Thoughts from #CSTA2018

I just spent a wonderful four days of learning at the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) conference.  All this, in spite of being on the conference committee.  My role, this time around, was organizing the volunteers that are integral to the success of any conference.  For the most part, as you can imagine, it involves darn near anything except attending sessions.

Now, I did have the chance to attend a couple in their entirety.  The key is to volunteer to proctor.  It has a number of payoffs – first you have to attend the entire session so you can’t be dragged off into different directions but even better a chance to sit and get off your feet.  Just make a new friend like Kristeen Shabram to have your back covered!

Conference committee work is a long term commitment.  This year’s conference was about 11.5 months in collaboration and planning that started from debriefing the previous year’s conference to planning the flow of traffic through workshops, keynotes, and sessions, to issuing a call for proposals, evaluating those proposals, assembling a conference that is balanced for potential attendees from K-12, higher ed, research, and industry, and then making contact with all kinds of people to make sure that there are enough volunteers to handle questions, registration, proctoring, … And that was just my contribution.

On a personal note, I was given instructions before I left – “We do not need more coffee mugs or water bottles” — but these are really cool water bottles that come along with a copy of Girl Code when you sign up for CSTA+ membership.  I’ll throw out a plastic one so that there will be zero effect on cupboard storage.  Maybe nobody will notice.

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To date, I’ve written a couple of blog posts…

And I think I have at least one more in me to show up next week.  Fridays through Sundays are kind of devoted around here.

I used Flipboard to gather what might be blog posts from the conference (CSTA is used in other contexts so filtering is important).  It was a great launchpad to these.

To date, there were three that I’ve had the chance to enjoy

from Messrs Bergman, Thompson, and Zamansky respectively.  I had the opportunity to chat with these gentlemen among many others.  My regrets – I wish we could have chatted longer.

I think that’s the part of it all that makes for success at a conference – people, good people, my people – all engaged in conversations of personal and professional nature.

Some conversations that stand out include…

  • Three professors from University of Northern Iowa talking about a new project involving professional learning opportunities for new computer science teachers.  This one was particularly interesting for me
  • Then, there was a disturbing conversation about equity, or rather the lack of it, in some major decision making settings
  • I got a chance to finally meet the new Executive Director of CSTA face to face and have a quick conversation.  As you might expect, he was pretty busy
  • Of course, there was a tour through the exhibit hall.  I like to take a moment to visit every booth, thank them for their participation, and get a sense of what was new.  As Albert Thompson noted in one of his posts, I may have seen the world’s biggest micro:bit
  • At our outing to the Computer Science faculty at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a great interaction about open-source software and also advice from a friend that those cute things with the sesame seeds may not be the best for someone allergic to shellfish
  • While at the university, I spent time in what would be a poster session about projects with local schools.  In particular, Machine Learning with Sphero
  • I was blown away that the Faculty at the university had a “petting zoo” for local teachers.  They could come in and play before making purchases and, even if their school couldn’t afford to buy, they could borrow the technology for their class!  Wow!  I mentioned that every conference attendee got a Chipitronic starter kit.  There was someone in the room that actually had theirs and demoed it – the zoo will be getting a new animal
  • Of course, there were the conversations with the committee.  You can do all the planning you want in advance but there are things that only arise once you go live
  • There were lots of new-to-me people for discussion with the volunteers.  I’m reminded that everyone has a story.  There were a couple of super volunteers that put in more than one time slot just to make sure that things went well
  • There was fun in volunteers too – we had some help us with bag stuffing – going round and round the swag table until we had stuff over 700 bags.  My step counter congratulated me on a new daily step record
  • And, there was a catchup with my friend, Michelle Friend
    Screenshot 2018-07-11 at 19.41.47
  • A private tour on the way back from the University of Omaha from a Creighton professor would take the leisurely route back to the hotel, including a drive through the Creighton campus pointing out the highlights
  • Podcasting and internet radio broadcasting from the Philippines.  I may have got us a new content contributor
  • For the closest of friends, it was a chance to catch up on the latest with our families and our lives
  • Perhaps the most impactful conversations came from people who knew I was Canadian in a place that wasn’t Canada.  Apologies and other thoughts were very common.  Yes, these were indeed my people

Oh, I’m sure that I missed more conversations to include.  I need to take notes.  The big takeaway here is the power in conversations when you get the right people together at the same place at the same time.  For this moment, Omaha in July was the right time and place.  Next year, Phoenix in July will be the right time and place.

And, just so that I don’t lose them, a few pictures.

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The Convention Centre

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The outdoor courtyard at the Convention Centre

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Our hotel – note the sky bridge crossing the street.  It’s air conditioned but we really didn’t need it.  Compared to the hot, humid weather we’d had, Omaha was so pleasant.

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The TD Ameritrade ball park where the Men’s College Baseball World Series is held.  It was a comforting Canadian feeling to see the TD on the sign.

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The Computer Science building at UNO.

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and hanging in the atrium

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The Sphero Machine Learning poster

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