The End of an Era – Part 1

After nine wonderful years as a member of the Technology Department at Marin Country Day School, this will be my last full week before I begin to transition to my new position as Director of Technology at Jewish Community High School of the Bay Area. There are so many things I am looking forward to in this next chapter — the opportunity to work with high school students and faculty, to work with a “new” school that just celebrated its 10th birthday, to move from a large school to a much more intimate community to name just a few — I am beginning to wax poetic about all the things I will be leaving behind.

While I pride myself on having created a mostly-paperless workflow in my office — I had cut down to a mere 5 or so manilla folders in a half-empty drawer over a year ago — my digital file cabinet is rather stuffed full. The great news is that most of my files live in the cloud already, making the transition away from MCDS servers and storage a snap. Here are some of the reasons why transitioning my files is turning out to be such an easy process:

  • My current school’s Exchange email has been forwarding everything to a personal Gmail account for the past three years, which I set up for backup purposes. This now gives me a searchable database of my school Inbox. The only downside is that it doesn’t forward Sent emails.
  • I exported Exchange Contacts and Calendars into my Google account — a bit of a painful process since my calendar was so large, but I eventually made it work.
  • As a very infrequent user of Microsoft Office, iWork, my files are almost always created in Google Drive or on my iPad. My Drive account is already tied to a personal email address, but I saved a copy of all my documents using Google Takeout just in case.
  • Anything I don’t save to Google Drive typically gets saved in my Dropbox Pro account.
  • I have an Evernote Pro account, which has fast become the place where I jot notes, clip articles from the web and save text from crucial emails.
  • I have a complete backup of my school iPad synced to my personal iTunes account
  • I purchased a Family Account from Crashplan earlier this year, and my school and home devices have all been performing daily incremental backups to this account. When I get a computer at my new school, I will have the option of restoring files from Crashplan onto my new machine.
  • Crashplan is also the place we backup our photos and music. But just to be safe, I’ve been using my newly upgraded 1TB(!) of free storage on Flickr to backup my important photos and videos, and subscribed to the iTunes Match so my music library lives in the cloud rather than on my devices.

Moving “stuff,” of course, is a small part of this big transition. But I think about the suite of tools at my disposal and marvel at how much easier it is to move 9 years worth of data than it was when I made my last career move. To be continued…

Tech in the K-8 Differentiated Classroom

Here are the slides from my BATDC presentation on Monday at the lovely Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. The topic was “Tech in the K-8 Differentiated Classroom” and was the 3rd in a 4-part workshop with 20 participants from local independent schools. I mostly showed examples of student and teacher projects that work well with a variety of levels and outcomes, and I co-presented with a terrific woman named Amy Symons-Burke. You can read more about her and differentiated instruction here: — the best part of it was showing off all the terrific technology-rich work our teachers and students have done over the years.

Survey of Spelling and Vocabulary Apps

I have been collecting and testing a variety of spelling and vocabulary iPad apps for upper elementary over the past few months. Many of these are great tools for assisting kids with Word Study, sight word practice, etc. All have been road-tested by my own own 10-year old sons, sometimes to their chagrin! Several are similar, but here’s the list:

Spelling Practice Apps:
  1. Spelling City: Based on the great Spelling/Vocabulary City website, you can set up a teacher account and upload your own spelling lists. Kids search for your name in the app and get your lists!
  2. My Spelling Test: I just upgraded to the paid version (which is in self-service) and I think this is great! You enter your own spelling lists and record yourself saying each word (or a sentence using this word) and then take a test where you hear the word, then type it. Keeps track of your past scores.
  3. Squeebles Spelling: Similar to My Spelling Test, but once you’ve passed a certain number of spelling words, you get little creatures called Squeebles, which allows you to play a mild version of Angry Birds where you get to fling Squeebles with a “squeeberang.”
  4. Pixopop Sight Words: Has 3 modes: flash cards, word challenge and spelling. You can use their word lists or add your own. Interface is a little babyish, but may be appealing for some.
  5. Word Wizard by L’Escapadou: Has a magnetic alphabet mode and spelling quizzes with lots of pre-built word lists. You can also add your own lists. One of our Student Support Services staff members found this app last year and loved using it with her morning remedial reading group.
  6. Simplex Spelling: I’ve downloaded the free version of this app, but I like how they have both a spelling app and a phonics version. In the free version you have to experiment with their lists, but you can add your own in the paid one.
Word Study/Vocabulary Organization Apps:
  1. iCardSort: A basic sticky-note app that lets you color-code and move words around on your screen. Great for open sorts, alphabetizing and categorizing words. Another member of our Student Support Services team discovered the COOL built-in feature that lets you BEAM your iCardSort page from one iPad to another automatically! You can shuffle cards and group them as well.
  2. Corkulous Pro: Great tool for lots of uses, including word sorts. Because you can add photos, you could do a photo prompt with each word
  3. Flashcards Deluxe: Simple flashcard app, but what’s cool is that you can search databases of OTHER people’s flash card decks. I actually found some great multiplication flashcards this way, but I’ll bet you could find some vocab decks as well!
  4. Quizlet: Similar to Flashcards Deluxe, but slightly simpler interface. Easy to create your own cards or use others’.
  5. Notability: Kids can create a notebook for vocabulary words, either from Word Study or for kids to add to as they do independent reading. You can add text, audio clip, photo or drawing to any page.

Photo Credit:

On Sharing

It’s that time of year again — the K12 Online Conference will be hosting live and asynchronous sessions through November 12. This year they’ve added an iTunes U channel so you can get audio or video podcasts of the sessions as well. Today I discovered Dean Shareski’s brilliant 2010 pre-conference keynote from K12 Online on Sharing: The Moral Imperative — it really struck a chord and echoes many of the conversations we are having at school this year. See some highlights from his keynote below, or watch the whole 25-minute version here.


A Great Use for Your Browser’s “Top Sites” Screen

Our 1st Grade classroom teachers are maintaining individual Blogger blogs for each of their students this year, having carefully set up each blog with appropriate privacy settings to turn the blog into a private portfolio for parents. One potential downside for the teacher, however, is the labor involved with maintaining 20 individual blogs! One of our first-year support teachers came up with the (brilliant) idea of using his browser’s “Top Sites” screen to create a visual shortcut to each kid’s blog. The results are below — voila — an easy way to get in and out of each student’s blog quickly and efficiently!

Upper School Parent Tech Night at MCDS

For the second year in a row, MCDS recently sponsored an Upper School Tech Night for Parents. The purpose  is to educate parents about the technology initiatives at school, to hear from parents about how our 1:1 pilot is goingat home, and to field questions and distribute information about setting up a home environment for their technology-using teens and pre-teens. Here is the link to the website  with resources we used for the evening:

Thumbs Up for Toontastic iPad App

My 8-year old sons and I have been playing with launchpadtoys terrific iPad app, Toontastic, with great results. Use built in backgrounds, characters and music to tell a sequenced story, then upload them to ToonTube, a parent-protected gallery of finished Toons. The app lets you create your own backgrounds and characters, and rumor has it that more built-in stuff is coming soon. Big fun! Here’s the one we just made:

Blogging from the Cafeteria

One more thing to love about working at MCDS — our two Directors of Food Service at MCDS requested a blog space on our school website over the summer, and have been blogging about recipes, composting, nutrition and how our WONDERFUL lunches are put together on their “What’s Cooking” blog. Enjoy!

Feed: feed://

BLC10 Reflections

It’s been over a week since BLC10 ended, but it’s still on my mind. It was a tremendous experience, largely because I attended the conference with seven colleagues, including our Upper School Division Head, our Student Support Services director and five classroom teachers. We blogged together throughout the conference, a practice which we began at BLC08. Here are my major “takeaways” from BLC 10:

Takeaway 1: Traveling with colleagues is the most effective form of Professional Development there is. Period.

  • It creates a shared vocabulary & facilitates simultaneous transformation
  • It provides an opportunity to generate new ideas together based on sessions, keynotes, extended conversations
  • It reinforces your message to faculty without you having to say it
  • It gives time and space to get to know colleagues socially, builds communion and trust and respect and shorthand and mutual appreciation and the desire to work together more closely

Takeaway 2: We should all see ourselves (and our students) as creators and makers

  • Kids have creative voices and ideas and visions that our “assignments” don’t tap into
  • If we’re asking questions that already have an answer, they’re the wrong questions
  • It’s exciting to mash-up each other’s work and build upon it
  • Kids think they are meaning-seekers. We need to help them become meaning-makers
  • Kids (and teachers) as bloggers & writers – give them their own space, their own domain
  • When we create, we can change the world. People are already doing it.

Takeaway 3: We each have a digital presence. It’s up to us to determine and shape what’s there.

  • Find out what’s “out there” about you or your organization (using tools like Google alerts) – it’s like pulling your annual credit report, but ongoing
  • PLNs: Your value as a professional partly lies in your connections to others and to information (i.e. Jeff Utecht’s job search)
  • Joining in the conversation defines your voice and presence – you’re creating a bigger picture of who you are every time you speak up or publish something online. (Be aware of tone – almost like being in interview mode)
  • Have a digital “calling card” (i.e. your own domain) that links to all of your online places
  • Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn – educators are traditionally terrible at this, but there are ways to do this

Takeaway 4: Tools and Technology to Consider

  • iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads and Kindles(!) are potentially powerful learning and teacher tools. You can make movies, extend your class or school library, find apps for everything.
  • RSS, Tags and hashtags are your friends – in Flickr, in Twitter, when referencing a PLN or conference
  • What is your “container” for your class or school? It doesn’t really matter, but you want one place to aggregate everything (blog, wiki, webpage, etc.)
  • Give students their own blogs, their own domains, their own opportunities to create a digital portfolio that follows them throughout all the grades. You can always use aggregators (like Netvibes) to pull the RSS feeds from all their spaces onto a single page
  • Libraries need two front doors – the physical and the virtual door. There are zillions of resources out there to help build a content-rich virtual door.
  • Flickr – so much great, copyright-friendly stuff for you and your students to utilize. What content are you adding, tagging, sharing for others to use and connect to you?
  • Twitter – Connect, learn, be polite, retweet others’ ideas, share what you’re doing and learning and thinking. Twitter is changing customer service, marketing, politics, business, media, career development

Prezi for USF Class

I’ve been invited to present to a group of pre-service teachers at University of San Francisco tomorrow night. They are taking a basic technology class which is being taught by a High School teacher, so I’ve been asked to show some of my favorite tech tools for K-5 teachers that are not otherwise being represented in the course. I used the opportunity to familiarize myself with Prezi, so here it is!

Chase Films

I have the great luxury of working with a group of 8th Graders and another teacher for the final three weeks of school on an intensive Film Project. Here is a one-day chase film they made, keeping in mind the concept of camera positioning and not “jumping the line.” Enjoy!

Join in the PowerPoint Revolution!

Change is in the air…I can smell it! We just launched two projects, one in 5th Grade, one in 8th Science, both involving yet another assignment involving PowerPoint/Keynote. My colleague and I have been working on a resource list for teachers & students, chock full ‘o examples and reasons why the old-style bulleted list slide shows are a thing of the past. To see our resource list, loaded with examples and links, just click here.

An old camp counselor of mine, Robert Goodman, is singing the same tune. Joyce Valenza just wrote this blog post on the very same topic. And having attended the recent CAIS 2009 Regional Meeting, I must say that there were far fewer “death by PowerPoint” presentations to sit through.

Hopefully our students will take the new thinking around designing electronic slides to heart. I promise to post examples here when projects are finished!

Lawrence Lessing on Fresh Air

Terri Gross did a marvelous interview with Lawrence Lessing on Fresh Air yesterday. He’s a Stanford professor, a columnist for Wired Magazine and is a chair for Creative Commons. I’ve already listened to it twice…here’s the link:

(Image courtesy of

Reading for Pleasure as a Rip-Mix Experience

I just finished reading a post on WebLogg-Ed describing the Rip-Mix concept. I’ve been looking for the right terminology to describe an experience I’ve been having recently and “Rip-Mix” may be just the ticket…

Lately I’ve been reading Girls Like Us, a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. The book is laden with references to specific songs, regions in Canada, neighborhoods in NYC, musicians I’d never heard of, historical events, etc. What I’m finding is that it’s impossible to simply curl up with this book unless I have my laptop right next to me. As I read, I’m listening to snippets of songs in iTunes, looking up locations in Google Earth, searching for photos, reading articles, watching obscure vintage YouTube videos of these performers and listening to a custom-made Pandora station as the soundtrack as I read. I usually read as a way to “unplug” at the end of the day, but with this type of book I’m finding it virtually impossible.

Clearly, it’s time to switch to fiction for my next bedtime reading!

Nearest Book Meme

I just saw this meme on Andrea Hernandez’ Ed Tech Workshop blog…here goes:

The Rules:
  • Get the book nearest to you. Right now.
  • Go to page 56.
  • Find the 5th sentence.
  • Write this sentence – either here or on your blog.
  • Copy these instructions as commentary of your sentence.
  • Don’t look for your favorite book or your coolest, but really the nearest book.

I’m sitting in a meeting in an 8th Grade English classroom right now. I grabbed Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier off the shelf, which I haven’t read. Here goes:

“And I wiggled my sack onto my back and walked on.”

Who’s next? Go for it…quick & easy.

Blogging with Colleagues – Part 2

I have been (sporadically) blogging since 2006! For the first time this summer, I had the opportunity to try blogging with my colleagues, which you can read more about here.

This past Fall, our Upper School (grades 6-8) Division Head decided to incorporate some Web 2.0 tools into her administrative repertoire. Rather than passing out the thick 3-ring binder with paperwork at our August division meeting, she created a series of Google Docs which she updates monthly. Before each Division Meeting she sends us an iGoogle tab with the Google Docs front and center, and features widgets on the tab that teachers might find useful and interesting (Spanish Word of the Day, This Day in History, NASA Image of the Day, etc.)

She has also been asking us to bring our laptops to each division meeting, where we have been taking the first 10-15 minutes of meeting time to leave comments on a blog she set up for the division, in part to address inevitable technical issues on the spot, and partly as a way to ensure that everyone contributes. Several colleagues immediately balked, asking “why are we taking valuable time away from our meetings to type our thoughts instead of talking face-to-face with the people here in the same room?!” She persisted.

This month she posted a series of questions on the blog ahead of time about some Fall professional development events we’ve participated in. She asked us to leave comments on the post PRIOR to our division meeting. Here’s a comment I just noticed this evening:

“I must confess that my initial reaction to the blog requirement was not especially favorable because I couldn’t quite see the advantages of pecking away at my keyboard instead of sharing oral comments in a face-to-face setting. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that this served a need for which I have long advocated: some sort of a public forum for colleagues to share their thoughts about guest speakers and large-scale meetings. For example, I was disappointed in certain features of J’s presentation (e.g. she rushed through the more nitty-gritty material in the second half of the talk and she passed out 22 pages of hard copy to each individual while espousing sustainability at all levels.) On the other hand, I am encouraged to hear through the blog that many of you felt inspired and well informed by what she shared (which has modified my own reaction to the presentation.)”

And here’s another:

“I think this is a great process (the blogging) because it frees up time for other things in meetings. I will defer to the teachers about what those things should be, but it seems like a good use of time to prethink and communicate with each other and not rehash all this in a meeting setting.”

Alas, yet another example of one of the most important personality traits an administrator ought to possess which I sorely lack…patience with the process.

(image source:

My Maiden Voyage with Skype

Two weeks before the Thanksgiving Break, Richard Kassissieh, Director of Technology at Caitin Gabel School invited me to “virtually” attend a meeting he had organized for his World Language teachers. One of his Spanish teachers has been experimenting with Voicethread for the past several months, and he wanted to share with his colleagues. Knowing that I am a Voicethread enthusiast, Richard thought it might be interesting to have me at the meeting as well. So for the first time, I Skyped into the meeting and “sat” in the corner of the room, listening, learning, and contributing to the conversation in Portland, OR from my own desk in the San Francisco Bay Area. I know that Skype is no longer a new technology, but the concept of inviting someone from “the outside” into our meetings in the role of co-learner was completely transformational for me. Thanks so much for the invitation, Richard…we can’t wait to bring you to one of our meetings!

  • Read Richard’s account of our meeting here
  • See the list of Voicethread examples I provided here
  • See the list of Voicethread examples from Caitlin Gabel here

Simple but Elegant – Our New Story Blog

Sometimes the simplest ideas in teaching truly do produce the most glorious results. Our Director of Diversity approached me in August with an idea — she was bringing the marvelous “In Our Family” portrait exhibit to our school for a month, and for the opening evening she was hoping to include a family storytelling component where participants could have the opportunity to tell a family story, record it, and burn it onto a CD. She was picturing stories along the lines of the amazing StoryCorps project so many of us have grown to love during our morning commutes with NPR on the radio. Better yet, I suggested, why not open the storytelling opportunity up to teachers, staff, students, parents, anyone in our community and put all of the stories on our own blog/podcast?

The results? We’ve been working on the project for a little less than a month, the opening of the Exhibit was this past Friday, and you can click right here to hear the unbelievable, poignant, funny, touching stories our MCDS Community Members have shared. We now plan to continue the story recording process during Grandparents Day and throughout the year.


Voicethread MathCasts in 7th Grade Algebra

One of our math teachers is experimenting with using VoiceThread for pre-Algebra homework with his 7th graders. Here are the initial results. He’s our first teacher with a classroom account ($60 for the school year) which lets his students log in with unique usernames and allows him divide his students into different class groupings in order to track their contributions to the site.

Fall Follies

Every June my ed tech colleague and I meet and plan and strategize, saying “This summer will be different! Our new computer image will be flawless! It will be cloned onto every machine without a hitch! We’re so organized this year, nothing can go wrong! We’ll come back in August ready to focus on curriculum and teaching!” And yet, each late August, we return to campus to find that the image had problems, that Leopard won’t print on our Windows print server, that a bunch of machines were overlooked, that several of the student laptops are mysteriously missing and several more are missing keys on the keyboards.

Is it us? Unrealistic expectations? Too many things to roll out at once? Disorganized folks on the tech end of our department? Faulty equipment? I fear that the answer is one of those annoying “it’s just the nature of technology…” type of things. But sigh…it’s the beginning of the school year and we’re backpedaling, scrambing, covering, and improvising despite our best-laid plans. Breathe…

My Fall 2008 Power Apps

Every Fall I try to pick one or two new tools to pilot with teachers and students. Last year was the Year of Sketchup and Voicethread, which we successfully used with students in a number of grade levels. The year before that we experimented with Edublogs and Garageband for the very first time, and both tools are now practically indispensable in many classrooms. For the Fall of 2008 I will focus on iGoogle, Ning and Scratch. Here’s how we’re planning (so far!) to use these three tools:

  1. iGoogle – Our tech-savvy Upper School Division Head has made the radical decision to go paperless with her fall teacher “notebook” at our upcoming division retreat. Rather, she has put all of the important parent letters, schedules, meeting agendas, etc. into Google Docs. She will then send each of us an iGoogle tab with the Google Docs gadget front and center. Also on the tab will be a variety of gadgets she wants to highlight as possible teaching tools. Each month she will send us a new tab with new gadgets, always keeping the Docs front and center. As we’ve been playing with this idea, I’ve been creating my own personal tabs to keep track of my favorite new gadgets and an aggregator for my favorite blogs.
  2. Ning – On the heels of the fabulous Building Learning Communities conference this past July, two of our 7th and 8th grade teachers have decided to set up Ning Learning Communities for their students. One teacher is an English teacher and looks forward to giving each of her students their own blog space through the Ning, and hopes that it will become a safe place for her students to experiment with their writing. A math teacher plans to use his Ning as a place for students to discuss homework, work on group projects together, and to show their step-by-step work somehow. Can’t wait!
  3. Scratch – My Ed Tech partner-in-crime, Jen Cronan Flinn, and I attended a full-day seminar at MIT this summer and had the opportunity to learn how to use Scratch, the latest educational programming software to come out of the MIT Media Labs (home of Logo.) We are excited to pilot Scratch in several grades, and one of our goals is to come up with ways beyond math to integrate this fantastic program.
My plan is to report back on the successes, failures, tweaks and lessons learned as we roll out this year’s set of “power apps” at MCDS. If you are already using any of these tools and have cautionary tales or inspirational examples to share, I’d love your thoughts and feedback.

Blogging with Colleagues About BLC08

I love attending conferences with colleagues. Truth be told, the content and location of the conference are so much less important than the time spent together off campus, with time to free-associate, dream and collaborate together. But as it happens, BLC08 is turning out to be simply fabulous. We’re trying something new — a shared blog in which to post our individual and collective experiences at the conference. Check it out by visiting — what a simple-but-elegant way to reflect and converse!

Taking the Long View

waiting snakeThat’s me on the left — or at least how I’ve been feeling lately — a snake all curled up, waiting patiently, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. In many ways, that seems to be my role as a Tech Coordinator with our K-8 teachers.

Over 2 years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a monthly Critical Friends Group, a professional learning community made up of 10 or so colleagues with two fellow teachers facilitating. Twice a month different teachers had the opportunity to formally present a teaching dilemma to the group, and we used highly structured protocols to help the colleague think through possible solutions, get to underlying issues and expand their thinking around the dilemma.

I remember in particular our 8th grade Spanish teacher struggling with ways to authentically assess her students’ oral skills without it being the tremendous time-drain her current system required. I vigorously suggested some technology solutions, including GarageBand, mp3 recorders, etc. as something that would benefit both her and the students, and while she was intrigued, she simply wasn’t ready. Last year we touched base about voice recordings again, but it still never went anywhere. Still not ready.

This year, something shifted. We installed an LCD projector, document projector and interactive whiteboard in her classroom over the summer, which she’s been using with great relish and success. My colleague and I expanded our roles this year, and are now directly supporting our 6th-8th grade teachers rather than focusing exclusively on K-5. And she’s ready. Simply put, she’s ready.

She approached me two weeks ago wondering about a project she does each year with the kids writing and reciting Spanish “pickup lines” or piropos. She asked whether I had any cool technology tools that might enhance this project, and indeed I did! I suggested teaching Voicethread to her kids, which would allow them to both say and write their piropos, and would provide them with an opportunity to comment (in Spanish) on each other’s work. I showed her a few examples I had collected on my new MCDS Ed Tech Wiki and she was completely sold on the idea.

Today we launched the project with her first 2 sections of 8th Grade Spanish students. Predictably, the kids were thrilled and had a blast doing the work. But most exciting for me was seeing this teacher taking so many risks, figuring things out on her own, learning alongside her students, and the lightbulb going off in a big way. She reminded me that this was the very first time she had ever even used one of our mobile laptop carts in her classroom with students, and told me about two more ways she intends to use Voicethread before the end of the year. I will post about those later.

At the same time, one of my Ed Tech partners-in-crime sat in on an incredibly frustrating grade-level meeting today. One of the grades she works with is about to start a big Social Studies unit and asked her for a way to integrate technology into the mix. She researched and prepared a suite of delicious choices for them to look at, chock full of examples, simple ideas and marvelous rich connections to the content. They couldn’t have been less interested in the ideas she was pitching, and she left feeling frustrated, confused, and sad for the students.

So what’s the take-away lesson for me? That integrating technology is, of course, a process that takes time. That we are planting seeds that may not take root right away, but that eventually will. That we need to shift our emphasis away from making changes this year and look realistically at the next three to five years or even longer. Which, of course, is impossible. Voicethread wasn’t even around nine months ago!

At a recent meeting our Head of School referred us to an image described by Jim Collins in his wonderful book Good to Great — that of the flywheel. The concept reminds us that with consistent effort over time, pushing and pushing will eventually build momentum until there is finally a breakthrough. Click here for a nice description of the buildup-breakthrough flywheel. I found the wonderful flash animation illustrating this concept at which I have embedded below:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="480" height="360" wmode="transparent" /]

(Snake image from

Buddies Love Technology

Our 8th Graders have spent their last two times with Kindergarten buddies using technology to help create projects. Several weeks ago, the “big buddy” used Sketchup to help the “little buddy” create a dream house. This week we used laptops and a Powerpoint template to compose and publish stories together. Such fun! [slideshare id=287280&doc=kindergarten-8th-grade-buddies-1204312040114425-3&w=425]