For teachers passionate about technology, the CPS Tech Talk Conference is a golden opportunity for networking and professional growth.
"It's one of my favorite events of the year," said Kenyatta Forbes, Technology Coordinator at Fisk Elementary School. "In order to prepare students for the careers of the future and help them become global citizens, we need opportunities like this."
Sponsored by the Departments of Literacy, Professional Learning and Information and Technology Services, this annual conference supports educators as they work to integrate technology with teaching and learning. This year's conference attracted more than 500 educators and was hosted by Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep High School.
"We're truly excited to have such a relevant event at our south side school," said Brooks principal D'Andre Weaver. "Teachers need to spend this time together to figure out how best to seamlessly integrate these new devices and web-based applications into our curriculum."
In addition to talks by several technology experts, teachers attended breakout sessions on such topics as Google and iPad apps, mobile technologies, and cultivating student innovation through technology.
"It's a day full of great conversations with passionate people," said Joanna Doyle., who feels it is her responsibility as an educator to have a firm grasp on technology.
"It's the natural ecosystem for my students, so it needs to become a big part of my world," she said. "The more I understand it, the better I am at speaking their language."
A special education teacher at Edison Elementary, Doyle was one of the first CPS teachers to use iPads in the classroom and was amazed at their impact on student growth, particularly among children with special needs.
"Giving my students the iPads was like giving them an infinite amount of resources," she said. "Seeing the power of that is what helped springboard my interest in technology."
For computer teacher Jodi Mahoney, who presented at Tech Talk with three of her eighth graders, the conference is about learning to help students develop strong digital media presentation skills, including the ability to summarize content, express their ideas, defend their opinions with facts and teach what they've learned – skills all rooted in Common Core learning.
"In order to excel in college and career, students need to be able to effectively communicate a message, capture and keep their audience's attention, and teach them something valuable," she said. "Tech Talk provides us with the opportunity to get inspired with ideas on how to develop these skills in our students."
Jodi, Joanna and Kenyatta were among those CPS teachers to received the "Ones to Watch" award at this year's Tech Talk Conference, while Jay Rehak, an English teacher at Whitney Young High School, received the Tech Innovator of the Year Award for using Google Docs to create a crowd-sourced novel with his students. Titled 30 Days to Empathy, the book was published in 2013 and recently received the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for Non-Traditional Literature.
"I'm thrilled to get the Tech Talk award, mostly because it helps highlight my students' work," said Rehak. "I think crowd-sourced novels are the wave of the future, and I am convinced they have value as a teaching tool for grammar, story structure, developing social skills and reading."
Like most of his colleagues, Rehak sees the Tech Talk Conference as a chance to bring together people who are trying to use technology in a responsible, beneficial way.
"I don't know what I don't know until I get there," he said. "None of us can stay ahead of the learning. We can only do our best to take in as much as we can and integrate the best practices of our colleagues. There's an old saying – no single one of us is smarter than all of us put together. We learn from each other."