What can I say about an experience that will change the lives of my students? Sessions covered digital storytelling, assessment, instructional strategies, augmented reality, blended learning, and a variety of other topics. Sure, that's true but DENSI was so much more and I am so very fortunate to have been chosen to attend. Here are my reflections on the week in Chicago at Loyola University. It was my first time in Chicago and my first time seeing Lake Michigan. It was a week of firsts and friends!
This summer I was chosen by Discovery Education Network to take part in their summer institute in Chicago, Illinois. I had never applied to the summer institute before because I take care of my grandchildren in the summer and because I had to make a video telling why I wanted to attend DENSI. Since my daughter was going to be on maternity leave this summer I decided to get over my fear of creating my own video and apply for DENSI!
I was already part of the Discovery Education Network Facebook group since I am a Discovery Education Star Educator. I also am a member of the DEN Leadership Council in Pennsylvania. Many other people in my district are also part of the Facebook group and we share, teach, and learn together with other members of the DEN. From the moment I was accepted I had a group of social media friends welcoming me, and telling me how much I was going to love the DENSI experience.
They were not wrong. Not only did I have an amazing Professional Development experience, I also made 150 friends who are now part of my Professional Learning Network. It is so exciting to have a Twitter chat every Thursday night with my new friends. I have taken part in the chat twice since coming back from Chicago. So the learning did not just happen for one week, it is still going on.
My friend Sheila Fredericks and I took an early morning flight from Philadelphia to Midway Airport in Chicago. We had no idea how we were going to get to Loyola University but I knew how to read a subway map so I didn’t think it would be a problem. And it wasn’t but not because of my map, or google map skills. Actually, some of our DEN friends met us at the airport to help us take the train for the first time. A guide on the subway, a subway buddy! We took the purple line to the red line and we were at Loyola University, which is right on Lake Michigan, with all of our luggage. We needed to find elevators in the subway stations because we could not take all of our luggage up and down the stairs without hurting ourselves!
The first evening and Saturday were devoted to members of the Discovery Leadership Council in each state. Sheila and I are on the leadership council in Pennsylvania. We first learned about different types of professional development models. We learned how Discovery Education is integrated with Google Classroom. I have already shared this information with my curriculum director. We split into groups and worked on various professional development projects and I worked in the group which helped develop a DEN Breakout EDU. One of my goals for DENSI was to learn more about Breakout EDU so I can introduce the concept to my school and teachers. While I was there I won a Breakout EDU kit to take back to my school. I also have a new tool to use with students! Saturday evening was devoted to the Chicago Symphony. One of my new DEN friends arranged for us to attend the outdoor concert at Ravinia https://www.ravinia.org. Her dad is one of the principal flutists for the Symphony. The concert was amazing. Afterwards he took us backstage for a tour. Afterward our friend took us on another amazing adventure through her old neighborhood where film director, John Huston, made many of his memorable movies. We saw the seawall from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, where Cameron has his melt down about his dad’s car, and the Church from the movie, “16 Candles.”
Sunday was a free day as the rest of the DENSI attendees arrived for the week. I took an “Outlaw Tour” of Chicago. It was fun and I saw the building that was the used as the front for the orphanage in the “Blues Brother’s” movie. When we checked into DENSI we were given a small group. The small groups met each day and debriefed, and did some I was in a group with not only people from the US but with one woman from the UK, and a woman from Antigua (this woman made a big impact on all of us because her son was in the Olympics. He ran in the 100 meters with Usain Bolt. We are keeping in touch with an app called “What’s App”. It allows people to text with people from other countries without extra charges for text messages.
That evening we had our first official DENSI2016 session, a barbecue that was right on Lake Michigan. It was an amazing view and a Poke-Stop for those that were playing. On Monday we had an outing to the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. It was amazing seeing actual fossils in the floor of the Field Museum, Lucy the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a wonderful collection of Egyptian items among so many other things. The Adler Planetarium was amazing too as we looked to the future of space, saw a planetarium program on a possible 9th planet (the real reason Pluto was downgraded), and took a look back to the moon landing.
In the evening we had a networking activity which turned out to be a giant new Breakout EDU game that Discovery created just for DENSI. Playing an actual game was very nerve wracking! I learned a great deal more about Breakout by playing the game.
After another great keynote by a telling about how to create Joy in our teaching and we were off for a choose your own adventure learning experience. I started out with GAFE instruction from Jeremy Badiner from North Carolina. He showed us how to easily add Discovery Education and other web based content to Google Classroom via a built in Chrome Extension that just lets you “Share to Classroom!” So easy even I can do it!
My next adventure revolved around STEM! as Patti Duncan listed some different ways to bring STEM into any classroom via Discovery Education. I learned about some of the virtual field trips Discovery delivers that revolve around STEM. I would like to use these field trips in the library, maybe invite people at 8th periods!
After Lunch Kyle Schutt from Discovery Education took me to Mars. Actually he told me about some of the DE virtual field trips planned for this year. Last year the trip to Mars was amazing but it was not at a time my students could benefit from it, I learned there are archives that I can use for my students. Last year some of my students and I took a trip to Ford’s Theatre through DE’s virtual field trips. And we also listened to part of the conversations with the First Lady via the archives. I suggested to DE that they shorten the archives so that they fit into a typical class period. Kyle is a very dynamic person and it was so excited seeing him in action for an extended period of time. He is a graduate of my school district and his parents still live in the Audubon neighborhood!
During my next session I learned about integrating literacy and science standards while students work independently in learning stations, something I have been thinking of doing in the library to flip library classes so I would have time to check in, and put books away. I got some great ideas for incorporating Discovery Education Videos and tours into the learning station by using some SOS strategies like paper slide videos. I have tried these before in the library but never quite had enough technology for the students to all be creating at the same time.
During the evening session I learned how I could take advantage of some Virtual Reality apps and pictures within DE. The DE Virtual Reality App is called Discovery VR and is available in both the Google Play store and on iTunes. It can be used with or without Google Cardboard.
The next day I attended a session led by DE Star Seth Gerran who was one of my train buddies! He taught me some things about using Google Classroom with DE resources to help my students collaborate. I am bringing some great ideas about working together in Google Docs, even collaborating on a research project and doing a collaborative book report for those that have read the same book! And, most of what I have is saved in my Google Drive!
I found out about new coding activities that are available in DE and even more will be added before Computer Education Week in December. I am so excited to share these with my students who really enjoy the activities on code.org.
One of the best sessions I attended involved one of my favorite things in the world, primary sources! North Carolina librarian Medley Abercrombie attended a special summer Institute on primary sources at the Library of Congress. She showed how she uses primary source pictures available in DE to deepen student’s understanding of a time period and help to develop critical thinking skills by deep analysis of primary source photographs. I can’t wait to show my students some of the pictures she found in DE and have them analyze them! We did something similar last year using some DE resources about Paul Revere but it was one of my student’s least favorite lessons, now I have some new tools to make it more interesting.
In the evening there was a Maker Space with so many great ideas. One that I am thinking may be a good service project involves crocheting or knitting with plastic grocery bags to make mats for the homeless. I am going to see how this would work out for a community service activity involving my entire school district and the community. I may have an even program to show others how to make the mats. I also learned how to turn T-shirts into shoulder-bags. My students may like this activity. One that I am looking into for a STEM activity is creating a paper track for a marble run and an easy way to make a friendship bracelet out of yarn. Of course there was some 3D Printing and I got some pointers about logos which will come in handy when my students are creating logos for their own personal brands! There were so many good ideas, this is only scratching the surface.
The next day was dedicated to an un-conference. It was amazing. I learned about Bloxels (actually Skyping with the app and board creator), Qbits, Chibitronics, Circuitscribe, Tigley (which I am bringing home for my elementary librarian friends), and Breakout EDU. I won a Breakout Kit and am so excited to share this with teachers and students! I also had my picture taken with Breakout Edu’s CEO Adam Bellow and Patti Harju who has written several of the Breakout challenges. I also have new activities for our Dash and Dot robots and our Ozobots! I am so very excited for the new school year and can’t wait to share with my students all that I have learned thanks to Discovery Education and my DEN Summer Institute experience.