The Moss-Free Stone

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” -Peter Drucker

What Drives You?

April 9, 2014 by · No Comments · Educational technology, Spreading the Word, Teaching and Learning


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One of a few audio books I’m currently working my way through is Carmine Gallo’s Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak at an event or conference now and again. I’m also a big fan of TED talks, big enough to recognize how much room for growth I have in terms of speaking abilities. The author viewed hundreds of TED presentations and identified the traits that made them so powerful. I’m barely started with the book, but I’ve already been challenged.

The first key component Gallo discusses involves knowing what you are passionate about and being able to share that passion with an audience. It involves communicating the idea that “makes your heart sing.” As I listened, I found myself trying to put my passion into words. What gets me going? Why is what I might have to say, particularly about technology, worth hearing? It’s not at easy a task to define this as it sounds, at least for me. Here is what I have come up with so far:

Unlocking possibilities. 

That’s it. I passionately believe if we as educators can teach and can use technology in ways that expose students to new possibilities for their lives and equip them to achieve these possibilities, we’ve hit the mark.

What do you think? What is your passion? Why is what you’re selling worth buying?

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What’s Worthy?

April 9, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Educational technology, implementation, leadership

In the discussion following my last post, The Bottom Five, wonderful educator and good friend, Jeff made a comment about me not being clear as to the criteria by which I was judging technology purchases. I would hope that anyone reading my blog for any time would know where I stand, but I will take the time to respond.

My views have evolved in the 12 years or so I’ve worked in educational technology, but there was an important, early moment. Initially, I was excited by just the mere sight of technology being used in the classroom. The training we focused on back in those early days centered upon basic skills, mostly productivity stuff like mastering Microsoft Office and using the internet. About 2 years in, however, I attended a workshop led by Dr. Bernajean Porter. Dr. Porter shared a wonderfully simple Technology and Learning Spectrum that broke classroom technology use into 3 categories: Literacy uses (mainly dealing with technology proficiency); Adaptive uses (using technologies to do tasks that would traditionally be done with other resources); and Transformative uses (technology used to accomplish things impossible without the technology). It was immediately obvious that we were stuck in the second, adaptive level at best.

Other technology integration spectrums abound. The SAMR model is similar to Dr. Porter’s model. It classifies technology use as: Substitution; Augmentation; Modification; and Redefinition (See video below). The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) classifies technology use as: Entry; Adoption; Adaptation; Infusion; and Transformation. Dr. Alan November assesses technology use based upon audience, connectedness, and impacts. His levels are: Paper Becomes Digital; Audience–One to Many; All Kids Create Together; Limitless Boundaries; and Building Legacy.

These are just a few examples of the standards I believe should guide our technology purchases and instructional goal-setting. Given the enormous power and capabilities of technologies today, is it enough to invest in technology that cannot achieve the highest of these levels? Is it satisfactory to see teachers using technology to make learning more “exciting” than with traditional methods? I don’t believe it is, particularly with the significant costs often involved. Many of the most expensive tools are specifically designed to achieve a narrow set of aims that fall far below the highest levels above. Others may be capable of achieving high level things, but at costs that greatly exceed less expensive, even free options. The ability to reach the highest levels and the availability of less costly alternatives should dictate how we determine where to put our technology dollars.

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The Bottom 5

April 7, 2014 by · 7 Comments · Educational technology, Google, implementation, leadership, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

Everybody loves a list, or so I’ve heard. Most are happy, top of the charts list. Slipping into my devil’s advocate outfit for a bit, I would like to take the opposite route today and give you my Bottom 5 list of educational technologies. All of these, incidentally, are extremely popular and have made their respective companies more money than some countries. For each, however, I would assert that there are better, wiser, or less expensive alternatives. The list:

5. Microsoft Office. I really do consider myself an Office fan, at least for my own, personal use. I love the bells and the whistles and all that comes with Office. However, the question needs to be asked, “Do our teachers and students need all of those bells and whistles at that price?” Office licenses can cost schools and districts easily tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for each new adoption. Free alternatives such as Open Office or Libre Office get more Office-like with each new release. Google Apps for Education, also free, has significantly fewer features, but the core tools are there, it can be accessed anywhere a computer meets an internet connection, and it is a collaboration godsend. The more we look at how our teachers and students use these productivity apps, the harder it is to justify the expense of full-blown Office. (Note: I understand that moving to a free alternative incurs some initial costs, particularly related to professional development on the new tools. Long-term, though, it pales by comparison.)



4.Desktop Computers. In the past, desktops were the most common and attractive classroom computer option. This was largely due to the very significant expense associated with laptops. Today, however, there are very affordable laptop and tablet devices all over the market. Not only do thse give students and teachers largely the same capabilities, they can move with the student. This promotes a modern learning environment, where students can engage in projects and problem solving in flexible arrangements that are determined by the demands of the task, not the location of the desk/table. They are also much easier to take home in a backpack.

3. Document Cameras. I know teachers whose document cameras are easily the most cherished piece of technology they’ve ever had. Many of them say the cameras, teamed with their digital projectors, of course, have revolutionized the way they teach. I could get into the generally VERY teacher-centric practices I’ve witnessed involving teaching with document cameras, and probably should. However, I’ll just offer for now that there are better alternatives that accomplish the same things and much more. A teacher equipped with an iPad, display software such as Reflector, and an iPad display stand, such as a Juststand, can use their device as a document camera. They can easily record, show websites, display apps, and more. And, of course, they can disconnect the iPad from the stand and take it across the campus, out of the building, or place it into a student’s hands. All of this is possible at a price generally less than most document cameras models out there.



2. Interactive Whiteboards. IWB critics are not hard to find. One of the most vocal, Gary Stager, famously describes IWBs as “a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices.” He criticized the boards for their support of a teacher-focused teaching style and IWB curriculum that centers “on low-level repetition, memorization, and discrete skills devoid of any meaningful content.” His main argument, though, and the one that I have come to appreciate most, is that these devices are insanely pricy and take away dollars that could (and should) be used in a way that directly benefits students, such as the purchase of student laptops. When we focus on student needs over teacher needs (wants, in this case), IWBs cannot be the choice.


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1. Student Response Systems. Perhaps no other device offers as little power and educational value for the dollar as the student response system, or “clicker”. Clickers save teachers from the arduous, tedious tasks of counting raised hands or actually listening to student thoughts and responses. They provide detailed insights into almost exclusively superficial questions and low-level understanding.  Meanwhile, they set back campuses thousands of dollars per classroom set. As alternatives, schools might consider investing in tablets such as iPads and feedback apps like Socrative, Nearpod, even the Forms tool in Google Drive. They’d be able to get the outcomes they wanted from the clickers but also have the potential to use the devices for endless, more powerful applications. Of course, feedback could come via direct observation or conversations with students, but that’s probably just crazy talk.

What are your thoughts? Am I way off? Are there other technologies that deserve less respect and less money?

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Social Bookmarks: 5 Tools to Try

March 25, 2014 by · No Comments · Bookmarking, collaboration, Web Tools

I once had these unnamed, quite brilliant colleagues (They’ll probably nail me for talking about them behind their backs. :o ) who were and are wonderful friends, phenomenal educators and true technology innovators. They provided me with countless ideas and resources. However, they usually insisted on sharing by sending me an email. While I did appreciate the sharing, I spent literally years advocating for them to  jump on board with the idea of sharing with one another via online, social bookmarking tools. “You see,” I would explain, “I get SO many emails, and I have to then open each one, click on the link inside, then add it to my bookmarks. I have to repeat the process at home to put it on my home computer. It’s just exhausting!” (Okay, I’ve always been a bit of a hyperbole fan.) I offered that simply adding it to a bookmark list in a Diigo group would be much more efficient, accessible, organized, etc. They could click a simple button added to their browser, add a little description, some tags, then share them with everyone that was a part of their group. We would all learn of these great, shared resources in one tidy, weekly email. Ahhh….a dream come true!

Alas, my efforts at persuasion met with very limited success, for unknown reasons. The emails kept coming (replaced occasionally by a tweet). A normal person would have felt beaten. Not I, however. If, by continuing to share the virtues of online bookmarks, I can save just ONE inbox, my efforts will be worth the high costs. To that end, here are 5 email server sparing online bookmark tools you might think about using:

  • Diigo for Chrome

    Diigo’s Chrome extension

    Diigo –Diigo is a very useful tool that has been around for several years. Users can bookmark sites using a simple browser plugin, which also allows bookmarks to be categorized by tags (also the best way to search through collections), added to lists, annotated with virtual sticky notes, or shared with groups. The groups feature is a great way to discover new resources or share with a specific audience. Members can opt to receive notifications of shared resources daily, weekly, etc.

  • Adding collaborators in Pinterest.

    Adding collaborators in Pinterest.

    Pinterest –A huge hit among casual users, Pinterest also has a loyal following amont educators. Users can use bookmarklets or browser extensions to quickly add Pins to specific boards, where they are shared in Pinterest’s appealing, visual style. Don’t forget that Pinterest can be very collaborative, too. Just visit the user dashboard, click on the Edit button at the bottom of any board, then add contributors using their email addresses.

  • Symbaloo webmix

    Symbaloo webmix

    SymbalooEDU –Symbaloo EDU is another tool that has grown a huge following in education circles, in particular. Users create very slick, graphical “webmixes”, collections of bookmarked sites. One shortcoming is that webmixes can be shared, but are not truly collaborative just yet. Still, its attractive style, user-friendly results, and ample pre-existing collections make it worth a look.

  • A flipped classroom pearltree.

    A flipped classroom pearltree.

    Pearltrees –Pearltrees is a tool unlike any of the others. It is very visual in nature, and folks who like graphic organizers are likely to love Pearltrees. Bookmarks, called “pearls”, are added via browser extension and organized into “trees”, which are clusters of pearls. Pearltree users can share trees and pearls, follow others’ collections, and collaboratively build collections. Probably not for everyone, but for those who like its style, Pearltrees is a powerful resource.

  • A ScoopIt collection.

    A ScoopIt collection.

    ScoopIt –ScoopIt takes yet another approach to saving bookmarks, assembling groups of them into pages resembling online newspapers or magazines. A browser bookmarklet can expedite the adding of resources to topic lists. Users choose the destination lists and add descriptions. Users can follow one another and “suggest” new resources to be added, a list of which can be browsed (“curated”, in ScoopIt lingo), evaluated, and either added or rejected. ScoopIt will also make recommendations from the web based on user-defined terms. A drawback is the inability to filter items on a specific collection, but I keep coming back to the tool after several years.

Certainly, there are countless other bookmarking tools being used by educators to collaboratively cultivate classroom collections. What are others that should be in any such list? How are you using them with your students or teams?

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New Podcast: Student Multimedia Projects

March 6, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, collaboration, Digital Storytelling, Educational technology, images/video, podcasting, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools, Wikis

Discussion of some alternatives to essays or PowerPoints.


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Sit on IT (Innovation Technology)

March 4, 2014 by · No Comments · creativity, innovation

Ritchie Cunningham

Last summer at the ISTE Conference in San Antonio, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a Canadian educator by the name of Jared Nichol (For those too young to know, no, that’s not a picture of him–it’s Ritchie Cunningham…in reference to the title. Google it.) . Jared is a high school multimedia and language arts teacher in Cold Lake High School, in eastern Alberta. He shared with me the Wikiseat project his students had taken on.  I was intrigued by the simplicity of the idea. Students receive a 5″ tall tripod made from angle iron pieces and design and build chairs using them as the centerpiece, or “Catalyst“. The Catalysts are the creation of a young San Francisco man by the name of Nic Weidinger, who came up with the idea as a senior project for design school at Ohio State. While certainly not something most would call “high tech”, the project emphasizes design, artistic ability, creativity, inventiveness, and engineering, all valuable, marketable skills.

Excited by the potential, I started plotting immediately to get our students involved. Wanting to make this year’s Technology Fair something more about skills than tech, I decided the project would be a perfect fit. So, during the last week, I visited the classes of willing art and engineering teachers and sold students on why they should participate in a voluntary project that would be done in their own time. Amazingly, almost 40 high schoolers chose to participate. Catalysts have been ordered, with the wikiseatgoal of sending them home to students after spring break. The plan is to have students display their seats at the Tech Fair in May and share their processes with attendees, and possibly to auction off a few (from willing students) for a local charity. I may try to get them shown at a local art museum or community event, as well. My only real concern in keeping students engaged in the task so that we have a significant number completed. To that end, I’m offering participants a drawing for a nice prize, event t-shirts, and regular visits to classes to encourage students to keep at it. I’m very open to other suggestions in this area, so don’t hold back.

water brainWe’re also planning a team cardboard challenge, MakeyMakey inventors lab, programming/robotics playgrounds, and other events at the Tech Fair, and more ideas (like a student film festival) are percolating in my brain. This effort is a small (for now) part of a bigger plan to encourage our students to be innovative, creative thinkers, not just techno-savvy. I believe we’ll do so through technology-rich and technology-poor projects and activities–the key is giving kids the chance to go through the process of looking at a problem (make a chair), planning a solution, building a model, testing the model, and improving it as needed. I will share updates in the next 2 months as students progress. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts? Are you or your schools focusing primarily on technology aptitudes or more general skills? Which do you feel is right?

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New Podcast: Why Have Conferences?

February 12, 2014 by · 2 Comments · PBL, TCEA 2014, Teaching and Learning

The genesis of my latest podcast is the reflection I’ve done on last week’s TCEA conference in Austin, and on some of the Twitter conversations that took place last Friday after the conference ended. The discussion centered upon the nature of most conference sessions, and whether or not they could get past edtech bling and focus upon how we teach and learn. Here is a sample exchange from some folks I hold in very high regard.

Jon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on TwitterJon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on Twitter-1

I share my thoughts on this discussion in the podcast. In Readers’ Digest version, I agree that we need more focus on pedagogy, less on the tools, but I don’t think the tools discussions are completely unworthy of our time or attendance. I’ve ranted against the “list” sessions myself, but I still manage to see a few things that I can use in almost every one I attend. I always try to imagine how the resource might help a student as they work on a project or promote a skill (creativity, critical thinking, empathy, etc.) that students need. I also think we have to remember that effective and desirable teaching practices (in contrast with what we use to teach) can’t possibly be covered in a typical conference session. We can pick up or share small pieces, but real change in terms of classroom practice takes lots of time, practice, collaboration, coaching, etc.

I also share a few thoughts about some sessions on project based learning that I had the chance to attend. Sometimes, you can learn more from mistakes than successes–I’ll leave it at that.

Please take a few minutes to give a listen, and I always relish your thoughts, questions, arguments, whatever!

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