Author Archives: plennig

About plennig

the Technology Director at a small school in Portland, ME. I like to keep up with the latest happenings in technology and education.

TLC – Day 2 & 3

We hit the ground running on day 2 – I think we had some good momentum coming out of Day 1.  After we got our fill of fruit, muffins, and coffee we got right to work.  I began by showing them a demo of Syncpad:

Cool, right?  Then we all installed both Syncpad and Pages for the iPad.  I bought licenses through Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program – which seems to work pretty well.

After that, we dove into the Google Calendar – syncing it with the iPad and using it for our classes.  We can bring in our Faculty calendar (from our website) right to Google – a nice feature for all.  It took some time to get everyone synced up – especially those with personal Google accounts – but we did it.

We then took an electronics break and went outside for another discussion.  For homework, we watched the PBS video –

Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

We had a good conversation ranging from

– how do we assess this type of learning?

– how do we get the kids/parents to learn that process is more important than the goal?

– how do we incorporate project-based learning, gaming, constructive learning in a “college-prep” school where parents want their kids to get into good colleges?

– needing to become more a facilitator of learning, rather than the “leader”

The conversation was a refreshing – we all struggle with similar thoughts about adopting new pedagogies in class in a school where many teachers and parents still embrace traditional learning.  I think it is a theme we will come back to again and again but it’s good that we know we can struggle through this tension together rather than alone in our classrooms.

After a yummy lunch of leftovers, we returned to Google and worked with GoogleDocs and Google Sites.  Again, it was good to give everyone a baseline knowledge of Google Docs and its sharing capabilities.  We worked through spreadsheets and Google Forms – which was really good for those math teachers in the room.  Google Sites emerged as a good website for class pages – we have class pages on our website but they are fairly static and boring.  Google sites allows for more customization and its ability to pull together all things Google is unbeatable.

Day 3

We had covered a lot of details and tools in Day 2 and so we all came into Day 3 a little tired and a little maxed out.  I started the morning of with a TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the Learning Revolution:

More good conversation followed including much around “how do we get there from here”?  A great question to ask in this group because we are trying to adopt an attitude/pedagogy/curriculum which conflicts with the norm – we still have 50 minute class periods, we still have kids taking college board tests, we work on a team where other members may not be ready to move forward with us – there are all sorts of hurdle (or obstacles).  What are the small steps that we need to take in order to get us closer to our goals?  I think that is a question we hope to answer as we go this year.

The rest of Day 3 we devoted to individual/group work time.  We took some time-outs to play with and Voicethread.  For the most part our brains were full and we just needed time to sort through the tools, experiment with website, and talk to others about the year and its possibilities.

It was a satisfying three days.  We became a good working group, got to know each other, and had a good handle on what each person brought to the group.   In order to facilitate continued communication and sharing as we moved into the school year, I set up a “dashboard” – The dashboard includes a twitter feed – we agreed on the hashtag #wayntlc.  We have a Diigo group and that feed in on the dashboard.  I also set up a group blog – – a place where we could share resources and share thoughts and experiences and we try new things.  One member decided to begin her own blog – – with a goal of posting (almost) every day.

It will be a challenge finding times for the group to meet face-to-face throughout the year but we will do that as well as use our technology to fill the gaps.  I am really looking forward to growing with this group this year – they are terrific colleagues with a passion for teaching and learning.

What a Start: Day 1, TLC

(I thought I published this weeks ago, but found it in my drafts!)

Whew. I just finished three intense days with the new Technology & Learning Cohort – a group 10 really smart, fun, and insightful colleagues of mine brought together by our interest in and pursuit of good teaching practice. The teachers are from a variety of grade levels from Early Childhood to 12th grade. There are four math teachers from Upper and Middle School, a spanish teacher (upper/middle), science teacher We spent the three days learning tools, discussing pedagogy, watching TED talks, discussing tools, and collaborating on projects.

To prepare for our year together, each member received an iPad to play with over the summer and we all read, The New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, which served as a backdrop to our conversations over the the three days. In addition, seven of us went to EdCampKeene in August and that help get our ideas bubbling.

On our first meeting day, we began with some iPad app sharing. Lots of good interesting apps came out of it, Puppet Pals, sync pad, iChirp, owl pellets, and many, many more. We came to the conclusion that Syncpad would be a good app to invest in to help create interactive whiteboard functionality with the ipad.  So much potential for kids to interact with each other and the teacher.  Another app we decided to invest in is Pages.  We were still drawn to a document creating app and that one seem to work the best in our desktop/laptop world.

That sharing lasted for at least an hour so we decided to put down the electronics and move outside to have a discussion about the book, A New Culture of Learning and what we hoped to get out of our year together.  There was a lot of talk about being given some dedicated time for experimenting with technology, thoughtfully planning for technology, and having support through adopting technology.  The other theme that popped up in this conversation and in a few that followed, was the tension of changing your curriculum to be more project-based, group-oriented, etc. while teaching at a “college prep” school in which the parents and students expect the kids to do well on college board tests, get “good grades”, and get into a good college.  At a private school, you don’t have to worry about the “standards” and state tests, but you do have more pressure in preparing kids for college.

After a yummy potluck lunch and birthday cake, we watched Michael Wesch’s TEDxNYED talk from March 2010.  I really enjoyed the talk for two reasons: 1. he stresses that technology changes us and we have no choice in it; we change, like it or not.  2. We need to work on helping kids be “knowledge-able” not just knowledgable.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The end of the first day, I introduced the group to some tools to help them cultivate their learning community or PLN – Twitter, blogs, Diigo.  We easily tied this in to the book and in our discussion about how to keep up with all of the resources and learning.  It was a great first day – there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I went home really excited to be working with this group for the year.

Launching TLC

There have been some exciting developments in my world lately. The entire K-12 faculty has started a collective professional development focus on learning and the brain; our summer program, SOS, will be piloting the ipad 2; and we have officially launched our TLC program.

After several years of chasing my tail, I have successfully pitched and developed a new course of professional development at my school. This spring we will launch TLC, Technology & Learning Cohort, a group made up of six teachers (two from each division of the school). Here’s part of the description from the invitation sent to faculty:

The Technology & Learning Cohort (TLC) will be a group of teachers who will read about the research, play with new tools, and experiment with curriculum in order to better understand pedagogical implications for classrooms. TLC team members will be charged with exploring and experimenting with ways to apply information technology tools in their teaching, with particular focus on the implications of neuro-developmental research and understanding for effective classroom practice.

We will determine the group from interested faculty later this spring.  We will meet once before the end of school to talk about the expectations and to give out some summer homework (reading, writing).  I am working on a summer reading/watching list for them and, right now, I am thinking about these books: Mindset (Dweck), Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age (Sprenger), and Five Minds of the Future (Gardner). There are a lot out there and I need to brainstorm some more.

We will have our first official meetings in August before our week of faculty meetings.  We will have three days set aside for some intensive experimenting with various tools and software, each member will set up a PLN; and we will begin our conversations about the school year. During the year, we will be meeting once a month as a group and probably some one-on-one sessions.  I will be encouraging each member to visit a few schools during the year and making some contacts beyond our school walls.

As you can see, I’m still sketching out this group, its scope and schedule; but I am excited to have some energy and support behind a professional development initiative like this. I hope each member will emerge with some confidence about the tools and the choices they have made; gain some knowledge and first-hand understanding about the transformative power of technology; and I hope each member will serve as a mentor for their department, grade level, and division in the coming years.

If you had a captive audience of teachers for a year, what would you do?

Google Docs on Campus

I ran a few Google Docs workshops this week to help some teachers and administrators get a better handle on how, when, and why to use Google Docs.  They seem to go well (even though some arrived asking “will I need my laptop for this workshop?”).  Overall, there are a lot more people (faculty, staff, and students) using Google Docs these days.  It’s great – students are “losing” fewer papers; faculty and staff are doing more collaboration online; faculty are sending out more Google Forms to collect information from the community.

This entertaining video came across Twitter yesterday – made entirely in Google Docs.  It’s pretty impressive and a nice response to those who say the Google Docs is not a robust enough editor.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the 1:30 minutes:

More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.


The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

Photo: school zone by sevenbirches

Professional Development When You Want It

Time, time, time. That is the word that comes up most often when talking about how to bring more technology professional development to teachers. During the school year, teachers just don’t have enough time to learn about new technology, get comfortable with it, and figure out if it fits into their curriculum. And we, as schools, are not good about making enough time for it.  Educators therefore have to make their own time and fit in their learning where they can.

The K12 Online Conference is a nice way to get professional development when and where you want it.  I just loaded up my iPhone with 10 podcasts downloaded from the K12 Online site on iTunesU.  The K12 Online Conference is a collection of podcasts given by educators and, this year, students from around the world.  Each podcast is a presentation on teaching and tools and how they help improve learning.  This year’s conference, that went live during the last two weeks of October, had two themes – “Leading the Change” and, for the second week, “Kicking it up a Notch”.  Among the podcast presenters are well known names like Dean Shareski, David Warlick, and Darren Kuropotwa as well as students like Ben & Ben from Yarmouth High School who talk about their own podcast show, and middle school student, Nicolas Gutkowski, who talks about “Learning on my Own”.

No matter what level or subject you teach, you can find a podcast that will fit your needs at the K12 Online Conference. I have just started to listen to these presentations and there are many good ones to choose from.  I enjoy that I can access them when I am at work or as I make my commute home.  This is just one way that you can make professional development fit into your busy life.  Check out the offerings from the K12 Online Conference; they are most easily accessible on the Schedule page or from iTunesU.

More to Share

I have some more things to share as leftovers from my “tab clean up”.  This one is a great video of a homemade science project.  Now this is project-based learning at it best. Now, can we work something like this into our classrooms?  Think of the questions that can be asked, the hypotheses that can be stated, the stories that can be written, and the calculations that could be run?  Wow.