Digital Learning in 2015

Many have already weighed in on what 2015 will bring for education or what big trends may surface.

Here’s what I see happening in 2015:

I believe that for individuals and families living and working in international settings or engaged in some aspect of language learning, the use of language applications will become commonplace.

There are numerous free apps available to help one learn dozens of languages and they are different enough from one another to provide variety and great choice.

The other trend I believe will happen is that MOOCs will become better understood and more commonly utilized for life-long learning.  MOOCs haven’t met original predictions to change the higher education landscape. In fact, according to a recent article in the New York Times, the average user already has a degree and the completion rate is low.

Instead of bemoaning the lack of course completion, I believe we should celebrate adult learners and their ability to dabble in learning opportunities by some of the best professors on the planet.

Want to try out a physics class? Or a class on Public speaking? the Art of Negotiation?  Writing for web? Happiness? Great! Sign up and watch a video or two.  Most adult learners exploring content for life-long learning don’t need certificates or to take quizzes. They can explore MOOCs for the pure joy of learning.

That’s an idea to celebrate!


Globally-Minded, Student-Driven, & Authentic

I’ve been hunting for specific examples of classroom experiences that are globally-minded, student-driven and authentic. There are many great examples in the Coetail course 5 videos.

I used TubeChop to focus in on specific elements of some of these projects. You can see the entire clips by simply clicking “YouTube.”

Emily Roth, Grade 4 Blogging Project:


Julie Bredy, Grade 7 Humanities (Search, Infographics, & Google Earth)


Leslie Davison, Grade 9 Spanish (Communication, Global Awareness, & Connections)


Tabitha Johnson, Grade 2 (Power of Choice, iPad Apps)


Jessica Faivre, Grade 10 Language Arts


Ruben Puentadura, consultant and creator of the SAMR model for selecting, using, and evaluating technology in education:


15 months + Coetail = Technologically Nimble



A couple of years ago I kept seeing the word “Coetail ” in my Twitter feed. Eventually I discovered it was a program in educational technology and information literacy. I noted that many of the educators I was following and learning from were in Coetail or were Coetail graduate s.

I signed up.

For me, it has been transformational in developing my online voice, experimenting with blogging, including designing a blog for sharing resources at my school, and connecting with educators all over the world.

Coetail has the potential to redefine educational leadership in numerous ways, including promoting ongoing reflection and learning, connection and collaboration, and creating educators who are able to learn, unlearn, and relearn. In other words, helping us to become technologically nimble.

In addition, I really appreciate the ways in which coetail has promoted a growth mindset. It’s about being learners with our colleagues and our students. It’s about modeling learning, including struggle, and making failure simply a normal part of the process.

I used to worry about technology failing at critical times. I appreciate that I can fix whatever might not be working, even for colleagues, at least most of the time. I have Coetail to thank for thi s. Our school recently hosted a literacy conference with regional participants. Two couldn’t make it and we were able to connect them via a Google Hangout. This too, I wouldn’t have been able to manage with out the great learning I’ve just finished.

At the same time I think it’s safe to say I’ve just begun. the world is changing quickly and in order to prepare our students for their futures, we have to keep up.

UNIS CoLaboratory ~ Inspiration at ECIS!

My favorite session at ECIS this year had to be Francesca Zammarano’s session on the Colaboratory at UNIS. Francesca is the Junior School Technology Integrator at UNIS and she walked participants through the space, purpose and curriculum of their makerspace. 

The space is designed to inspire making, learning, collaborating, failing, and trying again. 

I’m particularly intrigued by the curriculum strands they have integrated into their program:


You can learn more about the program at UNIS here.

Francesca provided a couple of other resources for getting started including the MakerSpace Playbook and a Blueprint: Maker Programs for Youth.

Edutopia also has a couple of resources on Designing a School MakerSpace and the DIY World of Maker Tools and Their Uses.

Does your school have a makerspace? If not, are you thinking about creating one? I’m hoping we can build enthusiasm for one at AAS-Sofia!


Bringing Experts into Classrooms via Technology


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Grade 3 students Skyping with Columbia University Grad Student Natalie R. Hofmeister 

Researcher + Connection = 
Inspiration, Engagement & Deeper Understanding

As a school leader, I love collaborating with teachers, particularly when there are opportunities to redefine students’ learning experiences.

One of my favorite ways to transform a unit is to tap into the Communication & Collaboration ISTE Standard, which is “to interact, collaborate with …  experts … employing a variety of digital environments and media.”

The idea …

Last November I saw something intriguing.

Scientists had hijacked Seventeen Magazine’s Manicure Monday and were posting photos of their hands engaged in science work. As I looked through the tweets I discovered a ton of engaging, passionate scientists on twitter.

Why not try to connect them with classrooms?

What happened … 

The first connection was between Abby Othman Wilson, fern researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a grade 6 class at the Anglo-American School of Sofia

“This was authentic and real,” said G6 science teacher Linda Dimitrov Students wanted to know: Do you really have to record everything? and Do you have a hypothesis for every experiment that you do?


“Why do you care about ferns?” some students wondered. Abby explained that ferns are older than dinosaurs and ferns are still here. Studying them gives us insight into possible effects of global warming. 

There were two grade 6 classes. One participated with Abby and the other watched the recorded Google Hangout.

Guess which class was more engaged? 

The students who asked questions with a live contact were significantly more engaged in the process.

Perhaps it’s like listening to your favorite band on iTunes vs. seeing them in concert. There’s something about a live connection that creates powerful motivation and connection. 

Later in the spring, I matched COETAIL Graduate Lauren Teather‘s middle schoolers with a scientist studying kinetic energy.

She found it very helpful to clearly introduce the activity to students and have them write questions ahead of time. It also helps to be prepared if the conversation becomes too technical, she explained.

What we learned:

  • A live connection is authentic and creates engagement.
  • Researchers are experts in their fields and passionate about their content. This is contagious for students.
  • Have students generate questions ahead of time. Categorize them and send them to the researcher prior to the connection.
  • Have clear begin and end times. (A great 25 minute conversation is more rewarding than an hour in which the last 15 minutes becomes to technical for half of the group.) 
  • Be prepared with a back-up plan to bring the conversation back to ‘student-level’ if it gets too technical.
  • The connection provides a great way to embed aspects of digital citizenship and model reaching out to experts via technology. 

The present …

I’ve recently collaborated with a grade 3 teacher at my school, Christine Szeryk, to bring researchers into the classroom as part of a unit on adaptation and evolution.

We were incredibly lucky to connect with Natalie R. Hofmeister from Columbia University. She was open and a fabulous contact for our students. Natalie engaged students in a discussion about DNA and adaptation.

A week later student generated questions for our second scientist, Dr. Carla Easter of the Human Genome Research Institute.  Some of the prior questions were repeated, but most of them had evolved to a new level of complexity.

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When we ask students what it means to them to connect with researchers, they say it’s interesting because scientists know so much and can answer all sorts of questions.

“When we’re talking to scientists it feels like we are talking to them in real life and they are answering our questions,” said one Grade 3 student.

If you haven’t tried bringing a researcher into your classroom via technology, I encourage you to try. It’s truly wonderful for students!

Mathematics Assessment 101

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine via Compfight cc

I spent several days in Warsaw at a math assessment conference with Steve Leinwand and Erma Anderson.

Here are some take-aways:

1. Stop the grading madness. Assessment should inform teaching.

All too typical practice:

We teach,
We assess,
We grade.

That is, testing as summative monitoring of student mastery of content.

-Steve Leinwand

2. Construct. Critique. Reason.

Focus here in the Common Core Math Standards:

 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

3. Collaboration must happen.

Steve Leinwand speaks about collaboration.

4. Feedback is critical all around.

One underutilized resource for collaboration and feedback are the classrooms and teachers that exist in each school.

“… Record your work, your lessons. Invite people in to watch it, share it … ”  – Steve

5. Provide opportunities to close the knowledge gap.

Have a double-block of math for those who would benefit.

Don’t drag behind in remedial classes; use the time to pre-teach the next lesson and give kids a head start.

6. Make it matter.

Help students care enough about the task to engage their minds in it.

Provide tasks that are contextual and relevant to students’ lives.

7. Keep it accessible.
  • We lose students if we don’t scaffold the learning and make it accessible to all.
  • Don’t think this means easy, because it doesn’t.
8. Affect matters.

When a student asks a question two others have already asked, don’t call attention to the fact that you’ve already answered it three times. 

No sarcasm. No shame. Students process and learn at different paces. Allow them thinking time.

[I don’t think we talk about this one enough.]

9. Ask for evidence.
  • Is this viable or not?
  • How do you know?
  • How did you find that?
  • Why did you try it that way?
10. Back away from pre-assessments that are skills based.
  • Don’t give the same test before and after.
  • Use an open-ended task or problem to determine readiness to learn.
  • Good pre-assessments will reveal unique and deep understandings of how to problem-solve.
Other Snippets
  • Ask yourself when designing tasks, ‘is it a word problem or a problem to be solved?’
  • When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes it, that’s summative.
  • You can’t make a plant grow by measuring it. You have to feed and nurture it.

SAMR, meet ISTE Standards for Administrators


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SAMR Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.
Photo Credit: nist6ss via Compfight cc

As a school administrator in COETAIL, I have greatly appreciated being able to apply my learning to my work, even though I’m not in a classroom. In addition, I have found COETAIL to be transformative in numerous aspects of my role of Director of Teaching & Learning at my school.

Some of these include:

  • Facilitating professional learning experiences
  • Connecting educators for global collaboration
  • Connecting educators (and students) with content experts
  • Organizing professional resources
  • Presenting to faculty and parents
  • Collaborating with educators across the globe

The SAMR model is designed for instruction, but I see aspects of the core concepts (redefinition, modification, augmentation, & substitution) that are applicable to school leadership.

Perhaps it’s time for a little remixing and the creation of a new model that combines SAMR and ISTE Standards for Administrators.

Let me know if you are interested in collaborating with me!

– Shary


Walking in their shoes makes all the difference!

Photo Credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via Compfight cc
I’ve really enjoyed following the great interest in Grant Wiggins’ recent guest post by a teacher who shadowed a student for a couple of days and was shocked by what she learned.

Wiggins has long been an advocate of hearing / seeing from students’ perspectives. During a UbD training with him a few years ago he brought in local students for participants to interview. That small sample of honest insight from a student was powerful for the group.

As of October 19, this post had been read over 650,000 times!

From Granted, and … ~ thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins:

“The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys.

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!  

Continue reading the post here.


Grant just posted “A PS to the guest post on shadowing HS students (and the author revealed.” You can read it here.

* * *

What do you think?

Have you ever shadowed a student?

Should we add shadowing as part of our regular professional learning cycle for educators?

Unplugging & Finding Balance

Ahhh … Summer!

Photo Credit: theCarol via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: theCarol via Compfight cc

We love our devices.

And for those of us swimming in the edtech world, they are an integral part of our professional and personal lives.

However, there are very good reasons to put our phones and laptops away and to focus on the now.

For educators, summer is the perfect time to turn off our devices and the monkey chatter of our minds. For international colleagues who work in countries far from family and long-time friends, it’s a time to connect face-to face and be fully present.

Below is a collection of articles and resources in support of unplugging for short or long periods of time.

Your body, your mind, your heart, and your loved ones will thank you!


Your Phone vs. Your Heart

I was intrigued by this New York Times piece Your Phone vs. Your Heart by researcher Barbara Fredrickson. Habits mold our brain, says Fredrickson. Her study showed that after a mindfulness training course, participants had an increase in vagal nerve strength.

“We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone … Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.”

“By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.”

“Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.”

Read the entire piece here.

Photo Credit: Denis Collette…!!! via Compfight cc

Can’t Get Away From It All? The Problem Isn’t Technology

In Wired, I ran across another piece on unplugging called Can’t Get Away From It All? The Problem Isn’t Technology — by Mat Honan.

Unplugging isn’t new:

“The practice of taking an intentional break from technology and civilization is probably as old as technology and civilization. But it seems increasingly urgent now, in an era when the Internet—and thus most of the planet—is as close as an iPhone. We go to seek waldeinsamkeit, as the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described it—the feeling of being alone in the woods.”

“We’re living in a remarkable time, when it will soon be impossible to be truly alone. Waldeinsamkeit becomes more and more endangered with every cell tower. And if you’re the kind of person who can only leave email behind when you go off the grid, that means you’re going to need a new plan. Our streets are already filled with people staring into their hands. So are our dinner tables and cafès, even our living rooms and bedrooms. Rather than focusing on taking temporary breaks from technology, we need the discipline to live with it at all times. We can’t rely on a mountain or a remote wasteland to create waldeinsamkeit; we have to create it ourselves.

“The phone isn’t the problem. The problem is us—our inability to step away from email and games and inessential data, our inability to look up, be it at an alpine lake or at family members. We won’t be able to get away from it all for very much longer. So it’s vitally important that each of us learns how to live with a persistent connection, everywhere we go, whether it’s in the wilderness or at a dinner party.”

Read the entire article here.


The 7-Day Digital Diet: A Digital Detox Test: Unplug Twitter and Facebook. Put Off Email and Smartphone

The New York Times also ran The 7-Day Digital Diet: A Digital Detox Test: Unplug Twitter and Facebook. Put Off Email and Smartphone by Teddy Wayne.

In this piece, Wayne shares a variety of advice from experts around the world:

We’ve known for some time now that multitasking does not work,” said Clay Shirky, a professor in journalism and interactive telecommunications at New York University. “People keep doing it because it’s emotionally pleasant to multitask even though it’s cognitively damaging. So that makes it parallelized procrastination.”

Maite Barón , the founder of London-based Corporate Escape: “I teach [clients] how to be in the present … Stress and anxiety happen when you’re managing the future.  Take the TV out of your home. Read one newspaper a week. It’s the same news, repeated every day.” Check email ‘maximum, twice a day.'”

Read the entire piece here.


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Photo Credit: nicadlr via Compfight cc

7 Reasons You Should Unplug This Summer

Mashable recently ran a great piece titled 7 Reasons You Should Unplug This Summer by Kyli Singh.  I’ve included my favorite 3 here.

1. Give your brain a rest. 

“Juggling a million emails and phone calls throughout the day can turn out to be not only an interruption, but also an exhausting full-time job. Pew Research Center found that  67% of cellphone owners check their phones, even when it isn’t buzzing.”

2. You’ll return better after you’ve taken a break. 

“Distancing yourself from work after clocking out is important for employee recovery and health, according to a study published in The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.”

3. Sleep better.

Studies show 44% of cellphone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss out on any calls, texts or other updates overnight. But checking a lit-up screen during the middle of the night can prevent us from falling asleep and sleeping well. “

You can read the full story here.


SLM Personal Photo

Put your cell phone away and meditate, enjoy the sound of your loved ones in the background, or take in the quiet of nature.

Happy summer!

Looking Forward to Course 5


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It’s exciting to have the first four COETAIL courses behind us! Reading through our earliest blog posts, it’s amazing how much learning has occurred during this academic school year and in our cohort!

Looking ahead I have several ideas to mull over and possibly play with in the fall.

Idea 1:

Technology Use for Today’s Families: Finding Balance and Understanding Learning in Today’s Classrooms

The main emotion I hear from parents about technology is fear.

This past spring our ICT Manager and I ran a 21st Century Learning Coffee Series that was quite popular.

I’d like to respond to our community’s deeper questions and take our work to the next level.

Thinking about our specific population this might include more research and examples of how families are navigating this brave new world of technology. Some parents also expressed a desire to better understand how to control their own digital footprint.

I have done many parent presentations and professional learning sessions for teachers. However, I anticipate this would be a merging of the two styles in which I engage our parents to be learners at a new level and one that also integrates technology.

It could be a series in which they, too, got to see and understand what a flipped classroom feels like or are asked to experiment with visual note-taking during a session. This would be quite different from what we’ve done in the past.

Idea 2:

Collaborating with Elementary Grade Level Team to Redesign a Unit

Another possibility is to collaborate with one of our teaching teams to redesign a traditional unit. Our collaboration could serve as an example of how this type of shift could work at our school.

While there are many great examples of technology integration happening, there are still numerous questions about the process. In some ways our school is still sorting out what technology integration looks like from the ground up — starting with the first conversations and early ideas.

We could also document a sort of open lab blog space in which we keep track of our meetings, conversations, and unit evolution and share it with the entire elementary team.

This process would model shared learning including grappling, risk-taking, (occasional failure!) and transparency.

This would be helpful for our school community to see as we continue to raise the bar with regard to transforming our classrooms with technology and learning practices such as project based learning.

Plus it would be great fun!

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