Monday, September 16, 2019

Why Single-Point Rubrics Are Awesome And 4 Ways To Use Them

Feedback is one of the best ways to support student learning. According to John Hattie, Feedback has an effect size of .64 and is often considered as one of the top 5 influential factors on student learning, BUT… it is also the most variable. Most of the time the feedback students receive consists of answers to the questions: Where am I going? How am I going? But neglect the third essential answer to the question, Where to next? Rubrics can support this need and provide the type of feedback, by self, peer, or teacher, to move all students forward, but not all rubrics are created equal.

Rubrics are a traditional part of most classrooms. Web20Classroom literacy expert, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I are big fans of a type of rubric you might not have heard of before, the single-point rubric. We believe the single-point rubric should be a part of every classroom and because of its flexibility, there are multiple ways educators can use them in the classroom or with colleagues.

Rubrics have been a part of the assessment toolbox since at least the mid-1990s.  In fact, we would guess that many teachers reading this post have created quite a few over the years. Traditionally they have fallen into 2 categories, Holistic and Analytic

Holistic – Criterion is written as a paragraph. Assessed overall achievement on an activity or product

Holistic Rubric Example



Analytic – Written with levels of achievement as columns and assessment criteria as rows. It allows you to assess participants' achievements based on multiple criteria using a single rubric.

Analytic  Rubric Example


But there is a more impactful and flexible rubric everyone should be aware of, the single-point rubric.

The single-point rubric was first created by Mary Dietz in 2000 and has been gaining popularity in recent years. Different than the Holistic and Analytic Rubric, Single-Point Rubrics identify one achievement level for a set of criteria. This single column based on proficiency for each identified area allows students and teachers the opportunity to provide targeted feedback instead of a circled number or grade. The clarity in success criteria (.88 effect size) not only supports self-efficacy within students but contributes to teacher clarity as well.

Single Point Rubric – Display a set of criteria written with a single level of achievement for each demonstrating quality work. No alternative levels included. Open space for feedback, goal-setting, or evidence.

On top of that, the Single-Point Rubric can be used for a variety of purposes across multiple grades and disciplines. The core content areas like math and language arts can certainly benefit from the use of the single-point rubric. But other content areas like physical education, art, music, and others can use and benefit from the single point rubric as well.

Single-Point  Rubric Example



Benefits for students
  • Increased Analyzation skills to identify areas of strength and growth [Part of the process (self-assessment)]
  • Increased Achievement
  • Increased Motivation 
  • Personalized Learning
  • Feedback before grades 
  • Student truly own their learning

Here are 4 Ways to Use Single-Point Rubrics
  1. Self-Assessment–Part of what makes single-point rubrics so effective is the focus on metacognition. Whether students are proficient in a set of criteria or go above and beyond the proficiency marker, they have to explain their thinking and provide evidence that demonstrates understanding. These reflective activities are at the heart of how students grow and both outputs have high effect sizes, Self-Reported Grades 1.33 and Self-Efficacy .71). 
  2. Peer Feedback–As a student matures in age, peers play a more important role in academics, motivation, and self-esteem. Typically, peer feedback consists of single words such as “good” or “nice” which do little to increase understanding for either. Using a single-point rubric provides a perfect scaffold for giving meaningful feedback. Research shows that when students discuss their work with each other there can be opportunities for improvement and also this dialogic learning has been shown to help background deficiencies. When done effectively, peer feedback is powerful. 
  3. Teacher Feedback on Processes, Performance, and Product–Similar to peer feedback the conferring that takes place between the teacher and student can be opportunities for growth. Single point rubrics place the focus on success criteria and evidence that demonstrates meeting and exceeding the marker. When used during the process, single-point rubrics act more as a type of formative assessment and opportunities for direct instruction based on student needs typically arise.
  4. PLC Analyzing Student Work Samples–Collective Teacher Efficacy and Teacher Clarity have the highest effect sizes when referring to Hattie’s research, but it makes sense. When teachers are crystal clear on what the learning target and success criteria are coupled with the belief that they, together as a team, can reach all students, achievement skyrockets. If you want to truly know your impact as a teacher and consistently refine your practice, all the proof you need is found in student work. Yes, there will always be outliers, but looking at student work that is consistently produced in your classroom is an effective way PLCs can work together. Student work samples provide information that allows individual educators and teams a tremendous amount of information, from instructional practices to directions given. When done as a PLC, examining student work allows educators to learn from each other, increases common expectations, and moves all teachers closer in range when assessing subjective disciplines. 

SIngle-Point Rubrics are quickly gaining popularity in today’s educational landscape. And while they can function as a traditional assessment tool, their versatility allows educators and students the ability to reimagine its use and adapt to multiple uses in the school.

Here is an example of the above Infographic Single-Point Rubric (online course released soon) in a Microsoft Forms with Branching



To Learn More

6 Reasons To Try The Single Point Rubric-Edutopia
Write Outside the Boxes: The Single Point Rubric in the Secondary ELA Classroom
Developing Single Point Rubrics For Formative Assessment


Monday, August 26, 2019

Heading Back To School With @SpheroEDU!

This summer my oldest daughter, Reaghan, discovered a love for coding. After spending a week at a coding camp she has gobbled up every book, YouTube video and resource you can imagine teaching herself not only the fundamentals of coding but experimenting with what she can do. Her ability to try something, have it fail and then figure it out again is inspiring.

So when the folks at Sphero approached me about taking a look at what they are doing for Back To School 2019 I jumped at the chance because it gave me an opportunity to get Reaghan to experiment with code beyond the screen.

If you aren't familiar with Sphero (https://www.sphero.com/) you should be. Sphero is the leading robot used in classrooms and has raised the standard for inspiring a new generation through hands-on, applied learning. They create some of the best robots and offer thousands of activities and resources to help kids, teachers and parents go #BeyondCode. These Robots come in all configurations, sizes, abilities and prices to fit any budget.

Often coding is stuck in a makerspace or STEM class. It might make its way out for Week of Code but often these limited opportunities are student's only exposure to code during the school year. Sphero changes all that. Educators have access to a community of activities for every grade level and curriculum level where Sphero can introduce or reinforce concepts. (Yep. Even English class. https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/45834/how-robots-in-english-class-can-spark-empathy-and-improve-writing)

Every Sphero product is a blank canvas for kids to build and create. They are innovative and functional, yet simple and intuitive in design. Sphero’s tools get you coding in minutes, so you can skip the tedious set-up and get right to unlocking your creative potential!

Reaghan and I had a chance to try out a Sphero BOLT. And it's pretty incredible. The BOLT’s programmable 8x8 light matrix opens up an endless array of coding and gaming capabilities. Using advanced sensors we could track speed, acceleration, and direction, or even drive the BOLT without having to aim thanks to the compass. BOLT also features infrared communication, allowing it to “talk” with other BOLTs. It's perfect for all surfaces and is even water and mud proof. And you can paint with it!

So for Back to School Sphero has 2 great offers.

Purchase a Sphero BOLT 15 Pack and get 50% off the Sphero Fundamentals Course (https://www.sphero.com/bolt-15-pack-sphero-fundamentals)

15 Pack: The Sphero BOLT 15 pack contains everything you need to get started teaching robotics and the fundamentals of programming. This special pack of 15 BOLT robots is available exclusively to educators at a discount.

Sphero Fundamentals: This asynchronous Professional Learning course walks you through getting started with the Sphero Edu Program, the Sphero Edu app, and how to apply it all in your classroom. Created by the pros from the professional learning team, this course will take you into a deep dive into Draw, Block Based programming, and Javascript text programming. It wrap's up with suggested classroom applications for all grade levels, experience and content areas. In addition, you’ll get exclusive access to Sphero content that no one else has!

Or Upgrade to a BOLT Power Pack and get 15% off the Sphero Code Mat and Activity Cards (https://www.sphero.com/sphero-bolt-power-pack)

Power Pack: The BOLT Power Pack is the top of the line kit for educators using the Sphero Edu program in a classroom, robotics club, or in any maker environment you can dream up. Plus it’s loaded with Turbo Covers, Maze Tape, and Protractors, so the activities can get started anytime, anywhere. Tote it all like a boss in a sleek airline compliant carrying case on rollers with a retractable handle.

Code Mat: The Sphero Code Mat seamlessly pairs learning with play. This two-sided mat offers a simple, accessible way to learn block-based coding, basic math principles, and collaborative problem-solving with Sphero robots. The mat comes with 3 sets of Activity Cards, providing over 40 hours of coding and skill building. It's the perfect pairing for hands-on coding concepts.

Sphero is truly inspiring the creators of tomorrow. Reaghan and I will definitely be exploring more of what our Sphero can do. Head over to Sphero's website to learn more and take advantage of these offers!

This post is part of a sponsored compensation package provided to me by Sphero. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tweet, Snap and Gram Your Way To Better School Communications

My oldest daughter, Reaghan, is getting ready to be a 5th grader while my youngest, Chesney, will be a 1st grader this year. Heading back to school with them is one of the busiest times of year. There are lots of meetings, papers to read and fill out, and new things to learn about her school. As a parent, I rely heavily upon the communication efforts of the district and their school. Classes haven’t even started yet and they're getting many phone calls, letters from the school and the district and lots of other information.

We still have 2 weeks to go!

This is a great time of year for any school or district to look at how they are communicating; evaluate methods used, analyze effectiveness and longevity of communications, and assess audience reached. The ultimate purpose of these communications is to not only share information but to promote engagement within the school, the district, and the community.

Traditionally, schools and districts have used things like the notes home, weekly packets, phone calls and/or emails to communicate throughout the year. While many of these still are valuable and have their place there are new and not-so-new social media mediums that could be used to deepen the engagement with the community or do something entirely different. These mediums can be a quick and easy way to not only share timely information but moreover tell the wonderful stories that exist in your buildings.

Here are some ideas to build community, improve School:Home Communications and have a little fun with social media.

Twitter: You might not think that 280 characters provides adequate space to convey one’s message but Twitter can be a powerful medium to engage with parents and the community. In 280 characters one can share a powerful idea, reminders of upcoming events, and notes of encouragement. Twitter is continuing to grow as a popular place for parents and community members. Hashtags can also be powerful to increase a district’s or school’s reach. Today, many schools and districts are creating and using hashtags on Twitter as a means to unify conversations. Those hashtags can be used by parents, students and the community to share as well.

Ideas for Twitter:

  • Share a daily quote or message of encouragement. 
  • Post links to resources or sites for parent engagement or curriculum resources. 
  • Promote the use of the school or district hashtag to encourage parents, students and the community to share stories, pictures and video from their point of view. 
  • Share links to any of the other ideas below. 

Instagram: Pictures can better help us tell a story or capture what’s happening in your building. Parents and the community like to see their students in the classroom or athletes on the field. Instagram has made it easy for anyone to become a professional photographer and the sharing of those images simple. Using Instagrm in schools or to tell the district’s story can be another way to get parents and the community involved providing a window into the school and showcasing the learning and accomplishments that take place.

Ideas for Instagram:

  • Share a student of the day or images of what’s happening in the classroom. 
  • Images from athletic events, clubs, or concerts highlight the student involvement in the district.
  • Images or video to help parents better understand curriculum, standards, or where to go for help. 
  • Give students a voice and let them take over the account once a week or month and let them decide on the story they want to tell through images. 

Snapchat/Instagram Stories: You might not think that Snapchat or Instagram Stories have a place in the classroom or school but they can be very exciting and an easy way to broaden your audience. The premise for both is the same. You add images and short videos to your story. They stay a part of your story for 24 hours and after that they are gone.

Ideas For Using Stories:

  • A Day In The Life of A Student or Staff Member
  • A Day In The Class. What are different classes in your building like on a typical day?
  • Share images and video from a specific event like a Career Fair or assembly. 
  • Create a story around the big game, concert or arts event. 

Periscope/Facebook Live/IGTV: Video can be a great way to engage the community when the community can’t get to the school. In the past, broadcasting videos and events from within the school was a difficult process that used expensive equipment and needed a high level of expertise. No longer! The phone you carry or the tablet you’re using to read this post can all be used to help you broadcast video in real-time.

Periscope, Facebook Live and IGTV are three easy ways to do this, no special equipment needed. With Periscope, videos are archived  and can be  shared via a link, posted to your Twitter account or published to platforms like YouTube. Facebook Live requires the use of a Facebook account but the video is instantly archived and shared in your News Feed. IGTV is an app you download and the videos go straight to your Instagram feed. All services include ways for commenting and sharing as the video as it’s being broadcast live.

Ideas For Using Live Video:

  • Broadcast Back-To-School Meetings or other meetings throughout the school year for parents and community members who can’t attend. 
  • Weekly message from the Supt. or other leadership team members about what’s happening in the district. 
  • Broadcast sporting events or have students provide commentary from events. 
  • Doing a science fair, geography fair or other student celebration of work? Broadcast it and have students provide the commentary. 

Finally Use Your Website: I know this post is supposed to be about innovative ways to improve School:Home Communications but let’s be real. The school website is still a vital and valuable tool to communicate to your parents and the community. Many still visit your school website to find information, contact numbers, and resources for helping their student at home.

Increase the duration of a viewer’s stay by blending educational news with posts that share a story. Posting pictures, video and news stories that capture what it’s like to be a student or a staff member in your school or district can be a great way to let the community to know what’s happening there. Your website becomes less about the static information that’s posted there and more about the stories. And remember, many of the tools we’ve listed here can be embedded on your site. So you can put your Twitter feed or Instagram feed right there where everyone can see.

Ideas For Your Website:

  • Post the morning announcements via a video or if you’re using YouTube Live you can embed the video archive. 
  • Recognize a Student/Staff/Volunteer Of The Week. Give them a short questionnaire that you can post the responses to. 
  • Have a contest where you post baby pictures of students/staff have in the comments have folks guess who they are building school culture and community.
  • For high schools, run stories in the Fall of where staff members went to college to get Juniors and Seniors thinking about where to apply

The key takeaway with any of these is that communications are ever changing. There is this dynamic ebb and flow of communication with stakeholders that needs to always be considered. What works for one may not work for another. Therefore it is vital to keep evaluating the methods and tools used and measure their effectiveness. Analyzing metrics and surveying parents and the community can give you valuable insight into how effective you are engaging and perhaps also, provide a new path to take when it comes to improving your School:Home Communications.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Discovering The Learning (And Magic) Of #DisneyYouthPrograms

Ever since I was a little kid I have enjoyed anything Disney. Even with my own daughters I have enjoyed seeing their faces light up when they walk down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom and they see Cinderella's Castle, even though they've seen it several times. We've visited all the parks and done a cruise. So when the team at Disney Youth Programs reached out to me to come down and check out all they have to offer I jumped at the opportunity.

For 3 days in late July I was able to discover the awesomeness that is Disney Youth Programs, something I didn't even know existed! Along with a handful of other educators we got a behind-the-scenes tour of a few of the Disney YES programs and learned how they tie what students are learning in the classroom to the rides and experiences at Disney Parks.

Take for example Space Mountain. One of the most popular attractions at The Magic Kingdom, many don't think about the physics and math involved in making a roller coaster work indoors. Before the park opened for the day we had the incredible opportunity to ride it both with the lights on and then again with the lights off. During the program students are first challenged to hypothesize how high the ride is, the average speed, height of the tallest drop and more. They then take a ride with the lights on to make a second guess. Then once more with the lights off to see if the darkness manipulates their perception. Students also get the chance to experiment with different tracks to determine how much energy is needed to power a coaster to accomplish different maneuvers like loops, dips and more. Students discuss the physics and work as teams to problem solve.
Learning How Disney YES
Programs Support STEAM.

In another program we were able to experience we examined how light and sound are used to trick the brain into seeing what really isn't there. Using Haunted Mansion as a backdrop we rode the ride and discussed what we saw and how Disney uses different effects to create illusions like the floating head, or ghostly dance party. Then in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we went under the ride as it was running (with regular park guests mind you) to see how the dance party scene is created. Students discuss a light manipulation called Pepper's Ghost that has been around for over 125 years.

Prepping for our big performance!
We also learned what it was like to be a Disney performer by heading over to the Saratoga Springs Concert Hall to work with one of the most incredible performers I've ever encountered. Steve took us through a scene in Mary Poppins where we learned a song, some choreography and acted. After just an hour I had a deeper respect for the talent it takes to do one of those, let alone 3 in an entire performance. We also heard from the Disney Arts program on how they give student bands and choral groups from across the globe an opportunity to showcase their talents on a Disney stage.

Disney Youth Programs couple the magic of Disney with STEAM, the arts, animation, photography and more at Disney World and Disneyland. The programs are designed for groups of 10 or more and students spend the early part the morning (usually before the parks even open) participating for 3 hours and then have the rest of the day to be a kid in a Disney park. Many groups do 2 or more programs in a visit so they can experience all there is to offer. Programs can be combined and come in all age ranges from Upper Elementary through College. (Though the average group is a Middle School or High School Group.)

Prices vary but do include tickets to the park and the Disney folks can work with groups on special pricing and funding sources. (I know, it can be expensive but they do have lots of suggestions on grants and out of the box thinking on funding sources.)

The programs are aligned to national standards and the team works with groups on specific goals and how to extend the learning in the parks beyond the program. They have loads of resources before, during and after the visit so it is certainly comprehensive.

I was so impressed at the quality of the content and how they used the park, rides and more to connect students to the content they were learning in the classroom. The program is run by educators and all the program leaders are experts in their curriculum area. That makes all the difference.

So if you are looking for an incredible and memorable experience for your students that also gets them connecting to the content they are learning, the performance they are doing and more, check out Disney Youth Programs!

This post is part of a Sponsored opportunity I received from Disney. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Managing And Protecting Digital Identities

It started with some tweets.

"You are a vile human being!"

"I can't believe you are allowed to say the things you do."

"I want you dead."

I was hurt, confused and shocked. What had I said or done to make people say these things to me? And they came in a flood. Over and over for several days, several years ago.

Then I started doing some searching of my name. To my surprise there was a person who had the same name as me who holds many hateful and racist beliefs. These tweets were the result of some press coverage he was getting being denied entry to several countries. Many people were coming to Twitter, searching for his name and my feed was coming up because of the same name, of follower count and engagement levels. Even though I had a clearly written bio and links to my websites it didn't matter.

(I am not linking to this person because he is terrible and doesn't deserve the traffic and I am not including the tweets because the people that sent them made a mistake. Many apologized to me privately and deleted the original tweets. Since then Twitter reached out to me to have me Verified so my profile is more prominent in search so this doesn't happen again. This is why I use my middle initial in everything I do. If you search my name with my middle initial the first few pages of search results are of me. And its why I use my personal brand in everything I do as well.)

Our digital identities are fast becoming, if they haven't already, how we are identified in this 24/7, internet-connected world. For many people that we encounter, both online and off, our digital identity is how we are seen and known. Much of it is within our control but some of it is beyond. Therefore, we have to do all that is possible to take control of our digital identity and manage it constantly.

The same is true for the students we teach. For the vast majority of them their digital identities began with the first photo of them shared at their birth and has and will continue for several years to come. As parents we are in control of not only our digital identities but those of our kids as well. As educators we have an obligation to talk and teach our students how to put their best foot forward in this evolving digital world.

4 Ways To Manage Your Digital Identity

What Can You Find About Yourself Right Now? Have you ever Googled yourself? What do you think you will find? You've read my story and I've heard from countless people similar stories. You never know what is out there, either generated by you or by others. Blog posts, social media posts, images from conferences, articles, videos, you might be surprised at what you will find.

So Google yourself. But don't just stop at the first page of results. Look at the images, videos and news. Also use different variations of your name. Different spellings, middle initials, even narrowing results by location. This can give you a good sense of what is out there already. And if there is nothing you have a clean slate to start from.

And you have to do this often. But why not put the power of search to your advantage. I love Google Alerts for this. I can set up tons of different searches for my name, brand, books, anything really and the results are delivered to my inbox each day.

Take Control Of Yourself! Now that you have googled yourself and seen just what is out there it's time to take control. Some simple things you can do:

  • Write a bio-If you don't have one, write one! You never know when you'll need it. And write several different variations. 50/75/100 words are perfect for conference session proposals and social media. Over 100 for anything else you want to use it for. Then you want to use that same bio anywhere there is a place for it. 
  • Get a headshot-Don't waste your money on professional headshots (unless you have a photog friend). Your mobile device will take images at high enough resolutions you can get great images. You just need a friend to take the photos for you. And you don't have to make them cheesy. Yes we know you like to climb trees but we just care what you look like. In fact my current headshot I use everywhere is one taken by a dear friend that wasn't even set up as headshot. It just worked out that way. 
  • Get a landing page- Set up a personal website or single landing page. About.me is great for this. It's a simple webpage that you can customize with your bio, image and links to anything you want anyone to know about you. 

Now you can use all these across the apps and sites you use like Twitter, your blog, your website, resume, anywhere you want people to find out who you are. And the more you use them, the more they will show up in search. The key is consistency.

Privacy, Privacy, Privacy! Now that you are using these apps and sites you will want to spend time with the privacy settings of each. It's important to know how much of the information you share can be seen and what that service does with your information. Take Twitter for example. You can choose to show or not show your birthday, location or be found by your mobile number. Many of these services also allow third party apps to access your information (Facebook is a great example of this.) You will want to check what apps have access to your profiles and how much. (Maybe its time to revoke access of Farmville from your Facebook page.)

Privacy policies are full of legal jargon but you should know what is happening to your (and students) data, your images and your information before you use anything. (Perhaps we could all learn from a recent app that, if you used it, now has the rights to use your image any time, anywhere, forever, just by loading an image into it.) Review these policies and talk to kids about them too. They need to know how their data, images and information are used both in the classroom and outside.

Share, Share, Share! A great way for you to get going is to not only set up bios and headshots and landing pages but also contribute to the wider body of knowledge. Start a blog and share what you are doing in your classroom, what you are learning and reading or ideas you have. Participating in Twitter chats or anything you post on social media with hashtags can also be a great way to build your digital identity. Did you present at a conference? Post the presentation and/or notes to your website and blog about it! Any thing you create you want to share with the world post it.

The same goes for our students. They need to have the same opportunities as adults to build their digital identities. Those classroom blog posts and comments, make them public. Those digital portfolios, make them public too. Creating a website takes just a few minutes and has become as easy as sending email. Some districts are even purchasing domain names for their students and transferring ownership after they graduate. Several more are giving them their drives and directories as well. All this can be a part of a comprehensive digital citizenship program that teaches students how live the best digital life possible.

Whether we like it or not, the internet is forever. What we post and what we comment on lives on long after we are gone. So while we are here and in control lets do all we can to manage and protect our digital identities. And help our students do the same!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Taking The Stigma Out Of Learning With Immersive Reader

I love to read. If I am not working or spending time with my daughters I am reading. But when I was in elementary school reading was what I dreaded the most. In my classes we had the "blue birds" and "red birds" reading groups. I was a blue bird. A weak reader. Stuck in a group with the other weak readers. Thinking back on that time as an adult it was a deflating time as a kid. I know the teacher did it so she could work with us in a small group but the rest of the class knew we were the weak readers.

Whether students need help in reading or other aspects of learning the subtle differences some teachers do to provide more accessible learning, while unintentional, can have devastating effects on students. Different color handouts for various reading levels or pulling students out to get extra attention all can stigmatize, cause anxiety and push students away.

Inclusion means that learning together is a better way that benefits everyone. Inclusive learning is about embracing all. It's making a promise to each student to do all we can to help them belong to the community of learners.


This is where #Edtech can help.

Keep in mind, our focus is to create environments where every student can succeed. It's not on a singular app or website or tool. It's how these tools support learning and strong pedagogy.

Immersive Reader from Microsoft is one of the strongest pedagogically focused edtech resources out there. It is a powerful tool that can help all students become stronger readers and writers while letting them do it when and how they need it. Students can turn it on when they need it and use any of the features they want any time.

What makes it great?

• Breaking down sentences in to individual word parts like syllables and parts of speech.
• Line focus
• Changing fonts and colors for students who are dyslectic or have vision impairment
• Read aloud
• Translation in to multiple different languages, with read aloud
• Picture dictionary

This is just a sample. There is so much more that it can do! Immersive Reader WORKS ON ANY DEVICE and can be found in a multitude of products both from Microsoft and others. And its FREE!


Immersive Reader is just one tool that you can use to create more inclusive spaces. Microsoft Translator and Office Lens (both, you guessed it, free!) are others. Check out the learning paths in the Microsoft Educator Community for any time professional development (yep, free) to learn how all these Learning Tools can support you and your students!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

3 Things To Remember For Every Conference

Written with my friend Shaelynn Farnsworth we break down the simple things any learner can do to make the most of their conference experience. 

The end of June means, for many education technology enthusiasts, one thing - the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology In Education) Conference is just around the corner. ISTE is one of our favorite conferences because we get to reconnect, face-to-face with those "edufriends" we haven't seen in the past year, connect with new friends, learn with some incredible minds in the field, and we get a sense of what schools and districts are thinking about as they look to the future of learning.

If you are a social media user or a blog reader you may have seen several posts related to getting more out of ISTE. Many veteran attendees have extensive lists of ways to maximize the impact and learning of all who attend. And prior to many conferences, people share advice on how to follow the conference hashtag or whose feed to bookmark to make sure you won’t miss a thing. Still, others connect with educators not able to attend (#NotAtISTE) or explain where you can find resources after the conference. Much of the advice you hear is great and definitely worth considering, so of course, we wanted to add our own into the mix.

When Shaelynn and I attend conferences, either as presenters or as participants, we challenge ourselves and our audiences each day to dig deeper, move beyond the surface-level flash, and get the most out of the conference experience. Many will save all year long to attend or travel a great distance, so how can we make the most of conference experience while still remembering our purpose and the need to share what we learn?

We believe there are 3 Important Points to remember, not only for ISTE but for any conference or learning event you attend.

Be a Boundary Pusher
It is easy to attend conferences like ISTE and only go to the sessions led by a perceived “Edtech Guru” or ones where we already know a lot about a specific topic. While there isn't anything wrong with that, ask yourself are you doing the most with your conference experience? There are so many hidden gems by presenters who may not have a huge Twitter following or award-winning blog that offer incredible insight and ideas. 

Push yourself. You are in charge of YOU. 

Steven is still a skeptic of flipped classrooms and AR/VR. So he makes a point to attend at least one session where either of these is discussed to widen his perspective. Try to find sessions that you might just be walking away from thanking yourself for attending. Make a point to attend at least one session where you disagree with or are a skeptical about the topic. Go in with an open mind and make the most of your experience.


Reflect. Learning in the Pause
Sometimes the best learning or most lasting impact happens after the session is done, or in the hallway, a corner tucked away from the group, or through my favorite, Learning in the Pause. The thing that holds true for all of these examples is that they are the ones that you remember and talk about long after the event is over, those moments are ones that cause us to stop and reflect.  Reflection, as we have pointed out previously, is an instrumental part of the learning process. Because you are going to challenge yourself and your thinking, it will be important for you to reflect on your learning. The process of reflection doesn’t have to be formal. It’s an opportunity to think about your learning, your thinking, and where you want to go next with both.

Review your notes at the end of each day and write down your thoughts. We love OneNote for this. We can compile everything there (notes, drawings, pictures, and handouts) and have it on all our devices. Many conferences are also creating shared Google Docs so that anyone can add in their thoughts and reflections collectively. Check out the conference hashtags as well to see what presenters and participants have posted. It’s also a good idea at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and walking back to your hotel to just take some time and think:

  • What did you see that challenged you? 
  • What do you still have questions about? 
  • How can you take what you learned and apply it to your students?


Don't Be A Hoarder, Share Your Learning
Think about if you shared what you learned with 5 people and those 5 people shared with 5 others and so on. The learning becomes so much more valuable. Find ways to share both at the conference (social media is great for that) and when you get back to your school/district. Did you attend as a member of a team? Have your team take 5 mins and share all the resources with those that couldn't attend during a staff meeting. Flying solo? Post your notes to Twitter or on your blog. However you decide to share, just be sure to share!

Conferences are a cornucopia of people, ideas, and inspiration at your fingertips. Rarely, is one surrounded by tens of thousands of professionals learning and sharing around a common goal other than at large conferences. And what an awesome mission and common goal our profession shares, improving teaching and learning for our students!


Enjoy your learning this summer and if you happen to be at ISTE19 be sure to stop by and say hello!