Philosophy Without A Home

Educator on education

June 3, 2015
by dendari

My Last Week in Tech – Technology Innovation

This is one of my favorite teachers, and this boat school is an innovative solution to a seasonal problem. One might wonder why we don’t have these innovative schools in America. Probably the same reason we don’t go out back and teach in the dirt with sticks. we just don’t have to. Schools are designed to maximize  the teaching we do. Could there be a better design, possibly, but not for the teaching we do currently.


Technology is thought of as a disrupter in education because it comes into the design we already have and makes it possible to change. Many people see this change as computers teaching students. it isn’t.


For about 100 years there has been a belief among behaviorists that if we could build a smart enough machine, that it could take the place of a teacher. Many believe and have believed that computers will fill that role.


Tools like Plato have been around for about 40 years and they haven’t disrupted schools. Actually, it has been assimilated. Massive online courses were going to disrupt education. The year of the MOOC was 2012. It was the ultimate school choice. It hasn’t disrupted higher education. Instead is seems to be morphing into a college prep for connected students, at least in America. It has been assimilated and is coming to high school.


The reason these tools have not disrupted education is because they don’t actually make any changes in education. When we look at technology in education if we are looking at completely upending our entire system we are looking for too much. The change, the disruption, is more subtle.


The real disruption with technology in education is the ability to transform traditional education. The R in SAMR. The “goal directed transformation” in the Arizona Technology Integration Matrix. Some would go so far as to say it is a transfer of power from teacher to student. I would say it is taking the responsibility of learning off of the shoulders of the teacher and putting it squarely onto the shoulders of the students.

edit –  I realize the title might be a bit misleading as this post was written to be a follow up to a notification to the teachers I work with that my position has been eliminated. Thus my last week in tech with them

May 22, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Technology Integration – Success Story

Good Advice


“Learn a new skill, take a break.” Advice from the longest-serving teacher in her building. “Kids need a bit of down time to process the skill they just learned, don’t force them to practice over and over until they hate it.”


The Freshman English class is almost finished with Romeo and Juliet. From my 30 minutes in the class it seems the students have done:

  • Active reading
  • Guided questions,
  • Discussions (online and offline)
  • A movie,

Can we cover this play from any different angle? Maybe they need a Google survey?   Seriously, they were better at decoding Shakespeare than me.


I created a list of tech tools to use in the classroom, I know it seems long, but it is barely a fraction of the stuff created for teachers. Please, take a look.

Success story


Almost three years ago when I started this job. One of my first mistakes was telling a teacher she was using technology wrong. The next day her principal called and gave me an earful.


Luckily for me, she asked for some help putting spelling words on the web. We talked about options and ended up meeting every week after school talking technology and education.


Each week she had a list of questions and we usually never got past the third question, getting sidetracked not by the technology, but by how it integrates with teaching. She is now the proud owner of a grade level website designed to enhance learning. More importantly she is more comfortable trying new things in her classroom.


This week she introduced a tech tool to her building staff. She didn’t teach the tool, she taught a lesson using the tool.

Picture of computer, laminated card, and worksheet

I love the combination of tools to meet all needs


Way back when, she was asking the computer to teach, afraid to interact too much with a tool she didn’t understand. Today she teaches using technology. Is she a computer expert and able to fix your computer? No, she is a teacher who uses technology as a tool.


I seem to have a bit of dust in my eye now. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

May 8, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Discussion

Classroom Action

The school year is coming quickly to an end. I’m trying to get some summer thoughts moving. One of the things I want to do is get an idea of how comfortable teachers are with the actual tech skills you need as a classroom teacher. I’ll probably send out a survey soon, I’m waiting for the boss to approve it.

The other thing I need to do is get an idea of what sort of PD you might want to come to over the summer and when best to present them. Please let me know in the comments or via email, but I also have this on my survey.

I was watching some students take a practice test earlier this week. They were using technology (phones mostly because they were juniors and seniors and didn’t have Chromebooks).  What if we combined Padlet (Middle school teachers had a lot of fun learning and playing with this tool, 6th grade, 7th grade, Exploratory) with a phone or screen capture tools on a computer, to solve the practice problems and post them to a Padlet for discussion.

The discussion should not be about who is right, but how elegant is the solution? Why would you choose one method of solving the problem over an other? Etc….

A lot of the stuff I saw on the internet this week had this theme of a debate or discussion.

For an example, using math debate in classroom

I remember a blog post years ago about using bell ringers to create a debate. The teacher would collect bell ringers on index cards and grab one that was wrong (not telling who it was of course) and put it on the overhead and discuss why or what thinking could have led to the wrong answer and how to correct it.


Today without an overhead I might ask students to put the answer on a Padlet or document camera anonymously and then pick one to discuss.

I’m seeing more and more centers, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before. The devices are one of the centers.

See this one girl. She is concentrating intensely.  This activity is writing practice so no you can’t substitute with technology.


These other kids, not so much.


This is a good lesson, that is why I choose to feature it. It is great to bring in leveled work for practice, but we can do intense creation on the computer as well. Yes there is a tech hurdle. We can work through it, we should work through it. If we never ask our students to do intense creative work on the computer we are short-changing our students and ourselves as teachers.

From the Web

We think we know how we learn, but there is a lot of undiscovered territory out there.

One thing we do is attempt to find patterns so we can do things automatically, without thinking. Like riding a bike.

What if you changed what it means to ride a bike?

As I was watching this a 3rd grader says, “I saw you watching Smarter Everyday. …  I’m subscribed” Be warned you’ll have to be smart if she’s in your classroom next year.

It turns out that there is an #etcoaches chat. I’ll have to try to participate next month. here is the storify from last week.

I really wanted to point out a few highlights.

  1. Most coaches estimate that only 5% to 15% of our teachers actually implement what we introduce.
  2. While superficially introducing a lot of apps in a short period of time is popular, no one thinks it is a good strategy. Instead we need to carve out time to let teachers play and practice using apps in actual lessons. Then we need time for the coach to follow-up, and create individual goals for each teacher.
  3. Trudacot is a great way to look at your current lesson and determine how well technology (or learning) is integrated.


Finally, Google Education on Air, two full days of speakers on education. An all-star cast including, Michelle Obama, Michael Fullan, LeVar Burton, and others.

April 25, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Formative Assessment

Classroom Action

Several teachers have been using during RTI. A great way to get that math practice in while working with a small group.

All of these researched based help usually say something like students who put in 75 minutes a day have shown improvement in math. Well if you practice 75 minutes a day on math of course you are going to get better. That isn’t to say the program is not useful, just that it is not trans-formative. It is a tried and true practice with just a bit of an edge because the work adapts to the level of the student instantaneously.


There are of course many similar programs out there, depending on what you want at a teacher could determine the tool you use. However, all should have at least some way to sign in and track the students, so that we know if they are actually learning or not.


Put your favorite tool in the comments or go to this survey and put it there. Some of my favorites are:


Presentations to students – getting interactive

Wouldn’t it be nice to integrate formative assessment into your regular teaching? I know it’s easy a quick half sheet of paper and boom an exit slip. But then you have to grade everything and what if they didn’t understand the first thing you said and so were lost for the entire class period.

Some folks will create a quick Google form (like the one above, you can add videos as well) then use something like flubaroo to automatically grade it. The problem is that is still separating the discussion from the assessment.


Enter the web app Blendspace. It is a product one of the elementary teachers showed me Wednesday. It is a very simple way to add content and make quick multiple choice quizzes. Students don’t need an email to sign up so it is appropriate for the elementary crowd.


However, the questions are limited to multiple choice and sometimes you want students to be able to write or draw and answer. So here is a list of a few similar tools. Nearpod, PearDeck, Socrative, SmartBoard clickers, Classflow, and Junoed.


Of course the middle school teachers noticed the educreations app. Similar to the Show Me app and the Doceri app (more of a presentation tool). All of these are iPad apps which require an iPad and a way to get the iPad onto your projector, which can be done with Air Server.


Stuff from the web

Portfolio defense to graduate high school

From Envision academy charter schools.

Cool blog I found two great posts.


Most people will like and probably use the first one right away, but the second one is great for technology. When you start asking “How do I create curriculum with multiple ways to learn the same content?” My mind goes immediately to technology. I might share one way to learn content in class and then offer a couple of youtube videos on my web site for further help. So when students don’t quite get what I explained in class they don’t have to rewatch my same lecture a million times and hope it finally sinks in, they can watch alternative explanations and hopefully one of those sticks.


Cool kindergarten classroom

April 22, 2015
by dendari

Maine Township High School Visit

A visit to Maine Township High Schools. This was an interesting visit with myself and several staff members from Downers Grove. Maine Township has three high schools of over 2,000 students each. Each high school is startlingly different in its mix of students.

We started the morning early in the administration office. Dr. Thiele, the Assistant Superintendent of Technology and Learning, was happy to answer questions. As it turns out their students are required to pay for books. Two years ago when chromebooks really hit the market a lot of textbooks were up for renewal. The choice seems simple in hindsight, though they took their time and made sure to ask all stakeholders what they thought. Instead of buying new expensive physical textbooks they bought cheaper digital versions and chromebooks.

Those first version chromebooks were pretty fragile, but they changed plans right away and dropped the neoprene sleeves to buy durable cases for the devices. As a result their incidents of broken machines stayed low.

I was happy to spend most of my day with the technology manager from Maine West, Neil Charlet.  The structure of the department was very impressive. I won’t explain the entire technology department structure because I didn’t get into that, but the single school structure was strong. The technology manager seemed to be the bridge between technology and education.

Entrance of the Chrome Depot at Maine West

There he is way in the back


Under him were the tech support crew who managed the trouble tickets and the chrome depot (we’ll get into that later). He also worked very closely with the instructional coaches. Instructional coaches aren’t tech people, they are half time teachers and half time coaches. While it wasn’t a requirement to be a tech person, they were all 21st century teachers and were comfortable incorporating technology into their lessons. There was about one coach per 40 teachers, plus one per department who is a full time as a teacher, but worked extra as an instructional coach. Instructional coaches meet with all teachers three times formally and as often as people needed informally.

Chrome Depot 5

Mr. Charlet met with the coaches to plan out the big technology instruction during the year. These would be the monthly in depth trainings on one particular project. These trainings would last half a day and teachers would get subs to free them up for learning. Then on Tuesdays he does a tech lunch n’ learn. Teaching a tool for use in the classroom.

Chrome Depot 2

The Chrome Depot is a cool looking (Thanks Mr. Charlet for the pictures), repair center for the chromebooks. There is one staff member assigned to manage the Depot, but the students do most of the work. If someone is having trouble with their chromebook they can stop in the Depot at anytime. If the problem can’t be fixed in 5 minutes they can check out a loaner chromebook (through the library system so it is as simple as checking out a book). The student crew can then examine and fix the chromebook, this is also the same system they use if the chromebook battery is dead, you get a loaner for a few hours and the staff charges your chromebook. No questions asked, at least most of the time.

Chrome Depot 1 (1)

This process also works well if the student has a broken chromebook, but needs to save up a bit of money to do repairs. Parts are fairly cheap and they don’t charge for labor, but sometimes a student needs to check out a loaner chromebook for a short period of time until they save up enough to pay for necessary repairs. Students do not get to take loaners home so there is an incentive to get their own device repaired.

Chrome Depot 3

I also met with three teachers during the day. I asked again and again how they got their teachers so on board with the program. I guess it really boiled down to support and expectations. They did mention that the many of the biggests resistors before they started the program are now it’s biggest defenders.

According to the site D 207 has created for information about their program teachers had a strong preparation in instruction before going chromebook in their classrooms.

Teacher Readiness:


Overall I was impressed with the structure and support represented by Maine Township’s program. It seems to me the hardware and infrastructure, though complicated, is actually the easy part. The hard part it getting support to the teachers in such a manner that they don’t feel over burdened and are willing to make the necessary changes in their classrooms. Once they start doing that, it seems they become a programs biggest supporters.


April 17, 2015
by dendari

This Week in Tech – Writing and Games

Last Friday I visited a Maine Township High School. I didn’t have time to write about my week. I’ll put a reflection on what I learned there early next week. Today some classroom stuff from last week and this.


Working with letters and fluency in writing seems to be the theme. Not long drawn out essays, but the very beginning. How do our interactions with letters and numbers influence our learning.

I love how this kindergarten teacher not only organizes her ipads by letter, but she went through the trouble of making individual backgrounds for each ipad.

the letter N


Then there is this student working with numbers in three different ways – at the same time.


I’ve seen a couple of teachers teaching handwriting. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring it back on a computer? Here’s how  Might be a fun project for extension or fun way to practice handwriting.

If you name everyone’s personal font on a classroom computer they could write reports in their own handwriting.

Finally, of course there is a long essay, but wait it isn’t. These older students were making alphabet books. A letter with a sentence and a picture, researched online and written on a Word document.

 Collaborative working

Stuff from the web:

Game based learning. At first it meant answering questions in some sort of competitive electronic worksheet. We still see it a lot. It isn’t learning, it’s practice. Ask your kids how to cheat, if there is learning going on that’s what they learn.  The nice thing is it is possible to pretest students and track their scores so they are at least working on problems in their wheelhouse.

Next, we had a game reward system. Level up and stuff. Learning is more like a scavenger hunt. Fun, but can easily devolve into just another reward system. With prepackaged tasks and such it still doesn’t have much student input. On the other hand people are taking into account easier entry points and motivation. Think Angry Birds, a game with no instructions but gets harder and adds new challenges along the way. Now if we could harness that process for teaching multiplication or something that would be awesome.

Perhaps, Angry Birds led us to games that are intentionally made to feel more like games and less like academics. Problem based learning for the gamer set.  Included with these games are commercial games that were not created for the education market, but have found a niche, like minecraft. The difficulty here is connecting to formal learning.

Games built for the educational market start with a standard and try to teach. It often makes the learning boring. Consumer games start with a story, they know they have to hook a person and make them want to come back. Their problem is connecting to formal learning usually doesn’t happen, at least without help.

Just like technology in general, it isn’t about what technology you use, but how you use it. There is a place for educational games that teach to standards, or more correctly let students practice. On the other hand there is also a place for games that allow students to explore and play in less formal ways. There is no one right way to use technology or games in the classroom.

 Three great articles on games in the classroom


Speaking of projects vs practice

The work for some projects takes less time than the actual creation of the vehicle to present it. This often happens in school. Sometimes by design. The time spent working and the organization helps students understand the connections between the different parts. A visual and tactical clue of how things are connected. So why is it in the technology world we don’t expect students to create. Instead we spoon feed them information and practice. Think of technology as the Swiss Army Knife of classroom tools. You can cut, paste, copy, color, write, share, or just about anything you can do hands on. Stop trying to figure out the tech and start trying to figure out how to make something.

April 16, 2015
by dendari

Twitter Reset

I love twitter as a way to connect, learn, and grow as an educator, but lately I have been forcing myself to go there. I don’t really have a steady virtual connection at the moment, but those I do have, have been G+, or facebook so twitter has been left out.


Then of course I go there and there is too much junk and not enough meat.


So I broke down and created my 150 list. One hundred and fifty, the Dunbar number. The maximum number of people we can pay attention to, at one time.


It took forever, and it seems twitter has some sort of limit on the number of people you can put into lists in a certain amount of time. After a few stops and starts I have my list of 150. You may not agree and I may make changes I’m pretty happy with the results for now.


Opening the list and scanning through the last 30 tweets, I had to open 5 tabs in the background for further reading. This is the twitter I know and love.


the only problem is now I will have to go through that list of 1500 people I follow a couple of more times and put them into various lists. A bit more organization in my twitter streams makes my life a lot fuller.

April 6, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Technology Integration 4/3/15

I love when teachers change school from, “maybe someday I’ll be able to do that”, to “I can do that, I might even be able to do better”.
Some of the art teachers in the district use Art Sonia (artwork created from kids around the world can be shared and enjoyed by everyone). It can be a lot of extra work, but also has some advantages. Here we see one of our great art teaches showing students how to connect clay together.


Last year when doing a similar project she would show students pictures of clay gargoyles to stimulate ideas. This year she also searched gargoyles on ArtSonia and used shared student work with her students. The conversation changed from, “I’ll probably never make a gargoyle in real life”, to “I can make something like that.”

The skills learned in Art are of course transferable. The facility to use pens and other tools in art help us to concentrate more on what we are writing and less on how to write. As we practice coloring, drawing, writing letters, words, and finally sentences all of these skills combine to form writing. A higher level skills that allows us to think.

tateWhile everyone knows that art is useful in education, it is very hard to quantify just how important, The science of learning is slowly evolving. The research is slow and often disregarded as lacking in rigor.

The gold standard in research is generally considered a double blind study of a large and representative population. Think of a large drug study where thousands of volunteers of various ages and backgrounds who all have the same ailment. Half the people take the drug being tested and half take a placebo and nobody knows who gets what until after the test is completed. The results are carefully considered and written about, then completely different groups do a similar studies. Finally, if they all get the same or similar results we can say this drug works.

Education is not like that. No two teachers are the same, even if they are asked to read a script exactly the same there are so many variables, like; class size, testing schedules, home life, nutrition, personality, mix of students, etc… that the results almost always end up as inconclusive or a very small effect, over time. At least that has been my impression as I periodically check in on the What Works Clearinghouse.

That doesn’t stop research of course. Lately (past 10 years or so) there seems to have been more of a push to look at underlying human functions and design learning based on that “brain” research. This isn’t new really, B. F skinner built and sold learning machines in the late 50’s and early 60’s and he wasn’t the first to think of it. According to Audrey Watters many of the technology revolutionaries today are just repeating these past mistakes.

All that being said and done, there are some generalities we can say about effective teaching.

  1. When students care about an activity they do better.
  2. When we create we are more involved and tend to learn more
  3. We put more effort when we know our peersare going to be looking at our work
    • Parents and teachers don’t count
  4. There is a zone of proximal development ( Lev Vygotsky ). If the activity is too easy we don’t learn anything, but if it is too hard we give up before getting the chance to learn.
    • This has less to do with the material and more to do with how it is presented and supported. We regularly present advanced; language artsscience, and sometimes math at appropriate levels for students.

What does this mean in the classroom?

Here are three examples from this week.

qr codeSome student work I found on the copier.

When students ask about us, and they always do, don’t be afraid to share. I have no picture, but I walked into a classroom on Wednesday and the teacher was cutting up grapefruit she brought back from Florida, which led to a quick impromptu lesson on fractions.

Use technology to help create not practice. On Thursday at the middle school we talked about using Google Presentation to create vocabulary lists.

Try this method of creating flashcards. (Can be individual, small group, or whole class)

  • Students create one slide with the word
  • Students create a second slide with a picture and definition
  • Put a cool transition between the slides
  • Put a cool transition before the definition comes up (so the picture is kind of like a clue)

Students can search the web for the picture or they could use Google Draw to create the picture, or even draw the picture by hand and upload it to the slide.

After this activity is done students who need extra practice can be asked to upload the best definitions and pictures to your favorite flashcard web 2.0 tool. So that everyone can use them to study and quiz each other.

Online flashcards

March 27, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Spring Break

It  is Spring Break in our school district so no visiting classrooms for me. Instead I’m preparing presentations and researching.

I read this article and thought it would be a thought provoker for teachers coming back to school. It is long and a bit rough at first, I think the author missed the opportunity to truly define why we need good teachers in the digital age, but with some help perhaps we can get there.

The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher — The Atlantic (My annotated version


I’ll start with the end, “There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations.”


Often tech companies and privateers try to hype the cost savings, which is code for getting rid of expensive teachers. What they fail to realize is it has been possible to record the best teachers and deliver the recording to students for well over 50 years. It has also been possible to have students take quizzes and tests on that material. I myself took a telecourse for credit at community college way back in 1986. The newness isn’t the delivery of content or grading of tests, it’s the ability of teacher to be there with the content.


[Teachers are] “shifting from content expert to curriculum facilitator”, but not really. Yes we can bring content in from the best, most interesting teachers, but that doesn’t mean we sit back and manage behavior in the classroom. The best classroom teacher can now switch from the time consuming task of delivering content or grading tests, to working with small groups or individuals. Helping students make sense of the content.


“Teachers like me are uploading onto the web tens of thousands of lesson plans and videos that are then being consolidated and curated by various organizations” This is a good thing. The more we share our lessons, the less for profit companies can charge fees for decent lesson plans. Skip Teachers Pay Teachers and go to a union shop like


Next the author shares some great examples of how edtech companies are taking the labor out of preparing for teaching. It is almost like the traditional teaching job is being split into two or even four jobs, curriculum/subject matter expert and presentation/facilitator. As long as we don’t try to change the job of teacher into reader of scripts or security guard who forces students to sit still and be quiet during the canned lesson it is alright.


Listen Current, a website that curates the best of public radio, including current events, and offers the three- to five-minute clips alongside a full set of lesson plans and worksheets.


I found Edmodo. … I signed up just to see what it was all about. Within five minutes, I found a great lesson…


Activate Instruction is already creating a free and open online tool that is “similar to Wikipedia” and will “help put resources and curriculum in one place that any teacher can use.”


“I don’t ever write my own lesson plans anymore.” … the materials are usually inexpensive or free; are extremely well made; and often include worksheets, videos, assessments, and links to other resources. Time and money savers. I don’t have to write the lessons and I don’t have to let a textbook dictate my lessons. I can even get rid of textbooks if I find enough lessons with resources.


His conclusion, that I shared earlier, mirrors mine.

There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations.


Bonus- tech tools for use in the classroom

Stolen from Ryan Schaaf


  1. Google Forms
  2. Socrative
  3. Plickers
  4. Twitter
  5. Geddit
  6. PollEverywhere
  7. ExitTicket
  8. VoiceThread
  9. lino
  10. Padlet

March 26, 2015
by dendari

Massive Minecraft Learning

My 10-year-old has a hero. Some might be worried because she is an adult and spends a lot of time with him online, even Skype chatting before bedtime one night. I’m not worried.


A couple of years ago I bought Minecraft for his birthday. Minecraft is a 3D game with absolutely no instructions. At first it was difficult to even install the game, because I required that he use Linux as his first operating system. Then, as is  usual in the  game, when you finally start playing you usually die pretty quickly.


When learning Minecraft, we actually have to leave the game and find help somewhere else. They have forums on, but most people end up finding videos on YouTube. One of my sons early favorites was StampyLongNose.


A couple of years ago Stampy was just a guy who liked to play and record his explorations of Minecraft (not uncommon with most games). His genuine enthusiasm and cool British accent made him pretty popular. He used to swear a lot in his older videos, but since learning that kids were watching his videos he has stopped swearing and changed his name to stampylonghead. Allowing us to find quality videos without fear of bad words.


Seeing the amount of time my son was spending on Minecraft I knew he would need not more help than I could give him, and I would need to strengthen his digital citizenship skills.  I had seen a young educator from Australia give a talk about virtual worlds in SecondLife.  Turns out she ran a Minecraft world called Massively Minecraft. Massively is a white-listed world, meaning you have to apply to join. Kids cannot join alone, but need parents permission to join. It is a world about more than just playing a game, it’s a world about growing up online. They even have a charter written in part by the kids. Well I won’t explain it all Jo Kay can explain it herself.


So why am I not worried that he is Skype chatting with an adult just before bedtime? Well I know her work well enough to know she is a professional.  I know she was teaching him how to install a modification to his own Minecraft server so that he could make it safer for other kids. See, she runs a Minecraft server for kids and he is inspired to create his own Minecraft server and share it with friends. And I know my son and I trust him as well.


Why am I sharing this with you? Most of what he is doing with his Minecraft server I can’t help him with. He has to ask outside experts. I just set the parameters; you have to pay for it with your allowance, you have to be able to enforce the rules you set up, it has to be safe. The safe part is subjective, based on what he learned in Massively, the webmaker tools I teach, and some of the stuff they teach in computer class at schools.

What is the point of this whole thing? Nothing really, just that video games are sometimes more than just video games, people on-line aren’t all bad, anyone can learn this computer stuff, and know what your kids are  doing, just don’t try to control them.