Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from ISTE and the Supreme Court Ruling: Why it's more important to get it right than to get it first.

The following post by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky is cross-posted on

I try to stay away from politics when blogging. Unless something in the news directly impacts on technology in Jewish education (like the Asifa), I shy away from commenting. It's not my role to pontificate about that latest current events and I don't think people care much about where I stand on political issues. However, I think there is a tremendous lesson about the role of technology in education to be culled from the news reporting surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision on the national health care plan.

Both CNN and FoxNews got it wrong. In their initial reporting after the decision was delivered at 10AM yesterday, they both headlined that the Supreme court had struck down the law. CNN ran the wrong headline for 6 long minutes before correcting itself and declaring that the court had actually upheld the law. How could they both be so wrong?

In a report on NPR addressing this question, Brian Stelter of the New York Times made a point that was both obvious and profound. They didn't read. In their rush to get the news first, both networks read the first few paragraphs of the ruling in which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts wrote that the health care legislation could not be upheld using the Commerce Clause and ran with the headline that the Supreme Court had struck down the health care law. They failed to read the next few paragraphs in which Justice Roberts declared the law to be constitutional since its fines could be considered a tax and not a penalty.

The politics of this ruling is not something for me to comment on. However, the lesson for the role of attentive reading in our technological age is profound. How many of us are so quick to blog and tweet that we fail to read attentively and listen carefully?

This point was the source of a great deal of debate at an Avi Chai sponsored dinner at this week's ISTE technology conference. One educator posed the question that with so much tweeting going throughout the lectures, how many of us fail to listen carefully enough to understand what is really being said. I countered that with a back channel of dozens or hundreds tweeting about what was being said at the workshop, the effect deepened the conversation and made each lesson more interactive. However, I can see both sides of this debate. Yes, live tweeting a lesson or news event can make a discussion more interactive but is this at the expense of more active listening and reflection?

Many researchers have made similar points. In the book iDisorder, Larry Rosen discusses the similarity between technology users and various psychological disorders. For example, the behavior of many people during a lecture with many windows open on their laptop while they simultaneously take notes, tweet, and instant message closely mimics the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. In the Shallows which I have blogged about in the past, Nicholas Carr argues that technology is discouraging attentive, careful reading since we read much more superficially online, jumping from hyperlinked page to page.

I believe that this desire to get things fast whether in the news or on Twitter mitigates against comprehension of complex text requiring higher-order thinking whether it be supreme court rulings or Talmudic debates. This should give us pause when embracing technology in education. While tweeting and other real-time technology tools can add interaction to a class, is this at the expense of depth and thoughtfulness? Other technology tools which can encourage reflection like blogging and asynchronous online discussion should be considered to encourage this type of thinking. Or perhaps sometimes we should just turn off the technology and practice deep reading and attentive listening. Time to pause and reflect are vitally important for our students (and for us). It's more important to get it right than to get it first.

From Facilitator to Activator

cc licensed image shared by flickr user The Darling Librarian

The definition of a motion leader is one who motivates the unmotivated in a way that the unmotivated then thank them for, Michael Fullan, ISTE Conference, 2012, Session Title: Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge

I came to ISTE (International Symposium on Tech Education) with one essential question: how can I, as a principal, support teachers in my school to improve learning? Perhaps attending an educational technology conference I should have shown more interest in the technology. And, I’ll admit, I was wowed by much of the technology. More significantly, I was moved by the focus on learning.

I gained more than I ever expected, experiencing a shift in a paradigm I had embraced and that has shaped my leadership in recent years. In the very first session I attended Monday morning, Michael Fullan, in true motion leader style, motivated me (ok I was already motivated, but supported me) to shift my perspectives on the role of teacher and by extension the role of principal from facilitator of learning to activator of learning.

Quoting John Hattie, Michael Fullan relayed that there is a .17 effect size on student learning when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. Alternatively, there is a .84 effect size on student learning when teachers serve as activators of learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. It does not take extensive training in statistical analysis to find this research compelling.

I know, we love problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. And, Michael Fullan did offer appropriate caution in our interpretation of Hattie’s findings, positing that gaming, for example, as currently utilized may not yet be effective but that skilled teachers may develop high quality use. Still, without dogmatic either/or – facilitator or activator – lines in the sand, I accept and appreciate Michael Fullan’s redirection.

Michael Fullan activated my learning even further, leaving me not only with a direction, but also with some concrete steps as to how to move forward. And, again, it’s not about the technology. Wisdom I gleaned included:
  • Offer respect to others before it is earned
  • Engage in impressive empathy, meaning empathy even for those who stand in your way
  • Invest in capacity building – human capital and social capital
  • Build social contagion
  • Eliminate non-essentials
  • Focus on a small number of ambitious goals.
Perhaps it is paradoxical that at a technology conference I walked away with the message that what matters is not new, but eternal. What matters is what has mattered for millennia: the quality of our relationships, our respect for one another, and the supportive environments we create. I spent the rest of the conference attending some fantastic sessions, learning some impressive technology tools, but most essentially, connecting and engaging with others who care deeply about learning. At a conference about what is current, I focused on what is enduring.

To Michael Fullan, the ISTE organizers, the AVICHAI Foundation who sponsored my participation, and the engaging educators with whom I learned, from one of the motivated, thank you!

Rabbi Shira Leibowitz, Ph.D.
Lower School Principal, Schechter Westchester
Twitter: @shiraleibowitz
Cross-posted at

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The ISTE12 Conference - WOW!

I am writing this post as I sit and wait for the final keynote at the ISTE12 conference to begin. I'm surrounded by thousands of people as I am trying to reflect on what I experienced during the last 4 days. Thanks to a generous grant from Avichai, I had the opportunity to attend this amazing conference in San Diego. The ability to be part of this large gathering of educators made me feel like I am part of a massive club of committed educators ("techies" if you will) all of whom want to learn about education in the 21st century, technology integration and want to be informed of the best tools and ideas that exist out there. In preparing for this, I read the blogs, tweets and postings about ISTE. I tried to get ready by making sure I pack comfortable shoes (I am usually in high heels), charge all my idevices, fill out the forms, spend a week choosing and re-choosing sessions, print out my schedule, print labels with my information for all the prizes I thought i will be winning, take another look at my sessions and change some things around, sign up for some after hours parties and basically... make sure I can make the most out of the experience. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. It truly was an overwhelming experience (in a good way), full of learning and intense jam-packed few days. I tried to do it all, which was really impossible... I attended session after session, running from one end of the convention centre to the other, I went through the exhibition, trying to have hands on experiences and listen to some information about products and services (and yes, I admit, I wanted some swag, things to take home, praying that I win a an iPad). I sparked conversations with complete strangers, I tried to learn from everyone and everything: poster sessions, other educators, keynote speakers, computers, tweets, random volunteers, and ofcourse- children. Each session I attended opened the door to new information, meeting new people, considering new options for improving teaching and engaging student, but most importantly - learning. I will be amiss if I don't mention the opportunity that I had to connect with the great group of Avichai educators who joined me on this journey. It was fantastic to meet them, talk to them and be able to reflect with them each evening on what we learned and discuss the application of this learning opportunity in our different Jewish day schools. I made some great friends, got to meet face to face some of the individual's I've been following on twitter, and catch up with some old friends as well. This alone - was an important and worth while experience. It was great to meet other Jewish day school educators who, like me, are so passionate about education and technology, who are committed to teaching and learning in today's digital age, and who want to make a difference in Jewish education. ISTE also helped me think about our learners: our students and the way we can reach them better, how we can get them to collaborate, how I and the teachers I work with can make a difference in their lives by implementing these fantastic ideas, tools and incredible learning opportunities. There is no arguing that digital age learning and teaching has changed and will continue to change. ISTE helped me See what digital learning can be all about. On one hand, the gurus in the field presented. People like Adam Bellow, Vicki Davis, Michael Fullan, Tony Vincent and other big names offered fascinating opportunities to learn about topics and issues close to my heart, as a technology coordinator and a teacher (first and foremost). They had much to say about education as a whole, and technology's role in it. Then there were sessions where everyday teachers, and even students (yes, students!) presented and showed us, the participants in the conference, what can be done. It was just inspiring to be part of that. ISTE's theme was "Expanding the horizons" and that they really did. New possibilities were introduced, sites, apps, social media, products and so much more are the things I'm coming home with. I'm committed to share this learning, whether it is by including it in the posts I'll be writing, I'll be presenting it in the PD I'll be offering, or by implementing it by introducing it in our PLCs throughout the upcoming year. Thank you Avichai for your generosity and for this amazing opportunity, for your hospitality and for all the excitement I feel as I think of what I'm coming home with and where I can take this knowledge from here. I can't wait to impart this knowledge! Avital Aharon J.S and Technology Coordinator Associated Hebrew Schools Thornhill, Ontario, Canada

Technology in Education is not about Technology

That title must seem fairly strange, especially as I am now at day 4 of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, a 20,000 person shindig with educators from around the country and around the world all here to discuss and learn about - what else? - technology and it's place in education. I will post more about someof the specific take-always from this conference and some of the really cool things about it as well in later posts. For now, I want to focus on this one issue.

One of the overriding themes at many of the sessions that I have attended has been about keeping the focus on the students. I attended a session this morning co-presented by George Couros and Patrick Franklin, principals in Alberta, Canada and Burlington, Massachusetts, respectively, who between them have over 27,000 followers on twitter and are certifiable rock stars here at ISTE. One of the first things that George said was that he wants to remove the word digital from what we do because it incorrectly puts the focus on that aspect of our work. Their talk was about how principals envision their schools and how they encourage their students to think and take control of their education. It just so happens that a lot of technology is really useful for doing all of this - but it remains a tool, not the driving force.

On Monday morning, I attended a session by Alan November, wonderful speak who consistently advocates for teachers to find more and more ways to make students more active within the classroom. A key word in his presentation was motivation, with a particular focus on finding "jobs" for individual students to carry out in the classroom, such as scribe or researcher, that will allow them to have a greater and more active role in the learning that is taking place. Again, many of these ideas could not come to fruition without the powerof technology and the web, but the goal is what we do with all of that technology, not our focus on it.

I could go on and on, and I yet may do so in later posts. If you want to see my notes from the seasons I have attended, I have been posting them using Evernote (a wonderful tool that Tzvi Pittinsky just wrote about on his TechRav blog) and sting them to twitter (follow me at @rabbiross). But my point for now is that this conference is largely nothing that a critic of technology in schools would assume it to be. Yes, everyone is walking around with a smartphone and an iPad or chrome book or laptop and sometimes using more than one at a time. Yes, there is an overwhelming large vendor expo with more technology products than you could ever dream about. And, yes, I have learned about some really cool sites and devices.

But at the end of the day, this is an education conference and not a technology conference. To those people who have an allergic reaction every time someone suggests a new device or app to be used in the classroom, get over it. Technology already exists in your classroom and the best thing that you can do is to get ahead of it. It is indeed overwhelming and there are more products and sites and apps out there than we have time to think about. Nevertheless, the word from the experts and gurus out here is that the key is to keep our focus on where it has always been in schools - on our students. The rest is just commentary.

(cross-posted to

ISTE 2012 Lessons Learned – My Soap Box Moment

In the ISTE 2012 opening Keynote on Sunday afternoon Mark Prensky declared that the war is over and that the Digital Natives have won.  And while his presentation was both compelling and entertaining, he has committed the grievous act of over generalization which may ultimately leave many students floundering in new 1:1 programs. 

Children born in this day and age have a very high level of exposure to technology.  Because of that, assumptions are made regarding the ability of children to quickly adapt to new technologies and apps.  And while this may be the case for the majority it is definitely not the case for all.
There are many kids who come to school in Kindergarten or First Grade and their only experience with computing technology is with an iPad, iPhone or other touch device.  This would be great if the school were implementing a 1:1 program with iPads.  But what if your school was using laptops, or requiring time in a computer lab?  The image of Scotty talking into a mouse immediately comes to mind (Star Trek).  Imagine this 5 or 6 year old sitting at their computer and wondering why they can’t get to any of their apps when they touch the screen.  And while most of these children can learn to use the other devices and applications some may struggle.
In this day and age where we are looking to technology to help boost differentiation let us not use technology to hinder it.  As an IT Director, the idea of BYOD gives me nightmares, but maybe there is something to dealing with the headaches to better serve the our students.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ISTE 2012 Day 1 Wrap Up

Wow! Is this year’s ISTE conference different or what?
Aside from the fact that the conference is taking place in my home-town of San Diego, I am in a very different place from last year and therefore the conference has been a very different experience. Without further ado, let’s get into the wrap up!


The “Keynote Panel” was honestly pretty disappointing. Although Sir Ken Robinson was hysterical and on-point, this was lost in the over-commercialization and ISTE promo videos. I think ISTE might have forgotten that most of us don’t care so much about ISTE as we do about education, technology and learning… Nevertheless, there were some high-points:
The idea espoused by Sir Ken constantly is the idea that our lives are not linear, they are organic, and our education models need to reflect this. This idea is crucial to moving education forward and out of our current, Industrial Revolution, model of education, in which students are looked at as products needing to be built, rather than seeds which need to grow. For more on this I highly recommend you watch this video:
Shawn Covell (the lady from Qualcom) brought to light/reminded us of a very important reality: Mobile is the future, actually, mobile is the present. More people have access to a mobile phone today then to clean drinking water and toothbrushes. In the very near future there will  be more devices on the mobile network than people on the planet. Mobile is the new, universal platform for communication. She also reminded us, over and over again, that Qualcom is the leader in mobile tech. My takeaway: Mobile is this generation’s Tower of Babel, the trick is to use it to unite humanity for good and not the opposite.
Marc Prensky, author of a number of books, spoke very intelligently about “digital wisdom”, the concept of merging our brains with machine brains. To do this we need to ask a very important question: What do our brains do better and what do machines do better? That was, perhaps, the most eye-opening concept of the whole keynote. Marc presented an answer to the question – which I felt was incomplete (although I am sure he would tell me that his book will answer the question more thoroughly) – teachers can provide empathy and passion, a machine can never do this.
Finally, Blossom – I mean Mayim Bialik – between trying to tell us how TI products shaped her life, was great. She was inspirational as she spoke about the influence of amazing teachers on her life and the importance of breaking down the walls that prevent our students from seeing themselves as they should see themselves. She told us that growing up she, “could not envision a female scientist” and she is glad that she was shown how. Very inspirational indeed.
One final message from Sir Ken: “If you design a system based on standardization and conformity, don’t be surprised if you get it…”

Poster Sessions and Schmoozing

I didn’t have much time to jam through poster sessions after the keynote and between all the hellos from old ISTE friends, but the big take-away that I took was the importance of collaboration in the 21st century classroom. This collaboration must be global as well as local and we must be facilitators as well as guides in this process. This collaboration builds a sense of empathy, sensitivity and develops real-world skills.
I spent much time chatting with people in the lobby, this “relaxed time” was so valuable for processing and assimilating the information that I received during the keynote and poster sessions. This is definitely a lesson that I plan to integrate into my classroom and informal education, rest facilitates creativity.
For more on my travels at ISTE 2012, you should follow me on twitter: @theadamsimon and check back on this blog.
Look for ISTE 2012 Day 2 Wrap Up soon!

Evernote can be a Game Changer in the Classroom

The following post by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky is cross-posted on

One of the most amazing things about attending a conference like ISTE is the power of serendipity. Some of the best sessions are the ones you don't plan for, they just happen. This morning, thanks to a tip by @AvitalAharon at last night's @AVICHAIFDN dinner, I went to special session on Evernote. Even though, I already personally use Evernote, what you can do with students blew my mind. This is definitely the go-to app for any iPad deployment. Below are some of my notes from the session.

The driving force behind Evernote is that it will help you remember everything. A basic goal of education is to increase knowledge over time. This can be illustrated by a simple upward graph where as we advance in our educational years, our knowledge increases. However, in our experience with students, usually there are jagged edges in this graph; gaps where knowledge is lost over time like the end of the school year or summer break when not only do students forget but they often lose their notes so do not have the ability to reconstruct what they learned. I have experienced this in my own life many times, where notebooks, even those that I save, wind up filed away in storage without easy access and even notes taken n computer can sometimes be lost when a computer crashes or is upgraded to a new model. With Evernote all of these notes are synchronized across over all devices so they are saved FOREVER.

Students will have a lifetime career in education and usually we only focus on one fixed point with the student, the grade they are in. The student with Evernote can always use whatever they love and have access to everything. Evernote can be the bridge to tie a lot of technologies together during the lifetime of the student. In a BYOD program students can use Evernote with whatever they have, phones, laptops, iPod Touch. They start to see technology as a tool, not a toy to create, collect, and collaborate.

In one app you can create, collect, and collaborate. You don't need you to train teachers and students on multiple apps to accomplish these 3 goals. Evernote is a box to put everything in. It's a digital binder and more. You can keep everything you've learned throughout the year. At the end of school, students used to throw their binders away. With Evernote this binder is saved forever.

Anything can become a note in Evernote, a text note, to-do list, snapshot note, and voice note. It's as simple as possible for you to get stuff into Evernote. Every few minutes, notes are synchronized. The Mac version is the most full featured version of Evernote. In a school setting, you are not restricted to just typing notes. You can use voice note. This can be great for students if they lose their train of thought and can't keep up with the teacher. Instead of desperately trying to transcribe what the teacher is saying without understanding, they can turn on the record button and just focus on listening to the teacher, knowing they can listen again and write the notes later.

You can drag and drop PDFs into Evernote. Use an app called Clearly to remove all ads from the website first and then drag to Evernote. You can organize stuff in a Notebook and then you can out all of your Notebooks inside a stack for further filing. You can now collaborate by sharing individual notes or a whole notebook with others. Everything in Evernote is private by default. You have to decide to share.

There are also apps to automatize things in Evernote like to send starred Gmail messages to Evernote or starred Google Reader posts. You can also use the note links in Evernote to create a table of contents in a new note. Since each note has its own unique link, you merely create a new note with a list of hyperlinks to each of the other notes and you have a Table of Contents.

Evernote Hello! is an app to remember everyone you meet. You can email into Evernote by forwarding to your personal Evernote email address in settings. You can choose tags by putting # then tag at end of subject line. You get a note in your Evernote with the title and Notebook based on the email.

Evernote has image recognition so it will recognize handwriting and text from notes for a keyword search. Can snap photo into every whiteboard into Evernote and automatically put into Notebook shared with students. When you do a keyword search then it will look up everything including pictures notes which it recognizes as containing these words.

Evernote partners with a number of apps. These include:
Peek (for fash cards)

Evernote is great tool for portfolios. For example, can photograph science projects together with papers on it so it can be in the student portfolio. Can set up scanner which will go directly into the Evernote accounts of students using the Evernote email in settings.

In her blog post, Our Second Graders are Piloting Evernote at Van Meter Shannon Miller describes how her students used Evernote in second grade. Her kids made a "My Community" project where kids took pictures around the school with their iPads and put it into their Evernote account. They took all the pictures and made it into a flippable ebook using Flipmaps. Here is a video by a 2nd Grader explaining Evernote.

The Nerdy Teacher is a high school English teacher who had a class so students with iPads. He wanted to use free apps and needed something for kids to take notes and share ideas. In No Tablets, No Problem Thanks to Evernote he describes how he used Evernote to solve this. He points out that kids catch onto Evernote quickly. They explore it and then they run with it. Evernote allows high school kids to keep all their information. Many of them are so disorganized and with Evernote kids can organize and tag so easily. Tagging notes comes naturally to them since they tag pictures on Facebook all the time. They can then search a notebook. A kid who wants a teacher to slow down but is embarrassed can hit the mic button and start recording the lecture. Kids can use Evernote on their phone too in case they don't have an iPad or laptop. Kids can study their notes from anywhere with phone or no wifi on a bus on the way to a sports game or during downtime at a practice or after school activity. They are not tied down by textbooks or notebooks. Everything kids need is there in Evernote. You can edit a comment on a note or record commentary or corrections in an assignment using Evernote. You can also so much paper using Evernote. Teachers can even use a shared Evernote document to record audio feedback and commentary on a student's written work. This can be a very valuable educational tool.

I would recommend Evernote as a key app for any 1/1 iPad deployment. It's not about using information anymore, it's about curating information. We are overwhelmed with information, Evernote helps us organize it. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Heading to ISTE!

This Sunday, I will be heading to San Diego for my first ever ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference - a 20,000+ person confab with over 700 sessions, keynotes, hangouts, hoe-downs, and every other possible way of getting a bunch of committed, innovative, and wired educators together to talk about ways to improve the field. And, of course, it is a good excuse to be in San Diego during the last week of June.

I will be blogging from the conference, and tweeting as well (follow me at @rabbiross) and will obviously have much more to say once I am there and get over the feeling of being overwhelmed. Right now, simply looking at the convention center is making me feel overwhelmed. A few thoughts before I head off:

1) Live meetings are important. One thing I am looking forward to at this conference is finally meeting many of the people that I know only through twitter and the blogosphere. Some of them I simply follow. Some of them I have had long, drawn-out twitter-fueled conversations with. Some of them I can almost pick out of a crowd. Some hide behind an animated avatar. As wonderful as social media is - and I am a believer - there is nothing that substitutes for sitting down for a chat or hearing a live session from someone that you have already gained so much from.

2) Everyone is your teacher. As the Sages say, "Who is wise? He who learns from everyone." I have no doubt that every single one of the 20,000 people in attendance at ISTE will have the potential for teaching me something, whether they are presenters or people waiting in front of me on line to get into a session. There will be so many people there from so many walks of life and types of schools (from around the country and around the world), and there are so many innovations being tried in classrooms that chances are anyone I speak to will have something to say to me that I do not already know. At the same time, I have to be willing to share and not assume that as a newbie at the conference I have nothing to contribute - as I said, everyone here will be a teacher.

3) Building a Jewish education technology cohort. I am attending this conference thanks to the good graces of the AVI CHAI foundation, who are sponsoring Jewish educators at ISTE for the second time. In addition, several other Jewish foundations will be sending cohorts, and many other ISTE veterans from Jewish day schools will be attending on their own as well. As events like this become more fixed on the calendar of Jewish schools, and as the network of ISTE attendees from such schools continues to grow, the impact on the type of education that we are able to provide to our students will increase as well. While Judaic education specifically currently is far behind more general subjects such as math and science in terms of the resources that are available online, an ever-growing group of Jewish educators will help to begin to produce materials and ideas that will allow others to leverage the power of technology to improve and enhance their classroom environment.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for updates from the conference.

(cross posted on