Student led learning design

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, KS. It was my first trip to Kansas and aside from Jayhawks basketball, my only other connection to Kansas was the Wizard of Oz. My other connection was through Jerri Kemble who is the Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Technology for Lawrence Public Schools. Jerri’s work has been driven by a silly book she read titled The 1:1 Roadmap: Setting the course for innovation in education. In her quest to roll out a 1:1 iPad environment, she noted a particular chapter that discussed a course I designed at Burlington Public Schools. This course was not your typical course, but rather a hybrid of many skill sets we hear about in educational discourse today.

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My Agenda

Last spring I became the Instructional Technology Coordinator at The Boys’ Latin Charter School in Philadelphia. I have outlined my action plan and presented my faculty with a comprehensive survey that posed a variety of questions concerning technology and education. Here is the list I presented:

1. What is your comfort level when it comes to using technology to drive lessons and projects? (5 being the highest)

2. What is your knowledge level of Web 2.0 resources (5 being the highest)

3. What open source or Web 2.0 programs are you currently using or have used in the past?

4. How often do you use your smart board per week beyond projecting notes on to the board?

5. Beyond projecting your desktop screen and PowerPoints, how have you used your Smart board this year?

6. Are you familiar with using Google Docs? If yes, describe what you know or ways in which you have used Google Docs in the classroom.

7. What is your comfort level using Google Docs? (5 being the highest)

8. What types of technology would you like to use more of in your classroom? List 3

9. How would you use an instructional technology specialist in your classroom? Planning?

10. What kind of technology PD sessions would you like to see presented in August and throughout the school year? List 3

I received a variety of responses from my colleagues and was able to gauge what kind of professional development to implement this summer. Below is a list of items that I will be covering with my faculty this summer and into the fall.

1. Google Docs
I figure I would start with a tool that most teachers are familiar with and is rather easy to grasp and integrate. I hope to focus on the magic, yes the magic, of google forms and how they can be used to collect data, discussion prompts, and warm up sets.

The other great feature of Google Docs that I will be presenting will be shared folders. We currently have a server at our school that houses all of our data but can be a pain when collaborating on a document. I plan on showing teachers how they can share folders via Google Docs within their departments and in their classrooms.

2. Podcasts
Many of my colleagues listed podcasts as something they wanted to learn about and immediately integrate into their curriculum. I have used podcasts before as public service announcements for vocabulary words, learning foreign language vocabulary, and phrases. There are so many possibilities when incorporating podcasts into the classroom and it creates a working functioning working environment when done correctly. Every student is part of the process and they are working towards producing something that they will deliver and present to the class or possibly publish on the web. The task is student driven and everyone is an active participant in the process. In short, students create their own product for learning that they can use themselves and pass on, present, and teach to younger students.

Podcasts are simple and easy to integrate. Kids love them and the output is media that they can use on any device that has the ability to sync with a computer and play audio files. Not to mention this media becomes sustainable and easily modeled and incorporated for future teachers of this particular class and students that take this course.

3. Blogs
I hope I can get all of my faculty blogging on a consistent basis. I really feel this is a great way to reflect on your own practice and learn from others within your school. Some of my students already have their own blogs that they have been writing for years. They understand the power of the digital world and it’s importance in their education. My goal is to get all of my colleagues blogging and writing about their classroom. Their focus does not have to be technology focused, but simply a way to reflect and share on best practices used from year to year.

There are numerous ways students and teachers can use blogs for learning purpose. I could begin listing, but would most likely run out of space. In my classroom last year I introduced my 10th grade English class to wikis and blogs. One of the best outcomes of this process was that students could see the power of the written word when you give it a vast audience. They also focused on their writing, spelling, and grammar a lot more when they knew they were presenting their work to a broad audience. Blogs can also serve as discussion spring boards within a classroom and provide transparency for parents and administration who would like to look in on the classroom occasionally.

These are just three of the tools I want my colleagues to explore, master, and integrate into their classrooms this year. I figure keeping it simple initially is a great way to create buy in and also give them practical tools that will save them time and create sustainable material that they can incorporate for years.

I will also be presenting the same professional development sessions either once or twice a month in the evenings to Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc. that would like to join in the learning process of their students. This is another way to create buy in from home and provide lasting relevance at school.

I look forward to your comments, ideas, and suggestions on this post. If you are an Instructional Technology specialist, coach, coordinator, director, etc. please leave your feedback and ways in which you incorporated technology into your curriculum.

**photo courtesy of

My EdTech Letter

Below is an e-mail I am sending to my entire faculty to explain my new position as the Instructional Technology Specialist next fall. I have also included a link to the survey I am sending to gather information about technology use in the school. I am hoping to clarify any confusion with my role next year and to gauge the comfort levels of my colleagues. Please leave your feedback, comments, and suggestions about this post. Also, if you are currently an ITS or have worked as a Tech Coach, please share your experience.

NOTE: Please feel free to access the survey, but do not submit any responses. Thank you!

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Next year you will have an Instructional Technology Specialist in the building. Wait…we have a what-now? You heard it right. Next fall I will become – not physically transform – the Instructional Technology Specialist for the entire school. So, what does that look like? What can I do for you? What is my role at Boys’ Latin? Marcinek is a Specialist? These are all valid questions and I am writing this memo – sorry for lack of TPS cover page – to answer your queries about this position and explain what my position entails.

In short, Help me, Help you

I am not the technology czar. I am your technology integration friend, your resident nerd. It is my goal to help you integrate technology with the content you are already teaching and not force you to try anything you don’t feel comfortable trying. I will develop a technology integration plan for each teacher and each department. We will work together to develop new ways to use technology to present rich content to our students. By no means am I asking you to change your way of teaching, simply rethink lessons and assessments.

For those that exclusively teach freshmen, this does not exclude you from the fun. In fact, I could still manage this position without any technology in the classroom. As I said before, it will be one of my goals to take rich content and put a new spin on the way you present and assess it. Also, we have access to two COWs (Computers On Wheels) that we can integrate into your classes for various projects and assignments. No smartboard? No problem.

Starting in August, I will meet with each department team and each individual teacher. We will work together to develop a technology (or 21st century skills and assessments) plan. Each plan will have three year long goals that focus on technology and 21st century skills and assessment integration. I will help maintain those year long goals and assist both inside and outside of your classroom.

If you have any questions about my new position or would like to brainstorm some ideas for next year please don’t hesitate to ask. In the next few days I will be following up with a quick survey to gain a clearer understanding of your needs and wants for technology. I will also be sending out a regular EdTech newsletter that focuses on new educational platforms, websites, links, blogs, student work, etc. I will be revising my website to focus on my new position,this page will have a calendar in which you can sign up throughout the course of a week to schedule time for me to work on a project with you and your class or to schedule time outside of class to design a project or unit plan. I am here to support your teaching in any way possible.

Again, if you have any questions concerning my new position or how I can support your classroom, please ask. Let’s start the conversation and see what we can build for next year.

My edcamp

I was the first camper through the door. I entered to cheers and raised arms by the wonderful edcamp team. My initial thought, “I’m never early. I’m always late and hardly ever on time.” I met everyone – some for the second or third time – and received the inaugural t-shirt from Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf). I was set.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from an “unconference”. It was my first time attending one and I was anxious to experience the forum. I decided to sign up and lead a session. I had something in mind that I had been discussing with Mary Beth (@mbteach) for some time. I never led a session, but felt that I really wanted to start a conversation. Recently, I had been hired as the Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS) at the Boys’ Latin Charter School of Philadelphia. I proposed the idea for this position in October of 2009 and had seen the proposal all the way through to my new position. Now I am stuck. I’m not clueless, but I want to do this job well. I am the pilot of this position. No one came before me. There is no precedent.

What does an Instructional Technology Specialist look like? This is what I called my session. I fixed my index card to the bright, yellow board and worked my way into the main conference room. I met with a few old friends and some new ones at a round table. I met up with Yoon (@doremigirl), Rich (@rkiker), and David (@DrTimony) for some coffee and discussion. Rich and I traded small talk and soon found out he had my position for three years. He offered to co-present and I gladly accepted. Our session would RULE! We began tweeting our session around edcamp and offered door prizes. But before we get to the door prizes, let me reflect on my first two sessions at edcamp.

The first session I attended featured Joyce V. (@joycevalenza) and David J. (@djakes) I worked with Joyce at Springfield Township and she turned me on to many new trends in education. One of our first assignments together was visualizing vocabulary. Students took pictures of their vocab words, uploaded them to flickr, and suddenly senior vocabulary was cool again. Joyce and David led a session on “The Future of Student Research”. This session was not only informative, but presented many great questions and hurdles that we all face in conducting student research in schools, restricting access being the most common.

More and more, IT and Administrators are filtering the internet and restricting access to what students can see while on the school’s server. I still don’t understand how we expect our students to seek out information when half of the pages of the book are torn out. Didn’t Ray Bradbury warn us against this once? Didn’t George Orwell live this nightmare? The consensus in the room was that there are a lot of good resources out there for our kids to access information. On the same token, there are a lot of “crappy” resources out there that kids are actually using for research and getting good marks for it. We need to teach our kids to filter through the jungle of information on the internet. They have access to more information than any generation in history. Our responsibility, as teachers, is to give them the tools to get to the most credible and legitimate information out there. Moreover, IT and Administrators cannot limit that scope. They need to ensure our students are browsing and searching responsibly, but on the same hand, having access to all available sources.

My next session talked about two sites that I plan on incorporating into the Boys’ Latin project based learning units next fall. The session was delivered by Mike (@mritzius) and Nicolae (@nborota). They shared their experiences as classroom teachers using Project Foundry and Moodle. I left this session and edcamp very impressed with the comprehensive nature of Project Foundry. Until today, I had never really heard much about it, but I found myself modeling a similar, free application in my own classroom: A wikispace. However, the one element that I really enjoyed about Project Foundry is its ability to catalogue everything a student does throughout the course of high school, and at the end of their senior year, they have a digital portfolio to take with them on a DVD. Plus, this program puts the student in the driver seat and places the onus on the student to get their work done in a timely manner. I plan on looking into this program further and hopefully integrating it into our PBL units next year.

And now, back to door prizes.

After lunch and a brief stroll in the rain, Rich and I entered our classroom for our unconference session on what an Instructional Technology Specialist looks like. We entered the dated classroom and noticed desks in rows, a chalkboard, and an overhead projector. Somewhere the gods of Irony were laughing out loud. Rich found a lost expo marker and a CFF keychain light. We decided to give them away as door prizes and began tweeting to the masses to promote our wonderful session:

#EDCAMP giving away a sweet CFF pocket flashlight in our session. You want to be in 305 at 1:30.”

#edcamp 1:30 in 305-being an effective Instructional Technologist and make real change- @andycinek & I would love to have you in discussion!”

#edcamp 1:30 in 305-being an effective Instructional Technologist and make real change w/ @andycinek Come join the convo”

#edcamp Also if no one shows up at 1:30 in 305 I’ll cut the power. Just kidding. No but seriously…”

Our session started with my plans and fears as I move into this new position. I started by giving my background and my visions for the position. I relayed my plan to start with a survey monkey. Not actually a monkey that goes around soliciting answers for coins (although this would be awesome), but an actual website that is great for free surveys. I expressed my idea of wanting the faculty to tell me what they wanted to do with technology rather than telling them they have to use a wiki or have to use Google Docs. I’ve seen this before and it never takes off. Plus, one will always encounter uncooperative faculty when it comes to trying anything new. They have been doing it the same way for years and there is no way they will be changing now. And that is fine. Be an Edu-saur. Enjoy it.

We discussed many great ideas in our session, from Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) to unblocking websites, and finishing with some great insights on Google Apps from Michelle (@michelleleandra). I provided many questions about starting out as an ITS and Rich provided clarity and experience to what he has been doing as an ITS for the past three years. In the end, we could have spent days talking in our session. We left fulfilled and we were still talking as we went through the hallways towards our next session. This got me thinking “This is what I want my students to emulate, this is how I want my faculty and Administration to converse, these conversations need to happen!”

The final session I attended focused on the wonderful world of Google Apps. Again, this was another lively session that could have lasted for days, if not weeks. This session was led by Rita (@rchuchran) Frank (@Fronk2000), Karen (@SpecialKRB), and Kristen (@kristenswanson). This session involved a lot of collaboration and sharing of ideas. We all spoke up and disclosed our best use of Google Apps. Everyone said something completely different and we all agreed that Google Forms rule.

This was a fulfilling day in many ways. I left wanting more. I wanted edcamp to last for a week, maybe more. The conversations were rich and thought provoking. I left better than when I entered as the first camper that morning. I think I speak for all attendants when I say this is the model we want all of our schools to emulate. These conversations need to fill our halls and trickle down to our students. I want my students to leave my classroom like I left an edcamp session; I want them continuing the dialogue far beyond the parameters of school. Edcamp provided all of this along with a really cool t-shirt. Thank you edcamp. I plan on being first every year.

My Next Steps

A month ago I was hired to be the Director of Instructional Technology at Boys’ Latin Charter School. I proposed the idea in the fall of 2009 and the idea soon became a job proposal. I interviewed, was hired, and now I’m devising my next steps as our school year winds down towards the summer. At times I feel overwhelmed with seeing this position through and finding the time to keep track of everything I want to accomplish for next year. On top of that, I’m also designing the curriculum for the AP English Language and Composition course that Boys’ Latin will be offering for the first time next fall. So where do I begin? Where do I start? Should I just tell all of my colleagues to begin belching into voicethread, followed by a transitional roller coaster prezi that ends with a thirty second animoto clip? This plan is probably not the best idea unless my goal is to acquire seething stares rather than tech driven lesson plans.

Ok, so this is the part where you give me an answer. Give me some direction!

I’ve decided to divide this process into three steps. Three bullet points that will help me guide the next 6 weeks of school and not drive my exhausted colleagues crazy.

1. Survey Monkey

Survey Monkey, of all the monkeys, you’re my favorite. And I will use you to find an ideal starting point for fusing technology and curriculum at Boys’ Latin. The one thing faculty members can’t stand is a PD that throws technology at them and does not provide ample time to break it, fix it, and learn it.

Technology should be introduced in summer PD sessions and allot enough time for your faculty to find a comfort level with the new application they are using while not being overwhelmed by grading, parent emails, and planning. I’ve seen former colleagues put their laptop screens down during an ed-tech PD and stare at the presenter for the remainder of the session. There is always one. Getting that one on board is my goal.

Finally, this survey will give me insight into what my faculty wants to do with technology in their classroom. I have seen districts force teachers to use technology just so they could look like a tech driven school. This never works. Teachers can present 21st century lessons and learning without having aspect of technology in the classroom. The grand assumption in 21st century learning is that classrooms need laptops, cameras, wikis, moodles, pods, etc. But that’s not true at all. 21st century learning skills take the context of contemporary times; bring those ideas into the classroom through varied lessons, assessments, and collaborative projects that provoke student learning. One of the greatest skills a student can have in the 21st century is the ability to filter through a plethora of information and seek the best pathway to an answer. Tangible technology is only one component of this new style of learning.

2. Connect and Organize

The one element that is lacking at Boys’ Latin is interconnectedness between Administration, Faculty, Students, and Parents. At the beginning of the year we were given cell phones, but only half the faculty consistently use and charge them (I suggested Google Voice Numbers). Some of us are on twitter and most are on Facebook. I know a few colleagues who understand the brilliance of using Google Docs, but for the most part, go unused. This is sad.


Because most districts, charter schools, and private schools have the ability to connect like never before, but are not using these forums effectively. All of these applications are free and require little effort and time to manage. Here is where I hope my new position can shine in the early stages.

I’ll start by introducing a handful of applications that will unify the school’s tangled web of communication. I plan on starting with a wikispace where all of my colleagues can share resources: links, blogs, wikis, etc. This gives everyone a chance to share and build a resource library.

The next step will be to get all of my colleagues signed up on twitter. I have gained so much from having a twitter account and creating a personal learning network of teachers around the globe. Imagine an entire school community using this forum effectively. The possibilities for interconnectedness and collaboration are endless. Teachers can share resources, updates, and plans that go far beyond the school web page.

Finally, I want to give the faculty candy. Yes, candy. Here is a Butterfinger or a packet of gummy worms for trying out this new technology. I want to keep it simple and allow them to break it, fix it, and learn it. I don’t want to overwhelm them with every clever new presentation tool or acronym floating around the Ed-tech movement. In the end, let them play and give them candy.

3. Collaborate

I want to sit down with each department and work on creating collaborative lessons and projects that are inquiry based, provoke student thinking, and challenge students to seek out the best answers to questions they generate themselves. The focus in these meetings will be the content, standards, and objectives that each project will highlight. In many planning meetings and classrooms I notice technology abuse. Teachers use technology as the focus of the lesson and forget that the content, standards, and objectives still drive lessons and always will.

The meeting outcomes will not resemble a well constructed lesson plan, but simply content that my colleagues wish to enhance through the use of a collaborative technology project. My job is to turn that content into a lesson that will use technology and align to 21st century skills.

These are my first and next steps as the newly appointed Director of Instructional Technology or as the call me on the streets, “MC DIT”. As some of you quickly email that attempt at humor to fail blog, stop for a minute, and give me your feedback on my progression. Offer suggestions and constructive criticism. I’m sailing into uncharted waters and have an idea of what course I want to take, but sailing with an experienced crew is much better than going at it alone.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check in as I chronicle my experiences as Director of Instructional Technology.

*Image Courtesy of “God At His Computer .” Atheist/Agnostic. Web. 7 May 2010. .