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Teachers Toolbox - What kind of a tool are you?

posted Dec 19, 2016, 12:54 PM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Dec 19, 2016, 12:54 PM ]

Today there is a tool that will do just about anything. You can pick up a machine that only makes waffles, or quesadillas, or like the example below, blends things up. These tools are all great, but they can only do specific things. 

This picture above is of two different blenders. The one on the left has nine different buttons. Each button does something different. It customized what it will do based on what you need. The blender on the left has just one button. For this tool, which is designed to blend, it will do just that. Lets compare this tool with you as a teacher When you are teaching you have a lot of things to do. You have many little humans to care for and make sure learn that material that you are teaching. With that being said, are you really changing what you are doing? Are you changing your instruction to meet others needs? Are you working with students individually and in groups? Are you measuring their learning with formative assessments? Are you choosing different settings to ensuring that every child is getting exactly what they need to be successful? 

Choose to be the blender on the left, PLEASE!

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What if I am Right?

posted Dec 5, 2016, 1:12 PM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Dec 5, 2016, 1:13 PM ]

As I was working this afternoon, I stumbled across a Twitter account that was titled "What if I am Right?". I immediately thought about how this critical question was. How critical it is that we are listening to those who are forecasting the future. How important it is that we are listening to what our students need and what they are doing outside of school. How important it is to be cognizant of the ever changing realm technology brings into our lives. What if I am right?

I am not emphasizing this question to puff out my chest and say I told you so, because I am in no means the only voice for change. George Couros, Erin KleinSteven Anderson, and Alice Keeler are some of the early adopters and some who have some very powerful influence. This influence is not doing enough. It is not creating the urge for change that is truly needed. It is not changing education like it needs to be.

If you are a parent, ask your child what part of school they LOVED today? Ask them what they remember from the content? Ask them how that learning can apply to real life? You are most likely going to get no answer. We have come so far to disconnect learning from what actually happens, that it has almost become irrelevant. 

If you are not a parent, reflect on those questions. How much of your teaching is disconnected for you? How much of what you teach ever day are things that you do not do everyday? How can you change that?

Kids today are leaving our schools as passive, vending machine robots. They think that there is only one answer for any problem and that there is only one way to get there. The path they take to get there is through a practice and preach method where silence and good behavior are rewarded. They are praised for high test scores when the most compeditive companies openly search out employees who do not have a 4.0 due to their ability to live a balanced life. I am sick and tired of seeing these students be treated this way and get the creativity and enjoyment of school beaten out of them. 


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Is Your Vision Understood?

posted Nov 18, 2016, 6:56 AM by Kris Szajner

Every educational program has a vision. They have a rally cry and a direction that they are traveling that will better the education that their clients are receiving. This vision is one that you want all of your employees to know and to follow. More often than not, I see that visions are not understood and the teachers do not have a clear direction that they are working towards.

What is happening is that the visions that are being presented are one of two things. They are either too big to be comprehendable, or they are simply disorganized. You can compile almost all of the unknown visions into these two categories. Both of these issues can be fixed and relatively easily.

My Vision is Too Big
This is a pretty simple solution, you need to size it down. I do not mean you need to size down where you want to go, but you need to boil down the steps and tracks so that it is more manageable for teachers. Removing some of the "extra" work that teachers may lump into this area will help them to keep a razor focus on where you actually want them to do. Also making a decision as to what is optional and what is required. This will help you to prioritize what elements you need to focus on and what items you don't.

My Vision is Disorganized
This step often comes after you have tried the steps above. You have paired down your ideas, simplified your language, and pointed teachers in a manageable and focused area to work through but you are still not seeing the change. This is where a top down effect is very powerful. Realigning all of the supporting staff around these items and ensuring that their focus areas reflect the directions that you want to travel is imperative. By ensuring that your front line is aligned will build a systematic change within your district. 

Words Of Advise
  • Be Clear
  • Be Concise
  • Be Consistent
  • Be Collaborative

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My Goal = Unemployment

posted Oct 26, 2016, 6:26 AM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Oct 26, 2016, 6:28 AM ]

This post sure has a weird title. Who in their right mind would have a goal of being unemployed? Who would ever wish for that, let along strive for it? That person is me! My goal is to work myself out of a job. Let me explain...

The work that I do on a daily basis is not something special. I do not do things that other people are not capable of. I do not pull magic rabbits out of a hat or have a special affinity for technology. I am just a teacher. As we all know, technology has changed the world we live in forever, and it will only continue to impact our lives in greater and greater ways. This impact forces us to learn how to do things differently. These differences are the skills that I focus on trying to transfer onto teachers. 

What will make me unemployed?
  • Teachers willingness to change!
  • Teachers treating the time with me as a PD opportunity every time I work with them!
    • Taking notes
    • Making critical observations
    • Asking questions
    • STOP treating this time as a prep
    • Showcasing prior knowledge in daily teaching habits
  • Making large scale changes to the way education looks today
    • Less whole group teaching, more differentiation
    • Leveraging technology vs using technology
    • Competency based teaching
  • A mass backtracking and pull out of technology (this is happening in some places)
    • Dropping of 1 to 1 technology
    • Making screen time arguments

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Doodle 3D - Turning Drawings into 3D Printed Objects

posted Oct 12, 2016, 6:26 AM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Oct 12, 2016, 6:27 AM ]

Doodle 3D is an app that allows you to take your drawings and make them into a 3D printable object. You simply need to capture the drawing you did, then use the tools embedded within Doodle 3D to make this object literally come to life. This app is a first of its kind and certainly something that will continue to be grounded in the students' thinking process!

Imagine as a student, you were tasked to create your own story. You take the time to construct your plot and build your characters carefully. Once you are done your teacher then takes a picture of one of your illustrations and makes an action figure for you based on your own personal narrative! Doodle 3D lets you do that with ease!

The possibilities for this app are only limited by the amount of 3D printing filament you can purchase. Integrating this into any subject is almost an expectation now that Doodle 3D is here!
  • Make your own manipulatives for math
  • Create Scientific models
  • Recreate historical objects or sites
  • Make tangible, permanent items based on students' ideas
  • Take PBL units to the next level
  • Build on the imagination of your students to create anything!

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What do you do?

posted Oct 10, 2016, 4:32 PM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Oct 10, 2016, 4:32 PM ]

This question is one that I have had asked to me more times than I like to count. to me more times than I like to count. New teachers, community members, and sometimes family all inquire about the ever elusive Technology Integrationist role. I try and answer things simply and clearly. I update teachers!

By update, I do not mean I fill them in on what happened with the Kardashians this weekend or what I ate for breakfast, I mean the update as if you were installing a new operating system. I guide teachers to make deep, long lasting practices that leverage technology to enhance their students'performance. 

A teacher I had worked with for over 2 years recently asked me this question, which was surprising because I have been in her room many times, which was surprising because I have been in her room many times. After I explained what I did, she had a look of surprise on her face. She said that she thought my job was to find the newest and coolest things and help teachers to integrate them.

I do learn about the newest and coolest tools, but I do only integrate them if they are what is best for kids. I truly have a repertoire of 30 different apps or websites that I use to teach with. These tools have served me from my time teaching Kindergarten, to the times when I work with secondary students. The 30 items never change. 

As I closed up my conversation with this teacher, she said "that is why we are using Pic Collage again today, I thought you ran out of good ideas". It is not by mistake that I repeat tools and enhance their ceiling vs using a large number of tools with very little depth. The BEST idea it to use tools that your students know and like and let them showcase their knowledge. 

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PingPong - The Next Step in Formative Assessments

posted Sep 20, 2016, 7:49 AM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Sep 20, 2016, 7:49 AM ]

With the huge explosion of technology in our world, we have a need to find tools that can be used in on multiple interfaces. Web-based applications that allow the user to complete their work regardless of the access point are not only becoming a necessity but becoming the norm. PingPong is just that! This tool gives me a very close reminder of using a tool like Plickers except that students have a device instead of a notecard. 

PingPong is an excellent formative assessment tool for any classroom. The quick connect option allows any grade level to be able to link into your course code while the question options give you the freedom to actually pull data from the students' responses. The most unique aspect of this tool is the option to collect images and drawings. There are very few tools that allow you to do this, and there are ZERO free tools that allow it! PingPong is the first! Highlights from this tool include:
  • Multi-Tool Access 
    • This app is available in the app store, the play store, and as a web app for FREE. 
  • Image/Drawing collection 
    • The only other tool that I have seen that works this cleanly is Pear Deck which is a paid app. Using this option to collect writing responses from younger students is a must!
  • Visually Minimal 
    • Unlike many other student-directed apps, PingPong does not give you the flash and awe. Some teachers may find this as a downfall, but I find it an advantage. There is less to look at and be distracted by which means that you are seeing more of the learning. 
  • Fast Paced
    • Not only can you quickly get students on board, but you can quickly navigate through questions. Since there is no pre-typing needed, you can give the options vocally and have students respond in seconds. Get a feel for your students' knowledge in seconds rather than waiting until the assessment to be graded.

Check out PingPong Today!

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Technology in Edcuation - Is it money still wasted?

posted Sep 14, 2016, 7:51 AM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Sep 14, 2016, 7:57 AM ]

Todays world is critical of everything. Any alignment you have on an issue is critically examined and often ridiculed by those who are not in agreement. This harsh attitude toward others is not without cause. Education is one of the most critically analyzed systems in the world today. How we spend money, how these dollars reflect test scores, and how these scores relate to the world are questions that are often the first to be asked. This post will highlight my thoughts on the issue of technology spending in schools. 

In the recent news we have seen a critical attack on how money is being spent on technology in education. Authors are calling them hoax's, and a waste of money. See for yourself here:
These articles have some validity, but the cause of this is not on the dollars. The cause is not even on the kids. The cause of this attitude is based on the system of education. The system that we work in daily is broken and desperately needs an update! Below I will highlight some causes and possible solutions to these issues:

Tools Fix Issues
There are very few districts who are still purchasing devices to help bridge achievement gaps or create solutions to "STEM" learning, but there are still clear examples of schools choosing tools to solve issues. There are countless learning tools out there that claim to "differentiate instructions" and "customize learning" for all students. The fact is, this is not an answer. Regardless of what these tools claim to do, they alone cannot bridge gaps. We see schools lean far to heavy on them causing new gaps to arise. 
  • Solution - Balance your teaching. This issue should not be disclaiming some of the tools that are out there, it is disclaiming the structure in which they are delivered. Use tools like this with care and caution. Plopping kids in front on IXL, or moby max may not be what they need at that moment.

Classroom Environment
Teachers today are stuck in the model that they have to stand in front of all students and deliver the learning in this method. The premise is that if they are not managing all students all the time, they are not learning. The fact of the matter is, when you deliver a one size fits all lesson, you could be reaching all students, or you could be reaching 3. Delivering a 60 minute lesson that only 3 students are ready to learn about is unacceptable.
  • Solution - STOP STANDING IN FRONT AND TEACHING! Break your class into small groups. Run them through centers based on their academic readiness. Check in with them often using formative assessments. Deliver learning that is appropriate for ALL students rather than a section.

We are not Leveraging Technology
I sat down with a group of teachers this summer and asked them what they thought leveraging technology for learning was. The first response is got was "I use the SMART board for every lesson so I am a good technology integrating teacher". I almost passed out! 
  • Solution - Leveraging technology means that you are delivering content at the students' level, in a device to student ratio that is minimal. The SMART board is a 1 device to 25+ student tool where as iPads and Chromebooks can be a 1 device to 1 student ratio. Delivering content also does not mean digitizing the textbooks we see today. Create mobile learning environments that allow for interaction, conversation, and explanations of learning in their own format. 

To conclude, I do think that money is still wasted on technology but it is not due to spending the money in the wrong spot. Money NEEDS to be invested in technology. This is the world that students have at home and will continue change and grow to make our world all the more connected. The wasting of money comes from the teaching standpoint within technology. Teachers are not leveraging these tools to truly deliver instruction as it could be. They are choosing to repeat what has been done in the past, vs changing for the future. 

Are you doing things today because you did it yesterday? Or because you truly believe it is what's best?

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iDroo - Refined Collaborative Learning Space

posted Sep 6, 2016, 10:16 AM by Kris Szajner   [ updated Sep 6, 2016, 10:17 AM ]

iDroo is a relatively new tool that is available in your Chrome Web Store. This tool allows you to host a digital space where users can interact, and collaborate. Unlike other drawing tools, iDroo allows you import math functions and maintain the user permissions at a person by person level. 

Math Speach
The math elements found in this tool make it a must have for math educators! You have the option to input any symbol into your board that you so choose. The possibilities for creating online learning spaces has opened up to a whole new level!

Live Writing
This tool is accessible on any platform, making it universal, and functional. While accessing these platforms, you will always see a live icon where other users are writing. The time lapse is almost non existent and the collaboration is palpable.

Easy Sign Up
For other users to log in, they have the opportunity to sign into Facebook, Windows Live, and Google. This ease of sign up allows you to quickly get students onboard, and work completed.

This tool answers the age old issue of iPad users not being able to use collaborative drawing tools. Flockdraw, and Google Drawings are two simple examples that lack the function of being used on an iPad. iDroo lets you do this! 

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New Faces

posted Aug 29, 2016, 6:39 PM by Kris Szajner

With the start of the 2016 school year, there comes and endless flow of new faces. Whether they are students, coworkers, or administrators, you will see people that you have never interacted with before. With every new face you are provided an opportunity. You have the opportunity to make a life changing impact with just one simple thing, positivity! 

You always have the opportunity to be a positive impact on anyone! I am a firm believer that optimism is a choice, and it is one that I hold close to my heart. Taking a small amount of energy to make sure that every interaction you have with those around you will do many things. People will want to spend time around you as they feel good when you are near. These good feelings will start to be paid forward creating an invasion of warm fuzzies. Above all, you will feel good about you and who you are.

Take 5 minutes today to connect with those who are new, or rekindle a relationship that you feel is lacking or damaged. Choose to be the difference maker today because you never know if your interaction is the difference maker or not.

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