Beth Holland

Food for thought…


What are the Biggest Mistakes that Teachers Make with Technology?

As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I’ve been asked to identify some of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers making with technology. In thinking about how to respond to the query, I kept circling back to the concept of word choice. When teachers describe their efforts with technology, they often struggle with the words they use to define their endeavors.

Word Choice Issue #1 – Integrate

Image Credit: Greg Kulowiec

Credit: Greg Kulowiec
Is your tech IN your school or ON it?

Oftentimes, the teachers in my workshops feel enormous pressure to integrate technology; they see it as a looming weight. Given their limited time to address content and curricular standards, they worry about how to “fit it in.”

However, we don’t hold trainings specific to pencil integration, nor do we ask teachers to specify plans to incorporate pencils into each lesson. Rather than being told to integrate technology, teachers need to have it presented as a way to enhance or support teaching and learning.

Word Choice Issue #2 – “Technology” Projects

Many teachers tell me that they feel forced to create “technology projects” that lie outside the scope of their curriculum, just so that they can check off a box for “integration.” The power of digital tools is in how they give students voice & choice. Rather than assign a technology-based product and stress over how to “fit it in,” give students an objective (i.e. show your problem solving, demonstrate your understanding, communicate your opinion) and then encourage them to use any tools – analog and/or digital – which enable them to be creative.

Shawn McCusker, Social Studies teacher in Libertyville, IL, gives his students a Choice Board for each project. As a result, they can create on paper or possibly even with video, like this student:

Word Choice Issue #3 – “What?” vs “What If…?”

Teachers often ask me, “What do I do with this app/tool/device?” or “What app/tool/device should I use?” They begin the conversation focused on the technology and not the learning.

The more interesting question is What If?

  • What if my students could explain their problem solving?
  • What if my students could collaborate to visually demonstrate the vocabulary?
  • What if my students could curate their learning into a multi-media journal?
  • What if my students could share their learning with a wider, more authentic audience?

When we start to ask “What if?”, we remove the limitations to our thinking. From there, we might see how to leverage all of the available technologies to best support teaching and learning.

Other words that I like to emphasize when approaching professional development in technology are play, explore, improve, and try. When the intent is improving teaching and learning, teachers rarely make mistakes.

The other bloggers in this series also posted excellent responses to this question. Read the entire post at CM Rubin World.

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iPad or Chromebook: 4 Questions To Ask Before Choosing – Reblogged from EdTechTeacher & Edudemic

For the past few days, I’ve been playing with a Chromebook. Though I have been an advocate of Google’s myriad web products since the beta-test Gmail account that I was invited to open over 10 years ago, I had not previously put my hands on one of these devices. I may be in love.

This may come as a shock since I have spent the past two years completely immersed in iPads. I love my iPad too, and my iPhone, and my mostly retired iPod Touch. However, as mobile devices go, I don’t see the need for a monogamous relationship.

With schools and districts across the country, there seems to be this preconception that a single relationship exists with regard to technology, and in particular, with regard to making a decision about mobile devices.

However, my colleagues at EdTechTeacher and I think that rather than asking which device should my school use, the more poignant question may be what do I want my students to do? or which tool will best support my students learning needs? In this push to pick a platform and enter into a committed relationship, teachers, administrators, and even school boards have focused on the single device instead of why do you want a mobile device in the first place?



More often than not, the answer is access. Students need access to the Internet for research, access to writing tools, access to digital creation tools. Maybe teachers need better assessment tools and want to integrate forms, student response systems, or electronic portfolios. A school could be making a fundamental curriculum shift towards the Flipped Classroom or more student centric learning. The district could embrace the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – of 21st Century Learning or the Common Core. All of these are great reasons for why, but they do not answer which one.

For right now, let’s focus on iPads and Chrome Books as they seem to be the leading contenders in the device debate. If I was still the Director of Academic Technology in a school, before making a decision, I would also ask…

What will best support my students learning?

ipads in classrooms

What do my students need in order to succeed at their own level? Would they benefit from text to speech or speech to text? Do they need accessibility features such as optical character recognition (OCR), voice over navigation, or the ability to use an adaptive device? Are my students early elementary and just learning to read, write, and type? Or advanced high school students who write lengthy essays and run math simulations?

iPads are completely accessible devices, natively supporting text-to-speech, voice-over navigation, speech-to-text (new iPad as well as some apps), and a host of other features. They can accept input from Braille keyboards, and the touch screen responds to a number of external devices for those who have challenges with fine motor skills. While there are a number of Chrome extensions to support diverse learners, the entire environment is not quite as customizable.

For early elementary students, iPad lets non readers instantly create – listen, watch, draw, record audio, take pictures, shoot video – all without needing to read. At the higher grades, when students are reading, writing, and collaborating in addition to creating, the device choice becomes more closely aligned to the learning needs of the individual student as well as the curriculum of the faculty. Will a trackpad and keyboard better support those learners rather than a touch screen? Maybe.

What do I want my students to do?


When we first started asking Why iPad, we lauded the ability to create, edit, and publish from a single device. We looked at how iPad empowered students as creators of their own learning through screencasting, digital storytelling, and eBook creation. However, iPads are not computers. They require a significant shift in thinking and approach in order to be leveraged successfully.

Chromebooks incorporate the best of the web and integrate seamlessly with Google Apps – a major advantage for Google Apps Schools. Students have complete access to their Drive accounts, a full browser, the ability to install additional apps such as Evernote or Skitch, and a standard keyboard. Much like iPad, Chromebook has the charm of “easy on/ easy off” and total mobility. Though it lacks the touch screen and dual camera functionality, the overall similarities to a traditional laptop can make for a smooth transition especially when the curriculum still relies heavily on traditional assessments such as papers, presentations, and spreadsheets.

Both devices offer tremendous capabilities, so my next question might be…

Where does my school/district want to go?

document learning in school

This is really the big picture question. Identify a strategic vision, and then choose the best device to help get there. Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, uses vignettes when describing his vision of classrooms in the future. By telling a story, he creates a tangible image what he hopes to achieve.

Start with a pedagogical framework, create clear measures for assessment, identify specific learning objectives, and paint a clear picture such that the teachers – and consequently the students – can start to innovate in order to get there. In many ways, we can follow the principles of Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe). Start with the outcome and then plan how to achieve it.

iPad or Chrome Book?

I started writing this article on my iPad in a Google Doc – how iPad has changed my writing process sits at the heart of another post. When I felt ready to start editing, I opened the Chromebook and signed in with my Google Account. Instantly, I accessed my Drive and continued to edit with the facility of the keyboard, trackpad, and keyboard shortcuts. From the Chrome browser, I logged into WordPress, uploaded images, and published this post.

What if we didn’t have to choose? What if we could have a polygamous relationship with mobile devices? I understand the realities of budgets, networks, and replacement cycles. But for a moment, imagine this: what if we could give every student an iPad – which is intended to be a single user device – and place carts of Chromebooks – which work seamlessly with multiple users – in strategic locations?

I wonder what the learning environment might resemble if students could consume and annotate custom content, create with an unlimited set of options, curate their work into a variety of portfolio formats, and then connect to other learners as well as to the work that they created….

I’ll be talking more about my love of iPads at the April 10-12 EdTechTeacher iPad Summit USA as well as during numerous iPad Workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. To address my new affair with Chrome Books, I’ll also be leading All Things Google as well as Building an Interactive or BYOD Classroom with Multiple Devices at Harvard in July.

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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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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.


Let Go of the Wheel…. Teaching Without Driving

My first classroom was a 50 foot sailboat. For several years, I worked my way up the food chain at ActionQuest – an adventure learning program based in the British Virgin Islands – from instructor to skipper. During my first summer running a boat, I struggled for the first 3-week session. The responsibility was stressful, and I wasn’t super confident in my own abilities to manage situations. Before the start of the second session, the head of the sailing program pulled me aside and said, “You have to let go of the wheel.”

Think about the terrifying nature of that statement. Let an inexperienced 14 year old drive a 50 foot yacht based solely on my directions. In other words, I had to be confident in allowing the students to have control over the final outcome assuming that I had provided sufficient instruction and leadership.

Last week, when leading an EdTechTeacher iPad workshop, I told that story to my participants. For two days, I made several participants extremely uncomfortable, because I asked them to let go of the wheel.

As educators moving rapidly towards not only 1:1 classrooms, but also BYOD situations, we have to be willing to teach without driving. Here’s what I think that means:

  • We have to understand that there isn’t a single solution when it comes to apps, workflow, and even presenting content. Instead of thinking in absolutes, we need to think in terms of categories of options such as note-taking or screen casting. Similarly, we have to prepare for students who learn better by text, video, face-t0-face instruction, etc.
  • We need to accept the fact that our students might know more than we do about the technology being used. Rather than limiting their capabilities based on what we know, we should learn from them.
  • Rather than trying to limit our students access because of our fears of what they may do with the technology, inspire them to leverage it in order to achieve greatness.

Towards the end of that summer, I let a 14 year old boy back a 50 foot sailboat onto a dock between two large yachts. Before making the approach, I clearly defined the objective, prepared the rest of the students for how they could support their peer, and then modeled the desired final outcome. He didn’t hit anything.

We are now well into the EdTechTeacher summer workshop series at Harvard. If I could give one piece of advice to our participants, it would be to just try to let go of the wheel.

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iAccess – Leveraging the iPad to Create Custom Learning Experiences

When I started with EdTechTeacher last summer, one of the requests that Tom Daccord made was for me to present at 5-7 regional conferences in the next 10 months. Back in November, I presented virtually at the Global Education Conference. This past March, I co-presented with elementary teacher extraordinaire, Suzy Brooks, at the EdTechTeacher winter conference – Leading Change in Changing Times. On Wednesday (May 2nd), I took the plunge and presented solo at the Easter Seals/MASSMATCH Assistive Tech Expo.

In the past few months, as I have worked with more and more elementary school teachers looking to integrate the iPad in their classrooms, my focus has increasingly turned to reading. Through the Universal Access features, text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities, the built-in microphone and camera, as well as the multiple modalities presented to interact with text, the iPad really has the potential to redefine reading and reading instruction. That’s the background on how I came up with the concept of iAccess – Leveraging the iPad to Create Custom Learning Experiences. If you’re interested, you can download a PDF version of my slides or check out the Google Presentation below. At some point, I may try to podcast it.

I’ve written before about how I didn’t initially buy into the whole iPad concept. However, I’m now a complete believer. For even more proof, come join Tracy Sockalosky and I next week for our webinar (May 10th at 4:00 pm EST):

Leveraging iPads, laptops, and other technologies to differentiate learning & teaching.

Better yet, come spend 2 days with us this summer at Harvard!

July 19-20: Integrating iPads, Laptops, and Digital Tools to Create Differentiated Learning Environments

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iCoach – Physical Education in the iPad Era

It’s happened to me a few times now. A participant has walked into one of my EdTechTeacher workshops, clearly miffed at the idea of spending a given period of time learning something that they feel clearly has no significance to their curriculum. However, unlike others who may hide in the back of the room and try to grade papers or check email, these educators sit in the front, attentive, but completely unconvinced. See, these are the PE teachers.

When I worked at St. Michael’s, the PE teacher dutifully worked with me once I convinced him that I could save hours in the planning of field day by using mail merge. A few weeks ago, a PE teacher announced upon entering the room that she was here, but there was nothing for her to learn. I asked if she would give me a chance and promised to provide her with one idea that she could use in her curriculum. Turns out that Class Dojo was just what she was looking for to track skills progression and participation.

Though I work full-time for EdTechTeacher, I still coach a high school sailing team, and as I think about it, I think I’ve been integrating technology for as long as I can remember. Whether it was responding to emails, writing up documents and presentations, or the Beth’s school of boat handling blog, there has always been something. For years, we have used headsets for talking to crews during team racing practice. In 2008, we used Kattack – a GPS based program that creates virtual models of practice races such that we could analyze the data to look at tactics and speed diffential. We’ve gone through a variety of video cameras – all the way back to large VHS based units – and now use video editing as well as modeling software to address rules nuances.

Recently, as our head coach used magnetic boats on a whiteboard to illustrate a point that we had just watched on video, I used my phone to capture his explanation, annotated it, and then posted it with notes to a shared Google Docs folder for the kids. During a meet, the visiting coach used his iPad to record races, and it has become common practice for us to use digital video to help sailors further develop their physical technique in the boat.

When we cancelled practice due to weather the other day, rather than just lecture the team about rules issues (sailing has a fairly complex rules system that is self-policing, so the students have to really understand them), I used a Socrative space race quiz so that they could work in groups to solve problems. The directions for the day looked like this: bring with you a notebook, something to write with, a rule book – or digital copy, and an Internet enabled device. During the “chalk talk”, I projected the Socrative quiz and used the SMART Board to capture notes that I then emailed back to the kids.

Given these thoughts, what could Physical Education look like in the “iPad era”?

  • Video could be used to model new skills. In addition to being able to use controls such as fast forward and the ability to pause an action, video could show technique in slow motion. Imagine using this to teach shooting form in basketball or throwing for baseball. Gymnasts could better perfect their form if they saw the discrepancies. Swimmers could improve their stroke. Elementary students could see that they release a ball too soon when trying to throw to a partner. Tennis players could work on stroke. The list goes on….
  • A classroom management tool such as Class Dojo can be used on any Internet enabled device such as a smart phone or iPad. PE teachers could track behavior, participation, or skill demonstrations in real time.
  • Polling tools such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter could let students anonymously input their times, offer feedback, or answer follow up questions about the day’s events.
  • A blog or wiki could be a great way to pre-screen new games or rules for those students who need additional lead time or struggle with the oral directions typically used to introduce concepts. This site could also be a great tool for parents looking to repeat games and activities at home. I have seen some incredibly imaginative physical education activities used to introduce concepts that range from teamwork to balance to aim. Personally, I remember playing Star Wars in elementary school, a game that involved running, throwing nerf balls, and hoola hoops.
  • For older students, Google Docs or Evernote could allow them to track their own progress, make notes about their skills progression, and monitor fitness levels.

While coaches have used technology for years – think about the hundreds of hours that have been spent on game videos and scouting films, Physical Education teachers have not always enjoyed the same benefits. With digital cameras, smart phones, iPads, tablets, and laptops becoming more commonplace, opportunities exist for more than just a mail merge for field day.