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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Share Fair 2019 Tickets Now Available!

Our fifth annual Share Fair (#SCsharefair) will be on February 20, 2019!  This FREE professional development, open to educators outside of Shelby County, will have sessions on edtech as well as competency-based education successes and strategies. 

To celebrate five years, I have launched a new website here.   The site has pages for Frequently Asked Questions (recommended for first-timers in order to understand the conference structure), Multimedia (pictures and video from previous Share Fairs), and an Archive for press clippings and past presenters/sessions.  In order to register for your free tickets, check out the site's Event page.  The Event page also has our upcoming presenters and session descriptions.

Mark your calendars, get your tickets, and see you in there in February!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Google Science Journal

Three and a half years ago, I wrote a blog entry titled "Garlic Necklace, Not a Silver Bullet."  I discussed how we need to embrace the messiness of multiple solutions instead of trying to find the perfect one.  This is especially true if you are trying the seek a single student edtech device that you hope achieves all goals: "While your 1:1 device may be one kind of device, you still have access to laptop carts, iPads, and computer labs (with large desktop hard drives and powerful processors) for specialized work.  And speaking of devices that do specialized work, let's not forget that many students already carry one in their pocket: a smartphone."

That last part -- how do we find ways to integrate instead of ban the powerful microprocessor many students carry around in their pocket? -- echoed in my head when Heidi Neltner recently introduced me to a new mobile Google app, Science Journal.  It is available for iOS and Android and requires a smartphone or tablet; according to their site, it will also work for "some" Chromebooks that can install Android apps.  But once you get past the device and installation hurdle, it is free and an amazing resource for science classrooms.

How does it work?  After installing Science Journal, you will need to give it permission to access your device's microphone and camera.  You will also need to state your age, as Google wants users to be 13 and older; it only asks for this once on the first time you open the app.  (This strikes me as a bit odd, since no personal data can be collected, as no account creation is possible and you cannot yet link it to a Google Drive account. That said, it does collect and send anonymous data unless you turn this off in the app's settings.)

The app starts with a "Welcome to Science Journal" experiment example you can play with, edit and archive.  (Similar to Google Keep, you can "clear the screen" by archiving experiments that can be retrieved later, or of course you can delete them.)  Creating a new experiment is as easy as hitting the purple "+" button in the lower right.

Once inside an experiment, you can edit the title at the top by clicking the top right pencil.  The top half of the screen is where data and notes are captured.  The bottom half (which can be slid up to take up the entire screen) is where you have four icon choices.  The first allows you to make journal text entries.  The third allows you to take pictures; with the fourth, you can insert images.  The second icon is where the magic happens, as this is where you choose a sensor reading tool.

You have the following sensor tools to choose from: Ambient Light (lux), Sound Intensity (dB), Pitch (Hz), Linear Accelerometer (m/s squared), Accelerometers for X, Y and Z axis, Barometer (hPa), Compass (degrees), and Magnometer.

By utilizing your device's various sensors -- accelerometers, light sensor, microphone, compass -- Science Journal allows you to see real time data as you move the device or expose it to sound, light and other stimuli.   By hitting the icon in the lower left black band, you can take a picture "screenshot" of the data which gets added to your experiment's top half data collection area.  By hitting the red button, you can make a playable "recording" of data that is added to your collection area.  By sweeping up and hitting a grey "+" button underneath, you can open another "card" for a different sensor reading tool to happen simultaneously.

Last but not least, you can make some adjustments to the sensor reading tool by hitting the three dots on the right of the sensor tool name.  One of the options is to "enable audio."  This creates some pronounced auditory feedback as the data input changes!  (You also hear this in the data "recordings" discussed above.)

One word of caution.   Speaking to colleagues about this app, a common concern discussed is students getting . . . ahem . . . so excited about science that they risk damaging their device as they enthusiastically gather data.   While protecting school devices is important, you also want to be able to tell an unhappy parent if little Johnny breaks his iPhone that you had a thorough class conversation about proper management and care of technology.  Even better: if you are asking for students to install the app on their own devices, a letter home stating your purpose and getting parent permission first may be a good proactive choice.  (You know what?  That 13 and older age requirement may now be making more sense.)

How could you use it?  The ability to use this app in a science classroom or lab (individually, in collaborative groups, or in a station rotation) is pretty self-explanatory.  The key is that Science Journal empowers students to be experiential, inquiry-based learners.  I imagine this app could be helpful in the prototyping and early research stage of Design Thinking.   The journal entries jotted in the app could be the beginnings of deeper reflections or detailed lab reports, and would then be copied and pasted into other places such as Google Docs.   (Consider taking screenshots that you can plug in as images inside a Google Doc, Slide or Drawing.)  And why not have a cross-content PBL with science and music?  The band OK Go has an educational site full of "inspiring tools for playful learning," and some of their experiments (like this one) specifically utilize the Science Journal app as a music making tool!

Remember that you can get teacher resources, experiment ideas, and other help on the Science Journal site.

Downsides?  I wish Science Journal could work as a web-based product, perhaps through a Chrome Extension, but keep in mind that anything bigger than a tablet begins to get unwieldy as you start flipping, spinning and moving your device around to take readings.  More importantly, I hope that it soon allows integration into your Google Drive account, so your experiments could at least be saved to the cloud and possibly shared and published.

If you are using Science Journal, share your stories in the Comments below!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


While there are certainly very effective ways to have classroom discussion the analog way -- look no further than a well done Socratic circle -- digital discourse can be uniquely powerful.  It has always been a particular specialized edtech interest of mine, going back to my U of L graduate classes in the early 2000's.  As one of my action research projects, I gathered data on college students who raised hands in class to answer questions versus their participation in online forums.  Perhaps not surprisingly, while nearly all students interacted digitally, "real" discussion in class was limited to roughly half the classroom, and only a handful of students tended to dominate the conversation.  Sound familiar?

Besides making the simple amount of participation more equitable, other advantages of digital discourse became readily apparent:

  • Because students could think and even revise their questions and observations before hitting send, the responses can be a bit more thoughtful.  However, responders can also be "trigger-happy" and the quality can be just the opposite, so culture and expectations are key here.
  • Digital opportunities opened up asynchronous as well as "real-time" opportunities to talk, expanding discussion beyond the four walls of the classroom.
  • Dominating personalities in real life become more flattened -- quiet students could sound as "loud" as their more outgoing peers.
  • Students more naturally talk directly to each other, rather than through the teacher.
  • In a real time online discussion, everyone can "talk at once," something not possible without shouting and chaos in real life.
  • Digital discourses can often be easily archived or exported.
  • Since a digital discourse creates a physical artifact, it can be formatively assessed, whether with informal feedback or with rubrics that indicate how students are meeting mastery of speaking and listening standards.
One of my favorite and free digital discourse tools was TodaysMeet.  It was around long enough (ten years!) that I actually used it as a classroom teacher for one of my videotaped National Boards lessons.   Alas, it finally closed down several months ago.  Since then, I've searched for alternatives and finally found one that is as simple (and free!) as TodaysMeet -- YoTeach!, a project of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  (More about their "Pedagogic & Active Learning Mobile Solutions" here.) 

How does it work?  Once you go to the site, you can make a chat room in seconds.  Type your room's name and hit the "Make Room" button.  Share the room's URL, and people can join the chat instantly -- no log in or user account required, they just pick a nickname.  While technically users are anonymous, two tips: explain to students that the only way they will get credit for their contributions is if they use their real names, and advise them to use common sense digital citizenship protocol (never say anything you wouldn't in a public space with Grandma listening).

YoTeach! does offer some very helpful features.

  • By checkmarking "Avoid Search," the room will not show up in public searches, and gives you a bit more privacy.  I highly recommend this!
  • "Enable Admin Features" is also highly recommended.  By creating a password for you (unique to the room you are about to create), you will be able to do some moderation features such as mute or remove a student, get student participation statistics, switch from a chat to a voting mode (perhaps as part of a reflection at the end of the day, where students indicate the most insightful or important contributions), and more.   The only way you can make sure a room can be deleted is if you enable admin features from the beginning; otherwise, the room and its history will linger indefinitely.
  • "Room Entry Password" is another security feature to protect your students. Without a password, anyone with the chat room's URL can join. 
  • In the chat room itself, participants can do more than just text responses. You can also share pictures with annotations, or use a mini-whiteboard feature to "draw." 
  • You can export a transcript of the chat as a PDF.

Richard Byrne, edtech extraordinaire behind Free Technology For Teachers and Practical Edtech, did a great screencast video overview of YoTeach! (5:15):

How could you use it?   Here are three ideas:
  1. Create a backchannel chat while watching a video.  The opportunities for students to post questions and insights, as well as the teacher probing and clarifying, can create a rich, engaging experience beyond just passive viewing.
  2. Create a virtual after-hours office, where you help students during a scheduled time slot.  Even better would be student leaders running the chatroom doing the same function.
  3. Conduct the equivalent of a "Twitter Chat" at a certain time after class on a particular topic. This could be a remediation opportunity, enrichment, or even a flipped learning experience of content that will directly lead to work in class the next day.
Downsides?  Without the teacher having a login account, there is no way to easily save all of your created chatrooms.   (This was true of the earliest version of TodaysMeet as well.) If you close the browser without somehow saving the chatroom URL, you may have to start all over.  I'm also not sure if the ability to search "public" random chatrooms is helpful from a student perspective, since it may lead to more distractions than anything useful for a classroom setting.  In fairness, however, once a student joins a specific chat room the search is not readily apparent.  Lastly,  I wish rooms were "" (more like how TodaysMeet worked) instead of the current unusual URL address configuration.  

I wish for digital and analog discourse to happen frequently in your classroom!

Note: special thanks to Noel Gnadinger, my old South Oldham High School colleague and librarian par excellence who led me to YoTeach! in one of her Facebook posts.

Revision 9/26/19:  The YoTeach site is now at revised the links above to reflect this.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Google Keep

Sorry for the long blog break!   With Shelby students back to school since August 1, I have been busy helping to onboard multiple new digital platforms for our district.   Let's break the silence with a discussion of one of the newest members of the G Suite apps, Google Keep

Google Keep is a free tool optimized for making short notes, and like the rest of Google Drive, saves it to the cloud for easy access across devices.  At first, I didn't jump to use it -- I have been a fervent fan of Evernote back to my classroom teaching days (up to nearly 2000 notes as of this entry, if you must know!) and wasn't convinced in what ways Keep filled a needed niche.  But I've grown fond of it, not least because of how others have demonstrated its utility to me.  I've discussed Keep in several presentations over the past year, and it is one of the tools I'm most likely to hear about from attendees months later.   So with that in mind, I thought it time to give it an Edtech Elixir blog entry!

How does it work?  You can access your Keep three major ways: by opening a new browser tab and going directly to, inside of a Google Doc by going to Tools > Keep notepad (only for business or education accounts), and lastly, through its mobile app.  The mobile app has some unique features; more on that in a moment.

When looking at your full Keep inside a browser, you can see your notes as tiles that continue downward as the newest notes start at the top.  (You can also "pin" notes to keep them at the top.) Creating a new note can quickly happen by utilizing the bar at top.  Various options appear as you make the note or as you edit it later, including attaching pictures, making a simple drawing, or creating a checkbox "to do" list.

From the left side, you can quickly navigate to certain notes.  Examples include a specific label, just your reminders, or notes you have archived.  Archiving can be a good way of clearing the field of notes that are no longer useful or relevant, without actually "trashing" them.
Notes can have "Reminders" added.  What is intriguing is that you can choose to make it time based (which will tie into your Google Calendar and remind you accordingly), or you can make it place based.  With Google Keep as an app on your phone, that means you will be pinged once you get within so many feet of a place.  An example might be getting reminded to buy milk once you hit the parking lot of your grocery.

Notes can have collaborators. This allows one or more people to have real-time editing rights.  It's important to point out that currently there are no "view only" options for notes, so an editing partner can do their worst and there is no function like "version history" to easily revert to a previous incarnation.

As ways to organize your notes, you can change the color of the note itself, or add "Labels."  Colors can create a personal visual cue for certain types of notes.  Labels can create a system of tags that allow you to sort your notes into categories by utilizing the Keep navigation menu on the left.

At the bottom of the note, the "three dots" menu gives you several more options:

If you upload a picture, you can grab its text so you can edit and manipulate.  From playing around with this feature, it is remarkable how accurate it works!  (An example is below.)

Under the same three dot menu, you can also "Copy to Google Docs."  If you feel like the note is beginning to chafe under the restraints of Keep, this is an easy way to grow it with a quick export.  From a writing perspective, the brainstorm ideas or first paragraph prompt responses of a Keep note can become a full blown Doc when the time is right.

The Keep mobile app allows you to view, sort, and create notes much in the same way as the desktop version.  However, there are several features unique to the mobile version.  Drawing (either on a blank canvas, or annotating a picture) is a much easier interface on a phone or tablet.  Voice recording is only possible on the mobile app.  On the desktop, you can upload images, but the mobile app integrates the device's camera so you can take pictures.

Last but not least, there is a Google Keep Chrome extension.  This is especially useful if you want to quickly clip and save URLs of sites to your Keep.

Back in June, I was a facilitator for the #KyGoDigital Northern Kentucky Regional.  It made a little history as the first statewide virtual PD event.  In one of our breakout sessions, I discussed Google Keep during a Hangout on Air (37:00).  It can serve as an overview and live demo of the tool:

How could you use it?   For those that love Post-Its, Keep is a tool that naturally takes that same "quick note" idea and expands the concept digitally, allowing for better organization and making it nearly impossible to lose your thoughts.

My wife and I both have Android phones and personal Gmail accounts, so we have found Keep to be an easy way to make collaborative shopping lists.  One of us can add items as soon as we think of them, which the other will see in real time; as a person shops and checks off items, it's also easy to see their progress through the store!   For school, consider how you and your colleagues can also share similar lists of things to get or tasks to accomplish.

By creating an individual note for each student you mentor or need to confer with, then collaborating on that note with the student, you can create a great system for capturing conferring notes and seeing what the current goals are.  Collaboration allows for it to be a virtual dialogue.  In theory, this note could eventually be exported to a Google Doc at the end of the year as a longer record of the student's progress and growth.  What a wonderful way to track and monitor personalized learning!

If you want to capture learning (either in pictures, observation notes, and/or voice recordings), Google Keep on a mobile device could be a great way of doing so.  This doesn't have to only be done by teachers!  Students with their own phones or tablets could do it for themselves.   The students could then use the Keep artifacts as a starting point for portfolio collections and deeper reflections.

Daniel Edelen, a former teacher at Shelby's Clear Creek Elementary, was one of the first to show me the instructional possibilities of Google Keep.  The following Facebook Live video (12:00) was from our 2017 Edtech Share Fair, where Mr. Edelen briefly describes how he used Keep with his students. (An excerpt of the video also appears in the #KyGoDigital session above, but here is the full presentation in better quality.)

Downsides?  The formatting of text is very limited -- not only are you unable to change a font or text size, but you cannot even bolden or italicize.  Without some kind of organization structure (pinning, color coding, labels, archiving), it may become unwieldy as you scroll and scroll through your growing notes.  I would like to see a "view only" sharing option to protect from the potential editing complications of adding collaborators.  However, in fairness to the tool, the best use of Keep recognizes that it is optimized for quick content creation and easy integration across your Google Drive cloud access; more lengthy or complicated documents would be better suited for Google Docs.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I love Evernote.  With my many years of crafting Notebooks and Tags to organize my digital life, as well as its robust content formatting and options, I will not give Evernote up any time soon.  Still, it's worth pointing out that I pay for the Evernote Premium features that allows, among other things, a significant increase of  material uploading capacity.   On the other hand, Keep is free, very user friendly, just one click away from your Google Drive, and easy for collaboration with colleagues and students.  I highly recommend taking some time to try it out!

How are you using Keep?  Are you a fan of Evernote or another cloud-based notetaking program?  Share in the Comments below.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Goodbye to Your Google Drive

Summer is looming, and the last day for students is either already here or coming soon.  It is also a natural time of transition.  Students and staff may be leaving the district, but they don't want to leave their oodles of Google files and folders behind.  Additionally, educators may be the owners of Google goodness that others will need access to after they are gone.  What to do?

Depending on your needs and situation, one or more of the following tips should help.

1.  Transfer ownership of your Google files and folders.   The process is simple to do (while perhaps tedious one file/folder at a time) and done in the same way you share viewing and editing rights in Google.  Keep in mind that there's no going back once you transfer, and it would be a good idea to give a heads up to your administration and the new owner what you're up to.  Also, for your educator/business account, you cannot transfer ownership to a personal account outside of your domain, or vice versa.  You can only transfer ownership between two domain accounts or between two personal accounts.

2.  Utilize Team Drives.  I go into detail about Team Drives in a previous blog entry,  but here are some highlights:

  • Any files and folders made by a member of a Team Drive remain in the Team Drive even if the  member who created the files/folders leaves.
  • Unlike individual Drives, Team Drives are easily accessible by your Google Administrators for your domain.  This can come in handy.  For example, say the creator of the Team Drive is the only person with "full access," and they leave the district.  Google Admin can still assign the "full access" rights to another member of the Team Drive, along with other management functions.
  • You can move your personal files, but not folders, into a Team Drive.  For more information and limitations on migrating files into a Team Drive, read here.

3.  Use Google Takeout to copy files and folders to your personal Drive.  This is an option if you have a G Suite Education/Business account.  (Those with personal Gmail accounts have options to download their data.)  It is a straightforward way to copy, not technically "move," the contents from one Drive to another.  There are two things to keep in mind.  First, while a G Suite for Education or Business account has virtually unlimited storage space, a personal (free) Gmail Drive does not.  Secondly, the transfer itself may take several days to complete; don't wait until the last day of your G Suite access to start the process!   The directions are pretty straightforward.  While logged into your G Suite account, go to this site and put in the account that should receive the data.  A verification code will be sent to that account's Gmail.  Once you get the code, enter it and the transfer can begin.

Have a happy, restful, and invigorating summer!

Update 6/20/18:  I discovered you cannot transfer ownership between a personal account and an educator/business Google domain account.  I added this information in #1.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

GAMR: Having a Gaming Mindset

As readers of Edtech Elixirs over the years have probably noticed, I'm a big fan of gamification and game-based learning in education.  Often, this may involve specific tools such as Classcraft or Legends of Learning.  However,  bigger than a specific site or tool is the actual mindset that gaming can provide.  We often talk about fixed or growth mindsets, with the latter being the obvious preferred stance for a true learner to have.  In this entry, I would like to take that a step further and discuss the benefit of looking at learning through a gaming mindset.

Before we define a gaming mindset, let's take a moment to define games.  In her book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal states that games (electronic or otherwise!) have four key characteristics:
  • A goal that is specific, achievable, and gives a sense of purpose.
  • Rules that place limitations on how to achieve the goal, which therefore unleashes creativity and fosters strategic thinking. 
  • Feedback system, which provides in real time how well the gamer is doing and how close they are to the goal.  By fostering a sense of optimism that failing forward is actually getting them closer to the goal, a gamer is motivated to continue.
  • Voluntary participation to play the game in a shared, cooperative space, because it feels safe and pleasurable.   "Safe" assumes a culture where failure is welcomed as an opportunity to move forward; "pleasurable" recognizes that creative play has value and is not a waste of time.
It takes little imagination to see that most of these elements are integrated in successful classrooms.  Students should have academic goals within their zone of proximal development -- preferably, ones they set themselves and are tracked by the learner.  Standards, rubrics and deadlines are classic examples of "rules" that narrow the learning focus and outline the success criteria.  We know the importance of timely feedback that is of high quality and balanced quantity. (Feedback from peers or the teacher that is delayed is often diminished; as a former high school English teacher, I eventually discovered that simply filling a paper with a Jackson Pollack constellation of red marks will shut down most students.)  It is the last characteristic of "voluntary participation" that we, as educators, have to acknowledge is the Hamlet rub.  Students in most countries in the world will ruefully point out that we cannot honestly call our game of school a "voluntary participation" activity -- if a student opts out, a truant officer will show up at their door.  And yet, we also recognize this area is the crucial hinge where academic success for struggling or marginalized students is waiting to swing.  Students that are "taught at" instead of "learning with" (student as direct object of learning, as opposed to student as an active participant) . . . students that feel isolated . . . students that have learning challenges, feel vulnerable and don't believe it is safe to try and fail . . . students that don't see any joy in learning . . . these are often the very students that need intrinsic motivation the most.  So how can we create a classroom where they see the "buy in" and are willing to step forward and engage?   We must make a learning environment where they are motivated to voluntarily participate, not be dragged across a graduation finish line against their will.  And gaming may just be the thing to create that environment.

Let us move from the games to the gamer.  What goes on inside the brain of a gamer?

Greg Toppo, in the third chapter of his book The Game Believes in You, provides a treasure trove of research that looks deep into the human mind, showing that the way a gamer thinks runs in lockstep with best practices and theories on how we have evolved and learn.  The revelations are often startling and fascinating.   Among other points of prestige, video gamers often have "improved visual acuity," are better at thinking of objects in three dimensions, and can focus for longer periods of time.  Since our brains still have the original wiring for hunting, gathering, or fighting, we are "still hooked on 'adrenaline-generating decision making,' according to Lennart Nacke," and therefore "'our brain still wants to be stimulated.' . . . Since the modern world mostly frowns upon actual hunting, gathering, and fighting, we settle for simulations" (author's italics).   These game simulations make the brain release dopamine as we succeed, but interestingly, even if we almost succeed.  When games are constructed well, it is this almost-success that creates a persistent feeling of optimism.  I fail, but I can start again, and I really feel I'll get it next time!  "Learning theorists," Toppo shares, "would say that players have simply developed a vision of themselves as people who are about to succeed and won't let go. In the end, we try again because games let us try again.  It's the rare game that doesn't let us restart our efforts at a moment's notice" (author's italics).  Imagine a well designed classroom, school or district that could integrate into their learner culture such a fail-forward mentality!

Gamer brains also tap into specific strategies and outlooks -- some unique, and some similar to those used in other non-gamer roles. James Paul Gee, a linguistics and education professor, discusses in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy how video games capture the same "reflective process" of many endeavors such as medical practice and teaching.  This four step process involves probing their environment, forming a hypothesis based on the reaction, reprobing with the hypothesis in mind, and then reflecting, or rethinking, on the results.  This loop obviously repeats; with most video games, it can happen in rapidly occurring cycles.  (In reference to Gee's process, Toppo tellingly points out: "[G]ame studios had also created assessment systems that could tell players exactly how well they were doing on hundreds of variables without subjecting them to multiple-choice tests.")  In terms of gamer outlooks, it may be helpful to think of gamer "profiles" -- from my last entry, I almost want to call them competencies! --  in the same useful way that we consider student learning styles in order to see their strengths.  A gaming organization called International Hobo Ltd based their "BrainHex" survey on neurological research and other data.  What emerges is a determination of which one of seven profiles (Conqueror, Survivor, Daredevil, and so on) you tend to be strongest, illustrated in a PDF by Rob Beeson.  (You might have students take the survey, reflect on the results, and right-click-save their style icon as a "badge" they can share.)

One last thing to consider before analyzing a gaming mindset is the matter of video gaming perspective.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Many video games have a third person objective viewpoint.  This could be a classic interface of a "side scroller" like in Pitfall! or Super Mario Brothers (your character is always in profile) or possibly an "over and behind the shoulder" view like Temple Run, where your entire character/avatar can be seen on screen.   There is also a first person subjective viewpoint, where you appear to be inside the head of your avatar and seeing the environment through their eyes, such as in HALO.

It is the synthesized thinking of many parts of the above -- along with key elements of competency-based and personalized learning --  that fed into the tool I've designed for analyzing and reflecting on a gaming mindset: GAMR.

Click here or on the image to view it larger. 
This is a revised version; Version 1.0 was created last year for a PD presentation.

The four levels of GAMR, and the descriptive indicators for each level from lowest to highest, are:

  • G: Go-Getter.  Self-directed, responsible learner who expresses voice and choice in a personalized system created and guided by an instructor. Demonstrates clear initiative. Can objectively see outside of self to determine mastery and next steps.  Effective collaborator who does his/her part.
  • A:  Adventurer.  Interests of the learner starts to become a major driver of instructional path.  Risk taker, begins to challenge the status quo. Student sees failure as natural reflective process to try out other modes of thinking.  Makes their own choices in ways to demonstrate understanding, within their academic structure; even while students set and track their own goals, teacher still provides significant instructional support.   Creative collaborator who begins to push boundaries of time or space.
  • M: Modder.  Student active customizer of content acquisition and effective in independent creation of exhibitions / capstones /assessment of mastery. Student begins to recognize networking power of affinity groups and how different outcomes require different roles. Their actions begins to have meaningful impact when working with (and for the benefit of) others. Learning is primarily the pursuit of the student’s personal passions, and teacher begins to pull back into facilitator/mentor role.  Optimistic that failure will lead to success.
  • R: Redefiner.  Student as scholar (and other roles as needed: writer, historian, scientist, mathematician, artist, etc.), fully in charge of exploring his/her own educational path.   The student’s answers, findings, and solutions to real-world learning (such as PBL work) authentically impact their community and the world; collaboration in such work is not limited to immediate geography. Teacher is one of several potential sources of expertise and mentorship. Eager to fail as a process of starting again and improving. True inventor and designer who strongly demonstrates competencies for success as an independent, creative, lifelong learner.

Follow the descriptors that indicate how the role of the teacher changes from G to R, and you can begin to see the reasoning for the "third person student to first person scholar" evolution indicated on the left side of the graphic. At the beginning of the spectrum,  students start with an ability to see themselves objectively, but there is still a close, fairly traditional kinship of teacher to student.  As the mirroring with video game perspective suggests, the image of a teacher close by and looking over the student's shoulder is apt, even as we recognize the focus is on the student and is not teacher-centered. Between Adventurer and Modder, a significant crossing of the threshold occurs where the student takes a more meaningful ownership of the learning.  By Redefiner, you have a "first person scholar" where the learning is fully situated from the perspective of the learner.  As the descriptors for Redefiner explain, the change of wording from "student" to "scholar" is not merely semantic; the learner lives that scholar role, as he/she lives inside other roles (or avatars, to use some video game parlance) as needed.

Based on the name alone (and similarities like the "threshold crossing" from A to M),  I obviously do not hide the influence of SAMR when I created this tool.  However, while both SAMR and GAMR have a hierarchal spectrum of lower to higher, note that GAMR's lowest level (Go-Getter) begins with a type of learner we might all be thankful to have as a pinnacle for most school systems.   There are two reasons for this.  The first reason emerges from looking at the indicators for a Go-Getter.  If average gamers did not possess at least the majority of these traits, they would never even pick up a joystick or a pewter token, much less complete a game.   The second is based on a deliberate choice while constructing the tool, and in fact, is a major part of my inspiration for creating GAMR.   While absorbing various texts on what gamers achieve, I realized that we may actually lower the bar by merely settling for a Go-Getter.  Learners in general, and gamers in particular, are capable of more incredible feats.  So while I don't dismiss the important work that gets a learner to the "lowest" level of GAMR, I am suggesting we don't stop there.

Whether intrigued by GAMR or by one of the positive attributes of a gamer's brain and mindset, I hope this entry inspires you to consider bringing games into your educational setting -- even in a small, first step way!

Resources mentioned in this blog entry, or suggestions for further reading: 
  • James Paul Gee is one of the earliest authors to discuss the positive attributes of video games.  A key book would likely be What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (2003).  The book tempers neurological studies with anecdotes of Gee's own journey from non-gamer to fan.
  • Jane McGonigal is a passionate proponent of how gaming not only improves education, but is essential for a meaningful life.  Watch her 2010 TED talk "Gaming can make a better world" (20:31), and read Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (2011).
  • Andrew Miller's Edutopia article "What's a Gamer Brain and How Can We Harness it in Class?" (2/7/17) offers some concise and pragmatic information.  This is where I first discovered the BrainHex survey mentioned above. 
  • If I had to recommend just one book, it would likely be Greg Toppo's The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter (2015).  If you need convincing on the benefits of gaming in education, Toppo's witty and readable style (along with anecdotes and research) should win you over.
  • Adam Powley frequently shares his excellent insights on how he uses game-based learning and gamification in his American History class.  His blog Classroom Powerups is definitely worth a subscription.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Soil to the Sun: CBE as a Blended Pedagogy Journey

Since arriving at Shelby County four years ago, I have been challenged in ways I did not expect.  Naturally, my role requires knowledge of blended learning best practices, and to keep up with the constantly changing world of edtech.  However, I have also learned about other pedagogies that may be enabled by technology but also exist outside of it: personalized learning, project based learning, and standards based grading, to name just three.

In the spring of 2017, Shelby County created its Profile of a Graduate with the input of our community stakeholders (parents, business owners, students, admin, and teachers).  It answers a simple sounding question:  What do we want a Shelby County graduate to be?   In short, we want them to be (clockwise from top) Critical Thinkers, Responsible Collaborators,   Lifelong Learners, Effective Communicators, Global Citizens, and Inspired Innovators.

More information about our six major competency domains is here.

By thinking through the lens of "life readiness" (which includes but goes beyond "college and career readiness"), we realized that students should demonstrate mastery of key competencies, not merely mastery of academic standards.  That's not to say academic standards are unimportant!  Rather, Core Content becomes the means to an end instead of an end in itself; true mastery can be demonstrated when the application of learned standards are effectively achieved.

Allow me a tangental metaphor.  Soon we will talk trees, but for now, let's talk cars.

Think of tires as standards.  As educators in a traditional teacher-centered system, we have become excellent tire salespeople.  We bring our customer-students into the store-school, describing the various tires in detail.  We implore to the students: Memorize the sizes!  Take note of the thread depth!   (Not very deep, truth be told.)  We obsess over the PSI as if numbers tell the entire story -- a 32 (or 100%, or an A+) is likely ideal, but truth be told, a 25 (70%, a passing grade of D-) will likely get you from point A to B, so long as you stay on the smooth roads...assuming the tires ever hit the roads, of course.

Our students may know tons of facts about tires -- and yet, because they haven't had to use the tires in any meaningful way, the knowledge is void of context or validity.  Meaningful application of knowledge is key.  When standards matter is when the rubber meets the road.  We really need all four (ELA, math, social studies, science) to make a car go -- thinking of content in silos is as useful in real life as driving with one tire.

In order to move students past being tire consumers, we need alignment.  Competencies provide this sense of purpose, a context for the standards to function inside.  Without alignment to competencies, the tires may pull the car in random directions.   If you have no standards, alignment matters little if you're sitting on just your hubcaps.  The synergy between the tires and the alignment -- the transformational relationship of standards and competencies -- is what can make competency-based education (CBE) so impactful, and therefore makes learning an act of creation instead of consumption.  Now the only thing left to do before embarking on our road trip is to have a destination.  And here is where the Profile of a Graduate's necessity emerges.  It becomes the goal we want our academic system to aspire towards.

But who is driving the car in competency based education?  The student should be, of course!  Certainly there are moments when a teacher-instructor gives tips from the shotgun seat or talks about the rules of the road, but if the student isn't ultimately driving the car, we can never truly say they have demonstrated mastery.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog entry!  With the Profile of the Graduate as our true north, our newest Strategic Leadership Plan (planned last fall, and goes into effect next school year) will focus on transforming Shelby County into a CBE system.   Luckily, we have made good learning partnerships, both outside of the state (such as Envision and EdLeader21) and within. In fact, one key Kentucky partner is Trigg County.  Trigg and Shelby County are the only two districts in the state that were recently approved for a CBE pilot:

I name dropped Envision earlier, and here is a good segue into discussing a book many leaders in Shelby are currently reading: Transforming Schools by Bob Lenz, with Justin Wells and Sally Kingston.  (Lenz is the cofounder of Envision Education and Wells was the first English teacher of its first school.)  The book, along with other professional development, is certainly helping me see how CBE is the natural culmination of our various initiatives from the last several years.  At a recent Shelby admin "lead and learn," we read the book's opening chapters and gathered in teams to ponder the question of how all of our endeavors fit together.  My group included principals Jennifer Cox and Susie Burkhardt.  Each group was handed slips of paper with various educational pedagogies, initiatives and terms.  Our goal was to organize this in a way we thought best, while also considering an analogy that creatively addressed their relationship.  Once the three of us collaborated on a hierarchal design, I suggested we called it "From Soil to the Sun."

As you can see from the image above, we started with the roots: the essentials that educators needed to learn in order for our system-tree to live.  Without a solid foundation in competency, CBE, mastery learning and personalized learning, it would be very difficult for our tree to grow!  Borrowing from the Transforming Schools book, we believe the center trunk is Envision's "Know-Do-Reflect" triangle, from where three major branches jut out:
  • "The prepared graduate knows the content and the discrete skills of her academic subjects" [acquired via self-paced learning, mastery scales that define accomplishment, and backward designed units].  
  • "She can do what typical college courses demand...using her intellectual, interpersonal, and executive skills to make things happen"  [applied knowledge via workplace learning, project based learning, performance based assessment, exhibitions, and portfolios].
  • Lastly, "she has the ability to reflect, a habit of self-awareness and revision that sets her on the path of continued growth" [as done on, or through, the 4 C's, Defense of Learning, portfolio Artifacts, and various Rubrics] (page 24).   
But at least as important as the roots, trunk and branches is where the tree is growing towards, and this ideal goal -- our system's sun -- is our Profile of a Graduate.   Note that the tree can't quite hit the sun. What makes the competencies of a Profile of a Graduate so powerful is this: while mastery of these competencies may designate completion and validity for a SCPS diploma, the competencies should continually be applied throughout the lifetime of the graduate.  We hope not only to grow graduates, but grow perpetual learners who (to quote a favorite phrase of our superintendent Dr. Neihof) are always in the act of becoming.

Certainly our group's organization and tree analogy are not meant to be the final word.  Indeed, as other groups shared their visual representations, we had some healthy debate and discussion on how they saw things differently.  What was most important to me and others was the process of reflecting on several seemingly disparate pedagogies and educational terms and seeing how well they blend into a CBE system.   Seen in this (sun)light, competency-based education becomes a natural, organic evolution of what came before, not a tree separate from the rest of the educational forest.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

OER: Gooru and Teacher Advisor with Watson

Open Education Resources (OER) have been around for several years.  What does OER mean? As defined by the Office of Educational Technology,  OER differs from materials that are simply free and available online in one key way: they are "openly licensed," which means they can be remixed, reused, and repurposed.   (For a great introduction to OER, check out the Office's launch packet and follow the hashtag #GoOpen.)

While OER could conceivably be any kind of openly licensed educational material, it is most often seen as curriculum and lesson plans.   This is the great promise of OER: what teachers used to have to pay to get can now be acquired for free and reimagined as they see best.   And yet, OER is not as pervasive as you would think.  If there is teacher reluctance to use open education resources, it's not from lack of stuff -- it's from overabundance.  You can access thousands of OER materials with a general Internet search engine query, but it's often difficult to know the wheat from the chafe, or drill down to specific parts you may need.  In an educational world where a teacher ideally tries to personalize learning for all levels of students and needs a variety of materials, OER can be a godsend, until you see it as a time consuming process with little if any assurance how it is vetted.

Ironically, there are those who saw a profitable opportunity in open education resources.  Some sites collate and organize OER into a user-friendly platform -- for a fee.  However, I want to share two sites that are curating OER at no cost which I have found very useful:  Gooru and Teacher Advisor with Watson. (No relation!)

Gooru has OER curriculum from partners such as EngageNY, Summit Public Schools and Next Gen Personal Finance, but also has vetted material submitted by individual teachers.    (I briefly talked about Summit's personalized learning platform in December 2016, but Gooru allows you access to their curriculum without having to go through their learning management system.)  Teachers and students can create accounts via their emails or through a Google account.  Teachers can then create classrooms of students to assign whole "courses" or customize their own, including adding their own content.   Yet Gooru is more than a great curation tool. It really shines in its Learning Navigator, which "offers personalized pathways to help students reach their learning goals."  This includes assessments (where teachers can see results in real time) as well as the ability for a student to self-pace.  A video overview of the Learning Navigator is below (1:41):

Teacher Advisor with Watson is powered by IBM's Watson AI, which makes searches more intuitive and powerful.  It is currently limited to K-5 math curriculum, but according to a representative, it will soon be expanding both in grade levels and content.   Unlike Gooru (with its student accounts, digital classrooms and Learning Navigator), the audience for Teacher Advisor is, as the name implies, only teachers.  It too has excellent OER material, with partners that include EngageNY and Teaching the Core.  The site is easy to navigate, and you can quickly get to specific kind of resources by type (categorized as Standards, Lessons, Activities and Strategies), including an impressive bank of instructional videos.  For any materials you download, you can find them under "My Library" in your account profile.  As Teacher Advisor incorporates a greater span of material, it will likely grow as an indispensable first stop of OER curation.  Here's a brief video overview (1:38):

The Internet was pitched to the world as a free and open marketplace of ideas and materials.  OER has much promise to fulfill the educational part of that ideal, so long as tools like Gooru and Teacher Advisor with Watson make that dream an easy to navigate reality.

Do you have a favorite OER you use?  Share in the Comments!

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Edtech can provide many opportunities for deeper learning, but there are times as a teacher that you also appreciate having effective tools for classroom management.  There are lots of useful examples out there, but they usually fall in two categories: each tool lives in a separate space, OR if you find a tool that collects them in one space, there are encumbrances (premium features cost you money, it involves installing a program, and so on).

And that is what makes ClassroomScreen pretty amazing.  Not only is it free, it is completely web based, so no programs to download.  That also makes it work on the fly anywhere -- including on Chromebooks!

How does it work?  ClassroomScreen can live inside the normal size of an open tab, but you can also make it full screen.  It is basically a suite of simple, extremely useful "widgets," including:
  • Clock (12 or 24 hour, with calendar)
  • Timer (countdown or stopwatch)
  • Traffic Light.  As the site mentions, you could use this several ways: a visual reminder of voice level expectations, whether you can ask the teacher a question, or by students to indicate their understanding of the current concept or whether they need teacher help.  (This student example shows how ClassroomScreen could be a useful student-centered tool as well!)
  • Work Symbols (quick visual of your current student expectations)
  • Text box
  • Drawing (a whiteboard-like function, available small size and full screen)
  • QR code (put in a URL, instantly ready to scan!)
  • Sound Level (set the sensitivity and acceptable classroom noise level)
  • Random Name & Dice. You can type or upload a .txt file to randomly pick from a list (of student names, terms, etc.), but be advised it forgets the list when you close the tab. The dice tool rolls one, two or three six-sided dice.
  • Background.  You can choose from several defaults or upload your own image.
ClassroomScreen has an international connection -- the inventor is Laurens Koppers, a teacher from the Netherlands -- so it's probably not a surprise that the site can be quickly changed to different languages, as shown below:

ClassroomScreen in Spanish mode, one of several dozen choices.  What a useful tool for ELL!

One thing that may not be as intuitive is how to close a widget; it's not on the pop up widget itself, but by clicking on the red X on the appropriate button in the bottom row.

You can have two of the same widget at the same time! Once one is running, click the "+1" to make two of the same widget appear on the screen; click "-1" to make one of them go away.  Clicking the red X closes both widgets.

One last widget is Exit Poll (a button in the lower right corner of the screen).  While input is anonymous, it can give you a quick emoticon-based survey of the classroom.   Note the poll input can only be done at one device (as opposed to students "voting" over the Internet); for example, students would have to walk up to their teacher's touchscreen display to vote by touching the appropriate emoticon.  You could also use this as an "entrance poll" to preassess learning, as part of a debate on a topic, or as a "catch and release" moment in workshop.

ClassroomScreen has a great video overview (2:20) of the site:

How could you use it?  While ClassroomScreen doesn't need a touchscreen display, several features like the Draw widget and Exit Poll make this a natural pairing.   

The Traffic Light example mentioned above is the start of how ClassroomScreen could become student-centered with some creativity or app smashing.  For example, via Google Casting, a student could share their Drawing or Text response to the teacher's display.  If the student publishes something with a URL, they could share the product by quickly making a QR that could be scanned by the teacher or other students who walk by his or her device.  (Remember QR Code Generator as a way of scanning QR codes without installing a program.)

Note that you can open ClassroomScreen in multiple tabs, which means you could potentially flip between tabs to give instruction for multiple groups at once.

Downsides?  It's hard to find fault with a free program with so many widgets in one convenient place.  A screen shot feature would be nice, so you could save work.  If you use the Random Name app with the same roster, it may seem annoying that the site "forgets," but I recommend keeping your .txt files in an easy to access folder on your desktop. 

Have any creative tips and tricks on how to use ClassroomScreen? Share in the Comments below!

Special thanks to Val Curtis; it was through a retweet of her first "Learning in the Loo" that I discovered ClassroomScreen!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Edtech Share Fair 2018

The fourth annual Edtech Share Fair (#SCsharefair) is in the books!  THANK YOU to all the attendees and presenters who volunteered valuable time to become learning partners.  Interestingly, while it was not the highest number of tickets "sold" compared to past Share Fairs, this year had the highest amount of people actually show up.  And what a great mix!  Not only did educators register from eight school districts outside of our own, but we also had more than a dozen future educators attend -- both college students as well as from our own Shelby high school student teacher pathway.

This was the first year we added an additional PD strand for Competency-Based Education, and those sessions were as full as our edtech ones.  Food for thought on how we will organize in 2019.

A few months ago, I received a sad notice that Storify is shuttering by the end of this school year.  So while I'll skip making a Storify for this year, I'll still share a sampling of our social media tweets below.   If you want to revisit information about this year's presenters, the Share Fair FAQ, and more, be sure to visit the event Smore.

Thanks again for making the Share Fair so memorable and successful!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Measure, Treasure, and Pleasure: Achieving Eternal Impact in Your Learning Journey

Our superintendent Dr. Neihof often reminds us to make educational leadership choices while keeping "eternal impact" in mind.  In other words, make a difference for students not just for today or this school year, but for decades into their future.  Know that you are an agent of change, and the choices you make in educational leadership are what define the legacy you leave (or create).

Not too long ago, at a district administrative meeting, we were discussing the tools of measuring what we consider important in a school environment.  Like a lightning bolt, three rhyming words popped into my brain: measure, treasure, and pleasure. **  As I reflected, the words began weaving into an axiom:

"Measure what you treasure, and don't forget your pleasure."

While it may be an oversimplification to base an entire district vision or plan on such a phrase, I think these three key words help illuminate a way a person can make an eternal impact in education.  Let's look through the lenses of administrator, teacher and student as we examine the components.


What is most important to me or us?  When thinking educationally, it might be difficult to narrow to just one "thing" and we must settle for a distilled list of bullets.  But be careful: if the list is too long, then priorities become muddled, the progress will be difficult to track, and the result will be frustration and disappointment.

Administrators may ask:   What skills, dispositions and/or knowledge do we want a graduate from our school/district to have?

Teachers may ask:  What must a student have when they leave my classroom?  After learning my content, what is the one thing I hope they will know or will be?

Students may ask:  What do I want to be when I grow up?  What am I passionate about?  What skill or knowledge gaps do I need to most "fill" by the time I graduate?


In what ways will you ensure that you are on track for achieving your treasure?  It is human nature to do what you are held accountable for, but if what you do seems to have little or no impact (lack of monitoring, no consistent feedback, expectations are unclear, etc.), you'll drop it in favor of more "important" stuff.  For example, you may see the need to examine "social and emotional learning," but by which systemic metrics must you ensure SEL is tracked and addressed?   You may value digital citizenship, but in what ways can you guarantee that stakeholders engage in maturity-appropriate high critical thinking lessons over a consistent period of time?

Administrators may ask:  In what ways am I creating a culture of compliance rather than a culture of change, and how can I reverse this?  How are my walk-through tools beneficial and timely to teachers?   Do I spend more energy on celebrating risk taking and growth opportunities, or are you more concerned about staff sticking to the rules?  Are teachers analyzing data gathered from integrated blended learning, or are they merely "using" digital tools? How are you personalizing staff learning in the same ways you hope they are doing for students?

Teachers may ask:  How do I make sure each student feels they are a valuable part of our classroom and community?   How do I know which students have "it"?  How will I help those that don't, and those that already do?  How can my assessments be for student learning as much or more than a summative declaration of their learning?  How am I allowing multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their mastery?

Students may ask:  How do I know where I am at?   In what ways will I achieve what I want?  How can I reflect on and use "artifacts" as evidence of my mastery of competencies and standards?


Last but not least, our journey must have a sense of play and joy.  Without positive encouragement of taking risks, without fostering curiosity and inquiry, and without a sense that what we do is for the betterment of self and of others, the rest becomes moot.  It is the difference between a journey of "academics" (with all the dry, stuffy connotations that word dredges up) and a journey of authentic learning.

Administrators may ask:   How do I help our staff feel fulfilled and energized?   What mechanisms makes sure teacher voices and desires are given a fair shake? How do I foster collaboration and teamwork and avoid staff feeling "silo'd"? Knowing that overwhelmed teachers may be faced with "cherish or perish," how do I celebrate them and help them avoid burnout?

Teachers may ask:  What inspired me to become a teacher (and if necessary, how do I reconnect to reignite my passion for teaching)?  How can I feed my aspirations and need for growth?  How do I find a balance of personal and professional demands?  In what ways today can I laugh and smile with my students and colleagues?   How can I allow myself to play and take risks without the pressure of perfection?  How can I bring some of this play and joy to my students?

Students may ask:   Do I have a voice and choice in personalizing my path in learning?  How is my learning relevant and authentic?  How can I make sure what I do impacts the world?  Where is the sweet spot in my learning that is between "too challenging" and "too easy"?  What are ways I can collaborate and make learning a social activity? How do I continue to grow in what I'm good at while also filling my learning gaps?

If done well, what we do in school has ramifications for years to come in ways far outside the classroom walls.  In that way, the grandest legacy of our "eternal impact" will be transforming administrators, teachers and students into lifelong learners.

**Editor's note:  while Google searches didn't turn up this idea of "measure, treasure, pleasure" in academic settings, it did reveal phraseology in a similar vein a few times in, of all things, religious reflection (such as this blog entry).   Perhaps this should not be surprising, as the secular "eternal impact" I discuss above would be analogous to the spiritual "eternal impact" of religious belief-centered choices.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Edtech Share Fair 2018 tickets now available!

Happy New Year 2018!  Although I (barely!) blogged more in 2017 than 2016, the number of entries was still lower than I had hoped it would be.  Chalk it up to busy work days and priorities.  One of my New Year resolutions is to at least average two entries a month for 2018 and get closer to the amount of blogging published when I first began Edtech Elixirs.

That aside, today's short blog entry is for promoting the fourth annual Edtech Share Fair on February 21, 2018! There are several firsts this year: the most sessions total (16), principals leading sessions for the first time, and more.   However, the most significant is adding a second strand of sessions concentrating on competency based education (CBE).  As a district, we are transitioning into just such a system, and we'd love to share what we've learned and accomplished so far.

You can read more about our presenters, their sessions, and more Share Fair information here or in the embedded Smore flyer below.     Tickets are FREE and we enthusiastically welcome educators from outside our district to attend.  The link for tickets is in the Smore, or you can go directly to our Eventbrite page here.

Hope to see you in February!