Category Archives: Technology as Tool For Learning

Technology as Tool For Learning

What Did Auburn Choose for MLTI and Why?

Auburn chose the Apple Primary Solution (iPads for students; MacBook Airs and iPad Minis for teachers) for MLTI.

Here is a two-page FAQ document we prepared for our teachers and community. Among other things, it explains our rationale for making this choice.

(Again, we aren't asking anyone to choose what we choose, but rather we're trying to share about our process and how we chose.)


Auburn’s Data Shows (Again) The Positive Impact of iPads

Our School Committee wants to know if there has been an impact of having iPads in the primary grades classrooms, and there has been!

In fact, we recently presented those findings to the School Committee.

All our primary grades students participate in CPAA testing (Children's Progress Academic Assessment). It is a test meant to be used as formative assessment to let teachers know where their students are in their literacy and math learning, giving them information about student mastery of specific concepts, helping inform teachers' instruction.

As we look back over the CPAA data from past years, and compare to the cohorts of students who have had iPads, we found that a larger percentage of students have reached proficiency, and have reached it sooner, than in the years before we had iPads. For kindergarten, this is true for 6 out of 8 concepts. For first grade, it is true for 5 out of 7 concepts.

We know it hasn't just been the iPads. We have done a ton of professional development on literacy best practices, math best practices, and educational technology best practices.

But what this data does tell us, is that when we combine teachers with professional development and 1to1 iPads, then our students learn more, faster.

In other words, Advantage 2014, our literacy, math, and iPad initiative, is having a positive effect on student achievement.

So when we ask for iPads for second grade, we aren't just asking for tech or gadgets. We are asking for a proven educational resource that helps our students learn better.

How Does Auburn Select Apps?

Ever since we started Advantage 2014, our primary grades literacy and math initiative that includes 1to1 iPads in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, we’ve had educators and parents ask us what apps we’re using. (We have an apps page on our web site with 2 links, one to just our list of “district recommended” apps and one with the correlation of those apps to our curriculum – at least for one academic area…)

But occasionally, I’ll be asked how we select our apps.

For the most part, teachers guide our selection.

Teachers are free to use what ever apps they would like (especially free ones), but they are responsible for organizing their app library and syncing the devices in their classroom. This, by itself, eventually leads to teachers being more selective about which (and how many) apps they use! (One kindergarten teacher spent a couple weeks taking home a few iPads each night to spend the evening deleting the couple hundred apps she no longer wanted on the iPads!). 🙂

In general, we made “educational resource selection” part of our professional development. We didn’t want app selection to be some centralized function, and we wanted teachers to get good (and deliberate) about how they selected the resources they used with their students (which never happens if “someone else” is responsible for deciding which resources are ok for teachers to use). In a post about our professional development, I referred to our it as using a Constructivist approach:

As we thought about designing PD for our teachers, we didn’t want to just hand teachers information or resources; for example, we didn’t just want to hand them “approved” apps. We wanted teachers to have an intimate understanding of various components of the initiative they were on the front lines of implementing, including app (educational resource) selection. We decided to take a constructivist approach. For example, we had our teachers start by simply exploring apps. They had a limited budget for apps, but could also download as many free apps as they wanted. Then teachers made recommendations for apps that they thought would be the “core collection” of apps, those apps the district would purchase for every classroom. We would give teachers two similar apps and ask, “which one’s better?” to get them thinking about criteria for app selection; this eventually was developed into a rubric. Finally, we correlated apps to our kindergarten curriculum. The constructivist approach insures a deeper understanding based on their own experience.

We decided we didn’t like the term “district approved” apps, and now refer to them as “district recommended” apps.

Also, with teacher input, we revised our app selection rubric a couple times. Then we came across Tony Vincent’s work with iPads and his fabulous resources. We now use his rubric, since we think it captures our thinking about app selection better than we did. (Here are some other recommendations by Tony Vincent on how to evaluate/select apps.) Now, when a teacher requests that an app be installed on all the classroom iPads, we start by asking how it faired against Tony Vincent’s rubric.

In all cases, we tried to focus app selection (and teacher practice with iPads) on our goals for the program. From our PD post:

Content of Professional Development – All of our PD and training has focused on a couple of topics. We wanted to expand our teachers’ skill at applying literacy best practice, and to insure that our teachers and specialists working with kindergarten students had the capacity to select and apply appropriate apps directly toward student academic needs, as well as how to manage the iPads and work within the unique demands of this initiative.

Through our professional development, we also worked with teachers to create expectations for iPad use in the classrooms (which further helped us with app selection):

iPad Use – Minimum Requirements

  • iPads are used daily during centers.
  • iPads are used daily during whole group and/or small group instruction.
  • iPads are used as an intervention tool with below benchmark students.
  • iPad apps reviewed by the district are used.

This year, recognizing that we need to address both instruction for low-level thinking and higher-level thinking, we have some teachers exploring “Using iPads for Projects, Problem-Solving, and Creating.” So even with new explorations, we are working to link app selection to the best practices.

I haven’t really talked about how we pay for apps (mostly district volume purchase program vouchers, and iTunes cards purchased by various groups), and I recognize that budget does have an impact on app selection, and when a district purchase is involved, we involve the Tech Director in the decision (or the Special Ed Director, if it is a Special Education related purchase). But as much as possible, we try to give the teachers the lion’s share of the say in what apps we get. Leadership’s job isn’t to tell them which apps are ok to use or what best practice is, but rather to support their individual and collaborative work toward becoming their own experts in best practice and educational resource selection.

More Indications of Positive Results from Auburn’s iPads

We’ve had iPads in our Kindergarten classrooms for more than a year now. This fall, we also rolled out iPads to our 1st grade students. All in the name of improving students’ mastery of literacy and math.

We know that we have too many students who aren’t demonstrating proficiency, so for several years, we’ve been making sure that teachers are getting quality training in literacy and math instruction, and we’re hopeful that, combined with the access to educational resources made possible through iPads, that we’ll increase that level of proficiency.

And when we examined gains made by last year’s kindergarten students, that’s what we found. Our kindergarten students had made more gains than in years past, leading our Curriculum Director to proclaim that taxpayers’ money is well spent.

Read more about our gains in the Sun Journal article Educators Say iPads Help Scores, and the MPBN radio story Auburn Educators Tout Benefits of iPads for Kindergartners (sorry iPad users; you need flash to listen to the story, but you can still peruse the article).

Tricks for Teaching Tech Quickly (The Series)

Technology can certainly help a teacher manage her classroom, or keep track of student progress. And there are students who will benefit from becoming computer experts by taking computer classes. But the most powerful use of technology in schools is when it is a learning tool for students, just like their texts, papers, and pens (well, maybe not just like…)

But to leverage the power of technology for learning, the technology needs to be treated as a tool, and most of the time allocated for the activity needs to focus on the curriculum, while making sure that students still learn what they need to in order to use the technology well.

This series of posts will help you do that well in your own classroom:


Kids Teaching Kids: Tricks to Teach Tech Quickly (4 of 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts on teaching technology quickly so technology-based learning activities can be focused more on the curriculum than on the technology.

Kids Teaching Kids
Another effective strategy is “Kids Teaching Kids.” This strategy is important because many teachers still don’t feel they know as much about technology as their students do (whether they actually do, or not).

The good news is that same feeling of inadequacy translates into the teacher having 15-30 valuable resources right in her own classroom!

In its simplest form, “Kids Teaching Kids” can be as simple as when a student comes to you and says, “I saw that Moesha had some interesting animation in her project; will you show me how to do that?” You respond, “Why don’t you ask Moesha how she did that?”

More deliberate approaches include creating a poster listing typical tech issues, apps, peripherals, devices, and programs for your classroom, and the students who know how to use them, do them, or fix them. When a student needs help with using the iPod Touch as a digital camera, he can look up at the list and see which of his classmates already know how to use it.

Some teachers use the “three before me” rule. If a student has a question about how to do something, she must ask three other students before approaching the teacher.

Another strategy is to teach a new skill or tool to a handful of students, with the expectation that they will then go on and teach the other students.

Notice how each of these approaches both empowers students (often including students who may not have a lot of other opportunities in class to feel empowered!), and frees you to put your energy where it is most needed.


Cheat Sheets: Tricks for Teaching Tech Quickly (3 of 4)

Below, is the third of four posts highlighting techniques that will help insure that teachers are helping students succeed with their work by teaching them the technology skills they need, but doing it quickly, so that most of the time could be spent focusing on content from the curriculum.

Cheat Sheets
The third trick for teaching technology quickly is a strategy that works hand in hand with mini lessons: the use of “Cheat Sheets.”

Cheat Sheets are help guides: step-by-step instructions for using a specific program or doing a specific project. (My students always preferred this name to “help guides” or “instruction sheets,” although I’m not so sure my former Assistant Superintendent liked the name….)

If students were learning how to make Web pages, the teacher might give students a handout with step-by-step directions for making new pages, saving pages, inserting graphics, formatting text, making links to other pages in the project, making links to other Web sites, and creating tables to use for formatting the project.

Unlike mini lessons, there can be many sets of directions on the cheat sheets because students can go directly to the one they need, when they need it.

When teaching mini lessons, it’s valuable to have the teacher model following directions on the cheat sheet. For example, many middle grades students aren’t all that good at following step-by-step directions, and when I was a middle level technology integrator, had students that wanted to start with Step 3, or wanted to do the steps in a different order. In many cases this was simply because they hadn’t been shown how to follow directions (or hadn’t been shown for a long time). Saying, “Where do we start? What's the first step?” or “So, what's the next step? What step number are we on?” can go a long way…

Further, when a student asks how to do something that is on a cheat sheet, I’d often ask her what step she was on. Some students find it easier to ask the teacher how to do something, than to go back to the directions and do it themselves. Redirecting the student to the cheat sheet helped make them more self-reliant and freed me to work with the students who really did need my help (after all, why did we put all the time to writing out directions?).

I often found that after students followed the directions on the cheat sheet three or four times, they had learned the skill and didn’t really need the cheat sheet again. But they always had the cheat sheet to refer to if they came back to do this type of project in the future.

Be sure to share any cheat sheets you create with your colleagues. No reason each teacher needs to create all the cheat sheets themselves. Remember: many hands make light work!

“Just in Time” Lessons: Tricks to Teaching Tech Quickly (2 of 4)

This is the second in a series of posts on teaching technology quickly so the focus of technology-based learning activities can be not on technology, but rather on the curriculum.

“Just in Time,” not “Just In Case”
The mistake the Health teacher from the recent post made wasn’t doing mini lessons before letting students start their project. Her mistake was doing too many mini lessons. Teachers, often simply because they want students to succeed, try to show students everything they might need in order to complete a project.

The problem with this approach to education, according to Roger Schank (1995 – print book or hyperbook), is that it gives students information they might need before they perceive they need it, or answers questions students don’t have yet. This is “Just in Case” education. We teach students knowledge and skills just in case they will need it later. The problem is that because students don’t yet perceive they need it, it doesn’t get filed effectively in student memory and we end up re-teaching it later.

“Just in Time” education is either teaching knowledge and skills when students recognize they need them, or working to create a sense of need or to generate interest before teaching them. In terms of technology mini lessons, it means identifying the 3 to 5 skills students need right away to get started on the project, and doing other mini lessons only as the need arises.

For the Health public service announcements, it would mean teaching how to import video clips, how to build the video by sequencing the clips, and how to crop and edit clips. It would also mean not showing students how to put in titles or transitions or how to export their final project, because those are skills students will need near the end of their work, not when they are getting started. Those mini lessons might still be taught, but only days later, when and if students need them. Further, “Just in Time” education means that the teacher does not take time to teach those skills if students figure them out on their own. Although it might be a good idea to plan a minilesson because students might need it, that does not mean that it has to be taught.


Tricks to Teaching Technology Quickly: Mini Lessons (1 of 4)

Yesterday, I suggested that teachers sometimes make one of two mistakes when designing technology-based activities for students: either spending too much or too little time teaching the technology skills necessary for the activity.

I am not referring here to how teachers might use technology to help with their lecturing and direct instruction (although one friend reminded me that too much lecturing and “PowerPointlessness” are also mistakes teachers make when teaching with technology…).

Educators who read me often know that I'm not a big fan of spending too much time teaching about hardware or software, whether it is for professional development for teachers, or learning activities for students. I'd much rather see a lesson where the students, young or old, learned how to analyze data (and leave knowing also how to use a spreadsheet) than a lesson just on how to use the spreadsheet. But those kinds of lessons only work when you can figure out how to teach the technology quickly.

Below, is the first of four techniques that will help insure that teachers are helping students succeed with their work by teaching them the technology skills they need, but doing it quickly, so that most of the time could be spent focusing on content from the curriculum.

Mini Lessons
Technology mini lessons are no different than mini lessons in any other discipline: a short lesson covering some specific skill or fact.

For a video project, they would include things like importing video from the camera, cropping video clips, sequencing them, and adding titles and transitions.

For making Web pages, they would include lessons such as adding graphics, making new pages, making links to your other pages, or making links to other Web sites.

For making brochures, the mini lessons might be changing the orientation of the paper, changing the margins, and setting up columns.

Ideally, each mini lesson is followed by a brief period when the students can apply what they have just learned before the next mini lesson is introduced.

The Two Mistakes Teachers Make When Teaching With Technology

Even though we may be working with “Digital Natives,” students do not necessarily have the technology skills to do the work we want them to do with their laptops and tablets. In an environment where the technology is in service to learning the curriculum, it is important that teaching those skills is done quickly so that most of the student’s time is spent on the content of the activity, not the technology itself.

But good, well-intentioned teachers often make two inadvertent mistakes when they start out teaching with technology…

I once observed a middle school Health Education teacher work with her students on a technology-based project. She is an excellent teacher who comes up with very creative ways to engage her students. She also used technology quite a bit herself and had terrific ideas of how to use computers with her students. Although she was an experienced teacher and knowledgeable about using computers, she was a novice at teaching with technology. She ended up making a critical mistake.

She was preparing to have her students make thirty-second public service announcements (PSAs) about different health issues and diseases. Students would use the desktop video software available on their laptops. I was there from the first lesson, when the teacher described the project to the students. Enthusiasm was high! These students were dying to create videos and they were anxious to get their hands on their computers. The teacher had carefully and thoughtfully prepared a series of skill-building sessions to prepare students to use the desktop video software.

But it took her three days to go through all the skill-building lessons.

By then, many students had lost interest in the project or were off task, and some were really disruptive.

The teacher’s mistake? She had put too much emphasis on the technology. She spent too much time teaching the technology skills.

Teachers new to teaching with technology generally make two mistakes when integrating technology into their teaching.

Spending Too Much Time Teaching the Technology
Spending too much time teaching the technology takes the focus off of the curricular goals originally intended for the technology-based activity. Or, worse, this destroys the intrinsic motivation students might have for a project when it is introduced. The Health Education teacher’s PSA project was like this. It turned out well, but she had to work to get their interest and motivation back. Teachers want students to know all the skills that they might need throughout the project, and don’t recognize that students probably only need a handful of skills to get started and can learn new skills as the need them, if they don’t figure them out on their own.

Not Teaching the Technology Skills
The other mistake is not teaching any technology skills at all. For example, a teacher might want students to create PowerPoint presentations or to make a multimedia project to show others what they had learned from the research they have done in class. But the teacher doesn’t show the students how to use the presentation or multimedia software and simply expects them to figure it out on their own. Sometimes this is because the teacher assumes the students already know how to use the programs, or because the teacher isn’t sure how to teach them herself. Sometimes it is because she is concerned about the time it will take and she knows she has a lot of curriculum to address.

If we are going to expect teachers to integrate technology into teaching (hopefully because we believe in the benefits to learning!), then we certainly don’t want teachers to leave students floundering with the technology. Students deserve to be given support and instruction in order to be successful with the task. By the same token, we want teachers to be able to focus most of their instructional and student learning time on their curriculum and not to shift the emphasis of their teaching to technology.

What, then, is that balance between supporting students with some technology instruction and not taking too much time so teachers and students can stay focused on the curriculum? Teachers must not only design engaging technology-based projects and activities for their content, but they must figure out how to teach the technology quickly.