I thought I’d try to summarize by day my impressions of each day at this year’s ISTE conference in San Antonio. I’ve lost track of how many ISTEs I have attended, but each one is often inspirational for one reason or another. This year is exciting especially as we approach the dawn of our trial year (phase 0) of our 1:1 program in Goochland. With me this year is Tina McCay, principal of Goochland Elementary School.
We attended together two main sessions today – a series of “Ignite” presentations from some folks with strong, good ideas, and the second was the opening Keynote.
It was Wes Fryer during the Ignite presentations that suggested we all do several things in our schools. One was to start Scratching, which I have a real, personal passion about. I absolutely agree that we ought to be challenging students with the opportunities to create and problem solve while developing computational thinking. The second was new to me, at least in recent memory, to start “story chaser clubs.” In this scenario, kids find, document, and tell stories around them using digital media. Sounded exciting, especially as he highlighted it with elementary students using computers in his photographs.
His third idea was something we heard later in the Keynote session – that kids should be creating eBooks. I take this one with more caution – not because it isn’t powerful, but it is not as simple as making an ePub file. “Writing a book” can fulfill a passion in a lot of kids, and the gravitas that comes with that dream is a lot of work and energy. But instead of working on little bits of a story here, or a few paragraphs there, what if we set the boundaries around this enterprise not at the marking period-, or even semester-level, but at the yearlong-, or multi-year-level. What if kids were able to work on a project that just happened to span a school year, but one through which they received input from teachers, peers, and had the time to develop not only the skills involved in new book literacies (that are possible now in eBooks), but also the craft of writing and responding to feedback.
In thinking about our upcoming professional development with GES teachers on the iPad roll-out, this quote spoke to me: “it’s not a classroom, it’s a community.” The teacher who told us that spends 5 full days with secondary students at the start of the year on relationship building – hers with students, and between students. She treats her classroom as a small community. I have no doubt that the rewards for this up-front use of time pays dividends throughout the year and beyond.
“Silly is good! It’s a wonderful place for creativity to begin” bemused Dean Sherski, who is so comfortable in his shoes that everything he says has a palapable gravitas to it. But his message wasn’t too serious, it was that we should inspire meaningful learning through fun. “Adults need to have fun so kids want to grow up!”
It reminded me of a conversation I had last week with a science teacher from GHS who told me he really gets along well with his department, and they share time during planning sometimes to tell stories and get to know each other… “I have fun with those guys, and I like it here.” That was awesome. Work can be a place you enjoy coming to, where those you work with are not just colleagues but genuine friends you can trust.
What’s the “opposite of play?” He told us it might be depression. It’s certainly not work.
Sunday’s Keynote was opened by a 4-girl band (and a guy drummer) playing “country pop” music. As they played and played, it was obvious there was some real talent on stage. I didn’t know if they were a professional group with national standing, or else a local group that had been chosen to perform from San Antonio.
There were frissions of emotion that sparked when they later told us that this talented ensemble had only been together for a year, and they each were high school students. It was around that point that Mrs. McCay remarked to me “Every other conference I’ll ever go to after this is ruined.” The whole ISTE experience really is world class.
McGonigal’s expertise is centered around 10 years of research into gaming, and she spoke specifically of gaming as a learning medium or technique. Some of the information was already known to me, but it was in her final examples that the ISTE emotional magic returned. She shared two examples; the second was a project she organized for the NYC Public Library to bring younger patrons into the library. So, they suggested a game… so the one she came up with had a goal of writing a collaborative book based on primary sources found in the library.
The game portion of the experience was based on mobile technology and they advertised it with a video. It was engaging and not unlike what you may have seen for console games. so they promised that the library would remain open all night to inaguarate this event, with 500 slots. They were nervous. Would that many kids even be interested? What if the library stayed open to just 25 kids? It would look like a disaster.
McGonigal hadn’t done this before. But they had kids submit requests to participate.
Bam! Over 10,000 entries. By any account, the experiement was a success. The book was bound on sight by a medieval book binding specialist, and now the book is in the library’s rare book collection, the only book in the collection to have been authored by living people. By the time I left Hall A of the Gonzales Convention Center, I knew we had a powerful idea to challenge teachers back home with. If we dreamed big, the results for kids could be enormous.
Until Monday evening,