San Diego

San Diego at ISTE, shared on Twitter by @engaginged

ISTE 2012 just flew by this year! It was worth every penny and I am definitely going to save up again so I can go next year when it’s in San Antonio. You can read my initial reflections on the 2012 conference here. In this post, I’m going to combine the last two days of the conference (Tuesday and Wednesday) so I can spend more time at the end focusing on the big ideas:

Sessions, and lack thereof

I didn’t go to any sessions that really wowed me this year. I caught parts of a few good ones on Tuesday and attempted to go to some on Wednesday, but ended up heading to the blogger’s cafe instead. There I ran into some Twitter peeps and was able to talk to them directly about some of the issues that I had hoped to learn about in the sessions. I feel like I learned as much from those one-on-one conversations as I would have from sitting in a 2 hour session waiting for the 5 minutes period in which the presenter talked about the part I wanted to learn.

This fact really made me think a lot about the implications for my instructional technology coaching, especially since I actually like lectures and learn well from them. But if I (a person who enjoys lectures) found that structured and unstructured one-on-one and small group conversations provided me the most bang for my buck in learning, shouldn’t I consider that in my work in schools? I need to make sure I am giving teachers lots of time to talk to each other, co-plan, and brainstorm (and helping them to plan those same type of opportunities for their students.) Those 15 minute coaching sessions I used to bemoan, wishing I had a longer block of time? I’m going to embrace them now, and turn them into “poster sessions” of sorts which are actually designed to make use of the short window of time I have.

Meals and conversations

Every. single. meal I had in San Diego was amazing. Most involved fresh (and often raw) fish. Who knew San Diego was at one time the tuna fishing capital of the world? Don’t tell my cat I went there without her.

So the food was great, but I was really fortunate to have wonderful company during my meals, too. Lunch and dinner were wonderful times to decompress and kind of take everything in.  Teaching is an isolating profession, and coaching might be even more so. There aren’t that many of us, and we rarely have opportunities to talk to one another, so these conversations turn into brainstorming sessions that really are invaluable. I was able to talk with a LOT of tech coaches this year and it was great (?) to hear that they are facing the same issues I am. The bad news is that there is no magic bullet to overcome these problems, but the good news is that I’m not alone and that I feel more confident that I am doing everything in my power to overcome those issues.

Just to clarify, everyone I spoke with at ISTE was either a total stranger or someone I knew only from their blogs/Twitter. The stranger part  was fun–just ask the person sitting next to you where they’re from and what they do, and you’re off and running. The bloggers are fun, too: because we pretty much bare our souls online, seeing one another in person is like meeting up with old friends. I ended up spending late Wednesday morning planning some super cool collaborations with another edublogger, and then in the afternoon taking the trolley around the city to see San Diego. It was my only chance to see the city and I”m so glad I did. I don’t have time to upload pics now, but I will share some later!

Time to par-tay

Were there parties at ISTE 2011? How did I miss that? Last year in Philly, I stayed with a friend and rushed “home” right after the sessions so I could spend time with her family, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to the party situation. This year, though, I found myself triple and quadruple booked for parties in the evenings. Some were early evening and had panelists addressing different issues (like Follett Software’s “Great Thinkers” meet up) while other involved more drinking and dancing than I think I’ve ever seen people do in a professional setting (like the EdTech Karaoke rooftop party). I enjoy the more learning-focused get togethers as well as the informal gatherings. Free food is always a draw, but for me, the parties were a chance to have relaxed and casual conversations with people I didn’t normally get to talk to.

ISTE stragglers

I’ve said it again and again: I can’t imagine attending a conference and not having Twitter to help me figure out what’s going on. A bloggy buddy mentioned seeing a tweet about a “stragglers” breakfast the day after the conference: she couldn’t make it, but I replied and asked if I could come. Someone else saw my tweet and invited herself, as well. In all, it ended up being a very fun group of 8 educators from around the globe, having a delicious San Diego style breakfast and recapping the conference. FUN.

At the breakfast, I learned about a new unconference coming up in Atlantic City in August. Yay! I also got to talk about the format of the ISTE conference a bit. Several people expressed disappointment with the quality of the sessions, and pointed out that the session descriptions didn’t always match the presentations. I mentioned my frustration at having to arrive to each session a half an hour early, wait in line to get a seat, and then being stuck once I realized a few minutes into the session that it wasn’t going to meet my needs. Normally I’d just slip out quietly and pop in to something else nearby, but with most sessions filled to max capacity, if you made a bad session choice, you either had to sit through it or find something else to do for two hours.

Fortunately, finding something else to do was never a problem. All of us at the breakfast enjoyed the poster sessions where you can just walk up and talk with someone who is at a station and prepared to talk about a particular topic. We also liked the ignite sessions, in which each presenter has 5 minutes to talk and his or her presentation slides automatically advance every 15 seconds. These are great ways to get overviews of a lot of different topics, and then you can visit the presenter’s website to get more information afterward.

Talking at the airport

My flight was at noon on Thursday, the day after the conference. I got to my gate and saw two guys who look fairly teacher-like (total stereotype, I know) and both had iPads. I decided to take a chance. “You didn’t happen to be at the ISTE conference, were you?” Ding ding ding! Cue twenty minute conversation while we wait to board the plane. They were Montreal-based “pedagogy coaches” who help teachers design tech-infused lessons around best practices.

The concept of a pedagogy coach really struck a chord with me. I think I will take that approach when explaining to principals and teachers what I do. The pedagogy has to come first: the technology is just a tool, a small part of it. I need to make that more clear when explaining my role in schools and also keep it in the forefront of my mind at work.

Big trends in education

So enough about me and my personal experience at ISTE: here’s what all these conversations and sessions were about, and here are the things you need to know. I’m going to write about these trends as if you don’t know anything about them, because I realize that some of you don’t follow tech blogs and most of you haven’t yet had the chance to attend ed tech conferences. I want to make this information accessible for EVERY teacher. I’m building out the Technology Integration section of my website in July, and there I’ll expand on these topics and provide links where you can find more in-depth resources. Here’s just an overview:

iPads, iPads, iPads: It seemed to me that 75% of sessions were about mobile devices, mostly iPads. I’m on board with this 100%: I think Apple devices are the best on the market in every way, and the iPad is the cheapest thing they make. iPads are enormously versatile and kid-friendly, and I’m glad to see the move toward using them. Pretty much every iPad-related issue you can think of was covered at ISTE, from management to app recommendations to purchasing/roll-out plans, etc. The other great thing about iPads is iBooks (digital textbooks–totally the wave of the future and really cool–think videos, images, and interactives built right in, and content automatically updated as the world changes). And there’s iBook Authors (teachers and kids can easily create their own interactive digital textbooks). There was a small buzz about iBooks at this year’s ISTE, but I predict that ISTE 2013 will be the year of iBooks/iAuthors. This is gonna be big, folks, once we figure out how it works in real classrooms. There are a few schools piloting these resources now (kind of like a few piloted iPads and 1:1 programs this past school year with many more schools coming on board this year) and they’ll be reporting back next June about how it worked as other schools take the digital textbook plunge.

BYOD: That’s bring-your-own-device. The idea is that schools don’t have the latest technology, but kids have smart phones and devices of their own. Why not let them bring those to school and use them? It’s great in theory, but the management piece poses a lot of challenges, so there was a lot of talk at ISTE about how to make it work. There were some very well-done sessions from schools and districts who have tried this and made it work.

1:1 devices: This refers to one computer or mobile device for every student. Eventually I believe all schools will get there, and many already are, at least at one or two grade levels. The ISTE conversations were primarily concerning how to implement a 1:1 program and what types of projects kids can be doing. I think the most important thing everyone should know about 1:1 programs is that students are NOT using computers all day long. The elementary educators I talked to said their kids are using computers/iPads about 15% of the school day; the secondary educators estimated around 30%. When you hear talk about 1:1 programs, please know that books, paper, and pencil still have their place in education. 1:1 simply offers students more choices in the tools they have available. Kids and teachers work together to choose the best tool for each task.

Flipped classroom: Instead of lecturing/instructing in class and having kids practice at home on their own, you can flip your classroom and have student hear the lectures/instruction at home and practice in class under your guidance. Think Khan Academy and other video lectures/tutorials. Teachers can also record their lessons, upload them to YouTube or TeacherTube, etc. and have kids watch at home. The flipped classroom has lots of logistical problems, especially concerning computer and wifi access in the home.  There is also a lot of apprehension about kids getting too much lecture time: after all, 2 hours of dry, irrelevant teacher-directed instruction is still 2 hours of teacher-directed instruction, whether it’s at home or school. The bigger question around flipped classroom methods is this: how can we leverage technology to provide students with meaningful, authentic, engaging, and personalized learning experiences? Now that I think about it, that might be the overarching question of the entire conference.

Using mobile devices for special needs students: One of the best things about technology, as I’ve stated previously, is that it makes it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all learners. I really enjoyed hearing about the ways teachers helped kids with special needs find apps that assisted them with the things that they find difficult. I’m going to collect some great links for you to provide more detail–stay tuned.

Apps: There were tons of sessions giving app suggestions, but not as many talking about strategies for implementation. I hope to see that improve over time. Although this wasn’t really talked about at ISTE and was kind of taken for granted, there’s one important thing I really want every teacher to know about apps, something it took me awhile to figure out and I hope you realize more quickly than I did. {Steps on soapbox}: Apps are not like websites. You don’t need to look for apps to help kids practice fractions or learn about phonics. I mean, you CAN, but that’s not really the point. Use websites for those skills. Apps have very specific purposes, and you’d have to download hundreds of apps just to cover all the topics you teach for a single subject area (as opposed to bookmarking two or three websites like these where you can get pretty much everything you need.) Apps in education are used mostly to help kids create and collaborate. If you get iPads in your classroom, I encourage you to think of them from that perspective, rather than attempt to collect a bunch of subject area-specific apps which have kids playing games all by themselves. Use the apps to let kids collaboratively create audio and video of themselves, share their ideas, explain processes, etc. Mobile devices are 21st century learning tools, and they’re designed to be used for 21st century learning purposes, not for rote practice. {Steps off soapbox} Thanks for letting me talk about that. I’ve really wanted to clarify that misconception for awhile now.

NOT using interactive whiteboards: There were only a handful of sessions about IWBs (Promethean, Eno Polyvision, SMART boards, etc.) This will probably be frustrating for those of you who just got IWBs and even more frustrating for those of you still using whiteboards and chalkboards, but the IWB backlash that was brewing last year at ISTE has taken over the ed tech world. The problem? They cost too much, and teachers end up using them to teach the same way they always have: standing at the front of the room presenting while kids sit at their seats listening and interacting one at a time. Why spend thousands of dollars on that when you can spend the same amount and get enough iPads for a small group of students to use? The idea is to put the technology in the hands of the kids. Sure, you CAN use IWBs for really fantastic, engaging lessons in which students are  actively involved, and if you can afford iPads and IWBs, fantastic. But if given the choice of one or the other, most ed tech experts would advise schools to get devices for the kids. I’d tend to agree, though I would like to see every classroom get an LCD projector (which can be hooked to a classroom computer or laptop) and a document camera (at least in the elementary grades).

Buzzwords (in addition to the above): Personalized (this is replacing ‘differentiated’ and ‘individualized’, which I like); student engagement; authentic experiences; digital toolkits (personalized collections of programs/apps/sites kids can use to meet their accommodation needs and general needs).

Your thoughts?

So that’s my take on #ISTE12. I’m on vacation now with my husband and don’t have time to compile them like I normally do, but please share links to other resources/recaps from ISTE! I did just see this one on Twitter, and it’s a wonderful reflection on the power of connecting! Also check out the ISTE12 hashtag: even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still scroll through this feed and see links to lots of session resources and recaps.

If you were at the conference, do you agree or disagree with my impressions? I’d also love to hear from those of you who weren’t at the conference: do the big ideas I shared resonate with you and what’s happening in your school?

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John T. Spencer June 29, 2012 at 10:59 am

It was great seeing you at ISTE. It’s always fun to reconnect.

I like the way you described the trends. I think the trends (and the inherent trendiness of it) was a little jarring to me. I was hoping for a little more on the pedagogy/practical strategies side of it. But I get it. It’s a tech conference for a reason.

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2 Jana June 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

What districts and schools have successfully incorporated BYOD? Our district is working through this now.

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3 Robert July 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for sharing your reflections, Angela. I especially liked hearing about the pedagogy coaches. I think I’ll have to steal that term for my work this upcoming year!

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4 Alba July 4, 2012 at 1:46 am

We just got iPads this year at our school (1 per teacher). We also received new apple laptops this year. I use my laptop for everything: I connect it to the projector, I create materials for my class, I prepare my lesson plans, do research, use e-mail, etc. etc. I am not so sold on the iPads. For one, we are financially responsible for them: Do I want my students touching it? No way! I have found the website/webtool called class dojo, which I will use this year for classroom management instead of a clipboard because it’s immediate and interactive. I can use my laptop for this (plugged into my projector) or my iPad once we have wireless or I figure out how to connect it to the wireless network we appear to have at our school (It doesn’t work consistently with our laptops though! :o( ) I guess that my concern is that the push is to use the latest gadget, but there’s a huge learning curve for us teachers, and is the latest gadget the best thing in the end? If we have a laptop, do we need an iPad? As far as apps, I need to be sold on this idea! What are the benefits? How to manage them? I just think that we are moving so quickly before really researching whether iPads really are best in the classroom. In a future blog post, can you please write about the benefits of iPads in the classroom in detail? I have to figure out the best way to use the iPad in my classroom. Sometimes I feel that using a pen and paper/post it is more efficient and quicker than to type it into the iPad. I appreciate your feedback, as usual! Thank you Angela.

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