Math Friends Ask: What is ISTE?

I went to ISTE last week and I felt like I was cheating on my math friends.

First, ISTE stands for International Society for Technology in Education. They have a big annual conference every summer. This year it was in San Antonio and I was lucky enough to get to present and attend. If you have never heard of ISTE, you aren't alone. Despite the fact that this conference is HUGE, many educators don't even know it exists. (I didn't until a few years ago.) And I saw on Twitter a few math educator friends asking what #ISTE17 stood for because they were seeing it in their newsfeed. And, to make it even harder, I looked at ISTE's website and had to dig a bit to even find it all spelled out!

So, why hadn't I heard of ISTE until recently? I've connected mostly with the math ed crowd on social media and engage with the fine folks in #MTBoS often. I just don't hear much about tech stuff as it relates to math... with the big exception being for Desmos, of course! Everyone loves Desmos, as they should, because it's awesome. Oh, and the math crowd also adores it's online, collaborative resources like Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, Open Middle, Which One Doesn't Belong, etc! But what about the other stuff?

To be fair, I did see a few math-identifying people at ISTE. But I can honestly count them on two hands. I've read Dan Meyer's thoughts on personalized learning (I tend to agree), but what does everyone else think? How about blended learning? What does that even mean to us math teachers? Honestly, the edtech teachers are still debating the definition of these ideas, so it would be awesome if we could get our math perspective in there!

There's other things I hear in the edtech world that I think the math peeps could really use. 4 C's anyone? How about design thinking, STEM/STEAM, maker spaces, or voice & choice?

There are some rich conversations to be had here people. Edtech needs the math teacher voice. And, to be honest math friends, we need a little innovation. Let me share this quote from NCTM's Principles to Action:

I like this quote because it touches on a few things including that tech is now essential to our students. I think the key is being strategic in our integration. Sometimes paper/pencil are best, I love a clothesline number line, and other times I like dry erase boards. But sometimes using a tech tool like ClassKick or Desmos gives me an opportunity to see student thinking and give feedback better/faster than I ever could before! Using Recap to hear my students ideas got straight to the Math Practices and having students construct viable arguments. Have you discovered these free interactive, digital math manipulatives yet? And asking my students to blog and contribute to our class Twitter account transformed aspects of my class and gave students an authentic audience for their ideas.

I'll tell you one thing I don't need from edtech, and that is one more app that promises to "make math fun." As soon as those words uttered from a company rep in the Expo hall, I'm trying hard to contain my eye roll and high tail it out of there. Please. Mathematics is fun, beautiful, and engaging. It's how we've institutionalized it in our schools to take the joy out of it that has made it boring, dull, complicated, and unappealing. I don't need to race against a clock to shoot the aliens with my multiplication fact laser beams to "make math fun," thank you very much.

I also don't need any more digital "practice" that are really just online worksheets. Boring math is boring even on a device. And don't try to dazzle me with a slick teacher dashboard and colorful graphs. Us math teachers aren't so easily won.

Find ways to help me see student thinking, make students ask questions, get students collaborating, help students use math to be creative... that is what I want from my classroom tech.

More schools are integrating technology and math teachers are wondering how to best use it with their students. Let's not resist innovation, but embrace it as an opportunity to build on the great things going on in our classrooms.

I've met some of the most passionate educators in the math and the edtech worlds. I'm honestly surprised when they haven't heard of each other. Bringing the worlds of math educators and edtech peeps together could benefit both groups... and help me not feel like I'm cheating on one with the other. ;)

(By the way, local friends, ISTE comes to Chicago next summer! See you there?)


  1. I'm here! I'm here! It's funny because I come from 10 yrs of elem classroom teaching and 7 yrs as a Math Interventionist yet these last 2 yrs I very much have my feet in both the math and edtech worlds! My 'official' weird title in my district is 1/2 Math District Interventionist and 1/2 Blended Learning. I agree that there's not as many peeps in both worlds (except Alice Keeler maybe?) but my #PLN is made up of both so I see the connections everywhere. BTW, the math tech that pulled me towards the edtech side a few yrs ago was Zearn Math...a great blended learning tool that also helps Ts teachers align w good curriculum. Check it out! ;)


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