Student: I Hope I Get a Great Teacher This Year - #edtech #teaching

Last week when our family was returning back from the annual pilgrimage to Walmart for back to school supplies I over heard my two teenage children talking in the back seat of the car. At first they were discussing all the new binders and pens they had just got but then my daughter said a really interesting thing.

Wal-Mart location in Moncton
Image via Wikipedia

"I hope I get a great teacher this year," she said.

"Yeah, me too," my son replied.

As a teacher, that hit me hard. Are my two children the only ones who think this way? Or are children all over our country hoping for the same thing? Do our students really start off each school year hoping to get a great teacher?

And now for even tougher questions...

Am I going to be a great teacher this year?

How to I become a great teacher?

Can I be a great teacher for all students?

I hope you noticed that my children didn't hope for the fun teacher or a goofy teacher or a let-you-get-away-with-anything teacher -- instead, they want a great teacher. You see, both my children were in the same math class last year, and they experienced what it is like to truly have a great teacher. This math teacher is so passionate about her subject that it become infectious to her students, both of my children love math now because of a great teacher. And now they want more.

As an elementary tech teacher, I want to be that great teacher. I want my students to be excited about school technology as I am, I want them to develop life-long 21st Century Skills that will help them in a future that I cannot even pretend to understand.

Let's do it! Let's all be great teachers!

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Students and Technology -- Finding the right fit.

Every Friday some of my 5th grade students put together their own web-show for the school and the 1800+ subscribers we have on iTunes. (Not 180 as Nikki says in the intro)

Although the above video looks fun and natural and you are amazed that it is completely 100% student-made, the truth is that it took us quite a few tries to get it right...

We started the year with wanting to do a Friday show. We tried it pre-recorded and the first episode was over 17 minutes long -- way too long for a school morning show. Plus we had to put in a lot of editing time.

Then we changed the format a little and still it didn't work.

We just kept trying week after week, looking for the right fit for us.

You see, as the adult and teacher, I had a vision of what I wanted the show to look like, even though the kids had no idea what it takes to make a great show. So we just kept trying.

Weeks went by with shows that were okay, but they still were not "it."

We were about six months into the school year when we finally moved things into our little studio (we were shooting in the huge media center) and we went live. Shooting the show live was the best move we made. It really forced the kids to practice and work hard to get it right the first time. Before we would just keep shooting a segment until we got it right -- like 10 takes to get the school lunch segment done. Now we just run with it.

My point is this: as the adults we need to have the vision of what a good quality digital product will look like, we then put together the necessary school technology, provide the training and then keep trying until you can get what works for you and you students. My students know that my bar is high, but I will give them whatever support is needed to help them get there. Never settle for just "okay" when it comes to students and digital products.

Using School Technology for Differentiated Instruction

Like many teachers I use my summers off to revamp and improve my lessons. In technology more than any other subject this is very important. Math, history and writing do not really change fundamentally from year to year, but teaching technology does.

There is a lot of talk in the field of education about changes and reform. Last night I watched a TED talk where Sir Robinson asked for not just education reform but for an education revolution. He mentioned how we need to stop teaching our subjects linerally, but instead start to use an organic method to instruction.

Teachers more like farmers -- I like that.

So as a teacher/farmer I am going to change my lessons to be a little more opened ended and not so boxed in. I want my students to use the technology that is around them to change how they individually approach the problem I am going to present them with. I am currently changing my rubrics to allow for more 21st Century Skills like creativity and collaboration into their projects. I literally want each child to learn in their own unique way about the subjects I am going to present them. I believe that with school technology this type of individual and differentiated instruction is possible

I am excited to see what next year will look like. I'll keep you posted.

Here is the TED talk I mentioned above.

It is all about the batteries.

Whether or not you like Apple you have to admit they are masters of long-life batteries. I am so glad that the new iPads battery life is around 10 hours. Finally, a day's worth of battery-life. Apple have set the bar high for all the rest of the school technology developers, but they are just not catching up fast enough.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago my principal asked me to find her a new laptop. Her old laptop's battery was just about dead and she was only getting about 15 minutes of battery time. "I want to be able to go around the school and do classroom observations without worrying about taking a power cord with me," she said.

So I started to look around for a good laptop, however, most of the PC models were still only getting 3 to 4 hours of battery time. Come on people!

She ended up ordering herself a new MacBook Pro 13, which is rated to get 10 hours. That's what I am talking about.

I know that Apple has been criticized for not having user replaceable batteries, but if they are somehow getting laptops and iPads to last 10 hours -- who cares about being able to replace them.

If new pieces of student technology are going to be useful in our schools then they have to get a MINIMUM  of 6 hours of battery-life (one regular school day). It is ridiculous to ask students to haul around power cords and and for teachers to have charging stations in their classroom.

Moving to Wordpress

Hey everyone, this weekend (June 5 & 6) I am moving this website over to Wordpress from Blogger, please be patient with the conversion and I hope to have all the bugs worked out by Monday. If you are looking for the School Technology Integration Workshop it is found at the old blogger site for now.

Thank you for your patience.

The Future of School Technology is PODs

I believe the future of school technology will be in Personally Owned Devices or PODs. This has actually been brewing for decades, but now is finally the time when it is ready.

Let me start with a quick history lesson: back when the idea of public education for children came about, school always had more "stuff" than individual homes. Stuff like books and things, a home would only have a few books, where as a school could have thousands.

Remember when computers got started? They were the size of rooms and were housed at some of the country's greatest schools and universities. Students would sign up to take computer science classes and share these big mammoth machines that cost millions to own.

Everyone was happy

But something quietly started to happen in the eighties...

Back in the mid eighties was the start of the personal computer revolution, suddenly students went home to "stuff" better than their school had. Students would use a computer at school that could barely do simple math but go home and play on their Commodore 64, my friend even had a Texas Instrument computer that could talk!

The problem was that we couldn't exactly take our computers to school. So schools were safe and sound with their antiquated computers and we just accepted it. Until the iPod Touch...

The iPod Touch changed everything. Now students had the Internet and over 100,000 apps in their pocket and a revolution is now waiting in the wings. Now that students can take their computers to school in their pocket what are we going to do about it?

Smart school districts have started to embrace this knowing that it helps their bottom line. Think about it: why buy students computers when they already own them (PODs) and are willing to bring them to school. Just give them some filtered WiFi, have them sign a contract and Shazam! they're happy.

Tomorrow I will talk about some obstacles to this ideas of PODs.

Just Who Is the Teacher Here?

Technology is the one subject being taught in school where the students have the possibility of knowing more than their teachers.

And that scares us.

Can you imagine being a history teacher and suddenly a student puts up their hand, "Mr. Flick, I think that you have your facts wrong about the Civil War."? And if it did happen you would start to re-think your career choice. In all other school subjects there are very defined roles as who is the teacher and who is the student -- something that doesn't exist in teaching the world of school technology.

I get corrected by my students all the time, and thanks to years of therapy, I am finally able to accept it.

As a tech teacher you must always be ready to let one of your student take over and become the teacher, which means you become the student. We can learn so much from our students if we just learn to work with it and not against it.

Case in point: the other day I had to ask a group of 4th grade students; "The Flip video camera is stuck and won't turn off, what's the deal?" Sure enough a student who personally owns one tells me that I unplugged it too soon from my computer and I need to take out the batteries to reset it. Problem solved.

So check your pride at the door and start team teaching with your students -- trust me, you'll like it.

What is the deal with the Sony Rocket Project?

Months ago I saw the ad on YouTube for the Sony Rocket Project and got really excited at the possibility of high school students launching an actual rocket into space. Sure, I could see through the PR campaign by Sony and Intel to prove that their new laptop had the computing power necessary to build and launch a rocket, but high school students putting rockets into space, what's not to like?

So my students and I followed all the blogs and videos anxiously awaiting the day of the launch.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...


There was a delay due to weather, but I could be patient. But then days turned into weeks and still nothing.

There were weeks without any news, just the post that said that the delay was due to weather. I followed the so-called jet stream trouble and I knew the day that it was no longer over their launch site and still nothing. From what I can understand from the few cryptic posts on the website -- the team has lost the window of opportunity for launch.

Now what?

Well Sony and Intel, good luck digging your way out of this one. It was to be their big launch of the super computer built especially for students and schools. However, they have just learned the biggest lesson when it comes to using school technology -- nothing goes like you plan. So my heart goes out to you. I, like many of you, have been there. So buck up and get that rocket into space.

I still have my fingers crossed for the students, and it you are taking votes...


The Mighty Flip Video Camera

For years I have been doing video work with my students. Something that has brought me much joy and a lot of pain. Please remember I work with elementary-aged students.

In the past, working with conventional video cameras, I have had the following problems. See if you can relate:

Cables, cables, cables, it seems that each camera comes with a different cable. Students love to lose those special cables, and better yet -- try to force the wrong cables into a camcorder.

Power Chargers:
Same basic problem of the cables above. They get lost, they get confused, and video cameras get wrecked.

Video Tape:
Ahh, the "record-over" problems, student are notorious for recording over each other's work. Then there is the weeping and wailing. Or it is the "Easter egg hunt" problem where the student knows that they recorded their Grammy-Award-Winning piece somewhere, I repeat, somewhere on the video tape. Start looking!

So many buttons! Let's see what this one does... oops.

With the above reasons keeping me awake at night, I was glad to see the Flip video camera when it came on the market. An answer to all my problems...

It has none, just a flip our USB connector, nothing to get lost or confused.

Power Chargers:
Again, it has none, it charges through the USB connector.

Video Tape:
Yup, you guessed it -- none. Students just press the red button and record, no tape to rewind. No lost footage.

Just click the red button!

I found the Flip video camera to be one of the best pieces of school technology that I have bought in the past few years. Talk about a headache reducer. Now I can focus on making great student videos.

The Flip video camera is not perfect; no zoom, no manual controls, etc. but for the work I do with students I'll take those few limitations over the great advantages that I have listed above.

If you want to see samples of my student's work, visit our website:

Happy filming!

The iPad in Schools - Week 3

Today I want to talk about the educational apps that I like for my iPad. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I hated that there were so many pre-school educational apps and not a lot for older students. Luckily, a lot has changed in only a few weeks.

Here is a list of apps I like for schools and students:
Drawing Pad - a great little app that allows students to draw anything their little imaginations can think of.
Magic Piano - a fun piano app that have different types of keyboards for students to tinker with music notes.
Math Magic - an app for the younger students who want to practice their general math skills.
PianoMan - a guitarhero-esk type app that allows for dueling piano keyboards, it is loaded with a lot of classical music.
The Elements - if this is the future of textbooks, then count me in. When I want to amaze people with my iPad this is what I show them.
Star Walk - another beautiful app that shows what is possible.
SoundPaper - this app allows student to record lectures and classes while they take notes.
PaperDesk - better than SoundPaper because you can sketch on it as well as make different notebooks.
iBooks - reading books on the iPad is incredible, the screen is crystal clear and easy to follow.

I still believe that the iPad is a game-changer when it comes to school technology. I imagine a day when the only thing that students will need to bring with them to school is a tablet PC. I don't know if it will be the iPad but it is going to be a fun competition to watch.

School Technology I Use: Report 1

A few months ago my principal approached me with a challenge; she wanted me to find a math solution that could help both our struggling and advanced students. 
Before starting my search we came up with with a few parameters:
- it had to be easy to manage, my teachers have enough to deal with and they didn't need anything more put on their plates.
- it had to be proven effective, in other words -- it had to work.
- it had to be fun for the students to use.
- it had to be available for students at home and at school, PC or Mac.
- it had to be standards-based.
I looked at many different math programs and websites, everything from free to very expensive. After looking at and trying six different systems we went with a math practice website that is subscription-based.
So we got a subscription for each student and set up our school in their system.
We have just started to use it but here is what I can report so far:
- the set-up was super easy, I had all the students and teachers in the system in about a day.
- I spent about an hour training the teachers on how to initially use it, I'll cover more advanced features like reporting in another week or two.
- the feedback from the students has been really good. We'll see how they still like it and if it is working in a month.
I'll try and do a report each month so you can see  how this new school technology works for us.

Podcasting Students - The Lazy Way

I got quite a few emails about yesterday's blog on students that podcast, it seems that a lot of you want to know how my students podcast everyday.

First of all let me just say that my 5th grade students practically podcast by themselves, I am usually just outside the podcasting studio working at my desk. Here is how it all happens...

The assigned students show up at school 15 minutes early. I assign each student a certain day for two months, this gives them enough time to get past being nervous. So for example, one student might be the host for every Tuesday show and another might be the sound-tech for every Monday show. It only takes two students to do a podcast.

The students come into our studio (a room just off of our media center) and start to get the show ready.

The Host:
This student takes a new fill-in-the-blank script and starts by putting in their name and the sound tech's name. Then they fill in the date, announcements, what the hot lunch of the day is and then the sound tech will look up the lunch recess weather and they fill that in as well. They look up any birthdays and finally they look for a joke in a kid's joke book.

The Sound Tech:
This student sits down to the studio laptop, looks up today's lunchtime weather and starts up a soundboard program. The soundboard is loaded with our sound effects and music tracks (royalty-free music). The student does a quick sound check and the waits to do a rehearsal.

Both students do a rehearsal about 6 minutes before "show time."

The Show:
Just before the show starts the sound tech will start our digital recorder and then signals the host to begin. They do the show, complete with music and sound effects and then bring me the digital recorder as they go off to their first class.

Post Show Production:
I take the digital recorder and copy the MP3 to my computer and upload to our website which is connected to our iTunes account which means the show is listed on iTunes with a few hours of being posted on our website. Done, my time is about three minutes to do all of this. I told you I was a lazy podcaster! Podcasting is one of the easiest pieces of school technology to incorporate into your schools.

To check out our podcasting, go to iTunes and search for KBOB or Bethke Elementary.

Podcasting 10-Year-Olds

Today I had the chance to show off my podcasting 10-year-olds. It was part of a demonstration I was giving on what 4th grade students are capable of doing with current school technology.

So in front of 450 local business leaders my two little podcasters did it. I am telling you, I have never been so proud. They were fearless.

I have been podcasting with my students for the past year. Every day they do a podcast of the school announcements each with a little personal twist of their own style. At first it was difficult to get it all together but then we started to work out the bugs and now the students run the whole show. They have over 1700 subscribers on iTunes -- students from all over the world.

The digital natives of today are so used to seeing the world as a potential audience.

You just wait, it won't be long before they are wanting their own dressing rooms with a star on the door.

If you would like to hear our podcasters, go to iTunes and search for KBOB.

The keyboarding dilema - Part 1

As I speak at different conferences across the country about school technology I am often asked about keyboarding. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting but I believe it is one of the greatest tech skills that students need to develop.

Many school districts have dropped keyboarding, or typing, from the curriculum in both middle and high schools. It has been pushed down to the elementary-aged students.

I agree with this completely.

By the time a student shows up in middle school they need to already be proficient at keyboarding. Many of the assignments that are given to 12-year-olds and older are to be completed on a computer, not many teachers will allow hand-written work any more.

If a student shows up at middle school only typing a few words a minute they are severely handicapped. Imagine an assignment to do a 1000 word essay on the U.S. civil war. After about 30 minutes of work the student who is struggling at 8 to 10 words per minute is still working on his opening paragraph while another student who is at 50 to 60 words per minute is done.

I once had a 5th grade student that could type at over 100 word per minute, imagine his advantage over his classmates.

A student who struggles at keyboarding will struggle at school. He could be a very bright student with horrible grades because of keyboarding.

I will give more details on this tomorrow, everything from kindergarteners who lose letters to 5th graders who can type blindfolded.

The school technology paradox.

There are some that might argue that students will naturally acquire 21st Century Skills since they are surrounded by so much technology in their daily lives. Why do we need to spend so much money on bringing technology into our schools?

That would be the same as saying that since a student has a paper and pencil he will naturally acquire math skills like algebra or writing skills like poetry.

This is the paradox of school technology and 21st Century Skills.

Just because a student might have a computer at home, it doesn't mean that they know how to truly use it. They lack the necessary skills.

And if his teachers do not have the proper tools and training, they cannot teach the skills.

Teachers cannot teach 21st Century Skills without tools.

Tools like interactive whiteboards, netbooks, cameras, flip videos, etc.

Modern technology doesn't replace teachers, it makes them more important than ever.

Most of the students I teach were all born in the 21st Century, they are truly digital natives, they know no other world that this. They cannot remember a world without the Internet or iPods.

We are all just tourists in their world.

So there you have it:




Good luck with trying to figure this one out...

Teaching with the iPad

My iPad finally arrived and I couldn't be more excited. Sure it is cool and new, but what really gets me is what it could mean for education. Let me explain...

Digital Books: This past January when I was flying to Florida to speak at FETC I sat next to a man who had a Kindle. We started to talk about technology and he showed me the 112 books that he had loaded on his digital book reader. He let me hold it and I was amazed. 112 books in something so light. I couldn't help but think how heavy the six books were in my carry-on that was shoved above my head. "Yeah, but I love to highlight, scribble in the margin and dog-ear my pages (a librarian's worst nightmare)." I explained to him. He then showed me how he could do all that. But the most amazing part is what he said next. "The one thing you can't do with a paper book is search the text. I can search my whole library in seconds." He was right, imagine the day when our students have every library book pre-loaded onto their iPads! No waiting to check out a book, no two weeks to return it, it is just there for the student to use any time they want.

Educational Apps: Although I have only had my iPad for less than 24-hours, my 13-year old son has already taken it over and has filled it with great apps: graphing calculator, spelling test, math prompts, a periodic table that really cool. There are thousands and thousands of great edu-apps.

No More Back Packs: Have you seen the size of the back packs that students take to school? They are huge and heavy, full of text books, notebooks, and library books. In a few years they will just have an iPad, no need for a locker or a back pack, everything will be in their iPad.

What an exciting time to be involved with school technology!

Programming with Scratch - First Steps

Last fall I was introduced to Scratch, a programming application made by the beautiful minds at MIT. I was very excited about what Scratch might mean for my students because of it simple, yet powerful interface. So last month I set my fourth grade students free on it. The challenge: to make a video game. My students were practically shell-shocked with the assignment: "We get to make a video game?"

Step 1: Since I did not know how to use Scratch, I sent my students to the website: which taught them most everything they needed to know about programming with Scratch with easy to follow screencast tutorials.

Step 2: Give them the impossible task of making their own video game.

Step 3: Stand back and be amazed.

These young students now have the programming bug, they are starting to "get" the world that is around them. They don't look at their iPod Touches apps the same way. In fact, I had one student show me a game that she had made in Scratch that was just like the app on my iPod Touch. Which is why I added Step 4...

Step 4: Share any future video game royalties with Mr. Flick.

If you want to see examples of student made video games using Scratch, just check out the gallery on their website.

The Basics of Digital Photography

The other day I asked one of my 5th grade students to take some photos of a project that we were all working on together.

The photos I got back were... how shall I say this... not good.

I thought that these so called "Digital Natives" were experts in these types of things. But if truth be told they are not. Which is why I have come up with this new line: Owning tools does not mean that you have the skills to use them.

Case in point:

Most YouTube videos.

Most Facebook photos.


Get the point?

A student might have an iPod Touch in their pocket but it doesn't mean that they know how to truly use it. Sure, he might be an expert at some games, but I am talking about truly being able to use it.

That is where we as teachers step in. We teach digital natives how to effectively use the technology tools that are all around them.

But there is a catch...

To be able to teach these skills we need the tools. For example; after seeing the horrible photos that my young student took I taught him and all his classmates how to take a good photo. They picked up on it quickly (as I knew they would) and were soon taking exceptional photos, probably better than most of their parents. But I could not have done any of this without the tools, which in this case were the seven digital cameras I have in my computer lab.

Teachers need tools to be able to teach 21st Century Skills!

Using video with younger students.

Since I am an elementary tech teacher I do things differently than my middle and high school counterparts.

For example, a few weeks ago I was interviewed on a TV program about students and 21st Century Skills. I was part of a panel of tech teachers representing all ages of students. During one segment we started to talk about students doing video work in the classroom. The moderator asked me at what age do I teach my students video work. I explained that I started with the basics of videography in the third grade.

I do a lot of incredible video work with students in fourth and fifth grade so I need my students to have a general understanding of videography by the time they come into fourth grade. By the time my students finish the "Flip Video Boot Camp" they are taking better video than their parents.

We do not do anything with green screens or any fancy editing, just basic video work -- I save the hard stuff for when they go to middle and high school.

I am constantly amazed at what students can do with their 21st Century Skills if we just give them a chance and the tools (like a $120 Flip video camera).

If you would like to see some of student work from my school visit: