Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#MACUL14 Wrap-Up

I had the great honor of attending and presenting at MACUL 14 this  year in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Apparently it was the largest MACUL ever at 4,500 attendees, and I could see why it was so popular. The conference was very well run and I had the opportunity to learn with so many amazing educators.

Here are just a few of my thoughts:

What I Learned as a Conference Coordinator:

I loved how MACUL provided their presenters with a presenter resource page ahead of the conference. Even seasoned presenters could find great reminders about how to prepare for their sessions.

I also liked how they actually had representatives of their main sponsors physically on stage for the kick-off. That was a nice way to show that the conference sponsors were a part of the conference, rather than just a source of funding.

MACUL also ran a "Tell Your Story with Photos" contest, which encouraged attendees to tweet out their conference experience. I thought this was a great idea in terms of creating buzz, advertising the conference, and crowd-sourcing documentation of the event.

At our conference (the EVSC eRevolution which takes place on July 8-10- Save the Date) we have a Technology Playground that is filled with great up-and-coming technology for the classroom. During his MACUL14 keynote, @adambellow shared the MayKey MayKey Invention kit. Gotta get one of those for the Playground!

I also had a chance to rub elbows with some kindred #edtech spirits, including @AdamBellow, @TomWhitby, @LeslieFisher, @TheNerdyTeacher, @RushtonH, @MrLosik, @Shareski and @TechBradWaid. Forgive me for name-dropping, but that made for a load of inspiration, and there isn't a name on that list that I wouldn't want presenting at one of my conferences.

During a break, I had the chance to ask folks what makes a good conference. @shareski shared this thought: Build a conference that has a balance between talking and doing opportunities. His point is that people need chances to engage all of the ways that they learn. I believe that we try to do this, but it was a timely reminder that we should make sure that we have something for everyone.

What I Learned from Adam Bellow

Adam gave an exceptional keynote at MACUL14. Actually, I've never seen Adam give a bad session, so there is really no surprise there.

I had the chance to ask Adam about how he approaches tone when preparing his remarks. I wanted to know because I find that when I am presenting, there is a fine line between facing hard truths about education, and inspiring others. You don't want to be so negative that you turn people away, but you also don't want to be too pollyanna about the state of education. Adam's advice was that the more critical the statement he wants to make, the more important it is to couch that criticism in humor. Good advice. After all, if we want to engage learners, we have to engage their emotional centers.

Speaking of that, Adam shared this video:

Not gonna lie. Teared up a bit there. What I like about this is that the commercial could be for anything. It's the story that matters.

Adam also exhorted the audience with the some challenging questions and statements. Some highlights:

  • Are we brave? The innovation we need to see in schools is bravery.
  • Give kids the questions that are worth their time to answer.
  • Let students amaze you.
  • We don't need more tech, we need a culture change.
  • Lesson plans should read: students will be able to question, think, ask.
  • The missing ingredient in PD is time. 
  • School should not be about getting kids college and career ready. It should be about nurturing a love of learning.
  • Live life in Beta. Be good today. Be better tomorrow.
  • Tech needs to be innovative NOT just another way to take a test.
  • Give kids fewer directions and more freedom. 
  • Let students amaze you.
  • We can't allow technology to eclipse our humanity.
  • We don't need more tech. We need a culture change.

Adam also shared the story of this video:

This is a great reminder that we can use our talents, time and access to technology to make a difference in the world. How are we using our 180 days with students? What are we giving them the opportunity to do?

Adam ended with Shel Silverstein's poem Listen to the Mustnt's. It was a fitting and powerful ending to a great keynote.

What I learned from Dean Shareski

Besides the advice for building conferences above, I had a great chance to learn from Dean Shareski at MACUL14. I attended is his session Whatever Happened to Joy.

I should preface this by sharing that Dean has a TEDx talk that will serve to give you a sense of where he is coming from:

Some of the standout thoughts from this session include:

  • The average 4 year old laughs 300 times a day. The average 40 year old laughs 4 times a day.
  • Essence of a great teacher: Wants to figure out how to make a kid smile.
  • Why don't we hear more music in school?
  • Rigor is a crap word. Look up the definition and look for something you want for your kids.
  • As teachers we live for the moments when students express joy and show that they find learning interesting. How do we maximize that?
  • Do we teach students to be happy?
  • Teach and explore "wonder" with something as simple as a seed in a cup - Why does the plant grow up and the roots grow down?
  • We have a responsibility to awe.
  • Take a photo a day to remind ourselves what awe sits in front of us everyday. 
  • If someone asked our students, "How does your teacher learn?" would they be able to answer? We need to share ourselves as learners.
  • Guide on the Side isn't enough. We need Meddler in the Middle.
  • Is your classroom a joyous place? If it isn't, why not? What can you do to change that? Joy matters.
  • Five habits to bring joy to education: 
    • Inspire Wonder. 
    • Be Interesting. 
    • Share the Joy. 
    • Random Acts of Kindness. 
    • Just Do It.
I was particularly struck by a thought exercise that Dean shared. He showed us a video of a group of students who had obviously invested a great deal of class time creating a lip-sync video to Mylie Cyrus' Party in the U.S.A. It was a clever multi-camera shoot that clearly took a great deal of planning, problem-solving, and practice. It was also clearly a lot of fun to make. 

Dean shared this video with colleagues and invited them to discuss whether or not they would invest class time toward a project like this. He gave them a few response options ranging from Absolutely (standards be damned) to No way (it doesn't meet the standards). I think we should all be having this conversation with our peers. 

Dean also shared a couple of articles:

Maybe There is Something to this Joy Thing

What I learned from Leslie Fisher

Leslie Fisher is one of my favorite presenters, and no matter how many times I see one of her sessions, I always walk away with new ideas and new tools to try out. This time I attended her session on capturing and editing photos and videos with a mobile device. 

As expected the session was very funny and very informative. I learned a few cool tricks for capturing better photos based on the limitations of a mobile phone or tablet. (Don't let the quality of the selfies in this post be a reflection on the quality of her work :) I also learned about several mobile apps that I have since added to my devices. Here is just a small portion of them:

Photo Apps:

Camera Awesome- Camera Awesome takes your photos to the next level by shooting faassst and taking sharper, better-exposed shots. Make your memories come alive with stunning professional effects, and 1-Tap sharing on the sites you love.

Pixlr Express- Pixlr Express is a fun and powerful photo editor that lets you quickly crop, resize, and fine-tune any picture, all in a completely ad-free experience. Choose from over 2 million combinations of free effects, overlays, and borders to further personalize your image.

ImageBlender- A simplistic and creative app for combining images with masks and different blend modes on your iPhone and iPad. While the use and basic idea is very simple, there's almost an endless list of things you can do with it.

Video Apps:

Horizon- Horizon lets you record horizontal videos no matter how you hold your device. Hold it upright, sideways or even keep rotating it while capturing, the video will always stay horizontal! You can add filters, shoot with the back or front camera and share your creations!

Action Movie FX- ACTION MOVIE FX lets you add Hollywood FX to iPhone AND iPad movies that YOU shoot!

iMotionHD- iMotion HD is an intuitive and powerful time-lapse and stop-motion app for iOS.
Take pictures, edit your movie and export HD 1080p & 720p videos to your device or directly to Youtube.

Ahead of her session, Leslie also shared some cheery videos, including videos from 24hoursofhappy.com and this Highway Sing-A-Long video:

My Presenting Experience

I also had the honor of presenting alongside my friend and colleague @JeffTron71. Our session was on 10 Teacher-Friendly tools to unleash Creativity.

We had 2 hours to share some great tools that can be used in any classroom to inspire creative expression. Our resources for this session live at our Teacher Fun Park Website.

We enjoyed connecting with about 25 great educators. We had a great session and received some very positive feedback from our attendees.

I look forward to presenting this same session in June at ISTE14 in Atlanta.

All in all, #MACUL14 was a great conference, and I'm so glad I had the chance to attend. I definitely recommend the experience to anyone looking for lots of learning in a collegial atmosphere.


  1. Tim, Thanks for this great summary of inspiration from the #MACUL14. I am inspired to reflect on my own teaching and learning!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Deb! It was a lot of fun. Look for some of the innovations I saw there to make their way to eRev :)

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