Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Power of Blogging - It's Much More Than the New Persuasive Essay

As we head further into the 21st Century, blogging is becoming the "norm" for educators as well as their students.  Blogging is known to many as the "new persuasive essay."  You can read more about this at  As stated in the article written by Shelley Wright, "Blogging has the potential to reach and influence many.  Furthermore, it has greater potential for being a life-long skill.  And isn't that our goal in education?  People from all walks and professions blog for the purpose of teaching, creating, and informing.....If we’re trying to prepare our students to think critically and argue well, they need to be able to blog. It allows for interaction. It allows for ideas to be tested. And the best posts anywhere in cyberspace tend to have a point that can be argued."  For me personally, blogging has been so much more.  

Several years ago, I never would have considered myself a blogger or writer for that matter.  I had no interest.  In fact, being able to sit and express my thoughts on various subjects to others was something I would dread.  I am a social person, don't get me wrong, I just had no desire to do it.  This all changed a year ago.

In November 2011, I participated in an i-Pad Campaign, a contest sponsored by A4CWSN (Apps 4 Children With Special Needs) and The Mobile Education Store, a developer of Speech Therapy Apps and Language Apps for the iPhone and iPad.  The purpose of this campaign was to bring awareness of the high-quality apps that are developed by The Mobile Education Store to help children with speech and language delays, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although I did not win the iPad, I did win second place and received an Apple gift card.  What was more important was that I was able to connect with other educators using Education Technology to help children with special needs.  I was asked by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Technology in Education (CTE) to write a blog focusing on technology for children with special needs for the Maryland Learning Links, which is the Special Education website for the Maryland State Department of Education.  The CTE had  previously viewed my previous posts on Facebook and other websites and was impressed with them.  You can visit the blog at  In each blog, I review apps that I have found to be helpful for my son who has high-functioning ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified).  I only blog about apps that I have tested myself, with my son and/or my students.  So far, I have had a great learning experience.  Through my blog, I have connected with so many other parents, educators, and last but not least, App Developers.  I am so appreciative for the many connections that I have made with others through my blog.

A couple of months ago, I created my personal blog entitled, "Climbing the Ladder of Educational Technology," through which I write about anything that is related to my experiences related to integration of educational technology,  Since this is my personal blog,  I am much more at liberty to post what I want.  I have also started making connections to others through my blog.  I look at my experiences with blogging as a learning opportunity;  a chance to grow and collaborate with others, not just to persuade others of my thoughts. As educators, we are going to make changes in education by working together towards common goals.  We can get so much further through collaboration - especially when learning has no boundaries.  I look forward to continued collaboration with others through blogging and definitely welcome others' comments on my blog posts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why the iPad is Bad for Education

This article was written by James McConville and was originally posted on Thursday, April 5, 2012.  Although it is very controversial, I believe the author makes some good points.  You can read the original blog post at
In a nutshell, the question we all need to ask ourselves is WHY are we using iPads in education?  Are they for us, or for our students?  Educators need to have a plan in place (allowing for flexibility)  as to what the goals of the lesson are, and THEN introduce - or seamlessly integrate - the technology.  Don't think of the iPad - or any technology for that matter - as a novelty.  Think of it as a tool.
Why the iPad is bad for education
‘Amazing, revolutionary, a new era in technology’.  The iPad may be all these things but in my humble opinion it is bad for education and schools.  Here are some reasons.

The iPad isn’t designed to be a primary home computer.  Not even a secondary device.  Ask any student, do you want a cell phone?  Of course they do.  So, at best, an iPad is a tertiary technology purchase and won’t have the ubiquity education needed to begin meaningful integration.  The classes will be split between the have and the have not students.  iPads promote social division between students who we are encouraging to work cooperatively in our classes.
The reason that most schools still have computer labs with desktop computers is multifold.  They always have power and have good connectivity as they are wired to the network and internet.  They are also great for having multiple students use them in a given day.  This doesn’t work for the iPad.  Take for example the email app which is designed for one user to check and send messages.
Back to my previous point.  Apple has designed a one user machine for the simple reason that the less it can be shared the more they sell.  Even at the ‘cheap’ price of $499 that would be a whopping $400,000 to get them for all the students at our school.
The small keyboard is difficult and slow to type on.  Voice dictation accuracy is average to poor.  Our ESL and special need students who most need voice input, it would be terrible.  Therefore, writing, blogging and having students create projects would be a worse experience than regular laptops/desktops.
There isn’t clear information on how schools can get discounts for bulk purchase of apps.  Check out the terms of use on the apple site.  Let’s say your class has a mix of school owned and personal iPads.  If you had ‘an awesome’ paid app, how would you get it on all iPads?
Really Apple?  I’ve read Steve Job’s open letter to Adobe and still don’t get it.  There are so many great free educational sites that are built on flash.  One of my favourite websites for having students practice keyboarding flash based Dance Mat Typing.  Why can’t I use this site on my iPad?
Take this as an example.  Let’s say your school uses eBooks on the iPad.  Now the simple statement of ‘open your book and turn to page 123’ is now a lesson in patience as the device loads, student find the app and opens the textbook.  If the book is WiFi dependent there is another challenge to overcome.  When the battery runs out there isn’t only no iPad there is no textbook.
I’m not the only person who feels this way.  Here are some other posts to support this view

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Promoting Creativity in the Classroom

In a recent blog post, I wrote about various apps that inspire creativity.  You can read the entire post at:  In reality, we shouldn't only depend on apps to inspire creativity within our children and our students;  on the contrary, we should be providing instruction day in and day out that inspires creativity and divergent thinking.  Although the purpose of school to many students seems as if it is to memorize a bunch of meaningless facts, it shouldn't be, nor does it have to be.  With that in mind, I wanted to share the following article which was sent my way by Ferina Santos.

Entitled, "30 Things You Can Do To Promote Creativity in Your Classroom," you can find the original post at:

The concept of teaching creativity has been around for quite some time.
Academics such as  E. Paul Torrance, dedicated an entire lifetime to the advancement of creativity in education. Torrance faced much opposition in his day about the nature of creativity.  Creativity was considered to be an immeasurable, natural ability.  Torrance called for explicit teaching of creativity.  He advocated that it was skill-specific, requiring intentional instruction.  His life’s work ultimately led to the development of the Torrance tests and gifted programs throughout the world.
In recent times, there has been a shift towards the increased acceptance of valuing creativity for all learners.  A 2003 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson discussing this subject reached over 5 million viewers.  It discusses how our current school systems suppress creativity.   He proposes that our current model leaves little room for divergent thinking.
Much of the blame for a lack of creativity, and therefore innovation, can be traced to our traditional educational systems.  

It relies on teaching to the correct answer.  An innovative thinking model is needed. Robinson recently tweeted an article about a new study that suggested 80% of educators surveyed preferred creativity to be included as part of learning standards. 
In the same way, David Hughes, founder of Decision Labs and professor at UNC Chapel Hill, argues that innovation is an essential skill for our global economy. In talking about creativity in schools he says, much of the blame for a lack of creativity, and therefore innovation, can be traced to our traditional educational systems.  
Most of the practice of creative methods is being done outside the traditional educational institutions by consulting firms and by persons in companies who have been trained in creative problem solving methods. In universities not much has changed since 1950, when the distinguished psychologist J. P. Guilford in his inaugural address as president of the American Psychological Association stated that education’s neglect of the subject of creativity was appalling.
Adding to this sequence of events is the fact that textbooks are at least three years out of date when they are published and . . . educational systems were the slowest adopters of innovation. Thus, we see that educational institutions need a strong dose of creative problem solving.
What are some ways then as educators that we foster creativity in our classrooms?
  1. Embrace creativity as part of learning.  Create a classroom that recognizes creativity.  You may want to design awards or bulletin boards to showcase different ways of solving a problem, or creative solutions to a real world scenario.
  2. Use the most effective strategies.  Torrance performed an extensive meta-analysis that considered the most effective ways to teach creativity.  He found that the most successful approaches used creative arts, media-oriented programs, or relied on the Osborn-Parnes training program.  Programs that incorporated cognitive and emotional functioning were the most successful. 
  3. Think of creativity as a skill.  Much like resourcefulness and inventiveness it is less a trait and more a proficiency that can be taught.  If we see it this way, our job as educators becomes to find ways to encourage its use and break it down into smaller skill sets.  Psychologists tend to think of creativity as Big-C and Little C.  Big C drives big societal ideas, like the Civil Rights movement or a new literary style.  Little C is more of a working model of creativity that solves everyday problems.  Both concepts can be included in our classrooms.
  4. Participate in or create a program to develop creative skills.  Programs like Odyssey of the Mind and Thinkquest bring together students from around the world to design creative solutions and bring them to competition.
  5. Use emotional connections. Research suggests that the best creativity instruction ties in the emotions of the learner.  In the “Odyssey angels” program students can devise a solution to help their local community, such as helping homeless youth. This topic is worthy of more discussion by itself. A blog post by fellow blogger Julie DeNeen gives some valuable information about this type of teaching.

Research suggests that the best creativity instruction ties in the emotions of the learner.

  • Use a creativity model.  The Osborne-Parnes model is oldest, widely accepted model.  It is often used in education and business improvement. Each step involves a divergent thinking pattern to challenge ideas, and then convergent thinking to narrow down exploration. It has six steps:
    • Mess-finding. Identify a goal or objective.
    • Fact-finding. Gathering data.
    • Problem-finding. Clarifying the problem
    • Idea-finding. Generating ideas
    • Solution-finding. Strengthening & evaluating ideas
    • Acceptance-finding. Plan of action for Implementing ideas
  • Consider how classroom assignments use divergent and convergent thinking.  Standardized tests do a great job of measuring convergent thinking that includes analytical thinking or logical answers with one correct response.  Divergent thinking considers how a learner can use different ways to approach a problem.  It requires using association and multiplicity of thought.  We should design assingments that consider both types of thinking models.
  • Creativity flourishes in a “congenial environment”.  Creative thinking needs to be shared and validated by others in a socially supportive atmosphere.  Researcher Csikszentmihalyi (1996) coined this term, to explain the importance of reception from others.  Others consider how to create communities that foster social creativity to solve problems.
  • Be aware during discussions.  You know that student who often asks the question that goes a bit outside the lecture?  Well, engage him.  Once a week, intentionally address those questions.  Write them down on an assigned space in the board to go back to later.  Validate their creativity. 
  • See creativity in a positive light.  In his blog in Psychology Today, Eric Jaffe talks about research that suggests see creativity in a negative light.  If we are teaching to creativity, we need to embrace it too.  Reward students for thinking of problems in varied ways by recognizing their efforts. 
  • Try the Incubation Model.  E. Paul Torrance designed this model.  It involves 3 stages:
    1. Heightening Anticipation: Make connections between the classroom and student’s real lives.  “Create the desire to know”.
    2. Deepen Expectations: Engage the curriculum in new ways.  Brainstorm and create opportunities to solve a novel problem.
    3. Keep it going: Continue the thinking beyond the lesson or classroom.  Find ways to extend learning opportunities at home or even the community.
  • Use a cultural artifact.  Research from experimental social psychology finds that artifacts can enhance insight problem solving.  Consider using an ordinary object, such as a light bulb used in the study or a historical artifact to have students think about living in a particular time period.
  • Establish expressive freedom.  The classroom environment must be a place where students feel safe to share novel ideas.  Allow for flexibility and create norms that foster creative approaches.
  • Be familiar with standards.  Knowing the standards inside and out helps find creative solutions in approaching a lesson.  Teachers can adapt them and work within the current framework.  Some topics allow for flexibility and use of creative approaches.
  • Gather outside resources.  There are some great resources to read related to creativity.  The University of Georgia, provides an array of amazing resources related to how to foster creativity in practical ways.  It also gives a list of programs and organizations that can help with the process.
  • Allow room for mistakes.  Sir Ken Robinson said it best when he said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” 
  • Allow space for creativity.  Design some classroom space for exploration, such as a thinking table, a drama stage, a drawing table, or a space for groups to discuss ideas.
  • Give students time to ask questions.  Organizations such as CCE (Creativity, Culture, Education) suggest teachers incorporate opportunities for students to ask questions.  Intentionally design lessons that allow for wondering and exploration.
  • Creativity builds confidence.  Students take ownership of their own learning.  Think of ways where students might design a project.  For instance, for the history requirement, I suggested students of both fifth grade classes create an exhibition of their final projects.  The students were so proud of their final work and learned from others presentations. Parents and community members were happy to see students take ownership of their learning.
  • Encourage curiosity.Consider what is important to students. Student interest are a great place to start on what drives their own thinking tank.  Find inspiration from their world.  Creativity is intrinsic in nature.  Try to step into their viewpoint to find what motivates them.
    Student interest are a great place to start on what drives their own thinking tank.  Find inspiration from their world.
  • Structure is essential.  Studies, such as a meta-analysis by Torrance suggest that creativity instruction is best with clear structure.  For instance, consider the guidelines of the standard curriculum objectives and add these to the design.  For example, reading considers communication, comprehension, listening, writing and reading.
  • Observe a working model of creativity.  Visit a creative classroom or watch a video about how a creative classroom works.  The “Case for Creativity in School” is an excellent video that educators can watch to see how creativity might play out in a classroom.  This school adopted a school-wide approach to recognize students.
  • Consider the work of current experts in the field.  Sir Ken Robinson is an internationally renowed creativity and innovation expert.  His work is used to meet global challenges, renovating education, business, and government organizations to implement his strategies.  His books and TED talks are great places to generate teaching ideas.
  • Explore different cultures.  Culture is an excellent vehicle for inspiring creative thinking.  In Thinking Hats & Coloured Turbans Dr. Kirpal Singh discusses how cultural contexts are central to creative endeavors.   You can discuss how collaboration between cultures, such as in the space program, produces unique, novel ideas.
  • Find ways to incorporate and integrate art, music and culture.  A recent report prepared for the European commission considered that creativity is a central force that shapes our culture.  With the changing times we live in, the report suggested that society is enriched by cultural-based creativity.
  • Use a collaborative creative thinking model to solve classroom problems.  For instance, read a paragraph and then have groups discuss a list of questions.  Collaborative problem solving is catching on quickly.  In fact, many business schools have implemented creative thinking models into their curriculum. 
  • Design multidisciplinary lessons when possible.  When teaching geometry, I designed a lesson called, “Geometry through Art”.  It included works of Art to show fifth graders their application to everyday geometric concepts.  The result was astounding.  I never thought that the subject matter would be so successful.  I designed an entire unit that focused on how different concepts rely on geometry.  I even asked the Art teacher to help reinforce those concepts in class.
  • Tapping into multiple intelligences is key.  Creativity requires us to use different parts of our brain.  We often bridge connections between seemingly unrelated areas to make new concepts emerge.  Allow students to use their strengths to find new ways of approaching a topic or solving a problem.  You might be surprised with what they come up with.
  • Understand that creativity is important to students’ future in the job market.  Paul Collard for Creative Partnerships, discusses how 60% of English students will work in jobs that are not yet created.  In today’s market, students must largely be innovative and create their own jobs.  Collard suggests teachers focus on teaching particular skills or set of behaviors, rather than preparing students for specific careers. 
  • Teach creative skills explicitly.  According to Collard, “Creative skills aren’t just about good ideas, they are about having the skills to make good ideas happen.”  He suggests creative skills should include 5 major areas:
    • Imagination
    • Being disciplined or self-motivated.
    • Resiliency
    • Collaboration
    • Giving responsibility to students.  Have them develop their own projects.
  • In a recent article, What Would Dr. E. Paul Torrance Do?:  A Legacy for Creative Education, the author considers what lies in the future of creativity in our schools?
    Retired professor Berenice Bleedorn says we should continue his legacy of sharing information and practice “the art of creative thinking”.  We must continue to advocate for its use and move against the current or as Torrance himself called them, “the powers that be”.  After all, teachers are the real driving force behind the creative thinking in our schools.
    If our schools are lagging behind, we must be the creative minds that urge our students to be curious and seek new answers.  


    Miriam Clifford holds a Masters in Teaching from City University and a Bachelor in Science from Cornell. She loves research and is passionate about education. She is a foodie and on her time off enjoys cooking and gardening.  You can find her @miriamoclifford or Google+.

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    Looking for great SMART Content for Early Childhood?

    Are you looking for great SMART Content for Early Childhood?  Whether you've been using your SMART Board interactive whiteboard for several years or several days, there are thousands of resources for you. 


    The SMART Exchange website has thousands of free resources, created by teachers and publishers.  As of today, just under 50,000 files have been uploaded and shared by teachers in various subjects.  While anyone can preview the files before downloading them, one has to join as a member in order to download files.  You can check out the SMART Exchange at  I recently attended a webinar on using the SMART Board to teach Early Childhood.  Following the webinar, the webinar speakers were asked by SMART to recommend some of their favorite content on the SMART Exchange.  Here are their suggestions:

    My Five Senses - for pre-k to grade 1, this lesson complements the book My Five Senses, by Aliki.  My Five Senses  is listed as an informational text in the Common Core State Standards.

    Alphabetical Flowers - a great lesson for alphabetizing letters a few at a time

    Math Mania - weekly math practice

    Alphabet Skills - practice for skills and sequencing

    Whiteboard Online Resources - tips for the teacher!

    I was happy to see that one of the lessons they recommended (My Five Senses) was actually created by me!  

    Have fun searching on the SMART Exchange.  The SMART Exchange has helped me tremendously.  When searching for content to use with your students, it would be a great idea to search for lessons including the tag SCLD (SMART Certified Lesson Developer).  These lessons have been developed by candidates seeking SMART Lesson Developer Certification.  They are evaluated on the usage of SMART Notebook and how technology has been integrated into the lesson using best practices.  The developers of these lessons (myself included) have put  a lot of time into developing high quality lessons - so you know these lessons are definitely worth taking a look at.   Now that I have become much more comfortable with using my SMART Board and SMART Notebook Software,  I am developing my own lesson activities which I am uploading to the SMART Exchange so other teachers and students will benefit from them.  I encourage you to do the same.  Remember - sharing is caring!

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    The Heart and Soul of Technology Integration

    This was such an awesome video that I watched on technology integration that I just had to share it.  Written by Derek Wenmoth, you can find the original blog post and video at