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dld_v2_135x130_transparent.gifThe Verizon Foundation Celebrates Digital Learning Day!


Welcome to our collection of digital learning resources for educators, compiled specially for Digital Learning Day 2013. With one click, you can access the best of our award-winning lesson plans, materials, mobile apps, and innovative leaders, as well as connect with thousands of other educators in our Thinkfinity Community.

Thinkfinity: How it can help you

Thinkfinity is Verizon Foundation's free online professional learning community providing collaboration capabilities to over 65,000 educators and experts in curriculum enhancement along with thousands of digital resources. These award-winning resources are developed by our Content Partners: leading educational organizations who bring educators a wide array of subject-specific lesson plans, primary source materials, interactive activities, videos, and games for K-12, all aligned to state standards and the common core. Thinkfinity also has Supporting Contributors who are key organizations in education and who provide videos, activities, educational games, reference materials, and more.


Be sure to search our resources by keywords or standards using the Thinkfinity Search. Don't miss the Search Community option in Thinkfinity's dark red navigation bar. Our members have searched the web and bookmarked, saved, or created the best resources they have found and/or used.


Take a little more time to explore Thinkfinity and see what else it can offer you as a professional.


Let's go mobile!





Our Content Partners have been busy developing the Best Apps for iPads, many of which are listed and described in this blog by Traci Gardner, ReadWriteThink.


In addition, check out the Verizon Foundation's exciting national STEM competition, that challenges middle and high school students to design a mobile application addressing a real issue or problem in their schools or communities (and, win $10,000 for their school!) This group, Designing Mobile Apps, provides opportunities for questions on this challenge.

Thinkfinity: Join in the Conversation or just Listen and Learn - the Choice is Yours!


Thinkfinity offers educators featured collections, discussions, and blog posts where you can be as active as you choose. Thinkfinity's homepage contains Featured Events and Blogs written by our Verizon Education Bloggers, all innovative thinkers.


Thinkfinity has several spaces within the community where educators are free to roam and learn:

  • Professional Development where ISTE and VILS jointly offer live and recorded webinars to allow educators to build their own professional development plan.
  • Community Hub where educators ask questions about education issues or Thinkfinity resources. Please join us in stimulating conversations about what is trending in education.
  • Help Center where support is available along with great documentation.


Thinkfinity has 500+ Special Interest groups for members to join, some maintained by our valued Content Partners:


Some very popular groups are maintained by our Community Hosts and general members plus teachers (both K-12 and Higher Ed) who facilitate groups for student learning:


Innovative Leaders


innovativeleaders_179x119.jpgIt is the people who make the Thinkfinity Community great. Our bloggers write on trending topics and ideas in education today - see what's on their minds...

  • Laura Benfield, with Wonderopolis, writes in Unlock the Wonders of Learning with Digital Technology in the Classroom that the NEW digital divide is between the household (Haves) and the schools (Have Nots).
  • In her blog, Curb Technology Frustrations, Katrina Allen tells how she shortens the frustrations of her technology-using colleagues with "Floor Sweeps" and "Step by Step Instructions."
  • Jason Falls, a ground-breaking education visionary and one of our Speaker Series Guests, explores and explains the roles technology and social media play in 21st Century education.


Webinars for Educators




Thinkfinity has a growing list of webinars hosted by Thinkfinity's Content Partners and ISTE. These webinars vary in length, but typically run between 20 minutes and one hour. You can find them here: Webinar Index.


There is always something new at Thinkfinity. Please join us and add your knowledge to the community. Everyone has experiences and expertise to share.


Please share a comment with us: How do your see yourself and your school using Thinkfinity?

greetingcard.jpgNo matter what holiday you are celebrating this month, nothing is quite as precious as a handmade card—especially when it comes from a family member or friend.


We’ve collected some easy ways that you can help the students you teach make cards in class as well as instructions that you can send home for families to use together during the Winter holidays.


The resources  do not refer to any particular holiday, so they work whether students and their families want to make cards for Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. The materials can even be used to celebrate the first snowfall or wish someone a Happy New Year. And, of course, the same instructions work for Thank You cards too. So read on, and get ready to make some fun greeting cards!


  • Make a simple card: Make a funny or thoughtful greeting card  with  photos of family or friends and a poem, joke, or riddle. Find simple step-by-step instructions on how to Send a Smile! For a full lesson plan for early elementary students, check out Using Greeting Cards to Motivate Students and Enhance Literacy Skills.

  • Draw a cartoon: Use the Comic Creator to make a one-of-a-kind greeting card. Kids and teens can illustrate scenes that show how they celebrate  with family and friends or create scenes that show what would happen if a dinosaur showed up to celebrate at their home.

  • Write a poem: Help a Child Write a Poem for the inside of a card, or frame it for a special piece of art. Use one of our online tools to write an Acrostic Poem, a Diamante Poem, or a Theme Poem.

  • Create a folded card: Use the Stapleless Book to make an 8-page card for a special family member or friend—and it all fits on one sheet of paper!

  • Design a  postcard: Write a postcard with the Postcard Creator then print it out and illustrate the front in a variety of ways, like drawing a picture, creating a collage of images, or printing and pasting clipart in place.

  • Publish a greeting: Make a nontraditional greeting card with the Book Cover Creator. Kids and teens can imagine what a book about a Winter day with their family would be like and create front and back cover as a greeting card.

  • Compose a year-end letter: Help a child or teen write a letter to friends and family that sums up all the things they have done in 2012 with  the  Letter Generator.

Whatever you do, hope you have a fantastic December. Leave us a note in the comments on how you spent your time together!


—Traci Gardner



[Photo: Group work on cards by San José Library, on Flickr]




Test your knowledge of history as you race against the clock!  Featuring characters from the online role-playing adventure game Mission US, Think Fast! About the Past is a fast-paced trivia game that introduces hundreds of fascinating facts about different eras of American history.


Players can choose from two different Think Fast “missions,” each connected to one of the Mission US adventure games.  In Mission 1, the sharp-tongued Patriot Royce Dillingham challenges players to navigate 1770 Boston by answering questions about colonial history.  In Mission 2, Lucy King challenges players to deliver a message to her brother, who is enslaved on a plantation in 1850 Kentucky, by answering questions about slavery and resistance during the pre-Civil War era.


Each correct answer advances players to another location on the map. Players have five minutes to move through all ten locations to complete the challenge, but answering correctly more quickly will earn a higher ranking. The clock pauses whenever explanations appear to allow players time to read them.  Each “mission” includes approximately 100+ questions randomly served up during the course of the game.


The Think Fast! About the Past app, developed by Thirteen/WNET, the producers of Mission US, and Very Memorable, was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Verizon Foundation through EDSITEment, the NEH site for high quality teaching resources. Mission US, a series of free interactive US history games for tweens and teens, was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more Mission US content, visit mission-us.org.  (Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this app do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.)


Mission US: Think Fast! About the Past for iPad on the iTunes App Store

Marcia Torgrude


Posted by Marcia Torgrude Oct 22, 2012

Kingston Blessing shared this wonderful video with me and I felt it important to share in the Community Hub. What a wonderful way to get students energized and thinking about the impossible as possible!!! This could be your next project in your math and science classrooms!!

doodle.pngAs a retired educator, I often think back to past experiences when I was teaching. Particularly at this time of the year, I think about the process of getting to know new students and the ritual of renewing the relationship between a teacher and his/her students. The first introduction to students can be an eye-opening encounter.

I think back to a year that I was calling roll for the first time and when I called one young lady’s name, I asked if she was related to John. I will never forget her answer, “Yes, are you going to hold it against me?” This interchange caused me to rethink how I set out to engage the students in my classroom. What might seem innocent or friendly to me might just open the door to bad memories or problems for the student.


Throughout my career, I would start the semester with fairly strict standards that were enforced equally. As the personality of the class developed, the standards would be adjusted to the class. One semester I had several students from the previous year who had signed on for the advanced class. Three of the students were extremely outgoing and in the previous class needed strict standards and constant supervision to stay on task. About two weeks into the new semester, one of the girls said, “Mrs. Potts, you are so much nicer this year, what happened?” After I laughed, my answer was that my change reflects that they were staying with the class and I no longer had to constantly supervise them. You could see the wheels turning in their heads, and the first recognition by that student and others that people reacted based on the attitudes and behavior that were being displayed.

I always tried to let my students know that I could and wanted to learn from them.  In one school, our population was 65% Jewish, 25% Arab, and 10% other. The high school that I had attended only had one Jewish family and no Arabs, so I really had no sense of what the similarities and differences to my background might be. The class that I was teaching was Foods and Nutrition. I did some research and talked with teachers who had been in the school for several years and found that there were some definite dietary rules that many of these students followed. In every unit, I would ask the students to share traditional examples that they enjoyed that used the foods being studied.


Early in November the curriculum called for a unit on holiday foods. I asked the students to identify the foods that they looked forward to eating during their holidays. With the Jewish students, Noodle Pudding was repeatedly mentioned, but none of those students could tell us a recipe. Therefore, their homework was to go home and get a recipe from mom, grandma, or a neighbor for the Noodle Pudding that they liked. When the recipes came in we quickly realized that the country of origin determined the ingredients and flavoring of the pudding. We then completed a lab in which each kitchen prepared a different recipe for Noodle Pudding, then shared and evaluated the similarities and differences between each. What we all learned that year is that there is no such thing as singular all-encompassing Jewish or Arab cooking. We learned, together, that there are Jewish and Arab dishes that follow the dietary laws of their religions and encompass the foods of the country of origin.

As with all groups, there were times when someone could be identified as a “bully” or who would make a discriminatory remark. As the “adult” I believed (and still do) that it was my responsibility to interject or turn that behavior into a learning experience for all students. I believe in confronting the person immediately. There are a series of questions, that I rely on to get students to understand what they are saying and the fact that, at least in my presence, it is not acceptable. Examples of questions that I use include:

  • What do you mean by that?  Explain your reasoning.
  • Where did you get that information?  Have you verified it anyplace else?
  • Why do you think you have the right to make that kind of judgment?
  • Is this an opinion or do you have facts to back that up?
  • Are you willing to research that and report back to us?
  • Do you deserve criticism when you make a mistake?
  • If you were in the other person’s shoes, what would you do?


One of the resources I have found, and that I think all teachers and parents should utilize, is the Teaching Tolerance Website (http://www.tolerance.org/) and e-newsletter. Teaching Tolerance is developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Each newsletter includes current issues, research information, and lessons for use in the classroom. Each lesson is comprised of objectives, essential questions and activities. Teaching Tolerance is presenting two new guides—Speak Up at School and Responding to Hate and Bias—that offer a comprehensive approach to school-culture issues and provide direction for educators trying to build an inclusive, nurturing school climate. Download for immediate use at tolerance.org/publications.

I urge teachers and group leaders to encourage differences while valuing all equally. Too often I have heard teachers and group leaders saying negative things about individual students/participants which tie them to a race, culture, religious, or economic group. To cut down on bullying and “crazy” attacks we all must stop doing this.



Thinkfinity Resources


I have also identified a wide range of resources available to you through Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org).

Terms used to search resources:  cultural, tolerance, diversity. These are just a few of the many that I found.

Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom

Grades K to 8 | Resource, Lesson

This article shows how to affirm and draw on the dialect diversity of students to foster the learning of Standard English. http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/professional-library/codeswitching-tools-language-culture-30484.html


It's Okay to Be Different: Teaching Diversity With Todd Parr

Grades 1 to2 | Lesson

All students will enjoy this lesson that celebrates diversity by discussing what makes everyone unique and special. http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/okay-different-teaching-diversity-890.html


Assessing Cultural Relevance: Exploring Personal Connections to a Text

Grades 9 to 12 | Lesson

As a class, students evaluate a nonfiction or realistic fiction text for its cultural relevance to themselves, personally and as a group.



Cultural Relevance Rubric

Grades 9 to 12 | Interactive

In this student interactive from a ReadWriteThink lesson, students answer a series of questions to analyze the cultural and personal relevance of nonfiction or realistic fiction texts they are reading. Students can then access feedback and rubrics about their selected texts.




Cultural Diversity in the United States

Grades 6 to 8 | Activity ngeducation_logo.jpg

Students learn about several different metaphors that have been used to describe cultural diversity in the United States. Then they choose a metaphor that represents today's diverse cultural landscape.



Religion and Belief Systems in Asia

Grades 6 to 8 | Lesson

In this Xpeditions lesson, students conduct an in-depth review of one of the major world religions by focusing on its origins, beliefs, and history. They then explore reasons for the spread or decline in Asia of each of the major world religions. Finally, students predict the continued spread of religions based on current events in Asia. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/lessons/10/g68/religion.html



Mapping Your State's Culture

Grades 3 to 5 | Lesson

In this Xpeditions lesson, students explore the concept of culture. They learn about interesting aspects of their state's culture, including arts, recreation, folklore, and cultural diversity. Finally, students design thematic maps showing some of the most interesting cultural features of their state.




Human Evolution

Grades 9 to 12 | Lesson teachersdomain.png

Students investigate hominid evolution. They learn the difference between a relative and an ancestor, study the emergence of bipedalism, and chart patterns of hominid migration. http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/tdc02.sci.life.evo.lp_humanevo/



Why Do We Use Different Words For the Same Things?

Grades Pre-K to 5 | Activity, Video, Website wonderopolis_logo.jpg

Soda, or pop? Join us in Wonderopolis as we take a look at a debate that still rages on!




Tolerance: Gender Issues

Grade 6 | Lesson artsedge_logo.jpg

In this lesson, students research how professions such as nursing, clerking, and teaching have changed gender dominance over the past 150 years in the United States. http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/lessons/grade-6-8/Tolerance_Gender_Issues.aspx


America, A Home for Every Culture

Grades K to 4 | Lesson

Students will discuss and explore the cultures that have contributed to making the United States the unique and diverse country it is today.




Cultural Change

Grades 9 to 12 | Lesson edsitement_logo.jpg

In this lesson from EDSITEment, students examine some of the arguments used to win the vote for American women and explore the cultural dimension of these arguments as reflected in their characterization of men and women. In addition, students weigh the rhetorical impact these arguments had in their time by writing counter-arguments from several standpoints, and think critically about the relationship between political ideas and cultural attitudes.




The First Modern Olympics

Posted by joe_phelan Aug 3, 2012

Featured Project

The First Modern Olympics


August 2, 2012 | By Joshua Sternfeld

St. Paul Daily Globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, April 05, 1896, Page 19, Image 21

Image provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN


The Sun. (New York [N.Y.]) 1833-1916, March 21, 1896, Page 4, Image 4

Image provided by The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation


St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, April 05, 1896, Page 19, Image 21

Image provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1896-04-05/ed-1/seq-21/

  • The Panathenaic Stadium
  • Olympians 1986
  • The Athletes at Athens

Robert Garrett, Jr.; Francis A. Lane; Albert C. Tyler; Herbert Jamison; Thomas E. Burke; Arthur Blake; Ellery H. Clark; I.P. Curtis. These may not be household names like Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, or Mary Lou Retton, but they happen to be some of the 14 athletes who represented the United States in the first modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Today, over a billion people from around the world are tuning in to cheer their nation’s top athletes competing in London at the Summer Games of the 30th Olympiad, in contrast to the Games’ comparatively modest beginnings over a century ago.


At Chronicling America –the free site joint-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress – you can find first-hand journalistic reportage of the Olympics from among its nearly 5 million digitized pages of U.S. historical newspapers. It is in this “first draft of history” found in local and regional newspapers from across the country that we can discover the origins of the strange new international event. Some journalists were skeptical of the seeming “farce”; others embraced it immediately as a reflection of an emerging international society. While the size and scope of the Olympics may have drastically grown since then, we can nonetheless find the same competitive spirit, pageantry, and sporting events that constitute today’s global spectacle.


Resurrecting the Ancient Games


The first modern Olympic Games were established out of a desire to revive the tradition of athletic competition in ancient Greece that had been dormant for 1,500 years. In June, 1894, a committee held under the auspices of the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques met in Paris, France, to discuss the possibility of producing a modernized version of the games. The committee decided that the modern Olympics would be held every four years, like its ancestor, and be open only to amateur athletes. A unanimous vote decided that the games would return to its birthplace in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In the run-up to the event, one reporter from the St. Paul Daily Globe predicted that, “[N]ever in the history of the world has there been an athletic event so notable and comprehensive as this one will be."


Reports in Chronicling America indicate that despite the small cohort of athletes from 14 countries – 241, less than half of the American delegation for this year’s Summer Games – the two-week occasion garnered an enthusiastic following of spectators. Like today’s Olympics, an opening ceremony celebrated the virtues of athleticism and friendly international competition. The Panathenaic stadium, where the original games were supposedly held, was renovated in under twenty months by 600 workers. 80,000 spectators filled the stadium to capacity on opening day. Greece’s royal family hosted the ceremony, which included a torchlight procession, representations of memorable scenes from Greek history, and performances from dramatic masterpieces beginning with a Sophoclean tragedy and ending with Wagner’s “Lohengrin.” One reporter from The Wichita Daily Eagle described the “impressive” ceremony as “a gathering of truly Homeric proportions.”


America’s First Olympians


The success of the opening ceremony overshadowed the very real concern that the Olympics might not even get off the ground. Poor advertising, a short time period for nations to coordinate a team and program, and the prospect of a “trying trip by sea and land,” provoked some to wonder whether enough athletes would participate. Indeed, two premier team events, cricket and football, were cancelled because no teams arrived.


In the end, 14 male athletes anchored by four from Princeton University and four from the Boston Athletic Association (women were not permitted to compete in the first games ) were selected to represent the United States to “annex as many golden wreaths as possible.” One reporter from New York’s The Sun commented that the athletes were not necessarily the top athletes in their respective events: "The primary fact is that Princeton University and the Boston A.A. are the only two organizations to step into the breach and endeavor to assert America's prestige in the most historic tournament of the age.” Nevertheless, the American athletes made quite an impression, winning many of the events now part of track and field, including the 100 and 400 meter races; high jump; triple jump (referred to as the “hop-skip-and-jump”); pole vault; discus throw; and shot put (referred to as “putting the shot”).

Other sports held for the first Games included: “gymnastic sports” which included “individual exhibitions, exhibitions on the rings, parallel bars, horse leaping and team work”; fencing; wrestling; shooting with army rifles, carbines, and pistols; “aquatics” which included sailing events, rowing, and three swimming races at 100, 500, and 1,000 meters; bicycle races; lawn tennis (single and double); and weight lifting with one and two hands. The Olympics concluded with the “star event”: a 30-mile footrace from the city of Marathon to the stadium in Athens that recreated the legendary historic run by the Greek soldier Pheidippides.


Perhaps more interesting than the events themselves, however, was the unusual training regimen the athletes endured on the long journey by ship to Greece, recounted in The Sun: “Curtis, Burke, and Clark practised [sic] starting [races], and Blake devoted himself to skipping the rope and running up and down stairs, while Hoyt took to strengthening his arms by lifting himself from the deck to the rigging.” The improvisational training must have paid off. The Americans’ dominant performance garnered reluctant praise from Germans who proclaimed them the “foremost sportsmen of the world.”


The two-week event closed just as it had opened -- in celebration of the modern competitive spirit and international camaraderie. King George of Greece hosted a banquet for the athletes and organizers, and his words, reprinted in The New York Tribune, still ring true today: "Let me express the pleasure that all feel in seeing you come here to take part in the Olympic games. Your reception shows how the Greek people rejoiced to receive you. I seize this occasion to extend my warmest congratulations to the victors… Keep us close in your remembrance and do not forget the enthusiastic welcome we have given you."


Further Reading in Chronicling America

The following articles are a sampling of coverage of the 1896 Olympic Games found in Chronicling America. You can conduct your own search for "Olympics" to learn more about these Games as well as subsequent Games through 1920. To maximize your search results, try limiting the date range in the "Advanced Search" to correspond with those for each Olympics.


"After Olympic Laurels." The Sun. (New York) March 21, 1896


"The Athletes at Athens." St. Paul Daily Globe. April 05, 1896


"On Olympia's Field." St. Paul Daily Globe. April 06, 1896


"Old Games Revived." The Wichita Daily Eagle. April 07, 1896


"Olympic Games at Fair Athens." The San Francisco Call. April 08, 1896


"The Olympic Games." The Herald. (Los Angeles) April 10, 1896


"King George to Athletes." The New York Tribune. April 13, 1896


"Athletes Train at Sea." The Sun. (New York) April 13, 1896


Many of you have probably seen the TV ad from a wireless provider with the young family searching in the woods. They turn around and see a flash of light and a space ship hovering. Then they are encircled by all the tech devices that they may use each day. How do we keep up with all of that syncing and find the resources and content we have seen on our smartphone, laptop, tablet, kindle, iPod Touch…?


I was very pleased many years ago to discover “back flip," one of the first virtual bookmarking tools. Backflip was quickly replaced by my Delicious account, and now I am collecting even more content using my Thinkfinity Community Bookmark feature.


What are some ways that you keep track of all the content you want to retrieve whenever, wherever?


Are you building into your instruction effective search and save techniques? What tools and methods do your students use?


Even if we have a solid gather and organize method in place, how do we keep from overwhelming our students with information overload in the research process? I have found that taking the time to develop a targeted focus question helps students stay on track. For example, instead of asking students to explore all the events leading up to the start of WWII, I ask individual groups to investigate one of the events linked to the cause of the war and then present their group findings to the whole class.


How do you develop project focused questions? Do your students play a part in developing these questions to be answered by their research?



Catherine Giddens grew up in NC and came to Charleston, SC, to attend the College of Charleston and has never left. She has worked for the SC Department of Education for 12 years. She enjoys working with instructional tech coaches across the state.


Other blogs by this author:


Who are you today? Teacher, Trainer, Coach?


All in a Data Filled Day

My blog this week is about a messy question. Research has not found the answer, and every new article seems to present an opposing view. The question (“Does online learning work?”) is not just messy. It is a fake question.




Why? Because students are not a collective blob to which a nice neat answer will stick. We may as well ask if a tennis racket works. For tennis players it does, though it works best for those who know how to use it and are willing to work hard to improve. But the tool will not make you Venus Williams or even teach you to play rudimentary tennis.


Similarly, the general consensus in online learning seems to be that currently it best serves self-directed students, while struggling students need more support, possibly through hybrid models that include the advantages of face-to-face communication.


In short, focusing on this question alone keeps us stuck in a back and forth discussion that isn't actually helpful, skimming over the complexity and nuance that students need us to explore.

What questions are more productive?


While the research should continue, I say we should focus on more interesting questions. Here are some that are rattling around in my summer-addled brain right now. Feel free to add your own.


  • When was the last time you had an email or text misunderstanding that could have been avoided if you’d been conversing in person? What does that mean for online teaching? If teaching depends on effective communication, what strategies can compensate for the lack of verbal and other cues that convey meaning through dialogue?


  • I heard once that students will learn far more from who we are as teachers than from the assignments we give. In my own toughest subjects in school, my best teachers conveyed such a passion for their subject areas that I wanted to see what they saw. In college I was assigned the task of reading every word of Homer’s Iliad. “Snoozefest!” I thought, and skimmed the assignment until I could muster a few passable responses. When the teacher raved about the richness of the language in class, she became so excited she slipped into citing passages from memory. She was so joyful about the dense text that I had to go back and re-read the assignment. If it was that amazing, I didn’t want to miss it!


In an online course, what are the best ways to convey that love for our subject areas? Can Skype-ing students in the eye replace looking students in the eye? How will I read vulnerability or misunderstanding there when I am so accustomed to doing that in face-to-face instruction? How can we best serve students who signed up not becuase they need the more flexible schedule--such as students with children or inflexible work schedules--but because it sounded less rigorous or intimidating?


  • When students still need social, collaborative, communication skills, how can we foster those skills online or through an online/face-to-face hybrid?


  • In online discussions, how can we counter the “Facebook effect,” in which students project a pre-meditated, constructed self online, in favor of bringing out students' authentic selves so that meaningful learning can occur? This is also critical in preventing plagiarism, which can be easier to do online.


  • If “Aha” moments are born of spontaneity, tangents, redirections, and laughter that disarms students in the face of challenging subject areas, how do we facilitate online spaces that will create the aha moments that deliver the powerful punch of joy in learning?


  • Are there particular student needs or life circumstances that are best served through online learning? If so, and if online learning options can make a subject more difficult for struggling students, should there be GPA requirements or pre-requisites before students can take a certain course online?


  • How can teachers take full advantage of the increased opportunity in online learning for individualized instruction--without losing opportunities for collaboration and team building skills? For example, it takes time and intention to embed effective peer review routines in the classroom and writing process. When I consider the misunderstandings that occur when students cannot use tone or non-verbal cues while delivering constructive criticism, my head spins. An online course will require much more discussion and intention to ensure effective peer review.



I don’t think it is smart to dismiss online education unless you have tried it and wrestled considerably with all the questions it raises. And as new as online education is, just because one virtual school isn’t getting it right the first time does not mean it “doesn’t work.”


We should pursue the possibilities in online learning—not because online learning is "better than" the brick-and-mortar school or because brick-and-mortar is superior to online options. But because online learning can make it easier for many to attain higher levels of education, that is enough to move forward.


If you have experienced online learning, what are your most creative answers to these questions? What other questions do you wrestle with that I have missed? What answers have you found so far?  Whether you are working through these questions as a teacher or a student, I would love to hear from you!


Resources, Education Week:


Education Week Spotlight

Education Week: Spotlight on Implementing Online Learning






Please post your thoughts in my discussion,
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Kaitlin Murphy ( www.kaitlinmurphy.org) has worked in education for 16 years, primarily as a middle and high school teacher, but also as a college writing instructor, a teacher at an incarceration facility, a GED program for teen mothers, a town community school and currently at a community college in New Jersey. She worked at the DC Public Schools for three years as a writer and is a freelance writer, writing coach and communications consultant.


Other blogs by this author:


What does it mean when we say schools should “teach 21st century skills"?


Interactive Whiteboards – When does the “tipping point” become a plateau?


The robots are coming... Will technology ever replace teachers?


Can you be linked in, online and all over the world, and still…be still?


Technology in the Classroom: Are you a Skeptic, Believer, or Somewhere In Between?

What is the purpose of public education?

Think about that question for a minute. The answer seems so obvious. Duh!  Everyone knows the answer. Well, try and put it into words.


I believe in entropy. That is the natural decline of all things. The most perfect building built by man will eventually decay. The most perfect project will become obsolete. This is not a bad thing; it simply means that everything has a life-span. We've reached the end of the lifespan of the old model of education and its time to re-invent.  That means going back to the beginning.



So? What is the purpose of public education?


I ask this to my audiences as I travel my state and I generally get the same type of answers. Public education is here to prepare children for the society they will enter. An educated populace is a safer and happier populace. Education leads to the pursuit of happiness. All those are the standard answers to the question. Now for the last part of the exercise. 


Is it working?


For me, the answer is a resounding NO!!  NOT EVEN CLOSE!! 


You've all experienced it, and you've all talked about it for years now. Living in 2012 means living in a global economy. Living in 2012 means smart phones and GPS and Facebook and information overload. Living in 2012 means online banking and twitter feeds that end totalitarian regimes. Do we do any of these things in schools? NO!!  (Insert me jumping up and down in frustration).  WE BLOCK EVERYTHING!!! 


We force kids to sit in desks when all of our science tells us that sitting for long hours makes us fat...  and then we complain that we are FAT?? (insert picture of me pulling my hair out). 


We tell kids to collaborate, but when they look at someone else's screen, we accuse them of cheating.


We say segregation is bad...then we put the "smart kids" in one room and the "not as smart kids" in another.


Our administrators say, "Take Risks!" Think outside the box. But if you take the class outside to enjoy the weather, there will be **** to pay.


All this silliness is the normal state of a system that is at the end of its life cycle.  Nothing makes sense. This is normal.  This is ok. It is the signal that it's time to re-invent.




So I ask again.  What is the purpose of public education?


I like the other answers.  An educated populace is a good thing. Education gives a greater chance to pursue happiness. So now the question becomes:


What is education?  What does it mean to be 'educated'?


Try doing a Google search for "50 Things Everyone Should Know." You'll find list after list after list that have been compiled and none of them talk about our curriculum or anything that is on it.


Try doing a search for the biggest regrets of the dying. One of the top five regrets is that people wish they hadn't worked so hard. But look at our system. It's all about working harder and harder.



WHAT IS THE ANSWER? Drastic education reform.


Throw out the walls, the desks, the pencils, the tests, the textbooks. GONE! All of it. Start with a blank slate. Now start building something that will prepare people for the world they live in.


School should be renamed "Life Simulator."

Mistakes should be encouraged. Awards given to the biggest mistakes. Let's make as many mistakes as possible in the "Life Simulator" so we don't make them in the real world. Let's all have fun and learn about life and art and philosophy and the beauty of a mathematical equation. Let's encourage the retired generation to come and give back and start the cycle over again.


Goal 1:  We need to build a system that students are fighting to get into, not out of.

Goal 2:  We need a system that raises all as high as they can be raised, NOT standardized.

Goal 3:  We teach people how to teach themselves; we don't teach them "things."

Goal 4:  We need to build a system that fosters intellectual curiosity rather than squashing it. Let them learn what they want to learn!


Mark Moore

West Virginia Department of Education


Other blogs by this author: The Power of Video  The specified item was not found.

The phrase “21st century skills” is in danger of entering the eye-glazing lexicon of edu-jargon that makes me squirm: as trendy as “world class” or “robust” education system, it is becoming too slippery to grab onto in actual classrooms. While I get that a shared vocabulary can be helpful, I have never enjoyed seeing a term that means something slide into cliché.

So I was grateful recently to meet a teacher who brings the phrase “21st century skills” back to reality by living its call to action every day.

brendone1.jpgLast year, award-winning Producer and Educator Brendon Ellington added college instructor to his resume. Ellington, founder and CEO of Concrete Jungle Production in New York, teaches Digital Video Editing and Communication Technology at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey.

Most professionals can list ways technology has transformed their practice and point to a few skills graduates need today that they didn’t need before. But few fields have been as transformed by technology as film-making.

For Ellington, teaching 21st century skills means navigating the dizzying pace of change in his field due to technology and passing along his new skills to his students. But it also means remembering the skills that will never change and using technology to teach them.

In an interview this month, Ellington discussed how technology is transforming his field, what it means for teaching, and what will never change.


How has technology changed your business and process as a producer?

Technology has changed the entire landscape, with digital technologies improving and becoming less expensive every year. Now I can make a better project at a lower budget and in less time. Digital distribution has also changed, and digital film-making in general also has made the whole process more accessible, more egalitarian now that anyone can put their work up on YouTube or Vimeo.

But it also means that a lot more people need skills that earlier filmmakers never considered. When I was a student, we shot on 18MM, super 8—old dad’s camera—and we put the film through a big machine, so it was very hands on. You had the film; you had to get it developed; you had to run it through the machine. You used a splicer to physically cut it and put it through the machine. Now there is a whole new set of skills students have to learn in the production process.

What skills does your film editing course build in students?

Everyone has to make a three-minute film from start to finish. We go through every step: storyboarding, scripting out the story, creating a shot list, managing a team to create the film, and so on. In the editing process, we have Final Cut Pro 7, which is the same software they use in the industry. We only have one semester, so I exclude dialogue. Also, I encourage the art of non-verbal communication between the characters and audience. We add layers of sound effects later.

To do all of this, I have to break it into steps, because while three minutes may not sound like a lot, in some ways it is pulling teeth. They come in with so many ideas and places they want to shoot. But in three minutes they have to whittle it down to one. Then they have to storyboard, write, and understand the arc of the story.

They have to meet deadlines and learn how painful it is if they get behind in their project. They learn pre-planning, attention and perception, non-verbal vs. verbal communication, understanding media thoughtfully, and approaching it critically. The producer’s choices are all intentional, and students learn about being smart consumers when they have to make those choices as a producer. I push them not to absorb everything that comes their way. Critical thinking is so important here: there are rules and formulas in filmmaking as anywhere else—but they can’t blindly adopt stereotypes either so they have to question rules too.

And students learn about communicating clearly. Creating video is a massive collaborative exercise. They are simultaneously acting in someone else’s film while also managing the recording and directing of their own project, so everything needs to make sense to everyone. If their team does not understand what they want, they haven’t communicated clearly enough.

For example, they can’t say, “I don’t know what kind of blue I want in that scene, but I’ll know it when I see it.” That equals money on a film set, adding to the bill as their team goes through all the blues in the world until they find what they want.

And story! The elements of great storytelling is the hardest one to get.

But once it becomes their baby, I’ve got them. Because when something is their baby, they don’t want to mess up. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into it, and they have something to show at the end of it. I love that because I don’t want everyone to take everything the same way, the transfer of knowledge is that they make it their own. They reflect back on different elements and films.

Does greater familiarity with technology predispose students to learning the content more quickly than before?

Yes and no.  For example, the flow of “File > View" and so on in the editing software is intuitive to them because they grew up looking at interfaces. They are not nearly as timid as someone who didn’t have that.

But I do have to teach them to compartmentalize the process or it becomes overwhelming. The challenge is getting them to question the idea that the software is the end all be all. It’s not. Having the ability to write, visualize, and put all their pieces together, sometimes with a pencil and paper drawing things out, is still important.

What takes some learning is that the software is a tool, like Microsoft Word. It makes the creation process easier, but it is not going to make one a better writer or filmmaker.

In the end, they did a really good job and learned a lot of what it’s like out there. My students had never shot anything before or edited anything before, and at the end of the project, they had a film.

Do the ways students communicate with each other using technology affect your classroom or the process?

My own theory about Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, and texting is that they reflect how fragmented we’ve become with our attention. We’re hardwired to need communication. So in my class they do turn off their cell phones. No computers either. I need them there with me, and once I allow all the devices, who knows where the students' minds are?

Even the possibilities of video for instruction have to be tempered with the fact that direct oral communication is alert and alive. It is a give and take of energy, and I do my best teaching when we break in another direction because of questions that come up. A video can’t do that because it can’t divert to an even better or more succinct point as the students take you there. So while we can use it as a supplement, it isn’t effective as a stand-alone lesson.

What has stayed consistent despite all the changes due to technology?

The core rules of filmmaking haven’t changed, and they won’t. It is still about the craft, story, and art. Everything is grounded in writing. Have it blow up on the page first, and then it might do the same on film. But it has to be there on the page. It still all comes down to story. This is a digital video editing class, but students can’t understand filmmaking unless they understand the process first. So we will spend ¾ of our semester actually understanding what a cut is, why we do a close-up, and why we are using those techniques to express the fundamentals of a story. Students resist this.

They say, “I thought it was going to be easy! This is hard!”

Technology does not remove human beings. Filmmaking still needs all these people to make it work. All of this is operated by somebody, so students need the same skills to get a project done that people have always needed, and more. Learning is still about making mistakes. And it still−will always−depend on story. These lessons stick with students for the rest of their lives.


Final Thought from Kaitlin:

What struck me most in speaking with Ellington is that he seems to have found a balance many educators seek. In this balance, educators utilize technology's advantages and the 21st century skills they require, while not forgetting the fundamental, human core of teaching and learning that will never change.


Thank you, Brendon, for breaking down the edu-jargon into meaningful instructional practice for the classroom. Readers, if you have other “edu-jargon” you would like to see discussed more meaningfully here, please share!

Resources Brendon Recommends:

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Speak Without Fear by Ivy Naistadt 

The Medium is the Message by Marshall McLuhan

Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity by Lawrence Lessig

Digital Cultures edited by Glen Creeber and Royston Martin


What does it mean to “teach 21st century skills?”



Kaitlin Murphy ( www.kaitlinmurphy.org) has worked in education for 16 years, primarily as a middle and high school teacher, but also as a college writing instructor, a teacher at an incarceration facility, a GED and employment skills instructor for teen mothers, and a creative writing teacher in a town community school. She worked at the DC Public Schools for three years as a writer and is a freelance writer, writing coach and communications consultant.


Other blogs by this author:


Interactive Whiteboards – When does the “tipping point” become a plateau?


The robots are coming... Will technology ever replace teachers?

Can you be linked in, online and all over the world, and still…be still?


Technology in the Classroom: Are you a Skeptic, Believer, or Somewhere In Between?

flowers.jpgIn the past week, I have seen a new ad and listened to an interview that referred to common sense. The common sense cry is one of those that really sets me off and makes me want to question what that person means. This truly is one of my hot buttons.


Questions that need to be answered include:


What is common sense? Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as, "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." Thus, common sense (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which people using the term believe that they do or should have. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgement that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way." Retrieved from  Wikipedia on June 27, 2012.


Does everyone have common sense? I submit that we all have common sense based on what we have been taught, what we have experienced, and how comfortable we are in making a decision or taking action when confronted by a situation or problem. Others' common sense will not always be my common sense.


Does common sense relate to a specific right or wrong response? To me common sense means being able to pick the best action or solution to the known situation. This implies that there is no one right way to do most things. It also implies that there has been education and/or experience that relates to the given problem or solution.


Can you learn common sense? I don't believe that you can learn common sense. However, I do believe that you can internalize what you learn and/or experience and use this as one of your internal triggers to make decisions on how to proceed when confronted with a problem.


Can you teach common sense? As teachers, parents, or mentors, we must let our students experience a wide range of problem-solving activities. We can help them evaluate what was successful and why. We can ask what went wrong or could have been better. We can encourage an evaluation that includes what would I do differently if this happens again.


How many times have you said - "I don't understand why you can't do this; it's just common sense!" I must have said it hundreds of times before I was brought up short and began to think about what my students already knew, what they had experienced, and how they put the two together.


Teaching Others


model1.jpgAs teachers, we are constantly bombarded with information about how to be better and criticisms that tell us we aren't good enough. There have been thousands and thousands of pages written on how to teach and how someone acquires a skill. It wasn't until I was introduced to this model that I realized that I didn't really understand what all learners go through no matter how they learn. (Original source of this model is unknown.)


There are four steps shown in this model. The first is Unconscious Incompetence. Imagine your students as you introduce a totally new concept. It is so new to them that they don't know what questions to ask. If there is specific vocabulary, they don't know what the words mean or how to use them. They may not be able to visualize the outcome of the activity. As a teacher, you must find a way to create a level of comfort so that learning can take place.


The second step, Conscious Incompetence, is when the student is becoming comfortable with the subject, is learning the vocabulary, and is able to ask questions so that learning and application of new subject matter can be demonstrated.


The third step, Conscious Competence, allows the student to demonstrate knowledge and to assist others in learning. The student can describe and/or demonstrate with competence the steps and outcomes.


The fourth step shown is Unconscious Competence. At this level, the learner begins to internalize the learning to a point where the act is done with no conscious thought. This becomes so much of the routine for this act that it becomes his/her "common sense." The learner forgets the learning that has taken place and just does it. This becomes incompetence when the learner fails to remember what was learned in order to complete the task.


There is a fifth step which is called Conscious of Unconscious Competence. This is the step that teachers, parents, trainers, and mentors must master and then bring to mind anytime that they are dealing with someone who is learning or improving a skill. The teacher must teach by introducing all of the steps that must be completed for success, using the preferred vocabulary, and introducing a rubric/standard for success.


Next time you hear someone remark on common sense or lack thereof - ask that person: "What is Common Sense?"


Check it Out: Resources on Acquiring a skill



Thinkfinity Resources:


Developing Academic Thinkfinity Skills in Grades 6-12: A Handbook of Multiple Intelligence Activities

6 - 12 | Research Study | Support Text

These skill-based activities will help students develop the academic thinking skills and language to understand challenging content concepts. This easy-to-use handbook of skill-based activities is organized into three sections.


Skills for Group Work

6 - 8 | Tips

This printable teacher sheet, from a ReadWriteThink lesson, outlines and describes the skills students need in order to work effectively in a cooperative work group


Small-Group Reading Instruction: A Differentiated Teaching Model for Beginning and Struggling Readers

K - 3 | Research Study | Support Text

Easy-to-use lesson plans and activities are included in this book to support five stages of reading development, from emergent to beginning, fledgling, transitional, and independent.


Pathways for Advancing Adolescent Literacy

6 - 12 | Course | Workshop

A yearlong professional development program addresses the unique needs of adolescent learners with content on key areas such as gradual release of responsibility, 21st Century literacy, supporting English language learners, content area literacy, and assessment.



National Archives Teachers' Resources

K - 12 | Collection

Welcome to the Digital Classroom! To encourage teachers of students at all levels to use archival documents in the classroom, the Digital Classroom provides Historical documents, activities, and training for educators and students



Do your students have common sense?




Debbie Potts began her career in January 1965 as a Home Economics Teacher in a brand new suburban school. Over the next 28 years, she taught in a total of 5 very different high schools that varied from a small rural community with approximately 125 students’ grades 7-12 to a large suburban high school with just over 5,000 students’ grades 10-12. During that time, she taught both in her major area of home economics and in her chemistry minor. In addition, she was a department chairperson in the extremely large high school and the department coordinator for all of the career and technical education in the second largest school where she taught. In 1993 she took early retirement and for the next 18 years, she worked for a project that is funded through the State Board of Education through a state university. During this time she worked with both Marco Polo and Thinkfinity. She retired on February 1, 2012.


Other blogs by this author:


Debbie’s Doodles:  Meeting our Responsibilities as Educators


Debbie's Doodles: A Look at Curriculum Integration - Is the Language the Same?


Coaches, trainers, and teacher leaders: Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for the many ways you Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership (NETS-T #5), and take stock of the countless benefits you provide your fellow teachers.



The National ISTE Conference this month offered a chance to reflect on the NETS for Teachers and to remember how important leadership is to those educators tackling the sometimes-scary integration of technology into their classrooms.


Standard 5 of the NETS-T reminds us of four key components of professional growth. Consider what you do on a daily basis that has a profound affect on your fellow teachers and supports their personal and professional growth.


a. Participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning.


How often do you meet, either formally or informally, with other teachers as they discuss their upcoming lessons and units? This might be in training sessions, or perhaps even more often these important conversations happen at the teacher mailboxes or over the lunch table. Every time you share a great technology tip or resource directly related to an upcoming theme, lesson, or unit, you are adding to the knowledge available to your school's learning community.


TIP: When you overhear a teacher expressing concern about student mastery of a key content concept in an upcoming lesson, share a technology strategy that has worked for you in the past, and consider sending that same information to all staff teaching that grade level or subject. If one teacher is struggling with that goal, it is likely others will also benefit from your suggestion.


b. Exhibit leadership by demonstrating a vision of technology infusion, participating in shared decision making and community building, and developing the leadership and technology skills of others.


Every time you model the classroom use of a technology tool, you are expanding the vision of your colleagues. They see or hear about what is working in your classroom and are more open to giving a similar strategy a try in their own classrooms.


TIP: Once the activity is a success for you, offer to try out the same strategy in a fellow teacher's classroom. You will be helping the students reach an important curriculum goal and demonstrating to a less-confident associate that technology can be a very effective teaching tool.


c. Evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning.

Find an article by a noted technology guru or a blog about a new technology tool or strategy and share it with your colleagues over lunch. Ask what they think are the pros and cons of giving this a try, and then offer to be the "beta tester" and report back on the results of your trial.


TIP: Ask your students to "rate" the activity, focusing on how the technology helped them grasp the key concepts. Share those evaluations with other teachers, thereby giving them a student-based perspective on technology's benefits and outcomes.


d. Contribute to the effectiveness, vitality, and self-renewal of the teaching profession and the school community.


This one is easy! Every time you choose to use technology in your own classroom or share your expertise with other teachers, you are raising the level of professionalism in your school's environment.


TIP: Take a moment now and then to remember that just by doing what you find effective and rewarding, you are helping other teachers grow professionally. Through your leadership they will gain confidence in their ability to "facilitate and inspire student learning" [NETS-T #1] while adding technology options to their teacher's toolbox.




Please share your own experiences making a difference for other teachers in my discussion,
What did you do for a fellow teacher that reaped the most personal rewards?


Denise Tuck retired after 32 years of public school experience. She now teaches online courses and provides professional development for teachers in the areas of technology integration, meeting the needs of gifted learners, and standards-based instructional strategies.


Other Blogs by this author:


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Guest post by Yolanda Ramos, Director of Professional Development Services, Education Leadership for International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a prestigious global organization dedicated to helping educators more effectively and innovatively use technology to support student learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

VZF and ISTE PDS_403.jpgLeft to Right: Carolyn Sykora, Kristin Townsend, Linda Keller,
Justina Nixon-Saintil, Yolanda Ramos, Talbot Bielefeldt


Leveraging technology to support STEM education is a hot topic here at ISTE 2012, our 33rd annual conference taking place in beautiful San Diego, CA (June 24-27).  At this conference and exposition we discover how educators from around the world are using innovative technologies to help students expand their horizons.


There is a lot of buzz about the Verizon Foundation working with ISTE to help underserved schools use mobile technology to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). To learn more click here (or go to http://prn.to/KZVM7A).


There is a need to further engage students using technology.  Why? The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that before today's middle school students graduate from high school, the number of jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will more than double.


Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs grew three times faster than non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent during 2008–2018 versus 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM jobs.


We here at ISTE were thrilled the Verizon Foundation tapped us to help underserved schools use mobile technology to prepare students for careers in STEM. These schools are in the Verizon Innovative Learning School program, which works with underserved schools across the country, and our prestigious global organization dedicated to helping educators more effectively and innovatively use technology to support student learning in STEM will provide these schools with a robust year-long training program.





Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of education and technology for the Verizon Foundation said, “Our goal at the Verizon Foundation is to implement programs that have a positive impact on student achievement.  ISTE’s experienced Professional Development team will provide insights into the apps and tools educators can readily use to get students engaged especially in STEM subjects.”


Our innovative professional development approach – which includes both live and virtual training -- will be based on an individual needs assessment conducted at each school.


How do you use technology to invigorate your classroom and bring hands-on experience to your students?


Yolanda Ramos_117.png




Post by Yolanda Ramos, Director of Professional Development Services, Education Leadership for ISTE.

For complete details, see attached document: 6-26-2012 ISTE press release


Verizon Turns to ISTE to Help Teachers in Underserved Schools Use Mobile Technology to Prepare Students for STEM Careers

$300,000 Grant From Verizon Foundation Supports Year-Long

Professional-Development Program



EUGENE, Ore. – June 26, 2012 – The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that before today's middle school students graduate from high school, the number of jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will more than double. As schools around the country strive to ensure that their students are building the skills required for success in higher education and STEM careers, the Verizon Foundation, in collaboration with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), will provide schools in underserved areas with the professional development necessary to achieve this critical 21st century goal.


Through a $300,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, ISTE will provide educators at 12 underserved schools around the country with year-long professional-development that will prepare them to facilitate, model, integrate, and apply existing mobile technologies to support digital-age STEM learning. These schools are part of the Foundation’s Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) program.


This blended professional development model – which includes both live and virtual training -- will be based on an individual needs assessment conducted at each school.


“Almost every career today – whether it is in a STEM-specific field or not – requires skills in science, math, and, particularly, technology,” said Don Knezek, ISTE CEO. “Ensuring that educators – at all levels – can use technology to personalize learning, engage students, and help them navigate the path to success in our increasingly global and digital world has long been at the core of ISTE's mission. We are proud to share this goal with the Verizon Foundation and to have been selected to support this important initiative.”


Studies show that minorities, women, and people from low-income backgrounds are underrepresented in the STEM workforce while demand is high and growing. 

Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs have grown three times faster than other jobs.


To help ensure that students are on a path to 21st century success and help bridge this digital divide, educators from the VILS schools will also collaborate with ISTE inside the Verizon Foundation’s professional learning community at community.thinkfinity.org. This free online community for educators will feature discussion topics, resources, and answers from subject-matter experts and ISTE faculty. The year-long initiative will conclude with a virtual conference in spring 2013, where the participating schools will have the opportunity to showcase their successes.


Justina Nixon-Saintil, director of education and technology for the Verizon Foundation said, “Through the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program educators in underserved schools will be able to effectively use technology to further engage students, which we know will have a positive impact on their success and achievement in class.  ISTE’s experienced Professional Development team will provide insights into the apps and tools educators can readily use to get students excited about studies, especially in STEM.”



About ISTE

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through the innovative and effective use of technology in PK–12 and teacher education. Home to ISTE’s annual conference and exposition, the ISTE leadership conference, and the widely adopted NETS, ISTE represents more than 100,000 professionals worldwide. For more information, visit iste.org.

A few weeks ago, I asked my nephews how many of the teachers in their school had a classroom interactive whiteboard.


“All of them,” said the sixth grader.


“Mine too,” said the other, a tenth grader.


“How do they use them?” I asked.


The tenth grader described a mixed bag of creative uses of the interactive whiteboard, preferring it in science class, where his teacher uses it to animate cell respiration and other processes.


The sixth grader chimed in. “My teacher uses his as a coat rack.” Hm...


Why do some teachers use their classroom interactive whiteboards while others don’t?

When I last taught in a high school classroom, a few tech savvy teachers were beginning to experiment with interactive whiteboard technologies. Six years later, we still seem to be hovering on an extended tipping point in which interactive whiteboards are not yet the staples that pens and notebooks are now. I’ll have to check with Malcolm Gladwell, but what is the shelf-life of a tipping point? What is it about this technology that some teachers love while others remain lukewarm?


I decided to talk to a few teachers who are finding out what works best in interactive whiteboard technologies in their classrooms. When a friend and educator mentioned a few excellent teachers she knew who were using the interactive whiteboards effectively, I jumped at the chance to talk to them.


Interactive Whiteboards


For anyone unfamiliar with SMART Boards®, Promethean Boards, and similar technologies, the interactive whiteboards can be used to project anything from a computer to a large white board where students and teachers can manipulate the images. Accompanying software, such as the SMART Notebook™ collaborative learning software, links what students do at their desks to the central board, giving teachers immediate feedback on student work.


Jim Yeaton, Fifth Grade Teacher, Winthrop Elementary School in Melrose, Massachusetts



Now in his 14th year of teaching, Jim Yeaton was experimenting with technology long before his school provided SMART Boards® for every classroom. The precursors to the SMART Board were the overhead projector, dry erase board, and the chalkboard.


“The difference with the SMART Board is that it’s interactive. Anything  passive can be boring, whether it’s technology or anything else. But this is engaging.” After trying a roaming SMART Board shared by multiple  teachers, Yeaton realized this was more than a “special occasion technology.” He even bought his own MimioTeach™ interactive system, a portable device using infrared technology instead of touch.


“For me, technology like this is being presented as use for a special  lesson. But I think it needs to be used every day. SMART Boards draw students in. Kids love them.  And they make teaching easier. Not necessarily better−that takes more than a new technology−but it adds convenience teachers haven’t had before. You need the technology in your room all the time to do that, and most teachers I see have really taken to it.”



Photo: Jim Yeaton and a student

Julie Klipfel, First Grade Teacher, Fuller Meadow Elementary School, Middleton, Massachusetts


At 23 years old, Klipfel is in the first generation of teachers whose own education included SMART Boards®. Though her familiarity may predispose her to using new technologies in innovative and intuitive ways that the rest of us have to learn more intentionally, she is also quick to point out it is not all about age.


“I grew up with  technology as a large part of my life,” she says. “It is easy to figure it out. My mother is a teacher as well, and she uses her SMART Board all the time.”


From a morning calendar that incorporates math skills and days of the week to weather graphs the children manipulate and songs that reinforce learning, Klipfel incorporates interactive puzzles, games, sounds, animations, and graphs to engage students.


She also uses the SMART Board as one of multiple learning stations in order to individualize reading instruction. While some students are creating order from jumbled word games on the SMART Board, others use computers to work independently on interactive literacy activities while Klipfel leads a reading group with students reading from paper books.



Photo: Julie Klipfel

catinhat-and-megs-shower-128[1] - Copy.jpg

Why don’t all teachers use their interactive whiteboards?

       > Greater Need for Training and Support

Yeaton emphasizes the importance of training and support for teachers when introducing a new technology.


“We all got introduced to it a little bit. My district hired someone to go to all the elementary schools and provide training. If you just throw everyone into it, it doesn’t work.”


This may seem like an obvious point, but there are still too many situations in which a technology with potential is plopped into teachers’ laps with little guidance, with the expectation that teachers should seamlessly incorporate it into their classroom activities. Administrators who are frustrated with expensive technologies sitting idle in classrooms can carve in time for teachers to observe tech-savvy educators, such as Klipfel and Yeaton, in action.


       > Loading Time and Glitches

Klipfel says some teachers become frustrated with the delays and dysfunctions that can occur with any technology. Just as producers know silent air time is the kiss of death for ratings, many teachers hear the “tick tock” of technology’s wait time as lost instructional time. Because the interactive whiteboard technologies need to align with the image on the computer or information from the online source, this challenge exists every day.


Klipfel uses the delays to enhance instruction. Sometimes she has students count to ten in the language they are exploring in their morning greetings that month. Or, students count by tens, or backwards from 100. Teachers in other grade levels and subject areas can adapt this approach for their classrooms.


       > Increased Front-End Preparation

Finally, some teachers are deterred by the added time commitment required when first using the interactive whiteboard, including added preparation time to load units and find the best visuals to incorporate hands-on interaction with content. However, Klipfel and Yeaton agree that the increased time is worth the increased level of student engagement.


“It takes time to do all this,” says Yeaton. “I used to use the overhead often when I first started out. Now I don’t have to rewrite a million times every time I want to improve a lesson. Now I have all these math lessons done. I can print them out, give them as notes, and tweak and make things different and better  as I learn year to year. Teachers can create this huge database. The initial work was not small. But now every day I just look over the lesson asking what can I add and how I can make it more interactive.”


       >  Frighteningly Tech Savvy Children?

When it is expected that the teacher be the expert, some teachers new to technology are reluctant to instruct in an area where students are sometimes the experts. This is another reason for more training, but some teachers worry that they will still be far behind kids who have been using technology for years.


In my view, if a kid can shine in the classroom--especially in a challenging content area—this could be the bridge that brings the student a few inches closer to the tough subject. If it happens to come with a chuckle at our expense about what we don’t know, big deal. It shows that we’re learners too. At the very least students need to see we’re willing to be in the vulnerable place of learning we want them to embrace.


Klipfel and Yeaton are inspired by their students’ sometimes surprising level of experience with technology.


Klipfel recalls her first experience with a technology delay in the classroom.


“Students didn’t immediately know what the pencil slot was for on their desks, but they clearly knew how to deal with a technological delay. ‘Don’t worry Ms. Klipfel,’ my first graders told me. ‘It’s just loading!’”


Yeaton sees the same proficiency in his classroom.


“The kids pick up on things I don’t, and I’ve used the SMART Board for years and know what I’m doing. It is fairly intuitive and person friendly, but it’s amazing how kids intuit even more. I had an old book with two sentences for every day for students to correct. It’s a great book, but it’s all on paper. Over the course of a year, I transferred it onto Notebook software. By October they know exactly how to use it. They knew which pen does what and how to erase, move things around, everything. So now they work on sentence skills giving me time to go around reviewing their homework.”


Great Teaching + Powerful Technologies = There is hope for us yet!

When I interviewed Klipfel and Yeaton, what struck me most had nothing to do with interactive whiteboards. I was traveling in a state in which the airwaves are already saturated with negative political ads in preparation for the presidential election. It seemed everywhere I turned I was hearing one more reason we're headed into oblivion if the other guy wins.


This blog is not a political commentary, but just listening to Klipfel and Yeaton offered an encouraging contrast. When you get good teachers talking about their work, they can't help but get carried away--and you cannot help feeling hopeful. Once they get going, they talk very quickly; one thought piles over another about all their students are doing and what their goals are for improving. (You have to be a fast typist to interview them from your car between appointments, thank you very much!)


It may be hard to let go of the classical image of the classroom teachers many of us remember from our pre-technology classrooms. They wore their badges of hard work as chalk-smudged faces and sometimes donned the attractive chalk-dusted hairdo. They scribbled passionately on the board between paces around the room as they engaged in excited banter with the class.


Despite whatever purist or romantic notions of the hard working teachers in our memories, we need to widen the narrative. Commitment and passion will remain the central arc of this important and hopeful story. With interactive whiteboard technologies still hovering on the tipping point of usage across the country, it may be time to find somewhere else to hang our coats.


Resources Julie Klepfel suggests for the SMART Board®:

FullerMeadow - portal that teachers and students use throughout the year

ABCya! Kids Educational Computer Games & Activities 

Spelling & Vocabulary Website: SpellingCity

Storyline Online
Johnnie's Math Page - Fun Math for Kids and their Teachers
We Give Books - Read a book. Give a book.

Resources Jim suggests for the SMART Board®:

SMART Exchange: Easy-to-access educational content - SMART Technologies

Scratch | Home | Imagine, Program, Share - the Scratch program out of MIT teaches kids how to program computers, make their own video games, etc.







Please post your thoughts in my discussion,
How do teachers in your school use interactive whiteboards in innovative ways?



Kaitlin Murphy ( www.kaitlinmurphy.org) has worked in education for 16 years, primarily as a middle and high school teacher, but also as a college writing instructor, a teacher at an incarceration facility, a GED program for teen mothers, a town community school and currently at a community college in New Jersey. She worked at the DC Public Schools for three years as a writer and is a freelance writer, writing coach and communications consultant.


Other blogs by this author:

The robots are coming... Will technology ever replace teachers?


Can you be linked in, online and all over the world, and still…be still?


Technology in the Classroom: Are you a Skeptic, Believer, or Somewhere In Between?

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