Reflections on Learning
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October 2013
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Teachers: Get your Geek On!

October 25, 2013   
CC Photo by Julia Roy, available on

CC Photo by Julia Roy, available on


I’ve been reflecting on a question recently asked by THE Journal:  What are the top 5 tech skills every educator should have?  I struggled with this question because what  I have come to understand is that powerful learning is not necessarily about the technology. To be effective in creating a learning environment where students can practice 21st century skills, the emphasis must be on good instructional design –backwards design, that begins with the learning goals aligned with the standards, with a real-world or scenario based project  or problem to solve that kids can connect with, be motivated by, allowing them to demonstrate transfer and understanding.

That being said, I do believe there are some qualities that every educator should have – to be able to design learning in such a way that technology can transform the learning experience.  The more I reflect on this, the more I see a relationship between these skills and what the term “Geek” is evolving to mean.    Consider this video from the Society for Geek Advancement:

“THE SOCIETY FOR GEEK ADVANCEMENT was founded upon the principles that we should all embrace our inner and outer geek and have fun while doing it. As individuals who love learning, innovating and believe in possibility as well as change.”

So, while this description of “geek” really tops my list of “tech” skills teachers need– I do offer 5 qualities below that I believe are essential for educators to be successful with technology in their learning environments.

Curiosity: A strong desire to know, understand, or learn something:

In today’s rapidly changing world, (which eventually –will catch up to the world of education!) teachers need to be life-long learners.  They need to wonder about what tools can best meet the learning goals – or extend the learning in powerful ways.  They need the mindset to be able to seek out the tools, and explore them with a sense of wonder and curiosity. But, if they lack this general curiosity and desire to learn, they will never know the possibilities –and neither will their students!

Self-Efficacy Our belief in our ability to succeed in certain situations.

Above all, I believe teachers must believe they can be successful with using technology to be able to meet learning goals for kids.  Part of this is self-confidence, but it goes beyond that to be able to actually design learning creatively to use technology to help students learn in ways that wouldn’t be possible without it.

Perseverance:  Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success :

Because technology never seems to work the way you want or need it to!  (but sometimes works better than you ever could have hoped for!) Teachers need to be able to do basic troubleshooting, and not panic when they encounter a glitch.  However…

AdaptabilityThe ability to change to fit changed circumstances:

Teachers also need to know when to throw in the towel and switch to a different approach if something isn’t working.  Also, sometimes technology isn’t the best course of action—and so when technology is merely replacing an old practice – and the tech isn’t working, don’t get flustered! Use whatever tools are available to accomplish the learning goals!

Information Literacy: The ability to identify the question/information need, then locate, evaluate, synthesize and effectively use the information across multiple digital devices and tools to answer the question or solve the problem:How People Spend Time Online Infographic

Why would this be a technology skill, you ask?  According to data from,, &, as displayed on this infographic,  when people are online, 21% of that time is spent searching, 20% reading content, and 22% in social media.  If US Internet users are online 32 hours per month (and I think that is on the low end), that’s a heck of a lot of time encountering information which may or may not be relevant or reliable.  Teachers need to have this important 21st century skill so they can constantly model it, teach it, and assess it –for the purpose of giving students feedback, so they can get better at it.  My hunch is that the amount of time our kids will spend online will continue to increase dramatically throughout their lives. Without information literacy, and a critical stance towards the information they encounter, they will be less successful in their future and less productive members of society.

Creative Learning by Design

October 20, 2013   


Coming up with ways to help teachers to “think outside the box” can be challenging, especially in this time of teacher evaluations tied to standardized test scores, implementation of common core standards, and new standards-based report cards. Where, oh where, does creativity and innovation fit in our standards-based system?  But just as designing learning for students that allows room for them to practice creativity in a safe environment requires a creative approach, professional developers need to do the same in designing learning for teachers, especially when the overarching goal is for teachers to “create innovators.”

In my backwards-designed professional development workshop, one of my goals for teachers was to be able to imagine what a creative learning environment might look like – what elements were required for their students to be able to develop the traits of an innovator.  I turned to a strategy I learned about a few years ago through the Model Schools Conference, put on by the International Center for Leadership in Education.  This strategy is LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® – one that two of our schools have  implemented very successfully with students, with many boxes of Lego blocks!

IMG_1753The idea is simple.  Use the Lego blocks to build a model, and then explain what you put in the model and why. This is adaptable to any content area or learning topic.  I have seen first graders build models of family traditions, using iPads to record each others’ narratives, and 3rd graders build models of time machines from a story they read, then practice oral presentation skills sharing their models with the class.  Other ideas: Students could  build models of the scientific process “in action” or  history students might build a model showing the effects of the Cold War. There is a great deal of both creativity and critical thinking that goes into this task, and it is amazing what those colorful little Lego blocks can do to inspire that creativity, while helping students reach deeper insights. This activity can work with learners of all ages.

So, I gave my teachers the task of building a model of the ideal learning environment where creativity and innovation can flourish.  They had fun, imagined, and thought deep outside the box about these things.  They played, they tapped into their passion for learning, and they are now clearly focused on the task at hand – their purpose in this grant project – to really build these environments for their students,

Here is one example – enjoy!

Creative Learning Environment Model

From Blended Learning to Creating Innovators

October 5, 2013   

innovationThis week, we launched our Creating Innovators Grant Project and I am really excited about the possibilities.  The project involves peer  coaching, where some of our most creative and innovative teachers have agreed to mentor 2 teachers in their schools who otherwise would probably not have volunteered for this kind of in-depth professional development. The mentor teachers applied to participate, and were selected not only based on their own creative teaching talents, but from an expressed desire to learn and grow themselves through the experience.

Our hope is to move not just the “mentees” forward as designers of learning, but their mentors as well. These teachers have been very successful with integrating technology in a blended learning model, but as a district, we have not entirely identified where we want to go with this new way of teaching. Is it merely to assure all students do well on standardized tests and get into good colleges with good grades? Or is our purpose for blending learning something greater?

Blended learning has the potential to go beyond merely meeting the goals of standardization. I hope that through our approach in this grant project, our mentor teachers will also come to understand that blended learning is only the first step in transforming  the classroom learning experience for their students.  Blended learning can lead to personalizing learning for students – towards the end goal of creating innovators.  Technology is just one powerful tool of blended learning, but technology alone is not going to get us there.

girl on roadTeachers must become designers of learning. Technology allows them to alter more than just the time, place and pace of learning.  Technology can help teachers design learning that alters the path of learning. Technology can help them design learning that is tailored to students’ passions.  With standards as the baseline, there are an infinite number of paths that can lead students to mastery and understanding.  Transformation in learning will occur when we use technology to create different paths for students – paths that help students find and follow their passion.  Transformation can occur when creating innovators is our goal.Creating Innovators book cover

The title of this grant project says it all: Creating Innovators.  It has a double meaning, as we hope to create innovators of both our teachers, and our students.  To create innovators, we need to foster play, passion, and purpose, as our teachers will learn through a book study of Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators.  We will use these strategies first with our teachers.

How are you using technology to provide different pathways for student learning?  Click here to share your ideas or successful practices.

In my next post, I will share how our  professional development for the mentors and mentees  is modeling  play, passion & purpose.