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Sunday, July 6, 2014

It Wasn't the Schwag. (It was the handshakes that mattered at ISTE)

I don't want to sound like one of those American tourists who travel to Europe and come back with an accent complaining about the taste of their coffee, but the ISTE 2014 Conference in Atlanta was mind blowing! If you weren't able to attend, and spent part of your summer watching the #ISTE2014 trend worldwide as attendees share the amazing things that they were learning and discovering, I know how you feel. I've spent too many summers sitting at home with my sad little #notatISTE hashtag trying to convince myself that I was learning just as well as those people in New Orleans, or San Antonio, or San Diego, etc.

After all, I'm the one in charge of my professional development and fair pretty well, thank you very much. I follow some pretty amazing educators on Twitter and other social media and the things they share help both my kids and I learn.

This year I was fortunate to have my district contribute some money towards my trip with an amount that covered registration and three nights of my four night stay. So off I went, on a shoestring budget, with two goals. One, I wanted to meet some of the people I have connected with on Twitter face to face and discover some great new people to add to my timeline. Two, I was going to gather as much information and resources to bring back for my school and classroom as I could.

Sessions, showrooms, and schwag
I, like most first time attendees, was a little overwhelmed and sometimes confused by all of the learning opportunities at the conference. Confused, because there is a fairly steep learning curve in understanding what events are free, ticketed, or require extra fees. Navigating all of the offerings and trying to figure out what you could squeeze in took up a good chunk of time. Fortunately (I guess) there was quite a bit of standing in line and/or waiting for a session or talk to begin so that I could plan my next step.

A couple of sessions stood out, Ken Shelton's session on Digital Storytelling was very especially valuable. I learned things from him that I will use with my students for years to come.

Alan November's session on the first five days of school for introducing technology to your new students was entertaining, engaging, and practical. This particular session was my plan C when my other two choices fell through that morning. The next time I have an opportunity to hear him, he'll be at the top of my list.

Another memorable hour was the Listen and Learn Panel on Genius Hour or 20% time best practices with Angela Maiers, Don Wettrick, Erin Klein, Karen Liremann, Sylvia Martinez, and moderator Vicki Davis. What a great group of educators to learn from.

photo @ErinKlein (L-R Vicki Davis, Don Wettrick, Angela Maiers, Erin Klein, Karen Liremann, Sylvia Martinez, Hugh McDonald)

The Expo floor and the hundreds of exhibitors held almost unlimited learning opportunities. And pens. There was a lot of free ink being given out as exhibitors and vendors attempted to gain your interest in their product or service. Lots of flyers, lots of free stuff (schwag), and lots of items to evaluate post conference. My strategy was to gather the resource or contact and move on. Sometimes that strategy worked, but sometimes I was held captive in the adept care of an experienced salesman and found it difficult to break away tactfully. Conference floor tip: tell them that you're not in charge of a budget or a 'decider'. The conversation will end a little quicker.

When I got home, I sorted my full bag into four piles, freebies (pens/pencils/buttons, etc), web tools/services/apps, potential grant items (stuff I can't afford on my own), and contacts . Almost literally, tons of flyers and publications for products and services that I will spend the remainder of the summer exploring. Definitely enough stuff to share for a a few blog posts.

Coolest Brand Giveaway: Sam Houston State University's, tin badge (and a backpack carabiner) How cool is that?
Most Unique Giveaway: The Hero Booth (Plascotrac) had one of the designers (Nikki Alvarez) from their marketing team creating personalized, hand-drawn, and colored drawings based on what educator's would do with the 98 days they would gain with the adoption of their school-wide behavior management and student referral program. My classroom mascot, @MrJohnsonsGnome would go to Easter Island. (They were also handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that totally hit the spot) 

Nikki Alvarez
Best Conference Pen: The Booksource's aluminum pen had a stylus, a pen, AND a flashlight. Score!
Best Whatever these are, because they're fun:
Best Brand Mascots: Wandooplanet.com's Cute little forest animals. LOVE 'em!

Coolest New Product: The Padcaster A sturdy frame for iPad that has mounts for mice, lights, lenses, mono/tri-pods, etc to turn your iPad (mini or full size) into a mobile production studio. Created by Josh Apter who has really thought up a great solution for managing iPad accessories to create great films or videos. Well thought out, easy to use, highly functional, affordable. What else could you want?

Most Prized Giveaway: My "Dot Club" membership token, given to me by frequent Room 216 partner, Peter Reynolds after we had a chance to talk face to face after his great support of our classroom for the past couple of years. He was at the conference for the right reasons. Genuinely nice and inspiring. Learn more about his inspiring books and "Dot Day" here.

I felt a little bit like a stalker as I walked around the halls of the Georgia World Congress Center and tried to match my PLN's profile pics with the faces of the people who were hurriedly walking by. This strategy was somewhat effective, but also a little dangerous, as I almost walked right into Michelle Baldwin in the frenetic Engage and Connect Sessions on Day 1. Michelle's a great online colleague who is as nice in person as she is online. Genuine, honest, innovative.

As the conference went on, I found that meeting your virtual colleagues was easy and was a great chance to say thanks to all of those people who have helped my kids learn, contribute to my professional development, and improve my thinking. Got a chance to meet Meghan Wyman, Dave Guymon, and Marialice Curran among many others.

Some of my Alabama 'tweeps', Carol McLaughlin and Amanda Dykes

Some of my Michigan 'tweeps, Nicholas Provenzano and Erin Klein

Even the so-called 'Rock-Stars' were approachable and welcoming. Introducing myself to a couple of these folks, I was surprised by their warm welcome. Hugs, bro-hugs, and "oh-hey! so nice to meet you", made me feel that I may have contributed to their learning as well. They're not 'rock-stars' or brands, they're educators, and like me are trying to do their best for their students and peers. I think John Spencer (Author of Wendall the World's Worst Wizard and writer) said it best.

I met all sorts of great educators that I hadn't discovered yet! I met great innovators! I met great writers! I even had terrific conversations with people who were doing great things with their students, standing in line! Even the lines, at times Disney-esque, were productive.
New friends made while waiting for the 1st Ignite session.

John Spencer @edrethink and @wendallwizard 
Tom Whitby, @TomWhitby
Angela Maiers, @AngelaMaiers
I met people from all over the world facing the same challenges I face and talked about strategies to overcome them. I met a puppet!

The best part of my time at ISTE 2014 were the face to face connections, the chance to say thank you, shake their hand, and an opportunity to get to know my online colleagues a little better. Best. Part.

N'importe qui veulent emprunter un stylo? (Anyone want to borrow a pen?)

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher


  1. Eric,
    I am so glad we got to meet face to face. I know as a first time ISTE attendee that I had that deer in headlights look that first day. It was nice to see a face I knew even if it had only been online. :) I was overwhelmed mainly because I wanted to be in so many places at the same time. I still haven't processed it all and have notes on my ipad and my ISTE bag to go through when I return from vacation.

    You are as nice in person as you are online. Look forward to learning more from each other in the future. One thing I love is that although we teach different age kids, the passion to learn is what most of the teachers on twitter and those that attended ISTE have in common. Love my PLN! :)

    1. Thanks Carol! Very nice of you to say. Now I know what your laugh sounds like to match your online smile. You're a great teacher to have in my circle and I was so happy to finally meet you. We did learn a lot, because there was a lot to learn. A great experience, made better by making a new friend.

  2. It was great to meet you in person!

    1. Thanks John, you as well. Now you're not just a profile picture and a tweet anymore, I know what your voice sounds like and learned little more about you.

  3. Still steamed about the Ashley Judd thing and that don't look like the Moby I know. :)

    1. One of the best quotes from the conference was one from Judd "If the only thing you do as an educator is to believe a child, you will have done enough" Going on saying "Those little acts of kindness (* from her teachers) were enough to keep me going."

      That's Mody, round head, small in stature. What more do you want. :)

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