Monday, November 2, 2015

Ten Reasons Teachers Aren't Using Technology

photo by Markus Spiske 
Last week, I met with a group of twenty-four candidates for our Masters in Arts of Teaching program. I loved the excitement in the room and the idealism of the group. They wanted to change the world. And they will. However, I noticed a certain pessimism when it came to technology. I spoke for a few minutes about why educational technology matters. I mentioned the power of the personal learning network and the value in not only learning from global peers but also making stuff together. The community isn't perfect but they have been a support group, a creative guild, and a cadre in an informal, ongoing professional development. I mentioned the way technology is reshaping the world and why it's important to understand these trends and think critically of the medium itself. Yet, when asked about the importance of educational technology, only a few rated it as important. I'd love to say that this is because technology has become normal and ubiquitous. (I'd also love to say that I didn't just look up ubiquitous to make sure I was using the word correctly, but that would be a lie.) However, that doesn't seem to be the case. Many of the future teachers said things like, "technology is a great thing when it works," or "I did fine without technology" or even "I think it's distracting to real learning." For years, ed tech folks said things like, "The younger generations will embrace technology in the classroom." But I'm not so sure. When I taught a technology workshop, I noticed many new teachers who viewed it as a nice bonus but not as transformative. I noticed many more who believed that technology was inherently distracting and addicting. It has me thinking about why so many new teachers are so resistant to using the current available technology:
  1. They are worried about classroom management. They view it as a distraction. How do you get kids to stay focussed on their work rather than posting things to Facebook or sending pictures on SnapChat? 
  2. They view it as a consumer device. We live in a consumer culture. Our students are not digital natives so much as consumer natives. It's no wonder, then, that so many of them view technology as shallow and addicting. They haven't seen the creative potential of our devices. Few pre-service teacher candidates have created larger, edited documentaries or podcasts. Fewer still have used digital tools for modeling. 
  3. They believe technology is unreliable. There's a weird double-standard here. Teachers will say things like, "The Internet always goes down," and yet I have seen nothing more unreliable at a school than copy machine. 
  4. They tend to teach the way they were taught. There is a comfortable, "it worked for me" element, that dominates lesson planning. New teachers tend to look back fondly on certain learning experiences and then try to replicate it. While this often works, it can stifle change and get in the way of creative change.  
  5. They've experienced bad technology integration. We've all experienced the text-vomit PowerPoint slides. Many of us have seen online classes that were nothing more than a book club on a 90's-style discussion board. It's uninspiring. We need to share more stories of the great things classroom teachers are doing in K-12 environments. 
  6. Techies have done a bad job admitting what isn't working. In other words, we've oversold technology without adding a nice dose of technology criticism. Remember when the One Laptop Per Child initiative was supposed to spark an intellectual revolution in Africa? Many current pre-service teachers lived through the hype and are naturally skeptical of the snake oil solutions be offered.
  7. We need to change assessment practices. As long as we continue to use standardized tests as the metrics for student learning and teacher effectiveness, teachers will be risk-averse with technology. They won't experiment. They won't take the time to do a longer, deep-thinking global collaborative project. 
  8. Schools reward compliance. There are many things that can go wrong with technology and teachers are scared, because schools tend to freak out when anything off-line happens online. For example, bullying is a student to student issue but cyberbullying is a teacher management issue. Many new teachers are terrified of students going to the wrong sites, seeing the wrong content, or not behaving well. 
  9. They still don't have access. This is a very real thing. Many schools have policies that prohibit students from bringing their own devices. Most of these schools have failed to invest in technology. While many adults have a 3:1 device person ratio, many schools are still requiring teachers to reserve time in the computer lab. 
  10. They aren't connected. When I talk to students about social media, they tend to view it as a personal place for a few close friends. There's nothing wrong with this. However, I believe in the power of a personal learning network. It has transformed the way I teach. It has opened up opportunities I had never even considered before. 

What Is the Solution?

I'm not sure that there is a single, easy solution. However, here are a few things we can do to change this trend:
  • Explore technology criticism. Allow students to share their valid concerns about how technology is reshaping community and communication. If we come off as techie fan folk, we lose the opportunity to explore the nature of technology. 
  • Use technology for connective ways in higher education. Find ways to facilitate global collaboration projects. As it is, universities spend tons of money to go overseas. This is a good thing. However, what are we doing to allow genuine cross-cultural collaboration to happen afterward? 
  • Push for content creation in undergraduate classes. In other words, go beyond the lecture and into the realm of multimedia creation. 
  • When teaching lessons about technology integration, offer ideas about how to pull this off in schools with limited technology. 
  • Include technology scenarios in courses on classroom management. Explore any double standards that students might have. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Life Is Meant To Be Epic - A Reflection on Fatherhood, Teaching and Life

Here's the transcript of the video:

It was about eight years ago when the alarm woke me up at 3 in the morning. Except, it wasn’t an alarm. It was a newborn baby and I couldn’t calm him down. I remember turning to the computer and realizing that I still needed to finish an assignment for my master’s class.

I remember thinking, “Life will be better when this phase is over.” When we have more money. When the kids are older. When I have a master’s degree.
 But as my son calmed down and fell asleep on my chest, I realized something. Life wouldn’t get any better. Life couldn’t get any better. Easier, perhaps. More orderly, maybe. But not better. Because nothing could be better than this.

I’ve been thinking about that moment and that lie that sneaks into my life . . . the one that starts with “life will be better when ______.” I think it comes from this mistaken notion that a “better” life is the one with more comfort. It’s the idea that life is meant to be a vacation – and that if I just do the right things now I can relax later.

See, it works something like this: When you are in high school, you can’t wait until college and then you can’t wait to get married or start a career and then you can’t wait to have money or a house and then you have kids and you can’t wait for the kids to get older and then you can’t wait to retire and then, at some point, you grow older and you can’t wait at all. You’ve run out of waiting.

But what if that’s not how life is supposed to work? What if life is meant to be a story? Not just any story. It’s meant to be an epic story. The good life is one with a real conflict that requires courage. It’s meant to have characters that you love and couldn’t imagine losing. It’s meant to be grounded in a setting where you feel the grass beneath your feet and you know that you have a place where you belong. It’s meant to be lived with bold themes.

The beauty with epic stories is that they aren’t comfortable. They aren’t easy. They are forever riddled with conflict and with imperfect characters. But they are also filled with everything that makes life worth living: passion, love, courage, purpose.

Don’t get me wrong. Vacations are fun. There’s nothing wrong with a break. But life isn’t found there. Life is meant to be epic.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Design Thinking Videos

The following is a short video series explaining the ins and outs of design thinking. They are a part of the free course Getting Started with Design Thinking.

Introduction: We Need Creative Classrooms

What Is Design Thinking?

Stage One: Awareness

Stage Two: Inquiry

Stage Three: Research

Stage Four: Ideating and Planning 

Stage Five: Prototyping

Stage Six: Testing and Revising 

Stage Seven: Launch and Market

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thinking Differently About Student Engagement

I am not an expert on motivation. I'm still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work. Most of my ideas have been shaped by Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards and Daniel Pink's Drive.  Lately, I've gotten really into Flow Theory and the question of what allows kids to "get into the zone." Over the last few years, I have been asked to lead trainings and speak on the relationship between motivation and creative work.

Popular Posts on Motivation and Engagement

Five Ways to Create a State of "Flow" in the Classroom
Fifteen Ways to Engage Reluctant Learners
I Don't Use Rewards -- But My School Does
Rewards Are Like Crack
If You Want to Build Grit, Don't Focus on Grit
Seven Reasons to Ditch Participation Points
You Don't Always Have to Do Your Best
The Upside of Wasting Time


Click on any of the links below and get the resource mailed directly to your inbox. 
Classroom Leadership - Coming Soon! 
Interest Surveys for Students - Coming Soon! 


I have given numerous keynotes and workshops for new teachers, ranging from university-level to districts to conferences. If you're interested, please contact me at
  • Zoned In to Learning: Maximizing Flow in Student Learning: Ever been "in the zone" while working on a project? You lose track of time. You focus on what's in front of you. There is a strange mix of calmness and excitement. Those moments are tied into something called Flow Theory. How do we create lessons, experiences, projects and spaces that maximize flow for students? This session is an interactive discussion with an end product of something tangible that would increase flow in learning (a space, a lesson, or a unit). Check out the Slideshare here.
  • Writing Should Be Fun: Teachers are often told to using writing across the curriculum because writing is a vital job skill. While this is true, there is another reality. Writing is inherently fun. Here we explore what it means to keep writing fun for students, including finding an authentic audience, using visual writing ideas, promoting student choice and pushing critical thinking.


Photo by Andrei Niemimäki

I've always been a maker. I love making resources for teachers. I love creating slides for presentations. I love writing children's books, like Wendell the World's Worst Wizard. I co-founded Write About. As a teacher, I've always been passionate about allowing kids to be creative. It's why we painted murals and made documentaries my first few years. It's why I enjoy the Create a Product and Make a Video Game project with my current students. So, here are some of my posts and resources connected to creativity.

Popular Posts about Creativity

The Five Types of Creative Teachers
Seven Surprising Things About Creativity
That's Not Why We Make Things
I Hid My Art
Originality Starts with Being Unoriginal
Being Unproductive to Be Productive
Think Inside the Box
The Motive for Making
To Reach a Larger Audience, You Have to Think Smaller
Creativity Never Runs Out
What if Passion Isn't Always Exciting?
Phoenix, Portland, and the Creative Power of Limitations
Why We Take Pictures
When Creativity Isn't Fun
Your First Draft Will Probably Suck -- And That's Okay
Why Consuming Is Necessary for Creating
How Do You Measure the Success of a Creative Work?


Click on any of the links below and get the resource mailed directly to your inbox. 
Create a Product - Coming Soon
Geek Out Project - Coming Soon
Scratch Video Game Project - Coming Soon


The following are workshops or sessions that I have given on the topic of assessment. Contact me at if you are interested in having me lead a training.

  • Everyone Is Creative (Keynote): The phrase "creative type" and "Creative Class" suggest that creativity is something that only meant for a certain segment of our population. This is one of the many myths we explore together as we explore what it means to empower students to become creative thinkers.

Project-Based Learning

I have over a decade of experience using a PBL framework in social studies, language arts, language acquisition and technology as well as experience in professional development and teacher coaching. This last year, I got the chance to speak at the White House Future Ready Summit for my work in a global collaboration project. I have experience leading trainings at the school and district level as well as at conferences and with other districts around the nation.

Popular Posts about Project-Based Learning

The Epic Classroom
What Makes Project-Based Learning Work?
Ten Ways to Help Kids Ask Better Questions
Ten Things I've Learned in Going Project-Based
Five Keys to Collaboration
Personalized or Programmed?
Eight Lessons Learned in Doing Scratch Video Game Projects
Geek Out Projects
Should We Focus on the Product or Process?
Sometimes Quantity Is Better Than Quality
Teaching Project Management
Ten Things I've Learned About Student Design Projects
Why I Do the Same Projects Over Again


Click on any of the links below and get the resource mailed directly to your inbox. 
Create a Product - coming soon
Geek Out Project - coming soon
Create a Video Game - coming soon


The following are workshops or sessions that I have given on the topic of assessment. Contact me at if you are interested in having me lead a training.
  • The Seven C's of Digital Literacy (Keynote): We live in a world where students can instantly connect with information. As a result, students need to create, communicate, curate, connect, collaborate, contextualize and critically think. Here we explore what this looks like both in the classroom and in our world.
  • It Is Personal (Keynote or Workshops): The term "personal learning" often conjures up images of kids sitting in isolation doing digital worksheets. What if it was different? What if personal learning involved leveraging technology to connect students relationally? What if personal learning was less about a program and more about the power of choice and creativity? Here I offer a framework for a more human version of personal learning and provide practical examples of what it looks like in action.
  • Defenders of Wisdom (Keynote): I first gave this talk to the ISTE SIGMS (media specialists / librarians) on the question of the role of a librarian in a digital age. Since then, I started rethinking about the role of teachers in an age of informational overload. Here I focus on how technology hasn't changed the role of the teacher. Instead, it has amplified something we have known for years: that great teachers inspire students to become creative, critical thinkers.
  • Epic Classrooms (Keynote or Workshop): Story-telling is a deeply human way of making sense out of our experiences. Using the lens of story, we explore how teachers can set up "epic" classrooms. The best lessons are the ones with a high level of suspense and profound character development. As teachers we can allow students to struggle through both internal and external conflict as they make sense out of themes rather than just ideas.