Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reflections on ISTE2015

This past week, I was fortunate to be able to travel to Philadelphia and attend the annual ISTE conference for the first time. Now that I'm back, a lot of friends are asking me...

How was ISTE??

It was Huge

I am used to attending and presenting at board-wide PD days, provincial subject conferences (like STAO), and even national astronomy conferences (like CASCA). But none of that prepared me for the sheer size of ISTE. Depending who you ask, counts ranged from 14,000 to 20,000 attendees. Though I live in a rural area, I grew up in large cities so I don't often feel small-town. But here, I definitely did.

The convention centre itself was several city blocks and though I didn't have a fitbit, I imagine we were like the many participants who reported walking over 5 miles a day just back and forth through the conference.

ISTE Central in the Grand Hall:
registration, commons, the ISTE store and various booths

It took us two days to see everything in the The Expo Hall, it was so large. It was quite shocking to be wandering through the hall and then stumble upon an entire bus at one company's pavilion. And then a second entire bus further into the hall (upon reflection, the Expo Hall was on the second floor of the convention centre... how did the buses even get up there?!).

Keynote attendees lined up more than an hour in advance, and once inside the lecture hall (which was more like a giant television studio), were treated to a concert-like atmosphere, featuring ISTE's "house band" (which was the Big City All Stars from Winnipeg!). It was unlike any conference I had ever attended, and it was all very overwhelming.
Opening of the first keynote talk, with about 8,000 people in attendance

It was Humbling

With such large numbers of educators, it was a humbling experience to be a small fish in such a big pond. But it was also with whom I was attending the conference that made it a humbling experience overall. I was able to attend sessions by educational gurus such as Nicholas Provenzano (of @TheNerdyTeacher fame), Jeff Bradbury (of @TeacherCast fame), Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis), and Sam Patterson (@SamPatue & @WokkaPatue; unbeknownst to him, he was the first to introduce me to the power of student blogging) among others. 

My husband went to a session by, in his words, "some motivational guy" who turned out to be George Couros (!!). I passed by educators - such as @cybraryman1, @mssackstein, and @kitty_tripp - who populate my Twitter feed on a regular basis. I was more than a little starstruck (and perhaps even slightly fangirling), but it was very empowering to know that we were all at the same conference, all of us exploring and sharing the best use of technology to improve the educational experience for our students.

These are all teachers who make a big impact on my education world, and in a leadership sense, I would like to follow in their footsteps in my own way at some point. It was humbling to just be in the same room as many of them. In the end, I was too shy to go up and introduce myself, despite the encouragement received from my friends back home. Maybe next time.

So, the only "famous" person I had the courage to go say
hi to was Moby, the BrainPOP robot.

It was Comforting

Since starting this whole BYOD adventure, I've often felt like I've been the one reinventing the wheel. I know I'm not the only one trying this in my school or board, but I am one of the first to completely change my classes over to this no-lecture, all student-based style of learning on a large scale. Reaching out on Twitter, I've made many connections with Ontario teachers trying similar things, and those relationships have been invaluable.

So it was comforting to not only be surrounded by other teachers from around the world who are largely also trying new things in their school/board/district, but to also have the chance to meet with some of the educators whose journeys have crossed paths with mine, and from whom I've been able to seek feedback and encouragement over the past two years.

Meeting up with @misspollock and @rolat for the first time face-to-face.

Despite my relative anonymity moving through the conference, I did not come away from the experience feeling alone. I feel more connected, and more convinced that I am indeed moving in the right educational direction for me.

It was Inspiring

Several times throughout the conference, various speakers made reference to the fact that they were addressing very dedicated teachers - teachers that willingly give up part of their summer and spend not insignificant amounts of money to attend conferences like these in order to become better at what they do. I found it inspirational to see and hear how these other teachers were changing the game. There are a lot of people working toward bettering the education system, and it was so inspiring to be among them.

As a different source of inspiration, one particular session stood out. As "flipped gurus" Jon Bergmann (@jonbergmann) and Aaron Sams (@chemicalsams) led the audience through what they found worked when it came to flipping content, they also spoke about what they tried that didn't work. It was very motivational to hear how they dealt with their mistakes and moved on. Even these bigger names in education struggle with some of the same things I struggle with, and sometimes that alone provides me with the encouragement to keep going.

Aaron's & Jon's Flipped Classroom talk

It was Worth Repeating

It goes without saying that there was way more content at this conference than anyone could reasonably take in. There was always something to learn or someone to learn from, and I would jump at the chance to repeat the ISTE experience.

This year, I chose to focus on attending presentation sessions almost the whole time, taking meticulous notes so as to benefit the members of my TLLP team that couldn't attend. That meant, though, that I didn't get to experiment much with new tools and toys in any of the three playgrounds that were constantly on the go, hang out in the bloggers' café to take time to reflect, or visit with many of the poster sessions. While I absorbed a lot, I didn't make many personal connections, which any of these other activities would have led me to. I would definitely change that next time.

We also chose to stay further out from the conference to save on hotel costs, but if I was to attend again, I would prefer to be closer to the action in order to participate in some of the extra community activities, like the ISTE 5k run, or the Canadian ISTE gathering, or even just informal get-togethers with newly-met colleagues.

And even more so, I hope that some day I can go back as a presenter to share what I've struggled with and learned, and perhaps inspire others to try something new.


  1. A beautiful summary of your journey to ISTE. Yes it was inspiring and to be part of an international society with many famous authors, speakers and researchers, it was great meeting you and your husband. I hope to connect again with your students on projects. Grade 11& 12 students could give my students feedback on their science explorations. Enjoy the rest of the summer.

    1. Thank you! Let's definitely connect our students in the new year - I'll have senior physics classes, as well as Earth & Space science and a grade 9 science later in the year. Thanks for being so open to trying new things! :)

  2. So, cool Heather! This is a conference I would love to go to, but I find the sheer size of it intimidating. It definitely sounds like a conference that everyone needs to attend and more than once. Thanks for sharing your initial thoughts. I look forward to reading more about this conference.

    1. Hi Elisa! It's amazing how stuck we get in our own little worlds (even though it doesn't feel like it at the time) - this was such a great opportunity to get out and experience more diversity and difference in perspective. Follow #ISTE2015 to see others' posts and get their perspectives too! Fingers crossed I get the chance to go again at some point :)

  3. Wow Heather, it sounded like quite an adventure! Thanks for sharing your thoughts while you were there & after with us. It sounds like ISTE is what I had thought & more. It is on my list - maybe next year! P.S. Love the ribbons!

    1. Definitely go if you get the chance to do so. The ribbons were such a fun touch - different ones could be found all over the conference. Some participants had ribbons off their nametag right down to the floor :)

  4. Thank you so much for writing this post. I really wanted to go and this post made me feel like I was there in spirit! Was there anything you didn't like about it? Is it THE CONFERENCE to go to for educators?

    1. I'm glad I got the chance to go (it was hit and miss for a while), and I'm glad I can share. There was nothing I DIDN'T like about it - some of the sessions were not quite what I thought they would be, but that's my own fault for not following the law of two feet! I did notice that many sessions were aimed at beginners - I would have liked to see more advanced sessions. But on the whole, there was such a variety of topics being presented/discussed/explored that I can't complain :)

  5. I have never been to the conference, but I heard about it last year through Twitter. There are some educators in my district that went last year and this year. I didn't realize how big it was. It sounds huge! Good to hear that you learned so much. Are there any other websites or blogs that you would recommend to read about other people's experiences and what they learned?

    1. Hi Victoria! It was amazing (looking back, it's hard to believe I was there a month ago, soaking it all in!), and I would definitely recommend going if you ever get the chance. Check out Rola's blog entry on her experiences there, if you haven't already. Otherwise, perhaps the best thing I can recommend is to actually join ISTE as a member. From there, you can join various ISTE networks that put you in contact with other educators around the world. Lots of people are posting (and sharing) what they saw/learned/did not only at the conference, but also throughout the year. Humbling, again, because the networks are vast, but a good source of other peoples' experiences :)


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