Building STEM Communities at ISTE

I’m back from a whirlwind trip to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference and Expo! And I truly mean whirlwind. ISTE is recognized globally as the most comprehensive educational technology conference in the world and draws tens of thousands of key decision-makers and influencers from across the globe each year. The 2019 event was held June 23-26 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Between trips to Independence Hall and running up the famous “Rocky Steps,” my MIND colleagues and I soaked up as much as we could about the current state of edtech. We witnessed incredible innovation as we strolled through the expo hall and heard from so many passionate educators in the different ISTE sessions. 

We also had the privilege of making our mark on ISTE with a few of our own sessions and a very special surprise we organized with social impact partner, Cisco.

Building a Community of STEM Champions

Brandon Smith, Lead Mathematician and Product Director for MIND, kicked things off on Sunday, June 23. He presented “Building a Community of STEM Champions for Your Students” alongside Katherine Clemens and Khadijah Crosby from Entrepreneurship + Innovation at Arizona State University. The three spoke about how to engage communities in supporting, designing and launching programming for exceptional student growth and achievement.

Katie, Khadijah and Brandon take a photo together after their ISTE presentation.

Here are a few of our favorite takeaways from their session:

  • The power that parents have on their kids’ achievement in the classroom is immense.
  • Parents’ math knowledge does not have any proven impact on student learning, but their level of math anxiety does. 
  • 1 in 3 elementary teachers have math anxiety
  • As adults, our interaction with STEM matters. As adults, our relationship with math matters. Parents must be empowered to become STEM champions!
  • If we want to build that STEM community, we need: play, family-driven experiences, and intrinsic motivation.
  • Play builds culture and mathematical play builds mathematical culture.
  • Families, not facilitators, are greatly impactful in driving student STEM experiences.
  • Look to intrinsic motivation in all you do.

Session attendees play MathMINDs Games while learning how to build STEM communities.

The Neuroscience of Edtech Learning

Ki Karou, Director of Product for ST Math Content, then presented “The Neuroscience of Edtech Learning.” Ki spoke to a room full of conference attendees about how to distinguish edtech products that sound good from those that actually increase learning. They took a look at neuroscience research, the way the brain learns, and the role technology plays as a way to either replicate or enhance learning in the classroom.

Ki laughs with session attendees over how quickly students pick up new technology.

Our favorite takeaways from Ki’s session:

  • One of the most fundamental processes that helps students build really good connections is the perception-action cycle.
  • The most effective learning causes students to go through the perception-action cycle.
  • When we’re trying to get kids to think deeply, extrinsic rewards don’t work. 
  • It’s not that all extrinsic motivation is bad. Extrinsic motivation can work as a gateway to get students interested and engaged.
  • Let’s focus on whether we’re giving kids interesting and meaningful problems to solve, and they will experience the joy of figuring things out through productive struggle.
  • Personalization and adaptivity are huge buzzwords. But we need to be careful with how we implement adaptive systems. 
  • Some edtech programs are based on an algorithm. They move students who are struggling closer to the answer or give them hints. This misses the opportunity for students to engage in productive struggle. 
  • This has a long-term impact on students’ growth mindset. If kids are not having those “ah-ha” moments, they’re probably missing an aspect of productive struggle.

Teaching Math the Way Kids Learn

We also had the opportunity to talk edtech, productive struggle and growth mindset in a more intimate setting thanks to our partner, Cisco. Cisco hosted an “Active Learning Space” at ISTE. There, they invited several of their corporate social responsibility partners to present interactive STEM sessions and workshops geared toward helping students develop important social and problem-solving skills necessary for success in a connected world.

Cisco Active Learning Space” engaged in an interactive presentation of ST Math. 

Bird is the Word!

We couldn’t leave ISTE without a huge surprise for the Cisco “Active Learning Space” attendees. A meeting months in the making finally happened! JiJi, the loveable mascot from our ST Math program, and Huti, Cisco’s helpful owl from their Global Problem Solvers series, reunited for a quick meet and greet.

JiJi and Huti were more than happy to pose for photos with fans and new friends. And what better way to conclude a conference than with a dance party?


We had a blast learning and sharing at ISTE this year! Thank you to conference organizers and to our partner, Cisco, for making it such a wonderful experience.

CAMT is the next stop for our MIND speakers. We hope to see you there! If not, you can still keep up with all the action on Twitter at @MIND_Research, @CAMTtweets, and by following the hashtag #CAMT19.

Kelsey Skaggs

About the Author

Kelsey Skaggs was the Communications Manager at MIND Education. She enjoys highlighting the work of colleagues and partners who champion MIND's mission.


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