Friday, October 18, 2013

My Talk with School Board Candidate Andrea Cuene

Recently I was asked by a candidate for our local school board to sit down and talk about the state of technology in our district. Here is the interview from

I believe that Wayzata’s dedication to excellence in technology is changing the way our students learn and the way our teachers teach. In my own work at Greenwood, I’ve seen firsthand how the MyWay initiative is truly engaging kids in learning and supporting communication in exciting, new ways. So I was really looking forward to my conversation about technology with Dave Zukor, a Technology Integration Specialist in Wayzata Schools.

Dave Zukor has worked in the Wayzata schools for over 13 years. He worked at Sunset Hill and Plymouth Creek teaching third grade, fifth grade, vision 21 and technology before becoming a Technology Integration Specialist six years ago. His primary role is to support and train teachers, but you may recognize him from the middle school iPad distributions or from the parent classes he taught throughout the district.

Dave clarified that the goal of the MyWay initiative is not just about getting devices into students’ hands, “it’s a new focus on personalized learning and digital literacy”. Dave talked about how iPads can individualize education when they allow students to learn, practice and research at their own pace, discover and follow their unique passions and receive interventions when needed. I’ve observed how technology can also support teachers as they differentiate their instruction, meeting students where they’re at and striving for progress.

But in order for technology to support personalized learning, Dave explained how important it is to start right away in kindergarten. Most of our kids come to school having experience with devices at home. The goal in kindergarten is to get kids to re-think what they can do with an iPad; “if at the end of kindergarten, kids know that the iPad can be used to read, listen, write and create, then we’ve been successful”. Using the iPad as a learning and research tool will be reinforced every year. “It’s a long term process. Expectations need to change so that we understand how technology can benefit a different kind of learning. The skills our students need for success are changing; digital literacy, media literacy, and effective communication with people all over the world”. He believes these skills give students the confidence to take risks, experiment, learn from failures and build resiliency.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Meandering Conversation

So recently I had a great conversation with a friend and colleague. We started our conversation around the Ted Talk, "Why Work Doesn't Happen At Work."

We were applying it to teachers and how teachers are never able to have the time to dig deep into new learning and ideas. They are so inundated with directives and initiatives, combined with meetings and interruptions, that they are consumed with tasks, rather than tackling big ideas. This means that when I meet with them to talk about mobile devices, digital literacy, personalized learning, etc... they take a "just tell me what I need to do" approach, rather than thinking about why this is so important and how best to make it happen.

The conversation led into a discussion about Flow. How can we help teachers immerse themselves in something so they can reach that state of flow. Again, there are too many distractions for teachers to ever dig deeply into their learning. For more on Flow, check out

Eventually our discussion led us to talk about Bloom's Taxonomy. If our classrooms are focused on "covering" the curriculum, we are never going to get past the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. To get to metacognition and creating, we must provide time for our teachers and students to dig deeper and get into a Flow.

In my role as a technology integration specialist, I see first hand how difficult it is for our teachers to dig deeper, to access those higher order thinking skills. If we never allow this to happen, how can we expect our teachers to reach the point in which this all makes sense and they can apply these skills? How can we structure our day to provide them time to explore, conceptualize, apply, and synthesize all this new learning?

I really appreciated that my friend and I had the time to let our conversation meander. We were able to think deeply about this topic and make some interesting connections!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Doing More With Less

Usually in education, when we talk about doing more with less, we are talking about money or resources. This time, I'm talking about less content. What if instead of covering all the material in our curriculum, we covered less?

I've been paying a lot of attention recently to the impact of feedback on our students. Turns out, we don't often do a very good job of providing timely, specific feedback. More importantly, even when we do, we don't provide time for students to respond to that feedback. Think about it. How often do you give students feedback on a project or learning target and then provide them time to relearn or rework it so that the feedback is meaningful and impactful? For me, the answer is easy... not often enough.

What if we spent more time on each concept or product? Yes, we would have to make some tough decisions about what we don't have time to teach, but we would be providing such amazing learning opportunities for our kids. I have used this example before, but my son's experience in Destination Imagination has been very eye opening for me. The kids are given a challenge in November and they have to come up with a solution by April. During that time, they try ideas out. Some fail, some succeed but need to be built upon. The lesson for those kids is that ideas need to be reworked. They need to be fleshed out.

Another key lesson in this design is that learning is hard. It requires hard work and stamina. Easy answers don't build stamina. They eat away at it. Our students expect answers to come easily. If they don't know, they give up. Feedback should provide the carrot to help them want to keep working at it.

Here is a great video that demonstrates the impact that specific feedback can have:

How much Technology is Too Much Technology?

Just about everyday, I hear from someone that there is too much technology and things change too quickly. They may have a point. After all, here are just a few changes that welcomed our teachers back to school this year:

  1. New computers with an updated operating system.
  2. Updated software for our student response devices.
  3. Student iPads and all the new apps that go with it.
  4. Updated software for our SmartBoards.
Add to that all the good old stuff that is still around, from MOODLE to Google and everything in between. It seems like each year, there is more to master. As the guy, or one of a small team of people, who are responsible for supporting teachers in their work to effectively use these tools in their classrooms, I sometimes feel like I need to apologize to them for all the opportunities that are out there. So is there such a thing as too much?

Perhaps the issue is not how much is out there, but how we perceive our role in using these things. We never complain that there are too many books to read or too many curriculum resources at our disposal. We never wish that we had fewer pencils, scissors, or crayons. I think this is because we don't set out to try to use ALL the pencils or ALL the books. We pick the ones that serve our purposes. I always carefully selected the books I wanted to read aloud in class or have students read during lit circles. I only ever used the resources that I needed. So it should be with technology.

We provide lots of options because teaching is about having the right tools at the right times. Sometimes, using Google Drive to work collaboratively or share a document is the perfect tool. Sometimes, using clickers to quickly assess where students are at makes formative assessment easier and better. We may not use them all, but as we add to our tool belt, we are better able to meet the needs of our students. 

So by starting with one or two tools and then adding new tools as we feel ready, we build the capacity to use technology effectively. It's not about what should you be doing? It's about where do you want to start? 

Sometimes we feel paralyzed because we worry about ALL the tools. Pick your first tool. Start. Learn. Take Risks. Fail. Grow. Have fun!!! The rest will come in time. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Learning - Happened so fast..

(This post was a collaborative effort with Jennifer Krzystowczyk from Bellevue Public Schools in Bellevue, NE and is cross-posted at

Now that the school year has ended and teachers are so excited to be on vacation, it is time to relax and rejuvenate, right? Right! But it is also a fantastic time to focus on your professional learning! I know many teachers who use summer as an opportunity to take classes, read professional books, and work collaboratively with their teammates. Here are a few other ideas for how you can take
advantage of summer learning while also working on your tan!

1. Develop a Professional Learning Network: Using social networking tools like Twitter, Google+, Feedly, and many others, you can connect with teachers around the globe who are doing amazing things. Read about what they are doing, participate in conversations with them, read articles recommended by colleagues, all from your mobile device on the back deck!  Check out Cybraryman’s list of Twitter Hashtags to follow.

2. Digitize your Content: Use the summer to develop your MOODLE course! Upload your resources, design formative assessments, create self paced assignments for your accelerated learners! Summer is the perfect time to focus on this so it is ready in the fall!

3.  View some amazing hangouts and free learning opportunities from Google!  Here is a great resource to peruse through.  Connect to a Google + Community like Edudemic.

4.  Attend a local Edcamp in your area.  Edcamps are usually held on weekends and are free of charge.  Edcamps let you choose the topics being covered and its a great place to network with other professionals.

5.  Follow some amazing educational blogs.  Here is a list of our favorites:

6.  Find some great YouTube Channels to subscribe to.This is a great way to learn new skills on practically any topic.  Subscribing to a channel gives you instant notifications when a new video has been added.  Check out this #tt4t YouTube channel for a multitude of ed tech video tutorials.  

7. Think of a place where you can read quietly, soak up the sun, and turn on that mobile device for some unique learning opportunities.

Return in the fall with some great new skills and feel invigorated by the fact that you cared enough to dig a little deeper with your knowledge, even on your “time off”!  So if you choose to do any of the above suggestions this summer, congratulations!  You’re a leader! You have inspired others with your knowledge, and your students will be better for it!  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Walking the Technology Balance Beam!

*Image thanks to Robert Lawton (Robert Lawton) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I have so many conversations with teachers and parents about their fear that students will spend so much time in front of a screen that they will lose the ability to relate to people face to face. As a parent of two kids, I understand this fear. We have rules in our house to limit screen time and talk often about the importance of balancing screen time with being active and spending time with family.

However, I am finding that many teachers and parents want to view schools as the last bastion of offline activity. They believe we need to teach kids how to act offline and they will learn how to act online somewhere else. Here is my problem with that premise:

It doesn't work!

First, most of the online activity of kids outside of school is unsupervised. So who exactly is teaching them what to do? Kids need guides in the online world. They need to learn not only where to go, but how to know who to trust, how to communicate, and what to do when others don't abide by the same rules.

For many kids, online activity equals gaming. While this creates an opportunity to interact with others online, many kids do not view online spaces as learning spaces. If we do not introduce them to new positive ways of using the Internet, what will they make of it?

We need to introduce students to the many wonderful opportunities that are available online. Research, creation, collaboration, communication. These are essential skills for them and we have a responsibility to teach them how to use them effectively.

Some have told me that they mourn the loss of face to face conversation in their classroom or students working together offline. Do we really believe these will go away? Today students access the Internet a small fraction of the time they are in school. If we bump that up to half the time, they will still interact offline half the time. This is a balanced approach. Just like my kids at home know that they need to balance their online time with physical activity, we need to teach our students to do the same, but this does not mean limiting their access to the Internet? To get a balanced approach, we need to begin to provide them more opportunity to use the Internet for educational purposes.

Who knows, maybe they will start balancing their time at home as well!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Six Years of Separation

(This post was a collaborative effort with Jennifer Krzystowczyk from Bellevue Public Schools in Bellevue, NE and is cross-posted at

We've all heard of six degrees of separation.  That is, we are all connected in some way through connections of six people.  Our students are not separated by six degrees, but rather by a six year generation gap. In school there appears to be two generations that are about six years apart.  Think about it.  Consider the technology skills of a 12 year old and the technology skills of an 18 year old getting ready to graduate from high school.  Their skill sets are very different.


This younger generation know how to leverage technology in a way that is transformational.  We could call them digital synthesizers.  These kids learn new skills on YouTube, publish content on YouTube, post their thoughts on blogs, Reddit, and other digital platforms.  They connect with others, but not on Facebook.  They view Facebook as too mainstream - where their grandma's can see what they are up to.  These kids will be on Google plus hanging out, Instagram, Twitter and Kik.  They capture images and videos throughout their day and turn their media into shareable projects.

It's about six years. The 18 year old will know how to view media, connect on social media, but they can't compete with the exposure that six years gives their younger counterparts.  Digital synthesizers are not impressed with shiny new iPads or Chromebooks or other tablets.  Give them any piece of hardware and watch the magic happen.  They will produce, share and collaborate.  They are not just natives to technology, they are natives to social media and creation tools.


According to Malcom Gladwell, author of Outliers, The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  So I wondered, does a 12 year old today get a 10,000 hour advantage over a current 18 year old?  If you consider the 365 day a year times 6, the difference in years, that equals 2,190 extra days of technology use and exposure.  If a kid spent 4 hours a day using technology tools, then that is close to 10,000 hours.  8,760 extra hours of practice to be exact.

Digital Natives

Digital Synthesizers

Use email

Use Facebook

Collect digital images to share

Read blogs

Proficient in word processing, spreadsheets, and slide presentations.

Text Messaging

Use hangouts

Use Reddit, Google+

Curate images online with Pinterest, Scoopit

Edit photos before posting

Capture, create, and post videos to YouTube

Proficient in creative applications, publishing

Information hounds,

Verify and question information

So what does this mean for teachers?  It means we need to think flexibly. What worked for our students 5 years ago may not work for our students today, and it certainly won’t work for our students tomorrow.


It means our students are growing more comfortable with the tools around them and how they integrate into their lives. We need to continue to evolve in how we integrate these tools into our lives so we can help students make the connection between learning and these tools. While they may be more knowledgeable or comfortable with the tools, we have the wisdom and experience to provide the context for how these tools can improve their learning and apply to future careers.


It means the type of information we require from students must stem from higher order thinking like Bloom’s taxonomy.  If we continue to ask questions requiring regurgitation our students will continue to be bored and disengaged.  Siri can answer most basic questions for them.  But if we change our pedagogy to require analysis, creativity, and application, then our students will be better thinkers. Six years should be enough time to get teachers on board don’t you think.  It is time to adjust to our digital synthesizers.  I just hope it isn’t too late for our 2013 graduates!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Blowing the Ceiling off of Learning

I know, I know, it's been a really long time since I have posted! To anyone still following along, I apologize. I'm ready to get back on the horse...

Lately, so many of my conversations and trainings have had to do with self-directed or personalized learning. With student access to devices, so many more options are becoming available. Teachers are building digital content into MOODLE, our learning management system. Students can access a flow chart or plan for the unit and then move through it at their own pace. They can access video lessons and presentations for direct instruction. They can access activities and assignments. They can take formative assessments as they move through the material to ensure that they are ready to move on. 

The challenge in all of this is creating the online material, the videos, the assignments, the quizzes, etc... It seems to me that we need to be creative about how this gets created. There is no question that our classroom teachers will still need to make much of the material. They are the experts in knowing what their students need and so they will need to create materials that respond to those needs. However, some of the material can be created by others so they can focus on the teaching and the individualization. When I think about the many resources our district has available, I think we need to rethink their roles. 

We have district resource people for different subject areas, math, LA, etc... We have tech integrationists, peer coaches, gifted and talented and special ed teachers. Why not redirect them at least part of the time to begin creating a critical mass of online material so teachers can have students access it as needed.

Think about how much time we spend assessing students for services. What if we spent that time developing material. Who cares if they qualify? If the material is there, and they are ready to use it, let them get started. 

I have talked often about gatekeepers. We have people whose job it is to determine if kids can or can't do things. Why? Put it out there and see who is WILLING to try. That is far more important than ABLE. We send the wrong message to our students when we say that a test determines if you can or can't do something. How often do you try something new and find out you can do it when you didn't think you could? 

I believe that "if you build it, they will come." If we build a rigorous, engaging online curriculum and make it available to all our students, we can focus on the quality of the curriculum rather than on being gatekeepers. We will have students access it. Some will succeed, some will not, but they will determine that not someone else. Then it is up to us to help them be successful not get in their way.

Imagine a student who could pretest out of a unit that they already know or could finish a unit in half the time. They could then choose where to go next and direct their own learning. All they need is some direction. Let's put our resources into building the path for those students and let them choose their path!