There’s an App for That

We just received 4 iPads to use in the building. My initial thought is to put them in the library since that is one place that all students have easy access to, and would get them the most exposure. In order to maximize the potential for their use, we are going to start with a “study” where we get feedback from teachers and students on the best apps/uses for the iPads.

I’ll get the ball rolling by taking a few minutes to look back to the posts I did last year regarding the iPad:

Now that it a little over 6 months since I wrote those posts, what apps have I come to rely on the most on my iPad? Here are my top three:

  • Safari – No big surprise here that the main task I do is use the Internet. Many times while working at a website, I will learn that there is an app for the website (for example, The Buffalo News has a news app). I then download the app, and depending on its usefulness, may begin to use the app instead.
  • Mail – Managing and responding to email on the iPad is very easy.
  • Angry Birds – if you have not been bitten by the Angry Birds bug, be warned – it is a game that will suck you in quickly! If I ever happen to forget to bring my iPad home, my kids are very upset if they do not get their Angry Birds fix (we have even ordered the Angry Birds stuffed animals…we’re completely hooked).

Clearly the iPad has become my productivity/entertainment center – there are a whole host of apps that I use on a regular (but not every day) basis for a variety of things. In the hands of my kids, it is very interesting that they often choose some of the creativity apps and YouTube videos (that we watch with them) in addition to games.

Which brings me to the task at hand – what apps should we be installing on the iPads for school? Some of the general categories are:

  • eReaders (iBooks, Nook, etc.)
  • Content area apps
  • Voice recording apps (the iPad has a built in microphone)

I’ve put together a wiki page for staff and students to collect our thoughts on what apps to install on the iPads. I’m looking forward to how this rolls out.

Just a footnote that I want to bring out here – we have 4 iPads for 650 students. The iPad is a highly personal device (I can attest to that). As we share the device, I keep thinking about a comment Brian Smith from Monroe 1 BOCES made recently:

I still contend that these won’t be successful until they are made personal.  Meaning, give it to the kid to have for the entire year.  Let them take it home, play with it, read on it, correspond on it and make their learning personal.

I’m currently in a pilot with iPads and the students are lukewarm to the device because they know it will go away or that they won’t be able to make it work for them personally.

~Brian C. Smith (@briancsmith)

We are not at the point where everyone has one, but I think keeping in mind Brian’s comments make sense as we get going on getting the iPads out.

Looking forward to some awesome learning!

Creative Commons licensed image, iPad 3G and iPad Wi-Fi, by Yutaka Tustano on Flickr

Learning Russo's Ramblings

One Pipe

I have been tinkering around with my Google Voice account after a colleague, @MrWarnes, showed me what he was trying with it. Then, speaking with our assistant principal, we got to talking about how tools like Google Voice and Skype are making traditional land lines obsolete. Wouldn’t it be great if everything you need for communication and productivity in school were in one place, one pipe if you will, coming through the ethernet cable?

Five years ago we cut the extra “pipes” into our house. We canceled our land line and switched to a VOIP phone service. All of our communication has been going through our cable modem. Some of our friends still find it “shocking” that although we have internet access through the cable TV provider, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. This is only due to the sticker shock of paying for so many channels that we never watch. Additionally, with the onslaught of Internet video services (Hulu, etc.), I believe the days of over-priced, over-stuffed channel services are numbered. In the last couple of months, fiber-optic service has been introduced in our area. We have signed up to convert to the higher quality dedicated pipe.

Of course it is possible to have one pipe for all communications, and there are many companies that are capitalizing on making the computer the single point of communication. How might this look in a school setting for a teacher, an administrator, or better yet, a student?

What would a main office look like if a principal (and his/her secretary) could manage all incoming and outgoing communication through the computer? What if a parent were able to go to the school website and click on a link to automatically call the school? What if the principal had an alert set up for any time the school hashtag was mentioned in Twitter, and could quickly respond if necessary?

What would a teacher’s classroom look like if all of their communication could be handled through the computer? No more leaving the desk or classroom to make a call, and then having to wait to get back to the computer to find necessary information. Voice calling access for teachers on their computer would be a huge benefit.

What would a student’s learning world look like if they had some form, any form, of technology at their disposal in the classroom? The technology divide for learning between adults and students is growing so large it is scary. We have arrived at a point where as adults and professionals, we could not last a day without the technology that we need. What sort of disservice are we doing by not providing our students with the same opportunity?

Mobile phones, and smart phones specifically, are the alternate form of the one pipe scenario. Just as the data machine is adopting voice on the computer, the voice machine is adopting data on the mobile phone. Adults are more used to the computer version of one pipe, while kids are more used to the mobile version. The type of pipe does not matter – what matters is having access to the pipe for learning.

Each of us needs only one pipe to be connected to the world. Each of us needs a pipe. All day, every day.

Thoughts or comments most welcome here, through Google Voice, or through Skype:

Skype Meâ„¢!

Talk to you on the pipe!

Learning People

Do You Want Me To Make That Harder For You?

This week I’d like to share with you a personal screen-play about the power of technology, creativity, and children…

  • Cast: Father and son (yes, me and mine)
  • Setting: family room on a weekend afternoon
  • Props: couch, iPad, desktop computer

Background: Remember the cool wooden maze game, Labyrinth? It is a wooden box with knobs on the side, and the goal is to guide the steel ball through the maze without falling into the holes. I have many memories of playing this game. Fast forward to 2010 – I have downloaded Labrynth 2 HD for the iPad. There are virtually limitless mazes to solve, new materials, bumpers, cannons, etc. My son is hooked on it. Following is a re-telling of what my son discovered:

Father: (on couch, playing Labyrinth 2 HD on iPad) Drat…got blown up by a cannon again…

Son: Daddy, click on the Create button on the screen.

Father: OK – let’s check it out…there is a “New” button – it looks like you can make your own levels.

Son: (squeals) Really?! Let’s do it!

Father: The directions say to go to a website, enter the code for the software, and design levels on the computer.

Son: (leaps to the computer) – I’m at the website – what is the code? (enters code) (investigates for a few moments while figuring out design interface) (squeals again) Awesome!

[2-3 minutes pass]

Son: OK dad, try out my level! (leaps back onto couch)

Father: (opens level created by son) Is this the one you just had on the screen on the desktop computer?

Son: Yes!

Father: Sweet! (finishes newly created level quickly)

Son: (leaps back to computer) Hold on – I know what I have to change! (brief pause) OK try it now! (leaps back to couch)

Father: (reloads level, son is eagerly hovering overhead, watching intently) Oooo – tricky, but I think I can do this – thanks for putting this wall here.

Son: I think I need to add some cannons and a few holes here…(leaps back to computer)

Father: Got it!

Son: Reload it and try again! (leaps back to couch)

Father: (reloads level) Grrr…hmph…grrr…almost…rats. (tries again multiple times) Whew, got it finally!

Son: Do you want me to make that harder for you?

The above scenario is one that has played out countless times in my house. There is a magic mix of design, creativity, physics, and immediate feedback that is spectacular. The physical manipulation of the game on the iPad (Labyrinth is on the iPod Touch also), combined with the ability to design levels and immediately try them out creates a hyper-motivating environment which my son (and now my daughter) loves to work in. One aspect we have not begun yet is to create and share levels with other people, but I’m sure we will get into that before too long. While the original analog version of Labyrinth is still fun, it cannot compare to where the current version has gone, thanks to technological connections.

There are many thoughts and ideas triggered for me when I think about this scenario, but on my mind right now is this: The students entering our schools are familiar with and live in these environments. There is content they have to learn that is most likely not familiar to them at all. What are we doing to help our students learn in ways that will immerse them and motivate them?

To use a concept from David Perkins book, Making Learning Whole, what are we doing to help kids “play the whole game?”


A Zillion Ways to Use Technology in the Classroom

I am a big fan of new technologies for the classroom. I am not a big fan of taking a new technology tool and coming up with ways to use it for learning. As much as I am a fan of mechanical tools, I do not dream up 1000 ways to use a screwdriver. When the job is at hand, and I know that a screwdriver fits the bill, I use it.

So where is the correlation between mechanical tools and technology tools? When you have a screw loose (pun intended), it is easy to assess what the problem is and what the tool is. It is not so easy to do the same in learning. Teachers know what their students need in terms of learning, but they do not necessarily know what technology tool can help them. This is especially true of web 2.0 tools, since new ones come out fast & furious.

The result? We get “*** (insert number) ways to use ****** (insert technology tool) in the classroom.” While this technique is meant to spark ideas and possibilities, I believe more often than not it promotes superficial investigation followed by a quickly fading interest and use. Technology tools are tools – definitely ones that have specific uses that may be new and unique – but are not one-size-fits-all. I am not saying that anyone intends them to be – just that the “*** ways to use” method promotes it.

I struggle with ways to introduce new tools to staff, as there is only so much time and attention that can be given. If tools are presented in the context of the job they are intended to help with (a toolbox), then it is much easier for people to see the need, then the tool to help with the need.

The best toolbox I have seen is the one provided by MCREL in the book, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. In the book, the authors take Robert Marzano’s research-proven instructional strategies and then categorize software tools that support the strategies.

Here is the graphic provided to illustrate the toolbox:

Conversations that start with the toolbox have questions such as, “How can I help students identify similarities and differences with technology? Using the chart, it is readily apparent that word processing applications, spreadsheet software, organizing and brainstorming software and data collection tools can support this need.

The next logical step is to analyze what specific tools withing those categories can help achieve the task. The book outlines many specific examples, but how can the need be addressed quickly, incorporating tools that may have come out since the book was written a few years back?

One way is with a wiki created by Stehpanie Sandifer, titled Web 2.0 & Marzano’s CITW. This community-editable wiki provides a directory of web 2.0 tools that support each of the strategies. This format is very useful as it can be updated regularly. It does not appear that too many edits have happened recently, but it is a great model for a living, dynamic technology toolbox for teachers. I just joined the the wiki and am hoping to contribute to it.

I’m going to keep looking, however, for a dynamic resource that allows the input of any technology tool, not just web 2.0 tools, withing the context of the CITW toolbox. There are many software packages out there that are not web 2.0 tools that can be included in the toolbox.

For me personally, one resource I’m going to check out is a book talk on Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, being hosted by ISTE’s Innovative Learning Technology Special Interest Group on their wiki.

It is definitely much harder to analyze technology tools in this fashion, but at the end of the day, I believe it is much more worth it to have the need, followed by the toolbox, followed by the tool to do the job.

Image citation:

“Matrix.” Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 5 Nov. 2008

Learning People Russo's Ramblings

Superman is Already Here

Before you read this post, please take a moment to go on a field trip to do the following:

Walk to the nearest mirror you can find, look at yourself in the eyes for about 30 seconds, then come back.

Image licensed from

Hello Superman, it’s nice to meet you. Please understand that I use Superman in the general sense, whether you are a man or a woman. Yes, you are Superman.

I am offering this post to contribute to blogger Tom Whitby’s call for education reform ideas (he calls it REBELS – Reforms from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions). In the past few weeks, there has been much discussion in the national spotlight about what we need to “fix” education. There was the special on MSNBC, Education Nation; the film Waiting for Superman; Oprah Winfrey’s show with David Guggenheim, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee; and a panel discussion in Elluminate that have contributed to the dialog.

I listened to the panel discussion and attended the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman (which included a panel discussion with local educational leaders/politicians), and have been trying to keep up with the various posts and tweets flying around related to the issue.

I will share some of my reactions to the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman and the panel discussion, as it was a good opportunity to localize the national discussion.

  • The event was organized by BuffaloRefomEd, a fledgling group looking to improve the education system. Since they were able to bring together the Superintendent of the Buffalo schools, the president of the Buffalo Teachers union, the New York State assemblyman for Buffalo, among others, BuffaloReformEd appears to have its act together.
  • The audience was probably heavy on the charter school supportive side, not surprisingly as the tone of the movie is pro-charter schools.
  • Personally, I think the angle of the movie, with its fire-the-teachers, get-rid-of-tenure, unions-are-bad tone spent more time on attractive easy solutions that really are not solutions. No one wants bad teachers – but in the big picture, I think the amount of “bad” teachers is a minuscule amount, and they don’t make it in the long run. Are there problems in the system with some teachers? Sure, but that is true of any employer/employee organization.
  • Charter schools are a great choice. Are all charter schools great? No. Are some out-performing the public schools? You bet. One of the main points in the movie is that some charter schools are finally making a difference in performance scores for students on standardized tests. The real problem here is that the charter schools are measuring themselves on the very standardized tests that are the greater issue in education. I do not know if charter schools, who pride themselves on being different, should celebrate with the same measures that public schools use in order to prove their value.
  • In the panel discussion, the head of a local charter school made the statement (I’m paraphrasing):  The purpose of K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary education. Yikes – I’m not sure that is the purpose of K-12 schools. What happened to preparing students to become productive, contributing members of society? Not every path leads to post-secondary education.
  • At the end of the discussion (all too brief at only 30-40 minutes), the superintendent of Buffalo and the local assemblyman pledged to reconvene a panel for a longer discussion at a later time. Dialogue is always good, but…

We don’t have time to talk about what needs to be done. Superman is here – it’s you, it’s me, and it’s every person who has direct influence on helping kids succeed. It is the parent, the neighbor, the teacher, the mailman, the uncle, the teacher, the principal, the union leader, the grocery clerk, etc. I know, this sounds a lot like the “it takes a community to raise a child” shtick, but it’s true.

Every one of the students portrayed in the movie has a Superman. It is the parent/guardian, who all said they would do anything in the world to help their child. It does not matter what school they get in – those kids have a superman looking out for them.

Charter schools have by their nature lots of Supermen. Those who choose to create their own system, their own school, take on a huge challenge. By their nature, those in charter schools are demonstrating superman qualities.

Public schools are full of Supermen. Every single day, they take on the daily challenges of meeting the needs of the students in their class. The challenges are very different depending on where you live. I live and teach in an affluent suburban district. We have many challenges every day with every one of our students. The daily challenges we face are vastly different from the challenges faced by those in the urban schools. Still, every day we go in to do what we can for every single one of those we work with.

We can have all the panel discussions we want. We can make all the movies we want. We can get the best thinkers and politicians in the world together to talk for hours, days, weeks or months. It won’t matter – that’s just talk.

What will matter is the work you do with whatever kids you have a direct connection with. It might be your own kids, it might be the kids you teach, the kids you administer, or the kids on the block. What matters more is you may have to reach out and help kids you see who have a need, but no one to help them. You may have to intervene when kids you work with do not get what they need. Education reform is you, doing whatever you can, whenever you can, no matter what.

No more time to read now, Superman, you have work to do. Important work.

Learning People

A Look at Ray Kurzweil’s Education Predictions for 2009

I’m reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines now, which was written in 1999. In the book, Kurzweil makes predictions for the future in 2009, 2019, 2029 and beyond. In the predictions chapter for 2009, there is a section on education. I’d like to try a little experiment and present the section from the chapter, edited to where we really were in 2009. The excerpt is from p. 791-792. My edits of the original text are either in strike-through or bold face.

In the twentieth century, computers in schools were mostly on the trailing edge, with most effective learning from computers taking place in the home. Now in 2009, while schools are still not on the cutting edge, the profound importance of the computer as a knowledge tool is widely recognized. Computers play a central role in all facets of education except the classroom, as they do in other spheres of life.

The majority of reading is done on displays paper, although the “installed base” of paper documents displays is still formidable beginning to appear. The generation of paper documents is beginning to dwindling dwindle, however, as the books and other papers of largely twentieth-century vintage are being rapidly scanned and stored passed over in favor of digital versions. Documents circa 2009 routinely include embedded moving images and sounds continue to be delivered on paper.

Students of all ages typically do not have a computer of their own, which is a thin tablet-like device weighing under a pound with a very high resolution display suitable for reading. Students interact with their computers primarily by voice and by pointing with a device that looks like a pencil keyboard. Keyboards still exist, but most textual language is created by speaking. Keyboarding classes continue to be offered to help students input more efficiently. Learning materials are accessed through print, wired, and wireless communication.

Intelligent courseware has emerged as a common means of learning. Virtual schools have appeared, replacing traditional schools. Recent controversial studies have shown that students can learn basic skills such as reading and math just as readily with interactive learning software as with human teachers, particularly when the ratio of students to human teachers is more than one to one. Although the studies have come under attack, most students and their parents have accepted this notion for years. There is controversy as to the effectiveness of virtual learning, but financial need is driving the growth of such offerings. The traditional mode of a human teacher instructing a group of children is still prevalent,  but schools are increasingly relying on investigating software approaches, leaving human teachers to attend primarily to issues of motivation, psychological well-being, and socialization. Many A few children learn to read on their own using their personal computers before entering grade school.

Preschool and elementary school A select small group of children identified as low-level readers routinely read at their intellectual level using print-to-speech reading software until their reading level catches up. These print-to-speech reading systems display the full image of documents and can read the print aloud while highlighting what is being read. Synthetic voices sound fully somewhat human. Although some educators expressed concern in the early ’00 years that students would rely unduly on reading software, such systems have been readily accepted by children and their parents. The expense and logistics of reading systems have prevented their adoption for all students. Studies have shown that students improve their reading skills by being exposed to synchronized visual and auditory presentations of text.

Learning at a distance (for example, lectures and seminars in which the participants are geographically scattered) is growing in use, but is by no means commonplace.

Learning is becoming a significant portion of most jobs. Training and developing new skills is emerging as an ongoing responsibility in most careers, not just an occasional supplement, as the level of skill needed for meaningful employment soars even higher.

In 2009, we were not anywhere near where Kurzweil predicted, although we are beginning to move in the directions he indicated. It feels like it takes forever to make progress that we need to make, but I do believe the change agents that will eventually spur the change are the ones indicated in his text. In two different examples, Kurzweil mentions that acceptance of a new technology is by students and parents, essentially forcing the school to change. I think that is exactly the type of force that is going to provide true change in the education system.

The only paragraph that I did not make any edits to is the last one. That particular idea is timeless and apparent to most – adaptability in the workforce is the key to making it in the 21st century.

If you would like to see the original excerpt without my edits – look up the book at Google Books – those pages (791-792) are available to view there.

Maybe by 2019, we will realize some of the 2009 predictions. 🙂

Conferences Learning


This coming Friday, October 8th, our district will be holding a staff development day focuesd on technology. It is going to be an exciting day, as there are many events planned. A quick overview:

  • Keynote by the ever-inspiring Alan November
  • Content-area breakout session (focused on instruction that incorporates technology)
  • Elective breakout session (focused on a technology tool)
  • Student Showcase

This is no small undertaking with a staff of over 1000 who will be in attendance. Figuring out how to effectively feed that many people is a job unto itself. District and school staff have been working countless hours for over a year to plan for this day. We have a few talented outside presenters coming in, but other than that, all presentations are begin done by our own staff.

Why, you may wonder, would we…

  • Coordinate the movement of 1000 staff and 100 students for 7 hours between 2 buildings (that thankfully are on the same campus)?
  • Take a perfectly normal gymnasium and supply it with enough computers,  power, and networking for over 100 students in 25 different booths?
  • Install and reinstall software in computer labs to accommodate different technology tool sessions?
  • Ask expert teachers who are mostly used to working wtih 20-30 of their own students to share their expertise with 100-200 of their colleagues?
  • Ask students, who would otherwise have a day off, to come in and share how they use technology?
  • Ask our custodial and IT staff to essentially transform the 2 buildings to a conference format beginning at 2:00 the day before?
  • Make sure that every professional assignment, from core subjects to paraprofessionals, has a session devoted to technology which applies to them?
  • Offer technology tools sessions that span the gamut of available resources?

The answer, in a word: momentum.

We have a lot to gain by taking a day to show off what we have, what our own teachers and students do, and provide some insight into where we want to go.

Here are a few more questions:

  • Will there be enough time to learn everything about a technology tool during this day? No – but there will be time to get one’s feet wet, and our professional development catalog has follow-up courses to support those interested.
  • Will teachers be exposed to current technology integration practices by their colleagues in other classrooms? You bet – that is the idea behind the content sessions.
  • Will new ideas and thought-provoking conversation be cultivated? Yes – Alan November is a master at this.
  • Will we celebrate what our students are doing? This may be one of the favorite parts of the day – our students will show off how they are using technology.

A lot of great learning and sharing will take place on this day. I think the main spark of the day will be to cause great momentum in the use of technology in the classroom. It’s going to be a great day.

Update 10/12/2010: I wrote this post a week prior to the event.  Since the day is now over, I have asked staff to comment with their reflections.

Image licensed from
Learning Russo's Ramblings

Struggling with Chaos

My friend Steve O’Connor, whom I met by chance when we were presenting in the same room at NYSCATE a few years back, just tweeted about a poster titled, “The Internet Will Not Be Another TV”. Here is the poster:

Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva

There are many things I like about the poster. It is an argument for Net Neutrality in the EU, and can apply anywhere in the world. What struck me most about it, however, is how the same concept can be applied to the current state of education.

If the top circle is restated as, “The School that Education Establishment Wants,” the picture is a perfect example of how school is today. Separate compartments, all designed to keep students focused on goals designed by those in charge.

If the bottom circle is restated as, “The School that Learners Want,” a much more authentic style of learning is depicted. Inquiry is led by the student (regardless of age), and the Internet is in fact a key tool that supports the inquiry.

Where does the question about struggling with chaos come in? Simple – when inquiry is driven by the learner, the environment is messy. That is the way it should be, but managing learning like this in an educational  system that is so structured is difficult to do. It’s the age-old conversation on how schools can best support learning.

The main example I’ve been struggling with for the past few months is the use of personal mobile devices in the classroom. I’m all for it, but I also know that managing such an environment is tricky. Its one thing when a group of adults “back channels” at an ed tech conference, where by nature everyone in the room wants to be there and shares the same passion. I’m not so sure how well back channeling would be in a Geometry review class where all the learners struggle with the most basic concepts, and don’t want to be there in the first place.

For me the personal mobile device is indispensable. A smart phone, tablet, and laptop completes the suite of tools that I use constantly to learn, be productive, be reflective, and be creative. And I’m from a generation that grew up where the latest technology was the Apple II that you could program in BASIC. Today’s elementary school students expect (I mean this in a good way) that they can access anyone and any information from their device. How can we not take advantage of this?

The time is coming where the personal mobile device will be in the classroom. It’s necessary. It’s inevitable. I’m struggling with chaos…

Image credit:
Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva


On Space and Learning

Gehry Staircase

One of my favorite hobbies is architecture. I am a huge fan of spaces that evoke meaning and emotion by their design. Living in Buffalo we have many such spaces including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House Complex. I had the opportunity to visit a new space yesterday in Frank Gehry’s recent addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Mind you, art is the main attraction at the AGO (they have an incredible collection) but the building is just as important to me. The most prominent aspects of the AGO addition are the Gallery Italia on the entrance side and the spiral staircases that go up the north and south faces of the upper galleries. Walking the gallery and interacting with the art in such beautiful and emotional spaces is an experience that washes over you and takes you in.

This feeling led me to think more about learning spaces in school. Learning is the most important thing that goes on in school, and the surroundings should not matter. Or should they? Take the architecture of the typical school – boxy and utilitarian. Not much feeling is typically evoked by arriving at a school (more often negative feelings related to what is about to happen…).  The difficult thing about school architecture is that it is designed for the interior spaces, and the form follows the function (a common architectural theme). Many schools, even the multitude built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, have interesting spaces inside for classrooms (retractable walls), team planning (offices), and common areas (libraries & cafeterias). Over the course of time, impending needs cause a space to be restructured beyond the original intent. Team rooms become classrooms, offices become closets for multiple teachers, etc. Eventually, the question comes up, “why was this designed this way?”

I love to walk through a school and look at the way space is set up. I look at structural elements and try to determine if it is original work, or a change/addition to accommodate a need. I try to think about the designers intent vs. the current use. One of the most disappointing things to me is when I see interior windows covered up to prevent distractions between rooms. Windows are meant to expand space and prevent a feeling of isolation. Covered windows certainly cut down on distraction, but they also imply “leave me alone.” Last summer I worked in one of our high schools that was designed as, and for the most part still is, an open classroom building. Sure, there are “walls” (locker banks, partitions, etc.) that separate rooms, but for the most part, you can walk around and see almost everything. The atmosphere is great. Everyone understands and respects the open style. Once you are in it, you can feel the difference in the setting. And yes, they move walls as necessary – what a great option to have.

This brings me to the building I’m in this summer – a traditional walled high school. As hard as I try, every time I arrive at the building, I look for that element that says, “Welcome,” but have not found it. However, once inside, the layout and materials (brick, wood) speak of good design. There are a variety of flexible spaces, included partitioned classrooms and larger lecture conference rooms. As with any school, rooms have been re-purposed for a specific need, and sometimes the result  is not what the designer intended.

Why this reflection on space? Well, I blame the AGO for getting me onto this topic, but more importantly, space and the use of it is important to a school. I think an architecturally appealing outside can do a HUGE amount for the overall presence and impact of a school. Unfortunately, most of the time you do not get the option to design the outside elements unless you happen to be involved in a capital project or building a new school. Inside a school there are many more opportunities to reflect on and redesign spaces. Often times the need comes up due to overcrowding, but even in those instances, the use of space can have a huge impact on the learning. School is the place students will spend the majority of their time – it should evoke a sense of warmth and encouragement to promote the best for all learners.

How is the space you work in everyday?

Image Credits:
DSCN0695 and DSCN6700 by TomFlemming on Flickr

Content Area Focus Learning

Linking Design Questions, Instructional Strategies and Technology Tools

This coming school year our professional development program is focused on Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching. Cross-district teams organized by grade or subject area (“Design Teams”) will be meeting to focus on design questions brought up in the book. Over the course of the next 3-4 years we will undergo district-wide conversations around the following design questions:

What will I do to…

  1. …establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
  2. …help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
  3. …help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
  4. …help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
  5. …engage students?
  6. …establish or maintain classroom rules and procedures?
  7. …recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
  8. …establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
  9. …communicate high expectations for all students?
  10. …develop effective lessons organized into a cohesive unit?

Woven into these questions are  Marzano’s strategies for Classroom Instruction that Works. My role as a design team facilitator is to help link strategies to technology tools that improve learning.

Last year I did an extensive book analysis of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, where the strategies are analyzed for which types of technology tools can support them. Click here to review the final summary, along with links to individual strategies.

As we move into the design team process, I am thinking more about the link between strategy and tool. I just recently came across a very nice interactive graphic that depicts Marzano’s 9 strategies for classroom instruction that works, from a website titled Curriculum Portal (click the image below to go to the interactive graphic at the site:

We have an extensive toolset to help students learn within the strategies. Here is a sampling of the tools we have:

These tools fall withing the categories of technology as defined in Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works:

  • Word processing applications
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Organizing and brainstorming software
  • Multimedia
  • Data collection tools
  • Web resources
  • Communication software

For me the important thing is that questions about learning begin with the need, not the tool. A question that begins with, “How can a (wiki, blog, etc.) help students…” is incorrect in my book. A question that begins with, “How can students deepen their understanding with a (wiki, blog, etc.)…” is more like it.

I’m looking forward to some great conversations!