Monday, August 27, 2018

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

An Encore for the Question Slip: A Mighty Tool To Teach Teamwork & Self-Reliance

Question Slip

Photo of Question Slip

We first introduced the Question Slip way back in 2011. friEdTechnology Team Member Jessica Powell reminded us of it's power when she recently recalled using it for the first time with students and how it changed her style of teaching. When Amy Mayer, founder of friEdTechnology, first learned about the technique from a Canadian conference presenter (if anyone knows who, please let us know! She can't recall), she quickly found that more than any other simple technique it transformed her students into self-motivated learners.

One idea to make sure Question Slips become effective in your classroom is to have "free question time" each day with your students. If you are using a project based approach, you may begin class with directions & clarifications based on the day before, immediately followed by the free question period. Questions will almost always peter out after a few minutes. You may quickly find what Amy did, that class was silent, students were hanging on her every word and taking notes instead of just waiting a few minutes to have all the directions repeated over and over again to them individually. What a change!

Another piece of advice, stick to it STRICTLY when you are using Question Slips. Do not answer ANY questions, no matter how tempted you may be, after free question time is over. Give each team several Question Slips, after all, it's NOT that you don't want students asking questions, it's that you want them asking THOUGHTFUL & MEANINGFUL questions, not "Can I go to the bathroom?" If you strictly adhere to the Question Slip policy, you will be free to wander the room, observe team discussions, reteach and clarify as YOU choose. You will find that students are having great realizations that you never anticipated because you are not constantly intervening and directing. This role will help you transform into what we call a Learning Guide. Remember that old saying, "be the guide on the side not the sage on the stage"? This simple technique may help you transform into the Guide on the Side you have wanted to be.

Get the Updated Question Slip Template Here, FREE (Log into your Google account before clicking the link for best results, if you don't, the link may not work for you.)

If your school does not have G Suite for Education, you may download a PDF version of the template here, and then right after that, let us help you get G Suite (it's AMAZING)!

Like this idea? We have THOUSANDS more like it! Please consider joining us for one of our Online Courses, or contacting us to book professional development in your school.

Screenshot of Question Slip with Directions

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Watch Out Tech Tyrants: G Suite is Not The Enemy, but A New Breed of Servant Technology Leader is Coming for You

By: Amy Mayer, founder of friEdTechnology

To connect with Amy, use any of the channels below:
Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Google Plus | Web

I have this conversation, or one very similar to it, every week . . .

Me: Let’s talk about what Google Services you’re using including what does and doesn’t work in your district.

Instructional Technology Contact: Well . . . our tech director says we can only use x; we wanted to use y, but he’s in charge of that, and there’s really no talking to him.

But last week, I had an even more interesting conversation with a new technology director of a school I first worked with three years ago.

Three years ago after speaking with an Assistant Superintendent who hired us to help several campuses with Back to School PD and a teacher knowledgeable about Instructional Technology in the district, I learned that their Google setup was hopelessly flawed with regular services not working properly; student accounts were not set up, and teachers were toggling back and forth between their consumer accounts ( and their district accounts because so many things didn’t work; many had abandoned their district accounts and simply used their personal consumer accounts. Students were stuck doing the same. The tech department was unhelpful, providing a shoulder shrug when instructional staff asked for changes or improvements or just for things to actually work. They’d given up. As for our staff, we’d make do. We’d need to be prepared to have teachers use their Gmail accounts. There wasn’t really another choice. There was no one on the technology staff who would create the accounts or make sure the accounts that were there functioned. There was no mechanism to even ask and no accountability of this staff to instructional employees.

I want to remind you, this is a SCHOOL. The very goal of it is to educate students. I was speaking to the people responsible for making that happen. They had no hope.

Two years ago, at the same district, the story was similar; we helped with Back to School PD, and not much had changed.

Last week though, the call was very different; it was with the district technology director; a CTO,
who was fairly new to the organization. He’d never met me, but I had three years of history about this school in my head when I got into that Hangout (my first sign that things had changed, he wanted to meet via Hangouts). After feeling out the new director, let’s call him Ted, to see what he knew and was willing to admit about the history of his organization, and then understanding that he was basically hired to fix the very situation I experienced, he gave a startling statement, one I have heard rarely. It went something like this:

(all speech is paraphrased and written as I recall it)
The previous staff was anti-Google. The instructional staff wanted it and was trying to use it, and yet the technology staff was literally causing problems for them. Not only were they not fixing problems, they were literally making new problems for instructional staff. They wanted Microsoft. That’s where their certifications were, and they didn’t really care what the instructors or directors wanted.
Of course, I was intrigued. Ted talked about all of this in past tense, via a Google Hangout. “So, what happened? How did that dynamic change?” I asked.

“None of those people work here anymore.”
That part made sense, but “I mean, did you have to fire them or what?” I wanted to know.

“I had to fire some of them. Most of them left on their own. My philosophy, OUR philosophy, is that the tech department of a school district is a servant department. We serve education, educators, and students. That’s our only purpose. If you couldn’t get on board with that, it became obvious to everyone, you better find another job. You just weren’t going to be able to fit in here.”

Right then and there, Ted and I bonded. "This,” I told him, “is the new model for technology departments, and you may not have come with an education background, but you are a harbinger of things to come.”

This was the first time that I’d had a conversation like this with a tech leader from industry, but it certainly was not the first time I’ve had one like it. In all of the other ones, the person I was talking to who was newly in charge was the same beleaguered instructional technology person who originally told me things were hopeless and all s/he could hope for was a swift retirement to end the constipation of progress.

In another instance in a different public school district, the superintendent told the tech director: “Make x work, or else. We need it; we’ve told you we need it. You’ll do it, or I’ll have no choice but to replace you.” He still didn’t do it, the instructional technology lead replaced him. Until he found a new job, he worked for her as a campus technician. I was in the district while this situation was in place. We even all went to lunch together . . . 

Tech directors: I’m not trying to diminish your role. You’re as important as ever. We want to get along with you, but we also need you to know, the average stay of the superintendent who’s allowing you not to serve the needs of your school district is a scant three years, and your story of fear (it’s not secure, it doesn’t work, etc.) is not going to work with that new superintendent whose previous district had a free and functional system, one you insist won’t work.

I’m convinced that the reason most of the non-servant tech directors who remain are acting, or rather refusing to act, out of a set of fears. Sometimes enumerating them helps dispel them, so here they are . . . 

Myths versus Facts . . .

MYTH: Google isn’t secure; Microsoft is. I’m protecting my staff and students from untold horrors they could experience if I install and configure G Suite for Education.

FACT: Google has signed, agreed to, and modified itself to conform to every single security and privacy request of every reputable organization that has presented requests or pointed out flaws. It is absolutely safe and secure, likely more so than the local servers your school district still hosts. You can learn more about that here. And listen, with the market share what it is with Chromebooks right now, this article from 2017 says 58%, if there were serious and significant risks for kids, you would be hearing about it, and not just from fear bloggers paid by the competition. Remember, TEACHERS are always the biggest and best safety net between kids and the dangers of the web, not you. No filter in the world can do the job of a competent and caring teacher.

MYTH: As a tech director, I'll lose control, and/or, so much will be taken off my hands I won't be able to justify my job or the size of my department.

FACT: My department will be able to focus in on serving the educators and students better, helping to assess emerging technology tools and trends, speeding up response time, and becoming partners in facilitating educational progress.

MYTH: I purchased this software (usually an LMS) and teachers aren’t using it, or they’re obviously just trying to satisfy the district requirement to use it. I spent a lot of money; people seemed to want it, but now they don’t. They keep asking for Google Classroom and I heard that’s an LMS. We’ve already GOT an LMS, and it does the same things! There’s no way I’m allowing that to be used when we already have an LMS. I’d look like I wasted district funds, and I just cannot have everyone thinking I made a mistake.

FACT: New software comes along. It changes and improves all the time. What’s the “best” thing this year may not be the best thing next year. You can’t be “right” about a software decision, you can only be “right now” about a software decision, as in, what’s the best thing to solve this problem RIGHT NOW. Google Classroom may NOT have done what you wanted three years ago when you first made that purchase. I’m not even sure it existed then, but it DOES now and it does some things your LMS can’t do, like distribute copies of a template seamlessly, give students a simple way to turn work in, and give teachers an easy way to comment on and return it. It probably does not do some of the fancy things your LMS does but turns out most teachers don’t care about that after all. We see our students face to face every day, and a lot of those advanced features are for asynchronous learning. We just don’t need them, and it’s too much trouble to use your purchased system.

MYTH: My Microsoft Certifications are what give me value as an employee of this organization. They’re how I got the job, and if I hold on to Microsoft, they’re how I’ll keep it and justify my salary.

FACT: Your ability to adapt to change would be much more valuable than any certification you got years ago from a company that has lost its foothold on the field of education. With more than 70 million G Suite for Education users nationwide, the spaces inside education where your Microsoft certification is going to earn you a position are shrinking fast.

MYTH: I don’t know how to manage Google, and I don’t want to learn anything new. I’m embarrassed to ask for help at this point, but I also don’t want to turn the reins over to someone else who already knows or who is game to figure it out. If it’s easy, and anyone sees that, it could jeopardize my position. Not only would my skills no longer be valuable, but someone without my qualifications could be eligible for my job.

FACT: Well, I’m afraid there’s not much MYTH there. It is easy or at least easier. There is probably more than one Instructional Technology person around who could do this, is willing to ask for help if s/he can’t, and will work as long as it takes to figure it out and get a system working. Since s/he comes at this problem with no expectation of already knowing, s/he is primed for success in this new world where leaning on past certifications will no longer impress anyone but instead where the only mark of respect is reserved for what works. The role of tech director is changing but not the value of the tech director. A director who serves educators and facilitates instructional progress is now, and will always be, invaluable. 

Tech Directors, it’s time to get help. There is no shame in asking for it, and in fact, you should be proud of yourself for embarking on a new challenge. G Suite is designed to be “easy,” but bringing your technical skills to the table will get you far. Most of us instructional types would much rather turn over those DNS settings and site verifications to someone like you. We’re also willing to examine the risks and benefits with you. Let’s decide together. Let’s make sure everyone in charge understands the reality behind what’s possible and that we’re not making decisions out of fear. Let’s figure out what’s likely to go wrong and do what we can together to prevent it with reasonable precautions, then let’s figure out how we can deal with what comes our way together

This kind of thinking is what will save your job . . . and restore our faith in you.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Have Educators Outgrown Ed Tech?

Amy Mayer, founder friEdTechnology
Have Educators Outgrown Ed Tech? 

by Amy Mayer

Several years ago, I heard a prominent superintendent of a large Texas school district say, “Our teachers know how to use classroom technology now, so we don’t really need Instructional Technology anymore.” This wasn’t spoken as a jest; he really believed it, and no one contradicted him.  (The instructional technology staff of this same district has grown several fold since then.) Last week, I heard the same sentiment reiterated by a retired educator. This time, I swiftly corrected the speaker, but both of these apparently educated statements left me wondering where this profoundly mistaken idea is coming from and noticing signs that it is a common perception among administrative professionals in the education field.

Along with this mistaken perception lies another profoundly wrong belief that teacher “training” is a bad word. This idea is best friends with the belief that not already knowing exactly how to do something after you’ve been exposed to the idea that it needs to be done means that either there is something wrong with you or you’re just not trying.

For example, your district brings in a keynote speaker whose main point is that the world is changing much faster than the education system. The common practices teachers have been using for a hundred years based on the factory model are woefully out of date. We can’t hold onto the past, educators! It’s our duty to move forward with the times. The educational staff of the school district all hears this message, and it’s definitely got the ring of truth. There’s a swell of belief that he’s  right and we’ve got to do something, STAT! This hour long, rousing keynote speech is followed by a day of professional development where teachers are funneled into classroom groups of 35 where they’ll sit and take notes, usually on paper, perhaps participating peripherally for an hour at a time, after which they’ll move to another session and do the same. Some of them will wonder, “Is this an example of the change my district is looking for? And if not this, then what is?”

The message of change is reiterated any time large groups assemble. Meanwhile school begins, the
schedule is the same, the resources are identical to last year (or less), teachers have access to an extra cart of devices this year, but there is still nowhere near enough technology to go around. The paper budget has been slashed since the perception is the more devices we purchase, the less paper we should need. “Stop doing worksheets!” educators are told, but most still wonder, “With unreliable and scarce access to devices, a declining paper budget, and one outdated and dilapidated textbook per 5 students, what is it, exactly, you’d like us to have students doing?”

This isn’t an uncommon question to ask, and it shows how much more work we have to do in constructivist learning strategies. However, the point of this article is to address the technology aspect of the larger issue. I, and the education professionals with whom I work, actually teach educators how to do things on the computer with their students to promote learning. The “things” we teach many of the central office and campus level administrators think teachers already know how to do. When administrators call us to schedule professional development for their teaching staff, we often hear these phrases . . .

“Don’t waste time going over ‘basics’ or doing anything step by step because my teachers are really sharp.”

After ten years providing PD, what I hear instead is . . .

“Personally, I don’t need anyone to teach me the basics and I’m out of touch with what the average teacher actually knows how to put into action in his or her classroom, and my staff is probably not going to feel comfortable asking questions because I’ve indicated I think they already know things they don’t actually know.”

This sounds harsh, and truth be told, I’m a little nervous to publish this. But now that I’ve visited literally hundreds of schools and worked with thousands of educators, it’s time to be honest about this looming problem that I see every day.

YES administrators, you’re right. There are a scant handful of teachers in every group at every school I’ve ever been to who really get instructional technology. They have found a way to get access for their students, most likely by borrowing technology from their peers who are uncomfortable using it themselves, and they’ve taught themselves, sometimes to an amazing and creative degree, how to effectively use technology in their own classrooms.

Strangely, this handful of tech-loving professionals is blinding districts to the growing need for professional development and training. We all want to look at pockets of success and think, “there, we fixed it!” but that is just a lie we tell ourselves when the real problem is so big we don’t know even know where to start, and readers, it is so big, none of us really knows what to do about it, at least not with the resources we have to expend. As we continue purchasing more and more devices, the access problem is barely touched. Like a black hole, it sucks in resources in a never-ending cycle. Devices age out, we get more students, things are broken and misplaced, we can’t use those because there are no power cords to charge them, and Mrs. Jones is hogging the computer lab again.

One to one programs also make us think we’re solving the Instructional Technology problem. When administrators go into classrooms and see students working away on devices, there’s another opportunity to think, “there, we fixed it!” but not so fast. If we observe more closely, we will almost certainly see a similar ratio as before where a handful of classrooms are doing meaningful work that takes advantage of the capabilities of the devices we’ve purchased. Unfortunately, even though every student has access to a device, every student does NOT have access to a teacher who really understands how to take advantage of that device as a tool for learning. What we see instead are the same worksheet-type assignments we tried to ban the xeroxing of happening in a paperless format. (Dear readers: you do not need to tell me that worksheets have a place in education or that banning all of any practice is nonsense; I agree with you, but stick with me on the point . . .). If we look critically and objectively, it will become clear that in the vast majority of classrooms, what students are doing could have more cheaply been accomplished with a pen, a piece of paper, and a textbook.

It sounds like I’m arguing against 1:1 programs or buying technology; that is far from the case. If your school has embarked on the 1:1 journey, I wholeheartedly believe you’re on the path to improving education in your school or district. You cannot integrate technology unless you increase access, and that’s what you’ve managed to do. My message is instead that your mission is far from complete when you pass out that last mobile device; in fact, it’s just beginning.

A few administrators reach out to us before they get to the point in our story we have reached, but most do not. Most of the time, schools are on their second massive technology implementation before they reach out for help in the field of Technology Professional Development. Sometimes a school board member has questioned what’s really improved or why test scores haven’t gone up as was anticipated. (To keep it short, the reason your test scores didn’t improve is because standardized tests are better at measuring poverty than anything else, so unless the affluence of your student population changed, your test scores probably didn’t change either, but that’s a different article.)

This time, administrators think, we’re going to get this right and provide a little professional development for our teachers. And this statement is not written without a great deal of thought.  Firstly, “a little” is all most teachers ever get. When we work with a district to provide professional development, we usually see less than 5% of the staff, sometimes for less than one hour. The rest of the work is supposed to be done through other undefined methods. Many times there is no extra time or money associated with this anticipated dissemination of knowledge and skill, therefore it largely doesn’t happen.

Secondly, we almost always work exclusively with teachers. Teachers are extremely important, arguably the most important people for us to see to make an impact in the classroom; however, the administrators, some of whom have planned these sessions for teachers, have almost no knowledge of how to support teachers who have been asked to make massive shifts in every area of their profession. It is not infrequent for teachers to ask us, “Have you told our principals and APs this because they evaluate us, and I’m afraid they don’t really understand what this is supposed to look like.”

Unless I offer some solutions, this long article will be nothing more than a rant, but there are solutions and we are at a point in our evolution toward technology-rich environments in schools when it’s time to start enacting them and stop expecting change without the hard work and expense that always accompanies major improvements.

Suggestions for Education Administrators:

  1. Stop telling yourself that everyone knows what only a few unusual people actually know. As tempting as it is to cling to this assumption, I assure you, it’s not the truth. In the hundreds of schools we’ve worked with, there have never been a majority of teachers who were experts at instructional technology. The average teacher knows you want her to do things in a more “modern” or “advanced” way but has NO IDEA what that actually means or even how to get started. 
  2. Stop thinking teachers know things they don’t know about how to use software or hardware. To find out what people actually know, observe their work or ask extremely specific questions. For example, don’t ask, “On a scale of 1 to 5 how proficient are you with Google Docs?” (Those who are highly proficient know how much they DON’T know and those who are deficient think might they are experts.) Instead ask questions like, “What are the steps to share a Google Doc with your class?”
  3. Stop devaluing "training". Training is where the rubber meets the road. We can talk about change and get fired up to do it, but without practical information and examples we interact with in a hands-on environment, the change we’re enamored of will never, ever actually happen. Use every professional development opportunity to show teachers through your example what you expect to see in the classrooms in your school or district. 
  4. Start modeling instructional use of technology, and make sure it’s exactly what you want to see in classrooms. If your faculty meeting is meant to teach teachers something, why not use the strategies so that teachers can see them in action. If you don’t feel you personally have the expertise to pull this off, find your pioneer teachers and ask for their help. 
  5. Stop buying technology without planning attached professional development. If your device costs $300, spend a percentage of that cost on accompanying PD. For example, if you are purchasing a cart of 30 Chromebooks for $300 each, that’s $9000. For 17% of that cost, you can spend $1500 on one day of professional development for 35 teachers. That breaks down to about $42.00 per person for a day of quality, targeted PD and/or training that teachers will need to make those devices more than worksheet generators, encyclopedias or worse. 
  6. Stop expecting teachers who have been to professional development themselves to be
    responsible for the development of their peers in addition to their full-time teaching positions.
    This practice often alienates their peers and burns them out as well as sorely underestimating and misunderstanding the skill set of a quality adult technology professional development provider who has spent thousands of hours learning how to effectively help teachers learn to integrate technology as well as likely having earned a specialized degree in the subject.  To continue this practice would be like us saying to the sophomore English teacher with five years of experience, “You’ve been watching your Principal at work in the hallways and cafeterias for years, surely you’re ready for the job. Get started!”
  7. Stop assuming that when you see students using technology they are doing something special, educational, or important. It’s easy enough to sit down in a classroom with a group of students and ask them what they’re learning and why and how they are using technology to do it and then to ask yourself, “could this same assignment have been done without this device?” That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a worthy assignment or that an improper tool is being used, after all, the computer is the pencil and paper of our era, but it also doesn’t mean you’ve achieved technology integration nirvana and meaningful educational change. 
I’m aware that the opinions expressed in this piece may not be popular, but I know my fellow educational professionals well enough to know that their desire to truly enact meaningful improvement will easily supersede their need to be right. We are a profession of integrity, and it’s one of the reasons our public education system is so worthy of improving and protecting. Thank you in advance for your thoughtful comments. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Podcast Channel created by Elementary Students

Guest post by friEdTechnology Associate & 3rd grade teacher,  Melissa Summerford, Tweet her at @SummerfordStars

My name is Melissa Summerford and this is my fourteenth year in education. I am a 3rd-grade teacher at Bear Branch Elementary and I absolutely love my BBES Family. I realized I wanted to be a teacher while working as a paraprofessional in 2003.  I saw the impact teachers were making on students lives and I wanted to be apart of that club.  I was twenty-six years old and had three kids when I decided to go back to college. Six years later I became the first in my family to earn a college degree. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Prairie View A&M in 2008.  After 10 years of teaching, I have decided to work on a master's degree from Lamar University.  I am majoring in Digital Learning and Leading.  I have learned that showcasing my learning is a way to grow and improve my craft of teaching.  My ePortfolio website is a place where I can reflect and share my experiences as a teacher.  It is my goal and desire to inspire others to learn and grow using new and challenging methods.  

Student voice is something I strive to give my students and I consider it to be an important component in my classroom .  Student voice “is the individual and collective perspective, and action of students within the context of learning and education".  One way I incorporate student voice is through Podbean.  Podbean is a site that hosts podcasts for all types of learning and interests. Incorporating a classroom podcast has created another way for my students to share their learning globally.  I believe when students know they are sharing with the world their desire for learning increases.  

Go ahead and check out our class podcast here!!

How does it work?

Create a Podbean account here - You can try it for Free

You can sign up through facebook, twitter,  your google plus account, or you can create a new account using an email.

There is also an app you can download from the app store.  This is a handy tool because I can record podcasts straight off my phone.  I love this tool because my students get so excited when they know they are about to be featured on the channel.

I also allow students to create recordings of their own.  They use a google extension called voice recorder.  Students are able to save their recording in their google drive and share with me.  I review their recording(s) and then upload to our station.

ePortfolio :

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Adopt a Classroom Project

Many Houston & Greater Houston area classrooms have lost all of the teacher and parent purchased supplies. As schools resume September 11, teachers will begin attempting to rebuild their classrooms. Please consider partnering with an impacted classroom & teacher via the Hurricane Harvey Adopt a Classroom Project. We'll help match you with a teacher in need and help your classes get connected via Google Hangouts.

If you are a teacher who wants to adopt a classroom impacted by Hurricane Harvey OR a teacher whose classroom needs help, please fill out our form to make a connection.

If you are a teacher who needs help in the greater Houston area, friEdTechnology will facilitate connecting you to your partner classroom via Google Hangouts. Here are some other links to help...

How to make an Amazon wishlist:      
How to share an Amazon wishlist:
If you need help creating your list, please email
IDEAS Elementary List:
IDEAS Secondary List: