Magnificent Seven Websites to Support 21st Century Staff Development

Posted by Bob Blackney on September 18, 2014

Magnificent Seven movie poster
The Magnificent Seven is a classic movie released in 1960. Click the image and check it out!

I know that you have been to one, probably several.  I’m talking about a workshop focused on changing classroom instruction, using the Internet, having students use technology for learning, and changing the teaching paradigm. In an age when everyone is connected everywhere, the only place that people are not connected is the classroom. Perhaps you’ve led such a workshop. Regardless, you know the workshop.

Yet, how is this paradigm-changing message delivered? Usually it’s done by means of whole group lecture, typically with a bad slide show that does not model media literacy. This needs to change!

If we want to get workshop participants excited and motivated to change, we need our workshops to exemplify the 21st century teaching and learning that we advocate. Seeing is believing! Experiencing is understanding. Professional development needs to model 21st century teaching so teachers and staff become motivated and engaged. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you seek in the world.” It is time to walk the talk.

Here are seven websites that can be used in staff development to model 21st century teaching and learning. Each offers a free version for education, and is relatively easy to use. None require participants to have a computer and can be accessed with a smart phone. Since the vast majority of the members of every workshop have a smart phone, they can be easily integrated into a presentation.

Collaborize Classroom

This is a new website and has some great qualities that are not available in other websites. The one that I like is the “vote or suggest” option. It allows teachers or students to suggest solutions and have other participants comment on the suggested solution. Having teachers list the ways that they could use the information in their classrooms provides a number of alternatives to the other members of the group and allows the teacher who posted the idea to get feedback and ideas to improve their suggestion.

Today’s Meet

If you believe that everyone in the room has something to contribute, then using Today’s Meet is a wonderful way to put that into practice. This is a great site to use as a workshop back channel. By setting up a second projector and having it display your “Today’s Meet” page, participants can comment and ask questions as the workshop proceeds. If you need any help setting up and using this web site, watch this short video.


Classflow is a new web-based product from Promethean, the interactive white board maker. To use Classflow you do not have to use an interactive white board, a projector will work just fine. The presenter should plan to download the free App for their smart phone. It is available from the iTunes Store or Google Play. The app allows the presenter to take a picture on their smart phone or tablet and immediately post it for all to see on the projector. This replaces the old process of having groups work on chart paper and then post the charts. In a workshop, a group can work on a problem, list solutions, or draw a picture on a sheet of paper and the presenter can snap a quick picture and show the group. Additionally, you can use all the tools of an interactive whiteboard to annotate or add ideas to the picture from the computer that is attached to the projector. There is much more to this website, but I will leave you to discover it yourself. There are many support videos and resources on the website, but here is a video on getting the Classflow teacher app.


This is a website and an app combo that is used to create a high-tech scavenger hunt, or “GooseChase.” You use the website to devise tasks for the teams of GooseChasers to compete. Teams of GooseChasers use the smartphone app to take photos documenting their accomplishment of a task. These tasks can be silly, or they can be attached to workshop material. For example, you might ask teams to take a photo of their team each holding a fifth grade Common Core writing standard, or take a photo of the entire team next to a classroom poster of PBIS guidelines. The goal of the teams is not to do everything on the task list, but to pick tasks they can do in the time provided. Generally, you do not give them enough time to complete all the tasks. They select tasks from the list and each task has a different point value. The team with the most points wins, but everyone has a great time and reviews the material, skills or content that was included in the workshop.

Infuse Learning

Infuse Learning allows you to construct quizzes that participants can take on their smart phones. You can select from multiple choice, fill in, open answer, sort in order, numeric and Likert Scale. There are other programs that do this also, but what I like about Infuse is that there is an option for drawing your answer. This allows you to ask workshop participants to represent their learning in a diagram showing the interrelationship of ideas. This is a great summative activity! Another feature that I really like is the ability to give the quiz takers immediate feedback on how they did. I frequently use this as a pre-test to open a professional development session. This does two things. First, participants are given information that they do not have all the answers on this topic and secondly, it piques their interest in the correct answers that show up during the training.


This is very similar to Infuse Learning above, but they do a nice job with pictures. I have made quizzes that are nothing but pictures from around the training area. I break up the group into teams and they use their smart phone to find the area that is shown in the picture. When they find it, I have hidden a QR code there. After viewing or reading the resource accessed by the QR code, they must answer a question from that resource before they get another picture. Kahoot allows you to mix up the questions for each team, which is important so they don’t all go to the same spot at once. This gets teams active and engaged in the content in a fun way.

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is great and has been used for some time. This is a polling resource that allows you to display the participants’ responses in real time. Participants use their cell phones to text their answers to true/false, multiple choice, order and open-ended questions. Recently they have added a real time word cloud feature that is great. Ask participants for three words that describe anything, from the skills they will need to develop or the differences between traditional math and Common Core math. In real time the text messages of their three words will be constructed into a word cloud that will clearly display the needs or priorities of the group.


Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.



A Learning Management System as a Game Changer

Posted by Gabe Soumakian on January 26, 2014

Picture of chess pieces with words Game CHANGERTransitioning to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment will require acquisition and application of 21st century skills by both teachers and students. As instructional technology and education leaders, it is our responsibility to promote a culture of innovation and collaboration among our staff, as well as to create the right systems drivers for teachers to share and build on their depth of knowledge during the transition towards the CCSS.

There are many online tools to enhance collaboration for social interaction and many tools to host online document and file storage that support an environment for teaching and learning. The challenge for a whole system approach is to organize the documents and PLC collaboration discussions that allow multiple teachers at multiple grade levels, building levels, and across district the level, to effectively communicate during their journey of CCSS implementation. For small schools and small districts, creating this culture of collaboration using freeware software such as Edmodo and other social media products works wells and may meet their needs. However, in larger districts, it becomes a challenge to manage the conversations, threaded discussions, and support collaborative environments that promote a cross-disciplinary and integrated approach that the CCSS require.

Once teachers have developed their curriculum, lessons, activities, assessments, and electronic learning resources, the decision then becomes where to host the materials to allow multiple layers of access among teachers and students. As schools move from hard copy textbooks to interactive ebooks, they will require a complex Learning Management System (LMS) to host these new online learning materials that provide multiple sources for collaboration housed within one product.

Initial investment will pay off in long run

An LMS system may require a costly initial investment, that districts may fund through the CA state’s new Common Core funding. The investment and ongoing costs will be offset in the long run by the value of a comprehensive LMS as a necessary tool for successful long term implementation of CCSS and project based learning. An advanced LMS has a bridge to a district student information system (SIS) that connects courses with students and teachers in a virtual learning space. Transitioning towards the use of an LMS for teaching and learning becomes one vehicle toward promoting a blended learning environment and supports the practice of 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. An LMS system, when used appropriately and effectively, becomes a whole systems approach to changing how teachers and students interact, supporting personalized learning- anytime with any device.

Now the challenge for superintendents and  boards will be to design a system to ensure equitable access to the LMS with mobile devices and equitable student accessibility to the LMS from home. When education achieves this major milestone, we will truly see a major transformation in education and the closing of the achievement gap. Let’s make this happen!




Getting Parents on Board, Part 2

Posted by Sheila Grady on July 5, 2013

Men, ladders, standards cartoonAs our elementary school prepared to take the STAR tests this spring,  a parent—who, as it happens, is also a former student of mine (sigh!)—stopped in and said, “Hey, whatever happened to the old CTBS test?  What’s this STAR thing?”  Oh my, did  I feel, well, experienced.

At the same time, the question made me realize that we have some parent education to do!  Smarter Balanced is on its way and our parents should know what to expect!  Here is what I came up with for my parent newsletter.  Fellow principals, feel free to cut, paste and mash up for your own purposes.  It’s all about collaboration! 

Common Core State Standards

California’s state education standards that have been guiding curriculum and instruction for years are being replaced with Common Core State Standards.  This new set of standards began development in June 2010 at the request of the Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.  Now simply known by the shorthand “Common Core,” they represent a change in our expectations of student learning.  Keep in mind the 21st Century Skills (see “Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core)—critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration—as we explore the Common Core.

We will start off with a comparison of the current California standards to the Common Core.   As you consider the contrasts shown in the chart below, think of how the world has change since 1997, the year that the current California standards were adopted. To help ground you, in 1997 the movie Titanic hit the theaters for the first time; Steve Jobs returned to a pre-iPhone Apple; and the new name “Google” was coined for a fledgling search engine that had originally been called BackRub.

California Standards Common Core
Adopted by California in 1997 Adopted by 48 states 2010 – 2012
Purpose to establish content of learning for California students at each grade level Purpose to prepare students to compete in a competitive global society
Developed by California Department of Education for California to reflect a strong consensus among educators Developed by educational professionals in 46 states and informed by national and international research, evidence, and standards from countries that are recognized for high-quality education.
Current (albeit 1997) state standards Built on the strengths and lessons of the current state standards
Each state had its own unique set of standards, varying in content and rigor. Standards are the same for students in all states that have adopted the CCSS.
Assessments designed by commercial educational testing services Assessments designed by two consortia; each state choses one.  CA has chosen Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
Assessments are multiple-choice items based on the California State Standards 1997. Assessments are “Next Generation Assessments” that assess depth of knowledge by analyzing and synthesizing information, writing essays and applying knowledge.
STAR Test for all students in California in Grades 2 – 12 Smarter Balanced Assessments in Grades 3 – 8 and Grade 11
STAR Results reported 3 months after test. Smarter Balanced Results reported within several weeks.
STAR testing consumes several days of class time. Smarter Balanced is expected to take 1 to 2 hours of student time.


In the simplest form, here are key changes in what we expect children to know and do at the end of K- 12 education:

English/Language Arts

Students must be able to demonstrate these skill “shifts” in English Language Arts/Literacy:

  • Read as much non-fiction as fiction
  • Learn about the world by reading
  • Read more challenging material closely
  • Discuss reading using evidence
  • Write non-fiction using evidence
  • Increase academic vocabulary


And under Common Core math, students must be able to…

  • Focus: learn more about fewer, key topics
  • Build skills within and across grades
  • Develop speed and accuracy
  • Really know math and really use it
  • Use it in the real world
  • Think fast AND solve problems
Map of states that have adopted Common Core State Standards
Green states have adopted Common Core State Standards. Click map for more information.

Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core

Posted by Sheila Grady on June 10, 2013

When it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards, we have much to do, not the least of which is parent education.  Parent newsletters are one obvious avenue for getting the message out.  Here are some topics and ideas that can help you get a head start on next fall’s newsletters.  Principals, you are welcome to cut and paste and, of course, contribute your own “open source” musings in the comments!

 21st Century Learning

Things are clearly different in our 2013 world, and school is one of those things!  The model of schooling that most of us experienced was established in the 19th century and fine-tuned in the 20th century to develop a citizen workforce for the Industrial Revolution.  In many ways, the schooling we adults received was based on an assembly line model.  As we educate your children, we are not preparing them to work in a factory.  The skills they will need in the workforce will be a “blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies”.   (Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)

Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity

The new basics are critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.  In fact, at our school, we add a fifth “C” to this: conservation.   Let’s review what these skills are and think about how we may already see them being developed in our school.

  • Critical Thinking requires one to reason effectively, solve problems, make judgments and decisions.  We scaffold our students’ opportunities to think critically and provide a foundation upon which to base their thinking.  (Hint – our “Character Counts” program) 
  • Collaboration is the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, to be flexible and able to compromise, to assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and to value the individual contributions of each team member.    (Hint – Parent-Teacher Committees, Fundraising Drives)
  • Communication is the ability to express ideas clearly in a variety of ways—written, spoken, drawn, built, acted out—and to receive ideas from others by effective listening, watching, and questioning.  (Hint – Reading and Writing for sure, but also Art, Music, Tech)
  • Creativity not only means having new ideas.  It is the ability to elaborate or refine  the ideas of others and to be open to new ideas and possibilities.  (Hint – PTA Meetings, Science Night)
  • Conservation means that our students will take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges.  (Hint – our school Green Team!)