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Features from the International Society for Technology in Education 2014

Written by: Madison Kinnard, Product Development Associate

I recently attended the 2014 ISTE Conference & Expo in Atlanta, where roughly 16,000 educators, technology gurus, entrepreneurs, and industry officials participated in what is perhaps the country’s largest edtech gathering. It was an inspiration, to say the least. The excitement and enthusiasm of everyone there was contagious, not to mention the great giveaways. Now, more than ever, the conversation around games, play, and the Common Core is roaring.

It was tough to pick and choose, but here are some takeaways from a few of those discussions.

Mastering the Common Core: Rigorous, Relevant, Technology-Enhanced PBL
This talk came from the Buck Institute for Education (BIE). A 26-year-old nonprofit corporation, BIE provides professional development, practice, and service on project-based learning (PBL) online, through workshops and conferences, and even through books. In order to stay engaged in learning, says BIE, there are 10 “imperatives” that schools must deliver on:

  1. Relationships – Students relationships with teachers
  2. Relevance – To students interests
  3. Time – Can I learn at my own pace?
  4. Timing – Can I learn in my own order?
  5. Play – Do I have opportunities to explore, make mistakes, and learn?
  6. Practice – Can we engage in deep and sustained practice?
  7. Choice – Do I have real choices about what, how, and when?
  8. Authenticity – Is the work I do regarded as significant outside of school?
  9. Challenge – Do I feel appropriately challenged?
  10. Application – Do I have opportunities to apply what I’m learning to real world settings?

With participating states implementing the Common Core this fall, the question becomes, “How?” The answer? PBL, with technology as the great enhancer. Too often, PBL is used as the add-on dessert at the end of a lesson, when it should really be the main course of what students are doing in the classroom. Here are some key points when it comes to implementing PBL:

  • Start with the significant content in the Common Core. Don’t start with all the stuff you like, or you will never get to what you have to teach. Think about the natural connections that happen in the classroom—that happen in the real world.
  • Students need to go from consumers of information to producers. It’s not enough to just memorize information. Can students communicate about information? Can they collaborate on it?
  • The driving question for a project should not be “Google-able,” it should be “blogable.” If you can Google it, what’s the point? This ties in with the above point—students should be able to talk about information at length. Answers should require this.
  • The more they ask, the more they will uncover. You want students to start asking new questions.
  • Give them a voice and a choice. Give students more choice in projects and even in blog prompts. Here are five ways to give your students more choice.
  • Revision and reflection, not failure. Rather than allowing students to experience “failure,” put them through a process of revision and reflection with constant feedback.
  • Is inviting Mom and Dad really authentic? Students need to present to more than just the class and the teacher. Reframe the way you define a public audience. Bring outside people in—maybe a panel presentation or a showcase/expo of learning. It could be that students create or write something and send it into the community, such as a letter to the mayor. Does the audience match the end product? Make it authentic.

Play at Work: Unleashing Growth Through Creativity and Innovation
Author of three popular books and founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC, Kevin Carroll explored the power of play in his keynote speech at ISTE 2014. His overall message? Let kids play. “All I really need to know, I learned on the playground,” he claimed.

Carroll told an inspiring story about his abandonment as a child by his mother and father, leaving him under the care of his grandparents. “Raise myself?” asked Carroll to his grandfather. “Pop-Pop, what does ‘raise yourself’ mean?” Carroll wanted to run, he wanted to play. As he should—he was a child. So he ran to the playground, found a ball, and just started kicking it. And he kept kicking it. He was angry. “How does play help us?” asked Carroll. An interesting question it was.

Soon, a young Carroll found others to play with. “I belonged. I was welcomed. I was connected.” Once we connect, there is no longer hesitancy, but providence. His talk went on to discuss the seriousness of play and its importance to who we are as humans. “Play is as important as eating, drinking, or sleeping. So much of what you’ve learned, you’ve learned through play…If we really understand play, it can be a galvanizing tool.”

Enter technology. Carroll stressed that technology is a catalyst that sparks a person’s passions and brings them closer to their learning. It is not a replacement, but an augmentation. “Circumstances never dictate a person’s destiny.” And right he is. Carroll, in conjunction with the Gates Foundation, is responsible for putting computers in every single public library in the United States. When someone is passionate about something, such as reading or a specific kind of play, and he or she has access to technology that can amplify or enhance that passion or gift, then “that is the perfect storm.”

Be on the lookout for a follow-up ISTE post that will list a number of fantastic (and free!) ELA apps.