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.

Creating the perfect set of Plickers cards

As my organization rolls out G Suite for Education to our eleven sites across the state, I have been scheduling several professional development sessions over the next couple of months.  One tool that I will be sharing during these sessions is Plickers.  The Plickers app is an easy to use assessment tool perfect for classrooms and other settings with limited access to technology.  If you aren’t familiar with Plickers, please take a look at my post “Formative Assessment is the One Device Classroom”  Plickers is perfect for our specialists because oftentimes were are presenting in locations that have limited access to the internet.  Since presenters are at the mercy of the network admins as to what access they may be granted, it is imperative that presenters are prepared with effective tools even in the face of limited access.

In preparation for this rush of presentations, I decided to create a new set of Plickers cards to stash in my presentation bag.  Plickers provides a pdf document of the card set is a couple of sizes.  With the convenience of packing in mind, I went with the standard size for a set of 40 cards.

With visions of grandeur in my mind, I first tried printing the cards directly on card stock with my desktop laser printer.  The smearing that resulted made the set unusable!  So, I tried another approach.  I printed the pdf on plain paper using the “big” printer/copier that is shared in the office.  I then loaded the card stock in the bypass tray, made an adjustment for think paper and simply copied the pdf.  The results were perfect.

The set will print as two cards per page so, of course, some trimming was needed.  I knew that I wanted to end up with a set that was nice in appearance and that was as uniformly cut as possible.  Off to the paper trimmer!  Of course, a good trimmer with a measurement grid is essential.  Now I had to calculate the dimensions.

After a couple of dry runs here is the procedure I followed:

  1. Cut the paper in half vertically by placing the car stock in the trimmer lengthwise with the left edge at the 5 1/2 inch mark. This will give you a half sheet with one card.
  2. Place one of the resulting cards in the trimmer lengthwise, this time with the left edge at the 6 1/2 inch mark (removing 2 inches from one side of the card).
  3. Rotate the card so that the right edge you just created is now the left edge and place the edge at the 4 1/2 inch mark.  This will cut 2 inches off of the opposite edge.

The resulting card should look like this:

Next, I needed an easy way to carry the cards without worrying about creases and tears.  A quick look around the office and I located some leftover cardboard mailers, the kind once used to mail CDs.  The entire set of 40 cards fit nicely in the mailer and the cardboard is sturdy enough to protect the cards.

However, I really didn’t like the look.  I scrounged around and found some Avery 5165 Full Sheet printable labels. I opened up Microsoft Word and changed the layout to landscape.  I inserted a shape with the dimensions of 5.75″ tall and 7.25″ wide.  I added my name and organization as well as contact information in case I leave the card set somewhere.  Hopefully, a kind participant would shoot me a message, but in all honesty, if they did, I’d probably suggest they keep and use the set.  As a final touch, I added my Plickers Ambassador badge to the label.  
Here is the holder with the label applied:
As you can see, the printing on the mailer still shows through a bit.  Next time, I’ll first apply a blank label and then the printed label of it, but this will certainly do the trick.
While looking for the full page labels, I came across some 1″ x 4″ mailing labels.  I took a few minutes to create a quick label for the back of my cards.  I also took the time to add the card number and small letters to help the participants orient the card on the back.  This took several minutes, but I think it will pay off during sessions.  Here is how the back of the cards look now:
All told, this project took me about two hours, but that includes a couple of interruptions, a bit of searching for materials and the time consuming adding of the letters to the back of the cards.  Two hours invested gives me a ready-to-implement assessment strategy that is always available in my presentation bag.  Even if I intend to use something different but run into network issues, I can pull out my Plicker cards and immediately demonstrate a technology based strategy that will work in a pinch or everyday, especially in a one device classroom.

The benefits of technology certifications

I recently was successful in earning my Google Certified Teacher Level 2 certification.  This comes on the heels of completing the BrainPOP Certified Teacher online course. I, of course, took the time to add these certifications to my biography page and it got me thinking about the value of these certifications.  What do they really mean to me as a teacher and presenter of professional development? A trusted colleague often teases me about the number of certifications I hold and the dedication I display in seeking them out.  He doesn’t describe it as dedication, however.  He has more colorful language to describe it, but I’ll go with “dedication.”  I have explained that I am an outlier.  As the Educational Technology Specialist for a statewide program that serves a variety of schools and districts, I feel it benefits me to have a wide range of experience and exposure as it relates to technology integration.  Would a classroom teacher need such a variety? The likely answer is no.

However, they did agree on two points about certifications. First, if two candidates displayed equally impressive soft skills, then earned certifications could be a deciding factor because, and this was the second point, the earning of respected technology certifications did indicate the desire and dedication to go the extra mile to learn more and demonstrate their knowledge. I see this extra effort on the part of a teacher as incredibly important.

If I were looking to add staff to serve in instructional technology, certifications would not be the driving force, but could certainly “steer” my decision. (See what I did there?) I would never hire the prospective coach that held nine certifications without a long, thorough interview to evaluate the soft skills, but the earning of certifications, does, for me, demonstrate a teachers’ desire to expand and improve their practice.

 Teachers that are charged with, or simply find themselves in a position that they are often called upon to share their knowledge related to technology integration should strongly consider seeking the respected technology certifications for the tools they use frequently.  After all, no downsides have been mentioned and having them in your bag of tricks serve two purposes.  First, if the teacher approaches the certification process correctly, it will inherently improve their practice; it will help them teach better.  Second, it will likely open doors of opportunities for them- opportunities to share and present to others, for instance. If you are part of the technology leadership team for your school or district, you can easily identify those teachers that are effectively integrating various digital tools in the classroom.  Take a few minutes to determine if there is a certification path for teachers on that product. If so, take the time to share the information and encourage that teacher to pursue certification. The benefits to you are obvious- more qualified teachers that can be utilized to increase and improve technology integration. 

Formative assessment in the one device classroom

By now we all understand the necessity and benefits of formative assessment.  We must know where our students are in their learning so that we can be sure that they are ready for the next step.  By assessing students at regular intervals, we can ensure that we know this and can adjust our lesson, either for the entire group or begin differentiating based on the results of these formative checks.

In a perfect world, one in which every student has a device or ready access to a computer, there are many great options for quick and easy assessments that utilize technology to help teachers collect and analyze the results.  From Kahoot! for an interactive and fun experience to Edmodo for a more structured setting, options abound for the tech heavy classroom.  But what about a classroom that is sparse on technology?  In this situation, Plickers may be the perfect solution.

Plickers is an interactive assessment tool that only requires a single device in the hands of the teacher.  Students are armed only with a simple, pre-printed card that displays a unique code, similar to a QR code.  The cards can be purchased, but they also can be freely downloaded and printed by the teacher to save costs or because you simply want to get started quickly.

The first step for the teacher is to head over to Plickers.com and grab a free account.  Set up your classes and add students.  You can do this manually, but Plickers also lets you import a spreadsheet as well. Students are assigned a number that corresponds with a particular Plicker card.

Now that the students have been added, you can move on to adding questions.  Note that you can add folders here and that is a good idea, especially if you teach multiple subjects.  You can nest folders as well, making it easier to stay organized.  Once you have your questions added, switch to LiveView on the computer that is connected to the projector.  Then launch the Plickers app on your phone or tablet.  On your device, select a class then go in to your library and find the questions you want to present.  If there are several questions you’ll be presenting, add them to the queue.  If it is only a single question, go ahead and tap Scan Now.

The question will displayed on your projected computer.  Students will rotate their Plicker card so that the answer they choose is at the top and will hold the card facing the teacher.  You will then scan the cards in the entire room by pointing the camera of your device towards the students.  You do not have to scan each card individually; the app will detect the cards automatically, even scanning them as a group!  The students responses are captured and stored in the reports section of your Plickers account.  You can also display the graph view on the projected computer to see live results.

As you can see, using Plickers is quick and easy once you have things set up.  You will add your classes and add students first.  Then add questions to your library, or create them on the fly.  Students respond by holding up their Plicker Cards and you capture their responses with a quick pointing of your device.  It’s that simple!

Plickers is a great replacement for expensive Student Response Systems and is a breeze to capture formative assessment data in the classroom but don’t forget to think outside of the box.  Traditional clickers and expensive student devices might not always be the best choice for every situation.  Consider capturing feedback while on a field trip.  The students are outside at the nature center (or museum or on the bus heading back).  It’s not an appropriate place for student devices due to the risk of loss or damage.  The teacher can verbally read the question and answer choices, quickly scan the responses, and get a good idea of student understanding before you leave the site!  Now that is anytime, anywhere learning!

Curating resources as a professional learning activity

The number of valuable educational resources available on the web seems to grow by the hour.  There are so many great sources of content that the challenge for today’s teacher is simply finding the best resources for their student and their classroom. That is where the concept of content curation comes in to play.

Beth Canter (2011) defines content curation as “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.  The work  involves  sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information.” This definition is almost perfectly complete, only missing one aspect- content creation is hard. And time-consuming.  Wait, that is two things.

I probably need to expand on my additions to Canters’ definition.  Content curation is hard when it is done right.  It is easy to throw together a list of links on a related topic.   Curation done right is much more than that.  You need more than just the link, you need information about the resource.  That is why I have become such a big fan of Participate Learning (http://www.participate.com) and their content collections.  Participate make it incredibly easy to add resources; there are already thousands in their database.  The power comes from your ability to create a new collection around your selected topic. And if you take the time to add a review of the resource, it becomes even more powerful.

Participate has included all the bells and whistles needed to build great resource collections.  Resources can include apps, online videos, websites, or even uploaded files.  This allows users to included everything from iPhone apps to YouTube videos to printed rubrics. This flexibility has led me to begin promoting the development of Participate collections in two different ways as a professional learning activity.

Participate Collections as a Lesson Plan

When I began my teaching career it was right in the middle of the transition between the analog and digital worlds.  My undergrad technology course included instruction on 16mm film projectors and opaque projectors (All you younger educators should look up that second one, it was a beast!) By the time I began my Masters work, the focus had shifted to Microsoft Office and the Internet.  If you were talking internet lessons in the mid-90’s that meant Webquests.

Webquests were, and still can be, effective digital lessons.  You could easily design a Participate collection to serve as a guided online lesson.  Start to collection with a simple document that includes the detailed instructions.  This could be done by adding a link to a Google Doc or by uploading a static file.  Next, find a great YouTube video that describes the concept you are looking to teach.  Don’t worry about the ads or the other videos that would normally be visible if you send the students directly to YouTube; Participate will show just the video in a window inside the Participate collection. Follow this with an iPhone app that the students will use to complete an activity.  Then maybe a website that the students will review for more information.  Complete the collection with a link to a Google Form you have created to serve as a quiz.  Creating a detailed lesson in this way is a great professional learning activity.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Curating Collections

While I have already discussed the how of creating collections, let me detail how this can serve as professional learning.  When the resources in the collection include a teacher-review that details how the resource was used, it requires a level of teacher thought that certainly qualifies as professional learning.  Combined with thoughtful curating of a diverse collection on the targeted topic itself requires an incredible amount of teacher preparation and is exactly what we want teachers to be doing.  In fact, I’m hearing that soon resources will be able to be aligned to Common Core standards (a feature that is currently available to Participate Learning experts).

Photo courtesy of University of Delaware

Collaborative Professional Learning

One of the unsung features of Participate Learning collections is the ability for teachers to collaborate on resource collections.  You can create a collection and then invite other teachers to your collection.  They can then add resources to the collection.  Additionally, there is a built in chat feature that allows collaborators to communicate inside a collection to discuss and evaluate the proposed resources.

I have begun incorporating the curation of resources into the graduate-level Educational Technology courses I teach as well as working them in to professional development sessions I conduct.  When you require more than just a basic collection of links, the curation of resources presents teachers with a challenge that is definitely worthy of professional learning credit.

Nearpod Goes Virtual

Nearpod, the well known and engaging presentation system, has recently expanded into the world of virtual reality.  For several months, VR-ready presentations have been available in the Nearpod Library and those presentations have been used by many teachers and students with Google Cardboard-type products. However, Nearpod recently introduced their own NearpodVR goggles in a special package for schools.  They launched this new product with a grant program available to select schools that submitted video entries to earn the grant.

I am fortunate that I have an existing collaborate partnership with the Instructional Technology Coach at Owens Cross Roads Elementary School in Madison County (Alabama).  Davina Mann led the grant submission for the school and she recently presented a full Nearpod workshop that I was lucky enough to attend.  After the obligatory, but incredibly valuable, introduction to Nearpod, she introduced the new VR presentations.  If you have experienced any VR system, such as Google Cardboard, there are some similarities.  In fact, the are even some Nearpod-branded Google Cardboard headsets out there in the world.  But Nearpod realized that these were not rugged enough for the school environment.  They seemed to realize that there was an answer out there.

First, they began by creating, and partnering with other creators to create, a huge collection of immersive VR content.  A quick search of the Nearpod library for “VR” resulted in too many VR inclusive lessons to count.  The content variety is quite good and there are many free lessons, as well as those that are available through a Nearpod subscription or individual purchase.

Next, Nearpod realized that the cardboard versions of VR headsets would not withstand the daily grind of the school environment.  They also knew that school budgets eliminated the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive level of headsets.  That is why they have released the NearpodVR headsets.  The resources work without the headsets but the experience is much more immersive with them.

After spending a couple of hours playing with several of these VR lessons, I am convinced that this type of interactive multimedia will become more and more prevalent in education.  Nearpod has developed a great implementation of an educational VR experience that will engage students.  The quality of the resources is impressive and so many of them are free or extremely affordable that teachers will be able to easily locate something that can be immediately incorporated into the curriculum.

Check out the Nearpod VR collection by going to http://app.nearpod.com.

A lot of little things

It has been a busy couple of weeks that have been filled with many “little” things so I would like to take the time to recap.

Last Friday, the first full episode of Today’s Tech Coach was released and we have hear some great feedback.  The audio will be improved with the next episode!  Even with that distraction, Mark Coleman (@jmarkcoleman) and I are pleased with our first effort.  Mark and I discussed several popular platforms that work similar to learning management systems but aren’t quite full blown LMSs.  Also in the show was an interview that I did with Jaclyn Stevens from the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University.  She and I chatted about a rethinking of the SAMR model using the analogy of a swimming pool.

You can check out the entire podcast on iTunes.

On this past Monday, I was thrilled to have some comments I sent in to the TwiT Network included in two different shows.  Earlier, on Tech News Today, the crew discussed Apple’s ConnectED grant program and tended to focus on the equipment and that branched in to a iPad vs. Chromebook discussion on the show.  I sent in a few comments via email to point out that the discussion should be less about the devices and more about the content.  TNT co-host Meghan Morronne (@meganmorrone) was kind enough to respond by email and different parts of my email were included in iOSToday and Tech News Tonight.  Check out the clips below:

On Tuesday, I was notified that Symbaloo has added a guest post I did on the new Symbaloo Lesson tool on their blog.  
Finally, as this post is being written, the annual Google I/O conference is just a few hours away.  We will be watching and will bring you all the education-related updates right here on the BigTechCoach blog and in the next episode of Today’s Tech Coach.

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