TRETC 2015: 600 K12 Educators Gather to Share & Learn

TRETC 2015

Photo Credit: Kris Hupp, Cornell SD

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.

ISTE: A Place of Magic and Learning

My first time at the ISTE Conference was an enlightening one. The shear amount of learning opportunities afforded to anyone in attendance was staggering, to say the least. For anyone used to going to PETE&C, I would have to estimate that this conference was at least 4 times the size of the PA state conference. Some of the biggest things I gained from attending were: the connections to new people, seeing where vendors are concentrating their focus, and learning about new professional development methods for our clients.

ISTE Conference 2015

While at the conference I was able to meet and hear from some of the biggest names in education. This afforded me an opportunity to grow my professional network immensely. Prior to this conference, if I had a problem I couldn’t solve my network was maybe 40 to 50 people wide. After the conference it is now 100 people wide, with some of those connections having networks of over 30,000 people. Needless to say that if I have a problem I cannot find the answer to, I should have a friend that can help!

The vendor floor at the ISTE Conference was absolutely huge, with areas for small startups and teaching zones from Google and Microsoft. There was a vendor for just about anything you could want in education. Furniture, power distribution, SIS software, LMS software, curricular software, book vendors, accessory vendors, mobile cart vendors… literally anything you needed to upgrade your toolbox, it was there. One of the more interesting things about the vendors at this conference though, was that they used their floor spaces for teaching as much as they did for selling. Many offered 15 to 45 minute classes on how to use their products. In fact, that was the main focus of both Google and Microsoft on the vendor floor.

During the sessions that I attended, I learned about where the industry sees the role of the CTO to be going and ways to use social media as a promotional tool for schools. In addition, new PD methods were shared such as the unconference movement, more specifically Edcamp, and the benefits of that model. I also was able to learn about methods to better manage my support team, and how to help them be more approachable.

In summary, ISTE is a magical place, where educators from around the globe come together to learn and network with each other to try and steer the future of education in a direction that can benefit everyone in the world. The connections that I made there will continue my learning and help me better model good uses of technology for my staff and students for many years to come.

-Michael Lipnicky, Questeq Director of Technology for South Side Area School District

Attending the 2015 PDE Data Summit

Jodie BurtonShortly over a year ago, I was hired by Questeq to be the new Application Support Analyst, at Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District. In this position, my primary responsibilities have circled around maintaining our student information system, MMS, PIMS data reporting, and supporting our teachers and staff in any questions or issues they have with the multitude of software programs we utilize. However, the majority of my time is focused on ensuring that our data is accurate and being properly reported to PIMS. Over the past year, I have attempted to integrate more trainings on MMS and PIMS, data quality meetings with our administration regarding PIMS, and have developed several user guides on our different software, all in an attempt to improve the understanding and quality of our data within our district.

Recently, I was very fortunate to have Questeq send me to the PDE data summit, in Hershey, PA. I was asked to attend to determine if the summit was beneficial and worth continuing to attend and send employees to each year, hereafter. The summit is held annually by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in the hopes of gathering individuals from across the state who share a responsibility in the PIMS process. Each year the conference is centered on a theme, upon which the keynote speakers and informative sessions tend to be based. This year, the theme was “Moving Beyond Compliance: Getting Value Out Of Data”, the focus being that we, as school districts, should be concentrating on not just meeting the expected goals of PDE, but pushing even further by discovering specific areas we need to improve on, developing plans on how to do so, and attempting to achieve better data, and an even better goal than simply being compliant. (more…)

2014 National School Board Association Conference Trip Notes

NSBA 2014

Questeq recently attended the NSBA’s 74th Annual Conference that was held for the first time this year in New Orleans, LA. More than 5,000 school board leaders and administrators from across the country attended the three-day meeting from April 5-7, 2014. The Questeq team had fantastic conversations with school districts from all over the United States and Canada.

Almost 90% of NSBA conference attendees are school board members, superintendents, or district administration staff. The common issue faced by every district is a significant gap between the presence of technology and the technology department resources organized to support and proactively maintain the technology. Before beginning any technology innovation, schools need to have strong technology supports in place. Teachers need to know that they have help when technology fails, have resources when they are unsure how to use a tool, and can get recommendations about technology usage in the classroom. Technology tools are often purchased and abandoned in classrooms, not because they aren’t helpful for students, but because teachers do not have the time to troubleshoot software or set up peripherals. If a tool does not work the first time, teachers often become discouraged and decide that the new tool is not worth the trouble – particularly when their old way of doing things worked just fine!

Many of our conversations at NSBA centered on the proper staffing required to support schools based on their individual technology investments. Questeq’s tiered support structure in our Educational Technology Management service appears to be the exact answer that board members were looking for at NSBA. We continue to improve our outsourced technology model with greater cost control, technology innovation and flexibility to change our operations based on the curriculum and 21st century learning requirements.

A hockey night in Pittsburgh with Questeq

View from the Penguins Suite

Several guests were invited to join members of the Questeq team for a hockey night in Pittsburgh on December 13, 2013. The guests traveled to and from CONSOL Energy Center in the comfort of a charter bus. Great food and an excellent view were awaiting the hockey fans in a suite overlooking the ice. The event was a great success and everyone had a wonderful time. The Penguins were at home against the New Jersey Devils where they won by a score of 3-2.

A big thank you to all of the guests that joined us for the evening!

Click here to view the event photos on our Facebook page.