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Making the Jump From Proficient to Excellent – #ICE14 Presentation March 5, 2014

Posted by jjanczak in Conference, presentation, Teaching, technology.
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This is our presentation from the Illinois Computing Educators conference on making the jump from “proficient” to “excellent” using technology. The workshop was very well attended and I had a blast presenting with some great colleagues.  Please offer your feedback and thoughts.

5 Things I Learned at #NCSS13 November 25, 2013

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So this was my first time at a NCSS conference, and I have not been to a Social Studies specific conferences since I presented with one of my favorite professors at Michigan State University, Dr. Timothy Little, at MCSS back in the spring of 2001.  I had been to quite a few technology conferences but to me, this journey to NCSS was a return home – back to the subject that I love.  Here is what I learned…

1)     When it comes to the Common Core, we are doing good things already in our curriculum and the C3 standards makes it even better.

Common Core, which has been treated like a four letter word in the past (and by keynote speaker Oliver Stone) is where we are going as a nation and we have to accept it. I equate it to throwing up, you can fight it all you want but its gonna happen!  The good news is from the presentations I went to, we have already been doing a lot of what the Common Core asks of us! If anything, we now have more autonomy! Wait you want me to teach skills and I get to have some freedom over what content I get to use to teach it? Score!  The NCSS’ C3 standards even give more direction for teachers to focus on while developing those skills.  We are well on our way – which may be why we are left out of most state and national tests!

2)     Civil engagement – now more than ever – is key

From the C3 framework to the numerous sessions put on by the likes of the McCormick Foundation, Dr. Peter Levine at Tufts University and Diana Hess the message was loud and clear – students need to get involved with what is going on in their community, state and the world around them.  Considering the current political climate, I couldn’t agree more.

3)     There weren’t enough “really make you think…” sessions.

As I sat through Kenneth Davis session a colleague mentioned “wouldn’t it be great if Davis and Oliver Stone did a panel discussion/debate together?”  I couldn’t agree more! Dr. Diana Hess’ session on Friday morning highlighted a statistic that said “students in like -minded classes are more likely to be less tolerant of other people’s views” and that we as teachers owe it to our students to expose them to ideas and viewpoints contrary to their own.  Aside from Oliver Stone’s speech (he does not mince words!), Rep. Lewis’ speech, and an poignant yet respectful comment by a Vietnam Vet directed at Mary Beth Tinker I didn’t see or experience too much controversy at this conference.   I think we missed out on a chance to grow as a community from the controversy that a good keynote or a great session provides.

4)     Technology and gaming is really starting to catch fire…

As a former tech coach and a self-described nerd I was very excited to see all the sessions on gaming and technology! I have used iCivics in the past with great success and it is good to see that these simulations are starting to take hold within our curriculum! If you get a chance to look at iCivics do it. I’m excited to see what Historia could do for our feeder school students and their understanding.  What I would like to see more sessions of are ones on the use of social media in Social Studies.   Hmmm, proposals open up in December…maybe I will fill one out!

5)     Speaking of social media, I was surprised by how few people were using the #NCSS13 tag on Twitter!

Perhaps the Twitter thing hasn’t caught on yet with NCSS but considering the amount of people at the conference the feed seemed relatively quiet.  The networking that was going on was incredibly helpful to me and I only write this as a way to encourage more people to start using Twitter! Next year let’s get the #NCSS14 feed trending!

All in all it was a great conference and I am looking forward to going to Boston next year! On a side note, although I didn’t attend any sessions I LOVED the idea of the “unconference”! How cool was that? I hope that stay for the Boston conference.

Thanks to all those who worked tirelessly to put on this conference.  I had a great time and am looking forward to next year.  See ya at Harvard yard!

Top 5 Things I Learned at ASCD13 March 20, 2013

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I’m back (well, actually I am here because the conference was here in Chicago) from the ASCD 2013 Conference.  I attended sessions on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and learned so much my brain has entered a “learning coma” (similar to a food coma with less of a need to workout after).  In reflecting on the weekend I wanted to summarize a few of the things I learned.  Here are the Top 5:

5) There is a digital divide between those educators who are on Twitter and those who are not. 

Props to ASCD Executive Director Dr. Gene Carter for proudly telling the 7,000 or so attendees on Saturday that he had just sent his first tweet of his career just moments before taking the stage.  He took a big step forward in connecting with thousands of other educators around the world all working to make sure they continued learning from others.  I felt that being on Twitter allowed me to gain so much more insight from the conference than I would have if I was not on it.  From powerful quotes from Will Richardson to another colleague I follow seriously questioning where the learning was in this particular session I was engaged on so many different levels because of Twitter it made my experience that much richer.   A big shout out to Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) for putting together an impromptu EdCamp on Saturday afternoon to discuss how Twitter works and how teachers can use it.  I had a chance to walk by #EdCampRogue and it was fantastic to see so many teachers learning about Twitter.  If you truly want to continue to grow as a teacher and do what is best for your students – get on Twitter and start developing a PLN.  Not sure where to start? Following those two guys I mentioned earlier is a great place!

4) Chicago needs to build up the area around McCormick Place

Ok, so this is my only non-educational based one but seriously the only options we had outside of the convention hall were a Burger King, Papa Johns, White Castle and a few local places.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the King and his onion rings but if I had a ton of money I would build a big entertainment area right next to McCormick Place with a whole bunch of restaurants and bars.

3) Don’t follow the crowds at the conference

I was able to get into the Sandra Day O’Connor session even though I got to the conference rather late.  I saw the very long line and thought, “well, this isn’t going to work…” and dejectedly walked away (Sandra Day O’Connor is one of my heroes both judicially and through the way she was a pioneer).  I heard security telling people that the room would be full and that there was an overflow room set up on the other side of the convention hall – many people line joined me in my walk of rejection.  I met up with a colleague who was going to a session right next to where O’Connor spoke.  I decided I would join her and walked back toward the room where Justice O’Connor was scheduled to speak – except there wasn’t a line any more…and they were still letting people in.  I quickly jumped in line and was able to secure a 2nd row seat for her talk-which was awe inspiring! Which brings me to my second point…

2) Never underestimate the power of a teacher

So as I sat in Justice O’Connor’s session with the giddiness of an 8th grade boy who just got asked to dance by a cute girl, a question was posed to her about her educational experiences and the impact they had on her career.  She told a story of her elementary school teacher in 1st or 2nd grade telling her she could do anything she wanted when she grew up.  When she spoke she caller her teacher by name (Mrs. Fuhl (sp?)) and spoke of her impact.  It blew me away…here is an 82 year old woman who has seen the world, and met millions of people still remembering her 2nd grade teacher’s name because she meant that much to her.  Why? Because she inspired Justice O’Connor.  She made her feel important and more so empowered.  I sat there and pondered if we took Mrs. Fuhl out of the equation would Justice O’Connor be sitting there as the first woman on the Supreme Court? It made me realize the gravity of what we do day in and day out and inspired me to do my best.

1) Sometimes its the unfamiliar names in the small rooms that can really change your practice and make you think. 

Don’t get me wrong. I was blown away by the Justice O’Connor talk, meeting with my well known college professor Dr. Gerstein, listening to Maya Angelou, and learning more about flipped classrooms but one of the best sessions of the weekend came on Monday from Anthony J. Fitzpatrick (@antfitz) that dealt with reading and writing across the Common Core as it pertains to Social Studies.  I’ll be honest, I never heard of Mr. Fitzpatrick but I was intrigued and I walked into the small room and sat down for his presentation on how Social Studies can be SPECtacular.  His presentation style and content were awesome and made the 90 minutes fly by.  He talked about the importance of the 5 paragraph essay for about 4 minutes and then spent the rest of the time talking to us about how to engage students in the writing process – and how to get them to write about different angles (Social, Political, Economic or Cultural).  It was awesome and a relief to know if I followed his ideas I would not be reading 30 of the same papers.  I am hoping to share some of his resources with my colleagues and hope that we can use those ideas to inspire writing with our students.  Again, nothing against the big names that presented – they did a fine job and  I learned a lot – but I always like it when a session surprises me like Anthony’s did! It was worth coming down on Monday just go gain the knowledge he shared with  us.

Well that about wraps it up for ASCD for me this year.  Am I going to LA? I liked ASCD and learned a ton but I am hoping my district can send me to EduCon or ISTE next year and if I go to that it would be hard for me to get them to foot the bill to LA – especially the week before Spring Break!

Join Twitter if you haven’t already, do your best to inspire kids and never stop learning from whoever you can.

I’d love to hear of your experiences at ASCD.

Giving Up Facebook For Lent February 14, 2013

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So I’ve been thinking long and hard about what to give up for Lent.  I could give up soda, snacks, or junk food but for a guy of my, um, “stature” giving up useless calories is a lot like asking someone to give up breathing…sure it sounds like a good idea at the time but it isn’t going to last very long. 

So I took a good hard look at what was going on in my life.  I was incredibly busy with coaching club volleyball, helping lead a department, integrating writing into my Honors US Government curriculum, and getting students ready for the AP Economics exam, taking Masters classes but more importantly trying to be a great husband to my wife and an even greater father to our 11 month old daughter.  I realized that my time was at a premium and that while being on Facebook was fun it wasn’t helping me become better at any of those more important things listed above.  So I am going to give up Facebook.  For 40 days.  40 incredibly long days.  

To say I am a bit nervous is an understatement but I think it will all be ok.  Our daughter just turned 11 months today and I look forward to spending more time playing with her and watching her grow.  I look forward to spending more time conversing with Beth (we are both guilty of getting lost in our phones spending time checking status updates after a long day rather than talking to each other).  I look forward to spending more time blogging (I’ve already decided that WordPress will be my “fix” for when I want to check Facebook at home or at school – I will just jump on here and throw out something that I am musing about).  I look forward to spending time on what is important.  That is not to say things on Facebook aren’t important. There are some things that are important on Facebook and most likely I will miss out on a few things (like a $5000 from Bill Gates if I “like” his picture…I may have won that contest!), but in the grand scheme of things I will probably miss out on a lot more going on around me if I were spending time on Facebook.  

Some of you may ask, “Well Jason, that is very admirable…are you going to give up Twitter too?” 

My response would be “Next question…” 

I will still be on Twitter, which I use a lot more for professional development (I swear!) than getting my fix of Someeccards sayings.  But until Good Friday I am saying “Adios” to Facebook.  There will be some trying times to be sure but I think in the long run it will all be ok.  

I mean we all survived without Facebook before Mark Zuckerberg right? So how bad can 40 days be? Really? I’ll keep you posted.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts – post them below – and once I come out of my withdrawal shakes and tears I will be sure to read them.  

1 day down…39 more to go…


Oh THERE You Are… January 15, 2013

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After a 7 month hiatus from blogging, I am back!

Things I have learned since I’ve been gone:

1) Having a baby daughter is by far the most awesome yet scariest thing that can ever happen to a man.  I love her dearly, and we have had a blast these past 10 months – she is my world and I wouldn’t change that for anything. She is our first and to say having a baby changes your life is an understatement.  Sleepless nights, dirty diapers, giggles and now a lot of crawling – it is truly been a blessing of an experience.

2) Mid-major colleges are awesome – I flew to Boise State for my Masters in Educational Technology and spent 2 nights out there.  Gorgeous campus, gorgeous town and a fantastic graduation ceremony.  Having graduated from Michigan State I had never been to a smaller school before.  While I will bleed green and white forever, 20 minutes in Boise made me realize that I could have been a Bronco too and been happy.

3) Apparently I cannot quit going to school.  In August I joined a cohort at National Louis University for a Type 75 administrative certificate – just in case a door opens in the future – I will be ready to step through it.

4) Common Core is a lot like waking up with the flu/needing to throw-up – you can fight it all you want but eventually its going to happen after you do it you feel better.  I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely on-board at first but after doing some reading and research and seeing that if it is done right it actually gives the teacher more autonomy and focuses on skill development I am hooked.

5) I have found a new passion for writing in the classroom.  After getting away from it for awhile for reasons that I still don’t fully understand I approached this semester with the emphasis on writing with my seniors.  Using Kelly Gallagher’s book Write Like This, I am redesigning the process in which we approach writing in Honors Government class.  So far, so good and I will keep you posted.

I have learned a lot more since the last time I blogged, but as referenced in #1, I have a baby daughter and on top of being the most adorable thing on the planet she also wears me out so I am signing off and heading to bed.  I promise to visit more often.  Until next time – go forth and do good things.


5 Things I Learned Running FedEx Days In Class May 2, 2012

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Inspired by the Daniel Pink video below, and wanting in part to see how my high school honors seniors would react to such a project, I embarked on a high school version of “FedEx Days”.  The assignment? Simple: learn about something that interests you and pertains to government and share your learning with the class.  The only requirements on the assignment is that presentations must be between 2-4 minutes and include some type of visual/artistic represenation/presentation.  As an added incentive, students created “superalitives” for their class that they would vote on (e.g. most interesting, most creative, etc.)

Here are the 5 things I learned:

5) All students want freedom in the classroom – but many don’t know what to do with it once they have it.

What I found interesting about the project is that as I was talking about it the students were excited to get some freedom about the topic, and excited not to have to do anything from a textbook, etc. but when I said “Ok…now go create….” nearly every single one froze out of fear and or confusion about what to do next.  It was as if they wanted me to take them by the hand and lead them through another project.  Anytime a student said “I don’t know what to cover….” I responded with “What are you passionate about or interested in? Tell us about it…”  To students who are used to jumping through hoops and pleasing teachers, all of a sudden creating something seemed incredibly hard and or confusing.   Their audience was their peers, there was no grade given, only the honor of having one of the superlatives bestowed upon you was at stake.  Many students were definitely out of their comfort zone – and I thought that was a good thing. I often wonder if this confusion comes from years of schooling where they are expected to jump through hoops and just please teachers.

4) When given the freedom – some students develop outstanding presentations and teach their peers great things.

I had no idea there was a huge conspiracy theory centered around the Denver International Airport, (link is not my students work) nor did I know how concerned many of my students actually were about student loan debt. We had a student from Australia give us a crash course in Australian government – the kids were totally engaged to what she was saying.  Some students took it upon themselves to learn how to create a Prezi for their presentations. (Our Education System Prezi/Illegal Downloading Prezi)  Some definitely rose to the occasion and those who were in those classes definitely benefited from their presentations. 

3) “Being Creative” means many different things to many different students

I had students write lyrics to the song “Imagine” by the Beatles about life without government and then come perform that song in front of her class (she declined to be recorded, but I really wish I could show it to you all).  Students painted – outraged over SOPA/PIPA, student loans, and taxes.  Students showed pictures and created Glogsters about their topic.  This was interesting to see because how often do we just restrict our students demonstration of their knowledge to teacher friendly assessments and not assessments that engage our students?

2) Students still sometimes need expectations/standards

While I have raved about some of the great things that were produced – not all that was produced was stellar.  I struggled with this one during the week of presentations and came back to the fact that I never really defined “excellence” for them when it came to presentations – I just said “go create”.  Reflecting upon the week, I think I will give them some examples of  “excellence” when it comes to making presentations and pushing themselves to do their best.  Its a topic we give lip service too sometimes in school, but what does it mean? There is an expectation of excellence at Google when they do their 20% time, and the thought is if they don’t produce they lose their job – which for all intents and purposes is an incentive.  If they didn’t produce for the class, or produced a crap presentation other than the negative judgement of their peers, there is no consequences for producing sub-par work.

1) This was a blast – and we are doing it again next year

Once they realized they were truly free the kids had a blast with this for the most part.  They were like puppies with the cage left open – as they ventured out and saw they were free many of them took advantage of that and ran around (metaphorically) to some awesome places.  We are definitely doing this again next year with the “excellence” component/expectation added into it.  (It will be interesting to see next year when I tell them “I expect excellence” but do not grade anything what will happen). 

My hope is that this idea spreads to other teachers in the school so students have more “puppy” experiences in other classes with some freedom to just create.

10 Things I Learned at ICE 2012 March 3, 2012

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3 days of learning and networking are done and we have loaded up the sled dogs thanks to some new snow we are getting and are making our way home from a great weekend at ICE 2012! Here are 10 things I have learned this week at ICE:

10) If you do not let your students create in your class you are doing them and their learning a great disservice. I struggle sometimes to do this in my AP Economics class because I am tied to the AP curriculum – this week has motivated me to seek new ways for my students to create while still learn College Board curriculum.

9) We as teachers need to model appropriate mobile device etiquette both inside and outside our classrooms. We are educators looking to promote the use of technology by our students and in our profession – those of you who were playing Bejeweled Blitz or Words With Friends on your iPads or iPhones would be ticked off if your students were doing it in your class so you probably shouldn’t be doing it during the keynotes in the morning.

8) Those longjohns they served in the morning at Pheasant Run Resort were the best. Especially the vanilla ones. Like heaven on a plate.

7) The best sessions I attended were the ones where I didn’t just sit and listen but I interacted with those around me. Jon Orech’s session on Thursday and Dan Rezac’s session today were great because I didn’t just learn from one person, I learned from a ton of people.

6) I get “Twitter-Envy”. I had Twitter open all weekend and would follow the #ICE12 throughout the day – sometimes when I ended up in a less than engaging presentation I would get envious of those tweeting about how awesome their session is.

5) That penguin is one popular dude! They had “Get Your Picture With the Penguin” set up at the PLN plaza, and there was ALWAYS a line to get your picture taken with the penguin. Sadly the penguin and I never connected. Does he have a Twitter account?

4) The EdTech community is starting to feel more like home. I wrote about this yesterday a bit but it is worth repeating. This was the first year where I really knew quite a few people and it was great to connect with them again and make new connections as well. Whereas I felt like a total outsider on my first ICE a few years back, this time I felt like I was coming back to a family.

3) Cellphones still seem to be taboo. While I presented on this once again, I think we were the only (or one of two) presentation on using the power of cellphones in your classroom. We had good attendance at our presentation but I am still confused as to why it is such a taboo topic for schools to address. The kids have them in their pockets, we might as well use them for learning.

2) It was nice to go 3 days and hear the terms “collaborating” and “creating” when it comes to students in our classroom rather than “standards based testing” and “Making AYP”. It was like a breath of fresh (but snowy) air!

1) We have a ton of EdTech talent right here in Illinois. I was blown away by some of the things people are doing using technology to help push the learning in and OUT of the classroom. There is a lot of good stuff happening in EdTech around this neck of the woods and I am thrilled to be a part of the network to be able to learn from some outstanding people.

Thanks to all who made ICE 2012 happen. This conference always seems to come at the right time for me and really helps me get out of what I like to call “my February rut” that I slip into from year to year. I am definitely looking forward to next year!

ICE 2012 Day 2 – Becoming Revolutionary March 2, 2012

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Today was my second day at ICE – here are some thoughts on the day

1) The keynote by Peter Reynolds was inspiring – while the jist of it was “make your mark” I especially liked his quote that “changing is doing something different – innovation requires you to be revolutionary…” which is pretty fitting to where I am right now – do I want to just change things for my students or do I want to do something revolutionary for them? I know which direction I want to take them – but how do I make it revolutionary? I have kept coming back to that question all day.

2) In keeping with my goals of going to less “tools” based presentation and more “learning” based presentations I went to my first session of the day.  Any Jon Orech presentation is easily worth the price of admission to the entire conference and this one was no different – Jon talked about setting the table for achievement.  It was a great discussion about how to use technology to support learning and some of the pitfalls that EdTech falls into – specifically with using tools to use tools.  It wasn’t just a sit and get – we had the chance to talk to each other about some of the thought provoking question Jon posed.  This was a helpful step in becoming revolutionary – like I said worth the price of admission.

3) It was great to network with old friends and make new connections.  This was the first year at ICE where I felt like I belonged because I knew a few people – it was kind of a cool feeling for me.

4) E-pubs seem to be the wave of the future right now and it is great to see students creating some great work and being able to share it out – I am hoping to do a session on how we are doing this at Grayslake Central next year (in forming a partnership with our feeder district and letting our HS kids create texts for our feeder schools).  Not sure if that counts as revolutionary – but its a step in the ride direction.

I am looking forward to tomorrow and finding more fuel for my quest to not just change what I do in my class but to become revolutionary.

Edmodo as a Virtual Substitute March 1, 2012

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So as I mentioned in the previous post, I am out of school for 3 days while I attend the ICE Conference in St. Charles, Illinois.

Three days out of a classroom for most people usually means the learning stops and the movies begin, and admittedly I was one of those people (a teacher can get a pretty good vacation in while showing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!)  Ever since I switched my classes over to Edmodo the learning can continue while I am gone, and I can still have contact with my students if questions/problems arise.

I wrote alot about Edmodo back in this post a few years back and I am now beginning to truly harness the power of what this tool can do.  As I mentioned, I am gone for three days, but I am able to send my students to the computer lab, have them log on to Edmodo, watch the lesson I uploaded on to TeacherTube which I embed on Edmodo and then complete the project or questions that demonstrates a deeper understanding of the lesson.  They can upload that formative assessment back to me and I can check to see if they got the main concepts of the lesson.  Today students have been contacting me via Direct Message if they have questions, or they are just posting the questions on the Facebook style page for the class that Edmodo create and helping each other (THAT has been awesome to see!)

Without Edmodo I would probably waste good instructional time with meaningless busy work/movie while I am off getting some good professional development – however with Edmodo the students continue to get the instruction they need, I am able to help them as needed, and I can still evaluate their progress in learning as the week continues.  While it is not exactly the same as being there, it is also not 3 wasted days of instructional time watching a meaningless movie (much to the disappointment of some of my students…).

Edmodo is already great for student engagement with the curriculum, helping each other, and allowing for learning to happen outside the classroom – but now that I have discovered how easy it is to use as a virtual substitute I am really glad I starting using it with my classes.


ICE – Day 1 March 1, 2012

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Starting today, I am spending the next 3 days at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference (or ICE as it is known).  I plan on posting some thoughts and reflections on the days here over the next few days.

Today I spend a full day some of my colleagues at an Illini Cloud sponsored event with the Meteri group about Data Driven Decision Making (or D3M) as it was called on my sticker.  It was a day devoted to spending time taking about the data we have, the data we need, and how to make decisions based off of that.  Most of the day was spent talking about aligning our curriculum to standards, etc. and how to evaluate the data to better student learning.

While the presentation was good, I was frustrated because most of the day was spent talking about the need to give kids tests to measure performance, placement etc.  The frustrating thing to me was that formative assessments that were project based or more authentic were given gentle lip service and passed over.  Look, I know we need to use standards based testing, I get that – but there are other ways than just multiple choice tests.  I wish we could have learned more about how to measure project based/authentic assessment – I believe a lot of schools are headed that direction or would be headed that direction if they could understand how to capture and evaluate data from those assessments.

There was a section about social emotional learning (hard to evaluate that on a scantron!), which was really interesting because it talked about what makes students engaged.  From my experience its not multiple choice tests but relevant and rigorous curriculum (with an emphasis on the RELEVANT!). One of the presenters glazed over the concept of the flipped classroom and dismissed it as “not so good…” but didn’t give a reason why.  For me, I would rather flip the classroom and engage my students when I have them in my class with meaningful and enriching activites and let them have access to the lecture or information on demand whenever they want via YouTube/podcast/etc.

I have to admit, it was a bit of a rough start for ICE for me today.  There were some bright patches like the discussions that occured while sitting around a table with 8 technology-minded colleagues from my district.  It was great to have 8 colleagues at ICE from our district – I remember when it used to just be me and my LMS.  The desire to learn technology is spreading and that is definitely a good thing.

Tomorrow, I present on  using smartphones in the classroom to enhance learning. Friday I am just an observer and have a goal going to sessions on changing how learning occurs in the classroom and not going to sessions just based on tools (ironic I know because I am presenting on tools tomorrow).  I’m excited to see what the rest of the week brings.