Tag Archives: edtech

Using Technology for Self-Reflection in the Classroom

by Helen Beyne


Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At a time when yoga and meditation are part of the mainstream, terms such as self-reflection and metacognition have emerged as popular buzzwords even outside the field of neuroscience. The significance of these concepts is more than mere hype. Research has linked self-reflection to better emotional intelligence, higher confidence, greater mental flexibility, and even reduced risks of mood and anxiety disorders.

These benefits also apply to children. New research has indicated that teaching children how to self-reflect is a highly effective way to enhance learning. Keeping a journal is not the only way to help children self-reflect, however; the modern digital age offers a multitude of new and fun ways for you to implement self-reflection activities in your classroom.


The cognitive benefits of expressive writing cannot be overstated, and there are a wide variety of digital tools you can use to take your students’ writing beyond pencil and paper. This approach also aligns with the Common Core State Standards for Writing, which requires students of all ages to use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing. You might have your class keep a daily digital journal or set up a classroom blog where students can post their entries and discuss them with others. Penzu Classroom offers free online classroom journals that students can join with a class code, and they can easily share their entries with the entire class or with just a few students for discussion. Storybird is another free tool that allows students to publish journal entries, stories, or poems online. For young children or students who struggle with writing, it might be useful to provide a template that asks them to reflect on their day, week, or recent behavior.


Drawing is another activity that can be self-reflective and therapeutic. Having students use illustrations to explain what they did that day or describe how they are feeling can be an effective way to help them express themselves artistically. You can try these drawing apps and have your students post their drawings online. You could even have your students create illustrations for their writing. Little Bird Tales is a great tool that allows students to upload their illustrations online and record themselves analyzing and discussing what they drew.


Helping students record videos of themselves is another fun and easy way to help them self-reflect. Results of a recent study offered support for a concept known as instant video revisiting, in which children watch their activities immediately after they happen, reflect on them, and discuss them with a teacher. The study found that children are more reflective about what they have done when they explain what they are doing as they revisit video recordings. Apple’s iMovie or these movie-making apps make it easy for students to create, edit, and watch their own videos.

How else have you used technology to help your students self-reflect in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

What’s Routine Got to Do With It? Building Edtech Routines

by Amber Wilson

building edtech routines

image courtesy alxsanchez | freeimages.com

As professional adults, the benefits of routines are obvious to us. We optimize everything we can, especially our time. Establishing a routine means that we don’t have to constantly stop and ask ourselves “What comes next?” All classrooms have routines in place. There are behavior-centered routines for classroom management, and there are metacognitive routines for learning and comprehension.

Some routines are inherent to the situation: before class begins, students file through a narrow opening into an enclosed space. (For some of us, the routine consists mostly of standing in the doorway, shooing barely-on-time kids into the room and urging them into seats.) Some of them are consciously developed over time to achieve a specific goal: when I need your attention, I clap twice and you clap once and respond verbally before falling silent and looking at me.

You probably have routines for assigning work, for collecting homework, and for distributing readings and resources to your students. (If you are Google-savvy or a regular reader, you may already be using tech to fine-tune these processes.)

Take a quick inventory of the tech that you currently (or would like to!) use regularly with your students. You may have some technology available that you’re hesitant to use because you don’t want it to pull focus from the instruction and learning tasks at hand.

We know that the point of educational technology is not the tech itself, but the additional learning opportunities it can provide. Just like routines for common occurrences such as students excusing themselves to the restroom, and for infrequent events like fire drills, routines for getting out, using, and putting away classroom technology will prevent distraction and keep the focus on education.

What are some routines you might want to put in place?

What are the benefits of tech-use routines?

  • manage class time effectively
  • students always know what is expected of them
  • minimize student confusion and loss of attention
  • maintain high standards for self and others
  • allow greater independence, accountability, and responsibility for students
  • emphasizes that you value student work (as well as the devices themselves)

Remember that it takes a lot of repetition for something to become habit. Don’t be afraid to invest time in the beginning. Building good habits that allow students (and teachers) to get the most of out of available classroom tech will yield great rewards in the long run.

AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

Surprising #EdTech Facts about 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools

guest post by Luz Chavez

This week the U.S. Department of Education recognized 337 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools based on their “overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.”

What some hope to accomplish by putting a device in each student’s hands, National Blue Ribbon Schools have delivered.

With K-12 schools on the road to spending close to $10B on edtech this year and 1:1 programs dominating edtech discussions, one would think that edtech is synonymous with better education. You might also think there are a substantial number of 1:1 schools in the United States. There aren’t.

According to a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive for Pearson Education, the number of 1:1 schools is surprisingly low. 

National Stats

  • Only 16% of students attend a 1:1 school.
  • Of those 16% of students, 60% use laptops and the remaining use tablets.
  • Only 12% of students attend schools with a BYOD policy (which is often an alternative to 1:1)

Every NBR school has some kind of tech—whether it be a computer lab, iPad/laptop carts, interactive whiteboards, and/or classroom computers. But when it comes to 1:1 programs, how do the schools deemed the nation’s best measure up? Let’s look at the stats, based on the schools’ NBR applications.

2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools

  • Only 8 of the 337 NBR schools are 1:1 (one school is a hybrid 1:1/BYOD where every student is required to buy their own device).
  • 6 of the 8 schools are public and 2 are private.
  • If you factor in the 31 NBR schools with some kind of 1:1 initiative in a pilot program or in certain grade levels, the overall number of 1:1 programs is still only 11%.
  • Only 24 of the 337 NBR schools are BYOD.

The stats beg the question, “Is there too much of an emphasis on 1:1 programs?” The phrases “Every student has a device” and “Technology improves learning” are certainly catchy, digestible, and marketable. It’s easy and pleasant to focus on something we can control—a device, a quantity, an app.

The real business of learning can’t be summed up so easily. The lack of 1:1 programs in the nation’s top schools is a good reminder of that. What are these schools doing that works? That answer is much more complicated. But it certainly involves more than putting a gadget in every student’s hands.

Luz Chavez is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

How to Use Maps in Any Classroom

by Jonathan Laxamana

map making tools

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using maps in the classroom once meant occasionally fussing with a hanging world map or too-small spinning globe (that usually collected dust) just to point out the location of a little-known country or quickly trace the progression of a military campaign in history class. Today, however, there are a number of web-based and desktop map-making tools available to help teachers use maps more creatively as visual tools—and outside of the history classroom.

For All Teachers

Google Maps offers a familiar and relatively easy interface for creating simple maps with markers, information, and routes. There are also features that allow users to import data, upload images and videos, and measure the distance between two points, which makes it a great tool for creating interactive activities about many topics.

For Science and History Teachers

National Geographic MapMaker Interactive allows users to layer maps from their collection. The collection provides data for a number of topics—from giant panda populations to mobile service subscriptions. This tool’s simple interface makes it an excellent tool for comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing information.

For History and English Teachers

History Pin is a tool that combines locations, images, and text to create a historical narrative. Here, users can either learn about the history of a particular location, group, or event—via tours and collections—or create one of their own. This tool is great for project-based learning, as it requires students to use their researching and writing skills.

Mixsee is similar to History Pin. It allows users to craft a narrative about a particular location. Students can attach images, videos, music, and descriptions to a place on a map, and these locations can be grouped together to create a guide. This tool is also great for project-based learning, especially short-term projects.

For Ambitious Math, Science, and History Teachers

CartoDB is a tool that maps data. Users upload data (via Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) or input data that will be depicted on a map. Using the interface is a bit challenging, and even high school students will need some assistance using this tool; however, the software is simple enough for a teacher to create step-by-step instructions for generating a map for a particular project. With this tool, students can create colorful images that help them easily understand or explain the results of a math, science, or history project.

Tableau Public is similar to CartoDB, but the interface is a bit more challenging because it can present imported data in a number of ways—as maps, graphs, charts, tables, etc. Users choose how they want the information to be presented and drag and drop the data they want to use. The software does most of the work, but the user can modify the presentation.

Creating a simple map with this tool is relatively easy with a well-organized spreadsheet; however, there are many options for customizing the presentation that can make using the software challenging. For a simple, clear project, this tool can help your students create stunning data maps.

These are just a few of the many tools available for making maps. Many of them use Google Maps in some way, but their interface, features, and focus vary greatly. When you’re deciding which tool to use, think carefully about which tool’s features are best aligned with the project you want to use it for, and consider how challenging it will be for your students to use the tool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

5 Tools for Successful Teacher-Parent Communication

by Erin Dye

communication tools parents

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s back-to-school time! As you establish new routines with your students, it’s also a good time to think about how you’ll communicate with parents during the year. Parental involvement is a key factor in student achievement. Regular communication with parents keeps them informed about activities and assignments in your classroom as well as their child’s performance.

The following tools can make teacher–parent communication easy and effective:

1)   Create a class website or blog.

A class website is a great way to give parents an overview of your class. For example, you can post your contact information, a syllabus, classroom rules and expectations, and a schedule with important due dates. Weebly and Blackboard Engage are helpful resources for setting up classroom websites. Depending on how you want to use your site, you can keep the design basic or set up interactive features, such as discussion forums.

You can also create a class blog using a site such as Edublogs or Blogger (Google’s free blogging service). On your blog, you can post written updates, photos, and videos of what students are learning. Parents who read the blog will get a glimpse of specific classroom activities. 

2)   Use social networking sites.

Many parents check social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter regularly. Why not create a class Facebook page and Twitter account for parents who are on these sites anyway? This allows you to share frequent, quick updates about classroom happenings. You can even link your Twitter account to a Facebook page to make communication easier. Just remember to check your school’s rules regarding social media before posting anything.

3)   Give parents ongoing access to grades.

To minimize surprises at the end of a grading period, consider giving parents open access to their child’s progress. Many data management systems used for recording grades, such as Rediker, have secure portals for parents to view grades. If your school doesn’t use a system like this, then you can create a grade book online using a site like Edmodo or Engrade to share grades with parents.

4)   Text parents important information.

Using texting services such as Remind (formerly Remind101) allows teachers to communicate quickly with parents on their mobile devices about upcoming events or assignments without sharing their personal phone numbers. It’s also a great way for administrators to communicate time-sensitive information such as weather-related school closings.

5)   Don’t forget about emails, phone calls, and conferences.

Despite the many new methods of communicating with parents, sometimes emails, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings are the best ways to share information. Even if you update your blog or send out tweets regularly, not all parents see this information. Many parents appreciate getting regular email updates, such as newsletters, with important information in one place.

For emails or phone calls with individual parents, be sure to share your policies at the beginning of the school year. For example, let parents know if you return phone calls or emails within a certain time frame or if you have office hours when they can best reach you by phone. In addition, consider face-to-face meetings with parents as your schedule permits; sometimes these meetings are the best way to address specific questions or concerns.

What tools do you use to communicate with parents? Leave a comment to continue the discussion, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Using the SAMR Model of Technology Integration

by Hope Morley

When integrating technology into your lesson plans, it can be difficult to determine where to start. There are countless tools at a teacher’s disposal—Google sites, podcasts, wikis, and social media, to name a few. Do you have to change all your assignments? The SAMR model provides a good ladder to help teachers start to work toward technology integration.

The SAMR model, developed by Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D., provides a framework that serves as a guide to help teachers integrate technology into their existing lessons. When walking through the framework, focus on the learning objective and be willing to modify the end product.

SAMR, technology, framework, model, learning objective, integrating technology, redefinition, augmentation, modification, substitution, Google, Skype

Image courtesy of Ruben R. Puentedura

Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change

In short, the same task could be accomplished without technology.
Example: Students use Word or Google Docs instead of pen and paper to write an essay about solar energy.

Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement

The same task could be accomplished without technology, but technology makes it easier, faster, or more efficient.
Example: Students use the collaborative tools in Google to peer edit essays or use the spell check feature to check their work.

Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign

The task now may include elements that are not possible without technology, such as an authentic audience, off-site collaboration, or multimedia.
Example: Student groups work collaboratively in Drive to create a website using Google Sites with the content that would otherwise be in an essay.

Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

The task supports multiple learning styles, helps students gain communication skills, and allows learning to be student-centered and extend outside the classroom.
Example: Students use Skype to work with students in a state with different solar energy potential to create a Google Site using images, videos, and charts.

The project at the redefinition level is completely different from the original pen-and-paper essay. In addition to learning the content and building writing skills, students learn to collaborate with others outside the classroom (an important career-readiness skill) and to use new tools. That kind of project would never have been possible before adding technology.

It can be difficult to determine exactly which classification a task fits into—Is this augmentation or modification?—and that’s okay. The SAMR model works best as a way to start thinking about integrating technology. Getting all assignments to the redefinition stage shouldn’t be an end goal. In fact, some tasks work best at the substitution or augmentation stage.

Keep this in mind as you are updating your tasks: Be careful not to separate the tool from the instruction. The pedagogy is more important than the technology. If the students aren’t meeting your learning objectives, then look at changing the task before you blame the tool.

Use these steps as a way to start thinking about technology integration. It isn’t valuable to your students to say “I want to use social media in the classroom” and then tack it on as an additional assignment with no connection to your learning objectives. Instead, start with the learning objective and think about how technology can improve the experience for the students.

How do you use the SAMR model in your classroom?

Hope bioHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT

NCTE Convention 2013: (Re)Inventing the Future of English

by Mark Hansen

Paul Revere at NCTE convention

“The eBooks are coming!” | image courtesy: National Archives and Records Administration

BOSTON—If Paul Revere were a high school English teacher today, he’d probably be on the edtech vanguard, tweeting messages like “The eBooks are coming!”

But would it be a warning to retreat from or to join the revolution? (I think join.) Most famous for his so-called Midnight Ride—in which from horseback at full speed he warned the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Concord that “The British are coming!”—Revere was also one of the top silversmiths on the Eastern seaboard, parlaying his skill on an entrepreneurial bet that new technology would improve his business. He could have worked in the old method and remained a relevant silversmith, but he embraced technology to extend his reach.

Sure maybe a main reason for him to use technology was profit, and you might then ask how that relates to using technology to raise student achievement, but you see where we’re going. Boston—home of the recent annual convention of the National Council of Teachers or English (NCTE)—was the scene of a robust set of sessions on edtech organized around the implicit mantra “Make it New,” reflecting the explicit convention tagline “(Re)Inventing the Future of English.” Lovers of creative wordplay, syntax, and punctuation we NCTE devotees are, the parenthetical “(Re)” reflects the idea that we’re building off a rich history while breaking free of old regimes to make something new—now you can’t argue much if Mr. Revere would quibble with that!

Beyond the clear presence of the spirit of Mr. Revere, here are some other takeaways from our trip to NCTE 13.

Close Reading and Argumentation

The Common Core State Standards’ (CCSS) focus on close reading and argumentation is deeply engrained in the new major textbook programs. Online features of mainstream and supplemental programs that allow digital text markup, note taking, and writing to that end are growing but not perfected.

Surging Startups

Boston marathon finish line at NCTE convention

There’s not one finish line on edtech integration. You can forge a route from myriad options. | credit: Mark Hansen

The Exhibition Hall had a number of surging startups. Here are three worth your time to consider.

ThinkCERCA—This online program includes an array of texts and a neat writing platform with drag-and-drop features for students to structure their papers around the facets of Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, Counterargument, and Audience (CERCA).

Curriculet—A “curriculet” is a layer of annotations, multimedia links, and assessment items in the margin of the text. The program is web-based and it works on computers, tables, or phones of all types, and the authoring system to add annotations is slick.

Subtext—This good-looking app provides a solution for tablet reading in the classroom. Students can have shared discussions based on their note-taking; teachers can embed questions and activities and track student progress.

Session Report

Teachers are still in the edtech ramp-up phase, but interest is palpable.

iPad 1-1 is becoming reality for some. Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, IL, near Chicago) is rolling out 3,800 iPads next year.

  • Big change—but imagine what the scops, griots, and bards thought thousands of years ago when the first stone tablets rolled out!
  • Good toolsApps and web sites they’re using:
    * Readmill (neat reading app with social aspect—you see others’ highlights)
    * Subtext (robust classroom reading app with discussion feature)
    * Newsela (website with leveled, current news articles)
    * Haiku Learning (innovative LMS—Learning Management System)
    * Overdrive (e-media center)
  • Surface challenge—Kids may just skim and scroll (surface reading at best) on an iPad. Multi-task reading may be a myth—if you’re doing everything at once, perhaps you’re doing nothing with depth.

The power of blogging was espoused by many teachers. Some teachers noted that, with the myriad apps, web sites, etc. available, the most powerful benefit of technology they saw was simply using blogging tools or Google Drive or Docs to give written feedback on students papers, and to facilitate robust student discussion.

  • Be the moderator—For student blogs, have one classroom username, have students post to that one username, and set up the blog with you as the moderator so you can approve (and officially, post) all comments, vetting them for appropriateness. This helps address COPPA regulations (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act).
  • Extend brick-and-mortar discussion—In their blog, have students continue the discussion started in class. Review the comments the following morning and let them shape the discussion that day.
  • Get the count up—Blogging makes daily writing more engaging for students, increasing the amount of words they write, always a good thing.
  • Make it process-oriented, and purposeful—When possible, have blog posts form part of the writing process, such as part of the work used for a full essay, rather than a random one-off comment.
  • For more good ideas—Visit Pamela Hunnisett’s blog  

Did you attend NCTE? Shoot us insights we missed or things you’d like to discuss with us.

Mark HansenMark Hansen is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. Mark recently spearheaded the iPad PD training series for GLPD. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Edtech Terms

by Hope Morley

Edtech terms word cloud

Every community has its own language, and educational technology is no exception. If you’re new to the edtech world, it can be overwhelming and confusing. This beginner’s guide can help you understand popular edtech terms you’ll see in articles and on social media.


PLN stands for personal learning network. Think of it as a community of educators working together to make you the best teacher you can be. Your PLN can (and should!) be made up of both teachers in your school and around the country. Use social media to make connections with other educators to share ideas, resources, and best practices. Get started by visiting a forum like The Educator’s PLN. To stay connected with your PLN, set a unique hashtag on Twitter, form a Ning, or create a Google+ community.

Blended Learning

Blended learning combines traditional classroom methods with online instruction, allowing the teacher to customize instruction. Students may be encouraged to work at their own pace to achieve mastery of a skill. Blended learning also allows instructors to collect digital data and assessment information to help them adjust their methods for individual students. Also, students can collaborate with each other in various interactive situations.

Flipped Classroom

A flipped classroom “flips” the order of traditional instruction. Instead of covering material in the classroom and then having students complete assignments at home, flipped learning has students doing their “homework” in class and watching lectures at home. Class time is dedicated to discussions and activities related to the video or audio lecture from the night before. This allows for immediate feedback as well as collaborative opportunities. To see how a Michigan school flipped its classrooms, check out this New York Times article.

Digital Citizenship

To be a good digital citizen is to use technology conscientiously. Practicing digital citizenship requires knowledge of how to be safe online, as well as responsibility for your own content. Instructors and students alike should remember that online activity leaves a digital footprint. Students need to learn that online information cannot be controlled—it can be changed at any time by anyone.


Gamification means applying game elements to nongame situations. It offers a different way for students to solve problems and introduces competition to the classroom, which can motivate students. Instructors can even design their own games to distribute content in a unique and engaging manner. This is a hot topic these days. EdTech magazine offers some pros and cons of gamification in the classroom.

1:1, or 1-to-1 Technology

1:1 is an initiative that places an electronic device—laptop, tablet, smartphone—into the hands of each student in a classroom: one student, one device. Usually, 1:1 refers to a program in which the school provides identical devices to all students. A 1:1 program allows for a wide variety of differentiated instruction as well as immediate feedback in the classroom. But it’s also a large financial commitment for schools and districts.


BYOD stands for bring your own device. This term relates to students who already have a personal laptop, tablet, or smartphone that they can use for their assignments and in and out of the classroom. BYOD programs are much cheaper for districts than 1:1 initiatives, but schools need to know all students have functioning technology at home and teachers need to tailor instruction to several different devices.

Twitter Chat, or Tweet Chat

A Twitter chat is a way to communicate in real time on Twitter. This live event usually revolves around a specific topic or individual. Participants mark their tweets with a dedicated hashtag, such as #edchat, and comment on discussion questions posed by a moderator. The best way to follow a chat is by using a Twitter platform like TweetDeck or TweetChat.

What other edtech terms or acronyms do you need defined? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up post.

Hope MorleyHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT