ISTE 2016

Back from #iste2016. Once again, I return inspired, motivated, energized — and exhausted!

Themes

From my perspective as a museum educator, there were some clear themes we saw this year:

  • Google, and Google Classroom in particular. Classroom had an strong presence with at least 10 sessions. Many of the sessions were full. I was relieved to find out that I’ve learned the tool well, as the ones I did get into were mostly things I already knew. I’m watching Classroom to keep growing and improving, especially after Google sees all the teacher use. Google Cast has huge potential, even though it really doesn’t impact me.
  • 3D printing/scanning, AR and VR were huge. I mean really huge. One presenter said there were 46 sessions about the AR/VR/3D modeling.  It feels like it’s becoming mainstream. Teachers are using it frequently in the classroom and companies are out with all sorts of things. My favorite sessions were about Paleoteach.org and one from @stemnation about a fantastic project getting kids to print 3D versions of printing “press” typefaces.  There were more 3D printers in the exhibit hall than you could count.
  • Free. Again, free is a common thread at ISTE. I heard complaints about software that used to be free now charging. I heard questions at my session asking about if a resource is free. If not, teachers won’t even look at it. It is essential that publishers and content providers keep this in mind.
  • Inclusion and UDL: I was happy to see quite a presence of accessibility and inclusion sessions. I attended a Playground about UDL and learned a few new tips/tricks. I sadly couldn’t make a couple of the sessions, but have downloaded the handouts. Hoping I can glean info from them.

The “disruptive” theme continues. ISTE attendees tend, as a group, to not like standardized tests and such. As a group, they lean towards empowering students and less about the top down. I’m not always sure what this has to do with technology, but I love it, and I love how the tools of technology are seen as a means to an end of empowerment and learning, rather than as the ultimate goal. I felt there were fewer “use this app” sessions, and more sessions about tools for learning.

Networking

This year was a networking year for me, which was so fun.

The Smithsonian’s Learning Lab officially launched at ISTE with a big splash. Having watched the Learning Lab from afar for a few years, it is really exciting to see it officially go live. I enjoyed talking about it at my poster session and was pleased to hear that many folks from my poster stopped at the Learning Lab’s table!

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Meeting a blogging icon, Glenn Wiebe!

I also met a blogger icon, Glenn Wiebe of historytech. I was beyond giddy! We always read Glenn’s blog – he does fabulous work keeping an eye on the combination of social studies and technology. I fully admit we “borrow” (with credit of course) ideas from Glenn. It made my conference complete to connect Glenn and Darren Milligan (Smithsonian) about the Learning Lab. Glenn also published a far-too flattering post about my session. THANK YOU, Glenn! I look forward to working with Glenn in the future.

I was able to connect with the team at Georgia Public Broadcasting who publish the 8th grade Georgia history textbook and virtual field trips.  GPB uses the same digital publishing software that we use, so it was extremely helpful to connect with them and share our successes and frustrations.

The now-annual Minnesota Tweetup was also a fantastic place to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. These are often folks I see on Twitter or at conferences, so it’s a great chance to actually talk.

Sessions with iconic bloggers always makes ISTE fun. I saw Chris Lehmann, Will Richardson and Pernille Ripp around the conference. Why all three were scheduled at 4 p.m on Tuesday is beyond me. Why, ISTE????

Talking to strangers also makes ISTE fun. For example, I met @im_alastair and @mpickens813 on the train to the airport. Lively conversation made the long ride much more fun!

Session

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Thanks to Mike Walker for taking this shot!

I did another poster session, although this one was on my own! Once again, it was about digital primary sources, “Reading Primary Source Images like a Book.” It was a busy two hours of sharing about primary source analysis and resources.

On to 2017 in San Antonio!

Influencing Young Minds

I read other blogs because they make me think. Also because most bloggers are really good writers and they can often put into words what I am thinking but haven’t expressed – or don’t feel I can express because I’m not a teacher. Blogging allows a conversation when it’s not possible to have a real life conversation.

One of my favorite bloggers is a former high school teacher. He has left the world of K12 for the hallowed halls of higher education. I hope his philosophy can benefit many new teachers going into the world. Instead of directly impacting students, he can benefit more students by teaching new teachers to question the current state of education.

Snippets in today’s post were perfect reminders of why he is an excellent teacher – and why the current public school system drove him away.

Standardized tests are silly and do not account for real teaching. I am referring to the complex work of mentoring young people as they grow up in an infinitely complex, unsafe universe. Story is a better way to represent that work than test scores.

Seriously, how wonderfully insightful is this? Truly, does it matter if a student can remember the street some character in a book lived on, what year a battle occurred, or what equation you need to find the area of a parallelogram? Yes – a professor of literature, history or math might need these pieces of information at their fingertips, but not the majority of us. Do we need to be exposed to many types of information, ways of thinking and problem solving? Yes. Do we need to memorize all this stuff. No way.

A more important piece of a teacher’s job seems to be just what Sam says: mentoring people to grow into healthy adults. He was a creative teacher that did not rely on tests, extraordinary amounts of outside work or reciting facts. He asked students to think, apply knowledge to other situations, consolidate information and use their own experience. But he got a ton of flack for it. Personally, I am grateful my kid had a chance to be in his class. I know she got more out of that class — he made her think, he challenged her — than she did from those “advanced” classes that were crammed full of content.

I particularly like this quote:

First, I think teachers should not pretend to be transmitters of ultimate truths. Our truths might not work for somebody else.

Agreed. This respects diversity of thought, of opinion, of belief. Let’s encourage students to develop a belief system of their own instead of forcing them to swallow someone else’s. This does not mean students don’t work with content – it means truly there is too much content in the world to know it all. Learn to work well with smaller amounts so you are better equipped to work with it all.

How can teachers empathize with students and help them adapt to their circumstances with the understanding that realities are diverse, dissimilar, and require nuance to navigate? Throw out the tests. Most tests assume an arbitrary truth and then impose that truth at the expense of questioning.

This statement I find sums up the problem with standardized testing in a nutshell. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity in these tests. There is only room for spitting back material. What do we value more?

Way back a hundred years ago when I was teaching, I told my students (7/8th graders) flat out that I didn’t want them memorizing dates. I never used tests. All assessment was done using projects, often of their own choosing. Projects had to show an understanding of the issues and how it applied. It wasn’t a spitting back of dates. This was in the years before the rise of standardized tests and in an “open” school that left teachers a ton of flexibility. It was awesome….

I hope Sam’s current work in higher education teaching teachers allows him to plant this seed of thought in all these young people going into education. Maybe that’s how we start moving in this direction.

Self Directed Learning

An article in MindShift, “Is School for Everyone?” discusses a concept that allows teens to fully direct their own learning, with appropriate adult mentorship and support.

Ken Danford founded North Star, a center that enrolls teens and allows them to learn on their own. A former middle school teacher, he saw too many kids damaged, disengaged and unable to learn. He has seen some amazing success stories out of North Star. There are apparently a few other places like this around the country. Students do have to take a GED or something in order to officially get a high school diploma. Many of these students do very successfully go on to college.

This would’ve been an ideal option for my daughter. Like the students in the story, she has significant anxiety around school and basically shut down. It would’ve taken her a few months to destress and come out, but I think she would’ve flown if given the proper adult mentorship and guidance, and allowed to learn at her own pace about things that inspired passion.

Would she have learned high level chemistry? Nope. Would she, perhaps, have explored a Mozart opera in depth? Probably. She may have learned to make films, done ceramics, listened to some great literature, taken tons of pictures, written some scripts, done some professional theater. This list could’ve been long. Instead, she was forced into classrooms with 30 kids, filled out worksheets and taken bubble tests.

We are hopeful that while college is still “formal” academic experiences, the fact that it is more self directed will allow her some more positive learning opportunities. Keep your fingers crossed.

And watch Ken’s TED Talk: