Every year in the last days of June, twenty-thousand educators gather for what could be known as the “Auto Show” of education technology. The ISTE conference, as it’s known, showcases the latest innovations happening in the ed tech space. Students, teachers, exhibitors, and district leaders share their strategies, their struggles, and their triumphs in the classroom with these many new tools.
If you’re a parent, you don’t have to care about this event, but rest assured- what happens at ISTE, like a Paris fashion show, is going to trickle its way down to your students’ classrooms in America and abroad quite soon. Screentime, digital citizenship, iPads, Chromebooks, classroom “SMART boards” - what happens at this event matters when it comes to students, policies, and the devices and tech students use in the classroom.
In my yearly pilgrimage to ISTE, I got a chance to sample the new wave of tech that should be hitting classrooms this fall. It’s exciting; there are many improvements and upgrades to existing technologies. You’ve never seen 20,000 educators this excited about teaching and learning on any place on earth at one time. And what’s great is, I find that the overall motivation behind teachers that go to ISTE, is not about finding the next gadget- but about finding new ways to reach students. The hearts of these outstanding educators are in the right (and best) place.
So- while it’s impossible to see everything in just a couple of days, here’s what I took away from education’s most innovative 4 days. Here are three big areas that are seeing huge improvements in classroom tech, and are transforming teaching and learning in schools around the world.
Being a STEM/STEAM coordinator myself, I look for tools and tech for our makerspace (the Quest iLab), which many schools are starting to build. A makerspace is a workshop or room that allows students to tinker, collaborate, and build short or long-term projects without the constraints of grades, and with the freedom of creativity. The 3D printer is kind of a staple of the makerspace, because it allows students to design and build products “out of thin air” using easy to use autocad software (like Tinkercad). Libraries across America are installing 3D printers, as they are transforming the idea of what the library can be.
Makerbot has been at the top of the pile of 3D printing for a while, but they’ve been struggling the past year. A Makerbot is expensive, they break often, and their customer service has been… less than stellar. At ISTE I discovered Polar3D, which appears to be a more affordable, streamlined 3D printing technology. The price point on Polar3D allows a school to purchase not just one- but perhaps three or more printers for their school (finally within reach for many schools with even very tight budgets).
This is what this “maker movement” needs. See Ed Estes of Polar 3D talk about his exciting new product:
You’ve never seen 20,000 educators this excited about teaching and learning on any place on earth at one time.
Classroom Visual Display / White Boards:
Over the past ten years, schools went crazy for Interactive White Boards (IWB) like the SMART Board, in some cases installing those in every classroom in their buildings. Many districts were (gasp!) surprised later that many teachers were only using them as digital white boards. That’s an awfully expensive white board. Some could blame teachers and/or not enough training, but we’re way past blame now. They look great in the classroom. They make school boards and parents think that their tax dollars are being spent well, but I dare ask any student how often their teacher uses it for the interactive functionality. Give that a try.
The leading IWB company, SMART, has been paying attention to this, and they’ve put out a product that actually does what, I believe, most teachers are probably using their SMART boards for anyway- a white board with the ability to save their notes. The SMART Kapp is technically a “dumb board,” but that’s a compliment, not a rip. It’s streamlined, simple, and plug and play. That’s what teachers need.
It’s just a white board that saves writing digitally and in the cloud. I laud SMART for this simple solution, and for the price point on this technology (it’s about 1/4 of what a traditional SMART Board used to cost).
Gaming and VR:
One of the things I’ve heard from some of my own students is “my parents don’t let me play video games at home.” That mindset is due for a big shake-up over the next few years, for millions of students across the world.
Microsoft have just introduced education.minecraft.edu. Pair this with Google’s introduction of virtual reality headsets like Google Cardboard and their companion program Google Expeditions, you can see that students are about to have learning experiences that we’ve never been able to concieve of before.
ISTE’s opening keynote, Soleded O’Brien, demoed Google Cardboard live on stage with ten teachers. It was pretty remarkable considering that Google Cardboard and the new Jump camera were just announced merely weeks ago.
Microsoft’s announcement of Minecraft in Education is the official step forward for Minecraft in Ed, complimenting other teachers’ and developers’ work to bring Minecraft into classrooms. The advantage Microsoft has over, say, Teacher Gaming’s Minecraft Edu, is that Microsoft is about to release Hololens, their own VR headset, and they are creating a custom, VR version of Minecraft, which has amazing potential for students. Imagine being immersed in a world with a billion legos: what would you build?
It would appear the future is arriving, sooner than later.
Some counter-programming to ISTE brought me to something called a Breakout game. James Sanders, head of Innovation for EdTechTeam, invited a group of educators to participate in a breakout game at Escape the Room Philly. A breakout game is an immersive, collaborative activity where a group of people are locked in a room and have to figure out clues, decipher codes, and unlock numerous locks to escape. It is beyond fun- you absolutely have to experience this kind of game.
BreakoutEDU is a platform for teachers to create their own breakout games for students and teachers, using their own tools and teaching strategies integrated into the game. It has amazing potential for education, and teachers can sign up to be a beta tester at http://www.breakoutedu.com/beta.
Expect Great Things from America’s Classrooms
Overall, expectations for classrooms across America should be high. Things like managing thousands of devices across a school network has gotten easier. Making choices about student devices is clearer. Google for Education is now becoming a standard in classrooms, which is great because it’s a streamlined, quality product.
The ideas and products shared at this year’s ISTE are by far, the most positive and engaging work you can expect from American and global educators. Learning these platforms and tools- is getting easier because the tech industry and educators are finally collaborating to create physical and digital learning spaces that are thinking beyond the tool.
They are thinking with the future in mind.
For more about ISTE, you can check out this custom ISTE2015 page at TheDepartment.Education.