If your looking to explore a classroom of the future, then look no further than an ISTE conference.  Here you will see innovative approaches to teaching and learning from schools and districts around the world.  From 3-d printers that allow you to create, configure and design, to web-based tools that promote personalized learning and student voice. Get ready for hands-on learning, real-time feedback and technology that allows students to create, recreate and narrate their work.

My Big 5 Take-Aways for this year's 2017 conference:

1. Technology for all ages and all grades: from kinderlabs which allows students to begin programing with colorful blocks and a robot, to phonics-based programs like Letter Alive that include augmented reality.  These technology driven products are certainly engaging and support foundational skills that students need to begin reading and promote logic and problem solving.

2.  Maker-labs are the new playgrounds for exploration:  promote individualized and collaborative learning through hands-on exploration, robotics, coding and creativity.  "But do maker labs promote learning?"  As I traveled the expo with my 9 year old son there were certainly more labs that he was drawn to than others.  ...he found comfort in Legos  and excitement in 3-d printing which encourages creativity, exploration and a constructivist approach to learning.

3. Fast and Formative Feedback: is integrated into technology design.  Many tools offer teachers a space to develop assessments that provide students with real-time feedback and automated systems that expedite the muddy waters of student feedback. Check out Quick Key, Go Formative and Open Ed.  

4.  From virtual to reality:  VR was all the buzz in the expo room and found even with the big publishing companies like HMH, Pearson, and Google.  While VR provides students with an "experience" such as visiting The Great Wall of China without leaving the classroom doors it also has the potential to trigger emotional responses and alter human experiences unlike other technology tools.  As the research is unclear as to the long term effects VR may have on children, I am not yet ready to jump on VR wagon as a tool for teaching and learning.  Moreover I find "real-life" experiences much more valuable than altered ones.  My favorite vendor in the Expo room was I-School Initiative Escape the Bus which offered a real-life situation in which technology use and application was required to break out of the bus.     

5. Reconfigure your learning space.  The focus at this year's ISTE conference was more about using technology to "redefine" instruction rather than "substitute" (coined from the SAMR model). But in order for shift to happen, the physical environment of the classroom and the role of the teacher must change to allow this process to happen.  

That means getting outside with your students, integrating tools both physical and digital for exploration and learning, and professional development and training for teachers to change the way they teach and have been trained.  If you are looking for inspiration, check out what this school district in South Fayette is doing to integrate STEM instruction starting in kindergarten. 

If you still find yourself running to the xerox machine in the early morning than you really are living in the dark ages. Moving forward in your practice with a mindset of technology as a tool to empower learners is no longer an option it is imperative.  Regardless of your grade or subject area technology can be integrated across subjects and with all learners.  Today's technology is user-friendly and built around the Four C's: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Communication.

One final note, I have to admit after spending a few days immersed in a digitally connected space I couldn't wait to return home and be surrounded by redwood trees.  Balance is key.

My home in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Stay balanced and keep connected with me @teacherpreptech.
I look forward to reading your comments and please share your take-aways from this years ISTE conference.

Instilling a belief that all children can learn is a common goal of teacher education programs. Research suggests however that teachers feel ill-prepared to support students in the inclusive classroom (Brownell, Adams, Sindelar, Waldron, & Vanhover, 2006). 

Teacher education programs may grapple with meaningfully incorporating inclusion practices and positively shaping teachers’ attitudes about students with exceptionalities (also called diverse learners). 

When new teachers enter the classroom, they bring with them personal experiences, beliefs, and attitudes that shape instructional choices, interactions with students, and beliefs about the learner. 

Teacher expectations are strongly correlated to student achievement. As such, what a teacher believes about a student may become the expected outcome, and this is true for students with disabilities as well (Hampton & Mason, 2003).

My son Braeden and I are at ISTE today for his first conference presentation.  We had a packed room of 60 plus teachers, mostly teachers of mathematics who wanted to know our approach to math instruction using technology tools.

Technology is no panacea to good math instruction.  At the root of good math instruction is the teacher with content matter expertise.  Web-tools support the teacher to scaffold and individualize instruction, build a classroom community and assess student understanding in both formal and informal ways.  These tools are best used with open-ended tasks that lend itself to multiple representations and solution paths.  No matter what tech tool you use nothing can supplant the personal connections teachers make with students in the classroom.  Open-ended tasks are best rooted in the lives of the students you teach.  My students might be into legos but your kids might enjoy Mindcraft even more.

Be sure you are always providing your students with multiple representations and means of expressing their knowledge. Students are engaged with using technology but they also need hands-on learning experiences that allow them to make real-world connections.  I strongly suggest starting with the concrete and moving to the abstract.  

The classroom is transformed with technology when students are allowed to share their work with others in the class.  There is always more than one teacher in the classroom and as Braeden proved today in our ISTE presentation sometimes our students can become our best teacher!

Each year districts throughout the nation spend millions of dollars on professional development, inservice training, curriculum materials and resources.  And why do they do this? Research has determined that teachers need a minimum of 50 to 80 hours of professional development before they achieve mastery of a new skill (French, 1997; Banilower, 2002; Yoon et al., 2007).   Furthermore teachers who do receive at least 50 hours of PD a year make a significant impact on their student achievement (NCSD, 2009). 

Shaping a teacher’s beliefs and pedagogical practices takes time, commitment and support. Yoon and colleagues (2007) examined 1,300 studies of professional development research to find which types of programs had the greatest impact on student achievement. Programs that were lengthy and intensive had the greatest impact. In fact several studies have found the duration of professional development is related to the depth of teacher change (Shields, Marsh, & Adelman, 1998; Weiss, Montgomery Ridgway,& Bond, 1998). 

As lengthy professional development require inservice time and cost, schools and districts should consider how technology can be used to support and sustain professional development as a means to offset cost and support ongoing professional development. Recent research suggests no significant differences found between online and face-to- face professional development (Fishman et al., 2013). This finding holds much hope for schools to increase teachers confidence and efficacy towards teaching without adding an additional burden and cost for the school district. What is needed in the research is effective models that can be used to facilitate online professional development without the added cost and burden of sophisticated technology tools and learning management systems to support online training.

Traditional professional development such as one-day workshops, inservice meetings,  fails to produce substantive or sustained change in teachers’ practice (Cohen and Hill, 2001; Parsad et al., 2001; Porter et al., 2000). What is needed is alternative models of professional development which builds on teachers capacity as  leaders to provide inservice teacher professional development that is contextualized and customized.

Moreover, teachers much like students need an opportunity to practice and rehearse new skills prior to implementing them in the classroom. In fact research has found teachers need at least twenty instances of practice to master a new skill (Joyce & Showers, 2002). We want to encourage teachers to develop a Growth Mindset (DWECK , 2006) as they master this new skill and embrace the power of mistakes and stimulate their brain by making mistakes Mathematical Mindsets (J. Boaler, 2016)

With the asynchronous capacity of social media, participants can engage in professional development at any time and anyplace. Instructors of professional development can identify and address misconceptions as well as answer questions related to teaching strategies when teachers have an opportunity to develop expertise. 

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are popular tools that offer anytime, anyplace and free professional development that is personalized and individualized toward the learners' needs.  Moreover these platforms offer multiple representations of content from fellow teachers who share videos, lesson plans, graphic organizers, student work samples and most importantly first hand experience of how the work they are doing impacts the students they teach.   

Want to learn more about how one professional development organization is shaping teachers' practice by developing teacher leaders who share their work and refine their practice with other teachers, check out this recent publication . "The Role of Teacher Leadership for Promoting Professional Development Practices". (Dickenson, & Montgomery, 2017).

Join me on Social Media and send a Tweet or Facebook Post: 
Facebook Groups: 
Teaching with Technology . (Technology PD
              MBAMP Professional Development . (Math PD)

Please leave a comment and share how you use social media and online learning to sustain continuous professional development.  

Summer Summer Summer time.... don't just sit back and rewind.  This summer take the opportunity to try new strategies, increase your content knowledge and think critically. As teachers across the nation move to adopt 21st century skills into their teaching practice, not only must they think about how the 4C's: Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration can be incorporated into their practice they must also harness the opportunity to be an active consumer of these practices.  We tend to teach the way we were taught so take advantage of experiences that will truly shift the way you teach.
Critical Thinking is a habit of mind characterized by a thorough exploration of issues, ideas and events before learning an opinion or conclusion (AACU, 2009).  Furthermore, it involves reflecting rationally about the beliefs or actions that garner the results, as well as using evidence to support a decision. Want to know more about Critical thinking? Check out this guide based on the Association of American Colleges and University (AACU) and download the critical thinking value rubric.

This summer attend a professional development event locally such as MBAMP which will be looking at Common Core, cross-curricular instruction and Cognitively Guided Instruction or Silicon Valley Math Initiative that will focus on developing mathematics leaders across San Jose school districts.
At home with the kids this summer then sign up for an online course (many of which are free) such as Designing for Deeper Learning: How to Develop Performance Tasks offered by Stanford.
Thinking critically will help you throughout the school year in making informed decisions,  analyzing data from student assessments, planning lessons based on students prior knowledge and developmental ability, and reflecting on the effectiveness of a lesson plan.  Moreover if you don't think critically then how can you teach it?
Still interested in learning more about the 4C's and how these strategies can be integrated across subject-matter content? Check out my latest publication Blending Digital Content In Teacher Education Programs  which includes practical application of the 4 C's in your classroom and makes the connection between research and best practices across the k-12 grade span.

How is technology changing the way teachers teach and students learn? Well if students are merely acting as passive recipients of technology by viewing or watching the teacher use and navigate technology then the answer is "not at all".

In today's digital world moving our students from passive recipients of information to actively creating products of learning with technology does not require coding, programming or even downloading software? It's really about finding the right tools to support your student learning goals.

   If teachers are looking to S-T-R-E-T-C-H their students cognitively they must also consider S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G their teaching practice.  Doing something new can be challenging, scary, and certainly far from perfect, the moment you can "own" this fact the more apt you will be to take chances and try something new.  So are you ready to get started?

Digital tools provides much promise to capture student thinking in a way that not only demonstrates understanding but promotes peer-teaching and learning.  Student created videos can have multiple purpose and audiences and be used across subject areas to explain a concept in science, teach a procedure in math, give an opinion about an event (social studies) or share a book review (english language arts).  The possibilities are endless and the process promotes the 4C's of: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

All you need to get started is a digital tool to record.  Students can use their handheld device (IPHONE),  or a free screen capture web-tool like Screencastomatic or Screencastify (Chrome Browser) to click and capture their thinking.  I strongly recommend a graphic organizer to help students plan their process and for you to check their understanding.

Check out this video series in which the student exercises his authority in how to grow an apple tree from an apple seed in a three part video series entitled: "From Seed to Plant".   


Student-made videos move us away from an teacher-centered approach to instruction to one that is student-centered. There is no better way to explain to parents why students should explain their thinking (as recognized in the common core) than with a student-create video.

Are you ready to get started with student-made videos?  If I haven't convinced you to give up the reins and adopt this practice, consider the research,  as studies show students learn more  when they are required to explain their ideas to others, compared to when they are required to learn information that will be measured on a test.  Students teaching students through video has gained much popularity in the classroom not just by teachers but by the students who claim they learn more when they watch their peers explain concepts in terms and ways they are familiar with.  Have you tried student-created videos in your class share with us and let us know your best practices.

Graphic Organizer to capture the process.

All students need access to core content, but all students don't learn the same way nor do they come into the classroom with the same content knowledge, experiences and beliefs about learning.  Gifted children need to be challenged, students with learning disabilities need content that builds upon their unique strengths, and students who are english language learners need access to language to make content comprehensible .

Today's general education classroom consists of ALL learners and it is the teacher who becomes the great equalizer as they make instructional decisions that influence the learning of all students int their classroom.  Instructional decisions include how they manage the classroom assess all learners, and design instruction.

Universal Design for Learning provides a blueprint for designing instruction.  Teachers however still need to be cognizant of strategies that work for all learners and able to successfully implement approaches that will support ALL students in mastering content.

A student with cognitive disabilities will have difficulty with mental tasks.  This might include memory, note-taking, reading comprehension, visual and auditory processing.    Best practices for teachers to include are:

  1. Model the processes and skills being taught. 
  2. Make use of available technology such as Google Dictate for word processing, calculators, and white boards for displays and interactivity.
  3. Provide representations of concepts you are teaching with pictures, hands-on experiences, and visual models. 
  4. Use cooperative learning groups and peer tutoring to support understanding and application, 
  5. Develop daily routines to promote consistency and repetition, and
  6. Give students an opportunity to apply conceptual applications and skills in authentic experiences that support transfer. 
Gifted students are often straddled with the task of helping others but such requests fail to challenge students and provide enriched activities.  Rather than give students more work, peer tutoring tasks, or  "free time" meet the needs of gifted students by: 
  1. Allow time for exploration and independent study, 
  2. Promote multiple solutions and opportunities to explain their thinking, 
  3. Encourage inquiry based tasks that are built on students' questions and an include an opportunity for students to determine the answers,
  4. Create activities that encourage connections across content areas,
  5. Include opportunities for authentic assessment which promote open-ended responses, and 
  6. Use technology that builds on students interest and  autonomy in tasks.

What are your best practices for supporting ALL learners in your classroom? 
Want to learn more about research and best practices for an inclusive classroom, check out my latest publication, Preparing Preservice Teachers for the Inclusive Classroom

One question we ask teacher candidates for entrance in our program is "Do you think it is possible to make a student participate?" This question brings up the notion of "free will" and the role of the teacher to inspire learning rather than demand student participation.

 Participation is after all a choice and it gives students power in the classroom.  It is possible that students who do not participate, especially with tasks that are within their reach (ZPD) are doing so for power because in class and perhaps outside your classroom they feel powerless.

So how do teachers empower students to actively participate?

Give student a Choice and a Voice in how they learn information.

I recently visited my student intern who was lecturing on the topic of Marine Invertebrates.  The information she was sharing was quiet interesting. She included videos to provide students with visuals and asked questions to help guide their thinking, but despite her attempts to engage all students a few had "checked out" and were not actively taking notes or responding to questions.

I noticed they were actively doodling and drawing illustrations throughout the lecture.

During our debriefing I recommended she try sketchnotes with her students and give them a choice in how they take notes by introducing a variety of approaches to note-taking strategies throughout the year.  This is especially important for secondary students as note-taking is the primary means of learning new information, and will help transfer new facts from short term to long-term memory.  Students who don't take notes during a lecture might as well not show up to class.

Sketchnotes support students  in making new information memorable and this is critical for all students who are preparing for careers and college beyond high school.
As I returned to my student intern's classroom a few weeks after our meeting she was excited to share the  increased participation of all students by using sketchnotes. 

Notetaking without Sketchnotes: 

After Using Sketchnotes:

Here are a few tips for using Sketchnotes:
  • Drawings and symbols to represent associations for new ideas.  Associations will help with recall and to organize new ideas with already existing schemas
  • Color and Shape Size to emphasize key points and salient information that is important to recall and draw your attention. 
  • Go Beyond Linear Writing and experiment with format, and flow of notes to create a unique space to express your thoughts and organize ideas. 
  • Use Arrows and bullets to capture ideas, connect points and synthesize information

And Finally SHARE, SHARE, SHARE.  We learn so much from each other  and this is especially important for kids to learn from their grade-alike peers as they can make connections that are only meaningful to their generation, "Dab" unless your Betty White. 

What innovative ways are you making connections for students in your classroom? Share your ideas with us or tell us how you are using Sketchnotes in your instruction?

As a teacher educator,  there are certainly a few topics that cause me to hold back.  My chest tightens when I hear one of my teacher candidates share about a recent suicide at their school site.

As a classroom teacher I never experienced having to navigate in a school setting where a student I use to know has taken their life  and I might have to grapple with questions like, "What could I have done?" "Was this preventable?" and "Were there any signs?"

In Silicon Valley where many of my teacher candidates are working teen suicide has made national headlines.  The pressure to perform and the expectation to succeed is a likely factor that contributes to stress and anxiety in a teen's life.  Luthar's (2006) research found affluent kids are at risk especially when achievement-related goals such as "attend a good college" and "make a lot of money" are higher ranked than personal values such as "being kind to others" and "happy with yourself and life".

As a teenage I will never forget the day when I found out a friend decided to take his life.  It happened unexpectedly and without warning. So the topic of suicide can possibly trigger some old memories I never had the chance to deal with.  I imagine that many of the teachers I work with also know someone who took their life; teenage suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens.

Personally, the thought of suicide never occurred to me,  until I lost someone I knew.  Then came feelings of deep sadness that I could not explain or even process.  I also began to wonder what it would be like, to bring my life to an end, would that make all my troubles go away?  I experienced bullying, shaming, and pressure to perform and get into a "good" college as a teen.  My parents were also going through a divorce during high school and I felt suffocated going to a catholic school where so many pressures I faced as a teen were ignored.

A recent Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, chronicles the life of a teenage girl whose decision to take her life at the onset of the movie,  is revealed through a series of audio tapes she sends to students who impacted her decision.  As this film and book brings much needed attention to the topic of suicide,  the power and romanticism of the act can be potentially dangerous to teenagers at risk and lacking sense of agency in their life.  As noted in Luthar's research teens who are already depressed and feeling little self-worth might see suicide as powerful choice.  The potential danger of a romanticized version of suicide is echoed by teen writer Jaclyn Grimm in a USA Today Op-ed piece.
Teachers should consider how media such as this show may influence students' beliefs and opinion especially when it comes to suicide.  Having conversations with your students and colleagues at your school site, including guidance counselors and administrators can begin formulating ways you can build a safe and inclusive school where students thrive and feel safe, protected and cared for.  Here are a few addition resources for information on suicide prevention and support:

Either way I will be watching the "13 Reasons Why" series so I can better understand teen suicide and the context of being a teenager in a social media driven world. I had a hard time not clicking on episode #2 after I finished the first one.

Join me Sunday night at 8pm (PST),  in a weekly twitter chat to discuss this powerful series by sending a tweet to:

Our first week question for the video study will be:

Q1: Who is affected by teenage suicide?

Q2: What are the possible reasons why a teen may take their life?

Q3:What are the pressures facing teenagers in the classroom today? How are they similar/different to when you were a teen?

To engage in this discussion just send a tweet to #Teacherprep13reasons with a response to your question as Q1, Q2, Q3.  

It is used to track students, evaluate teachers and determine a schools' performance. It causes a sense of fear and anxiety for students and teachers alike and can influence funding,  ratings, and the housing market.  Yes, assessment is the "elephant in the room" and it's not moving anytime soon.
Assessment does not need to be something we fear, but embrace.  If we chose wisely and use assessment as a tool rather than a means of solely evaluating,  assessment can be valuable in identifying key points for designing instruction, monitoring progress and supporting students. Assessment should be thought of as "evidence" that educators can use to make informed decision about teaching and learning.
Here are some key points of consideration when incorporating assessment in the classroom:
  1. Use  diagnostic assessments to gather evidence about student knowledge prior to instruction.  Diagnostic assessments are traditionally multiple choice tests, chapter warm-ups and pre-asssessments that can give you a snap shot of mastery toward previously taught skills and standards.   Learning Progressions are important to consider when designing these types of assessments.
  2. Spice up your assessment with web tools.  Create a  virtual game-based assessment using web applications such as Kahoot-, Go Formative or Poll Everywhere to create an online assessment .
  3. As much as we love categories to classify information and sort things, being placed in a category can feel strange, obtrusive and just cold and uninviting.  Avoid categorizing students into bucket groups that can create a stigma and perception of how they are viewed as a learner.
  4. Teachers need to use data and assessment collaboratively.  Working in silos does not work.  Create a space to continuously meet with colleagues and use data to determine not just students academic growth but also if they are progressing socially, emotionally and behavioral.  Looking at data with colleagues can promote collaboration and help determine patterns and outliers in a students' performance.  If a student is having success in math and not art, what might be happening in one classroom environment that is not happening in the other?
  5. Use project-based assignments and tasks to provide students with the flexibility and the ability to work within their zone of proximal development while still targeting on specific standards and grade-level curriculum.  With rubrics, criteria charts and targeted goals students can progress at their own pace, and high achieving students can be challenged beyond the traditional assessment.
  6. Design assessments to determine what students know and have learned in your instruction. Don't teach to the test, teach to the individual.  A good assessment measure will match your instruction and not the other way around.
  7.  No assessment is perfect! Assessments should be refined, and modified according to students' needs, abilities and it's effectiveness.  If the majority of the students' in your class scored poorly on an assessment measure consider your instructional approach, the assessment type and whether it is a valid measure.
  8. The best use of an assessment is often the one that is least used, share results with your students, parents, and colleagues; reflect on learning and refine your assessment practice. Post assessment practices are vital to consider.  Have a discussion with your students, get feedback using a tool like Google Forms.
What if we abandoned thinking about assessment as a means to an end but as a part of the teaching and learning process? What if students "products" (assessment) was part of the process (teaching)? And the products were used to create a community of learners who share knowledge with each other. We need to move to a mindset of assessment as evidence rather than evaluation.  Learning is a lifelong process and it doesn't end with an assessment.