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 --

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 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 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 .

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.

Start thinking smaller with technology

Nobody likes to use technology when it slows us down. In fact, one goal for meaningful tech use is enhancing a learning experience while keeping the technology seemingly invisible. When technology does that for teachers and learners, it is worth its weight in gold.
However, when we reflect on the ways we most often use technology, the tools are often utilized as a capstone to learning -- a final end product. And that, while a really great way to use technology, well that can be cumbersome, heavy, and can ultimately slow us down.

While summative assessment is certainly an appropriate use of the tools students have, it doesn't take full advantage of what the tools offer us. In these cases, technology use becomes an event, not a way of doing our daily business.

The challenge is to find ways to use the efficiency and mobility of the iPad, along with its built-in tools, to get students interacting with and sharing their thinking daily. The goal is to make sure every student participates, every student engages, every student does the hard work of thinking, all while making a teacher's work in the process more efficient and timely.

Here are ideas you could use to think "small" with technology use in order to incorporate it into your daily learning plan. And the best news -- these tools are on your iPads already. No download needed!

Prior Knowledge & Post Reflections with Camera
In order to activate prior knowledge, educators often use a call and response with the class or group. This only gives some of the students an opportunity to engage their brain and show what they know.

Instead, have every student turn on the video camera on their iPad. Speaking in a six inch voice (direct students to talk into the microphone of the iPad for better audio), have every student record 30 seconds of video explaining what they know about the topic.

At the end of the lesson on the topic, have students listen to their original recording. Ask them to reflect on two key questions: 1) What do I know now that I didn't know earlier? and 2) What questions do I still have about this topic?

They could now share with a partner for a quick turn and talk session.

Finally, have the small group film one final 20 second video using the camera app. They will record the answers to these questions: 1) "One really important thing we learned today about this topic was..." and 2) "One question we still have about this topic is...".

Students can now AirDrop the video to their teacher as an exit ticket, and the teacher can quickly review the student's thinking and questions.

Low Tech to High Tech Reflection with Markup
In most classrooms some amount of work is done on paper. Paper is a wonderful tool for learning. Of course, like anything, it has limitations.

In this technique we start from paper. We have students doing work and showing their learning on paper (this should feel fairly familiar).

Next we organize a quick museum walk or have students find a partner. The goal here is to have students look at each other's work in order to challenge their own understanding of the skill/topic, and to offer feedback to each other.  Using their iPad, they will take photos of at least one other student's written work (you may need to teach them how to focus and take a good picture).

Then, using the Markup tool in Photos (the place where your photos go on your iPad after you take them), have the students annotate their thinking over the top of the photo to determine key points about the work. This would be more efficient and meaningful if the teacher could provide some guiding questions for the feedback.

Finally, students can meet to share their thinking with the student who they are offering feedback to. They can AirDrop their annotated image to each other to serve as guidance as the student goes back to make changes to their work on paper.

Capturing the Learning Process
If the focus on the learning process is the key to the work students are doing, then let's use technology to help capture the process over time. This technique works whether you are working with non-digital tools (paper, construction materials, art materials, etc)  or working digitally.

The teacher starts by outlining the rules. Over the next period of time, students will hear a timer go off sporadically. This timer will be set by the teacher. When the timer goes off, the students simply need to snap a photo of their work at that time. Stop what they are doing momentarily, take a picture, and then get back to work.

Using the timer on the teacher's iPad (and AirPlay if an Apple TV is available in your room), the teacher will set the timer (you will have to determine the appropriate interval -- not so often that it interrupts thinking, but not so far apart that student progress will not be measured). As the teacher moves around the room and students work, the timer will keep pace. 

When the timer goes off, instruct students to capture their work using the camera, and then get back to work. The teacher will then reset the timer for a new interval (not all intervals have to be exactly the same).

Repeat this until the work period has completed.

Next, ask students to open the Photos app on the iPad. Have them start on their first photo of their work, and then scroll through. With each photo, ask the students to reflect on the process and what changes from photo to photo.  Maybe they will watch their drawing or artwork come to life. Maybe they will see their writing process unfold. Maybe they will identify their note taking or annotation process.

They could share this reflection with a partner. They could use the Markup tool to annotate the changes. They could video record their reflections of the process. For more advanced users, you could use either full iMovie or iMovie trailers to document the learning process as well.

Any way it is achieved, the goal is to have the students reflect on their process, to think about what they did and how it impacted their final product, and to ultimately change their process (or understand their process) so they know themselves as learners.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Technology is not optional: Students NEED help to develop technical skills

The skills students have traditionally needed to be employable and successful at work are as important as ever. These are often referred to as soft skills, and as reported in this LinkedIn article, for entry level positions they were recently ranked in importance by potential employers in the following order: 1) Communication, 2) Organization, 3) Teamwork, 4) Social Skills, and 5) Punctuality.

However, with the changing shift in the business landscape spurred by technology, two keys shifts are happening in what employers are looking for in potential employees.  One key shift is that more technical knowledge and skills are being required in ALL aspects of work.

By technical, we mean highly technical. Potential employees are increasingly being overlooked if they do not have skills such as an ability to collect and analyze data, write computer code, strategize how to best reach an audience digitally, and to quickly adapt to new digital tools and skills related to a rapidly changing job description. Many organizations have studied and reported what employers are most looking for, and regardless of who is reporting the findings, these seem to be pretty consistent themes. For further exploration, check out these articles from Forbes and Monster

Further emphasis on how important these very technical skills are to employers can be found from a statement published on, in a 2016 article former General Electric CEO, Jeff Immelt said: "If you are joining the company in your 20's, unlike when I joined, you are going to learn to code. It doesn't matter if you are in sales, finance, or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code.

It is clear that there is strong trend in employment; there is wash between the always necessary soft skills employers have long valued and the technical skills that employees need to do their job in a highly technical society.  Even for employees in roles that are outward facing and customer focused, these people are far more likely to be communicating digitally, meeting via web conference software, and building digital training platforms for clients and customers. A blog post from LinkedIn identifies that these skill sets no longer independently exist, but instead merge together into the skills that employers most need from their future employees (our students). 

And the reality is that these are skills our students do not inherently, natively have by being born in an era of cell phones and social networks.

Our System is Ready to Support This Change

The School District of Waukesha has been preparing for this shift in needs over the past seven years. We are ready and able to support the need of all teachers and students as they prepare for a future that requires each of us to have both personal and technical skills.

Hardware Facts:
Waukesha is a 1:1 iPad district. Students and educators K-12 in our system have access to iPads, and most of them have the ability to take these tools home nightly. This has been the environment within our system for all of our schools at least three years, and in some of our schools for five years.

Software and Apps Facts:
We have a core set of high quality apps available to every student and every teacher. Apps like Notability, Explain Everything, Book Creator, iMovie, GarageBand, and others. We regularly assess these tools, select and add new tools as needed, and offer students and teachers software that will allow them do the work they need to do to adapt teaching practice and learning outcomes. Additionally, we are a Google Apps district K-12 and almost all of the Google Apps work seamlessly on the iPad. 

Network Facts:
Waukesha's network and infrastructure is incredibly fast and robust. Our up time on technology to the district is above 99% for internet connectivity. We have deployed a wide ranging wireless internet that serves the farthest reaches of most of our buildings, from hidden back corner classrooms, to gymnasiums and athletic fields, to  outdoor environmental education spaces and the planetarium, to our Waukesha Public Library. We have one of the most wide-reaching and robust networks for a K-12 system in the state.

We Must Make Shifts in Practice to Embrace New Reality

We no longer live in a world where adopting technology as a part of our daily educational practice is optional. Students need to learn academic content, develop soft skills, and develop technical skills that will prepare them for their lives ahead. With the systemic changes made in our district to set the table for meaningful technology use, most barriers to adoption have been removed. The only barrier that still stands largely in the way of adoption, then, is our own decision to shift our teaching practice.

For educators, it is no longer acceptable to simply opt-out of technology use in the classroom. The stakes are too high for students if we choose not to give them these experiences.

And assuming that students simply have the technical skills they need because they were born with technology -- well, that can debunked within a few minutes simply by asking students to do certain learning tasks with technology that focus on productivity, creation, and collaboration. They need support, encouragement, and advice on how to use technology purposefully and meaningfully, even if they are confident they know how to actually use the software and push the buttons.

Educators are at a point of decision: will we make the productive, meaningful use of technology in our classrooms a priority? Will we prepare our students for college and careers by challenging them to develop the soft skills needed while using the technology that will shape their future lives? The only thing stopping us from doing this today are the personal barriers that we have put up for ourselves. And the good news: when you are ready to take the next step and give kids these experiences, there is a team here to support you!

And the very best news: every day professionals across our system ARE making the decision to give our students these kinds of experiences. And kids are responding, developing the skills and gaining knowledge they need for the future, and becoming more ready for whatever futures are in front of them.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Simple tools, deep impact

Mental "ruts" are tough to escape!

Sometimes we get into a rut (a pattern of thinking/behavior that has become dull, unproductive, and difficult to change), and it takes a little push to help us get out.

When it comes to thinking about how to use technology in our classrooms, we can get into some common ruts as well.  Here are some common ones.
  • We may get in the rut of always searching for a new app to do something we could easily do with other apps we already have. 
  • We may get stuck thinking about only using technology as a culminating, end-of-unit, large project.
  • We may get stuck in the rut of making student demonstrations of learning more complicated than they need to be.
If you are stuck in any of these ruts, here are some tips to help nudge you out. 
Stop looking for new tools and apps. Use what you already know and have available.
As an example here, we will just use the camera that is already built into the iPad.

  • The "Time Lapse" mode on the iPad camera is a powerful way of seeing change over long periods of time. Any kind of change that can be viewed.  Have the students turn on their time lapse feature on the camera, hit record and start seeing the world in a very different way (a way we often do not get to see).
    • Brainstorming and mind mapping
      • Want to see the thinking process? A whiteboard, markers, an iPad camera in time lapse mode will give you a full (and quick) run down of the thinking a student or group does.

  • Using the photo mode on the iPad camera is a great way to capture snapshots that students can later reflect upon.
    • Capturing and annotating over printed materials and written work
      • We do not advocate a paperless work environment. Paper is a tool in our learning process. But using the camera to snap photos of our work gives us the ability to "archive" teachable moments. And with the newest updates to photos, students can now "annotate" or draw right over the top of these photos. Using the Markup tool in iPad's photos app (learn how to markup photos), students can synthesize their thinking around that photo today, or in the future!

  • Using the slow motion mode on the iPad camera allows us to slow down time (the opposite of time lapse). If you are something that happens very quickly, using slow motion will give your students a chance to see what happens when we can slow things WAY down. And you will definitely get a laugh at it!
    • Inquiry, anybody? 
      • Instead of a list of ideas, I'll let your imagination run wild on this one. Just watch the video (above), think about your students, and know that they can create videos of this type with their iPad. What questions would they ask? What answers would they find if they created these kinds of videos in slow motion?

Do not wait until the end of a unit to find ways to utilize technology. Use technology throughout the process of learning.
iPads are great for culminating projects. But they can be great for daily use, for capturing the process of learning, and to prepare for a culminating project as well.

  • Using the iPad to record and then later review thinking can be  a powerful way to help students get ideas flowing. Using the video camera on the iPad (even if the student's face isn't in the shot) is one way to just get kids talking about their thinking or ideas while maintaining a record for their later review.
    • Pre-writing: Just hit record
      • Flip to your camera app and select the Video mode. In this case, what is on the screen isn't important. It's the audio we are using here. Have students talk to a partner about their research, their ideas, their questions for an upcoming non-fiction topic they are just beginning to explore. What is the storyline of their fiction piece? Be sure to have an iPad nearby, listening intently, recording their every thought.  And when we get to the next phase of the writing process, have them go back and listen. Now they can synthesize their initial thoughts. We know that this metacognitive task of thinking about our thinking is at the core of meaningful learning. We are just employing our iPad's camera and microphone to record, hold, and replay those thoughts for our students.

Aim for simplicity. Too many expectations, too many rules/details, and too many limits will only allow students to give you what you asked for, but not what they are capable of doing.
 This one does not tie to a specific tool or idea. In fact, just the opposite. Often we spend so much time outlining the "must do" and "must use" of anything we ask students to do that we actually end up limiting our students' potential. Instead, let them know what they must show us they know or are able to do, and then make them choose HOW they will show us. Sometimes you will be underwhelmed. Sometimes you will be amazed. And in both scenarios there is something to be learned by our students!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Consider the Benefits: What students need versus want

Every teacher and parent knows one universal truth:
One role adults play in children's lives is directing them toward that which they need, even if it isn't necessarily what they want.
That is the kind of thing that you can say to almost anybody that is responsible for children and they will nod in agreement.

This week  I had several conversations with educators who shared that something they were trying out in their classroom wasn't exactly what their students wanted to happen. With my lens in technology, you can be sure that these issues revolved around pushback from students in using tech for teaching and learning.  I believe that we should take our students opinions and ideas into consideration when developing our learning environments and plans.  However, my challenge to these teachers, and to all of us is to ask two simple questions:

  • Why are the students pushing back on this practice?
  • Are they getting something they need, even if they don't want it right now?
I'll use an example of one of my former students.  I did a lot of project-based learning in my English classroom, and we used technology quite often (NO, not every day! And that is okay!).  She was adamant that my teaching style and use of technology did not fit her learning style, that she learned more in other classes, and that she hated having to use technology in her classes.

I spoke with her regularly about what I could do better, what I could change, how I could better meet her needs as a student. I asked her why it was not working, and I even made some of those suggested changes. But I did not back off of my students taking greater ownership of and responsibility for their learning. I also did not back off of my belief that learning to use the tools we had available gave my students a voice beyond the footprint of my classroom walls, and taught my students how to use technology to be creative, collaborative, productive, and efficient.

In her senior year (when she was no longer in my classes) we were talking and she shared with me the underlying issue to why she complained so often (and loudly) about my class. In summary, she was frustrated in my class because I changed the routine of school. She was really good at playing the game at school. She sat attentively. She showed up on time. She took the notes and completed the homework. She answered questions when asked. 

Her frustration with my class was that those things alone were not enough to get her the results she wanted -- an A in my class.  She was good at writing papers and taking tests. When she had to learn how to use iMovie to make a movie trailer in class (it was much harder then), that stretched her skills.  When she had to moderate her group book discussion and record it for a podcast, that was a new skill that she had never developed before. When she had to write reflections as she read a novel on the class blog, and then comment on other people's reflections by challenging their thinking, that intellectual discourse in a public venue was new and uncomfortable. As she said, "Your class was really hard. I actually had to think about doing what I was doing before I did the work."

The lesson I took from that student is that sometimes our students push back on what is happening in class, and we need to listen and consider what they are really saying. And sometimes we need to weigh that against what they are getting from the activity, use of the tool, or instructional method we are using. 

When the instructional benefit to students is essential your students' success or growth, sometimes we have to offer students what they need, even if it isn't exactly what they want.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Coding the Future: Guest blogger shares SDW coding opportunities for students

Written by guest blogger Kristin Kamenar
North High School Teacher

Coding the Future
My name is Kristin Kamenar and I am a computer science teacher at Waukesha North High School.  Within the last few years, it has been great to see coding take off and become more mainstream.  With the initiative put forth by the people at, more and more students are getting exposed to coding through events such as “Hour of Code”.  
At the high school level, we have recently added some more technology-focused classes to our curriculum, including two app development classes and two AP Computer Science classes.  It has also be exciting to see more coding activities and classes being implemented at the elementary and middle school levels.

Why Does Coding Matter?
It isn’t a surprise that a need for coders is at an all-time high.  With technology booming, there is an increased demand for mobile apps and solutions to help keep us organized, connected and entertained.  
Image result for computer science jobs

I was recently at an AP Computer Science Principles conference where I was able to connect with other computer science teachers.  At this conference, we talked about the growing field of computer science and how it is being integrated into new and unexpected places.  In August of 2016, then GE CEO Jeff Immelt declared that all millennials who want to work at GE will need to learn to code. This didn’t just apply to people on their programming team, it applied to everyone.  This mentality isn’t unique to GE.  More and more businesses are looking to advance their businesses and get an edge through computer science.

What Are Students in Waukesha Learning
At the high school level, students are learning a wide variety of programming languages and platforms.  Students who are enrolled in the semester-length classes App Development 1 and App Development 2 are learning how to program in the Swift programming language.  With this language, students learn how to program iPads and iPhones. Swift is quickly gaining momentum in the world of computer science and is quickly rising to the top, and has found a place among the top 10 of preferred programming languages.  In this program, students have learned how to create a “Tip Calculator”, how to use location services in the “Za Hunter” app, and how to incorporate gaming ideas with the “Brick Breaker” app.
During the 2016-2017 school year, AP central offered a new course in AP Computer Science Principles (APCSP).  This course was the biggest launch of a new course in AP’s sixty-year history. We started to offer the APCSP class this year.  This course offers students a taste of a variety of concepts including programming, the internet, and cybersecurity. This class is offered in partnership with Project Lead the Way and gives students a look at several platforms and languages including Scratch, MIT App Inventor, Python, HTML & CSS, JavaScript, and MySql.  Throughout the study of multiple languages, students start to see patterns and structures that exist between all languages. Throughout the study of this course, students complete two portfolio projects and a written AP exam.
Next year, students will have the opportunity to enroll in the AP Computer Science A course.  This course is taught using the Java programming language and gives students a more in-depth look at what it means to program in an object-oriented programming language.  This course would be similar to a first-semester college programming course and is geared toward students who might find a future in the programming field.

Student Testimonials
But don’t just ask me.  See what the students have to say.  Earlier this year, I interviewed several of our students who were enrolled in App Development 1.  Through this program, doesn’t just teach students how to code, it teaches them to think. It also teaches them that when something doesn’t work the first time, try again, and keep trying until it works.

Gaining Momentum
Earlier this year, our App Development curriculum partners from Chicago created a contest for new programmers.  Students were charged with creating a screencast tutorial of how to use a new feature in an App using the Swift programming language.  

Students had to rely on research and popular technology platforms such as and to learn about a new feature that could be integrated into an app for iPhones or iPads.  The students then created a short tutorial on how the feature can be used and the steps to integrate it.  We had numerous students enter the contest and several earned the distinction of high honors  and honorable mention.  Sophomore student Jake Verhoff earned the award of high honors for his screencast demonstrating how to embed a video into an iPhone app.  The students did a phenomenal job researching their topic and implementing it into a demonstration app.  Waukesha North was recognized as one of the schools with the highest number of entrants into the contest.  Later in the year, students will have the opportunity to enter a more advanced contest where they can design and build their own app.  Students will be competing with others from around the world that also have one year of app development experience.

What’s Next?
While students in the district are given more opportunities to become engaged in computer science, there is still more work to be done.  Students don’t just need to be future programmer to benefit from learning to code. As Steve Jobs said, “Everyone needs to learn how to code....because it teaches you how to think.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reading text on iPads can offer benefits to students AND educators

For those that do not know, I am an English teacher. I love and praise books.  I love the feel of the binding and paper. I love the smell of books. I like marking up the margins and revisiting my thoughts when I re-read my favorite books.

I have long believed that text read on a device just cannot match the benefits of a physical book. However, technology advances. It progresses. It improves. I change my thinking.

Just for perspective, let me share something I think of often. I can hear the echoes of farmers from long ago saying, "I love the feel of the reigns in my hand. The tug and pull of horses as they drag the plow through the field. The smell of the horses working. I cannot imagine that machinery will ever fully replace that." Horses still have their role, but we are also stunned today when we see a farmer using them as their primary tool for plowing fields.

Today our students have the ability to engage with text in a wide variety of ways on their iPads -- ways that many of us do not utilize, understand, or appreciate. However, it doesn't make these methods for reading text insufficient or bad.  It is simply different. And in being different we get some benefits and some challenges we will need to take advantage of and address as educators.

Different digital reading tools have different features, but let's take a look at one tool, Raz-Kids, which we offer in Waukesha to see how text read in a digital platform can be better utilized while having kids engage meaningfully with text.

Reading in Raz-Kids

Thanks to my recent work with Lisa Lawrenz, I have had an opportunity to dig more deeply into Raz-Kids, a platform for students to read text digitally.  Raz-Kids is wildly popular with students, and some teachers really like offering it to students, but some educators have outlined concerns. Below are a few of the most commonly held concerns that have been shared with me personally:

  • Some students race through the text in Raz-Kids without actually reading (motivated by earning stars at the end of the text)
  • Students can simply listen to text rather than engage in the exercise of actively reading the text
  • Students are not reading text at their appropriate reading level
  • Students are easily distracted while on the iPad; this is less likely to happen with a physical book
That is a hefty list of big issues. The part of me that loves physical books thinks, "These are issues I know how to deal with (or that do not exist) when kids just read physical books." However, my belief that technology offers solutions to these challenges leads me to dig deeper. So let's take some of these on and see how the technology behind Raz-Kids might deal with them.

Racing Through Text to Earn Stars

According to the Raz-Kids website, "Students earn stars for practice, completion, or success with different activities. Stars are used to purchase fun items to personalize the Raz Rocket and to create a customized robot using the Robot Builder.

Looking at the chart at right, we can see that students earn points for lots of things. While earning stars can definitely be motivational to encourage the behavior we want (more reading), 50 points for completing a book is also an incentive for some students to race through a book to earn the points (without a focus on developing the skill of reading). This is the root of the concern related to use of Raz-Kids.

However, Raz-Kids offers two pieces to allow teachers to manage this for the students who have turned reading in Raz-Kids into a point-earning game.

Using the "Reports" drawer in Raz-Kids gives teachers an at-a-glance view of each student's use and progress in Raz-Kids. A teacher can than click on a student's name and be given a comprehensive look at what the student has been up to in the platform.  Here is a sample of one student's Raz-Kids report.

Let's look at the information and possible warning signs for a teacher in this example. 

This student has earned 660 stars. However, in the recent alerts section we see a student that has failed the past 8 quiz questions at the end of the book. Looking further in reports (not shown here), this student has only logged in one time in the past two weeks. While there is no direct indication of a student off task, there is enough information for the teacher to prompt a follow-up conference to discuss what is going on.  Additionally, the teacher can look into the questions the students answered incorrectly and determine if the student needs additional supports or small group instruction around developing their vocabulary.

This alone does not resolve the issue of the student racing through, though. As the teacher, I would make a part of my talk with the student a decision to toggle off the "Raz Rocket" and "Robot Builder" options. Until the student slows down and does better on their quizzes (set a goal with the student that you can track), they will not be able to build out their rocket or robot.

Collectively this is information and a tool set that allows me to be informed through data about a specific student, to act, to make changes, and to follow up with data on an individual student in the future.  

Try doing that with text on paper. It is not nearly as succinct.

Listening to Books versus Reading

Listening to text being read to you is important. It is an excellent practice and it is wonderful to have a tool that provides that support for students.

However, if you are learning to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. If you know how to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. There is no substitution for the act of reading. Just as I cannot only listen to a workout video to get in shape, I cannot only listen to a book to become a better reader.

One concern regarding Raz-Kids is that some students are ONLY listening to books. The great news is that Raz-Kids provides trackable data for each student. It can help teachers to determine who these students are, when they listened versus read, and whether they followed up and read the book independently.  Let's look at a sample of one student's reading activity below.

We can see that this student tends to listen far more often than read. In fact, we see that the student has taken a Quiz without ever reading one of the books.  However, on 2/20 we see that the student made a change in habit. Here the student read the book after listening. That is a sign of a change in habit. And while we do not have enough information from this to see if this was student or teacher directed, we can explore the ways we could use this data in our next conference with the student.

We put this data in front of the student and ask exploratory questions. 
  • "Why do you prefer to listen rather than reading in Raz-Kids?"  
  • "Are you actively exercising the reading skills you  when you listen to a book? What does that look like?" 
While we cannot turn off the audio books for a student in Raz-Kids (I checked with the company to confirm this), we can do two key things: 1) track the data and talk with students about it and 2) change the levels at which students are required to listen to books to LevelUp!

If that last point was new to you, you should know this. Students can level up in their reading level (or teachers can assign them to a new level). To level up on their own, they have to read the books in the level AND listen to the books. However, if that is not ideal for students at higher levels (or any level) this is something that the teacher can change on their Roster --> Settings page in Raz-Kids.

Students Not Reading Text at Appropriate Level

By this point, you know where we are going to go Raz-Kids to track this data. We will start in the Reports section to see what level of books students are reading.  This becomes a data point for a conversation with the student.  Additionally, though, teachers can re-assign the appropriate level for the student.  Above is a  screen shot showing the option to change the reading level for an individual student. 

And what does changing this level mean for the student? While the student can still access books at a variety of levels in the Reading Room, the books available to the student in the Level Up! room of Raz-Kids changes. And this can become an instruction for students and a point to review when conferencing with students.

And if you want to reduce access to specific leveled books for some students in the Reading Room -- well, you can do that, too.  Under the Roster tab, click the Raz-Kids tab and select a few students. You can now lock specific levels of books down so students who are habitually reading books that are not suitable to them no longer have access.

This is the digital equivalent of helping students to shop for books that are at their appropriate reading level.

Distraction While Reading

If your concern is that it is easy for students to be easily distracted while reading on a device, then you apparently are not a daydreamer, as I am. Device or not, I get lost in my own thought while reading sometimes. That's part of the magic of reading.  However, there is unproductive distraction on digital devices, especially for those who are struggling readers. This is something we may be able to deal with.

This is where I will introduce my teaching assistant friend, Apple Classroom. If you have students who are consistently off-task with their reading when using digital books, banning the iPads is not your only option.  Employing the use of Apple Classroom gives teachers a window into certain students' iPads right from the comfort of your small instructional group. As you transition to your new group, take a look down at your teacher iPad and see. Are those few students in the app you want them to be in? Are they progressing? While this isn't an article about how to use Apple Classroom, knowing that this is a tool that can help you to say with confidence what students are doing on their iPad is the point.

And the beauty of Apple Classroom is that it isn't tied to a specific app. It can be used for ANY app used in the classroom, including other apps where students are engaging with text in a digital platform (iBooks, Safari, EPIC, OverDrive, etc.).

Final Thought

While I love books and feel comfortable in them, the reality is that most of the text I encounter daily is digital. I have to employ a different set of skills to read, annotate, share, and stay focused on digital text. Using and comprehending this text directly impacts my job, my communication with others, my social relationships, and my life. 

Learning to read and comprehend text in a digital platform is critical. Providing opportunities for students to engage with text meaningfully in these platforms is essential to their long-term success -- especially in the age of information and abundant technology.

I still love books and I share that love of books with students and my own children. You should, too! Let's just avoid doing so while excluding other essential ways students will need to engage with much of the text and key ideas in their lives.