ISTE notes for my administrators

What follows are the notes I took and shared with my administrators regarding my trip to ISTE.

ISTE Conference notes:

I have returned from the ISTE conference, full of new thinking, ideas, and strategies to share. The following will be in three categories: concrete information on what I saw and heard, abstract concepts drawn from themes at the conference, and finally personal observations and recommendations. The first two will be as unbiased as possible.

What I saw and heard:

  • The opening keynote was by Jane McGonigal, and author and speaker on the power of gaming as learning. She began with a massively multiplayer thumb war that involved the thousands in attendance. Some of her key points, paraphrased:

    • She told us that the opposite of play is not work, it is depression

    • The generation currently in school derives intrinsic motivation by artificial rewards such as stars, achievements, and check-points in a way previous students did not. Since the true motivations for learning are to be smarter, get a good job, etc are too far out for most students, they respond well to short-term checkpoint rewards. The grade in the gradebook is not, and should not be the inspiration for learning. Learning something “cool” can be the only reward necessary.

    • Games such as MineCraft reward students with accomplishment only, there is no winning it. It would be like looking at Legos as something you can win.

    • Gaming in the classroom needs not be large-scale. It can be as simple as awarding badges for reaching certain targets. The best gaming is where the fun of learning is all that is needed.

    • There are a lot of educational gaming sites out right now. Big difference is drill v. explore/create.

I attended George Couros’s presentation about building innovative schools. His school district is the envy of the Canadian school system. He consults often in America, helping public schools transform education without tons of extra money (once they are 1:1). Some of the facts from his presentation:

  • His school was too ambitious in their initial 1:1 rollout. They focused on too many tools at once, and then ended up creating a lot of frustration. They settled on three, and everyone (Students, teachers, admins, parents) got REALLY good at using them effectively. They chose Google Apps, Twitter, and WordPress.

  • They determined that blogging was going to be the key agent of change. They asked each student, K-12, to cultivate a blog. This became both a learning log and a portfolio of student work. High school students were allowed filtered publishing of blogs.

  • Staff were asked to blog once per week. The staff blogs were public, and they were encouraged to read posts that others wrote. There was a central “Blog Bank” that made the blogs easy to access.

  • Faculty posts had to be related to the classroom, not activities. Coaches were encouraged to form another blog or post additional entries if they wished to blog about activities, and many of them do.

  • Staff were given a blogging time (Friday, from report time to class time), where peer coaches were available to help. They were allowed to skip this time if they had their blog for the week completed before Friday morning. They did other things like this as well: We want everyone to do X, which you will have time for in the afternoon of Y workshop day, but if you complete it on your own, you wouldn’t have to be there.

  • They used these strategies to help teachers find time for reflection and professional development at regular, more convenient times of the day, and help them see it as a professional responsibility that good teachers do. After 2 years, it is embedded in the culture. The exact same practice was done by all administrators. They were all in it together.

  • An unexpected result was a great change in the interest of non-LA teachers to have students practice and improve writing.

  • They took away most printer access, and disrupted the paper-based culture of the school. Teachers, once they had a 1:1 environment, were challenged to become nearly paperless.

  • Professional evaluations at all levels were embedded with the NETS standards, and they gave targeted help to those teachers who struggled to evolve.

  • Their technology integration team (tech coaches) is chosen at random every year. It isn’t just techies. Everyone serves on the team in rotation.

  • They have de-emphasised grades and standardized testing, yet achievement has flourished, the gaps have closed, and engagement is high. Canadian standardized assessment numbers have risen each year since their massive evolutionary leap.


The tech coordinators from Kansas City; Someplace in Indiana; New Ulm; and a small district in Idaho were discussing bandwidth. They all agreed that you need to overinvest in bandwidth before rollout. I heard the number 100k per student as a good ratio, but the numbers don’t mean anything to me. They made the point that if you go 1:1 and things go badly in the first week, you spend the entirety of the rest of the year restoring confidence, and it is a big bad deal. KC and one other school had both under-invested early in BW, and results were a lot of distrust in the technology department.


One of the presenters told this story to explain how they got everyone on the same page: American Airlines was looking for ideas from the engineers as to how to make the plane seats more comfortable and roomy. After three months, nothing significant had been developed. Then they invited the engineers to a meeting out of town, and in each of the hotel rooms, they took out all of the furniture and replaced it with an airline seat. After a night or two of sleeping in the seats, great ideas began to pour in.  The point made was that leaders first need to communicate vision, then model, then disrupt the status quo.


One panel, with school advocates from all over the world, simply asked great questions for discussion:

  • Why school?

  • Why grades?

  • Why classrooms?

  • Why are we still stuck in a 19th century industrialization model?

  • Where is the spark of discovery, creativity, excitement in school?

  • Why do kids need to turn off the world when they are in school?

  • Why are schools and teachers still so determined to control learning?

  • There were a lot of amazing discussions that resulted from these questions. The end result is the old saw: If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always had.


Adam Bellow did an awesome presentation on effective, inexpensive web tools that teachers love. I thought there were some of these our teachers would love:

  • ClassDojo: behavioral feedback to students in 1:1 environment

  • Create triggers like “If it rains today, then text me.” Very cool.

  • anyone can send an email to be delivered at some point in time.

  • Class Badges: Award badges to students for particular achievements

  • Animoto – new and improved

  • There were a lot more, but I forget them. I will be archiving a new list of web tools for teachers soon, and I will share that out.


Several speakers from different school districts made the point that we need to do for the 95%, and not the 5% of faculty. Moving forward is not negotiable. If there are laggards, they become isolated and eventually become immersed in the culture. Don’t wait for the whole group to be on board.


The abstract themes that were evident at the conference were well repeated in different contexts and situations:

  • Engagement. Most speakers talked about it and most products promised it.

  • Mobile learning: a majority of what was discussed in sessions was intended for mobile devices

  • Soft skills at the heart of good instruction/ learning: Connections, relationships, trust

  • De-emphasis of standards and assessment. This was from administrators, curriculum directors, technology coordinators and teachers. There is evidence to suggest that the strongest schools today are technologically integrated and project-based. The most restrictive environments are those obsessed with test scores and evaluation, not innovation. Several school districts demonstrated this.

  • Concepts like discovery learning, experiential learning, behaviorism, and self-directed learning have a new home in the digital age.

  • Powerpoints and many of the earlier attempts at using digital technology are now seen as having been worse than the alternatives. Boring lectures with powerpoints are just boring lectures with pictures.

  • Very few schools are interested in going to digital textbooks. Most are helping their teachers create digital content that aligns to their own curriculum.


Best quotes and ideas I heard and saw (many miscredited or uncredited, because I forgot who said what):

  • The change is not minor, and it isn’t optional – Will Richardson?

  • We don’t know what we don’t know, unless we connect with the world

  • How can schools have a facebook page, but block facebook? – Adam Bellow

  • Digital misuse by students is a behavior issue, not a technology issue – T. Baldasaro

  • Students are fearless with technology, it’s adults who let fear stop us from trying

  • I hate technology (or teaching) that DOES something to students. I want it to allow students to do something for themselves. – S. McLeod

  • We don’t need to control learning, we need to UNLEASH it! – G. Couros?

  • No baseball coach says: here is the equipment, I’ll be in my office doing paperwork

  • 85% of kids aged 10 believe they will create something that will change the world. Our current system helps them to see that as a silly notion, so that by age 18, they can be normal people.

  • If you hate change, you’ll like irrelevance even less. – Chris Lehman?

  • Any administrator that thinks use of technology should be a choice should be fired.

  • I’ll add more as I think of them. I will be retrieving all of the slide decks I saw in the coming days.


Personal observations, etc:

  • I couldn’t help but feel lonely at the conference. Most schools came with a group of 3-4, including an administrator. Some had much larger groups. I really think that all of the admins and some other teachers should attend next year. It is an experience you don’t walk away from uninspired.

  • We really need to rethink the concept of professional development. I saw maybe 20 different models for effective PD, and none looked like ours.

  • I’m a lot more convinced that the iPad is a decent device for 1:1, but the districts that had Macbook airs for 9-12, were the happiest. I still think we should look closer at that model. KC school district was very proud to have stuck to their guns on wanting an Apple laptop for high school.

  • I lead a session on Edmodo and Schoology. Edmodo is more popular, but everyone who had used Edmodo, then checked out Schoology, switched. in a room of 80, 30 current Schoology users had previously been Edmodo users, all had switched.  I think Schoology is the way to go with a light Learning Management System to compliment Infinite Campus.

  • One activity I paid attention to at ISTE was a session called Iron Chef. It was a fun PD model, and it might be pretty fun to try in our district. Participants were placed in groups of 3, and given a challenge. Each group had just 90 minutes to create a response to the challenge, AND a way to present it. The challenge is something that would require 21st century skills and exploring technology and multimedia tools.





2 thoughts on “ISTE notes for my administrators

  1. *Accuracy disclaimer: I think some of the details from George Couros’ presentation and one from another I attended got melded a bit. My memory is pretty good, but I am reasonably certain that I got at least two different innovation talks mixed together there. Take it for what it’s worth…

  2. Looks great Tony! Great work! I think it is a conference I would enjoy attending in the future! 🙂

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