Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rockstar-Free Canflip13 Conference

I finally have time to write about the CanFlip13 Conference, in Kelowna BC, organized by the brilliant team of Graham Johnson and Carolyn Durley, at which I and my colleague Peggy Drolet were presenting. I'll be posting in more detail about the sessions, including my own, but to summarize, it was a conference unlike any I've ever been to - and I knew it would be, from way before we even arrived. I don't mean to disparage any conferences, only that the bar was not only set higher, but it was another kind of bar altogether. Carolyn and Graham really know how to:
  1. Make people feel welcome
  2. Put together a terrific conference
  3. Build a community
  4. Teach like there's no mañana
  5. Create a rockstar-free zone
But to start with, here's what happened, in chronological order:

Wednesday June 19:

Arrived in Kelowna with my arm in a sling, from terrible shoulder pain, loaded up (in many ways) with painkillers. Reached my daily allowance for painkillers early in the day because of time change. Peggy and I cabbed it to the hotel, in torrential rain.

The El Dorado Hotel was lovely, and we settled into our room. I unfortunately had to correct some exams before doing anything else. Technology makes it impossible to get away from work, doesn't it? Peggy passed the time by face-chatting with her hubby on her new iphone, which she loves as much as said hubby. (Gee, didn't see that one coming, eh?) Once I was done, we got ready for supper, which was being hosted by Carolyn and Graham at the hotel. Who does that? How nice are these people? I decided to leave the sling behind, for I was NOT ruining my ensemble, nor meeting these people by looking pathetic, no matter how much it hurt.

When twitter friends finally meet!
We got down to the dining room, found our table-for-twenty, and noticed (!) that we were the first ones there. Oh well, guess what, it's beer time in Kelowna! The draught we tried was made in Kelowna, and was fantastic! Funny, my shoulder wasn't hurting at all....

Carolyn and Graham arrived! Carolyn burst into tears when she saw us. That made me do the same. These are simply the nicest people in Canada. I mean, just hosting a dinner for out-of-towners right out the gate was so welcoming! I have been tweeting with both of these people for over a year, but meeting f2f was indescribably joyful.

The other out-of-towners arrived, including another dear twitter friend, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, whom I thought I was also meeting f2f for the first time....I was embarrassed to learn, from Karl, that we had actually met last year in Chicago at Flipcon12, but all this year, as we had been tweet chatting, I hadn't realized it was the same guy. Sorry, Karl, I kept telling people about this great history teacher I had met, I just didn't connect the dots that it was you! Anyway, he is living proof that some people are exactly the same in person as they are online. He is exactly as nice and smart and thoughtful and down-to-earth as you think he is, probably even more. Karl, if you're reading this, I adore you. And your ladyfriend Emily too.

Also met Troy Stein, Ali DeGuia, Lily (don't remember your last name Lily sorry, but we are soul sisters!) and lots of lovely people. A truly great evening, and my shoulder didn't bother me all night. Hmmm....interesting.

Thursday June 20:

We read about the floods in Calgary with horror. As we cabbed to the school, again in torrential rain, we wondered if this was the same system that caused the flooding. Everyone here kept telling us that this kind of weather was atypical of Kelowna, in fact, they usually have not enough rain. Disappointing, plus, I had to put the sling back on. Too early for beer.

The conference's main gathering place was the gym, at the front of which was a screen displaying live #canflip13 tweets, which is why......
That's Dianne in the heart. (I added the heart.)

Our own boss's image greeted us as we walked in! (Those are huskies painted on the wall behind the screen) >>>>>>

Keynote #1:
Carolyn and Graham then kicked off the conference with their wonderful keynote, which was the story of their journey together, as teachers looking for more ways to connect, engage students, collaborate and learn. For them, it seems that it really turned a corner when they attended Flipcon11. Carolyn addressed the ongoing debate about flipping by pointing out the double-edged sword of labels. As usual, she chose words that honoured both sides of the debate, while making it clear that we're all after the same thing - what's best for our kids. What I liked most about this keynote was that it mirrored its own content. They spoke together about how they learn and grow together.

Session #1:
Despite wearing a sling, I high-tailed it to the first session I wanted to attend, which was Ramsey Musallam's Inquiry Based Learning. Made it just before SRO status was reached. I am doing a separate post on that session, because too much happened that did too much disruption to too much of me. Suffice it to say that within minutes, and without saying very much, he had the room buzzing, in every possible way. One memorable moment: Karl came over to my table and said  "Look at the body language in this room." Sure enough, every single person was bent over their tables, talking to someone, solving something, totally unself-consciously involved in the task.

Next was lunch, but I have to say I didn't pay much attention to it, because I was getting ready for my own session, on Geogebra. I had tried to truly flip it, by making several short how-to videos available for people to watch ahead of time, so that we could potentially go deeper during our f2f time. But I had the sneaking suspicion that most would arrive not having watched, which was fine, I know what June is like for teachers. But that meant I was walking into a potentially highly mixed group, some ready, some not. I had thought that I would handle that the same way I do in my class, but today, it suddenly seemed like a bad idea. It's one thing with your own students, but it is another thing entirely with grownups. I sensed impending disaster. Nevertheless, Peggy and I headed off to my assigned room.

Session #2: My session: Yes, it's all about me

Ten minutes before I was to start, I discovered that Open Office had messed up the formatting on several of my slides, so I spent those last few minutes NOT taking deep cleansing breaths, NOT rehearsing, and NOT greeting people as they arrived, but instead frantically fixing the slides:
How stressed am I?
My hair was straight ten minutes ago.
(Okay no it wasn't.)
At go time, I looked up and saw that only 7 people were there anyway. But one of them was Ramsey Musallam - he counts for like 20 people, no? For whatever reason, I totally forgot about my shoulder.

I had planned to talk for a few minutes, then have everyone doing something (watching a vid, doing the accompanying practice, creating etc)  for 20 minutes - 20 noisy, choice-filled, fun, Ramsey Musallam session-ish minutes, then have a post-discussion/question period, then say a few more conclusion/what's-next things. But all of this banked on the presupposition that one of me would not be enough to go around the room, for there would be 20-30 people there. Well, with only 7 people, there was more than enough of me to go around, so after I said my intro, and everyone was "doing something",
it was eerily and uncomfortably quiet. I did the classic wandering-teacher-walk, where your eyes are begging someone, anyone, to ask you a question. It did happen, a bit, I guess, but I definitely could have filled that time some other way. As I said, I'll be writing more about this.

I hadn't known what to expect, had banked on a certain outcome, and in my opinion, backed the wrong horse. The participants were very kind, in particular Ramsey, and Lori Jones, who each gave me a twitter shout-out.

Next time, which will be in Ohio, will be different. More about that later.

Session #3:
Peggy's session was next, so off we went to her assigned room. She was also disappointed in her session's attendance, but she nevertheless gave an amazing presentation on using Voicethread. I was and am so proud to call this lady my colleague. She and I have always agreed that for anyone starting out flipping, who is also feeling overwhelmed by making videos,Voicethread is the perfect tool.
Peggy being amazing
One person who attended her session was absolutely convinced of that at about ten minutes in, and in fact, we found out later, he enthusiastically told everyone else from his school about it, then discovered that his school already had a Voicethread account!

After day one was over, and the stress of presenting was relieved, it was time to get hammered get together for a little aperitif. We met a whole bunch of Canflip people at Cabana's and resumed our relationship with Kelowna beer. There was food, laughs, and great convos all around, and to top it all off, Troy Stein very kindly picked up everyone's bill! We decided to stay at this place for supper, so we joined up with another table of canflip people that included Tara Cordy-Simpson, Valerie Pereira, and Andy Miller. Another great meal, more people to call friends, and no shoulder pain.

Friday June 21:

Keynote #2:
The final day began with Ramsey Musallam's keynote. Imagine tweeting an entire speech. I think the attendees collectively managed to do that. Things that I still remember: Ramsey's and Jon Bergmann's 1st videos, intentionally withholding info instead of finding best way to present it, using this video to hook us, Steve Jobs' speech, best movie ever made - The Karate Kid, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been", my personal favourite:
I have no idea how to balance a chemical equation but I loved watching you blow s**t up
Session #4:
My first session today was Philip Jones' Gaming. This man showed us the astounding amount of work that he has done creating this game-based learning site for his students. He even gave us access to try it out, which I haven't done yet, but will.

The lady next to whom we happened to sit was Jana Kreway, who as it turned out, had enough personality for about 15 really happy people. She is a mom whose kids are now old enough that she is beginning her second career -  teaching math. One of her kids had had Graham Johnson for a math teacher, and Jana was inspired by him (who isn't?) but was feeling a bit overwhelmed on this particular day by the technology. Hmmm....if only there was some advice we could give her......!

So naturally, Peggy shared with Jana her Voicethread presentation, and this is what Jana looked like as she watched it:
Enough said. Jana also told us that she was new to twitter, but we noticed she tweeted this soon afterward:
Session #5:
My last session was Troy Stein's Advanced Camtasia tips. Troy showed us, among other things:
  • audio points
  • what's in the clipbin vs what's in the library
  • adding to your own library
  • leading with 5 secs of silence to remove noise later
  • making a template lead-in to use on all vids, to lend consistency
  • using green screen to make my own bank of handwritten callouts
But Troy isn't just about the tech. He's a kind, sensitive, generous person first and foremost. I tweeted many things that he said, like this:
I also learned a lot about tact from this man. One participant was pursuing a line of questions that were not of general interest to the room, and I admired how Troy handled it, which I tweeted:
As soon as I tweeted that, I received a DM from none other than @approx_normal, also known as Captain Bad Idea, aka Hedge, a math teacher whom I have admired for a long time for her humour, kindness, and bravery. But have never, like, spoken to. Turns out she and Troy are good friends! She told me about what a great guy he is, and she asked me to tell him that "his sis Hedge says hi", which I did after his session was over. After chatting with Troy about Hedge, my next tweet had to be this:
Final gym session:
Finally, Carolyn and Graham lead us in an activity called "What sucks". I am so using this with my classes at the beginning of the year. I'll have to adapt it to the virtual room, but here it is:
  • Everyone stands up.
  • One side of the room is designated as the "This sucks" side, the other "This doesn't suck" side.
  • Something is displayed on the screen at the front for all to see, for example, "Teachers on social media with their students." 
  • Everyone has to then move to whichever side of the room most accurately expresses their attitude towards it. Oh and you can stay in the middle if that's how you feel. Which is where I spent most of my time, because after all, I am a middle child, and I see everyone's point of view.
  • Once there, share with a neighbour why you're there.
  • A volunteer from each of the three sections speaks to the whole gym about why they are standing where they're standing on the current issue.
It was fun, it got us moving, thinking, talking, laughing, and even changing our minds. I think it'd be interesting to get people to submit their own topics for the vote, after warming up a bit.

All in all, getting back to my 5 points at the beginning:
  1. The welcome: presenters not having to pay the registration fee, the introduction-to-me videos we all posted pre-conference, receiving an allowance for expenses, the lovely welcome dinner before it all began, and mostly just Graham and Carolyn's personalities.
  2. The terrific conference:
    • The atmosphere was relaxed, which is partly the personalities involved, partly the size of the event, and partly the venue - a school and its gym, with which we're all familiar.
    • A part of me thinks that it was because it happened in Canada, but don't get mad, I'm a dual citizen, US and Canuck. It makes a difference when you're in your own country.
    • The whole thing felt like a celebration at times. That we could finally meet friends, but also that this was a place where it was safe to say the word flip.
    • It was really hard to pick a session, because it was really hard to miss any of them. 
  3. Build a community: Wifi was great, so tweeting was rampant, and always displayed in the gym.  Twitter is the starting point for community. Plus the icebreaker activity on day 1 and the final "What sucks"activity
  4. No mañana: I don't think either Graham or Carolyn stopped presenting the entire time. Or teaching - there were still students in the building hovering around them, who obviously worshipped them.
  5. Rockstar-free zone: There were people there who are what some would call rockstars, people whose ideas and work have had a major impact on many people. But there was no one who would call themselves that. Everyone acted, and was treated, like a normal person, and no task was deemed too low. I mean, just to drop two names here, Carolyn helped me get my laptop onto the wifi, and Graham helped me get my room setup.
Just a couple of other random observations:
  • Reading about someone's work is one thing, seeing them in action is everything. As Andy Miller put it:
  • Alcohol and adrenaline are great painkillers. There I said it.
  • I do get tired of hearing about new tools, but I will never get tired of meeting new people, with or without a new tool!
Thanks Carolyn and Graham, for giving yourselves so completely to your work, your students, your communities, and the teaching profession.  À la prochaine!

Carolyn, Karl, Graham, Me, Valerie, Tara, Peggy, & Andy