Reflections on MACUL

This past Thursday I attended the MACUL conference for the second year. As I expected, I left feeling motivated, inspired, and a little overwhelmed. When you are learning from some of the brightest, most innovative minds in education, I think it's safe to say that you will leave feeling that way. But, that overwhelmed feeling is okay-because a day later, after a much needed night of sleep, it is what challenges you to look at your own teaching and integration of technology, and make it better.

The MACUL conference is all about the use of technology in education. What I found myself hearing from the various sessions were different definitions about technology from each presenter. That evolving definition was interesting to me, because when it comes to education, there really isn't just one predetermined answer to why we use technology or what it is all about.

In reflecting on the sessions I attended that day, I was able to define technology in the following ways:

  • Technology is about CREATING. 
If you've read my blog you know that my passion project is our school Makerspace. So, it's no surprise that when I saw that Sylvia Martinez was presenting on Makerspaces all day, it was the first session that I loaded in my fancy MACUL app. In her first session she talked about Makerspaces as a global revolution. People of all ages want to create. They want to explore, invent, design, build, try, collaborate, and share. Further, they want to use technology to do it. Sylvia talked about the use of technology in Makerspaces. She said that technology really is a key component in an educational Makerspace, especially when looking at them from the perspective of integrating STEAM concepts. That's not to discredit the crafters of the world, because there is no doubt that someone who knits a sweater is creating something amazing (I sure couldn't do it), but from an educational standpoint, she said that she believes Makerspaces should integrate technology. She mentioned one of our school's favorite Makerspace items- the MakeyMakey, but also shared great examples of Arduino projects and Hummingbird Robotics, to name a few. One thing she said that I really agree with is that
"Makerspaces are not about the shopping, they are all about the learning stance". We can get caught up in what the next cool gadget is out there to add to our school Makerspace, but at the forefront of a Makerspace should always be questioned, will they learn from this? We may not know exactly what or how much they will learn, but all of that exploring, designing, and creating, should certainly help our students to grow as learners and Makers.

  • Technology is about COLLABORATING
There are a number of ways to collaborate using technology, but one of the most popular forms of collaboration in schools right now is through the use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). I had the opportunity to attend one session on GAFE that really highlighted the collaborative features of GAFE. The presenter, George Couros, shared a Google Doc with his PLN on Twitter to ask educators to share their blogs. Within minutes, that doc was pages long. Many of the people filling it out were not in the room, but had just clicked his link from Twitter. It was a great example of how GAFE can be used to allow people to interact. We've used GAFE at our school for two years now, and the various ways that I've seen educators and students work together has been amazing. Whether updating minutes for an SIP meeting, having students work together who are in different classes, or allowing a teacher to provide immediate feedback, GAFE has changed the education world. 

  • Technology is about CONNECTING
When I was doing my masters program, I had to set up a Twitter account, but I will admit, I barely used it. I didn't know anyone else using Twitter and 140 characters felt so restrictive. Little did I know, that Twitter is not just a great tool, it's a necessity for educators who want to stay connected. I slowly waded into the Twitter pool last year, and this year I think it's safe to say that I am fully submerged. You miss out on some amazing things about MACUL if you aren't on Twitter. I kept TweetDeck open throughout the day and found that I was learning about other great sessions all day too, thanks to #MACUL15. Throughout the day I was seeing great links tweeted out and apps suggested that I would have otherwise missed. I left with so many resources saved to Pocket for me to check out later that I am very grateful for. I also was able to find new educators to follow and learn from. Plus, MACUL Quest was happening on Twitter. I didn't win any prizes myself, but it sure was fun to see them tweet out prizes and the educators who found them! The connections made through Twitter are just one tiny example of the way that technology connects us of course. From Google Hangouts to Skype, I saw amazing examples of how technology is bringing people together in ways that never would have been possible before. 

  • Technology is about LEARNING
This one is obvious perhaps. From sessions about augmented reality uses in the classroom to reading strategies and project based learning ideas, technology helps us to learn. It is a tool that brings learning opportunities to us in incredible ways. Students can take virtual field trips that take them around the world, ask an author a question about a book they are reading, or have their questions answered in seconds. There is no doubt that technology has changed how we learn and how much information we have access to at any moment. There were so many sessions at the MACUL conference that provided inspiration for learning through many different technological formats.

  • Technology is about IMPROVING
In the keynote, George Couros shared a video that reminded us of the absolute power of technology. This video showed a baby who was deaf and thanks to technology, was going to be able to hear. You can see the baby's features change as he hears for the first time. I dare you not to tear up, just a bit. 

This is why we have Makerspaces and why we use technology. To continuously make things better and test the limits, so that these very real and necessary improvements to human life are possible. I'm not saying that playing with a MakeyMakey in our after school club will change the world, but it may give our kids the opportunity to start thinking about things differently. It may encourage them to start wondering what else they can make and what else they can do if they just keep creating and questioning.

  • Technology is about RELATIONSHIPS
This one is my favorite take-away from MACUL. When I listened to George Couros, the keynote speaker on Thursday, present, I can honestly say I laughed, I cried, and I felt inspired to share what I learned. At the heart of his presentation was the message that technology is all about building relationships. This message really stuck with me and caused me to reflect on all of the relationships I've built thanks to technology. Technology gets a bad rap for isolating people. We see people looking at their phones and assume that they are doing so to tune the world out. When really, technology is bringing people together in mediums that were not possible before. Whether people are checking Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Skype or a number of other social media apps out there, they are opening them up to someone else's world. We are connecting with a larger number of people in more intimate ways than every before. We are seeing photos of their babies just after they were born, watching videos of their children perform, and reading articles they read simply because they shared them and we trust their judgement. Technology connects us not just to our friends, but to people who would otherwise be strangers. Through blogs and Twitter, I've been able to find and learn from educators with interests similar to mine. I've used social media to discuss educational topics with people who would otherwise be perfect strangers, to connect with our school community, and to stay in touch with friends across the globe. Technology causes us to work together, share ideas, and create communities near and far. 

I'm sure as I continue on as an educator and as technology continues to change, these definitions will change and evolve. It's been fun to reflect on another great year at MACUL! Next year I'll be presenting at MACUL about the grant my colleague and I were awarded, so I'm sure it will be an even more rewarding experience!

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