Hands On Learning


I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology is either linked to a Common Core State Standard (CCSS) or how the use of technology can support students mastering a particular standard.  I am a big champion of technology use in elementary schools.  But I must admit that I was wowed the other day about a very “analog” method of teaching essential writing skills.  Students in one of my first and second grade classes were creating flip books to help them understand the concept of stories having a beginning, middle and end.  In this introductory lesson, the teacher had read the students a short book and asked them to recall the story in their flip books.


I have to say that I loved this lesson.  I could see students grasping the concept of beginning, middle and end.  I could see how this lesson supported the following CCSS standard:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.3 Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.

Sure, there are ways to teach the same standard with digital tools such as VoiceThread or Storyboarder, but I would not want my first and second graders to start there.  There is great benefit from having students getting their hands on tactile writing tools.  This flipbook lesson was a great example of the importance of multimodal teaching.


Speaking of Common Core Quality


rdecom9127507129It is exciting to see that the Common Core State Standards support the use of technology in education.  Take this Speaking and Listening standard for example:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.5 Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main idea

My mind races to having students use tablet devices to interview friends at school for a book talk or a having a group of students creating a video reenactment of a scene from a play.  This type of technology use would capture our students’ interest.  But is this all we want from the use of technology?  To be sure, students enjoy creating content with digital devices.  They take pictures and film videos all the time with their smart phones or tablets.  This does not mean that they are automatically going deeper with their learning when they use technology.

Let’s take a look at the standard again:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.5 Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main idea

The concept of main idea is a key part of this standard.  Students must  have a solid understanding of the main idea that they are presenting.  Not only do they have to understand the main idea, they have to know if the other pieces of information that they have included in their presentation support the main idea.  Let’s say a fourth grader was giving a presentation on the sinking of the Titanic.  It might be interesting to know what was served on the Titanic but this does not help us understand how this ship was crippled by an iceberg.  Now add in some technology.  Suppose a student included a short clip from a movie about the Titanic in their presentation.  Aside from grabbing our attention, does the movie clip help us understand the main point of the presentation?  We have all seen students spend whole class periods looking for and editing a video clip for a presentation.  This might be time well spent if the student finds a clip that shows the ship’s fatal flaws, but it could also be wasted time if the clip simply shows the ship sailing along at a distance.  Just as we must be careful about what we include in one of our lessons, students must be careful about what they include in a presentation they are making.
Finally, teachers know that they  must go “back to the drawing board” if they give a lesson and their students show little understanding on an “exit card” or quiz.  What about the student giving a presentation, how do they know if their audience understood what they were trying to present?  We need to allow students to receive feedback when they are mastering SL.4.5.  After all, wouldn’t we prefer that our own students told us that they learned a lot from our lessons rather than telling us they thought the video we showed was “cool?”

Excited to be talking about Writing at this year’s K-12 Online Conference!


k12online-logo-plainI am excited to be presenting at the K-12 Online Conference this October.   My presentation, Writing- It’s All About Collaboration and Sharing , is part of the Open Learning strand.  The reason I am so excited about presenting about writing is that I feel that now, more than ever, the importance of writing is coming into its own in our schools.  And, I think we have the standards movement to thank for this.  Before you think I’ve gone mad or have drunken the Kool-Aide, look at the evidence.  What we have always know to be good teaching and practice is now being demanded in the standards that are shaping instruction in our schools:

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.6 With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others…

Framework for 21st Century Learning

Communicate Clearly….Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness….as well as assess their impact

ISTE Nets for Students

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

Now is the time to think of writing as a core part of our curriculum, not an extra.  Taking time to have students blog or otherwise publish their work is not an extra, it’s an essential!

I’d like you to be part of my presentation!

I am looking for examples of students collaborating around writing and sharing their work.  I would like to highlight your work for the world to see.  If you would like to have your student’s work highlighted as part of my presentation, send me your contact information and a brief description of your work by clicking THIS LINK.

The Power of Sharing


I’m going to take a moment to stray away, a bit, from the topics of education, technology, or the Common Core and talk about a visit my wife and I took to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that was really different for me.  We went to see the free form blown glass work of Dale Chihuly that was on exhibit.  As you can see from the photo of his artwork, the pieces of glass he creates are quite unique and beautiful, but that’s not what made the exhibit so different for me.  It was the fact that all of the visitors to this exhibit could take, were even encouraged to take, photographs.  A friendly sign at the opening of the exhibit even gave us hashtags to help us post our photos (#chihuly).  This openness made the whole exhibit more enjoyable for me.  I could sense the excitement in the crowd as people mingled about admiring his work and taking photographs.

I do wonder a bit why we were allowed to take photographs when it is usually prohibited in an art exhibition, especially if it is the featured traveling show.  I can definitely see benefits to the museum and the artist.  Taking and sharing photos made the experience more social for me.  It made the museum more inviting without guards tapping me on the shoulder if I dare to touch my smartphone.  Dale Chihuly surely benefits from the photos as well, because we are all spreading the word about him.  (See, I even posted a link to his web site in the first paragraph of this post!) My visit to Chihuly’s exhibit was all-in-all a very pleasurable experience and I left with thoughts of Chihuly and of the benefits of sharing.






Caution: Common Core


Application of a telereference system to divisional library card catalogs by David FullmanThe words Inquiry and Common Core lead me right to Michael Gorman’s session at ISTE13.  To be honest, the word inquiry is what really drew me in because inquiry involves kids.  Michael was talking about inquiry skills that apply to many Common Core skills but perhaps most directly, his talk spoke to writing standards such as 4.W.7 – Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.  Look at this standard again and a few key words should stand out to you:  build, investigate, different.  Michael spoke of the need for students to be thoughtful about their research.  I remember being thoughtful about research when I was in school before the advent of the internet.  You had to plan your research because good research was hard.  I share Michael’s worry that research via a simple Google search is too easy.  Michael argued that students need to consider the following steps when they use a web site for research::

A – Consider who the author is

B- Recognize the bias of the site

C- Note whether the site is current

E- Consider whether the site effectively serves its purpose

F – Note the facts and content on the site

G- Note whether the site provides good links.

To serve these steps, Michael and his wife presented some of the following tools for advanced searches, the kind of searches that go deeper than the first few search results:

Google Advanced Search – (https://www.google.com/advanced_search)

Blog Related Articles – 12 Reasons To Teach Google Advanced Search Even Before Using The Basic Search

WolframAlpha – (http://www.wolframalpha.com/)

Blog Article – The Super Bowl…STEM…And Using A Computational Search Engine… Add It Up!

Twitter Non User Search – (https://twitter.com/search-home)

Blog Article –  Part 1… Amazing Twitter Secrets For Educators… Twitter’s Advanced Link…

Amazingly Simple!

Blog Article –  Part 2… Amazing Twitter Secrets For Educators… Twitter For Non Twitter Users… Even Students!

Sweetsearch – (http://www.sweetsearch.com/)

Blog Article –  Sweetsearch: More Than A Free Search Engine For K12 Education!

Common Core Hunt- Day Three


student_ipad_school-239I had a very full third day at ISTE13.  I started off my day by attending the  Special Interest Group for Administrators group (SIGADMIN) meeting where we heard from a few folks who have been doing a lot of work around the Common Core in their schools.  Kathy Schrock was the first person who spoke to our group.  For those of you who know Kathy, she has been involved in every aspect of educational technology since the Apple II days.  Kathy spoke to us yesterday about using iPads in schools to support mastery of Common Core standards.  Kathy shared a site she had created called  iPads4schools.  Kathy did not talk about the “Super-duper Common Core App” on the iPad.  Instead, Kathy talked about a number of apps like Padlet, Idea Sketch and Sock Puppets, that support critical thinking skills that are at the core of so many Common Core standards.  Another speaker at this meeting who stood out for me was Jared Wastler, an assistant principal in Maryland.  Jared spoke about “FedEx Day” at his school.  The shipping company FedEx reserves a 24 hour period each quarter to engage employees in an creative “hack-a-thon” to develop new innovative ideas for the company.  In Jared’s school, they have a “FedEx Day” to engage in collaborative problem solving with a focus on student achievement.  Jared’s school uses this professional development model to respectfully engage teachers in meaningful work on Common Core standards.

As I start my fourth day at ISTE13 I feel I am getting closer to “catching” the Common Core.  The evidence I am finding confirms what, in my heart, I already knew – teaching Common Core standards is not really that radical.  Teaching Common Core standards really focuses what we should all have in our classrooms – good teaching.

Catching the Common Core


cage door lockMy state technology director invited me to a State Educational Technology Directors Association meeting this morning before the ISTE Conference kick-off.  We got to hear from the Chief Technology Officers of the PARK and SBAC assessment consortiums, both of which will assess student progress toward the Common Core Standards.  Depending on which state you live in, either PARC or SBAC will develop your assessment.  As Vermont is a Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium state,  I listened closely to Brandt Redd, Chief Technology Officer for SBAC.  I knew going into this meeting that SBAC was a computer adaptive test, meaning that the computerized test will vary the questions given to a student based on their responses.  This is huge as our current state assessment requires all students to take the same grade level test whether they are ready or not.  Two new things that I learned about Common Core assessment are:

  1. SBAC will provide states the option of giving students interim assessments during the school year to measure their progress.  This will really shift our thinking about standardized testing.  We are used to one shot tests for students – we’re talking high stakes testing here.  How will it change our thinking and teaching when we can take multiple measures of students progress toward mastering Common Core standards?

  2. While SBAC and PARC will develop the methods and questions for national Common Core assessments, states can still choose individual vendors to develop mechanisms to administer these tests.  Why, why, why!  This just adds another level of complexity in my mind.

So, I learned something new about the Common Core today but I did not see the animal itself, I did not see examples of Common Core teaching or learning, just assessments that will catch this animal after the fact.  My hunt continues tomorrow!