Evaluating the Application of Technology Using the SAMR Framework

Presentation and notes from a presentation to faculty at St. John Vianney High School, 16 Aug. 2013.

Subject-specific examples of SAMR:

Ancillary resources used in the workshop:

Storytelling is a Trojan Horse for Learning

Sharing one of Darren Kuropatwa’s latest slideshares below.  I’ve bookmarked the show to start at slide 125, a summary statement with which I fully agree.


Succeeding In Spite of Ourselves?

Quotes that are making me think …

Yong Zhao, in a recent article on the direction of US education, makes this observation:

For historical reasons, the United States is not as good at “sausage-making education” as most other countries are.  A decentralized education system that allows local autonomy, the lack of a national curriculum, a broad conceptualization of success that tolerates diversity, and teaching practices that respect individual differences  have made U.S. schools relatively ineffective in producing students who score high on standardized international tests.  But this very ineffectiveness has made schools more successful in preserving students’ creative and entrepreneurial talents.

Seth Godin, in his Stop Stealing Dreams manifesto, writes

In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old.

There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots.

In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.”

A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned.

James Baldwin, from his essay A Talk to Teachers,

 The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.  The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.  To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.  But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.  What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.  If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.

My open question: Are we succeeding in American education in spite of ourselves?

Book Review: The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools

I just finished reviewing a book for the upcoming METC conference, The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools by Christopher R. Bugaj and Sally Norton-Darr.  It was well-worth the read.  My review is below:

The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Schools

In this volume, authors Christopher R Bugaj and Sally Norton-Darr have woven a quick-witted, down-to-earth account of how their Assistive Technology (AT) team took form. Though the book might seem written toward a specific audience, I recommend it as an important case-study for any leader interested in creating a viable and defensible district team. Buaj and Norton-Darr thoroughly examine the team-creation process – selecting team members, dividing workload, outlining leadership duties, advertising services, establishing procedures, delivering training, scheduling consultations, tracking contacts, and measuring success. While addressing these general strategies, Buaj and Norton-Darr also keep faithful to their task: outlining what it takes to build a team focused on delivering a free and appropriate public education for all students through accomodations that involve assistive technology. For general or special educators alike, this book offers a number of practical measures that expedite the process of getting assistive technology and AT strategies into the hands of kids and teachers. As an added bonus, the authors have done so in a way that makes the reading a delight, and not drudgery. Peppered with personal anecdotes and fictitious tales ripe for re-use when explaining concepts to others, this “practical and fun guide” delivers on both counts. Many of the strategies outlined can be put in place at once, and it won’t feel like hard labor to wrangle them from the text. Kudos to Chris and Sally for an eminently readable account of what is certainly a daunting task: building or improving a district AT team.

Does technology make teenagers into zombies?

Recently, John Lawrence (instructional technology over at Chaminade College Prep High School) passed my information along to a student there who was looking for a teacher’s perspective on technology and teens.  The student’s questions and my answers are below.  If you have any additional thoughts, or have some corrections to offer, please add them in the comments.

1. Do you think that technology has more of a positive or negative effect on the youth? Why?

I think the most appropriate answer must be “it depends.” To the degree that it connects young people to ideas, world views, and those they care about or are interested in, it’s great. To the degree that a particular young person may choose to use it in ways that isolate or distract him, it can be a detriment to his development. In my opinion, if we come to technology with an idea of what we want to productively accomplish by using it, we win. If, instead, we come to technology with a desire for entertainment, self-fulfillment, or escape, we run the risk that the technology may control us rather than the other way round. I think this concept applies to any type of technology, whether we are talking about a guy’s shop full of power tools, a lady’s collection of romance novels, or a teenager’s use of the Internet.

2. In you opinion, why do teens love their cell phones and other technology more than spending time with family?

I’m not sure teens love their cell phones. I think those who “love their cell phones” actually love something their cell phones give them. For some, cell phones give them instant connection to their peer group. Part of the adolescent journey is defining ourselves within one crowd and in opposition to another. Teens have been doing this through peer interaction for generations. Cell phones just add an immediacy to this dynamic that is a powerful pull away from the “established” identity tied to the family. If I already know where I stand as a “son”, I don’t have to think about that. What I really wonder about is where I stand as a … fill in the blank. That’s a big question, and a big reason to be attached to a peer group through one’s cell phone.

3. How do you think that technology can be a good thing?

As I mentioned earlier, technology can be a great connector. It ties us into conversations happening around the world, and allows us to be participants in those conversations, not merely passive consumers. It allows us to archive and analyze our experiences in new ways, ways that can bring patterns to light that we never imagined were there. Athletes use digital video to hone their form, companies use tweets to re-evaluate their marketing strategy, students use tablets to record lectures and review their notes, and the list goes on. Advanced technology coupled with user-generated content has created a vast ocean of information that is growing exponentially. We as a human community are learning together in a way we’ve never done before.

4. What are some ways you think technology can be a bad thing?

I think technology can be a bad thing as any “tool” can branded as “bad.” A hammer is just as effective a tool in creating shelter as it is in tearing it down. Technology connects. It connects moral people to those without consciences. It connects vulnerable children to images of unspeakable evil. It connects teens who feel unsure of themselves to any manner of arenas where they can escape rather than confront their doubts and fears. Ultimately, I think of technology as an amplifier of our intentions, emotions, and actions. If it is bad, it is so because we find our own faults magnified before us.

5. How do you think that technology effects the minds of teens?

That question you might better answer than I. I think a mind soaked in the connectedness of technology has a tendency to be satisfied skimming across information rather than diving into it. This bears out whether I’m thinking of an adult or teenager. I think the teen may have a more difficult time reading or thinking deeply only insofar as he has fewer reference points for the more sustained action of study than has the adult who may not have experienced the same degree of screen exposure. There’s a good body of evidence about what screen time does to children, and a growing debate over what it does to our ability to read. I don’t think that teenagers have been “zombified” by technology, but they do have a more demanding choice before them than have other generations in the past. Through technology, kids and adults have an ‘escape hatch’ from the stress that may actually produce learning. Teens have the added challenge of the innumerable other stressors that adolescence brings, so jumping for that escape might be even more tempting than at other stages of life.

6. Do you think that technology has a bigger effect on younger children than it does on teenagers?

I think it definitely has a bigger effect on children aged 2 and below. Beyond that, I haven’t seen a lot of research on degrees of impact between elementary-aged students and teenagers.

Big thanks to John for passing this opportunity my way, and to the folks at EdTechTalk, whose conversation with me last winter helped me begin to describe technology in terms of one piece of a unified experience rather than a world that operates under separate rules.

Adding Notes to LucidChart

LucidChart is only gaining ground in terms of my appreciation for it as an educational and professional tool.  It has some limitations (no video embedding, for example), but not too many when it comes to wire framing and mind mapping, the two subjects most of my teaching colleagues typically use.

One element I’ve missed, though, has been the ability to hide and reveal “notes” about specific nodes.  The mind mapping software I first used had this ability built-in, and I had about given up hope, until I learned about “hot spots” in Lucid Chart.  The link will point you to the Lucid Chart tutorial on how this accomplished.  The examples below demonstrate what hot spots and “states” can accomplish.

Final Product: Click on the subpoints.

Some steps:

  1. Draw your nodes.
  2. Right click a node and select “Create Hot Spot”.
  3. In the dialog box for actions, select “Toggle” and “New State”.  Title the “state” (which is a layer of information that will display when that node is clicked) with something related to the appropriate node.  I used “Subpoint 3 description” in my example.  Click “OK”.
  4. Draw the note, picture, etc. you’d like to appear when you click the node.
  5. Click the “Page” link in the upper left corner above the diagram paper.
  6. Hide the note, if you wish, by checking the box next to the state description in the dialog box that appears.


By walking through these steps for each node you wish to describe, you will add a bank of “hidden” descriptions that you or your students can reveal as you move around the map.

A New Adventure

It’s been a number of months now since I last added to this blog. So many changes, all at the same time.

1) I’ve taken a new position as of July 2, Instructional Technology Coordinator for St. John Vianney High School, a private, all-boys 9-12 school in south St. Louis County. It’s a departure, culturally, from the large public school district that I have left, and has been an intriguing and energizing change. Private education is a new ball game for me, and I’m enjoying getting to know the excellent staff and great student population here. At the same time that I am coming to understand some cultural differences, it has been encouraging to see many connections between the work of the people here and those at my previous district. Passion for teaching is still the same, the focus on student learning is the same, the concern for helping young people grow into mature, empathetic adults is still the same work at St. John Vianney as it was in the Parkway School District. It is a privilege to begin this new professional adventure, and I am thankful.

2) I finally finished my bathroom renovation project, bringing to an end the barrage of home improvement projects taking place at our home over the last 8 months or so. New siding, new roof, new window treatments, new paint in the living room, new bathroom and updates to the kitchen. I’m hoping to take a break and enjoy this for a while. :)


3) New addition to our family. Hope Elizabeth McAllister was born just this past month. She is an absolute gift, doted upon by her two older brothers. We are learning all the wonders of baby care all over again, and enjoying the memories her care bring to us of the boys when they were this size.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging small things, possibly under the tag “New Learnings”, in an effort to get myself back into the habit of archiving what I know and produce in this ed tech journey. We’ve done some interesting things at St. John Vianney High School in the last few months, and I’ve accumulated a number of experiences more “tech” than “instructional” in nature. I’m looking forward to regaining some of that “instructional” piece with a new development program we’ll be rolling out next semester. More on that soon.

Some Summary Thoughts

from wikimedia commons

Five years of supporting technology in the classroom cannot be summarized in one post.  However, the bullet points below can stand as just a few of the “big picture” understandings I’ve come to believe about technology in light of the view I’ve been given in the position of technology integration specialist.

  • Technology should be applied where it enhances, not duplicates, student learning activities.  Return-On-Investment is a fine principle to apply when considering any Stage 3 learning activity, including those that apply technology.  We should not check our teaching intuition at the door whenever someone suggests a “techie” way to accomplish an assessment or learning activity.
  • Connect outside your classroom. Of all the “21st-century skills” that are touted in education circles, one of the most important happens within a classroom where the teacher is not the sole judge of student performance.  Students creating for peers and adults that live outside the experiences of our classroom walls are motivated by an internal desire to perform, and technology makes this easier than ever before.  We ought to leverage authentic audience whenever we design our units.
  • Leverage the power of the web.  The Internet has fundamentally altered the way space and time affect the process of learning.  Find a website creator and set up avenues to communicate what you know to kids.  Then find an interactive tool that will allow students to communicate what they know to you.  The two-way street, the feedback loop that makes learning happen, is then open 24/7.  Obviously, parameters have to be set and expectations should be negotiated, but ignoring the possibilities of the web will increasingly mean ignoring the culture in which we live.
  • Simple is king.  There are wonderful ways to apply technology to the learning environment that require some technical expertise or a thorough knowledge of the possibilities of hardware and software.  But keep in mind that simple applications have just as much power.  Never discount a way of using technology just because it doesn’t take long to explain.  Share those often – they often make a big difference in the lives of a lot of teachers and students.
  • Never snub novelty.  While curricular big ideas and objectives ought to drive the learning activities we select, we ought never lose sight of the simple fun of novelty.  Kids like to do new things.  Adults like to do new things.  Technology has an endless supply of “fun”, and, when used as one component of our overall design, it can be a powerful ally as we channel student enthusiasm toward the business of learning.

None of the above is new, but I’m confident in every one.  Have one of your own?  Drop it in the comment field below.

Easily Update Your Website with Box and Dropbox

Julie Gerding, English teacher at West High, was looking for a way to update the content she’s posted on her website (primarily documents, presentations, and handouts) without downloading, revising, and then uploading a new version. Isn’t there an easier way? In fact, there are a couple, using Dropbox or Box.com.

The Set-up

Julie’s question was simple, and is a common one for teachers who update material on the web:

“Do you know if there is a way to use Dropbox or something similar so that any files I want students to see on my web site will be updated and available whenever I make a change to the file? Uploading and creating a link for each individually has been a huge stumbling block in allowing me to keep things up to date.”

Of the many online document hosting services available, two that came to my mind seemed a good fit for this problem: DropBox and Box.com (formerly Box.net). I’ve written about DropBox before, but Box.com, one of its competitors, offers a few features that seemed helpful for Julie’s particular need. We talked about the benefits and limitations of each in this particular scenario. Our list is below.

The Options

Drop Box – the Public Folder


  • 2 GB of space
  • User Experience: DropBox’s user experience is so intuitive, it’s almost invisible. Backup is accomplished whenever a document is created or saved with no extra clicks or buttons to select.
  • Automatic URLs: Files created in the “Public” folder of one’s DropBox create unique URLs automatically. Whenever those files are updated and saved, the online version is updated too. Automatic Updating: The DropBox link for that file always points to the most recent version.
  • Automatic Backup: Data is automatically backed up to the cloud as well as to any computer where Dropbox has been installed.
  • Additional Features: Files and folders can be easily shared with other DropBox users, and students can “turn in” work to a teacher’s DropBox through the DropItToMe ( http://www.dropitto.me/ ) website.


  • Duplicating File Structure: In order to generate the unique URL, DropBox requires you to place the item into a special “Public” folder. Using the “Public” folder to store files forces you to copy or move files from your typical folder structure into this new area. In my mind, this could make it easy to misplace files, or forget where to put what files when. At the very least, it means that some unit materials can be found in two places.


Box – the Visual Solution


  • 5 GB of space
  • Update through Office: Box’s Plugin for Microsoft Office allows easy backup and save to the online service.
  • View Documents Without Downloading: Box’s Online Viewer allows ad-free embedding of documents (example here).
  • Embed Folders of Documents: Box widgets allow users a view of all documents in a folder (example here).
  • No Change to File Structure: Since the solution is online only, there is no change to the folder structure you’ve set up.


  • Upload Rather than “Save”: Box doesn’t integrate into your documents structure (like Dropbox does). Instead, you must upload documents to the Box.com website or choose “Save” from the Box-Office plugin.

Julie’s Choice:

Julie chose to go with Box.com for her purposes. Check out what Box.com has done for her Film and Lit class web page.

The Good News:

If you’re already a proficient DropBox user, but you’d like to use this Box.com solution, there’s good news. If you use DropBox to currently store your files, you can still install the Box plugin for Office and “Save” those documents to their service. The bonus will be duplication of your data in the cloud.



10 Applications Every Student Should Understand

Last week I was asked by a teacher to brainstorm 10 applications every student should have some experience with. This is a difficult task, as applications, like most things, come and go. But given the present state of technology, this week’s tip is my personal list of applications every student should understand.

Technically, I came up with a list of categories rather than tools. I’ve arranged the list according to category of tool, followed by a short list tools within that category, and ending with my rationale for including these applications in the list.

Notable omissions include the Microsoft Office Suite and the Adobe Creative Suite. I have omitted these intentionally due to their ubiquity, established reputation as industry standards, and cost. The tools I list below are free, and largely web-based. If you are familiar with Office and Adobe, you will be able to place them within their correct categories.

The List

What am I missing?

After working through this exercise, there are noticeable gaps. I’d love to include tools on how to control feeds (Google Reader, ifttt) and all that goes in to managing files in the cloud (Box.com, Dropbox, Google Drive), but I was uncertain about what to drop in favor of the ones I’ve chosen. Programming (Scratch, Alice) and 3D modeling (Google Sketchup) are certainly categories that prepare students for 21st century careers, but I wonder whether all students would be faced with situations where these tools would be helpful.

After creating this list, I happened upon a wonderful post of similar content but for the adult learning and higher education field. For further reading, I highly encourage that you check out Inge Deward’s blog post on social media tools for e-learning or professional learning networks.

And let me know what I missed!