#WVSTC 2016, Pt. 1

Another year of WVSTC, aka West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference, has come and gone. I didn’t think I could have a better time than last year, but I did! This year was a little different for me because I funded the cost of my conference fees, and had planned to bunk with a colleague from my old district, but she had to cancel because her mother had surgery during that time, and she needed to be there. I was lucky enough to find someone to bunk with during the conference, and we had a blast together. How did I find her? Oh, we’re just networked colleagues on Twitter, that’s all…. More on that later!

This year I had originally signed up for two pre-sessions- one on Minecraft in Education, and the other on Apple and its Swift and Playgrounds coding platforms. I had to miss the Minecraft one because I had to go to my new district to be fingerprinted first, and wouldn’t be back for the 1 PM session. As for the Apple session, it was good, but not super interesting. I learned that I couldn’t do a lot of the advanced stuff, like get Playgrounds because I didn’t have a Mac. I can easily use Swift on the iPad with students so there is that. I most likely won’t be getting a Mac, so no Playgrounds program for me. However, what they are trying to do with coding is pretty fascinating, so I would definitely keep an eye on Apple and how they are looking to make coding more accessible to more people of all walks of life.

Once the conference was in full swing on Tuesday, we were off and running. Our keynote speaker this year was Kelly Reddin from Lego Education. She is a very hands-on kind of speaker. In our conference bags we had all been given a small bag of Legos. When we arrived for the keynote, we also found french fry containers with a baggie of a few Lego pieces as well. Things were already different. Our first goal was to build a duck from the pieces that were provided in the fry container. We had no picture or guide, just “use those pieces and create a duck.”

We were then asked to hold up our ducks, and look for anyone else who had made a duck in exactly the same way that we had. Maybe one or two people found a match around them, but the rest of us did not. We all create differently, and we all think differently. Everyone’s creations resembled a duck, but the pieces were put together in different ways.

From there we had to pair up and with our partner, each choose 10 of the same pieces from the other Lego kit that we had to bring with us to the session. Once we had each chosen 10, then we were asked to make a tree from those pieces.

My partner and I got pretty creative with ours by the end. First it was a fire breathing wizard tree, and then it became a Star Wars tree. I eventually put my Lego duck in charge of the Star Wars tree. Other groups around us were also making up stories about their trees and describing them. By building and creating first, we had an easier time coming up with stories and descriptions. This was a lot easier than being told to describe a tree first in writing.

We all left the session feeling energized and creative, and I hope that my fellow attendees are also ready to help their students be more creative this year. It can really make all of the difference in the end.

I believe after this that I went to the vendor hall, but I’m not really sure. Now that I think about it, I went there before opening session because that was after lunch. There were a wide variety of vendors visiting, as always. There were many new vendors, and of course, the neverending swag available. I always like to hit the vendor hall as soon as it opens because that’s when the best swag is available. I ended up with the usual pens of course, but other things as well, such as mugs, stress balls, earbuds, multi-tool kit, screwdriver set, and more.

There were a few vendors that I liked best, but my favorite by far was a new vendor, Piper. Piper really piqued my interest. It allows students to put together a computer built on raspberry Pi and then add more components as they complete a specially designed Minecraft program. The goal is to stop the cheeseteroid from hitting the planet. It’s very hands on for students, and gives them a taste of putting together different components to make everything work. Teachers can buy 1 Piper kit for $300, a set of 4 Pipers for $1000 (a discount of $50 per kit), or rent a Piper kit for $49 a month, and yes, it’s rent to own. And if you were wondering, yes I will be buying my own Piper kit using the rent to own option as soon as things are settled.

Find more info on Piper here.

I went to many different sessions at the conference, but many of them I don’t remember. I didn’t really have time at the conference to write like I normally do because I was also taking a class from WVU, and had classwork to complete for it. Thankfully the session schedule is still up on the conference website, so I can go through and jog my memory.

I have to give a shoutout to my connected Derek for his “Explode Your Brand” session. So many educators don’t take advantage of building their brand, especially in this time where teachers are often criticized and put down. There are many options he talked about, which included Twitter and blogging. The connections that can be made are so very valuable, but they do take time to put into motion. Myself, I feel the time is well worth the reward. I hope that by reading this blog, you also begin to see how branding can benefit you as well.

A shoutout also goes to my connected colleague Randall, who presented a session on how to find quality resources for the classroom. His biggest focus was on Common Sense Education, formally Graphite.org. He also touched on how to become a certified educator or school on Common Sense as well. If you’ve never checked out Common Sense Education, you really should. It’s the best way to get reviews and ratings for websites and apps that are done by teachers. It’s a good place to go instead of the app store when you want to know just how useful an app is in the classroom before it’s downloaded, or before a website is used in a lesson plan.

One of the vendor sessions I attended was done by Edmentum. They were not focused on selling their product, but they were focused on exploring the various concepts of blended learning, and the variety of ways that blended learning can take place. What I liked best about this session was that they explained how the setup worked in a classroom, the benefits, and the drawbacks to each. They also gave examples of schools using the different models. Oh and they also gave away a Bose speaker, which helped get people to come to their 8 AM session, ha!

Another session I attended was Pokemon Go and Marketing, which was a last minute submission, mostly because the game was released a couple of weeks prior. The presenter talked about how businesses can and should be using the game to their advantage if they have a PokeStop or Gym nearby. It was informative for those attending so they could see the impact the game was already having. Myself, I’ve already seen businesses taking advantage. Some give away free things. Others give discounts for meeting certain requirements. It can really help net more foot traffic and business if used effectively. At the end of the session, just for fun, we all went on a PokeHunt to see what we could find.

In addition to the Piper vendor being my favorite, I also attended their session as well. In the session, they walked us through the first levels of the game, and had a kid volunteer test it out. They were excited and energetic about their product, which was a plus for me. After the session itself, the presenter asked me for feedback, and the only improvement I could think of was to have tables in the session next time so Piper kits could be set up for folks to test out and use during the session.

…to be continued in next week’s post!