Attending my first ISTE conference was much like what Alice must have felt like when she entered Wonderland. As Lewis Carroll boldly stated, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” I learned to expect the unexpected and witnessed some magic. I saw what was possible in this vastly changing field. And I leaned a few things along the way, similar to Alice as she explored Wonderland. I began my adventure about a week before, sitting down and going through the program guide. I made a pretty color-coded schedule for myself starting with the keynote and going through the last day of the conference. I was disappointed to learn there was sessions you had to pre-register for, as most were already full. However upon registering I realized I need to take some advice of the Cheshire Cat. When Alice contemplates where to go, the Cheshire Cat responds, “That depends on where you want to end up.” I knew I wanted to learn and soak up as much as I could in my short time in Atlanta and therefore I scrapped my planned schedule for the first day and headed to the vendor floor and poster sessions. Exploring on the first day and getting used to my new surroundings ended up being the best way to go, as I got my feet wet for what ISTE had to offer. The vendor area was like an unknown world, as you could not see from ended to end. It was full of colorful characters that all had a story to tell. It was here I met one of my greatest inspirations, Roger Wagner.
I also visited with Book Source, Brain POP, Google, and WE Video. The poster sessions were comprised of teachers sharing best practices.
There were Ask Me volunteers that reminded me of the doorknob in Alice in Wonderland. “Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.” I was never lost! I learned more in three hours just by having conversations with vendors and educators! The rest of my time at ISTE I stuck to my schedule, listening to Alan November, Dr. Howie, and administration discuss the BYOD movement, as well as BrainPOP share that they are more than just videos.
I furiously began taking notes and coming up with new classroom projects. I left feeling inspired and ready to make some changes in my own curriculum. I cannot wait to design the Red Rubber Ball Project based off of Kevin Carroll’s inspirational books and speeches. He said, “If your dream does not scare you, it is not big enough.” I hope to instill passion and curiosity in my students as ISTE placed me in the role of the learner. Some days I felt like I shrunk and was overwhelmed by it all. Other days I felt huge, like I could take on the world. I made connections, collaborated, and was challenged. I also made time for myself to reflect as I explored the city of Atlanta. It is important when in Wonderland to take some time for you. Just like Alice ran into some bumps in the road, so did I. Next time I will remember to bring business cards and have a QR reader on hand. I will be mindful that there might be lines, as 16,039 people in one convention center is like a city unto itself. I will also use the # as a way to communicate my own learning and seek the knowledge of others, as the extension of what people discuss goes on long after they leave ISTE Wonderland. I am glad I took the leap down the rabbit hole and cannot wait to go back in 2015 to Philadelphia.
If I ever want to be reminded of the passion and curiosity that inspired me I can always revisit the Audri Rube Goldberg monster trap video, because this child captures the essence of what it is like to be at ISTE. You can try, plan, and process your first conference, but I have a strong feeling it will be several visits to ISTE Wonderland before I can put the pieces together, just like when Alice left Wonderland. She had to go home, but Wonderland will always be in her mind.
About the Author: Rayna Freedman is an elementary teacher at Mansfield Public Schools and is chair of the Development & Outreach Committee for the MassCUE Board.