Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 4)

More Reflections on Why

Another impact of the Simon Sinek book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action is that I have been giving thought to how I could put my why into one concise, easily understood statement. While not ready to declare it as final, the following is the current incarnation:

To facilitate meaningful and engaging learning experiences that equip students to reach their dreams.

Here are a few key elements:

  1. Facilitate–my role is to provide tools, training, resources needed for learning.
  2. Meaningful–meaning is a highly personal thing, and we should look for and offer diverse learning opportunities and technologies reflective of the outside world
  3. Engaging–while digital learning tools are exciting to a large percentage of kids, they do not equal engagement by default. The focus still needs to be on powerful classroom practice that pulls learners in.
  4. Experiences–with a nod to John Dewey, learning is most effective within the context of powerful experiences. Do the technologies and strategies I promote create these?
  5. Equip…their dreams–we as educators are beholden to standards. Goals for our students are dictated from ivory towers and governments. Ultimately, however, I think most of us could see no higher level of success than if our students returned to us to tell us of big dreams we inspired and how they achieved those dreams.

Finally, another thought hit me yesterday: What would it look like if we taught our kids to articulate their whys? How might making these concrete affect how our students approach learning? Would our schools even fit their whys at all?

5 Things Schools Never Question But Should

Presented in no particular order, here are 5 deeply engrained ideas or practices in education that we follow, zombie-like, without asking if they are the best ways to promote student learning:

  • Number grades
  • Subject areas (science, English, reading, math, history, etc.)
  • Daily (and yearly) schedules
  • Report cards
  • Age-based grade levels

I think we could have some REALLY interesting faculty meetings just based on these pillars of education. What else should we question more? Could we do better, or are our current conceptions and applications of these things sound?

3D Printing on a Budget–RXS 3D Pen Review

Ever since I first saw the 3Doodler show up on Kickstarter, I have been fascinated with 3D pens. These devices promised to open up a new world of creative possibilities to our students. Demo pictures and videos showed 3D bicycles, Eiffel Towers, unicorns, and more, all created with ease by simply drawing…up.  Well, fast-forward a few years and I will testify that either professional artists were at work making everything look so magically simple, or else I am just very inept. Even so, they continue to amaze and inspire my curiosity and creativity, and I am placing them in all of our elementary campuses,

Today, you can find literally hundreds of different sizes and shapes of 3D pens. While the earliest models ran well over $100, the newest are as inexpensive as $8.  After looking at several review sites and customer reviews, I decided upon the RXS 3D Pen for our elementary maker spaces. The RXS runs around $30, and is one of a big family of clone devices, as one manufacturer apparently supplies a few dozen companies. The large number of reviews and low price would seem to indicate that this is a popular model for the casual hobbyist.

The RXS has some nice features worth noting:

  • Because it can run at multiple temperatures, it supports either PLA or ABS filament. PLA is a low-temp filament made from organicmaterials. It prints shinier and with generally fewer flaws, but it is not as strong as ABS. ABS is oil-based and stronger, but prone to warping and gives off significant odor when melted.
  • Filament speed is easily controlled with a sliding bar on the side of the pen. Slower speeds allow greater control and precision. I think students will be more successful with the pen set to the slower speeds, particularly as they get used to the techniques involved in its use. Higher speeds, at least for me, tend to result in sculptures of spaghetti.
  • Loading and unloading are easily accomplished with buttons on the side of the pen, with the loading button also being the control to dispense the melted filament. It feels very natural and comfortable.

I have honestly not encountered any major issues with the pen, which is a very pleasant surprise given the low price point. The only cautions are the strong fumes given off by the included ABS filaments do require ventilation or an outside workspace, and the tip does get very, very hot, meaning students might be wise to wear gloves.

Overall, while my skills are still questionable (as evidenced to the right), I really like this pen. It is a bargain investment that promises to inspire some very exciting creations!

Innaugural #edwhy and #edwhatif Chat Storified

Below find the chat logs from tonight’s first ever #edwhy and #edwhatif chats. Not a huge response the first time out (Okay, very small.), but that’s not a problem–I believe it will be worthwhile, because we need to question things in our field if anything is ever going to change for the better.

Besides, I’m a longtime blogger–I’m used to talking to myself! 🙂



Presentation Notes: What’s New in Web 2.0?

At the risk of having the entire group focus on their food and ignore me (ahem) the following are some useful resources I’ll be sharing with Highland Park ISD teachers during lunch on Thursday.

  • –create & share online “boards” around any topic or area of expertise. 
  • Gooru –powerful new search tool for education that returns results that can be filtered by type (e.g. notes, handouts, quizzes, interactives, etc.). Can also create collections, virtual playlists for students to use.
  • Aurasma —partly a Web 2.0 tool, Aurasma’s key component is an app that uses a phone’s camera to access images, videos, etc. that have been linked to an image of a particular object.
  • Tynker –online tool that lets students learn the basics of programming and lets teachers manage students, create programming assignments, assess, etc.
  • –watch videos and take notes as you go. Notes are saved to Google Drive account.
  • Checkthis –great, free tool for quickly creating sharp-looking websites, including text and many types of embeddable tools (maps, videos, web apps, etc.).
  • TubeChop –very practical tool that allows users to select and share specific snippets of YouTube videos.
  • Knovio –share your PowerPoint presentations online PLUS add video clips of yourself providing narration.
  • Comicmaster —really cool tool for creating graphic novels online using click-and-drag interface. Products can be saved and printed.
  • Marqueed –collaboratively share and discuss images, website screen captures, more. Includes a useful history tool to keep track of conversations and works nicely with Google Drive.
  • Thinglink –create and share interactive images, maps, etc. Add an image, add a trigger, and link it to content (video, podcast, website, Wikipedia, etc.).
  • GroupMap –create and share very collaborative mindmaps. Simple interface, let’s users have easy control over privacy.
  • –free, collaborative tool for creating infographics. Uses handy click-and-drag format and includes numerous templates and graphics to get you started.
  • –another tool for creating infographics online, also has an easy interface, great graphics, and ability to create collaboratively.
  • –simple tool lets users add speech bubbles to upload images and save or share in a variety of ways.
  • BiblioNasium –create a safe social network for students that is centered on reading. Teacher can create recommended book lists and monitor student progress, students can engage in book discussions, parents can monitor children, much, much more.
  • Portfoliogen –create sharp, professional-looking online portfolios.
  • DoSketch –very simple, free drawing tool. Unlike many similar sites, drawings can be downloaded and saved!
  • GeoGuessr/GeoSettr –fun and engaging geography guessing game using Google Street View. GeoSettr lets users create and share their own games.
  • Remind101 –create text-message class contact lists without ever seeing student numbers.
  • Presenter –online presentation tool still in beta. Good tool selection and interface, but has been a little buggy (That’s why it’s in beta.). Still, it has a lot of potential, the development team is very responsive to questions or suggestions, AND it creates presentations that are mobile-device friendly!

Live Blogging from ISTE 2010: Learning with Mobile Devices

Session title: Mobile Devices + Web 2.0 = Engaged and Empowered Learners

Click Here

Preparing Students for Online Learning: Steps for the Classroom

Today’s education environment is evolving more rapidly than at any other time in history. Technology is playing a critical role in this metamorphosis. As schools race to keep pace with the growth of new technologies and the resultant changing expectations of stakeholders, one of the most rapidly growing applications is in the area on online courses, or e-learning. According to a survey of 1,600 post-secondary schools conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 2/3 of the schools now offer dimdimcourses that are either completely or partially web-based and over 11,000 programs that entirely used distance learning (Parsad, 2008). Schools that participated in the study cited reasons for offering such courses as offering students greater flexibility in course scheduling, providing access to students who would otherwise not be able to attend the schools, increasing the number/types of courses available, and increasing overall enrollment.

Karl Kapp cites some interesting economic figures regarding e-learning in his blog. According to one study he shared, e-learning was a $20 billion global industry in 2008, and it is projected to be at over $52 billion by next year. “Online tutoring” is a $4 billion industry, with expected growth rates of 10-15% per year.

So, what are some implications for k-12 schools? This increase in participation in online learning has had a great impact on the k-12 landscape. Students are enrolling in growing numbers in an ever-increasing variety of online courses and for a variety of reasons, including convenience, availability of subjects, need to balance work/family/school schedules, suitability to their learning styles, etc.

The question that we should ask is whether or not we are doing enough in our traditional classrooms to prepare students for success in a learning environment that is becoming such a significant part of the post-secondary and business environments. Despite the growing popularity of such offerings, there have been several studies that have revealed that many students struggle with or drop out of online courses. Studies claim attrition rates ranging from 20-80% in online courses (Tyler-Smith, 2006). It seems likely that many students enter the online classroom ill-prepared for success.

The inclusion of relevant technologies does not need to be a full-immersion experience. A 7th grade math teacher would likely find little success if she suddenly decided to take her course curriculum completely online. The skills students will need to master to better ensure success in online learning include familiarity with technology tools, practice with communicating and collaborating with a diverse audience, metacognition and self-motivation, writing skills, and organization skills. While it is obvious that many of these skills are key components of everyday instruction (writing, organization, metacognition), others would be less likely to be addressed in a traditional curriculum. The skills that students need can begin to be addressed and developed by some simple classroom applications that utilize relevant, abundant, and free technologies.

The 2009 Horizon Report describes several technologies that can be classified as either synchronous (real-time interaction) or asynchronous learning tools. When used in a traditional classroom, these tools have a great deal of potential for developing the skills students will need for success in the eLearning environment. Tools include:

I would add to the list student email, as email is a vital communication tool not only in the business and home environment, but in the online learning environment, as well.

The classroom teacher can integrate many of these tools seamlessly into the existing curriculum. The key is to offer a wide range of opportunities for students to use the technologies. Students should be allowed to participate in collaboration opportunities with students from other classes or other locations, to engage in real-time discussions of subject matter, to share ideas and resources, to put forth questions for further class consideration, to reflect on learning, and to assist in the planning of such opportunities. The goal is for the learning curve associated with the types of technology and interaction in an online environment to be reduced or eliminated, so that students can instead focus on course content.



Parsad, B. & Lewis, L. (2008). Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions:  2006–07. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from

Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early attrition among first time eLearners: A review of factors that contribute to drop-out, withdrawal, and non-completion rates of adult learners undertaking eLearning programmes. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from

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