Monday, March 31, 2014

Living in Beta

Over the past month I have attended several conferences, workshops and the GAFE New England Summit. I'm not sure how much more my brain can take! All of this new information and resources that are continuously becoming available is making my head spin. It can be quite overwhelming and there never feels like there is enough time to implement these new initiatives, ideas or strategies. In fact, just as I start to get comfortable with a program, tool, or strategy, it seems like life throws me a curve ball and things change again.

However, one of the biggest take aways that I got from the GAFE New England Summit in Burlington, MA, was that we as educators have to realize that the world is changing every minute and technology especially is moving faster than any of us can keep up with, but we must embrace living in beta. In other words, we should stop complaining about all of the new things coming out and instead focus on the learning. 

We are in fact beta testing all of these new technologies within our classrooms. If not we as educators, certainly our students are the biggest field testers for technology. Big tech companies are watching closely and making changes and tweaks based upon our feedback and the feedback of our students. If you don't believe me, check out Google's forum sometime. Google is constantly updating their products in the background based upon feedback, complaints and suggestions from students and teachers.

So how does this carry over into our learning environment? Let the students help guide the lesson, project or outcome. As an educator with sound knowledge of student learning and curriculum, we should focus on the process of the learning and not focus so much on the tools, resources, or products used to create the end result. The tool that was used in first period just may be replaced with a better tool by 3rd period.

For this reason, open ended projects often yield more student enthusiasm and higher quality work due to the fact that students take more ownership of their learning when they are allowed to use media that best reflects their own personality and their research. These types of classroom activities, whether you call them Project-Based, Service Learning, Real World, or some combination of any of these, are certainly harder to plan and implement, but the learning is far worth all of that effort.

But what about the question, "How do you help students when you yourself have no experience with the tools that they choose?" It's a good question. We have to change our mindset. Instead of teaching, or assisting, students with these tools, we should offer more online resources to assist them with their learning and process. We cannot be expected to stay ahead of students in the world of technology, but we can point students to already created resources for online support. 

It's also a good idea to have students plan their projects ahead of time and research not only their content, but how to present their findings and learn the tool they will use to present their information in a meaningful way. This way they can find the online sources for themselves and report it back to you for future assistance.

In this process students will not only learn a great deal from their peers with the content that is shared, but also learn some new tools and products to try out for future assignments. Examples give educators and students a better toolbox to use when deciding which tool fits the assignment the best. A real 21st century skill.

Whether you embrace technology or not, you have to admit that most students like to try out new tools and experiment with what they can do. Adaptation may be one of the greatest skills you can reinforce within your learning environment to assist students in their quest to become life long learners. The tool shouldn't be the sticking point in your lessons despite how frustrating technology can be when it doesn't work or has changed over night. Instead focus on the learning and student outcomes. Let your students choose the best tool for the assignment. It will open up your mind to a new world of possibilities. You may just be glad that you did!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lights, Camera, Action!

The Rye Education Foundation just awarded Rye Elementary School with a complete studio set and equipment for school plays, skits, presentations and a live streaming student broadcast. The grant included a green screen kit with lights, an HD Panasonic Video Camcorder, a Snowball Mic, a Soulo wireless mic for iPad, Telestream Wirecast Pro editing software to edit on the fly, a movie mount tripod for iPad with wide angle lens and two lapel mics, a sound mixer for iPad and a year's worth of ad free streaming services.
It's truly a dream come true for me. My first love as a kid was movies. I remember seeing my first movie at the drive in theater with my parents. Steven Spielberg's ET, made me laugh, cry and even frightened me in parts, but it was an experience I will never forget. Since then, I have always wanted to make movies. Now I get the best of both worlds! I can be a curriculum/technology integrator and help teachers and students make professional looking videos at the same time.

I will post future links to our live streaming student broadcast and any videos we have created very soon to a future blog post.

In addition to all of this equipment, I found this wonderful tripod and remote for the iPhone on eBay.  It's by far the best $7.99 I've ever spent. I have only played around with it a few times using my daughter's toys, but I can see how this equipment could be used immediately within the classroom to create stop motion animation. The beauty of shooting with the tripod and remote allows for quick sequencing and the ability to share the pictures immediately through the air via Photo Stream allows for editing to happen instantaneously on the Mac in iMovie.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Same Message, Different Conference

It may just be me, but it has been a while since I have attended a conference and have been wowed by a keynote speaker or presenter at the concurrent sessions. The message seems to be the same every time I attend a conference. "Don't worry about testing or the Common Core Standards. Make sure you are offering your students great authentic problem based learning that is individualized, and the rest will take care of itself." Easier said then done!

I used to attend conferences like these and get all jazzed up by some of the wonderful things that the presenters talked about. Immediately upon return to my classroom, I would want to implement some of these strategies and practices into my own curriculum and classroom practice. It was much easier to just jump in. Since making the move from a teacher to a technology integrator, this jump isn't as easy. Translating what I have seen at a conference, manipulating it to individualize it to the district that I work in, and to the teachers that work in the schools, has proven to be a much more difficult task.

 Of course, I was an early adopter of all things tech myself. Especially if I could see examples of how it helped enhance education and inspire life long learners to dive deeper into the content. As a tech integrator, I'm not always presenting what I have seen to a group of early adopters, which makes my task that much more daunting! How can you take good PD and morph it into a package that fits everyone's teaching style, each district's goals, and yet not make everyone feel like it is one more thing added to their plate?

I truly respect the three keynote speakers that I recently saw at The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester, NH last week. In fact, I follow all three of them (Scott Kinney from DE, Angela Maiers and Richard Byrne) on Twitter, and have seen them all speak at other conferences before. Their messages are clear. I guess that is why I am missing the spark that I used to get when I attended these conferences. Things really aren't new. There are certainly new technologies and Apps that certain companies would love all educators to share as this pushes their revenue up, but I didn't see anything that I would walk away with and change my whole game plan around integration in education.

The one thing that I did walk away from the conference with is to find one thing that you are passionate about and do it well. As a tech integrator I often see many different tools, and ways to deliver content to learners of various abilities and comfort. Sometimes I feel that I can overwhelm people with the variety of ways to attack a lesson or presentation. To me, keeping projects and presentations more open-ended, in which the student(s) decide which tools they use to solve the problem and present their solution is the best use of problem solving and tech integration. However, this can be a cumbersome task for non-early adopters. They want to stick with what they know and continue to do what they do best.

Okay, so I'll try to attack PD a new way. Instead of floating out many different ways to accomplish the same task, maybe I'll work on one or two ways of doing it and do it really well! Offer so much PD that anyone who attends will feel like masters of the tech tools and the strategies for helping students at every step of the way. Take the time to find problems that people may have, or hurdles that will have to be overcome at each step of the project, in order to stride over these issues and make teachers feel more comfortable with these tools and how they can use these as the vehicles to deliver their content. Maybe only then will we gain some ground in pushing tech integration in schools for everyone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tis the Season!

Tis the Season!

Holiday music is already playing in stores, flavors and spices of the season can be found at coffee shops, and the lists are already starting to grow! It's official. It's the holiday season.

As in recent years, I have been asked for my opinion on technology related gifts for the holidays. Will the iPad Mini be the best stocking stuffer this year? What about the new iPhone, or Samsung, with the larger retina display screens? Certainly the size and the price of these technologies make it more likely that Santa could load up his sleigh with a lot more of these devices. 

Smaller sized technology with larger displays do seem like the blueprint that most of the tech companies are going with these days, but has the mobile solution truly replaced the computer? I guess it all depends on what you plan on using the tool for. We have to stop and ask ourselves, "What do we want to accomplish before we make decisions on what to purchase?"

The days of buying a computer, and then finding out which software to purchase to get tasks done are behind us now. Instead, software companies, or apps., are making the choices for us. It's the same discussion we are having in education. Instead of discussing which tools to purchase or what to teach before getting to a problem or project, let's review the tools that could make these projects unique and best present student solutions, and offer a variety of ways that students can use the tools to accomplish the task at hand.

For this reason, a move towards more open ended projects are increasing in our public schools. In a true project/problem-based learning environment, background information is given with mini-lessons or tutorials delivered both through online sources and/or face-to-face instruction before a project or problem is presented. Students then form groups, or work individually, and are asked to solve a real world problem and present their solution that best meets the needs and vision of their audience. 

Students therefore are given a list of standards that they must meet in order to accomplish their task. The Common Core Standards have now encouraged integration across the curriculum content strands as well as embedding both research and technology skills. Therefore, students must critically think about how they will match the best tools to the problem at hand in order to collaborate, create and communicate their solutions.

Project/Problem-based learning environments use rubrics as their blueprints to evaluate an end product, however, the blueprint isn't as concrete as it used to be. Student generated presentations and projects no longer look identical, but rather carry their own unique perspective while portraying their outcome. The standards are addressed through the assessment tool which brings some consistency to the learning, even though it may look different at each stage of the learning for each student. Individualized learning at its best!

So before you make out the lists, and have them checked twice, ask yourself and your child(ren), "What is it that you want to create with these tools?" You may just be surprised at what they would like to accomplish. 

It's exciting to see that many technology companies are now developing devices that allow learners to create and be unique rather then just consume or absorb information. Third party companies have also jumped on the band wagon and are offering solutions in the form of apps. to inspire learning that has never existed before. In my mind, 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for life long learners. I hope you all have a happy holiday.


Eric Lawson

Check out the special eNewsletter: Holiday Edition!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Apple TV: Will it Replace the Interactive White Board?

My teaching career and my philosophy on education did a backflip about 8 years ago when the school that I was teaching in was closed down and the elementary school was relocated to a brand new building. This building was primarily funded by the state, and long over due in my eyes at the time. Along with some “green” spending, such as light sensors in every room, each room was also outfitted with a new mounted SMART board. 

Now personally I do not believe that the tools themselves make teachers better, but I have witnessed first hand that good teachers will use tools effectively to grow and enhance their instruction.

It changed my philosophy as I saw the power of the interactive white board at the front of my room. It was a great tool for presentations and on the spot learning, but the real power was in the way it pulled me away from the front of the room and allowed the students to be the center of attention. I could often find myself roaming around the class asking clarifying questions, and digging for deeper meaning, while students would raise their hands enthusiastically to provide a solution and demonstrate their thinking up on the board for everyone to view.

If you had told me then that the interactive white board would be extinct in 10 years, I would have thought you were crazy! I mean sure, I saw some teachers use this $3,000 piece of equipment as nothing more then a fancy projector, and classroom instruction didn’t change much for them, but how could this tool that could revolutionize the teaching standard have that short of a life? Technically in the technology field 10 years is a pretty good life these days.

So why are people asking the question, “Is the interactive white board dead?” Again, the world of technology is going through an entire flip. Apple has really pushed the computing world into consumer devices and personalized tools to sync, create, collaborate, and share media and all wirelessly with great simplicity. 

The role of the technology department in schools has drastically changed too! No longer are these teams making all of the decisions and managing all of the updates on these devices. The simplicity of these devices no longer makes it necessary to have an engineer in the background managing all of these items. A great deal of thought still has to be put into a deployment of these new devices, however the conversation has moved towards how best to support education and not so much on the technical needs. These devices have become more personal and adaptive.

For instance, an iPad can now wirelessly connect to an Apple TV, a black hockey puck that sits near your HD TV or projector connected via HDMI cable. Wirelessly across the network an iPad, iPod or iPhone running the latest iOS software can mirror the display for the whole class onto the projection. 

Air Server now allows your Mac or Windows computer to mirror an image from these devices as well. Hook your computer into a projector or TV and you have just created a cheap version of an interactive classroom solution. Instead of students going to the front of the room, they are demonstrating from their seats. The teacher can still become a facilitator and walk around the room dropping the iPad down at a desk to give the student a heads up that their demonstration will be shown next.

From a budget stand point, it’s a no brainer. An iPad, projector and an Apple TV is cheaper then interactive white boards. Assuming your teachers already have laptops, purchasing Air Server ($59 per 15 teachers) and a projector for the classroom is a low cost solution for an interactive display.

The interactive white board is not dead, yet. I still love observing a well designed lesson using this tool, but there is a reason why the leaders in this industry are dropping their prices. The greatest advantage to interactive whiteboards are the software packages that come with them. This is why I have always been a fan of SMART and Promethean. Both come with superior software packages to other companies in the field for education, especially at the elementary level.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

iPads as Field Note Devices

The entire 6th grade class from Rye Junior High School recently took a trip up to the Center for Wildlife and Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine as part of an integrated unit centered around science.

Before the trip, students took part in social studies class mapping out their bus routes and the trail system up and around the mountain to calculate the distance they would travel. In math class, they used these measurements to find the total cost for the field trip, including bus mileage and price per gallon of fuel for the trip up-and-back. In language arts class, each student had chosen an animal to research that lives in the transitional forests that hug the the border between Maine and New Hampshire and wrote stories about their animals, and how they have adapted to their habitat and surroundings. Word choice was a focus for these stories, and mini lessons covering antonyms and synonyms were used to express the power of words in painting a true picture in a written piece.

Obviously science class played a major part in this field trip, as students had studied the food web and food chain of different species that live in the transitional forest. Researching and presenting new facts about each others' animals, as well as seeing how they are all connected within the ecosystem was eye opening for some. It was the perfect segway into the field trip to the Center for Wildlife and Mount Agamenticus.

The trip started with an hour presentation at the Center for Wildlife. The students were greeted by a red tailed hawk, a box turtle and a Virginia opossum. All the animals at the Center for Wildlife have been hurt, rescued and helped to either be rereleased into the wild, or in some instances where this is not possible, the animals have found a home right at the Center for Wildlife and can be visited by the public. Before loading the bus again to hike up the Mountain, students had a few minutes to check out the other birds of prey and other Maine animals at the center.

During the climb to the top of Mt. A. students used iPads as field note devices. The brochures for the Center for Wildlife and the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region were downloaded into iBooks for quick reference. Other apps. such as, Notes, Camera, and Audio Memo were used to record text, speech and video and still images of the hike and the ecosystem. The trail map was also imported into the app Doodle Buddy, so that students could use the drawing tools to trace their routes up the mountain over the trail map image. All of these apps. could be used without a wireless signal.

Upon returning to school, the students (with the help of the 6th grade teachers) uploaded these multi-media files to the local server for editing and selection. A presentation will be created by each group to showcase what they had learned from their trip to York, Maine. Below is a quick clip that I created using Animoto to share the experience.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Interactive iOS Displays

Here is a great little trick for your classroom. Download a free version of AirServer at and try it out! You can mirror your iPhone, iPad, or iPod to your laptop. Why would you want to do that you ask? Well, if your laptop is plugged into a projector or a TV, you have just created an interactive tablet within your classroom that can be projected in front of the room. At all of the conferences that I have been to lately, and seeing the trends in technology in education, I am seeing the slow death of the interactive white board. It's a said day for me who absolutely loved when my SMART board was installed in my 3rd grade classroom 8 years ago, but I see a new trend in technology in education.

Imagine, walking around your classroom with an iPad or iPod and setting it down on a student's desk, meanwhile you are still talking to the whole group. This has just given the students a heads-up that they will be demonstrating their understanding of the topic at hand in a few short minutes, and sure enough you turn and ask Johnny at his seat if he could show the rest of the students in the room an example of an obtuse angle. Using the iPad and any drawing app that you choose, Johnny draws the angle with his finger and everyone in the classroom sees "the big picture" (pun intended) up on the drop down screen in front of the classroom. Interaction without the delay of having a student get up from their seat, clomp to the front of the room around his/her peers, and only then to realize the white board was not oriented before the lesson. We've all been there at some point if you have had an IWB in your room before.

The cost is great too! For $60, 15 machines can run the program. Compare that price to outfitting teachers with Apple TV's each ($99) and an HDMI cable ($5). Not to mention the hassle of making sure you password protect the Apple TV's so that Mrs. Smith's class doesn't accidentally take control of your classroom's Apple TV during a lesson. It does mean that the teacher laptop is tethered to the projected image, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a cheap alternative with an excellent picture.