While most educators were enjoying a summer week away from their jobs, 19 teachers and one IT specialist spent four days in Philadelphia learning new ways to implement new technology into their classrooms.
The International Society for Technology in Education Conference was conducted in Philadelphia June 23-26, and the area was heavily represented with five staff members from Princeton and two Milaca.
Their mission: Find ways to help teachers use technology more effectively.
Representing Princeton were Jodi Burling, technology integration specialist for the district, along with teachers Angela Harvala, Erin Franson, Cindy Schmatz, Rachel Anderson and Nicole Cook.
They all teach between second and fifth grades. Steve Bistrup, IT director at Milaca, attended along with teacher Maggie Stelmach.
They are part of a group called ECMECC, an organization made of up of east central Minnesota-based schools that sent 20 people to the conference.
That represented a huge chunk of the 100 or so Minnesota educators who attended.
“The goal is to always take what I see the needs of the district are and come back with all of that and to also fill me up professionally on things I’m looking to grow at,” said Burling, who has been in her technology integration role for three years. “You just come back with so much information. Whatever I knew the teachers wanted me to learn about, I went to.”
Two of the Princeton attendees were able to attend thanks to a scholarship from ECMECC.
The other three had their travel, hotel and event registration fees covered by the school district.
Burling, who worked two, four-hour shifts during the convention, had her registration fee reimbursed for her efforts.
This was Burling’s second trip to the conference. She attended her first last year in Chicago and came home itching to go back.
Burling taught at Princeton Intermediate School since 2003 and wasn’t looking to move from the classroom. But when the opportunity came up three summers ago, her husband convinced her to give it some thought.
“I hadn’t planned on moving into this position, but that summer I got an email that they were hiring and wanted it to be internal because we have had turnover there,” Burling said. “I had been a tech coach, where I was teaching full-time but you coach staff members on technology. At the time I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the classroom.
Burling and the group attended many speaking sessions and also visited with dozens of vendors at the convention.
The list of ideas they returned with is seemingly endless, but Burling was especially thrilled with what she learned about digital citizenship, which is how to teach kids to be safe online.
“I was looking to learn about digital citizenship and how districts are making this not just a districtwide but a communitywide focus,” Burling said. “How do you get parents involved in teaching them the importance of how to do digital citizenship? In the past, it’s been: ‘Here’s what not to do. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t do this, don’t do that.’ They’ve really changed the focus of empowering kids to just trust them to do what’s right. Kids are learning how to do things online faster than we are.”
Burling also attended a session on augmented and virtual reality and left with information on how to use Google Expedition kits, where students can travel the world through goggles, with students cheaper and more effectively.
The district currently shares the goggles with other districts in ECMECC, so they only get to use them a couple of times a year.
“The kids love it and every time they see me, they say, ‘Do we get the goggles again?’” Burling said. “And I had to tell them not for six months. I found there are ways we can do things like this now, so that was a big one.”
The group also learned more about flexible learning, which allows students to still learn from home a snow day through their computer, along with a program called Flip Grid that gives students an easy way to make videos of themselves doing projects.
Bistrup was the other local non-teacher to attend the conference, which is most geared to help teachers, so he came home with some unique takeaways.
“I had the opportunity to see and test drive some of the exciting technology gadgets and resources that are now available to engage students,” Bistrup said. “As a district that is largely an Apple-Mac for teachers and students, I focused on sessions that help utilize this platform. One area that I focused on was how technology departments can better serve their teachers and students, and I brought back ideas on making our team more effective and efficient.
Next year’s conference is in Anaheim, and Burling is hoping she can again attend.
“It’s not the idea of wanting them to use the newest, fanciest and brightest thing,” she said. “We want to make their lives easier and find the tools that they can use so they can spend more time working with students. That’s the kind of stuff I’m trying to get teachers to realize and get them to get over the hump that I know this is hard, but I’m trying to make their jobs easier.”