Thursday, July 10, 2014

My #HackEd2014 Summary and Reflections

One of my favorite conferences is ISTE Unplugged / Hack Education. The schedule of the discussions is decided the day of the conference based on the interests of the participants.

What is appealing to me about Hack Education is the small group setting that fosters deep discussions, and the organic nature of the conversations that are completely based on the group's expertise and ability to ask probing questions. I always feel like I walk away smarter.

My notes for some of the sessions are illustrated below as sketchnotes with thinglinks/interactive links, bullet points, or as the main points I Tweeted out.

Personalized Learning - facilitated by Barbara Bray

Click here to view above image with thinglink

1:1 Deployment

Click here to view above image with thinglink


Community, Global Connections using tech to build relationships

Click here to view above image with thinglink

Agency & Self-Direction in Education - facilitated by Steve Hargadon
  • Focus on the pedagogy -- it's about the learning and not the shiny object.
  • Don't underestimate the power of building relationships, especially when it comes to being a change agent. 
  • Remember to focus on the learners, and why the change may be beneficial; and keep in mind what's in your control.
  • What's your elevator pitch? Carefully choose your language and the message you craft.

Final thoughts

The last session of this day really amplified that technology in and of itself is not the key to success; instead, focus on learning and pedagogy.

All of the other sessions I attended: Personalized Learning, One-to-One, and Global Collaborations are not the silver bullets for success. Each and every one of them can fail without the leadership, vision, and focus on the students' learning... and each of them can be successful ...

However, what works in one environment might not work exactly in another environment. So, keep your eyes open. Listen. Learn. Unlearn. Relearn... and focus on what's best for the students.
  • What ideas, resources, or challenges could you add to this post?
  • How else did this post connect with you?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing 2.0: Technology-Rich Approach to Common Core Writing

What skills are most desired by employers? On most lists, communicate effectively is the number one desired skill.

How do we communicate? We communicate face-to-face, in writing, through various technologies, and multimedia.

What is does it mean to be literate? Being literate is being able to effectively communicate.

Therefore, every classroom must teach digital literacy as part of literacy, and not something separate.
Original image by Andrea Hernandez

Why have technology-rich writing?

Writing is a huge piece of literacy. Writing should occur across content and grade levels.

Common Core writing requires students to create and publish writing online, and to interact and collaborate with others.
Writing Anchor Standard #6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
We must design lessons that incorporates digital mediums for students to communicate and collaborate with others.

"(Students) are no longer passive recipients of information but active creators and distributors of knowledge. Active participants, perhaps motivated by the opportunity to engage in meaningful reading and writing, approach an event as if their presence matters," (Johnson, 2014, p. 12).

Leading Change and examples of technology-rich writing

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting with Shauna Hamman at the Arizona Department of Education's Leading Change conference about a technology-rich approach to AZCCRS (Common Core) writing.

We shared a plethora of ideas and examples of technology-rich writing in the presentation below.

Some of those ideas include:
  • Instead of a traditional research paper given to the teacher, have students add their research to Wikipedia.
  • Instead of a traditional persuasive essay about saving the planet, Mrs. Hamman's class wrote this: It's Earth Week!
  • Instead of a traditional book report, have them write a book review for Amazon.
  • Instead of a how-to essay, write an online tutorial: Solving the Rubik's Cube. The three students in the pictures wrote the post collaboratively and chose what pictures to use. 
Click here for the resources from our presentation.

What about Internet safety?

Sharing online for the first time can be scary.

It's important we are aware of how to be safe online, model digital citizenship, and provide our students with authentic opportunities to communicate and collaborate online.
Image: SpinCircle, Patrik Jones, CC: BY
This fabulous article by Ronnie Burt called We should talk -- what are you doing to ensure student safety online?, really helped clarify some of the concerns I had, and what I could do about it.

It's also important to be aware of your district's policies about what can be published online regarding photos, videos, names, and student work. Furthermore, know if there are any non-disclosures in your classroom.
Final thoughts

Communicating and collaborating online is part of literacy, and teaching our students about digital citizenship and safety in the safe environments of our classrooms prepares them for the world today and the world tomorrow.

Digital literacy is built into the Common Core Standards (Arizona College and Career Ready Standards for those of us in Arizona), and being able to effectively communicate and collaborate online and face-to-face is a skills-set we should cultivate in our classrooms.
  • What examples or ideas of technology-rich writing would you add to our list?
  • How does communicating and collaborating online impact the students?
  • What would you share with those who are concerned about Internet safety and online communication and collaboration?
  • Do you have any other ideas or questions about a technology-rich approach to writing?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Chromebooks, Chrome Web Store, and Add-Ons

There's a lot more to Chromebooks and Google than meets the eye!

I've been learning as much as I can about Chromebooks, the Chrome Web Store, and Add-Ons since we are a Google Apps for Education district and have Chromebooks as our One-to-One devices at our high school, and have many carts at our other campuses. 

How are Chromebooks different?

Chromebooks have a web based management council. This means they:
  • update themselves;
  • boot up in less than 10 seconds;
  • cannot have software installed on them;
  • can install apps and extensions through the Chrome Web Store (including a plethora of Educational Apps);
  • can do most anything online via the Chrome browser;
  • and, start up by logging onto the computer with their Google password, then straight into Chrome.

What do we need to know about the Chromebook hardware?

There are different types of Chromebooks. The one we are using in our district is the Samsung. They are light (2.42 pounds) and have a battery life of approximately 6.5 hours.

Their screens are fragile compared to some of our other devices, and we've had some break by picking them up by the screen (top) instead of the keyboard (base). Therefore, it's important that we model and expect everyone to pick them up by the base. 

Chromebook Shortcuts:

Here's a list of shortcuts for the Chromebook. Some that I like teaching the students are:
Chromebook Shortcuts

Screenshots can be added to an email or a Google Doc by inserting an image. Likewise, the image can be uploaded to other applications such as a blog post, etc.

I also share how to right click by pressing Alt + click or place two fingers on the mousepad and click.

Getting to the Chrome Web Store:

Using the Chrome Web Store is how you add educational apps and extensions to your Chrome browser. This means that it will be on every Chrome browser you log into, regardless of device. There are many ways to get to the Chrome Web Store. Here are a few of them:
  1. Google "Chrome Web Store" then click on the link.
  2. Open a new tab in Chrome, and click on Store icon.
  3. If you are using the Chromebook, the Store icon will appear at the bottom of the screen, you can click it.
  4. Go to the Chrome Web Store sampling of Educational Apps, then select one of the hyperlinks to take you to the Chrome Web Store.
sampling of ed apps
5. Visit the complete list of Educational Apps.

How will the teachers know which apps to ask students to install on their devices?

Teachers do not need Chromebooks to try out the apps--they just need to be logged into Google Apps, and have their Chrome browser open. Then, they can add apps and extensions to their Chrome browser from the Chrome Web Store. →NOTE: Some apps require a fee. 

Installing from the Chrome Web Store:
add to chrome
Select the app or extension to install, then click "Add to Chrome".

Launching the App:

There are two easy ways to launch the app.
    launch app
  1. Once installed, you can click "Launch App."
  2. Or, add a new tab (CTRL T) and it will appear in the icons. Then click the app icon to launch (see example below).
chrome apps

Launching extensions:

Extensions are installed onto the toolbar (EG the Diigo extension for Chrome). Some of my most used extensions are:
  • Tweetdeck -- It makes viewing my Twitter feeds easier!
  • Diigo -- I love my organized bookmarks and annotation tool!
  • Google URL Shortener -- It quickly shortens URLs to something more manageable. 
  • Feedly -- My RSS reader so I don't miss a post or Google Alert.


Google has a new feature called Add-Ons, which can be installed on Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets. While Add-Ons don't require going to the Chrome Web Store, I thought it was valuable to share how to make the all powerful Google Docs and Google Sheets a little more robust. For example, Doctopus (great for management of assignments and projects) and Kaizena (which allows you to leave voice comments on documents) can now be added through Add-Ons.

Recommendations of Apps for students:
  • Click here to view suggestions for secondary students.
  • Click here to view suggestions for elementary students.
More great apps and extensions:

I learned about many valuable apps and extensions from Stacy Behmer's presentation:

The one that I use several times a week is a how to schedule Gmail to send at a later date/time.

Concluding Thoughts:

Finding tools for your teachers and students to use is an important part of technology integration. How will they will use those tools for learning? Will the tool be used for memorization (DOK 1)? Skills/application (DOK 2)? Strategic thinking (DOK 3)? Or, extended thinking (DOK 4)? Will it be used as a paper and pencil substitution or will it be used to transform learning?
  • What Chrome apps, extensions, or Add-Ons would you recommend?
  • What other hardware thoughts or questions should be shared?
  • Do you have other thoughts or questions about Chromebooks, the Chrome Web Store, or Add-Ons?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

21st Century Literacy, Communication, and Blogging

What does it mean to be literate? Traditionally, being literate meant the ability to read and write, a trademark of being educated. In essence, it meant the ability to communicate face-to-face and in writing.

The Internet has changed what it means to be literate because communication; writing; and how we retrieve, share, critically evaluate, and synthesize information includes digital fluency, which requires a new set of skills.
Originally adapted from: opensourceway via Compfight cc

The development of this new skills set affects online reading comprehension and literacy (Coiro, 2007; Leu et al., 2005; Leu, Zawilinski, et al., 2007). Those who harness the power of the Internet have increased reading comprehension online relative to those who lack online reading skills regarding locating, critically evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information (Coiro, 2011).

Therefore, we need to change how we teach literacy. Literacy must include sophisticated Internet searching techniques; evaluating the validity and reliability of the content; minding copyrights and giving proper attribution; communicating and collaborating with global audiences; and creating multimedia products.

Communication and conversation

Conversation builds language and literacy skills, requiring strong communication skills. Those skills include paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, elaborating on main ideas, supporting ideas with examples, adding more information or challenging an idea, and synthesizing main points (Academic Conversations).

Communication skills can be used in online environments such as commenting on blogs. In the video below, Mrs. Yollis' third grade students share tips for writing quality comments:

These tips utilize strong communication skills to create quality written comments as a way to spark conversation and develop 21st century literacy.

Building literacy through blogging

Engaging in classroom blogging doesn't guarantee increased literacy; however, when students partake in ongoing academic conversations with diverse audiences for various purposes, then students reap the benefits of blogging.

Furthermore, it helps address some of the learning standards.

Blogging global collaborations

To take blogging beyond the four walls of the classroom and expand your audience and blogging experiences, try the Student Blogging Challenge or Quadblogging.

The Student Blogging Challenge is a free global collaboration that occurs in fall and spring for approximately ten weeks. Classrooms or individual students can sign up for the Challenge, and can choose which challenges to participate in. Miss W, the organizer of the Challenge, publishes a choice board of challenges or prompts around a topic each week suitable for all student ages and ranges of experience.

Quadblogging is when four classrooms agree to take turns having their blog as the spotlight class of the week, and the other three classrooms visit and leave comments. By the end of the month (or agreed amount of time), all four blogs have had their debut in the spotlight.

Writing across content isn't a new idea, but writing daily, collaborating and connecting with various audiences might be new for many. Giving your students an audience is motivating, it addresses several learning standards, and is well worth the effort.


The key ideas of this post were presented to our Principals, Education Services, and Superintendent earlier this month. 

Final thoughts

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (Langwitches) wrote a fabulous post exploring making thinking visible through blogging. Below is one of her graphics from that post:
Visible Thinking Routines by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano & Claire Arcenas. CC License: BY NC SA

Focusing on adding value to the author's writing requires critical thinking and great communication skills. It requires supporting claims with evidence and 21st century literacy -- which includes reading; retrieving information; critically evaluating the information; synthesizing ideas from multiple sources; minding copyrights and giving proper attribution; and sharing the information through writing, discussion, and/or multimedia.

The bottom line is 21st century literacy requires a new set of skills and it's about time we start embracing and teaching those skills.
  • How do you help your students and other educators adopt and embrace 21st century literacy?
  • How does blogging (or any collaborative tool) help build 21st century literacy? (and when does it not?)
  • What other thoughts do you want to add to this discussion?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Craft and Structure, Deeper Thinking, and Tech Integration

What type of thinking does the Common Core ask of students when it comes to Craft and Structure? Analysis.

Analyzing the author's craft and structure is a shift for students to do, and a shift for teachers to design tasks and questions that require analysis.  This is the critical thinking we want students to engage in.


The big shift in this is the analysis. What does that look like at the elementary level?

How do you teach Craft and Structure?

There are many ways to teach craft and structure. Make sure students are analyzing the text, not just identifying the answers.

Click here to view on Google Drive

Every spring, our school district uses Title IIa funds to pay teachers to attend training. This year, our Spring Academy focuses on various aspects of Common Core... and teaching Craft and Structure is one of the sessions. I was charged with creating a training module for the K-6 sessions.

Training Document: Click here to view document.

DOK 3 Tasks and Activities for Craft and Structure

There's a plethora of activities that can be done with craft and structure, but here's just a few easy ideas:
  • Share evidence of craft and structure: While students are reading text, they can record evidence of word choice (including unknown words, determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings -- to analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone); text features (and the impact it makes on the text); author's purpose or point of view. Use Today's Meet for a backchannel discussion, or Padlet to record evidence on sticky notes.

Final thoughts

It's exciting for me to think about an author's labor of love to select the perfect words and phrases to communicate the message. It's even more rewarding to think of students appreciating that labor of love, to the point of their applying it in their own written or digital stories.
  • If students should analyze craft and structure, then what types of questions and tasks do they need to engage in?
  • How do you engage students in craft and structure?
  • How else did this post connect with you?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

21st Century Learning, Literacy 2.0 and Common Core

One of the things that I love about AJUSD is how technology integration and 21st century learning is part of every layer of our district, from the students, to the teachers, to the site administrators, to the District Office, through a supportive School Board.

Furthermore, one of the pieces that make us successful is the ongoing professional learning with the Superintendent, Principals, and the Education Services Team. Technology integration, PBL, and 21st Century Learning is not an afterthought, but rather it's planned into our conversations. Dr. Wilson makes sure we have discussions about how all the pieces and initiatives connect.

Connecting PBL, the Common Core, and Teacher Evaluation Tool

Below is a presentation from one of the Leadership Meetings earlier in the year. In a nutshell, here's what that training looked like:
  • Think through a series of questions about what 21st century learning skills look like in the context of PBL, and as described in the Common Core.
  • After the series of questions, they deduced that the skills needed to be successful in the Common Core are the same skills needed in PBL.
  • Create a picture of what a thriving Common Core classroom and PBL classroom looked like. Focus on the engagement piece of the Teacher Evaluation Tool.
  • Dive into a classroom example from Shauna Hamman's third grade classroom. This example, described in more detail below, is a living and breathing example of a classroom rich in PBL and thriving in the Common Core.
  • Tie those pieces back together.

Turning inquiry into PBL

Through Shauna's PLN, she heard of a webcast with scientists at the South Pole, so she dropped everything to give her class an opportunity to partake in. They were the only class, while the rest of the audience consisted of scientists. At one point a scientist held up a photo of a penguin and stated that obviously it wasn't taken at the South Pole, and the audience chuckled.

After the video conference, her students asked her, "How come the penguin wasn't at the South Pole? And why were they laughing about it?"

She simply could have answered their question by telling them that penguins need the water, and the South Pole is landlocked. However, knowing her students had posed a genuine question, she monopolized on their inquiry and had them excited to research. During this research process, some students stumbled upon other sites and blogs, and ended up doing another collaborative project.

Students wrote about it on the class blog... which made new connections with others around the world.

Slides from the September training

Click here to view the slides.

Our March training -- Literacy 2.0

It's important to connect the ideas one layer at a time, building on the prior discussions. In this next layer, I'm sharing some of the big ideas I heard from Nancy Frey in a training about Literacy 2.0, brought to Arizona by the K12 Center and the ADE.

Overview of the training:
  • The focus is information literacy and curration.
  • Do a mini lesson on an Internet search.
  • Dig into Common Core for evidence of information literacy being built into the standards.
  • Introduce them to a Socratic Seminar format -- to discuss the evidence they found about information literacy built into the Common Core.
  • The tools will change over time, but the function will remain -- so teach the function.
  • Tie the big points back together.

Click here to view the slides.

Final thoughts

We need to equip our students for year 13, and information literacy, is part of that equipping -- it's a necessity in today's classrooms.
  • How do you equip your students for year 13 and build information fluency?
  • If you were an administrator involved in this type of professional learning, what big ideas do you see? What do you think the impact is?
  • How else does this post connect with you?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Analogies, Visual Representations and Metaphors for DOK

Our teams are focusing on creating rigorous learning activities by applying Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Level 3 and 4 tasks. "Webb developed four DOK levels that grow in cognitive complexity and provide educators a lens on creating more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks," (New York City's Department of Education). By focusing on DOK 3 and 4 levels, they are providing opportunities for students to engage in rigorous thinking as they connect with the content.

This post will focus on analogies, visual representations, and metaphors as avenues for creating engaging DOK tasks.


Analogy prompts are great ways to check for understanding (Wiggins & McTighe in UbD), and they are DOK 3 tasks.

This can be done with any content area. Here are a few examples: 
  • Finding the line of symmetry is like finding a matching shoe because both sides are now the same size and same shape.
  • Spelling correctly is like washing your hands after using the facilities because your mom always reminds you to go back and wash and the computer always puts that red squiggly line under those misspelled words. You'd be better off just doing it the first time.
The analogy connects learning to what students know, and it provides the teacher a picture of those connections, which can be used as checking for understanding and formative assessment. 
Visual Representations

Creating a visual representation shows the complexity of students' thinking (e.g., a flow chart, a concept map, or a visual metaphor) .

Have you ever thought about having students create a concept map from the Learning students wrote down on their KWL chart?  To do so, they need to synthesize ideas, look for themes and connections, then visually organize those ideas into categories.

The image below shows a concept map created from a KWL during 1:1 Professional Development. Each group created their own concept map, and the beauty of it was: 1) it made the groups think about the big ideas we've discussed during PD; and 2) it was a formative assessment for me to see where each group was, so I knew if they were ready for the next step.
Artifact from 1:1 training with AJHS, Feb of 2012.


Creating strong metaphors requires an understanding of the denotation and connotation of words, and how they conjure up emotions as they create visual connections (Common Core Craft and Structure Standard #4).

Have you ever thought about having students create metaphors with their vocabulary or spelling words? They'd have to clearly understand the meanings of the words, and how to craft them into connections to convey specific emotions or ideas.

Or, have you thought about having students create a video of metaphors (Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard #2)? Here's a lesson for that. Below is a product that my 2009 5th grade students created based on that idea. Confession: I wasn't aware of Creative Commons at the time.

Visual Metaphors

Visual metaphors is that very process of taking complicated ideas and finding ways to visually represent those ideas (Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard #2).

Here are some technology tools for creating visual metaphors:

Final thoughts

While some of these tasks take some time investment (e.g., creating visual metaphors), it doesn't have to. Simply asking student to draw a picture or a visual representation of their learning challenges them to synthesize ideas. Ask them to make an analogy, which is also a low prep task with high cognitive results. Then share their thoughts with a partner or a small group.
  • What are some other low prep, high results (DOK 3) tasks students can engage in?
  • How do you/would you use analogies, visual representations and metaphors in your classroom or professional development?
  • How else does this post connect with you?