Rockin’ Out in VISTA

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So I have taken the last couple of days to unwind and decompress from one of the most exhilarating conference/camps I have even been too, and after recovering from the serious mind-blowing, I feel that I can now write about my experience without degenerating to every other word being “awesome” “cool” “best-ever” “gnarly” “way cool” or “awesome” (basically I packed my SoCal diction in a trunk and locked it for the next hour or so).

So, CUE RockStar Vista. I went in not knowing what to expect, I have been on the outside looking in on these RockStar events, reading the twitter posts and photos, seeing the dynamic and incredible learning and teaching, and hearing reactions of others as they have social-media shared their experiences. I was anxious, nervous and hopeful on the drive down to Vista from my Cerritos home the first morning. I couldn’t eat breakfast I was so excited! As I drove up to Rancho Minerva Middle school, I was ready!

I’m sure that last thing you want is a blow by blow account of my doings through days 1-3, because even if I were Shakespeare, Steven King, Jim Butcher, George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, and Robert Parker rolled into one, I couldn’t convey with adequate words the awesomeness (sorry) of the day! I will tell you the awesome people who taught me some pretty cool things.

First session was with Cynthia Nixon (@TeachingTechNix) and her awesome presentations tools. We are not a google district, something I have talked about before on my blog, but seeing the power of some of the google tools in the hands of someone skilled, like Cynthia was, made me want to break the rules and go Google! We went over google drawing (love it), Thinglink, and Storybuilder. The best part of the session, of all of the sessions, was the hands-on component. I got to learn AND play with these tools, and really get to know how I could use them in the classroom, or in my current TOSA-ish capacity. I have three pieces of work from that session that I immediately placed in my own toolbox and used in my presentations. Thanks Cynthia, for the tools and all the support.

The next session jumped out to me as a former English teacher, and that was the session on Digital Reader notebooks by Natalie Priester (@Npriester).  Again I learned quite a few tidbits about google sites and how to integrate some digital reader’s notebooks into them, and once again got to make my own and feel out how I could use this within the context of my own classroom. We then got onto Goodreads.com and spent some time wrestling with our reading demons (which for an English teacher, can be big and beefy). We signed into or singed up for accounts and added friends. It was great to see what other teachers were reading, and what they were teaching in class. It was yet another way to network teachers and ideas, and bring us all closer together in sharing content and resources. That piece alone was worth the cost of admission. Natalie also was able to get us up and moving for a bit of the session, something needed after lunch on a warm Cali day. It seems like whenever we changed activities I thought “Oooh, I’m stealing that for my toolbag.” Thanks, Natalie, for the great ideas and for sharing your love of teaching lit.

My wife and little one joined me on the trip down, and while I was learnin’, they were playing. After the conference, I couldn’t stop talking about the two sessions that day, and I all planned to steal incorporate into my learning and teaching models. Conversation got really technical about the tools and applications, until my four-year-old, Morgan, turned to us and said “All you talk about is work, Hello, I’m here too!”

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Day two morning was all about the BreakoutEDU and Mari Venturino (@MsVenturino). The session was briefly explained, then we got to play our own BreakoutEDU. If you haven’t heard of it, check out the BreakoutEDU site for more info. IT WAS GREEAT! The session combined some content knowledge with teamwork, cooperation, cooperation and competition to kick the demonstration of our learning into high gear. We had a literal box with locks on it, and we had to “breakout” the info inside the box to win. How fun is that? They keys were unlocked with combos, numbers, letters, or an actual key, but getting the solution wasn’t always as easy as it seemed. After breaking out, I immediately started planning my own BreakoutEDU for my next PD session! This was a great culminating activity for a unit or semester, and I am already planning on how to modify it for my own uses. Thanks Mari for the cool new way to have fun at school!

The RockStar experience is unique, in that most of the session you go to are hands-on learning, up-to-your-elbows in great ideas and applications of tools you may have been underestimating for years. Lunch is also one of those things that have been repurposed to foster some great unconference opportunities. Today, Michael Jephcott (@TechMikeBUSD) and I led an impromptu unconference session on Spark Video. People wanted to know and we were able to show ‘em. It was a very collegial and helpful atmosphere, where it was obvious everyone was there to make everyone better. No petty work stuff, no competition for who was techiest, no pressure to perform, just colleagues getting together to get better at what we love to do.

Afternoon of day two focused on Collaboration in Daniel Bennett’s (@dabennett7) 3-2-1GO! Driving Collaboration in the Classroom session. We learned about cool tools for google forms (there is that google again) and getting things out to and back from the students, as well as allowing real-time student collaboration. We shared our work out and had a great discussion on collaboration in the classroom and techniques and trick that we can use in our repertoire to help us get some great work out of student collaboration. Thanks Daniel for the cool tools, the great memes and the loads of help.

Day three dawned, and while I was excited for another day of learning, a little bit of sadness that the RockStar was coming to a close was hitting us. For the morning session, I figured since I learned so much about some cool google tools from Cynthia on Tuesday, I would head back over to her session on google slides and see what I’ve been missing. The session didn’t disappoint, as tools and examples of innovative uses of the slides were shown. The flexibility of google slides was highlighted, using them for things like newsletters, student journals, and choose-your-own adventure books. As before, we had plenty of time to play and adapt the learning for our own uses. I created a newsletter template and an interactive study guide/cheat sheet for some presentations I’m giving at a PD.

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And lunch brought more learning in that google (that word again) forms was covered for newbies like myself at an unconference session led by @TeachingTechNix herself. For a form newbie like myself, it was eye-opening and the one phrase that kept going through my head was “why did I never know this?” I Immediately set up a PD sign up form we are going to need for next year, and we were actually looking for a solution to this and wracking our brains for a week. And BOOM at lunch @CUErockstar a solution was set in my lap!  And those google chrome extensions? Where have they been all my life? From google docs quick create and crafty text, to onetab and split/glue tabs. This was another one of those worth-the-price-of-admission moments where my day to day use of a tool I have been using for years just changed. Thanks to all who shared those lovely morsels.

The last session of the conference was a reboot of one of my earlier sessions. You know that great BreakoutEDU I was talking about a few paragraphs above? Yeah, this session was about how to BreakoutEDU DIGITAL! You know I was there! It was great and awesome and cool and all of those words I said I wouldn’t use but I am because I am in feels overload about now! Mari was great, letting us explore and watching as we solved or failed at the tasked set before us, and then fielding all of our questions after we solved the breakout. We also learned how to set up a digital lock-box of our own on google (there is that word again) forms. Mike and I both attended and loved the digital enhancement possibilities of the breakout-style competition.

The RockStar Experience goes beyond the sessions though. I met some awesome people that I can now connect to and tap for help, support and inspiration through mediums like twitter and voxer. Ann Kozma (@annkozma723) Jed Butler (@MathButler), Jessica Miles (@JustTechIt), Judy Blakeney (@judyblakeney), Teresa Ozoa (@Tozoa), Sara Boucher(@MsGeekyTeach), and Tara Linney (@TaraLinney), you made this experience and my tech-loving life a better place and I was glad to finally meet IRL. As I said above, this was the pinnacle of some great PD for me. I want to bring this PD style back to my district and just ROCK IT! I want our collective knowledge and skills to be on display, and I want for our district and the teachers in it to know how dynamic and innovative they are and how our collective bad-ass-ery is only making our students better.

Thank you CUERockStar for the experience, thank you Dr. Monárrez for being innovative and sending us. And thank you for reading to the bottom of this bloated and long post! I can’t wait for CUE RockStar TOSA in August!

One thought on “Rockin’ Out in VISTA”

  1. Well said Tom! Your blogging really expressed the excitement and awesomeness that was CUE Rockstar Vista. 3-days of incredible, mind-blowing learning and collaboration. Thanks for the shout-out and “volunteering us for the unconference”.

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