A week at DENSI 2013!



What is DENSI 2013?

The Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI) is an amazing professional development opportunity offered by Discovery Education each summer.  This year 150 people from across North America gathered at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont to learn, share and collaborate for an entire week.  It was easily the best professional development I’ve ever experienced.

What is the Discovery Educator Network?

The DEN is a global community of education professionals who are passionate about transforming the learning experience with digital media. The DEN connects members across town and around the world through social media, virtual conferences and in-person events.

Dacia Jones (@dacia92) of Hickory, North Carolina really says it all in this Tweet:

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 7.43.21 PM

So, DENSI 2013…

densi2013A little over 4 weeks ago my colleague Mario and I returned from Vermont and our epic road-trip!  It’s about time I got some thoughts recorded about the trip and that amazing week!

One of my personal guidelines for (hopefully) successful PD is that those attending need to take something away that they can use with their students and/or in their classroom “tomorrow”. Teachers don’t have time to spend on learning complex software and procedures. If, what they learn can’t be used immediately, then it’s going to be lost and forgotten about.

So, for my reflection, I’m going to look at the week and try to determine things day by day/session by session that I can use, pass on and/or implement in my work with teachers throughout Halifax District School Board.  As a result my reflection is a combination of travelogue, journal, “thank you” to many people and personal reference document.

Let’s see how this goes…

(Note: “Take-aways” are examples from sessions, NOT to be interpreted as EVERYthing from any session listed.)

Saturday, July 13

Halifax to Bangor, ME – Mario and I are Technology Integration Leaders in Halifax Regional School Board. We assist approximately 3500 teachers in 140 schools in their use of digital technology in their classrooms. There are just the two of us so we are out at schools much of the time and rarely have time to chat about what we’re doing, to discuss issues and to share successes. This drive gave us an opportunity to catch up on some of the chats that should have occurred in the office over the last year! Bangor… shopping!

Sunday, July 14

historic-tavern-51555_640Bangor, ME to Burlington, VT – More opportunity to chat, but also really enjoyed the beauty that is New England – much like Atlantic Canada, but a little different. One thing we noticed was the frequent use of bunting to decorate homes. That’s a very “American” thing I think, we never see that in Canada. Of course mountains in New Hampshire (highest – Mount Washington – 1900+ m) and Vermont (highest – Mount Mansfield – 1300+ m) are a little different from ours in Nova Scotia (highest – White Hill – 500+ m) and New Brunswick (highest – Mount Carleton – 800+ m) and added some great scenery along the way!

Then we arrived at Burlington and DENSI! It was pretty warm, and I was a little overwhelmed to say the least but the group who were working on reception and welcoming put me at ease and soon I felt like I knew everyone – well at least a few people! Thanks very much for that!

BBQ and Opening Session – the gift trading with personal info sheet was a fantastic way to get to know at least one other person! I hope to remember this when I have the opportunity to organize an event of this magnitude!
Team Meeting – Team Rita!! What more can I say!? The team meetings were a great way to ask questions/get answers, meet others, have a few laughs – and meet RITA Mortenson (@mortensonr) !!

Monday, July 15

Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms – What a great outing! So much to see and learn about. At the farm we did an activity I want to use… we were outside (it was very warm and being in the shade with a little breeze was very welcome) and the activity leader from the farm asked us some pretty deep questions that we discussed in groups. She had a term for this type of question/discussion… I need to find that. Good activity. Will use that in PD for sure!  Overall a great day to get to know each other and learn about the Burlington/Shelburne areas.

EveningFace the Music – fun adaptation of Name That Tune, even if I didn’t do very well – thanks Porter (@DENprincess)!!

Tuesday, July 16

Keynote with Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) – I was really looking forward to hearing Richard Byrne speak. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and he has a fantastic web site and his Tweets are good!! But I was surprised at his in-person persona. I expected Richard to be very dynamic but that wasn’t the case. Perhaps he was having an off day, perhaps I shouldn’t have created expectations based on Tweets and a great website! Either way, not what I had expected/hoped for. But still a follower of him – he’s a smart guy!


      • RT @CMS_JakeS: Rule for font size in presentation… Take age of oldest person in room and double it. Via @rmbyrne #DENSI2013 Jul 16, 2013
      • A good starting point for changing teaching practice “Today we will explore… ” – Richard Byrne, #DENSI2013 @rmbyrne Jul 16, 2013

DEN_connects-280Connecting Classrooms with Discovery Education – Kelly Hines (@kellyhines)
I was aware of Skype in the Classroom but hadn’t really explored classroom connections beyond Skype (and to be honest, I was aware of Skype’s uses in the classroom, but hadn’t really pursued it in a classroom). Kelly (and others in the session) provided some great thoughts on the “Why?” of connecting classrooms and then some fantastic ideas and resources to help with the “How?”.


    • DEN Connects
    • Kyle Shutte’s programs and materials
    • Connect with topic experts
    • Mystery Skype
    • Langwitches.com
    • QuadBlog – great idea. Need to find a way to adapt so we can use in NS.

Show and Tell 21st Century Style – Tracy Carpenter (@CarpTracy)
I didn’t “get” the trading card trend until I heard Tracy and others in this session giving some examples of how they can be used and showing some examples. Great idea!


      • Extend Show & Tell… not just lower grades any more.
      • This is me… this is who I am… this is my history
      • We’ll always encounter people who see the world differently than we do. How do we transfer those skills to students?
      • Bighugelabs.com and readwritethink.org have trading card generators (animals, self, place, historic people, country, etc.)
      • Wolframalpha.com – comparing two things using vs.
      • Pecha Kucha Presentations – 20 slides/20 seconds each, use a variety of tools, Haiku Deck is good for PK, MINIMAL text requires strong knowledge, slides should have strong images

Take Control of the iPad: Accessibility – Linda Rush (@starden)
Oh! So much about the iPod/iPad that I didn’t know! Great resources.


      • iPodsibilities
      • iPads 4 Special Needs – book
      • Guided access – gets students into an app, but they cant get out (see settings)
      • Assistive touch – gives a menu of common actions and makes access easier
      • Rover – can do flash, was slow, might be faster now
      • Restrictions (in settings) – allows teacher (or parent) to control many aspects – disallow apps, disallow downloading or in app purchase, etc – covered with pw!

Hi, I’m Dave and I’m an APPaholic – David Fisher (@davidfisher65) Dave Tchozewski (@daveski61)
Lots of information from the Dave’s! Fast paced and dynamic!  GREAT!  These are just a few…


      • Air Sketch – push your iPad to other devices. Great for one iPad classroom.
      • Tammy’s Technology Tips for Teachers – great tips, ideas and resources
      • ColorSplash – great app to create spot colour in digital images
      • Desmos – graphing calculator

Evening – DENmazing Race


Evening – DENmazing Race – Fun activity! Poor performance by our team (Mario, Greg, Lionel & I) but we put our efforts into having fun and getting to know each other.
Flickr – Cheryl Woolwine (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Later Evening – Name that TV Theme Song


Many laughs… tons of fun! Thanks DEAN! (@shareski)


The New 3 R’s – Hall Davidson (@HallDavidson)
Hall is the man with Google Glass and he wasn’t afraid to share them all week.  We all had a chance to check out the next thing in web browsing and more! Hall talked about QR Codes, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. A great look ahead… but not really… this stuff is here now!


      • So many great ideas for using QR codes. I want to help teachers and librarians use these in their classrooms and other learning areas.
      • Thanks for making your handouts and presentations available Hall –
      • AR in a book example – Fantastic Flying Book of Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (http://morrislessmore.com ). This looks amazing. The book is in our Board’s central library and I’ve downloaded the app… can’t wait to put the two together!

Storytelling for the YouTube Generation – Steve Dembo (@teach42)


      • VIMP.com – Like YouTube, canbe installed on your own server. This may be the answer to some BIG obstacles we’ve encountered!
      • And Steve’s presentation… well, it contains so much great stuff I can’t begin to identify just one or two things so I’m very happy he made it available.  Thanks Steve!

Somersaulting the Classroom: For Those Afraid to do a Total Flip – Tim Childers (@tchilders)
It’s great to get to see and know the guy behind the Twitter! Of the educators I follow I can honestly say that I paid less attention to Tim’s Tweets than to those of many other’s. That’s changed! A little face-to-face and a bit of back-story can really help put things in context and let you see things in a different way. Thanks for that Tim!


      • Edmodo Group for Somersaulting the Classroom: qtzyou
      • Mathtrain.tv – videos of kids doing and explain math! Fantastic!
      • Keep videos short
      • Use microphone to improve sound quality instead of relying on built in mic
      • Jing is ok. Not editable. Tries to force account creation, but you can use it without.
      • Touchcast.com – iPad screencast app

3254295831_4a869afcca_z5 Minutes of Creativity – Dean Shareski (@shareski)
Dean is creative and likes to encourage creativity in others and why not! Creativity is important, though it often gets shoved aside to make time/room for other things. Dean shared ideas for infusing and encouraging creativity with little effort and taking up minimal time.


      • Thanks for the notes Dean!
      • Digital Storytelling 106 – online open course – Assignment bank
      • PechaFlickr – practice with improve presentations – careful with this one, no guarantee of content

Things that Rock (or Not) – DEN Team
This activity could easily be used at middle and high school – and probably lower. Some advanced planning is needed for the topics and teacher/facilitator has to realize that regardless of how innocuous the topics appear someone could get pretty worked up! Just be aware!


Unconference Planning – Everyone
Yeah, this unconference thing won’t work.

Evening – Ballgame
Lake-Monsters-logoArghhh and Oh my. 96 degrees F, VERY high humidity and I have to attend a baseball game – I hate baseball! Arghhh… I arrived at the field, tired, too hot, and cranky and ran into Porter…
Porter (smiling, happy, awesome): How you doing Sandy? Having a good time?
Sandy (see above): I have no interest in baseball and this is the last place in the world I want to be right now. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love you Porter! (Felt immediately bad for this, and noticed Porter deflate a bit as I walked away. My bad on this one, for sure!)


Casey Boothby (@VMSBoothby) throwing the ceremonial first (one of three firsts) pitch!

At any rate, we stayed through rain and a game which made little sense to me and stuck it out through the 7th period… um… quarter… um… INNING! I saw Dippin’ Dots for the first time… not sure about that confection. Chatted with some more cool people I hadn’t met to that point, and really didn’t hate being there. Also, pretty impressed at the immense effort they make to relieve the dreadful boredom of baseball by many little events, contests, etc. between innings and throughout the game. Well done!

You have to read on for the conclusion of my baseball adventure…

Thursday, July 18

Yeah, this is going to be interesting… this unconference thing can’t work.

Better Photos from Your Phone – Tim Childers
I figured that if Tim was doing this session, then it would be like a conference session… so, the “UN” won’t spoil this one. I was right. Lots of great ideas and APPS.


      • ClearCam – needs tripod, takes 6 images and then melds them to make a very clear picture
      • SnapSeed – I had looked at this APP previously. Didn’t like it. Deleted it. Installed it again during the session. It’s GREAT! Nice, easy, quick image editing!
      • 645 Pro – nice features according to Tim. Saves as tiff which is almost as good as raw.
      • Quick Camera – high shutter speed – idea: take multi pics of moving things, load into iMovie and make a stop action movie
      • Touch Blur – easily blur a specific spot – use: blur face of student who doesn’t want to have picture posted, etc.
      • Magic Hour – warns you when the magic photo time of day is approaching
      • Toon Camera – turns images and video into cartoon-like quality
      • MobileMonet – turns images into paintings
      • Slow Shutter Cam – need tripod, keep shutter open for moving effects
      • Online image editors: Pixlr, webresizerPho.to
      • Tim’s notes are available
      • Symbaloo of apps
      • Symbaloo of websites for editing

OK – wow… good! Lots of ideas and resources. But Tim Childers could pull off a presentation like that in a subway station! The rest of the unconference stuff won’t work.

KidBlog – (sorry, I missed the name of the facilitator)
I’m interested in getting KidBlog approved for our Board. I’ve completed a Privacy Impact Assessment and hope it will go through, so I wanted to hear what others have to say. This was the perfect environment to do that! We sat in comfortable chairs in a nice environment and chatted, shared, questioned… Great session! I’m even more sold on KidBlog… here’s hoping!

Geocaching – Chad Lehman (@imcguy) and ME!
BPfYPxCCYAAFMaN.jpg-largeSo… this is hour three of the UNConference and here I am an unconference “facilitator” and not only that but I’m co-prsenting with Chad Lehman!
This session was attended by only a few people but we had fun, I think everyone learned a little (including Chad and me) and we got outside to look for a cache (no luck there though). While I was looking for the cache I also snapped a picture that I later edited with some of the apps I learned about earlier with Tim. I posted it and got a nice comment back from Tim! So cool! What a day!!

The Wall…
After lunch I came back and sat in a room as a session was preparing. As it started, I realized I was in the wrong room. I exited to the hallway to check the schedule and as I was doing that, I hit my saturation point. I realized I had found my wall. I sat down and thought about the week for a bit, then decided I’d do some laundry and come back and get a coffee. I also felt that I needed quiet. No chat, no great conversations, no music, just quiet for a while. That took two hours. Then I was rejuvenated enough to attend the last unconference session.

Brainstorm Ideas for integrating old technology. Let’s use what we still have rather than filling landfills. – (sorry, I missed the name of the facilitator)
CFSI was curious about ideas and thoughts. I shared our Computers For Schools program. I think there were only three of us in the “session” and the others shared some thoughts they had for re-use or re-purpose or just using dated technology a little longer for a specific single purpose of which it may still be capable.


      • iPhone that no longer works as a phone may still be usable as a camera!

Evening – Harlem Shake Part 1, Dinner, Harlem Shake Part 2

After we completed “filming” of our Harlem Shake we enjoyed a great Closing Celebration with our new friends and “DEN Family”.  The celebration was wrapped up by the Canadian contingent…

(I’ll add the link to that treasure when I get it.)

Friday, July 19

Our final breakfast and then the Closing Session.  Lots of hugs, some tears, many plans to collaborate in person or over distances… and a wonderful plan by Porter and the rest of the DE Team that allowed people to share their thoughts and experiences of the week.  Thanks for that!

Finally… the conclusion to the Baseball Game…

9603037918_99ba02324a_zJUST before everyone left Porter remembered “one last thing”… she started to talk about the Wednesday evening baseball game… she told everyone about my comment (see above)… and asked me to come forward. I’m thinking, “Oh dear, a public beating at DENSI!  I wonder if it’s a first!?” So, I sheepishly came forward … Porter met me at the side of the stage and presented me with a baseball autographed by the Vermont Lake Monsters!!  Awww…. The ball now sits in a position of honour and respect in my home – and reminds me to make the best of situations even if you aren’t thrilled with the specific circumstances at the time!  It’s all good!

So… there is so much I haven’t mentioned.  The great social interactions, wonderful chats over breakfasts, lunches and suppers, a meeting with Dean and Chad to discuss getting more Canadians  involved in the Leadership Council, meeting wonderful folks like those mentioned above, the DE team, Greg H, Lionel B, Casey B, Jill B, Carlos F, Sheila F, DENnis G, the rest of the Canadians!, Andy L, Pete P, Joe O (thanks for showing me where the drug store was!), Gina P, Tony S, Brandon W, Karen Z (you better come to NS!), and everyone else!!  I look forward to seeing you all again and to working with you in collaborations and discussions online!


(Cross posted at blog.discoveryeducation.com/sandymacdougall/)