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My ISTE 2011: Notes from a giant conference

To me, ISTE – with some 18,000 attendees from 68 countries having converged on Philadelphia this week – is like looking out the window from a fast train through a dense urban area: mostly a blur, but your eye freeze-frames what’s meaningful to you. So I always come away feeling enriched by the updates and insights I glean and the fresh dose of inspiration I get from connecting with people who love and work with kids and teens. [In his post about ISTE, social media educator Tom Whitby wrote there were 22,000 attendees and 5,000 exhibitors.] Here are just a few of my freeze frames from the ISTE blur this year:

  • “More and more school administrators are interested in participatory learning,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. CoSN research has found that “over 75% of superintendents and curriculum directors agree that Web 2.0 holds potential value for teaching and learning,” and 48% said some use of social Web was already in place. This is progress! [See my latest post on U13s in participatory media and ConnectSafely’s “Online Safety 3.0.”
  • Almost 2/3 of US high schools have robotics programs, and a lot of those involve LEGO Mindstorms, which is in about 30% of US middle schools, LEGO exhibitors told me, and the WeDo little-kid programming environment makes it possible to program robots in elementary school!
  • It was standing-room-only in a large double room for a session on “the iPad revolution” by educator Camilla Gagliolo from Arlington, Va., about how iPads are engaging and enabling special-ed students and revolutionizing learning at her school, which so far has 60 iPads (none of which have been broken, she said); her district now has about 1,000 such portable devices now in use. [Accessibility features on the iPad for special-ed and nonverbal students: VoiceOver, Zoom, Display (white on black or black on white), Speak Auto-Text, Tactile Buttons, etc.]
  • On state tests, Gagliolo said, Arlington, Va., students who had been working with iPads in both special-ed and math classes this past year tested as “Advanced.”
  • A teacher came in late and sat down next to me in a spellbinding session about core-curriculum instruction with World of Warcraft by teachers Peggy Sheehy (N.Y.) and Lucas Gillespie and Craig Lawson (N.C.). The latecomer whispered that she had to leave another session where the speaker made a blanket statement that there should be no communication between educators and students in Facebook. I’m thankful to be seeing more and more educators rolling their eyeballs at blanket, top-down policies about youth and social media (see this).
  • Gillespie and Lawson just released their middle-grades language-arts curriculum, “WoW in School: A Hero’s Journey,” which can be downloaded for free here and which teaches everything from writing and storytelling to poetry and literature to video editing to media literacy and citizenship (in this class, every student’s a hero and teachers are called “lorekeepers”). Sheehy, who co-presented with Gillespie, started out her teaching with World of Warcraft in an after-school program she designed for students with learning disabilities. It was so successful she was asked to bring it into school.
  • ISTE had its first Machinima Fest this year – kind of the Cannes of virtual world filmmaking (the early days). It was put together by amazing educators Marianne Malmstrom and Andrew Wheelock, who work with students and fellow educators in virtual worlds teaching (and capturing video, or “machinima,” of that learning). The winning producers were both students and educators. [Some of the virtual environments they teach in are QuestAtlantis, ReactionGrid, MineCraft, LEGO Universe, and Second Life.]
  • Reporting some trends it’s seeing, the 2011 Horizon Report found that digital and media literacy are now key skills in every discipline and profession; that economic pressures are creating unprecedented competition for the traditional model of school; and that “learning is like breathing and can’t be contained in school,” which is why there aren’t yet metrics to measure the way and degree that learning’s happening in today’s media environment outside of school.
  • “Our schools are designed so that most of our learning is at home,” says ISTE keynote speaker John Medina, PhD, author of the best-selling Brain Rules. The molecular biologist’s ideal model for school, he said, is “a guided aerobic workout all day punctuated with islands of learning – the inverse of what we have now.” Medina also said that every brain learns differently from every other brain (so thank goodness for a very accessible tool, the Internet, that allows for learning customization).
  • In his talk about “The Best Educational Ideas in the World” (including Reggio Emilia schools and Neil Gershenfeld’s Fab Lab at MIT, well-known speaker and educator Gary Stager points to the attitudes of thought that guide those programs: respect for each learner, authentic problems for students to solve using real tools and materials, expanded opportunities, the belief that learning is natural, collegiality, urgency, and a commitment to social justice and democracy.
  • Demonstrating those attitudes of thought, Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy founding principal Chris Lehmann included his students in his keynote about education that supports student agency (starting at about 31 min. into this recording on YouTube) to this effect (tweeted by fellow educator John Pederson): “My lord. Finished watching the @chrislehmann ISTE keynote. Tear-stained. Exhausted. Proud. These kids are going to be big someday.” They already are.

As one of the students said on stage, “When I’m a teacher … I will teach my students inquiry, ask them questions about the world around them … I won’t talk at them but with them … every day I will tell them they are beautiful.”

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