Friday, August 3, 2018

Students still care deeply; find ways to capture their attention

Not long ago an executive at a large local company said to me, "Kids are truly just different these days. I see it in the young employees that I hire. You must see that all of the time, right?"

I paused. It's something I tend to hear a lot, but not just from people outside of education. Those words have been spoken to me by numerous teachers over the years. These words tend to reflect a genuine belief and they are validated by some of the ways we view young people today.

Then I responded as I always do.  "No, I don't believe kids are different today than they ever were. Society has shifted. Parenting has shifted. Adult expectations of kids and our focus on nurturing young people's growth and potential has largely shifted. But kids have not fundamentally changed. And I know this because I have seen young people who light up, get motivated, and go all in on those things they truly get excited about, even with topics that wouldn't excite most adults at times. I witness it over and over in my work with teachers and students, and that proves to me that kids haven't fundamentally changed."

Put a student in a river with a kick net and a mission to find out which critters live in the river and what that tells us about the river's health. Place a student on a structured, purposeful web conference call with students from across town, across the country, or across the world. Ask them to identify a problem of significance to them in their world and then find a reasonable solution to solve it. Even more simply, challenge them to solve a series of riddles/clues in an in-class competition or an EduBreakout. Have them argue their side in an in-class discussion or socratic seminar, have them teach other students with an instructional flipped video that others will see, or create a presentation they will deliver to an audience of people that will listen and engage with their ideas. These are all examples of things I have seen in the last few years where students came passionately alive in their work.


No, I truly do not believe kids are different today. They may be a little harder to engage at times considering the outside forces we compete with: instantaneous feedback with friends on social media, the ability to binge watch the shows that suit their exacting interest on streaming services, or a constant stream of access to enticing games and music that are their constant companions.

While educators do have to compete with these forces for our students' attention, the kids themselves have not shifted. They are exploring the world, trying to find their place and purpose, and attempting to figure out what type of person they would most like to be. As educators, we have the opportunity to expose them to the things we are most passion about, opportunities and topics they have never experienced or heard of before, and we can be the ones to lead them down paths that they will continue on for the rest of their lives.

However, doing something of such significance might require us all to shift our approach to how we structure these learning opportunities. We have to think more like independent entrepreneurs trying to engage our customers, and less like members of an institution that requires our clients to attend.

Although our kids' ability to dig in deeply and do great work has not fundamentally changed, society has. And it has given ALL of us the opportunity to elect when we will be present and actively engaged, and when we will opt out. We have all benefited from, or fallen victim to that reality. And because we have this experience as consumers of the things we are most interested in, we can use that experience to think differently about how we can best reach our students. The challenge for educators is to find exciting, engaging, meaningful ways to get our students to tune in and give our inspiring "channels" a try.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Encourage Students to Discuss Their Thinking with VoiceThread

Educators know that talking about our thinking is a critical way for us to make sense of our thinking, develop our ideas, and commit learning to memory. Across our system I hear teachers talk about the importance of engaging all students in this kind of discussion. However, we often run into logistical obstacles that make it a challenge to engage all students in active discussion during class.
The good news is that we can utilize technology to support student learning while tackling some of these logistical challenges. For instance, one challenge educators often face is students who are unwilling to speak up in front of their peers for a wide variety of reasons. Whether shy, not confident in their response, or unable to process their thinking in the time allowed in class, we can utilize technology to allow every student an opportunity to share their individual ideas through a video/audio recording.

Another challenge educators face is the question of whether students have engaged with assigned work outside of class. We can utilize technology to ask questions or offer prompts that students will respond to "asynchronously," meaning independent of each other and not at the same time. In this way all students are asked to share their thinking when they get to the topic/work/assignment and the teacher will have a way to hold students responsible for sharing their thinking.

While we can use tools like FlipGrid or ReCap to have students share their thinking, sometimes we need to have students share their thinking in context of the content they are learning about. For instance, perhaps your students are looking at an image of a map, a diagram of a cell, or the sentence structure of an author's work. Wouldn't it be great to have them share their thinking while annotating over the top of diagram/image/video? Using the tool VoiceThread, a tool we have full access to in our district through our use of Blackboard, students can easily record their thinking while annotating over the top of videos and images. They can then share their thinking with their teachers, with other students, and they can even listen to and respond to other students' responses "asynchronously".

VoiceThread is easy to learn and use with a wide array of free workshops. And because it is accessed through Blackboard, you can place VoiceThread assignments right in line with other content you offer students in your Blackboard class.

To see a powerful example of VoiceThread in action, take a look at this video from VoiceThread.

When you are ready to get started with VoiceThread, check out our help articles on VoiceThread. And be ready to have your students start recording and sharing their thinking with you and others this fall with VoiceThread!

Friday, May 25, 2018

If you throw away your bicycle...

Recently my daughter (10) and I were able to participate in a true daddy/daughter bonding experience. We traveled 26 miles by bike for a full day outing. Neither of us are avid bikers, but we do take short trips from time to time around the neighborhood and town. It was by far the longest bike ride either of us had ever participated in, and it truly modified our perspective of what we are capable of accomplishing together.

There was another student on the trip trying to explain the trouble he was having while attempting to ride his bike. He was sharing with his teacher that this bike was new -- his parents had "thrown away" his bicycle a while back. He said he was not regularly riding it and it was not really working for him.  In preparation for the class bike trip, though, they purchased him a newer, bigger one.  However, in last-minute preparation for the trip, his bike was put together with handles and brakes facing in the wrong direction. The boy, both out of practice from riding in general, and just learning to ride his new ten-speed with rear-facing handles and brakes, struggled on the trip out of the gate. He needed support for the first mile before they simply exchanged his bike to allow him to participate in the ride.

A few educators have suggested to me over the year that they don't see a need for using technology for lots of tasks in the classroom. I have even heard, "Well, I don't use technology unless it is an activity at Modification or Redefinition levels on SAMR. Otherwise I have them put the tech away."

I am impressed with this dedication to understanding that technology is more useful in our classrooms at some times, and less valuable at others. I am impressed that we know there are higher leverage uses of technology and lower leverage uses. That shows incredible growth in our adoption of tech in our classrooms.

I am worried, though, that if the only times our students are using these tools productively in classrooms is when we have a high leverage Modification or Redefinition level lesson, we may fall into the same trap this young man fell into on the bike ride.  His bigger challenge was that he was out of practice. He didn't have a bike to practice on, even for short rides around the neighborhood. So on the day of the big outing, he faced the challenge of learning to use new equipment (his new bike), but he also faced the challenge of getting back into riding form. 

The same could be said for students who are asked to put away their iPads until the teacher is ready to use them for some big project. They now need to struggle with updates to apps, outdated operating systems, accounts that have signed off from lack of use. And then they also have to remember how to do some of the things they will need to do for the lesson in the classroom. Additionally, they are out of practice and will have to re-familiarize themselves with the device and the apps (including new updates to apps that may have changed the way the app works). While using technology is a lot like riding a bicycle, imagine if your bicycle was continuously updating itself in the garage while it was waiting for your next ride. Picking it up and riding without a refresher might be a bit of a challenge the next time you decide to head out on the road.

Remember, in Waukesha we do not believe that technology is ALWAYS the right tool for the job. We are not paperless, we are not tech only. But we also believe that technology will be a part of our students lives for everything they encounter moving forward. As a result, we need to have them continually honing their skills around PRODUCTIVE uses of technology. They do not get that opportunity to continually improve when we ask them to power down and continually put technology away.

So before you power down and put away those devices in your classroom, ask yourself: Is there enough value in what the students are doing with technology today that we can utilize it so students stay in shape with the skills they need to be productive with technology?


And if you want to see an amazing video about two important topics -- riding bikes and how we learn -- check out the video on riding the backward bike -- https://ed.ted.com/featured/bf2mRAfC#review.




Friday, May 11, 2018

Vanguard Unite!

On Thursday, May 10th, over 30 members of various School District of Waukesha Vanguard Teams gathered to meet and socialize with others from across the district.





This was the first of several professional learning and collaboration events that are being offered by the Instructional Technology Coordinators to all school's Vanguard Team members! There was time to meet and discuss our successes and challenges this year. Many teachers were able to make connections with others and some collaborative planning has already started. There was LOTS of food and prizes. Vanguard members in attendance even left with a bit of "swag" for their efforts. You may have seen them sporting their new Vanguard Team T's today.

If you are on your school's Vanguard Team but were unable to join us, look for upcoming messages on how to obtain your swag pack!

If you are on your school's team look for emails outlining future learning opportunities. We are very excited about the different sessions that will be held this summer and next year! Lots of opportunities for growing your own practice and expanding the ideas you have to share with your staff. On your school's Vanguard Team but not receiving our email? Please contact us at ITC@waukesha.k12.wi.us we want to make sure we are connecting with everyone!




The purpose of a Vanguard Team has changed significantly since our launch. The team was once focused on device rollout, logistics, and basic training. We are now at a time where Vanguard Teams should be exploring and sharing more meaningful uses of the tools to support deeper learning, regular collaboration, genuine creativity, and authentic communication in our classrooms. Come join us this summer as we deepen our understanding of these tools and how they can be used!

*A special THANKS! to South student Zoe McCarthy who designed our new Vanguard Team logo. This was a part of a collaboration with a number of other students in Tom Mancuso’s digital design class. You may see Waukesha One and Vanguard Team logos from time to time in communications. These are logos designed by students in the class.


Student Blogging: More than just pushing "Publish"

Passionate learners are infectious. Their enthusiasm for a topic shines brightly, and it rubs off on others. For a small team of students at Banting Elementary, they are working to spread their passion to an audience well beyond the walls of their school using technology.
Several students at Banting Elementary are
sharing their passions through a team blog.

This small team of students at Banting are passionate about different topics, but by working together they are combining their passion, knowledge and energy into a productive outlet to inspire other learners. These students have been working on a passion project over the past few months, and the power of their collaboration is just starting to shine through outwardly.

Deciding on a Publishing Platform
The students began with inquiry, research, and writing. The next stage was thinking about publication. After serious thought about the best way to reach their identified audience of other learners of all ages (both English and Spanish speaking learners), the team decided to start a blog to publish their information to the outside world. 

Their blog address is https://destinformation.blogspot.com/ and they would appreciate readers stopping by to read their first few posts. AND coming back to watch their journey as they continue to post.

Sometimes we can water down the idea of going public with our thinking. Somehow hitting the share button on a Google Doc falls short of meaningful publication for a real audience. However, these students have really put a fine point on what it means to think about your audience, to think about the best way to communicate with an audience. They considered the best digital outlet. A YouTube channel? A website? A newsletter? They ultimately settled on a blog because it gave them an opportunity to regularly update with the newest content at the top. They also could stay focused on writing and inquiry. The blog format gave them time to be thoughtful, play with their ideas in writing, and to ultimately incorporate other media (images or video or links) if needed. And they could work collaboratively on it with a shared blog. And they could keep their identities a bit more concealed by not being on video on a YouTube channel. That was important to this team.

That level of thought and critical thinking around a foundational question, which format is best for our intended audience, is something that showed the power of allowing students to pick and publish to their audience using tools that made the most sense to them.

Topics, Length, and Summary
As for topics -- well, that's where their passion comes into the picture. Each student is publishing posts on their own topic, but they also have to share their thinking and questions with the other students in their group. All of them have an equal say in what goes live to their audience, and they have already had thoughtful talks about pieces that may need more research before going live.

Regarding the length of the posts they are publishing, after some conversation with the team they decided to break down posts into smaller parts that they could publish over time. This gives readers smaller bites of information to digest while allowing the students to publish more regularly over time, something that students learned will encourage more regular, ongoing traffic to visit their site. It also allows the students to really focus in on a key question they are answering with their research for that post.

The ability for students to chunk their entire research topic into smaller parts, summarize the key points for a particular question they are answering within a larger topic, and then decide what parts to publish for an audience to answer these questions completely and accurately, these are skills we hope students can develop by the time they are in high school. These students are showing that with the proper outlet and motivation, they really can begin to develop the skills much earlier on in their academic career.

Personal and Group Accountability
Let's talk about accountability for a moment. This is a collaborative project with elementary students. The teacher is not looking over their shoulder and gently nudging them or requiring them to publish to the blog. This is a student driven passion project. They have to be responsible to themselves to finish the work they agreed to do. They also have to be responsible to the other members of the group to write, edit, and publish on the group's blog.

Student created Google Calendar to outline post deadlines.
Notice that dates extend into summer after school is out.
After some conversation talking about tools that could help to remind them and keep them accountable to one another, they decided two key things. First, they would ALL own the blog. It would not be one person's job to post, but a collectively shared experience between all of the students. Second, they decided to start their own shared Google Calendar. Nobody did this for them. The students created the calendar and then posted a weekly due date for each student who is responsible for posting.

This ability to distribute the workload and hold one another accountable for the completion of work is something our students are ready for at a very early age. The missing component is often a motivation to do the work they are asked to do. In this instance, the students are motivated to do the work because it is something they want to do.

Understanding a Global Audience
Oh, and I should probably mention that the students are also making sure that their articles on the post will eventually be available in both English and Spanish. They know that the world around them and beyond is multilingual, so they decided to broaden their audience by exercising their bilingual superpowers to make the blogs available in both languages.

Understanding that the world includes people of diverse beliefs, languages, ethnicities, and nationalities is something many adults still struggle to acknowledge on a day-to-day basis. These students not only identified this on their own, but they also have an outlet to practice their academic writing and language development in both languages for a real audience.

Underlying all of this is the fundamental reason we need to offer students opportunities to utilize technology in their learning. In this case study, it is about far more than simply writing. The collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, organization, and perceptive thinking about their audience and goals -- these are all value adds to the writing and research that will better prepare these students for success in school and beyond. 

Visit and Share the Blog
Logo located on student blog site Destination Information
The students are actively publishing their blogs now. They have their first three installments in the blog ready to go. Behind the scenes they are actively working on more articles in each series. Their goal is to continually publish throughout the summer and likely into next year, even though they will be headed to middle school. The structure they have built will allow them to continue the project if they personally commit to doing so.

They really would love to get some feedback on their project. Their writing is intended for learners of all ages. It would be appreciated if you could share their blog with your students as well.

To visit Destination Information, their blog, visit https://destinformation.blogspot.com/ .

Friday, May 4, 2018

Vanguard Teams: Thank you for adjusting the sails

When the inspiration for Waukesha One was first born in our district over five years ago, one reality was certain: the shift to learning that utilized digital tools was not going to take shape without sincere belief in the idea, and day-to-day changes in the practice of educators.

Early on, the concept of teacher leadership teams around technology use at each building came to life. In searching for an appropriate name for these teams, the suggestion was made to call them Vanguard Teams. "Vanguard" is the term used to define the group of people leading the way on new developments and ideas. It is also used to identify the foremost advancing or leading group of any army. It was the perfect suggestion.

Vanguard logo designed by
Waukesha South student Zoe McCarthy
So, what is a Vanguard Team in our system? It is a committed group of individuals in each building that are working to find ways to give students and teachers experiences and opportunities that utilize the digital tools that are (and will continue to be) pervasive in all of our lives. It is a team that is trying to make all of us more efficient, while also deepening the learning experiences for students.

Vanguard Team members are the torch bearers of new practices and ideas across the School District of Waukesha.

We know their roles have evolved over time. Initially they led the way on simply navigating our new devices. Do you remember the time when you didn't know how to scroll through a web page on your Mac the first few times you tried it? Do you remember trying to set up that Apple ID and get signed into the App Store on your iPad? It was members of the Vanguard Team helping to lead us through that.

Today they serve a different role than device rollout -- a far more important role. Vanguard Team members from across our district are trying to reshape instruction in their classrooms to best utilize the tools the students have available. While they may be running learning opportunities and support sessions in some places, they are doing the daily work of integrating the tools into their daily practice with students. And then they are sharing. They share at formal events, like The One Conference in January. But they also share daily, in their PLCs, in their co-teaching and co-planning, and in their one-on-one moments with colleagues.

In the upcoming week, the Tech Coordinator team will have an opportunity to say thank you personally to some of the Vanguard Team members that we will interact with at one of our first cross-district Vanguard meet-ups. This is the team that is going to continually help us to adjust our sails as we face the reality of getting our students ready for a life driven by technology, innovation, and change. For this reason, we are making a commitment to finding ways to unite members of these teams and to create a space for their growth and collaboration. We want to thank them for their work thus far and we hope to continually support their work moving forward.

Have you taken a moment lately to thank the Vanguard Team member in your professional life? 
These are the teachers that try new ideas first, invest time in learning, invest time in troubleshooting, and then invest time in teaching and supporting other staff members when questions arise. 

Take a moment to just say thank you to your colleague for their ongoing enthusiasm and commitment to students, to staff members, and to improving the School District of Waukesha.



VG Connections logo designed by
Waukesha South student Alli Geiger

Friday, April 27, 2018

Your iPad is your doc camera

In a classroom where we need to make things visible for all of our students, or when we want to model a process for students, nothing beats a document camera.  They give us a live video feed that we can quickly and easily project to the class.

And the great news -- you already have a document camera available to you. It's your iPad.

Paired with an Apple TV and Airplay (for a wireless experience), or even hard wired into a projector, the camera app on the iPad gives us a live video feed that can be easily shared with the class.

The process is easy. Find, make, or buy a stand that will allow you to be hands-free with your iPad with whatever is below (or in front of) the camera. Then simply connect it to the projector and open the camera app.

The trick is finding a great stand at a great (or no) price. You can buy iPad doc camera stands, but if you look around you'll probably find exactly what you need in your classroom or around the house/apartment.

The stand at right meets all of the requirements.


  • The stand must be sturdy. iPads are expensive, and setting them on a wobbly stand where they may fall is not a great idea!



  • It has openings at the top to safely set your iPad on while allowing the camera to peer through.



  • It lifts the iPad up from the "stage" below so you can fit objects of various sizes underneath.



  • There is a clear working area underneath to fit the demonstrator's hands. This is especially important when annotating text or "modeling" for students.


So go ahead. Look around. What clever ideas have you had for making your own useful iPad document stand?


By the way, this is a GREAT design challenge for students. Set forth the design parameters (something similar to what we outlined above) and let students start thinking creatively.