Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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Oh The Things I Do Write…

Seems like my own blog is the last stop for things that I’ve written. I have an idea for an original post that may – or may not – first appear here in the coming days, or weeks, but who’s counting?!

Anyways, the things I have written….

When To Put The Tech Away In Your 1:1 (or Any) Classroom

I love working with my friend, Shawn McCusker, in Chicago. Yes, Chicago. We have this great new system for co-authoring that uses a combination of Google Doc, Direct Message, and the occasional email. What I love most about this working arrangement is that we never actually talk to each other. In fact, we we do have an actual conversation by phone, it’s more about catching up or working through complex ideas than the logistics of writing an article. This is why I find it even more amusing that we wrote an article on when NOT to use technology.

You can read the full post on Edudemic.

Three Approaches for Getting Content to Elementary Students’ iPads – No Email, No Problem

I have been a Richard Byrne groupie for years. In fact, I may have been one of his first groupies in 2008. His resources used to make me look really smart as I provided a bounty of resources – courtesy of Richard – on a regular basis. That said, it was quite an honor to be able to do a guest post for him. This article on elementary iPad workflow is just the beginning. I’ve been drafting this concept for months as a result of numerous workshops with EdTechTeacher.

You can read the post on Free Tech for Teachers.

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5 Myths about Writing with iPads & Mobile Devices – Reblogged from Edudemic & EdTechTeacher

Before we begin…

I know. I haven’t written anything in a while. My writing doesn’t tend to start here anymore. However, with this particular post, I’m glad that it can at least end on my own site this time. This piece has been in the works for months. It is the result of dozens of conversations and a lot of thinking on my own part. Maybe this little intro should have accompanied the original post on Edudemic.

I didn’t jump on the iPad bandwagon simply because it was shiny, new, and from Apple. Similarly, I didn’t get into technology for the sake of technology. I have, however, been writing for as long as I can remember. I can thank my 2nd grade teacher – Mrs. Reedy – for encouraging me with pencil and that multi-colored lined paper. In her class, I learned about output. I can thank Mr. Morgan in middle school for introducing me to the author, Pat Conroy. I became lost and entranced in the vivid descriptions from The Prince of Tides, and discovered my own ability to paint with words (probably a good thing since my drawing skills stink!). I can thank Mr. DuPriest who then crushed me – temporarily – and then challenged me to actually make a point. Deep down, I may even have a shred of gratitude for that horrid professor in college – no need to drag his name through the mud – who eloquently wrote on one of my short stories, “I do not know how you could endure writing this as I could not endure reading it!”

So, I’ve been writing for years. I’ve written with pen and pencil, in notebooks, on typewriters, and with computers. Over the past year, I have developed a strange system of writing across devices – iPhone, iPad, and Macbook – as each one gives me a different experience.

With all of that said, here is why I am re-blogging this article along with this diatribe of an intro. You see, on Edudemic, it got slammed in the comments.  There has been some positive conversation on Twitter, but comments feel permanently attached to an article. I’ve been told not to respond, that negative comments come from scourge of the Internet. My greatest solace has come from my colleague and friend, Shawn McCusker. Beware Ye Smashing Archetypes… he wrote yesterday.

Some changes can been seen as destructive to the prevailing archetypes of how learning should take place.  Intentionally or not, people can be threatened by, resistant to and dismissive of the changes. If you are closely associated with the change, they will project these feelings on you as well.

Well, I guess I did it unwittingly. By tackling the writing process with iPads and Mobile Devices, I smashed a few old archetypes’ toes. That was far from my intention – as was coming off as  arrogant. I will allow you to decide. I hope to be able to engage in conversation. You are welcome to agree or disagree with me, to offer comments, suggestions, or criticism. I only hope that we can have a productive conversation. Remember, these comments are permanent.

5 Myths about Writing with iPads & Mobile Devices

A few months ago, shortly after the first EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, I spent the day with a college friend out on Cape Cod. In telling me about her daughter’s class iPad pilot, my friend seemed both excited and hesitant. At one point in the conversation, she turned to me and said, “The one thing I hate, though, is that writing just stinks on iPad.”

Initially, I took a bit of a defensive position and prepared to launch into my iPad is NOT a computer schtick. However, the more I listened – and have since listened – to not only my friend but also educators in workshops, webinars, and conversations, the more I realize that parents, administrators, and even teachers fall victim to 5 Myths of Mobile Writing which lead them to believe that this critical facet of education cannot seemingly occur on a mobile device.

Myth #1 – Writing = Keyboarding

“Every time I would turn around, she would just be deleting everything on the screen.” My friend told me. “I bought her a bluetooth keyboard and that has helped.”

How does the purchase of a keyboard magically improve the writing process? It doesn’t – though it may help with typing.

When it comes to mobile devices, especially those with touch-screens like iPad or Android tablets, the effectiveness of the virtual keyboard immediately comes into question, and therefore the concept that writing can’t happen on a mobile device. Tech Directors have told me that their teachers oppose touch-screen tablets because they don’t allow students to type, and thousands of dollars have been spent on expensive cases with external keyboards.

Interestingly, Brady Cline, an ICT Coordinator in Bangkok, conducted an informal study in his school to compare the typing capabilities of students using virtual vs. traditional keyboards. While anecdotal evidence over the past 12-18 months has suggested that students adapt to touch-screen keyboards much more easily than adults, Brady’s post provides a set of quantitative data indicating that students can potentially type equally well on both a traditional as well as a virtual keyboard.

“…this study seems to illustrate an important point: adults who have spent decades typing on a traditional keyboard, find it very difficult to imagine that students can be successful typing efficiently on a virtual keyboard. The evidence here, however, does not support this bias.”

Once we disconnect the process of writing from the mechanics of typing, then we can begin to look at the potential of mobile devices.

Myth #2 – Writing = Word Processing

“Once they got Pages, writing became easier.” My friend continued.

Last week, I recounted this conversation to my colleague – Suzy Brooks – who is piloting BYOD with her third graders this year in Falmouth. She responded by saying, “I don’t think my students know what word processing means.”

Many adults have come to associate writing with Word – as in Microsoft Word. In fact, one of the most common questions that we get at EdTechTeacher when talking with schools who are moving towards iPad programs is “What about Word?” While a host of Word-like apps exist, thinking beyond the traditional word processor opens up so many other avenues. For example, Drive allows for collaborative writing, while AudioNote (iPad or Android) syncs recorded audio with typed or written words, and Evernote makes written content available on any device.

During one of my first years as Director of Academic Technology at St. Michael’s, I got in a heated discussion with a parent over my decision to NOT put Microsoft Word in the computer lab. As an all Mac school, it made more sense for us to go with iWork over Office. The parent asked how I could be preparing his child for the workplace without teaching Microsoft. My response then is similar to my reaction with mobile devices.

“It doesn’t matter what tool I teach your child to use right now.” I told the parent. “By the time she begins working, it will all be different anyways. I just need to teach your child how to learn to use the technology.”

Much like writing does not equal typing, it also is not word processing. In fact, Suzy uses Educreations – technically a screen casting tool – for everything with her students: drawing, writing, recording audio, and screencasting. They have mastered the app as well as its workflow, allowing her students to focus on the task rather than the tool.

Myth #3 – Device = Process

This brings me back to my friend’s initial comment that iPad is terrible for writing. How can a device be responsible for a process?

Last year, Greg Kulowiec and I spent an entire day working with a group of middle school teachers in Shrewsbury, MA on iPad workflow as the culmination of a year-long T21 program. This group explored integrating Notability, Pages, Dropbox, and Evernote as part of their writing instruction (a concept Greg refers to as App Smashing). However, after exploring the process in which they wanted students to engage, it became clear that they would use not only iPad but also paper.


Whether it is iPad, Nexus, Chromebook, Macbook, or Windows laptop, with writing, the focal point should be the process: from idea to outline to editing to final. When teaching in a computer lab, my students integrated technology at various stages depending on their learning needs. While all students followed the path outlined below, they shifted from paper to computer at varying stages.

Digital Writing Process for My Students (Grades 2-8)

  1. Graphic Organizer(s)
  2. Outline
  3. Draft #1
  4. Editing Checklist:
      • Turn On Track Changes
      • Check spelling
      • Listen sentence-by-sentence
      • Listen paragraph-by-paragraph
      • Listen to the full piece
      • Accept Changes
  5. Turn in Draft #2

While we applied the process above to working in a computer lab, it could certainly still apply to a mobile situation. Graphic organizers could be completed on paper and then photographed or completed with a number of mind-mapping tools. Outlines could be generated with a pencil or an app. Editing might include reading to a peer, listening with Speak Selection, or screencasting feedback.

Myth #4 – Writing = Text

Imagine a group of students working on a writing assignment…. what do you see as a final product? In a traditional setting, we envision words on paper (or on screen) – a text-based output.

With mobile devices, we have instant access to cameras and microphones as well as the ability to write, type, draw, capture images, and create videos. As a result of these tools and capabilities, the writing process no longer needs to be limited to solely text-based output. In fact, by leveraging these capabilities, students who would otherwise be labeled as having “output issues” suddenly have a voice.

“With writing on iPad – students who HATE writing to actually do it without thinking they are writing at all. They actually think we haven’t had “writing” in a day or so when iPads have been used.” – Suzy Brooks

If the writing infers a process used to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept, then why do we make the assumption that the communication has to occur solely through text? By expanding upon our definition of “writing” with mobile devices, then the possible becomes redefined.

Myth #5 – Writing = Essays

Too often, when we think about writing curriculum, we focus on essays, paragraphs, and the occasional creative writing assignment. In that context, iPads or other tablets may not be the most efficient tools to use. A full keyboard and mouse do certainly facilitate copious amounts of typing and editing.

However, does writing always have to be about paragraphs? Can students still demonstrate their ability to generate and communicate a coherent idea or concept in non-paragraph form? When we thinking about writing with mobile devices, we now have the opportunity to Redefine our expectations.

What if….

  • Students created eBooks that included text, images, audio recordings of their own reflections, videos, and/or screencasts to demonstrate their understanding rather than type a standard essay or report.
  • Students created and maintained blogs such that they not only posted articles but also wrote and responded to comments that challenged them to think critically in new directions.
  • Students created and curated digital magazines that combined their own writing as well as digital artifacts, images, and other articles.

Myth: Mobile devices can’t be used for writing – BUSTED

Is writing possible on a mobile device? Absolutely. Could it be easier on a computer? Possibly. In listening to friends and colleagues, I understand that there are certainly limitations to writing on various devices, but also plenty of benefits depending on how you choose to define the process.

Confession: while I brainstormed this post using Penultimate on my iPad, I sat down to actually write (type, edit, and publish) on my Macbook.

Before I left my friend’s house on Cape Cod, I wrote up a list of apps to install on her daughter’s iPad – Popplet (graphic organizer), AudioNote Lite (record audio and take notes simultaneously), and Educreations (screencasting). Will they improve her daughter’s writing? It all depends on the process

My colleagues and I will be addressing the writing process this summer during our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston.

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Don’t Be a Beta Max – re-blogged from Edudemic & EdTechTeacher

I wrote this post with my colleague, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker), from Chicago. It first appeared on Edudemic and then was re-blogged at EdTechTeacher. So, here it is again – just in case you missed it there…

Are you a Beta-Max?

Now that we are all excited about integrating iPads into the classroom, what’s next? What are we all going to do in 18.. 24.. 36.. months when the next great device comes along? Are we all going to just start over? How do we, as educators, avoid being the next Beta-Max: that flash in the pan that couldn’t scale up and adjust to a rapidly changing market?

While Beta-Max may be gone, the idea behind it  – that people wanted to easily access videos and then store them to watch later –  lives on in every DVD player, and mobile device, that exists today. If you were someone who looked and saw the big picture idea of Beta as the sharing and storing of videos (or of information, images, video,  and data), you may not have been upset by its demise and would probably not be surprised by the popularity of today’s technologies that perform the same functions. Similarly, you would neither be shocked by the popularity of the Blue Ray format that delivers an ever higher quality product, nor by web sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the person who found comfort in the familiarity of the small cassettes and argued against VHS on principle, as well as out of loyalty, would have seen the demise of Beta-Max as a tragedy and their investment in it as a useless waste of time.

So how does this apply to education? If your 1:1 or technology program is simply the endorsement of a platform, then you might find yourself with the next Beta-Max. What real learning gains have been made with the chosen device? Would this learning be valuable if the chosen tool was retired and replaced by a new one tomorrow? Could you, your colleagues, and your students apply your big picture idea regardless of the technology platform? These question may guide you towards  getting to what is truly important.

“Don’t pilot a device… pilot a pedagogy!” – Anthony Salcito @AnthonySalcit0

Teaching with technology is about being able to clearly articulate well-defined learning objectives and to encourage students to leverage the best possible tools in order to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and understanding in complex and modern ways…..

At first glance, this statement may not sound like anything more than good solid pedagogy – and that’s the point. Too often, we talk about implementing a device, or piloting a program, rather than leveraging a new quiver of tools to create more dynamic, creative, exciting, and resource-rich learning environments for our students. The creativity with which students can now demonstrate their understanding as they strive to meet these objectives is what makes modern-day technology so exciting for education.

In fact, it is pretty safe to say that from the time that this was written, to the moment when it is read, several new creative outlets to demonstrate learning will appear. What will not change, however, is this need to direct students towards acquiring understanding as well as effectively expressing their comprehension. Without that endpoint in mind, no app, no program, no website and no device will improve learning. Without that learning objective in mind, and a clearly defined challenge before them, students will see technology as nothing more than the games that it offers them, rather than the learning opportunities that could present themselves through its use.

Beta-Max Prevention Strategies

Now what? As educators, how do we continue to stay on the cutting edge? How do we ensure that with all of the tools, and talk, we don’t lose sight of our big idea? Here are five strategies for preventing obsolete-ism.

  1. Embrace the fact that we are all life-long learners. Too often, adults forget to keep learning. Read books. Watch the news. Follow a few blogs. Do whatever it takes to continually discover new ideas. Edudemic, Edutopia, EdTechTeacher, Education Week, and Free Technology for Teachers are great starting points. From there, branch out and read the blogs of individual teachers: Kevin Jarrett, Suzy Brooks, Chris Harrow, Katrina Kennett, Keith Rispin, and Charity Preston to name a few.  The number of teachers problem solving and experimenting with technology is staggering.  Sharing in their experience can help you to grow.
  2. Expand your Personal Learning Community. Teachers get stuck in their classrooms, but there is an entire world of people online willing to collaborate. You may excel at problem solving, but the world of technology, and the corresponding shift to technology in the classroom, will present you with an overload of problems to solve.  You could probably accomplish this yourself if given enough time, but through collaboration, your class, your school, and your students can grow faster. After all, one of our greatest concerns as teachers is time – and how to manage it. A strong Personal Learning Community can weather the minor problems, share successes, and offer support to everyone.
  3. Failure is not an option… It’s a requirement! Embrace and share both your successes and your failures. While it is good to have a high standard at your school, adopting a new technology will also require you to share what does not work. If classroom teachers are afraid to share what goes wrong, the whole community could be repeating failures that may be avoided. In your discussions, in addition to talking about what goes well, and what you are proud of, make sure to also discuss what goes wrong. There are usually more lessons learned from failures than from successes.
  4. Don’t be afraid to play! According to Dan Callahan, Instructional Technology Specialist at Pine Glen Elementary, “The most innovative educators are the ones who aren’t afraid to play.” Push all of the buttons. Challenge yourself to try out new tools. See what you and your students can create. You won’t know what’s possible if you don’t try to figure it out.
  5. Ask WHY questions. WHY follow a particular scope and sequence? WHY assess student understanding with the same essay topic? WHY integrate a new tool? The answer should always take you back to HOW this new tool, technique, subject, etc. helps students achieve desired learning objectives and addresses their learning needs. If you have an answer to WHY, then you have not lost sight of the big picture.

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Multi-Article, Double Re-blog – where I’ve really been writing…

It’s been crazy few weeks. Since my last post, 10 Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers with iPads,  but that does’t mean I haven’t been writing. The posts below were all originally published on Edudemic and then re-blogged on the EdTechTeacher blog.

Whatever Happened to iBooks

In our workshops, we begin by discussing how Apple initially marketed the iPad as a device for consumption – watch a movie, read a book, browse the web…. With the iPad2, thanks in part to the integration of the camera as well as the rapid development of apps, it started to become more of a creation tool – make a movie, share a photo, create a song…. We’ve applied that same thought process to iBooks, and explored it across the spectrum from consumption to creation.

With regard to consuming books, I wrote about teaching active reading skills, supporting students’ active reading, and supporting diverse learners. On the creation side, teachers and students can use tools such as dotEPUB to generate custom course content for consumption via iBooks as well as apps like Book Creator ($3.99), Creative Book Builder ($3.99), and Composer (free) for building multi-media iBooks.

Educators may or may not be using iBooks as a typical eReader, or in the way that Apple initially assumed, and with the rise of textbook apps like Inkling as well as collaborative readers like SubText, one reading app of choice may not emerge. Additionally, as more classrooms and schools move towards a BYOD/BYOT environment, iBooks as an app may play a less centralized role. However, the concept of creating and curating digital content as ePubs certainly works across devices – a variety of eReader apps and extensions exist for Kindle, Nook, Android, FireFox and Chrome. While, the mechanics for collecting and annotating course content may change depending on the platform, the concepts apply.

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

The Invisible Apps

As a follow-up to that first post, I wrote…

Two of the most powerful apps on the iPad may be completely invisible: iBooks and the Camera Roll. However, when used together, they have the potential to create powerful learning experiences and dynamic projects.

From Dynamic Math Portfolios to Science Lab Book Collections to Books of Books, combining apps via the Camera Roll and then curating student-generated content with iBooks opens up a a world of possibility for students.

Imagine the end of the school year for students whose teachers fully leveraged the potential of iBooks and the Camera. Perusing through their iBooks collections, they could have documentation of their learning for each of their courses as well as their research materials and reading assignments. As these students prepare for final exams, they could share eBooks for virtual study groups using Subtext. Imagine a review conversation occurring directly inside of student-generated content….

>>>> You can read the full post on the EdTechTeacher blog

What can you actually DO with an iPad

This week, to wrap up these thoughts, as well as to reflect on presentations that I gave at  the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I wrote…

Online, in workshops, and even with friends, I frequently get asked What can the iPad actually do? as a sort of challenge to the worth of the device. I would rather that they ask, What can you actually do with an iPad?

So last week, in preparing for the New England Reading Association Conference and the NYSCATE Mobile Learning Summit, I decided to change my approach. Rather than structure my presentations by tool, or by app, or even by project, I organized myself around desired student outcomes – aka. what students can actually do.

However, before addressing that question, I asked not only WHY iPads but WHY Technology? Because….

  • I want my students to communicate in complex and modern ways.
  • I want my students to make their thinking visible as an alternative assessment.
  • I want my students to document their thinking as they work through a process.
  • I want my students to have multiple ways through which to interact with learning objects.

What does this tangibly look like in the classroom? One English teachers asked where to even begin, so we started with a set of content-specific learning objectives.

Like the others, you can read this full post on the EdTechTeacher blog or all of these on Edudemic.

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Double Re-Blog: Creating Literacy Centers with Technology

Well, I admit it, this is a re-blog of a re-blog, but I wanted to have a copy of the article. I wrote this in response to an email from a Teaching the Elementary Grades summer workshop participant. First, I submitted it to Edudemic. Then, I re-blogged myself on the EdTechTeacher Blog.

10 Ideas for Creating Literacy Centers with Technology

I received this email the other day.

Hi Beth.

I am a student from the Harvard summer session on Teaching Elementary Grades with Technology.

I have been voulun-told to teach a session on Literacy Centers using tech to staff members in a week. I am hoping you have some insight or ideas for this!?



First off, I love the concept of being volun-told as that describes so much of how life evolves in a school, but I digress. Initially, I responded to Jenn by saying:

… I’d be happy to help. What type of tech will you be using for your centers?  You could even use Suzy’s SMARTCenter concept and apply it to whatever device that you are using.

Feel free to get back to me….

Image Provided By Edudemic

I’ll admit that this first response was a bit of a cop-out because I was in the midst of prepping for another workshop and on the road. However, I have been pondering the concept of centers of learning all summer. Partially in response to Suzy Brooks’ use of her SMART Board as a learning center, and partly because of the growing number of elementary schools that are adding shared devices to their classrooms.

Combine Jenn responding that she has iPads, iPods, laptops, and SMART Boards, with a 2-hour layover in the Dulles airport followed by a two hour flight, and you have a recipe for 10 ways to create literacy centers with technology.

  1. Spread around the room, place iPads next to books. Have students use Educreations to take a picture of the page in the book that they are reading, and then record themselves reading it. You could even have multiple students read multiple pages. With Educreations all logged in to the same class account, students could essentially collaborate to screencast a book for their peers. Educreations also works on a computer via the web, so students could also use laptops to complete this project as well as mobile devices. With one app or web site, and any device, you now have a way to assess students for fluency and decoding.
  2. Have students work in groups to create a set of flashcards for vocabulary words using A+Pro Flashcards on an iPad or any presentation tool such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Digital flashcards allows students to add their own audio recording as well as images in order to illustrate the words.
  3. Give students a story on paper. Have them use a screencasting tool such as Educreations, Screenchomp, Doodlecast for Kids, etc., to read the story and draw some ideas of what they “see” in the story as they go.
  4. For younger students working on sight words, ask students to work in pairs at the SMART Board. Create Notebook Lessons that allow them to drag words on top of their corresponding images.
  5. Ask students to use ScribblePress or BookCreator to create their own reading skills and strategies books. For each skill or strategy, they need to include an image as well as a writing prompt. Students could even use the iPads and iPods to take pictures of images projected on the SMART Board and then type their responses below the images. This same concept could be applied to students using laptops. They could create their own books using a presentation tool such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Presentations
  6. Have students practice their fluency using Fotobabble. They could take a picture of what they are reading and then record their audio. This could all be published to a class account for easy assessment later. Because Fotobabble is an iPhone app as well as web based, this could be done on any device available.
  7. Allow students to work in pairs to read to each other. One student reads while the other videos them. Then switch. Students can watch together and then do a retake. This will let them self-assess and start to take ownership for their own fluency. This concept could work with an iPod or iPad as well as using a built in camera on a laptop.
  8. For older students, assign them to pairs and then ask them to do reading records on each other. The first student uses a screen-casting app such as ScreenChomp or ExplainEverything to take a photo of the page that the second student plans to read. As the second student reads aloud, the first records the audio while simultaneously making notes about fluency and decoding on the screencast. Then the students could switch. The teacher now has not only an assessment of fluency, but also of comprehension.
  9. Place a series of objects on a table that illustrate spelling words that the students should know. Have the students use Animoto – which works on an iPod, iPad, or laptop, to create a video where they type the word as a caption for each photo. This activity could be expanded for older students who may have to also include definitions and parts-of-speech for vocabulary terms. iMovie would be another option for this project and would work with a variety of devices as well as a Mac laptop.
  10. Think of this idea as Pictionary in reverse. Instead of giving students words and having them illustrate them, ask students to write as many words as they can associate with the image. Give each student a slide in either a SMART Notebook, ActivInspire, or other IWB note taking tool, with an image to describe. Each student would then be provided with a set amount of time to write as many words as possible to describe the image. Rotate each child through the file, and a turn at the SMART Board. Older students could correct the person ahead of them, and each image could be differentiated to allow students to succeed at their own level.

Why use this Learning Center Approach?

In many of our EdTechTeacher iPad workshops, elementary teachers ask what they can do with only a handful of devices in their classrooms. Similarly, we often discussed the role of Interactive White Boards in a class that should be more student-centric. By taking this center approach, teachers can put the technology in the hands of their students, differentiate their instruction, and create multiple opportunities for learning.

For the record, I did send Jenn this list before finishing the blog post. Hopefully, she will comment to let us know the status of her presentation.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: I will be talking more about leveraging iPads and other devices in the November 6 Pre-Conference Workshop, iPads in the Elementary Classroom as well as during the November 7-8, EdTechTeacher iPad Summit.