Monday, December 2, 2013

Chromebooks or Laptops

We've come to a big crossroads at the Storm Lake Community School District. We've made the committment over the past few years - short of 1:1 - to get as many devices into the hands of students as possible. We've bought into the fact that the Internet really is a source of knowledge far superior to static text or just the knowlege in a teacher's head. This does not mean that textbooks or libraries are useless. It also does not mean that teachers are disposable. Teaching is so much more than rote knowledge afterall. What it means is that students can learn more if they are globally connected, because if we add the online collaborative resources to both books and teachers, we add astronomically to the learning potential of our students.

With that committment, though, comes the dilemma: What is the best device for students? We must weigh many issues - Functionality, battery life, cost, durability, compatibility with what we have, etc. Ultimately, the most important questions we must answer are:

  • What is it that we want students to do with the device?
  • What can students do with the device that they couldn't do without it?
  • How can the device add to the learning experience?

The answer is not simple. Look at any newspaper, and you will see different schools choosing different devices, including schools that are having issues with the device of their choice. However, after much deliberation over the past year, the Storm Lake Community School District is committed at this point in time to Windows based laptops and Chromebooks as the two devices that best suit our student learning needs at a reasonable cost. What's at issue now, though, is that as our laptops start aging out and need replacing, we are faced with new questions:

How many laptops? How many Chromebooks? Do students ever really need a laptop that costs over twice as much as a Chromebook? And if so, why?

Chromebook issues:

  • Microsoft Office: Will Google Apps suffice?
  • Other loaded software: Is there an online alternative?
  • Printing: Can most work be completed and feedback be provided online?
  • Standardized testing: Yes, MAP tests can be given on a Chromebook.
  • Java: How often do students use websites that require Java? Is it necessary or an expendable luxury?

Chromebook advantages:

  • Google based: A definite plus in a Google Apps school like we are
  • Log in time: Seconds rather than minutes
  • Virus protection: Unnecessary
  • Server space: Unnecessary. Store things in the Cloud. Download to device only when you know you'll have no Internet connection.
  • Price: Less than half the price of a laptop
  • Management: Devices can be managed and maintained through the Google domain
  • Operating System: Updates automatically, always up to date
  • Support: Between Google and the very active Chromebooks in education online communities, support is extensive. In addition, several area schools have also chosen Chromebooks as their student device of choice allowing collaborative problem-solving between EdTech Departments.

So, what's the answer? Are Chromebooks sufficient for our students' educational needs? Because if they are, we can buy at least twice as many devices, and that means more students with devices which, as I stated at the outset, is the SLCSD goal.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Duties and Relationships

I had some teachers that I really loved and who could have told me to learn almost anything, and I would have done it. Why? Because in addition to the work done in the classroom, I had a personal relationship with them. I went out for the school activities they sponsored or coached. I saw them at all the school functions - plays, concerts, ballgames, and more. They were the ones who punched my activity card at basketball games and worked with me in the concession stand. The teachers I remember as my very best teachers were those who believed that relationship was everything and who looked for ways to build relationships outside of the classroom.

Because of those experiences and my resulting world view, I think it's a missed opportunity when teachers choose not to do their assigned school duties, the ones who pay to have someone else take tickets or supervise the events they are assigned to. I believe it means the world to elementary students coming through the high school football gate to be greeted by classroom teachers, and it's uplifting and affirming to high school students to see their current or former teachers at their concerts, games, and plays. As human beings we are dying to be validated as whole human beings who share more than the classroom assignment that's due tomorrow.

I know it's a different world than when I was in school. More teachers live out of town, raising their families in different schools. There are personal and family conflicts with assigned duties. I am also certain that teachers aren't maliciously having others do their duties. My point, however, is that our communities aren't as closely knit as they once were, and there aren't as many opportunities for us to cross the same paths as our students. Therefore, being at a couple of school functions a year has become much more important than simply the means of earning one's activity ticket.

Please think about the opportunities missed by not participating in the events that your students and their families are involved in. These tiny commitments on your part may just help build a relationship that keeps a child in school or gets a child to work harder or helps them feel like a part of something bigger that is safe and supportive and caring.

Think about it. You may even decide to attend more events than just your assigned duties.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Storm Lake High School Groundbreaking

With every high school student and staff member, with few exceptions, in attendance, a cold fall breeze blowing, sunshine so bright you had to squint, the high school band playing, and community members from the School Board to the auditorium committee to the architects to the builders to just plain interested press and friends, we celebrated the beginning of the Storm Lake High School renovation project.

We renewed both our commitment to our belief in the importance of education for the future of our country and also our faith in our public schools to accomplish that task. It was a joyous event!

Friday, October 25, 2013


I just got notification today that the area EdTech powers that be are going to meet with the area Tech powers that be, and I couldn't be happier!
I wear both hats at my school, although I certainly can't take the credit for the great learning with technology that takes place in the Storm Lake Schools. It's the teachers and students working together in the classrooms, the outside world that collaborates with us, the technicians traversing the district each day, and the administrators who have bought into the validity of technology for learning who are the ones making sure the learning takes place. No amount of vision, dreaming, persuading, deploying, troubleshooting, training, or planning on my part alone can accomplish this. Like all things, it takes a team and a lot of focused hard work by many different people.

When any team can get together, hash it out, and then work for the same goals, magic can happen. Our students deserve this. This is the way we do business: Together.

It's about time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Inspiration

This is personal. My dad, at the age of 81, was just honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning for the pro bono legal work he's doing for those who are in need in Sarasota, Florida.

On the other hand, this isn't a bit personal. These are the kind of people I work with everyday. Teachers, administrators, technology directors, instructional assistants, cooks, maintenance personnel, and all those who work in schools. Talk about serving those in need! I am honored everyday to work with such selfless, caring people.

On a personal note, love and congratulations to my dad in his most noble work. On a professional note, my deepest respect and admiration to all those who also do such noble work in our schools.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Collaboration, Expertise, and Compromise

Anyone who knows me knows two things about me:
  1. I am a team player. I like to bring people together, bat around ideas, present evidence, sometimes disagree vehemently, and then make decisions and plans based on facts.
  2. I respect the fact that people have different backgrounds, education, and expertise, and I purposely search out the opinions of those who are experts on various topics and who have actually experienced various situations when formulating my own thoughts.
Watching Congress the past few weeks and then participating in a meeting recently, where people I consider experts were feeling completely disenfranchised, have brought the two beliefs I listed above to the forefront of my thinking today.

Our world has become too complicated for individuals to claim expertise and make decisions based on "what's best" for the rest of us. Therefore, we owe it to the world to do the following:
  1. We must all speak up, even when it's uncomfortable.
  2. We must all actively listen to one another, even when we'd rather argue or remain removed from the situation.
  3. We must all be open to changing our minds, to the point of admitting when we're wrong.
  4. And finally, we must all realize that compromising and reaching consensus is not only possible but necessary under many circumstances when we hold conflicting views. It's not giving up to compromise. It's the reality of living in a free society.
These are skills we must practice as adults and model for our students. These are skills our students must be taught, because they will need them in our complicated world.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Social Media Guidelines for Teachers

As education continues to progress in a globally connected 21st Century, I hear more and more questions and concerns about social media. In my view social media includes anything through the Internet that includes sharing and allows collaboration, give-and-take, or conversations. Facebook and Twitter certainly come to mind, but I also include blogging, Google Apps in general, and some websites. Here in the Storm Lake Community School District, we encourage our teachers to become socially connected. There are three main reasons for our teachers to do so:

  1. To develop an online Professional Learning Community. Continuing to learn, sharing ideas with other teachers, interacting with experts, and planning for future collaborative events are just a few of the things teachers can do through social media to further their own learning and to become better teachers. Twitter is often the tool chosen for this.
  2. To foster communication between our school and our stakeholders. Our stakeholders include students, parents, other family members, community members, and sometimes other schools. Tools for this include blogs, websites, and even Facebook.
  3. To model the appropriate use of social media to students. We know our students are using social media everyday. We know that they are building an online resume of experiences, learning, and behaviors that can either serve them well in the future or can be destructive to their futures. It's our job as teachers to help students see the best ways to represent themselves online.
As we become more and more active on social media as representatives of the Storm Lake Community School District, it is important that we think through carefully the best way to represent ourselves and our school. I will be outlining some guidelines in future posts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Tech Accomplishments

It's that time of year again when we are scrambling like mad, realizing the first day of school is just around the corner.

Welcome to all the families registering their children with us today. It's so exciting to see students in the buildings again. We may get a lot of work done when most of the staff and students are gone in the summer, but we really miss them! This place loses its soul when our students aren't here.

Here's a sampling of what we either have done or will have done within the next couple of weeks:

  • 190 more Chromebooks. These devices look like small laptops and access the Internet through the Chrome browser. We piloted a lab of these in the high school ELL room and ten more all around the district last school year, and our teachers and students love them! No waiting to authenticate to the network or update virus protection. No unneeded programs to load. The ability to work in Google collaboratively, to access your files away from the school, and long battery life are only some of the things we've heard raves about. Five of the new Chromebook labs will go in our high school English classrooms as a chance for us to pilot technology in the hands of students any time, any day, all day in English classes. Another of the Chromebook labs will go to the middle school for checkout by classrooms. And, ten of the Chromebooks will go to elementary Title students for their use.
  • Guest wireless network at both the high school and the middle school. The same will be coming at the elementary school at some point this fall.
  • New Internet filtering that is less onerous to implement when we bring new devices onboard.
  • New virtualized servers.
  • New switches at the high school and new routing between buildings.
  • Doubled Internet bandwidth for the district.
  • Expanded monitoring of network to keep abreast of possible issues quicker.
  • Brand new computers in two high school labs and one elementary school lab.

  • Two new Smartboards, one at East and one at the elementary school.
  • Several new document cameras and projectors for classrooms at all our buildings.
  • Google Apps for our staff and our middle school and high school students, complete with email, has been updated. This is such a fabulous way for our students and staff to communicate, to collaborate, and to create their own learning.
  • e2020 alternative high school and credit recovery software updated.
  • Academy of Math for high school student interventions updated.
  • Rosetta Stone software for the whole district updated.
  • Middle School Family and Consumer Science software updated.
  • Expansion of wireless coverage and density at the elementary school.
Those are the things that immediately come to mind. We are so excited at the potential for our students to learn with technology even more than they have in the past.

I'd better get back to it. The first day of school is staring me down!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lifelong Learning

I am a lifelong-learner. I believe certain things are required of our students once they leave school that are very difficult to test but are of the utmost importance for us to teach. Here are the Albemarle County Public Schools' list of Lifelong Learning Standards copied from their website (

Lifelong-Learner Competencies

Lifelong learning places emphasis on results. To develop the skills and habits associated with lifelong learning, students must: learn beyond the simple recall of facts; understand the connections to and implications of what they learn; retain what they learn; and be able to apply what they learn in new contexts.
  • Plan and conduct research.
  • Gather, organize, and analyze data, evaluate processes and products; and draw conclusions.
  • Think analytically, critically, and creatively to pursue new ideas, acquire new knowledge, and make decisions.
  • Understand and apply principles of logic and reasoning; develop, evaluate, and defend arguments.
  • Seek, recognize and understand systems, patterns, themes, and interactions.
  • Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve new and increasingly complex problems.
  • Acquire and use precise language to clearly communicate ideas, knowledge, and processes.
  • Explore and express ideas and opinions using multiple media, the arts, and technology.
  • Demonstrate ethical behavior and respect for diversity through daily actions and decision making.
  • Participate fully in civic life, and act on democratic ideals within the context of community and global interdependence.
  • Understand and follow a physically active lifestyle that promotes good health and wellness.
  • Apply habits of mind and metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate one's own work.
I was lucky enough to participate in a workshop with Dr. Pam Moran who is the superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools, and these standards totally reinforced my belief in the fact that it's no longer facts that should be the emphasis of education. It's the process that we must be teaching.

SLCSD, how do you get your students ready to be lifelong learners?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Saw this from Bill Ferriter on Twitter yesterday and then on George Couros' blog today, and it blew me away:

This is exactly what I've been trying to say for years. What do you think?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

ISTE Crowds

Went to get in line over an hour early for the first ISTE keynote speaker, Jane McGonigal, and found it quite seriously miles long. Decided to move to the Bloggers' Cafe where the keynotes are simulcast. Oh, my. Familiar faces talking at the top of their voices to be heard over all the others talking at the top of their voices. Iowans I know. Bloggers and Tweeters I know of. What a group of EdTech leaders. I hope the passion and the expertise wears off on me. So pleased to be here in this moment!

Will continue to skim McGonigal's book "Reality is Broken" in preparation for her speech. More later.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I attended high school graduation this weekend, and it brought to mind how extremely important schools are, not only for the future of our country and our world, but also for our students' lives individually. How wonderful that we see the individual talents in our students and encourage them to develop those talents, whether it's art or athletics or music or business or construction or academic excellence. How inspiring it is to watch seniors cross the stage for diplomas who are the first high school graduates or the first future college students from their families. How moving to see a class come together and cheer the accomplishments of a fellow student. How loving to see the students offer their empathy to a family who lost their senior this year. How exciting to see the gym full of families, some with very young children who will one day grace this very stage, celebrating the success of their family members and friends who are graduating.

It is with pride as an educator and with the love of a mother that I salute the Storm Lake Class of 2013. We come from all different backgrounds with so many interesting stories to tell. However, it's clear that when we gather as a community, we will always think first of the Tornado green and white that we share and wish the very best for each other.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thank you, EMC Insurance!

Thank you to EMC Insurance for the eight Lenovo laptops for our high school ELL students. We couldn't be happier!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Preparing for Next Year

The financial part of the EdTech Plan for next year was approved by the School Board last evening, and I couldn't be happier! We will be finishing up projects from this year, including upgrading our network with switches, servers, new Internet filter, more Internet bandwidth, and also the replacement of three computer labs; and then we will transition right into updated alternative high school/credit recovery software, updated and expanded ELL software, and updated middle school Family and Consumer Science software. We're adding five Chromebook labs, replacing an old laptop lab with Chromebooks, adding ten more Chromebooks, and adding a few interactive white boards, projectors, and document cameras. We're also going to beef up our wireless and replace our current email system with Gmail. Finally, when we move into the end of next school year, we will replace the elementary teachers' computers with laptops, and replace three mobile labs of computers with new equipment.

Thanks to our teachers who are working so hard to get technology into the hands of students to improve their learning. Their dedication to teaching and learning in new ways is truly amazing. It's always so exciting to work on plans for coming years when you know the teachers are with you. As long as we keep asking, "What's best for kids?," I don't think we can go wrong. I am proud to be a part of the Storm Lake Schools where we are all working very hard to maximize the learning of every student.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What's Best for Students: Understand the Potential for Change

I just read an article from Tech & Learning discussing the transformation possible with technology, which is too often hampered by thinking about learning the same way we thought about it before the widespread availability of technology. Please read the article. It is short, and it is so important:
(You can skip the ad by clicking in the top right hand corner of the page that comes up.)

The author of the article, J. Robinson, presents this quote:

"When people adopt technology, they do old things in new ways. When people internalize technology, they find new things to do." James McQuivey, Digital Disruption: Unleasing the Next Wave of Innovation

This difference between "adopting" and "internalizing" is extremely important. Yes, there's educational merit to drill and practice flashcards on an iPad. Yes, there's educational merit to watching a YouTube video on a Chromebook. Yes, there's educational merit to typing a paper on a laptop or reading a book on an eReader or creating a presentation in interactive whiteboard software. However, none of those things are harnessing the potential for learning that technology offers.

I could go into a whole list of the transformative powers of technology for learning, but what's the most important thing technology is doing for me right now?

Collaboration and networking.

I'm no longer tied to just my local peers that I see at a meeting now and then or tied to a few emails once in awhile with fellow EdTechs in the area. I can go so much further and collaborate and learn with anyone in the world who has an Internet connection. I can find other people who are grappling with the same things I am and learn from them while they learn from me; I can follow my passion and find others who share that passion; and I can share my work with a wide audience. Through Google Apps, Twitter, and the rest of the Internet, the world is at my fingertips. Nothing is out of reach anymore.

The guiding question is, "What can our students do with technology that they couldn't do without it?" If you aren't asking that, you aren't using technology to expand and improve learning. You are just continuing to define teaching and learning as it's always been defined, and that's not understanding the potential for change.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I love conferences. Despite all the online connecting I do everyday through Twitter, listserves, email, and other social networking sites, there is something exhilarating about coming face-to-face with those you've interacted with online, as well as others, new people, who share their own passion for learning and for helping students to learn.

Storm Lake teachers, take the opportunity to attend TICL at BVU this summer. The district will pay your registration fee. Let me know, and I'll register you.

Take a look:

Teachers who have attended in the past have come back ready to move to a new paradigm of teaching and learning. Ask them, and then let me know you want to go, too. You will be glad you did!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


It's funny how one gets so wrapped up in the community of EdTech supporters on Twitter that one forgets how many aren't even close to the same perspective on education. It's funny how one attends conferences on education and hears experts talk about project based learning and technology integration and self-directed learning and collaboration with others outside the school walls, and then forgets that others still believe in getting back to basics with closed door classrooms, pencil and paper, drill and practice, and textbooks. It's funny how one pushes teachers to adapt learning to incorporate the vast wealth of opportunities found in a global, connected world only to experience hesitation from the same forces that pushed teachers to change but now panic when they have.

Maybe it's not so funny.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Power of Teachers

I was asked to attend the High School English PLC meeting today where they explained to the superintendent why their students need access to Chromebooks in their classrooms all day long. It was a powerful presentation that made the advantages of students having access to devices all day every day very clear. The things these teachers are having their students do through Google Apps, Google Chrome, Schoology, and other websites is educationally sound, and the examples of student work they showed were excellent. Both these teachers and their students have seen the advantages:
  • Differentiation
  • Collaboration
  • Organization
  • Accessibility
  • Formative assessment
  • Accountability
  • Feedback
  • Higher Order Thinking
  • Creativity
  • The ease of revising
  • The power of writing daily
  • Fact checking at one's fingertips
  • Tools like dictionaries, text to speech, and language translators
  • And so much more
I don't think it's overstating things to say that this was a profound moment for these teachers, and I feel privileged that I was able to witness it. These teachers understand that education is changing. These teachers are willing to let go of the reins and let their students work together and learn from one another. These teachers are challenging each other to be better teachers. These teachers are willing to do the upfront work to continue to change their classrooms.

As a techonology director, I've been preaching these things for years, but there is nothing like the power of a teacher. I am always inspired when I get to watch groups of teachers who have seen the light and are ready to fight for what should change. I sign every email I send with:

A huge Internet pipe, robust wireless, and mobile Internet connected devices in as many students' hands as possible. A teacher who loves to learn, learns new things regularly, and models that love of learning to students. Student-centered classrooms. It's that simple (and that complicated)!

I saw this in our High School English teachers today, and I am proud.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Character Counts: Citizenship

I had the privilege to be a part of the Storm Lake Elementary School Character Counts assembly today. The pillar for the month was Citizenship, and my small part was to talk to the students briefly about Digital Citizenship. Now, you have to realize that I spend most of my educational time these days with adult learners. The opportunity to talk to kindergarten through fourth graders was very special. From the Pledge of Allegiance, to the Star Spangled Banner, to the fired up teachers with the purple stars, to the press box of students taking pictures and videos of the event, to the high school students who came in their uniforms and costumes from all the activities they are involved in to encourage the young students to get involved in the SLCSD community, to the sea of purple representing good citizenship, to the cheering and the wave, to the little students shouting out answers to my questions during my short presentation, it was a truly moving experience. I suppose I am nostalgic because my babies are eighteen years old and graduating from high school this year, but I think it's more than that. It's the very special nature of the Storm Lake Community Schools and the love and dedication of the teachers, the students, the administrators, the staff members, and all the community stakeholders. There are so many who dream such big dreams for the future of these kids. Good citizens one and all!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Chromebooks are Here!

We've tested a few Chromebooks in the district over the past year, but now we have thirty to really give us data about their suitability for student devices. We will scatter ten of them throughout the district for teachers and students to test, and we have deployed twenty in the ELL room at the HS. Mrs. Green, Mrs. Hernandez, and their students couldn't be happier! They are the ones who did the initial Chromebook testing, so they know the Chromebooks are what they need.

After using a Chromebook for a long time myself, my prediction is that our other teachers and students will love the devices, too, once they get a chance to test them out.

Monday, January 21, 2013

EdTech Day

The day has finally arrived. Looking forward to teachers and administrators learning, sharing, and creating. This is what teachers do when kids are home - Learning to be better teachers, learning to let go and let students learn:

SLCSD EdTech Day Website

Go, Tornadoes!

Friday, January 18, 2013

EdTech Day for Teachers and Administrators

Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, is going to be an exciting day in the Storm Lake Community School District. All teachers and administrators will be gathering for the third full day of EdTech professional development in just over a year. EdTech learning, collaboration, and classroom planning are the work for the day. The goal of the day is increased student use of technology for learning content/curriculum. The major technology tools we will focus on are Google Apps; Google Chrome; SmartBoards and Student Response Systems; Blogging, Twitter, and Digital Storytelling; and Edmodo and Schoology. Both students and teachers are currently using all of these things in different classrooms in the district. The purpose of the day is to both increase teacher and administrator knowledge of how to use the various technologies and also to share all the ways these technologies can be used by students and/or whole classrooms for learning. Online collaboration and reaching outside the four walls of the school to learn are a major focus.

This EdTech Day is organized a little differently than the past two EdTech Days. This time the morning will be spent in the teachers' own buildings in PLC groups accessing a website created specifically for the day. It is full of resources and collaborative opportunities for the teachers and administrators. Each PLC will decide as a group what to focus on, because we believe strongly in differentiating PD to accommodate teachers with different needs. In the afternoon, teachers will gather at the high school for the opportunity to step out of their small PLC groups and work with others from all over the district who are focusing on the same EdTech integration strategies. "Expert" teacher facilitators are assigned to the various EdTech tools, and they will share their knowledge and classroom examples, but they will also just be available to assist with the work of their peers as they develop their plans for their own students.

Keep an eye out for our EdTech Day hashtag on Twitter: #sltech. We're hoping for a very active day of sharing resources and back channeling about our learning.