Devices in the Classroom

I had to think about this post from two perspectives: an integrationist and a classroom teacher.

As a classroom teacher I loved having technology accessible in my classroom. Last year, my class of 18 students had access to 10 MacBooks. They were almost always in our room and we often would bug other teachers to let us take theirs from the carts too. But if you walked in the room, it was not always the case that the kids were glued to their computer.

Often the computers were just another tool – something at the ready should the student need it or just an integral part of the learning that was taking place in the same way the highlighters or post-it notes feature in our classroom.

We discussed what it meant to be responsible, approaching from a responsible user perspective (embedded in our class agreement to “Use Good Judgement At All Times” – thanks, Nordstroms). This didn’t eliminate foul play but it made it easier to deal with.

Most importantly, I tried to show my students how the use of technology was helping me as a teacher.  I would conference with them about math using the Khan Academy coach interface and show them the incredible data I was collecting on their time on that site. I would set written assignments using Google Drive and comment in real time while they were still drafting ideas. I would create collaborative Wikis for the publishing of poetry. I would share blog post comments from their parents as soon as they came in to our blog.  Technology was not an add-on, not an extra, not a time-filler.  Technology was an integral part of how we learned.

In terms of breaks, multi-tasking, and balance, I think I did ok. My classroom was a pretty dynamic place and rarely would I be at the front talking. I am more of a set out the plan and step back kind of teacher. I know some kids in my fourth grade class quickly figured out how to chat with each other via Google and while I looked into policing this I preferred to let our class agreement and natural consequences take the lead. “You didn’t finish because you were on chat? So sad….extra work for you.” I was definitely conscious of not having the computer dominate the math class and built in lots of time for discussion, group challenges, individual conferences, and the use of manipulatives.  Some days we didn’t use the computers. Some days we used them a lot.

As a tech integrationist, I think about this topic from a different perspective. When I think of managing devices I am thinking about the practical management of devices across an entire Junior School. What do I want the kids to know? To do? We set up so many routines at the beginning of the year for other things – why not tech?

As I kept thinking, I realized these ideas of balance, rest, and multi-tasking were universal. The same principals apply to most things – we don’t just have one friend, watch one show, eat one food item.  The kids I work with have a lot of access to tech and view it primarily as a game or a toy.  I see my role as one in which I challenge that perception by helping teachers embed it in their classroom learning.

I think that some teachers are scared we are going to end up as a version of this family:

Talk More Tech Less Vl.2 from Talk More. Tech Less. on Vimeo.


But I challenge that. And I think we have to stop and ask ourselves why the kids are begging for their game, wanting to disappear inside their iPad. What are we doing as teachers to tap into their passions, their ideas? I think finding a Tech/Talk balance is key, as is providing students with options for expressing themselves that they can relate to.

Make School Different

I really hope education and the way we “do school” changes over the next 15 years. I think it needs to change dramatically in terms of physical space but also use of technology AND a massive mindshift on the part of teachers and administrators if we are really going to make school different.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend the day in New York City at a Seth Godin event. It was not long after he published his education manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams (which is brilliant) and upon which I based my own book, Imagine A School.

I would love to work there!

I would also love to work at this beautiful Japanese Kindergarten, at the Opal School in Portland, Oregon,  Gever Tully’s Tinkering School, or the Mark Zuckerberg supported AltSchool in San Francisco.

Why these schools? 

They are innovative, the value individualisation, they believe in the integrated use of technology, they build on the interests of the students, and they help them in their ability to inquire.

They also foster a sense of community and of collaboration. “No man is an island” at these schools and yet, their needs are taken care of as if they were the only child in the room. That is where I see education moving to: less of the industrial, more of the individual. Less competing for the teacher’s attention and more collaborating on projects that push beyond re-sharing knowledge.

When I was at the AGIS conference, the keynote speaker, New Zealander, Lance G. King asked us to stop and ponder this “mythical” scenario:

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All images are taken from my presentation Haiku Deck:

Role of Technology in Education – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

He asked this somewhat tongue in cheek, of course, as the majority of his audience HAVE these things in place – so what are they doing that is revolutionary?

The schools I mentioned above, don’t exist because of technology, but they have figured out how to make school different through the applied use of technology and thoughtful use of the learning space.

Where will I be teaching in 15 years? I am not sure. Wherever it will be, I know it will be a place that values innovation and strives to give its students agency and autonomy over their learning. A place that uses technology thoughtfully and teaches students to make an impact with the knowledge they acquire. I think of my own daughter and what her school experience will be like and I know that I want for her an environment that challenges, nurtures, and excites. And I am not sure that is always the case in the classrooms of today?

The individualisation of education isn’t a mythical pipe dream either.  People are already doing it – and doing it really well.  And like most things, it isn’t exclusively because of technology that it is possible. It is the ability to think about the individual and reframe the role of the teacher in order to help students tap into their own passions and dreams and learn through these applied experiences.  An example: The Playbook by The Future Project. This is a great tool that can be used by teachers (I used it with my fifth grade class a couple of years ago) to help kids tap into what is important to them.


Whether we like it or not, the future is coming. We can either sit and wait and watch it come, hoping it will change on the way here, or we can get out there and pave a new road for it to roll down, one in which ‘school’ is different. But, how?  One way could be to start rethinking the way we assign and collect work. By focusing on conceptual understandings and allowing students the freedom to express themselves we are already breaking the ‘one size fits all’ factory-farm style of education that has existed for so many years. Technology can help you do this by providing options for students to showcase, share, collaborate and learn:

The future is coming! Or is it already here….?


Final Project Ideas

I am skipping the order of posts since I am behind the eight ball on this course and I really want to tap into the amazing ideas and advice of fellow Coetailers and ‘strike while the iron’s hot’  and final project blog posts are rolling in.

I don’t really have a fixed idea for my Course Five project – I know.  We were supposed to be thinking about it since Day 1 but that seems so long ago (and yet still I am without an fixed idea…).

A little background: This was my first year as Learning Technology Teacher in the Junior School.  Here’s what I have done this year:

  • initiated student blogs in G4 (Edublogs)
  • initiated student blogs in G1 (Edublogs with the iPad app EasyBlogJr)
  • changed my schedule from weekly 45 minute lessons with every class to in the school to an A/B timetable offering fixed/flex timeslots (somewhat successful – could be better)
  • moved to an integrated approach to learning about/with technology through play in our EC classes
  • coordinated two faculty meetings on blogging and tech integration with the help of fellow “Blogstars” and tech gurus on staff
  • mentored three teachers as part of their professional development goals to incorporate more technology into their classrooms
  • ongoing curation of tech resources to support units of inquiry
  • creation of video tutorials to support differentiated student learning
  • trialled the introduction of GAFE with the fourth grade classes.

Almost any one of these projects could be transformed into a Course Five project.  I guess my ‘problem’ is that I am spoiled for choice. But choose I must, so these are my possible options thus far:

Option One: Tech Integration in the Math Classroom

Describe the project: What will your students do?

This project would be in conjunction with another teacher who has asked me to support her in bringing more technology into her math class.  The idea would be to work alongside her and bring her to a place where she could use technology to pre-teach ideas, have students explain their thinking and document their learning through video, screencasts, animations, develop math skills independently and become coaches of other students via Khan Academy, learn with and from each other via the interactive whiteboard.

How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL?

I have really enjoyed the Coetail course but I am not sure I ever really had an “aha” moment  – as in “Oh my, now I understand what technology integration is and why it is important!”. What I have learned is that one of the best ways of learning is through a supported network of learners and while I really feel I have this online, I know I could do more to foster the same kind of network within the walls of my own school.  The teacher in mind (who I am currently working with) is super open to the ideas and already has come such a long way just in the way she thinks about integration.  I think it would be a great combination of my mentoring skill development as well as the implementation of ideas that will augment, modify and redefine how math is taught and learned.

What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?

I would hope to develop unit planners that document the integration of IT within the grade level.  I would like to see my ‘student’ teaching other members of her team ways to integrate technology.  I would hope that it would be evident that a range of skills and approaches to learning were incorporated in the units in order to bring out the best math understandings in the students in her class.

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

I think it challenges me in my role as Learning Technology teacher to help make all teachers technology teachers. I think this kind of mentoring and passing on of my knowledge and ideas is something I would like to work on and develop and at the same time be reminded of the constraints of the busy primary classroom (how quickly we forget!). I would love to see this as a flagship partnership that would hopefully expand in coming semesters to whole teams or new partnerships or partnerships that don’t even include me – and that is, again, one of the big take-aways for me is that my role is to help push forward the integration of technology in classrooms.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

I don’t have any major concerns.  I am familiar with the third grade math curriculum having taught fourth grade last year. I am also currently a member of the Khan Academy CIA (Content Improvement Analyst) and have been giving feedback on math content including third grade. We have iPads and MacBooks in G3 with more of both coming next year and I already have a great personal and professional relationship with the teacher in mind.

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What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I think it will require me to be more open to the traditional method of teaching as I know this is where the comfort level of the teacher I will be working with lies.  I can be dismissive of ideas that are not progressive enough so learning not to throw the baby out with the bathwater would be a good start! I think a dedicated focus on learning via the UbD planner is going to be brilliant.  It is not something that exists in our school at this point so it will be refreshing to be focusing on the standards and the big questions and the assessments without getting weighed down with ‘activities’. I am looking forward to implementing a variety of teaching methods (Reverse Instruction, Learning Through Play, Problem Based Learning) within the math class.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

I think both the students, the teacher I will be mentoring and myself all need a growth mindset and an open mind.  As long as we all agree from the outset to give it a go and push ourselves as learners and give ourselves permission to mess up along the way, I think it is going to be great. My goal is for them to not feel that technology is overwhelming them but that it is omnipresent, invisible in its usefulness.  I want the students to view devices as less of a toy and more of a tool and realise that they have the power to direct their own learning and become a teacher to other learners.


Option Two: Student Blogging

Describe the project: What will your students do?

Students in Grades 1-4 would each have an Edublog to which they can publish and organize their learning. The blog will serve as a reflective tool, a space to share digital creations, a way of organizing their learning throughout the year through categories and tags, a digital portfolio of their work that will follow them through the school.

How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers (since we are not a 1:1 environment) is what do students do with the digital work they have created? Because I believe in students as content creators, I want to take away this barrier so it is no longer applicable.  Many (most?) iOS apps allow for work to be exported to the camera roll and from there uploaded to a blog. My belief is that students have to see that learning exists outside their classroom. By opening up their blog to their community (parents, grandparents, other subscribers approved by parents – we are bound by pretty strong privacy laws in Germany) they can get feedback on their learning from others.  They can also choose the way they best express their learning rather than having to comply with the way chosen by the teacher. More than ever I believe in harnessing the power of technology in ways that move students forward, engage them as thinkers, and promote a life-long love of learning and growing. If nothing else, I want the teachers I work with to see that technology integration doesn’t mean super-gluing a device to a child on their first day of school but helping them make appropriate choices with their productive usage of technology.

What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?

I would like to achieve the following goals:

  • increase creation of digital content by students
  • independence by students in accessing, authoring and organizing their online learning space.
  • embedded digital citizenship skills taught within the context of content creation and blogging

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

I think this project has a lot of reach. It would encompass learning across the whole school and give us a common goal in terms of how we choose to share and showcase student learning processes and products. I think it would also help students connect the different strands of their learning (single subjects) in order to see the relevance to other learning. It encompasses the ideas of responsibility, curation, creation, and ethical use.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

My fourth graders are AWESOME but are leaving for middle school next year. My grade one students will be moving on to Grade Two, with an impressive bank of skills. My biggest concern is that not all teachers see this as being relevant and yet it is a goal of our administration to have a pretty high level of consistency across the grades (thus not appropriate for two of the four classes to blog). We are very lucky with the amount of technology and infrastructure that we have but our school focus next year is on BYOD in the MS/SS and while a large portion of the behind the scenes work is in place (all students get an Edublog upon enrolment, for example) there is still a lot of work to set up EasyBlogJR etc.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I am very comfortable with the idea of students both creating and curating content and being in charge of storing and sharing their work digitally.  As with this year, it is going to be a gentle balancing act of supporting, guiding, gently pushing in order to help teachers overcome any contrary ideas they have about blogging. I think making sure WHY we are doing this is clearly articulated to all is going to be huge in the success of the project.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

  • growth mindset
  • reflective strategies
  • tech skills: navigating apps and screens to blog independently
  • creation skills: taking great photos, filming each other, thinking of creative ways to express an idea
  • communication skills to share WHY they are blogging about this particular piece/event and how it influences them as a learner.


My third option (!) would be to totally revamp my schedule so that I am much more of a coach and integrationist than I am a ‘teacher’.  This is perhaps the one I want to do the most as it is the one that scares me and leaves my mind buzzing with the possibilities that could exist within this choice.

What do you think!?

Flip, Game, Play

These three forms of instruction are interesting to me. I like things that try and disrupt the status quo and I am inspired by educators who want to adapt and change “the way we do things” in line with new thinking and new technology, and with the needs of the students in mind.

Reverse (Flipped) Instruction

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 20.38.29I think this is a no-brainer and yet I still think it gets a bad reputation from teachers and parents who really don’t understand how to use it. I am a massive fan of the Khan Academy and while it didn’t start the flipped learning idea, it certainly has provided educators with an enormous supply of quality videos to support learning. I really don’t enjoy being lectured at. So I try not to do it to my students. What I do instead is either make or find videos that explain the things we will be working on. An example would be blogging with my fourth graders.  When it came to adding media, there were so many options and some with many steps and I knew I was dealing with a huge range in terms of experience and ‘comfortableness’ with technology.  Some kids are super happy to plug at it until they figure it out themselves, others want step-by-step instructions. So I tried to cater to both: I began the lesson by outlining the goals (to embed photos and videos into a blog post) and immediately gave kids the option of giving it a go themselves – to ‘sandbox’ the task on their own or with others.  The other options were to use my blog as a tutorial service and stop, pause, rewind the videos whilst giving it a go.  The other option was to sit with me and follow along while I walked through a ‘real life’ tutorial.The videos were posted prior to the lesson which meant students had the option of viewing them prior to the lesson as well (hence the large number who chose to go it alone).

I think it is a MUCH more productive use of time for the lecture portion of the lesson to be delivered via video. It doesn’t take long to flip open PhotoBooth and take a video or open QuickTime and make a screen recording. Yes, there are concerns that students won’t watch the videos at home but they can still watch them in class and then make a choice about how to proceed.

One of the claims made by critics of the Khan Academy is that Sal Khan wants to replace all teachers with computers. This is absolutely not true. What Sal wants to do is elevate the role of the teacher. He believes that teachers should do more than lecture – they should plan learning experiences that allow students to delve deeper in their understanding of concepts. I love this idea. Is it more work to plan engaging learning provocations and opportunities for collaborative and individual projects? Yes! But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Game Based Learning

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 08.49.14The Khan Academy is the platform with which I have the most experience in terms of Game Based Learning. I have used it since 2007 with 3rd graders in Japan. It has evolved a lot since then and it is (to me) a no-brainer inclusion in anyone’s math education.

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I work through it with my kids: I have an account, an avatar (which is pretty bad-ass because I have so many points) and a trophy case with my finest achievements in it. I have had “million point parties” with my students when we have collectively racked up 5, 10, 15 million points.  I have watched kids furiously completing math problems in order to boost our collective score and individually striving to achieve mastery in different areas. It’s individualised, targeted instruction, rewards, and tracking make it a classic game and a brilliant tool for learning. Here is my class last year, competing to hit 1 million points:

Learning Through Play

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I learned a lot about “the sandbox” and play based learning from Jocelyn Sutherland at the ECIS Technology Conference.



I haven’t explored the connection very deeply between learning through play and IT integration – but I have started. Instead of a stand-alone lesson with the EC students at our school, I now am a part of their Learning Through Play ‘stations’ with a primary focus on the process of using technology (rather than a push to produce a product). I have enrolled myself and created a cohort of interested teachers to participate in a course on Childhood In The Digital Age which starts online on June 8 (free and still time to sign up if interested!). I am hoping it will give me more insight into how to best integrate childhood with technology.  I also was introduced to the work of Dr. Richard Freed (who happens to be the brother of my principal) the author of Wired Child.  I haven’t read the book yet but I am very intrigued by what he has to say:

In Wired Child, you will find a common-sense guide rooted in the science of behavior and brain function to build the strong families kids need, promote their success in school, limit kids’ risk of developing a video game/Internet addiction, and encourage their productive use of technology.

For me, since having a child and thus my own little observation piece of how children learn through play, I can definitely see the value in things such as perseverance, trial and error, and adaptation. Our daughter plays with Duplo, blocks, trucks, puzzles, dolls, coins, paper and markers, water, sand, paint, books, and (her favorite) our paper recycling box of egg cartons, boxes, and newspapers. She can also grab a phone off the table and without needing the passcode, swipe up the camera app and take a few (thousand) photos and a couple of videos too. She knows how to select another episode on Netflix and will do almost anything for a video with dogs, babies, or MacGyver in it.  And she turns 2 next week. We do (I think) a pretty good job of balancing her digital life. As I am upstairs working, my husband and daughter are spinning in the egg chair and building a fort in the playroom. She fell asleep in her dad’s arms this morning while he was watching TopGear. We sat down and flicked through photos of my new nephew on Facebook. We snuggled in bed this morning (and last night) and read book after book.

My point: I think there is a place for technology in a child’s play-based world.  I think the introduction and use of technology can be woven in with the introduction and use of low-tech tools as well.  And I think that as parents and teachers, we need to be open to ensuring a balance of both in our children’s lives.

Project, Problem, Challenge

There are a lot of terms used in education today. Project, Problem, and Challenge Based Learning are three that are widely used (along with Inquiry Based Learning, Play Based Learning…)

As educators, I think it is important to know what these theories are, how they are similar and how they are different. I also am beginning to move toward the school of thought that says “Pick One”. Many schools I have worked in have tried to make a mash-up of different theories in order to craft their own ‘unique’ version of learning.  While I commend this initiative, I am wondering if it is not better to spend time adopting (and supporting, educating, resourcing) one XXXX-Based Learning theory? My personal jury is still out on this.

What I do know is that each of these approaches to learning definitely has merit and each certainly has its place.  But is that place (or could that place be) in my classroom?  In order to answer this, I first needed to understand the learning theories so I distilled the copious amount of reading on this topic, down into three graphics to show the key components and they way they play out, of each theory.


Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 21.22.29Project Based Learning is definitely my ‘cup of tea’. I like that the projects are started with the end in mind but that ‘end’ is not articulated by product but by standards and understandings. The role of the teacher appears to be to craft great questions, plan an assessment for understanding, map the project out, and then get out of the way of the students, facilitating their learning.

I can see this working in my class.  It is not dissimilar to what already happens. What I would need to do is to think about how best to use my time: in the planning phase, or in the process phase? My initial thoughts say planning (and reality is probably both) but I definitely like the idea of being a resource to students (and teachers) and to help them with their embedded use of technology within their project.



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Problem Based Learning also works for me.  I like that the focus is on the student, that each group of students is supported and that the problems occur early on before much research has occurred. I think solving authentic problems is something that can be lacking in schools and I like the idea of kids working together to solve a problem. I really like that the problem also exposes what kids know and don’t know so each can push through to get what they need from the time made available.

This learning theory was perhaps not grounded enough for me in terms of defining the assessment parameters. However, I can see myself throwing a problem at students such as “We need a new welcome video for potential students to our school” and guiding them through the many elements that task involves. This would certainly eliminate the boredom of everyone doing the same thing at the same time and providing an authentic problem would make the acquisition of the skills of filmmaking more important and worthwhile. I think the group emphasis would call for the use of a collaborative tool like Google Classroom or at the least, Google Drive, so that students and their tutor could be in contact easily and it would be easy to identify (and support) the gaps that become visible as the problem evolves.


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Challenge Based Learning was the learning theory I knew least about. Created by Apple and targeted at a high school level, challenge based learning might be recognisable to you in the form of TV shows like Project Runway or MasterChef in which contestants are given challenges, resources, the opportunity to collaborate, tasks with multiple options for solutions and assessment based on product and process.

This is probably the most exciting learning style for me as it seems the most difficult and the most interesting. I see a lot of work in the setting up of challenges, but I also see the massive potential for growth in those undertaking the various challenges. Would this work with younger students?  I don’t know. Perhaps!  We have just finished the PYP exhibition and this is what the exhibition looks like to me so perhaps, yes, it is possible with younger students. Creating playlists of materials to support learning and then equipping students with the skills ‘just in time’ to showcase their learning – this is the type of dynamic and free-flowing environment I would most like to see myself working in.





There’s No One App For That


Back in February I presented at the ECIS Technology Conference in Munich. My session was about how technology will NOT transform education. I thought I was pretty edgy to pick such a topic to share with a room full of ‘techies’ but was happy to see that many people were in agreement with me. My big idea?

Technology alone is not going to transform teaching.

Connected teachers who want to make school different by allowing students agency and freedom over their learning and are not afraid of using technology to flatten classroom walls and move their role to guiding student inquiries.  That is what is going to transform education. And that is what I think good technology integration looks like.

If you were to ask me what my top uses of technology in the classroom were, I would tell you:

  1. Observation. Exposure to events, images, information that would otherwise be out of reach for students. Abseiling into a volcano with a GoPro on your head, touring the Louvre, exploring London from the tops of buildings, seeing a murmuration – these are things technology allows our students access to.
  2. Collaboration. Inviting expert lecturers into my classroom.  From my favorite, Sal Khan, to a host of experts in their own field via YouTube, the internet and technology allows students to learn from so many different people. Why should I (with zero rythym or essence of cool) try and teach hiphop dance when YouTube can do an infinitly better job?
  3. Documentation of student learning. The ability for students to be able to explain their thinking via apps like Explain Everything or DoodleCastPro is invaluable for me as a teacher to ensure I can hear what each student has to say. In the same way, I find asking students to reflect on their learning by turning on the camera and making a video yields infinitely more information than asking them to write (especially when they are 6 years old).
  4. Creation by students. As teachers, if we ensure that our focus is on conceptual standards, HOW students demonstrate their understanding of those concepts should be up to them. Technology opens the door for students to become creators of videos, animations, stop-motion, puppet shows, podcasts, iBooks….the options are virtually endless.

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In my role as Learning Technology teacher, I see it as my responsibility to provide options for teachers that push them beyond asking, “Is there an app for xxxx?”.  I try and do that by helping to curate playlists of experiences, videos, and  instructional material based on the conceptual understandings of the unit. But I also try and listen to what the teachers are trying to learn from and about their students and then equip them with the tools to help make the learning visible.

What I have found is that we are most successful in elevating learning through technology when the learning itself is open-ended, grounded in conceptual understandings, and allowing for authentic inquiry from students. If we as teachers, spend our time planning in a way that really allows students to be true inquirers, the use of technology to achieve the outcomes desired by both the students and teachers, is almost intuitive. What it also requires is a re-thinking of the role of the teacher and the desire for the teacher to push learning further, higher, and deeper than before.

In terms of the SAMR model, I don’t think this means we discourage ‘teaching below the line’ or exclusively teach ‘above the line’.  I think it means we look for ways during the planning process to teach in a way that expects technology integration as an integral part of teaching and learning.

In my presentation, I talked about pencils and lightbulbs because I had read the following from The Tech Rabbi:

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Revolutionary inventions are not about the invention itself, but whats the invention gives use the ability to do. A truly revolutionary invention should in time become invisible. No longer is it viewed as something special, yet its effects are far reaching.

We don’t plan a unit around the fact that we have pencils.  Pencils are just one tool that the students can use to demonstrate or document their learning. We don’t need to “all hail the iPad”. We need to think about the iPad (or other device) in the same way we think about the lightbulb:

The lightbulb changed the way the world functioned. The world was no longer bound to productivity during daylight, or the length of time it takes your oil lamp to burn up. It was about what you would be able to do because now there was a constant and stable source of light.

What can we do now that we have devices in our classrooms? The Tech Rabbi believes in invisible technology.  And I do too. To me, tech integration means transforming teaching and learning beyond what was previously possible in a way that empowers students and allows them to express themselves and direct their own learning. And there’s definitely no one app for that.