In 2012, I met Karl, Andrew and Crystal while participating virtually.
In 2013, Andrew and I met for the first time and presented about our year of cross-country collaboration.
In 2014, we spent time in person with all the people we spent years talking to online: Crystal, Lindsay Cole, Stacy Roshan, Kate Baker, Ken Bauer, Brian Bennett, Steve Kelley, Zach Cresswell, David Fouch, Delia Bush, Audrey McLaren...I know I've forgotten people (not on purpose!) but there were just so many that it felt like a giant family reunion, even though we had never met some of these people in "real life."
This year, it was all about presentations. Andrew and I had three: one on student-centred classrooms, one on flipped English, and one onflipping without homework (that one was with David Fouch).
But in between those presentations (which we mostly had done by Tuesday morning...a first for us!), we had a ton of fun hanging out with people. We ran in the rain to eat in the cafeteria and were so soaked we had to change before presenting that afternoon. We got kicked out of a Starbucks when we talked until past closing time.
But we also made puppets.
So puppets took over FlipCon. And it was glorious.
So we planned a second session to take place during the last concurrent workshop session. We took over a little area outside the main hallway and finished puppets, as well as started a few more.
More pictures, of course.
It also reminds me of a very important truth in education: being passionate about something and being able to share that passion with others is one of the most important skills of a teacher.
I didn't start the puppet trend. That belongs to Sam Patterson, or the Muppets, if you want to get really technical.
But I've now taught hundreds of students and more than a hundred adults to make puppets. If even half of those adults make puppets with their students, that's in the thousands. Those puppets have the ability to change classrooms.
Kate Baker tweeted something that illustrated that principle with her own kids. Her daughter, who doesn't like to read, snuck outside with the puppet and read to it.
That's why puppets work: kids (and teenagers) love them, and will willingly do work they don't naturally enjoy in order to play with the puppet. That's what this is: play.
On a larger level, that's how flipcon felt too. Yes, it was work (a lot of work!) to get ready to present. But it was the first time where I felt good about all the presentations we did.
And of course, the real reason to make the effort to go all the way to Michigan was the same reason I fell in love with teaching: it creates family. Crystal said, just before we all went our separate ways to travel home, that saying goodbye to all of us was just as sad as saying goodbye to her husband and son. That perfectly describes how much this community has become another family to me.
This past year has been hard. Starting a new school with a new grade level was great, but required a ton of work. My thyroid decided to stop working in the fall, and by the spring I had all the textbook symptoms of hypothyroidism, including serious exhaustion that made even getting to work an ordeal, as well as gaining about 25 lbs that won't come off now that I'm finally on medication for it. Some of my most critical in-real-life friendships disintegrated this year. Andrew also had a really tough year, personally and academically.
Having flipcon mid-summer, about a month before I return to school as the Grade Level Coordinator for 6th grade, gave me the enthusiasm and drive to dive back in.
And of course, I'm looking forward to next summer, when my family can get back together again.