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Pardon Me While My Head Explodes

I’ll try not to get any brain on you.

I just attended the annual CUE (Computer Using Educators) Conference in Palm Springs for the first time in my life.  Now, I’m no stranger to conferences, but this one was definitely one of the best EVER.  Not only did I learn a ton, I got to meet in-person lots of people just like me, many of whom I’d already been communicating with via Twitter.

Palm Springs Sunrise (mountain over palms)

I flew down on Wednesday evening, getting in late and heading straight to my hotel room. The next day, I awoke to notice that someone had snuck in under cover of darkness and planted a great big mountain a block away from my hotel, right in the middle of town. This would become the metaphor for the rest of my time in Palm Springs. I thought I knew stuff. I was, after all, there as both a presenter and a participant.

Thursday was a full-day Google Workshop for Educators (GWE) jointly led by me, Ken Shelton, and Kyle Brumbaugh.  It was my first time presenting a GWE.  I shared my own knowledge and experiences using these tools for myself and with my students, and then Kyle blew my mind with some features I’d never heard of, and Ken opened my eyes to a whole new world hidden within Google Maps.  Things I had never had enough time to look into really got me excited about getting my kids to try them.  Like NEXT WEEK.

On Friday and Saturday, I attended a number of sessions and I presented a one-hour session on Friday afternoon as well.  Both before and after my own presentation, I heard other speakers on subjects about which I am passionate: Google Earth, geocaching, and digital storytelling. I bought some books, I made some new friends, and I began brainstorming a thousand different ways I could improve my own work in the classroom.  Once again, I felt like that prisoner who escapes in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and I found myself wondering if, when I got back to my cave, would anyone even believe what I had seen? 

There were features and new applications I’d never had the chance to discover, some because they are brand-new.  We’re going to blame it on graduate school, but it’s been a number of obstacles.  And there’s that mountain in the middle of town.  Oh, look, who put THAT there?  That’s how I felt.  But you know what was great?  I was among like-minded peers.  No one complained that we’d have to take weeks to learn a new system.  No one folded their arms across their chest and said, “Nope, I am not willing to try anything new.”  Instead, we all nudged one another and said things like “I can’t wait to try that!” and “We should have our kids Skype each other and share our results!” and “Ooooooooh!”

Kyle and me at Closing Keynote  A friend and I joked that we could often be heard saying things like, “So, what we’re going to . . . ooh! Shiny!” because we’re so easily distractible.  But at CUE, we sat with rapt attention.  It probably helped that the slides and video clips went by fast, and many of them were, in fact, shiny.  We saw potential for kids to create instead of absorb.  We imagined scenarios where we could stand aside and put the students in charge of their learning.  (My friend Sean jokingly calls it, “I’ll be the lazy teacher.”)

And then it hit me: I really feel sorry for those folks who, for whatever reason, aren’t spending the occasional long weekend paying their own way to go to conferences because they’d be the only ones from their own schools in attendance and “my school blocks YouTube and stuff, so why bother?”  I guess if I can’t bring them to the mountain, I’ll need to bring the mountain to them.

“Palm Springs Sunrise” from Flickr user SearchNetMedia, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Image of Kyle Brumbaugh and Diane Main at CUE Closing Keynote, by Ken Shelton, used with permission.

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