Thursday, May 24, 2018

2TrainRobotics, Morris High School’s Student Robotics Team, Rules!

Article as it appeared in This is the Bronx magazine, this morning…

Members of 2Train at NYC FIRST Robotics Competition at NYC Regional (photo Gary Israel)

WEEKDAY MAGAZINE – 2TrainRobotics, Morris High School’s Student Robotics Team, Rules!

By Mark Gura
Kids growing up in the South Bronx often come to think of STEM-based careers as belonging to a world out of reach. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, subjects to which students at schools like Morris High School can have a hard time relating. Still, beginning in 1999 and currently going stronger than ever, Morris has had a student robotics team (NYC’s first), that offers students an extraordinary STEM learning opportunity. The team, 2TrainRobotics, has been a force to contend with; bursting with adolescent energy, determination, and unquenchable thirst to learn and compete.
For a student robotics team to have emerged in a hard scrabble, inner city neighborhood, and from a school that some considered at one time to be the Bronx’s “school of last resort” is truly a miraculous thing. And 2Train is a winning team; not only in competitions, but earning the unflagging admiration of its community, The Bronx.

2Train students have graduated from Morris at a rate of 100%. They’ve gone on to prestigious universities and a number are now employed in the engineering fields.

The team influences a good number of Morris High School’s 1,600 student population who follow its activities with pride and keen interest. 

FIRST Robotics Competition
The team competes in the annual FIRST Robotics competition. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is the international organization that has helped shape Student Robotics, a 21st century hybrid of a STEM Learning, passion inducing activity, and sport of the mind for young people. 
Its website states that “Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. Every participant is eligible to apply for millions of dollars in college scholarships.”

The team has traveled to Florida; Texas; Georgia; Virginia; Canada, New Jersey; Missouri; and Rochester NY to compete and has participated in many community events, becoming a neighborhood institution. Numerous community leaders, including the Bronx Borough President, Bronx Congressman, and local Assemblymen have acknowledged the team for its contributions.

Robots AND People!
One of the team’s fortunate strengths has been the volunteer efforts of qualified and highly dedicated adults; some are Morris High School staff, for others their only connection to the school has been their work with the team.

Gary Israel, former Morris teacher, has been the Team Coordinator since its beginning. Bob Stark, manager of the Columbia University lab where the team meets and works, has been the team’s main mechanical engineering mentor for 18 years. Paul Lucian, an engineer with the Port Authority of NY & NJ has been with the team for 14 years. He is the coach out on the field during competitions. Further there is an ongoing group of Columbia students who give their time to mentor Morris students.

Another great piece of good fortune for the team has been its ongoing relationship with Columbia University. Morris High simply didn’t have a sufficiently equipped available place for the team to construct a robot. The willingness of Columbia to make their lab available was a godsend. Importantly, Columbia students mentor the Morris kids who benefit greatly by experiencing a university campus.

The team meets at the lab 5-7 times a week during the robotics season in which it plans, builds, programs and competes in public events with its robot. During the rest of the year the team prepares and develops its members ‘skills and character.

The team has received financial support from the Bloomberg Foundation, S&P Global, Columbia University, and The Port Authority of NY & NJ, as well as The NY Yankees, enabling it to travel around the country to compete.

Paying it Forward
One exceptional example of how involvement in 2Train enriches students’ lives is Reuben Bridges. Not only did his participation positively impact his success as a student, but after graduating, Reuben became a robotics teacher at a Bronx YMCA. He has remained active with 2Train, and became a team mentor himself.

2TrainRobotics plans to continue to compete around the country as ambassadors of the Bronx. But it’s also interested in expanding its reach and further developing STEM learning opportunities everywhere. 
For the past few years 2Train has reached out to schools that don’t have robotics programs of their own, including some of their students. Further, 2Train members mentor elementary and middle school teams throughout New York City.

Mark Gura is the former Director of Instructional Technology of the NYC Department of Education and currently is an adjunct professor at New York Institute of Technology and Touro College, teaching graduate Education students who focus on Instructional Technology. He blogs @ and

Click on book cover for information

Click on book cover for information
Getting Started with LEGO Robotics. Anyone who works with kids can do LEGO Robotics, a rich and highly motivating platform for important STEM Learning! (surprisingly affordable, too) This books explains it all!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

STATE of EDTECH Inaugural Issue Now Available

Proud to say I was the lead writer for this...
STATE of EDTECH 2017-2018
The Minds Behind What's Now & What's Next

Where we are—and where we’re headed
The much-anticipated inaugural issue of this 75-page report from the editors of EdTech Digest includes:
  • The EdTech1000: Companies Transforming Education
  • Top 100 Influencers in EdTech
  • Dozens of leaders weighing in on the future of education
  • 10 Companies to Watch
  • 8 EdTech Trends you need to know
  • 3 Major EdTech Status Markers & Their Data Points
  • Upcoming: The EdTech Awards (March 2018)
Now Available! @ Fill out the "ORDER NOW!" form... (hover over it and scroll it down) then click SUBMIT.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

All Grown Up, Edtech Is Ready to Show ‘Vanilla Ed’ How to Get the Job Done! Reflections on ISTE 2017


From: EdTech Digest

CREDIT ISTE 2017 conf and expo.jpg
I’m back home
a few days now from San Antonio where I attended ISTE 2017 — the ever bigger, ever more energetic and optimistic annual edtech mega conference. This year even more than previously, the blend of high enthusiasm, collective insight, and first looks at next-level developments and offerings leaves me appreciatively well informed and thoroughly inspired.

Attempting to accurately summarize this cross between a Burning Man gathering of the tribe, and serious professional development for educators — would be impossible. What I’ll share here, though, is my own takeaway from four high-energy days of interfacing with the very best in technology-supported education. I’m beyond bursting with ah-ha’s that reinforce my confidence in the future of teaching and learning. What a great time it is to be involved in education—assuming one’s mind is open to the possibilities presenting themselves just now!

It’s a fluid and fertile field to be involved in, and there is so much growth on the near horizon.

Let me mention up front that I’ve been in the edtech field for well over two decades and in the general field of education longer than that. This was the 20th consecutive ISTE conference I’ve attended. I want to state emphatically that it seems to me that this year’s conference marked the field actually having achieved the deep shift many of us have been awaiting for a long time. I saw evidence throughout the conference that edtech is no longer a niche area of the field of education, it is education; it is the most important thing going on in education.

I’m an ex-teacher, ex-instructional supervisor, and ex big-city school system director of Instructional Technology. Looking through those lenses, truly I can hardly see any best instructional practices that don’t use technology to present students with the very best learning experience possible! In short, edtech is the most impactful, and most important facet of contemporary teaching, learning, and school administration—and it is about to show what I’ll call “Vanilla Ed” (education that’s still going on its uninformed, oblivious, paper-driven way) how to get the job done, how to finally realize its own goals and reforms that, despite much discussion, have been elusive until now — through the application of technology. I found it abundantly evident throughout the ISTE 2017 experience, that while no formal announcement has been made, that shift has finally and thoroughly happened!

Okay, having gotten that off my chest—here’s some of what I saw and experienced that I’d really like to share.

Telling the Story
I ran into Richard Culatta a number of times, once almost literally as he whizzed past me while cruising around one of the conference poster session areas on a Segway. Mr. Culatta is the new CEO of ISTE and he brings great enthusiasm and youthful style to the job, something that added to the optimism one couldn’t help but feel at the conference. He spoke at the opening keynote and again to the smaller group assembled in the annual ISTE Board Member’s lunch where a number of kindred spirit ISTE members received the much coveted “Making IT Happen Jacket” award for outstanding work in the field (both Richard and I are former recipients). At the breakfast he hosted for media the next morning, he revealed his thinking about ISTE and its future. He spoke about increasing ISTE’s reach, how we need to impact and engage many more educators as we move forward. Among other points he made, three resonated particularly strongly for me: 1) that much needs to be done by ISTE in the area of Higher Education, in its role in teacher preparation, especially; 2) that the field needs to stress educator leadership, through things like ISTE’s PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and 3) he expressed admiration for ISTE’s publications and stressed how that what’s needed is ‘telling the story’ of educational change through technology, something that I believe Thomas Friedman alluded to in his ground breaking book The World is Flat, opining that one of the new, crucial roles people must play in the emerging world is that of ‘Explainer’ and to that end, I’ll do my best with this article, Richard.

Speaking of Inspiration, I received a massive hit of it from Apple, a company that I don’t recall seeing at an ISTE Conference for years. Yes, they continued to be an important part of edtech all that time, no doubt, but it was so good to see them at the conference again—and with such sparkle! Perhaps the best part of this for me was that I didn’t see them releasing any new, paradigm setting devices, but rather, deepening our planetary body of best instructional practice with other sorts of refinements. As a longtime advocate of LEGO’s Student Robotics resources, I was pleased to see Apple’s Swift programming language applied to program them, something that I expect will strongly enrich efforts to teach coding and applications of it. I also got to see this approach to coding applied to a Parrot drone, making my alter ego (a dormant, twelve-year-old science nerd who hides inside of me), stand up and cheer.

But what truly got my pulse racing was the Apple group session I attended titled “The Power of Music for Learning: GarageBand and Tuniversity” in which, after not having worked with Garage Band for far too long (my bad, my bad, my most unfortunate bad!), I got a fresh look at this resource for making and recording your own music through a very engaging and easy to use graphic interface. This was part of an introduction to some of the magic of Tuniversity, a new education company co-founded by Pharrell Williams, dedicated to reinvigorating music education using iPad.

As everyone on the planet knows, Pharrell Williams is the composer, singer, and music video star of the Grammy Award winning song, ”Happy” — which coincidentally is the basis of Tuniversity’s first book, “Learn Pharrell Williams’ Happy A Modern Method for Writing, Recording, and Producing Music” — an instructional resource that uses audio, video, and technology tools (including Garage Band) to analyze the song “Happy” — helping students learn creative skills of music making and production.
What come across impactfully, is that this is an effort to re-establish Music (and by extension, Arts) Education as a vibrant, high-engagement, tech-driven phenomenon to recapture the hearts and minds of young people everywhere. It certainly captured mine! I actually started out my career in education (please don’t ask me how long ago!) as an arts educator, and I could see from the get-go that this is the real deal, one of those rare chemistry blends of the right insight, personalities, and resources to actually bring something crucial back from the brink.

For me the centerpiece was a video recorded especially for this session, in which Pharrell speaks directly to educators, explaining his passion for music and commitment to what he feels is a new sort of education in which students are brought into the process of making music with digital resources. Afterward, I briefly chatted one-on-one with Brent, one of the book’s authors and Pharrell’s guitarist for many years. I was much impressed with the level of expertise and commitment that he and his partners bring to this effort. I pretty much floated out of the room.

MicrosoftMicrosoft, too, had a great presence at the conference. Both upstairs in its designated area for giving demos and PD sessions, many of which were well attended with folks lining up and waiting to get a look at Microsoft’s ideas and offerings. Also, out on the exhibit floor, where some very exciting Microsoft Partners APPs were on view, a variety of ways to “Spark Creativity” — including different approaches to student robotics — vied for attention. One that caught mine was the Virtual Robotics Toolkit. Throughout the conference, Microsoft had a great deal to share with today’s forward thinking educators; a few session examples were: Minecraft Education Edition with Code Builder; Office 365 for Authentic Assessments; and Creating engaging projects and presentations with Sway (MS presentation resource).
Richard Langford, a Microsoft Senior Education and Solutions Specialist at the conference, graciously gave me a bit of a Microsoft education overview, sitting with me for a lengthy conversation in which he fully grabbed my attention.

Beyond any of the many things that MS does to contribute to the educational landscape and possibilities horizon, he gave me some great “ah ha’s” that I left the conference with. By that, I mean an understanding of how one of the really big providers sees things these days; how its posture and culture have been shaped by, and is shaping — the landscape of edtech. He explained that today’s company reflects a change in which MS has come to see education as an inseparable, major element in its vision and mission — and keeps it absolutely up front in all the things it does. Products are conceived with education in mind, not adapted for education later on. Further, many resources are developed with school needs paramount in consideration, so that resources like OneNote can interface with the Student Information Systems when schools use popular platforms like Schoology or Edmodo. The experience feels to local level educators as seamless and easy; no disincentives, like labor-intensive class setups.

Saving time for teachers, Richard related, is a very high priority for Microsoft and it’s a way that MS is making a difference: “We value teachers. We’re not focused on replacing teachers in any way. What we want to do is empower them to teach” —and from where I view it all, I think that’s a great position to take.

One of the things I took away from this conversation and others I had with representatives from the big providers is that they seem to be focused on maintaining their own vision of what the world of education needs. It’s not a situation of who will compete best in an already defined and limited field of possibilities. While a degree of competition is inevitable, what I’m seeing more of is each provider bringing its own special body of offerings to a malleable market. I particularly appreciate this because, where we’ve been headed, and where I think we’ve already landed, is a new world in which the universe of personalized resources and approaches to use them is ever changing. The world of standardized, hardcopy resources in which consumers had just a handful of viable choices is receding into the far distance. As was explained to me, if the focus is on what teachers want to do to provide students with a great learning experience, then there will be opportunities for providers who cater to that. As Richard put it to me, he and his colleagues frown on “Bake Offs” — in other words, situations in which everyone comes to the market with more or less the same cupcakes or cookies (my analogy), leaving the customer to compare price or size or minor flavor enhancements. We are looking at a market, I think, in which there are more and better choices, much more variety and personalization through response to district, school, teacher, and student needs. Further, astute providers seem to have come to the conclusion that today’s winner may be tomorrow’s partner; it’s a fluid and fertile field to be involved in, and there is so much growth on the near horizon.

Googling Along
At the very large and strategically placed Google exhibit, I decided to sit down among a group of teachers who finally had a chance to test drive Google Classroom and see for themselves what all the buzz is about this resource, described by GOOGLE as “mission control” for teachers, connecting the class and enabling them to track student progress. The effect on those next to me struggling to wrap their already overstuffed minds around this “digital learning platform” was impressive. I bore witness to their maiden voyage at the helm of a popular solution to that great problem for teachers to have: how to manage students, as they guide them through a plethora of assignments, content, tools and resources. Sparks were flying faster than fingers on keyboards as the realization that the overwhelm of herding digital cats could now be easily side stepped on the way to far better teaching and learning. It was another of the many glimpses I got into just how sophisticated edtech has become — how ready it is to transform education.

Surrounding the GOOGLE Classroom area were small tables at which various partners’ resources were highlighted. I stopped by the table manned by Piotr Sliwinski (my apologies, Piotr, for not having a Polish keyboard to do justice to your name). Like offerings at the other tables, this one featured an exciting resource titled, Explain Everything (offered through the Google Creative Bundle for Chromebooks), a versatile interactive whiteboard app that can be used for sharing knowledge, building understanding, personal productivity, and much more. As the author of a recent ISTE book on Student Creativity, I quickly recognized here a tool to facilitate and spark thinking and expression as well as to capture, communicate, and collaborate around it. I very much hope that today’s kids have a glimmer of understanding about how the possibilities of what one can do in school have been expanded by technology. Well, actually, as someone who was a classroom teacher for nearly two decades, I won’t get my hopes on that one up too far—just let them use all this, and make some magic with it!

Gamify the Classroom
I reconnected with Shawn and Devin (Young) of Classcraft, an increasingly popular “gamification” platform. Classcraft is one of a small group of absolutely paradigm-shifting resources that young educators are adopting passionately. Far beyond simply introducing gaming into one’s teaching practice, it enables teachers and students to literally “Gamify the Classroom,” and I love the audacity of deconstructing the structure of traditional school organization for instruction and recontextualizing it this way to render a highly relevant, re-conceived school experience that is easy to view as an improvement.

As I chatted with Devin, one of the two brothers who conceived and developed Classcraft, he explained to me that much of his attention these days is on further developing and refining those aspects of the resource that enable teachers to easily access Classcraft in concert with their standard LMS or digital learning platform; to have student performance information that it generates be part and parcel of a teacher’s overall student data use, and for all of this to work across platforms in a seamless, interoperable, and above all, highly user-friendly context and experience.

Today’s educators are well equipped to provide a compelling and effective learning experience to their students.

Such work makes resources like Classcraft suitable and appealing for big providers like Microsoft and Google, increasing the body of resources they can stand behind and offer to tech-consuming educators, without having to develop or acquire them directly. And from the perspective of those small developers, often young people who are passionate and astute about the ways technology-driven resources can transform education, this approach allows them independence while assuring much greater reach and access to the audience they want to address. Looks like edtech has entered another favorable period of win-win-win!

My Own Panel
Heading up ISTE’s Literacy Education PLN (Professional Learning Network), I, and my network colleagues, had the privilege of inviting some of the very most promising digital resource providers, currently, to join us in a panel presentation to explain their offerings to ISTE members. As always, this session was full and much appreciated. Small wonder as what we put together was truly a powerhouse group of resources. We fortunately managed to present the following groups in one setting in just one short hour of concentrated focus on how technology is positively transforming what we see as one of the very most important missions of edtech, Literacy Learning. With this small aggregation of resources, much of it free, today’s educators are well equipped to provide a compelling and effective learning experience to their students. The body of resources our group highlighted this year included (I’ll let quotes from their respective websites speak for them):
Newsela – “When textbooks dream, they dream of Newsela – Join our community of 1,300,000 Newsela educators and counting.” This resource provides relevant, up to date content for students.
Listenwise – “The Power of Listening – Listening comprehension advances literacy and learning for all students.”
Quizlet – “Simple tools for learning anything. Search millions of study sets or create your own. Improve your grades by studying with flashcards, games and more.”
Discovery Education – “Transforming Teaching & Learning. We ignite student curiosity and inspire educators to reimagine learning with award-winning digital content and powerful professional development.”
I managed to sit with Stephen Wakefield of Discovery Education later to discuss the powerful content that Discovery continues to provide through both its Techbook (think textbook reconceived as a digital resource for 21st Century learning) and Streaming video collection. Just as I appreciate Tuniversity coming from the world of entertainment to develop classroom resources, the same can be said about Discovery (is it Shark Week, yet?) being the origin of Discovery Education’s high motivation content for learners. We’ve fully arrived at a point in education’s evolution that reflects the new reality of the availability of highly motivating, “just right” content … in abundance. And it’s provided in ways that make distributing it to students easy and learner-friendly. Discovery offers both the digital send-up of the classic textbook, and a powerful collection of videos as it demonstrates to today’s learners just how interesting content can be.

Technology is About Reading Books
I stopped by the Follett booth to see what they were offering this year. Glad I did. Any notion that technology is doing anything other than encouraging and supporting kids to fully understand and commit to the richness of books needs (IMHO) to be tempered by a look at Follett’s Lightbox, a fully interactive, multidimensional, supplemental solution for pre K-12 educators looking to improve engagement and literacy skills. There’s a great deal here, including classic novels and interactive Lightbox titles, as well as activities and assessments. But while students using this resource are very likely to learn to understand and value books, they are doing so in a truly 21st-century way. The digital interface they are presented with offers them ways to work with books that allow them to focus on things that they need and appreciate as they do so; direct access to things like audio, video, web links, slideshows, maps, and on and on. This, I think, is a rich, up-to-date, relevant approach to literacy instruction.

Hey, I’m always one to boldly go looking for some excitement. And out there on one of the leading edges of edtech, I found some.

The Leading Edge
Hey, I’m always one to boldly go looking for some excitement. And out there on one of the leading edges of edtech, I found some when I spoke with the folks from Voyager Sopris who gave me a view of what’s happening on the edtech event horizon, the already-here future of education. This is the realm of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applied to teaching and learning.

Seriously, I enjoyed wrapping my mind around this group’s ‘Velocity‘ solution, one of the more sophisticated applications of the power of technology to the eternal work and joy of teaching and learning I’ve seen.

Is edtech ready to redefine what’s possible in education? I don’t think that there’s any hyperbole in citing Velocity as proof that what was inconceivable a short while ago is already in implementation.
In Velocity we see a literacy intervention resource that is ‘adaptive’ in a sense of that word that I feel is authentic and genuine. At the heart of Velocity is an engine that learns how the student learns best. One result of its work is the creation of the content needed by the student to learn, content created on the fly as the student uses it. However, built into the student experience is reward for productive struggle, something that rings true to me. Teachers are informed in real time where each student is at in the learning process.
Throughout the conference, I heard repeated the concept of personalized learning. And here, it seems to me, we have an item that has taken aim at offering the sort of personalized learning that our struggling learners need badly; in literacy learning, a very crucial area of the curriculum, at that.
Velocity appears to be an important step forward, adaptive learning that doesn’t call up items from fixed, predicted paths, but rather accounts for thousands of variables and that works with the student to produce the unique way forward through the learning experience that he or she needs. Scaffolds and supports, hints and multi sensory variations are provided to students who are engaged through their various dimensions as learners.

On the Exhibition Floor
My initial disappointment at the state of the exhibition floor soon mellowed into appreciation for what I take as a clear indication of growth of the field. By that I mean that as someone who came to edtech from being a classroom teacher, I always look for instructional resources when I venture out into the exhibit and this year the first thing that struck me was the amount of hardware and infrastructure oriented items on display. And while I don’t feel the need to investigate those much, the sheer number does show that there will be much more in our schools soon on which students and teachers will run all of the instructional stuff that accompanied the equipment I saw. By the way, I was fascinated to see Chinese companies in the house. I spoke with Mr. Chen, of Shenshen Yue Jiang Technology, provider of DOBOT education materials, which impressed me as combining good features of robotics, 3D printers, and maker resources—good stuff!
As I ricocheted from one booth to the next, I found some items that I’d like to share:

Pie TopPie Top was one bit of hardware that intoxicated me with that variety of EdTech Caffeine for the tired school that I’ve come to rely on ISTE for. Pie Top is a kit-oriented, build-your-own connected device item for kids that makes use of the now near ubiquitous Raspberry Pie processor at its core. The coolness factor on this one is undeniable.
TigglyTiggly is one of those hybrid items that cross over between educational toy and full-press instructional resource. Kids pick up real, palpable shapes (think instructional manipulates of the past) that, when pressed to the screen of an iPad (or a Chrome, Android, or Kindle device), activate the digital magic inside. Young learners become immersed in a rich learning environment in which the real world interacts with the digital world, both coalescing into a learning experience guaranteed to engage and provide stimulation and cognitive supports as they play, work, and learn their way to literacy and numeracy. In my mind, a good example of how technology-supported learning has got to offer something more and better than what came before.
FreshGradeFreshGrade is a digital portfolio and grade book resource guaranteed to make portfolio/authentic assessment easy. Kids share their work through a digital portfolio—one more example of how technology, the great enabler, has made a long-held goal of progressive educators, portfolio assessment, doable and within the grasp of the average teacher and class.
Parrot – So great to see Parrot drones join robotics and other related resources to provide a context and platform for coding and STEM efforts.

Start Up Pavilion
Always inspiring are the offerings at the Startup Pavilion where, at little mini booths, new hopefuls entering the field share their vision for how they are expanding the envelope of edtech possibilities. There were many there this year. I visited quickly with a few notables:
BITSBOX: coding projects for kids. With Bitsbox, children as young as six years old learn to program by creating fun apps that work on computers and gadgets like iPads and Android tablets. The website provides each child with a virtual tablet and a place to type their code. The experience starts with lots of guidance, first showing learners exactly what to type, then quickly encouraging them to modify and expand their apps by typing in new commands.
Video Collaboratory. Former dancer and choreographer Sybil Huskey was sitting there with her colleague Vikash Singh demoing the very interesting Video Collaboratory, a web-based application designed for group collaboration around video documents. Beyond simply viewing video, the Collaboratory is equipped to allow students to mark up, analyze and discuss videos. As the old saying goes, “Find a need and fill it!” and I think these folks have done just that. Online learning gets richer all the time.
Common Lit. CommonLit delivers high-quality, free instructional materials to support literacy development for students in grades 5-12. Resources are: flexible; research-based; aligned to the Common Core State Standards; created by teachers, for teachers. And oh, they are free!

Poster Sessions
While my head was wrapped firmly around the things mentioned above, my heart was warmed, as it always is, in the playgrounds and poster session areas where real educators and real students show what they do. A few items that took me by the heart and wouldn’t let go were:
Instituto Rosedal Lomas in Mexico City’s project. Student Renata Susunaga showed me how the Physics students there created a data analysis project in which they used Facebook as a data gathering engine, later analyzing and representing findings in large graphics. I thought appropriating a ubiquitous and data sensitive resource like Facebook was clever and effective, just the sort of thing today’s kids benefit from.
Guiding Reluctant Teachers Through the Shallow End of the Technology Pool. Presenter Melissa Henning showed those of us gathered around her presentation table a raft of simple ‘win over those reluctant teachers’ activities, all of which use free and hyper user-friendly, web-based resources. Just the right touch for the difficult, but essential, job this approach takes aim at.
Misty Simpson and Wendy Boatright’s session, “Cross-Curricular Centers to promote Creativity and Engagement in which they explain why Learning centers are a great way to inspire and engage students to be creative with technology; all while meeting the standards and learning objectives. They showed how they integrate Social Studies and ELA centers with vocabulary, journals, digital stories, brochures and more, employing the powerful WIXIE resource from Tech4Learning.
And, of course, there was more—so much more!

One of the wonderful things about attending the conference is the near certainty that you will cross paths with respected colleagues and friends who’ve traveled this path with you over the years.

Ubiquitous, Necessary, and Invisible
One of the wonderful things about attending the conference is the near certainty that you will cross paths with respected colleagues and friends who’ve traveled this path with you over the years. I was happy to spend a little time with Chris Lehman, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a nationally prominent school located in Philadelphia and a noted education innovator. I asked him for an impression of the conference and he explained that he was excited by how many people he heard were really talking about school reform and educational change, not just about specific technology items.

Reacting to my reflection that technology now dominates best practices in teaching and learning, Chris reminded me of the old truism that “school technology should be like oxygen; ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” Astute, as was his thought that we don’t need to be talking about technology so much; it just needs to be part of what we do.

This I take as more confirmation that the shift from the traditional classroom to digital learning environment is already well in effect. While far from complete, there is already much ubiquity in technology in our schools, and the presence of so many vendors in the exhibition hall indicates that this is increasing rapidly. And now, I agree, it’s time to stop talking about the digital platform for learning that’s been a quarter century plus in the making, and take further charge of it and further use it for the transformation in education that we now have the power to bring about.

Edtech is like the kid who’s all grown up, but still sees himself as ‘Junior.’ And, of course, there is much more growing and maturing to be done—but let’s take a good look in the mirror, shall we? Edtech is what’s happening in education. It’s education’s strongest suit, the only one that can truly transform ‘Vanilla Ed’ to better prepare today’s kids for the era they are learning to learn in, and in which they will live and prosper. This is such an important moment and I can’t think of any place more appropriate for it to have declared and revealed itself than at ISTE 2017. I’m proud to be a member!

In addition to being a member of ISTE, Mark Gura is an Advisory Board Member and Contributing Editor of EdTech Digest and the author of the recently released book, Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School published by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). Mark will be serving as a judge for the 2018 EdTech Awards—recognizing edtech’s best and brightest innovators, leaders, and trendsetters (click here for an entry form).

Monday, July 10, 2017

(Review) Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning

“Overall, this book is a fantastic guide for the teacher wanting to engage their students in real-world, authentic learning.”

“Easing the struggle of implementation, Gura and Reissman provide a practical guide for teachers to not only get their feet wet, but also dive into PBL with a specific focus on literacy... Additionally, they make the case that PBL is an essential part of the literacy classroom, as it reaches cross-curricular goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

“This book makes a meaningful contribution to teacher/practitioner literature. It is organized to first motivate teachers to consider a new approach to standards-based teaching, and the authors provide strong rationale for incorporating viable and authentic projects into the literacy classroom. Twenty easy-to-follow guides assist teachers with starting their journey to PBL activities.”
Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record
Date Published: May 22, 2017  /

ID Number: 21986, Date Accessed: 7/10/2017 7:00:15 PM

Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning
reviewed by Jason Trumble — May 22, 2017Project Based LITERACY
Title: Project Based Literacy: Fun Literacy Projects for Powerful Common Core Learning
Author(s): Mark Gura, Rose Reissman
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681232928, Pages: 214, Year: 2015
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As I work with preservice and in-service teachers, I challenge them to consider how their teaching and curriculum engages students in authentic ways while also increasing their digital age competencies. We explore how real world, digital age learning must include communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Project based learning (PBL) exemplifies these skills and promotes real-world learning for students of all ages, but it is difficult to do, and do well. Easing the struggle of implementation, Gura and Reissman provide a practical guide for teachers to not only get their feet wet, but also dive into PBL with a specific focus on literacy.

Project based literacy: Fun literacy projects for powerful common core learning begins with an explanation and rationale for incorporating PBL with literacy, and then the authors provide practical tips for teachers, followed by twenty detailed projects. Finally, they wrap up the book with tips for incorporating technology into PBL. This logical progress allows the reader to develop a conceptual understanding of the concept and contextualize the pedagogy before putting it into practice.

 Readers get their feet wet in the introduction as the authors propose PBL as a viable alternative to the humdrum test-centric curriculum dominating many schools. Gura and Reissman suggest that moving literacy teaching to well-designed PBL activities allows students to be self-motivated in naturally and authentically achieving essential literacy competencies. Throughout the introduction, they reiterate that during well-designed literacy projects, student motivation increases as students invest in the process of learning through doing. They propose that teachers will enjoy teaching through PBL as well.

Additionally, they make the case that PBL is an essential part of the literacy classroom, as it reaches cross-curricular goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
 Chapters One, Two, and Three define PBL and refine the reader’s understanding of what differentiates a classroom activity from a PBL exercise by identifying core elements of the project based approach. This approach finds its foundation in the English Language Arts mentioned in Chapter One, and is expanded upon in Chapter Three. Four of the language arts are identified in this book: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Although the authors do not include seeing and visual representation, given they are not part of the common core literacy standards, there is an implicit understanding that PBL is effective at engaging all the essential elements of the English Language Arts. The core elements for PBL are derived from the ELA standards, and are supplemented by the eight essential elements listed on This book was published in 2016, and has updated their PBL frameworks to look a little different from what is presented in this work. Much of these changes are semantical, and Gura and Reissman sufficiently explain what must be analyzed for a teacher to successfully implement PBL activities.

The explanations in Chapter Three identify the Common Core literacy standards and discuss how this pedagogical and curricular shift in the classroom meets all four literacy categories with rigor and authenticity. These chapters all discuss how PBL is a natural fit for the Common Core and the literacy classroom.

In Chapters Four and Five, the authors discuss some practical benefits of literacy projects. They discuss how PBL activities create intrinsic motivation, because they focus on the students’ real world. Students can find purpose in learning about and impacting their community beyond the classroom as they engage in the project. This naturally moves into the tools and competencies for digital age learners. These are skills that incorporate technology and collaboration, and prove essential for the 21st century learner. The connections between these skills and PBL experiences are detailed in Chapter Five.
Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight move to support the development of teachers’ pedagogies as they offer practical solutions to general questions for PBL experiences. They address the elephant in the room and the reason many teachers stay away from PBL instruction: classroom management. They discuss four strategies for understanding how to manage the learning environment. The authors then provide strategies for teachers to procure an authentic audience for students’ performances. Then, before delving into the practicality of a proposed project, the authors discuss assessment in relation to Common Core standards and learning goals of literacy projects. The practical strategies in these chapters set the stage for Part Two.

Part Two is where Gura and Reissman provide actual projects that are ready to be implemented in the literacy classroom. Each of the twenty chapters begins with an activity summary followed by specific procedures leading to the student learning project. The authors predict the amount of time a project will take, and then comprehensively align the PBL activity to both common core standards and the ISTE Standards for Students.

Assessment suggestions are outlined and the authors describe possible avenues for authentic sharing of students’ work. Each project chapter ends with technology connections, literacy connections, suggested texts, and project extensions. The logic of instruction for each of the projects allows teachers to quickly read and reference as they implement PBL activities. The final chapter includes tips and tricks for incorporating technology, and serves as a guide for teachers who may be less comfortable with digital technologies.

This book makes a meaningful contribution to teacher/practitioner literature. It is organized to first motivate teachers to consider a new approach to standards-based teaching, and the authors provide strong rationale for incorporating viable and authentic projects into the literacy classroom…

Overall, this book is a fantastic guide for the teacher wanting to engage their students in real-world, authentic learning. For those teachers anxious about change and technology use, Gura and Reissman provide scaffolds and supports for reference. As teachers, we consider how to make learning real and authentic for our students, and while it can be difficult, resources like Project-based literacy: Fun literacy projects for powerful common core learning, help facilitate the exploration of new pedagogies and approaches to teaching in the digital age.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Please share your experience in leading your school or colleagues to further and better adopt technology to transform education!

I'm looking for colleagues who have guided others in adopting technology more deeply and/or have helped schools and staffs get past resistance to change – short descriptions of such experience to be included in anupcoming ISTE Book!

Please share a short description of how you led your school or colleagues to further and better adopt technology to transform education.

I’m currently under contract with ISTE Books to produce a book that will serve as a guide to technology leaders (school or district level) to encourage, guide, and establish effective (technology) change in schools. These may be individuals who’ve informally taken on the work of supporting their school in evolving and furthering its efforts in making the crucial change to a digital learning environment – OR  they may be those who’ve formally been  appointed to do so by school or district administration, or perhaps encouraged or nominated to engage in this important work by colleagues.

I’m looking for (roughly) 20 individuals who have made important discoveries about how to facilitate such change, convince colleagues and superiors of the importance of technology (especially for instruction), and have successfully dealt with resistance to change (teachers and/or supervisors), confusion about how to structure change in the school setting,

Important discoveries? Yes, from the standpoint of being instructive to the great number of colleagues who are engaged in similar work or about to set out on it and who may gain insight from hearing and reflecting on your experience?

These snapshot stories of personal experience will be included in the book in short (roughly 1 page or slightly longer) segments. Those who contribute these professional anecdotes and reflections will be formally credited and profiled in the book.
Contributors need not be accomplished writers!  Contributions will be edited and polished to fit in the book.

If you are interested in sharing your experience and expertise, please email  a brief, informal description of your experience to begin a dialogue. Please let me know:
-  What aspect of the change to a digitally supported Learning environment your experience addresses
-  What problem your efforts solved or helped solve
- Which barriers to technology adoption and maximized appropriate use your efforts have supported or encouraged others to surmount…
- Which aspect of resistance to change you’ve dealt with and how.etc.

I very much look forward to your response.

Mark Gura


For those from whom I've requested more detail after our first exchange, please reflect on the following... (or perhaps you are just curious)

Moving forward, we need to narrow down the narrative of your experience. Below is a list of ideas about how tech leaders (school-based, either formally appointed to assume that role, or those who have informally stepped into it… or, perhaps, district based individuals who address the needs of schools and classroom teachers, etc.) have supported school communities in moving further in the digital transformation that inevitably will involve the entire field.

Based on the list you see below how shall we describe your experience?  (And, of course, feel free to come up with other ideas and/or the verbiage you’d prefer to use to describe it)

We can capture your ‘story’ by you writing your ideas and responses (I’ll edit as needed afterward), or we can set  up an appointment for me to interview you.

In the end,  in the approximately 400 – 700 words the book can devote to your ‘story’ we want to present (at a minimum the following ideas) - (I MAY expand the word count a bit after I see a few examples of the stories…
-          How is it that you stepped into the role of… (we have some flexibility with the precise wording – but, the gist of it is… technology leader, technology guide, digital change agent, etc?
(Actually, if there is a title or name of your role in this capacity, please let me know as that may help explain your experience)
-          Who have you worked with in this capacity? (NOT the names of specific individuals, but an indication of the types of people you have supported – and how – and some indication of how many…
-          What sort of change have you supported the school or teachers to make?
(related to the above; ‘what’s the accomplishment’?)
-          What challenge(s) did you face in making this happen?
-          How did you surmount this challenge(s)  (barrier, obstacle, etc.)?
Also, we will need to provide some hard information about where you accomplished the above – who you worked with (again, NOT specific names, but some information… e.g. ‘the school’s Science Teachers… or perhaps, the school’s Upper Elementary Teachers… or perhaps, the district’s ELA Teachers, etc. etc. etc.)
The purpose of the above section is to provide other educators who will take on the work of supporting or further the significant adoption of technology to improve and positively transform classrooms and the educational experience they provide our students – This section of the book, which highlights colleagues who have already been involved in this crucial work… and explains briefly their experience and ideas  to provide insight, inspiration, and a body of ideas to draw on as they move forward.
I don’t need to make every story absolutely unique, but I do feel the need to provide a wide array of ideas and experience, which is why I want to make each well defined and have it offer readers some solid insight and understanding.
Further, if you think of any items that you don’t see on the list, but believe should be there… PLEASE let me know!
  • Resistance to Change
    - fear of class management problems
    - fear of too much work
    - fear of looking foolish
    - NO motivation to change to tech
    - fear of the unfamiliar
    - Teachers claim they can’t integrate tech into lessons because the students don’t have sufficient tech skills and they don’t have time or expertise tech skills to students
  • Negative Undertanding of Technology and its role and impact in Education - Teachers firmly hold beliefs that the adoption of technology is a negative
    - i.e. tech is bad for kids
    - technology will replace teachers
    - the adoption of technology will negatively impact one’s teaching or ability to teach (i.e. special talent or ability is required by teachers, very extensive training is required, the work involved will be overwhelming, the teacher will look ‘bad’ to the students,
    failure to see the great positives of EdTech, like the ways that technology makes things like: personalized/individualized instruction, and PBL manageable, whereas it would be unmanageable without it (although doable with great difficulty)
  • Teacher Turnover (a significant portion of the school’s teaching staff is continually new to the school or profession – those who provide PD and support end up spending a great deal of time with teachers at ‘square one’ and there is far less opportunity for the school to have a crucial mass of teachers who are tech users who may support one another, ec.
  • Professional Development not available or not accessible
    … and this represents an insurmountable barrier to technology adoption, intergration and support for better student learning experiences.

  • Lack of resources (or apparent lack of resources) cited as an absolute barrier
    - (possible solution) re-discovering or re-considering overlooked technology already in place, like student SMART Phones… or perhaps using a single Interactive White Board to deliver valuable technology supported lessons and activities to students, etc.
  • Difficulties in aligning tech with (required)curriculum
  • Schedule as a barrier
    - insufficient time for PD, curriculum work, or other time-dependent factors that act as an impediment to technology adoption
  • Can’t Flip the Classroom because not all students have a connected compute or device at home
Solutions and Approaches to Pressing Past Barriers to Tech Adoptio

  • Debunking negative and counter-productive myths and misapprehensions about EdTech
  • Provide EdTech support to teachers by establishing peer networks in the school or showing teachers how to join and participate in them beyond the school

  •  Alternative Approaches to Professional Development (when not available or not accessible)

     - enlisting students to help
- enlisting parents to help
- creating networks of support 

  • Alternative Approach to Acquiring or Evaluating Resources (when Lack of resources (or apparent lack of resources) is  cited as an absolute barrier

  • (possible solution) re-discovering or re-considering overlooked technology already in place, like student SMART Phones… or perhaps using a single Interactive White Board to deliver valuable technology supported lessons and activities to students