Getting Appy With My English Class

| By Shira Manne

In June, 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. Shira Manne, English Teacher at Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, shares her thoughts in the twelfth installment in this new blog series.


When my principal first asked if I would like to attend the ISTE Conference, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't even know what ISTE stood for, or later DJLN, the organization sponsoring my attendance. Being part of that group ended up being an informational "windfall," as the emails and information I began to receive from the DJLN coordinators really helped prepare me for the journey and process on which I was about to embark.

The school where I work, Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls on Long Island, N.Y., has been encouraging the incorporation of varied technologies into and outside of the classroom for several years now. I was given the freedom to go into the conference with an open mind to be inspired and find elements that I as an individual teacher could use in my classroom and grow from in my pedagogical philosophy.

Honestly, going into the conference with the multitude of options and information sources was a bit overwhelming, but I did get some great tips, both from my school and DJLN, on prioritizing, time management, and even personal guidance like "Wear comfortable shoes" and "Bring a power strip, make instant friends!" The first day at ISTE was a lot about getting my bearings, figuring out the massive space and floor plan, and deciding what were the "must sees." I also enjoyed the camaraderie that began that first day and continued to develop through three days and beyond with my fellow DJLN participants. Each day we had a recap after dinner where we shared sessions that had been particularly helpful or inspiring. I enjoyed hearing about the different classroom management software that the different schools use, how they are different and similar to ours, and hearing about some of the assessment apps like Kahoot! and Socrative.

Now on to the highlights of the conference for me: Alan November's speech, "The Thousand Dollar Pencil," was informative, engaging and gave me some great concrete ideas on looking at teaching in a different way by focusing on getting our students to ask the right questions, and how to formulate them, before we can even begin exploring the answers. He talked about some interesting ideas about teaching students to use Wikipedia as an effective tool, which I would like to try to implement as I've always discouraged the use of that until now. Most importantly, he emphasized showing the students the references list at the bottom of every Wikipedia article that they can then use to search for more comprehensive or perhaps reliable information on a subject. These sources can also provide different perspectives on the same event or topic. November also pointed out that we do need to teach them how to recognize legitimate information and verify it; Wikipedia is being used so widely at this point that it has become an almost “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” world, where the students just have to learn how to utilize the website properly.

I made sure to hit the expo for at least an hour each day to learn about so many of the available technologies and speak to people on the cutting edge of the field. From classroom management to e-reading ideas, which really appealed to me as a high school English teacher, I discovered a lot of possibilities. My favorite BYOB session was Iron Screencasting, where I learned a lot about an area in which I have personally been trying to grow. As an English teacher who is constantly reviewing important topics like MLA format, creating thesis statements, structuring paragraphs, etc., I am working to build a repertoire of screencasts that can be available to the students to rewatch as many times as necessary to learn these essentials, and save class time for teaching new information. This also creates a niche for implementing elements of the flipped classroom - more on that in the next session I attended.

I learned about some very cool tools for implementing elements of the flipped classroom from Tammy Worcester, including the use of YouTube and Google apps which I hope to delve more into and utilize in my classes. Some examples would be using Google Forms to assess students’ knowledge of a subject or thoughts on a topic before beginning a unit; this might replace the traditional brainstorming or “do now” that sometimes involves the first few minutes of valuable teaching time in a forty-minute period. With YouTube as well, students can watch a TED Talk, for example, related to work we are studying, and then come to class prepared to discuss, answer questions, and connect the literature to a contemporary setting or issue.

In my days at ISTE, I navigated my way around the poster sessions, Birds of a Feather, keynote speakers and more. My eyes were opened to so much, and I learned about just bits of many things I want to delve into further. As teachers, either novice or veteran, we are always looking to further advance and engage our students, and ISTE was a wonderful opportunity to work on that goal.