The annual Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) was hosted November 3-4, 2015 at the Bethel Park High School in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. For nearly 15 years, TRETC has been Western Pennsylvania’s opportunity to share the shining stars in the classroom and introduce teachers and administrators across the region to new practices and methodologies in the effective use of technology in the classroom. In the early years, TRETC was hosted at the Carnegie Science Center with early adopters including Questeq and others supporting its mission to integrate technology throughout the student learning experience. The annual conference has consistently grown in size and scope over the years from just under 200 attendees to the record number of 600 this year!
This year as part of the TRETC conference, regional district administrators participated in the EdSurge Education Leaders Workshop. Through EdSurge, small groups of school administrators explore tech, build partnerships & network with other leaders.
The TRETC pre-conference workshops on Tuesday afternoon included about 60 pre-registered attendees. I participated in a CREATE lab session led by teachers and facilitated by students from public and private schools in the region. Working in small groups led by the students we worked with the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, a spin-off product of Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab. Each group experimented with simple engineering and robotics activities and then combined kit parts and crafting materials to create a robotic sculpture. One group developed an animated PacMan, another a Hungry Hippo, and our group created an interactive Jack O’Lantern robotic creature. In the session we learned how students of all ages engage with a combination of electronic kit parts and craft materials such as felt, cardboard, and pipe cleaners to create unique and simple animated robots.
The theme of the conference was Digital Learning: Today and Tomorrow. The keynote speaker was Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, a former public school teacher and education policy researcher. Mandela co-founded Tioki, the “The LinkedIn for Educators,” in 2011. Tioki empowered educators throughout the country with tools and techniques to position themselves for employment and career advancement.
The open lobby in the Bethel Park High School was conducive for service providers from a variety of educational technology companies to host table displays and converse with participants as they scurried to and from breakout sessions. There seemed to be lot of good activity and discussion in the gathering spaces. The breakout sessions held in classrooms were well attended throughout the day. Sessions were designated into strands such as Blended Learning, Teaching Strategies, Vision and Leadership, and “Spotlight.”
Spotlight sessions highlighted those regional presenters that had been recognized nationally or internationally for their leadership in educational technology. One example of a Spotlight Session was led by Kris Hupp, a teacher and instructional technology coach at Cornell School District who was the recent Busting Boundaries Awardee for the Digital Innovation and Learning Awards (DILA) presented by Digital Promise and EdSurge. Kris teamed with a colleague from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and me, representing Questeq in a Spotlight Session entitled “Busting Boundaries through Videoconferencing.” The session was attended by teachers, instructional technology coaches, service providers, and district administrators interested to hear about how we work together to leverage educational technology to enhance classroom instruction while connecting students learning across the globe.
There were students from regional schools in the remake learning zone and in a number of sessions throughout the day as a reminder of why we do what we do. The opportunity for networking with colleagues over lunch and throughout the day was well worth the price of admission.