Category Archives: Uncategorized

25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting

Now that we have all been thrust into the world of online learning, we have to figure out ways as educators to engage our students when they are online. Some of the first things schools did when shifting to remote learning was to hold regular video meetings with their students. These can vary based on the ages of the students and the frequency of when a teacher interacts with their students, but most teachers realized quickly that they can’t use the same behavioral strategies (like proximity) that they use in a physical classroom. This can lead to a lack of student engagement and involvement in what is trying to be taught regardless of age.

These 25 strategies listed here are not meant to take the place of deeper learning. That kind of learning is generally better when done with a mix of asynchronous learning. That said, in order to get our students to that deeper state of learning with greater depth of knowledge (DOK) levels, we need to make sure they are engaged when we have synchronous conversations and discussions. Some of these strategies take little set-up while others might take more time and energy to make them really successful. The purpose of these tools is to draw students into the lesson/activity and make them engaged and looking forward to your next virtual class meeting.

While there are a lot of video meeting solutions out there, I’m going to focus many of the tools around the Zoom platform as it has some of the best interactive features and seems to be the most widely accepted in K-12 schools across the country. However, as many of these strategies can be used with any video platform or device, I only focused on Zoom-centric ideas on the first 5 strategies, the rest you can use on any platform. Also, kids (especially teenagers) can say and do that darnedest things, especially when being remotely hidden behind a screen. As you would with the physical classroom, I would strongly encourage teachers discuss norms when it comes to interacting over video chat with their students prior to any of these strategies.

Here are 25 strategies to engage students on your next Zoom meeting:

1. Share your screen 

I’m going to start out with one of the basics. While you may be doing many of your chats with just video, don’t forget that you have the ability to share part or all of your screen with your students. This can be something as simple as sharing a question of the day to an entire slide show. If you have a slideshow that you’ve already created for use in your classroom, don’t recreate the wheel, just launch it on your share screen and use built in Zoom tools like ‘raise hand’ or the chat room to have a floating backchannel as you go through your slides. One bit of advice, check what items you have on your desktop and in your “favorites” bar of an internet browser before you share that with your students. There’s nothing more embarrassing than you students seeing your latest beach pic or maybe your bookmark for you favorite drink recipe.

2. Use the Whiteboard feature

Of course, if you don’t want to share your screen you can always use the built-in whiteboard feature that comes with Zoom. This feature can take some getting used to, especially if you are using a mouse or trackpad. To use it, simply go to share your screen and choose “whiteboard”. A little tip – if you have tablet like an iPad, install the Zoom app and then join the meeting with your iPad as well. This works better for drawing especially if you have a nice stylus or Apple Pencil. (just be careful you have one of the devices muted to avoid echoes) Of course, as you get more comfortable with Zoom and student expectations, let your students also use the whiteboard feature to share their understanding. If you are not using Zoom, a tool like Classroomscreen.com has a bevy of tools including a whiteboard if you share your screen with your students.

3. Enable the Annotation Features

Another feature that you could use when sharing slides, photos, or websites is the annotation tools. You’ll want to check your account settings to make sure these features are enabled by default. Having these tools enabled, you’ll be able write over any image, highlight certain features of a website, and make the viewing experience for your students much more interactive.

4. Create breakout rooms for collaboration

My favorite of all the Zoom features for learning is the ability to create breakout rooms for your students. Unlike whiteboard and annotation features, the ability to create breakout rooms are not enabled by default. You’ll want to go into your account settings to enable this ability before using it with your students. Once enabled, you can have Zoom either automatically or manually assign students into rooms. Even if it’s automatically assigning, you can swap students out depending on group dynamics (note: it helps to have your students put their name on their Zoom login). You can even rename the rooms depending on group names or topics before assigning certain students to each room. The great thing about these rooms is that it can create a more collaborative setting than the large whole-group zoom experience. As the moderator you can float around and join rooms to check in on the discussion, post an announcement to all rooms, or even place a time limit on them. Once you ask students to rejoin the whole group and end the breakouts, they’ll have 60-seconds to wrap-up their discussion and rejoin. A powerful way to enable collaboration remotely! Check out the video below for a quick how-to:

5. Virtual backgrounds can be more than just fun

If you’ve been in any Zoom meeting the past couple of months, you’ve probably seen all sorts of crazy and fun virtual backgrounds. These can be hilarious but also distracting so some educators have disabled this feature for their group meetings. However, there could be some productive uses of these virtual backgrounds. Some examples of using virtual backgrounds might be re-enacting moments in history with the appropriate backdrop, selecting a geographic landmark they might be studying or “visiting” virtually, or just having students select either a solid green or red background to quickly show if they agree or disagree with a topic (hint: use Grid view for this). No matter the reason, virtual backgrounds can be much more than everyone acting like they are a character from The Office.

6. Play “I Spy” Backgrounds

If you really want your students to focus on everyone in the classroom, play a game of “I Spy” backgrounds. You can do this either with or without virtual backgrounds, but in essence you are describing things that you notice in the background of someone’s zoom call. Students then quickly have to search all the attendees and see which student’s background is being described. A fun, 5-minute way to get students hooked into their next Zoom meeting.

7. Scavenger Hunts

Probably one of the most popular games to play with students is a virtual scavenger hunt. The premise is simple, you have a list of items and then ask students to run through their house or apartment attempting to find the items and show them on the screen. A quick word of advice on this is to be sure you are not picking exact objects for them to find like “a toy cell phone”. Rather, create a category that could involve all sorts of different objects that qualify like “an object with numbers on it.”  This will reveal a lot of different interpretations of the clue as well as not limiting what students can find around them. You could also use software like Eventzee or Goosechase to do a virtual scavenger hunt throughout the day or week where students capture items you’ve identified with their camera.

8. Live Quiz or Trivia

Last week, I got to host a virtual trivia night via Zoom. We had over 150 people during the event that drew lots of positive feedback for keeping them engaged while also doing something fun during this stressful time. I used a pro-level software called Crowdpurr to run my event, but I could just as easily do something similar using a tool like Kahoot! or Quizziz. These quizzes or trivia can either be done live or student-paced. Having the scores decrease as time dwindles down on each question also prevents students from “googling” the answers as it will affect their score. Check out the latest “Challenge” feature within Kahoot to create more of a self-paced challenge for your students that might have limited access to technology or can’t participate synchronously.

9. Survey your students

In the classroom, we use the classic “raise your hand” to gather feedback from students. In Zoom, it’s no different as there is a “Raise hand” button available to students, but some savvy teachers have also figured out that the chat room can act as an impromptu survey as long as it involves brief responses. For better tracking, you could always use a tools like Nearpod, Polleverywhere, or Peardeck to gather feedback via a second screen or browser tab. Playing a game like “would you rather” would work well to test this out before using it more in-depth in later lessons.

10. Brainstorming ideas 

Gathering feedback in polls is one way to interact with students, but you could also use a shared collaborative space like a Padlet or Ziteboard to have students discuss and brainstorm ideas on shared spaces. You could also combine this with the breakout rooms (#4 from above) to have each group brainstorm a topic while you navigate from board to board. A tip here is to create the “walls” or spaces for the students to collaborate on so that you have a live link to what they are working on. Once you’ve split them into groups, share your link to each group to work on.

11. Interactive presentations

Yes, you can share your screen and even your slides with your students via a tool like Google Slides, Keynote or Powerpoint. But since you have them live, why not use a tool like Nearpod to actually guide them through the learning with you. Ideally, this would work best with two screens, but since everything these days is web-based you could guide them through the presentation on one screen while they follow along to your voice on the other. Doing this on an iPad? Share the join code with your students and then have them switch to the Nearpod app while leaving the Zoom app open in the background so they can hear your voice while following along. Of course, one of the best parts of using a tool like Nearpod is all the extra features like Virtual field trips, 3D models, Microsoft Sway, collaborative boards and more. One thing I’ve tried that worked well was embedding a PollEverywhere poll within my Nearpod. That way students didn’t have to jump out of the app ever.

12. Embrace the pause

Silence can be awkward in the classroom. It’s even more awkward when you are looking at more than two dozen teenagers on the screen. That said, it’s important to let students pause and reflect throughout the lesson. Using a countdown timer either on a slide, video or on a tool like ClassroomScreen.com helps students know when they should break from their pause or reflection. As I will mention on my next point, students need breaks from lengthy instruction throughout their day whether they be on a screen or not. If you are hosting a 50-minute lesson online, build in a 5 minute break for students to stretch or get a glass of water to keep their brain active.

13. Brainbreaks

Taking breaks throughout a lengthy lesson are important whether it be for a reflective pause or just an opportunity to stretch. Using tools like GoNoodle, teachers can lead a virtual dance party in their remote classroom to get the kids up and moving. One word of advice here, if you are playing a video through your system speakers, make sure you don’t have headphones on or adjust the audio source in Zoom by clicking on the up-carrot symbol next to “Mute” to change your selection of audio output. (see image on the right)

14. Reveal your answer

With everything being digital, it’s also nice to take a break from digital as you already have a Zoom meeting occupying the students’ screens. There are a wide variety of analog strategies you could use with your students by using paper and pencil. One might be sharing a math problem on your screen while students work out the results. Then, countdown and have them reveal their answers to their cameras at the same time. I’ve also seen teachers have success doing a “directed drawing” by pointing their webcam or phone camera down to a sheet a paper while they give instruction and then have students share their creations at the end.

15. Box of Lies

A big struggle with online learning via video is keeping students focus and attention, especially to the finer details. The game “Box of Lies” was made popular by Jimmy Fallon (video below) and would be a creative way to see if students are paying attention. The premise would be that the teacher or student has an object out of camera view and then has to describe the object. You could do this with all sorts of other ideas from historical figures to using descriptive words in another language.

 

16. Monster drawing

Taking that directed drawing from #14 to the next level by doing a Monster drawing. In this activity, a teacher or student read aloud descriptions of their drawing but don’t let other students see it. They have listen for information like “my monster has a rectangle body” or “my monster has 5 eyes, one of them is big and in the middle” to figure out the drawing. This helps kids both with descriptive words but also with listening and translating. In the end, have students show their creations on the screen to see who got closest to the description. This activity could be used in other areas as well such as re-creating a story character or describing a graph in math.

17. Organize projects online

Distance learning doesn’t just have to be about kids filling out digital worksheets or playing online learning games. Students can still do long-term projects either individually or in groups even though they final results may be different than what was done traditionally in the classroom. Using online project management and productivity tools like Trello, MeisterTask or ClickUp can help students struggling with organization and timelines. Coupling those tools with video meeting check-ins can help kids learn how to collaborate and complete a project online over a length of time.

18. Breakout a Digital BreakOut EDU

BreakoutEDU has always been one of my favorite ways to engage students of all ages by creating a series of clues and challenges that the students have to uncover. For the last couple of years they’ve been offering Digital BreakOutEDU as an online version of their platform. Teachers could leverage the “breakout” room feature of Zoom with a Digital BreakOutEDU and have teams solve the challenges within a certain timeframe. The great thing about their platform is they have already done most of the heavy lifting in creating the BreakOuts for you based on subject and age level. You can also check out this “Build Your Own” resource if you don’t have the funds to purchase a subscription.

19. Who’s who?

A fun non-tech game to play is “Who’s who?”.  In this game, students privately message the teacher some facts about themselves and then the teacher reveals the clues. Students then write down their guesses as to who the person is based on the clues. This could also be turned into “Two truths and a lie” fairly easily. Other adaptations could be students sending clues about historical figures, book characters, etc. that the class has to figure out.

20. Play BINGO

Who doesn’t love a good game of BINGO? While this isn’t the classic game with numbers, balls, and clever calls, it is using the set-up of Bingo as a way to review facts, geographical locations, scientific terms, or even mathematical applications. Using the Flippity.net BINGO tool, you create what goes in the squares and then you read out the clues while students fill out their own digital square or by printing a game card. Flippity actually lets you send out the cards via link or QR code as kids can fill in their cards digitally. Then when it’s over, have them share their screen and review their answers to see who wins!

21. Host a Game Show

Amongst some of the other Flippity.net tools is the classic Jeopardy-like game show. A great way to review information for a unit or novel study, you can fill in the back-end answers using a Google spreadsheet and then share your screen with the game board. Students can play individually, or you could pre-assign teams and then send them to breakout rooms to discuss what they think the answer might be.

22. Story Progression

You remember the “telephone game” or maybe the game “one-word stories”? This is a similar concept where you start the story and have random students add the next line. A story could start with “Once upon a time….” and then you could select the student by unmuting their mic. By doing it randomly rather than in a specific order, you cause all students to be thinking of a response rather than just waiting until their turn. Mix it up with story recaps or historical fiction to see what they come up with.

23. Autodraw Slam

For those of us that are not budding artists or struggle with drawing with a mouse, I’ve long been a fan of Autodraw.com. This web-based application has you draw out a shape as close as you can while the AI guesses what it might be. When you see an object that is close to what you are drawing, you select it to place into your drawing. One fun thing I’ve tried with this is having students draw their favorite movie scene and then putting the picture on a Padlet wall for everyone to guess the movie.

24. Digital Flashcards

Flashcards can be pretty boring, especially if you are just using them yourself to practice terms, definitions or maybe even a foreign language. Now that we are remote, it becomes even more challenging to find a partner or group to practice with. Using tools like Fishbowl and Quizlet Live can be leveraged to create fun and energizing ways to have kids practice their terms either as a group or in breakout rooms.

25. Polygraph Questions

One of the hidden nuggets I always love showing teachers is the Polygraph feature contained within the free, web-based math app called Desmos. This tool acts creates a “Guess who?” like game where 2 students are randomly paired up via a join code you share with them on the screen. You create the cards and student A choses one of the items to be their “mystery item”. As you can upload any image, the mystery item could be a person, place, thing, word, math problem, etc. Then student B has to ask yes or no questions and decide which items they can eliminate. Polygraph creates a private loop between the students and the teacher can see the questions and guesses that each student is making to better check for understanding.

Additional Resources:

While most of these activities I either have done with students or teachers (both live and online), there are hundreds of other resources and games out there available to use freely with your students as you teach remotely. Here are two that I’ll give shout-outs to as I found them while writing this post:

TCEA Tech Notes – Zoom Games – This post came out while I was writing this post and contains many other games like the scavenger hunt and Pictionary that teachers could benefit from using.

Quarantine Games – This google doc compiled by @ihartnia has pages of board games, card games, and other things that you can play online.

I hope you enjoy my list and please feel free to share any other games or ideas you have in the comments below. Here’s an infographic with all 25 of the strategies (ironically) on a Zoom call. 🙂

Stay safe and stay sane!

 

Re-Imaging Teacher Prep in Light of #COVID19

Editor’s note: COVID19 has allowed some opportunities that may not have been available without.  With a little extra time we, ( James Kapptie & Carl Hooker), came up with a plan to do a shared blog.  While isolated in Wyoming and Texas the topic and discussion was created.  We hope that as with all great blog posts that you join and add to our discussion.

Re-imaging teacher prep in light of #COVID19

What are the biggest new requirements for teacher prep as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: I’ve been lucky enough to guest lecture several college teacher prep courses over the years. One thing that stood out to me is that lack of development on educational technology. College students generally “get” technology when it comes to games, social media, and learning a platform quickly, but generally, they struggle with when it comes to thoughtful integration of technology for learning. I think this pandemic has shined a bright spotlight on those deficits that start at teacher prep and continue somewhat through professional learning once they are with a district. 

JK: I would totally agree with Carl that teachers in general miss some of the technology integration logic. We all are very similar to our students.  I am always amazed when students struggle with learning something and it never crosses their mind to “google” it.  We all are guilty of using youtube to assist us in some ways but don’t think of it as a place to help school learning. Maybe the spotlight will shine not only on the lack of prep to use the technological tools we have, but will also force us to look at what it is we want students to learn.  I always like a good analogy, imagine sending mechanic students out to work on cars without showing them how different tools are needed for different parts.

CH: I like that analogy and it’s so true! It’s one thing to have the knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily equal understanding.

 

How should teacher prep approach working with parents as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: I think this should be addressed regardless of this crisis. As a parent of three elementary aged children, I’ve always felt like having some consistency when it comes to communication home is needed. Now more than ever, that communication needs to be not only consistent, but also clarify instructions for those of us trying to teach our students at home. Teachers have relied heavily on verbal instructions and then follow-ups for checking with understanding. Now they are sending home information in packets or weekly choice boards that have some limited instructions that can be confusing for both parents and students. While we need to give teachers some grace as they are ultimately doing educational triage on their lessons, I think this could be refined more in the future. 

JK:  The point of “teachers doing triage on their lessons” is well stated.  Teacher prep courses need to have parent “practicums” if you will.  Teaching teachers how to ask the right questions so that they can build an effective team with parents is no easy task.   Most teachers become well versed at communicating  in the controlled environment with kids but communication with adults is not usually a topic we work into teacher prep.  Learning to talk to adults and asking them how we can make this work better is a great starting point. 

CH: I also think giving them some basic expectations about sending home a list of tools and apps being used along with login information would be a great start to opening up those channels of communication when it comes to learning. Too many times that communication is about poor behavior but how great would it be to get a message from your child’s teacher giving you some additional learning strategies or tools to use at home?

 

What should school Administrators look for in new hires as a result of COVID19?

 

JK: I think school administrators should consider a few things in their new hires.  First, applications need to include technology “application” examples from candidates.  Show me a tool and how it has been used.  The tool that they model will not be nearly as insightful, as the chance to see their process.  This gives administrators and hiring teams a chance to see what level they are taking the learning to and how technology is offering something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  Second, give them an opportunity to pick a tool and explain how they could use it to take learning across the DOK levels.  We need to see teachers committing to getting far deeper than just substituting technology for what we already do.  Writing in a Google doc is no more impressive than on paper…unless that online document takes the learning somewhere that would be nearly impossible without it. 

CH: You hit the nail on the head there. Just trouble-shooting a google doc is one thing, but actually diving deeper into pedagogical practices and reasoning is another. One thing I implemented as an administrator when hiring Educational Technologists is something I called “The Gauntlet”. The idea was to mimic the issues and interactions the position might encounter on any given day. Applicants went through a series of challenges that involved presenting to a group, solving technical issues, supporting parents and administrators, and coaching grade level teams. It was a lot of work and a full day for each of the applicants, but my theory was that it was easy to hire people but harder to fire them. Why not start by coming up with a more in-depth process to hire high quality people that is more than just the traditional group interview (which really favors people that interview well)

HR departments have needed to rethink their hiring practices for decades, but this pandemic has really highlighted the deficits some of our teachers have as they enter the profession. 

JK:  Love the “Gauntlet” idea.  We can’t look to improve schools if we are not willing to look at new ways to assess candidates.   The analogy  that comes to mind is those solid rubber tires on the first cars would really work that well today, so why are we hiring so similar to how we did thirty or forty years ago?

 

 

How does professional development adapt for teachers as a result of COVID19?

 

CH: This is an area that I could spend hours discussing. As an administrator that ran professional development in a school district, I always tried to figure out different ways for our teachers to learn other than physically being in a building for several hours a day in the summer. I love the conference experience when done right, but that might not be an option now, at least physically in the same space. Much like learning with the students, there should be synchronous and asynchronous options available for our teachers. Synchronous options could be an online discussion via video conference or participating in a live webinar. Asynchronous options could be book studies, twitter chats, and other projects that can involve much more virtual collaboration.

JK: Well said Carl!  Professional development, moving forward should highlight the idea of “modeling” what learning can look like.  The PD can be meaningful and meet educators where they physically are.  There will always be an avenue for in person group learning but we can make the learning opportunities more cost effective and time appropriate so that more educators can take part.  If we have more educators involved it will hopefully help the needed ideas for improving education more quickly adopted.

CH: I’m excited to see what comes out as a result of this and have already started developing some of my own “Remote Professional Learning” packages for schools to use this summer and fall. It doesn’t just have to be sit-n-get in front of a computer screen. 

 

What are some things we can do, once back in the classroom, to better prepare students of all ages for learning online?

 

JK: This is a great question.  I feel like schools need to incorporate this “new” hybrid mindset into our culture.  Schools need to make sure classrooms are connecting to places outside the school building.  Model what connected learning should look like.  Schools and communities need to be addressing the inequity that has become apparent during this crisis.  Plans to address making sure students have connecting tools but also that there is a connection.  Schools having busses with hotspots is great for the moment but we must come up with better ways to provide infrastructure when students are not in the building.  This planning can help us address summer learning loss, snow days or weather issues, family vacations, medical emergencies and if there is a recurrence of  COVID19.  The term “new normal”  means we have to address how we can create quality educational opportunities when we aren’t in school.

CH: I think the inequity of access is a major issue. Schools are applying bandages to this now, but it needs a long-term fix. I also think we could benefit by sending home more blended learning activities instead of digital homework. Too often I see busy work coming home that could be done with or without technology. We have been preaching the 4 C’s for years and see it in our physical classrooms but not so much when it comes to online learning. This will come with growth, training and understanding of what high quality online learning looks like for kids of all ages.

JK:  Creating high quality online learning will take education companies to help create simple to use tools that are more than just recording devices.

 

Thank you Carl, your perspective is thoughtful and important.  I appreciate you joining me on this adventure.

Thank you James for reaching out! We have a long way to go, but with connection and collaboration we can make the future even brighter. 

 

James Kapptie is a 20 year classroom veteran. His experience includes Middle and High School, Administration, Technology Director, Education speaker and consultant, and Computer Science and “Purposeful Technology” Evangelist based out of Cheyenne, Wyoming. You can follow him on twitter @jpk38 and more of his work at his blog: https://ourchildrenarecalling.blogspot.com/

 

I Miss the Crowds

This post is not easy for me to write. Let me start with that.

But I feel like I have to write it. Both for my own therapy and also for the chance that maybe one person in the world will read it and know they are not alone.

This is not my usual blog. No pictures, funny videos, or 80’s references. Just my words. Thank you for reading it and for not judging me by the words on this page.

I am a social creature.

I know some people say that they are extroverts, but I’m truly a person that gets energy from crowds. I love crowds so much that one month ago, in the wake of SXSW getting cancelled, I ponied up my own money to host an event with those educators stuck in town.

Yes, it was a risky move. Yes, I got lucky that none of the 100 or so people from various countries in attendance was sick. But for me, it was absolutely exhilarating. I loved playing host, interacting with people from different parts of the world, and discussing how to help education during this troubling time.

That was a month ago. It seems like a year ago.

Since then, I’ve tried to stay preoccupied with house chores, helping teach the girls, creating content to help others, and walking the dog. My god, I’ve walked the dog more than she ever wanted to be walked.

I do all of this to keep my mind from traveling to a dark place.

You see, I quit my “day job” last summer to become a full-time public speaker and consultant. I know, bad timing. I’ve been able to do some work as a virtual consultant and writer, but I truly do miss the crowds. And I don’t see them coming back anytime soon.

So, without that social energy my heart craves, my mind starts traveling to dark places.

The mental health aspect of this Coronavirus pandemic is something that should not be understated. I’m lucky that I have a house and loving family. I know that. I appreciate that every day. Yes, we are worried like many others when it comes to finances, but we aren’t worrying about our next meal like many others.

But that doesn’t stop my mind from thinking the worst.

Depression is like the virus that’s causing this in that it’s an invisible disease. It invades the mind and doesn’t make any sense to the person it’s attacking. One moment, the sun is out, then the next moment a dark cloud appears.

My energy is draining. I miss the crowds.

Zoom happy hours, playing online poker with friends, and waving at neighbors I’ve never seen when we are out walking are nice. They are all temporary upticks of joy, but they are not the crowds.

Going Pokemon hunting with the kids is fun. It’s a nice distraction, but it’s not a room full of educators eager to learn, listen and laugh alongside me.

People that know me probably think of me as ‘fun-loving’ and light-hearted. People that really know me also know that I can sometimes push people and their thinking. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing that very thing. Pushing people on Facebook to think and ask questions about what was happening and how we were all handling it. Part of it was to gain understanding and part of it was because I needed to believe that there was a way out of this.

That completely backfired. People that I know and love got pissed at me for asking questions and pushing a bit. I don’t blame them. We are all unsure and scared about what is happening.

I handle uncomfortable situations with humor. Always have and always will. It’s both a defense mechanism and a way to diffuse intense situations. That might work well in person, but not so much on a Facebook feed. After a few days of having this backfire on me, I realized Facebook was not helping me. I had a love/hate relationship with it. It kept me connected socially, but it also depressed me with every graph or grim report I saw posted. It was time to delete Facebook and take a break.

Call it practicing “social media distancing” for lack of a better phrase.

So where do we go from here? There’s glimmers of hope in the news, but honestly, I’m not watching any more. The other day someone posted a rant on Nextdoor about someone going to the store for a gallon of paint. They tore the guy to pieces over it. I thought in my head, what if that gallon of paint represented a project to keep his mind occupied? What if it was that or relapse into a bad drinking habit? Or depression? Or suicide? I know we are all very sensitive and scared right now at the immediate threat facing all of us, but let’s not forget to have some empathy.

And I don’t mean empathy in the “I’ll go get my older neighbors some toilet paper” or “I’m applauding the health care workers”. These are things we should be doing on a normal basis. I’m talking about empathy for the friend or family member that might be in rough spot mentally, but is going to great lengths to hide it.

My kids don’t notice how I’m feeling. I hide it well and try to keep them laughing, but they can tell something is off. My wife is much more perceptive and she’s known me for over 20 years. She can tell the stress is building in me while she has her own stresses protecting the family from this virus. She doesn’t want any of us leaving the house, but also knows me well enough to know, I have to get out to stay somewhat sane. I’ve adapted and only done so when we need something. I wear a mask, wash my hands, and clean off anything I purchase. I figure being inconvenienced by a mask and cleaning off a bit is well worth the trip out of the house. That said, I hope this gets over soon.

I miss the handshakes.

I miss the hugs.

I miss the crowds.

For those of you out there also traveling to dark places from time to time through this, know that you are not alone. You have a friend out there who knows what you are going through. And one day, I hope we’ll meet up and share a laugh over all of this.

Because without laughter, this can get pretty damn depressing.

Stay safe.

Stay sane.

 

A Look Back at Bold Predictions from 2019

For the past several years I’ve made an attempt to make some bold predictions on the future of technology and its impact in schools and society. They range from semi-realistic to too-silly-to-be-true, but ironically, some do come true. Before I post my list for 2020, it’s always good to look back and judge how I did. After all, the internet never forgets, so I might as well own my mistakes.

Prediction: Virtual Reality takes fright…er….flight in the classroom

Outcome: Getting close

While some would say this post is a bit of a softball toss considering VR has been around for more than a decade, recent explosions in inexpensive hardware has made it much more attainable. I still think we are only scratching the surface of this prediction and will be interested to see how it progresses in 2020.

Prediction: The Universal Translator will make learning a foreign language obsolete

Outcome: No lo creo (translation: I don’t think so)

Like most new things in tech, the first generations of these translators are still pretty awful. I don’t think the foreign language department or language immersion schools have much to worry about…yet. However, my guess is people that worked for Blockbuster thought similar things about Netflix and Redbox….and you see how that ended up.  Not very bueno.

Prediction: Alexa will accidentally burn down someone’s house

Outcome: Nailed it…unfortunately

Yes, this was a strange and morbid prediction loosely based on my story from the previous year of “When Smart Homes Attack“. However, about 2 months after I posted this, a retired firefighter actually returned to his home and found that his 3rd gen Echo Dot had set ablaze. While this wasn’t exactly what I predicted (my thought would be that some sort of stove would turn on by accident), it does raise awareness of the power of AI as we put it into our homes.

Prediction: Netflix will launch an EDU Version of its service

Outcome: Still out of service

While many other video streaming companies are out there vying for clicks and views, the major player in paid video streaming is still not taking my calls or emails to launch NetflixEDU. Sounds like a wasted opportunity to me or more than likely a way to avoid major copyright infringement by them. Some how, it has to work though…

Prediction: Restaurants will post non-device zones similar to non-smoking areas

Outcome: Going unplugged is trending

My blurry pic at a recent restaurant banning phones

It’s becoming more and more of a status symbol for fancy restaurants to block and ban cell phones to the supposed joy of patrons. However, it’s not just fancy restaurants doing this as I snapped this quick pic of a BBQ joint outside of Ft. Worth over the holidays. (blurry because as I took out my phone, someone yelled at me)

Prediction: Someone will write a blog/paper using only predictive text

Outcome: It has been predicted

This one was definitely silly, but I thought I would put it out there in the universe and even tried to write a sentence in predictive text. I will say, that my Gmail is getting smarter and smarter at completing my sentences for me (at what cost? who knows…) but we are still a few years off (maybe?) at this happening over an entire blog post. Yes there are tons of social media bots out there doing this to manipulate us daily (reminder folks, it’s 2020 – election time), but not a blog post. However, someone at the New Yorker took my idea an ran with it in this October 2019 article titled “The Next Word“. Close enough for a win for me!

Prediction: A couple will get married over Facetime

Outcome: Still illegal, but not for long

In doing some more digging around this prediction, technically it is possible to have a proxy marriage and Facetime could facilitate that. However, that still hasn’t happened. That said, it is interesting that there are a WIDE variety of Facetime marriage counselors out there…which is interesting.

Prediction: There will be a FortniteEDU for schools

Outcome: Won the Battle Royale

I might have cheated on this one a tad as I know Mike Washburn was working on this behind the scenes. I chatted with him a bit last month while being interviewed on his recent OnEducation podcast and while we didn’t bring the topic up on air, he mentioned some recent developments on this front.  In December he posted a link on his twitter account (pic below) to Epic Games reaching hosting an Interactive 3D contest for teachers with likely more ideas to come.

Prediction: A SMART toilet will save someone’s life

Outcome: Not fully flushed-out yet

I’m a CES nerd, so when I saw these trending last year, I thought there might be a chance someone would buy one and have it save their life via early detection.  As of this writing, it hasn’t happened yet that I can find, but someone did write just a few weeks after my prediction about the future of these devices and our health. This prediction isn’t totally down the toilet yet(although my puns are starting to stink).

Prediction: LearnFestATX will again break the rules when it comes to a conference

Outcome: It was a game-changer (and ender)

LearnFestATX Dueling Keynote – Ann Kozma vs. Matt Joseph

Little did I know when I wrote that post that it would also mark the end of my 13-year tenure with Eanes ISD. However, we did do some pretty epic things to finish out the event including the still-never-attempted “Dueling Keynotes” using silent disco headphones. What a great way to end my run in the district and kick off the #NextChapter in my career as speaker/consultant. I’ll miss that event and iPadpalooza that came before it, but predict there might be other exciting events to lead in my near future…..stay tuned. 

Prediction: Robotics enter mainstream curriculum

Outcome: We will See-3PO if it happens

I think this ground swell is continuing to grow and we’ll see more and more examples of teachers using inventive ways to use coding and robotics to showcase student learning. I’ve been lucky to advise on one of the companies (Trashbots) and have seen them really work hard at seamlessly integrating STEM into mainstream curriculum without a ‘heavy lift’ for classroom teachers. I’m excited to see where the future of this ends up in our schools.

Prediction: THIS will be the year my children’s book series actually gets published

Outcome: Progress, just not published

I predicted this for 3 years and finally started down the path to production. By soliciting the help of best friend, fellow educator and amazing artist Chris Parker (@kreyus), I might have finally overcome the final roadblock holding this project back. Hoping for a summer launch of this new series as well as…wait….don’t want to give too much away. 🙂

So there you have it. Overall, 2019 wasn’t a bad year for my predictions although there were some surprises. I’ve got some ideas brewing for 2020 and will have those up in the next week but here’s a hint: It’s time to be BOLD.

A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl

 

What’s the BEST Model to Support Technology Integration?

On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.

Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet.  Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.

I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?

The “Tech Support Only” Model

In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.

Grade= C- 

While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.

The “Pay and Pray” Model

No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).

Grade= F

No support at all is not an advisable model.

The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model

When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.

Grade=B-

While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.

The Ed Tech Consultant Model

This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.

Grade=B+

This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.

The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model

While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.

Grade = A-

The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.

The 1:1 Coaching Model

This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.

Grade = A+

Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.

Summary:

You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.

While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.

Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.

OnEducation Podcast Episode “Let’s Bring the Weird”

Interested in bringing me to your district? Reach out here.

LearnFestATX – A Learning Event From The Future

Let me paint a picture for you.

You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk.  You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.

There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.

After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.

Or are you?

I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?

On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?

All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.

With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.

Flash forward to present day.

Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.

Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:

Three Different Perspectives to Learning:

As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways.  The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).

Featured Speakers:

While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.

A Different Kind of Keynote:

I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.

Dive Deeper Before the Madness:

While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.

In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.

I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?

Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:

LearnFestATX Registration

Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!

Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!

 

The Dream That Was….iPadpalooza

During his mini-keynote, Derrick Brown (@DAB427) claimed that we were all “just living in a Hooker’s dream.”  While I’m honored by his statement, I can tell you this entire experience has far exceeded any dream I could have dreamt. I can also tell you that this dream wasn’t just mine, but a shared dream amongst teams of dedicated educators that I’ve had the pleasure of working with because of this event.

This past week at the ending of our 6th annual learning festival, I announced that it would be the last iPadpalooza main event. This decision was not made in haste and has involved countless of hours of discussion, counseling, and, in my case, even some tears. But, before we dive into what comes next, I decided to write this post as part explanation, part reflection, part appreciation, part therapy (for me), and part teaser (for what’s next).

First…a little history 

In 2011, we had launched our iPad 1:1 and wanted to hold an event that would bring teachers together to share and learn from each other. Since other districts in the area were doing it, we decided we could open it up to outside educators as well. The thought of holding an “iConference” was kicked around but sounded boring and overdone. One of my amazing iVengers (Marianna Ricketson) said at a meeting in early 2012 that we should name it iPadpalooza as a way of making it sound more fun. So we bought the domain and set a date without any clue as to what we were going to actually do. (Hey, sometimes, you just have to take a risk and put it out there)

Also at that point, I added the tagline that “It’s not a conference…it’s a learning festival” to make attendees aware of what they were attending would not be a normal educational conference. So, on June 19, 2012, we partnered with TCEA to host our single-day event and even had some film students create this promotional video (below). As a fun side note, I had to reach out and chat with Norman Greenbaum to get his permission to use his song in the video. He’s a groovy dude.

 

 

The truth behind the lie

Sir Ken on the big stage

Following a successful first year, we wanted to make the next year even bigger and expand it to two days. So I hopped on the phone with Sir Ken Robinson’s people to try and convince him that he needed to come to our learning festival. When he said he’d never heard of it, I lied. I told him that it’s a global event that is attended by 1000 educators from all over the country and the world. He and his people agreed to do the keynote, and even though in the first year we only had 400 attendees, when he showed up, so did 1000 people from all over the country and the world. So….it wasn’t necessarily a lie, it just wasn’t true…yet.

The “Learning Festival” ideology

Getting educators to attend professional learning during their off-time can be extremely tricky. While ideally, people would just come to improve their craft, there is also some pressure on those providing the learning to make sure it’s worth their time. When I was a classroom teacher, I always thought the best trainings I attended gave me some choice and allowed time to collaborate and be hands-on with activities rather than sitting in a room for several hours being talked at. When I attended conferences, I took notes of the parts I liked, and the ones I didn’t. Cramming sessions in with 5 minute breaks left no time for reflection and collaborating. Also, as I attended events like TEDx, SXSW, and even ACLFest (a music festival), the idea to create a festival atmosphere kept creeping into my head and those on my team.

The learning festival ideology is centered around the concept that learning can be fun (even for adults) and that learning should be an event…an experience if you will. From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you should be a part of the experience. Taking the traditional conference concept and shaking it up with live music, food trucks, t-shirts, contests, film festivals, and unique session types helps make the learning more festival-like.

It’s more than just a name

We knew when we named the event “iPadpalooza” that the name immediately excluded certain groups of educators (those without iPads). While we began the event as a way for teachers to share iPad resources, education, devices and technology integration has evolved. Indeed, our session titles in the early days were also centered around the device rather than learning. Sessions like “50 apps in 50 minutes” were popular when we began, but as the festival evolved, we noticed a stronger push to focus deeper on learning strategies with and without technology.  Whatever our next iteration will be, we want to make sure that all adults (and students) have an opportunity to experience the Learning Festival-feel regardless of what device their district may have purchased.

6 years – by the numbers

Here’s a look at a few numbers of iPadpalooza over the the last 6 years:

Eric Whitacre

Major Keynotes

Before Sir Ken, Tony Vincent took a chance and decided to open up our inaugural event in 2012. (I was actually the closer for that event). Without Tony, our event wouldn’t have had the initial credibility to get off the ground. I’m forever grateful to him and the work he brings to education. Other featured keynotes included Sugata Mitra, Guy Kawasaki, Adam Bellow, “iPad Magician” Simon Pierro, Cathy Hunt, Eric Whitacre, Kevin Honeycutt , Austin Kleon and Jason Silva.  Also, in 2014, just to be a little different (and to make @techchef4u happy), we had the band Blue October close out our event.

 

This year’s mini-keynoters (credit Yau-Jau Ku)

Edu-Celebrities

Besides the above, we’ve hosted nearly a hundred “celebrities” from the education world, many of whom have been roped into doing a mini-keynote over the years. Here’s just a few names that have generously given us some of their educational expertise over the years:  Tom Murray, Christian Long, David Jakes, George Couros, Kerry Gallagher, Dan Ryder, Amy Burvall, Dean Shareski (and his daughter this year!), Audrey O’Clair, Wes Fryer & Shelly Fryer, Felix & Judy Jacomino, Adam Phyall, Amy Mayer, Greg Kulowiec, Andrew Wallace, Cathy Yenca & Tim Yenca,  Lisa Johnson, Greg Garner, Don Goble, Kyle Pace, Phil Hintz, Kyle Pierce, Leo Brehm, Chris ParkerMichelle Cordy, Jennie Magiera, Scott Meech, Tracy Clark, Cori Coburn, Rafranz Davis, Kathy Schrock, Monica Burns, Derrick Brown, Todd Nesloney, Jon Samuelson, Matt Gomez, Reshan Richards, Julie Willcott, Richard Wells, Rabbi Michael Cohen, Brianna Hodges, Carolyn Foote, Brett Salakas, Jona Nalder, Matt Miller, Holly Moore,  Joan Gore, Janet Corder, Kacy Mitchell, Steve Dembo, Lucas Loughmiller, and Chris Coleman just to name a few. (Apologies if I left anyone off this list!) So much talent has graced the halls of Westlake High School over the years and I can honestly say you would be lucky to have any of the above as keynote speakers at your event. There were also countless other rock-star teachers that have been a part of the 509 presenters that have shared their wisdom at our events.  Check out the last couple of mini-keynotathons and other featured speakers on the iPadpalooza YouTube channel .

 

Kids on stage for the Youth Film Festival (credit: Richard Johnson)

Events around the event

One of the things that really makes our festival different is the thought, time, and energy put into events happening during and around the main event. The APPMazing Race and Youth Film Festival both kicked off in 2013. In 2014 we added the iLead Academy and in 2015 the Prepalooza Learnshops. This final year, we also added our first ever Ed Tech Poetry Slam at the Spider House in Austin (Shout-out to Lisa Johnson for the idea!)  These events around the event really make it a nearly 24/7 experience in learning, connection, fun, and collaboration.

Other ‘paloozas and the Learning Festival Network

In 2014 I was approached by Kari Gerhart and Caroline Little about the possibility of bringing iPadpalooza to Minnesota. And thus, the iPadpalooza spin-off events were born. A little bonus history here, it was around this time that someone, either Caroline or possibly Reshan Richards coined the term “Godfather” for me – owing to my Sicilian background.

All told there have been over a dozen spin-off events with Minnesota, East Texas, and South Texas being the longest running. In 2016, we went international and became the first iPadpalooza in Australia.  While the main event is over, we still support our spin-off events and hope many more will pop up over the years.

Speaking of spin-offs, there were several events created that were “inspired by” the spirit of iPadpalooza. Events like iEngage-Berwyn, Miami Device and others took pieces and parts of iPadpalooza to spice up their own event. In the coming years, we hope to fold these and other spin-off events, into our Learning Festival Network to support them in any way we can.

Making sponsor “thank you’s” fun

In 2014, I decided that instead of doing the traditional sponsor thank you speech at the beginning and end of the event, that I would turn it into a rap song. I also tried to set the Guinness World Record of “most synchronized light show” in history by turning off the lights and controlling everyone’s iPads with Nearpod as I sang my version of LMFAO’s “Party Rock”.  While it worked, Guinness sadly failed to show to recognize the achievement.

The following year, I tried my hand at a parody of Eminem with “iPadpalooza Yourself” (sang to “Lose Yourself”) but realized that this was becoming a one-trick pony and I needed to push myself.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, a lot of my inspiration comes from talking and collaborating with others.

Enter Felix and Judy Jacomino.  With their input, we starting working on a different way to thank the sponsors….via a “Slow Jam”. Experience it below –

This year I attempted to follow it up with my version of Car pool karaoke, which was fun…but the slow jam will always be my favorite.  And their ending of this year’s event with the “Ed Tech Musical Review” will go down in history as an epically funny way to look at trends in Ed Tech.

 

iVengers & Volunteers

These events can’t happen without dedicated staff willing to do the dirty work from running around fixing projectors to handling prima dona keynote speakers. I’ve been blessed with an amazing team here at Eanes ISD. They work their tail off year after year for this event and always with a smile on their face. Without my amazing team of Ed Techs, a.k.a. iVengers, none of this would be even remotely possible. The ideas for this event come from the collective brain power of this group, not just me. I’m excited to have them on board for what comes next….

So…What’s Next?

While iPadpalooza sails off into the sunset, I can promise you there will be something else coming. We are already cooking up ideas for a prototype event next summer with our internal staff that will keep some of the same features of iPadpalooza but also open up some other thoughts and ideas. But why stop at just one event? There are also plans for a SUPER SECRET idea (my BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that I can promise you will be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Thank you all for being on board this voyage for learning over the past six years.

Here’s to the next dream!

Our last volunteer and VIP wrap-up boat cruise – Lake Austin 2017

The infamous “jump” to wrap up each year’s event

Two people without whom none of this is possible. Felix and my better-half, Renee

Creating Time for Your Inner-Genius

I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again?  Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?

One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.

So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in?  The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).

After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.”  Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.

The content of our COWs – Apple’s iBook

The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.

The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking. During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”).  Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.

So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.

As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.

Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:

It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.

 

 

#TLTechLive March 2017 School CIO Summit Reflection

img_9494“Don’t think outside the box. Think without a box.”

That quote by opening panelist Chris Budzynski (@chrisbudzynski) really summed up much of what was discovered and discussed at the recent School CIO summit hosted by Tech and Learning Magazine (@techlearning). These summits provide excellent opportunities to connect with other leaders across the country as well as provide resources and tools to help districts continue to lead and innovate. This post is a reflection of some of the things I discovered and a couple of wishful thoughts on things I hope we get to do in my district.

Design Tech High School Visit

Imagine if you found an abandoned warehouse, threw a bunch of tools, whiteboards, technology and high school kids in it. What do you think might happen? The “DTech” high school is just that. Students don’t have a bell schedule or a series of classes to sit through. Instead, they are working on design projects that incorporate the core content areas as well as some serious soft skills that they’ll need in their future.

img_9472

“Principal” Ken Montgomery took us through a tour of his facility and their day to day schedule. I put the word principal in quotes, because he’s really part-principal, part-passion driven student advocate, and part crazy (in a good way). This school is based somewhat on the Stanford DSchool concept and has been built out of a partnership with local tech giant Oracle and their Education Foundation.

While classes were over for the day when we walked up, I noticed quite a bit of students hanging out on a Friday, not ready to leave. What does that say about the school when kids are running to the weekend?  I stopped to ask one of the students what they thought about the place and concept.  He replied, “I love it.”  When I asked him why he said, “The people. They love it here and they care about us and our learning. It shows.”

Quote from DTech School Leader Ke

Quote from DTech School Leader Ken Montgomery

I think that quote could be shared about any great teacher, but it was clear for this young man, the school provided him with an opportunity that he might not have received in a more traditional setting. The few students still milling about inside the building/warehouse were finishing a robotics project or studying Mandarian just….because. Next year, the students of DTech will move into a brand new innovative building on Oracle’s campus, but for me, I really loved the messy feeling of this old warehouse.  The imperfections and griminess left me with the impression that this building (and program) are very much loved.

Opening Panel on Blended Learning

The following day, we were treated to an opening panel that featured 3 school leaders from very different places. Emily Garrison (@emilyagarrison) from Palo Alto Unified School District was up first. Her school district is considered a “sister” school district of Eanes ISD, so I was curious to hear her thoughts on how to make things more blended for students. Their program began with one teacher several years ago and was built on the iNACOL framework for blended learning. While there were various models presented from in-house to twilight (after hours), the program’s growth and success was largely due to the focus on mindset and strong professional learning for staff. Their mantra for the program of “Time, place, path, and pace” helps guide students towards different opportunities for learning success.

Next up was Chris Budzynski who I mentioned at the open. Chris’s district just outside of Chicago, has also purposefully grown a blended learning model where students have multiple periods a day to learn in a blended setting (usually first or last period).  Additionally, with the opening of a new hospital near their high school, they partnered with the doctors in providing the first of it’s kind, high school hospital internship program. A group of students spend part of their school day shadowing and helping staff in the hospital while still taking a full course load. An incredible opportunity to any young person thinking of working for the medical industry.

The final panelist was Bryant Wong from Summit Public Schools. Summit is a blended charter that has over 100+ schools all over the country and is focused on both diversity and success after college. Their format provides a playlist of learning options for each student, creating a personalized approach to its learners. With help from Khan Academy and Facebook, they have been able to freely provide opportunities to kids that might not exist where they live. While I’m a fierce advocate for public schools, this charter seems to have its heart in the right place.

Here’s a sketchnote of their session that I did in an attempt to recall all that was shared:

c6fwiaguoaecwyu

Working Groups

Besides site visits and hearing from innovative leaders in the K-12 space, the summit also provides time throughout the day to share best practices in working group meetings. I presented some of the ways we have tried to educate both parents and students on digital citizenship. In talking with the others in the group, Common Sense Media continues to be a national leader on the subject in their freely provided content.

For the second working group on learning spaces, I got to play the role of learner. One of the main presenters was Michael Morrison (@mytakeontech) from Laguna Beach USD. He shared their “4CLE” project that focused on furniture, lighting, and color as part of a positive student learning environment. One thing that really stuck with me, besides the super cool use of Hue bulbs to change classroom color digitally, was that they used a lot of flat screen TVs in their rooms. Many of the rooms had 2 or more TVs that Michael mentioned could cost around $150 (for a 32″).  An interesting idea and break from the single expensive projector at the front of the room approach that we usually take in classrooms. The TVs all connect via a hub and teachers or students can project their work on the screens.

Take Aways

It’s clear to me that there is a lot of good happening in education around the country despite what some news articles may say.  These school leaders shared many valuable resources and research in their efforts to help each student along their own personal learning journey. For me, I want to take back the idea of really examining our school schedule and the limitations it might be having on learning for some students. I know many of our kids excel at playing the “game of school” but for some, as witnessed by early success of our WHS Incubator class, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to student learning. Giving more of our students agency in their learning needs to continue to be a focus of ours as we travel into the second iteration of our 1:1 mobile device program and flexible furniture pilots.