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ISTE 2015: Ed-tech leadership, maker education, and professional learning

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The country’s largest educational technology conference kicks off this weekend, with roughly 18,000 educators, vendors, and advocates set to convene here for four-plus days of swapping classroom strategies, playing with gadgets, and diving into the sweeping policy changes that are reshaping digital learning in K-12 schools.

Among the big themes: the importance of shared responsibility when it comes to effectively integrating technology into the classroom.

"I’m most excited about the increased conversation around the need to approach this as a team," said Brian Lewis, the CEO of the conference’s host organization, the Washington-based International Society for Technology in Education.

"Everyone has a role in engaging technology to drive learning."

That approach is evident in the ISTE conference’s tie-in with the U.S. Department of Education’s "Future Ready" initiative, which aims to help school and district officials work more closely together to articulate and implement a vision for effective technology use in the classroom.

Richard Culatta, the director of the department’s Office of Educational Technology, will join leaders from several prominent ed-tech advocacy organizations on a Monday afternoon panel on the initiative.

How to provide teachers and administrators with better training is also a key theme, as is the "maker movement." More than 50 sessions will touch on the strategies, tools, and philosophy that have made the hands-on, exploration- and building-based maker education approach so popular.

It’s no surprise that such issues have taken center stage in the ed-tech field.

As Education Week chronicled in its recently released Technology Counts 2015 special report, technology has been widely touted as a tool to promote hands-on, student-centered learning. But even as schools have experienced a massive influx of digital devices and content, educators are still struggling to make smart decisions about technology investments and to dramatically change the ways teaching and learning happen in the classroom.

Philadelphia will host this year’s conference, with a boost from the city’s acclaimed Science Leadership Academy, a magnet high school that has received national attention from Ed Week and others for its efforts to build and bring to scale a project-based, inquiry-driven model of technology use in schools. On Saturday, students from SLA will help run a "town hall" discussion that will also feature national education leaders such as S. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools.

New at the conference this year are a series of debates, including a Tuesday afternoon point-counterpoint on “coding in the curriculum,” to be moderated by my colleague Michele Molnar, of Ed Week’s Marketplace K-12 blog. Michele, myself, and Ed Week associate editor Sean Cavanagh will be tweeting and live-blogging from ISTE for the conference’s duration.

Also featured at this year’s event will be an open conversation Monday morning with the ISTE board on the “next big things” in ed tech. All attendees will have the opportunity to weigh in.

Among the invited presenters is Nancy Weinstein, founder and CEO of Princeton, N.J.-based ed-tech startup Mindprint Learning. The company uses an online platform and unique access to a battery of cognitive assessments developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania to provide parents and teachers with in-depth profiles of how their children learn.

"Kids who qualify as special needs have been given this type of assessment, but the other 90 percent don’t, unless parents go outside the system and pay thousands of dollars for it themselves," Weinstein said.

Mindprint’s model points to two emerging trends in the ed-tech world: The expansion of "personalized learning" to include non-academic factors, and the growing push to tie ed-tech products to rigorous, reliable research about not just what students learn, but how they learn.

As always, industry will play a prominent role at the conference. If you haven’t been, this dispatch from the massive vendor floor at last year’s conference will give you a taste of what you’re likely to encounter.

And, as always, the ed-tech jargon, from "personalized learning" to "guide on the side," will be flowing fast and free at this year’s conference.

We’re inviting attendees to play Ed-Tech Jargon Bingo with us. If you’re at ISTE, send a tweet with a jargony term you see — and how you feel about it — with the hashtag #edtechjargon. Read more about this crowdsourced project here.

ISTE 2015 starts Saturday and runs through Wednesday.

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at Education Week.