Designing a classroom for the 21st century

It’s not enough to take a traditional K-12 classroom and fill it with technology. The smart classroom requires a more methodic approach that factors in the design of the basic shell, the teacher’s space, and the students’ independent and collaborative work areas.

Schools that ignore this step, said Issac Herskowitz, director of New York-based Touro College’s instructional technology program, will wind up with smart classrooms that fall short of their goals. “Designing classrooms for today’s learners requires a different approach than what’s been traditionally employed in K-12 settings,” said Herskowitz.

Here are six design elements that should be incorporated into the 21st Century classroom.

1. Desks and furniture that support collaboration. The days of the single desk and chair are gone, according to Herskowitz. He said he envisions a time when all K-12 classrooms are developed around the concept of collaboration–between student and teacher and among the students themselves.

“You want students to be able to do discovery learning and to work together on projects and problem-solving,” said Herskowitz.

To support that concept, he said, furniture should be able to accommodate multiple learners and then be repositioned for independent learning (such as testing). “When you start with this foundation,” said Herskowitz, “the collaboration comes naturally.”

2. Ample electrical outlets. Not all students will come to class with their iPads and laptops charged up and ready to go. To make sure 21st Century learners have the power they need to engage in classroom activities, Amber Golden Raskin said her school uses a combination of electrical outlets, some of which are integrated into the classroom furniture, and power strips that are distributed through the classroom.

3. A “smart” teacher lectern. Teaching in a smart classroom requires a “smart” lectern, said Herskowitz, who advised schools to put time and money into the structures that teachers will use as their home bases. USB ports that allow for easy document camera connections, interactive whiteboard equipment controls, and other features should be incorporated into the fixtures.
“You really want to make everything accessible for the teachers that are using the technology,” said Herskowitz. “If instructors are comfortable in the space and able to use all of the tools that you put in front of them, half the battle is won.”

4. Lighting that’s easy to control. With audiovisual technology becoming more advanced and even more useful in the K-12 classroom, the need for lighting that’s easy to dim or enhance is imperative. The student sitting furthest away from the projection screen, for example, must be able to see the workspace clearly and without interference from shadows.

“Factor in the natural lighting, the fixtures, and the controls,” said Herskowitz, “and focus on accessible lighting controls that allow the teachers to adjust quickly.”

5. Physical space that goes beyond the single classroom. Who says the 21st Century classroom has to be a single room? At SVCi, a four-year-old charter school, Raskin said holes were intentionally punched in classroom walls to help create a collaborative environment that expands beyond a single room. “Students and teachers can go in and out of the openings, which are covered by curtains when not in use,” said Raskin.

The strategy works particularly well when teachers collaborate on interdisciplinary projects. “Being able to share across classrooms is a big deal here,” said Raskin, “and something that we strived for when designing our learning spaces.”

6. Fewer expansive gathering areas. The traditional, campus-wide auditorium didn’t have a place at SVCi. Instead there are several mid-sized gathering areas designed to accommodate three or four classrooms full of students who need to come together to share, collaborate, or watch a live presentation.

“We went with smaller common areas rather than just one big assembly room,” said Raskin. “Our goal was to get students exercising the ‘expression’ muscles in smaller groups that lend themselves to more participation and collaboration.”

At its core, Raskin said, the modern-day classroom’s design should revolve around the idea that students should no longer be sitting alone at desks “spitting out answers” to a teacher who stands behind a podium. “In the last century we were a factory-driven society and schools were designed around that concept,” said Raskin. “Today we must create spaces where students can collaborate and participate in real-life environments where they can learn how to work on teams; that’s what they’ll be doing in the work world.”

Gamification in Education


Kendra is a sophomore taking an introductory course in forestry. Professor Sievert divides the class into teams of six students each and hands out a list of 100 plants found in the nearby national forest. Each team is responsible for finding photos and information about these plants, familiarizing themselves with them, and ensuring that they can identify them on location. The teams have two weeks to collect all the information they can and to quiz one another on plant recognition.

Then, two weeks from Friday, Sievert explains, teams will compete in a contest in a specified area of the nearby national forest to see which team can provide the most and best identifications in a two-hour window. Teams will win “identification points,” and the team with the most points will win tokens allowing each every member to turn in any one paper up to 48 hours late during the term.

Kendra and her team gather with their cell phones in hand half an hour early on the day of the contest. This gives them a few minutes to look over the rule sheets as Sievert distributes them. Rules are fairly straightforward. “Correct identification” consists of a photo of the plant with a team member standing beside it, sent by cell phone to a designated dropbox. These photos must arrive with a message giving the name of the plant and appropriate metadata. A standard plant on the list is worth 10 points; one marked “rare” is worth 25. There are also 5-point bonuses for a plant photographed in bloom, one correctly identified as suitable for human food, or one identified as toxic. Any misidentifications will subtract the number of points from the team total they would have added had they been correct.

Kendra’s team decides to separate into three groups of two each. When the starting whistle blows, Kendra and Jacob set out as partners to find, photograph, and identify. The cell phones are busy snapping pictures, receiving images from other team members for confirmation, and submitting photos to the dropbox. There are also several calls to coordinate team progress. At the end of two hours, the teams meet back at the gathering place. The unofficial tabulation suggests Kendra’s team has won by 5 points. She’s glad to learn that her team will be competing in similar contests throughout the term.

1. What is it?

Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior. In business contexts, gamification is used to create an engaging dynamic—such as the points system created by Weight Watchers— and to build brand loyalty. It also has wide currency in organizations where it may be used to encourage member or employee interest in projects or organizational efforts. In academe, gamification typically employs elements such as points, badges, or progress bars to engage or motivate students in the learning process. Whereas building a full-scale game requires the design and construction of a holistic, systematic environment to house the project, successful gamification can involve no more than the employment of a few feedback or reward elements. That said, the practice is most effective as a pedagogical tool where it forms part of a well-planned strategy to encourage research, inspire creativity, teach basic principles, or hone problem-solving skill.

2. How does it work?
Many instructors implement gamification because they

believe the rewards or the spirit of competition will spur students’ concentration and interest and lead to more effective learning. On the surface, these rewards may include items such as physical tokens, badges, or points toward a long-term goal. Students may strive to “win” recognition among their peers or the larger community or engage for personal satisfaction or a simple sense of accomplishment. But beneath these game-like prizes lies another level of reward that may include relevant feedback, learning reinforcement, and a lively and collaborative class environment. While technology is not essential to gamification, it can make management simpler. Many faculty use technology to track accomplishments, total points, and aggregate results. In addition, gamification elements can happen both inside and outside the classroom.

3. Who’s doing it?
The use of gamification is wide ranging in higher education, whether adapted from publicly available applications, designed by individual instructors, or created by departmental staff. Students at Pepperdine University’s business school, for example, are currently piloting a free web-based gamification tool called Veri. The product invites participants to test themselves on course topics using questions the instructor has entered. Game-like overtones include immediate humorous feedback and a running scoreboard for students to track their success. As they progress through various levels, a leader board sparks competition by showing who has the highest scores. In an economics course at Penn State, an instructor-designed example that ties content to play asks “So You Want to Be a Millionaire?” The syllabus notifies students that grades are for sale and explains that the primary way to acquire capital is by answering multiple-choice questions correctly, in this case on the course exams.

Not every use of gamification in academe is tied to coursework. Metadata Games at Dartmouth College arose from a critical need in the college archives. Vast photo repositories were being left unused by researchers because they lacked metadata necessary for effective searches. In response, a Dartmouth design team built a game-style interface that invited students to tag archived images either as a solo activity or in two-player game-like scenarios. The pilot phase alone netted over 6,000 image tags from players, suggesting that this kind of implementation may have intriguing potential for archivists and curators.

4. Why is it significant?
Adding game components to a course can result in several real benefits. Simulations can help students sharpen an ability or work out a novel solution, while a game-style patina may present coursework more as a challenge than a chore. But perhaps the most commonly cited benefit of gamification is that it fosters student engagement, often cited by the National Survey of Student Engagement as a key to increasing student retention. Where it functions well, gamification facilitates the formation of learning communities, giving new opportunities online or during course discussions to socialize or work as teams. In this sense, gamification has the potential to help build connections among members of the academic community, drawing in shy students, supporting collaboration, and engendering interest in course content that students might not have otherwise explored.

5. What are the downsides?

Some stakeholders feel any introduction of game elements trivializes learning content. At the same time, students may see game elements as condescending or feel disappointed and frustrated when their application is not successful or does not yield the kind of satisfaction from winning that they expect. The competitive element that intrigues some students may discourage others, particularly those who have trouble with course content. They may feel the competition introduces another level of complexity or that it will reveal their difficulties in understanding the content to the rest of the class.

Gamification can be deceptively difficult to employ effectively, and examples of failed efforts are not hard to find. For example, awarding points to students whose blog entries garner the most responses might encourage some bloggers to enlist their friends to comment, without regard to quality, their drive being the extrinsic rewards rather than the quality of the work they submit. In addition, careful thought must be given to the administrative details of gamification lest instructors be overwhelmed by the workload of tracking student progress through points, tokens, badges, and other game elements.

6. Where is it going?
The use of technology in gamificaiton has given rise to several grants from sources such as Next Generation Learning Challenges and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Such support for gamification is likely to encourage more complex, technology- based, interactive scenarios that extend beyond individual classrooms. In fact, gamification is already moving toward institutional uses, in implementations such as “Just Press Play,” debuting at the Rochester Institute of Technology this fall. This university-wide instance of gamification is structured to involve students in all aspects of the student community experience. They earn badges for activities such as going to the gym for the first time or getting A’s during a term, but the awards are part of an integrated approach to engage them throughout the four-year program. Similar projects employed at a departmental or institutional level might serve many cross-disciplinary purposes to help students construct portfolios, build organizations, or derive artistic or business solutions that could bridge the space between the educational experience and career achievement.

7. What are the implications for teaching and learning?

While the term “gamification” is of fairly recent coinage, the use of game elements to teach is certainly not new. Instructors have long understood that interactive experiences engage student imaginations and increase motivation. Gamification offers instructors numerous creative opportunities to enliven their instruction with contests, leader boards, or badges that give students opportunities for recognition and a positive attitude toward their work. These elements of play take advantage of the human desire to compete and socialize, as well as to measure progress toward clear goals, allowing individuals to compete against themselves. Where they are employed thoughtfully and effectively, game elements can engage and motivate students, encourage exploration, foster independent effort, and generate unexpected solutions to the problems posed by course content.



E School News Top 10 Android Apps

Last year we presented “Ten of the best Android apps for education,” which highlighted some of the best apps for Google Android-based mobile devices. Now, with recent upgrades in touch technology and HD features, we’ve come up with a new list of the best Droid-based education apps for 2012.

This year’s list includes some of the most highly rated apps, both by teachers and by students, and features a range that spans from an innovative and hyperlinked dictionary developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University to an interactive whiteboard app for tablets.

For every app we’ve listed, we’ve included a brief description, software compatibility, suggested use, features, price, rating, and a link to a more in-depth summary with an option to purchase on Google.

Don’t see an Android app you love on this list? Be sure to let us know—or leave a suggestion in the comment section.

(Apps are listed in alphabetical order.)

1. Name: Advanced English & Thesaurus

What is it? Instead of following the standard dictionary format, the WordNet dictionary is organized with an innovative and convenient approach. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms, interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. In addition to the straightforward definition, the dictionary shows how each word is linked to other words in terms of synonyms, opposites, and similar words, but also hyponyms and hyperlinks within the group.

Best for: High school students, teachers; Android 2.0 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.3 out of 5

Features: Straightforward and precise definitions of over 140,000 words, with more than 250,000 linkss; synonyms, antonyms, similar and related words to help you make your writing and speech more interesting; hypernyms (more generic words), hyponyms (subordinate words), and meronyms (part names); examples illustrate how words are used and show typical constructions and collocations; transcriptions facilitating pronunciation; hyperlinks between different related words; history to see the last 50 words you have looked up; support for memory cards; filters to help you locate the word you are searching for.


2. Name: AnyMemo Free

What is it? An advanced, spaced-repetition flash card learning software with rich functions

Best for: High school students; Android 1.6 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Features: Improved adaptive algorithm from Mnemosyne, Supermemo, Anki; simple and power saving interface with rich functions; no hidden internet connection, no ads; text-to-speech, MP3/OGG/WAV audio; download millions of flash card db to study Arabic, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, and also Computer, Religion, and more from, flashcardexchange, Quizlet, or StudyStack; download and upload from/to Dropbox; import from StudyStack; import flash cards from Mnemosyne, SuperMemo PPC XML files, CSV, Tab-separated TXT, QA Text files; export to Mnemosyne XML, TXT, QA Text; small size, support APP2SD.


3. Name: HomeWork

What is it? Homework and time table app for students. Widgets for timetable and homework.

Best for: High school students; Android 1.6 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Features: List with all homework assignments, sorted on date, with counters for the amount of homework not “done” yet; list with all exams, sorted on date; timetable for the current day; timetable for the current week; define your own subjects/lessons; define the start and end times of the lessons; define contact information for each subject.


4. Name: Kids ABC Phonics

What is it? Through different games, kids will learn the alphabet letter sounds and the basics of blending

Best for: Ages 2-7

Price: $3.99

Rated: 4.5 out of 5

Features: Kids hold and turn a picture-filled letter block and hear the ABC phonics being pronounced; children have fun building phonics recognition skills by making their own ABC blocks; while putting puzzles together, kids learn the basics of phonics blending. These skills will be further exercised and expanded in the Kids Reading game. Every section is designed so children enjoy success time after time and receive positive reinforcement from the likable teacher, so they want to keep learning.


5. Name: Kids Numbers and Math

What is it? A fun way for kids to learn numbers and build basic math skills.

Best for: Preschoolers and math; phones and tablets

Price: Free version or $2.99

Rated: 4.4 out of 5 stars

Features: Numbers are spoken in kid-friendly English. The paid version enables the number ranges to be set, with numbers going up to 20. Games include learning number, choosing max/min number, addition, subtraction, find a match, and advanced exercises.


6. Name: Splashtop Whiteboard

What is it? Allows teachers and students to turn their Android tablet into an interactive whiteboard. Once connected to their computer over Wi-Fi, they can watch Flash media with fully synchronized video and audio, control PC and Mac applications, then annotate lesson content from an Android tablet. Splashtop Whiteboard offers users of existing interactive whiteboards—such as Mimeo, Mobi, Promethean, Polyvision, or SMART Technologies—a way to extend their investment by accessing their tools from anywhere in the class without using wireless slates.

Best for: Teachers or high school presentations; Android 3.1 & up

Price: $9.99

Rated: 4 out of 5 stars

Features: Have complete control over the applications, such as Keynote or PowerPoint on the classroom PC. Slowly reveal text or images to keep your audience focused using the Screen Shade tool, or use the Spotlight tool to keep the attention on just one part of the screen. Use gestures to draw, highlight, or write over any content. Take snapshots of the screen and save them to the gallery, then print or eMail the snapshots to students, parents, or colleagues. Use different colored and sized pens, stamps, highlighter, shapes, lines, and text tools over existing content or Flipchart backgrounds. Use the digital flipchart tool to create pages with different backgrounds. All video and audio are played in high definition on your Android tablet. Play Adobe Flash content, iTunes music, DVDs, CDs, etc.


7. Name: Star Chart

What is it? This virtual star chart allows users to point an Android device at the sky to determine exactly what they are looking at. Using state-of-the-art GPS technology, an accurate 3D universe, and all of the latest high-tech functionality, Star Chart calculates—in real time—the current location of every star and planet visible from Earth and shows you precisely where they are, even in broad daylight.

Best for: Astronomy, STEM classes

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4.4 out of 5 stars

Features: Just point and view; look around the sky using finger gestures; allows you to view the night sky whilst holding your Android device at any angle; accurately depicts all the visible stars of the northern and southern hemispheres; displays all the planets of the solar system, plus the sun and the moon; displays all 88 constellations, with constellation imagery based on the artwork by 15th century astronomer Johannes Hevelius; includes entire Messier catalogue of exotic deep sky objects; tap on anything in the sky and get the facts on what you are looking at, including distance and brightness; installable on an SD card.


8. Name: Teacher Aide Pro

What is it? Take attendance and grades with easy eMail and text features. Winner for Best Android Teacher App for the 2011 Best App Ever Award.

Best for: K-12 teachers; Android 2.1 & up

Price: $5.99

Rated: 4.9 out of 5 stars

Features: Supports 90 students per class; import student names via CSV file; export data via CSV-generated file and send via eMail; one-click text to students and parents for tardy and absent students and for missing assignments; one-click Random student generator. Voice to text speaks student’s name; grading options use categories/weighting; bulk eMail and texting. Send messages to all students or parents with a few simple clicks; Student Photo gallery so you can learn their names quickly.



9. Name: United States History Free

What is it? Facts on U.S. history

Best for: Elementary to high school history classes; Android 1.5 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5

Features: Contains a large amount of historical information, including: Constitution (broken down by Article), Federalist Papers, Anti-Federalist Papers, Bill of Rights, Presidents, Important Documents, Flag Code, The Star Spangled Banner, The Pledge of Allegiance, Articles of Confederation, Random U.S. Facts, and The States.



10. Name: WolframAlpha

What is it? Get answers and access expert knowledge. Remember the Star Trek computer? It’s finally happening. Across thousands of domains–with more continually added–Wolfram|Alpha uses its vast collection of algorithms and data to compute answers and generate reports for you. Parts of Wolfram|Alpha are used in the Apple Siri Assistant; this app gives you access to the full power of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine.

Best for: High school students; Android 2.1 & up

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Features: Domains include mathematics, statistics & data, physics, chemistry, materials, engineering, astronomy, earth science, life science, computational science, units & measures, dates & times, places & geography, people & history, culture & media, music, words & linguistics, sports & games, money & finance, and much more.



E School News Top 10 Apps for Apple Devices

One app teaches young students about cyber bullying.

Last year we presented “10 of the best apps for education,” which highlighted some of the best apps for iPhones and iPods. However, with new upgrades in touch technology, HD and 3D features, and the debut of the iPad, we’ve come up with a new list of the best Apple-based education apps for 2012.

This year’s list includes some of the most highly rated apps, both by teachers and by Apple, and features a range that spans from simple math games to a revolutionary special-education app, and from 3D imaging of the elements included in the periodic table to secure file sharing for students and teachers.

For every app we’ve listed, we’ve included a brief description, device compatibility, suggested use, features, price, and a link to a more in-depth summary with an option to purchase on iTunes.

Don’t see an app you love on this list? Be sure to let us know—or leave a suggestion in the comment section.


Name: Edmodo

What is it? Edmodo makes it easy for teachers and students to stay connected and share information.

Best for: High school students; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Send notes; submit assignments; post replies; check messages and upcoming events while away from the classroom; teachers can post last-minute alerts to their students, keep tabs on recent assignment submissions, and grade assignments; students can view and turn in assignments and check their latest grades.


Name: Frog Dissection

What is it? This app is a greener alternative for teaching dissection in the classroom. It’s suitable for middle school students who are learning about organs and organ systems as part of their life science curriculum.

Best for: Science; Biology; iPad

Price: $3.99

Rated: 4+

Features: 3D imaging; step by step instructions with voice over; accurate simulation of the wet lab dissection procedure; content validation by subject matter experts; anatomical comparison of humans with frogs; comprehensive information on frogs’ organs; classification, lifecycle, and organ functions of frogs; interactive quiz on frogs; information on types of frogs.


Name: Grammar Up HD

What is it? Improve grammar and vocabulary with this multiple-choice quiz system featuring more than 1,800 questions in 20 categories.

Best for: English/Language Arts; iPad

Price: $4.99

Rated: 4+

Features: More than 1,800 multiple-choice questions; choose number of questions you would like in each test; shows test results in HTML format; eMail yourself the test results and track your progress; “Progress Meter” keeps track of how you are performing in a particular topic; choose your own timer settings.


Name: History: Maps of the World

What is it? Browse high-resolution maps of the world from various periods throughout history.

Best for: History, Geography; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Wide variety of historical displays; support for Category/Era view; keyword search; displays the source about each map; zoom in/out (zoom in/out with pinch, zoom in with double tab, and zoom out with two-fingers tap); free screen rotation; does not require a network connection.


Name: iStudiez Pro

What is it? Organize your class schedule, keep track of homework assignments, record your GPA, make to-do lists, and more with this app created for a busy student’s life.

Best for: High school students; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Students are able to follow up with homework; summarizing schedules and assignments; tracking grades and GPA; push notifications; backup data options.


Name: Monster Anatomy

What is it? Explore 384 contiguous MR slices in the three anatomical planes with this interactive lower-limb radiology atlas.

Best for: Biology; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $8.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Navigation with multiple shortcuts; display of images in the three anatomical planes; 3D image volume (VR) allows precise location of slice position; over 500 different labels in accordance with the “Terminologia Anatomica” and current literature references; more than 10,000 tags; the five different display modes available (bones, joints, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves) facilitate label visualization; high image quality with a zooming tool.


Name: Motion Math

What is it? Motion Math HD follows a star that has fallen from space and must bound back up, up, up to its home in the stars. Moving fractions to their correct place on the number line is the only way to return. By playing Motion Math, learners improve their ability to perceive and estimate fractions in multiple forms.

Best for: Math; iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Price: $1.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Problem hints; intro level, practice of improper fractions and negative decimals; beginner, medium, and expert modes; bonus levels.


Name: Professor Garfield Cyberbullying

What is it? Teach kids anti-bullying messages and strategies for dealing with cyber bullies with the help of Garfield and friends.

Best for: Internet safety; elementary students; iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Understand the meaning of cyber bully; learn to recognize different forms of cyber bullying; learn different strategies for dealing with a cyber bully; learn the importance of enlisting the help of a trusted adult when cyber bullied.


Name: Proloquo2go

What is it? This easy-to-use alternative communication solution offers an extensive library of symbols for those who have difficulty speaking. It provides natural sounding text-to-speech voices, high-res up-to-date symbols, automatic conjugations, a default vocabulary of more than 7,000 items, advanced word prediction, full expandability; and extreme ease of use. For anyone who cannot afford spending thousands of dollars on an AAC device and yet wants a solution that is just as good if not better. SLPs, teachers, and parents recommend it for children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, developmental disabilities, apraxia, ALS, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.

Best for: Special education; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $189.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Listed above; educational institutions can get a 50-percent discount on Proloquo2Go if they purchase 20 or more licenses through Apple’s Volume Licensing Program for Education.


Name: The Elements: A Visual Exploration

What is it? Learn about the periodic table in a hands-on way. Choose any element—copper, for example—and see various copper objects: a Persian weave chain, a brass ring, a Chinese bronze … and then rotate them with your finger to get a 3D view.

Best for: Science; Chemistry; iPad

Price: $13.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Sharp HD images that can rotate (available in 3D); columns of facts and figures with each element; Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.


BYOT Implementations are Literacy Projects

Are these your literacy standards?

From an educator’s perspective there are a few places that we can turn for a concrete look at the standards.  The best resources for modern literacy standards are the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Let’s start with NCTE.  The Definition of 21st Century Literacies listed below was adopted by NCTE in 2008. While you look at the list below,  think about how many educators in your community are comfortable in these areas.

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

As educators, we need to be able to start to list concrete examples of how we meet each of these standards and then assist our students in doing the same.

What about the ISTE standards?

Like NCTE, ISTE also provides us clear standards to help schools better prepare students in the digital age. Unfortunately, the vast majority of educators look at the ISTE standards as technology standards when in reality they are learning standards. As the introduction to the standards states on the ISTE website, “Technology has forever changed not only what we need to learn, but the way we learn.”

Like the NCTE standards, ISTE’s contain six focal points:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts

As with the NCTE standards, I question how many of these our staff members are comfortable with at this point.

Is this even on our radar?

So as we look towards the new things on the agenda for schools throughout our country like common core implementation and new teacher evaluation methods, I am worried that the integration of technology is still looked upon as a detached task that will have to be kept on the back burner.  The reality of the situation, however, is that if we understand how to utilize the vast array of collaborative resources out there that we can accomplish our tasks more effectively. But we cannot even start down this road if we do not provide access.

There is a great quote about technology in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”: “Technology alone is not going to move an organization or an individual from Good to Great. However, technology that is thoughtfully deployed can help us move a bit faster. ”

In closing, I have to mention the seven survival skills that Tony  Wagner discusses in his book “The Global Achievement Gap,” skills that our students need whether they are going on to college or the workplace.

  1. Critical thinking/problem solving
  2. Collaboration/leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

We cannot get where we need to go, if we as educators do not model these skills and we cannot model these skills if we do not provide learning environments where staff and students have access to digital resources that allow them to experiment and discover the power of being a connected learner. We are at a point where we have to consider whether or not those who are learning in “disconnected” environments can be called literate by today’s standards.

So as you are thinking about whether or not a BYOT or one-to-one initiative is right for your school, you need to ask yourself the following question: Is it important that students in our school are literate?

Google Forms: how to create a quiz or a test that automatically grades itself in Google Docs

Using forms in Google docs lets anyone create forms quickly and share those forms via email, embed them into a webpage or blog. If you are a teacher, you can create formulas that allow you to have these forms graded in minutes. The formula part is a bit challenging, so I wrote this article to talk about how I recently created a final for one of my classes.

Create a new Form in Google Docs


To Create a form, go to the Create New menu and choose form. Google will open up a new window with the form. You can type in a form name and description as well as start typing your first form.


Type in your questions, help text and question types


There are different types of questions you can choose from. It’s best if you try to make a question that has each of these elements to familiarize yourself with them.


Make some quiz questions required


You can also make some questions required. For example, my first question is the student’s name. I always make this a required question to make sure the students answer it.


Choose a test quiz type


I’m going ask 5 questions of different types on this quiz. I’ll also add a section for the student’s name. Google docs will automatically create a timestampthat lets you know the date and time the students filled out the test. To add each questions, just go to the top of the screen and choose Add Item, choose the question type and start typing your questions and options. This part is pretty self-explanatory and shouldn’t take you very long.

Here’s what my test looks like when it’s done. When you’re ready to go, click on the SAVE button at the top right of the page.

Choose how viewers will take the quiz

Once you’ve finished the test, you have three options to give people access to your quiz. You can click on the Email this form at the top of the screen, then fill out a list of recipients in the box provided, you can click on More Actions, then chooseEmbed from the pop-up. You can then copy this code and put in on a webpage or a facebook page. Finally, you can click on or copy the list at the bottom of the test and send someone the URL where they can take the test online.

Take the test yourself to create a KEY of answers

In order to make the test grade itself, you’ll have to create a KEY of answers. Click on the link at the bottom of the test and fill out the test yourself. Hit submit when you’re done


Take the test a second time to create a sample perfect student


The second time you take the test, you’ll pretend to be a student, answer all of the questions correctly. This will help you check to make sure your formulas are correct when you create them. The last question is an open ended question and will have to be treated differently than the others.


Check out the test results


You can go back into Google Docs and see your form in the list of documents. Click on it and you’ll see something like the spreadsheet above, it will contain all of the entries that have been submitted. A really great feature of Google Docs is the ability to see the information in graphic form. You can see that by going to the FORM menu and choosing Show Summary of Responses.


Create Additional calculated Colums


We’ll add a few more columns to finish up. We’ll need a column for points someone would get since it’s open ended. That will allow me to give the student points if they get that question partially right. I’ll call this column Open Ended Points. Then, I’ll add another colum to calculate the Correct Points from the other questions. I’ll call that Correct Points. Finally, I’ll add a final colum for the grade. I’m also going to fill out some sample points in the open ended points colum to test my calculations.


Create the formula to calculate the correct points


this is the hard part. To calculate wether a questions was filled in correctly, I need to award a point to a student if their answer matches the answer in the key. We’ll need to use a spreadsheet if statement. The IF statement works like this IF(CELLID2=CELLID1, TRUEVALUE, FALSEVALUE). So, if the answer on the current cell matches the answer on the key, then the spreasheet will give the TRUEVALUE, otherwise it will give the falsevalue.

So, for our first question the formula would look like this: =IF(C3=$C$2,1,0). The = sign at the beginning of a formula tells the spreadsheet software that this is a special cell that needs to be calculated. Notice something peculiar about our cell references. The first cell reference C3 is a normal cell reference. The second cell reference is a bit different $C$2. This is an absolute cell reference.

The cool thing about formulas in spreadsheets is that they can be copied and pasted into other cells. When you have cell references in them, the spreadsheet application will try to make the fomulas automatically adjust to the relative position of the cells. If we had another student fill out this form and copied the formula from this cell to the one below, The spreadsheet would attempt to check to see if the answers would match not the key, but the cell right above the current cell. Since we don’t want this to happen, the second cell reference is absoute. When the formula is pasted, the answers will always be checked against the first test answers (the key).

To calculate the Correct Points, we need to add the value of each correct answer. Here’s what that formula would look like:


Here’s a couple of caveats about doing it this way. For a checkbox question, the student must click all of the correct checkboxes in order for the question to count. There is no points for partially correct answers. Also, for questions that are fill in the blank like the question about the IAB, the answer must match exactly. Some students, might have a problem remembering how to spell Bureau or make a spelling mistake. Those won’t count. Of course, you can go through this spreadsheet and when you’re going through and analyzing the Open ended questions, you can retype their answers to make sure they match and they get the points, but I would mention that they must get everything perfect or it might not count.

The formula to calculate the final grade will take all of the points from the Correct Points column and add them to the open ended points. That formula looks like this:


This formula adds up the previous two colums, then compares that to column $H$2 (the points I am awarding for open ended points in this quiz, plus the number of columns between $C$2:$F$2), which is a fancy way of calculating the total amounts of points on this quiz. Normally, this calculation woud give you a number between 0 and 1, but if we add the % at the end, it creates a percentage result which converts our normal results to a number between 0-100 %. Finally, we wrap this around a ROUND function. The round function works like this ROUND(VALUE, ROUNDTODECIMALS). By giving it a 0 value in the ROUND to decimals, we make this result round to whole numbers.


Take the test again a couple of times


To test things out a bit more, we’ll take the test a couple more times and I’ll show you how to easily and automatically get the results for the new people. To take it again, go to the FORM menu on the spreadsheet and choose GO TO LIVE FORM. If your students are taking the test, you can see their results in real time as soon as they hit the submit button.


Duplicate the formulas


Once your students are done taking the test, check their open ended questions and award them open ended points. Then, select the two calculated cells (I3 and J3 in this case) and click on the bottom right of the two cells (there will be a small blue rectangle there) and drag them down to the end of the list of students who have completed the test. Their grades will calculate automatically.

It’s always a good idea to manually verify a couple of test grades with a calculator to make sure your formulas are correct. If you want, you can try taking this test. I’ve shared it so you can view the spreadsheet as well.

I used this formulas to give my students a final exam and it worked out great. They could obviously look for the answers online so I gave them a limited time to work on the final. I had my grades done immediately after they took the test and I didn’t have to spend hours grading them.

Common Core Assessment: What do you think?

The two Common Core assessment consortia, Smarter Balanced and PARCC, have both recently released material giving us an insight into the upcoming Common Core math tests. One of the released items referenced by many articles is the 4th grade fractions question shown here:

 This is significantly different from a typical standardized test question in a number of ways:

  • There is no calculation to be done. Students have to understand the meaning of fractions as visual models.
  • A decision needs to be made about each part of the question. On a typical multiple-choice question, students only have to find one “answer”, so they’re often taught to literally discard the two most unlikely looking responses and then make a best “guess.” This strategy is now, thankfully, rendered completely useless. All four parts of this question could be yes, or all four could be no, or any other combination in between.
  • Every part of the question targets some potential misconception.
    • 1a is obviously correct, but 1b is not. Even though in both responses 2 out of 5 parts are shaded, the second diagram is not split into equal partitions.
    • In 1c, even though 6 boxes are shaded, the students need to understand that this is of visual model of an equivalent fraction to two fifths.
    • 1d requires students to clearly understand that a fraction is a means of writing a part-whole ratio rather than a part-part ratio.

This type of question presents a conceptual hurdle for many students, and the big question for schools is how are they going to ensure that they adequately prepare all students for this type of assessment? Blended learning provides a solution.

Dreambox Learning, the only truly adaptive educational program used in Blended Learning models across the county, includes games that would specifically help students be successful on this released item, but also build their overall conceptual understanding of fractions. The program utilizes all current research on mathematical concepts as other programs do but the differentiator for Dreambox is they use over 50,000 pieces of individualized data for each student when presenting them with the next question. Dreambox is game-based learning system that allows all students to learn by doing, solving problems using hands-on visual models and manipulatives. If students solve the question correctly they are rewarded and recognized with badges and the ability to play more games of their choosing, however, if they make a mistake, they receive immediate descriptive feedback, which shows them precisely why their answer was incorrect. This is crucial to child development and mathematical reasoning being developed by our children.

Twitter as an educational tool | Jeff Piontek wants to know what you think

I recently have been thinking about whether or not Twitter is actually a relevant tool in the classroom beyond those who are really dedicated to it and this is what I found.

On Feb. 10, 2011, the world was transfixed on the protests raging in Egypt. We all watched as thousands gathered in Tahir square, where they had been for the past several weeks, to listen to a speech by President Hosni Mubarak. Many figured this would be his resignation speech. Instead, it offered the citizens of Egypt very little in the way of change, even if it was being presented as something positive. For outsiders looking in, it seemed that the situation would only get worse.

What Mubarak might not have known is that while he was trying to maintain his iron grip on power, thousands of Egyptians were tweeting about their frustration with the dictator. Eventually, the people on the street, armed with nothing more than a cell phone and a free social media site, changed the course of history.

If you are a middle or high school social studies teacher, and you wanted to provide your students with a close-up view of the events unfolding in Egypt, you could turn to a traditional news service. Or, you could follow the hashtag #Egypt on Twitter and tap into the real-time pulse of unfolding events by people on the streets of Cairo.

Through our previous articles, we have introduced you to three pillars we believe are essential to be web literate. We have shown you how to use advanced search techniques to raise the quality of information found on the web, and we have explained how the information you find can be organized into a comprehensive library of knowledge using powerful web tools like Diigo. In this final part to the series, we will demonstrate how tools like Twitter can allow a researcher to share what is learned with the world, tap the knowledge of others to help make even stronger connections with the material, and even provide students with real-world problems at a moment’s notice.

At first glance, Twitter doesn’t appear to hold much value. Who cares about Justin Bieber’s haircuts! In fact, we both saw it as a waste and quit using it two or three times until we truly understood the organizational structure of information within this tool. Learning how to filter through tweets, organized using hashtags, will bring clarity and meaning to Twitter and will get you past the mosh pit of random thoughts and lackluster chitchat.

A hashtag is nothing more than a word or phrase (with no spaces) that is preceded by a # symbol. Examples include #edchat, #london2012, and #youthvote. Simply type a hashtag like one of these into Twitter’s search box to immediately generate results that are focused around the topic of your choice. Tagging is a beautiful thing, and a tag is something you can invent at any moment.

If you’re interested in a topic, but you don’t know of a hashtag that will be helpful with your research, simply do a search in Twitter using a keyword rather than a hashtag. Then, scan the results to see what hashtags people are using when they are discussing that particular topic.

For example, Brian did this the evening of President Mubarak’s speech, and he discovered that the two most popular hashtags being used at that time were #Egypt and #Jan25. By looking through the resources he found, he was able to see what the world was saying about this event. But then, Brian took it a step further.

He began a new Twitter post and typed in:

I wonder if the people in #Egypt are buying this? #Jan25

Upon posting, his message immediately gained a global audience interested in this topic. Within minutes, he had a response back from a woman in Cairo who confirmed his thinking: The Egyptians weren’t buying it at all! They chatted for a while, and at the conclusion of their conversation, he asked if she would be willing to Skype into a class of middle school students and teachers with whom he was working the next day. She agreed, and the students were able to ask her questions about what they had seen on television the evening before, about life in Egypt, and about her hopes for Egypt’s future. It was a powerful moment for everyone involved.

Reflecting back on this series of events, we have learned to appreciate the power of a social media tool such as Twitter to provide information and global communication. The role and knowledge of the educator is more important than ever in understanding how to use these tools to bring authentic experiences to our students. Unfortunately, many students do not see the educational value of a tool they might be using every day.

Any school or classroom can begin using Twitter as an important part of the learning process. To help the beginners out, we’ve developed a list of educational hashtags that can be used by teachers and students who are looking to connect beyond the classroom. Our recommendation is to print this list and hang it in the classroom near a computer. With a classroom account (under a teacher’s login and password), anyone in the class can tweet out questions requesting resources or sharing the learning that is taking place in that class. The appropriate hashtags should accompany each message. These messages might look like this:

Looking for global classrooms that can record their local water data to share with us over the next 12 months. #scichat

We are looking to shake up professional development in our district. What are some unique models you use. #profdev

Our class is looking to collaborate with another class to write and produce a PSA on #bullying and #cybersafety.

In addition to using Twitter as a way to connect globally, we’ve also seen examples of classrooms using Twitter as a way to share learning opportunities with others outside of the classroom. For example, supplementary photo and video tools provide the ability to share learning from anywhere someone can access an internet connection. This could be in a classroom, it could be on a field trip, or—as Jessica Caviness from Coppell High School in Texas explained to us—it could even be from a baseball game.

Mrs. Caviness was a new Twitter user who had attended a workshop of ours. Upon getting back to school, she told her geometry students that she just got a Twitter account. After jokingly welcoming her to the 21st century, students immediately began taking out their cell phones and following her. Then, a few nights later at a Texas Rangers baseball game, she was reminded of a problem from class a few weeks earlier. She decided to tweet the following, and within minutes, she had several replies from her students.

Days later, at yet another game, Mrs. Caviness decided to dig a bit deeper into students’ thinking. She tweeted a new picture and asked students to develop related problems.

Again, students jumped on this opportunity immediately. Before the game was over, she had quite a collection of student-created problems, including:

What Mrs. Caviness found most exciting was the fact that students dropped everything they were doing at home so that they could connect with her around these short math blasts.

Now, Mrs. Caviness sees many applications for using this tool to strengthen what students do at school each day and to build a library of material that she and her students can use in a flipped classroom environment. We invite you to read more about her class and their uses of Twitter here. You might also choose to follow Mrs. Caviness on Twitter.

We believe that there are three essential skills represented by the stories in this article:

  • Teachers should have the skill set to build their own personal learning networks (PLNs) to be global.
  • Teachers should be able to leverage their PLNs to bring the challenge of authentic conversation to their students.
  • Teachers should be able to use social media to connect their students to real-world problems.

Like Mrs. Caviness, we believe educators should be powerful role models and provide examples of how to use the most powerful social media tools to expand the boundaries of learning. Otherwise, our students might only end up following #Bieberhair.

This is a reprint of a great article that was published by Alan November and Brian Mull.


26 Talking Points to use with your staff about technology

I thought I would gather in one place many of the talking points that I use with principals and superintendents about Internet safety…

  1. Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.
  2. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
  3. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
  4. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
  5. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
  6. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
  7. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
  8. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
  9. Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
  10. Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students and teachers find that they have no more problems than they did before. And, often, they have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying to get around the restrictions.
  11. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
  12. If your community is pressuring you to be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking and filtering has real and significant negative impacts on information access, student learning, pedagogy, ability to address required curricular standards, and educators’ willingness to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully tough to prepare students for a digital era.
  13. ‘Walled garden’ online environments prevent the occurrence of serendipitous learning connections with the outside world.
  14. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
  15. Schools with mindsets of enabling powerful student learning usually block much less than those that don’t. Their first reaction is ‘how can we make this work?’ rather than ‘we need to keep this out.’
  16. As the lead learner, it’s your responsibility to actively monitor what’s being filtered and blocked and to always reconsider that in light of learning and teaching needs.
  17. If you trust your teachers with the children, you should trust them with the Internet. Addendum: Mistrust of teachers drives away good educators.
  18. If you make it too hard to get permission to unblock something, you might as well not have the option in the first place.
  19. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
  20. When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law.
  21. Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
  22. Don’t abdicate your teaching responsibility. Students do not magically gain the ability at the end of the school day or after graduation to navigate complex, challenging, unfiltered digital information spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely while you have them, who’s going to?
  23. Acceptable use and other policies send messages to students, staff, and parents. Is the predominant message that you want to send really that ‘the technologies that are transforming everything around us should first and foremost be feared?’
  24. Imagine a scale with two balancing pans. On one side are all of the anxieties, fears, barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that your staff, parents, and community members put forth. If you want effective technology integration and implementation to occur in your school system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale the other way. Addendum: It is difficult to understand the learning power of digital technologies – and easy to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness – if you are not familiar enough with them to understand their positive affordances.
  25. In a hyperconnected, technology-suffused, digital, global world, you do your children a disservice – and highlight your irrelevance – by blocking out our present and their future.
  26. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.

BONUS 1. Elsewhere in your state – perhaps even near you – are school districts that have figured this out. They operate under the same laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?


Reposted from a blog by Scott McLeod.