Reflections and Recollections: ISTE 2012

Can any school create a common core for Lady Gaga?  (Yong Zhao)

Curriculum should develop the personal strength of students.  It’s not about fixing deficits.  (Yong Zhao)

Less us, more them.  
(Gary Stager)
Learn first, teach second. 
(Will Richardson)
What IF?
  (David Jakes)
What do we need to unlearn?  (Will Richardson)
Don’t Deliver Curriculum.  DISCOVER it.”  (Will Richardson)
“Most of us work in schools that have had computers for 30 years and yet we are still cajoling teachers to use them.”  (Gary Stager)
“Why should I leave my recliner to come to your library?”  (Doug Johnson)

First Thoughts

Having just returned from the ISTE conference in San Diego, these were some of the standout ideas that I walked away with and need to mentally unpack.  But before I start doing that,  if you’ve never been to ISTE,  I have to say it can be a little overwhelming because there is so much going on:  poster sessions, actual sessions, panels, pre-conference events, etc.   But probably the most valuable thing about all of that is all the colleagues you can meet and all the ideas, macro and micro, that you can return home with.   (And by the way, if you’ve never been to ISTE and you are from Texas, it is in San Antonio next June.)

As I experienced before in San Antonio, one  of the most valuable experiences for me is the “unconference”–this year called the SocialEduCon, which is held on the Saturday before the conference starts.   What I like about it is that it’s a fairly small group of people so you have an opportunity to have meaningful educational (and personal) conversations and that the topics are crowdsourced, so you have more conversations about issues you are interested in.   The other thing I love is that it is conversations(although I wish they were longer ones).  Steve Hargadon did a nice job as always of organizing the event, for which I am appreciative.   And on a personal level, it is just a really heart-warming moment when you show up and see so many people you’ve worked with online all together in one place; like a big edu-reunion.


The two conversations I found most compelling were one about edu-preneurs and one about changing the negative national conversation about education.   David Warlick happened to have led both of those conversations and I have to compliment him on his conversational style which did make it very much a roundtable discussion.   While the edu-preneurs discussion was wide-ranging, what I remembered was how empowering it feels when we as educators think of ourselves like entrepreneurs or startups–when we realize we are idea people bringing our passion to our classrooms. Thinking of ourselves as edu-preneurs moves us away from this “just a teacher” mentality –for me the term conjures up the empowerment, excitement, and cutting edge nature of what we can do in our classrooms.   It’s interesting how a change in the way we define ourselves can affect our mentality.  As a second part of this definition, we also talked about the difficulties of being edu-preneurs who are both trying to handle speaking engagements and our roles inside of our districts and how to juggle that.

David Warlick, Joyce Valenza

Interestingly, in his keynote on Tuesday, Yong Zhao talked about “black collar” entrepreneurs who don’t wait for someone to create a solution, but create it themselves.  Interesting term.

Brian Crosby talked about students as entrepreneurs and someone mentioned a project going on at Kevin Honeycutt’s ARt Snacks site: Super Cool Startups–which is helping train students to become “startups’ in towns where they don’t have the resources to leave.  (Sounds fascinating)

We also talked about obstacles–one of the members of the conversation is now working for a, but she was a teacher.  She mentioned how fast her job now is, and how they don’t wait until something is perfect to get it out there, but when she was teaching, how she felt tremendous pressure to be perfect and to have everything perfectly planned. How does it change the dynamic of school if we don’t perceive that we have to be perfect, but that we are learners just like our students, and that the most important thing is to get the conversation STARTED.  A good reminder that we are not the only experts in the room and we need to remove that pressure from teachers.

Changing the  Message

The second conversation I participated in was about changing the tone of the national conversation on education.  We intently debated how best to affect change in the message–whether it would be by working with local media or national, and how that could be accomplished.  Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) was a huge help in sharing information during this conversation–like informing us that the Education Writers Association is for education reporters, and their blog is Educated Reporter–good place to follow.   She also reminded us that reporters want a hook–sometimes for local reporters, the hook is reacting to a national news story and giving it a local angle–we can invite them in to debate the nat’l story.  I puzzled over why, since ISTE is a conference attended by 15,000 educators or more, that there wasn’t any national education reporting coming out of it, and that the only media I really saw was ISTE’s own in house media, (other than School Library Journal).

David Warlick at Socialeducon

This seems like a real opportunity for reporters from major national news organizations to sit in on sessions, pick up on trends, and have real conversations with edtech leaders from around the world.  I don’t know if ISTE doesn’t invite them in, but I think next year, any of us with connections to media should invite them in to just be part of the conversation/observation, not even as reporters but just observers so they can gain a deeper understanding of the real passion, complexity and caring we have for the issues in our field.   Perhaps out of that would come better reporting.   Too often the stories that come out of the media are connected to conferences spearheaded by for profit foundations or companies, and not the on the ground, grass-roots teacher attended conferences and so the general message is quite different.  (Like the Arizona conference Chris Lehmann attended a couple of months ago)  It also struck us that those of us with access to Huffington Post could share some of these stories from the conference ourselves.

We also talked about at the building and district level some changes that could happen.  For example, why can’t the district p.r. department make it easier for teachers to share their stories with the P.R. department?  Could there be an easy online form to complete to let them know about positives going on?  Can the P.R. person come to beginning of the year faculty meetings and let the teachers know of the district story they’d like to tell and how teachers can help with that?  Jennifer Orr shared that in Fairfax, each building has a media person who is responsible for passing those kinds of stories upstream.  Gordon Dahlby reminded us that EVERY teacher is a P.R. person.

I wish that there had been some ability to “follow up” on some of the SocialEduCon conversations.  Perhaps in the afternoon people could pick one they’d like to “return to” and have a round two discussion or perhaps each conversation could last longer?


Of the actual sessions, I very much enjoyed the IGNITE session(where speakers deliver a rapid fire presentation)  and think that is an excellent addition to ISTE.  David Jakes’ “What IF?” ignite I found powerful, reminding us that instead of “Yes, but”…what if we asked “What If?”   Changing the frame allows us to explore possibilities, to garner good ideas, and to look forward.   And by the way, David, I have a photograph of a “What if” bicycle I saw on the Seaport village sidewalk for you.

Lisa Parisi’s talk on why she isn’t teaching to the test anymore was also heartfelt and powerful and took courage, which I admired.  I can’t wait to submit something for next year, and I applaud ISTE for adding these talks to the agenda.

The sessions begin

The other session which I have to say impacted me the most was Gary Stager’s session on the best ideas in education.   Particularly the videos he shared demonstrated the power of the creativity of our children and how given the power and knowledge to create with programming and by collaborating they can create things that are delightful and meaningful.  His comment, “less us, more them” is still resonating with me.  Other comments that were memorable:  “Robotics is completely consistent with being a little girl.”  “School doesn’t teach ballerina.” (but we should incorporate our student interests into school.)  “Wolfram Alpha–cheating?  Then wearing glasses is cheating.”  Gary’s discussion of how students shouldn’t all replicate the same project, but rather do original ones springing out of their own interests resonated with me deeply.  Also his comments about teaching our students not to just make a little video for an audience they don’t care about, but to help them learn the discipline for which they are creating and make it for real audiences.  (So if making a film, they should understand something about film as a discipline, or for art, about art as a discipline–they should understand those principles.  Very interesting point.)

Chris Lehmann, Guided Inquiry

Chris Lehmann also had an interesting discussion in his session on Inquiry — pointing out that inquiry is about asking questions we DON’T know the answers too.  He clarified  the terms engagement versus empowerment, (a movie can be engaging without empowering us, for example) .  How can our focus shift to empowering our students rather than just “engaging” them?  The closing keynote was a perfect example of that.  He reminded us that we aren’t doing an iPad project or an iPhone project when we tweet–the technology should be invisible, and the focus should be what the learning is.  (This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine–even as involved with the iPads as my campus is, I want to be sure what the focus is is the learning, not all the apps or the iPad itself; it’s on the changes that mobile technologies drive.)   He pointed out that typical science fair projects are perfect examples of BAD inquiry becuase students are just repeating a process done by someone else.  What are their OWN questions?  Chris asked how can we restructure something we’ve done int he past to enable more learner centered inquiry?  I also LOVED the way Chris referred to his students–a student taking history was a “historian”

Will Richardson’s question, “What can we unlearn?” also resonated with me.   It’s something I want to take back into discussions with librarians as our profession evolves so we can challenge ourselves with unlearning things we’ve always thought to be true about how our libraries work.

Doug Johnson’s session on library design and his question “Why should I leave my recliner to come to your library?”  posed questions we should all be asking ourselves.

These were only some of the “big ideas” that I’m taking back with me and that I’ll be “unpacking” later, I’m sure.

On a personal note

The other part of ISTE that of course resonates with me is how four years ago, when I went to ISTE at Atlanta, I knew two or three people, but because of Twitter and conference opportunities, I walk into ISTE with a whole network of people I know, and still so many I am meeting for the first time.  (Among them Matt Montagne and Jenny Luca and Sue Waters, all of whom I was delighted to meet, along with Scott Schwister who it was great to see after four years ago at ISTE).

It may sound cliche, but it is those relationships and conversations with people that make a difference in my thinking and help me grow as an educator.  Part of relationship building is talking about the ideas we share, but part of it is just about the opportunity to get to know people better over dinner(thanks Kathy!), walks and hanging out in the blogger cafe.  Sometimes I wish there had been more even time for more real conversations but I also know we can continue those online over many mediums and that is comforting because it’s always too short and there are so many I end up barely having time to talk with(Lisa!)  or discover were there after I return home.

Matt Montagne, Bryan Doyle


So why is that part important or even interesting to any of you reading my blog who aren’t into Twitter or don’t get to attend ISTE?  Because I want all educators to know how different my conference experiences are now because I have a network.  I was used to attending conferences alone and now I never walk into one feeling like I don’t know anyone.  And not only is it valuable to see the people I already know, but they introduce me to other people and those connections sometimes turn out to be very powerful ones for work I am doing back in my own district.

And I also have time to socialize with them, get rides to the airport (Thanks Jen!), walk on the beach with them, watch Ben Grey as a photographer at work, break bread with colleagues over good conversation, and see people again for the first time in four years (Hi Chris Betcher and Scott Schwister) and find new people I can connect our teachers in with also.   (I did wish that some of the more experienced bloggers (while I know this is a rare time to reunite with one another) had connected a little more.)  Lastly, I also have to say that San Diego was a great venue(except that the hotels are so spread out), and that the weather was a tremendous but extremely welcome distraction ;).

The last thing that was different for me was that this was the first time I’d really attended ISTE with a team from my district, and it was a great experience “going away” to bond with them.   It seemed like for a long time I was out there on my own in some of these experiences, and it was great knowing that a number of us shared them and can bring them back to our district, and that our working relationships will be closer because of the shared conference and social experiences.

So thanks @austindeb2003, @mrhooker @mbrowneisd, @ipadsammy @lstreun, @cbmcleod, @mryenca, and @computer4explore for that.   Funny how you have to go away sometimes to have the time to really get to know people you work with all the time.

I’m looking forward to how we all leverage what we’ve learned for our own district.  It’s a powerful thing to have a whole team of us learn together and develop a common vision, and I think it will resonate in our district tremendously.  So thank you!





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