Five Things To Do After Every Conference.

Three photos of Google Innovators being goofy with props.
My life has changed. Whether I admit and recognize it or not I have experienced a large shift in my world. I can feel the change deep in my core. This has happened thanks to ISTE.

It’s not the workshops or the Expo that has changed my life. Those pieces have been profoundly inspirational. I specifically went to gather information and resources. What I walked away with are connections. 

I recently found out I was accepted into the London 2019, #Lon19, Google Innovator cohort. I’m thrilled to have this experience. There is a large number of UK folks in the cohort. Only a handful are from North America. Thanks to ISTE I was able to connect with four of them. 

It’s unusual to have an instant connection with someone. Most meetings and connections are friendly and cordial. However, encountering these members of my cohort was like finding an extended family I never knew I needed. And I use the word “need” because I can’t see moving forward without them. In reality, yes, life goes on, but these connections have enriched so much for me. These connections are not just educational. There is a personal connections sharing stories of families and friends. 

Mindset matters here. We all happened to have a growth mindset and have been excited to connect with each other. This creates a deeper bond. I think it can also be termed as acceptance. We spoke positively and openly with each other. We all have a similar goal in mind which is to change the world. These factors developed a unique and special relationship.

This pre-Academy connection would not be possible without ISTE. The connections extended beyond my cohort members. I met so many people, some fresh faces and others heroes in the world of educational technology. I’m taking away business cards, emails, twitter followers and more. These are the elements I need to continue that human connection. And that human connection is a core of education. 

So what do we do from here? We just had this amazing time connecting and learning. Let’s not leave it there. Keep it going. Those conversations don’t end because the conference ended. Those chats keep going. Here’s some points to help you forge ahead with your goals post conference. 

  • Gather your thoughts. What are your take-aways from the event? Jot it down in a digital searchable platform. Don't for get to check and gather all those resources too.
  • Connect with those you met. Reach out and Identify yourself in a way that can help them remember. Unless you spent days together there is a high chance not everyone will remember you. Provide a recap of your conversation. 
  • Create a plan for yourself. There are likely things you want to accomplish. Build yourself a timeline of when you plan to complete them. 
  • Talk to your colleagues that didn’t go. Even a few minutes of cooler talk can help change things for someone else. You may have seen a saving solution for a problem someone has. 
  • Implement what you have learned. Use at least one tool or technique within a week of your return. It's definitely hard if you don’t have to opportunity but work to create the opportunity for yourself. 

I’m on a bus home. Those group chats created to find my colleagues are still active. I’ll continue to use them to find shared resources and photos. But I have one group chat with four amazing people I’ll see in two weeks. I’m honestly emotional and teary leaving them after spending three days together. I’m working to change my mindset to recognize that I’m about to meet 30 plus more extended family members in London. This is my love letter to those first four and I’m looking forward to the family growing. 

AI and ML in Education

Image of two screens side by side. left with a childish idea of a lake and mountain, the right an AI realistic painting created from the childs image
nVidia's GAUGAN AI image creation
Computer programming as a mandated part of the curriculum began in the UK in 2013. Six years later we are beginning to see other educational regions requiring computer programing in the curriculum. But what about some of the more advanced tool? What about Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)? We live with intelligent tools daily now. Whether you are shopping online or asking Siri for the time you are connecting to intelligent machines. But we aren’t all discussing how to implement it in the classroom. My mission at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia was to explore what we are doing with AI and education. Here’s what I’ve taken away. 
We have been asking an entire profession to pick up a necessary skill set by tomorrow. And we need them to do it again. Computer programming in the classroom integrated through various courses is very popular now. Many classrooms are drawn to block-based coding like Scratch or Much of the content delivery can be done through a video tutorial and try it yourself technique. The educator doesn’t need to know much about computer programing just enough about technology to setup a digital classroom. While this is not the most effective way to educate it can get the job done. We need to begin approaching AI and ML topics in the classroom and this may be the way to get a jumpstart into it. 
AI and ML tasks are accessible now more than ever. Educational resources are out there to begin talking about and trying AI. Google has a number of projects which can spark a classroom conversation and exploration on the topic. One of my favorite tools is a visual training demonstration called Teachable Machine. Students can train the system to recognize objects. The concept of data being routed through neural networks is very clear from the visual layout of the website. It can spark conversation on the differences between sensing and perceiving. The extraction of meaning from the images to say a word, show a gif, or play a sound supports student understanding of the concept of perception. This easily integrates into biology curriculum as the human senses are explored. 
Large datasets can be engaged by our students in various ways. Gapminder provides a visually stunning display of over 100 years of data. We can see populations grow and shrink over time as it’s tracked over 6 variables. This timeline motion chart feature brings something to the classroom we would have to make a 100 page graph paper flip book to replicate in the physical world. While this is a goto dataset there are others to explore with classes. The conversation can be around math or history. It all depends on from what angle you want to look at the material. The life expectancy drops from world wars are very clear. 
Life expectancy and income compared overtime

The level or AI and ML learning our students need to be at when graduating high school as recommended by is high. I agree with their guidelines and I’ve been working to educate myself but I still am about the level of a 6th grader.
Benchmarks for AI in the classroom "What students should be able to do."
Educators need more educational opportunities to be able to understand the emerging technology. Curriculum will be generated by the big tech companies but it’s a necessity for educators to have a bit of a deeper knowledge of the tools than the in-the-box materials provided. We need to know what’s possible in order to integrate the learning throughout our curriculum. The work of Dr. Scott Garrigan can be a wonderful place to start. He is an educator whose interest is in cognitive disabilities. He provides professional development on many topics. He understands the pedagogy and can help support in implementing AI and ML through a curriculum. 

While this is not an exhaustive list of resources they do provide places to get started. 

We will very quickly approach the point that we won’t be able to tell if a computer is speaking to us or a human. Just last year Google Duplex was demoed and is now released. If this is our reality now what will it be when our students graduate? Shouldn’t we begin making the effort to include AI in our curriculum now? We are seeing a scramble to include coding in the curriculum. AI and ML have coding in them but the concepts can be vastly different. If we wait much longer to push this into our schools we will miss the opportunity and fall behind. 

In light of recent political events I was deeply struck by a quote regarding AI: “Whoever becomes the leader Artificial Intelligence will become the ruler of the world.” -Vladimir Putin, 2017. Looks like educators have some work to do. 

Gaming Education

Is education a game where only some understand and play by the rules? Are others even playing the game? Do they know it even exists? Are educators just proliferating a lie of the system to control the masses?
Let’s face it. If we truly wanted all of our students to be successful we would go back to the foundations of what defines success in education and rewrite it all. Around 30% of students in high school pursue higher education in America. While I’m not a believer that this is the only path to success this is often a good indicator. Are the two thirds just getting and buying into the game of school?
I had the opportunity to discuss the topic an more at Philadelphia’s Hack Education at ISTE this week. The bullet point take aways:
  • Shepherds are effective in supporting students.
  • Education needs to take in the whole child
  • Mindset matters
  • The system is broken
One of the points which has crossed my mind and come up in conversations is a bit of a taboo subject in education; education is structured to support governmental management of populations. Even writing about this I find myself hitting a dead-end of thoughts. I have more questions than answers but can clearly see the affect on my students and education as a whole. But really how else do we create a stable society? These are big philosophical questions deserving of long term conversation.
Students need a shepherd to help them through education. For many this is in the form of a parent. But what happens when the parent wasn’t good at the game of school? A Student needs more than a role model. They need some one that can support and help them through the system. Truthfully it’s the system that is broken.
The education game needs to change. I am at ISTE in lectures discussing AI in education and it’s striking how much our students will need to know that they aren’t taught and how much they are being taught that they don’t need to know.
Let’s reimagine what school is. Even the word school. We no longer need to go to a place of learning. Resources are online to help and support us. Perhaps we start to consider education as a personal path to personally defined and coached success. Let’s not define students by a datapoint but recognize that education is more than the core elements we have been teaching.
It’s time for an overhaul of the game. Knowledge is at our fingertips. Our students need the skills to interact and work with the information they can access 24/7. Memorization of facts is no longer a necessity in school.
The idea of a game for school exists because there is a winner; a score. There are rules to the game, though the rules aren’t clearly written down. There are penalties if you break the rules but no one really tells you what they are because they don’t know themselves.
What can education be? How can we measure learning without using a number or scoring? How do we teach with the whole child? How do we heal the wounds education has caused?
Microsoft is supporting schools in transforming education. Gutting what is education  as we know it and redeveloping something else. We need to all pursue an exploration to transform what we know if as education.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Makes A Case for Learning Cursive.

Wizards Unite, A griffin with a magic spell cast from a wand

I find myself writing more with my finger than a pen. Granted it’s not by a large factor. Actually most of my writing is with my thumb on my phone’s keypad. However the writing I’m referring to is that scrawling flourish of an unintelligible signature.  When I sign for a delivery it’s with my right hand index finger flying over a mobile screen. When a signature is needed for a purchase it’s often with that same index finger on a touch device. And now when I cast a spell that finger attempts to complete the prestidigitation. 

Niantic has released their newest game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite for both iOS and Android using the underlying technology of Pok√©mon Go. You are in the role of a wizard helping to collect artifacts before the muggle (non-wizard) world learns of their existence. Each item, beast, or dark force has a mind of its own to stay and not be banished to the wizarding world. As a magic user yourself it’s your task to cast various spells magicking things to return. The unique educational gameplay element is each spell is reminiscent of an exercise in cursive for a strict teacher. 
Wizards Unite recording of gesture to cast a spell

Cursive was not a strong point of mine in school. Neither was handwriting. Technology makes my writing legible. I did at least have an education in cursive. That gives me somewhat of a leg up with my wizardly casting. Many students aren't exposed to learning cursive in favor of providing STEM related curriculum. But now along comes Niantic with a great case for teaching it. 

We interact with devices through typing, swiping, talking, and various other ways depending on need. With the rise of the touchscreen it was only a matter of time before we resorted back to what we know. The familiar is hard to escape from. While, yes, typing is still popular and has been around for over a century there is still something about the grapho-motor skill of writing that helps us retain notations we take better than tapping it out. Scrawling on a screen what you are thinking is almost natural. Though younger generations are faster at tapping with a single digit. 

As technology progresses we have the ability to get back to our cursive writing and even have it transferred to print as we write. The gesture has been just a simple directional swipe.  Maybe a pinch. Possibly a three finger flick. But it hadn’t taken into account accuracy and speed. Gestures were intended to make it easy. Gameplay is intended to provide a challenge. How do we challenge kids playing on touch devices? Make them do cursive in gameplay. 

Cursive has been ebbing a flowing in the classroom depending on what article you read. Augusta, Maine wants to make cursive a requirement through a bill. I would not be surprised to hear of students requesting to learn cursive just to help their game play. It’s a skill that may be on the rise in the future for other forms of interaction and shouldn't be disregarded. Cursive opens doors to creativity and provide a personal touch.

We have become use to the staple drop down menu at the top. We’ve memorized common shortcuts from the keyboard. But what about in a touch screen world? iOS has changed their gestures to support shortcuts for things like Copy and Paste. The gestures are still broad strokes. What will happen when more professional applications start taking on gesture shortcuts?
editing keyboard with marks and colors on the keys
If you’ve ever seen a keyboard for editing music or video consider the challenge of turning it into gesture shortcuts. An obvious answer is to do something like what Niantic has done with its gameplay. While you may not be expected to be as accurate when gesturing for work it doesn’t hurt to build up those skills. 

My handwriting is still horrible. I think I may need to start considering improving my finger flourish skills. Is there an app out there that I can practice finger writing? We may one day be concerned with our child's the dominant writing finger. parents will dread the child who prefers the middle finger flourish. If cursive isn't in your curriculum you may want to consider putting it in there. It can be connected to future tech skill. And if your students need practice direct them to Niantic's game. You may even want to consider throwing in some finger exercises. I'll be at ISTE this week in Philadelphia and I'll be curious of what others think of teaching finger cursive. 

ISTE preparation

As I prepare to attend ISTE 2019, or any conference, I find myself wondering if I’m doing it right? Is there a better way to plan to attend a conference? Even when said conference is like walking in front of a firehouse?
  • I have my calendar, in fact I made a shared calendar for my Personal Learning Network. 
  • I have my resources for presentations, I’ve provided a few ways to access them. 
  • I have some sessions I’d like to attend, I find many sessions are geared toward entry to educational technology. 
  • I have my social meetups planned, it really is more like I signed up for everything and will go along with what others are doing.
  • I have people I want to meet, it’s not a strict list but it contains members and coaches from my new Google Innovator cohort. #LON19
Am I missing something?

Was there a better way to do this?

My friend @InnovativeEdu shared a few blogs about attending ISTE:

  • Worry less about what you will "do" and more about what you will "be" at ISTE
    • This was very influential to me last year. It focused me to consider how I’m sharing what I do with the world. I’ve been focused on sharing with my local community of educators in New York City. But hadn’t considered how I’d share with the global community or even who I’d present myself as. What was my story? I was inspired to create and this blog to better share information. I took away from this article the need to brand myself. I’m still searching for a logo, I’d love to have stickers, but that will come in time. 
  • Where have all the Powerful Ideas Gone?
    • I was struck by how similar ISTE San Antonio ‘17 was to the ISTE Chicago ‘18 I attended. Granted it's only a year but a lot can be done in a year. I found myself nodding at this post as I read it. The dumbing down and simplifying of things, like code, provides a great entry level space, but where’s the transition? When and how do we provide authentic tasks with technology? I do feel some are in a low-bar loop but I’m hopeful we’ll all break out of it and soon. I’m looking forward to the Hack Education unconference for my own inquiry process
  • 12 Tips for Connecting at Education Conferences  from @InnovativeEdu 
    • I actually reflect on these tips before going to a conference. I do attend with an intention. My goal has been to influence how we automate our workflows to provide more time for engaging. The business card trick is clever but never works for me because I like to be digital. I use Haystack as my own digital business card and will often take a photo of a business card, mark on it, and store it in an album on my phone. Overall this is a helpful road-map of tips to follow. I'm still working on the introducing myself to strangers bit. It's never been my thing. I'm better with a wing-person.
These tips provide some insight into the preparation element but arent specific enough for me on all that goes into attending or presenting at a conference. So here's my thoughts about what to do before you go:

  1. Gather your resources into topic assigned online folders. Whether you use Google, Microsoft, Box, Dropbox or another cloud sharing service you want to have everything in one place and easily accessible for when someone asks you for your resources. Most conferences will take care of this gathering or session related resources for you. However there are those times that you bump into a great conversation and need a more direct way to share your work. If you use an email sharing feature for a folder of items (locked from editing) you also capture the person's email so you can be in contact. I like to gather mine on my web page to share with a wider audience but I also have my materials in folders to make a more personal connection.
  2. Check your Online presence. If you attend a conference only once a year then chances are what you posted about yourself last year may have changed. People will be googling and connecting with you. Give them the most accurate picture you can of yourself. If you have a blog or website go through your layout and materials and make any corrections and adjustments. 
  3. Social interaction is important before you go. There will be a lot of face-to-face connections at the conference offer your presence online to freshen any connections you have had over the year. Even better make a few new ones before you go and make that effort to connect at the conference. 
  4. Provide something of support to the conference community. Tweet out something that can help everyone have a great conference. You'll inevitable make digital resources to help yourself navigate the conference. Share it out. I created a map of hotel shuttle stops to help myself get around and shared it with the community hoping to help some one else. I also posted it on my website to drive traffic there in case I can help in other ways. 
  5. Create two calendars; everything you need to attend, everything you want to attend. Down time happens and you may find yourself with free time you weren't expecting. Maybe that session you wanted to attend is full or someone canceled. Have a calendar with backup options. Keep it hidden until you need it. 

As I think about what I have done and what is to come I still have to wonder if there was a more effective way to do some of what I did. (I spent a few days editing a video and then scrapped it and have now recreated it over three more times.) I think in hindsight I'll work to keep my resources more current keeping a "Conference folder" online that I can copy and remove pieces from rather than looking all over for the pieces I want to put in the folder. I can always improve on my online presence and be more social in global communities. All-in-all I think I'm ready for what's to come but will continue to make tweaks.

Check out @InnovativeEdu's blog for more insightful information:

Give me a Backpack not a “teacher bag”

My upcoming summer is full of conferences. I’m excited to connect with educators and vendors at various places. Educators always end up being given something. And that something is often contained in a “Teacher bag”. 

“Teacher bags”. Those square sacks of canvas with two handles at the top. Useful for toting books and papers about. They stack up folded in closets for just when you need to take a bunch of papers home to grade. However, the use of books and papers is going digital. These bags are becoming obsolete. 

For me they end up tossed in the garbage, stuffed in a closet and never used or cut up for some other unintended purpose #makerspace. I prefer to move about hands free. These bags don’t fit well to hang from my shoulder allowing me to move about freely. I also can’t give them away though I’ve considered using them as gift wrapping...

I have a different idea. Backpacks. Vendors will always want educators to walk away with something in their hands so they give us a reusable container. Educators still have a need to carry things from class to class. And most importantly students in need could use some help. And sometimes that’s in the form of a backpack. 

As I sat down at my desk this morning a new Mac laptop was being placed in a “teacher bag” to give to a student for assistive technology purposes. What do you think the student will do with that “teacher bag”? If we had a plethora of backpacks we could have packaged the device in a container that was more meaningful to the student. We collect information and samples from vendors for our students. Shouldn’t we also be given a container which is more meaningful? 

Those teacher bags like our factory model of education no longer address all the reasons they were intended for. As I head to these conferences I know I won’t be given backpacks. I’m hopeful in the coming years to see a shift. If we all make an effort to request change it can happen. 

Why a backpack? Despite its traditional connection to school it offers a lot to our students. There’s certainly negatives to using backpacks related to posture and getting caught in doors but the benefits to a student trying to fit in out weigh the negatives. Students need to be able to move and a backpack allows for more of a range of motion. If kept on they have less of a likelihood of misplacing it. The various pockets create greater organization. And if we really want to go all out we’d provide backpacks with accessible tools like Velcro closings or larger zipper holds. 

As I walk through the expos to come I’ll inevitably be handed a “teacher bag” and I’ll take it. But I’ll be requesting a backpack for next time. So vendors, stop shoving “teacher bags” in my hand. Give me something I can use to give back. Give me a backpack I can gift to a student in need. #givebackpack

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