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60 apps in 60 seconds

[In honor of whatever educational technology conference you next attend...]

30 fantastic free apps for pre-readers! 38 of the best elementary learning apps for students! 40 iPad apps for science! 60 APPS IN 60 MINUTES!!!!

60 apps in 60 minutes? Pshaw! WAY too easy. I proudly present… 60 apps in 60 seconds!

How many sessions like these have we seen at educational technology conferences? (fess up: how many have we delivered?!) Teachers attend, they scribble notes madly, they ask for the slides afterward because “they missed some.” The long-term substantive impact of these spray-and-pray workshops on teachers’ day-to-day practice? Zero.

If we want people to start taking instructional technology seriously, we have to stop doing this to ourselves. How about one app – or perhaps a very small handful in combination – presented thoughtfully and deeply, with numerous applications to rich, robust student learning outcomes?

This presentation? I guarantee the same classroom results as all of our other firehose sessions…

Music credits: Rock 12, by dron

PD should be about learning, not control, compliance, and permission

Tom Whitby says:

[Social media] was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.

There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators [back] from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.

Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for professional development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed but, additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?

In regard to professional development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning, placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.


You learn the work by doing the work

Cale Birk says:

You learn the work by doing the work. . . . So what if we made it a primary objective in education to spend as little time as possible talking to our learners and as much time available out getting them to DO the work? And when I am speaking about learners, I am referring to students AND adults.


For the purpose of

What is my purpose?

Here are a few session titles from some recent educational technology conferences:

  • Google Apps in the classroom
  • Free and easy screencasting tools
  • Creating a classroom website using Weebly
  • Edit video online for free with the YouTube editor
  • Classroom blogging
  • Google+ and Hangouts
  • Minecraft in the classroom
  • Video on the iPad
  • Podcasting
  • Let’s go for a (Google) Drive!
  • QR codes in the classroom
  • Creating Google Sites
  • Student online newspapers
  • Fusion tables
  • Digital storytelling in the elementary classroom

These are very tool-focused. I know that we only have limited space for our session titles. But somehow – in our titles, our descriptions, and, most importantly, the sessions themselves – we need to keep a primary focus on the learning purpose(s), not the tools:

  • Minecraft in the classroom for the purpose of ___?
  • Free and easy screencasting tools for the purpose of ___?
  • Creating Google Sites for the purpose of ___?
  • Classroom blogging for the purpose of ___?

Next time we plan a workshop or a conference session, can we try to make for the purpose of ___? the primary focus of our session, its title, and its description? I am pledging to do a better job of this myself. Will you join me?

take the pledge

[see who’s taken the pledge to focus on learning first!]

rethink. redesign. go.

Back in May I shared our process at Prairie Lakes AEA for hiring our new technology integration team. Well, now our team has a new blog, rethink. redesign.


We’re just getting started, but we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about who we we want to be, what we’re going to be about, and how we’re going to do our business. Here’s our thinking behind our new name (and our work)…

#dreambigger. #designforit. #perpetualbeta. That pretty much sums up the work of my team and what we’ll be discussing on our blog. We hope that many of you will join us.

Want to work with us? Learn more about our core beliefs and processes. See how we’re using the Influencer framework to help guide our design work. Get in touch!

When your workshop isn’t awesome

A few weeks ago my workshop should’ve been awesome. But it wasn’t.

I thought it was going to be. I had three 90-minute sessions lined up – all of which I’ve done before – that I thought fit together quite nicely:

  1. Powerful technology, powerful students. The media focuses too much on students’ negative uses of technology without recognizing the powerful and positive uses that also are occurring. We will feature examples of youth who are doing amazing things with technology. You will be inspired!

    [I always try to work in some big picture / our world has changed / sense of urgency stuff into every workshop that I do. I know that educators hunger for the practical but, as Simon Sinek and others remind us, without ongoing reminders of the WHY behind our efforts, it's easy to revert back to traditional practices. Session A was supposed to be inspiring, informative, and - as we looked at powerful extracurricular uses of technology - thought-provoking regarding how to pull that power into day-to-day instructional practices.]

  2. How do we know if our technology integration is any good? It’s often difficult for us as leaders to know whether technology usage by students and teachers is productive or just eye candy. This session will begin with a discussion of frameworks that help us think more deeply about effective technology integration. We then will apply those frameworks to multiple video scenarios that allow us to refine our understandings of powerful technology usage and how to better coach teachers.

    [Session B was intended to take us from Session A's bright vision of technology-enabled student empowerment into critical reflections about instructional technologies and deeper thinking work. We moved in and out of small groups, talking about the video scenarios and where various educational uses of technology fell regarding cognitive complexity and student agency. If Session A focused on the WHY, Session B focused on the WHAT.]

  3. Deeper thinking, technology infusion, and student agency. It’s difficult to create lessons that focus on deeper thinking, student agency, and rich technology infusion. In this session we will focus on the challenging task of operationalizing the high expectations we now have of classroom educators. Bring your construction helmet; we’ll be doing complex lesson design work!

    [In Session C, we then were supposed to slide into design work, modeling the process of what it could be like to identify cross-disciplinary standards and then create unit plans from scratch. This work also was done in small groups, which then gave each other feedback to improve their units using the frameworks and language we had learned in Session B. Session C was intended to take us into the HOW that educators crave so often.]

Off the rails

Train Car Tilt

So that was how the day was supposed to play out: three sessions, each of which has always gone well in the past. But that’s not what happened this time. Not on this day with this group…

Session A, which I’ve done multiple times, always to rave reviews? That session, instead of being inspiring, was interpreted by some attendees as teacher-bashing. Obviously I was NOT striving for evaluation comments like ‘choose your words wisely when critiquing what our current practices are‘ and ‘several people I spoke with seemed skeptical and defensive after the first session‘ and ‘the first part of the session seemed that you were not on the teachers’ side.‘ Somehow this time my language was different, or my tone, or my exact words, or the tenor of my presentation, or something compared to previous instances. Instead of being inspired and reflective, they were defensive. Not all of them. Many comments stated that the first session was ‘very engaging‘ and that they really liked ‘seeing examples of what kids are doing.’ But the ones I unintentionally put off were enough to pull down many of the rest.

Session B was the session in which we moved into the more practical realm of looking at technology integration video examples and figuring out how to make them better. We spent some time answering questions and addressing concerns from Session A. Then we did a quick overview of some technology integration evaluation frameworks and worked in small groups to analyze, dissect, and rebuild various technology-infused lessons. But, despite the troubleshooting focus at the beginning and the small group collaboration and discussion in the second half of the session, some of them didn’t feel it. A few participants thought that it still was too much talk by me and not enough talk by them. Some said that ’we needed to be doing more‘ or that they wished for ‘more practical application.’ One attendee even said that this second session felt like ‘a barrage of how horrible we are as teachers.’

Session C, our collaborative design session, was our best one and they echoed that in their comments. But unlike any other group I’ve done this with, several commented that the set of three science, writing, and speaking/listening standards I gave them to design with was ‘overwhelming‘ and that they wished that I had made ‘the lesson topics narrower. We struggled with how broad our topic was.

So there it is: a workshop that was supposed to be great but went a bit off the rails instead. Not for everyone, not by a long margin. I got plenty of comments like ‘learned great stuff and can’t wait to use with kids‘ and ‘I loved the interaction – the bouncing of ideas and inspiration‘ and ‘I liked the overall structure of this session; it was much more well-planned, practical, and immediately useful to me than that of many other sessions that I have attended‘ and ‘I wish my entire staff could have been here.’ But the overall evaluation averages weren’t where they usually are. Instead of hitting my customary ranges of 4.6 to 4.9 (on a scale of 1 to 5), for this group my averages were as follows:

  • Your comfort level and safety as a participant: 4.21 (average)
  • The quality of what you learned: 3.94 (average)
  • The amount of what you learned: 3.76 (average)
  • Your ability to interact with others: 4.13 (average)
  • Your overall experience: 3.90 (average)

Ugh. Not what they wanted. Not what I wanted. Not what they deserved.

Now what?

It would be easy for me to blame the size of the group (90+) or the auditorium seating (instead of tables) and its resultant impact on our small group work and my ability to attend to everyone. It would be easy for me to simply say that I had an overly defensive bunch or, as the comments seem to show, that they were a group that had trouble seeing past their lack of access to technological resources back home. It would be easy for me to give myself a break and say that I was just flat that day. It would be easy for me to say, “By the way, Mr. Impossibly High Standards, even though they weren’t in your usual and desired range of 4.5 or higher, your ratings still were much better than simply ‘average’ on the overall scale so don’t be so hard on yourself.”

But that’s not the right response. My credibility and validity stem from my utility to educators in the field. Whether I’m in the role of professor, Area Education Agency Director of Innovation, professional learning provider, or keynote speaker, if what I’m offering isn’t helpful to educators and schools, then what’s the point? The reason that folks invite me in is because they believe that I will do an amazing job for them and their educators. Otherwise they would bring in someone else. They’re giving up precious time (and funds) for an empowering learning experience. It’s not fair to them when I don’t fulfill my end of the bargain.

So now comes the difficult part. Dissecting our day together, figuring out what I said that day that didn’t resonate, restructuring for next time, making sure not to ditch what’s worked in the past, and so on… And, of course, the apology to the group that brought me in:

Thank you for the opportunity to work with your educators a few weeks ago. I always appreciate the chance to learn with and from other teachers and administrators and am grateful that you thought that I had some expertise and experience to lend to the group. Unfortunately, our day together did not meet my usual standards of high quality. I’m guessing that you probably felt the same way too. Can we talk soon about how I might be able to make it up to you?

Name the problem. Own it. Apologize. Try to fix it, both for them and for next time. That’s all I know to do, along with an overall insistence on high-quality work and continual improvement. But, as always, I’ll take any and all suggestions. What do you do when your workshop isn’t awesome?

Image credit: Train car tilt, Alex Cockroach

Learn about robust, technology-infused learning at the 2013 Iowa 1:1 Institute


It’s that time of year again… time to register for the 4th annual Iowa 1:1 Institute!

The last two years of the Institute have averaged 1,200+ attendees. There are multiple reasons why the Institute is so successful. It’s a grass roots conference at which peers talk to peers. The focus is on learning and teaching, not tools. Session emphasis is on hands-on work, discussion, and participant engagement. No ‘sit and get!’ Students are encouraged to present and there usually are multiple student-run sessions; those are always great. Whether you’re currently in a 1:1 setting – or are interested in moving that direction – or are simply passionate about robust, technology-infused learning, the Institute will be a phenomenal event for you.

This year’s Institute is on April 4 in Des Moines. We always have guests from other states so please join us. Register soon – the Institute fills up fast. Group discounts are available. Plus you can get free registration if you present!

Learning is the formation of connections

At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It is not transmitted, as though it were some type of communication.

What we learn, what we know — these are literally the connections we form between neurons as a result of experience. The brain is composed of 100 billion neurons, and these form some 100 trillion connections and it is these connections that constitute everything we know, everything we believe, everything we imagine. And while it is convenient to talk as though knowledge and beliefs are composed of sentences and concepts that we somehow acquire and store, it is more accurate — and pedagogically more useful — to treat learning as the formation of connections.

Stephen Downes via

As a school leader, are you facilitating robust STUDENT connections to other resources, individuals, and networks?

As a school leader, are you facilitating robust EDUCATOR connections to other resources, individuals, and networks?

New Google+ communities of interest to school leaders (and Iowans)

Google+ just announced its new Communities feature. G+ communities are similar to Facebook groups, only they allow for online videoconferencing ‘hangouts’ and other unique G+ functions.

Two new communities may be of interest to you as a school leader. If you have a Google+ (or Gmail) account, please join us for conversation and resource sharing!

Feel free to pass these on to other educational leaders that you know. All are welcome!

P.S. There’s also a community for those of us who are interested in education in Iowa.


EdCampIowa logoI am delighted to announce EdCampIowa, Iowa’s first cross-state unconference! EdCampIowa West will be hosted by Prairie Lakes AEA at the Buena Vista University Forum in Storm Lake. EdCampIowa East will be hosted by Bettendorf High School. Both locations will run on Saturday, February 16, from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Our hashtag will be #EdCampIowa.

What’s an EdCamp, you say? EdCamps are unlike any other workshop or conference that you’ve probably attended. EdCamp sessions are created by the attendees in the morning. The rest of the day is spent in conversation around the topics identified by participants.

If this sounds strange to you, it’s likely because you’re used to a different model, one in which the agenda and sessions are determined ahead of time. The challenge of traditional workshops or conferences is that you didn’t get to pick the sessions, someone else did. As such, they may or may not meet your learning needs. At an EdCamp, participants, not planners, determine the sessions so they’re much more likely to be targeted, relevant, and timely. ‘Voting with your feet’ also is strongly encouraged, so you can (and should) quickly leave one session for another if it’s not meeting your learning needs. Since all EdCamp sessions are facilitated discussions that tap into the collective wisdom of attendees rather than ‘sit and get’ presentations directed by outside experts, EdCamps always turn out to be incredible, energizing days of conversation.

How do you know if you’re right for EdCampIowa? If these types of questions resonate with you, you’re a prime candidate:

  • What if we didn’t have class periods?
  • How can we help kids think more deeply?
  • Are high school diplomas and university degrees still necessary for credentialing?
  • What is getting in the way of us changing faster?
  • How can preschool and elementary students use digital tools in powerful ways?
  • What if we didn’t ignore that most of the time students are bored?
  • What might school look like if students were in charge of teaching at least 20% of the time?
  • Do we really need grades?
  • How can we better facilitate school-university partnerships?
  • Are tablets or Chromebooks viable 1:1 devices?
  • What has to go in order to make competency-based student progression work?
  • In a multimedia world, what is the future of reading?
  • and many, many more… (see the EdCampIowa web site!)

We hope that you will join us on February 16 for an amazing day of discussion and learning. We promise that you will leave with many great ideas, excited to take action back home! Registration is FREE, lunch will be provided, and we’ll have Internet access for any electronic device that you bring along. Please encourage your students, staff, school board, parents, legislators, and community members to participate too. Everyone is welcome at an EdCamp!

More information is available at Sign up soon. Only 200 slots at each location!

EdCampIowa Tweet 01

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