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Best Practices From Savannah Schools #1

Hello School Leaders,

In the spirit of increasing cross-district collaboration, here’s a round up of some BEST PRACTICES I’m seeing at each school I have the pleasure to support.


Empowering Teachers As Learners

STEM and Islands have been using very successful teacher-led Idea’s Exchange PD model for the past several years. This year Savannah Arts and Oglethorpe are giving it a go with high teacher approval. Jenkins is implementing a “lunch and learn” demo style PD which is getting great praise. Beach coaches are producing a knock-out blog post for their teachers highlighting a teacher of the month and star instructional strategies.

Empowering Students To Take Ownership of Their Learning

Beach and Savannah High math team, with support from Coach Lydia Taylor and a Savannah Arts social studies teacher, Michael Johnson, have rolled up their sleeves to shift conversations from kids “completing assignments” to kids “demonstrating skills”. To do this, they’ve enlisted students to track their own standards-based progress. This is hard work for teachers as designers of learning, but it gives students practice in developing transferable life skills. Check out some of these first iterations on this process below.

Other teachers at Oglethorpe, STEM and Jenkins are moving full steam ahead with student-centered learning by “Gamifiying” their curriculum, which students have reported they enjoy because they, “know what they have to do in order to get an A”. Check out Daniel Kamykowski’s gamified curriculum below.

Instructional Technology is exploring badges to support self-directed.

Coming Soon! 
Power Teacher Pro, which some schools will be piloting this year, allows teachers to create a standards-based grade book.  Standards-based grading is a great conversation to start with staff now because it will be a shift for many.

Increasing Cross-District Collaboration


Over the next couple of months, I’ll be creating cross-district PLC “Groups” in Office 365 and inviting our teachers to share resources/ ideas with others in the district teaching the same course. Myers, Oglethorpe, and Charles Ellis Elementary kicked off this collaboration with a very successful face-2-face Idea’s Exchange last month after school. “Groups” expands our ability to collaborate 24/7. I would love an opportunity to show those who are interested, how it works. If you have a date and time in mind, please let me know.



Developing Our Teacher Leaders


I have identified teachers across the district who have demonstrated higher than average student growth using the growth model on EOC courses. I’ll be asking these folks to share their strategies and resources with others in our course groups. What I’ve noticed so far is that both teachers with traditional “stick to the book” style and those who have deeply embraced student-centered teaching are demonstrating high growth on standardized tests. From this we can infer, when it comes to test prep, no one style is king. Let’s celebrate our teachers diverse styles and talents that they bring to the table.doors

Opening Our Doors

After 8 years of working with leaders, staff and students in 13 of Savannah’s public schools, I’ve found each school has it’s own “personality” with unique challenges and strengths. My hat is off to those of you who have opened your doors to share lessons learned (the good and the bad), resources, and teacher/ leader knowledge with our larger community of educators. This year STEM, and possibly a couple of other schools I’ve spoken to, will be hosting a leadership school tour of their campus and classrooms. This is a great way to “shop” for ideas you can adapt for your school and I hope you will have a chance to attend.

In another brave act of opening our doors, our very own Megan Heberle, Science teacher at Islands HS has “taken over” the GaDOE Instagram account for the whole week! Check it out. Reflective teachers are usually effective teachers.

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Garageband Can Make You Young Again

In the past week, I’ve thoroughly been enjoying my freedom to learn and explore whatever the heck I want. I’m excited and inspired by the start of the new school year, a feeling I wish for every educator. Below is a roundup of resources that got my wheels spinning.

Tonight I spent the night tinkering on the iPad app Garageband. As I played around, here are some of the things that ran through my mind.

…Is that me making that music? How can this be? Wow.

…This is so fun.

…What if kids had this kind of fun at school?

…What if teachers had this kind of fun, at school?

This kind of fun comes from the delight of discovery. There are no expectations, no agendas, no grades, just thinking and Ahas! Inspired by ISTE and Garageband, the 2014-15 school year will see Playgrounds for PD.

Here are classroom applications I thought of during my playtime.

Use Garageband to:

  • establish mood or tone of historical figures, places, or time periods, characters, settings
  •  act as background music for a story, comic, or movie

Thanks to Spotify for keeping me going after my Garageband jam session. Also, thank you for keeping me focused on the massive chasm between learners’ personal world and what the world looks like in school. My job is to help bridge the gap.

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Student Goal Setting and Grading

Originally Published December 2011

I still struggle how to use subject/percentage grading-system to communicate learning needs effectively. I struggle even more with how to make it make better sense to parents. On one hand, we grade standards proficiency in each subject. But on the other hand, the key to success in any field is in learning responsibly skills: to be organized, to remember to turn in assignments, to write down homework, and time management. Students are also learning self-management skills: focus, productivity, delayed gratification, self-assessment, self-correction, and follow through.

Ninety percent of every parent/teacher conference I have is about responsibility and self-management skills, but the conference is almost always called to discuss a grade in a specific discipline. We need to help parents and students distinguish and monitor progress in specific academic skills, and self-management skills.

Another clear gap between my vision for a successful year and my students’ was an understanding of the stakes; students didn’t seem to recognize that they had to demonstrate proficiency for promotion. The other more adult concern was our school’s fragile AYP (annual yearly progress) status. To students, my differentiated activities were just another inconsequential exercise to them. They didn’t see the line between practice and achievement. So I set about filling these gaps.

I built self-assessments and rubrics for all of our assignments. We used a matrix of standards correlated to assignments as a daily checklist tool. I held data team meetings with my students to talk about their self-management skills academic skills. We strategized together and built game plans. Students began to set goals and compete with themselves. They set out to master standards one at a time and they did it. Not because it was another homework assignment, but because they now understood how that was their gap to fill, and that in the big picture, it mattered. I finally had a team full of players that were playing to win.

I realize education isn’t a sport, but the coaching analogy pointed out my students and I weren’t on the same page. I still notice at the beginning of every year students’ motivation correlates with how fun an activity is rather how it will help them achieve the end goal. Slowly, I introduce goal-setting mechanisms and measures. I ask them to be reflective about who they are as learners, to understand learning is a process and not a pass/ fail event. We set goals, talk strategies to confront weakness, and look for resources and personal strength they can depend on. Students all have a checklist of standards for each unit. I explain to student what they need to demonstrate for me sign off that they are proficient. Students grade their papers and do the math to find out their scores. I require students to evaluate their progress on meeting long-term goals like achieving a certain grade their report card. Students reflect on their scores, their work ethic, and study habits. The goal helps students understand their responsibility as learners and to provide them a picture of their learning as a journey in progress.

All of these practices invite my students to be self-managers and the captain of their learning. Even though my job is to deliver content, assess, and give feedback, without the students’ participation, these activities are virtually useless. As an unknown source said, “Every achievement starts with the decision to try.” I’m well aware that decision is my students, not mine.

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Student Goal Setting

Originally Published December 2011

Every school year one I ask myself, how I can increase student motivation? Many of my choices as an educator are driven by this question. My experience in sales, corporate training, community building, and customer service suggest that motivation is a prime factor in creating forward momentum. So when I decided to become a classroom teacher my students’ motivation was a principal area of interest for me.

My incentives to meet state benchmarks are high. Approving scores indicate I taught the year’s curriculum effectively. Student gains demonstrate that I helped students fill learning gaps. There is also an unspoken teacher ranking system that comes from comparing the numbers of passing students.

My first year, I was a hired to teach writing for 80 fifth graders 3 months after the school year had begun. I was motivated by the surprise job opportunity, by the subject, age group, and the drive to prove rank as a new teacher. I spent evenings and weekends analyzing assessment data and grouping kids for differentiation. I conferenced with students, talked enthusiastically about their writing strengths, and wrote elaborate notes as reference points. But with all this effort, something still wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure why I felt more ownership and motivation for my students’ success then they did themselves.

I was determined to make sure that all my kids crossed the finish line at the end of the year, but they all didn’t seem to carry the same vision. I pictured myself as their coach. We just needed to train hard and prove we had a great team.

Yet the more I considered this analogy, the more I realized I wasn’t like a coach at all. Coaches have detailed playbooks they share with their players. They lay it out; here’s the challenge facing us, and here’s our strategy to beat it. They make connections for players between practice and how those skills create wins.

I, on the other hand, had a playbook of moves my students weren’t privy to. I had data on who had mastered each standard, remediation lists, indicators on individuals learning gaps, but the kids didn’t see what I saw. They saw indicators like Writing 78%, or English Language Arts 73%. This grading policy didn’t tell a student or parent that the deficiency was in using capitalization, commas, and writing conclusions. Students didn’t gage their success on logical data, they gaged it their parent’s expression when report cards went home.

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Developing Effective Technology Plans


Letter EThink of technology as the water that fills in the shapes of our imaginations. Technology use planning is about shaping a vision and leveraging innovation to make it happen. At worse, these plans are a narrow in overview, outlining types or a number of gadgets that should be acquired by a school or district. At best, it is both a plan and a process (Anderson)–a process that harnesses ideas into a collective consciousness and exemplifies problem solving with innovation.

John See, author of the article “Developing Effective Technology Plans,” argues that technology plans should not cover the scope of more than one year. On one hand, See makes his case by pointing out that in a year from now we don’t know what technologies will exist. On the other hand, Mr. See also says “effective plans focus on application, not technology.” If this is true, then application objectives should drive vision and not the other way around. If a technology plan attempts to tackle some of the more serious weakness in the educational system as outlined in initiatives like Race to the Top, I would argue, planning less than year is hardly adequate time to adopt and evaluate worthwhile innovations.

To illustrate, last year our district implemented the Georgia RESA Assessment of Student Progress, or GRASP testing, intended to progress monitor students in basic reading and math skills k-12. This year, GRASP is no where on the district agenda. For a success of a year-to-year data collection program to be measured or beneficial it must be maintained, analyzed, and evaluated over the course of several years. When the use of such a tool isn’t mandated, and teachers don’t know how to access or use the information, the tool becomes virtually useless.

The downfall in a technology use plans is a plan that focuses on adoption rather than implementation and evaluation. Before implementation we must ask what practice are we trying to improve? How will this technology support that goal? What benchmarks will we use to determine the success of an adoption? And perhaps most importantly, how will the adoption of this technology will improve learning? If I’m using a computer projector in my class in the same way I used an old school light projector, what’s changed? Nothing. If I’m using clickers to speed up grading but not adapting my instruction based on what I’ve learned, again, nothing has changed.

dusty keyboardIn my school we have adopted web programs, typing equipment, computer projectors, Promethean boards, headphones, and camera equipment many of which are infrequently used to maximize learning. Reasons range from lack of training, fear of equipment, fear of equipment breaking, or in some cases, teachers not even knowing they are there. This year’s adoption was Neo keyboards. Currently, four of five grade level sets sit gathering dust. Who ordered them? What was their intended purpose? How do we use them?

New technology trainings focus on the bells and the whistles of the equipment. Yet we tend to miss the essential question.  How are we improving the way we teach and the way students learn? If we don’t follow up to find out how teachers and students are answering this question then, I argue, money spent on new equipment is not money spent wisely.

When I started teaching four years ago, what stood out to me was how dated information management systems were compared to every other field I’d worked in. Even at the auto repair shop, I could look up the history of a vehicle to see every oil change, every diagnosis, quote, test-drives notes, and replaced part by brand and model with the click of a few buttons. But the information on my kids was more elusive. What did an 86% in math tell me about someones needs? I wanted concrete information on what my students already knew and what they needed. Who were they as learners? What strategies maximize their learning in the past and which ones didn’t?

Wiki Product ImageI also wondered how we could leverage resources. How could new teachers tap into the collective intelligence of the greatest teachers from the past? How would a seasoned professional solve the challenges that I faced as a novice? And still further, I wanted to know how I could personalize learning for students. How could I tap into their knowledge base and inspire them to build on what they already knew? These are still fundamental questions that guide my interest as an educator. My vision for personalized learning in fact, has hardly waivered since my own days as begrudging passive student.

My idea of a technology use plan involves finding solutions to these issues that are still of utmost importance. The Department of Educational Technology acknowledged my concerns in the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan. The plan discusses a shift from promotion based on seat time to promotion based on competency.  This would mean a shift in grading methodology and would lead to maintenance of more accurate information on individual student needs.

Personalized LearningThe document also distinguished the difference between individualized learning, which refers to students learning common information at their own pace, differentiated learning, which addresses different modalities, and the ability to personalize learning which takes into account students prior experience, language, culture, as well as pacing and modality. The success of customized consumer experiences has been demonstrated by companies like Amazon, Pandora, Netflix, and Stitcher radio.

The plan goes on to discusses how teachers across the country will share Common Core Standards. This will hopefully lead to a digital warehousing of best practices and expert presenters in core discipline.  Not all concepts mentioned in the report were easy a matter of effectively management of information systems however.  There also was mention of developing 2.0 assessment, which would include problem solving, critical thinking, and concepts of global participation into student evaluation. The subjective nature of assessing these kinds of skills has always been a challenge, which is why virtually all state tests are fill in the bubble, multiple choice tests. In the past, when faced with the choices of the most effective way or the fastest way to assess students, we’ve opted for speed and efficiency.  This leaves me to wonder, when we look back on the transformation of 20th century education system, we will attribute changes to technology use plans and visions of educators, or will simply see disruptive technologies as the butterfly wing that shifted the status quo?

Butterfly-Create ChangeREFERENCES

Anderson, S Larry, The Guidebook for Developing an Effective Instructional Technology Plan Version 2.0 prepared by students at students at Mississippi State University, 1996

See, John, The Computing Teacher, Vol.19 Number 8, May 1992.

______. National Education Technology Plan 2010 | U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology.

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Teaching Beliefs vs Practices

Originally Posted February 2012

I fell into teaching in an unlikely way.  I was a kid who didn’t like school, so my rationale for becoming a teacher was to make the system better than it was when I went through it.  “If I was president,” I used to say, “schools would be places where kids could learn about things they were interested in.”  Somehow by the time I was in the 7th grade, the word “learn” equaled “school” which equaled “rigid and boring.”   “My classroom,” I said with confidence after a few years of homeschooling, “will be a place are really interested in the work that they do.”

Now that I’ve been invested on the other end I realize how complex educating really is.  When my classroom is functioning best my students have choices. They can choose seats, work with different partners,  pick projects to work on, and gather resources around the room as they see fit.  When I’m patient and listen I see my kids explore, struggle, discuss, and finally discover for themselves. These are the moments when I feel like a real educator. But these moments seem to be more and more difficult to justify.

Unfortunately, while students who are primarily engaged in Project-Based learning turn out to be better field practitioners, they don’t score as well as kids who follow a main stream classroom models on standardized tests as.  As a novice teacher I steal time from students’ discovery process to drill so I can guarantee they’ll be ready to pass state mandated tests.   Test dates can’t be prolonged for discovery processes to unfold and so we prepare our kids to take and pass tests.

Below I’ve created a graph to represent my beliefs vs. what actually happens in the classroom.  The text in blue represents technology I use to achieve these two very different learning goals.  Double click to enlarge it in a new window.

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Evaluation Proposal – Your task is to submit an evaluation proposal (in the
range of 5-6 pages) in response to an issued Request for Proposal (RFP) that you will be provided. Your proposal will address each of the sections as required by the RFP. This is not a proposal to conduct your personal evaluation project. You will respond specifically to the provided RFP. More details are provided elsewhere in the Moodle course site and during the semester.

Evaluation Report Course Project – The major course project (up to 10 pages plus
appendices) will involve conducting and writing a short report of a personally conducted evaluation project on a real (not hypothetical) program or project. You plan and conduct an actual small-scale evaluation of a small program or project in your school or organization. You will gather and use real data for your report. More details are provided elsewhere in the Moodle course site and during the semester.

Internet Sites Project – Optional extra credit project. You will work individually
to select and describe Internet sites concerning program evaluation not previously covered in the course. More details are provided elsewhere in the Moodle course site and during the semester.

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Welcome and Orientation to the Course

Module 1: Educational Technology – Introduction to the Field

  • Definition of Ed Tech
  • Module 1 Summary and Reflection

Module 2: Epistemology, Theoretical Schools, and Theories of Learning

  • Theories of Learning Paper
  • Module 2 Summary and Reflection

Module 3: Connecting the Dots – Theories of Educational Technology

  • Discussion Two: Jigsaw Activity
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Module 3 Summary and Reflection

Module 4: Looking Ahead – Emerging Theories and Strategies

  • Discussion Three
  • Final Synthesis Paper Draft
  • Module 4 Summary and Reflection

Module 5: Full Circle – Theories of Educational Technology

  • Peer review activity
  • Discussion Four
  • Module 5 Summary and Reflection
  • Final Synthesis Paper


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Assignments and Grading

  1. Administrative tasks – 20 pts
  2. ID Job Description – 40 pts
  3. Discussion Board Posts and Responses – 40 pts * 6 discussion = 240 pts
  4. Reading Quiz – 100 pts
  5. ID Case Analysis- 100 pts
  6. Types of Learning Reflection Paper -100 pts
  7. Final Instructional Design Project – 200 pts
  • First half of the project – 200 pts
  • Final submission – 200 pts

(Total =1000 points)

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Course Work

Assignments Points
1 Self-introduction 25
2 XHTML 502.html page 50
3 External CSS page for 502.html 50
4 Netiquette page 75
5 Web accessibility hot links page 75
6 Copyright scavenger hunt 75
7 Interactive concept map 75
8 Jigsaw activity 75
9 m-learning activity (mobile learning) 75
10 Edtech home page: default.html 75
11 Virtual field trip 150
12 WebQuest 150
13 Participation in online discussions 50
Total Points 1,000
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  • Module 1: Making Connections
  • Module 2: Defining Educational Technology
  • Module 3: Ethical Issues in Educational Technology
  • Module 4: Trends in Educational Technology
  • Module 5: Educational Technology Research
  • Module 6: Technology Use Planning


  • Introduce Yourself Video (50 points)
  • Learning Log Discussion Forum (20 points)
  • Evolution Glog Assignment (50 points)
  • Digital Inequality Presentation Assignment (100 points)
  • Horizon Report Matrix (20 points)
  • Tech Trends Lesson Plan (100 points)
  • Zotero Library Assignment (20 points) 5
  • Zotero Group Library Assignment (50 points)
  • RSS Feeds Assignment (20 points)
  • Technology Use Planning Overview (50 points)
  • School Evaluation Summary (100 points)
  • Bumper Sticker (20 points)

Course Total: 600 points

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Making Magic in Moodle

moodle-desktop-724Before I describe my first experience using Moodle to create an online lesson, there’s something I should confess right from the start. I day dream about designing an outstanding Learning Management System daily. I dream about designing space and tools that helps teachers meet the overwhelming requirements of their work and a space that truly invites students to be engaged in their learning. So I’ve had my eye on Moodle and many other LMS’s for some time. Like men who get giddy looking under the hood of a car, I’m eager at any opportunity to see how an LMS functions. This assignment was my first chance to play in the Moodle Sandbox and I loved every minute of it! Geek. I know.

For my lesson, I started by watching some of the tutorials, but then I headed off for some exploration and to do some clicking around. The navigation and menus are standard enough, so no real learning curve there. The tools for designing the lesson were abundant. There were twenty-six options for adding activities including chats, wikis, forums many of which I was surprised to see and had never experienced as an online learner. There were another nine options for uploading resources including books, files, and labels. I had always wondered what beast of a program could be created with an open source concept and now this was a great view into one of the most well known open source projects to date.

My first overall impression of Moodle was that it was designed by programmers. I don’t know many programmers, but the focus seems to be on the backend rather than the user interface. It seems overly complicated. For example, there are options like setting up a Personal Learning Designer, renaming the roles of participants, and forcing filters on different features. Some of these fields feel tacked on, like they were added for a specific project. But then in an open source project like Moodle, I guess that’s exactly how it’s supposed to go. Unfortunately, this makes the user interface is a little overwhelming for a teacher with moderate to low technical skills. Case in point, my school district set up a Moodle account but no one in the district warmed-up to it so it’s still sitting there in the box, virtually unused. That said, I found the experience of taking it for a test drive boarded on fun. And that’s enough for me.