’t work in education, marketing, or design. But step back and think about all of the digital tools and resources out there.

While it’s helpful to know what their “intended” purpose is, that doesn’t mean it can’t also fit your specific needs. Sometimes all it takes is some creative thinking (and some trial and error), and you’ll find a way to make it work for you. Once you get started, the ideas keep coming.


Getting Started

It’s all about taking a step back and looking at the picture from a different angle. When I started using Piktochart two years ago, it was my first experience with infographics. I had only recently learned what an “infographic” was.

I really wasn’t sure what to create, so I decided to start with my course syllabus. I copied the content from a Word document, pasted it into the template, and added some different visually engaging images around the text. It was a great way to add some technology to my classroom and to introduce students to the concept and benefit of using infographics for presentations.

Then I realized I could have my students use Piktochart to create projects to tell me about themselves, to talk about their family, and for many other uses where I would have normally just used paper. From there, the ideas just kept coming.

brainstorm-idea-thoughtNot that they were always my own. Often the new ideas were brought on by seeing the work of my students, or I’d be inspired by a conversation with other educators at conferences. My ideas for using infographics in the classroom kept growing.

One of my best ideas came to me recently while I was attending ISTE in Denver. My presentation was about using Piktochart to create infographics and presentations. Our discussion focused on how engaging and interactive these creations can be, and it occurred to me that there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t use Piktochart to run a flipped classroom lesson or to lead someone through a process.

Simply choose a template and add your information, and you will have created a lesson for students in which you lead them step-by-step through a lesson in a visually engaging way. You can include your links to websites, embed video in it, add your images, and so much more.


My Classroom Lesson

While I was at ISTE, I began thinking about using Piktochart as a means to provide a flipped or blended learning experience through the use of an infographic.

In order to test the idea of what would be or could be a lesson, I created a lesson with activities in a document as I normally would. Then, I transferred the lesson into one of my favorite Piktochart templates.

I numbered the steps, and I included some of the links and all of the necessary information. I added some icons, changed the backgrounds, and altered the sizes of images and the colors of the backgrounds.

I’m going to test it out with my students and get their thoughts. I plan to have some students use the paper format and others use the infographic in order to gauge their responses to my flipped classroom experiment.

As a teacher, my purpose for creating something like this is to engage my students and provide more for them. I want to give them something visually appealing that adds to their learning experience. The impact that digital tools have on my students is very important to me, and I carefully select tools that will provide the most choices for them and that prove to be more meaningful and beneficial.

globes-school-lantern-learnTaking this concept a step further, I could also flip it again and have the students create their own lesson in the same way that I did. By doing this, students develop leadership skills and are empowered. They gain new perspective as the “teacher”. They get to be creative, and they drive their own learning.

The teacher then becomes the student, and he or she has the opportunity to learn and gain another perspective that will be beneficial to their role in the classroom. There are many options for using infographics like this. You just have to find what works best for you.


Limitless Technology

From a teacher’s perspective, I think that if you are looking for ways to flip your classroom or to make it more interesting and engaging, infographics (particularly ones you can create with Piktochart) are the way to go.

Even if you are not in the educational field, think of the documents that you have to create in your line of work. You can easily paste the information into one of the templates. You can add your own photography or logos, search for new images, add icons, change the font colors or the backgrounds, and so much more. It is very easy to do, and it just takes that first step to get started.

When it comes to technology, I’m starting to think that there really are no limits. There is something out there for everyone to use. And while it may not be apparent at first, give it a little bit of time. If you are not sure where to start, make a birthday card for a friend.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/15072511-spainlesson

#ISTE16 Takeaways Part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships

By Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE Takeaways

Let’s talk about the relationships (part 1 of a series)

Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) is a conference that draws in people from all over the world and all levels of education and technology. With an estimate of close to 20,000 people from 70 countries in attendance, this year’s conference was tremendous. An event so large but yet at times seems so small, when you find yourself running into the same people in different areas of such a large event space. It has so much to offer, that it is hard to do it justice by summarizing or simply writing about one aspect of it.  So I thought I would highlight a few of the biggest takeaways that I had, and ones which I gathered from others.

 

Going to ISTE? What can you expect?
There are a lot of discussions and questions leading up to the conference. For people attending for the first time, the most common questions are: What sessions should I choose? What type of clothing is appropriate? What items should I carry in my bag? What should I expect? What are the “must do” events? and many more questions like this.  Simply put, where do I begin?

I myself was a first-time attendee last year and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I had been to many different conferences, but none as large as ISTE. I was nervous about not really knowing a lot of people there.  I was fortunate to have just gotten involved with PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) and two of the ISTE networks (MLN and Games & Sims).  Being involved with these organizations helped because I knew some people and had some events lined up, but I figured the chances of seeing them with all of our different schedules, were not too likely.

PAECT Friends

IMG_20160626_173826603_TOP-COLLAGE

I tried doing some research, asking questions on social media, reading through and studying the ISTE website to learn as much as I could. I think I studied the program multiple times every day, each week leading up to my travels to Philadelphia. I had a nice schedule planned out, my favorites marked and areas that I wanted to focus on, so it seemed like I was ready to go.  But as I quickly learned last year, and definitely felt the same this year, is that it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, what schedule you set up to follow, whether or not you know anyone, because no matter what decision you make you can’t go wrong. Honestly. There are no “wrong” or “bad” choices because there are opportunities everywhere. Even if you have a schedule, it is really tough to stick to it. And if you are traveling alone for the first time, don’t worry about being alone. It is a place for building relationships and making connections above anything else. So if you want to learn what ISTE is about let me start by telling you about the relationships and why they matter.

(Photos from #iste2016 Twitter)

(Photo from TechieTeacherTalk @GUAMlovesAT)

 

It starts with relationships: The value of connections

I had to conquer a big fear this year: my fear of flying. Last year, I traveled by Amtrak to Philly, and it was no problem. I don’t mind traveling alone, I use the time to read, participate in Twitter chats, catch up on work, and enjoy the trip.  But this year, preparing to travel to Denver, with my fear of flying, something I have not done in 21 years, was a bit difficult.  I have avoided air travel, preferring to drive or take a train any distance. However with Colorado being a bit far of a drive, bus ride or travel by train, I was not left with much in the way of options. So that meant flying. Fortunately, I had a good friend providing me with the support to help me get to the airport, get on the plane and get to Denver without worry. At least not too much. I just kept thinking about the week ahead.

My support for the travels started with another conference.  Karyn and I met at a Keystone Technology Innovator Summit in Pennsylvania a few years ago. I was also fortunate that at Karyn had another friend traveling with us, Chris, so I had two amazing companions to ease my nerves and it really made a huge difference during the flight and throughout the conference.

Chris Stengel and Karyn Dobda

 

Relationships started through Social Media.  Now aside from the travel, another tremendous part of this experience was a group that originated on Facebook, educators connecting in an ISTE2016 group.  The group then transferred into a Voxer group created and led by Rodney Turner. We communicated in the weeks leading up to ISTE. Lots of conversation, lots of questions and more than anything a ton of inspiration and excitement fueled by the chatter, the shared experiences, the anticipation and even more so, motivation provided by the guidance of our named “Concierge Rodney.”

He started each day with a Vox, a countdown to ISTE, an inspiration and a story.  He brought a bunch of people together, a group of connected educators, who became friends, excited to meet F2F after developing these relationships. Becoming friends through technology. I could hardly wait to meet the members of this group, officially, because we had already learned so much about each other. And we even had t-shirts and stickers made for our group, thanks Mike Jaber.   

(Meeting in Bloggers Cafe, VoxUp)

And at conferences like ISTE, meeting your “Tweeps” and #eduheroes finally F2F is a possibility.  Even though we all feel like we already know each other, after many Twitter chats and social media interactions, it is nice to be together and talk (about technology) without the technology.

Sean Gaillard and Natalie Krayenvenger     (Photo from Katrina Keene)

 

First steps for ISTE

Having these core groups to connect with is something I highly recommend.  All it takes is one or two people and you can build your entire group, so at no point do you feel alone during the conference. One of Rodney’s messages was to be on the lookout for people you notice sitting alone. If you see someone sitting alone, go over and start a conversation, invite people to join you, be welcoming, and it worked. We had our “VoxUp” in the Bloggers Cafe on Sunday before the Keynote, and what a great experience that was.  There were lots of hugs, laughs, smiles and excitement.   This was truly a defining moment.  In looking around, people joined in this group, new connections were made, the excitement and power of this PLN was contagious.  All it took was joining in a group, taking that step and becoming part of something, and having a support system already in place.  Looking around the Bloggers Cafe, there were a lot of small groups of people, gathered to listen to the Keynote, take pictures, make new connections, network and just to absorb everything that was going on. No matter where you looked, you could see the energy and excitement. The energy was so high and it was just the starting point for what would be a phenomenal 3 day event.

 

So, what should your plan be?

Well, maybe the best plan is to not have a plan.  Maybe just have an idea. A focus.  Time goes by so quickly and the choices are so numerous that it can be overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee.  Not everybody can make the same decision about what would be the best session or event to attend. You have to make your own decision and even though there is comfort in going to a session with somebody you know, it is equally if not more beneficial to go your own way, interact with other educators and create new relationships.  You can then come back to that core group with new ideas and new friends, and you never know, it’s such a small world sometimes that you might all know the same people.  And by going to different sessions and different events, there are more stories and experiences to be shared. So the learning possibilities are even greater.  And friends made along the way become part of different groups but connected into one.
Having these different groups really added to the experience.  We shared ideas, attended events together, grabbed early coffees at Coffee Edu, and so much more. Even if you weren’t at ISTE, you could join in virtually and be a part of the ISTE community as well.  The idea behind attending conferences like ISTE is to make new connections, gain new knowledge, to grow professionally, and to explore.  I can’t think of a better way to start doing this than by focusing on relationships. It is where I start each school year and it is where I focus for conferences like ISTE.

(#coffeeEdu, Thanks Craig Yen for Periscoping for #notatiste)

(Mobile Megashare)

 

Share your thoughts and experiences and photos, we would love to hear from you! Next up, focus on some of the ISTE events and takeaways.