Start thinking smaller with technology

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Nobody likes to use technology when it slows us down. In fact, one goal for meaningful tech use is enhancing a learning experience while keeping the technology seemingly invisible. When technology does that for teachers and learners, it is worth its weight in gold.

However, when we reflect on the ways we most often use technology, the tools are often utilized as a capstone to learning -- a final end product. And that, while a really great way to use technology, well that can be cumbersome, heavy, and can ultimately slow us down.

While summative assessment is certainly an appropriate use of the tools students have, it doesn't take full advantage of what the tools offer us. In these cases, technology use becomes an event, not a way of doing our daily business.

The challenge is to find ways to use the efficiency and mobility of the iPad, along with its built-in tools, to get students interacting with and sharing their thinking daily. The goal is to make sure every student participates, every student engages, every student does the hard work of thinking, all while making a teacher's work in the process more efficient and timely.

Here are ideas you could use to think "small" with technology use in order to incorporate it into your daily learning plan. And the best news -- these tools are on your iPads already. No download needed!

Prior Knowledge & Post Reflections with Camera

In order to activate prior knowledge, educators often use a call and response with the class or group. This only gives some of the students an opportunity to engage their brain and show what they know.

Instead, have every student turn on the video camera on their iPad. Speaking in a six inch voice (direct students to talk into the microphone of the iPad for better audio), have every student record 30 seconds of video explaining what they know about the topic.

At the end of the lesson on the topic, have students listen to their original recording. Ask them to reflect on two key questions: 1) What do I know now that I didn't know earlier? and 2) What questions do I still have about this topic?

They could now share with a partner for a quick turn and talk session.

Finally, have the small group film one final 20 second video using the camera app. They will record the answers to these questions: 1) "One really important thing we learned today about this topic was..." and 2) "One question we still have about this topic is...".

Students can now AirDrop the video to their teacher as an exit ticket, and the teacher can quickly review the student's thinking and questions.

Low Tech to High Tech Reflection with Markup

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In most classrooms some amount of work is done on paper. Paper is a wonderful tool for learning. Of course, like anything, it has limitations.

In this technique we start from paper. We have students doing work and showing their learning on paper (this should feel fairly familiar).

Next we organize a quick museum walk or have students find a partner. The goal here is to have students look at each other's work in order to challenge their own understanding of the skill/topic, and to offer feedback to each other.  Using their iPad, they will take photos of at least one other student's written work (you may need to teach them how to focus and take a good picture).

Then, using the Markup tool in Photos (the place where your photos go on your iPad after you take them), have the students annotate their thinking over the top of the photo to determine key points about the work. This would be more efficient and meaningful if the teacher could provide some guiding questions for the feedback.

Finally, students can meet to share their thinking with the student who they are offering feedback to. They can AirDrop their annotated image to each other to serve as guidance as the student goes back to make changes to their work on paper.

Capturing the Learning Process

If the focus on the learning process is the key to the work students are doing, then let's use technology to help capture the process over time. This technique works whether you are working with non-digital tools (paper, construction materials, art materials, etc)  or working digitally.

The teacher starts by outlining the rules. Over the next period of time, students will hear a timer go off sporadically. This timer will be set by the teacher. When the timer goes off, the students simply need to snap a photo of their work at that time. Stop what they are doing momentarily, take a picture, and then get back to work.

Using the timer on the teacher's iPad (and AirPlay if an Apple TV is available in your room), the teacher will set the timer (you will have to determine the appropriate interval -- not so often that it interrupts thinking, but not so far apart that student progress will not be measured). As the teacher moves around the room and students work, the timer will keep pace. 

When the timer goes off, instruct students to capture their work using the camera, and then get back to work. The teacher will then reset the timer for a new interval (not all intervals have to be exactly the same).

Repeat this until the work period has completed.

Next, ask students to open the Photos app on the iPad. Have them start on their first photo of their work, and then scroll through. With each photo, ask the students to reflect on the process and what changes from photo to photo.  Maybe they will watch their drawing or artwork come to life. Maybe they will see their writing process unfold. Maybe they will identify their note taking or annotation process.

When we use technology to capture moments in time, we can start to uncover the process of learning, not just the end product.

They could share this reflection with a partner. They could use the Markup tool to annotate the changes. They could video record their reflections of the process. For more advanced users, you could use either full iMovie or iMovie trailers to document the learning process as well.

Any way it is achieved, the goal is to have the students reflect on their process, to think about what they did and how it impacted their final product, and to ultimately change their process (or understand their process) so they know themselves as learners.

Your iPad is your document camera

In a classroom where we need to make things visible for all of our students, or when we want to model a process for students, nothing beats a document camera.  They give us a live video feed that we can quickly and easily project to the class.

And the great news -- you already have a document camera available to you. It's your iPad.

Paired with an Apple TV and Airplay (for a wireless experience), or even hard wired into a projector, the camera app on the iPad gives us a live video feed that can be easily shared with the class.

The process is easy. Find, make, or buy a stand that will allow you to be hands-free with your iPad with whatever is below (or in front of) the camera. Then simply connect it to the projector and open the camera app.


The trick is finding a great stand at a great (or no) price. You can buy iPad doc camera stands, but if you look around you'll probably find exactly what you need in your classroom or around the house/apartment.

The stand at right meets all of the requirements.

  • The stand must be sturdy. iPads are expensive, and setting them on a wobbly stand where they may fall is not a great idea!


  • It has openings at the top to safely set your iPad on while allowing the camera to peer through.


  • It lifts the iPad up from the "stage" below so you can fit objects of various sizes underneath.


  • There is a clear working area underneath to fit the demonstrator's hands. This is especially important when annotating text or "modeling" for students.
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So go ahead. Look around. What clever ideas have you had for making your own useful iPad document stand?

By the way, this is a GREAT design challenge for students. Set forth the design parameters (something similar to what we outlined above) and let students start thinking creatively.


Expertise worth paying for

As I get older, it's fair to say I'm becoming a bit more frugal. I realize how hard I work for what I earn, and I am constantly balancing the benefits of paying somebody else to do work that I know I could do on my own. (My maker mindset hasn't made this any easier -- a YouTube video, some tools and we can do just about anything!)

Recently I have had the chance to work with true experts in very different fields.

In my work life, I've had the chance to work with representatives from Qualtrics. This is a company that has invested millions in product development and testing, that has hired some of the brightest minds in the fields of research, computer science, data analysis, and that has brought all of that expertise together to develop a great product to help companies, schools, and students make accurate, data informed decisions. They have staked their reputation and the livelihoods of each of their employees on being the best at helping clients make the right decisions. It is quite a company, quite a product, and their expertise shines through in every interaction I have with the company.

In another part of my life, the home remodel of our kitchen, I have had the opportunity to work with a true craftsman. Randy is a person that is generations deep in his family knowledge and tradition of construction, both in rough and finish carpentry. He has spent his entire life deepening his knowledge, problem solving through projects, and honing his skills as a carpenter. His expertise and attention to detail day-in, day-out is the key to his ability to pay his bills, feed his family, and earn a living. His expertise shines through in every way as you watch him work.

This is not unlike the school systems we work in as educators. Educators and educational systems have a ton of expertise within them. We have people skills, content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, creativity, problem solving abilities. If school systems were companies for hire, there would be no competitor for many of the projects for which they were hired; the talent pool, expertise, and know-how of schools systems is just that rich. 


True Expertise...

sometimes you get what you are willing to pay for!

However, even in schools, there are blind spots and areas where our lack of expertise shines through.  Perhaps it is realizing where these blind spots are within our systems, acknowledging where our weaknesses and  lack of expertise  shines through, and then finding/hiring those who can fill our gaps that is one of our greatest responsibilities as educational leaders. Why spend time writing surveys that won't yield the data we most need when there are people who can help us get the right answers out of the gate? Why throw darts at understanding the complexities of our relationships with our customers when there are people can help us understand the science of client wants and needs?

Or as my wife asks me: Why spend unnecessary time and money on materials putting in the finishing trim, when we can hire somebody who will make it look better than we ever would be able to?

She has a point.

Simple tools, deep impact

Mental "ruts" are tough to escape!

Some ruts can be tough to escape!

Sometimes we get into a rut (a pattern of thinking/behavior that has become dull, unproductive, and difficult to change), and it takes a little push to help us get out.

When it comes to thinking about how to use technology in our classrooms, we can get into some common ruts as well.  Here are some common ones.

  • We may get in the rut of always searching for a new app to do something we could easily do with other apps we already have. 
  • We may get stuck thinking about only using technology as a culminating, end-of-unit, large project.
  • We may get stuck in the rut of making student demonstrations of learning more complicated than they need to be.

If you are stuck in any of these ruts, here are some tips to help nudge you out. 

Stop looking for new tools and apps. Use what you already know and have available.

As an example here, we will just use the camera that is already built into the iPad.

The "Time Lapse" mode on the iPad camera is a powerful way of seeing change over long periods of time. Any kind of change that can be viewed.  Have the students turn on their time lapse feature on the camera, hit record and start seeing the world in a very different way (a way we often do not get to see).

  • Brainstorming and mind mapping
    • Want to see the thinking process? A whiteboard, markers, an iPad camera in time lapse mode will give you a full (and quick) run down of the thinking a student or group does.


Using the photo mode on the iPad camera is a great way to capture snapshots that students can later reflect upon.

  • Capturing and annotating over printed materials and written work
    • We do not advocate a paperless work environment. Paper is a tool in our learning process. But using the camera to snap photos of our work gives us the ability to "archive" teachable moments. And with the newest updates to photos, students can now "annotate" or draw right over the top of these photos. Using the Markup tool in iPad's photos app (learn how to markup photos), students can synthesize their thinking around that photo today, or in the future!


Using the slow motion mode on the iPad camera allows us to slow down time (the opposite of time lapse). If you are something that happens very quickly, using slow motion will give your students a chance to see what happens when we can slow things WAY down. And you will definitely get a laugh at it!

  • Inquiry, anybody? 
    • Instead of a list of ideas, I'll let your imagination run wild on this one. Just watch the inspiration video of everyday slow motion films, think about your students, and know that they can create videos of this type with their iPad. What questions would they ask? What answers would they find if they created these kinds of videos in slow motion?

Do not wait until the end of a unit to find ways to utilize technology. Use technology throughout the process of learning.

iPads are great for culminating projects. But they can be great for daily use, for capturing the process of learning, and to prepare for a culminating project as well.

Using the iPad to record and then later review thinking can be  a powerful way to help students get ideas flowing. Using the video camera on the iPad (even if the student's face isn't in the shot) is one way to just get kids talking about their thinking or ideas while maintaining a record for their later review.

  • Pre-writing: Just hit record
    • Flip to your camera app and select the Video mode. In this case, what is on the screen isn't important. It's the audio we are using here. Have students talk to a partner about their research, their ideas, their questions for an upcoming non-fiction topic they are just beginning to explore. What is the storyline of their fiction piece? Be sure to have an iPad nearby, listening intently, recording their every thought.  And when we get to the next phase of the writing process, have them go back and listen. Now they can synthesize their initial thoughts. We know that this metacognitive task of thinking about our thinking is at the core of meaningful learning. We are just employing our iPad's camera and microphone to record, hold, and replay those thoughts for our students.

Aim for simplicity. Too many expectations, too many rules/details, and too many limits will only allow students to give you what you asked for, but not what they are capable of doing.

 This one does not tie to a specific tool or idea. In fact, just the opposite. Often we spend so much time outlining the "must do" and "must use" of anything we ask students to do that we actually end up limiting our students' potential. Instead, let them know what they must show us they know or are able to do, and then make them choose HOW they will show us.

Sometimes you will be underwhelmed. Sometimes you will be amazed. And in both scenarios there is something to be learned by our students!


How outdated are your paradigms for how work gets done today?

About a month ago I had an opportunity to attend one of the most wonderful, most student centered days I have witnessed in a long time. My friend, Nancy Roncke, organized a Young Author's Conference for our district. It was inspiring and energizing to see an auditorium full of sixth grade students who have identified as writers. I had the distinct privilege of serving as a writing coach for a wonderful team of students. 


In preparation for the day, I did some up front planning. We would need paper. Lots of paper. And highlighters. And post-its. Pens. Definitely pens.  I let my English teacher brain really process through the way I taught writing. The way I write. The way my students have written. By the time I loaded my car to leave for the conference, I had a bin of supplies full of the necessities writers would need to be successful.

On the way I thought some more. We are a 1:1 iPad district, and I know some of the kids will far prefer to draft on their iPad. Being thoughtful and empathetic to their needs, I made an unplanned stop at the tech office to pick up physical keyboards for the writers. They would certainly appreciate my efforts, as we all know that writing on a glass surface is inferior to typing on snappy keyboard.

I truly enjoyed my day with the students. They did a lot of writing. More than I expected they would. They were successful, productive, active, and focused. We truly achieved our goal of just being a community of writers.

Yet, things didn't go exactly as I had planned. By the end of the day, I was left with two things: 1) a trunk full of unopened writing supplies and untouched keyboards, and 2) the realization that I was still thinking about and planning for writers as they used to work, not as the presently work.

It left me wondering how often we do this as educators. How often do we mistakenly plan for things as they once were, instead of reflecting on how they truly are? Are we holding on tightly to practices, topics, and ideas that are grounded in the way we used to do things? Perhaps we cling to the way we feel most comfortable working?

My team of writers gently nudged me to question my own paradigm for how work gets done. Without saying a word, they reminded me that they have been typing on glass screens since they first started typing. They reminded me that a Google Doc, an Internet connection, and an iPad are the tools of writers; these are the tools the students have self-selected, and these tools do everything that is necessary for the intended outcome. They reminded me that printed copies for revision and editing are inefficient and can slow down the process. Sharing a doc with another person, allowing them to comment, and then meeting to discuss their feedback is the way that they most commonly receive critique from others.

It made me wonder how many other paradigms I naturally embrace that are outdated. It is unnerving to think that even in our best efforts to prepare students for the life they have yet to live, that we can all fall victim to the assumptions of what life is really like. I am taking this as my reminder to always ask the question: "So, how do people really do this today?" And when I stop to ask the question and really think about it, I am reminded that the last time I had somebody critique my writing with highlighters and post-its was back in graduate school. Apparently some habits and experiences truly do stick with us far after they are useful.

Twitter Tag

Just started playing a fun new game on Twitter to promote our district day of professional learning focused on technology integration.  I am calling it #TwitterTag!

Twitter Tag has taken off for our event. We are seeing all sorts of people playing and it is generating a huge conversation around the event. 

So basically, here is how you play.

I started the game with this tweet:

Here are the key pieces you will need to start your own Twitter Tag fun.

  • hashtag for your event or chat (ex. #sdwone)
  • Twitter Tag title (I think the hands emojis help separate this out from "tags" on Twitter)
  • Sentence stem -- "At the One Conference I hope..."
  • And then "You're it!" and you name three people that are now to complete the sentence stem and pass the game along

I'm sure there are folks out there who might have better ideas for doing this. If so, feel free to share them with me.  However, it is key that you limit the number of people that can be tagged at once. Too many and you defeat the point of the game, which is encouraging people to engage in a conversation on Twitter.

Enjoy #TwitterTag everybody!


Far beyond the tools

I continually make decisions thinking I know so much, only to learn within a few short years how little I actually knew. Today I realized just how little I understood about becoming an instructional tech coach when I first started down this path eight years ago.

When I decided to leave the classroom to pursue a technology integration position, I felt I had given myself ample time to grow, to reflect, and to mature in the craft of teaching, as well as in my use of technology. I was adamant that I was not going to leave the classroom until I felt ready to support others meaningfully. When I left the classroom, I "knew" I had invested the time needed to get there.

Even with that measured, mindful approach, I still feel as if my first few years were centered around evangelizing those who had not yet encountered the wonders of the technologies I had discovered. I wasn't aware of it at that time, but reflecting on my practice, the tools were undoubtedly the focus of my work.

Today I was fortunate to attend a powerful session on the instructional coaching offered by Tammy Gibbons. It was a marvelous experience for me, interweaving the perfect mix of thinking, learning, and doing.

As I reflect on the activities, the conversations, and the messages that Tammy so masterfully delivered throughout this workshop, I realize just how little of my work today is focused on the tools we employ.  Yes, I talk about technology every day with educators. I march out new tools and offer ideas for ways to utilize them. However, that is the least important of my interaction with teachers. 

Today, the central focus of my work with teachers is on them. I focus on their readiness to take on a new challenge, to take a risk, to shift their thinking, or to challenge long held beliefs and practices. My focus is on providing just enough support to enable them to make a lasting change, while walking delicately along the line that allows them to be doing the hard work of growing.

My practice today is so far beyond the focus of tech tools that I sometimes wonder if I am really doing the job I was initially hired to do. Perhaps I am not spending enough time exploring all of the newest services, tools, and sites that are constantly coming online. Maybe I am not exploring and scouting the booming educational technology industry sufficiently. These are ongoing considerations for me as I reflect on my performance in my role.

The message that was hammered home for me in today's workshop, though, was that coaching the human being in front of you, helping them to become the best educator that they can be, really is the workthat I should be focused on doing. And that is the work that will have an impact on students far beyond the tools that utilize.