My ISTE Wish

I’m sitting in San Antonio, Texas right now ready to attend ISTE 2013. This is my 7th year to attend this conference, and I have to credit ISTE with providing opportunities to learn and think differently about myself as an educator.

This is the place where I meet (quite literally) hundreds of new people. Considering ISTE brings in tens of thousands of attendees, that’s still a mind-boggling concept for me. Some of these people I meet will become part of my learning network. Some of them will become (and have been, as time has proven) some of my closest and dearest friends. I’ll admit… I geek out a little and may even scare a few poor souls when it comes to my excitement for learning from someone new. Where else can an educator go and have this type of environment to meet and learn with 15,000 or more of your “closest”  friends?

Someone once said, and I wish I remembered who, that the ISTE conference has become the premier education conference (not just ed tech) in the world. I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but it did get me thinking. When I first started attending ISTE/NECC, the focus was most definitely on integrating technology into classrooms, helping educators learn best practices in using technology, and creating some technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators. At the time, that was definitely needed, and kudos to ISTE for leading that charge.

I wonder now, though… no, I don’t wonder. I fully believe that the conversations and the focus need to evolve. I don’t think there are too many educators, parents, or communities who would argue against the need for technology to be included in education. It’s simply a part of our world… and yes… I know there are still those holdouts that cling tightly to their pride in being blissfully anti-tech.

So where does that leave ISTE?

My ISTE wish is that the organization and, subsequently, its conference, would move forward into a heavier emphasis on educational progress with the technology and the tools taking a supporting role. As a former coordinator of technology professional development, our first step was to help our educators begin using the tools. After a short time, I understood the need for a significant change. The tools were taking a starring role – we used technology simply for the sake of using technology. We needed to help educators focus on the learning. The tools were simply that… tools.

If you look at the ISTE program this year, you’ll see a very common theme. Session descriptions include names of specific tools, products, or technology emphasis. I get it. The “T” in ISTE is “technology.” Even in my own group’s presentation/workshop, we’re sharing some web tools that can be used in the classroom. The focus is still on the tools, and that’s not how I operate. I would much rather be sharing with interested educators how inquiry can help lead students to deeper learning, and “Oh, by the way… here are some tools that can help you do x, y, or z.” In my own classroom, I rarely ask the kids to use ONE specific tool. They have options and choice to use the tool that best works for them to demonstrate their learning.

Ten years ago, I attended the now defunct Midwest Internet Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, and David Warlick was the keynote speaker. He shared a lesson idea with us about how technology could transform a traditional lesson from a textbook. Mashups were still fairly new at the time, and definitely new to me. David shared a map and then created an overlay with video (I don’t remember all the specifics), but we were somewhat in awe of what we had just seen. The key point I remember from that day was that David didn’t have us gushing over the technology. It was the way he talked about what KIDS could do to learn differently – gain a deeper understanding, share their ideas differently, etc.  – that made the biggest impact on me. I jokingly call David Warlick my “Educational Philosophy Godfather,” because it was that day when I started to realize that education had to change. My philosophy about teaching and learning shifted, and that impacts me greatly yet today. As my Anastasis students always say, “That’s an epiphany moment, Mrs. B!”

This is what I want to see at ISTE. I know that the vendors are great supporters of ISTE and a necessary piece of the puzzle, but I think they drive what happens at the conference with too great an influence. I’m not a fan of financial supporters who say, “Sure, I’ll give you a lot of money, but I want to direct some /all of what you do.” Let’s be done with that. (I know, I know… but let me dream here.)

I want the opportunity for educators who have not had their own education epiphanies to come away from ISTE completely inspired by an educational idea… not how much free stuff and t-shirts they accumulated. Don’t even get me started on the Surface tablet giveaways.

For me, I want the opportunity to have rich conversations with the brilliant people around me- to learn with them and to be able to take back some great new ideas to our school. If tools are mentioned in those conversations, great. I know, however, those tools won’t be the focus. When I think about education, I bring every new idea back to one simple thing: how will this impact a student’s learning? Plain and simple.

If you’re here in San Antonio, I hope you have a fantastic conference. If you feel like sharing something you learned this week in the comments, I would be most grateful.


The Problem of Either-Or

I wrote this on Coronado – June 23, 2012

I waited almost a week to write my ISTE takeaway post, because I really wanted to process the discussions, the sessions, and the entire experience. I love attending the conference – seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and talking education into the late hours of the night.

The ISTE conference is so enormous, it is a wonder to me that any two people could have similar experiences (unless they stay glued to each other’s sides the entire time). Also, this may have been the first year that I have enjoyed all three keynotes (although I watched Dr. Yong Zhao on video instead of live), and I have so many ideas swirling around in my head from them. I can’t wait to talk to my colleagues and students about them and see what ideas they have!

I didn’t even once make it to the Exhibitors hall this year. I’m not a huge fan of the “in-your-face” marketing style from many of the vendors (orange morphsuits – really?), but there were a few I really wanted to find and say hello.

There were a lot of really great things I learned at ISTE… and more importantly, there were a lot of new connections made. I think, though, that those are always the benefits I take away from ISTE. For now, I want to write about a “takeaway” that has me thinking the most, and that’s the “Either OR” mentality.

At every conference, as well as in many blog posts and tweets, we often read about this great tool or that great company and how these are the saviors of education. Whether it’s the debate of iPad vs Chromebook vs laptop, Dropbox vs Google Drive, Flipped vs Non-Flipped Classrooms vs Khan Academy… I’m constantly wondering why we have to debate them in an “either this or that” fashion.

Yes, if you are in a large school district, and you want money to purchase tools, it is more cost efficient to buy, for example, 10,000 laptops or 10,000 iPads. But I rarely hear that as justification for the debates. I’m not going to even attempt to post links to all the arguments for or against iPads or any other specific tool, because there are simply too many. Do a quick search for “flipping the classroom” and you’ll find hundreds of resources, as well as pro and con arguments. These discussions  and  (most of the time) civil arguments continued face to face in sessions, the Bloggers’ Cafe, the Social Butterfly Lounge, and in hallways at ISTE: “The Flipped Classroom is the best way to teach.” “I’m a Chromebook user and would never use an iPad with students!” These are statements, among several others, that I actually heard from people during the conference.

Please pardon my slow-ish processing, but… what if we weren’t forced into “Either OR” thinking about any of this? What if, in addition to differentiating what and how our students are learning, we also differentiated the tools they used to learn? What if, in any given day, my classroom contained students working on Chromebooks, iPads, smart phones, and paper? What if they had the freedom to choose using an app or a web tool of their choice? What if some chose to watch a video at home and do “homework” during class time, and others chose the opposite? (I know this isn’t the exact definition and practice of “flipping” a classroom, but bear with me.)

Obviously, there are some web tools/apps that are not free, so this option doesn’t work if students choose to work in premium tools to which the school isn’t subscribed. There are, however, several web services and apps that ARE free, and I want my students to be able to make choices (albeit guided choices in many cases) about which tools work best for them.

There was a lot of discussion about personalizing education for kids at this conference… much more than I’ve ever heard before. If we truly want to provide personalized learning for our students, how can we live in an “Either OR” environment when it comes to how they learn and what they use to help them learn?

My takeaway is this: we shouldn’t force our students into “Either OR” learning of concepts and skills. We shouldn’t force them to use a specific tool because it’s preferred by one of the adults in the room. We shouldn’t force them into an instructional/learning style because it’s what works best for the adults or most of the students in the classroom. We need to personalize learning… and understand what that really means.

To me, personalized learning means our classrooms cannot resemble the classrooms of the 1900s or the 2012s. There cannot be 25, 30, or more students shoved into a room with one adult who tries to meet all of their needs. Students can no longer be grouped by possibly the only thing they have in common – their ages. And we can no longer give them the “Either OR” option.

There must be fluidity in learning… in the tools they use, with whom they are learning on a daily basis, how they learn and communicate what they are learning. They need school to look and feel different. They need their school days to be free of bells and strict, unchanging class schedules. Our kids need the freedom of “AND.”

“In our school, we use laptops, and Chromebooks, and iPads. We use Google Docs and Tapose, and… ”

I’d like to approach the freedom of “AND” the same way I do a smörgåsbord. You can’t eat everything on the table and not regret it later (well, at least I can’t). Go up to the table, find the things with which you are familiar and know you like. Next time, try something new. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. Go back and get something else. Maybe it’s another new food. Maybe it’s an old stand by. Eat the foods that work for you.

That’s a discussion I’d like to have before the next ISTE.


ISTE12 Recommendations

In five days, I leave for San Diego to head to ISTE 2012. This is a special ISTE for me, because the first ISTE/NECC conference I attended was in 2006 in San Diego. I can’t wait to go back to this beautiful venue!

NECC (ISTE) 2006

In 2006, I was working as a professional development coordinator for a suburban school district in Omaha, Nebraska. The only people I knew going to San Diego were other people from my school district. While on a layover in Denver, I met other Nebraskans going to the same conference. These are the people I spent time with at ISTE/NECC.

I didn’t meet anyone from any other states or countries, and there were no new connections made outside of my own state. I was okay with that at the time, because I’m a naturally shy person and don’t tend to put myself out there very easily. I didn’t know what I was missing!

The next ISTE/NECC conference was in Atlanta in 2007. Other than meeting a few new people through other Nebraskans I already knew, this conference was really a “repeat” for me in the networking area. No new contacts. No new relationships.

In 2008, I was on Twitter and I was blogging. In San Antonio, I ventured into an area called the Bloggers’ Cafe and worked up the courage to introduce myself to Darren Draper, Scott McLeod, and Lee Kolbert. They were bloggers I followed and admired. Some guy named Cory Plough introduced himself to me here also. These people were kind and welcoming… and I have to admit that San Antonio sticks out as one of the best conferences I had attended up to that point. That’s because I met new people and made new connections that I value to this day.

We often talk about how teaching can feel like an isolated profession. Social media tools can help to break that isolation… but if you don’t know how or where to make connections, the “tools” won’t help you. If you’re attending a conference, you need to take advantage of the face-to-face time.

My advice to those attending ISTE 2012 in San Diego:

1) If you are a conference regular:

  • take some time to introduce yourself to new people. I know that conferences like ISTE are the few times during the year that you get to see your friends, and you want to spend time with them. But realize that there are a lot of new people who really need you to take that first step to help THEM make new connections and create relationships that will help them grow as educators. They are doing great things in their classrooms/schools, too, and we can all learn something new and valuable from each other.
  • Encourage the people you meet to start blogging or jump on Twitter. If they need help, show them.
  • Be the one to start a connection.

2) If you are a new or new-ish conference attendee:

  • enjoy the sessions and the exhibits, but make the time to stop by the Newbie Lounge, the Social Butterfly Lounge, and the Bloggers’ Cafe. These areas are designed for networking, meeting new people, and great conversations. ISTE 12 Lounges
  • Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know.
  • If you’re on Twitter, make sure your Twitter name is on your nametag (if you’re not on Twitter, you might consider joining before the conference). Twitter is a GREAT way to stay connected to the people you meet at conferences.
The people that I have met at conferences and then stayed connected with through Social Media are some of my most valued friends. I can’t wait to see them! But I also can’t wait to meet you… whoever you might be. I look forward to sharing ideas with you and hearing about what you’re doing for kids. See you soon!

ISTE 11 Reflection

My family jokes with me that attending ISTE is just an excuse for me to have a vacation with my friends. As I sit and think about that, I know that some part of it is true. Where else can I go to find 18,000 or so people who share with me many of the same core values and beliefs about education?

Another big part of ISTE is attending some great sessions… and there were so many great sessions! From EduBloggerCon on Saturday to poster sessions, ISTE Unplugged, and even taking part in presenting a panel session with three great educators whom I admire greatly… there’s just so much learning and sharing taking place at this conference!

But the most valuable part of attending ISTE for me is the building of relationships. In some cases, it’s about seeing old friends, catching up, and bonding. It’s also about meeting new people, discussing new ideas, learning from each other, and beginning conversations that will continue long past the closing keynote at ISTE (which, by the way, was a phenomenal closing keynote by Chris Lehmann– go watch it here if you haven’t already!).

I’m not sure why this last point is so difficult to explain to people who have never experienced it. The experiences we have– whether they’re taking place in a session, in the Bloggers’ Cafe, the Newbie Lounge, walking to lunch, or at a table while listening to some really fun karaoke– seem, to many people on the outside,  like one big party. In some ways, that may be true… BUT it’s also much, much more than that. The friendships I’ve forged in attending ISTE conferences over the last 6 years have been some of the most meaningful, both professionally and personally. These are not my “imaginary” or virtual friends and colleagues. These are real people who have enriched my life for the better.

Back to Reality

I’m still pondering the next few posts I’ll write about my experiences at ISTE 2010. Right now, however, I’m simply a little sad. It’s difficult to say goodbye (for now) to old friends and new friends… but I believe that the most difficult part of leaving a conference like ISTE is heading back to reality.

Let me explain: while I miss my family and home like crazy, and I’m really excited to start the school year and see my students again, it’s difficult to return from a place where people “get” you.  At ISTE, if you tell someone you’re on Twitter, they don’t look at you like you’re a crazed Ashton Kutcher fan who lives in a fantasy online world. When you discuss the inanity of standardized testing our children to a learning-coma-like state, they understand. It’s nice to be around people who know that using technology tools to help transform student learning means more than copying your paper notes to a PowerPoint slide. Or worse, PowerPoint slides.

I’m not saying that I’m an edu-snob or that I subscribe to the Nick Burns, Computer Guy mentality of tech support. I truly enjoy working with people who want to learn more about, well… about anything. Learning is always the key. But for one brief moment at the end of June each year, it’s really refreshing to be around some of my favorite people in the world. Luckily, I only have to wait about 360-ish more days until the next time.

Thanks, ISTE, for another great experience.

Learning Through Discussion

I’m sitting in Edubloggercon 2010 in Denver this morning with a few hundred educators from around the world. Together, we have decided what we want to discuss that is relevant and meaningful to us. We have divided ourselves into smaller discussion groups, and our natural seating arrangement is a circle. 

I’m fairly certain the majority of the attendees today will leave feeling that they have 1) learned something new, 2) reinforced a previously held philosophy, and 3) thought of a different way to teach when they return to school. I know I have already, and I’m only just now sitting in session 2 of 6.

This is great professional development. How are you facilitating opportunities like this for your school?

NECC 2009- Part I

NECC is always such a whirlwind for me. I plan to blog it all, get too ambitious, and then never follow through. I think what I need to do is think in bullet points, post, and then go back and reflect after the fact.

EdubloggerCon 2009- Saturday, June27

  • learning through conversations is one of my favorite ways to learn, and EBC is all about this. Small groups, one or two people agree to moderate, and the discussion carries us all.  People share their opinions, agree/disagree, and we’re engaged.

Volunteering for ISTE- Sunday, June 28

  • this was my 2nd year volunteering for ISTE, and I really love the opportunity to a) give back to ISTE, b) meet new people, and c) learn more about the conference during my shift. Met two new dinner friends, too… thanks for the conversation, Pam and Fern!

Malcolm Gladwell, Keynote- Sunday, June 28

  • I think I may need to reserve the right to a follow-up post on this one, and there are also several others posting their thoughts. Will have to link them as well.
  • Points he made I liked: 1) when we think of success stories, we need to remember that many of those successes came after years of hard work and little to no success–effort counts; 2) some people who become successful do so in spite of obstacles- they compensate in other ways; and 3) to be successful, one needs the opportunity to fail.

The best thing, in my opinion, about conferences like NECC is meeting new people and carrying on conversations outside the conference sessions. Dinners and tours can be just as meaningful- sometimes more- than the ‘working’ sessions. Thanks for the dinner discussion tonight, Ryan, Deven, and Donnelle!

The only bad thing for me about conferences like NECC – when should I sleep?

Gearing Up For NETA 09

Tomorrow is the first day of the 2009 NETA Conference.

After preparing all day, I’m really excited for this conference, as well as meeting and re-connecting with other educators.

Day 1: Looking forward to Hall Davidson’s opening keynote.

Also, NETA is providing a Bloggers’ Cafe this year. If you’re attending, plan to stop in and see us. You can find us on Wikispaces at

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow, and of course, you can always follow me, too: If you’re looking for more people to follow, there is a microblogging page in the Bloggers’ Cafe wiki that lists several educators on Twitter.

The best part of these conferences for me always comes from the conversations had with the people I meet… I always thoroughly enjoy the sessions and speakers, but I think I personally grow more when I participate in the discussions about what we all experience in those sessions. Really looking forward to that!

My NECC 08 Aftermath

I think I need to reiterate that this year’s NECC was the best conference I’ve been to in many years. It seems like we’re learning to conference differently and better all the time.

Probably the most important key for me is that I need to maintain the passion and enthusiasm that inherently builds during and after a conference like this… and share it with educators around me. I see some very necessary steps to help those educators with whom I’m in close contact– face-to-face contact on a daily basis.

Initially, I had intended to live blog during the sessions I attended, but I found that difficult… especially when there was little to no internet access in some of the session rooms, and even more so in those events that were open to discussion. I wanted to participate and be engaged in those discussions… that’s difficult to do when taking notes. However, because I was so engaged, I didn’t need to take notes. All of those discussions are very much on my mind and have been for over a week now. Hmmm, imagine that. Learning more from being involved in the discussion, rather than being lectured to and expected to capture it all in notes. What a concept, yes?

So for now, I’ll post a few things that I found important, thought-provoking, and maybe even a few links to information I’ve found since the conference. The Ed Tech world is really buzzing loudly right now, and I feel badly that many educators will never hear it.

NECC 2008 Day Three

Yesterday may have been my favorite day at NECC. The two “sessions” that really stood out for me: 1) a facilitated discussion in NECC Unplugged about Blogging and Twitter Etiquette, and 2) Digital Magic/K-12Online.

I’ve posted a few times before about Blogging Etiquette, and I’ve had many discussions with other educators about what responsibilities and standards are for people in education vs. other professions. I haven’t really had that discussion about Twitter as much. The opinions about the use of Twitter, especially, were all over the board yesterday at the Bloggers Cafe. Should rules beyond the Terms of Use be expected of people who use Twitter? or any blog for that matter? Is there only one blogging/Twittering community? or are there several communities within the “Blogosphere” and “Twitterverse?” Very good discussions, even though many people disagreed… quite loudly in some cases. I really appreciate that people can disagree in a public, face to face forum, and still feel like their voices were heard. I’ll post later about my specific opinions…

Digital Magic/K-12 Online— all I really have to say about this is what a great idea! The fact that educators can contribute and even participate in something that is not bound by time or location is really amazing about the future of education. I talked with some educators who participated in K-12 Online the previous year, and they had nothing but very positive things to say.

Regrets for me regarding NECC 2008– I didn’t spend as much time in the Exhibitor’s areas as I usually do. There were just too many interesting things going on in the planned sessions, NECC Unplugged, Poster Sessions, and playgrounds!!

I did take about an hour or so to see the Alamo with my friends Josh and Wendy. I love history and visiting historical sites! It’s a beautiful area… have some great photos to share!

I tweeted this morning that my head is spinning with all the things I want to blog about, take back to our school district, upload to Flickr… I may not get any sleep in the next few days because of all I want to do!

All in all, NECC 2008 was a great experience. Even though San Antonio was pretty hot, it’s a beautiful area for a conference. The Riverwalk is just amazing… if you ever go to SA, be sure to visit Pesca’s (specialize in seafood) on the Riverwalk. You’ll spend more than you want, but it’s totally worth it!