Reflections on ISTE 2017

Late June in San Antonio is hot and humid, but the Riverwalk delightfully teamed with teachers during the days of ISTE (aka: International Society for Technology in Education). The Expo Hall overwhelmed like a state fair on steroids. Recognizable names like Microsoft, Google, Adobe flashed at visitors enticing them into their booths with the latest technology. Hand-outs and give-aways ran amok with the small price of a badge-scan. This was the scene of ISTE 2017.

San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio’s beautiful Riverwalk


As impressive as the EXPO hall and views from the hotel were, the learning and magic happened in the playgrounds, posters, and sessions. I know I only saw a fraction of what was offered, but a few things stood out to me or, perhaps, it was where I was drawn. One, students as young as Kindergarteners are actively using technology in their schools. Two, integrating technology takes intentionality, mindfulness, and careful planning.  And, three, the simple appreciation to be surrounded by dedicated, passionate educators from around the world with the lofty goal to improve schools on all levels!

But first, QR Codes! One of the first things I needed to do was re-install my QR app. Walking around ISTE, I scanned new QR codes left and right cultivating new information and ideas constantly. I think it will take me months to review all the information I scanned and left me wondering how I can incorporate QR Codes in my own teaching: Bulletin boards, parent communication, oh, my!

ISTE floor
A small glimpse of the ISTE 2017 Expo Hall


As our school is incorporating more technology, I hear concerns from primary parents are issues surrounding “screen time.” Since this is such a prevalent issue for me, I was surprised that in none of the sessions I attended this wasn’t even addressed! Instead, many classrooms were 1:1 (which I quickly learned meant every child had devices, not that every child had one-to-one instruction). With programs like SeeSaw and NearPod, students were posting their learning online throughout the day. Parents could see visually what their child was learning and how they were mastering skills. Rather than worksheets coming home or an email from the teacher, parents could log-on, hear their children speaking about field trips, “ah-ha” moments, recordings of reading, and evidence of mastery of skills any time of day. One of my favorite sessions was presented by Canadian teacher, Vickie Morgado (follow her blog) who initiated a “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) starting as young as second grade. Using programs such as SKYPE and NearPod, which can work on any platform, to take virtual field trips and create interactive lessons. Using these technology resources, teachers can enhance school experiences making it more meaningful to students, and their parents, at even the youngest ages. Rather than the worry of “too much screen time,” Morgado addresses the issue of distraction. To her, technology is a tool that both needs to be taught and one, if her lessons are engaging enough, students won’t be tempted to use for distraction.

I also loved hearing how other schools transitioned to incorporating more technology. In one of my favorite sessions, Will Richardson of Modern Learners proposed that technology shouldn’t “be the digital worksheet” of today; instead, technology should “amplify our learning” and we need to think bigger to make learning more productive. In this, Richardson was creating a global school overview what I witnessed the day prior at Morgado’s classroom session. As educators, we should ask ourselves how what we’re teaching serve our students today and tomorrow? My fifth grader memorized state capitals this past year; is this a skill that will serve her in her future when at a touch of a button she can find Topeka is the capital of Kansas? Richardson proposed that educators need to constantly be asking themselves this very question and adjust their teaching accordingly.

So, what are my take-aways from ISTE 2017? Simply, there are many technology tools to quickly enhance student learning and integrate with many programs already in place, as well as make the jobs of teachers easier. However, the real magic comes when schools can use technological advances to truly transform our teaching and schools to go beyond a “digital worksheet.” We need to gather with like-minded educators, create missions, and spread the word. In that, I was encouraged to continue with my blog. What are the ways have you transformed your teaching with technology? What are you next steps?

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