Tag Archives: 21st century

1:1…Productivity, Audibles, and an Open Message to Intl’ Schools

I piloted my first 1:1 classroom in 2007 at the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel. I had a basic laptop kit of Lenovo PC’s that, maybe, had 80 GB hard drives. It was a social studies class for English language learners and so the course was very literacy based. It was the perfect storm for 1:1 lap top integration.

Image from Gary Stein courtesy of Time Magazine

I have spent an enormous amount of thought and time in developing successful ways to run a 1:1 classroom. And I’m still experimenting.  I have been extremely fortunate to have attended the right professional development opportunities and stay connected with the mavens of technology integration in education. The most important consideration in turning your classroom into a 1:1 environment is that you are not adding a new academic tool (like an overhead projector), you are actually changing the context and philosophy of learning.

I thoroughly enjoy having laptops in a classroom; however, to say I have never been frustrated by their use would not be true. Expecting problems, glitches, and technical issues would be most pragmatic. The benefit here is that individual experience in troubleshooting increases enhances the skills necessary addressing issues as they arise. The philosophical shift is now the teacher as the learner. Unfortunately, some teachers are uncomfortable with embracing this important 21st century ideal. My advice: swallow your pride, admit your human side into the learning process, and have some fun.

Here are some important reflections on learning in a laptop environment. The aim here is to share what I have found to be some basic approaches that support two key areas for teachers: productivity and pedagogy.


Proper laptop use starts with a clear understanding of how the technology will be used in the class and the specific protocols for maximizing its potential.  I think an understanding based on productivity is crucial. We will use the machine to produce and at the same time, to be an active learner. Getting a container would be the initial way for teachers to model productivity. It can be a web site, wiki, or blog…..or Edmodo!! I love Edmodo because it allows me to be extremely productive in a variety of ways. It functions as a very sophisticated communication tool that carries a library feature that allows for organization of resources.  I use Edmodo in conjunction with Google Apps to power a productive classroom. Every student shares a Google document (only one) with me so I may check their progress in assignments or have them respond to prompts.  It’s primarily a paperless environment with the ability to constantly monitor progress.

Productivity should be a top priority for implementing 1:1 protocols and showing students what and how to make their systems more useful. Here is a shortlist of important productivity tools/concepts to use for managing a laptop:

  • Social bookmarking – I use Diigo.
  • Dropbox – cloud based with sharing capability of files.
  • Chrome extensions – Evernote, Screenshots, Diigo, Twitter,  etc.
  • Folder management
  • Google Doc management and collections
  • RSS Reader
  • Kwiki Cloak anti-procrastination tool
  • Instapaper for Twitter – to bookmark links to read later when the Twitter feed is too heavy
  • Picasa or Flickr – to build collections and for practicing visual literacy.
  • Teach Tagging…it’s a big deal
  • Create a Youtube Channel



With the outstanding tools available for teachers and students, it is easy to get consumed and overwhelmed by the new blogging platforms and integrative resources.   I feel that here is great opportunity to communicate my thoughts on calling audibles in the school year. An audible is quick change in the course of an activity or initiative. Effective teachers are like QB’s in football….they can call audibles when the situation calls for it. I try and stick to big initiatives and carry them through the school year, while tucking away new tools for implementation next year. I plan to see what I can do with Google+ next year so for now I am sticking with what I’m using now. Smaller tools  and apps can, through backwards design, be implicated into a unit of study (sometimes easily, sometimes it’s a stretch).  Effective teaching strategies and clear communication of expectation will slowly, but surely, transform a classroom into a much more interactive and problem based classroom.

Here is a short list of what I have found useful as a 1:1 teacher.

  1. Join the Diigo Groups 1:1 and Classroom 2.0
  2. Put your unit plans on google docs…second smartest thing I have done with technology.
  3. If you use Edmodo, create a Teachers Lounge and add resources through feeds; then once a week remove/tag the resources (by subject area and section). By Christmas you will have a treasure chest of awesome.
  4. Create a Livebinder and start your own textbook. Share it!
  5. Build a Personal Learning Network. Smartest thing I have ever done as an educator. If you don’t have a PLN….then forget everything here.  The number one reason people leave positions is over the lack of Professional Development. A Personal Learning Network has been the single most important discovery of my career. You should know what people are doing in their classrooms, tech or no tech.
  6. Create a “Tools of Mind” list for giving students a chance to create their own learning opportunities.
  7. Have students blog and encourage their writing to address multiple formats with an emphasis on voice.
  8. Engage in visual literacy activities, critical thinking problems, and creative fun.
  9. Rubrics are everywhere so borrow them and adapt them. Even better, use generic rubrics that target key areas.
  10. Use the class time for active strategies involving verbal fluency, conversation, and individualized de-briefing.
  11. Social Media — encourage students to find relevant articles on thee material
  12. I do use a basic folder to have students cover up their screens on certain occasions. I expanded the use of the folder into a search reference tool, formative assessment tool, place to score blog entries, and relevant strategies for thinking analytically.

Screenshot from my Website

Will students check emails and skype chat in your class? Maybe – but they won’t if they are busy and focused. What we are really educating with a laptop is self-regulation. Can a toddler-teenager-adult have the discipline to ignore the underlying distractions of the web? Ask your students and empathize with them because the teacher is just as likely in the same boat.

One last note about the 1:1 classroom

Being an international teacher with some degree of control over where I wish to teach, I can say, with the utmost conviction, I will not work at a school that isn’t 1:1.

The Psychology Behind Reverse Instruction

You have no idea

It is not a secret that reverse instruction alters the traditional landscape of education. I mean, what kind of teacher just assumes that a video or screen cast can effectively deliver instruction the way a trained professional can? What happened to the human element in education? Are teachers an endangered species as a result of reverse instruction?  Will Khan Academy threaten my future?

Please! Where do these irrational questions come from? Are teachers predisposed to the role of devil’s advocate? The first understanding of this approach in education is that it is not very innovative or revolutionary. I teach high school aged students and my colleagues would agree that at some point these learners must begin developing habits that allow them to be responsible for their own learning. Actually, in the 21st century, it is earlier than high school. Try Kindergarten.  What I find most practical is that reverse instruction acknowledges the transformation of what we used to value in education (knowledge) to what the world values (information).  Technology may have enhanced and facilitated the forms and resources for learning, but the Socratic method is quite alive in the flipped classroom. The best part of the flip, hands down, is that the students can finally drive the class.


The Flipped Classroom Model Full Approach


I teach IB Psychology and some of the concepts and theories students must master in the course are quite sophisticated. Schema Theory particularly can blow your mind. The cognition necessary to build conceptual understanding cannot be derived from someone else’s mind. The brain doesn’t work that way. It is impossible to share a mental framework with another student and thus “plant” information in their minds (I also don’t believe narratives do this, but they are entertaining). Reverse instruction of sophisticated material requires student engagement and inquiry. The in-class agenda becomes predominantly deep discussion with Q & A time allowed.  In-class activities can engage students in research, organization, and further extensions of the learning with emphasis on the specific meaning connected to the information. This is the flipped classroom: jumping “head first” into a new and interesting concept, while the teacher “life guard” throws the life line when necessary. I cannot lecture on notes, I cannot present lectures embedded into power points. That is a waste of time and the learning moment is seriously marginalized.  Interestingly, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the students utilize videos, notes, articles, textbook; what matters is how those students are expected to relate to the information. What they need is an essential question to guide their understanding outside of class so that they do not lose focus. Once in class, their responses can be challenged or shared. Ultimately, the classroom experience should allow for thinking time, peer reflection/discussion time, creative activities, and student feedback. It would be difficult to schedule these important experiences in a forty minute lecture.

If you have an hour of time, it may be worth it to listen to Eric Mazur discuss how moving away from lecture has transformed his teaching.
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 Psychology & Reverse Instruction

I feel there is some sound psychology at play in reverse instruction.  Cognitive and behavioral sciences have elicited a number of interesting ideas about learning, decision making, and motivation:

  • I think the motivation factor is one easily addressed in reverse instruction, particularly if there is variety in the forms of resources and reasonable time expectations. I also believe that if students actually feel more confident about their cognition, then they will try more difficult tasks and become better at self-regulation, abilities inherent in not just academic success, but future success.
  • Moving from conventional to conceptual understanding does not happen in lecture. It comes from time and attention, deep processing, and articulation.  Importantly, when students do well with conceptual problems, they do well with conventional problems. This cognitive effort works the slow thinking system that is less intuitive and demands more information and time.
  • A major part of the flipped classroom should engage students in abstract and integrative thought processes. Mental models of information and associative memory are extremely vital to success. In fact, creativity has once been described as “associative memory – that works extremely well.” Creativity and systematic understanding can be fostered through inquiry and constructive (or connective) activities. Teachers can facilitate a classroom that move away from favoring cognitive ease by giving less of the information and providing more of the challenge.
  • Teachers should train students to self-prime for their individual self study. Priming techniques are powerful, yet can be extremely subtle. Experiments have shown that simple visuals or words can prepare the mind to learn or behave in particular way. Using priming in reverse instruction significantly enhances the students engagement outside of the classroom.

Reverse instruction also conditions learners to build organizational skills, seek help and assistance, and construct their own personal learning environment. Technology has greatly facilitated learners by allowing them to crowd source information (like using wiki’s or sites), apply and construct visuals that enhance understanding, and share those materials with others. I feel that if teachers communicate the value of using information over  the acquisition of knowledge, then learners will seriously reexamine their roles and responsibilities.  With reverse instruction, what we really expect are students that perform at a high level, not regress to the mean, as so often happens when certain units favor their abilities or piques their interests.

In the end this is about good pedagogy. When the brain learns something new the first time, there is a lot of work involved in regard to neural activity. Anyone who learns something new (a procedure, information, language) must devote an appropriate amount of time and attention to that new learning.  That makes the learning part of education quite difficult. In the words of High school chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam ,

 “Good teaching, regardless of discipline and age, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking.”

This doesn’t sound like reverse instruction, but forward instruction. As for the questions at the beginning of the post,  isn’t exaggeration a truly wonderful literary device.


For more on the flipped classroom check out the following resources and articles:

Should you Flip your Classroom?

Flipped Classroom Livebinder

Doing Your Job


"Time - In"

I remember when I began teaching (back in 1995) reading an article by John Taylor Gatto , a former New York State Teacher of the Year, on the “six hidden rules of classrooms.”  The article struck me at the time as an attempt to demonize learning in public education, rather than live up to its intention, which was to initiate change.  Interestingly, here I am sixteen years later in what must be considered a  “critical period” in education,  where how and what children learn is becoming increasingly differentiated and integrated with technology.  21st century learning is all the rage and with it, educators are beginning to tear down the traditional classroom walls, replacing them with connectivity and problem centered tasks that demand collaboration and critical thinking.  What a wonderful time to be an educator.
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As someone who blogs only on matters in education I am increasingly vocal about the concept of responsibility in education. A friend of mine on the Board of Education once spoke to the entire district prior to the school year with a simple message to do your job. “If everyone does their job, then this will be a great year in a great school.”  The resonance of this charge is extremely relevant to the impending (and in some cases, current) adoption of technology in education.  It is essential for school districts to decide the apparatus and the context by which children integrate technology into their lives. Interestingly, if all stake holders (teachers, parents, community) are engaged in the acculturation of children; and mobile/information/digital technology is an obvious component of that culture, then the answer is pretty clear. WE ALL ARE.

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The social scientist in me identifies the tech integration question as more about people than about the technology. This is a progress issue, not a technology issue.  It is simply unrealistic to design and implement curriculum and assessments with a 20th century mindset. The progressive changes must be institutional and drive a “culture of do” rather than a “culture of know.”  Nearly every teacher I know has done the activity “What makes a GREAT student?” and the answers are inevitably focused on doing, not knowing. This might not be so progressive after all. Real learning is engaging and authentic. It requires students to be responsible and appreciate accomplishment; they build self-conscientious attitudes and self-control, two core habits of mind that drive success in all endeavors.  Progressive curriculums that foster these habits may or may not utilize technology.  However, more often than not, technology compliments the needs of learner by offering tools to transfer, process, and re-package knowledge in frames that are useful and progressive.


This never hurt anyone


Flexibility, Relevance, and Personal Growth

Teachers spend a majority of their time and energy modeling behaviors to students that are required for success at the next level.  Teachers that incorporate meaningful use of technology are undoubtedly challenging students to have greater flexibility in their approach to learning by providing opportunities to plan their own learning and how to demonstrate their understanding.  Already, connectivity has transformed learning outside the classroom.  I feel that education should embrace this huge transformation and bring relevance to the learning moment.  Teachers can model ways their subject areas can be connected to relevant ideas and situations found outside of the classroom.  I am quite confident that authentic experiences, dialogue, and proper reflection will exacerbate personal growth. After all, this should be what all teachers would want for their students.