Sunday, August 21, 2016

Reflection: Hacking Education, 10 Quick Fixes For Every School

Hacking Education

This summer I read Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes For Every School. It is by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. It is a part of the Hack Learning Series books. The books offer to help educators "solve big problems with simple ideas."

The book has ten "hacks". Think of these hacks as unique workarounds to problems many teachers deal with. However, the fixes are informal and teacher driven so not bound by paperwork requirements or top-down formulas of how to accomplish the changes. They typically do not involve a huge investment of money (usually no money at all). Each chapter looks at a school problem (such as large amounts of time spent at staff meetings) and then shares a potential solution/hack (such as meeting in the cloud) as well as a suggested implementation plan and how to deal with push back, deadlines and accountability. 

Not all the hacks are related to technology. As this is a technology blog, I am only going to share my reflections on the tech hacks (that said I love the ideas behind the Marigold Committee and The Book Nook).

The book is a quick read. Not only is it a short book, 134 pages, but it is written almost conversationally. As the authors themselves state, the book is: "light on research and statistics and heavy on practical advice." 

Each hack/chapter follows the same formula. First the problem is identified. Second a "hack" is outlined. Next the authors propose a way you could start the hack right away (What You Can Do Tomorrow). Then the authors layout a blueprint for full implementation. As changing an established way of doing things can be challenging for some teachers and administrators, the authors also provided suggestions for overcoming pushback. Finally they provide real world examples of the hack in action.

HACK ONE: Meet In The Cloud

Summary: This hack suggests that schools replace face-to-face staff meetings with backchannel (online) conversations and shared folders (in the cloud). And yes it addresses the worry of people simply not participating or "attending" in these meetings. The hack basically has the meeting items stored on documents in the cloud that are organized in shared folders of some kind, like Google Drive. One folder would house items important for all staff, but then you could have separate or sub folders for subgroups as not all issues/items apply to all staff. In addition to this, an asynchronous dialogue could take place in a backchannel such as Google Hangouts (they recommend Voxer). The authors give suggestions of how to monitor these "meetings" and how to set and  supervise deadlines and accountability.

Why do all of this? To free up teachers' time. It allows teachers/staff to participate in the conversations/decisions they need to be a part of but disregard the content that does not apply to them that is typically included in staff meetings in a time effective way.

Reflection: I just finished working at a small school for the past three years. I think in schools where there is a small staff a blended version of this hack might work. Our staff meetings were social as well as work and people LIKED the time together. However, I believe they would also have been supportive of shorter meetings if some items could be deal with "in the cloud". I think the larger the school, the more successful the hack. In EPSB collaboration between schools is common. I like how the authors have suggested setting up the "meeting" structure with folders, sub folders and a backchannel. I wished I had this hack last year for my cross-school collaboration. I like the backchannel aspect, as I think we naturally revert to email and having different "channels" for different topics is much more effective. I will definitely use this hack in some fashion this year.

Related blog post: Collaborate!

HACK FIVE: Student Tech Gurus

Summary: Student Tech Gurus is a hack that is meant to address the problem of not enough tech support for teachers/classrooms. The Gurus are students who should be trained to not only solve small-scale tech problems but also do some training as well. The hack has students getting pulled out of class to help with IT issues, so they suggest selecting students who have good academic records. This hack makes me think of Kern Kelley and the Tech Sherpas (who have their own book out). 

ReflectionAs an elementary teacher who has run a technology club in some form for the past seven years, I agree with the authors when they state "fifth and sixth graders are certainly mature enough to not only learn how to solve basic tech problems, but also to conduct trainings." However, at the elementary level I do not agree that only students with good academic records need only apply. 

The hacks in the book are not prescriptive, rather the message is find what works for you and here are some suggestions to get started. In my own practice, one of the things I found helpful when Smartboards were still relatively new was to have two tech clubs. One for lower elementary and one for upper elementary. Each class in the school had one-two students represented. We would meet over lunch (for the younger students sometimes recess was enough) and I would teach students some common issues and workarounds/solutions. I also would do some training with the older students based on the needs identified by the teachers. 

These lunch time sessions were supported with hard copy "tech tips" in each class. The tips were pinned near the teacher computer to be used by both the teacher and tech club students. You can imagine how helpful this was when a supply teacher was present and dealing with technology issues! When classroom specific issues arose, I would pull the two tech students to work with them to find the solution. I found having tech support built into each classroom extremely effective and did not require students to be pulled from class. 

HACK SEVEN: The In-Class Flip

Summary: This hack is for those teachers who want to try a flipped classroom but are concerned about what will actually be accomplished at home (if you are not familiar with what is involved in a flipped classroom, check out this infographic). Essentially this hack is blended learning. Instead of students watching a video at home to prepare them for next day's lesson they watch the video in class. Most division one teachers will have no problem trying this hack as it uses centres. The teacher divides students into groups. Then the teacher creates centre activities. There should be one more centre than there are groups of students. So if you have four groups, you will need five centres. Students watch the instructional video at one centre. The following centre the students work with the teacher to apply the concept from the video. The remaining centres should be independent work. 

ReflectionI am a fan of this hack and as a teacher I found myself moving in this direction more and more. Each chapter in the book has a section called "overcoming pushback". For this hack one of the issues they identify is "I don't have time to make my own videos". Video creation IS time consuming and not always necessary as you may find what you need on YouTube. However as someone who has made their own videos, I can say that it IS worth it. The authors give good advice in this area: "Give yourself permission to create 'good enough' videos."

Related blog posts: Flipping the Grade One Classroom and Technology As My E.A.

HACK NINE: The Glass Classroom

Summary: This hack is all about using social media with your class. The goal of this hack is to open your classroom to the world, especially parents. Hack seven (The In-Class Flip) and nine work really well together if you put the videos you use (teacher made or not) on a platform parents and students can access at home.  The book has some good steps to follow if you are interested in making this leap but are not sure how. 
    Step 1: Choose a platform 
                  (I highly recommend a classroom Twitter account for division one teachers)
    Step 2: Define your content
                  (I highly recommend that students are involved in this process eventually)
    Step 3: Set guidelines
    Step 4: Educate stakeholders 
    Step 5: Secure permissions
    Step 6: Start sharing 
    Step 7: Be vigilant
    Step 8: Expand (to other platforms)

ReflectionI think as we continue use social media as a society that we NEED to use it in our classrooms. Not only does using social media in our classrooms embrace how students learn and share their learning but also to teaches them how to do so responsibly.  We need to include students in the decisions around privacy and teach them how to make safe social media decisions. For me, in the younger grades using social media is more about bringing the world to your classroom than it is opening up your classroom to the world. If this is something your are interested in, I suggest reading Kathy Cassidy's blog, Primary Preoccupation, or book, Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Classroom.

Related blog posts: Share What Is Happening In Your Class Instantly... Use Instagram! and What I Learned About Using Twitter In Class This Year

HACK TEN: The 360 Spreadsheet

SummaryThe authors call this hack The 360 Spreadsheet. I called it student learning profiles. Regardless of what you call it, the hack is meant to help a teacher truly see students for who they are and help teachers develop strong relationships with students as well as academically plan for them. The hack has teachers put data about students in a spreadsheet (Word, Excel, Docs, Sheets or even paper) so that you have information about students in one easy to access place.

ReflectionI basically did this hack a few years ago. I surveyed students and families with a multiple intelligence survey. As well, I always asks students about their favourite things as a first day of school activity, which I also added to their profiles. I put in pre-assessment information and any special needs information as well. So as I was reading this chapter I was nodding but in the back of my mind I was like "this is all well and good but..." and then the authors finished my thought for me: 

Their solution for this push back statement is to look at the spreadsheet regularly. Which I think anyone who has created these knows they should do.  I definitely found using a student profile chart useful at the beginning of the year to help me really get a sense of the students in my class. It also gave me a sense of what the class as a whole needed, too. I am not sure I have figured out how to make it a part of my daily, weekly or even monthly practice. It is like flossing. I know I need to do it regularly. I see the benefits when I do. The challenge is how to make it a regular routine in a busy work week.

Related blog post: Student Profile Template

HACK ELEVEN (AKA MY HACK): Affordable Professional Reading

No, there is no eleventh hack in the book! If after reading this blog post you feel you would like to read the whole book, you can order it onlineThere is an online preview of the book available as well. 

However, if you are like me, I started hesitating about purchasing all the professional development books I wanted to read. The cost starts to add up quickly! So MY HACK is for teachers to use their local union's library.  If you are like me and like to highlight and write in your books, you can sign books out of a library to preview (read a few chapters) a book before purchasing. 

I checked this book out of the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) Library. You can sign out books for a month. If needed, they are loaned by mail and you can return the book via mail (ATA provides return postage, too). 

Monday, August 1, 2016

An Interview With Kelly Maxwell

Kelly and Colette (blog author) 
at the 2015 Calgary Summit.
A Perspective From Outside of EPSB
While the primary focus of this blog is the work of EPSB, we also like to collaborate and share experiences with our colleagues in different districts. Kelly Maxwell is from Black Gold Regional Schools. I managed to catch her for an interview before she leaves division one for division two. Kelly has been a grade two teacher for twelve years but is moving into grade five in September. You can find her on Google+ and on Twitter as @kelmax307.

The Interview

What technology skills should students have before coming into grade two?
Students should be able to log onto their Chromebook, care for the device, know how to access their Google drive, how to open and close tabs and know how to bookmark a site.

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?
I get my ideas from Google+, colleagues, blogs and FreeTech4Teachers.  Our district’s Engaging Students has become a treasure trove of ideas as they are shared locally by teachers and tech coaches in our district.

What hashtags do you follow on Twitter?

What type of technology do you use in your school?
We have Chromebooks, iPads, webcams and Epson Brightlink.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep?

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?
I would keep Chromebooks because they are easy to use and they meet the needs of me and my students.

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?
Android tablets.  We have used iPads, but they are so expensive.  I am such a Google fan that I wonder if an Android tablet could be effective at a portion of the cost?!

How has technology changed the way you teach?
It expands my classroom to include people and information otherwise unattainable.

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology, given literacy and skill challenges in division one?
If the technology makes the learning more engaging and differentiated, then I do it. Also, if it makes the teaching more fun for me!

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?
I use:
My focus is to try to find free tools.  I am tired of paying a bit here and there for tech tools for my classroom when these free tools meet my needs very well.

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?
Wow! This is a big question. I would hope that classrooms would be more equitable in regards to technology. Not that the kids have to have Mr. So-and-So to use technology, but that all teachers would embrace the value of technology as a tool to enhance learning in every classroom. With that in mind, there also needs to be equity in regards to hardware and bandwidth so that every student and teacher has access to quality tools and the bandwidth to effectively use these tools.


I would like to thank Kelly for taking time to do this interview in the middle of report cards, packing up her classroom and switching grades. Division one's loss is division two's gain.

Check back for the September interview with Shannon Pasma!

related blog posts: 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Interview With Marge Kobewka

An EdTech Perspective From An Online Teacher

This month we are featuring Marge Kobewka, an EPSB teacher and Div1 Edtech blogger. Marge currently is an online teacher and therefore offers a very unique perspective on technology in education.

You can find Marge as @MaggieKobewka on Twitter and on Google+. I have been fortunate to have many in-person conversations with Marge and always leave inspired. I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed and once again inspire me. 

Check out some of Marge's blog posts: 

The Interview

What grade(s) do you teach?

I teach grade three students online and a group of grade 4, 5, 6 students, who meet with me once a week at Argyll Centre for a writer's workshop and computer science - coding with Scratch.  

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?

I would like students to have a growing understanding of digital citizenship. For example  understanding how to use their passwords and keep them safe, an awareness of their developing digital footprint, and some experience evaluating a website by asking, "Will this website answer my question?" This year I used a series of lessons from Common Sense Media, that addressed these issues and more. 

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?

I get ideas from Twitter, professional reading, colleagues and blogs. This spring I read a fabulous book, Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. On Twitter I follow as many teachers as I can. 

If you are looking for inspiration for using technology in the classroom attend blendED2016, Alberta's Blended and Online Symposium, October 23-25, 2016.  I am on the organizing committee and I know you will come away with lots of ideas to apply to your own classroom practice. 

What type of technology do you use in your school? 

We use laptops, iPads, Moodle, Blackboard Collaborate, and Google Applications.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep?

For now, it would be Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate however I would never want to be limited or tied to one kind of technology.  

Based on your response to the question above. Why would you keep that technology?

Currently Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate are primary ways I keep connected to my online students and their parents. The work I have done as an online teacher involves thinking about best practices for learning, (especially for young learners), and then re-envisioning those practices in an online environment. It is a challenge that I love. Especially since young learners need to move, create, act, and play as part of learning. It is definitely a collaborative effort and that is why my 'classroom' includes the parents who work closely with their children. 

Have you ever attended an online webinar? Now imagine doing that with 6, 7 or 8 year olds. My division one colleagues and I have online classes with our students, usually these are an hour long. We have developed a variety of ways to have our lessons be interactive, engaging and collaborative. 

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?

Last year I worked with grade 4, 5 and 6 students to learn Scratch Coding. We used Google's CSFirst to help us learn (I am including myself in that one). This year I am building on that to include Makey Makey and a Hummingbird Robotics Kit. I am not ready yet to move these tools to division one but I am thinking about meaningful applications.

What is something new or different you are planning to try next year? 

One evening after school, (5:00 pm) I got a notice that one of my grade three students wanted to have a video call with me. I accepted and there he was, at home sitting on his bed with his computer and math book. He was puzzled about some math questions. We discussed the math problems and he went off to do his work. It was a delightful exchange, after all, there is everything to like about an earnest eight year old who uses technology to connect and learn. Based on this experience I am considering having a small group of students (four or five) meet weekly to participate in 'Google Hangouts Book Club' and 'Google Hangouts Math Talks'. I am thinking it will be important to have a small group and to alternate the groups from week to week so that in the course of the month all of my students will participate in both the Book Club and the Math Talks. This will be different than the Blackboard Collaborate sessions we have as a whole class.

How has technology changed the way you teach?

Ha! My very position as an online teacher is determined by technology. I hope that you can see that one of the joys of my work is the opportunity I have to problem solve and create something new. In my case the 'new thing' is an online learning environment for division one students. I sometimes wonder why was it slow to dawn on me that the joy of creating and sharing that I love about my work, is exactly what students need to do too. This insight changed the way I view technology. How can technology enable kids to problem solve, create, share, collaborate - all the very things that make learning engaging. 

I recognize that technology can give students the opportunity to become creators and problem solvers, but I don't think that all online learning is presented in that way. Even in my own practice I see giant leaps forward over the time I have worked to develop an online learning program. It is always about learning to use the particular technology and then applying what we know about learning so that the technology becomes invisible. 

I think the real question should be not what technology do I want to have in my classroom, instead the question is how do I deepen the learning? Make it meaningful? Enable kids to think more deeply and become creators? Then I can look at the tech I have available and use the resource that will enable that kind of learning. For example this year instead of Math Journals I had my students create Math Videos. All of my students had tablets at home and so using Apps such as: Show Me, ScreenChomp, and Explain Everything, my students explained their math thinking to me and to each other. As we progressed through the year I realized that not only did I have new insights into my students understanding of math concepts, my students had to think more deeply to explain their thinking in new ways. And to my delight I was also obtaining a library of 'learning objects' to use in my online course. What could be more meaningful to students then seeing another student explain a math concept and then discussing it together?

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology?

My students are at a distance - they are students who live in various communities in Edmonton and across Alberta. I am fortunate to work with families who are highly committed to working with their children to learn at home. This presents both opportunities and challenges. My goal is always to develop meaningful interaction and to learn from each other. 

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?

Seriously, you have to know that I am excited about the changes and challenges before us in education. Once, I was told that designing lessons was an iterative process and I had to start with the end in mind. I think that is still true but I would add this: The process of learning is iterative and the end is something I may not even imagine yet.


I would like to thank Marge for taking time to do this interview during the summer.

Check back each month for new interviews with Kelly Maxwell, David Salmon, Shannon Pasma, Alyssa Prouty, Colleen Roux, Jared Galbraith, Alicia Kuzio, Laura Buchanan and Amanda Fahey!

related blog posts: 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

What I Learned About Using Twitter In Class This Year

How I Used Twitter In Class This Year

I have been on Twitter professionally since 2009.  In 2014-15 school year I used it once or twice to send tweets out on behalf of my students. Then I participated in The Global Read Aloud  (GRA) in October 2015. One of the GRA activities my class did was to send tweets to author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld. By the end of the GRA my students understood what Twitter was and how it worked.

In general, I chose and encouraged my students to use the Instagram account we had for our class mascot. So, I would not say that we used Twitter regularly but it did get used in class more frequently this year. For example,  in science I often ask my students how they could share the results of their experiments. This year Instagram was a regular choice but Twitter often came up as an option, too. 

Related blog posts:  So You Want To Participate In The Global Read AloudShare What Is Happening In Your Class Instantly... Use Instagram!

What I Learned

As I had not planned to use Twitter much in my class, I decided not to create a class Twitter account. I used my own account on behalf of my class. 

When the tweets were simply output, this was fine. However, when we began to have conversations on Twitter, I began to see a problem.

My students' tweets and the replies to their tweets were mixed in with my other tweets and notifications.  This posed two concerns for me:
  1. It did not allow for the class to own their learning. I could not turn it over to my students to type or to look for replies. I was able to this with the Instagram account. In fact, I regularly handed over an old phone to students to type the Instagram posts. I certainly was not going to do this with my own Twitter account.
  2. As well, I had to worry about what I was tweeting when not using it with the class. It is my professional account and I like to think that anything I tweet is appropriate in that regard. However, my audience is other adult educators (primarily) and I participate in Twitter chats such as PubPd; my tweets are appropriate for me using Twitter as a teacher. However, sometimes not all of my feed is appropriate to display on my Smartboard to use with seven year olds. Fortunately, my feed and notifications that were visible when I displayed Twitter on the Smartboard never posed a problem but I could see the potential for issues.

What I Will Do Differently

Each school year one of my first activities with my class is to come up with a class name. I plan to build into that routine creating a Twitter account. Currently I am debating whether I should just create an class account that gets used year after year versus a new one per class/school year (I do this with my class blogs). For those of you who use Twitter in class, what is your opinion (and why)?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An Interview With Nick Reilly

New Feature: Div1 Edtech in EPSB Interviews

This month we are starting a new monthly feature: educational technology interviews with classroom teachers. Our first interview is with EPSB teacher and occasional Div1 Edtech blogger, Nick Reilly. Nick currently teaches grade four and “junior high stuff, too”. You can find Nick as @NotebookNick on Twitter and on Google+.

The Interview

What technology skills should students have before coming into the grade(s) you teach?

Students should be able to log into their accounts, create Google Docs and have familiarity with the internet. (Nick blogged about this previously, check out Preparing For Division 2 for a more detailed answer).

Where do you get your educational technology ideas?

I definitely get ideas from more than one spot: Twitter, Google+, Professional Development Days, professional reading, colleagues and blogs.

What type of technology do you use in your school?

We have laptops, desktop computers, Chromebooks, 3D Printers, and Smartboards.

Imagine you only could keep one technology at your school. From the ones you listed about what would be the one you would keep? 


How has technology changed the way you teach?

It defines the way I teach. It opens so many doors.

How do you decide what is worthwhile for students to learn through technology, given the literacy and skill challenges in your class?

With assistive technology playing a significant role for some of my kids, sometimes technology helps to overcome basic skill deficiencies and allows them to complete a task they normally would not be able to unassisted. Students choose to work with technology when given the choice, and often it is to help them in some capacity. Whether it is listening to something instead of reading it, or finding a different medium for information when researching, the end goal is still the same for most of my tasks. Completion of the task to the best of their abilities is the main goal. How students get there is up to them.

What apps or technology tools do you use? Are there any that you use for specific projects?

I use a number of apps from the Google suite (Classroom, Docs, etc.) and some that tie in nicely. We've recently been writing with Storybird, and using Prodigy and Mathletics for math.

What are your hopes for educational technology in the future in your classroom? Alberta? Canada? Globally?

I think Expeditions is a huge step in the right direction. Being able to give kids experiences they normally wouldn't be able to have is the right way to go about things. Technology as a bridge to bigger and better things for learners is where it should be going.

If you could add a question to this interview, what would it be?

What is one piece of technology would you like to try in your classroom that you haven't had an opportunity to yet?

A huge thank you to Nick Reilly for being the first interviewee. His question has been added to the list of interview questions! If you would like to suggest someone we should interview, leave a comment! Check back in July for the next interview.