Wednesday, July 23, 2014

DENSI 2014 Reflection

Well, it had to happen, and it did. It is over. A year's worth of waiting, creating an application video and submitting, hoping, crossing fingers, getting that ever-so-amazing email of acceptance, waiting for the event, (did I mention excitedly waiting?), arriving in Nashville, and connecting has come to an end. It is so bitter-sweet. All that excitement leading up to the event of the year, the energy and excitement of a week of DENSI, and then the strange feeling when one drives away. I have said it before, but the only way to even begin to describe this event/experience to others is to compare it to summer camp. The bonds made are life long. It truly is an amazing experience. I was fortunate to be accepted as 1 of the around 150 educators to be blessed to participate in DENSI 2013, and once again this year. Last year I felt like a deer in the headlights with all the excitement, this year I was prepped and ready for it! Below is a summary of my week.

Day 1: The celebration begins!

It is finally here! DENSI2014! The event I have been waiting for since last years Summer Institute! This is a gathering of like minded (aka: fun, supportive, outgoing, fantastic, intelligent, and inspirational) leaders in education. This is a week long conference developed by Discovery Education. In order to be accepted one must first be a DEN STAR teacher, then apply online, produce a video, and cross your fingers until they are black and blue and wait to get accepted. Only around 125 educators are selected from the US each year (including some form Canada and this year even the UK!). I was blessed again this year to be allowed to attend the DEN Summer Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. 

After a 9 hour drive, I arrived with my wife and fellow Michigan teacher Patti Harju in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt University. 

As expected, we were all greeted in the DEN family way: hugs, welcomes, and "missed you/great to see you" from previous DENSI alumni, and friendly greetings from rookie DENSI attendees. I am not sure if anything can really prepare you for a DENSI welcome. From strangers hugging, to the valuable networking, to the greeting of people that feels like seeing lifelong friends. It is truly amazing. 

After getting our rooms (yep, just like collage as we stay in the dorms to get the community feel) we were off to the opening dinner. A BBQ delight!

The opening session is filled with welcomes and things to expect. The keynote speaker this year was nothing short of inspirational. Greg Siers brought us to tears with his heart felt memories of childhood and the impact we all have on the kids we teach. He reminded us why we went into education, and the reach we have long after those kids leave our sight. Thank you for reminding us all who we are, and what we are: educators. 

After all we said and the last person left the meeting, I headed up to my dorm and read the Twitter feed (#DENSI2014) to catch up, checked the DENSI Edmodo and Facebook pages, typed up this post, and now, try to rest up for what tomorrow will bring. 

Day 1 has come to and end, but what a wonderful way to start! I give the DEN Finger to everyone lucky to be here, and all those who were unable to attend and will no doubt be living thorough the #NotAtDENSI2014 feed. 

DAY 2: The Outing

Yep...the DENSI fun has just begun. Today was our group outing. Every DENSI has a day that focuses on exploring the town we invade and learning something new, and DENSI2014 was not going to disappoint. Today was a exploration of Nashville (how could anyone go wrong with exploring Music City). A little history, sight seeing, and "culture" was on the docket for Day 2. This was not my first time to Nashville, but I got to see the city in a different way today.

Our morning started with a community breakfast. That is the flowery way to describe eating in the college cafeteria. Then it was on to the tour bus.

Our tour began with a carter bus journey through Nashville. We saw all the important sights travelers need to see, and ended out first part of the tour at Ryman Auditorium. This is where the Grande Ole Opry was recorded for years. After touring the building it was exploring time along the Honkey-Tonk Highway where many famous singers have gotten their start. The feeling of Nashville was in the air. 

After loading the bus for the second stage of the tour we traveled to Centennial Park. Here we saw the Parthenon. This is a to-scale recreation of the Athens Parthenon. We took our group shot here, had some photo fun, and moved on to lunch. 

After lunch we traveled to the culture part of our outing, The Country Music Hall of Fame. Everything country was to be seen. I am not sure they knew what to expect when invaded by all these light gray shirts!

The evening ended with a Movie Night. The DEN STARs were treated to a special pre-screening of an upcoming Science Channel episode of "How the Universe Works" (to be aired later) presented by it's producer Wyatt Channel. Also, a Q and A session with the producer of "How it Works" and other Science Channel shows. What a great opportunity! Like always, Discovery Education never fails to give fantastic experiences!

Tomorrow's agenda is full of our first "work" day. We will be in sessions all day learning about tech tools and classroom strategies. Tomorrow will begin the "drink for the fire hose" time of DENSI! As always, I leave each day looking forward to what the next will bring!

DAY 3-4: Breakout Sessions

Wow! That does not even begin to sum up the last 2 days. The DEN community never stops to amaze me with the talent and support. Today was the first day of scheduled sessions. There were 4 sessions (each an hour long). Attendees chose from a list of topics (4-5 each session) to learn about. Topics ranged from Ice Breakers, to Coding; from Story Telling to STEM: from Grant Writing to Miniature Green Screen, and so much more. The list was amazing. Choosing which session to attend was difficult as there were always too many each session I wanted to see! The good news is, in typical DEN style, there is a collaborative Google Document with notes. These are added by each attendee as the sessions took place, added later, and some (like mine) will be added when DENSI is finished. 

The amazing thing about a conference such as this is the connections made. The DEN is not just a tech conference where attendees sit in the audience and listen to someone "tell" them something new. It is collaborative. We learn together, talk together, eat together, and sit and have amazing casual conversations together. It is truly unlike anything experienced at any other conference. You may be in a session listening to someone talk about DE Streaming in one session, then sitting next-to/collaborating with that same presenter in the next session about Google Tours, only to have that same presenter in the audience at your session later. Learning is full circle with the DEN!

My wife (also at this conference) often declared I have "Fan Boy" issues. Well...maybe I do...ok...I DO! There is just something magical about eating lunch with phenomenal tech leaders like Dave Tchozewski and Kristy Vincent, then helping drive Adam Bellow to his hotel and chatting the whole way, only later to spend 2 hours doing the DENmazing Race with Kathy Schrock as a teammate. Don't forget about asking for Google Teacher Academy application tips from DENnis Grice, getting geo cache help from Mark Case,  or discussing coding or running with Lea Anne Daughrity. Then there is the fun conversations with David Fisher, chats with 81Dash web tool designer Carlos Fernandez, creating a MaKey MaKey with Steve Dembo, the passion and emotion Tim Childers brings to the room, and SO many more that I just can't list! There are just so many amazing, published, "famous", caring, compassionate, and talented people that make the DEN what it is! This collection of people just does not happen in the real world. Well...It is a good thing this is NOT the real world! This is the DEN family, and this is DENSI 2014!  

Yep...Just a Couple "Fan Boy" Selfie Images!

DAY 5: Unconference Sessions

Today was our Unconference session day. This was the chance for anyone to present on something they are passionate about. There were so many choices! It was (as always with the DEN) so many great presenters and sessions to see. Some where hands on, others were dialogue sessions to problem solve, while others were chances for connections to be made. In all, there were 66 1 hour session to choose from! I even stepped up this year and ran one on Google basics. This is one of my favorite days, as there is so much choice and you get to see all these amazing educators doing their thing! Especially DENnis Grice and Dave Tchozewski making Charlie the Tortoise talk to Porter Palmer with some fun iPad apps.

After dinner came the real fun. Each year there is a closing costume party, complete with a theme. As we were were Music City, this years theme could be nothing less than "Music". It is nice to see all these talented people having fun with costumes and dancing. What a way to end a phenomenal week! Below is a picture of all the Michigan DEN Stars at DENSI 2014 this year!

DAY 6: The End...

The last day is always the most difficult. This is when we say goodbye to our week long dorm life and the face-to-face laughing and fun, and rely on the life long bonds to hold us together. It is not really a "see ya' later", but a "change how I see ya' later". We leave the face-to-face connection and go to the digital connection. These people are my people. No matter how many miles separate us, we can count on each other for anything. Personal or professional, serious or humor. We value each other and support each other. We are the DEN. 

Check out all my DENSI 2014 pics on my Flickr Slideshow Below!

Created with flickr slideshow.