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A Year In Review (Part 1): Webtools

Today marks a the beginning of a new year at my job. Its been a year since I’ve taken the position of Instructional Technology Specialist and it is a time to take a step back and reflect what has happened in a year. There are many things I have experienced over the past year so this is Part 1, of a series “A Year In Review.”A Year in Review: Webtools

Through the collaboration of my co-worker and friend Jacob Standish its been an encouraging year of some new webtools that have influenced our district protocol. Here are few a of the tools we have “pushed.”

Yammer – It may seem small but it isn’t. It is huge. I wrote earlier about it here. With this Social Media program an entire shift of thought has taken place with many of our teachers. No longer do they feel there is no one to talk to or connect with, Yammer makes our big district feel small.

CMSWiki – Although Wikispaces has been in our district for a few years it took a big leap in the past year. It went from a side project to a major one. Our district does not allow many outside websites, and we needed something to help our teachers have a web presence.

Moodle Online PD – Professional Development in a district as big as ours is “difficult”. Moodle gives us an opportunity to pull them all together. Professional Development has focused heavily on IWB’s in previous years, and we have tried to bring an excitement and energy to other 21st Century Skills and Tools. Not my favorite tool, but can be useful to help PD.

Twitter – Twitter has been around for a while and we are trying to help our teachers be a positive force in directing them how to use their Professional Twitter Life. We can either be agents for good change, or we can be negative. Our desire has been to use Social Media Tools for the betterment of our district and staff. We try to connect our teachers together on Twitter, and learn together.

Edmodo – This has been a great tool to for students and teachers to connect and learn in a fun and new way. It has been great to hear all the excitement around learning through such a tool as Edmodo.

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Yammer: Your In-House Professional Learning Community

In December of 2010 a co-worker (Jacob Standish) and I stumbled upon Yammer. Our minds immediately saw the potential of a great in-house Professional Learning Community (PLC). We work in a district that restricts access to many social networks because of the lack of productivity that can happen in places like Facebook and MySpace. Yammer though gave us a unique opportunity to cut the distractions out (what you are doing for lunch, who you are meeting, where you are, silly off topics jokes, non-professional non-educational content) of such social media and focus on what teachers do: Educate and Professional Development.The philosophy  that we introduced Yammer to our district was for TEACHERS by TEACHERS. The desire is a place for EDUCATORS (the true enterprise of our district) to share EDUCATION ideas and thoughts that will help TEACHERS to explore and learn together. Teachers are true professionals and Yammer gives them an opportunity to speak about their PROFESSION. Some teachers will never be able to get twitter (and that’s OK) but they can get Yammer because it is in Yammer where they will meet their fellow district teachers. Teaching the same Common Core on the same pacing guide.Yammer works best in groups. Since there is no “facilitator” on our Yammer network it is by the common good that teachers keep to the vision of the PLC. Anyone can create a group that is Educationally Focused. The power of our Yammer network has been in the Grass Roots efforts of teachers to be Professionals in our district.

We have been deliberate in our cause to keep Yammer a Professional Learning Community and not Facebook or a non-professional Twitter feed. We have been focused in Yammer to help teachers find people of like mind and explore educational content together in ways they have not been able to do in the past.

Jenny Grabiec, Jacob Standish and I have created Podcasts and Help Files for our district to guide the proper uses and nuances of Yammer.

The focus of our Yammer network is very direct. Part of that is because of the strict rules our district puts on “social networks” being a possible waste of time. Everyone who joins Yammer gets a notice posted to them to help guide the focus of their thoughts. The majority of teachers and educators have been great at keeping to that focus.

Yammer would be a great opportunity for your district teachers to build a safe PLC without feeling lost in such places as Twitter. It is a great way to bridge the gap between school collaboration (school building)  and global collaboration (Twitter). Helping teachers model 21st Century Skills of social networking as professionals.

If you are interested in more help in how our district uses Yammer feel free to contact me via Twitter or comment below.

Here is what all users get in our Yammer Network:

Here is why CMS Instructional Technology Conceived Yammer (and it is not to “update your status”). It’s about your PLN and your PLC these are STRONGLY EDUCATION IDEAS:We (Instructional Technology) are really excited that you have joined the Yammer community. There are some things we would like you to keep in mind as you use Yammer:
• Yammer is a positive force for collaboration
• Yammer is an opportunity to encourage each other and share ideas
• Yammer is CMS only, which leads to greater internal collaboration
• Yammer directly connects you to your PLC
• Yammer helps you build your PLN (Remember its YOUR PLN, build it how YOU want)Now let’s connect, collaborate, encourage, and share. I’m looking forward to learning with you all…

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Professional Development: What kind of person does it take?

Currently I’m involved in a project that includes building a team of people who will eventually be leaders in developing and implementing professional development across the district. As I personally and professionally begin to think about the teachers and district level people I work with and consider them for this opportunity the question came to mind: What kind of person does it take to make something this big (and this is big for my district, probably nationally) a success? Three essential elements came to mind:

The first aspect that needs to be realized that it takes more than “a” person. To do great professional development it takes a team of at least 2!  For me collaboration is an aspect that is key (I’ve written about that here). Great professional development takes a team effort of true collaboration.

I also strongly feel that there needs to be some knowledge about the topic, subject, or thing that is being presented on. I think trainers can learn about things, but having some background knowledge seems necessary. If the trainers have no knowledge of what is going to be presented it is a sure beginning of failure. If the trainers haven’t gathered any of their own knowledge on their own then I question their commitment to the professional development. This leads into my next thought on what kind of person does it take to professional development: Passion.

I could write a lot about passion and how it plays into professional development. I would say that there needs to be a passion for the subject mater (whatever it is). I believe it is that passion that drives you to want to know about the subject, and there in have the knowledge to help guide people in their learning. It is in the passion that you will take the time to learn all about the subject so you are able to ‘break it down’ and help someone else get it. Passion is not an assignment given to you by your boss. It is the passion that gets under your skin, in your mind, and invades your day. When you are passionate about something you want to SHARE it and help others GET IT. I believe this is NECESSARY (yes I said necessary) for professional development to be GREAT, and successful. I believe passion is the lynch-pin to a successful great professional development.

Finally, notice that I did not say any one type of personality was “it”. There isn’t one type of person; extrovert, or introvert, or whatever that makes a professional development great. It does take presentation skills, and the more masterful the better, but it is not one “type” of person. I fully believe that for a professional development to be great it takes a team effort that has knowledge of the subject, and a lot of passion.

It is on the passion that hangs how great and successful the professional development will be.

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Ideas, Perseverance, And Vision

I have a passion (like many Apple folk) for the words and life of Steve Jobs, I’ve written about it here how Steve Jobs’ vision helped me succeed. Recently @scottbelsky wrote an article about “Vision Without Obstruction: What We Learn From Steve Jobs”. This blog post is an outflow from that article.

Ideas, Perseverance, and Vision
After reading the article I have become even more enthralled with the attributes that Steve Jobs exhibits that I wish to incorporate into my life as an Instructional Technology leader. Ideas, perseverance, and vision are central to who Steve Jobs is. I find myself drawn to people who exhibit these attributes in their life, because I want to exhibit them. I believe education needs people who are developing new ideas, and pushing them through to the point of their conception and completion, and education badly needs vision!

What Status Quo?
Steve Jobs choosing not to do things the way others have wasn’t to just be different, but it was to stay true to his ideas, perseverance, and vision. I feel that when we go against the status quo it is because we have a strong backing and understanding of our idea and vision. This is something we need desperately in education. Such a strong understanding of the vision for education and technology that when the status quo is threatened its because the vision clearly states the course of action needs to be unique to educate our students.

Often times we are missing this aspect of Perseverance the most in the area of education and instructional technology. Instructional Technology is rapidly changing because information is vast and fast via the web. The challenge in today’s educational technology landscape is to persevere over the obstacles that are coming down the road of success. Many of these obstacles are people saying “give it up” to the ideas you know are going to challenge the status quo. But you know those ideas are the most powerful. Steve Jobs didn’t allow these people to derail him from the visions he knew would radically change the way we live our lives, and we shouldn’t allow people to stop us from bringing our radical instructional ideas to the classroom.

We all have our demons that we fight against: doubt, failure, impulse, expectations. They are no different for Steve Jobs and no different for anyone willing to take a risk and enter the world of Instructional Technology. The statement stated in this article that sticks out the most to me, and worth remembering when those demons enter our head, heart, and dreams:

“Nothing To Lose In Staying True To What You Envision”

In a time when we need more creative educators get your visions, create the ideas, and persevere.

Note: This post was part of an exercise to read an article and respond to it with a co-worker. I have not read his response yet, but his is here: A Call For Clarity by @edtechstandish.

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There Is No Consume in 21s Century Skills

I’ve done a lot of research on 21st Century skills across the globe

They all have the same aspects of 21st Century Skills highlighted (I guess that’s a good thing):

  • Global
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • ICT Literacy
  • Life Long Learning

This is a short list of the major concepts that are quite weighty and in-depth centered around what 21st Century Skills are. Interesting? Take a look at the list (short list) and you notice a major “C” in our society is missing (and that is a good thing)…

There is No CONSUME in 21st Century Skills
What is consume? It is to take in, buy, absorb, and to use. At the core of who we all are, we “get” consume. We have been raised as consumers. The goal of every company is to get the mass public to consume their products. The thing is companies aren’t hiring consumers, they are hiring the people who have the attributes of 21st Century Skills.

Education and Consumption
The problem I see in the education system is much the same. Educators are looking for a product that they can give to their students, so their students can consume it and say they’ve been taught. We should not be raising students up to be consumers, but creators, innovators, leaders, able to learn, and make choices about their learning. This means our teachers need to be all these too! This is not easy, there is a reason why these attributes are the top of Revised Blooms. But if our students are going to be productive in the 21st Century (which we are already 10% into) they will have to move from consumers in the classroom to creators, innovators, collaborators, organizers, and leaders.

First Steps away from Consumption via Technology
The rest of our teaching collective conscience could be spent on the how to do this, but I would like to mention a first step to be taken in Instructional Technology. Take every opportunity for any webtool or venture to be a creative one for THE STUDENT. Looking at every aspect for the student to apply the higher blooms taxonomy. I truly believe if we (the teacher) put some creative thought into the tools we use, students will be creative. The first step, is to realize the potential for an online tool to be used in some creative fashion.

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What’s the big deal with Flash (still)? (You don’t need a Flash app for your iOS device.)

iOS Flash PadI find myself asking this question a lot: Why are people so interested in getting Flash (Adobe Flash) on your iOS Device (iPad, iPodTouch, iPhone)? The reason I am asking myself because I see a new tweet about it daily. “I found the perfect Flash app. YAY!” or “Oh, it is great to have Flash on my iPad!” or “Another Flash app! Awesome” and the statements goes on. I look quizzically at these posts, as I do many posts, because nobody ever says what they are DOING with their Flash app. They all just seem to think they NEED one! I’m just going to come out and say it: You don’t need a Flash app on your iOS Device.

The Apple Way and Flash
Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.) has never shied away from the fact that his mobile devices do NOT run Flash, and he doesn’t have any plans to make them do so. I’m not sure if many people have actually read Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash” but they should. At first it may seem like a proprietary thing, meaning people think just because Apple didn’t create it, they don’t want it. This isn’t true. If you spend any time at all understanding the “Apple Way” you will begin to see there is a strive for excellence. Apple has lost their way a few times (failed) and has learned from the experience, and basically is saying, we don’t want to give you a device that fails. That being said, for a Mobile Device to work in the future, and now, there is going to have to be a better way than Flash. For me there are two Instructional (educational) issues I’m going to deal with.

Issue 1 (of 2): Out Dated Technologies
The first (which I will not deal with in-depth) is the aspect of better technologies now exist. Did you know that the beginnings of Flash are 1993 (yes, almost 20 years)? And the current usage of Flash dates back to 2005 (when YouTube was just getting started). []There is a much better, and more modern and efficient way for video to be delivered. With your Flash App you will NOT be getting your ten hours of use on an iPad. Also Flash video quality is less than the current standards of an iOS device. These are not qualities I want in an app that really isn’t necessary as the rest of the tech world continues to catch up to Apple. The rest of the world has always eventually gone the way of Apple (apple was the first say no disk drives, apple was the first to say mouse, apple was the first to USB, ect.). Flash will have to reinvent itself if it wants to be relevant, not just keep adding plugins and updates. Flash is not needed on an iOS Device there are plenty more places to get my video content.

Issue 2 (of 2): Touch and Flash don’t mix
Second, touch and Flash. Oh, I could spend hours here. My iOS devices are touch devices. They work with my fingers not a mouse. I was given a copy of a Flash App three months ago. I am skeptical of any app, websites, or product and must live with it before I say anything about it. Eventually the apps I “suggest” will make it into the hands of some 130,000+ students I work with. When I look at an app it is from the eyes of a Teacher who will be teaching students. From a Teacher who has 20 or more students trying to complete and create assignments and there can not be room for any unforeseen difficulties. So I patiently try to go through every aspect of any website or program before I can suggest it. A touch screen and Flash is the worst combination I have ever experienced. Oh, and not just me, but the 2nd grader, 4th grader, and 6th grader I get the joy of living with. I was constantly ask from the day they got their iPad’s, “Dad, can we play Club Penguin on the iPad? Dad, can we play Pop-Tropica?” Well, they were thrilled when I loaded the Flash App on the iPad. And they sat down with dad and we had a great 3 minutes. 3 minutes of awesome, and wow, and cool FLASH is on the iPad! That was enough. As soon as they tried to move or work or create or type or touch or DO anything the fun, joy, excitement, wonder, and magic of the iPad dissipated into using something like a PC (non Apple device). In short, touching with a Flash App on an iOS does not work. Then I have to think about the 130,000+ students that would feel the same way. I think about the teacher who is going to try to use this app and then have to talk about all the “issues” with the app. We don’t have time for that in the midst off the information and learning age. I’m sorry I’m not going to do that to them teachers and students both. Flash is not needed to further frustrate the learning capabilities with a device that comes with a wealth of free options. Flash is not necessary for an iOS device.

Any Flash App is an UNNECESSARY app for the educational purpose listed above. I know there will be MANY who disagree by saying they MUST have their MOVIES and VIDEOS that show on the iPad (and please indicate your discord in the comments bellow). I don’t think it is worth the frustration, time, or money to purchase an app to try to make Flash work on an iOS device. In the end I believe Flash is not needed on an iOS Device. Now skip the Flash and get to learning!

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How is collaboration fun?

I wrote recently on an unexpected byproduct of collaboration: Fun. But that fun isn’t always something that just happens, it is something that is cultivated. To cultivate collaboration and have a byproduct of fun, there were a few aspects set in place between my co-worker and I that brought that fun about! Many of these aspects are personality traits, but I think they are needed for most collaboration to be beneficial and fun.

Lose Inhibitions
You have to get rid of your inhibitions in true collaboration. For the fun to happen, and real collaboration to take place you can’t be wrapped up in your self. You can’t be self-conscious. There is no way to have a true collaborative spirit if you can’t be relaxed in who you are, and be natural. With those I am truly collaborative with, there has never been a sense of competition, but a sense of working toward a common goal. Everything is open and there is no restrictive feelings.

Risk Taking
In any collaborative venture that is fun, there is a sense of risk taking. That risk is partly because you see the big picture and are willing to shoot for the moon while still gazing at the stars. There have already been volumes written on taking risks, but when you are taking them within a collaborative mindset there is always somebody else to buffer the success and failures. Risk taking becomes fun because of the collaborative environment.

There has to be a big picture for the fun to start. You see it is the big picture that we, in our collaboration, are aiming for. Having fun seeing the pieces come together, starting to see the vision come to be, and sharing that with your collaborators is what is fun. Again sharing in the failures and success as the vision comes closer to be.

Agreed upon Mission
The mission is how we get to the vision. The mission is the particular steps that will be taken, the HOW TO part. Whenever there is a conflict that arise within our collaborative ventures, we step back and look at the agreed upon mission. The mission holds us together. We already agreed upon this mission and we can now rest in the fun of following it through. Having the mission keeps us focused on achieving the vision.

Lunch (something not work related yet sharing life together)
For me (us) one of the biggest things that makes collaboration fun is discussing Life, The Universe, and Everything (yes we have discussed Douglas Adams too). We spend a lot of time at lunch talking about things that have nothing to do with Educational Technology. It is in these moments of discussing the Bob’s (Dylan and Marley) when we often times find answers that have plagued us. It is in the fun of discussing Doctor Who when we learn about each other and how we can communicate better with each other. You see, that is key, communication. In any relationship Communication is most important, and building a friendship over lunch (hundreds of lunches) allows for our collaboration to be that much more fun.

Finally there needs to be compromise. If there is not compromise then there can not be collaboration. I have to remind myself of this often. I have these ideas, and I think I know how they should be, but often times I have “missed” some pieces, or not seen an aspect that my collaborator has. I need to be willing, from the onset, to allow my ideas to be compromised, and hopefully made better! In compromise, a complete vision will come to be. Collaboration is a lot of give and take. If there isn’t both then there is no collaboration. If all you do is GIVE and get nothing in return time and time again, you are not collaborating. If all you do is receive and never give, the same is true. The willingness to compromise is key to collaboration.Fun has been an unexpected byproduct of collaboration, but it didn’t come by chance. It came by having a vision and shared mission. The collaboration was built upon many lunches where we allowed our real selves to show, our real lives with all our frailties. Through risk taking and compromise our collaborations have been made better and ultimately more fun!

Note: It goes without saying that I am indebted to my closest collaborator Jacob Standish. Without his collaboration and commitment to all these things, our success (and failures) wouldn’t be nearly as fun as they have been.

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Fun: An understated aspect of 21st Century Learning. Collaboration.



I deal in the world of 21st Century Learning Skills from an education perspective. I work with the concepts of 21st Century Learning daily, thinking about how teachers are going to incorporate them, teach them, and inspire students to apply them in every aspect of their life. My friend (Jacob Standish) and I have distilled the overarching aspects of 21st Century Learning Skills down to 3:: Create, Collaborate, and Organize. What I realized this weekend, while reflecting on the past weeks, is that 21st Century Learning is also, and always has been, FUN! 

The past month has been a culmination of working through ideas Jacob Standish and I have been playing with since November 2010. We collaborate on everything. That collaboration has been (and continues to be) FUN! Fun was not the intention. We didn’t start collaborating together because we were looking to have fun, we collaborated together because our ideals seemed in line with the directions we both wanted to go with district implementation of 21st Century Skills and Learning. Fun has been in unexpected aspect of our collaboration. When we are creating for our district the collaboration is fun, it is something I look forward too!  

This collaboration wasn’t forced on us, it came about after some time hanging out. A teacher (or boss) didn’t say “You two work together” or “You will be collaborating with Jake.” Our collaboration developed over time. So often Teachers “force” the aspect of collaboration with their students when collaboration can (and should) happen naturally, organically (like the web itself). I do collaborate with others, groups and people that I am asked to work with on projects, as we also ask our students to collaborate with different individuals. And I seek others out to collaborate with, both at work and through my PLN. I believe fun should be a byproduct of these collaborations. Does that mean that EVERY ASPECT of the collaboration is fun? Usually not. Jake and I usually get into a weekly argument about something we are collaborating on, but it is because we are passionate about helping our teachers in the district. As we develop opportunities for our students to collaborate we should consider fun as a byproduct. 

When people are collaborating and having fun the products they are creating end up as a much better product. Outside the education world I’ve seen this to be true too. I’ve noticed this in the music industry for certain artists. The music industry is one big machine of collaboration. When artists truly collaborate and have fun the product they have to show for it is by far a much better product. Take Eminem’s Album Recovery. Whether you like Eminem or not the songs on this album that he has collaborated on are better because of the collaboration. The collaboration is seamless, the hard work is obvious, and the fun shines through on these songs. Included is a playlist of some of his collaborations that highlight the quality and fun because of the collaboration. 


Collaboration is a 21st Century Learning Skill. We are asked to collaborate weekly with co-workers. We ask our students to collaborate with fellow students. The product of true collaboration should be better because of the collaboration that took place. The unexpected fun that ensued will show through in the products. As we all continue to explore implantation of 21st Century Learning and teaching in the 21st Century we shouldn’t overlook the understated aspect of fun. [Now, how that fun comes to be? That is for another post.]

Posted in Educaiton, Educational Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments in the classroom: Create Collaborate Organize w/ Students & Music

Students are into music. Most teachers are into music too. There are a couple music web tools I share with teachers to help them teach. Pandora and Rhapsody are the two main tools I share with teachers. They booth meet a little different need, relatively cheap, and they are assessable in my district.  The problem is these are primarily consumption tools. We use these tools to listening to music for classroom management, to set a mood into the classroom for study or excitement. Now imagine using artists music (new and old) as a way to create not just consume.

I came across Playlist this week. At first glance its like all  “the rest” of the web music apps (because now there is more than Pandora and Rhapsody out there). What do these music apps have in common? You pick your music, and let it play (up to two hundred songs per playlist for Playlist). But upon further look, there is a whole lot more to Playlist that the others are no where near yet. In my opinion Playlist is the epitome for music in connection to 21st Century Learning Triad: Create, Collaborate, Organize.
The coolest aspect of Playlist is the embed code. You can take ANY PLAYLIST you create and embed it into your website (blog, wiki, google site, ect.). Think about the learning potential here in ANY subject! If I want students to listen to and compare Jazz Female Singers. I create a playlist in Playlist, and then embed that list in my website. Students then can listen to what I want them to and discuss. If you are discussing a time period with your students incorporate the music from that era, easily with Playlist. As your students study a time period, find the music on Playlist, and share the playlist. Students can become immersed in the time and hear what things were like.

The embed and sharing is powerful. You can tweet, facebook, and social media your playlist like crazy. But there is more.

Group Playlist. Students and teachers together can create shared lists. Ask students to have a hand in the music they will hear while taking a test, or reading silently. Involving students in the climate of the class through music. Every student can have a say in the musical surroundings. Take this opportunity to have students discuss why they choose that song and how they feel it fits the playlist you are trying to create. Using the gmail resource Jake Standish and I discussed in July’s itWeekly 118 ( you can create accounts you control that students use to facilitate collaboration.

Create Playlist
Collaborate on Playlist
Playlists themselves are organized content.

Share your ideas of how you plan to use Playlist as a way to incorporate 21st Century Learning Skills in your classroom? What lessons come to your mind for students when you are able to hand them the music via the web to interact with?

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