Perhaps the best idea I had for ISTE this year was to arrive in San Diego a day early. It was there, outside of the conference, that I was reminded of a powerful truth in education. Meandering through the meticulously manicured sidewalk shrubbery, the majestically purple Jacaranda trees, and the polite, bayside strollers, I allowed the gentle and cool breeze to nudge me forward ever so slowly under a sunny, cloudless sky. But my steps quickly came to a halt with the sight of an old-school magician whose skin bore witness to the subtle effects of a deceptively hot sun.
Juxtaposed by nearly a dozen skinny statues of balancing rocks, this middle-aged man prepared himself to add the finishing touches on yet another marvel of physics. Dressed in leather work boots, faded denim jeans, a long-sleeved button-up shirt, and a white, generously brimmed sunhat, the man raised a cantaloupe-sized rock above his head and slowly, ever so slowly, brought the stone to rest atop what appeared to be a pebble in comparison. His nine and a half fingers softly trailed away to reveal a visual truth of balance.
With a soft-spoken, almost inaudible voice, he said, “No tricks. No magic. Just balance.” A slight pause. A very deliberate lowering of his hands. A clearing of his throat. Then came the words that set me on my course of learning for the next few days. “Find the center point,” he said.
The Center Point/The Foundation
I found that center point early Monday morning in one of my first sessions with the amazingly talented Junior from Kennesaw State named Travis Allen, leader of the iSchoolinitiative movement. In his very fluid, informative presentation, Travis painted a picture of today’s mobile learner as one who is more of an artist with unlimited technological brushes on an endless canvas of creativity versus a lethargic robot programmed for unoriginal regurgitation. Whereas pictures of students who were weighed down by overflowing backpacks filled with outdated, heavy and expensive textbooks reminded me of a student shackled by a past that refuses to move forward, it was the images of tech-savvy, iPad carriers who were connected to an infinitely burgeoning cloud of knowledge that helped me establish my center point as an educator.
I asked myself, “Who am I teaching? What do my students look like? Where are they headed? How may I serve them?” Although I find myself reading from a paperback book one day and a stream of Zite articles the next, many of today’s students choose the latter. Thanks to Travis Allen’s insight, I understand that although I am fully capable of teaching with or without technology integration, my students increasingly represent a growing body that prefers the amazing capabilities of Evernote compared to paper and pencil or the collaborative abilities afforded by Google Drive versus a team folder stored in the back of the classroom.
If I could summarize the power of the ISTE conference in one word, that word would be “sharing.” As I hiked from session to session Monday through Wednesday, I was reminded of Toba Beta’s quote, “I understand that we’re smarter than me. That’s one reason I like the idea of sharing.”
Perhaps no presenter exemplified this truth more than Adam Bellow. While attending two of his classes, I was presented with the nearly perfect model of a true educator, one who is open-minded, original, and a master of sharing. I am so appreciative of the many tech tools unveiled to me by this educator who certainly spent hours and hours preparing for presentations of such insight and applicability.
Perusing the poster sessions of students’ original work, hanging out at the Blogger’s café, and attending workshops with gifted colleagues offered me multiple chances to share and receive knowledge. I gave. I took. I found myself exchanging Twitter handles, e-mail addresses, and evolving lesson plans, while mirroring a student-first attitude. To say the ISTE atmosphere is positive is like saying Batman is a bit talented.
Balance and Moving Forward
After a few days attending an ISTE conference, my head becomes full. My “teaching” mind becomes saturated with the newest apps, web-based tools, and authentic ideas to be implemented in the classroom. I find myself wanting to connect internationally with other classes via Skype, to introduce a paperless class through Evernote, to plan a scavenger hunt generated by video-linked QR codes, to…well, do anything just short of tackling world poverty and ridding the world of diseases. The shared knowledge taken from the many conversations and informative sessions is a bit overwhelming. Where do I go from here?
I believe the answer lies in a statement from Maxwell Maltz. It reads, “Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.” Strongly anchored to a center point of helping students develop the skills necessary to thrive in their future, I seek to balance my knowledge of all things tech with my intuition of where our students are headed. The only way I know to do this is to share everything. Any takers?