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South Shore eLearning Conference

South Shore eLearning Conference keynote speaker George Couros encourages educators to embrace change and allow students to drive technology learning in the classroom. Couros helped open the second day of the 2019 South Shore eLearning Conference at Morton High School in Hammond.

HAMMOND — Technology is more than a tool, George Couros told a full auditorium of teachers and educators Thursday morning.

Through personal family memories, videos, memes and more, the Canadian educational speaker and author brought personality to the ongoing conversation of how best to teach tech in the classroom in his keynote speech at this year’s South Shore eLearning Conference.

Couros challenged teachers to think outside of their traditional lesson plans and to embrace changing technology like social media, personal blogs and more.

“The beautiful thing about children is they come to school curious,” Couros said. “‘Is this going to be on the test’ is not a question of curiosity.”

Couros was one of two keynote speakers to address the two-day conference at Morton High School before educators split off in professional development breakout sessions teaching ways to put Couros’ advice into action.

School City of Hammond eCoach Alisha Foor, who helped organize the event, said that with more than 1,000 educators registered, this year’s conference was the biggest yet.

“A lot of people automatically think when we say eLearning, it’s everything digital or everything online, but that’s not what it is,” Foor said. “It’s good teaching. Can you give good instruction? How are we using different skills and different mindsets?”

Partnering with the Indiana Department of Education’s Office of eLearning grant program, the conference has more than 60 sponsors and was free for all educators, some coming from as far as southern Indiana and Ohio.

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The conference showcased local flair with students from the Hammond Academy for the Performing Arts putting on a show for guests during morning registration, and programs like Hammond’s Girls Who Code and Munster Esports sharing how extracurricular activities can supplement classroom STEM lessons.

Wednesday morning keynote speaker Ken Shelton brought his own message addressing the need for “techquity” — or finding equity in teaching technology, especially among families and school districts that have limited access to computers or the internet. Dozens of sessions focused on technology teaching techniques like “blended learning” and “flipping the classroom.”

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Sarah Darwish, an English as a new language coach at Clark Middle/High School, said she attended sessions advocating for innovative thinking and classroom engagement through allowing students to teach their peers.

“Each year it gets better,” said Darwish, who’s been to the Hammond-based conference in previous years.

Other featured speakers like Buddy Berry, superintendent of Eminence Schools in Eminence, Kentucky, and education speaker Matt Miller brought messages of transformational learning through ditching textbooks and developing student agency.

Munster High School’s Annie Ostojic and Gavit High School’s Shamari Walker — both of whom have made an early name for themselves in the science and technology fields — exemplified that student leadership by delivering opening remarks for the conference’s two keynote speakers.

In his keynote, Couros reinforced the idea of digital creativity, allowing students to access, learn from and even teach technology themselves across subject areas. Above all, he said, teachers should keep students first.

“None of this matters if you don’t focus on building relationships,” Couros said. “That relationship piece will always separate schools.”

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.