So When, Where, Why and How Does the Technology Fit In?

I’ve read many articles and blogs and I’ve heard many discussions debating the role and place that technology has in the classroom. Some argue that classrooms should reflect the 21st century world that our students live in which means allowing them to learn with 21st century tools and media. Others argue that these 21st century tools and media serve as distractions in the classrooms and take away from the learning. I thought I would join the conversation and offer my thoughts.

I think it is important to differentiate between right drivers and wrong drivers and where that leaves technology. In Michael Fullan’s article titled, Choosing The Wrong Drivers For Whole System Reform, he states, “A ‘wrong driver’ is a deliberate policy force that has little chance of achieving the desired result, while a ‘right driver’ is one that ends up achieving better measurable results for students”. He argues that focusing on technology as a driver will not achieve the desired goal which according to Fullan is “the moral imperative of raising the bar (for all students) and closing the gap (for lower performing groups) relative to higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens”. Therefore, the right driver should always be good pedagogy and in Ontario, I believe we are focusing on the right driver.

The School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) is a K-12 support document that is aimed to help Ontario educators with school improvement planning with the focus on students achieving success. The SEF highlights six components of effective schools with indicators and evidence that help schools build coherence in their improvement plans. On page 9 of the SEF document, there is a diagram that explains how the province, district, and school support the instructional core. At the classroom level, the instructional core is represented by the triangle in the diagram below. This idea of the instructional core originates from a book titled, Instructional Rounds in Education by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel where the instructional core is described as the important relationship that exists between the teacher, the student and the content. The instructional core allows educators to focus on improving student learning by creating rich instructional tasks. However, in order to create rich learning tasks that foster higher order thinking and student engagement, all three vertices of the instructional core (teacher knowledge and skills, the role of the student in the learning, and the curriculum) must be considered. The instructional core is the focus in many schools and classrooms (as it should be) but what is often left out are the conditions that can enable this learning to occur and this is ultimately where technology is often left out of the learning conversation.

So when, where, why and how does technology fit in? Many educators view technology as a great option for the end product, the culminating task that provides students with new and engaging media to create and showcase their learning. However, solely focusing on using technology for culminating tasks is a very narrow application of it and therefore technology is only used and viewed as another medium for assessment of student learning. Technology is bey0nd just a medium for culminating tasks. Technology is part of the conditions for learning in a classroom and a great option for developing 21st century learning skills. Educators need to start thinking about how technology can be effectively blended to the classroom to enhance the learning conditions for students in the following ways:

  • make thinking visible
  • increase reflection and metacognition
  • allow for synchronous and asynchronous participation anytime and anywhere
  • increase collaboration and co-learning
  • differentiate the communication of ideas
  • provide descriptive feedback
  • promote on-going learning

If technology is focused on developing 21st century learning skills and the process of learning then it becomes more than just another medium, it becomes an important part of the learning conditions needed for students in today’s classroom. The diagram below illustrates some key components that make up the learning conditions (blended learning, 21st century learning skills, and technology). However, there is often a disconnection between the instructional core/rich learning tasks and technology.

As I stated earlier, technology is often viewed as a distraction to schools focusing on the instructional core and that a rich learning task is engaging enough for students but in my opinion, technology as a learning condition cannot and should not be ignored. Michael Fullan best explains the relationship that should exist between technology and pedagogy, “The essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology”. I made an addition to Elmore’s instructional core diagram below to illustrate that when you combine the learning conditions of technology, 21st century skills, and blended learning with the instructional core, you can increase, enhance, and bump UP any rich learning task.


City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to       improving teaching and learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Education, Ontario. Ministry of. School Effectiveness Framework K-12: A support for school improvement and student success. 2010. (

Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. Centre for strategic education, Retrieved from

Russian Doll Towers

The other day, Ava grabbed her Russian dolls from the toy cupboard that she hadn’t played with in months. I guess the novelty of fitting the smaller dolls in the larger ones wore off and there was nothing else to learn about them. However, this time she decided to do something different with the dolls and she wanted to build a Russian doll tower using all of the pieces. Initially, she attempted to balance some of the flat bottom pieces on the rounded top pieces. This resulted in a lot crashing of pieces and failed attempts at building the tower, which led to a lot frustration. I left Ava to her own devices to figure things out and persevere with her self-directed activity. Thirty minutes later, I had a very proud daughter with her very own Russian doll tower (using all the pieces). Of course, I had to document this learning accomplishment and whipped out my iPhone to record. However, as I tried to get Ava to orally communicate her strategy, I found it very difficult not to explain it for her. Therefore in the video, you’ll hear me struggle with my questioning because I wanted Ava to explain her strategy without me giving her the words.

I could’ve immediately praised Ava for turning the bottom pieces upside down to create a more stable and flat surface however, I wanted to her to make the connection and verbalize it. After watching the video, I wonder if I funnelled her to what I wanted her to say or if I worked with her as she explained. I would love to hear some feedback on this.

I also didn’t expect Ava to ask me if I wanted her to make a different tower. This reminded me as a parent/educator to always set high expectations for our children and students and look for opportunities to extend their thinking. I was fully satisfied with Ava making one tower and didn’t even think to ask if she could build it in a different way (something I always encourage math teachers to ask their students).

Here’s what Ava produced afterwards:

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Benefits of Screencasting with iPads

I have always been a huge fan of using technology and digital tools to capture student thinking and help students communicate their great ideas. I previously wrote a post titled, Do Screencasts Have a Place in the Math Classroom? where I pointed out that many teachers seem to like the idea of screencasting but I haven’t really seen it fully implemented in classroom to the extent where students create their own screencasts. I also asked the question Why? Why isn’t screencasting being implemented in the math classroom? Is it too difficult? Too time-consuming? Well today I was able to have some of my questions answered when I worked with a grade 5 teacher that was able to able easily create screencasts with her students using tablet technology.

The students were given a multiplication problem to solve collaboratively in groups and once they solved the problem in more than one way, they were asked to create a screencast of their solution using the Screenchomp app on an iPad.

Here are some of the screencasts that were produced from that lesson:

After my conversation with the teacher and viewing the student created screencasts, I thought about the implementation issue that I previously raised and realized the benefits of the all-in-one capability and the immediacy that tablets bring to the table.

Creating a screencast that can be shared on-line can be a multi-step process that would turn many teachers away considering the business of day to day classroom learning. Just the step of taking pictures with a digital camera and uploading them to a computer to create screencasts can be annoying. However, the iPad allows students to quickly take pictures of their work with the camera app, easily import the picture into the Screenchomp app, record their explanation and share in a matter of minutes. Rather interrupting their thinking and learning process by going over to the classroom computer or waiting to go to the computer lab to create a screencast, the iPad allows the creation of the screencast to become naturally integrated into the learning process because everything the students need is right at their fingertips on one device.

If you have similar experiences with the integration of table technology in your classroom, I would love to hear about it.

Early Learning With a Sock Puppet App

I am becoming more immersed in the world of Kindergarten by virtue of my daughter being in junior kindergarten and by my involvement in an exciting Early Learning Project in my school board. As I read through the Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program, I was encouraged and excited to see a curriculum that is child-centred, inquiry based and integrates learning through the arts and play. The Document states that, “Oral language is the basis for literacy, thinking, and relating in any language…Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten programs should be rich in language-oriented activities and resources that build on prior knowledge, that are relevant to the lives of young children, and that provide opportunities for thinking, problem solving and experimenting.”

Learning to read and write is essential to succeed in school and in life. However, I’m intrigued by the oral component of the early learning curriculum. Oral language is so important for early learners like my daughter to express her thinking, to problem solve, and experiment. So when I came across the Sock Puppets app, I got very excited. The app is very similar to the Puppet Pals app in that you can select your own sock puppet characters, background, and props. However, in the Sock Puppets app, the puppets actually lip sync to the sound of your voice and after you record your 30 second puppet show, you can save it to your iPad and also share it on YouTube. Any recording type app like Sock Puppets provide opportunities for thinking, problem solving and experimenting. My daughter and I quickly improvised and created the puppet show below using the app. She chose the characters, background, and the mic as a prop. I see this video as a learning opportunity for Ava and I to have a discussion on what to do in situations where sharing is an issue. The next puppet show that we create can show how this situation can be resolved. Ava can playback, review and recreate the puppet show as many times as she wants until she is satisfied with her creation. Stay tuned for the next episode of I Want to Sing

Using the Mental Note App for Assessment in Pre-K and Kindergarten

As my oldest daughter entered Junior Kindergarten last week and my youngest entered her child care centre, I officially became immersed in the world of early learning programs. My first real eye opener was the fact that almost all assessment in child care programs and kindergarten is done through observation and based on children’s oral language.  For educators, this means A LOT of documenting.

I noticed in my youngest daughter’s childcare program, they document by taking many pictures and writing down anecdotal notes for each pictures with the style of learning (ie. visual, auditory, kinesthetic). They told me about the large amounts of time that goes in to this kind of documentation. My immediate thought was how technology could be used to effectively enhance this process of assessment. There must be an app out there somewhere that could help with this kind of documentation.

Well, the other day, I was speaking to the Early Learning Program Consultant in our board and such an app exists! It’s called Mental Note and according to the website, it combines pictures, voice recordings, sketches, and text all on the same page.

So if a student is demonstrating some style of learning, I could take a picture, audio record what I am observing, annotate the picture using the pen feature, and add a few words of text to briefly describe what the student was doing. All of the notes taken can be stored on the iphone/ipad/ipod touch but the notes can also be e-mailed as a PDF with the audio as a separate attachment or backed up in the cloud to your Dropbox account.

I installed the Mental Note Lite app for free (but only comes with a maximum of 2 notes) to my iphone and tested it out and I was very impressed. The full version costs $2.99 and comes with unlimited notes.  Here is a sample of a note that I quickly took of my daughter playing (without the 11 second audio clip).

Do Screencasts Have a Place in the Math Classroom?

Last November, I wrote a short blog post titled, Screencasts of Student Math Thinking. In this post, I also included a link to a glog I created containing four screencasts that were created by grade 6 students explaining their group’s multiplication strategies after an initial multiplication lesson. Since that post, there has been a lot of attention around the world on Kahn Academy where students learn from concepts and strategies from videos (screencasts).

I love the idea of screencasting and I think what Kahn Academy is attempting to do is pretty cool. However, I love screencasts even more when they are created by students. When students create math screencasts it enhances their metacognition. It forces them to think about their math thinking not once but multiple times since they can play back their video, watch and listen to themselves explain their strategy or solution. They can edit and record multiple times until they feel that their screencast is appropriate for their classmates to view. The rest of the class can also benefit from screencasts because they can be exposed to different solutions and strategies to the same problem. In addition, the screencasts are more engaging by virtue of them being created by students and using student language. Also, with websites like screencasts are not limited to the hard drive of a single classroom computer but can be accessed via web link from any computer with an internet connection. This would allow students and their parents/guardians to view them from home.

I truly believe in the benefits of screencasting for students in the math classroom. For the past year, I have been religiously promoting it in my school board as a great tool to enhance student metacognition and math communication. Many teachers seem to like the idea of it but I haven’t really seen it fully implemented in classroom. I’ve mainly seen teachers create their own screencasts similar to Kahn Academy and no disrespect to Khan Academy or to teachers but I don’t find teacher/adult generated screencasts very interesting or engaging. I would argue that students prefer to create the screencasts themselves and watch other student created screencasts. So I ask the question Why? Why isn’t screencasting being implemented in the math classroom? Is it too difficult? Too time-consuming?

I’ve embedded the glog that I created mentioned earlier of student created screencasts of their multiplication strategies below.

I would love to know your thoughts on screencasting and how you would implement it in your classroom.

Investigating Arrays Using Bitstrips

I created another interactive comic using Bitstrips that would allow students to investigate arrays and multiplication. In this activity, students help Mr. Ro arrange desks into rows and columns for the first day of school (I know, I know, very teacher-directed seating arrangement) by clicking and dragging desks and into their desired position. The comic problem is open-ended to allow students to create arrays with 12 desks all the way up to 24 desks and to create a variety of arrays for the same number of desks. I have shared this activity in and I would love to get feedback on how this activity goes if you try it with your class.