Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: March 2014

National Recognition

I am very proud to know that Goochalnd County Public Schools has been recognized for its “exemplary school boards’ and districts’ use of technology to govern the district, communicate with students, parents and the community, and improve district operations.

The Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association evaluated our use of technology in the county and have recognize that our efforts have paid off. We are ranked seventh in the nation among small school divisions. And we are in great company. Two other districts from Virginia won the top two overall spots: Henry County and Prince William County. Hampton City Schools ranked third among large school divisions.

Read more about the survey and the other school divisions recognized for their efforts at the Center for Digital Education website.


The Mechanics of Understanding

How do we learn? Pick your favorite answer. We learn by doing. We learn by repetition. We learn by teaching others. We learn by…

We learn when we are challenged and supported, when we have something to aim for and the goal is attainable. We might compare this to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of entering a state of flow.

There is more to it. Being aware that learning is happening and understanding how the learning happens leads to better outcomes. The research on the effects of metacognition is cited liberally in the National Academies Press report on 21st Century Skills.

Yes, it is a huge, dense book. It is full of very useful stuff, but teachers’ time is a precious commodity. And, of course, it is often more effective to cite a notable example involving someone we (or maybe just me?) love.

Joel Achenbach has written a beautiful piece on Carl Sagan for Smithsonian. You can read about his documents at the Library of Congress, the Cosmos reboot, and too many other interesting topics to list here. There are many quotes throughout, all worded in that beautifully-recognizable Sagan style. There is one particular quote that jumped out at me and made me think of teaching and what we are trying to achieve.

I think I’m able to explain things because understanding wasn’t entirely easy for me. Some things that the most brilliant students were able to see instantly I had to work to understand. I can remember what I had to do to figure it out. The very brilliant ones figure it out so fast they never see the mechanics of understanding.


When I think of Carl Sagan, “brilliant” is the first adjective that I assign to him. He did not see himself as brilliant, but he saw this as an advantage. He was aware of what, how, and when he learned, and we are all aware of his achievements and his influence on scientific culture.

As part of our push for Deeper Learning, we must help our students develop metacognitive skills.  A good way to start is to let students talk through their learning. Having students explain how they work through a process is very helpful. In explaining, students have to justify everything rather than guess when they are stuck. And when they are stuck, they have to figure out why, then look for an answer or ask for help. This learning out loud also gives teachers an insight into what has been learned, what has been misunderstood, and what is missing altogether.

If you have access to iPads (and if you are in our school division your answer is probably yes), think about using Explain Everything to let students talk through their learning. The app combines visuals, animation, and audio. Students get the opportunity to listen to themselves and share with others, too. If you have not seen Explain Everything, take a look. If you are interested in using it with your students, let me know. I’m here to help.

Deeper Learning

What’s the point of a 1:1 program? The point is not to waste taxpayer dollars, or to make our existing worksheets into digital worksheets. Our goal is to truly transform learning to attain Deeper Learning.

As with much of what we do, we didn’t just make it up. We have read and observed and talked to educators around Virginia, around the United States, and around the world.

KQED has a great blog post that explains it really well.

So what defines deeper learning? (…) mastering content, critical thinking, effective written and oral communication, collaboration, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.

Look at the last two. You will never teach kids all there is to know. Give them the tools, and the mindset, to get there after they leave your classroom.

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