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School and Faculty Blogs




I’m brainstorming a new blog for our school which would be collaboratively written by our faculty. The vision would be to showcase any aspects of our teaching and learning, and to use it as a discussion piece for our collaborative development. A couple of our staff members blog individually, but hosting a collaborative faculty think space is a little different than a personal/individual blog, so I’m looking for examples of school/department/team/faculty blogs which seek to highlight their learning communities. I’ve also attached any descriptors, mission statements or “about” lines which I think help encapsulate why the blog exists and how it serves the school community. I’ll add to this list as I continue to find more!

Of course, if you have any examples to contribute, please let us know in the comments below.

Nicholas School Blogs (Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment) – “Our blogs showcase the classes, travels, research, internships, and events that comprise the Nicholas School experience.”

Findings in Research & Development (American School of Bombay) – “This is the American School of Bombay R&D Department’s blog. The Research and Development Department studies, prototypes (when required), designs, and develops new teaching and learning environments for the 21st century. Through this blog we share our ‘Findings’ and engage in conversations about new designs of schooling and teaching and learning. Also check out the following pages: R&D Explorations, R&D Reports and Presentations, ASB Maker Movement, and Day 9. We look forward to your participation in ASB’s Learning Journey.”

GCE Voices Blog (Global Citizenship Experience, Chicago) – “Welcome to the GCE/C2 Labs “Beta” Blog, a place dedicated to reinvent education. The term “beta” is generally used to indicate the latest release in the life cycle of a product or service. Here, we use “beta” to indicate the nature of our laboratory school, a place of creativity & experimentation. This blog contains a series of “Online Installations” (aka OnIns), through which we compile student work in interactive ways. We hope you dive into the installations and feel inspired by our motto: “Reinvent Possibility”.”

High School Bits (Bedford/St. Martin’s High School) – “High School Bits is a multi-author weblog for high school English teachers. Bits was created by instructors, authors, and Bedford/St. Martin’s editors as an interactive space for teachers to talk about their craft and to share ideas. The blog features leading scholars and master teachers along with new and emerging voices.”

No More Apps-by-SAMR Infographics!


Seriously, can we please stop doing this?


This is not good.

I don’t want to pick on this poster, and it’s over a year old. This is not the only example of this thinking, though, and this particular picture refuses to die. But it and its ilk need to be retired.

This is, I think, a very bad interpretation of SAMR. Chrome is not an app for “Modification,” and Symbaloo is not an app for “Substitution,” any more than a hammer is a tool which builds “Houses.” I can build a house using, in part, a hammer. I can also use a hammer to build a deck, or a birdhouse or hammer a sign to a tree, all of which have very different levels of complexity. If I’m really in a pinch, I can use it to hold down my blueprints when it’s windy or pry open a paint can.

Looking at the “Redefinition” category on this chart, you would be led to believe that using these apps will result in lessons and units which allow “for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.” Exciting stuff, that! I have seen, though, many activities with Screen Chomp or Toontastic or Puppet Pals which have zero functional improvement over their arts-and-crafts analog cousins. If you do the same project with the Sock Puppets app that you used to do (or would have been able to do) with real sock puppets, then you’re still at Substitution (no functional improvement).

You cannot separate the tool from the process when evaluating technology integration. For example: this chart lists iMovie as a “Redefinition” app. Let’s play with iMovie as an app, while achieving:

  • Redefinition. Rather than interview someone and present their report based on that interview, student creates a documentary-style movie featuring the interview with their subject which contains the subject’s own words and the student’s interpretation/questions/discussion of context and relevance. Student submits video to local historical society for inclusion in related museum exhibit.
  • Modification. Student gives presentation to class while including multimedia examples produced using iMovie. This introduces new features only allowed by the technology (i.e. the “task redesign” stage), while still being similar to the original model (give presentation).
  • Augmentation. Student selects images to support or instruct a topic and records their voice/narration. This is a substitution for giving a traditional presentation, but there is functional improvement because the images and visuals can be viewed much clearer.
  • Substitution. Student makes a video of themselves delivering a presentation. No improvement on function or process from delivering the presentation in class, except that it gets the student some experience with iMovie.

SAMR is not a clean, objective rubric, nor is it a cookbook. I would wager that you could take most of the apps on that list and use them to design activities which meet the entire range of SAMR. Simplifying the process of Technology Integration to a checklist of “tools” rather than “process/product, using tools” keeps us in the cycle of technology-for-technology’s sake.

A nod, though, to a SAMR chart which doesn’t make me break out in hives:

@danielbbudd, h/t to iLearnDifferent

The difference in this chart is that it focuses on the student activity rather than the apps. For example, under Note Taking->Redefinition, the key here is “Sharing notebooks and collaborating.” He mentions Evernote as a possibility. Does it have to be Evernote? Absolutely not– could be using a blog, Diigo, Google Docs or a host of other options. The task is what differentiates the level.

The good news is that it is incredibly easy to take a project and elevate it: share it. Notice how many of @danielbbudd’s Modification or Redefinition tasks involve collaboration or publishable products. Publish them, and let the class/school/families/community/world comment on them or discuss them. Collect them together into an archive which the whole class gets to keep and refer to. Jigsaw them so that the each forms a larger class project and the whole become more than copies of the same parts. Just ask: what does this technology let me do that I couldn’t do before? 

What’s Your Take?

Am I being unfair here? Am I the one off-base? Do you use these app-based models in your planning or coaching?

+ Hangouts and Outside Expertise


One week before the end of the semester and the exams that entails, your Statistics teacher gives birth and goes on Maternity leave. You can’t find a sub who is a Stats Guru to help students review for the final. What do you do? We brought Megan Lantz, Statistics teacher at University High School in Milwaukee (WI), in for after-school virtual study sessions with our students using Google+ Hangouts. Megan was able to chat face-to-face with our students as she answered questions and worked through examples with them. We emailed her copies of the previous exams so that she could refer to past questions, and students brought their notes and questions. As a proof-of-concept, this shows how you can bring all kinds of expertise into your classroom virtually in a way that allows personal communication like having your guest physically present, while opening access to expertise that otherwise might not be locally available.

Megan made ample use of the screen sharing capabilities of Hangout. Using a hybrid Windows PC with tablet functionality, she was able to quickly write examples and share them directly through the video chat. On our end, we projected the chat on the board, so everyone could see and hear her descriptions. For our station, we used a MacBook with a Wacom tablet so that students could write back to her as well. Students who had questions came up to the computer and sat directly in front of it– sometimes we see video chats where students stay in their seats and teachers try and project the whole screen. This isn’t a great use of the technology since the cameras built into computers or tablets aren’t particularly good at wide-angle, nor are the microphones good at picking up sound at a distance. When someone wants to talk to or ask a question of your guest, get them up in front of the camera where the technology expects them to be.

Of course, the technology is the easy part with this– the harder part can be finding an expert in the subject that you want to bring in. Twitter can be a great source of information, as classes or teachers who do video chats often tweet about the experience. Don’t forget about area colleges and universities as well– often professors are happy to connect with local students about their subject areas, and doing so virtually can save lots of time on their end.

Choosing to be Bothered

My first answer didn’t quite get at the heart of Mark’s question, but it was the best I could do in 140 characters:

A true answer is much longer than Twitter allows.  Read more

Do We Have Different Paths “Up?”

Hugh MacLeod - @gapingvoid
Hugh MacLeod - @gapingvoid

Hugh MacLeod – @gapingvoid

Saw this picture in Hugh MacLeod’s Cartoon of the Day this morning. This seems self-evident: there are many paths to a fulfilling, successful and meaningful process or project. At the same time, there are basic traps of failure that we see our students fall in repeatedly, or certain behaviors that we know “lead down.” Is it true, though, that “All paths up are different” in our classrooms? How many different paths can a student have to success in your classroom? It seems to me that this question has many facets:

  • Does your grading policy allow different paths to success, or does the goal of accumulating points force students into certain tracks and processes?
  • Do your assessments allow students to take different paths, whether through exploring different content or by demonstrating their learning in different methods?
  • Are all students differentiated so that they are each working on their necessary strengths, weaknesses and goals?
  • MacLeod says in his accompanying message that “It’s far harder to copy success than to copy failure.” How do we use models, rubrics and exemplars in ways that encourage finding unique paths up instead of trying to “copy success?”

What do you think? Please comment below!

Push Through “It’s Done”

My wife’s late Grandfather made cabinets for a living, and he was extremely well-regarded for his craft. When my mother- and father-in-law were cleaning out his shop, they made sure to keep the very large sign in his shop that read: “Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough.” I am reminded of that by Tim Holt, who shared this amazing video of artist Kyle Lambert creating a photo-realistic finger painting of Morgan Freeman. Tim writes:

Have you ever wondered just how far one could go with an iPad? This guy did. Check out his incredible Morgan Freeman finger drawing. makes [sic] you wonder how much our students could do if given the right device huh?

–Tim Holt,

When watching this, a whole different line of questions came to mind for me: when is it done? It looks like Morgan Freeman pretty early on in the video. It gets incredibly detailed even halfway through. Look at the tiny edits that Lambert makes towards the end– watch his work on the eyes alone. When would our students have stopped and “turned it in?” When would it have been “good enough?”

Artists, athletes and creative-class people internalize that “Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough.” For these people, the heartache sometimes isn’t putting in the 285,000 brush strokes and 200 hours– it’s sending it out the door without putting in the next 3,000 strokes that really could have made the nose even better. I don’t know Kyle Lambert, but I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one part of that painting that he looks at and thinks it needs a touch more polish.

The message for me out of this video is to push through “it’s done” into “it’s great.” We’ll be talking about that in class tomorrow morning.

What do you see in this? How do you coach students (or yourself!) to put in the time necessary to make work not just complete, but great?


Update Dec.6: Just after I posted this, I learned that Nelson Mandela had passed. With this post still fresh in mind, it seemed only appropriate to post this from Mandela’s autobiography:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter. I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb.

–Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk to Freedom”

My Six Hats: The Job of an Educational Technologist

I help teachers and students use technology for more effective and efficient teaching and learning.

“Yes, but what do you do?”

Remember this one?


A quick survey of 20 Ed. Tech professionals at a conference will likely get you 20 different job descriptions, and at least 10 different job titles. So far in my brief Ed. Tech career, I’ve been an IT Coordinator, Director of Technology, Director of Educational Technology and now Director of Academic Technology. And yes, these are all indicative of different views of the role of Ed. Tech within a school structure or technology program, or the different areas of responsibility within the school.

Early in this school year, my new boss (himself a former INSERT TITLE WHICH INDICATES ED. TECH LEADERSHIP HERE) brainstormed the broad categories in which I should be involved. Since my position is a new one for the school and I was obviously new to the position, it was a good exercise is defining where my eyes should be. Here is what we came up with:

  • Curriculum. Technology integration requires looking at the curriculum of a school, both the capital ‘c’ Curriculum of the courses and the learning opportunities afforded by extracurricular clubs and activities. 
  • Device Program. A successful 1:1 program lives in both the educational and IT realms and requires an understanding of both. This is one of the greatest arguments for having a dedicated educational technology expert aside from whomever is in charge of the IT infrastructure of the campus.
  • Digital Culture. Technology integration requires a cultural shift as much as a pedagogical one (and it could be argued that these are in fact the same shift). As with curriculum, this requires addressing the world inside the classroom as well as the other areas of the campus. Where does innovation happen, and how is it celebrated? Do we have opportunities to showcase high-quality digital work as well as traditional/physical artifacts? What is the digital citizenship plan for the school? Why does it matter to teachers and students?
  • Faculty Development. Perhaps the most visible and constant aspect of Ed. Tech leadership is either working with faculty directly or producing training resources for faculty to use on their own. If one subscribes to the TPACK model, we are perhaps the most direct source for teachers wanting to increase their Technological- and Technological-Pedagogical knowledge. To my mind, this also includes my development and learning needs as well as PLN activities like blogging, which way go back to my own faculty or others around the world.
  • Infrastructure. This may be one of the greatest sources of variation in all of our positions– to what degree are we responsible for the infrastructure? I would argue (in another post, perhaps) that it’s imperative for the educational technologist to not have responsibility for managing the infrastructure. I feel very fortunate to be in a position now where I can focus exclusively on the teaching and learning, yet I have to be well-versed enough in the infrastructure to be the bridge between the educational and IT staff. To be effective, I think that we as Ed. Tech leaders have to be able to communicate the needs of the educational staff to the IT program, and vice versa. You don’t want me fixing your computer. You do want me, though, to know when your tech is failing or insufficient and tell someone why you need different hardware.
  • Teaching. Again, this is an area of huge variation in the field– how much, if any, do you still teach? Most of us are classroom teachers who walked down a very specialized field and began sharing that knowledge, passion and expertise until we found ourselves in a support role rather than a classroom one. In small or private schools, we may still teach a class or two (I have the opportunity to teach an elective in Digital Media, for example). In larger districts where the technologists work at the district office, there’s little to no opportunity to stay in the classroom.

These are my six hats– are yours different? How does your school define the role of the educational technologist?

Consequence-Free Planning


  • Projects don’t have to be “digital” or “physical,” but can incorporate each at different stages of development.
  • Use digital planning even when creating a physical artifact
  • Digital planning allows students to create with a low consequence to failure

Digital Work is Not Binary

Debates about digital projects in the classroom often boil down to a question of “real” product vs. “digital product.” This debate appears in many forms: handwriting vs. typing, physical artifact vs. virtual one, the rigor and process of creating by hand vs. the “flashy” or “gimmicky” digital packaging. This “all on” or “all off” is an artificial line, though– a sign of us dancing awkwardly about work with technology instead of having immersive and transparent usage. A workflow which includes both digital and physical products renders this argument moot, and it gives us a peek into another way in which digital work can transcend the same-old process (Substitution or Augmentation) and create new and transformative opportunities (Modification or Redefinition).

Edudemic published a teacher profile on Friday of Cheryl Uy from the Shekou (China) International School. Cheryl’s students created art by using the iPad as a planning tool, then painting in watercolors the work that they had sketched out on the device. This allows students to create a physical artifact of their learning, and keep the traditional art-making skills of her curriculum, while creating consequence-free planning for her students.

Planning Should Not Be Painful

Intellectual courage, creativity and critical thinking require experimentation. They require, as James Jorasch put it, “putting in the hours and trying […] You don’t need to make a big leap–you need to take a thousand small steps.” In teaching this discipline to our students, we often have to push them through the barrier of realizing that they have to scrap the line of thinking/action/work that they’re currently in, and start over again. We celebrate the idea of the inventor hunched over the drawing table at midnight, throwing wadded-up drafts in the trash… but how to we get our students to enter that mindset?

Digital planning lets us reduce the “pain” of having to start over, modify, edit, revise or in any way tinker with and improve upon our work. Going back to Cheryl’s students, imagine if they painted their work, but then realized that they didn’t like the way two colors clashed? They’d have to start from scratch again. By planning in app-space first, an edit or undo command erases the offending article and lets a student try again without jeopardizing the rest of the work.

Finger Painting to Forming Hypotheses

Take the same thinking to any discipline, and opportunities appear to use digital planning as a way to fail safely and revise painlessly. We’re used to the idea of massively revising work in a word processor by dragging sentences or entire paragraphs and editing wholesale before a “final print.” That same thinking is at work in Cheryl’s design, as well as:

  • Music: Writing music electronically allows instant feedback in composition rather than having to wait to find someone to play it for you.
  • Science: Running simulations to predict outcomes prior to designing or conducting a lab experiment. Do the results match expected outcomes? Why or why not? Does this let students simulate work with otherwise limited or expensive resources prior to launching “the real thing?” Does it also allow them to form a more informed hypothesis in advance of running the lab?
  • History: Before creating a timeline, sketch it out in Skitch or Paper to ensure that all the key elements, pictures and text fit within the given space and have an effective layout. Encourage students to include design thinking and elements of visual/graphic design in the planning stage to create a more visually powerful result.

All of these result in a concrete physical artifact, but allow experimentation and design to happen in the digital space to reduce the consequence of experimentation. Overall, the easier it is to experiment with an idea, and the less painful the consequences of discarding it, the more willing our students will be to create and challenge themselves.

Mining Gold from OER


  • Textbooks are inefficient when compared to open and available content.
  • Teachers should use Open Educational Resources (OER) as at least a supplement to, if not replacement to, textbooks in the classroom.
  • Different types of OER match different class design needs.

Read more

Moving to a New (E-Mail) Address?


It’s the end of the school year, and that means that students, staff and faculty all around the world are playing the grand game of musical chairs shuffling between schools. If you are moving from one institution to another and need to move your e-mails, here are a few easy steps to complete your move to a new (e-mail) address! Read more