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!
Well . . . if you know me at all, you know that this post could go off in a multitude of directions. I'm obsessed with a lot of things, including coffee, caramel, scarves, learning, and lime-green. BUT this time, I'm obsessed with finding new ways to use "old" things.
I have had the idea to use Forms or Sheets for a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Style activity for a long time, but didn't really have the motivation until recently. While in Las Vegas for a Google Summit last month, I got to watch a Demo Slam where Googlista Michelle Armstrong showed this very thing: she presented a story that took off in different directions depending upon which option the reader chose at the end of each page. Each "taker of the form" could potentially end up with an entirely different story, depending upon how he or she navigated through it. Interesting! This got me thinking . . .
So what if I conducted a Professional Development day in this manner? Goodness knows there are myriad options for things I could present on a given day, but how am I to know which of those is most relevant to my audience? Who says they want to learn what I have to share? I over-plan anyway, so why not use that to my advantage? That's just what I did:
Even though we only got through about 2/3 of what I had planned, I felt like this day was super-fun and extra-productive! Instead of "Ann the Leader" calling all the shots, the participants used Mimio Votes to select where we would go at the end of each adventure. When I guessed my group would want to learn more about Gmail Love, they actually chose Chrome Tips & Tricks. When I figured they'd opt for 10 Ways to Use YouTube, they decided they were more curious about Iteration in Drawings. Because the group directed the day, they were more engaged, more motivated, and more curious. They asked great questions, and experienced a lot of "OHHHHH!" moments that they may not have had if I had simply set the agenda and told them what we were doing.
I do have to admit, however, that this wasn't a typical throw-it-together type of agenda. This one took me a while; not because I didn't know what I was going to do, and not because I'm not savvy with Forms. The planning itself was the lengthiest part of the process. For any multi-page form you ever create, there is a bit of pre-planning that needs to take place before you ever dive in; think, "If this, then that." If my group gets through our morning tasks early, when will I give them the option for lunch? If the morning tasks take longer than I think, how will I direct them back to those opportunities after lunch? Speaking of lunch, what are we having for lunch? My advice for this endeavor, should I ever choose to pursue it again (which I will!): WRITE IT DOWN FIRST! Map it out on paper, and draw arrows from THIS to THAT. Make sure you don't forget anything because it's challenging to go back and fix it once you realize you've linked something wrong; one mistake usually leads to two, which in turn lead to two of their own.
After seeing the students of a brilliant 4th-grade teacher, Alissa Gray, use Google Slides to create multiple-choice math quizzes last year, I started to think about new and different ways to use Slides. Actually, I could have done the same PD agenda (described in the section above) with Slides instead of Forms, but remember: I'm obsessed with using old tools in new ways. This one was pure iteration for me. Here was my thought process:
About 45 minutes later (because I decided to make them pretty in Canva first), I had my 14 slides ready to start linking.
About 4 HOURS and 5 SECONDS later (see what I mean by obsessed), because I thought I was so stinking smart, I had my 41 slides - yes, that's right - FORTY-ONE SLIDES - ready to be tested. I shot the link over to my husband who could try it with an objective set of eyes, and it wasn't but a minute before he very politely informed me (after clicking outside of the transparent boxes on slide 3), that he didn't get to answer slide 3 because it automatically moved him onto . . . normal slide behavior . . . SLIDE 4. AAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!
SO. After many hours, and many iterations, I finally came up with THIS:
Perfect? No. If the user attempts to navigate with the arrow keys, they will still get all messed up and the experience will be ruined. BUT, if I make sure to tell them to JUST CLICK their way through . . . success. (If, by the way, you would like a copy of this ridiculous thing to pull apart and see how it was done, just click here!)
My point here is that I did choose my own adventure. My journey involved more than a little bit of cussing, along with healthy doses of coffee and caramel, BUT I learned a lot along the way:
The next steps, for us, were completely backward. A typical Google Apps for Education zealot would take a path that looks like this (click on any star to begin a Google adventure of your own):
From my first email message back in 2010, to my graduation from the Google Teacher Academy, this adventure has been amazing. I will have many, many posts (including tips, tricks, hints and resources) about this Google adventure in the days to come, but the moral of this story is that if you have found yourself anywhere on this path, take it! No matter the route, whatever your direction, or where you decide to stop, I promise you that you have much to learn.
May your dreams be #3369e8, #eeb211, #009925, and #d50f25!