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Time to Stop Waiting to be Inspired #iplza15

Form title ipad weirdThe past week has been a whirlwind. Running an event like iPadpalooza takes energy, effort and organization.  But more than that, it takes heart. I saw and felt the love this week from all of those that came to share and learn.   While we all came to Austin with our own perspectives and differences, I get the feeling we all left with a little piece of inspiration to push us through whatever life has to offer us in the future.

As host, I miss a lot of the individual sessions and the attendee experience. Actually, I don’t think host is the right word…more like “ringmaster”.  This event was a circus.  Complete with unicorns and flying drones and ASL interpretations that I can’t quote on this blog.  I’ve told people running something like this learning festival is like coordinating 15 weddings all at once. Music, food, travel, speakers, sponsors, schedules, apps, volunteers, and building all have to flow seamlessly to create an atmosphere of contagious learning. My true joy comes from seeing others engaged, laughing and enjoying their experience. That said, I do have moments of joy myself and here are just a few of the highlights from the perspective of the ringmaster.


Adam with our Racers (and a unicorn)

Adam with our Racers (and a unicorn)

He’s the kind of guy you feel like you should call by first name. I first met Adam Bellow a few years ago at ISTE in 2011. He was this funny guy walking around with a blue tooth in his ear and seemingly always smiling. It’s the kind of smile that seems like he knows something.  That “something” is the truth about what’s real and what isn’t in education. Last November, Adam and I spent a day wandering around the convention floor at GaETC. I was trying to get a handle on the man that had closed down ISTE 2013 with tremendous praise. He had to be our opener for this year because no one else could bring that kind of compassion and enthusiasm to the stage at Westlake high school.  Being the tone-setter for an event is nothing to take likely and he did not disappoint.

The Race

I always feel kind of a sense of waste when I attend a conference and I don’t have a session to attend or no one to talk to (I know hard to believe, but sometimes I’m shy).   The APPMazing race was born out of the need to have fun and collaboratively learn and create with others. While this year’s race was intensely memorable, I love the inventiveness of the teams and their spirit in fighting for whatever bonus points they could muster. I found it interesting that the winning team scored the most creative bonus points by taking huge risks (like taking their “jumper” pic by jumping into a hotel pool fully clothed and hanging out the back of a food truck for their “foodie” pic). It reminded me that sometimes you have to take risks to succeed.

“I’m just ready to get on with my life”

Kids say the darnedest things. During this year’s youth film festival, one of the participants mentioned that he was in fact ready to put this behind him and move on with his life. While it was both honest and hilarious, it made me think about how much we push our kids to do sometimes. My personal highlight of the week also came during this evening event as I got to see my 6-year old daughter take a seat as one of the film finalists. She was deathly afraid to come up and speak in front of a crowd of strangers, but she did it. When I saw her crack me that halfway-Sophia-smile (like looking in a mirror) my pride was actually physically welling up inside of me as a father.  While I would cry both at the event and the next day at the closing, I couldn’t help but also be excited for what the future has to offer her and her sisters. I’m just glad I get to play a part of that future as both a parent and an administrator in the district she attends.   (Ok….now my tear ducts are filling up again…enough!)

My take on the 2014 Academy awards #groupie

My take on the 2014 Academy awards #groupie with our Youth Film Fest kiddos

3 to 4 Minutes

One of my favorite moments of ADE2013 was when they had 10 speakers attempt to get out an idea in exactly 3 minutes. Once their three minutes was up their microphone went dead and the spot light turned off.  While I liked the concept I felt like it left people stressing  time more than the message. The “mini-keynotathon” on day two was my attempt to remix that concept only with the message taking precedent over the time. And as was witnessed by both Jennie Magiera and Richard Wells, the message took precedent over slides even.   From Felix Jacomino‘s take on a Frozen classic to Amy Mayer all telling us that change is good and “you should go first” the inspiration was being thrown from the stage like a peanut vendor at a ballgame. One of my personal favorite moments of all-time came as I looked down at this lineup of Ed Tech all-stars that I felt honored to listen to and even more honored to call friends.

Our MiniKeynotathon speakers

Our MiniKeynotathon speakers

Eric and Guy

Having these two goliaths in their industry close down day 2 and 3 was a huge coup. Getting Guy Kawasaki was solely the magic of Lisa Johnson as she was able to parlay a SXSW breakfast conversation into him enthusiastically wanting to speak at our event. Eric Whitacre has always been inspirational to listen to during his TED talks, but hearing him in person was way more impressive than any video I have ever seen. My personal joy moment came when I looked down on the 12th row and saw my music teachers all beaming from ear to ear. We need to remember that art and innovation go hand in hand. These two keynoters exemplified this belief.

Eric Whitacre was a tremendous closer!

Eric Whitacre was a tremendous closer! (and a handsome man)

11th Hour in the Green Room

With one hour to go before the close, I needed to find a place to put together my closing slides.  I was going to find a quiet corner in the green room when I noticed some laughter from the back table. Seeing George Couros, Cathy Hunt, Richard Wells, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Rafranz Davis and several others sharing stories around a virtual campfire was too tempting to resist.  All of these amazing educators in one room and I’m trying to find a quiet corner? Forget that! So I picked up my MacBook and pulled up a chair around the fire. While I wont share the stories we shared (those are for me), I can say without a doubt this was a professional highlight of my career.


That brings me to the title of this post. We all find inspiration in different places. Some of us find it in art or music. Some of us find it in technology. One person found inspiration in a unicorn mask. Many of us find it in learning and teaching. I find it somewhere else.

I find it in people.

Being surrounded by people that are truly captivated by learning and sharing is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed.  It’s an infection that I don’t want a cure for and have a desire to spread to others. June 21, 2016 can’t come soon enough for me and the traveling circus known as iPadpalooza.

Thank you all for being my inspiration!

p.s. Couldn’t attend this year but want to experience some of the magic? Check out this highlight video by Spiral Stair Media

iEngage: An Inspiring Event Every Educator Should Experience

Shannon kicks of iEngage!

Shannon Soger kicks of iEngage!

Have you ever been inspired?  I mean truly inspired to do something different?  A quick check of the word “inspire” in reveals the following four definitions:

1. to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence:
2. to produce or arouse (a feeling, thought, etc.):
3. to fill or affect with a specified feeling, thought, etc.:
4. to influence or impel:

I was witness to all of these the past two days at the first annual iEngage-Berwyn event in that took place in the suburbs of Chicago.  Event organizer Shannon Soger (an inspirational person herself), calls this a mash-up of all the best parts of conferences she’s attended in the past.   Take the site visit  portion of EduCon, the playfulness and interaction of iPadpalooza, the story sharing of an EdCamp, and sprinkle in some engaging Keynote speakers and you have iEngage.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the conference:

Site Visits

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There’s nothing like seeing learning in action.  At Berwyn South, they use the moto “Teach Above the Line” (re: SAMR) and they mean it. So much so I actually saw this sign in one of the 4th grade classrooms.  This school is 80% low-economic and ALL of the students take their school-issued iPad home with them.  The students were extremely comfortable sharing their stories and Shannon mentioned to me they get site visits almost weekly to see this magic in action. During my site visits I saw students creating projects, interviewing guests, solving problems, collaborating on concepts and learning how to read in two different languages…..all on a random Friday at the end of the school year.  Incredible!

Use of hallway space for learning at Pershing

Use of hallway space for learning at Pershing

One of the schools we visiting (Pershing Elementary) had really done a great job of using what I call “dead spaces” in the hallways and stair wells to utilize the mobility of the devices to expand the learning beyond the classroom walls.  One student actually interviewed myself and Brad Waid in one of these alcoves with some pretty hard-hitting questions, the hardest of which was “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  My answer: I don’t ever want to grow up :)



The MyON Dream Big Film Festival

MyON Dream Big Film Festival

MyON Dream Big Film Festival

On the first night of the event we got to watch 15 incredible student films centered around a favorite book they read and how it inspired them to dream big.  Co-sponsored by MyOn (an online reading tutorial program), these students each shared their tales about how reading about a hero like Harriet Tubman or Jackie Robinson had opened up their mind to a greater cause.  I love the use of mixed media to not only show the books they loved by but also using video to express how they were inspired by them.

The Learning

Saturday morning keynote speaker John Antonetti said it best when he said, “Engaging without cognition is really just having fun without achieving anything.”  The technology usage during the two days was engaging, but also extremely meaningful and encouraged learning.  From the APPmazing Race to the outstanding sessions shared by teachers, leaders, and students, learning was interactive and it was everywhere.  Closing keynote speaker Kevin Honeycutt‘s always entertaining and poignant words were the perfect wrap-up for this event. One of my favorite sessions was by Pershing Principal Marilyn McManus and all the ways she uses social media like Twitter and Instagram to share the story of their school.  As a leader, I found it inspiring to see someone modeling the very things she wants her students and staff to  do.  Here’s a sketchnote of that session:


The “Crew”

Lastly, an event like this isn’t possible without a tremendous crew of dedicated people. One thing is for certain, these people LOVE their jobs.  This amazing group of educators are all working together for a common goal…to truly celebrate higher-level learning with technology.  Jordan, Meagan, Jim, Ramona (“Mona”), and the iEngage posse were extremely open and candid with the struggles they overcame to make this work.  It was obvious to me that their dedication and passion for the schools in which they work really drove this initiative to the success it has become.   The fact that there were 50+ students on a Saturday volunteering and sharing their story really drove home the point that this was in fact a complete “learning community.”

I thank you all for letting me be a part of your community for the past two days and hope that others will get to experience your event in the future!

"Bookend Keynote Speaker Selfie" with Kevin Honeycutt

“Bookend Keynote Speaker Selfie” with Kevin Honeycutt

The 9 People That Attend Every Ed Tech Conference

Having just returned from my annual trek 6 miles down the road to the TCEA conference, I noticed something about the participants of that event and the one held the previous week in the same location (TASA Mid-Winter).  The TASA event had one MAJOR difference….suits.

And I mean a LOT of suits.

It’s an event focused on school leaders and things school leaders like (apparently wearing suits is one of those things).  While the attendees at that event seem to be fairly one-dimensional, an event like TCEA brings all kids of people from all different walks of life.  Teachers, librarians, administrators, tech people, all co-mingling around the concept of technology integration in schools.  These people are far from one-dimensional and they rarely wear suits.  That said, as we are a society that likes to categorize people, I found myself starting to do the same this past week.

Let me start out by saying that I have been EVERY one of the people on this list.   I know that’s kind of like me saying “with all due respect” right before I insult you, but it’s true.  That said, I present to you the 8 types of people that attend ed tech conferences:

#1 – The Mind Blower

I find the phrase “mind blowing” overused a bit in our field.  I think there are a lot of great ideas out there and if someone is inspired by one, I think that’s a huge win.  That said, can someone’s mind truly be blown at every session they attend.  In fact, just trolling the #TCEA15 and searching for the term “Mind Blown” brings up a couple of dozen tweets on the topic.  Quotes like “Google Slides are blowing my mind right now” or “Come to booth 807 to have your mind blown” seem to be common.   I don’t want to diminish the excitement of attendees and I’d be honored to in fact blow their minds, but really?  I mean look at this crazy tweet –

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.28.27 AM

#2 – The Internet Shopper (A.K.A. Pinterest Junkie)

As I sit quietly in my sit and get session taking down notes, I’m distracted by the heavy internet shopping of the lady to my left.  Without being too obvious, I glance over to take a look at the cheetah-patterned lamp shade she’s debating on buying.  What does this have to do with Ed Tech?  Well…at least she’s using her device for something right?  We’ve all been in sessions that are just not that compelling and I’ll admit to my mind wandering toward a twitter stream to see if there is a better session taking place. But I usually don’t find myself searching Pinterest to find new ways to cover my ottoman or a creative way to make valentine’s day cards that will make all the other kindergarten parents jealous.  Now….that said….if a particular sporting event or zombie show was on…it might be a different story.

#3 – The Exhausted/Overwhelmed Person That Needs More Caffeine

It’s 8:57am on the first day of the conference and this person is already overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge being thrown at them. Add to that the fact that it’s been 13 minutes since their last double-expresso upside-down caramel latte and it’s a wonder they can function at all.  I find myself becoming this person somewhere between 3:00 and 3:15 generally, so I understand the feeling.  Much like my #student4aday Challenge, there is just so much you can cram into your brain attending back-to-back sessions and hope to retain some of it.  As for caffeine, well, think of it as oxygen at events like this.

#4 – The Session Hopper

Forget internet shopping or being overwhelmed, this person just can’t stand to be in a session from more than about 9 minutes.  Call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) or just someone who likes to optimize their seat time, but I see people bouncing in and out of sessions pretty much regularly (Shameful admission – I did this twice this past week).  I can’t really blame people for doing this though.  After looking over the session titles, it’s hard to really glean how good a session or presenter will be when it’s called “Top Google Tools” or “The iPad Classroom”.   It would be great if someone invented some sort of rating system for presenters or content….hmmmmm.

#5 – The “Can’t Leave Work Behind” Person

I’m trying to listen and learn from this presenter but I can’t seem to get away from my email.  The world isn’t going to stop if you don’t read those emails for the next hour, but your learning will.  With the multitude of devices and “notifistractions” we encounter, it’s hard to focus on learning when you are putting out little fires each day. Do yourself a favor and try leaving all your devices behind one day to see what happens.  You might be amazed that the sun still comes up the next day.

#6 – The After-Event Social Butterfly

@mguhlin calling me out

@mguhlin calling me out

Ok.  I’ll admit it.  This was (and sometimes still is) me.  For some, it’s the offering of free food and drinks.  For others, it’s an opportunity to let loose away from the office.  Either way, the larger the event the more corporate-sponsored after-hour gatherings take place.  Being a major extrovert and social butterfly myself, I can’t blame these people for wanting to let loose or connect with others.  Learning can happen in many different forms and arenas.  Some of the connections I’ve made at social events have really helped me as an educator.  That said, it’s hard to get up and learn at an 8:00am session when you just got in a couple of hours earlier. My (unasked for) advice? Choose one night to have fun with colleagues and friends, but don’t over do it.  Afterall…you never know what will get posted on social media…(see image to the right)

#7 – The Serial Social Media Poster

Again, I can’t point fingers without pointing them at myself on this one.  There’s a fine line between “over-sharing” and sharing though.  I draw it somewhere in between – “Just had some bad indigestion from that food trailer burger across the street #burp” and “I just had my mind blown while typing this tweet.” (see #1)

#8 – The Cyberstalker/Twilebrity 

In my history of Ed Tech conferences I’ve been on both sides of this (although stalking is a bit of a strong term).  I remember vividly sitting in the lobby of BLC ’09 with my wife and then one child as I saw the likes of David Jakes, Alan November, and Howie Diblasi gathering. My wife could tell I was excited but I didn’t know what to do.  My go to move when spotting an actual celebrity is pointing at them and shouting their first and last name (Matt Damon!!) but as I that might come across the wrong way, I decided instead to send my toddler in as a method of introduction.  I still find myself star-struck from time to time, but now I’m starting to receive that same kind of treatment (which is very humbling).  Tom Whitby wrote a great post about this a couple of years ago and I find a lot of his message really hits home.  You never know who you might influence or who might influence you in this world, but in the end, remember we are all just regular people.


Coming to a exibit hall near you?

#9 – The Exhibit Floor Swag Hoarder

Everyone loves a free T-shirt, especially me.  But is it really necessary to have every single pen and piece of candy offered in the vendor hall?   One year when I was still in the classroom I once spent two days gathering as much free stuff as I could to take back to my kids.  Last year we even ran a contest during TCEA where we gave a major prize to the attendee that gathering the most swag.  The winner picked up more than 600 different items!  At some point there will be a intervention type show on TLC for these folks, but until then I’ll happily listen to your 15-minute sales pitch in order to win that USB Aroma2Go oil diffuser!

As stated at the outset of this post, I can honestly say I have been each of these attendees to Ed Tech Conferences in the past.  I reflect on them more for my own amusement and they aren’t intended to offend, but rather provoke thought.  Are there some that I left off the list?  If so, please comment below.

After reading these, I’m sure you might feel a little bit overwhelmed, but I’m really just hoping you’ll leave this post feeling like your mind was blown.






#Student4ADay Challenge Predictions

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Rocking the Ugly Xmas Sweater in HS

Tomorrow I will become a high school student.  Now I know that some of you that know me well could probably make the case that I’ve always been a high school student at heart, but tomorrow it really happens. No this isn’t some sort of weird Billy Madison-esque thing where I have to go back to school to get my diploma, it’s actually part of an experiment.

Inspired by both Grant Wiggin’s post and our own Kacy Mitchell’s challenge to be a middle school student for a day, I’ve decided to place myself right in the middle of Westlake high school for a day. But before I embark on this challenge, I thought it might be a good idea to reveal why I’m doing this and make a few predictions.

Why Become a Student For a Day?

As an administrator, I’m faced with making decisions about major items on a daily basic.  I spend time in meetings discussing and planning those decisions.  I spend time speaking to parents about the rationale behind those decisions. And I train staff on the impact those decisions will make in their classrooms.  However, the one group I feel I don’t have a strong enough grasp on is the most important group of all…the students.  It’s my hope that by becoming a student for a day I can a small glimpse into what their daily academic life looks like.  How do they use technology? How well do they interact in class with the teacher and with each other? How prevalent (and often) is their use social media throughout the day? How uncomfortable are those desks they have to sit in?

These are just a few questions that I’ll be focusing on as I go through my day. My schedule will follow that of

Carl Madison? or Billy Hooker?

Carl Madison? or Billy Hooker?

a typical sophomore which encompasses the following subjects:

1 – English

2 – Chemistry 1

3 – Interactive Media

4 – Lunch

5 – World History

6 – Geometry

7 – Choir

8 – Business Information Management

Some Predictions

I’ve already contacted all the teachers of those courses to let them know I’ll be doing this challenge to learn more about the kids and that it won’t be a teacher observation.  I’ve also asked them for any relevant homework that I’ll need to be prepared for when I show up (I was a little stressed to discover I need to re-read Catcher in the Rye all the way through chapter 17).  That said, in being a student for the day, I thought it would be fund to make a few predictions of what I’ll discover.  Here are 5 that I’ll be looking for:

1. Kids will always be on their phones between classes – I hear that this is always the case so I wonder what it is they are doing.  Is it just texting or are their selfies taking place all over? Will I be late to class if I participate?

2. My lack of a healthy singing voice will hurt me in choir – I’ll blame the fact that I’m recovering from a cold, but I’m going to guess I’ll make a lousy choir student. Hoping no one records this class and posts it on YouTube.

3. The desks will hurt my back – I have an ergonomically correct chair in my office for lower lumbar support and a standing table for when I need to stand and type.  That won’t be an option tomorrow.

4. Technology use will be a mixed bag – While this schedule lends itself to some high end technology use (I’ll be in a couple of computer labs), I’m curious to see how much the iPad plays a role throughout the day.  Although, the English teacher already emailed me to tell me it’s a completely paperless assignment in his class which makes my heart warm.

5. My “real job” will affect my job as a student – This might be the one prediction that will definitely come true.  I’ll have access to my email and I’ll know be the “tech guy” in the classroom that can fix any technical problem.  Hopefully I’ll be treated like a regular student, but just like Reality TV, that’s not a real possibility.

Follow Along

While I’m going to do my best to be a focused student in the class, I’ll also be live-tweeting the day via the hashtag #Student4aDay.  I hope to use this hashtag to help me reflect on the day later but also as a way for those of you on “the Twitter” or Instagram to follow along.

Join Me!

Lastly, while I know I’ll gain a lot of valuable information by doing this, it’s my hope that other leaders will follow suit and do the same.  Like I said before, we make decisions all the time that affect kids.  I think it would be a great idea for every administrator and teacher to try the #Student4aDay challenge and see the world from a different perspective.  If you do decide to do this, make sure you reflect about it in public and then share with the world.  We can all learn from each other!



Digital Zombie Series: The Digital Yawn

Coming off my SXSWedu presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” and subsequent MindShift article on how our brains are “changing” with societal changes, I thought I’d start a 5-part series of observations and tools to cope with this new digitally instant world.  Today’s post focuses on a trend I’ve been noticing as our phones become more and more smart.

“The Digital Yawn” 

You ever have that moment, where you experience something and are somewhat annoyed by it?  Better yet, have you ever actually participated in something and end up annoyed at yourself?

I’m one of those people that feels naked without their phone.  I used to think I was in the minority, but after my SXSW presentation, I think I’m now just part of the “in” crowd.  I experimented going digitally naked once and felt the experience strangely freeing and refreshing.  It’s kind of like carrying a heavy back pack full of essential things and then putting it down for a moment.  You know you need to pick it back up again but enjoy the break on your back muscles.

The other day, I was amongst a group of colleagues discussing work life and talking some mild business when it happened again.

That moment.

I was witnessing something I sensed was happening more and more in social circles (even in non-social ones). Here’s how it goes:

Everyone is standing or sitting around, having conversation when someone decides it’s time to check his phone.  Maybe it vibrated.  Maybe it flashed or blinked up some sort of notification, but he checked it. Then, almost without fail, someone else in the group decides to do the same thing.  Only, they likely weren’t notified or “pinged” for any reason.  They were merely mimicking the action of a group member doing the same thing.  Or maybe they took his actions as an opportunity to break from normal social maladies to check their own device.

Only it doesn’t stop there.  A third person takes this opportunity to check their device. Then a fourth. Then a fifth.  Eventually everyone is checking their phones.  This experience is what I’m calling the “Digital Yawn”.

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Originally, I wanted to call it something more viral like YouTuberculosis or iFluenza or maybe Cell Phonic Plague.  But since it usually isn’t a permanent or long lasting event, I had to search for something simpler but just as contagious like a yawn.

After some back and forth on ideas with colleague and blogger, Gina Dodd, I settled on the idea of a “Digital Yawn.”  It turns out this isn’t a completely unique idea as research would turn up this article from the Huffington Post mentioning the yawn parallel to cell phone usage back in 2012.  I think something more ubiquitous and device agnostic works better for these situations (especially with the proliferation of tablets in the world).

The second event that usually follows a group digital yawn is a moment of involuntary silence.  This is known as “Nocialization”, or the lack of socialization in a social setting. Again, research shows that this term has started to make appearances in Urban Dictionary in mid-2013.

While I think that as a society we are becoming more and more connected, that connection comes with a cost.  The cost of giving up face to face time with others.  The cost of being fully in the moment.

So what does all this mean?  Are we all becoming Digital Zombies?  Drawn to our phones like those walkers looking for brains? Are more and more of us are ambling about through the world slowly as we check our text messages?

No. I don’t think so. The reality is, like with any innovation or cultural nuance, society is quick to become addicted and latch on.  But eventually we level out.  Check out this picture Jacob Luevano shared with me on twitter.  Apparently there were paper zombies before there were digital ones and we have been nocializing for a while.


No, I think like anything else, this pendulum will swing to center. Becoming aware of these social (or non-social) situations is the first step in balancing out our lives.  So the next time you are in a crowd of friends or trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers, resist the temptation to grab for that device and check on it.

Instead, lean back, breathe in the air, and smile.  You are now a member of a new movement.  We are battling the digital walking dead one person at a time. The apocalypse may come one day, but with all of your help, we can at least enjoy each other’s conversation and company as the end comes while our phones vibrate and ping away unsuccessfully trying to gain our attention.

Technology: The Great Amplifier


Courtesy of Mike Licht

The power of technology in the hands of students can be both a terrifying and incredible thing to behold.  Students previously left to daze in the back of the room or too shy to take part in a discussion can now be heard.  Subjects that pique students’ interests are no longer road kill on the way to the land of high-stakes tests.  Even the most boring of interactions has an up-tick of engagement when technology is involved.

I recently witnessed one of our 1:1 fourth grade classes engaging with those dreaded “Fractions worksheets”.    I walked  in and the class was silent, even in rapture if you will,   with their fraction worksheets.  I even heard one of the students proclaim, “This is fun!”  This was not some sort of strange Twilight Zone episode, it was the teacher, Mr. Lofgren, making use of his newly delivered iPads to turn an everyday mundane task into one of excitement.  Now, I agree, this is purely a substitutive task on Dr. Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, but the participation was incredible to behold.  Every student wanted to share what they had learned, because, they were excited about learning.

The Worksheet Revisited


While this was an example of iPads in the hands of kids early, and the nuance of the device still intact, I skipped across town to take part in an interview with a 3rd Grade 1:1 teacher, Ms. Wright, and the local news.  Ms. Wright has had the iPads since last Spring and by her words they, “Completely transformed the way I teach and my motivation to teach and learn.”  Surely, all the amazement and wonder at the hands of a magical device must have some downside?  Well, it turns out, there is.   Two weeks prior to my experiences at the local elementary campuses, I heard story after story from some concerned parents of our secondary students about distraction in the classroom.  While there were only a few cases of this, I decided to dig a little deeper into why some teachers “just got it”, while other struggled with it.

During the course of my investigation, NPR posted this interview last week with some educational leaders all having various experiences with 1:1 tablets in their schools.  During the course of the interview, a caller called in claiming this was “entirely appalled” at the direction schools were going in with technology.  During the course of his rant, he made the claim that these devices “cover up bad teaching.”   This is where I have to disagree. In fact, as discovered from the previously mentioned situations, 1:1 technology seems to amplify teaching ability.


Ms. Wright’s class on the local news

Let’s take the first two examples, Mr. Lofgren and Ms. Wright.  While both of these teachers were at different levels of having iPads in their classroom, their students still used them appropriately. In the case of Ms. Wright’s class, the technology had almost become invisible and just a tool students used to expand on their own learning.  In the latter example, it turns out, a few teachers hadn’t really accounted for the idea that this access carries with it some level of expectation of use.  It had actually amplified what had been a flawed system in classroom management.  Unlike what the NPR caller stated, bad teaching is easier to cover up when the students are forced to turn off all technology, sit in rows, and quietly listen to lecture.

What can we learn from this?  Those of us entering the world of 1:1 learning, must prepare for the messiness that comes with such implementation. Continual professional learning for your staff braving this frontier is a given if you want it to succeed. You must prepare that with the great advantages to learning gained, come some ugly truths that must also be faced at times.  Don’t believe me? Ask a student in one of these environments.  That is assuming of course, you can get their attention…


This blog is cross-posted here:

Webinar on iPad deployment and the WIFI project

Here’s a link to a webinar I hosted through Region XIII. It’s about 45 minutes long but you get to hear my pre-flu dulcet tones as I talk about the project from start to finish.


“Give Me Your Digits” – the Evolution of the Telephone

Rotary iPhone Dock

I remember a day, not so long ago, when everyone had ONE phone number. It was sometime in between the movie Wall Street and the TV show “Saved by the Bell”. In our household, we just finished a major debate about the validity and cost-effectiveness of keeping our home phone. This isn’t a new argument as many of our friends are “Cell-Only” friends. Times sure have changed….

Our family has the benefit of having access to a great resource when it comes to the history of telephones; Her name is Aunt Gloria. Aunt Gloria worked for “Ma Bell” for 50 years (and 1 day she likes to throw in). She started working in the 1950’s and can vividly recall what switch boards were like and if you wanted to place a call from Austin to El Paso you had to route through Chicago. The scary thing is that wasn’t all that long ago, but light years in terms of technology evolution. TV’s and Radio’s from that era have certainly come a long way as well, but they still have a place of relevance in our society (although declining).

Home telephones are on the verge of obsolescence. Without a doubt cell phones have had a large affect on this, but taking a look at history you’ll find that telephones, and the numbers themselves, have been evolving too.

Up until the mid-1960’s, telephone numbers all started with 3 letters followed by 4 numbers (the “LLL-NNNN” format) thought to help us with memorization. When you’d call the switch board operator, or “hello girl”,  you’d give them a word then the number so they know where you were placing your call (i.e. “TREnton – 3403”) The Russians were the first on record to actual go to the all-numeral approach in 1968 which has now evolved into our current automatic dialing format. The letters required to call certain places remain on our phones and lots of advertisers still take advantage of that via mnemonics that help us remember their business. (call 1-888-BOLOGNA)

LBJ Phone

Can you hear me now?

While this history lesson is useful and entertaining (Aunt Gloria tells a great story about how she hung up on then President LBJ), it doesn’t help us with our current domestic dilemma. Do we keep our home number or get rid of it? After a couple days of contemplation, a brief trip to the store made our decision for us – we decided to keep it.
While the ability to locate the house for a random 911 emergency was a very important factor, it wasn’t until we went up to the check-out line of a local Randalls grocery that we realized our home phone number is a part of us. We use it at the gas station. We use it to get discounts on toys at Toys R Us. We even use it to work-out. It’s amazing how quickly the phone number has become our defacto replacement for identification. One of our friends actually uses our phone number when going to the store. This change has been happening over the last several years and while it’s true we could switch all those memberships to our cell phone, who wants to go through all that mess? So instead of paying for home phone service, we now view it more like we are paying for “multiple membership identity” service. Think this is crazy? Recollect how often you give out your home phone number to people. Now think of how often you use it to verify membership for some service or signing up for something. Which do you use if for more often? Last year I’d estimate we gave our phone number to 2-3 people and used it over 30 times to sign-up for something, and even that might be a low number. So then next time you go to Home Depot or 7-Eleven, see what the googly-eyed clerk behind the counter reacts when you tell him your number is “Trenton-3403”.


Resources: A short history of the telephone & Aunt Gloria

Holiday App Menu!

Here’s a delectable list of Free Holiday Apps to entertain you in the weeks to come!

Carl’s Holiday App Menu

A Modern Interview for a Modern Position

Recently, we were lucky enough to create a new position for our district titled – “Educational Technologist: Mobile Integration Specialist”. You always hear stories about training our kids for jobs that aren’t even created, and here was the perfect real world example of that. This position’s job description focused it’s traits on the 4 C’s of 21st century skills along with an emphasis on mobile learning (BYOT, iPads, etc).

Going through the interview process can be time-consuming and cumbersome at times so I wanted to make sure that we had:
A) Ample time to accept qualified candidates
B) A group of core staff filter the applications with a rating system
C) A smaller group of core staff to interview those that made it through the application process and
D) A larger group of core staff actually being trained by the finalists in a professional development setting.

Photo courtesy Business Week

It’s this last method that I’d like to focus on. I feel like individuals on paper and in an interview setting don’t always show what they truly are like. I’ve often said, that when it comes to the Presidential election, we should put all the candidates on an island Survivor-style and see who makes it. Those of us at home can see the true colors of the candidates.

Since we didn’t have a television show or an island, we elected for the “mock” training instead. Only there was nothing mock about this training. It represented the final step in a lengthy, elaborative process. Those making it to this final round were all extremely talented and worthy of the position. However, seeing them in action in what will be their actual habitat was not only eye-opening, but also extremely informative into how they work, operate and relate.
The finalists were given over a week to prepare a lesson with only a few parameters:
1. It was between 45 minutes – 1 hour
2. It had to involve the iPad in some way
3. The group they would be training would be made up of a diverse group of staff members.

Prior to the interviews, I sent the large group the applications of the finalists to look over and an evaluation survey of their thoughts on how the person presented. (here’s a Sample) As you can tell by the survey, I broke it down into areas such as content organization and reading the audience.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, all of the finalists did a great job demonstrating their training skills. It came down to what the group thought would be the best fit for the position. The interesting part of this is the process involved over 20 people from all different levels over the course of a month. Through all of those levels, there were a clear two candidates that everyone felt were the cream of the crop. The final training/interview re-iterated that fact, so much so that staff were actually pleading with me to hire both candidates.

While I think the talent pool of the candidates has a major factor in this being successful, I’m left wondering, why don’t we do this with all of our potential hires? I know the job may not merit an “in-action” style interview, but I could easily see this translating to teachers. Imagine a potential teacher with a focus group of 2nd grade kids coming in and teaching for a day with the kids. Or how about a mechanic having to diagnose a problem and fix it with a car? The two are not as different as you might think. It takes interaction, knowledge, creativity, and lots of critical thinking to be succesful in these style of interviews.

There are some drawbacks with this style of interview, mainly that a teacher in the group could derail the entire group if he/she doesn’t like a candidate.  Also, except for a couple of members of the focus training group, not all of them knew the backgrounds of the candidates besides their paper resume as they all didn’t sit through the initial interviews.  The reason I thought it was successful here was that the people chosen to be part of the focus group were and are all sensible, open-minded instructors that I respect tremendously.  Add to that the fact that all of them would have some interaction with this person down the road, it was important that they had buy-in on the process.

Now, if only they had the power to let me hire two candidates instead of one…


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