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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Life being unemployed…(Week 3)


Family! Option #1 in Life!

At what point is it time to panic?

I have a reputation of staying calm under pressure. My years playing quarterback in high school and college were key in developing this mindset. The ever changing atmosphere occurring throughout a football game demands a QB that will remain calm and lead his team no matter the situation. Yet, here I am only 3 weeks into this unique situation of being unemployed, with a feeling of uneasiness knowing that he has a family to support.

The messages and conversations with colleagues and friends continue to happen with all of them ending with the same encouraging message of ‘You will be a huge asset to the next opportunity that comes your way. You will land on your feet quickly.’ It is great to hear, but yet, there is a part of me that wonders about the unknown- when and where will the next opportunity come about?

So what is one to do about the negative mindset that is always lurking in the shadows? For me- it is to focus on the positive facts that are present all around me. I have had some great conversations with recruiters and past colleagues with some opportunities that may be promising. I also had one of my blogs 10 Thoughts a Teacher Hopes All Parents Know featured in the writing of Joey Helleny here where he discusses how to Make Your Employees Proud! Where he supports that ask of your employees “Are you proud of where you work?”

“Are you Proud…” is a simple question that I continue to ask of myself and my team as I lead them. It started as a personal philosophy in the classroom with my students that allowed me to judge their work individually rather than my preconceived notions of what I believe was great work. It is a simple question that people are honest about. While I tended to keep a very high bar of success for my students and my team- it is only fair that the end judgement is based on their individual gains, improvements, and successes. If individuals are proud of their work, proud of their team, and proud of their company- success is inevitable, and customer success is manageable.

So every day- I have incorporated the same philosophy into my current situation. My current situation just happens to focus on pursuing opportunities and taking care of the family chores. I have focused on doing my best to create and find opportunities towards the next chapter in my life, but also to help complete the necessary chores around the house when time is available. It allows me to accomplish tasks rather than sit around and lose myself in negative thoughts. It keeps me fresh with my habits of creating task lists, and following up when necessary.

I am also taking the opportunity to focus on my time with my family. To enjoy the little things that make memories. Without the hustle and bustle of everyday demands of work- I have enjoyed watching my son play HS football- as his team is now ranked #1 in New Jersey! I have enjoyed my time driving my daughter to her dance classes, even though sometimes it means a 45 minute drive to drop off, then pick up- both ways! Work/Life balance has always been important to me, and I appreciated the balance given to me by HMH- as I rarely missed anything of significance! But in times like these- I have more appreciation for it!

So as week 3 ended, and week 4 begins- Is it time to panic? Not at all…… I have some great conversations and possible opportunities to look forward to. This will be a marathon, and not a sprint, and I understand this. There are thousands of others who are in the same boat as I am- and there are many people who are great candidates just like me (Heck, I have a short list of great colleagues, also laid off, whom I would build a team with today if given the opportunity!) I just need to continue to wake up everyday, look into the mirror and ask:

Am I Proud? You bet I am!

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Why the 2016 Election will prove America is a Great Country to be a Citizen of!


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There is no doubt that the 2016 Presidential Election has been polarizing. There is no doubt that feelings and opinions about racism and sexism amongst many other issues have been brought into the mainstream conversation. There is no doubt that every individual has wrestled with the question of ‘What is wrong with them? or Can they possibly think like that?’ There is however one doubt that I would like to address, and that is the doubt about how great America is.

The 2016 Presidential Election proved just how great the our country is, and more importantly, just how great the country will continue to be. While many may not like the outcome of the elections, it is a process that allowed the citizens of this nation to voice their opinions and thoughts. The voting process does not allow this to become a simple popularity contest, and thus allowed Donald Trump to win the election. Many will see this as a fault in our system, but like many other aspects built-in, I see this as a solid asset within our electoral system. Again, allowing the people of the United States to have elected the president by what is right for the entire country, not by who is the most popular. It allows the voice of the rural farmer to be just as (loud) important and the voice of the city dweller. One must listen to the needs of the person living in Michigan, just the same as to the person living by the beach in California.

Our system of ‘Checks and Balances’ allows us to be able to accept the election of a Donald Trump, and allow him the opportunity to ‘Make America Great Again’, without giving him the control that a dictator would have. You see, the voice of the people have spoken, and they stated that they wish to give Mr. Trump a chance to drive the car. The keys have been handed to him, BUT there are hurdles that prevent him from simply driving off and wrecking the beautiful automobile he has been given. He will need to work with the House and the Senate to implement changes. With both in Republican favor, this is advantageous for him, but this does not guarantee anything. Mr. Trump actually made things more difficult for himself by bashing all of the republican politicians. He will need to truly reach out and build relationships from scratch on both sides of the floor. This is good, as we need more bi-partisan discussions to make sure that policies put in place are well-balanced. He is restricted in his ability to customize this beautiful car called America. He will have to produce a budget that needs approval, with every single penny spent to be scrutinized. If he is able to find funds and misappropriations of prior budgets and use them for the benefit of his plans to better the lives of the people, then he will be revered for it! However, he doesn’t get to just spend whatever he wants on whatever he wants. The look and feel of this car will stay within the bounds set forth by Congress.

As for how he drives once the customized car has been approved, he will have to follow the laws of the land as dictated by the Supreme Court. Just as President Obama’s vision of Healthcare needed, anything that Mr. Trump would like to implement over the American people will need to be judged as Constitutional by the highest court in the land. He doesn’t get to drive off at 100 mph even if he wanted to. He will not be able to run Red Lights, simply because he wants to continue on his way. It is the supreme power of the Judicial Branch to protect the rights and privileges of the people of the United States! Even if the Republican Party banded together to support Mr. Trump in an unconstitutional bid, it would have to pass through the ruling of the Supreme Court to be implemented into Law.

You see, there are several factors that make our government the best in the world. Our right to vote is one of them. If ‘we the people’ do not like the direction the country is going, then we get to elect someone in place of those in office. Where the election of 2016 will make us stronger is in the fact that it has awoken the American people in holding our government officials responsible. This election was about the presidential race, but I believe that with a Republican sweep of House, Senate, and Presidential Office – the people will be closely watching how each of their elected officials conduct themselves.

While it was evident the Republican party did everything it could to keep President Obama from implementing anything they did not agree with to a fault, it is also evident that there will be no excuses should the well-being of the people and this country begin to falter under Mr. Trump. It will be those Republicans in office who will need to be voted out should falter, and it will be those same Republicans who will benefit with a re-election should the country blossom. This is why we need to give Mr. Trump and all the elected officials the chance they earned to ‘Make America Great Again’, even if you feel that America was already on that path under President Obama.

Whether you believe that Mr. Trump is the worst person to lead this country, or the best person to lead this country, only time will tell. What we have learned is that our electoral system has spoken for the American citizens loud and clear. So, if you are not happy with the results of the election, or more importantly, from the resulting situation years from now- it is clear that you will need to let YOUR VOICE be heard in the elections to be held in 2 years, and again in 4 years!  See you then and remember that we will once again be able to continue on a path chosen, or choose another path not yet travelled down!

The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave!!

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Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?


Bridge
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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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Thank You!

3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!


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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

As a teacher and parent, I find there are many opportunities to be open and honest with students. By doing so, you can build a solid level of trust from which you can build a solid relationship. Many educators are afraid to be truthful with students for fear that they will hurt the fragile self-esteem.  How can we tell students that success is getting up one more time than they have been knocked down- if they have never been knocked down? How is a child supposed to build self-esteem without ever having to hear negativity? You see, it is not that you provide negative feedback, but rather what you follow-up your statement with!

  1. “You are being LAZY”- I actually had a principal who hounded me for over 3 years to “be more diplomatic” when I spoke to students and parents. During this time, not a single complaint was ever brought to her attention, as it was only her issue with me. She even gave me a book to read “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine. (I don’t think she thought I would read it.) After reading about half of the book, which brought out some good points, I found a paragraph where the author had contradicted himself, highlighted it, and returned it after the weekend. The premise for her was that LAZY was a label, and I should use the word unmotivated as they could become motivated. In being a good teacher, I gave it a try for 2 weeks, with which my students and a parent (during parent conferences) stopped me and said “You mean (I’m being) LAZY”? YES, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You see, it was not that I was labeling anyone, but just being truthful. The students and parents understood this because I would similarly praise students when their work was Spectacular or Excellent! The statement allows every student to know what you mean with clarity, and as long as you are praising their positive efforts, you have every right and student’s understanding that their work is unmotivating. 😉
  2. “I am disappointed with you(r actions)”- This is an extremely powerful statement to make when you have a great relationship with your class. Throughout any school year, there are so many A-HA moments and times to recognize positive behaviors that students revel in the wave of positive feedback. Especially in elementary school, students attend with the objective to be the best student and impress their teachers. Just walk through the hallways on the first day of school if you don’t understand this. If you are meeting your students at their level, and forging a relationship built on each student giving their best effort to improve everyday, then this one phrase is all you need to hit home an important point. This phrase MUST be followed with a sincere conversation about what disappointed you, and what the student needs to do to recover. It requires a true love of the student to then say “I am PROUD of YOU”! When you get to this point, your students’ trust in you, and will be motivated to do their best everyday (except for those bad days that always come along)! There truly is nothing more motivating for kids today than to have someone who is truly PROUD of them!
  3. “It’s NOT good enough”-  Whether you are talking about grades, effort, or attitude, there is nothing wrong with letting your students know the truth.  The truth is what they want to hear. they may not like it, but they will respect you more if you speak it. This is for every student at their level of failure. If a student gets a 90, everyone’s first reaction is to praise, however, a 90 score should draw a “It’s NOT good enough” for your best students. Why should your top students expect anything less? Didn’t you promise to push each and every one of them to reach their full potential? If the A student is short of a 100% due to a lack of focus, you must let them know. If your C student gets a C+, you must let them know how PROUD you are of them, but you must also motivate by letting them know not to be satisfied. To push every student at their level to become better and push their potential should be the goal in every classroom. It is only then that you are truly teaching to every student to give an effort that is good enough!

In the end, it comes down to the students. We talk about differentiated instruction- but this is a myth. There should never be any talk about differentiated instruction as the foundation of the job is built on the premise of doing so. If you are truly differentiating, it should be in your efforts to reach your students each and every day! You can talk about providing different content to your students, but the content is not going to change broadly. You can, however, change the attitude of which each student approaches learning!