Category Archives: Technology

The LEGO model for edtech integration

medium_7588638570If you’ve spent any time reading about the intersection of education and technology, you’ve probably heard about the SAMR model, originally developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.  It suggests that teachers’ use and integration of technology follows a progression from substitution to augmentation and then to modification and finally redefinition.  The general idea is that teachers will move from doing what they currently do with the addition of tech to reinventing their practices to doing entirely new things because of the tech tools.  It’s a concept that anyone who has provided support and professional development to teachers has experienced.

With all of that rolling around in my head, I recently looked up from my laptop to see my own kids playing with their LEGOs.  Watching them build, unbuild, and rebuild with these ridiculously over-priced, yet wonderfully open-ended little bricks reminded me of the way in which I’ve observed teachers using and integrating technology into their practice.  It occurred to me that the way kids develop as LEGO “users” mirrors the way teachers mature into technology-infused-educators.  Here is the soon-to-be trademarked “LEGO Model for EdTech Integration”:

STAGE 1: Watching Dad Build

This is the stage at which the child may simply lack the dexterity to snap bricks together, or might not be able to understand the three-dimensionality of the images in the instructions.  Either way, their contribution to the construction process is minimal, but they will gladly play with (and break) the finished product.

In the classroom, this is when a teacher needs the support of tech savvy colleagues and/or students to figure out how to use a tech tool.  She is likely to become easily frustrated, especially when that support isn’t present.  Many (most?) educators never leave this stage.

STAGE 2: Build and Glue

At this stage, my son and I would build LEGO models together, although I would be doing most of the work.  This was a fun stage, but it was heartbreaking when the finished model fell into pieces soon thereafter and he would bring it to me to fix… every five minutes.  My solution to this problem–and I truly regret resorting to such a “nuclear option”–was to use super glue to connect the pieces permanently.

I see this stage of teacher development when teachers learn one way to use a tool and are unable to adjust to differences or fix problems.  They can become quite adept at performing one task with a device or app, but can’t apply those skills to new situations.

STAGE 3: Following Instructions Independently

I was really proud when my son (and later, his younger sister) were able to follow the instructions that come with a LEGO set and build a model on their own.  To me, it was a demonstration of focus, hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail.  It clearly wasn’t a very creative adventure, but definitely successful.

Teachers indicate that they are at this stage when they can dive into a new tool or technique and figure it out by themselves.  Despite not being comfortable creatively thinking of new uses for the tool, these teachers can often troubleshoot minor issues related to the handful of ways that they know how to use a tool.  They can even demonstrate the tool and its use for others to duplicate.

STAGE 4: Building Original Creations with the Bricks

This is the stage that my son has now reached in his own LEGO development.  He will pull out a bin of assorted bricks and begin connecting them to match a pattern in his head.  He spend large amounts of time experimenting with different arrangements to get the visual effect and structural strength that he seeks.  In many ways, the bricks become just a medium, similar to a sketchbook or lump of clay.  He doesn’t care so much that they are LEGO-branded, as much as he wants to have a sufficiently diverse collection of them to make his imagined constructs come to life.

This is clearly the ultimate stage of teacher tech maturity, as well.  It’s a stage that I would love to see every educator attain, although so few (myself included, much of the time) have done so.  At this stage, a teacher thinks first of the learning outcomes that she wishes to achieve.  Only then does she choose the tech tool that will help her students reach that goal in the most engaging and effective way.   The tool (or app or website or gadget) is simply a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

Just as with the SAMR model, which Puentedura intended as a way to assess and promote tech integration in education, these stages exist on a ladder that moves teachers in the direction of better teaching.  The goal for educators, schools, and larger organizations is to shift instruction in the direction of transformation.  And that requires a serious commitment to putting quality instruction ahead of whiz-bang novelty.

What LEGO are you at?  What would it take to move you forward?
photo credit: Robiwan_Kenobi via photopin cc

Podcasts: Cliff or Runway?

podcast_iconI’ve been a fan and active consumer of podcasts for many years.  Over the past eight months, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and so my interest in podcasts, especially as a free way to enjoy content from some smart and funny people, has grown.  They can really help a 5-hour drive fly by.

For the sake of clarity, when I refer to podcasts I’m talking about audio programs hosted on the internet that are automatically kept current on your device.  Using a podcasts app (my favorite is Castro, but Pocket Casts and Instacast are pretty snazzy), you can subscribe to a show (or discover one that fits your interests) and new episodes magically show up in the app.  It’s like custom radio with no commercials*.

(I know that some folks will point out that there are video podcasts (vodcasts?) available, too.  But for me those are useless.  I need something to listen to while driving, walking the dog, or doing the grocery shopping.  Any content that requires me to look at the screen is not solving any problem for me.)

But, the thing that I keep thinking about is that podcasts have been around for awhile, and yet most people (outside of a nerdy core of users) don’t listen to them.  Despite their great content, convenient availability, and more widespread knowledge of their existence, they have not taken off with the non-techie crowd.  I often compare podcasts to RSS feeds in this regard.  That’s another tool that I use to consume content, and one that has been around for years.  Yet, very few people make use of them.  That scares me a bit because lack of adoption sometimes leads to services and products disappearing.

So, naturally, I felt some measure of hope when I listened to the latest episode of “The Talk Show” in which the guest host was Mike Monteiro who leads the Mule Radio Syndicate of podcasters.  His take, which is obviously biased toward a positive fate for podcasts, was that we are on the cusp of something great.  As soon as the hardware and software evolve to the make consumption easier and more seamless–they used the example of Apple’s new CarPlay in-dash interface–people will begin enjoying this form of entertainment in huge numbers.

So, which is it?  Are podcasts getting set to take off?  Or, are they heading toward a drop-off?  What do you think?

*Commercials in podcasts are similar to public radio: short promotions for products that usually appeal to me.  When they appear, they are less than a minute long and happen only 1-2 times per hour.

BONUS:  Here are my favorite podcasts right now

10 Twitter accounts that make me better

Disclaimer: I completely stole this idea from Justin Tarte (who would be #11 on this list)


2. Twitter___Search_-_shawn_cornally

3. Twitter___Search_-_plugusin

4. Twitter___Search_-_mark_samberg

5. Twitter___Search_-_larry_ferlazzo

6. Twitter___Search_-_grant_wiggins


8. Twitter___Search_-_aaron_slutsky

9. Steven_W__Anderson__web20classroom__on_Twitter

10. Nicholas_Provenzano__thenerdyteacher__on_Twitter


My Work-from-Home Rules

My newly renovated "work cave"
My newly renovated “work cave”

My work environment has recently changed in a HUGE way.  After 12 years as a classroom teacher, I am now working from home and traveling all over the state working with teachers.  It’s that first location–my home–that has really inspired me to create a set of personal expectations.  I’ve found, in just a few weeks, that sticking to these rules makes my time much more productive.

As a disclaimer, these rules are my own and they work for me.  Others may find these too restrictive or no structured enough.  If that’s you, tell me in the comments.

  1. Stick to a schedule.  I decided early on to get up each morning at the same time and end my work at the same time each day.  I find that this keeps at bay the temptation to sleep in and waste a perfect morning.
  2. Exercise.  I have never been a guy who gets regular exercise.  Now, however, I can’t use any of the reasons that I once did because I make my own schedule.  So, I make a point of getting out of bed at the same time I used to when I was going to school.  I spend the first hour with some physical activity (walking, jogging, a seven-minute workout, etc.) and then I take a shower and start my day.
  3. Eat lunch.  During my most recent year of teaching, I often skipped lunch because I just didn’t have time.  Now, my biggest problem is that I snack a lot.  To combat this, I started a habit of taking a break at lunchtime, going downstairs to the kitchen, and making myself some lunch.  It gives me a nice Facebook/Twitter/feed-reading break, too.
  4. Work the Pomodoro.  I recently heard about the Pomodoro Technique from a friend, and I’ve started using it to keep me productive.  In essence, I work on a task for 20 minutes, and then I take a mandated 5 minute break.  I decide how many “pomodoros” each task will take and I try to complete it in less.  It actually works.
  5. Kiss the wife.  Okay, not everyone gets this perk.  My wife runs a daycare out of our home during the day, so I generally avoid leaving my “work cave” when I have a lot to do.  But when I complete a big task, or finish a phone call/video conference, I usually take a walk downstairs and steal a smooch from the Mrs.  It keeps me grounded.  And, I don’t think that she minds, either.

I’m sure that list will grow as I learn more of the pitfalls of working from home, but my level of productivity and sanity are stabilizing in a good place, thanks to the structure that these rules bring to my workplace.

What’s your system?


Curators and their Audience

curationThis is a just a rough “brain dump” of some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head.  I’d love some feedback from the greater minds in my Personal Learning Network.

I am constantly reminding my students, especially when they ask me a fact-based question, that we are living in a world in which the accumulation of facts is neither possible not necessary.  The volume of knowledge is expanding at ridiculous rates, and our sense of education needs to adapt to this reality.

We are–more than ever before–in the business of teaching students to manage information.  We are training them to evaluate, select, index, and otherwise organize information.  Ignoring the “stranded on a desert island” scenario that many older folks like to throw around, today’s citizens will never be far from the Internet and its overflowing fountain of facts.  Therefore, we are better served to teach them the skills they need to make sense of facts, not to memorize them. Continue reading Curators and their Audience

More Presentation Slides

This month, I am presenting some educational technology workshops to fellow science teachers in my district.  Here are the slide decks:

Updating my Master Science Notebook Online [My Workflow]

Inspired by the generous sharing of my friend, Russ Goerend, I’ve decided to start an occassional series here on the blog.  I plan to share some of my current practices with two goals in mind.  First, I hope that some of what I describe will help others to streamline what they do.  Second, I would like feedback about how I can improve some of the processes I use on a regular basis.  Here’s the start:

2013-05-08I have been using Livescribe smart pens with my students for the past couple of years.  The newest pen, the Sky, has a few tricks that I really find useful.  Most importantly, it creates pencasts (in Evernote) that are HTML 5 and playable on iPads.  But, I still keep my stable of Pulse smart pens around for lots of reasons.  The older pens still work with a desktop application called (appropriately enough) Livescribe Desktop.  This program allow you to manage all of the pages and pencasts that your pen has stored.  If you are not familiar with Livescribe pens, stop now and go read about them.

Beginning several years ago, my goal was to help my students learn how to take notes during class by taking notes with them under my document camera.  This worked well, except that students who were absent (physically or just mentally) or who lost their notebooks (a frustratingly common occurrence with my students) didn’t have an easy way to get caught up.  More important for me, however, was that I had eager parents who wanted to support out classroom learning at home, and they needed a way to see these notes.  Sometimes it was to help their kids get back on the ball, and sometimes it was to provide some remediation at home.  No smart teacher wants to hold back on tools that will help a parent be more supportive, right?

So, I developed this system, and you can check out the final product here.  The necessary ingredients are as follows:

  1. A Livescribe Pulse or Echo smart pen.  Cost (refurbished) = $40. You can probably do this with another capture device, even a camera.  Figure that out on your own.
  2. An older Dropbox account (created before October 4, 2012).  Cost = free. Newer accounts no longer include a “Public” folder, but you can probably work around it by creating links to share content.  It won’t be as easy, but it will work.
  3. A website where you post content.  Cost = free.  This could be a blog, a Weebly site, an edmodo group, or anything similar.

First, a few caveats.  I don’t record the audio of my lessons as pencasts for lots of reasons that include privacy, digital storage space, and self-consciousness.  I use the smart pen to create a simple, static PDF of the page that I’ve written (with input from the class) as we take notes.  This process also requires that, every day or two, you connect your pen to your computer and spend about 5 minutes updating the Master Notebook.  If this is not something that you are willing to do, then it doesn’t work.  That said, here is the process:

  1. Capture what you write in your Master Notebook.  Using a Livescribe Single Subject notebook, which costs about $4 and last about a semester, turn on your smart pen and write your notes.  It doesn’t matter how many pages or how long it takes.
  2. Connect your smart pen to your computer and launch Livescribe Desktop (if it doesn’t launch automagically).  The pen will sync and you’ll see all of the pages in your current notebook.
  3. Highlight the pages that you wish to put together into one “notebook”.  My students have frequent notebook checks and the online Master Notebook only shows the pages since the last check (although I leave up previous sections, as well).Screenshot_6_27_13_8_19_AM
  4. Print these pages as a PDF.  On a Mac, this is simple because every application can Print to PDF, but in the Windows version of Livescribe Desktop you can Export the files as a PDF.
  5. Save the PDF to the Public subfolder of your Dropbox folder on your computer.  I strongly recommend a sub-subfolder called “Master Notebook”, and that you name the file after the date on which you updated it.  All files placed in Dropbox’s Public folder have predictable URLs that can be shared so that others can access some of your files.Screenshot_6_27_13_8_25_AM
  6. Get the URL of your saved file by right-clicking on the file in the Public folder.  Later, as you update this file, you can skip this step because the URL changes in a predictable way.Screenshot_6_27_13_8_29_AM-2
  7. Go to your website of choice and paste that URL as a link to your Master Notebook.  In most programs, you can have text that reads “Current Master Notebook” but make it be a hyperlink to your PDF.

That’s it.  The final product can be updated very easily.  Each day, after my students go home, I repeat steps #1-3.  Then, I just update the link on my website (…/2013-05-08.pdf becomes…/2013-05-09.pdf).  Note: I’ve found that it you simply save the PDF with the same name every day (masternotebook.pdf, or something similar) that most browsers will not recognize that it is updated and will display an old cached version of the PDF.  Giving it a new name forces the newest version to load, and helps everyone know how recently it was updated.

Have an idea for making this system better? Please share in the comments!  Use other tools for this same purpose?  Let me know!