Category Archives: Techy

Does Social Media Really Have POWER?

FullSizeRender (2)“How are you leveraging the power of social media?”

I hear this question a lot in the educational world but even more in the marketing world.  It always seemed like such a nebulous thing to me.  I mean, let’s look at the first definition of the word POWER: (courtesy

  1. The ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something

So in theory, if you are “doing or accomplishing something” with social media you are leveraging the power behind it. Again, a very nebulous explanation to me. I spend many days out of my year speaking to parents and students in our local community about social media.  While most of those talks center unfortunately center on cautionary tales and things to watch out for like this Yik Yak post from last year, I also try and mix in some good things about social media.

I’ve seen first hand the power of connecting with people via Google Hangouts when it comes to solving a problem or working on a project together.  I’ve used Pinterest to help communicate ideas with community parents (and my wife). The past couple of years I’ve utilized Facebook groups to host Weight-Loss challenges with my friends across the country.  These are very useful ways to utilize social media, but I never really viewed them as all that powerful.

At some point in the late summer I really started to “see” what potential power social media has for all of us.  Here are five personal examples of how I’ve experienced first-hand the power of social media. I’ll start with a fairly innocuous example:

Getting free coffee:

While attending iPadpaloozaSouthTx this August, one of the vendors there had a booth set up with a task for those that visited.  Simply take a selfie with their product and use the conference hashtag to post on Instagram or Twitter and they would give you a Starbucks gift card.  While this may seem like a shallow way to leverage social media for caffeine, it does have its perks. (get it?)

A new customer service hotline:

During two summer trips I had bad experiences with both Delta and United airlines.  Flight delays happen, but these were extremely frustrating in the sense that neither were due to weather.  In the case of United, I even got to watch my connecting plane sit at the gate while I stared (and recorded) my plea out the window. Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.19.49 AM

I continued to pester both companies on social media.  There was no response from United, but Delta replied right away:

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Through a series of DMs that I’ll keep private, Delta reached out and actually granted me a credit for the next time I fly with them. Talk about instant power!

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I attempted the same with United, but for some reason their social media account was pretty anti-social so I took to good ol’ fashioned email to get my refund.  What I gained from this is that industries have a social image to maintain and when we take to social media to vent about their service, it could potentially hold more power than an email. It means me and my 9,963 followers (maybe I’ll hit 10K after this) also get to weigh-in and see the experience I am having.  This isn’t a post about “get as many followers as possible” but I do think having the support of a large group helps with leverage when it comes to customer service issues like these.

Fixing errors in the local newspaper:

I follow a lot of local news on Twitter and some of the local news follows me back (which is scary to think I have anything newsworthy to share). The Westlake Picayune (@picayunenews) recently posted an article about our upcoming Digital Learning Symposiums but had a couple of errors.  Rather than call and spend time on hold or leave a voice mail, I took to twitter and got an immediate response and correction.


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(Thanks to the Picayune for your help and support!)

Answering an age-old debate:

I have a wide variety of friends on Facebook that share various political and religious beliefs.  I keep myself fairly private on Facebook except for the requisite picture of the girls or something tasty my wife I get to eat on the rare occasion we go out without kids and have an adult conversation.  However, this summer, I sparked a monumental debate on my Facebook page.  My controversial post would reveal a lot about my friends and family as well as shake the very ground of their core beliefs with this question:

When showing the Star Wars films to your kids for the first time, which film should you start with first? Episode 1 or New Hope?

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The amount of advice, links and argument lasted for several days and 40 plus comments. The responses ranged from Adam Bellow’s very to the point response:

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To more lengthy explanations like Phil Hintz’s post and accompanying research from Reddit.Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.44.04 AM

Regardless of outcome, I thought this was a great way to get a wide array of opinions from people you trust.  (Editor’s note: We decided to start with New Hope (Episode IV) as it made the Vader reveal [SPOILER ALERT] more powerful)

Getting out of a Traffic Ticket (ok, maybe not):

Having had so many powerful and successful examples of using social media to help me through life, I headed into the school year feeling cocksure and ready to take on the world.

A couple of days before school started, I was utilizing my “pick-up truck” skills to help iVenger Jennifer Flood move from one campus to the other.  With Westalke High School under some major construction this summer, my parking options close to the back door in the 100 degree heat were limited to a handicap spot or a fire lane.  Thinking I would only be 15 minutes, I opted for the fire lane.  When I returned to my truck, I had a souvenir from the Travis County Sheriff’s office waiting on my windshield.

My head was spinning.  This is what I get for helping someone?  Why are sheriffs waiting in the weeds to write tickets to educators?  I immediately took to twitter and Instagram:

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I then decided to directly start tagging the @TravisCoSheriff account to see if I could get some response.  What ensued was incredible:Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.10.30 AM

Their response:Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.08.55 AM

My response:

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Their response:

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My response:

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.13.55 AM

Their response: ——–

My follow up to their lack of response:

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Their response:Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.09.20 AM


So apparently the power of social media does not mean you can break laws and ultimately, despite my frustration and social media back-and-forth with the sheriff’s office, I did send in my fine (reluctantly) as ultimately I do obey and respect the law.  However, I did rest a little easier knowing that my refund from Delta covered the exact cost of the ticket. :)

I know that sharing these personal examples can be very ego-centric, but showing real-world examples from my life versus some I found online I felt packed a bigger punch.  Do you have similar stories? I would love to hear them!  Comment below, tweet me, Instagram me, or write me an old fashioned letter and share your experiences (both positive and negative) with social media.

Until then, please continue to leverage this power for good rather than evil and remember kids….don’t park in fire lanes!

36 Weeks of Innovation for Your Classroom

Recently, it’s been reported that U.S. “Millennials” are not making the mark when it comes to technology proficiency and problem solving when compared to counterparts in other countries (19th out of 21).  Say what you will about the assessment and measure of this, but I do think it gives us a chance to reflect on ideas for integrating problem solving strategies into the everyday classroom.

Last year, I wrote this post on 21 Things Every 21st-Century Teacher should do and it became an instant hit (with the help of Sean Junkin’s Infographic).   As tech tools come and go, I felt the need to update and refresh it for this school year.  However, I ran into a problem.  When I got done with my updated list (removing a couple of ideas, adding several more) I was up to 36 different ideas.  As luck would have it there are 36 weeks in a standard school calendar so this actually works out wonderfully.  While these aren’t necessarily listed in the order you should do them, they are listed from least difficult (#1 – Selfies) to the most difficult (#36 – Creating an in-class incubator).   The last few challenges are especially geared toward real-world problem solving and will hopefully make a dent in those “Tech Problem-solving” stats in the future.

36 Weeks of Innovation for the 2015-16 School Year:

1. All About Your Self(ie) Project

You know all those “getting to know you” activities that you start at the beginning of the year?  Why not integrate selfies into those? You know kids (especially teens) have hundreds of these on their phones and it could be a creative way to tell the “their story” through selfies.

2. Have a class twitter account to post a tweet about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  Nominate a “guest tweeter” and have them summarize the day’s learning in 140 characters or less. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Create your own class hashtag

Tell your students and their parents about the hashtag and have them post ideas, photos, and questions to it.  It’s a great way to get people from not only in your class but also around the world to contribute to your class conversation. You can also use this with your blog posts (#1) or classroom tweets (#2). Bonus points if you use something like VisibleTweets to display your posts in your class.

My daughter's 1st grade teacher has a class Instagram!

My daughter’s 1st grade teacher has a class Instagram!

4. Create a Class Instagram Account 

Spinning off of the twitter account you already created, why not have a photo-based summary of the learning in class as well? Have a daily student photographer who’s job is to post an example of something your class/students did that day. If you don’t want to mess with “do not publish” lists, you could ask that it be of an object or artifact, not a person.  This would also be a good time to have a mini-digital citizenship lesson and talk about when and how to ask permission to take someone’s photo.



5. Create a comic of your class rules

Let’s face it, classroom rules are in need of a makeover.  Do you still have that blown-up Word Doc with your 1995 clipart on it?  Why not make your classroom rules into a graphic novel?  Here’s just one example  of classroom rules done up comic-style! BAM! BOP! BLAZAMO!

6. Periscope a “minute in the life” video

I wrote a few weeks ago about this newest social media trend called “digital broadcasting”.  While that post went over some best practices for Periscope and Meerkat, I’ve since been exposed to a multitude of ideas from other ‘scopers.  One idea is to capture a “minute in the life” video to post weekly.  Whether this be a minute in the life of a 3rd grader or a Pre-Cal student, it opens up a window to parents and other educators to see what is happening in your class.  I have a much longer post on this coming soon…but since we are early in the list, I’m keeping it simple.

7. Create a MEMEory –


I think meme’s are inherently evil.  Some are so clever I almost get jealous, while others leave a lot to the imagination.  With apps like Meme-Generator or an app like Skitch, you could have students make historical memes, favorite literary characters or even cats that like chemistry.

8. Brain Breaks

Kids (and adults) can really only sit and “work” for so long.  The average adult can sit for about 20 minutes before their mind begins to wander.   For kids, the younger they are the less than can sit still (just come watch me and my family at a restaurant for proof).  Brain breaks should be a part of every class and every grade level.  From Improv games to yoga to GoNoodle, make brain breaks a part of your classroom and watch their brains re-ignite!

9. Sketchnoting for reflection

I’ve been a big fan of sketchnoting before it was called that.  Back in my day (now I sound like an old man) we called it doodling.  However, the more I do it (either digitally or on an old school notebook) the more I realize that I actually remember what was said.  Why not try this in a class?  During a lecture or watching a short film, have students represent the talk in a sketchnote.  Check out this massive sketchnote of my co-Keynote with Todd Nesloney at iPadpaloozaSouthTX.

10. Create a list to encourage democracy in your class.

It could be as simple as a list of choices for a project or something as grand as what is one thing you want to learn about this year?  Whatever the choice, use to create a crowd-sourced voting list and let your students have some say in their learning!  Let’s just hope they aren’t old enough to vote for Kanye in 2020.

11. Blog for reflection

Having introduced reflection with Sketchnoting (#9) you are now ready to have kids practice the art of not only reflection with words, but published words.  Using sites like EduBlogs and Kidblog (no longer free) you can have your students reflect on their week of learning in a student blog.  Crowd-source the topics for their writing from other classmates for those that are struggling with an idea.

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A Westlake Student’s portfolio

12. Digital portfolio for projects and art

I’ve got a giant box full of art projects and my oldest is barely entering 1st grade.  I can only imagine the size of the extra wing I’ll need to add to my house when all 3 of them are through school.  While I love all their art, I would appreciate it even more if it was also digitized.  Using a platform like Blub, have your students capture their best work and reflect on the process. For more advanced users, organize each into different categories, styles, or themes.  Besides the student example here, check out Lisa Johnson’s (TechChef4U) multiple Bulb sites for staff and student iPad instructions.

13. Participate in a Mystery Hangout

This sounds a lot scarier than it is but essentially think of playing the game 20 questions with another classroom somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to a community page with more resources. It’s a great way to increase cultural and global awareness and you could event invite the other class to add to your Pinterest board (#10), vote on your (#8), comment on your blog (#1) or maybe co-collaborate on an eBook (#17).

14. Create a Fantasy league (where they keep track of the stats themselves)

It’s time to break the stereotypes of sports.  What better way to do that than through fantasy sports and math?  Have students “draft” a team in a particular sport and then track their stats manually to see who wins. For a more advanced challenge, create a “mega” league with multiple sports over the course of the year.  Watch for heated trades taking place on the playground and Monday discussions livening up when football season starts!

15. Special Effects Science

With a ton of stop-motion apps and the new Slo-mo feature built into iOS, there are a ton of creative ways to watch a science experiment unfold.  From the slow growth of a plant over a semester to the infamous erupting volcano experiment in super slo-mo, science really is part visual arts.

16. Infographic-ize your newsletter

Tired of sending home that same boring newsletter that nobody reads? Why not jazz it up with an infographic.  Using a tool like Canva or even keynote (what I used to make mine for this post), you can create a visually pleasing and impactful message to your community.  Just be sure to include links to your class Twitter(#2), Instagram (#4) and Periscope (#6) accounts!

17. Pinning for parents

In this new digital age, parents are always looking for some help when it comes to ways to help their kids manage it all and be successful for school.  Rather than just send them tips here or there, why not have a Pinterest board for parents?  Here’s one we did called “86-days of summer learning” for parents looking for learning ideas in the summer.

18. Green Screen a field trip to another land

Budget cuts mean no more field trip to the local zoo?  Why not take a virtual one?  Have you class research specific locations in our world (and even specific times in history) and then visit them via green screen technology.  Students can discuss what they might see during their trip and reflect on challenges and discoveries they made (virtually of course).

19. Make a class weekly podcast

Busy parents mean no time to read a weekly newsletter or that note in the take home folder.  One thing many parents due is subscribe to podcasts (remember the Serial craze last fall?!) so why not put your class highlights in their weekly feed?  Have your students write and create segments for the weekly show and publish it to iTunes to make some instant memories and to let mom and dad listen to your week while working out.

20. Animated book reports

The video book report is so 2013.  Why not ramp it up a notch and use some animation?  Apps like Explain Everything, Puppet Pals, Tellagami, Toontastic, etc allow you to make your book reports a little more animated.  Add in some green screen (#18) with some stop-motion (#15), throw in some legos, and your students could make their own Lego Movie as a book report! (as long as they don’t use that “Everything is Awesome” song as their soundtrack)

21. Instructables by Students

The Instructables DIY craze is a powerful one.  From figuring out how to make your own bubble-machine to how to use chop sticks, these how-to guides for life hacks are quite handy.  Since student’s learn best by teaching, why not flip the script and use a site like Bulb or Snapguide to have students make their own Instructable over the topic or subject area of their choice?

22. Let a kid take over

A student takes over the 5th grade math quiz via Apollo

A student takes over the 5th grade math quiz via Apollo

I know. This sounds dangerous.  If you look at John Hattie’s research on visible learning, the number 1 way to help move the needle on student learning and retention is to let them drive their own learning and self-grade.  While there are several different ways you can do this (Project Based Learning being the most widely accepted method), you could sprinkle in little bits of this in everyday curriculum. An app like Apollo allows the students to take over the teacher’s board and then send out their work to the entire class instantly!  (bonus: check out the built-in random student picker for some extra fun)

23. Student-led Parent-teacher conference presentations

I first heard about this from Sandy Kleinman this past summer, but the concept is simple.  Tell students on the first week of school that they will be collecting a portfolio of work and present what they have learned to their parents during parent-teacher conferences.  This is a great way of having kids (even as young as kindergarten) own their learning (#22). This could be daunting if not planned well, but with built in reflection activities (#9, #11, #12) there are multiple ways to gather discoveries to share with mom and dad.

24. Augment an old Textbook

Textbooks are a way of life in education and though many are now digital, there are still tons of old adoptions laying around in classroom cabinets or school storage closets.  Why not utilize these books to add a little Augmented reality to the classroom?  Using an app like Aurasma or Daqri, create a special video message and “attach” it a picture in the textbook.  So when the entire class turns to page 26 and holds their device over the image…they’ll get quite the surprise!

25. Go Paperless for a week (then track the data)

Depending on your grade level, this might be harder than you think. Even in a 1:1 district we still print or have need to print things from time to time.  The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog (#11) or send an infographic (#16).  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month.

26. Google Cardboard

With Google’s release of “Expeditions” last May, students can now take a mobile phone or iPod and use Google Cardboard to take a virtual field trip anywhere around the world!  This does take some prep, which is why it’s further down on the list, but the reactions of students experiencing the Great Wall of China is amazing!

27. No Tech Tuesday

Have your students not use any technology and live like it’s 1915. This is a great way to really investigate how much times have changed in the past decade and our reliance on technology.  Of course when they are done, have them blog about their experience. (#11)

28. Cardboard Design challenges

Design challenges can be a great way to have students think differently and work together in teams.  Whether it be creating a cardboard chair that can support your weight (like Mr. Lofgren did here with his middle school students) or creating your own arcade like Cane did, the only limits in these activities are supplies and your students’ imaginations.  And sometimes, having limits like supplies and time can actually enhance the creativity of the teams.  BONUS: Create an Instructable of your final project (#21)

29. Redesign your learning space

After having your class design their own cardboard chairs (#28), it’s time to look at your classroom space. How is it designed to facilitate learning? Have your students research what types of furniture work best for a diverse learning environment.  From the color on the walls to the lighting, have students research the costs and practicality of a new classroom makeover.   Need some inspiration? How about his “classroom diner” concept:


30. Make a class book

The ease with which you can publish books now is amazing.  Using a tool like Book Creator or iBooks Author, you can publish to the iBooks store or Amazon.  Don’t want to do something that intense? Keep it simple and make a book using Shutterfly and then have it printed as a keepsake.

31. Code a makey-makey Instrument

Music can be a great learning tool.  Coding is like learning a second language.  This challenge combines the two at a pretty inexpensive cost ($49 for a Makey-Makey, $2 for bananas). Have your students work in teams to create their own musical instruments using any classroom materials around them.  Then when they are all done, have them put on a “Junkyard Musical” performance to wrap it up! (Which would be a great thing to Periscope (#6))

32. Appmazing Race

While the APPmazing Race got it’s humble beginnings from iPadpalooza 2014, it has since grown into a global phenomenon as a new strategy for delivering PD.  Though built originally for adults, it’s perfect for students with mobile devices.  Set up a series of challenges over a class period or a couple of weeks and have the kids team up and go to work!  While the race itself doesn’t take a lot of work (except for reigning the kids back in), the prep before hand and the scoring afterwards will take quite a bit of time. Be sure to have a rubric to help students understand how they score on particular challenges and I would advise on using a tool like to curate all their finished discoveries.  Here’s an example of one of the biggest races I’ve hosted using Thinglink and Padlet to curate.

33. LipDub to History

The ultimate form of flattery is imitation.  The ultimate form of stardom is when Weird Al makes a parody of your song.  Why not take that to another level and have students re-write lyrics to their favorite hit or a popular tune?  The catch is they have to tie the lyrics into something historical like the video below.  Who knows, maybe some student will remake “Chaka Khan” into “Genghis Khan”.

34. Design your own Rube Goldberg Machine

How great would it be to have teams of students design a Rube Goldberg machine?  I once saw former 4th grade teacher Cody Spraberry facilitate a 2-week project where each group had a defined space in the classroom (marked by tape) and had to design, create, and test their Rube as well as record it.  Not all the reactions were as priceless as this kid’s, but tying in reflection (#11), how-to instructions (#21) and some video effects (#15) can really make this a powerful lesson in teamwork, perseverance, problem-solving and organization.

35. Global Outreach GoFundMe

Teaching our students about generosity while giving them a wider perspective of world events can be powerful.  Now with tools like GoFundMe, your class can strategize a way to help support a cause like this one for creating a School for the Deaf in Haiti.  This is real, authentic, impactful learning that will make a difference in the lives of your students and those you are helping.

36. Create a start-up Incubator

To really tackle all of those “future-ready” skills, why not have teams of students create their own actual start-up company.  Some high schools across the country have started this program (including our own Westlake High School) but it doesn’t have to be exclusive to high school.  The key is to get business and industry leaders to work with the kids and talk about real world scenarios their companies will face.  Kind of like “career day” on steroids. If you can get some local business or parents to participate with some funds, you can actually host a “Pitch night” to start the event and a “Shark tank” type activity to close it where students will get actual money to try and create their product.  This is the most intensive of all the ideas on this list and can utilize parts of all the other 35 topics to make a team successful.

While I don’t expect any one classroom to do all of these ideas (I’d have to give them a prize if they did), I do think many of these are doable and possible on the cheap.  I tried to design most of them without dependance on a particular type of technology, but having access to devices, even if not in a 1:1 environment, is helpful.

I hope you enjoy and be sure to give me some feedback below as to what you think.  And to practice what I preach, I took Sean Junkin’s tutorial advice and created my own infographic out of Keynote for this post.  See below:

Infographic 36.001


Using an iPad as a Calculator on a State Assessment: Dreams Do Come True

ipad scantronToday marked a hallmark day in the Eanes Independent School District when it comes to high-stakes testing. After some back and forth with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the commissioner, last spring we were granted the ability to pilot using iPads as graphing calculators during the state assessment.  Following months of planning and prep, the dreams of using iPads on actual state assessments became a reality today as 600+ students took their 8th Grade Math STAAR assessment.  This decision and process encompassed many hours of careful planning and practice before today’s big test.  As far as I know from colleagues around the country, we were the first district to try this approach. As such, I’m writing this post to not only document our process but also to help others that may try this in the future.

Why calculators?

For years (and decades) our students have had the ability to purchase an expensive graphing calculator like the TI-84 plus to help them with higher level math problems and classes.  This calculator retails at around $180 (roughly half the cost of our iPad2s) and is purchased by either the campus or the parents to support their students taking these courses.  With the constant financial pressure and underfunding from our state and the fact that every student has an iPad, we decided to formally request that we be allowed to use the Desmos Test Mode app (FREE) on the 8th Grade Math assessment.  With the successful completion of this pilot, we may even look at other areas (dictionaries?) where we can save money and provide a better experience for our students.

What kind of technical expertise do you need to pull this off?

Our district utilizes a Mobile Device Management (MDM) system known as Casper Suite by JAMF software. Casper includes a feature called “Focus” which allows teachers to lock students into a certain app.  Students are not able to use the camera, take a screen shot or even get out of the app until the teacher releases them from focus. With the assistance of our technology department and Mobile Integration Specialist Tim Yenca, we have been piloting this feature in individual classrooms throughout the fall and spring.  However, on testing day we knew it would mean putting all 600 of the students into one giant class and then locking them down.  Needless to say, there’s a lot that can go wrong technically with that so we decided to test it a couple of times before the actual testing date.

How did we prepare for this?

This plan would have never been possible without the support of our tremendously talented campus Educational Technologists (Ed Techs).  Running two tests simultaneously with a 12-mile gap in between campuses meant that there needed to be a point person on the ground that coordinated everything. Kacy Mitchell at WRMS and Jennifer Flood  at HCMS provided plans, organized teachers, communicated with students and supported the administration during this entire process.  When I asked Kacy how she thought the day went this was her reaction:

“We knew there were going to be issues. There are always issues. Pioneering the concept of locking down district-issued student iPads was pretty scary for most of us at first. My principal even wondered aloud what my heart-rate was about 5 minutes after the bell rang today. In the end, everything turned out just fine. A successful execution of plans A, B and sometimes C was due to careful planning and LOTS of patience from our teachers. “

Jennifer added this insight into the planning process:

“Leading up to today we held two tests of the system in as close to “day of” testing environments as possible.  Having WRMS attempt at the same time gave us more room to experiment with start times and classroom processes than we would have normally had. Between the tests at both campuses, and many conversations walking through all possibilities, our plans reflected every possible outcome that we had some control over.”

I honestly don’t think we could have pulled this off without these two Ed Techs providing daily support on their campuses.  We are lucky to have them here at Eanes ISD.

What about the app?

When the TEA released their revised policy in spring of 2014, they didn’t specify which device or app was required.  Their main concerns were that whatever device used has to be locked down so that students can’t get on the internet or take photos of the test.  The graphing calculator app needed to be a non-CAS (Computer Algebra Systems) calculator and could not contain tutorials or places for storing formulas (which can be a problem with TI calculators).

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Graphing Calculator TEST mode app by Desmos

With the help and advice of resident math guru Cathy Yenca (aka Mathy Cathy), we had been looking into the original Desmos graphing calculator app.  The only problem was the app has CAS capability and stores some examples that students could potentially use.  Cathy and Tim (aka “the Flying Yencas”) were able to work with Eli from Desmos on some feature requests and changes that would be necessary to make the app acceptable for state testing.  Desmos was extremely responsive and open to the changes and after working on some test pilots of the app, released the “Test Mode” version of their app free to the public.  Much like the support of Kacy and Jennifer, this wouldn’t have been possible without the Yencas and Desmos working together to make it happen.


With the support of the team, the administration, the teachers and the technology department, we set forth today to make this plan a reality.  Through all the collaboration and discussion with the team it was determined that we should have both a few regular calculator back-ups on hand and a few iPad back-ups on hand already locked into the app.

As with anything involving technology there are always problems.  Those problems multiply when you try to lock down 600 devices over wireless on two separate campuses at the same time.  Add to the mix a third campus (elementary) and four 5th grade students in advanced math taking this test too, and this process became even more complex.  Thanks to our Ed Tech Margie Brown for helping get those elementary students set up on testing day as well.

Despite our best efforts, a handful of students showed up this morning and decided to update their iPad.  A couple of others forgot to plug their iPad in over the weekend.  The forethought and planning of our Ed Techs and technology department accounted for this and a few spare iPads were on hand in the hallways where the tests we being administrated.  Students that couldn’t didn’t get locked down were given a locked down spare before the test. Students that brought their own iPad were put into Guided Access mode by the teacher prior to the test. Teachers in testing rooms were given a “blue card” that they could slide under their door if they had technical issues during the actual test (thankfully, none of them did).

Final Thoughts

As you can tell, it takes an entire team of thoughtful and prepared staff to pull this kind of a pilot off.  I knew today was a success when I looked up at noon and noted how quiet the day had been.  That’s a tribute to the hard working people in this district like Kacy, Tim, Jennifer, Margie, our technology department, our testing coordinators, teachers, STEM Director and those outside of the district like Eli from Desmos. Without their collaboration and planning this dream could have quickly turned into a nightmare.

Thank you all for your effort in taking on this monumental challenge!  Now on to the next!

Secret Photo-Sharing Apps…The Latest Teen Trend

Much like the Yik Yak incident of last fall, I’ve recently been asked to communicate to our local community about another trend with our students.  These particular apps an element of “secrecy” and some social sharing involved.  I also have to admit, some of them are very clever in terms of how they can be disguised. In light of some recent incidents with our high school students, I created a letter as both a source of awareness but also a resource for tools.  What follows is the letter that was sent out to all Eanes ISD secondary school parents on the afternoon of February 10, 2015:

This past week we discovered a new trend among teens with their personal use of technology.  While seemingly innocent on the surface, the latest in hidden photo-sharing apps could potentially cause trouble with our youth down the road, especially in the area of “sexting.” While the Eanes ISD staff have taken the necessary precautions to block/restrict these types of apps on our network and devices, students still can engage in misbehavior on their own personal devices which can lead to serious distraction and, even more severely, possible prosecution. 

Similar to last semester’s issues with the Yik Yak app, we are once again asking for parents to keep an eye out for the following apps (or similar ones) that might be making the rounds on your child’s phone.

We are sharing these tools and resources with parents in order to promote discussion around responsible decision making, to correct poor choices, and open up a dialogue between parent and teen about their digital lives. What follows is information about some specific hidden photo-sharing apps, next steps to take, and where to go  for help and support as a parent.

Keep Safe Private Photo VaultScreen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.53.49 PM

Keep Safe Private Photo Vault is one of many new “secret vault” type apps making their way through the app stores of Apple and Android. This app is  advertised as a way to keep photos and videos safe behind a private PIN and not post them on your public photo roll.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.00 PMThe app is easy enough to identify (see icon here) however, if you share iCloud accounts or check your child’s photo roll regularly, you  won’t notice it as photos don’t appear there. While hiding photos is one issue, our concern is with the “Invite friends” premium feature. With this enabled, kids can potentially share photos privately without anyone knowing. One additional premium feature is called “Secret Door”. This allows you to make the app look like another app. Pressing and holding down on the “fake” app enables the PIN pad.

Next steps –

If your child is a Keep Safe Private Photo Vault user, (or a user of other “private vault” type app) a conversation should happen with him/her about why they feel the need to hide their photos and share them privately. If you don’t see the app, but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone. Any apps ever downloaded are stored in there.

Additionally, there are new apps that are disguised as a calculator or a folder on the device, so it’s becoming harder to find these. Two such apps include Fake Calculator and Best Secret Folder   (Both pictured here)   

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.56.31 PM

These apps look innocent and most of the calculator apps actually are real WORKING calculators. However, if you punch in a secret combination of numbers and symbols, you can “unlock” the secret photo compartment hidden behind the calculator.   Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.25 PM

Rather than checking every single app on your child’s device, one quick way to check on an iOS device is to go to  Settings->Privacy->Camera. There is a list of every app that uses or has used the camera at one time or another. 

While deleting the app takes care of the immediate issue, there may be a larger issue at hand when it comes to the use of private photo sharing by your child. Please take this opportunity to have that conversation about how NOTHING on the internet is truly anonymous or temporary. 

So….Why should I worry about this?

Much like with Yik Yak in the fall, it is likely that many students will learn about these apps from friends and be curious to try them.  Teens have a certain level of curiosity and experimentation anyway, but with the added peer pressure, it could lead to a more serious issue like “Sexting.”  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton goes into the details of sexting laws in the state on this site. While the majority of these cases are tied to state courts, here is some more information on the federal side of things.

What else is out there?

Besides those stated above, there are many other apps being made that provide the same service.  Here is a post that describes 7 different apps for iOS and Android that are out there to hide photos and videos.  Much like social media and kids, the best method of avoiding any type of negative behavior with this technology is openness, awareness and communication with your child.

Where Can I Get Help and Support?

Common Sense Media always has helpful resources for parents and kids.  Here is an article for parents on how to discuss sexting with your teen.

Eanes ISD also provides multiple resources and platforms for parents to get assistance or to report any issues that may be discovered down the road. On February 25th we’ll hold our second annual “Parent University” at Riverbend church to discuss these and many other issues with raising kids in the digital age. Click here for more information on Parent University. I also send out a monthly “Digital Parent Gazette” to interested parents to alert them of any concerns and showcase some great examples of how technology is being used in the classroom.  To receive this newsletter, sign up here.

Finally, I’m offering another “Digital Parenting  101” iTunesU course this semester.  This is a free 12-weekScreen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.01.02 AM online course offered to the public that covers a variety of topics such as social media, screen time, gaming, and helping your child make a positive digital footprint.  The course has already started but it’s not too late to sign up.  It officially runs from February 2nd through May 1st.

Click on this link on your iOS device to enroll today

(note: download the free iTunesU app before enrolling)

Thank you for taking the time to not only review all this information but also to talk with your child.  We know that it may be difficult, but it is important to have an ongoing conversation about social media and digital footprints. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact either your campus administrators, counselors, or me.

It takes a village to raise a child.  The more we communicate, the better the learning experience for our kids.

Thank you!


Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2015

magic8ballFor the past three years I’ve made an attempt at predicting what the future might hold for the Educational world, usually around the area of technology.  The truth is, anyone can predict fairly obvious things (like Google will be the number 1 search engine), so what I attempt to do here is make some daring predictions that may or may not come true (like Alta Vista will make a comeback! Ok…maybe not that daring).  Here’s a look at my 2013 and 2014 predictions which I also review every year to see how I did.  Some of my predictions that have gone right include my 2013 predictions that a non-Apple devices will rise up to challenge iPads in education (see Chromebooks) and my 2014 that a new form of social media will crop up with teens (see YikYak or Whisper).

And so, I present to you, my 2015 bold predictions that are sure to go wrong this year.

Classrooms will become automated

I’m not talking about the learning in the classrooms becoming automated, this is more about the low-hanging fruit in our schools.  Things like attendance, daily quizzes, etc can be done so much more efficiently with technology however they still require an element of human interaction (and teacher time).  I can see a future where a student walks into a classroom and the room “knows” he/she is there, thus eliminating the need for attendance (and saving hundreds of instructional minutes a year).  While this may seem big brother-ish and far fetched, I’m working with a company called Signal 360 that works on something called proximity marketing using uBeacon technology.  It wouldn’t be that far-fetched to see this one come true.

Pearson will lose its testing contract in Texas

pearson expired_edited-1With over 50% of the UK-based company’s income coming from the state of Texas and it’s500 million dollar contract, the people at Pearson could be sweating it this year as their contract comes up for renewal in the Lone Star state. It’s no secret that Pearson is now under investigation with the FBI for it’s back-room dealing done during the L.A. iPad fiasco.  Add to that a recent turbulent legislative session around standardized testing (finally!) and you start to see that Pearson could be in for a surprise this year when the contract comes up for renewal. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a Pearson-supporter) there are not really any other companies out there that can  swoop in and grab that contract, making this prediction probably more asinine than bold.  But here’s hoping….

Wearables will take over the world…and then regress

Between the Apple Watch (debuting in the next couple of months) and this gadget known as the “Ring” unveiled today at CES 2015, we’ve become smitten with wearable technology and the internet of things. I predict we’ll reach critical mass by mid-July, at which point someone will have vision problems from their Google Glasses (ala Naven Johnson’s OptiGrab invention) or get in a car accident trying to get driving directions from their watch thus resulting in the creation of the “People Against Wearables” (P.A.W.) activist group.

humanchargeA human battery level app will be invented

Realizing this is counter to the above prediction, wouldn’t it be great if you could see how much energy you had left by checking an app? (or better yet a projection on your arm via something like this)  “Sorry Bob, I’d like to work on that project with you but I’m only at 14% and I need to recharge.”  I’m hoping with all the wearable tech out there and the power of the internet, there will soon be a way to check this.  Think about how much more productive you could be if you knew this data?  Or better yet, what about if we knew this data about our students? The next step would be to invent a “Student Engagement Level” app. Now that would be something.

This year’s iPadpalooza APPmazing Race will bend the mind

Last year we premiered the APPmazing Race at our annual global event.  This year, we’re stepping it up a notch as teams will compete on a series of challenges throughout the 3-day learning festival.  At least one of the challenges we are working with in R&D is going to be pretty mind-stretching for teams participating.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with! (come join the spectacle this year by registering here)

3D Printers will become common classroom (& household) items

Again, thinking bold here, but with the rapid price drop from $10,000 to closer to the $1000 range for a 3D printer, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think we could see these in everyone’s classroom (and house) at some point in the near future. Did you break that part on your washing machine or pencil sharpener?  Just download the instructions and print the replacement part!

Someone will complete the 21 things every 21st century educator should do

Based on my blog post from the fall on this subject, I’ve heard a few people try and do some of the items on the list.  It’s not meant to be a challenge, it’s more to inspire thinking and ways to integrate everyday technology that kids use into learning, however it would be cool if someone actually did all the items on the list (and then blogged about it.)  I’m working on a book version of this post too with Sean Junkins (see final prediction), so hopefully this will continue to grow and it would great to have an example of someone actually doing this to credit in the book.

Drones will make their way into education

Forget all this chatter about Amazon and military use of drones, when will they make their way into education? I’ve seen these given away at educational technology conferences, but I’ve yet to see any actual good application of drones in terms of learning.  I can see science really getting a boost from having access to this technology right away.  Imagine the old “egg drop” experiment recorded from an aerial view of a drone? Or how about athletics and band using a different view of their formations?

Someone will complete the Billy Madison #Student4aday Challenge…maybe me?

CarlMadisonIn December I took the #student4aday challenge and became a 10th grader for day.  It was enlightening in many ways but over the winter break I started to reflect on how well do we really know our students in all grades K-12?  A single day as a 10th grader is a start, but I’m thinking we need to dig deeper and expand the grade-levels of the challenge.  I would love for someone to complete what I’m calling “The Billy Madison #student4aday Challenge” based on the cult-classic movie staring Adam Sandler.  In the movie, Billy has to go through all grade levels from K-12 to get his diploma.  We should do the same thing! Rather than being passive about this, I’m going to challenge myself to be a student in every grade level at some point in the next year and challenge other administrators to do the same.  As the principal in the movie states, “Mr. Madison, that was be one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever heard…” although my last prediction may be even more insane.

Carl Hooker will FINALLY publish a book

This has been on my radar for the past couple of years.  As I hear more and more people tell me “you should write a book!” I’m starting to believe it (I know…that’s a scary thought).  Even if my mom is the only one who buys it, I’m still hoping to publish something this year. I’ve got collaborations in the works on a couple of books and I’m working on a couple of my own ideas too…just need to find the time.

Some of these predictions I have direct control over and others I’ll be watching from a far (or on twitter) to see if they happen. At any rate, I get the feeling that 2015 will be another progressive year of change in the classroom when it comes to technology. And while some of these predictions may not come to fruition, I’m just happy to be a part of this change.

Happy new year everyone!

How Does Staffing Affect Technology Integration & Support?

How does staffing affect technology integration and support? That was the question I sent out to districts across the state of Texas and twitter.  I asked those districts to fill out a survey and self-evaluate how well they support technology (Technology Services) and how well they integrate technology in the classroom and curriculum (Instructional Technology).  I also asked how many of those districts were involved in some level of 1:1 device program in their districts. (here’s a link to that original survey)

What follows are the results of that survey followed by an infographic that summarizes the findings:

Participating districts data:

There were 28 districts participating in the survey, primarily from Texas.  Of those the largest had a student enrollment of 45,000 and the smallest had just 362 students.  12 of the 28 districts surveyed (43%) had a 1:1 program on one or more of their campuses.  There was a combined student enrollment of 256,000 students with over 210,000 devices being supported.

Who filled out the survey:

The majority of those responding to the survey were either technology directors, CTOs, or instructional technology coordinators. I recognize there can be a level of bias when it comes to evaluating your own level of support or integration, but I found these answers to be extremely realistic and the outliers tended to cancel each other out.  In fact, taking that bias inflation out of the results actually make the findings even more impactful in some ways.

Staffing Ratios:

In general, districts fund two technology support technicians for every one of their  instructional technology specialists.  As the survey data revealed, this has a direct impact on how well they are supporting technology (most felt they did a strong job of supporting technology) to how well they are integrating it (most felt they did a weak or adequate job of integration).


A majority of districts (69%) surveyed felt they had adequate to excellent level of support for technology. By contrast, only 41% of districts felt they were integrating technology at least adequately with only one stating they were doing an excellent job integrating technology.

Those districts that scored the highest on integration of technology into classroom and curriculum had either one full-time staff member on a campus dedicated to that role or a full-time staff member that shared multiple campuses. Those with only one full-time district person to support the entire district or no person dedicated to this role scored the lowest.

Almost all (96%) stated that turnaround time on a technology work order was expected to be 5 days or less.

Only 28% of districts surveyed felt that they had “Strong” or “Exceptional” professional development around the area of technology integration on their campuses.  Those campuses that rated high in professional development also had more staff members dedicated to integration of technology.


More people equals better support and integration of technology.  While that seems like a no-brainer, digging into the data revealed the a level of disparity between “support” and “integration” in these districts.  The ratio of technicians (1 per 999 students) vs that of instructional technology specialists (1 per 1910 students) seems to be the highest contributing factor to this.  If the technology doesn’t work, then you can’t integrate it.  That seems to be the mantra districts are following with these staffing ratios (we follow a similar ratio at Eanes). However, if districts truly want to utilize these tools for learning, it would appear the next step is figuring out a way to fund that professional support person to help integrate the technology, whether it be at one campus (ideally) or at multiple campuses.

Thank you to all the districts that participated in this survey.  I’ve conducted a similar internal survey with our own staff and would love another district to do the same so we can compare internal data.  If you are interested, comment below and I’ll send you the link.

Here’s the infographic:

K-12 Tech Staffing Infographic (1)

Giving Parents a Voice in a 1:1 or BYOD Environment

Our focus in education has always (or at least should always) been on the kids.  They are the reasons the school building exists.  However, we’ve blurred the lines in modern education between school and home. Once you start inviting technology into your school (via BYOD) or you start supplying the technology (via 1:1) you instantly put some pressure on parents to not only comply but be on board.

Where most districts fail (and where we failed initially) is that thinking a “parent night” type meeting or newsletter would be enough to notify parents of this disruptive change. I use the word “disruptive” here not as hyperbole, but to really drive home the point that many parents are not ready for the digital world that lies ahead for their teens.  Whether you are doing any type of mobile device initiative or not, there NEEDS to be conversations taking place on your campuses about this from elementary through high school.

I feel like as a district, we’ve improved from the unidirectional communication methods to more of a collaborative conversation with our parents around technology usage and their kids. I’ve written in the past about our Digital Parenting 101 course.  This semester’s 6-week course had over 130 parents involved and one of the best parts of the course is the discussion forums.  As an administrator it’s such a blessing to be able to have insight on the struggles of the community with screen time, gaming addiction and social media troubles.  It helps me stay informed as well as finding resources to help parents in this digital era.

Yesterday, we took the discussion a step further.

With the help of a parent (Jeff Brantley – father of 3 boys and a guru at facilitating discussion) and a couple of my team members (Tim Yenca and Kacy Mitchell), we started our first of many parent-led collaborative workshops.  In the spirit of sharing,  here’s just a few highlights and a fabulous infographic that Kacy designed to summarize the meeting.

Sticker Dot Activity (before the meeting begins) –

As parents walked into the meeting they were presented with some sticker dots.  Around the room, we had posted the top 5 biggest issues for parents (based on the discussions in the iTunesU course and informal discussions with community members).  Those 5 issues were:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.27 AM

We gave every parent 5 stickers and told them they could place as many as they wanted on the posters.  In retrospect I would have only given them 3, which would have forced them to decide on just their top three topics.  Doing this tells the facilitators which topics are the most pressing for the parents.

Line-up Activity:


Social Media partner activity

Following some brief introductions, we asked parents to line-up based on how “Social Media Savvy” they felt they were.  I first saw this done by Tim Lauer at iPadpalooza last summer.  Once the line was successfully flattened (they tend to group in the middle) we folded the line in half so that the least savvy person was paired up with the most savvy person.  Once in partners, they discussed their views on social media both with themselves and their kids.  After a few minutes, we had the pairs group into quads and continue the discussion.  This served a couple of purposes:

1. It forced the parents to be in groups with people other than their friends, thus avoiding the “echo chamber effect.”

2. It opened up discussion amongst each other around ideas and strategies when it comes to social media.

Round-robin Activity:

Staying in their teams of 4, the groups then went to one of the 5 topic posters around the room. It worked out that there were 5 teams in the room, but you could have them combine if there are more. Once at their poster they were given three different color post-it notes to relay either strategies, problems, or quotes they hear around their house about these topics.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.15.36 AM

B2vBInZCcAAG25K.jpg-large Parents discussion strategies, problems and quotes.

The discussions within these groups were incredible!  After rotating every 5 minutes and insuring that every group had time in front of a station, we had them come back and regroup for a final activity.

Final Report Out:

Now that parents had spent time in at a station, we let them choose the one that they were most concerned with and regroup with “like-troubled” parents. The final group’s job was to discuss the problems and report out some final strategies that parents can use to solve the challenges presented.  While we didn’t solve everything we did open up several connections within the community and came away with a wealth of discussion and resources.

Here’s an amazing infographic that Kacy Mitchell captured and created to synthesize the day’s activities:


I’m looking forward to continuing these parent-led collaborative workshops throughout the year and the data that they will yield.  One word of caution is that it may be necessary to frame the day for parents prior to starting. Mentioning the goals of the workshop are to find solutions rather than ranting about issues would be a good thing. It could be easy for one or two parents to turn this from a positive experience to a negative one if they have an axe to grind so going over norms would be good.

What If We Said “NO” to 1:1?

Last night, I had the opportunity to present in front of our School Board on the state of technology in our district.  We reflected on the first three years of our LEAP initiative that brought 1:1 iPads to hands of every student at Eanes ISD.  We talked about successes and we talked about mistakes and how we’ve fixed them. While we are still far from where we would like to be, I am blessed to have such a supportive staff, community and board that have helped make this program a success.  In the coming months there will be discussions about what to do with future technology funding.  While I made a strong case to continue the program, we know it costs money and that money has to come from somewhere.

As I slept last night, a vision came to me in the form of a dream.  It was a vision of an alternate universe that would have been my life and the life of this school district if we decided in 2011 not to pilot this innovative idea of 1:1 iPads.

In this dream my life was pretty boring.  I was doing a lot of training on Powerpoint.  We were constantly struggling to buy enough digital cameras for classes.  My budget was getting burned up on licensing Adobe software for film-producing and photo-editing. But as boring as my life was, it was worse for kids.

As I visited classrooms, there was no technology except for the A/V equipment and the teacher’s desktop. The computer labs were still there, but they were now 7-8 year old machines that barely worked.  Teachers fought for 45-minute time periods in the lab when they could, but ultimately, many decided it was better not to even go. We had mobile technology in the form of netbooks (maybe this was more of a nightmare than a dream) that were really nothing more than expensive paper weights.

When I woke up this morning, the dream/nightmare stuck with me.  I started thinking…what if we didn’t go 1:1? What if we took the easy way out?  What would be different?  What would be lost? Here’s just a few things that came to mind:

Apps would disappear

ASL App Not_edited-1

ASL App no longer exists…

When we first bought the iPads, the common perception was these were solely consumptive devices.  You could read books with them and that was about it. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve seen students creating amazing works of art, publish books and produce movies because they had the power to do all of that at their fingertips.  One very creative example came from Westlake High School Student Michael Bartmess. He was in need of an app to help himself and classmates with ASL finger spelling.  When he couldn’t find one in the App Store, he decided to make his own.  Where would his motivation to create this have come from without these devices?  In this alternate universe, his app wouldn’t exist and thousands of kids would struggle with finger spelling in ASL classes around the world.

The library would just be a library

One of the most inspirational spaces in our district is the “Juice Bar” at Westlake High School.  It’s a unique mix of Starbucks cafe and Apple Genius bar all-in-one. Digital librarian Carolyn Foote’s vision for this space was transformative and ahead of its time.  It provides students with a place to plan, collaborate and troubleshoot. In the world without 1:1, this area of the library would just be a sleepy corner that exists for 10-year old reference books to collect dust.

The iVengers would just be computer lab teachers

I am blessed with the best team of Educational Technologists on the planet (a.k.a. the “iVengers”). In a 1:1 environment, the role of a Ed Tech as technology integrator is vital to success. Prior to our 1:1, this position was based primarily in a computer lab (because that’s where the technology was) and was centered mainly around delivering 45-minute lessons once a week. Now they are truly coaches working to collaborate, co-teach, and design lessons with teachers in the classrooms.  In this alternate world, I think this position and the highly successful rock-stars holding the Ed Tech title would be long gone from this district and our teachers and students would suffer as a result.

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

Sir Ken at iPadpalooza in 2013

A Global Learning Festival Would Not Exist

iPadpalooza was born out of the idea that we need to gather as a group and share our successes. While it’s turned into a global event, at it’s core it’s still based on that idea that learning and sharing can be engaging and fun. In my bizarro world, this festival wouldn’t exist and the thousands that attended would have missed the inspiring words of a Sir Ken Robinson, the creative madness of a Kevin Honeycutt, and the thought-provoking questions of Sugata Mitra and the creative conversations amongst colleagues.  After all, who would want to attend “Netbook-a-palooza?”

Parents would be in the dark about digital footprints

Having a 1:1 means having continual and ongoing conversations with parents about their role in the lives of our digital kids. I’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with parents, working with parents, and now teaching parents online about what it means to raise a kid in the 21st century.  While I’d like to think that would have happened regardless of our 1:1, the reality is, in a world where every kid doesn’t have a device, what is the motivation for a district to support parents in this realm?  We blurred the line between school and home, so we need to be the ones helping in both fronts. Without this initiative, the parents of our 8000 students would be left on their own to figure out how to navigate the world of social media, how to balance screen time, and how to help their children build a positive digital footprint for themselves.

There would be a few less trees in the world

We are far from a paperless district.  However, we have more and more content being moved digitally across our network then ever before.  Pulling up our Google Drive stats today reveals that we have have more than 170,000 files, docs, sheets, and forms that have been uploaded or created digitally since 2011. Moreover, we just had our 50,000th document shared.  That’s a lot of collaboration that doesn’t take place if everyone doesn’t have a device.   If you take into account that many of those files would have likely been photo-copied and distributed and that a typical tree is made of about 80,000 pieces of paper, think about how many trees would not be here now if we said “no” way back when?

Students’ voices would be muted


Blank screens instead of blank stares

While it’s nice to save paper, create an app, redesign a library and connect with community, this one to me is the most important. Students that are trusted with a device are also empowered.  Traditional schooling exists to teach kids how to answer questions rather than ask them.  Empowered students can amaze the world and we’ve been lucky enough to have multiple examples of this over and over again in our 1:1.  From an entire class of 3rd graders becoming published authors in the iBook Store to a student creating an entire website to help her nephew with his illness, when you give students an opportunity to express themselves, you’ll be amazed at what they produce.

In this no-student-device universe, their voices might not be heard.  A universe like that means that a teacher’s job might be a little easier because they don’t have to change anything about their practice.  It means a parent doesn’t have to even think about what their child is putting on-line.  It means that administrators don’t have to wrestle with Apple IDs or filters or restrictions.  It makes the lives of all of those people a little more easier and a little more boring.  But who are we forgetting in that scenario?


They are the reason schools exist, not the other way around.  We need to do everything we can to prepare them for an uncertain future and that means NOT taking the easy way out.

For me, it means never resting until that becomes a full-fledged reality for this world.

It means more work and less sleep.

But in reality, why do I need to sleep when I’m already living the dream?

Bowling with Bumper Rails: iPad Restrictions in Schools

"Pin Sweeper of Shame"

“Pin Sweeper of Shame”

When I was a kid we used to go bowling.  No, not Wii bowling. Actual bowling.  You know, where you wear someone else’s shoes, put your fingers in some greasy ball and take in your share of second-hand smoke? (smoking was allowed in bowling alleys back then).  When I first started out, my ball went all over the place, including backwards once into a group of bystanders.  When I finally did get my sense of direction down, I would end up chucking this 10 pound ball down a lane and inevitably it would end up in the gutter.  Time and time again I would try only to be met with the “Brunswick pin sweeper of shame”.  You know, the one where that rake comes down and knocks over all ten pins that you missed?

My parents were great at letting me fail and learning from that failure, but it led to some frustration.  Enter bumper rails! While I still had to have some basic sense of direction, the bumper rails kept my ball from falling into the gutter and I was able to achieve some moderate success and even come up with the occasional strike.

Rolling out iPads in our schools in some ways as mirrored my bowling experience as a youth.  We’ve given some basic direction and support but sometimes the ball flew backward (like when we went from iOS 4.3 to 5.0). Sometimes our fingers get stuck in the ball (iPads only being used for simple substitutive tasks). And other times, even when we had students going in the right direction, their feet would sometimes step over the line before they roll(distraction).  However,  by constantly communicating with our community, teachers, students and administrators, we are continually seeking out ways to positively impact the instructional use of these tools in the classroom and thus have the kids bowl more strikes.  One of the early struggles in our deployment was the ability to be balance profiles and restrictions on the iPads so that they would have a successful educational experience. We really only had a couple of choices when we started back in 2011:

A) Let the kids bowl down the lane with the possibility of the occasional gutter ball or B) Set up blanket restrictions which was similar to bowling a ball down the lane only to have the pin sweep come down and block the pins, essentially taking away any of the creative personalization opportunities of the iPads.

Finally, this summer, we were able to use our own set of bumper rails. With the new Apple Deployment system and our revamped Casper JAMF MDM system, we were able to put some better, more secure profiles and systems in place to help further the instructional focus of iPads in the classroom and let creativity flourish.

Here’s a poster of a few of our newest restriction profiles at each level:

Eanes iPad Restrictions PosterThese new profiles will help us not only deal with our greatest challenges of the past but also help us push out apps wirelessly to student iPads at a much more rapid rate with an eye on personalizing each students’ device.  Here are three things we’re most excited about in the new system:


Casper Focus on a lane

Locked in “Focus” when needed:

With the new Casper Focus tool, teachers can lock student iPads into a single app.  This means that we can use the iPads for testing and even as a substitute for expensive calculators.  While we don’t want teachers over-using this feature, it will give them some scope of control when needed to get the class re-focused and on the same page so to speak. (like those directional arrows in the bowling lane)

Managing Distraction:

We are highly concerned that non-educational gaming and iMessages were causing some disruptions to learning and causing kids to be off-task or distracted during the school day or at night.  With our new MDM update, we have removed iMessages from the devices entirely and also improved some of the restrictions for gaming. We still believe it takes a village with a team approach of parent and school to teach kids self-control, but this new system gives us the guidelines (Bumpers) we need to make that happen effectively. One student found this out when he tried to turn in his iPad after getting it this Fall and claiming that it was broken.  When he was asked why he thought it was broken he said, “Because I can’t download my favorite game.  It just keeps disappearing.” (Strike!)

Our new App Deployment model

Our new App Deployment model

Over the Air App Distribution:

At the secondary level, students could get apps from us via a web-clip called “Self Service.” This was a nice way to make apps available for students, but it meant essentially giving away the app as a consumable because once it was redeemed, the student owned it.  With the updated MDM system and the new Apple ID Under 13 program, students K-12 can have apps “pushed” to their iPads over the air without going and looking for them.  By that same token, the apps now act as licenses which can be “pulled” back whenever a student leaves or starts a different course (Think rapid ball return and pin set-ups)

While we are always working to make personalized learning the perfect blend of support (bumpers) and guidance (arrows) which will turn learning into a success (strikes). With these new additions, I think we are well on our way to bowling a perfect 300 when it comes to iPads in Education.

Now…if I could just improve my personal bowling score…Am I too old to play with bumpers?

21 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Do This Year

The Past mixing with the Future #selfie

The Past mixing with the Future #selfie

A new school year always brings about new ideas and hopeful ambition for teachers. However, it’s almost 2015.  Gone are the days when we can use the excuse that “we don’t do technology”.  Part of being a teacher in the 21st century is being creative in integrating academics and learning into student’s digital lives. With access to content being ubiquitous and instant in student’s out of school lives, we can either reject their world for our more traditional one, or embrace it.

While some of the ideas that follow may seem a bit trendy, it’s never hurts to model ways to interact with all this new media as a covert way of teaching digital literacy and citizenship.   The great news is, you don’t need every student to have a device to make these happen. Heck, in most cases all you would need is a single smart phone.  All you need is an open mind and some student-led creative thinking.

And so, I present the 21 things every 21st century teacher should try in their classroom this year:

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog.  While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student “guest author” write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class.  This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter account to post a tweet about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.  Nominate a “guest tweeter” and have them summarize the day’s learning in 140 characters or less. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Make a parody of a hit song

The ultimate form of flattery is imitation.  The ultimate form of stardom is when Weird Al makes a parody of your song.  Why not take that to an creative level and have students re-write lyrics to their favorite hit or a popular tune?  Sure, this might take more time than it’s worth academically, but the collaborative sharing and engaging aspect of producing such a thing can be a positive.  Who knows, maybe someone in history class will remake “Chaka Khan” into “Genghis Khan” or something like this classic:

4. Create an infographic as a review

Those clever little graphics are appearing everywhere from Popular Mechanics to Cosmopolitan. Why not make one as a way to help visual learners review and remember information?

5. Go paperless for a week

Depending on your grade level, this might be harder than you think. Even in a 1:1 district we still print or have need to print things from time to time.  The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital.  Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp?  Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other’s papers, you ask them to share a Google doc?   If your students don’t have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month.

6. Have a “No Tech Day” just for nostalgia’s sake

And then have your students blog about the experience.

7. Create your own class hashtag

Tell your students and their parents about the hashtag and have them post ideas, photos, and questions to it.  It’s a great way to get people from not only in your class but also around the world to contribute to your class conversation. You can also use this with your blog posts (#1) or classroom tweets (#2). Bonus points if you use something like VisibleTweets to display your posts in your class.

8. Create a list to encourage democracy in your class.

It could be as simple as a list of choices for a project or something as grand as what is one thing you want to learn about this year?  Whatever the choice, use to create a crowd-sourced voting list and let your students have some say in their learning!

9. Integrate Selfies into your curriculum5b7df7199ed9f846a52813b021033049

This one might take some outside the box thinking,  but I’m guessing that there are students in your class that could come up with a creative way to do this.  Maybe take a selfie next to a science experiment? Or a selfie with an A+ paper? #SuperStudent

10. Curate a class Pinterest account 

Pinterest is a great visible way to curate resources but why not create a class account that has a different board based on projects throughout the year.  Add students as collaborators and let them post their projects to the board.  You could also have a board on gathering resources and information for a topic which would be a good time to mention what is and what isn’t a valid resource?

11. AppSmash Something

Besides just fun to say, you should definitely take multiple apps on whatever device you use and smash them together into a project.  Check out this post for the basics and remember, it doesn’t have to be you who is doing the smashing.  Let your kids come smash too!

12. Participate in a Twitter Chat

Twitter can be like drinking information from a fire house at times, but finding a good twitter chat on a topic and participating can be a great way to learn and grow as a teacher.  Check out Cybraryman’s list of twitter chats and times to find one that interests you. Don’t see any you like? Make your own! Remember in step #7 when you created your own class hashtag?

13. Make part of your classroom “Augmented”

Why not make take an app like Aurasma and hide some easter eggs around your room? You could make them about a project or just secret nuggets about you.  It’ll keep kids (and parents during back to school night) engaged and turn dead space in your classroom into an interactive learning opportunity.  Need some ideas?  Check out Lisa Johnson‘s List (Remember, you know how to make those now from #8!) of over 50 Augmented Reality apps.

14. Create a recipe on to make your life easier

With all of these tools and social media platforms, it might be a good idea to create some ways to automate tasks in your classroom. has some great pre-made “recipes” to combine some of your accounts into simple workflow solutions.  You can even have your plant email you when it needs water.

15. Create a Class Instagram Account 

Have a daily student photographer who’s job is to post an example of something your class/students did that day. If you don’t want to mess with “do not publish” lists, you could ask that it be of an object or artifact, not a person.  This would also be a good time to talk about when and how to ask permission to take someone’s photo.  Mix in your class hashtag(#7), throw in an IFTTT (#14)recipe, and all the sudden you can also auto-post selfies (#9) to your class Pinterest board (#10)

16. Perform in a LipDub Video 

This can be either a solo project or for even greater effect, tie in your parody song (#3) and have your students act out their learning throughout the video.  Don’t forget to hashtag it. Bonus points if said video goes viral like this one:

17. Make a class book

The ease with which you can publish books now is amazing.  Using a tool like Book Creator or iBooks Author, you can publish to the iBooks store or Amazon.  Don’t want to do something that intense? Keep it simple and make a book using Shutterfly and then have it printed as a keepsake.

18. Participate in a Mystery Hangout

This sounds a lot scarier than it is but essentially think of playing the game 20 questions with another classroom somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to a community page with more resources. It’s a great way to increase cultural and global awareness and you could event invite the other class to add to your Pinterest board (#10), vote on your (#8), comment on your blog (#1) or maybe co-collaborate on an eBook (#17).

19. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

20. GHO on Air with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Using Google Hangouts On Air means you can record this session on the fly and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

21. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease,  our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good.  Participating in a global project gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their own life challenges.

BONUS – Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure you blog about it when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

Oh….and be sure to hashtag it.


Update: Thanks to Sean Junkins who made this great little graphic for the challenge.  Collaboration at it’s finest!

Thanks to @sjunkins

Thanks to @sjunkins


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