Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Man & His Thoughts on Route 66: A #CUE18 Reflection

A painted reminder of what road you are on, painted
at intervals throughout the stretch of Route 66 near Goffs, CA
The road stretched before me looked like any other road in the Mojave Desert:  a ribbon of faded blacktop through a landscape of mesquite, Joshua trees, boulders, and sand with small rocky cliffs and mountains jutting out on either side of the road.  However, there was nothing ordinary about this road and the reason behind the drive.  This road was Route 66, the iconic federal highway that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, bringing thousands of migrants not so affectionately referred to as "Okies" to California during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.  John Steinbeck referenced this road as the Joad family worked their way west looking for a better life in The Grapes of Wrath (my favorite book of all time, for the record).  

Through many towns in America where Route 66 ran its course, you can see the diners, souvenir shops and antique stores that try to pull you in with their Route 66 nostalgia, but not on this stretch of road near Goffs, CA.  According to Wikipedia, Goffs is "a nearly empty one-time railroad town at the route's high point in the Mojave Desert."  This section of Route 66, save for the Union Pacific railway that runs alongside of it, most likely looks almost exactly as it did over 80 years ago when the road was at its heyday and 25 years before President Eisenhower signed the Highway Act of 1956, authorizing the building of the modern interstate highway system, with I-40 eventually bypassing much of Route 66 through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  In fact, according to the same Wikipedia article, this section of Route 66 was bypassed by a newer section between Needles and Essex, CA after 1931.  

Some of the beautiful views of the road and the train passing by.
I was on my way to Palm Springs for the 2018 CUE National Conference.  There had been word that some of the roads through the Mojave Preserve may have been washed out and detoured due to recent rains, so I decided to take an alternate route that added about 40 miles to the trek to avoid any potential road issues.  Little did I know that my route would take me along a 25 mile stretch of Route 66.  After driving for a couple of hours, I decided to stop along the side of the road to stretch my legs a bit and ended up spending about 20 minutes taking in the views and appreciating the historical significance of the road.  I took a few pictures and recorded a short video during my stop, only seeing two cars pass by, then a train when I got back in the car to continue the journey.  The silence was something that I don't get to hear much these days living in the concrete jungle of Las Vegas.  The air smelled so fresh and clean, with no exhaust, smoke, or anything else that you normally get from the city air.  It was peaceful, yet invigorating at the same time. 

A short video clip of my stop along Route 66

Eventually, I made it to Palm Springs to start what would be a whirlwind of nearly four days of learning, networking, sharing, laughing and reconnecting.  I went into the conference with several goals: 

  • Attend sessions on topics that I was unfamiliar with, such as hyperdocs, sketchnoting, Microsoft Office365, and coding:  goal met, except for the coding sessions, I didn't end up making it to one
  • Meet the authors of Ditch That Textbook and Ditch That Homework, Matt Miller & Alice Keeler:  goal met, great conversation with both and personalized signings of my copies of the books
  • Reconnect with countless people that I have come to know over the years to talk shop, share a few laughs, and after hours, have a beverage or two:  goal met many times over! 
  • "Interview" a few people to include their reflections in the blog along with mine:  goal not met, but I accomplished an alternative to this that I will address momentarily
Based on the numerous sessions I attended, conversations that I had, and new things that I tried over the course of the four days in Palm Springs, this is what I concluded:

  • Sketchnoting is not as ridiculous as I had thought prior and had mentioned in my CUE18 Preview post.  One of my biggest complaints about sketchnoting before was how all of the notes that I saw people posting looked super professional and as if they had spent hours creating it, which is not realistic.  I had a conversation with the presenters about my concerns beforehand and told them that I wanted to have an open mind but I was going to need to be convinced because of this.  They both agreed that there was no wrong way to sketchnote and to do what I feel comfortable with.  I am more open to it, but for now, I am still more comfortable taking standard notes.  
  • I finally feel comfortable in my ability to construct a hyperdoc.  I had attended sessions before on hyperdocs, but unfortunately, most of the presentations did not go into the process much, only provided some templates and did not go into the pedagogy behind using them.  When you go to one of the sources, one of the creators, Lisa Highfill, you know you're going to get great information, and Ms. Highfill did not disappoint.  
  • Microsoft Sway and OneNote are tools that I wish I had in my life sooner!  I had used similar tools in the past, such as Adobe Spark Page as an alternative to Sway.  While I had at least heard of OneNote and was familiar with some basics of it, I had never heard of Sway and was blown away by its capabilities.  On top of that, I got to test it out during an "Iron Chef" style activity during the Microsoft session.  The Iron Chef activity was designed by Jon Corippo, the Executive Director of CUE, Inc.  I was lucky enough to have lunch with Jon and he told me more about the activity and instructed me to contact him at a later time to get full details so I can have the activity at my disposal! 
  • If you can't go to a session, find somebody to talk to because it will most likely be even better than a session.  I don't want to take anything away from the amazing presenters and the hard work that they put it, but sometimes, a great conversation with a like-minded educator, or a debate with a not so like-minded educator, can go so much further than sitting in a session, taking notes, and trying out a new tool.  
  • There are so many teachers trying to make a difference in our world.  I don't know any exact figures, but I would venture to guess that there were over 7,000 that attended CUE.  On top of that, you had many of them that presented sessions or tips, or one of my favorites of the conference, the Leroy's Big Idea finalists that submitted proposals for money to fund stunning projects to better their classrooms and outcomes for their students.  I am proud to call one of the finalists, Rebekah Remkiewicz, a friend and while her proposal did not win, she still had a great project and was awarded $1000 to further her idea.  
Something that happened very spontaneously and organically over the course of the past few days was the seeds of a podcast.  Ben Dickson and I, an amazing educator and friend from Reno, have been talking for quite a while about starting a podcast, but haven't gotten anything off the ground just yet.  A couple of weeks ago, I pitched an idea to him about starting one where we start episodes riffing about what kind of beers we are drinking, then get into an education topic, possibly with a guest.  It dawned on me that I could get some practice podcasting by recording some segments with people asking them about who they are, where they are from, what they do, their favorite moments of the conference, and what they were drinking, as I decided to record the segments at social functions after the conference was done for the day.  You can listen to the reflections at the following links or by following me on the Anchor app.  

The drive home is always tough after four days of learning, connecting, some beers, and a lack of sleep.  However, it also grants the ability to listen to some podcasts and music and reflect.  For those that were unable to make it to CUE, I highly recommend that you make it there someday, it's an experience that you'll never forget.  For those that I was lucky enough to see and interact with over the course of the conference, I cannot thank you enough for making me a better educator and person and all of the great things that you are doing for your students, schools, districts, and communities.  I look forward to seeing you and learning again in the near future.  And it wouldn't have been a complete trip if I didn't stop on Route 66 one more time on the ride home to take in the sound of silence and record one more short video:

Until next time... 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

#CUE18 Preview

Once again, it is that time, time for my favorite professional development opportunity of the year, the one and only Spring CUE National Conference in Palm Springs!  This year will be third time attending the event and I couldn't be more excited for the next week to be over with so I can get there! 

In the past, I haven't been able to make it down to Palm Springs until late on Wednesday or Thursday night.  Last year was the infamous get to the hotel and "I'm sorry we don't have a reservation for you, sorry about that, good luck finding a room tonight" incident when the hotel that I had booked kicked my reservation and I didn't learn of it until midnight.  This year, I made sure that I took Wednesday off from work as well so I could take my time getting there and attend some sessions on Wednesday afternoon and evening.  I am really looking forward to a great project-based learning session with Bucks Institute, led by Rich Dixon (also a bonus that Rich has become a friend over the years and I'm looking forward to seeing him).  After that, the opening keynote is Matt Miller of Ditch That Textbook fame, which is going to be phenomenal! 
Over the course of the past few days, I have taken a look at the schedule for the event, planning it out meticulously with the goal of maximizing learning. When choosing sessions, I made sure to pick sessions that address topics in which I have little to no experience.  Some of the sessions that I chose include Microsoft Office 365 (my district is a Google district, but it doesn't hurt to become more versed in another platform), coding, hyperdocs, and sketchnoting.  

Quick disclaimer:  I am will be ruffling some feathers with this one, but please continue reading.  At a glance, in my personal opinion and preferences, I think sketchnoting is ridiculous.  Too many of the sketchnotes that I have seen are not something that somebody would probably be doing while sitting in a session and scurrying to get information down, they are much more professional looking than that.  However, I do know that some people are more visual learners and sketching it is effective for them.  I am trying to attend a session or two on sketchnoting in order to learn more about it, learn how I can implement it with visual learners, and maybe, just maybe, change my perspective on it. 

Another great aspect of attending an event like CUE is seeing the people that you have become friends with over the years.  Many of them are presenting sessions, so I get to see them in action.  The hallways and vendor hall between sessions is always a great time to say hello to people and catch up.  Then there are the after hours of the event where you get to let loose a little, share what you have learned over the day, and talk shop with some like-minded folk.  Then there is the shenanigans of things like CUE Karaoke where hundreds of people get to hang out and get ridiculous for a couple of hours on the Friday night.  Back before kids, I was a karaoke fiend, I may have to get up and knock out a song or two this year (I need a female voice for Love Shack by the B-52s, in anybody is interested...). 

Of course I will be posting a blog about my experiences at CUE in the days after getting home.  However, this year, I am going to do it a little differently.  Rather than just focusing on my experience, I am going to include some other voices as well in some informal "interviews" with some other attendees.  I may even spread them out over the course of a few blog posts. 

For now, I am going to enjoy the weekend and get through Monday and Tuesday at work before I hit the road for the 4+ hour drive to Palm Springs and four days of intense learning, sharing, and fun! 

Until next time...