A conference like ISTE requires a high level of mental preparation. I find that explaining my process to the world gets me ready. I hated not knowing what to expect nor what to pack for my first ISTE, also in Philadelphia, so some of my tips are for curious newbies.
In My Bag
Let’s start with the bag: I learned my lesson the first year that a shoulder bag will bring nothing but regret. Back packs are so much better. I organize my bag with lots of clear ziplock baggies to make finding everything easier. You will be hungry and thirsty, so pack snacks and a refillable water bottle. You should have devices to connect (there is an app for that, aka ISTE). An old school notebook and pen will make it less stressful if you are in a wifi deadzone. I have a baggie with tech accessories: stylus, screen cloth, earbuds (for much needed relaxing time), portable cell phone charger, wall extension (you might make new friends by sharing a charging station). Because you will be meeting so many new people, first impressions matter, I bring a travel toothbrush, a stain stick, and a bunch of business cards. If you plan on visiting the Expo Hall, print out address labels that also include your school district and email address. This is so much quicker than handwriting the same thing on every drawing you consider entering. However, don’t get sucked into a vendor time vortex. There are so many other great things to see and learn. Some other random items that will be in my bag: tissues, handsanitizer, chapstick, bandaids, a pedometer, and a sweater. I have preview bag images from ISTE 2011 and ISTE 2012.
As far as a dress code: wear what you feel comfortable in, but make sure it includes layers. The temperatures will vary from tropic to arctic. No matter the temperature, the air always feels dry, so bring a water bottle to refill. People who present might be more dressed up, but business casual is perfectly acceptable or jeans/t-shirts are totally acceptable. I have worn t-shirts with logos of my favorite products before and it inspired great conversations with people. For the sake of your feet, wear comfortable shoes. I wear cute sneakers the entire time, even if wearing dress pants.
Have a plan of what you want to see/learn, but do not feel trapped in sticking to it. I have a Google Calendar with all the sessions I want to attend and additional social events I want to attend. This will allow me to access it from any device I am on. There is an app for ISTE2015, but I could not find the locations for the sessions. That is a major flaw and hinderance for its usefulness. If anyone can prove me wrong I would appreciate it.
Be prepared to get many great ideas that you will want to share what you learned. I love Diigo for this purpose. This year for the sake of weight and battery life, I am only going to bring my iPad instead of a laptop to the Convention Center (except maybe when presenting). Anything I find interesting I will save with #istefind, which IFTTT will recognize and automatically Tweet for me (@SrtaLisa) with the official #ISTE2015 hashtag. Each night I will use my netbook back at the room to type longer and more reflective annotations on Diigo to the saved websites and move them to my ISTE Ideas Diigo Group. Around midnight, all the websites and annotations will be pushed and published on my blog. It is not visually pleasing, but it does share in an organized way for me to find later. I also take session notes in Evernote or GoogleDocs so they can be shared with people I think will be equally interested.
ISTE has determined that the official conference hashtag is #ISTE2015. Is it too early to start a petition for a simpler and shorter official conference hashtag for next year’s with just #ISTE16 not #ISTE2016? Even people who do not love writing Tweets can still follow the conversation and favorite other people’s. A tool like Twubs will allow you to just see the ISTE tweets instead of being overwhelmed by everything else, though ISTE alone is overwhelming. You can check almost any social media platform and find examples of people learning and celebrating being passionate educators: Twitter, Vine, Voxer, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. When you find someone who shares great information, make sure you connect with them digitally. The conference also provides the unique opportunity to meet so many of your PLN in real life. Mentally I am prepared … that just leaves the physical packing and traveling to ISTE. I can’t wait to meet many new enthusiastic educators who I will connect with long after the conference ended.
The last day with students is the perfect time to push refresh and to start dreaming about an awesome new school year. Every year I ask my students to take a survey about our class content and delivery. Google Forms is my favorite simple tool for student surveys because it works well on mobile devices. Adding their names was optional, so I felt like their responses were honest. The things they really liked that I will keep the same: Flocabulary Week in Rap, Newsela, Kahoot, Quizlet, and Zondle. Some minor changes might enhance Current Events, like mapping the stories through Google Maps. I did this for the Latin America story set with a collection of Newsela articles and students really enjoyed it. For weeks I do not show Flocabulary when it is brand new, I could map the stories and add accompanying Newsela articles. It would be relatively simple using Mapping Sheet Add-On for Google Spreadsheet. However, I like the formatting better adding pins by hand for Google Maps; it just takes longer.
The wisdom of my students was fascinating. In their survey they pointed out that some lesson components could not be changed because it was part of the curriculum, but not as exciting as other parts. I do take their suggestions seriously when feasible. Many students wanted the class practice ISN to be more tech friendly and to provide options. We have a summer curriculum day to do this. Earlier this year I started to brainstorm ways to modify it because I had the same idea as the students; I have post-it notes on every page with ideas.
Everything we create can be printed for students who work better with paper and pencil. However, next year the sixth grade will be 1:1 iPads, so I will work with the students and build up their confidence to work more efficiently on technology. My goal is to be paperless by the end of each school year. Most of the classwork will be through Google Docs. So we need a management solution to distribute/collect/grade the work efficiently. There are share options on documents. I have had some success by creating a consistent short URL (bit.ly/Geo6HMS) that leads to the ‘Document of the Day’ for students to make a copy of, but they still had to remember to share it back with me
so I could grade it. Which still left the challenge of naming conventions and organization. I found two solutions: Doctopus and Google Classroom. Both solutions distribute a document (or an individualized copy of a document) to a list of students while storing them in a central location for the teacher’s sanity. It is even better that they are friends and play very well together. I think these will make life so much easier since we are already a GAFE school, so I created a Grading with Google presentation with instructions and details I learned by playing around with both. Students and teachers already have access to Google Classroom with their GAFE login (or us @hershey.k12.pa.us). It works seamlessly with the GAFE series of tools. Google Classroom and Doctopus have another close friend: Goobric, which is a Chrome Extension. Goobric was a game changer for the final writing assignment of the year. Next year I will use Goobric from the beginning. Goobric lets you grade writing assignments based on a digital rubric, then it attaches the rubric and any comments back on to the student copy of the document.
While I’m on a Google tangent, another Google Spreadsheet Add-On I plan on utilizing is Flubaroo. You can grade a Google Form (which I already love) like a quiz. In the past, I coded each column for quizzes, but I had to verbally communicate the scores to the students because there was no way to share digitally their results with them. For Flubaroo, I just take the quiz and set my response as the answer key. For short response you can accept more than one answer by including %or between answers. After the quizzes are graded, you have the option to email responses with a note. I added more specific step-by-step details in the Grading with Google presentation.
Another suggestion from the student survey was to have more projects. Students liked creating. They also remembered more of the content in the long term from the units with projects. The inspiration came from the #sschat on Twitter, which transformed into an idea for a collaborative project for Social Studies and Science involving thematic maps, watersheds, spread of diseases, and developing countries. The end goal will be to raise money for H2o for Life Schools, which partners k12 schools in Developed countries with k12 schools in Developing countries that have projects related to clean water. We would select a school in Latin America to connect with the final unit in Social Studies. We already talked about the scarcity of clean/drinkable water in Latin America. I shared a video about the water challenges in Mexico City (skip to 31 seconds) and the students were fascinated. Instead of waiting until the end of the year, I can introduce it with thematic maps.
We already talk about the original thematic map from Dr. John Snow, mapping the Cholera Outbreak due to a contaminated water source in London. This is still an issue over 150 years later in developing countries with poor water quality. The science teacher suggested adding a simulation activity before the map, to get them to see the value in mapping data to find solutions. Dawn had done an activity from Rivanna-Stormwater on this exact topic. We have not figured out the details, but this would be a memorable start to the project to raise money for H2O for Life. The World Health Organization provides statistics and maps on current countries and areas with cholera (and other preventable) disease outbreaks. There are multiple Latin American countries that still struggle with diseases transmitted through water.
The last reflective and prospective change for next year is parent/student communication. Our daily Team Blog with homework was successful for communication, it had 24.8 thousand views during the school year. I do not want to change this. But school is not about homework; I want to be able to communicate all the great things the students are doing. So I am going to use Remind with the students and parents. This year I only used it with Student Council. If students want to do more projects, I want to share them with a wider audience than just the classroom. The project links can be tweeted out to parents to see. I also plan on creating digital badges to share with students through Remind, so their parents can see their accomplishments too (some possible examples are below).
Overall, this year was awesome, but I think next year can be better. Now that I have reflected, it’s time to take a break from thinking about school and to just think selfishly about myself. Happy Summer Teacher Friends! Even if we don’t really get the mythical 3 months off, may you still find time to relax and refresh.
Of course, I did. In March I was selected in the lottery to participate in #edcampUSA at the Department of Education on Friday, May 29th. The learning, conversations, and friendships that sprung from the day make me feel like I won a different type of lottery. Throughout the day I kept notes, in my own chaotic style (read if you dare). You can also find group session notes linked through the Schedule Board. There was so much that happened, I thought using six word photo stories would best tell my story and help me reflect.
So where do I go from here? I’m almost sad there is only a week left in the school year. However, it will give me a chance to further reflect and apply changes into my classroom.Thanks to David (@delta_dc) I have a long list of books I want to read this summer, like Put Thinking to the Test, Creative Schools, Asking Better Questions, The Whole Story, etc.
I am going to make more of an effort to connect with local colleges and universities with professional development opportunities for their students, like Edcamp Hershey we are planning for July 27th. I want to check out the website and information for iMentor. I passed on information to my district about Teach to Lead. While changing district policy is not quick, I feel like it would be something to benefit the students. As a district, I think we need to improve the culture of our building. The focus is not on the learning process but the end scores, and that causes tension across the building. Failing is ok, as long as it is part of the process and not the end result. How can we get parents, students, and teachers to agree? I am going to rework some of my classroom goals to clearly state it from my perspective. Along these lines, I wrote a letter to my students, but considering the audience, I turned it into a video:
I’m already looking forward to seeing my friends again, luckily we have all planning to attend #ISTE2015. And there will always be other edcamps.
Last weekend was Edcamp Philly. On multiple occasions I have taken the train into Philadelphia to attend Edcamp. I love that it gives me time to reflect and process the ideas I hear afterwards. This time I also found inspiration on my way into Philadelphia. Can an iBook be written and published collaboratively in an hour? This idea blossomed on the train to Philadelphia; it was inspired by a session I attended at EduCon in 2014. The difference is this book will contain our Edcamp stories. Many non-edcampers question why I’m willing to give up my Saturday’s to attend professional development. I have so many reasons, but I struggle to expressively capture the Edcamp experience. In case you are reading this as someone wondering the same thing: the Edcamp Foundation strives to provide free professional development to meet the needs of teachers. There is a lot of detail on the Edcamp Foundation website. If inspired after reading other people’s stories, future Edcamp locations and dates are posted on the Edcamp Wiki.
I realized that organization and structure were critical. There needed to be a system in place to collect and collaborate. Google Drive was the solution, but it needed organization. I created a single folder for the Edcamp Book, but there were subfolders for images and stories, as well as documents for organization, table of contents, and credits. I also wrote my story so I would be able to walk everyone else through the steps during the edcamp session instead of trying to write on the spot.
I was slightly disappointed that only 5 people were in the session, but I can not blame the others because of the number of great sessions offered, it was hard to choose. The people attending were good sports and all wrote their stories. I thought it could be done in 15 minutes, but it took almost 25. Because there were so few people, we skipped the edit portion. We were lucky that Kevin Jarrett was taking photos the entire time, and he publishes his work under Creative Commons on Flickr, so we did not have to labor over trying to find images. It was a catch-22, without the images the book could not be published. Instead, we spent the remainder of the session writing suggestions for our future selves or other teachers how to apply this to a classroom with students instead of adults. It was time well spent.
I would love if more people shared an Edcamp story. It does not have to be long or life altering, it could just be something funny or memorable. I have so many stories I could tell, like the multiple road trips, or the mouse in the house at Edcamp Philly 2013, or the friends I seek out every edcamp I attend … but I have already contributed multiple parts and it seems egotistical to include more of my own. It would defeat the collaborative purpose if I wrote half the book. PLEASE SHARE A STORY. Encourage others to attend a local edcamp.
Findings/reflections about the experiment:
- Show them an example of what an e-book could look like
- Provide specific directions for what they should write so the book is cohesive
- Make sure there a definitive roles and an understanding of the roles
- Make sure there is plenty of time for them to revise and expand
- Have them create a mind map of topics (maybe have them sign up for topics)
- To include images — have them start collecting images in a folder.
- Set up folders — Images, Notes, Draft, Final Versions, Credits, Table of Contents. By sharing the original folder, everyone will be able to contribute and add their stories.
- Set up a style guide: name looks like this, title, font, etc. For younger students, create template of layout that they change and have them do File > Make a Copy.
- Maybe make the e-book a long-term project so maybe not tied to a particular unit of study. Great way to share work with parents and a wider audience.
- We found that the writing can be done in an hour, but a quality book needs more than that. With the structure in place, it would be as easy as a poster project in class but it would be shared with a wider audience.
- Use Book Creator app to put the story together. This would be easy for the teacher to take the pieces and arrange. The final file for the book can be published back into Google Drive and a link can be generated to share with students and parents (and easily the world).
- Take screenshots of completed GoogleDocs, it could even include images. Much easier to resize just the image on a book page.
Extension into my classroom:
Last summer I felt ambitious and wanted to create an iBook as a class – it was part of my summer inspiration blog post. That idea fell flat, but now I feel like it is possible and have actionable steps to make it a reality. I like my original idea, but tie it into the Five Themes mini-unit. The students already do a project that ends up taking a day or two longer than anticipated, so their efforts could be redirected to an iBook. They are proud of their work, but lack audience when they create a poster or an iMovie Trailer. The projects can be uploaded to Google Drive and made public with a shareable link. The link could be texted through Remind to parents and students to enjoy. Instant pride.
Creating iBooks makes even more sense for next year because the 6th grade will finally be part of the 1:1 initiative in the district with iPad minis. They will create resources to contribute to their classmate’s learning. Another reason it makes sense is potential switch to Google Classroom which will make managing Google Docs easier. I would create the template for the page, and they would automatically have a copy made by clicking on the assignment. It would take some time on the teacher side to compile the pieces, but it would be worthwhile. In fact, I’m almost sad there are only 1o days of school left, or I would try to fit this into the end of the school year. It has potential to be a game changer.
No, Free Range Google is not an official thing … yet, but it is the best way I can think to describe the part of my class where I remove the barriers and let the students wonder and search. This is counter some of the arguments on Twitter recently from my PLN, but that is why I have necessary pre-requisites:
- Background Google Search Skills
- Digital Literacy
- Connection to Content
- Objective (to learn and share … something)
- Teacher Engagement
BACKGROUND GOOGLE SEARCH SKILLS
At the beginning of each year the search strategy of my students is to enter the exact question they want answered into the search bar, obviously this is not the most effective. I talk with them about keywords and search parameters. As a teacher, I do not have to develop lessons for search skills, Google has already done that. There are also many great infographics and other resources to help students visualize search strategies, including a new one I saw this week. Search skills were a major focus of my BYOT4 Club; every meeting they started collaboratively working on the Google a Day webquest. There is skill and good modeling involved to consistently get strong and specific search results. I scaffold. At the beginning of the year when students ask random content questions that I do not know, my response is “Let’s look it up.” By the second part of the year, I entrust multiple students to search and they fact check each other. I don’t let them settle with the first result, and by having multiple students look they verify with different sources. So yes, I say “Google it” and still find it to have educational value.
Current event discussions that we have every Friday are a great chance to mix in digital literacy skills.The students officially get taught digital literacy in their computer class, but applying it in a real world setting makes their computer lessons more valuable. New sources are often biased or there are conflicting reports, especially with something as tense as the police brutality stories of late. I don’t promote the conversations, but the students deserve answers. They hear the stories on their own through media, so we talk through the hype and ask questions about the author and their facts. I do down play news stories that relate to school violence or anything sexual since they are 11 or 12 year olds, but they still ask about it when they hear. They start to use a critical eye for things they read online.
CONNECTION TO CONTENT
Students, and adults, like Googling random things. To make it meaningful, there must be a connection to the content. When I have them search, sometimes their interpretation of the connection is less concrete than I would like, but if it helps them remember the lesson in the long run, it has value. For example, a month later a student could still describe in detail the climate and economic activity in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada because he had searched for houses and noticed large greenhouses to supplement what they could buy at the store while still living in a subarctic climate. Pretending to buy a house led to a deeper understanding. This also works well as a preview strategy before we delve into the depths of the lesson, like searching for National Parks in a random state before we studied the states. Or the first guided search was “kids fun facts AND [ocean/continent of choice],” they were getting their own specific end results without being taught how to get there. Once we do get to the content, the students have a direct correlation and an instant connection.
The random searching could be endless. Personally searching takes me down a rabbit’s hole, where one result leads to another question. For my students I set a finite search time. “After 15 minutes, upload a picture of what you found and a short explanation on Edmodo for the entire class to see.” They generally are not searching for information I already know, so they are expanding everyone’s knowledge, including mine. Textbooks do not connect well with pre-teen interests. Often students find the same things interesting, they love talking about what they are reading as they find it. It is such a positive to overhear the excitement of what they discovered.
The ‘overhearing’ brings us to the last part: teacher engagement. While teachers do not script the search terms, they have to constantly moving around the room and prompting student thought. This is not a passive lesson. Some questions are easy “why do you think…?” “what would happen if…?” “how does this connect to what we talked about?” This is the opposite of a passive lesson; it is mentally exhausting to interact with each student and to transform their exciting search results into a tangible lesson connection. Talking to the students is easy; they are all eager to share their results, it is moving on to the next student that is challenging.
Is this a worthy use of class time? Not all my units have textbook readings, and not all the readings inspire students. Some in my area of certification feel letting students discover knowledge on their own is unprofessional and almost equal to blasphemy. This is the same mindset that would change Wikipedia to prove that they are correct, and that Wikipedia can not be trusted. (side note: I wonder what percentage of intentionally incorrect changes are made to Wikipedia articles by educators trying to make a point? I would less than celebrities/politician smear campaigns and more than bored pranksters.) Should everything I use to support my teaching – websites, apps, stories, articles, etc – be peer reviewed and approved? Expensive textbooks are approved, but not always correct, especially ones as old as my students. I believe that there is value in allowing students to Google some of their own supplemental resources instead of relying solely on teacher pre-approved ones. Now is the time to learn good search skills while they have a teacher as a guide. How will district policy adapt to the rapidly changing education resource landscape? Will they trust teachers to do what is best for student learning? We shall see.