Inspiration for Leaders

Enjoy this news and reflection blog brought to you from the LHRIC Technology Leadership Institute!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

TLI - Tech Expo Highlights Innovative Technology Practices

Over 350 educators from across the region turned out April 17 to attend the LHRIC’s popular Tech Expo 2015 and to learn from some of the nation’s leading experts on the growing influence of technology in the classroom and in students’ lives.

Now in its ninth year, the event continues to grow as school district representatives savor the opportunity to learn from the best, to network with their peers, to learn something from the more than 35 breakout seminars and work sessions and to meet face-to-face with some of the nation’s leading technology companies and sponsors of the daylong event.   

Dr. Tony Wagner speaks to a packed auditorium.
In his keynote presentation, Dr. Tony Wagner, expert-in-residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, urged his audience in the packed auditorium to put a larger context on the work of improving test scores and Common Core requirements.

“The world no longer cares about how much you know,” he said. “It’s about what you can do with what you know and how you prepare young people for innovation.”

Understanding the role of teachers, mentors and the larger school setting in an innovation world is crucial, he noted. For his book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” Dr. Wagner interviewed groups of highly motivated twentysomethings from various schools and different backgrounds around the country in an effort to discover the skills of successful innovators and why they are important to the future.

He wanted to find out if their parental, teaching and mentoring influences were any different from other students. Many of them attend top schools like the MIT Media Lab; the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Boston; High Tech High in San Diego, a network of charter schools spanning grades K-12, the Regio Emilia network of schools abroad and others.

What was evident in many of these schools was that students were encouraged to pursue real interests versus merely achieving academically. In the younger years, parents and teachers encouraged more exploratory play, such as using fewer toys without batteries and integrating “whimsy” into every project.

“We have been talking about getting kids college-ready for years,” said Dr. Wagner to the audience, many of them superintendents from across the region. “But guess what, it’s not enough, not even by half.”

Dr. Wagner explained that many of today’s employers are seeking different criteria from their prospective employees. Fifteen percent of the new hires at Google don’t have a college degree, and the word “college” does not appear on the jobs section of its website, he added.

To better prepare students for this new landscape, Dr. Wagner suggested that schools teach the skills that matter most. “No Common Core can begin to do that,” he said. “We’ve got to be clear about the competencies that matter most, including creative thinking, collaboration, communication and creative problem-solving.”

Dr. Wagner contends, however, that no innovation can take place without a certain amount of research and development. “Does anyone have an R&D budget?” he asked. In one Westchester school district, Dr. Wagner said he is working with administrators to develop an “innovation fund,” to which teachers can apply.

The key to successful innovation is ultimately student motivation, he explained. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as an example, Dr. Wagner suggested that schools create their own pyramid and tap into the top tiers of it, primarily those that include technology for communication, technology for collaboration and at the top, technology for creation.

Some in the audience wondered how school districts could achieve such a thing knowing the constraints and obligations many of them are under to comply with state mandates.

“You’re not going to flip this overnight,” Dr. Wagner replied. “The first challenge is to understand that the time we are spending on test prep is entirely wasted. Kids don’t remember what they don’t connect to in some way. We should reduce test prep, but I don’t think we can’t eliminate it.”

Dr. Wagner encouraged his listeners to see the film Most Likely to Succeed, which he collaborated on. The documentary is a powerful account of the current crisis in the American educational system and is currently showing in select New York movie theaters.

In response to questions from the audience that spoke to parents’ approval of a traditional education system, Dr. Wagner advised them to have conversations with their communities that can ultimately help them understand the merits of an education that is more geared toward the 21st century workplace.

“Leaders rarely spend enough time helping communities understand why the education system should change,” he said. “You need an understanding and an urgency around change before you start to see it.”

A wide variety of breakout sessions took place throughout the day, including workshops on coding, Microsoft’s free tools for classroom use, interactive ebooks for learning, Google Apps, the Maker movement at the elementary school level, social media in education, instruction with iPads, the benefits of blended learning and more.

Additional keynote presentations included “The Power of Google Apps for Education” by Jaime Casap, senior education evangelist at Google, Inc., and “Using Social Media in Education” from Dr. Alec Couros, a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina, Canada.

To see photos from the event, check out the LHRIC/SWBOCES Flickr page at:

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