More than 7,500 educators from around the globe gathered in Boston to participate in ASCD's #Empower18 conference. From the opening welcome reception to the final moments, the keynotes, sessions, and conversations were free flowing and high level. As Ink International Founder Manny Scott said in his keynote “be learners for your students.”
Attendees attended Learning Labs and Poster sessions facilitated by educators. These opportunities encouraged participants to take a deep dive into educational topics and try tools like laptops, 3D printers, exploratory equipment like Google cardboards, and other interactive tools and programs. The conversations in these presentations centered on impactful instruction and the magnitude of digital options. One attendee commented that “technology tools can support ALL learners in the classroom by assisting students with everything from reading, writing, and math, to time management, organization, focus, and more.”
The Expo Hall showcased even more edtech tools that are changing and enhancing today’s learning. Below are just some of the standout products:
BrainPOP creates cross-curricular digital content for students and teachers. I attended a demo of the new coding and computer science programs and believe the tool will be an excellent addition to the BrainPOP suite.
Nearpod is a unique mobile learning platform designed for the synchronized use of mobile devices in education. It is used to develop interactive presentations and assessments that can be used to add amazing effects in the classroom.
IXL provides a standards-aligned immersive learning experience for all K-12 subjects. It includes carefully crafted content and direct instruction to support students’ foundational skills.
Learning A-Z offers literacy-focused PreK-6 products that blend traditional teacher-led instruction with technology-enabled resources.
Hack Learning offers more than just books for teachers and leaders. The platform provides educators numerus way to solve problems with practical, what-you-can-do-tomorrow, solutions. The book collection has many publications focused around project-based learning, engagement, Google and other topics and then has an accompanying #hacklearning twitter chat engaging and provides real time ideas or solutions.
Newsela is an instructional content platform that brings together compelling, accessible content with integrated assessments and insights to support reading engagement.
Ellevation is a software company focused on ELL educators and the students they serve. This tool streamlines program management, enabling effective collaboration and improving instruction.
Podcasts from Experts: Ryan McHale, the host of Pondering Education, (@PonderEducation) recorded, posted, and tweeted interviews with many featured speakers such as Eric Sheninger and Tom Murrary (discussing their book, Learning Transformed); Monica Burns (discussing classtechtips.com); Carol Ann Tomlinson (discussing Differentiated Instruction); and more.
There is never a dearth of great ideas at national events like these and ASCD Empower18 did not disappoint. Below are two new ideas I plan to bring back to my district:
Developing students as entrepreneurs: Donald Wettrick of StartEdUp Innovation shared a framework in his session that creates group-thinking and visual brainstorming. This entrepreneurial activity starts by having students identify a problem to solve through a brainstorming exercise and current technology. Wettrick presented an example called “Brainstorming Bubbles.” In the same way that a student would brainstorm an essay topic, students created a virtual idea web for different products they might want to sell. For this project, students worked in a team and created the idea bubbles. One group decided to design a backpack. They brainstormed ideas, then selected the best idea by considering whether it will be something they are passionate about, which skills it will help them develop, and whether it will help serve others.
By the end of the brainstorming and design meetings, the students used technology to virtually design a lightweight, low cost backpack and used Google Docs and Spreadsheets that detailed the production costs and marketing strategies they would need to bring it to market. This learning opportunity empowered students to collaborate, create, and achieve accountability in their own learning.
Increasing engagement strategies: Pérsida Himmele from Millersville University led a session titled “Engaging Every Student with Total Participation Techniques” and Dan Rothstein and Sarah Westbrook from the Right Question Institute led a session titled “Spark Curiosity, Fuel Deeper Learning: Engage All Students.” The key connection between the sessions was to ask questions that spark thinking, not just to get an answer. The sessions tied in the need for critical thinking and engagement while promoting the use of current digital tools for research and creation of content. Utilizing discovery learning engages learners first by asking to solve a problem or create a solution, then the teacher can ask probing questions to spark further discovery learning such as:
- Could you elaborate further on that point?
- Can you create sketch notes of that speech?
- Can you show your thinning in a graphic design?
- Could you give me an illustration?
- Could you research more details?
Allowing critical thinking and digital tools for discovery learning will enhance student learning and voice in classrooms.
Conferences like ASCD allow us to turn learning into action and help us grow as school leaders. Read more of my ASCD takeaways @MatthewXJoseph.
Matthew X. Joseph Ed.D is the Director of Digital Learning, Informational Technology, and Innovation at Milford (MA) Public Schools.