Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at the annual CTE Summer Conference. I will admit that in the past, I have not held this conference in high regard. I had been told many years ago by a mentor teacher that it was a complete waste of time with very few, if any, useful sessions. And, my first experience of attending the conference definitely verified this statement. So when I was asked back in the Spring to present on the virtual reality work we did this past year at DSA, my only thoughts were:at least I will earn CEUs towards my next license cycle and this will be another professional presentation to add to my resume. Boy, was that line of thinking wrong!
I spent the first day of the conference locked in making presentations. I gave two talks in the morning on using VR in the classroom followed by assisting another member of the Scientific Visualization revision team with two more talks in the afternoon discussing the changes the curriculum is taking as we prepare to go into pilot status. But, I spent the second day attending sessions that caught my attention or I thought may be of use to me in the coming year.
Before I talk about the sessions I attended, let me state the four presentations I took part in were very well received. Being a Technology Education teacher, I was surprised when I learned one of my talks on VR had erroneously been placed in the Marketing program. But, the audience was standing room only! So, I adjusted on-the-fly to cater the presentation to their knowledge as much as I could while still serving the Technology Education teachers in the room. And, the two talks on the revision brought about many comments from the audience thanking us for making the changes we discussed. All in attendance agreed that the alterations were very much needed and right in line with what the students would need to know to succeed down the road. So that tells me we did something right!
On the second day, I attended three talks. The first discussed teaching coding to high school students. And, while it focused on things I previously considered to be below my high school students' level, like the Hour of Code, teaching Scratch, Snap and using Khan Academy, it did give me some ideas for getting my students started with coding logic prior to diving into C# with the Unity game engine. After last year's experience in Game Art & Design, I am thinking smaller baby steps are definitely in order this year as I learned what I thought would be an easy resource for learning coding was a little more than some students could handle.
The second talk I attended had nothing to do with my program area but I thought it would be interesting: Modernization of the Electric Grid. And, I was right! While it focused on engineering topics and some of it went over my head, I still found the conversation to be fascinating. And, this talk provided me with an idea for a new activity this year in terms of game creation. The content I learned definitely lends itself to students creating a video game about the grid and how it is being updated with smart technologies.
The third talk I attended discussed teaching skills to students using Adobe Illustrator. While I have taught Illustrator for a number of years now, I am in no way an expert. I tend to prefer using Adobe Photoshop whenever possible as nearly every graphic in the game industry is a bitmap, not a vector. But, I still need to make sure my students understand the basics of vector graphics and it is always nice to learn a new tool inside of an already familiar application. And, I walked out of this talk with a new understanding of some tools that I have never used in class. So, this was another successful session for me.
So, did my attitude about the conference change? Not entirely, but I do see attending in a more positive light at this point and will likely attend again in coming years. There were still a lot of sessions that I wouldn't find useful but there are a lot of different program areas in CTE and they all need to be served during the conference. The quality of the talks increased as did the types of topics presented. So, I was very pleased overall with the conference.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably realize that taking down-time is a difficult task for me. I'm a bit of a workaholic and it's something that I am working my way through by exploring Buddhism, mindfulness and minimalism. But, there will always be things related to work or game design that keep me busy to a greater or lesser degree. This post is going to talk a little about how I am using this summer to reflect, prepare and relax.
For starters, this is the second year in a row that I am teaching a teen intensive summer camp on game design basics at the Durham Arts Council. And while I am using a different game engine than I currently use in my classroom, this camp is always a good primer to thinking about the upcoming school year. By this time of the break, I am starting to get a little overly relaxed without some formal structure and working at the camp helps to refocus my energy and thoughts on game design, at least a little bit.
Speaking of next school year, summer break is also the time when I start examining and altering the content of my classes for the upcoming year. While a large bulk of the content is already created, there are always things that can use improvement. Summer break gives me a chance to reflect on the past year. What content effectively taught my students the skills and information they needed to be successful? What content didn't? Every year, I add and remove activities during the summer based on this reflection. This gives me the opportunity to tune up my skills as well as improve my lessons. On that note, as one who works in a digital medium, it is important to realize that technology doesn't stand still for very long and one needs to alter the curriculum accordingly to keep up with current updates and trends. I also start working on preparing my Schoology site for each class.
Of course, summer can't solely be about school or game design! I always try to have a few things planned during the break for personal improvement as well. As I briefly mentioned earlier and if you also follow my Twitter feed, you may have noticed me tweeting out a lot about the minimalist lifestyle. As one gets older, it becomes abundantly clear that the actively running game society promotes about the importance of "keeping up with the Joneses" is a fallacy. More stuff does not equal a happier life. And, after seeing how long it took my parents to empty my grandparents' home when they passed away and then clean out their own house when they decided it was time to relocate (it took years...literally years!), I don't want myself or my children to go through the same experience some day. So, this summer, I have vowed to reduce the amount of stuff we own. So far, the big purge is coming along nicely but it is definitely a lot of work and not always easy to decide what gets tossed out and what stays.
So far, this post has discussed only work of one form or another. And, we can't have that, it is summer break, after all! It is equally (if not more-so) important to spend some time taking part in activities to rejuvenate one's self. A calm, relaxed and focused mind makes for a better teacher and I want to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Besides, you know what they say: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
To that note, I took a week of no-work-allowed and total relaxation on the Outer Banks with my entire family right after the school year ended. It was the kind of vacation that was very much needed for several years. I got to spend time with my parents, my sister's family (whom I rarely see as she is up in Massachusetts), our kids and their families, and of course, my wife. Being around family like that helps bring things into perspective in terms of what is really important in life and I left the beach refreshed. Another activity that I have taken to is hiking in the NC State Parks system. Spending time in nature, away from technology, allows one to calm and center one's self. It is also good for reflection without distraction, not to mention a great form of exercise. Spending time in nature is good for the body, mind and soul. If you have never spent any extensive time outside, away from your video games, I highly recommend taking the time to do so.
So, that is what my summer break looks like. A workaholic trying not to only do work. I hope you are taking some time to relax as well and spend time with family and friends over the break. If you are one of my students, I have big things planned for the coming year already...so get the rest now while you can!
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.