25 Insights From the ISTE Conference

I had the privilege of attending the ISTE (International Society of Technology Educators) conference in my birthplace of Chicago recently where I was able to present, connect, and even received some awards. The best part of an event like this though is that the scale offers the opportunity to learn from an array of people and garner insights from a wide variety of sources. Here are a few of my favorite moments that challenged and inspired me.

Educational Perspective

  • Innovative education is happening, but it’s not always in the most obvious places. I definitely need to write more about this, but some EdTech companies have been content with the model of better worksheets and multiple choice exams but now on a shinier screen. Even some of the big tech companies have shied away from some real innovations (maybe because the market isn’t ready?). But the real changes needed in education are shifting our perspective in how it best happens. Some have taken that red pill, but not nearly enough. Some have dipped their toes in the waters of change, but they all too quickly retreated when it became uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s the small voices (teachers & start-ups) who know the right way and we just need to be ready to listen.
  • IMG_8599.jpgWe can’t strap roller skates and rockets on a horse and expect it to fly.  explained that just trying to add technology onto an outdated paradigm will not serve to make it any better, just more efficiently insufficient.
  • Playful hands-on learning is the most powerful means of learning. Both the playgrounds and the presence of Mitch Resnick made one thing clear. Learning through play remains a powerful means to challenge, excite, and engage learners while providing a tangible means of personal expression. We need to remember what drove us early and remain [art of lifelong kindergarten.

“I believe that the best way to help people understand the world is to provide them with opportunities to actively explore, experiment, and express themselves.”

Mitchel Resnick
  • Hands-on learning is innately accessible. We can use tools to create that have simpler or more complex designs (littleBits vs. a breadboard/Arduino) but we needn’t simplify the challenge. Open challenges like ‘how can we clean our waterways’ or ‘help our parent get to work easier’ have broad implications that can challenge the kids good at ‘regular school’ to think differently while still being connected enough to real-life experiences to be accessible to struggling learners.
  • IMG_20150319_101303.jpgHands-on project-based learning doesn’t require much tech. Yes, you can invest in robots and complex programming systems which can bring value, but it’s the initial impetus or challenge that is key. Asking students to find a way to help their mom carry groceries and their baby brother up to their 4th-floor walk-up (no elevator) can be created on a 3-D printer or modeled with cardboard and construction paper. It’s the quality of their idea/solution that is of greater value than an initial prototype.
  • Stories are the most powerful means to change hearts and minds. Studies show that stories (especially multimedia digital stories/games) are the most impactful way to overcome cognitive dissonance. It is also stories are the most powerful way
  • Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 7.32.57 PMEducational games can turn extrinsic rewards into intrinsic motivation. All the swag or stickers can make teachers try a platform, but only a sense of purpose, social connection, and love of the task will keep you pushing through the challenges that arise. It’s the same for students. Playful challenge-based learning provides direct pathways to improving perseverance and helping students get that coveted grit.
  • There’s no such thing as someone who can’t learn. My personal experience in this was being shown I could dance despite my innate lack of skill/coordination. I wasn’t good, but simply being encouraged and motivated got me moving enough to demonstrate something akin to dancing. The same is true of my students with learning challenges. Modifications and reframing may be required, but they have shown themselves more than capable of achieving beyond expectations.
  • Watching someone else demonstrate mastery is enough to push you in pursuit of achieving yourself. Sometimes all it takes for us or our students to make an effort at learning a new skill is to see a person demonstrate their process at a high level. On that note, I got to watch Tisha Richmond create some beautiful sketchnotes live and it inspired me to give it a go. I put one in my What’s New With ISTE post.
  • Digital citizenship isn’t about a list of don’ts.  It should be about helping students to create a positive presence and improving the world online and offline using tech. See how 8th-grader Rose Rezac looked to inspire student activism with P.I.F.A.
  • You need to commit to yourself to changing educational paradigms. That is the only way you will be willing to continue in the face of opposition. This year I want to commit to empowering my students to use accessibility tools to express their voices positively online even when they struggle with their voice in the physical world.
  • b18254470d13547c337ba65fa912f3ef.jpgThe greatest power of any conference is in connecting you to your tribe. While recognition for your work, learning from leaders, and connecting with content creators all have value, finding the people who will, support, encourage, challenge, and celebrate you regularly will have the most lasting impact. It also lets you know you are not alone in your efforts to bring good to your classroom.

World Perspective

  • Worldwide perspective is all too necessary and all too rare. It’s easy in the United States to think we’re the center of all things. We get overly competitive and think that all places have access to our resources, but I quickly realized drawing connections to other nations and cultures can show us how myopic our view can be. We talk about improving our community, but not everywhere are there readily available community resources. That’s part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are for. At ISTE they had educational leaders from 84 countries in attendance looking for the best ideas from around the world. I met with a few and it was very eye-opening to spotlight my American misconceptions. So get on it and use Skype, Flipgrid, email, or old-fashioned letters to connect your students to a broader perspective outside your community.
  • I will never have to have the same conversation with my kids as some parents, but I should make my children aware. Patricia Brown’s children will face different dangers or challenges than mine simply due to their appearance. My children and I cannot fully understand that, but that doesn’t excuse us from empathy. I should still have that conversation with my kids because understanding is necessary for all children.
  • IMG_8585.jpgSometimes the challenges that knock us hardest to the ground are the ones that will come to define us and be recognized as our strengths. Luis Perez was a rock star educator and a friend long before he was giving TED talks at ISTE, but he shows that the same incident that caused him to lose a portion of his sight and nearly all of his hope would end up becoming the thing that caused him to commit himself to his daughter and the education of underserved students with disabilities.
  • Never be afraid to share kindness in the corners it is most needed.

The Role of Teachers

  • Kids-Having-Fun-in-the-Classroom-Woodleywonderworks.jpgShowing the joy of learning is a large part of a teacher’s job. Christine Klynen showed that teachers seem to understand what painful learning is like when we’re in bad professional development. The question is why do they still sometimes echo that frustration in their work with students.
  • Teachers are also learners. How often teachers forget that they are learners too and that they should remain lifelong learners. It is important that we remember how deeply we loved learning new things when we were little. We need to rekindle that love of learning.
  • Learning has to be ongoing and not just a singular event. However great a conference may be if it remains as a single moment of learning than it will be ineffective. What connections and resources does the event provide to help you move past the daily challenges you’ll experience in your classroom?
  • Create a plan to use the resources gained to improve the future for your students. Consider how you will use the tips, tricks, and tools you see at a conference to ensure equity and instill the confidence in your students to ensure that the next generation is better than us.
  • Our job as teachers: Make sure to bring every student to their full potential and know that they can be change makers. You don’t have to give your students the ideas or even the tools to make the world better. Just make sure they know that they can.

The Role of Students

  • Dge9YxZWAAUSWKJIs education more difficult when working with today’s kids? Maybe, if you’re teaching with yesterday’s methods. Neuroscientist David Eagleman made it clear that young people today take in information differently and think differently. They can take in multiple sources and don’t need to dedicate as much to storage of information (because Google), so we can’t look to present learning in the same ways.
  • What if we saw all students, regardless of their challenges, as capable of great success and empowered them to achieve it? What if regardless of background or disability, we considered all students worthwhile of our best efforts? What would that world look like?
  • Empower students to tell their own stories. Rather than explain to them who they are or what they need to be saying, we should be helping them express their thoughts and goals for the world they hope to see.
  • Students today are amazing. In the midst of unprecedented student activism and youthful entrepreneurship, we should be inspired. Often though there seems to be a narrative of selfishness and ignorance because that’s what we see portrayed in the videos that become viral. I’ve shared my thoughts about the unique struggles and successes of today’s students. There are so many inspiring stories of kids like 13-year-old Ian Brock who is the co-founder of Dream Hustle Code who seeks to level the playing field for under-represented individuals in the tech industry.

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