Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Category: just a thought (page 1 of 12)

The Civility and Civics Of Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. I argue with anyone who says it is bad, and I’ve even created a document to help teachers use Wikipedia effectively with their students.

There is something special about this giant collective work and the community that has helped create it. I often think about the authors and editors and how they arrived at the decision to give up their time to share their knowledge.

This morning @Braddo tweeted a link to a post on Big Think about Wikipedia and its community. Here is a quote from the transcript.

… I think it would be wonderful to make as part of the curriculum from, say, sixth grade onward part of your task and what you’ll be graded on is to edit and make the case for your edits to an article on a service like Wikipedia and then we’ll have new ranks of people being supervised by teachers who are working on the articles and on the product and that maybe even will apprentice to the norms by which you have an argument over what is true and what isn’t. And maybe some of them will choose to continue on as Wikipedians even after the assignment is over.

 I have proposed authoring or editing Wikipedia articles as school projects many times. I’m guessing this is not such an innovative concept now that Wikipedia is 14 years old. What I like about this proposal is the last bit.

So to me if I think of an advanced civics class, it’s great to learn that there are three branches of government and X vote overrides a veto, but having the civics of a collective hallucination like Wikipedia also be part of the curriculum I think would be valuable.

We would be teaching Civics for citizens of an online world. 

So go take a look, and scroll past the write-up to the comments, where one reader offers advice for teachers willing to take on the challenge.

Training Vs. Professional Development

I have a really fun job. I provide professional development and training to teachers, often embedded in the classroom teaching model lessons, co-teaching, or just stopping by to help everyone troubleshoot. I also help teachers in one-to-one appointments during the school day, in brief after-school sessions, and in long format sessions over the summer.

Is there a difference between providing training and providing professional development? Absolutely! Training is all about how to do things: click here, drag there, type this, do that. Professional development is about why we should do things: pedagogy, mission, philosophy, ethics. For the most part, it is very easy to train. Sequencing events or procedures is not extremely hard, when working with teachers who are comfortable with technology as most of our teachers already are. Providing professional development requires a very different approach because the process often involves changing teachers’ attitudes, both towards their students and the technology I’d like them to use.

I always make an effort to provide both training and professional development in a balanced approach when I work with teachers. I don’t just show teachers how to use a new tool. I point to how the tool can be used to solve an instructional difficulty the teacher might have or how it can help us meet our goal of providing deeper learning opportunities for students. Of course, there are issues that rely solely on training, and for those I try to push out some help using a handout or a video on my blog. The clearest recent example is the simple fix for a misbehaving Mail app on our laptops. There is no benefit to any student from a teacher knowing why or how to do this, and the DIY approach will save teachers the effort of walking to my office. But, when working with teachers to adopt something that the students will use, I have to be face-to-face with teachers, or in an extended interactive online class. This is why we have our firm two-hour minimum tech class requirement for all our teachers. 

Of course the tech team can make tutorials on how to use Garage Band. We could even grab some ready-made videos off a million different places and email those to teachers. We could have every teacher making amazing podcasts about their cats and their favorite recipes in no time. The challenge lies in changing the way teachers approach students’ role in education. Instead of lecturing day after day, allow students to formulate and answer questions, and share their findings with the rest of the class via serialized podcasts. We could write lengthy articles (like this blog post) with lots of tables and citations, but text doesn’t always convey messages like personal interactions do. Just like teachers in classrooms, we, as providers of professional development, need to read our audience and see the light dawn in teachers’ eyes.

This post I read recently asks whether we should train first and provide professional development later. The author and I agree that the two should go hand in hand. Not doing this would be a disservice both to teachers and students. Otherwise…

…training without professional development could just lead to poor teaching being delivered faster and more efficiently. While training should certainly be part of the equation, it should take a back seat to professional development. When it comes to education technology, pedagogy should be the driver and technology the accelerator — otherwise, technology will simply end up being the brake.

Reading Is an Evolving Skill

I am always interested in research that gives me real information about opinions I have formed based on anecdotal evidence. For example, I read an article in The New Yorker yesterday about the nature of online reading. I had blogged about some of the issues years ago*, and had concluded that the problems or benefits would continue to evolve. I’m glad serious people are devoting time to the changing relationship between text and people.

If you are a teacher in a school going through a digital conversion**, you might want to take a look at the article. There are lots of ideas to think about. For example:

  • kids must be taught to read differently because comprehension and retention seem to be closely related to self-control (This is the part that goes immediately back to my old blog post linked above)
  • kids who are avid gamers seem to deal better with on-screen distractions
  • all readers, young and old, need to make a conscious effort to read rather than skim. This one seems to be more of a problem with scrolling as opposed to flipping digital pages.
  • sometimes it might be a good idea to take a device offline when reading lengthy texts
As the article says, online reading is new. We’ve been reading ink on surfaces for centuries, and we have learned to cope both as writers and readers. This new trend is not going away and we won’t really understand what is happening to our eyes, our bodies, and our brains for many years. We just have to wait and read on.


*Why am I surprised that I can say “years ago” when I refer to a blog post I wrote? I guess before coming to Goochland I never thought I’d ever do any writing. Now I have eight years worth of blog posts and three books. I’m so thankful to have this ongoing record of my work and reflections.

**I’m not fond of this term since, to me, it says we are taking all the old stuff, making PDFs, and not really changing how we do school.

About the Author

Ms. Kass and her students are making books about plant and animal cells on their iPads. They are using SketchBook and Book Creator to gather everything they are learning through labs and research. The books are going to be great and after Spring Break, we are going to make them available for download.

To make these books more like books, the students will be working in Ms. Ray’s classes to write biographies to use on an “About the Author” page to append at the end of the cell information. Although we are close to the end of the year, during the course of our conversation about rubrics and peer editing, we realized this was a great year-long project, and even a great project to last the full three years of middle school. 

Next year, we will start early. Students will interview each other write each other’s biographies. This will help the kids get to know each other as they come together into a single middle school from three elementary schools. They can use this bio at the end of all their books. But, as the year goes on, kids will have newer accomplishments to mention in their biographies. They will also improve their writing and wish to make changes.

As the kids go on to seventh and eighth grades, they can continue to add accomplishments and revise their writing. Towards the end of their third year in middle school, the kids can compare versions and see how much they have grown, both in their writing and in their lives. These biographies could be used in applications to Governor Schools and for scholarships later on.

I wonder what the effect on the students will be.  Having all their accomplishments written out in front of them will show them how much they have done, and how much they can do when they set their minds to it.

Archie and Veronica Explore the Internet

For the past few minutes, I have been flipping through a copy of Exploring the Internet published in 1999. Surprisingly, I have found the Amazon link. The book is a very interesting stroll down memory lane.

Do you remember Archie and Veronica? How about Lycos, Atavista, and Infoseek? Did you know that Lycos is still in operation? Back in the day, I was a big fan of Infoseek, knew all about Telnet and IRC.

The book is full of names and acronyms that have come and gone over the past two decades. The statistics are hilariously quaint. Did you know that there were 35 million people accessing online content from home in 1998? Did you know they were posting as many as 250,000 articles to Usenet each day? Usenet posts were the nerdy precursors to tweets. How many tweets are tweeted each day?

Despite being hopelessly out of date on the tech front, the book has a lot to offer. The main focus is on finding and using information, a topic in which there is always something new to learn, no matter how much expertise you might have.

I am a firm believer in the mission of this book despite the goofy spider graphic.

Information literacy and digital citizenship must be a part of the recipe in every single learning activity involving any digital tool. They are not the exclusive domain of Language Arts teachers suffering through formal research projects with their students. I might hang on to this book to pull out ideas when I work with teachers.

Technology changes, and it changes teaching. The truth remains that good teaching always covers the most important concepts.

As Captain Picard Might Say…

When I tweet, I feel like I’m talking to myself and my words will simply come back to me in perpetuity as Timehop entries. Yesterday, my name was mentioned in a tweet and I got notifications about it all afternoon.


Dr. Gretz picked up that quote when I was discussing Phillip Schlechty’s levels of engagement. What I was saying to my audience was that assuming students are engaged because the classroom is quiet and everyone looks busy is not a good idea. Until you see what the outcome of the work is, you can’t know whether the kids were engaged or not. It is not just about observing the behavior. When students are truly engaged, they care about doing the best they can, not just meeting the minimum requirements set forth in a rubric. If students are constantly asking if the paragraph they wrote is “long enough” and you keep sending them back to their desk, they might be busy, but they are not engaged.

I’ve been pointing to Schlechty’s work for a while when talking to teachers in Goochland because, while we might know what engagement is, he puts it into words that can help teachers reflect upon their practice.

I believe engagement is made up of two separate components.  The first is the relationship between the teacher and the students. If you want your students to be engaged, you have to know them and you have to get along with them. You don’t have to be their friend, but you cannot lead students in learning if you have an adversarial relationship with them. The relationship between the teacher and the students is the main ingredient in the mix that makes up the classroom environment, and a toxic environment discourages collegiality and collaboration, which are so important to learning.

The second component in engagement is thoughtful and carefully planned instruction that is accessible and relevant to all the learners in the group. If tasks are too difficult, students will be frustrated, and if tasks are too easy, students will be bored. Allowing for some choice and creative flexibility lets students find the right combination of their own skills and the challenge in the task to be successful. Notice that there are tasks for the students to carry out. Instruction should be an activity in which the students are doing something, not passively listening or watching.

So how do we get here? Stop lecturing. Embrace project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, plan student-centered activities. Need help? Remember I’m just an email away.




Feedback: Google, TD, and Schoology as Puzzle Pieces

It is funny how sometimes we have to go far away to hear what people nearby are saying. While I was in Ireland last month, I was sitting in a presentation and the following quote was on a slide:

Providing written feedback at the culmination of a writing product is like doing an autopsy. It’s deconstructing a dead document.

The quote was attributed to Samantha Morra (@sammorra on Twitter) who teaches in New Jersey. I usually do not take pictures of slides during presentations. I find that looking at the pictures later, out of context, is not very useful at all. But, in this case, I did hold up my phone and snap because feedback is something I discuss with teachers every single day. And, while this quote is specifically referring to writing, I believe it applies to all projects regardless of the medium or subject area.

When I work with teachers to plan projects, I discourage single due dates. I encourage teachers to break up projects into smaller parts of the process, each with a deadline and maybe even a grade. While we want students to be independent, we have to understand that they are children, students just developing those skills that allow them to be independent. These intermediate deadlines let teachers see where the final result is headed and help correct the course before it is too late to turn the cruise ship around. Of course, the frequency of the feedback and the size of each chunk in which teachers break down projects should be different at each grade level.

The best part of this idea is that we have the perfect collection of tools for students to share their work with us and for us to provide feedback.

Regardless of what your students are working on, the work can be shared with you using Google Drive. In the past, this was a cumbersome process. Now we have Teacher Dashboard that lets teachers access student work very easily without getting lost in piles and piles of shared documents. Once a student creates or uploads any file, teachers have access to observe and comment. While almost anything can be shared via Google Drive, the easiest way to give feedback from within Google is to type comments on the sides of documents.

In addition to these two tools, we also have Schoology. Instead of creating a single final assignment, teachers create multiple assignments in a folder, with the last one asking for the finished product to be turned in. Anything a student has in Google Drive can be turned in via Schoology. And inside Schoology, teachers can give feedback using text, annotations, voice recordings, and video.

Imagine a classroom full of students turning in a particular assignment to you. You write “Great work!” across the page of a bunch of papers. Or you draw a smiley face. Or you simply check boxes in a rubric. You could have done all these without really telling the students what you think of their work. Now imagine a classroom in which you record a ten second audio message telling the student something about their project. Those are not just words on a page. Students can tell you really liked their work, or not. And it takes no longer than typing or handwriting repetitive, mostly meaningless feedback.

As you see, there is a great area where Teacher Dashboard and Schoology overlap, but the tools are both necessary and useful. I have put together a handy cheat sheet outlining the differences and similarities between the two. Below is the portion related to feedback. If you would like the full sheet, I’ve made that available, too.

Now it is your turn to provide some feedback for me.

What do you think of these tools? What can I do to help you incorporate their use into your everyday teaching routine?

Learning the Old-Fashioned Way

School learning is a relatively new development in the history of the world. For hundreds of thousands of years, nobody went to school, and the world did not end. Everything progressed slowly, but I’m sure they will say the same of us in 500 years, right?

How did anyone learn? We learned by doing. But before we could do, we could play. It turns out we can still learn through play.

Yeah! Break out the Angry Birds!

Not yet. There are better games with much more thought and research behind them. You can read about Physics Playground on the Mind/Shift blog from KQED. This is no ordinary game, and the people behind it have put a lot of thought and research into the project. They explain it much better in their own words on their website. Here is what what I found most interesting:


I’ve been known to complain about “educational” games that simply hone fast reflexes behind a thin veneer of content (Cool Math Games,, etc). I wish teachers who let students fritter away their time on these sites would take a more honest look and ask themselves the questions in the above screenshot.



Ideas Worth Sharing, iPad Edition

Yes, I’ve borrowed the TED tagline, sort of. Why not? When you have a good idea, share it.

Apple has put together a small collection of books perfect for our teachers in the iPad 1:1 program who might be looking for lesson ideas that go beyond Google Docs and for teachers who like to check out the shared iPad cart. The books describe lessons that can be adapted to fit different classroom environments. The books are created around specific apps, and luckily, we have all the apps in the collection.

But please don’t restrict your work to this small collection of lessons. If you have a good idea, share it with the rest of the 1:1 teachers. Remember we have the 1:1 Campfire group in Schoology.


Deeper Learning Has Legs

It is easy for educators to sit in a faculty meeting or professional development session seemingly paying attention and nodding along to what they hear while secretly vowing to wait until this new fad passes by. Deeper Learning, however, deserves true commitment from all of us.

A recent study by the American Institutes of Research (AIR) shows that students in schools that adopt and successfully implement Deeper Learning initiatives graduate on time more often. They also had higher rates of acceptance to competitive 4-year higher ed institutions. You can read more about it at the KQED Mind/Shift blog.

I’m sure you have heard Dr. Geyer and Dr. Hendron discuss Deeper Learning. It is a central goal of our iPad 1:1 initiative, as well as our G21 project-based model. Deeper Learning aims to reinforce academic rigor by creating an environment where students apply the content standards they learn across academic fields to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills. This new study provides evidence that our G21 initiative should be implemented across the board, not just with Honors or AP students, which is a common tendency.

The model is often critiqued as a framework that only works for high-achieving learners. The Hewlett Foundation commissioned this study to test whether the model works for all learners, choosing schools with a high proportion of low-income and English-language learners who often face more barriers to achievement. AIR investigators were also careful to choose schools that did not have a selective admissions process that might skew the student population toward high-achieving learners.

What? You “don’t have time for fluffy, fun projects with kids” because you “need to cover the standards before the test” and “snow days will get in the way” if you give this a try? Remembering that covering the standards is the bare minimum and knowing a bunch of facts without knowing how to USE them will not make these kids very successful in the future.

If our mission is to unlock the potential of ALL learners, we need to give Deeper Learning a fair shake and allow ALL students, regardless of the classes on their schedule, the chance to develop skills more important than test-taking will ever be. 

« Older posts

© 2019 Tech Salad

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑