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Tools of the Trade: Pete&C

By Rita Sorrentino

petec_logoThink Hershey. What comes to mind: chocolate, adventure, shopping? Definitely. And here’s one more opportunity that might interest you – PETE&C (The Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference). Yes, Hershey. PA has a lot to offer its visitors throughout the year, and as it plays host to this annual statewide event in February, it brings together educators, innovators, students, vendors and exhibitors all focused on efficient and purposeful uses of technology in the field of education. A few weeks ago, I attended the ninth annual Conference and was sweetly rewarded with many opportunities to learn, grow and connect in this fast-changing Edtech world. Here are a few of my gold nuggets (chocolate not included). 


51fLao5iD5L._UY250_Danica McKellar (@danicamckeller), an American actress from the popular The Wonder Years and The West Wing, a bestselling author, mathematician, and an advocate for math instruction, presented the Keynote on Day 1. Her topic, Motivating Students for Success with STEM (aka Math Doesn’t Suck), focused on encouraging students, especially girls, to have confidence and succeed in math and science.

  • At the risk of being forgotten completely by the media, I went to college and pursued a passion that had nothing to do with acting: mathematics.
  • I recognize that I have a unique position to be a role model to young girls because I am doing something that they consider glamorous, which is acting, and yet I took the time to really get my education and study mathematics, and I think math is the cat’s meow.
  • Math is like going to the gym for your brain. It sharpens your mind.
  • I want to help middle-school girls stay interested in math and be good at it, and see it as friendly and accessible and not this scary thing.
  • Girls shouldn’t have to choose between being pretty and smart.
  • Redefine glamour and beauty as smart and successful
  • Math proficiency is the gateway to a number of incredible careers that students may never have considered.

courousGeorge Couros (@gcouros), author of The Innovator’s Mindset and The Principal of Change blog, delivered the keynote on Day Two of the Conference. His passion for empowering all learners and unleashing talent in our schools brought tears and cheers to an attentive audience through relevant stories and video clips. He is deeply committed to creating an educational system that leads society, rather than one that is always playing catch up.

  • Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of a great teacher can be transformational.
  • Our job is to inspire kids to inspire us right back.
  • Grades do not tell the story of a child.
  • When an educator says, “I don’t use technology because it’s not really my thing”, my response? “It’s not about you.”
  • It is not about either being the ‘sage on stage’ or the ‘guide on the side’: It is about understanding when to move in and out of these roles.
  • A library in a school would never be seen as a detriment to knowledge; neither should the vast library on our phone.

Exhibitor Hall

CaptureIt is always amazing to walk through the exhibit hall to experience the newest trends in technology. My favorite this year was Google Expeditions and Cardboard. Teachers can take their classes on virtual trips to the far ends of the earth, the depth of the oceans, or the outer limits of space. The Google Cardboard Goggles hold the Smartphone through which students see panoramic 3D views of the world.  Get more details here on how it works. You can apply for a classroom visit through the Google Expedition Pioneer Program.


Throughout the conference, there were many exciting concurrent sessions offering a variety of topics in the world of educational technology. Like a kid in a candy shop, choices have to be made. I was happy to attend with a friend and colleague, Ken Kay. We presented two sessions: Engagement Matters: Apps for Formative Assessment and App Smashing. A wealth of resources can be found here. Having a learning partner/attendee gave us the option of attending different sessions and sharing information and insights.

If you check out the Program Schedule, you will find resources from many of the sessions. Click on the for links to handouts. The creativity and generosity of educators help us all revitalize and energize our practice.


Capture3From studying the program schedule, browsing the exhibition hall, talking with vendors and attendees, these are the top three trends in educational technology that I gleaned from my vantage point.

  1.  STEM, MakerSpaces, 3D Printing:

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education engages a student’s natural love of play and curiosity. In spaces equipped with 3D Printers, software, electronics and related supplies, students of all ages can gather to create, invent, and learn as they discover ways of bringing digital information into reality.

  1. Mobile Learning, Using Different Tools (Apps) for Different Tasks.

With the proliferation of mobile devices and access to wireless networks, teaching and learning can happen anywhere, anytime. The fact that learners can interact with information immediately makes the world their classroom. What does this say about the role of the teacher? The importance of instructional design in inquiry-based pedagogy will lay the foundation for the intersection of curiosity and relevant learning. Given the opportunity to engage with the tools of technology, teachers and students will find the  “right tool” for their organizational, creative and collaborative needs. No longer does one size need to fit all. Many teachers and students are already tech savvy about their content creation, presentations (sharing), and assessment needs.

  1. Flipped Classroom and Blended Learning

As teachers look for ways to differentiate instruction, flipped and blended learning are becoming a common practice in many classrooms. Using a variety of tools (video, websites, podcasts) teachers prepare material to be viewed outside of class so that class time can be used to help students to get a deeper understanding of the concepts and make connections to the content, and extend the learning community in both physical and digital spaces.

Summing Up

Capture 2I’m a big fan of online learning and web resources. But I also appreciate learning in face-to-face environments. The presenters in most sessions were “regular” teachers sharing their innovative practices with insider insights of taking first steps and then fine-tuning as they continued to implement teaching/learning with technology. Conferences remind us that we are professional learners. They offer us an invitation to get our game on. So I’ll continue to satisfy my cravings for learning with technology  (and chocolate) and plan on attending PETE&C 2017.

Rita Sorrentino profileRita Sorrentino is a recently retired teacher from Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia. Rita is finding new pathways for working with teachers and students to use digital tools for reading writing, speaking and listening. She presented ‘Beyond Superheroes: Using Comics Across the Curriculum” at the PETE&C Conference in Hershey in February. Rita joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2004 and the Philadelphia Writing Project in 1994.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rita Sorrentino #

    Thanks, Eric for your thoughtful response. Technology is here to stay and we certainly need to “keep up with being relevant as things can change at an exponential rate.” Every situation varies and teachers must make choices to engage their students in meaningful ways.


    March 23, 2016
  2. Eric Prestianne #

    I think it’s always great when actresses and actors reach out to try and help motivate students to succeed in school, especially when they have done so themselves. Many of them are idols(I mean, how many people work out and lift because of The Rock?) and I think it’s important to show that educating yourself is rewarding. In regards to the second speaker, I tend to agree. We’re in an age of technological revolutionaries with information at the tips of our fingers and near instant access as well as constant exposure. Teaching isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, and I think one of the most intimidating things for me is the need to keep up with being relevant as things can change at an exponential rate. Keeping up with technology is imperative because the majority of the students will be on the edge of it all. Finding a way to harness and redirect that into the classroom is only going to increase in importance as the years go by. On the other hand, I am not a fan at all of blended/flipped classrooms. I don’t like it. I need the interaction between my peers and my teacher, and I think that many other students need it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 21, 2016

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