Saturday, July 6, 2013

ISTE 2013 Part 1


The first few days of ISTE were a whirlwind.  I got a quick start to the conference with a 7:30 – 11 am workshop with Dell on Sunday.  While they were showcasing some of their new technology such as the new Windows 8 Pro tablet, the Latitude 10, the session facilitator tried to keep the focus on teaching practices.  I thought he did a good job of getting us to talk to each other, sharing teaching ideas and experiences, and some of the apps he showed were as good as iOS apps.  However one thing remains a challenge for the latitude 10, and other tablets, and that is projection. I don’t have a really good solution for wireless projection of a windows tablet yet, but perhaps if anyone out there has a good solution, please let me know. 

The ignite speakers that preceded the keynote were excellent.  Michelle Cordy taught me how to “hack my classroom” for some out of the box ideas that bring more authenticity to the classroom. I also listened to a video game designer talk about how kids don’t want to be spoon fed instructions in games as learning the game is part of the fun. Also, you can’t just “bolt” fun onto the side of an educational game, and vice versa.  People who play games want to learn “through” them, not from them.

The opening keynote featured Jane McGonigal.  She spoke about how there are millions and millions of people playing games today, and that game playing is a good thing.  What really hit home was what people got out of playing games, such as challenge, feedback, and the joy of an authetic “win”.  I wonder how I can make my classroom teaching more game-like?  What can I do to inspire kids to try over and over again, and feel that learning is “levelling up?”  I was impressed with some of the large scale events Jane facilitated, like getting 500 kids into the NY Public library to write a book in one night as part of a game called “find the future”.

There is something to be said for banner events – and it makes me think I need to create a banner event in my class. 

More on ISTE 2013 coming in future posts, including what George Couros taught me about facilitating change in my school, as well as what I could do if I had one iPad in my classroom.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Support Your Local Co-Op


Due to budget cutbacks, our Staff Development department is going to be much smaller.  As a result, schools are going to have to look to themselves for professional development.  I had the pleasure of working with the staff of Coquitlam River Elementary once or twice a month for this year on integrating technology into the classroom. 



One of my last suggestions was to have people put up their hands and give a 30 minute session on some sort of technology in the classroom idea.  Two teachers said yes, with the first teacher volunteering to present on using MS Word’s “Book Fold” feature .

The format was to create a lunch hour “Lunch and Learn” 30 minute workshop, complete with a student sample, written instructions, a digital template so you don’t have to make it yourself, and of course a demonstration of how to create a book using the book fold feature. 

This lunch hour workshop adds no time onto the teacher’s day, makes for “easily digestible” concepts, and provides support so teachers can use the idea right away. 

But how many teachers are interested in integrating technology into their classroom?  I found that about half the teachers would be interested in attending this particular workshop.  But I also thought that a number of teachers at three other schools within a five to seven minute drive of Coquitlam River Elementary would be interested in creating books with their students using MS Word. 

I asked principals to inquire with their staff to see if one teacher was interested in attending.   The principal would go into the teacher’s class on the Friday, 15 minutes before lunch.  This would allow the teacher to get to the host school, sandwich and laptop / notepad in hand.

Four teachers attended from the three other schools, as well as four members from the host school’s staff. 


If you count the principal, we then had 9 people attending this workshop.  And when I asked teachers from each of the schools that attended, they all:


  1. Enjoyed the topic
  2. Appreciated the strict adherence to the timeline
  3. Made a commitment to using the idea, sharing it with a colleague, or sharing it at a staff meeting 
  4. Would be willing to share a 30 minute idea of their own on using technology in the classroom at their school, and invite teachers from the other 3 schools to attend.

Principals were also really supportive of this idea going forward, especially as there will be fewer professional development options next year.  They have committed to encouraging a teacher, (or perhaps more than one) to share a 30 minute lunch time workshop, to communicate this workshop with the other members of their pro-d Co-Op, and to cover a teacher’s class 15 minutes before lunch to allow a teacher to get to their neighbouring school to attend the 30 minute workshop.

What I wonder about next would be the importance of providing handouts online and perhaps screencasting to support teachers sharing a lesson they learned at a staff meeting.  That would be like bringing the teacher who taught the lesson to 3 different staff meetings at the same time! 

But regardless of what technology is used, local schools banding together to provide pro-d for each other sounds like a sustainable model, and I am looking forward to see what September will bring.

Incidentally, the next 30 minute workshop will be in September, and the topic is “Pinterest for the K-5 Classroom.”  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We’ll Know We’ve Changed Because….


The title of the blog post is the last part of the inquiry process that I use when working with teachers on technology learning teams.  It’s about gathering evidence that the changes you made in your classroom has made a difference compared to  the method you were using before.

At the beginning of a Technology Learning Team journey, a lot of participants become concerned with learning about how all the features of software and hardware work.  This is normal, but I don’t think we should stop our thinking there.  Usually having a focus from the outset on what kind of data we can gather that will tell us if the technology has made a difference with our students’ learning. 

One of the things people could look at is how their teaching impacts one student.  This is a perfectly valid inquiry – do teachers not spend a lot of time on a small percentage of the population?

Here are some things people could measure when it comes to technology making a measureable difference:




A student has trouble with losing their work, or does not hand it in on time. Teacher has student use their SharePoint virtual classroom to launch, edit, and save their work right in a document library on the website. With the right settings on the folder, only the student and the teacher see that student’s assignment The student doesn’t lose work, and is able to work on it anywhere they can access the internet. 

The teacher can give feedback while the assignment is still in progress.

The work is always in the folder, and is therefore “handed in” to the teacher on time. It may not be quite done, but at least the teacher can do a timely assessment and see what the student is capable of doing within a given time
Student has a lot of trouble with written work The teacher gets the student to use some form of technology like SMART notebook or Explain Everything (iPad app) to show their work.  Teachers may need to help students get started with the software, and rehearse their narrations before recording. Students can use images, some text, and their voices to narrate and show what they know.  This results in teachers’ getting a better picture of what their students truly know (and what they don’t know).  This leads to more accurate assessments, and better follow up strategies.
Teachers wish to improve communication between school and home about homework and special events Teacher uses an  online homework calendar that supports RSS.  At the next parent night, parents put their email address on a list to subscribe to the teacher's calendar on their computer or smartphone.  Using MailChimp or a program like it, RSS feeds can be turned into email messages (fine if your parents don’t mind their email address being used by MailChimp). Parents check their, reader app, their inbox, or their phone and get the latest homework and updates on events in class.  This could mean that more kids could show up with homework completed, or better prepared for field trips.  There might be more parents participating as volunteers and drivers at events as the calendar updates serve as reminders of coming events.


I think that technology does not offer a blanket solution that revolutionizes every child’s learning in the same way, and every day.   I do think that thoughtful use of technology can make a difference in different learners’ lives, which add up to saving the teacher time and effort and improves that student’s learning. 

That sounds like good data to me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing–Perfect!

Teachers who are masters of instruction in an area have a feeling of comfort in the classroom.  I have learned that these types of teachers may be more likely to teach in different ways, and more likely to accept work in different ways.  Mastery of an area of instruction isn’t everything, but it sure helps.  I am reminded of the saying “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”  The thinking is that knowing a little about something and then doing something with it could mean you don’t know enough to get yourself out of trouble.

Except in the area of educational technology.  In some cases I think it might be enough that teachers are aware of what software can do, model a little bit of how it works, and then let students get at it.  
In recent visits to classrooms, I have been modelling the use of OneNote for students to create projects.  After I have helped the students get started with the software, if I taught one person one thing (right click vs. left click) that person answered the question when it came up again.  The teacher in the room focused on creating groups that worked, brainstorming topics, providing starter questions, and modeling thinking like a researcher.  If we had a technology question after the first 30 minutes, we dragged other kids in to solve it. 
It’s true a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but when it comes to educational technology, it could be a “disruptive” thing.  And sometimes that’s a good thing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Desktop Computers Aren’t Dead–Tablets Brought them Back


Our district began an initiative to replace teacher desktops with laptops.  The goal is to give teachers powerful devices they can take anywhere.  Good laptops cost about a thousand dollars, though. So schools would share costs with the district.  The district would pay ~1/3 of the cost of a laptop, and the school would pay ~2/3.  file5831283456069 (800x600)Schools get good equipment at an affordable price for their teachers, and as part of the agreement teachers would take 6 sessions of professional development over the course of the year, and share a lesson or a blog post at the end of the year. 


The thing is, teachers didn’t always get rid of the desktop. 

Some teachers connected theirs to a projector or SMART board if they were lucky to have one.  Now they don’t attach and detach cables as often.  Some keep them at their desk, but take the laptop to meetings, pro-d days, and home.  The battery life is 2-3 hours, but that’s typical. 

Some teachers don’t bring their laptop home though – even though it is a smaller sized laptop, they still find it heavy.  This made me go bonkers first – but hey perhaps this should tell us something. 

This makes me think that perhaps the solution is not buying one expensive laptop.  Instead, schools should buy 2 cheaper devices – A desktop / tablet combo. 

We already know how to manage desktops. They cost ~$250 for a refurbished desktop (or less) with 4GB of ram and a dual core processor.  Fixing and upgrading desktops is easy – just a few screws and your fingers are all you need most days.

image  (Photo from

Team this up with a $600 tablet, and you have great computing power  for well under a thousand dollars.

 image               image 

(photos from and

Teachers typically work in one classroom.  For their larger computer tasks, they can go to the desktop.  Its got the power to do video editing, and 4 gigs of ram for running larger applications like Photoshop and SMART notebook. 

But don’t sit there all day – pick up your tablet and go from desk to desk, presenting info, looking up stuff, sending quick messages, and making assessments. 

Take the tablet to meetings.  Take it on field trips.  Take it home. 


I don’t have a preference at this point over Windows RT or the iPad.  Both have long battery life, light weight, and durable bodies. Both give our IT department fits because they can’t yet manage them the way they can other devices.  While this doesn’t mean teachers should stop using them, it does slow the works down considerably. 

Which means for now we offer the laptop as the best single device solution.  But for the classroom teacher, the best long term solution may be two cheaper devices.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Kids Can Make their Own Textbook


If I waited until I had the perfect idea, I probably would never blog anything.  So here is another partially formed idea:

Why not ask kids to make a 21st century textbook as a reflection of their learning?

Kids making a textbook – this isn’t perhaps new.  But it’s new to me, and I have motive and opportunity.  So, this is the plan.  It began with watching Sugata Mitra’s video on Child Driven Education.

What do children need to learn? Do they need a teacher?

Next I watched a video about a kid named Caine who made his own arcade out of cardboard boxes.  What heart this kid has.

Open for business!

Then I thought, what if I just gave some elementary kids the a few tips on how to use some technology, like SMART notebook or SnagIt for making screen casts and screen capture (both available in many of our schools).  Then what if I asked them to make a textbook – on anything.  I would provide them with very little information.

Then I will go away – maybe for a couple weeks.  Then I’ll go away again, and come back later.  Here is what I have planned to tell them:

What is a good textbook?

1.) Contains a lot of useful facts and information on a subject

2.) Doesn't just help teachers teach, but rather it helps students learn!

3.) Can have more than one author

4.) The work belongs to the author

5.) Might make people want to take your course

6.) Looks good


What form could this text book Take?

1.) a book with words and pictures

2.) a game where as you learn you keep playing. If you don't learn, restart.

3.) a bunch of movie clips

4.) a pop up book

5.) a computer file with text, pictures, audio and video.

6.) something else


Most importantly - what is the subject?

  • Something you know a lot about, and will teach others about
  • Something you have collected information about from more than one place
  • Something that gets you excited, and might get other excited too

Some suggested topics:

  1. Science Experiments
  2. Minecraft?
  3. The Rules of Building Things
  4. Things People Eat
  5. Wilderness Survival
  6. Things that Eat People
  7. Greatest Disasters in History
  8. How to be Brave


A few requests:

  • Make it shareable at school - no bad words, nothing too violent or offensive
  • Make something you are proud of, and your grandmother would be proud of as well
  • Be an expert, or become an expert, on your topic


That’s it.  I have 3 schools lined up to try this with.  Let’s see what happens.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mixed Bag of Technology

At a recent pro-d day workshop on the iPad, during the question and answer session I was asked twice by different administrators, "which technology should I buy for a class set?"  I could only ask a question in response to their question - "What do you want to do with this technology?"

I explained that perhaps what people need is not just one class set of the same technology, but different technologies.  What if there was a projector in every classroom (very important in my opinion), and then the teacher had a document camera, a couple iPod touches, 5 tablets, a teacher laptop, 5 desktop stations in the room, and a teacher website with online folders for both staff and students.  This might offer more capability than just one kind of technology, but it would mean putting some things in place before hand:

1.) A Pro-D plan.  No hardware or software without a plan to ensure teachers can learn about the tool in a supportive environment.  Whether it is through screecasts, workshops, or some form of coaching, having a pro-d plan means the money you invest in a tool does not go underutilized.

2.) A shift in thinking that all students have to do assignments the same way, or even at the same time. 

One of the teachers I hope to work with has a mixed bag of technologies in his room.  He is in a middle school class, with a portable SMART board, projector, a laptop, and 2 desktop computer stations for kids.  The students bring laptops, tablets, and iPod touches to school; Whatever they have, they bring. 

My goal is to get together with him, and find where the different technologies intersect.  Perhaps he could be screencasting math lessons on the SMART board, and posting it to his website.  Perhaps his students could be using their iPads to project their work, and lead a discussion in class.  I am sure he is doing some of these things, as he is a masterful teacher.  At the very least I will come away with great ideas one how a mixed bag of technologies can come together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.