Friday, August 23, 2013

A Lesson Worth Sharing

"An idea not shared, is just another passing thought" - Unknown

Something amazing just happened to me! And if it wasn't for amazing individuals sharing powerful information and using the technology of social media to share this information, this experience never would have happened.

Here I was, just sitting in my office, reading blogs in Feedspot (my new RSS Feeder that replaced Google Reader), when I came across a particular blog post that grabbed my attention.

Richard Byrne, author of Free Technology For Teachers, wrote a blog post titled, "A Lesson In Overcoming Obstacles".  In his blog post, he shared a very powerful and inspirational TEDEd Video titled, "There's No Dishonor in Having a Disability, by Steven Claunch.

I was so moved by the video, that I felt like I just had to share it.  So, I decided to share this video on Twitter, like I normally do.  This was the Tweet that I posted:

What happened next, was something that took me by surprise.  A few minutes later I received a notification on Twitter that I had two new Interactions.  When I checked my Interactions, I saw that someone had ReTweeted and Favorited the Tweet that I just posted.  This is what I saw:

I was so intrigued to find out who this person was that ReTweed and Favorited my Tweet that I decided to visit this person's Twitter Page.  When I clicked on this person's Twitter Handle, this is what I found:

I was speechless!  I cannot imagine how much my Tweet meant to this person with a physical disability.  I'm sure that the video that I shared resonated with this person in a way that I cannot even begin to comprehend.  The fact that this person ReTweeted my Tweet and Favorited it, leads me to believe that this person truly valued the message of the video and probably even gained a sense of motivation and inspiration. 

What I realized is, that there was a series of events that lead to my Tweet reaching this person.  The fact that Steven Claunch had enough courage to battle his disability and to tell his story on TEDEd is nothing short of amazing.  Secondly, was the fact that Richard Byrne connected with that video in a way that empowered him to write a blog post, explaining his personal connection to the video.  And finally, the fact that I follow Richard Byrne and believed that the video he shared was something that every student should watch, empowered me to Tweet this video to share with the rest of the world.  

However, none of this would have been possible without the technology of social media.  Without using tools such as YouTube, Blogger, and Twitter, this person would have never been inspired by this message.  

My Reflection
  1. This is just one example of how social media can be used to share "ideas worth spreading" and "lessons with sharing".  I wonder how many times this same experience happens every day?
  2. I hope this encourages more people to share.  Often, we are so afraid that people will not value what we have to say, or what we have to share.  If I had this mentality, the video that I shared might have never reached that person. 
  3. With regard to sharing, the worst thing that might happen, is that someone might disagree with what you share.  If this is the case, that's totally acceptable.  At least, it would have made someone think about what you shared. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tag, You're It!

Image is labeled for reuse.

In the Age of Accountability, teachers often find it difficult to document student learning and understanding.  Even more difficult, is to document student learning and understanding that meets state and national standards, promotes workplace readiness skills and integrates technology.  But it doesn't have to be that difficult.  Better yet, it can be quite simple.

A colleague of mine, Kyle Pearce, recently shared an innovative idea that really resonated with me.  This idea, was to use student blogging as a way to accurately and effectively document student learning in a way that was specifically tied to standards and learning objectives.

It Works Like This

A teacher identifies and communicates a learning goal with his or her students.  In addition the teacher identifies and communicates a standardized "tag" that is directly aligned to the learning goal.  For example, a learning goal in Language Arts might look like "LA.7.4" where "LA" identifies the subject, "7" identifies the grade level and "4" identifies the specific standard or learning objective. Then, the teacher allows each student to create a blog post that authentically demonstrates mastery of that learning goal using a variety of technology tools and digital media.

When the students are finished writing their blog post, they will "label" their blog post with the specific standardized "tag" that is aligned to the learning goal, such as "LA.7.4".  Readers (including the teacher and other students) can see ALL of these tags as "labels" on the blog.  What's more, the readers can visually see how many times each "tag" is used on the students' blog.  Furthermore, when readers "click" on an individual "tag", all of the blog posts that are labeled with that "tag" will appear in a list.


The state of Virginia uses Standards of Learning (SOLs) to identify and communicate learning objectives and standards to educators.   However, this concept can be applied to other state and national standards, such as Common Core standards.

Blogging Tool

There are many blogging tools that are out there, but the tool we will be using is Google Blogger.  Blogger allows us to use our Google Apps for Education account to create blogs and easily share them with the people that are in our school district.  Blogger is also easy to use, and easy to customize!

The Need 

1.  21st Century Challenges in Education

I would argue that there are two very different challenges that face educators today in the 21st Century.  These two challenges are:
  • Prepare students for success on standardized tests. 
  • Prepare students for success in life.

The act of students blogging to create a backchannel to document their learning and understanding for specific learning objectives, is ONE way to overcome these challenges.  This process not only documents evidence of student achievement, but it also documents learning opportunities for students to purposefully use technology to demonstrate their learning and understanding.  Furthermore, blogging allows for students to use workplace readiness skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and communication. 

2.  Teacher Evaluations

In the Accountability Age, teachers are evaluated on several different categories.  Two of these categories might include:
  • Documenting and demonstrating student achievement on various assessments.
  • Documenting and demonstrating the use of effective technology integration. 

Encouraging students to blog in order to demonstrate their learning and understanding is a great way to meet both of these objectives.

A Win-Win Situation

Students benefit because they are learning critical digital literacy skills and they are also improving their reading and writing skills.

Teachers benefit from being able to document both student achievement and effective use of technology integration for teaching and learning.

Other Benefits

1.  Student Autonomy

By blogging, students have the opportunity to document their learning and understanding in many different ways.  The blog simply acts as a container for lots of different digital artifacts that demonstrate learning and understanding.  Here are some ways that students can document and demonstrate their learning in all content areas on their blog:
  • Create a video
  • Create a graphic organizer or other non-linguistic representation
  • Draw a picture and upload a photo of the picture
  • Write Creatively
  • Write a poem, or short story
  • Record a skit
  • Make a Digital Story
  • Create an Audio recording

2.  Interdisciplinary Learning

Multiple SOL tags can be used on a single blog post from different subject areas. Thus creating and documenting more interdisciplinary assignments and lessons.

SOL tags can be used for arts integration, technology integration, and interdisciplinary assignments to document holistic learning opportunities.  Other teachers could even notice that a student has multiple standards in many different subject areas on one blog post which documents holistic, interdisciplinary  learning.

Furthermore, with every blog post, students are using technology to practice their writing skills and their communication skills.  Students will naturally work toward mastering both Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs with each and every blog post they write.

3.  Reflection

Students could even have a section on each blog post that is designated for reflection. Students could reflect on their work and write a few sentences about what they learned and what their struggles were.

4.  Comments as Feedback

Teachers and students can comment on individual blog posts. This will allow for more opportunities to practice appropriate feedback, model digital citizenship, allow for multiple student perspectives and connections on blog posts and increase communication between students and teachers.

5.  Collaboration

Students could also work in teams on assignments and cross post on each others' blog.  This would allow each student in the group to document their learning and understanding on their own blog.

6.  Continuous Learning

Students will be encouraged to revise their blog posts when they learn something new or when they make a meaningful connection to what they have learned.  Blog posts can be updated indefinitely to reflect a student's knowledge and understanding of specific content matter.

7.  Quality Work

Research suggests that when people have a broad audience, their quality of work tends to be much better.  This same concept applies to students.  Blogging gives students a much broader audience than just their teachers and classmates.  Blogging allows the potential for anyone in the world to view their published work.  Therefore, when students blog, they are intrinsically motivated to produce quality work.

Example for Application

As an example, I have labeled this blog post with the SOL strands in both Computer Technology and English Writing.  The labels I have used are:
  • CT6-8.13
  • CT6-8.14 
  • LA.6.8 
  • LA.7.7
  • LA.8.9
This lets my readers (and me) know the specific learning goals I was trying to achieve with this blog post.  When my readers click on these labels, all of the blog posts with those same labels will be displayed on my blog.  This lets my readers know how many times I have blogged while trying to achieve these learning goals, as well as how many different learning goals I have attempted to achieve.

As a resource, I have created a Google Spreadsheet with all of the SOL Tags listed for each content area in grades 6-8.  Teachers who use this spreadsheet will easily be able to identify the correct SOL Tag and communicate these SOL Tags to their students.  This same concept can be applied to Common Core standards.

Final Thought

This is just one idea that can be implemented to solve some of the challenges that teachers face regarding documenting student learning and understanding in the Accountability Age.  My hope is that this instructional strategy will help to promote digital literacy skills for our students, and help to empower students to take ownership of their learning by monitoring their progress of achieving learning goals.  I also hope that this instructional strategy helps teachers not only be able to document student learning and understanding, but to be able to quickly and easily access this documentation.

For me, the "tag" idea seems to be my solution.  Put simply, "Tag, You're It!"


Google Spreadsheet of SOL "Tags"
SOL Standards Google Drive Folder (All Subjects, Grades 6-8)
Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs
Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning
Common Core State Standards

Friday, August 16, 2013

Let's Save "20% Time" Projects

A colleague of mine, who I met at the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago, recently posted the following article regarding Google's 20% time:

Google’s “20% time,” which brought you Gmail and AdSense, is now as good as dead

His follow up question on his post was, "What do you all think about this article? If true, what does it mean for our school-based 20% projects?"

Below is my comment on his post:

"Regardless of what Google ends up doing with their 20% time, I still think this concept should be built into the classroom. Google is mostly about production. School is mostly about learning. Allowing students to inquire and explore an independent study or project, with complete autonomy, is invaluable to me. Students don't get enough time to participate in meaningful learning opportunities on topics of their choice. To be honest, I wish schools implemented a "100% time" initiative where we wouldn't have to worry about mandated standards, assessments, and accountability. Where true inquiry would lead the learning for each day, and teachers would encourage, support and facilitate students in their journey."

It turns out that "Google engineers insist 20% time is not dead—it’s just turned into 120% time". Unfortunately there isn't enough time in the school day to implement a "120% time" initiative, unless you count extracurricular clubs and activities after school.  So again, what does this mean for our school-based "20% time" projects?

If you have incorporated "20% time" into your classroom, or have experience with 20% time with regard to learning in school, please share your thoughts and reactions to Google's announcement.

The Act of Dynamic Following as Leadership

Image is CC licensed at Wikimedia Commons
“Dynamic following is where the real energy of an organization comes from” - Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball

The concept of dynamic following is new to me, but it makes perfect sense.  There is so much leadership involved in the act of following.  So much in fact, that the way someone follows can positively or negatively impact an organization.  Unfortunately, I think the act of following is under-appreciated when it comes to leadership.

Gordon MacKenzie shares his idea of "dynamic following" in his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball and sheds light into how it can benefit an organization:

“If we were to think of waterskiing as a metaphor for leading and following, the person at the wheel, in the boat, dry, would represent the leader.  And the skier in the water, wet, would be the follower. 
Wherever the leader goes, the follower goes.  If, for reasons unknown to the follower, the leader decides to steer the boat through an area where clusters of reeds are growing up out of the water, about three feet tall, the reaction of the follower might be:
"Why are we goin’ over there?
"This is gonna hurt.
"And its gonna hurt me, not you!"
If you are a skier in this situation, you have at least a couple of options other than being whipped painfully through the reeds.
Option #1:  You can let go of the towline.  Become an entrepreneur--on your own, in the middle of the lake. 
Option #2:  You can become a better waterskier.  Learn to ski out beyond the confines of the boat’s wake, way ‘round to the right, thus dodging some of the threatening reeds.  Then, describing a great, broad arc, ski back over the wake, over the wake again and way ‘round to the left, avoiding more reeds.  Every point on the arc is a point of legitimate following.  
My last boss at Hallmark ... sat at the wheel of one of the corporate speedboats.  I was at the end of a towline on waterskis. We spend our time together skimming across great Lake Hallmark.  [My Boss] was so sure of who he was and why he was where he was and where the power was that he as not threatened at all when I would ski around in a wide arc until I was up even with the boat and sometimes even past it.  He knew I was not going to start pulling the boat with him in it.  It just doesn’t work that way.  The power remains in the boat.  But, in allowing me to ski past him--in a sense, allowing me to lead--he would unleash me an excitement about our enterprise that served our shared goals as well."
"If you are in a position of power and want to lead well, remember:
Allow those you lead ...
To lead ... when they feel the need.
All will benefit."

For your consideration

1.  How does dynamic following promote leadership?
2.  As leaders, how might we become more dynamic followers of others?
3.  How might dynamic following improve a school, or organization?


MacKenzie, G. (1998). Orbiting the giant hairball: a corporate fool's guide to surviving with grace. New York: Viking.

None of Us Deserves Stop Signs Like That

Image is CC licensed at
Stop signs are everywhere.  But one place we don't need them is in the classroom, or anywhere else where learning and sharing might take place.  And by holding up "stop signs", I mean bullying!

Bullying is still a problem that exists today.  In fact,  "It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Source: National Education Association." And according to Facts & Statistics, the numbers continue to rise every month. 

One form of bullying is holding up "stop signs".  Holding up "stop signs" is equivalent to "teasing".  Teasing is one of the most common forms of bullying, whether it's in person, or online.  Gordon MacKenzi, author of the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, even describes teasing as the “Death of a thousand Cuts".  In his book, Gordon describes a time when he witnessed a teasing incident while he was leading a creativity workshop for adults. 

The Situation

Gordon asked each of his workshop participants to draw a picture that symbolized their company.  After a few minutes, he asked if anyone would like to share their picture.  One woman in the back timidly raised her hand to share.  While she was sharing her picture that she drew, her colleagues began teasing her based on the quality of her drawing.  Below, is Gordon's reaction to this incident: 

I have a sinking feeling that the teasing you bombarded your colleague with just now reflects a similar strategy.  I suspect that, when you teased this woman, it was an unconscious effort to control her by throwing her off balance--to stop her from risking, which she was most clearly beginning to do.  Why would you want to do that?  Well, when one of us finds the courage to risk to grow--to leave the status quo of the Hairball--that can be pretty threatening for the rest of us to witness.  The threat is that we, too, might be expected to grow.  And sometimes growing can be a frightening and painful experience.  If we feel we have already suffered too much pain or are already frozen by a sense of menace, we are liable to do anything we can to avoid the pain or threat that often comes with the experience of growth.  So we contrive to stop others in our loop who display a desire and willingness to grow.  One way to stop them is to shame them.  But because we don’t want to admit to others or ourselves that we are trying to stop growth, we disguise our shaming as teasing--all in a spirit of good fun. (Whatsa matter, can’tcha take a little joke?--more shaming.)
If I am wrong about this, forgive me.  But I think that when you teased your co-worker about the level of her drawing ability, you were holding up a stop sign that said:
Stop Risking!
Stop Growing!
Stop Sharing!
Stop Living!
Because when you finally stop living, you will no longer be a threat to me.  None of us deserves stop signs like that.  So I would ask you--those of you who are inclined to tease others--the next time you are about to tease someone, pause for just a moment.  Look deep inside yourself.  See if you can get in touch with your motivation.  And, perhaps, reconsider.
Some time later when I was telling this tale to another group, someone in the audience protested:  “Wait a minute.  Teasing is how I show affection.”
My response was:  “You must find a better way.”

For your consideration
  1. If you were Gordon, how might you have handled this situation?  
  2. How should we as educators handle these types of situations in our classrooms? Or when we are holding online discussions?   
  3. What are some ways that we can create a safe learning environment to prevent these incidents from occurring?  How might we be more proactive, rather than reactive in these situations?

Let's put down the stop signs and continue to encourage creative risk-taking with our students and provide safe learning environments for them to take these risks!  


MacKenzie, G. (1998). Orbiting the giant hairball: a corporate fool's guide to surviving with grace. New York: Viking.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Let's Bring "Play" into Education

“Play will be to the 21st century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society—our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value.” - Pat Kane, author of The Play Ethic

"Play" is something that I think is missing in education today.  Learning should be fun. Learning should be messy.  Learning should be exciting.  And learning should be imaginative.  We should be able to laugh and celebrate our mistakes and find joy in our accomplishments.  We should embrace the Lifelong Kindergarten mentalityusing "technologies, that in the spirit of the blocks and paint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn." - MIT Media Lab

Dan Pink tells us that there is no question that a playfully light attitude is characteristic of creative individuals [2].  And new research tells us that we need more creative individuals in the workplace.

Believe it or not, there is a distinct difference between work and play.  According to Pink, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do" [3].  Therefore, our job as educators should be to make work ... seem more like play.

Fortunately, we have a simple solution, right under our noses.  Google is about to bring "Play" into education.  Soon, Google will launch Google Play for Education which will use Google Play to enhance the quality and joy of teaching and learning:

"Google will soon expand its education offering to include Nexus tablets and Google Play for Education. Schools will enjoy the ease and portability of tablets together with highly engaging educational resources. And whether it's one classroom or one thousand, schools can easily manage tablets, and discover, purchase, and distribute content and apps with ease."

With Google Play for Education, teachers and students will be able to access their favorite music, movies, books, apps and more all in one place.  Moreover, management is a synch!  Forget about cables, file transfer and hassles. Teacher and student content will always sync across devices, automatically!  Finally, teachers and students will be able to access their content wherever they are on their Android device or on the web. 

If you want to be informed when the program launches later this year, complete this form.

Let's do our students a favor, and bring "Play" into education!

  1. Kane, P. (2004). The play ethic: a manifesto for a different way of living. London: Macmillan.
  2. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
  3. Pink, D. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A "Quick Response" to QR Codes

QR Code for the Landscape of Learning
Brief Context for This Blog Post

So, I am currently enrolled as a student in an Educational Leadership program at Virginia Tech.  I am a member of a great cohort of educators and I am currently taking a course titled, Technology in Educational Leadership.  Throughout this course, we are encouraged to blog and discuss various topics regarding leadership in technology education.  I came across this blog post today and thought I would make a "quick response" to my colleague's inquiry on QR Codes.  Below is my colleague's post:

"Can you guys tell me the ways you've used (or seen used among your colleagues) QR codes in the classroom please?  If you haven't used them (or seen them used), let me know that too please."

In my effort to "quickly respond" to my colleague, I figured I would create my own blog post about QR Codes to share with others outside of my cohort.

A Quick Response to QR Codes

QR Code is a "quick response" code which allows users to quickly and easily visit a website by scanning a specific QR code with a mobile device.  They are often used at conferences and in classrooms to provide an efficient way for audience members (and students) to access websites.  Here is a brief definition provided by Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia definition of QR Code

I typically use QR codes when I want my students (or teachers) to quickly and easily access a website. This is pretty much the only reason why one would use a QR code.  It doesn't work for apps, or software, it pretty much only works for easily accessing websites on mobile devices.  Below is a great picture provided by Wikimedia Commons which identifies the key elements of a QR Code.

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons licensed photo

Generating QR Codes

To create a QR Code (as the teacher) I would recommend the following apps:

  1. The QR Code Generator (website, iOS, and Android app)
  3. Qrafter (iOS app)
  4. QR Code Maker (iOS app)
  5. QR Code Generator

QR Code Scanners for iOS

Here are my top recommended QR Reader apps for iPad or iOS Devices

  1. Scan 
  2. Red Laser
  3. QR Code Reader and Scanner

QR Codes Scanner Apps for Android

Here are my top recommended QR Reader apps for Android

  1. Barcode Scanner
  2. QR Droid
  3. Red Laser

Friday, August 9, 2013

Google Keep for Your "Drive"

I don't know about you, but I find that my most creative and innovative ideas come to me when I am driving.  I often drive home to Delaware on the weekends to visit my family and friends.  And in making this two-hour drive, I have discovered that this is my most productive "thinking time".

Luckily, Google came out with Google Keep which allows me to keep all off my creative ideas during my drive.  Using Google Action Commands and the built in speech-to-text software on my phone, I can speak and record my thoughts while I am driving.  This allows me to keep both hands on the wheel and stay alert while I am thinking out loud. There are even specific speech-to-text commands which allow its users to verbally speak punctuation commands.

Using my smartphone I can use the Google Keep app to document my complete thoughts and ideas which are then stored in Google Keep.  Then, I can easily access these notes later in my Google Drive account, which can be found at

When I got home, I took a screenshot of the note that I created using my Google Keep app.  Then, I simply copied and pasted my notes in Google Keep to write the rest of this blog post.


I would recommend buying a phone mount for the dash of your vehicle to encourage safety while driving. Here is a list of products that can be used to mount your smartphone in your vehicle.

UNpacking the UNconference

Box Image is CC licensed for reuse with modification
by Nemo on Pixababy
I recently attended my first UNconference this summer and it was UNbelievable!

The second day of the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago featured an "unconference" day which allowed for all of the Google Certified Teachers to participate in creating the workshop sessions that were going to be offered for that day.  This was such an empowering and differentiated professional learning experience like none other.

After attending the Google Teacher Academy, I began researching more about "unconferences" because I was so interested and wanted to learn more about them.  This blog post is dedicated to unpacking what I have learned about the "unconference".

So what is an "unconference" anyway? Hopefully this Wikipedia definition will help to get us started:

"Typically at an unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting. Anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions rather than having a single speaker at the front of the room giving a talk, although any format is permitted. This form of conference is particularly useful when the attendees generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in the field the conference convenes to discuss." -Wikipedia
To help simplify this concept a bit, let's look at the definition provided by the Google Search "define: unconference"

Simplified Definition

Now that we know what an "unconference" is (by definition) let's begin to add some context and relevance.  


The "unconference" approach to professional development is sweeping the nation and is becoming increasingly popular, especially among innovative educators.  Unconferences are popping up all over the place, probably at a city near you!  The best part is that anyone can attend, for free!  One of the most popular "unconference" events are called EdCamps.  Let's take a closer look at what an EdCamp is.  

EdCamp defined:  "Unconference event organized by groups of educators, specifically designed to create a participant-driven, fun-filled day of professional development.  Educators can connect with like-minded individuals, collaborate ideas, brainstorm solutions to common education problems, have group discussions, and receive information that can immediately be applied in the classroom." - Edcamp Del Norte

Video Example

Graphic Organizer

Below is a great graphic organizer that compares and contrasts an EdCamp's "Unconference" to a traditional conference.

Picture Source: Edcamp Del Norte

How it Works

Most "unconferences" collect data and information on what the participants are interested in learning about in many different ways.  At the Google Teacher Academy, we used some amazing Google Apps and tools to help us collect this information so that we could spontaneously create our differentiated workshop sessions.

We first started by creating a Google Form which asked the participants to recommend a topic for a workshop session.  The topics could range from ideas and learning tools that the participants wanted to learn more about, to ideas and learning tools that the participants felt comfortable leading and teaching.

After the responses were collected from the Google Form, Google Scripts were used to create another Google Form that compiled, analyzed and distributed the topics into a multiple choice format for the participants (based on the most popular topics that were submitted).  Some of the Google Scripts that were used included Doctopus, AutoCrat, and FormMule.  Once this new Google Form was created, the participants then chose their top three topics to explore (or lead) during the workshops.  The coolest thing about it, was that this process only took about 10-15 minutes from start to finish.

Because of this "unconference" opportunity, and the use of Google Apps, I was able to attend three different workshops to learn more about the topics that interested me.  This was such a powerful and empowering learning experience that I will never forget.

Get Involved

Now that I have single-handedly experienced an "unconference" I am going to try to implement this style of professional development in my own school district, and at other traditional conferences, workshops and events, and I encourage you do to the same.

A great way to begin this process is to follow the Twitter Hashtag #EdCamp and #unconference. There will be plenty of conversations around these events, including resources and ideas that will be shared regarding "unconferences".

I also recommend checking out the EdCamp website to learn more information about these events.


As powerful as "unconferences" can be, they are only as powerful as the people who attend them.  So, learn more about them, and share your findings, experiences, and innovative ideas with your Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Who knows, I just might be seeing you at one soon!

Can technology ever replace an actual, real world experience?

Photo credit: CC Photo labeled for reuse
There is nothing better than real world, hands-on learning.  Or is there?

I would argue that use of technology can help to simulate real world experiences when resources such as time and money are not available. While it would be great for teachers and students to go on educational field trips all the time, to the different places around the world, this just isn't practical.

Therefore, technology comes into play as the "next best thing" to first-hand experience. Simulating field trips with tools such as Google Cultural Institute and Google Earth can be very powerful tools, but it does not replace the actual real experience of visiting these places.  Or does it?

To further illustrate this debate, let's take a look at a quote from Good Will Hunting.  In the scene where when Sean (the therapist) is talking with Will on a bench in the park, Sean says:

“So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling ...”

This quote reminds us that there is learning through the knowledge and experience of others, and there is learning through the act of experiencing. Which is more meaningful? Which is more powerful?

I will also add that technology can definitely "enhance" these real world experiences with the use of augmented reality.  For example. The invention of the Smartphone was a game changer.  Now when we are at (some of) these real life places, we can take pictures, video, look up information in real time, get our questions answered, and use apps that might help us to learn the information quicker and more efficiently. While sitting in a classroom taking a virtual field trip to the Chesapeake Bay to learn about food chains in the wetlands is a great learning activity, it does not come close to the actual experience of seeing these animals in real life, in their actual habitat.

On the other hand, using tools such as a Smartphone can truly enhance the learning experience while you are there.  Now with the invention of Google Glass ... possibilities seem to be endless for technology enhanced learning.

Secondly, I would argue that some virtual experiences of places might be even better than visiting in person. For example, Google Art Project is truly amazing. With this virtual simulation, you can look at just about any famous piece of art, take a tour of Art Museums with Google Street View, and best of all, you can get much closer to the pieces of art than you could if you were actually standing in the museum. Furthermore, you can zoom into the high-resolution pictures of the artwork to gain an even deeper experience and possibly even create more opportunities for inquiry. Let me show you can example.

Here is the Art Institute of Chicago with the view of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande. With this technology, you can simulate a real life experience of walking through the Art Institute of Chicago and freely examine different pieces of art, at your leisure, any time, any place.  Now, here is just the painting where you can zoom in to explore the painting in greater detail than in real life. Be sure to zoom in as far as you can go, to almost feel the texture of the painting. There is no way you could get that close if you were actually visiting the museum in real life.

Final Thought

So the real question remains; "Can technology ever replace an actual, real world experience?" I would argue that when real-life experience is impossible, technology can make learning possible.  Technology might not be a substitute for real-world, experiential learning, but it makes possible what was once impossible!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Is this a Googleable or a Non-Googleable Question?

Today, I stumbled across Tom Barrett's website and discovered an amazing learning activity that every teacher can facilitate in his or her classroom.  The activity is called "Googleable vs. Non-Googleable Questions".  The description from the website is below:

"Every topic, every bit of learning has content that can be Googled, and we don't want teachers wasting precious enquiry time lecturing that content. We want students, instead, to be using class time to collaborate and debate around the questions that are Not Googleable, the rich higher order thinking to which neither the textbook nor the teacher know the answers. Explore how you can make a simple switch with a powerful effect."

This idea is so simple, yet genius.  However, I do think that there needs to be a balance of Googleable Questions vs. Non-Googleable Questions.  This is very similar to the scientific process: "The more questions you have, the more you know ... and the more you know, the more questions you have."  It is important for students to first know enough about a topic, before they can begin to attempt to answer the really difficult questions.

On the other hand, students might be able to ask the really challenging (Non-Googleable) questions first, but then will need to find answers to the Googleable questions that will help them in their journey of answering the Non-Googleable Questions.

I also agree that students should not have to "memorize" or "recall" trivial facts that are easily Googleable.  Rather, they should ask questions, and learn the information in a context that is meaningful to each of them.  I agree, class time should not be wasted "memorizing" these trivial facts, especially when the teacher provides these facts to the students directly, or indirectly via textbooks.  Rather, students should research using the resources and tools of their choice, in order to learn more about the topics that are discussed in class.

Final Thought

Does this inquiry-based teaching strategy actually improve students' critical thinking skills and promote life-long learning?  I wonder if this would be a Googleable or a Non-Googleable question ....

You might also like

Closed v. Open Systems of Knowing
Why Do I Have to Memorize This When I Can Just Google It?
Inquiring About Inquiry
The Simplest and Most Powerful Learning Strategy

Friday, August 2, 2013

You Can CRAM it!

Photo is CC licensed at
I recently read a blog post from Richard Byrne titled, Cram - Create, Study, and Share Online Flashcards which really got me fired up!  Now don't get me wrong, I really like Richard, and he has shared some amazing resources on his blog, Free Technology for Teachers that I have used with my students and have shared with my PLN.  However, this is one technology tool that I just simply do not support.

Technology integration should be transformational, not translational.  Cram, unfortunately, is an non-example of transformational technology use.  In other words, this is an example of what we DON'T want for our students.  To further illustrate my point, the following sentence was copied directly from Cram's website.  And I quote:

"Flashcards are effective because they are founded on the principles of rote and memorization."

Not only are we encouraging this type of learning by using this tool, but we are enabling our very own education system to continue to create assessments that do not challenge our students and primarily focus on "rote and memorization" skills.  Moreover, when we ask students to "cram" they really don't learn the information, they just temporarily store the information in their short-term memory.

SAMR Model Photo CC licensed by Langwitches

When referring to the SAMR model, our technology integration should aim toward "Redefinition" not toward "Substitution".  Cram is a textbook example of technology that is being used not only for substitution, but for Bloom's lowest possible level of learning, "Remembering"—recall and memorization.  This is because Cram is replicating the traditional use of paper flashcards.  The SAMR model's definition of "Substitution" states:

"Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change."

We as leaders, for meaningful and transformational technology integration, need to be pursuing "Redefining" opportunities for teaching and learning.  This "Redefining" use of technology is what allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable (SAMR model).

I realize that I am "glorifying" and publicizing Cram with this blogpost, but I feel that is worth my time and effort to write about it.  We simply can't make transformational progress with translational tools like this!

So, on behalf of students everywhere, I would just like to say, "Cram, you can CRAM it!"