Highlights from Spring 2011 Tech Forums

This spring, Tech & Learning had the opportunity to host two events focused on cutting-edge technology in schools, and how schools are making this happen despite tight budgets.

The first was our inaugural Tech Forum in Boston, and the premiere event was a hit. Scratch founder Mitch Resnick kicked off the day with an energizing speech about how new technologies can help children learn to think creatively. Other highlights included a Web 2.0 Smackdown with Lisa Thumann, Kathy Schrock’s session “RIP Intellectual Property,” and discussions about Google Apps, the Evolving World of 1:1, Web 2.0, and more.

The second was our 8th annual Tech Forum pilgrimage to the suburbs of Chicago. This day, too, was filled with innovative ideas, like Scott Meech and Dan Rezac’s “Flipping the Classroom” session that explored ways teachers can develop their own lessons to better meet the needs of their students, and Ryan Bretag and David Jakes’ session about rethinking learning spaces – changing the traditional 6x5 desk grid to more café-like settings that encourage collaboration and creativity. Blended learning was another hot topic as more teachers take their learning outside of the classroom, and even outside the school day, to ensure their students are receiving the varied and flexible tools and resources they need to become engaged learners.

T&L also had the opportunity to sit down with area superintendents for a frank conversation about their districts’ challenges and solutions. Here are highlights from the Chicago superintendent luncheon:

Biggest headaches:
• Teachers don’t take risks.
• The implementation of tech doesn’t always receive the same care and training as the integration of more traditional resources like a math curriculum.
• More schools need to model support for teachers over time, not just one-off training.

Some solutions:
• There is a growing interest from districts of all economic levels to allow students to bring their own devices.
• Some admins create two networks as a way to protect the school network from the potential viruses, etc. that may come in through these student-owned devices. One network is made public and the other one is just for the school.
• Go wireless for maximum access.
• Several schools report their local police often stop by their parking lots to access the free wifi, adding community support and security for the school.
• Many admins reported that their teachers have embraced blended learning tools.
• Some admins believed it was important to emphasize inquiry-based learning. One said, “It’s messier, but reports show it’s a more effective approach to teaching and learning.” They wanted to see more of a focus on teaching skills, not just teaching the knowledge needed to pass bubble-sheet tests.

Visit the Tech Forum “vault” to find more resources like podcasts, photos, presentations, and more. - Christine Weiser, Managing Editor