By Tom Mullaney
For Connected Educators, a conference can be a wonderful break from routine, an opportunity to make meaningful connections and learn new tools and strategies. Two or three days of learning and connecting is replenishing for teachers. It can be exhausting too. After a couple days, I am usually happy to be done and go home to reflect.
I had the perfect plan to attend two such conferences in early 2016. I would attend the Maryland GAFE Summit at the end of January. March would start with the NCTIES conference in Raleigh. I would receive lots of PD and it would be nicely spaced out.
GAFE Summits are two-day conferences held by EdTechTeam. They focus on digital teaching and learning with an emphasis on Google Apps for Education. The NCTIES conference is the annual two-day conference of the North Carolina Technology In Education Society.
The best-laid plans...The Maryland GAFE Summit was postponed because of a snowstorm. The new date? March 5-6, right after NCTIES. Additionally, as a member of the North Carolina Digital Coaches Leadership Network (NCDLCN) cohort, I started NCTIES a day early for a session led by our mentors from the Friday Institute. Now I had a five-day monster of PD ahead of me! Would I survive and thrive? Would I descend into the depths of a canyon of learning that no amount of coffee could raise me from?
Here are some highlights of 5 days of non-stop PD conferencing!
Day 1, Wednesday, March 2, NCDLCN Pre-NCTIES MeetingWe started our NCDLCN meeting by reviewing action plans we developed for our schools. My action plan focused on quick assessment that produces data for differentiation. I blogged about it. One of my teachers blogged about one of the tools I introduced to her as part of the action plan.
Friday Institute speaker Abbey Futrell shared some great resources from Melissa Lim with the group.
Finally, we discussed a great book for teachers looking to understand teens and social media, It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd. All middle and high school teachers should read this book.
Day 2, Thursday, First Day of NCTIESThe highlight of day one was leading Google Expeditions at the Google for Education booth.
Leading my colleagues on a #GoogleExpedition last week. @k_shelton #gafesummit MD @edtechteam pic.twitter.com/djjZN0Tk4f— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 6, 2016
Nick Lafave led a great session about assessment. He gave his controversial opinion about homework. I agreed and tweeted about it:
"I'm anti-homework. It measures little more than parental involvement." - @NFLaFave at #ncties16 AMEN! #noHW cc @alicekeeler— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 3, 2016
Another great session was “Navigation with Imagination,” led by Pam Lilley and Molly East, about Google Maps. I especially appreciated they’re sharing great examples of using Google Maps in Math.
Day 3, Friday, Second Day of NCTIESThis day was shorter as the conference let out around 2:30 PM. The highlight of the day was connecting with great educators. Sessions are valuable, but so are the interactions and connections. In the case of Elizabeth Smiley, I met someone who sees the world, and education, much as I do:
So happy to connect with @LibrarySmiles at #ncties16 #noHW #FeelTheBern #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain pic.twitter.com/RFz0aCHvWc— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 4, 2016
As I was leaving NCTIES, a colleague mentioned how much she enjoyed a BreakoutEDU session she attended. She said that even though her BreakoutEDU was Math-focused, she was excited to use it in her ELA classroom. That’s the mark of a great session - a teacher leaves knowing how they will implement what they just learned. I was disappointed I had not attended based on her glowing description. With that, I drove four hours to Northern Virginia to sleep on my brother’s couch.
Day 4, Saturday, First Day of GAFESummitThe day started with an inspiring keynote from Rushton Hurley.
I presented about educational technology and students with learning needs. I took a picture while participants worked on a formative assessment:
Great #gafesummit MD session on #edtech and Ss w/learning needs! They're doing a @goformative! pic.twitter.com/VeVgsXwxJ5— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 5, 2016
Then I presented about strategies for using video in the classroom. While participants worked on a TED-Ed lesson I made with an Alice Keeler video, I took another picture.
My #gafesummit MD video session hard at work on my @alicekeeler @TED_ED lesson! GREAT audience! @edtechteam pic.twitter.com/I5HxvWH0fp— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 5, 2016
I was fired up by my sessions going well. I did not realize the day was going to get better! Remember how I missed BreakoutEDU the day before? It turned out Google Certified Innovator Chrystal Hoe led a BreakoutEDU session! What a great activity for kids and adults! Our group broke out with minutes to spare! The last session of the day was about Google Hangouts on Air led by Tia Simmons and Sarah Thomas. After a recent Hangouts on Air disaster, I was grateful for the pro tips this session gave me. Now, thanks to Sarah and Tia, I have the knowledge I need to try this tool again!
The day ended with a Demo Slam. I demonstrated how ThingLink works magically with YouTube and Google Forms. I love ThingLink. What a great tool for blended learning!
Day 5, Sunday, Second Day of GAFESummitFor having experienced four days of PD, I was doing pretty well. I presented twice to start the day. My first session was on making video lessons with the awesome Google Chrome extension, Screencastify.
I forgot to take a picture but fortunately, Rushton took one for me:
At the @edtechteam Maryland Summit watching @edtechtom rock a #screencasting session. pic.twitter.com/n2PT1mdtwB— Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh) March 6, 2016
Then it was time for my session on Going Deeper with Google Classroom. I used both GoFormative and Socrative to assess participants. The Socrative data told me there were 54 people in attendance!
54 awesome teachers working on @Socrative & @goformative in my #GoogleClassroom #gafesummit MD session! @edtechteam pic.twitter.com/5MSONvByNw— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 6, 2016
Just like on Saturday, I followed my two sessions with a Chrystal Hoe session. If it ain't broke, why fix it, right? Chrystal presented about apps teachers and students can connect to their Google Drive. This session opened my eyes to many tools I have not been using such as Coggle, DocHub, LucidPress and RealTimeBoard.
My last session, led by Google Certified Innovator David Hotler, was about podcasting. Whether or not you plan on becoming the next Sarah Koenig, David gave some great tips for any teacher looking to convert to blended learning:
"Best place to record your voice is a walk-in closet." Thanks for the pro-tip, @dhotler! #gafesummit MD— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 6, 2016
"Be a real human on your recording...you don't need to do the perfect take." - @dhotler #gafesummit MD— Tom Mullaney (@edtechtom) March 6, 2016
After Ken Shelton gave a great closing keynote about harnessing students’ creativity, we departed. I drove four hours home.
After five days of PD and two four-hour drives, I’ve come to a realization: Five consecutive days of PD is awesome! I thought I would be drained. I thought my brain would be lost in a fog of information overload. Instead, I have a clear idea of how I will change my practice because of what I learned. All conferences result in meaningful connections. I simply made more than I would have if I was only participating in two days of conferences. If only, all educators had the chance to “suffer” through five days of what I just experienced!