Top 3 Edu Themes in 2017

While technology is clearly ISTE’s primary identity, for those four days in San Antonio, ISTE promoted something else for the 21,000+ people in attendance. ISTE put learning first.

At this conference of countless sessions, Inspire! talks, inspired educators and tired feet, three themes became obvious to me:

  1. The need to focus on teaching students how to learn.
  2. Learning is global and connected.
  3. There is danger in a single story – our job is to help students find their own story.

Learning to Learn

I was thrilled to attend a presentation by Alan November, co-founder of the Stanford Institute for Educational Leadership Through Technology. I took note when he emphatically stated, “Teachers need to teach how to learn.” He outlined five steps to share with students: “Find the best information. Connect to the human network. Create content. Publish. Start again.” Our role as teachers, he said, is to give our students messy problems and let them grapple with them. I like that phrase “messy problems.” I’m going to start using it.

Donna Teuber led an inspiring session about innovating with Google tools. She encouraged the use of Chromebooks and apps to help students become “moonshot thinkers” and make a difference in the world. Her advice to students? “Improve. Create. Transform. Disrupt.” That requires a lot more ownership of the learning process than students have typically had in the past, and a lot more uncertainty in the classroom. Students are learners, thinkers, doers, grapplers.

Donna Teuber wants students to “Improve. Create. Transform, Disrupt.” Photo from her slide deck.

As Jad Abumrad – keynote speaker and host of NPR’s Radiolab – said, “Commit to the questions.” We don’t have to know the answers.

Learning is Global and Connected

I spent Sunday afternoon at the ISTE17 Global Education Day event hosted by Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon. It was clear from the hundreds of enthusiastic attendees in the room that connecting learning to people and events outside of the classroom walls is essential for many educators. It was no surprise that these teachers would be excited to learn about more ways to connect students globally through projects on TakingITGlobal, Global Education Conference and Participate.

Keynote speaker Jennie Magiera says technology is about connections and allowing students to tell their stories. Photo of her slide presentation by Nancy Watson.

But what did surprise me was how the global connections theme popped up in nearly every session I attended. Alan November said one of the questions we should ask all potential teachers is “What is your global relationship?” For keynote speaker Jennie Magiera, technology is all about connections.

Terry Godwaldt, founder of The Centre for Global Education, shared a quote from a student who has participated in global dialogues: “I realize there are real people behind these stories.” The empathy generated by global connections may be the most important outcome. Michael Furdyk, co-founder of TakingITGlobal, shared another important reason for our students to connect with others globally:

Technology allows students to virtually travel and connect to experts and peers around the world. Whether it’s through projects like Level Up Village, Global Read Aloud, or Skype in the Classroom, it becomes the bridge to the greater world outside of students’ classroom walls, expanding their awareness, understanding and opportunities.

Finding their Story

There is a famous TED Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that has been watched over 12 million times. In it, Adichie warns of the dangers of a “single story.” Keynote speaker Jennie Magiera referred to this talk when she said that we must acknowledge the uniqueness of our individual students and allow them to determine their own stories of limitless potential.

This idea was echoed throughout the conference. Many presenters, including Michael Fernandez, encouraged teachers to help their students find their own voice using video while others encouraged them to become podcasters. Co-presenters Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith urged teachers to infuse their classrooms with G Suite tools to make thinking visible, give students voice, and allow them to share their work.

Rajen Sheth, the “father of Google apps,” said the four principles of learning at G Suite for Education include “personalized and measured, collaborative and diverse, project-based and self-managed, conceptual and experiential.” All of this student-centered learning helps students to become empowered learners.

The technology tools that can be used to help students find their voice and determine their own stories include everything from Google tools to FlipGrid, Socrative, Seesaw, Book Creator, Talk and Comment, and SoundTrap. The technology is just the vehicle – the students are in the driver’s seat.

While learning came first at this ISTE conference, technology was the unifying thread that made authentic and relevant learning possible – guided by innovative teachers. Alice Keeler said it best: “Tools don’t teach. If you’re looking for a magic bullet, look in the mirror.” Thank you #ISTE17 for helping me reflect on what it means to be an effective teacher and learner.

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