Monday, August 25, 2014

New to 1:1? Don't Panic!


Organization, Collaboration, Interaction

So, your district purchased laptops, you're a Google Apps school, you've only had one day of inservice, and you're now faced with having to integrate technology into your instructional practice!  Don't panic! If you keep in mind that technology integration is a journey and not a destination, you'll reduce some of your anxiety while coping with the expectations of your administrators. Here are some tips for maximizing your laptops in a short amount of time:


   Begin with the one of the most fundamental benefits of technology: organization. By having students create assignments within Google Drive, their work is always saved and never lost. They can access their work from home and it will be ready for them when they arrive in the morning.
   First, have students create a folder in their own Google drives for your class. Next, have them share that folder with you using your Google email address. Next, ask them to go inside of the folder they just created and make another folder called “Graded” or “Returned”. Any work you assess or comment on can be moved to that folder. This will help your students know what has most recently been graded, and it will help you see the most recent assignments within your student's drive without having to plow through previous assignments.
   Now, as the teacher, log into YOUR Google account and access Google Drive. Create a folder for each period you teach, then gather all of the shared student folders they created for you and pull them into their respective class period folders. You now have the means of exchanging assignments, grading work, or commenting all within Google Drive – no printing necessary.


   One advantage of a 1:1 environment is the ability to collaborate on a project to create solutions or to solve problems. Students can collaborate in many ways, but by sharing Google Docs, you can create a collaborative assignment for specific groups or with the entire class. Student engagement is increased when students can collaborate on...

a. Shared writing
b. Group presentations
c. Peer editing with comments
d. Group analysis
e. Shared note-taking
f.  Shared research ( aka "Digital Farming")
g. Reader response journals
f.  Experiments and Observations


   You can engage your students more meaningfully using 1:1 technology than ever before. From controlling powerpoints and inserting surveys and questions to polling students and adding questions to a video, there are several very powerful tools you can use to capture your students’ attention.

Do you show videos? Videos can be made even more productive by adding teacher comments, questions, quizzes, and surveys directly into the video. To enhance your video activities, try Educanon or EDPuzzle. You can even load an entire class roster into the websites to track assessments and student responses.

Create a more “social” class by providing backchannels for your students to comment, ask questions, or Padlet, Socrative, QuizSocket and TodaysMeet. Give everyone a voice in your class and encourage your reluctant learners to participate via technology.
respond to your prompts during class presentations. Popular backchannels include

If you enjoy using powerpoint as a means of presenting information, then using a backchannel will augment student engagement. But you can also control your presentation and what students are viewing at any time by using a great online tool called Nearpod. Upload your presentation, add questions, surveys, and quizzes, and your students will respond while you monitor their responses in real time, on the spot.

Moodle provides you with an opportunity to provide almost unlimited variations for creating diverse learning paths for students to explore, different ways for students to learn the material, or the means to remediate or enrich their understanding of skills or concepts. By supplementing your course with virtual field trips, engaging videos, simulations and games, or even your own creations, you are ensuring the opportunity for students to pursue understanding through multiple presentations and methods.


  • Technology is a vehicle for MORE student engagement and MORE teacher assessment/observation, not LESS! 
  • The skillful integration of technology is acquired over time. Start small with a goal of adding to your skill set. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks. Your kids will survive and might even surprise you!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Collaborating and Curating in Mark Engstrom's Class: Exemplary Use of 1:1 to Engage Students

from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, author of
 the "Langwitches" blog 
 Some of the most powerful digital learning experiences result when educators hit the "sweet spot" found within the intersections of technology skills, pedagogical expertise, and content knowledge. Some of the keys to finding this sweet spot would include the use of technology to:

  • provide opportunities for students to collaborate with peers;
  • provide opportunities for students to contribute ongoing, meaningful expression and voice;
  • provide timely and relevant feedback to students throughout a lesson;
  • plan for variety and choice in learning tasks assigned to students;
  • allow for student creativity and choice in demonstrating what has been learned.
Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, author of the Langwitches blog, features educator Mark Engstrom in her blog post about how he has completely redesigned his 8th grade Geography course utilizing both Google Apps and laptops in his classroom. In addition to sporting an impressive progression of technology use across the SAMR model, Engstrom has crafted an approach through which students collaboratively engage with lesson content. Teams of students are assigned responsibility for specific but engaging tasks during class, then as a summary activity, they curate from each others' work to create a meaningful construct of the lesson for themselves. This curation of student work not only provides students with the ability to create their own meaningful lesson summary, but also establishes a sense of value, importance, and authenticity for the tasks all students are assigned during class. 
   Mark Engstrom has found that "sweet spot" where both teacher and students actively engage, collaborate, and contribute to both the delivery of content and the evaluation of that content. By offering opportunities to collaborate while performing meaningful tasks that will benefit everyone in the room, Mr. Engstrom has developed an approach that seamlessly incorporates technology while providing every student with a purposeful role in the learning process. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Myth of Distraction: It's Not the Technology

   Recently I read an article by Starr Sackstein in Education Week about some of the weak but pervasive arguments for limiting access to technology in schools. I would hope that education professionals would be well beyond such arguments and would be working to dispel such myths among their respective communities. Many of them are. Fortunately, I am  part of a school district that recognizes the vital need for equipping its students and teachers by bringing access to unprecedented knowledge and resources into the classroom. Critical to this vision is the companion belief that good, solid pedagogical skills will always drive student success and achievement. Technology amplifies sound instructional practices. And yet some arguments against technology in schools still persist.
   Sackstein's article points out the fallacies of the "myth of distraction". While it is true that mobile devices like iPads, cell phones, and laptops can be an outlet for distraction, are they truly the source of distraction, or just the means for students to do what they have always done for decades when they are bored or not being challenged? Students of yesteryear have been passing notes to friends in school, doodling during study halls, or losing their places in textbooks for generations. Yet I can't remember a public outcry to get rid of pencils, remove all paper, or stop ordering  textbooks because they were a distraction. Placing the blame for classroom distraction solely on technology is avoiding the real culprit: ineffective and uninspiring classroom instruction.
   The proliferation of mobile devices and the instant access to information is exactly why technology belongs in schools. If we as educators do not overcome our fear of technology (and assist our communities in doing the same), how will we ever teach our students to harness its power for the greater good or teach them to properly discern and think critically about the instantaneous, endless flow of information and data? Who will teach them to function in a global society that will be saturated with information, digital devices, and the need to collaborate with others?
   The access to resources available through mobile learning devices offers an unprecedented opportunity to overcome boundaries and limitations in order to meet individual learner needs. Again, in the hands skillful educators, community leaders, and partnerships committed to teaching digital citizenship and responsibility, technology offers the ability to enhance, amplify, excite, inspire, innovate, instruct, and energize students. The use of technology in schools brings the world to the doorstep of every school building--don't our kids deserve the same opportunities on a level playing field as other students around the globe?
   We cannot afford to ignore the potential benefits of mobile technology in the classroom for the sake of age-old arguments like "distraction" in school. Distraction has been, and always will be, a symptom of other problems. We must step up to the challenge as educators. As Sackstein points out, we must overcome our fears and embark upon our own journey of discovery and personal growth. We must seek to engage our students with inspired teaching and effective practice; if we don't,  they will always find some other outlet to sustain their inquisitiveness or interest--with or without technology.

Monday, March 17, 2014

   This past week the board of the Flipped Learning Network, a community of educators comprised of professionals from all levels ranging from elementary grades through colleges and universities, released a document clarifying the differences between "Flipped Learning" and the "Flipped Classroom". As noted, board members determined there were a number of misconceptions regarding Flipped Learning that needed to be clarified and distinguished from the "Flipped Classroom". This is a welcome development considering the fact that both terms have been used interchangeably not only by me but by others far more experienced than I in utilizing flipped learning as an instructional approach. 
   The formal definition of flipped learning not only distinguishes it from practices that could be considered characteristic of a "flipped classroom", but also provides 4 Pillars of Flipped Learning along with a checklist of 11 characteristics of flipped learning to assist both classroom teachers and administrators in making the distinction between the two.
   While the characteristics of the flipped classroom have been around as long as homework or activities assigned outside of class (see my previous blog post where I clearly use the terms interchangeably) , there are 4 characteristics of flipped learning:
  • Flexible Environment - from the design of the classroom to the pace of students within the class to the strategies employed by the instructor to meet the needs of individuals, small groups, or the whole group, flexibility is a hallmark of flipped learning;
  • Learning Culture - flipped learning places the student at the center of the class, not the teacher. Class time is used to explore topics in much greater detail or to create rich, dynamic learning opportunities designed to meet the needs of students. It is a departure from the teacher serving as the "sage on the stage" and in fact, makes the role of teacher far more vital. Why? Because the teacher is crafting activities and strategies designed to stretch and challenge students based on where they are, and uses class time to assess, either independently or in groups, where students are along the learning spectrum as the teacher continues to guide students towards objectives;
  • Intentional Content - Content in flipped instruction is selected carefully by the teacher to make the best use of class time. What should be explored by students outside of class is as carefully considered as the activities necessary to differentiate instruction and meet individual student needs during class. In retrospect, I would almost argue that "Intentional" be replaced with "Individualized", allowing students to make choices in his or her learning that are appropriate to student ability levels; 
  • Professional Educator - As noted in the second pillar, the role of the professional educator becomes more critical to learning than ever before. When flipped learning is occurring, the teacher is observing, assessing, guiding, prompting, and providing feedback. Furthermore, teachers are constantly self-reflecting and connecting with other professionals in order to improve their own instruction. 
   The recently published definition of Flipped Learning makes a distinction from classroom practices where students may be watching supplemental videos, participating in outside readings, or completing other learning activities beyond the classroom--all practices common to classroom instruction. What truly establishes flipped learning from the flipped classroom is the ability to utilize technology to deliver instruction in a manner that not only meets individual student needs at her own level (differentiation), but also preserves class time for deeper extension activities and far more personal and informative assessment practices by the teacher. 
   It remains to be seen if the recently released information by the FLipped Learning Network provides the definitive response to the misperceptions that have been occurring, but it will certainly promote discussion among educators seeking to capitalize on the value of the model to further promote student achievement. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For Parents: The Benefits of the Flipped Classroom

   Parents may greet your use of the flipped classroom with suspicion and skepticism, particularly when that term is neither fully understood nor viewed as being as beneficial as "traditional" instruction (with which they are more familiar). Such is the case with the "flipped" classroom, an instructional approach that seeks to leverage digital media (in most cases, "video") to provide instruction or pre-learning outside of class (at home) in order to prepare students for application or activities during traditional class time. Immediately, some parents question this method, and like anything "new", it can quickly escalate into a misunderstanding and become the point of contention - regardless of other circumstances or variables - as to why their son or daughter is not performing well in the classroom.
   So what is the rationale for flipping a classroom? Better yet, what are some brief, concise reasons a teacher can give parents for flipping the class? Chris Waterworth encapsulates the beauty of simplicity in his blog "Video for My Classroom: The Flipped Classroom". For Chris, the reasons are easy to explain and quite justifiable:

  1. Flipping a Class saves time. Not teacher time, mind you. Class time. Instructional time. Flipping the class enables a teacher to pursue better options for making the best use of that face to face time with students. A skillful teacher can utilize that time to work with groups of students or with individuals. There are more opportunities for guiding student learning, correcting mistakes or misconceptions, and for obtaining data through formative assessments. Quite simply, a teacher can reach more students during class time and tailor more support and assistance to each unique learner than can be accomplished by adhering to the traditional lecture delivery to the large group all day, every day. More attention and support should translate into higher student engagement and learning. That's hard to argue against for anyone. 
  2. Flipping a Class gives students a continuous point of reference. If you're using instructional videos in your flipped model, students can pause, rewind, or review to clarify any misunderstanding. Unlike traditional classroom lectures which are delivered and either recorded through notes or lost into thin air, the instructional videos can be stored for future reference and can be reviewed by students as often as they wish. Students have greater control over the pace and "chunking" of their learning. Whereas a student might fear raising his or her hand during a class lecture or demonstration, flipping the class provides both the means and the opportunity for students to digest (and interact with) the content in a manner that is much more personalized. 
  3. Flipping a Class affords a student the opportunity to pre-learn the material - before class. Interestingly enough, pre-learning (or pre-teaching) is not a new concept. It's been around for as long as students have lugged textbooks over their shoulders with a bookstrap. And the use of video content to pre-teach is not new, either. Prior to the availability of online digital media, teachers would prompt students to watch the news for current events or view a program on videotape or television to prepare for class activities the next day. Today's digital media offers even better options: instruction tailored specifically to the needs of students and directly relevant to objectives for the next class session. 
   Waterworth's rationale represents a good starting point in discussion with parents; however, be mindful that the utilization of a flipped classroom technique must be supported by sound teaching practice and pedagogy. The three reasons above are just the beginning: there are many more positive reasons for considering how to leverage digital media and a content management system like Moodle to maximize class time, particularly when you want students using class time to engage in activities that require higher order thinking skills and the application of previously learned material. But it's a start, and these reasons may help diffuse a potential misunderstanding before it becomes a straw man that is lit on fire!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Generation "LIKE" - Please LIKE Me on Facebook?

   I've had the privilege of meeting Michelle Krill through professional networking at the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pa. Michelle is a dynamic technology coach who recently shared a post about Frontline's special entitled "Generation 'Like'". The program can be viewed HERE, but beware--you will come away with a sense that you had no idea what has been going on in the world of corporate interests, social media, and kids.
   Essentially, corporations have ingeniously (?) manipulated social media and the teens who use it into working for them by advertising and promoting their products. What's more is that social media has forged a new pathway to fame (and fortune, apparently) through self-promotion and networking. It is a brave new world of rising stars, corporate marketing strategies, and social media. It will also lead you to regard the "LIKE" button on Facebook or YouTube with far more gravity than before. So, view this--a must for all parents and teachers--and think about the complexities of a generation of kids who seek to collect "likes" on social media as a prospector pans for gold, creating a divide between how we as parents and educators view social media, and how our kids (and corporations) are using it. I promise you will be enlightened!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Increasing Engagement in the Flipped Classroom: Infographic from EduCanon

   I came across the following infographic developed by Educanon, a website service that allows a teacher to embed a variety of interactive questions directly into a video. This feature enables an educator to create instructional videos that are no longer passive; student engagement and interaction with the video is required when questions and prompts are embedded directly into the video.
   Again, effective teaching practices should drive the use of instructional videos, and creating engagement and interactivity through tools like is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Flipping Out: Avoiding Common Misconceptions about the Flipped Classroom

  "The teacher isn't teaching anymore!"
  "We just watch videos at home and do homework in class."
  "I don't like the flipped classroom. I'm not learning anything."

  If you or your colleagues have explored the use of the flipped classroom model, chances are that you've heard some of these complaints coming from students or parents. Quite honestly, they can be valid concerns, especially in a classroom where the flipped model is not implemented with fidelity or is viewed as a means of saving the teacher time or extra work. Let's put that notion to rest right now. If you are going to look at flipping your classroom, you need to expect that it will require more time and planning than you might think. Thinking otherwise is simply a result of misunderstanding what the flipped classroom really is.
   In its most basic, fundamental form, the flipped classroom is the practice of providing instruction outside of class time--most traditionally in the form of videos--so that class time can be used for more meaningful and engaging activities that build upon, apply or extend the instruction that was provided outside of class time. According to Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, authors of Flipping Your Classroom: Reaching Every Student in Every Class Every Time, this basic understanding of the flipped model is referred to as "Flipped Classroom 101". Fortunately, most teachers who employ this method quickly move past the "101" level as they discover the true power of utilizing technology to augment instruction so that class time can be allocated for pedagogical choices other than "lecture".
   The "flipped classroom" might be a new term, but the concept itself is not new. Good teachers have always provided outside resources to build context for class activities. Reading a chapter in a book or watching a VHS clip prior to the next day's class discussion, for instance, or reviewing a worksheet with procedural directions for the next day's biology lab follow the same idea. The idea of  "pre-teaching" the content or preparing for class by completing exercises or activities outside of class is not a novel concept. What's new is that the term "flipped classroom"also refers to the use of transformative, powerful digital media to convey that content. These tools offer choices that educators didn't have a decade or two ago and now teachers are required to curate this powerful content to enhance student engagement and learning.
   The real power, say Bergmann and Sams, is that today's selection of digital tools empower us to respond to the following key question: what is the very best use of our (teacher and student) class time together? The model forces us to reflect upon our selection of instructional strategies to determine how to most effectively engage, support, and facilitate student learning during class time. Unfortunately, many students (and even more likely--the parents), see the absence of the lecture model as evidence that a teacher "is not teaching". To them, teaching means the ability to sit passively with nominal engagement while the teacher drones on and on at the front of the room. It's not necessary to go into the body of research demonstrating how ineffective a persistent lecture model is, let alone the fact that it allows for very little differentiation of instruction to meet student needs. But here is where a teacher needs to be careful. If you are no longer the "sage on the stage", what do you do with class time if you are making content available outside of class? If you see this model as an opportunity to simply provide video lectures so you can kick back while students do worksheets or homework during class time, then you are doing a disservice to your students, your self, and to others who effectively employ a flipped classroom model. So what should you be doing?
   First, the rich selection of quality instructional media--yes, even videos--should not serve to replace your role as the content expert. In many cases, teachers employing the model actually incorporate videos of their own direct instruction to sustain the trust relationship between teacher and student. Should you choose to provide instruction outside of class, then be prepared to respond to the key question which is, again, making the determination as to what the most effective use of class time really is. It is not watching students work on activities while you grade papers or check emails. Second, flipping a class should empower you to work far more closely with your students--individually or in small groups. Activities should be purposeful and meaningful, requiring students to utilize higher order thinking skills to apply what was taught to authentic or real world problems. While they do so, you should be fully engaged with your students during that class time, conducting formative assessments, guiding, mentoring, facilitating, measuring, and clarifying as you monitor students in action and determine where greater support or instruction needs to take place. No longer the "sage on the stage", you are now empowered to roll up your sleeves and "meddle in the middle" (credit forthcoming) of student learning while it takes place in your classroom. Finally, the placement of resources and instructional support within a content management system like Moodle provides students the opportunity to go back, review, and relearn material when needed. Finally, flipping a class affords the opportunity to differentiate instruction and meet more student needs. As you monitor progress and evaluate your formative assessment feedback, you can structure activities and yes, even additional instructional videos, to meet the unique needs of your students.
   The flipped classroom model provides a framework for making the best use of class time with your students. You are not only a content expert, but a digital curator of educational resources, an ongoing diagnostician of student performance, and the creator of prescriptive strategies designed to meet students where they are with the goal of moving them forward. While the concept behind the flipped classroom is not new, we have never had such an abundance of resources available to radically transform how--and when-- we teach. The key will be convincing your parents and students that "teaching" no longer means talking at the front of the classroom for the entire period, all day, every day.

For further exploration, check out these links: