Month: January 2016

Learning at the Top

So….I’m on Twitter a lot.  I spend a lot of my time looking at what others are doing in their classrooms.  I spend a lot of time sharing what PVSD teachers are doing in their classrooms. One of our favorite areas of learning right now is the use of coding, robots, and drones to teach students such skills as computer science basics, coding, sequencing, problem solving, iterative processes, etc.

I also see a host of companies, educational organizations, and non-profits sharing their excitement and support of such activities.  I see Ozobot, Dot and Dash, Sphero, Tickle, Google CSFirst,, and countless others sharing the excitement students have over this kind of learning.

One thing I didn’t see a lot of was this type of sharing coming from leadership, such as principals, cabinet level leaders, and others that make important decisions about teaching and learning. Now, in all fairness, I am sure there were a lot of principals and leaders sharing these things.  I’m sure there were people from within my organization doing so…I just didn’t see what I thought was enough at the time I decided to write this post.

It’s hard for a principal to know about EVERY activity, resource, or instructional strategy, and we tend to share the types of things that are in our own wheel house. I wanted to give our leaders the chance to experience the fun and challenge of coding, so I devised a plan to host the Inaugural PVSD Sphero Golf Tournament.  IMG_7398

Our next Technology Leadership meeting was going to be hands on. I work better with a great team, so I called upon my dynamic TOSAs (Michelle Sciarillo, Jamie Alvarez, Shaun Blumfield, Shirleen Oplustic, and Carolyn Alexander).  Take a minute and click on their names, and follow them on Twitter…….

We grabbed some cardboard and a bunch of blue painters tape. We created a 6 hole Sphero Golf Course that would require our school leaders to work together to code Sphero drones to complete the holes in as few attempts as possible.


As the district leaders arrived, we welcomed them, explained the rules of our golf course, and gave them a crash course in the Tickle App. Each team received an iPad and a Sphero rolling drone. Each team was given 6  minutes to get used to their Sphero.  Some teams immediately started to practice their first hole (this tournament was a scramble- where every team starts on a different hole, as opposed to everyone starting on Hole 1). Other teams began to use more advanced planning, measuring the distance their Sphero travelled per second, at certain percentages, etc.

The fun and learning began immediately.  A sense of friendly competition was sparked. Our school leaders worked together, discussed coding strategies, and used their varied learning strategies to conquer each hole. One team, having completed a fairly simple hole, started augmenting their recently completed hole. After a minute it became clear what they were doing; they were constructing the next, more difficult hole. They didn’t wait around for the next assignment or challenge.  They began working ahead of schedule so that they were prepared for the next task.  Now tell me you don’t want your students challenging themselves to learn ahead of schedule.

After an hour, each team was quite proficient with the Tickle App.  When the end of the Tournament was announced, there was a vacuum of disappointment. The results from this activity include camaraderie, enthusiasm, and most importantly- an understanding of the way that coding, robots, and drones are much more than toys or add-ons. Within 2 days, 3 schools placed orders for Spheros. Our TOSAs visited two schools to lead teachers in a short golf experience, and the results were nothing short of positive.

As we move forward with the intentional integration of technology, it’s critical that school and district leaders are given the chance to use these technologies so that they can become advocates and ambassadors for the strategies and tools.

Big thanks to Sam Patterson (@SamPatue) for providing the #BlueTapeCertified inspiration!



Keeping Track of the Conversation

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations about the way the classroom is changing, and how this change is based on the way that the teacher now interacts with his students. One of the most important changes is based on the move away from whole class instruction/lecture towards collaborative thinking and working.  In the classroom of old, it was fairly easy for the teacher to manage the conversations taking place and thus hear what students discussed. As the classroom moves away from a single speaker environment, how do teachers keep track of the conversations taking place in their classrooms; online and face to face?


The first conversation I had about keeping track of conversations was with a vendor. We were discussing the challenges faced by the teacher in a 1:1 classroom. When the expectation is that students are working collaboratively, sometimes asynchronously, how can a teacher keep track of the conversations between students?  It’s in these conversations that a teacher can glean a great deal of information about student understanding.  With a view of these conversations,  teachers can intervene and reteach or clarify.  The teacher can see the direction of student work and offer guidance or point out resources.  However, most teachers do not have a tool to track these conversations, and the important insight into student learning is lost. What teachers need is a quick, searchable, savable, and integrated forum for students to chat and hold discussions. Otherwise, a vast majority of student thought is lost to the ether.

The second impact of the changing classroom on a teacher’s ability to track conversations is in the “new” classroom, where centers and small group instruction are gaining an ever greater role. As the teacher instructs small groups in one corner of the room, how does hear the “read to others” in a Daily 5 class, or hear one student give feedback to another on a piece of writing? In a STEM lab or makerspace, how does the teacher hear conversations without altering those conversations with her presence? Thinking about this pair, would you want to interrupt whatever is going on? No! You want to hear what they are discussing, and examine the source of their wonder.  What you DON’T want to do is stop their work.


The physical limitations of the human ear require the teacher to get out of her seat- thus disrupting the small group instruction- and move around the classroom, thereby interrupting whatever learning is taking place in the other areas of the classroom. Even the best managed classroom and the most honed teaching strategies can’t help a teacher hear conversations from across the room. In a loud, collaborative classroom, teachers need a way to hear all of the conversations taking place in a way that does not influence the content of the conversations.

A question for you: How do you keep track of student learning as demonstrated by student conversations?