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!

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.

Technology Club

This post is long overdue, so forgive me that!

One of the fun parts of my job is that I get the opportunity to work with a bunch of different schools and help generate excitement for technology and all of its possibilities. My colleague, Sarah, and I decided it would be really fun to create an after school coding club with our 2nd and 3rd grade students. We started the club in February and it ran through early April. Of course we had some snow days and schedule conflicts that disrupted a couple of our meeting days, but for the most part, we met every week.

Given that this was our first attempt at trying coding with my students, I was a little nervous about jumping in and having to create a whole bunch of lessons from scratch. In my research, I discovered the Google program called CS First. While it is designed for older students, we were certain that our kids could rise to the challenge given some support and scaffolding. If you haven’t heard about CS First, you should check it out. There are several programs to choose from – Digital Storytelling, Art, Music, Friends, Social Media, Fashion Design, and Video Game Design. CS First will send you all the materials you need to get your club started including marketing posters, lessons and directions, passports (aligned to each day’s lesson objective), and even headphones. Google also will partner you with a local “Guru” if you need or want more support.

We learned a lot in our first implementation! The kids really enjoyed the opportunity to work on computers and do something they never have done before. Also, not all of our students have computers or iPads at home, so they loved being able to create and play digitally. You can check out more about how we ran our program and some resources to help you get started by viewing my presentation below.

I’m looking forward to hosting more than one Technology Club next year. I would like to get the club started a bit earlier in the school year and maybe be able to offer it to more students. We only were able to host 20 students in our club, and it would be nice to provide more opportunities for even more kids. Additionally, we want to be able to support our younger (K-1) students. has a TON of great resources for younger kids, so that is probably where we are going to start next year with that age group.

Lots and lots of research has been done on how code can help students with problem-solving skills, collaboration, and analysis of information. Being able to provide an outlet for students to be creative and use technology to showcase their ideas is incredibly powerful for students. I’m looking forward to seeing the amazing things they will do!

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.

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!

Digital Portfolios

I have seen several people using Smore to create flyers to promote a variety of things. Smore is an awesome tool that is quite diverse and can be used for many different events, conferences, or idea-sharing. I decided to hop on the Smore train and use Smore to create a flyer with some technology tidbits centered around digital portfolios.

Several years ago, I attended the MACUL conference and first heard about using digital portfolios. (Can’t wait to attend again this year starting tomorrow!) The following year, I implemented digital portfolios in my English classroom. Students used Blogger to create a blog, there were static pages for each of the “divisions” of their portfolio. In years past, students would get binders and we would spend close to 3 weeks on creating their portfolios. Students would include specific projects from each content area, photos, awards, other work they were proud of, and a letter from their parents. While they were very visually appealing, I wasn’t sure it was the best use of classroom time and the best option for these students’ future learning. My own teaching portfolio often stayed stuck in my bag during job interviews, but when I morphed to an online portfolio, I would often have the interview committee comment upon things they had seen on my portfolio.

Additionally, students were more and more often creating projects, videos, websites, and screencasts using technology. It was difficult to showcase these online, digital texts in a paper-pencil format. While I did experience quite a bit of push back from parents and some students, most were very excited to create their own digital space. They liked being able to easily add photos, change fonts, colors, backgrounds, etc. and the ease with which they could share their portfolios. My future vision is that students could continue to revisit their portfolios, archive their older work and add newer items. This would be more of a living document than a binder that sort of stayed stuck in time.

Since my pilot of digital portfolios, many tools have emerged that make students documenting their increased digital learning easier. The Smore flyer I created below showcases some of those tools. Click HERE to access my Smore flyer.

Smore Flyer

Google Classroom

You guys – I LOVE Google Classroom! It is so incredibly easy to use, super intuitive, very well organized, and (almost) perfect. In case you’re unfamiliar with Classroom, it’s a Learning Management System by Google that syncs seamlessly with Google Drive and Gmail. You can also check out the video here.

I remember the days of using Google Docs with my students and trying to sort through the inevitable five or six (or 20…) “Untitled Documents” that students had shared with me. It was such a hassle trying to organize them, keep the graded and ungraded assignments sorted, share documents with students, get them to name the document correctly, or make a copy of a template I had created. Google Classroom does all this (and more!) for you.

Earlier this week I showed off some of the features of Classroom to a group of teachers at Mt. Hope STEAM. These teachers are so awesome and willing to get right in there and learn. I love that kind of attitude! The first step was giving teachers a glimpse as to what Classroom was and how it looks from the student perspective. I created a class and invited the teachers to join as students. I think it’s so important to understand the student view in any tool or device we use with kids. Just like you create an answer key or go through questions on a worksheet before you share with kids, having an idea of what Classroom looks like from their end was an important perspective for me to share. Teachers loved the ability to have a conversation with me on an assignment. I enjoyed the ease from the teacher dashboard that showed me in one view which students had completed an assignment, which ones were late, etc.

After the teachers completed an assignment, I graded and returned it to them, it was their turn to be teachers. They were able to create a class and some assignments.

Classroom allows you to add resources to any assignment. This is worth the price of admission if all you ever did was use Classroom to push sites for your students to visit. You can end the frustration of having students type a website address that they will inevitably type wrong, or put into the Google search bar rather than the address bar, etc., etc. Of course, you should definitely use Classroom for far more than this, but you get what I’m saying.

Lots and lots of webinars, trainings, tutorials, and videos are out there on using Classroom, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it. What I will say is if you are a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, you should totally get on board. Like yesterday. If you’re not, bug your administrator, tech director, whomever to get going. Google Apps for Education is just so great in so many ways. Not only does it help with teacher and student workflow, its an awesome way to use technology to augment and modify what you’re already doing in your classroom. The students at Mt. Hope have been so excited to work on one document with others in their classes at the same time – or whenever is convenient for them. With GAFE – as opposed to using space on a school server – students can access their information wherever, whenever, and from any device. Teachers also have this ability. It’s a heck of a lot easier to take home a computer or tablet to grade papers than to take home a stack of 180 English essays.

I’m so excited to see Classroom in action. Since I am no longer a classroom teacher, I have to live vicariously through others who utilize a tool I share with them. I sincerely wish Classroom had been around when I was teaching!

Mt. Hope Google Drive Training

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with 17 teachers at Mt. Hope. This school is the first in the district to be utilizing GAFE and Chromebooks. I’m really excited that I get to be part of the rollout and transition for this group of awesome teachers. I was interested to see the level of everyone’s understanding prior to our PD. I created a quick Google Form where I asked teachers to rank their knowledge of Google Drive using a scale of 1-5. A 5 was “Huh!? I didn’t know Google could Drive” and a 1 was “I know so much, I should be teaching this PD.” While some teachers did have some experience with the Google Suite – like their own personal Gmail accounts – the majority of them were not familiar with Google Drive.

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We worked through a lot of the basics of Google Drive during the 45 minutes we worked together. I created a reference document and shared with all the teachers prior to the PD session. When teachers logged in to Google Drive, they saw this Shared Document. Teachers were able to view this document, but not edit or comment on it. I also created and shared a document that teachers were able to edit, so they could see what happened when several people were able to edit the document at the same time.

As I mentioned before, this is the first school in the district to be utilizing the awesome power of Google. It was really fun to work with teachers and start discussing ways they could utilize this tool in their classroom. There are several MSU interns and they attested to how they use it all the time to collaborate on group projects and planning. Like anything, there are always some hiccups, some detractors,  but it is so refreshing to see teachers engaged and getting excited about a tool. Going forward, I am plan on working with teachers on a more individual or small group basis to show some other features of GAFE. Stay tuned!

We’re Being Invaded!!

Last week, one of the schools I work with put on an Invasive Species Conference. The conference was the culmination of a 6 week long PBL the 4th grade students were working on. Fourth graders have been studying about ecosystems and focused on invasive species in Michigan and their impact on Michigan’s ecosystem. Students were tasked with presenting at a conference whose attendees were 3rd grade students from the feeder school for Sheridan Road. The fourth grade students spent many weeks and countless hours working on their conference. They researched, created informational brochures, made presentation boards, found links to videos and and pictures, made giveaways for the 3rd graders, and practiced their presentations.

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All of this hard work culminated in an awesome event that had everyone excited and engaged!

The event started just like a real conference, with the attendees checking in, getting a name badge, and a tote bag.

photo 2 (1)The event kicked off with a welcome video and introduction of the principal. Then, the students were off to explore. Several 6th grade students were docents, leading the groups of 3rd graders to various presentation boards. To make sure no group was without someone to present to, we created a schedule that all the docents and groups had, so everyone knew when it was time to move to the next group. It went really smoothly, the 4th graders did a great job, and the 3rd grade students were really engaged – taking notes, asking questions, and actively listening. It was a HUGE success!

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The conference ended with a Kahoot game as a fun way to wrap up and check how much the 3rd graders learned. Everyone involved had a spectacular time! Later, parents were invited to come see what the students had done, which was a great way to increase our community involvement. What a fantastic way to wrap up before winter break!

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