Innovative Learning Conference 2018

Innovative Learning Conference 2018
By: Todd Martin

The perfect way to transition from a restful summer to prepare for a new school year is to dive into new ideas and to do it without leaving Central Texas, according to technology-minded Killeen ISD educators.

About 1,542 teachers and other school employees flocked this week to the Innovative Learning Conference at the Killeen ISD Career Center and adjacent Patterson Middle School to learn from technology experts, mostly KISD educators, what works best in the classroom.

The homegrown conference, now in its fourth year, is a collaboration of elementary and secondary curriculum departments and technology services, said Helen Mowers, Executive Director for Technology Services.

Every year, the conference draws more participants. This year was the first to include a learning strand designed for parents.

Monday, a keynote speaker challenged teachers to consider how they encourage students to use devices, emphasizing the importance of discerning the quality of content they find online.

On Tuesday, participants used an escape room activity that utilized technology. On Wednesday, the focus was Maker Spaces with sessions about STEM-related interactive learning.

Thursday, the conference continued for educators and added the parent strand that included online safety.

Devorah Heitner, author of "Screenwise" and founder of Raising Digital Natives, sat down with about 10 parents and discussed practical ways to keep children safe in digital environments.

She urged parents to know what games and sites their children used and suggested having early conversations about ideas of right and wrong and how some web content should be avoided. She told parents to remind students not to share personal information online.

Throughout the week, an army of KISD campus technologists and other conference helpers wore T-shirts labeling them as "Agents of Change," part of the conference strategy to employ technology-savvy educators.

Ellison High School librarian Laura Gregory appreciated a session about 3D printing. She said her school has a printer that students use, but that there are numerous applications she didn't know about.

"I like the opportunity to talk to people around the district I don't see during the year," she said. "You can find out what's new. Here, I'm looking for ways to use (the 3D printer) more and integrate it into the curriculum."

Donna Blackburn, a 10-year KISD teacher entering her second year teaching at the Smith Middle School STEM Academy said the local conference with 320 sessions is as good as it gets for showcasing practical, available applications - and it's free.

"This is one of the best (professional developments) I've done," she said. "It shows KISD is progressive. A lot of teachers pay to do this. Technology changes so fast. I feel like I'm on the iceberg and haven't even seen the water."