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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

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.38.53 PM

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.

Why We Should Stop Doing THAT

Stop it.  no-excuses-e1272580171400


Yes you.

You know what you are doing.  You are making excuses.

“We don’t have enough time for THAT.”

“We don’t have any money for THAT.”

“State-testing is too…yada yada yada…for THAT.”

“My Tech Director won’t let me do THAT.”

“My community doesn’t support THAT.”

“Teachers have too much on their plate to do THAT.”


Whatever your THAT is, hiding behind a layer of excuses is a cop out.  If you truly feel passionate about your THAT, you need to figure out a way to make THAT happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I said “We” in the title.  I’m just as guilty of making excuses in my mind.  However, I never verbalize them.  The second you give your excuses a verbal road to travel, you’ve started laying cement for the road-bumps along your journey.

Now you may say, “Yeah that’s great Carl. Way to be positive, but you are not a realist.”

I am a realist, but I also believe enough in my THAT to not let any of the above excuses stop me.  Does it mean long hours, tons of work, and lots of set-backs?  YES.  But that’s part of making THAT happen.

I’m at an event with some of the most brilliant minds in all of education. Hearing those excuses in the hallways here is rare when it comes to THAT.  As a member of the class of 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator class, I find that every one here is passionate about their THAT and their looking for more.  Instead of excuses, I hear the attendees saying things like, “I want to do THAT!” or “I would love to try THAT in my classroom!”

I’ll be honest, it’s easy to get a little optimistic in this crowd.  The passion amongst the 400 or so attendees is electric.  While we were all brought here because of our passion behind integrating Apple products in our schools, what I’ve noticed is all of our minds go way beyond THAT.

The beauty is everyone has a THAT.  What people decide to do with it is the difference between those that have a real desire to learn and those that are just working for a  monthly paycheck. But even those paycheck-to-paycheck workers have some THAT that sparks their interest and motivation, it might just not be in their work life.

I’m truly blessed to be working in a district on making  THAT better. Where all the teachers and admin believe in THAT. So you might be thinking…what is THAT?

THAT is for you to ultimately decide, but when you figure it out, don’t make excuses.  Don’t relax on your mission.  Commit.  Go all in.

After all, THAT is what makes us great.

THAT is why you get up in the morning.

THAT is what stimulates your brain on a daily basis.

THAT is why you fight for something.

THAT is the legacy you will leave behind.

Are you ready?


Why We Lie and How Technology Helps Us

We all lie.  Plain and simple, there is no way around it.  The depth at which we lie depends on the reasons and motivation behind lying.  No matter what the excuse, if there’s any truth it’s that we all lie.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the basis for why we lie, specifically in education, and how new technology now enables us to lie with greater ease.

A study on cognitive neuroscience by the Discovery channel posts the following explanations of why we lie:

We tell untruths for several reasons. Sometimes we actually lie to gain others’ respect. For example, maybe a coffee-fetching intern tells friends he’s a “research assistant.” Other fibs help stave off the consequences of making a mistake. Still others, a great many people, perhaps, will lie to spare someone’s feelings. While their hearts might be in the right place, and diplomacy may best trump the absolute truth, technically they’re still telling a lie. Want more reasons? Some men and women may lie to each other to present a better first impression. (So much for a good foundation for a relationship!) Clearly, there’s no end to the reasons people lie.


Work of art?

With all this lying taking place on a regular basis, it only makes sense that our educational systems provide the early fertile grounds for this learned behavior.  We in education may not like to take blame for this and rather eschew blame to the parents (lie #1). The truth of the matter is, we can’t help but lie in education.  When little Johnny comes up to us to show us his “work of art” (that looks more like a lower intestine) we applaud him for his work and effort.  We don’t say, “You know John, I have to say, what you’ve made there is quite disgusting.  It looks nothing like the object I asked you to create.  As a matter of fact, it looks like some sort of internal organ.”  We tell this fib to instill confidence in little Johnny, so we pass it off as allowable.  Since we are trying to develop confidence in our pupils,   let’s take the teacher-student interactions out of the equation and see what that leaves us with.

Even without that interaction, we are still borderline pathological in our lying habits.  One only need to observe a parent-teacher conference to see the tapestry of fabrications weaved to make the parent feel at ease about their child’s short-comings.  Make no mistake about it, this deception also helps the teacher.  With a giant class-size, testing pressure, administrative oversight, and all other things that weigh into a teacher’s day, it’s a miracle they can even come up with an helpful anecdotes about their students.  Luckily, with the invention of technology, we know have “hard data” that we can easily show parents that want more evidence.  We are data-driven junkies, not because we like interpreting data, but because we need it as back-up for the brief observations we may have with one of our students during the day.  Having a report or graph to show a worried parent, informs the parent that his/her child may have some faults, but it’s not the teacher saying it.  It’s the computer-generated read-out’s fault.

Technology allows us to be more impersonal and in some cases avoid possible conflicts too.  A few decades ago, when a principal or administrator had a problem with a teacher, he/she would call the accused into his/her office.  There would be a conversation, albeit an uncomfortable one, about how that teacher needs to improve upon his/her practice.  This is not only hard for the teacher to hear (imagine being told how to parent better) but it’s also uncomfortable for the boss trying to communicate steps for improvement.  Enter the magical world of technology and specifically in this case, email.  Rather than point out some faults to a few teachers, a carefully crafted “all staff” email can now point out the fact that jeans are only acceptable on Fridays or that recess should be no longer than 20 minutes in length.

Instantly, through the power of quickly delivered written words, a suggestion for improvement switches from personally threatening to professionally informative. The teachers “hear” the message and the administrator avoids any uncomfortable situations. We can also wield technology to help us out of sticky situations.  Like in the above “jean” scenario, when the boss sees an employee in jeans on a Thursday, he/she can refer to the email sent clarifying dress code.  “Don’t shoot the messenger, heh heh, it’s the email that said it.”  It’s amazing how brave people can be over email and how that impersonal communication can be a scape-goat much like the “office memo” in this great Office Space scene:

Of course, lies can also flow in the other direction in this scenario. Technology like text messages, give us a false sense of immediacy in conversations.  I will admit that I have seen part of an email or read a text message from someone and not acted on it right away.  The amazing thing about all the ways we communicate now is that email or texts are seemingly equated to the spoken word.  “Didn’t you get my text?” is a favorite comment relayed at my house.  While I don’t try to avoid, neglect, or ignore a text message asking me to pick up even more specialty diapers or the seemingly endless amount of prescriptions required to raise my three girls, I have seen a message and not acted on it right away.  And what happens when I’m called into question about whether or not I received the text?  I lie.

Little angels...all of them.

Little angels…all of them.

The ultimate vehicle for lying with technology is social media.  Look no further than Facebook to see not only how rampant lying is, but also how it’s become the new normal when it comes to how we tell our story.  For instance, if you examined my page from last Easter Sunday, you’d see that my estrogen-abundant family had quite the special day.  We woke up to presents from the Easter bunny, full of smiles and joy.  My kids spent the day, posed beautifully in their Easter clothes, exploring the grandparent’s backyard with our cousins.  We ended the day dancing and laughing with Grandma before quietly settling to bed preparing for the next week to begin anew.  The reality of the day is a lot less picturesque than the one I painted on my page.  Sisters screaming at each other over candy, a near death incident with a baseball bat and an Easter pinata, and three very cranky, sugar-laiden girls that refused to go to sleep.  With social media tools like Facebook, we can now paint pictures of ourselves that are far from reality.

This is the basis for our own personal “PR” if you will, but it’s also true with school districts.  Don’t believe me? Go look at any school’s Facebook or Twitter page.  You won’t find anything about the fight that broke out in the cafeteria or a heart-warming story about the C-student that quietly sits in the back of the class.  We promote what we chose to promote.  This isn’t lying to the true sense of the word, but it is deception.  One of my most read posts of all-time is the 10 Things Not to Do in a 1:1 implementation.   I wrote it to show the ugly truth and hard work that goes into these sort of initiatives.  I did it to help inform others, but also to show that while it may seem all rosy in the press, the reality is this new technology is messy, disruptive and hard to adjust to for everyone.  We need to continue to tell those stories in education as well as the good ones to paint a more accurate picture of what is taking place in our institutions.  Otherwise, we may not be telling lies, but instead, revealing only the truths that we deem worthy of telling.  Paint that picture for too long and we may end up with something short of a work of art and more like little Johnny’s lower intestinal masterpiece.

A more accurate view of the day from my youngest

A more accurate view of  Easter Sunday from my youngest daughter

#NoEmail4Lent Week 1 in Review

Week one of not using email to communicate is in the books and let me just tell you…it was HARD!  Despite some smirky grins and sighs from colleagues I made it all the way to 5:14 PM today without checking my email.

What happened at 5:14?  I cracked. When I started seeing the news fly about the Apple Distinguished Educators acceptance/rejection I had to go in and check.  I felt guilty about it (hey, I’m Catholic). However, technically I didn’t use it to communicate or interact so I think I’m still in the clear.

Week 1 Challenges:

First off, I could tell this would be tough when on day one I had 15 screens going at once. Getting “meaningful work” done would be a problem with all those screens going for communication.  I needed to streamline it.  Today I altered my auto-response to list ways to get in touch with me immediately (chat, text, twitter, phone, f2f) and ways to send me a longer message (Google Docs, or other ways to send me general stuff (Facebook, G+, Edmodo, etc).

My bigger challenge is that I’m starting to find that I’ve missed out on some important conversations or work related topics going around.  I started feeling bad for others that would have to work harder to get in touch with me.  While the point of this is make them think of other methods of communication, I don’t want this to turn into a situation where teachers can’t get help because of my Lenten goals. I’m trying to figure out a way to make that work.

Week 1 Positives:

From day one, I could tell right away that I’d be more apt to face to face conversations than before. Whereas in the past I might have either hid behind email or opted to send someone an email rather than have an actual conversation, I couldn’t do that any more.  I even had random people tell me that it might be a good idea for all of us to do this once a month or so.  I loved that idea!  I’m hoping to start an “Un-email” day around the office to encourage people to get out to campuses and talking more.

Smoke%20SignalsAnother positive has been the amount of different ways people have gotten in touch with me and the overwhelming support many have shown from the community, from member of our School Board to my Superintendent to even my wife (who was one of the biggest skeptics in this whole experiment).  It’s been nice to hear stories from all over and people sharing ideas with me. I had  a class of students from the Dallas area offer to send me letters which I thought was sweet.  I even had one community member try to send me smoke signals (via his Brisket smoker) as an alternate form of communication not on my list.

Week 1 Data: 

Some interesting findings for week one.  I only counted email in my inbox for my 4 email addresses that get the most email (yes, officially I have 8 email addresses, could be part of my problem there).  That means many hundred filtered messages were not counted.  Final week one numbers:

Unread email = 725

Non-email interactions = 406

Top 3 forms of non-email communication:

1. Face to face = 68 (doesn’t include repeats)

2. Twitter = 51 (not tweets, just interactions)

3. Texts = 23

Here’s what the 7 days look like in Graph form, ranking from highest to lowest.


You can tell when the weekend hit (days 4 & 5) and also that Monday (day 6) was a holiday for our district. Email has started to decline slightly, but not much at this point.

Week 2 forecast: 

We are having our third child this Thursday, at which point my auto-response will change to “Paternity Leave”.  I’ll be curious to see if that affects people in any way.  Anyway, should see a dip in interactions, especially face to face. (except for doctors and nurses :)

Follow my daily log here: #EmailLess

10 Ed Tech Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2013

2013 new year sparklerPeople always try to be prognosticators at this time of year.  Resolutions, predictions, and usually at least one or two references to the end of the world will be spewn across the internet in the next several days.  So I decided to attempt my own top ten prediction list, only these are predictions I’m pretty sure won’t happen. Besides, I think I have a better chance of success when I go with failures, so here goes:

Top 10 Ed Tech Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2013:

1. The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever –

We’ve all fallen in and out of love with this phrase in the Tech world.  “Digital living” or “soft skills for the global marketplace” have been bantered about lately as alternatives, but I haven’t really heard a good phrase to replace this soon to be 13-year old phrase.  In technology years, that’s like a century old.  If it hasn’t happened in the first 12 years of the 21st century, I doubt it will in the next year, but here’s my attempt:  We should call them “the Curious Core” and do away with those 4 subject areas of the 1950’s we clutch on to so tightly.


2. The Flipped Classroom will become commonplace –

When done right, the idea behind flipped instruction (homework at school, lecture at home) is a valuable tool.  Although, it can also be just additional busy work or as Gary Stager puts it: “The flipped classroom outsources our inability to edit an obese curriculum to children who must pick up the slack in their “spare” time.  If this prediction comes true I pray it’s not at the cost of kids having to double their school day, but my money is we are still a couple years away before this becomes “commonplace”.

3. The PC will make a comeback!

Just wanting to make sure you are paying attention.  There will still be a bunch of PCs out there, especially in education where they can die a slower death.  The reality is, there is a use for both PCs and mobile devices in the new educational landscape.  That said, PC’s will continue a downward sales trend.

One Tablet To Rule Them All

One Tablet To Rule Them All

4. A Non-Apple tablet will rule them all –

Apple’s iPad is likely safe for another year, but the not-so-impressive price point of the iPad Mini and the closing of the gap by Samsung, Kindle, Asus and now the Windows 8 phenomenon will mean Apple will have to continue to up it’s game to keep the wide lead it has in the tablet markets.  And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest Apple competitor out there….Google.

5. More districts will  realize there needs to be more  instructional technology support staff –

In 2013 terms like BYOT, 1:1, Flipping, MOOCs and “insert tech term here” will all be parts of classrooms in districts across the land.  With all these great technology gifts comes a tail and it’s called training and support.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this prediction comes true to the determent of all of us trying to truly make technology integrated and invisible. I’m fortunate to have my team of #iVengers, but a district real close to me decided to go in the opposite direction. In 2011, this unnamed, large, urban, central Texas district purchased 20,000 netbooks while simultaneously firing or “re-structuring” their entire Instructional Technology Department.  Now, those netbooks sadly sit in closets waiting to be loved.

6. Someone will finally name their child “#” –

We have a bunch of crazy names out there already, why not #? The problem is people older than 40 will call him “Pound Sign” and people younger than 40 will call him “Hash Tag” causing all sorts of character confusion later in life for this kid.  No truth to the rumor that our third (due Feb. 26) will be called “@ Hooker”.

Bennifer attending a High-Stakes Event

Bennifer attending a High-Stakes Event

7. We will finally break away from accountability ratings based on high-stakes assessment

There’s a better shot of JL0 and Ben Affleck getting back together than this happening.  I do think there is a ground-swell movement sweeping across the country (and in Texas for sure) to do away with a lot of this.  I think we are still somewhat addicted as an educational institution to the perversion of high stakes testing.  Other options could be accreditation and local accountability systems tied into evidence-based learning and national assessments.  I just got way too serious there, who are we kidding?  We all know what a smash hit Gigli was, right?

8. There will be a record turnout (and heat) for ISTE in San Antonio in June

The ComicCon of the the Ed Tech world comes back to Texas this year. With budget cuts (see number 5) and Texas’ non-Common Core values along with record hot temperatures, the turn out for this event is likely to be down from San Diego the year before.  I predict convention goers looking to make more of a splash in the Texas area will instead opt  to attend the cultural event known as “iPadpalooza” held in Austin the week before.  At least there will be live music and food trailers there!

9. Internet Memes will become the hieroglyphics of our culture

As absurd as it sounds, this one is the one item on my list likely to come true.  I think I’ve seen these quirky photo-phrases double on my Facebook and Twitter feeds every day since mid-March.  What started as a bunch of “I Can Has Cheezburger?”  cats will eventually evolve into an actual university-level course I predict called “American Meme: A picture is worth just a few clever words”.


Social Media = Email Death?

10. My “Giving up email for Lent” experiment will be an epic success –

This experiment is way ahead of it’s time.  In fact, maybe too much ahead of it’s time.  I’m going to attempt to give up email for Lent on February 13th, 2013.  I’m going to have an auto “In the Office” response that tells people the other 15 ways in which they can get in touch with me.  The premise is simple, the next generation of kids barely use email.  While it may never go away, (hey, we still have snail mail) I do feel it’s time we start examining how it’s used and the wide-variety of ways we now have available to us for communication.  My wife and several co-workers have told me this could be the end of me, but I figure between the religious reasons and the fact that it begins on the 13th of ’13, I should be safe.  Right? Stay tuned….

So there you go.  I hope you enjoy and please if you know a professor who could teach the Meme class or think of a better phrase for 21st century skills please comment below or just add to the list!  Happy New Year!

Using the Past to Learn for the Future – A 1:1 Tale

Harvey Barnett

Recently, Greg Garner (@classroom_tech) and I had an opportunity to meet with former Tech Director of Cupertino USD, Harvey Barnett.  Doing a Google search of Harvey turns up little, until you include the word “apple”.  It turns out, Harvey was acting Principal of Stevens Creek Elementary School, one of the first Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (or ACOT) back in the 1980s.  What did ACOT do?  It was one of the first longitudinal studies to focus on learning rather than technology.  It’s premise was that through increased access to technology, learning, problem-solving skills, and knowledge to content increased.  The basis of ACOT was a simple question:

 What happens to students and teachers when they have access to technology whenever they need it?

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  The proliferation of 1:1 programs across America are based on this similar question, while they may not state it so plainly.  Mr. Barnett’s approach as building Principal and then later as Technology Director was the same: How do we learn with computers, not just from them?  That’s a challenge we have been facing on a daily basis during our 1:1.  I’ve written about SAMR and how substitution is the first level teachers begin at with 1:1 technology.  Turns out, that phenomenon has been happening since 1985 as well during beginning of ACOT.

Education has embraced the “project-based” concept of teaching, but the research from ACOT would suggest rather than an “all or none” strategy, there should be a balance between instruction and construction.  Mr. Barnett mentioned many challenges familiar to me during the beginning stages of this, including teachers opting out of using the technology or being hesitant to use it for fear of failure.   His primary bit of advice for this challenge, was giving that hesitant teacher an opportunity to see it work.  He stressed how important it was to have time and professional development, but that above all, he saw rapid transformation when teachers had opportunities to observe peers use the technology ubiquitously.  That’s a challenge many of us face.  How do we fund the time and training other than the summer and an occasional conference that’s primarily attend by the early adopters rather than the objectors?

One of the staples to getting those objectors on board is the theory in Geoffrey Moore’s book titled Crossing the Chasm.  I’ve spoken about this idea before but never known the basis of the research until today.  While his theory is based on technology adoption and success, Mr. Barnett nicely ties Moore’s concepts this to teacher professional growth.  There are innovators, pragmatists, conservatives, and the skeptics.  Once the innovators have convinced the pragmatists that the technology solves a problem for them, the conservatives are likely to follow.

Much like the SAMR model, Mr. Barnett recognized similar stages based on research by Ellen Mandinach that teachers will go through during a technology implementation.  While these are from ACOT research from 1985-1995, it’s incredible how much of it rings true today.

Mandinach’s Stages of Technology Integration with Teachers

1. Survival Stage – All teachers, from visionaries to skeptics go through this stage.  Teachers at this stage find real struggle against technology.  They know it will take work, might not always work for them, and in some cases, might actually fail on them in front of their students and lead to subsequent embarrassment.  You hear phrases like “I don’t have the time to work on this” crop up quite a bit during this stage, especially if other initiatives are taking place.  The primary teaching method during this stage is strictly lecture-based instruction.

2. Mastery Stage – At this stage, teachers are more comfortable with the un-predictability of technology.  Teachers begin to lecture less and guide student learning through a project-based approach more often.  Teachers begin to see technology as a way to solve problems, not just a scheduled time in the lab.

3. Impact Stage –  At this point the classroom is learner-centered with the teacher acting as a facilitator. Lessons will still address content standards, but the method of delivery is mostly project-based.  Technology supports these standards and in fact, enhances it over the traditional textbook.

4. Innovation Stage – The holy grail of learning happens during this stage.  Teachers see the students as both teachers and learners. Teachers develop lessons and project-based objectives with technology infused into instruction. Assessments, portfolios, projects, etc all involve student use of technology and access on a regular basis.

After looking at Mandinach’s stages, I realized that we are a far way off from innovation, but not as far off as one might think this early into a 1:1 implementation.  Teachers are planning and meeting to discover ways to integrate technology in their classrooms. While still primarily teacher-led, the instruction has started to shift to the students. This type of urgency and shift didn’t happen with Interactive whiteboards, projectors or document cameras.  It didn’t even really happen with computer labs. It’s happening now, because students have the tools and access all day. So how do we help get the teachers get from Survival to Innovation?  Barnett presented these six ideas along with the four stages on this presentation from 2002:

1. Inspire and support leaders

2. Teacher-driven, bottom-up decision making

3. Incentives for risk-takers

4. Emphasize process over product (this is a biggie!)

5. Recognize the need for time.

6. Provide access to appropriate hardware and software.

While we spoke more about these items and many others during our hour-long visit with Mr. Barnett, it seems like many things have not changed from the ACOT days to the 1:1 Tablet revolution taking place today. The essential question remains the same: We can get kids to learn from computers, but now how do we get them to learn with them?

More resources: ACOT2 – Apple’s update to the research

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