Will You Blend?



I am attending The Perfect Blend conference tomorrow at Cary Academy. The conference is sponsored by NCAIS and VISnet where I serve on the Advisory Board. As a presenter and advisor, I did not need to register so to that degree, I am being compensated. I am excited to hear more about what other schools are doing around blended learning as well as sharing my perspective on how to know if your school is ready.


The Evilness of Devices for Learning

Image from Openclipart.org

Yes, I wrote the title as part link bait and part reflection on what has become a common theme to many conversations I am having these days. As we enter our 3rd year of an iPad program which has been recognized as a distinguished program by Apple. Yes, I realize that is sort of like being a preferred customer at the Toyota dealership because you bought so many cars. However, I do know we are moving our school’s learning forward while also allowing for aspects to remain as we find value in them or because change is hard and slow. There is nothing wrong with moving slowly towards the future as long as movement is happening. I prefer to move faster then my institution but that is how I roll and may not be the best solution for our school. However, I had hoped we were past the notion that playing games is bad and a waste of time given that we have explored all sorts of platforms with our students including hosting our own Minecraft servers. Alas, that is not the case although sometimes games and screen time are mixed together.

I wrote this as part of a position statement about gaming at DA.

While some adults see playing games as a “waste of time” or a way to escape into a virtual coma, many of the skills and standards listed above are found in the act of playing or creating games. For instance, Minecraft, is often seen by adults as just a bunch of chopping and blowing up of a virtual space. What is missed when observed as such is the collaboration that must take place to create worlds, the knowledge base needed to understand the game, and how a community of players have created a wealth of tutorials and information on how to play.

Gaming in classrooms and learning has been gaining momentum for years. Durham Academy has explored using games in the Middle School over the years with software like; Gamestar Mechanic, and Evolver (Pre-Algebra). Research shows that game principles are a way to better engage students. http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2014/06/09/teachers-on-using-games-in-class/ and http://www.edutopia.org/blog/using-gaming-principles-engage-students-douglas-kiang. Jane McGonigal has many resources about games. Watch her TEDX talk about SuperBetter.

Advocacy groups like, Common Sense Media provide resources on what games parents can say yes to after-school. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/24-video-games-you-can-say-yes-to-after-school.Vicki Davis has a nice article on Edutopia on game based learning. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/guide-to-game-based-learning-vicki-davis

As I continue to brace myself for the discussions that are coming, I keep saying to myself this is not a problem with devices or technology. These are human behavior problems which need human solutions that are not just banning or blocking. This is an educational problem that needs to be addressed with our colleagues, students and parents. If a small percentage of students have problems with impulse control so they play games instead of listening to a lecture, do we not help the student? What about the other larger percentage of students who are not having the problem? I help to write the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) each year which was redone to not be Though Shall Not document into a more Though Shall type document. This came about after reading the book From Fear To Facebook by Matt Levinson who at the time was at Nueva School.  It is way too long and still causes my eyes to glaze over. I even created a companion website called iPad Passport to help the Middle School students and faculty understand the concepts and language used. I think we need to be focus on having fewer AUPs and more User Policy. To that end I am adding some links to this post that are shaping my learning evolution on this topic.

Edutopia – http://www.edutopia.org/blog/digital-citizenship-culture-trust-transparency-andrew-marcinek and http://www.edutopia.org/blog/educating-parents-about-education-tom-whitby

Providence Day School’s Parenting in the Digital Age site: https://sites.google.com/a/providenceday.org/digitalparenting/home This site is full of useful and practical resources for starting a school-wide conversation. We are reaching out to Matt Scully and Derrick Willard to get advice.

Explain Everything and Creative Learning

I was so excited, and a bit nervous, after I found out that we would indeed be purchasing the incredible app called Explain Everything. I was nervous because the purchase represented a lot of money and while I knew the app could be a wonderful tool for our students and teachers, I was nervous that the use would be slow and isolated. I did prepare a tutorial for students and teachers after being approached by a teacher about using it in her classroom. She wanted her students to create tutorials that could be used by students and to show they understood the concepts. The old adage of really knowing something only after you try to teach someone else is very apt. One of the best parts of this app is that it does not require students have an account. Instead, we leverage the services we already use to store and share the completed projects. Configuring the accounts to share in Evernote and Google Drive was seamless. Eeoutside2After the initial instruction, students were off recording anywhere on campus since no internet connection is needed while working. The image above shows students outside working on math problems. They are using the Learner 3600 Headsets from ACP Direct. The use of the headsets helped keep the background noise level down and made the process more formal. Students do not need to use headsets if in a quiet room but kids like to be “professional” so the headsets serve that purpose as well.

The video below shows how two-eighth grade students use the app to create tutorials. These were shared in a Google Drive Folder so all students could listen, watch and learn.

My nervousness is gone and my excitement is growing as I know that Spanish and Algebra classes are using the app to create learning opportunities. The support from the company is also fantastic so if you do not yet, have this app, get it now!

NCAIS Educators Conference Presentations

Image: http://www.ncais.org/

I leave tomorrow morning for Concord, NC as I will be facilitating a session on Leaving Textbooks Behind at the NCAIS Pre-Conference Academic Fest. I am excited to lead this session as it will help me deepen my understanding on how to help Durham Academy address this growing topic. I am also doing a Rapid Reach 15 minute presentation on the topic of Digital Portfolios with Google Sites. It is the same presentation as last week just done at 5X speed.

I am going to embed my presentations below (and also on my other site) so that anyone can access what I am presenting. I hope to see you there.

NC GAfE Summit 2014

I am excited to be presenting at this years summit. At last years summit, I got serious about learning how I could help my school and other schools leverage these powerful tools by becoming an authorized Google Education Trainer. I will be presenting again on using Google Sites for student portfolios and introducing a new session called Google Apps and iOS are Jet Fuel for Learning where I will show how to harness the power of Google Apps to extend a 1:1 iPad program. After two years helping my school with our iPad program, I can attest to how these two corporate solutions are not oil and water, but rather jet fuel. There is still time to come and take part in the summit so register today at http://nc.gafesummit.com/.

Find links to my presentations as well as other presenters at http://nc.gafesummit.com/2014/program/sessions or at my other site http://www.digitalkarl.com/

Image is property of EdTechTeam

Teaching and Learning with the Unlinked Net


Images from OpenClipart.org

I have been thinking of this post for a while as our students begin blogging more this year. Most all students in the Middle School are now blogging through Language Arts classes using Edublogs. In grade five, students use a teacher’s blog to post with the teacher serving as the editor who must approve both posts and comments. In grade six students and teachers use the class blog feature in Edublogs so that each student has their own blog but are managed under the teachers blog. This system worked well last year as it provides the students with ownership and a place to find their voice. The teachers still serve as editors and must approve all pages, posts, and comments. This systems works well to establish solid writing, collaborative commenting skills, and learning how to interact in an online community. These are important skills that must be taught if we do not want a world of trolls on the internet. Starting this year, grade seven students and teachers will be expanding the use of class blogs with the students starting with restricted publishing as they start the new year. This will soon move to full editing and publishing done by the students with the teacher only serving the roll of monitor. In grade 8, the class blogs have no restrictions for what is posted and commented and the teacher serves as a monitor. While the blogs have different setups, the goals are the same: Write for an authentic audience, Write more, Learn to write collaborative comments, and establish a presence on the internet that showcases your work and yourself. I feel it is important for students to work at creating their own “Google Juice” so they are searchable with results ranging from silly photos to articles written by them. All of our blogs are open to the public and indexed by Google and other search engines.

The idea of cultivating “Google Juice” is also why four years ago we started having students create and manage digital portfolios with Google sites. These portfolios hold not only a link to their personal blog but also samples of exemplar work along with goal settings and reflections on the student’s learning. These portfolios live at the edges of what we do as all of our Google Apps services are private only to our school which means no one outside of our school or any search engine cannot access them.

This leads to the title of this post as I have been asked by teachers the following question: “How will parents find our blogs?” The quick answer was to send them a message with the link. While that works, it does raise the larger question in my mind of how do we expose all of the wonderful learning and teaching going on when it is not linked by our school or not accessible to anyone outside of our school? Should we expose this part of our school to the world? What are the risks? What are the rewards? I can make a page on Veracross which would allow anyone from our school to find the blogs. I do encourage teaches to list their blogs in the Edublogs directory as a way to engage with the world. 


Until I figure out the best solution, here is a list of the blogs so far. Some will have a link to class blogs on the side.

Grade 4 – Mrs. KarolMr. Mason

Grade 5 – Mrs. Goldstein, Mrs. Parry

Grade 6 – Mrs. WilliamsMrs. Donnelly, Mrs. Saffo-Cogswell

Grade 7 – Mrs. Howes,  Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

Grade 8 – Mr. Sheard, Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

Students Remember


The image above is called “Working Memory” from Openclipart.org which depicts my retained memory each year I walk this planet. I have been teaching since 1993 when I started as a Science teacher at Grey Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, NC. As my classroom became more technological I became a Technology coordinator and ended up leaving in 1999 to take the position I now have at Durham Academy. In 1997, I had a classroom with a variety of Macintosh computers with inkjet printers. We did a lot of hands-on activities and used the computers when it made sense. Today, I work with iPads, Computer Labs and no shortage of the most powerful tools we can deploy for learning. I still think we should use technology when it makes sense.

I became a teacher to help make a difference in the world and over the years, I think I have helped make some dents in the future. This past weekend I had a message on Twitter from a former student who well, just wanted to thank me. I am so grateful that she did this as while I think I have made a difference, it is nice to be remembered. That is a big part of me even as a parent and grandparent; I want my grandchildren to remember me when I no longer walk this planet with them. To have a student find me and thank me is very fulfilling and thought provoking as I try to remember my classroom and this student. I have some ideas as to who she was 17 years ago. Was she the one who made Speedy, the really cool mouse-trap vehicle? 

This is the exchange of messages:


Clearly I was concerned about being remembered even in 1997 as the image below shows. Harrison I think refers to how some of my students thought I looked like Harrison Ford, yeah right:)


Mapping Out An Apple Vanguard Group




An exciting part of  the Apple Academy I attended in June is the chance to create and nurture an Apple Vanguard Group at our school. I have been working on how to organize, promote, and manage something like this so it is manageable and enticing for my colleagues.

I happen to get a message from Mindmeister yesterday with a notice about the new Mindmeister Academy so I took a few moments to go through the fundamentals course. I had to create a map as I proceeded so I created the one below. Mindmeister is an awesome tool as it works on any device and offers collaboration. I want to promote the use of it more to our students and teachers as there is power in mapping your thoughts.

I have embedded it here in what is called the Presentation mode which to me is much like a non-dramamine needed version of Prezi.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister