Apple Distinguished Educator Program

When I think about professional development, I don’t think there is any conference or program I would want to be involved in more than the Apple Distinguished Educator Program. Put on by the makers of our beloved iPads and iPhones, this community accepts innovative educators to be a part of a cohort of professionals who are on the cutting edge of educational technology use.

When a class is accepted, as it will be in 2015 for the first time since 2013, educators must apply to get that coveted ticket to the ADE conference, which not only brings together this amazing group of educators, but also amazing presenters, speakers, media specialists, and more.

The last class was accepted shortly after we embarked on our 1:1 iPad program, and thus I have been waiting patiently for two years for the program to open up again. When I received the email about a month ago, I feverishly started working on my application. The application includes a written portion, in which you must respond to these four questions:

  • How have you as an educator transformed your learning environment?
  • Illustrate how Apple technologies have helped in this transformation.
  • What successes have you seen with your learners?
  • How do you share these successes to influence the broader education community?

While I wasn’t super enthused with how my written responses came together, I really enjoyed working on (and was happier with the outcome of) the video portion of the application. You must submit a two-minute video that illustrates your technology use. Not only was it fun to tell a story, but it was also a good excuse to learn how to use Final Cut Pro, which I’ve been curious about for a while (thank you Apple for the 30-day free trial!).

Check out my video below. I’ve seen a few application videos around the internet, and many of them seemed similar, in that they summarized all the tech that the applicant used in their setting. I really wanted to go a different way and show how Apple technology could impact the learning in one specific case. Of course I tried to focus on the technology, but also the narrative of the video.

Given how many people want to be a part of this program and how tough the competition is, I won’t get my hopes up. But, I’m definitely looking forward to the (even small) possibility of being involved in this amazing experience. I don’t know when people will be notified of their acceptance, but I am hoping sometime by the end of March. The conference for the Asian region is in August in Singapore. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!


Starting the year with feedback, effort, and prototyping

How do you go from this:


To this:


Or this:


To this:


This is how!

The start of the year is the time to set expectations for how students work and live in the classroom. At my new school (!), we are also on a journey to create learning experiences that involve aspects of design thinking. I’m still new to these ideas, but two of the keys of the design process revolve around prototyping (think – drafting) and creating opportunities for meaningful feedback.

We also had the opportunity to work with the wonderful professionals from No Tosh, and I took advantage of having a one-on-one meeting with Ewan McIntosh (author of the first ed-tech blog I ever read!) to talk about how we can infuse design thinking at the start of the year to build our classroom community.

One of the things Ewan shared with me was the video Austin’s Butterfly (a must see). Ewan pretty much said, “Show this to the kids. That’s your lesson on feedback.” I loved how in the video the 1st grader Austin perseveres to create multiple drafts (prototypes) of this drawing, and I can only imagine what that taught him about connecting effort to results. So, I knew that I wanted to recreate the same experience for my students!



Instead of drawing butterflies, we made self-portraits, which seemed like a natural thing to do at the beginning of the year. I started by giving the students 5 minutes to draw their self portrait. The results were expectedly cartoon-like drawings that didn’t necessarily reflect true appearances. Here’s mine:


Prototype 1

I then brought the students together and showed them my own first prototype drawing hanging next to a photograph of myself. I asked them to give me feedback about how accurate my drawing was. They quickly noticed that I had drawn my face the wrong shape, I had no eyebrows, and I drew my hair parted the wrong way. I then showed them my second protoype and we noticed the improvements I had made and how the drawing, while not perfect, was an improvement (I told them I thought I looked like a mummy you see in a museum):


Prototype 2

I gave each student a photograph of themselves that I had taken earlier and gave them an opportunity to give each other feedback. They then drew themselves again, really focusing on drawing what they see. This time they had double the time – ten minutes – to work.

Over the next few days we continued this loop – giving feedback in partners and creating new prototypes. On each successive drawing, they had a little bit more time to work. As a class we watched the Austin’s Butterfly video. Interestingly, I think the kids worked hardest and longest on the drawing that they did right after we saw the video.


Prototype 3

In the end, the results varied, but most of the students made vast improvements on their work and got a sense of what it means to prototype and how the feedback loop can lead to improvement.


My final version

The most exciting part was mounting our work and hanging it on the wall, which not only gives our classroom a nice personal feel in the beginning of the year, but also allows us to be amazed by the work that the students completed.


Version 1 and 4



Mounted version




My goal will be to continue these ideas and to remind students throughout our year, whatever we are working on, how they can improve their work over successive drafts and prototypes, and how a careful eye and lots of effort can lead to great results.





Class Trailer 2014-2015

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog, but I am back for the new year at a new school – The American School in Japan! I am looking forward to writing more about my technology learning and experimenting here during the year ahead. Like last year, I made a class introduction video to help the kids get to know a little bit about me and the class and to get excited for the year ahead. Check it out!


Tellagami – Mindless Fun or Educationally Worthwhile?

While chatting with our librarian a few weeks ago, she introduced me and a few of the students to an app called Tellagami. With Tellagami you can create and share animated messages like the one below.

This is the type of app that I immediately assume will be entertaining for five to ten year olds, but not necessarily very educational. It immediately reminded me of Talking Tom Cat, an app that I have seen being used in others schools in which the cat on the screen repeats back whatever you say in a funny voice. Of course kids find this hilarious, but to me the value in the classroom of these sorts of apps seems limited.

But, I must admit that I was having fun playing around with Tellagami, especially because you can not only record your voice for your Gami (which is what they call the video you create), but you can also type your message and have the app read it back in one of a number of pretty hilarious voices. Hearing “Billy’s” southern drawl quickly became a class favorite and the kids (and the teacher …) enjoyed typing in random, funny messages about anything and everything and hearing them read back in a voice that sounded like a robotic Billy Bob Thornton.

The question was, though, was there any benefit to creating an animated message using Tellagami that would actually represent some powerful learning that had happened? So, I set out to seek the answer. I’ll share more about my process and some final student projects later this week (thank goodness for Spring Break – I finally have some time to think and write!)

ASB Unplugged – Day 3

This piece is a long time coming. My excellent visit to India sadly went downhill as I got a bit sick and had to miss part of the ASB conference. Still, I wanted to get these notes and thoughts up to the blog! Here are some of the things I learned on Day 3 of the conference:

Technology Audit:

I went to a very interesting presentation by some of the technology staff at ASB on a technology audit they completed. The purpose of the audit was to see how they were meeting the ISTE standards through their instruction, and then linking that to individual teacher professional development. With their large tech team (18 people!), they were able to complete the audit over a number of months. The process was quite interesting – they interviewed all of the faculty in order to collect artifacts of their technology instruction. They then linked each of these artifacts to both an ISTE standard and a level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The result was a matrix in which they could see which teachers were meeting which standards and at what level of Bloom’s. This allowed them to evaluate their technology program both on an individual teacher level and at a school level. They then used this data to design individual professional development plans with teachers.

This was a fascinating (and lengthy and time-consuming) process that left me quite amazed. I can’t imagine doing something like this at most schools, since they don’t have such a large technology staff. I question whether the amount of time and effort that went into this program will be worth it in the end, but it’s clear that ASB has made a real commitment to evaluating how they are using technology in order to ensure that it is constantly improving and making a difference in their teaching and learning. Amazing!


Gaming in Education:

I attended a really great session on gaming in education by two Middle School science teachers at ASB. They shared their process of developing a curriculum game for their science class. The game had a zombie theme and was tied to their curriculum on viruses and disease. They shared some excellent resource and ideas for how to create a game for your classroom, and I definitely left inspired to try this in my own classroom. After watching some of Judy McGonigal’s great TED talks (including her recent one about the game Superbetter), I would love to make a classroom game that focuses on character education and our school values. This is definitely something to think about!


Technology mastery: 

I loved Scott Klososky’s model of Technology Mastery. For a school to reach technology mastery, they need to ensure they have these things:

  • Leadership knowledge and wisdom
  • Technology guideposts – 3 to 5 specific guideposts (big goals) that let us know where we are going. These might complete the sentence, “We want to be the best at …” Schools need to refresh these guideposts every year or two.
  • Adaptive culture – Willing to change at rapid rate
  • The technology team – You are never going to be world class if you don’t have the best technologists
  • Technology processes – e.g. When a new student comes in, what data so you gather? When a new teacher arrives – what is tech training? Organizations that have mastery have documented processes.
  • Digital marketing, digital plumbing – the right architecture, vendors, software, hardware
  • Measurements and analytics – How do we measure whether we are doing well with technology?
  • Self education – rivers of information – soak up info that is free online
  • Team education – workshops, trade shows, webinars

Wow! A daunting list. This shows why it is so hard to be a leader in the area of educational technology. You really have to have the leadership and vision to ensure that all of these things are in place. I loved this model as a guide for reading technology mastery in a school.

ASB Unplugged Day 2 – Classroom Visits

Day two at ASB Unplugged brought us into the classrooms to see how technology-infused learning is happening at ASB. The school did a great job offering a schedule of classes to observe, along with a number of “learning showcases” where groups of students showed and explained a variety of technology projects. It was great to be able to interact with the kids and hear them speak confidently about their learning. A few take-aways from today:

Every school should have a research and development department
ASB is fortunate enough to have an office with lots of smart people who have the time and space to think big about what the future of education at their school might look like. Of course this can bring in some added complexities and challenges for teachers, but what an amazing opportunity to not only have this resource, but also to be the type of school that clearly has a mission that involves pushing their teaching and learning further.


R&D department has a library full of awesome books! …


… and toys! I’m jealous!

Of course some of the things on display today were done because there were visitors, but it seemed clear that this is a school that uses technology, and uses it a lot. Like with anything, when kids have the chance to practice and internalise something, they gain the independence that allows them to use the technology not as something special, but as a powerful tool in their learning. The students we saw today seemed so confident and adept at using technology, and it was clear that the time they had spent learning, investigating, and practicing had given them a real sense of independence.

More isn’t necessarily better
We saw a lot of tech today. A lot. Some of it was interesting and impressive, but at other times it seemed like kids could have been learning the same things without the tech in a simpler way. You know it’s extreme if I’m saying that sometimes the kids need a pencil, but that was the impression I felt at some times today. This was a one day look at a school, so this is not a judgement of what is happening at ASB, because I really don’t know. But, it’s a take away for us, that as we think about using (more) technology in our own school, we always want to be careful that technology is the right tool for what we are doing.

What’s transformative?
While SAMR gives us a nice model of looking at and thinking about technology, I’m not sure that it needs to be used to evaluate every technology project. However, thinking about whether our technology usage is really transforming the learning that students are doing is a valuable exercise. I have so rarely seen technology assignments or projects that, to me, really transform the learning and allow students to do something in a way that is significantly better than what they are doing elsewhere. The motivation with tech is huge, the presentation and clean look is great. Sharing capabilities are key. But I’m still looking for those tech projects that are a ten out of ten. And they are hard to come by. All the Prezis, Thinglinks, and Voicethreads, in the world won’t make it for me.

Still not sold on maker spaces
See yesterday.

Resources matter, especially people and time.
Nothing more to say about that!

Thank you ASB for a great day of learning!



Made a new 4th grade friend at recess. Bravo on the timing of the photo Jane!

Technology Learning in Mumbai!

Quote of the day:

Gary Stager: “You can’t teach 21st century learning if you haven’t learned anything this century.”


Today is the start of the ASB Unplugged conference in Mumbai. We have quite a large team of teachers from ASL attending the conference, so I look forward to some great conversations with colleagues and other attendees. Today I attended the pre-conference institute on the Maker Movement by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez. In the morning they spoke briefly about the Maker Movement and then gave us a lot of time to experiment with different materials like Arduino, Makey Makey, Hummingbird, and more.

photo 2


photo 1

I always have a hard time with these “hands-on” sessions. Sure we had a lot of time to play around with the materials, but what was lacking were the connections to the big ideas and theories that we as teachers need to understand if we are going to make learning like this happen in the classroom. I don’t think anyone in the room would argue against the fact that Making and Tinkering can lead to powerful learning  … more powerful than much of what is happening in our classrooms on a day to day basis. But, given the current organization of our schools and classrooms, we need a better understanding of how to transform our teaching and curriculum in a way that is more conducive to Making and project-based learning. We need to be able to create a program where students are learning through Making, and not just Making for the sake of Making. Unfortunately, I thought  those connections were missing here, and until we have an understanding of those big ideas, and can communicate those to our leaders and parents, I fear that Making will continue to only have a space after school and on the weekends.

The best part of the program was definitely the question and answer session, when Stager hit on some interesting points (and got a bit animated). When asked a question about reflection, he said something to the effect of, “Asking a kid to write an essay about their essay is redundant. They’re not learning theorists they’re kids.” This definitely hit home in terms of our learning portfolios at school. Yes, reflection is important, but I think there’s some truth to the fact that we spend too much time on the planning, the process, and the “reflection,” and not enough time just doing and making. The evidence of the learning is the product, not something that the students write after the fact.

Sylvia added onto that point that she once told a group of teachers, “I had to convince them to let the kids do a worse job.” The learning is in the doing. She was urging teachers to do less planning. Instead, have the students do their work, see their result (which may not be optimal), and then go through the whole process again a second time to reach higher learning. Learning is an iterative process.

Tomorrow we’ll be in the ASB classrooms, so it will be an exciting opportunity to see how technology is being used in another elementary school. Can’t wait for more learning!

Social Networking … 4th Grade Style!

It’s always exciting to go to the library, but one of our most exciting times in the library each year is when the students have their access to Destiny Quest turned on. DQ is a social network of sorts, and it allows students to make friends with their classmates and then send book recommendations, rate books, and comment on their book choices. Not surprisingly, the kids love it, and very quickly there arises a social buzz about reading in our class.



Using Destiny Quest is a great reminder for all of us that reading not just a solitary practice, and that we read with and alongside our peers. Classmates can help each other grow as readers by helping to find just right books and giving reading a visible place in the forefront of our learning brains. Further, this is a great time for us to talk about being a digital citizen and what it means to interact with others online and to publish on the internet. On DQ we quickly see posts like “This book was Soooooooooooooooo Gooooooooooood!!!!!!” Clearly a great opportunity for a lesson and a conversation with these nine and ten year olds!

Digital Portfolios

Well, I have been loathsomely neglectful of this blog over the past few month. This is just due to the busyness of school and life, but the technology is still going strong in Grade 4. Our current challenge has been in starting our digital portfolios. At our school all students in the lower school create a portfolio, which they present in a portfolio conference with their parents at the end of the year. These portfolios have gone through various iterations over the years, and now that we are 1:1 with iPads in Grade 4 we had a strong desire to move to a fully digital portfolio. What we have found in our research over the past couple months, though, is that making this transition has been far more challenging than we expected.

One of the first things that we wanted to do was to find the right platform to publish our portfolios in. This had to be something that played well with the iPads, would be easy for students to use, and would allow students easy access to their work and data after they leave for the year (and for some students, after they leave the school). We considered a number of options, from iPad apps (Evernote, Three Ring, Book Creator) to our learning management system (Haiku) to Google Sites.

Unfortunately, after looking at all of them, the only clear thing was that none of them were the perfect option. Given this, out of five teachers in Grade 4, we have portfolios being made in a number of different ways. This seems like the best option, so that we could further explore and try to really find out which might be best for the future.

My class will be using Google Sites. I love the look and the layout options, along with the ability to interact with Google Drive and Google Docs, as much of our written work is there. Since we’ll have to do all our work and creation through a web browser, I am wondering how easy this will be. We already had to get out the laptops in order to start up our sites, as some of the things are just too tricky to do on Safari on the iPad.

Not a perfect solution, but I guess nothing ever is. I’ll be interested to see how easy the students find this. My hope is that they’ll be able to navigate the controls easily, and will feel confident in the fact that they are building their own website from scratch.


My example portfolio using Google Sites


Reflections from The iPad Summit

Attending the iPad Summit at the American Embassy School in Delhi was an amazing experience. Here are my top take-always from the conference:

Blogging – One of the things I’ve noticed at the conference is how much student blogging is going on at other international schools. The best schools and the schools that are really technologically advanced are having students blog and publish to the world. That is definitely an area that we are behind in!

An example of a class blog that students contribute to:

An example of a student’s blog:



Digital Portfolios – In grade 4 we are embarking on digital portfolios this year and we haven’t yet identified exactly how we are going to put these together. I saw and heard of some good examples of digital portfolios using both blogs and Evernote, so we have some big decisions to make here.

Design thinking – There was a focus on design thinking in some of the sessions and it is impossible to ignore the benefits of activities that are rich in design thinking in engaging students in thoughtful, engaging work. The thing I struggle with is where this fits in as a classroom teacher. Making a stop-motion video, doing programming, or designing and building your own stylus are activities which can help teach students how to be independent, inquisitive learners. The trouble is, these things aren’t reading or writing or math or social studies, so I struggle with making it a part of my curriculum if the school as a whole has not identified design thinking as a focus.


Technology Integration – The model of teaching technology skills is changing. Computer labs and computer teachers are disappearing. Integration specialists are in. We are in the middle of transitioning to this model, but I don’t think we have all the pieces in place. Our instructional model ais not yet in the place we need it to be in order to meet the needs of our students. Time will take care of a lot of this, but there is a shift in philosophy and some planning and re-structuring that needs to happen. Also, a good tech integration program relies on a strong, shared curriculum, and sometimes our independence as classroom teachers makes it harder for technology specialists to integrate into our program.

The Apps, the apps, the apps – I found too many of the presentations to be too app-centric. The presenters were running through lists of apps rather than centering their presentations on pedagogy, big ideas, or teaching strategies. This was a lost opportunity I think.



What are the bottom lines – Schools really vary in terms of what they require teachers to do and where they give them choice when using technology. I think as a school we still need to clarify what our bottom lines, our non-negotiable, are in technology.


Overall, an amazing experience. Thank you AES!