Riding the digital wave at summer ITEC mini conference

Attendees carried coffee, snapped photos with smartphones, typed on tablets and connected with laptops. Paper was nowhere to be found.

That was by design.

“For those of you who have just arrived, you’ll notice we don’t have schedules on the chairs, we have a QR code,” Sheila Teri announced to teachers finding seats in Corporate Landing Middle School’s auditorium.

QRCode

Teri, an instructional technology coordinator who helped organize the conference, greeted more than 1,200 staff members who attended professional learning sessions at the first VBCPS ITEC Mini-Conference.

Dressed in Hawaiian shirts to highlight the summer surfing theme, conference planners and instructors had more reasons to celebrate, according to Teri.

“We’re here to celebrate success, dedication and innovation,” she told attendees. “You all are change agents. You are open-minded to innovative practices, methods and strategies that will help empower and engage your students. Thank you for having that open, innovative mindset. Thank you for that commitment to constant learning.”

Keynote speaker David French also expressed his appreciation for teachers’ desire to learn.

“I am so excited to see so many people here this morning, giving up your summer to come out and learn more about the children in your classroom,” said French, Tallwood Elementary School principal. “It makes me feel proud to see so many people who want to learn new ways to teach these children.”

French focused on the importance of relevance and engagement when teaching today’s students, who he referred to as “digital natives” and “digital learners.” He admitted it can be a struggle for “digital immigrants” like himself and his teachers whose own school experiences involved more textbooks than tablets.

“Every one of your kids was born in the 21st century. None of us were,” said French. “So we’re challenged with teaching children from a different century. It’s something to think about.”

French

“They are truly born for the Internet,” he continued. “Kids are waiting a different kind of learning experience in your classroom. They have different needs.”

French posed two more questions for reflection.

“Does the traditional classroom meet their needs or is it really meeting our needs? Is it set up to be more comfortable to us or to them?” French asked.

Helping teachers feel more comfortable working outside their comfort zone was a focus of the ITEC mini conference.

“Our main goal is to build teacher capacity,” said Teri in between sessions. “I look out and see teachers who are so willing to take this extra step for their students. They want to improve their practice. They want to engage students.”

Sessions

Professional learning sessions were proposed by the division’s instructional technology specialists (ITS) as well as teacher leaders who, according to Teri, proved to be early adopters, innovators and collaborators in their schools.

“We took the strength-based leadership approach,” Teri explained. “What tool have you leveraged? What have you learned to plan with? What has been successful in your practice for assessment? Let’s take that strength and share it. You’ve tried it; you’ve adopted it into your practice; you’ve used it with students; and you have seen its effect on engagement and empowering students.”

The result was a two-day conference schedule with dozens of options offered in morning and afternoon sessions from which teachers could chose based on their interest and availability. There was something for everyone – grades K through 12 and A to Z.

App that Assessment. BrainPop. Collaborating with GAFE. Digital Storytelling. Flubaroo. Google Classroom. Google Hangouts. Integrating iPads. Makey Makey. Navigating NearPod. Ozobots. Possibilities of Padlet. Scratch Your Itch for Coding. Safari Live School Drive. Techbook. Tools to Flip and Blend Your Classroom. YouTube Content Curation. Zaption.

course schedule

Even students are overwhelmed at times by all of the technological options, French told teachers.

“I had a first-grader walk up to me and say, ‘Mr. French, I got a problem.’”

“‘What is it son?’ I asked.”

“He said, ‘You know, my teacher assigned me to do a report on my favorite animal. I have to do a presentation. So I used PebbleGo and I found all this information on my favorite animal, but I have a problem because I don’t know whether to use PowerPoint, Prezi, PowToon or Microsoft Sway.’”

“How old are you?” French asked the student. “I’m six.”

“That’s a digital native,” French told the audience. “That’s what they know. That’s how they live.”

The gadgets, however, are not the difference makers, stressed French.

toolbox

“It’s pedagogy first. It’s technology second,” he said. “You have an amazing, huge toolbox of digital learning tools that are engaging and fun for kids.”

“Technology is never going to replace you. But you, with technology in your hands, will be the ones to reach the children. That can be transformational.”

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