Utilizing the Khan Academy as a Teacher with Students

Video tutorials are not everyone’s idea of the ideal learning asset. The idea of reducing education to a bunch of embedded online videos really did not sit well with a lot of educators as the Khan Academy began to be used in America’s schools. Yet, I am a fan of the site and resource. And it’s not because of the videos.

They offer a nice management dashboard and they are trying some truly interactive, interesting ways to engage the learner beyond video watching. What some teachers may not know is:

  • What’s available? and
  • Is there a management tool for me?

This guide does a good job of detailing how a teacher can create a coach role and let students become monitored by the teacher. As students progress through activities and develop points within the system, it’s all tracked. This would help facilitate time spent within Khan on a routine basis, if the teacher set the expectation for “10 minutes of Khan a week” or “1000 points a month.”

And for those not sure what’s there beyond math, here’s a catalog of their subjects covered by volunteers and resource partners. For parents, they too can become a coach, and monitor their student’s progress. We recommend students use their Goochland Google account to connect to the service.

Embracing an Active Learning Modality

@bealeiderman recently shared this article with me. “It’s a good article, it’s easy to understand, and gets at a point I know we’ve tried to make in the past.” Okay, I’ve read it.

What Project-Based Learning Is (and what it isn’t)…

As teachers learned this past semester in our online course on PBL, there is a difference between learning “through the project” and one that’s added at the end, served as “dessert.” What I liked about this article were the examples educator Azul Terronez uses in his classroom.

(As an aside, the comments are worth reading from this article, too, and raise important distinctions about what’s “new” and “old” about a “true” PBL approach. What I couldn’t help but recognized, however, is how engaging Terronez’s activities sound. That’s distinctive. When you want to do some of those things yourself, it goes beyond sugar-coating activities to be fun. Through these types of activities students can find real passion.)

Understanding Personal-ized Learning

Scott McLeod, who spoke at this past year’s VASCD Conference, made a big point (and a valid one, too) about the differences between individualization in education and personalization. Personalization, more than the former, gets used a lot in education circles, and a lot with educational technology products.

An article by Alfie Kohn recently got re-published by Tech and Learning magazine about Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning’. In it, he quotes Will Richardson, who basically equates “personalized” with “individualized” and personal as what we should mean when we say “personalized” or “personalization.” The easy way to remember? Something individualized is done to you, and something personal is from you. Both authors are endorsing personal learning, but Kohn especially is cautioning us to be leery of the term, especially when it is used by vendors.

I have likely misused the term myself. It’s important to make the correct distinction here. I think there is space in our world for both an individualized approach and a personal approach, although Kohn and Philip McRae tie the whole idea of individualization to behaviorist principles that at their worst, “establish[es] children as measurable commodities to be cataloged and capitalized upon by corporations.” Kohn advocates for social, project-based learning. He says:

In the best student-centered, project-based education, kids spend much of their time learning with and from one another. Thus, while making sense of ideas is surely personal, it is not exclusively individual because it involves collaboration and takes place in a community.

In Goochland today I see a mix of approaches towards learning, and sometimes, we do want to help support students either in groups or individually with study that is tailored to their current needs. We have never needed technology to help differentiate instruction (although it can help, a lot), and as Kohn points out, we have never needed technology to make learning personal. In the end, striving to personalize instruction means for us that we have to be flexible enough with our design for instruction to allow the perspectives, desires, interests, and emotions of our students to play a role in the learning experience. When and where digital tools can support that pursuit, we have some interesting new opportunities. Otherwise, in our pursuit towards individualization, we might take the time to weigh our efforts with individualization versus different opportunities for authentic learning.

Virtual Classroom Feature Comes to Schoology

Recently, I noticed a new app had become available via Schoology, called Big Blue Button. This add-on, once enabled for your course, gives you the ability to setup a virtual classroom space, similar to other products you may have used. Learn more, below.

This tool unfortunately requires Flash and only works on laptops (not iPads). See Zoe or Bea today to get started!

Popping Bubble Wrap

What might a sheet of bubble wrap have to do with learning math?

So, in my last blog post I referenced former math teacher Dan Meyer’s online curriculum–offered for free as slides in PDF, Keynote, and PPT formats–that he used with real, live students. His latest thinking about math instruction took him to a different type of online curriculum, using problems he creates, to be presented to students in three acts. You can even see a list of all of the ones he has created, and if that number of examples is not enough to be used with your students, they should provide enough context for creating one of your own.

I wanted specifically to look at the bubble wrap one because bubble wrap isn’t really that important. It’s just a prop. But it’s what I might call a sticky prop, one that is simple sure, but it offers just a little bit of engaging interest to us (or to our students). Popping bubbles is something people like to do, either to relieve stress, because they’re bored, or who knows why. It feels good/interesting/curious to pop bubbles. And your students have likely popped some bubble wrap in the past. And that’s what I mean by a sticky prop: bubble wrap is interesting enough to hook us into the problem.

The cool thing about Dan’s 3-act problem with bubble wrap is, once we’ve figured out how to answer his questions (which often start with us making guesses, then refining our guesses with data points), we can apply it to different situations. If someone a year from now were to ask us “How much do you want for painting the inside of my house?” you might reference a 3-act learning experience. Personally, I’d ask how many rooms, estimate an hourly wage, then guestimate how many hours it would take me to paint those rooms. Most math problems might attack the situation is a very analytical way with how many square feet there are in the house… By design, Dan’s 3-acts are tied to situations that are more real and more every day, and if they all are not practical, they at least are sticky enough to command some interest.

I also like that so many of Dan’s problems involve video as a medium. Short videos demand our focused attention, and we can play them back multiple times, if we missed what we were supposed to see. It’s up to us as educators, I think, to make use of the millions of hours of free video available to us now to think creatively about the potential math, unsolved problems, and curious questions that lurk in short clips.

If you’re interested in 3-act math, I might suggest a few next steps:

  • Read through at least 5 of the examples linked above to get a flavor of a 3-act math problem.
  • Find one that relates to your own content standards, and try it with students.
  • Create your own 3-act, by including images and/or video in the problem. You can create your own, or borrow something with sticky interest from YouTube.
  • Reward yourself with some bubble wrap.

Schoology for Curriculum Management

This past Friday (February 13), we talked with teachers about using the Schoology platform to share digital content resources. In fact, this ability was one of the reasons we chose Schoology this past summer, and you can read more about how they envision it working. I wanted to write a few things about this capability, and why it is so important when we consider 1:1 computing in our schools.

First, not everyone is of a sharing mindset. Schoology gets around this by creating personal, local (district/school), and public sharing areas in resources. I get that not everyone wants to share the “things” they’ve created for teaching. From my own experience, when I came to Goochland, I was forced to invent my curriculum, my syllabus, and I started out creating 10 major projects for the advanced class I taught in Graphic Communications. While every student got a print-out of the semester’s projects, and they went into 3-ring binders, it wasn’t necessarily “public.” I needed some time to try these new projects out with students before I was ready to “publish” them. But for whom? No other teacher at the time taught what I did, so, what was the point in sharing them?

In Schoology now, I could share this content with teachers outside my district. Okay, that sounds interesting… we’re not just talking one high school now, but a lot of high schools. I think of folks like Dan Meyer, who has published his Algebra curriculum. He’s confident, for one, and he’s published his stuff to a worldwide audience. Schoology feels a little more safe; it’s not open to the world (unless you want it to be), but the modular system of learning object and course makes it possible to easily integrate whatever it is into what you want students to see. If I were teaching today, I’d start with sharing stuff I thought would be of value to others, but also content I was familiar with, and knew worked for my students.

Second, I might still utilize a textbook. Textbooks are reliable sources of information that someone else (an author, a publisher) has organized, added pictures, maybe graphs, and packaged in an accessible way for students. As successful #futureready leaders told us recently in Raleigh at a regional summit led by the U.S. Department of Education, their districts are choosing not to spend money on textbooks because do not adequately address the needs of today’s learners. New tools are available, but in addition, so are new pedagogies. To replace the role of a textbook, teachers are re-thinking the concept of the book or binder around the construct of the learning management system, one like Schoology. With Schoology providing the construct of courses and instructors, teachers are able to compile digital assets as resources and then add these assets into as many or few courses as they like. When the resources and activities are tagged with standards, it becomes possible to track student mastery of these standards providing a new level of assessment. In effect, Schoology becomes the new textbook, with resources culled from a teacher’s own personal library, commercial resources, and resources that are freely being shared by other like-minded teachers.

Third, everyone doesn’t have a lot of digital learning assets, yet… If you have not taught traditionally with a computer, then it may be challenging to embrace the idea of a collection of digital assets in lieu of a textbook. The 1:1 computing project we have begun helps with this in a big way by providing each student with access to a mobile computer that allows them to access the same Schoology system (read: twenty-first century textbook replacement), but with the enhancement that this system can keep track of access to the resource (Schoology reports how long students spend in each course), can assess student learning, and with the guidance of the teacher/course creator, can provide different students different types of learning experiences based on preference or need. Sounds great, but how do I start with these assets?

The Peer to Peer University organization capitalizes on the idea of free content exchange. Not to mention the OpenStax Project, with online content. The problem is, these projects are focused on higher education. But the same sharing exchange already exists within Schoology. We just have to be willing to first, share our own content (our content is someone else’s freebie!), and peruse what’s out there. In addition, there are some K-12 resources too worth exploring.

Khan, as an example, can be integrated into Schoology as an app. This means it’s even easier to plug content right in without having to navigate between multiple windows and services.


In the end, by putting a device in a student’s hand, and by accepting that a new tool like Schoology can offer more flexibility in how the content we use to teach can be organized, we are well on our way towards taking full advantage of collecting and organizing our own set of curated digital learning assets. Whether these assets are something we have purchased (a Discovery video, as an example), one we’ve created (a PDF, or a video tutorial), or one we’ve found online from a resource we like (a Ck12 activity), a learning management system like Schoology will become the place to house this content and share it with students within the context of a course. If you attended our sessions led by Bea, Zoe, and Glenn on Friday, thank you! We can’t wait to get started!

What types of questions force students to reflect?

I wanted to share a resource via Edutopia. It’s a list of 40 questions teachers from a project-based learning school came up with to deepen a student’s thinking. See what you think about a few:

  • In what ways do you need to improve?
  • What does this piece reveal about you as a learner?
  • What the one thing you particularly want people to notice when they look at your work?
  • What will you change in the next revision of this piece?

Do you get the gist? Reflection is a powerful, purposeful practice of thinking about what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what goals you set for the future. What might be some good reflective questions for parents? For teachers? For school administrators?

Digital Learning Day 2015

Our Virginia DOE has once again partnered with the Virginia Society of Technology in Education to sponsor a Digital Learning Day on March 13.

Several activities will be held on March 13 to highlight and celebrate participants across the nation. The VSTE will be doing a Digital Learning Day “kickoff event” on Thursday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. The kickoff event will feature a webinar highlighting the VSTE 2014 award winners: Outstanding Leader: Janet Copenhaver, Henry County; Outstanding Teacher: Daniel Nemerow, Prince William County; and Innovative Educator of the Year: Teresa Coffman, University of Mary Washington. To view the webinar on Digital Learning Day, go to http://www.vste.org/index/learn/webinar. Schools, libraries, community programs, and classrooms are invited to showcase how they are using digital media to improve teaching and learning.

To learn more about this event go to http://www.digitallearningday.org.

For me, and I know I’m not alone, every day is a digital learning day in Goochland. But there is plenty to learn and pick up from others, and if that’s a reason that resonates with you, I invite you to participate in the March 12 webinar and to explore what others are doing to celebrate technology in our schools this spring.

Taking Control

As educators, we sometimes bat around terms like “student-centered” when we are talking about learning and teaching in the classroom. A recent article by Katrina Schwartz features some of the ideas by Alan November that may make this term and this idea, more clear.

I wanted to pull a few out as we explore the concept of students taking control of their learning.

  1. “November says that instant feedback trend should be embraced as a powerful learning tool.” Instant feedback, the author points out, is something built into video games, but also activities an engineer might engage in, such as writing a compute program. By extension, tools we can use to give feedback during a quiz are better than a quiz that just tallies up a score at the end. We need to find tools and methods that provide students quick, and if possible, continuous feedback loops.
  2. “The benefit of technology is that is has opened the door on the scope of global problems that students can involve themselves with, making their problem solving skills immediately relevant and encouraging self-direction.” This reminds me of the challenge-based learning model espoused by Apple several years ago, out of their ADE community. It certainly resonates with a number of our G21 projects.
  3. “Have students lost the ability to define the question?” I love stopping to ask students what they are doing, or better yet, “what are you learning right now?” There is such a satisfying feeling when a student can say “Right now, I’m trying to figure out…” or “We’re studying…” It’s clear with these types of responses that students are owning the learning process a little bit more. The next step is directing them how to ask big questions, embracing an inquiry-based approach to learning, so that conversations might be “I don’t know how this works, but I’d like to know (this) and (that)… gimme a second, and let me what I can find…” It’s teaching question-creating but also how to leverage the internet to course-correct their thinking, too.
  4. Role forming should take place. “One way to replicate that ownership now is to give students classroom jobs, allowing them to contribute something powerful to the classroom dynamic.” You see this most often in the context of a project-based approach, where students learn their role within the larger group, developing a mindset around working collaboratively. But there’s no reason, following November, why this concept cannot be expanded to an entire classroom or even a school.

More of November’s idea’s are found here.

More Online PBL Training

These two courses referenced below require advance registration and the two highlighted have not yet had enough folks sign up to make — but perhaps after this advertisement — they will.

If you’re interested, (1) let me know through email you are going to take the course, (2) sign up for a free account on PBLU and you can go to their Classes page to sign up for these free events. With proof of successful completion sent to me (3), I will count one or both of these as your technology class for this school year.

If you’re instead interested in the two future classes (assessing critical thinking, how to include content and competencies) – I will also accept those too.

  • How to Create a Driving Question (February 2 – 9, 2014)
  • How to Manage Student Presentations (February 16 – 23, 2014)

1:1 Teachers: Have you tried podcasting?

Back in the late fall of 2004—yes!, just over ten years ago—I started podcasting for Goochland County Public Schools. These were audio-only. Some podcasts were conversations with then superintendent, Frank Morgan. The main idea behind the podcast was to highlight the good things we were doing with technology in our schools.

Today, TechTimesLive is still updated, albeit more slowly than before. With 167 episodes, there is a considerable amount of content I have pushed out, online, with a focus changing to providing professional development videos.

What’s special about podcasting?

Podcasts are one form of serialized, creative communications. It’s more of a delivery method than media, but we tend to think of podcasts as audio or video files that we can listen to using a mobile device like an iPod or a phone. But what’s interesting is the process involved in creating these files and the potential for a world-facing audience once they are published.

You see, podcasts (and here I need to be specific) are like television shows, a magazine, a blog, or a YouTube channel. It’s an umbrella container for episodes. Just like a magazine has multiple articles (or a regular column, month to month), a blog has posts, and a YouTube channel has multiple videos, a podcast is organized around a topic with multiple takes on that topic.

Why might I start a podcasting project with students?

Podcasting in the classroom can take some time, which is why, in a 1:1 environment, podcasting becomes a new type of homework assignment. The key is—students will love making podcasts if we can focus the series on something students want to know about. There has to be a little passion behind the theme of the podcast, otherwise, producing episodes will feel like tedium and an audience beyond the teacher will be less likely…

When you produce episodes in a podcast, you have to be organized, know what you are talking about, and polish your presentation. In my recent effort in producing a new podcast outside of work, I thought it would be easy. But when I set out to actually do an episode, suddenly, I realized it was more work. But it was still fun. And after I recorded each episode, I knew a lot more about the topics I had chosen to focus on in each 20-minute episode.

How important is the audience?

We don’t play television sitcoms on TVs in forests where there are only birds and trees. An audience is important, but it does not have to be huge one. As Chris Anderson taught is in his 2006 book The Long Tail, there is a huge amount of diversity in interests out there, and published podcasts, I believe, are likely to be of interest to somebody. For students, that can be a peer, a relative, or even a stranger who shares a similar interest with the student.

How do I get started?

Share some examples. You might start by making it one choice in several for a student, not everyone is required to make their own show. Some students may choose to work together, and that’s fine. While the iTunes Podcast Directory (open iTunes Store and click to Podcasts) has ton of examples of podcasts, you might also share the video episodes put together by Super-Awesome Sylvia.

Does it have to be a podcast?

No. The point here is serialized creative communications. More examples can be found in YouTube videos produced by teenagers and college students, blogs, live streams of video game playing, a really cool Flickr account, and more. The point is, we get into a habit with our communication, sharing in a somewhat regular fashion, as a way to share, but also teach ourselves more about something that matters to us. While 1:1 technology is not required, it’s a pretty awesome use of our devices, and a good reason personalize learning.

For more on using GarageBand to produce a podcast with iPad, visit this online tutorial for some tips!

A New Professional Development Opportunity

An Online Course for Teachers

PBL for Teachers. That’s the name of a new online course I have developed that will begin officially on January 12, 2015. Delivered via Schoology and facilitated by both Bea Leiderman and Zoe Parrish, this course will cover why we advocate for engaging, project-based approaches in our classrooms, the eight essential elements of a project-based lesson, assessing projects and twenty-first century skills, how technology adds value to learning, developing driving questions and entry events, and the role inquiry plays in deeper learning experiences such as projects. 

The course is designed to move about one section per week, and requires the participant to read, watch a number of videos, and participate in a few online discussions with peers. The culminating part of the project is the design of a PBL experience for students, which can be your G21 project for this year. If you deliver the project after its been submitted as part of this course, you can also submit a short reflection on the project and receive additional recertification points.


Regular participation in the course and completion of Parts 1-8 will receive 25 points as an “educational project.” Completion of the project with students and submission of the reflection adds an additional 15 points for a total of 40. Please note that each time you apply for re-certification for your teaching license, only one educational project may be submitted for credit. If you already have conducted a project in this category, you will not be able to apply these points towards re-certification.

How do I sign up?

The attached PDF outlines the 8 parts of the course and an online enrollment code. Simply sign into Schoology, click on “Courses” at the top and click “Join.” Paste in the enrollment code and you’re in! 

What are Bea’s and Zoe’s role in this course?

As course facilitators, they will be available to answer questions via email or iChat. In addition, they will be the ones monitoring course discussions and assessments. They will also be the ones providing feedback on project ideas and project submissions. For the project reflections, I will be reviewing those and certifying that all work is complete in concert with building principals.

Does this count as my technology integration course?


Anything else I need to know?

This opportunity is open to all teachers. Because there is a significant number of videos included in the course, access to broadband Internet is required to watch the videos. You may, however, watch the videos from school to access this content.

This opportunity presently is only open to teachers in Goochland County, Virginia.

5 things to post in your classroom as reminders

This recent article, shared via @PeteGretzGCPS is an interesting read, about how to prepare students for innovation outside of school. I’d recommend taking the five suggestions on taping them up near where we plan lessons or even in our classrooms, as reminders of how we ought to be designing instruction for students.

  1. Play – learning can be fun and we need to give opportunities for play in our classrooms.
  2. Curiosity – inquiry will drive deeper learning and we need to develop and use student curiosity to fuel learning.
  3. Passion – when we think of personalization, we first need to know what our students are interested in and then find opportunities to match learning with these passions.
  4. Fearlessness – we can’t be afraid to make mistakes. We learn from them.
  5. Purpose – the work students take on need purpose; students should be working for making change rather than a grade.

These aren’t easy to do each and every day. But I was struck with how these qualities for promoting innovation also so closely align with deeper learning!

eBooks Session

This afternoon, I’m leading a session on eBooks. It’s a big topic, and presumably, if you’re reading this, you would like to know a thing or two about them. Since I am going to tailor the workshop around individual needs and interests, I will point out a few links that may of interest below.

What are eBooks?


eBooks (or iBooks in Apple’s parlance) are electronic files that can contain text, but also multimedia content like audio, pictures, and video. They are typically designed to be read on a portable device, and in some cases, can be read on a regular computer. 

What are different types?

I’d wouldn’t be the first to point out that the PDF format has supported text, video, audio, and images for some time. It’s held-up well over the years, but primarily it has excelled at presenting text and graphics in a high-resolution format that appears on a screen the way you intended. Zooming is possible depending on the reader program (such as Preview on the Mac), but that zooms into the whole page, not just text.


The newer formats are specifically considered digital book formats, and include .mobi, .epub, and Apple .ibooks. Amazon’s Kindle prefers the .mobi format and .epub is supported on iPads. Both formats are similar (but not equal) in capability, and feature the ability to re-size text (and affect pagination) based on user preference with the device or reader program. 


Apple’s iBook platform is unique in that it was designed to support “multi-touch textbooks.” This format is created with their free iBooks Author software and provides support for rich media such as 3D models, Quicktime videos, and HTML 5 widgets.

Which type should I use?

It will depend upon your intended audience and the tools you have available. If you purchase a book, you will not have a choice, unless the book you want is available from a different vendor (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Apple are the four big ones with stores). If you are creating an eBook, at least here in Goochland, your choice right now is limited: it is ePub. As we upgrade computers next year, we can support Apple’s newer option with iBooks Author.


Can I find free eBooks?

Project Gutenberg was a pioneer in making free books available online. They started out as plain text files. They now offer their books in a variety of formats, so the choice of device is moot.


CK12 was the place to find the first flexbooks, or flexible textbooks. The site is now clearly focused around supporting STEM curriculum and has expanded beyond books with adapative assessment features. The site allows downloads in the most popular formats: .epub, PDF, and .mobi. The site also allows you to contribute to the books and take parts of the books instead of the whole thing. They are, after all, flexible!


In addition to these two examples, the big book stores online also now offer free books – either as samples, teasers, or books authors want to offer for free. To search in Apple’s store, you can use the iBooks app on the iPad or search via the iTunes Store.


How do I publish eBooks?

Once you have created an eBook, you can freely put it online in a variety of ways. The basic idea is that you want to be able to put the file (like a Word document) somewhere online so it can be downloaded “and installed” into your ebook reader. The typical choices work well: Schoology, blogs, or even Google Drive. You can even make it easier by converting the link to a QR Code and having students scan the code to access the book.


eBooks can also be published online through Apple’s store if you are using iTunes Producer. I took my team’s dissertation in practice and converted it into an iBook with iBooks Author. I then purchased an ISBN number and published it in the store this way. My options were to publish for free (and be free to publish it in other formats) or else publish it only in Apple’s format if I wanted to charge money. People can read those books on iBooks app in Mac OS X or on an iPad.


The second option with Apple’s distribution is to publish a book (for free) as part of an iTunes U Course. You’d need to be added to our course configuration to publish through our “storefront” on iTunes U.


And tips for making books?

The two tools we have deployed to create eBooks are Pages ’09 on the Mac and Book Creator on the iPad. Both programs create ePub files.


Book Creator has the advantage of pushing your new book directly to the iBooks app. It makes it super easy to preview your book.


Pages will use the Export function to save a copy of your Pages file into an ePub. When using Pages, here are a few things to remember:


  1. Don’t change your text with different fonts and settings. Remember that the end-user gets to control this.
  2. Use the “Style” features in Pages to apply styles: Headings, body text, etc. Pages can use these to format and organize your book.
  3. When inserting audio, photos, and videos, do not use the features that push text around the object. Instead, insert these media as its own “paragraph.”
  4. When applying styles, it’s best to save that step until the rest of your text has been inserted. 

Why eBooks?

p>Creating a book, even if it’s just a (new) kind of file, can be exciting for young authors. The real power, however, is being able to publish. I’ve seen students produce short stories as eBooks and the experience was very rewarding for them. They had fun sharing their work, and that fun meant they were very engaged with the process. For teachers, preparing an eBook gives students a non-edible copy of a text with the support of multimedia that can be read offline (like PDF). Depending upon the reader, students can use the eBook reader’s functions to highlight text, and/or look up words with the built-in dictionary to aid their reading.


A Matter of Trust

Last week I told my dentist that we have passed out some iPads to students in elementary school. She couldn’t believe it. “How has that worked out so far? I mean, have any been broken?”

Today I came across this quote, emphasis mine:

If a school wants to encourage students to follow their natural inclination towards learning, school materials need to be digital, and available on mobile devices 24/7, Luhtala said. When educators make the materials accessible in these ways, students can find answers to their questions as they arise, and have no excuse for not taking responsibility for their work.

The educator being interviewed added this:

“Passive learning is really not an effective way to teach these kids,” Luhtala said. “The reality is that kids will retain less than ten percent of what we say in a lecture setting. So we need to empower them to become independent learners.”

How do we empower students to become more independent? We have to trust them!

I think her sentiment goes deeply, and beyond the ideas of granting access to social media. The combination of trust in students and our own dose of courage as teachers work in tandem towards approaching ways of teaching that offer deeper learning opportunities.

And no, so far this year, none have been broken!

Teaching Writing

Sometimes we educators make decisions with students based on our own experiences as learners. The easy assumption is that “my experience is the way it works, and so…” we either replicate a positive experience, or change what we found was negative. This might be fine–if our experience is really the same for the kids we teach. But it can also be dangerous, as our bias might not conform with what’s best, it’s simply familiar.

So, it is with caution that I reflect on my own growth as a writer. I had the hardest time in college writing in a style that was what my professors wanted. It took a long time to learn I had many voices, and one was appropriate for scholarship, and another was appropriate for story writing or an informative article. But before I got to college, many years in fact, I began writing on a computer. It was in the 5th grade that I began to write and turn-in assignments that were printed onto paper that got threaded through a dot-matrix printer. It was unusual at the time, but I knew that writing was a lot more fun, and felt more fluent, when I could press keys to form words, sentences, and paragraphs.

So, the following effective practices for writing really don’t surprise me, because my own experiences and growth as a writer seem to fit the conclusions supported by research.

The article linked above comes up with a few conclusions, found in the research on writing instruction:

  1. You get better the more you write: spend more time writing.
  2. Start word processing to write: write on a computer.
  3. Keep language instruction somewhat authentic and real, because grammar instruction doesn’t work.

Today I think I am a strong writer, but I have to admit, diagramming a sentence still feels foreign and very uncomfortable!

The Importance of Exhibition

One of the new features of our G21 framework is the expectation for exhibition, so that students have the opportunity to share their work. But aside from G21 projects, it’s still a powerful and necessary component of instruction, especially when it comes to the creative process.

Today at GMS – I walked into a technology class with Mr. Herbert and encountered students working on creating robotic vehicles using LEGO Mindstorms software and intelligent LEGO parts. While not formal by any means, the exhibition of skills was on full display. Students were working in small groups, and they were able to test their work in real time, and I saw them working towards writing better scripts to control their vehicles. Sometimes in constructionist learning, exhibition is a part of the learning process by design.

When I visited Ms. Ferguson’s classroom at RES later in the day, a student was asked to share a short story she had been working on as part of her GRIP project. The fact that Ms. Ferguson paused the book study they were doing and gave this student the “stage” to share her work was significant. She realized the importance of exhibition and what ensued were a lot of positive comments and feedback from her peers. The story was awesome, but even better for me was the mood boost that student received in getting an audience of her peers to validate her strong storytelling.

Exhibition of work happens a lot in our schools, but here are some ways you can make it happen:

  • Have students share their work with just one peer, and charge the listening student to ask one or more questions…
  • Have students capture their work in a digital format and post it online…
  • Use volunteers to become an audience for student work…
  • Create a podcast series and train students on how to add and publish episodes…
  • Start the end or beginning of each day with an exhibition…
  • Ask students to reflect in writing about what they have been learning…
  • Ask one student a day to exhibit in a safe, virtual space like Schoology…
  • Use the Schoology media library and invite students to upload their work; spend class or homework time in reviewing peer work with praise and constructive feedback

The last idea today was in play in Ms. Gill’s 5th grade classroom, where a pair of students shared with me and their class their social studies project on Ecuador. The feedback allows the whole class to learn some tips on avoiding extraneous noise in their next recording.

What students will develop in the repeated opportunities to exhibit their work and their learning is confidence and hopefully some inspiration for their peers!

Fall Technology Classes 2014

Teachers, Administrators and Staff:

Thank you for your patience as we have put together this fall’s technology workshop schedule. Both a form to sign-up for classes and the calendar of classes is available here.

There is a technology requirement for teachers at Goochland County Public Schools to complete 2 hours of technology instruction in an after school setting each year. The “clock” starts in June-July with our summer workshops, so if you took a summer class anytime before New Teacher Academy, then you’re set (as usual). All workshops are free.

New this year is the tech snack. This is a short, immediately after school session held at your school that focuses on how to do something small. These will be organized by our tech coaches based on teacher input about what’s needed at your school. Taking 4 “Snacks” equals the “meal” of a traditional 2-hour workshop. Snacks will be focused on 20 minutes of workshop with up to 10 minutes of question time if required.

I am no longer differentiating between “integration” and “basic” or “advanced” classes. All workshops count toward the requirement. If you have questions about our workshops, please comment below, or drop me an email. We will evaluate things in December and generate a spring schedule for January-March, 2015.

A few notes:

  • TechSnacks offered immediately after school will be organized on the dates found on the calendar and do not require advance signup. These will be organized by your technology coaches Bea and Zoe. I may also offer a few as demand dictates. These sessions are worth 1/4 of a class and taking 4 or more count toward the course requirement.
  • I am offering one “during the day” session on Google Ninja for administrators and support staff.
  • We are also designing an online course based around project-based learning that will be offered later this fall. This online option may be ideal for those with schedules that make an after school session challenging to attend. When it is finalized, it will be offered here on my blog with information on how to enroll.

What is SAMR?

The SAMR Model is a way about thinking how technology is used with learning tasks. Putting students in front of a digital device obviously is not enough. We have as teachers a responsibility to help design an experience for learning and when technology is included, we can view its role in at least four different ways.

The name is an acronym for the four levels created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. We like the model because it’s pretty easy to understand what the four levels are. It’s also easy to recognize when there’s room for re-thinking learning tasks to maximize the potential of the technology’s role with learning.

Is technology enhancing instruction, or transforming it?

  • Substitution: the technology used simply replaces the utility of something non-digital; reading a book online instead in a book, is an example.
  • Augmentation: the technology replaces an analog tool, but it also offers some added benefit. A good example here is a multi-touch, digital textbook, that allows students to mark-up the book with highlights, create flashcards, or includes multimedia content for considering information in different ways.
  • Modification: in this stage, the technology begins to re-shape what learning looks like because it offers added benefits in the tasks students undertake. For instance, in a writing assignment, being able to receive comments from multiple readers using a tool like Google Docs encourages additional layers of feedback and an opportunity for collaboration. We could still get feedback and collaborate without Google Docs, though, right? But it’s much more efficient.
  • Re-definition:: in this stage, new tasks are possible as part of the learning activities by having access to technology. Let’s say you want kids to learn more about poetry through writing a rap. With today’s technology, we can reframe this activity with tools like GarageBand to encourage professional-level fidelity and sharing online of a student’s song. A rap sung with clapping gets the point across. But how more deeply will kids be engaged with having the option to drop in real drum loops, a groovy beat, and some vocal effects to enhance their voice? Second, how can kids gain an audience for their work? Online, students can review each other’s work and share it with a worldwide audience. Technology in this case re-defines the audience for student creativity and likely increases student engagement with the task.

For coffee fans, learn how SAMR is a lot like coffee at Starbucks.

Technology PD Needs

Following my early call to staff, we received 115 responses towards preferences in technology professional development this year. We began last Friday putting a calendar together and hope to publish it this week. I thought I’d take a moment to summarize the findings of our questionnaire for staff.


83% of the total respondents were teachers; 2% were instructional assistants, 8% were building administrators or central office administrators, and 8% were support staff. Among the teacher respondents, 30% are teachers in our 1:1 program and 70% were not.


When it came to application software, we asked about specific titles and found that there is an interest across the board for all the options we advertised. The app with the least amount of interest was Microsoft Word (4%) and the one with the most was the combination of Google Docs and Sheets (44%). Other apps showing high interest include:

  • Microsoft Excel (26%),
  • Promethean ActivInspire (23%),
  • Google Sites (Wikis) (22%),
  • Interactive Achievement (22%),
  • iMovie (20%),
  • Apple Keynote (17%),
  • Comic Life (17%),
  • Calendaring (Calendar, iCal, Google Cal) (17%).

Learning Formats

We hope to innovate in the area of formats for professional developments, getting away from the standard 2-hour after school workshop. While every other option doesn’t offer the convenience of a one-time shot in the arm, research on professional development suggests that the “shot in the arm” approach is not as effective as on-going support. In addition, when talking to leaders in other districts, they have explored shorter PD sessions with more frequency. We might describe the difference between a 2-hour and a 20/30 minute session as the difference between a “meal” and a “snack” or “appetizer.”

In fact, among our respondents, the most popular format was the 30-minute “appetizer” session at 57%! Following that, this is how the other options shaped up:

  • 2-hour workshop (43%),
  • formalized online course (37%),
  • short videos and online tutorials (27%),
  • ongoing facilitated PLC approach (20%),
  • lunchtime or planning time stop-in (17%).

Please note that in this question, we asked for your top two formats.

I’d like to know more about…

And then we asked questions about what you want to learn how to do with technology. Again, there was interest across the board with the ideas we provided, and 6% of you also keyed-in your own ideas. Here are the top seven responses:

  1. I want to learn how to create eBooks.
  2. I want to learn how to personalize instruction with Schoology.
  3. I want to learn how to track standards and skill sets using Schoology.
  4. I want to organize a blended course experience using Schoology.
  5. I want to learn how to share curricular materials using Schoology.
  6. I want to learn how to create and manage online student discussions.
  7. I want to know more about how to use the shared iPads/iOS devices in my school.

Clearly, we have a lot of professional development to do around Schoology, and this is no big surprise.

Some of the topics above require a significant amount of time and others fit more clearly into a 20-30 minute session. In fact, there are some things that fit into an even shorter session (how to do a discussion), but the pedagogical piece of discussions could really be flushed out over a longer period of time to cover how to best engage students through discussions and peer feedback. Some teachers have this in their back pocket, and for others, it’s brand new. What’s my point? As always, one style of PD or one particular session can’t meet everyone’s needs 100% of the time, and we’ll have to be flexible with what we offer. Likewise, expectations for what we can offer in the opportunities we have have to be tempered by what the majority of our needs are as an organization.

Outcomes and Recertification

Professional development is successful when it changes the way you work, how kids learn, or when you’re more efficient. For instance, if you take a Comic Life class on storytelling and this school year your kids publish 3 different graphic novel-style stories, then likely the session had some success. Classes are less successful if you learn about a new pedagogy or application (say, GarageBand), but you never implement it because while you can now use the software, you’re unsure how best to use it with kids with a given amount of time you have. I want to talk about this for a few sentences, so please indulge me in reading further.

  1. We won’t always convince you in a session that what’s “new” is necessarily better. But please do know that we think it’s a great idea and we are here to support you. Until you put a new pedagogy or tool into the hands of kids, you really don’t know what the impact can possibly be.
  2. We know that teachers need support outside of a class. That’s why our instructional technology coaches (Bea and Zoe) are here to help. Their role can be tailor-fit to your needs: they can lead a class for you and model, they can assist you when needed, or they can simply be in the room if you’re afraid “something with blow up.” In order for their time with you to be successful, it may require some pre-planning with them. Please know in advance this should take place before you schedule them to work with you and students.
  3. The recertification system we used to use in the past assumed you’d be exploring the use of new tools and pedagogy beyond the session. If you didn’t do that, you got “free” points.
  4. Some teachers need a lot of points.
  5. To some teachers, the points are insignificant. “I took a class, and I’m overflowing in points!”

This year I’d like to innovate in this area and also on what’s “required” for technology training. This is not official and will need to be discussed with our leadership team. But I did want to share my thinking on this:

  • If we offer more than just 2-hour classes, what’s the unit for required training?
  • If teachers are really working alone to learn (either to figure out how to plan a new project-based lesson, or how to best use a new app on the iPad, or watching video tutorials), how do we capture that as legitimate PD?
  • If we offer shorter after school sessions less than an hour, how many points is that?

I’m thinking of the following. The reason why I’m sharing this, is that’d I’d like your input in the comments (or if you prefer, by email).

Proposed Changes to Technology PD

  1. Instead of a requirement of “1 class”, let’s make it based on points. The state sets a baseline of 5 points in one area, so let’s make it a requirement to earn 5 points, where 1 point=1 hour of professional development.
  2. For an online class or a PLC type meeting, that’s a potential of a lot more time. Let’s reward that with the time the designer as designated for that experience (if the online course is focused on 10 hours of “seat time,” it will be worth 10 points).
  3. After school “appetizers” or “personal 1:1 time with an ITRT get points. In good faith, these sessions will be no more than 30 minutes but equate to 1 point each. Calling into practice our core value of honor, we will award these points full-well knowing that our teachers will continue to engage in the activity beyond the face to face time with our trainers.
  4. We will provide a submission system for us to review evidence of further learning beyond our face-to-face or virtual sessions to earn points. For instance, if you attend the Comic Life class, but can later upload Comic Life examples you shared with kids, and a student artifact, we offer additional points beyond the class. A 2-hour class, for instance, turns into 5 points.

Again, looking for teacher comments on this… and then I’ll share it with Dr. Geyer and our principals for their input. Thanks!

Teacher Dashboard SY 2014-15

Teacher Dashboard is Here!

This year, we once again are offering the Teacher Dashboard product for managing docs, sheets, and slides with Google Drive with students!

If you need a refresher or want to know more, check out this post I made last year covering the integration of TD and Google Drive.

This tool is now available and can be accessed at: http://teacherdashboard.appspot.com/glnd.k12.va.us. Once authenticated with your Google Account, you should see a “dashboard” with your classes, and within, your students.

If you encounter any issues, please inquire with your technology coach (ITRT). TD is only for managing Google Accounts and affects students in grades 3-12.

Teacher Dashboard and Schoology

One barrier for getting kids into Schoology was the reset of Google passwords. Now that TD is online, we can reset student passwords if needed. That means Schoology is now open for business, too! Schoology can be accessed via their mobile app or through http://goochland.schoology.com. We only recommend using this new tool with students if you’re daring and bold. We will be advertising training sessions next week on this new tool.

Again, if you encounter any anomalies, please let your technology coach know!

Schoology Readiness

Dear Teachers:

I am sorry if this note comes too late. I understand that some of you are in Schoology and trying to use it with students already. I applaud your enthusiasm and know if I were a teacher today, I would have led the charge.

I am still working with the company on making sure we are completely set up and ready to go. Bea, Zoe, and I have yet to receive our official training on the platform. We intend to set it up with you in a formal training environment, too.

If you’ve been in and the water’s fine, that’s great, but I really would ask for your patience at this time. Creating your own courses, or asking questions at this point on how the system works is counterproductive for us. We can also not reset student passwords just yet either.

We’ve posted something about Schoology on Dr. Geyer’s blog for parents.

Second, to be clear, we still have a blogging expectation, but that can be done through Schoology or through WordPress. I will be asking you soon to tell me which you prefer to use.

Third, our priority right now is preparing for our 1:1 deployment starting on August 28.

The technology team and I have been diligent over the summer and at the start of the year to launch a number of new initiatives: Infosnap, Schoology, the next phase of our 1:1, a PowerSchool update, TeacherDashboard configuration, etc. Some of those I have no involvement in, but they all usually involve at least two of us. Thank you for your patience!

Logging into Schoology

This year we’ve adopted a new learning management system called Schoology. This is primarily for grades 3-8 however all teachers are permitted to login if your principal elects to use it for professional development.

  1. Visit google.com to ensure that you are logged into Google. If not, use the link in the upper-right hand corner to sign into your Google account.
  2. Go to goochland.schoology.com or click on the “S” logo on our homepage.
  3. You should be automagically brought into Schoology. If you receive an error message, please let us know.

We are using Google Apps as the sign-on mechanism for Schoology. Veteran teachers will have the option to use a Schoology blog in lieu of a WordPress blog. This is a smart option if you plan to integrate Schoology into your lessons this year.

I have posted an introductory video on the layout of Schoology and how to access and set-up your Schoology blog.

Summer Tech Classes


This session is open to all principals and to teachers in grades 3-8 throughout the division. This new learning management tool will be piloted in SY 2014-15 in conjunction with our 1:1 program and we encourage use by all teachers in grades 3-8. Schoology is best described as a K-12 solution akin to both Moodle and Edmodo. Schoology is being deployed as a student learning management system that will house digital assets for instruction. Schoology is supported both on the iPad and also on laptops.

Creating eBooks

This session will show you how to create eBooks really for two purposes: The first is a student project where students can produce an electronic book document (or ePub) for distribution and viewing on iPads (or an iPhone!). The second is as a resource for instruction with our 1:1 iPad project. ePub readers are available too on other platforms, and may well support what teachers may wish to do at GHS with BYOD next school year. By the end of this 2-day session for all teachers, you will learn how to format, embed multimedia, and publish ePub books.

Taking Lessons up the SAMR Ladder

SAMR is a framework for understanding how we use technology in the classroom. In this session, teachers will look at the SAMR framework as a point of reflection about their own past teaching with lessons that used technology. The “higher” we go up the ladder, the stronger lessons become. In this 2-day session, we’ll look at both the planning and teaching side of SAMR and you will be prepared to use technology more effectively. This session is for all teachers; please prepared to have access to lesson plans and materials you have used in the past.

Teacher Dashboard with Google Apps

For teachers in grades 3-12, this session will cover what you can do with Google Apps and how you can utilize these tools using Hapara Teacher Dashboard. TeacherDashboard allows you to send out templates to students, easily grade student work, and more! We’ll cover email, Docs, Spreadsheets, and cover a few things you probably never knew about Google Apps!

Elementary Primary Mobile Devices

This session for early elementary grades covers a number of different activities you can do using iPod Touch and iPads in your schools. Learn how to most effectively utilize these easy to use devices with your students for engagement and focused skill development.

Sign up here to register for one or more of these free sessions.