32 Insights From ISTE 2019

A philly cheesteak with text cheesesteak is love, cheesesteak is life

So even though ISTE (international Society for Technology Educators) has expanded now to 3 additional conferences and other learning opportunities (see What’s New With ISTE?) their annual ‘big-show’ is still a rather epic event. Their conference at ISTE brings together tens of thousands of educators from around the globe to see how they can best impact change in their local schools and on a global scale. My first ISTE that was only 2 years ago inspired me to reach beyond doing interesting things in my individual classroom to sharing it with others. It was a challenge as none of that is inherently natural to me. This year since it was so close in Philadelphia that many other teachers from New York City (and elsewhere) were able to experience their first ISTE conference. I’m now considered an ISTE PLN leader (not wholly sure what that means) so I have opportunities to share my struggles and successes more than in the pat. It also affords me the opportunity to connect with even more educators and hearing how they best impact their communities.

Now my experience might be vastly different than some attendees (presenting at 7 sessions across 3 days, but there is so much available that the learning, camaraderie, and excitement (or was that cheesesteaks) flow freely. Many of the areas of focus were artificial intelligence, extra reality, accessibility, and student privacy. Beyond that though there is learning on the very nature of the human condition. So here are some of the ways ISTE sparked my learning.

Overarching Perspective

  • It’s not about the technology. It’s about what the technology can empower students and teachers to do. And some of the best of that is seen through technology that can provide disabled and often marginalized students. Here I ask if more technology is the answer and here are 16 keys to successfully implementing technology.
  • The best resources are open, available, and accessible. All of this is clear, but some platforms remain very proprietary. And while that may help to maintain standards and perhaps even privacy, it makes addressing instructional challenges more difficult. Why does a great tool work only on one kind of device or cost so much? Some groups are better at this than others. Here are a several resources for accessibility that I shared. Microsoft made particular headway with LiveCaptions and allowing Immersive Reader (a great literacy/accessibility tool) to be used across other platforms like Wakelet, Buncee, Nearpod, and more.
  • AI is making education easier and more complicated at the same time. AI and Machine Learning (ML) are making the automation of processes in industry and education simpler. Assessments can automatically adjust and differentiate according to student need as our trucks drive themselves. But that same technology that is making work more efficient (and ending careers) is also a challenge as we consider the changing role of the educator. Clay Smith shared the extent of his journey to learn more about AI and ML in education.
21st century kids are being taught by 20th century adults using 19th century calendar and school curriculum
  • We have an outdated model for teaching modern kids.
  • There are meaningful and effective ways schools and vendors can partner, but it isn’t automatic. I was able to connect with several educators who have broad experience in ed tech partnerships and provided resources for our panel. We found ways that the partnerships can benefit for training, communication, and financially but there are methods that are concerns about ethics that can strain these relationships.
Rear view of a white suit covered in QR codes
  • The best tech makes you look good without trying very hard. This is a very superficial example, but I had created a QR code suit to celebrate our District 75 STEM Fair, but I thought it would be a good outfit for the #FlipgridFever event. Apparently I was right (aprt from it being ridiculously hot) as an announcement from Flipgrid made many of those QR codes into augmented reality codes. A better classroom example is when the translation tool you’re using in a parent meeting just works and all you have to do is speak as you normally would to give non-English speaking parents all the details of their child’s instruction.
  • Everyone, even the person at the front, has room to grow. Many of us are familiar with the concept of growth mindset, the idea that wherever we stand on a spectrum of learning we can exert greater effort to produce continually improving results. There are situations though you can set up for yourself to so even though my busy schedule allowed me little time to attend many sessions, I made a concerted effort to collaborate on my sessions with people I haven’t before. In so doing, I found that in the midst of my own panel and BYODEx session, I was learning new information from the other presenters. Which brings up…
  • You can’t learn if you don’t listen. Even in sessions where I did a lot of talking (maybe too much), the audience and co-presenters provided me with a breadth of information that I am still going through. So occasionally I might be capable of getting out of my own way.
  • All solutions don’t work in all places or for all students. There are as many different answers as there are people with individual needs. Yes, some work across a broad range of needs, but some solutions that work in New York City won’t necessarily be effective or even possible in Pocatello, Idaho.

Conference Learning

  • Bravery in education can take many forms. Sometimes simple honesty can be enough to make all the difference. I experienced one particular educator, whose anonymity I will respect as their story is their own, shared their personal tale of turning their own horrible experience into the impetus to advocate for students who have suffered similarly. And their brave openness will continue to empower their students the same way it inspired a room full of educators (and me).
  • Don’t be afraid to share your story. Your experience in your situation is unique and there is bound to be wisdom you have garnered that will be fresh to someone else’s ears. Let them benefit from hearing it. And maybe start with Lisa Nielsen’s example of condensing your story to 6 words for impact.
  • Your panel better be diverse. You may have five brilliant white able-bodied guys on a panel, but their knowledge is limited in how they can speak to the experience of women, minorities, people with disabilities, rural, urban, or any other group. There are enough people around and the ISTE PLN’s are active, so I’m sure you can swap out a few of those guys with similar experiences for a couple of others. That’s how I was able to make it happen.
Sean Arnold, Mark Coppin, and Sady Paulson
Sean, Mark, and Sady
  • Engage in what feeds your spirit and remove that which doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to walk out of session that isn’t serving your needs (even if it’s mine). It doesn’t mean it’s bad (though sometimes it is) or you’re insensitive. It means you’re in a place where you need some other nourishment. Maybe it won’t even happen in a session. I was strolling and ran into a decade-long friend Mark Coppin with his former student (and another friend) Sady Paulson. We just had fun playing with Sphero Specdrums and conversing about accessible music. Marc even showed me a video he made of an accessible guitar he put together. Sady later showed me the video she edited and where she stuck me in it. I got more energy and information in those brief moments than I could have in any much longer session. Trust that you know what you need. And if you don’t ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I know this is tride and true teacher talk, but don’t think that because you’re at some premier tech conference that you’re the only one who doesn’t know this stuff. We each live in our little bubble of specific expertise. As you broaden yours don’t be afraid to reach out in a session, on Twitter, or stalking someone in the hall. Maybe less of that last one though.
15 teachers by a giant beach ball from the LAX18 class of Google Innovators
  • Find supportive educators. This isn’t hard in a space like this as most teachers love high-fiving and congratulating each other. Don’t stop there and don’t be afraid of the teacher that challenges you (as long as it’s not 30 seconds before you present). That teacher may have your (and your students’) genuine interest in mind more than anyone and they want help you refine your efforts. And I have to say having a number of NYC educators there who often attended, applauded, or recorded my efforts really meant SO much. Especially as I can go back later to judge myself harshly.
  • Avoid caustic educators. The kind of of caustic discussions that you find in schools and some online teacher forums (the why admin, kids, the system sucks people) are common enough and easy to find. You wouldn’t expect those people to spend their free time at a conference of educators though. What you will find though are people putting on a show for personal attention, people complaining about how they can’t implement any of it, or people too distracted by shiny lights to learn anything. Check out Eileen Lennon’s 12 People You Meet At Every Conference for an overview.
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  • You can create connections through shared failures. Alicia Duell shared a particularly powerful message of how feeling alone in her setbacks inspired her to create a wall of rejection where students and staff could connect about how their failures functioned as growth experiences.
  • Take a moment for mindfulness. ISTE can seem hectic and overwhelming with so much packed into 3 days especially for a newcomer or the doofus who chose to overextend himself. So I am very grateful that I was a part of several sessions that specifically decided to take part of their valuable time to take part in some mindfulness exercises with the participants.
  • Hands-On Learning is still my best way to learn even for educators. There are so many powerful speakers and challenging ideas put forward from the main stage and throughout the conference. But digging in with tools and practices first-hand will always be the most impactful. Whether it was the Apple Pop-Up Classroom or my own inclusive design-challenges, they would have been incredibly less valuable if the audience was in a passive role receiving info.
  • You can find creativity in unexpected places. Yes, ISTE a number of session on how Makerspaces, creative technology, and computer science can inspire future creators instead of just consumers. I expect this through the hands-on playgrounds and the variety displayed through the poster sessions. But apart from an ISTE session I was shown how to do ink paintings of bamboo. Now I don’t plan to go pro, but it gave me a different perspective on how the patience and mindfulness can lead to a beautiful creation (not mine, per se, but…)

Instructional Keys

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  • Student safety and privacy should always be the primary concern. There have been some major safety incidents in my district recently and now there is a new 2-D law in NY which is possibly going to overhaul the way we can work with student data and especially any personally identifiable information (PII). SO it is crucial that we consider that even as we’re attempting
  • Consider the genuine needs of the child and build the relationships or your pedagogy will be meaningless. The phrase is you have to Maslow before you Bloom shared by Tomaz Lazic.
  • You can’t be effective without considering the reality of your students. The changing demographics of disability, homelessness, or access can alter wholly the lives of students. If a third of your students are discourage or depressed you have to meet them there or you will spend all you time managing behavior issues that stem from it.
  • Even the bravest and boldest among us need connection and safety. One triathlete teacher friend who could probably kickbox me into next Tuesday and code me into oblivion shared about their struggles with feeling powerless. If they can feel that, how much more the rest of us if we’re being honest.
  • Everything is better as a game. In addition to the many things I’ve shared here, my friend, Clay Smith also provided information on school as a game. I have some interesting new initiatives on this front, stay tuned.
  • Design thinking is for everyone. Whatever project you’re trying to tackle, the design thinking process can get you there. And that user-centric design model is inherently good at bringing us to a perspective of universal design. Things that may benefit a particular group with a challenge but also serves everyone. Check out some of the Inclusive Learning Networks efforts in connecting design thinking and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
  • Design can make the difference between a powerful message and a mediocre slideshow. Sadie Lewis and Manuel Herrera demonstrated how quality design comes from a competent design process and that teachers can become effective designers.
  • We should be building students not into consumers of technology but rather creators of content. It might seem great that they can build a table in Google Docs, but what are they building to serve their peers and their community?
  • The space for learning can be just as important as the content. If you’ve ever tried to hear someone speaking clearly as 37 different presentations are going on in an expo hall or in a meeting where the air conditioner is louder than the leader then you’ll understand. Some spaces aren’t conducive to learning. And granted there are a number of ways to adapt spaces to be better whether it’s adjustable seating arrangements to interactive displays. Exploration Spaces has a few nice examples.
  • Learning accommodations are essential and need to regularly re-evaluated. IMpower is just getting rolling, but the work that Jen De Lisi-Hall is doing to collect student feedback so teachers can immediately implement changes is a worthwhile start.
  • Quality instruction should be built on comprehensive data, quality research, and meaningful interpretation of those. The Neuroteach Network is all about that uniting researchers, teachers, and school leaders in an effort to improve teaching through neuroscience and related learning strategies.
  • Being perfect on your own is being a failure at impacting anyone. We all need feedback to make us better? Often we hide our efforts because we’re nervous about what it’ll look like. I know I have felt that way. It’s hard, especially if you lack confidence in any areas, to be raw and share with others. But if we don’t we can’t expect to grow or even perform at our best. To aid in those efforts at collaboration and communication there are tools like Presenter Coach in PowerPoint or Teams for Education. But sometimes just find other supportive educators through events like the ISTE conference or in an online forum or down the hall in your school can be all the support you need to initiate innovation.

You can find related information in the posts on What’s New With ISTE? and Insights from ISTE 2018.

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