I’ve been asked several times over the course of the last few days, “What is your big take-away from ISTE 2017?” I get the feeling that people are wanting me to tell them that I found a tool, idea, or a session that I just can’t wait to implement next year. Although, I have found some new tools and ideas that I will definitely be using in the future, I believe that my biggest take-away has been that I am going to take the things that I’m already doing to the Next Level. My PLN, gamification, BookSnaps, and anchor charts are just a few things I’ve leveled up this week due to my experiences at ISTE17!
Gamification: Gamification in itself is Next Level education. Layering the most engaging game mechanics over our curriculum allows educators to take their classrooms to the next level. As I’ve said before, Michael Matera and Tisha Richmond have both been pivotal in my implementation of gamification this year. It blows my mind that a high school teacher and a middle school teacher have had such a huge impact on my elementary classroom! If you would have told me who I would be influenced by and what I would be doing in my classroom a few years ago, I never would have believed you. It means the world to me to be a part of the #xplap (Explore Like a Pirate) crew. They are the most genuine, hard working, creative, passionate people and I’m so lucky to call them my friends!
I think many people, including myself at one point, look at gamification as a huge monster of a project. When in reality it’s just taking what we do every day and taking it to the next level. I already had my students in groups. I already had a point system in place. But in organizing my thoughts, creating a theme, and layering game mechanics, I was able to take what I already had in place to a level that was more accessible and far more engaging for my students than ever before.
Anchor Charts: For years I’ve been following Erin Flanagan of Erintegration on Facebook and Twitter so when I saw that she was presenting at ISTE, I jumped on the chance to hear her speak…no matter what it was about! So, I went to Erin’s Interactive Anchor Charts session and, as I had expected, it was excellent! She showed us some of her regular anchor charts (which were way better than mine have ever been) and then showed us how she took them to the next level by adding an element of technology to them where students could interact with the anchor charts. My favorite things that I took away from this session were: typing up your anchor chart after you make it with your class to make it look cleaner, adding QR codes to the chart for students to interact with, and using interactive anchor charts as part of reading workshop. What great ways to take something many of us already do in the classroom and take it to the Next Level!
Professional Learning Family as my Next Level PLN: My journey to becoming a connected educator has been so amazing and completely unexpected. After refusing to get on Twitter for a few years, I finally decided to jump on board. Over the past two years Twitter has quickly become the best thing I’ve done for my own PD. I have made friends, found support, been involved in multiple online EdCamps, and created the #OrEdChat. My professional learning network means a lot to me and I would not be the educator I am today if it weren’t for them. However, when I started meeting my tribe at conferences this year, my PLN truly went to the next level. The connections grew stronger, the face to face time allowed for deeper conversations, and they became my Professional Learning Family. Shared experiences, inside jokes, laughter, and fun times are all things that will live in my heart and pop up in my mind every time I think of them. Instead of being sad that I won’t see them again for a while, I am looking forward to the future to seeing more of my PLF face to face and continuing to build and nurture these relationships.
What makes us different? Over and over again I heard people talking about how great it is to be around the people who “get us” here at ISTE. That we feel like we live on an island by ourselves for the majority of the year where we have access to a smart phone and internet but no other human contact. Why is that? Why are there so many of us who are so like minded converging in one place and yet we can’t even find others in our own schools like us? Why are we the kind of people getting the alien look or elbowed by other teachers during a staff meeting and told to stop talking before we say something that causes us all to try something new? What makes us so different? These questions plagued me every time I heard someone exclaim that it feels so good to be surrounded by our own people!
After some reflection and thought, I believe the one thing that sets us apart is that we are willing to take education to the next level. We are willing to take our students, classrooms, schools, personal and professional development to the next level. We start where we are and we take steps to make it happen. We have a growth mindset and know that we will fail forward many times. We will push the envelope, make people cringe, and reach out to our PLN for support. We are Next Level Educators.