Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Austin, TX I Love You, Let Me Count the Ways

I have lived for almost 9 years in the great state of Texas, and those 9 years have all been spent in and around Fort Worth. I have never regretted moving down here and would be lost if I had to move back to Ohio. I have been lucky enough to travel to a good chunk of the rest of the state and the only area I would ever have any desire to live in is Austin, TX. Last week I spent Monday-Friday in Austin for the Texas Computer Educator's Association annual conference and that week only reaffirmed my total love for the city that strives to stay weird.

I stayed at the Embassy Suites, which is on across the river from the main part of downtown and the convention center. The hotel was nice, and clean but in very bad need of an updating. That hotel was likely the epitome of high class in the mid 1980's but now the high gloss brass could use a bit of modernizing. One of the things I do love about Embassy Suites is the continental breakfast. There are probably more options at this hotel chain for breakfast than any other I've stayed at and the oatmeal bar was nice when I was trying to be on my best behavior food wise (at least at breakfast). Our trip involved lots of walking since the conference provided shuttles were usually full, especially in the morning. We had an amazing view of the city on the walk in so the 1 mile trek wasn't bad at all.

So to save time I've decided to name my Top 10 Favorite Parts of My Trip to Austin (disclaimer, many of these are food related)

10. The shower in my hotel- Huge, raindrop shower head, no small children or dogs trying to peak in while I'm bathing. Huge win all the way around.

9. Amy's Ice Cream- We walked on a whim from the hotel to the South Congress location. I was promised amazing ice cream and I wasn't disappointed. Choosing was impossible but I finally settled on a smore mashup and my tongue was in love at first spoonful. If you live in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio you are lucky people. If you visit these places, find Amy's you won't be disappointed.

8. My Photoshop session
I have been wanting to learn Photoshop forever and made the decision that I would purchase a license for the library next school year. This way I could really enhance the digital products I was making for library promotion. I left Fort Worth at 5:30am so that I could get to Austin, check into the hotel, and get to my session at 11:30. The presenters were great and I really got to play with some of the basic Photoshop features. I did not learn how to make myself thinner in pictures, but I do know how to give myself a tan. I absolutely can not wait to play with it some more and here is my final product I made before the end of class.
Yep, I wore flannel to the beach.
7. App Smackdown session with Leslie Fisher
For the non EdTechy person an App smackdown is when a group of people share a particular website or app that they use in their classrooms with other educators. One person gets up, shares their app/website, gives a few examples of why it's cool, and then sits down and the next person goes. Leslie Fisher is a EdTech guru out of California, who I honestly had never heard of until the conference. She was very funny and shared her own favorite apps/sites along with the people in the room. I have a long list of sites on my iPad I am still weeding through, figuring out which teachers need to know about which apps/sites. Educators usually learn more from other educators who are in the trenches with them, and this type of session is great for finding out what other teachers are using successfully in their classrooms.

I told you that food would come up more than once. This restaurant was on the same side of the river as our hotel (a bit of a trek, but worth it) and had great reviews on Yelp. It was a Monday night so it wasn't busy and we were seated and waited on very quickly. There were two types of house salsa and the smokey chipotle one was fantastic. I got empanadas as my appetizer and I had a moment of pause as I was eating them they were so ridiculously good. I have an unabashed love of duck and when I saw duck enmoladas enchiladas, I was a bit giddy. The mole sauce was spicy but full of flavor and the duck was rich but not greasy. I didn't imbibe in anything to drink except ice tea but they did have a fully stocked bar and lots of people on Yelp commented on how good the margaritas were. I am definitely recommending this place to anyone whose going to Austin, and am going to strong arm (only if necessary) my friends to come with me when I go back in April for the Texas Library Association conference.

5. Pecha Kucha session
I had no clue what pecha kucha was until I went into the session. The conference description intrigued me, and I was wanting the learn about brand new things as opposed to learning more about tools I already knew about. A pecha kucha is a style of presentation where you present your information in 20 slides set to play for 20 seconds a piece. Your slides consist of images and/or phrases not bullet points. This is not a PowerPoint presentation, this is a fast paced way to get information across. You have to know what you are talking about and be able to get through it fast. I am already in the beginning stages of helping implement this with one of our speech teachers and am building one to present to my principal and leadership team about what I learned while I was at the conference. There is usually one session at a conference that just lights you up on the inside and you can't wait to tell people about it. That was this session for me.

I left a less than interesting session a bit early and decided to get a jump on lunch. I wandered the streets near the convention center looking for something non-chainy. I saw a fried chicken place and was heading for the door when I looked over and saw Le Cafe Crepe out of the corner of my eye and changed direction. It's a tiny little place tucked in the side of the downtown Hampton Inn, it's actually so small the bathroom patrons have access to is the bathroom of the hotel lobby. I had to wait about 5 minutes for a table on my first visit (there was another the next day) but the staff quickly seated me, got my menu, and took my order. My first visit I ordered 
The Bruni
Goat cheese, spinach, caramelized onion, tomatoes, sundried tomato pesto, fresh basil, mixed bell peppers

It did not disappoint. I was sad when it was gone but followed my good judgement and didn't order another. My second visit I went with a classic

Chloe's Crêpe
Nutella, strawberries or bananas, whipped cream

I choose bananas and was in heaven. Unknown to me until after I finished lunch, Thursday was National Nutella Day so I was celebrating without even knowing. I also ordered a Mocha and it was so much better than Starbucks (sacrilege I know). In April I am staying closer to the convention center and I see multiple trips to La Cafe Crepe in my future.

#3 Twitter and #TCEA15
I know there are a whole bunch of Twitter haters out there, and I totally understand. Twitter can be annoying, people on twitter can be mean, and following it constantly can be a huge time suck. At a conference however, it is an irreplaceable tool. No one can be at every session and invariably choices have to be made about which sessions to attend and which sessions to skip. Luckily other people are making that same choices and end up in sessions that you chose to skip. If those people use Twitter and tweet about what is going on in the session and share session materials, it's like attending two (and usually more) sessions at once. If the speaker you are missing is good, then you are missing some of the experience, but you are still gaining great links and resources without being in the same room as the presenter. I got SO much great material from sessions I wasn't in that I have already shared with teachers. Hate on Twitter all you want, but as a resource for sharing and communicating with peers it is hands down the best.

# 2 Bill Nye the Science Guy
I love Bill Nye, I have loved Bill Nye since I was a student in elementary school. He made science fun and I actually understood it. When I watch the videos as an adult I realized how incredible cheesy they are (they are from the early/mid 90's) but kids today love them just as much I did back then. He isn't the most eloquent speaker, kind of bouncing around from one idea to the next then pulling himself back to his point. His main mission today is to teach children and adults alike about the problems of global warming and how we as world citizens can help. He is at the very root a scientist and doesn't beat around the bush about his feelings on global warming, evolution, vaccinations, etc. There were some people that were probably offended by his very blunt statement of scientific fact. I did see multiple people leave mid presentation and I only assume a few of them were off put by his feelings on evolution versus intelligent design and left (I could be wrong, that's just how it looked). He is an incredibly smart man, and dedicated to the cause of educating the next generation about science and how important it is to innovation and future discovery. I am happy I got to see him speak and happy that there is someone out there so dedicated to further science education for all students.

# 1. Getting to co-present at a huge state conference
I've done some professional development training in my district and was lucky enough to co-present with a group of my friends last year at TLA in San Antonio. When my friend Marcia, who is an amazing presenter, asked me if I wanted to co-present with her at TCEA I was thrilled and a bit nervous. She sent in the presenter application and our presentation was accepted, and the nerves kicked in. We worked on our presentation in earnest after Christmas and got to do a dry run with some help from our friend Micheal, at our districts annual technology conference. That presentation went well, we tweaked, re-organized, and got ready to present on Tuesday. We had a full session and the general consensus was very positive. We had lots of thank you's and kind words when we were done. I give all the credit to Marcia and her magnetic personality and presentation style, but it was so nice to be included and get the experience of presenting at a conference this size. I hope to present in the future at this conference and at TLA. I enjoy teaching teachers as much as I enjoy teaching kids.

So there's my countdown, and a great breakdown of my week in Austin. I learned so much, enjoyed an amazing city, get more presentation experience, and reinvigorate my love of my job. Fun times had by all. (Except for the 5 pounds I gained, but I earned those 5 and they were delicious, I'm already down 3 so I'm not stressing over it.)

1 comment:

  1. Kick ass list! I would like to be your dinner buddy in April, if that's okay. Deal? I think we're at the same hotel. Both of your crepes sound amazing and I love empanadas, so I'm set! Oh yeah ... I think I had some sort of whiskey something ice cream last time I went to Amy's and it was great.

    I want tutoring on your new tech skillz and apps. Maybe some crafterday or prep/cookerday.