Gods, Gadgets and Greatness – Lessons from ISTE 2018


Standing in the Chicago Art Institute, just down the road from the famous ‘Bean’, I was suddenly overwhelmed by what I had seen. I had looked at more Renoirs, Picassos, Warhols and Monets than I had ever seen in my life. I found myself transfixed by an ancient stone carving of the Hindu god Ganesh. From the time I first began teaching I had always had a strange connection with Ganesh. During my early travels as a young teacher, I learned that Ganesh, the elephant god, was the Hindu god of knowledge and as such was revered by many teachers.

I had just spent the best part of a week at the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference. This conference is one of the largest in the world attracting well over 20,000 attendees every year. It is the place to go, to see what teachers are doing the world over with technology in their classrooms. It is also a great place to see what technology is coming next. My head was buzzing from all of the new learning I had been exposed to and the beautiful art that I had just seen. However, it was Ganesh who helped me interpret all that I had experienced.

Staring at this ancient, stone statue, reminded me that education, and learning, is not new. While there may be new ways of doing things and new tools to teach with, it is the quality of the learning that will stand the test of time. As teachers, especially those who are constantly on the hunt to learn and improve our craft, we must keep in mind that, ‘The true measure of all that we do is the quality of the impact on our students!’

ISTE is overwhelming. The sheer scale of this conference can be daunting. This year, the conference was held in Chicago. Teachers from 87 different countries attended the conference that ended up hosting a whopping 24,335 attendees. There were 2,800 presentations to choose from including 856 student presentations. If you want to get a taste of what is happening with technology in classrooms around the world, this is the conference you need to visit.

The size of the conference can be difficult to manage. Having been to ISTE previously, I knew that I had to prepare for the event. While the conference comes with a custom-made app, I had also worked out a personalised itinerary that I kept stored in the cloud, I had back up batteries for my phone and more charging cables than you could poke an iPhone at. The conference is well stocked with charging points because, as you would expect with a quality conference, the workshops are often very interactive and you needed your devices going to get the full benefit of being there. The social media aspect of the ISTE conference is a behemoth in itself. During the conference, the hashtag #ISTE18 was used more than 150,000 times on twitter and there were just over 60,000 instagram story views.

ISTE Superstars – Who to Watch and Who to Learn From?

There are incredible educators at ISTE and it would be impossible to list everyone who inspired me there, but I would like to share seven amazing educators who you should be following. They are doing brilliant things and they are great to learn from.

Cathy Hunt

Australia’s own Cathy Hunt is one of the rising stars on the international speaking circuit. The demand to work with Cathy isn’t a result of the friendliness and empathy she exudes, although they are some of her strengths. The real demand for her stems from the way she has seamlessly integrated art and technology. Follow her online at @art_cathyhunt and be inspired by the work she does with her students at St Hilda’s on the Gold Coast.

Monica Burns

Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips) is one of the hardest working educators I know and she is completely committed to sharing her work and ideas with teachers everywhere. Her blog classtechtips.com is an absolute must-read. She updates its contents incredibly regularly (I genuinely don’t know how she finds the time) and has created a complete treasure trove of resources, tips and ideas for teachers.

Tara Martin

Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) is incredibly passionate and wears her heart on her sleeve. She is behind the #BookSnap movement. A simple idea that is incredibly powerful and now used by English teachers the world over. In a nutshell, a booksnap is inspired by the ‘snapchat’ phenomenon that teenagers love. Students, or teachers, take a photograph of a page from a text. The student highlights the quote, fact or word that they connect with. They use images, emojis and symbols to illustrate how they connect with that quote. This engages both hemispheres of the brain; meaning students are building deeper ‘long term’ connections with the work the teacher is setting. Tara is also the author of a brand new book called Be Real: Educate from the Heart. I read this book on the flight home to Australia. It was hard to put down. Be Real is the latest release from Dave Burgess Publishing.

Carl Hooker

Carl (@mrhooker) is one of the most innovative leaders in education. He is a successful author of the Mobile Learning Mindset series, the Director of innovation at Eanes ISD (which encompasses 9 schools), he is the creator behind iPadpalooza and LEARNfest and is a proud Texan! Carl embodies the vision of leadership that builds people up. If you want to know who is pushing boundaries and doing great things in education you just need to look at the team that Carl has built around him. If you are searching for a model of leadership in a digital world, you cannot go past Carl Hooker. On a side note, Carl has also breathed life into the Ed-Tech Poetry Slam idea. I have now been involved in two of these events and they were both extremely memorable occasions. I hope the concept grows roots in Australia.

Rabbi Michael Cohen

Known as ‘The Tech Rabbi’ – @TheTechRabbi , Michael Cohen was one of the stars at ISTE this year. He presented one of the most powerful keynotes of the conference. Rabbi Cohen spoke about creativity and the need to ensure its authenticity and purpose in education. Choosing to do a keynote on creativity is a big call as many notable experts have covered this topic publicly before; Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on creativity is still the most watched TED talk in history. Rabbi Cohen cleverly came at it from a different angle. He challenged the audience to embrace the fact that innovation in education is not limited to technology and that if we see school as the only place to learn we are missing out. One of his best lines of the talk was, “A classroom is found everywhere, if you look at it right.”

Andrea Tolley

Andrea Tolley (@tolleya) is possibly the least known educator on this list but that doesn’t take away from the quality of her work. A tireless educator, Andrea’s commitment to helping others means that she is a great teacher to connect with if you want to globally collaborate on a project. Her skillset is quite varied but she is particularly good at using OneNote and is a must follow if you are a Microsoft educator!

Amanda Fox

Known online as @STEAMPunksEDU, Amanda Fox is an up and coming superstar. She is definitely, ‘one to watch’. Well versed in all things STEAM, Amanda has used her entrepreneurial skills to establish a physical SteamPunks location where students can come and learn STEAM related content outside of school hours. She is the leading female voice on integrating Virtual Reality into the classroom and is constantly pushing technology to its limits. An inspiration with the use of Co-spaces, she is also a pivotal part of the VR Podcast series.

During my trip to ISTE, I created a short Vlog series. You can find the videos on my new YouTube Channel – Mr Salakas. On the channel you can find an in-depth video linking my learning to the Art found at the Chicago Art Institute as well as my ‘Top 5 Tech Take-aways’ from ISTE!

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Brett Salakas
Primary Teacher | 1:1 Educator | GAFE facilitator | Committed to turning Ed Theory into real classroom practice

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