ICE 2018 – Highlights

HotPinkTech’s highlights from the 2018 Illinois Computing Educators conference. #ICE18

The end of February is one of my favorite times of the year. No, not because of the unpredictable weather, it’s because of ICE. Not the hard water kind of ice, the Tech kind of ICE. The Illinois Computing Educators kind of ICE! The best kind of ICE.

ICE 2018 ran from Feb 26 – 28 and brought together educators, students, and vendors from across the state of Illinois and beyond. I love this conference. Every year, ICE is my chance to see old friends, meet new ones, learn about new tools and talk to and learn from inspiring educators. It is a place where I get to recharge my ed tech batteries. It is amazing. This year was even better. Three days instead of two and a brand new shiny venue. Amazing times two.

Let’s take a look at my highlight reel.


Gillian King-Cargile and me sporting our STEM Read pride.

This year I had the pleasure of doing three presentations. Two snapshot sessions (really like this format) and one breakout. Monday, I focused on personalized PD and the Illinois OER website (IOER). On Wednesday, my partner in crime, Gillian King-Cargile (@gkingcargile), and I spread some STEM Read cheer. We had a great time telling everyone about the program and how they could bring it to their students. It was great to hear stories from teachers who have been to our field trips or who have used our resources in their classrooms. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories!

You can view the slide from all three presentations on the ICE Conference Resource Symbaloo or here in my Google Drive.

My favorite presentation of the week was from the very funny and energetic, Steve Dembo. His presentation, The Viral Video Effect: Storytelling for the YouTube Generation, made my day. It was packed full of ideas for integrating video into all classrooms. Even the littles. He shared video inspiration from favorite viral videos and discussed how to recreate the magic in your classroom. His message – don’t over complicate video production. Have fun with your students and show joy! Amen to that, Steve! He also shared what will become my new go to site for all things digital storytelling – The Digital storytelling DS106 assignment bank. Find it here – This is a huge list of video assignments. Check it out. I know I am going to dig in.

Shout Outs – Friends and Favorites

One of my favorite parts of ICE is that I get to reconnect with so many of my educator friends across the state. It is like homecoming week. This year was no different. I also get to see what some of my favorite ed tech products and services are up to. Here is a quick list of shout outs to a few of my favorite products and services. If they are new to you, I strongly suggest you follow the links and check them out.

zSpace, BrainPOP, CG Cookie, Common Sense Media
Love them! zSpace, BrainPOP, CG Cookie, Common Sense Media
  • zSpace – I first encountered zSpace a couple years ago (before they had a bus). This is a twist on AR/VR that is truly interactive and collaborative (which I love!). There is also a growing bank of learning resources.
  • BrainPOP – If you are not using all of the games, videos and resources on BrainPOP, stop what you are doing and go check it out. Go do it now. I’ll wait….
  • CG Cookie – CG Cookie is an online art education platform. Through their courses, you can learn 3D production, game design, clay sculpturing and more. Pricing is reasonable for access to all the amazing content.
  • Common Sense Media – Common Sense Media has valuable ratings, reviews and resources for parents, educators, and advocates. They are one of my first stops when I’m researching a new app or game. I also LOVE their Digital Citizenship curriculum. It is fantastic! If you have not explored their FREE resources, you need to.
  • IlliniCloud – They are not pictured, but I need to give them a shout out. IlliniCloud is a co-op of school across Illinois focused on providing tech solutions for K-12 districts. They always have cool projects in the works, such as eSports but I’ll get to that shortly.

New Tools to Explore

ICE is where all the latest and greatest ed tech struts their stuff. I always come home with new tools to explore and this year was no different. Here is my list of tools that I will be digging into over the next few weeks.

  • Empatico & Participate – I’m listing these two together because they shared booth space and are some how related. However, they each have very different purposes. Empatico is a free tool for teachers that will help them connect their classroom to other classrooms around the world. Looks like a virtual pen-pal program with tons more interaction. Empatico is supported by the KIND Foundation (yes, the healthy snack bar company). Participate on the other hand, is focused on teacher PD and learning communities.
  • Nearpod – OK, so I’m a little late to the Nearpod party but it sounds like the party is still going strong. If you are new to Nearpod, like me, it is a platform for developing and managing interactive lessons across multiple devices. It includes a wide variety of content from both internal developers and 3rd party content providers such as Flocabulary, iCivics, PhET, and more. I was really excited to see their new college and career materials that even include virtual field trips to college campuses. Nearpod is definitely on my list of tools to explore in depth.
  • Bloxels – OK, now this one looks like a blast and I may need to invest in a kit. When I walked by the booth it looked like a simple black board with little cubes to create pixel art. That caught my attention so I decided to stop. What this is, is a kit that allows students to create their own video games. They create their art using the boards, snap a picture, and use the app to create their game. (See the image below.) This looks like a super easy way to do game development and one I’m excited to try.
Bloxels - How it works.
Bloxels – How it works.

The Buzz – The rise of the gamer!

Every year at ICE there is something that is creating a buzz. This year, you could not go anywhere without hearing about playful learning, gaming, and eSports. From board games to video games, the art of playing is hot right now.

Sample of games from Red Raccoon Games.
Sample of games from Red Raccoon Games.

In the Playful Learning Space (read more about it here), Red Raccoon Games, from Bloomington-Normal, IL, had a fantastic selection of board games that you could stop and play. I played a spirited round of Codenames, with a couple cool teachers and talked about all the ways you could use it in the classroom. They had everything from Settlers of Catan to Happy Salmon there for you to play and discuss.

I’ve added quite a few games to my wish list.

eSports made a big splash this year. The eSports session on Monday kicked things off with a few high school teams playing some head to head League of Legends. We heard from Illinois coaches and students about what they are doing with their eSports clubs. We even heard from one student who has an eSports college scholarship. Wow! There were several other eSports sessions and a gaming center set up in the Playful Learning Space. The push is to get schools out there to register their club on the IHSA Emerging Sports website to make eSports a recognized sport in Illinois.

eSports teams talk about their experiences and play League of Legends.

For all you young gamers out there…this is your time. Grab it by the controllers and have a blast!

So, we say good bye ICE 2018 and all the old and new friends we connected with along the way. As always, it was a fantastic conference. I loved the new venue and longer time we spent together. Well done, ICE planning committee. Well done!

Now we start the countdown to ISTE 2018 in Chicago, baby!! See you all again in June!

Speaking ISTE

Level Up! What I Learned Doing a 30 Day Challenge

What I learned doing a 30-Day blog challenge.

The Challenge

Thirty-three days ago, I started on a journey. One that helped me break through a wall and level up.

Back in October, I found a Facebook group called Coaching for Geeks. I thought they looked like a fun and interesting group of folks. So I joined. Not thinking much of it but enjoying some of the posts that appeared in my newsfeed.

Shortly thereafter, they announced that November would kick off a 30-day Level Up challenge. The rules were simple. You pick the stat and provide evidence to the group every day that you mad progress towards your goal. They didn’t have to ask me twice. I was in. I just wasn’t sure which stat to chose.

Health is always one that needs attention. I lost over 20 pounds last year (Yay!) but, somehow, they all found me again and brought some friends. So, yes, health would have been a good one to choose. However, in the back of my mind, something different was lurking. Something that needed to be addressed. Something that I have been working around and ignoring for quite some time now. My fear of writing.  Yes, I am a blogger and an academic who is terrified of writing. Here was my chance to defeat that fear.

Backstory – My Relationship with Writing

I use to love to write. I wrote in my journals, I wrote short stories, poems, you name it. I found joy in writing. Then came grad school. In grad school, you write. You write a lot. I enjoyed it for the most part. Researching topics, formulating ideas, synthesizing knowledge. It was kind of cool. However, my dissertation ruined me. Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing experience. My dissertation committee was great and supportive. The teachers and students I worked with were fantastic. It was the writing process that ruined me. The dissertation process was not the only thing to blame. My new job contributed to it as well. During that time of my life, everything I wrote was examined under a microscope and edited, re-edited, changed, and reworked. The rational part of my brain knew that that was just a normal part of writing. Each edit and bit of feedback was making me a better writer. The irrational part of my brain was losing faith in me. I began to believe that I could not write. Even though I successfully completed and defended my dissertation (you can find it here), the situation destroyed my self-confidence as a writer. Every time I wrote something a voice would tell me that it wasn’t good enough. Not academic enough. Not cohesive or well organized enough or my ideas and conclusions were wrong. No one said this to me, just my own internal editor mouthing off. I became afraid to write anything.

For the next five years, I wrote as little as possible. When I had to write something I’d stare at a blank screen for hours. Thoughts and words swirling in my head forming into to ideas but falling apart when I tried to capture them on the page. The sentences were not good enough. My word choice was bad. My grammar and structure were too terrible to keep. In fact, I think I deleted more sentences than I wrote. It was a painful struggle to write even the simplest thing. Despite this mental barrier, I was able to collaborate on several articles, a few grant proposals, a book chapter, and even co-authored a short form book. It was never published but it was written. Every article, every chapter, every proposal was painful. That internal editor inside my head that kept telling me that I was not a writer. I shouldn’t even try. I was an imposter. As someone who works in a university setting, where writing and publishing are important, I was struggling with a mental barrier that was holding me back. My fear of not being good enough was holding me back.

Fast Forward – Challenge Accepted

Back to the present. Coaching of Geeks put out a call for the 30-day Level Up Challenge. I decided that this was my opportunity. I would tackle this fear head-on. I decided that I would blog every day about fun tech tools. The best way to defeat a fear is to rewire your brain. So, writing every day about a topic that was fun and interesting to me was how I was going to defeat my fear and overcome my barrier. Brain re-wire here I come.

I will admit, even before I started, I assumed that I would fail. I figured I’d last three maybe five days before I’d let the typical excuses get in my way. I don’t have time. I have nothing to write about. My posts are dumb and not worth reading. So I went into this thinking I would fail but willing to give it a try anyway. That was the first step on my journey. Telling myself that even if I might fail, even if my posts really sucked, it was worth giving it a try.

Challenge Completed!

Here we are. Thirty-three days later. Thirty blog posts later. Yes, all thirty. I did it! Have I completely beat the boss and leveled up? Maybe. The fact that I am still writing and have a head full of new post ideas makes me believe that I have at least won a battle.

I give all the credit to the Coaching for Geeks Challenge. If it was not for that, and the supportive group of people who were also doing the challenge, I never would have accomplished this goal.

Breath and Reflect

So, now is the time in the process when we step back and reflect on what we learned. No achievement is complete without a bit of self-reflection.

Lessons Learned

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just write. I think my fear came from needing to be perfect. My writing had to be good enough before I could share it. I was in that mindset where it had to be exactly right or it wasn’t worth doing. Writing every day and having to post it as evidence helped me begin to get over that. I’m not “cured” by any means. But I think I’m better. The posts weren’t perfect. Heck, some of them probably sucked. I know I broke grammar rules. My tenses switched. My metaphors mixed. I had participles dangling all over the place. My spell checker was overworked and a couple times just said WTF. But it didn’t matter. I wrote. I shared it. People read it. And some even liked it or shared it. I wrote. It wasn’t perfect. And that was OK. Whatever I was afraid of didn’t happen. It was OK. I got a good laugh this morning with this memory popped up on my Facebook timeline. “even if its crap, just get it on the page…” Seems fitting. It’s my new mantra.

    Facebook post
    I knew the secret back then.
  • The more you write. The better you get. My writer friends have been telling me this for years. It makes sense. You can’t improve if you don’t practice. The only way to become a better writer is to write. A lot. Over the course of the thirty days, my writing got better. I could write faster. My blog formats got better. I researched formatting and read more blogs to learn best practices. I feel that overall, I improved. I still have a long way to go but I improved. That improvement wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t commit to writing every day. It was fun to read the reflections of the others doing the challenges. Even though we all went after different goals, we all saw something happen in the end. Some now know more words in a second language than they did before. Some got healthier and now their pants fit better. Others made things or cleaned things or organized things. Whatever our goals were, buy attacking them every day, we got better.
  • Excuses are just excuses. What do you know, I do have time to write. I just had to make it a priority and turn it into a habit. Who knew?
  •  I write to learn. For me, this challenge was two-fold, 1) improve my writing and 2) explore more tech tools. The world of educational technology is huge! I felt like life was preventing me from staying on top of the hot trends and I was losing touch with the new tech tools out there. I had a blast spending the last 30 days digging into some tools. Not only did I get to explore them and write about it. It started several IRL conversations. Just the other day I had one of those conversations that goes something like this…”Hey, have you seen this tool?” “No! Cool! Have you seen this tool?” “Holy cow, no! It reminds me of this tool. You should check it out.”  Loved it!! I have several new tech tools to explore..and write about.

And finally – this is the big one.

Gamification strategies are an effective way to support self-improvement and learning. – I have been a believer in gamification in the classroom ever since I took my first grad class on the subject and read the book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by Dr. James Paul Gee. That was almost ten years ago. Since then, I have taught workshops on how to use game elements and strategies in a classroom and I’ve used these strategies with my learners. However, this is the first time I really saw it from the learner’s side.

Actually doing it and being in the role of the learner, helped me understand why this can work so well.

Here’s why.

  • The overarching storyline kept me motivated. Every morning I looked forward to logging on and seeing what was happening in the story. They were revealed just in time and kept me interested. Plus they were fun and funny. I also had fun reading others responses. 
  • Even though our goals were all different, we worked together as a team and were accountable to each other. I made sure I had my evidence posted early every day just to make sure the time difference didn’t make me miss a day. I didn’t want to let the group down and break my streak. The group needed me.
  • This showed me how powerful personalized learning can be. Even though we were all part of the same challenge, we all had different goals. The challenge was meaningful and personal. Yet, we were there to support each other and celebrate our wins. We were not competing with each other but with ourselves. And it worked.

I commend Robin Bates, our challenge master, and the entire team at Coaching for Geeks (CfG) for creating such a fun and engaging challenge. And big congrats to everyone who completed the challenge. No matter if you had a solid 30-day streak or an any-day streak. We did it! We were able to level up, make progress towards our goals and achieve the power level needed to defeat Nega-Robin. Yay us!

I highly recommend following CfG on Twitter (@CoachingGeeks‏). Join the Facebook group. Find them online, read the blog, listen to the podcast, and check out their courses. They are a great group of folks. They helped me overcome my fear and find joy in writing again. Thanks all!

So, what’s the next challenge? Bring it on!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 2 Snapseed

Day 2: Snapseed

I love to take pictures. When I travel, my trusty SLR is usually by my side. My go-to editing tool is Photoshop, of course. However, over the past several years I have become fascinated with mobile photography. That amazing technology in our pockets can take incredible pictures. And is a lot easier to carry than my SLR beast. As we take more pictures with our mobile devices, we can also move the editing from our desktops to our phone. Photoshop has a very nice app – Photoshop Express. I’ll write about that one at a later date. Today I want to talk about Google’s addition to the mobile photo editing apps – Snapseed. Snapseed is available for both IOS and Android.

What can you do with Snapseed?

HDR Scape filter applied to top image. Original is on the bottom.

What can’t you do with Snapseed? This is a solid photo editing tool. You can use the basic tools to tune the exposure and color of your image. You can crop and rotate. They also have more advanced editing tools such as Curves, White balance, and a Healing tool. The fun begins with the more creative tools. One of my favorites is the HDR Scape. This filer boots tones and saturation for a more vivid image. (Warning – it can be overdone making your images look over-processed but it can be fun to play with.) The image to the right shows a before and after HDR Scape image. The top image is a bit overdone in this example but when done right, the HDR Scape filter can create a lovely image in a few simple steps.

Top right is the original.

Other creative effects include Grung, Retrolux, Black and White, Grainy Film and Noir. Each of the creative filters can be adjusted and modified allowing for a great deal of creative freedom. As an avid Photoshop user, I’m used to having total control over my images but don’t always have the time or patience to create multi-layered special effects. Snapseed is the right amount of canned filters and effects mixed with enough manual adjustments to make a photo control freak like me happy. Also, I can do it all right on my phone. No need to download the images from my phone and do my editing to my desktop. Easy and convenient. What’s not to love?

Swen Parson Hall
Multiple filters added to create the final image on right.

Along with the creative filters, you can add vignetting, create tilt-shift images, and apply fun frames. Snapseed recently added new tools for making sure your selfies and portraits look amazing. Including eye enhancing tricks and portrait lighting adjustments. You can even change the angle of your face so you have just enough head tilt. I find this feature both cool and creepy. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

There are a few drawbacks to this tool, but not many. If you like to make collages with your images, this app is not for you. There are many collage apps out there so don’t be afraid to app smash. These photos were modified with Snapseed and the collages were made using Google Photos. Unlike Photoshop, you cannot work with multiple layers which limits the type of special effects and composites you can create. But, it’s not that type of editing tool. Also, there is no desktop version of this app. You need a mobile device to take advantage of the creative tools. (I’ll talk about my favorite web-based Photoshop alternative in a future post.)

Overall, this is a solid app for photo editing. Best of all, it is free! It is also simple enough for students to use. There is a very low learning curve but also a lot of advanced features to keep even the most advanced users happy.

So get out those phones, capture the world around you, and use Snapseed to make the images magical.



STEM Read Podcast – Episode 1

Very excited to announce that the NIU STEM Read Podcast is live! Check it out on WNIJ and subscribe!

Listen to the first episode, Science and Storytellingwith special guests biophysicist and science writer Erika Gebel Berg (@erikagebelberg) and award-winning author Mike Mullin (

Here is a sneak peak of the behind the scenes fun with me (@kbrynteson) and Gillian King-Carlige (@gkingcargile). We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

ISTE 2017 – Recap

It’s been almost two weeks since I boarded the plane for my first visit to San Antonio and my third trip to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. Two weeks and I’m still trying to unpack – both figuratively and literally. Since I don’t feel like dealing with the suitcase still sitting on my bedroom floor or the bag of swag in my office, I thought it might be helpful to try to unpack some of my key takeaways from the conference. I don’t know about you, but I love conferences. They are my chance to explore new tech, hear inspirational stories, and connect with amazing people. ISTE 2017 did not disappoint. Let’s role the highlight reel.

I’ll admit, I spent a good chunk of my time on the Expo floor – no, I was not just there for the swag. (However, that is why literal unpacking is taking forever!) I was there to play and learn. There were so many new and old favorite tools to explore. Here a few of my most favorites.

Expo Hall

Flipgrid – I’m a little late to the Flipgrid party but excited to join. Not sure why I have not been using this one yet. Flipgrid allows you to easily create video discussion communities. I love the potential of this tool for creating community and learner engagement. The past two semesters I taught an online undergraduate class. My biggest complaint about that course was that I didn’t really get to know my students. I see Flipgrid as the tool to help me fix that problem. I’m also looking forward to using it as part of my overall professional development strategies for the NIU STEAM Works PD program for the 2017-2018 school year.

UL Xplorelab UL is joining the STEM education game and creating some amazing looking, free modules and simulations. In their booth, they showcased their portable electrical power module. In this module, middle school students use inquiry to explore battery power and the concept of thermal runaway. The modules includes an interactive video, a testing simulation, classroom experiments and challenges. Very well done. I’m looking forward to the next module on fire safety.

Rob Schwartz – Building a Creative Culture

Adobe –  I have always been a big fan of the Adobe tools. As a professional photographer, Photoshop was my go-to editing software. Over the past couple of years, I have fallen in love with their new suite of free Adobe Spark apps. Adobe Spark has become my favorite tool for digital storytelling. So, needless to say, I had to stop by the Adobe booth to gush a bit. While there I was able to catch Rob Schwartz‘s presentation, Building a Creative Culture. It was packed full of ideas, resources, and inspiration for bringing out the creativity in your students.

There were way too many to discuss here but I do want to give a shout out to a few of the other exhibitors where I founds great resources and even better conversations.

  • BirdBrain Technologies – Robotics. (Bought my first Hummingbird Kit. Yay!)
  • STEMJobs – Free and subscription based resources, including a free STEM Type Quiz, for helping students find their STEM career path.
  • IPevo – Great source for easy to use, affordable tech for the classroom. They have been a longtime supporter of Edcamp Northern Illinois. It was great to connect with them on the expo floor.
  • Symbaloo – An e-hoarder’s dream! Easy, visual way to organize all your links. I’ve been using it for a while but Symbaloo is adding on to their learning paths features.
  • Girls Who Code –  Founder Reshma Saujani was the final keynote. She was so inspiring. I’m going to encourage my 17 year old HS senior to start a club in her school.
  • Classcraft – They were showing off some new, powerful features for gamifying your classroom.

Speaking of Gamification… I had the pleasure of presenting with the amazing Kristi Sutter on Hot Tips for Using Games in the Classroom.

Getting ready for our presentation!




We had a great crowd and it was a lot of fun. We created a Padlet filled with Games and Gamification tools for our attendees. It is open so feel free to add your favorites!

Overall, ISTE was amazing! I haven’t even mentioned all of the incredible educators. It is always great to see some of my higher ed colleagues from across the state. Not to mention all of the new educators I added to my PLN. I even had a few fan girl moments as I met educator rock stars, Kathy Schrock, Vicki Davis, and Scott McLeod. AMAZING!

Kathy Schrock Selfie!!

Well, now that I have started to unpack the ideas in my head, it might be time to sort through that suitcase. I know that as I start going through all of the hand outs and business cards, more ideas might shake loose and thoughts unfold. As they detangle, I’ll be sure to share.

Thank you everyone at ISTE for such an amazing week of PD, PLN, and EdTech! Can’t wait until Chicago next year!

Were you at ISTE this year or did your follow the #s? Share your thoughts, ideas, and favorite finds. I’d love to hear about what you learned.



Going Social without Going Crazy – Part 1

The real name of this post should be Confessions of an eHoarder. Why? Well, because I am an ehoarder. I spend a good deal of my free time combing through the internet exploring, discovering, and collecting information. There is a lot of great stuff out there. So much, that it can be very overwhelming. So how does one manage it without going crazy? Well, read on my friend and I’ll tell you my secret.

I’ve presented on this topic several times. To teachers, school administrators, soon to be teachers, and small business owners. (See the Prezi below.)

Share it, Pin it, Like it, Tweet it:. Prezi on managing your social media.
Share it, Pin it, Like it, Tweet it:. Prezi on managing your social media.

Every time I do this talk, I hear some of the same things from social media newbies –

“There is so much. Where do I start?”

“What if I do something wrong?”

“How do I filter out all of the garbage and find the good stuff?”

All very good questions. I find that many of the folks I talk to are hesitant to start using social media because they just don’t know where to start. Some don’t even want to start because it seems like such a time consuming endeavor. We all know that in today’s world time is a precious commodity. And let’s face it, social media can be a time sink. Who wants to use their limited free time sorting through cat videos and internet memes just to find a classroom activity on dividing fractions? Not me. (Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cat video or internet meme as much as the next person and if I could find a cat video on dividing fractions, life would be awesome!)

In all seriousness, social media can be a great form of free professional development. More and more educators are growing their personal learning network or PLN through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media tools.  I encourage the teachers I work with to ease into the crazy world of social networking by using a simple three step approach. Find it, Organize it, and Share it.

  • Find it: Use a small set of tools and strategies to sift through the virtual clutter and find the information you need. Let the tools do the work for you.
  • Organize it: Make sure that once you find it, you can find it again. Organize your digital content by using a couple powerful tools. Don’t use too many. Find a few favorites that meet your needs and stick to them.
  • Share it: In my opinion this step is optional but very powerful. There is no law that says you have to tweet just because you are on twitter. You can survive just fine by finding and organizing. However, sharing is how you begin to engage with the greater community and grow your PLN. But don’t worry, you don’t have to jump right into sharing. Take some time to get comfortable in the social space. Sharing can come later.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share with you how I find, organize, and share all of the information I hoard. Hopefully you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom to help you make the most of your social network.