Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Whitehouse #CSEdWeek Computer Science Tech Jam Recap

A little over a week ago I was doing homework with my kids with my phone close at hand as usual.  I tend to obsessively check email and often think to myself, Why am I doing this?  Do I think I'm going to get that email that says I won the lottery or was being invited to an event at the Whitehouse or something? Well, low and behold, I glance down and see an email with the subject line: 
Invitation: Whitehouse CS Tech Jam - December 7, 2015
You could say that it caught my eye.  I opened the email and was presented with the following:

I was a bit excited, in a little bit of disbelief, and certainly honored.

As the day approached, I became aware of some of the other dyamic people that would be there and was excited to find out that a number of friends that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for would be there.  This list included Lucas Gillispie (@lucasgillispie) was also attending. In addition, friends including Rafranz Davis (@rafranzdavis), Mark Deloura (@markdeloura), Deidre Quarnstrom (@Deidre206) along with Robin, Jason, and Michelle from the #Minecraft team, Erik Martin (@Eriklaes), Jed Dearbury (@mrdearbury1), Tammi Schrader (@TammiSchrader), Kara Chesal (@KCintheNYC), Katrina Stevens (@KatrinaStevens1) and others.  In addition,  members of the google classroom team, Magic Leap, Sphero, and Raspberry Pi, Glass Lab, and a number of amazing educators from around the country would be in attendance. I was very excited to collaborate with such an amazing and resourceful group.

Sunday was a great day in the city as Lucas and I spent a beautiful day strolling around the Capital hacking portals and making the city a safer place for the Resistence team in Ingress.  Sorry, that's a lot of geek talk for we walked around and played the location based game, Ingress in the area around the Whitehouse.
The before picture - when the 'enlightened'
still controlled the White House
The after picture - Peace of mind is restored as
the Resistence has regained control of the Whitehouse

We awoke early on Monday as we needed to arrive at the Whitehouse by 7:15 am to ensure there were no hold ups with our security clearance.  We were quite early and it was beautiful to see the Whitehouse and the surrounding area as the sun was rising and the moon was still in plain view.

Early morning view of the WhiteH
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the Whitehouse - our office for the day.
We made it through security and then Lucas and I found ourselves alone and a bit lost in the Eisenhower building.  There was a sign that indicated that the Truman Bowling Alley was located in the basement.  Very tempting... We wandered around the entire first floor before running into some other participants and realizing that we needed to make it to the 4th floor :)  

We entered and were greeted with breakfast and the opportunity to spend some time interacting with the other invited guests.  It was great to reconnect with Jed Dearbury who I had met in Seattle a few weeks prior.  He's a rock star in terms of Skype in the Classroom.  His presentation at the #redefinelearn event was one of the highlights.  I realized Tammi Schrader, who I have been friends with online for some time and have been waiting to meet was also at our table.  It was great to meet her in person (finally!). Then, as the talking continued, I realized that next to me was Greg Zecchini from the Google Classroom team.  I was on the lookout for him and others from the team based on Jonathon Rochelle's alert that they would be there.  

The Welcoming remarks were kicked off by Danielle Carnival, Assistant Director, Education and Learning Science, from the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (@whitehouseOSTP).  Danielle had been the one communicating with us prior to the event.  She was followed by Megan Smith, CTO from the OSTP.  Megan brought a great energy and passion to the discussion as she framed the day of a day for us to be inspired and create projects that will inspire others.  

Megan Smith brought Pikachu and other toys along to help inspire creativity for the day

Next up was Richard Culatta (@rec54).  I have always been a fan of Richard and his leadership as the Director at the Office of EdTech.  Richard has a game design background and totally believes in and supports the value of games in learning.  He is helping to push the needle and move the discussion forward in a significant way. My favorite Richard Culatta quote remains, "Learning is Fun.  We need to stop making it boring."  Yep, that about sums it up!

"Learning is Fun.  We have to stop making it boring." ~@rec54

Other speakers included Janice Cuny, the Program Director for Computing Education at NSF, Gretchen Achenback, Research Scientist from NCWIT (National Center for Women and Information Technology.  Rafranz Davis closed out the house in her typical awesome fashion.  

Rafranz Davis, amazing educator and advocate for equity in education

Now it was time to get to work.  The day was structured as a hack-a-thon, termed a Tech Jam with the goal of solving problems and generating opportunities around bringing computer science to elementary school.  Mark DeLoura kicked off the working session by setting the stage for our teams to solve problems and CREATE.  

We had six hours to develop something as a team of 5 to 6 people to showcase during the Expo at the end of the day.  Groups were made up of educators, developers, and other industry professionals.

Ideas included:

CodeQuest, monthly coding challenge in a box, created by my group.  Our idea was modeled after the Loot Crate idea and would be a subscription based service where each month the teacher / facilitator would receive a box with a new tool (i.e. MakeMakey, Sphero, Little Bits kit, Arduino board, Raspberry Pi, etc.).  The module would include a series of one sheet cards to explain the technology, teach a coding concept, share a 'watch it - code it' activity where students would follow a step by step tutorial to create something based on the tool and the coding activity.  The next step would be a 'Mod it' step where a series of design challenges would be provided to allow the student to modify the project and thus extend their learning.  Finally, they would be presented with choice of Quest Cards that provide a real world problem to solve using the contents of the monthly kit and the coding knowledge the students have to date.  

Lucas 'pitching' CodeQuest during the Tech Jam Expo

CodeaGram might have been my favorite product as it was modeled after Instagram (talk about meeting the kids where they are!) and users could code something (a small app or program) and upload the program to the service. The code would be available by clicking a button on the app and the user could download the code right from the app.  What a great way to have coders showcase their work and be part of a larger coding community. 

Wowwing me with the prototype (pretty close to being ready to launch!) of CodeaGram

There were many other great ideas for sure.  I would need to write a series of posts to cover all of them!

Closing remarks were provided by John King, Delegated Deputy Secretary, Department of Education.  He spoke of the importance of making opportunities accessible to everyone and shared stories of him being the person to represent any form of diversity on occasion.  We need to create products and opportunities that meet the diverse needs of all learners.  

The day was amazing in so many ways and as is the case often, the people really made it the tremendous experience it was.  Thanks to Erik Martin for thinking of me when it came to invitations and the OSTP staff, the awesome interns who organized the day's events, and everyone who participated and made it possible.  What a day!