I am riding an exciting wave of inspiration and coming off of EdTechTeacher’s iPad Summit. It was my first: so many ideas, lessons, personalities and products. Interestingly enough, the Summit was much more about pedagogy and best practice than any one product–iPad included.

The good folks at ETT really know their stuff. I have been a fan of their work from afar for a few years. This experience really sold me. They understand the current landscape, and in many ways they are driving the discourse on tech-supported learning K-12. They focus on learning and they speak equally and eloquently across grade and public/private divides. Tom D’Accord (@thomasdaccord) and Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) led awesome sessions. Justin Reich (@bjfr) introduced day two and talked persuasively about his journey from teaching intern at Noble & Greenough to EdX Fellow and MIT lecturer. What I most enjoyed hearing from these three gentlemen–something I also heard in sessions by Shaun Kirk (@mrkirkbhs) and many others–was that their journey was the primary focus. Why did we become teachers? Why do we stay in the profession? How can we best serve our students needs? Where do evolving tech tools fit into all of this? Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? These are questions we need to ask of ourselves and our peers. (Well, maybe not the last one, but it is part of our collective tech journeys.)

Heidi Hayes Jacob (@heidihayesjacob) set the tone by talking about literacy, saying that literacy is accessing language and making meaning. She went on to discuss three literacies: digital, media and global. Everything else flowed from a single idea: that our primary job as educators in these times is to help students make meaning in these three areas.

These are the five lessons I took away from the Summit:

1) Literacies will set us free. Greg Kulowiec used the allegory of Plato’s cave to describe how teachers are bound by what we think we know and limited by what we can never know about teaching with technology. We are shackled to products and systems that force us into false realities. Our focus should not be integration but redefinition: of literacy, of how we use digital tools, or how we can use analog pace and practice in a digital world. He urged the audience, as did Heidi Hayes Jacobs, to help students use the best combination, and to define the path before deciding on a product. The more literate we are–in digital tools, media and global contexts–the better the class environment. In this sense literacy will help teacher unclutter their minds to help students become fully literate for their life and times.

2) It’s not about the apps or products, it’s about the outcomes. This lesson came through in every session–from elementary to high school, vendors to visionaries. Teachers need to define their lessons and intentions by more than “doing a PowerPoint” or “writing a paper.” Teachers should define their outcomes more broadly, boldly: “I want my students to share, publish, write for an audience, speak persuasively, connect with different cultures.” I think all teachers want this and more for their students. As a language teacher, I want my students to understand the power of words and to respect the way languages serve as a cultural and historical archives.

I saw teachers and tech integration specialists from Maine and Texas present student work that had a significant impact on learning in the whole community. In the framework of Richard Bryne (@rmbyrne), students were creating to educate, illustrate, demonstrate, summarize and inspire. The question that should haunt teachers is “What will they remember?”

3) Essential Questions are…essential. Let’s start with the non-essential question that we are all guilty of asking, in my case all too often: “Guess what I’m thinking?” Shaun Kirk shortened this to “GWIT?” This type of question invites no reflection and elicits to no dynamic discourse. Essential questions are discourse drivers. These questions are relevant, important, urgent, open-ended, complex. No “yes/no,” no “guess what I’m thinking.” Essential questions are the seed for all projects worth doing. The Buck Institute for Education has tons of useful resources on essential questions and PBL.

4) Don’t say “No” to note taking. I don’t think I have ever seen so much active note taking in so many different forms. I am a huge fan of Notability, so I was glad to see it front-and-center. I use it to keep my own notes. I also use it as my go-to annotation app for making up student work. I also saw Paper, Penultimate. Evernote and Notes. Keeping and having a record of learning is important. It has always been and I suspect it always will be. Making thinking and learning visible is essential. I walked away with a sense that students should be taking notes, sketching, and mind mapping not only to remember what they saw but to reinforce how they learn. These note taking tools can be analog, digital, or hybrid–like with Post-it Plus.

5) Balance is key. Balance means a balance of tools, techniques. Balance means when to say “when” and when to say “no.” Balance means mapping out the process before we begin the project. Balance means not using any app when it’s not necessary. Balance means app smashing  to take the best of each to make a master product. Balance means letting students determine who they’ll work with, and in some cases, how they will be evaluated.

In the end, tech supported learning–just like authentic learning–is all about proficiency. Teachers should push themselves to experiment, evaluate and iterate. Students benefit in a measurable, meaningful ways. Check out all the resources available at EdTechTeacher to make it happen.

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