Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

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. CUE Steam Punk

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.

If you would like to listen to the interview click play or continue reading below.

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 issues. We’ve partnered with Educators Rising, which is the new name for what we used to call Future Teachers of America. And they have a California affiliate through Project Tomorrow. They reached out to us about that specific teacher shortage problem, and it was something that we had already been thinking about at CUE. We look at the statistics, we look at our community and our members, and we see that there are a lot of them facing retirement the next five to ten years.

We see a lot of great talent looking for other careers and not choosing the teaching profession because it is in society, often the punching bag for politicians and for policymakers to point the finger at teachers or administrators or schools. It has slipped regarding attraction since I entered the classroom as a profession. There was certainly a negative opinion, but I feel it’s intensified in recent decades.

We wanted to do what we could to make teaching sexy again if that’s a phrase we can use. I don’t know if that’s appropriate or not, maybe that’s going to be the slogan we put on the website. (laugh)

DB: (laugh) That’s right. Mike, I think it’s honest, though. And that’s what I appreciate.

ML: Yes.

DB:: We talk about that, and we use that phraseology or phrasing with other industries, why can’t we talk that way, that’s what these young people are comparing it against.

ML: Alright, so it’s okay (laugh). We got a program that we’re working on called Next Gen Teaching. We’re happy to partner with the Educators Rising’s folks on that. We lend our most engaging presenters called, “lead learners” to events that target high school-aged kids into thinking about their future careers, prospects, and majors in college. We also engage college students, and pre-service teachers to inspire them and show them what’s happening in the classrooms. We show them what’s possible with these amazing devices that are in the pockets and what you can do in a classroom.

Beyond that, we’re working with people in induction programs and teacher preparation programs to see if we can provide additional content resources. We offer strategies that they can bake into their teacher preparation programs so that it is current. I felt I was learning from amazing master teachers, but I was learning the pedagogy that they were taught when they got their credential 20 or 30 years prior.

And if our industry continues to leverage this current model, you will get a wonderful experience from veteran educators, but you have to balance that with the newest pedagogical approaches and the latest technological advances.

I feel in some ways our current program doesn’t do it justice, it relies too much on the older practices without recognizing the new. There are of course exceptions, and again, I rely on my experience primarily, but from what I have seen, there are a lot of programs that still look at technology as an add-on or ending with PowerPoint. Nothing against PowerPoint, but if that’s all you’re thinking of as using as technology, then you’re missing a whole swath, robots, programming, computational thinking, mobile devices. There are all these things that we now have at our disposal as educators. We are doing a disservice to the students in the future if we don’t infuse that into teacher preparation programs.

DB: Mike, let’s close with this: One of the things I know CUE plays a role in is advocacy, and communicating that out to membership. Hopefully, stirring the needle, moving the needle in a positive way that’s going to help support the profession of education.

We’re in election season, whether we like it or not, here in 2016, what should we be paying attention to from the legislative standpoint in education? Unfortunately, we don’t hear education at all when we turn on the news, and talking about the election. For those of us in education, it is a very hot topic, and we’d like it to be a hot topic so that to make sure we are supporting people along the way. Where does that land in where we are right now in the calendar?

ML: Well, it hits at federal and local levels. I mean obviously the biggest topic right now is ESSA, and the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed by our president in December. CUE COO/CFO and I were actually in the White House the day that President Obama signed it.

We entered the room three hours after he signed it. We were there ironically for the roll out of the National Edtech plan, which was the same day, December 10.

On the same day, much to their frustration, the President signed the replacement legislation to end No Child Left Behind. The news coverage completely ignored the roll out of the National Edtech plan, which is unfortunate because it’s a very forward-thinking document that will never be printed in a dead tree format. It’s only an interactive PDF, and an interactive website which is very exciting, and it’s a great forward thinking plan that got completely ignored because it happened to be the day that Obama signed the legislation.

And ESSA has some great provisions for technology if we act. It essentially gives the powers to the states to implement the funding from the feds and gives choices to the states. We at CUE and all of the other ISTE affiliates and ISTE itself, are working hard to lobby individual states to put in some strong recommendations that funding should be spent on professional development (which has never been sexy, right?) Plus, we add infrastructure and support, not just the hardwires and the boxes, which everyone goes to first. There’s a tendency to take the figure and divide by the cost of an iPad or a chrome book and think, “okay, this is how many we can do,” forgetting the piece that has to be there which is supporting teachers in changing pedagogical approaches. There’s also the providing of necessary IT and resource support to the systems in place to make sure it’s sustainable long term.

DB: I hear Dublin in the background. Dublin agrees with you.

ML: Yes. He’s my chief supporter. I’ll see if I can get him in the frame here. You want to go over here and check it out? No? He just wants to go outside.

So that’s the Federal piece, and it has local implications. CUE issued a letter in partnership with three other organizations, and we’ve posted it on our blog at blog@cue.org. You can see what we’re recommending to California regarding how they implement ESSA and how they push for the funding. Individual educators, watching, can push your local school board, to act on it and make sure that your priorities are set to support the use of technology and forward-thinking, innovative tools in your local school districts. Rather than, just implementing changes and flexible funding to other areas. Here’s Dublin

DB: Hey, Dublin. (laugh)

ML: We need to make sure that we continue that push and make sure that they hear our voice, and they listen to what we’re thinking about regarding the use of technology. It’s moved beyond replacing overhead projectors with laptops. There’s a lot we can do locally. CUE continues to have that voice, and I’m thrilled with the work that we do almost daily from an advocacy standpoint. And if you’re interested, you can go to blog.cue.org advocacy to see our platform and see what our members believe in and what we work on a day-to-day basis.

DB: That’s what I think is greatest about what you are doing. There are plenty of associations out there whether in the US or abroad in education, but there are few that are looking at it in such a comprehensive way with such big ideas. We need the big ideas in education. That’s why people need to check it out.

If they don’t know about CUE, they should, you can go to cue.org, that’s C-U-E.org, and you can see all the different events, great people that are integrated. The blog that Mike mentioned, I couldn’t recommend it any stronger. You’re doing some fantastic work. You’re bringing real meaningful conversation and resources to people that take hold in the profession that integrates back into the community.

Well done, Mike. We look forward to connecting with you in the future.

ML: Thanks for the opportunity. I wish the best for you and your listeners.

DB: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Mike.


Mike Lawrence has been impacting education as a teacher, administrator, technology coordinator and non-profit leader for twenty years. He is a respected presenter, at national conferences and events and was named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2003. He assisted in the development and launch of the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) and co-founded the Google Certified Teacher program. Mike is an author and editor and can often be found at his local coffee house on his iPad.

He currently serves as CEO of CUE (CUE.org), supporting its membership by advancing student achievement through technology on an international level. Each year, thousands of educators attend CUE’s conference events and professional learning opportunities, making it the premier Educational Technology association of the Western U.S.

Mike also serves as Director of the California Student Media Festival (mediafestival.org); the nation’s oldest such festival. In 2010, Mike received a “Gold Disk,” CUE’s longest standing recognition, honoring his contributions to the organization and to technology in learning. He was also elected to the ISTE Board of Directors the same year.
In 2011 he led the development and launch of Leading Edge Certification, a national certification program leveraging an alliance of over 30 nonprofits, universities, and educational agencies. Certifications will focus on online teachers, administrators, librarians and other educators.

In 2012, he was appointed to serve on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s Teacher Preparation Advisory Panel and was honored as one of the National School Board Association’s “20 to Watch in Educational Technology” in March of this year and was given the ISTE Making IT Happen award at ISTE 2013. Mike was also honored to have the Infinite Thinking Machine, an award-winning web TV show focused on creativity and innovation in the classroom.

Mike began his educational career teaching high school English, often writing his own English elective courses to engage students typically disinterested in the core subject (Science Fiction Literature, anyone?). As a Technology Coordinator, he led the development and delivery of hands-on technology professional development, including Principal Training Programs for Southern California administrators, as well as the Student Technology Showcase and Technology Proficiency programs.

Mike’s humor and background as a teacher inform all of his presentations, making them accessible to educators of all levels and curricular areas. He lives with his wife Julie, and kids, Jay and Kellen, in Southern California.

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