This week marks approximately one month since schools shutdown due to covid-19. Because of this, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how things are going for me and my students in my classes so far. Bear in mind, these are personal observations (for the most part) and may not be relevant to everyone teaching and learning through this crisis. And, while I know there are a lot of forces at work in all of our lives such as economic hardship and personal mental struggles resulting from stay-at-home orders across the nation, I will only address a handful of topics related directly to what I see as an educator. Unfortunately, I cannot solve every problem we experience.
I guess you can say that our students are lucky. Our school was already in the process of making certain that every high school student either already had or would be provided with some form of technology allowing them to access the internet prior to the covid outbreak. Although we were not quite finished ensuring this when the school system decided to shutdown, the goal was realized a very short time afterwards. Now, school administration and parents in our PTSA are working on the same assurance for our middle school students. This is awesome...though it holds some limitations for classes such as mine as the provided devices are all Chromebook based and cannot run the necessary software for the curriculum. So, I needed to find alternative software that can be used on a variety of device types and come as close as possible to the required software I teach to ensure continued learning of major concepts, if not the required tools. And, after considerable effort, I managed to succeed in my search for most of the software needed (graphics, video editing, animation and 3D modeling).
So, curriculum specifics aside, what else is new? Well, teachers and students have learned to interact in new ways using online tools. I have never been happier to have already prepared my students for curriculum distribution using a learning management system (LMS). Many teachers had to get up to speed with creating an online classroom as quickly as possible and I was already finished with overcoming this hurdle thanks to using an LMS for well over a decade. But, that is really where the advantages I hold as a tech ed teacher end.
On the personal note, I find myself working more frequently and harder than ever before to make sure my students succeed. I am busy converting lessons to focus more on concepts than software and find it hard to step away from work now that there is a very blurred line between my work-home lives. While I only need to work eight hours a day, I find myself working 10-14 hours. But, that work is typically far less stressful most days as I can select a single task to focus on, actually finishing it in one sitting rather than completing them in bits and pieces throughout a the week. I no longer live by an alarm clock despite typically start my workday at 6:00 am or earlier, walking from the bedroom to my office. I can delay the beginning of work, for the most part, if needed and continue later in the evening to accomplish the necessary tasks. And, most importantly, I can walk away to take a break any time I find it is needed without any consequences for doing so. I know if I take a needed hour-long walk or a mental distraction spending a TV show in the middle of the work day, I will make up the time that appears to be lost productivity later on in the same day, regardless of time, since there is no real punch clock or supervisor standing over me to keep track of clock-time physically spent with students. I am actually far more productive given the flexibility to accomplish the tasks I need to do when I am most focused on completing them.
Looking at general educational requirements, teachers are incorporating the use of video conferencing in place of face-to-face instruction using tools like Zoom or Google Hangout or Hangout Meets. As a result, I have flipped my classroom instruction. I typically use my hour-long weekly meeting with each of my four preps to provide a short overview of where they should be and where we are headed, update them on changes to needed school related information, and answer questions they may have regarding the activities I provide them. Most of the material that I would normally share as lecture in the past is now placed completely inside the individual pages and activities in my LMS as video content and/or reading materials. This allows me to focus on student needs as opposed to repetitive instructions, basic vocabulary and hands-on demonstrations during the short time I have with them in a face-to-face environment. I now see how I can change these regular classroom activities often resulted in an actual drop in student engagement during classroom instruction. For many students, lecture means tune-out and this flip encourages tuning-in. Flipping instruction is definitely one technique that will be retained once we return to the traditional classroom.
However, it seems that not every student flourishes under this model. There is a HUGE problem that has become abundantly clear as we move forward: apathy. Although I have reached out to the families of those students who aren't engaging in anything within my classes, regardless of whether it is participating in video conferences or submitting completed assignments, there seems to be a sense of being overwhelmed on the part of some students and/or their families. While I cannot say for certain the cause of this behavior in students (it could be caused by economic hardships, illness falling upon families, difficulty in sharing technology among family members, or personal difficulty in coping with the isolation resulting from stay-at-home orders in most states), it is a major problem that must be dealt with and overcome for students to be successful. Students need a supportive and encouraging home environment to help them navigate the now required changes to their normal daily routine. And sadly, it appears many lack this support structure, so they fall between the cracks and get left behind despite our best attempts for this to not happen.
On the other side of the equation are students who are heavily engaged/involved and who have that necessary support structure. These students are flourishing through the challenges and making every effort possible to be successful. They seem to be learning the importance of self-reliance and personal motivation, developing better communication skills, and finding connections between the skills taught in school and the world outside the educational bubble that they never saw before. It is a truly amazing thing to see these students develop as we continue doing our best to help all of our kids become successful both in and out of their classwork.
On Friday, I started a new tradition with my students: Friday Fun Polls. I decided that a simple poll to see where students stand on any number of topics could be an informative and a fun distraction, if only for a brief moment. And, I let them know that generally, these polls won't have anything to do with curriculum. To kick off this new weekly activity, I asked the students to respond to the following question:
Are you ready to come back to the classroom yet?
Out of my 110 students, I received a response from 42. And, while that is only 38% of my students, I found the results extremely interesting.
Think about this - 83% of students who are engaged miss school after only one month. Granted, that is most likely due to the social aspects school provides, but it still says something about students. Students generally want to be in school, despite everything families and teachers hear to the contrary from them.
In summary, I believe this crisis has exposed several weaknesses in the current educational model as well as those in the possibility of schools to be successful with remote learning. Personally, I feel we will not return to business as usual after this crisis ends, there will be definite and dramatic changes both inside education and our daily lives outside of the classroom. But, despite some of these changes relating to how we choose to live our lives, many of these changes can and should be for the better. Schools should be encouraged to truly embrace and close the technology gap both in instruction and student accessibility. Families should grow closer to one another and reconsider many of the commitments and time-burns they run their kids to and from on a daily basis, rethinking the importance of how they choose to schedule leisure time together outside of work and school. And, many people will learn the importance of thinking more before spending frivolously on things with less intrinsic value in improving their their lives. The world will definitely change around us, the real question is: how will we change both as human beings and citizens?
For starters, I KNOW I haven't been a good blogger this school year. It's simply been an insanely busy year for me both professionally and personally. But, that is about to change. I am vowing to return to regular blogging to share my thoughts and experiences in the classroom and education in general. So, let's get started!
As we all know, the world around us is constantly changing. Our latest hurdle to overcome is the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic. If you are like me, you watch the nightly news and have seen all of the information out there being relayed about this new threat to humanity. And, make no bones about it, this threat is scary. But, I want to look at it from a different perspective...a more positive one in my mind: what opportunity does this provide for educators to reflect upon our educational models? Many school districts across the nation are closing as a result of just how contagious this virus is and are moving to a remote learning model so they can continue to deliver education to their students and keep some sense of normalcy in all of our lives. Our school district and the state of North Carolina are no exception in this change. We were recently told that the district will be closed for a minimum of three weeks and just yesterday, the governor announced closing all schools for the next two weeks. So, let's take a look at how this affects my students and my content delivery.
For many years now, I have used an online learning management system (LMS) in my classroom. I've gone through Blackboard, moved to Moodle, explored Edmodo, considered Google Classroom and finally settled on Schoology. While different platforms will meet different teachers' needs, I found Schoology to be the best at meeting my needs due to the large number of resources and tools it offers for free as well as the very user friendly interface for both educators and students. I use my LMS every day with my students both in and out of my classroom. However, I have never made that leap to completely flipping my classroom out of fear for my students simply not doing what they are told and because some students might lack access to the necessary technology, even though I know they most likely have everything they need. In case you don't know, a flipped classroom is a method of teaching students where the content is delivered outside of the classroom, typically online, while moving the activities that are commonly used for homework and such to inside the classroom.
For years, I have wondered what would happen if I moved to a remote learning model even though my students continue to meet with me daily. I have fantasized about teaching from home and living a much more comfortable and rewarding life by doing so. Now, educators everywhere are finding themselves scrambling to answer the question of how they will deliver content, materials and instruction to students while in mandatory closures due to the virus. And, I find myself finally getting the answers to my ever-looming questions, as well as being better prepared to do so than most of my peers thanks to setting up my LMS over the years, using it with my students on a daily basis, and having experienced the excellent online learning provided in Adobe's Education Exchange. On a side note, if you are an educator reading this, the Ed Ex currently has a course on Flipped Learning for Your Classroom, which is 100% free! Just create a free Adobe account and sign up for Ed Ex...you may even earn CEUs for taking their online courses!
So, how will my students succeed in light of this pandemic emergency? For starters, I polled my students before we went into closure to see who has and who doesn't have access to the necessary technology as well as what kind of access they have. All of my students reported some level of access, be it computers with internet access or cell phones with data plans.
There are lessons I do in school where students will not have access to the same resources we use in my classroom while at home, I know this and need to find a way to compensate for it. This week, I am working my way through the content in my LMS to determine what is critical for my students to complete and what can be passed on until a later date when we return to regular classes. Some of the assignments I normally give to my students will change from hands-on creations to informational reading, vocabulary exercises, written reflections and online discussions. Some of it is basic conceptual understanding and while I prefer them to do hands-on experiences, it simply won't be possible and they all need the information to be successful later on. So, understanding the information is more important than the exercises.
Next, comes the problem of software. Luckily, Adobe offered schools with current licenses access to named user accounts for their students which enables them to use the software in the school's current license at home. While I wish our district had gone this route from the start, we have station licenses which means they can only use the software at school. This offer from Adobe is a real game changer for our students and greatly appreciated! Schools have to apply for access and our district did so as soon as this opportunity was announced. I am currently waiting to hear about approval. If you want more information on this, read this article. And, Adobe isn't the only company making their tools available to schools. Google has offered free access to the premium version of their Hangouts Meet software and other companies are doing the same. On top of that, some of the software I use already offers free access to students such as Autodesk 3ds Max and the Unity Game Engine. However, not all students have computers that can run this software. So, I need to find some alternatives for all of the software we use. I already have a long list of options compiled on my Digital Artistic Tools page here on my site.
To conclude, while this will be a challenging time for many, I am excited about this forced experiment in remote learning. While I fear some of my peers will not fair too well in this new educational model, it just might change the way I teach for the rest of my career in education. Over the years, I have done my level best to make sure my students are self-sufficient in their education and this will be a real test for some of them. But, I know they are well prepared for this kind of a shift in education and will be successful. If you are a fellow educator in a similar situation, a simple search online will reveal all kinds of amazing free resources that can help you as well. Everything from full-on LMS suites that are free (I'm telling you, check out Schoology, it offers a lot of tools in their free version), lessons and activities for every curriculum area that can be completed with little to no additional preparation, as well as tons of free tools you can use to deliver instruction and content to your students in interesting and engaging ways. Regardless of what everyone does in terms of continuing to teach in these trying times, remember the most important thing is to stay safe and well throughout this worldwide crisis!
What are your thoughts about flipping the classroom and remote learning? Add a comment below!
One of the things I have long struggled with is the idea of flipping my classroom. And, after reading the article Flipped Classroom: What to Know in 2019 by Elizabeth Trach, it got me thinking about it again. Maybe it's my age or the way I experienced school as a child, but even with the best of intentions, I have a hard time with letting go of classroom instruction in favor of instruction solely taking place outside the classroom. Perhaps, it's a trust issue that the kids won't do their part and then I will cave in and do it in class anyway. I'm not 100% sure. But, every time I come back to this point, I always intend to flip at the start of the year and then back off as the year progresses. Maybe it's the routine of past experience? I know that part of my concern is for students who lack access to the technology needed to see the instruction. Again, I am at odds with this. I constantly tell students:
But, I have a solution!
Rather than completely flipping my classroom, I do a partial flip. By a partial flip, I mean that I still spend face-to-face time lecturing my students, usually in the form of hands-on demonstration with accompanying explanation, but all of my materials are also shared through Schoology, either in written or video formats. That way, students who miss a lecture can still access the information outside of my classroom to stay up-to-date with the rest of the class.
Despite still taking time for lecture, the majority of my in-class time is spent doing hands-on activities where students work through the tasks presented at their own pace, within certain deadlines. Most activities contain a video tutorial demonstrating the skills needed to succeed and students can pause and repeat portions as needed until they understand the tool or technique being used. And, this instructional method allows me the freedom to help those in most need in a one-on-one manner while those who don't need personal attention continue working on their assignments and learning at their own pace.
So, while the odds of me completely flipping my classroom still seems far off, I plan on continuing to use the portions of this great technique that I feel work best in my unique situation. Maybe some day I will completely flip my lid (don't ask the kids, they'll say that already happened!)
I recently received a copy of Schoology's annual report on the state of digital learning and found the contents to be interesting, though not necessarily surprising. You can read it for yourself to see how schools across the US are looking at tech in the classroom. But, one thing I found interesting was the top three challenges high school teachers reported facing to integrating technology in their lessons. These included:
This is a major problem as I am sure most school districts are similar to ours in terms of requiring teachers to incorporate more technology into their lessons. However, without the proper training, teachers often fall back on the outdated technology tools and skills they have been using for over a decade. Things like: create a PowerPoint presentation on xxx or having students use word processors such as MS Word or Google Docs to write a report and then share it with the teacher when submitting their finished product. And then comes the item I normally hear: I'm using an interactive board when I lecture, doesn't that count as using technology? On that last question, I often tell the teacher something like 'Sure...if you only want the students to see technology. But, how are you preparing them for the modern digital world by using technology?' While these uses might meet the barebones requirement in meeting district mandates, they are certainly not the most interesting or sometimes even the most relevant way to do so in our current educational environment. And, they do nothing to really prepare students for the modern world outside of the classroom.
But, there is good news: there are a lot of free resources online that teachers have access to, if they only make the effort to do so. And, while this may not be true in all school districts, many offer teachers the opportunity to put this personalized training into use towards license renewal by converting the time spent into continuing education units (CEUs).
Teaching at a magnet school with an art-based focus, we use a lot of the Adobe products in terms of digital tools, as well as a few more specialized tools for my class. Adobe offers (some) free tools as well as their popular CC Suite subscription service. One such free tool is Spark, which allows users to create graphics, simple videos and webpages using their own individual Adobe ID, which can be created for free as well! They also offer free training that is incredible through their Education Exchange. I have been encouraging educators at our school, and beyond, to check out this amazing free resource!
Another way teachers can incorporate technology in their lessons involves using a learning management system (LMS) such as Schoology. While I have explored several LMSs, I have found Schoology to be among the best available. It allows me to interact with my students both inside and outside of the classroom and has become an essential tool in how I communicate with parents as well. Many teachers and school districts are using Google Classroom for a lot of the same reasons, but personally, I find Schoology to have more and better functionality. At least it better fits the needs of myself and my families.
A third and final essential category of digital tools that teachers should incorporate into their lessons are project management tools. While there are lots of free options out there, the one that I use in my classroom is Trello. Tools like this help prepare students for real-world project management tasks, they are great for both individual and group projects, and if used effectively, teach students the time management and collaborations soft skills needed to succeed both in the world of work and often, life in general.
These are just three of the many ways that technology can be brought into the classroom in a more interesting and effective manner. As I said before, there are plenty of free resources out there if teachers take the time to look for them and put them to use.
I guess the important take-away from this report for me is pretty simple: educators are both being required and want to use technology to prepare students for the 21st century but they need appropriate and up-to-date guidance in what to use and how to use it effectively. Teachers may complain that we are required to participate in too much professional development as mandated by our schools and/or districts, but this isn't the problem when it comes to technology. The problem is that the PD tends to be outdated and ineffective in terms of modern digital tools.
I have always loved snow days. When I was in school, it meant a day off to play and frolic in a winter wonderland. We would build snowmen and snow forts, have snowball fights, go sledding and just spend the entire day enjoying everything that winter had to offer in New England.
Now that I am an adult and working in education, I find these days to be mixed blessings. Sure, I still enjoy the opportunity to take a day off and catch my breath, but there are consequences to doing so that I never realized as a kid. Sure, I knew we would need to make up the day, usually by extending the length of the school year, but there is so much more to it now that I am the one in front of the class.
Instead of taking a day off to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery, I find myself spending time re-arranging the lessons I had already planned out thoughtfully for timing and deadlines. Everything needs to shift...somewhere, some how. And usually we still need to cover the same material by the same quarterly deadline. Instead of the school year being extended for these days off, Durham works make-up days into the middle of the school year. Plans you make today for an extended break such as the Winter or Spring Breaks may need to be changed as you cannot always count on having the full time as originally shown on the calendar. However, I also use these days to create new activities for my students, catch up on grading, and sometimes (like now) do a little reflecting on how things are going at a much more relaxed pace than I would have if we were in school. I also make sure to take at least a couple of hours off from doing work, as I know I will be losing a day off at some other point in the school year.
It's not all bad. I hope my students and their families have enjoyed this extended weekend and used it to spend some time catching up on rest, catching up on work and spending time together as a family. Yes, there are definite mixed feelings about snow days as a teacher, but in short, I think they are the universe's way of saying 'I know you need a break, let's take one today!'
Yesterday was our first district-wide training day of the current school year, requiring teachers to select an instructor-led session from several options offered across the district. These sessions are collectively referred to as Out of the Box training in Durham Public Schools. It's an initiative to allow teachers to lead and select their own professional development (PD) based on their interests and needs. I always try my best to either lead a session or attend one being offered at Durham School of the Arts, for simplicity's sake. This time, I selected an offering on digital literacy being offered in our media center, since training in this area has been made mandatory for license renewals starting in 2019.
This session was the first in a four part series being offered over the next two years. So, I guess I know what my Out of the Box PD selections will be for quite some time to come! It focused on the requirement area of Leadership in Digital Literacy. According to the description, teachers are expected to demonstrate leadership accelerating their integration of digital teaching and learning pedagogies. When broken down, this area states that teachers will:
One way teachers can demonstrate their mastery of technology is through the use of virtual learning communities. A virtual learning community (VLC) is a group of like-minded or goal oriented individuals who meet up online to discuss important information relevant to the group's overall topics or goals. They can include anything from technology education to game design/development to chicken farming. There are literally thousands of possibilities and everyone can find something relevant to their needs or interests.
The first VLC discussed involved using Twitter. If you are reading this post, odds are you know I am relatively active on Twitter as well. I have long known about searching for hashtags (heck, I use #dsaGAD for every post I make about my classes) and that there are lots of regularly scheduled group Tweet-chats which employ them for ease of communication. However, I did walk away with a valuable reference guide from the training containing a pretty comprehensive list of Tweet-chats and their schedules related to education specifically. It was recommended to keep track of our participation in them as evidence of our working with other teachers from around the state, nation and even world. I also shared how one can use of Tweetdeck in these conversations, which allows for filtering on hashtags and makes participating in them MUCH easier to follow.
The next tip provided was to use Listserv. Once again, there are tons of Listservs one can choose from based on interests. These collaborative conversations have been around for quite some time and are probably the grandparents of modern chat VLC groups using other, more social-oriented media. The difference is that they are shared via email, rather than in real-time, and this can quickly fill one's inbox. To be honest, Listservs don't appeal to me for that very reason.
The third tool we were introduced to was the Google+ Communities. I did a little searching through them and again I did not find them to be as useful for me as Tweet-chats. But, I can see them as a resource to use and perhaps direct students towards for advancing their knowledge. This conversation also included some introduction to Google Hangouts, which are similar to a Skype conference where you can chat in only text or include video.
Some additional resources for developing understanding of tools and techniques included Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) along with several options available through the school system and the Department of Public Instruction, though the use of NCCAT and Kenan Fellows were overlooked. If you search for MOOCs in association with related terms for your content areas or interests, you can find LOTS of free courses offered by colleges and universities as well as independent instructors for free. While you don't get credit from the schools for taking such courses, there is no reason to be confused on the tools and techniques one teaches given the possibilities.
How can teachers succeed in demonstrating leadership in digital literacy to meet the new licensure requirement? One method suggested by Dr. Reuben R. Puentedura is known as the SAMR Model. In SAMR, you begin by Substituting traditional instructional methods with digital alternatives while not making any changes to the activities. Next, you Augment those activities with functional improvements. Once improved, you begin working on Modifying the activities through significant changes to them utilizing technology. Finally, you Redefine what kind of activities are used which were not possible without the integration of technology.
So, where do I stack up in all of this? I use a number of tools to meet the various needs of this model. I use a learning management system (LMS) to distribute and collect work. I do my best to avoid the use of paper, which speeds up grading and provides students with access to my materials anywhere they can access the Internet. Activities like matchings, quizzes, tests, and so forth are augmented because they get graded immediately by the system and allow students to make attempts as many times as I want them to while randomizing questions and answers and providing immediate feedback when set up to do so. My students submit their work digitally and are involved in collaborative groups which allow them to work on simultaneous editing using tools like Google apps as well as communicate in individualized group settings. They also utilize websites for planning like Trello. These tools allow them to work in groups within the same class, different classes or even different schools/locations! Student collaboration and group work has never been easier!
This is also true for teachers and one reason why I always push using Schoology in their classrooms. Adding technology to instruction isn't only good for students, but it makes the lives of teachers easier as well. Automated grading, no papers to carry home for school breaks or weekends and transparency for all stakeholders in their students' education are just a few of the benefits teachers can experience.
So, to answer that earlier question: where do I stack up in all of this? I would say I am pretty far along in terms of being a leader for digital literacy in my school and well beyond! But, what else would one expect from a technology education teacher?
As a teacher working in the digital arts, the first thing that comes to mind when someone says transparency is being able to view one object within or underneath another object in a scene. But that is not exactly the kind of transparency I am referring to in this post. What I mean is the ability for parents and other adults invested in their student's education to see what goes on in my classroom. And, to that note, I have no problem stating that I most likely have the most transparent classroom at our school thanks to a couple of tools I use on a regular basis.
Probably the most effective tool in my bag is Schoology. Schoology is an online learning management system (LMS) that I integrate into every class I teach. This is the third year I have used this LMS and each year I learn a little more about it. Last year, I started sharing parent access codes with those who requested one. A parent access code allows parents to view their student's class in Schoology in much the same way the student can. This gives parents access to all of the resources I provide their student but it also allows them to view assignments/projects along with the associated rubrics, quizzes, tests, online discussions, two different formats for the event calendar, and comments between myself and their child. Unlike PowerSchool which provides parents with final grades on the various items I assign to their child, Schoology shows in high-def clarity the manner in which that final grade evolved.
This year, I emailed every parent their student's parent access code with a detailed explanation of how to create their account and why doing so is important. And, when a parent contacts me looking for clarification on how their student earned a specific grade, I typically point them right to Schoology and recommend they create an account if they haven't already done so. Parents who access their student's work in this manner typically have few questions for me and often find they don't need to have a face-to-face parent-teacher conference.
The next important tool is this blog. While I recognize that I do need to post more often (the goal is weekly), I use this site to reflect on what we are doing in the classroom, what I am doing as a teacher and how effective it seems to be working. If you want to know more about my inner thoughts on my classes, this is the place to find them.
Of course another important tools involves maintaining my class website. There are numerous tools and resources on the various menus above. Student resources holds information about my class and the tools I frequently employ and career and college tools are just that: a place for students to find useful items and information about careers and colleges offering degrees in game art and design.
The final and probably least specific tool I use to maintain transparency is Twitter. While I do not post a lot about classes specifically or my thoughts on teaching, I do share information relevant to the game industry as well as making some personal posts. This gives the reader insight into both the career of game design and my personality as an individual outside of teaching.
So, why is it important to have such transparency with my students and their families? If the students know me as more than their teacher, I can make a better connection with them and they will be more invested in succeeding in my classroom. For parents, it helps to build their investment in their children's education and hold their student responsible for their own success. Parents can see all the tools and techniques I employ and I believe that helps them understand just how invested I am in their child's success as well. And in the end, isn't student growth and success what education is all about in the first place?
While it was slow for me to get back into the mindset that another school year has begun, things are now back in full swing! It appears that I have a great bunch of students who are all focused on learning the skills needed to make games. However, we are still in the honeymoon phase of the school year.
This past week, each group of students had a slightly different experience in my classroom, as one would expect. Students in Fundamentals of Design & Animation (FDA) got accustomed to Sketchnotes (a more creative way to take notes), set up accounts for Schoology, had several lectures and completed their first set of assignments. Students in Game Art & Design (GAD) refreshed their memories as to the skills they learned last year, demonstrating their understanding of bitmaps, vectors and 3D modeling. In Advanced Game Art & Design (AGAD), we hit the ground running with career exploration accompanied by some of the best and quickest class presentations I have seen in my 14 years of teaching! And the CTE Advanced Studies students dove right into their independent projects. We are now gearing up for more detailed information in my earlier level classes and I hope all of my students keep their current enthusiasm as the year progresses.
Coming up this week in the GAD classes:
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.
Well, we've reached the end of another school year and what a year it's been! Where do I begin? I've taught six classes a day (instead of the normal five), my students explored the possibilities of virtual reality, my advanced students attended the East Coast Game Conference, both students and myself formed relationships with people in the game industry, I helped create a new curriculum to replace Scientific Visualization for use across the state, I assisted in the selection of finalists for a Department of Education contest, and I presented to other CTE teachers at the annual tech ed conference. And none of this even begins to touch on making sure my students succeeded in my classes...phew!
So, where do I go from here? For starters, I've already started planning for next year. I know it's hard to believe as we have haven't even been out of school for a week, but what can I say? It's what I do! I've already started thinking about how I can improve how I teach my students and update what they need to know to succeed in the game industry, if that is what they pursue after high school. While this is true of all my classes, it is especially important that I start prepping early for my introductory class because it seems the course I worked on this year will indeed be ready for pilot testing next school year and allow us to FINALLY replace Scientific Visualization!
So, I guess I have a pretty busy summer ahead of me. But, for now...it is time for break! I hope all of you have a relaxing and yet, still productive, summer! Watch for an occasional update on here but in general, just have a great summer break and I look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall!
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.