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3 Takeways from ISTE 2023

This was my fifth ISTE conference and the first time I gave a session. There were about twenty teachers at my session in person, and a few more joined online. I didn't know where to stand for the virtual presentation, but about ten minutes into it, a helpful staff member stepped in and showed me where to stand so that the virtual attendees could hear and see me. Aside from that, though, it went well.

Logo for ISTE 23

The sheer magnitude of ISTE makes it difficult to navigate. There are so many sessions going on at the same time that picking the next one to go to is like solving a puzzle. When I attend the conference in person, I usually spend most of my time at the poster sessions, playgrounds, and EXPO, since these are the only things you can do in person. Thankfully, the recorded sessions are available for six months after the meeting, so you can go back and watch the ones you missed.

I wanted to share some of the things I learned at the ISTE conference, so I decided to write a few blog posts about it. Below are three sessions that I felt were useful. I also plan to write more blog posts in the coming months as I delve deeper into the ISTE recorded sessions.

Keva Planks

During one of the playground sessions, I saw a Keva Planks activity where you were given a card with the front, side, and top views of an object and asked to build it. It’s called Brain Builders and it’s a fun way for students to learn about technical drawing by building three-dimensional objects from orthographic drawings. It was a great hands-on experience that brought technical drawing to life.

After seeing this activity, I dropped by the Keva Plank booth at the EXPO and learned that these building blocks can be used for a lot of fun things. Even though our school has had Keva Planks for years and has used them in our maker space and building units, my visit to the booth showed me that they could be used in even more ways. Beyond simple building, we could use Keva Planks to create art, architecture, and machines. I also found out about a great resource: a free Educator's Guide with Keva plank tasks for math, science, social studies, art, and language arts. The beauty of Keva Planks is not only that they are unplugged, but also that all of the pieces are the same. This means you don't have to sort them or worry about losing important parts.

Migratory Birds

At a poster session titled "Fostering Global Environmental Connections: A Collaboration in Tech, Science, and Spanish," I discovered an interesting program by the Smithsonian called Bridging the Americas. It partners American classes with Latin American classes, focusing on a migratory bird that travels between the two regions. The students learn about the bird's migration and share information and projects they've worked on. I spoke to an American teacher who mentioned that their students created paper mache models of the bird and made stop motion animations to share with their Latin American counterparts. There is a small fee to participate, and the program is only open to grades two through four for schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington.

The Smithsonian also offers a science and technology unit for middle school called Follow That Bird! This program also revolves around migratory birds and provides a complete curriculum with free lesson plans that you can download. It serves as a great starting point if you want to undertake your own migratory bird project, especially if you can connect with a school in Latin America.

Creating Strong Passwords

I wanted to go to a session called "End Password Fatigue! 3 Research-Based Strategies for Strong, Unique, and Memorable Passwords," because many of our kids have trouble coming up with strong passwords. Unfortunately, the session clashed with another, but I was able to look over the presentation. It showed a 3 step method for creating a strong and easy-to-remember password:

  • Start by coming up with an easy-to-remember four-word password. Here are some examples.

  • Use "password salting" by changing one of the words in your chosen passphrase with the name of the website you're using.

  • Add a number and a special symbol of your choice to your password. This is called "password distortion."

Here’s an example for a website called “Newdle”:

Four word passphrase: BigCarsGoSlow

Password salting: BigNewdleGoSlow (substitute the name of the site for Cars).

Password distortion: BigNewdle@18GoSlow (The 18 comes from the fact that the word "Newdle" has six letters, which we multiplied by three)

The presenter included a step-by-step training video for this method that can be found on YouTube.

The pros of this method are that it is very safe, passwords aren't too hard to remember, and you can use the same passphrase on more than one website because it changes during the salting and distortion process. It might be too hard for younger kids, though, and some sites don't let you use the name of the site in a password.


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