Out With the Old, In With the New

New computers await set-up

New computers await set-up

Adios, XP

image courtesy of directron.com

image courtesy of directron.com

The past few weeks have certainly brought a lot of excitement and change around my school as it relates to instructional technology. Within the span of just a few short weeks, every computer and printer in the building will be replaced by brand-new hardware. Windows XP has given way (just in time – Microsoft support ceases in April) to the Windows 7 operating system. Gone are the days of cursing the 32-bit operating system for its failure to manage multiple tasks without crashing. No more light-gray start button. No more Internet Explorer 8. No more ____________ (fill in the blank with YOUR least favorite thing about Windows XP). All is grand. The sun dawns on a new horizon. I can hear the angels singing their grand anthem to usher us into this new era of problem-free computing.

Wait a minute…..WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?????

It would be folly to believe that all technology-related problems could simply be wiped away by new hardware and a new operating system. We will still face challenges with whatever hardware our students use. There will still be glitches, missing software, and the uncomfortable feeling that things aren’t exactly how they used to be. Will we let those problems overwhelm us or will we roll with the punches? I know that our students will figure it out, and I hope that we won’t be far behind!


Short-Term Frustrations

image from flickr.com - by Sybren Stuvel

image from flickr.com – by Sybren Stuvel

Change inherently causes a certain amount of disequilibrium for those who are used to routine. Missing programs, different desktop icons, and new locations for cable inputs can run the gamut from being a slight annoyance to totally derailing a teacher’s lesson or a teacher’s entire day. Why do we let technology frustrate us so? I hope that our teachers are able to rely on the support of their colleagues and the tech team to overcome those initial obstacles that stand in the way of their successful integration of their new technology. It might require a few days, or even weeks, of discomfort and exploration before we can feel like we have mastered the basics of Windows 7, new printers, and new projectors (coming soon).

Once we’ve moved past this initial adjustment period, what will we do with this new technology? Will we seek out new features and new uses for our students, or will we be overwhelmed by all the different-ness and revert to less student-centered and more teacher-centered instructional strategies? I hope not. I hope that we will start asking questions like “How can these new tools enable our students to do things more effectively and efficiently?” and “How can we leverage these new tools to enhance student engagement, teacher collaboration, and effective technology integraion?” Only time will tell, but I know I’ll be giving 110% to lead by example as we move forward with all of our new “stuff”. I’ve started by creating a presentation to show our teachers some of the new features in Windows 7.

So, What’s New? And How Can I Use It?

new stuff

One of the exciting new features of our student and teacher laptops is an integrated forward-facing camera. I am personally excited to teach lessons in classes using Movenote, a great web-tool (and app) that lets students upload images, PowerPoints, and PDFs and record themselves as they present. This is a great way for students to create a video and to present “to the class” (and beyond!) without having the nerves that come with standing up in front of their peers. Be sure to check out the Movenote tutorial page I created on our Harbins Technology Central website to learn more about how you can use Movenote in your class!

I am quite certain that there are more great features for our new hardware that we will discover as we begin to dig in and explore the differences.  Our students will no doubt figure out much more that we could ever imagine and “suggest” some new uses for us. I’m looking forward to all of the possibilities as we begin another chapter in our tech integration journey. How have you successfully integrated new hardware into your school and your lesson plans? What has worked to help you overcome the “new stuff” barriers inherent in this process?


Are You Learning to Learn Like Your Students? 8 Tips to Modernize Your Workflow

21st century learner

Image courtesy of Ashley Earnest’s EDM310 blog.

21st century teaching isn’t just about facilitating student learning with modern apps and web tools. It’s about adjusting our workflows as well to reflect the possibilities of a new, interconnected world. I hope these 8 tips will help get you started along the path to learning to learn like your students. Feel free to list others in the comments section as well!


1. Join (and participate) in a Social Network SOLELY FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES.

Okay, okay, I know. Many of us are on social media. We use it, we like it, we know it fairly well. But, have you ever thought of using a social network specifically for educational purposes? The best one for educators so far is Twitter, with a host of content and grade-specific chats available every week (a couple of my favorites are #edtechchat and #gaedchat).  There are also lots of tips for educators getting started with Twitter. You can find some of those here, here, and here. There are so many resources out there on this topic I don’t have space to list them all here, but Twitter is certainly the leader so far for educators looking to create their own personalized professional development experience. Also, check out this great Twitter resource page from @cybraryman – it has everything from chats, to new-user guides, to curated lists of people to follow.

Also worth a mention here is Facebook. Yes, I know. We all love looking a cute pictures of other people’s kids and links to conservative and liberal rants, but did you know that Facebook is also used by thousands of educators to connect to each other? Consider setting up a strictly professional account to connect with educators. You can use this account for your professional needs and keep your personal account for those cute pictures of your kids. There are many mobile apps and Chrome extensions to make managing multiple social media accounts easily. I use HootSuite for iPad, but there are a host of others out there as well so you don’t have to keep remembering and re-entering passwords.

There are others out there as well – LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and EdModo just to name a few. The point is to get out there and join a network. Add some educators and start reading what they have to say first, then add your voice to the mix! Still not sure where/how to begin? This great blog post by Samantha Cleaver can help you get started.


2. Subscribe to YouTube educational channels.

Time to take a break from watching “What Does the Fox Say” and start using YouTube for more than a quick laugh. There are hundreds of excellent videos aimed at teachers as well as livestreams of podcasts, Google Hangouts, and conference sessions as well. Some of my personal favorites are Common Sense Media Education, Edutopia, and Matt B. Gomez (a great kindergarten teacher – I love watching what his students can do with technology!) These channels will inspire you to try new things in your classroom by showing you real-life examples of what students around the country are doing every day. Also, don’t forget to search YouTube if you’re having trouble using an app or web tool – there are a lot of great tutorials out there, too!

Just Google It

image courtesy of trendingdig.com

3. Google it before emailing someone.

We’ve all seen it – that annoying email asking a simple question that Google could have answered much faster and much better. Don’t be that person. Type that question into Google and save our fingers another useless email deletion. YouTube search works great, too! If you’re looking to dish out a little friendly revenge to that person, try using Let Me Google That For You.  It’s a great way to give them a little visual of exactly what you mean!

Cloud storage gives you access to any file, any time, anywhere.

Cloud storage gives you access to any file, any time, anywhere.

4. Use cloud storage for personal and educational use.

If you’re like me, then your district’s IT department hasn’t yet fully embraced cloud storage. We still have gigantic file servers, but no officially sponsored cloud storage to access our files from home. But, have no fear. There are lots of great (and free!) cloud sites that can help you store and quickly access documents, photos, videos, and presentations: A few that I use are Google Drive (30G free with a Google Apps for Education account), Dropbox, Box, and Bitcasa. Most of these offer 10G-15G with a free account and more for a yearly fee. Go with the free account first and don’t forget to download the app and the browser extension to make these easy for you to use.

Blog photo

Blogs are the gold mine of educational content on the web.

5. Follow (and comment on) educational blogs.

Whether you are a teacher, administrator, coach, or district leader, blogs are truly the gold mine of educational content on the web. They are where the rubber meets the road – where the headlines and tidbits get fleshed out for you to think about, reflect on, and refine your practice as an educator. Listing all of my favorites would take the rest of the afternoon, so you’ll have to make do with the links below to a few lists of best educational bloggers. I am trying to become more consistent with my own blog – time is a precious resource – but I love the chance writing a blog and commenting gives me to think deeply about my own practice as an educator.

EdTechK-12’s Must Read IT Blogs

Best Teacher Blog Finalists – EduBlog Awards

Teach 100 – A Daily Ranking of Education Blogs

I also always make it a practice to comment on blogs that I read. Not to impress anyone or just because I feel like writing either. Commenting gives me the chance to connect with the author and others about how the issues in the post relate to my own situation. I have found that authors almost always respond and that the conversation is collegial and friendly, even if I disagree with some of their points.

Collaboration stop sign

6. Collaborate with colleagues in the cloud.

“Did you mean the 2nd revision you emailed me or the 3rd revision? Or the 2nd edition of the 3rd revision?”

I don’t know about you, but I would be okay if I never heard this or anything like it again. Working on documents with colleagues can be one of the more frustrating experiences we have as teachers, but, take heart, help is out there! Google Drive (Docs, Slides, and Sheets) is a great way to collaborate securely with colleagues and even offers revision history in case somebody messed up and you need to go back to a previous version. This is a great way to work on presentations, lesson planning, unit resources, and common assessment with your colleagues and avoid the frustrations associated with file attachments, large emails, and questions over who did what. Even if your school isn’t a Google Apps for Education school, you can sign up on your own and get 15GB of free storage, and that doesn’t even include the docs, slides, and sheets that you make using Google Tools! Microsoft Office 365 recently announced an upgrade for schools to make this possible for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel as well. These or tools like them are a must as we transition to a more cloud-based environment in the future.


Where do you store all of your links, bookmarks, and notes?

7. Use an online content curation/ note storage tool.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a complete Evernote junkie, but there are many more tools out there that allow you to save bookmarked websites, notes, articles, grocery lists, etc. so they can be accessed from any device with an active internet connection. The important thing about all of them is to ALWAYS TAG YOUR NOTES. What is tagging, you might ask? It is essentially your own, easily searchable organizational system. No longer do you have to remember what notebook you put things in or what you called a certain file. As long as you attach tags to your entries, simply search by tag, and Viola!, your information is there. I use Evernote for articles, web resources, shopping lists, pictures of learning, receipts, and much, much more.

Some other popular content curation and note storage tools are Google Keep and Pocket. These have the same types of functionality as Evernote. One thing I like about all of them is that there are apps (and Chrome extensions) for every platform to simplify the process of storing and retrieving your information. Found a link on your computer but don’t have it with you at home? No problem – just open the app and get what you need from your smartphone. These tools really are game-changers for organization and being able to access that lesson you did last year – even if you threw out that notebook!

Social Bookmarking

photo courtesy of Lena West at influenceexpansion.com

8. Try out Social Bookmarking.

Social bookmarking is #1 on my EduNew Year’s Resolution list. Web content is tagged and aggregated by users that you follow, making it much more efficient to find what you are looking for. Instead of searching google for great lesson plans, why not search a database curated by the 17 4th-grade math teachers that you follow? I’m looking forward to trying this out to see how it works for me. Two that I plan to try are:

Educlipper – think Pinterest for teachers – your education digital clipboard to access the content that you care about and filter out the noise! iPad app and Chrome extension available to make it easy

Diigo a powerful research and knowledge-sharing tool – another great way to find and store things that are important to you and to teachers like you

I’m looking forward to learning about these and sharing in a future post.

Which of these 8 strategies are you already proficient with? Are any of them on your to-do list for 2014? I look forward to reading about yours in the comments below!


11 Must-Have Web Tools for Teachers

11 Must-Have Web Tools for Teachers

11 Web-based tools that are FREE, available on multiple platforms (web, iOS, Android), and make life easier for any teacher. Created on http://easel.ly

Embracing Change: The Key to Improving Technology Integration in the Classroom


“Another new initiative? Changing something else again? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

This is a familiar refrain that I hear from teachers on an almost daily basis. It seems as if they are constantly pushed and pulled in new directions, and never allowed to slow down, reflect, and refine their instructional plans to benefit their students. It’s true, there has been a lot of change recently in education, and there appears to be even more on the horizon. While your first gut reaction might be to complain, student achievement data of our country as a whole tells us that we can’t just stop and keep doing the same things over and over – some amount of change is necessary for us to prepare our students for college, career, and beyond.


What Does This Have to do with Technology?


Throughout human history, technological innovations have always faced resistance. To embrace technology is to embrace change – to go out of your comfort zone, to risk failure, to venture into the great unknown. When I talk to students about technology, I often mention the early explorers of the 1400s and 1500s. There were many that refused to adopt new methods and navigational tools, such as the compass and the astrolabe. I’m sure many of these guys were really good explorers and sailors that were dedicated to their careers and wanted to change the world. But their names are not written in any history books. They were unwilling to leave their comfort zones and embrace technological change, and, as a result, they were left behind by pioneers like Magellan and Columbus – guys who were willing to embrace new tools and stake their lives and the lives of many men on these new tools and new ships, venturing to places that no European had gone before.

Back to our question at hand: how do we as teacher-leaders help our colleagues to embrace change? How do we convince the teacher that always sits in the same pew at church every week to strike out and try something new? Alas, I wish there were a magic pill, a one-sentence answer that I could plop in here that would do the trick. If only life were that simple! I do, however, think that the key lies in the cultures we create at our schools. If we can build robust professional learning communities and infuse them with a “coaching culture” mentality, than we can impact the practices of every teacher in our building and radically alter the ways that they view change and technology.


What is a Coaching Culture? How Do I Build One at My School?


In their book Creating a Coaching Culture for Professional Learning Communities, Jane Kise and Beth Russell invite us to take a deeply personal look on how our thoughts, beliefs, and actions impact the culture at our schools. One of their participants describes belonging to a meaningful PLC in this way:

“Knowing the talents and strengths of more of my colleagues helps me refer a teacher in need of assistance to precisely the right person. I now understand that I am not equipped to help everyone personally and have started to utilize the talents of others more regularly.”

Once again, making a difference in professional practice comes down to building relationships. If you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with, how can you effectively help them? If you don’t have strong, collaborative relationships with your colleagues, how can you be expected to get them to adopt a new idea? To embrace BYOD? It would be almost impossible.

What Now?

Building a coaching culture is not a weekly, monthly, or even a yearly project. It takes strong leadership and investment in mentoring other leaders in your school. I would invite you to reflect on these questions and decide what YOUR next step is as a teacher-leader or administrator in your school. What can YOU do to help create or to further the PLC in your school? How can you build relationships, know your co-workers better, and be a leader in embracing technology integration? Here are a few ideas.

  • Read and reflect on a great book together, such as “Creating a Coaching Culture”
  • Create or improve a strong leadership team that empowers teachers from all levels in your building
  • Focus on an action plan after each professional development and invite teachers to share at the next meeting how they integrated the new technique/tool into their practice
  • Do the little things to build up relationships – write notes, put in that extra time, help someone without being asked
  • Model, lead by example, and always be willing to share your failures, not just your successes

What are YOU doing to help build the coaching culture in your school? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section. Thanks for reading!