When ISTE Doesn't Offer the Session, Go Find It

Some of the best sessions happened away from the conference center, in the in-between times.

I had a list of things I wanted to learn about:
  1. How to differentiate instruction in app development for student coding
  2. Using Raspberry Pi in maker spaces
  3. Engaging students in social justice through partner city projects
  4. Maker spaces in low-SES contexts (and also how to set up an open environment while still keeping it safe)
  5. Technology integration in ELL classrooms (my context this last year)
I quickly realized, after looking at the ISTE app, that the conference tended to cater toward a broad audience and toward those who are new to technology. They also tended to focus less on the context and more on the platforms being used (tons of app-tastic stuff). I have experience with blogging, podcasting and multimedia design. I know how to use apps.  

Initially, I wanted to criticize the conference. I wanted to make big, bold statements about the focus of educators. I wanted to stand on a pedestal and judge. But then something snapped in me. I realized that I was at a booth next to someone who was doing amazing things in her school. 

So, I asked questions. I crafted my own sessions uses a much more human search engine of "Does anyone know anyone who does programming with middle school kids?" 

I found someone who taught design and computer code and he brought me over to someone else who shared a ton of resources with me. We talked about the possibilities and limitations of Raspberry Pi and he shared some ideas about robotics and Python. I met up, yet again, with Gregory Hill, to talk about how we navigate the chaos of maker spaces in low-SES contexts. 

I met up with Lisa Dabbs and Jeremy Macdonald and talked about ELL strategies. It wasn't just a sharing of ideas. It was also a sharing of our own shared experience in teaching that subject. I hung out for hours with Philip Cummings (below), talking about how to do project-based learning and how to find books that boys love.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the sessions I went to. I enjoyed the experience of getting to know people in person that I already know online. I enjoyed hearing about people's passions for things outside of education (photography, ultimate frisbee, etc.). However, I also enjoyed having one-on-one conversations about people who have the wisdom, expertise and experience in areas where I am just beginning to explore.  

I still attended ISTE. I still went to the formal, prepared sessions. However, when they didn't have what I was looking for, I found people and asked questions.  
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Thanks for sharing, John! I had similar feelings and then immersed myself in discussions that were interesting to me. I am so happy we had a chance to talk a bit, though I do wish I could have had a bit more time with you. I'll never forget running into you on the Riverwalk that night:, "Is that Joan??" So so funny! I look forward to our next meeting!

  2. I loved hanging out with you, Chad, Shelley, Jeremy, and so many others. The sessions were fine, but I don't think I'll remember much about them by the time school starts again. I won't forget the conversations, the friendships, and the personal connections I made. Thanks for giving the time and for inspiring me to transform my teaching.


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