One Size Fits None

IDOE Tech Information

There has been a great deal of conversation and debate regarding device choice in our schools throughout the state, over the last decade or so.  I’ve participated in a number of these debates over “which device is best for students”. The more I discuss this with folks throughout the state, the more I am resorting to the grim reality that there truly isn’t an ideal device for a school corporation.  What I DO believe is that there can be an ideal device for specific subsets of students. The challenges lie in choosing wisely, providing proper support, financial considerations, and infrastructure.

This quandary became very apparent to me in a conversation that I just had involving myself, our Director of Special Education, and our Superintendent.  We were discussing technology moving forward for next year and specifically, the unique needs of some of our special education students. We are currently 1:1 with Chromebooks in K-12, but we have a hybrid environment in 9-12, as some programs necessitate Windows machines.  I have always believed that iPads are great devices for Pre-K through maybe 2nd grade. I have also always been in favor of supporting a hybrid environment in each building based on the specific strengths of each device. For example, in a middle/high school setting, I love having Chromebooks as our student devices, but also offering curriculum that is Windows based.  I also support mobile carts with iPads to provide exposure to some of the best creativity apps available.

Basically, I want all of the devices…everywhere!

Unfortunately, this is where idealism and logistics collide. This collision point is where most school corporations are forced to make tough decisions, that, in many cases, must be financial and logistic decisions, rather than learning decisions.  The inconvenient truth is that most school corporations simply cannot afford the “ideal” setup, and can’t support it if they CAN afford it.

Another example of this technology conundrum recently came about when discussing with teachers what the best/preferred display would be in their rooms.  Again, one size fits none! We can see the most value in a mobile touch display on an adjustable height cart in our K-5 grades, a similar setup in our middle grades, but less need for an interactive touch panel in our secondary levels.  However, the ability to cast to a display could be helpful, if not completely frightening, at the high school level. Throw in the role of assistive technology and the benefits of practice with fine motor skills for some of our special education students, cost analysis of touchscreens versus other types of display panels, versus projectors, mobile versus mounted displays, replacement and maintenance costs, and we end up in a really tough spot to make a decision!

Overall, what I guess I’m getting at is this:  A superficial conversation about device choices in schools can be interesting and can certainly spark allegiances on Twitter, but only with a deep analysis, outreach to teachers in all content areas and grade levels, intensive analysis of cost/maintenance/replacement/etc., and a clearly stated plan for both initial and ongoing professional development can we make what I would call the “most informed” decision we can make for our schools, teachers, and students.  

Keep Nerding,

Marcus Painter

Coordinator of Digital Learning

Twin Lakes School Corporation




STOP! Collaborate and Listen…

9d438724-a1e5-44b9-9172-377503bbffe6-c41b30e9-f15c-4122-883c-8f30932af82a-v1Essential Questions:

How can students collaborate efficiently and rigorously through a blended environment?

How can students be held accountable for collaborative activities that are completed in a blended environment?

Collaboration:  alliance, partnership, cooperation, teamwork

In education, these words can sound both exciting and overwhelming, scary and full of potential. When designing lessons, digital or in the physical classroom, we wonder about certain elements: will collaboration enhance or hurt this activity? Is it a tool that students could benefit from as they are learning? “If we want real collaboration, we need to intentionally design it as a part of our learning activity” (Burns, 2016).

Collaboration builds trust, communication, and agency. It makes each learner relevant and meaningful in the learning process. Through collaboration, we can create learning experiences that are complex and authentic for our students. This process has the power to promote student accountability and expertise to ensure higher level thinking and student engagement (Burns, 2016). 

As schools continue to embrace blended learning and eLearning days, the question becomes, when is collaboration an ingredient in this recipe?

When you begin to envision a lesson, unit, or activity in the digital realm, there are a couple of questions to ask yourself before you begin planning:

  1. Do I currently use collaboration as a best practice in my classroom?
  2. Do I support students taking risks in my class to learn from each other?

987cfa1b-cbd3-49c6-b4de-5d62bdd31bf8-c41b30e9-f15c-4122-883c-8f30932af82a-v1If the answer to either of these questions is YES, then yes, you are ready to take the leap and integrate the collaboration element of the 4 C’s (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking) into your plan. Like anything new, this learning process will take time; but the result will be so powerful. There will be a learning curve, frustration, and failure. There will also be excitement, engagement and success. So, how do you begin?

Map Out the Collaboration Piece- As always, it starts with good lesson design.

  1. Ask yourself- will the product be a singular assignment? Will there be multiple assignments to build up to a larger product?
  2. What are my digital collaboration expectations?
  3. How will I scaffold these expectations into the class routine?
  4. What tool/(s) will students use to collaborate?
  5. Will the collaboration be happening in real time?
  6. How will students communicate during collaboration?
  7. How will students be assessed based on their contribution to the collaboration?

Once you feel that you have a grasp on the answers to these questions, you can strategically begin planning the lesson/project/activity! The transfer to a blended or eLearning environment does not have to be a giant leap; it can be gradual and scaffolded to fit the needs of your classroom and students. 

7ff91094-e4e4-496a-9975-c0b5f6ef26ef-c41b30e9-f15c-4122-883c-8f30932af82a-v1On the other hand, if the answer to the original questions are NO, you begin by envisioning the process through a different lens. 

  1. Take a deep breath! Remind yourself that this process will be different, it might fail, but it is an opportunity to grow and evolve how you and your students see the blended learning process.
  2. Sketch out what it might look like in your traditional classroom environment: how would you pair/group students? What would their work space look like? What role would each learner have in the process?
  3. Then, remember the foundation of the lesson: what standard are you addressing? What content are you covering?
  4. Begin to let the lesson unfold in the digital world: what will it look like in your learning management system? What will students see? Do? Turn in?
  5. Plug in the collaboration elements: when, how, and why they will collaborate.
  6. Allow students an opportunity to practice; do a dry run as a class. Allow an opportunity for feedback and evaluation. Students understand what make sense to them best; allow them to be a part of your class collaboration vision.  

Ready to get started? Reach out and COLLABORATE with a peer, coach, or administrator in order to model what we want our students to emulate! 5158f44a-6b4d-428a-b422-a0d85d7e5e2c-c41b30e9-f15c-4122-883c-8f30932af82a-v1

The Road to Google Level 1

The conversation central to all things edTech is that our focus should never be on technology or tools themselves, but on learning.  We all believe this, but it can be a challenge to stay true to that message while providing support on learning new tools. It’s why after my first year as an edTech coach (I am now in my fourth year) I made it a goal to be really intentional about when I use the word training and when I use the phrase professional development.  As my role evolves and I have been able to spend more time with the teachers in my district, I also try to offer less training and more professional development. Sometimes we might need the “click here” and “try this” type of support, but we run the danger of getting off message if we never evolve beyond that.

This school year, my district designed and implemented a plan to support all of our educators through the process of becoming Google Level 1 Certified.  This came from a place of wanting to support our elementary teachers specifically, because historically, our edTech support has always been focused mainly on our secondary staff.  The goal of this initiative was to be sure that we all knew the tools available to us, and even more importantly, available to our students. But that was the short term goal. The long term goal is to continue to focus on designing learning experiences in blended environments, and this Google Level 1 plan is a step down that path.  And of course, we know that everyone is already somewhere on that path already, too. Ultimately, we wanted to support our teachers and encourage them to continue to be lead learners and creators for their classroom. As we designed the training/professional development, we worked to keep these goals as our focus.

If we ask teachers to self identify and categorize themselves as a technology beginner, intermediate, or advanced, I think we would find that we have quite a range of comfort levels for sure.  The initial reaction upon hearing about our goals varied from “This is completely overwhelming” to “I can already do this stuff, so how can I see the value in this process?” It is important that we meet each other where we are, just as we meet our students where they are.  Mindset plays such a huge role in this, and I think we have to make the decision every day to be of a growth mindset.  We can all use this reminder from time to time.

Throughout the process this year, we found opportunities to provide the professional development while working in elements of blended learning, personalized learning, and entirely virtual, asynchronous learning as a way to model some of the bigger picture ideas and keep the conversation going beyond the Google tools themselves.

We also had to consider a number of schedule challenges, too.  In the fall, we held two days of parent teacher conferences, which typically impacts our middle school and elementary teachers.  We utilized this time to provide an opportunity to our high school teachers. For the high school educators, we what can be best categorized as a blended station rotation.  We divided the content for exam preparation into seven digestible chunks.  Teachers decided which learning path would work best for them based on the topic of that section.  Throughout the two days, teachers could choose to learn about a tool in one of three ways:

1- Face to Face- A traditional, instructor lead session.

2- Collaborative- Sit with a partner and tackle the list of tasks together.

3- Digital Instruction- Learn at your own pace from an instructional video and work through the tasks independently.

A screenshot of our packaged pathways.

On the second day, those who moved through the content at a faster pace were ready to take the exam.  I’m not going to lie: we had some pretty stressed out educators! But ultimately, we had such a huge success, and teachers really seemed to appreciate the blended environment.  It was also a way for our assistant principals to get their hands dirty and try some of this stuff out. They were instrumental in designing the content, building the videos, and leading the face to face sessions.   

For the middle school and elementary teachers, we needed a different plan, because we didn’t have two days in a row of longer stretches of time.  The elementary teachers just recently finished up their last face to face PD session.  For the elementary teachers, we utilized a combination of F2F (face to face) sessions and online modules.  The face to face sessions were designed with fun in mind and really worked to share tons of brainstorming ideas for classroom application.  Title IV grant funds were used to support this initiative, and we were lucky to bring in guest speakers for three of these face to face sessions.  Between face to face sessions, teachers worked on virtual training modules. I designed the modules to model some of the items we are beginning to talk about concerning best practice for design of online learning and designing with teacher personality.  We will tackle test day together on April 24.  Wish us luck! 

The middle school teachers are working through the exam prep process entirely virtually and are taking the exam when they feel ready.  For this group, we designed a course in Google Classroom so that the content could be worked on in a flexible way for each of our buildings.  Again, this was a great way to extend our reach and model design of online content.

As of today, we have forty-five teachers who are now Google Level 1 Certified as a result of this process, and this does not take into account the teachers that had already decided to earn certification before we began this journey.  

I am sharing this journey not because I think it is perfect, but because I think it was worth it.  There are for sure a ton of things I would modify the next time around, but ultimately, I think it was a huge success for our district.  This journey has been incredibly challenging yet rewarding for me personally. This has been an opportunity to really get some powerful feedback, reflect, and grow in my role as a tech coach.  Although some of the feedback has been harsh, I feel so lucky to work with such dedicated educators. Their suggestions and feedback has been so central to the success of this program. We learn, we adjust, we try, and we learn some more.  


A Picture Can Say 1,000 Words

As a technology coach I have been given the opportunity to attend a variety of conferences and trainings to give me the tools to help both teachers and students.  It was during one of these conferences that I attended a session where the presenter challenged me to not take notes but to draw what I understood.  This announcement caused a lot of moaning and groaning from the participants.  Questions like “what if we can’t draw?” or “what if I don’t know what that looks like?” were heard over the murmur of the crowd.   In my head however, I was jumping for joy!  I love to draw this is going to be great!

The presenter started speaking and I started sketching.  A picture of a light bulb here, a star shape there.  And before you know it I had filled my entire page with sketches, words, and arrows.  Then the presenter paused.  She said, “I want you to share your notes with the person next to you.  I want you to see if you can understand what that person was trying to explain.”  So we did as we were told and swapped our “notes.”  Immediately there was laughter and quick conversation because nobody knew what this squiggle meant, or why there was an arrow pointing there.  We each had to explain our drawings because they only made sense to us.  This is when the “lightbulb” went off in the room.  You see this session was about personalized learning.  The lesson that we all just learned was that taking notes is only important to the person using them.  I understood what I had drawn and each person at my table also understood what their notes meant.  My sketches were not an outline with roman numerals, letters, and numbers.  I can guarantee you that I still remember everything from the session with one glance at that page.

So here is where I am now.  I have become obsessed with sketchnoting!  For me it is how my brain works.  I have a bunch of thoughts and ideas and they sort of throw up on a page.  Now yes, I do also LOVE to draw, of course.  But you don’t have to be able to draw to sketchnote.  Its more about building yourself a library of pictures and symbols that represent things that make sense to you.  If i had known about this process while I was still in school my drawings would have been much more than the margins on the side of my painfully written notes.   I ask myself this question; what would I have done as a teacher if I saw a student drawing while I was lecturing?  Would I assume that it was for leisure or could it have be how a student is learning?  Giving students options in the ways that they can learn is how we can truly encourage them to be innovators.  

Sketchnotes can be all pictures, then can also have words and sentences.  Then can be a process, a list, a diagram, or sometimes just nonsense that only you understand.  Below is a slideshow of all of my “notebooks.”  I hope this can inspire you to allow your students to embrace the way they learn.  Choice can be a powerful learning tool. 

My personal sketchnotes.

Making the Most of Your eLearning Days

It’s January. Winter is coming. You may be finding yourself staring into the face of a few eLearning days called by your district in the coming days and weeks. Ugh. It can be hard enough developing engaging lessons for when your students are in school. Now you are tasked with developing engaging lessons for when your students will be at home and (hopefully) online. To help you out, I compiled a list of helpful dos and don’ts that will help you make the most of your districts eLearning days.

person walking towards trees covered by snow
Photo by Valdemaras D. on

DO make sure you understand what your specific district expects of teachers, students, and parents. Having these expectations clearly communicated to teachers, students, and parents by administration can go a long way in clearing up any misunderstandings.

DON’T assign more than you would assign for one normal class period. One, you are the one who will have to go through all of it as you sort out the attendance of each student. Two, students are also getting eLearning assignments from all of their other teachers that day. If every teacher over-assigns on eLearning days students will be overwhelmed and less learning will result. Don’t be that teacher and encourage your colleagues not to be that teacher either.

DO provide all relevant materials in your eLearning assignments. Bad weather is the most common reason for eLearning days, but there are other reasons schools declare eLearning days. You cannot guarantee that your students will always have the materials for your class with them at all times. Be mindful of this when designing eLearning assignments.

DON’T provide eLearning assignments that require students to go out and purchase supplies. Like I said, bad weather is the most common cause of eLearning days. Making parents and students run errands in order to complete an eLearning assignment is a good way to ensure the assignment will probably go undone.

DO encourage students to develop 21st Century Skills in your assignments. These are the “soft” skills that you keep hearing about…and that employers want in their employees. These are also easy skills to incorporate into an eLearning assignment. By incorporating 21st Century Skills into your eLearning assignments you can create engaging assignments without hours of planning.

notes macbook study conference
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

DON’T try to incorporate all of the 21st Century Skills into one eLearning assignment. This will be a nightmare for you to develop as a teacher. Be choosy. Keep it simple.

DO take advantage of your school’s Learning Management System (LMS). Many LMSs already have the capability to host discussions, electronic submissions, and a variety of other digital artifacts. Use them. It is always better to have an artifact to refer back to when there are disputes over a student’s attendance on an eLearning day.

DON’T try to introduce new technology. It is not a good practice to introduce new technology or a new app or website on an eLearning day unless that is the purpose of the eLearning assignment. If there is some activity you are asking students to do after they get introduced to the tool, wait and do that in class.

DO make yourself available to help. The eLearning day is a school day. Just like you would be available in class to help students, answer questions, guide discussions, you should make yourself available at various points throughout the day.

DON’T post an assignment and disappear for the rest of the day. There is a good chance that students will need help or that something you have assigned will not work quite the way you expected it to work. Making yourself unavailable during an eLearning day is a good way to get your students frustrated and will likely lead to incomplete assignments.

DO remember that if your students are going to do the assignment, you still want them to learn something meaningful from it. Make it meaningful. Connect it to course content. Give them a reason to complete the assignment other than attendance.

DON’T assign busy work. Just don’t.

Get Students Googl-ED

To say that I am a cheerleader of all things Google is an understatement…(wait not Google Glass – I couldn’t get behind that one.) But most things Google I definitely find myself using on a daily basis whether it is professionally or personally.  In twenty years Google has gone from a relatively obscure search engine to a powerhouse of apps that expand into all areas of society.  I am always interested in what they are offering and rolling out, especially if I can find a way to apply it to move my district forward in their skills & abilities.  Hence, when a pilot or beta comes across my email, I am quick to sign up and see what it is all about.

Enter: Google Student Certification Pilot Exam


A year ago I facilitated a Google Drive PD with the staff here in my district.  It was an opportunity from Google to run a small, six week course in which educators could practice their Google skills and then take the Google Level 1 Educator Exam.  We had a pretty good response and pass rate from our staff, so when I saw the Google Student Pilot come up I thought it was a great next step.  We have been a Google district for four years so I thought, “let’s see how are kids are doing.”

I don’t know what my expectations were going into the pilot.  I can’t give you a concrete number of students that I thought would pass, what they would trip up on, or which teachers would take me up on my offer to be a pilot class.  I just knew that I wanted to try it.  So I put out the call to the teachers who had passed their Google Level 1 Certification Exam and had a few brave takers willing to administer a test with three weeks’ notice, right before the holiday break.  Whew.  What could go wrong?

In a district of roughly 900 teachers and 14,000 students we had seven classes who would be piloting in the secondary.  The plan was they would use the test prep materials Google provided and then take the exam the week before holiday break. I could not be in all places at once, so I tried my best to set up the testing accounts prior and front load as much information to the proctors as possible. It was also difficult because this was a pilot, so no students had taken the test prior that we could talk to and get their take on what we should be focusing on for review.

There were some hiccups with frozen screens, lost work, and log in issues, but all in all not as many issues as I had worked up in my mind.  There was only one student out of 120 that could never access the test and a handful that had their answers erased or could not submit at the end of the exam.  It was less stressful than I had thought it would be, and I am extremely grateful to have such flexible and ambitious teachers!

All in all we had six students pass the exam this first time around.  I take six as a success for something that is not even rolled out to the public and give all of the students kudos for trying and doing something out of their comfort zone.  As adults it is difficult to be so willing to take a risk.  Although I would have liked to see a 100% passing rate on our first attempt I am just proud of them all for being a part of the pilot.

Sometimes things just don’t turn out the exact way that we think, and that’s okay.  In the words of Joel Salatin:

“We are scared to death to try new things because we think we have to get it right the first time.”

We don’t have to get everything right the first time.  We just have to make sure that we don’t give up after the first time and we keep coming back to the issue at hand and throw our very best at it.  I am excited to see what is next in regards to the student certification, and hope that when it does become available we can learn from this opportunity and take another shot at it. The students and teachers exposed themselves to something new and unfamiliar, and for that we all get a PASS.