ISTE Reflections – It’s the People

A week has passed since ISTE 2015 ended in Philadelphia and I switched into tourist mode with my wife who flew out to join me for a little vacation.  While visiting all the tourist attractions in the city, I often thought about what I’d blog, yet never wrote a sentence.  I came to the conference with a number of learning goals and feel I thoroughly accomplished all of them, and so there’s lots that I could talk about, and I might later, but I keep coming back to the most profound part of the ISTE experience: the people.

This was my first major conference anywhere away from home, and my number one goal was to meet as many of the wonderful educators from my PLN that I’ve been talking to online for years as I could.  Everyone I introduced myself to was so friendly, and many people felt like we’ve known each other for years.  I guess we have. Though I’m not a major player in the online world of edtech, a number of people knew me and introduced themselves too.  This networking was very intentional because I wanted to develop deeper relationships with the people I already knew, and many new friends too.  Just like with students, learning happens better with someone you have a solid relationship with.  I want to be able to reach out to my PLN and ask for help and advice, and receive it from friends helping each other out, rather than as a professional courtesy (thought it’s always appreciated!). I also want to have a greater common ground on which to think deeper with people.  After five days of networking (and learning a lot), I can safely say mission accomplished.  If for no other reason, the people alone made it worth travelling the 4000 km from Nanaimo to Philadelphia.  I look forward to learning working and learning with all of you!

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Diversely Engaging

While I attended a district planning meeting today for our first district-based PD day next year, I had a bit of an enlightenment.  The general plan for the PD day is that we’re going to meet as families of schools (high schools and their feeder elementary schools) to discuss the common needs of these families, access our local experts and then walk away with tools, strategies, plans, networks or whatever else might help address those needs.  Previous to today a survey was sent out to all the schools to try and identify the needs and these were correlated and presented at today’s planning session.  The top two concerns identified district wide seemed (to me) to be finding ways to teach to diversity and ways of using technology in the classroom.  That little light bulb came on when I thought about both of these.

When I reflected on teaching to diversity I realized that I’ve moved beyond the diversity stumbling block.  Diversity is a reality of modern teaching; it’s here to stay and we need to move away from inefficiently differentiating instruction to the point that we’re teaching separately to different ability levels in the class.  We need to teach in a way that everyone can get something from the learning activities at their own level.  Call it what you want: UDL, SMART Learning, multiple access points, etc, it’s simply good teaching. Pair this with student collaboration and solid formative feedback (assessment for learning and assessment as learning)  the learning becomes personalized, student-centred and powerful.

My impression of the technology needs teachers were identifying was a desire to use technology because it engages students.  At the risk of alienating some of my colleagues, I think that they may not have differentiated between engaging and entertaining the learners.  Using technology for technology’s sake is entertaining, but there is no long term engagement after the wow factor wears off.  At that point we are left looking for the next bigger and brighter thing to come along.  To illustrate this point, just think about how effectively the Interactive white boards in your school are being used and how much money was spent on them.

There are many truly engaging uses of technology that come at low cost, and student blogs are the first thing that come to mind.  Blogs are more than simply a different modality for writing because they are interactive in that students can comment on other blogs and receive comments on theirs.  Of course, learning how to write helpful and effective comments is a learned skill, but it engages students because they are contributing to something real (ie real-world and relevant), reflecting and thinking critically about their own and others’ work.

I’m looking forward to this district PD day and hope that what my fellow teachers get out of it can be framed in the light of simply good teaching for the 21st century learner.