My Week as Tech Integration 2/27/15

I was asked to do a bit of research on online comic creation sites.


My first thought was to share the comic book dissertation. Comic book readers have always bristled at the idea that comics are not a true literary form. This just steps up the quality to the nth degree. I grew up reading comics, but I was never as serious as most comic book lovers. I just liked the stories. I hated that they just never seemed to stop. No purpose, no end etc….I watch the movies that come out now, but I don’t get too worked up about them, the stories aren’t as good, more snark and less human frailty. The life lessons like “With great power comes great responsibility” Uncle Ben from Spiderman are lost.


Using comics in class.


Pixton is usually recommended as the cadillac of interactive comic sites. It does seem to have more options than the rest. This comic took me about five minutes to create from scratch.

When you click the pencil button on the top right pencilyou are taken to a page where you can create a comic or a character. If you create a character it walks you through the process with almost no words necessary, even non-readers can do it.


If you choose create a comic you are immediately given the choice between beginner and advanced. I choose beginner. The beginner process allows you to choose from stock backgrounds, characters, and speech bubbles. The advanced process gives you a blank slate, but allows you to add backgrounds and props just a bit at a time. Unless creating the scenery and characters are important I would stick with the choice of beginner.


I did not examine the pricing structures. For a one off assignment this seems to work fine and allows you to send a link of your work to the teacher. Plus you have a range of privacy options which is great.



I liked makebelievfscomics, very basic and easy to get started.  It took me even less time to make this comic.


With makebelievefscomix (easy to misspell) you don’t even have to sign in to create a comic. Head to the comix creation page and get started. You have only the basic three panel scheme and you cannot create personalized characters, but for young kids this is the choice. Literally everything for creation is on one page. Click next and you can review, print, and email.



Storybird, is not a comic creator, but a book and poem creator. I like it because it allows you to choose great art and then write a story. Or if you like  you can upload your own picture prompt. It took me about 15 minutes to create this picture book. It is also easy to share, plus commenting with moderation is built in.


As a teacher you can easily create a classroom and add assignments for students (free).  Students can write a poem, a short picture book,  or a long form chapter book. As a teacher you can choose the type of book they write for their assignment, you can add some pictures or art for a prompt, and set due dates.

Google Docs

It is very easy to forget about Google Docs. Opening a blank document it is easy to insert a drawing (which can be a picture with a textbox overlayed). If we create a table and add these drawings into the cells we have a simple comic strip with text boxes instead of thought clouds.  The pictures can be a simple hand drawing that we take a picture of with our phones and upload to Google Drive, they can be pictures from the internet, or even snapshots from our webcams.


ICE 2015

ICE is the Illinois Computing Educators annual conference. We are lucky to have such a large and vibrant community of technology educators in Illinois. They also love to share in the knowledge, the notes from almost everyone at ICE2015 can be found here.

Effective Presentations for 21st Century School Leaders

I spent two days this week at the ICE conference in St. Charles, IL. My first all day session was Presentations for Administrators. Lot’s of good suggestions. (shared notes)

  • When watching a video open a back channel like and have students discuss the video while watching.
  • All presentations should probably start on paper using basic creative writing 101 skills. Tell a story don’t read bullet points from a slide.
  • Seven Tips for Storytelling
  1. Stories are about people.
  2. Let your characters speak for themselves.
  3. Audiences bore easily.  Make people wonder what will happen next, always throw up obstacles.
  4. Stories stir up emotions.
  5. Stories don’t tell: they show.
  6. Stories have at least one “moment of truth.”
  7. Stories have a clear meaning.
  8. Finish with a STAR moment (Something To Always Remember) Nancy Duarte
  • A good presentation will kind of look like this


Tuesday was three distinct activities. A half day program on Google for students with mild to severe disability, a few short speakers, and EdCampAfterDark.

I tried to put some of these practices into my presentation on helping students make better presentations.

A new tool – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Google for Students with Mild to Severe Disabilities

I love these Special Ed programs because most of the tools can be used in the regular classroom, they just don’t have to be used. (shared notes)


Speech to text

Nothing on the market today seems to match the accuracy and functionality of Dragon Dictation software. If however, you have a chromebook or don’t want to pay there are still options.

  • Read&Write for Google Docs (free for a year subscription for teachers)
    • Previously we pushed out a speech to text chrome extensions to D2 called SpeakIt. You may have noticed it reads a webpage when you highlight the words. Read&Write is much more advanced.
    • Read&write also helps convert text to speech and predicts the next word when writing.
  • Dictanote A speech to text writer. Also recognizes foreign languages. This program and most like it probably uses the same speech to text engine as when you talk to your phone. It isn’t great or fast, but works pretty well. This also means it can tap into google Translate and allows you to speak in any languages they have (a lot).
  • Use Hello sign to have parents sign forgotten field trip forms etc.. up to 3 per month free.
  • Workflows When working on a building it might be nice to add workflows so everyone knows who is doing what and who needs to sign off on what.
  • Using a single google doc for repetitive notes. Create a table of contents at the top, use bookmarks or headings to create links to days. I’ve put my blog post drafts on a Google doc on thismanner so you can see.
    • If you use headings 4thor insert > bookmarks you can create hyperlinks within a google Document. Then you can insert>table of contents to create a quick hyperlinked table of contents anywhere in your document. Or add the hyperlinks one at a time to the top.
    • This is great if you have regular meetings on the same subject or student. Instead of creating dozens of documents and maybe losing one everything is there and easily found.
  • Distance measurements on maps or Map a work-out
    • You can add several flags on a map and ask students to measure distance, create directions etc….
  • Adding pictures to Google forms and spreadsheets. When you click insert > image on a google form or spreadsheet you can search online or your computer and add a picture. This can be great for students who make grocery lists and need pictures.


I used my new better presentation skills to create a quick presentation on HaikuDeck about HaikuDeck. A great little web and iPad tool to break out of the worst PowerPoint mistake (too many words on a slide).


Things found on the web

DOE clarifies student privacy policies


3:36 using websites and parental consent in class.

6:30 using free apps – This site may help with terms of service

The official government website on student privacy

Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



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ICE13 Reflections

I’m getting pretty sick of Facebook. I come home from work and find myself spending too much time reading cutesy sayings and memes. So it was a surprise that after a full day at ICE13 and getting home after dinner I completely forgot to check Facebook. Not, an I’ll check it later after playing with the kids. I just completely forgot. The day actually didn’t seem like it was going to go all that well. I missed most of the morning Keynote (Wesley Fryer) because of traffic and my own late start. Then I spent most of the time there trying to get connected and orientating myself. It wasn’t until after my first session started that I finally broke down and asked for help. I just handed my computer to a guy with a red shirt (got PLN official tech service personnel)  he connected me and handed it back. Literally, the only word said during the entire exchange was thank you.

Moving at the Speed of Creativity

Connected and ready to learn I finally started paying attention to the session. Embracing Failure by Diana Laufenberg. I missed the tinyurl she put up, but here are three different places she seems to have placed resources for this talk. Mentor Mob, Word Press, Wiki. Takeaways (not necessarily what she said, but what I understood):

  • Lessons learned from success are fleeting, but lessons learned from failure last a lifetime – paraphrase from a NASA quote.
  • Honda is proud of their failures because it means they are pushing the edge.
  • Students should be taught to celebrate failure instead of trying to hide it.
    • Her favorite engineering class would cheer when someone failed (in a good way not a mean way)

What we can do in our schools?

Diana Laufenberg


  • Work with students to build a mindset and skill set to be resilient to failure
  • Create a culture that is less about finding blame and more keyed towards praise

What to watch out for:

  • When our top teachers stop learning
  • Critical indicators of roadblocks
    • not communicating on same wavelengths etc…
  • People who drain us
  • Placing blame on outside forces

Lunch Keynote with Scott MCleod

Personalization or Individualization

Personalization – giving students a personal map leading to the point we want them to go. For example an adaptive computer program that pretests students then gives them appropriate problems based on their level of knowledge.  Ending when they reach mastery of the goal set by the programmers. Individualization – Allowing students to decide at least one of the four negotiables of student learning from Peter Pappas  

  1. Content
  2. Process
  3. Product
  4. Evaluation

Interestingly enough I was in a workshop the next day about Illinois Shared Learning Environment and that was all about personalizing education, not individualization of education. Scott did talk about the SAMR model of technology adoption.

  1. Substitution
  2. Augmentation
  3. Modification
  4. Redefinition

With that in mind I wonder if it is necessary for the majority of public education to make the step of personalization of education before we can as a group move to individualization? After lunch was a bit of a break and then Scott Moderated a

technology is a given not a debate

A slide from the panel

panel on leadership. First suggestion was that we are getting better at professional development for teachers, but we are forgetting about principals.

If we give every student a device doesn’t that mean we they should use it? Scott Meech so Scott Mcleod followed up with, “Can a teacher be a good teacher without technology?” Which of course was slightly misunderstood as can a lesson be good without technology, but in the end the consensus became that teachers should not have a choice. They must incorporate technology , but it is not necessary to force the use of technology. Twitter of course had to join the discussion CLOUDUCATION_: @dendariRelevant post from Scott McLeod: Does this happen in any other sector? Should teachers get the right to refuse to use technology? An unqualified no. Some other random thoughts from the session:

  • We wrote a responsible use policy and not an acceptable use policy.
  • Discussion of technology use was the big conversation of the board in the first year. Second year the conversation was about workflow.
  • Use your network to get an idea of what technology might be suitable for use in your school. Don’t go wandering around the vendor hall and let them tell you what you need.
  • Social media does not cause problems it reveals them!!!


I was given the opportunity to return using my boss’ registration. Over breakfast I got to talking, this is very unusual because I never talk to strangers, and missed the first session. Beth Grafton, who would later present Using Technology in an Inclusion Classroom, was very interesting. Soon our table mate, Brendan, (how cool is that same name and all) asked a few questions. Something like two hours later we finally broke up and went our separate ways. I did go to see Beth’s session later in the afternoon, but it turns out I had heard the gist of it while she was talking to Brendan. I think it amazed some teachers how she could pull up the revision history of a Google Document and show in detail how she mentored a student from outline, to topic sentences, to paragraphs,  and finally a finished paper. It amazed me how well her students responded when she gave them freedom to choose (al la Peter Pappas) and they responded. They responded so well in fact, that one regular ed teacher couldn’t  believe her student was capable of turning in the work he did turn in. In between seeing Beth twice I stopped by the ISLE session. Here district 87 and ISBE are working on a virtual environment (inBloom) that will allow employees to have a shared place to house all data that collected about students. (SIS, Tests, etc…)

From ISLE and district 87 slide deck

Teachers will also be able to share lessons tagged with metadata that will allow them to search and match data not just to specific standards, but also to specific classrooms and students based on need. Thus allowing schools to personalize instruction for each child. I think this is a huge step in the right direction. Anyway that we can bring content to students in ways that are more suited to their learning styles is a bonus. Anyway we can learn more about our students, (data) is a good thing. As I mentioned earlier; I wonder if it is necessary for the majority of public education to make the step of personalization of education before we can as a group move to individualization?

Oh to be in School

A few days ago, before I wrote yesterday’s post on the horrors of preparing for the ISAT, I wrote this

Oh to be in a school that allows a teacher the freedom to really teach. Instead we Buckle Down and do our best to meet some adequate standard on the ISAT test.

It’s not that the kids can’t do it. The real problem is that the students are just bored silly and tired of proving what they know and what they can do for a school system that seems completely irrelevant to the life they will lead when they grow up. Don’t get me wrong some just haven’t learned the skills, but a significant number just don’t want to do it.

I sit and watch students taking an ISAT practice test and they don’t care. They work harder on trying to communicate without tipping off the teacher than they do on the actual test.

We are not testing their knowledge or even their ability to do math. What we are doing is proving to our students that school has nothing to do with the real world.

Oh to have the time and freedom to participate in the Flat World Project. To explore or just converse about what we are learning. Instead we fight to keep quite and on task against students who want only to be engaged in something anything.

Today I went to a professional development class focusing on hand-on math for middle school and high school Algebra and Geometry.

Why do authorities like state and federal governments insist on measuring effectiveness through the use of paper and pencil tests while regional offices of education promote teaching hands-on math?

The problem with the paper and pencil tests is that they try to simulate the real world. In so doing they make the world seem stilted and contrived. They are also looking for the right answer, even if there is more than one acceptable way of finding that answer.

With hands-on type of math students solve a puzzle. We all love to solve puzzles, even if some people are better than others at doing so. But like the ISAT tests these hands-on math programs are still a simulation of the real world. In the end it can feel stilted and contrived or at the very minimum students just can’t transfer the skills to another medium.

At the end of the day we want our students to know how and where to apply math concepts to problems in the real world. This means students have to know the concepts and where to apply them, which hands-on math does a great job of teaching. Then students have to know how to solve the process which is the purview of the “traditional” math curriculum.

In the end I think math should start with a hands-on curriculum allowing students a lot of time to explore and discover concepts on their own. But we also need to spend more time debriefing our students, a fatal flaw in many a classroom. We need to take our discoveries and make sure our students understand what they mean and where they are applicable.