I've just returned home from my eleventh ISTE. My experience at ISTE is probably much different than most of the other 20,000+ people who attend because, for the last ten years, I have attended with my ten and eleven year old students. They have been invited to present a Student Showcase. I get the rare opportunity to see the wonderful, hectic, sometimes chaotic learning machine that is ISTE through the eyes of my students. I get to see what their perceptions are of other educators' opinion on what should be going on in today's classroom. Surprisingly enough, they are extremely tuned into what is worthwhile and what is pure "fluff." Each year, my students choose to spend less and less time in the exhibit hall and hotel pool and more and more time in formal sessions and speaking to people informally between sessions, on the conference bus, and impromptu networking sessions. They speak passionately about their learning and the technology that supports it.If you are willing to listen and converse with them (you'd probably be shocked by how many attendees don't and are downright rude to them) you will see that they have very powerful voices...each distinct one from the other.
As I'm reflecting on this year's experience, I have one even that keeping circling back to the front of my mind. I want to share that story with you here.
If you attended my students' presentation, you know that it is 100% their work. They prepare what they are going to say to attendees, they've designed the take-home souvenir (instead of a hand-out), and they've designed the display. Of course, everything that they are sharing is also 100% created and published by them as well. We usually get a very good crowd that visits us and the kids don't get to come up for air for over two hours.
This year, I had one student with me that we'll call Trent. Trent is a quiet guy with a great sense of humor. Through our student-directed classroom, he has become an extremely strong leader often setting aside his work momentarily to help a peer in need. He encourages others when they feel like success is out of their grasp. He is an amazing individual who doesn't pull any punches when you want the truth.
Each of my students simultaneously run their own little presentation with groups of educators throughout our allotted time. We really need one computer per student, but we weren't able to travel with that many computers this year. Trent asked if he could use our iPad,"I know it won't show many of the awesome projects that we did, but I know I can explain it well enough that they will get a good idea of what I'm talking about.That way everyone else can keep using the laptops." Pretty selfless for an eleven year old, huh?
As my students present I stand back, field any questions they feel they can't answer fully and provide any support that they need. They've told me that if I stand too close it makes them nervous...so I keep a small distance. I could overhear Trent speaking with a small group and doing a beautiful job. They had so many questions that he was able to field effortlessly. That small group dwindled down to one teacher. She continued to pepper him with questions and take notes furiously. Trent took his time to explain all the tools, helped her write down steps, and even helped her spell out the tool's name if she asked.
She thanked him after about thirty minutes and went on her way smiling. Trent looked up at me with a huge grin, "Mrs. Ramsay, I just changed that woman's life forever. She'll never teach the same again. And isn't that what all of this is all about anyway?" Before I could answer, he turned and started his next presentation with another group who had just walked up.
WOW! Trent understands the importance of going to a conference; he knows it's not just about getting, but about giving back; it's about sharing a piece of yourself. It really is about changing lives forever.
As educators it is so important that we take the time to let our students have these experiences. They need to share what they are learning with others of all ages and geographic locations. They need to know that what they are doing can positively impact more than just themselves. They need the opportunity to share their perspective in the field of education and beyond. As I've said many times, they are the reason we are constantly learning and growing. Let's not underestimate our learners, but give them the opportunities to change people's lives forever.