Why #ISTE17 Was My Favorite ISTE Yet…

Y’all, Texas got me!

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Enjoying the Riverwalk

A couple weeks ago (side note – how has it already been two weeks!? This summer is flying by), I went to San Antonio along with a few thousand other educators for one of the biggest education conferences of the year. Even though it took me over 13 hours to get there – hello cancelled flights, delays, and lost luggage – I had a blast and learned SO MUCH deep in the heart of Texas.



Significantly less excited to be traveling 6+ hours in and stuck at O’Hare

Honestly, I could write thousands of words about the energy and beautiful chaos of ISTE, but I am going to try to focus on a couple of my big takeaways from the conference, and why this was my favorite one yet. (Full disclosure, I leave every ISTE thinking it was the best one ever…)

Professional Learning Among Professionals

One of the best parts of attending a conference is being surrounded by so many professionals, on fire for improving their practice, sharing what they’ve already done, making connections, and planning how to improve their teaching the next year. This year I was honored to be chosen to present at ISTE on the work I’ve been doing with podcasting in our school district. It is always exhilarating – and terrifying – to present on what you’ve done to a group of educators. I really appreciated how folks took the time to Tweet me, engage in our presentation, and reach out after the presentation to continue the conversation. While there are always a plethora of sessions to choose from as well as Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and other types of learning to engage in, the most value I always find is in those conversations with others. The opportunity to dig deep, to think critically, to have your ideas challenged, to reflect on your own ideas and practice are all invaluable.

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Model The Behavior You Want to See

We know a lot about how people learn, and the efficacy of engaging with learning versus just hearing about something. And yet, so often, the type of professional learning teachers experience goes against everything we know about best practice. Teachers complain all the time that most of the professional development isn’t useful, is a waste of time, or that they never have the chance to really “learn” because they hear about something once or twice and never revisit it again. One of the best sessions I attended was called “Designing ‘Just Right’ Professional Development” and the presenters – Connie Lippenholz, Lucy Podmore, and Matthew Patty – were not only engaging and entertaining, but it was clear they have given deep thought about what pedagogical approaches will best meet their learners, and will create a systemic change in the ways their teachers model instruction. (You should totally follow them on Twitter because they are awesome!)

Visit the Exhibit Hall

You can’t expect to attend a huge technology conference without a large presence of all kinds of new (and more seasoned) tech companies and tools. It can be totally overwhelming to try to visit all the vendors, so probably don’t even try. But, many vendors are becoming more in tune with what educators are looking for and what kinds of powers they have. A teacher might see a super cool tool and want to bring them back to their school, but most teachers don’t have any budgetary powers. I think a lot of vendors understand that are are focusing more on how their tools could be implemented in a classroom setting. Nearpod had a bunch of mini sessions where teachers could sit and experience using their software in a mock classroom setting. Google also has many different sessions showcasing “nuts and bolts” type examples of how their products can be implemented in a variety of learning environments. Seeing those examples are more powerful than showing a principal or superintendent a flashy flier.

Attend Networking Events

After the conference each day, several vendors host happy hour and cocktail events. A lot of the ISTE PLNs have networking events, too. This is a great way to learn a bit more about a company’s product or offering, but more valuable, is the chance to talk to other educators. We attended a dinner with myON, a company committed to creating a digital literacy environment for students to boost student reading and excitement around reading. We learned a bit more about some of the new offerings and the philosophy behind the company. But, over dinner, I got to hear from two different people from schools who have implemented myON in their district and the effects its had on student reading, growth, and achievement on standardized tests. There is value in spending time with other educators – friends and strangers alike – and doing it in a more relaxed setting is even better.


Take Time to Reflect

It’s important to spend some time reviewing resources, ideas, products, people, etc. that came across your path. Then, begin setting some goals for your practice. I love to blog in order to reflect, set public goals, and hold myself accountable. Some people podcast – which I’m planning to do, also! Sharing what you learned with your colleagues is also powerful.

ISTE is incredibly overwhelming but also so inspiring and energizing. I had a blast in San Antonio – despite getting “Deep in the Heart of Texas” stuck in my head for about a week.


Next year, ISTE is a little closer to home in Chicago, and I’m already excited for it!


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.

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!

Moon Colony

If you could create a colony on the moon, what would be on it? What would it look like? These are the questions 4th grade students were asked at Mt. Hope STEAM school. Students drew pictures of their moon colonies, then took those photos and made 3 Dimensional renditions of their moon colonies using Google Sketch Up.


Kids had a great time playing and exploring. Their favorite tool was the “Push/Pull” button, which lets them create 3D objects. They also quickly discovered the object library, where they could insert objects into their drawings. They also could change the texture of their buildings – brick, gravel, stone, even water!

Sketch Up is an incredibly powerful tool, but also was pretty fun and easy to use. The students really liked being able to see their fictional moon colony turned into a 3D image. They liked being able to manipulate and personalize their buildings, also. With some guidance from me and the other teachers, students made some very creative moon colonies!