ISTE 2016

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


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 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.


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!


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!


Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 4.21.52 PM

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!

History Case Studies

How do you make learning history dull, boring, monotonous and tedious? Teach broad survey classes with lots of multiple choice questions!!!

Sound familiar? Yup – that’s how most of us learned history and how most history courses are taught now, sadly.

Not this class! The article, “A Better Way to Teach History,” by Christine Gross-Loh outlines a college history course modeled on the Harvard Business School pedagogy of teaching through case studies. Professor David Moss gives students the arguments on both sides of a controversy. Students read, discuss, argue and make a decision. Only then does he tell students what actually happened. This method uses critical thinking, primary source analysis, decision making skills and communication skills.

Traditional history teaching values facts over skills, something that has long been debated. I fall strongly on the side of teaching skills over content. Even back in the early 1990s, pre-internet, I taught students that it was the process of finding information and analyzing it that was important. I gave only open book assessments – rarely, if ever, did I give “tests.” Today, it’s even more useless to memorize tons of facts. It’s not possible. It is possible to teach students to find information. Do students need a minimal amount of historical content in order to analyze? Of course. But that can be learned in the process of analyzing and doesn’t require excessive rote memorization.

Multiple choice tests definitely favor facts over process. As the article states, there is little context to facts in a multiple choice test. This article promotes the use of narrative over fact – one I wholly support. Narrative gives context, reason, rational, instead of random, disconnected facts. “…the narrative provides context and a more effective way to learn and remember.”

Love this quote:

The argument I make all the time is, it’s like if I were to ask someone to assemble a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the box-top picture of it. You could of course eventually put it together but the effort to match shapes and colors on each piece would be monumental, and you’d likely give up quite quickly. Such is what happens to many kids in school


It’s NOT a Book!

I’ve been working on digital content delivery of a curriculum for the last year or so. I haven’t seen very many good models out there, and am constantly looking for an appropriate way to delivery content in way that truly takes advantage of the media (online – be it iPad, computer, whatever) and doesn’t just look like a book.

My kids have “online books” that really are just that: print books that have been put online. Oh, there might be a few videos dropped in or an audio of a vocabulary word, but basically, it’s a book. Most are pdfs, with perhaps an interactive element or two dropped in. It’s a book.

I love books. I have thousands in my house. I read print books. I strongly prefer printed books to ereaders.

But digital isn’t a book! Digital delivery offers us different things. There are so many more options, choices, opportunities. When building digital content, we sell ourselves short if we retain the print model. By taking advantage of the interactivity and multi-media possibilities, we can create richer platforms for learning.

Screen shot 2012-12-22 at 8.53.23 AMA recent feature in the New York Times, “Snow Fall: Avalance at Tunnel Creek”, is an interesting use of digital media to deliver a story. An Atlantic Monthly article refutes the claim that “Snow Fall” is the “future or journalism” because of the time and personnel resources required.

I can see their point. But it’s a great model for education content delivery. I can easily see how I could use this model of delivery for content. It’s not cheap – the multimedia time/expertise is pricey, as is the content development itself.

But it’s a great concept — far better than a pdf of a print book!

Crash Course

Ok, how have I not seen these Crash Course in World History videos before? These are truly magnificent. I think I learned more about the Industrial Revolution in this 10 minute video than I ever learned in a college class…. or at least this video made it more memorable!

These videos are a brilliant example of how to engage 21st century learners:

  • The videos are obviously very visual, relying on sophisticated graphics and historical imagery.
  • They are short, only 10 minutes. (They sure pack a punch in 10 minutes!)
  • They relate the past to the present, creating a real world learning situation.
  • The videos ask critical thinking questions that could lead to class discussion and more.

I could so easily see how these could be incorporated into history classes. The content is delivered very rapidly, and is actually a pretty good level. You could use these with middle school with support, and easily with high school.

World History Textbook

Does this look enticing for a 21st century visual learner?

Remember when I posted pictures of the textbook my daughter is going to use in her World History this year?

I’m not saying these videos should be the sole curriculum of the class, but geez, which method of learning do you think most students would engage with more? I certainly hope that I hear that her AP World History class is using other media BESIDES the photo at right.

Maybe Google is ok?

I have posted about the fact that my daughter, a freshman in high school, isn’t allowed to use the graphing calculator on her iPhone. We paid $1.99 for this app, and as you would imagine, she has it with her all the time.

Instead, she has to tote around a second $100 device. I had to buy this device last year. If I had had to buy it this year, when she had an iPhone, I would have refused. This is crazy.

Just saw an article about Google working as a graphing calculator. I wonder what the math teachers would say about using Google!!!  HAHA!  I can only imagine!

Seriously, though, should kids pay for and carry around a device that has one function: a graphing calculator. (OK, I realize that has many functions!!) Or, would it be better to teach kids to use the tools they already know and have? Teach them how to use Google to their advantage.

However, this won’t happen. I just found out that they reuse the tests. My daughter didn’t do very well on a quiz, so she had the chance to fix her mistakes (this is something I do like.) She couldn’t take the test out of the classroom  — because they use these same tests in all the geometry classes every year!! So, what did she do? She took a picture of a problem so she could work on it at home. While I commend her for her resourcefulness, this is NOT a good idea in the current culture. (Picture was deleted.)

While I understand that this provides consistency because all kids are tested on the same material and it saves the teacher time, is it really the best option? Does it teach the kids how to solve problems using the tools at hand? Does it teach thinking and problem solving? Are the problems related to the real world, or do they come straight from the textbook??

No wonder she struggles with geometry homework. It has absolutely no relation to her day-to-day life. I know many kids do find motivation in the academic exercise (I did, but only to keep my straight-A average), I doubt most kids do. Go check out Dan Meyer’s blog and TED talk. Then tell me if it’s a good thing that the tests are repeated every year and she’s can’t use her iPhone app.

Visual Learners and Digital Storytelling

The other 3 (human) members of my household are all visual learners. They see everything from numbers to dates to stories in their heads as pictures. My daughter sees all numbers, letters, days of the week, months, etc., as color. This is odd to me, as I am very much a word person. I don’t see pictures – I see words. (You’ll notice my blog is far more words than visuals.)

Yet, for my daughter especially, school is very much a word based place. She works twice as hard as a word based person to read – every word is turned into a picture.  Her move to the high school has just exacerbated this problem. If you’ve read previous posts, she wants to take Pre-AP World History next year.

Does this look enticing for a 21st century visual learner?

We looked at the book – it’s deadly. Print. Pages and pages of tightly spaced words with no visuals. Class assessments are totally writing based – essay, tests, etc.

The teacher told me it was because it would be what the kids would find in college. I don’t disagree with the need to learn how to read advanced texts and be able to write essays. But is that really the only way to learn content and demonstrate understanding? Why does a high level history class have to focus on words only? Where are the visuals?

There are others who feel visual learning is valid. I just read a blog post about a teacher who has his students study a painting and read it as an essay about the time in which is was made:

He challenged students to think of a painting as an essay – in the sense that it captures not in words, as an essay does, but through a visual image, some aspect(s) of the life, history, and culture of a particular historical period from the point of view not of a writer but of an artist.

Awesome idea, and certainly a very valid way to learn concepts and history.

Another blogger wrote about the digital storytelling assignments she does with her high school students. In this case, students are given a topic and have about a week to put together a two minute digital presentation. Kids can use iMovie, Keynote, etc., anything that let’s them express their understanding of the topic in a digital mode. Visuals are considered key.

I would argue that these projects are a better assessment of a student’s understanding of a topic than a mere essay. If you check her rubric and watch the samples, you’ll see that the students aren’t slacking. They do have to write: no digital storytelling project would be complete without a script. They have to organize their thoughts in a storyboard. They have to also find appropriate visuals to express their ideas. They have to cite all sources. Some of the samples are more narrative or biographical, but you certainly could make these projects into something like a 5-paragraph essay with a strong thesis and supporting arguments. Like those who argue that giving students a public audience for blogs, the whole class watches the videos and is even quizzed on the content!

Digital storytelling can be used with all ages and subjects. The product doesn’t have to be a polished 2- or 10-minute video. Shelly Terrell writes about an online course she’s teaching (to 250 people!) about digital storytelling. She lists a number of quick ways to get started (such as having students pull out their cell phone and tell/write a story about a picture on their phone) and a myriad of resources for building digital stories.

I can easily see the problems in assigning a digital project like this: access to a computer lab, teaching students about the software, etc. But why not make it an option?

I know my daughter will gravitate to study fields that are more visual and less towards the word based content. I’m sorry that history, which she really enjoys, won’t be an option if her classes continue to be offered in these exclusively text based formats. The teacher next year thinks he’s really helping her by teaching her how to learn the way he thinks she needs to. I think he’d do her a lot more good by letting her express her understanding in a format that makes more sense to her.

Project REAL Revisited

I had the good fortune to attend another Apple education seminar at Little Falls High School . Last spring, I attended a morning session where the Project REAL plan was presented and the 5th grade teachers and students who piloted iPads were there to show what they had done. Last year, there were approximately 40 people in attendance.

This year’s seminar was a full day. Teachers presented about what they had been doing, then we had time to visit with students and teachers at tables. The IT staff answered specific technical questions. This time, there were over 250 people at the session, and more than 550 people were watching the livestream. Wow!

Thankfully, they recorded the morning session which had about 12 teachers presenting different aspects of how they have used iPads this year. Watch it for yourself and see the great stuff happening in Little Falls!

It was a great day with many interesting stories. If I wasn’t already convinced that schools need to move to this direction, I am now.

Here’s a quick list of highlights for me:

  • “The only thing I can’t do on the iPad is print, and boy, am I glad.” — from Dave Girtz, the middle school media specialist
  • Carrie Youngberg, 5th grade, sees increased parent communication when the kids produce a weekly video of the “newsletter.”
  • Anjanette Kraus, High School English, uses She’s seen a significant reduction in late work and plagiarism, and thinks the public audience component has improved student writing and engagement. Kids are collaborating on writing.
  • Andy Ward, High School Science, was a sceptic. He was NOT happy about the iPads. He is now a convert. He says he’ll never go back to written lab reports – all his lab reports on done with video. Watch him – he’s quite entertaining!
  • The PE teacher uses an app called Tennis Coach Plus HD to record students practicing skills.
  • Jody Waltman, High School Math and French, demonstrated how she uses Moodle and email. No paper assignements!
  • Gregg Pearce – 5th grade. Gregg was uncertain as he piloted the iPads last year. The tech integrationist suggested just trying it – “unleashing the hounds.”
  • Greg Aker, Middle School social studies, demonstrated how easy it is to create epubs. Little Falls has a goal to not purchase any more textbooks.
  • Nate Swenson, Middle School principal, demonstrated how they use Google Forms for assessment.
  • Adam Smieja, Middle School math, demonstrated Socrative.
  • Karen Warner, High School art, discussed how she has embraced the iPads after being less than enthusiastic. She has student collaboration and student voices as they exchange ideas on the Moodle site. She uses iPads frequently for students to find references to draw.
  • Sarah Shaw, elementary art, has had the kids make digital art portfolios.
  • Shawn Alhorn, 5th grade, had the iPads last year. He loves not having paper assignments. He’s seeing more engagement, students digging deeper into content. He has kids do keynotes for vocab – has seen this reach kids of all learning styles, with significantly improved retention of meaning.


Tough Choices

A follow-up to a previous post about my 9th grade daughter’s choices for classes for next year. Should she take Honors World History or the regular class?

The teachers had a curriculum night last week. It was a good chance to meet a couple of teachers and to take a look at the books used for the two options. I found out that the Honors class is basically an Advanced Placement class, but they can’t call it that. The books are both REALLY big and heavy (no wonder kids have back problems). The Honors book is very text based, and I think is a college level text. The class involves a good deal of reading, note taking, writing and tests. The class is like any AP class, preparing kids for the AP tests.

The book for the regular class included many more visuals, including graphics and photographs. I didn’t get many details about how this class functions, as the teacher who was there was an Honors teacher.

Neither course includes any online textbook, and the honors class uses very little outside resources (online or otherwise) and certainly never includes projects. In fact, the teacher looked down his nose at me when I even suggested such a thing. The online textbook will change probably for the class after my daughter, as I know the district is replacing its Social Studies curriculum. However, that doesn’t help her!

So, what to do? I need to email the teacher to get the textbook titles/publishers to see if we could find used copies or a digital version. If she had her own copy of the book, at least she could write in the book and wouldn’t have to carry the huge thing back and forth. My daughter loves history and social studies, and does very well. She deserves to have access to the higher level content of the Honors class. Yet, she’s not a kid that does well with strict, linear, traditional teaching. I’m not sure she’ll do well in an AP setting that is so focused on intense reading and regurgitating history facts and concepts.

She’s a visual learner who can express her learning much better in projects, like movies, performances, presentations than she does in tests. While yes, she needs to learn to write, does she need to learn to write for an AP test? Is this really a 21st century skill that will serve her best in her life? Are colleges really that focused on that kind of learning? Given what I’ve been studying for the last year, I’m not convinced that this is the best course.

Decision to be posted later.

Textbooks: Free or Paid?

The move for districts to create their own textbooks and curriculum seems to be taking on steam lately. I know this has been going on for years, but is now really finding more momentum because of budget cuts and the increasing availability of content online.

As a parent, I’ve seen a number of teachers who use the textbook merely as a guide. I have to say those classes were the ones my kids found the most engaging and rewarding. Even when I was teaching, over 20 years ago, I never used a textbook. One school I taught at had NO social studies texts – we wrote our classes as we went (a little too stressful for this first year teacher.) But I actually had students come back a couple of years later to tell me how much they got from that class. And that was without a textbook.

I’m not saying textbooks are bad – far from it. I know many great teachers and classes who use the textbook very well. Teachers don’t have time to put together curriculum -it’s a very time consuming process. Nor do they (I certainly didn’t) have expertise in all the areas they have to teach.

But the movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) and other types of free/reduced cost textbooks is really taking off. I’ve seen a number of blog posts on it lately (check my delicious feed).

My kids have a couple of digital textbooks, but they are basically pdfs online. Hardly worth it. I’m hoping to soon see textbooks that really take advantage of the medium. As AUdrey Watters said ,

But when you digitize textbooks, you can disassemble all those various pieces that comprise it — the different units, chapters, exercises, diagrams, illustrations and so on — and you can reengineer something completely different. You can add video explanations, for example. You can make the diagrams interactive. You can add social elements, letting students make notes in the “margins” and share them with one another.

The Audrey Watters’ post led me to another blog by the Utah Open Textbook project, which highlighted another reason I think these less-expensive, teacher created curricula may succeed:

 you buy one per student each year and give it to the student to keep forever, highlight in, take notes in, etc. – things they aren’t allowed to do in their traditional textbooks.

College students are used to this, but what about high school? or younger? It’s an excellent idea that I think merits more research.

More to come on textbooks, I think.