I have just returned from my first ever International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) Conference. I was joined by a hardworking crew of fellow Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITF) from Union County, NC. I walked away realizing that all the great ideas that were shared are nothing without a team to help you make them a reality. With that said, here are my 5 initial takeaways from the conference.
1. No Matter Where You Go, Family is Always First: I missed my wife and son a great deal while visiting the conference. Thankfully, technology keeps us connected with the ones we love. Fortunately, I was able to FaceTime back at the hotel with my family. Unfortunately, I was pushed to tears when I received an iMessage video of my son crawling for the first time. While the moment was tough to take in, it also motivated me to make the most of my time in Atlanta. I have also never been happier to be awakened at 3 A.M. by a crying baby. I arrived home on Tuesday night after my son’s bedtime. I gladly answered his cries and helped soothe him back to sleep. I was finally home!
2. The “T” in ISTE Stands for TEAM: Due to the leadership of our Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis and our Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Webb, we were able to send an entire team down to Atlanta. Dr. Ellis and Dr. Webb are both outstanding proponents of instruction powered by technology. In fact, Dr. Webb was honored in March by the North Carolina Technology in Education Society for his concerted effort to set up a true “All-Access” model for our school district.
To learn more about our Access Model visit the following Google Site our ITF team created for Union County Public Schools: bit.ly/UCPSChromeU
As an ITF team, we made the most of our good fortune. While most of the sessions I attended were great, it was the time I spent with my team that was truly valuable. We reestablished relationships, spent time planning the coming year and shared our enthusiasms without the constraints of the working world. Joey Barker, Brady Thomas, Jan Anderson, Becky Swiger, Gina Chisum, Bill Blackledge, Casey Zvanut, Casey Rimmer, and Lisa Thompson earned my respect long ago. The trip to ISTE, however, helped reinforce my faith that our team is one of the best in the business. Each of us have our own unique talents and it’s the sum of those talents that leads to great professional development. Steve Jobs often said A players like to work with A players. Thank goodness the B team works somewhere else.
3. Math Can Be Fun: I was completely floored that the very best session I attended centered around math instruction. I went into Desmos CEO Eli Luberoff‘s presentation nervous. I’ve always hated math. I could get all my multiplication tables right but was forever penalized for not doing them fast enough. I had 8 different math teachers in the 8th grade and never recovered. If only I had a teacher like Mr.Luberoff. Knowing math was a blind spot for me, so I signed up for the session wanting a challenge. With that in mind, I held my breath and hoped I’d get something tangible for my teachers back home. I got more than I could have ever asked for. While many in education know about the fantastic (and free) Desmos graphing calculator, Mr.Luberoff showed off some very cool tech that will make learning math way more than just inputting numbers or solving equations. The interactive lessons his company have devised in concert with Dan Myer are truly amazing. I walked away wanting to learn math for the first time in my entire adult life.
To learn more about Mr. Luberoff’s presentation visit his Desmos presentation site here: http://iste2014.desmos.com/
Additional Math shout-outs go to Think Through Math and Dream Box Learning for their comprehensive student centered web solutions (Brady I know you could have gotten the high score at the Dream Box booth if I had kept my ill-timed humor to myself, lol!)
4. Google Classroom is a Game Changer: Our Union County ITF team was one of the few groups to be lucky enough to get a preview of Google Classroom before it’s big ISTE unveiling. After participating in a Google Hangout with Program Manager for Google Apps for Education and Classroom Jennifer Holland, we had the great privilege of trying out Google’s newest ed-tech solution. Ms. Holland delivered several fantastic presentations during the conference, too. While Classroom is a work in progress, I already view it as a game changer for our teachers. All those sleepless nights worrying about shared folders and editing rights seem for not now. I look forward to watching the product grow from the input of so many enthusiastic educators. To be able to hit the feedback button and be heard is a dream come true.
5. End Your Conference on a high note (Gamification!): Our last session of the conference was on Gamification. The presenter, Philip Vinogradov, really blew our minds with his gamification solutions for classroom instruction. Even more exciting, his solutions involved Google Apps for Education and shared folders. This means that everything we learned is directly transferable to our district. My colleagues and I walked away with some very enthusiastic conversations. Not only do we want to help teachers gamify their instruction but we also want to explore ways to gamify our professional development offerings. I have heard several principals over the years say that they are going to concentrate on discipline first, teaching second. To me this is backwards. Technology powered instruction (if done right) allows us to better manage classroom behavior. It also has the ability to engage students in a way that will make them life long learners. Gamification, classroom flipping and other instructional methods are needed to make various technology tools meaningful to learners. I also enjoyed meeting Michael Matera in person and can’t wait to collaborate with him in the near future.
To learn more about Vinogradov’s gamification model checkout his presentation materials here: http://prezi.com/hzqbzhjmcuyl/gamification/
One final thought: If you go to a Braves Game . . . try to make it to home plate, lol!