Technology Times

May 27, 2015


  1. End of Year Procedures Checklist should be completed and sent to me by June 1st.
  2. People are beginning to sign up for the Technology Camp. Please promote the camp at your school.
  3. AMTR should be complete and signed by your principal by June 1, 2015.

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R U Engaging Your Students? Strategies and Tools for the Texting Generation

Students and Smart Phones Go Together Like Reading and Writing. Let’s Put Them to Use in the Service of Learning!

In the U.S., and increasingly abroad, students of high school and college age require a smart phone as a standard part of their lifestyles. In fact, the pervasiveness of these devices can be a real distraction for teachers, who often have to ban the use of them in classrooms.

Of course, it is also possible to embrace these ubiquitous gadgets, and put students to work on them!

There are many types of assignments and tools that can be used to engage students using their beloved devices. Here we examine many tools and techniques that can engage students using smartphones. Many of these can also be completed on a tablet or computer as well, to help provide for students who do not have the luxury of a personal cell phone.

  • Research – Access to the Internet means that countless research opportunities are at your student’s fingertips. This is also a great opportunity to teach them about learning how to assess and evaluate the credibility of information. Here’s a useful resource for learning more about this vital skill.
  • Discussion Forums – As long as you have a mobile-friendly LMS or similar interface at your disposal, students can participate in discussion forums via cell phone. This is an excellent chance to remind them of the importance of using appropriate writing styles – no lower case “i”, no texting abbreviations, etc.!
  • Tackk – If you don’t have a discussion forum available, Tackk is a great free alternative that makes it a snap to throw a piece of digital content, or even just a question, up online and have discussion around it. Check out this 3 Minute Teaching with Tech tutorial to get the quick scoop on Tackk. Tackk works fine in the browser on the smartphone, but there is also an app available.
  • Socrative – This excellent free Student Response System is a great tool for interacting right there in the classroom. Students don’t even need to create an account. This recent “Try-a-Tool-a-Week Challenge” page offers a quick video, and lots of tips and feedback from dozens of educators about using Socrative in the classroom!
  • Twitter – There are so many ways to use Twitter to interact, collaborative, learn, research, and so on! As a matter of fact, here are over a 100: 100 Ways to Teach with Twitter. Have your students download the (free) Twitter app version for their phones and review these ideas for using the app in teaching and learning, and you’ll be on your way (and you can use Twitter from you desktop or laptop to participate if your prefer that).
  • Use QR Codes! QR Codes are really easy to create and can be used to create lots of different activities and assignments. Lots of kids already know how to use a QR code reader and have one installed on their phones (they’ll need one if they don’t – there are lots of good free apps available). Here are 25 Fun Ways to use QR Codes for Teaching and Learning.
  • Dozens of additional text messaging assignment ideas: Embracing the Cell Phone in the Classroom With Text Messaging Assignments.

Another great way to put those phones to use is to use Remind to make sure they know about upcoming quizzes, tests, or assignment due dates. We’ve got a 3 Minute Teaching With Tech Tutorial for Remind too!).

Emerging Ed Tech, by Kelly Walsh on May 18, 2015

8 ways to improve your digital teaching

This is a great article to share with your teachers.

We all remember that one dedicated teacher from our early years. While they might not have had access to the same technology we do, they brought the world to us with images, stories, and play-pretend. They likely would’ve been one of the first to Skype with amazing people across the globe, competitively Kahoot, or have us build word clouds to help us learn vocabulary. They were full of life and encouraged us to find our personality.

In short, they were great teachers. Good teaching is the result of the conscious engagement between the teacher and the students, in an environment fostering inquiry, discovery, and creation. Good teaching is what makes digital age environments meaningful to students. Good pedagogy is the key to learning, regardless of the tool.

We know so many amazing teachers who have evolved their practice and are using technology with an unbelievable ease. What makes them so successful? And how can we all become champions of this new teaching style?

Like any learning, transitioning from traditional to digital needs a base of knowledge, a curiosity for discovery, and the flexibility to try new things. To take the first steps toward good digital teaching, one must understand:

  1. The type of learning that they want to take place in the classroom
  2. The students’ interests
  3. The students’ struggles
  4. The level of digital literacy among the students
  5. Where to find digital citizenship resources
  6. Who among their peers (local or online) can become a model, mentor, or even teacher
  7. Where to start

When using the right tools for the right learning activities, teching becomes “TEaCHING.” The students, interacting and enjoying their learning, become drivers of their learning, build self-confidence and demonstrate gains in academics as well as in engagement.

There are countless recipes for digital teaching out there, but here are just a few tips to help educators find their inner digital teaching balance.

  1. Admit you don’t know. It is OK to be a beginner, but more importantly, it is OK to be scared of the new. The good news is that fear immediately goes away when we start understanding. All you have to do is start with something that would suit your needs as well. You can then ask your students to research similar tools and advocate for the best one. And even better, you can ask them to create tutorials for tools or advocate for learning strategies like this one.
  1. Ask a friend. It is always easier to ask a peer how they use a digital tool in their classroom. The comfort level is highest, and the probability that learning will come easier is greatest. There is no better learning that the one that comes from people just like you. The ISTE Commons and the ISTE Professional Learning Networks [3] are collaborative communities that offer educators a place where they can connective with innovative peers to learn.
  1. Go to a conference. When I was preparing my team to implement one of the first mobile digital immersions (later known as one-to-one), I wanted them to have the best learning possible. First, we visited a school that was testing the model. Next, I took a team of 15 to my favorite professional learning conference, the annual conference for the International Society for Technology in Education [4], where they were asked to volunteer for a couple of hours. They later shared with everyone that the best learning was during their volunteering time because they had to learn things on the fly. As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t really understand it.” Articulating their ideas in a safe learning environment enhanced their professional growth.
  1. Start small. Tweeting, blogging, Pinterest, and Instagramming are all places where you can dip your toes in the water. Choose only one that you think you would enjoy. For example, if you are someone who wants to know everything about everyone, then Twitter is for you! If you love imagery, try Pinterest or Instagram. If you like to write or are an English teacher, start with a blog. Whatever your passion, figure out how it will support our lesson, and what you wish to accomplish from your students’ interaction with the tool.
  1. Practice, practice. Everyone has a favorite feature of every tool they use. If you get help or training for a tool, try to find what you like best about it. Practice on your own. Play with all the features that you can find. Become a digital learner.
  1. Use it for all your activities. Whether at work or home, find ways to incorporate your digital tools into your routine until it is no longer a scary new thing. For example, a ready-to-make video or animation site can win you big points with the family at that upcoming reunion, baptism, birthday, anniversary, or wedding. It is also an awesome tool for any work presentation, lesson introduction, exit ticket, project outcome, etc. It can spur your students’ creativity both in and out of the classroom.
  1. Teach someone who doesn’t know it. Just like you were more comfortable learning it from a friend, others will like it better too! Show off your new skill. Recall the saying, “If you care, you share.” Over the past few years, to support campuses through their digital transition, I relied on great, daring teachers [5] who were willing to step over their discomfort to “just try.”
  1. Give a daily routine a digital twist. Do you have a list of favorite websites that you visit every day? You can Symbaloo all! The great thing about digital organizers is that they save you space, and you can use them to catalog both, professional and personal sites. And while you’re keeping your professional and personal online presence separate, you can build your learning portfolio with the awesome resources that your peers, near and far, share. You can do the same, no learning is too small, and someone out there may be grateful for your knowledge, just like you were.

TEACHing with technology gives our students the opportunity to reflect on things in their everyday life, without being immersed in it all the time. As you explore formal and informal learning via digital tools, it is important to remember that good teaching means getting both to work together in your classroom in a coordinated way.

eSchool News, Diana Bidulescu, May 18th, 2015, Posted By Stephen Noonoo On May 18, 2015 @ 6:00 am In Digital Learning and Tools,Featured on eSchool News,Teacher Collaboration with Digital Tools,Top News

EnhEnhancing “Frontchannel” Discussions with a Digital “Backchannel”

(Originally titled “Digital Backchannels”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Jeffrey Carpenter (Elon University) says that as a young teacher, he believed whole-class conversations with his high-school students went well. “A few extroverted or extra-motivated students could be counted on to contribute,” he remembers, “and discussions would pass by pleasantly enough. A decent quantity and quality of ideas were shared, and awkward silences were rare.”

But over time, Carpenter realized that only a handful of students were taking part while the majority tuned out or engaged in an illicit “backchannel”– whispering, note-passing, flirting. “When teachers ask, ‘Any questions?’” he says, “they often encounter silence, even though the questions are lurking out there.”

The solution? Allowing students to use mobile devices to create a legitimate “backchannel” that engages all students in the discussion. “In the backchannel,” says Carpenter, “students can offer opinions, answer questions, analyze frontchannel content, or share supplementary information.” Here are four scenarios:

Collaborative conversations – A U.S. history teacher asks what students found confusing in their Civil War homework. Several students speak while others use the class’s chat room to chime in. The teacher skims the backchannel content, sees confusion about the economic differences between the North and South, and verbally clarifies the point.

Parallel discussions – A small group of 9th-graders debates who was to blame for the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, while students in a fishbowl use digital devices to summarize, comment on, and add to the conversation. The teacher monitors frontchannel and backchannel discussions, and when there’s a lull says, “I see here in the doc that Kaitlyn thinks that if Friar Lawrence hadn’t gotten involved, then nothing would have happened. Any thoughts on that?” A student blurts out, “But he had good intentions!” and both channels light up.

Interactive notes – Eighth-grade science students conduct a lab on using citrus fruits to build batteries; they tweet their predictions, questions, or pictures of collected data on the class-specific hashtag. “Will the size of the fruit matter?” asks one student. “Some fruits will be better batteries than others,” tweets another. After a few minutes, the teacher displays all the tweets and leads a frontchannel discussion while students continue to tweet their suggestions.

Formative assessment – Toward the end of a world-history class on the spread of global capitalism, the teacher asks students to summarize the day’s most-important idea in Socrative, then displays responses and invites students to vote on the best. This sparks further discussion, and the teacher makes a mental note to clarify a misconception in the next lesson and create a Do Now on labor unions.

Carpenter believes digital backchannels can involve far more students, enhance student-to-student interaction, and improve the breadth and depth of discussions. He offers these suggestions:

- Make sure all students have access to devices (sometimes working in pairs).

- Establish norms for helpful and unhelpful backchannel comments.

- Monitor the backchannel and keep comments focused on the topic.

- Have agreed-upon “devices off” signals to return to an all-class discussion.

“Digital Backchannels” by Jeffrey Carpenter in Educational Leadership, May 2015 (Vol. 72, #8, p. 54-58), available for ASCD members and for purchase at; Carpenter can be reached at