The Future of Educational Technology Conferences

The summer is in full swing and we are quickly approaching the traditional back to school time of the year. If we were following tradition, we would also be in the heart of “Conference Season.” But as we all know, there is nothing traditional about the Spring and Summer of 2020.

Things are different this year. The two major conferences sponsored by the Alabama State Department of Education, the Alabama Educational Technology Conference and the MEGA Conference, both of which I have long played a role in as a staff member, presenter and participant, were canceled. Several large regional conferences in Alabama, the Gulf Region Innovative Teaching Conference in South Alabama and the North Alabama Technology Conference (sponsored by the district from which I recently retired), were both canceled. Numerous school and district level professional development and training events that I was to play a role, such as and A+ College Ready Computer Science Fundamentals, were canceled.

To avoid cancelling, many groups worked to present their conferences virtually. The Alabama Leaders in Educational Technology (ALET) went virtual in early June for their summer conference. The Computer Science Teachers Association’s Annual Conference, CSTA 2020, quickly moved to a virtual format, as did the National Math and Science Initiative’s (NMSI) Summer Series professional development event. I have first hand knowledge of the NMSI event, serving as a coach and facilitator. Many other conferences took the same approach. In fact, over the past week, I participated in the Indiana Connected Educators LIVE Conference and the Code Breaker Power Summit. A variety of delivery methods were utilized to facilitate these events including Zoom, Google Meet and YouTube Live.

Changes have already been announced for many Fall conferences. The Georgia Educational Technology Conference (GaETC), scheduled for mid-November, is planned as an in person event, however, they are also providing a virtual option at a much lower cost. This is an interesting approach for a variety of reasons. First, if conditions allow, everything is in place for an in person event. Second, if the situation changes and an in person event is not advisable, the infrastructure is already in place to present the conference virtually.

However, there is another factor to consider. Allowing a virtual option that includes all, or most, of the sessions for a reasonable price opens the conference up to a previously excluded audience. Since I am now independent, I probably would not commit to the cost of travel and lodging to attend GaETC in person, especially with the possibility of it being cancelled. Once I saw the virtual option, though, I immediately purchased a virtual pass. It provides for live and on-demand recordings of all sessions. It is my belief that this is the ideal strategy for conferences to adopt during the current situation but also should be considered moving forward.

When conditions are conducive again for in person events, there are tangible benefits to having face to face interaction with other professionals, including the ability to meet with vendors to explore new products. But there is a whole new audience that could be reached by virtual options that would never be likely to attend, for many reasons, an in person event. If you need a demonstration of this, simply look at the NOTATISTE hashtag on Twitter. Thousands of educators followed #NOTATISTE during the 2019 International Society for Technology In Education conference and one would expect that these virtual attendees would actively participate but were unable to attend for some variety reasons. Speaking of ISTE, the pinnacle educational technology event of the year, the 2020 Conference and Expo, scheduled for June, was postponed until late November and it was announced this week that it will be transformed into ISTE20 Live, a “fully virtual, immersive learning event” scheduled for Nov. 29-Dec. 5.

Almost immediately following the announcement, there were complaints about the cost of the virtual event, especially that ISTE was charging to present. I think that interpretation is a bit unfair. ISTE is, in fact, giving presenters a discount on the cost of attending the rest of the conference in consideration of a presenters contribution. If you want to discuss whether the discount is substantial enough, or that the cost to attend the virtual event itself is priced too high, I’ll listen, but stating that they are charging to present is disingenuous. Yes, many local and regional conferences provide free registration if you present. But remember, you get what you pay for. Having worked on the organizing committees of several conferences that do just that, I can attest that many presenters that apply (and many that are accepted) are just applying to get the free registration. They often do not put a great deal of effort into their presentation because, once selected, there is no way to force them to do quality work. And yes, we would have a handful each year that simply would not show up. Sure, you can move those to a Do Not Accept list for following years, but current attendees have already been punished.

ISTE20 Live registration will include all of the live conference sessions as well as on demand sessions both during and after the conference. Based on the published prices, it does not seem that membership will be included in the conference price as is often the case for the traditional format. That is disappointing since the discount for members is just $10. Regardless, when registration opens next week, I will certainly be looking closely at the full list of benefits. A sub-$90 member cost would be an immediate purchase. That would be equal to the early bird, non-member ticket minus my ISTE renewal that I just paid. But I’ll be running the numbers based on the full benefits once registration is live.

Fully virtual conferences at this scale are new and the pricing of such will have to be worked out, but the benefits, both during a pandemic and after, are obvious. As we move forward, we need to recognize, and perhaps embrace, that this may be the future old Educational Technology conferences.

What’s in my Tech Bag, 2020 Edition, Part 1

Hi, my name is Keith, and I am addicted to bags. *The crowd, in unison, “Hi Keith!*

eBags Professional Slim Junior Backpack
eBags Professional Flight Laptop Backpack

I love a good backpack. Whether is it my eBags Professional Slim Junior Laptop Backpack, basically my everyday carry, or the larger eBags Professional Flight Laptop Backpack when I need more room for equipment, I am a longtime fan of the eBags brand. In fact, between backpacks, carry on and full sized luggage, I am confident that I own at least eight pieces of eBags luggage plus a dozen or more packing cubes, accessories and the like. The quality is amazing and the warranty is great (yes, I have taken advantage of a warranty replacement) but is really comes down to design. The eBags line of backpacks are very thoughtfully designed with numerous little touches that make a huge difference. I prefer the basic black color and initially wondered about the bright orange interior, but it really does make it easier to locate things that drift down to the bottom of the bag. And, oh the pockets! I seriously cannot remember the number of times I have recommended the eBags brand over the past 1o years. This is probably a good time to state that I do not have any affiliation with eBags other than that of a longtime satisfied customer, but, eBags, if you are listening, I have some ideas. Send me a message. Let’s talk!

Sterkmann Tech Pouch

But, an addiction is just that, an addiction. The perfect bag for me is out there, or perhaps it is on someone’s drawing board. (Again, eBags, hit me up!) That means that I am always looking for great bags. Which lead me to my most recent purchase. I found the Sterkmann Travel Bag on Kickstarter and was intrigued. I had seen other ‘zip down the center and lay flat to pack’ design, but price-wise, they were not targeted to me. The Sterkmann Travel Bag has some great features and as a early backer, I was able to secure a price closer to what I wanted to spend. The Sterkmann will not be a daily carry tech bag for me, but pairing it with one of my eBags laptop backpacks for shorter conference trips might be a great match. I especially think this combo will be perfect for my new found love of “carry on only” travel. Stumbling on to the Sterkmann Travel Bag led me to the Travel Pouch they offer. I had seen the Peak Design Tech Pouch but the Sterkmann comes in much more affordable with similar features. My concern about construction quality quickly disappeared when the Sterkmann arrived. It is very well made I love how, like the travel bag, you can actually unsnap the two center pieces allowing the tech pouch to lay flat. Incredibly help when you are setting up for a presentation and you what everything out where you can see it.

So, exactly what will you find in my tech bag? Well, let’s start with that Tech Pouch. Here are the contents of my tech pouch as of this morning.

Tech Pouch Contents
Contents of my Sterkmann Tech Pouch
  1. Blackweb HDMI Cable
  2. INFINITER Gyro Mouse
  3. Wireless Charging puck (The one in my tech pouch was a conference giveaway, but the one on my desk is the Yootech Wireless Charger.
  4. Aukey 24w Dual USB AC Adapter (Latest Model)
  5. Generic Apple Watch Charging Puck (Similar model)
  6. Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter
  7. Apple Lightning to VGA Adapter
  8. Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter (HDMI)
  9. ITANDA USB-C to HDMI Adapter 4K (2)
  10. Amazon Basics USB-C to USB A
  11. USB Type C Cable, Pantom [5-Pack 6-Inch] USB 2.0 to USB-C
  12. Micro SD Card Holder with SanDisk 16GB Micro SD Cards
  13. USB C to VGA Adapter (Similar Product)
  14. HyperDrive USB C Hub for MacBook Pro
  15. MOKiN 5 in 1 Dongle USB-C to HDMI, Sd/TF Card Reader and 2 Ports USB 3.0
  16. 8″ Braided USB to Lightning Cable (6) (Similar product)
  17. Storacell by Powerpax SlimLine AAA Battery Caddy with Amazon Basics AAA Batteries
  18. Storacell by Powerpax SlimLine AA Battery Caddy with Amazon Basics AA Batteries
  19. Apple Pencil, Google Pixelbook Pen, Surface Pen by Heiyo
  20. MicroNotes Notebook, Pilot G2 Mini Retractable Gel Pen
  21. 6″ Square Microfiber Cloth (from Aliexpress, inexpensive but expect extended delivery times)
  22. Cable Creation Short Micro USB Cable
  23. 3.5mm Aux Cable (Similar Product)
  24. Google Pixelbook 45W USB Type-C Charger
  25. Moco Best 3 in 1 USB Cable/Micro/Lightning/type C – keychain (Similar Product)
  26. Micro SD Reader from CamKix Swiss Army Knife Type Memory Card Storage Case
  27. 2TB keychain SSD
  28. Amazon Basics AAAA Battery (for Pixelbook Pen)
  29. Misc. Button Cell Batteries (For stylus, etc.)
  30. USB Memory Card Reader (Similar Product)
  31. Apple EarPods with Lightning Connector
  32. Google USB-C Earbuds
  33. Apple Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter, Google USB Type C to 3.5mm Headphone Adapter
  34. Assorted USB Adapters
  35. USB 3 in 1 Braided Charging Cable (Lightning, Micro USB and USB-C) (Similar Product)

The Importance of Curation

Over the past several weeks, I have been working on a number of projects. A part of almost everyone of these has included the identification, review and recommendation of select resources for teachers to use in the classroom or for trainers to share with teachers. I have to admit, I love exploring for resources and I truly get lost in the process. I strive to locate the best quality resources and research that will help teachers.

A significant aspect of this that keeps me looking is the realization some time ago that what worked for me wouldn’t always work for other teachers. An incredible technology coach and teacher, Davina Mann, was one of the first to really call me on this. Most of my teaching assignments were in the middle and high school grades. We I began work with the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), my responsibilities expanded. I had to let go of my preconceptions about how a classroom worked and what would work in a classroom. I always felt like I was doing pretty well until one day I spouted off about how this app or that app could easily be adapted to the lower grades. I really hadn’t given it serious thought, just in my mind I could see several ways to use it in my classroom. I remember glancing over at Davina and she had this look that basically said, “You are full of it!” She never said it, but I remember stumbling through the rest of that sentence and slinking away. Could it really be used with younger kids? Could I have done it? I honestly didn’t know. It was then that I really started looking for ways to fairly and honestly look at every piece of software, every app and every web resource that I would recommend seeking to find all of the good and all of the bad, but doing so from multiple points of view.

That is when I began curating, rather than collecting, resources. I began scouring the web looking for evaluation tools. I was even part of a team, along with Davina Mann coincidentally, that developed an app evaluation tool for the ALEX iPad Professional Development course. I found blog posts from Tony Vincent. I found tools from Kathy Schrock. But it seemed that everyone of us were missing something. Most recently, I have fallen in pedagogical love with Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework. I’ll be sharing even more about my thoughts and upcoming uses of Triple E in future posts, but having a way to evaluate these resources is half of the battle- putting high quality resources into organized collections around various curricular topics is the penultimate goal of any self respecting Ed Tech Specialist.

There are a variety of ways to collect these resources. Over the years, I have effectively used LiveBinders, Diigo, Google Bookmarks and a dozen other tools to collect resources. They all work and each have a place in your Tech Coach Toolbelt. When looking for a tool to place curated resources in front of students so that they can quickly and easily get to where you want them to be, nothing may be better than Symbaloo. The visual nature of the Symbaloo webmix, carefully curated by a teacher results in a huge time saving as 25-30 elementary kids will be able to get to just the resource you want them to visit by simply clicking or tapping in a particular icon.

However, my go to tool for curation resources for teachers is still Participate Collections. With thousands of resources already in the database, finding quality resources and quickly organizing them into collections could not be easier.  But it doesn’t stop there because any resource that has a unique URL can be added to a collection. That means that you can have a collection that features six weblinks, four YouTube videos, three Android or iPhone apps, a Padlet board, a Thinglink interactive picture, a Google doc, and a self paced Kahoot! all side by side in a single collection.

A recent update to the collection tool provides a beautiful card style layout to your collections, making it even easier to navigate and quickly find the particular resource you are looking for. Multiple users can still collaborate on the same collection, providing ample opportunities for team curation. Once your collection is complete, you can share it easily. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense, because your collection will never be complete. But that is no problem. Participate collections can always be edited, adding new resources or removing obsolete ones. If you haven’t done so lately, head over to and take a look at the new collections tool. The, do yourself, and me, a favor and curate a new collection of quality resources. Be sure to share it on Twitter!

What the New York Times doesn’t get about Teachers Promoting Tech.

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and across the web about the recent @nytimes article “Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues” and I have been mulling over the article as well as the incredible #edtechchat on the topic (see the transcript of the chat on @participate) for a couple of days. After careful reflection, I am ready to share the following thoughts of the issue and specifically what I think the article missed.

One of my greatest concerns about the article is the revelation by several leaders in the EdTech community, as shared in the #edtechchat, that the reporters behind the article may have purposefully misled potential interviewees as to the purpose of the article. I encourage you to review the transcript of the chat so that you hear their words (they even posted the original message from the NYT reporters which mentioned nothing about an expose of teacher ambassadors as an ethics issue.) It is disheartening, with all of the other challenges facing educators, that a respected news outlet would seek to discredit teachers that go above and beyond for their profession.

There are several terms utilized by EdTech companies to describe the cadres of teachers and educators that are utilized to spread the word about products and services. These terms include ambassadors, certified teachers, “experts”, and a variety of brand-specific terms that describe these teachers. For simplicity, I will use the term ambassador. But even with that clarification, there is discussion that needs to take place. I am a Google Certified Educator and Trainer.  For each level of this certification, I completed online courses, additional self-study and passed one or more exams to display my knowledge. There are other companies for which I “earned” the title by completing on online form.

If you follow me on Twitter, you would quickly see that I have several of these certifications. I do, in fact, seek these out because in my current position, it is my job to identify, research, master and share the latest educational technologies with the educators I am charged to support. For me, it is the quick and easy access to information and support (as in help) that having the certification or ambassadorship grants me that is the benefit of my efforts.

Once I locate a program that interests me, and long before I apply or begin working towards certification, I research the program, its “benefits” and it’s cost. (Yes, dear reporter, you do have to pay to participate in some of these programs.) Here are a few of the absolutes that I follow:

  1. Is the product/service something I use or would use in a classroom environment?
  2. Do I believe that the effective use of the product/service would improve or enhance the chances of student success?
  3. Does the program require me to provide positive promotion, posts or referrals to maintain my status? (A “yes” to this question results in my declining involvement.)
  4. Does the program require exclusivity? (Tell me I can only use, support, promote this product and I’ll tell you “No, thanks!”)
  5. Is the cost of the program reasonable for implementation by the teachers, schools, or districts that might hear me discuss it?
There are numerous studies that indicate that this product or that service show no positive difference in student performance. Research is important and should be a part of every decision, but I have also been in education long enough to know that there are different needs in different schools.  Additionally, there are good teachers and bad teachers, hard-working teachers and “get through the day” teachers.  This is why I mention that I have to believe that the effective use of the product could benefit students. Exclusivity is also a deal breaker. I serve over one thousand schools and not all of them use the same systems. To serve them effectively, I have earned certifications from Google, Microsoft and Apple. I promote numerous products that would consider themselves as competitors. I have to help the teachers I serve find the best solution for their particular situation. 
If the New York Times thinks that a free T-shirt, a couple of stickers and a coffee mug would influence me enough to alter my thinking then they need to reconsider the idea of press credentials as well. I don’t see sports reporters giving the losing coach a break just because they get to go to the game for free; why would they expect teachers to behave differently?
Now is a good time to discuss exactly what my experience has shown me I can “get” for being an ambassador. I could, right now with a phone call or email, get a couple of T-shirts and packs of stickers to give away if I was hosting a training. Do the NYT reporters think that will make me present on product A over product B? That is very short-sighted.
I do take advantage of the contacts of the various programs I am a part of to ask questions that teachers have, to make companies aware of teacher concerns and even teacher ideas for new features.  In fact, I have been a part of several beta programs, most of them requiring several hours of in-depth testing and online feedback. For this time and effort, I accepted a gift card valued at under $50. (By the way, I just did the math on that one and based on the time I spent testing, reviewing, and discussing the product in a focus group I netted about $7.50 an hour. If you want me to report that to the IRS, I’ll be happy to do so.)
I know you have been waiting for me to share what it was that the New York Times missed in the article so here it is- Teachers aren’t in it for the money! Every teacher I know spends hundreds and hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to make up for the shortfalls of declining budgets and underprivileged kids. Many of those free T-shirts end up in the school counselors office for the kids that comes to school underdressed because of family situations out of the school’s control. Those free pencils and pens? Teachers slip them quietly to the kid that comes to school each day in part to get out of the homeless shelter they live in. Those rare instances when a teacher earns a piece of equipment or free software- it doesn’t go to them, it goes to the school. And the gift card I received? It was redeemed within an hour. . . to buy a book on how to teach coding to every kid in every classroom. Thanks for the respect, New York Times, teachers across the country appreciate it.

Helping students fight fake news

Fake news is not new. This article from Politico documents the story of a missing child that was reportedly murdered by members of religious community who then drank the child’s blood as part of a Passover celebration. The story spread through the sermons of a Franciscan Monk and eventually led to the arrest, torture and execution of fifteen innocent people.  It happened in 1475.

But somehow, the fake news roller coaster has hit a new high in this era of social media gluttony. Inevitable, perhaps, but an area of concern nonetheless. More and more people get their news from social media which has created a target rich environment for those that what to spread disinformation in order to further their cause.

Buzzfeed reported that a false story that reported Pope Francis was to endorse Donald Trump for president during the 2016 election received almost one million shares, reactions and comments. The story was false, but it quickly spread through social media.

So how can educators play a role in the fight against fake news? Let’s start in the classroom. English Language Arts teachers spend a significant portion of class time teaching students how to identify various literary devices. This easily translates into the discovery of fake news.  For example, hyperbole is an effective literary technique that can be used to create a visual picture for a reader.
It was so cold that each word from his mouth froze in mid air and fell to the ground.

However, when used in a news article or advertising claim, hyperbole is often a clue that something may simply be too wild to be true, such as when the Associated Press published a story that the Trump administration planned to “mobilize over 100,00 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.”

Teaching the proper use of literary devices, including showing how they can be misused, could have a significant effect on helping students identify fake news. But there are many other techniques that can be used.  Take a look at this video from Common Sense Media Education.

Common Sense Media offers several great resources on how to detect fake news including this video that includes four sites kids can use to “Fact check” what they read online and this creative poster that helps students determine the legitimacy of the site they are viewing.  Older students will benefit from this resource from Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp. It includes questions for teens to ask both when evaluating sites and well questions to ask when creating media messages.

Teachers have a responsibility to provide students with the skills necessary to identify content of questionable validity. This has been true for years, although when my generation was in school, this was normally related to detecting bias and exaggeration in advertising. This is still common, but today’s students need more. Today, we need to give them a set of skills that serve as a “fake news” detector that is in some ways just as important to their digital citizenship as knowledge of the Bills of Rights is to their physical citizenship.

ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Blogging Buddies

I am happy to share that I have joined up with the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Network Blogging Buddies project to encourage blogging related to Ed Tech and to share a few blogs that I think you will benefit from reading.

Here are the blogs in my blogging buddies group, please take a look at them!

Daisy Dee’s Tech Stuff– This blog is hosted by two classroom teachers that have decided to share some great tech tips with the world.

Nicole Carter’s Musings page is a wealth of useful information. Nicole is a Teacher on Special Assignment Innovation Strategist (what a great title!) and is a PBS Digital Innovator (2015). Her current series on Sketchnoting already has me pulled in especially since that is something I really wish I had the talent to do effectively.

Investing to Learn is the blog of Lori Dickerson, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for Muncie City Schools (Indiana). Her blog is just getting started but her background leads me to believe that it will be a very interesting collection of posts.  What Lori doesn’t know is that I was born and raised about 30 miles down the road in Anderson, IN. That means I have a certain level of expectations from my fellow Hoosier blogger.

Noa Lahav’s blog on Medium has already intrigued me. Several great, quick reads on her use of various EdTech Tools and a wonderful series on Paying for EdTech. I have seen Noa on Twitter in several EdTech chats that I follow and cannot wait to follow her work even more closely.

Participate Adds eduClipper to Their Collection


As most followers of my work know, I am a huge fan of Participate, the collaborative professional development platform. The many additions and changes that they have introduced over the just the past couple of years have been amazing.  I began using the app curation tool back in 2013, building collections of iOS and Android apps that were easy to share. Gradually, this expanded to allow online videos and websites in collections.

Participate Screenshot

Then they added the incredible Chats feature, revolutionizing educational Twitter Chats. The Chats feature eliminated the two primary obstacles that had kept me from becoming an active participant in chats- remembering to include the hashtag and losing resources because they went past too quickly.

When VIF International Education purchased Participate (and subsequently took the Participate name) they added online courses. The courses, many of which are created by Participate while others are presented through Participate by a variety of partners, have turned Participate into an amazing educational platform. I often describe the platform as covering the three Cs- Collections, Chats and Courses.

I also was an early user of eduClipper, the educational bookmarking tool originally founded by EdTech Rock Star, Adam Bellow. eduClipper was constantly adding features as well and soon integrated social sharing tools, the ability to “clip” anything (pictures, files, even mini-whiteboard sketches), and portfolios.

eduClipper Screenshot from

Recent Announcements

It is mid-June and that means it is time for a barrage of EdTech related updates and news announcements. As a Participate “insider”, I was aware of some planned updates. On the eve of ISTE, Participate unveiled a planned update of the Participate website, especially the Chats area. They also released Chats as an iOS app. I was asked to beta test the app and while there are a couple of “missing” things that I hope are brought over to the app, overall it is a great experience for mobile participation in Twitter Chats. 
Personally, I thought this was the “big” announcement for Participate for ISTE
’17. Oh, how wrong I was!
Saturday afternoon, the news broke that Participate would be acquiring eduClipper. While no financial details have been released, I’ll first say that I am happy for Adam Bellow. I once had a great conversation with him sitting outside the conference rooms of the Tennessee Educational Technology Conference two years ago. (This conversation actually included Adam, Kathy Schrock, Leslie Fisher and myself- yes, to that point in my EdTech life, I felt I had reached the pinnacle.) Part of that conversation included Adam describing some upcoming updates to eduClipper and talking about how it was getting pretty big. He certainly wasn’t complaining but I had the impression that he was realizing that it was growing to a point that it would require a more substantial team to support its growth.
Adam Bellow, speaking at
Tennessee Educational Technology Conference, 2015.
(Photo by Keith George)

I am also happy for the team at Participate. From my view, this acquisition has great potential.  The press announcement indicated that “will work to enhance the eduClipper offering, while supporting existing users.” I immediately began merging the two platforms in my mind. Now, I have no specific information on any plans that Participate may have on this front. In fact, I hope that the folks at Participate read this and steal some of these ideas (royalties are negotiable!)

1. I have previously used, and promoted, a rebellious adaptation of Participate collections for use as lesson plans. (See It seems like the assignment feature in eduClipper could be easily merged with collections as an optional feature to create a guided lesson for students.

2.  Imagine a smartphone/tablet app interface similar to the current eduClipper app that fed “clips” directly into new or existing Participate collections. Then I could add photos, videos or other resources directly from my phone.  I picture myself at a conference or EdCamp just snapping pictures of presentation screens and student showcases to save in collections. Then I link the app used into the collection. Oh, and they have some student samples, let’s scan those into the collection as well!

3.  There are already several student portfolio apps but those that I have tried don’t really fit the bill for educator portfolios. I envision a special version of a Participate collection that could serve as an ongoing professional portfolio. It should be shareable in a format that is professional enough for my preservice teachers to share with a principal during a job interview but flexible enough to include a variety of products. Adding the products to this portfolio collection should be easy from an app or the browser.

I look forward to what the Participate team has in store for eduClipper and the increased power to collaborate among educators. I see great potential in the combined features of these two wonderful platforms. My imagination continues to envision new uses for this combined educational powerhouse.

“Swivl-ing” into Professional Learning

This is a repost of a blog post I wrote that was recently featured on the Swivl blog.

A review of the wonderful posts on the Swivl blog will highlight the many benefits of using the Swivl system to implement individualized observations with students. Being able to review any lesson via video is great, but the additional features that the Swivl+ system provides cannot be overlooked. As teachers, we often pride ourselves on “being able to hear a pin drop across the room” and “having eyes in the back of our heads” but everyone knows that neither of those claims is truly accurate. We cannot see or hear everything. With the Swivl+ system, you have a much clearer picture of what your students are doing, and most importantly, what they are “getting.” 

However, as much as I can tout the benefits of individualized observations for students, I can only do so from afar. As the Educational Technology Specialist for a statewide STEM initiative, I work primarily with teachers, not students. When I applied to become a Swivl Pioneer, I shared this with the Swivl team but also discussed some of the many ways that I felt Swivl could benefit educators at all levels including allowing us to truly review and reflect on our work. I present between ten and fifteen professional development sessions each month ranging from 30-minute overview sessions to six-hour workshops. The formats run from online webinars to conference presentations to hands-on workshops. Topics range from Google Teacher Boot Camps to Microsoft Office to web tools in the classroom. 

Teaching adult learners requires a different mindset than working with students, but the goal is the same- I want each of them to “get” it. I recently set up the Swivl+ system and used it during a portion of the Google Teacher Boot Camp I was leading. I did so with several goals in mind. First, I knew in advance that several of the participants would not be able to attend this first session and the recordings would provide an easy way for me to share the information with those participants. Now, I know that I could have done the same with a video camera on a tripod or even a webcam, but the Swivl+ system would also allow those participants to see and hear the discussions of the other participants. 

When it comes to teacher professional learning, almost every teacher will mention the “teacher conversations” as one of the most valuable parts of an effective professional learning session. But the Swivl system also helps me as a trainer and facilitator. This is the first Boot Camp I have led as a Google Certified Trainer. Having the video of my session will provide me with incredible feedback on my performance. Were the teachers truly engaged during the presentation? What conversations were they having as they worked through the various activities? Were they off track (yes, teachers do that too) or were they engaging in peer learning? I have a second session of the Boot Camp scheduled for next week. 

After working through the process the first time, I plan to use the Swivl system again and hope to record a whole session. I included in my personal professional development plan that I would “review recordings of at least two training sessions I conduct and reflect on my performance.” I also included “I will ask a critical friend to review the same two sessions and to provide feedback on my performance.” When I wrote that plan, I had my Swivl but was only casually familiar with Swivl+ and certainly was not part of the Pioneer program. Now I know just how much easier it will be to complete that plan. 

Inspired by my experience with Swivl? Apply to become a Swivl Pioneer!

A collection of coding apps and resources.

Coding for kids.

Over lunch today, I was pulling together a few resources related to data governance for a different project and was digging through the great resources provided by Common Sense Media Education (on Twitter @CommonSenseEd).  As I search for my original target, I came across this video on ways to get kids coding.  Take a look. . .

While the three tips included are things I had heard, and shared before I still found myself pulled into this quick little video.  I have been working on a broader project working to integrate computational thinking and computer science into the work of our (primarily) Math and Science efforts.  This has resulted in me taking long looks at several coding apps, robotics programs, and other computational thinking related resources.
By far, my current favorite is Tynker.  The app is extremely well done on iOS and the web resources are incredibly rich. We are, however, still in the midst of a funding quagmire. The Tynker app on iOS is free (the school version incomes with a $6 price tag). The training options on the website, the curriculum itself, is outstanding and comes with a pricing model designed for whole school adoption.  Yes, they have “classroom” plan, but that seems to fit a program that has the same 30 students under one teacher for a whole semester (12 lessons with 62 activities falls a bit short of the traditional 90 class days of a semester).  But for many teachers, schools, districts, and in my case, programs, do not work that way.  If I am an innovative 5th-grade science teacher and I want to integrate computer science, and coding, into my course, I may have 60-80 students (if students rotate teachers). I may not need 60+ activities because I may not have the time available or I may elect to use some of the great resources from to supplement as well.
Before I go any further, this is not a criticism of Tynker.  In fact, they have a great 6 lesson course that would fit perfectly into the scenario that I described and it is offered free. But it is one course. Now it is up to me to piece together Tynker,, and other resources to build my own curriculum. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is more work for the teacher. Especially when you look at the management of these varied resources.
I want to use resources from Tynker,, Sphero, Wonder Workshop, CS First, Swift Playgrounds and a half a dozen other apps and programs. But I also want to keep my sanity. Developers, please don’t take this as criticism  I am after all a teacher. Take it as a design challenge.  I am here to teach students.  In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you!”
Well, until those developers contact me directly for my thoughts, here is a Participate Learning collection of my favorite coding resources.

Love Symbaloo? Get certified!

If you follow my blog or follow me on Twitter (@bigtechcoach in case you don’t!), or if you have ever attended one of my presentations then you likely have heard me wax poetic about Symbaloo.  The visual bookmarking platform saved my life after Google killed iGoogle! Seriously, my Symbaloo webmix jumped in front of a speeding bus and Saved. My. Life!

Ok, Ok, maybe that is a stretch, but I truly don’t know what I would do without Symbaloo.  My home webmix is as large as the platform allows. Just take a look!

I estimate that 80% of the sites I visit on any given day are just one click away because I have them on this wonderfully crowded webmix.

I love Symbaloo so much and was using it so frequently to create organized collections of links for the classes I teach and the presentations I share that I decided to take part in the Symbaloo Certified Teacher program and eventually became a Symbaloo PD Pro.  When I completed the Certified Teacher program I had to pony up ten bucks for the privilege.  I didn’t mind, however, because certified teachers gain access to exclusive opportunities like free swag to give out at your presentations.

They still require that small administrative cost. Except when very cool sponsors step up. I received an email today from the team over at Spiral.  Apparently, Spiral and Symbaloo have formed a partnership (read about it here) and to celebrate, the folks at Spiral are going to cover the cost of Symbaloo Certification for you!

Here are the details:

To learn more about SymbalooEDU and their certification, check out their website here:
Click on the link “HAVE A PROMO CODE? CLICK HERE” and enter the code SPIRAL17SYM to waive the admin costs.
Complete your SymbalooEDU Basic Certification using the Symbaloo Lesson Plan that they provide. (Hey we said it was ‘free’ not easy).
Show off your SymbalooEDU Certification badge and be the envy of all your friends 🙂
Give us a tweet at @SpiralEducation and @SymbalooEdu to show off that you’re certified!
So, head on over and take advantage of this opportunity.  And if you do, Tweet me with the cool badge you will earn.

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