Thursday, January 26, 2017

2017 IL Winter Google Summit: My First Tech Presenter Experience


I've definitely attended my fair share of tech conferences in my past 15 years of teaching. This was the first time I actually presented at one! It was like jumping into the deep end, and hoping that you can swim...!

It all started with my ridiculous YouTube video for my 8th graders that I use as an intro to their video assignment. I will always act like a total goofball fool if it means that it might entertain and motivate my students. I don't really consider that other people, like adults, or even other education professionals might watch it. I just figure that they don't have much reason to... although if I was that embarrassed by it, I definitely wouldn't have posted it online in the first place. 

Nevertheless, somebody at WeVideo watched the darn thing. And then contacted me. And asked if I wanted to be an ambassador for them. It sounded super cool, so I said yes! They even did a little blog on my experience with WeVideo and made me the October "Educator of the Month" - this was extremely cool, as I feel like I sometimes can under the radar within my own district. It's nice to get noticed sometimes!


Part of this ambassador gig involves representing WeVideo at select events as needed. I've presented at art teacher conferences, and at in-district PD events, so the thought of it wasn't totally foreign. I agreed to do a presentation at the IL Winter Google Summit hosted by EdTechTeam. This year it was held in Des Plaines, IL, which is not too far from me. Yeah, I could handle that.

...and then it happened.

I discovered that another part of the deal involved participating in the Demo Slam. A Demo Slam is a friendly competition where participants give a 3-minute (or less) presentation on a tech tool or trick, but in a really engaging way. The crowd actually votes on who's the best. So a good hook or creative angle is key. And of course, at the end of the slam, you get to actually say, "Slam!" - mic drop. 

Sounds like fun, right? Yes, absolutely... to watch. To participate? I immediately began FREAKING OUT about it. Although I teach, and I often act like a total weirdo in front of my students, adults are a completely different world. And they'd be JUDGING me. Ooooof. 

My topic was already decided-ish. It was going to have to do with WeVideo. My favorite part of WeVideo is the color keying tool, so I decided to focus on that. I started to brainstorm about how I could demonstrate using a green screen in a portable way. I started by painting a piece of foam core with green paint; I thought that I could hold it behind me and shoot via webcam. But when I tried it, holding the screen was just too awkward and it wouldn't work. 

What does one do in a situation like this? Ask a seventh grader, of course! I ran the concept by a group of students in my class, and together we brainstormed a way to "mount" the green screen on my shoulders using two wire hangers bent so that they fit over my shoulders. It was pretty hilarious, if not completely practical. I had pretty much decided to ditch the green screen contraption altogether until a coworker suggested that I use it in the presentation, even if just as a funny prop. I decided to go with that.


So, by the day the Summit came, I had spent at least a full week freaking out and planning and testing and running through slides and re-running through slides. And making my husband sit through practice runs. He's a champ. My main presentation was entitled "Planning For Video Projects, Featuring WeVideo," and I was feeling pretty confident. I had demo "student" accounts for teachers to try out, complete with a bunch of photos and video clips that I had pre-loaded into the media libraries for the demo accounts to use. 

Want to check out my presentation? Here's a quick overview:


The presenting part seemed to go pretty well, until the second half where teachers logged into the student demo accounts to find NONE of the photos or video clips that I had spent so much time loading prior to the day! Worst. Nightmare. Realized. I was mortified. A quick call to my WeVideo contact (hey awesome customer service!) helped me figure out and fix where I had made a minor mistake in the sharing locations. The rest of the session went fine, but I was feeling pretty down and discouraged for having this issue after all of the planning and testing I had done in the days before in order to prevent just such a thing from happening. How could I have missed that? On a positive note, I'll never make that mistake again!

Algonquin Middle School in Des Plaines (where the Summit was held) has an amazing makerspace classroom that they call the "Dream Lab." In it, they have some of the same robots and tech gadgets that I am lucky to have in my room, plus much much more! The dream lab has a lot of supplies like paint and art materials, LEGOs, sewing machines, a Cricut machine, and even several GoPro cameras!


I drool over spaces like this. I wish that every school had a room like this, and teachers could either bring their classes down, or check out materials and take it to their own room, and I could be the organizer of it all. I could help students with their projects and coach other teachers to incorporate maker concepts in their classrooms. Ugh. I need to stop daydreaming.

So back to the Summit. I gave my presentation, and you heard how that all went, but I still had a Demo Slam to tackle. I was scheduled about 2/3 of the way down in the order, so I had a little bit of time to observe how things went with others. One interesting thing that happened was that the sound system went out. Like totally out. A portable mic/sound system was brought in. It was okay, but not great. Thankfully, I really only needed the mic.


Then it was my turn. It sort of went so fast that I don't even remember too much... "Blah blah, green screen, remove the background... Look! I'm on the moon! Look! I'm in a video game!" And then I put on my ridiculous green screen contraption and the crowd went nuts. I was so excited to hear them giggle at its ridiculousness. I threatened them that they'd "better not steal my idea because I'm going on Shark Tank!"

...and Slam. It was over.

I didn't win the Demo Slam, but I feel like it went really well. I felt good, and I was so proud of myself for getting up there and just going for it. It was such a great counterpoint to my slightly imperfect session earlier in the day. A bonus was that I even got a Twitter shout-out from Jennie Magiera! It made me feel like a cool girl:


In the end, I'm really grateful to have this experience "under my belt," as I'll be presenting again in about a month at the ICE Conference! Let the freaking out commence. :)

- Mrs L.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Museums Are Awesome With Museum Hack!


I had the unique opportunity to take a Museum Hack tour at the Art Institute of Chicago over winter break. Although this doesn't technically fall under a "tech blog" umbrella, it does count as a teaching topic, so I'm going to share my experience here. Also, it was super fun, so who wouldn't want to know about something fun AND educational to do in your city?

Museums are awesome. They're everywhere. You can learn a TON while you're there. But, like many other teaching tools, the way in which you use it will affect people's motivations and engagement towards learning. For most museums, you can't just show up and yell "Hey, entertain me!" and expect it to be fun and exciting.

However, with Museum Hack... you sort of can! Museum Hack leads "renegade" museum tours (currently in NYC, DC, San Francisco, and Chicago) that are engaging, interactive, and entertaining! As a former visual arts teacher, I was super intrigued by how Museum Hack would take the Art Institute and "hack" it for our tour group.

Our tour guide's name was Elise, and she was super friendly and welcoming. We met our group in the museum's main stairway entrance (after buying our tickets and checking our coats), and were given name tags. There was a group of eight adults, not counting our tour guide. This was awesome for me because it was easy to remember who was in my group, and to follow the group through the museum.

The Art Institute is HUGE. Our two-hour tour was a whirlwind sample buffet of artworks throughout time and cultures. Elise delighted in telling us all about the "saucy" details of Rococo art, and the epic "comic book" panels of St John the Baptist, including a ridiculous and gratuitously bloody beheading scene:


A good half of the tour is finding out interesting facts and little-known/fun trivia bits about different pieces in the museum, and the other half was interactive - we participated in a variety of games and fun discussions about the artworks.

Of course, our tour included Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, where we all had our Ferris Bueller moment staring at the various subjects within the landscape, and selecting our favorites:

This is Elise. She likes that weird character facing away from us that looks like a keyhole. I never even noticed that before!

One of our interactive moments included a game in a smaller gallery where we selected furniture and decorative items for Elise's fictional "housewarming" party for rich people. We got to select an item from the gallery that we would bring for her new house. Then we hilariously tried to connect them together ("Ohh that bowl would look great on the table Jen picked! And we could hang Todd's creepy painting above it!").

Another fun game was had in the sculpture gallery where we were tasked with choosing a sculpture that represented our "spirit animal." My husband and I chose one for each other. His was an epic beard-off with this guy:


Elise took polaroids of us with our sculptures, and we got to take them home as souvenirs. We also wrote postcards about our experience that will be sent later on. Dang, when was the last time you can remember writing a postcard? So that was fun.

We went over to the modern wing, and it was no surprise to me that we stopped at every kid's favorite sculpture in the entire museum:


This piece is called Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Félix González-Torres. Yes, you get to actually participate in the piece by taking and eating candy. In the museum. It's always funny because people are so trained to NOT touch the artwork, or to get too close, that it feels taboo to actually take and eat candy! I found a fun article here all about where the candy comes from and how it gets refilled.  

Probably my favorite part of the tour though was when we were asked to re-enact a Surrealist painting of random nudes in the forest:


Here we were, just being goofy, and all of a sudden I realized that a bunch of regular museum patrons had stopped and were watching us, smiling. Yes, a bunch of adults re-creating this very random artwork must have been incredibly entertaining. You're welcome.

But it the end, this got me thinking about how much a teacher can learn from this tour: how easy it can be to engage a group of students by simply making them get up out of their seats and physically mimic an image or concept, or by having them choose an item from a whole grouping and explain their choices.

But most of all, by not taking any of this too seriously, we were able to relax and have fun, and probably retained way more information about works of art than any other prior visit. Without even trying!

I really enjoyed my Museum Hack tour, and if you are in a city that Museum Hack conducts tours in, I highly recommend going on one! Museum Hack offers general tours (like the one I went on), but they also offer private/family tours, tours for parties, and team-building adventures! Can you even imagine, a professional development activity like this?

A girl can only dream...

- Mrs. L.
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