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I hope to see you all there!


Six Years of Separation

(This post was a collaborative effort with Jennifer Krzystowczyk from Bellevue Public Schools in Bellevue, NE and is cross-posted at

We’ve all heard of six degrees of separation.  That is, we are all connected in some way through connections of six people.  Our students are not separated by six degrees, but rather by a six year generation gap. In school there appears to be two generations that are about six years apart.  Think about it.  Consider the technology skills of a 12 year old and the technology skills of an 18 year old getting ready to graduate from high school.  Their skill sets are very different.


This younger generation know how to leverage technology in a way that is transformational.  We could call them digital synthesizers.  These kids learn new skills on YouTube, publish content on YouTube, post their thoughts on blogs, Reddit, and other digital platforms.  They connect with others, but not on Facebook.  They view Facebook as too mainstream – where their grandma’s can see what they are up to.  These kids will be on Google plus hanging out, Instagram, Twitter and Kik.  They capture images and videos throughout their day and turn their media into shareable projects.

It’s about six years. The 18 year old will know how to view media, connect on social media, but they can’t compete with the exposure that six years gives their younger counterparts.  Digital synthesizers are not impressed with shiny new iPads or Chromebooks or other tablets.  Give them any piece of hardware and watch the magic happen.  They will produce, share and collaborate.  They are not just natives to technology, they are natives to social media and creation tools.


According to Malcom Gladwell, author of Outliers, The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  So I wondered, does a 12 year old today get a 10,000 hour advantage over a current 18 year old?  If you consider the 365 day a year times 6, the difference in years, that equals 2,190 extra days of technology use and exposure.  If a kid spent 4 hours a day using technology tools, then that is close to 10,000 hours.  8,760 extra hours of practice to be exact.

Digital Natives

Digital Synthesizers

Use email

Use Facebook

Collect digital images to share

Read blogs

Proficient in word processing, spreadsheets, and slide presentations.

Text Messaging

Use hangouts

Use Reddit, Google+

Curate images online with Pinterest, Scoopit

Edit photos before posting

Capture, create, and post videos to YouTube

Proficient in creative applications, publishing

Information hounds,

Verify and question information

So what does this mean for teachers?  It means we need to think flexibly. What worked for our students 5 years ago may not work for our students today, and it certainly won’t work for our students tomorrow.


It means our students are growing more comfortable with the tools around them and how they integrate into their lives. We need to continue to evolve in how we integrate these tools into our lives so we can help students make the connection between learning and these tools. While they may be more knowledgeable or comfortable with the tools, we have the wisdom and experience to provide the context for how these tools can improve their learning and apply to future careers.


It means the type of information we require from students must stem from higher order thinking like Bloom’s taxonomy.  If we continue to ask questions requiring regurgitation our students will continue to be bored and disengaged.  Siri can answer most basic questions for them.  But if we change our pedagogy to require analysis, creativity, and application, then our students will be better thinkers. Six years should be enough time to get teachers on board don’t you think.  It is time to adjust to our digital synthesizers.  I just hope it isn’t too late for our 2013 graduates!

Blowing the Ceiling off of Learning

I know, I know, it’s been a really long time since I have posted! To anyone still following along, I apologize. I’m ready to get back on the horse…

Lately, so many of my conversations and trainings have had to do with self-directed or personalized learning. With student access to devices, so many more options are becoming available. Teachers are building digital content into MOODLE, our learning management system. Students can access a flow chart or plan for the unit and then move through it at their own pace. They can access video lessons and presentations for direct instruction. They can access activities and assignments. They can take formative assessments as they move through the material to ensure that they are ready to move on. 

The challenge in all of this is creating the online material, the videos, the assignments, the quizzes, etc… It seems to me that we need to be creative about how this gets created. There is no question that our classroom teachers will still need to make much of the material. They are the experts in knowing what their students need and so they will need to create materials that respond to those needs. However, some of the material can be created by others so they can focus on the teaching and the individualization. When I think about the many resources our district has available, I think we need to rethink their roles. 

We have district resource people for different subject areas, math, LA, etc… We have tech integrationists, peer coaches, gifted and talented and special ed teachers. Why not redirect them at least part of the time to begin creating a critical mass of online material so teachers can have students access it as needed.

Think about how much time we spend assessing students for services. What if we spent that time developing material. Who cares if they qualify? If the material is there, and they are ready to use it, let them get started. 

I have talked often about gatekeepers. We have people whose job it is to determine if kids can or can’t do things. Why? Put it out there and see who is WILLING to try. That is far more important than ABLE. We send the wrong message to our students when we say that a test determines if you can or can’t do something. How often do you try something new and find out you can do it when you didn’t think you could? 

I believe that “if you build it, they will come.” If we build a rigorous, engaging online curriculum and make it available to all our students, we can focus on the quality of the curriculum rather than on being gatekeepers. We will have students access it. Some will succeed, some will not, but they will determine that not someone else. Then it is up to us to help them be successful not get in their way.

Imagine a student who could pretest out of a unit that they already know or could finish a unit in half the time. They could then choose where to go next and direct their own learning. All they need is some direction. Let’s put our resources into building the path for those students and let them choose their path!

In Search of A New Model…

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

I think I must be going insane. I have been trying to work with teachers for years now on transforming their teaching. I have offered numerous trainings after school, before school, in the summer, whenever I could. Still, there were many who never attended any of these classes. Why?

After talking to many teachers, it turns out that there are many reasons why they don’t come. For some, they have too many other things happening at those times, family obligations, committee meetings, parent conferences, lesson planning, etc…

So I’ve come to the realization that I will need to change my model if I’m going to have any success. Here is my new plan. I am thinking of moving to a coaching model.

Our teachers meet in PLC’s every week. I would meet with each team 4 times a year. Once at the beginning of the year to set goals. How will you meet the requirements of the district tech curriculum? As we meet throughout the year, we will revisit the goals and I will support the team in a variety of ways:

1. Learning to use the necessary tools
2. Learning to manage the tools in a classroom setting
3. Assessing student work
4. Integrating the tech curriculum into the other curricular areas

I am excited by this model. It will allow me to consistently meet with all teachers. It will ensure that all teachers work towards a team goal and that it gets revisited often so it doesn’t get forgotten.

I am curious to hear from others whether this is a model that they think would work well.

Flying Closer to the Sun!

As we fly closer to the sun, we sometimes feel closer to the light, but we sometimes feel closer to the heat.

It seems to me that this year more than ever, I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that there are two sides to every situation: a positive and a negative.

Here are a few examples:

Providing more tools to teachers is increasing their ability to use technology effectively. It is also causing them more stress and making our access issues for students more apparent.

Using student response devices across our district is increasing our ability to deliver formative assessments quickly and easily. It is also leading to some headaches when students break them or lose them or teachers find the one thing they can’t do.

Using Google Apps for Educators is increasing our ability to be mobile, to collaborate, to provide students with email accounts, and to create sites. It is also glitchy and causing problems when something doesn’t work the way we want it to.

There are so many other examples of software and tools that do much of what we want but not all. For some, they simply focus on the positive and use it for what it is good for. Others say the experience is frustrating when they have to gear the lesson or project to the tool because the tool is limited in terms of what it can do.

In addition, we seem to be stuck between waiting to roll out new tools and ideas until everything is just so and building our parachute on the way down. On the one hand, we want everyone to have a great experience. On the other, we want to begin having the experience before we retire. We want to have answers to all the questions people might have. But, we can’t possibly predict all the issues that might arise. We want to wait until the glitches are worked out, but then a new tool is discovered and we start the process over again.

So much of my time is spent providing the counterpoint to the heat seekers. “Don’t forget about the light! Isn’t it beautiful?” I am starting to wonder if we have just flown a bit too close and now the heat is overpowering a few of us.

I know there must be a balance here but it is an elusive balance. Miss it by even a little and you get burned… or blinded.

Think I will buy everyone some sunglasses and sunblock and go back to work.

*Images thanks to and


Assessing your 21st Century Educator-ness

I recently read Meris Stansbury’s blog post on the Five Characteristics of an Effective 21st Century Educator. It got me thinking about where we are in Wayzata with regards to 21st Century-ness. After all, we are more than a decade into the 21st century. We ought to have arrived by now!

Here are the five characteristics that Stansbury discusses:

1. Anticipates the Future. I am disappointed that this one came first. I would have preferred to build up to it. I believe this is the area in which we are lacking the most. Don’t get me wrong. We are changing. We are looking at best practices and brain research. Using data effectively. We are even embracing some new technologies. But are we looking forward at what the world will be like that our students will enter? Not really.

And I understand why. It is hard. Really hard. I don’t know what the innovative breakthroughs of next year will look like, let alone 10 years from now. But there are trends that have been followed over the past 30 years that tell us that some changes are in store. We have to look really deeply at what we teach and whether it continues to effectively prepare students for the world they will enter.

2. Is a Lifelong Learner. I have to say for the most part, we are doing a pretty good job of this. Through our Summer Tech Institute, Academy courses, study groups, book groups, and after school classes, our teachers have more options than they know what to do with. But they also know that whenever they have availability, there are opportunities awaiting them. In addition, our Professional Learning Communities are providing ongoing time to look in depth at our teaching practices and their effectiveness.

With the speed of change and the busy-ness of our lives, it is important to find new efficient ways to be a lifelong learner. Building that personal network of people through online social networks can allow for many great ongoing learning opportunities. I find that I learn something new everyday from my colleagues on Twitter!

3. Fosters Peer Relationships. I stole a little of my own thunder above, but PLC’s and personal networks are a great way to enhance peer relationships. In addition, we need to help students build these relationships. They need help learning to use their online social networks in educational ways, among themselves as well as beyond the classroom.

4. Can Teach and Assess All Levels of Learners. This has been a major focus for us in the past few years. Looking at ongoing common formative assessments, using PLC time to have data driven dialogue, responding to student needs. We have made huge strides in this area, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

5. Is Able to Discern Effective and Non-effective Technologies. It is easy to see that technology is overwhelming to keep up with. While we work hard to help teachers use the best tools for the job, there are always times when certain tools make more sense for certain classes or situations. Teachers need to constantly balance the power of learning a new tool with the filter of how does this tool help my students learn more effectively.

Sometimes those two concepts are seemingly at odds. If we only select technologies that help us meet our curriculum needs, we may not be addressing #1. Sometimes we need to give our students opportunities to explore and create in new ways.

Teaching Perseverance

There are many examples in our lives in which overcoming failure is a key element to success:

Riding a bike

Potty Training

Hitting a baseball

Tying your shoes


So why do our schools seem to increasingly be designed to minimize opportunities to learn perseverance. Too often we cover a topic and test the kids and they either get it or they don’t. Units must take a certain number of days and if you don’t learn within that time frame, you fail. Were you given a timeframe in which to learn to ride a bike? Tie your shoes? What if you were given an F because it took you longer to learn than your parents thought it should. Sorry. You just weren’t cut out to go potty! I guess you will never tie your shoes!

The determination that this little kid shows is way more important than the skill of riding a bike. If we can develop that in all of our students, they will be far more successful in life than if we slap a grade on them that they are either good or bad at something. The reality is most of us start off not very good at most things. It is our perseverance that keeps us going back and working harder until we get it right.



Video thanks to bonedustcloudat

New teachers… Welcome to teaching!

I have been spending some time this week preparing a new teacher training for new staff. They will have a full week of orientation and one whole day of that will be technology training. For one day, new staff will be immersed in learning about the many tools they have at their disposal to help their students learn. From Smartboards to student response devices, MOODLE to Google Apps, Discovery education to their Schoolwires webpage, these teachers will need to hit the ground running. They will leave swimming with excitement and anxiety about all the possibilities. Some will jump right in and start using the tools, while others will have good intentions of trying them later on after they get their feet wet.

There is no question that the expectations for new teachers are very different. Yet, they still come with the same preparation. I can’t believe how many teachers come to us that haven’t had any real experience with these tools. I was recently asked to be a guest lecturer about technology integration at a nearby university. After asking a few questions, I quickly concluded that my 2 1/2 hour class would be the full extent of their exposure to digital literacy, blended learning, and online collaboration. How is this possible? These new teachers should be learning from the beginning about teaching for the 21st century so they can hit the ground running. Instead, we have to prepare them.

So, new teachers, welcome! As if you didn’t have enough to think about… curriculum, policy, standards, assessments, nametags, etc… We are going to send you on a whirlwind ride through the many tools you will be expected to use in your classroom. Have fun! And don’t forget my phone number!

The More Things Change, The More They Change!

Welcome to the new location of Digital Eyes! Like all everything in life, things change. As our blog server goes away, it was time to migrate my blog to a new place. I hope you like it and continue to come and read. I am always open to suggestions. If you have an idea about how I can improve the site, please let me know.

To kick off my new location, I thought it was appropriate to post about change. Just as we are changing our blog locations, we are also changing our district website, moving to Office 2010 and 2011, and putting student response devices in the hands of every student. This makes for a very busy summer and an even busier fall. I hear often from frustrated teachers about the rapid rate of change. It’s not just technology either. Initiatives on formative assessments, data- driven decision making, cultural proficiency, professional learning teams, new curriculum also are underway.

Teachers are frustrated because it is increasingly difficult to keep up with all this change. I’m frustrated because it is difficult to implement effective change with so much change happening at once. Teachers used to say, just wait and the pendulum will swing back. When it comes to changes in technology and digital literacy, it is hard to argue that the pendulum will swing back.

*Image credit:

For me, as I look at all the change that is taking place, I try to find the linch pin, the thing that holds it all together. Of course, this is a matter of perspective. Literacy people will find literacy at the center of all learning, data wonks will find assessment and data at the center. For me, the changes brought about by technology are at the center. We can only collect and analyze data effectively if we have the technical skills to use the tools that will allow us to do so seamlessly. Using student response systems, data mining software, and online collaborative tools make it possible to collect the data quickly, easily, and accurately while also allowing us to sift through the data and communicate with others from anywhere at anytime. Without these skills, the data becomes too cumbersome and it interferes too much with our instruction.

As it pertains to literacy, technology has redefined what it means to be literate. Multimedia, hyperlinking, online content, instant searches, online collaboration all are changing how we read, what we read, whether or not we read (as opposed to listening, viewing, etc…)

If we focus on digital literacy skills and technology skills, we will empower both our teachers and students to take advantage of the tools around them to better implement the other changes we have in place.

Never before have teachers had more opportunities to learn these skills. Our 3 day Summer Tech Institute will offer 50 classes on everything from Responsible Use to Google Apps to iPods/iPads in the Classroom. With over 500 teachers signed up so far, it is a great start to our school year. In addition, we have a calendar of classes being offered multiple times and places throughout the year. Teachers can login and pick the classes they want at the times they want. Finally, we will continue to offer online classes for those who want the flexibility of logging in whenever, wherever they want.

I sincerely hope that teachers will take advantage of these opportunities and embrace the changes in education. Their students will appreciate it and their long term job security may depend upon it. But most of all, teaching with technology and teaching the skills most essential for 21st century success is fun, challenging, and exciting!

And if you don’t like it. Just wait. It will change again!

Everything Works! Nothing Works!

Which side of the bed did you wake up on today?

On any given day, we wake up ready for all the information thrust at us. We must as educators make good sound decisions. The truth is that somedays, we are so overwhelmed that we say no to everything. We find reasons for them not to work. Some of the reasons are even good ones: equity, management, student distractions, high stakes testing. But none of these issues are really reason enough not to move forward if we truly believe that providing new tools or instruction are the right thing to do.

On the other hand, there are days that we wake up and it is just easier to go with the flow. Perhaps we start to believe that we are just a negative Nelly. Maybe we feel like the rest of the world is moving forward and we’d better jump on board. Whatever the reason, it is not any more useful to say yes to everything than it is to say no to everything.

So what are the criteria for deciding which ideas are winners and which are losers? The more i think about it, the more I land here:

It doesn’t matter. Pick something. Commit to it. Get everyone to commit to it. Move forward.

If you are committed to a 1:1 program, commit. Make it happen. If you are committed to creating blended learning environments to encourage collaboration, then commit. If you are committed to using digital storytelling tools or mobile devices or web 2.0 tools or google apps or teaching digital literacy or online safety, commit.

The amount of time spent talking about it, questioning it, rethinking it, arguing it, pondering it, etc… is squandering valuable time that our students need. Get the kids in, get them on, get them moving forward. There are many paths to digital literacy, 21st century skills, data driven decision making, etc… It’s time to move forward with something and stop waiting for the perfect thing.

I spend so much time talking to teachers, administrators, community members, etc… fielding “what if” questions, possible scenarios, possible pitfalls. Start building. 80% of our questions will figure themselves out. The other 20% we will have to deal with as they come up.

Let’s make a bold step. Our kids will be the better for it.