One site to rule them all; Why WordPress is all you need…

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 3.30.01 PMSo to match my reboot on this site, I have taken a step back in my online history, and started managing my class using a blog again today.  You can find my newly redesigned class website at  It’s nothing fancy, but it gives me a place to enter in the days events, post the assigned tasks in each subject, and gives my students a common place to look for online materials.  If you read the first post, you’ll understand.


So why step backward?

Because as I so often find with technology, the simplest solutions are the best ones.  I have plenty of tools and methods of completing many different tasks in education, and many of them are great! However, what I find is the more ‘stuff’ I add in, the harder it is for me to maintain.  Wordpress (particularly the free .com site) is simple and easy to manage, and I have really great controls on what is being put out.  Most of the alternate tools I may want to use are embeddable as HTML or links into the site, so it makes a great ‘home base’ to work from.

I also realize that website building is a scary thing for teachers, which is another great advantage that wordpress has.  It has been around for so long, that there are literally thousands of support websites, videos, tips and tricks to support a teacher setting this up.  However, it is simple enough that it will likely only take you an hour anyway, and if you get stuck, it walks you through the process.

There is a reason that educational thinkers like Grant Wiggins use WordPress, it gets out of the way to let you share what you need to, simply.  I wanted that for my students, and I bet many other teachers out there do to.


Time for a reboot…

Power Button {Teaching and Learning, Education, Restart, Ed Tech}

I’m making some changes around here…

When I started my first blog ( about five years ago now, I started it with the intention of documenting the changes I was making to my classroom and practice.  It was a fun site, supported by my burgeoning interest in Twitter as a professional learning tool.  I posted app reviews and developed friendships with some wonderful developers who were looking to support teachers like me in the classroom by providing great software for the then new ‘iOS’ platform on iPods and then iPads.

Then things got busy.

I transitioned into completing a Masters program, started ghost writing, had another addition to the family, and while the blog continued to roll, it wasn’t the same thing to me anymore.  I wasn’t enjoying writing and posting on it as much. My blog received some great praise about how professional it was, and I now had some university professors using my content in their courses, but every post was a challenge and huge time commitment to get posted.  It’s great to put out fantastic resources and useful information, but I missed the connection I had with my readership and those who are trying to do great things for their students.  So, I started posting less and focusing on redesigning my personal life and fostering what had gotten me so passionate about education to start with.  That’s where I am now.  In a new school with new challenges, implementing and supporting technology from a humanist perspective.

So, here’s the reboot.

I’ve decided to move the blog, simplify it, and post on what I am passionate about, not always on professional learning, not always on apps, not always even on education.  I hope you enjoy the change; and if you’ve been with me from the beginning, I hope you read this post with a smile on your face as we get started having fun again!

Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students.  When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination.  In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.

Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur.  Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting.  Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall.  So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required.  Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.

Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it.  I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.

Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them.  Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it.  Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!

Thanks for reading!


Four Presentations on Technology for the ECEC Conference

I presented this in November at the Early Childhood Education Council Conference in beautiful Kananaskis Alberta.  This was the first specifically early-years conference I have had the pleasure of presenting to, and I quite enjoyed the perspectives, expertise and conversations that I had while in attendance.  However, my purpose with this post is to share the resources of the talks I gave at the conference, and hopefully some insights as to the value of these talks in my perspective. Please feel free to distribute these presentations as you see fit, and comment below if you would like to continue the conversation!

Click to access ipad-and-apple-tv-as-classroom-solution-nov13.pdf



Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you.  One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process.  There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom.  I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.

For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running.  If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology.  Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system.  It was a naïve perspective.

In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology.  This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.

Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education.  However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system.  These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings.  It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.

Enjoy the talk!

I'm Drawing Again, thanks to Paper

When I was younger I used to carry a sketchbook around with me.  In fact if I wasn’t drawing, I was writing, and if I wasn’t doing either, I was reading. I might not have been a party animal, but I loved losing myself in a story, poem or drawing. I haven’t done any serious drawing since University, when life turned busy and time spent on drawing seemed frivolous.  Well, now that we are in the digital age, I have taken up drawing again, but this time with the amazing Paper app by 53.  It started with my preparation for my upcoming TEDx talk.  I was unable to find the images I was looking for, and was trying out some apps to draw out what I needed.  I had tried Paper some time ago, but like many apps, I had tested it a bit then filed it in “Might use it someday,” well, last week the day came.  By the time I had unlocked the app, I realized that I was unleashing a powerful creative tool and spent literally hours with a stylus in hand crafting some fun, some poignant and some effective images.  Now my talk entirely contains images I have created, aside from a few technology images I had to use to illustrate points.

So, how does this relate to you?  Well, there is a lesson I have learned with this app in relation to my practice with technology, particularly apps; there is a someday.  I have downloaded literally hundreds of apps for reviews, for school, for presentations, very few of which have a permanent place on any of my devices.  However, with the power of Apple’s distribution and the cloud, apps are never more than a minute or two away on a Wifi connection.  If you think an app may be useful in the future and it is on sale, or you have a promo code, grab it.  You may not use it right away, but that cloud of Apple’s can be really handy.

Finally, I am posting any images I am creating that I think might be useful to educators on my Twitter feed.  If I have posted it there with the hash tag #freetouse you can take it, modify it, sell it in your assignments on Teachers pay Teachers, whatever.  It is out there for everyone.  All I ask is if you can, and remember, tag it with my Twitter handle so others can find the resources too.  I don’t claim that my images are great, but I enjoy creating them.  I have also started ‘visualizing’ many of the meetings and chats I engage in, to create a summary of learning.  These will be posted to my Twitter account as well.  It’s how I learn, so I might as well share it!

Have a great week everyone, and thanks for reading!


What Creativity Brings to Student Accommodations

I have worked with several teachers over the years who have specialized in supporting students with exceptional needs, and  have also worked in my own classes to utilize the resources at my disposal to support learning in the classroom. I have learned through this work that one of the most effective methods of providing student accommodations is to look at the problem with a creative lens.  While at times this seems counter-intuitive, as there are long-standing patterns of support used in many schools, by thinking manly about the needs of the student and what they need to be able to do, sometimes we are able to bring a very cost-effective and meaningful solution that would have escaped us if we were just looking in the standard book of solutions.

Case in point; I was in discussion last year about several students in my class who were ADHD and or otherwise easily ‘distractible’ in my fourth grade class. We had tried several accommodations for them that had worked moderately, but they were still unable to function well in the quiet times of class, where they had to maintain focus on a single task for a period of time.  As I watched them carefully, I was reminded of my tenth grade non-academic students who functioned in much the same way during writing times.  Those students, with permission (or sometimes without,) would trot out their iPods and focus themselves by tuning out the rest of the class with their music.  While I didn’t always prefer their musical selections, or the level at which they played them, I could scarcely deny the effectiveness of this self-accommodation to tune out their peers.

With the support of our administration and the learning support team last year, I was able to purchase iPod Shuffles for the classroom. I loaded these up with classical music to drown out the background noise, nothing lyrical, just pleasant and engaging music. The results were astounding. While it didn’t work for every student experiencing difficulty; for those that were engaged, it was a profound change for them.  In fact, the students began asking for the iPods immediately as we sat down to work.  Since the iPod shuffles have no screen, no other distractions, the students are not tempted to ‘play’ with them and are not distracted by the technology.  They simply put the headphones in and get down to work, which is what I was looking for.

Our school has purchased 10 iPod shuffles and they are used in several classrooms now, with great results.  Students enjoy the independence and focus it offers them, and teachers are enjoying having another, relatively inexpensive, accommodation to provide for their students. If we can look ‘outside the box,’ sometimes we will find what we are looking for set just outside. How can you approach student accommodations differently?  What could your students need that no one has seen before?

Finding the balance with technology and experiences

I spend a great deal of my time thinking about educational technology, and the implications of it on the future we are helping to shape for and with our students.  Like any teacher, these thoughts join me through the summer, and my mind reels with ideas and excitement for what the fall will bring.

My kids are very lucky in that though their dad is a technology guy, their grandparents have an acreage.  We spend plenty of time in the summer collecting bugs and frogs, spotting animals, building with real tools, taking trail rides and a myriad of other activities.  They get to balance ‘screen time’ with outdoor active engaged time, and I make a cogent effort to do so.  However, I know that this is not the case for every child.  In fact, I still wonder if my kids are getting the right amount of time away from technology, and what that amount of time is.

I advocate pretty hard for the inclusion of technology in the classroom, and believe strongly that students must have a familiarity and competence with using technology not only for their learning, but as blended with their life experience.  I bring my iPhone with me on all of our summer adventures, documenting the wonderful finds, fun activities and surprising events.  However, I also make a choice to stop at certain points to do this, so I can actively engage in the moment as well.  We do little for students if we are so engaged in the technology that it overshadows the event of learning.  It is this balance that can be so hard to find, and is so frustrating for teachers who are used to teaching without technology.  As teachers, we can argue that technology is not appropriate to every situation, in fact I hope that it isn’t.

There are some real tangibles in life that cannot be experienced on a computer or touch screen.  I see this as I watch my sons play with the frog we caught yesterday and built a habitat for, or in catching a real fish in the pond.  However, for every event that my sons experience, they can tie that event in to social media, to a storyboard or other digital documentation to relive and review what they have experienced.  Even in the warm, long days of summer, technology will no longer be far from our children, and there are ways to enhance and connect with live experiences that I never had as a child.  I think this is exciting, as long as we as teachers and parents think carefully about the amount and kinds of interactions appropriate to involve children in.

The iPad and Apple TV as a classroom solution (iPadpalooza 2013 Presentation)

It took a little time to get this post up, my wifi was not cooperating in the USA, and I have been very busy since touching down in Calgary just before the massive flood that is devastating that city.

I’ve decided to try something new with this presentation, and give you a slide-by-slide post of what I discussed, hopefully highlighting the same things I was able to discuss in person.  At the end of the post is an embedded PDF that you can download if you would like the whole presentation.

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I decided on this presentation for iPadpalooza because when I moved into my new classroom at the beginning of this school year, the iPad and Apple TV were the first system I was able to set up to be able to present content to my students and begin to start managing my classroom.  In a converted library space that did not even have a whiteboard, I was able to set up a projector, connect an Apple TV and present to my students on the bare wall.  Once my district was able to install more comprehensive equipment, the interactivity and use of the space became more refined.

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Ways to contact me, and my current philosophy for professional learning, learn it because you want to and make it fun!

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Whenever I speak internationally, I like to give a little snapshot of where I have come from. I find it helps to give some perspective for learners of where I have come from and how I came to be standing in front of the audience.  Much of this information is available elsewhere on this site, so I won’t dive to deeply here.

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An initial discussion of what participants wanted from the presentation followed.  Quite varied responses and perspectives were given and I was encouraged by the fact that many of these educators were looking for ways to use existing technology that they already had more effectively.  It seems the biggest hangup in schools is the wireless infrastructure in schools.  Remember, if you are allowed to do so, you can pick up an Airport Express from Apple to make a cable connection into a local wireless network.  A great advantage of this is that you can limit access to only your devices and are not competing with others for bandwidth to stream your signal.

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Like the Airport Express, the rest of the equipment to set up a wireless solution for your iPad is inexpensive and simple to set up.  If your projector does not have an HDMI connection (the Apple TV only uses HDMI) you will need to purchase an HDMI to VGA adapter.  The two adapters pictured are available through the Apple Store online.

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I wanted to present a little bit of the amazing research that is developing about iPad use in the classroom.  Some very large-scale, sponsored studies have shown the benefit of iPads in the classroom, but there are now some very comprehensive qualitative and quantitative University peer-reviewed studies that are showing some very important results about iPad use in the classroom. The results; that there is no cost to learning with iPads, and learning continues.  What does show clearly is that there are significant secondary benefits to students in using iPads, including increased autonomy, creativity and willingness to support other students.  Many of the benefits that Sir Ken Robinson discussed could be the benefits of new technologies as used in education.

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Another article I reviewed recently discussed the benefits of learning literacy using the iPads as an instructional and interactive tool with students.  The key takeaways were consistent with those that Lisa Carnazzo presented at iPadpalooza as well.  Students who were able to use iPads for literacy learning using effective apps and well planned lessons showed higher engagement and more learning when using iPads when compared to times when taught traditionally.

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One of the great benefits of these studies are the comprehensive description of the apps and activities used in the classes.  In this case, the apps used for instruction and rehearsal by the students included: iBooks, Popplet, Doodle Buddy, Strip Designer and Sundry Notes. Each of these apps, while not specific to subject content, offers the students ways of creatively and effectively showing their learning and working through problems.  It is this capacity that makes them highly effective classroom additions, and draws us away from seeing the inclusion of technology as ‘play time’ for students.

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Apple has come a long way in the past seven years of iOS development, and it is now quite easy to get connected with an Apple TV in the classroom.  One of the key considerations you have to make is the state of the technology infrastructure in your school. If you connect too many devices at once, you may find yourself being disconnected and dropping signals quite often.  When you are just starting out with this technology, that can be quite disheartening.   If you have a computer that you usually leave plugged in to the projector anyway, a stable method of presenting is using the Reflector program on the computer, allowing you to mirror your iPad screen on the computer that is already showing on the projector.  However, even this solution requires some network connectivity, so you have to make sure that is available.  Another consideration you may want to think through is how this new technology will impact other teachers and students.  While I consider it a positive pressure if students want other teachers to use iPads in the classroom and instruction, other teachers may not see it that way.  It can lead to resentment, particularly if other teachers do not have access to the same technology as you due to grants and funding disparity.  I have always made a point of sharing whatever technology resources I have freely, so that other teachers can try what is working for me, or just get a handle on the technology for themselves.  I believe it has saved a great deal of stress for everyone.

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It was at this point we discussed the current practice in education of purchasing tools to simply ‘drop’ into classrooms with little awareness of the stresses or intended uses of that technology.  Many educators have experienced receiving a ‘tool’ that they did not ask for or particularly want, but were asked to use it in their classes.  I am a big advocate of using the technology you do have as effectively as possible, and effectively pairing tools together to allow for even greater benefit, and the iPad is a good tool for this, as we can see below.

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Smart has created a pairing that allows for highly effective use of their Smart Notebook software with the iPad.  While it is not perfect (the iPad version can’t use Flash objects, for example) it does offer options for those who wish to interchange between the software and hardware that Smart offers to make better use of the technology they may have in their room, or have used in the past.

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As time goes on, tools for educators evolve and become more refined, and one of the great developments in this area is in the area of multi-platform tools.  Class Dojo is a great behaviour tracking and management tool, but better than just being a simple tool, it is multi-platform as well.  In fact, it is one of the more refined multi-platform tools I have used.

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Class Dojo allows for instant feedback of student behaviour for students, teachers and parents. When used in conjunction with an Apple TV, a mirrored computer or the Class Dojo app, teachers have various methods to note student behaviour, and any behaviours on each of the various methods updates on others simultaneously.  I love this as I can have Class Dojo on the board at the front of the room during a class task, and then update it from my iPad or iPhone while moving about the room.  The visual and audio feedback of the site still appears at the front of the room for students to respond to.

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Google Drive is another solution that provides opportunity for real-time collaboration and connection. Districts can contact Google for a self-managed, free Google implementation for their students.  One of the huge advantages of this system is that individual applications in Google can be turned on and off as need be.  That means that students who are too young to need email don’t have to have a working email account.

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I also discussed the benefits of giving students a shared document to collaborate on, and the benefit of putting work to be edited on the projector to display for students.  Students on several iPads, or on yours, can brainstorm with the results appearing at the front of the class.  As a multi-platform option, Google Drive can be used through an app or browser.

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I believe that Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app, has incredible possibilities for us as educators.  This app uses a trigger image (perhaps the cover of a book) and then overlays an image or video (perhaps with a review of the book) that appears when the image is scanned.  It is pretty incredible, and there are so many ways you can ‘tag’ in the classroom to show student learning, or set up engaging activities for the class.

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Learning solutions like Mathletics have built in mini-lessons and reviews that don’t only have to be  used individually.  Why not project these apps on your iPad and use these apps for class review, teaching and discussion?  An added bonus of this use is that students are then seeing you use the app, rehearsing the manner in which it can be effectively used.

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Three ring is an assessment and learning evidence collection platform.  Using the app, the iPad can quickly collect video, images and audio evidence of learning.  I use this app to collect student activities as they complete it.  It uploads in a blog-like format and, like Class Dojo, has the ability to connect parents to the system to provide real-time learning data.  It’s a pretty powerful platform!

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Like Mathletics, puzzle games allow for the possibility of class solutions and modelling processes for students.  Once the concepts are highlighted and rehearsed, students will be more likely to use apps effectively during their own time.

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If you have the ability to secure even a few additional iPads, there are many ideas of how you can use them in the guide “Less than a Class Set” written by  Kristin Redington Bennett. If you are proficient in project-based learning, iPads can become a very versatile tool that allows for different modes of expression and learning.

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Ultimately, it will be your flexibility and perspective on using your iPad that will make the difference to any implementation of iPads.  If you are willing to give it a go, you will find the Apple TV a highly effective tool for presenting and interacting in the classroom. If you need support, let me know. I’m always glad to help!

Click to access ipad-and-apple-tv-as-classroom-solution-iplza13.pdf

The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!