The solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle.–Richard Dawkins
Periodically I go through phases in which I think I need a hobby. Towards the end of last year, I decided (again) that my hobby would be putting puzzles together. At another point in my life, I was all about putting puzzles together. I like the challenge of trying to figure out where the pieces go. I like the time it allows me to think and focus on a specific task. I really like the sense of accomplishment I get when I finish the puzzle. Of course, I am always left wondering what do I do when I am done with the puzzle? I’ve spent so much time putting it together and then what comes next? Taking it apart and starting another one? More times than not, that’s what happens. I admire the beauty of what I have done and then jump into the next challenge. My co-workers and I are doing puzzles at lunch. We eat our food and then sit around the table working together towards a common goal. Sometimes we talk and other times, we sit in a comfortable silence. Just like when I am finished, we sit back and admire our handy work and then move on to the next puzzle.
This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the GAFE Southern Summit held at Rising Starr Middle School in Fayetteville, Georgia. GAFE Summits are put on by the EdTechTeam, and they work in partnership with a local school system or organization to host the event. In this case, they worked with my fantastic friend Kate Crawford who is the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for the Fayette County School System. Working together, the EdTechTeam and the Fayette County Instructional Technology Department put on one heck of a professional learning opportunity. I remember speaking with Kate prior to the 2015 Summit, and she asked if I would be attending. I told her no because I felt it was too much money, and at the time, I did not see the value in it. After spending two days in Google heaven, I wish I could take those words back. I WAS WRONG.
From the moment I received my registration confirmation in the mail, I was excited about attending. Not sure why. This wasn’t my first conference. I’ve been to ISTE and GaETC twice. I have also attended a couple of Edcamps, and we even hosted the first ever Edcamp Griffin this past fall. The GAFE Southern Summit just had a different feel to it even before I ever set foot on the Rising Starr Middle School campus. Saturday morning I was up and ready to go. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I got myself out the door, drove to my colleague Robin’s house to pick her up, and we were off. Disclaimer: Robin and I are not morning people. We rode in relative silence all the way to Fayetteville. Our respective quiet times are an everyday occurrence in our office. We have to have time to wake up and process the fact that we are no longer in the comfort of our warm and cozy beds. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the conference and walked up to a gregarious group of Google people. They were laughing, talking, welcoming people, and for reasons known only to God and them, they were taking selfies. Who does that before noon? Not us. Actually, it quickly became us. Who could resist Dave Hotler? His smile and charm are contagious. I quickly forgot that I was out of bed, functioning, and began to absorb all that the GAFE Southern Summit had to offer. We checked in, decorated nametags, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast provided by Panera Bread.
Remember, Robin and I are not morning people. Rushton Hurley’s keynote was exactly what two non-morning people needed at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. “The only person to whom you ever need to compare yourself is the you who you were yesterday.” Rushton hit the nail on the head. I don’t want to suffer from CIS (Comparative Inadequacy Syndrome) because I already suffer from CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff). I want to be better, do better, live better! I do not need to compare myself to anybody else. I am who I am! What a way to start the conference!
From Rushton’s keynote to multiple interactive sessions, my brain was constantly spinning. How did I miss the usefulness of ClassFlow? I had heard of it, but I had not taken time to truly sit down and play with it. We will call that a loss for Leslie. However, that loss has turned into a win. I have another tool for my tech coach tool kit. More tools for my tool kit: BreakoutEDU. OMG! My group did not finish before time ran out, but I loved trying to figure out the clues. I can see so many uses for it in my professional learning sessions and in the classroom. I’m planning on having one when school starts in the fall. Cat Flippen shared SO much with Google Geo Tools, Google Hangouts, and Google Hangouts on Air. My mind is already thinking how I can use the video managing feature in YouTube to make my video for my next Google Innovator application. The first time I applied, I was not accepted. This time will be different. I have had a lot of time for self-reflection, and I have a new sense of determination. The ideas won’t stop coming! Anyway, back to the Summit. The Demo Slam at the end of the day was phenomenal! I’ve seen them done at Edcamps before, but none of the ones I attended had such trash talk flowing freely. It was great to see the sense of competitiveness yet affection among the presenters. I like how they are passionate about their chosen apps, about winning, and about respecting the craft of their fellow educators. It was pure, clean fun with a hint of a competitive edge to it. Donnie Piercey shared How Not to EdTech in the Sunday morning keynote. Loved it! As an ed tech person, thinking about how to do it wrong is well, very thought provoking. Speaking of thought provoking, Dave’s session on Capturing Creativity caused me to step back and think about whether or not I was encouraged to be creative as a child, a teen making the transition to adulthood, and even in my past and current jobs. Did I encourage my students? Am I encouraging the teachers I work with? I don’t have a definite answer. Yet.
There were many more sessions at the Summit. There were probably over 300 educators in attendance. So much knowledge in one place. So much learning, sharing, and exploring. Once I got home Sunday evening, I tried to figure out how I was going to put all this knowledge into use. How could I share it with the teachers in my district who in turn will share it with the students? I realized, as tired as I was, that going to the GAFE Southern Summit was a lot like putting together a puzzle. Saturday morning I had all these pieces and no idea how they fit together. Saturday evening I had the outside frame together. By Sunday evening, most of the inside was done. In order for me to finish the puzzle, I have to get a plan for disseminating all the Google goodness I learned about during the weekend. Once I start sharing and the teachers start doing and the students are creating, collaborating, and communicating, then the beauty of the completed puzzle will be done. I can step back, admire my handiwork, and find another puzzle to put together.