The Best and Worst of EdTech Swag Spotted at ISTE 2016

We recently returned from ISTE 2016 in Denver, where it seemed every edtech company in the K-12 edtech sector showed up with a new product, feature, or creative piece of branded gear. Some were awe inspiring, some were practical, some were just ridiculous.

We spent most of the conference getting lost in the Expo center, but still only saw about half the giveaways that were filling up teachers’ bags across the conference. Here are just a few that stuck out.



Curio card game | Smithsonian Learning Lab

Classic and clever, just like the Smithsonian, Curio is a “trading card game that challenges you to discover patterns and connections to create your own museum-inspired collections.” Each card has a photo of an artifact to be found at the Smithsonian Institute, accompanied by a URL that leads to more information on the subject. For example, if you type “” into your browser, you will come across this particularly adorable video of pandas at play.

Because if you’re going to use the internet to watch cute animal videos, you might as well learn at the same time.


Google Cardboard VR headsets | The Jewish Education Project

What better way to capitalize on the popularity of VR than to give Google Cardboard headsets away for free? You can imagine the number of teachers trying to come back for seconds…hopefully, they were well stocked.


Portable chargers | The Booksource

Ironically, the company with the word “book” in its title gave away one of the more high tech swag items of the week (not counting raffle prizes). And not only that, but at a tech conference of almost 20,000 attendees in one building with a limited supply of outlets and a number of products reliant on smartphones, you can never have enough power sources. 

Whoever came up with this idea was clearly a genius.


Adult coloring books | Canvas

Adult coloring books are the latest, greatest throwback to a simpler time. And who better to appreciate the art of doing kid activities as an adult than teachers? The coloring books given away by Canvas are just one of many fun, colorful approaches the LMS took to creating a buzz at #ISTE2016.




Purple Plastic Capes | Microsoft OneNote

When you see a group of 12-year-olds running around in purple plastic capes, it’s cute. A little obnoxious that they’re running around a convention center mid-conference, but cute.

When you see a middle-aged man sitting in the cafeteria eating a sandwich wearing a purple plastic cape, it’s not nearly as cute.

Of course, this particular item was a huge hit at ISTE 2016, so we’ll give OneNote a little credit. If you look anything like Ms. Frizzle, you can probably pull it off.

Fortunately, Microsoft OneNote had a large variety of swag available for teachers to bring home for themselves and for their classrooms aside from the capes. Exhibit A:

Granted, this particular teacher could also probably pull off a plastic cape.


Ribbons, ribbons, and more ribbons | Various

Like a clown’s never-ending scarf, the excessive collection of ribbons can be exciting but incredibly frustrating. Instead of remembering someone’s name when you look at their name badge, you’re inundated with not-quite-relevant words like “Rockstar” or “Keep Calm and ISTE on.”

Ok, maybe it’s a little great, but it’s hard enough to remember everyone’s name and why they’re at the conference. Why distract us more than is strictly necessary?

What was your favorite piece of ISTE swag? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.