Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thoughts on #ISTE2015 Wednesday–Exhibit Hall

There are all sorts of interesting people working the various exhibit hall booths at ISTE and other conference. There are as I see it several groups or types.

Sales/Marketing People

Some are all about closing the sale. Not necessarily for you to take something away and give them a check but they are all about convincing you to buy. They are not going to be easy to get away from. They are doing their job and are not bad people but you may get more marketing speak and less useful information than you will from some of the other people. Sometimes these people used to be in the classroom so don’t always write them off.


Companies look to bring real classroom teachers to work at their booths. Large companies are more likely to do this than small companies. You’ll find lots of  teachers at the Microsoft booth for example. These are my favorite people to talk to in the exhibit hall. They use the tools/products, they love the tools/products but best of all they can tell you how they work in a real classroom with real students. Find these people, talk to them, and get their contact information as they can be very helpful in the future.

Product People

Sometimes these are marketing people. in a role called “evangelist.” Sometimes they are actually developers of the product. You’ll see a lot of these people at smaller companies. These are the people who work on the product every day. They know it. The people who come to conferences from this group tend to be good listeners. They want to know how to make the product better for YOU. Also they often talk to a lot of people using their product and can share a lot of ideas. These are the people who can make the product better for you though so it is usually worth talking to them.


Not often in the booth. More likely than not someone else working in the booth will introduce you although in small companies the CEO may also be wearing the Product People hat and talking to everyone. For a big company these people will be in meetings a lot with people who make buying decisions. They’ll likely be wearing suits too.

What did I mess? Did I mischaracterize anyone? What is your exhibit hall experience like?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Thoughts on #ISTE2015 Wednesday–Poster Sessions

I spent a lot of time in playgrounds and poster sessions. There is really not a lot of difference between a poster session and a playground session. The big difference is that a playground has a lot of posters on the same theme. Some of these are great and some are ok. I’ve come up with a few conclusions about how they should be done. My opinions and your mileage may vary as they say.

QR codes are great as far as they go.They are a great way to take people to more information and resources online.  I’ve been taking pictures of many of them. I’ll look at them when I get home. But honestly I would rather look at most resources on my real computer than my phone or even a tablet. I recommend two things with regards to QR codes. One is put them on cards that people can take away with them. The second, more important to me, is show the URL the QR code leads to for people like me.

People are taking their notes by taking pictures. Make your poster cell phone camera ready. In other words have some large print. If your poster shrunk to 8.5x11 is unreadable taking a picture and printing it or reading it online later may be a problem for some.

Have tangible things to people to see and touch. If you have student work you can show off bring it. Pictures of the dinosaur your student made is nice seeing the actual creation in person it better.

Many of the poster sessions had students along to talk about what they are learning and how. Wonderful experience for them and for the teachers they talk to. I’m a bit old fashioned but I thi8nk the international students in their uniforms looks classy. They looked sharp and serious about their education. But as long as they bring enthusiasm with them kids are always great.

I got a lot of ideas from these sessions. Well worth taking the time for at ISTE. I’ll leave you with a thought, a question, that I saw on one poster session. “What do you want your students to be ready for?” That’s something I will keep in mind as I work on next years plans.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thoughts on #ISTE2015 Tuesday

Today was about the conversations. I was able to connect with a number of the people I respect and admire who I communicate with online most of the year.  One of the conversations was with Vinnie Vrotny who is one of the people whose work with MakerSpaces is an inspiration for me.

Vinnie and I talked about creativity and how it seems that too often we school the creativity out of students. Makerspaces with their open ended projects are a way to encourage students to recover and hold on to their creativity. In my visits to the exhibit hall I have been looking at creative maker space sorts of tools. There are a good number of them.

Another conversation was with Cameron Evans who is a education CTO with Microsoft. He was pointing out that there is a lot of the same every year in the exhibit hall.. Largely the same companies showing the same sorts of things, albeit in new versions, in isolation Cameron’s thought was that it would be interesting if ISTE got a bunch of companies to set their products up in a sample classroom of the future. It’s an interesting idea. A virtual school with different rooms set up by different groups of companies might be very interesting.

Some things do change though. The blogger cafĂ© is not as it once was. Having a space with chairs and places to plug in technology is great. At the same time the community is not what it was in the early, pre-power and chairs, days. A lot of people there are not big social media people are there. And that is fine. IT makes it a little harder for the bloggers/tweeters/etc to find each other. Not as easy but not impossible. I managed to find someone pretty much every time I stopped by. So better or worse doesn’t really mean anything – different is the word.

In the area of computer science I am seeing a little more this year than last. Most of it this year is focused on elementary schools. Code.Org logos are on almost every poster or playground session that involves coding for elementary schools. My interpretation is that is energizing a lot of teachers. It will be interesting to see how that develops.

Speaking of, the organizations founder Hadi Partovi was on a panel at ISTE debating the idea that CS should be required for all students. The discussion covered the usual points. Thinks like a shortage of trained teachers, trouble fitting it in the schedule and money of course. It was pointed out that most of the money these days goes to the things that standardized tests test. I think the session was attended mostly by people who already believe that all high schools (at least) should offer CS even if not a required course. I don’t know it if changed any minds but it was interesting.

Tomorrow is the last day and I am looking forward to the maker space playground.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Thoughts on #ISTE2015 Monday

ISTE is huge. I mean really huge. There are something like 20,000 people here in Philadelphia. There are a lot people here I want to see and talk to. I was able to connect with a bunch of them on Monday. Very lucky in some cases and we happened to bump into each other. Others I sought out and still others tend to be interested in the same things I am.

The exhibit hall is also huge. It is, depending on your point of view, the worst thing about ISTE or the best thing. There are a lot of people who get paid to speak about education and technology who will tell you the exhibit hall is too commercial. and down right evil.  And there are a lot of others who will agree with them. Other people see the exhibit hall as a place to learn about new technology and learn how to use it to teach better. I lean towards the latter. Yes, there are companies who are just interested in making a buck and others who are out to control education whether their products work or not. But I believe that most people in the exhibit hall honestly believe they are offering tools that will help make education better. Some of them may even be right!

I tried to get into a session on educational use of Minecraft. The line was huge and there were easily twice as many people as could possibly be allowed into the room. Needless to say I didn’t get in. I got a brief demo of it at the Microsoft booth but I still don’t “get it.” There are other sessions this week and maybe one of them will make it clear to me.

Also at the Microsoft booth I learned how to create a Sway. “Sway is an app for expressing your ideas in an entirely new way, across your devices.” It looks like it may be a more interesting way for students to share information. And maybe for me as well.

I also learned about a new student response system. I’ll blog more about that after a) it is officially released and b) I have a chance to try it out. I am hopeful it will make my classes more interactive.

Beyond that I am excited about all the robots and 3D printers on display in playgrounds (being demonstrated by teachers) and on the exhibit floor. My wife and I picked up a pair of Ozobots and a Finch robot that she will use in her school. OK one of the Ozobots will probably run around my desk in the fall. A lot of people seem to be using robots to help teach programming these days. (Note I list a lot of educational robots elsewhere on my blog)

The Maker movement is alive and well at ISTE. Lots of playground and poster sessions. Lots of 3D printers as I said. Most of the 3D printer companies seem to be developing curriculum materials as well. The authors of Makerbot’s curriculum guide are at ISTE trying to talk to teachers about how they are using 3D printers so they can improve the book for the next version. I find their people very friendly and very willing to help teachers BTW.

Tuesday I have some more sessions I want to attend. And I hope to talk to more people. The one on one conversations are often as educational as sessions. And I only made it about a third of the way through the exhibit hall today. So lots to see and learn.

Interesting Links 29 June 2015

I’m at ISTE in I’ve already connected with a few old friends and hope to connect with many more. If you are also at ISTE I hope you’ll track me down. I’m attending as many CS related sessions as I can. For links this week I have a mix. Some information about what looks like a great professional development opportunity and some humor for teaching about passwords among other things.

Last week Microsoft hosted a teacher boot camp  for about 40 teachers to learn about teaching with the material that is used in Harvard’s famous CS50 course. They are hosting a second on at Harvard in early August. More information at

Katie O'Shaughnessey@KTOCompSci (shown below) has been blogging about the Redmond boot camp. I think she had fun!

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Spaceballs 12345 is a funny bit from the classic movie Spaceballs it’s a humorous example of bad passwords

Bloomberg Business has an interesting article about The Old Coding Languages That Refuse to Die How did they leave out BASIC? 

Five of the Best Computer Science Classes in the U.S. is also from Bloomberg Business. You’ll find Harvard’s CS 50 on the list.

9 App Features That Developers Should Consider When Creating EdTech Apps is an interesting article from Sam Patterson @SamPatue If you are thinking about having students write educational applications

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What will go if we teach CS?

It’s a constant question that comes up when we talk about adding (more) computer science to K-12 curriculum. Katie O'Shaughnessey talked about it in her excellent post Day -1: #cs50bootcamp: It’s all about scheduling in schools… what will go if we teach CS? Brian Sea asked me via Twitter “why not ask students? They can vote with their feet.” If only it were that easy.

Yes, in theory students can vote with their feet – they can sign up for the courses they want to sign up for. In practice school guidance counselors have a lot of influence and they don’t always see the need for more CS. Much of the reason for that is that they are influenced by college admissions officers who don’t seem to emphasis the value of computer science in their process. Many of us have been asking for universities to look for more CS in incoming students for years with little progress.

The only way to really get enough  people to have some exposure to CS in K-12 (or perhaps focus in during high school) is for there to be a required course. That pushed the “where will it go” question and the fighting begins.

Art, music and world language departments are often the ones with the most skin in this game. They are the departments that depend on elective courses the most. And they are important courses. Adding a new required course may very well cut back on their enrollment. The schedule of a school day is a zero sum game.

I wonder though if the problem is not overstated in many schools. I teach at a Catholic school where four full years are required. We still require more credits than most of the local public schools. If we can find room for four full year courses why can’t other schools find room for one semester or even full year of CS? Oh and by the way we do have a CS requirement or graduation.

I think that rather than assuming the schedule is full schools should look at what is actually happening in student schedules. If there are study halls or students only taking a couple of courses their senior year than clearly there is room for a required CS course. If not, well, than maybe something does have to go but with the increasing importance of CS in every facet of life room for CS needs to be found.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Do Grades Kill The Magic of Learning?

I was reading Mark Guzdial’s blog this morning (A goal for higher ed: “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”) and as often happen it got me thinking. His daughter is in a summer program with no grades and no tests. The idea is that students are there for learning’s sake. Scott McLeod also had a recent post about learning for the sake of learning - Summer of Code Scott’s family is learning to code on their own (with help from some online resources he lists.) Again there are no grades involved. It’s about learning.

Grades bug me. One summer I was teaching summer school at a prestigious boarding school. One of my students was very concerned that her good but not exceptional grade in my course would bring her GPA down to the point where she was not the top student in her class at home.This has stuck with me for probably 20 years now. How can we have a system where the grade is more important than the learning? And yet that is what we have.

I took my first computer science course near the beginning of my university career. I loved it. It was magic. I spent every free hour for the rest of my college career learning as much as I could. Some of it in classes but much of it on my own and with peers. My transcript may show how much (or how little) I cared about grades but my career over the last (gasp) 40 years shows, I think, shows how much I like learning.

I was lucky in that I had professors who encouraged experimentation and independent learning. They all seemed much more interested in us learning than in the grades themselves. It is an attitude I hope my students see in me as well.

There is a magic in knowledge, in learning, in ideas. There is no magic in grades. The hard thing is getting students to want to learn things. Passion from teachers can help. It is something I strongly believe teachers need to have to be good teachers. But it is often not enough. Grades are the club we use to force students to do things that we believe they will learn from. This often results in short term learning that fades with time. Hardly a good thing. In the long term this emphasis on grades as a mix of carrot and stick detracts from learning.

The trick, if you will, is to find other motivations. Motivations that come from within the student rather than being forced on them externally. As I look though my curriculum and plans for next year I will focus on what students found as fun. What made them want to learn more for themselves rather than just for the grade. When students want to learn to solve their own problems they seem to learn so much more that really does feel like magic.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Interesting Links 22 June 2015

I took it easy last week. Let’s call it retirement practice.  Hope you’re enjoying your self and if you are also on summer break I hope you are resting physically and mentally.

Only a few things to share these week.

CSP: IP Addresses and DNS with Vint Cerf doing a lot of the narration. It’s a really nice video which I plan to use with my classes next year. grows CS Ed partnership to reduce the Babble in CS Ed via Mark  @guzdial But do we want the Babble? I think we want some variety. How much is enough and how much is too much?

ACM, CSTA Announce New Award to Recognize US High School Students in Computing – he official press release announcing the Cutler-Bell award for high school computing. 

EV3 Basic  is a new Extension to Microsoft Small Basic that allows Small Basic to interact with the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot. May be worth a look if you are using robots.

Interesting video from ComputerCraftEdu: Starting to Program in Minecraft. I don’t know much about Minecraft but people seem to like it.