Apr 30, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

The MLTI debacle.

When the news about the newest phase of MLTI hit, it was a glorious Saturday and I had already had a great day by PRing at Erin’s Run. But then my phone lit up with email from the ACTEMList, a listserv of Maine teachers and techies, and the rest of the day was spent going through the first few phases of grief, I think. I am still so emotional over this whole thing, but I have to write about it.

Some backstory: I’ve been advocating for MLTI from back with it was MLTE, when the E stood for “endowment,” and not “initiative.” Back in 2001, I was an Americorps volunteer with an org called Project GO@LS: Go Online At Libraries and Schools. I was still an undergrad at UMaine, and it was working with Project GO@LS that I learned about the instructional technology field, and that UMaine offered a graduate degree in instructional technology. I did my undergrad in Elementary Education so that I could get the M Ed in Instructional Technology. Working for GO@LS, I had an office at the Bangor Public Library, and I helped patrons there and at other area libraries. Our group also worked on providing curriculum to local schools – in 2001, the model was that there might be one or two desktop computers in the room, and it was still pretty new to use the internet in a classroom lesson. As part of that service year, I got to meet Jim Moulton at a workshop (I think he may have even been still teaching in the classroom then? Or had only recently left) and Bette Manchester. These are names that maybe don’t matter to many people, but in the world of MLTI, they are well known. Anyway, I got a button from one of those events that said “ask me about MLTE” and I wore it on my backpack throughout that year at UMaine, and since the project was new, and I was an edu major, of COURSE it was discussed a lot in our classes, and I was always advocating for it. “No, it’s NOT a toy, yes, it IS important,” etc. Actually, when I took my Praxis that year, I got to the writing portion and thought I was being pranked, because the prompt — randomly assigned — was “Some people think computers in the classroom are unnecessary. What do you think?” I literally looked around the testing room — one at Little Hall at UM — to see if someone was going to pop out and say “haha! here’s the real prompt.” No one else that I took it with that day even had that question! So weird.

Phase two of my backstory is that the second year at UMaine (I was a transfer/nontrad so was deep into education coursework from the start) was the year that the iBooks rolled out to 7th graders. That year at Christmas, my then-boyfriend Dave said “I know I should have probably gotten you a ring, but I thought you would like this more” and presented me with my own iBook. “I figured you should be as equipped as the 7th graders.” That iBook was the impetus for so many things – I took it to campus and got a wifi card installed (!), and it was my faithful companion throughout my undergrad degree. When it came time to student teach, I was supposed to be in a 5th grade classroom, but a sudden shift of teachers in the middle school landed me in a 7/8 Multiage, as a long-term sub, and I was hired to go on contract as soon as my degree was finished. (And once I had THAT news, Dave did get me a ring, and we were married six weeks later.) But, I firmly believe I would not have ended up teaching in an MLTI classroom so quickly had I not been ready from the start, thanks to the iBook I already had. I taught in that program for two years, and then went to UMaine full time as a grad student for a year (having Ingrid conveniently on the last day of the semester) and completed my Instructional Technology degree in December and started at my current position in February. But all the while, still believing in MLTI big time.

And WHY? Well, I grew up in Washington County. I graduated from a small school that cobbled together a class of 54 from 8 different towns. I graduated with people that had never been farther than Bangor, and that was on a school trip. I have always, always seen technology and the internet as a way to flatten the world, to see beyond the World Book collection in the back of the classroom. But a rural school can’t afford what a richer, coastal school might be able to, and that has ALWAYS been the case, and would have always been the case with technology until Angus King made MLTI a reality. Now, my alma mater had the same.exact.system as the richest schools in the state. The network expansion alone was something that would have taken years to accomplish for some of those rural schools. (As it is, my hometown — 30 miles from the schools I attended — never got a high speed connection until 2009 or 2010, and that was only after raising taxes to build a tower for a wireless company to use.) MLTI made sure that outside groups could create curriculum for middle schoolers that would work in any school, because of the unified approach.

I am not upset about the decision to mark HP as the top choice for MLTI as much as I am upset about the move to let schools choose from a menu of options. Doing that undoes the core of MLTI, and just by watching the ACTEMlist over the last few days, I see that digital divide opening. Of course one of the wealthy coastal districts is going with Macbook Air. Of course one of the more rural northern schools is leaning HP. That’s what would have happened in all the years between 2001 and now if MLTI hadn’t happened.

I’m also not sure I think the iPad is the best choice, either. I love my iPad and use it DAILY, but there are some projects that I still NEED to use my laptop for. My ideal version of MLTI would be that every student has an iPad, but that there is also a laptop cart available for those in-depth projects that need a little more firepower. But, the goal of MLTI was to “know where the puck was going,” and I’m certain that tablets are just getting started. There are plenty of businesses run by tablet these days (mostly small businesses, but the Governor probably doesn’t care too much about that? Oh wait.).

But looking at all of the documentation, the HP is an underpowered, outdated machine. It is *lesser* in every way from the Macbooks this new phase is REPLACING. That part is just crummy.

It was also ranked 4 out of 5 as the best option for learning. This is important — MLTI stands for Maine LEARNING Technology Initiative, not LAPTOP. The beauty of a Mac (and I am biased) is that the machine gets out of the way of learning. They are not susceptible to viruses, they are thoughtfully designed and user friendly. Case in point: I teach my undergrad class as a BYOD class. I DON’T teach mac (or PC) specific applications, but we focus a lot on web tools. The most recent project was that students had to create a how to video. In my class, about 2/3 have a Mac and 1/3 use PC, and the Mac users videos were done without complaint, and the students using Moviemaker (on their PC) had issues. “I couldn’t get the music on.” “It said I needed to update and then it downloaded a bunch of stuff and slowed down my machine.” “I tried to speed this part up but it just froze it instead.” My Mac users had lovely movies, created in iMovie, with no technical complaints. And these are ADULTS, who have been using these machines for probably at least a year or more (they are their own devices.)

The HP solution drastically reduced PD support (and the documents note that they “took exception to this requirement.”) Ironically, choosing HP = job losses in Maine.

The idea that “Windows is what businesses use” is troubling. We are using technology for learning, not for job training. Yes, there are lots of businesses that use Windows machines, but there are also lots of careers that use Apple. It’s NOT ABOUT THE PLATFORM, and it’s NOT ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO USE AN OPERATING SYSTEM. OSes will change all the time, learning an OS in 7th grade does not mean you are ready for the workforce in 6-10 years. Not about the platform. I actually teach totally platform neutral in my class, because it is not guaranteed that all of my students will become Maine teachers. I often get friends and family asking me for a recommendation when they need a new computer, and I always recommend some flavor of Mac, and will look at the refurb store or outlet to highlight an especially good deal, and it never fails, I get a reply a week later “oh, I found an HP at Best Buy for WAY CHEAPER!” …. and then a year later, they are asking again, because their computer has failed them in some way. Viruses, crashes, etc. Choosing HP is the Governor saying “look what I found at Best Buy for way cheaper!” and ignoring the bigger picture.

Here’s the straight up data:

Here is a link to all of the proposals. (It will eventually have a FAQ as well.)

Here is a link to the scoring summary. The choice was made based on HP being the cheapest laptop, and other scores were seemingly ignored. (Professional development, software,  support, etc was not factored in the final decision.)

Here is a link to the comparison of the 5 finalists. Note the network, support, software, and cloud columns. (Also, may I point out that the HP proposal = eliminating jobs in Maine? Ahem.)

A few more tidbits — if you read the HP proposal, you’ll learn that charging is meant to happen at home, but they will supply a limited amount of chargers for the school. (15 for a school of up to 250 kids, and it goes up from there.) There is also not a full featured screen reader, like Apple rolls into their OS, and their software solutions are Office and Office365, Internet Explorer, etc – the basic apps that come on a basic machine.

Technology in education is obviously something I am passionate about, and have been for years. MLTI has been a game changer, and now the game has been changed on the program in a short-sighted and drastic way.



Apr 27, 2013 - fitness    No Comments

Erin’s Run 5k

My 5th 5k was Erin’s Run, right here in Bangor.

When this first came about, Emilie at One Mom in Maine shared the page on Facebook and I liked it, because an April 5k seemed like a good idea. As a fan of the page, I learned more about Erin Woolley, for whom the race is named. (And now, because Emilie is an English teacher I’m getting worried about my ‘whom’ use, but I can’t think too hard.) I remember reading some posts about Erin on One Mom in Maine, and it seemed like such a sad story, but so many are, right? As a fan of the Facebook page, though, someone was posting photos of Erin as a little girl, and being someone raising two little girls in Bangor, and seeing hints of places I know well (I feel like the backdrop was the West side, where we live, but maybe I was seeing things) it just made it even harder to imagine. When registration opened, I registered, because god, how could I not? It was a cheap price to pay to make someone like Erin – who I never knew – an unforgotten name. The race was secondary.

I had assumed the course would be like Komen, but they actually plotted a route that stuck to the river side of Main street. Having never run there, I met my friend Diana to do a lap and see how it was. (And then I learned that Diana is pregnant, so she OBVIOUSLY got to set the pace, so we did more walking and talking/squeeing than running but that was A-OKAY. Babies!) But seeing the parts I’d never run before was reassuring, and I had planned to run more later that day, but didn’t get to. And I didn’t get any more outside running this week because of the weather, and honestly, I really dragged myself to the gym to hit the treadmill and just did some Train Like a Mother interval workouts, and never even hit 3 miles while I was there. (And I haaaaate the treadmill, so I was literally running and trying to imagine the 5k route “Now I’m going by Tim Horton’s, now I’m going by Shaw’s, the turn is right up ahead” to get me through.) And on Friday night, it was the first summery evening of 2013 and by god, I wanted pizza and beer.

So, I went into the run without as many miles as I wanted under my belt, BUT with beer and pizza under my belt. Whatever, it was for a good cause and it was a BEAUTIFUL day, nothing to lose. I had picked up my race packet the night before, and all of the marketing made me think that purple must have been her favorite color, so I pulled out the Team Sparkle skirt to wear (and then my girls wanted to wear purple skirts, too.) We heard more about Erin at the start line, and when we took off, I was feeling good, and also feeling really emotional. My girls were going to be waiting for me in purple skirts at the end, how screwed up is it that someone else’s daughter’s death is the reason for this whole gorgeous race? One of the quotes of Erin’s at the pre-start speech was about how her body had so much to still do in life (I’m totally paraphrasing) and all I could think was how lucky I was that I got to DO this. So, I decided to run the whole first mile. I’m a huge fan of intervals and have honestly never run a whole mile, without stopping, ever. I ignored my preplanned intervals and just went for it, and was SO PROUD that I did it (and happy for the walk break.) The route was one big loop, and then one smaller loop, so I knew which parts I’d be repeating. At the start of the second loop, walkers were finishing, and there was a water stop for anyone, so I took advantage, since my mouth was dry from the gum I’d found to chew (not my usual) so that was nice. When I turned down Railroad, I knew Dave and the girls would be waiting for me, and rounding the corner to the finish line, I heard them. “MAMA! MAMMMMA!” they had water for me for when I finished (but of course I hadn’t finished yet!) so I felt like kind of a jerk for just zipping by them. As soon as I got through the chute I doubled back and was so excited to see my family. Dave had packed water for me, since the Freaky5k had not had water at the end, and that was really sweet. We took a pic (after cajoling Willa into it) and then we headed home where I took a great shower and we got ready for the rest of our day. (I have to say, the organization of this race was AMAZING, from the day before packet pickup, the water stops, the portapotties and they even had a bag check, which I didn’t use, but that was a great accommodation! For an inaugural event, it was great.)


Now for the stats!

I PR’ed! My Garmin time was 39:03 and my race time was 39:16 (it was NOT chip timed, so I’m really proud of the Garmin time, but the race time is a PR, too!) And my Garmin tracks records, and I ran my fastest mile with that first one, of 11:14. So proud of that. And the race raised 12,000 dollars and the DV shelter that was benefitting is naming their legal program after her, which is just awesome.


I watched a news story at the end, and realized that the woman who stopped me before the race to comment on my skirt was Erin’s mother. I wish I’d known that. Or maybe not. I can’t help but feel like this is a race for mothers – to make sure Erin’s mom sees that people are still learning about her daughter, for me to show my daughters that athletes come in all shapes, for my friend to be doing a 5k carrying her first baby (a daughter? who knows) from the start line to the finish line. So, Erin’s mom, as a mother of bright and beautiful Bangor daughters, I am so sorry that yours is not here.  We wore our purple for yours, and we will be there again, next year.

Apr 16, 2013 - fitness, life    No Comments


Yesterday, my friend and I took our afternoon walk and when I came back, I was scrolling through my twitter stream and saw the first mention of “the tragedy in Boston.” I thought it was probably one of those situations where a runner dies of a heart attack on the course, but as I kept scrolling, I saw that it was much bigger than that. I told my intern, and we both huddled over a live video feed for a while, trying to understand what was going on.

Whenever a tragedy like this happens, it is human nature to personalize it. When I was a kid, going to Boston for April vacation happened quite often. It’s a great time to go — springy temps, the Red Sox are playing by then, and the hotel we always stayed at is on Beacon Street in Brookline, and we could see the racers go by. I could picture what that day looks and feels like, and even on our walk just before, my friend and I were marveling that spring seemed to have (finally!) shown up.

But since I’ve started running, I have a new way to personalize it, to try to imagine what kind of awfulness that would be. I have NO plans to ever run Boston, or a marathon, but even my slow-as-hell 5ks are the result of working toward a goal and challenging myself, and the finish line is a place of joy, and nothing else. When I read that the boy killed had just hugged his dad at the finish line and walked back to his mom and sisters, that just makes my heart hurt. One of my favorite memories of the last Freaky 5k was that Ingrid ran with me at the end, and I cannot, I cannot even begin to imagine the terror of finishing Boston, or any race, and having your family blown.up. Horrifying.

When Newtown happened, I had similar feelings — I KNOW what a 1st grade classroom is like, I know what a first grader is like —  I have one. I know that 1st grade is a place of joy, that kids still love going to school in first grade, that they are wicked excited for Christmas by mid December, and the shooting there happened, it was too easy to imagine what it would look and feel like in the moments before. Same with this one, a finish line is a happy, happy place. When these acts happen in places that are  just pure and joyful, it is heartbreaking.

And for all the runners who worked so hard, for so long, to have a perfect day for a marathon marred by this, I hope your next finish line is a joyful one.

Apr 10, 2013 - education, technology    1 Comment

Lipdub FTW.

Today was one of those days that makes me so glad I’m an educator.

There is lots of backstory here:

My students are always really into the digital citizenship and cyberbullying discussions that we have, but this year we were especially moved by some headline grabbing events in our area, that led to other discussions.

I have been working hard all semester to drill the idea that being a connected educator is valuable and necessary, and pushing them to connect beyond the classroom using Twitter and blogs.

This week was devoted to video, and my intern did the formal lesson on Monday…. but all semester long, there was a blank spot for today, Wednesday. I figured I’d use it as a flex day — maybe work on videos if they needed, or portfolios, or…. whatever.

Then, last night I saw this tweet:


And it all clicked together….

Wait, we could do something to help a real class, of 6th graders, during video week, by way of my striving to be a connected educator? I was in, but I had to put it out to the class, too.

When class started, I shared with them some other lipdubs, shared the post, and we voted to contribute to BOTH projects. It was not required, and I reiterated the privacy options, and the students who chose not to be on the video were made crew. We listened to the song, picked out our lyric, and then tried to come up with our “something nice” to say, which was harder than you might think.

Next, location — most wanted to use the sign at the North entrance, and a few (my ATHLETES!) were grumbling about the walk. We talked about doing teams in two locations, but ultimately decided it would be more powerful to be one group, so I had everyone bring their phones and we headed out. It’s a 1/2 mile to the sign (I know this because it’s my route for the wellness walks!) and halfway there we felt one or two raindrops, but I was confident we could get it done before any rain.

Once at the sign, we did a few practice runs, and then recorded both videos, confirmed we had it, and then headed back to the classroom, all of us smiling and laughing. Back at class, I had the student who’d recorded the lipdub video email it to me, and I had used my phone for the “say something nice” project (during the lipdub, my phone was used to guide us with our lyric), and we played both before wrapping up class.

Before the day was over, I’d submitted our videos to both projects, and emailed the teacher to share some of the backstory I shared above, and when I tweeted out looking for a still pic that I knew was taken, I got this:


It was a great class. We learned how easy it is to participate in a global project, and how a global project can be a fun way to learn. It tied in so perfectly to what we’ve been talking about, and I’m hopeful it inspired them to be more connected and to seek out these opportunities (or to create them on their own!)

I would encourage anyone to participate in such a project — it took us less than our assigned class period of 75 minutes to go from “here is what it is – do you think we should do it – done.” And now I think it was just a premonition or fate that kept me from filling in that 4/10 box when I wrote the syllabus last winter, because it was perfectly timed for today to be doable.

It was a great day to be a teacher of this great group of students.

Apr 2, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Skyping with the 8th Graders

One of the things I am constantly repeating to my students is that it is important to be a connected educator. My passion for technology (in education, and everything) comes not from all the shiny whiz-bang things you can do with it, but from it’s ability to connect people that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. I also really strive to model the best practices that I am teaching my students, so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to Skype with a real live classroom. But, how did that opportunity even come up? My PLN, of course.

Twitter– I’ve been following Mrs Harris on twitter for years, and she follows me back. Our common interests are that we are both educators, and we both use technology in our teaching. She teaches 8th grade in a Maine school, which means she has 1:1 laptop access thanks to MLTI. We also have kids around the same age (her son was born a few months after Willa) and we both like to cheer on Maine Hockey – go Black Bears!

When she tweeted something about her students having finished their Voicethread projects, I sent her a message about how my students would be doing Voicethread later in the term and maybe we could work something out that they could share their work. The conversation moved to email, and we set a date! Which was snowed out… but our snow date was the next week, and it went great. Heidi’s students were well prepared — they had planned what they were going to share, and they were articulate in their thoughts when we asked some questions that they hadn’t planned for. They shared some of their work, and they also talked about when NOT to use technology. My college students were quite shy (which the 8th graders even noticed!) but did ask some good questions, and their reflections after the visit were great. They all felt it was a valuable use of time, and I especially found it valuable for my students to hear that real, live, 8th graders were using the very things I am teaching them in ED307. In addition to learning about tech, they noticed the classroom management style of Mrs. Harris,and the general energy of a post-lunch 8th grade classroom.

How we prepared:

Heidi and I set up a test run, without students the week before. It was spring break for me so I used the same classroom at the same time to make sure all the connections worked. I also used an ethernet cable to ensure that we wouldn’t lost our connection because of flaky wifi.

On the day of the chat, I had my students move all the tables to the side, and move all the chairs to the middle. Then I made them move all the chairs CLOSER. We had my laptop pointed at them, and the screen displaying us behind them. I also brought my wireless keyboard and trackpad so that I could make adjustments off screen.


Heidi’s class had clearly prepared in advance, and had notes to help guide them. She had hoped to use a different camera, but that didn’t work out, so she pointed her laptop at her students as well. When there was a question about how to share her screen, her students jumped in and helped (and I pointed that out to MY students – you want kids to feel empowered to help if you need it!) and we were off and running.

For followup, I had my students reflect on the experience in their blogs, and I shared those reflections with Mrs. Harris. I also found that some of my students tried Blabberize – one of the tools the 8th graders mentioned, and that we hadn’t used — and Mrs. Harris has plans to try Pixton with her class later this year.

And, by the way, did I mention I’d never actually met Heidi in person? It’s true! (Actually, I think one time she recognized me at our shared OB’s office — remember, we had babies around the same time– but didn’t speak up.) This past weekend, at Target, I heard someone calling my name – and it was her! We took a picture and I tweeted it out, tagged it with #ed307, and several students on Monday had seen that. The power of the PLN, right there.

photo (3)


Mar 28, 2013 - education    No Comments

Being a Student

Yesterday, NESCom had a Tech Expo that I was invited to, and when a meeting was cancelled I decided to check it out. It was really geared toward A/V pros (although there was one Epson guy there with an interactive projector, which was interesting), and I decided to sit in on a demo/talk by the rep from AVID. About 30 seconds in, I realized that I knew NOTHING about audio editing (and really don’t need to know about audio editing) and was completely overwhelmed. So, I did what most students in that situation would do — pulled out my phone and checked Facebook. I stayed though, because I didn’t want to be rude, and then I stayed because I realized that I was actually having a great learning experience — I was getting to be a student in class with an expert, and being totally confused.

I tried to follow along — here is what I learned. Alicia Keys uses ProTools to edit all of her stuff. AVID has an insane amount of fine tuning and equalizers and plug ins and effects to make that happen. If you are using AVID, you probably want at LEAST 3 monitors, because there is a TON of STUFF to tweak.

Then I started wondering “really? Why do you need to tweak THAT MUCH of a song/voice/instrument? What would the people at Sun Records think about all of this? They were the birthplace of rock and roll, and didn’t need to have crossfading clip gain automation (all words I learned, so I guess I learned something!) to make Elvis a worldwide phenomenon. Or the wax cylinders that Edison created in the 19th century?

— a digression — I went googling for an example of the wax cylinder recording, and found the Alan Lomax info at PBS: Lomax the Songhunter, and then noticed that their example of a wax recording was done in Calais, ME, of the Passamaquoddy snake dance in 1890. But the link was broken, so then I went in search of that recording, and found it on WFMU, and am embedding it here:

Anyway, so I was thinking of Lomax and Sun Records as we learned about all this tiny fine tuning Alicia Keys uses with technology, and realized that probably that’s how some people feel when I talk. “Great, oh my god, you can do infinite things with technology, blah blah blah, ELVIS DIDN’T NEED ANY FANCY PRO TOOLS!”  So, I decided to sit back and see what I COULD learn. By the end of the 45 minute talk, when the expert was demoing how the audio is done for a movie, it was really interesting. I don’t think I’ll listen to a movie in quite the same way, when you see all the things they take into consideration, just for the audio – never mind the video. In the clip he showed, there were 312 tracks for one tiny scene. 312 DIFFERENT SOUNDS that make my movie-watching experiences more realistic and more enjoyable. Crazy!

While I really didn’t need to learn anything about audio editing, I did enjoy the experience of learning to be a student again.

Feb 22, 2013 - family, life    No Comments

5 Things About Me

1) My family is the most important thing in my life. I have been married to my husband Dave for 10 years this October, and we have two little girls. Ingrid will be 7 in May and Willa will be 3 in April. I love them the most. My parents live in Maine, too, splitting their time between the house I grew up in in Grand Lake Stream, and spending winters now at Sugarloaf. I have one sister that lives in Golden, CO, and she is getting married this summer, when I will add a brother in law and nephew (his son) to my family.

All my loves in the hammock after a long week.

2) In the last year or so I have started running. I have never considered myself an athlete, and still really don’t, but have learned as an adult that I enjoy pushing my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. Running is a big leap out of my comfort zone, and I am slow and not very graceful, but I feel so good after 3 miles, I don’t care. I am missing my pre-dawn outside runs now that the snow has fallen (I know plenty of people are running outside at that time, but maybe that will be my comfort zone to challenge NEXT winter), and the treadmill just isn’t the same. My goal for 2013 is to run a 10k, and to make 5 miles my default distance. (Right now I run 3 miles 3-4 times a week.)

I have also returned to skiing after a 15 year hiatus. I skiied all the time as a kid, and stopped as a young adult, and now that my oldest daughter loves to ski, I decided it was more fun to ski with her than that just watch her zoom by. Even after 15 years, my body remembered how to ski! (Although my 7 year old is still smoking me on the mountain, and I have to remind her to wait for me!) Skiing with Ingrid at sugarloaf! Great day!

3) I am really passionate about making sure that girls and women are given lots of opportunities in life, and not marginalized. An organization I support is Hardy Girls, Healthy Women. The 5k photo here is from a race I have now done twice. I was the biggest fundraiser for this event in 2012, and told my donors if I raised $250, I would wear a sparkly skirt (I am not much of a sparkly-skirt-wearing person) in the race. Now, that is my “official race skirt” and I have worn it in other events, too!

The photo everyone's been waiting for.

After finishing the Freaky 5k in October

4) I love to read. Lately I have been on a nonfiction kick – I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and am reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. I have started using GoodReads to track my reading, and get recommendations from others. I got a new Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas, and Dave thought it was ridiculous that I’d want Yet Another Device, but I love my kindle for being JUST an e-reader. When I read on my iPad or iPhone, I am constantly interrupted by email notifications, tweets, game updates, etc. On the Paperwhite, I can just disappear into a book. I also love using Maine InfoNet’s Download library to borrow Kindle books for free. I also love listening to podcasts, usually when I am at the gym or running. My favorite podcast is This American Life, and the Moth Podcast is a close second.

5) I love to travel, even though it’s slowed down now that I have little kids. In my twenties, I drove cross country 3 different times, and spent a month in Australia backpacking on my own. In November, I took Ingrid with me to a conference in Denver, where my sister lives, and traveling with a bigger little kid was great. It made me look forward to taking my children on adventures as they get older. We visited with Kate and also spent time learning at the zoo, science museum, and other venues. Ingrid also had saved her money for months to buy an American Girl Doll, which was one of the highlights of her trip.

Ingrid LOVED these real experiments @denvermuseumNS today. LOVED.

Feb 18, 2013 - technology    No Comments

IWBs – so little bang, so much buck.

This week, I had my students learning to use our databases to research scholarly articles, and they had free choice on what to research, as long as it pertained to technology in education. Many of them chose to write about interactive whiteboards, and instead of commenting on all of those posts with my thoughts, I figured I’d put it all down on my own blog.

When my daughter started Kindergarten, the school was so excited to announce that they had added interactive whiteboards (IWBs) to each classroom, K-5. I cringed. After years in this career, there are a few things that just make me crazy — claiming that your use of Powerpoint (only) makes your class technology rich, the use of comic sans anywhere other than an elementary classroom, and the devotion to the IWB.

Gary Stager’s piece on IWBs says it all, really. IWBs reinforce teacher-centered, sage-on-the-stage pedagogy, at a great expense, and without much difference than what could be accomplished with a basic LCD projector and computer. But when this tool comes up in conversation, or I see it in use, all I can think is “so what?” Some real life examples:

“My classroom used the IWB to do the weather! The students would go up and drag the ‘stick’ over to the ‘pocket’ so show what the weather was like today!”

— Great. How is that any better than the classic wall mounted pocket calendar with popsicle stick weather symbols that have been used for years? I’d even argue that it’s WORSE, because the classic model is on display, all day, every day, and the calendar can be used for kids to reference it throughout. The IWB screen is wiped after this activity. On the SAMR scale – it’s a solid S. Maybe an S -.

“Come on in and write your name under which bus you will be taking, using the IWB.”

–I saw this in practice. It crashed twice while we were there, and the teacher reverted to using a sign up sheet instead. Again, how is it better than paper or the classic whiteboard?

“We love our IWBs but can you order us the long pointers so kids can reach it?”

— a request made because IWBs are not set up for children to use them, but adults. Kids can’t reach the areas they need. I’ve seen schools that build ramps or staircases for kids to reach the IWB.

“You can show movies and do virtual tours and demonstrate concepts and take notes and and and…

–Yes, and you can do it without an IWB, and just an LCD.

“I write my notes on the board, save it as a jpg, and then email it to the students!”

–Great. How is that better than taking a photo, or doing your notes in a running Google Doc, or some other form? [Note: this was straight text, and not math problems or diagram heavy.]

The picture in this article. That IWB isn’t being used for kids. Look at where it is — it’s behind the teacher’s desk, with enough clearance for the teacher’s chair. How is it being used in this photo? To display a written message. How is that worth the $5000 or so used for each IWB, as opposed to a basic whiteboard, which is a fraction of the cost?

How is this worth $4800 more than a basic whiteboard?

How is this worth $4800 more than a basic whiteboard?
Photo Credit: Mr. Jay Yohe via Compfight cc

Now, I’m not saying that interactive technology is bad. I think that THAT is awesome. But the magic promised by the IWB dealers hasn’t shown up. I think that the future of interactives lies with tablets and projection. For less than $500, a teacher can use an iPad and an appleTV to project wirelessly to a screen. (I’m not factoring in the cost of the LCD projector, as that would be required in both. Actually, with the iPad Airplay setup, you could use either a screen OR an LCD TV, which is brighter and crisper to view and works best in smaller rooms.) A teacher can pass around the tablet to have students do their work. Maybe there are students working in small groups to solve a problem, and the teacher has students project their solutions to the screen at the front of the room. With an app like educreations, the teacher or student can even record their work — voice and all — to have as a reference or final product.

But that’s just me: What does the research say? One thing that you’ll see when researching IWBs is that the research extends back about a decade or so, and the older research need to be considered in context of it’s time and place. The iPhone (and thus the iOs operating system) didn’t exist until mid-2007, so imagining the iPad/appleTV setup above wasn’t even possible. Even so, there is research that casts doubt on the value of IWBs.

“The implicit structure of such lessons, however, is reminiscent of the pattern of interaction commonly encouraged in classroom without IWBs: namely, the recitation script (Tharpe & Gallimore 1988). The recitation script has been criticised for limiting the possibilities for quality interaction by placing the teacher in the role of didactic expert and critical evaluator with the power to direct, question and evaluate students, whilst simultaneously removing power from students to ask as well as answer questions, and to evaluate their own and others’ understanding (e.g. Edwards & Westgate, 1994; Wood 1992).” (Smith, Higgins, Wall, & Miller, 2005)

So much of the research seems to laud the technology without looking at the pedagogy. The Tanner and Jones article is a great one to read, because it focuses on how people are teaching, not just how they are using the technology. “However, the introduction of IWBs could have the negative side effect of ‘taming’ ICT by removing pupil autonomy and restoring the teacher-centred classroom. Similarly, interactive teaching could be reduced to lecturing supported by powerpoints. IWBs do not determine pedagogy by themselves. We vary considerably in our confidence and competence with technology, and this influences practices; however, IWBs seem to support and encourage whole-class direct teaching with the teacher at the centre of the action.” (Tanner & Jones, 2007)

It is important to think critically when new technology arises. I was skeptical of the first iPad, and wasn’t sold on its value in the classroom because it was so focused on consuming content, and not creating it. The second version, which added cameras and new apps to create content, was a big leap forward. Subsequent models have had some hardware increases — processor speed and resolution, etc, and while Siri could be an important feature for students with special needs, there hasn’t been a shift as big as the one that happened between 1 & 2. (Although the mini is probably more right-sized for little hands, if we are thinking of the implications in elementary education.)

(I have included the links for the benefit of my students, who have access to the databases that they link to.)

Smith, H. J., Higgins, S., Wall, K., & Miller, J. (2005). Interactive whiteboards: boon or bandwagon? A critical review of the literatureJournal Of Computer Assisted Learning21(2), 91-101. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2005.00117.x

Tanner, H., & Jones, S. (2007). HOW INTERACTIVE IS YOUR WHITEBOARD?. Mathematics Teaching, (200), 37-41.

Feb 7, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Canvas, Part 2.

I posted before the fall term about my excitement at getting our Canvas implementation off the ground, and haven’t updated since, so I wanted to follow up on how it all went down. Tl;dr: it went GREAT. When I surveyed the other users, the biggest complaints were “Canvas doesn’t do X,” when in fact, Canvas DOES do X, and I would show them how to do X, if they’d asked! I used that feedback to make some targeted tutorials that I hope reached those users. Since the survey was anonymous, I can’t know who was looking for those specific features. SpeedGrader has been a huge hit, for me and for users.

This semester, we have about double the courses being taught in Canvas from last semester. What I’ve found is that those who had to use it (as required for online instructors, for instance) were requesting permission to use it in the courses that it wasn’t a requirement. Other users requested based on feedback from the mandated users, as well. I’ve also had several faculty that teach and learn using other systems (because they are adjuncts at other colleges, or because they are taking classes at other places) that have come to me and said that after using Canvas, they are realizing how much more they like it as compared to other systems. (Blackboard and Moodle are the main ones that others report using.)

When I tweet about these things, there are a few people who will fire back with a bit of a “yeah, really? Other Company is so much better!” — but reading their tweets, its clear that they are changing from another vendor to Canvas, so there’s a different level of learning there. One area is in the way discussions post. I, personally, have NEVER liked the “click each response” type of forum (and I’ve moderated or been a member of forum systems — outside of an LMS — for more than a dozen years now) so the Canvas forums make sense to me. And that’s the thing – when it’s a change, it’s going to be frustrating. Being that we are starting with Canvas as our first LMS, I don’t have to “unlearn” users and reteach them the Canvas way. If the forums on Canvas were the “click each one,” I’d be complaining, too. I recognize that that is an advantage, and am thankful for it.

But more than that, I am thankful for being able to teach with Canvas. Now that I am teaching my Tech in Ed class, the beauty of Canvas is starting to really show for me. Being able to put all of our twitter links and blog posts together (I’m a big advocate of connected educators) within the course is great. I used to teach Google Reader, but am moving that focus to Twitter – partly because of the changes that Google made to Reader and it’s sharing features – but I still use Reader myself, and have bundled the class blogs and embedded them into a Canvas page. (Here’s a screencast showing how to do that.) I’ve also added the Twitter LTI extension (I am a full Canvas admin, in addition to being an instructor) and have the results for our #ed307 hashtag embedded on the front page. I have plotted out all of the assignments, but left some of them as TBA — because Canvas will let me edit and add details later (and notify the students when I do), but at least I can give my students an expectation of the scope and sequence of the work we’ll be doing. And SpeedGrading blog posts — one of the first possibilities I saw when reviewing Canvas last spring — is exactly as great as I hoped it would be. I can make public comments, and private grades, all from the same screen. EXACTLY what I needed.

I have faculty members doing some cool things, too. One instructor has fallen in love with using audio media comments to give feedback on written papers, and her students are reporting back that they like that method more than written, because they can hear from her tone of voice the way in which she is intending her comments to be interpreted. The way faculty can do graded discussions has been very well received by many faculty, as the previous method involved a lot of sifting and hoping you didn’t miss anything. And importing quizzes from test banks is making even more people happy.

What would I change?

I would like for discussion posts to have the option to be locked from editing or deletion. The one thread I have done in my class was a simple “post a link” so I assume that most of the deletions were people trying to figure out how to create the clickable link, but I can see how in a higher stakes graded discussion that would be frustrating.

I love, love, love using Google Docs, and love the concept of collaborations, but it would be nice if a collaboration could be turned in as an assignment. I have students submit their URLs to do that, now, but it would be nice if the snapshot wasn’t of the login screen when that’s submitted. It’s just an extra click to view the original document, and it’s worth the click to be able to use the Google Docs commenting.

I’d also like to be able to copy assignments. I have 12 blog posts for my students to do, with a generic rubric, but I have to create each of the blog posts individually and then add the rubric (which I CAN reuse.) I’d love to be able to be building a collection of content to pick from as I teach my courses, and faculty would like this, too. Now, they have to go into old courses (and I had to extend the term availability for them to do it) to copy content.

Most of the things I would like to see changed are on the Admin side. I’d like it if course names and their IDs were able to display at the same time. When there are multiple offerings of Intro to Canvas, it’s a lot of clicking to find the section you are looking for. (Maybe schools that use Sections don’t have this, but we haven’t done that because it is an exception that an instructor would be teaching all sections of a course or that all sections of a course use the same content.) Even if it was something that was revealed by hovering over the course name, that would work, but it can be a little annoying to click around looking for the course you need.  When I look at user lists in a course, too, it’d be nice to have  a collapsed view to see them all at once.

But overall, things are really good with Canvas. I am going deeper this semester, and have already used peer reviews and loved it. I can’t wait to try playing with outcomes this semester, too, and more of the LTI integrations.


Jan 5, 2013 - family    No Comments

Recent conversations.

Ingrid, in the car:

“Mom, I know the tooth fairy isn’t real.”
“She isn’t?”
“No, because FAIRIES aren’t real, so the TOOTH FAIRY can’t be real.”
“Oh. Huh. Who brought you the money when you lost those teeth then?”
“I think it was a lady who knows magic that makes her fly.”

Ingrid, after I’ve handed her the wrapper from a sleeve of Willa’s diapers to go throw out.
[Reading stock plastic bag safety warning to self] “Keep away from babies and children… MOM, why did you GIVE this to me? It says KEEP AWAY FROM KIDS, and I AM A KID!”

Willa, after her (first! sob) haircut:
“I big! I like sissy!”
“And you are so beautiful!”
“I bootiful! Like Mama!”