Learning new ideas and technologies from ed tech experts is what many elementary educators look forward to most at the Tots and Technology summer conference. But not all of the experts stand at the front of the room presenting. And not all of the learning takes place in organized, hands-on sessions. One of the most exciting parts of the conference is seeing our attendees interact with each other. They share stories from their own classrooms, libraries, and schools. They can hear what strategies and tools are engaging students in districts both across the state and around the country.
Many of these resource-rich conversations take place over breakfast or just waiting for a session to start. However, at the Birds of a Feather sessions, attendees’ enjoyed having these valuable discussions facilitated for them. Teachers and administrators gathered together with their “flock” of peers who taught at the same grade level or performed the same role. Each flock, from PreK and early elementary learners up to fifth grade, administrators, and electives teachers, met to discuss the challenges and successes they’d faced in the previous year.
Challenges and Successes
Many of the teachers in all grades shared some of the same challenges. One teacher from a PreK classroom explained that at her school, they received iPads to use with their students halfway through the year, but no instructions for how to use them with the kids. Another teacher echoed that they wished they had started their technology initiatives earlier in the year.
However, there was talk of many successes from the year, too. Some teachers had started maker spaces and tech labs for their students. Others were proud of new apps they had introduced in their classroom to maximize student engagement or make assessment a breeze.
New (School) Year Resolutions
One advantage of a summer conference is that it really allows for reflection on the previous year and preparation for the upcoming one. Here are just a few of the plans educators had for their next year:
- Sydney Musslewhite (@smussie) said that next she wants to begin the year with Google Classroom, try new apps like EdPuzzle and NearPod, and actually put them to use in the social studies classroom.
- Arianna Zampierin (@arizampierin) said she wants to use a variety of QR codes at different stations in order to reach all kids at different instructional levels.
- Delainie Hanson (@delainie_hanson) said she will try to match TEKS with technology for greater efficiency.
- AmyLittle (AmyLittle1234) wants to increase mentoring and coaching and involve parents by training them on how to use technology to engage digitally.
Sharing Great Ideas
What makes Birds of a Feather such a great resource is that the participants meet in small groups and really get to engage with exact grade-level peers experiencing the same challenges and successes with their students. They may face challenges figuring out how to adapt a technology to work with their content requirements. Or they might face similar lack of buy-in for new resources. By working together, they also shared some great ideas for apps and how they can be used for specific skill building. Here are just a few apps that were shared:
- Jennifer Almaguer (@Jenn_Almaguer) suggested using the VersoApp so that students can have a discussion while keeping their identities anonymous. The teacher can still see which student makes each comment.
- Angel Herring (@AngelinHouston) shared that Epic Books is free for teachers. It allows access to a digital library of 25,000 books and videos.
- Several teachers suggested Chatterpix as a great way to get students engaged and excited about learning new content on any subject. With Chatterpix, you can make anything talk, including pets, friends, objects, doodles, and more!
Birds of a Feather Flock Together
Educators at Tots feel a sense of belonging in talking with their peers fighting the good fight to get more technology in schools. As one teacher said “It’s great to come to Tots because everyone here just gets it.” While they might face reluctance from their schools about the need for technology expansions and district buy-in, for these two days, at least, they can be surrounded by like-minded ed tech fanatics ready to take on the world and transform learning.
If you want to join the networking, learning, and laughs at Tots and Technology, there’s still time to register for our second conference in July. It will be held in Arlington, Texas and will also feature the Birds of a Feather session. Read more about it and learn how to register here.