Thursday, July 25, 2013

Got DEN? #DENSI2013

Since my return from the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute, I have received numerous questions about the DEN (Discovery Educator Network) and the DENSI (Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute). What is it? How do I join? And how do I get to attend next year? Lets start at the top and work our way through.

The DEN is a community of educators using Discovery Education to promote students and learning within their reach. The first step to joining is to find out if your school has a subscription to Discovery Education. Some schools are still calling it United Streaming (personal soapbox of mine). Basically, can you go to and log in? Talk to the people in your school or district to find that out and get a login.  Once you know you are in, congratulate yourself. You have just joined hundreds of thousands of educators using amazing resources to transform learning. Now on to step two.

You have logged into DiscoveryEducation and started witnessing some of its goodness. Great! Now it's time to get more than your toes in the water.  Your next step is to become a DEN STAR. A DEN STAR is a passionate educator who is willing not only to use all this goodness but also to share its awesomeness. Its not a difficult process at all. More information is detailed here. Becoming a STAR gets you some extra benefits not available to every one else. Most importantly, it gives you the golden ticket to be able to apply to the DENSI.

And this is where personal euphoria begins. Around March, the announcement will be spread that applications are open for DENSI. Basically you share your passion about the great things you are doing for students using Discovery Education and make an uncut one minute video that is your sales pitch for why you should get to attend. That's it! You then wait for DEN royalty Porter Palmer (aka @DENprincess) to notify you whether or not you were accepted. If you aren't selected, reach out to your STAR family for help to make your application even better next year.  If you are selected, start preparing for an experience that cannot be adequately described. It must be lived. And it will change your life!

So what are you waiting for? Get busy reaching for the STARs!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Carpe Diem.... Minute. Moment. #DENsi2013 reflections

Wow! I have just experienced one of the (if not THE) most magical weeks of my life. For five days, I have had the privilege of working with passionate educators from all over the US and Canade (eh!). We had a two day conference, one day unconference, endless hours of networking, team building, reflections, and more.  There were tears when we left and friendships created. This past week, I was at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute in Burlington, VT. If you have never attended one, add that to your bucket list! It is truly unlike anything else you will ever experience.

Still in the air somewhere between Cleveland and Houston, I haven't fully finished processing all my thoughts and learning. Most likely, it will take weeks to think it all through.  At this exact moment, there is one thought that has my total attention.

                                              "Don't skip any opportunity presented to you."

Similar to other events, there was a schedule of things to do this past week and plans for getting X, Y, and Z done.  Great! Do those things and participate fully. But when you are given a moment to connect with someone, have a five minute side conversation, or just be with them to get to know them better, grab it with both hands. Those connections are what make us better and stronger. So very many times this past week, I watched that happen and even participated in some myself. Having the time built in for networking and team building was the launching pad for everything else we did. It created a safe environment where we trusted one another, relied on each other, and became a family. We each brought value, ideas, and a unique talent to the table. It was a coordinated chaos that changed me as a person and an educator forever.

Though to be honest, I do leave with some regrets. Not for anything I did do. No, it is regrets for things I didn't do. There were some opportunities I didn't take full advantage of and thinking back I really wish I had. From things I wish I had done to thoughts I wish I had shared, I regret only that I didn't do more. But we all have to make decisions and we can't live in the world of should of, could of, would ofs. We can only do better next time. Jump on the opportunities that land in your lap and leave with no regrets :-)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Is It All Smoke and Mirrors? #ISTE13

I'm leaving on a jet plane.... Scratch that. I'm flying on a toy plane. Sitting on a two hour flight with about sixty other people for two hours, I figure I have time to play catch up on my blog. 

Of all the things I missed most as a result of not attending ISTE this year, it was the conversations. Oh, how I love the conversations. So very much so that I had planned and scheduled an intimate conversation with a couple of friends that Sunday night. Since that conversation never had a chance to materialize and I'm much too impatient to wait until we are all back together again, I've decided to start that dialogue here. Interesting thing about a dialogue.... It really needs to have more than one voice, so please add yours!

The conversation planned for that Sunday night was the result of hours of conversation with Rafranz Davis and casual chats with Jessica Johnston. Over and over again I found myself visiting this topic always more intrigued and perplexed by it everytime it was brought up. The original conversation centered around this idea of Twitter superstars and Twitter fame. The very concept annoys the fire of of me. By definition, it creates an "us" and "them". You don't have the followers, numbers, etc. that I do so you aren't awesome like me. Hogwash! Educators are doing amazing things in their classroom and they may not even be on Twitter. Maybe they are but it isn't the medium they chose to communicate or they just aren't as good at it. Why further create a divide but separating them into "not a superstar"? *Stepping off soap box.**

Going back and forth with David Jakes trying to get him to join the conversation (basically I was tying to sell its importance), I caught some annoyance with a topic so silly. Well yeah, it was.... Kinda. I really just hadn't done a good enough job of verbalizing the bigger picture. It wasn't this eighth  grade mindset of twitter fame and superstars.... No, it was the fake context and environment in which it operates. These often self-proclaimed superstars are such because of the super amazing things they say are happening in their classrooms..... ALL THE TIME! Ah! That's more about what I wanted to talk about. Success. 

Why do we share successes? Not a rhetorical question. Go ahead and think about it. Why do we share successes specifically within education? Got your reason in your head? Good. Now answer me this. Why don't we also share the struggles, trials, obstacles, and all the crap that goes wrong? Why have we all grown up to be a plastic ? For those that don't click the link or get the reference, a plastic is a perceived queen bee always perceived to be perfect.

For a good amount of time, I really thought about throwing in the towel. Obviously I was doing this whole education thing all wrong. I wasn't getting the amazing results that (fill in twitter superstar) was. My students didn't always turn in the best work known to man like (insert twitter superstar here). Heck I had even tried what (insert twitter superstar here) said they did in their class and it was a miserable failure in mine. What gives? 

I was comparing my dress rehearsals and behind the scenes to their final production. That's all I had. That's all they shared. They never shared THE PROCESS with me. I never saw their mishaps. I was never privy to the flops, oops, and outtake reel. That's the conversation I really wanted to have. Why do we do this? Why do we only share our shining moments and never our own learning? Isn't that what we always ask out students to do? We want to know about the journey that resulted in the finished product. We want to see the process. Are you sharing your processes? 

Dialogue welcome!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Heal the World, Make it a Better Place

So my dear friend Rafranz Davis decided to write a blog post... AGAIN! I'm not very sure how or why she decided to write like the wind here lately, but seriously! You really should read her stuff!

That being said, her post Parallels of Digital Literacy and Illiteracy really got me thinking and allowed me to flesh out some thoughts I've recently had. Thank you Rafranz for providing that medium. Below are the thoughts I've been having taken for the most part from my comment on her blog

Just recently I wondered if the power of social media is helping to eracism. It seems that on social media in particular, we read text. With or without ebonics, colloquialisms, and sometimes tone, we just read. We insert our own biases, assumptions, and tone on those words having maybe never met the person f2f. Does this then push down the color, cultural, language barriers we have faced for generations? I think so. Especially in twitter where the limit of a 140 characters is so very short. We concisely share and move on. We read with the voice in our head and make connections based on content and not biases.
Does this change then when a f2f meeting does occur? Yes, I think it does. Case in point. For the short time I was at ISTE, I heard George Couros (@gcouros) speak and I was stunned that it was completely devoid of accent. Reading George’s published words, I now put a voice with it. For other near and dear friends such as Rafranz, Miguel Guhlin (@mguhlin), and Paul Wood (@PaulrWood), I feel like I hear them more than I am actually reading their words. I can feel the candance of their words, their tone, their meaning. This allows the person to be more powerful than the content. A bigoted person could (and maybe sometimes does) choose to end the connection once that f2f has occured. How sad!
Specifically, I should have maybe said that I think social media is helping to curb or discourage racism, especially with the young and influential. Growing up in a very racist area, I have very vivid memories of being told who to associate with and “friend” (long before FB) based on the color of their skin, their religion, or sexual orientation. SM provides the arena for getting to know one’s thoughts, processes, ideas, creativity, and passion without any assumptions based on race, ability, gender, physical handicap, speech impairment, etc.
I have to wonder, does a mute person or one with a severe speaking impediment or accent feel empowered to be able to communicate without being teased or made fun of? That their content is being communicated free of a stumbling block? Does a blind person feel relief when others read their words and not stare at their physical ability? How does a woman or a minority or a Muslim feel to be able to communicate, to share, to interact, to build connections free of any stigma, presumptions, or other biases?
And how do people feel when they make these connections and then meet them f2f? Does it help to eracism? Does it prove to them that people with different attributes can have powerful ideas? Even if they are initially rude or maybe unfollow/unfriend, they at some point see that this PERSON had an idea, a thought, a feeling. For battling the racism and ignorance that sadly still grips our planet, I accept that as a positive step in the right direction.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The #ISTE13 That Never Was

Anna-Leigh Aline -  6 Word Story
Oh how I had looked forward to ISTE this year. Here in my home state. So very many new faces to meet. A couple of vendors I needed to see. The excitement was honestly palpable.

Long before dawn on Saturday morning, I left for San Marcos to meet my friends Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) and Carrie Ross (@MsRossEnglish) for the drive down. Without event, we arrived, parked, checked in at registration, and immersed ourselves in #HackEd. 

First on the agenda was meeting members of my PLN face-to-face (f2f). I was SO EXCITED! Pretty sure I bowled people over getting to Jen Wagner (@jenwagner). I took pictures compiling them for a digital scrapbook I planned to share at the end of the week. Two sessions wrapped and we headed to lunch. Beth Still (@BethStill) tweeted out a picture from the Newbie Lounge and Rafranz and I picked up our things to go up and meet her. 

Then my phone rang.
My life changed. 
In an instant, my world came crashing down.

My twenty-five year old sister was on the phone sobbing hysterically and telling me that my two year old niece had just drowned. A few weeks before I had purchased them an above ground pool to help ward off the summer heat. My mind went blank. My knees buckled. In what is now all I blur, I heard Rafranz ask what was wrong and she picked up my phone. Someone on the other line told her what had happened. Rafranz hollered for someone to find Paul Wood (@PaulRWood). Strangely a couple of weeks before, I had told her that if anything ever happened to me, to find Paul. And she did.

After he quickly consoled me and ran to get his car, Rafranz and Dean Mantz (@dmantz7) took me up to the road to wait. To breathe. Even while writing this, I can feel Dean's hand square in the middle of my back. Without words, he was telling me that my friends were there to support me. In short order, Paul took me to San Marcos and we drove like crazy to my sister almost 200 miles away. 

For the next ten days, my life would be a blur. I'm the big sister. I stood strong holding my sister, supporting her through this time. My time passed making funeral arrangements, ordering a tiny pink casket, securing a burial plot, getting my sister to the OB/GYN (she's six months pregnant) and more. Tasks I never even imagined. Events that should not surround a beautiful two year old child. The exhaustion. The heartache. The loss. That was the focus of my being. No Twitter. No dinners and after parties. No #ISTE13.

But it was during this darkness, during this absence from my PLN, that I discovered how strong and bright they are. Countless members sent condolences and words of support. I carried my sister's burden with their strength. Some I have never even met f2f. Others I had met f2f only that morning. All gave me strength. 

A PLN is so very much more than numbers. It's connections. It's people. It's friends.