Category Archives: Conference


It Could Be Beautiful: VSTE12 Presentation

This was an Ignite style session where I expressed my own personal frustration with educational technology at scale and attempted to then offer some redeeming alternatives actively being pursued by others. Below are a few of the slides and roughly what I tried to get across.

On the left is good education/learning etc. The middle is roughly what we have now, suffering from extensive damage and quite vulnerable to being completely destroyed. The far right is what a lot of technology integration does. It is covering up gaping holes and damage but at the same time utterly destroying what it purports to be protecting and conserving.

Not only do we do that but we hold up that distorted monstrosity as best practice. We put it on t-shirts and brag about what we’ve done.

We continue to create structures that pretend that a certain level of learning/teaching lives inside a technology without any regard to the instructional context. It depresses me this has been around since at least 2009 and is now migrating to peacocks and umbrellas.

Our society is so desperate for educational alternatives that we lionize a man who put video tutorials on the Internet as the second coming of Gutenberg. This Forbes story was shared 15,000 times when I last checked. Not that this is without value but we seem incapable of seeing it in a rational historical context or as one of many, many shades of gray.

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by bionicteaching
Unfortunately, the opposite of the Khan position seems to be equally distorted and ill-conceived. Technology is, apparently, either our lord and savior or a pre-packaged drek that helps fill a stomach cheaply. For the record, the only lower food form lower than Hamburger Helper is Spam.

We seemed doomed to confuse cheap gimmicks and flash with real potential to help people learn and furthermore we document our complete inability to determine what might interest a student.

The sheer desperation for something positive seems to be driving more and more teachers to corporate driven star teacher awards. I talked about this at length in the past. By all means get anything you can for free. Use companies to help you build relationships with good people. Whatever. Just don’t forget that the company has profit driven reasons for whatever it invests in you. Don’t censor yourself because that company “certified” you.

I can no longer count the number of apps (paid and free) that are simply web pages with shiny new wrappers. Almost all of those websites are both free and hold little interest to teachers/students now. You’d also assume that astronomy plays a majority role in the content and curriculum of all grades by the prevalence of star gazing apps in any educational app discussion. For the record, unless your calculator/dictionary/thesaurus/note app is also grants eternal life it does not deserve to be in any “top edu app” list.

Fluidity is something else entirely. It does something hard- makes equation writing easy on tablets and IWBs and does so in a way that actually matters. This video doesn’t even come close to showing you how intuitive the product is nor some of the more impressive elements (like being able to assign acceleration equations to drawings and then animate them on the fly). This is an app that takes advantage of the technology and helps make math something you can explore and interact with. The linking of changes between the graphs and the equation are also really interesting. I wish they were better at marketing.

These two apps are more typical of what you find. I was searching the iTunes store for ways to help one my children with automaticity and these were two of the better options. Both are really just multiple choice flash cards with a narrative, graphic wrapper, and a few primitive game elements. They aren’t helping him understand anything and in both cases the math is integrated in extremely weak ways that really don’t make sense. In Operation Math you simply answer the math problem to get through progressively more gates to allow access to different uniforms. Math Blaster Hyperblast 2 HD sounds like a joke name but is essentially a game where you fly down a tunnel shooting and dodging things until you reach a “boss” where you have to answer math problems to defeat them.

If you compare the apps above to the work Greg Tang is doing I think there is a considerable difference. These games are engaging (granted more puzzle than video game) but are doing fundamentally different work with math and helping to build understanding and automaticity as opposed to merely sugar coating flash cards. The potential to do things like this is there. We need to expect it.

I see similar ideas around engaging kids in ways that more than frosting and cartoons in the work done by Dan Meyer and others in graphing stories,, the 3 act stories, and most recently the dead simple but amazingly versatile red dot.

There are people like Shawn Cornally who are doing work that is just fundamentally impressive. What he’s doing impresses me so much I get clinically depressed with what I do with my time and energy.

So I ended on a somewhat sunny note. Education could be beautiful and is in some places. We need to raise the bar in terms of what we expect and not always in relation to what is good relative to the low bar set in education generally. We need to think about grading in different ways and in totally restructuring the way school works to get at things that actually matter.

Internet Culture as Digital Content: VSTE12 Presentation

This presentation is essentially a pitch for the idea that we ought to be looking at the world with open eyes and paying attention to the content that is exciting to ourselves and others- the things we read/watch/listen to without being coerced.

The introduction it is a rehash of the RSS aggregator pitch that I’ve given off and on since 2002. I know Twitter is much cooler and RSS is pronounced dead on a regular basis but Twitter fills a very different niche for me and I think the RSS aggregator still has a lot of value. I also stressed the idea that you have to aggregate feeds you actually want to read. That’s very different than feeds you feel you ought to want to read. Make this unpleasant for yourself and you will never, ever, read them. Build feeds that rejuvenate and interest you and then bring that into your instruction.1

My goal was to point out the huge swathe of low hanging fruit waiting for the right teacher to look at it in the right way- essentially the antipode of most of the content we use in education. This is really more of a change in philosophy than anything else. I’m hoping people open their minds to a larger idea of what might qualify as digital content.

I started with a lot of the usual suspects and then wandered into stranger territory. I’ll repeat them here because no matter how common things seem, or how many times I feel they’ve been discussed, they still aren’t for large numbers of people.

cc licensed ( ) flickr photo shared by Smithsonian Institution

Flickr Commons was one stop. I choose the picture above as an example because it was a slight twist on the idea about using images as examples for writing. I liked the idea of having images of actual historical scientific journals to use as an example for students working on their own scientific journals. The image being from the Smithsonian also adds credit to the resource.

Another more targeted potential is the fact that there are many, many podcasts in iTunes that are meant to be informative.2 For instance, I listen to BackStory.

On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present. With its passionate, intelligent, and irreverent approach, BackStory is fun and essential listening no matter who you are.

I listened to Love Me Did: A History of Courtship which gave an interesting history of dating and courtship but also highlighted the blog Advertising for Love which is a culling of interesting historical personal ads that offer a unique kind of insight into our culture. This kind of thing being served up on a platter for you to use with students still amazes me. The fact that you can also dip into the LOC archives for historical newspapers to do your own research with students is more than just icing.

An American gentleman, thirty years of age, wishes to form the acquaintance of some American lady (an orphan preferred), not less than 18 nor more than 24 years of age, with a view to matrimony. She must be of the highest respectability, prepossessing and genteel in appearance, of good education, accustomed to good society and of a loving disposition. Any lady answering the above can do so with the utmost confidence, as all communications will be strictly confidential, and letters returned when requested; for this means just what it says, nothing more and nothing less. Address for three days, giving real name and where can be seen (none others will be noticed), Knickerbocker, box 164 Herald office.

From Advertising for Love

I put forward some of these more Internet culture-ish options that I happen to follow while stressing, once again, that I’d read these for my own amusement anyway. Some of these are no doubt well known but others are a bit stranger.

  • Quantified Self – “Are you interested in self-tracking? Do you use a computer, mobile phone, electronic gadget, or pen and paper to record your work, sleep, exercise, diet, mood, or anything else? Would you like to share your methods and learn from what others are doing? If so, you are in the right place. This short intro will help you get you oriented.”
  • Global Guerrillas – “Networked tribes, system disruption and the emerging bazaar of violence. A blog about the future of conflict.”
  • The New Aesthetic – “Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.

    The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.”

  • Street Art Utopia – street art/graffiti from all over the world
  • Nothing to do with Arbroath – really strange news and videos from all over the world
  • McSweeny’s – an English teacher’s dream for content and ideas for projects, writing prompts etc.
  • Junk Charts – bad charts and breakdowns of why they’re bad
  • boing boing – an old standby
  • SuperPunch- cartoons, art, and really interesting links
  • pretty much an endless supply of media from Grateful Dead bootlegs to drive in movie commercials with dancing cigarettes

1 I will note that if you aren’t interested in your subject or the world in general as it applies to your subject you might consider alternate employment.

2 Think educational and interesting but without the need for a grade to make someone listen/watch.

Screen Shot 2011-12-09 at 8.56.30 PM

Daily Shoot Meets #VSTE

We were looking to do something to get participants more involved in documenting the VSTE conference this year. Essentially what we decided to do was create a random assignment generator and aggregate that content to a Posterous blog.

We’ll work on our Tebowing skills but all in all it feels like it worked pretty well. Given that we only had three people 1 tag anything with #vste2011 on Flickr we had pretty good participation.

The goal was to try to keep the assignments really small and quick. We tried to mix opportunities for serious stuff in with a fair amount of fun things. I believe this was originally worked in as part of a QR code activity. I’m not sure if that hurt things. I saw multiple people struggling to get QR codes to work at a few other sessions where a tinyURL would have done a much better job.

I’d describe how I used Google to find a php script or two that would allow me to randomize some text to make the page I used but . . . if I’d be thinking more clearly I’d have just used WordPress to do this. I also tacked on a Google Form to allow for the submission of additional project ideas (WordPress comments would have been simpler). No fuss, no muss, and I still hate code.

1 John Hendron, Tim Owens, and myself

VSTE Conference Presentations


I’ll be updating this post as I pull the content together. These are presentations I’m doing at VSTE this year.

Common Tools, Uncommon Uses

Take a sideways look at educational uses for common tools and websites. Projectile motion in Word? Google forms for a choose-your-own-adventure novel? Yep. Stuff like that.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list and the goal is more about encouraging people to look at these tools and realize that no matter the goal of the creators/marketers we can use them in all kinds of powerful ways that were never intended. I think in the end, I’m going to organize it by concept and show multiple applications that support those concepts.


  • Movie frames for comics
  • Capture motion data
  • Summarize movies


  • Visual timer
  • ComicLife/Mind Mapping
  • Choose Your Own Adventure


  • Text manipulation
  • Self-Correcting Crossword Puzzle
  • MadLibs
  • 8 bit graphic design


  • Onion skinning to map motion
  • DIY ComicLife, Omnigraffle etc.


  • Choose your own adventure
  • Intelligent assessments


MOOCs: Define and Applied to K12

Massive Online Open Courses are catching on. What are they and what can K12 teachers learn from them? Both professional development and concrete classroom applications will be explored

After I explain what a MOOC is and show a few examples that might be interesting for K12 educators. I’m going to take what I found to be the most interesting elements from my participation in DS106 and talk about how and what I’d apply to the K12 environment both the classroom and the professional development arena.1

Stuff from DS106 that’s applicable to the classroom.

  • Aggregation blog
  • Student spaces
  • Student created assignments
  • Mixed online and f2f communities
  • Multiple media outlets
  • Cheerleading

Professional Development

  • Leveraging existing MOOCs
  • Integrating the concept into the district
  • Providing for mixed experiences for teachers
  • Aggregation and promotion

Also coming out of our office are-

iPads in Early Elementary

Henrico just deployed 4 iPads in every K/1st grade classroom. Why’d we do that? What Apps are we using? How are we managing devices? How are we documenting results?

Reflective Friends- Changing the Culture of Henrico County Public Schools

Ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Getting nowhere fast? Come learn what Henrico County did to establish an expectation for 21st century, student-centered instruction in all K-12 classrooms. After years of one step forward, two steps backwards, we have implemented a reflective friends process that consists of a series of classroom observations by “outside consultants” (in-house and outside our county) using our Teaching Innovation Progression Rubric (TIPC). Data is collected on 21st century instruction comparing select teachers versus random teachers, students and teachers are interviewed, and all data is triangulated to paint a baseline picture of a school’s 21st century instruction. Additional observations are performed at the end of the year to measure growth. Administrators from all schools have been an integral part of this process and learned how to use TIPC to further develop their own observational skills surrounding 21st century instruction. We are beginning our 3rd iteration of observations this year will bring all 46 elementary schools into the process this fall. We are also beginning to help school teams develop their own observational teams by bringing department and instructional leaders into the process. Reflective Friends, along with Henrico 21, is setting expectations and accountability for 21st century instruction in HCPS.

Henrico 21- Part 2- One year- 238 lessons later…

Teachers are ready, willing, and able to implement 21st century instruction in their classrooms but their cry is always “Help! Show me what it looks like!” Henrico 21 does just that. We have currently posted over 230 lessons that teachers can use as models for 21st century lessons at various levels of implementation. Participants will learn how we use the power of WordPress to format and post lessons and take advantage of the social networking aspects of WordPress. We are using this constantly evolving site to change the culture in our schools and develop community surrounding 21st century learning. Participants will learn how we use our Teaching Innovation Progression chart (our 21st century rubric) as the foundation for high quality lesson development. Henrico 21, along with Reflective Friends, is helping us begin to experience real change in instruction which is evidenced by the growth in the site from 8- to 238 lessons in less than a year.

Digital Curriculum

Changing Instructional Practices

Henrico County Public Schools is currently in a two–year process of replacing textbooks with digital curriculum. By 2013, we will create curriculum for 40 secondary content areas. The content will serve multiple purposes including face-to-face, blended, and eventually online courses. This process will involve multiple stakeholders including educational specialists, classroom teachers, instructional technology resource teachers, and the department of instructional technology. The work we are doing centers around the TPCK model with heavy emphasis on 21st century learning experiences that align with our Teaching Innovation Progression chart (TIPC). Courses are being developed using the Backwards Design framework and will include 21st century performance-based assessments. As part of this project, we are working to develop a container for curriculum and content that will be transparent and open to anyone. This is a work in progress. We will share our journey as well as any materials we have developed with all participants. We look forward to sharing and collaborating with others who are working to meet the same goals.

1 I have some more expansive ideas on how higher ed could leverage this concept to provide semi-facilitated PD for school systems but I won’t torture anyone with that right now.