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Seen, heard and learned at TCEA 2020

Teachers learning from students. Professional development that breaks from tradition. Students building life skills and career pathways through e-sports. These are just some of the themes and conversations from this year’s TCEA Convention and Exposition in Austin. Here are our takeaways from the show.

Spelling lessons. In his opening keynote address, poet and Grammy nominee Sekou Andrews shared the story of a teacher who asks a student how he spells “crocodile.” The student responds, “‘Crocodile.’ K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L.” When the teacher says, "No. that's wrong," the student responds, "Maybe it's not correct. but you asked me how I spell it.”

Andrews uses this anecdote to invite attendees to rethink their approach to instruction. “We got it backwards sometimes,” he says. “We try to act like we know it all. We got the cape, the ‘S’ on our chest, but maybe it's us that's supposed to be learning from the crocodile kid.” He encourages educators to step out of their routines and classrooms to embrace new forms of instruction.

“Have us learn from new ways -- not just teach the new ways. Be inspired in new ways -- not just inspire in new ways,” Andrews says. “Maybe we come here because we know we got more to learn so we can have more to teach.”

Sign here. eSports might be sweeping K-12 campuses, nationwide, but not all parents are buying into the hype. Many who are still on the fence express concern about school work, excessive screen time and the long-term value of this activity.

These are fair concerns, admits Bowie High School student Sahib, a professional gamer, who participated, with other students from his school, in TCEA’s eSports Experience. The 17-year-old high-school senior has been gaming for four years -- two years in the competitive arena. When a sponsor approached him about going pro, Sahib came up with a way to get his parents’ support. “I signed a contract,” he says. “I promised I would make money doing the gaming and I would not let my grades fail.” He says his sponsor also has certain grade requirements he has to meet.

The plan is working. Sahib is an “A” student with a solid work ethic, an impressive professional maturity and game plan for his future. “I’m looking at a full ride [to college],” he says. “I’m going to study the internet and cybersecurity.”

Providing a hope and a future. Helping students in alternative education programs find their footing and move toward completion starts by removing judgement, according to Jean Sharp, chief academic officer at Apex Learning, a provider of digital curriculum. “They’re not all lazy,” she says. “There are many reasons for their behavior. Some of the brightest students are in alternative education. We have to provide not judgement but opportunity.” Sharp told the story of a student in Sacramento, California who had exceptional math skills -- he got a perfect score on the math CAHSEE, the former California high school exit exam -- but could not pass Algebra 1. In looking at his personal life, it became clear that the student had some real obstacles--some that were within his control but many that were not. The school worked with him to adjust the coursework but without compromising the rigor. It worked and he passed the course. Sharp credits the approach to helping the student find success and importantly, his responsibility to making that happen.

“Students need a voice in what they’re doing,” says Sharp. “We have to remove judgement and ask them ‘What opportunities do you have? What choices will you make?’ This is how we give them hope and a future.”

Overhaul teacher PD -- please! “Irrelevant”, “boring”, “required” and “unpaid” are just some of the (unflattering) terms that educators used to describe professional development at the #destinationPD session led by Kari Espin and Andi McNair. Changing this status quo -- creating PD that is purposeful and engaging -- means shifting from creating PD activities to creating PD experiences, says McNair. “The definition of an activity is something that someone or a group does. That's it,” she says. “But the definition of an experience is something that leaves an impression on someone. That's what we should be doing with PD just like that's what we should be doing in the classroom -- making that shift from activities that we do to experiences that leave an impression on [students].”

So how do we do this? The model includes multiple components, including changing locations (think zoo or even the National Video Game Museum); letting teachers choose what they want to learn -- and with whom; ditching the sit-and-git; and giving them interesting ways to document the learning. “If we're going to ask our teachers to do things differently in the classroom, we've got to start doing things different in professional development,” says Espin. “We need teachers to experience this first in their PD so they understand, from their perspective, what the student will understand from their perspective.”

Crawl-walk-run to coding literacy. Looking to implement -- or boost -- coding instruction at your site? Try a crawl-walk-run approach, advises Ido Yerushalmi, CEO of CoderZ, an online platform that teaches coding skills. The approach -- made famous by a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- lets students pace their learning, build confidence and “develop depth of skill,” says Yerushalmi. Simulated environments add to this learning, helping students get comfortable with challenge and risk. “Students are eager to do things that are more complex,” says Yerushalmi. “Simulation nurtures trial-and-error and lets students learn how to experiment.”

And then on the floor

It was wall-to-wall of the latest edtech tools and resources. Here are some of our favorites. (Want more? Check out our Twitter moment for highlights from our booth visits.)

Van ISD STEAM bus is a 43-foot mobile makerspace -- complete with tablets, Chromebooks, a 3D printer, robots, AR and VR devices, and more -- that lets students in grades pre-K through 12th, flex their creative muscles as they learn about and experiment with STEAM concepts.

Lego Education made a splash with its new SPIKE Prime Set, designed for students in middle school. The all-in-one kit, which includes Lego bricks, drag-and-drop coding software, programmable Smart Hub and curriculum, aims to nurture curiosity, and make science and engineering ideas more approachable for this student set.

Jiji, the penguin character from Mind Research Institute’s ST Math program, continues to help students connect and build relationships with math concepts. One of the best stories of the week was about a student who was previously non-verbal but had a breakthrough during a math lesson with Jiji.

Ruckus Wireless and Soter Tech are helping schools combat vaping. FlySense vape sensor is designed to help schools gain control of areas on their campuses -- including restrooms -- that don’t have cameras or other surveillance tools.

Collecting data is easy. Making good use of it, though, can be another challenge. Curriculum Associates i-Ready platform is helping teachers eliminate the guesswork and put their data to work, creating learning pathways that match students needs and move them toward achievement.

Kanoe Namahoe is the director of content for SmartBrief Education and Leadership.

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