Educators who attend tech conferences often wish they could share the experience with their peers and students back at their school. That’s how media specialist and district technology integrationist Dihanna Fedder felt while attending a Google Summit four years ago.
“The wrong people were there,” she says. “People like me are already hooked on the possibilities of technology, but we need to set the hook for other people.”
Fedder returned to Minnesota’s rural Pine City High School and wrote a grant from the Greater Pine Area Endowment for $2,000 to host the first Dragon Technology Summit. Not only did she get the grant, but the district set aside half a day so that all students grades 7-12 and staff could participate and the Dragon Technology Summit was born.
The goal of the summit was to increase the understanding and use of technology in the classroom by giving students and staff a day to focus on learning foundational skills and exploring new technologies. Students and staff spent the half-day immersed in edtech, with a keynote speaker, a panel presentation and a few breakout sessions to choose from.
Three years later, the summit has become an annual event and grown into a full day that includes two keynote speakers and a choice of three breakout sessions per student. Staff participate both as learners and classroom monitors.
Involving the community
Fedder makes sure the conference is aligned with with college and career readiness goals, which means inviting members of the local business community and post-secondary education institutions to speak and present.
Keynote speakers have included a sports medicine doctor who shared how he uses ultrasound technology. The doctor turned off the lights and let volunteers come up for an ultrasound to demonstrate how the technology works.
Another led a videoconference while performing an autopsy for anatomy students.
Thirty-six breakout sessions led by staff, area business leaders, PCHS alumni and current students have included topics, such as 3D printing, video-making with Chromebooks, digital citizenship skills, coding, graphic design and a speed dating session on how to use an online resource.
One of Fedder’s favorite breakout sessions was a panel on using social media to promote local businesses. Panelists included a restauranteur and other local business leaders.
Students turned the tables on the presenters by asking why none of the panelists used Instagram. “If you posted what type of ice cream you are offering, I’d probably be there every day,” one of the students told the restaurant owner.
By the end of the session, the students had all the business owners on Instagram.
Middle schoolers get their own conference
The summit has been so successful that the district is implementing a similar model for the middle grades, 4-6. Techpalooza will use the same format, but offer shorter sessions and focus on more foundational skills and align with the ISTE Standards for Students.
For instance, they might learn how to get started with Chromebooks, discover keyboard shortcuts, learn to use Flipgrid or practice with drones.
Students can earn badges for each breakout session they attend and become the classroom experts when they return to class. Over the three years, students will have the opportunity to earn nine badges.
The model is even proving successful for parents who attend open houses and conferences. Instead of passively receiving email instructions, parents attend a breakout session on using the online grading system. “When parents get the full hands-on demo, the odds of better usage increases,” Fedder says.
Edtech conference paying dividends
Pine City high school is seeing results. The district surveys students and staff each year to assess data on technology and learning in four areas: classroom, access, skills and environment.
The Brightbytes Survey, also aligned with ISTE Standards for Students, indicates that teachers are asking students to collaborate online an increased 14% of the time. Online assessments are used 16% more than they were before the summits. The student body reports that 56% of them have strong foundational skills in technology, up 4% from years past. Finally, 57% of the students say that they are easily able to use various multimedia tools available to them.
Not only are students and teachers becoming more comfortable with technology, but the summit is also helping everyone in the school develop a common vocabulary and become empowered to share their knowledge.
“The summit has changed the environment and opened up the lines of communication,” says Fedder. “Each year I get more and more volunteers who want to teach or share a skill.”
Jennifer Snelling tells the stories of educators, librarians, and students who are using technology to empower each other and solve real problems. She is a regular contributor to ISTE’s Empowered Learner magazine, the California Association of School Business Officials magazine, and School Library Journal. She live in Eugene, Oregon. Follow her work @JdsnellJennifer.