How do you squeeze an ISTE experience into a blog entry? What do you focus on? Themes, sessions, educational companies, trends, sponsors, exhibitors, keynotes? How do you encapsulate almost a week long opportunity to connect and learn face to face with close 20,000 participants and exhibitors, and even student presenters, representing 73 countries?
For me, it is the people. Sharing the joys of teaching with Facebook and Twitter friends is an opportunity that technology cannot replace. Whether giving one another quick high fives in the Exhibition Hall, hanging in a Playground, sitting on a panel together, grabbing a bite and a cup of coffee, socializing at an after party, or sharing a room together attending conferences help us to rejuvenate our spirits so that we can be active participants in the global community of educators.
Having been to my fourth ISTE, I’m not a newbie so I have learned to make reservations early, pack lightly, and plan for a flexible schedule. But I’m not yet a veteran. I know the names of “big” people, am friends with a few of them, and become a nervous teenage fan when I meet most of the others. Almost a decade ago, my former district’s teacher trainer mentioned ISTE to me. He knew I loved learning about new technologies, even though we had only a few computers in our library. And so I went, and I discovered that there was a world of professional development beyond my classroom, my school, my district, and even my entire state. I went because I had been invited to the table, and I accepted the invitation.
At my very first ISTE in Philadelphia in 2011, I saw Kathy Schrock. And I was star-struck! I say saw, because I was too shy to actually introduce myself to THE Kathy Schrock. Years earlier, I had stumbled on Kathy’s Schrockguide on DiscoveryEducation.com while I was still a 7th grade English teacher. When I needed to find a website to teach my students how to write a research paper, cite their sources, and avoid plagiarism I didn’t use Google. As the saying goes, I went to a librarian, “the original search engine.” I went to Kathy. Kathy Schrock is a name that educators from fields other than library science recognize. Kathy Schrock was at ISTE because she understood that being a librarian means helping readers to navigate text, whether print or digital. She is a teacher librarian.
What stood out for me this year at ISTE were not the new and not-so-new “Kathy Schrock,” librarians like Shannon Miller, Joyce Valenza, Nikki Robertson, Gwyneth Jones, Jennifer LaGarde, Laura Fleming, Sherry Gick, Elissa Malespina, Colleen Graves, Diana Rendina, Andy Plemmons, Heather Lister, Jennifer Lussier, Michelle Colte (I could go on and on and on and...). What stood out for me were my library colleagues who were attending their first or second ISTE. Not just Facebook or Twitter friends. They were librarians who teach on Long Island with me who made the plane trip from New York to Denver. They came because they wanted “a seat at the table.” Whether encouraged by a supervisor or motivated by their own desire to learn and connect, these friends discovered a world beyond their bookstacks.
A librarian cannot be categorized by just one Dewey call number. You see, a librarian has many roles, the most important of which is to be a researcher. We research ways to support our administrators, our teachers, and our students. We leave no stone unturned. Even if we aren’t the curriculum expert, we know how to find the information. But what brings us to conferences? We need human connections. We want to see for ourselves what we can bring back to our schools. We want to want to make new friends.
Seeing my local colleagues experience ISTE for the first time made me realize that as long as there are librarians who are “invited to the table” or “pull up a chair” themselves, libraries will always be the center of learning. Our strength is our appreciation of all subject areas, and how learning is interconnected. As Lady Bird Johnson once said, ““Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” Attending conferences such as ISTE, helps us to connect with educators whom we might not meet normally. It helps to branch out and to learn about trends in other subject areas. And it helps others to realize the importance of well-funded library programs staffed by certified librarians, no matter what title we have.
My local colleagues, the inspiration for this blog post...
“You’ll become a more interesting person if you’re interested in learning and sharing ideas from fields that are much different from your own.”
– Carmine Gallo Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the Word’s Top Minds
This year NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education), a affiliate of ISTE, celebrated its golden anniversary in grand style. From November 22 to 24, the red carpet was rolled out at the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester. The Oscar-themed 50th celebration featured a “Volunteer Stars” walk of fame and a banquet showcasing grant and award winners with musical selections sung by Central Valley Academy Chamber Choir from the Broadway shows Jersey Boys and Sister Act. Educators and administrators were inspired by keynote speakers Margo Day (Vice President of Microsoft Education), David Pogue (technology columnist), Jaime Casap (Google for Education), and Tom VanderArk (CEO and Founder of Getting Smart).
In addition to the pre-conference workshops and presentations, there were ample opportunities to meet and share professionally through meet-ups and social media. Moderating the social media lounge were author and blogger Tom Whitby, and host of “Coffee With a Geek” Andrew Wheelock. As a “maker librarian” with a makerspace and Genius Hour program in our library, I was excited to attend two events that featured hands-on interactive learning, the Rochester Mini Maker Faire and the NYSCATE xSTREAM Showcase. The 2nd Annual Rochester Mini Maker Faire, open to NYSCATE conference attendees as well as the general public, took place the day before the conference. Local makers and schools showcased their talents in areas from crocheting to computers. Although on a much smaller scale than the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science, the Rochester Mini Maker Faire exhibited the familiar vibe of the “Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth.” Librarians will be glad to know that the NYSCATE committee acknowledges the importance of librarians and information literacy through the additional letter “R,” thus transforming the traditional STEAM into STREAM (science, technology, research, engineering, art, and mathematics). Educators demonstrated technologies employed in their districts such as Dot and Dash robots, the MakeyMakey invention kit, and the Osmo interactive iPad learning tool. A crowd favorite was the “Bling Your Badge” activity where attendants used LED lights, coin batteries, and other craft materials to personalize their conference name tags.
Popular sessions at the NYSCATE conference focused on communication, collaboration, and creation skills and how technology can transform them for 21st century students. With Microsoft in Education and Google Apps for Education web programs students can create documents, share, and collaborate with their peers. Learning management systems such as Edmodo, Schoology, and Google Classroom help to flip learning and to provide virtual extensions to the classroom. Educators can bring the world into their classroom through Skype and Google Hangouts. Unlike a few years ago where the focus on conference sessions around the nation was concerned with the Common Core Standards, now more open learning opportunities are explored.
Educators at NYSCATE learned about makerspaces and Genius Hour programs that promote personalized, independent, student-centered learning through discovery and exploration. Educators of all disciplines clamored to learn how to integrate gaming, robotics, iPad apps, and Chrome extensions into their curriculum to promote high order, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Considerations in growth mindset and teaching the whole child have educators thinking about new ways to teach their subject matter through low and high tech ways. With this renewed focus on the process over the project, school library media specialists will find that the educational climate is fertile for the informational literacy skills that we are certified to teach.
The metaphorical pendulum is beginning to swing, and we must be prepared to support our students, teachers, and administrators in the new educational revolution. Library advocacy can be achieved through advertising, by demonstrating to stakeholders the importance of school librarians and library programs to prepare our students to become active participants in our global community. How do we do that? By attending and presenting at conferences in disciplines other than library science, we can learn about the trends and concerns faced by other educators. With this information in mind, we can develop new ways to support our colleagues to promote opportunities for collaboration. Through conference presentations, we can also demonstrate how student learning can be transformed through robust library programs. Examples of library-related workshops at NYSCATE included “Using NYS NOVELny Online Databases With Your Students” by Jim Belair (Coordinator of School Library Services, Monroe 2 Orleans BOCES), “Connecting Technology With World Languages” led by Maria Muhlbauer (Library Media Specialist of Pioneer Middle School) with colleagues from her foreign language department Christine Marshall and Brenda McKenzie), and “Gallery Walks, Incentive Programs, and Technology Tidbits: How You Can Support Curriculum in YOUR Library” by Laura Penn (School Library Media Specialist, Akron Schools). Gina Seymour, school library specialist (Islip High School) and I also presented “Got SLIME: Adventures in Creating a Maker Expo), and I presented individually “Student Videos as a Means of Creative and Persuasive Expression.”
The time is now for school library media specialists to get involved in local, state, and national conferences that offer opportunities for professional development beyond the bookstacks. Now is the time to demonstrate our expertise in integrating print and digital resources in the classroom. Advocacy begins with students, parents, educators, administrators, and other stakeholders realizing the value that robust school library programs add to learning.
Kristina A. Holzweiss
Ed Tech School Librarian