How Technology Inspires Creativity, Compels Engagement, and Boosts Equity… to Drive Learning Success

Bob Nilsson Published 6 Jul 2017

ISTE keynote speaker Jennie Magiera inspires with untold, technology-rich stories.
Don’t let failure slow you down.
Engage your students with augmented reality and teach mathematics with drones.
And more insight from ISTE 2017.

Bringing untold stories to light is an important aspect of teaching. Jennie Magiera, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines Public Schools near Chicago and the author of Courageous Edventures, demonstrated this masterfully with a series of truly-inspiring, emotion-provoking stories. Technology plays a pivotal role in each story; sometimes subtly, often centrally, but always helping the story teller in overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers.

Magiera’s first story was of a young Korean, who arrives in the US with a new name. Before leaving Korean, her mother had sought guidance from a trusted neighbor as to an appropriate Americanized name. The neighbor suggested “Carol”. Unfortunately, because there is no “r” in the Korean language, “Carol” was translated as “Kello”, and she became known to her classmates as “the girl with the mistake name.” Enter Ms. Buckman, the girl’s fourth grade teacher and first person to ever ask her what she would like to be called. Her answer was that she would prefer to be called “Katie”. During the rest of fourth grade, the unorthodox Ms. Buckman was so inspiring that Katie, who was subsequently revealed to be Magiera’s mother, was motivated to become a teacher herself. Later, after she had graduated, Katie returned to visit her former teacher and told her that she wanted to be just like her. “But if you try to be me,” Ms. Buckman replied, “then who will be you?”

At the beginning of a weeklong robot-programming course, a team of four girls pushed their robots aside and told Magiera, “We can’t code. We’re just girls.” So Magiera “double-dared” them to give the the first module a try, and if they completed it, they could spend the rest of the course doing anything they wanted.  The girls happened to be dancers and programmed their Dash robots to dance. Along the way, they were captivated by the coding and stuck with it. When one of their dance teammates came down with mono and was unable to participate in a dance contest, they programmed Dash to substitute as their fourth.

Fifth grade students at a South Shore Chicago school were bothered by the continual news media portrayals of their community as “terror town” and decided to set the record straight. Their project was to create a video with a more accurate portrayal of the community based on students’ first-person accounts. The endeavor succeeded; the local media gave extensive coverage to the students and their story. As Magiera describes, this is an example of creative students using technology to shatter the myth of the single story.

Magiera observes that people often don’t tell their true stories. People tweet about activities like playing golf, but actually wash dishes five times more often. In reality we know by probing Google Analytics that people “like” Atlantic Monthly articles, but read the National Enquirer. There’s actually a lot to be gained by sharing personal true stories. When Magiera revealed that she was having difficulty starting a family and posted questions about IVF on Facebook, hundreds of “friends” responded with support and helpful information.

Don’t Let Failure Or Embarrassment Slow You or Your Students Down

Both Jennie Magiera and opening keynote speaker Jad Abumrad had personal stories of crawl-under-a-rock level embarrassment. Abumrad’s came when he was facing his first large live audience of 5,000 people. As he was about to begin, he tried to start his laptop, which was the backbone of the live Radiolab presentation, and found it was dead. His partner, Robert Krulwich (luckily he had someone to share this moment of anguish), said just restart it. But the computer was stone-cold dead.

Jennie’s moment of wanting to dissolve into non-existence came with a classroom full of students whom she had asked to view a video about calculating the volume of a pyramid. During the prior weekend, she had selected instructional videos and synched them to the students’ iPads. She patted herself on the back as the kids studiously viewed their tablet screens. But that pride turned to mortification when one student asked her how “Hot Tub Time Machine” related to pyramids. Somehow, she had accidentally synchronized the wrong video and would now have to explain to parents and administrators why her classroom of students had been asked to watch an R-rated movie.

These four kids who conversed with ISTE CEO Richard Culatta in front of an audience of 10,000 prior to the keynote address were amazing. The student on the left plans to start her career as a teacher and then run for POTUS.  Above right, keynote speaker Reshma Saujani explains that there are 500,000 open jobs in computing and technology, but 40,000 computer science majors were graduated in the US last year. To make things worse, the percentage of women in the computing workforce is dropping.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Drones to the Rescue!

Jersey City Public Schools does not have major behavioral problems, but they did have challenges with student engagement and passive learners. That lack of engagement dramatically changed when they introduced The Drone Project as a means to teach math concepts like the quadratic equation. Teacher Kimberly Crowley got the idea for the project during a course involving drones that she took with Dr. Chris Carnahan at New Jersey City University. She explained the details and results during her ISTE session, Using Drones to Inspire Creativity and Promote Student Engagement.

The JCPS district has 28,000 students (38% Latino, 30% African American, 18% Asian, 12% white) and the predominant languages are Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, and English. Approximately 70% of the students are in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); 13% are disabled. The first year of the drone program involved eight schools in the district and 23 teachers. In year two, 21 additional teachers came on board, and in year three eight more schools within the district joined. The program has now expanded to include 2500 students.

The results of the project have been phenomenal. Students are not only much more engaged across the board, but when Crowley looked into the PARCC scores (the state’s standardized assessments) of participants, she found they had improved more compared with the scores of non-participants.

For those interested in pursuing their own drone projects, Kim suggests using mini-drones, which cost only $40-50. Tynker and Parrot are two brands to consider. Many drones are programmable, so they can be used to teach coding. Be sure to keep an eye on the adults involved; Crowley found that the students are more responsible than the teachers, who were caught buzzing other people and attempting to fly a drone through a basketball hoop. 

One of the educational tools at the Devices in Their Hands-AR and VR in Your Classroomposter session was the Leap Motion controller, which senses where your hands to control items and activities on-screen.

Maureen Yoder shared brilliant examples of new ways to engage students with the latest virtual and augmented reality during her session, “VR and AR: A Comprehensive Overview and 12 Realistic Classroom Possibilities.” She has created a toolbox of resources for bringing augmented reality to the classroom. AR tools and content are developing so rapidly that Maureen recommends starting any project with a Google search of “augmented reality applications” and “virtual reality applications” to be sure to include the very latest in your planning.

This year Maureen called special attention to TaleBlazer by the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program (STEP) lab. With this platform, students use their smartphone to interact with virtual characters, objects, and data as they move around their real location. For example, “Dollars & Sense” is a game that takes place at Old Sturbridge Village and challenges players to make financial decisions faced by typical rural New England farm families in the 1820s and 30s. Students can also create new learning games with TaleBlazer.

The Alamo, site of the famous 1836 battle involving Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, is just a few blocks from the San Antonio Convention Center where ISTE 2017 was held. Above right is the sunset view over the convention center as seen from the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, where Extreme Networks continued discussions on how technology enhances educational outcomes.

Virtual Reality can also be an effective tool for teaching social competence and building argumentation skills. The session Beyond Pokemon: Virtual and Augmentative Reality for STEM discussed tools that are being shown to help students with disabilities, particularly those with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFA) and Learning Disabilities (LD). These tools include ReasonRacer, to help middle school students build argumentation skills, and Social Express for teaching social competence. The University of Kansas presenters posted these resources about how VR/AR can address learner variability across grades and the general education classroom.

Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews stopped by the Extreme Networks booth to sign footballs for attendees.


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