Hey teacher, would YOU be a student?

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If you ask me, the elephant in the classroom, especially high school classrooms has always been the fact that teachers would rarely choose for themselves, the daily experience they inflict on their students.

bored studentIf you ask a high school teacher if they’d be happy with a daily experience such as:

  • an hour of trigonometry;
  • an hour of Macbeth;
  • an hour of plate tectonics;
  • an hour of tennis, followed by
  • an hour of chemical reactions
  • with no attempt to relate any of the learning.
  • oh, and do you want to sit in the middle of 300 teenagers for an hour long assembly?  [Image credit]

Nearly all teachers say NO! (I’ve asked many)

So, two questions for schools:

1. What excuses do we have for creating a learning experience we wouldn’t choose for ourselves?

2. Why are we surprised at an increasing dropout rate and general switching off from school in a connected…

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Tech v teaching: it’s a dialectic not a war

It’s not about the technology, it’s all about the learning. Learning then tech? Tech then learning? Both positions are wrong. Both sides have their book-selling evangelists. The truth is a little mroe prosaic.The relationship between learning and technology is a complex dialectic. It always has been and always will be. The great revolutions in technology, that shaped the learning landscape were writing, alphabets, writing instruments, paper, printing, books, calculators, computer, the internet– none of this technology came from the ‘learning’ community. What did come from the learning community were lecterns, blackboards and…. On the other hand a lot of learning technology has been shaped by great learning professionals who make it usable, productive and manageable. It’s not one way traffic – it’s cross-pollinated.

Nozick – the world is not simple

Nozick wrote a brilliant paper called Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? And if you read it and replace Capitalism with Technology, you’ll see the parallel. The real world is messy, not at all simple. It is very different from the structured world of wordsmiths, schools, Universities and corporate training departments. The real world creates loads of brilliant consumer tech that is useful and compulsive. Just because it doesn’t fit the straightjacket of a classroom of lecture hall doesn’t mean it’s of no use in learning. Learners start doing things for themselves. Teaching and learning is also messy and doesn’t fit the neat formulaic nature of technology. What we need is dialogue and synthesis. Jaw, jaw, not war, war……

Read the full article here




grab-and-go-teaching-tools21 Grab-And-Go Teaching Tools For Your Classroom

by Lynn Usrey

Every teacher wants to be able to make his or her classroom environment the optimum place for learning, interacting and engaging. Today, there is a wide assortment of free technology options available to enhance your instruction. The tools are changing… quickly. So making the best choices, based on the resources available in your school, or through your board, is critical. Here are some top sure-fire picks to ensure your goal has real purpose, not just an introduction of technology for the sake of looking tech-savvy. These are easy to use teaching tools–about as grab-and-go as it gets.

How about starting with lesson creation?

1. Officemix – This allows you to go further with your Powerpoint presentations to include questions, video, polls and more. Your presentations will be more engaging.  Withthis add-on you will find everything easily to create and share interactive online lessons. Some users, educators, find that they can record their own videos without feeling like the person on stage in front of the class. The imperfection of their “performances” makes for entertaining, yet engaging, delivery to their students.

2. Nearpod – You can start from scratch at creating your own presentations, or use the already created presentation available with this product. You can keep your students on the same digital “page” which allows for more interaction. Whether you choose to download CCSS approved lessons or turn your own Powerpoint, Google slides or PDFs into interactive lessons, the multimedia content harnesses students’ attention. By keeping them focused teachers minimize offtask behaviours in their students.

Need something for instant polling?

3. Kahoot is a big hit with students because it’s fun, quick and feels like a game. For a deeper pedagogical impact, the learning style of Kahoot engages the mind, hand and heart for better-connected learning. Teachers and students can create their own Kahootsin minutes, or because of its online global community, choices can be made from its millions of public ones.

4. Socrative – If you are looking for great opportunities for quick testing through multiple choice, true or false or short answer strategies, this is a great tech tool. The popular “Space Race” allows your group to be split into two teams that compete head to head for the quickest answers.

5. Unplag – This well renowned plagiarism checker with percentage that helps teachers and students deal with plagiarism and its issues. Also Unplag is launching a survey to create a better teacher lead LMS (assignment management system, actually). Using educators’ needs as their driving force, the app will integrate lesson planning and building, assessment management and portfolio content, and better means of connecting with home learning.

Connecting with home learning?

6. Remind – With this application, parents can easily sign up for text alerts for any or all class and school related information. No phone numbers are involved. Reminders can be scheduled in advance and as customized as you like. You can save time by sending one-way announcements or by starting a chat.

7. Edmodo – create a more interactive online community around the school and within individual classrooms. Edmodo lets teachers create their own space to share with students and parents. It allows for discussion boards, polling, subject content, quizzes and “snapshot” which assess student’s competencies.

8. Seesaw – To make the managing of a student’s portfolio of work easier, and to keep the experiences consistent between home and school, this tool is exceptional. When introduced, the Seesaw app allows for a group of ipads integrating instantly which means teachers and parents do not have to deal with embedded codes and file from other products. It is a game changer for many teachers in primary classrooms.

9. Funbrain – There can never be enough said about the value of reinforcing skills andcontent with the playing of games. The curriculum guide at Funbrain provides the right enhancement to your lessons at every grade and across a wide range of subjects. Assign specific games or allow your students roaming to the heart’s content.

Current Events and Video Sourcing – There are great well-known resources at YouTube and CNN Student News, but have a look at:

10. Newsela – This tool provides a wide assortment of current events stories geared to the many reading levels and interests of students. Perfect for ESL or slower readers, as it provides an unlimited access to hundreds of levelled news articles and Common Core–aligned quizzes, with new articles every day.

11. Zaption – Using videos that are easily available on YouTube and Vimeo, here you will find content questions embedded for students to answer as they watch. The platform ranges from K to Grade 12 and allows for educators to customize and share the content and what they build with it.

12. Edshelf —A web-based portfolio to create your own app collections, and see what other teachers tools are using in their classroom.

The Less-Is-More Approach (And Tools 13-21)


Since technology is always changing, don’t hesitate to explore new tools and ideas. That said, using fewer tools more effectively isn’t a bad approach either–even if they’re less “grab-and-go” than the ones above. Those “core” apps–Skype, Facebook, Twitter andPinterest–have educator applications can do more than the personal uses you may be using them for now. Also, consider cloud-based storage services (Google Drive, OneDriveand Dropbox) to make access to shared content and data available on any device, from anywhere.

For later grade levels, there are tools such as Hippocampus and Vocareum with a emphasis on secondary education. Teachers know best what they want from digital instructional tools, what works and which ones support student collaboration and the best of interactive experiences. Learn from other educators who support 21st century skills such as communication and creativity and with your limited budget…make your classroom setting the most dynamic, and affordable, it can be!


Lynn Usrey, a newbie essayist, educator and content creator. Also she runs writing course in Orlando, Florida. Visit her LinkedIn page.


Homework, Sleep, and the Student Brain

At some point, every parent wishes their high school aged student would go to bed earlier as well as find time to pursue their own passions — or maybe even choose to relax. This thought reemerged as I reread Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech, A Short Guide to a Happy Life. The central message of this address, never actually stated, was: «Get a life.»

But what prevents students from «getting a life,» especially between September and June? One answer is homework.

Favorable Working Conditions

As a history teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and director of theCenter for Transformative Teaching and Learning, I want to be clear that I both give and support the idea of homework. But homework, whether good or bad, takes time and often cuts into each student’s sleep, family dinner, or freedom to follow passions outside of school. For too many students, homework is too often about compliance and «not losing points» rather than about learning.

Most schools have a philosophy about homework that is challenged by each parent’s experience doing homework «back in the day.» Parents’ common misconception is that the teachers and schools giving more homework are more challenging and therefore better teachers and schools. This is a false assumption. The amount of homework your son or daughter does each night should not be a source of pride for the quality of a school. In fact, I would suggest a different metric when evaluating your child’s homework. Are you able to stay up with your son or daughter until he or she finishes those assignments? If the answer is no, then too much homework is being assigned, and you both need more of the sleep that, according to Daniel T. Willingham, is crucial to memory consolidation.

I have often joked with my students, while teaching the Progressive Movement and rise of unions between the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, that they should consider striking because of how schools violate child labor laws. If school is each student’s «job,» then students are working hours usually assigned to Washington, DC lawyers (combing the hours of the school day, school-sponsored activities, and homework). This would certainly be a risky strategy for changing how schools and teachers think about homework, but it certainly would gain attention. (If any of my students are reading this, don’t try it!)

So how can we change things?

The Scientific Approach

In the study «What Great Homework Looks Like» from the journal Think Differently and Deeply, which connects research in how the brain learns to the instructional practice of teachers, we see moderate advantages of no more than two hours of homework for high school students. For younger students, the correlation is even smaller. Homework does teach other important, non-cognitive skills such as time management, sustained attention, and rule following, but let us not mask that as learning the content and skills that most assignments are supposed to teach.

Homework can be a powerful learning tool — if designed and assigned correctly. I say «learning,» because good homework should be an independent moment for each student or groups of students through virtual collaboration. It should be challenging and engaging enough to allow for deliberate practice of essential content and skills, but not so hard that parents are asked to recall what they learned in high school. All that usually leads to is family stress.

But even when good homework is assigned, it is the student’s approach that is critical. A scientific approach to tackling their homework can actually lead to deepened learning in less time. The biggest contributor to the length of a student’s homework is task switching. Too often, students jump between their work on an assignment and the lure of social media. But I have found it hard to convince students of the cost associated with such task switching. Imagine a student writing an essay for AP English class or completing math proofs for their honors geometry class. In the middle of the work, their phone announces a new text message. This is a moment of truth for the student. Should they address that text before or after they finish their assignment?

Delayed Gratification

When a student chooses to check their text, respond and then possibly take an extended dive into social media, they lose a percentage of the learning that has already happened. As a result, when they return to the AP essay or honors geometry proof, they need to retrace their learning in order to catch up to where they were. This jump, between homework and social media, is actually extending the time a student spends on an assignment. My colleagues and I coach our students to see social media as a reward for finishing an assignment. Delaying gratification is an important non-cognitive skill and one that research has shown enhances life outcomes (see theStanford Marshmallow Test).

At my school, the goal is to reduce the barriers for each student to meet his or her peak potential without lowering the bar. Good, purposeful homework should be part of any student’s learning journey. But it takes teachers to design better homework (which can include no homework at all on some nights), parents to not see hours of homework as a measure of school quality, and students to reflect on their current homework strategies while applying new, research-backed ones. Together, we can all get more sleep — and that, research shows, is very good for all of our brains and for each student’s learning.

What is digital fluency?


Image by George Couros under CC

A recent announcement from Hon. Hekia Parata signalled that digital fluency will be a key focus for Ministry centrally-funded professional learning support in 2016 (PLD Changes will lift student achievement, 23 Sept. 2015).

The value of growing digitally fluent learners was signalled in the Ministry report, Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities (2014) which asked that

“digital competencies be recognised as “essential foundation skills for success in 21st century society” and that they be supported by “cross-curriculum resources,  a responsive assessment framework, professional development and a programme of evaluation.”

‘Digital fluency’, as a phrase, does not occur specifically in the our various curricula (NZC, Te Marautanga, Te Whāriki) or in other oft-used touchstones for learning with digital technologies. However, the concepts behind it will be familiar to many educators already.

What is digital fluency?

‘Fluency’ derives from the word ‘flow’ and when we think about being ‘fluent’ in any context, it refers to being flexible, accurate, efficient, and appropriate. In other words, the way we use skills, language and speech flows naturally and easily. In a digital context for learning, fluency involves using technologies “readily and strategically to learn, to work, and to play, and the infusion of technology in teaching and learning to improve outcomes for all students”1

Broadly speaking, digital fluency is a combination of:

  • digital, or technical, proficiency: able to understand, select and use the technologies and technological systems;
  • digital literacy: cognitive or intellectual competencies, which include being able to read, create, evaluate and make judgements and apply technical skills while doing so;
  • social competence, or dispositional knowledge: the ability to relate to others and communicate with them effectively.

It is helpful to think of fluency as showing wisdom and confidence in the application and use of digital technologies, as reflected in the diagram below (Wenmoth, 2015):

Knowledge, understanding, wisdom

Internationally, there is currently no consistently held definition of digital fluency and at times it is used interchangeably by different jurisdictions. Other phrases appear to be used in its place such as ICT fluency; Digital literacies; Digital competence; Digital citizenship. We often see it broken down into lists and competencies. In some contexts, it is even defined as a separate set of competencies or curriculum (White, 2013).

“Fluency” is broader than “literacy.”

Being ‘digitally literate’ means acquiring the skills to make and create meaning, and select technologies to do so. Being fluent requires competencies and capabilities that go beyond the skill level. Someone who is digitally fluent not only selects tools and knows what to do with them, but can explain why they work in the way they do and how they might adapt what they do if the context were to change.

For example, if you are literate, you might be able to follow instructions to set up a shared document online and use it for a clear purpose. If you are fluent, you can self-select from a range of tools to achieve the same outcome, navigate collaborative spaces effectively and confidently with other people.

Fluency represents the highest order – that of ‘unconscious competence’ – in the ‘hierarchy of competence’ that we see in models such as Burch:

hierarchy of competence

Image source: Competence Hierarchy adapted from Noel Burch by Igor Kokcharov CC BY-SA 4.0

Digital fluency can also be considered as part of a broader set of competencies related to ‘21st century’ learning. Being able to manipulate technologies so we can create and navigate information successfully is supported by our ability to work collaboratively, solve real-world problems creatively, pursue our own learning goals and so on.

Why we all need to be digitally fluent

Crucially, the outcome of being digitally fluent relates to issues of responsibility, equity and access. We all have the right to fully participate in a digitally-enabled education system and in an increasingly digitised society. If we work with fluency in the way we use technologies, we are able to keep ourselves safe online and take full advantage of life chance opportunities such as being able to apply for work, manage our finances, or be part of our local community).

In the years ahead, digital fluency will become a prerequisite for obtaining jobs, participating meaningfully in society, and learning throughout a lifetime. (Resnick, 2002, p. 33) [via White, 2013]”

As more services — health, civil, safety, even voting — move online, it has never been more important to ensure citizens are not disenfranchised from accessing services that are central to the well-being of all.

Questions to consider

  1. What kinds of literacy learning opportunities are offered at your school, ECE centre or kura – and how do these deliberately teach the skills and competencies to navigate online spaces successfully?
  2. Consider the competencies that you seek to develop with your learners: what do these look like when developed in digital contexts?
  3. To what extent are learning areas explored in ways that invite higher-order engagement, problem-solving and authentic use of technologies? Are learners doing more than searching for information? Are they applying it in ways that are real and connected to the world around us?


With thanks to Derek Wenmoth for his contribution to this post.

SOURCE: http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/10/what-is-digital-fluency.html