I Have Called You to This, I Will See You Through It

23 08 2015
TNU graduation

TNU graduation, May 2015

I’m 42. I have a full-time job. I have a family.  Most people who know me would say that I am busy enough as it is with my “normal” life (whatever “normal” looks like these days.)  So why did I start grad school again two years ago to pursue my MBA?

Since high school, I have wanted an MBA.  I wanted to be a business woman, not a teacher.  In fact, growing up, my mom often recommended I go into teaching.  I fought her every step of the way.  How I came to be a teacher is a completely different and wild story, but that will be told another time.

The MBA was put on hold for a couple of decades for many reasons.  When we got married, my husband was working on his Ph.D., so it was not a god time for me to go back to school since we had bills to pay.  Since I was teaching, a Master’s in Education made more sense so that is the first higher degree I received.  And we had a couple of kids.  That always makes going back to school a little more difficult for a working mom, too.

An MBA was on the back burner for a long time, and I was just fine keeping it there indefinitely.

Until two years ago.  Through some personal and professional situations going on at the time, I felt a calling, from God to “Do.  This.  Now.”  He was emphatic on the “NOW” part.  This was in March 2013.

I rarely get such a direct call from God.  I didn’t question it, but prayed (a lot) that if this wasn’t really from God, the doors would close.

But they didn’t close.  They opened wide. An application was submitted and the acceptance was received.  My first class was in September 2013.

In those first few months, there was much crying and much cursing.  And more crying.  And more cursing.  I complained to God, “Why?  This is cursing my family more than it is blessing it.”

When I needed it most, God confirmed on several occasions this is what I was, indeed, supposed to be doing.

Twice he reminded me, “I have called you to this, I will see you through it.”  Both times were amidst severe doubt and praying for a sign to quit.

Once, through tears on the way home from class (Economics to be specific), I prayed for a sign to let me know I was still doing what He wanted me to do.  I turned on the radio and heard, “You’re an overcomer.”  Normally, I don’t take too much stock in such things, but I needed this song at that time.

Another time as I pulled onto the campus, I noticed a stained glass window on the main library’s dome I had never noticed before.  I thought to myself, “I wonder what it would be like to teach here someday?”  The immediate reply was, “I have greater things in store for you than this.”

What does one even do with that kind of answer?  I immediately felt a surge of excitement followed by trepidation. Greater than being a university professor?  I guess for many people, there are a million careers greater than being an educator, but being a university professor has been a dream of mine for a while.  Every time I step onto a college campus, I feel “home” in terms of my career.

I began to dissect what “greater” often means in the Kingdom mindset.  It usually doesn’t mean wealth, fame, or success, at least not by human standards.  I want to explore this idea, too, but that will also be the topic of another post.

I began my MBA at Trevecca Nazarene University on September 12, 2013, and I finished on August 6, 2015, with a 4.0, which still amazes me considering I’m not even a business professional.  I learned a tremendous amount of material, and I am so thankful for the professors I had who were not just experts in their fields, but who modeled Christ throughout their teaching and who challenged us to model Christ throughout our coursework and in all aspects of our lives.

Here a few fun facts about this journey I just completed (for those of you considering something similar):

  • I took 14 courses, one at a time with each lasting 6 weeks. Class meetings were held every Thursday from 6:00-10:00 p.m.
  • I literally wrote over 1,000 pages of papers, projects, and homework assignments.
  • My lowest grade final grade in a class was a 95% and my highest a 116%.
  • I failed two quizzes in Economics, but they didn’t count toward my grade since our four lowest ones were dropped.
  • The longest textbook I read was just over 1200 pages (thank you, Project Management).  Yes, I did read all of it even though we weren’t required to.
  • The longest paper I wrote was 59 pages and had 38 sources (Marketing).
  • I averaged 15-30 hours per week of course work, depending on the class.

Despite all the accolades, I still don’t know why I was called to this program at this time.  The MBA won’t affect my current teaching position, and I have no plans to enter the world as a business professional.  I need a doctorate to move up to university level teaching.  An Ed.D. is actually my next goal, but I plan to take a few months off to reacquaint myself with my family and friends and to read as many books as I can of my own choosing before jumping back into my final round of grad school.

This was a wild, difficult, and incredibly challenging season for me and my family.  My professor in my very class told us as we embarked on this endeavor, “the greater the sacrifice, the greater the potential reward.”  I have no idea what this “reward” might be for me, but I am nonetheless filled with gratitude that God made good on his promise to “see me through it.”





I’m Not 40 Anymore!

21 09 2013

I turned 41 yesterday, hence the title. I must say, being “over the hill” has been a great ride so far. I am in far better health now than I was 20 years ago. My cholesterol continues to decrease each year and is at an all-time low of 133. I can still do 180° right and left leg splits. My 5K speed continues to get faster. Spiritually, I am more in love with the Bible than ever and find prayer calming and humbling. Professionally, I continue to revise my curriculum every year. I am not content teaching the same stuff just because it’s easier. I just started working on my MBA. In terms of behavior, I am more patient all around and am much calmer in the car. When it comes to my family, I am ridiculously blessed with an amazing husband and two incredible sons.

I am also very goal-oriented, so I decided to take stock of my “40 Things to Do in the Next 40 Years” list that I wrote a year ago. (My updated notes are in parenthesis after each item.)

Physical
1. Do 40 military style pushups at one time, no breaks. (Still working on this)
2. Successfully finish a Tough Mudder. (Tough Mudder teased us with a Nashville race in May 2013, then moved it out of state.)
3. Swim freestyle for 50 meters without stopping. (Nope, practicing would help)
4. Run a sub 30-minute 5K in an actual race. (I’ve done several races this year, but not a straightforward 5K, not yet. I have 4 more races before 2013 is over, so I’m really hoping this will happen. I ran a marathon relay not too long ago and PRd with an 8:28 minute mile at one point.)
5. Do ab ripper at least twice each week, preferably three times. (Nope)
6. Bike once each week. (Nope)
7. Run two-three times each week. (Yup! I’m averaging 10 miles per week over 4 runs)
8. Swim once each week. (Nope)
9. Always remember to wear sunscreen. (Almost always)
10. Hike the Appalachain Trail. (Maybe next decade?)
11. Still be able to do 180° right and left leg splits 40 years from now. (Yup!)

Diet/Nutrition
12. Eat at least two servings of fruit each day. (Yup! Except on my birthday; then I get all my calories from sugar and lard . . . and maybe some cheese)
13. Eat at least two servings of vegetables each day. (About half the time)
14. Remember to take all my supplements each day—multi vitamin, calcium/Vitamin D, fish oil. (Usually)
15. Cut back to one sweet/dessert item each day (except on birthdays). (I’m down to two per day which is way better than it was a year ago.)
16. Try one new recipe each month. (Yup!)
17. Drink more water. (About the same)

Spiritual
18. Fast 40 hours straight once each week. (I still fast, but not for 40 hours—my body did not take kindly to that. I was getting too dizzy and lightheaded.)
19. Memorize one scripture each week. (Sadly, nope. I do read the Bible every day, and my knowledge of scripture is growing, but I just don’t officially memorize verses.)
20. Give half our income away, probably through Compassion International child sponsorships. (Well on our way!)
21. Teach my children to pray in all circumstances. (Working on it; this will be a lifelong lesson.)
22. Teach my sons the importance of sexual purity and protecting and honoring their bodies and the bodies of any girls/women they have relationships with. (Praying about this regularly and having age-appropriate conversations as they arise.)
23. Watch my sons grow into their own faith in Christ. (Yup! So cool to see my sons coming into their own faith rather than living out simply what we tell them to do and say and believe.)
24. Go on a mission trip. (Yup! Texas in March 2013 and India in June 2013)

Mental
25. Get my MBA. (Just started my classes! Graduation = fall 2015)
26. Get my PhD. (Maybe next decade; need to finish the MBA first.)
27. Not go crazy. (Debatable)
28. Read on average one book per week. (Pretty darn close)
29. Become fluent in another language. (If sarcasm counts, I’m fluent.)
30. Learn to play the piano. (Too busy; maybe after my MBA and PhD?)

Miscellaneous
31. Have a weekly date with my love. (Desperately need to do better!)
32. Play more games with my family. (Same #32)
33. Visit all the Wonders of the World. (Five down, two to go—Petra and Angkor Wat)
34. Travel to a new country each year. (So far, so good)
35. Grow my hair out to my wedding day length. (Almost there!)
36. Join a community choir. (Too busy with #1-35)
37. Watch no more than 1 hour of TV each night, except when Dancing with the Stars goes for two hours. (Yup! I have almost cut out TV completely, probably because I’m reading so much. I honestly don’t miss it . . . except Dancing with the Stars.)
38. Re-invent/re-paint/re-design several rooms in my home. (Consulting a friend who is an interior designer is on my to do list for the summer of 2014.)
39. Build a library with floor to ceiling book shelves in my home and fill it with great literature. (Also on my—as in my husband’s—to do list for the summer of 2014.)

Most Important
40. Remember that each day is a gift and to live a life that reflects how grateful I am to be alive. (I’m better at this than I used to be, but there will always be room for improvement. Can we ever be too grateful?)





This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.





40 Things

20 09 2012

 

40 & Fabulous

40 & Fabulous

I turn 40 today, and until a short while ago, I dreaded being that number.  It was so old.  Half of my life was over.  Then it hit me . . . I was at the age where I realized I turned into my parents.  Upon reflection I realized that wasn’t a bad thing.  How blessed am I to be able to say that?My attitude began to turn around from being negative and dreading this birthday to wanting to celebrate in grand fashion, which we did.

As the day approached, I also began to think about the next half of my life.  What do I want to accomplish?  Who do I want to be?

So being an ultra-organized, detailed-oriented, goal-setting, to-do queen, I did what came naturally.  I created a list.

This wasn’t merely a Bucket List.  I already have one of those.  There is a difference in this new list and my bucket list.  My new list is realistic.  My bucket list isn’t.  For example, I really want to throw a live grenade and watch something blow up.  I know that will never happen.

My new list is comprised of things I want to do in the next 40 years of my life.

Physical
1.       Do 40 military style pushups at one time, no breaks.
2.       Successfully finish a Tough Mudder.
3.       Swim freestyle for 50 meters without stopping.
4.       Run a sub 30-minute 5K in an actual race.
5.       Do P90x ab ripper at least twice each week, preferably three times.
6.       Bike once each week.
7.       Run two-three times each week.
8.       Swim once each week.
9.       Always remember to wear sunscreen.
10.   Hike the Appalachain Trail.
11.   Still be able to do 180° right and left leg splits 40 years from now.

40 & Fabulous (and still quite flexible)

40 & Fabulous (and still quite flexible)

Diet/Nutrition

12.   Eat at least two servings of fruit each day.
13.   Eat at least two servings of vegetables each day.
14.   Remember to take all my supplements each day—multi vitamin, calcium/Vitamin D, fish oil.
15.   Cut back to one sweet/dessert item each day (except on birthdays).
16.   Try one new recipe each month.
17.   Drink more water.

Spiritual

18.   Fast 40 hours straight once each week.
19.   Memorize one scripture each week.
20.   Give half my income away, probably through Compassion International child sponsorships.
21.   Teach my children to pray in all circumstances.
22.   Teach my sons the importance of sexual purity and protecting and honoring their bodies and the bodies of any girls/women they have relationships with.
23.   Watch my sons grow into their own faith in Christ.
24.   Go on a mission trip.

Mental

25.   Get my MBA.
26.   Get my PhD.
27.   Not go crazy.
28.   Read on average one book per week.
29.   Become fluent in another language.
30.   Learn to play the piano.

 Miscellaneous

31.   Have a weekly date with my love.
32.   Play more games with my family.
33.   Visit all the Wonders of the World.
34.   Travel to a new country each year.
35.   Grow my hair out to my wedding day length.
36.   Join a community choir.
37.   Watch no more than 1 hour of TV each night, except when Dancing with the Stars goes for two hours.
38.   Re-invent/re-paint/re-design several rooms in my home.
39.   Build a library with floor to ceiling book shelves in my home and fill it with great literature.

Most Important

40.   Remember that each day is a gift and to live a life that reflects how grateful I am to be alive.





Appreciating Your Teachers

15 05 2012

Teacher Appreciation Day has been celebrated around the country over the past few weeks, my school included.  I began thinking about the things I appreciate most as a teacher.

  1. Chocolate, in almost any form.
  2. Gift cards to almost anywhere.
  3. Cupcakes in almost any flavor.
  4. Free food from almost anywhere.

On a more serious note, the things that make me value and enjoy my job are a little less tangible.  (Please note, most of these are directed to high school students and parents as that is the level I teach.)  As a teacher, I appreciate it when:

  1. Parents pray for their children’s teachers and administrators.  This is one of the most encouraging things a parent can do for me.
  2. Students are respectful.  Yes ma’am and yes sir still go a long way.  Taking pride in your appearance demonstrates you respect the rules, even if you don’t agree with the dress code.  Being on time to class says something about your character.  Trust me, all of these “little” things matter and have an impact on your reputation.
  3. Parents let their children fight their own battles.  If your child has an issue with a teacher, please encourage your child to talk to the teacher first.  If that doesn’t resolve the matter, then jump in.  The sooner your children learn to deal with concerns on their own, the better prepared they will be when they leave home.
  4. Parents let their children make mistakes and teach them to accept responsibility.  Some of life’s greatest lessons come through failure and bad decisions.  Don’t deny your children the opportunity to make poor decisions and mistakes.  You must also teach your children to take ownership of those decisions.  (I’m not talking about health-related or life-and-death situations.)  Better they learn those hard lessons in high school than in college or the workforce where the consequences are often much more severe.
  5. Parents follow through with discipline.   If your child’s whining, complaining, or whatever wins out, and you give in without disciplining as you said you would, you are teaching your child that 1) your word doesn’t mean much and 2) endurance—even when it’s a negative action—wins out.  Please do not train your children that all they need to do to get out of being disciplined is whine louder or longer.
  6. Parents teach their children how to handle disappointment in a godly manner.  No good will ever come from yelling at the ref or berating a teacher who “gave” your child a bad grade.  All you are doing is showing yourself to be a poor role model.

I was a teacher long before I was a parent, but being a parent has made me realize that I am my children’s most important teacher.  Ever.  I have a larger influence on them, especially in their early years, than anyone else. 

My habits—positive or negative—will become my children’s habits.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
-Proverbs 22:6





Why I Teach

14 12 2011

Warning:  Serious bragging ahead!

In a culture where people are quick to condemn and slow to praise, it’s affirming when that praise does come.  I promise I did not make any of these quotes up, but following is a snippet of why I teach. 

No, it’s not for the amazing paycheck.  You don’t go into education to become monetarily rich, but we teachers are occasionally rewarded with something money cannot buy—a heartfelt thanks from students and parents.  Below are excerpts from comments sent to me over the years.  (All names have been withheld to protect the potentially embarrassed.)

    • “Digital Media has possibly been one of my favorite classes.  I have already recommended this class to many people that are interested in this kind of thing.  Thank you Mrs. Huddleston for an awesome class!” –student
    • “Mrs. Huddleston, thank you so much for creating such a unique opportunity. Your class was constantly intriguing, and valuable beyond measure. It’s been a haven to have a small relaxed class once a day, and your organization and predictability always gave me a sense of stability. You’re a wonderful teacher, and I’ll miss having your class.” –student
    • “I loved Digital Media and I wish I could take it again next semester and forever and ever and ever!!!!!!!! (I know how you love exclamation points Mrs. Huddleston!!!!!!!!!!!!)” –student
    • “I can’t believe Digital Media is over already.  This has been my favorite class, probably ever.  There are about a million other things I could say about Digital Media, but if I kept going, I wouldn’t have time to study for the exam.  I am going to miss this class so much, but at least I still have yearbook where I can see 4/5 of the class every day! (counting Mrs. Huddleston)” –student
    • “My daughter is in your technology class, and I have to say it has really been fun learning about her cupcake business. She has even mentioned dropping out of school, and starting a cupcake business (just kidding!) She has really enjoyed your class, and I have to say that the information that you are teaching our children is very relevant and important for their futures. Reviewing your curriculum, I told her that after completing your class that she will have completed her first MBA class. Thanks again for all that you do for my daughter.”  -parent

  • “It’s exciting to see (student’s) work progressing.  Wow, you are really preparing our students for the future-thank you!” –parent

  • She is loving the class and sat down with us last night to show us how much of a “wiz” she is at Excel now!!  Thanks for the inspiration!!” –parent
  • “Thank you so much for the sacrifices you make for our kids.  I know how hard it is to work and be a mommy.  By the way, we have been so excited to see this curriculum it so practical and something that 80% of all workers end up in the business world.  Thank you for giving each of these students hands on experience with this information.” –parent
     
  • “THANK YOU  for teaching and making the course so appropriate and useable outside of the classroom. (Student) has enjoyed you as a teacher and your class this year. I feel that the knowledge and skill he’s obtained in your class will help him through high school, college and into the real world of working.” –parent

Those of you in school or who have children in school, you have no idea what a short note of thanks will do for your or your child’s teacher.  I have held on to some of these emails for years, and I do go back and read through them, especially when I am having “one of those days” at school.

If you have ever had a teacher who impacted you positively, take a moment now and let him/her know.  Kind words are free, and they make excellent Christmas gifts.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” -Proverbs 12:25





Post-IEF (How 2 Days in Seattle Changed the Way I Teach)

12 09 2011

After two intense, fun-filled, educational, innovative, amazing days, I walked away thinking, WOW!!  Over a month later, I’m still thinking, WOW!!

On July 28-29, I was invited to attend Microsoft’s Innovative Education Forum held on their main campus in Redmond, Washington.  To attend this conference, teachers from around the country had to submit innovative technology projects they use in their classrooms.  I was told thousands applied, and 100 teachers, representing 78 projects, from around the country were selected.  I was one of them, and I was the only one from Tennessee.  (To view my project, please see my post on the Innovative Education Forum.)

Microsoft HQ - Redmond, WA - July 27, 2011

Microsoft HQ - Redmond, WA - July 27, 2011

Upon arrival in Seattle, a day early, a small group of us were lucky enough to tour the Microsoft Home of the Future and Envisioning the Future Center.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about them, because Microsoft could sue me.  Seriously.  The non-disclosure agreement we had to sign before being allowed in was intense.  Suffice it to say, it was A.MAZ.ING!  It’s unbelievable to think that some of this mind-blowing technology we saw will be readily available in just a few years.

Friday night we had a nice welcome reception at our hotel, the Bellevue Hyatt, and the craziness began Saturday morning.  We frantically set up our exhibit areas before a simple breakfast at the building we would call home for the next two days on the Microsoft campus.  Note for future attenders:  a 4’ x 4’ poster is the way to go for your display area.  Invest the time and money in doing a nice one.  You will greatly appreciate the ease of setup!

IEF 2011 - Poster Session

IEF 2011 - Poster Session

After setup, we had our first keynote address by Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules.  I had read his book the year before as part of my school’s professional development program.  While the book was interesting, it was a little dry, but Dr. Medina more than made up for that in his presentation.  He is incredibly personable, energetic, dynamic and really quite funny.  Especially intriguing to me was his discussion on how 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least times a week can significantly improve math skills (and the evidence to back this up.)

Next was the reason we even there—the judging and exhibition.  During a three-hour time frame, split up by lunch, each presenter had three judges visit them.  Judges were experts in their various fields and truly came from all over the world.  One of my judges was from Dubai.  When we were not being judged, we were encouraged to walk around and view the other projects.  One of the winners would be decided by the Educator’s Choice vote.

I was deeply humbled as I reviewed other projects and talked to some incredible teachers.  I remember thinking I was way out of my league after seeing other projects.  But someone, somewhere thought my classroom project was worthy.  Whoever you are, I thank you!

IEF 2011 - Seattle Underground - Learning Excursion Team 2
IEF 2011 – Seattle Underground – Learning Excursion Team 2

That afternoon, we were sent off by teams of five to various locations around Seattle:  the Space Needle, the Asian Art Museum, Pike’s Place Market, the Olympic Sculpture Park, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Seattle Underground.  My group, known as Team 2 or Chief Seattle, toured the Seattle Underground.  Based on our Learning Excursions, as they were called, each team had to come up with sort of cross-curricular project that could work anywhere in the country.  We were given time to work on this on day two, but a lot of the work was done after the conference.  Final project submissions weren’t due until August 31.  We will be voting, as a team, on the top three learning excursion projects in the next couple weeks, and the winning team will be awarded the final spot to attend the Global Forum in Washington, D.C. in November.

That evening we were treated to a reception at the Space Needle.  We even had our own express elevator, superb appetizers, and a Kinect set up for us to use.

Day two was a little more laid back and not so rushed.  We attended two workshops in the morning.   Our choices included learning about OneNote; using games in the classroom such as Kodu, InterroBANG, and Kinect; a global teach tech in which a panel of international teachers shared their innovative technology projects; and using Microsoft’s newer free resources like Photosynth,  Movie Maker and Photo Gallery.

Our closing keynote speaker that afternoon was Dr. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  I also read her book before attending IEF.  You can read a synopsis of her book here: Reality is Broken.)  Like Dr. Medina, Dr. McGonigal got our creative, innovative, and technological juices flowing.  She began her address by having the entire room of over 100 people play a game of thumb wars in which every person was somehow connected to at least 2-3 other people.  What followed was a fascinating discussion on the importance of gaming in society and how gaming can help education.

Our final dinner together was down at the Bell Harbor Seattle on the waterfront and ended with nine amazing teachers winning a spot to attend the Global Forum in November.  The top two winners in each of the following categories will attend:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking
  3. Use of Technology in Learning
  4. Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom.
  5. The ninth spot went to the educator who received the Teacher’s Choice Award
  6. The tenth spot will go to the team whose learning excursion project wins. 

I was not among the chosen, but I am deeply impressed by those who did win.  The educators I met, befriended, and collaborated with left a permanent mark on me.  I left the conference with a list of a dozen ideas I want to try in my classroom this year, and I have already incorporated some of them.

  1. I’ve begun using Twitter with my students as another means of communication.  If there is any one piece of technology most of us have on ourselves most of the time, it’s our phones.  Twitter is fast, convenient, and to the point.  I’ve been using it to send out reminders and to post questions for bonus points on assignments.  I’m still new at tweeting, but I hope to expand its usefulness as I become more familiar with everything it can do.  (You can follow my classroom goings-on at HuddlestonKFRA.)
  2. I have updated the name of my project.  I never really liked the original name, Create a Business, but I never put time into coming up with something different.  At IEF, I finally came up with something better.  The new name is Entrepreneur 101.
  3. I have incorporated a “Best in Class” judging component into Entrepreneur 101.  After all projects have been presented in class, student teams will vote on the one project—not their own—that they feel is the best all-around project.  They will base their vote on overall concept, feasibility of the business, realism, creativity, design, and presentation.  The winning team in each class will receive bonus points added onto their project grade.
  4. I also hope to incorporate a “Best in Show” award.  With this, I would like to pull in a panel of three outside judges, business men and women who have nothing to do with my school or my students.  I will ask them to judge each project on basically the same criteria as mentioned in #3.  The one team among all my classes with the highest total score from the judges will receive bonus points added onto their project grade.
  5. I am researching a way to get a Kinect set up in an empty classroom for students to use during their study halls throughout the day.  Dr. Medina spoke on the overwhelming evidence that 30 minutes of aerobic activity (not weight training and conditioning) at least three times per week can significantly increase math scores.  I would love for those students who are struggling in math to be able to get some aerobic exercise during the day playing Kinect.
  6.  I have created a new project for my Tech classes called Project Innovate that will be done over the course of the semester.
    1. In part one, each student has to find 10 news articles that have to do with innovative technology in any area of life:  medicine, education, automobiles, athletics, fashion, architecture, space travel, etc.  For each article, students simply have to write a one paragraph summary.
    2. In part two, students will pick one of their 10 articles and present it to the class.
    3. For part three, I will split the class up into teams of 3-4 students.  Each group will come up with one innovative new product or an innovative use for a current product.  They will need to research how this new product will be made, where it will be manufactured, who will buy it, where it will be sold, etc.  Each group will present their idea to the rest of the class at the end of the semester.

This is the first semester I’m doing all of these things.  I can’t wait to see what will happen with everything.

  • Thank you, Microsoft, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in such an incredible conference.  IEF was a game-changer for how I teach.
  • Thank you for treating all of us like royalty.  Considering the economic hardships much of our country is experiencing, you spared no expense.  What a delight!
  • Thank you for affirming me as an educator and letting me know you value what I do. 

 I hope to return someday!