Tag Archives: educational technology

#L2BB2L Unconference: Epic Fail, Great Success, or Something in Between?


After months and months and months of planning, the Learning2Build/Building2Learn Unconference has just ended.  Reflective learner and practitioner that I am, I can’t help but immediately want to evaluate and assess to what extent we achieved our objectives as event organizers.  And, true to life, I find that in some ways it was a (and hear Borat in your head, please) Greeeeeeat success! and in other ways it was a complete and epic failure.  In order to address this question, we have to know what our objectives are.  In this case, we had several:

  • Create a space in which K-12 and college/ university educators can collaborate.
  • Gather change agents working in education, especially, but not exclusively, those in the Rochester area.
  • Empower learners to take ownership of their own learning.
  • Utilize a presentation method in which the medium is imperative to the message.

Our first and second objectives were absolutely met.  K-12 and college/ university educators did indeed gather at RIT on a frigid Saturday morning to discuss how we can help students create more content than they consume, the barriers that keep us from shifting the create/consume balance, and successful methods for tearing down those barriers.  There were scheduled sessions which included presentations, lectures, and demonstrations that were somehow related to this topic.  There is a Facebook group, a Google+ community, YouTube Videos and a flood of #l2bb2l tweets that allow this fledgling community to remain in touch.  It’s easy to see that the first two objectives were achieved.

The third and fourth objectives are much harder for me to evaluate.  In reality, the event was far more conference than un.

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Using the Internet with Students is Nonnegotiable with Common Core

Teachers and leaders who have been waiting for a compelling reason to integrate technology into their instruction need to wait no further: use of technology by students, including the Internet, is explicitly stated in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  While no one is arguing that students need to, for instance, be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources (RL1, RI1), under the Common Core, few school-communities seem to be using the mandate in CCSS to push for technology integration.

Where is technology use in the standards?

The Common Core Learning Standards are not a salad bar, where educators pick and choose what is relevant to their communities; all are necessary; all are required.  And the Standards very clearly state that students need to be using technology purposefully, matching the right tool to the right task.

The short answer is everywhere, both as students receive texts (as readers) and as they produce texts (as writers).  And I’m not just talking about in an English class; to explain, let me cite the literacy standards for history/social studies, and the technical subjects for 6th -12th grade.

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Can educational technology hinder instruction?

Nearing the end of my second week in a paperlite classroom, I am realizing what a complete game- changer this mode of operation is and just how steep the learning curve is, even for someone someone relatively ed tech savvy. I’ve learned that if I’m not very, very careful and purposeful, sound pedagogy is too easily forgotten for the glitz of taking shiny new tools online.

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Is 700 saved pages a week worth the paperlite transition headache?

In a previous post, I laid out my professional learning objectives for #thisyear. With the first week of school completed, I want to reflect on one:

I will go paperlite #thisyear. I purposefully say paperlite instead of paperless because I recognize that there is value at actually putting pen to physical paper to, for instance, practice annotating a passage, especially when students are tested until at least 2015 on physical paper. Post-PARCC, a completely paperless classroom will make more sense. To clarify, unless there is an educational value to actually physically handing students a paper copy of any document, save test prep as explained, they will access it electronically.

25 iPads for my scholars to use in our IB course.

25 iPads for my scholars to use in our IB course.

Because I have a class set of iPads, at the end of the first week of school, I printed 14 pieces of paper, which is in line with the stated purpose of the paperlite classroom.

  • 2 copies of each of my 6 class rosters, which were almost immediately irrelevant due to last-minute student schedule changes. 12 pages.
  • 2 copies of my schedule to post for students seeking me for help: one on the bulletin board; the other near my desk for my own reference. 2 pages.

In retrospect, rather than printing up the rosters, which were not particularly helpful and I see now were just a kind of back-to-school safety blanket, I would have printed up just a class set of the two documents I wanted students to have before attempting to go paperlite.

I also did NOT print the following:

  • A class set (26 copies + 1 for me) of the 7-page IB Learner Profile document
  • Another class set of the 7-page IB Language Course A guide
  • 110 individual copies of the 1-page IB Learner Profile assignment
  • 110 individual copies of the 1-page IB Diploma Programme assignment
  • 110 individual copies of a formative assessment asking students to list all 10 traits
Students in my 6th set class use our iPads to take a paperless assessment.

Students in my 6th set class use our iPads to take a paperless assessment.

Total pages of paper saved in week 1? 708!

So, the successes were many.

I saved more than 700 pages of paper. Much of the work this week was effective in establishing the kind of classroom environment and rapport that I expect.

But, I was not successful in sharing two documents digitally with one class. Something went wonky with Doctopus that I was certain had to do with my inexperience with the tool, but try and try and try as I might, I could not figure it out and I could NOT get the documents to the students in my 7th set class electronically.

While I am not pleased that students had a clunky beginning, this failure actually reinforces my resolve that transitioning to an electronic classroom is an important move for me and my students. At the end of my first week, I recognize that what I thought were going to be my own learning goals are intrinsically related to my student learning objectives. What’s ironic is that while the documents I was trying to get to them were questions and prompts about documents about the IB Learner Profile and the IB Diploma Programme, instead they saw someone attempting to be reflective, knowledgeable, principled, open-minded, caring, balanced and a thinker, communicator, risk-taker and inquirer.

I was able to project a copy of the document onto the board, and students were able to take pictures of it and work in another medium: in Notes, in e-mail, on paper if they chose to (about 1/4 did) . After I made sure they had both documents, I let the projector run while I tried to troubleshoot the problem on my own. After about 10 (oft-interrupted to help students) minutes, I realized I could not solve it on my own, and instead checked in with each and every group personally. This gave me the opportunity to personally let them know that I get this week was clunky, that I was extending a deadline for them because of our hiccups, and that I was looking forward to their feedback next week on how the experience is going, what additional hiccups we need to address, and what’s working well for us. It also gave me the opportunity to focus on something other than a malfunctioning script that was making me increasingly frustrated. In a tech-fail, empathizing with students and adjusting deadlines goes a long way.

After touching base with everyone and realizing that sure, they had been exploring the cool new toy that is the iPad we’re using, I also realized they had been hard at work as well. Unfortunately, I’m sure that the experience of having something projected they have to copy down and then complete is not uncommon for them: while I was a fish out of water, they knew what to do. They used their cell phones and iPads and double-deviced it. They created and shared documents with each other they could co-edit, and then used a phone to look things up. They searched Google and found the same links that I did — I thought downloading the documents as PDF files and dropping them in a shared folder was guiding them just the right amount; instead, I found that it was too confusing. They didn’t create the organization system of folders within folders, so they didn’t get it. They don’t use Drive in their budding professional lives, so they didn’t know to search it to find something. While they weren’t able to perform the task in the manner in which I had designed, they were able to perform the task. And I extended the deadline anyway, as promised.

And while they were chatting and working, I sent a Tweet, knowing that a few of the students follow me. It was a kind of note-to-self tweet, something to remind me to work on the “7th set glitch” later this weekend. I intend to unpack for them the work I did this weekend to fix the problem we encountered and provide venues for communicating about tech hiccups that will certainly occur again in our transition to our paperlite classroom. After some Tweets back and forth with Doctopus creator, Andrew Stillman, I found out that my “7th set glitch” was actually a global glitch due to an unprecedented spike in Doctopus usage with more than 10,000 requests per day. He had already fixed the problem and published information explaining it, and nonetheless, he responded to Tweet after Tweet, urging teachers like me to get back to him immediately if his fix didn’t address the situation. It did, and I have already sent out Monday’s classwork via Doctopus.

In addition to the real-world learning that I demonstrated for my students by troubleshooting the glitch, I have further validation from students that this transition is valuable, despite the growing pains. At 9:35 Saturday night, after sending Monday’s work via Doctopus successfully, I got an e-mail from a student clarifying if it was weekend homework or not. I wrote her back at 9:45, and at 9:50, I got this response, which I’ve already starred for my “I need a pick-me up today” folder…

Thanks so much! I love being able to communicate so quickly 🙂

See you Monday!

I thought that e-mail was going to win the night owl award, but then I woke up this morning to another e-mail, sent at 2:16 am responding to the 1-minute long how-to-access-your-Google-account-from-home video I made Saturday morning after so many asked me Friday in class (I know…). This student’s e-mail indicated he had indeed been able to access his account, as he was quoting the assignment and asking for help locating resources to look up the answers, in true Common Core style. By 9:42am I had responded. And then there was evidence that two siblings were already on Infinite Campus checking their grades — this e-mail alerted me to a Gradebook set-up error that has also been corrected.

At the end of my first week experimenting with a paperlite instructional environment, I am confident that this is a valuable transition for both me and my students. We learned that, though not everything will be perfect, by seeking help from those farther along than we, we can accomplish our goals.


Although teaching is certainly the best part time job I’ve ever had, I start almost daily, full-swing-style planning for my classes a few weeks before school starts, usually the week before kids go off to college. This is not to say that I don’t make little decisions all summer long about organizational or management aspects of my craft, but there are some years that I feel more ready than others to enter the classroom. #ThisYear is one of those years.

In preparing to write this post, and in being deliberate in my call for others to participate in the mandate to be the change one wishes to see in the world, I searched the tag #thisyear. I was pleased to see that others had already started using #thisyear, and that they also seemed to be meaning it in the same context in which I mean it: that this school-year needs to be different than the last, and that their purposeful actions could achieve this reality.

This post is not meant to address my student learning objectives (SLOs and chuckles, for my teacher-friends), which are clear, reasonable, and achievable, not to mention handed to a teacher like me from both the IB and NYS. With that in mind, I’d like to publicly state a few of my own learning goals for #thisyear.

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Technology leadership: approaching your craft systematically


Unlike teachers, educational leaders don’t necessarily attend professional development opportunities related to effective technology leadership.  DASA training?  For sure.  Implementation of Common Core?  Yup.  Navigating the new APPR process?  You betcha.

But going paperless regarding staff communications and training?  Flipping staff meetings?  Harnessing the power of a social network to encourage engagement and collaboration?  Doubtful.

While teachers often do get the benefit of participating in tech-specific training opportunities like the ones I suggested, these professional development sessions are certainly not required for administrators to begin to use technology purposefully.  All that is needed for administrators to become effective technology leaders is for them to be purposeful in their marriage of instructional delivery method and content.   Choosing the right tool for the task, by definition, is being a technology leader.  Let me explain…

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The freedom to wallow in one’s own crapulence vs. the desire not to

I am co-teaching a professional development session for teachers in my district on flipping their classrooms. We met last Wednesday in person, where my co-teachers handed out material, oriented participants to the course content and wiki, and explained expectations and methodology and where I lectured for a half hour or so about the Prussian paradigm. Since then, these 32 teachers have completed three chapters of reading, have watched 20 minutes of video of me explaining how I gained stakeholder buy-in, and have begun to consider how to build stakeholder buy-in for something as scary as flipping a paradigm. This is above and beyond their normal late-spring teacher duties which include contacting equally stressed out parents, cheerleading for struggling kids, prepping for the oncoming battery of state assessments, completing end-of-year record-keeping and collecting APPR documentation, and maintaining an atmosphere that encourages a love of learning in this high stress powder keg that is the American public school in May where no child can be left behind but where we race to the top. I respect their inquiry into flipped instruction immensely, and was shocked when the class I feared would be canceled due to lack of interest overloaded as 32 people registered.

My colleagues have mostly completed week one’s assignments, and they have begun to raise some very interesting questions about the possible cons of a flipped class that I cannot answer satisfactorily. These two questions are:

1. “What do we do when students choose not to complete the out-of-class direct instruction?”
2. “What do we do when students don’t have access to technology outside of class?”

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