Why hello there blog, you’ve been ignored, again haven’t you?  Hopefully, this post will be the beginning of more regular writing on my part.  I’ve just not felt like much of anything, however, after today, it’s hard not to feel energized.

I’m attending the fourth annual Technology Integration Conference put on by Keystone AEA.  Iowa is unique in that it is divided into what are called AEAs or area education agencies, which help to provide educational services to districts within their geographical area.  Our AEA, Keystone, has helped to put this tech conference on for four years, starting quite small, and growing to at least 700 people this morning.  It’s turned into a great regional conference, and I hope that if anyone from Keystone reads this, that they continue this conference.  Not all of us can go to ITEC in the fall because of finances and/or school obligations.  If there is any conversation about NOT having this next year, do some data gathering before that decision is made.

Anyway, our day started off with a keynote by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) of “Free Technology for Teachers” fame (http://www.freetech4teachers.com/).  He spoke to us about the “10 Common Challenges for Educators”.  Of the ten he spoke about, two really stood out to me:

– We wire our buildings, we purchase the hardware to go wireless, we purchase hundreds of devices, then “oh that’s social media, we have to block it”.  Why do we lock down the network for a few knuckleheads, leaving an overwhelming majority of students who will do the right thing unable to access information?

– We’ve invested all this money and time into technology, why is our story not out there?  There are so many different ways to communicate with parents and the general community, whether it be a vibrant school website, a Facebook page, Twitter account, or the use of Remind (not Remind101 we found out today) to push out information, we have the ability to control the story.  Why aren’t we?

After that, we had four breakout sessions.  My first was about blended learning.  As our science and social studies times in school have been cut to bare bones, I’ve tried to do a little blended learning, with very little success.  I had a chance to see the resources that the statewide AEA system has (http://moodle.aeak12online.org/) from free Moodle hosting to dozens of different websites to help with the integration of blended learning in our classrooms.  My takeaway, as I move from 15 to 30 students, having a better plan and better resources in blending my classroom will help create better learning all the way around for my students.  Thank you to Evan Abbey (@eabbey) from AEA PD Online for this great presentation.

Next, CPR. No, not that kind of CPR!  “CPR: Providing Educators a LIfeline through Communication and Public Relations”.  This presented by Dan Bulter (@danpbutler) a major contributor to our Iowa Twitter Chat (#IAEdChat) and a principal at two elementary schools.  Dan’s presentation focused on how we control the message and how it starts with him.  He uses a number of different social media to help push his school’s story out.  However, not only does he use that tech to help with the school message, he showed us how he used Google Forms to gather, sort, and store all kinds of data from his school.  My take away from this, get working on my Google Forms for next fall!  Meeting Dan face to face after numerous Twitter encounters was a treat too.  A genuinely good person, it was fun to watch him work the crowd (and it was pretty packed too!).

Third, Mindcraft! Now, I’m not totally sold on this, but what pushed me towards a session like this were the students in my classroom for the first time asking for Mindcraft on their computers (we of course said no).  Since our laptops showed up, not one class has asked that question.  Not only that, they found a Mindcraft-like website and actually used it for educational purposes, creating visuals for a project.  I’ll be the first to admit, I know nothing, zero, nada about Mindcraft.  Honestly, I’ve always seen it as a monumental waste of time. Of course, you set mind that way, something’s going to come along and change it! 🙂  Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample) posted a series of blogs about Mindcraft and an after school club he helped with at his school (http://goo.gl/VOHlK8).  I did some searching on Google for images for a project and came across some very detailed ones done using Mindcraft.  The information gathered today (a great starter site for Mindcraft in the classroom http://goo.gl/vR0atx) has me thinking I have to at least play the dang game and we’ll go from there.  I tweeted about this topic and got several positive responses back, so I know this topic is not going away!  Thank you Cathy Feldman (@catfeldmann) and Shelia Miller for a great presentation!

And finally, my last session was about Google Chrome and extensions. Honestly, this was not one I thought would be hugely productive for me simply because I have a ton of extensions all ready.  I was quite wrong! 🙂 Joanna Seymour (@joseymour) put together a great presentation (http://goo.gl/yoEn3W) about various types of extensions and add-ons for Google Chrome.  For me, the extensions, especially Too Long Didn’t Read and Print Friendly & PDF were great. The Google Add On (formerly Google Scripts) were good, especially Flubaroo and Doctupus, two add-ons that are on my list to learn for this summer. Both will help with the organization and grading of online quizzes that are created through Google Forms!

As usual, one of the best parts of this conference is the relationship building that goes on.  It’s nice to be able to bump into these people you’ve got an online relationship with  and just be able to talk a little bit.  Dan and Aaron Mauer (@coffeechugbooks) were two that I was glad that I had the chance to meet.  Both are high up there on my PLN “Need To Meet These People” lists and it’s great to make that connection.  Tomorrow, Shaelynn Farnsworth (@shfarnsworth ) is doing a presentation on Genius Hour, so I’m planning on meeting her and I get to sit in on a session about flipped classrooms by AEA’s newest tech consultant Jarod Bormann (@jbormann3).  It’s all about connections at this stage, and I like to think I’ve made some great ones via my own social media workings and this conference.

Like I said, this conference is in a class of it’s own.  Not many conferences can bring in a speaker like Richard Byrne, offer two days of great breakout sessions, two days of lunch, and be only $100!  It’s a great conference, and I’m looking forward to the learning that will go on Day 2! 🙂