In 2011, I was working at a local University and did not have much direction in my career. At the time, I was working as a telephone operator. A job I had taken just to get my "foot in the door" and also to start getting health benefits. An e-mail went out to all staff letting us know about a conference called ISTE. I had never heard of it, but it intrigued me. I knew I wanted to go into a computer support field, so the thought of checking out what was going on in the realm of educational technology sounded interesting. I signed up not knowing what I was getting into. After sitting in the Newbie Lounge (we need to bring that back) after a long first day, I happened to see William King who I was following on Twitter. We started the conversation as many do at ISTE, "Hey I follow you on Twitter." Not long after we started to talk, Paula Naugle joined us. I had never met Paula but it was her tutelage about Twitter during that meeting that changed my career. From that time on, no longer was I just stalking celebrities on Twitter and not engaging my community. I was able to see what educators were sharing and all the wonderful buzz that was created during that conference. It was infectious, and after that I started tweeting "professionally". From those first connections, other connections started to emerge and four years later I was back in Philly at ISTE although this time I was finishing my second year as an Elementary Technology Coordinator and my 5th semester as an adjunct professor. What a difference a few years can make!
I left my house at 6 am to arrive in Philly just after 7. I wanted to participate in #satchat with Billy Krakower, Scott Rocco, and Brad Currie. That day, they had a special guest in Jerry Blumengarten. Immediate following #satchat, I setup to co-moderate #nt2t chat which is a wonderful Twitter chat that helps teachers who are new to twitter get started and make new connections. Normally there is no video feed but this being ISTE, I setup a live video stream in addition to our normal Twitter-based chat. It gets a little hectic but was a lot of fun. Billy stayed on after satchat and we were also joined by Susan Bearden. You can find our video stream here. The rest of my day was spent with my wonderful Skype Classroom colleagues in training. I learned of a wonderful tool called Wondergrove, that I think all Pre-K - 2nd grade teachers should take a look at. We were able to see a live demo and it had every teacher in that room smiling from ear to ear. Susan Bearden and I did a session the final day of ISTE on how to leverage Twitter chats for professional development.
Sunday was my big day. For the past several years, I have been running TeachMeetNJ. After learning about TeachMeets from Will King back in 2011, I decided to bring the format to South Jersey. After collaborating with Matt Esterman (TeachMeet Sydney) Allen Martin (TeachMeet Kentucky), and Will King (TeachMeet Kentucky) we decided to do TeachMeet ISTE. This was a large undertaking as most in the US have never heard of a TeachMeet (they are huge over in the UK and Australia). This was a free event prior to the start of ISTE, and we filled registration in just a few weeks! Sessions were a mix of the US version (20 minutes) and the traditional UK/AU format (2 and 7 minutes). During the day we had over 100 people attend and almost 1k tweets on our #tmiste15 hashtag. It was a huge success and we really look forward to doing it again next year.
Right after finishing up with TeachMeet ISTE, I was approached by Wesley Fryer for an interview. It was very impromptu but great to get the word out. Immediately after that was the opening keynote with featured speaker Soledad O'Brien. I was not going to attend the keynote at first since I was exhausted but decided at the very last minute to join some colleagues. Boy am I glad I did! With just a few minutes left in her speech, she called a few volunteers on stage to don Google Cardboard and demonstrate to the audience what it was like. I bolted to the stage for a prime spot!
I wasn't able to make it to too many sessions but the one I enjoyed the most was Shane Asselstine's "Building a Learning Community with Minecraft." You can find his complete presentation here. I setup a Minecraft server in our school and have used it for a few lessons this year but his presentation on using Minecraft to form a community for your students was truly inspiring. I'm glad I was finally able to meet Shane in person. We have communicated off and on throughout the school year via Twitter. I always enjoy meeting my PLN face to face for the first time.
A few times at ISTE, I represented Skype in the Classroom and volunteered in the Microsoft booth. It's something I love doing and also sharing the power of Skype with other teachers. I'm also very fortunate to be surrounded by a collection of amazing educators who are also in the Skype Master Teacher program with me. During our Saturday training, one of our teachers could not attend due to an unfortunate visa issue. We were still able to have him join us via Skype to share in our celebration of what he has accomplished with his students.
The last morning of ISTE, I was honored to be chosen to give a short talk about education in an interview from the Microsoft booth. I loved sharing all that I've learned these past four years.
I always try and make it to the vendor hall. You'd think we've seen it all at this point but each year I'm amazed by something. This year it was the 3Doodler. This is complete 3D printing in a pen for under $100USD!
Each year after I come back from ISTE, I have not only a wealth of new tools but also great new connections. I feel that new connections can be one of the most important takeaways from ISTE. Your PLN can be there to help guide, nurture, and challenge you for years to come. I feel as though ISTE is a family reunion. Coming together each year to share the joys and pains you've all had over the last year and how to break through any walls you may have. I value my PLN and their collected wisdom. Had a great time catching up with Geri Coats, Cathleen Petty, Rodney Turner, Michelle Baldwin, Robyn Hrivnatz, Darcy Grimes, Jennifer Regruth, Karen Winsper, Lisa Butler, and Teresa Finegan.
I was able to wrap up ISTE with both a wonderful dinner with some Aussie friends and my annual Straggler's Breakfast for those who are still around the morning after ISTE. Good times, great company, and more learning!
One of the things that bummed me the most about this week was not being able to share it with my wife. She is also an amazing educator but stayed home with our newborn twin daughters.
Finally, I was able to share this week with a special ISTE "newbie." Lou Appalucci is a former student of mine, and was in my undergraduate course. One of the major components of my course is teaching students how to form a PLN before they graduate. He told me a few times during the week about how when he first heard we were going to be using Twitter in class, he thought it was a waste of time. He is now finishing his first year teaching Algebra. Of course he now tells the opposite story, and is now "drinking the Kool-Aid" with the rest of us. He mentioned numerous times this week about how he now sees the power and importance of a PLN and has even offered to speak to my upcoming class about it. This was his first ISTE, and I don't think he'll soon forget it.
See you all next year in Denver!!