Sunday, August 14, 2016

Professional Growth Just for Me at SMARTee Summit 2016

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Teachers are the worst audience."  If you have a bunch of teachers in the audience and you find that they are chatting away, it's most likely because they are not finding the speaker or activity very entertaining or relevant to their professional learning and growth.  The same thing applies to our students.  If our students do not find the learning to be relevant, they're not going to enjoy learning either. But what about when the professional learning is custom designed to meet their needs?

And that's what the SMART Technologies Global SEE (SMART Exemplary Educator) Summit 2016 was all about.  After a hard year's work of teaching - and everything else that we do in the field of education, teachers need time to recharge.  It's important to receive professional learning in a way that not just enables us, but encourages us, to collaborate with others in our field.  Sometimes, those of us who work in the field of Educational Technology feel alone or isolated,  as if others do not understand what we do or why we do it (which is an entirely separate discussion). And as much as I love the use of technology, it's never going to replace face to face learning in terms of social interaction.  It's for this reason that SMART brought 57 educators from around the globe to its headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

So what did we do during the five days that we were there?  The theme was "Teachers are Superheroes."  This is something that we educators know in the back of our minds, right?  Yet, it's important that others acknowledge this as well.  In addition, it's nice to feel appreciated.  Therefore, many of the activities revolved around the theme; from the superhero dinner, the decorations, icebreakers, and more. Of course, this was just the beginning.

Throughout the school year, I am often in contact with developers of various software at different companies, including SMART Technologies.  I appreciate the fact that these developers value what we educators have to say.  It's great actually being able to visit them in Calgary at HQ and meet them face to face.  The entire SMART family - the Executives, developers, engineers, and everyone else in between, was as welcoming as could be.  They truly value our input and put education at the top of their list.

And then there's the "Hackathon"...... (For those of you who don't know what a Hackathon is, click here.) Imagine that you are given the opportunity to be innovative, creative, and/or transform something from better to the best.  That's what the Hackathon at SMART is all about.  Currently in its third year, we SEEs have a chance to sit and collaborate with SMART developers and engineers.  It could be a piece of hardware or software that we are looking to develop.  Or, it could be taking something that is already in existence and transforming it to be even a better product.  It's the chance to say that  ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is possible.  This is probably my favorite part of summit.  So this year, we developed a... Oops!  I can't tell you that - sorry!

I have to mention the Superhero dinner too at the Calgary Zoo.  I don't think I've ever seen so many superheroes together at once in all of my life!  So many superheroes including but not limited to: Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and let's not forget Minnie Mouse, Pippi Longstocking and Santa Claus!  The spirit in the air was contagious!

It was also refreshing to take some time to learn offsite at Calgary's beautiful Heritage Park.  We spent part of the afternoon on a scavenger hunt learning about what life in the 1800's was like in western Canada.  Some of us took a boat ride on the S.S. Moyie while others went on a horse and buggy ride.  Just be sure to watch out where you step!

We were told time and time again, that we are the "Best of the Best of the Best," but I can honestly say that we educators only become great superheroes when we have sidekicks and superpowers that support our daily challenges in education.  We could not have done it without you, SMART.  So thanks for helping us defeat our challenges and make what seems impossible, possible.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ISTE 2016 - Are You Using Tech as Your Superpower?

From the 3 C's (Conversion, Curriculum, Collaboration), to digital playgrounds, from flying pigs to virtual reality, ISTE 2016 Denver was a conference not to be missed! There are many ways that I can make tech my "superpower."  (If you did miss ISTE 2016, please see this crowdsourcing sheet compiled by Tzvi Pittinsky (@TechRav) and other colleagues of mine. You will find notes and resources from over 50 sessions that people attended.) This year, I was fortunate to be a SMART Technologies Trade Show Teacher. Because of this opportunity, I spent more time in the Expo Hall than in various sessions. I spent a lot of my time on the giving end; whether it was networking with various educators on the use of EdTech in their classrooms or providing feedback to vendors whom I have a positive relationship with. I also met with a variety of vendors about the development of new technologies. Because I spent a lot of time in the Expo Hall, it was very easy to get caught up in the new fads and trends that are on display. I had to stop myself a moment and think to myself, "What is the purpose of these new tools? How are they going to affect my students' learning? Why should I buy them?" Going into the new school year, we need to remember that education comes first. After all, all of us superheroes need a plan, right?

Created by Bill Ferriter

This past year, I participated in a school leadership program.  One of the first things I learned about was "The Golden Circle: How Great Leaders Inspire Action."  Developed by Simon Sinek of the TED Talks, the "Golden Circle" focuses on first thinking about WHY we do things, followed by HOW and WHAT we do.  So how does this translate into use of EdTech?  As I mentioned above, it's very easy to get lost and caught up in all of the excitement of the newest tools or trends.  What we need to think about is WHY are we using the new tools or trends in our classrooms.  Why are you using Virtual Reality?  Why are you creating a Makerspace?  Is this something that is aligned to your 20/20 vision of Educational Technology integration?  Is this something that is going to extend student learning academically, socially, or emotionally?  It's a good idea to think about why you are implementing new technologies in your school and create a plan before you actually do so.  It seems like common sense, doesn't it?  Too often, administrators purchase technologies with government funding without a proper vision at hand.  Don't let that happen to you.  

I have recently accepted the position as Director of Educational Technology at a school for students with special needs. Part of me feels that there will be a huge learning curve as I am not a Special Needs teacher. On the other hand, if I focus on the "WHY" and a proper vision, my job will be that much easier. Putting education first before the technology software and hardware will make a huge difference.  In the past, I have found the websites teacherswithapps developed by Special Ed Teacher Jayne Clare and A4CWSN (Apps 4 Children With Special Needs) developed by parent Gary James extremely helpful.  They review many apps with a "fine tooth comb."  If an app on their websites receives a good rating, I know it's one of high quality.

Are you, your school, or your district in the process of designing a digital curriculum?  When I mentioned the 3 C's above, I was referring to Conversion (to mobile devices), Curriculum, and Collaboration which are components to choosing digital content and curriculum.  At ISTE, I had the honor and privilege of participating in a panel focused on the 3C's led by Dr. Kecia Ray of the Center for Digital Education (CDE) and ISTE Board Chair in partnership with Samsung Education.  During the panel, district leaders discussed ways that they are using the 3 C's in their schools in order to extend student learning. Technology should be used as a tool to engage, enhance, and extend student learning.  If there's no place for technology in the instruction, one should not feel pressured to use it.  I would recommend visiting CDE's website where you can access many high quality resources, including but not limited to: Succeeding With Education Transformation (which focuses on the 3 C's), Guide to Choosing Digital Content and Curriculum, and ISTE 2016: 5 Takeaways for EdTech Leaders.  

The above resources are merely a place to start....there are plenty more available.  I hope you find them useful as I have.

Remember - "Technology will not replace great teachers but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational,"says George Couros. So how will YOU be using tech as your superpower this coming school year?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pairing Best Learning Practices With Technology

When integrating Educational Technology, it is important to pair best learning practices to engage students and maximize their success.  Several best practices include: Learning Through Collaboration, Learning Culture, Problem Solving, Digital Content Implementation, and Information and Knowledge.  Research confirms that the use and frequency of teaching and learning best practices makes a difference in technology rich classrooms.  We want our students to learn independently, be creative, think critically as well as be successful socially and emotionally.  To make this happen, it is important to create a visible learning environment.  Visible learning entails that our instruction aligns to the the ways that our students learn outside of the classroom.  It's no surprise that one of the best practices is Digital Content Implementation.  We need to take into account that our students spend hours outside of school using various technologies, many of them participating in game based activities.  This is one reason that there has been a push for gamification, or game based learning in the classroom.  (You can also read my blogpost "Bring Gamification to Your Classroom With SMART Lab" by visiting SMART's EdBlog

Using gamification in the classroom is a great way to engage students, as it is a form of visible learning.  When developing games to implement in instruction, there are several things to keep in mind.  First of all, we need to remember that in order to maximize student success, teaching practices need to be put first, followed by educational software and hardware.  Second, we need to create an "active learning" environment for our students.  "Active learning" means our students engage with the content, they are active participants, and they collaborate with each other.  We cannot nor we should we not expect our students to simply listen and memorize the material.  Rather, we should encourage our students to help and demonstrate a process, analyze an argument, or apply a concept to a real-world situation.  We want our students to see themselves as their own teachers as this enables us educators to be the "guide on the side" as we act as facilitators instead of being the "sage on the stage."  According to Dr. Kecia Ray, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Education, "Active Learning environments are critical to student success and the use of technology in these spaces amplifies the level of engagement we can expect to see."

To create an "active learning" environment using gamification, I have used SMART lab (formerly SMART LAT), SMART Response, and Kahoot.  These tools have readily available content created by other teachers that can be used as is or can be modified to fit the needs of one's class.  When I enjoy creating content for my students, my students will enjoy learning it.  Utilizing Educational Technology has most certainly had a positive impact on my students' test scores.  Not only have my students enjoyed learning the content, but they also grasped the material at a greater extent than they did beforehand.  Out of the six sections in the grade, my class' reading comprehension skills were stronger when compared to the other classes that were not using Educational Technology to aid with game based learning.  The proof is in the pudding.

How much do you know about pairing best learning practices with technology in order to maximize teacher and student success?  You can test your knowledge by playing my SMART lab activity which you can download here.  Have fun!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring Teacher

Teachers are leaders who support us.  No matter what grade we are in - whether it's preschool through post-graduate and beyond, we are never too old or too smart to be inspired by a teacher.  My story takes place only a few years ago, when I was completing a year long course in Educational Technology Integration.
As part of the course, I was required to blog about my experiences and reflections of using various EdTech tools in the classroom as well as different kinds of student centered learning.  I never liked writing - especially creative writing.  I don't know whether this was due to my inability to focus or maybe it was my fear of being vulnerable.  People from all over the world would be reading my thoughts.  What if they didn't agree with them?
was fortunate that my course facilitator was Dr. Shira Leibowitz.  (You can find her on Twitter @shiraleibowitz.) Dr. Leibowitz realized my passion for EdTech integration through reading my blogposts (which eventually led to her hiring me as an EdTech Coach for her school) and she therefore  continued to challenge me to think and reflect on the topics that I blogged about by responding to my blogposts in the following way:
1) I notice....
2) I wonder.....?
3) What if.....?
4) How might....?
By posing these questions as a response to my blog, I was challenged to think critically and discover more about myself.  As teachers, it's our jobs to teach our students to become independent learners and think critically for themselves.  Spoon feeding them and taking the "easy way out," might make things easier in the moment, but it's not doing anything but an injustice for them and for us in the long run.   When we teach our students to think and discover on their own, not only are we challenging them to think critically, but we are also preparing the generation of leaders.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bring Gamification to Your Classroom With LAB Games from SMART

In recent years, there has been a push for gamification in the educational setting.  According to Jane McGonigal, game designer and author, playing games can have several benefits, which include: urgent optimism, social fabric, blissful productivity, and epic meaning. (You can learn more about benefits of playing games by watching Jane McGonigal's TED Talk entitled "Gaming Can Make a Better World."  Because of the push for gamification, SMART Technologies has developed the Lesson Activity Builder (LAB) for SMART Notebook 15.   Eventually, the LAB, which is HTML5 based,  will replace the Lesson Activity Toolkit, which is Flash based. (Future versions of SMART Notebook will no longer support Flash.)

So what is this new LAB all about?  And why is it so beneficial to your students?  As I mentioned above, SMART's new LAB brings gamification to the classroom.  As an educator, when I enjoy creating content for my students, my students are going to enjoy learning using that content.  That's what LAB is all about.  The best thing about LAB is that SMART has already designed the activities with some attractive and engaging themes.  All you have to do is just add your content and you're ready to bring it to your classroom for your students to enjoy.  It's that simple!

The LAB Activities or Games are best used for informal assessment.  You can add whatever content you want; whether it's math, science, social studies, english language arts, and foreign languages. At this point in time, there are currently several types of activities you can choose from in the LAB:
  • Super Sort - Students sort items into two groups.  The items disappear if they're sorted correctly, but they go back to be re-sorted if they're put in the wrong category.
  • Shout it Out! - Students use a web browser on their web enabled devices to connect to an activity and contribute words or images.
  • Rank Order - Students can arrange items into an order selected by the teacher.  
  • Flip Out - Students flip the cards over to reveal what the teacher has put on the other side.
  • Fill in the Blanks - Students drag and drop items to fill in the missing words, phrases or numbers in any passage.  
  • Match 'Em Up! - Students can match items by dragging and dropping.  
  • Label Reveal - This activity will help students learn the names of the constituent parts of the images the teacher chooses.
  • Speedup - Students race each other as they answer multiple choice questions provided by the teacher.  The faster they answer correctly, the faster they move ahead of others in a race to the finish.
Super Sort

Match 'Em Up!
 Label Reveal


To add an activity, you will need to open the LAB by pressing the toolbar icon  in the Notebook toolbar. The Add an Activity window opens. The LAB will take you step by step; you will have a variety of activities and themes to choose from. So just choose what works best for you, add your content, and you're good to go! SMART will continue to add more themes and LAB activities in future product updates in SMART Notebook. Those of you who like the activities in the LAT, please know that SMART will be working to create new LAB activities based on those, so make sure to stay tuned.

For those of you who are new to LAB, I would first recommend that you check out the approximately 500 LAB activities that are available on the SMART Exchange (SMEX) by visiting Why reinvent the wheel?  For those of you who are not familiar with the SMEX online community, it's a repository for a variety of high-quality, peer-reviewed digital content you can use with your classroom technology. You’ll find thousands of resources including Common Core State Standards correlated lessons for SMART Notebook collaborative learning software, question sets for SMART Response interactive response systems, links and other multimedia content. You can search for and browse content quickly and easily by subject, grade, curriculum, media type and popularity, as well as filter results according to the SMART products you have in your classroom.  
So have fun creating new LAB activities and games for your students.  You will give them a new meaning to learning as you bring gamification along with its various benefits into your classroom. Your students will be sure to thank you!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

So, What's New in News-O-Matic?

Let’s face it - in today’s day and age, information is merely at our fingertips.  We live in what's known as the digital age or information age, and everything is so accessible. At the same time, there are so many families who are lacking books in their homes - specifically with informational text. Further, many families nowadays who do not take their children to places where they can build core background knowledge, such as museums or libraries on a regular basis.  According to Neuman, Kaefer, and Pinkham, "There is a virtual consensus that background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. Put simply, the more you know about a topic, the easier it is to read a text, understand it, and retain the information. Previous studies (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Schulze, 1994; Shapiro, 2004) have shown that background knowledge plays an enormous role in reading comprehension (Hirsch, 2003)."

As teachers, we owe it to our students to teach them current events in order to build their background knowledge.  However, it is easier said than done.  In order for our students to fully grasp the skills and content that they are learning, the content needs to be relevant to them, enabling them to build a connection with the material being taught.  What better way to do this than by leveraging technology in the classroom, using an interactive, multi-sensory learning approach?  Fortunately, News-O-Matic, an app developed by Press4Kids, can help us reach that goal.

News-O-Matic, the daily newspaper for kids on iOS ( Android (, and any web enabled device (, provides an interactive, engaging multi-sensory learning experience as children have the opportunity to learn about what is happening in the world around them. Multi-sensory learning involves the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways simultaneously to enhance memory and learning of written languages, thereby strengthening comprehension skills.  The app includes interactive, hands on activities that are comprised of many visual aids, audio files, and extension activities such as games, drawing, and even sending mail to News-O-Matic's Editor in Chief, Russ.  In addition to current events, News-O-Matic has weekly special editorials such as "Real Jobs" and "What do you Think?" which motivates kids to think for themselves, form opinions and share it with the News-O-Matic community of readers.

Because each student learns differently, teachers can customize the articles each day according to each student's reading ability.  Students are able use the content independently at their own pace and can interact with the content and extension activities.  The students will have the same articles to read, yet they will be written according to their own Lexile level.  Therefore, the students will not be able to discriminate between their articles and those of their peers.  Every article is bilingual, Spanish/English, with a read to me in both languages, giving ELL students an opportunity for practice and better comprehension. By using News-O-Matic, the student have become engaged and intrinsically motivated to learn about the world around them.

Second, the lessons are very content rich.  In general, students have more difficulty comprehending informational texts.  According to E.D. Hirsch, keynote speaker at the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Conference in 2008, “In the USA, children are being denied of basic knowledge that allows them to participate in society.”  Hirsch explains the importance of a rich content curriculum in the early grades, as specific relevant background knowledge is necessary for language comprehension.  We need to teach general core knowledge for general comprehension of material.  Rich content yields rich language.  Not only does News-O-Matic provide the core background knowledge using rich content, but it also includes a formative assessment component on each day's featured articles.  This includes skills such as: summarizing, comparing and contrasting, prediction, sequencing, and making inferences.  A child psychologist vets every article to ensure appropriateness.

Each day at 6:30 pm EST, I receive an email from News-O-Matic that includes information about the articles for the following day, a teacher’s guide, and assessment questions on the articles for the students.  In addition to the Teacher’s Guide email, there are multiple-choice assessment questions in every article, correlated to the Standards (for those who use it). Teachers can add open-ended custom questions targeted at individual students, groups or the entire class. The students are excited to read the featured articles and participate in the related extension activities whether it is at home or at school.  Through their social media channels, News-O-Matic has a strong educator community who shares how they incorporate News-O-Matic in their classrooms.  Every Tuesday News-O-Matic posts the "Tuesday Tips." News-O-Matic is being read in 148 countries, which enriches the ‘NewsRoom’ with voices from all over the world.  I have never seen students so excited to read about current events.
Here are some testimonials from elementary school students who are using News-O-Matic.

“I think we've got some teachers who can't live without it:)”, J. Wilson, Technology Integrator, MN

“We truly enjoyed reading your amazing news articles!”, D. Vonder-Hoya, 5th grade teacher, TX

“We learned about News-O-Matic in December and it quickly became one of our students favorite ways to spend their time reading. Boys, girls, gifted and talented, special ed, readers, and non-readers all become motivated and engaged to read, and DAILY.”, N. Brucki and V. Ruane, 5th grade teacher, NJ

“I use News-O-Matic all the time in class and my students absolutely LOVE it. I love that it is so kid friendly and a great way for some current events “, T. Schrader, 3rd grade teacher, CT

“I can honestly say that News-O-Matic has been the best “new thing added to my room this year. The kids thoroughly enjoy the App, and love to share back ”, P. Schultz, 3rd grade teacher, CA

“The combination of reading/listening introduces new oral and reading vocabulary.”, Yvonne Lovelock, Resource/Literacy

“I use the highlight tool to reinforce main ideas and supporting details. Using one color for main idea and another provides quick formative assessment!”, Dina Linzer, ELL Teacher

“The opinion articles inspire debates and interest to explore other resources in search of support for arguments.”, Renee Keeler, Elementary School Teacher

So what news are you going to read about in News-O-Matic today?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

11 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With Your SMART Board by Marlana Martinelli

Do you and your students tend to do the same thing on your interactive whiteboard over and over? Us too! That’s why we were excited to talk with Rebecca Penina Simon, an interactive-whiteboard expert who’s also the director of educational technology at Solomon Schechter School of Queens. Here are some of the cool ways she’s using Teq Unlimited, a resource that combines SMART’s software with some awesome online PD and that we want to try right now.
1. Take advantage of built-in activity templates to create some seriously cool lessons.Most interactive-whiteboard software comes with activity templates that make it easier to create activities and games. But a lot of teachers don’t use them! Check them out—they’re definitely worth another look. SMART’s Lesson Activity Builder (LAB), features six core activity templates that can be customized in various ways. One of our favorites is Super Sort, which guides you through a series of questions to choose your theme (e.g., aliens), enter categories (e.g., nouns and adjectives), category components (e.g., beach, library, soft, green, etc.) and game components (e.g., buzzers, spinning wheel to randomly pick students, etc.). You can even import your student list, and then, voilĂ ! You’ve got a super-fun, interactive and totally customized class activity! 

2. Have students submit answers on their phones.It’s pretty much impossible to call on every student in class, but it’s still possible for all your kids to participate–even the shy ones. Use SMART Notebook’s LAB to create a Shout It Out! activity that asks kids to submit photos or text answers for each of the categories you specify (e.g., mammals, reptiles, amphibians). With SMART Response, your kids can use their 1:1 devices (computers, tablets or smartphones) to submit their answers.

3. Teach algebra and geometry with virtual manipulatives.If you think the only way to use an interactive whiteboard for math is to write out equations with a pen, this one is going to blow you away. You can handwrite equations or formulas, and SMART Notebook’s Math Equation Editor will turn them into typed text! As if that’s not cool enough for all you math geeks, there’s more: You can use GeoGebra to take your written or typed algebraic equations and instantly create corresponding graphs. It's a powerful time-saver!

4. Add a smiley face to student board work.Kids love getting stickers and stamps on their worksheets, so why wouldn’t they love seeing them next to the work they do on a whiteboard? If you have SMART Ink, you can use the Stamp Pad feature to put a thumbs-up or a smiley face stamp next to a student’s correctly answered question on the board. If a student writes an incorrect answer on the board, you can stamp a sad face or an “X.” You can even add up to 20 of your own custom stamps.


5. Hand out copies without having to use the dreaded copy machine.The copy machine can be a teacher’s worst nemesis! Thankfully, if you have SMART amp, you don’t have to wait in line at the copy machine (just to have it jam!) any longer. Instead, you can digitally pass out copies of a workspace to all your students. Bonus: It saves trees too!

6. Evenly divide shapes to teach fractions.We’ve all been there. You’re trying to teach fractions by showing your class how to divide a circle into equal parts, but the sections you’ve drawn are far from equally divided (some poor kid’s going to get 1/16 of the pizza while another’s going to get 1/3!). With SMART Notebook, you can right-click on a shape, choose the number of segments and—like magic—the shape is evenly divided! If you want, you can then drag and drop individual sections anywhere on your workspace. You can even select whether or not the fraction labels (1/4, 1/8, etc.) are shown on each section.

7. Write on anything!Your SMART pens aren’t just for writing on a blank canvas. With SMART Ink, you can grab a pen and write on just about anything. Use the pens to write over text in a Word document or circle pictures on a website.
8. Find out exactly who’s contributed what in group projects.When kids work offline, it can be challenging to know who really painted the diorama or worked on the poster. With SMART amp, you can create a digital canvas that has sections designated for each group member. It’s kind of like Google Docs—but way cooler. All group members can contribute to the same workspace at the same time, but they don’t have to be doing the same thing—one kid can do word processing while another watches a YouTube video and still another creates a timeline! The best part? Teachers can take control of the workspace to review a concept or use the “attribution” feature in real time to see exactly which students are contributing to the project.
9. Figure out which students “get” it.  
With SMART Response, you can choose to keep students’ answers anonymous or include their names to make it easy to keep track of which students grasped the concept. If you need to check off the Common Core box, there’s even a way to tag standards to questions and export the data to any system your school uses. Plus you can use the time you would have spent grading quizzes to plan follow-up lessons that help them practice the skills they find most challenging.
10. Knock off some PD requirements.If this list got you excited about all the cool stuff you can do with your whiteboard and left you inspired to learn more, you’re in luck. SMART offers lots of professional development options to help you keep up with all the newest features and how you can actually use them in your classroom. Teq Online PD has multiple one-hour live broadcasts each week where you have the opportunity to ask questions and chat with the instructor in real time. Or you can access more than 150 archived sessions on-demand whenever you have time. Either way, you can knock off some of your PD requirements for the year.
11. When you get stuck, connect with your own personal tech tutor.How many times have you taken a technology PD session only to forget what you learned when it came time to actually use it in your classroom? You might know you can create a graph out of an algebraic equation you wrote on the board but can’t seem to recall exactly how to access it. With the Teq PD Instructional Support Now button, you can connect with a PD specialist who’s an expert in instructional technology the moment you get stuck—or you can schedule a future time that’s convenient for you.
To try out all these ideas in your classroom, check out Teq Unlimited, a software package that combines SMART’s software—Notebook, Response, Lesson Activity Builder and amp—with awesome online professional development.