Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ISTE Day 1/2 Wrap Up

Today was my second day, but my first full/real day at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA and I am so thankful/happy to have this opportunity. First of all, a very huge thank you to the AVI CHAI Foundation and NCSY for making it possible for me to be here; next, a big thank you to Causil for organizing everything, ensuring we are well fed and that everything runs smoothly for our group.

Now on to the wrap up...

First Night

After watching a live-stream of the keynote speaker and throwing away a bunch of free junk from my ISTE registration bag, I headed out to grab dinner with my fellow AVI CHAI group members. It was great to meet and collaborate with everyone. After dinner I met up with Matt Barr of Bible Raps to discuss some collaboration ideas and future projects. What he does is cool, alive and engages teens in text-study, I loved it and hope to collaborate with him and his team soon.

First Session

The first session of the day which I attended was at 8:30am which means that I had to wake up fairly early in the morning (around 6:30am) to daven, grab a bowl of cereal (thanks to my lovely wife) and walk over the convention center. Having only gotten about an hour of sleep the night before, this was a fairly big deal, but I felt it was justified because this session was right up my alley and I hoped to gain a lot of valuable information from it. To be blunt, I was less than happy to have woken up early for this session. That isn't to say I didn't learn anything new, because I did, it was just more basic and introductory then I expected, especially for someone who has already integrated QR Codes into the classroom and was looking for new and different ways to do so...But, as I said before, I did learn a few things from this session:

The presenter broke down the "Allure of QR Codes" into 4 points:

  1. Cannot be misinterpreted
  2. Compact
  3. Easy to use
  4. Inherently Encrypted

The big "aha moment" for me was number 4, I never thought about using the QR Codes' inherent encryption as an educational tool. One suggestion is to use this for differentiated instruction, students with different needs or at different levels can be given different reading assignments or quizes without anyone knowing that their work is not the same because the naked eye can't interpret a QR Code. Another idea, which I brainstormed with Peter Eckstein after the session, is using QR Codes for peirush in a siddur or other text, keeping the content hidden until it is needed prevents the additional content from distracting from the main text.

Here is a link to the slides for a full overview of how to create and use QR Codes:

Second Session

The next session I attended was on "Teaching in the Interactive Classroom" sponsored by MIMIO, a company which makes EdTech hardware, and, in spite of the underlying pitch for their hardware, was actually very enjoyable. I found the presenter, Stevan Vigneaux, to be a very knowledgeable, thoughtful and engaging speaker, probably because he is a professional salesman (perhaps educators should take some tips from the sales world...), and his points well illustrated. One story which was particularly striking and inspiring was about an Army Colonel who was in charge of training new recruits on how to change tank treads. He was purchasing millions of dollars of video production software from the presenter, when asked why he needed the equipment he explained that he understood "that either I teach them the way they learn or they won't learn", the way they learned (having grown up on MTV) was through professional quality music videos, and that is just what he made to teach them how to change tank treads. The key is, although how to change a tank tread hasn't changed, the way to teach it has to or no one will learn the information. That really resonated with me. I also raised the question of why we need specialized EdTech hardware and software instead of leveraging existing real-world tools, such as iPads, Twitter and Facebook. I didn't really get a satisfactory answer, but I look forward to hearing anyone who has one (please comment on this post).

Third Session

The third session I attended was not at all what I expected, but incredible none-the-less. I was expecting a session on "Creating a Digital Culture", ie. how to create a digital culture in the school, the community and beyond...what I got was "Creating Digital Culture" ie. creating culture (art, music, etc.) in the digital space...serves me right for not reading the description, but in the end, this was one of my favorite sessions of the day. The presenter was Roger Wagner, a San Diego local, and creator of an amazing software called HyperStudio. HyperStudio allows you and your students to create amazing rich-media content mashups easily by dragging content into the editor and manipulating it in tons of different ways. The key is that HyperStudio makes it easy to create projects because as the creator puts it, "Project creation should be simple, if they spend the whole time getting content into the project, when are they learning?" It has a host of really cool features and it seems the creator is actively involved in further development (like integration with Arduino boards to add robotics to projects and HTML 5 export to allow cross device use), not to mention that I got a free copy for attending the presentation. All in all, I was really impressed with the presentation and the software. One thought to leave this session with: 1 laptop is equal to 5000 pencils, we had better make sure that what we use technology for in the classroom is more valuable than 5000 pencils. I thought that concept was very cool and put things into perspective.

Fourth Session

Google to the Max: The Power Users Guide with Howie DiBlasi was my next session and although I learned a few new things from this session, it was definitely not a "Power Users Guide". Did you know that the Google logo and simple homepage was originally a function of the fact that Google founders didn't know how to code HTML? Neither did I! But that isn't all I learned in this session...First cool thing was Google Science Fair, which I had no idea about and am excited to push my school to get involved in, second was a list of Google alternatives, not something I am ordinarily fond of [the author typed quickly on his Google Chromebook], but some of them actually offered some features which Google has yet to offer:

  • FactBites.com - Pull search results from encyclopedia data, like Wikipedia and Encarta (it still exists!)
  • Quintura.com - Presents search results in deep-linked wordclouds
  • Clusty.com - Presents search results in hierarchical clusters

Finally, the presenter presented a Google Lab which I didn't know about, Google City Tours, which creates tours of a given area and timeline for tourists. And yes, it does work in Jerusalem...

Bloggers' Cafe and Impromptu Brainstorm/Workshop

After 4 straight sessions, I needed a little break and headed over to the Bloggers' Cafe to recharge (electronically and emotionally) and connect with some of my fellow Jewish Educators (electronically and emotionally). I had an amazing impromptu session where I showed off some of the tech I use in the classroom and brainstormed some cool ideas with colleagues. Some of the resources we shared are below:

  • http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ - A QR Code generator
    • Use bit.ly links to create QR Codes, this generates less 'noisy' codes and allows you to track scans
    • QR Codes have a 30% error correction built in, this means you can remove up to 30% of the code and it still scans, this makes for great custom codes and projects (use an image/vector editor)
    • Use QR Codes as a "poor man's augmented reality" by embedding rich media into worksheets, bulletin boards and by allowing students to create projects to share their creations. More on my QR Code timeline project in a separate post.
  • http://alternativeto.net/ - An amazing database with alternatives to popular software, a great way to find a free open source version of a commercial software or find a version supported by your platform (Mac, PC, etc.)
  • http://issuu.com/ - Online PDF publisher/viewer used to create beautiful online books or magazines, see an example here: http://issuu.com/adamsimon/docs/melachim_aleph
  • http://softwaretopic.informer.com/html-image-map-software-mac/ - a list of some Image Map editors
  • http://www.w3schools.com/TAGS/tag_map.asp - W3Schools tag page, learn to create Image Maps with HTML coding

This was a particularly enjoyable hour in that I had the opportunity to meet fellow Educators (not just Jewish ones) and interact, brainstorm and share.

Fifth and Final Session

The last presentation was probably the most enjoyable, Nancye Blair was engaging, entertaining and passionate. Her presentation on Engaging Education was enlightening and tremendously thought provoking, in spite of the fact that I came in only half-way through and it was geared to Elementary Education. She presented a number of tools, all of which can be found at her website: http://www.engagingeducation.net, many of which I have used, but was shown new ways in which to use them, and many of which I have never used before but am now planning on integrating into my lesson plans for the coming year. This was truly one of the most inspiring and passion driven presentations I have seen, to leave you with one remark from Nancye that struck me, "By creating live audiences for our kids we show them that what they are creating MATTERS!"

Birds of Feather Jewish Educators and Dinner

At the end of the day I had another tremendous opportunity to interact, network and share with my colleagues. First was the Birds of a Feather Workshop for Jewish Educators, facilitated by Phil Liff-Grieff, Associate Director of Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles , which was a phenomenal opportunity to share with and meet others in the field as well as supporters of our work. Some highlights included:

After the Birds of a Feather session, the AVI CHAI group headed over to our catered Kosher dinner where we exchanged ideas and shared our best (and worst) moments from the day. Here are some of my highlights:

  • An educator must have 2 goals: 1. Make students passionate about learning 2. Teach them how to learn...that is all. Every project you do should be accomplishing one or both of those goals.
  • Flip Thinking
    • Can an interactive Tanach or Gemara class ever be flipped? Don't flip what doesn't need to be flipped. Flipping is used to make sure that content which requires collaboration is done in a collaborative space and content which doesn't require collaboration doesn't eat up that valuable time.
  • http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=19793 - Moderate Facebook Pages to allow teachers and schools to use them more safely
  • http://rubistar.4teachers.org/ - A rubric creator for PBL lessons

After the dinner and sharing was done, I got some one-on-one face-time with Dave Weinberg of Causil and FOJNP, which was tremendously enjoyable and enlightening. I hope it leads to future collaborations and conversations.

Today was a great day at the ISTE Conference and I am looking forward to another amazing day-and-a-half!

For more updates on my time at ISTE, you should follow @theadamsimon on Twitter.

This post was cross posted on Adam Simon's Blog and YU 2.0

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