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Karie Huttner, Grade 6-8 Technology and Design Thinking Teacher Verona Area School District, Wisconsin | March 27, 2023
Pre-CrossRoads 2023: Overcoming Challenges
In the Fall of 2022, I found teaching to be more challenging than ever before. After many years as an Educational Technology Coach, I moved back into the classroom at the middle school level. The transition had its highs and lows. Seeking to upskill, I completed four virtual professional development courses through the Foundation’s Pathfinders Summer Institute 2022 to better equip myself and the students in my classroom. I had grandiose plans for the 2022 school year, but reality set in with large class sizes and students who were hesitant to try new things. By October, I started to seriously question my 25 years working in the public educational system after a panic attack induced by student behavior. During this dark moment, a light shone thru, as I received an invitation to participate in the Foundation’s signature thought leadership conference, CrossRoads 2023, which was an unexpected opportunity to connect with industry leaders, professors, makers, and educators around computer science and making. Without asking anyone, I registered before they realized they were making a mistake by inviting me.
Upon receiving my invitation to CrossRoads 2023, I needed to secure permission from my Administration to attend – not an easy feat given substitute teachers are scarce. Although my district technology director and principal were supportive, they could not guarantee approval for my absence, nor provide monetary support. Knowing how important this opportunity was to seize, I decided that I would take unpaid days and pay my own way if it was the only way to attend. I even considered using the remaining funds from the Infy Makers Award, which the Infosys Foundation USA had previously granted me. But, before I had to pursue either of these routes, I took one more step to reach out to the Foundation to ensure I was not violating any agreements.
To my surprise, Kate Maloney, the Executive Director of the Foundation and her team not only reinforced their personal invitation for me to attend CrossRoads 2023 but went one step further to offer me an educator scholarship with a further invitation to speak on a panel. I was hesitant, as I did not know what I had to offer the amazing group of individuals who would gather in Tempe, AZ to pave a new frontier for CS education. However, the invitation gave me the hope I needed in a difficult season. To prepare for my role, I spent time learning about the individuals I would meet, and even before stepping on the plane to Arizona, I was already connecting with other thought leaders, educators and changemakers in computer science across LinkedIn and Twitter platforms. I am so grateful to the Foundation for their support, this unique opportunity, and the timing of it all coming together within my own professional journey.
CrossRoads 2023 started off with a bang. From the moment I stepped onto the shuttle, I knew I was surrounded by amazing people from all over the country. The awkward moments of meeting new people quickly became part of the magic of connecting at CrossRoads. I found myself seated with Gabby (the youngest attendee at CrossRoads 2023), her mom, her grandma, Kiki (from Microsoft) and “Mr. CodeCrew” (Meka Egwuekwe who leads the non-profit of the same name) for our shared journey to the hotel. After checking in, I was excited to explore and even went for a hike in the desert. The official kickoff of CrossRoads began with a reception and keynote at the CREATE Makerspace at the Arizona Science Center. I smiled as the keynote speaker, Gregg Behr, shared excerpts from his book, “When you Wonder, You are Learning”, as I had already listened to the audio book version and loved hearing him share some of my favorite parts - in-person! I was thrilled to meet Colleen Graves from Makey Makey and Kelsey and Matt from CodeJoy, who had greatly impacted my learning journey through Pathfinders Summer Institute 2022 months prior. The night was not complete without meeting John Pearce of CS is Elementary and discussing K-5 computer science and his family coding night program. This was just the beginning of what would be three days of learning, collaboration, and connection at CrossRoads 2023.
CrossRoads Day 2 was filled with meaningful moments for me. I had breakfast with Adam Maltese, Professor of Science Education at Indiana University, who shared insights about his work with educators in Indiana and beyond. During the walk to the conference venue, I caught up with Emily Hurst, Innovation Coach at Hamilton County Schools, and Kristin Burrus, Lead Teacher at Global Center for Digital Innovation, to learn more about their work in Tennessee.
Later, I participated in a Breakout Session, “Making: An Innovative Gateway to Inclusive CS Engagement,”where I was part of a panel with three other amazing individuals: Kareem Edouard, Assistant Professor of Learning Science at Drexel University Sam Gray, President and CEO at Boys and Girls Club of Hartford and Gabby Gilliom, Member of CodeCrew and the youngest participant at CrossRoads 2023 (who I had met on the airport shuttle!). It was an empowering session during which we discussed our journeys in computer science and making. After the session, I connected with Matt, Colleen, and others in the PD Exhibitor Garage. I thanked Tom from BirdBrain for introducing me to Hummingbird and Jie Qi, the designer of Chibitronics for blending circuits and code with arts and crafts. For me, this opportunity was not just about computer science and making, it was about building real relationships with people around our country.
The reception that evening at the Arizona Heritage Center was beautifully done. Like earlier in the day, I continued with great conversations with John Pearce and Casey O'Shea about their work in making and CS. Overall, it was a day filled with passionate conversations and so much learning.
Day Three and Beyond
Day 3 was powerful, even during the unstructured times. I have never been to a professional conference where the downtimes were as powerful as the sessions themselves. Walking together and sharing what you do and who you are, created connections that I have never had before with people who were days before complete strangers. I was simply amazed at the scope of life experiences and openness of these incredibly talented and accomplished individuals who treated me as an important part of this larger conversation around making and computer science.
Sometimes we forget that what works in one place is driven by the relationships and trust that were put in place, not just a curriculum or idea.
I have spent my entire career in the public education system, so I recognize how difficult systems change is and continues to be. It was one of the fundamental reasons why I went back into the classroom, because for me change happens in my day-to-day interactions and learning. I would love to be part of larger scale change; but I needed to start somewhere where I could test my ideas and see what might or might not work.
I have since returned to the classroom with a renewed sense of purpose and hope. I also realized that I need to put my ideas into place while continuing to teach which at times is a battle of time management and energy.
CrossRoads 2023 reminded me to dream bigger which is a message we all need. I look at the physical pieces that I brought home and my bright orange Infosys Foundation USA cap will be the reminder that not only do I need to plant the seeds for the future of CS but that I need to remember how lucky I am to be part of this larger community.