Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

September 11, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Equal Learning Opportunities

As our 1:1 program has expanded upward from the elementary grades, our district has been proactive in creating an environment where digital tools and digital mindsets will  be commonplace when the expansion reaches the higher grades. To fill in the the gaps where we don’t yet have devices for every student, we have instituted a BYOT program at GHS. It sounds scary to jump into something new and foreign, but there are excellent reasons to stretch ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable and has worked in the past.

This image comes from a excellent blog post I read yesterday. Having heard my own two children have this conversation at home, I thought I’d share both the image and the post. Using technology in education and moving away from lectures is less and less a choice and more and more an obligation.

We have plenty of our own technology in Goochland. We also have opportunities to develop student-centered activities through our G21 framework. I know I’ve been away with iPad deployment over the past few weeks, but I’m available to work with anyone interested in trying something new.

September 9, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Learning About Learning

I know I have not blogged in a while. We have been exceedingly busy deploying iPads to all our 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students. Tomorrow we get to visit our one cohort of 3rd graders at Goochland Elementary. It is exciting to be entering our third year of 1:1 learning.

I’ve also been very busy outside of school. I’ve formally become a student again, and the past ten days have been mind-stretching and time-consuming. Tonight I was going through my required readings and I came across a paragraph that made me stop reading and come over to this blog and write a post about it.

If you try to read a video game manual before you have ever played a game, you can, at best, associate definitions and paraphrases with the words in the text. The manual is boring and close to useless, when it is not simply inexplicable. If, however, you play the game for hours—you do not have to play at all well—then when you pick up the manual again everything will be clear.
This comes from James Paul Gee’s Digital Media and Learning: A Prospective Retrospective (link), and while the quote refers to a video game manual, it could very well be about a textbook in any of our classrooms. As Gee himself explains in the next few paragraphs, learning from reading the textbook without proper contextual references leads to passing the test but not much else. There is no Deeper Learning in learning for the test. Last year and over the summer, we, as a school division, spent a lot of time thinking about and designing learning experiences that are student-centered. An important part of our plans was the inclusion of a kick-off event, a vivid, memorable introductory event that would give context and purpose to whatever was to follow. I’ve often heard of teachers asking students to read a textbook chapter for homework in advance of any hands-on activity or in-class discussion. What do students really get out of this assignment? What if I asked any adult to read this intense text on the importance of Chalcid wasps in biocontrol efforts as homework for next Monday? Take a look. I read it because I have many Chalcid wasps in my macro photography collection. I know you have no interest. Still, give it a glance and try to imagine how students might feel when confronted with textbook full of stuff they have never heard about. Now think about what I could have done ahead of time to make this text a bit more more understandable and relevant despite the content being so foreign to you.
  • Show a video of a chalcid wasp laying eggs.
  • Show pictures of the typical hosts for chalcid wasps and ask students to tell me about them. Let you look up information to use in the discussion.
  • Talk about the problems of introducing toxic chemicals into a garden and let you think of alternatives. Guide you through searches for alternatives.
In the end, the text would simply fill in the gaps and become a study guide. We all want our students to love our content area as much as we do. We want them to look at a new textbook and hug it to their chest with glee at the thought of reading about the Constitution, single cell organisms, or the expansion of Islam. It would be great if they did, but they probably don’t. It is up to us to bring the content to life, to make it relevant and relatable. Your best chance to do this is with a well thought out kick-off event for any topic.        

July 29, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Accessing Your Archived Courses

Teachers are getting an early start and populating their Schoology courses with activities and resources for students. I’ve been getting questions about accessing last year’s classes. Here is a video showing where archived courses can be found. If you need help moving resources to and from the Resources folders, I wrote a post about it in the spring. Follow this link to access it.


May 18, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Understanding Our Students

This morning I learned some very interesting facts about cochlear implants, about what they do and what they don’t do, from a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. We have students with cochlear implants in our schools, and I doubt too many people, adults and kids alike, know enough about them.

How many of us have seen those popular feel-good videos about babies hearing their mothers’ voices for the first time? Well, it turns out ALL voices sound pretty much alike through a cochlear implant. Music sounds as a series of beeps and buzzes, but no melody actually comes through and lyrics are hard to understand.

There are lots of smart people, engineers and physicians, working together to make these devices better at transmitting sounds accurately to the brain. Until then, understanding exactly what our students hear can make a huge difference in how we try to connect with them.

May 15, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Saving Materials For Next Year

Of course all your hard work will help you next year!

If you have uploaded content to Schoology that you plan on using again next year, all you have to do is save it to your Resources folders. If you are not sure how to do this, watch these videos. The first one shows you how to move items from your groups or classes to your Resources folders. The second one shows you how to create folders to keep your resources organized.

Even if you do not save stuff to Resources, you will have it available. All content will be archived and you will have full access to it. However, if you have it in Resources, it will be much more easily accessible.

As always, let me know if you need any help.

May 14, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Math IRL

“Why do we need to know this?”

There it is. Every teacher’s favorite question right after “Will this be on the test?”

It is always fun to find real-life applications of concepts for which I probably asked the same question. Here is a great example from Wired. How do you determine the field of view of a camera? Pull out your camera and give it a try. It would be a really fun activity for a classroom full of kids, all of them with a different model of phone. This single-block project could involve angle measurements and data analysis comparing the different phones. You could go even further and see if wider angles relate to higher pixel counts or phone price. This would be really fun, I think.

While this is much more advanced, it reminds me of one of my favorite projects of the past eight years as an Instructional Technology Coach in Goochland. Back in 2009 and 2010, Ms. Berry and her students created digital 3D structures and submitted them to Google Earth. Even today, when you visit Goochland in Google Earth, what you see is what the students created. They used very simple tools (student-made clinometers and ropes with knots) to measure buildings accurately. This gave kids a very good understanding of why we learn about angles, triangles, and congruency. With the accurate measurements they gathered, they reproduced the structures using Google SketchUp and Photoshop.


April 28, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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The Civility and Civics Of Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. I argue with anyone who says it is bad, and I’ve even created a document to help teachers use Wikipedia effectively with their students.

There is something special about this giant collective work and the community that has helped create it. I often think about the authors and editors and how they arrived at the decision to give up their time to share their knowledge.

This morning @Braddo tweeted a link to a post on Big Think about Wikipedia and its community. Here is a quote from the transcript.

… I think it would be wonderful to make as part of the curriculum from, say, sixth grade onward part of your task and what you’ll be graded on is to edit and make the case for your edits to an article on a service like Wikipedia and then we’ll have new ranks of people being supervised by teachers who are working on the articles and on the product and that maybe even will apprentice to the norms by which you have an argument over what is true and what isn’t. And maybe some of them will choose to continue on as Wikipedians even after the assignment is over.

 I have proposed authoring or editing Wikipedia articles as school projects many times. I’m guessing this is not such an innovative concept now that Wikipedia is 14 years old. What I like about this proposal is the last bit.

So to me if I think of an advanced civics class, it’s great to learn that there are three branches of government and X vote overrides a veto, but having the civics of a collective hallucination like Wikipedia also be part of the curriculum I think would be valuable.

We would be teaching Civics for citizens of an online world. 

So go take a look, and scroll past the write-up to the comments, where one reader offers advice for teachers willing to take on the challenge.

April 27, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Earth Day Extended Celebration

Last Friday and today, Ms. Kass and I took the students in her Science classes outside to do a little exploration of our environment. In a scavenger hunt type activity, we made a list of concepts the kids have studied during the year and went outside to look for examples. We looked for stages of life cycles, evidence of the water cycle, erosion, pollution, and documented the organisms in our ecosystem. Over the next few days, students will share the images they made with their iPad cameras in a Schoology class discussion. We will discuss what we found, and if we have a chance, we will make a plan to clean up the substantial amount of trash we found in the woods.

Here are a few of the pictures I made of during our outings of little things the students found.

Soldier beetle

Lichen and moss



Sawfly larvae



April 22, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Stop Motion Cells

Mr. Summitt’s students have been learning about mitosis and they have put together really nice animations using their iPads. I have edited four of my favorite animations turned in through Schoology into a single movie.

Watch these cells divide and learn.


April 21, 2015
by Bea Leiderman
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Purposeful PBL

Yesterday I walked into Mr. Rooke’s room to do something menial and simple. I walked away awed and inspired, and with a sense that we really are making a difference in our schools.

Mr. Rooke, our very deserving Teacher Of the Year, has a very non-traditional way of teaching Spanish. I’ve never seen his students filling out worksheets. I’ve never heard his students complain about unfair amounts of work, boring lessons, or tough tests. Mr. Rooke’s students go on to perform outstandingly in advanced Spanish classes, genuinely like Mr. Rooke, and treat him with the utmost respect. Mr. Rooke embeds language learning into study units that are of personal interest to the students, and that is what we discussed when I was in his room yesterday.

Students have been learning about Central America through movies, novels, and classroom discussions. They have learned about the role of poverty in the civil wars of the 1980′s, and the effects of intervention by outside powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union. Recently, they have been discussing MS-13, a violent gang that traces its origins to refugees from the civil war in El Salvador.

So, as the students are learning Spanish, they are also becoming aware of recent cultural and political events that are not covered in traditional Social Studies classes, and they are becoming very aware of how interconnected our world is. They are also learning about real people involved in events, not just learning about events in an abstract manner. This personal connection is crucial.

To reinforce these connections and foster empathy, Mr. Rooke has added another dimension to the learning. He has funds in an account with that the kids will award to applicants for microfinancing. To decide who gets the funds, students have selected loan applicants to research.  They are using Explain Everything and other tools on their iPads to prepare Shark Tank-style presentations for their peers. Then, as a class, they will vote on the top applicants and award the funds to them. When the loans are repaid, probably next year, the next group of students will be ready to evaluate a new set of loan applicants.

This project embodies everything I’ve always imagined for our G21 initiative. It is about the kind of learning that is not for the test. They are learning about people who live in places they have never even heard of. They are learning about the reality of life in these places. They are becoming aware of their privileged lives as citizens of the United States, and of the power and responsibility that comes with that privilege. The kids will always be able to point to this time in their lives when, as a class, they made someone’s life better. 

UPDATE: If you would like to help the students fund additional Kiva micro loans, make a donation at their GoFundMe site.