Thursday, July 21, 2016

Chromebook Tic-Tac-Toe

Chromebooks are functionally like laptops, and yet they're not. So when you're planning a Chromebook training, teachers need some time to explore their differences in order to feel comfortable using them.

In planning our 3-day "Integrate-to-Inspire" Chromebook Institute for this summer, we decided to let teachers collaboratively ferret out the idiosyncrasies of the Chromebook on their own. We also wanted it to be engaging, since this was going to be the first activity on the first day.

And so was born Chromebook Tic-Tac-Toe.

Chromebook Tic-Tac-Toe is played just like regular Tic-Tac-Toe: two players get their Chromebooks and one game board, then they decide who will be X's and who will be O's. To take a space on the board, they have to demonstrate on their Chromebook how to do the task is in that space.

In the example below, X took the top-left square by turning their Chromebook on. Then O got the middle by signing in to their Chromebook. X then took the top-right square by finding how to right-click on a Chromebook, then O captured the middle-right by opening the app launcher.

I love this activity for training because it does a few good things:
  1. It's part ice-breaker, part learning, so it gets people talking and working together.
  2. It encourages participants to look up what they don't know (I politely refuse to give answers while they're playing and instead ask them how they would find the answer if I wasn't there).
  3. They remember what they learned later because they had fun doing it.
  4. They start learning to be self-sufficient and solving problems on their own.
You can get a copy of Chromebook Tic-Tac-Toe by following the link below. There are three games, and each one increases slightly in difficulty. Depending on the ability level of your group, it takes from 30-45 minutes to get through all three boards. Have fun!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Learning to Thrive as an #EdTech Introvert

If you're in edtech, you're in a profession that's built on extroversion: massive conferences, networking events, EdCamps, training large groups of people, training small groups of people, conducting workshops, coaching teachers, keeping an active social media presence, and constant collaboration. If you thrive on social interaction, you've found your sweet spot.

But for someone who tends strongly toward introversion, I'm wondering where myself and others like me fit: the ones who enjoy working quietly in their offices, who would rather go back to their hotel than a crowded restaurant after a day of conference sessions, or who get overwhelmed by the incessant "social-ness" of social media...I wonder how my tribe of fellow edtech introverts can thrive in the career we're passionate about while still feeding our souls with quiet spaces and solitude.

Susan Cain

Susan Cain gets it. I could easily co-sign the transcript of her "Power of Introverts" TED talk as my manifesto. As she clarifies, introversion isn't shyness. The identifying feature of introverts is simply how they respond to stimulation, particularly the social kind.

For me, I feel like there's a meter (kind've like a gas gauge) running in my brain when I'm around people in social settings. The entire time I'm in a group, that gauge is steadily dropping from "Full" to "Empty." And when it hits 'E',' like it or not, I'm done.

To refill that tank, I need to get away. And solitary places can be hard to find in edtech. The collaborative, social nature of the tech, education and instructional coaching worlds often intersect in a storm of information and conversation that leave me overwhelmed and searching frantically for a quiet, secluded corner.

Fixing Me

But even though I don't fit the gregarious, extroverted, energized-by-people mold I see in so many of those around me (most of whom I greatly admire and respect), I also don't feel like I need to be "fixed." My need to recharge by working alone lets me focus on a single task for hours at a time, which lets me quickly make progress on large projects that might otherwise not get completed.

Also, my introverted hobbies like reading, researching, and writing let me take information from a wide variety of sources and then put it back together in new ways. When I've produced something creative (often by accident), it's because I've "indulged" my need for solitude (like someone "indulges" their need for oxygen) and in that quiet space, my brain has been able to do its best and most original work.

More to Come

Since this is only my first year to be fully engaged in the edtech space, I need to give more thought to the intersection of my introverted personality and my extroverted career. A lot more.

But I think I'll just start by making it public: my name is Nick, I'm an introvert in the world of edtech, and that's okay.

("Welcome, Nick," the other introverts in my imaginary support group respond. "We're glad you're here.")

Sunday, April 10, 2016

PicPick: A Better Way to Capture and Annotate Screenshots

I just started creating online courses in Canvas. Since a lot of them are edtech-related, I need a quick way to take screenshots of digital tools, annotate them, then add them to my modules.

My go-to for screenshots has always been the Windows Snipping Tool. The problem is that the Snipping Tool only allows really basic drawing on screenshots. I was having to put my snips into Google Draw to add arrows, text, and the other items to annotate them. Then I'd download the image. Then I'd upload it to Canvas.

This workflow wasn't working.

So in the hunt for a better way to annotate my screen captures, I found the unbelievably free (for personal or non-commercial use) PicPick. Here are the 5 features I'm already loving about this simple but powerful tool.

  1. Set hotkeys for different types of screen captures.

    Whether you want to capture your entire screen, a scrolling window, a region, or grab a capture freehand, PicPick lets you set up customizable hotkeys for all of them. And if you have one type of capture you use repeatedly, there's a hotkey for simply repeating your last capture. I'm a keyboard shortcut addict, so this feature addresses my need for mouse-free efficiency.

  2. Quickly add text and arrows. 

    If you're developing a training and trying to show a teacher where to log in, you need an arrow. As soon as PicPick's image editor opens, select "Stamps" and you'll get an array of options for arrows and a number of other pointy things you might need. Additionally, you can add text on top of your snip to point out what that arrow is there for.

  3. Easily add numbers.

    I tried to do this in Google Draw by creating a text box, copying it, and typing in a different number each time. This is a pain. Back to PicPicks "Stamps" feature: if you choose a number stamp, it will increase each time you use it. In the example below, it makes identifying the different parts of TweetDeck a breeze.

  4. Pixelate or blur sections of your screenshot.

    Maybe your bookmarks bar reveals just a little too much of your personal life. Or perhaps you don't want your email address showing up in the top-right corner of your training materials. Whatever the reason, you can simply select a section of your snip, then pixelate or blur it to keep it under wraps.

  5. One-click sharing to almost anywhere.

    Once you're ready to share your beautifully annotated snip, you can upload it to a site like Imgur, a cloud service like Google Drive, share it through Facebook, Twitter, email, or send it directly to Microsoft Office and Skype. If you're working on training documentation in Word, you can keep one document open, and PicPick will add your new screenshots to it wherever your cursor is currently located. Amazing.

These five features just scratch the surface of this free, powerful little tool. If you create screenshots for anything, you're going to want to give this a go right away.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Chrome Extension: Search Google Drive from the Omnibox

I realized today how much time I waste by going to Google Drive first and then searching for a file. Chrome already allows you to search the web from the Omnibox, shouldn't you be able to search your Drive, too?

The answer is yes. And the creators of the "Quick Search for Google Drive" Chrome extension are making it possible.

This is going to quickly become my most used extension. After you install it, any time you want to search your Drive, just type "drive" in the Omnibox, hit space, then type the name of the file you're looking for. Quick Search will  autocomplete your search results and you just select your file from the list.

Grab "Quick Search" now and watch it quickly become a part of your everyday workflow with Google Drive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

8 Reasons You Should Blog for 30 Days Straight | #30DBB - Day 30

This is day 30 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Here's where it all began...

30 days of blogging. Done. It was my way of getting myself creatively unstuck and writing again. After my 30 day exploration of regimented, daily posting, I consider to have been an great learning experience. Looking back on the last month, here are 8 reasons I think everyone should give it a go.

  1. It's harder than you think.

    And you need to try something hard. You need to prove to yourself that you can do something you set your mind to. Don't freak yourself out, just write day 1. There are days it will be an incredible challenge to find time to write: just plan to write something short on those days. Other days, you might have 8 free hours while you're home with a sick six-year-old: while they nap, that's the day for a long post. Yes, it may be hard to find time and ideas, but if you don't try, how will you grow?

  2. It's easier than you think.

    If you stop wondering if what you have to say is any good, you'll find you have a lot more to say. Instead of self-editing before your words even hit the page, being "obligated" to blog actually makes it easier: you're forced to work with whatever you're thinking about at the time.

    My sadness at the end of MythBusters 14-year-run became this post where I started thinking about how we could leverage their model in education. Instead of talking myself out of it, I just started writing. And when you just start writing, it's easier than you think.

  3. It releases you from having to be perfect.

    One of Seth Godin's favorite phrases is "Real artists ship." A true artist understands that they're up against a deadline, and they have to get their art to a point where it's able to leave them, even if it doesn't match the ultimate picture they have in their head.

    A daily deadline forces you to ship. It's no longer about refining that post until it's perfectly coiffed and it's ready to enter a pageant. Instead, it becomes about getting it presentable enough to release to the public so they can reflect on your thinking and join you in conversation.

  4. You start interacting with ideas instead of just observing them.

    Having a writer's mindset means that anything you come across is fair game for further exploration. The inspiration for this four learning spaces post came during a less-than-interesting classroom furniture committee meeting. Had I not been looking for something to write about that day, I don't know that I would have dug any deeper into Thornburg's ideas about how primordial metaphors relate to our classroom space. I learned a lot by choosing to engage with an unexpected idea.

  5. It forces you to vary your style.

    It's easy to get stuck in a rut. I, for one gravitate towards list posts (like this one, this one, this one, this one over here, and this a few more...and the one you're reading right now...). Not that list posts are bad, but I didn't want to write 30 of them.

    So I explored image posts, a counterpoint post (that's also a list post...I know), reflections on a flooded washing machine and edtech, a post with a handy embedded Form, a video tutorial post, and a product review. Knowing that you're going to post the next day makes you willing to try something different. After all, it's only going to be on your front page for a brief moment in time.

  6. It frees you from the tyranny of analytics.

    Everyone who blogs watches their stats (and they're lying if they tell you differently). It's not egomania (well, sometimes it is), but it's more about feeling like we're contributing to our online community. When you blog occasionally, it's very easy to feel frustrated by a low number of pageviews or retweets. When you blog every day, you realize that just because something doesn't get viewed as much as you'd like, it was still worth writing because it helped you clarify your thinking or express something that had been on your mind.

    This post on creativity was one that had been rolling around in my head for a long time and that I needed to get out. It wasn't read an insane amount of times, but it was something I needed to write because I felt it was important and I wanted to share it. 

  7. It helps you make new connections.

    I wrote this post after a presentation to my Superintendent. In it, I offhandedly mentioned a 27-page-report we had submitted analyzing our 1:1 pilot. Ryan Camire, an instructional technologist from Medway Public Schools in Massachusetts, left a comment and asked to see it.

    After I sent it to him, we realized that our districts were in very similar places in our digital journey. A few days later, we spent 45 minutes on the phone discussing professional development and potential future edtech collaboration. When you put what you're doing out there, it helps other people find you so you can learn together. 

  8. You'll learn something about yourself.

    If you're writing posts that are meaningful to you, you'll learn something about who you are and what you're passionate about. Somewhere in this thirty-day binge, I finally internalized what I had been learning: instruction comes first, then tech. Although it was something I knew, it hadn't gone deep enough to become a part of my thought process. I was too app-focused and not instructionally focused.

    In a small but meaningful change, the description on my blog header went from "Educational Technology" to "Education + Technology." It may seem minor, but that's a significant shift in thinking. My focus is now less about edtech than it is about how tech supports best practices in curriculum and instruction. I'm still going to blog about apps and tools, but I realize the need to look deeper at how we incorporate them to support research-based instructional practices. 

So if you decide to binge for 30 days, let me know. I'd love to support you. For now, I'm interested in what tomorrow will be like. Who knows? Maybe I'll write something...


Monday, March 28, 2016

25 Resources for Chromebook Classrooms | #30DBB - Day 29

This is day 29 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

I've gathered a few of my favorite resources here for those of us who use and love the handy little device known as the Chromebook. This lists covers a broad range of topics: from storage to apps to economic value, so you're bound to find something useful. Happy browsing!

  1. Quantifying the economic value of Chromebooks for schools Google for Education Blog
  2. Web Apps Suggestions Bridgeport Public Schools
  3. Tech Tub Premium (6 Chromebook Storage) Copernicus
  4. Best Practices for Integrating Chromebooks into Teaching and Learning eSchool News
  5. Chromebooks 101: A Guide to Chromebook Success Vicki Davis @ Intel Education
  6. Creativity in Chrome Literacy 2.0
  7. Explain Everything on Chromebooks Explain Everything
  8. GoGuardian - Chromebook Monitoring, Filtering and Recovery GoGuardian
  9. Chromebooks for Learning: The Missing Guidebook crowdsourced Google Doc
  10. Chromebooks on the Digital Learning Farm Kevin Zahner
  11. Anatomy of a successful Chromebook Rollout eSchool News
  12. Top Lessons from Early K-12 Chromebook Adopters EdTech Magazine
  13. 10 Keyboard Shortcuts Every Chromebook Owner Should Know OMG! Chrome!
  14. Editing Video on a Chromebook Classthink
  15. Google Apps and Chromebooks for Special Education and Special Needs Educational Technology Guy 
  16. Why Chromebooks Are Schooling iPads in Education PCWorld
  17. Why Chromebooks Should Rule the School EdSurge
  18. Six Reasons Educators Say They Are Choosing Chromebooks Over iPads, Netbooks and PCs Forbes Tech
  19. Why Some Schools Are Selling All Their iPads The Atlantic
  20. 6 Lesson Learned Rolling Out Chromebooks Texas [Ed]Tech
  21. 5 Chromebook Apps for Student Creation Shake Up Learning
  22. Top 27 Chromebook Apps for Students Chromebook Review
  23. Chromebooks in the Classroom Kathy Schrock
  24. Top 12 Google Chrome Extensions That Enhance Student Learning Beth Holland @ EdTechTeacher
  25. The Chrome App and Extension Database Shake Up Learning

Sunday, March 27, 2016

10 Easy Activities Your Students Can Do With Vocaroo | #30DBB - Day 28

This is day 28 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

I love simple digital tools. They let the technology get out of the way and provide room for students' imaginations.

Vocaroo is a perfect example. This free, online audio recording tool lets students hit "record" and, well, record. Tools like AudioTool, Soundtrap, Audacity, AudioBoo and TwistedWave provide advanced editing features you may need another time, but the simplicity of Vocaroo gets students creating immediately. And if you're a Google Classroom user, collecting work is a simple as students submitting a link (you can see how in the video below).

Students become incredibly creative within the constraints of simplicity: I've seen 5th graders pull out their phones and find sound effects, backing tracks and radio-style drops that they play in the background while they record with Vocaroo on a Chromebook. They'll surprise you.

In honor of this straightforward recording tool, here are 10 easy activities your students can do with Vocaroo.

  1. Podcast

    As a class assessment, students write a simple podcast explaining the content of a lesson or unit to a student in a lower grade level. Have them take a look at this article on planning a podcast and check out this simple script example to get started.

  2. Historical Event Dramatization

    Teaching history? Then it's a perfect time for a dramatization! Have students write a script, then record themselves dramatizing how the event happened. They'll have to know the main characters and major events just to get started, and the research they'll do in the process will teach them more than you ever could.

    To spice it up a bit, ask them how the event would look if it happened in modern times: Who would be involved? Where would it take place? Why? Have them dramatize the current version of the event, then compare and contrast with the original.

  3. Breaking News Report

    This is great for any content area: students have 30 second to record a breaking news segment about what they learned that day. Can they fit in all the pertinent information? How will they communicate a sense of urgency to their listeners? What will catch their audience's attention? Make sure they lead with the most important information to hook those who are listening.

  4. Character Interviews

    After reading a novel or short story, students conduct an interview with a character of their choice. Here are some additional resources from ReadWriteThink, including recommendations for how to conduct a good interview. Let students take turns being both the interviewer and the character.

  5. Raps & Chants

    The rock cycle can suddenly become amazing when you turn it into a rap. And students like nothing more than to hear themselves busting funky rhymes. Have them write, revise and edit their chants first, then record. They'll never confuse sedimentary and igneous again.

  6. Problem Solving Process

    Math gets the short end of the stick in edtech sometimes, but Vocaroo lets students explain why they solved a problem the way they did. Have students write out the steps and strategies they used, explain them, then include an alternate way they could have solved the same problem.

  7. 60 Second Summaries

    Since Vocaroo requires no setup, students can quickly record 60 Second Summaries at the end of class as an alternate form of an exit ticket. I've always liked the 3-2-1 Exit Ticket structure, and it would translate well to an audio recording.

  8. Fluency Practice

    With a focus on reading comprehension, fluency can get deprioritized. But if a student can't read fluently, they're probably not going to comprehend well. Have students read a passage, record themselves, then listen to their recording. Encourage them to jot down three things they could improve on, then record again. The listen/reflect structure encourages students to read a passage several times, which improves their ability to read fluently.

    This is also helpful for students with dyslexia. When they read a passage, then listen back to it while following along with the printed copy, they're able to recognize words they misread and correct them. I had a teacher leave a PLC where I mentioned Vocaroo and try it immediately with one of her students in a resource class. She reported back that the results were very positive as the student made major improvements in fluency each time she completed the cycle of reading, listening and evaluating.

  9. Audio Blogs

    When students write a blog post, they can add a personal touch by adding a link to an audio recording of their writing. Recording and listening to their writing also helps them to hear things they need to revise and edit before they post. (Looking for student blog ideas? There are 10 Quick Wins here.)

  10. Google Forms Audio

    This isn't as much a student use as a teacher one, but it has to be shared. This clever hack was discovered by a 5th grade science teacher in our district. She created assessments in Google Forms, then linked to a Vocaroo recording of the question and answers in the help text. For students whose IEPs required audio support, it was a simple way to for her to expand her reach and provide students with the necessary support.

However you choose to use it, the potential of a simple tool like Vocaroo is almost limitless. Let your imagination run wild!


Saturday, March 26, 2016

10 Quick Wins When Students Start Blogging | #30DBB - Day 27

This is day 27 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

Anytime our students do something with tech, the logistics of the thing are going to make it run a bit slow at first: logging in, navigating around and submitting work all take a bit of time to get comfortable with.

When students start blogging, those same slow-downs happen. That's why I recommend that students' first blog posts be intentionally kept short to allow for the inevitable. Longer, more involved writing assignments can come as the year progresses, but at the beginning, it's good for them to have quick wins: log in, write, then publish to the world.

With that in mind, here are 10 ideas for short, creative posts when your students first start to blog.

  1. The "One Sentence Project"

    This idea comes from Larry Ferlazzo by way of Daniel Pink. Students come up with one sentence they want other people to use to describe them in the future. Starting student blogs with this type of activity is an excellent anchor to be able to refer back to later in the year when challenges come up. 

  2. The 6-Word Story

    It all started with Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Since then, it's turned into it's own website, a 2006 memoirs project, and a Twitter handle (@sixwords). The idea is to have students create an emotionally evocative story in exactly six words: no more, no less. It's short, but it's harder than it sounds.

  3. The 53 Word Essay

    The brainchild of the editors at Prime Number Magazine (yes, it's a real thing), students write a story on a given topic in exactly 53 words. This is an excellent introduction to revising and editing posts, as well as commenting on others' work. Students can post their first draft on their blog and other students can give suggestions on how to focus it into exactly 53 words. Using a site like Word Counter Tool can help students not get too verbose.

    (Note: Depending on the age level you teach, some of the topics in Prime Number Magazine's contest aren't school-friendly. You may want to select some examples to share with the class and not send students to explore the site themselves.)

  4. Haikus

    The classic 5-7-5 syllable structure is a quick way to get students posting an original poetic work. Have them explore the lesson topic from multiple angles by writing several haikus about the same idea. For example, exploring the theme of "loneliness" from multiple viewpoints should result in several very different looking haikus: first days of school, 

  5. Caption writing

    Take a picture from a current event and have students write three different captions as they would read from three different countries. An image of Syrian refugees would be captioned quite differently in certain European countries compared to countries in North America or Syria itself. This opens up a great global discussion and encourages students to be active in taking a perspective other than their own.

  6. 7 x 7 x 7

    From the blog "Write to Done," this prompt has students pick the 7th book on a bookshelf, open to page 7, and look at the 7th sentence on the page. They then write a poem that starts with that sentence and have to limit it to 7 lines.

    As a bit of techie twist, have them open up their favorite social media, scroll down to the 7th post from the top, pick the 7th word, and write a 7 line poem around that topic.

  7. 140 Characters

    Of course, who could forget the classic Twitter restriction? Have students summarize the lesson in 140 characters, but make sure they leave room for a hashtag!

  8. Random First Line Prompts

    Using the idea behind the Random First Line Generator at the Writing Exercises site, give students four possible opening lines related to your lesson, then have them write a paragraph on their blog that extends the idea of their prompt.

  9. Alphabetical Sentence

    In the alphabetical sentence, students work together to create a sentence related to the lesson where each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. It's not going to be easy...(source: Be a Better Writer)

  10. Monosyllables Only

    Can students describe the topic of the lesson using only words of one syllable? If you're talking about "revolution" in a history class, what would that look like? Maybe "Kings and men, both armed to fight, to end one's weight of rule"? However it comes out, it forces students to deeply understand the concept before they attempt to break it down. (source: CopyBlogger)

However you choose to do it, these are just some of the ways to make sure your students (and you) have excellent first experiences as you integrate blogging into your classroom.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Cubetto - Hands On #Coding for the Toddler Crowd | #30DBB - Day 26

This is day 26 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

In a well-lit preschool classroom, three students are gathered on a traditional looking rug with a square pattern design. They pull a wooden board that has a curved pathway closer to their trio, and grab small blocks that look like stylized, multi-colored arrows from the pile next to them. The blocks get dropped into the cutouts on the pathway until they have a serpentine line a dozen blocks long.

Once students have their blocks in place, they push the the little blue button at the end with their pudgy little fingers. Suddenly, a wooden cube with an inviting smiley face on the front starts to move forward. After several squares of forward motion, he takes a quick right, then a left, and stops at his final destination, a rug square with a picture of a house on it. The kids clap and squeal, then dump the blocks out so they can try a different path.

 You've just met Cubetto.

This friendly little cube with the Arduino brain is introducing kids as young as 3 to the logical thought process behind computer science. Cubetto is currently in its KickStarter campaign, where it's blown its original $100K goal out of the water and is sitting pretty at over $750,000 in pledges. Clearly this is something the people want.

The brilliance of Cubetto is that it allows students to escape screens and examine programming in an intuitive, hands-on way. Simply drop blocks into Cubetto's Montessori-approved pathway, and you've created the set of directions that Cubetto will follow as it navigates the world. Think Scratch meets Sesame Street.

There's even a function block for students to explore patterns and subroutines. When the program reaches the function block, it triggers whatever 4 step routine students have created below the pathway, then returns to the original program.

The potential of Cubetto as a way to engage even the youngest learners in computational thinking is incredible. Primo Toys, the maker of Cubetto, has developed a teacher resource center so support Cubetto in the classroom. The resource center is currently in private beta, but you can get a sneak peek with their easy-to-follow Teacher's Guide. And based on their KickStarter reward level, maps and storybooks look to be an integral part of the Cubetto ecosystem.

If you're an edtech coach who supports the elementary levels (like myself), an administrator with young students in your building, or a PreK teacher who introduces students to school, Cubetto is worth exploring as a potential component of your early childhood curriculum. It's simply and beautifully brilliant.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The 4 Stages of Learning (and why I think there should be 5) | #30DBB - Day 25

This is day 25 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

Take a moment and think back to your first year in education.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

(music quietly plays in background...the gentle chirping of crickets...)

Welcome back.

If you took the time to stop and think, you may have experienced a slight shudder as you recalled everything you know now about teaching that you had no idea about back then.

And as you think about that potentially embarrassing time, you might not even be able to put into words what you're doing differently now that's effective, you just know that it works.

You've just envisioned yourself at the beginning and end of the 4 stages of learning. Thank you for playing along, you were wonderful.

Understanding how we develop skill in any area is important for educators, not just to better understand our students, but to better understand ourselves. Who we were when we started teaching is not who we are now: we've recognized that there's a lot we don't know, and we work to find new information to improve the areas where we struggle.

Here's a brief summary of the four stages of how we learn new things, and at the end, I'll propose a 5th that lets us exert a greater influence on the world around us.

Hierarchy of Competence
  1. Unconscious Incompetence

    At this stage, you have no idea what you don't know. You are a blissful, oblivious idiot. Don't feel bad, everyone has to go through it.

    When I think about lesson planning and how poorly I did it at the beginning of my teaching career, I didn't realize how bad I truly was. Ignorance of what good instruction should look like kept me from understanding how all the components of a lesson should work together.

    Everyone begins here, but if you're aware of it, you know you should start working to get yourself out of it.

  2. Conscious Incompetence

    At this part of the cycle, you've become aware of what you don't know. In my 4th year of teaching, my district brought in a new evaluation system that included a super-detailed rubric identifying the components of strong teaching. It was at that point I realized I had a really long way to go to become an even halfway decent educator.

    Becoming aware of incompetence is painful, but it's the first step toward becoming better.

  3. Conscious Competence

    When you identify a body of knowledge and work to master it, you start to become aware of why you're being successful at what you're doing.

    I remember this stage when it came to classroom management. After being terrible for a very long time (an extended stay in the incompetence phases), I realized there were certain techniques that were effective: proximity, lowering my voice instead of raising it, overlooking inconsequential behavior, planned transitions, etc. Once I knew these things existed, it took a great deal of effort to make sure I used them. But when I did, they worked. I was fully aware of what I had to to become better, so I became very intentional about doing those things.

  4. Unconscious Competence

    Finally. You've arrived (although in just a minute I'll argue that you haven't). Everything you've spent all that time toiling over becomes automatic.

    As a piano player of 25+ years, this particular skill set now falls into the category of unconscious competence. I couldn't even tell you why my hands land where they do on the keys anymore, they just do, and it typically sounds alright.

    As educators, this happens when we can picture how a lesson will go before we even teach it, and we can recognize in advance instructional roadblocks we'll need to address. We've done it so much that it's automatic.

And so the cycle ends, in a nirvana-esque state of flow, never again to wonder why we are so exceptionally awesome at what we're doing. We just do it.

But the more I learn new things and teach them to others, the more I think there should be a 5th stage. Let's call it "Reflective Competence."

Reflective Competence comes after we've achieve conscious competence. In my experience, there is a danger in that 4th stage that we'll stop reflecting on our practice and instead just accept that we're good at something. In doing so, we stop thinking about what got us there.

With some skills, like driving a car or riding a bike, stage 4 competence is probably fine. But in teaching, tech integration, coaching, administrating, and pretty much everything else related to education, choosing to not be reflective will cause you to stagnate and die. Not only that, it prevents you from effectively sharing your experience with others in a way that helps them become better.

I think the best instructional coaches live in the reflective stage. They're constantly examining what has made them really good at what they do as they reflect on and analyze their successes and failures. In doing so, they find effective patterns that they can share and help others build their skills in a systematic way.

So I propose moving beyond unconscious competence in education, and pushing ourselves to do the hard work of reflecting on what got us where we are. It's only when we reach reflective competence that we can start making the people around us better.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

10 "Two-Minute Tech" Tips for Teachers | #30DBB - Day 24

This is day 24 of "The Thirty Day Blog Binge." Learn more

Each week I send out a "Two-Minute Tech" email to the seven elementary campuses I support. Sometimes it's a good keyboard shortcut, other times it's an instructional tool, then sometimes it's delightfully random (Google Easter Eggs, anyone?). They're typically things that wouldn't occupy an entire training and that teachers can start using right away.

This post is a collection of 10 those handy little tidbits. Enjoy!



You want to use YouTube videos in class, but you never know what ads, comments, or related videos are going to show up that you don’t want kids to see.

Check out this week’s Two Minute Tech video to learn about Watchkin, a free and easy online tool that cleans up YouTube so it’s safe to use with your students.

26 Keyboard Shortcuts Every Teacher Should Know

There are ways to save a little bit of time that can make a big difference, and using keyboard shortcuts is one of them. Attached you’ll find a list of 26 time-saving shortcuts for some of the programs you use the most: Windows, Office, Powerpoint and the Chrome browser.

Try starting small and pick three shortcuts that you can use every day. Start to see what a difference it starts to make in your efficiency. You may just start finding time you never knew you had, and who couldn’t use more of that?



Sometimes you have massive PDF files and you really only need 3 pages of it for what you’re doing. The answer to that problem is PDFSplit. Upload any PDF to this free online tool, and choose which pages you want to extract. It’s a lifesaver when you’re working with large curriculum documents or other resources for your classroom.

Check out this week’s Two Minute Tech video to learn more!


2x YouTube Videos

When you browse YouTube for videos to engage your students, it can be tedious to watch everything in real-time. You can cut your previewing time down in a big way by using speed controls in YouTube. Next time you’re looking through videos to see if they address what you need for class, try this:

  1. Click on the gear in the lower right-hand corner of the video.
  2. Select "Speed."
  3. Try adjusting the speed to 1.25, 1.5, or 2.

When you preview a video at double-speed, a 4:00 video only takes you 2:00. You just saved time (and you get used to the chipmunk sounding voices after a while).



Research tells us that kids learn better when they have frequent opportunities for movement (and let’s be honest, so do adults). That’s why this week’s Two Minute Tech is focused on GoNoodle. With a free account, you get access to GoNoodle’s video library of class movement activities: everything from simple stretching and deep breathing to dance and indoor recess.

Check out this week's Two-Minute Tech video to see how easy it is to sign up and navigate. So when your students need a “brain break,” pull up GoNoodle and let ‘em move for a few minutes! You’ll be glad you did.


Outlook Shortcuts

Checking email is rarely the highlight of anyone’s day, so you might as well be efficient about it. Try these keyboard shortcuts in Outlook and see if you start spending less time answering email and more time doing what really needs to get done.

Ctrl + N – new email
Up Arrow/Down Arrow – choose messages
Ctrl + Click – select multiple messages
Delete – delete email
Enter – open email
Alt + R – reply
Alt + L – reply all
Alt + S – send

Check out this week’ Two-Minute Tech video to see email efficiency in action, then try adopting some of these into your daily routine.


Classroom Timers

Every teacher needs a timer, whether it’s for counting down a station rotation, time left in an assessment, or the number of minutes until your bellringer needs to be finished. Here are 4 great tools to help you with that.

  1. Google
    • Go to
    • Type in "Set a timer for ______ minutes" and hit enter. (put any number in the blank)
    • Click on the "Full Screen" icon to have the timer fill the entire screen.
  2. Online Stopwatch
  3. - for those of us who enjoy the old school kitchen timer
  4. Countdown Timer
    • Click "Get Started."
    • Add music to your timer (click the music notes)
    • Set multiple timers in order (click the plus sign)
    • Set it up like you want it, click the "Save" button, and bookmark to use again and again!
Ctrl + Click

Small things make you more efficient online. Like when you’re faced with 260,000 pages of search results…you click one link, then click the back button when it’s not what you want, then try to find your place on the search page again, then you click another link…that is a waste of your precious time. Instead, try making one small change:

Ctrl + Click

If you hold down the Ctrl key and then click on a link, it will open it in a new tab behind your current page. Open several search results first, then browse through them, keeping your original page open so you can come back to exactly the same place.

It’s simple, and it’s one of the best ways to increase your efficiency and take back some time to focus on the things you really need to get done.



As we head into the break, resolve to take some time for yourself. And as you do that, take a minute and check out Wunderlist, an amazing free app to help get you organized personally and professionally. It was named “App of the Year” in 2013, and it’s my personal favorite of all the “to-do” apps out there. 

Here's how to get started in 4 easy steps:
  1. Go to and create a free account.
  2. Select a few lists from their suggestions (you can add your own later)
  3. Click on a list from the left-hand side and type in your first "To-Do" at the top.
  4. When you've finished your task, click the box on it's left-hand side to check it off. That's it!

After you’ve got that going, download the free Wunderlist app to your phone (it’s available for every type of device…except maybe that old flip phone from 2002 your mother insists on using), and sign in with the same account. Like magic, everything will be synced up automatically.

Wunderlist also lets you share your lists with other users so you can keep your whole family (or grade level team) organized and on the same page.

So as you take a break, do something nice for yourself and get organized with Wunderlist.


Formatting Email Hyperlinks

Are you sending a link home to parents in an email? Here’s something to consider:

Or they can look neat and tidy, like this: Map to LISD Administration

In Outlook, here's how to get that nice, clean, professional look for your email links:
  1. In your email, type the text you want to make into a link.
  2. Highlight the text.
  3. Press "Ctrl + K."
  4. Copy and paste the link you want to use in the box that says "Address" at the bottom.
  5. Click "OK."
To make sure the link goes to the right place, use "Ctrl + Click" to check it. The people receiving your email will just have to click on the link to get to where you want them to go.