Every conference I attend, I return home feeling like my life is richer. My mind could burst with all of the new ideas that I can't wait to bring back to my classroom. The sessions are great, the keynotes fantastic; however, what makes each experience so amazing is without a doubt, the people. To be surrounded by like-minded educators who share the same passion and zeal for education is energizing and inspiring to say the least.
This past week, I flew across the country from Medford, Oregon to Orlando, Florida, eager to connect with friends that I met through Twitter and Voxer conversations; close friends that I experience life with even though many miles and time zones separate us. In fact, some of these friends I had never even met face to face. For those who are not connected via social media, I know this must sound strange....maybe even crazy. However, it is absolutely true. My experience at FETC was made richer because of the meals and rich discussions we shared, sessions we facilitated together, long walks and Uber rides to sessions, and evening events. Spending time together not only strengthened our friendships, but also allowed us to expand our connections as we met others each were connected to. It was the hallway conversations, the evening discussions over dinner, the fun and laughter, that took my FETC experience to another level. I wonder how many people have conference experiences that are limited to the sessions they attend, the keynote, and the EXPO Hall wanderings? How many attend and only connect with the people they came with from their district?
There was a time when my conference experiences were limited to that as well. I didn't know any different. So what makes my experience different now? I have a Personal Learning Network....no, I have a Personal Learning Family. My PLF is made up of people from all around the world that I connect with on a daily basis through Twitter, Voxer, and even Snapchat. This amazing network of educators continually inspire, encourage, and challenge me time and time again and I most certainly would not be the educator I am today without them. It is safe to say that because of my global connections I have grown exponentially as an educator and opportunities have opened up to me that I would have never even dreamed of. I am more confident and courageous than I ever thought possible.
As I fly home and reflect on my amazing week, I am reminded of the tremendous power of being a connected educator. My life is richer because of the connections I've made and the friendships that have developed. My author friend, Aaron Hogan, sums it up beautifully in this quote from his book #TeacherMyth...
Sketchnotes of some of the #FETC sessions I attended:
If you grew up in the 70's you will recognize, "Meet George Jetson" as the beginning of a popular futuristic cartoon theme song from back in the day. You may even start singing along! The Jetson's was one of my favorites to watch on a Saturday morning. I loved this cartoon that gave us a glimpse into what the 21st century may look like. Watching the episodes today, I realize that many of those futuristic inventions from the cartoon are indeed part of our everyday life. The home computer, cell phone, microwave oven, treadmill, teleconferencing, and robotics have become essential to our existence in 2018.
Looking back on my childhood, this may have been a good indication that I would become increasingly passionate about innovation as I grew older. I've always enjoyed dreaming about the possibilities for creating something new and better. Better yet, dreaming is not enough for me, I want to make those dreams a reality. This past November on Cyber Monday, I was scrolling through Amazon for all of their special deals. I was immediately drawn to the Echo Dot that remained fixated prominently on the top of the webpage. Call it good advertising, but it intrigued me . Better yet, it's price had drastically dropped for the day, so I decided to push the button and make the purchase. My intention was to use it for playing music in the kitchen while I was making dinner and maybe to ask "Alexa" random questions as I needed it, just as I would ask Google. However, I got more than I bargained for.
This Echo Dot purchase has been more than I ever anticipated it to be. As I walk into my kitchen, I simply say, "Alexa, play James Taylor." and Alexa answers, "Shuffling songs by James Taylor". Within 2 seconds my favorite song "Fire and Rain" is playing. The volume is a little low, so I ask Alexa to turn up the volume and sure enough, the volume increases. How cool is that?! This feels like the Jetson's world that I dreamed about when I was a little girl. As I was pondering the power of this little round dot that I had ordered on a whim, I began thinking, "What else can Alexa do?" If it can shuffle my favorite James Taylor songs, it must be able to do countless more!
My first thought was, "How could I use this in my classroom for learning?" As an educator passionate about the power of play, I started to wonder, "Does Alexa play games?" Searching the app, I was left stunned! Alexa LOVES to play games! In fact, there was no end to the games available to play! The question was, how could I narrow down the games and find the ones that I could use for student learning. Knowing that I was going to be starting International Cuisine soon, I typed in "world trivia" and low and behold....136 results showed up! ...Country Game, World Quiz, My World Capitals, the list goes on! My heart started racing as I realized the potential for this in my Culinary Arts 3 The Amazing Race gamified semester where we are on a race around the world to discover International Cuisine! The possibilities were endless!
Now my wheels were really spinning and sparks were flying! I had to discover what else Alexa could play!! I searched "food trivia" and sure enough 63 results! Food facts, Food Trivia, Noodle It Out, Cuisine Trivia. Holy Wow! This is incredible! What about picking teams? Could Alexa roll a dice or spin a wheel? Yes, she can! Type in "dice" and you will find 91 results! Spin a Wheel? Yep, she can do that too!!! I even discovered she can tell "punny food puns" or choose a flavor on a wheel!
Who knew that this little white dot named Alexa could bring a whole new world of experiences into my classroom! I still love that she can play music by my man, James Taylor, at a moments notice but, she is capable of so much more! I have just opened the treasure box, so I still have so much to try and learn. However, I just couldn't wait to share my discovery! Stay tuned as I explore the magic that the Echo Dot can bring to our classrooms. We truly are living in a Jetson's world.
I love the beginning of a new school year. After a summer of reading, relaxing, professional development and idea storming, my engine is fired up and I can hardly wait to press down on the accelerator at full speed when the "start" flag drops! I race into the first quarter with a full gas tank of excitement, energy, and ideas.
By second quarter I've settled into my lane and have set my pace. The established relationships with my students refuels me when my "low fuel" light turns on. I'm tired, but I'm still going strong and I'm excited about the progress and gains we've made. My students have grown so much and classes have bonded. We have gained momentum and are making great time.
Thanksgiving gives me a little break to refuel just enough to reach half a tank. Now I know I can make it to the Winter Break when I'll get a full-blown pit stop. When it finally arrives I am running on fumes. My gas tank light is blinking "empty". I am definitely in need of this time away. With a solid two weeks off, I'm able to get the rest and refuel that I so desperately need.
I start back in January with my accelerator pressed down to full speed again and off I go into the new year! Then..... POP! BANG! POW! Just two laps (weeks) in and I get a flat tire. I start fishtailing out of my lane and barely avoid a major collision. What happened?! I was feeling good. I thought I was off to a great start? I was in it to win it. I quickly face the harsh realization that even though my gas tank was full, I am not functioning at full capacity. I like to race at full speed and the Winter pit stop wasn't quite enough to prepare me for the intensity of ending a semester and all that entails.
As a semester teacher, I get a whole new crew in 2 weeks. I am gearing up for a complete reboot. New...
All of this "new" comes without the freshness of a school year start. I haven't had a summer to get a system overhaul. I don't have a week of inservice to organize and put my room back together again. Then there's the sadness. Our classes have bonded; we are family. We have found our rhythm and have created an amazing class dynamic. We've had triumphs and struggles, shared moments of laughter and tears. We've worked hard and we've had loads of fun. To say goodbye to these students who I have built relationships with is incredibly hard for me. I've invested in them. I love em'.
So how do I get back in the race after I fishtail and find myself off course? I take a deep breath and realize that I need to take care of myself. I schedule time to "refuel" each week by prioritizing my personal passions; running, family laughter, writing, and reading. Then, I swap my tires for some with incredible tread and get back in the race. There is no other option. My new students will be walking through my door in 2 weeks excited for new adventures. I need to buckle up and get ready for a wild and amazing race because my students most definitely deserve an energetic, passionate, joyful Mrs. Richmond and a magical semester of learning.
Tonight I played a game of Mario Cart with my son on his new Nintendo Switch. He gave me a quick explanation of the remote and some new features of this latest version of the game and the race was on. I selected my ride, my wheels, and my paraglider, held down the power button, and we were off! As I dodged banana peels and earned power ups while twisting and turning through Mario's world, I couldn't help but think of the adventures I'm on right now in real life.
Sometimes I feel like I'm going mock 10 through unknown lands making quick and sudden adjustments left, right, left, reacting to the crazy curves that come my way. There are games when I navigate those turns with precision and come out of the turn gaining a power up or coin, and other games I fall off a cliff, slip on a banana peel, or run into an angry mushroom. At times I spin out of control or get splatted with ink, and other times I fly gracefully over a canyon and collide into a magic box that launches me far further than I would have landed on my own.
This adventurous life has moments of victory and defeat, but we have to keep getting back in the game. Yesterday was a paragliding day, today I spun on banana peels and got splatted with ink. It's easy to get discouraged on these banana peel days and allow myself to keep spinning. However, if I straighten out and get back on the track, usually there is a power up around the next bend that will get me back in the race. I have to remember why I do what I do and keep my focus on the things that matter. I may not finish on the podium, but if I am crushing my goals and improving my personal best, I consider it a WIN!
Creating classrooms that are full of the joy and wonder of learning; is a passion of mine. I am continually pondering new ways to make my classroom a magical space. I think many have the same desire. We all want to create amazing experiences for our students, but it is easy to overthink it. We become so overwhelmed by the idea of doing something so incredible and mind-blowing with our students that we become paralyzed and end up not doing anything different at all. What I've discovered is that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of mystery and wonder to take a lesson from ordinary to amazing!
I've added a bit of mystery and wonder in a number of ways, but today all it took was a Google Form. In Culinary Arts 3 we are beginning a new unit on Midwestern cuisine. Our food truck teams have been traveling across the country from Medford, Oregon to Medford, Maine and we've arrived in the Midwest. To create a little excitement when they returned on the first day back from Winter Break, I had a Youtube clip with adventure music playing in the background and this message on the screen in front of the room. "Your food trucks have arrived in the Midwest! To discover your first recipe...you must unlock the clues!!! Jump into Google Classroom...your adventure begins now." When students entered class, a buzz of excitement was immediately generated. Students quickly gathered ipads and teamed up to begin unlocking the clues.
All I used to generate the clues was a Google Form. I came up with 5 clues that they would unlock to reveal the Midwestern recipe they were preparing for the day. I've included a youtube video explaining how I created this below:
It was so fun to see students collaborating to unlock each clue. One ipad on each team had a Google Form opened, while the others were used for Google searches. It took teams between 15-20 minutes to unlock all of the clues that led to their recipe before they were off gathering their ingredients. To personalize this activity to your specific set of circumstances, you could add more or less clues and/or increase or decrease the complexity to fit the timeframe you have to work with. My Google Form led students to a recipe upon submission, but yours could lead to a Youtube clip, or other activity depending on what you teach.
Adding this little bit of mystery and wonder took my lesson from ordinary to amazing with out a whole lot of effort. Not only did students start class more energized, they began collaborating and thinking much quicker than they would have otherwise. The built in anticipation that it generated created a buzz and excitement and students could hardly wait to begin preparing their recipe! It was fun to hear the conversations as they began cooking. They were reflecting on the clues that were most difficult and how they figured them out, their strategies, connections to other recipes they had made. They were critically thinking, communicating, collaborating, and creating and having fun doing it!
Have you guessed what it is they made?? Runzas!!! This Midwestern specialty is one that I learned about from my friend Craig Badura from Nebraska. A Runza is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. There is a whole other story about the Runza that I'll share at another time that has to do with the power of being a connected educator! Do I have you wondering? Guess you'll have to stay tuned for my next blog post about the Runza! See what I did there? Mystery and wonder...it's a magical thing.
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.