Thursday, January 26th, 2012

6 ways iPads enhanced a 1st Grade lesson

I had the pleasure of observing a 1st grade lesson this past week that incorporated iPads. The lesson was on “super e”, it was a Language Arts lesson that discussed what the “super e” does when you add it to the end of a word.  As a high school teacher and administrator, it was interesting to watch, mainly because I never really thought about how students learned this skill. Last time I was involved in this lesson was when I was actually in 1st grade.

Anyway, the teacher began with the students on the rug, asked for a couple words that ended in e, one thing lead to another and the kids were back at their seats with a worksheet to fill out based on the activity that involved iPads.

The first app they used was Magnetic ABC, basically an electronic version of magnetic letters.  Students were tasked with pulling a word out of the cup in the middle of the desks (say SHIN), dragging the letters up to the work area, then adding a “super e” to the end (giving them SHINE).  After saying the word they were to write it on their worksheet.

When students completed their worksheet, they moved on to an app called Memory Game Spelling Words. Basically an electronic take on the old concentration game where students were challenged to match “super e” words hidden behind flash cards.

The lesson was very well done. While everything could have been done using traditional manipulatives,  I counted at least 6 ways the iPads enhanced the lesson:

  1. Differentiation: Students completed the Magnetic Letter app activity at much different paces.  Students knew to move on to the Memory Game app when they were finished.  Furthermore, the difficulty of the Memory Game app could be manipulated by the teacher for each student based on ability.
  2. # of repetitions: Because the “magnetic letters” were clearly available at the bottom of the iPad, there was no digging around a tupperware container for the right letter, confusing a p for a d or q for b, or dropping, throwing or eating the letters. Thus the activity ran smoothly and all of those typical 1st grade variables were taken away, giving students much more time on task and eliminating a lot of typical discipline problems. The memory game could be played over and over again, with students playing a new game each time.  Plus, the teacher can control what type of words are on the other side of the cards, so the app can be used over and over again based on the lesson.
  3. Personalization: Students could change the color of the letters, make them capital or lower case and change the background of the workspace.  It gave each of them a unique experience based on their personal preferences.  Everything else in life allows us to use our personal preferences, why shouldn’t students get the same experience in school. Some students chose to make the “e” a different color, some didn’t, that was the beauty of it.
  4. Seamlessness: For lack of a better word, the iPads were integrated seamlessly.  Started right up, no waiting for loading. Apps were preloaded, so the kids tapped them, and they were off.
  5. Engaging: Brightly colored graphics, crisp, clean audio, interactive user interface, appropriately challenging, EVERY student was on task. Why wouldn’t they be?
  6. Time-saving: The teacher didn’t have to check each box of magnetic letters, or create her own memory game. She didn’t have to run off extra “enrichment” worksheets for the students that finished early.

I’m sure there were more ways the iPad enhanced the lesson, I probably could have thrown FUN in there too.  As I think about their effectiveness, this lesson reminded me why we need to get (at least) all of our elementary classrooms outfitted with these tools. They just do too many things…

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

District iPad PoC

Just last week it was finally confirmed that we would be updating some older technology with about 40 iPads for the district in what is being rolled out as a Proof of Concept  (most of us don’t really need proof,  it’s more of a Demonstration of Concept). The idea of @QPrincipal and our Asst Superintendent was to take the old computers from our 6 year cycle that were going to be replaced this year, and update them with a more useful solution.  After much deliberation, we got the green light to purchase the iPads.

With 40 iPads (and a cart) we will be able to have a class-set for students to use and also put some in the hands of teachers and administrators.

@NMHS_Principal has identified a number of ways that they can be useful for admins;  I’ll obviously continue to follow his blog for status updates and tips.  For teachers and students, I have been playing around with the Diigo Web Highlighter App.  This seems like it could be a key player in the success of the iPad in the classroom.  It gives you the ability to highlight text and add sticky notes to content to access later, basically take “notes” without the notebook.  I really like the new ability to view all of your bookmarks as a slideshow.  Teachers and students alike could benefit from that.

We are all very excited here about this opportunity, but know there is a lot of work to be done between now and September.  I’ll be relying heavily upon my PLN for help.  @lthumann’s iPad bookmarks in Diigo will be a great place to start.   Stay tuned…

Monday, March 8th, 2010

More on Twitter in the Classroom

I spent yesterday trying to watch both my 11 month old daughter, and the Livestream of the TEDxNYED event.  I say “tried” because I obviously couldn’t focus on both.

Anyway, my unintended takeaway from the event was one that I’m sure everyone who will read this post is already aware of, teachers need to unlock the power of Twitter!

Here I am with my Macbook connected to my TV, surround sound blasting (b/c the volume of the stream wasn’t very good until the end) chasing a toddler around the house, yet when I visited #TEDxNYED, I was immediately brought up to speed.  All those great statements, profound soundbites and gaps left from listening from the changing table, were expertly documented for me on demand.  It was like I had the Cliffsnotes to the entire day at my fingertips.

Now it doesn’t take a genius to realize that thousands of people “taking notes” on Twitter can memorialize the day better than an independent blogger or note-taker.  My contention is not that Twitter is the savior of education and should be used in every lesson, but when used properly can produce amazing results. How different was I, chasing around a toddler, to a teenager whose mind wanders in and out of a lesson?

The way I see it, these are the reasons Twitter can be a very effective note-taking medium for the classroom (or meeting room for that matter):

  • We all see and hear things differently.  Some kids connect with teachers, some don’t. If I’m not engaged, I have the benefit of seeing the notes from someone who is. The human mind wanders, if all 30 minds in your class wander at the same time, the teacher should probably consider a career change.
  • Eliminate the fear of missing something. The effects of fear on learning are well documented.  Students can focus on the presenter, not the physical act of note-taking.  They can rest assured that someone will undoubtedly post the important information, and maybe focus more on the information being presented.
  • See what others think. Students may not get the chance to discuss their thoughts with others in the class (although they should).  Compiling notes on Twitter would allow them to see what others are thinking, not only in their class, but other classes.  It may also give a voice to the students who aren’t comfortable sharing their thoughts verbally during the class period.
  • Provide a visual component to the discussion. Without getting into the learning style debate, nobody can argue two senses being stimulated is better than one.
  • Easy way to provide notes for someone absent. Or has horrible handwriting, or to allow parents to see what is going on in the class, or proof that their student is/isn’t contributing, or show we DID go over that in class…
  • Saves paper. Not only saves paper, but sometimes kids do forget their notebooks (some kids more than just sometimes). I guarantee they forget cell phones LESS than they forget notebooks.

Again, I don’t think EVERY lesson should involve note-taking of this kind.  Like Chris Lehmann said as he added an exclamation point to the day, which was tweeted and retweeted on #TEDxNYED:

@ jenclevette RT @gottsled: RT @plnaugle: “Technology should be like oxygen: Ubiquitous, Necessary, Invisible.” @chrislehmann #TEDxNYED

It can’t be done as a gimmick, or as an attempt to impress others, but to engage and ultimately help students.

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Techspo 2010 Presentation

Upon further review I’d say our NJASA Techspo 2010 presentation at Bally’s in Atlantic City was a success.  My co-presenter (@Qprincipal) and I had two main reasons for wanting to present at a technology conference:

  1. As former teachers turned administrators, we don’t get the opportunity to do what we set out in this profession to do years ago, which is actually get up in front of a group of people and share a passion.  We just wanted to teach again.
  2. We both see the value and relevance of technology and wanted to take our passion to the next level, from experimenting, to sharing in our district, to sharing with a broader audience.  We wanted to share all the great things we have learned from our PLNs over the past year.

We agreed to create a presentation on creating a PLN, but from a different slant.  I spoke about accessing your PLN primarily through a mobile device (in my case an iPhone) while my partner finished up with a discussion on connecting through a desktop.  We figured it would possibly differentiate the content enough to engage a wider population of technology users.

We had one major fear: That our presentation would be too pedestrian for our audience. We didn’t want there to be a mass exodus from our conference room after 2 minutes, leaving us talking to 3 people who had never heard of Twitter before.  To our satisfaction, we actually had more people at the end of our session than when we started.  (We strategically left the doors open welcoming those who left other presentations, we had no problem being the second or third option.)

The audience was great, asked great questions, seemed to be engaged, and those who already were on Twitter, or had a PLN didn’t look to challenge us, but made some great contributions to the conversation.  We didn’t (and don’t) consider ourselves experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we did want to share what we have learned from those who are (our presentation mentioned Beth Still, Jeff Utecht and Scott McLeod. Thank you all).

All things considered, our main takeaway from this experience is that if it falls on the same weekend next year, we would rather go to Educon.  #educon had so much more action than #techspo.

Sunday, January 24th, 2010


Something that I notice all too much while I’m driving is seeing kids in the passenger seat with headphones on or earbuds in. While this sight may not affect most people, as an educator it boils my blood like the escalator kid from Mallrats.

The car is a great place to talk.  Statistics show reduced drug use and overall better quality of life in families that have frequent sit-down dinners. Why? COMMUNICATION. You can’t tell me that the car isn’t another great place to hold discussions about school, friends, anxiety, or just about anything. This won’t happen ALL the time, but it will NEVER happen if the kid’s tuned out.  It’s the law of large numbers, the more quality time you spend around your kids, the better the chance of a quality conversation happening at some point. Because I know when I was a teen as soon as we got home it was straight to the bedroom to listen to music or watch TV, and that was before the internet and text messaging.

I know I may be seeing a small percentage of kids, outliers if you will, while I drive around. But how many kids does it take to disrupt a class? Just one outlier will do the trick.  I’m not saying every kid who listens to an iPod in the car is a problem, but if little boundaries like this aren’t established at home, it makes them that much more difficult to create at school.

I don’t even want to get into how many kids I see leaving basketball games with their parents carrying sweatpants and wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of winter.

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

A Lesson from Spaghetti Sauce

Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk “What we can learn from spaghetti sauce” holds the key to restructuring our schools. Here’s two of the infinite number of correlations his talk has to public education:

  • Howard Moskawitz revolutionized the food industry.  His theory was that, back in the early 80′s, Pepsi should not be looking for the best Pepsi, they should be looking for the best Pepsis. Meaning there is no one best recipe, but there should be a couple offerings that will cater to a larger audience.  This was ignored by Pepsi at first but taken to the bank by the makers at Ragu. On his advice they were the first to begin offering 3 different types of sauce, regular, spicy and extra chunky.  They cashed in to the tune of $600million over the next 10 years and started this trend among other food manufacturers.  Schools basically offer one type of  (regular) instruction with the only choices coming in the areas of electives.  High Schools need to incorporate alternatives to the 9 period bell-to-bell school day.
  • In doing the research for Ragu, Moskawitz taught us that people generally don’t know what they want nor can they always explain what it is that they are looking for.  All those years of focus groups, never once did a desire for chunky tomato sauce come out. It was for this reason that Gladwell spoke of this platonic notion that in these circumstances a professional or expert in a given area needs to step in and identify what would work best in that particular situation.  His example was a chef  in a restaurant who creates a common reduction to use on multiple plates that he knows will taste best. Disaffected students know and can easily communicate what they DON’T want from a school, but usually have a hard time identifying what exactly would make them get out of bed in the morning.  School leaders need to create “spicy” and “extra chunky” alternatives for kids who are turned off by bland, traditional spaghetti sauce school days.

The spaghetti sauce industry went unchanged for over 30 years. Moskawitz made them realize, as Gladwell put it, “Oh my god, we have been thinking about this all wrong.”  Today Ragu offers approximately 36 types of spaghetti sauce.  Traditional “spaghetti sauce” still has a place in education.  There are a number of students who still benefit from the way it has always been, but every day more and more students fall through the cracks because they are looking for “spicy” or “extra chunky” but it’s not really out there. The New Jersey DOE is doing its part to provide recommendations on how high schools can better prepare students for the 21st century, part of its recommendations involve alternative options to gaining high school credits.  Unfortunately, there are limited options for students who struggle with the traditional school structure, most of them are square pegs trying to be forced into the round holes of a normal school day.  These kids could be better served and actually receive valuable experience for the future and experience success if they could only order off of a less restricted menu.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Research supporting Twitter

After reading the article from Education Week (that was tweeted by too many people to link), Twitter Lesson in 140 Characters or Less by K.Manzo, some comments from Daniel Willingham really bugged me:

referring to Twitter

“It’s not a research-based tool,”

“The most important thing to remember is that we have no idea what impact these tools have on learning, and it will take a decade to answer that question.”

Why does EVERYTHING need to be “data-driven”.  I understand the need for informed decision-making, but I also taught probability and statistics for 8 years.  Anyone who has half a brain knows that data can be manipulated to justify just about anything.

So to Willingham’s point, while I don’t have hard data, I do have my 2 cents which may support the use of Twitter in the classrom during this decade, before we can get the actual hard data that supports its use.  (By the way, I am fine with teachers who THINK it is useful in the classroom using it without said data. I like to think of it as teachers intuition, or just letting professionals use their professional judgement.)

Twitter, like any other Web2.0 technology has a place in education if used properly.  Most eloquently put by @coolcatteacher in the comments to the aforementioned article:

Twitter like all of these other items is just a conduit and certainly as we know about conduits they pretty much are a channel for whatever the humans put into them – whether a piece of PVC pipe carries the chocolate in a chocolate fountain or raw sewage – it isn’t about the pipe but about how the pipe is USED. It is the same thing with Twitter, Facebook or any other tool: it is all in the use.

So I am going to give Willingham the benefit of the doubt that his comments were somehow taken out of context.  I do respect his cynicism of learning styles and their use in the classroom, but their use is like that of technology.  It’s all about how they are used.  But I digress.

As far as I am concerned, I have all the data that I need from my experience with Twitter to know that it does have a place in the classroom.  For those people that need more data, I’d like to take a quote from the esteemed cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham from his Summer 2003 article, Students Remember…What They Think About.

Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in a learner’s memory is not simply the material presented-it is the product of what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material.

And what better way to see, real-time, “what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material”? Actually, is there any other way?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Do we really need a Director of Technology?

Being in a district without a director, supervisor or even a teacher who’s responsibility it is to bring new ideas in technology in to the district has got me thinking, “Do we really need this position after all?”  We expect all teachers to be effectively implementing technology, why shouldn’t EVERY administrator be responsible for helping teachers infuse technology into the curriculum?

Rather than having one person responsible for innovation across the board, wouldn’t it be more effective to have each department supervisor charged with finding technology that would best fit in with their particular content area? Or elementary principals, who should know the needs of their staff and students, be responsible for keeping their teachers up-to-date on what is out their? It would make PD more differentiated (again, what we expect of teachers).

This makes sense to me for two main reasons:

  1. We expect ALL teachers to be using technology effectively, so why shouldn’t administrators be using it and promoting it as well?
  2. While there are some big picture ideas that stretch across all content areas, like collaborative technology and social networking, each content area has its own specific needs. The instructional leader should know what those needs are, and find technology that appropriately meets those specific needs.

An administrator who is looking for new ideas through the lens of his/her specific area can filter out tools that are of no use, and have a better chance of finding quality technology that will.  After all, aren’t they responsible for evaluating staff and staying up-to-date on brain research, pedagogy, state policy and standards? What makes technology any different from any other aspect of a districts’ framework for teaching?

So I think my idea can work, saves money too…

…in theory.

If you want to see the reality of what a district looks like with technicians and engineers responsible for introducing new technology to teachers as opposed to formally trained technology educators, come visit.

We are experts at Powerpoint.

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Bringing Web2.0 to administrators

I was tasked with bringing one web 2.0 technology to the administrators of our district, and introducing it during an Administrative Academy meeting early this September. A colleague who enjoys technology and I put our heads together to try to come up with that one thing, as there are countless quality sites or tools we could use.

As I was thinking about it I looked on my desk to find a photocopied Time magazine article from one of the other assistant principals from our building.  It had the usual string of staff members she wanted to share it with written in the upper right hand corner, my name was obviously highlighted on my version.  The article was on Twitter, and she made some notes throughout the story for us to read, however her writing was cramped in the margins and the photocopier didn’t do much to help matters.

I was then reminded of another article in which I did the same for my colleagues.  It was a FastCompany article discussing Cisco’s use of Web 2.o technologies.  A great article that described Cisco as a company with a mantra of  “We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know.” They made collaboration easy by creating a Facebook-type social network for employees to post what they know or search for what they need.

So, back to my charge. What if I could find a way to share articles, not only with the administrators in my building, but with the entire district, electronically?  Thanks to my PLN, I had stumbled upon Edmodo. To make it easier, I preloaded everyone’s username and password, and introduced it with the use of our newly installed Smartboard and projector in the admin building conference room.

As a result of my presentation we now have the entire admin team of the district on Edmodo. Several principals inquired about possibly using Twitter to communicate with the community, while  a supervisor or two mentioned to me a few days after the meeting that they were checking out Netvibes and wanted some blogs to follow.  We aren’t all fully utilizing Edmodo, I still get the occasional email about an interesting article, but we are making progress.

Our next step looks to be GoogleDocs, I’ll keep you posted…

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Frosh Orientation 2.0

We held our freshman orientation last week in the form of a frosh parent/student ice cream social.  After ice cream donated by the local ice creamery we give a brief Q&A/presentation by the administration to introduce parents and students to the high school.

To build off of last years’ event when we showed Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod‘s Shift Happens2.0, we thought we would try to take the next step in Web 2.0 technology in the form of a wiffiti screen in which parents and students could text questions to be answered by either our administration, or a panel of upperclassmen we had invited to the program.

Overall the event was a success, we requested that parents and students sit next to each other so that the kids could help the parents with texting if necessary.  Our principal enthusiatically began the program with, “Thank you all for coming, as a change of pace I would like you to now take your cellphones OUT.”  Everyone was waiting for the, “and turn them off.”

After a brief description of why, the program began while students and parents alike began to text in their questions. As technology has a nasty habit of doing, the audience seemed engaged and buzzing during an ordinarily dull presentation.  There was definite excitement in the air as students waited to see if their questions would actually appear on the big screen, especially the text that asked, “why is the principal so good looking?”

So looking back, the technology did achieve the goals we set out to accomplish.  The wiffiti;

  • engaged the students and parents,
  • gave a voice to the students/parents who wouldn’t ordinarily speak up,
  • introduced the audience to an application of web 2.0

Unfortunately, our firewall apparently wouldn’t allow comments to scroll through the full version of wiffiti, we were forced to show only the timeline view of the site.  Not nearly as dramatic as the full version you probably have seen at a sports bar or other major event.  The folks at wiffiti were great in trying to help us out, but to no avail.

I haven’t heard any feedback on the program as of yet, we are thinking about possibly incorporating this into a faculty meeting down the line, or possibly a polleverywhere.  It would be nice to model postive uses of cell phones for the staff to hopefully change some preconceived notions that they can only be used for evil.

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