If the best thing you got out of your most recent conference experience was an app or a tool, perhaps you attended the wrong one. Before I get into the good stuff, I need to say this: ISTE is too big for me. 20,000 people at a single conference is too many. The lines were bloated, the sessions were stuffed, and trying to navigate the area was a mess. I feel bad for residents of Philly who attempted to follow their daily routine of visiting Reading Terminal Market during lunchtime, only to see that a mob of badge-yielding edunerds had taken over the place they relied on for a quick meal.
I understand that this generates income for the city and this is a huge uptick in revenue generated. I understand that this sort of event is incredible for tourism and for the people of the city. With all that being said, it was simply too much. For the residents of Philadelphia who felt squeezed out of, and uncomfortable in, your home town, I am sorry.
With that being said, and about 3 hours of a flight until we get to Denver, I need to reflect. What happened over the last four days? What did I learn? What were my big takeaways? This is tough to do for me as time goes on, so it’s best to take advantage of the now. On this flight back to California, I can’t help but feel full.
- We (educators as a whole) doing a terrible job of supporting special education teachers with technology. According to Jennifer Courduff, regular education teachers are one of the biggest obstacles for special education teachers in incorporating technology. This needs to change. We need to actively go out and ask what we can do to support them.
- Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) and I had a really good discussion about hexagonal thinking. During our chat, we talked about using this method of problem solving during professional development with our teaching. More importantly, we want to answer these questions:
- How can technology impact learning?
- What challenges do we have in getting this done?
- What are some possible solutions to these challenges?
- We need to do an edcamp in our area and that has never been more clear than now. The session that Kristen Swanson and Karl Lindgren-Streicher led was centered around troubleshooting edcamps and what we can do to enhance the experiences, increase attendance, and more. Oh, and there’s a doc with a ton of ideas: bit.ly/bof15edcampnotes
- I need to spend some time talking with Amy about the www.Wonderment.com project. This is a program that gives students an opportunity to create their own Service Learning projects and see them through.
- Along those lines, Makeosity was started as a way to get students a chance to create something they are interested in. Currently, a group of girls is designing a scooter that’ll charge your device as you’re riding. What I loved about that was the advocacy for students and the ability to get them there.
- Collaborating with my team of colleagues within Chaffey Joint Union High School District technology coaches. Being given the chance to work with, and learn with, these great folks makes our jobs much more powerful. We were brought in to bring new ideas back to our teachers and I believe we will do that and much more.
My stomach is full, and probably will be for the next two weeks. Nah, that doesn’t even do it justice. I need to eat salads for the next two weeks so I don’t gain the Philly Phreshman Phiphteen. But you can’t blame me; the food around the Convention Center was amazing.
- I was disappointed in my first two Philly cheesesteaks, but the last one brought in by the EdCamp Foundation was phenomenal. Not sure where they got it from... 3rd time’s a charm.
- Beiler’s donuts were ridiculously good. RI-DONUT-U-LOUS. Salted caramel donut with salted creme filling. Caramel apple donut with caramel frosting and apple pie filling. Yeah.
- Jean’s Cafe on Walnut St. had the cheesiest breakfast sandwich I’ve ever put near my face. We found it on Tuesday, and the only regret was that we didn’t find it sooner. Good people, good vibe, great food.
- Max Brenner’s was overpriced, but MAN was it delicious. Who can say no to a S’more Concoction served on a ceramic plate of graph paper? Not me. Caramelized bananas, toasted marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, hazelnut chocolate spread, and graham crackers? I want to fly back just for dessert.
- Rosa’s Fresh Pizza.
Before any of us even got there, Tamara Letter made her way over with a sizable contribution and got the RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) ball rolling. Over the course of the 4 days, we saw so many powerful tweets being posted to #SliceofISTE showcasing how other educators are joining the movement to give back to Philadelphia. I hadn’t made it over until Tuesday, the 3rd day of the conference. When I arrived, I got to meet Mason Wartman, the owner, and talk to him about how powerful his vision really is. While we were there, a man was leaving and made my entire trip worth it. Without breaking his stride in his weathered black slacks, severely tattered black shoes, a white dress shirt that looked like one of 2 in his wardrobe worn with the top 3 buttons undone to display his dirty undershirt and bony sternum, and headphones wrapped around his neck, he gave thanks: “I just wanna thank all of you for helping me out. It’s because of this that I can get back on my feet when things ain’t good.”
The sincerity in his voice, the humility in his mannerism, and the courage it takes to admit hardship. Tears filled my eyes as his honesty touched my heart. I wanted to stop him in his tracks, give him a hug, and thank him for not giving up. In a city overflowing with panhandlers and homelessness, Mason and Rosa’s Fresh Pizza are giving people a glimmer of hope. Looking through the sticky notes that are posted and the letters that are shared, it was hard not to use a few of them to wipe away the inevitable tears of pride in humanity.
This wouldn’t be possible without people like Mason who are willing to take a risk in the name of doing something great. For me, Social Media started out as a “What the hell are you doing getting picked up from the airport by a guy you met on Twitter?” type of conversation between me and my wife and has evolved into a family. I could not be more blessed by the genuine group of friends I get to spend a short period of time with at these conferences. On top of that, I had the rare opportunity to bring my wife along with me to Philly and show her just how amazing a group of educators can be. She got to see firsthand how powerful a cadre of risk-takers is and what really goes on at a tech conference. May this movement of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, and the other great memories along the way, help us rethink the way that we approach our attendance at any sort of educational conference.
Attending these conferences is about making a difference and taking a risk to do so. I want to say thank you to the city of Philadelphia for making this possible for me and my group of inspiring friends that I am constantly honored to be a part of. Thank you for providing us a platform, a time, and the space to sit down and think through some of the challenges that we face in moving education into a more student-centered environment. Thank you to the City of Brotherly Love for making it more than just Love Park where we can find beauty and more than just the Rocky Steps where we can raise our arms in victory.
Happy “Meaningful Conference Experience” Fishing