Ba-Boom! EdTech!

Education’s explosive ‘next’ observed through the lens of ISTE 2019.

UNPACKING EDTECH | by Mark Gura

Turning on the TV in my hotel room, all channels carried the story of a massive fireball over Philadelphia. This Tunguska-like event was attributed to an historic refinery explosion. Let me submit, however, an alternative version: this record breaking release of energy was brought about when a critical mass of cutting edge ideas, fresh inspiration, and news of great things to come was reached as 20,000 educators converged on ISTE 2019.

What follows here are my observations and reflections gathered at Ground Zero.

ISTE: Shaping the Field, Defining Its Current State

Over a good many years, now I’ve experienced ISTE as the embodiment of edtech—both shaping the field, making accessible what it offers to an ever-increasing body of education constituents—and defining its current state for those who hope to understand and contribute to it.

A very good place to begin, then, is ISTE CEO Richard Culatta’s annual press breakfast. Here, from my ringside seat, I heard him share a half dozen of the organization’s current, overarching focus points.

First up were four areas, titled, “The Year of…”

  • A.I. in Education
  • Recognizing Educators
  • The Student, and
  • Closing the Gap.

 

Additionally, he mentioned a major shift in focus away from individual educators to full districts as a way to accelerate ISTE’s brand of educational change.

Also: the need to impact university schools of education, so that their work to prepare teachers more fully reflects the vision of ISTE.

In all of this, I see ISTE itself now to be in full maturation.

Importantly, very evident throughout the conference was its accelerating transformation from being an edtech-focused organization to more realistically, simply an education organization—albeit, one that has a particular focus on how technology is most appropriately pulled into a broad effort to deliver the most relevant variety of teaching and learning for today’s and tomorrow’s students.

Consequently, in crafting this report, I didn’t find much use for terms like disruption and game changer — although no doubt those elements were present at the conference.

Deep maturation that is now bearing fruit seems more to the point of what I saw and choose to share.

Digital bells and whistles aside, this year ISTE offered a brand of leadership and vision centered on addressing many of education’s longstanding concerns—although, from a highly updated perspective.

About Those 4 Big Bullets…

Richard wisely turned his breakfast over to a panel of active educators who “walk the walk” in their professional lives, and whom ISTE has supported in making a difference in the lives of students and colleagues.

Further, he mentioned ISTE’s partnership with TED Talks, alluding to the organization’s understanding of its members as colleague experts who have much to offer in explaining crucial trends.

First was April Keck DeGennaro, a teacher at Peeples Elementary School in Peachtree, Georgia. Educators often think of AI as an emerging element in instructional resources, but through this presentation the focus was importantly widened to preparing today’s students for the broad impact of AI in all aspects of life in the future. April wanted them to be AI detectives so they can spot where and how AI is working in the world around them.

Patricia J. Brown, a Technology Specialist for Ladue School District, spoke about how digital media can amplify the voices of educators and their students. Now that we have such powerful, accessible media tools, we must use them and use them for good. I love the Alice Walker quote she included: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.”

Speaking for The Year of the Student category were Dr. Marialice B.F.X. Curran and her 12 year-old son – together, a Digital Citizenship force of nature. Digital Citizenship is something that should involve more than just online safety and responsible behavior. These two are author-and-speaker partners and creators of the DigCitKids Movement – ‘Kids Solving Real Problems in Local, Global, and Digital Communities.” Their website quotes former President Obama, “I want all of us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in peoples’ lives?

And finally, for The Year of Closing the Gap, we heard from Nicol R. Howard, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Education/University of Redlands and her colleague Sarah Thomas, Ph.D., Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools. Importantly, these two have written two ‘Closing the Gap’ books, published by ISTE, Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for Teacher Prep Programs and Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom. Equity remains a crucial issue and ISTE clearly is tackling it head on.

Powerful Books, Handbooks, and Sessions  

Richard expressed deep appreciation for the ongoing work of ISTE Books, which publishes on themes relevant to members and their colleagues, globally. The books also reflect ISTE’s ongoing dedication to make accessible the best and most important ideas and approaches in Education — now, importantly reaching beyond edtech to present the sort of themes featured above. Perusing the ISTE bookstore set up at the conference, my attention was caught by The Digital Citizenship Handbook, Teaching AI, and New Realms for Writing, all powerful books highly reflective of the way the field is maturing.

Through my four days at the conference, I frequently took a deep dive into that special space of convergence in the Venn Diagram of Education; that place where educational paradigms overlay one another. Sometimes the overlay is elegant, sometimes not so much, but so often it’s unexpected and exhilarating.

At the annual ISTE Literacy Network’s session, from a grab bag of “The New” conveniently squeezed into a vision- and info-packed hour (actually, I produce this session for ISTE personally), emerged an understanding of the new shape of Literacy Instruction.

‘Technology Based Literacy Resources and Practices with Special Promise’ aims to turn heads and drop a few jaws. It offers solid examples of resources available to take literacy learning to next levels of possibility. Sage Salvo, of Words Live, delivered big-time in the first of the session’s four presentations.

Words Live

I think of Words Live as an engine that delivers instant cultural relevance to lessons that otherwise would be experienced by students as beyond the scope of their interest (boring!). Accomplishing that is quite a feat. Words Live is an online resource that supports teachers and students in easily matching text-based content items being studied (think anchor texts, literary concepts, etc.) with the music that kids are currently listening to—and quickly delivering, through the work of its algorithm, standards-based lessons replete with video-embedded slides that present analysis and examples of how the selected text aligns with and is understood through songs that share themes, concepts, and literary devices.

Words Live provides focus questions, assessment suggestions, and a full complement of instructional assets. A must-be-seen resource for today’s classrooms! Salvo, the creator of Words Live, is an educational visionary with a background in entertainment and both feet firmly planted in a mission to deliver precisely what today’s kids want and need. https://www.wordsliive.org/

Timelooper

Timelooper, built on the session’s increasing excitement with its extraordinary solution that applies VR/AR technology to required curriculum. While many of us are still figuring out how VR can most meaningfully be used to produce important learning experiences, investments in precious student time and attention, that go beyond simply dazzling us all with mind-bending visual effects, Timelooper elegantly addresses actual classroom needs. It offers experiential instruction that transports students into the startling reality of landmark historical events. Students explore these in a virtual environment of extraordinary fidelity; an experience that resonates deeply, taking them beyond the realm of traditionally learned concepts and facts. The experiences crafted by Timelooper provide exciting entry points for learning and applying communication skills: writing, discussion, related readings, and more. No wonder the large number of literacy educators present were transfixed. https://www.timelooper.com/educators

BirdBrain Technologies

BirdBrain Technologies, a student robotics provider, pushed the literacy education parameters even further. One of the most exciting recent developments in the area of Student Robotics is the deep and meaningful connections made with Literacy Learning. BirdBrain Technologies, particularly with its Hummingbird kit, has gone deep here, developing practices in which students explore themes in literature and express and illustrate their learning through designing and building robotic tableaus (I think that term will work here) based on literary works (e.g., Poe’s The Raven). Session participants were given a startling, robotics-driven, easy-for-teachers-to-implement approach to Literacy Instruction that was both unexpected and that offered a vision of what’s next for classrooms. https://www.birdbraintechnologies.com/

Nearpod

Rounding out the sessions offerings was Nearpod a student engagement platform that makes technology integration easy—something crucial, in my mind, as so many teachers are still leery of the difficulty and complexity they think they must overcome to make technology part of what they do. Nearpod is also a vast library of content and resources, and Amy Brown demonstrated one of its instructional games in real, synchronous time to the session’s audience who were quick to join the action projected up front on the large screen. They interfaced with the excitement on screen instantly with their phones and other mobile devices. Nearpod, a well-known resource, continues to shape shift, expanding its very abundant body of content through ongoing acquisition of instructional resources, such as Flocabulary. https://nearpod.com/

Also see: Professional Development, Transformed | EdTech Digest

Innovative Literacy Playground

In a STEM-centric learning environment, nothing is more crucial to the body of knowledge students will use throughout their lives than literacy skills. And while clearly, literacy itself is being redefined by new capabilities and possibilities fueled by an ever more functionally rich body of digital resources, the elements of reading, writing, speaking, and listening (the four Pillars of Literacy), remain crucial—although, taking on exciting new ways of manifesting themselves. This was evident at the conference’s Innovative Literacy Playground. Among its offerings:

Supporting Creative Communicators in the Classroom – students communicate their learning through a design process (Melinda Kolk) Student Writing: Effective Strategies and Digital Tools for Revision (Troy Hicks) – Student Voice and Choice via digital tools action research demonstration (Heather Esposito, Allison Kreiss, and Kelly Healey), Google Forms as a self-reflection tool in the writing process (Jules Csillag), and VR Escape Room Game Creation (Jules Csillag). For a full listing of playground presentations and full titles, click here.

Student Creativity

Is there a Creativity Crisis looming on the horizon? Despite more and more educators uttering affirmations that developing student creativity is crucial to our collective future— and resource providers asserting that the tools student might use to realize creative efforts are available—this remains a neglected area of student development.

However, there have been some interesting developments recently that hint that the tide may be turning. One looming bit of motivation for schools to take Student Creativity more seriously is the announcement from the administrators of the PISA exam to offer a “creative thinking assessment” for worldwide use in 2021.

True, there are creativity resources available to schools, if not in abundance, then in sufficient supply. These are largely digital equivalents to paint and canvas, pianos and guitars, and video studios. And importantly, many function not only as media, but they make the work of producing something easier, especially for the majority of students who are not blessed with extraordinary talent or who haven’t invested years of effort in learning the craft side of creation. But they don’t provide nearly enough support for students in understanding Creativity, identifying their own capacities and growing them, and understanding how to apply them.

A Particularly Interesting Resource

One, resource though, that I saw at ISTE, Apple’s Everyone Can Create offers much of what I think is truly needed.

I like the way students not only discover how they can create creative products through producing video, photography, music, and drawing on their own using apps that run on the iPad, but, my take is that they are supported in discovering context for this—an absolutely crucial dimension of the sort of applied creativity that’s needed today.

Further, I very much like that Apple has conceived schools’ developing student creativity as something to be done not just in isolated, specialized classes like Arts classes (something that’s been on Education’s Endangered Species List for a long time, anyway), but in core subject learning across the curriculum, where I feel it may be most meaningful and where it can also support and enrich learning of those subject’s content and skills sets, as well.

Everyone Can Create is such a rich and extensive body of resources that there is no way to do it fuller justice here beyond strongly suggesting that all educators really need to take a look at its well designed and organized website.

By the way, I spent a good amount of time in Apple’s conference experience for educators, a dazzling experiential environment that struck me as something between a Disneyworld ride and a graduate education course. There, I saw crowds of enchanted colleagues immersed in elements of Everyone Can Create—a definite wow!

Note to self and reader colleagues: I intend to do a major review of Everyone Can Create over the next few months; watch this space for it.

Student Robotics

I was expecting to find Student Robotics in abundance at ISTE, especially on the exhibition floor. Even with this expectation, though, I was a bit overwhelmed by how this area has grown and how many new offerings are now available, with even more promised to be released soon.

Borrowing Richard’s tagline, one is on firm ground seeing this as The Year of Student Robotics. Although I see no end of this exploding trend in sight, this body of resource and instructional practice has evolved to become a hyper-rich way to provide deep STEAM learning experiences, an approach that I predict will soon be offered by absolutely every school. How could they responsibly ignore it?

Deciding which approach, which way to fit it into the instructional program, and which varieties of materials to select, however—will take some ‘catch up’ as there is such an abundance of high-quality offerings to navigate.

Let’s begin right here, right now, though! Some of the exciting things I saw this year:

As part of the long admired PITSCO Education body of resources, Smart Buddies (to be formally released this coming September) was the first robotics item to grab my attention and shake me up a bit (in the best possible way, of course.) Not what I was expecting to find at ISTE, but so wonderful—this is a very appealing programmable robot, actually a small robot scooter on which a variety of action figures ride. But this resource has a powerful, beyond-just-STEM purpose.

I was won over quickly by Sharmi Albrechtson’s (CEO of SmartGurlz) as she ran down this breakthrough concept for me. The Smart Buddies: Teaching Everyone to Code program is designed to support students in better understanding and embracing diversity in the world in which they are growing up. The kits come with female and male figures of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Through identifying with these and programming the robots, students learn Coding and related STEM curriculum as well as being immersed in Social Emotional Learning and their diverse world. I can see how this will guarantee an important shift needed to encourage more girls—actually, kids of many demographics not historically successfully engaged in STEM—to embrace computer science and engineering and its applications. There are also deep connections to Literacy (here we go with that theme again) as students use the kits to program for important storytelling-based activities.

Pictured: LEGO Master Educator, Ian Chow-Miller, demoing SPIKE Prime.

Another item that really grabbed me is LEGO Education’s new SPIKE Prime kits. Engage Every Learner in STEAM with LEGO® Education SPIKE … https://education.lego.com/en-us/meetspikeprime

Any significant expansion of the LEGO Education body of robotics materials is a major event in the world of Student Robotics. LEGO’s body of materials, in my opinion, continues to provide the fullest, most accessible, most versatile range of learning possibilities: everything from designing a robot, either as an exercise in engineering imagination or as a solution to a real world problem, to programing it, to testing it, and on to making modifications and improvements in both the robot and the program coded to run it.

Recently released, ISTE 2019 was my first opportunity to get a good look at SPIKE Prime. I think that over the years LEGO’s “Mindstorms” material, which has evolved from original incarnation to NXT and on to EV3, has gotten more sophisticated (a very good thing). However, between the WeDo materials, intended for younger, earlier grades, and the current Mindstorms, is a sweet spot for teacher adopters of these great resources and SPIKE Prime will address it. Simpler, easier to understand, somewhat easier on classroom management and budget, I think that SPIKE Prime will get a great deal of well-deserved attention as teachers gravitate toward it. I think for many it will prove to be the best path into fully robust integration of robotics into their work with students, and one that will prepare them and their students for more complex robotics down the line. I’m on board!

Kinderlab’s KIBO Robotics kinderlabrobotics.com impressed me as offering serious coding through materials that are so accessible and appealing to young students. I very much appreciate that KIBO is scaling up its robotics materials in complexity of function. Originally intended for young students who need very simple materials, KIBO is now expanding programmability to include ways to use sub-routines. As students mature and become more proficient at coding concepts and skills, KIBO will stay relevant and challenging for them. Supporting students to grow and reach without having to leave the comfort of a body of materials that they have become comfortable with (and love, I would expect) I think is a great plus in what KIBO is doing. I found myself marveling at how much these kits allow students to do using a ‘screen free’ learning environment. KIBO offers kids building block-like materials they can manipulate using visual cues, arranging them into robotic programs that model and illustrate coding in ways guaranteed to make great sense to young students who are now learning in an ever more sophisticated environment.

I got an early look at Birdbrain Technologies’ https://www.birdbraintechnologies.com/ new, updated FINCH 2.0, a more robust version of an established robot that’s proven to be a winner. When I think of STEAM, focusing on the A in the acronym, which stands for The Arts, I generally think about Birdbrain’s Hummingbird kit, often used by students in combination with traditional crafts items, like piper cleaners and cardboard, to produce handmade, robotics-driven expressive and whimsical creations. These kids create to explore imaginative themes and demonstrate and communicate learning; like bringing poems to life.

The Finch https://www.birdbraintechnologies.com/finch/ – Birdbrain’s other robot resource, is a pre-built robot (elegant design, I think) that can be programmed for traditional and challenging coding activities, like maze navigation, but also for Arts oriented activities, like synchronized robot dance performances. FINCH Robot 2.0, now upgraded to take advantage of the MICRO.BIT processor, appears to be an economic, highly versatile and capable classroom robot that students can program using a wide variety of coding platforms.

OZOBOT https://ozobot.com/ – Such a well thought out and executed end to end approach to bringing robotics into today’s Education. And I love the attractive, small scale EVO robot! Hard to imagine that a simple approach to coding, involving drawing and coloring with markers could involve such sophisticated computer science oriented learning outcomes. It’s representative of the overall elegance of design to be seen in the OZOBOT approach. And then, there’s the other option, using Google’s Blockly programming platform. So both screen-based and non screen-based coding is possible, giving great flexibility. This provider’s Feedback Loop, interface seems very promising, too, enabling students and teachers to collaborate in reflective, ongoing robotics learning.

Makeblock https://www.makeblock.com/steam-kits/mbot – The Makeblock robot I experimented with on the exhibit floor was intended for younger students, enabling them to learn about a variety of robotic machinery and electronic parts. I found it to be quite impressive with a highly engaging form factor and personality, moving around an imaginative, mat type environment. But this provider has 5 lines of hardware products, like its Motionblook materials, with sophisticated mechanical and electronic components, that are capable of performing a wide range of functions, and providing challenges for older students. Students use robotic modules that are simple to combine and easy to work with, supporting them in building any of ten cool preset forms, or even their own idea for a robot. I like that among these are industrial, non-anthropomorphic bots, like a sophisticated robot arm, which, while not being cute like movie bots, can support today’s students in learning about real-world industrial applications of robots. That’s strength in my opinion. Makeblock offers free programming tools and impressive curriculum.

UBTECH Education https://ubtecheducation.com/ – has a history in industrial robotics and has brought that experience to providing robots for education. The result of this is that the robots students work with have precisely operating components, servos for instance, that produce smooth robotic movements. UB Tech offers an advantageous range of robotics kits in 3 levels: Beginner (elementary), Intermediate (middle school), and Advanced (high school)… offering experiences from simple coding on up to sophisticated one. Their free UBTECH Education app provides easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions, 360-degree, 3D modeling tools that supports students build understanding, coding, and bringing robotic creations to life. Some of the bots I saw on display, Yanshee, for instance, were impressive instilling that ‘this is not a toy, this is a real robot’ feel that I’m sure will win over tech savvy students.

At the SPHERO https://www.sphero.com/education/ area – I saw some new, powerful items from a provider with an important track record of providing materials to schools. SPHERO is well known for its programmable round robots, Bolt and Spark, This was my first opportunity, though, to get an up close and personal look at their newer RVR robot, a powerful, flexible, robot with lights, sensors, add-on ports, etc. that students can program to operate as is or, importantly, to customize by adding elements, even those acquired from other producers of materials. This is a serious robot J I also got a look at Sphero’s (not a robot) SPECDRUMS, a music education oriented resource that involves putting on app-connected electronic rings and tapping colors to produce sounds. Cool!

But Wait, There’s More!

Some other bots from a very robot-crowded conference—can’t list them all, but here are a few that caught my attention: 

Matatalab matatalab.com – My first time seeing or hearing about these bots, which seem to have much to offer. This provider offers assembled robots that students can control, code, and use to gather information through sensors. This, I feel, might be a valuable STEAM resource as along with comprehensive coding curriculum; they offer Animation, Music, and Artist add-on items.

Click image for video: Robotis Robots can dance!

Robotis robotis.com/ – A robust, pre-built robot that can dance! (among other things) At their booth I saw a terrific demo involving a group of robots dancing in unison… the person manning the booth also showed a laptop interface which he explained facilitated students programming their robots to dance. They seem to have a wide variety of kits for students to assemble pre-designed robots.

Root Robot https://root.irobot.com/ – Classrooms that are going to begin with just one robot might select this one. At their booth I was how it is magnetic and can be programmed to perform on a magnetic white board, allowing a full class to focus on and appreciate the behavior of a single robot.

REV Robotics’ Class Bot REV Robotics – A sturdy, robust robot which struck me applicable for high school STEM Learning.

Photon – An attractive newcomer (to me) which struck me as an exciting item to introduce robotics to elementary schools. A pre-built bot with sensors, there are lesson plans and implementation tips. My sense is that there’s a lot here and a lot of good thinking behind it.

And my apologies to all of those other bots at ISTE 2019 I couldn’t meet personally.

There was also robotics in the Computer Science Playground.

Robo Wunderkind demo at the Computer Science Playground made it look so kid friendly with easy-to-use, fun physical components and intuitive software. www.robowunderkind.com

AIM Academy aimpa.org – so great to see a school this is “All In” with robotics. I chatted with Doug Markgraf, a full time robotics teacher there and with Robert Ervin, Director of Robotics and Engineering for the school. I had to be mindful of the very powerful, full-size robot prowling the floor, built by the school’s FIRST team and got a close look at their android phone powered robot built by their FIRST Tech Challenge team.

TYNKER tynker.com – Before seeing the new Tynker robotics kits at the Computer Science playground, I had associated this resource provider with coding in virtual environment. I think Tynker’s decision to also throw its hat into the ring of full blown robotics is indicative that many providers of materials related to robotics will follow suit and formal enter the Student Robotics space… and I think some important developments will result. Welcome!

And a special note here in case you haven’t heard: EdTech Digest will publish its first State of Student Robotics Report/Educators Guide to Practices, Resources, and Visions of Next Level Learning in the early fall of 2019—be sure to reserve your copy! 

Revisiting ‘The Traditional’ – Through the ISTE ‘Change Lens’

I had the opportunity, at the conference, to take a deep look into the work of three groups that have long represented to me that important crossover territory in which required learning and crucial curriculum that has been addressed through traditional instruction—finally meets the sorts of progressive educational thought practice, and transformation applications of technology, that I associate with ISTE.

Discovery Education

The new Discovery Education Experience strikes me as one of a small handful of powerhouse resources currently available to teachers—especially those without great technology integration preparation—that makes it possible to bring so much 21st Century Learning into their classrooms.

I got an early look at this new generation of Discovery Education’s award-winning Streaming service. This is a very robust resource that offers videos and a wide variety of related materials (including a library of immersive virtual field trips) to support instruction across all K-12 curricular areas. Educators have easy access to curated, personalized, one-of-a-kind digital curriculum resources based on their preferences

Importantly, Discovery understands that teachers are busy and has designed this resource to save them precious time and make it possible for them to more easily differentiate instruction. Students experience highly relevant, engaging content that helps them relate to and better understand subject matter. 

The service’s standards-aligned content is assignable and can be bookmarked and saved for later use and remixed to meet the varying needs of diverse student populations in a safe and secure environment. Additionally, the service provides an up-to-date, high-quality, and ever-growing digital content collection, and a library of immersive virtual field trips.

Further, educators using Discovery Education Experience will be supported by the Discovery Education Community. A global community of education professionals, the Discovery Education Community connects members across school systems and around the world through social media, virtual conferences, and in-person events, fostering valuable networking, idea sharing, and inspiration.

Echoing ISTE President Richard Culatta’s comments about the importance of aligning the efforts of university teacher preparation programs with the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s classroom, I was heartened by Discovery Education’s announcement that Iowa’s Buena Vista University (BVU) is launching a new track within their online Master’s Degree program designed for K-12 educators, powered by Discovery Education. This will be accomplished through the program’s new Technology Integrationist Track; participating educators will learn the skills and classroom strategies they need to create dynamic K-12 digital learning environments for all students.

Voyager Sopris Learning

https://www.voyagersopris.com/  

As Education moves into fuller maturation, the role of technology as change enabler remains firmly in place, even as experienced education leaders push for broader understanding that the state of Teaching and Learning that we are seeking takes more— technology, yes!—but also human wisdom behind its more sophisticated applications.

In this ever more important professional space, I met with some very smart folks from Voyager Sopris Learning, who this year were excited to share their PD program, LETRS.

LETRS is not a tech-based reading resource; and it remains neutral about which of them is what I feel is the inevitable implementation in today’s classrooms of such a reading program. But LETRS offers teachers the sorely needed grounding often largely missing in deep, research-based understanding of the process of learning-to-read. Somewhere in the field’s rush to adopt digital instructional resources, teachers—at least in part—were relegated to the role of implementer, not full or senior partner with them.

That said, this group offers LANGUAGE! Live, a comprehensive blended learning solution for struggling readers designed to inspire in them greater confidence and engagement so that students become proficient readers. They’ve also updated their Passport program, a K-5 reading intervention that’s teacher focused and achieved through both print and online elements.

In all of this, the carefully designed flow of student and teacher experience is evident, reflecting what I feel is the mature professional space — in which, those familiar with technology choose it when they see it as the most appropriate choice — and the rest of the time, remain aware and in sync with how technology shapes the evolving intellectual environment.

Follett Learning

https://www.follettlearning.com/

The onward evolution of the school library and how it interfaces with and contributes to the overall educational experience is an essential… I can think of few better lenses through which to view it than the body of support provided by Follett, which for many years has helped school libraries be essential resources for literacy.

Out on the exhibition floor, I chanced across Follett’s display of a wide an impressive range of robotics, maker learning, and STEM items for which it is a reseller, reminding me of how the school library has morphed, appropriately, into media center, maker space, and more. Taking a look at how Follett’s online, A.I. guided library program I was treated to one more of those bits of evidence of how the field is wisely deepening its transformation, one foot in the new and the other still firmly planted in satisfying traditional needs.

Taking advantage of its facets as online repository of content items, this no longer has to be the exclusive business of the physical library. Rather, it is being re-conceived as something that engages students in the classroom and on their own virtual desktops. How’s that for remaining true to the function of the library, but expanding and enriching its ways of impacting learning?

By the way, MyDestiny provides Access to 40,000 e-books and more than 750,000 resources and locates relevant resources with built-in artificial intelligence, recommends books to student, and generates reports to track progress and achievement—to name just a few of its functions.

Also exciting is Follett Book eFairs program, Follett’s way of providing virtual book fairs. This is especially helpful for rural districts where it is more difficult to set up and run a traditional book fair. In the world beyond school, books are now purchased primarily online and wisely; shouldn’t that be mirrored in student purchasing through school? My takeaway? The school library—viewed as both a physical location and a series of literacy functions and ways of being literate—through continued refinements, like those I saw through Follett’s lens, represents profound change in the ways that essential learning is provided.

It’s Alive! (The Spirit, That Is!)

A parting final item. At booth #3052, I took a look at the offerings of 3DuxDesign https://www.3duxdesign.com/ and met young Ayana Klein, a sophomore at Washington University St Louis. With the help of her younger brother, Ayana engineered a cardboard-based modeling set to make use of the most ubiquitous and recyclable material in the world, the corrugated box! In under two years, what began as a fun entrepreneurial 3D printed prototype sold at local farmers markets, has become a full line of products and curriculum. 3DuxDesign is now used in over 350 schools, makerspaces, and museums across the States and abroad. 

I love it—the spirit: of entrepreneurship, of the adventure of finding needs and filling them imaginatively and effectively; of improving the world one finds oneself living in, and of sharing the experience and the knowledge with as many people as possible. That kind of spirit was alive and well at ISTE 2019—and lives on in all who went.

Mark Gura is Editor-at-Large for EdTech Digest and author of ‘Getting Started With LEGO Robotics’ (ISTE). He is a co-author of State of EdTech: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next. He taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. He spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system.

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