Friday, January 15, 2016

In Which I Meet an Astronaut and Devolve into Self-Parody...

Good morning, and hello, Adventurekateers!

Since I last wrote, FETC has been an exciting, inspiring, tiring whirlwind.

When I arrived yesterday, I was looking to get together with my friend Jen Williams to talk about ideas and recharge my daily energy stores. I get my recharge from talking, from excitement, and from novelty. For a person like me, Jen is an amazing connection. I don't know if I know anyone more positive, more enthusiastic, more "yes" about ideas and awesomeness than Jen.

But my goals changed when I got to the Press Room. I wanted to check in, hit the floor, and find Jen, my emotional cup of coffee this week. The first person I ran into, though was my pal Shauna, who reminded me that astronaut Leland Melvin was doing a Q&A in about fifteen minutes. The little kid in me was shouting, "What? A real astronaut? Maaaaaaan!" I've been rewatching 30 Rock lately as a palate cleanser after Making a Murderer, and all I could think was, "I'm gonna get to meet Astronaut Mike Dexter. Take that, Liz Lemon!"

And then Mr. Melvin took to the podium, and I loved his message. He spoke out in favor of  STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) over STEM, which clearly doesn't prioritize the Arts. He made the point that we need to make sure that students need to have a strong foundation in reading and math skills. Speaking a common language of words and numbers is necessary to work and problem solve as a community. But what I loved most is what happened next.

One questioner asked him about how we save African American boys, as they are struggling (I can't remember the exact words, this is a paraphrase). I'm sure Mr. Melvin has received tone deaf questions like that before, because he was so unflinching in shutting down the premise. He said (again, please note the lack of quotation marks, I was not recording) that the question wasn't the right one. A goal-less future is not just a problem for America's black boys, but for any child who lives in disenfranchisement. Whether we're talking about the urban poor, or kids in a rural environment, if you're a child who doesn't see inspiration, who doesn't have high standards, who goes to school in a building that is an oppressive environment, you're going to have problems reaching for greater goals.

As the same gentleman asked a follow up, Mr. Melvin pointed out that the idea of "putting a man on the moon," left out half of the population. We live in a (needlessly) male dominated world, and leaving women and girls out of our goals is unfair to them, and unfair to us as a world. He went on to thank teachers as the inspiration leaders of their students, and all I could think was, it's so much easier to work to inspire students when we have inspiration leaders of our own.

As he was leaving, I asked to shake his hand, and he offered to stand for a selfie as well. I don't know what it is about shaking hands with, and hugging inspiring people, but I do know that we talk about connection and connectedness a lot in the online teaching world. This week, I've come to realize how important it is to have that physical connection with people that are important to us.

On Tuesday, I half-jokingly made a sign that said, "I hugged @MagicPantsJones at #FETC!" Shauna took a look at it, and told me she'd make a nicer one for me. I took a couple of photos with it, but overall, I was embarrassed of myself for what? Was this too self-promote-y? Probably. Was it too silly? Maybe. as it missing the point of being at FETC? Perhaps. I didn't take the photo with everyone, though, because I felt kind of dumb. Then I got a tweet from my friend Bonnie Olson asking me why she didn't get to take a picture after hugging. And then I felt dumb. What's my word for the year? Yeah, Lean-In. In my case, that's being my ridiculous self. I told her we'd do it when I see her next (I hope you're still here, Bonnie!).

But I was still awkward about it until the fantastic #FLedChat session hosted by #FLedChat moderators. Early on, Jerry Swiatek called me out, "I've seen you every day, how come you haven't taken a hug photo with me, Sean?" And the floodgates opened. As I write this, I'm realizing how much - again - physically connecting with people is important to me. Am I going to become the Leo Buscaglia of EdTech? There are worse fates. And for the rest of the day, it was hugging! Old friends, new friends, perfect strangers, how energized I felt after each hug.

My #FETC Hugging Project has been ridiculous, a little embarrassing, and most of all, incredible. I have friends who are new to FETC, and they're soaking up classroom ideas, techniques, and tools. I have other friends who are nailing the swag game on the Expo floor. These are things I've done in the past, and they're so awesome when you're doing them. But for me, this year, FETC has been about connection, and it's been the best year for me yet! (Look out ISTE, I'm coming for my hugs).

And I'll leave you with a picture of one of the most powerful huggers I know, one of my first PLN hugs ever, Tammy Neil and I, post hug.

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