Category Archives: Essential Learning Skills

Have Mouse Will Train

The most important part of implementing essential technology is professional development followed by instructional coaching in the classroom. This week I trained the teachers who will be participating in our instructional initiative pilot in the spring. The training was on Canvas the learning management system (LMS) we are using with Google Apps and Chromebooks. The reason I picked Canvas over the other 6 LMS platforms I looked at was for its UI. The user interface of Canvas is intuitive and slick. I wanted my teachers to really experience how easy Canvas is to navigate and I geared my training to that goal.  I thought I was already….

A couple days before the trainings my teachers received their Chromebooks to play with. The teachers loved how fast the devices booted up and how simple the OS was on the Chromebook.  One of the complaints  I heard, especially from teachers who didn’t own a laptop, was using the trackpad on the Chromebook. This and the lack of a dedicated Caps Lock key on the keyboard. This was understandable to see some of a learning curve when it comes to a new piece of technology.  After distributing the Chromebooks I was thinking about my training sessions and realized that we will be using Lenovo Laptops in the training room at the Education Service Center and remembered how frustrated I get when I go to use a trackpad on a different laptop.  If my goal of training is the software, I need to make sure that other variables (the laptop, trackpad, etc) don’t distract or  frustrate the participants. I called around and found a box of computer mice and offered it to the teachers. At first many of my teachers acted like they were doing something wrong as they sheepishly walked up to the box of mouse and snatched one up. Others struggled through the training with the trackpad. A couple of teachers brought their own.

Maybe it’s the science teacher in me, but I am always looking at what the goal of my training is (what am I training on: independent variable) and what I want my teachers to get out of it (learning: dependent variables) and want to make sure that other variables don’t skew my results. So when you go to train people on essential technology make sure other variables aren’t influencing your results or keeping you from your goals. You do this by making sure you have constants (computer, mouse, presentation, room temperature, etc) in place and that you have removed all other variables. (Sorry, I can’t do anything about that annoying participant who thinks they know more than you or likes to hear themselves talk… 🙂 )

It’s all plugged up!

In George Siemens’ article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Agehe states:

“Information flow within an organization is an important element in organizational effectiveness. In a knowledge economy, the flow of information is the equivalent of the oil pipe in an industrial economy. Creating, preserving, and utilizing information flow should be a key organizational activity. Knowledge flow can be likened to a river that meanders through the ecology of an organization. In certain areas, the river pools and in other areas it ebbs. The health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of information flow.”

Without communication, which is the flow of information, school NYGoodHealth districts become stagnate with their technology integration. Time that should be spent training teachers on how to implement the technology into their curriculum is wasted on deciphering messages between the departments. Each department unwilling to let go of the information so they release it drop by drop, bit by bit. Why? Is it the fear that they won’t be needed once their knowledge is released? I’ve heard the old cliché “Knowledge is Power”, but this is only true when it is allowed to grow and evolve. When members of an organizations hold their information so tightly that information stops flowing, the organization fails to fulfill its purpose. The IT department needs to communicate freely with the curriculum (Teaching and Learning) department so that each can complete their mission. Each department is all part of the same pipe, only touching the information long enough to keep it moving.

Another chokehold in the flow of information in a school district is the people who fail to follow the chain of command when looking for information. Let me explain, say that you’re a classroom teacher and you need an answer about the new technology that was included in your curriculum.

What should you do?

  1. Send your question to your curriculum resource instructor (curriculum specialist) or
  2. Send your question to your curriculum resource instructor, the IT Director, the Director of Instructional Technology, your site principal, and the school nurse.

If you picked option 1, great job. If you picked option 2, you have now muddied the waters and caused a potential bottle neck in the information flow. I know that many times our “needs” appear to be monumental and we just want help.. .NOW! Unnecessary emails cause distractions. They force people to put their hands into the river of information causing it to slow down and sometimes diverting it in the wrong direction. Within any organizations each person has a job to do to make the system work, when they get distracted the system slows down and sometimes stops. If the person above you doesn’t reply in a reasonable time (24 hours), go to the next person above them. If they reply with an answer you disagree with, follow the procedure put in place to voice your disagreement. But rarely will there be a problem you’re going to face with instructional technology to justify sending a mass email. Group emails are meant for group projects where the recipients are collaborating. No one likes forced collaboration. 🙂





Education Reformation

In our history we have had many great events that changed the way people viewed their world. When Martin Luther nailed his the 95 Theses in 1517 to the church in Wittenberg, Saxony, it sparked a new way of thinking in the Christian faith. This act was motivated by events in history before that time that changed the way people viewed the Roman Catholic Church. The Black Death and the Western Schism which eroded people’s faith in the church. Europe didn’t have media like we have media today, but people still talked and many perceptions became fact and people were ripe for change. Today we live in a world of massive media influence which has painted a picture of the educational system that is much like the picture painted of the Catholic church 500 years ago. Just like then, some of the perceptions are correct, (technology is influencing everyones life for good and bad) and some that are sensational; the students today learn different and the majority of them are very technologically savvy. Instead of 95 theses, we have countless lists of 21st Century Skills and blog posts on how different students are today. Even before reading this week’s articles on Digital Natives, (Bennett, S. & Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the digital natives debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26. 321-331.
Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The Digital Native Debate. British Journal of Educational Technology 39(5). 775-786.)
I always found myself annoyed when educators made the assumption that all students are great with technology. That’s like saying that the entire Roman Catholic Church was corrupt back in 1517. No matter, technology is here, and there’s going to be change. Will it totally change the way we educate children? I hope not. Did the reformation rid the earth of the Roman Catholic Church? Did the world become a better place because of the reformation? I tend to believe so. Does technology have the ability to enhance the world of education? Most definitely.

Google Voice


Google Voice

A communication tool I used with Remind101 was Google Voice. This service gives you a number that you can give out to your students and parents so they can send you a text message. You may be thinking… NO WAY! I don’t want my parents and students texting me…. the number doesn’t send messages to your message app on your phone it sends the message to the Google Voice App or you can access it on From there you can reply to a message or listen to a voicemail from a parent or student. This is a great way to get the correct number to contact a parent.

One of the essential skills that teachers need to communicate to their is students is that learning is a lifelong skill and learning continues after the school day ends. Teachers need to be available when their students have questions. I’m not saying be on call 24/7, but teachers need to be there for their students when their students are doing their homework. Don’t feel obligated to reply to every message, but maybe a couple nights a weeks have ‘office hours’ from 7-9pm or something like that. I have the app on my iPhone so I could quickly reply to a student’s question from anywhere. Google Voice is great for students who are afraid to raise their hand in class or approach me personally with a question. For most questions, I didn’t need to know which student is sending me the text and I liked it that way. Teachers need to maintain a professional relationship with their students.

Parents don’t reply to email….. and who wants to get stuck on the phone with a parent who is at their whits end with their 13 year old child. Google Voice makes it easy to communicate with a parent. I had many parents who would text me for clarification on assignments or something their child claims I said in class…. I would include my Google number in the @Remind101 messages I would send my parents if I needed them to reply.  Need a chaperone or class supplies… Parent Conferences…

Google Voice does allow you to block numbers if a crazy parent starts abusing the system or if some adolescent thinks they’re funny and starts sending SPAM messages.


One way I would use Google Voice in the classroom was for exit assessments and review for formative assessments. (I used to put a picture of a phone outside my door on days I wanted students to bring their phones to class.)

Here’s how it works:

Exit Assessment:

Give your students a question to answer before they leave. Not all students will be able to reply, but it will give you an idea of how well the students grasped the concept you were teaching that day.

Review  Assessment: 

My students loved this! Put the students in groups and make sure that at least one student has a phone to text. Project your Google Voice Account or Use the GV app on your phone. Have each group give their team a name and send it to your GV number so you can make sure everything is working. Ask the class a question and whichever group texts you the answer first gets the points. Sometimes I use the GV phone app so I can give a slower group a fighting chance…. Keeps the group from giving up.

When you sign up for a Google Number, you have the option to select a number and you decide if it will be assigned to real number or not (Your personal number… not recommended). I do not have my Google number assigned to real phone number.

I post this number on my door during schedule pickup and on back to school night. I have never had a parent question their student texting me when they have a question. Many parents tell me they tell their child to text me when they don’t know what to do for their homework.





I love this communication tool! The students in your classroom today are always connected. Some of them may not carry a phone or have an Instagram account, but that doesn’t mean they’re not always communicating. A few years ago I ran into this tool and I have found it very useful in communicating with both my parents and my students.

The great thing about @Remind101 is that it allows you to communicate with your parents and students and they can’t reply! 🙂 As many classroom teacher may or may not admit to, we like one way communication. Don’t get me wrong, we want to hear what parents think of us giving a test on a Monday or that the final project will be worth 20% of their child’s grades, but…. I’ll stop there.  This amazing tool allows parents and students to sign up to receive text and/or email reminders. They sign up anonymously and they can stop at anytime.


Remind101 from remind101 on Vimeo.

There are Smartphone/iPad/Tablet apps available. A teacher can schedule a message to broadcast at a later time, which is great because I found in the many years using @Remind101 that student forget about message that are sent too early. I would schedule messages to be delivered about the time students leave their houses if I wanted to remind them to bring back something signed. If I was wanting to remind them about homework or to study for a test or quiz I would send it about the time they got home from school. You can even set up multiple reminders if you want to make sure they do something.  I just scheduled the same message for every hour or two hour for that evening. One word of caution I would give you is, make sure your students have unlimited messaging. Don’t want a parent jumping your case because their child’s success in school cost them $0.50. 😉 Even for kids who don’t have text messaging they can sign up for email reminders!

Need Parents?

The last two years it’s been difficult for us to get parents to go with us on field trips (probably because they are scared you’re going to ask them to monitor a state test) and I have found @Remind101 a great way to get a parent at the last minute. Combined with GoogleVoice (I will talk about this next.) I was able to find a chaperone to ride the bus with us. I have also used this combination to get class supplies. “Hey parents, we need a rat for Monty, our ball pyton.”

Most of the time I sent a different messages to my parents and students. Parents can always sign up to receive both messages. I had a few times where students walked into my classroom and let me know they lost their phone because their phone wasn’t off and my reminder came during their last class. (I sent reminders all the time…) After laughing, I reminded them that’s why their phone should be off and left in their lockers. 🙂

Another great use of @Remind101 is daily questions to send your parents. A few times during the year I send home direct questions for the parents to ask their child. (Instead of “How was school?”, or “What did you learn today?”) I would also give the parents the answers…. Parents loved this, especially with 8th graders who don’t want to talk to their parents. It also reinforced what we were currently studying. With the great way that @Remind101 keeps a log of what messages you have sent, you could reuse the same messages next year!

Go to Remind101 today and signup! They will give you flyer with your new account you can hang it outside your door on meet the teacher, schedule pickup or back to school night. I used to have my parents take out their phones and signup at back to school night. I would have my students do the same thing in class. We all know that the majority of them have their phone on them anyway!