Thursday, July 24, 2014

It Takes A Teacher.....A Week Full of Personalized Learning

We are all familiar with the ancient African proverb, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," but are you familiar with the the quote, by Deena Zenyk, Marketing Manager, Education Advocacy of SMART Technologies, "It takes a teacher to......."?  I will let you fill in the blank in this sentence; feel free to choose from one of the many words below in the word cloud.  This was the theme at this year's SMART Technologies Global SMART Exemplary Educator (SEE) Summit.

(Words by Deena Zenyk)

As educators, we all know that the responsibilities of teachers have increased steadily over the years.  A teacher is not just a teacher; a teacher is a nurse and/or doctor, therapist, social worker, psychologist, and sometimes, even a parent.  The list goes on and on.  Our students require more TLC and it is our job to give it to them.  In order to teach our students and help them reach their full potential, we need to connect with them, motivate them, encourage them, showing that we truly care as if they are our own children. One of the ways that we can connect with them is by creating highly engaging and interactive lessons as well as creating lessons that are personalized to meet their own academic, social, and emotional needs.  

We educators are just like our students.  We also require personalized lessons that cater to our needs.  That's where professional development comes in.  As educators, we all know that professional development is the key to professional growth.  Unfortunately, it is not easy for many teachers to obtain high quality professional development due to various reasons such as time, money, or lack of the availability.  That's where my amazing experience at the Global SMART Technologies SEE (SMART Exemplary Educator) Summit comes in.  

I had the chance this past week to attend a SMART SEE Summit at SMART Headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, CA.  I truly felt as if I was home.  Through Twitter and other forms of social media, I knew many SEEs virtually, but had not yet met them face to face.  Though educational technology is a great tool to connect and collaborate with others, it does not replace face to face social interaction.  So being able to connect with many other SEEs was an amazing experience alone.  

With regards to professional development, the sessions that were offered to us truly met our professional needs in order to further our professional growth.  These sessions included but were not limited to: meeting with SMART's marketing staff, product developers, product managers, focus groups based on our choosing, hands on activities and demonstrations, and technical support staff.  It was great to meet those technical support members that I have literally spent hours on the phone over the past few years.  I am so indebted to them for putting so much effort into solving various technical problems I have had.  We also had a "virtual" fireside chat with Warren Barkley, CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SMART and last but not least, the chance to learn from other SEEs on topics such as global collaboration.   We were given time to improve our own skills in teaching as well as submit feature requests on how SMART can better meet our needs and more importantly, our students needs.  I personally had a chance to sit with product developers for a few hours and make feature requests to various SMART products.  Within a couple of days, the product developers had actually brought those ideas I had to fruition.  Now THAT is personalized learning! 

In addition, I had a chance to speak with Greg Estell, President of Education at SMART.  I was amazed how Mr. Estell was so open to listening to my own thoughts and concerns about technology in education and the way that educators need to use technology responsibly in their classrooms.  He was so receptive to what I had to say and followed through on my concerns immediately after I spoke with him.  If only we educators could act the same way with our students!  Imagine how much farther we could go with them!  Now THAT is a SMART Teacher!  

I am truly indebted to SMART and all they have done for me.  SMART has truly changed the way I teach as it has enabled me to redefine my instruction and improve the quality of learning for my students.  As a SMART Exemplary Educator and now as a Director of Educational Technology, not only do I have to improve my teaching, but my goals to personalize the learning for my students (the teachers in my school) and for their students.  

SMART, thank you for all that you have done for me.  It is truly a privilege and an honor to be here connecting and learning together with so many others.  

Now when you hear the quote, "It takes a teacher........," you will know exactly what that means!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maximizing Device Management to Foster Student Learning and Collaboration

I recently had the opportunity to pilot collaborative learning models that leverage student devices and educational software in a kindergarten classroom at my school.  It has truly been a rewarding learning experience.  I work as an Educational Technology Coach and Coordinator in an elementary independent school grades PK-8 in New York.  I could have chosen any class to work with; in the end I chose a Kindergarten class and I am happy that I did.

We know that before implementing educational technology in any classroom, there must a vision and plan in order to succeed.  When bringing mobile devices into the classroom, it is always a sound idea to start small and then increase the scope of the initiative.  I believe it is better for a teacher to become comfortable with using a device in his or her classroom and support the ability to manage it with the students than it is to bring a class set of devices into the classroom and not know how to manage them.  Just because a teacher has only one device in a classroom does not mean that it won’t benefit the class.  The pedagogy needs to come first before the technology. Too many schools are spending thousands of dollars bringing in mobile devices to their classrooms without any vision or training for how to seamlessly integrate the technology in education.  

When reflecting on this implementation challenge, the well-known TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy,  and Content Knowledge) model comes to mind.  Teachers already have to balance pedagogy and content knowledge along with classroom management.  When technology is thrown in with everything with else, it can definitely cause the pedagogy to suffer and fall to the wayside.  I cannot stress enough how important it is for teachers to receive ongoing professional development and coaching in technology integration.  

The TPACK Model - used with permission -

When a teacher is comfortable enough to manage the students and the integration of technology to support learning, it is time to bring the devices into the classroom.  Never fear whether the students are ready; the students are always ready!  

When it comes to device management, it is important to have proper filters, security, and other necessary options set in place before introducing the students to the devices.  The technology must be completely ready for deployment; if it’s not, the pedagogy will suffer resulting in chaos in your classroom.  

The reason I chose to pilot SMART amp in kindergarten is twofold; one reason is to strengthen reading comprehension skills, the other reason is that the younger the students are, it is much easier to inculcate within them the ability to learn independently, to self-assess, and to work in groups collaboratively.

In my previous blog post where I wrote about my experience in piloting SMART amp (, I mentioned that I had to lift my restrictions on web content filtering in Apple Configurator  in order to use SMART amp on the iPads.  The web application SMART amp uses many websites in order to run so listing these websites in the “Exceptions” list in Apple Configurator is not so clear cut.  –perhaps delete? ISTE blogs do not appear to get into this level of technical.

Using the iPads in the kindergarten classroom is done as a center activity.  The children work on the iPads in a small group collaboratively.  Because I lifted the restrictions on the web content filter, I made sure that I was in close proximity to the students in order to monitor their usage of content on the iPads.  In retrospect, this is not the best option in the long term as I would like the students to work independently and collaboratively at the same time.  The students need to be able to self-assess what they know about the subject matter and work independently.  By me hovering over them, they will never learn how to do so.  A feature needs to be set in place in order to create a safe environment for them while using the iPads allowing me the stand back and facilitate.  

One of the great features that Apple developed in the past couple of years is the Guided Access option.  For those who are unfamiliar, Guided Access temporarily restricts your iOS device to a particular app.  Guided Access can be turned on by going into your iPad settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access.  
Guided Access can:
·         Disable areas of the screen that aren’t relevant to a task, or areas where an accidental gesture might cause a distraction
·         Disable the hardware buttons

To learn more about how Guided Access works, you can visit the following Apple iOS support page:  

Now that the technology is set in place, the students can work independently and collaborate together on one shared goal.  When I first told others that I was piloting SMART amp in kindergarten, many were shocked as they assumed this software would be used in older grades.  Collaboration cannot be taught directly; rather it needs to be taught indirectly through exposing others to collaborative activities.  It’s a much more complex activity than cooperation as it involves components which are different from each other yet unified by a shared common goal.  Being that kindergarteners were so young and were therefore not set in their ways, they were so open to collaborating with each other.  This goes to show that anyone can collaborate as long as they are given the opportunity and have the necessary tools to work with.