Sunday, January 25, 2015

Teachers as Life Long Learners

Many schools promote a goal for its students to be a "life long learner." Many teachers often promote this "life long learner" concept with their students as well. I have even heard many teachers proudly consider themselves to be "life long learners" as part of their attempt to inspire their students to consider this ideal. 

I want to challenge our thinking on what it means to be a "life long learner" as a teacher. If you teach history, does being a "life long learner" mean you are constantly looking to improve your knowledge of history? Are you always looking for new articles, artifacts and documentaries to study? If you are a teacher of the Bible, does being a "life long learner" mean you spend time each day studying the Bible and its commentaries? I would argue that in these scenarios, the described people are "life long learners" of a subject, but they are not "life long learners" of their profession. Being a "life long learner" as a teacher means that you spend your life trying to improve your teaching craft; skills, pedagogy, classroom management, presentation, etc. It means you are constantly looking at the latest educational developments and research to learn best teaching practices. Technology is just one area that a teacher needs to consider as part of their teaching repertoire. But it is a crucial one as it has the ability to engage students in ways not available before and it has ways to allow students to take control of their learning in ways not available before. To borrow the line from Dr. Heidi Jacobs from, would you want to be treated by a physician whose practice and office is using the same technology it used in 1970? I think not. Similarly, even the most successful teachers need to consider how new ways of thinking and new technologies can improve their teaching.

Current research suggests that the best professional learning should be: ongoing, personal, collaborative, teacher directed and teacher taught, observing colleagues and not be the old way of a few long full days of big name speakers that has no follow through into the classroom. I think this video suggests a refreshing way of looking at our professional learning; the new term used is a being a "Connected Educator." Are you connecting with other teachers to improve your skill and to consider new ideas?

I just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) and aside from the tools and new teaching methodologies I learned about, the overall thirst for improving the teaching trade was what impressed me the most. There were thousands of teachers there, people who recognize that Educational Technology and STEM education are the ways of the future and need to be incorporated into our schools if we want to prepare our students for their future professions. But the key point that kept on coming up was that the focus always must remain on education and learning. The technology is just the tool to help enhance the learning. The STEM programs are important not because every child will become an engineer, but because it promotes critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and other 21st century skills that EVERY child will need when he reaches the workforce.

I would challenge everyone who is reading this post to consider new ways to grow in your trade. It can be attending a quality conference, spending time with a colleague, learning with the principal, assistant principal or edtech integrator in your school, reading a book, taking online webinars or watching Youtube videos.  Do whatever works for you, but do it and do it constantly. Make a plan and make it part of your professional life.

There is one professional learning tool that I think every educator should consider: TWITTER. I am not a social media advocate for social reasons, but I am a social media advocate for professional learning. Twitter is a social media micro blogging platform that allows educators to share thoughts, links and resources with people who follow them. Educators have literally taken over the Twitter scene with hundreds of thousands of educators utilizing Twitter every day. There are weekly Twitter chats in every discipline and on various pedagogical topics. Many teachers even use Twitter in their classroom, but that is a subject for another blog posting. Here is a Google Presentation from a session I have given on Twitter and Building Your Personal Learning Network. It explains how Twitter works and how one can get started.

Twitter is an easy way to connect with educators throughout the world and it can be done from your ccomputer, tablet or smart phone. A lot can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Sign up for a free account,  find a few educators to follow and spend a few minutes a week reading. I guarantee that teachers of all disciplines have a lot to gain from this experience and will find resources, project ideas and content that can be incorporated into their class. 

If you want to be a connected educator, give it a try. Join Twitter and learn from the field. You have so much to gain, nothing to lose and will surely come away enriched. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Experiencing the iPad Summit in Boston

I had the opportunity last week to attend the iPad Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. Along with my HALB Edtech staff, we spent two days exploring current practice and thought in 1:1 iPad classroom use.

We spent Wednesday in the pre-conference 6 hour hands-on workshop working primarily on the apps Book Creator, Explain Everything and iMovie. The overall educational objective was to introduce us to the concept of App Smashing, which is the notion of using one App to do one activity and then to bring that end product into another app to move the project to a deeper level.

Thursday was spent in listening to a great keynote address from Heidi Hays Jacobs and then attending six -one hour sessions on various apps, strategies and pedagogy. CLICK HERE to read my notes from the sessions and to access many of the presenter’s slides.

Prior to leaving for the conference, I asked myself, do I really need to attend another edtech conference? After all, I have attended about 8 conferences in the last year and a half, was I really going gain that much?

After the experience, I can honestly say YES - I gained so much from the conference, but perhaps in some different ways than previous conferences. I did learn a few new tools, but that is not by biggest takeaway of this conference. Here are a few of the main takeaways for me:

  1. The most valuable lessons learned for me this week were real, specific, creative student projects. I went into each session thinking, how could our students use this app or this tool to enhance their learning? Here are a few examples that I thought were worth sharing.


  1. HALB Team Building - I have the fortune of working with a highly professional team of edTech integrators who continue to devote themselves to supporting our staff and to helping me integrate the latest and the best new initiatives. To add to that, we brought two teachers along who use iPads in their classes to help them broaden their perspective and skill set with iPads. The six of us had an awesome time collaborating and brainstorming how to best implement the tools we were learning about.

  1. Networking and exposure to well known educators - You can never get enough of this. I spent the entire day on Wednesday with teachers who had great ideas and who shared their experiences and challenges with iPads in the classroom. I had a chance to hear from Heidi Hays Jacobs of and although I had heard a similar presentation from her less than a year ago, the 2nd time was a charm; many of her ideas resonated with me in a different more practical way this time. (See link above to my notes)

  1. Vendors sharing the latest technology - although the list of Vendors was miniscule in comparison to other edtech conferences, I firmly believe that if I come back with one new thing that I can implement in one of our HALB divisions, then the conference was worthwhile. Honestly, I spent less than 20 minutes this week at the vendor booths, but the few minutes I spent yielded a tool that I think will be be a great asset to our preschool iPad program. I learned about a tool called Osmo, an iPad accessory which has multiple games suited for children of all ages. CLICK HERE to see how cool it is.

At the end of the day, professional learning has to be a key ingredient to every teacher's (persons) experience. In the next posting, I will talk about the single most significant professional learning skill/excersise I take part in on a weekly, if not daily basis. Can anyone guess what that is?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reflections on Year 1 of our 1:1 iPad Program

After completing the 2013-2014 school year, it is time for some reflection. Our school pushed forward with numerous new initiatives, but this blog posting is just about one: our 1:1 iPad Pilot program.

We gave iPads to the entire 6th grade and a few select high school classes. Our implementation plan asked our Social Studies teacher to use the iPad regularly from the start, but that all other teachers had time to integrate the tool, with many of them starting slowly and only really seeing the fruits of their labor in the second semester. The key was edtech support; our school investing in 4 educational technology integrators throughout our 3 schools and that made all the difference the world. If your school is considering a 1:1 without edtech integrators, do not do it. Teachers need constant support to integrate the iPad and transform it into a learning tool. 

We move to next year where we will be adding to the program with both 6th and 7th graders receiving iPads. In addition, we will be expanding our high school pilot to approximately 75 students. This is a more limited pilot in that these students will be using the iPad in class with only 1-3 teachers who will be utilizing the iPad. We have moved ahead with more classes and hope this will be the transition to a full 1:1 in 2015-2016.

I have learned a lot from this experience, but the single most important thing is the need for having a framework for the types of apps you want to implement and knowing which should be the “meat and potatoes,” and which should be the “dessert.” To make the point, most people mistakenly think that the key apps are the subject specific apps. In my humble opinion, that is way off target and can move an iPad program totally of course. 
Let me explain:

The way I see it, there are six educational categories of apps:
Subject Specific

Aren’t we all looking to implement technology so that students can take control of their learning utilize their creativity to show mastery of learning beyond the classic pen and paper tests we all grew up with? I believe so. That is the first category of Creativity apps for Students and Teachers(such as iMovie, Explain Everything, Educreations, etc). After that we move to Student Assessment (such as Socrative, Google Forms and Haiku Assessments), Workflow/Organization Apps (such as Google Drive and Haiku Learning/ LMS) and Presentation apps (such as Keynote and Nearpod). 

If you can get those categories down, then the last two categories would be iBooks and Subject specific apps. Next year we will be piloting an iBook in our 6th, 7th and 10th grade Language Arts classes, our computer classes will be trying out the Common Sense Media’s iBook for Digital Citizenship, and we even have our social studies teacher creating her own iBook textbook with iBooks Author. We are hopeful this experience will shed light on the future of iBooks for our school. In terms of subject specific apps, we will be piloting a few in science, math, language arts and social studies. We view them as ancillary and enhancements, but not the key to student learning the way the first categories are seen.

Our Edtech team has spent much of this school year building a website for EdTech Tools to help our teachers learn these tools. CLICK HERE to view it. It is a substantial work in progress and we would love your feedback.

Next post coming in a few days.... Reflections on ISTE 2014.....

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reflections on My Trip to Minnetonka, Minnesota

It is only natural for us to get used to our surroundings, our school culture, our faculty morale, our student demographics, etc., but it is so important to find time to get out and see the world. In this context, I don’t mean to sight see the world, although that has its own merit. Rather, I mean go visit other schools and see what they are doing.

I write this posting on the flight home from Minnetonka, Minnesota where I spend the last day and a half on a National School Board Association Site Visit of the Minnetonka School district. All I can say is wow! I saw a school district focused on innovation, utilizing technology to advance learning, a staff morale where teachers love coming to school and embrace new initiatives, a district which understands that proper staffing is key to advancing learning through technology and so much more.  Best of all, the district is all about collaboration, sharing all of their experience and resources. Yes, I am sure they like the public relations generated from these site visits, but they sincerely want to share what they have learned with others.  Led by Dave Eisenmann and a huge staff (I won’t mention all the names, but you can find them on my twitter following list), they put together a visit where we went into classes and saw the learning enhanced with their iPads and other edtech tools.

It would be difficult to share everything I saw on the visit, but here are some of my highlights. You can see some of my pictures and short notes of the Middle School by CLICKING HERE and of the HIGH School by CLICKING HERE.  

   1.       The Middle School News Show – this was simply awesome. A group of students produce a live news show every morning, where they report the weather and important school announcements. With state of the art equipment, the faculty only facilitate the process, but the entire production is done by the students.
   2.       The 6th Grade STEM class, led by Lisa Reed, was outstanding. Seeing kids learn about and build robots is truly inspiring. The resources Lisa uses can be seen by CLICKING HERE
   3.       We saw an 8th grade History class, where students were building their own custom maps. After coloring in a black and white paper map, the students colored in the map, took a picture of it with their ipads and brought it into an app called Thing link. This app allows students to place stars in locations on the map, then they can insert data, pictures or videos relating to the locations. This app really makes geography come alive.
   4.       One of the objectives I had for this visit was to leave with a clear vision of the classroom workflow from iPad to LMS. Not only did I gain that (topic for a future blog posting), but Minnetonka has created a series of workflow videos and post the QR codes in every classroom so that students are always prepared and know what to do.
   5.       The High school principal discussed how he drives the iPad program from an instructional point of view. He made a number of great points:
a.       The iPad is a tool. The excitement is how we are using it to enhance learning.
b.      Assessment: If we ca Google the answer, why bother assessing it?
c.       He asks each teacher  two questions in the beginning of the semester
                                                               i.      What is the one thing you want to do with the iPad this semester?
                                                             ii.      What do you need from me to support you in that work?
d.      It is all about Staff Development. They have a global PD plan, but only share one piece at a time with the teachers so not to overwhelm them. They started with classroom management with the iPad how to always leave a path in the back of the room so you can see what the students are doing. Then they moved on to assessment and other objectives.
e.      Be sure to hear the student voice. They created a panel of students to hear their input on how the iPads were being implemented.
f.        Going paperless! – They began the process but with great incentive for the teachers. “If we save 25% of our photocopying budget, imagine how much money we could give to teachers as mini grants to develop new programs.

The bottom line is that Minnetonka Schools are at the forefront of edtech and learning and they are willing to share it all. I would highly recommend going to their upcoming Ipad Institute from June 26-27. CLICK HERE to get more information about the institute.

Here are a number of links that they shared that would be beneficial so any educator:
   1.       Minnetonka Schools iPad in the Classroom Document - ****** This is a must for any school going 1:1 with iPads. They share everything from the acceptable use policy to list of apps to data that they presented to their school board. If you are looking for data that shows iPads in the classroom improve the learning (when teachers know what to do with them), this is the place to look.
   2.       Minnetonka  Middle School – Site Visit Resources

   3.       Middle School STEM – Program Resources

The Role of Technology in the Classroom

As an institution, we have spent much of this school year focused on the various new edtech initiatives. Our Blended Learning program in the younger grades has shown outstanding results, our teachers in grades 6-12 have been learning and growing with Haiku, our 6th grade and select high school pilots have been learning how to integrate ipads in the classroom and we have all started to utilize Google Apps.  I thought it would be worthwhile to take a step back and try to outline the vision of why we are doing all of this.

When most of us went to school, education and learning was about Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.  Although those skills are just as important today, our students are growing up in a different world, one where being a successful professional requires more skills; 21st Century Skills. Current research suggests that in addition to the 3 R’s, the 4 C’s: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical thinking are as or more important to the education of our children.  It is about more student centered classrooms and work spaces, and giving students more independence to manage their own learning. It is about project based learning and students collaborating with other students. At a recent conference, I heard a Google executive make the following statement: If a Google employee were to come to his boss with a finished product that he worked on alone, it would be looked down upon for lack of collaboration. But historically, a collaborative, more heads are better than one approach is usually seen as cheating. This type of classroom is about unleashing student creativity, making projects that show their knowledge in multiple ways. It is about assessing students not just with pen and paper tests, but with video and image creation.

21st Century learning is not about any one tool. It is not about iPads, Haiku, Google or any other specific tool.  It is a classroom where I as a teacher  can no longer say I use the smart board every day so I must have a 21st century classroom. Although that is a tool, how is it being used? Who is writing on the board? Just the teacher, or are we involving the students. In fact, current thinking would suggest putting the smart board on the side of the classroom where it can be more student centered as opposed to the front of the room where the teacher tends to be the “sage on the stage.” 

So what is the perfect formula needed to create a 21st century learning environment? After a lot reading and collaborating with educators throughout the country, I can tell you with confidence that there is no one perfect formula. It is about how you structure your lessons and the learning that takes place in your classroom to focus on 21st century skills! It is about your teacher “tool kit” or “tool box” as many refer to it. As a teacher, I have to learn ten tools so that I can choose which ones would be worth becoming an expert in and utilizing often, while knowing some other tools to integrate at other opportune moments. It is about teachers not being afraid to experiment and fail.  It is about not worrying if your students are more tech savvy than you are.

We often teach our students to be determined and resilient through the challenges that life presents to them. I would argue that the world of education today is one such challenge for us as teachers. What would you tell your students? You can do it! Well, for those of you skeptics, I say to you, you can do it too! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

iMovie for iPad in the Classroom

There once was a time when video creation and editing was a skill only had by computer geeks and the tech savvy. As technology evolves, video creation becomes easier and easier. And then came iMovie for the iPad! This iPad app makes video creation as easy as can be (not to be confused with iMovie for the Mac which is more robust and much more complicated). Teachers can now create their own videos or better yet, they can have students create videos as a tool to demonstrate mastery of knowledge. 

Why use iMovie with your students :
  • iMovie can bring your lessons to life through video, sound, and picture.
  • It is a powerful and highly engaging tool for students to share their knowledge and express themselves in the form of digital movies.
  • iMovie can open many doors in your classroom for students to use their 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking along with using technology.
  • It promotes collective knowledge construction and individual reflection.

What are some examples of how you can use iMovie in the classroom?

In a social studies class, a student might create a movie to present a video report on a historical figure, present a newscast or take a position in a debate. In science, videos could be used to evaluate a lab experiment or explain the process behind any bodily system.  In a Language Arts class, students could use video to compare and contrast characters in a book or act out a scene from a play.   Foreign language class is a perfect opportunity to have students demonstrate mastery of the language by creating a videos demonstrating their use of the language. In a Judaic studies class, video could be used to document the process of the lesson or a discussion of various commentaries. One of the advantages to using iMove to allow students to present ideas and concepts to other students it that it allows student who might afraid to present in public the chance to correct mistakes and to self edit their presentation or material.

Edtech guru, Kathy Schrock, wrote a blog for Discovery Education where she describes the following uses for iMovie in the classroom:

  • Have students create an “end of course or class” trailer to introduce others to the course
  • Students can create an advertisement for a product they created in a STEM class.
  • Movie trailers can put a new spin on the “all about me” presentation.
  • Students can help create promo pieces for upcoming school events, class elections, and fund-raising activities
  • A movie trailer can be a very short, but exciting digital story, summarizing the content and/or process in any curriculum area
  • Roz Linder’s ideas for using movie trailers as a way to introduce different viewpoints
  •’s  great resource about the use of film trailers in the classroom
  • Mr. Manion’s Movie Trailer Analysis which could easily be turned into a rubric

iMovie for iPad has two types of projects:
1. Movie Trailers - these are short, approximately one minute videos patterned to look like a movie trailer. These are easy to create; all you have to do is organize your still photos and video clips and then put them into already created templates. There are numerous templates to choose from and all the background music and transitions are build in. Click on the links below to read and watch how to create movie trailers. Also be sure to click on the links below that show student and teacher work examples of movie trailers.

2. Projects - these are more typical videos, created by putting together various video clips and still photos while inserting your own music in the background. This is not as simple as trailers, but it gives you more time and options to thoroughly create a project. These are great for collaborate group projects!

To get started, all you have to do is organize your electronic artifacts, which includes: still photos, video clips and music files. Choose which type of project will work bet for your scenario, outline your script of process and get started. Click on the links below to learn the ins and outs of iMovie for the iPad. I included video tutorials, written directions, useful links and examples of teacher and student work.


Video Tutorials
1. How to Use iMovie for iPad -  Nine elements (Projects)
2. How to Create iMovie Trailers (Trailer)
3. iMovie for iPad Tutorial (Projects)
4. iMovie Tutorial (Projects)
5. iMovie for iPad in 5 Minutes (Projects)

Written Directions
1. How to create an iMovie Trailer
2. How to make a Movie Trailer with iMovie for iPad
3. Storyboard Help Sheets if iMovie Trailers - This is awesome!
4. Edit an Instruction Video with iMovie for iPad
5. Making a Legendary Movie Trailer with iMovie for iPad

1. Apple iMovie Help Page
2. Using iMovie at every level of Bloom's
3. iMovie Rubric
4. 13 Ways to Use iMovie in the Classroom
5. 6 Ways to Enhance Student Learning Using iMovie

Student and Teacher Work
1. Abolitionist Project - Created by a nine year old
2. Elements of a Fairy Tail
3. A few weeks ago, I went into Mrs. Elisheva Kaminetsky's Navi (Prophets) class where she had finished a discussion on Crying. In my non-professional way I wanted to play around with a full project and a movie trailer. These could have used some more editing, but they are a good start.
Full Movie

4. Rabbi Aaron Fleksher had his students create movie trailers. Here are some examples:

Here are some more ideas for using iMovie in the classroom. 

Create a digital book summary
To produce a videocast about current events
To create a movie that depicts different parts of speech
Slideshow from the Zoo
Use to create a movie that depicts proper classroom behavior
Create a sigh language movie
To capture and assess oral readings
To record a conference with a subject matter expert
Have students record and edit their school play
Create a movie on life skills
Expose students to different types of culture by creating video documentaries
Create a video field trip
Record a Radio/TV Showvideo of students presenting proper behavior
 Many more

Links to Previous Videos

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Voicethread in the Classroom

In our last post, we talked about Google Voice as a tool that can help teachers record themselves and share that with their students as well as have students read texts, record them and share with the teacher. This is a powerful tool that allows the teacher and student to share audio files with each other. However, there are a few drawbacks:
1. It is only an audio file
2. It is only visible to the individual student and the teacher, but not easily visible to other students for the sake of collaboration. 

Voicethread is a more powerful tool that can do so much more.

What is a voicethread?

Just as we all are familiar with an email thread, where emails go back and forth, 
a voicethread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos. It allows people to navigate slides and leave comments. (
The teacher can share a video or audio clip with the class and have the students respond with only the teacher seeing the student's response. Alternatively, you can have students create a voicethread and then have other students respond to each other.
Who has access to your voicethread?
Anyone you want! You can share it with students, colleagues or make it public to the world.
How can you regulate privacy and access?

The teacher decides everything. You can decide if the thread is public of shared, you can decide what permissions the students have (to view or also to edit), and you can make groups to make it easier to share threads with each other.

Is it mobile?

YES! You can use Voicethread with an iPad, iPod touch and an iPhone. It even has a Chrome extension to make it easier to work on a Chromebook.

What are the technical requirements?

All you need is a device with internet, a microphone and webcam.

What are the top reasons to use Voicethread?

1. Flexible – can be used in any subject area
2. Cost effective - free account is very good
3. Allows students to work at their own pace and can see how other students read or work to solve a problem. 
4. Motivates student engagement and is motivating for all types of learners - the students who normally are too shy to speak now can do so without feeling someone is over their shoulder.
5. It is fun for students

What are the steps to create a voicethread?
1. Upload – from My Computer, media, your webcam, url from any picture online, or upload 
an audio file. This is the fie you want to start the conversation with.
     2. Comment – by phone, webcam, recording with microphone, type, upload audio file.
3. Publishing options – controls who can access
a. Allow anyone to view
b. Allow anyone to comment
c. Moderate the comments - if you want to view the comments of an individual student before making that comment viewable to all the other students.
d. Show on browse page - this makes it public
e. Share the thread through creating contacts, groups or simply get
            the link and then email it to your students or post it on Haiku.


1. Voicethread - A Valuable Classroom Collaboration Tool - *** this has all the links you could want for different ideas of using Voicethread in the classroom.

5. Resources from a recent Voicethread email:
In 2011, educators Stein Brunvand and Sara Byrd published a paper titled "Using VoiceThread to Promote Learning Engagement and Success for All Students". This study demonstrates howVoiceThread not only promotes practice of a variety of skills, but also plays a major factor in motivation levels for different types of students. By introducing VoiceThread to their instruction, they were able to reach students with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral challenges, and low test scores.
Take a look at the Publications page to find even more research done in this area.
More recently, Damien Herlihy and Zeke Pottage from Swinburne University in Australia undertook an experiment using VoiceThread in formative assessment of students who were learning English. Their research showed that VoiceThread provided educators with the ability to give continuous feedback as students practiced their speaking skills and the opportunity to witness their students’ progress over time. The resulting paper, titled “Formative assessment in a Web 2.0 environment: Impact on motivation and outcomes”, won the ELICOS 2012 Award for Action Research.
Watch a presentation of their research.
Now that you have an idea of how VoiceThread can quantifiably enhance differentiated learning, take a look at the VoiceThread Digital Library for even more inspiration. There are some great examples of how innovative teachers are using VoiceThread in their classrooms to reach and assess learning goals.  If you’ve got an example you’d like to share, submit it here!

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