Thursday, July 14, 2016

High on EdTech in the Mile High City: Guest Collumn by Mark Gura

For the 3rd year in a row... what a privilege to have edtechdigest publish my "Wrap Up" (State of the EdTech Field as it Revealed Itself at the Annual ISTE Conference) article! :)

High on EdTech in the Mile High City

ISTE 2016 reveals the edtech field to now be significantly maturing, employing sophisticated technologies to provide crowdsourced instructional, assessment, and professional development items for teachers by teachers; rich, easy-to-use content, and dedicated to developing and supporting student creativity. Yeah!

Okay, unpack bag? Check! Wash dirty socks? Check! Sort out all business cards and session handouts? Check! Write my annual piece on what got my heart and mind racing at ISTE? Here we go:
Yes, as its previous incarnations did, ISTE 2016 came through big time on its promise: to deliver more brilliant edtech to understanding-hungry educators packed into a single venue, more next-level thoughts whizzing around one’s head, more wonderful new tech items to ponder and covet, and more reasons and hunches to make an educator feel good about being a teacher at this particular moment in time than any other program or event I can imagine!

It’s not enough just to jump into the digital pool, [solution providers] must be clear about which resources support and establish practices that truly reflect advances in pedagogical concept and theory, and that further offer practical, effective ways to put them into to use with real kids in actual classrooms.

After returning from a previous incarnation of this conference in the not-too-distant past, I wrote about my having collided there with abundant evidence that the field of edtech had split into two realities, two distinct paradigms. One that fully supports the forward thinking, bleeding-edge of progressive teaching and learning as manifested in practices like Project-Based Learning, student online publishing, educational gaming, social media-based class exchanges, and the like. And the other, steeped in and misguidedly dedicated to preserving a 19th-century style, traditional, teacher-centered instruction. In my mind, this variety changes students’ school experience only superficially through the application of a veneer of digitization comprised of things like digital, but traditionally formatted digital textbooks; online summative assessments; and the same old, tired worksheets dressed up with a tad of digital animation.

I think this take on the state-of-the-field of just a year or two ago was pretty much on the money, considering that over the past few months the edtech literature has informed us that the industry dedicated to supporting schools in their digital transformation has reported a savvier customer base; school personnel who are now well aware that it’s not enough just to jump into the digital pool, that they must be clear about which resources support and establish practices that truly reflect advances in pedagogical concept and theory, and that further offer practical, effective ways to put them into to use with real kids in actual classrooms.

I wasn’t at the conference long this year before I began to realize that a still newer reality is now coalescing to redefine the field of Educational Technology, actually the entire field of Education. In the past, edtech was fully embraced primarily by that minority of teachers and schools who confidently understood the shifts in the goals of education that are reflected in progressive frameworks like the ISTE Standards and 21st Century Learning. These were forward thinkers, willing to take on the risks involved in leaving the comfort zone of the known, traditionally-run classrooms model.

At the other end of the spectrum, districts feeling pressure to “integrate technology” were willing to dabble in it, but only so far as they could keep a digitized version of teacher-centered control of traditional curriculum going, and adopting tech resources and practices that would help them accomplish that.

Hitting the Sweet Spot
This year, what I witnessed throughout the conference, is the emergence of a mature sweet spot, an area of informed and sophisticated technology-supported instruction, and importantly, a body of emerging resources to make being part of this phenomenon easy for so many educators out there who currently sense that they need to become part of this transformation. There seems to have evolved a wonderful middle ground comprised of resources and practices that bring the benefits of appropriate personalization, increased student engagement, and progressive pedagogy; things like constructivist-aligned social learning and authentic activities into a comfortably redefined classroom experience.

Read the full article at its source:


Wonderful to have been included in "Cultivating creativity" a powerful article in entrsekt magazine (July 2016)...
Veteran educator and ISTE member Mark Gura of Jupiter, Florida, says "through technology, every classroom can be a creative classroom." Students and teachers can say much more now that there are those wonderful tools to help them say it. It's the democratization of the media, he says - in other words, it's for everyone.

Gura grew up in New York City, where he taught for more than three decades. A prolific
writer, he recently completed his fifth ISTE book, Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School. He also teaches graduate teaching courses online, and as a former teacher of visual arts (among many other subjects) and as a technology director, he says he has been involved in promoting creativity he entire life.

He is convinced that the best place to inspire teachers to be creative is right at the beginning, in our teacher education programs. Classroom teachers need to make developing student creativity a goal.

In his own teaching, he sees the power of firsthand joy. 

"The great thing about this is that once a student has had a few experiences like this, the experience of education itself is transformed, as that old saying goes, 'Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire!' What I want people to know about student creativity is that engaging students in activities to develop their creativity is one predictable way to light that fire."

"I've spent a lifetime in pursuit of that, and I think that in the end, it is probably the very most important thing that we educators can do for our students. By using student creativity as a focus, we have  a very clear path to take toward that goal!"

Friday, June 17, 2016

Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School

My latest book...

Make, Learn, Succeed
Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School
Product code: CREATE
ISBN: 9781564843807
Expected publication date: 07/2016
Topics: Curriculum, Robotics, STEM, Project-based learning, Personalized learning, Maker movement

Mark Gura
To adequately prepare students for success, our schools must encourage students to evolve and develop as creative individuals. Today's educators are challenged to establish an instructional practice that will support the development of student creativity, as well as meet curricular goals and assessments.
In this book, author Mark Gura shows that creativity can be developed and that, thanks to the  variety of technology resources available, doing so is not only possible, but practical and effective.
Offering rich examples and ready-to-implement activities, the book describes how to develop creativity by:
  • Establishing a creativity-friendly learning environment.
  • Weaving maker, STEAM, robotics and gaming into instruction.
  • Encouraging motivation, entrepreneurship, curiosity and play.
  • Using technology tools and resources to support student creativity.
Mark Gura has been an educator for more than three decades. He works with Touro College, Fordham University and other organizations to promote the use of technology to provide highly motivating, relevant activities for students. Gura is the author of Getting Started with LEGO Robotics and the editor of Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Getting Schools Revved Up About Robotics / Great Discussion on Teachers Getting Started with Student Robotics

I was a panel member for School Library Journal's very successful WEBINAR titled "GETTING STARTED WITH ROBOTICS" presented online January 27, 2016. I haven't been able to find a link to the session recording, but School Library Journal put out this very nice article (below)... 

Getting Schools Revved Up About Robotics

Lego Robot: Thinkstock/Cylonphoto
Lego Robot: Thinkstock/Cylonphoto

For teachers and librarians who think robotics is beyond their understanding, educator Mark Gura has a message: Dive in. Your students will enjoy learning with you.
“Why not discover robotics alongside your students?” says Gura, author of Getting Started with LEGO Robotics (International Society for Technology in Education, 2011) “Having teachers partner with students, to figure out what to do with them, to me that’s all part of the do-it-yourself discovery, deconstructivism approach to learning we’re all after.”
Gura, alongside teacher librarian Colleen Graves and Dream Workshop founder and science teacher Sharon A. Thompson, offered takeaways on how educators can weave entry-level, plus more advanced, programs into their libraries and classrooms during a one-hour School Library Journal (SLJ) webcast, “Getting Started with Robotics,” the first in a three-part series in conjunction with ISTE.
The primary takeaway? While robotics is overtly rooted in the world of science, technology, engineering,and math (STEM), these tools also lend themselves to great creativity. Students can challenge themselves without feeling there’s a right answer or a wrong approach, say the panelists.
“I love how robotics focuses on the process and perseverance rather than one right answer,” says Thompson. “When coding doesn’t work or programming doesn’t work, it’s not a judgement, so kids don’t feel discouraged.”
During the webcast, Thompson encouraged educators to start robotics programs, even with children as young as pre-K. She mentioned one tool, the KIBO robot—also noted by Graves—which allows children to learn the principles of coding with simple, color-coded blocks. Another resource tip from Thompson: The Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA, where young children were invited to add sensors to animals built with recycled materials—and create a Robot Petting Zoo.
Base Circuit from LittleBits toolkit
Graves, an SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist in 2014, agreed that robotics and art “really like to go together,” she says.
For example, one challenge she gives students is to create art with robots. Some students used littleBits to draw straight lines or random scribbles. Some of the other students from Ryan High School in Denton, TX
made art with Sphero by dipping the robotic ball in paint, and using lines of code to program it.
Integrate Robotics into the curriculum
Gura, the former director of instructional technology for New York City’s Department of Education, is always excited to see how engaged students are when working on projects that involve robotics. Instead of seeing teachers struggle to get their students to complete their assignments, he’d watch instructors struggle to get them to stop playing with the robots. That reaction alone tells him a robotics club isn’t sufficient exposure to this technology.
“We want robots integrated into the full instructional format,” he says. “It’s far more important than what can be done in an after-school club.”
For some schools, however, paying for robotic kits is a hurdle, or a “bugaboo to getting people started,” says Gura. But, he points out that kits can be used for multiple students, with multiple classes, over multiple years. Investing in just a dozen kits or more can seed projects for an entire school, he says.
“I would encourage people to think this through with budget decision makers or perhaps with fundraising in mind,” says Gura. “At first this might seem an expensive investment for schools. But bear in mind these materials are durable. Students build robots, they put the parts back into a kit, and other kids use the same parts again and again.”

Read the full article at its source:

TEACHING LITERACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE with ISTE author Mark Gura / Education Talk Radio SHOW

Finally got around to posting this radio/podcast show on which I was a guest (Thanks, Larry)... a most inspiring experience! :) ENJOY!
Feb 8, 2016 ... ISTE author Mark Gura ..

To launch the podcast/radio show click the underlined link above...

NOTE: The audio player make take a little time to fully load.

Friday, April 22, 2016

New Book from IAP - Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning

Mark Gura's most recently published book...
News update from Information Age Publishing


Project Based Literacy
Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning
Mark Gura, Fordham University
Rose Reissman
Project‐Based Learning; it’s a term that most educators have heard and probably have heard good things about, Often, though, they aren’t quite sure precisely what its defining characteristics are other than involving students in projects that are supposed to somehow result in their learning things of value.

A great many teachers are reluctant to make it part of what they do with their students due to unfounded fears of unrealistic workloads and classroom management issues associated with it. This book should help change that, making the nature of PBL (Project‐Based Learning) clear and illustrating how it can be a manageable, effective, and very enjoyable aspect of instruction.

The book will present an exciting, alternative approach to literacy instruction that its authors call Project Based Literacy. This will principally be done through the presentation of 20 appealing projects, all of them carefully designed to engage and inspire students (grades 3 – 8) in literacy activities that are both core to the required curriculum and deeply in‐synch with the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts. The book will also present support material for this, providing sufficient theory, instructional and classroom management tips, and technology and other ‘How To’ information to ensure that rank and file classroom teachers can adopt, adapt, and enjoyably and successfully implement the projects and maximize learning in relation to the Common Core Standards for ELA.
Introduction. PART I. What is Project‐Based Literacy? Core Elements of Literacy Projects. Project‐Based Literacy and the Common Core. Authenticity in Literacy Projects. Project‐Based Literacy and 21st Century Teaching and Learning. Classroom Management and Project‐Based Literacy. Sharing the Work: Publishing and Presenting Student Products. Assessment and Feedback of Literacy Projects. PART II: Literacy Learning Projects. Non Fiction Book Map. Student Created Anti‐Bullying Blog: Student Writing and Blogging on Bullying, Being Bullied, and Being a Bystander Sandwich Science: Class Cookbook and Nutritional Guide to Student Sandwich Creations. Label Literacy. Curating a Museum Exhibit: Student Created Public Learning Displays. Famous Scientists Trading Cards. Student Designed Author Fan Web Sites. Interactive Endangered Species Map. Where I’m From—Poetry Self Portraits. Game Changer Inventions: Class Exhibit on Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives. Print to Podcast. Public Service Announcements. Class Alphabet Book Publication: Mastery of Research, Content, and Collaboration—Easy as A, B, C. Rights Report: Student Reporting on the State of Constitutional Rights. Good Thing or Bad? When Science Fiction Becomes Science Fact, What’s the Impact? Neighborhood Guide Brochure School Network News: The News—Of, For, and by Students. Illustrated Family Stories: The Ones We Hear, the Ones We Tell, and the Ones We Capture in Art. Class Survey. Painted History: Understanding Our World through Works of Art. PART III: Technology “How To”. Technology How To for Projects.

Information Age Publishing | P.O. Box 79049 | Charlotte, NC 28271-7047
T: 704.752.9125 | F: 704.752.9113 | E:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

21st Century Real World Robotics: Middle School Robotics Integration Across the Curriculum

The following article was published in NYSUT's journal
"Educator's Voice is NYSUT's journal of best practices in education - a series dedicated to highlighting research-based classroom and school/district-wide strategies that make a difference in student achievement."

Download this chapter (pdf)

Robotics problem challenges are readily applicable to today’s world. For example, robots are being used to search for missing planes and to destroy hidden mines. Students experience real-world seamless science, engineering, and cross-discipline problem-solving as they program the robots. Teachers collaborating from more than one content area to seamlessly model that in their instruction validate the cross discipline 21st century learning opportunities for robotics, which Gura stressed should be part of regular school day interdisciplinary learning (2012)... "
Read the full article at its source (scroll down the page):   

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Back From India and Nepal!

After what seemed like too much time away from Asia, my brother and I finally hit the road again. Below, my photo and written reports.
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Click on the photo above for a slideshow of impressions and somnambulant experiences... click middle arrow to begin auto-play

A Very Happy Diwali, Indeed:
My Report on the Status of Magic in India and Nepal

My brother and I were seated high off the ground in a howdah.  Directly in front of us, our mahout was straddling the neck of our elephant for the morning, Kanti Kali (fierce goddess of the dawn). The sweet girl had just carried us out of the thick, liana draped Nepalese jungle and had begun to meander through some of the pristine marshland bordering the Nariyana River. She stopped and scooped up huge wads of grass with her trunk to snack on.  We were puzzled, though, about what the low, rumbling sound we heard behind us was. Finally, Mr. Prasad, our naturalist who was seated right behind us, volunteered an explanation in his formal, British-Indian English stating, “Elephant fart, Sir!” We smiled.

Our mahout resumed kicking Kanti Kali behind the ears to get her moving again.  She obliged, but after just another few minutes stopped again, shuffled her huge feet and lifted her trunk into the air letting out a soft trumpeting sound. Mr. Prasad reached over my shoulder pointing at some low trees bordering the marsh, whispering, “Rhino! Over there, Sir!”

Yes, on our second morning in Chitwan National Park we were a mere 75 feet from an immense female and her equally immense baby feeding under the trees. Their attention was riveted on us as they made their own shuffling and snorting noises to let our elephant know we had intruded into her personal space. The communication was clear, we had better not move any closer or there would be trouble. Instead, we took a good look at our quarry, snapped a few pictures, and let our mahout know that it was OK to move on.

Our mahout seated on Kanti Kali just before we climbed aboard for a
 fine stroll through the Nepalese jungle.

MORE... (Click below for access to the full report)

After opening,adjust size and view...

And a few more that didn't quite belong in the slideshow :)

Monday, December 07, 2015

Daily YouTube Selection

I've moved this project over to a new blog I set up for it:
Posts dated January 1st 2016 and more recently will be posted there...

I'm going to select one YouTube video each day and pass it along to everyone who'll notice or care...


12/31/2015 Cuban Tree Frog Changes Colors
I noticed some movement under may desk yesterday. It turned out to be a Cuban Tree Frog. That it managed to find its way into my South Florida home and into my office was quite a feat. After a few hours I managed to trap it without hurting it (these little guys are very fast and elusive) and put it outside in the garden. It felt good to save the little guy's life. However, Cuban Tree Frogs are an invasive species. The University of Florida website states "
After you capture the frog, we recommend that you euthanize them humanely -- in fact, it is illegal (and irresponsible) to re-release them into our ecosystem." I guess I should have read the website before I helped the little guy out. Life is complicated! 

12/30/2015 India Rich vs. Poor

I recently returned from a 2 week tour of India and Nepal and, of course, Poverty was one of a great many things that I observed and that went into the complex mix of impressions I brought home. It's not on the sight seeing itinerary, but unless you are blinded completely by your own consciousness filter, looking at the reality of India through a haze of romance (the Taj, sari-clad women, the elephants and monkeys and the temples, etc.), something that's very easy to do, you WILL see the poverty through the bus window as you travel from tourist sight to historic point of interest. I find that understanding poverty in places like India is difficult for Americans - we tend to think in terms of "there are 2 types of people: rich OR poor" but the situation is more complex, with varieties of poverty that affect people differently. By the way, India is NOT a country of poor people. There are 1 billion, 200 million souls living there and roughly 25% live below the poverty line - granted, while not the majority, that's a lot of folks living very challenging lives! Another piece of this picture is that the rural poverty I observed (and more than 70% of the country's population still live in the countryside) appeared to me to be much easier to cope with than India's urban poverty. I think that many people living in the agrarian countryside live what might be described as a very simple, rather backward life and not necessarily a life of misery due to poverty. Ironically, the alarming destitution of Indians living under the crushing poverty of its cities' slums is due, in large part, to country people moving to the cities to find work. Everyone wants to advance as well as survive and the wealth that exists in the cities is a lure to country people who see no opportunity for themselves in the fields. This is a situation that plays itself out around the world. The video posted above is something that I stumbled on while spending a little quality time in YouTube. It clarifies the Poverty of India a bit as well as providing some sobering images. India is definitely trying to improve itself and embedded in this video are aspects of the reality of the disparity gap between 'haves' and 'have nots' that we Americans would do well to ponder deeply. See my blog post on visiting India elsewhere in this blog:   


12/29/2015 How to have the Ethiopian Coffee ceremony
Sometimes it's the journey and not the destination. Coffee. Good coffee, properly appreciated. Here's a glimpse of coffee as it's served in Ethiopia, it's place of origin. Imagine having coffee as an expression of fellowship and pleasure in belonging: Coffee as something of a sacrament, the focus of gathering for the sake of celebrating the act of gathering. The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony involves communing at hearth and home. Much attention is placed on preparing and appreciating the setting and then, much focus on preparing, serving, and enjoying the coffee. I
n front of guests (and for their pleasure) the coffee beans are washed, then roasted over charcoal, then pounded and ground in a mortar, then placed in a kettle and steeped in boiling water. Next, the hostess pours the brew from a height filling the room and guests' hearts with delightful sound and smell. She stirs the coffee with sugar into small cups and hands it to guests... generally 3 rounds of coffee served, each round with its own name, qualities, and significance. There is nothing instant about this, nor should there be.. SEE:

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories

By accident, I got a copy of Cat's Cradle as a teenager, read it and have been in love with Kurt Vonnegut ever since. My favorite writer of all time... by far! I felt a keen sense of loss when he died (2007), knowing I would never get to meet him. This video shows him revealing one of the sparkling facets of his being: public figure, speaker, reconteur... he was, I feel, the Mark Twain of our age. He left some absolute gems of humor and true wisdom in his advice to writers, items that I take to heart personally and that I pass along to students and colleagues. The video here is one such gem and I'll highly recommend Kurt Vonnegut on how to write a short story,as well, So it goes, Kurt.... and Thank you!

12/26/2015 Sesame Street: Chuck Close And Self Portrait

Chuck Close does amazing things... with paint! You could write books about the 'How' and 'Why' of that... OR you can just get it... he does amazing things... with paint. One of the towering figures in Contemporary Art, Mr. Close makes art that  is easy to apprehend. However, why this is so is somewhat mysterious. His personal story, which is also the story of his art, is both amazing and inspiring. One well done attempt at telling it was accomplished with this short documentary video . For more on Chuck Close check out 

Alex Atala: D.O.M
Mr. Atala is one of those creative forces of nature who defy categorization. One of the world's most accomplished chefs and restaurateurs, he's a gastronomic anthropologist and ecologist/conservation advocate, concerned with the ecological impact of food production and consumption. I recently became aware of his book, D. O.M. Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients which is at once a magnificent cookbook/photo book and the expression of a vision for a more enlightened, more spiritual way of being. Atala's 56 minute Talk at Google is a fascinating sharing of his work and thinking - SEE: Alex Atala: "D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients" | Talks at Google

Christmas Day/2015 - Heavy rain at Casa del Suizo, Ecuador
Turn up your sound! I stumbled across this short video, which was made by someone who obviously had the same experience I did when I stayed at this hotel, Casa del Suizo (The Swiss Man’s House) a little over a year ago. I was there for 3 delightful days. It was a boyhood dream come true to be deep in the Amazon Rainforest. Beyond the touristy things I did, the dugout canoe rides on the mighty Rio Napo, eating roasted Palm Grubs a la Andrew Zimmern, observing wild monkeys and parrots, etc. the flat out best thing I experienced was simply being stuck under the palm thatched roof overhang there in the most persistently torrential rain I’ve ever witnessed. The sense of calm, well being, and of filling a niche in a grand, interlocked, benevolent planetary ecosystem was positively religious… at the very least, deeply spiritual. Play the video a second time, take a deep breath, and simply listen….

12/24/2015 - Winky Dink and You
I remember Winky Dink and You,
(from Wikipedia)"the first interactive TV show", the show's central gimmick was the use of a "magic drawing screen", which was a large piece of vinyl  plastic that stuck to the television screen via static electricity.  A kit containing the screen and various Winky Dink crayons could be purchased for 50 cents. At a climactic scene in every Winky Dink short, Winky would arrive upon a scene that contained a connect the dots picture. He would then prompt the children at home to complete the picture, and the finished result would help him continue the story. Examples include drawing a bridge to cross a river, an axe to chop down a tree, or a cage to trap a dangerous lion."
Alas, getting my parents to buy me the Winky Dink kit at the "Five and Ten" would have been too much to hope for. Still, "Cartoons on Saturday Morning" were a god sent reprieve from the 'Mind and Soul Death' of NYC Public School in the mid 50's. Actually, they WERE my education.

12/23/2015 - Rare clip of Joe pass playing "Blues" IF I ever HAD to select a 'best guitarist ever' it would have to be Joe Pass who was humble, beat, and truly masterful... an inspiration!

12/22/2015 - JACK KEROUAC on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW with Steve Allen 1959

I'm impressed with how smoothly Kerouac handles himself here. I didn't know that Allen and Kerouac had teamed up to do an album. Apparently, they had a friendship, too. Kerouac's On the Road (a book I've read numerous times over the years) strikes me today as meriting the acknowledgment and popularity it has received. If it has a message, it's to celebrate life and life's high spirits and to live life in pursuit of that. A simple but profound and important thing! 

NOTE: Despite the date stamp on the blog post, I am actually beginning this project on 12/22/2015