My first day of ISTE 2014 was all about navigating my new surroundings. My second day of ISTE 2014 was all about meeting new people. It seems that my third day of ISTE 2014 has me thinking about the importance of conversations.
I once again had a full day of workshops all scheduled for myself. I attended sessions on various topics, ranging from Project Based Learning to Web tools for the classroom. I even found time to attend one of the much-hyped ISTE Ignite Sessions today. And as is typical of most conferences, my engagement in these presentations varied. Through no fault of the presenters, I found myself less and less excited to sit and have someone talk at me for an hour, regardless of how exciting their topic or prominent their edu-fame. I know this is an overused comparison, but I was thinking of my students all day and how tedious it must be to attend a traditional school where they have to endure 8 hours of this day in and day out.
This evening, I began mentally reflecting on the highlights of the day, and realized that the moments when I was most engaged were when I was having a conversation with someone. Here are some examples.
I was able to squeeze some time in to visit the Expo Hall this morning. Having wandered around the vendor hall at many conferences, I've observed that many people seem to visit the vendors for one of two reasons. One, they want to collect as many free pens, treats, frisbees, or whatever other "gifts" the salespeople are passing out. Two, there is some sort of challenge the attendees are participating in, be it sharing tickets for drawings, or getting a card punched, which is occurring here at ISTE. While I don't begrudge other people the chance to enjoy the Expo Hall on their own terms, reasons #1 and 2 just aren't for me. I really detest all that useless giveaway plastic and the wasteful society it perpetuates (a trip to the soapbox for another day), and competition has never really been an extrinsic motivator for me (an additional soapbox for another day), so this is not what draws me into the Expo Hall. I created a short list of vendors I really wanted to talk to ahead of time, and then efficiently progressed from one to the next, checking them off my list as I went. I like to chat with vendors of products that I use and love, or products that I'm kind of interested in but haven't been about to completely wrap my head around yet.
Well, today I had some great conversations with genuine people who were knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. My first stop was Nearpod (one of those products I couldn't quite wrap my head around yet), and had a great discussion with 2 of their representatives and a random teacher who joined the conversation to tell me why he loved it. I next went to Vernier (one of those products I love), and got a straight-forward, honest answer from a helpful rep who explained how all we needed was a software update and some apps to accommodate our old probes on iPads. I learned from the IXL people that they have an app out, and then was snagged by some folks from Knowre, who are also originally from MN and attended a rival college of my own at about the same time as me. When I stopped by the Airwatch booth (this is the device management system our district uses) it turned out that Matt, the rep that I had been in a webinar with last week, was actually there, and we chatted for a while. I checked in with the folks from My Molecule and got all excited about the potential inquiry uses of their molecular modeling app, and then ended my tour with a great rep from Curriculet who cleared up some grey areas for me and made me wish I taught English instead of science.
The other ISTE session today during which I participated in some great conversations was the Birds of a Feather Flipped Learning session. First of all, I have to commend Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams for planning the session in such a way that it truly capitalized on the collective knowledge of the room. We were able to discuss in small groups, share out to the large group, and build a body of knowledge that didn't come from just one or two speakers, but a roomful of wise and talented educators. I really enjoyed sharing with and listening to all the ideas that were put forth. This was by far the most engaging session of ISTE today.
So, when I look back at what have been my favorite parts of ISTE thus far, it comes down to one thing: conversations. It makes me think that my days of attending traditional conferences, or at least traditional sessions, might be numbered. For me, engagement comes from more of an EdCamp-style conference, where the interests and passions of the participants drive the topics and discussions.
And, as always, I am again thinking about my students and how I can give them more choice and voice in their classroom so that they can have more conversations. Even though the learning didn't occur at a formal presentation today, I'm thankful that I'm leaving ISTE 2014 with new thoughts about creating a more student-centered classroom.