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updated: 2/27/2014 6:15 PM

Suburban educators converge on tech conference

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  • Jennifer Magiera of the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago participates in a social networking discussion Thursday during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference at Pheasant Run in St. Charles.

       Jennifer Magiera of the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago participates in a social networking discussion Thursday during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference at Pheasant Run in St. Charles.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Kim Bolz-Andolshek of Schoology explains how the website schoology.com allows teachers, students and parents to connect about classroom work with an interface similar to Facebook during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference Thursday in St. Charles.

       Kim Bolz-Andolshek of Schoology explains how the website schoology.com allows teachers, students and parents to connect about classroom work with an interface similar to Facebook during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference Thursday in St. Charles.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Some teachers are using Twitter to enhance their classroom and teaching experience.

       Some teachers are using Twitter to enhance their classroom and teaching experience.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Arturo Silva, 17, from left, Alex Ochoa, 16, and Andrea Petrarca, 18, explain how special education students are using technology at Kaneland High School during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference Thursday at Pheasant Run in St. Charles.

       Arturo Silva, 17, from left, Alex Ochoa, 16, and Andrea Petrarca, 18, explain how special education students are using technology at Kaneland High School during the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference Thursday at Pheasant Run in St. Charles.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

From students blogging book reports to using digital apps to create video and art projects, suburban educators shared how they are implementing the latest technologies in their classrooms at the Illinois Computing Educators State Conference Thursday.

The ICE Conference, which started Tuesday and continues Friday at the Pheasant Run Resort and Convention Center in St. Charles, highlights the most innovative technologies used in classrooms statewide, said Margaret Johnson, executive director.

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The conference featured 135 vendors showing off the latest educational technology products and support services, speakers, workshops, activities, and contests. The focus this year was incorporating digital devices and 1-to-1 computing in the classroom. Teachers showed off the latest apps, classroom processes, assistive technology, and integrations with which students engage.

"We are looking at this as a learning space, not just commercial," Johnson said.

Nearly 3,400 people are expected to come through the conference, officials said.

Students from a few suburban districts talked about using Twitter in the classroom, how special education classrooms are incorporating technology, and creating book trailers.

Andrea Petrarca, 18, a senior at Kaneland High School in District 302, said her special education class uses Google Docs to create essays, Pixton, a website that helps tell stories through comic strips, and Glogster to create online posters.

"It's starting to be (used) throughout the whole high school," she said.

Such tools are helping students better prepare for meeting tougher Common Core state standards in reading, writing and math, said Beth Trafton, special education teacher at Kaneland.

"We used to write big, long essays," she said. "(Now) you can create a comic strip to illustrate how dialogue works."

Trafton said it's her third year attending the conference, but a first for her students.

"I wanted them to see where I get all the crazy ideas," she said.

At the center of the exhibit hall, teachers gathered to network and learn from their peers about new apps and teaching techniques.

"The connected educator uses Twitter and Google+ to share what they are doing with other teachers," said Daniel Rezac, ICE spokesman and CEO of EdReach, an online education media network.

The conference was full of ideas and tools for teachers to explore, such as a free, web-based text messaging service -- Remind101 -- that provides a safe way for teachers, faculty, students and parents to connect. Roughly 20,000 teachers in Illinois already are using the service, said Christine Garland, Remind101 product team member.

Schoology is another online service that works similar to Facebook providing a platform for educators, parents and students to interface and manage courses, assignments, tests, quizzes and calendars.

During the four-day conference, 14 nationally known educators were to speak on topics ranging from whether technology improves learning to empowering students through 1-to-1 devices.

Michelle Russell, technology integration coach at Lincoln Middle School in Mount Prospect School District 57, said it's her 10th year attending the conference and it's exciting to see the innovative work teachers are doing. "It just gets bigger and better every year," she said.

Russell gave presentations on supporting Common Core through technology and using podcasting. She said students in her district are creating and publishing websites using Google Sites, and learning to work collaboratively, while teachers and students are just starting to use podcasting to do reports.

"In elementary schools in Mount Prospect, they are blogging," she said. "The traditional hand writing a book report is no longer (done). Students are now writing in a blog format. If students are writing for an audience, they pay a lot more attention to their writing. It's a higher level of writing as well."

Among the presenters were Greg Regalado, art teacher at Maine West High School and recipient of the 2013 Golden Apple Award, and Neil Charlet, the Des Plaines school's technology manager, who spoke about using Google apps in the classroom.

"It's free and it's a great product," Regalado said. "Both of us are Google certified trainers."

Maine Township High School District 207 has roughly 15 Google certified trainers, including a Maine West student. A few years ago, "In Illinois, there used to be only a handful of us," Regalado said.

Maine West students have been using Google apps in classrooms for six years and last fall freshmen and sophomore students were given Google Chromebooks. Though the curriculum is not entirely digital, it likely will be a few years down the road, Charlet said.

Two suburban educators -- Marisa Burkhart, director of educational technology at Huntley District 158, and Paul Solarz, a teacher at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights School District 25 -- received the 2014 ICE "Educator of the Year" and "Teacher of the Year" awards, respectively, Thursday. Don Werneske, applications specialist database manager for Prospect Heights School District 23, also received the "Making it Happen" award recognizing his involvement in the Role of Technology Conference, which later merged with the ICE Conference, initially as a tech support volunteer and later as an on-site coordinator.

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