After a two-year CUE Conference hiatus, I attended the annual conference in Palm Springs last month. This is kind of the big daddy of #edtech conferences in California, and I am willing to take the hit for the conference and travel, usually working out to about $1000. The conference fee itself is $250-ish for members of CUE. I have never questioned the cost of this 3+ day event. The keynote speakers are high profile folks, from Vinton Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet to The Brad Montague, the creator of Kid President.
I had heard about CUE Rock Star Camps and honestly didn't even look twice. I resented the implication that if those attending were Rock Stars, then the rest of us were not. CUE has at times felt very cliquish to me and I just did not want to be part of that. Three things changed my mind, sort of. Our school district is opening a new STEAM school this coming fall and I have been privileged to be part of the planning and implementation from very early on. While at the conference in Palm Springs, I learned about an upcoming Rock Star Camp which was a STEAM edition. I was intrigued. When I saw it was in Orcutt, CA, a week before I needed to be there for an iPad Academy workshop I was facilitating, and the home of a dear friend, I was almost sold. Finally, on the flight heading home from PS, I sat next to +Jason Borgen, currently on the CUE Board of Directors. Jason and I used to teach at the same district (at different times) and we met at the first CUE I attended in 2008! We have stayed in touch, connecting at various ed tech events over the years. As we sat on the plane, and I explained my reservations about Rock Star events, and even just the name, he encouraged me to give it a try. I have a great respect for Jason, and I have heard such great things about the camps, it all seemed to point to yes, so I bit the bullet and paid the $249 registration fee.
And so, I packed up my car and my dog and headed south for a week in Orcutt. I was impressed with the sessions I attended. I left feeling inspired to try new things such as YouTube (creating, not consuming), some really exciting resources for integrating Science and Engineering activities and maybe even Minecraft. That said, I do think the $250 price tag is a little high for this format. I asked CUE Rock Star's 'baby daddy', Jon Corippo (actual title, CUE Dir. of Academic Innovation) about the price and he explained the costs involved and how they calculated their price from that. I get it, but think there is room for corporate sponsorships to help reduce the hit to already cash-strapped educators. There were no "big name" speakers, of course, it was more structured than the free EdCamps but I feel the price simply adds to the "us vs them" impression I first had about Rock Star camps. But the cliquishness I had experienced at my local affiliate was not apparent here and even though I was not local, I felt welcomed and appreciated. That was a nice surprise. There were inside jokes about ice cream and pickles and such that made no sense to me, but in general, it was a very inclusive experience. The faculty was incredibly generous with their time and resources, sharing lesson plans, links and even physical items such as books and maker supplies. Ed Campos, Jr. was a perfect Master of Ceremonies and the Orcutt team was flawless. Their superintendent, Dr. Deborah Blow, attended sessions right alongside us each day!
So here are some of my key takeaways from the weekend:
What is a Maker Space? The maker session was facilitated by Henry Danielson, director of Technology, Coast Unified School District in Cambria, and his middle schooler son, Max. While Henry was great, Max stole the show. I love hearing from kids how they work, think and learn. Max was articulate, thoughtful and enthusiastic. The two of them plus the rocket guy were definitely guides on the side, letting us explore and fail forward. Henry provided a google doc with so many resources that my head spins just looking at the doc, but I am thrilled to have it!
Minecraft. Get Crafting: Led by Chris Scott,who runs Minecraft camps and presents at conferences, this session really forced me out of my comfort zone. While I appreciate the value of games in learning, and I totally get how much kids embrace Minecraft, I've felt it has been a little overhyped and overdone. Plus I have never enjoyed playing video games myself. I was happy to finally get into a Minecraft world and see what it was all about. However, I was totally frustrated. Chris kept telling us to find a turtle and nothing at all looked like a turtle to me! Chris reminded us "the moment we forget the struggles of a learner, we stop being an effective educator."
I am still not sure the hype is worth it, but I am less daunted and willing to learn more. In a later session, Scott Spector shared several resources for using Minecraft across the curriculum so I have a lot of learning yet to do!
NGSS, STEAM, STEM What's it all about? Scott Spector, Coordinator of Innovation and Academic Events at the Santa Barbara County Ed Office, blew my mind with the plethora of resources he shared. He talked about the difference between the importance of performance expectations over rote learning as well as the integration of content across all subjects, something we elementary educators have been doing forever, but now have so many more resources and tools at our disposal.
YouTube on Your Side: Another session with Chris, we started out by watching 10 minutes of a daily vlogger's video. Ty next to me asked, 'why?' I think you either enjoy watching the mundane daily lives of others or you live your own. We moved on from that to talk about the power of such a potentially large audience to give ourselves and our students a voice with an authentic audience. I don't want to be a daily blogger or a daily vlogger, but I do know I have a unique voice and if I don't tell my story, someone else will. I have made many movies with my students and as a teacher, but this was my first foray into becoming a youtuber. It's not pretty, but here it is. I appreciate the push!
And finally, a few tidbits overheard at Cue Rock Star: STEAM
From Ed. Campos, Jr.'s 360 Math session - "Why buy an interactive whiteboard when you can get all this for less?"
In the youtube session, we watched a short video of building a pyramid of pennies. A math teacher in the room recognized it as part of the Dan Meyer Three Acts of a Mathematical story. I'd never heard of his work so I will do some research. It is an interesting approach.
"Are you going to learn more looking at a piece of paper or making it yourself & explaining it?'~ S. Spector
Granted there were about 5500 fewer people at this event than the Big CUE but there were zero tech issues, the wifi worked great, the site custodian was cheery and helpful and the IT group, Kirby and Janet, were available and on their feet the whole two days. So, I guess I am on the bus, and I need to start saving up for my next CUE Rock Star Camp!
For more, see my storify summary.