TLI: Technology Leadership Institute Recaps

TLI Event Recaps

Below are recaps of TLI events to remind us of the bright spots, to inform those who couldn't attend, and to simply serve as an artifact from a memorable series. Enjoy the stories. We look forward to seeing you at our next event.

Event Photos

About TLI

LHRIC's TLI program offers our districts the opportunity to come together to learn about, share ideas on, and discuss excellence in teaching and learning through technology. Our efforts each year are formed by our ability to expand upon our connections with vendors to allow you to experience new technologies and learn how they have impacted teaching and learning. The programs brings in new as well as established vendors to help you plan out and realize the vision of your school district.

Participation in TLI's member-only events gives you the best opportunity to stay abreast of the rapidly changing landscape of education technology. The goal of the TLI Leadership Series is to bring national conferences, topics, and discussions to local venues.  We continually provide opportunities to learn from and engage with renowned keynote speakers that are thought-provoking and inspiring. TLI also provided your district with the chance to network with peers are we explore each leadership topic as it pertains to current challenges and future planning. 

Active-Con 2024 Recap

A.I.’s place in education is familiar, albeit ever-evolving, says Active-Con keynote speaker

Don’t call it a revolution, says John Spencer

 Instead of thinking in terms of the A.I. revolution, educators should consider it the A.I. evolution, keynote speaker John Spencer told attendees at Active-Con 24.

A college professor and former middle school teacher, Mr. Spencer counseled against looking at artificial intelligence as something entirely new but rather as the newest version of technology with which they are already familiar.

He recounted for his audience at Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor on March 1 examples of early tech - from flip phones, MapQuest and mixtapes to Clippy, Microft’s passive aggressive virtual assistant - that predated yet foretold the arrival of A.I.

It’s as if the A.I. we now know has been with us all along.

“It’s the newest form of A.I., and because of that, I think it’s important to ask not, how will A.I. change education, but how has A.I. already changed education?” Mr. Spencer said.

The opening keynote speaker at Active-Con, Mr. Spencer kicked off a day of shared learning around the impacts, benefits, and pitfalls of the latest wave of technological change in the education space. Active-Con is the latest event in the year-long Technology Leadership Institute series hosted and supported by the LHRIC Instructional Technology Department. The annual gathering is all about learning spaces, the virtual and the real. The theme this year was The Future of A.I. 

In a well-received presentation tinged throughout with personal recollections and examples from his own educational upbringing, Mr. Spencer shared how the encouragement of two middle school teachers brought him out of his shell. “I wanted to be invisible,” he confided. “And I was.”

His teachers saw him, though, and by way of a historical research and presentation project on baseball groundbreaker Jackie Robinson, they shed light on his hidden abilities, putting him on a trajectory to embrace education. “That year changed me as a student,” he said. 

When he tried to quit that project, discouraged by his novice presentation skills, his Language Arts teacher refocused him. ‘When you hide your voice you rob the world of your creativity,” she told him. “And I’m not going to let you do that.”

Along the way he leveraged long-distance telephone calls to interview former Negro League players. He dove into his local library’s microfiche collection. He even recorded his presentation at a local radio studio. Today, none of the technology he relied upon - save the books he devoured - is around in the same form anymore.

Fast forward to college, he recalled being presented with two texts, one A.I.-generated, the other human writing, and being asked to guess which was which. He guessed wrong, failing his very first Turing Test - or so he thought. It was terrifying and exciting, he said. 

“When something is new we tend to have a freak-out moment as a culture,” he said.

It happened with bicycles, which came with all manner of threats to societal stability and human health. But bicycles changed the way we dress and travel and in important ways proved to be a boon for the women’s suffrage movement. 

That example is one of many that demonstrate an important pattern, Mr. Spencer said. New tech is greeted with unawareness followed by growing awareness, then moral panic - bicycles transport the human body at unsafe speeds! With increased usage, there is a period of lessened concern, followed by the most dangerous phase of all: boredom. We are bored with cars and social media, and so we are uncareful, he posited. 

The current moral panic over A.I., with fears of its impact on student learning among other areas, can bring reason, attention and important conversations that we can leverage before even this new tech begins to bore us. 

Mr. Spencer advised educators to look at what A.I. does well but also at what humans do well. Humans, in his view, excel over A.I. in terms of voice, contextual understanding, curiosity and empathy.

“A.I. cannot get curious,” he said. ”A.I. doesn’t daydream when you’re not around.”

The idea is not to become A.I.-proof but rather to be human-centered, he said.

Grammarly, for instance, makes writing stronger and might have saved him from an earlier gaffe in which he wrote about student placement in the “International Bachelorette” program. His principal once referenced “meth intervention” for students rather than math intervention.

A.I. can help with repetitive tasks while allowing us to bring our own voice to them.

Humans are also superior at understanding context, he said, advising careful consideration about when to use A.I. -  focus on the subject and the learning target. Using A.I. to create code makes sense unless you’re teaching computer programming, for example. Meanwhile, he suggested fostering curiosity by making it structured. For example, question breaks imbued curiosity for students during his own class discussions.

Last, he shared a personal video about Jasmine, his family’s greyhound, which had passed. He asked ChatGPT for feedback on a video script embedded with deeply personal detail. He was amazed at the specific suggestions provided. His son thought the feedback was awful, though. The only correct feedback, he told him, was to say I’m sorry for your loss and to ask, do you want to talk about it?

“As we embrace A.I. wisely and ethically, in the end it will not be A.I. that transforms learning,” Mr. Spencer said. “It will have to be educators, and it will have to happen from a human perspective.”

In an engaging K-12 panel discussion later that day on “The Future of A.I.,” which Mr. Spencer moderated, panelists representing diverse district technology roles addressed questions about what comes next for A.I. in education.

“I think part of the challenge is that things are changing so quickly, said Jerry Crisci, former co-Director of the Center for Innovation in Scarsdale. “ChatGPT has been out for, what, a year and a half?” Mr. Crisci said. “The truth is that a year and a half from now, we have no idea what technology will do.”

David Steckler, a seventh-grade Computer Science Teacher in White Plains, said educators are preparing students to be citizen developers, “where there’s no barrier between their ideas and creating anymore, if they have the right skills to use the right tools.” A.I. is an enabler, he said, and it can break down barriers, allowing students to pursue their dreams in a matter of days rather than years.

Pearl River Director of Technology Jamie Haug said foundational skills still matter. The world students today will enter is different from even five years ago. “We’re at a point where the A.I. that’s here is at the worst iteration that these kids are ever going to use,” she said.

Still, she said, educators should treat A.I. like any shiny new tool and ask what makes the most sense for learning and instruction. “I think the magic is going to be around for a while,” she said. 

Other panelists included Alana Winnick from Pocantico Hills, Lee Weber from Suffern, and Jennifer Mazza from Clarkstown.

The day was packed with some 20 A.I.-themed or related breakout sessions that included interactive presentations, collaborative discussions and hands-on experiential learning labs, all featuring expert presenters from the region’s districts, vendors and the LHRIC. Mr. Crisci closed out the day with a final keynote on the future of A.I.

Virtual Keynote Series | February 2024

Unlocking the iGen Code: Guiding Educators on Teaching in the Smartphone Age

Professor Jean Twenge shares insights on the challenges and opportunities of educating the first smartphone generation.

 Jean TwengeIn a world where smartphones have become ubiquitous in the lives of teenagers and adolescents, understanding the impact of technology on younger generations is vital for educators. This was the focal point of the Technology Leadership Institute’s (TLI) latest Keynote Series, titled "iGen: Teaching and Guiding the Smartphone Generation," delivered by Dr. Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University. 

 A distinguished psychologist known for her insightful research on generational differences, Dr. Twenge is the author of more than 180 scientific publications and seven books. She holds a BA and MA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Twenge began the presentation by discussing the nuances that define each generation, from the baby boomers to the iGen, also known as Gen Z. With wit and nostalgia, she painted a vivid picture of the evolving educational landscape shaped by technological advancements.

Interestingly, despite the proliferation of smartphones and social media, Dr. Twenge highlighted that today's school-aged children are not growing up as rapidly as perceived. She said that while these digital tools offer connectivity, they come with a tradeoff, “decline in independence and firsthand experiences,” adding that many adolescents are "growing into adulthood without experience with independence," a concern echoed by educators and parents alike.

To combat this issue, she said we must provide students with opportunities for independence, empower them to make choices, and entrust them with responsibilities that contribute to their sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Drawing from her extensive research, Dr. Twenge then addressed the concerning trends of loneliness, anxiety, and depression among teens and young adults, which she said gained prominence around 2012—the year that marked the widespread adoption of smartphones across the globe.

“This was the fastest adoption of any technology in human history, and that is going to have a major impact,” she remarked.

Central to Twenge's discussion was the role of educators in shaping the learning environment for iGen students. She underscored the importance of promoting reading for pleasure and nurturing social skills, and urged teachers to reconsider assigning digital homework. The debate on integrating technology in the classroom sparked thoughtful reflection, with Dr. Twenge recommending short videos and selective use of school laptops and tablets to enhance learning outcomes.

 Chart from Jean Twenge eventA key takeaway from Twenge's presentation was the need for establishing clear cell phone policies in school districts. She likened the presence of smartphones to carrying TV sets to school in the '80s.

“We wouldn’t let students walk into class with a television set, so why do we allow it with smartphones—they’re for entertainment purposes,” she noted.

As the session concluded, Dr. Twenge posed a thought-provoking question: “Does the world change for this generation, or does this generation change?” The answer lies in a collaborative effort among administrators, district leaders, and communities to make impactful changes that prioritize the well-being and happiness of today's youth.

In the quest to navigate the digital landscape, Dr. Twenge's insights serve as a guiding light, prompting educators and stakeholders to adapt and evolve in an ever-changing technological era.

Virtual Keynote Series | January 2024

The Future of Education: Insights on AI and Literacy

Educators Gain Valuable Strategies for Integrating Technology & Equity in Learning Environments

 Ken SheltonEducators across the Lower Hudson Valley region explored the future of literacy and language fluency in a tech-driven world during a recent  keynote session, hosted virtually by the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center's Technology Leadership Institute (TLI).

The TLI keynote session, titled "Future-Fluent: Examining the Power of Literacy, Language, and Equity in a Tech-Driven Era with Artificial Intelligence," featured speaker Ken Shelton, whose expertise in educational technology and digital literacy provided attendees with valuable insights and strategies.    

With more than two decades of hands-on teaching experience, Mr. Shelton is a respected member of the Educational Technology community. He holds prestigious titles such as Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Innovator, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, reflecting his influential contributions to advancing educational technology.

Mr. Shelton kicked off the session by posing a question: "When making decisions, do you want the best info or all the info?" His emphasis on the importance of having access to all information highlighted the need for comprehensive understanding in navigating the complexities of technology integration in education.

“AI is here to stay and has already impacted many facets of daily life," he added. “If we are not leveraging the resources we have access to now, then we will not be able to achieve our goals as educators and for our students.”

Mr. Shelton continued to capture attendees' attention with another alarming fact: cybersecurity experts estimate that 75% or more of online content has either been generated by AI or influenced by AI in some way.

 When discussing current perceptions of AI, Mr. Shelton likened it to the early days of the internet. He illustrated this comparison by showing a clip from the 1990s featuring Bill Gates discussing the internet with David Letterman. While Gates touted the internet as the "next cool thing," Letterman questioned its utility and practicality. Mr. Shelton said this is a perfect example of how, at that time, the internet was not fully understood by everyone, yet some recognized its immense potential.

 “That’s where we are right now with AI,” he noted.  

The discussion transitioned to ethical considerations regarding AI in education, where Mr. Shelton prompted attendees to contemplate pivotal questions concerning data usage and the diversity of design teams. He posed the question, "Should AI be governed by a separate policy or integrated into digital use policies," advocating for the latter as it offers more explicit guidelines.

"We must know what data sets each platform is using and hold tech companies accountable for their technology's intended purposes,” he emphasized.

Throughout the session, Mr. Shelton actively engaged attendees by posing thought-provoking questions and welcoming comments, fostering dynamic interaction as participants enthusiastically responded via the Zoom chat feature.

As educators across the region continue to embrace the transformative potential of AI technology in education, sessions like these serve as invaluable platforms for collaboration, learning, and growth, helping to create future-fluent learners equipped to thrive in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Virtual Keynote Series | October 2023

Navigating the Intersection of AI and Education with Dr. Chris Dede

2023-2024 TLI Keynote Series Kicks off with a Fascinating Discussion About the Synergy of Human & Machine Intelligence

 Dr. Chris DedeSchool district leaders gathered at the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center’s Harrison campus Oct. 20 to kick off the Technology Leadership Institute's 2023-2024 series of keynote lectures, conferences, and workshops. The highlight of the event was a presentation by Dr. Chris Dede, a renowned figure in the field of educational technology and a Senior Research Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

The topic of the talk, titled "If AI is the Answer, What is the Question: Thinking about Learning and Vice Versa," explored the intersection of generative AI and education. Dr. Dede opened by discussing the concept of Intelligence Augmentation (IA), a synergy of human and machine intelligence. Drawing a parallel to "Star Trek," he highlighted how Captain Picard's judgment was complemented by Data's reckoning skills. In a world rapidly integrating generative AI, Dede examined what students need to prepare for IA interactions in the workforce and how educators can leverage AI without compromising academic integrity.

Dr. Dede touched on several key aspects during his presentation, noting that in the realm of education, "it's not just about reaching the destination; it's about the entire learning journey."

He provided clarity on large language models (LLMs) like GPT-3, explaining their remarkable ability to generate human-like text based on the input provided. Furthermore, Dr. Dede emphasized that human languages are inherently influenced by culture and context and discussed how AI can serve as a powerful tool in providing students with the cultural and contextual information needed to enrich their understanding of diverse subjects.

To reinforce the crucial points in his presentation, Dr. Dede used numerous metaphors to unravel the intricate nature of LLMs. By comparing them to "digital parrots" devoid of human experiences and equating them to "a brain without a mind," he illustrated the profound distinctions that set these AI systems apart from human cognition. Another of his compelling metaphors, that "human knowledge is sunlight, but an LLM is like moonlight," shed light on the evolving digital landscape, where flawed products of generative AI find their way into the training data of LLMs. The metaphors formed a backdrop for the complexities of integrating AI into the world of education and helped attendees gain a deeper understanding of this transformative technology.

Throughout the keynote address, breakout sessions allowed participants to discuss the current status of AI in their respective school districts. Educators shared their experiences, with some expressing concerns about AI's potential misuse for cheating but also recognizing its positive applications.

"For staff, there are so many advantages to get time back in their day from composing parent letters to developing lesson plans," said Joseph Catania of the Washingtonville Central School District.

 Discussion at AI eventCatania's insight underscored the dual nature of AI's impact on education—careful consideration is necessary, but the advantages for educators are evident.

Scott Staub from the Lakeland Central School District also shared his perspective on the topic. "Some believe AI and ChatGPT are synonymous, while others avoid AI altogether because they say they are 'not techy',” said Staub, noting the diverse range of attitudes towards AI in educational settings.  

Christopher Keogh of Tuckahoe adopted a proactive approach, stating, "I provide a weekly digest to inform staff about tech and AI." Keogh's dedication to keeping his colleagues informed exemplified the ongoing conversation and education surrounding the integration of technology and AI in schools.

Dr. Dede wrapped up the talk by encouraging educators to demystify AI, create experiential learning opportunities, and provide resources for their districts. He stressed the importance of teaching judgment, not only focusing on how to use AI but also on what it should be used for.

"A balanced approach is essential to prepare students for a future where generative AI plays a prominent role in the workplace," Dr. Dede remarked. “In closing, I encourage educators to take their time and be thoughtful in implementing AI in education. In the ever-evolving landscape of public education, it's clear that AI is here to stay, and educators must adapt. The challenge, as I see it, lies in teaching judgment and ensuring that AI enhances, rather than replaces, the learning experience." 

TECH EXPO May 2023

Capstone event sets the tone with the ‘Spirit of Adventure’

Tech Expo ‘23 celebrates creativity as TLI wraps up a successful school year

 Peter Reynolds  Paul Reynolds  Sarah Smith 
Don’t ever let anyone, least of all a student, tell you they are not creative, advised renowned children’s book authors Peter and Paul Reynolds. 

Creativity is something that can improve over time, the tandem keynote speakers told an overflow crowd at Tech Expo, the LHRIC’s year-end teaching and learning event. It’s easy to push back on that, to say, I don’t have a creative bone in my body, Paul said. Kids pick up on that, he said, and they internalize it.

The message was a fitting one for the twin brothers to share at the start of the Technology Leadership Institute’s capstone event. Some 300-plus educators and instructional technology leaders from school districts across the region attended. 

The event featured a series of engaging breakout sessions, an expansive vendor fair, and creative and engaging keynote speakers who opened and closed the day’s program. Tech Expo is all about district technology leaders learning from and with their peers from across the region.

Peter H. Reynolds wrote and illustrated such titles as The Dot, Ish, The Table and Say Something! He illustrated the best-selling I Am series among other titles and collaborated with Cat Stevens on Peace Train. Paul Reynolds is the CEO and Co-Founder of Boston-based FableVision, which produces interactive classroom applications.The brothers’ nonprofit, Reynolds TLC, encourages creativity and innovation in teaching and learning. 

“Have you ever had a great idea when you’re driving and you say, when I get home I’m going to write that down but you forget?” Paul said. “That’s our mission, that you won’t forget your brilliant ideas.”

He noted that the word technology has Latin roots in the words techne, or art or craft, and logos, or meaning. “So technology is a way to create meaning by making things,” he said.

Creating things is a human superpower, he added. We consume so much, as evidenced by the prevalence of our electronic devices, he said, but we can teach kids to create.  

Peter shared a photo of the pair, as babies, in a hospital maternity ward just outside Toronto. They’ve been collaborating from the beginning, he said, and they grew up to love books and storytelling. He detailed the inspiration that led them to open The Blue Bunny bookshop 20 years ago. “As much as we love technology, our happy place is actually right here,” Peter said. 

The pair littered origin stories throughout their address, including the inspiration of the book The Dot and the story of Peter’s seventh-grade math teacher Mr. Mattson, to whom it was dedicated. Mr. Mattson encouraged him to teach math by telling a story, so he went home and made a comic book. His teacher told him what he’d created was a storyboard and encouraged him to film it.

“When I looked back on it, I realized that’s pretty brave, to have an idea and not really know what’s next,” Peter said. When he called years later to say thanks for what turned out to be a pivotal life moment, Mr. Mattson said he didn’t realize the impact he’d had. That’s pretty common Peter said, adding, “You may never know, but hopefully you do get that call (from a student) 20 years from now.”

Paul said he and his brother loved Tech Expo’s theme, Spirit of Adventure. The word spirit, he said comes from the Latin word for breath or wind. 

“Hopefully the creative charge we give you today can be like that wind in your sails,” he said, to which Peter added, “And hopefully you will go back to your learning communities and put the wind back in other people’s sails.”

Learning opportunities abound

The meat of the daylong event could be found in a rich itinerary of 27 breakout sessions offering attendees a range of engaging and cutting-edge topics. 

In a session dubbed “The Authentic Self,” educational technology leaders from Mount Vernon shared how designing podcasts stimulates the cognitive and auditory learning styles of students through entertaining storytelling. Students are able to brainstorm topic ideas taken from current events, encouraging dialogue and critical thinking while boosting imagination.   

“I wanted to bring this into Mount Vernon,” said LHRIC Staff Developer Dana Unger, who had attended a LHRIC session on podcasting, “but I felt like I needed to know everything. What I want to tell you is that it doesn’t have to be that complicated.”

A year-long professional development initiative for teachers led to a districtwide pilot program, she said.

In a similarly focused session, “Amplifying Voices Through the Power of Podcasts,” presenter Brandon Beck from Ossining shared how he had learned from the process of podcasting. 

An elementary school teacher and the author of “Unlocking Unlimited Potential,” Dr. Beck is the voice behind a weekly podcast of the same name. At 76 episodes, it details stories of success. He offered tips on podcast creation, including establishing a brand and building a following. The medium has the ability to amplify students’ voices and instill them with self-confidence.

The session ended with a video produced by his colleague, Angela Carrasquillo, about Ossining High School students’ experience with podcasting. They cover various topics, — sports, movies, mental health — in the school’s media studio, and the content is later broadcast in the cafeteria.

In “Room to Grow: A Journey Into the *Deskless* Classroom,” English Teacher Ashley L. Valentine from Croton-Harmon High School shared her and her students’ yearlong journey as a learning community without that icon of the American classroom, the student desk.

This innovative approach required her as a teacher to relinquish control, find a new balance in her classroom and make room for playfulness, among other findings. In surveys of her students, she found increases in focus, comfort level, collaboration and risk taking.

“I think the change of removing the desks did one thing further,” Ms. Valentine said, “It reoriented things in a really good way.”

In “Practical Strategies and Tools to Support and Prepare for Computer-Based Testing,” presenter Michael Ritacco from Port Chester detailed strategies the district has used to aid students, teachers and families in that transition.

Many in attendance shared where their districts fell on the transition timeline. Ritacco, a director of technology, and his colleagues shared their four-pronged approach that provides building, teacher, student and parent support. The district also conducted a simulation prior to testing days to account for any unforeseen hiccups.

“It doesn’t mean everyone will be happy with the results of the test,” Ritacco said. “But no one will be able to say the students weren’t prepared to actually take the test.”

Pocantico Hills Superintendent Rich Calkins was joined by Educational Technology Director Alana Winnick in presenting, “Empowering Leaders to Promote Academic Integrity and Adapt to the AI-Driven Future.” The pair shared insights from their district’s approach to leveraging new technology. “I think this (AI technology) will help us rethink education,” Ms. Winnick said.

Theirs was one of four AI-focused breakout sessions. Other topics included Equity in Computer Science, Shakespeare in the Inclusive Curriculum, Lumio Across the Curriculum, and “What a Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Taught Me About Student Engagement,” among many others.

Creativity: Anywhere and everywhere

Rounding out the day, FableVision’s Director of Creative Education, Sara Smith, asked her audience, “Where does creativity come from?” 

Applying creativity in the classroom is her passion. She shared how they could best tap into their creative potential and that of their students. “Creativity can be anywhere and everywhere,” she said.

Ms. Smith had attendees stand and present one another with invisible gifts as she snapped photos from the stage. She explained that creativity is the combination of mindset, skillset and toolset. The invisible gift exercise brought those in attendance into a creative mindset. “You have to be ready for anything,” she said. “That is the Spirit of Adventure.”

Discussing the nature of divergent thinking and how exploring wide-ranging ideas — free of critique — is an important skillset, she said. She also discussed the toolset that is available to fuel creativity, including FableVision’s Animation-Ish, a program that allows students to become animators.

Her final message to educators was one she hopes they can apply in their schools and their classrooms.

“You are creative,” she said. “Your students are creative. You have to choose to engage it.”

Looking ahead to 2023-24? Circle May 17, 2024 on your calendar and plan to join us for the next Tech Expo!

Active-Con Recap · March 2023

Active-Con explores space and the Metaverse

 AJ JulianiA.J. Juliani recalled a difficult day as a director of technology and innovation that turned out to be an amazing day.

A Chinese delegation was visiting Mr. Juliani’s Philadelphia-area school to observe its planetarium when he received an ominous message: a python had escaped from its classroom cage. If that wasn’t enough to test his crisis-response skills, he learned soon after that the school’s environmental control systems had been hit by a ransomware attack.

These were wrinkles to the tour that this year’s Active-Con Keynote speaker said he hadn’t counted on that day. He recalled the day for some 120 attendees of the annual event, part of the Technology Leadership Institute event series, which made its in-person return March 3 as well as its debut at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor.

Describing how he went into crisis mode, Mr. Juliani said he decided to cancel an end-of-day pitch meeting with a teacher and a principal. There was just too much going on - only he didn’t actually manage to cancel it, and sure enough, they showed up.

It was a good thing too. 

Their proposal for a summer program that would place kids with local companies working on real-world projects successfully demonstrated for Mr. Juliani the enormous degree of innovative thinking among district staff that was just waiting to be tapped.

CentennialX, as the award-winning program came to be called, saw kids work with Eli Lilly on an education campaign about clinical trials and with MIT’s bicycle team on ways to make cyclists visible at night, as examples.

“All of this happened because a teacher and a principal had an idea,” the keynote speaker said. “Sometimes it’s about us making room for space. I had to make space for others to be innovative, to really allow them to be creative in what they were doing.”

Mr. Juliani, a teacher, coach, administrator, and now faculty member at UPenn’s GSE Penn Literacy Network, titled his address, “How to Engage Learners in Every Space.” He made the case for creating space as a means of student engagement, presenting an expansive view of possibilities for doing just that. He also shared how all kinds of spaces provide structure for creative teaching and learning and how this can empower students to do remarkable work. 

Mr. Juliani emphasized the need to create space for failing—not failure, mind you. Failing is temporary and part of the learning process, he said. “We have to create a space where it’s not only OK to fail but it’s an expected part of the process,” he said.

He also advised educators to create space for engagement. A father of five, he used the example of his own children to demonstrate how all children learn differently. Successful learning requires not only compliance but engagement and empowerment, he said. 

“If we are only asking students to be compliant in 2023, we have completely lost the attention battle,” he said, adding, “We need to get kids excited for the learning process.”

He cited the example of the students who participated in his district’s CentennialX program, spending their summers actively participating in learning experiences that excited and engaged them. The one question several asked on their return was, why can’t school be more like this?

That example of success led district leaders to seek more innovative ideas from staff. Eventually, there was an in-school credit union, a satellite Shoprite location, a forensics lab, a video production studio, a fashion show and even a neuropsychology research lab.

“I say all of this,” he said, “because I really believe that creating space for those ideas, letting others fail, is the most innovative thing you can do.”

For seven years, Active-Con has brought district leaders, teachers, and vendor partners together to explore how space impacts learning. This year that discussion was expanded to consider the impact of virtual spaces.

The day’s agenda included Speaker Spotlight sessions that tackled the space question from a variety of perspectives. Meanwhile, Active Learning Experiences enabled conference attendees themselves to engage in learning exercises. 

Endnote speaker Vriti Saraf closed out the day’s events with “Education in the Metaverse,” in which she looked at the question of whether the Metaverse is destined to replace in-person learning. 

Ms. Saraf is the CEO & founder of k20 Educators, a design studio that builds metaverse spaces for learning. She is also a co-founder of the first decentralized autonomous non-profit organization for and by educators, Ed3 DAO. She has been a teacher, professor, dean, and director in public, private and charter schools across k12 and higher education.

She walked her audience through the origins of the internet to the modern-day Web 3.0, which she said is made possible by decentralized technology, artificial intelligence, interoperability, and augmented reality. 

Ms. Saraf clarified that virtual reality is not the same as the Metaverse. Examples like Meta, Roblox, Minecraft are not interoperable. They are hardware-dependent examples of “a metaverse platform” versus “The Metaverse” itself.

Our education system was modeled on factories, Ms. Saraf said, but the workforce has dramatically evolved even while our schools have not.

“Metaverse technology will not replace human jobs, but humans who know how to use the Metaverse in their jobs will replace humans who do not,” she said.

From a macro level, learning can become a lot more global and connected, she said, so the global nature of Metaverse space really allows us to connect with people from all over the world. Metaverse spaces are adaptive as well, she said, unlike brick and mortar spaces. They are also potentially more accessible and adaptive.

On a micro level, online courses will dominate and enrollment will surpass in-person, she predicted. Funding will go to virtual projects, competition will drive demand, and students who do well in the Metaverse will do better professionally.

“I truly believe, even though I am a huge advocate for Metaverse spaces, you shouldn’t spend all your time online,” Ms. Saraf said. “It is better to prioritize in-person time and human relationships.”

TLI Keynote Series: Speaker puts a spotlight on student engagement

Weston Kieschnick—Go Forth and Be Bold: Educating for the Future

 Weston KierschnickWeston Kieschnick believes there’s an engagement crisis in America’s schools.

For one thing, remote learning got kids used to the freedom of being outside the classroom. For another, kids no longer buy into the notion that education is a vehicle for upper mobility.

“They watched the graduating classes before them do exactly what we asked them to do,” the Technology Leadership Institute Keynote Speaker told an audience of educators recently. “Then they watched those kids come home with massive debts, struggle to find jobs and move back home with their parents.“

The answer to these twin dilemmas, he believes, is student engagement.

“If we’re going to be serious about engaging kids in a world where technology is everywhere,” Mr. Kieschnick said, “we have to be serious about engagement.”

‘How to eat a banana’
A former HS teacher, Mr. Kieschnick has written books about teaching, hosts a podcast on the subject, and even married a teacher. Now he travels the country, observing teachers do what they do. An anecdote makes his point about what he believes engagement looks like.

He recalled walking in at the start of a sixth-grade class and seeing the teacher at the front of the room, holding a banana. Students asked her why, but she didn’t answer, which only spurred more questions. He admits he was intrigued.

TLI informationOpens in a new browser tab When the bell rang to start the class, she finally spoke: “How fast do you think you can eat this banana?” A name-that-tune-style competition was on as students bid the time down from 60 seconds to one who boasted he could do it in seven seconds. So she set up the timer on her phone as he began to peel the banana and get ready.

“That’s not what I asked,” she told him. “I asked how fast can you eat that entire banana.” He protested that he had to peel it first, but the whole class backed her up regarding her directions. Finally, she relented but stressed the order in which he must peel and eat the banana.

“So we can all agree, order matters,” Kieschnick recalled her saying. “And that’s how she starts her lesson on order of operations that day. That’s a heck of a lesson.”

Instead of the traditional introduction where the teacher tells the class what they’re going to learn that day, she drew her students in by engaging them.

‘The fun teacher’
Engagement and fun are not synonyms, Mr. Kieschnick warned, and he’s not interested in helping anyone be “the fun teacher.” Engagement, rather, is curiosity, participation and the desire to persevere.

The perceived difficulty of a task is in an inverse relationship with a child’s desire to participate, he said. Kids aren’t afraid of failure. They’re afraid of humiliation. Curiosity is a prerequisite to overcoming that. Without engagement, we squash that curiosity, he said.

Surveys show that most teachers believe they are engaging. Students disagree, though, especially as they get older. There are plenty of possible reasons: outside interests, increasing difficulty, student focus. He adds relationships and smartphones to the list.

Student engagement is a function of students’ disposition and teachers’ methodology, he said.

‘More engaging than a window’
As an illustration of how old this equation is, he showed his audience a photo of a school building with no external windows and a classroom with desks in rows. The advent of Air Conditioning made schools expensive both to heat and to cool. At the same time researchers noted disengaged kids often stared out classroom windows.

Put the two together, and that led to windowless schools, of which many today remain. But windows weren’t the problem, Mr. Kieschnick said.

“If you can't be more engaging than a window, we have to have a different conversation,” he said.

Rather than investing in people, we throw external solutions at problems, he maintained. A similar phenomenon is happening today with technology, but technology will not solve the engagement problem, he said, adding, “You all know this.”

Engagement, he posited, is formulaic. Just as there is a formula to writing a pop song or a hit movie or a funny joke, there is a formula to engaging students.

Clear answers aren’t always provided when teachers are told to “be more engaging,” he said, so he came up with a formula: The ATLAS Model. The acronym stands for Attention, Transition, Lesson, Activity, Summation.

Educators have to be serious about engagement, Mr. Kieschnick said.

“The feeling kids feel when they walk through our doors can’t be boredom,” he said, “and the feeling kids feel when they leave cannot be failure. If those are the two prevailing emotions, they’ll forget everything that happens in between.”

Weston Kieschnick is an award-winning educator, best-selling author, TEDx speaker, coach, husband, and father. He is the author of The Educator’s ATLAS, Bold School, Breaking Bold, co-author of The Learning Transformation: A Guide to Blended Learning for Administrators and the creator and host of Teaching Keating; one of the most downloaded podcasts for educators and parents on iTunes. Weston has worked in collaboration with innovative tech and publishing companies (Google, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Apple) to redefine teaching and learning in the digital age. As such, he’s advised educators from every state in the U.S. and more than 30 countries around the world.

TELL AWARD recap · March 2023

LHRIC Honors Eight Innovative Educators

 Chris SingletonOver 90 educators and education leaders gathered at Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff to celebrate the Technology Leadership Institute’s TLI TELL Awards ceremony. The event honored three Outstanding and Innovative Teachers as well as five Outstanding and Innovative Leaders for their efforts to transform education through leadership and learning.

 The event kicked off with a moving keynote address from Chris Singleton, whose mother, an educator, and eight others were victims of a mass shooting at Bible study in a church in Charleston. Just a teenager at the time, Mr. Singleton said the tragedy left him to care for two younger siblings. He knew he could not bring his mother back, but instead has found the strength and courage to carry a message that spreads love and unites people “no matter where they are from or what they look like.”

Asking the group to stand and prove they believe in a message of love, he said, “quickly give somebody a hug and tell them that you love them.” The crowd of friends, colleagues and strangers turned to one another and did just that with smiles and laughter. Having already spoken at 30 schools this year, he quipped that this is “weird and awkward especially in middle schools.” He wondered aloud whether anyone present had ever been hugged by or been told “I love you” by someone who doesn’t “look like you.”The audience learned about Mr. Singleton’s days in the minor league system of the Chicago Cubs when his agent gave him the chance to live rent free, meals provided in St. Paul’s Retirement Community. This was not ideal for a 21-year-old, he said, but when he arrived, the facility had posted a large photo of him on the wall that said, “Welcome Chris Singleton. We Love You Grandson.” There is nothing more embarrassing than striking out three times when the whole community of proxy grandparents have taken a bus to come to watch you play, he said.

Teach like Grandma E

Keeping true to his life mission, Mr. Singleton took the opportunity to “interview” those in his new community that “loved him” and talked about Esther, or “Grandma E,” who shared an unforgettable story about her “twin” granddaughters — one of whom is white, the other black. The story echoed that of the TV show “This Is Us,” where one child was adopted after the loss of the twin. She said, “They call themselves chocolate and vanilla ice cream…I taught them that because I want them to know although they are different on the outside, on the inside, where it counts, they are just as sweet.” He said that if his mother’s killer had a grandma like Grandma E, my mother would still be here. “It doesn’t matter if you’re chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, whatever [way] we vote, what our first language is, whatever our stance is, we all have stories behind it. If we teach like this, that is teaching love and that is how we become united in our schools, in our communities, in our lives. So, I ask of you not to change who you are, but to please Teach like Grandma E.”

He punctuated his speech with his favorite quote from Jackie Robinson, “One life is not important, except for the impact it has on other lives.”

The Awards celebration followed. Various presenters read a short bio of each winner, followed by videos about each winter and their acceptance speeches. Many confessed to considering using Chat GPT to write the speech for them, but all delivered brief messages about their work with heartfelt thanks.

 2023 TELL Award Winners The Outstanding Innovative Teachers

Three teachers were honored this year: Meredith Dutra from Scarsdale, Allison Bacon from Ossining and Lisa Yokana from Scarsdale.

Mrs. Dutra provided a glimpse into her own education struggles overcoming dyslexia with the help of her kindergarten teacher, who also became her tutor. She reflected on her process in building out digital learning tools for students, asking, “Would 14-year-old Meredith enjoy interacting with this?” Her journey evolved to developing learning tools and professional development websites for her peers as well. After 15 years in education, she feels she is just beginning and “has a lot more to go.”

Allison Bacon said she was honored and flattered to win. She admitted to testing out her digital escape rooms on her husband, Ron. Her daughter, Annabelle, has tested every tool she’s considering implementing in school. She emphasized the need to embrace new technologies and to allow students the access and technology tools needed to “find their own answers” and “adapt to the future, know how to teach themselves, and make their own way.”

Lisa Yokana, slipped in just in time to claim her award after becoming a grandmother earlier in the day. She was recognized for her work in helping develop Scarsdale’s Design Lab and STEAM program. She also mentioned the speed of change as it relates to technology and recommended embracing new tools such as AI — but focus on teaching students how to use them “ethically and responsibly to solve the world’s problems.” She believes schools should focus on teaching real-world problem-solving processes and design thinking while warning that the student “self-soothing” trend is counterproductive for future advancement.

The Outstanding Innovative Leaders

Five leaders were honored to receive TELL awards: Dr. Gayle White-Wallace from Mt. Vernon, John Sebalos from Pelham, Erica Rogan from Bedford, Joe McGrath from Carmel and Sonia Dominguez-Saravia from East Ramapo.

Dr. White-Wallace was recognized for leading the development of a pre-K and Gifted and Talented program at Mt. Vernon. Having once considered a career in medicine, she believed she could do more for the world and the community of her alma mater with education. She discussed the intersection and interdependence of education and technology and their impact on learning. She also shared her belief that embracing new technology broadcasts a message of hope.

John Sebalos, a director of technology in Pelham, considers public speaking “terrifying” and had a few words to repeat any time he felt a little nervous. Intertwined with his recollection of the work he has done over his career were a few whispers of “beatbox and pizza.” He was instrumental in the construction of the new state-of-the-art Hutchinson Elementary School, the still photo of which that was shown during his video drew gasps for its color and beauty. Mr. Sebalos works to provide educational technology that help teachers find their “A-ha” moment and make teaching fun. He continues his drive to “be better” and grow.

Erica Rogan, the UDL coordinator in Bedford, helped the audience understand the role of Universal Design for Learning Coordinator and described the learner profile tool she and her team developed to support the education of all students. Always humbly acknowledging her team, Ms. Rogan said, “As we say, what is necessary for some is beneficial for all.” She went on to encourage her peers to “make sure we are listening to [students] and creating inclusive spaces for all.”

Joe McGrath, chief information officer, data privacy officer and director of technology in Carmel, is the first two-time winner, having won previously for his work in Mt. Vernon Schools – where he spent two decades. Mr. McGrath admitted to using Chat GPT to write his program bio. He considers it a privilege to hold a job where the goal is to “go make a difference and improve the world” and improve the lives of children. He said that Carmel has gone through a lot of change in a short period of time and is proud to have supported the staff and teachers that ushered in that change.

Sonia Dominguez-Saravia, Director of Instructional Technology and Curriculum Development from East Ramapo CSD, echoed the sentiments of her peers, adding that she is grateful for being able to do work that impacts others, creates better learning environments and improves student outcomes. Mrs. Dominguez-Saravia lists Hour of Code events, district-wide Family University meetings, project Lead the Way and the esports pilot program among her many accomplishments.



TECH EXPO · May 2022

Educators Become Engaged Pirates, Share Expertise at Energetic Tech Expo

 Over 300 technology-minded educators flocked to the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center’s Tech Expo, eager to gain knowledge about teaching and technology at the fun-themed “Carnival of Learning.”

On May 20, Briarcliff’s Edith Macy Conference Center hosted the annual event. It swarmed with smiling teachers and directors, who were eager to learn with—and from—their peers. The Tech Expo is the LHRIC’s capstone teaching and learning event of the year, highlighting the contributions of the region’s teachers and administrators, while providing ample opportunities for networking with peers, experts and vendors.

The energetic, carnival-themed day kicked off with an entertaining, high-energy and fast-paced keynote from New York Times best-selling author Dave Burgess. Mr. Burgess wrote the well-celebrated book “Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity and Transform Your Life As An Educator.” Having the spirit of a pirate, he said, means that teachers are mavericks in the classrooms. In addition, they have hooks, and Mr. Burgess invited the audience to learn how to “hook” students in for motivated learning.

During the Tech Expo, he inspired attendees with a rousing presentation aimed at helping them become the best at what they do so that they can provide a first-rate education to their students. With audience participation and much laughter, he inspired the attentive educators to change the way that they view their roles in their school districts.

On the stage in front of a packed room, Mr. Burgess pulled out a prop raw steak and asked audience members to pretend that they were at a picnic. He emphasized that the meat could have the potential to be the tastiest steak ever, but no one would know unless it was prepared well—from marinade and seasonings to the sides served with it.

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” he said. “You are the magic! Don’t just teach a lesson, create an experience.”

Mr. Burgess underscored that school is not solely about students paying attention in class. Rather, it is about their engagement level. “An engaged student is rarely a behavior problem,” he said.

Mr. Burgess’ “Teach Like a PIRATE” premise is based on an acronym: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. At the Tech Expo, he shared information about three of the letters, emphasized why they are important for educators and how they can improve teaching and learning.

The “P” stands for “Passion.” Mr. Burgess explained that passion comes from three main areas: content, professional and personal.

“We know we’re supposed to be passionate about our work,” he said, as he highlighted why having zeal in all three areas is beneficial. “But we’re not passionate about everything we teach—and that’s okay.”

The “A” stands for “Ask and Analyze.” Mr. Burgess encouraged educators to accept all feedback throughout their careers. He noted that pirates don’t “yell at the wind” when their boats do not travel straight; instead, they shift their sails and use it to their advantage.

The “T” stands for “Transformation”—and Mr. Burgess encouraged educators to help children reframe what is possible in their lives. He asked two questions to the crowded room: 1) If students did not have to be in class and it was optional, would teachers be teaching to empty rooms? and 2) Do they have any lessons that they can sell tickets to?

“Our kids are hit with so much knowledge that we can’t just be good anymore—we have to be remarkable,” he said. “Education is not a bitter pill. It’s life-transformational.”

The keynote was largely beloved by educators, who gave Mr. Burgess a standing ovation. Jessica Maneyapanda and Melissa Lugo, elementary science teachers in the Ardsley School District both appreciated
Mr. Burgess’ candor and honesty.

“If this event ended right now,” said Ms. Lugo after the morning keynote, “I’d feel like I already got so much out of the Tech Expo. It was really amazing.”

Ms. Maneyapanda agreed: “It was awesome. It made me feel better about myself. My room is the ‘loud room.’ People complain it’s sometimes too loud, but the kids are engaged in my class.”

Throughout the day, breakout sessions took place around the Edith Macy Conference Center, highlighting the expertise of local educators and placing key teachers at the center of the room to spread their knowledge with colleagues.

“I’m happy to finally meet the people in person who I’ve corresponded with on Zoom,” said Bhavin Gandhi, Director of Information Technology in the East Ramapo Central School District. “I particularly enjoyed the breakout session given by my colleague on how to engage incoming ELL students using Microsoft Translate. It’s a game-changer for any district with a large ELL population.”

The professional development session, presented by Sonia Dominguez-Saravia, East Ramapo’s Director of Instructional Technology and Curriculum, focused on the benefits of using Microsoft Translate to communicate with ELL students and their families, and to address social-emotional learning and cultural responsiveness in
the classroom.

“I’m mostly excited about what the vendors have to share today about all the different technology tools that will be trending for the next few years in the educational technology space,” Mr. Gandhi added.

The afternoon continued with various breakout sessions, including project-based learning, media consumption, bias and student-centered coaching. In each session, presenters and attendees engaged in productive dialogue and shared examples of ways to implement technological tools across all educational disciplines.

The final breakout session of the day saw all attendees gather again for a presentation by Mr. Burgess. He once again took the stage with the same energy he shared during the morning keynote presentation.

Through his animated antics and fantastical photos, Mr. Burgess inspired teachers to find their “creative alchemy” and use it to form lessons that engage and motivate students.

“Be prolific, not perfect,” he said. “Take your job seriously without taking yourselves too seriously.”

He equipped educators with tangible tools to implement in their own schools, while reinforcing his ideas with examples from his own classroom. These included turning his room into a speakeasy to teach students about prohibition and the Roaring Twenties, having students sit on upside down desks while donning goggles to depict aviator Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, and creating a far-out experience full of colorful wigs and tie-dyed shirts to the recreate scenes of the 1960s.

“The goal is to come up with collaborative ideas that draw students in while creating unforgettable experiences for the kids,” said Mr. Burgess.

Another example he provided was from his colleague, a math teacher who used photos of hilarious hairstyles and mathematical equations to quantify the perfect mullet. Students learned what the exact combination of “party-in-the-front” and “business-in-the-back” is needed to create the legendary hairdo.

By the end of the breakout session, Mr. Burgess had the audience laughing and learning – the very things he wants all students to do when they arrive at school every day.

Sarah Campbell, an English as a Second Language teacher at Croton-Harmon High School, hopes to bring the tools that she learned from Mr. Burgess back to her school.

“He was very engaging and he provided practical ways we can improve our classrooms,” she said. “He gave us license to be wild and crazy with our students.”