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Earlier this month, I spent the better part of a week in Philadelphia for the ISTE 2015 conference.  Almost 16,000 educators from around the world attended this event to learn, play, and network.  There were hundreds of sessions to attend, ‘playgrounds’ to browse and get hands-on with, and a huge expo hall filled with vendors.  If you have never been to an ISTE conference before, it can be a very overwhelming experience.  Heck, even though I have been to several previously, it was still overwhelming at times!

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I tried to fit in a little bit of everything during my time at ISTE.  I attended a variety of sessions, spent hours talking to vendors in the exhibit hall, explored the playgrounds, and most importantly, spent a large portion of my time talking with other educators.  I came home with a head full of ideas, and even more questions.  It was a fabulous event, and I am already looking forward to next year.

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ISTE is an amazing event, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed in some of the sessions.  Maybe it was just the ones I picked, but it seemed like many of them were more product pitches than best-use discussions.  Next year I will definitely take a closer look at the session descriptions and see which (if any) are connected with a specific company or product.  I don’t mind hearing about great products, but I’d much rather concrete examples of use in the classroom than ‘here’s how awesome this product is!’

I can say that the best learning experiences I had at ISTE had nothing to do with the official program.  I learned more in my discussions with fellow educators outside of the sessions and exhibit halls than in the rest of the conference combined.  My days began at 7am each morning with either #CoffeeEdu or #DinerEdu – informal get-togethers with no set topic of discussion.  Gatherings like these, along with chats in the hallways and lounges of the convention center, gave me a chance to connect and collaborate with other passionate educators.  Some were long-time friends, others I met for the first time, and all had wonderful ideas and resources to share.

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All of this combined just reinforces to me that it’s NOT the latest and greatest computer/device/software/website/gadget/etc. that makes a good teacher, but the passion and drive of the individual educators who take the time to find the best, most meaningful ways to integrate these tools in their classrooms.  You could take away all of their technology, and you’d still end up with amazing teachers.  My ISTE ‘family’ of educators will always continue to inspire me to learn, change, and improve.

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