Talking EdTech


Technology isn’t going to become any less omnipresent in our lives; with the rate at which technology advances, we actually have no idea what type of world our current students will enter when they are ready to pursue careers and make big decisions.  So how on earth do we prepare them for that?  How can we even begin to teach students about technology or prepare teachers to teach technology when we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now?

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to be able to engage in lots of great conversations with other professors, classroom teachers, and policy makers around educational technology, in an attempt to answer these questions.  A couple of months ago, I was invited to participate in a summit on innovation in educational technology in teacher preparation. There, I made connections and began conversations with other innovators and experts at all levels from k-16 and beyond. Those conversations have continued at a distance since then, up through this week. On Monday, I led a Twitter chat for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, centered around the active use of technology in teacher preparation. Yesterday I had an amazing conversation on the TeacherCast podcast about educational technology, social media, and a host of other related topics. These conversations are absolutely critical to improving both the teaching practice and teacher preparation programs.  It’s no secret that, while we do have plenty of rockstar teachers and professors out there using technology in active and transformative ways, we also have a lot of schools, teachers, and professors still approaching technology from an old-school mentality (pun very intended).

I want to share with you some of the key points that emerged, repeatedly, from these conversations.

Teaching and learning with technology should be a tool to enhance the active engagement of students.  Tech certainly doesn’t have to be integrated into every lesson, but there are many ways in which tech can expand the classroom outside of the 4 brick and mortar walls, can provide more interactive and relevant learning experiences, and can teach students the valuable technology skills that they are most likely to need in the future.

But wait, didn’t I just say we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now? I sure did. So that’s why technology needs to look less like:

  1. Teaching students to type on a keyboard.
  2. Teaching students to use PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.
  3. Having students use a sanitized and heavily blocked version of the Internet.

And more like:

  1. Exposing students to many different types of technology.
  2. Modeling how to learn a new technology by networking, searching, and transferring knowledge.
  3. Teaching students good judgment for who to interact with online and how much and what types of information to share.
  4. Teaching students about the various things that contribute to their digital identity.

The difference here is that one approach teaches specific technologies, while the other teaches skills that will (probably) transfer to any type of technology that is developed. We must teach students and preservice teachers how to learn about technology and how to have good judgment around technology.

Another major point that I want to emphasize after having had these conversations this week, is that we in the field of education need to have these active conversations regularly, and we need to be talking across disciplines and across institutions and grade levels. Professors need to be engaged in conversations with classroom teachers who are actually implementing this transformative, active technology. Classroom teachers need to be modeling for and supporting each other in their implementation of active, transformative tech. We need to all listen to k-12 students; we need to know how they are using the technology, what they would like to use the technology for, and how they imagine the technology growing.

I want to make the final point that we have passed the point at which implementing technology in every subject area is optional. The Common Core standards require technology implementation and instruction. The U.S. Department of Education expects that schools implement and instruct in transformative, active use of technology. Living and working in the modern United States practically requires the use of technology. Teachers and professors who avoid teaching with technology are doing a disservice to k-12 students and preservice teachers; we can no more decide to avoid teaching with technology than we can decide not to teach kids math or language arts.

The future is here. We must be prepared to teach in and for the future.

Pinterest for Educators

pinterest-feature-imagePublished today on the Getting Smart! website, my new article:

How To Effectively Integrate Pinterest Into Your Classroom

Check it out for useful information on how to actively use educational technology in your classroom!  In it, I give some tips for using Pinterest in your classroom, as well as a link to the USC Rossier School of Education’s fantastic Pinterest Guide!

“I’m not racist; I just hate black people.”

Screenshot 2014-12-08 10.13.39

No this isn’t about education.  Bear with me.

I went to a protest this weekend here in Baton Rouge in response to the Eric Garner decision and other instances of police brutality.  A couple of hundred people were there: students, ministers, various other members of the community, of all races. We heard the account (from his father) of Victor White III, who supposedly shot himself in the chest, while in police custody, with his hands cuffed behind his back. We heard the account of another unnamed man who, after being sent to prison in Angola, was killed 4 days later in an altercation with prison guards. His family doubted the story they were told of the altercation, and his body was not allowed to be released to the family; he was buried in Angola. We heard a mother talking about how she returned to her car from a convenience store, to find a cop physically roughing up her children in the back seat, because one of them was playing with a laser pointer. We heard from a 12 year old black girl who was terrified that her 10 year old brother would be killed by police. We heard from a man who was beaten by police because he said to the officer “Why did you stop me?” These stories are, sadly, not unique.

There are tons of great cops out there – no one is denying that. However, police brutality does happen, and it happens disproportionately to black people, regardless of why they’re interacting with police in the first place. The data shows this clearly.

And still, when a story is posted here in our local paper about the protest (a completely peaceful event), comments like those pictured above absolutely dominate the discussion. These are not the exception; they are the rule. Again and again, ignorant white people talk about “ghetto rats” and “black on black crime.” (As an aside, black people do kill black people. You know what happens more often than that? White people killing white people.). They talk about how those at the protest must be lazy, have nothing better to do with their time, or need to get a job (How many jobs do they want me to have?).

I wish these voices were the minority here. They are not. Baton Rouge is a racist city. Louisiana is a racist state. The South is a racist region. There are a few shining examples of progress, and there are pockets of people trying to make a difference. And yet, if you ask most of these people who make these ignorant comments, they will tell you they’re not racist. That’s perhaps the scariest part of this; millions of racists, walking around feeling justified in their ignorant beliefs, believing they’re not racist and denying racism exists. So then when yet another black life is taken, they feel comfortable dismissing the cries for justice.  They’re not racist, no, of course not.  They just see black people as uncivilized, subhuman thugs who need to get jobs.


The most wired colleges in the US. WiFi? WiFi Not? Rankings | Unigo

WiFi? WiFi Not? Rankings | Unigo.


Wifi is a wonderful thing to have, as are the myriad other tech resources that the listed schools have.  However, access to resources is not the same as having faculty and administration in all departments on board with the technological revolution.  Tech is changing the very nature in which we communicate and the ways we gain and share knowledge.  Surely every school has a stake in seeing their faculty and students become technologically literate and not just exposed to technology.

via The most wired colleges in the US. WiFi? WiFi Not? Rankings | Unigo.


photo credit: when i was a bird via photopin cc

5 Tech Tools for the Newly Connected Educator

This one is for the teaching with technology newbies.  I know there are lots of you out there; I find myself teaching you quite often.  Sometimes those of us whose lives are threaded through with technology in every possible way forget that somewhere out there, there is a teacher who doesn’t understand the difference between a tweet and a status update. If the extent of your online activity is looking at pictures of your grandkids on Facebook, this post is for you! As you go through this post, you’ll see words and phrases that are underlined.  Click on those for more resources related to that word or phrase.

So let’s say you’re one of those educators, and you want to know where to start.  Slogging through all of the available information out there is a daunting task, so I’m going to give you the top 5 tech tools I think you should start with; from there, the technology you can branch out to is virtually infinite.

1. Prezi
Prezi is basically like a souped up version of PowerPoint.  You can import slides from PowerPoint, as a matter of fact, but I think that kind of defeats the purpose of this tool.  What Prezi does is allow you to zoom, spin, add images and videos, and share and collaborate with others on the web.  It is really useful for minilessons, because it’s much more visually engaging than PowerPoint, and it’s also a great tool for students to use to collaborate on projects together.  The best parts are that it’s free and easy to learn.  Give it a try and I guarantee you’ll never be going back to PowerPoint.

2. Dropbox
Dropbox is what we call “cloud storage.”  This means that (in very simplistic terms) instead of, or in addition to, saving files on the hard drive of your computer, you can save them to a really safe and secure hard drive that Dropbox manages for you.  The files basically live online, and you can grab them whenever and wherever you need them.  So here’s what you do:

  • Download the Dropbox software and install it on your computer.
  • Start dragging and dropping files into your new Dropbox folder on your computer.
  • That’s it!  Now your files are backed up, and if your computer gets run over by a truck, you can restore your files without losing anything.

If you want to get fancy, you can also create shared or public folders, and put things in them that you want other teachers, parents, or students to be able to access.  One word of caution; I don’t recommend storing student data in Dropbox for security/privacy reasons.  Dropbox is generally very safe and private, but why take the chance?

A section of my Dropbox folder in the online interface.

3. Twitter
Ah, Twitter…To the non-initiated, Twitter probably seems like a neverending stream of random, disorganized thoughts.  However, Twitter is probably the most powerful way for you to connect with your fellow educators to engage in professional development, discussion, and debate.  Go set up an account on Twitter, and you’ll have the option of “following” people and organizations.  This means that every time they “tweet” something (or share an idea or resource with their fellow Twitter users) you will see it.  You can then share it yourself or reply to it.  You can also share your own stuff; the one restriction is that you only have 140 characters in which to do so.  At first this seems restrictive, but what it actually does is forces people to post only the most important part of what they’re trying to say.  The key to Twitter being useful is that you need to carefully curate who you follow.  If you load up your Twitter feed (the ever changing list of things people are tweeting) with celebrities and teenagers, Twitter is going to quickly seem useless.  However, if you follow political figures, scientists, organizations, your students, your colleagues, authors, etc., then all of a sudden the Twitter feed becomes this amazing real-time source of information.  You can also engage in real time conversations with other users by using “hashtags.” A hashtag is like a label for your tweet to let other people know what it’s about.  People can then search by hashtag and find all of the tweets about a given topic.  Take for example, one of my recent tweets:

In this tweet, I shared a link, and added hashtags to it so that people looking for tweets about certain topics could find it.  I used the hashtag #teaching for people who might be searching for teaching tweets, the hashtag #edchat, which is a popular hashtag for general discussion about education, #edtech, which is for discussions about educational technology, and I also did something called “mentioning,” where I put the name of another Twitter user in my post so that people that follow that other user would see my tweet as well. Here’s what a quick search for people tweeting about #edchat brought up for me:

I know this seems like a lot to take in, but trust me, once you get the hang of it, this will be a great source of information for you, and an invaluable way for you to share your expertise with the world.  You can even set up hashtags and get your students tweeting about lessons.  It’s a great way to communicate with students in a medium with which they are already familiar.

4. Facebook
You’re probably already on Facebook.  I bet you have an account where you “like” pictures of family, share things, and post status updates.  However, you probably don’t have a Facebook group set up for your students.  You have the ability to, for free, set up a closed or private group for your students to interact with.  If you already have a schoolwide LMS (Learning Management System) then you don’t need this; of course, if you already have a schoolwide LMS, you’re probably not a newly connected educator.  The benefit of using Facebook with your students is visibility.  Just like with Twitter, you can connect with students in the way that they are already communicating outside the classroom.  You can share files, post information, links, photos, and videos, send out reminders, etc.  Take some time before you do this, though, and read about the difference between a closed Facebook group and a secret Facebook group.

Image courtesy of Facebook for Educators

5. YouTube
You’ve probably also already been on YouTube.  YouTube is ubiquitous these days, with even 95 year old great-grandmas commenting on cat videos.  However, you can harness the power of YouTube for your classroom.  YouTube offers you the ability to upload videos to the website for either public consumption, or for specific people.  You can create videos of yourself explaining concepts.  You can create videos of yourself walking students through the syllabus, or addressing questions about assignments.  You can have students record themselves talking about topics, or presenting projects and post it for the world to see.  This tool allows a level of collaboration and sharing of ideas that is unprecedented.

Now here’s the sad part.  Many of you are working (or will be working) in districts or schools that block some or all of these sites.  If that is the case, you have a few options:

  • You can fight it.  Take it to the school or district level, and challenge the policy.  Here’s a good article to get you started on why you should fight it.
  • You can use these tools at home, and encourage students to do the same.  However, if you’re in a high needs school, this may be a challenge.
  • You can break policy and use a proxy server to do it anyway.  Of course, if you choose to do this, all potential consequences fall on your shoulders, and you risk your job if you get caught.  I will tell you, however, that most of your students already know how to do this, and are doing it on a daily basis.

I know this is a lot of information, if you’re not currently a “connected” educator.  I encourage you, however, to try one of these technologies at a time.  Use what works for you, and make an effort to become connected globally to your fellow educators.  We can’t wait for you to join us!

Talking to Kids about the Boston Marathon Bombings

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial
Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial (Photo credit: AnubisAbyss)

Oh, how I wish this wasn’t something that needed to be posted. Unfortunately, we’ve seen yet another violent attack take innocent lives and injure countless others. Right now, if you’re a caregiver or teacher, you have a couple of choices. You can drown in the social media and television coverage of the events, or you can carefully curate what your children have access to, and mediate the exposure you can’t control (for older kids). Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that if your child can handle violence on television or video games, or if they are older, that they can process this tragic event on their own without mediation from a loving caregiver or teacher. The National Association of School Psychologists put out this great informational memo recently that gives tips on how to address school violence with children and teens, and with some modification, it is relevant to this tragedy. Please take the time to read and share this so that we can minimize the negative impact this tragedy will have on our young people. Above all, reassure your kids that they are safe, talk to them in developmentally appropriate ways about the event, listen to what they have to say, and get away from the screens. This afternoon is a great time to play a game together, make some art, or just sit and talk. My heart goes out to all those affected by this senseless violence.

Talking to Children about Violence