TechCon 2017, the district’s third annual meeting of the minds, kicked off Thursday morning at Hoover High School. This is the culminating event for the DMPS team of Instructional Technology Coordinators. The seven of them prepare a tech feast for hundreds of district teachers, a bountiful buffet of in-house professional development.

The 400+ attendees, up about a hundred from a year ago, will rotate through 12 45-minute sessions over the course of two days. Almost all of the teachers attending are from DMPS, but TechCon also drew participants from around the state. One came from Omaha and another from a parochial school.

The tone-setter for the event was a keynote address by Clemencia Spizzirri, the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year who earned that distinction in her role as a Spanish teacher at Merrill Middle School.

Spizzirri’s talk traced the remarkable arc of her personal journey from a relatively privileged child whose teaching career began in her native Ecuador to the frightened immigrant who landed in Miami 17 years ago with $300 and a four year-old daughter.

“I worked in retail before I found my way to Iowa and was able to resume my profession through the Teacher Quality Project,” she recalled. The TQP was a collaboration between DMPS, Drake University and DMACC. “I started from zero, like all immigrants and refugees do when they come here, even though their backgrounds are not zero.”

Her reign as the Iowa TOY not only took her all over the state, she was even invited to the White House, where President Obama lauded her as the first Latino female immigrant to be recognized as Teacher of the Year in any of the 50 states.

Spizzirri’s story isn’t a techie one but it is inspiring, particularly in a diverse, minority-majority district like DMPS. Her presentation was a motivational springboard into the first round of workshops sessions. There are 16-18 to choose from in each round, more than 200 over the course of the event.

One of the topics featured in all sessions is Breakout EDU, a concept that’s on the rise since it emerged three years ago and is well-suited to Schools for Rigor districts that strive to develop student-directed classrooms. 2017-18 will be the second year of a three-year transition to the SFR model for DMPS.

Thursday morning’s Breakout EDU for Newbies attracted a capacity turnout where Collin Lane, one of the district’s seven ITCs, introduced them to a game called Faculty Meeting, designed to foster teambuilding and collaboration.

There was a lockbox in the center of the room. The “team” had 30 minutes to open it. Good luck – go!

They scoured the room for clues. They spitballed. They brainstormed. They got a couple of hints from Lane. They tried and failed and tried something else.

“There better be cookies in that box,” someone said.

“It’s been locked for a week,” said Lane. “Maybe there better not be.”

With input from everybody and the help of gadgets like black-light flashlights and invisible ink pens, they unlocked the box with six minutes to spare and divvied up the contents; candy, not cookies.

The rest of the session was spent exploring the Breakout EDU website and sharing ideas on how to use the “immersive games platform” in class.

TechCON 2017: By the time it’s over, district teachers will be stuffed with innovative professional development – and a little candy, too.

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