Tech Fest allows teachers to catch up on the latest tools
By Eileen Persike
A group of Rhinelander teachers was back in the classroom this past week. But most of them sat in desks and took on the role of student. The fourth annual Rhinelander Tech Fest, held at James Williams Middle School, was in session Aug. 1 – 3. It’s an event that aims to introduce new technology supports that teachers can implement in the classroom.
“We have always focused this event on district initiatives and different programs and tying technology to those programs,” said School District of Rhinelander (SDR) Instructional Technology Coordinator Heidi Catlin. “We have always felt that technology should not be in isolation. It shouldn’t be used for the sake of using it, but to enhance instruction.”
Another aspect to the Tech Fest is that each session is designed for teachers, led by district teachers and professional staff.
“Education is all about teachers who have a niche and they kind of share it with each other,” said Pelican Elementary teacher Megan Biscobing, one of the Tech Fest instructors. “It’s the same if another teacher had something I wanted to learn about. We all share.”
Biscobing and Crescent Elementary teacher Jesse Richter are both digital learning coaches, which means they help the staff in their buildings infuse technology and 21st century skills into instruction. The pair led one of the more popular classes of the three-day event, which uses the trendy “escape room” concept to “unlock student motivation.”
“[Teachers] can bring this back to the classroom,” Biscobing explained. “What they do is set up clues and puzzles, by grade level or content area that the students have to solve to open a big lock box.”
Unbeknownst to the students, the puzzles and clues teach them about whatever subject they are studying at the time.
“Everyone I talked to is excited to use this in their classroom,” Richter said. “All of our sessions are full; it’s cool to see everyone so excited about it.”
The 2017 Tech Fest theme focused on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is a set of principles SDR has adopted for curriculum development that give all students equal opportunities to learn. UDL guidelines include providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.
“With technology changing the way that it does, we can always find new ideas,” Catlin said. “With the stuff that teachers are being asked to do in the classroom, we can support them. All of our students can benefit from these tools.”
Julie Gerth has been teaching for 27 years, and has attended the Tech Fest each of the four years it has been offered.
“Technology continues to change so much every year and it’s one way that I can at least be aware of the changes and get a headstart on what I can use in the classroom,” Gerth said. “My only regret that there is only so much time and so many sessions you can sign up for.”
Attendance at this year’s Tech Fest was 114 teachers, which is up from 80 in 2016. Good news, Catlin said, that speaks well of the staff.
“I think they are all passionate about what they do,” Catlin said. “I want them to go back (to the classroom) energized and excited to try something new.”