NAIS

Thursday and Friday I was at NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) conference. This was only my second time at this conference, both times I’ve presented.  I drove with my colleagues about 6 hours there and back.  It was actually great to have them in the car with me.  We talked about everything.  We talked shop, families, politics.  It was great.

The theme of the of the conference was the  Design Revolution, so there were lots of sessions related to change, making, design thinking, all things right up my alley.  I went to two Design Thinking sessions.  I have been hearing about and reading about Design thinking for a while.  I think I first heard about it at educon a few years ago.  Two of my colleagues went to the Design Thinking Institute in California last year, and so I’ve heard a lot about it from them.  I also use a similar approach in many of my classes.  It’s not a new idea really, but applying it to education is new-ish.  It’s a really intriguing approach and the goal of it is to arrive at creative and solid solutions to problems.  I’m looking forward to using this approach in other areas.

The opening general session was by John Maeda, former president of RISD and former MIT Media Lab member.  I saw him at MakerFaire two years ago, and loved his presentation.  This one was also awesome.  It was a version of this talk:

I’m a creative person.  I got into this whole tech thing via creative writing and then web design.  I’m not so great at visual design the way Maeda is, but I think creatively.  And on the tech side, I like solving puzzles and making connections.  So I love the way Maeda connected design and creativity to leadership.  Having been in a few leadership roles, I often struggle with how to lead.  I’m not particularly authoritarian.  I like hearing ideas from others, and this approach didn’t seem to fit with what a traditional leader is supposed to be.  But Maeda is no traditional leader, and he made it clear that creative people can and do make good leaders; they just do it differently.  That was refreshing to hear.  He has a whole book, Creative Leadership, about it, which yes, I’ve purchased and will be reading.  My colleagues and I talked about Maeda’s talk over and over again throughout the conference.  It was a great way to begin.

I also hopped over to Harvard to see an old high school friend whom I haven’t seen in 25 years.  He’s a CS professor, so we got to talk shop and talk about our childhoods.  Bonus.  It was such a fun thing to do, and it was frankly, one of the highlights of the whole trip.  It was just nice to see an old friend, get out of the hotel for a bit, and pick someone’s brain who’s really smart.  I love intelligent conversation.

And I met up with an old friend from another Independent School, which was really fun.  We haven’t seen each other since our college English teaching days when we were both at a higher ed conference. So that was fun to be in our new context and talk about how things were going.  Back when I was first considering making the leap to Independent School teaching from higher ed, she was really helpful in shaping my resume and giving me advice.  It was truly great to catch up.

The presentation I gave, with 4 of my colleagues, toward the end of the conference, had about 100 or so attendees, so very good.  I opened the first 5 minutes and then turned it over to my two department members who do the meat of the work.  I think I’m about to become that person, the mentor/leader, who helps their younger colleagues with their careers and connects their younger colleagues to others.  I’ve been doing that for students for years, but I’m old enough and experienced enough now that I’m starting to be able to do it for colleagues, which, let me tell you, feels really weird.

So, I got inspired by a lot of the conversations, both those related to the conference presentation and just with friends.  I feel like I’m ready to tackle my work again on Monday with new vigor and new ideas.  And that is awesome!!

Educon!!

Educon begins today.  This is a conference I look forward to every year.  I get to meet up with old friends, make new friends, and learn a lot!  A few years ago, I lamented about being new to K-12 and so not knowing that many people.  Now that’s not true.  I have many connections made through other conferences and Twitter and blogs.  I feel at home in this world now.

I’m also excited to be talking about two initiatives I’ve been involved in: #makered and a 1:1 program.  It’s going to be great fun and I’m looking forward to learning from the participants.  I’ll be blogging about the conference, of course, so keep an eye out.

CSTA Day 2

#CSTA13 Opening Keynote: Here’s What We Can Do for You
Selena Deckelmann

Yesterday was equally packed with good stuff from CSTA.  It started with a keynote from Selena Deckelmann.  Mr. Geeky is still talking about it.  He has been a contributor to open source projects for a long time, and has long complained about the lack of women involved.  He said it was so refreshing to hear about open source from a different perspective.  He was also happy that Selena didn’t get smacked down in her first contribution to open source (a story she told during the keynote).  Too often, women get derided when they ask questions on forums or contribute in some way to open source projects.  He’s seen it and tried to correct it at times.  She choked up near the beginning of her talk when she talked about women who come to her workshops and don’t believe in themselves.  And then they leave believing they can really do something.  That was so great!

I then went to a CS Principles session.  CS Principles is the new AP CS they’re piloting right now.  Our school doesn’t do AP anything anymore, but I have definitely been following the shift in the AP CS course and have used the philosophy and even some of the assignments in my classes.  I loved hearing about what other teachers are doing within CS Principles.  They got very specific about the structure of their assignments, which I really appreciated.  I also think that it has the potential to really increase the number of students in CS and specifically the number of women in CS.

 

Keith and Doug (demo fail)
Keith and Doug (demo fail)

Our session was next.  We had an hour and four people who all needed to say something.  That was quite challenging.  We got through 47 something slides, showed some demos (with only one demo fail) and even flew a drone.  We used the drone to take pictures of the audience and selected two people to win a robot.

Then we had lunch.  I spent some time talking to several people.  Always great to connect with people.  After that I went to a Bot Ball session, something I’d heard of but had not really explored.  It looks slightly better than VEX, but I’m losing interest in competitive robotics in general.

After that, I went to a recruiting women to CS session, which was mostly stuff I’d heard before, but there are always new ideas to explore.

The closing keynote was by Hadi Pavroti, one of the founders of Code.org.  It’s great to have an organization with that much recognition behind Computer Science education.  Code.org is working on many fronts to promote CS Education, from policy to curriculum to outreach.  CSTA plus Code.org = awesome! (To paraphrase something from Selena’s keynote.)

In addition to Mr. Geeky, the other folks that work on the Calico Project (the system I use to teach with) were there (Jennie, Keith, and Hannah) and I really enjoyed spending time with them and talking about Computer Science Education.  Even though they’re college faculty, we share a lot of the same issues and passions.  I also met in person many people I’ve only seen online: Carolyn, Rebecca, Mark Guzdial, Tom (from Bird Brain technologies), Selena (linked above). I also met some other amazing teachers and computer science-y people.  It was cool to have Mr. Geeky there.  There were people he knew that I didn’t know yet and vice versa.

As usual, after this conference, I’m exhausted but fired up!  I can’t wait to get back to school and start doing some stuff!  I’ve vowed to get more involved in the CS-oriented organizations around me: CSTA Philly, GirlsDevelopIT, TechGirlz.  I might be crazy but who cares.  I have to get something done!

(Link to all CSTA pics)

Conference Roundup

So I’m done with conferences for the summer.  Thank goodness.  I learned a lot about my field and about myself at these conferences.  First, myself:

  • I don’t like big.  Smaller and more intimate works better for me.
  • I still feel like an outsider, though less like one than I did last year.
  • As an outsider, I’m more likely to a) be annoyed by an insider mentality; and b) to express that annoyance.
  • People in my field bristle a little when they find out I don’t have a degree in said field.  They see me as part of the problem. More on that later.
  • As much as I like professional development, I enjoy being with my family more.

Now for my field.  Computer Science has an image problem.  That became abundantly clear at both CS conference events I attended.  Here are some things that will help (IMHO):

  • Quit saying there’s one. right. way. to teach CS.  In other words, quit trying to replicate yourself.  The presentations were filled with people trying new and cool ways of teaching CS.  In conversations, however, you’d hear the same kinds of discussions: objects before recursion, this language over that language, this IDE* over that IDE (having only used two IDE’s in my life, I had no idea there were so many).  Often, people would say, I learned x way.
  • Get into social media.  Start a blog.  Use Twitter or Google+ or something.  Social media is the biggest way that regular people interact with technology.  If Computer Scientists aren’t there, then they may as well be invisible.  A keynote speaker (who had a blog) asked how many of us had blogs.  About 10 people raised their hands out of 200-300 people in the room.
  • Yes, embrace your geekiness.  It’s all to the good to make geekiness less stigmatized.  But also recognize when you’ve gone over a line.  If all you can talk about is Computer Science and playing Magic, you need to get out more.  Be able to talk politics, entertainment, etc.  Better yet, connect your field to these areas.  Someone might be interested.
  • The room was about 50 percent female–hooray.  But the keynote speakers–both white guys.  At another conference, every session I went to was run by white guys (some with ponytails) except for the session on recruiting women to STEM.  Also women tended to sit with women and men with men.  Grown people segregating by gender.  Sigh.  Get more women–and minorities–into speaking roles.
  • Quit being defeatist.  Stop saying I can’t, my school won’t, etc.  Just do.  Sneak in Computer Science where you can.  I saw many people who’d done that, and that often made the difference in having to teach classes on excel and getting to teach real CS.
  • Quit selling your soul to Microsoft and Google. I get it.  They pony up a lot of money for these conferences, which is all to the good.  I liked having good food and great speakers (who I’m sure cost a bundle).  But every other session cannot be about this Microsoft platform or that Google platform.  Make sure there’s some balance in your sessions and that you have people presenting on technologies that are open and free and cross-platform.  That’s the future, after all.  And Google and Microsoft, if you want more CS students, open up.  Let students develop in whatever language or platform they want, as long as the end product works on your platform.  (Notice that Apple is not at the table here–which is interesting in and of itself).

I enjoyed this last conference.  I met some very nice people, many of whom have similar issues to mine.  The keynotes were fabulous.  But I did get into a little bit of an argument on the first day with a “there’s one right way to teach” person.  And I must say, I wasn’t the only one who took this person to task.  Basically, we pointed out that none of us would be there if we followed her method (of certifying teachers).  It’s hard enough finding people with CS degrees willing to teach much less putting additional requirements (that are *not* necessary) in the way.  I’m just going to keep plugging away at what I’m doing.  I got some really good ideas that I hope to implement as early as this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing how things go.