DENSI 2014 – Final Reflection

As the lead of the DENSI 2014 Blog Team, I’m very happy to bring you this post from Katie Warren.  I asked Katie to write for us because she’s experienced most of the DEN Summer Institutes and their predecessors so I hoped she could share some of her experiences and provide some insight on how things have changed and developed.  She didn’t disappoint me so I know you’ll enjoy what Katie has shared here. 

The following post is by Katie Warren

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Carolyn Rains, Katie Warren, Kati Searcy, and Margie Rogers at DENSI 2014

My (late-life) teaching career began in 1989. A primary teacher, I loved working with the little ones who were just discovering the joys of reading and numbers. Seeing the look in their eyes when that first connection occurred is absolutely priceless! There is nothing better than those “A-ha” moments. I began to integrate technology in the early nineties and those “A-ha” moments continued. I saw them in my students, but I REALLY saw them happen with the teachers who were learning technology. Baby steps was the name of the game, and still is, but taking the first of many, teachers ‘saw the light’ and headed right for it. As a LITE for my site (Leader Integrating Technology in Education) I learned and shared whatever I could get my brain to absorb. I was a techno sponge.

Not knowing what it meant, I joined the DEN (Discovery Educator Network) in 2006 as a prerequisite for attending the CA Western Regional DEN Conference in 2006 … but, I’m getting ahead of myself …

The initial “birth of the DEN” was at ISTE in 2005, but subsequent DEN Events (regionals, nationals, leadership, and summer institutes) began in 2006 and take place every year since the birth. As a DEN Star I was blessed to attend at least one event each year. I pray for continued blessings!

My first DEN event was the CA Western Regional DEN Conference held in San Diego, CA at Sea World at 2006. Yes, Jannita Damian brought 50 teachers from CA, NV, AZ, OR and WA together to a great, big fish pond. We arrived loaded with every type of technology we could carry. The director at Sea World was that she had never seen so much technology in one place. The catch? There was one computer in each meeting room with Internet access. WiFi wasn’t even an option back then!

What an adventure we enjoyed! Each day brought an early morning walk through the park, each of the four teams rotating through a specific area of the park to learn more about the inhabitants and their needs as well as how Sea World operates. Feeding and petting beluga whales and bat rays, visiting Shamu and learning training techniques from the trainers, accompanied the amazing presentations from David Warlick, Hall Davidson, and our own “DEN mom”, Jannita.

There were high expectations of the attendees that year. The CA Western regional leaders asked (ahem, required?) us to create a movie, a blog post, an audio podcast, an enhanced podcast, and even more, either individually or collaborating with our teams. Every attendee / team had to do these and the pressure, often self-inflicted, was intense. The anxiety level rose to such a degree that within 24-36 hrs. the expectations were lowered. We still could do it all if we chose, but “all of the above” was no longer required.

Softening the blow and delighting us each evening was a piece of candy with an attached note placed on our pillows. How ‘sweet’, clever, and thoughtful. ‘Course, that’s a lot easier to do when everyone is in a dorm than individual rooms. I loved that this was repeated when we stayed in the dorms at the Headlands, too.

Regional events became National Institutes (DENNI) inviting STARs from across the country to attend. The DEN team soon realized there were now DEN beginners and DEN alums, so they diversified, holding two each year, one as a National Institute, another as a Leadership Institute. In 2009 the DEN crew got really ambitious and held three separate Institutes, one in Berkeley, CA, one in Silver Spring, MD, and one floating excursion in the Bahamas. I think that summer ranked foremost in the annals of DEN-dom, but it also signaled the end of the multiple institute format as they scaled back and morphed into a single DEN Summer Institute, or DENSI.

Creativity is high on the list for a DEN event and there was always something expected, perhaps that’s really UNexpected, whether you felt creative or able or not, LOL. Settling into Silver Spring one year we were asked to collaborate as teams to create an enhanced podcast answering the question, What Technology Did We Use in the Classroom Last Year? They gave us about an hour-ish for each teammate to create a 5-minute video and then create a single video of all of them. Whoa, that was challenging and fun!

Just as technology has grown and improved so has the caliber of presentations at DENSI. The early years saw the DEN team doing the presentations – and they were AMAZING and GREAT and INSPIRING! Steve, Lance, Hall, Jannita, and others fed us and we eagerly devoured their teachings. STARs were tapped to ‘volunteer’ to present, perhaps a nod to the future GURUs, and THEY were AMAZING and GREAT and INSPIRING, too! The accessibility to Internet superstars allowed Porter to bring the presenters to us at DENSI. How lucky are we now? I do miss hearing from our original team, but those of us attending through the years know what a pleasure it was. Engaging and funny, they made learning fun and helped us understand that it was okay to make learning fun in our classrooms, too.

Learning from each other is a big part of DEN events. No matter what the task, friends and strangers banded together to complete a given task. Sometimes we had only a short time frame (BoomDeeYaDa!) but others took hours and even days to complete. Tim Childers recalls one year, “I remember making my movie ‘til 3 AM … and I loved every minute of it!” DEN Stars are eagerly jump to the task and are definitely ready to please!

Play has always been an important part of any Institute. That has definitely not changed over the years. Whether chanting the camp song “Don’t Give Me No Sharks” with our Sea World camp counselors, dancing and singing to BoomDeeYaDa in Silver Spring, or competing in the DENmazing race, DEN Stars participate and laugh and enjoy one another. I can happily say, “#Because of the DEN, I make learning fun!”

Perusing Facebook since our recent DENSI in Nashville, I am find I am still connected to the teachers from years past. Even though I don’t see them in person anymore, I smile each time I see a post or a picture and remember what we created and celebrated together. Networking is an amazing gift from any DEN event. I have friends / colleagues / collaborators from around the world. What can I say? I am blessed to be part of the DEN!

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