Managing Endless Stream of Ideas in Education
Mike Lawrence, CEO of CUE, talks with Dr. Berger about professional development and the role CUE plays in advancing technology and learning. Lawrence also speaks about advocacy efforts and the growing number of conferences and learning events to support CUE members including the CUE 2016 Fall and National Conferences.
Dr. Berger: It’s nice to catch up with you. What I find interesting is the continued growth of CUE and the various projects you’re developing. We were just talking off air about all the different ideas. You were talking about sending out technologies to CUE members, so they can check it out before making decisions. You were also mentioning everything going on with upcoming conferences. Is there ever a bad idea, at the CUE headquarters? (laugh)
Mike Lawrence: (laugh) Yeah. We have a phrase we throw around; there’s no shortage of bad ideas, there’s just bandwidth to implement. You have to prioritize, and you have to say, I can’t do 14 things badly. I’ve got to do five things very well. How do you determine what those five things are in a given a day or week for a year is the challenge.
We have a fantastic board of directors, and we leverage their vision and guidance to help us make those decisions about what are those five things and which of those five things do we need first.
The idea you mentioned, the STEAMpunk Mobile Labs grew out of an unusual opportunity. I got asked if I wanted to accept 10 Spheros that were being offered to CUE for free and if we had any ideas about how we could get those in the classrooms. And I said yeah, I would take those 10 Spheros.
And so it just happens that I hired Jon Corippo two weeks after we got those Spheros. And I said, hey, Jon, here’s a box of 10 Spheros, can you somehow get these out to classrooms and do something with it?
And it’s a credit to Jon’s creativity and brilliance that he ruled out this STEAMpunk Mobile Labs program, signed up on a Google form, he ordered and created the box to ship them in, and the only expense to CUE was to build that box and then to pay the shipping to the school.
There’s no cost to the teacher; they just sign up, and we just ask that they contribute back in some way to give us a lesson plan, or they shoot some video with the kids working with them when they write a blog post, they’ve all done that and more. They rave about it. And it’s been exciting to watch the growth of the program.
It’s now much more than Sphero; I think we’re sending out little drones, helicopters, and dashing dots. And Jon has expanded the program. Every vendor we ask is falling over themselves to send us more gear, including those little race cars, the Matchbox race cars. We do the speedway, and we have those things that monitor physics, and there are all sorts of lessons that come with that program.
It’s been exciting, and it’s one of those nice benefits we can offer to our members for free, and it’s very much within our mission. It helps teachers justify the purchase of these types of devices in front of the administrator or to justify writing a grant for it rather than having to spend the money first and then demonstrate the value later. We’re giving that opportunity beforehand. It’s an exciting development.
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DB: Speaking of ideas, I would be interested, in your position, how do you evaluate when you’re working with the board, working from an idea vantage point and then balancing that idea with the requests you receive from membership? How do you handle that balance?
I would imagine that if you truly wanted to, you could do one or the other, 100% of the time and you’d still have so many things to tackle. How do you acknowledge membership in a way in which they look to CUE as a resource, as a beacon of “community”, to connect with and be the leader in the space? Plus, remain someone who will share with them ideas that are important to their practice.
ML: Well, interestingly, the answer is in that community that you referenced. We have a 5-year strategic plan, and that’s what the staff and board used to identify annual goals, and then we break that out into monthly and weekly goals. But when talking about how do I decide, I look at my staff, and I’m blessed to have a team that’s amazingly passionate. Half the team is former educators.
If they are already tapped, and they’re at or above capacity, the community steps up. We have an amazing group of volunteers who because they’re so passionate about Edtech, they volunteer their time in addition to their day jobs to help us manage and run programs. It doesn’t work for every program. Certainly, there’re programs where I need a full-time staff person in-charge. But there are programs we can do that can be led by volunteers or even a consultant.
A good example is The Weird Teacher, Doug Robertson, we tapped him to be CUE’s Social Media Champion and Blog Editor, and he’s got a full-time teaching gig. We hired him additionally as a consultant to help us promote the blog and help communicate to our members via social media.
That’s an example of a great idea that I just didn’t have staff bandwidth to focus on. The advantage was, you get someone who’s in the trenches, in the classroom. Doug was able to bring us ideas because something occurred to him in his classroom, working with kids that may not have occurred to me or Jon Corippo my Director of Marketing. That’s the wonderful gift that working within the community gives you – a volunteer effort, and you get people who can straddle a full-time teaching job or administrative job with a little bit of side work.
Often, the answer is the community.
The other answer is sometimes you can’t do it all, and you have a long view. I have ideas that I have been cooking on for about three or four years now that still haven’t been implemented. We have a vision, of the world in which all learners are inspired and using innovative tools. That world doesn’t have to happen tomorrow. That world is a vision that the organization is shooting for. It could be next year. It could be the year after. It’s maybe not the best answer and sometimes people are disappointed by the answer, but for sanity, and for “not trying to accomplish too much,” you sometimes have to take that as one of the answers.
DB: What kind of responsibility do you feel organizations like CUE might feel with regards to very strong topics that pull at the heartstrings of lots of people, like teacher shortage? How do we demonstrate to the next crop of young professional that education is appealing, that there are resources, and there are places to grow to utilize groups like CUE? Have members reached out to you to try to support these sorts of conversations in a productive manner?
ML: It’s a great question, and we see a lot of those issue