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Of beer and butter cake

Teaching students how to lose, avoiding digital hand-me-downs and other lessons from ISTE 19.

7 min read


Of beer and butter cake

Kanoe Namahoe

Are today’s students learning the skills they will need to thrive in an AI-driven world? Can they differentiate legitimate information from fake news or slanted media? Do they know how to lose and overcome failure in a participation ribbon world?

A teacher from Alaska and I hashed this all out recently over beer and butter cake at Porta’s in Philadelphia, as ISTE 2019 was wrapping up. It was the perfect way to process all we had learned. I can’t share the cake and beer over a blog, but here are the takeaways.


Did you miss ISTE19?

No worries — we got you covered. Check out our Day 1 roundup and Twitter Moment to see what futurist Mike Walsh said about us and AI (chilling!), lessons on STEM and inclusivity from the movie Coco (so cool!), how student teachers should approach digital equity, what educators loved on the edtech exhibit floor and tons more.


Stop freaking out about AI

People are nervous that AI will steal their jobs, said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta, referencing the oft-cited statistic from the World Economic Forum that states 25 million jobs will be eliminated by AI by 2022. The problem, though, he said, is that people miss the rest of that statistic: AI will add 133 million new jobs and generate $3 trillion in business revenue.

So what’s the point?

“We may be freaking out about the wrong thing,” Culatta said. In other words, instead of worrying about the jobs that AI will take, we should be worried about our students qualifying for the jobs it will create. How do we prepare them to succeed in world of AI and high-speed networks?

We start with the teachers, Culatta said. Most teachers — 80% — are unable to explain AI to their students, according to findings from a recent ISTE study. The organization has launched a program, in partnership with auto manufacturer General Motors, aimed at equipping teachers to help students understand AI. It is already among the most popular courses offered by ISTE.

“Teachers are THE link to the future,” he said. “[AI] is as much about creating and designing as it is about engineering and programming…The language of future problem solving will be the language of AI.”

Get on the train

Digital citizenship should not be a list of don’ts but a list of dos, said Culatta. He cited the example of La Canada School District, in California, which teaches students how to be good cyberfriends and to watch out for those who are not treated respectfully online.

“Keeping it positive is something you can practice,” said Culatta. “You can’t practice not doing something.”

ISTE is launching an international campaign this fall, aimed at redefining digital citizenship. The program will include curating the best resources on digital citizenship and sharing them at Culatta encouraged attendees to join ISTE’s digital citizenship professional network and register for the digital citizenship ambassador program.

“We are standing on the platform as a society, as a democracy; we have a choice to make,” Culatta said. He described two potential futures: one in which technology is used as a weapon for division and self-serving agenda; or another where it’s used to foster civility and bring people together.

“[Let’s] use technology to serve our community and leave the world around us a better place–to give a voice to the voiceless,” Culatta urged. “Please, please don’t miss that train.”

Freedom in failure

Education does not teach us how to deal with failure, said Alicia Duell, director of technology and information services, Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21.

“We’re not setting up students, teachers and administrators up for success,” she said. “Many fields embrace failure but not us.”

After Duell was fired from her dream job, she craved stories of failure. She sought out Ted Talks, articles, podcasts and conversations with friends and family to hear how they had failed and recovered. These stories encouraged her wounded spirit and helped eliminate the shame of the experience. She encouraged attendees to consider how sharing stories of failure could be a powerful educational tool.

“Think of your sphere of influence in education. Who might benefit from hearing about mistakes you’ve made or failures you’ve experienced in your life? What power might lie in becoming more honest, free, humble and learning life lessons through sharing our failures?” she asked. “We should be modeling these qualities for our students and staff and showing them from our own example that it’s okay to fail.”

Hand-me-downs are not equity

No one knows about inequity in education quite like black and brown students who visit schools built with affluent students in mind, said Sharif El-Mekki, founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice and former principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker in Philadelphia.

“[S]tudents, from the right side of the tracks, were given technology that wasn’t preparing them to work for anyone,” he said. “They were being prepared to create jobs and create the world they wanted to see.”

Technology should address digital divides in education and help all students live up to their own brilliance and potential, El-Mekki said. He urged educators to be champions who begin and end their work days with equity and justice in mind.

“Don’t leave black, brown and poor children behind,” El-Mekki said. “Don’t give our children the innovative hand-me-downs.”

Getting to the truth

Finding truth in online sources means knowing how to vet information, according to a panel of K-12 and college students. The panel, moderated by Amal Giknis, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, had this advice for identifying credible information online:

  • Don’t jump to conclusions and always check your information against 1-2 other websites, advised Meredith Cyxz, a seventh-grader at St. Ignatius of Antioch School
  • When reading an article, check out sources cited in the article to make sure the writer is using the information properly, said Joziah Matos, a senior at the Science Leadership Academy
  • Practice a healthy skepticism about the information you’re consuming, said Ariana Flores, a student at Arcadia University. “Not just things that go against your world view but especially things that confirm your world view,” she urged. ” Vetting your information before you let it influence your decisions, share it with others and before you let it change the way you look at the world.”
  • Don’t treat opinion as fact, said Claire McGlinchey, a senior at Temple University. “Gather as many viewpoints of a topic in order to get a well-rounded view of what’s going on,” she said. “You may just learn something new.”

Learning to lose

Student gamers do not have an extracurricular activity at school that directly supports their gaming interest, said Kerwin Rent, CEO and founder of EliteGamingLive, an interscholastic e-sports program for students in grades 6-12.

“They’ve got robotics — it’s not a direct outlet. They’ve got LEGO Leagues — not a direct outlet,” he said. E-sports fills that gap, especially for students who are on the social fringes. It gives them an activity that speaks to their passion. “They jump into this. They latch on. They don’t stop,” said Rent.

E-sports teach students how to be competitors. “These kids do not know how to lose.  These kids are in this virtual space where they can take the headset off and not deal with it,” Rent said. Programs like EGL put a positive focus on competition, teaching students about grit, resilience and respect for others.

“I think competition brings the best out of the vast majority of kids and adults,” concluded Rent.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote from the student discussion panel. The lines “Not just things that go against your world view but especially things that confirm your world view. Vetting your information before you let it influence your decisions, share it with others and before you let it change the way you look at the world,” were said by Claire McGlinchey, not Ariana Flores.


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