In my work, I talk about professional development quite a bit. I do training with staff at my job, but a huge part of my work (and that of my colleagues) is teaching teachers.

In our experience, the PD for teachers when it comes to technology is lacking. Seriously lacking. Except for a few high flying exceptions at any school, it is more common to find teachers that aren’t getting the support they need to use the 1:1 technology they’re given (or had forced upon them). Many have trouble with the basics – turning it on, etc. This means they are not even close to using the tools in a real productive way — there’s little in terms of teaching pedagogy, classroom management, 21st century skills and how to move up the Bloom’s taxonomy ladder with the tools.

I was recently asked for some input on PD for a district. It may seem presumptuous of me to give any input, and I suppose it is. However, we benefit from seeing this tech PD from a broad perspective. I know the kinds of questions I’m asked, I know how often we get them.

Please note, I am in no way being critical of the teachers asking these questions. Just because I gravitate to tech tools very naturally and it comes really easily to me, I know it’s not that way for everyone – nor should it be. Nor should every teacher be expected to be a master of this. Some of the best teachers my kids have had have been basically luddites. It’s all about the attitude and pedagogy.

Anyway, here is are my thoughts about what a successful tech PD plan should look like:

  • embedded: there is a instructional technology person — not a network person — in the schools and accessible. It’s not a special thing.
  • frequent: happens as needed as well scheduled
  • leveled: lets the rabbits go quickly and the snails move at their comfort level
  • modeled: administrators embrace the tool, show excellent digital citizenship and use the tools when communicating with students, teachers and parents
  • paradigm shifting: includes more than just the hardware/software. It’s a mindset, and it takes time
  • flexible: it is responsive to changing tools and changing needs
  • student focused: both in terms of why districts do this – meets kids where they are, uses tools they know outside school. AND allows students to be part of the process. Embrace these kids. Let them be part of the solution, create student tech teams.
  • 4 Cs: it’s not really about the tool. It’s about empowering us to communicate, to create, collaborate and to think critically about our world. The iPads (whatever) are just a way to get there.

To AP or Not?

Another interesting article about the move away from AP classes: “Is it Time to Reconsider AP Classes?” from Mindshift.

I’m not shy about my dislike of AP classes (there are a few posts about AP classes on this blog. I’m not going to restate them here.) This post raises some very good points about why AP is being reconsidered in many schools.

Recent issue in my daughter’s school: an AP Music Theory class is being proposed. Comments from the administrators were that they didn’t want to offer it because it wouldn’t appeal to students of color/low income/ELL. Wow. Horrifying.


At TIES#13 last week, George Couros presented an amazing session, “Involving Parents in the Process of Learning.” He just posted a blog post, “5 Ideas to Bring Parents into the Learning Process” that sort of summarizes his session.

I was too busy listening to take notes in the session, but am so impressed by what he has to say and by his attitude towards parents:

Parents are a great untapped resource in our schools…

George talks about how he communicates regularly with parents, how he invites and involves parents into the school on a regular basis. Five points from his blog:

  • Use what the kids use: use communication tools the kids are using. He blogs regularly to communicate with parents.
  • Have an open mind: he shared a story of a time he was explaining the plans for the tech rollout. He expected a pushback from parents — when instead they asked why he wasn’t moving faster!
  • Tap into parent leadership: he encourages school leaders to bring parents in to honestly listen to the feedback and input, then work with these parent leaders to teach other parents.
  • Focus on open communication: he shares what he’s learning and what he’s doing with parents as well as teachers.
  • Create Learning Opportunities: Couros talks about modeling the tools, teaching parents how to use the communication tools the kids use.

I was so encouraged after Couros’s session. His attitude is certainly not the one I see from the administration at my kids’ schools. Parents are tolerated, but not really listened to. There is little openness, little embracing of trying new communication technologies.

In his session, Couros had an amazing way of stating the reasons why schools need to adopt digital tools — basically, you need to do what’s right for kids. Using examples like the need for a positive digital footprint, Couros shows why kids need to learn using digital tools. He gave incredible examples of the power of using blogs, Twitter, and more.

This post doesn’t do his session justice. I wish it had been recorded. I’m hoping he repeats it at ISTE so I can see it again.

And, he asked the question I’ve been asking for a couple of years — where are the parents at these tech conferences??

High Expectations

In writing the previous post, I was looking at Will Richardson’s blog. His last two posts hit really close to home for me, as I too have a daughter about to enter her junior year of high school.

“What Are We Doing to Our Kids”, based on a post by Cathy Davidson about the average GPA of entering freshman at UC Irvine being 4.1,  comments on the fact that the  expectation for kids to be PERFECT in order to get into college is getting out of hand. It’s true – very true.  I’ve seen kids this year with 4.0+ and near perfect SATs not get into colleges. It’s crazy.

I admire Mr. Richardson for his response that his daughter has a balanced life, doing things outside of school, not focusing on all honors classes. It is a model we have followed as well, and will continue, for a couple of reasons.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that there is more to life – way more – than the academics in class. The life skills learned in extracurriculars often far outweigh the details about cell respiration, who fought the War of 1812, and where Jay Gatsby may have lived.
  • Per my previous post, if academics are so driven by standardized tests, the content and skills they learn are basically useless.
  • My daughter is a visual learner. She thinks and process information in pictures and color. Traditional school does NOT reward this type of thinker. Yet, once she’s out of school, these skills will be incredibly valuable.

I am grateful for Richardson’s previous post, “It’s the Assessments, Stupid,” he has a link to SAT -optional colleges.

Standardizing Intelligence

Ran across this interesting article about a new book, “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” by Scott Barry Kaufman.

I’ve only read the article (not the whole book) and am intrigued to read the book.

My only concern is the continued attack on “giftedness.” Having been active in supporting gifted learners, I am concerned (and disagree) with the concept that “all students are gifted.” Without reading the book, I agree with Kaufman that all students can achieve greatness, and definitely that society measures intelligence in only one way (more on that later.) However, I am concerned about not meeting the needs of kids who do measure gifted in the traditional manner. These kids have a different learning style that needs to be addressed/met in order for these kids to be able to achieve their potential. They need to be able to move quickly, learn deeply. It is an ongoing concern with the label “gifted.” I do wish there was a term that better defined this learning style.

Standardized Tests

That said, I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of this article. Why do we define intelligence based solely on test scores? Why are we such a text based society? Why isn’t intelligence in other areas valued in a similar manner?

…traditional metrics of intelligence are misguided and may even be detrimental to learning and development.

I see this all the time with my daughter. She struggles with tests and with “traditional” learning settings. Yet, allow her to express her knowledge in an appropriate setting, and she shines. Let her make a video,  write a short skit, give a speech – and her intelligence, communication skills, creativity and critical thinking skills shine.  Make her take a multiple choice test? Not so much.

I have had a couple of her teachers comment in the last few years about how she does on these types of projects. The engagement we see at home for these types of assessments is clearly different than what we see for multiple choice tests. In the long run, which skill set is more important? You know what I think….

Yet, she is being defined by these tests, and we see an increasing impact on her self-esteem and image. This is not to deter from the kids who do well on these tests. I just wish there was another measure that was valid. 

Kaufman says it better:

I am against standardizing minds and ignoring the fact that there are multiple paths to the same outcome and that engagement is an extremely important aspect of the equation.

As I’ve blogged before, my daughter’s school uses the exact same tests over and over and over again. Tests must be standardized so that all kids have the exact same assessment. Guess what, kids aren’t standard, nor are they the exact same.

I heard an anecdotal story about a teacher who allowed students to come up with their own project to express their learning. A parent complained because her student got a “B” and now this teacher isn’t allowed to do these types of assessments. Now he has to do tests. 

At the recent ISTE conference, I sat next to a high school teacher from St. Louis. As Adam Bellow showed his awesome video about shredding Scantron tests, he told me that his school got rid of their Scantron tests three years ago. Best move ever, he said.


Kaufman is pretty clear about his solution – project based learning:

… allow students to express their knowledge of the material on their own terms, in their own unique voice, and at their own pace, I think we’d be setting up all students for the future much better, including those students we label gifted now.

No way this is going to happen at my daughter’s school. I’m not sure what the solution is for us, given she has two years left. My son will not be attending this school. 

ISTE13 – Adam Bellow

Adam Bellow

Thankfully, I was able to see half of this keynote before I had to go to the airport. Powerful stuff. I had seen him throughout the conference with the Google Glass — very fun to see his video of his experience — and a video of his experience delivering the keynote!

The messages from the keynote were obviously powerful for his fellow educators — the tweets and blog posts following the keynote are amazing.

For me, the important pieces were:

  • The Scantron video (Adam with a “new” machine to read Scantron tests — a shredder!!!) This starts at about 39:40. He has a strong anti-testing theme.
  • His admission that he new little about Minecraft until this conference.
  • Message of change
  • Power of visual communication. Bellow is a master at slides, and it makes a difference.
  • “Technology can’t be the icing. It’s in the dough.”
  • 20% time  — he thinks this is low. Kids should be passionate all throughout school.

If the video starts at the beginning, go to 23:00 to start with Adam. The rest isn’t essential.

ISTE13 – Chris Lehmann

I just returned from  at ISTE13.  I am fortunate and grateful that I am able to attend this conference. This is not yet my reflection post. I’m still processing and find I need space to do that. As always, I wrote a great deal on the flight home – it’s the best place to immediately process. I will be posting thoughts from the flight later.

The next few posts are a spot for me to store the video from the conference that I will reference later. I love that ISTE does video on demand. It’s impossible to get to all the sessions you want during the conference — especially when they schedule Will Richardson and Chris Lehmann at the same time!

Chris Lehmann

I’ve blogged about Chris many times. It was watching him at ISTE 2011 and online that really started me down this path. He talk at ISTE13 is no exception. I’m sorry I wasn’t there in person.

Take a look through this video. Think about the questions he asks. These questions would make a powerful faculty experience. I may, in fact, take the questions and write a session even for the staff where I work.

The questions he asks – and is looking for a 10 word answer – include (paraphrased):

  1. Schools should help students become?
  2. How does technology help this?
  3. What are your “Legacy Apps” and how do you change?
  4. What will you do to change in 2013-2014?

Look for the responses on Twitter, #istetransforms. Powerful.

I was also empowered by Chris’s reference to parents. ISTE doesn’t always mention parents as much as I think it should, and it is often about how to convince parents to like tech, to move away from traditional grading. But how about us parents who want our schools to move away? Chris uses the term, Parent Activist. I love it. He encourages these passionate educators to use their role as parents in their kids’ schools to become activists, to encourage change there as well.


Sugata Mitra Strikes Again

Another fabulous article about Sugata Mitra from The Guardian and his thoughts on education. It is going to be the basis for a much longer blog post — when I have a few minutes to write, which just might be on the plane to ISTE!

To entice you, here’s the first paragraph:

Would a person with good handwriting, spelling and grammar and instant recall of multiplication tables be considered a better candidate for a job than, say, one who knows how to configure a peer-to-peer network of devices, set up an organisation-wide Google calendar and find out where the most reliable sources of venture capital are, I wonder? The former set of skills are taught in schools, the latter are not.


Read the Rest. It’s worth it.

The Equalizer

The school district where I live has seen tremendous change in demographics in the last 10 years when my daughter started school. By the numbers, it’s about 44% free/reduced lunch, with one elementary school being nearly 90% ELL. The district has a significant (and growing) population of refugees – many of whom come to school literally days after arriving in the country. Many other students come from homes with lower incomes – whether formerly middle class families who have experienced job loss or other reasons.

If you evaluate the “achievement gap” by the numbers here, it’s truly scary. I sit on a district curriculum advisory committee, and have been able to look closely at the numbers. If our primary means of evaluating achievement is test results, then things look pretty bad. Students of non-majority ethnicities and lower incomes have significantly lower test scores.

I’d argue that things look even worse if we look at other indicators of achievement. I don’t know the numbers for graduation, or post-secondary education entry or completion. But I do know that the system is failing many of these kids in a crucial area: technology access.

In a Mindshift post this week, Tina Barseghian blogs about device access as the true equalizer. She has lots of statistics and more to support her argument. I just have anecdotal….

How do we expect students who never have access to devices of any kind to develop the digital literacy skills essential for success in post-secondary education? or in just about any workplace now? I dare you to find really any job that doesn’t use any technology. These students must have access to these devices and learn to use them responsibly in order to be functional in the bigger world.

A refugee family has many immediate needs to worry about: food, shelter, transportation, income. However, technology access should be an essential part of schooling, just like learning English.

Access doesn’t mean a computer lab in a school. Access means a personal device, or other immediate access. We all know that computer labs are taken up with testing now – there’s no room in the schedule to do other learning.

Access means teachers who feel comfortable with the technology, teachers who aren’t afraid to let it be used, to use it themselves.Teachers deserve access to training and tools in order to learn for themselves.

Access means a pedagogy in which teachers and administrators see themselves as guides, rather than solely content experts.

Access means devices. Here’s hoping my district can make that happen.