Getting Digitally Inspired at ISTE

| By Tamara Grunberger

This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish Day School educators to the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We asked the participants to share what they learned and how the conference inspired them to take action in their schools. Tamara Grunberger (@GTgrunberger), Director of the Middle School at Netivot HaTorah Day School, has the honor of being the first installment in this new blog series.


TamaraWhen I learned I would be attending ISTE 2015 in partnership with the DigitalJLearning Network (DJLN) many people shared advice regarding what the conference experience would be like. I was warned about the plethora of sessions available and how overwhelming it could be so it was important for me to go into the conference with a specific focus for learning. The two topics which were emphasized in most of the sessions I attended were digital portfolios and blended professional development for teachers.

In my role as Director of the Middle School at Netivot HaTorah Day School in Toronto, I am responsible for developing and supervising professional development for our teachers. Professional development (PD) can take many forms, and in the past most of the goals and topics were prescribed by me or my administrative colleagues with prior input from teachers. I have been interested in differentiating some PD opportunities and was hoping that someone else at ISTE was sharing ways to do this using technology. One of the sessions I attended was given by school administrators in partnership with their technology integrators. There I learned some interesting tools and tricks they used to integrate technology into PD and was able to think about ways to apply some of their models to topics not related to technology. One method which interested me was the development of a website or online platform for an administrator to use to share resources with faculty and staff. I would like to take this idea a bit further and create a platform where not only can an administrator share with colleagues but where to faculty can have agency and share as well.

Digital portfolios is another topic that interested me. Having an online platform to curate and reflect on their work would be a great opportunity for middle school students. Developmentally, students at this age are becoming more independent and learning to take more ownership over their learning. Having a digital portfolio, which they create and develop under the guidance of an educator, would allow them some autonomy and provide a guided experience in identifying good work and reflecting on how it best displays their strengths. In the sessions on this topic two points stood out.

The first important moment came when viewing examples of digital portfolios of high school students. Our presenter shared her rationale for having digital portfolios. She argued that in the 21st century higher education and job market, digital portfolios are the best way to promote yourself to future employers and schools. In her mind they are the wave of the future and important for all individuals to have in order to remain competitive. A colleague of mine remarked that this is equally important for our Day School students.

A second takeaway came from a session in which two technology integrators described the process they used to roll out digital portfolios to 20,000 students in a district. When they completed their roll-out, all the students, staff and schools each had a digital portfolio with the exception of one student. I found this a meaningful point because sometimes we may find the task of implementing something new in our much smaller institutions daunting. If this district could integrate this concept with 20,000 students, then a Day School is doable. I was inspired by the roll-out to 20,000 students, and I am hoping to more practically experiment with creating digital portfolios with our Middle School staff as well as with our grade 6 students.

With both of the topics I set out to learn about I was pleased to have attended such informative and practical sessions. Even more valuable was the unparalleled opportunity to share and reflect with so many talented and committed educators through the DJLN and at the general conference. Everyone was happy to share their resources and knowledge which is often one of the best ways to learn and grow.

I want to thank DJLN and The Avi Chai Foundation for their sponsorship and support and look forward to sharing my experiences throughout the year.