NETA 2016

NETA stands for the Nebraska Educational Technology Association, and it is an organization that promotes the use of technology in teaching. I have been attending the conference off and on since 1998. I remember the first year it was at some high school in Lincoln. I attended as an AmeriCorps representative. I had no idea what it was.

After becoming a full-time teacher again, I attended while teaching in Ashland, and now, while at Westside, I have gone almost every year either as a representative for our high school or as a representative with the Nebraska Writing Project.

Each year that I attend, I take away too many ideas to deal with, and I have to whittle down my takeaways to a few items that I can actually use without being overwhelmed.

The idea that stuck with me the most was the concept of Taking Time to Notice that was introduced by the first Keynote Speaker, Dr. Robert Dillon (@ideaguy42) on Thursday morning. Last year at NETA, Dan Boster and I gave a presentation on mindfulness and technology. This keynote touched on many of the same concerns that we shared. The basic idea that technology makes life more complicated and less effortless has been a running theme for me. I took delight in getting permission to take notice of everyday things, and to think about all that we miss because we are too focused on technology. This same theme has been coming up over and over again in my life.

Coincidentally, I visited an old friend the evening after NETA, and luckily I was there to capture one of the most beautiful sunsets that I’ve ever seen.

Ironically, it took the technology of my iPhone to capture the images and then this blog to share them with the world. Does that make it better, worse, or indifferent?

For most of the conference, I was working at the Nebraska Writing Project booth inviting people to learn about the single greatest educational professional development that I have ever been involved with. I watched Jodie Morgenson’s presentation on blogs which inspired me to get back to mine!

On Friday, I watched both keynotes, but was less affected by them because I was concentrating on my own presentation on Goobric and Doctopus later that day. It’s hard to just sit back and enjoy sessions when you’re anxious about presenting!

I did attend an informative presentation on Google Forms which I use regularly. In the session explanation, it promised to explain how to use Sections and allow answers to lead to different parts of the form, which is something I’ve always wanted to try, but have never taken the time to learn how to do. I was disappointed because most of the session was simple review of Google Form basics, and it wasn’t until the very end that I learned what I wanted to know. After the session, I had to ask the presenter for help because the sections weren’t working, but we got it figured out, so now I have attained that new skill.

The best part about NETA is not the sessions or the keynote speakers, it isn’t even the vendors and the free stuff, it’s all about NETWORKING. I was able to get in touch with dozens of new people and make contacts with all sorts of interesting professionals across the state. This type of collaboration is so valuable because sometimes being a teacher feels like you are working in a vacuum.

My session

I was checking all day on the sched website to see how many people were coming to my session. Having done sessions in the past on Friday afternoon, I was expecting no one to show up. I actually had over 100 interested, but only half of them came. That’s still more than I’ve had before, so that was cool.

I stood at the door welcoming people as Cat Stevens played in the background. When my session began, I started with a little joke that came to my mind as I was welcoming my teacher friends. It’s been said that there are two truths, Death and Taxes. But there are really three. The third? Teachers love free stuff.

I used that to frame my presentation on Goobric and Doctopus. I asked everyone to follow along and give my steps a try pointing out that it would take three times of going through the steps before they would become internalized.

I had practiced the presentation with Brenda at our NeWP booth earlier in the day, and it went well, but I wasn’t sure how well a mass presentation would go. When I showed people at Westside, I lost most of them. The good news was that most of the teachers in this room already used Google Classroom and knew how to make assignments.

I took them through the steps and I was finished in about twenty-five minutes. So I had twenty minutes at the end of the session to troubleshoot, answer questions, and try some experiments. We tried to see if we could combine the power of Doctopus and Flubaroo, but it didn’t work.

I got three or four Twitter responses to the presentation, so that’s cool.

Overall, the NeWP sessions were well-attended, and I ended up winning a pair of Skull Candy headphones and a t-shirt. It doesn’t get much better than that!



Vitauts Take 32: Language Lessons

Learning Latvian

Janis and Vitauts talking Latvian
Janis and Vitauts talking Latvian

Last night, my cousin John Grinberg came over to offer me a lesson in the Latvian language. John is a retired high school German teacher, and I think he relished the opportunity to teach again because he showed up in full Latvian Language Mode! All I could say was “I don’t speak Latvian” in Latvian (Es nerunāju latviski)… and I had to look that up in my phrase book.

Vitauts was a bit surprised to see John, and he started walking to his room as John and I sat at the dining room table for our lesson. I told dad to stay, and at first he didn’t want to, but he eventually sat down as long as he could have a beer with us, “viens alus?” (one beer).

After convincing dad to stay, I saw a side of him that I haven’t seen in awhile. He went from the dementia rattled 88-year old retiree who had just lost his dentures that morning, to the old teacher that I remember so well from confirmation classes. John would explain what I was trying to learn, and dad would correct him using phrases like “nominative case” and using Latin words to explain gendered word endings. He spoke Latvian so gracefully and was so engaged in the process despite his overly negative attitude about me learning anything.

“It is too hard, you will not learn,” he kept pointing out as I was taking notes and adding words to my vocabulary. We went through the phrase book together looking for words and talking about the nuances of long vowel sounds and accents. Dad was making jokes about stretching out the vowel sounds, and he and John were  laughing together about my ineptness. It was a beautiful moment.

John told me the story about meeting his own father in Latvia who was left behind when the Grinbergs left Riga in 1944. Arnolds was in his 80s when John met him, but he said there was a certain familiarity despite the fact that they had not known each other. His father was a mix of his grandfather Karl’s and his Uncle Ilgonis (also my grandfather and uncle). He told me about our extended family in Latvia and some of the tragedies that had befallen them. It was an eye-opening and heart-expanding conversation.

We shared some baltmaize (white bread) and after it was all said and done, I told dad to speak to me in Latvian. I pointed to the floor and said, “What is this, in Latvian?” He looked and thought, and said, “I know this, but I cannot think of it!” He was frustrated, but I opened my phrase book, pointed and said, “stāvs?” He laughed and repeated it. We threw out some Latvian numbers, and he corrected my pronunciation. Then I said Ar labunakti (good night), and we went our separate ways.

John said he would come every Wednesday to continue our lessons, and I hope to keep all of you updated. Perhaps adding some Latvian phrases each day as practice.

Labdien! Labvakar! Paldies!

(Good day!) (Good Evening!) (Thank you!)


Dad and I were at Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln and he translated the gravestone epitaphs for me… very touching sentiments.

Love never dies...
Love never dies…
We will see each other again...
We will see each other again…

Vitauts Take 31: Passport Time

dad - 1I had been planning a trip to Latvia this summer as a celebration. I mentioned it to dad awhile ago, and he said he might be interested. In fact, when I asked him what he would do if he did win one of those stupid sweepstakes he has been  entering, and he said, “Travel to Latvia.” For him, Latvia is beyond reach. It is so strange how limited his scope is. I tried to explain this issue of privilege to someone… about access. My dad has never understood how things work, so everything is just slightly out of reach.

But not this time. Hopefully, if all goes well, Susan, Glen, dad and I will all be traveling to Latvia this July. So I had the adventure of taking dad to the passport office not once, but twice.

Here is where I have to ask the question… is it me? Is it because I’m missing some basic function of humanity that everything I do gets mixed up and kind of broken? Or is it just the system. The process for getting my passport was to go online, fill out a form and mail it in with a picture and money. However, I had to mail it in twice because they didn’t like the first photo I put on the application. Too ugly, I guess. I tried the same process with dad’s application, but I got the message telling me I had to go to the Official Passport Office of Omaha (glorified post office) on 136th and Q.

I finally figured out it’s because his old passport has been expired for more than 10 years. Okay, no big deal. So I go online to find out about the passport place, and you have to make an appointment. So I made and appointment, and I swear it was for yesterday, but when we got there, they told me it was actually for today. You know how that goes?

But the nice lady there took dad’s photo. It took four tries to get him with his eyes open and no glare from his glasses, but we did it. Then we made sure we were on the list for Tuesday. Before we left, the nice woman told us that we had to have a photocopy of his driver’s license and a photocopy of the old passport. Great! Thanks.

So I made a photocopy of the old passport and the driver’s license. Then we made our way back to the office today. Luckily, I put his old passport in my pocket, just in case. As we were driving, dad pointed out that he had seen some of these buildings before. He thought we had been on this rode a week ago or so. “Just yesterday, dad,” I said.

Then, when we got to the building he said, “Ja, I have been here three or four times.”

“Just twice dad. Yesterday and today.”

“Was it only twice?”


After getting inside and waiting for 20 minutes, we got up to the counter, and the lady so wanted to tell us that she couldn’t do it… “Do you have his passport? We need more than a photocopy.”

“Ha!” I shouted as I  triumphantly whipped out his old passport from my back pocket, slid it across the desk and shouted (a bit too loudly), “I knew it!”

No one was amused, but the wonderful woman behind the desk warmed up when I told her about Vitauts and his desire to return to his homeland. She was a bit confused because my dad’s mother’s name is Anna and his father’s name is Janis. She read that as “Janice” and thought he had two mothers. Oh, Americans!

After that, things went well, and we put in all the paperwork, but she warned us that because dad didn’t remember where his mother and father were born, they might not take it. What the H? It was in Latvia a hundred years ago. Were there even places back then?! I’m just crossing my fingers, and hoping that this application goes through. I’m not sure I can do it a third time.

Dad had a wonderful moment when he said, “I want to see my old farm again. I’m sure there is nothing left, but I would just like to see.”

My brother Paul, cousins Janis and Mara standing on the land Vitauts grew up on.
My brother Paul, cousins Janis and Mara standing on the land Vitauts grew up on.