In Education: Technology Needs to Start with a Simple Question…..


In life, you come across numerous questions “Who are you?”,  “What is the meaning of life?” Of these thousands/millions of questions, which ones are truly life changing? To bring about change, small or big, we must stop asking so many questions, but rather ask the right one(s).

Working in a field where my interactions have the opportunity to touch and influence thousands upon millions of lives, it is imperative that the right questions are asked, and that the right answers are available. How many of you are positioned in the same boat? In Education, you need open-ended questions to have a a proper discussion about how any educational based product/ program will support the users of the district. Any discussion asking or answering questions that are close-ended will lead you down a path that will ultimately not support you and your district. The simplest yet most impactful questions need to start with the ‘WHY?’.

The classroom is a parallel entity to a home. It is but another room until it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Introducing technology into the classroom must be done with a purpose, one that does not interrupt or cause conflict. This is the biggest issue with today’s flooded educational application market. Where ever you turn, someone has an app that will solve a Math, ELA, Social Studies, or Science issue. With so many solutions available, WHY are there so many struggles with implementing technology into our classrooms?

The answer is simple- the end solutions have not considered the impact on the classroom and teachers. Even the greatest ideas will fail to be implemented into a classroom if we fail to recognize the lives and processes of teachers and complicate their modalities. One such example was a fantastic application to be used with math programs. It was an adaptive program that used an algorithm to identify the best learning path for each individual student as questions were answered. Imagine having a classroom of 25 students all participating in the lesson being taught, and each student working at their particular level with unique problems being delivered to them in a systematic approach for their learning! AWESOME, right? So why did this program die out as the years went by?

The design of the product did not focus on the ‘use-case’ of the classroom. Any teacher would agree that the overall concept of the product fits a true need of the classroom- however, there were major flaws that did not support the ‘use-case’ of teachers and students. In order to utilize the adaptive program, a teacher needed to make and select several choices for each lesson or assessment each day:

  1. Did they want to make the lesson or assessment adaptive?
  2. Did they want intervention or enrichment?
  3. Did they want this for individual students? Groups? or Class?
  4. Did they want a special Personal Plan in addition?

The teacher would need to make these choices every day for every lesson or assessment they wished to assign. The achilles heal- making a teacher run through hoops to simply make a lesson or assessment adaptive for their students everyday. WHY? because someone didn’t ask the right questions.

By asking the right questions, the proper solutions and teacher workflow could have been developed. Someone should have understood that teachers are craving for simplicity with technology.  How about a simple checkbox?Want to assign Lesson 3 for homework and make it adaptive? Check! and your student will get enrichment or remediation work depending on their abilities! Leave the box unchecked to assign non-adaptive work if you choose. Why? Because a teacher wants to simply make a choice of assigning adaptive work or not. Done.

For the student who needed remedial support- the Personal Plan provided a 10 to 15 minute warm up, followed by the adaptive lesson or assessment, followed by another possible remedial adaptive lesson for an extra 10 or 15 minutes of additional work. Achilles heal- Take a struggling student and ask them to sit for an hour or more with work they struggle with? Again- a great concept with unlimited potential- derailed because the designers and engineers did not ask the right questions. They clearly focused on the ‘How’ rather than first determining the ‘Why’!

From devices to infrastructure on the district end, to the feature and functionality that educational programs are offering- It needs to start with WHY. The choices that districts are confronted with are multiple and confusing. The environment to which they will be used is massive and ever-changing. There is one constant that must stay in focus….the Classroom. While we talk about how the classroom must change, fundamentally it will always stay the same. The structure of a house does not make it a home. A house becomes a home once it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Any outside influence allowed into any home must fit and provide value without disruption, or it will not be welcomed! The same can be seen for most educational apps in classrooms as they come and go through the revolving door!

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Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?


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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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What is Wrong in this Viral Picture?


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Many of my colleagues in education have praised pictures like the one above. A similar picture depicts a teacher chalkboard with cell phones lined up along the bottom ledge, each placed within a box labeled for each student. The premise is built upon taking attendance efficiently, while garnering the smartphones away from each student to then have their undivided attention! The added bonus is to eliminate the aggravation of having to deal with cell phone distractions throughout the classroom period or day.  What a fantastic way to efficiently and effectively handle multiple tasks, and eliminate the stress of cell phone disasters in today’s classrooms!!

Actually, if you are cheering for teacher’s who are implementing these types of routines, then you are doing the students and their education a disservice! Teachers who feel that an implementation, like the one pictured, is necessary are only trying to hold on to being the sole expert in the classroom. This mentality is literally “Old School”, and needs to stop. By taking away the technology, one can reason that each student is also having their education taken away from them. The smart phone is a tool that needs to be required in classrooms for students to learn information from, and also to create content to show what they are learning. Engagement is imperative for the classroom of today and tomorrow, and the use of proper tools for their future is important.

If you are truly looking for innovative ways to efficiently and effectively handle multiple tasks, why not have students engage with an App to take attendance, allow students a constant flow of information to enhance lessons through the web, and finally challenge your students to use Apps to create content to show mastery of the lessons being taught? By working with technology, not against it, your students will feel empowered to be engaged in your classrooms like never before!

Top 5 Social Apps with Uses in Education


So we all understand that kids live in Apps, but so do we! Why fight the transition to the digital age, when you can embrace it, and encourage your students to be more engaged in their learning? Your students are not only engaging in content, but more importantly becoming creators of it! Here is my list of the Top 5 Apps that can be used in education with all of your students:

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Musical.ly– an App that allows creation and sharing of short 15 second videos. Popular amongst kids to record videos of them lip-syncing or dancing to songs. Collaboration is possible through a unique duet function. There is functionality that can be used within a classroom experience: 1. Student Speeches. There are speeches available (like Martin Luther King Jr) which students can produce videos on. Allow your students to be creative in producing a great lip-syncing speech! You, or they, can also create your own audio byte if you want. 2. Allow your students to create 15 second lessons learned bits. Ask your students to show you what they learned in the day’s lesson! Empower them to show you what came across as the top learning objective! ***Caution: This app is rated for ages 12+ due to some access to inappropriate content/vocals. Like any app, it is important to talk with users about proper use and appropriate content.

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Instagram– an App that allows creation and sharing of pictures and short videos. Allow your students to submit creative assignments, or to work collaboratively on problems. Today’s collaboration was once (and still is by many) considered cheating. Allowing students to post pictures and videos of problems/work to get feedback from classmates can provide a great environment of helpful engagement. It is up to you, the teacher, to facilitate the proper use.***Caution: This app is rated for ages 12+ due to some access to inappropriate content/vocals. Like any app, it is important to talk with users about proper use and appropriate content.

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Twitter– Yes, Twitter. With the use of #hashtags, you can create a lively environment where your classroom in engaged in and out of school. Just as Twitter is being used with TV, news, and presidential speeches, you can use twitter to gain immediate feedback during lessons! By simply creating #hashtags, your students can engage and provide feedback to the #causeandeffect lesson that can be used during and after school, or any day there after. By creating a #hashtag, you are creating a real-time discussion board for your students to participate in, even if students come to you in different periods throughout the day! As a teacher, you will be given direct feedback on your lesson, and more importantly, on what your students are understanding.

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MineCraft– Imagine your students being able to create a virtual world, and then being able to give you a guided tour within it! MineCraft is the virtual Lego’s set. Users are able to create landscape, buildings, rooms, furniture, etc. From Mathematics to Architecture, there are many applications that can be focused on here. Users are able to open up their “worlds” to other users, which allows a fantastic option for true collaboration in development. My daughter, at the age of 13, used Minecraft to begin creating her future. With a love of gymnastics, she designed and built her future gym that she would like to own. From layout to equipment, she was able to plan, critique, revise, and finalize her dream gym. Inspire your students to create and build their futures!!

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YouTube– We all know what Khan Academy can bring to a student, but do we believe that 5, 10, 15, even 20 minute lessons are truly engaging with today’s students? Many ask, why not create your own videos as teachers? Simple- who has the time to create and edit a 20 minute lesson? With the attention span of students shrinking, there is a new phenomenon that every teacher can engage with- Minute Lessons! With a simple download of YouTube and the YouTube Capture App, you and your students can create and publish quick 1 minute lessons for everyone to view. By limiting it to a minute, you and your students are forced to get to the point, and relay the main objective or lesson learned in the delivered message. Want a way to collect summative information on a lesson? Why not have students create and submit a 1 minute summary of your daily lesson!

What Will Teachers Focus On Returning From Winter Break?


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Returning from Winter Break is always a whirlwind time for all involved in education. Parents, teachers, and students are experiencing the mixed feelings of the anxiety of having to return to the repetitious school day and the excitement of returning to the school day. So with the beginning of the second half drive to the end of another school year, just what should teachers be focused on?

There will be a variety of ideas and thoughts that will come to mind: State Testing, Projects, Teaching to the Test, Differentiating Instructions, Curriculum Planning, Data Analytics, Assemblies, etc….

Here are the Top 5 Focus Points for the Best of the Best Teachers:

  1. The Students
  2. The Students
  3. The Students
  4. The Students
  5. The Students

Contrary to the media and public hype around everything that is outside of the teacher’s control, it is only the focus on their students that your true teacher understands that they can control! With only 180 days to be a positive influence in the education of each child, and knowing they are in the second half stretch, the best teachers know that they must focus on the needs of each child to inspire them. It really is that simple!

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