Saturday, November 30, 2019

10 Reasons Why People Are The Best Part of Conferences

I've recently been to two education conferences, back-to-back: the AMLE conference in Nashville, and the IETC conference in Springfield, where I was fortunate to be named a featured speaker! I was thinking back on these experiences and how much I enjoyed it... and it dawned on me that although the sessions are full of information, useful tips, and new strategies to try, my absolute favorite part of conferences = the people!

As I reflected on why I felt this way, I came up with 10 reasons why people are the best part of conferences. And then I sketchnoted it, because that's what I do. :) Here goes:

10 Reasons Why People Are The Best Part of Conferences

1. Selfies!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It's fun to document all of the people you meet via selfies. Beth told me that I always make the same face. She's not wrong:

2. Social media does NOT equal real-life.

I know a lot of people solely from social media, so it's extra awesome to get to meet them IRL. I mean, it's always awkward for me because I'm terrible at small talk but I'm truly excited when I see them in physical form and try my best to be exciting and interesting back.

3. People can be energizing.

So, I'm actually an introvert IRL (hence the awkward first meetups) and I do need to go hide in my hotel room/back at home, and I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but it is also really energizing to get to meet people who are excited about education and have fun new ideas to talk about. It's good to be around other passionate educators who think like you do!

4. It's your extended support family.

People will come to your sessions because they're your friends and will sit in the crowd and just be a positive encouraging presence. I remember being super nervous to present at ISTE this year, and I looked out at the 140-ish people in the audience... and then I saw Alicia! She smiled and waved and it made me feel better.

5. Cheering on your friends!

On the flipside, you get to go watch your friends' sessions and cheer them on! Depending on how well you know your friends, you can holler at them and crack jokes. Or sing along at karaoke before the session starts (looks at Adam and Mike)...

6. Travel BFFs.

Either traveling with or meeting up with a friend (or friends) that you can tag along with for the experience is extra cool. In the case of IETC, my travel BFF was Terence. We got to present together, we had automatic lunch table partners, and we had a buddy to peruse the vendor hall. Also, during evening festivities, it's always nice to have a friend looking out for you and making sure we all get "home" safely.

7. Expanding your network.

When I meet someone IRL that I previously only knew online, it feels really cool when they're super nice and act like we've been friends for ages! I had an experience at EdCamp not too long ago when my husband and I were asked to go to lunch with a bunch of friends - some brand-new, some previously acquainted - just be brought into the fold was so amazing and welcoming! I hope to pay it forward - my #LAX18 family can meet my #ILSTOY family, and the network grows.

Shawn models the exclusive "Mrs Leban on a beach ball" sticker. :)

8. Personalized PD.

Talking to folx at a conference - those informal conversations - are the ultimate in personalized PD! You find commonalities and expertise in areas that apply to your specific situation and are super relevant. Sometimes you'll have a conversation with someone that sparks an idea - or connects you to a friend-of-a-friend that can help you out with a project!

9. The unexpected!

Meeting people and making connections are great, but it's often the things you learn that are completely unexpected that leave some of the biggest impacts on you! Some of my conference experiences are a direct result of being introduced to someone else by a friend, and weeks later we connect for a future project or event. Even the most casual conversations had in the evening over drinks can spark inspiration for something else. Just keep your mind open and you'll be amazed at what you can find!

10. Gains beyond the sessions.

I guess all of the items above technically qualify as gains "beyond the sessions," but interacting and networking with people at conferences has really helped me with my social anxiety, awkwardness, and given me lots of practice in a super welcoming and relatively safe environment. Teachers are rad, and they understand (and put up with!) my weird awkwardness, but also passion and excitement when it comes to education.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

How about you - what's your favorite part about going to conferences? Do you get to go to conferences? I know a lot of schools won't pay for teachers to go (mine typically won't - but that's a conversation for another post!) - but sometimes you get that once-a-year opportunity... what do you most look forward to? 

- Mrs L.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

5 Reasons I Love Classroom Q!

I've known about ClassroomQ for a while, and when I finally tried it out with my 7th grade class, it was a beautiful thing! I teach all kinds of tech things: GSuite for Education, Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship, video production, digital imaging and graphic design, tech toys and robotics, and coding/beginning computer science concepts.

In 7th grade, our computer science/coding experience is using Scratch. Students create mini games according to a set of criteria. Although they enjoy the end result, the journey to get there is often filled with frustration. You see, because I am an elective teacher, the skills that my students walk in through the door with are extremely varied. I will have students with special needs and below-grade-level math skills in the same group of 25+ as students enrolled in math classes 2 or more levels above their grade. It's honestly a really frustrating situation, because many people seem to think that an "elective" class = an easy class, or one without too many "academic" skills necessary.

Absolutely not true.

So, when I teach Scratch, I get a lot of questions. A LOT. OF. QUESTIONS.

The average experience is having a student walk up to me, thrust their Chromebook into my face and say, "It's not working!" To which I had to decipher (through conversation or close inspection of their code) WHAT exactly wasn't working, what had gone wrong, and how to fix it. This was not a 30-second process. Trying to figure out what a student had done vs what they were trying to do was mentally exhausting! I wished that I had the luxury of taking a nap after class.

I was racking my brain about what to do. The whole point of this project was for students to do the problem-solving, to investigate, to try and fail, to retry a different way, and to analyze their code!

THEN, I remembered ClassroomQ!

ClassroomQ is an online tool where students can ask the teacher a question and get a "spot" in line to get help! Here's how it works: a teacher generates a special code for students so that they can join their session:

During this session, students enter their name, and they may begin to submit questions. I require students to write their question in the comment box:

Once they press the "assistance needed" button, they can see their place in line, and their question shows up on the teacher's screen:

I always opt to project mine so students can see how many students are asking for help, and what they need help with. Once a student has been helped, the teacher can click their name to remove them from the queue!

The Basic (aka free version) of ClassroomQ will give you five spots in the queue. This might not seem like a lot, but I first used it in class with the Basic account, and I fell in love! Here's why:

1. Students had to articulate their question!

Using ClassroomQ forced students to have to write something down in the comment area, and they quickly realized that "it won't work" wouldn't cut it. Having to articulate what the problem was often caused students to figure out the solution on their own without asking! 

2. I can help multiple Ss with the same question at once.

Teachers are very familiar with answering the same question, over and over again. I could look up at the board, and if 2+ students had the same question, I'd call them all over together as a group and save myself from answering it more than once!

3. I can answer “easy” questions quickly to shorten student wait time, and sit down with tougher issues.

I can look up at the screen and quickly knock out "simple" questions (even if they're out of order) so that students can get back to work, and spend more time with students requiring extra assistance.

4. I can send students with questions I’ve already answered over to other students I’ve already addressed!

When a student asks a question I've already addressed, I can easily send them over to that classmate for assistance, saying, "Oh, I just showed Emily how to do that! Go ask her to show you!" - not only can this free me up to help others, but it gives the student helping the opportunity to deepen their learning by teaching it to someone else. 

5. Students can also see what questions are being posed, and can help each other when they see a question they already know the answer to!

ClassroomQ allows me to harness the power of my experienced students, who often complete the work faster. They typically love to show off how much they know, so when a question comes up on the queue that they know the answer to, they're often quick to jump up and say, "Oh, I know this one!" and rush to help out a classmate. It's a beautiful thing. :)

I was so excited about ClassroomQ that I had to tweet about it!

And then, something even MORE awesome happened, and I was invited to be a ClassroomQ Ambassador, which means I'd love to (officially) help answer any questions you have about the service! If you love ClassroomQ like I do, you may even decide that a Pro account is for you!

A Pro account not only gives you an unlimited number of spots in your queue, but you can also export data from each session that lets you know who asked what (and how many times!) during class! What an awesome way to gather data for formative assessment purposes and evidence for standards-based grading!

Have you tried ClassroomQ yet? What do you think? Tweet at me, @MrsLeban!

(And just in case you're wondering... nope, I don't get any kickbacks if you sign up! I just enjoy talking about edtech tools that I truly love and use in my classroom!) 

- Mrs L.