Reflections from #ISTE2016

You have to be careful with expecations. I heard a Deacon say in a sermon once “expecations are just opportunites to be disappointed.” And I suspect that in instances like your first ISTE Conference, it’s best to go into expecting that you’ll have no clue what to expect. Sorry… (ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education… they have a massive conference each year.) And when you reflect on time spent there, it’s important to compare it to it’s own goals and not my expectations. The planners didn’t know my expectations. So, it’s unfair to say, “I wanted it to be this… and it’s wasn’t.” That isn’t their job.

There are people who are really high on this conference and there are folks who were very unimpressed including Adam Rozenweig (who in the comments admitted that his rather dramatic analysis, while not entirely false, was probably sold short some of the value) and Audrey Waters (who asserts that it’s time to give up on computers in education).

As with most things, my reflections are going to be somewhere in the middle and far less dramatic.

This was my first experience with ISTE of any kind. There isn’t much talk of their standards around our parts and with our own growing #EdTech group right in our backyard (MACUL), ISTE simply doesn’t make it to the classroom level very often. So, all of these impressions that were made on me were first impressions. And, as Lemony Snicket reminds us, sometimes first impressions are hasty and made in error. Other times, they are perfectly accurate. Admittedly, I simply don’t know which at this point. And what’s more, I’m not sure it’s all that important that I figure it out.

That having been said, here are my chief takeaways from my 4 days in Denver.

Takeaway #1 – ISTE is really, really big.

And I’m not entirely convinced that the growth of the educator-attendees was the primary goal. (This is Mr. Rozenweig’s chief complaint, by the way.) The signage wasn’t great, the session schedule was awkward, the BYOD/hands-on sessions had spotty networks to work on (one session I was in had bandwidth for only about half of the attendees). The keynotes were held in an auditorium that seemed to be chosen for it’s beauty… neverminding the fact that there was only enough seats for about 2/3 of the attendees. This seems indicative of a conference that invited educators for something OTHER than reflective growth. This isn’t a knock against them. I think a goal of reflective growth is awful challenging to meet with 15,000 folks in attendance. (And we’re not even talking about money… goodness. My calculations suggest that attendee registration fees alone add up to over $7 million.) So, what was the goal?

Takeaway #2 – The goal appeared to be educator-exploration.

While there were learning sessions available, many were pre-registered hands-on regarding particular technologies, sponsored sessions (like the Google room that seemed to have a Cedar-Pointe-esque line outside of it all the time) and panel-sessions. These were largely a complement to the enormous amount of exploration that was available. The BreakoutEDU bus was a low-cost (zero dollars and about half-hour of your time) exploration of a particular type of project-based learning. The poster sessions had some pretty cool stuff to show off, many of which were applications from local schools and classrooms, some with the students onsite. The playgrounds would have been cooler if they weren’t so doggone crowded, but still allowed for some exploration of things you’ve heard of but maybe haven’t seen before (Google Cardboard, for example). Then there was the expo hall…

The Expo Hall was sort of like walking through a massive (MASSIVE) #EdTech farmers market, except instead of trading cash for produce, hanging flower baskets and homemade venison jerky, your trading in e-mail addresses, business cards, and photo-ops. Just like farmer’s markets, every last person standing at a booth is a salesman. Just like a farmer’s market, many of them are offering free samples. Just like farmer’s markets, your primary value to any of those folks is your organization’s budget. Just like a farmer’s market it is very easy to get lost, over-stimulated and exhausted, or kill about 2 hours without either A) batting an eye, or B) accomplishing anything.

And just like a farmer’s market, the people who love it best are the folks who know how to get what they need in that environment. Not everyone does. And among those who do, there are those who simply do not enjoy it. Personally, I don’t mind it. And Lego let’s you play with stuff.

It just seemed like the who goal was to give educators 4 days to explore new things, ask questions, get ideas and products pitched to them by excited people and network. It was going to be difficult to build in the reflection, team brain-storming, and problem-solving in that venue.

Takeaway #3 – Despite some of the grumblers, there were good non-sponsored, educator-led sessions.

Really. There were. Michelle McCloud and Marcy Faust out of Baton Rouge, LA did a great talk on transforming unused media center space into a “Learning Commons” by approaching the science department and offering to lend a hand. Super down-to-earth. The current status is quite excited and productive, but the process to getting there was the topic of the session. It was in this session that I relearned a really valuable lesson: Awesome things become awesome through careful and reflective step-by-step planning. Thinking of the details and being clear about the goals. Spontaneous awesome is either pure luck or not nearly as spontaneous as it seems.

Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff), Jessica Raleigh (@tyrnad) and Brandon Petersen (@den_petersen) from Denver had a nice talk about ways to support the use of video in the classroom as a reflective tool for students, teachers, and coaches. Format was excellent and bringing three people helped to make the hands-on nature efficient.

James Kapptie out of Wyoming did something that no other session I had ever been in (at ANY conference… ever) did. He led us, like a band of sight-seers in a new city, through 16th Street in Downtown Denver and used that to model his learning targets which were primarily that we have to get students up and moving and the tech (in this case, augmented reality) needs to support that.

Finally, I rather enjoyed the candid panel discussion regarding improving teacher PD by Julie Keane, Liz Radzicki, and Margaret Conway out of Chicago. I’m on a team right now that kicks off a different plan with similar goals this fall, so I was very interested to hear how they did, what worked, what didn’t and they were very candid and took many questions from the group.

In the end, ISTE 2016 probably did for me what it was supposed to. I networked with some educators, I learned about some new stuff (products, services, teacher moves, etc.) and took really good notes so that if I forget anything, I’ll have something look back on. I look forward to moving forward to seeing how these experiences show their value in the weeks, and months ahead.

Upcoming Public Presentations

The age of online social and professional networking has often provides opportunities for people separated by hundreds of miles to feel like they know each other, even though they’ve never met face-to-face.

(It has happened several times that I’ve received hugs from people that I’m ACTUALLY meeting for the first time. But it feels like we’re embracing a friend because we’ve been digital collaborators on lessons or brain-storm sessions for years.)

So, when I give public presentations and learning sessions, I look forward to meeting people who, up until now, I’ve only known in 140-character snippets.

So, here’s where you can find me in the upcoming weeks. You’ll notice that these are all in Grand Rapids. That’s actually by coincidence.

February 20Michigan Flip and Blended Teaching and Learning Conference – Steelcase Learning Center in Grand Rapids, MI

I will be co-presenting a 1-hour session on using instructional technology to approach the goals of Universal Design for Learning. Our lens will be the secondary math classroom, but I believe the content will be applicable to teachers of any content area.

March 3Michigan Center for Exceptional Children Conference – Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, MI

I will be co-presenting a 1-hour session describing two teachers’ story of how they enhanced the learning experiences for their students with significant disabilities by strategic use of instructional technology.

March 9-10 – MACUL Conference – Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, MI

March 9 -I will be co-presenting a half-day preconference workshop on effective blending of technology in classroom assessment. Topics discussed will be effective methods and tools for good formative assessment including giving meaningful and effective feedback.

March 10 – I will be leading a two-hour hands-on workshop for teachers to come and learn how to use Desmos.

March 10 – We will be rebooting the aforementioned one-hour session on instructional tech supporting Universal Design for Learning from February 20 (see above)


I hope you’ll come to learn with us. I look forward to collaborating with you!

Great Conversations and Important Lessons – Reflections on #MACUL15

Chance to Surprise you

#MACUL15 is over and yet it feels like it’s just begun. The conference ended after Two Guys (@2GuysShow) finished their closing keynote, but there were a lot of conversations that were just beginning at that same point. Some excellent conversations among some excellent educators. These conversations aren’t ending because the conference is. These conversations are just getting started.

Just like everyone else, I’m having my own conversations that I’m looking to keep going. And these conversations seem to have a few recurring themes.

The young people in our classes are capable of so, so much.

Often, the reason we are disappointed with our students’ performance isn’t because our expectations are too high, but instead because they are too low. Improved curriculum, classroom management, and updated assignments can play significant play roles in helping students achieve and #macul15 offered lots of chances to discuss this. Have you seen The Literacy Shed? Explore it and consider what it might do for our struggling writers. Videos with no dialogue that the students can watch, discuss, and then write the story for. Sometimes they just need help finding the words. There’s a math version, too.

But there’s more to it than that. Many of the presenters that I heard communicated a consistent message: Releasing the incredible potential inside of every kid requires meaningful relationships with caring adults. The kids need to know that they matter. That the community is richer because they are a part of it and weaker when they are missing. That each individual contribution has value because it reflects a perspective that is unique. Many kids have parents and coaches who fill those roles. Many do not. The teacher can be that caring adult. In the world of education, where so much is out of the teacher’s control, each teacher can control one thing: That they value each student in their class. As Amber Fante (@AmberFante) said, “When you believe, you teach differently… the underdog can become the hero.” If you haven’t watched her Lightning Session, you probably should.

There are few things as powerful as connecting our classroom to the outside world. 

Our students are getting more and more used to a world without walls. There’s a reason for that: Being connected to that world is really friggin’ cool. I met the two teachers in the picture below (who refer to themselves as Two Sassy Apples). They were honored on stage before Friday’s keynote. They wanted their second graders to be able to be there and see it. So… Facetime.

Sassy Apples Facetime2

It was such a wonderful moment. The students cheered and laughed through the phone. They shhhhhhh’ed at each other vigorously while the MC was introducing their teachers. I know this, of course, because I got the honor of holding the phone so the kids could watch. (It happened to be hat day in their class. They loved that I was wearing a hat, too.)

Sassy Apples Facetime

Consider what those kids are learning from experiences like these? Those students are learning that their classroom’s walls are really only there to keep them out of the wind and rain. Those walls don’t have to be barriers to things that were previously too expensive, too distant, or logistically impossible to bring to them. The awesome and exciting things that are outside those walls can totally come into their classroom. We have the tools to go and get them.

If you want to teach effectively with technology, real student growth MUST be the primary focus. And real student growth is a messy process. It takes mistakes, retries, feedback, patience. The timeline is indefinite.

2guys - success

And while we’re on the subject, the same is true for teachers updating their practice. Brooke Mulartrick (@brookem1015) did a great job of modeling a differentiated learning process in her session by creating experiences like these in her half-day Wednesday session. Something to challenge people at all levels. A chance to collaborate and get instruction. And a chance to contribute to a single product that serves both as feedback to the teacher and learner, but also a reference that the learners can take with them going forward. Just an excellent design.

Learning is learning. And learners are learners. Given similar conditions, adult learners look a lot like young learners. See?

These are adults on Thursday exploring Dan Meyer’s (@ddmeyer) Magic Octagon:

MACUL Octagon

And these are my students this past fall exploring The Magic Octagon in class:

2014-10-06 12.53.28

Those of us who primarily teach adults shouldn’t prepare for differentiation any differently than teachers who teach young people.

Couros Quote

With all learners, it’s less about the final goal and more about the process of learning.

And finally, anyone who says that secondary math teachers aren’t flexible, curious, or interested in learning new things? I would encourage you to reconsider. There are a lot of us who want to get better. You see why I’m not that concerned about the future of math education? We turn out quite nicely when given the opportunity to discuss it.

MACUL Selfie

And then I went to check out my #miched colleague Zach Cresswell’s (@z_cress) math session…

Zcress Full

Thanks for everything #macul15. Let’s keep these conversation going and see where they’ll take us.

My Thoughts on #MiFlip15

Today, I attended the MiFlip Conference at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, MI.

I was going for a variety of reasons. I need people to explain flipped learning to me. I need skeptics to be skeptics. I like to fly-on-the-wall discussions where advocates and skeptics collide. Not because I enjoy confrontation, but because Michigan has some wonderful educators (check out #miched if you want to get a taste) and I figured that this particular collection would be unmasked, open, and willing to both be skeptics and advocates.

I was not disappointed.

First, I want to mention Matt Roberts (@mmcr) from Grand Valley State University who brought this with him as part of his presentation.


This is “The Hype Cycle”, which I recognize from a variety of innovations over my relatively short career in education. I’m certainly not trying to talk down the people who are excitedly sharing their experiences and enthusiasm about flipped learning. It’s just that there’s some things that have always made me hesitant about fully advocating flipped learning and Matt helped me make sense of some of them.

I feel like he did a nice job of expressing why he think flipped learning needs to be looked at holistically. He led an awesome session on the realities of learning in a flipped model and understanding what we are asking these students to do… which is, in some cases, something they’ve never been asked to do before. When we lead students through a flipped learning model, we are asking them to take ownership of their learning in ways that might be new to them. They need to self-regulate. They need to recognize their confusion and use that sense of mental discomfort as a motivation to get that issue resolved with the variety of resources the teacher has made available or that the internet as a whole has to offer. This goes even further when we push blended learning to the next level and start (as was so excellently described by Anne Thorp (@athorp) ) expanding the options to include flexibility in assignment contexts, due dates, and formats. There will be an adjustment period if students have only known educational worlds of note-taking, rigid due dates, and common assignments.

That forces us to help the students become comfortable with the learning process. And many of them will need help. The try-fail-improve-try-again model can be a frustrating one for kids who aren’t really accustomed to failing. Besides that, as Matt brought up in his discussion, things like sleep, nutrition, and exercise play a pretty significant role as well. Regular review, making connections and effective practice have to become things that get built into the curriculum. Flipped learning is more holistic than other instructional models because it so often looks at the hour that the class spends together as merely an important part of a larger learning process.

Many students are raised in education looking at the hour that the class spends together as the whole class. Effectively managing that transition is vital to ensuring that students are experiencing the best that flipped learning has to offer.

The teacher looking to embrace the flipped learning model needs to recognize that they are taking on more than simply restructuring their assignments. They are likely redefining learning to students who may not have entered their class expecting that type of experience.

A few additional notes.

  • Thanks to Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) for giving me a one-on-one tutorial on Camtasia. Totally needed it and it totally worked.
  • I appreciate the energy that Anne Thorp brought to the table. (I’m not the only one that is saying that, either, by the way.) Our paths are going to cross a number of times in the future and I am very excited about that.
  • And, in a much less academic way, I’m thankful to Tara Becker-Utess (@t_becker10) for being willing to drive the carpool from Dimondale, MI (about an hour east of Grand Rapids).

Reflecting on #macul14

So many great things went on these past few days in Grand Rapids, MI. When I consider that the last time I was along the Lake Michigan coast, I was in Ludington to see Dan Meyer, I’d say West Michigan has treated me and my students pretty well.

For those of you who aren’t familiar MACUL is Michigan Association of Computer Users and Learning. They are an organization dedicated to supporting Michigan teachers in the pursuit of making education better through the effective use of instructional technology. This was their annual conference.

The best thing about this particular experience is that there was a little of everything from academic talks like Erica Hamilton’s (@ericarhamilton) talk about Teacher Integrated Knowledge, to incredibly practical, I-could-totally-do-this-tomorrow talks like Bree Davey’s (@studiobree) talk on student blogging. There was the inspirational talks of Rushton Hurley (@rushtonh) to the intensely technical and energetic Leslie Fisher (@lesliefisher) teaching use the finer points of how to use iStuff to take pictures that don’t suck. It’s a lot to take in. Here are some summaries of my favorite sessions:

Erica Hamilton – Teacher Integrated Knowledge – Erica (soon-to-be Dr. Hamilton) did a fantastic job of detailing the how teaching becomes more complex in the 1:1 format. She spoke about the different types of knowledge that a teacher naturally has to draw from in the process of doing his/her job. (Content knowledge, curriculum knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, environmental knowledge, etc.) Switching to a 1:1 format add a few others that aren’t there (at least not nearly with the intensity) otherwise, which can make reinventing teaching to maximize 1:1 seem really, really intimidating because if you are, for example, going to ask your students to go out and make short videos, you might need to teach them what to consider to make a video effective (Lighting, stabilizing the camera, speaking clearly, editing tools, etc.). That isn’t part of most curricula. 1:1 puts teachers face-to-face with having to acquire those kinds of knowledge. My favorite idea that Erica kept coming back to: “It all comes back to what do you want students to learn? What do you need to teach to do it? What tools are available?” Excellent, excellent talk.

Ben Rimes and friends – #MichEd PLN – #MichEd is a PLN dedicated to connecting educators in Michigan with the goal of spreading ideas. This is a dedicated group of educators with a podcast and a weekly twitter chat. They are dedicated to the idea that we all need to grow and all we should have to do is ask the experts around us for help. We all have something to ask and to offer. It seems this panel discussion was best summed up by George Couros the next morning when he said “Isolation is a choice teachers make. If you’re isolated, you’re choosing not to connect.” Speaking of connecting, it was fantastic to get to meet these folks face to face for the first time.

Tara Becker-Utess – Flip Class Model – This was an important talk for me to go to because I was always a little bit uncomfortable with the flipped class model. Tara (whom I am proud to know personally these past 10 years) didn’t quite draw into the realm of the full believers (for reasons I can explain more if your curious), but she did a very nice job of explaining the philosophy behind flipping. I was relieved to find that I was able to identify with a ton of the spirit. Tara made some fantastic points, especially the absolute need for teachers who flip to plan very, very well for their time in class. “If you were used to using 20-30 minutes to lecture, you just got 20-30 minutes to plan rich activities for your students. That is usually a shock to people who are flipping for the first time.” (Those are probably more paraphrased thoughts than actual quotes, to be fair.)

I also had the privilege of presenting a one-hour session. If you are curious what it was about (or if you attended and want to revisit) I invite you to check out the “MACUL 2014 Presentation” link at the top right of my blog to get the details. Thank you for your kindness, warmth and enthusiasm during my session. It definitely did not go unnoticed.