It Takes Two

Sometimes the first idea is a good one, but not the right one.  It turns out my plan for course 5 wasn’t quite on track so here’s a remix.

This will be the second year my classes have worked on an oral history project as a service learning and cross-curricular unit.  It went well last year, but as with any first time project, it could use some tweaking.

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Last year the project incorporated several different types of digital storytelling.  However they were not fully developed ideas and were put together as we went along.  The students created a “day in the life” Google Slides presentation based on their social media use as well as a video with audio clips from their interviews that was supposed to link the ideas with images of the area being discussed.  I think that this time around each of these aspects of the unit can be drastically improved based on the learning from Course 3 around infographics and digital storytelling.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

Its always a challenge to redesign a unit, but this year I also will have a new language arts teacher to collaborate with as well as an additional humanities teacher working along side me.  It can be a little more difficult to get my own vision for a project completed when collaborating.  I’ll add that I still haven’t met the new language arts teacher as she was an emergency replacement over the winter break.

Other than the human element, time is always an issue.  I felt like the project was rushed last year even though we spent over four weeks on it.  Time is always hard to carve out of a school year when you are working across curriculums.  We’ll see how it goes.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I think one of the main shifts I’ll have to make is in my planning stages.  I tend to like working in the moment, but with the way things are shaping up here and in order to work with multiple teachers, I’m going to have to buckle down and really map this thing out.

I also want to make sure that we focus on teaching the technological skills that the kids need.  Too often, we assume that students are experts with whatever technology we throw at them.  This time around I want to make sure that I work in little tutorials and work sessions for the varying platforms or programs that we ask them to use.  I’d love to see these be student driven where they teach each other or take turns sharing tips.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

I think this unit will really push the students out of their comfort zones.  It requires them to go out and talk to adults that they don’t usually interact with and really think about the questions they are asking.  They have to learn to ask probing questions instead of yes and no questions and figure out how to get people talking to them and not just answering questions.  Just as I stated for myself, they also have to really think about their deadlines and working with others.  Group work is hard and they’ll have to figure out the best ways to collaborate, and the best partners with which to work.

Below is the updated version of last year’s unit plan.  I’ll be annotating as I go along this year as I make improvements and changes.  This way you can follow along live, kind of like a stat tracker for your favorite ball game.  Exciting huh?

Tell Me What You See

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the midst of a transition from a classroom teacher to a full time Technology Integration Coach position.  I’m currently splitting my time between the two jobs.  I’m excited about the change, but it poses a challenge for my focus on the course 5 project.  I could go about my usual business and rework a unit I”m going to do with my students in the next semester, but it would potentially be a one shot deal.  I’d do a lot of reworking, only to use it one time.  Of course the benefit to the students is there, but I’m trying to look long term at my work as well.

My other option is to focus on what I’ll be presenting to teachers in the coming year.  I’ve embedded my almost complete UBD planner below and I would love your feedback.  Its a completely new project, so I’m not technically redesigning anything, but it seems to make sense to use this opportunity to get a head start.

Going this route with my project will present some challenges.  First, I want to make sure that I’m creating professional development that is beneficial for my colleagues.  I want to incorporate the same ideas I would use in my classroom to make sure that teachers are engaged, social and learning.  I can’t stand when we don’t practice what we preach in professional development.

Second, its not your typical unit of study.  I’m tasked with making sure all teachers in our school are effectively using our learning management system, ManageBac.  Some teachers have been using it for years and there will be others who have never heard of it.  So far, I’ve essentially been flipping the learning as I’ve produced mini tutorials as teachers ask questions and I plan to continue to utilize these in my plans.  The key will be how to roll it all out.

I’ve also got to remember that I’m dealing with teachers now.  I have to be aware of the vast differences in experience, comfort with technology, attention span… Wait a minute.  That’s pretty much the same as a classroom.  So maybe that’s not as big a deal.

A big part will be working to get my teachers to buy in to the work of building their collective skills within ManageBac.  I have to be able to sell it as an important part of teaching and learning with an end goal of improving student experience.  I’m contemplating the idea of using badges within the school for this and a few other projects in the works.

I’m excited about the challenge and I like the idea of looking at it through the backwards design process.  I have ideas about how to approach the training, but I’m not sure they all fit into the UBD planner.

Your comments and ideas are more than welcome.  Thanks!

Glory Days

It is interesting to take a few minutes out to reflect on my own use of “devices” in the classroom as I enter a transition period from a classroom teacher to a technology integration coach.  I’ve always been the informal “techie” guy in my schools.  At one point I actually made some fake billing documents to send my peers when I helped them with their VCRs and frozen computer screens.  Now I’m in what might be my last year in the classroom for awhile.  A good time to reflect.

Interestingly enough, I’m probably at the lowest level of device use that I’ve ever had.  Ironic, as I’m in a private international school with a bring your own device program instead of a public school in the States.  I currently rely primarily on student laptops and a projector as my devices.  I have access to a Mimio board, but even with strategically applied tape to the cord, it doesn’t quite want to work.

Device LoveIn the past I’ve had iPods, iPads, and an ActivBoard (I miss you buddy) with which my usage was approaching somewhat of a Jedi Master level. I had kids creating podcasts, movies, App Smashing, before I knew what that even was, and enjoying some very interactive classes thanks to the ActivResponse units (dubbed OrangeBerries by my students).

I was also in on the ground level of getting all of this technology in our school in varying ways.  From just making a good case for the technology to winning multiple grants and purchasing the iPads for my own classroom, I was definitely pushing for something new in our school and leading the way for those around me.

My current school has iPads, but they’re housed in the library on the other side of campus.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I think this might be the time to start thinking about how I can reintegrate them into my classes to rebuild some of my street cred as a tech coach.  We all know there’s nothing worse than the guy coming in to help you and telling you all about the things he used to do five to ten years ago.Thinking
I have one more semester in the classroom before I transition into my new role full time.  I’m going to use this semester to really think about how to use what is available at our school for the most benefit of my students.  In the past I may have been working to fit the lesson into the technology.  Over the years, I’ve learned this obviously isn’t the best way. I’m excited to challenge my self here and see how I have grown in my use of devices in the classroom.


flickr photo Device Love by lukew  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo Thinking: More Than None Will Be Required by Digital Sextant  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

All Along the Watchtower

I certainly hope that “education as we know it” will have changed in the next decade.  Although it has certainly struggled to do so over the past 100 years.  There is no doubt that technology has played and will continue to play a part in the development of education.  It would be difficult for it not to in some way.

The Talk

Screenshot by Me
Screenshot by Me

There are increasing conversations around what needs to change in our systems and it seems that technology is always a part of the conversation.  I stumbled on a prime example via Twitter just a few weeks ago as a group was using the hashtag #cuerockstar to discuss learning at a conference being hosted at Skywalker Ranch.  I’m pretty sure this guy knows a thing or two about the benefits of technology in the classroom.

Our world is increasingly reliant on technology and computers making it essential that not only technology be used in the classroom, but students are taught how to use various forms of technology and even how to make computers work.  Late night codingIf we think about how deeply technology is embedded into our society  (raise your hand if you get paid electronically) there is no reason to even argue about the concept of technology in the classroom.

Now if we are talking about how that technology is used, it is a different story.  Hopefully we are all aware that tech for the sake of having tech is ridiculous.  But as we start using technology to create connections around the world and share our teaching and learning experiences with others, it becomes a powerful tool.

The Future

I don’t think that the classroom of the future will exist without teachers as some seem to envision, but I do hope that it will be a much more collaborative space.  I hope that it will encourage a global mindset and challenge students to create and solve problems.

As I work to move from a classroom teacher to a tech coach, I’m certainly thinking not only about how to push teachers to see these concepts, but how I will use them in my own offerings of professional development.  These changes can’t come from a top down approach, they need to come from within the walls of our schools and the halls of our universities.

The Dream

496px-Full_Sunburst_over_EarthIf we are talking about the perfect classroom for creating real change in the world and developing true understanding of cultures and global issues,  I think this school has a pretty good idea.  How beautiful would it be for every kid to have a chance like that?



Image Source

Late Night Coding photo by jjackowski   Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license on Flikr

Full Sunburst over Earth” by NASA. Original uploader was Mrshaba at en.wikipedia – File:Robot Arm Over Earth with Sunburst – GPN-2000-001097.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –



Question the Answers

Readings for this week were interesting and I’ll offer some brief thoughts before I get to my learning protein.

I’m not a fan of the flipped classroom approach.  I think work at home of any sort is a challenge as there are innumerable variables that students face.  I prefer to keep as much work in class as possible and I’m skeptical of these numbers as they might apply to a larger scale.

Gamification has potential.  I’ve tried it in the past with minor success, but unfortunately it was not a sustainable model.  It was pretty much a ton of worksheets that earned points for a game.  Not much connection there. I was learning about the processes though.  I’m honestly not sure if the kids were learning much along the way.  Sorry guys.

Play. Yes. There should be more play associated with school.  Anything from game based learning to the practice of playing with ideas and tools in a somewhat structured environment is crucial to student engagement.

But here’s the one idea that got me going.

This week I’m pumped about finding my next read. As I read through an interview with the authors, I found so much that just made sense.  My favorite statement from the article was:

inquiry is not about asking a “right” question, but it is a process of asking increasingly better questions

flickr photo by Marco Bellucci shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This made me stop for a few minutes to reflect on my own practices. I’m constantly telling kids in class and parents in conferences that the most important part of a student’s learning development is to ask questions.  Now I have to really stop and ask myself, am I helping them do that?  It definitely isn’t enough to simply ask, “Any questions?” and listen to the crickets that follow.  I need to change my approach.

I may have actually stumbled into a decent implementation of this idea with tomorrow’s assessment.  Students are debating if a recent event was actually a political revolution.  The assignment requires them to be prepared to argue yes or no or to be the moderator asking questions.  This required them to know not only the facts behind the event, but determine an acceptable definition of political revolution and develop questions that would help each side prove their point. 17031588420_c1d52a70dd_z

Students struggled at first.  Ironically enough, I find that research is not a strength among students in this age where all of the information is literally at their fingertips.  Once we got that sorted and students began to practice each role, they were coming up with some good arguments and questions.  I’ve been somewhat hands off letting them figure it out and I’m excited to see what tomorrow and Tuesday will bring.

Lincoln is an MYP school which means inquiry is an important part of our curriculum.  I  now I have  a new way of looking at what that really means.  I’m looking forward to challenging myself and students with a new outlook on the importance and value of a good question.

Question Mark by Marco Bellucci Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr
10 Reasons Why You Should Use Google Hangouts For Your Business by Joe the Goat Farmer Creative Commons Licensed on Flikr

Chalk Dust Torture

I think of my humanities class as basically a project based course.

I rarely give paper and pencil tests.  Partly because I hated taking them when I was a student, partly because I hate grading them as a teacher and partly because I just believe there are better ways to demonstrate understanding.

flickr photo by topgold shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by topgold shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Even the Google Educator Certification exam I recently took (and passed) was primarily project based.  Sure there were some fill in the blanks and such, but mostly the course teaches you to use the tools and therefore you must demonstrate your use of them to pass the exam. Makes a lot of sense.

I also stay as far away from lecture and straight text book reading as I can. Again, I suffered the torture of chalk dust and lectures for far too much of my own education. I prefer to have my students research, build their knowledge and then find ways to demonstrate that knowledge.  In recent years I’ve gotten better at this as well.  I reached my threshold on posters and slide shows and have begun challenging students to find different ways to present their learning.  I want them to feel challenged, to reach a level of satisfaction and then push them to reach a little further.

This year, we’ve started a class blog (it would be awesome if you would visit and leave a comment) and the current project in class is culminating with a Google Hangout on Air (November 16 & 17 if you’re interested) where the students will debate if their event was truly a revolution.

Slowly I’m figuring out ways to add more authenticity to student projects.  

I feel bad for and would like to formally apologize to the hundreds of students who have passed through my classes and turned in projects that were destined to live about the counters of my room and eventually be recycled or simply tossed out when the dust covering them became too much to bear.

I found inspiration in fellow COETAILers posts this week as I began to write.  I whole heartedly agree with Brad Evans point that project based learning means students taking risks and finding the courage to fail.  I applaud my students for not completely balking when I told them we would use GHO on this project.  They were excited and eager to see what they can do.

flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license
flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Then Joceyln Sutherland shared a fantastic example of a project making a difference in the local community which struck another chord with me as our school continues to push us to implement service learning into our classes.

So, as it should be, I’m still learning.

I love that these courses and the cohort around me continues to push my learning and my teaching with new and exciting challenges.  Some of them I’ve been dabbling in for years and still trying to figure out how to get them right, others are brand new.  All of them are keeping me on my toes and eager to head into the class and say to my kids,

“Alright, you guys want to try something new?”


Catch A Fire

I stopped reading to start my post when I hit the following quote from the Edutopia article What is Successful Technology Integration.

Willingness to embrace change is also a major requirement for successful technology integration.

Nailed it.

By Mcapdevila [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no place for complacency when it comes to technology in schools.  If there was we’d still be using mimeographs for copies, settling student disputes over who’s going to turn the filmstrip and freaking out when we make the computer write our name 1000 times on the screen.  Things change and get better, mostly, and as educators it is our job to keep up with the times.

It isn’t an easy task and I can totally understand when colleagues are intimidated with integrating technology into their classrooms.  For many, they’ve simply never had to do it or it hasn’t been available to them.  However, I also think that whatever the excuse, it isn’t good enough.  It’s our job to provide our students with the skills and tools to help them succeed as they move through and past their educational careers.  In our current society, that includes technology.

The SAMR Model

Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.
Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.

When it comes to a framework for all of this, I’m a fan of the SAMR model.  In my opinion, it gives credibility to all sorts of technology integration.  Too often I hear educators discuss this model as a ladder that we must climb and everyone should be in the Redefinition zone of  the model.  I think those people are missing the point.  Sure, I agree that we should be striving to create projects and experiences that take students into higher levels of technological use, but it is also quite important to know how to use word processing software and that’s simple redefinition.

This model creates a framework for thinking about how we are using technology.  If we are stuck in the substitution zone then we need to ask ourselves if our tech use is really beneficial and if we are challenging our students.  My one complaint about this model is that I don’t like the ladder analogy and idea of a line separating the bottom from the top.  This makes many teachers see the model as another way to evaluate their practice from the outside instead of a tool to use to reflect upon their own practice. When this concept is clearly related, it becomes a much more powerful tool.

My Practice

I like to think that my classroom practice exhibits a healthy blend of levels from the SAMR model.  Much like we were encouraged to take a little from each bit of this fancy chart growing up (ok, maybe that’s not the greatest comparison) there needs to be a some of each level in the classroom.  My class is 99% paperless.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I made copies for my class.  Students regularly work within GAFE to take notes, complete assignments, share documents and peer reviews.  In order to get to the Redefinition type tasks, we have to spend some time preparing for them in Substitution land.

This week I spent almost thirty minutes with my class trying out  Google Hangouts on Air.  We were testing it out to see if we can use it to make newscast style videos.  We didn’t cover much in the way of curriculum, but the students learned a new tool and a new way to collaborate.  They also saw me taking a chance and being a learner along with them. The kids were buzzing as we experimented.  They asked each other questions as they tried to figure out how to use GHO and discussed the pros and cons of working within this tool.  We were not only looking for a different way to use an existing technology, but shifting and blurring the lines of teacher and student.

The Fire


The difficult task falls on us, the COETAILers and the early adapters of technology.   We may or may not be on the absolute cutting edge or always the ones pushing the envelope, but we are the ones who understand the importance of technology in schools.  We have to make sure that those students and teachers who are intimidated by technology don’t continue to hide in the back of classrooms or just look over the shoulder of their peers.  Celebrate the fact that they have created a task using Augmentation and encourage them to continue their growth.  We have to continue to share what we learn, provide opportunities for others to learn along with us and provide a gentle push when its necessary.

It takes a spark to ignite a fire of technological curiosity, learning and success.


Image Sources

Dukane filmstrip MicromaticII.jpg By Mcapdevila [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
“BurningFlame0” by BobHelmut – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –