Now that it's over and I have had some time to decompress (it happened fast thanks to the freezing temps here in NYC), I can confidently say that Miami Device was the best education conference I have ever attended. Yes, the sunny weather, palm trees scattered throughout, warm temps each day and pool most definitely impacted the experience but it was about so much than the backdrop. Miami Device was about the people; Miami Device was about the variety of sessions; Miami Device was about a collective enthusiasm and passion that permeated the space; Miami Device was about the opportunity to connect with other educators thanks to the built in "social" experiences; Miami Device was a learning event different than any other I have ever experienced; Miami Device was so much more than a typical conference or professional development experience because of the work Felix Jacomino put into it to engineer an almost flawless learning event!
From the opening keynote on Thursday morning to the closing keynote on Friday afternoon, those two days were jam packed with learning opportunities with people who were excited to be there, willing to share and looking to learn. Those are such a rare things within the current landscape of education, which is part of the problem plaguing our profession. Many educators don't invest in their own learning! Many educators don't direct their own learning! Many educators wait for professional development to happen to them and then don't use it when they are done! These statements are based on recent experiences when I have attended conferences with other educators who only come because they have to be there or because they are presenting or because someone else directed them to attend. Yes, I have been in situations like that too and I have also been to conferences where there was no investment on my part and in the end, there was no learning either. That was not the case with Miami Device.
So, what made Miami Device different? Here are just some of the things that stood out to me...
1) Most of the keynote presenters were in attendance for the whole conference and not only did they facilitate individual sessions on top of the keynote, but they also attended other people's sessions to offer their insight, participate and learn. For example, right after his opening keynote, Adam Bellow facilitated a bunch of sessions but also attended some; in fact, George Couros (another keynote) attended one of Adam's sessions and offered some powerful perspectives to consider... such as the difference between professional development and professional learning. That was awesome to watch and I have been to dozens of conferences over the last couple of years and have rarely, if ever, seen the keynotes be so actively engaged in the learning throughout the conference!
2) There was a great variety of sessions. Although many of the sessions had a tech focus or theme (it is Miami Device after all), there were also sessions that addressed broader pedagogical techniques and approaches. For example, I attended an amazing session on assessment with John Spencer that had almost nothing to do with technology but helped me think about how we can diversify the way we assess children at #Cantiague. I was also fortunate enough to co-facilitate a conversation on Telling Your School Story and Culture with my friend Todd Nesloney.
3) The tech sessions were awesome and somewhat differentiated! So, if you were a tech expert of sorts, you could attend Adam Bellow's session on hacking the keynote experience where he went step by step on how to do some impressive things within Keynote. Or, if you were less techy, like me, there were also a bunch of amazing tech themed sessions that were a little easier to access like the one by Kyle Pace where we digged deeper into Google Drive and I learned about tools such as Pixlr Photo Editor and Videonot.es or the session with Tony Vincent where I learned about different tech resources to enhance the centers experience (i.e. - Shadow Puppet EDU app, EdPuzzle and Blendspace). Bottom line... the sessions were awesome!
4) There was lots of time for socializing throughout the learning event and guess what?? It wasn't all about taking selfies with people (even though a lot of that happened too)! Whether walking together from one learning space to another or sitting together for lunch or breakfast in the outdoor courtyard, the opportunities to socialize never stopped. This may seem like a byproduct of the physical setup of the conference but I know it was intentionally engineered that way by Felix so that the conversations and learning could continue beyond a session or keynote. What we know from research is that some of the most powerful learning happens through social interactions - people learn when they talk to other people. What was amazing to me at Miami Device was everyone's willingness to engage and share... it was like a pop-up community of practice where people easily fluctuated between expert and novice based on interest and experience. It was AWESOME! The best part was that I left that space with new life-long friends who will not only shape my professional learning but also my personal learning. That is a WIN/WIN in my book!
5) The food at Miami Device was AMAZING! Yes, I like to eat so the food is important too and most times, food at conferences is blah, at best. Well, whether it was the paella on day two or the buffet on day one, the food was AWESOME at Miami Device (thank you Felix)! Of course, we also had time to explore Coconut Grove and Miami Beach at night and thanks to the recommendation of a friend (thank you Ross) my colleagues and I had the best pizza EVER at Lucali - a must stop if you are ever visiting Miami!
6) Every person I met was excited to be there and wanted to be there! Whether it was Tanya, Rebecca, Carl, George, Paige, Tracy, Rich, Katrina or Rodney, EVERYONE wanted to be there! Aside from EdCamps, this is something that is usually missing from education conferences and I can say that it was a game changer here. Yes, people had fun and there was plenty of eating, dancing and even some delicious beverages but almost every exchange was rooted in learning so that we could enhance our craft and be better for our students. From my vantage point, that was the most awesome part of the experience!
So, now that I am home and have had some time away from the Miami Device experience, there is one thing I am certain of... if it's possible, I will be going back to Miami Device in 2017! With that being said, this blog post is intended to inspire others because I think what Felix accomplished at Miami Device can be replicated by other educational organizations (just reach out to Felix). If we can replicate the Miami Device experience throughout the country, then something amazing might happen... we will put learning at the center of our profession and take control of our own professional development.