The Spring CUE conference brings educators from all over California (and beyond) to the desert in Palm Springs every year. Over 5,000 teachers, TOSAs, administrators, and other stakeholders, invested in learning how to improve the education and engagement of students, gather to do just that: learn. Of course, they have another equally important motive: connect. Educators know that we are smarter and more powerful when we work and learn together. But there’s a problem with 5,000 people in the desert. How do you get them to connect with each other?
I’ve heard it said the CUE community is like a family. I consider it MY family. The people I have met have become not only friends, but my brothers and sisters. I can reach out to them anytime with problems work-related, but also with news, good or bad of my personal life. They are my tribe, a group of like-minded, innovative and incredibly fun people, whom I love to simply be around. However, looking around the huge conference hall during the opening keynote of this year’s conference and seeing the sea of hands go up of “first-time” attendees, it really got me thinking about how I ended up finding my CUE family. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t at Spring CUE.
For me, the answer to finding your tribe is not flying to Palm Springs and renting a cute AirBnB. Don’t get me wrong. It’s incredibly worth the learning and fun, but it’s not the way to find your tribe. In fact the answer is in your backyard. Your local affiliate.
Four years ago, I decided to drop in on a CapCUE (Sacramento affiliate) planning meeting for their annual event: Techfest. I saw an invite on Twitter, and decided to stop by. There, brainstorming at a large table, drinking beer and bouncing off ideas, was my future family.
Sitting at a hotel in Palm Springs late one night this past weekend, I looked around at a similar table. At least five of those CapCUErs from that original meetup were hanging there with me. I didn’t find my family sifting through 5,000 educators in three days at a desert conference. I found my CUE family only five miles from my house. These connections have led to meeting other amazing educators that reach far beyond my home, but the core of my tribe started with CapCUE. Of course, I wouldn’t miss connecting and learning with any of them wherever they may be, especially each spring in the southern California desert.
“If you can dream it, you can code it.” As I looked around the huge ballroom filled with eager educators, Hadi Partovi’s words began to energize and excite me. It also seemed Partovi’s words were having a similar effect on the overly air conditioned room, filled with over 500 teachers. Of course, it could have been the delicious spread of food in front of us, too. (The food! OMG.) As Partovi, the founder of code.org spoke, it became increasingly clear to me why we were all here. Our world needs us to engage, encourage and train students for the jobs of not just the future, the jobs of today.
Some interesting statistics about California:
There are 75,612 currently open computing jobs
The average salary for computing jobs is $110,078
Only 25% of high schools in CA offer AP Computer Science
Of those taking the AP test, most are white males
In 2016, the University of California did not graduate any teachers prepared to teach computer science.
CA has no dedicated funding for Computer Science Professional Development
As I finished my velvety chocolate cake and laughed with my cohort of Northern California area teachers, (thank you Sacramento County Office of Education for being our regional sponsor), I knew TeacherCon was going to be an intense five days of learning, discussing and practicing ways to promote and teach computer science. My last thought before falling asleep in my hotel room (alone–we didn’t even have to share rooms) was, “Why aren’t there more teachers here?”
Our first day, (after the amazing breakfast spread), we separated into middle school and high school rooms. I sat down in the Sheraton conference room in Phoenix along with middle school teachers from Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, West Virginia, the list went on. We had gathered here with a similar goal, to learn a carefully scoped and sequenced computer science curriculum.
The problem with computer science instruction, especially in middle school, is that educators traditionally have taught programs that were cobbled together, with no clear path to the AP exam or other courses in high school. The beauty of the curriculum code.org has crafted is that each unit builds on the other from Computer Science Fundamentals (elementary) Computer Science Discoveries (middle grades) to Computer Science Principles (high school). And every bit of it is FREE for teachers to use. Yes, free.
Through the course of the five days of training, we met in groups with our cohorts from high school and middle school to discuss ways to bring more computer science to our schools, but I spent the majority of time in my Northern California cohort of middle school teachers, participating as a student in model lessons, then eventually teaching a lesson alongside a smaller group of teachers. This cohort model allowed us time to really get to know each other, building relationships beyond our own classroom of teachers we could lean on throughout the school year. We will also meet four more times this year for further instruction and collaborating. Honestly, I miss those awesome educators in my cohort already!
Oh and I forgot to mention this. The entire experience was FREE. TeacherCon, put on by code.org is well backed by some serious giants: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, just to name a few. (Find the whole list here.) While I know these companies have altruistic motivations in helping move education forward, they also have a vested interest in creating a future workforce. To the donors, it is money well spent. The need for graduates who can fill jobs in the computer industry is imperative.
The good news is things are moving forward. Trish Williams, from the California Board of Education, hosted a lunch for the California educators at TeacherCon and gave us the latest scoop. My state is expected to pass California’s first ever model K12 computer science standards next month and more changes to curriculum standards are constantly being discussed. Williams assured us that she is fighting to see Computer Science education in all schools.
As Williams reiterated to us, all students deserve to learn computer science and explore if they have an aptitude for it. Even if they don’t want to end up in a computing career, all students need to understand how the digital world they live in is made.
Wrapping up my week of intense learning (and gorging on scrumptious food), I walked away with one very important realization. I am a computer science teacher. As a secondary teacher who has spent most of her career in middle school English, I have always called myself an English teacher. Today, I took the sign off my classroom door that read, “Mrs. Allison–Language Arts.” Tomorrow a new one goes up: “Mrs. Allison–Computer Science and Language Arts .”
In early June I received an email asking if I would like to be a Lead Learner for CUE. I had no idea what that actually meant, only that I needed to fill out a W9. That had to be a good thing, right? Turns out, it made my summer rock, like really loud!
It started in early July with the CUE Hootenanny at the California Railroad Museum, which really was just a way to get as many Lead Learners in one spot as possible (and eat Barbe-CUE). A few weeks later I was at the CUE Leadership Development Institute near Monterey with my CapCUE board members. Only a few days after I found myself presenting in Truckee at CUERockstar. Now that was a lot of CUE! But it was so worth it.
Being in the presence of such out of the box thinkers tends to challenge your views on so many things. Of course, being in the presence of so many organized and goal-oriented people also brings balance to those innovative ideas. At all these events, great ideas tend to rub off on you. I think I began the summer with a list of books to read, and now I’m ending with twice the amount of professional books on my list. The same is true for the amount of innovative strategies I plan to incorporate in my classroom this year. Someone should have warned me: when you spend your vacation with other Lead Learners, your brain swells.
The best part is that your heart swells, too. Call it filling your bucket, sharpening your saw or whatever. For me, hanging out with people that inspire me, make me laugh and care about me is a great way to spend a month in the summer.
I go back to work next week and I’m excited and anxious about introducing and implementing all that I’ve learn. The best part is, my CUE family is only a Tweet or a Voxer message away!
When given the opportunity to attend Cue Rockstar Math Edition this weekend, I answered the way I always do: “Yes!” Later, I realized I might be asked to actually DO math. What? This English teacher was shaking in her figurative boots. Turns out, there was no reason to fear. Here’s why I’m glad I went:
1. I need to stop saying, “I don’t do math.” I used to be very good at math, but I didn’t enjoy it. I made up my mind as an early student that I’m just not a math person. Well, when you tell yourself that, it’s true. With pushing myself to a growth mindset mentality, I decided to stop. I tell my students often, in fact it’s posted on my wall: “We are what we believe.” We must model this as teachers. I am a math person! Well, I’m learning. I’m learning by failing. But learning.
2. Good teaching is universal. Math teachers have a certain way of approaching things. They are problem solvers. They are infinitely patient, and they don’t seem to mind taking extra time to work with students who are not getting it. They are masters of differentiating. Sure they like correct answers, but more than anything they want students to SHOW THEIR WORK! (I think I just heard you grumble.) As students, we want to get to the answer and move on, but a good math teacher is all about students understanding the process. And she or he won’t give up until every student in the room understands. That tenacity is a model for any teacher. Plus inspiring as heck.
3. Awesome math teachers have even awesomer ideas. The hardest part of a Cue Rockstar is deciding on what sessions to attend. You couldn’t go wrong at this camp. I started Saturday with John Stevens and his amazing ideas about assessment. He walked us through GoFormative and Quizizz , while looking and benefits and limitations of each. We also were able to have honest discussions about how to use assessments, including having the students assess us as teachers: a very powerful tool I will implement, right away. Ending the day with the other Classroom Chef (buy their book), Matt Vaudrey was all about how to get the perfect classroom culture: Be nice. Be wrong. Sunday, my BBQ buddy Ed Campos, Jr. showcased how he transformed his class into a 360 degree learning space. It was mind blowing. I was sad not to have seen the incredible concepts Lindsey Blass, Michael Fenton and Fawn Nguyen. Of course, just hanging with them and even listening to their shreds, I grabbed some great teaching nuggets.
4. Math teachers are fun! Apparently it takes a certain person to teach math and those people are CRAZY. In a good way. They had me laughing constantly, never leaving a dull moment. Plus all the awesome math t-shirts! I mean, I didn’t get some of them, but hoping my new found tolerance for math will lead me on the journey to understanding.
Session 3: Debriefing. Photo by @LindseyBlass1
While, teaching language arts will always be my passion, learning from other teachers is never a bad idea. Of course, making new friends is an even better idea! Cheers.