Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's Elementary When it Comes to #EdTech

As a practitioner I am always looking to learn how to better assist educators at all grade levels.  Superintendent Scott Rocco provided me with a great opportunity to not only work with teachers in his district, but to also push me outside my comfort zone, which has always been secondary education.  In my position as K-12 Director of Technology Integration and Innovation in the Spotswood School District, I am assisting with the district’s transition to Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as well as working with teachers on the effective integration of technology.  Our goal is the purposeful integration of technology to support or enhance learning.  We not only want students engaged, but also want to see evidence of learning aligned to high standards as well as the development and application of essential skill sets.

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The other day I had the unique challenge and opportunity of working with elementary teachers in the Spotswood School District. This was a particular challenge as the teachers of this particular school serve students in only grades pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first.  The goal was simple, to introduce and train them on some age appropriate technology tools while identifying natural pedagogical fits.  To accomplish this I had to quickly familiarize myself with some new tools. I had a few in my toolbox, but needed more. So I did what I have been doing for the past five years and that was submit a query to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) using Twitter and Google+. 

Within minutes I was bombarded with so many new tools.  As I started to look them up I quickly realized I had to revise my query, as I was not specific enough. The teachers I was working with only had access to a laptop cart, thus apps that had to be downloaded on a device were not an option. Within minutes I received new recommendations and I took a few minutes to learn how to use each new tool. Due to the intuitive nature and ease of use, this did not take much time at all.  At the meeting later that day I introduced each of the tools to the group and noted which ones did not require student access to a computer. Each demonstration was then following by a quick discussion on the natural pedagogical link and possible learning activities.  Below is the list of tools presented:
  • Padlet - Create an online wall of virtual, multimedia post-it notes with your students
  • Kahoot - game-based digital pedagogy  
  • Plickers – No tech, no problem! Download and print cards for free; make sure you also download the free app on your phone
  • Little Bird Tales - digital storytelling in the primary classroom
  • Build Your Wild Self - creative design application that is great for writing prompts
  • AWW - a web whiteboard - a free, online whiteboard to foster creativity
  • edshelf - search for web-based tools by age, subject, platform, and category 
After just thirty minutes the group of passionate educators I worked with were now equipped with a new set of tools that they could begin to immediately implement as part of their lessons the next day. The added benefit for me as a result of this training is that I learned about an array of new tools to better assist elementary teachers with technology integration in Spotswood and beyond as I work with educators across the globe.  What web-based tools that can be accessed through a browser would you add to this list? Please share in the comments section.


  1. Hello, Eric Sheninger. I am a student at Normandale Community College in pursuit of a degree in Special Education and I have a strong interest in ed-tech, and how teachers and students can effectively use technology in the classroom. I stumbled upon your work as an ed-tech advocate and I find your information extremely exciting. For my education technology class my task was to find a problem in schools and try to use an existing technology to solve a problem. I have chosen to comment on your post about how “to introduce and train (teachers) on some age appropriate technology tools while identifying natural pedagogical fits.”

    One thing I know about working in schools is that there are some faculty members that are not experienced in working with different types of technologies. This creates problems in the workplace, because there are some teachers who can effectively use new technologies with their students and there are others can not. The main problem I had with schools is that teachers are not getting the exposure to educational technologies as often as they should. Through educating these novices in technology, and allowing them to dissect and analyze how they can use these technologies we can start implementing technology in the classroom in an organized, effective, and entertaining manner to all students in the school.
    One can accomplish a technologically proficient faculty by having ed-tech meetings where faculty members share problems with other devoted teachers, and look for solutions. For instance, maybe communication between parents and teachers could be a difficult for a specific teacher, because parents don't regularly check their emails. The team could then pull their resources together to try and find a supportive technology to help alleviate that situation. For example, a teacher could recommend using the communication tool, Remind, which is a program where parents sign up for text message alerts so they can be reached quicker and on a communication device that is more often used by adults. The teacher could then learn the intricacies and capabilities of the new tool and then try to effectively implement it in their communication procedures with families. I believe this will improve the learned technological helplessness that some teachers have developed, because they will be responsible for trying to solve not only their own technological problems, but the problems of the entire faculty. This creates an environment where all teachers are expected to be able to critically analyze technologies and try to find it's relevance to solving multiple problems within the schools.
    Although, my solution to problem involves a lot of effort from teachers and administration to spend time searching for solutions for other faculty members. I know this could be carried out effectively if all faculty members are willing to contribute to a positive learning environment in the schools.
    I leave you with a few questions of my own, how do you motivate teachers who are skeptical of new technologies in your school? And how do you monitor the effectiveness of these tools in the classroom?

    1. Nicholas - When we began our transformation efforts at NMHS over 5 years ago I had many skeptical teachers. I knew I could not move the masses all at once so I focused on those eager and willing to learn. As they succeeded we extensively shared their innovative work. This, in combination with no mandates/directives, worked to move and/or persuade even those skeptical to take some calculated risks and move beyond their comfort zones. Effectiveness was measured through a more concerted observation/evaluation process, classroom walk-throughs, analysis of lessons/artifacts, and student work. As a school culture we focuses squarely on the technology as a support mechanism for learning, not a driver of instruction. We also worked hard to develop aligned formative and summative assessments while ensuring that Common Core and NJCCCS's were addressed as well as higher order thinking and essential skill sets.

  2. Hello, I am grateful for such a great post. In my case as a lecturer at the European University I have joined a new educational project for children. Our team have came up with a new idea for child education. I would love to share this idea as a response since our project may solve various problems that current education system is unable to.

    As the founders of this project we are trying to make an interactive program enabling children to create animated cartoons with custom characters, self-dubbed voices, and own dialogues. In addition to entertaiment aspect, there is educational side of the project, as well. More specifically, children may discover the world around them, learn alphabets, solve basic mathematical equations , learn foreign languages, and work on vocabulary pronounciation. This project has great potential to address current issues in education system.

    For more information about the initiative, please check the following website: Also, there is a campaign for this project to get further funding options in order to add more features to the program. We have already received a small donation which in return provides a periodical access to the application, however our goal is to provide even better version. You can visit this website to join us and build an innovative way to educate our kids:

    Please reply if you are interested in this solution or if you want to make a suggestion.

  3. Zondle ( is a web based tool that a lot of our elementary teachers love. The teacher creates a free account and selects the curriculum they want their students to access or you can create your own vocabulary/questions ect. Then the students login with a code and they play games to learn the material. The games are adaptive and force students to repeat questions until they have 100% mastery. The teacher can login and get detailed data about student use and grades. It really is a great resource for teachers!