Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Confessions of an EdTech Coach: Lessons Learned During the First Year

I am now in my second year working in the field of Educational Technology at my current school. Originally hired as an EdTech Coach, I was quickly promoted to the position of Director of EdTech as I was already performing the following duties:

1) Training teachers in use and integration of educational technology in their instruction
2) Teaching students technology skills to support curriculum and instruction
3) Managing the educational technology in our school

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on my role as an EdTech Coach.  By training teachers in proper educational technology integration, I can have an impact on a greater amount of students than by  teaching a class myself.  This blog post focuses on what I have learned since I have been working in the Educational Technology field.  I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will be able to learn from them.

So here I go....

Before coming to my school, I was aware that my school had much educational technologies in place.  This includes but is not limited to: SMART Boards in almost all of the classrooms, a SMART Response system, document cameras, slates, and Mac and Dell laptops.  Because there was so much technology available here, I made the assumption that my school was at the forefront of technology integration.  I quickly learned a lesson; never assume anything.  Just because a school has the technologies available, it does not mean that the technologies are integrated well into instruction.

So because my school was in the "dark ages," in terms of educational technology integration, I knew that my job was cut out for me.  I was so fortunate to work for a Head of School who I knew had the same thoughts and feelings as I did regarding EdTech integration.  Another lesson I learned  - make sure you are working in an environment where you have a principal who is supporting you and your vision.

I knew that through doing my job successfully, not only would I become a part of the school culture, but I would also have the ability to transform it into something else.  I pride myself on being a dynamic educator who constantly reflects on teaching practices and strives to improve.  Improving requires that one believes in him or herself and the ability to change.  Some people get scared by change - they are enveloped by fear.  Hence, when some teachers in my school heard that an EdTech Coach was hired to train teachers, they became scared.  There was even a teacher who would not even talk to me; she would look the other way.  Another lesson I learned - not to take things personally.  Just keep smiling!

Many schools have an IT Director on staff, employed by the school full time.  My school does not.  Rather, we contract out to a firm and the IT support comes to resolve any issues we are having.  Unfortunately, there are times we expect him to come and he does not show up because he might have gotten stuck at another location.  There are times we do not expect him to come and he shows up.  During my first year, I became very frustrated with this situation.  Therefore, I had a meeting along with my school administration with the President of the consulting firm.  Though it took some time, I learned to do my very best to stay on good terms with our IT support.  His job is to support us in times of need - so I highly recommend to communicate with your IT support daily and work together collaboratively.  We need to work together to support our teachers and students.

Unfortunately, many people - including myself, are under the notion that younger educators are more open to integrating technology in their classrooms than older educators.  We could not be more wrong.  Age has nothing to do with being open to integrating educational technology in the classroom.  During the first week of school last year, a teacher who had been teaching over 30 years, entered my Head of School's office while I was meeting with my Head of School.  The teacher, who was about to retire, was proud to tell us that she just purchased a tablet.  The tablet was not one that I was familiar with.  I said to myself, "This is the last teacher I will be working with."  Low and behold, I was completely wrong.  In the middle of the school year, I learned that I was a recipient of grant for a SMART Board.  I was debating where to install the SMART Board.  Which teacher could use it to enhance and support student learning?  I wanted to make sure that this teacher would work with me to have a proper vision as to how this technology would be integrated in student learning and would work to implement our plan.  After some consideration, I decided to give the SMART Board to the teacher who I mentioned above.  As a SMART Exemplary Educator, I was given the opportunity to pilot SMART amp.  I decided to pilot this software in this teacher's kindergarten classroom.  Because of our dedication, persistence, and open mindedness to try new things, the pilot was a huge success. (You can read about my experience here: Kindergarteners Collaborating? Yes They Can, With SMART amp!)  I am now working with other teachers in my school to train them in using this software to benefit their students' learning.  I learned that age has nothing to do with the goal of being a dynamic teacher who is open to new ideas.

And last but not least - there were times (and there still are) that I would want to just give up.  I realize I could not do everything.  I felt like I was being held back from moving forward.  I can sometimes be competitive and compare myself to my colleagues as to how much I am doing in my school and I often feel like I never accomplish enough. There are two important lessons that I learned here:  1) I am not superwoman.  I simply cannot do everything.  It is better that I accomplish goals at the level of mastery than half way; this means it is better for me in the long run to take on a number of challenges or goals that are actually realistic for me to succeed at.  2)  I need to take that lesson and apply it to my students, who are the teachers at my school.  As an educator, I realize that I need to challenge my students by giving them tasks they can complete at mastery level.  If I give them too many tasks or tasks that are too difficult for them to achieve, it is very likely that they will give up.  The teachers at my school are my students.  By giving them expectations and challenges that are realistic, I am setting them up success.  Of course, I need to be there to support them in their goals.  However, if I set the goals too high, I am setting them up for failure.

I have learned a lot during the past year and a half.  As I grow in my position as an EdTech Coach and as a school leader, I hope to continue to learn more and grow professionally.  Looking back and reflecting, I have definitely accomplished a lot in just a short amount of time.  It is important for me to take pride in all that I have accomplished and build on that success.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Making, Tinkering, and Innovating at Full #STEAM Ahead!

It's an astounding thing how our minds can change based on our personal experiences.  Our experiences change our perceptions of the world around us.  When it comes to emotions, we learn them by watching others and how they react to certain situations; we trust those whom we look up to and respect.  All of the above applies to teaching our students.  If we are excited about what we are teaching and present the content in a creative and engaging way - if we exhibit excitement ourselves, then most likely our students will be excited to learn.  As I write this blog post, I am reflecting on my positive experiences leading a Maker Space, incorporating a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Program.

During recent years, the United States Federal Government has been strongly encouraging schools to offer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related courses.

One of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math… We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.
President Barack Obama
Third Annual White House Science Fair, April 2013

The Obama Administration stands committed to providing students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/k-12/educate-innovate  

Personally, I had no interest whatsoever in teaching a course with a STEM/STEAM course, I will honestly admit.  When I hear the word "STEM," the word "boring" is the first word that pops into my mind.  Again, this is all based on my prior experiences with these subjects.  Science? Boring.  Technology?  I am an Educational Technology enthusiast - not a computer programmer.  I hated my computer programming course in college.  Engineering?  No thank you.  Math?  It's been years since I have reviewed algebra, so don't even bother trying to ask me.  And Calculus?  Well, let's not even go there.  Like I said, STEM is boring.  However, it does not have to be.  My thoughts on STEM/STEAM programs changed during the past year.  I will now explain why.
There is a technological and creative revolution underway - you don't want to miss it!  I am referring to none other than the Maker Movement.  If you are not familiar with the Maker Movement, you can learn more about it by reading a great blog post written by Daniel Winkler (@dan_winkler) which you can find here. http://blog.mimio.com/the-maker-movement-in-education?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter
Running a Maker Space is a great way to teach the concepts of STEM/STEAM to your students. We all know that the way educators present content to their students can have a great impact on their interest in learning.  However, running a Maker Space works differently.  Through running a Maker Space, not only are we presenting content to our students in a meaningful and interactive way, but we are also giving students the opportunity to create their own engaging activities and the ability to be in control of their own learning.  Where their imagination will take them is up to them to decide; the more effort they put into their learning, they more they will learn.  We merely are creating the environment and offering the tools that they will need to foster these skills.

Last year, I read the book "Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, Engineering in the Classroom"  by Sylvia Libow Martinez (@smartinez) and Gary Stager (@garystager). (http://www.inventtolearn.com/"This book helps educators bring the exciting opportunities of the maker movement to every classroom.  Amazing new tools, materials and skills turn us all into makers. Using technology to make, repair or customize the things we need brings engineering, design and computer science to the masses. Fortunately for educators, this maker movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. The active learner is at the center of the learning process, amplifying the best traditions of progressive education."  I found this book to be very inspiring, as it presented the concepts of STEAM in a new light.  As I mentioned above, it's all about the presentation."  I was very excited and interested in running a Maker Space program on my own, yet I was not expecting the opportunity to be able to do so anytime in the near future.
This past April, my Head of School, Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), thought of an incredible idea.  Dr. Leibowitz suggested that for the coming school year, we offer elective courses to our seventh and eighth grade students that would be career relevant.  One of the courses offered would be a Technology focused course.  Dr. Leibowitz approached me and asked me about my interest in teaching a Technology elective focused on programming skills.  Since I am not a computer programmer, I had no interest.  I then thought of the Maker Movement and I requested to run a Maker Space in our school.  Fortunately, my request was approved.  I began to contact others in the New York area who were well versed in the Maker Movement.  

The first resource I always turn to professional growth is Twitter.  Through Twitter, I connected with other Directors of Educational Technology who run Maker Spaces and/Fab Labs in their school.  These included but were not limited to: Jaymes Dec (@jaymesdec), James Tiffin, Jr. (@JimTiffinJr), and Jeremy Sambuca (@jsambuca).  I also contacted Sylvia Libow Martinez to get her support as well.  

I knew I would be able to run a Maker Space in my school, yet I also knew that it would take a considerable amount of time to develop a curriculum and research for many different supplies at reasonable costs.  Through Twitter, I was fortunate to discover the organization Maker State (@MakerState) (http://www.maker-state.com) under the leadership of Stephen Gilman (@StephenGilman).  Maker State is an organization which provides Maker Spaces to After School programs, Homeschoolers, and now, courses held as part of the school day.  In May, I contacted Stephen Gilman and met with him in Manhattan.  I explained to him what the goals were in my course and how I was inspired by the book "Invent to Learn."  He was very knowledgeable of the book, the vision and goals of a Maker Space, and how to properly run a Maker Space to ensure student success.  

I have been in contact with Stephen Gilman and his Maker State team since May on a regular basis.  As I mentioned above, our minds can change based on our personal experiences.  The way that Maker State has not only developed a curriculum but has given me support as well, has turned my fears of running a STEAM program to feelings of excitement.  In fact, I will be learning how to use Minecraft next week; not for playing games in virtual worlds, but for purposes of programming.  As the year progresses, I will continue to post on my experiences in running a Maker Space.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have regarding starting a Maker Space program.  This is your chance to offer your students - and yourselves - the chance to be Makers as well as letting their imagination and creativity run wild.  I guarantee that if you have an open mind, you will love it just as I do.  

So when will you start your Maker Space?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Using iOS Devices and Apple Configurator With SMART Amp - It Can Be Done!

Several months ago, I blogged about my experiences with piloting the new SMART amp Collaborative Learning software released by SMART Technologies.  You can read this blogpost by going to http://edtechmorah.blogspot.com/2014/05/kindergarteners-collaborating-yes-they.html.  I wrote about collaboration vs. cooperation, maximizing device independence, and last but not least, the technical specifications of using SMART amp with GAFE (Google Apps for Education).

Now that school is about to start, it's time to set up my school's iPad carts for deployment using Apple Configurator.  For those of you who are new to using iPads in your school, Apple Configurator is an app that makes it easy for anyone to mass configure and deploy iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch in a school, business, or institution.  It is a free app that can be found in the Mac App Store (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/apple-configurator/id434433123?mt=12).  Apple Configurator allows me to supervise the iPads while setting up the restrictions, security, and other important features beforehand.  When Apple Configurator is properly used to manage and supervise the students' iPads, I don't have to worry that the students are using the devices in an appropriate manner.

For those of you who are new to SMART amp, the software is entirely web based.  It is stored "in the cloud" as opposed to being stored on your computer's hard drive.  SMART amp software is hosted on the Google Cloud Platform, therefore your school must be a GAFE school in order to run the software.  When a user goes to the SMART amp website (https://www.smartamp.com/) in order to start using it, the device one is using must actually connect to many other websites in order to successfully run the software.

Knowing the facts above, I knew I was going to need SMART Tech's help in order to obtain the entire list of websites that need to be allowed in Apple Configurator in order for SMART amp to run.  SMART Tech was very helpful in providing me a long list of websites; however SMART amp was still being restricted on the iPads.  I could not figure out why.  Therefore, for the time being, I lifted the security restrictions for all websites on the iPads.  Of course, this was not ideal.  I knew I would be in this particular classroom with kindergarten students working with the students in small groups when they would be using SMART amp on the devices.  Because of that, I was not afraid of them accessing websites with inappropriate content.  I was not going to give up and I was determined to find a long term solution before the next school year.

During the third week of July, I was one of 76 (SEEs) SMART Exemplary Educators who attended the Global SEE Summit at SMART Technologies in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  During that week, we were given intensive professional development and had the chance to meet many members of SMART Tech's team, including marketing, product development, and software development.  One of the highlights of my week was being part of the Hackathon.  During the Hackathon, I was able to meet with product developers and give them my ideas and feature requests for SMART amp software.

It was at this point that I resumed experimenting with Apple Configurator and its Web Content Filtering settings in order to enable SMART amp to run.  Shortly after, I discovered there were two websites that SMART Tech did not realize are necessary in order to run SMART amp, specifically because it is Google Platform based:

These include: https://plus.google.com/ (the website for Google Plus) and https://accounts.youtube.com. These two websites were blocking SMART amp on Safari on iOS Devices.  In the back of my mind, I should have known this already, as Google Plus is necessary in order to use SMART amp.  Second, when connecting through Google, one can often find the site https://accounts.youtube.com in the browser between connections.  As soon as I whitelisted these websites in Apple Configurator, I was able to connect to SMART amp successfully.  I was happy that during the hackathon, I was finally able to successfully hack into an issue I was dealing with for months.

I then had the pleasure of sitting and working with Colin Dere, one of the developers at SMART, as he added a few more websites in order to ensure that SMART amp will fully run with Apple Configurator.  I am including screenshots of the final list of websites that need to be whitelisted in Apple Configurator below.  SMART Technologies is continuing to work on a shorter list of websites that one will need to whitelist in Apple Configurator.  I will repost this information as soon as I receive it.  

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to contact me.  You should have a much easier time connecting now.  Good luck!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It Takes A Teacher.....A Week Full of Personalized Learning

We are all familiar with the ancient African proverb, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," but are you familiar with the the quote, by Deena Zenyk, Marketing Manager, Education Advocacy of SMART Technologies, "It takes a teacher to......."?  I will let you fill in the blank in this sentence; feel free to choose from one of the many words below in the word cloud.  This was the theme at this year's SMART Technologies Global SMART Exemplary Educator (SEE) Summit.

(Words by Deena Zenyk)

As educators, we all know that the responsibilities of teachers have increased steadily over the years.  A teacher is not just a teacher; a teacher is a nurse and/or doctor, therapist, social worker, psychologist, and sometimes, even a parent.  The list goes on and on.  Our students require more TLC and it is our job to give it to them.  In order to teach our students and help them reach their full potential, we need to connect with them, motivate them, encourage them, showing that we truly care as if they are our own children. One of the ways that we can connect with them is by creating highly engaging and interactive lessons as well as creating lessons that are personalized to meet their own academic, social, and emotional needs.  

We educators are just like our students.  We also require personalized lessons that cater to our needs.  That's where professional development comes in.  As educators, we all know that professional development is the key to professional growth.  Unfortunately, it is not easy for many teachers to obtain high quality professional development due to various reasons such as time, money, or lack of the availability.  That's where my amazing experience at the Global SMART Technologies SEE (SMART Exemplary Educator) Summit comes in.  

I had the chance this past week to attend a SMART SEE Summit at SMART Headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, CA.  I truly felt as if I was home.  Through Twitter and other forms of social media, I knew many SEEs virtually, but had not yet met them face to face.  Though educational technology is a great tool to connect and collaborate with others, it does not replace face to face social interaction.  So being able to connect with many other SEEs was an amazing experience alone.  

With regards to professional development, the sessions that were offered to us truly met our professional needs in order to further our professional growth.  These sessions included but were not limited to: meeting with SMART's marketing staff, product developers, product managers, focus groups based on our choosing, hands on activities and demonstrations, and technical support staff.  It was great to meet those technical support members that I have literally spent hours on the phone over the past few years.  I am so indebted to them for putting so much effort into solving various technical problems I have had.  We also had a "virtual" fireside chat with Warren Barkley, CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SMART and last but not least, the chance to learn from other SEEs on topics such as global collaboration.   We were given time to improve our own skills in teaching as well as submit feature requests on how SMART can better meet our needs and more importantly, our students needs.  I personally had a chance to sit with product developers for a few hours and make feature requests to various SMART products.  Within a couple of days, the product developers had actually brought those ideas I had to fruition.  Now THAT is personalized learning! 

In addition, I had a chance to speak with Greg Estell, President of Education at SMART.  I was amazed how Mr. Estell was so open to listening to my own thoughts and concerns about technology in education and the way that educators need to use technology responsibly in their classrooms.  He was so receptive to what I had to say and followed through on my concerns immediately after I spoke with him.  If only we educators could act the same way with our students!  Imagine how much farther we could go with them!  Now THAT is a SMART Teacher!  

I am truly indebted to SMART and all they have done for me.  SMART has truly changed the way I teach as it has enabled me to redefine my instruction and improve the quality of learning for my students.  As a SMART Exemplary Educator and now as a Director of Educational Technology, not only do I have to improve my teaching, but my goals to personalize the learning for my students (the teachers in my school) and for their students.  

SMART, thank you for all that you have done for me.  It is truly a privilege and an honor to be here connecting and learning together with so many others.  

Now when you hear the quote, "It takes a teacher........," you will know exactly what that means!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maximizing Device Management to Foster Student Learning and Collaboration

I recently had the opportunity to pilot collaborative learning models that leverage student devices and educational software in a kindergarten classroom at my school.  It has truly been a rewarding learning experience.  I work as an Educational Technology Coach and Coordinator in an elementary independent school grades PK-8 in New York.  I could have chosen any class to work with; in the end I chose a Kindergarten class and I am happy that I did.

We know that before implementing educational technology in any classroom, there must a vision and plan in order to succeed.  When bringing mobile devices into the classroom, it is always a sound idea to start small and then increase the scope of the initiative.  I believe it is better for a teacher to become comfortable with using a device in his or her classroom and support the ability to manage it with the students than it is to bring a class set of devices into the classroom and not know how to manage them.  Just because a teacher has only one device in a classroom does not mean that it won’t benefit the class.  The pedagogy needs to come first before the technology. Too many schools are spending thousands of dollars bringing in mobile devices to their classrooms without any vision or training for how to seamlessly integrate the technology in education.  

When reflecting on this implementation challenge, the well-known TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy,  and Content Knowledge) model comes to mind.  Teachers already have to balance pedagogy and content knowledge along with classroom management.  When technology is thrown in with everything with else, it can definitely cause the pedagogy to suffer and fall to the wayside.  I cannot stress enough how important it is for teachers to receive ongoing professional development and coaching in technology integration.  

The TPACK Model - used with permission - http://www.tpack.org/

When a teacher is comfortable enough to manage the students and the integration of technology to support learning, it is time to bring the devices into the classroom.  Never fear whether the students are ready; the students are always ready!  

When it comes to device management, it is important to have proper filters, security, and other necessary options set in place before introducing the students to the devices.  The technology must be completely ready for deployment; if it’s not, the pedagogy will suffer resulting in chaos in your classroom.  

The reason I chose to pilot SMART amp in kindergarten is twofold; one reason is to strengthen reading comprehension skills, the other reason is that the younger the students are, it is much easier to inculcate within them the ability to learn independently, to self-assess, and to work in groups collaboratively.

In my previous blog post where I wrote about my experience in piloting SMART amp (http://edcompassblog.smarttech.com/archives/16931), I mentioned that I had to lift my restrictions on web content filtering in Apple Configurator  in order to use SMART amp on the iPads.  The web application SMART amp uses many websites in order to run so listing these websites in the “Exceptions” list in Apple Configurator is not so clear cut.  –perhaps delete? ISTE blogs do not appear to get into this level of technical.

Using the iPads in the kindergarten classroom is done as a center activity.  The children work on the iPads in a small group collaboratively.  Because I lifted the restrictions on the web content filter, I made sure that I was in close proximity to the students in order to monitor their usage of content on the iPads.  In retrospect, this is not the best option in the long term as I would like the students to work independently and collaboratively at the same time.  The students need to be able to self-assess what they know about the subject matter and work independently.  By me hovering over them, they will never learn how to do so.  A feature needs to be set in place in order to create a safe environment for them while using the iPads allowing me the stand back and facilitate.  

One of the great features that Apple developed in the past couple of years is the Guided Access option.  For those who are unfamiliar, Guided Access temporarily restricts your iOS device to a particular app.  Guided Access can be turned on by going into your iPad settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access.  
Guided Access can:
·         Disable areas of the screen that aren’t relevant to a task, or areas where an accidental gesture might cause a distraction
·         Disable the hardware buttons

To learn more about how Guided Access works, you can visit the following Apple iOS support page: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht5509.  

Now that the technology is set in place, the students can work independently and collaborate together on one shared goal.  When I first told others that I was piloting SMART amp in kindergarten, many were shocked as they assumed this software would be used in older grades.  Collaboration cannot be taught directly; rather it needs to be taught indirectly through exposing others to collaborative activities.  It’s a much more complex activity than cooperation as it involves components which are different from each other yet unified by a shared common goal.  Being that kindergarteners were so young and were therefore not set in their ways, they were so open to collaborating with each other.  This goes to show that anyone can collaborate as long as they are given the opportunity and have the necessary tools to work with.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"27 Ways to Flip Your Classroom" An Infographic by Mia MacMeekin

The following infographic was designed and created by Mia MacMeekin (https://twitter.com/MiaMacMeekin).  I decided to reuse it in order to create an interactive Thinglink (http://www.thinglink.com/).  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kindergarteners Collaborating? Yes They Can, With SMART amp!

As an educator, I strive to create a classroom that is focused on student-centered learning.  I am teaching children, not subjects or skills.  One way to promote such an environment is to develop activities through which all children can participate and work towards a common goal.  Although the children create something at the end, the focus is the learning process as how to do it together as a team.  I am referring to the act of collaboration, which is the target goal of the new software SMART amp developed by SMART Technologies.  

Why is this important?

"Schools are not just focusing on the three Rs (Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic) anymore," says Greg Estell, president of education with SMART Technologies. "They're really focusing on the four Cs: collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking."

"Trends toward collaboration, student-centered learning that is highly measurable, blended learning, distance learning and flexible learning are reflected in the technologies that classrooms use. These overarching trends of personalized and inclusive education are starting to drive the education technology market," explained Audrey Arthur of School Construction News, May 2014.

"[In the past], there was a teacher standing in front of a room of students with a whole stage kind of approach. But now students are working in small groups, they're collaborating together in class, and we're looking at technology to support that," Estell said.

"Different platforms, devices and constantly evolving technologies can create difficulties in the classroom. While schools are implementing a wide variety of technologies, students are also trending toward bringing their own devices from home. With such a range of technologies, schools are also charged with finding a way to systematically control the variety of technologies and limit technical difficulties," said Arthur.

"We really have spent a lot of time on software over the past year because kids are brining disparate digital devices, or schools are purchasing disparate digital devices in the classrooms, and how do you support that?" Estell asked.

According to Arthur, to find a solution to these challenges, SMART launched SMART amp learning software in April. The software works with any web-enabled device with a modern browser and is cloud-based. The assessment and organizational tools also allow teachers allow teachers to manage the entire classroom.

"It's a software that allows teachers to assess students, it allows collaboration in the classroom and it works on any digital device," Estell said.

My Experience With Piloting SMART amp

I was recently given the opportunity to pilot SMART Technologies’ new software, SMART Amp.  SMART amp is cloud based software and runs through Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  So, if your school uses GAFE, all you need to do to prepare the software for activation is to make some changes to settings in your GAFE Admin Console.  If you do not have permission to do that, ask your IT Administrator to do so.  

At first, I was hesitant to use the software with such young students.  The classroom did not even have a SMARTBoard in the room and the teacher who is not so tech-savvy was completely unfamiliar with SMART Notebook.  I happen to love SMART Notebook software as I used it to redefine my instruction.  However, one of the great features of SMART amp is that no knowledge of SMART Notebook is necessary.  In addition, the software is very easy to use, which is how it should be, otherwise the pedagogy suffers.  I was fortunate to win a grant for a SMART Board recently.  When it comes to integrating technology in the classroom, it is best to have some kind of plan beforehand to optimize your chance of success.  My goal was to use technology to strengthen reading comprehension.  I therefore had the SMART Board installed in this classroom and prepared to pilot SMART amp.

Technical Specifications for SMART Amp

In order to use SMART amp, every teacher and student needs a GAFE account.  Ordinarily, I would not have set up accounts for kindergarten students, but I did so for this specific purpose.  Second, as SMART Amp is cloud based, the software updates automatically without the need to download and install updates.  Similar to Google Docs, your changes are also saved automatically. Third, a robust wifi network is critical as the students will always need to be connected online when using the software.  Fourth, if you are using iPads in your school, you are most likely using Apple Configurator to manage your iPads and apps.  In general, I have very tight restrictions set in place for internet usage.  I basically block every website unless I specifically list it in my exceptions list.  You should know that although one goes to smartamp.com to use the software, SMART amp actually uses many different websites to run.  I had to loosen up the restrictions and web content filter settings on Apple Configurator while I was managing the iPads. Knowing that another teacher or myself would be sitting with the students and monitoring them, I was not concerned about the students browsing the web. I hope to resolve this in the near future as I can only imagine that other schools will be facing the same problem using GAFE, iPads, and the Apple Configurator.

When I first started using SMART amp in the kindergarten classroom, we focused more on becoming familiar with using the tech tools. This was the first time that the kindergarten students were using iPads in their classroom. The fact that they were able to use the software so easily and seamlessly was a big plus as class time did not go to waste. I didn't have to train the teachers or students how to use the software; it was just so simple. I debated as to whether use Google Chromebooks or iPads with the students. The reason I chose to use iPads for SMART Amp is because since the students do not know how to type, they would have a much easier time navigating on the iPad screen. I was right. Being able to navigate the workspace in SMART Amp required them to use their "pincher fingers," practicing fine motor skills and visual coordination, which are important skills for their age.

With the technology component of SMART amp being so easy to master, we were able to focus on the pedagogy. I used SMART amp with the kindergarten students in small groups 1-2 times a week. Learning is a process, in fact there is a common saying that FAIL = first attempt in learning. We did have some hiccups in the way that I designed the workspace for the students. Since the students are younger, they did have some difficulty with navigating and working within their own area on the workspace. I therefore designed each child's own area to be larger and assisted them in navigating to that space before they started their work. Each session was a learning experience on which I reflected and made the necessary adjustments and improvements for the following session.

Cooperation vs. Collaboration

When we first started using SMART amp in the classroom, it was more of a cooperative activity rather than a collaborative activity. This means that the students were completing the same activity by themselves with the same goal in mind. If one student had not participated in the activity, one would not have noticed the difference. I am now in the process of designing collaborative activities, which is the purpose of the SMART amp software. This means that the entire group will share a common goal; yet each child will create something different towards that goal. If one child is absent, that part of the goal is not completed. This shows our students that they all matter as each child is unique and has something different and special to contribute to the goals of the team. As it is much easier for teachers to design cooperative activities, collaborative activities are not implemented in classrooms nearly as often as they should be. It takes more time, effort, and preparation to design collaborative activities. If an educator spends the time to design collaborative activities, then the students will benefit tremendously in partaking in these activities. Once we get into the habit of designing collaborative activities for our classes, then it will be much easier to do so in the long run.

If you are interested in learning more about SMART amp, please watch the video below. Also you are welcome to come visit me at SMART Technologies' booth at ISTE 2014 where I will be presenting on SMART amp as a Trade Show Teacher for SMART Technologies.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are You Engaging or Disengaging Your Students?

When you teach your students, do you find that they are engaged or disengaged in your lesson content? Does it depend on who the students are?  Does it depend on the subject or skills you are teaching?  No matter how boring or complicated the lesson content is, you have the power to engage your students.  Not only will engaging your students help in earning their respect, but it will also lead to them being successful, independent learners.  Before we discuss ways to engage our students, we need to understand exactly what engagement is.  When our students are present in our classrooms during our lessons, they have two options: they can either engage themselves or disengage themselves in the lesson content.  Engagement refers to the students participating in the lesson because they want to.  When students are disengaged, the learning process is merely work; they work because they have to.  Here are some tips that I have found to be very useful to keep my students engaged in the lesson content.

Make the lesson content meaningful and relevant to the students.  Our students will not merely accept that the content that is being taught is of value to them.  On the contrary, in order for them to engage in the lesson content, they need to understand that what is being taught will be useful to them in the future. It is important to include real world applications.

Foster creativity skills.  There is a much greater chance that your students will be engaged in your lessons if you afford your students opportunities to be creative.  When students are creative, they are using their psychological and emotional abilities.  There is no right or wrong answer.  This instills within them a sense of purpose and confidence.  When students are confident of their abilities, they are more likely to engage in the content and succeed.

Lesson content should be exciting.  Your lesson content should engage your students.  If you are excited when you develop your lesson content, then most likely your students will be excited and enthusiastic when learning it.  They will be engaged to learn it and it will not be a chore.  Learning should be fun; we want our students to enjoy their learning.

Develop lesson content that is interactive.  It is important that your students are able to interact with the lesson content - whether you use technology or not.  Providing an interactive, multi-sensory approach to learning is going to afford your students multiple opportunities to interact with lesson content.  The more students interact with lesson content, the greater chance that they will be engaged and will retain the material being taught.

Develop lessons that include authentic learning.  Including authentic learning methods such as project based learning, affords your students multiple opportunities to become immersed in the lesson content.  Through project based learning, students take ownership of their learning and conduct research.  At the same time, their learning is enhanced and they are highly engaged.

I have found the above five tips to creating engaging lessons to be very beneficial in my classroom.  Although I taught lower elementary students, when it comes to engaging your students, age does not matter.  Whether you are teaching preschool, elementary, middle school, high school students or beyond, engaging your students is the key to not only their success, but to your success as an educator as well.

This post was written for a competition held by The Bloggers Lounge and World Class Teachers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My SMART Breakthrough Moment - A Video

SMART SEE Summit Video Application 1 from Rebecca Penina Simon on Vimeo.

Learn how SMART Technologies has changed the way I teach.

"It's not about the technology....it's about the pedagogy these new technologies facilitate," Kirsti Lonka.

To watch my video, enter the following password: seesummit

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teaching the SMART Way - The Secret to My Success

In October 2012, I came across the blog post entitled "20/20 Technology Vision" (https://smartblogs.com/education/2012/10/29/2020-technology-vision/)
written by Nicholas Provenzano. (You can find him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thenerdyteacher). In a nutshell, this blog changed my life for the better.

Reading this blog post, I came to realize that having a proper technology vision is crucial to succeed in the classroom. A classroom can have all of the technology in the world, but without a proper vision and plan for technology integration, it’s just not going to enhance the students’ level of learning. After reading Nicholas Provenzano’s blog post, I started questioning my own vision and realized that I did not have one. I made it a point to develop my own plan for technology integration. Soon after becoming a SMART Certified Trainer in Notebook and Response and a SMART Exemplary Educator, I took courses from SMART Technologies to become a SMART Certified Lesson Developer. I learned about the TPACK model and creating a balance between content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology in order to support my students’ learning. Not only was I now well versed in SMART Notebook Tools, but I was able to use them effectively as I focused on my learning objectives. SMART Technologies has made a world of a difference in my teaching career and professional growth.

To further my professional growth, I reached out to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and took additional courses from Teq (http://www.teq.com/) on technology integration in education. I wanted to be the best teacher that I could be; one who is always continuing to learn and grow in order to best support my students’ learning. Since I am very tech savvy, I used SMART Technologies products to reach my academic objectives and goals. I have used other educational technology products in my classes, but SMART most definitely takes the cake. Between SMART’s product durability, ease of use, and their level of technical support, they have supported me through each and every step. I probably called SMART Technologies so many times over the years that I should have my very own VIP line.

When developing my lessons, I focused on the skills that I learned from the TPACK http://www.tpack.org/ and SAMR modelshttp://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf of technology integration. I then revamped my entire year of lessons in order to teach in ways that were engaging, interactive, and also challenged my students to think critically. I also used methods of instruction such as the concept discovery method of learning so that my students could become independent learners. I can proudly say that my lessons went from the substitution level of the SAMR model to the highest level of SAMR which is redefinition. This means that the SMART Notebook lesson activities that I created could not have been implemented without technology. In addition, I empowered my students by providing them with lesson activities through which they had opportunities to discover their learning. I acted as a facilitator in my classroom, acting as the “guide on the side,” and not as the “sage on the stage,” which I used to do previously. Not only was this an amazing feeling for me, but it also instilled so much confidence within my own students.

I also made a point to include a multi-sensory approach to learning, as I taught students who learned in different ways. I then created a “Flipped Classroom Model” of learning by sharing my lessons via Google Drive with parents of students who needed extra support. This was an amazing experience. Although I had a limited amount of SMART products in my classroom, I did my best to inspire collaboration among my students. I can honestly say that my hard work has paid off. But it didn’t end there…...I continued to innovate with my class. As the unofficial education technology teacher leader in my school, I became a resource to those teachers in my school, community, and even across the world. I then realized that I was ready to move on to a position through which I would be able to have a greater impact on student learning by coaching teachers on proper educational technology integration. When searching for a job, I knew that I would be only working in a school that used SMART Technologies to support student learning. SMART Technologies products have enabled me to redefine my instruction and become a much better teacher; there wasn’t any way I was going to give up all that I had worked so hard for.

At ISTE 2013 in San Antonio, I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Provenzano in person. I told him how much his blog post “20/20 Technology Vision” inspired me to create my own technology vision, which led to even more professional growth. I gave Nicholas a big hug and I said to him, “You saved my life!”

Teach Your Students Technology Skills and They'll Learn Much More

Our children spend much of their days in school and we hope that they are receiving a high quality education.  Gaining proficiency in reading, math, science and social studies are all important to a child's academic growth,  but that's not all.  Equal in importance - or even more so, is the social and emotional development of our children.  Teaching critical thinking skills, the ability to adapt, to be creative, and such character traits as honesty are not found in any textbook that I have ever seen. So, how do we instill these abilities within our children?  By teaching them technology skills and enabling them to integrate technology into their education.  How is that possible?  Let's go through this one step at a time.

Honesty simply means the ability to tell the truth.  But if we dig deeper than that, it also entails that one can decipher between what is morally right and wrong.  Through teaching our students Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship skills, they will know how to use the Internet in a productive manner. This is imperative nowadays as we are constantly surrounded by technology.    There is nothing better than having a face to face conversation with a friend; yet as we are bombarded by e-mails, texts, instant messaging, blogs, social media and the like, we need to understand that it's just not the same.  Therefore, we need to know how to conduct ourselves in a responsible appropriate manner when communicating with others online.  In addition, through learning Digital Literacy skills, students will be able to "read a news article and determine if there is bias and if it’s truthful. They then need to learn how to read the comment sections of online news articles and respond appropriately with a well thought-out comment.” —Sandy Harty, Salt Lake City.  There are many who state that "blogging is the new persuasive essay."  Our students need to understand that just because it's found online, it doesn't mean that it's true.  They need to be able to judge the quality and hidden influences of content that they encounter in the online world.

Critical thinking skills.  As much as we associate these skills with academia in the classroom, it doesn't end there.  Our students need critical thinking skills in their daily lives.  Not everything is black and white - there are many shades of gray.  As much as technology is immersed in our everyday lives, our students need to learn how to use it responsibly "from not texting while driving … to understanding the difference between face time and screen time … to employing sound thinking and decision making in each tech area and with each decision. You might find a wife, job, or car on Google, but you still have to nurture the relationship, show up with clean pants, and put oil in the thing; the skill, the tool, the ‘app’  aren’t the final destination.” —Ed McManis, head of school, Sterne School, San Francisco, Calif.

“It is using technology in the questioning of what is known and unknown; developing new facts or theories from what is known; questioning assumptions and fact with new knowledge and facts. These are the skills needed, not an office suite or set of things.” —Dr. Neil Schaal, director of grants management, EAGLE-Net Alliance.

“The most important technology skill that students need to learn in the 21st century is learning how to learn. When students are equipped with this skill, they will know what resources to seek out and what methods to apply to help them gain the knowledge and skills they need.” —Mamzelle Adolphine.

Creativity.  Many of us are well-versed in the theories of left brain vs. right brain psychology.  Unfortunately, I'm not a psychologist so I am not going to take a stance on this issue.  What I can honestly tell you is that there are many students who have a difficult time learning their general curriculum in their classrooms, yet when it comes to the science behind technology, they are the ones who shine.  Some of these students might even be found on the autism spectrum.  We need to teach our students technology skills - not just about hardware and software, but what it takes to make the hardware and software.  This involves learning programming skills.  You never know - you might be teaching some future app developers!

Adaptability.  Many of us take the ability to transition from one situation to the next for granted.  We know many of us also just don't like change.  It forces us to think "outside the box" as it opens up new ideas and  a multi-faceted world of possibilities.  Unfortunately - and maybe even fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, change is unavoidable.  “I believe that having enough resourcefulness, initiative, risk-taking, and creativity to learn and master any technology is necessary, as we actually cannot predict what technology 10 years from now will look like.” —Jane Cacacho

Courage.  “I think a great skill to have is fearlessness: Being able to experiment with a technology or software and not worry if you’re using it ‘correctly.’  It’s important to remember that technology is there to bend to your will, not the other way around. Students are usually great about this, and we as adults need to let them explore their natural tech curiosities and just have fun.” —Anonymous  

With regards to courage, I often find that students are not afraid to experiment with technology and try new things.  Why then is it that many adults (myself included) do not share the same experience?  Unfortunately, I would rather procrastinate and not try to attempt the given task at all than to try and fail.  As adults, we are more resistant to change and to try new things; whereas our students jump at the opportunity to do so.  We need to remind our students and ourselves, that it's ok to fail.  Failure is the first step of learning.  FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.

It is my goal this year to educate my students in technology skills that they will not only use with their devices, but they will use these skills to succeed in life.  

Several quotes from this article were originally featured in an article by eSchool News entitled, "Five technology skills every student should learn," and was published on September 4, 2012.  You can find the original article at the following link: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2012/09/04/five-technology-skills-every-student-should-learn/3/.