Create a school culture that embraces technology

Picture this: You’ve built a great PLN (Professional Learning Network) using social media. You have lots of ideas about how you can use technology in your classroom. You’ve tried some new activities and want to share them with other teachers in your school… but they aren’t interested. What can you do to create a school culture that embraces technology?

Use Technology

This may seem obvious, but using technology is the single most important way to foster a culture of technology in your school. Lead by example! When other teachers see you successfully using the interactive whiteboard, the iPad, or online tools, they start to understand both the power and the pedagogical benefits of the technology. Then when they have questions or issues, they know there is someone who has gone through this before.

Talk to Each Other

This is related to the “Use Technology” bit. If you’re a big tech user, talk to your fellow teachers about what you use in the classroom and why. And not just about successes—be vocal about your failures and how you plan to work around those issues. Talk to teachers who don’t use technology in their classrooms. Why don’t they use the technology that’s available to them? Is it a solvable issue that could be fixed with more training or more support? Or is it an endemic issue, such as not enough bandwidth or devices to go around? Then take these conversations to the administration. They are the ones who invested in the technology for the school. They want you to use it!

Set Dedicated Technology PD Time

I’m not talking about a brief mention of a technology tool in a PD session about other school or teaching issues. I’m talking about a dedicated edtech day over the summer or afternoon on an institute day that is 100% devoted to integrating technology in class. This session needs to be specific to your school’s technology and how that technology can be an integral part of your curriculum goals. A broad overview without usable applications doesn’t help anyone. Then follow up! Create technology PLCs—professional learning communities. A PLC can provide teachers with an ongoing support group, a go-to group for technology questions, and a higher level of accountability.

How to explain (and prevent!) cyberbullying

The term cyberbullying seems to be everywhere these days, from the news to concerns from parents. Cyberbullying happens when a student (or an adult) writes or posts mean things about another person using electronic devices. Cyberbullying can take the form of text messages, social media posts, or embarrassing photos or videos.

Why should we be concerned about cyberbullying? In contrast to the bullying of the past, cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day. Students aren’t safe at home or when they’re alone. Cyberbullying can happen anonymously and information can spread quickly throughout a school. In 2013, a CDC survey found that 15% of high school students reported being bullied electronically. Broken down by gender, 21% of female students reported online harassment, compared to only 8.5% of male students. And remember, those numbers are only the students who felt comfortable reporting the abuse.

How to Prevent it

  • Have clear school rules about technology use and bullying. Without rules, it can be difficult to punish offenders.
  • Encourage students to think before posting something online. Would they say that comment to the person’s face? Would they want strangers to see it?
  • Remind students that a digital footprint can last forever. Will they want college admission officers or a future boss to reject them over mean tweets? (A recent survey found 77% of employers googled job applicants.)
  • Tell students to keep their passwords safe, and to change them often. Sharing passwords can result in abuse.
  • Talk about it! Students may not realize what they see as good-natured teasing is harming a peer. Check out these detailed lesson plans from Common Sense Media for grade-appropriate lessons and discussion topics.

If a student comes to you for help, show them how to make screenshots and note times of messages. Cyberbulling can create a hostile environment for students at school, even if it begins at home. Step in as needed to make all students feel safe among their peers.


Stay on top of “new best practices” for teachers!

I often hear and believe in the saying “We are in the improvement business, not the perfection business” as it relates to our role as educators and the impact we have on students. But what about us as lead learners? Educators must live by this saying as well. Each and every day we should be learning something new, staying connected online, trying out a new strategy or tool, sharing best practices, and collaborating cross grade level/subject area. It’s the only way to improve our craft and have a legitimate impact on student success. Here are five ways to develop yourself professionally in and outside of the classroom setting:

1. Smackdowns: Don’t know what one is? Read more here. Smackdowns should be held at every faculty meeting, subject area meeting, grade level meeting, and curriculum day throughout the school year. Sharing becomes contagious especially when you give a flashy name i.e. Smackdown. Just because you work with someone in the same building does not mean you actually know all the great things going on in their classroom. Conducting a Smackdown at a faculty meeting will shed light on how your colleagues are using technology to engage and innovate.

2. Weekly Email Digests: School leaders and/or curriculum specialists should create or subscribe to weekly email digests that can be disseminated to staff in a timely fashion. Here is an example of how I use Educlipper to share best practice resources with staff members district wide. Educlipper is education’s answer to Pinterest. Simply find a great resource on the web, clip it, and disseminate to your audience.

3. School Hashtag: Create a school wide or district wide Twitter hashtag. This can prove to be a tremendous help for staff as the look to improve their craft and find information easily via social media. Instead of scouring various social media sites for information, people can go to Tagboard and type in their school hashtag. This will then direct them to posts that were made on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ to name a few.

4. Edcamps: Attend a local Edcamp for free and be exposed to some of the most innovative ideas in education. They are happening all over the place and the model can be replicated in your own school or district. Giving people the autonomy to learn what they want where they want is incredibly powerful. No longer is it an option for staff to stay on top of best practices by sitting them in a room and force feeding them information. Chances are they will take the same approach with students in the classroom. EdCamps provide an alternative way of sharing and learning. People show up at a location, have the freedom to hold a conversation on an educational topic, attend sessions that are applicable to their field of study, or get up and leave if they aren’t interested in what’s being presented.

5. 80/20 Principle: Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford HS in New Jersey, incorporates Google’s 80/20 philosophy. Why not find more time for staff to improve who they are as educators during the school day? It is probably better time served than monitoring student’s behavior in the hallway or cafeteria. For this type of initiative to flourish schools must be creative in how the schedule staff members during their periods off. Teachers need time to research, collaborate, and try out new tools of the trade. If it can be done during the actual school day and it will benefit students progress in the long run.

The number of ways educators, including myself, can grow in this day in age is truly incredible. What is written in this blog post is only a sample of the great resources that can make us all better in meeting the needs of diverse learners. Opening a magazine and reading about a best practice teaching technique just doesn’t cut it anymore. Educators must be able to share, collaborate, discuss, and reflect on how they will push the envelope in order to promote the success of students. So take a few moments and really think how you could incorporate one of these ideas into your own professional life or within the school setting. There is no doubt that it will have a positive impact on your growth as an educator.

ELA, small groups, and the interactive whiteboard: 3 tips everyone should know

Turning over the interactive whiteboard pen to a small group of students can require a leap of faith. Those things are expensive, and some of them can break if you look at them too hard. But the benefits of using the whiteboard as a center outweigh the risks. Here are 3 tips for creating successful small-group English/Language Arts activities for your whiteboard center.

1. Create rules for proper handling of the whiteboard and the pen.

Don’t turn students loose until you feel confident they can follow the rules. Have reasonable consequences if a student breaks the rules. Some ideas for IWB/pen guidelines:

• No real markers on the whiteboard

• Take turns using the pen

• Help other students use the whiteboard

• Return the pen to the holder when finished with the activity

Use a classroom management system, like ClassDojo, to identify good whiteboard behaviors. You can edit your list of behaviors to include IWB-specific ones, like “Gentle with the IWB pen.”


2. Automate your classroom management.

Keep students at the whiteboard focused by giving them clear instructions on how long they have before they switch centers. You can do this for the whole class, in fact, by turning on the timer feature on your IWB. In ActivInspire, you can set the timer to automatically start over so you can easily keep students moving through centers. You can also set it to automatically reset the whiteboard lesson, so you don’t have to come over and restart it for the next group.


3. Find (or make!) whiteboard activities that are good for groups.

Look for one with great drag-and-drop functionality or click-to-reveal buttons. This is GREAT for vocabulary work. You can quickly make an activity by copying and pasting sentences from a PDF worksheet, make a word bank by dropping in the text of the vocabulary words and then setting them to “clone” or “drag copies.”  Here’s a good example of an activity I created in about 2 minutes. If you have 3-5 pages of these, your students can take turns answering and work together.


You can also copy and paste text from a Word doc or website into your IWB page and have your students collaborate to annotate the text. In this example, students have underlined instances of repetition and circled words that indicate theme or main idea. (Keep in mind when you make your page that younger students won’t be able to reach the top of the whiteboard, so keep all text in the bottom 2/3 of the screen.)


Would love to hear any of your IWB engagement ideas for students — please comment below!


Screencasts: A great way to assess student understanding!

Students can often have a difficult time demonstrating their understanding of a topic.  When called on in class they might struggle to articulate how they found an answer to a problem or not see the value in showing their work when solving a math problem.  This can be just as frustrating for students as it is for teachers as they try to figure out where a child needs extra help.

Screencasting is a fantastic way to assess student understanding and increase engagement.  A screencast is a recording of the tasks performed on a computer, labtop, or tablet.  It gives children the power to explain their own thinking and show off their thought process.  There are a variety of ways that students of all ages can capture their thinking and screencasting is simple, straightforward and definitely kid-friendly.

One app that helps kids create screencasts is Screenchomp.  With a simple cartoon interface and just a handful of buttons on the screen, students can draw and record their method for solving a problem.  This could be as simple as solving a two-digit addition problem or more complex like drawing a diagram of a square and figuring out the perimeter of the polygon.

ClassDojo asks teachers to record positive feedback and acknowledge students for completing their work.  As students work in partners or individually to create screencasts, make sure to award those who demonstrate great teamwork and persistence!


Tech-shy? Not after these helpful tips!

At my school, 21st Century learning is an intrinsic piece of our philosophy and teaching methodology. We have a 1:1 iPad program, implement a flipped instructional model, use NearPod and Doceri for classroom presentations, and students often create screencasts, Prezis, and iMovie projects. We are always on the lookout for the newest innovations and methods for making our lessons more interactive, meaningful, and relevant.

But not every teacher is ready to take on the challenges associated with a true 21st Century classroom. Here are some tips for how schools can support teachers who are a little tech-shy and produce a dynamic and collaborative community of teachers.

Play With It

I remember years ago getting an interactive whiteboard in my classroom. The training representative came in and wowed me by creating a Jeopardy-like game, manipulating tiles around the board and inserting sound clips. He did this in about 10 minutes, and I was sold; however, when it came time for me to use my own interactive board, I could barely write on it. My students complained about the lack of touch response, and soon enough, my interactive board became a plain old white board. I used to tape index cards to it to play Jeopardy. Teacher training is still important, but nothing beats diving right in and playing with a new piece of technology, whether its a Learning Management System or a fun spelling app. Play around with it, and feel free to click that “Need help?” chat screen at the bottom. It’s likely that a customer service representative is on the other end and can’t wait to walk you through the program.

Ask for Help

If you can’t figure something out through trial-and-error, customer service help, or Youtube tutorials, why not go to a colleague? Chances are, if you’re having difficulty using or implementing a specific piece of technology, someone else has had the same problem in the past. And don’t forget about your students! This is an excellent opportunity to engage our gamers and coders. Ask them to demonstrate how to use an app. There are experts all around us.

Be Patient and Have a Backup Plan

One of the biggest challenges with technology isn’t learning how to use it, but dealing with bugs and roadblocks. If your schools’ internet isn’t robust enough, your laptop or tablet hasn’t been updated or upgraded recently, or an app simply crashes, make sure you have a low-tech or offline backup plan. There’s nothing worse than preparing a fantastic, tech-based lesson and finding out that the schools’ internet is down.

Set Small Learning Goals

It can be intimidating for teachers who are new to technology to dive right into learning how to set up an online course on a Learning Management System or become entrenched in the SAMR model. Instead, teachers can start with educational video resources such as TED or Khan Academy and slowly roll out a few key apps for students to use with consistency. Tools 4 Students is a basic graphic organizer resource, Toontastic helps younger kids write and animate short stories, and IXL provides students with practice in Math and Language Arts that meets Common Core Standards. ClassDojo can help teachers track and monitor student behavior and even increase positive communication with parents, and best of all, students can take the lead on all of these pieces of technology. Put the power in their hands.

Keep Learning

Technology constantly evolves and programs reinvent themselves. As soon as you have mastered a particular program or piece of software, you can bet that the newest update will look completely different (I’m looking at you iMovie!). Like teaching itself, learning new technology requires educators to constantly return to being a student. Learning new technology can breathe new life into teachers and classrooms alike. Never stop learning.


Keep students engaged with Discovery videos!

If your students are looking tired in the afternoon or haven’t quite woken up yet in the morning there are a handful of ways to grab their attention. When you are looking to hook students at the beginning of a lesson, try incorporating videos into your instruction.

There are tons of fantastic resources for high quality content that can be used throughout the school day in a variety of subject areas. These sites offer a wide range of resources that teachers can share with students. It’s so important that students are paying attention and feel like what they’re learning is connected to the real world. You can help them make these connections by placing the content you are teaching in the context of real life events and everyday situations.

One online resource that is perfect for accessing content to engage your students is the Discovery Channel. They have a terrific website that lets visitors pick and choose which clips they want to watch. There is also a YouTube channel full of their content which makes it easy to add links to student assignments or even embed a video in a class website or presentation. If you are sharing videos straight from your tablet, or want students to open a particular clip, you may want to check out their mobile apps for iOS and Android devices.

Whether you access these clips on their website or mobile apps, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Help students get excited about using context clues by introducing them to ocean vocabulary during a Shark Week quote. Ask students to summarize the conclusions drawn from a MythBusters experiment. And don’t forget to keep track of which students are “on task” and demonstrating the traits you reward in your classroom!

Bringing the WORLD to your classroom!

Have you ever heard or said a version of the phrase “Technology (or the Internet or computers) brings the world into the classroom”? While undoubtedly that’s true, video conferencing offers the chance to connect with real people outside the classroom in real time, which is a valuable learning opportunity.

Mystery Skype

You may only know Skype as a way to talk to out of town relatives. But Skype is also a valuable resource for educators!

A great way to use Skype in the classroom is Mystery Skype—a “global guessing game” played by two classrooms. Each class gets 20 questions to figure out where in the country or world the other class is. Mystery Skype can also be used to bring in virtual guest speakers to talk with students about a fun career or a subject you’re studying. Finally, Mystery Skype can be used as a tool for students to practice a foreign language with native speakers and for English language learners to hone their English skills. Visit Skype’s education page to find participating classrooms and speakers.

Google Hangouts

Like Skype, Google Hangouts is another free way to bring guest speakers into your classroom. But Hangouts has some additional and useful features. Hangouts makes it easy to have multiple people in a conference at once, which you can use to host a virtual career day or a debate about a topic. Hangouts also allows screen sharing, which makes it easy for speakers to show a presentation or other documents while talking to your classroom.

In addition to connecting with other classrooms or bringing in guest speakers, you can use video conferencing to bring parents into the classroom to watch student presentations without requiring them to leave their home or office.  Oh, and both these tools can be used for free!

And remember, safety first. Before using any videoconferencing in the classroom:

  • Inform students, school administration, and parents. Detail in writing who will participate, when the conference or chat will take place, and its purpose.
  • Work with the outside participant(s) to set ground rules. Rules may include who will be present and whether the conference can be recorded.


Response to Intervention with 1:1 classrooms

If you have 1:1 devices in your classroom, first, take a minute to give thanks! After that, think about some of the great opportunities you have to differentiate instruction with your students using these devices. There are a lot of great resources that will track and assess your students’ work, responding to their needs and moving them forward accordingly.

My favorite is a little-known company—you may not have heard of it—called Khan Academy. Ok… it’s no secret. Many people know about this video-based lesson platform. However, many teachers think that’s all it is—YouTube for Math class. Take another look. Their new teacher dashboard system has all the bells and whistles when it comes to adaptive learning. You start your students off by taking a placement test, and then Khan suggests lessons for them based on how they did. You can override those suggestions at any time, if you need to. On top of that, Khan’s student-facing LMS is very game-like, which keeps the kids interested and pushing to ‘unlock’ the next level. If you want more information, check out my post from a few months ago.

For English/Language Arts (ELA), I would look into MyON. This online library isn’t free, but it’s worth talking to your principal about setting up a trial subscription. The system is web-based, so you can use it whether you have laptops, iPads, or mobile devices. You can assign readings to your students, allow them to choose, or let the system provide recommendations to them. The recommendations are all based on Lexile level, which is determined by a pre-assessment that students take when they first sign in. Probably the most useful aspect of this service is that it tracks all student reading time. Since research shows there’s a correlation between test scores and the time spent reading per day, a service like this is very useful. Consider creating a contest based on minutes spent reading.

There are a lot of other adaptive learning systems out there, and they can make it seem like you have several teacher assistants in class with you at all times. Take a minute to look into a few of them, or ask colleagues or members of your PLN about what has worked for them.

Read to the Top!

Most teachers are always looking for new ways to get their students interested in reading. One of our favorite reading activities is a “Read to the Top” contest. In these contests, much like in some local library summer reading programs, students compete to read the most books.

There are several resources that can help you plan a similar activity. A lot of libraries have Pinterest boards set up with book ideas (some are left over from summer reading programs – but hey, don’t we all wish it were summertime all year round?). Another great Pinterest board has links to all kinds of library-based activities to complete with your students, but my favorite is this awesome March Madness-esque bracket, where students read each book, then vote on the winner. Why not start a blog where students have to post their rationales for choosing the winner based on some good, old-fashioned CCSS criteria like an analysis of the author’s craft and structure?

Not interested in tracking the number of books your students read, but rather the actual time they spend reading? You may have heard of a service called MyON, which provides students with thousands of eBooks (they can read on or offline). The system allows teachers to assign specific books, but it will also just recommend books to students based on Lexile level (derived from a diagnostic test students take when they start using it). Then, the system tracks how many minutes each student spends reading.

You could pull up the dashboard for your class each day on the interactive whiteboard and spend a moment tracking who is in the lead. You’ll see those times start to soar as the finish line looms.

What is your favorite activity to encourage your students to read? Post about it below in the comments!