My Takeaways From ISTE

Friends, it has been a month since I returned from Philadelphia and the 2015 ISTE Convention. With this being my first ever ISTE, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. While I have attended other technology conferences around the country, this was by far the biggest and most well-known conference I have ever been a part of.

Here are my key takeaways from the conference:

1. Planning is Crucial

It is literally impossible for you to do and see all the sessions you want, talk to all the vendors you would like to, and even connect with all the folks you said you would. For weeks leading up to ISTE, my mailbox was inundated with postcards plying me with free cocktails and appetizers to hear their sales pitches. Promises of free swag were attempts to lure me to various booths in the Expo Hall. Without prioritizing the places and events I really felt would be beneficial for me and my role, I would have been pulled in far too many directions. The same goes for attending sessions. While it is always nice to have someone you know sitting next to you at sessions so you can bounce ideas off of one another, it isn’t always the most strategic way to attend a large conference. My colleagues and I attempted to “divide and conquer”, but it isn’t always easy. A tip that an ISTE veteran shared with me was to not make such a big deal of attending the “featured sessions” as those are often recorded. Generally they fill up the fastest, too, so you might schlep your stuff from one end of the convention site to the other, just to realize that the session is full. The ISTE app was really easy to use and allowed you to “favorite” sessions. You could also filter by day, time, and type, so that made finding a relevant session much easier than flipping through the 100+ page booklet.

2. Get out of your comfort zone

Sometimes I have a tendency to become a bit introverted in big settings. I alluded to this idea before when I mentioned that I didn’t really feel like I had enough “street cred” to really contribute to the conversation. Having seen the power of networking and connecting (especially via Twitter), I have come to realize that I DO have significant contributions to add that furthers the conversation. Still, sometimes those old insecurities come creeping back. It’s important to break out of your comfort zone. For me, that is speaking up in a large crowd to answer a question, share a point of view, push back on something the speaker has said, or contribute an idea. In smaller group settings, I am totally fine with sharing. Somehow when I’m at a conference I feel like I don’t belong with the rest of “those really smart people.” When I did put myself out there and got a little uncomfortable, I found that I made some great connections with folks – a shared experience or a lesson to takeaway. It’s important to remember what that feels like every once in awhile. After all, we ask our students to get out of their comfort zones on a daily basis.

3. Find Ways to Connect Beyond the Convention Site

As a runner and avid traveler, I love nothing more than the opportunity to pound out a few miles in an unfamiliar place. For me, there is no better way to see what a place is all about than by running the city streets and waving hello to the other morning walkers and runners. At ISTE, Josh Stumpenhorst organized an informal run. It was a great way to meet up with fellow educators and start the morning off on an active note. We met at the Philadelphia Art Museum – yes, the one with the famous Rocky steps – and headed along the Schuylkill River trail. I ran from my hotel to the Art Museum, which was about a half a mile away, did the 5k with the group and ran back to the hotel. Four and a half miles in before 8:00 a.m.; not a bad way to start the day! And, because both runners and educators on the whole are a kind and generous people, I not only found some running buddies, but a couple of them were extra welcoming. There was a lovely man who teaches at an International School in Africa whom I met in the elevator. He had the pleasure of running with me as I tripped and fell in the middle of the street, completely destroying my knee! Once I reached the fountain, another guy saw my Team Playmakers shirt (and my bloodied legs) and came to check on me and make sure I was okay. I sure appreciated those guys reaching out and making sure I was good to go. For the record, road rash HURTS – and takes FOREVER to heal!


4. Set Goals and Follow Through On Them

It’s easy to be inspired at a conference. You’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of educators who are passionate about a lot of the same things you are. You sit in sessions with leaders in the educational world – teachers, coaches, administrators, consultants, innovation leaders. No wonder we leave a session ready to set the world on fire! (metaphorically speaking, of course). But as it often happens with conferences, we quickly forget about the ideas, the energy, the excitement, and we come back to our districts and feel disillusioned by another set of mandates or testing schedule. At the closing Keynote, Josh Stumpenhorst challenged all of the attendees to use Future Me to send an email to ourselves with one goal from ISTE. The email should come to us one month from the end of ISTE – July 1. I should be receiving my email in the next couple days. It think goal setting – and making a plan to follow through on them – is crucial to implementing what you learn at a conference. It can’t just be about the new tools you saw in the Expo Hall. Education is SO MUCH more than the shiniest, newest “game changer.” As my friend George Couros reminds us:

5. Seek Out Time to Explore

Being in a city is always so energizing for me. I grew up in a really small town; graduated with 30 kids. While I attended a large university (Go Green!), Lansing itself is not all that big in comparison to larger cities like Chicago or Philadelphia. So when I have the chance to explore a “big city”, I usually jump at the chance. It’s also fun to spend time with your colleagues outside of the school environment. While we were in Philly, a few of us decided to get together and take in a Phillies baseball game. We got some tickets for the cheap seats, grabbed a hot dog, and enjoyed the night!11709863_10106916225894684_6036938018920863097_o


I also spent some time exploring the history of City Hall, Philadelphia, the LOVE Statue, and the oldest tavern in Philly! The Ale House has been operational since 1860, the year Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. it was pretty cool.


Philadelphia was a great venue for ISTE and I had so much fun, learned a LOT, and made some great connections. It’s so fun to meet folks that you’ve only ever interacted with on Twitter!

Going Beyond Google

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, several of the schools I am working with are Going Google. Earlier this summer, I worked with one of my schools and did some basic training on Google Drive – Docs, Forms, and Classroom, specifically. As with most things we learn, you have to use it or you lose it. I don’t take personally that staff doesn’t remember every single thing I taught them!

This summer I have worked hard to provide personalized learning opportunities for my teachers by providing drop-in office hours. A few teachers have taken up this option, but the majority have not. And that’s okay; we all need breaks and all are busy. However, as a Technology Integration Specialist, I want to share my knowledge and strengths to help teachers engage students in new ways and to hopefully make their lives easier! Starting next week and going through the month of July, I am offering some more in-depth and focused teaching of Google Apps.

While there is value in learning the technical “how-tos”, they don’t really help if you never provide teachers time to practice and practical ways to use these tools. Yeah, they are fun and exciting at first, but if you don’t have any real pedagogical and curricular connections, then what’s the point? My hope is that these summer Google training sessions will be useful for teachers.

Tech Camp 2015

I’m pleased to share an exciting – and FREE – technology professional development opportunity for my friends in the Mitten. East Lansing Public Schools is hosting a 3 day technology camp, covering topics ranging from social media, technology integration, software systems, iPads, and more.

This is the first year East Lansing Schools are offering this technology camp, and I’m excited to be a part of it. I will be sharing my knowledge on using code in the classroom. I have presented on this topic at a couple of conferences recently, and the amount of people who are interested in this topic continues to grow. I’m excited to share what my teaching partner and I have learned and to talk to folks who have done similar things in their buildings. That’s probably the best part of any conference – those connections!

While I engage in a lot of online learning – webinars, MOOCs, and Twitter chats – there is a lot of value in the opportunity to connect with others face to face.

There is no registration or fee for attending the Tech Camp; you can attend all 3 days or pick and choose which sessions you would like to attend. You can learn more and view the schedule here. Hope to see some friendly faces there!

Camp Google

Sometimes I am super jealous of young people today. They have so many amazing and unique opportunities available to them! I was recently at #ISTE2015 and attended a session about developing the innovator’s mindset. One of the things the presenter said that struck me was that the technology we have today is the worst it will ever be. Take a minute to let that sink in!

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In that vein, one of the coolest things I have seen Camp Google. Students can “go to camp” with Google. According to their site, “Google Camp is a free camp for kids, full of fun science activities and adventures led by experts.” There are several different themes and areas to explore, including Ocean, Space, and Nature. Google partnered with the National Parks Service, National Geographic, and Khan Academy to bring innovative and interactive activities for students. What an awesome way to spark creativity and curiosity in young people.

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Camp Google is designed for students ages 7-10 and students don’t need a Google account to participate. Students can participate throughout the summer; there aren’t set times or deadlines. Many of the activities ask students to use household items, but the camp itself is completely free! I love the idea of students learning and then creating something new. Providing students options to be active and connected to their learning is so powerful.

ISTE Newbie!

You guys, I am so excited to attend my first ever ISTE Conference!!

ISTE ExcitementIn case you are unfamiliar, the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) puts on an annual conference that draws together almost 20,000 educators, administrators, technology specialists, media techs, and other education personnel come together to engage, interact, learn, share, and network. I’m not sure exactly what to expect. I’ve been reading some different blogs with various pieces of advice about what to do – and what not to do – at your first ISTE conference. 

Part of my excitement stems from the last few months of truly excellent, collegial professional development. I have had the pleasure to engage in some really great conversations with folks – at conferences, on Twitter, face to face. These are the types of things that energize and inspire me. I love the opportunity to be in control of my own professional learning. It feels great to be able to engage in the types of professional development that is meaningful and that matters to me.

The other piece of my excitement is around the opportunity to meet so many new friends and to explore an awesome and historical city. I signed up for an early morning 5k that will take myself and about 200 (!!!) other people through the historic areas of Philadelphia. For this history nerd-runner-techie, that’s the perfect way to start the day!

Is anyone else going to ISTE??

Early Childhood Technology Conference

Yesterday I had a great opportunity to attend a technology conference centered on early childhood in Chelsea. We were lucky to have such a fantastic and welcoming staff of dedicated educators welcome and host this event. It was awesome to hear how folks are implementing technology with the youngest of learners. So often I hear teachers say that a particular app or tech tool is cool, but it wouldn’t work with their kids. Not to be harsh, but that sounds like an excuse to avoid trying something new. It can be really scary to go out on a limb and try something different in your classroom, but it is essential to innovation and growth – both our own and our students’.

There are many iterations of the SAMR model for technology implementation, and I really like this representation because it gives some specific examples of what each level looks like.

Many of the sessions I attended talked about ways we could move beyond the substitution level of technology use and “up the ladder” toward modification, augmentation, and redefinition. It’s really hard to get to the redefinition level, especially with younger students, but absolutely is worth the attempt! I presented on using code in the classroom. This past year we created a coding club after school for our 2nd and 3rd grade students and it was awesome to see students doing things they would never have been able to without the use of technology. (Blog post about our Tech Club coming soon!)

One of the sessions I attended yesterday was called C.A.T.S. (Create and Assess using Technology with Students). The presenter, Angela Brenneman, provided a TON of tech tools, websites, and resources to use with students, but one of the parts of the presentation that stuck out to me was a project called Adjective Hunt. Angela works in a resource room so she works with smaller groups of students on reinforcing concepts. The process for creating these adjective videos seemed really unique and interesting to me. As a former English teacher, I constantly struggled with how to make grammar more engaging and interesting.

The first step students did was to use their iPads to take pictures of adjectives around their school. Then, students had to create a list of words they would place around their photo. For example, if they took a picture of the clock in the hallway, kids might include words like:

-round clock
-12 numbers
-yellow hallway

Then, using a website called Pizap, students were able to add their adjectives to the photos. Pizap has a ton of fun, colorful fonts to choose from and I can imagine my students having a blast picking out fonts to add to their own Adjective Hunt photos. Lastly, using iMovie, students recorded themselves with a short intro and what picture they took. The end result was a really cute video that will help students have a better understanding of what adjectives are.

Digital Citizenship and Acceptable Use Policies

It’s the end of the school year here in the Mitten. Several area schools finished on the 5th of June and have been enjoying some well-deserved time away from the classroom. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been learning! Last week I led a two-day Professional Development training with teachers at one of my schools. This particular elementary building is becoming a GAFE school, which I’m incredibly pumped about. I swear I’m not paid by Google (but if they’d like to…), but knowing another school is going to get on board with GAFE makes my heart happy.

We spent an awesome and productive two days just skimming the surface of all the amazing things GAFE will do to help make integrating technology more seamless. Before we were able to jump right in to the Google pool, I wanted to help set the groundwork for teachers by having an honest and frank conversation about Digital Citizenship. This is such an important topic that really helps to lay the groundwork for staff and students, yet it is often overlooked. Maybe it’s because it’s not as “sexy” as a fun tool like Kahoot or productivity apps, but it is essential to setting up expectations for technology usage. Beyond that, it is an essential skill our students do not have and we as educators are tasked with teaching them. Often we assume that because students grew up with technology they know how to use it appropriately. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. More often than not, students don’t have a real understanding of the potential ramifications of their technology usage.

To kick off our two days of training, I had teachers experience a Digital Citizenship lesson from a student point of view. I acted as the teacher and the rest of the staff went through the lesson as the students. I used The Trillion Dollar Footprint lesson from Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Scope and Sequence. The gist of the lesson is, utilizing only the social media profiles of two candidates, students are to decide which candidate to hire as their talk show host of a new show – Trillion Dollar Footprint. It was very interesting to hear the conversation about the types of impressions staff made about the candidates after only reading a few things about each of them. Staff were instructed to make a decision on who they would hire, but there were some strong opinions about which candidate should be hired. We had rich discussion about who shapes our digital footprint and why it’s important to be mindful of what types of things are “out there” about us.

We transitioned into looking at the school’s Acceptable Use Policy. One of things I’m passionate about in helping building develop their technology plans is taking a hard look at their AUPs. In many cases, these documents haven’t evolved in many years, are stuck in the back of a student handbook, or is one of those screens you click “I Accept” when you first get a device. A lot of times these forms are not written in language that is easily digestible or engaging to read. Prior to our PD time together, we examined a lot of different AUPs and agreed that framing it in terms of values and behaviors would be the most meaningful. In this way, all parties involved are invested in the usage of the technology. We also are asking parents and students to sign off on this AUP so that it’s more of a communal document rather than a school directive. Of course schools have a responsibility to ensure that students use technology appropriately and responsibly, but we felt that by framing our AUP in terms of values, it helped to answer the “why” piece.

Establishing a shared vision, a set of agreed upon values, creating a culture of acceptance and trust, and upholding those ideals are essential to a successful 1:1 implementation. We ended our discussion with staff feeling more comfortable about the types of expectations the school will have for students. There are currently plans in place to begin the school year co-teaching with the classroom teachers some digital citizenship lessons. Setting the expectations early, revisiting them when necessary, and reinforcing them as the need arises will pay dividends in helping to create a culture of excellence.

The Scientific Method – Robotics and Cars

I remember being in science class and having to come up with a problem to solve using the scientific method. I remember trying to come up with something (science-related) that I cared enough about to create a project that would solve that problem. My partner and I came up with a silly question about whether a seed would grow better with plain water or with carbonated water. Yawn.

Fast forward about 15 years, and students in “science” class are coming up with far more complex problems. I use quotes because in this particular STEM school, the science curriculum is integrated into all the learning as a whole. Students are using an app on their iPad called Canvas as part of Project Lead the Way curriculum to build and test robots. In this particular challenge, students were given tools and had to watch videos which gave them the steps they needed to build a car.

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Students then built a ramp and had to come up with predictions on how far they thought their car would go based on the angle of the ramp. Then, students tested their hypotheses and recorded their results.



Students then recorded their results using the Showbie app on the iPads. Their teacher had created this chart and shared the document with all the students. This school isn’t a Google Apps school, so Showbie has been an excellent alternative for creating a paperless classroom. Students are able to record their results instantly in Showbie and share them with their teacher. IMG_2729

One of the coolest things was that students completed all of these tasks in groups and without using paper! As someone who knows the power of technology, it KILLS me when I see teachers still creating projects that center around printing reams and reams of paper. For this task, students watched a video and worked together to try to troubleshoot. They didn’t have a set of printed directions. It was actually really neat to have the step by step directions on an iPad, because students could “rewind” the directions, zoom in, look at it from a particular angle, etc. They also didn’t have to worry about losing their results as they were all stored on the iPad and in the cloud via the Showbie app.

This was a really excellent example of integrating technology and collaboration skills. Throughout the process, I noticed all students in all groups were engaged. Those who were building the robots would watch the video and tinker, explain and talk to one another and try something else. The groups that were already testing their cars had assigned roles for each group member. One person was responsible for measuring the different angles of the ramp, another student measured how far their car went, and another group member’s job was to record the results. It was great to see the scientific method being taught and tried in a meaningful and fun way – a far cry from my 7th grade science project!

Making Learning Visible

You know what, learning math is hard! As a child, I always struggled with math. It never came easily to me, I didn’t see the value in it, it was really, really difficult, and I never had a really great teacher who could speak the same language when it came to getting me to understand it. As such, I have muddled through with basic math skills and done okay. Thankfully we have calculators in our pockets. But beyond helping me to figure out the tip on a restaurant bill or how much change to give someone, I don’t have a very good number sense.

One of the classrooms I work with wanted to help their students to understand the math concept of tens and ones. Lots of elementary classrooms use colored blocks that interlock to create tens and ones. While these can be visually appealing and help tactile learners, often there are not enough for each student to use all at the same time, pieces get lost, broken, etc. We found a great app called Number Pieces Basic (free, iOS) that allows students to use ones, tens, and hundreds blocks by simply dragging and dropping.


You can break apart tens blocks.


Use the math equation function and the draw tool to annotate.


While I do not have the luxury of knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their math skills, I was able to witness students using this tool to help them figure out complex math problems. Having a good number sense also helped students as they practiced learning how to tell time. We use another great free app – Telling Time (free, iOS) – to reinforce time. Teachers can differentiate for students who are struggling by setting the increments to be 60, 15, 5, or 1 minute. Students can also do “quiz mode” where they can test themselves to see how quickly they can answer. It’s a great way for students to practice at their own pace and skill level.


I love this – she is having fun but also working really hard to get the right answer!

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A Culture of Collaboration – MACUL 2015

It’s been about a week and a half since the MACUL Conference in Detroit, and I finally feel like I have recovered enough and organized my thoughts around my experiences. This was my fifth MACUL conference, and I would say it was my best conference as well. First, I was able to participate in a Pre-Conference workshop on Wednesday with some great folks that I interact with on Twitter – the #miched group. This was the first time I was at the conference a day before all the craziness settled in and it was great! We spent time creating using a fun tool called Tackk, we discussed a variety of challenges and issues in some roundtables, and ended with “Circles of Support” where our group tackled the challenges of successfully implementing a 1:1 initiative. While we didn’t solve ALL the world’s problems, it was incredibly refreshing to spend time with brilliant educators who support, challenge, and push my own thinking. Miched is the brainchild of a few really talented educators and began as a grassroots effort to connect technology folks across the state. There are a variety of roles represented in the #miched group – teachers, admins, tech specialists, and ISD people. I always get energized and inspired by networking with this group. There is a weekly Twitter chat on Wednesday nights at 8pm – check us out!

Beyond the Pre-Conference workshop, it is always fun to see faces of people you don’t get to see often enough. I was able to reconnect with some former colleagues and make a lot of new friends whom I have only known virtually. This was the first conference where I really felt like I had things to share and contribute; I wasn’t just a passive participant. In years past, I was a pretty new teacher and felt like I didn’t have a lot to bring to the table. In the past, I was focused on learning the newest “things” to help make my teaching better and more exciting. This time around, I really listened and participated. There were hardly any sessions like “50 Best Apps for Students”; most of the sessions were focused on specific projects or themes. This is a shift in the edtech culture. As technology continually expands, there will always be more and more tools to do the same thing. For teachers and tech integration specialists, our goal is to parse these and to help guide students to deeper learning, not to show them new things over and over again. Getting really good at one or two “things” is much more enriching than learning 10 or 12 things. For example, if we have Google Classroom, do students really need to also learn Edmodo and Schoology?

This year I attended the MACUL Conference with a new role in education. As a Technology Integration Specialist, my goal is to provide ideas and resources, support, and guidance to the teachers I work with. With that lens, I found myself engaging in many discussions with other folks who have similar roles. We discussed the unique challenges that stem from our roles, but quickly moved beyond the venting to real problem solving. That was so refreshing; it’s easy to talk about what’s wrong but more difficult to try to fix them. I left many roundtables and informal discussions with practical tips to help solve some of my challenges.

The theme for MACUL this year was A Culture of Collaboration, and I spent a lot of time pondering what that meant for me. We talk all the time about “21st Century Skills” and collaboration is a huge piece of that focus. I hear the teachers I work with use this educational buzzword all the time – and I do also. But in order to create a culture, we have to contribute to this culture. Each person helps to create a culture – positive or negative – in a workplace. Without everyone’s individual contributions, our culture is not a strong or viable. So I set a goal of being more connected and purposeful in my own actions – at MACUL and in my professional life. I want to be a valuable contributor, not just a consumer of information. To collaborate, you have to share, you have to be willing to open up.