Digital Learning Farm, Digital Learning, and NAIS Independent School Magazine

Guide to The Digital Learning Farm Flyer | Langwitches Blog

I mentioned this organizational structure yesterday as a way to reconfigure, if you will, a classroom when everyone is connected.

Also good is the Globally Connected Learning


Digital Learning | The Committed Sardine

The concept of digital learning is also in need of understanding. The image above is from a great post on Fluency21 which is a group of educational thinkers founded by Ian Jukes. Read more about this take on digital learning at

How do our classrooms help foster or hinder these skills? If we add a connected digital device either as a part of the school or as an organic BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or perhaps just use what we have students hide, where does our curriculum fit within this framework?

The underlying assumptions are core values and processes that enable digital learning to flourish. They are:

  • relevant and contextual curriculum
  • Assessment that is both challenging and transparent (since this lies in a relevant and contextual curriculum, it is also by definition relevant and contextual)
  • An emphasis of higher order thinking skills (analysis and evaluation – creativity is a core aspect of digital learning)
  • Valuing student voice and providing the students with ownership of their learning and assessment.

The author, Andrew Churches works with the Info Savvy Group and focuses on Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT). His bio quote is: “This is about ICT and education. Thoughts & reflections on integrating ICT in the classroom and across the school. I am the Curriculum Manager for ICT and contributor to the infosavvy group. To make a difference we have to change our pedagogy, How we teach, why we teach.”

The above article is from his blog at Also check out the Edorigami Wiki for a wealth of information.

Independent School Magazine  Fall 2011  Evolution or Revolution

The NAIS Independent School magazine has great articles about change and other issues confronting Independent Schools. In the Fall 2011 Volume 71 number 1 issue Meredith Stewart from Cary Academy and formerly Durham Academy writes with her students about Learning Differently – and Deeply. The entire site is a wealth of resources for all of us in our search for answers to the questions facing our schools and our teaching profession.

Middle School Device Reflections Week 4

The Calatrava Eye

‘The Calatrava Eye’

We started the Middle School Digital Device Project on October 17th when Ms. Donnelly’s class were given MacBooks for use. The iPads were handed out to Ms. Williams’ class on October 24th. After the first week students were able to take them home if we had the signed form back. I have been pleasantly surprised with how the students have responded and are helping us determine if we should adopt a MacBook or an iPad, or nothing. While the process is still very young, I thought I would share some thoughts.

iPad and Laptop


We are testing this software and service as the iPad presents a challenge to easily transfer files. Teachers have set up Shared Folders where they can add notes for the students which appear when the account is synced. Each class has setup their school sponsored Evernote account. We did run into a few bumps with the iPad group not being able to sign up using the iPads as it appeared to not like the URL for our sponsored account. A quick trip to the computer lab allowed us to use a Desktop to setup the account as well as sync to the iPad app. Ms. Donnelly assigned an Evernote assignment for the students to teach their parents about Evernote through the use of a recorded audio note. Once the note was created/recorded, students shared the note with Ms. Donnelly where she could listen and assess the assignment if necessary. While I am not sure if this software is critical since we have Moodle and Google Apps for Education, the ease of use and automatic syncing along with the ability to move notes between almost any device does have benefits. I will be very excited once Skitch is integrated so students can draw on PDFs or other notes in Evernote. I sent out invites to the entire 6th grade team today so they could also test the software.

Digital Media and Acceptable Use

This does not surprise me but we have had a couple of issues with students making poor choices even after we discussed the use of the many tools available to them. We are talking about Middle School students so boundary testing is part of the mix as is making mistakes. Some issues that we have dealt with include IMing during class, leaving an iPad/laptop unattended or at home, taking pictures of other students without permission, bypassing the filter to view YouTube, and a couple low battery after being at home. All are too be expected and have been addressed and students are helping us to write How to articles so we can have some student created solutions. These are all very teachable moments.

I think we would have been better prepared our community if we had used and discussed the Common Sense Media Family Media agreements before the students were given the devices. I am pretty sure it would have helped our families cope with the addition of the device to their homes. This area should be a focus if the school were to adopt a device or frankly even if we do not adopt a device.

iPad only

Syncing and Books

While the cases are nice, they must be removed to be charged and synced in the Bretford PowerSync tray. While not horrible, it does mean students must take them out and take off the passcode so we can update the iPads. This is probably not the way we would manage a 1 to 1 iPad environment since students would probably be required to sync over the air or via a different system where they had full rights to the iPads. Since we have them locked to a school ID, students cannot add or delete apps. We struggled with the best way to handle this and decided for the purpose of this test, we would use the Apple Volume License approach where we purchase the apps and install the software apps. Students are using a shared Google Doc to record app suggestions as well as Books they would like to read in iBooks. We will then purchase and sync to the iPads. I am not a big fan of the iBook app as I prefer the Kindle app since I can read the same book on almost any device. Again, for the purpose of this project, we are testing the use of iBooks.

Google Docs

Even with Office2 HD, the use is not the great on an iPad. I read an open letter from Scott Meech where he hoped Apple and Google could make it work better together. Given the competition between these two rivals, I will not hold my breath, but it is a real deterrent on the iPad since the mobile browser does not allow for a rich editing experience.


This app has proven to be a true winner for blogging. While I struggled understanding exactly how to use it, after a few minutes we had a group who knew how to use it and were able to help all of us learn. This is key since the device must allow for writing and we are trying to get our students to write for an authentic audience.

i-nigma QR Code Reader

I love this simple app that allows us to create a QR code and add it to the Moodle course so students just point the iPad at it and they are taken to it. We have used it for the Blog and Discovery Education Mobile site. To learn more about QR Codes in Education read the ISTE article.

Laptop only

  • Kernel panics were new to the students and seems to afflict a few each day. Not sure if it is due to 4 year old laptops or the system but we are attempting to solve this issue.
  • Cords and power adapters across the floor is an accident waiting to happen. We must have a more elegant solution.
  • Storage before, during and after school is in need of fine tuning as many students do not have room in their lockers since it is still full of binders.
  • Using a Google Doc where students could ask questions and I could provide answers makes it easy to support and instruct as often the document would show up in my list of documents as bold alerting me to a question. In short time, I could provide an answer, image or link to a solution. Other times, I just walked to the room to assist.
  • Transitions are always an issue and having one more thing to stow before students leave the classroom is not ideal.

Things to consider in the future

  • Boot camp for students, teachers and parents where we learn how to do manage the devices both from the care perspective but also with respect to digital citizenship and balance.
  • Develop activities that students, teachers and parents can do to practice these digital citizenship practices.
  • Create opportunities for the exchange of information between all members of our community so we are mostly rowing in the same direction as I believe all members of our community desire what is best even if we have different opinions on how to fast to be rowing.

I am looking forward to the next few weeks as the data we are getting back is providing very valuable.



Learning should be the Focus


The New York Times Article, A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute has started many conversations this week at school and on the Internet. I think we need to keep our focus on what schools are about: Learning. Granted, as the Digital Learning Coordinator, I favor access to digital tools and am presently helping our school test iPads and MacBook laptops with a small number of sixth grade students. My bias is that students need to have access to these tools and the networks that connect students to other learners and other teachers. Will there be distractions, yes. There always have been as I remember doodling in my English notebook in high school. Should we have removed the pen? Below are some bloggers to have read for years and others who I have found by following the links in their posts about this article. I think the article was poorly written and do not agree with most of it, however, I do agree it should be about Learning and not about the Technology Arms Race where schools purchase technology so they appear to be high-tech. If it is truly about the learning, then teachers, administrators and other members of the learning community must also be learners.

Update 10/26/11 Will Richardson who writes at wrote a post titled Its not an either or question where among other things he quotes Diana Laufenberg’s Tweets:

Maybe this statement …. using tech will not make your school awesome, not using tech will not make your school awesome, but employing the tools at your disposal to effectively serve the learning in your school community will make your school awesome.

That is the essence of what we should be doing instead of arguing over whether or not a device is the best thing for schools and learning. Besides, how do we make sure our good teachers remain both good teachers and teachers at our schools? Are we really willing to toss aside some folks in our move forward? Note: All of us are getting older and could be seen as excess when a newer model comes along.

George Couros writes at The Principal of Change. These quotes are from The Blur Between Leading and Teaching discusses his thoughts on what schools could use to guide their look to the future.

  1. Anything that we do with technology has to be focused on learning first.
  2. We need to always focus on “why” we are doing something before we focus on what and how.  We also need to clearly be able to articulate that to those we work with.
  3. Any plans that we create must help to build capacity within schools so that all stakeholders benefit.

Later on he lists what he sees as the characteristics of great teaching and great leading:

  1. Give trust, gain trust. As soon as you show that you trust people to do great things, they are more likely to do them.
  2. Provide some clear goals and objectives to the work you are doing.  With those in mind, ensure there is flexibility in the way people achieve those goals.
  3. Let people build and share their strengths and interests.
  4. We can learn much more from a group than we ever could from only one.  Do your best to bring people together and empower them to be leaders.

Jonathan Martin just wrote a rebuke on his site where he lists his objections to the article as a parent of a student at a Waldorf school. Solid points are made and it is clear from the comments that sides are being taken as one commenter suggest he remove his son or daughter from the school so someone else with more supportive parents could have the seat. Really, is that the solution? Remember our children are watching us every minute of the day and our behavior matters. When can we disagree and still leave the person we disagree with having some value?

In the comments is where I found a link to this post by Ira David Socol where he adds to the list of issues presented by Jonathan in his post. He titles his post: Class War at The New York Times. While he clearly is tired of the battle of Yes Technology vs. No Technology, (as am I), he makes more good points about learning and change.

“But it is important for Messers Richtel, Eagle (of Google), and Thomas to know is that, despite their claims, the old technology is neither superior nor more natural than anything which has come after. For years now I’ve had to point out that every time new ways of “manipulating the world” appear, those who hold power tend to oppose them. Socrates opposed both writing and literacy. The Catholic Church opposed Gutenberg’s printing press. Alcott had to beg those funding Common Schools to install black-boards and give kids slates, even though the private schools of the wealthy and places like West Point had had them for years.”

We all must be learners in this time and we must as teachers and schools, know when to use technology for the goal of helping our students learn and when not to use technology. Period!

Nothing is really new as it shows in the book referenced by Ira Socol:



Here is also a nice humorous way to look at the adoption of technology. This movie was referenced in my last faculty meeting when I did my Switch presentation. It is an oldie but a goodie.


Middle School Digital Device – Early Reflections

water drop


Ms. Donnelly asked her students to create a Google Doc as we started the project. Some students shared theirs with me so I could read their reflections. Our plan is to have them blog about them soon, but I thought I would share one students as I think it captures the excitement and adjustments that students are experiencing.

Laptop Day 1
Right now I am really happy because I got the laptop. We have been talking about this for the past two months. I am so excited right now. I am very glad that Mr.Schaefer chose our class to give the laptops to. I feel really lucky that I have a laptop.  Now I have to be more consistent of my things. For example I have to keep my messenger bag empty so that I can put my laptop in it. Also that I have to be more careful with what I do so that I can keep my laptop. Once I am allowed to bring my laptop home I will be doing most of my homework on it. I would mostly be using Google Docs, Word, Pages, or what ever I can use that will help me.  This will be a way easier way to help me learn. I think that technology attracts a kid. I still want to be writing on paper. Having the laptops is really going to help us in the future. People use computers all the time at work. Sometimes people that have to work with a computer don’t know that much about computers and it takes them a long time to get used to it. 

Laptop Day 2

Today as I looked around the room when Mrs. Donnelly said we were going to open the computers every ones face LIT UP with joy! My own face showed a huge smile. Every time I open my laptop I feel like I just opened a big bag of gold. I feel like it shines and its the brightest thing in the room. When I touch the power button its like pushing the launch button on a rocket to the moon. After two or three minutes I look up from my screen and see everyone so engaged in their laptop that it makes me smile a BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG smile ( it makes me look funny)! I am so excited for what we are going to do with the laptops in the future. 

Laptop Day 3

Today we have a really short period because of the half day schedule. At the beginning of class Mrs. Donnelly told us what we were going to do today in class. At the end of the schedule it said laptops. We did our vocabulary and we wrote down our homework in our planner. We did that for one period and now we are doing the laptops for the second period. Today, I felt good when the laptops were out. I don’t know why but whenever the laptops are out there’s just a warm feeling in the room. It makes everybody calm and focused. We have about two more minutes of laptop time till we have to put away our laptops. Since everybody knows we only have two minutes left they are typing really quickly to finish what they started doing.

Emphasis is mine as I thought these statements stood out as to what students think about using technology and even paper. I am reminded of a blog post I read yesterday that discusses how we tend to romanticize the past and what we remember we did as children.

Chris Wejr wrote a very telling post that I resonated with as I watch my grandchildren use digital tools as well as gymnastics and other activities. In addition, they love coming to our farm and going on nature walks or helping to feed the horses. Balance is a goal to most things in life, but we should not block all activities, rather guide those who are watching us to help them make wise decisions.

We often look to our past through a lens of ‘that is how things should be done today’. This past week I have read a few articles and posts about how we need to return to the old, better ways of doing things and how ‘kids these days’ are lazy and have such a sense of entitlement.


Still Sparkling After All These Years


Today is my birthday so I am a bit reflective. I was born in Potosi, WI 55 years ago. I have travelled many roads on my journey to where I am today. I was 2 years old when this picture was taken. I see the spark in my eyes at two. There were days, probably years when I lost the spark, but through teaching, I am reminded able to rekindle the spark when I am in the Flow.  I was greeted at work today but some very different tasks. Task 1 was to meet with my new retirement benefit coordinator to determine how best to invest my 410K funds so I could retire in 10+/- years. The next task was to go through my email. I found some gifts that sparked my day due to their thoughtfulness and the fact they took the time to create something.

Besides the sparkles I get from my wife, children and grandchildren, my students give me sparkles as well. Here are some digital versions. I also got lots of bakery and a warm bagel with fresh fruit.

Ellie P. made this for me in Skitch which is a free drawing program we have been using (spell check not included). FYI Technology is in the Fine Arts Rotation and I do not have time to explain that before my next birthday.

EllieScott H. took a different approach as he created a VoiceThread with a simple message. He knows that I see every VoiceThread made at Durham Academy so his gift would be delivered automatically. He created it sometime yesterday.

There have been other gifts and acknowledgements as today, I am the topic. With that in mind, I thought I would share the project I did as part of the NCAIS Master Teacher Project. I was to tell my story and how being an NCAIS Master Teacher has impacted me and will impact my students. Using technological tools that were not available to that little boy of two, I decided to Google it. Enjoy.


Change in Leadership



‘Time for Change’


At the end of each school year we say goodbye to students and colleagues who will not be returning. This year we said goodbye to Dr. Sid DuPont who has guided us for the last 3 years as the Interim Middle School Director. Dr. D. was one of the best administrators I have had the pleasure of working with and will be missed by me for his willingness to try new teaching methods and for the support he showed me and our division as we adjusted our instructional methods to take advantage of the changes taking place in education and the world. Thanks. Dr. DuPont!

I am excited to work with Mr. Jon Meredith as the new Middle School Director. I believe he will pick-up where Dr. DuPont left off as he leads us into the future with care and his ideas. In preparation for his arrival, I created a VoiceThread for students and teachers to leave their comments as a way to welcome Mr. Meredith and provide some information to him so he could get to know us before we return in August. I asked commenters to introduce themselves, tell where they are on campus, what their Hopes, Dreams are for the Middle School, and Knowledge needed by Mr. Meredith. Finally, they were able to ask questions of Mr. Meredith. This was an optional activity but as I write this post there are 470 comments and 291 views. I will email the link to Mr. Meredith so he can begin to feel welcomed by our voices.


Google Apps for Education + VoiceThread = Transformative


I have spent the morning working in a computer lab and a classroom with 5th grade students and 7th grade students who are working on culminating projects. The groups have research in the library or in the field and are now working on presenting they’re learning to classmates and teachers. Both start in a Google Presentation which will be converted to a PDF when done for use in VoiceThread. I watched as students collaborated on the presentations in various ways:assigning jobs, adding images and text, or writing scripts in a Google Doc. The goal of both of these projects is to tell the story of what they have learned. We are fortunate to have desktops, some laptops, and some students who bring their own laptop so access is not an issue. In the past, students could not easily collaborate and create simultaneously as they can now. This lack of creation friction has allowed one group to create the PDFs, upload to VoiceThread and record it in only 4 classes. It took much longer in the past since we had to many, many more steps to arrive where we are today. Other groups are well on their way to creating deeper learning while learning how to work collaboratively.

The 7th grade science students will be teaching their fellow classmates on topics of the river study unit during exams. This brings the role of teacher into the life of a student in meaningful and real ways.

If your school does not use these web-based tools, Google Apps for Education and VoiceThread, please consider it, as they will transform your learning community into a frictionless environment where the technology supports the learning goals instead of limiting.

I am very happy and proud to have helped bring this transformation about. Now it is time to eat my lunch as I have used it to write this short post.

Digital Citizenship PSA’s





For our unit on Digital Citizenship, we watched movies from Common Sense Media and The Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Students responded to questions in a Google Doc shared with me for some of the movies and others we used a Moodle Forum in our class. The goal of the unit was to have discussions that would lead to deeper thinking of their digital life. As a culmination, students in both classes created Wordles for a Public Service Announcement. They could do it on any topic of interest as long as they felt they could provide tips. I love hearing it from the mouth of the digital natives as you will hear that they do know more then we often think they do when it comes to be safe and appropriate online. I suppose it could be do to the “pleasing the teacher” syndrome, but think that most students do have a plan and simply need guidance from adults in their life as the learn to make, as Cheyse calls it, “Digital Footsteps”.


We hope you enjoy our PSA’s and that in some way help you with your digital life.


How do you Deal with Failure or Being Wrong!

Updated 5_3_2011 due to the original YouTube video no longer being available. I had been wanting to write about being wrong or in some cases failure. Not every idea I have is a winner by any stretch of my imagination. The thing is though that I am willing to try and at time fail big in public. I had to do a major mea culpa earlier in the year when I had to get the students who were under 13 to delete the Google accounts I showed them how to create. I was wrong to do that an made it right or as right as I could. I am not saying we need to celebrate failures or being wrong like we do being right or succeeding in what we try, but let’s balance it a bit. People, and therefore schools are not always right or successful. Some of the things we do just do not work or do not work anymore.

I had the following TED Talk by Kathryn Shultz in my TED app on my iPad to watch. I had not yet watched it and then came an email from Patti Donnelly, a fellow teacher, who said she had played it to her class. I like the message it sends as I think there is a lot to showing our students that sometimes being wrong is in fact, being right.

Old post from January 2011.

Each day I learn from what I do wrong and try to reflect to be a better educator. Jason Ramsden just shared this link via Twitter and I thought it worthy of a post before I leave school. When I was a Science teacher most of the experiments we would do in class would work, not all but most. I used to tell my students that most scientists are wrong most of the time, but if they are right once, it can be a successful career. I hope I continue to fail and learn from it and I hope my students do the same.

I did find a solid movie by Robert Marzano where he discusses Responding to Failure so thought I would add it here again.

Collaboration Imagery of Campus Leads to a Discussion

Students in my Digital Learning 5th and 6th classes do a short unit on Digital Imagery where we discuss elements of telling a story with a picture. We talk about Rules of 3rds, Perspective and then work with iPhoto to make edits that can enhance or highlight what “caught” the student’s eye. Each student then exported two of their favorite images and uploaded them to this collaborative VoiceThread where they were to label their images with their name and tell the story of the image. Once they had done theirs, they were to look at and comment on other images. I am pleased to say that students began to discuss how students took the photos or how they edited them. The larger goal of this collaboration was to develop a conversation between students about the project. I am very pleased with some of the photos as the students show a good eye for capturing interesting images. Students in Digital Learning 6 also created movies using the online tool, Animoto of all of their images. You can view them at