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ISTE 2016: 5 Takeaways for Ed Tech Leaders

Education leaders can keep these in mind as the 2016-2017 school year gets under way.

by Tanya Roscorla / June 29, 2016
Tanya Marie Roscorla

DENVER — At this year's International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference and Expo, thousands of K-12 and university educators, companies, and students gathered in the Colorado Convention Center to connect with their peers, and discussed ed tech strategies, product announcements and implementation strategies as they start thinking about the next school year.

The conference, held June 26-29, was jam-packed with EdTekTalks, learning academies, workshops, and sessions for school and district officials who are "leading the charge for education transformation," according to ISTE.

Here are the 5 key takeaways from ISTE 2016 for education leaders to keep in mind as the 2016-2017 school year gets under way.

1. Technology and instructional leaders work best together

Oftentimes, technology and instructional leaders tend to fall on opposite sides of an argument, with each side blaming the other when something goes wrong. But together, academic and instructional leaders can find answers and collaborate, said Kevin Honeycutt, a technology integration specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center based in Hutchinson, Kan.

Andrew Chlup, director of IT applications and ed tech at Anchorage School District agreed, saying, "There is no 'you and I' anymore; it's 'we.'" 

2. Leader participation encourages teachers

It's one thing to say that your school promotes healthy movement. It's entirely another for school leaders to hold walking meetings in tennis shoes with their staff members and work out with the physical education class. This support for active learning encourages educators, including Betty Ann Fish from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, whom the Society of Health and Physical Educators named the 2015 national elementary physical education teacher of the year.

"They're out there snowshoeing with us," Fish said of the administrative staff participating with her classes.

She has their buy-in for physical education and works hard with elementary teachers to tie what they're teaching in academic classes into physical education classes. For example, first-graders learn about Kenya and find out that elephants need to walk 20 miles a day, which is why some say zoos aren't the best environment for them. So Fish's students strapped on pedometers and walked at recess and all day to see if they could collectively walk as far as an elephant (they walked even farther).

Resource: 50 PE Tech Tools to Enhance Student Learning and Make Academic Connections

3. Professional development should be active

In a video of a professional development session at Chicago Public Schools, the leader forced educators to sit in student desks in rows and participate in responsive chats about what they would do differently. This is not the kind of professional development that educators should be subjected to, said Adam Bellow, a former technology training specialist who is now the founder and president of eduTecher and eduClipper. 

Professional development should show respect to educators and be active; it shouldn't be done to educators, argued Bellow and Steve Dembo, the director of social media strategy and online community at Discovery Education who previously served as a school technology director. They suggested a few strategies and tools that education leaders can use to bring professional development back to life:

  • Ask educators to vote online for what they want to learn about in professional development.
  • Have a "snowball" fight, where everyone writes on a piece of paper the ways they develop professionally outside of school activities, and then they crumple it up and throw it at others, who add to the list.
  • Use Slack and Participate Learning to follow online chats and collaborate more easily.
  • Host edcamps where they can have informal conversations about topics they want to learn about.
  • Take a walk with educators and discuss a question.
  • Ask educators to take a stand to show their level of agreement with education statements like "children are smarter because of the Internet," then have them discuss amongst themselves why they made that choice.

Resource: Fear the Sitting Dead presentation

4. Games and programming open up learning conversations

Physical objects like game boards and robots involve quite a bit of trial and error that can open the door to great learning conversations. The Digital Brainium game invented at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tenn., uses 3-D printed game pieces, a laminated game board and questions with teachers in professional development as well as with students.

"You don't have to have all the tech stuff to teach digital citizenship," said Ginann Franklin, director of libraries and educational technology at the academy.

Teams of students roll the dice and move their pieces forward, then act out, draw or answer something about digital citizenship. In one data question, students and teachers have to decide whether potential employers can look at their social media accounts. Their answer and the discussion afterwards reveals where they're coming from.

For example, they may be thinking about the laws many states have passed that prohibit employers from forcing potential employees to hand over their passwords or show them their private accounts and say that employers can't look at their accounts. But if the question is really directed at public social media accounts, then anyone can look without a password.


Similarly, challenges for Lego Mindstorms ask students to think critically about the steps that the vehicle would have to take in order to drag a set of bricks back to the starting point, then program the vehicle to do those steps. Students may not understand that they have to lift the basket up first before they can move forward, or they'll just knock the stack of bricks over. Since it's called a basket, they may have thought they had to lower the basket first instead of putting it up and then lowering it when they get to the bricks. Conversations throughout the trial-and-error process reveal what students were thinking and help them figure out what to do differently.

Resource: Digital Brainium game creation

5. Experiences and curiosity lead to memorable learning

Sometimes the most memorable learning moments come from experiences and asking questions just because you're curious about how something works. The mindset of an explorer and an adventurer makes learning fun — not just for students, but for leaders too. Leaders who laugh together, walk and talk about ideas, and try different ways to make a robot accomplish a task just might remember more of what they learned than if they sat in lectures all day.

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