Thursday, December 12, 2013

Technology Integration - Seeing What Tech Use Could Look Like with Technology Integration Matrix

One of the biggest hurdles many of our staff members encounter in the use of technology in the classroom centers around the idea that they aren't even sure what technology integration might look like.

This isn't in relation to the tools they can use.  While most of them probably could name a few of the tools that are available to them, the bigger struggle is actually envisioning how the tool can be put into instructional practice to yield an educationally relevant outcome.  Essentially, if our teachers could see the technology in action in a classroom, being used by real students and teachers for real educational tasks, they could begin to imagine how they might use these tools.

The Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) may provide some assistance in helping educators to see what is even possible through the use of technology in the classroom.  The TIM, created by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, provides a database of searchable, sortable videos that allow viewers to see technology in action in the classroom.  The beauty of the resource is that the videos can be searched and sorted by grade level, tools used, and subject.  They are also classified on two key scales -- Characteristics in the Learning Environment, and Levels of Technology Integration.  While we do not use this language within our district, the Characteristics in the Learning Environment can fairly easily be translated into Danielson language, and the Levels of Technology Integration can easily be fitted to the SAMR framework (Substitution covering the lowest two categories, Entry and Adoption).

We truly encourage you to take a deeper look at this resource.  It is ripe for use at PLCs, staff meetings, and even for collegial learning sessions in your building.  Videos are short, focused, and can generally create some sort of reaction from educators about the value the technology provides.  It is an excellent way to start thinking about what is possible as the technology makes its way into your classroom(s).

The resource is available here:

This video introduces the Technology Integration Matrix and might be valuable as a starting point to help introduce staff members to the tool.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Easier Access to SMART Notebook Gallery Files from a PC

For the educators who utilize the SMART Notebook software on a PC across our district, good news!  The SMART Notebook Galleries, which have been missing in action on some PCs, have been centrally relocated to make them more accessible to all SDW Teachers and Staff.

You can now find the SMART Notebook Galleries by following these directions:

For those of you who prefer a video tutorial or would like the link to the help site where this information is located, click here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Risk Taking is the Way Forward: What will your #sdwrisk be?

Photo courtesy of Allen Spears - Creative Commons Licensed

Educators are being asked to take on a lot today when it comes to improving instructional practice and educational outcomes.  Whether it be increasing student engagement, embracing new tools and concepts for instructing students (or having students create and demonstrate knowledge), re-thinking educational spaces, or a long list of other topics that impact our work with students, the reality is that it can feel overwhelming.

However, in synthesizing the larger message of these changes in practice, there is one clear theme that surfaces.  Change is evident and inescapable.  A hyper-connected world is a world that is dynamically changing.  If an educator's primary responsibility is readying students for the life that they will one day face, we must prepare them to ready for a life of ongoing change.

It's an understandable feeling to just want to throw up your hands in surrender to the overwhelming overflow of change (especially in education).  For the good of our students, we can't give up that easily.  There is hope, and it comes neatly packaged in a simple idea - "risk taking."

Why is risk taking so important?

The act of willingly taking risks is the life line that makes dealing with change palatable, manageable, and survivable.  Risk taking, by its very nature, provides a platform on which we can identify our challenges, develop a plan for tackling those challenges, and then safely implement our plan without feeling the pressure to be immediately successful.

In taking a risk, we agree to try something new without fear of failure -- risks, by their very definition, embody some chance at failure.  The universal understanding of what a risk is (implying that failure may happen) provides us with a safety net to try something new.  

It is the act of trying something new, though, that is the key element. When change happens, it often requires a different response than previously offered/attempted.  The feeling of being overwhelmed by change is usually in direct response to our inability to attempt a new response; we are committed to the way we've always done things and struggle to see a different way to respond. When we take a risk, we commit to trying something new.  We accept that it may or may not be a successful attempt, but we are willing to forego the way we once did things to attempt a new way of doing things.  In doing so, we begin on our journey forward to both address and deal with change.

Taking a risk

Put simply, a risk is any change you elect to make (and actively engage in) that stretches you beyond your comfort zone.  Risks are not determined by the overall magnitude of the change or the size of the impact it has. Personal changes that impact one person are valuable risks, just as are risks that change an entire organization impacting thousands of people.  In the end, a risk's magnitude and sphere of influence is not the determining factor if it is a risk or not -- it is if the risk taken stretches the person, organization, or society  beyond an existing level of comfort.

Steps in the Risk Taking Process

  1. The first step to taking a risk is acknowledging personal/organizational anxiety over a change that has happened which requires a different response.  
  2. The second step is developing an actionable plan that provides an adequate response to that change.  
  3. The third step is determining what success and failure might look like and accepting the consequences for both.  
  4. Finally, the fourth step is taking action -- going for it by taking the risk.

Remember that every person has his/her own aversion to risk.  Some individuals are comfortable with risks that may seem monumental to others.  Others may feel that even slight changes are a big risk.  However, both are valuable and noteworthy, as both are progressive steps forward to address and deal with the realities of change. Your personal aversion to risk is a personal matter that you must grapple with and understand as a part of the risk taking process.

Sharing your risk

Witnessing risk taking is both humbling and inspiring.  Knowing that an individual has literally taken a chance, put a part of themselves out there -- this is exactly the kind of action that can encourage others to take their own risk.  In a hyper-connected world we can easily share our risks with others in ways that were never before possible.  The use of social media is one avenue for this.

Understandably, for many of us the risk we take might simply be putting ideas out there for others see.  We encourage you to think about the act of publicly sharing your risk with others as a way of building a network with others -- a network that just might be able to offer support, insight, or perspective based upon their experiences.

In our district, we are encouraging more educators to take risks and to share them out with the world!  Through the use of a common code that is easily searchable, also called a hashtag, regardless of what social media network you choose to share in your risk can be identified.  For the School District of Waukesha's "Take a Risk" campaign, we are going to use the following hashtag:


Whether you use Google + (our district sponsored social media resource for educators), or Twitter, we would love for you to share your Edu Risks with our community, both to mark and celebrate your personal risks in addressing the challenges of constant change, and also to inspire others to take those first steps forward -- steps that mark the cultural shift our organization is making to embrace and respond to a world of constant change.

Monday, November 18, 2013

App Launcher Customizer for Chrome Browser

The 3x3 grid icon (middle) is Google's,
App Launcher.  It replaces the black bar
previously utilized to jump between apps.
Since the disappearance of that beloved Black Bar in Google, a number of teachers have called and emailed asking if there is any way to customize Google's replacement tool named the "App Launcher."

Sunday night (through a recommendation on Twitter) I found a cool little Chrome app that allows me to customize the App Launcher.

It is called the App Launcher Customizer for Google.  While the name could be just a bit more creative, its functionality serves its name proudly!  It does exactly what you would think it should -- customize the Google App Launcher.  Of course, you have to be using the Chrome browser to utilize the app, but a quick install and you'll be off and running.

Once installed, you really can customize the Launcher to suit your needs.


Here is an image of the typical 3x3 App Launcher Google provides.


Here is my updated App Launcher using the App Launcher Customizer for Google app (again, only works in Chrome).

Notice that I have additional non-Google links
available.  Also, notice that it breaks the 3x3 grid model.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Copy and Paste Long Lists Easily Into Google Forms

Building a Google Form?  Have long lists of names, options, or emails you want to include as options in a drop-down menu or to choose from a list?

The new version of Google Forms makes this easier to do!  If that list is available in a  Google Spreadsheet (or even Doc format where they are separated onto their own lines), you can copy and paste easily into your Google Form.

This video demonstrates how:
This is a great tip shared with us by Lee Hansen.  Thanks, Lee!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Google Midwest Summit 2013 - Already Reaping Benefits

We were fortunate to send a team of 30 educators from across Waukesha to the Google Midwest Summit 2013.  This talented group, made up of educators and coordinators from across the district, was nominated  by building administrators to make the trip.

As always, aside from finding inspiration and adding some new tools to our bag of tricks, the focus is about bringing the message and learning of the power of these tools back to our colleagues and students in Waukesha.  We are so pleased to see this happening already, and we wanted to highlight the headway these attendees have made in the week that they have been back since the conference took place.

  • Using the YouTube editor, one attendee was able to capture a magical moment as one of our students with unique challenges at the elementary level demonstrated incredible growth since her teachers began working with her in fall.  Through the use of the YouTube editor (learned about at the conference), the teacher was able to pinpoint key moments during the student's performance that highlighted each learning target (something that could easily be overlooked without the context)
  • Inspired by the wealth of digital tools that are available and the necessity to simply put the information learned at the conference to use, one teacher/attendee is making a commitment to attempting the use of Blackboard in several classes as a means of getting started.  This is a risk that the teacher has embraced because of inspiration gained from networking with other motivated educators at the Summit.
  • One teacher/attendee has already set up the first Google Hangout (utilizing Google+) to connect with colleagues across the district without having to schedule an after school meeting and spend time driving across town.  The goal is to gain greater efficiency while staying connected.
  • Using the Google+ social network, one attendee has set up a Google+ community at his school and is actively recruiting teachers in the building to join in order to have a common sharing/social place in which to share ideas, articles, resources, etc.  As educators feel the constraints and demands of time, the use of a community like this maintains our connection with others, develops a platform in which we can share and collaboratively learn/reflect, and does so in a way that is asynchronous, meaning it is accessible to teachers when they are ready to digest the information available there.
  • Several attendees are actively talking about how to share their gained knowledge at upcoming professional development dates to spread the wealth of inspiration and information to a much wider group of colleagues.
This in no way captures all of the momentum sparked by sending attendees to this and other conferences, but it gives us perspective on what becomes possible when people are inspired with new ideas and introduced to powerful tools!  Remember, it has been literally less than a week since these folks have returned to the district.

We encourage you to connect with the representative from your building to pick their brain, hear more about the conference, and get inspired.  However, they are not the only source of knowledge.

Resources for the entire conference, for nearly every session presented, are available here:
Midwest Google Summit
We encourage you to take a look and dig in.  These resources are a generous gift provided by the conference presenters to any instructor who may have wished to attend the Summit but were unable to.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why Being Connected Matters

October is Connected Educators month.  If you are connected online you probably already knew this, if not then you may have no idea what I am talking about.  Generally speaking, to be a connected educator means that you learn from others in the education field.  Whether that means a PLC from across the hall, or an educator you have never met from around the world, being connected is closely tied to learning, collaborating, and sharing.
Being connected is almost always associated with social media.  Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest are extremely popular ways to become a connected educator.  This is where I became connected and started learning more about education, technology, and leadership........through Twitter. Being connected is not about social media, but about making connects...local and beyond.
Consequently, there have been a lot of blogs written this month about what it means to be connected, the use of social media in being connected, as well as the value of being a connected educator.
I don’t want to regurgitate what lots of other talented bloggers and writers have reflected on this month, but I also feel as if I can give my unique perspective on what I think it means to be a connected educator.  I feel strongly about do not need social media to be connected, you need collaboration and a willingness to learn.  Social media just makes those two things easier. Here is what I think if means to be “connected”:

1.  You work in grade level/course alike teams that collaborate about teaching, learning, assessment, and data.  Being connected means collaborating with the people you work closest with.  This is a non negotiable in today's world of education.  The days of working alone with a shut door are long gone.  Your front line PLN must be the people you work closest with on a daily basis.

2.  You should be connected with your district.  Know people in other buildings.  Understand some of the issues that educators face at different grade levels, buildings, and departments.  Connecting with different grade and building levels can give a holistic view on what is happening in education today.

3.  Connecting using a media platform.  For me, Twitter is the best place to connect with educators, but there are endless possibilities here.  Google+, Pinterest,  and good old fashion Listservs (yes people still use those) are great mediums on which to connect.  This type of connecting can lead to amazing learning and sharing.  These platforms have changed the way educators share and connect.  

Why connect?  We live in a fast paced world in which the dynamics of the education profession can change faster than ever.  To be a connected educator means that you keep yourself updated on things happening in the world of education.  Twitter has allowed this to happen for me and my career.  Twitter links me to blogs, introduces me to like minded people, and helps me to always be learning and on the cutting edge of what is happening in my field.  
Finally, being connected means you are not just a consumer of online PD, but also a producer. Step out of your comfort zone and start a blog, or participate in a Twitter chat.  These things can help you reflect and grow tremendously as an educator.  It is great to start as an observer or lurker, but you get the most out of being connected when you are an engaged participant.  
While October is Connected Educators month it is important that teachers are connected all through the year.  Make meaningful connections across your school, your district, and via social media.  It can add a new dimension to your own personal professional development.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jody Landish's Post "The Smartest Kids in the World" is a Must Read

While we talk an awful lot about technology in our posts, technology isn't the main emphasis of our practice or passion.  Our passion is in making our educational environments the most meaningful, valuable, authentic, inviting, and encouraging places to learn in.

Jody Landish -
Principal of
Waukesha North
High School

Jody Landish recently posted a wonderful blog reflecting on our primary goals in educating our students, and calling upon all stakeholders to take a firm grasp on that vision to make our classrooms the best places they can be.

Please read this post, reflect on it, comment on it, and share it with others. Deep within this post are the values that those of us who truly believe in the power of education hold dearest!   The Smartest Kids in the World by Jody Landish.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Presentation: Assistive Technology and Purposeful Use of iPads

Today Patty Hovel, the Related Services Coordinator in our school district, and I will be co-presenting for the Parents United Consortium of SE Wisconsin.  Our presentation will focus on the purposeful use of iPads in schools, the changing landscape in our classroom and the changing roles of our teachers and learners, and the process for determining if an iPad, or any assistive technology, will aid a student in their formalized learning journey.

If you are interested in accessing the presentation resources, they are available here:

Just wanted to share with everybody.  Sounds as if we may have just under 100 people in the audience today, but perhaps this is a topic that interests others in our online community.  Patty is incredibly knowledgeable about technology, the process for selecting assistive technology, and the role it can play in the classroom.  She is a wonderful resource and I'm excited to be presenting with her today!
Here is our presentation for today.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Start Emphasizing the Importance of Copyright; YouTube Free Audio Tracks Can Help

Many of us have wrestled with the questions surrounding what constitutes educational use of media as it relates to copyright.  While it is important for each of us to come to an understanding of what is appropriate fair use and what isn't in the world of copyrighted material, it is just as important that we begin to have discussions about copyright with our students.
As students publish more of their work for a larger audience, the discussion about copyright becomes a non-negotiable point of instruction that every educator must address.  However, our own misinformation about copyright makes that conversation a difficult one to lead and to provide definitive advice to students on.  
One resource I particularly appreciat for its simplicity and definitive answers, along with their offerings of pre-formatted lessons on teaching copyright to students, is the Teaching Copyright website (  The site isn't filled with so many lessons that you can't manage it all.  In fact, the lessons and resources are incredibly direct and to the point -- something that those of us who don't love talking about copyright but know it is critical will appreciate.  I'd encourage you to take a look, if only to further inform yourself as an educator prior to engaging in a multimedia project with students.
However, another key to the copyright conversation is helping students to find resources that are marked for full use because they are royalty free or have been given a Creative Commons copyright distinction.  There are increasing libraries of these kinds of resources out there, but one notable service is now offering 150+ audio tracks that are free to download and use in media projects because they are truly royalty free!
YouTube recently announced it's expansion of a library of royalty free downloadable audio tracks.  The tracks can be searched by genre, mood, instrucment, and track length.  It's a great starting point for students to consider as they are looking for just the right feeling in their media project audio.  It also allows educators to enter into the conversation about how audio tracks contribute to or detract from the meaning and personality of a piece!  What a valuable lesson to engage in.  Best of all, you can be certain that as your students share their project with the world, at least the audio portion of the project is safe to publish!  
If you are interested in checking out the YouTube library, it's available here:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Get Connected -- It's Educator Connectedness Month!

For as many people as a teacher comes into contact with during the day, anybody who has been in the classroom knows that teachers can often feel very isolated from other professionals.

Much of it has to do with the physical design of our school buildings. Much to do with the logistical design of our school day.  Part of it is that so much of our day is spent with and preparing for our students that little time (or energy) is left to connect with other adults in meaningful ways.

During this month, we want to raise awareness, though, that you don't have to go it alone!  Make this the moment when you intentionally reach out to others to connect professionally.  Ask a question.  Share an experience or a practice.  Offer advice, or seek it.  The world is more connected today than ever, and the beauty is that those connections are more flexible and adaptable than ever before!  Connect when you have time or can fit it into your schedule.  There are so many of us who slip these connections in just before bed, or at a late hour when we are up thinking about "educator issues" that just won't let us drift off to sleep.  Maybe that's a moment when you can commit to giving it a try without worry of trying to fit another thing into an already packed day.

Remember the old adage, "Many hands make light work."  Never have there been more connected educators willing to throw in to a fellow educator (albeit an absolute stranger) for the good of the cause.  For those of us who have reached out and started connecting, it's amazing how rejuvenated, supported, and, well, connected you feel to others in your profession, and also, beyond your school walls.  The perspective gained can be empowering and enlightening!

Where to Start?

There are SO MANY great places to start, but being Connected Educator month, one resource I'd love to point out to you is the Connected Educator website.  From book clubs to events to discussion groups, you'll find it all here.  The beauty is that you'll find others who have taken the step forward to become a more connected educator, meaning you'll find people with the same goal of reaching out and trying new things.

On this site you'll also find an amazing tool -- the edConnectr.  After a few minutes of inputting my personal educational interests, areas of educational expertise, and topics I'd like to connect with others on, it put forward a graph of other connected educators I may want to connect with, and as much personal contact information as the person was willing to include. 

Take a look at my graph:  

Each pin represents a person or group that I can connect with to start a conversation.  Upon review, I knew a few of these names, but many were local people that I have not yet met.

Perhaps it is time for you to create an edConnectr graph, just to see who there is to connect with.  Take it one step further, and challenge yourself to reach out and connect with somebody, just to try something new and to begin connecting yourself as an educator.

So go on -- give it a whirl, make a personal commitment, and see if you can get connected this month.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SDW Technology Integration YouTube Channel

Maybe you've missed it.  Maybe you've forgotten about it.  Either way, we want to introduce (or reintroduce) our SDW staff members to another way to learn how to use technology in the classroom.

We encourage everybody to take some time to look through our SDW Tech Integration channel on YouTube.  We are curating playlists and putting together some of our own videos to assist our staff in making the best use of the tools available to us.

Here is just a quick rundown on some of things you'll find there.

Blackboard Playlist:  Learn some of the tips and tricks for using Blackboard in your classroom.

Google Apps Playlist:  We are putting together the best resources we can find to help our staff put this amazing set of tools to use in interesting ways.

Quick Technology Tips for All Playlist: Created by Google employees, this playlist focuses on quick tech tips that will help users to be more efficient in using computers by answering basic questions and teaching computing shortcuts.

SAMR - A Model for Professional Growth with Technology Playlist: The SAMR Model for Professional Growth identifies the process an educator goes through as they learn to use technology, and provides an overview of how educational practice transforms with the use of technology.  Only a few videos present today, but an important concept to familiarize yourself with.

There are several rich playlists listed on our YouTube channel that seem to have no videos available to them.  This is primarily because the content on these playlists is for the use of our instructional staff only.  As a result, in order to see the videos on those playlists, we encourage staff members to log in to Blackboard (  Once logged in, staff members will see a "Staff" icon in the upper right.  Clicking on that icon will provide directions on logging in to our training courses in Blackboard.  This is where you will find videos on topics such as using iPads, learning OSX (Mac), etc.  We encourage you to enroll in those courses as there is a wealth of information available for you there.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Does Somebody Need a Timeout? A Method for Managing iPad Distraction

One of the key skills a teacher in a technology infused classroom needs to learn is how to adapt their existing knowledge of classroom management for a technology rich environment.  Without adequate classroom management techniques, the tools can become a central distraction, instead of central to teaching and learning.

Today an idea floated my way was for a Technology Timeout.  This concept works if the student is working on an iPad, which is (or will soon become) the primary learning tool for students in our district.

The technique is grounded in Guided Access, a function of iPads with iOS 6 and above.  Guided access allows an individual (presumably the teacher in this scenario) to open a specific app, to determine acceptable use for that particular app by only allowing certain areas of the app to be selected, and to password protect that app so that the student cannot leave that app or portion of the app without the teacher re-entering the Guided Access password.  

For a Technology Timeout, a teacher must identify and state to the student the unacceptable behavior being performed by the student.  Then the teacher should request the iPad, open the settings/accessibility features on the device, and set the Guided Access feature for the student.  At that time, the teacher should also identify a time when Guided Access will be turned off if a student's behavior again becomes acceptable to the teacher.

Remember, if you choose to set a Guided Access code on a device, it is CRITICAL that the teacher:
  1. Remember the password used for setting Guided Access
  2. Remove the password lock for the device following class if that student is moving on to another class where the device is in use (unless other concerns or directives have been given)

While the process of using Guided Access may seem slightly complicated, it really isn't.  Try setting Guided Access on your own iPad and you can quickly learns the ins and outs of the feature.  A little practice and you'll be feeling comfortable and, more importantly, you'll be armed with a reasonable consequence (that doesn't entirely remove the device from the learning environment) the next time one of your students refuses to stay on task or to utilize his/her device properly in your classroom.  

Learn how to use Guided Access by reading this article or watching this video.

Remember, the School District of Waukesha owns the student issued iPads, and as such, has every right to recall, search, lock, and alter the iPad in any way a staff member sees fit.  It is definitely appropriate for any teacher to redirect students in their use of the iPad, to search the iPad, to add features such as Guided Access to the iPad, and to collect the iPad if it becomes a distraction or is used improperly.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting Ready for iOS 7

Waukesha One is a self manage iPad model for both staff and students.  This means that teachers and students are responsible for updating individual apps and the operating system on the iPad. While this is awesome freedom, it is also a great responsibility.  App updates come out often and can be very useful.  For example, Google Drive had a fantastic update last week.  This update included cool features like a new user interface, the ability to get a link to a Google doc from within the app, and updated search function.  If you haven’t updated your apps in a while go the app store under updates.  It is worth your time.

So, teachers and students will be responsible for updating their iPad to iOS 7.  As we get ready for iOS 7, here are a few tips for you to consider as you update.

1.  If you have wifi at home, please update at home. As you can imagine, with so many devices on a school network it would be difficult to have the updates happen at school. Obviously, if you do not have wifi at home school is the place to update.  However, please try and do it at the beginning or end of the day.  

2.  Make sure you backup your iPad.  You can do this by going to Settings, iCloud, Storage and Backup, then iCloud backup.  While your upgrade to iOS 7 should not affect your files, it is always a good idea to have a backup.

3.  Look through your photos and videos and “weed the garden”.  We all have photos and videos on our iPads that we could delete.  Use the update to iOS 7 as a way clean up usage on your iPad.  Don’t stop with photo’s and videos look at the apps you really use.  Don’t worry, if you delete them they will always be in iCloud in the purchased area of the App Store.  

Take some time to get to know iOS 7.  There are some visual changes, some new features, but the standard layout remains the same.  You can go to the official Apple website to do some reading, but here are some of the highlights:

1.  Different User Interface.  While the structure looks similar, you will see that fonts, colors, and the user interface has changed.  It is a new design that has a different look with the same feel of iOS 6.

2.  AirDrop:  You already have this feature on your MacBook.  AirDrop will allow you to wirelessly share items with other iOS 7 users

3.  Control Center:  Control Center gives you more control over your iOS devices.  This feature will allow you quick access to things like brightness, wifi, AirPlay, and many other awesome features.

These are only three of many new things on iOS 7.  This is a very large update and your iPad will look different.  If you follow the steps above, you should have a smooth transition to some great new options on iOS 7 and your iPad.

Continually Learning How to Teach

I often wonder, "How do educators learn how to teach?"  What are the elements that most
significantly motivate us?  What influences the decisions every teacher makes about how he/she is going to engage with students in the classroom -- about the type of teacher we are going to be?
Photo courtesy of Wesley Nitsckie -- CC

Without question, some of the practices of my very best teachers, and some of the teachings of my own parents, can be witnessed in my teaching style .  I'm certain this is true for most of educators.  For me, these are some of my best (and most valued) qualities as a teacher.

There are other influences, though, that have played a significant (albeit not necessarily a positive) role in shaping who I have become as a teacher.

In my first year of teaching I was determined to break the mold and get rid of desks altogether.  I wanted a classroom that felt FAR more comfortable, homey, and connected than any classroom I had ever experienced.  I remembered being a high school student and wondering why classrooms had to feel so formal and uncomfortable.  I laboriously shifted and stacked the desks off to one side of the classroom (because the janitor just didn't have time to move the desks in the first few days of school) and I moved the used couches and chairs I collected into my classroom in preparation for the first day of school.

As my colleagues walked in and welcomed me during those first few days back for teachers, person after person told me that I would regret the decision -- my kids would be out of control and "once control was lost, it was nearly impossible to get it back."  I respected their expertise and their experience (as I lacked both), and I decided to take their suggestions.  I removed the  couches from my classroom before the first day of school, and on day one rows of desks (complete with seating chart) greeted the students.  My classroom looked just like all of the others!

In my second year of teaching, I eagerly wanted to challenge some long-standing curricular "traditions" in the district.  Ultimately, I did voice my concern (timidly) to members of my department (of which several had been involved in developing that specific element of the curriculum fifteen years earlier).  Not only was I met with scoffing and disbelief at the concept of changing a tradition (from people on my own "team"), but I was also encouraged by my mentor to bite my tongue and teach the existing curriculum.  My principal said, "A day will come when you have earned your stripes and can ask these questions  -- people will listen then." In the interest of developing a positive, working relationship with my colleagues, I stood down and begrudgingly taught plays that weren't necessarily interesting or relevant to me or to my students.  I am certain I brought none of the passion or enthusiasm to those lessons.  Not surprisingly, I was consistently disappointed with the learning artifacts my students returned from those units of study.

What is most interesting, though, is the lasting impact of the decisions I made at those critical moments in my development as a teacher.  I continue to regret my decision to not focus more on purposefully developing the physical space my students learned in (a concept I was toying with in my comfortable, homey classroom approach).  Similarly, I never again revisited or officially challenged the curricular traditions in the department that I taught in (I never really felt like I had earned the "stripes" needed to challenge something so seasoned and important to my colleagues).

I can come up with any number of similar examples of moments that shaped who I was as a teacher (both positively and negatively).  Almost every teacher can.  It is in these moments that we define who we are as a teacher.  The larger point, though, is that each time we find ourselves in these moments, we decide how we will respond.

As teachers are increasingly encouraged to challenge the traditional models of teaching and learning (the same models that exist in many of our classrooms today), and as teachers are being given access to tools that make altering the traditional instructional paradigm possible, educators are given an opportunity to address how we teach and why we teach the way that we do.  Does our teaching style reflect the best of our own experiences, or does it reflect instructional practices, models, and decisions that we have accepted, but may not necessarily agree with?

The time is ripe for every teacher to think through his/her teaching practices, teaching style, and instructional choices.  Many people are asking, "What makes an effective educator?"  Parents and community members are seeing different models of instruction, or there are at least different instructional models to point to when they ask to see them.  Through the invent of social media, we can connect with and get insight from colleagues afar -- no longer a need to be solely influenced by those immediately around you.

It is an opportune moment for you to decide if the teacher you are today is the teacher you truly want to be.  And if not, today is an opportune day to do something about it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Need an Assistant for Grading? Try Flubaroo!

I know that many teachers have uncovered the power of Google Docs and are using the tools in your classroom (or intend to in fall).  However, the one certainty about Google tools is that there is always something new to learn.

Now before you freak out and say I'm getting too geeky for you, let me entice you just a bit.  If you are interested in assessing your students' knowledge using an online/electronic format (that DOES work on iPads), Google has a tool for that.  If you wish to take it one step further and get almost immediate feedback on that assessment (so you can actually plan next steps for your classroom using real time data), there is an easy to use tool for that.  It's kind of like having the perfect Teaching Assistant there and available to grade student quizzes for you, and provide a detailed breakdown for each student that will help you to determine what the students truly know.

The first part really is quite easy.  It's called Google Forms.  This is a powerful tool that has gotten even more powerful in the past few months with a recent update.  Google Forms allows you to collect information, to survey people, to assess student knowledge in an easy to build, easy to distribute electronic form.  Many teachers have found this tool and swear by it.  You may wish to learn to use it for simple tasks, like collecting student information in the first few days of school, collecting parent information so you can have an email list that is actually up-to-date, etc.  With just a few simple uses, you'll see the power and find more educationally relevant uses for Google Forms.  We have a resource on our Instructional Technology Resources site that will help you to get started with Google Forms:

However, the second part, the part that is REALLY enticing, is having something that actually grades your assessments for you in almost no time at all.  That is where some of you may get freaked out initially.  It really isn't difficult, and you don't need a scripting degree to understand how to use it.  However, the terminology does sound scary.  I promise -- it really isn't.

As you may already know, the responses that are collected in a Google Form are placed into a spreadsheet. That's how they stay organized and can easily be sorted.  However, within Google Spreadsheets is the power to run powerful formulas and scripts.  Left to our own devices, most of us would never be able to do this -- we don't have the knowledge.  However, some really nice, really teacher-friendly people with scripting knowledge have come to our rescue.  They've pre-made scripts that we can simply click on and use without having to understand the coding behind them.

That's where Flubaroo comes in.  It is a grading script that teachers can use to quickly assess student mastery of concepts gathered through the use of Google Forms.

I'll start with a video to help you see the general concept behind Flubaroo.

So, you are excited now, but thinking, "There is NO WAY I could that."  Guess again.  I told you, this is super easy.  Flubaroo provides a great series of instructions to help you get started.  After doing it a few times, you likely won't need the instructions any more.

To get to the step-by-step instructions, just follow this link:

In a few short steps, you'll have your own TA just waiting to help you streamline the process of assessing student learning.  Then you can get back to the business of planning meaningful instruction based upon the data you have in front of you.

Remember, you don't need to have students to learn to use this tool.  Now would be a great time to quiz your family and friends.  Send them a Google Form to find out what they know about you, and then use the Flubaroo script to grade their responses.  It may help you to quickly determine who you really want to spend time with this summer!

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Teachable Moment: Helping Students to Understand Permanence of the Digital Age

Surprised parents and staff members have been emailing me this week with a concern.  Googling
This is a representation of Google's new Knowledge Graph,
a recent addition to Google searches.  This is the tool
responsible for linking information gleaned about a search
topic with related images posted on the web.
the keywords "School District of Waukesha" provides some information about the district along with an image that represents members of our student body, but not in the positive or academic light most of us might hope.

While there is a larger issue here of the district being improperly and unfairly represented in the public eye (we are presently working on a solution to this issue as we want the district positively and accurately represented for the meaningful teaching and learning that happens here), there is something we can use in this event to assist in a meaningful conversation with students and families.

With services like SnapChat and Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, sharing with the world is easier than ever before.  Especially with some of these services, but true for all, users often confuse the ability to instantaneously share with the world with the appropriateness of doing so.  Add to that the sense of anonymity, the tidal wave of information that is being shared worldwide (as in "everybody is doing it"), and the false "promise" of the information existing only in the short term (services like InstaGram allow users to post to the world, but in very short intervals, as in 10-15 seconds, before the post is removed).

However, as so many of us are aware of, the truth is that once data is captured and posted in a public forum (and the Internet is a public forum), even if only for a few seconds, the potential exists for that data to live forever.

This is exactly how the image that presently represents the School District of Waukesha in a Google search (not a decision consciously made by anybody in the district, by Google itself, but simply a result of an algorithm written and a change in the way Google presents information for ease of viewing), an image of some young people captured in a dance position while at a school dance that may have made them blush had their parents been present, came to be.  It seems to have been captured and shared online, likely by a student interested in updating others on the fun of the evening.  It probably didn't get much attention immediately.  However, it was picked up in a story by a local news outlet about the appropriateness of student behavior at dances (not just Waukesha students...students across the area).  That seems to have gained some traction with viewers, and the image has been viewed many times by many people.  That moved the status of the image up in Google's search rankings.  When the Google Knowledge Graph was created and launched publicly, the ranking of that image, coupled with the search term "School District of Waukesha," resulted in the "marriage" of the district's online reputation with a student's behavior at a moment in time.  Something the students likely had not considered or even imagined in that moment.

As unfortunate as any of this may be, there is a teachable moment in this.  In a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  While we may (or may not) disagree with this reality, it is still, in fact, a reality.  This week's headlines about the availability of private digital data possibly available to government entities supports this reality.

Students need to hear that message -- in a digital world, our actions (both online and in real life) do not have the promise of privacy.  They need to be engaged in the conversation.  They need to consider how that information may positively or negatively impact them in the present and in the future.  These are all meaningful discussions that we, as educators, cannot be afraid to engage in.  Even if we are not technically savvy enough to know all of the latest digital tools, sites, trends, and methods.  We have life experience enough to talk about the value of students holding themselves to a standard that they (and their families and communities) deem appropriate.  We have life experience enough to talk about how decisions made in a weak moment today can forever impact our futures.  This doesn't require knowledge about technology -- let the kids bring that knowledge and experience to the conversation.  Instead, it takes us actively talking with kids and caring about their lives today, and in the future.  And we do care!

That is the teachable moment in this.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reflections on the First Year Offerings of Digital Music Class

Students in the School District of Waukesha made their first credited, formal endeavor into the world of creating digital music this year.  The course, offered at South and North High Schools, made iPads, Garage Band, and MIDI keyboards available to students, allowing them to engage in the art of composing music with digital tools.

Instructors at both schools have reported positive feedback from students, high levels of engagement, enrollment of students that do not traditionally take music classes, and some pretty outstanding final compositions that students have shared with the world in a variety of ways.

Aside from the prescribed curriculum, South Music Teacher Andy Hacker added other components to the course that focused on practical applications of the skills students learned in the class.

"The music tech class mixed and prepared live sound equipment in our auditorium as if it was a true recording studio for very practical application. They loved this facet of the class because we used live rock bands of their peers to practice before making this recording of my last concert of the year. This is one of twelve tracks they did in muli-layer recording. This was a great twist to the class that students asked for and I modified the curriculum to meet their needs."
Here is a live sound recording of Hacker's band, captured by students in the Digital Music Technology class.

North Music Teacher Lansing Dimon broke major ground as he launched into crafting a robust digital text using iBooks Author.  The resource allowed students to learn the core content and skills promoted within the class in a multimedia format that was impressive and engaging.

If you'd be interested in listening to some of the final student compositions from South students, they are available here:

Asked to reflect on the course this past semester, this is what South students had to say:

What do you like about Music Technology as a Class?

"We learn more than just the technology behind music. We learn the history of it, we learn some theory and forms."

"I really liked learning about the sound equipment and learning how it all works and how to put it together."

"What I like about music tech class is that I can express my music style and create music and share it."

"I think that Music Technology is a great start to a career in music. The skills it teaches you of the technology used would be quite hard to learn anywhere else. In all, it is a great class."

"It was a fun class. Kind of difficult for some projects as we used apps I was totally unfamiliar with"

How can you use the information you have learned about music and technology in other areas of your life?

"I will most likely use it every day or whenever I make music."

"If I ever joined a band I could use the information we learned about soundboards and setting up musical equipment."

"I can use it as when I play out live, I know how to set up live sound and the basics of a mixing board. And it's exciting to know more about music technology."

"This would be a great resource for someone who has to set up resource videos and make them hold interest. It could also be used for a podcast tool, and of course a music technician."

"I can use the information to create background music for projects or if i want to do something in music when i grow up the information will come in handy."

"If I ever have some kind of music project! I have a music mixing system in my laptop and make music mixes for cheer or for friends when they have performances."

What were the benefits to you of taking Music Technology?

"Learning a lot more about garage band and notes and forms of music. Another thing would be learning about some of the equipment like chords speakers and sound boards."

"I learn things I can't really learn on my own. It's exciting and refreshing. Also, to know how to work a sound board was beyond my expectations in this class."

"Learned more about acoustics and sound systems and more about the equipment that goes into setting up a sound system."

"To learn if it is really something I want to consider doing in my life."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Instructional Assistants Learn to Use Google Apps

During a professional development day at Horning Middle School, Instructional Aides learned about a wide variety of topics.  In this picture, Instructional Tech Coordinator Jim Gonyo shared the wide variety of tools in the Google App for Education suite.

The presentation from Jim's sessions is available here:

It is a great introduction to all of the resources available in Google, and there are tons of how-to videos that spell out the how of it all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Understanding the Growth Model of Technology Integration - SAMR

Let's agree to this simple statement:

When technology is both meaningfully used and "invisible" in the classroom (technology is not the focus or primary point of emphasis), it has been seamlessly integrated successfully.

The point is not that technology exists in the classroom.  The point is that the teacher has planned instructional delivery and learning activities in such a way that the technology becomes a useful assistant for teaching and learning.  That is where gains in student achievement will be realized!

For some educators, seamless integration is happening today.  For others, it is mission impossible.  Realizing that every educator is at a unique comfort level with technology, it is critical to understand that adoption and integration of technology is a process, a journey for each individual, not something that just magically happens.

Enter the SAMR model.  This is a technology adoption/integration model that is being organically shared across the district.  It is a model that recognizes technology adoption is a growth process, that helps educators pinpoint where they generally are on the SAMR continuum, that provides a vision of what growth can look like, and can even be used to individually plan and set stretch goals. As schools demonstrate readiness for Waukesha One and are selected, the SAMR model will be introduced as a critical component for understanding readiness and growth.

With that said, North's Kristin Kamenar has written a wonderful overview of the SAMR model with a reflective analysis of each level or stage of SAMR.  I will allow her words and perspective to inform your further on SAMR.  Spot on, Kristin!  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What Could Waukesha One Look Like in Your Classroom?

One of the most difficult positions anybody can be in is to be asked to do something entirely new without being able to visualize or imagine what it is he or she is being asked to do.

Waukesha One, with an emphasis on personalized learning, readily accessible technology for students and teachers, new workflows for assigning, distributing, and collecting student work, multiple pathways to demonstrate learning outcomes, and the lot of other concepts it embodies, is a distinctly different educational system and experience than anything most adults (and older students) have ever experienced in our lives.  For us, the traditional (or legacy) educational system has become so deeply ingrained in our very fabric that we struggle to imagine something different.  And if we can imagine it, we wonder about its impact on kids, its overall effectiveness, and its legitimacy.

As we stumble upon living examples of new educational paradigms, our goal will be to share them.  For many of us, the emphasis has to be on creating a new vision of what is possible in an educational setting before we can begin to plan for or implement it.

This video, from the Alliance for Excellent Education, posted on  February 13, 2012, begins to frame a legitimate, well examined version of what educational practice can look like as we begin to embrace the digital resources and instructional tools and practices that are available to us today.  Your thoughts and comments are welcomed!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Your Actions Matter (especially when it comes to Internet bandwidth use)

It is easy to forget the irritating little pains of the past.  Most of us have LONG forgotten the dreadfully slow Internet access that was experienced district wide near the conclusion of the 2012-13 school year. Painstakingly slow connections that made viewing instructional videos nearly impossible, halted some of our virtual academy students school work in its tracks, and wasted precious instructional minutes.  With our robust new Internet connection in the School District of Waukesha, we seem to have MORE THAN ENOUGH bandwidth to go around this year.  Right?

This is just a reminder that your actions as a classroom teacher, as a supervising staff member, as a member of our professional community, matter.  We model for kids.  Kids watch us closely.  Just as we teach them with our words, we teach them with our actions, as well as our inability to act when we should.  With that said, the example below is just one example of a way in which we can all set a better example for students.

We all know that the college basketball event known as "March Madness" can be a lot of fun.  This year's March Madness was even more special with Marquette and UW-Madison making it to the tournament.  As seems to be the case every March, a dedicated few sports fans seem to find ways to keep tabs on the game in a wide variety of ways.   While it is ultimately harmless fun (that can seem almost necessary by that point in the school year), what we often fail to see is the impact that Internet use has on those around us (across the entire school district).

The graph below demonstrates the bandwidth consumed in the School District of Waukesha during the time the first round of the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament was being played.  The red arrows and vertical red lines on the graph indicate the beginning and end of the basketball game played on that day.

Points worthy of noting:

  • The bandwidth consumed in the final moments of the game is more than 10x the TOTAL bandwidth AVAILABLE in the district during the last school year
  • Though our bandwidth use in general is about 4x higher this year than last year (a sign that our educational use of the Internet is far greater than what was even available last year), during the game our bandwidth use jumped substantially, and then returned to normal levels following the conclusion of the game (indicating an excessive amount of viewership for some event that happened within that time period...see if you can determine what it might be)
  • Almost all of the traffic reported came from two sources, both of which were broadcasting the NCAA tournament at that time.
  • 2 - 3 times the normal Internet traffic consumed during this period was streamed to about 130 users across the district -- that is approximately only 1-2% of our total number of users across the district
  • Despite our incredible 1 Gig connection (an incredibly robust infrastructure in any school district), we topped out our usage.  This is same situation that took place near the mid to end of last year that caused the haltingly slow Internet speeds across the district.
While it is easy to track these stats on a day when we can predict additional bandwidth usage, such as during March Madness, the reality is that many of us have daily Internet use habits that chew away at the bandwidth intended for meaningful teaching and learning.  Whether that is having Pandora or iHeartRadio streaming all day in the background, watching Netflix or YouTube, maintaining constantly open windows with Tumblr, Facebook, and other services, or using the network for a wide variety of other uses not focused on education, the reality is the same -- your actions on our network impact others directly.  

As we gear up for Waukesha One, which will see a major influx of devices hitting our Internet connection, it becomes even more important for us to set a good example for students.  Asking a student to turn off a gaming site or a streaming radio station is much easier when we avoid using similar services ourself.  Instructing a student to turn off his/her sporting or gaming event of choice is a more clear cut conversation when we have resisted the temptation to turn on that March Madness game while at school.  This conversation will become even more relevant as we see our regular use of the Internet grow significantly as we make a change to more digitally focused teaching and learning.

All Internet use contributes to our overall bandwidth consumption! Overusing our Internet resources for non-educational purposes ultimately slows down the access for all -- including for teaching and learning.  Set a good example.  Help your kids see why educationally relevant use of the Internet matters at school.  Protect one of our most valuable resources!  

Middle and High School Students Hanging Out... During the School Day

Waukesha West sophomores share in a literary mini-lesson with students
from STEM-Saratoga.  Their teachers, Fred Jonas, Beth Wartzenluft, and
Luke Christianson, organized the meeting using Google Hangout.
Last Friday (April 19), sophomores from Waukesha West and eighth graders from STEM-Saratoga joined together for a short mini-lesson focused on the analytical questions a reader asks when they read.  They did so without incurring bus travel costs, requiring field trip permission forms, or causing unnecessary stress for their teachers related to the appropriateness of their behavior.

Teachers Fred Jonas, Luke Christianson, and Beth Wartzenluft have developed a collaborative relationship that joins their students in the pursuit of developing strategies for meaningfully reading and analyzing text.  Each teachers emphasizes similar learning targets (properly scaled to the needs of their grade level) in their instruction, and they use that foundation to develop a working relationship between their collective students.

Through the power of Google Hangouts, a web conferencing tool that is part of Google+ (available for staff in Waukesha (, but not available for students in Waukesha (, the teachers bridged the gap of physical space to join their classes for a 15 minute collaborative mini-lesson.  Using on-board web cameras and microphones built into their laptops, the teachers planned a common meeting time and prepared students for the call.  Observing sophomore reactions to the web conference, the novelty of connecting with their younger peers captured the students' attention throughout the lesson.

The most important takeaway from the experience, though, was the simplicity with which the tools allowed the teachers and students to connect.  The meeting, which traditionally would have been an  logistical and financial headache to organize, actually took place because the technology made meeting efficient, unique, and effective.

Talking with Fred Jonas following the conference, he was inspired by the ease of use.  As Jonas stated, "When the technology makes moments like these happen, I'm all in."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Waukesha One: Moving Forward

After nearly two years of thoughtful consideration and planning by a wide variety of SDW stakeholders, the School District of Waukesha School Board members demonstrated their support for Waukesha One in an 8-0 vote last week.  In the words of Board President Daniel Warren, the momentous vote marked a "new horizon" for the school district.

The plan, centered on a personalized learning environment where each student is provided with the opportunities, options, and resources to make learning a personally meaningful and satisfying venture, signals a emphasis on providing learners the educational experience they need to be academically and professionally competitive in the 21st century.  As society, business, and academia respond to the pressures of rapidly advancing technology, globalism, and immediate access to information in our lives, schools need to reconsider their role and determine a pathway to continually meet the existing and the changing needs of our students, families, and community.  The support of Waukesha One by board members signals their awareness of the need to appropriately and meaningfully adapt our educational system for the better without disturbing our very best of practices.

Waukesha One is a statement of belief and a commitment to meeting our students' needs in a rapidly changing world -- it is not a program or an initiative.  As a result, this is not a single issue reform or change.  Waukesha One is far more focused on impacting instructional practice and delivery than it is on providing devices to students.  While some aspects of Waukesha One are more notable changes than others, the most meaningful changes are those that will take place in the classroom every day between students and teachers.  These are the interactions that have mattered most to the quality of education our students receive, and they are the interactions that will continue to matter most.  While the tools and methods used in the classroom may be enhanced, the district remains focused on placing the best instructors in front of students daily.  

To highlight the diversity of factors that the School District of Waukesha has already considered in its discussions about Waukesha One, the district has published an eBook -- Waukesha One: Keys to Success.  Astute readers will note that some of the practices outlined as keys to success have been in practice for a number of years in the School District of Waukesha.  Others are practices have recently begun or will soon be in progress.  Still others are practices that will not be points of emphasis until months and years into the future of Waukesha One.  This is a mark of sustainable planning, as Waukesha One is not a program or initiative that will simply fade away.  

To view our program overview publication, Waukesha One - Keys to Success, use one of the links below.

    iBooks Version of Waukesha One - Keys to Success (formatted for reading on an iPad)
*Hint - To open in iBooks on an iPad, users should visit the link from the Safari browser (it will not open properly from Chrome browser on an iPad)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Breaking Down the Boundaries of Classroom Walls for the Professionals

Breaking down, or stepping outside of the walls of classrooms
allows educators to improve their chosen craft of teaching by
watching other practitioners in action, reflecting, and implementing.
One of the unforeseen blessings of having an educational role such as ours, Instructional Technologies Coordinators, is the opportunity to regularly visit the classrooms of so many professional educators on a daily basis.  I regularly learn more about becoming a better educator during these visits than I could have ever learned through years of "trial and error" in my own classroom. It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not seek out more opportunities to observe the professional practice of my colleagues when I was a classroom teacher.

At Waukesha North, a healthy culture of collaboration has been embraced throughout the building.  As a key element of that, staff members are beginning to seize the opportunity to step outside of their own classrooms and to place their professional learning front and center, as they learn from their colleagues.  Calling them "learning walks" or "instructional rounds," the goal is consistently the same -- learning to improve the craft of teaching by observing, reflecting, asking questions, and implementing.

Principal Jody Landish recently published a thoughtful, sincere, inspiring post about the instructional rounds taking place at North.  Read her reflections related to the value of this level of collaboration and professional learning on her blog post - Instructional Rounds in Education -- Principal of the Purple Palace blog.