TCEA 2017

Standing on the MetroRail platform in the midwinter gloom, I greet a group of colleagues and giddily ask “Did you go yesterday, or is today your first day? Did you go to any good sessions?”

A half hour later, I extract myself from the sardinian quarters of the train, now much too intimately acquainted with my fellow educators gathered from the suburbs, the edge city, and midtown as we make our annual pilgrimage to the convention center. Next week, the daily commuters will happily reclaim their usual personal space and breathe more freely. Reveling in my freedom of movement, I scoot off the platform to encounter the bold banner above the glass doors, reading TCEA2017 Convention & Exposition: The Power of You.

The power of me, eh? Mighty as I am on a daily basis, like any heroine, I can still appreciate a quality power-up. Ms Pac-Man bow firmly affixed, I gobbled down sessions one after the next, hitting the occasional power pellet that inspired me to chase down the ghosties. These are the sessions that empowered me most:

Using Badges in Google Sheets, Alice Keeler

Keeler employs basic principles of gamification to increase student interest and engagement in the classroom. With digital badges, students can level up and take ownership of their own learning. Teachers can use badges to bring more fun to the classroom, allow students to “beat the boss” to prove mastery, and challenge students through enrichment activities that are unlockable achievements and not more grinding. As attendees, we received practical instruction as well as practical advice for creating and managing our own system of badges. Moreover, access to templates and instructions for getting started are available via the presenter’s web site.

The Best of Tech You Thought You Knew, Steve Dembo

When I attend conferences, I often find myself wearied by the intense emphasis on current trends—the harried dance that waltzes me into a stupor in pursuit of the latest and greatest chimera. Thus, I intentionally shunned the myriad sessions touting the same five buzzwords, instead choosing a session that promised to delve deeper into tools I already use. Introducing attendees to the Poll Everywhere’s Chrome Extension for Slides, Symbaloo’s lesson plans, WeVideo’s green screen & collaborative features, Padlet’s commenting and transferring features, and much more, Dembo’s session was an elixir that restored much-needed hearts to my health bar. His online resources are available via his TCEA17 website.

Gadgets, Leslie Fisher

Being a curmudgeonly gadget head, I am frequently of two minds at conferences—reviling the bandwagon of trendiness, yet enthralled by the the siren call of bright, shiny new tech. Ultimately, I found myself stranded on the shores of technolust writhing among the other waylaid sailors waiting for my heart to be rent by the harpie of high prices as we listened to the dulcet sounds of Leslie Fisher’s descriptions of new and novel apparatuses that do everything from translating sign language into speech to introducing music via coding. Although Fisher looked nothing like Gene Wilder as the infamous chocolatier, she, too, seemed to encourage us to follow her into a world of pure imagination where what we’d see would, indeed, defy explanation. A complete listing of the new chocolate factory wonders is available via the presenter’s web site at

The northbound MetroRail isn’t so crowded, and emits a useful complimentary wifi. These conveniences allowed me to continue enjoying the unprogrammed lifeblood of any good conference: the casual, Twitter-mediated networking that pervades the time between sessions and the lulls during them. The chance to relieve a bit of esprit d’escalier with presenters I saw, check out presenters I missed, and connect with other attendees who had the good questions & connections is an easy way to lock in the experience of a satisfying conference that has plenty of replay value.