Getting Loud About ISTE 18

As a content teacher, it was challenging to manage all of the offerings at ISTE18 in Chicago. For a tech coach, STEAM teacher, or maker space guru, the place is true nirvana. For social studies guy like me , I had to investigate a little more and be careful picking and choosing. However, it’s fun to try to look at the technological platforms and hardware from a content lens, trying to figure out what would work best in social studies classes and for my students. Here are my top social studies take aways from my time at ISTE1 18.
The world is handing us our curriculum – are we taking it? Kristen Ziemke gave me this beautiful phrase, influenced by Smokey Daniels, and it reinforces how I have changed my focus in the content I teach in American studies. I will have a deeper post on that in the near future, but to put it simple – if what I’m teaching does not connect to today, I’m I’m making a mistake. In addition,  if I’m not teaching about today, I am making an even bigger mistake.
Google has it all – for any content area, any learner, really anything you want to do in this world. A fantastic presentation about the updated Google Earth platform gave me a simple message – GE is insanely awesome and must be integrated into any social studies classroom. It’s awesome not only for instructional purposes, but it is much  easier to have students create content and interact with the world. Google keeps rolling out additional tools for their educational suite, and there were so many presentations about these tools that is nearly impossible to keep up. Check out An Epic Smackdown of G Suite Tools and Teaching Tips for starters.
AR and VR are the wave of the future – but how do ride this wave? I presented on the concept at WCSS 2017, but the change is dramatic and nearly exponential.The amount of AR and VR hardware and software I encountered was overwhelming. The application for social studies teachers is immense, from having students go on virtual field trips to interacting with the seven wonders of the world to investigating current events through the New York Times.  It seems the price of virtual reality is scaling down, with awesome platforms like the Oculus Go being much more manageable than first presented. In conversations I had with some other teachers, however, the question is about student creation. Is VR and AR just consumption platforms, or will it be viable to use for students to create and utilize as learning tools?
We need to make sure we focus on the ed and not on the tech. The exhibit hall at ISTE is a huge toy store, with incredible learning platforms, software, and hands-on materials.  I couldn’t count the number of bots and coding platforms.  However, I still wonder about the true educational value of many of these. It’s important to integrate technology into the core curriculum and not have it as a standalone course. That’s real world, isn’t it? However, we can’t just throw technology into any class because we have these shiny new toys or awesome platforms. Is there a rationale for using bots or Lego mind storms in the social studies classroom? What about they AR and VR? Is it just bells and whistles, or can we move  past engagement to get students thinking critically, communicating, collaborating, and creating? Are the flashy online social studies content textbooks just simply the 21st-century version of a worksheet? We don’t want to fall into the problematic “cool, right?” rabbit hole that Wes Kieshnick describes (not at ISTE, but I love it). We need to keep the “ed” first and foremost, because we do not want a computer telling (not teaching) our social studies students.
Relationships make it all happen. Seeing Joy Kirr talk about shifting the culture in a classroom was an eye opener.  She challenged the crowd (and it was a big crowd) to develop relationships with kids in a variety of ways, and gave food for thought in a conference dominated by technology becoming more of a medium between teachers and students.  I am reading a recent publication by Nat Damon and had a few examples in my own practice that reinforce this concept even more. In addition,  relationships amongst educational professionals are just as important.  The conversations at ISTE were the true value of the conference, and meeting educators from all across the globe instilled me with even more desire to connectate (as we say at Summer Spark) with the best of the best.  However, it also brought to mind that the most important professional relationships we can make for the success of our studnets are the ones within our district, school, grade level, and department. Deepening these connections will be one of my goals for the upcoming school year.
Would I suggest that content teachers go to an ISTE conference?  Absolutely – if you go with a plan.  The schedule is presented well ahead of time, and it’s essential to make choices and sign up for the ticketed events in advance. Check out the poster sessions too, because that’s where conversations start.  It’s also important to find and connect with similar teachers in advance and seek them out at the conference.  Finally, expect long lines (at everything), an immense exhibit hall, and a ton of social possibilities. I’ll possibly see you in Philly in 2019,!

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