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By: Susan Barry
So there I was, pausing to survey the displays around me at ISTE2015 last week, when I felt a tap on my hip.
“Excuse me, miss, would you like to see my project?” A young man, jaunty in his navy-blue jacket and rep tie, stood iPad in hand, ready to unleash tech thunder. He was seven years old at the most. I did what any half-decent teacher and reasonable human being would do: I nodded and knelt down..
A little background, first, before the tech thunder. This exchange occurred in the Poster section at ISTE2015. Located in the Broad Street Atrium of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Poster area is an open-air marketplace for what works. Teachers and students staff more than 40 displays of tech-based projects, student-constructed apps, and other classroom triumphs that make you believe that the sky’s the limit for learners of all ages. Put simply, this is where the real experts live at ISTE. Here are a few of those experts and their teachers, who travelled a long way to show off their accomplishments.
Colegio Alamos, Querètero, MX
Back to our young friend, who by then had fired up a digital storybook. An animated liver danced in front of me while its creator explained the finer points of filtering impurities out of the bloodstream. This young man, Carlos, a 2nd grader from Mr. Martinez’s and Mr. Soria’s class, had been studying the Digestive System. His animations guided me, slide-by-slide, through the entire digestive process, accompanied by sound effects, graphic interface, and informational text. Carlos used appropriate technical terms to explain all facets of digestion; he exuded confidence. He did admit that “my teacher helped, just a little bit,” on the animations, but otherwise, he had mastered the Digestive System…at the ripe age of seven.
Northridge School, Mexico City, MX
The second-graders of the Northridge School (mascot: The Rooster) showed off the “Rooster Values” they have learned in their character education program. According to Assistant Headmaster Abraham Corona, students were charged with identifying areas of personal development where they felt they needed to improve. Using PowToon, the students created cartoons which explored specific character traits, defined those traits, and illustrated how they would “live” those traits. One very frank young man informed me, “I used to lie, but I don’t anymore. Not after this project.”
Instituto Cumbres, Toluca, MX
None of the students involved in this project came to Philadelphia to show their work; this was a bit of a disappointment. It would have been nice for the kids to show their stuff in person, I thought, but teachers Nancy Oropeza and Jacqueline Vassaux Molina were available to walk me through their project, in which students met with local farmers and agricultural experts to learn about native plants, their growing habits, their care, and their uses. The students planted seeds and raised their own flora. Once the plants had sprouted, the kids took virtual field trips to sister schools in Mexico City and El Salvador – via Skype! The students demonstrated plants native to their areas, showed off some flowers and edible plants, and connected with other students over issues like irrigation, land use, and conservation. Oropeza’s and Molina’s students created animated textbooks chronicling their experiences. But I was still a little puzzled as to why none of the students came to Philadelphia; after all, second-graders had come. Why not third graders?
“Oh, no,” Mrs. Molina corrected me. “You don’t understand. The students are not in grade 3, they’re actually three. This is a Pre-Kindergarten class.”
Centro Escolar El Encino, Aguascalientes, MX
At a booth called “Creating and Narrating Stories Using LEGO Builds,” seventh-graders explained their use of the LEGO Movie Maker app to make one-minute histories of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the Mexican Independence movement. Essentially stop-motion movies using LEGO people, these collaborations integrated cooperative learning with Social Studies content material and authentic problem-solving. Never mind that the one-minute histories were fully animated and included soundtracks and voiceovers. What was more impressive was an exchange between students Mauricio and Jose Miguel. When asked how they divided duties, 13-year-old Mauricio was very specific: “We all worked on it. My friend [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][Jose Miguel], he is better at graphics, and I’m good at research. It took us two weeks, but we worked together at the things we did well.”
I had not heard student-centered, problem-based learning explained as simply, or as elegantly, before I met Mauricio. Sure, the students had learned their history, biology, and botany, and character lessons, but the authentic learning that occurred in the course of all these projects will transfer to all areas of their lives. I could have attended an hour-long workshop, or listened to a panel discussion, or done any of the hundreds of sessions available to ISTE2015 attendees; the discourse would have been stimulating and enlightening. I can’t imagine that I would have walked away as inspired as I was after meeting Carlos, Mauricio, Jose Miguel, and their teachers.
It’s quite clear to me who the real experts are at ISTE2015.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]