100 Word Stories
Highlighted in a poster session Sunday evening, a retired teacher decided to stay involved in education by posting a weekly writing prompt online. This free prompt might be a phrase, a sentence, or even an image. Students then write a story based on that prompt in only 100 words. This teacher organizes and posts students’ shared stories via Kidblog and Edublogs in one space for anyone to comment on their writing.
This native app for iOS was initially just a way to add closed captioning to video. During a session about Swift Playground (an Apple coding application), the presenters – all secondary teachers – shared that they have their students post their coding projects into Clips. The features available as of its most recent update are impressive and allow for creative performance tasks. You can record audio over images and videos, annotate images from your Photos library, lay a soundtrack over your multimedia, and add stickers to the content you record. Think iMovie only easier.
Andy Weir Keynote
The author of The Martian and Artemis was interviewed by a local literacy education professor during the Tuesday morning keynote. Weir was authentic and humorous as he recounted his journey from a college drop out to software engineer to best-selling science fiction writer. As a young kid, Weir wrote Beverly Cleary fan fiction (yes, you read that right). In high school, he worked for a local science lab cleaning out test tubes. One of the administrators there asked him to learn how to program a computer to keep track of their data. All he was provided was a manual. Weir’s appreciation for problem-solving found a home in software engineering at that point.
Although he decided to pursue this vocation over studies and a career as an author, he never lost his interest in writing. He wrote multiple serials online on a personal website while debugging code for AOL. It was during this time that he wrote The Martian. A chapter went up every six to eight weeks. Once the story was complete, readers asked him to put together all of the chapters into an actual eBook people could download and read on their tablets. This led to posting The Martian on Amazon for 99¢ (they wouldn’t let you give anything away for free). His book rose the best seller list, and the rest is history…
Reflection: Expect the Unexpected
The digital boat show that is ISTE (to quote an anonymous colleague) was quite an experience. I am glad I went to the edtech convention despite my previous reservations. Still, the mere size of the event was often overwhelming. I felt obligated to get in line a half hour early for a session I had already registered for out of concern that I would not be able to get into due to popular demand. And I am not going to even address the expo itself, a place one could easily spend a day meeting technology providers and companies.
As I thought about the three takeaways from ISTE, one common thread I discovered was that what I learned was not what I had expected going in. Before I explain, let me provide an analogy.
My wife and I recently stayed at a spa for our 15th anniversary. (It is actually our 16th anniversary, but who’s counting.) One reason we like this location is their firm rule on no electronics on the grounds. No smartphones, tablets, laptops, even e-readers. The first time we stayed there, I fretted about not having access to Twitter, email, or my digital newspaper subscriptions. After our stay, I appreciated the opportunity to be offline. This time, I looked forward to our technology sabbatical.
During our stay, I was waiting downstairs in the lobby to ask a basic question from the staff. One of the spa employees came up to me and asked, “Are you here for the guided hike?” At first, I said “no”. My next thought was that my wife and I would love a guided hike around the grounds. I told the staff member to hold tight while I went upstairs to grab my wife (it would have been nice to have a smartphone at that point). Anyway, an uneventful visit to the lobby led to a fun and educational hike with other guests as we learned about the local flora and fauna.
So what does this have to do with ISTE, the conference for technology in education? The fact is, I had come with specific expectations. This was a big, national conference. Lines trailed along the hallways, waiting for sessions that wouldn’t open up for twenty minutes. Every workshop seemed to promise new ideas and possibilities. The time, expenses, and stress of attending ISTE would, in my mind, be worth the effort.
By keeping an open mind about the limits of any learning experience, I was able to capture the diamonds in the rough. From the expo to the keynotes and sessions, there was much to capture our attention. Yet the seeds of possibility presented themselves when I looked for any idea that might spark innovation in my school vs. a specific tool or task. When I discovered the 100-word stories concept, I was simply browsing poster sessions. When I learned about the improvements to Clips, it was only a side note for the focus of the session. When I listened to Andy Weir’s keynote, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about his writing process instead of all the technical details of his research.
In an educational world that demands specific outcomes of learning, the most refreshing part about ISTE was the gathering of so many people and ideas in one place. It’s not possible to experience the whole thing. I’m not even sure I will go back anytime soon. Yet the concept of bringing many passionate educators together with the sole purpose of sharing potentially better practices through the lens of technology excites me about the future of teaching and learning. By expecting the unexpected, or in other words, by holding my preconceived notions at bay, I was able to appreciate ideas when they presented themselves. This approach seems like an appropriate mindset for any learning experience.