Tradition. That’s what Skype-a-thon or its newest moniker the Microsoft Global Learning Connection (MGCL) has become at our school. What can appear as a superficial international Kahoot game about pop culture, is indeed an event that inspires a sense of school pride, belonging and even strength. Our girls finished first and second last year in the Kahoot World Cup event and wished to defend their title this year during the Global Learning Connection. They not only recaptured their international title but three friends joined them in completely winning the leaderboard for Canada. Sure it was pop culture as a topic, but when you get every single question correct and quickly do so, well, that’s intelligence and confidence displayed in a pressure situation. The five winning girls are right to be proud.
It is our mission however to use the annual Microsoft Global Learning Connection is a much deeper way than just games. As Canadian Remembrance Day approached we decided it would be ideal to have a chat between Canadian students and students in the Netherlands. The Dutch and Canadian societies have been forever bound together since World War 2 and with our day to remember coming we wanted to solidify the meaningfulness for our students. Microsoft Innovative Expert Jorne from the Netherlands aided us by having his students present Dutch culture and then ask our students questions about Canada. Despite the age difference in the two groups of students all of the students left the connection feeling better about our relationship and more informed about the other nation.
The timing of the MGLC this year was perfect and we are already thinking of what we could do next year (outside of defending our global Kahoot crown) to empower students further through global outreach. Thanks Microsoft for organizing such an event.
I remember getting the phone call on a Sunday night from Ottawa telling me I would be receiving the Prime Minister's Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM for 2019 from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. My response was funny looking back. I immediately replied "You're not government because government doesn't work on a Sunday night!" After the patient PM Award team jumped through my hoops and proved they were indeed government and I had indeed received this honour it all began to sink in. I bolted to the press release on the day the profiles went online and began reading the other recipients' profiles. I turned to my wife upon completion and said "I don't think I deserve this. These people are amazing!" Being the supportive wife she is she replied "Yes you do! Now turn the light off and go to sleep!" I was off to Ottawa to meet the Prime Minister for efforts in teaching STEM in Canada! This was the 25th anniversary year of the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Teaching and the celebration would not disappoint.
This was not just a photoshoot type of trip. It was nearly a full week of professional development and sharing of best practices from coast to coast. Due to flooding in the region we were put up in the crown jewel of the Hilton Hotels in Gatineau Quebec which was just a short drive from Ottawa. Getting to bring my family and mother (A teacher of 30+ years) to such a classy hotel and experience was priceless. I expected meeting the Prime Minister would be the highlight of the entire trip but in the end it was meeting the PM Award staff and fellow recipients from across Canada that was the true win. From educators who thrive with their classes outdoors every day in Western Canada to educators who dominate coding and robotics events internationally every story inspired more from my own future practice. I got to share how I believe that STEM and Empathy are the most important skills for my students and show how I put those beliefs into practice each day.
Field trips were eye-opening. We got to visit the Canada Science and Technology Museum and experience countless hands-on demonstrations. We were guests at Question Period and had a view of the official opposition as they did official opposition things. Elizabeth May also got to introduce a new MP to the group. The whole event was interesting to put it as politically correct as I can. We took a short walk to the Innovation and Science Office in their award winning building with stunning views of the river and Parliament.
The day arrived when I would shake hands with the Prime Minister of our country and it didn't disappoint. I bought a suit far above my pay-grade and waited my turn to receive the honour. My MP Alaina Lockhart took time away from a crazy busy day to show up and say congratulations in person! It was so cool to see a New Brunswicker in Ottawa and it made the whole experience feel a little more grounded despite it being overwhelming in scope. After a brief profile video arranged without my knowing by my colleague at school I was called to the stage and my son who was seated next to the Prime Minister got to watch his dad smile the biggest smile possible and give a thumbs up in the proudest professional moment of his life. It was important that my son was there to see it but also my mom who in many ways inspired my career choice. The 15 seconds with the Prime Minster on stage felt like 15 minutes and in the video I see myself trying to bolt off stage as soon as possible. It was however, the most proud and inspired moment of my career. I encourage everyone to recognize an educator who excels beyond the call of duty for this recognition. That day I received one of two national awards for STEM education but there were many others who received the national award for general education and early education. We arrived as strangers and left as a team. I wish them all the best as they continue their hard work and magic with students. It was to put it simply a super classy event run by a super talented and kind team in Ottawa who work Sunday nights :)
In the late Fall of 2018 I handed an iPad to a student of mine and asked her to try Apple Education's Everyone Can Create Drawing resource. I did so after noticing her passion for drawing and illustration. What happened next was an eye-opening experience. After just one class of work into the dense but engaging program the students asked if she could take my precious iPad home at nights and on the weekends to continue working on the program. I reluctantly agreed as these iPads represented the first full-sized iPads I had ever had in my career and the smell of "New" wasn't yet off of them, It was the best choice I ever made.
Eleanor returned day in and day out with new creations inspired by the chapters of the iBook simply called Drawing. She would start by showing me her designs and then when I asked why I was seeing what I was seeing she would explain in depth the concepts she learned and mission established in the chapter. The program gave real flexibility as to what she chose to draw while keeping her focussed on the goals of the skill at hand. She blazed through the work with her added nights and weekend effort and gripped the iPad firmly when I said "Okay, you're done. Can I have the iPad back please?"
It turns out that Eleanor had an idea. As she was working through the program and due to the season we were approaching, she identified a real problem that she wanted to solve, Eleanor wanted further enrichment. She wanted to finally, for the first time to her knowledge, bring to life the toys for the Who girls and boys from the classic story How The Grinch Stole Christmas. YES! The HooWhunkers, Trum-Tookers, Tar-Tinkers, and even Zoo-Zivver-Car-Zay! Even though the toys were imaginatively named there was never any visual evidence illustrated for each of these favourite Who Christmas Activities. She was going to communicate her understanding of these toys to the world!
Using the Apple Pencil and new iPad she drew a full collection and using the Werble iOS app the drawing came to life with something a little extra. Her she is introducing her work and below are her rough work sketches early in the process. This will truly be a project she remembers years from now and I hope she remains inspired by the process as she chooses her post-secondary education life. All of this success caused me to created a new program at my school called Everyone Can Graduate where ALL of our students complete one or more of the Everyone Can Create programs and of course the Everyone Can Code program. I teach all of the students so in a way, Everyone Can Create and Everyone Can Code have become graduate requirements at Caledonia Regional High School. I can't wait to see students develop skills through engaging learning content on the iPads. I hope to have much more soon!
Chicago was destined to be the largest ISTE crowd yet. The Midwestern charm mixed with a heavy fun-loving Irish population set the stage for a welcoming education event in the Windy City. Chicago represents education actively and you can't turn a street corner without bumping into a college, library or museum. Next to Lake Michigan ISTE 2018 was more like an ocean of participants, exhibitors and ideas. Chi-Town was an absolute treat to visit and ISTE 2018 the best learning experience yet for teachers!
Microsoft and Google dominated the entrance to the Exhibitor's Hall and it felt comforting to see the big fish supporting the event even stronger this year! Surrounding these big fish were "Partners' who provided many rich EdTech applications linked to their respective big fish's mission. One wonderful example was Lifeliqe joining the Microsoft STEM area and sharing their vision of a future without textbooks involving interactive 3D, AR, VR, and MR content for learners. Soundtrap (recently acquired by Spotify) were frequently spotted in the Google ecosystem sharing the future of collaborative music and podcasting creation. It is obvious for both of the big fish that partners make the world go around and that they are actively encouraging smaller companies to thrive with their guidance in the education space.
With Martin from Lifeliqe
Moving past the big fish presented visitors with a sea of exhibitors each trying to be as inviting, colorful and as genuinely helpful as possible. I was particularly happy to meet the team from SAM Labs, SXSWedu, and WeVideo. Regardless of the booth this year I found it impossible to find alone time with any exhibitor. There were always multiple teachers looking to learn more about the services and get hands-on experience. Sphero always has a booth that makes you stop and engage. The teacher bait this year in the ISTE tackle box included the use of cars, motorcycles, virtual reality campers, HUGE high definition displays and even an entire School of the Future tour from Powerschool! The exhibit hall was bountiful with its learning opportunities and everyone left at the end of each day with sore feet rather than sore bottoms.
Outside of the exhibit hall in the weeds was a thriving communication zone from the ground floor to ISTE Central which acted as the heart of the event site. Music greeted the 24,000+ coffee seeking teachers each morning in the lobby and there were sessions in every single available space that started days before the official first keynote on Sunday night. Certifications, hands-on training, poster sessions and playgrounds were seeing hundreds of interested teachers each hour. Apple held a playground that had crowds waiting for their 9am opening. Just feet away the Collaborative Classroom playground allowed teachers to discuss Sustainable Development Goals education and Skype outreach benefits for students and communities. I originally felt disappointed that I didn't take more advantage of the opportunity to present some of the things I do in EdTech, but after the days of learning and meeting new and old friends, I'm glad I just used that extra time to relax a bit. Though the conference hall closed nightly that didn't stop teachers from continuing the professional and social development well into the nights.
Apple EDU's Playground at ISTE 2018
The nocturnal among us were treated a wide range of night events. ISTE Karaoke usually is the highlight but this year Soundtrap and WeVideo encouraged two young staffers to plan the most epic nightclub VIP event ever. Over 120 teachers were treated to a private nightclub event in Chicago and the event communicated a message of success and thanks at the same time. A long-running CanAm celebration was put on by MindShare Learning at Buddy Guy's Legends Blues Club and after a night of celebrating all things EdTech and innovation in Canadian and American classrooms, Buddy Guy actually showed up and played the night away! Finally, Microsoft Education held their Hack the Classroom the way Microsoft always does.... Big and Empowering! After renting out the Museum of Science and Industry for the evening live guests were treated to the biannual EdTech update, a reception among American space artifacts and the great company of intelligent and risk-taking professionals that share similar career and life goals.
PowerSchool Reception - Museum of Science and Industry
The schools of thousands of teachers had every opportunity to find direct contact with EdTech companies, hands-on learning sessions, extended social networks, free swag for themselves and students and to see the wonderful and inviting city of Chicago! ISTE membership fees are huge especially when converting the currencies to lesser economies. I'm not saying they should go any higher but I can say that I am fully aware now about where each and every one of my registration pennies are going. The ISTE organizing committee is doing a wonderful job choosing Keynote Speakers like Andy Weir and organizing everything right down to shuttle systems, schedules and food provision. I'm proud to be a Canadian ISTE member! See you all again in 2020 Disney! My son's birthday and wedding anniversary happen during ISTE annually :)
Carmen Sandiego would be proud as I hid out in Singapore for a week with Microsoft!
It has taken me over a month to fully process what E2 Singapore was like personally and professionally. Microsoft's Education programming is both generous and modern in their approach to offer professional growth opportunities for educators of the world. Canada's Education Team builds on top of that making sure their educators have the experience of a lifetime. To both the Worldwide and Canada Microsoft Education Teams I say a genuine thank you for this opportunity.
Arriving in Singapore it was obvious that this city could challenge Dublin for the right to own the colour green! Green was everywhere and like Ireland it felt completely natural and comforting. I arrived at the hotel just in time for the welcome reception which took place next to the river and featured music, amazing food and educators from countless countries complimenting each others' efforts in education and sharing jet lag stories. The night ended early for most due to the effects of travel but because of that most, like myself, were awake way before dawn. I capture some great shots of the city both before bed on the first night and at 4am when I woke up!
Once everyone was awake it was showtime and Microsoft didn't disappoint with some of the most real and passionate keynote speakers I've seen. They weren't selling books, producing videos or even looking for Twitter followers. These speakers were there with heartfelt thanks, valuable information and inspiring stories that the global audience could appreciate. I immediately found online friends and made the relationships much more concrete. We were given our challenge groups and Computational Thinking competitions (Easier than figuring out the hotel bathroom light system) and I couldn't be happier! I got to work with an American, Russian, Uzbekistan teacher and New Zealand team leader. But the countries were the least important part. Each of these teachers were world-class when it came to intelligence, creativity and technological abilities. I didn't feel like the smartest or most capable person in the room at any point at this conference! Team 5 was alive and we began to work with smiles! Minecraft Education was offering a session and although I was sure I would know the content delivered I wanted to see how to deliver the content in a fun and engaging way and one of the best MCEE presenters in the world was a great example for me to see. At night Team Canada organized a wonderful walking tour of Singapore!
Day 2 - Starting to feel like home!
Day 2 started with more wonderful demonstrations of Microsoft Educational Technology which included Minecraft Education Edition, and powerful keynotes from teachers. When Meenoo battled through tech difficulties and made a pig fly due to chemistry I'm sure Minecraft sold thousands of more account licenses at that moment. It was awesome! I hit some Microbit training with Minecraft Mentors, worked even harder in our challenge team (Still Smiling) and we took a river cruise that I recorded in full and can't watch enough. Thanks to Mario of Team Canada I look back now and love the fact that E2 was the correct balance of tourism and learning for me. We even scored a sweet backstage tour of the ballroom where we got to geek-out over the technology involved in putting on a show like E2!
Learning Marketplace - Building a Better Future in MinecraftEDU with Sustainability Shuffle!
After a failed elevator pitch with Anthony Salcito (Acutally passing each other in an elevator doorway) I was determined to be ready at the marketplace. Using Twitter to request a redo I was pleased to see Anthony respond and confirm he would stop by.
Anthony didn't disappoint and even though he was extremely rushed he gave me the time I needed to communicate Minecraft Education's largest international project ever and its purpose to teach the United' Nations' Sustainable Development Goals around the world! The Sustainability Shuffle had its early day in the sun and the eventual hope is that the students' solutions can be seen by the United Nations!
Celebration Time - More than just a badge!
In a celebration setting I've only seen in movies, Microsoft ended E2 putting it on ICE! Met by a giant ice carving of #E2 as we entered the venue we found a food spread and beverage offering that made everyone think "I could get use to this lifestyle." The royal treatment continued throughout the evening as we danced next to Singapore Bay in a giant air-conditioned greenhouse like no other. They love their gardens in Singapore and we were smack dab in the middle of their crown jewel of gardens. Awards were given out for the challenges and I got to see some Team Canada members win gold and grace the stage with the flags and leadership team. Mario and I snuck away at the exact moment to catch, accidentally, the garden light show which was high on my to-do list! This was indeed the end of the educational event but I believe only the beginning of many relationships for myself. There is something comforting about face-to-face interaction and Microsoft enabled those opportunities perfectly. I had to travel to the opposite end of the Earth to meet these exceptional educators and people, and for me, the people made the event something I will cherish forever. Thank you to everyone I got to meet and spend time with and I am sorry to those who I didn't spend enough time with. Perhaps we can have another chance at "E3?" Is that how the number system works? :)
This event was more than just a badge for me. Returning home I have big plans and I hope that if I get to attend E2 again at some point I will take better advantage of my time there to meet many more wonderful people!
I'm an experienced Global Minecraft Mentor, Published Educational Researcher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow, Apple Distinguished Educator, TeachSDGs Ambassador and grade 6-12 technology teacher. @BBTNB