Making: A course adjustment!

Posted by Beth Stewart on June 18, 2015

Cartoon of helmsman at wheel
Image courtesy of vectorolie at

Standards, assessments, and skills dominate conversations in and around schools. These topics stick with us even when we get together to socialize outside the school environment. As we have continued to research how to help students “get it,” we have extended our conversations to things like engagement, relevance, and even rigor. We do all this in the name of preparing students for their future.

Certainly, there is a place for such conversations. We are well intentioned professionals that only want the best for students. We live and breath learning. Many of us are so addicted to education that it consumes our every waking minute, but I would pose that we have missed the boat! That ship sailed from a different port, in the middle of the night, and we did not see it leave. But never fear, that ship has lights and many  of us have it in our sites. All that is left to do is to turn our heads toward it and chart our course.

How can we possibly catch this fast moving ship? We need to change where we have been going, to refocus not on what adults believe is essential but on areas that excite and create passion in students. Am I suggesting that we throw out everything we have worked toward for the last 100 years? Absolutely not. I am proposing we tweak our rudders and plot a new course, different from the one we are now on. By changing course we can create a powerful workforce like no other in the world. We need to teach through passion. We need to hone in on the interest of students. We need to design curriculum around the student instead of the fitting the student into the curriculum. When we take this approach, we have a great opportunity to create a nation of “makers.”

What is a maker, and why do we need them? Makers are the steam in our engine. They’re the way we will catch that fast moving ship. While various technologies such as 3-D printers are important to this movement, it is not all about the technology. Being a maker is about creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem solving. It is Project-based learning on steroids. It can certainly involve technology, but that is only one piece. In May 2012, Dale Doughtery stated,

To build, to make, to create is something that’s in all of us, but especially in every child. However, like creativity itself, children need the opportunity to explore making and develop their capabilities through practice. Young makers need access to tools, mentors and other people who enjoy making things. That’s how children grow as makers and become lifelong learners. When children and teens make things, they are having fun but they are also engaged in learning. They are learning to realize their own creative ideas, to solve real problems and to overcome failure and frustration in the process. When they say proudly to others: “Look what I made!”, they’ve become a maker.*

The paradigm shift for educators will be great. Being a maker does not fit inside a nice little box or within the context of a 40 minute period. Making is an exciting, cross-curricular approach that must rest within the passions of the students it serves. Teachers and administrators will have to step aside and let creativity run rampant in the classroom and building. It may be loud or quiet, neat or messy, tiny or huge.

With making, the sky is only limited by the vision of the maker and the question that is posed. As schools embrace the “Maker Movement,” how questions are worded to students will be at the core. Instead of “build a sled,” the question becomes “design something that will transport me down a snowy, icy hill. I’d like to go fast because I’m a little bit of a daredevil.” This type of open-ended question allows students to think beyond a sled and allows them to be creative. Isn’t that what we want for all our students? I believe we all want this type of success and passion for all our students—to be able to think, to create, to do, to make!


*Doughtery, Dale. “Making Is Learning.” Maker Education Initiative. MakerEd, 15 May 2012. Web. 16 June 2015. <>.


Veteran Teachers: Developing a growth mindset

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on April 30, 2015

Drawing of brain sparking to reprsent Recently, I have been able to observe some exemplary models of 21st Century teaching practices and it reminded me of two things. First, many of our veteran teachers have instructional practices and knowledge about how students learn that far outweigh any challenges they may have with learning new computing skills. Second, it really isn’t about the technology integration; it is about engaging learners and creating educational environments where students learn, and thrive.

In one classroom, I observed a Biology lesson. On the board was a prompt requiring students to draw a model of how DNA was involved in the process of protein construction. While the students were drawing on their IPADs, the teacher circulated checking on homework and entering grades from his phone. The teacher selected one student to mirror her drawing on the screen at the front of the classroom. The teacher led a class discussion reviewing protein construction and connected the learning to student’s healthy eating habits. Around the classroom, there were physical models students had constructed of DNA. In one corner of the classroom, a group of students were getting ready to present a “DNA Rap” they had written the lyrics to and produced using Garage Band.

In another classroom, an independent study student was using padlet to create a presentation explaining the fundamental economic questions. The plan was that other students could add to the Economics Padlet creating a resource for students to collaborate on and benefit from even if they were not able to meet in a physical space.

Another teacher had students creating car models which they raced in a competition. Students used the Internet to research the shape and design of their model. They made measurements and computed rate, time and distance based on their models performance. The activity was structured so that each student had a role, there were steps which needed to be completed along the way, and there were time limits on how long the steps could take.

In each of these instances teachers used well established instructional practices such as checking for understanding, formative and summative assessment, student collaboration practices and project-based learning to engage learners and ensure that all students had multiple opportunities to master their learning objectives. The technology facilitated learning the concepts, but the point is these teachers had well developed instructional practices and they incorporated the technology into those practices.

Sometimes I think our veteran teachers hear that the skills they have been teaching and the teaching strategies they are using are irrelevant and out-of-date. They feel overwhelmed and defensive. Instead, I would like to propose that we help our most experienced teachers develop a growth mindset about technology by recognizing and celebrating the strengths they bring to the table.


Coding: The fifth “C”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on April 8, 2015

Let’s face it. When exposed to it, most students take to coding. I’ve observed this in class after class. Regardless of grade level, students love the creativity, the challenge, and the control they can have over coding. Maybe the appeal for some is tied to gaming, but still; can we just think about the benefits of coding and its ability to strengthen the skills of creativity and problem solving?

Teacher introducing coding to students in an elementary classroom
Introducing coding in an elementary classroom

Coding is a great way to make things happen. When programming, students can make a robot turn in circles, a dog dance across a screen, or a penguin traipse over a bridge. Creativity is about finding inventive and amazing ways to make things happen.

Coding does a great deal to teach the skills of discovery. Kids move from following directions to controlling those directions. Teachers who know how to tempt and activate interest in students start with a bit of directions, just enough to get students started, but not enough to help them finish an assignment. Skills and their development are important, not the end result. Liken it to coaching an athlete in the triple jump: you want them to know where to hit their plant foot on the board and how to project off the first landing, but the distance is less important in the beginning than the form.

Empowering students

Coding can also empower students. Coding can spin off into an interest in building programs, designing creative presentations, creating games, and more! The programming in coding becomes a form of expression, a way to communicate and hit yet another one of those “Four C’s” we profess as so important for the generation of kidlets in our classrooms.

Girls at computers working on a coding exercise
Girls code, too!

Students exploring their interests? Yes, another result of coding. In order to really build their knowledge, to explore creative license, students need to have the tools and permission to control their world. Creativity may be a mindset, but it is one built in coding. As I observed 2nd graders during their first coding lesson, their teacher pulled me aside. “See that boy right there? He’s been computer phobic for two years. Doesn’t like to interact with technology. Look at him now! He’s moving the dog through the maze and he’s jumping the rolling containers.” They can create, they can explore, they can even overcome challenges. Bring on the coding!

As the superintendent of a small, innovative and progressive school district, I believe we need to focus on the “Four C’s” and more—the fifth, coding! The jobs that will someday welcome today’s students will call on their ability to problem solve and think creatively. Here’s to creating a #FutureReady generation, whatever that future may hold.


Ten Things to Know About K-12 Students’ Digital Learning

Posted by Sandra Miller on March 27, 2015

Three students using ipads.
Photo by Lexie Flickinger.

Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” annual findings have been a guiding force in our educational world.  Here are ten key findings from the project’s most recent survey of 431,231 K-12 students nationwide (used by permission). You’ll want to be familiar with these!

1.  LEARNING VIA YOUTUBE. 40% of students are finding online videos to help with their homework and 28% say they regularly watch videos created by their teachers.  Not being able to access social media is the biggest barrier with using technology at school.

2.  STUDENTS ARE MOBILISTS! Personal access to mobile devices has reached several significant tipping points: 82% of 9-12th, 68% of 6-8th, and 46% of 3-5th graders are smartphone users now

3. MORE GAMES PLEASE. Almost two-thirds of students want to use digital games for learning at school. Why? Across all grades, students believe that games make difficult concepts easier to  understand. 67% say that using technology within learning increases their engagement and interest in the subject content.

4. STUDENTS WANT TO CODE! ESPECIALLY GIRLS! 53% say YES to coding as a class or after school activity with 1 in 5 being Very Interested in learning how to code. Amongst girls, 64% of 3-5th and 50% 6-8th graders want to code!

5. TEACHER – I HAVE A QUESTION! Students are regularly using digital tools outside of school to communicate with their teachers about schoolwork questions. 48% ask by email; 16% by texting.

6. TWEET-TWEET? 46% of 9-12th graders are Twitter users now—4 times more than in 2011, when only 11% were tweet-tweeting.

7.  I’LL TAKE MY LEARNING MOBILE. 75% of students think every student should have access to a mobile device during the school day to support learning. Many are already doing that! 58% are using their own smartphone for classwork. 47% are taking photos of class assignments or textbook pages.

8. TAKING MATH CLASS ONLINE. 42% of 6–8th graders say taking an online or virtual class should be a requirement for graduation. And what class would they like to take online? Math!

9. CHANGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA USE. Students are interacting less with tradition social networking sites—41% of students in grades 6-12 say they never use Facebook—but spending more time with content creation sites. 44% say they use YouTube all the time!

10. LAPTOP, TABLETS, SMARTPHONES, OH MY! GOODBYE 1:1! Different tasks = different tools! Laptops top students’ list for writing a report, taking online tests and working on group projects. Smartphones are #1 for connecting with teachers, accessing social media, and watching a video.

I read the list. Now what?

As you read through the list I’m sure you thought, “I should share this with my staff.” That’s easy! Download this colorful one-page summary and share it tomorrow.

Sharing the ten findings is a great step, but the challenge is how to move forward and act upon them. As educational leaders we see students bringing new technologies and new ways of learning into our schools and classrooms. Helping our teachers learn new technology based instructional techniques to meet these challenges requires time and energy, with modeling a key factor that every leader should remember.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So take time to learn just one new digital skill yourself. Select from websites that offer a variety of 2.0 tools. Demonstrate that tool for your teachers and give them time to try it out on a subject of their choice.  Learn together and continue building the digital toolbox for everyone. Here are some to check out.

Don’t forget to become a part of the PROJECT TOMORROW Speak Up Community. Hopefully your school or district has signed up to participate in the Annual Speak Up Surveys.  It is free. Surveys are  prepared for you, and your results reported back.  Click here for more information.



SAMR and Teacher Confidence: A confluence of models

Posted by Will Kimbley on February 20, 2015

As someone who works to assist educators with the integration of technology into instruction, I work with a wide variety of experience levels and skill sets. At times it is a challenge to meet all their needs. Nevertheless, just as in any K-12 classroom, you accept people where you find them and seek to help them move forward. But how can we best do that?

Research has given us a couple of models that can serve as a lens to examine this and assist us in formulating strategies. The first, and probably wider known is the SAMR model from Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

SAMR model diagram
SAMR model. Click photo for explanation by Dr. Puentedura.

At its base level, technology is used as a Substitute. If you put a worksheet on an iPad, you have a very expensive worksheet. My own ed tech journey included a time when I was really proud that I had figured out how to scan student worksheets and turn them into fill-able PDFs that they could fill out on their laptops. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a waste of good technology, not to mention bad pedagogy.

Writing a paper with a word processor can be seen as Augmentation. Students can change font sizes, use spell check, and even email their work. Modification comes in when online collaborative word processors such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive are utilized. Students can communicate and collaborate in the same document in real time on separate devices transforming the task significantly. If you consider adding in something like Skype or Google Hangout, students can connect with classrooms literally around the world to collaborate on a document. Add in Google Translate and even the language barrier is not insurmountable and you can start talking about true Redefinition—a task that would be impossible without the technology.

Moving classroom technology use up through the levels of this model is an important task for technology leaders. Not every task needs to be at the top of the model, but why does so much technology use tend to be mere Substitution or, at best, Augmentation? For example, two of the most common tools I see are interactive whiteboards and document cameras. Schools spend quite a bit of money on document cameras that are used to show a teacher filling out a worksheet or solving a math problem on paper. Interactive whiteboards costing thousands of dollars are often used no differently than a regular whiteboard, and never touched by students. Why are many teachers stuck in substitution mode?

Teacher confidence comes into play

I believe much of the reason has to do with a teacher’s confidence in using technology. Mark Anderson  developed a flowchart examining teacher confidence based on the work of Dr. Ellen Mandinach and Dr. Hugh Cline.

Anderson model of teacher confidence

You can see that at the base level, teachers are in Survival mode, often afraid of breaking technology. As someone who was around when personal home computers were first introduced. I quite understand this fear. I remember when putting in your floppy disks in the wrong order could mess you up for hours. Part of my job is to give them some training and practice and let them see that today’s Web 2.0 technologies are not as fragile thus instilling confidence and moving up into the next stage of Mastery.

Where teachers begin to have Impact is when students also are using technology. To quote Alan November, “The person doing the work is doing the learning.” When technology is teacher-centric, students are left out of the experience. It is also worth mentioning that the Impact stage says “using tech effectively.” How effective is it to only use an iPad to practice math facts, or a laptop only to take a reading quiz? Innovation comes into play when technology becomes second nature. Its no longer a question of how to fit technology into a unit. Effective technology use is a matter of course in everyday lesson design.

What I noticed when looking at these two models is a confluence where one helps explain the other. In many cases, especially early on in technology integration, technology is used as a substitute because teachers are in Survival mode and seek the comfort of a familiar environment. It is after they have received some training and feel a sense of Mastery that they can begin to move into Augmentation and beyond.

Building confidence

Our role as leaders is to help build teacher confidence with the use of technology so that they can move beyond mere Substitution. We can do this in a number of ways.

  • Provide them with working, effective tools.
  • Provide enough tech support; teachers don’t have time to troubleshoot on their own.
  • Provide sufficient devices so students can use them reasonably. You don’t need to have 1:1, but one iPad in a classroom is not technology integration.
  • Ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for reliable and readily available internet access. If teachers know the tools, infrastructure, and support are reliable, it builds their confidence. When it is not, quite the opposite is true.
  • Bring in quality professional development—hands-on, ongoing, not just sit and get.
  • Offer release time to observe exemplary classrooms and to collaborate with one another.

Lastly, give them permission to try, and permission to fail. Technology integration can be messy and fraught with failure. Just like learning to walk, falls and missteps should be expected. Support your teachers, build their confidence, so they can effectively use these essential tools for teaching and learning. Keep in mind they are teaching students who grew up with, and will go into, a world full of technology. Don’t let the classroom be a technology free zone.

See follow-up resources from the TICAL database.