I vividly remember my very first ISTE conference back in 2012. The San Diego Convention Center seemed enormous, and there was a veritable sea of people swarming in and out of sessions as far as the eye could see! More than that, however, there was a palpable electricity in the air that leapt from ballroom to cafe, poster session to expo hall. This year’s conference was no exception. It is this energy, this connectivity, that makes ISTE such an extraordinary experience. For one week every summer, you get to share physical and mental space with likeminded, forward-leaning, pioneering educators from all over the world. The air is buzzing with ideas, connections, questions, and epiphanies; all you need to do is reach out and grab hold of them as they speed by. There’s no knowing where they will take you!

#iste2016 – here I come! 🙌 ✈️

A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on DT



Sunday, June 26th

My first morning in Denver was spent helping to facilitate a workshop for teachers interested in learning more about using littleBits in their classrooms, makerspaces, and libraries. Tim Hammill did an incredible job leading a discussion that included funding, professional development, and resources for further learning and exploration. We also got to play with the Student STEAM Set! :)  IMG_5405 IMG_5401 Later that evening, I stumbled upon Mark Hammons setting up the BreakoutEDU bus. While they weren’t officially opening the bus up until the following day, they kindly invited me to join a small group in trying to solve the puzzles and escape the bus. With 20 minutes on the clock, we scoured every inch of the elaborately-decorated room, opening drawers, reviewing the browsing history of the Chromebook that sat opened on the desk, and rifling through papers. We made some good progress and were poised to piece it all together when the timer went off and our time was up! If you’ve not yet experienced a BreakoutEDU event, I would definitely recommend checking it out before school resumes in the fall!  IMG_5413 



Monday, June 27th

Several months ago, Josh Gauthier and I submitted a proposal to present on the Amazing Race at ISTE this year. We were super excited when our submission was approved and we worked hard to get everything ready for our session. On Monday morning, we joined an amazing group of teachers who spent the hour solving challenges, working collaboratively, and moving one step closer to the finish line! By the end of the session, two groups had completed all of the challenges, defeated the Necromancer, and were beyond ecstatic to discover Google’s hidden treasure chest! 

Super excited to be presenting with this guy, @mrgfactoftheday, at 8:30 this morning! #iste2016 A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on

Later that afternoon, I attended the EdTek Talks which highlighted the work of some truly remarkable people. I had first heard of Marley Dias when listening to this episode of Another Round.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from Marley and her mother as they discussed the need for diversity in children’s literature. Definitely check out and support their amazing organization, #1000BlackGirlBooks.

Totally inspired by Marley Dias’ message of diversity and equity in our literature! #ISTE2016 #1000blackgirlbooks

A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on

I was incredibly interested in hearing Caleb Harper talk about the work being done by the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT. According to Caleb, we’ve experienced the Coder Movement, we’re currently in the Maker Movement, and we’ll soon be in the midst of the Biology Movement.  IMG_4616 And then Ayah Bdeir took the stage and spoke about littleBits and their mission to bring “invention based learning” to communities across the globe.

@ayahbdeir tore it up today talking about Invention Based Learning! #iste2016 A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on


Once the EdTek Talks finished up, I ran over to Lobby D to help set up the first-ever ISTE Raspberry Pi Jam! With several folks from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we spent a few hours talking about Raspberry Pi, demonstrating projects, and letting people experience the wonder that is a Raspberry Pi! If you’re interested in getting involved in a local Raspberry Jam, you should definitely check out their site here!



Tuesday, June 28th

A few months ago, Nick Provenzano reached out and asked if I might be interested in participating in a new type of event at ISTE. It was dubbed the “MakerChallenge” and would be friendly competition between five teams, each of which were comprised of an experienced and a novice maker. Naturally, I was thrilled to be a part of the action!


With a few weeks to go, I received notification that I would be partnered with Donna MacDonald, a stellar librarian and innovator from Vermont. When the time came to assemble the teams in the Embassy Suites hotel, the room was full of littleBits, SAM labs kits, Makey Makeys, a 3D printer, and tons and tons of craft supplies! A design challenge was given (“Hack a traditional classroom procedure”) and the teams were given approximately 2-hours to build a prototype. The entire event was live broadcast on Periscope and attendees were invited to observe the action. Lucky for us, many attendees didn’t stop at simply watching! Teams that started off with two people quickly grew to four or five as attendees joined in! Our team grew to include Sherry Gick and Cindy Kohl who helped to design and build our protoype: a custom-made name tag that includes a button for checking in and out of class, and a second button that allows a student to “check in safe” if they’re ever separated from their class during an emergency.



From there, I jumped over to the CUE SteamPunk Playground where amazing people were showcasing new tools, resources, and materials that can be used to support STEAM curricula in and out of classrooms. If you’ve not yet heard of CUE Steampunk, I would definitely recommend checking out their site. Jon Corippo is a force with which to be reckoned. We should all be thankful he chooses to use his powers for good! 

  While getting ready to head out for dinner, the sky began to darken and a storm was on its way! My phone alerted me that the Uber driver had cancelled our trip and I ended up hunkering down in the hotel lobby while a crazy hailstorm settled in over downtown Denver!

Tut tut. Looks like rain. #iste2016 A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on

Hail storm in downtown Denver! 🌧☔️ #iste2016

A video posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on

  When it finally passed, the hail had accumulated and it was possible to have a snow(hail)ball fight in the middle of June!  

Snowball fight in Denver in June! 😆 #iste2016 A video posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on



Wednesday, June 29th

On Wednesday morning, I grabbed a coffee and made a beeline to the Knights of Make-a-Lot session, a panel discussion facilitated by Colleen Graves, Diana Rendina, and Nathan Stevens. They offered some wonderful resources and suggestions for folks looking to integrate maker-supported education in their schools and libraries, including Colleen’s new book, The Big Book of Makerspace Projects!


I then dashed to the Expo Hall where Nick and I worked the littleBits booth for a while! We had some great conversations with people from around the country who were interested in learning more about how littleBits may be used in creating meaningful learning experiences for students in all areas of the curriculum.


With the final day of ISTE in the books, the Convention Center began to empty. After several days of learning and connecting, people were returning to their homes with bags full of swag and heads full of ideas! Not everyone was in a rush to leave, however, and Wednesday night was a perfect time to enjoy a few hours of conversation over some tabletop games! Exploding Kittens, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and others were on display as we breathed deeply, played our turn, and reflected a bit on what we’d experienced at ISTE this year.

Carcasonne with @mdandola and @billselak at #ISTEgamenight #iste2016

A photo posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on



There was definitely a Journey-related theme to ISTE this year! From the cover band at the Gaggle party to the Journey tunes at the closing keynote, there is something infectiously optimistic – and, yes, nostalgic! – about these songs. As I reflect on my week in Denver, I’m inspired by the passionate positivity and clear-eyed optimism that keeps teachers engaged in the process of making a better future. And as hokey and glib as this may sound, I earnestly hope that we don’t stop believing, even for a second, that what we do matters. 

Don’t stop believing, #iste2016! 🙌 A video posted by David Saunders (@designsaunders) on