Tag Archives: DENSI

What is Your Kryptonite?

I’ve never seen “Waiting for Superman” and I don’t intend to. I’m tired of hearing about what’s wrong with education. I prefer to focus on what’s right. I’m not waiting for Superman, in fact earlier this month I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a week getting energized by the light of over 100 Star Educators at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI). Every teacher in attendance was a bona fide superhero. As we shared, worked, learned and played together I could see that each one of us was gifted with their own unique super power. Combine those powers and you have an unstoppable force strong enough to solve just about any problem in education today – or at least that’s how it seemed.

"Up, up, and away!"

We made videos and built presentations. We got to meet and be inspired by big name experts like Danny Forster, Steve Hargadon (who we renamed “HargaDEN”), and Hall Davidson.  We conferenced and we un-conferenced. When the scheduled events ended, the learning continued though impromptu “sessions” in the dorm rooms before breakfast and late into the evenings. Sleep was not a priority. Why sleep when you can spend that valuable time learning?

The only problem with this amazing week is that it had to end. In a perfect world, all of us superheroes would just stay there in San Diego, living, learning, and playing, but a perfect world has no need for superheroes. A superhero’s work is to fight for truth and justice, to right wrongs, solve problems, and protect the innocent. In the end each us had to leave and go home to our own schools and districts to face our own challenges and deal with the inevitable post-DENSI depression.

Every superhero has a weakness. For Superman, it’s Kryptonite – that substance that drains his energy and makes him feel powerless. As a teacher and tech leader, what is your Kryptonite? Perhaps it’s one of these…

  1. Internet Filters – It’s happened to all of us. You’ve got a great idea for a lesson or activity that will really motivate your students and get them excited about learning only to find that the site you need to use is blocked.
    When a superhero faces a force shield, he does not give up and go home. He finds a way to go through it, go around it, or turn it off. Work with your school and district IT to get the site unblocked. As a teacher and an adult you have the right to override a school Internet filter or have have sites unblocked for you and you don’t even have to provide a reason. (See “Dispelling Myths about Blocked Sites” and “Knowledge is Freedom“)
  2. Consistency and Fairness – Ever been told that your class can’t do something unless all the other classes decide to do it too? How often do we sacrifice creativity and innovation for the sake of consistency?
    Superheros are sometimes required to go solo, moving forward where others fear to tread. Lead by example. Blaze a new trail for others to follow.
  3. The “Almighty” Inflexible Schedule – Does your education dictate your schedule, or does your schedule dictate the education? This is especially true if you are departmentalized. I know I’ve missed the opportunity to participate in numerous live events and webinars because it didn’t fit into the schedule or happened during break or “switch” times.
    A superhero sees what needs to be done and fights for it. Often times this involves making personal sacrifices to bend the un-bendable. You may need to give up part of your lunch or prep time, or offer to cover for another teacher, or promise give up time out of your own class later on. If the opportunity is truly worth it, a superhero will find a way.
  4. Lack of Administrative Support – Do you live in constant fear of trying something new or innovative with your students because you know that if it doesn’t work or if someone complains that you’ll be left “hanging out to dry” by your principal or administrator?
    Superheros must sometimes work outside the law to do what is right. Don’t let fear of getting in trouble rob your students of a valuable learning opportunity. True innovators and those who make a difference are risk takers. Think of the inspirational stories of Jamie Escalante and Erin Gruwell.
  5. Fear of Failure – What if it doesn’t work right the first time you try it?
    Don’t give up. A superhero demonstrates mental discipline and chooses to focus on the learning goal rather than what could happen if he fails. When he does fail (notice I said “when” and not “if”), he doesn’t give up, but learns what didn’t work, makes changes and adjustments, and tries again.  We learn more from failures than successes. Besides what better way to model to your students that failures are just part of the learning process?

If I learned one thing at DENSI, it would be that even though I sometimes feel that I’m fighting the good fight all by myself, I am not alone. When the Kryptonite of the real world robs me of my power and energy, I can reach out to my fellow superheroes. Help is only a text, a tweet, a skype, a direct message, an e-mail, or a just phone call away.

Thank you Discovery for a wonderful week in San Diego and for helping me build a powerful circle of Superfriends.

The Group Brain

What do you get when you take 75 educators from across the US and Canada, put them in blue shirts, house them in college dorms for week, give them training and access to top experts on the latest educational technology tools, and put them in teams to experience these tools hands-on to produce curriculum-based projects? You get the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Summer Institute 2010.

You would think that after attending two previous institutes that the talent, dedication and love of learning shared by attendees and presenters alike would no longer amaze me.  You would think that I’d see the same or similar projects again and again.  You would think that my third institute could not possibly match the energy and enthusiasm of the previous two. And you would be totally wrong.  It was truly a mountain top experience – and I’m not just criticizing the countless stairs at Bentley University.

If I look back at the greatest professional development experiences I’ve had, the top three are Discovery Institutes. They do it right. First, they bring in top experts to train us.

  • We learned about Edmodo from Co-founder Jeff O’Hara who didn’t just present a session and leave, but stayed with us for two days!
  • We learned movie-making techniques from AFI’s Frank Guttler and Discovery’s Digital Storytelling guru Joe Brennan.
  • Dr. Lodge McCammon spent the whole day with us and shared his “one-take video” technique using his own original music and student creativity to teach core curriculum content. Who doesn’t enjoy a good song about linear equations?
  • Jim Dachos, the GlogsterEduMan, showed us Glogster and explained the new features of GlogsterEdu. (He and his team also threw us an ice cream party – in Glogster colors, of course.)
  • Then there was Lance Rougeux and the awesome team from Discovery who spent the whole week with us. They not only helped us dig deep and learn their product inside and out, but also shared their expertise in other web 2.0 tools.  One of them even got up at 5am every morning to run to Duncan Donuts to get coffee for us. I can’t say enough about the DEN Team and the work they did putting together this institute. (Many of them are pretty good actors too.)

But the week was not just devoted to teaching technology tools. Attendees are also expected to produce projects using these tools.

Here is where the DEN Institutes excel. They put us in teams, give us a project, and let us learn from each other. It was like being part of a group brain. If there was something I didn’t know, it’s a good bet one of the other teachers at the Institute could help. They help me, I help them, we work together and help each other – and learning happens. I completed 4 projects in 5 days! Best of all I had a great time doing it.

At the DEN Institute they understand that if teaching and learning isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right – and we definitely had fun. Staying in the dorms at Bentley made me feel like a college kid again. We’d stay up late finishing projects that were due the next day, share cool tips and tricks we’d learned, and just take the time to getting to know each other. Remember in college there was that one dorm that was always the party room? We had one of those too. One night I even got locked out of my room and had to crash on someone’s couch.

By the time Friday came around, none of us wanted it to end. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. Thanks to the DEN Institute I’ve added many new Facebook, Twitter, and Edmodo friends. I plan to continue the learning and friendships made in Boston, as I have with previous institutes. While I definately miss the face to face interaction – and the fun we had in room 105 –   I don’t have to lose that Group Brain.

Thanks Discovery for a wonderful week of learning and for connecting me with an awesome group of teachers.

By the way, if you’d like to see the project I worked on with David Fisher from Florida, here it is.  Enjoy.

I also created a Glog highlighting some of the projects and tools shared at the institute. CLICK HERE to see it.