Monday, October 26, 2009

TechForum NE 2009 was great!

This past Friday I attended TechForum Northeast 2009. Techforum is run by Tech&Learning Magazine and is a great educational technology conference. They hold other ones around the country also.

The keynote speaker for TechForumNE was Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. The Science Leadership Academy (SLA), is a public, magnet high school that opened in 2006. The school uses technology to the fullest, with every student and teacher having their own laptop. SLA is based on understanding of concepts and project based curriculum, centered around the five core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection.

Mr. Lehmann spoke about SLA and it's vision and how it works, but also addressed some global issues for education. He said that school should be a fun, exciting place so that learning can truly exist. A better environment leads to better learning. He said that schools should be creating citizens, not a workforce and that we need to integrate understanding, projects, technology, and collaboration throughout a school. The curriculum should be interdisciplinary so that what happens in period 1 fits with what is happening in period 3. SLA's vision is supported by all of the staff. They "teach students, not a subject". They believe that education should be student centered with teachers as mentors. They believe that learning should be relevant and that students should work in teams to solve problems. To do this, they have created a unique project based curriculum. I was very happy to hear how SLA was implementing project based learning so successfully. I am a big supporter of project based learning and have written extensively about it.

After the keynote speaker, there is a short break for refreshments, visiting vendors, and networking. Then there were breakout sessions. I attended one entitled "Walking the walk" which was a panel discussion about embedding technology directly into the daily life of a school. The panel consisted of Chris Lehmann from the Science Leadership Academy, Alisa Berger and Mary Moss from the iSchool in New York City, and Kim Carter from the Monadnock Community Connections high school in New Hampshire. They all talked about how technology and project based learning have enabled their schools to be successful. I was very interested in the SLA and iSchool and I recommend that all teachers and administrators visit their web sites and see the wonderful things that they are doing.

One of the fun events of the day is the Round table session. This year there were 20 different topics to choose from. Participants choose a topic and go to that table were a facilitator give information and guides the discussion about the topic. This was my second year as a round table facilitator and this year my topic was Google Apps. I also had a co-facilitator, Beth Richards from New York City. The discussion was fun and lively, with advice, tips, and information coming from all participants. You can visit the wiki page, which has links and information, for this discussion HERE.

Every year there is a great variety of vendors present. They have booths set up, where you can try out their products and get more information. The vendors also do presentations during the day to showcase their products. I have found them to be no pressure and very easy to talk to. The vendors also sponsor the end-of-the-day reception (free food and drink is always nice) and have give-aways for the raffle. SMART raffled off a Smartboard/Projector/Speaker system and Quizdom had a wireless tablet. There were also document cameras, books, and DVDs raffled off (free).

In the afternoon break out session, I attended one by Scott Meech, entitled "Life Long Learning Toolbelt." In his presentation, he spoke about how technology professional development is typically run and how it is not successful, and how he thinks things should change. It was a very interactive presentation and the discussion brought out some great ideas for changing technology professional development.

The event is held at the Palisades Conference Center. It is such a great place. It is absolutely beautiful, with high tech meeting rooms and facilities. The food was great. The conference registration fee includes morning snacks (pastries, muffins, coffee, tea, and more), a buffet lunch, dessert, afternoon snacks, and the vendor reception. The food and facility add to the great experience.

Techforum Northeast 2009 was a great day, filled with learning, exploring, and networking. Pictures, videos, and downloads from presentations are available at the conference vault. This year's conference files will be there shortly. You can find some of them HERE. You can also look at resources from past conferences.

I highly recommend these conferences for all teachers and educational technology leaders.

They also have a Virtual TechForum conference coming up on November 17th, 2009. This is a free, on-line conference, that will have presentations, forums to connect with other teachers, and vendor information.


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