Going Open Beyond The Hype

Before October 2015, when the #GoOpen movement began and helped inform educators and district leaders about the impact of openly licensed educational resources, the topic was rarely part of any conference. But at ISTE 2017, I saw several sessions (10 to be exact) focused on open educational resources (OER). With the uncertainty at the U.S. Department of Education and a constrained budget, it’s now up to states and district leaders to own the OER movement and begin strategizing, implementing, and sharing their OER process. District leaders need to move their schools beyond the banners of #GoOpen and start sharing proof points and models of success so that we can all learn from each other. I hope that at ISTE 2018 we will have more districts sharing their #GoOpen stories and highlighting their successes and challenges. Continue reading “Going Open Beyond The Hype”

Reflecting on leadership

Someone very special in my life recently recommended I read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book was first published in 1936. And, while most of you reading this post were not even a thought at that time, the lessons are timeless. Daniel Pink states,Some readers might find Carnegie’s advice dated and a bit cheesy. But beneath the prose’s peppy surface lurks wisdom, one reason the book continues to sell seven full decades after its publication.” Despite the rapid change in communication and how we engage as a culture both locally, globally, and digitally, the advice of Dale Carnegie has never been more important.

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Threading the needle

img_5871I have written a lot about getting outside of your comfort zone both inside the classroom and outside of it. In 2008, I was selected as the faculty commencement speaker by the class of 2008 and delivered a speech that shared the story of my roller skating birthday party when I was ten. The theme of my address focused on the premise that in order to find success, one needed to adapt, modify, and apply skills in an ever-changing world. And, to use the best and most efficient tools at your disposal whether they were digital or analog. The experience, the journey is part of the human experience. If we miss these opportunities we stand to not only deprive ourselves of the wonders of life, but the next generation of leaders.

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Open The Future

CC Public Domain via Pixabay
CC Public Domain via Pixabay

It’s rather difficult these days not to trip over the word innovation within the educational ecosystem. The word is embedded in job titles, books, academic courses, etc. Innovation is shiny, eye catching, and looks great on a resume. It signals to a greater audience that you are doing something unique, that has never been done and moving the needle forward within your respective discipline. And, despite the prevalence of the word innovation in education we often find ourselves looking outside of the classroom for innovative ideas. But, what if we looked within our classrooms for innovative ideas and amplified the voice of educators?

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What’s Going on?: An ISTE 2015 Reflection

I attended my first ISTE last week in Philadelphia. It was large, constant, and rewarding. Essentially, it was a really great family reunion. ISTE is not about technology. ISTE is not about Twitter follower counts. Simply put, ISTE is about relationships. And, how we leverage those relationships as educators to move our schools and our country forward. In education, relationships and conversations are the two most important initiatives a school can employ.

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It’s About School Culture, Not Devices

In the process of wrapping up another school year and preparing for my ISTE 2015 presentation with Lyn Hilt on Designing and Sustaining Digital Environments on Monday, I am drawn into reflecting on my work with technology integration over the past decade. What I continually discover in my reflections is that my work and my job are not about any device or app at all. In fact, my work is about people and how they think, interact, and create. In essence, every technology leader should be an expert in human learning, sociability, and inquiry.

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Student Agency and The Sixth Grade Genius Crew

The best part of my job as a tech director is getting to connect with students in their classrooms. I try and make this part of my weekly and daily routine no matter how busy my schedule seems. Recently, I outfitted two of our 6th grade math classrooms with 1:1 iPad classrooms. I worked with both teachers on setup, logistics, and resources to get started. In Ms. Cowan’s classroom she had five homeroom students who displayed natural curiosity for the iPads that were now in their classroom. And from this, the North Street Elementary “Genius Crew” was developed.


Four years ago I helped launch an iPad initiative at Burlington high school and one of the greatest rewards from that initiative was our student led genius bar (or help desk). This course established a new paradigm for technology support in schools as well as a space to design, create, research, and share. Since it’s launch in 2011, I have helped and witnessed more schools adopt this model in their respective schools. Additionally, I have witnessed two students at Reading Memorial high school design, plan, budget, present, and create their own help desk course from scratch. In most instances, these courses were primarily launched at the secondary level. However, that is changing in Grafton.

A week ago, I received an email from Ms. Cowan saying that her IT helpers would like to meet me and ask some questions about technology and the iPads. I took the meeting, but had no idea what I was about to encounter. I met with five students and I asked them how they liked the iPads and how they liked using it in their classes. Their responses were short, and basically they said, “Cut the small talk, we need to figure out why this iPad is dropping wifi, and why this document is not displaying properly when opened in Google Classroom!” Now, they didn’t say cut the small talk, but they were eager to solve problems and discover solutions so they could help their teachers. Needless to say, I was impressed, but not overly impressed because kids are resourceful and filled with fantastic ideas.

When I returned to the tech office I found some Apple stickers, blank ID cards, and green lanyards. I posted the stickers on the ID cards and wrote “Genius Crew” within the Apple logo. Today I returned to meet with the newly christened, “Genius Crew” to present them with their official badges. Their eyes lit up and they all donned them with fervent pride. But, much like our last meeting, they were excited to get to work and solve problems.

Josh started by showing me a video he made last night at home. Again, I remind the readers of this post,  this is not a course, there is no grade, there is no incentive. Their reward is the opportunity and the space to be curious and helpful. But, back to Josh and his video. When I asked Josh how he made this at home and his process he eloquently explained,

“I heard someone asking about this in one of my classes. So I decided to make a video to show the way to do it. I took my iPod touch and rigged it up so it would hover over the table. I placed the iPad flat on the table and recorded the process I was showing. Then I shared the video with Ms. Cowan so she could put it on her YouTube channel.”


The “Math” binder

After he was done sharing his video, I asked if there were any issues that they have noticed with the iPads or technology in general. At this point Georges went over to the shelf and got a blue binder that said “Math” on the binding. He brought it over to the table and opened it up. In it were tabbed pages that read “information”, “tasks”, and “questions”. After flipping through their extensive notes and information I asked, “Why did you put this information in a Math binder?” Georges responded, “Well we have login information in here so we want to disguise it (NOTE: These kids love math but simply wanted to throw off others from their trail).

As we continued our discussion, Paige and Josh had noticed that the wifi was dropping when you were on one side of the room, but stable elsewhere. Josh recommended that I add another access point to provide more coverage. At this point I handed him my badge and my keys and said that he would be replacing me effective tomorrow and that I am no longer relevant. His eyes lit up and laughter ensued.

Again, I was overly impressed by their initiative. And, this was not assigned or orchestrated  by Ms. Cowan, rather, they created this all on their own. They took ownership of their learning and they were extremely proud to be a part of this crew. Additionally, Ms. Cowan commented that, “Someday you can get hired by the school district and help out with this in the summer.” To which Georges cleverly responded, “Why do you need to get paid to do something you love?”

I promise I am not making that up to enhance the reach of this blog post.

As we move forward, the students will help out during their homeroom time and recess. Just today they were assisting teachers with iPad and app updates. I knew this because it was written in the binder and it had not been checked off yet. Additionally, they will help out when they are needed in their respective classes. We shared this information with all teachers in the school and they were all delighted to have tech support daily. Next year these six students will move up to Grafton Middle School. We are already planning to have them support technology at their new school. Next week they will be breaking down a chromebook and providing support videos and resources for all teachers and students to access.

What happened here was a simple case of student drive and ownership of their learning. They saw a basic need for something and realized an opportunity sitting before them. They not only took advantage of this opportunity, but found a way to make it their own and create something that was never there before.  Plus, they were given space to question, explore, and discover. They didn’t need a grade or any incentive to drive their thinking; they simply found something they loved doing and owned it. Two weeks ago, while listening to Jennie Magiera keynote Tech & Learning Live Boston, she mentioned to the audience about not simply asking students what they learned today, but rather, what did you create today? This simple semantic shift resonated with me and it was evident in what I witnessed with six, sixth grade students. They not only made a dent in the universe, but enjoyed every minute of it.

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“Is that the watch?”

“Is that the watch?”

For the past two weeks that is the phrase I’ve heard as I walk around with Apple’s newest technology strapped securely around my left wrist. As with most of Apple’s products, I have been an early adopter. I paid an exborenatant amount of money for the first iPhone, stood in line for the iPhone 3GS and the first iPad; I camped out overnight for the iPhone 4 and stood in line again for the iPad 2. I have an alarm on my phone labeled, “Apple releases”. So, when I heard about the release of the first new Apple product line in five years, I simply had to have it.

However, this is not a post about my obsessiveness about Apple products, but rather their practicality in the consumer market. I am not an earlier adopter of technology simply to have the latest and greatest, but rather, to see if it can make tasks in my life more efficient and connected. It’s basically part of my job to stay ahead of technology and understand its influence and impact on education and then transfer those applications through teaching and professional learning.

As for the Apple Watch in education, I only see minor applications at the moment, but can foresee a day when every student no longer has a device in his or her pocket or bag, but is wearing it in some form. If you think the smartphone and iPhone have redefined the idea of personalized, private technology, just wait until wearables become more commonplace. It’s simply a matter of time.

I opted for the 42mm, white band sports watch. For the first generation, I felt this would be a perfect model for me to test and see what I thought. After taxes my total came to $423.00. Some would say that is ridiculous for a watch, but I have been watching people spend exorbitant amounts of money on timepieces for years, yet they only tell the time. So I got over the price very quickly and realized that in the grand scheme of the luxury watch market, and for what the Apple watch gives you, I felt Apple’s tiered pricing fit the market.

IMG_7289The setup was very easy and allowed me complete autonomy on customization. I highly recommend not syncing all of your phone to your watch and doing that later. This allows you to turn Apple watch compatible apps on and off. You can also toggle the apps you want in glances. Glances is probably the feature I use most and has become a new efficiency in my day. I simply swipe up from the bottom and can swipe left and right to see common information like sports scores, weather, news, etc. Some would argue that you can simply do that on a phone and what is the point? The point is, it allows me to be more discreet as I glance at my watch – a task most have been doing for centuries – rather than obnoxiously glare at my phone while in a conversation or meeting with someone.

A few flaws that I have noticed is that the apps take some time to load. This is due mostly to my experience with the iPhone 6 and how quickly and smoothly everything moves. I imagine with future processor upgrades, this will change. The wrist flip, which activates the screen is fairly accurate and again, allows me to quickly glance at information or alerts rather than fumble for my phone. The alerts are delayed in comparison to receiving them on my phone. When I tried the Pebble watch (I could, cost effective trial if you are unsure about the Apple Watch $80 on Amazon) the alerts were completely in sync with my phone. This is not always the case with the Apple Watch. Finally, I would like to see a lock screen timeout option where I could initiate the screen with a wrist flip and allow it to stay on for a minute or two. That is one customization that is not present.

Responding to alerts such as SMS are nice, but that’s about it. Although, I did answer a call on the watch and I must say, it was cool, but not something I would do in public. The canned responses you can set up for SMS are a nice way of getting back to someone quickly with a common message via the watch. I have replied using the speech to text feature several times and it is very accurate; however, I only feel comfortable doing this in a crowd. Although, I do like that if your speech to text response doesn’t line up correctly you can send a voice recording. The twitter app allows you to receive notifications when someone replies or retweets one of your messages, and you can reply using speech to text and emoticons. At the moment, there is no way to reply to Facebook alerts (also no Facebook app for Watch), GMail, or Apple Mail. I imagine these are features and apps that will eventually arrive.











There are several apps that I really like using on the watch and offer a new level of efficiency and convenience. The Evernote app has a very novel design and practical functionality that creates an efficiency in how I can quickly create a note with a reminder on it. This has been extremely useful tool for quick thoughts or reminders. The Shazam app is also extremely efficient when you hear ‘80s song that you just can’t figure out. Additionally, the Pandora app and iTunes music app are nice for controlling your music that plays on your phone. When your phone is connected to headphones or a bluetooth speaker this allows for convenient shuffling between songs.

The only social media app I currently view on my watch is Instagram. Instagram’s novel iPhone design translates well to the watch and allows you to scroll through your timeline and like photos as well as see the activity on photos you post. If you are into concerts, sporting events, etc. the StubHub app works nicely on the watch for viewing nearby events as well as scanning your tickets for upcoming events that you are attending.

The Keynote app is another super convenient app. I can control presentations easily from my watch and move around easily without setting up a clicker. Additionally, the Apple Remote app is great for moving through screens and options on my Apple TV. As for fitness, I am kind of over the whole fitness tracking, “how many steps did I take today” information, but Apple’s fitness information looks nice and does a good job of tracking your workouts, runs, and movements throughout the week. The heart rate monitor is nice and accurate as well. As for fitness apps, I use RunKeeper which offers a nice interface when I am running, however, I cannot control my music through the app which is a flaw. I also use the Withings bluetooth scale and their app is nice for a quick glance at my weight when I am tempted to eat a third slice of pizza.











I have not used the Maps function much, but I have heard mixed reviews of its accuracy. I don’t travel too much, but I imagine I might use it if I find myself in a foreign city. Similarly, the Yelp app is nice for finding a nice place to dine at a quick glance. I also use OpenTable a lot, but at this point the app will only remind you of your reservations. You can’t make them via the app…yet. Finally, I find myself using the passbook app most frequently. Setting up Apple pay is a fairly painless process and it allows me to scan my watch rather quickly to make a payment or get my daily iced coffee. In addition to these apps, the Uber app is extremely novel and allows you to solicit an UberX (Only this option at the moment) and see a small map of where your driver is. But, probably the coolest feature is the digital touch. This option requires two people to have an Apple watch and you can send your heartbeat, a tap, or a message in action. I have tried this a few times with several early adopters and I must say, it’s rather cool.











Overall, I like the watch and have found a variety of uses for it and created some new efficiencies in my day-to-day schedule. It’s only resided on my wrist for two weeks and I am sure I will find more uses for it and I am certain that apps will evolve to do more. Oh, and the watch face that I use most is the Mickey Mouse watch face. I find this to be not only cool and nostalgic, but useful with the customization surrounding Mickey and his tapping foot. I hope Apple allows third party watch faces and adds more to the mix. What they currently offer is fine, but I’d like to see more customization in this category. As for the design and overall feel of the watch I couldn’t be more impressed. While it’s not as thin as an iPhone, it is very light and I barely know it is on my wrist. The sport band strap is comfortable and durable. I charge it every night and usually get through a day of use with 40-50% battery remaining.

With any new product, there are flaws and plenty of room for improvement. I didn’t expect the Apple watch to be perfect, but I knew Apple would once again set the bar high for a new and emerging market. And they have. If you are someone like me, order your watch immediately! For the rest of you who are still on the fence, or feel that everything I mentioned is excess and unnecessary for day to day, then wait. I am sure wearable technology will take time, but I am certain it is market that will someday soon cause us all to stop and laugh at the way we used to use our smart phones.

Remixing Future Ready School Culture

I am no longer impressed by a 1:1 device deployment. Just as much as I am no longer enamored with Apple commercials for the iPod. It’s easy for schools to get caught in an innovative lull or a financial one. Aside from mobile devices and new infrastructure models, schools can still innovate and move their programs forward without the devices.

As I have said since I was first involved with one of the first large scale iPad 1:1 rollouts four years ago, the focus should be on shifting culture, not devices. One of the primary reasons for this statement is that I know for certain that the iPad will come and go in classrooms just as its many predecessors have. Whether its the dry erase board, smartboard, or laptop, the technology we deem necessary and purposeful for today’s student will soon be gone.

Therefore, it is wise for schools to work on the fundamentals of building a strong school culture around shifts in professional learning paradigms, curriculum building and assessment, and non-technological approaches to designing dynamic instruction. These pieces will similarly change and should always evolve, but the district or school mindset must be in the right place in order to prepare for an ever-changing future.

Without even considering devices a school, through focused and collective leadership, can begin to develop a culture around shifts in professional learning, content creation, and instructional design. Additionally, one constant in schools is learning goals and objectives. Setting attainable, measurable, and adaptable learning goals early will help with instructional design and any type of technology integration. What’s more, technology hardware is nothing without dynamic, malleable content design. This is not to say that devices, or teachers for that matter, are simply carriers of content, but rather, they are the facilitators of inquiry, exploration, and discovery.

The next constant is a consistent, open, and democratic model for professional learning that allows time for conversation, sharing, reflection, and demonstration. Professional learning should be driven by the voices of all educators involved and focus on a district theme or initiative. The focus of professional learning should never hinge directly on hardware and applications, rather it should focus on how those pieces can be layered into the learning sandwich that happens each day in the classroom. I imagine we are now both hungry for a learning sandwich. But, I digress. This is not to say that technology focused professional learning opportunities are unnecessary but, they should not be the ultimate goal. Let’s be honest, it has become increasingly important for educators and administrators to learn new and emerging technologies to facilitate learning. The problem I see is an over saturation of these types of professional learning opportunities. Additionally, I too often see technology hardware and applications be the sole focus of a school’s initiative or conference’s theme.

Finally, the instructional design and content design are equally important when you’re learning at the intersection of instruction and technology. I have written several pieces on this specific subject and can be referenced in early posts. However, along with developing curriculum scope and sequence and new paradigms for professional learning opportunities, instructional design is very important. The key in designing effective instruction with technology is to lead with your goals in mind, rethink your role in the classroom (facilitator of learning), and making sure you use technology that is meaningful and will challenge or provoke students’ thinking.

School leaders must establish a culture of trust throughout their respective school or district. This happens with transparency and a conversation amongst all stakeholders in the school system regularly. I don’t like to consider myself an administrator (director of technology) in my district, but rather a resource. I work with building administration regularly to get an understanding of how I can serve each school better. We also conduct monthly EdTech PLCs at each school building that first focuses on creating a vision for learning with technology as well as action items and evaluative pieces for that vision.

If you want to be “Future Ready”, then we need to first focus on shifting the culture of our school, and then, develop a strategy for updating and sustaining infrastructure, finding devices that meet the learning needs and goals of all students and teachers, and providing opportunities for all stakeholders to regularly discuss, share, and evaluate the school’s vision.

Instructional Design and Technology

Roughly ten years ago I had the opportunity to teach in a classroom that received a grant titled “Classrooms for the future”. The problem was, despite added pieces of hardware and software to my classroom, this was not the future. Nor would this be the classroom that students ten years later would experience. The same can be said of the classroom of 2015. I assure you this will not be the classroom that students in 2025 experience. This is why we should not get caught up with hardware and app smashing in our respective classrooms. This is not to say that apps cannot do great things, but ultimately, apps and hardware should never drive instruction.

Instructional design with technology has never been more important in today’s classrooms. Additionally, professional learning models have never been more critical for utilizing educators’ time to help nurture evolving instructional design paradigms. The two run parallel because educators need the time to share learning experiences and develop and share new ideas on how to best integrate digital tools and applications. Below are some ideas for both school leaders and instructional leaders to help teachers design dynamic classrooms that lead with learning rather devices or applications.

Remix and rethink professional learning models

The best professional development models lead with the voices of educators. More often than not, teachers simply want time to discuss topics and vet ideas with each other. This is always evident to me when I attend an EdCamp on a Saturday and see the way ideas culminate and flourish when there is both time and space available for connecting and sharing. Educators have an innate desire to learn and grow professionally. Unfortunately, professional development models get in the way sometimes. The key in professional learning is to develop a time for this to happen, encourage collaborative learning models, and give educators time to have conversations and share ideas in both small and large group settings.

Develop and sustain community

We are living in a post “Bring in the big consultant who doesn’t work in a school” to deliver professional development world. Rather, schools can learn from each other and engage in professional learning communities or PLCs that connect regularly throughout the year in order to focus on a shared vision or reach a common goal. What’s more, districts and schools have the tools and media to collaborate with each other. Districts or schools should never live in isolation and feel that just because they are deemed “innovative” or “progressive” that they are. Or, that they are sustaining those identities. Schools should consistently collaborate and seek out learning experiences and conversations with as many schools and districts as possible.

At Grafton, we have set up technology PLCs in each building. I meet with them regularly and we focus on meeting our goals each meeting, but also discuss action steps and any shortcomings we encountered. As an administrator, this is valuable time for me to engage with colleagues and understand what everyone needs. Additionally, it gives me insight into classrooms that I might not be able to connect with regularly.

Devices and apps come second

In the connected or 1:1 classroom, educators need to temper the idea of racing toward apps and specific devices. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, eventually iPads and chromebooks will be passe and new devices and applications will emerge. This is not to say what we’re doing now with technology is a “fad”; rather it’s the world in which our students will enter. Therefore, it is every school’s responsibility to provide relevant and purposeful technology in order to challenge students daily.

Instructional Design process

This is where it all comes together. Let’s take a writing strand from the common core state standards.


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Before I even consider a device or application I consider the skill set I want to develop and how I want students to not only understand this concept, but apply it. But not just apply it via pen and paper (not to say this is a bad way) but apply it in an arena in which they are familiar. So, here is my technology integration process…

  1. Skill Set or learning goal: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  2. Introduce students to Twitter and the constraints and parameters by which Twitter was founded: A micro-blogging forum that limits all users to 140 characters.
  3. Ensure that all students have an account for Twitter and understand the privacy settings. (Those who don’t wish to create an account, can do this via a Google doc or easel paper taped to the board)
  4. Develop a hashtag for the class #MarcinekELA4
  5. Have students produce clear and coherent sentences that use heightened vocabulary and express clear, concise thoughts.
  6. Post them to Twitter or have students write them on the analog Twitter wall with markers and easel paper.

Where you take the lesson from there is up to you. This could lead students’ sentences into constructing an introduction paragraph, or potentially a blog post.

The point in all of this is that educators need professional learning or development time to share ideas like the one above and have conversations around how they are integrating and synthesizing technology into their respective lessons. Schools don’t need overpriced consultants (who are not practitioners or involved with a school in anyway) in order to teach effectively with technology. Nor do they need 30 apps for teaching History. What educators need more than anything is time to connect, design, and share ideas around instructional design with technology.