Relative Advantage of Technology in the Content Area

One of the things that made college so special for me was that I had the opportunity to travel to different places around the United States.  My band fraternity (Kappa Kappa Psi), and the concert band at Shippensburg University took me to places like Boston, Oklahoma, and Los Angeles.  I was able to break free of the bubble I had been living in and experience just a few of the diverse cultures that make up our great country, but each one made a profound impact on the way I view life and our world.  The classroom, thanks to technology, is allowing both teachers and students to break out of their four walls and allowing them to experience the world through the way of technology.  Such experiences allow students to formulate new opinions and thought processes as they relate to different areas of content.  A teacher’s SMART board is a dashboard to the world; imagine going on a virtual field trip using Google Earth to learn more about what the field in Gettysburg looks like without ever leaving the class?  You can see the rolling hills and the terrain that soldiers had to maneuver, being reminded that they were doing this while being shot at by their opposition.

Using technologies throughout the content areas gives teachers the ability to differentiate more thoroughly and reach every student, whether they are gifted or have disabilities.  This differentiation allows every student to enhance their digital literacy.  Digital literacy, according to Warschauer and Matuchniak (2010), is essential for participating in today’s global, knowledge-based economy.  Teachers who can integrate technology successfully throughout their content areas are challenging their students to think globally, giving them the resources to figure things out in different situations.  You might use an iPad differently if you are researching the Declaration of Independence, or you’re practicing your math facts, or you are producing a presentation on the water cycle.  These technologies are flexible and allow you to think differently about situations as opposed to filling out another worksheet or falling asleep to another lecture.

Another bonus to using technologies throughout the content areas is the efficiency of assessment.  Instead of grading paper after paper, or test after test, there are websites and applications that will allow teachers to gather assessment data much more efficiently, such as Socrative or PollEverywhere.  Making this information more easily available for teachers will allow them to further custom the delivery of their content so that every child understands the concepts that need to be learned.  Technology also provides the opportunities for authentic learning by way of making student work available to the public.  Not only can we take advantage of what technology resources give us, but we can take advantage of that they allow our students to produce, making the information that they learn within content areas much more real. 



Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179-225. DOI: 10.3102/0091732X09349791

Vega, Vanessa. “Technology Integration Research Review: Additional Tools and Programs.” Edutopia. N.p., 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <>.

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Thoughts on Moving to a 1:1 Building

Every other month we have our “Technology Engagement Committee” meeting.  It’s a time to reflect on things that have worked the past month and a way to look forward.  Is it frequent enough?  Some will say no, other will say that it’s just another meeting we have to go to.  Our school will be torn down soon to make way for a new, bigger, brighter, eco-friendly, state-of-the-art school.  With a new building, comes new opportunities.  An opportunity to enhance what we do, and an opportunity to change what we do.  Our first goal was to look at space; what kind of spaces would we want in the new building?  A lot of people say they want space to collaborate, nooks for kids to work together, and plenty of outlets for charging stations.  Great.  It seems like everybody is on the same page.  But what does that space actually LOOK like?  This is our challenge.  We can dream about the technology and equipment of the future, but how does that impact how we teach, where we teach, and through what are we teaching?

In my EDTECH 501 class that I’m taking at Boise State University, we happened to take a look at upcoming Tech Trends.  Per the 2013 Horizon Report, the next five years should look to integrate these emerging technologies:


Our building has the opportunity to become the first building in our district that goes 1:1.  There were some that did not know what cloud computing was.  I showed them my Prezi that I put together:

(If the embed doesn’t work, the link is here:

Our district has recently gone through a tech audit that nobody seems to know the results of.  I’ve spoken with a representative for about five minutes, but in that five minutes, I got the impression that if we were to go 1:1, we would be looking at a Windows based integration program that would fuse with what our current setup looks like.  I threw out the options as well, that it may be a possibility that our students would get iPads or Chromebooks.  I speculated and discussed each one of these possibilities to the team.  iPads would be too expensive and unlikely an option for our district.  Any Windows based product we would get would be based on Windows 8.  Many of our teachers are still on XP, while most are on Windows 7.  It would be a complete change from what people are used to and would require hefty professional development for those teachers who don’t upgrade their own personal computers between now and then (by the way, “then,” is 2016).  Chromebooks would also see a shift in the way things are taught.  I’ve tried to do some research into how these would work into our district, and the tech guys say these would not work with our existing network.  But if things are changing, it’s possible that they could in the future.

The bottom line is that we don’t yet know what our own district trends are.  My goal was to make that clear to the teachers on the tech committee, because most of them are comfortable.  They’re comfortable with what they’ve been using.  I encouraged them to step outside of their comfort zone and challenged them to try and see how they could incorporate technology into some of their lessons.  Regardless of what type of device our district moves to, we cannot allow these devices to be paperweights, which, if we went 1:1 tomorrow, they would be.  This all comes back to SPACE in the new building.  Do we want our building to be a hub for professional development?  It will be a model for the rest of the district moving forward with a 1:1 initiative, so how can we design the space to collaborate with educators across the district?  When designing lessons, do we look towards a hybrid model, and if so, what does the classroom space look like?  I think we’re all in agreement that the rigidness of classroom setup and management has to change.  There are some teachers that have a lot more work than others in order to prepare for a move like this.  Hopefully, I can share some things with them to get them think about how they would design their space to manage a 1:1 environment.

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“Appy Lessons: Make Your Lessons Happy”

This was the goofy title I gave to my presentation to teachers on how they could use one iPad to enhance their lessons.  I’m still working on creative titles…

We are lucky enough to have a classroom set of iPads that can be shared between classes.  Not everybody takes advantage of them, and when they do, chance are it’s at the same time somebody else wants to use them.  So I got to thinking about how teachers could just use ONE of those iPads in their lessons.  The thought process is that if teachers can get more comfortable using one iPad throughout the course of their lesson, they could get more comfortable managing multiple iPads for their students, and would feel more comfortable in different activity scenarios.  In selecting the apps to demonstrate, I tried to choose apps that could be rolled together and connect somehow.

I started off with “Dropbox.”  If teachers want to prepare lessons, in order to get materials from their laptop to the iPad, Dropbox is the most logical choice for us.  I emphasized that putting your work into the cloud allowed it to be accessed from anywhere on any device.  I also had to make sure that teachers understood that when they were finished, they needed to unlink their iPads from Dropbox because students also use the same iPad.  Security is an issue with our iPads, because multiple students use each one.  The teachers are also allowed to use them, and this app/program can allow them to make it their own for the duration of its use.

“Stage” was the next app that I showed them.  Stage turns the iPad into a document camera/whiteboard.  You can annotate over what the camera is showing a la an overhead projector or ELMO.  An in-app purchase allows you to record your lesson for use later, to save to Dropbox, or to post on your website.

I showed the teachers, “Skitch,” but in all honesty, I don’t use it often enough.  I wanted to show them the option of annotating over pictures, which could be great for use in the P.E. class to show correct form.  It syncs well with Evernote, so if you needed to take a picture of an agenda and highlight it or take notes on it, you can do that through Skitch.

An app that has really taken off in our school is “Educreations.”  Educreations turns the iPad into a recordable whiteboard.  The students use this a lot in third grade, but I wanted to show teachers how they could demonstrate a lesson and record it for later use.  Our librarian attended this session and just yesterday used this app with the kindergarten students.  She would hold up a book and they would tell her if it was non-fiction or fiction.  It was an incredible leap outside of her comfortable box, and I couldn’t be more proud of her!

I showed the “Explain Everything,” using the analogy that it is like “Educreations on steroids,” because there is SO much you can do with this app.  It’s still one I’d like to continue to explore, but you can import just about anything, record almost anything, and export it almost anywhere.  It is probably the best, all-around app to help you teach a lesson.

“Socrative,” also has been a hit with some of the teachers in both buildings I teach at.  Socrative allows you to assess what the students know easily and quickly.  This is one that our librarian did use, and even though she jumped in and started explaining all of its cool features, I knew that I had a hit with somebody; her passion and drive surrounding this app is proof that even teachers who have been teaching the same way for years can find new and engaging ways to excite their students and enjoy something new.  As a follow up, I created a screencast using “Screencast-o-matic,” to demonstrate how to create and manage quizzes.

Even though only six teachers showed up, if I could connect with one of them, I know that I’m chipping away at motivating all teachers to incorporate something new into their lessons.  The topic of my next blog that I want to write talks about tech trends at our school and a reflection on how that presentation went.  During that presentation, I challenged the teachers on the technology team to start rethinking some of their lessons and figure out how they could incorporate any piece of technology into their future lessons.

Below, I’ve tried to use “Scribd” to embed the PDF of my presentation on apps.  If it doesn’t work, follow the link if you’re interested.

Appy Teaching by mrdeissler

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Social Networking and Walled Gardens

Networks in the classroom have walls and filters designed to keep our kids safe.  That’s great, our goal is to keep our children safe.  But what happens when keeping our children safe comes at the price of not communicating, and not allowing them to explore?  Are we doing a disservice to our students by not allowing them to connect with others on a more communal scale?  We can talk about safe and responsible searching, but if we cannot model and provide them with an opportunity to learn in a hands on manner, how are we preparing them for the world?  I just learned today, actually, that our high school blocks YouTube, but allows students access to Twitter.  I’m not saying that’s wrong, but are we evaluating our educational tools the right way?  It’s a fascinating discussion, one of which there are people on both sides of the issue that feel very passionate about it.  Click on the link above and check out my Voicethread about the topic.  Voicethread is a fantastic tool to narrate your slides and allow others to comment on your ideas.

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Safety on the Internet

I decided to go a different direction with this blog entry.  One of the options was to create a student guide to internet safety.  I decided to utilize to create a colorful flyer that could be posted to the web or printed and hung in the classroom.  It discusses the basics, such as, “Do unto others,” engage your internet service provider’s filter, be mindful of who you talk to and what you search for, and Cyberbullying.

Smore was really easy to use and I think makes this topic more engaging.  It could be used as a great culminating activity for any lesson.  Click below to check it out!



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Hypermedia Integration

I interviewed several teachers, an instructional coach, and a principal to get their perspective on how and why they use videos or support videos being used in the classroom. This was a fun one!

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Databases and Spreadsheets

To some, the word, “spreadsheet,” fosters visions of TPS reports (a la “Office Space), cubicles, and redundant office work.  Inputting data into cells can seem like a mind-numbing concept, however, there are things that you can do within spreadsheet programs that seems like magic.  The first time I showed my fifth graders how a formula function worked, I actually heard “Ooohs and aaaahhs.”  They had no idea that such a tool could be so powerful a program and such a convenient way to organize and simplify their lives.

Teaching students how to use spreadsheets is a great way to connect all sorts of concepts across the common core.  You can use spreadsheets to calculate math problems and to graph data.  Students, for example, could record rainfall over a given period.  They could use that data to put create a visual graph and from that graph be able to write a story or explanation as to why the rainfall levels were what they recorded.  Students could also list their spelling words, or vocabulary definitions and sort them so that they are shown in alphabetical order.

I love the suggestion that Baker and Sugden (2003) suggest on the benefits to using spreadsheets, including the fact that, “Building spreadsheets requires abstract reasoning by the learner.”  We, as teachers are always pushing for higher-level thinking, and allowing students to navigate their way around a spreadsheet, being able to reference different cells and do something with them fosters that type of thinking.  It’s also worth noting that Baker and Sugden borrow from Vockell and van Deusen (1989) and say that, “Spreadsheets are rule-using tools that require that users become rule-makers.”  Combining abstract reasoning and allowing students to become rule-makers seems to me like a great mix to begin a discussion on coding with students.

Spreadsheets help compute the data that is life.  Teaching students how to use a spreadsheet should be as important as teaching students how to balance a checkbook; after all, you can do that using a spreadsheet.

Here is the link to my website with some ideas on how spreadsheets can be used in the 5th grade social studies curriculum.


Baker, John and Sugden, Stephen J. (2003) “Spreadsheets in Education –The First 25 Years,”Spreadsheets in Education (eJSiE): Vol. 1:Iss. 1, Article 2.

Vockell, E., and van Deusen, R. M. (1989). The computer and higher-order thinking skills. Watsonville, CA, Mitchell Publishing Company.

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