Holiday Gadgets!

It’s the Holiday season, and with that the world of gadgets and gadgetry is on full display.  Within the lives of our students, and probably our own families, there is a greater dependence on gadgets than we have ever had before.

If you are looking for some last minute items for those on your lists, I’ve put together some reasonable choices, including options for less than $50.

  • The Apple Insider Gift Guide: while not a singular product, this list is geared toward those of you who are Mac fans.  Tons of things here for the iPad!
  • The Chromecast: Google has created a device that plugs into the back of your television that allows you to stream content from any device that uses Chrome as a browser.  Have an iPad?  Via Chrome you can send your screen to the television across the room.  Have an Android phone?  You can stream from Google Play, Google Play Music, Pandora and Netflix right to your television.
  • Anki Racers: the rise of toys that are controlled via phones and other handheld devices continues.  More and more, we see remote control helicopters, cars, and all sorts of things bundled with apps.  Anki Racers are no different.  Here is a quick video to detail what these toys do:
  • Nest Home Temperature Management: We have now entered a world in which you can control the conditions in your home from wherever you are.  Via an app on your phone, you can start adjust the temperature prior to your arrival at home.  Think of that, get in your car at the end of a workday, open the app and set the thermostat to your desired temperature and arrive home in a warm, toasty house.
  • Makey-Makey: two graduate students have it in their mind that we are all inventors.  They set out to prove this through their creation of the $50 device called Makey-Makey.  No bigger than a credit card, this product does some amazing things.  If you’ve got a child in the family that loves to tinker, this one is perfect.  Check out their video:
For more lists of great holiday gear, be sure to peruse CNET’s lists here.  They have something on here for everyone.
Also, a quick note about Warren Buckleitner: Warren is the publisher of Children’s Technology Review, a monthly publication that reviews new and noteworthy entrants into the learning and technology field.  To see his work, please be sure to go to his site.  Also, I recently got to see him present an array of learning toys.  Here is his presentation:

Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms | MindShift

A few weeks ago during the October 14th PD Sessions, I had a conversation with a group of people about cultivating perseverance and “grit” within our students.  That no matter what their DRA2 level, or their NJASK score, the future success of our students could quite possibly be their ability to work through difficult tasks without giving up easily.


On the heels of that conversation, this article from KQED came out: Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms . In it, the author of the article talks about that very feature:


Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeedpopularized the ideas of grit and perseverance. Now those ideas have made their way into a U.S. Department of Education’s Technology office reportas well as the Common Core State Standards, which many states are already implementing. The idea that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve, not a roadblock to achievement, is often referenced as one of the most important life skills a student can take with him beyond the classroom. 

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit has shown that often students, who scored lower on intelligence tests, end up doing better in class. They were compensating for their lack of innate intelligence with hard work and that paid off in their GPAs. Duckworth has even developed a “Grit Scale” that allows students to self-report their “grittiness.”


 How does the work you do in the classroom help your students move through their frustration and towards a solution?  

What Happens When You Get Out of the Way.

Thursday, I had the good fortune of meeting a few students from Westfield High School as they presented to a room full of teachers, board members, superintendents, and other administrators.  They were accompanied by their two teachers, their principal and their superintendent.  What’s striking, if you’ve been around superintendents and administrators, is that the students dominated the room, and very few people in the room had questions for the teachers or the administrators from Westfield.  They wanted to know what the students thought.  


Their topic?  How a shift in their teachers thinking and approach to teaching radically altered the ecosystem of learning in their classroom.  


The two teachers had looked at their two separate subjects, English III (American Literature) and U.S. History II (Reconstruction-Present), and thought that they should team teach the class with a double period, calling it American Studies.  Eighty-minutes of instruction with the same group of students, all the while wrestling with the themes in literature and history as they played out across the last one-hundred-fifty-plus years.  The class, anchored by themes rather than chronology, was different for one more reason: student access to information.  




The two teachers had received a grant to outfit their class with twenty iPads for the first year of the course; couple that with their districts move to bring-your-own-device, and the course shaped up in a much different way.  To hear the students describe it, was quite amazing:


This isn’t like OK, here is the worksheet I used to give you and you can use the internet to answer the questions.  It was more like, here is the question you have to answer, gather your information and figure out how to apply the research to these bigger, higher-level research.

The students were given the freedom to collaboratively take notes, gather and share sources of information to add to the class resource list, all in the name of finding out how to best make sense of the guiding questions and overarching themes.  It was a truly impressive demonstration of students using tools that eliminated the walls of their classroom and brought the world into the room on a daily basis.  


Cross-posted at


If you are interested in knowing more, please feel free to check out the teachers’ site here.  


Some quick thoughts on reading

I’m at a session sponsored by the American Reading Company, and in the course of their presentation, we’ve stumbled upon some interesting discussions.  The presenter is moving through three of the shifts that the Common Core brings about:

  • Shift I: 80% of our reading is spent on fiction and stories, we need to shift that to 50% non-fiction or informational text and 50% fiction.
  • Shift II: Reading and Writing grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  • Shift III: Regular practice with complex text and it’s academic language

At various junctures, he asks us to think about the changes that each of these shifts bring about for students, for teachers, and for school and district leaders.  The audience, consisting of supervisors of Language Arts, some Principals and Vice Principals as well as some teachers, has hit on the fact that we need more “text” in classes, and by that they have taken to mean that we need more books.  I’m struggling with this a bit.  Here’s why.

When we first got into the room, the presenter asked to list all of what we read in the past twenty-four hours, his point being to prove that the majority of what we read these days is informational text or non-fiction text.  However, as we dove into discussions about these shifts, and heard from folks saying that they see the need for more “texts” for students, it dawned on me to ask the group how much of what you read in those twenty-four hours was on paper?  How much was on a screen?

That’s significant.  The way we access text is different when we access it on a device.  Even a device as basic as a Kindle or a Nook, there are features that change the way we read and how we access text.

Are we thinking about that?

Plus, before we begin pushing more text into the classroom, much thought has to be given to what those texts are.  Looking at the books in the baskets in the front of the room, I see many books that are tradebooks or basals.  I’m not so sure that our diet as readers should consist of all that form.  Personally, I would have gone nuts.  I cut my reading teeth on long-form magazine writing.  Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and even those wonky J.Peterman catalogs totally saved me from the doldrums of classroom reading.

Additionally (and now this is bordering on rant) one of the issues many districts have in changing the complexity of text (Shift III) is that they rarely have an exact picture of where there students are reading.  Part of the pitch today is the ARC’s IRLA system, which is analogous to DRA2, Guided Reading Level, Lexile, or SRI.  Whichever flavor your school or district uses, having an understanding of where your students can read is so paramount to beginning the work required by the Common Core.  How many of our schools have teachers that have and use this information?  It’s incumbent upon school leaders to make sure this is happening.