Educational Technology Fluency at CONTEXT 2015

The Context 2015 Conference held April 21-23, 2015, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was an amazing opportunity to meet, connect, and learn from so many knowledgable and passionate educators. I attended on Wednesday and enjoyed hearing Illah Nourbakhsh welcome attendees in the Carnegie Museum of Art and update everyone on the fantastic work from teachers and students using CREATE Lab resources to connect with their communities and use technology in creative ways. A nice tie in to Earth Day, I especially enjoyed learning about the Lemonade Stand project where "young scientists" used digital data collected with the CATTFish, a device which measures water quality. Do you know what's in your water?  These kids do; and they found a "sweet" way to educate others and build awareness. Check out out this video:

I was inspired by Keynote Speaker, Indira Nair. She discussed how technology at the root of the word means art and expression.  She advised us that “shared language leads to shared understanding.”  She also explained that technology education is “guiding [students] to thinking of and working in a bigger system with appropriate choices, ethics, languages, and voices.”  Her stories about her teaching experiences were entertaining and endearing. She gave an example of a high school student who asked a speaker at the end of his presentation on algae, “Who cares?” Teachers in the audience gave a little chuckle and Indira explained how she quickly rephrased the question for the presenter, saying, “What Joe means is…” But she went on to explain how she thought the student’s question was “very, very deep.” This powerful example stressed the importance of making meaningful lessons. She shared  how she would always “tell her students up front” what she was “trying to do” and that she “made sure her students CARE about and understand WHY” she was “trying to teach something and not  just WHAT she was teaching.” She left us with the same words she delivered to her students at the end of her courses, “I hope you leave with more questions than when you came in.” I would love to have been a student in her class!

We enjoyed a rainy Earth Day walk outside to CMU with a colorful umbrella parade. We were welcomed with hot coffee and dispersed to our choice of sessions or workshops. I enjoyed Riverpoint Academy teachers, Regan Drew and John Marshall, share examples of student’s using “real tools, to solve real problems, for real people.” I loved their way of introducing tools by leaving them out and allowing the student’s natural curiosity to lead them to learning about their uses and build on their own interests and talents.  Robert Bandao and Rick Malmstrom, from the Ellis School had a dynamic presentation on teamwork with collaborative strategies for integrating technology in creativity ways. Their presentation included a cross-cultural exchange with a school in Brazil as an an example of showing how technology makes it possible to expand beyond the walls of your classroom.

It was standing room only in the Tech Fluency Session, followed by a boxed lunch with a choice of sandwich, cookie, and the best potato chips, I ever tasted.  I enjoyed sharing ideas about CREATE Lab and the GigaPan at lunch with some out of state educators who work at the collegiate level. If you haven’t seen any GIGApans yet, check out as a resource for your classroom and look at for some great ideas for classroom use with CREATE Lab.

The Context Clinic was a wonderful opportunity to visit different stations to learn about tech fluency from experts!  There were teachers taking notes, brainstorming, sharing ideas and advice.

I joined Mac Howison (Sprout Fund), Gregg Behr  (Grable Foundation), Jim Denova (Benedum Foundation), and Megan Cicconi (Allegheny Intermediate Unit) in a Workshop on Idea Generation: Refining Projects for Grant Writing. The panel presented information on local grant opportunities and allowed time for small group work to craft or develop an idea that could lead to a grant proposal. As a classroom teacher, I was happy to share some grant writing tips including:

    1. Be creative and follow your passion when looking for grant opportunities.
    2. Look for that “shared language” that Indira Nair talked about in her Keynote.
    Take advantage of the resources and contacts that you have.
    3. Be an innovator.  Indira Nair also told us that “innovators, know one thing well, but can expand beyond it.”  Look for opportunities to collaborate with other groups to make connections for support and for project sustainability.
    4. If you don’t get what you need at the start, don’t be afraid to keep asking.  Be positive, and ask someone else for support or help.
    5. Say THANKS.  Explain to the group who offered support how you will help share their message.  Speak at conferences to share your work and spread the good news of your success.

The conference was a great experience and a way to connect with some old friends and make new friends. Thanks to conference team, you did a fantastic job.
And special thanks to the conference organizers and teams.  I hope everyone will continue the conversations started at the conference in in the words of Indira Nair, “I hope you leave with more questions than you came in [to the conference] with!”

Here is an Animoto with some photos from Wednesday at the conference.

Guest post by:
Zee Ann Poerio, K-8 Computer Teacher
St. Louise de Marillac School