Category Archives: Techy

Taking a Dip in the SAMR Swimming Pool

Dr. Ruben Puentadura in Boston - Nov 2013

Dr. Ruben Puentedura in Boston – Nov 2013

I recently got to watch the SAMR master himself, Dr. Ruben Puentedura take the stage at iPad Summit Boston.  His SAMR model research is based on years of observing one-to-one technology integration in Maine’s Student Laptop initiative (now called MLTI as we love acronyms in education).  At it’s simplest form, the SAMR model states that when you introduce technology to an environment, like a classroom, generally the first thing the user will do is figure out a way to use technology as a Substitute for an existing task.  As you “climb up the SAMR ladder” you see a shift of pedagogical practice from teacher-centered to student-driven.  This is exemplified by the “R” in SAMR which stands for Redefinition – or, simply put, when technology allows for a creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

SAMR Ladder

SAMR “Ladder” Model

When researching our own 1:1, I kept running into this research and the more I delved into it, the more I understood and realized that in reality, it’s not a ladder at all that we are trying to climb, but something a little more nebulous and fluid.  The problem with the “ladder” visual is  teachers may think they have accomplished all they need to once they reach the “R” in SAMR and don’t know what to do next. This part of the visual really troubled me when talking with parents, teachers and administrators. Enter our middle school Ed Tech, Greg Garner (@classroom_tech).  His approach to SAMR was simple: It isn’t a ladder that we should try to climb, but instead a pool that we need to be swimming in.

I loved his analogy because I felt it provided a better reality of what happens with SAMR in a classroom on a day-to-day basis. It even inspired me to make this clever graphic (see below).

So with full credit to Greg, here’s a quick overview of what I think it means to swim in the SAMR Swimming Pool:

Enhancement Shallow End -

You have to be comfortable wading in the water before you can venture into the deep.  The ideas behind Substitution and Augmentation are that you are swimming in the pool of technology integration, but you don’t have to wear yourself out treading water. As a teacher, you know you can always just stand up and breathe.  These tasks are simply technological extensions of your everyday teaching and if things get really messy, you can always step out of the pool and still get a majority of your goals accomplished.  Sure, it won’t be as stimulating or engaging, but learning and traditional teaching can still happen around the edges. (just NO running!)

Similarly, like when entering a pool that’s not at the ideal temperature, teachers sometimes need to walk in slowly, allowing their bodies to adjust to this shift.  Some can just jump right in, knowing their bodies will eventually adjust, and at the same time knowing they can just stand up and jump out if they need to.  Others need time, going in step by step slowly and at times gasping when their body enters the depths of new pedagogical practice.

This idea of touching their toe in the water of technology integration is not new.  A majority of our teachers want to test the water several times before fully submerging in it.  If something should go wrong and they get water up their nose, it could be weeks before they are comfortable venturing back in.  Eventually, they will get comfortable wading in the shallow end and want to venture out past the rope into the depths beyond basic technology integration.

Transformative Deep End - 

Once you cross the rope, you will not be able to stand up (except maybe hopping on your tiptoes for  a little while).  Someone venturing into this end of the pool, must have confidence in their teaching and know that they can tread water at times, but when things are going right and redefinition is happening, it’s almost like you can walk on water.

This doesn’t happen everyday, but without the practice of stumbling around in the shallow end of the pool, teachers can drown by trying to go into the deep end too quickly. They need to think about the purpose of swimming there.  Some may decide to jump off the diving board straight into the deep end and learn how to integrate from day one with a particular learning objective.  Others, elect to take swimming lessons (Professional Development) and use the occasional swim noodle (instructional technology integrators) to help them stay afloat.   In addition, they will want to make sure that a lifeguard (Principal) is on hand should they begin to really struggle and possibly blow the whistle when they need to take a break.

The bottom line is without time, practice, support, and motivation, rarely would a teacher elect to venture into that deep end of SAMR.  The amazing thing is, once a teacher does enter that realm, they may realize that they aren’t swimming alone.  Swimming in the transformative deep end doesn’t mean the students are on the side of the pool cheering you on. It means they are in the pool with you – working, collaborating, problem-solving, and creating their future with you at their side.


Being Digitally Naked – Are We Too Connected?

The Famous Sign

You ever have that heart-stopping feeling of fright when you leave the house without your phone? What about that feeling of exposure when you are the dentist office and realize you don’t have your favorite tablet to help you pass the time while catching up on episodes of Orange is the New Black?  Isn’t amazing how quickly we’ve become attached to our devices?  They’ve become more than an accessory, they’ve become part of our clothes.  You wouldn’t leave the house without clothes on would you?

In September, I attended the Mobile 2013 Experience in Arizona and was faced with quite a conundrum.  My phone was about to die and we were heading into the networking reception part of the event.  I didn’t want to carry an iPad or laptop around with me, but didn’t want to be disconnected.  It dawned on me the irony that I was about to head into a networking event and felt the need the to carry my phone with me to stay connected. Much like Linus of Peanuts fame, my iPhone is my security blanket.    I figured I had two options at that point – Either stay in my room and communicate and connect digitally with folks or actually go into the event without my device.

I decided take the plunge and leave my room without my “clothes” on.  Something amazing happened during my couple of hours of wandering around “digitally naked.”

No one seemed to notice.

I didn’t get any embarrassing looks from people at the event despite the noticeable nervous discomfort on my face.  Not only was anyone aware of my digital nudity, but some other strange things started to happen while I skinny-dipped around the room:

The “uncomfortable pause” became really uncomfortable

We’ve become uncomfortable with the uncomfortable pause (pretty meta don’t you think?).  Louis CK had a brilliant rant on a recent Conan appearance about the very reason we can’t do this even when we are ALONE.  I realized how hard it was to stand there and look around a room without my blanket to save me.  Now I can see where thumb-twiddling became all the rage in the 19th century! Only now we have thumb-texting to past the time.   After virtual streaking through the room and kicking the invisible dirt on the carpet, I realized what I had to do next.

I had to talk to people

I consider myself a very social, extroverted person.  That said, there’s still something uncomfortable about going into a crowd of strangers and engaging in conversation.  Luckily for me, while I was digitally naked, my social-media presence made it easier to make connections with people in “3D”.   Even if I couldn’t show a stranger the clever ecard or cat video from the web on my phone, I could tell them a story about it and laugh at my own inside jokes.  While this was awkward at first, I harkened back to my pre-Smartphone days to pull in some age-old tricks like eye contact and active listening to make it go smoother.   And whenever that didn’t work, I just verbalized “hashtag”* to get my geeky joke across. (*Timberlake, J & Fallon J, 2013)

I experienced “phantom vibration”

Me and my security blanket

Me and my security iBlanket #LinusChat

Crazy as it may sound, I actually felt my leg vibrate right where my phone would normally be in my pocket.  The eerie part about it was that it felt exactly like the amount of pressure and length a “text vibration” would feel like.  Imagine my embarrassment when I would reach down to my empty pocket quickly and discover there isn’t anything there.  I called it a phantom vibration as it reminded me of the stories of people who had lost a limb yet still “felt” its existence.  This happened more often than I would comfortably admit here, but lets just say I’m pretty sure people at this event saw me as some either a crazy person swatting invisible bugs off his leg or a pseudo-athlete with a reoccurring quadriceps cramp.

I felt exposed and liberated

There was something liberating about not having to check my phone every 12 seconds.  It took some getting used to, don’t get me wrong. At one point I thought I was having a panic attack, which when coupled with my phantom leg slapping probably didn’t help with my approachability.  That said, I almost felt as though reality got a little bit brighter when I didn’t have that tiny screen staring back up at me every so often.

Colors seemed more vibrant.

Smells seemed more acute.

I had gone from panic attack to a euphoric state of being.  I felt myself almost floating around the room.

The world didn’t end 

When I finally did return back to my room where my now fully-charged phone awaited, I was astonished to see that EVERYTHING was ok.  I had told my family what I was doing before heading out of the room and quickly alerted them to my safe return to put their minds at ease.  The district didn’t suffer from any major outages or set-backs.  Sure, I may have missed a couple of emails and tweets, but nothing very pressing.  The world can survive without me being connected to it!

What does all this mean?  Well, you might be saying to yourself, Carl is way too connected.  You’d have a point there.  I mean the very fact that I’m blogging about this is a testament to that need for digital clothing.   However, this brief digital skinny dip taught me something else.  That I can survive, albeit briefly, without that constant connection.

When I returned home after that pilgrimage to the desert of Arizona, I decided that being digitally naked meant being MORE connected with those around me physically.  And when staring down at those 3 little cherubic faces at home, I realized that I’d much rather have them stare back up at me than that tiny screen.

What am I missing out on here?

What am I missing out on here? (p.s. – They are posing for me in this pic, but is it that far-fetched?)

Editor’s Note: October is Connected Educator’s Month

Why Your 1:1 Deployment Will Fail

keep-calm-and-prepare-to-fail-1So your district or school is planning or in the process of implementing some sort of 1:1 device initiative.  Seeing as these are all the rage, seems like it’s a given that your deployment will be a smashing success, right?  Here’s the truth….

…it will fail.

It may not be monumental failure, but parts of your deployment will not work.  Whether it be the MDM that manages them or the rising stack of parent concerns, you will be faced with a choice as a district: retreat or carry on.  In the wake of the LAUSD story and the recent Ft. Bend ISD news here in Texas about ‘re-evaluating’ their deployments, I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on why some deployments work and some don’t work.  I’ll let you know that our deployment was far from flawless, as I’ve listed here, but we had tools in place to overcome issues before they became an “Implementation Killer”.

The Importance of Buy-In

A leader trying to make a splash in student learning can sometimes forget one of the most simple steps — community buy-in.  While giving a device can be a transformative learning experience, without some initial buy-in from teacher leaders and community members, it will ultimately fail.  This buy-in is the foundation by which all programs succeed.  Having a strong foundation based on community buy-in means being able to weather the storm of students breaking restrictions or teachers being frustrated by initial classroom distraction.  In our district we held 27 different meetings/presentations to staff and the community to talk about the program and its expectations over the course of the first couple of years.

Going too Fast

Technology changes by the milli-second, so there is a sense of urgency to go from pilot to full-fledged implementation overnight.  This is a natural instinct, especially from those wanting to make sure that all students are on the same model of device.  Unless your district is on the small-side (less than 1000 students), figure on it taking 2-3 years before you have widespread effective implementation.  Can you deploy all the devices in one year?  Sure, but be prepared for multiple fires to put out and for a very basic level of integration of the devices in the classroom.  It’s much easier to focus you attention on smaller scenarios and fan the flames of its success into a larger implementation, rather than just have the equivalent of widespread panic throughout your buildings due to lack of support, direction and successful pilot scenarios.

Focusing on the Device

Being a part of an “iPad 1:1″ means there’s immediately a label and focus on the device.  If you make your program centered around the type of device you are getting, be it an android or a Chromebook, and not around the “how and why” you are doing the 1:1, you’ll make your program obsolete before it gets going. Focus your 1:1 on district goals and missions with intentional omission of what type of device you’ll use to achieve this transformative learning.  By NOT focusing on a device, you can be nimble with future implementations and not pigeon-hole yourself into one type of device.  It takes lots of different tools/resources to achieve a higher-level of student-driven learning.

Not Letting Instruction Guide Your Pilot 

Everyone is under a time crunch.  The tech department’s main job is to optimize the way devices are deployed.  This usually means that it’ll be disruptive to the classroom in some form or fashion.   If you base your initial deployment on location, demographics, or ease of rollout on the technology department, you’ll have some serious problems.  Rather than do that, focus your initial pilot on those teams or grade levels that are the most ready and open to change.  Not only will you likely have more successes to share from this group of early adopters, they will also be much more understanding when certain things don’t work. Much like the buy-in comment above, they will also be the ones that ultimately decide whether district-wide expansion is a “Must” or just a “nice to have” for all other grade levels.  Choose this group wisely….

failure quote copy

Drive-by Training

Many districts that deploy a certain device to a group also hire built-in trainers from the company that supplied the device.  While this is better than nothing, this training is usually focused on how to use the device technically with a couple of classroom examples thrown into the mix if you are lucky.  A deeper understanding of classroom integration is needed (and repeated).  This doesn’t happen overnight or over the course of a 2-day training seminar.  Districts wanting to reach those lofty goals of transforming instruction need to think about investing in either continual outsourced training from a trusted company (ideally one not tied to a particular device) or hiring staff full-time to provide just-in-time training throughout the year.  One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed my work with EdTechTeacher is that they are focused on this kind of transformational integration in their workshop offerings to schools that can’t afford a full-time person.  In my district, I’m fortunate enough to have a great team of “iVengers” to provide this, but again, where many districts go wrong is mentality that just dropping the devices into classrooms will make magic happen.  These are a gift with a tail and it’s time we made it a priority to pay for that tail.

Investing in Parents 

Parents can be an X-factor in any deployment.  They can either be supportive or drive your deployment into the ground by strumming up enough negative support.  It’s important to realize that these devices are not only disruptive to learning in the classroom but also to the rules and guidelines set-up in the home.  While many students that take these devices home likely have their own device, supplying a device from the district means that it doesn’t belong to the family and some parents may feel uncomfortable putting rules and restrictions on this device.  It’s imperative that parents have options to control these devices in some format while under their roof.  This can be as simple as not letting little Junior install his own apps or requiring the student complete a list of choirs prior to having the WiFi password for the day.  As painful as it can be at the moment, some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had during our deployment has come from parents not pleased with what we were doing initially.   Giving them the digital tools and reinforcing their ability to “be a parent” go a long way in turning those most ardent critics into supporters of your program.  In many cases, the conversations around digital wellness need to be happening before their child goes off to college.  Your 1:1 deployment just brought that necessity to light so both the school and the parents should take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with students on what’s right or wrong in the digital world.

giftoftimeHave Patience and Give the Gift of Time

If you are spearheading a 1:1 deployment or a teacher on the leading edge of it, you might be frustrated by the lack of others to get on the bus right away.  In order to make the shift to a student-centered instructional model with the device and teacher supporting the learning, it takes time and patience.  In some cases you are dealing with accomplished teachers that have been highly successful with they way they have been teaching for the past 30 some odd years. This new disruption could be an affront to their pedagogical ideals if they weren’t involved in the process (see first point on buy-in).   While you’ll always have early adopters and innovators with a new device, it’s getting the next group on board that will create a tipping point of momentum towards your goals. This group of accomplished teachers makes up about 80% of your staff and for them, they need to see how this technology will not only make their lives easier, but also will make learning more meaningful for students.  In some cases, this may only take one “aha” moment.  In the case of the skeptical teacher it could take months or years to convince them there might be a better way. At any rate, have patience and give staff time together to plan and share their integration strategies.  Giving the gift of time (in our case common-planning periods) for a team of teachers allows them freedom to think and try out new ideas in a safe environment.   Some of the most powerful teaching and learning strategies come from this informal get togethers.  If at all possible, build this time into the schedule of those in your pilot or full deployment.  It’ll be a gift that keeps on giving.

Bottom line – If you follow all this advice, will parts of your deployment still fail?  Yes.  There’s no way to account for every single variable that will come your way on this adventure.  However, if you have invested in these areas before, during and after deployment, you’ll find that your recovery from little failures are not only possible, you’ll become a much stronger team of teachers and learners as a result of it.

Editor’s Note: For those of you that enjoyed this post, please check out its companion post on 7 Ways to Sabotage a Device Initiative posted in Edudemic. 

Leap Motion: My Non-Minority Report

After months of waiting and anticipation, my Leap Motion finally arrived last week.   I was eager to get started “playing” with it and see if it really is as cool as their promo video makes it out to be and what educational benefits it might have.  What follows is my review of their product and some ideas for potential educational use.

It's finally here!

It’s finally here!

Packaging, Presentation and Set-up: 

From the get go, the box and packaging has a very “Apple” feel to it.  It’s a simple white box with the Leap controller reflected on the cover.  Inside, you’ll discover the Leap controller, two USB cords of different lengths and a simple getting started guide.  The sticker on the Leap controller advises you to go to a set-up site first and download the driver for your computer and the AirSpace store.  This is the app store for the device and it surprisingly already has quite a few apps in there.  Following a brief set-up and orientation, the Leap is configured and ready to go in a matter of minutes.

Early Glitches and Perceptions:

Running through the orientation on my Macbook Air didn’t seem to cause many problems.  I noticed once I launched it my screen resolution changed,(much like when you plug in an A/V adapter)  but didn’t think much about it.  As I was in a meeting when I set this up, I tried not to draw much attention to myself, but I found that next to impossible.  Some people across the room thought I was waving and pointing at them.  Another person asked if I was feeling ok because it looked like I was conducting an invisible orchestra with music in my head.  I could tell right away that the very act of physical motion with this device is new and distracting to others around the room.  Sitting in a board meeting, I can’t imagine my Superintendent using this to look at her computer as it might appear like she’s swatting at invisible gnats.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 2.57.29 PM

Orientating my hands on the screen

Besides the physical nuances, I noticed some glitches when I installed it on my 27″ iMac.  The orientation didn’t seem to go well and it was very jerky, almost like it was having a hard time processing.  I shut down all other programs and had the same issue, but discovered that my screen resolution was causing problems.  I changed it to 1920X1080 and it started working with little to no issues.  Unlike my MacBook, my iMac didn’t detect and automatically change resolution.  I’m guessing those folks with PCs and Macs will need to adjust this a bit before really taking off with it.

AirSpace Store:

Being a cheapskate when it comes to apps, I created my AirSpace account and immediately dove into the Free App section.   As of this post there were 28 free apps in the AirSpace store. The store seemed evenly split when it came apps for various platforms (78 for MacOS and 82 for Windows) although I was disappointed to see there were no Android or iOS options. One glitch I noticed on my iMac was the lack of icons in the AirSpace program.  I could see the names of the apps I had downloaded but no icons for them. (they do appear on my MacBook which is strange)


While the AirSpace program (which is downloaded on your computer before use) had some pre-installed apps, I decided to try out a few freebies too.  Boom Ball was by far the most interactive and least glitchy.  Imagine the 80′s game “Breakout” only with a 3D element and you use your finger at various angles to control where the ball will go next.  Another game I tried was Roshambo.  Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is: Rock-paper-scissors with a computer generated contestant (in this case a pirate in a bar it would seem). Being a new store, they have “Free App Fridays” where an app will go free for 24 hours on Fridays.  Since there are only so many apps, I could probably get most of the apps in the next few months for free.


While the games were interesting I also wanted to see what kind of tools and learning apps were available.  The Molecules and CyberScience 3D app have some serious potential, especially for kinesthetic learners.  Imagine being able to move an item around with your hands?  It’s almost like we are living in the Minority Report!

One tool that I was most interested in, was the most basic: Touchless for Mac.  This allows me to turn my finger into a mouse.  I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but I wondered how this could help my productivity by being able to move windows out of the way and open and close things without the cumbersome need to move a mouse around.  Unfortunately, this was not as great as I thought at first as it does take quite a bit of time to get use to moving your finger around (keeping your hand very still is the key).  Alas, my dreams for Minority Report like control will have to wait, as I wasn’t able to “grab” and move windows around or zoom in and out with this tool.

Pros & Cons:

Cons: As this was a first generation device, I knew there would be some negatives with being the first of its kind.  Here are a few items that I hope will improve with future generations:

  • General glitches and the need to be used at certain screen resolutions.
  • Not a lot of choices in the App store, but I know this is just starting.
  • The device is limited to just two platforms for use.  I’m hoping they think to expand that in the future.
  • The games were fun but I was hoping for more in the educational realm, but I imagine that will expand as well.  One major thing I wish was different was the fact that it connects via usb.  I was hopeful it would have a bluetooth connection so I could really stretch the limits of where I’m using it.  There might still be a way to rig that, but I’m thinking they should make second generation bluetooth capable. (like my keyboard and mouse)

Pros: Being the first of its kind does have merit.  Here are a few items I particularly like:

  • Setup is very easy.  Just launch the site, download the necessary software and the orientation starts. 
  • The AirSpace store is web-based, has a clean design and very easy to navigate.
  • The early apps really highlight the potential of the device.  Between the games and the educational apps, there is some serious creative potential here and you feel it when you interact with the various apps.
  • It’s new.  I know that seems cheesy, but the fact that I’m doing something different, moving things with my hands, it feels different and exciting.  That newness will wear off which is why the app store needs to continue to grow.

Overall Experience:

I will definitely say that the interaction with the Leap Motion is the closest I’ve ever come to the feeling I had when I first interacted with the iPad.  That sci-fi feeling and the newness of maneuvering items through the air around your computer without a mouse, keyboard or screen-touch is pretty unique.   I think the potential educational benefits of this device are great, assuming the address some of the cons listed.  Being in a 1:1 environment, it would be very strange to walk into a classroom with each kid using this device.  It would look like some weird combination of Grease’s hand-jive and “the wave”, but eventually I can really see the kinesthetic learner loving this.  We ask our kids to sit in the same spot for hours on end, and this could really open up the mind through movement.  The potential for this device and the many knock-offs to come is potentially powerful.  I think the early price point is a little steep ($79.99 at BestBuy), but to be expected with a new device.  (For frame of reference a bluetooth mouse is about a 1/4th of the price) That said I’m excited to see where and how this potential fits in our educational space.

Tom Cruise? Maybe not...

Tom Cruise? Maybe not…

The Obituary of the Student Desk 1887-2013

StudentDeskThe Student Desk (known by several aliases, most notably the Classroom Desk) died today when teachers at Bridge Point Elementary school in Austin, TX discovered that learning could happen in a variety of spaces that no longer necessitated their use. “We just feel like kids in this new mobile age don’t need to be confined to a small, uncomfortable desk.” said one teacher who chose to remain nameless for the purposes of this obituary

Student Desks had a rich history in public education. Descended from its “parent” Anna Breadin, who is credited with “birthing” (designing and patenting) the student desk in the late 1880′s, the Student Desk really found a moment of growth and boom during the 1940′s. In this Industrial Age, when the need to put things in neat rows was prevalent, learning needed to take place in much the same way as factory assembly lines. Why would students need to move around the classroom? The only time students needed to move was to go to the bathroom and you better really had to go because it entailed carrying around a large wooden keychain that said, “Hall Pass”. Much like the ballyhooed and unrelated bell curve chart, it seemed that the Student Desk’s middle age was a time of great dominance in the classroom of America.


The Student Desk had a life-long fascination with putting students’ rear-ends to sleep, a trait it mastered by the mid-1950′s. The 50′s were a time of transformation for the Student Desk’s life as it became a tool for protecting students during the “Duck and cover” days of cold war-era America. The Student Desk came in all shapes in sizes, especially by the 1960′s, a time of cultural change in our country. Tie-dye models and desks made from hemp would be built and later destroyed during this time, but one thing remained constant – their severe lack of mobility and comfort.

Through the decades the Student Desk persevered through tough times, like the “Pencil graffiti” years of the 1970′s when students felt like its top was their own personal canvas. The 1980′s were no easier for the life of the Student Desk as numerous spit-puddles attacked their tops by sleeping, drooling teens (a trend made popular as witnessed at the :52 second mark in this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)


“Pencil Graffiti”

Despite these rough times, the Student Desk maintained its dominance in the American school system. Indeed, it seemed like nothing could stop the proliferation of the standard Student Desk in our school systems until the dreaded 2010′s. This was the beginning of the end for the Student Desk. This dark time in the Desk’s life began innocently enough. Schools were looking for ways to get more access to learning in the hands of kids. While this seemed like a novel idea to the Desk, one that would pass in time (like those 1:1 Lava Lamp days of 1968-69), this concept seemed to have staying power. The last few years of the Desk’s life would be a blur. Students began to come to class with some smartphone thingy and schools were even issuing tablets to kids. The Student Desk was no longer needed for physical support as it was in the past.

As preposterous as it sounds, this new idea of learning with mobile devices also meant that the Desk’s other primary strength (its ability to create neat rows) was no longer a necessity. Students needed to be able to move around and work in a variety of ways; individually, in small groups, or as a whole. The teacher no longer need to relay information down the rows, instead learning could happen anywhere and everywhere in the classroom.

Depressed and no longer needed, the Student Desk ended its life by throwing itself into a giant wood-chipper behind the school. The Desk is survived by aged relatives like the pencil, the paper notebook, daylight savings time, and as of this writing, the paper textbook (which is currently on life-support in a Santa Monica area hospital). In lieu of flowers the Desk asks that you plant a tree in its honor for the wood that was used to make the desk and offer a donation to the Chiropractors Helping Ailing Inflamed Rears Society (C.H.A.I.R.S.).

Finally, the family asks that in honor of the Student Desk that you write your school board and administration to rid classrooms of its kind. It’s time to move on people.

For more in depth ideas of what the classroom sans Student Desk looks like, see this post on the BPE Bobcat blog. Also see pictures below classrooms by two Bridge Point elementary teachers and watch this news clip recently released following the demise of the Student Desk.

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Cultivating Excellence Through Contagious Passion – My #ADE2013 Recap

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ADE Launch Day

My brain hurts.

It’s not a head ache from lack of hydration or sleep. It’s more like a muscle pain.  Like when you work out for a long time and wake up the next day all sore. That’s how my brain feels.  It just had the work-out of its life.

Apple Distinguished Educator Institute (#ADE2013) ended this past Friday and my brain still hasn’t recovered.  I consider the 5-day institute the best professional development I’ve ever had.  My mind was attacked from all different angles, forcing it to grow and interact like never before. It wasn’t just the sessions (which were extraordinary), it was the people.

Applying to be an ADE is not an easy process.  It includes some lengthy essays about work you have been doing and a 2-minute video showcasing how you’ve used Apple products to help further educational excellence. Thousands of educators across the country apply and only 75 of the best of the best are selected. I described it to friends as being chosen as an ADE is like being knighted in the world of Ed Tech.  This year’s institute got turned it up a notch by including Canada and Mexico for an all-encompassing North American Institute here in Austin,TX.

After you include the Apple employees, past ADEs, and several app designers, there were around 400 people at this year’s event. The amount of amazing educators across our continent was palpable from the the opening ceremony to the wrap-up party.   While I can’t share much of what I’ve learned on this blog for privacy reasons, I do know my district will directly benefit from the material I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made.  Add to the mix that 3 of us from Eanes made this year’s class (Cathy Yenca – @mathycathy & Lisa Johnson -@techchef4u) and I think our district will truly reap some rewards of our time at the institute.

Aside from the amazing sessions, this institute really focused on stretching and expanding your Professional Learning Network (PLN).  One thing I worried about when arriving here were the amount of Type-A personalities being in the same room.  You might think that could lead to some level of competitiveness or showmanship.  While there was a lot of pride in the work we are all doing, I never got the sense that anyone was trying to show-off.  If anything, the opposite was true.  We were all there to share and learn from each other.  As I wrote earlier in the week, excuses were the only thing missing from this event, which was refreshing.

Contagious Passion

The energy and enthusiasm for education here was truly a one-of-a-kind feeling.  I’ve been at other major Ed Tech conferences, but none of them had this level of what I call “contagious passion.”  You could see attendees eyes lighting up everywhere, whether it be a brief lunch discussion or during a passing moment waiting for the next session.  It turns out that much of this doesn’t happen by accident.

Apple designed this event to give the attendees multiple opportunities to collaborate over shared passions.  While our main PLN was given a task, I found myself also gravitating toward others that didn’t necessarily share the same interests, but the same passion for educational progress and transformation.

Excellence Around Every Corner

I quickly abandoned a majority of my assignment for the academy (which isn’t due until next month) when I

realized that working individually would take time away from the brilliant educators walking all around me. I could work on the project later, but for this event, I wanted to make the most out of every minute of conversation.  Besides the lack of excuses, it seemed that all the attendees shared some sort of other talent, whether it be music or art or understated humor (Yes, I’m talking about you Sean Junkins!)

Here is a small sample of some of the amazing folks I had the pleasure of interacting with this past week: (Apologies in advance for all the name-dropping)

Reshan Richards (@reshanrichards @explainevrything)- I first learned about Reshan from Lisa Johnson. She mentioned this charismatic app-creator that I simply had to meet.  He is the creator of the Explain Everything app, but more importantly than that, he’s an educator.  I didn’t get near enough time with Reshan but his enthusiasm is electric.  Not only did he make a remarkable app, but he’s also getting his PhD this November.  Talk about a life-long learner!

Paul Yip (@DarthMacGoogle) – Paul was one of many Canadians I came to know and appreciate.  He’s working on stretching the boundaries of a mobile classroom through Apple TVs. The power of having teachers and students untethered in his classrooms further his vision of student-centered learning.

Rebecca Stockley (@RebeccaStockley) - One of the things I loved about the institute was the opportunity for attendees and presenters to intermingle.  Rebecca is an ADE alumni who also writes on the site  She was magical in getting the energy up in a room full of 400 weary travelers and I made a point of making most of her improv sessions.  I loved the mix of non-tech in an event like this as it really comes down to making connections.  If you ever get a chance to see her in action at an event, don’t miss it. Trust me.

Don Orth (@finddonorth) – Don and I both recently joined up with the EdTechTeacher team.  Don couples his California laid-back style with some serious educational edge. Walking around in flip-flops and discussing classroom design, he’s a bit like the “Moses for Learning Spaces” in education.

James Richardson (@PrincipalJRich) – James is the principal of a “No Excuses” middle school in Maryland. He’s working long and hard at make Fullan’s Implementation Dip non-existent and is a passionate advocate for personalized learning.  We would all benefit from having a campus leader like him in our districts.

Michelle Cordy (@cordym) – I could write an entire post about the Canadians at this event, but I need to mention Michelle.  She has unmatched energy.  I used to fancy myself a “beacon of Ed Tech light” until I ran into her at ISTE last month.  She has no filter and no excuses when it comes to education and I truly feel she could accomplish anything she puts her mind to.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she became the first Canadian female president of the US. (and I’m not kidding, she’s that persuasive)

Patrick Fogarty (@fogarty22) – Patrick came to the event from the great state of Brooklyn.  Yes, I called Brooklyn a state.  His knowledge of one-to-one deployments in schools is unparalleled. He actually beat me to the punch and published a book on one-to-one deployments last April which I can’t wait to read.  Besides being a writer, he’s also a remarkable visual storyteller, as witness by his “3-in-1” presentation to close out day 4. I’m excited to connect with him and discuss the power of one-to-one in schools going forward.

How many ADEs can you fit in the back of a pickup? #ADEBustOut

How many ADEs can you fit in the back of a pickup? #ADEBustOut

Antonio Manriquez (@ajmanx) – I’ll end with another Californian and a class of 2011 alumni.  Tony is video production teacher at Hollywood High School.  I mean, how cool is that first of all?  I was lucky enough to hijack some time with him via our #ADEBustouts for BBQ, bats, and donuts.  While I fancy myself an amateur film-producer, a few minutes with Tony told me I have a lot to learn. I’m hoping to discuss future film projects with him and want him to be a part of our next iPadpalooza event (where we’ll introduce a film festival portion).

There are dozens of others I enjoyed my time with and could probably write a blog just on Chris McGee’s somersaults or Jon Patry’s bow ties and “Vader Glare”, but I’m thinking you get the point.  One message I’ll end with was brought up by fellow Texan and 2013 class member Troy Bagwell (@troybagwell). At our wrap-up meeting, he asked the question – What would happen if all the ADEs were in one school?

I think the answer to that is simple.

Pure magic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stretch my brain.

ISTE13: Learn, Connect, & Reflect

What a whirlwind the last week and a half have been.  After wrapping up a successful 2-day iPadpalooza, I took a deep breath and headed to ISTE13 down the road in San Antonio.  With all the time and energy thrown into planning and pulling off a big event like iPadpalooza, I had little time to really focus on what I’d be doing at ISTE13.  I knew I wanted to learn from others doing 1:1 iPad implementations.  I knew I wanted to connect with friends, both new and old, from Twitter.  And lastly, I was going to force myself to take time to reflect each day. The idea of reflecting each day was definitely going to be the most challenging but thanks to my new partnership with, I knew that I would hold myself to this.

Day 1 - 

As I mentioned in my Day 1 post, there were definitely some themes that became readily apparent the first 24-hours into this event.  The idea that learning should be fun seemed to be an underlying theme of the whole event.  From Jane McGonigal‘s opening keynote on gaming to Adam Bellow‘s powerful closing on change in the world, one thing is for certain, the pendulum is swinging swiftly away from standardized testing to more authentic learning.  In visiting sessions, there was a sense that we had moved from “here’s a few cool apps” to here’s how to use these powerful mobile tools in effective ways.  I also had a sense that this conference is evolving with the landscape, as there were more Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, and Lounges spread out through the event halls to give attendees (i.e. learners) a chance to connect and have more informal, collaborative discussions.

Day 2 - 

By Day 2, I had made sure to shift some time in my schedule to really build relationships with people I had only met on twitter. One of the great quotes from Adam’s closing keynote was that an event like this is where “our bodies meet our brains”.    This ISTE, much like the past couple since I’ve been on Twitter, really seemed to further that point.  I had a riveting lunch discussion with Michelle Cordy, Shawn Rubin, Holly Clark and Don Orth about everything from writing rap lyrics to when it’s appropriate to cry over spilled coffee.  While this sounds like typical non-sensical banter between friends, what was unique about this conversation is it was the first time I had every actually met these folks in person. We all share a common passion for student-led learning and a real desire to change the world’s views on public education.

Day 3 - 

I spent  a lot of Day 3 recovering from all the learning and collaborating from the previous 48 hours.  I spent a fair amount of time in the vendor exhibit hall meeting vendors both new and old. One thing that really struck me were the overwhelming amount of companies in here that didn’t exist pre-iPad.  I know there is always fast change in technology, but the amount of roll-over in the past 3 years because of mobile devices has really accelerated this rate of turn over.  Mobile device accessories were the norm and all those companies held over from tech-generations past were shifted to the new mobile way of life.

Devices - 

While Microsoft made the biggest splash by giving away 10,000 Surface tablets to ISTE attendees.  I never got a final count on how many they ended up giving away, but it seemed as though early reviews were mixed.  The one thing I did notice was that by the middle of the day 3, as I looked around the Poster session area, there were still 90% Apple products being used.  Whether that’s because they hadn’t been trained or were just more comfortable, I don’t know for certain.  But I have a feeling if 10,000 iPad Minis were given away, I would have seen those everywhere by this point. We’ll see how this Microsoft gamble pays off down the road as I know eventually there will be something that takes the iPad place on top.

Overall - 

I felt like the mix of sessions, interactive spaces, lounges, and vendor space really allowed for a personalized learning environment we all crave in our schools. There we lots of little details that went a long way to making this event really pay off and after running #iPlza13, I can truly stand in awe at the level of organization it takes to pull off that feel. I never felt like it was 14,000 people crammed into a building for a few days and to that I give my kudos to this year’s ISTE organizers.  As I posted here, one thing I’m working on doing this week is codifying all the learning that took place between myself, my team, and my PLN.  The hope is then to use that as a tool going forward to share the learning with my staff that couldn’t be there.

On a final note, after taking the past couple of years off from presenting at ISTE, I plan to throw my name back into the ring for ISTE14 and be more of a contributor to this great event.  With Adam’s final keynote inspiring me, it will be done in some way that gets the crowd going….and maybe even #pantless.

This may or may not be me at #ETK13.  Check out the shirt.

This may or may not be me at #ETK13. Check out the shirt.

Creating Images in Google Forms

UPDATE: Right around the time of this post – Google released the ability to insert images into forms! However, you still cannot put images as choices in multiple choice categories, so this script will still help.

In the midst of our iPadpalooza Tshirt contest I was faced with a conundrum even Google couldn’t help me with.  How do we post images to our forms so that people can vote?  I thought about just sending the images separately with names and then having people open a Google Form to choose their choice based on names.  That seemed terrible inefficient so I did a little bit of research and came across this guy’s blog: Making Technology Work at School

In the post he’s pretty much detailed how he wrote a script that will work for anyone out there just following his simple steps.  I posted my own tips adding to his instructions here if you’d like to follow but want to make sure full credit is given to the original source.  A note here – I’ve had some people reply that they are getting a “404 Source” error when using Chrome.  You might want to try with a different browser if that’s the case.  I used Safari with these instructions and it worked like a charm.

Since my district has some level of restrictions on publicly sharing folders/files, I did have to use a personal gmail account. You’ll be able to tell what restrictions your district has by step number three.

1.  Log into your account

2. Create a folder called “GFWI” (no quotes)- This is the folder that his script will pull images from.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 11.53.41 AM

3. Share the folder and make it publicly viewable on the web.  If your district restricts this, you’ll have to go to a personal google account or create one.  (maybe a “” type of account)

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 11.54.14 AM

Note: Check your district settings on this

4. Inside that GFWI folder, make another folder called “img” (without quotes).  It’ll have the same settings as the parent folder so no need to share that as well since the GFWI folder is already viewable by the public.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 12.05.43 PM

5. BEFORE you upload your images – a few tips – Make sure your images are 500 X 500 pixels or smaller.  I uploaded some original images and they were WAY too big. I just threw mine into photoshop and resized them.  Save them as .jpg and give them some easy file names before you move on to the next step of uploading.

6. Upload the images to the ‘img’ folder.

7. Make your form or add to a current form.  Wherever you want the image to appear you’ll have to make a double bracket (i.e. [[imagename.jpg]] in the form itself.  Since I was doing this for a vote, I just put those bracketed names in the multiple choice section.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 12.07.11 PM

8. Copy your live form URL.

9. Go to his form which will convert it and run the script here:

10. You will likely have to authorize at this point before going any further.

11. Paste your form URL into his script and it’ll run the conversion.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 12.09.54 PM

12. You’ll get a link to view the new form with images now embedded. That’s it!

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 12.16.13 PM

Final form with images embedded as multiple choice

Are We About to Experience an Ed Tech Bubble?

Bubble BurstIn the late 90′s to around 2001, the internet boom was on.  Venture capitalists were experiencing meteoric rises in revenue and stock prices because the internet was taking off all over the world.  It seemed that this new avenue of commerce was as close to a “can’t lose” scenario when it came to investment.  Back then, companies were funded on the idea that “growth of profits” would rule the day in this new economy.

Well, I’m here to tell you, I see another bubble coming and this one is in the Ed Tech market.  I don’t have any hard evidence to support this theory other than my own experiences in the last 2+ years.  There’s a lot of money in the field, as Bill Gates spoke of during his SXSWedu keynote, so everyone is trying to rush to market in order to capitalize. However, some signs are pretty glaring that this market place is about to implode.  Let’s look at three examples of Ed Tech fields to see if these trends mirror those of the late 90′s.


Early Apple Tablet

Early Apple Tablet

What was a blundering area of the tech market over the 90′s and first decade of the 2000′s has blown up all around us in education.  Much of the reason for this can be singularly pointed to Apple’s launch of the iPad in 2010.  For the first time, a consumer-centric device was useful enough and cost-effective for educational circles.  Back then, there were really only a couple of choices on the market other than Apple’s iPad. The HP Touchpad with WebOS caught fire before quickly burning out in late 2011 and RIMs Playbook followed a similar trajectory and as of this year no longer exists.  Little did we know this would just be the beginning.

Once the Android and Windows 8 operating systems caught hold, a whole new market of tablets hit the market place with furious demand.  Nook, Kindle Fire, Samsung’s Galaxy, Microsoft Surface, Asus Transformer, and Google’s Nexus tablets now all hold some share of the consumer market but little break in educational circles to the iPad.

Enter the new world of the “educational tablet” with the LearnPad and Fox NewsCorp’s Amplify.  These, and their consumer counterparts have all hit the market in the last 6-9 months and continue to increase at an exponential pace.  Where the consumer models have some staying power over the long haul, the fickle purchasing of K-12 educational systems spells some rough roads ahead for those in this new educational tablet space.

The biggest reason? If we are focusing on authentic learning and digital wellness with our kids in the every day world, will that be able to happen on a tablet built to just be used K-12? Sure, tech directors get more control of the device and teachers can control the screens and learning from their desks, but isn’t that just a digital extension of the militarized structure of teaching we’ve had for hundreds of years? In the words of 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra, “We need schools…not factories”


ClarisWorksBack in the early 2000′s when I was teaching first grade, my software choices were pretty simple.  I could go with a read and repeat type of game like Reader Rabbit or focus on creation using a tool like Clarisworks.  In order to get some highfalutin software like Adobe Photoshop, it would take several committees, an act of congress and the blessing of the Pope to purchase it and add it to my 3 computers in my class. This process usually took about 2-3 years and tech departments banked on teachers becoming frustrated and giving up or the software becoming obsolete before it was even installed.

Welcome to the wild west of apps in 2013.  All the sudden, having 10 CD’s or 30 floppy disks aren’t required to install software.  In fact, most software isn’t even loaded at all, it exists on the web.  Apps aren’t seen as software, but they are in essence.  Of course, with apps, it only requires a quick couple of taps and BLAM!! Instant installation and gratification.  This consumerization of IT has a lot of benefits to personalized and customized learning, but there is a downside.  When are these apps and web tools being vetting for educational value?  Who is making the district purchasing decision now?

It seems that in the last year especially, app and web-based tools are praying on the “first one is free” approach to break into school districts.  I like the idea of organically grown tools being brought up by the end-users, but wonder if there isn’t some sort of legal line that’s being crossed in all of this.  I mean, we had 80 teachers using Edmodo with their Eanes email address when Edmodo finally called me to say “Hey, we noticed a lot of your teachers using our product, want to have your own domain with us?”  While Edmodo is a great (and free) service, many other companies are following that lead and giving away “30-seat classroom licenses” for free in the hopes that enough users getting hooked will over-power the purchasers.

With over a million mobile apps on the market, how can our teachers hope to sort through all of that to find relevant, useful educational tools?  Add in the new tablets hitting the market, along with the expansion of Google Apps for Education, and the market is ripe to burst.

Learning Management Systems

The race to build the perfect LMS has almost become so flooded its hard to make sense of it all.  This market place was dominated by two choices about 5 years ago: the paid route of Blackboard or the free route of Moodle. While Blackboard was still focused on higher ed, it was the first to really jump in with both feet in the K-12 market.  However,unlike the tablet market, just because it was in there first, doesn’t mean it will win out.

While there it’s hard to determine how many K-12-centric LMS companies are out there now.  Findings from this June 2012 Education Week study show that there 163 commercial educational LMSs and 66 Open source LMS platforms. Those numbers alone are staggering, but when coupled with the fact that I have personally seen at least 6 start-up LMS-based companies since then, tells me this market is over-flooded.

This level of healthy competition can spawn some amazing advances in a fairly dull field, but there is a lot of risk for the administrator taking a gamble on a company that might not be around in a couple of years.  I think a company that is device-agnostic, web-able, and inexpensive on a per-user basis has a firm ground to stand on in K-12 space.  But in terms of staying power, it has to be transformative for teaching and learning, not just digital extensions of the classroom.



What does all this mean for us in the Ed Tech field?  It’s obvious the iron is hot.  As Gates said in his keynote, there is upwards of $9 Billion dollars available in this market place so someone is going to grab a large slice of that pie.  The question for the users and purchasers of these devices and software packages is, will it have any level of sustainability?  Does that even matter any more? Maybe instead of looking for stable-long term solutions, we need to start being more flexible and able to pivot when the situation calls for it.

Then again, we are in education and the reality is this growth is exciting but while the Ed Tech marketplace is exploding, we need to take the focus off the “what” and focus more on the “why” when it comes to anything we do.  That’s the key to surviving any future bubble that might be coming our way.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some .cwk files that need converting…

The 21-Day #TwitterGuide4Beginners Challenge

An interesting thing happened during the #txed chat on Wednesday night.  Many in the chat were asking the question “Why aren’t more teachers on twitter?”  I often wonder the same and think back to my early days on twitter where I didn’t do much.  In fact, it took me nearly two years

from account creation in 2007 to where I actually really started using it and not just following what Demi Moore and Ashton Kutchar were eating.

So I started the #twitterguide4beginners hashtag inside the #txed chat and started listing ideas.  Since most people on the interwebs say it takes 21 days for a habit to stick, I challenged the group to list step-by-step days of what a newbie to twitter should do to make it stick.  While I’m sure there are tons of other guides out there, what I love about this is that it was created on twitter, via a hashtag chat.  What follows is the cleaned up and re-sorted 21 days, but you could also check out the chat here for the brainstorming:  #twitterguide4beginners

Day 1 – Create your account and follow some people with similar interests. It’s also important to put some basics about yourself in your profile. These can be a mix of professional and personal, but know like anything else, there’s a character limit so make it work. Your profile is how others will see your interests and make connections.



Day 2 – Figure out how to change your egghead picture into a nice catchy profile picture (note: you should try to have your twitter pic look like you somewhat, you never know who you’ll run into face to face)

Day 3 – Lurk and figure out how to favorite something.

Day 4 – Retweet someone else’s tweet.

Day 5 – Find a good app to use twitter on your mobile phone or device of choice.  (See: Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, the actual Twitter app)

Day 6 – Make your first official tweet. Make it a good one and make it relevant to what you do. Share something going on in your work life.

Day 7 – Tweet a link from an interesting website or blog you discovered, maybe something your school or district is doing.

Day 8 – Figure out how to tweet out a photo. (this is easiest from a mobile device)

Day 9 – Mention some people in a tweet. Remember, they don’t know you are trying to talk to them unless you mention them with the “@” symbol and their handle. Also, know that anyone can see this.

Day 10 – Direct Message someone. This is a short, private message that is like email.Twitter-DM1

Day 11 – Create a hashtag (#) and find one to follow.

Day 12 – Tweet from multiple devices to test your diversity (will accept phone, tablet, laptop, desktop or all of the above)

Day 13 – Start to learn Twitter slang like RT, DM, MT, #FTW, from some resource like this: Twitter Dictionary

Day 14 – Post 5 tweets during this day.  Make one of them a famous quote that you love.

Day 15 – Don’t click on the link in your DM that says either “People are saying bad things about you” or “LOL. I was laughing about this video about you.”

Day 16 – Have a twitter conversation with someone that you’ve never met in person. This could be as little as a response, but see how long you can make it go.

Day 17 – Participate in a “Twitter chat” one night.  Here’s a good list of twitter chats by @cybraryman1 and when they happen: twitter chats

Day 18 – Test your Twitter-bility – Post a tweet that is longer than 140 characters, however, use clever short-cuts and lingo to make sure you message fits. (like “4″ instead of “for” to save characters)

Day 19 – If you haven’t yet, post your 100th tweet.  If you are short, get to work! If you already have at least 100 tweets, take a day off. You have earned it.

Moore v. Kutcher

Moore v. Kutcher

Day 20 – Go back and follow more people and follow people who have followed you.  Oh yeah, and go back and unfollow all those celebs you followed in Day 1.

Day 21 – Sync your Foursquare, Pinterest,, LinkedIn, and/or Instagram accounts (but not Facebook) to your twitter account.

Congratulations! You graduated and are now a Twitter Jedi Master! May the Tweets be with you!

Editor’s note: Special thanks to contributors to this guide: @pwagnerlcisd @troybagwell @CMBPensacola, @smussle @mg529. You made this a collaborative PLN effort!


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