I attended my first-ever Demo Slam at a Google Summit in Las Vegas this past winter. I actually think I may have witnessed one at the Google Teacher Academy, but truthfully those two days were such a fast and furious blur I barely remember what happened.
So What IS A Demo Slam, You Ask?
EdTechTeam, who puts on the Google Summits, touts a Demo Slam as a "high energy, geek out kind of session," where participants both get and give a bunch of tips, tricks and tools in a really short amount of time. In Las Vegas, 7-10 participants, speakers and sponsors presented 3 minute showcases (demos) on something Google. Most chose to show either their favorite tool, the most geeky use of a tool, or the most overlooked use of some "hidden" menu item. The fun was that they did it in such a way as to "slam" their competition in order to win (bragging rights, admiration, etc). The winner walked away stoked, but really EVERYONE who observed or participated was a winner because in about 30 minutes, we learned 7-10 new things or new uses for old things. Mostly we won an emotional bucket full of energy because of what we had witnessed: excitement about geeky stuff!
All pumped up with excitement after Vegas, I decided that a Demo Slam just might be an interesting method for delivering "training." While I was sitting at an elementary school doing "Geek in the House" one day, I decided that the staff there would be perfect for this kind of experiment. And so, without even asking permission, I sent the following email:
And from that I got exactly zero replies . . . HOWEVER, I checked the Doodle (to which I referred in a follow-up message) the next day, and 15 people had replied with suggested dates right away. Yes, game on.
Planning for Slamming
So here's the thing about a Demo Slam: you don't really plan anything. You just get the "volunteers" - whiiiiicchhhhh proved to be harder than I thought. It turns out that people aren't very confident when it comes to sharing, NOT because they don't know what they're doing, but because they think everyone already knows what they know, or that what they have to share is not geeky enough. After asking, coaxing, and just-short-of-begging, I had 12 very anxious Slammers lined up, two of which were my husband (the Director of Technology) and my son (a programming major in college). I collected their topics in a spreadsheet just to make sure there weren't duplicates, but I kept everyone's idea secret.
The day before the big event, I sent this message to all of the staff, as well as my "external" presenters (and the Director of the Education Foundation, and the Directors of Curriculum and School Leadership Support, and the Superintendent):
Welllll, then the emails started coming in. "I'm nervous." "I'm not sure my topic is slammy enough." "I don't think I can talk for 3 minutes." "I don't think I can keep it under 3 minutes." To all of these I simply sent a reassuring, "YOU CAN DO THIS!" reply. Luckily, I didn't have to pull out the, "For Heaven's sake, you teach 11-year-olds all day, you can teach your co-workers!" and only one person (a long-term sub) backed out.
The Big Day
With much excitement, the staff began gathering in the library at 3:15 sharp. I pulled up a random name generator on my iPad, and called out the first name: GULP. Aaaand . . . it was awesome. As was every single presenter after that. Of course there were hiccups in the technology: the Internet was slow, Reflector wouldn't reflect, the RedCat microphone walked away around someone's neck - the usual ed tech follies. BUT all 12 people got up and showed something awesome. Here were their topics:
What Did I Learn?
Every good experiment has outcomes, and I would be so bold as to call this one a tremendous success! I saw apps I had never heard of before, I saw tools I had never seen used, I learned brand new things I didn't know, and NONE of it came from a paid trainer. The speakers were friends, peers, colleagues, and trusted advocates for the very tips, tricks, and tools they demonstrated, and because of it, the audience was supportive and enthusiastic. The best part was that all it took was about an hour! It was fun, fast-paced, exciting . . . and as promised, everyone won. Yes, there were prizes involved, but truly, everyone who learned something new walked away a winner.
My favorite comments from participants:
My most recent iteration of this event was with my TILT Professional Development groups. Even though these teachers have been working and learning together for two or three years, everyone learned something new, and all of them were pumped to try a Demo Slam with their colleagues.
I am SUPER excited to test out my first-ever student-led Demo Slam this week! Just in looking at what they've shared with me so far, I have a feeling this will be my next new "thing" to encourage technology integration by students in their own classrooms. Check back for updates, but in the meantime, I double-dog dare you to try your own! All it takes is a few ideas from a few willing participants, and SLAM! You have yourself an event!