NYC School Tech Summit: Green Screens, Digital Tools, and, Above All, Innovation

During the jam-packed event on July 29, nearly 2,000 educators, principals, and superintendents from across New York City's five boroughs were encouraged to rethink their teaching with new practices and digital tools this fall—and beyond.
TechSummit4Innovation was the order of the day at the third annual NYCDOE School Technology Summit, sponsored by New York City’s Department of Education (NYCDOE). Nearly 2,000 educators, principals, and superintendents across all five boroughs were encouraged to rethink and reinvent their teaching with new practices and digital tools this fall—and beyond. "We don't know what the demands of the future are," said Carmen Farina, New York City Schools chancellor, during an opening speech to a packed auditorium at LaGuardia High School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. "Rote and memorization is not going to get us where we need to go." Educators attending the July 29 event got the message. Many arrived with marching orders, often their own, for discovering new ways to engage with their students and for finding new tools for students to use in class and at home. NYC Teacher Jordan Kamer with his "Do-It-Yourself Green Screen"

NYC teacher Jordan Kamer demonstrates his "Do-It-Yourself Green Screen"

Maker Media's founder and executive chairman Dale Dougherty, the day’s keynote speaker, launched participants on their digital learning journey, delivering his trademark maker zeal while the crowd fueled up with coffee and bagels. Dougherty encouraged the auditorium to think of ways to engage students without a competitive bent, to allow them to fail, and to get their hands immersed in the journey of creating without worrying about the results. Yana arrived determined to find new laptops for her K–5 students at P.S. 253, where she serves as the school's computer technology specialist. As the "SPOC" (single point of contact) between the district’s tech leaders and her Brooklyn school, Yana has been overseeing the rollout of a 1:1 program in third, fourth, and fifth grade classes for the coming school year. She also needs to replenish the school’s laptop supply for the remaining students. Her pick? “The Lenovos” brand, she says. “They have keyboards where the students can’t pick out the keys.” Workshops were at capacity during the NYCDOE School Technology Summit.

Workshops were at capacity during the NYCDOE School Technology Summit.

School districts across the country are looking to expand digital tools, apps, programs, and lessons into the curriculum to prepare their students for tech-heavy futures. NYCDOE is not any different. The nation’s largest school district lifted its ban on cell phones in its schools this spring. Farina also acknowledged during her speech that broadband for schools isn't robust enough, but “we are working on it.” Barbara Martucci, looking to freshen her skills, honed in on the coding class “Coding is Elementary” during the event’s morning session to bring those skills back to her second graders at P.S. 92 in Manhattan. Bobby Moy, a chess and technology teacher, as well as the school data specialist at the SEEALL Academy in Brooklyn, attended to gather more hands-on practice with Google Apps. He knows he has to stay one step ahead of his pre-K through eighth-grade students. “I consider myself a digital native,” he says. “But there is just a gap between what teachers and students know. They are multiple steps ahead.” Packed hallways at NYCDOE School Technology Summit.

Packed hallways at NYCDOE School Technology Summit.

That concern felt palpable in the halls, as educators rushed the tables of vendors—from learning platform eChalk to the online hip-hop library Flocabulary—before flooding the upper floors to attend sessions in the morning and afternoon. Jordan Kamer, a teacher at P.S. 46 in the Bronx, demonstrated how teachers could use green screens to add a creative bent to students’ work. Christa Quint, from P.S. 235 in Brooklyn, showed educators how to “Flip Your Class.” Her presentation demonstrated how to record lessons and highlighted the software she uses, Camtastia, to a packed room. Not surprisingly, the session “Funding Technology with Grants” was standing room only, with one participant shooing latecomers out of the room as NYCDOE’s Jacob Gutnicki reminded his audience: “When you get the money, don’t forget to say ‘Thank you.’” In his morning speech, Dougherty reminded the assembled educators that technology is just one tool for exploring ideas and learning. He urged the teachers in the room, as they loaded up with new apps, practices and ideas, to be mindful of bringing experimentation and play into their curriculum. “The most important transformation we can make is to have teachers see themselves as makers,” he says. “Join us, join the movement.”  

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