Tricorder in Hand

In high school and into college, a friend of mine piqued my interest in a sci-fi television series called Star Trek: the Next Generation, and like the original series, the characters living aboard the Enterprise used small, hand-held computers called tricorders. According to the Wikipedia, this device was focused on sensing, computing, and recording things.

More recently, I visited Mrs. Kass’ classroom at GMS and students were learning about the quilt designs used during the time of the Underground Railroad to communicate. A whole collection of designs were used, and some can be seen here. While originally unplanned, students were using their iPads to “record” these patterns as they came up on the projection via the Promethean board. Designs would be used later in an upcoming project.

Having the tool in hand, students could immediately utilize the camera to record these images. Earlier in the week, Mrs. Kass’ students from her science class were doing something similar, recording images of their environment. Students collected a number of fascinating things from around the school, in areas just beyond the tennis courts. Mrs. Leiderman led the expedition, and later shared with students her own foraging artifacts in the form of bugs and flowers that have gone to form the virtual pages of several ebooks.

This is interesting. A small, hand-held device can be used, almost just like in StarTrek, to sense, compute, and record things. These examples have been light on sensing (and perhaps, fitness trackers or the new Apple Watch might be better examples of how we will use technology to sense things), and the computing part happens too, but more often later in the classroom as students re-mix the recorded photographs in a way that helps them better understand what was captured.

I recently learned that some teachers were exploring research that articulated what can go wrong with an iPad deployment, as published in a research article about a school iPad deployment in another state. For anyone who might point out what could go wrong with behavior, perhaps even amplified bad behavior with a powerful sensor, computer, and recorder, the potential for deeper learning using such a device will likely always outweigh the negatives. I don’t really care so much that the iPads I see in our classrooms remind me of the future foretold in StarTrek, but sometimes you have to marvel at how that vision from just a few years ago has the potential to change the ways in which we get to learn and grow.

Ideas Worth Sharing, iPad Edition

Yes, I’ve borrowed the TED tagline, sort of. Why not? When you have a good idea, share it.

Apple has put together a small collection of books perfect for our teachers in the iPad 1:1 program who might be looking for lesson ideas that go beyond Google Docs and for teachers who like to check out the shared iPad cart. The books describe lessons that can be adapted to fit different classroom environments. The books are created around specific apps, and luckily, we have all the apps in the collection.

But please don’t restrict your work to this small collection of lessons. If you have a good idea, share it with the rest of the 1:1 teachers. Remember we have the 1:1 Campfire group in Schoology.



This week we had our second 1:1 computing training, ever. Sometimes this is called ubiquitous computing, meaning “the technology is everywhere.” For SY 2014-15, we are expanding our 1:1 program with iPads to Year 1 – with 5th and 6th grade covered across the division.


Teachers from all of our schools save for GHS attended for learning about our 1:1 program. I’d like to say it was all about using the iPads students will receive in the fall, but it was not! It was focused on deeper learning, engaging students through instructional decisions, and some theoretical concepts like SAMR, TPACK, and more.

I had a lot of fun watching Zoe Parrish, Bea Leiderman, and Joe Beasely work with our teachers in an effort to allay fears and prepare them for delivering the best learning opportunities possible to students next school year.

We also looked at Schoology as a learning management solution for use with the iPads and with laptops for next year. A few core apps, QR codes, and some experience with Google Drive rounded out the experience.

Our next and final summer training is in July: 28th, 30th, and 31st!

As I shared earlier in a tweet, this was the first training session I’ve ever participated in where teachers wanted a hug at the end. I was moved by the commitment of our teachers to inspire our students and to prepare them for their futures.

iPad Stands and Document Cameras – Student Made!

In Lisa Brown’s 5th grade math class students have been busy measuring, drilling, hammering, and building!

We gave her students a challenge to build a stand for the iPads that could act as a document camera stand for teachers. Teachers can purchase document cameras online for around $100, and we knew we could find a way to build a cheaper model that teachers could use in conjunction with their iPads.

First, students were given a design challenge packet that detailed the project requirements. Then students had to draw four different models with their group, and pick their favorite model. Students had to give us an exact list of materials (with dimensions included). Students used materials from our children’s engineering lab to build prototypes from recycled materials. One group even created a digital prototype using Minecraft! Students were then provided with the materials on their list, and began to build! Mrs. Brown taught the students how to safely hammer nails, drill holes in wood and PVC, and how to use liquid nails (the teachers took care of any sawing).

The class came up with three very different models. We evaluated the models for cost effectiveness and replication feasibility. We found we could build all models for under $12, and we selected the model that would be the easiest to replicate for other teachers.

Our next step will be to ask teachers if they would like our class to build a document camera stand for their classroom!

This project combined children’s engineering, STEM minded activities, 21st century skills, and real world products!

Cyberbullying refresher – before leaving for summer!

As students prepare to leave school for the summer, we wanted to take the time to remind them of responsible behavior online.  Over the summer students undoubtedly have more free time, and we know many of our students will spend that time online.

5th graders at GES spent an entire morning reviewing what cyberbullying is, how it affects others, and how we can prevent it from happening.  The students worked in groups to research the answer to one of the questions below, and then they created a media project to act as a public service announcement.  We had time to share a few of their projects.  Later that day Officer Cranor (our Goochland County school resource officer) spoke to the students about cyberbullying to reinforce the information we shared in class earlier that day.  He had a wonderful movie to share as well.

The students at GES are responsible and kind.  I look forward to watching them act as upstanders when faced cyberbullying (or any type of bullying) in any situation!


Students worked with their group to research, and answer the following questions:


What is cyber bullying?

Are you a bystander or an upstander?  Learn to be an upstander.

What can a cyberbullying target do to get help?

What are the negative effects of cyberbullying?

What laws are associated with cyberbullying?

What can parents do to help kids with cyberbullying?

What can schools do to help kids with cyberbullying?

How can we prevent cyberbullying?

Early, Friday one morning…

It’s not often we meet before school at 7 AM. But today was one of those days…


Dr. Geyer and I met with a number of teacher leaders from across the division about needs for digital content connected with the next phases of our one-to-one program. It was a great opportunity for dialog and I appreciate each teacher’s time this morning. We detailed our plans this week to distribute iPads to some of our 1:1 teachers at RES, BES, and GMS; we talked about the use of a learning management system to deliver content to students, and a commitment this summer to begin building a student-facing curriculum. Mr. Joe Beasley and Ms. Krystle Demas shared some of their experiences from GES this year with their iPad pilot in grade 4.

Another way to practice fluency!

Students from Mrs. Adam’s class using Book Creator.

This year at Byrd all second graders have learned how to practice reading fluency using the iPads.  Each class learned this skill using a different app.  Mrs. Swift’s class learned to create recordings using iMovie.  Mrs. Nixon’s class learned to use a voice recording app, and finally Mrs. Adam’s class recently learned to use Book Creator.


iMovie allowed students to take a picture of their fluency passage, and record over top of the picture.  It took about three lessons that were forty-five minutes each until the students could use the app independently.  It was difficult for some students to match the length of the picture with the length of the recording.  Also, we could not turn off the Ken-Burns effect.


Mrs. Nixon’s class used a voice recording app.  They could easily capture their voice time and time again, however, with these types of apps they could not capture an image of their book or passage.  It took the students two lessons that were forty-five minutes each to use the software independently.  There are numerous free voice recording apps out there.  Here is a link to one example, Quick Voice Recorder.


Mrs. Adam’s class learned to use Book Creator to capture fluency practice.  The students learned how to use the app in one, hour-long lesson.  This has been my favorite method by far!  The students have created a fluency book. Using this app students can capture a picture of their reading passage.  Then they can add a recording of the passage.  Finally, we assigned the students a reading skill to illustrate with the drawing tools.  We had students illustrate the main idea of the passage, but we could have used just about any reading skill!  I love Book Creator allowed the students to have a multi-sensory experience with reading.  They were seeing the text, hearing themselves read, and drawing to deepen comprehension.


Have you used any other tools in your class to help students practice reading fluency?

eBooks for Others

This year Mrs. Demas and I have enjoyed bringing various writing activities into the classroom that promote writing for a variety of audiences.  Recently, the students finished up another authentic writing project that gave a new audience a chance to view and enjoy their published work.

The 4th grade students created eBooks using Book Creator for the GES and BES preschool students. To begin this activity the fourth graders had to spend some time investigating other children’s books. As a class we discussed different aspects of illustrations, text patterns, and the amount of text on a page. We also took a closer look at how children’s authors use vivid language and sensory words in their writing. Students had the opportunity to work together in groups to study children’s books.

The fourth graders had a choice to write a fiction or nonfiction book. They could pick any topic to write about, and were provided with a list of preschool interests – which were supplied by the preschool teachers.

Each week Mrs. Demas and myself were more and more amazed by the progress students made on their books. The quality of their writing was phenomenal, and their illustrations blew us away. Students could create their illustrations by using software on the iPad, or they could use paper and drawing tools. Some students chose to combine both art forms. There were even some students that used 3D models as the characters in their books. One student, for example, created her main character out of clay (it was a dinosaur!).


Book Creator (the app we used) allowed students to add text, independently create illustrations, and add audio files to their stories. Students were required to capture all text in an audio clip, thus turning all stories into audiobooks. Book Creator also allowed the students to easily share their work with Google Drive for easy transfer to our lesson website and to the preschool iPads.

Perhaps the most fun element of this project was the day the fourth graders walked over to the GES preschool to share their stories. The students shared stories that warmed our hearts, taught social lessons, and that taught facts to the preschool students. Our fourth graders at GES were admirably caring and patient as they taught the preschool students how to open the books, activate the audio clips, and turn the pages. Now the preschool students have over thirty new eBooks on their iPads to enjoy for the rest of the school year!

We commend the fourth grade students for their focus and enthusiasm throughout this project!

Check out our books on this link!  You will need to download the files on a device with eReader software (iPad and iPhone will work).  We have also posted the materials we used to implement and assess this project.

Watch as a fourth grader teaches a preschool student to use the audio buttons and to turn the pages.

Writing for Others

Writing, as a pursuit, can be a private pursuit. Writing on a blog is not private, it’s public, but the funny thing is, you may not always feel you have an audience. One person could read your blog post, or 100s, and you don’t really get a reaction unless you have comments turned on and people have something to respond to. Writers also have more established forms of public sharing, through books, magazines, the newspaper, etc. Finally, a lot of writing that takes place in schools is not public nor private, it’s what we might call semi-public. Your teacher and maybe a peer would read your work. Often that writing is to a certain specification, to ensure you are practicing the craft of writing towards improvement.

So, it’s not often that we get to write in school. Illustrate our writing. And, have a guaranteed audience that we know will read our work and give us immediate feedback. But 4th graders at Goochland Elementary recently had this opportunity through a collaborative effort of ITRT Zoe Parrish and classroom teacher Krystle Demas. Demas’ students had the opportunity in class to help Ms. Parrish define what an ebook was, then they were told they would be writing their own! And then they’d have the opportunity to share their ebooks on their iPads with preschool students next door.

Book Example

The books were created with an app we installed as part of our 1:1 pilot called Book Creator, which allows students to create ePub “books” with multiple pages, text, images, and you can even insert video and audio. Students added sound files to each page so that preschool students could be “read to” when the students no longer were there. Ms. Parrish has since loaded the eBook collection on the iPads used at GES specialty center so that the preschool students can continue to enjoy the books created for them by Ms. Demas’ fourth grade students.

eBook Story

The books can be read on a variety of platforms. On the Macintosh, you can use iBooks in OS X Mavericks, and on iOS, you can use iBooks. Access all the books and materials used to deliver the lesson here. Kudos to Ms. Parrish and each and every one of Ms. Demas’ students for their problem solving and application of very creative skills! From what I hear, the preschool students enjoyed the experience immensely.

Kindergarteners create digital stories

Teaching lessons involving heavy technology use to kindergarteners is always an adventure!  Sometimes it is difficult to anticipate the flow, timing, and outcome of the lesson.


I always love the opportunity to work with Ms. Burton’s kindergarten students at BES!  They are great listeners and eager to participate in any lesson utilizing technology.  For their most recent project the students learned to use a digital story telling app called 30 Hands.  Using this app the students could take pictures and record themselves reading a story.  First, the students created a character.  Then the students wrote a story about that character.  Students next had to take a picture of their character within the app, and practice reading their story.  The students were able to record their stories within the 30 Hands app.


The next day I returned to Ms. Burton’s class so the students could share their stories with one another.  Since it was our first time using this particular app, we also spent some time reflecting on the project via class discussion.  The students shared that next time they should speak a little louder or position themselves closer to the microphone.  The class unanimously agreed that they loved creating digital stories using 30 Hands!


Here are some examples of the students’ work!



Meet Miss Bune

Meet Hailey

Meet Jacob

Collaborative Writing Project – the eBook is Finished!

Over the last few weeks, students in Goochland County have been working on an exciting collaborative writing project.  Students in Mrs. Demas’s 4th grade class at GES and students in Ms. Gill’s 5th grade class at RES worked together in a virtual environment to research and write biographies about historical figures, found in our Virginia SOL’s.


The planning process began over one of our many snow days earlier this winter (literally, we met at Panera to plan out the details)!  Mrs. Demas and Ms. Gill wanted students to work on a nonfiction-writing piece that involved a bit of research.  They also wanted students to focus on the editing and revision aspects of writing.  With the writing SOL test right around the corner, we couldn’t think of a more authentic way to get the students writing for a real audience and critically analyzing their own work as well as others.


The teachers assigned partners and provided students with guidelines and a rubric, but the students used Google Docs to communicate with their partners and complete the work involved with this project.  To start with, students wrote autobiographies to introduce themselves to their partners.  Next, students wrote persuasive letters to each other to convince one another to write about a specific historical figure.  Finally, the collaborative research began.  Partner pairs had to decide who would collect specific pieces of information.  Students began writing, and shared their work with one another.  During the writing process, students often left each other “glows” and “grows” to improve their shared writing piece.  The comment feature of Google Docs make it easy to share thoughts.  Students realized that it is a challenge to combine writing styles to make one cohesive paper.  They had to reorder each other’s work so that the essay could flow from one topic to another in an appropriate sequence.  Teachers enjoyed watching the students engage in an extremely active revision and editing process.


The teachers and I were impressed with the end result!  You can check out the students’ book on Google Docs here (if you do not have an e-reader), or the eBook here (if you are using a mobile device).

RES Fine Arts and Film Festival

In April I had the opportunity to participate in a community-minded event at Randolph Elementary School that blended curriculum and the arts with 21st century skills.   It was the RES Fine Arts and Film Festival!  Planning for this event took place over the course of a year and involved participation in our district’s G21 program.  Many teachers were involved, yet the end products were student driven.


The event showcased student artwork created in art classwith Mrs. Edmonds.  Students also had the opportunity to show off their musical talents with Mr. Snead, the music teacher.  In addition, attendees had the opportunity to view student-created films.  Some students wrote scripts and filmed their products with their classes.  Other students worked in small groups.  Individual students were invited to submit their work as well.   There were so many films submitted, that we were unable to show them all!  We created a gallery of QR codes for visitors to view the submitted films, and a website as well.


One of the best pieces of this project was the element to help our community.  All attendees were asked to bring a book to donate to Goochland Family Services.  RES fourth graders made commercials to advertise the event, and to encourage others to bring books to the festival.  You can check out the commercials here (created with 30 Hands on the iPads).


Check out the Kindergarteners singing a song in Spanish.  Their singing was beautiful (and loud :)

Kindergarteners Perform at the FAFF


I am lucky to be a part of such a caring and creative community at RES!

1:1 Year 1

At this week’s board meeting, we presented some details about our 1:1 expansion next year for grades 5 and 6 across the division. Included in this presentation was some of the numbers involved in all the new devices we will be supporting!

We’re offering training on June 16, June 18, and June 19th for new teachers participating in the 1:1 program. We’re excited about expanding the program.

I also passed out books at our leadership meeting for our principals. We’ll be reading them between now and the summer and have a book discussion at one of our retreat days.

Dr. Mark Edwards, currently the superintendent in Mooresville, NC, and formerly the superintendent in Henrico, has some advice about how and why to start a 1:1 program. As I shared with all of our principals, this isn’t really about new technology or more computers. It’s about improving instruction through engaged student participation in and outside the classroom, through opportunities to personalize instruction, and through teaching that begins to includes inquiry into daily instruction.

Our 1:1 program is being planned to expand slowly, year by year, over a 4-year period. By year four, we plan to have gone completely 1:1 in grades 3-12, across the division.

We will have collected all of the iPads from GES students by June 4, 2014. We plan to re-deploy in Fall, 2014 to grades 3-5 at GES and grades 5 at BES and RES, plus grade 6 at GMS. We will be advertising deployment night times this summer to parents, when families come to learn more about the program, receive training, and take delivery of iPads.

If you’re interested in seeing what our students have done in our “Year 0″ pilot year, check out this link from our November, 2013 iPad Exhibition at GES.

What’s Trending at RES

There are always great things happening at RES, and I wish I had time each day to highlight them all!  The activities I do get to highlight are just snip-its of the wonderful things happening there every day.  Today I spent time with Cindy Edmonds, the art teacher, and 3rd graders in Ms. Gentry’s class.  Last week students read a story about the horses that live on Assateague Island in Virginia.  This week we brought to life one part of the story with a stop-motion project.  We used the camera app on the iPad, and merged the pictures together using iMovie.  Last month students spent time studying art work from the VMFA that included horses, and then they built their own 3D horses.

Here is the final movie!


Later the fourth grade team was busy preparing commercials to advertise the RES Fine Arts and Film Festival that will take place next Thursday night.  Students worked together in small teams to plan the commercials, write scripts, and use 30 Hands to create their projects.  Next week we will share their commercials with the entire school.  The commercials remind others of the time and location of the event.  Students also shared that we are encouraging everyone to bring a book to donate to Goochland Family Services.  I was impressed by how quickly and easily students learned to use the app.  In a matter of minutes they were taking pictures, annotating, integrating other pictures, and adding text to their projects.  Every student was engaged and hard at work in fourth grade today!

iPads and State Testing Review

This year GES teachers participating in the 1:1 pilot have done an excellent job experimenting with various ways to use the iPads for deeper learning.  The year has flow by, and we now find ourselves one month away from state testing season!  Throughout the next month teachers will finish teaching new content, and will begin to spend some time on review.  Although we always strive for deeper learning activities, sometimes it is important to provide students with review of material already learned.  Check out some of the options below for using the iPad to review content!  Some activities or sites you may have already used this year, but I hope you will find something new and helpful on the list!  Let me know if you would like support implementing any of these ideas or finding more sites.


Apps specifically for review:

Pass the Past – This app created by the VDOE houses past history SOL test questions.


Websites that work on the iPad:

All subjects

Mr. Nussbaum Mobile site – Houses numerous review games for all subject areas!  All are built with html5, and work on the iPads!  You can link individual games to your blog or post the links in Edmodo.

ThingLink – Teachers can sign up for an account, and create protected student accounts (the program provides teachers with student logins).  Students can create interactive pictures.  Students could add interactive features and information to a science diagram or a painting from history.  It takes a few minutes for a teacher to sign up his or her class, but the features of the site are worth it!

Flashcard Machine – Teachers can sign up for free and make flashcards for your class.  The site will give you a web address for each set of flashcards you make.  You could give students the address by posting in in Edmodo, on your blog, or by linking it to a QR code.



Hooda Math - Practice games that will work on the iPad, that are grouped by grade level.  Teachers could post links to the games on their blogs or Edmodo.

Transum Math - Practice games that will work on the iPad.


Ideas using apps on the iPads


1) Students can create videos in which they ask review questions (play for whole class).  Students can write their own questions, and film themselves asking it.

  • you could assign different units/topics to groups or individuals

2) Summarize a unit, or what you know about a topic.  Share movies on Edmodo.


Explain Everything

1) Create visual cues for science, social studies, or math vocabulary (drawing or taking pictures)

  • students can make an audio recording explaining each visual cue

2) Present student groups (or individuals) with word problems (could use QR codes).  Have them illustrate and verbally explain their work and solution.  Then share solutions with the class.



1) Post review quizzes on Edmodo for daily practice

2) Have students watch a video covering information from a content area.  Assign roles to students to review and post information from the video.  Teachers can show the video to the whole group, or post in Edmodo so students can easily re-watch it.  There are lots of great videos on Discovery Education!  This activity is similar to literature circles, but with videos rather than texts!

  • Role 1: define vocabulary
  • Role 2: summarize the information
  • Role 3:  illustrate concepts
  • Role 4: write questions from the video


Google Docs

1) Each student creates a practice quiz on Google Docs.  The teacher could set criteria, such as “must use multiple choice questions.”

2) Create a collaborative class document and have students write everything they know about a topic (could also do on Edmodo).  This would be like a mind dump.

  • Could also send collaborative documents with small groups for the same activity


Book Creator

1) Students could create vocabulary books for units of study (can incorporate video, pictures, drawing, and audio clips).

2) Teachers could assign different topics to groups or individuals, and then share books with class.

3) This app is great for challenging vocabulary or topics because of the easy access to multi-modal opportunities (pictures, video, drawing, audio clips).

4) In Language Arts class create short stories that incorporate facts from social studies or science (could also use Pages or Google Docs)



1) Students create trading cards for famous people.

  • Create a template on your computer, and send it to students using Google Docs.  Students open the template in Pages.  Within pages students can add pictures and text.


Comic Life

1) Students label science diagrams (plants, cells, waves, clouds, etc.).

2) Students create a comic that illustrates a historic event or fact, or students could make a timeline.

3) Students create comics that illustrate vocabulary (could create a page sized comic for math vocab.).

4) Students can create comics that reinforce reading skills (cause and effect, making inferences, illustrating literary elements, fact/opinion, compare and contrast).



1) Create a project as someone from history explaining an event.  You can mash multiple Morfo projects using iMovie if students need more than 30 seconds of recording time.



1) Create a teacher character that teaches information from a science or social studies unit

  • Could also use some math concepts (especially geometry)

Transforming the Future, Apple Event

Recently I spent two days with other educators from the county at an event hosted by Apple called Transforming the Future of Learning.  This event was designed to support districts that have recently started a 1:1 program and also those that are preparing to begin one.  We covered a bundle of content that we will definitely use to improve our own 1:1 program.  It was also insightful to talk with teams from other districts that share similar experiences to the implementation of our 1:1 pilot program this year, both positive and negative!

Much time was dedicated to the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.  Dr. Puentedura was even there as a speaker to show us how we can use SAMR to transform learning with digital devices.  SAMR describes varying levels of technology integration.  It was designed to help teachers with technology integration in the classroom.  The initial level of technology use is Substitution, followed by Augmentation, Modification, and finally Redefinition.   Next year we will place more emphasis on this model to support teachers in our effort to provide deeper learning experiences for students using mobile devices.   The plan is to provide both training and instructional support for teachers as they develop lessons in the M and R categories!  Dr. Puentedura emphasized that a teacher’s goal should not be to have every lesson in the modification and redefinition category, but to strive to develop a few quality lessons that fall into this category each year – and each year build upon your bank of lesson ideas.  He said that realistically, after a 1:1 implementation, a school could expect to see lessons in the substitution and augmentation categories within the first year to a year and a half.  Teachers will then begin to tackle lessons on the modification level after about another year.  Finally, teachers will begin to take on lessons at the redesign level within the third year.


I was also interested to hear Dr. Puentedura discuss methods for professional development in the use of 1:1 devices and in working with the SAMR model.  Dr. Puentedura stated that it is beneficial for teachers to work together to develop lessons as a collaborative team.  We have always known that through collaboration we can achieve great results.  Next year I would love to help find time for teachers to plan together.  There is an interesting method for collaborative lesson planning that has been used in Japan for years called Lesson Study.  This model has also been successfully used in some schools throughout the United States.  I would love to try it in our schools, as it would provide professional development and a chance for teachers to develop stellar lesson plans together.


I love this metaphor of the SAMR model!

VSRA Conference

Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to attend the VSRA Conference (Virginia State Reading Association) in Roanoke, VA.  As an ITRT I wouldn’t have initially thought to attend this conference, although I’ve never been let down attending as a classroom teacher.  I am thankful I did go, because I had the chance to spend two full days learning about methods other teachers are using to integrate technology into their Language Arts curriculum.  It will take me some time to sort through all of the ideas I jotted down as I listened to passionate educators share experiences from their classrooms.


I am especially excited to share ideas from the STEM Crazy Teachers, Alisa Downey and Tina Coffey, from Roanoke County Schools.  Their energetic presentation clearly demonstrated their passion for engaging learners.  I loved the way they integrate Language Arts curriculum with STEM.  They use technology in their lessons that we also have access to in Goochland County, so their ideas would be easy to replicate in a similar fashion in our buildings.


I attended this conference because our Reading Specialist at Byrd, Margaret Dickerson, convinced me to present with her.  The title of our session was, “Learning Mash-Up: Integrating Reading, Technology, and Service Learning.”   We shared some of the projects we have worked on at Byrd Elementary School over the last four years, which have used service-learning projects as a way to leverage curriculum and technology integration along with 21st century skills.  We also shared our methods for establishing and carrying out these projects (using the G21 framework).  Although we presented early Saturday morning, it was the most fun I have had presenting in a long time!   Margret and I both care deeply about the projects we’ve carried out at Byrd and the success we’ve had accomplishing goals with students.  It was great to get to know the teachers that attended our session.  They were receptive to our presentation, and as passionate about developing great citizens as we are!


Here is a link to the website we put together to share resources from our session (although it might not make as much sense without the presentation).

Student Learning Slam – Collaborative Writing

Students in Mrs. Dema’s 4th grade class at Goochland Elementary School have been hard at work on a collaborative research and writing project with Ms. Gill’s 5th grade class at Randolph Elementary School.  Listen to Kylie in our Student Learning Slam as she describes how she uses Google Docs to communicate with her partner, share research, and revise each other’s writing.


From this project students learned a lot about communication from afar, and the need to clarify when communicating with others digitally.  Students also had the opportunity to practice constructive critiquing techniques as they revised their partner’s writing.  In addition, students learned more about American history as they spent time delving into research!  Within the writing projects students tried to focus on three elements:  1)  writing good hooks/leads; 2)  focusing on one main idea in a paragraph; 3)  organization of information in a research paper.



Steps to complete this project:

1)  Teachers assigned students partners, and partners shared autobiographies to get to know each other better.

2)  Students in Mrs. Dema’s class choose a historical figure to write about from a list that was shown to the class.  They had to write a persuasive letter to their partner to convince him/her to use the selected person as their research focus.

3)  Writing partners selected specific topics they would research and write about.

4)  Writing partners shared a document in which they collected research, and began their writing.

5)  Students helped to revise each other’s writing and organize the research paper.

6)  Projects will be compiled into an ebook for all students to enjoy!

4th Grade Presentation to School Board

Last night, GES fourth grade teachers Nicole Carter, Krystle Demas, and Joe Beasley presented their recent classroom activities with iPads as part of Goochland Elementary’s Reflections presentation to the school board. Included in their presentation was video clips created both by Mr. Beasley and Ms. Zoe Parrish, our elementary instructional technology resource teacher. Mr. Beasley’s has been embedded below.

GES 4th Grade Rap

I was impressed with how each of the teachers so clearly shared the benefits they have seen so far this year with using iPads in the classroom. Goochland Elementary was our pilot location this year to explore 1:1 computing in grades 3-5. The students also did an excellent job at sharing their experiences. They got to share some posters they made embedded with Aurasma videos, QR codes, and then they performed a recent rap with the help of a beat from GarageBand off one of the student’s iPads.

The board meeting is available as YouTube video if you’re interested in seeing their presentation from last night! Kudos to Mrs. McCay, her students, and her awesome teachers!

MediaMaster Server Tutorial

The Math Department at GHS will be working on G21 projects over the next couple of months. Students will be working on iPads to create tutorials for their peers. Rather than using cords to move files from iPads to computers for editing and sharing, we are going to use MediaMaster Server on teacher laptops.

MediaMaster Server is an app that uses WebDAV for transferring documents between devices with very little setup. Here is the tutorial I made for the Math Department.

We’ve come a long way. The last time I blogged about WebDAV in December of 2011, the tutorial I linked to looked a bit scary. Now anyone can do it. So go for it.

On Change

One doesn’t have to go too far away to hear conversations about change, especially in the field of education. Change often comes with new leadership, that’s a given, but change in our field has been actively discussed, really, since Dewey’s writings in the earlier half of the twentieth century. Since I’ve been involved in the field, beginning fifteen years ago, I’ve seen large scale discussions of change too. I’ve heard ideas on teachers covering global awareness, twenty-first century skills, workplace readiness, and producing a tech-savvy graduating class. The inequities across class, race, and wealth also have a place among discussions in the education field, including on how best to eliminate disparities and how to give every student a full opportunity to reach their potential.

I got into this field for a number of reasons, none of which are terribly important. But the reason I’ve grown passionate within the field is the opportunity I’m afforded to make things better. I recently heard a discussion around “paradigm change in the classroom,” and my ears perked. This type of change is what really engages me.

Almost any source will tell you that the role of change agent—if in fact it’s a person or group—is a tough one. People are resistant to change, at least if they’re comfortable in their current state of equalibrium. While my title or my role is often tagged with something to do with technology, I primarily see myself as a change agent. We come in different varieties, but I have tried to focus upon being the patient type, omnipresent to help. I recently came across a phrase which I think summarized my position fairly well: a continuous, gentle push.

If we’re going to talk about a paradigm shift in our classrooms (here, or anywhere, really), we have to have a clear vision of what that means. It’s not enough to run away from a school, screaming “whatever is going on in there now stinks, and we have to change it to something else… anything!” At least not in a district/division like Goochland, which by many measures, is doing a lot of the right things for our kids, both in- and outside the classroom.

Our new strategic plan attempts to define what our priorities for improvement will be over the next 5-6 years. And there’s a lot in there that deals with instruction. If we look into the fine details, there’s got to be something lurking within that deals with a paradigm change in classrooms. I see phrases like “deeper learning,” “engagement,” and “personalization” that might be candidates. I know I’ve used my role on our instructional leadership team, and as an instructional technologist, to advocate for where I think we should be headed. By no mistake, my own thinking has been articulated in our strategic plan, congruently, I might add, by my colleagues who crafted each word in consultation with many stakeholders.

As we articulated together all of the dreamy ideas we had about where our schools should be in six years, a phrase emerged that really captured the essence of this vision for classroom instruction. And by definition, the task ahead is to move toward that vision. That’s the classroom paradigm change or shift before us. I’m confident in the six years ahead we’ll be well on our way.

If I were choosing a label, I’d call it “Personalized Inquiry-based Learning,” and if you need an abbreviation or acronym to remember that, it’d be PIbL. I’m a big fan of project-based approaches for learning, as well as those we might categorize as constructionist (the preferred term by Dr. Seymour Papert, who adapted his own theory after Piaget’s concept of constructivism). The sentiments, at least on the surface, are similar but involve the idea that we learn best through the creation of knowledge. The way this happens? Through experiences. The key then is to design experiences where kids can learn through the process of creation. The classic terminology might be “create lessons where kids can learn.” But lessons are rigid, formally-designed experiences, neatly abstracted like the storyboard for a sitcom. Don’t worry, if the lesson is boring, it will be over in just 28 more minutes. The key to the constructionist approach, I believe, is that we’re asking kids to many times create and sometimes innovate. And to do that, we have to have their engagement in the experience. They have to want to be doing and constructing, it has to be enticing. I could extend this thinking by positing that these experiences should be personalized for our students, so that they can apply their own interests, strengths, and needs for growth into the learning process.

The formal design of inquiry-based instruction does not necessarily follow one model. Our G21 program was designed to introduce to everyone of our teachers and students a method of learning that focused effort on the development of one or more of twelve twenty-first century skills in the production of a product or performance. Roughly speaking, it was a framework for product-created learning experiences. It’s cousin, if you will, is Project-Based Learning. Projects many times involve a product, but can be slightly more complex in planning. Another “relative” in instructional design, problem-based learning forces students to confront a problem, where they apply already acquired and new knowledge to solve the problem, often in the context of a small group. The commonality between all of these frameworks is the role of inquiry, or putting the student in the role of actively questioning what they need to know, applied to a simple problem, or a complex project. The very nature of having to figure something out, like a puzzle for instance, has a somewhat engaging aspect to it. The key, I believe, is supporting this interest that leads to engagement is a school-wide climate that encourages the type of open-ended thinking that so often is required in inquiry-based learning experiences. I know that the climate of standardized testing has done quite the opposite for many students. Some education pundits posit that standardized testing has killed creativity and problem-solving in schools, focusing everyone on finding the right answer from a choice list of four to five.

So, I could ramble on. But my point is this: we’re headed in a direction to try and change what teaching and learning looks like in our county, centered around experiences that personalize learning, with inquiry-based approaches. It does not mean that everything we’ve done is old and will be thrown away. We’ll start with our best exemplars for teaching, and replace others. For some classrooms, the changes might be more radical than in others. It’s safe to say that inquiry and personalization are not foreign to our teachers. What’s important to realize for everyone is that this change will be gradual.

For one, we’re taking the challenge of offering ubiquitous computing opportunities to students slowly at a pace that we can handle technically. We can do a lot of preparation for getting the technology, but in all honesty, we’ve been preparing for this for many years. The real transformation can’t really happen until teachers and students both have ready and regular, reliable access to learning tools and resources.

Technology will help in some ways with student engagement. The research I’ve looked at suggests that many districts see positive correlations to 1:1 programs in the first several years with attendance rates, graduation rates, and a reduction of discipline issues. But engagement is not the whole story.

Technology is, as I describe in our upcoming instructional newsletter, Explorations in Learning, a bicycle for the mind. In the case of our iPad 1:1 program, the omnipresent iPad in kids’s hands means they can look up a fact or answer a factual question any time of the school day. They have a multiplicity of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and online fact books at the ready. It is obvious, then, that technology supports a classroom paradigm grounded in inquiry.

Yet, technology’s greatest contribution to the ideas behind “PIbL” is the economy it provides in creating new knowledge. This was Papert’s point in his book The Children’s Machine, that a computer made the experience of creation, in a digital or virtual realm, so much more economical than some of the same things you could do with real physical objects in the world.

In my visits with schools and district leaders with one-to-one programs, I see those who have loaded their devices with drill and practice games. I’ve seen all sorts of digital textbooks. These resources are clearly grounded in the state standards and have little to do with a new classroom paradigm. We can do that, but I’d like us to aim beyond. I have no doubt that as we continue our program, we will standardize on a learning management system where teachers can present the requisite content. Students will have access to this content and be able to interact with it in ways that go beyond the textbooks and worksheets that still remain a tried and true staple of learning in schools today. But the changes we’d like to see in pedagogy will take time. If we move too fast, the process of change is too uncomfortable. If we move too slowly, we won’t see a return in our investments in expenditures on technology and new resources, not to mention training. But time and time again those who have already gone through ubiquitous computing programs report that staggering the roll-out of technology, and proceeding with constant, ongoing professional development is the key to doing it right.

At the end of the day, someone is liable to ask “Why?” What needs changing, and for what reasons? Why should there be a classroom paradigm change?

I can articulate a few reasons, none of which are particularly new or novel.

  1. Students show less engagement in the school system the longer they’re in school. (Dr. Geyer discusses this in an upcoming article he wrote for Explorations in Learning.)
  2. Both employers and tests for college entrance are moving more towards a model where students have to be able to demonstrate understanding and apply knowledge, not just recall knowledge.
  3. Our charge with technology goes way beyond making sure students can turn things on and cover basic operations. Today, we want kids who often come to us with those skills to be able to solve problems with these tools, responsibly. School is the place to develop skills in communication, collaboration, and inventive thinking with these tools. Workplace readiness metrics tell us these are among the skills in most high deficit by previous high school and college graduated students.
  4. As educators and as citizens in our communities we share a moral imperative to do what’s best for our country’s next generation. In part, this means we apply what we know about school success, lifelong success, the neuroscience behind learning, and what the individual needs and aspirations of our students are to our educational system. This includes bringing equity of opportunity to all students, using data to track progress and course-correct instruction, and divorce ourselves of the education model that was originally conceived to prepare a workforce for the industrial age.

To get where we’re going, I believe we need to:

  1. Share our vision about what our school division can be, at its best. We’ll be formally sharing this with our staff on February 14, in the afternoon with all of our teachers beginning at 1:45 PM;
  2. Work towards developing every one of our employees of their role, our mission, and our vision, as communicated in the plan;
  3. Plan, align, and execute a continuous professional development program that leverages our instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, towards building capacity to improve our ability with instruction, focusing on personalizing it for every student. We believe this improvement will come from inquiry-based approaches.
  4. Provide the tools and resources that support inquiry-based instruction models;
  5. Re-fashion our concept of curriculum to become a rich and organized, digital collection of resources for learning. This will only be possible after we have experience and exposure in our efforts towards deeper learning, as teachers firmly in the role as facilitators.

Thank for you taking the time to read this. No doubt, this is a draft of my current thinking on the ideas behind change. I won’t be doing the work alone, but in concert with our other district leaders who also bring a wealth of experience and ideas to the execution of our strategic plan. The fact that so many of our teachers have already welcomed the change I describe is a testament to my certainty that together, we can succeed at maximizing the potential of every student. Change may be a challenge, but hard fun is the best kind of engagement towards our commitment to education.

World Faire!

The week before winter break GES 5th graders hosted a day-long World Faire that was the culmination of months of hard work in Jen Cosby’s class. In October students were put into research teams. Their mission was to work collaboratively with their team to research a foreign country of choice and prepare presentation materials for the World Faire.

To keep research efforts organized students used checklists in Google Docs. As they researched a topic relating to the country, they would update the team Google Doc. Students were able to view each others research thanks to sharing capabilities inherent in Google Apps.

Once research was complete, teams began work on their presentations. They used their iPads to create movies using iMovie, QR codes, and augmented reality overlays. On the non-techy side, students assembled a presentation board. The board showcased pictures, textual information, QR codes, and augmented reality projects.

The entire perimeter of the school cafeteria was decorated with presentation boards on the day of the fair! Students also prepared learning activities (differentiated for various grade-levels), food samples, crafts, games, speeches, and demonstrations to share with other students who visited the fair.

Each grade-level had a chance to come learn from our fabulous 5th grade students. When students entered the cafeteria they were given a passport. A 5th grade tour guide led a group of 2-4 students from country to country. After visiting each country the students received stamps in their passports and goodies to keep in their “suitcase”.  The passports were filled with postcards containing interesting facts on each country.  Students created the postcards using Explain Everything on their iPads.

The day was a huge success in terms of learning and student engagement. Everyone agreed they were exhausted at the conclusion of the event and after cleanup, but that it was well worth the effort!


To see more pictures of this wonderful event, please click on this link to visit our Supervisor of Instructional Technology’s blog, John Hendron.

GES iPad Exhibition

In Goochland County this year we began an incredible journey to explore the benefits of 1:1 devices in learning.  Our pilot began at Goochland Elementary School, where all 3rd through 5th grade students and teachers were given an iPad.  Everyday I am amazed at what students are learning and producing!  Furthermore, I am in awe of the teachers who plan engaging, well-structured lessons to guide student learning!


We are excited to share what is happening in our  classrooms with the community.  So, last Thursday we held an iPad Learning Exhibition.  It was a wonderful evening to meet and talk a variety of people from the community, including parents and students.


The event was set up like a museum, with posters

containing QR codes linked to videos as our exhibits.  Students star in the videos, and are demonstrating activities that are taking place in classrooms.  The exhibits lined the school hallways.   Also, 4th grade students opened a Jamestown Museum down one of the hallways.  They recently visited Jamestown on a field trip.  On this trip students collected information on various aspects of the colony and Native American village.  Upon returning to school, they recreated an object that represented a researched topic, and linked that topic to a video that shared more of their research (using Aurasma). Students brought their families to the exhibit, and led them through as a docent.  We had additional iPads on hand for those that visited without a student. Our hope is to share with others the deeper learning taking place at GES, which is facilitated by 1:1 devices.  Deeper learning means adopting more project-based and hands-on approaches to instruction, and enhancing curriculum by integrating 21st century skills into learning activities.   In case you missed it, you can visit the exhibition virtually through a site that features a number of the videos showcased last Thursday.  Also, John Hendron, our Supervisor of Instructional Technology and a great instructional leader wrote about the event on his blog.

So much technology in our schools!

As a teacher, do you ever look back at your week and think, “Did all of that really happen?”  Last week was one of those weeks.  It was wonderfully crazy and filled with exciting events and learning opportunities in our schools.   I did not have time to post!  I hope to make up for it this week by squeezing in a couple posts each night to showcase the wonderful things happening in our elementary schools.  In addition to the Byrd Farmers’ Market and the iPad Exhibition at GES, check out some of the instructional activities that took place!


I had the opportunity to spend more time in Ms. Thompson’s classroom with her fabulous 3rd graders!  Students began a unit of study on graphing.  We taught the students to create Google Forms with questions to collect data from classmates.  Forms allow students to create a survey with an online form.  Students posted their online surveys to Edmodo so their students could answer a variety of questions.  Forms collects survey responses in a neatly organized in a spreadsheet.  Furthermore, students can use a feature in the spreadsheet to create a beautiful graph.  Finally, students analyzed their graphs and wrote questions for their classmates that began with question stems such as How many more, Why do you think, What is the difference, and What might explain.


At Byrd Elementary School we used Khan Academy for the first time with students.  4th graders in Ms. Singh’s class used their Google accounts to sign into the program.  We plan to use it as a weekly math remediation tool.  A group of teachers will work together to assign skills to students.  These skills will be differentiated based on students’ individual needs.  Students will work through the tutorials and practice questions to “master” math skills.  Khan Academy is set up to award points and badges to students for completing modules.  The students loved this aspect of the program, and loved working at their own pace!


2nd graders continued to post information in Edmodo to the classroom in South Africa they are going to communicate with throughout the year.  They shared information about the school’s farmers market, Thanksgiving, and Native Americans.


5th graders at Byrd continued to work on their websites (using Google Sites) to share information about protecting the environment.  I will dedicate a post especially to their work as they complete the finishing touches!  Students in Ms. Sprouse’s class at Randolph Elementary School are also using Google Sites to respond to writing prompts.  Each student has their own page on a collaborative class site, built by Ms. Sprouse.


4th graders in Mrs. Demas’s class at Goochland Elementary School began the next leg of their weather and animal adaptations project.  They have tracked weather data for a specific climate zone.  They also researched real animals that live in that particular area.  This week the students created fictional animals that had special adaptations to help them survive in the climate zone they have studied.  Students work on this activity using Google Spreadsheets and Google Docs.


5th graders in Ms. Cosby’s class began a special lesson to investigate sound waves.  This activity integrated inquiry based learning with children’s engineering.  Later this week I will post a follow-up on this activity that will describe how the students used GarageBand to create music.


Students in our App Builders club continue to amaze me!  I look forward to writing about this special group of students.  They are building an app for Goochland Elementary School (using TheAppBuilder) while using the learning modules in Khan Academy to learn Java Script!  Exciting things will come from this group!


The GCPS STEM Advisory Committee met last week.  Planning is taking place for the 2nd Conundrum Day and also 2014 STEM Camp.  We are looking for parents and community members to help advance STEM education opportunities throughout the county.  If you are interested in joining this driven group, then please contact me for more information at



iPads at RES

4th graders at RES love to use iPads for reading fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary!  Thanks for the great pictures, Beth Ferguson (check out her blog for great articles about parenting students in the upper elementary grades)!!

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Kindergarteners in Mrs. Alvis’s class were busy today practicing how to wake up the iPads, “swipe” the screen (their term), find and activate different apps, and how to exit an app. They also learned how to use three new apps that they can use during center time. They were having fun while hard at work!


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