Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Standardized Tests and the World We Live In

During teacher professional development this week we were discussing how the new instructional philosophies and strategies we were there to learn would actually look in the typical teacher's classroom. Inevitably the discussion of tests and how federal, state and local accountability impacts how we teach.  It's a tremendous concern and one that can't be taken lightly.  How do we make change and how do we make that leap of faith to do what is best for children and not necessarily what our current accountability systems want?

As I sat there and listened to the discussion I received a link to the finally released versions of Texas' STAAR tests.  This is our first look at what this test actually looks like after two whole years of delivery!

I was interested in the 5th grade tests since my little boy just finished that grade so I pulled up science and math.  We had all heard about how the tests were going to be different and how the questions were going to need higher order thinking skills to answer.  After looking at the tests I suppose that is true to an extent. There were a few "aha" moments when you could understand what they meant, but that wasn't what I found myself thinking about.

I was in a room with a group of teachers where we were trying to gain buy-in for student-centered learning.  We were scaffolding them with new ideas, strategies and skills.  And most of these teachers had to go back to a classroom where they had to make a choice: survive the teaching profession in the world of accountability or do what is best for students. Survival is a natural instinct.  Project-based learning or flipped instruction is not.

What I realized looking at the test was that there were some questions I couldn't answer by just taking the test in a room with 20 others and none of my tools that I use every day.

When adults have problems to solve, when we have something to accomplish, when we have to have the answers to our questions, we have access to our tools.  Tools we depend on to survive. Tools like the Internet, books, measuring tools, dictionaries, calculators, etc.  On today's tests, students are only given access to a few of these tools.

In today's world it is natural for us to use digital tools to help us solve our problems.  It is natural like indoor plumbing. It is natural like electricity.  We take these things for granted because they are always there and today, the internet is always there.

We want to give our students great learning experiences and we want them to have access to great tools for learning but then we throw them into the wilderness(standardized tests) and expect them to survive. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without planes, trains or automobiles. We no longer teach our kids to live in a world without books, telephones, indoor plumbing or electricity.  These are all tools we have come to rely on and are part of our lives.

A Generation of Geniuses?

by Lorna Franke - McCarroll Middle School, 7th Grade History

This is food for thought. Fortunately, our school district, Decatur ISD, is already making the move to revolutionize our teaching methods. This article just shows that you don't need internet access and fancy devices to teach your kids how to think globally and learn how to change the world. Our kids are desperate to be inspired to do something great.

Needing a Champion

by Lorna Franke - McCarroll Middle School, 7th Grade History

Since I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. Some of the main reasons for my wanting to be a teacher were actually not because of great teachers, but the teachers who were awful to me. That human connection and those bad relationships inspired me to be a teacher, because I wanted to be different than those teachers. This is my dream…to be this teacher that Rita is talking about. The teacher that kids remember, because I cared about them. Of course, I am not perfect, and I am sure there are kids who have left my class not knowing how much I loved them, but I strive to love every kid. To let them know that I am human and that I make mistakes. I want to be real with them. I want them to know that, sometimes, we learn together.

'Reshaping Learning' isn't always about amazing technology. It isn't always about amazing lessons. Sometimes, it is a connection with a kid, a relationship with a kid that makes the difference. Being the drill sergeant, like many of my teachers didn't work. It is letting kids know  that you REALLY CARE about their future success that really makes the difference.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Twist on Professional Development

By Stephanie Quarles
Stephanie Quarles is the principal at Carson Elementary in Decatur ISD in Decatur, Texas. 

While getting ready for the summer break, I thought through what my goals were going to be for the upcoming school year. I wanted the focus to be on continuous improvement and goal setting. I wanted my teachers to understand and put into practice the use of formative assessments as a tool to guide instruction. Malcolm and Me: How to Use the Baldrige Process to Improve Your School by Richard E. Maurer seemed to be the perfect book to wrap this goal around.

Once the book was decided upon I needed to figure out how to conduct a book study where we didn’t actually have to meet in person.  One of my colleagues introduced me to Smore. Smore.com is a service for quickly creating great-looking webpages. Smore markets itself as a service for creating online flyers, but it's a little bit more than that. Smore's flyers are dynamic and changeable, they're not single-use PDFs. I decided on Smore.com as the format. Plus, I am always looking for ways to encourage my teachers to explore new technology: new websites, apps, and tools that could be used in the classroom.

I wanted my teachers to reflect on each chapter of the book and apply their learning to the students of Carson Elementary.  I began reading the book the day I arrived at ISTE, The International Society for Technology in Education Conference. I was blown away by all of the awesome tools that I was learning about, and I wanted a way to share them with my teachers. The idea of merging a few of these newly discovered tech tools and the Malcolm and Me book study into the Smore was born.

I started each section of the Smore with a summary of the chapter. I then gave the teachers a reflective question or a task and a tech tool in which to respond to that task. I was surprised at how easy Smore was to manipulate. You can embed pictures, videos and links to websites with ease. I sent the link to my newly created Smore to my faculty and sat back with anticipation.

Setting up the book study this way cause me to read the book with a different mindset than I might have otherwise. It forced me to tryout many technology tools and really get to know them instead of just sharing a list and summary with my teachers. Plus, now I excitedly check the Smore and each website everyday to see what new reflections my teachers have posted there! I can’t wait to see if my teachers enjoyed participating in this style of professional development as much as I enjoyed creating it! Visit

My Smore Book Study HERE

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ADE Class of 2013 - We were on fire!

As I finally find time to reflect on the ADE Institute a few weeks ago, I find myself filled with pride and a sense of belonging.

I do have to admit that at the beginning I felt like I was at summer camp.  That feeling of being alone and lost. I didn't have many friends there.  I didn't know who I would be "stuck" with.  I didn't know what I might do that might embarrass myself. I felt in awe and a little intimidated by the amazing talent of the other ADEs.  I didn't know my place.

Let me tell you, Apple has the best camp counselors around! From the first person I met in the registration line through the end of the week I have rarely felt more supported and encouraged.

My fellow ADEs are incredible.  I felt overwhelmed to be in their company.  Their contributions to education give me an incredibly bright outlook.  They are truly amazing people.

So, when I returned to work I was asked several times about what it was like and there is a lot I can't speak about.  It's hard to describe anyway because it was all an experience and it is hard to describe experiences.  Besides, describing individual activities or events doesn't do the Institute justice.

The Experience
Lets just say the week was a well-designed learning experience that provided all the necessary ingredients for learning.  There was a driving question, there was scaffolding, there was team-building, there expert resources if needed, it was comfortable, it was safe, it expected results and it authentically gave us the motivation to deliver results.  

Wrapping It Up
I can't describe the whole week in a single blog post but I do want to sum up what this experience means and how it translates to today's learners. In our district we use the HEAT Framework for lesson design so I wanted to rate it on the HEAT Scale and see how "hot" it was.

Higher Order Thinking
We were a level 6 - Student learning/questioning at evaluating/creating levels. 
We, as learners, were expected to create. Creativity at the highest levels of Bloom's was encouraged, expected and cultivated. We were encouraged to not just create, but curate great resources for our audience.  
Engaged Learning
We were a level 6 - Students collaborate to define the task, the process, and/or the solution; collaboration extends beyond the classroom. 
The whole week was centered around collaboration and working in our PLNs to accomplish our individual tasks that will ultimately complete our project. 
Authentic Connections
We were a level 6 - The learning experience is directly relevant to students and involves creating a product that has a purpose beyond the classroom that directly impacts the students. 
Our project was very authentic to us, especially for our PLN.
Technology Use
We were a level 6 - Students use self-selected digital and/or environmental resources to accomplish learning outcomes beyond the use of conventional strategies. 
We had access to so many tools and learning resources designed to deliver new content for our audience. Tools like Keynote, GarageBand, Final Cut Pro, Motion Graphics, iBooks Author, iTunes U, etc. provide new ways to create and deliver content.

Final Thoughts
Despite the unusually cool weather for mid-July in Austin, Texas, the learning was HOT. Obviously Apple and all the attendees were on FIRE last week.

I am sure I will be analyzing this week for months to come and trying to incorporate what I learned into my own position.  I thank Apple, Maxx Judd, Don Henderson, Rebecca Stockley, Maria Henderson and all the other Apple employees that made this one of the greatest educational experiences of my life.

I also want to thank my new friends in my PLN. It is an honor and a privilege to get to know you and I look forward to learning from each of you!

Friday, July 12, 2013

About being an Apple Distinguished Educator

I have been very blessed this year with a few great opportunities that have been very reinvigorating for me.

About a year ago I did some serious reflecting over my 23 years in educational technology and how I got to where I am. It was an unintentional career(see the bottom of the post for background).  

I decided that if I was going to try to accomplish more and have a fulfilling second half of my career that I was going to have to go against my natural inclination of being too shy and having a lack of confidence. So, I decided to step out there and here we are.

On February 19th I received an e-mail from a friend telling me congratulations on becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator. I hadn't received anything official.  How did they know??  I checked my spam mail and there it was, the official notice from Maxx Judd, ADE Worldwide Program Manager. I was so excited, nervous, proud, honored and a dozen other similar feelings all at once.

About a week later I got the icing on the cake.  I was named a New Media Consortium K12 Ambassador, one of 22 from around the world.  Another great honor!

Now, I was raised in a little bitty town with a very typical protestant upbringing.  I jokingly say my mother used to tell my brothers, sisters and I that we "weren't so special and we didn't have to act like we were". Now that I'm older I know what she was trying to say. It was her teaching me to be a humble person and I think that contributes to my insecurities about trying to step out of my comfort zone. Because of this, self promotion is hard for me. I try to be a humble man.

After I got the notice, I didn't want to tell anyone. I never told my staff. They know now somehow. I tested the waters on Twitter. Built some confidence and posted on Facebook but didn't make a big deal.

Applying to be an ADE, for me, was more about opportunity. It was also about validation. It helped validate in my mind that what I believe about education is shared by others.  

That being said, next week I am attending the North America 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Austin. There will be over 100 educators from K12 and Higher Education from Canada, Mexico and the United States.  

I hear that it will be one of the best weeks of my career and I have no doubt that it will probably exceed my expectations. I look forward to meeting new friends, new co-learners, new mentors, and new leaders.

What new opportunities are in for me next?  I don't know today, but I bet I have some ideas a week from now!
I was in my senior year at the University of North Texas in Denton completing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing - 1990.  It was a big year.  Met my beautiful soon-to-be wife and got engaged. Immersed myself in the art world.  Worked as a welder for a sculptor for a few months.  Got a part time job at the Texas Center for Educational Technology in the UNT College of Education.

I didn't even know the term "educational technology" before I got that job.  I was a clerk, which I think was the male title for a secretary.  I answered phones, ran errands, made copies, stapled, collated, and used my first Mac.  Here I am today.

It wasn't that I had not used computers much.  I bought my first computer when I was a freshman in high school - a Commodore 64.  I got the money by selling my first place countywide broiler chickens at the Bee County Livestock Show in Beeville, Texas.  That is how I got started with computers.  After that I was president of the first high school computer club in the very first computer class at Pettus High School in Pettus, Texas.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of May 6, 2013

TED Talks Education - Everybody loves a good TED Talk so it's especially exciting when it is on good old regular TV and that is what we got this week.  I hope you have had a chance to watch it but if not it is currently online HERE.  There were several good speakers including the great Sir Ken Robinson who is legendary for his TED Talk.

True Grit - The one talk that got me really thinking during the TV show was Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth's talk about "Grit".  If you would like to know how "gritty" you are you can take a little survey on her website. Apparently I am grittier than at least 70% of the population.  

Self Directed Learning - Before seeing Dr. Duckworth's Talk on "grit" I have been thinking about and researching the key traits of being a successful self-directed learner.  Grit is one of those those traits.  During my research though I found the following pitfalls to being a good self-directed learner:  bad time management, procrastination, laziness, lack of motivation and misguidance.  I don't know about you, but these seem to be the same complaints I have heard about students from our teachers for the last couple of decades and we still haven't resolved them.

I truly believe we need to have less talk about online classes, virtual learning, MOOCS, gamification, anytime, anywhere, and all these other hot topics and seriously think about how to address these pitfalls.

Capital Factory - On Thursday, May 9, President Obama visited Austin, Texas where he visited Manor New Tech High School and several other startup and tech business.  First, congratulations Manor New Tech, you give great learning!

But, what I thought was cool was his visit to Capital Factory.  Capital Factory is a "factory" of startups located on the top floor of the Omni Hotel in Downtown Austin.  I had the privilege of going to a short meeting and getting a tour during the week of SXSWedu.  It was so cool and is a great example of how work will be different in the future.  What struck me was how much it made sense.  It just. made. sense.

If you go to their website be sure to notice the three menus at the top of the page: work, learn, accelerate.

Google Hangouts is one of my current favorite things - I've had a couple of meetings with fellow NMC K12 Ambassadors over the past month using Google Hangouts.  It has proven to be a great experience.  I have never had the opportunity to work in a group with members from all over the world and I have been worried about how we will build personal relationships with each other but the interaction you can have using Google Hangouts has really shrunk that distance.  I have really enjoyed speaking with and seeing the members of the group at the other end of the line as we discuss and collaborate on our work. The Hangouts are probably some of my most favorite interactions with colleagues in years and I look forward to many more!

Thursday, May 9, 2013


by Danielle Scroggins, 5th Grade Teacher @ Carson Elementary

As a fifth grade teacher, I have embraced, adopted and plunged forward with Project Based Learning this year.  Many of my colleagues in other grades levels thought I was crazy trying to adapt this teaching method for such young students, but I pressed onward knowing that my gut was pulling me the right direction.

It's definitely been a different kind of school year.  My students struggled at the beginning of the  year with the philosophy, the process, and the PRODUCTS.  Our first projects were a disgrace to projects.  They completely missed the boat, and concentrated more on the awesomeness of their imovie than the content that imovies was intended to showcase.  From that point, we reflected, made some logistical changes and learned together what the best fit scenario was for PBL in my elementary classroom. 

The projects improved with each guiding question, and my students really learned to embrace research, summarization, and presentations.  Their skills were honed as they worked through google to find that perfect piece of information, and their projects morphed from "all about an imovie" into simple posters if that's what they felt like it took to "get their point across."  The learned to use the rubrics I provided as a checklist to keep them on a timeline, and more than anything, they learned to work through their own problems--within a group, and within a project.  It wasn't a perfect classroom every single time, and if you walked in to monitor the process, you'd definitely describe it as crazy town, but it was our Crazy Town--and we began to own it.

I'm in the midst of my last project now, and my hopes are sky high.  We recently participated in a Field Day at our local LBJ National Grasslands, and had the opportunity to hike three miles and travel through science stations while experiencing the ecosystem (and using ipods to document their experiences!). Since we'd covered ecology in class, the students really amazed me in their interest of a "real ecosystem," and "what went on at these grasslands."  Upon our return, I presented them with the guiding question, "How can we advertise the local resources available to our community through the LBJ National Grasslands?"  Their interest level skyrocketed (to my jaw-dropping amazement) when I suggest that the Decatur City Council had proposed leveling the Grasslands in favor of a housing development.  While they know this is a pretend scenario, I had students wanting to actually present their research and advertisements to the City Council.  They are writing petitions, commercials, brochures, websites, and stories on the Grasslands and discovering who this phantom "LBJ" person was that established all the National Parks.  They are shocked to know that the National Park System had to be established in the first place, and determined to communicate that these National Parks should not be erased. 

Authenticity is one of the major factors in a PBL project, and one that can be hard to find--especially when your audience is a classroom of eleven year olds more focused on Taylor Swift's last release.  But THIS project--it HAS captured them, and in MAY to boot!  I can't wait to see what they actually come up with, and I have contacted friends in the city council and other local organizations to give my students an opportunity to actually present to the community.  When they heard that, they stepped up their game--and I'm loving that my class is a game to them.

Danielle Scroggins is a 5th grade teacher at Carson Elementary School in Decatur, Texas where she teaches math and science.  Mrs. Scroggins is a Decatur ISD FUTURE READY mentor and was asked to be a contributor to this blog. I look forward to seeing more posts from her in the future! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

What does Common Core mean for technology in Texas?

Common Core in the States - http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states#texas
I was lucky enough to attend the 2013 SXSWedu Conference in Austin, Texas in March.  I can't tell you how many times I saw the above map or some version of it all through the conference. It was very clear, since Texas is the big bullseye in the middle of the map, that we are different.  But what does that mean?

I don't want to get into the controversy about Common Core but I do want to address the impact it has for us in Texas, specifically educational technology.

A Little Texas History
If you haven't had the chance to watch the great, great documentary The Revisionaries, it needs to be on your list. The Revisionaries documents the Texas State Board of Education and the process they take in developing and modifying the state curriculum and textbook standards for all public school students in Texas.  The state of Texas, along with California, held great sway in the national textbook industry. The saying went "so goes Texas, so goes the nation."

The documentary tells the story of Don McLeroy, former conservative chair of the Texas SBOE and young Earth creationist, during the revising of the state's science and social studies standards.  The Texas SBOE has been an historically politicized board with great power to influence not only textbook publications in Texas but across the country.  The key moment in the film that relates to understanding how Texas, textbooks, technology and the Common Core has changed the educational landscape since 2010 is at the very beginning when Dr. McLeroy is sitting before a panel of Texas Legislators in April, 2009 and we hear an off-camera voice say, regarding the SBOE's power over textbooks, that there is "legislation pending before this body that would basically relieve the State Board of Education of that duty." A fact that came true when, in 2011, the Texas Legislature shifted authority to order textbooks from the state to individual school districts, thus stripping away much of the power they had in the final say in textbook content that influenced education across the USA.

Because of size, the influence that Texas and California both had over textbook content was tremendous.  Since then, Texas has become one of only a handful of states to adopt the Common Core standards.  California has adopted.  

How does this impact educational technology?
Attending the SXSWedu conference opened my eyes to the fact that educational technology entrepreneurs attending had very little interest in Texas. Most sessions concentrated on developing for the Common Core. Simple economic realities explain why.  Vendors now have a much larger customer base and the Texas SBOE is no longer the gatekeeper to content.

By providing school districts control over the purchase of content and materials through the state's new Instructional Materials Allotment, there is a new avenue of funding for schools to use to ensure that the approved Texas state standards are covered.  Schools must certify that they will purchase only materials that will cover the state of Texas Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (Texas equivalent to Common Core).  Schools may also purchase technology equipment and technology related services with the new IMA funds.  

During the same legislative session where the SBOE's power changed, the IMA was created and the state cut $5.4 billion dollars from education, they also repealed the state's Technology Allotment, a $30 per pupil allotment given to schools to be used for technology.  

The new IMA creates a new environment where content, curriculum, and technology are now competing for many of the same dollars.  

The Two Big Questions
With content curated and adopted by the SBOE or Commissioner of Education, should schools only purchase textbooks, resources and supplementary materials better guaranteed to meet the state standards (TEKS)?


With the vast resources of the Internet, affordable access to mobile devices, and growing resources beyond Texas that involve Common Core, should schools purchase technology and online resources only partially aligned to state standards?

Long Term
Looking further down the road, there is an inevitable further weakening for Texas' role in the textbook and content industry.  It has become a lesser player on the national stage.  This is not an argument which is better, Common Core or the Texas TEKS, but more a matter of where will content come from in the future.  It becomes a battle of the curators of content.  Everyone is a curator now. The textbook industry is dead.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rethinking Teaching - Reshaping Learning

In January, 2013, the New Media Consortium met during its Future of Education Summit to identify the most "wicked problems" facing education today.  The "wicked problems" are "issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise." Through this conversation, the Summit came to the consensus that there are five essential challenges to education:
  1. Rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching
  2. Re-imagine online learning
  3. Allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success
  4. Make innovation part of the learning ethic
  5. Preserve the digital expressions of our culture and knowledge
The challenge that evokes the most passion for me is number one: To rethink what it means to teach, and reinvent everything about teaching.
We think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning. - John Carolus
It is well understood that our educational systems rely on teachers.  Whatever techniques are used in modern culture, nations rely on the teacher to educate children the most. I believe as we move forward in rethinking teaching, transforming the teacher should be our highest priority. 

There is much talk in the world of educational technology that steers conversations to the possibilities of self-directed learning opportunities for students. It originates in the ed tech world because technology is the enabler.  It is truly the essential tool needed for great self-directed learning.  While there is little argument that it has great value when it works, its effective implementation in our current educational system is seriously lacking. With access to a universe full of content, the challenge of today and tomorrow is motivation.

For example, educational technology has relied for decades on the idea that anything digital means better engagement.  As schools move to increase access with one to one and BYOD programs, digital has less meaning for engagement. It is becoming glaringly clear that the digital tool means much less about engagement than does meaningful learning experiences. So, if we are losing the weak argument that learners are better engaged when they have digital tools, then where do we find engagement and ultimately motivation?

I believe it is in the creation of meaningful learning experiences.  And those meaningful learning experiences must be grown in rich, fertile soil. That rich fertile soil must be cultivated and ultimately harvested to bear fruit.

Teachers are essential in the learning process, however, teaching is not as essential.  It is not as essential because students can learn anytime and anywhere they want. But who plants the seeds of curiosity? Who provides the nourishment needed for growth? Who cultivates the learner? Who is the harvester? The teacher. 

But what does a teacher grow?  

Emphasis must move away from what is learned to how it is learned.  Students must become learners.  We must begin to concentrate on the teaching of learning instead of the teaching of content. We would be better served if we taught our students how to be great self-directed learners, not compliant school students.  

We have to begin by purposely reframing the teacher's role away from teaching.  We need to begin by being honest and saying out loud that teaching is no longer as valuable as it was ten years ago.  When we face the reality of learning, not teaching, as the highest priority and truly understand what this means, we can truly move forward with reshaping learning.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of April 8, 2013

This post is kinda tech heavy. I hope you get something out of it anyway.

KnowItAll App - What am I excited about this week? I'm excited about working with our 6th grade teachers to pilot a new app that just came out called KnowItAll that I hope will solve some challenges for our teachers in how to organize learning using iPads with our students. Below is a short video about the app:

I will post any updates and thoughts about the app as we move through the pilot. You can visit their website HERE. The developers have been great to work with and have been very helpful in getting us started.

Meraki Mobile Device Management - We are also piloting Meraki's FREE and HOSTED Mobile Device Management service.  It is proving to be a powerful tool and looks like it can do most of the things we need it to do.  This week we had a webinar with the Meraki folks and they had a great presentation from Lamar Consolidated ISD's Director of Technology Integration Chriss Nilsson about how they are using it on a wide scale.  If you are using or beginning to use many iOS or Android devices in your school I would definitely check it out.

Why Teachers are Trying Out Apple TV in the Classroom - If I were having to equip a new school today with the latest technology I would plan for this:
  • Minimum 65" LCD TV instead of Projector
  • Power and network connections behind TV
  • Apple TV zip tied to the back of the TV
The ideas that Apple TV represents should be taken into serious consideration in any designs of future school facilities.

The Interim Results of the 2013 K12 NMC Horizon Report - I am privileged enough to be a New Media Consortium K12 Ambassador and it is a sincere privilege.  One of the great things that the NMC contributes to education is their Horizon Report.  They produce Horizon Reports for Higher Ed, K12, and Museums.  If you have a chance you can check out the full 2012 K12 Horizon Report HERE.  They have recently released there Interim Findings for their 2013 report and here is the shortened list:
The "Time-to-Adoption Horizon" indicates how long the Advisory Board feels it will be until a significant number of schools are providing or using each of these technologies or approaches broadly.
  • Near-Term Horizon: One Year or Less
  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
  • Cloud Computing
  • Mobile Learning
  • Online Learning
Mid-Term Horizon: Two to Three Years
  • Adaptive Learning and Personal Learning Networks
  • Electronic Publishing
  • Learning Analytics
  • Open Content
Long-Term Horizon: Four to Five Years
  • 3D Printing
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual and Remote Laboratories
  • Wearable Technology

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Unintended Burden of the Texas School Technology Department

One of the key findings from the CoSN (Consortium of School Networking) K-12 IT Leadership Survey 2013 was that the "The 3 biggest challenges facing CTOs are budget and resource limitations, changing the culture of teaching, and breaking down district-wide barriers." 

Why do school technology directors and departments from across the nation feel like one of their biggest challenges is to "change the culture of teaching"?  How did that ever become a responsibility for a school technology department? 

Why? How? 

I can't speak to experiences from different states but I can speak to my experiences here in Texas. In 1988, the Texas State Board of Education developed and adopted the first Long Range Plan for Technology. Since then, school technology departments across Texas have shouldered the visionary burden for Texas schools. This is what I will talk about here and I will save the influence of the "educational industrial complex" and capitalism for another day.

As part of E-Rate and NCLB, school technology departments are required to submit a technology plan to be approved by a state education agency, here it is the Texas Education Agency.  In Texas, no other department has that requirement. This plan must include goals, strategies and objectives for teaching and learning and professional development, in addition to leadership, administration and infrastructure.

Teachers and campuses submit a self-assessment of their progress in achieving the goals and objectives of the state's LRPT with the measurements ranging from Early Tech to Target Tech, with Target Tech where the state would like schools to aspire to become. The areas measured are for Teaching and Learning, Educator Preparation, Leadership and Administration, and Infrastructure.

So...each year, technology departments are required to develop a plan that directly impacts instruction of millions of students across the state of Texas and then have it approved by the Texas Education Agency. On top of that, this plan is often developed in isolation from any district or campus improvement plan, because after all, it IS the technology plan.

So in Texas anyways, the bureaucratic process has misplaced too much responsibility of visionary leadership on the school technology department.  Imagine a corporate IT department being the only department required to submit the business plan for the whole company to be approved by shareholders.

For 20 years, the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology has acted as the vision for innovation in Texas public schools.  During those 20 years, Texas has been a leader in the integration of technology in education and I think we are still.  However, in 2008, a group of school superintendents came together and developed what has become known as the "Visioning" document.  It is actually a document entitled Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas

The "Visioning" document has replaced the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology as the vision for public schools in Texas.  While schools still are working with the LRPT, it is not having as much influence on the vision of instruction as it once did. 

School technology departments are seeing a shift in where the vision is coming from and now, more than ever, school superintendents and curriculum departments are defining what innovative instruction looks like and the tools conversation is changing to support it.  

For now, unfortunately, whenever you speak of changing the "culture" or "21st century skills" it is often still associated with a technology initiative.

For example, in our district we have developed a strategic plan that we call the Future Ready Project.  We have six goals in our plan that deal with teaching and learning, educator preparation, 21st century parents, leadership, digital tools, and evaluation.  Digital tools are only one piece of the overall plan, but the Future Ready Project is still often referred to as a technology initiative.  

On top of all the very rapid changes in technology that seem to happen faster and faster each year, there is a culture change in Texas.  Right now it is bumpy.  There are people that are on board and some that are not.  Many just want to go back to the old ways and many want to move forward.  Some want to pull back on the reigns and some want to give a little kick with the spurs to speed it up.  

What I have learned after being in the Texas educational technology field for over 20 years is that there ain't no backing up and folks, that ain't your choice and it ain't mine.

I'm looking forward to some feedback and some debate on this post.  Please give comments on things I have wrong or may have missed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of April 1, 2013

Google Nose - One of the great April Fools of 2013. 

Really Gets to the Meat of the Matter - Great article, Need a job? Invent it this week by Thomas Friedman about future jobs and our young people.  One of the best parts of the article is what was said in an e-mail conversation between him and the author Tony Wagner:
“Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”
Tony Wagner is the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”.

Kid President - I like him and I think he has a good message. He sure is cute and funny too.

TASA on iTunes U - I know a few people that have contributed content to the Texas Association of School Administrators iTunes U Site.  They are taking each high school core content area and creating "courses" based on current courses.  Each Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill for those courses are addressed with some sort of strategy, lesson or online resource for teachers to use for instruction.  They are NOT courses for students but resources for teachers.  You need the iPad app for this source.  Check it out!

The iPad and 'Flipping' - Reflections of a concerned teacher - I really appreciated this article and his thoughts.  I want my teachers to take some time to reflect like this.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Future Happened

I tickled myself this week when I said in a meeting "Everyone knew the future was going to happen, they just didn't think it would happen to them." I thought it was clever at the time(still do) but it had me thinking quite a bit.

Listen up teachers. When you a hear quote from someone like Nicholas Negroponte asks "Is knowing obsolete?" and Sugata Mitra talks about how it has taken humans only 10,000 years to make it obsolete,  these aren't just off the cuff statements.  There is truth in them.  It may not be 100% true, yet, but it isn't a statement you should ignore.

Online Colleges published the infographic below about a year and a half ago that can really help you understand how knowing is somewhat obsolete or is at the very least changing its form very rapidly. Google is the messy Elmer's glue holding our information together.  It is providing the connections to our entire world, past present and future.  Google is changing the way our brains work.

If I am truly honest with myself I can readily admit that my brain doesn't have to recall as much as it used to, but, what my brain does is reprocesses the answer needed from "do I know it?" to "where is it?". Example: If I was asked to answer the question "What is the capital of Oregon?" the first thing I ask myself is "what do I know about Oregon?" and that leads me to one of my first facts, Portland is the best known city in Oregon. Well, I could stop there, or I could look to confirm my assumption and find myself wrong...Salem is the capital of Oregon, not Portland.  The difference between today and 20 years ago is that I would have needed ready access to reference books(Atlas/Encyclopedia) OR I had it memorized. Today, I whip my iPhone out and ask Siri and she answers me with not just the answer but its population, a city map, local time, current weather, median home price, unemployment rate, total sales tax rate, etc. - Siri's information came from WolframAlpha.

Tell me that doesn't change your classroom.

Try changing the question to "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon?" and see what happens.  This time, instead of immediately responding with the answer, Siri responds with "Would you like me to search the web for "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon"?.  I say yes and Siri politely and efficiently performs a Google search for me.  Here are the first three hits:

1. Portland Oregon Sucks
2. Why isn't Oregon a slam dunk for President Obama?
3. 'The Real World: Portland' isn't about the city... - Oregon Live

Those hits don't sound like they have the answer I am looking for but I can read through it just in case(I might just learn something doing so even if it doesn't have the answer). By the way, the 6th response is NSFS (Not Safe for School): Vagabond Tales: Welcome to Portland, Strip Club Capital USA.

This is a much deeper question.  My search for the answer will lead me to learning much more than the name of the capital.  I will learn Oregon's location on a map, Portland's location on a map, the capital of Oregon is Salem, how far Salem is from Portland, and somewhere in Oregon's history, I will learn why Salem is the capital, and not Portland. This is deep learning.

Now, imagine your classroom asking "Why isn't Portland the capital of Oregon?" without the digital tools. How does that change the dynamics when the child can't use digital tools to find the deeper answer to the harder question?

Students KNOW where answers are! They KNOW if they can get to the "Google" they can find something!  They KNOW they can do it ANYTIME!  

It is not challenging to give the simple answer.  The simple answer is found in shallow questions.

We have to build questions that Google can't answer and frankly, it isn't all that hard.

Sugata Mitra's SOLE Toolkit is a great and simple way to get started. You don't need a 1:1 laptop program.  

Teachers, you knew the future would happen and it happened to you. So here is the big question: What DID you think the classroom of the future would look like?

Google and Your Memory

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Problem with Content

I think that there may be a misperception out there among the general public that Google has the answer to everything. The paradox seems to be that there still exists a misperception out there by many parents that education doesn't need to change even though we have Google.

Google has become, by far, one of the most valuable resources mankind has ever experienced. It is probably the most often used tool on the Internet and there is some evidence that it is effecting the way our brain works which would undoubtably effect the way we learn.

Herein lies the problem with content. Google is a wilderness.  A jungle of information that is vast and seemingly infinite.  Ask your self this question: When was the last time you did a search on Google and found only one page of results?  

There are vast reaches of information out there in this wild place and we can quickly search for anything we want. Period. Unpackaged. Raw. Potentially healthy or poisonous. Wrong or right. Complete and incomplete.

The Problem With Content. http://www.reshapinglearning.com
In our education system, prior to the last decade, we relied on carefully curated content housed in scrolls, books, libraries, or schools.  There was a great need to memorize correct content because we didn't always have access to those things. If we needed that information we had it, in our brain, as long as we were a good learner and followed the process of learning and memorizing.

Google has taken away the book covers, the walls, the shelves.

Schools are now faced with the new dilemma of ensuring our children are consuming quality content, not just any content.  They are faced with the need for carefully curated content that is accurate and what is needed when the learner needs it. There is a mad dash by the educational industrial complex to organize content into the one place.

By providing the access to quality content, schools feel safer in ensuring their students have access to the correct material, at least until they leave school and use whatever they think gets them the best result.

To me, this is one of the many unique challenges facing education today - the push and pull between un-curated and curated content.  Are we developing the skills needed for our graduates to know how to be good curators?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekly Roundup - Week of March 25, 2013

It is a short week for me - tomorrow is Good Friday and we have the day off.  Here is my first Weekly Roundup. I hope to have a quick roundup of little things I have seen that I find interesting and think maybe you would as well.

Happy Easter - may you know peace and forgiveness

Education 3.0 - I've seen it around but haven't paid much attention to it.  This week I did. I think its a great overview of the thoughts going around the education community now.  If you haven't paid much attention to it before now, take a look. I really need to give props to the Tweep that posted it this week but I can't find it. I will do a better job of that from now on!  HERE is just one of the many sites and blog posts on the subject I Googled.

The 21-Day #TwitterGuide4Beginners Challenge - The great Carl Hooker(#mrhooker) from Eanes ISD decided he would just tweet a 21-day guide for Twitter beginners.  I had the pleasure of watching it as it went down and it was so much fun I missed most of Downton Abbey that night.  What you get is an easy guide to jump into the fresh waters of the Twitterverse.  Have fun! (DISCLAIMER: This was actually from last week but since I wasn't doing the Weekly Roundup last week I have to catch up)

Sugata Mitra - That is all.  If you don't know who is, you should. Put him on your list.

Aurasma - The most awesome cool app of the week to play with. It caused the most conversation in the office and at home about the cool factor and its purpose.  Another one to check out and play with. HERE is the link to the App Store.

The Big Bang Theory Bloopers ALL SEASONS! - Crank up the Apple TV, change the source on your big ol' flat screen and spend 38 minutes and 7 seconds laughing.  BAZINGA!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Khan Academy is the New Encyclopedia Britannica

I love Khan Academy. It is such a great resource! But I have been wondering about it for a few months. 

Khan Academy's website states: "We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere." They do a great job of providing lessons and they even provide some tools to track learning but do they or can they truly provide an education?

I am more inclined to think of it as a new type of encyclopedia.  

When I was growing up I would spend hours with our World Book Encyclopedias. I would browse and read and I think that I learned quite a bit.  Pretty much everything that I needed to reference was in there and it was one of the most valuable resources I had access to at the time....AND I liked it.  But I don't think it provided my education.

Khan Academy is a great encyclopedia of mini-lessons.  Very comprehensive, especially in the area of math. All the way from basic arithmetic to advanced mathematics, it provides a valuable resource we can use to learn math. It is continually growing and I am sure that other areas will be just as robust in the future.  But, lets not confuse it with an education.

Khan Academy is a great example of where we are in education.  There is great content and there is great access to content, but in what context are we putting the content and access?

Wikipedia says "education in its general sense is a form of learning in which knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research, or simply through autodidacticism"(learning on your own).  Learning on your own is where we get hung up on innovation. Everyone thinks that the future of education is self-directed learning.  If we rely too heavily on self-direction, significant gaps in society's collective intelligence will appear.  

As we move further into the 21st century we tend to believe there are easy replacements to our education system. Something we can just switch to.  I think some might believe that Khan Academy is  a good example one of those replacements. We have to be careful that we don't replace an education with a reference tool.

I think Sugata Mitra rightly points out that there is a need for encouragement.  Some kind of intrinsic motivation needs to happen in self-drected learning.  However, to believe that one simply places the responsibility for learning into the hands of small children and walks away will not yield the results needed for a full education.  We need that mentor piece.  The granny that is in awe of the child's learning.

I still love it. 

Monday, March 25, 2013


I have really been wanting to have some SOLE since watching Sugata Mitra's TED Talk. It may be because I have an eleven year old that would have a blast being part of a Self Organized Learning Environment.  

What is great about the TED Talk page is the link to the Download the SOLE Toolkit. The toolkit gives some great instructions on how to create your own SOLE at school or at home.  While reading it I really thought about how this could be tested in an after school activity or at a public library or some other gathering place.

The instructions ask for groups of 8 to 12 year olds divided up in groups of four.  These groups then have some pretty loose instructions to answer very big questions like "Why do humans breathe?" or "What is irony".  

I especially like this example from the Toolkit:
Mitra, A. (2013). SOLE: How to Bring Self-Organized Learning Environments to Your Community.
Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/pages/prizewinner_sugata_mitra
I understand that there is great pressure on students, teachers and schools to perform to standardized tests and to learn standards set by their governments but there has to be a way to instill the love of learning in each child.  This process seems to give children the freedom they need to learn on their own and could prove a great opportunity to build some skills and knowledge along the way.

Your instructions:
2. Download the SOLE Toolkit
3. Email Sugata if you want to be part of the School in the Cloud Mentor Network.
4. Let me know what happens!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Market, Technology and Education

I just read a great editorial from Jonathan Nalder on the Australian MacTalk blog titled Is Education the cartel that technology like the iPad will break next? After attending the SXSWedu event a couple of weeks ago, his article was perfectly timed to get my brain storming about what it means to be in this time of rapid technology innovation combined with the school reform rhetoric that has been brewing over the past few years.

I encourage you to read his editorial before you go much further, but the gist is whether a tool like the iPad will break educational system cartel much like technology like the Internet, the iPod and iTunes broke the music cartel. He also makes the point that technology can have a similar impact on other cartels, such as journalism and newspapers.

In my head I replaced the word cartel with system. We have several industrial systems in place across the world and technology is certainly being disruptive in many of them. For example, the energy industry is seeing rapid advancement in energy sources. We seem to be reaching a point where, much like music, we may soon be able to pick and choose our sources of energy. You soon could have affordable alternatives to traditional electrical production such as solar, wind, gas, etc. The dominance of the existing electrical system, particularly in the U.S., has great influence over how much choice consumers have and they can control the energy market. But the big question is when and what will the technological breakthrough be that will give the consumer a viable alternative. As with the music industry, a single announcement from a single company can disrupt and forever change and shape our electrical system.

The educational system has its own, very unique challenge that other industries will never face: a seven year old child. I choose the seven year old child as a prime example of where a person is in a very critical time in their development. By the time a person is seven years old they have been in the educational system a couple of years, they understand learning, they are still eager, they absorb knowledge and skills like a sponge. But, at the same time, they are naive, dependent on adults for survival, and lacking the experience and intelligence needed to grow intellectually without some real assistance.

These seven year old children, and there are millions of them in the U.S., are really holding up the educational market place. This market place really wants access to that seven year old as a consumer and the educational system is not really budging.  Why? 

In the future, education will be more about process than about access and content. Access and content have become almost free in the last couple of years. As more and more smart mobile devices get in the hands of parents and students, the sky is the limit for access and content.

Content is practically free for educational systems.  There is hardly any content that you cannot find, for free, to learn. With unlimited capacity, the Internet has proven to be the greatest storehouse of information the world will ever know.  

Access is where the money is being made. The Web, software, apps, online learning, tablets, laptops, desktops, smartphones, and who knows what else are the doors to the student consumer.  They allow the student to get access to all that content.  Entrepreneurs know that if they can build the right tool, then they get access to the consumer. 

The real issue then becomes more about the process of delivery. There are very practical issues that have to be addressed. For example, modern western culture does not have a place for millions of seven year olds to spend their day while the parents go to their work. While the workplace is transforming, will it ever reach a place where all parents will have the time to be with their children during the day?

Also, while my 11-year old boy has the ability to learn anything he wants, what is the guide and motivation to learn what he needs? For that matter, what our society needs him to learn?

So, the content is in place. The access is almost in place. But we have not delivered on the process. I don't think anyone is really close to figuring that out. I think it is one of the reasons the traditional classroom and school has such a strong hold. It is a process and delivery method that has a proven track record to guarantee results. The track record and results may not be what we need now but no one has really delivered a real and present alternative to the existing system.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Group and Individual Accountability

By Lorna Franke, McCarroll Middle School - Texas History

An issue I have experienced in my own classroom, as our district began using the PBL model, was that only some of my students were giving it their all for their group to be successful on group projects. In other words, one or two students per group were doing all of the work, and the entire group, including those who weren't working, was getting credit. I had some upset students, angry parents, and personal frustration about this, because I didn't know how to make them all want to give 100%. I didn't know how to hold them accountable. No matter what I did, whether it was walking around the room and getting them on task, or pulling them out individually and as a group to refocus them, nothing was helping those who weren't motivated to become more into working for the group.

I was frustrated. I went to my administrative team, and we discussed some ways that I could improve this in my classroom, but I left the conversation, still wondering how I was going to get 100% participation from all of my students, no matter their learning style. I had tried placing them in groups where students had different abilities, learning/leadership styles, and levels of learning. Nothing was helping. Then…my principal sent me a magic article from "the edupreneur" about using contracts in the PBL classroom. It changed our classroom. I have pasted the link below:

I went back to my class the next day with a task. I asked them what they thought about our productivity groups, why they weren't working as well as they should be, and what we should do about it. They had the same idea I did. We wrote a contract. They came up with the terms. They came up with consequences for breach of contract. They did it all. 

We then set up procedures for class:
  1. Every day, groups will log the work done by each member of the group. If someone didn't participate as much as everyone else, they lose 10 points for that day. 
  2. At the end of the week, the logs will be turned in, and each person will receive their weekly grade. They can make as much as 100 points for the week and as low as 60.
After signing the contract and completing the work logs every week for a few months now, I have seen a huge increase in productivity, as well as a large improvement in group member participation. My formerly unhappy parents are happy with the accountability for the group members, and my students are able to accept responsibility when they are not participating. So…my moral to this story is this…contracts in any cooperative learning classroom are the way to go. :)

You can download a PDF of my contract HERE

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