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Visible Thinking in Math- Part 1

Cross posted to the Langwitches Blog by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

The conversation about visible thinking in Math started with one of our teachers at Graded, The American School of São Paulo, Adam Hancock, wanting to know how he could incorporate having students’ use their blogfolios in Math class. It seemed natural to have students write for Humanities (Language Arts and Social Studies), but writing did not seem part of what Middle School Math was about.

How could “blogging” go beyond taking a digital image of a Math problem on paper or a quiz and writing about “how the student felt about solving the problem or passing the test?”or ask themselves what they could have done better?

One of the first steps was to bring more “language” into the Math classroom. In a Skype call with Heidi Hayes Jacobs, she said that Math should be taught more like a foreign language.

photo 2

Students need to know vocabulary words and become fluent in “speaking Math”, in order to be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas.

photo 1

Videos and screencasts are great tools to articulate, visualize and then share ones’ thinking when working to solve a Math problem. Below is a video of Adam, modeling solving a mathematical equation.

Google Glass- Math Equation from langwitches on Vimeo.

Making Mathematical Thinking visible had the following purpose for Adam in his classes:

1. give students a truly differentiated math experience and expose them to a wide variety of math concepts.

2. encourage self directed learning and allow them to demonstrate their understanding in a way of their choosing.

3. make their learning process visible and allow students to reflect on their growth and learning in the process of solving the problem, by using the KWHL routine (What do I know? What do I want to know? How will I find out? What have I learned?)



KWHL by Mary

Prezi by Isabella

More student blog posts:

The process of making mathematical thinking visible, as well as the artifacts’ quality, was hopeful, awkward, “messy” and challenging…

Adam and my observations:

  • Students were working in different areas of math, and most of them had to learn something new, and tie it to what they already know in order to explain their problem.
  • It is not a natural skill for students to be able to “speak” Math. There is a need to expose and encourage students to use mathematical language to communicate.
  • The ability of being able to articulate and make a thinking process visible is a skill we need to support our students in becoming fluent in. It was challenging for students to think about and articulate their learning value instead the production value of their artifact.
  • Some students focused in their reflection on documenting the steps of what they did as they were solving the problem, not on the necessary thinking that was involved. Some students don’t/didn’t see the reason why they should be reflecting on their learning in Math.
  • It seemed unnatural to ask students to write a reflective blog post tagged on the end. It seems artificial and one more thing to do as an add-on, versus reflection as part of the learning process. Option of breaking the reflection process into different blog posts along the way, which later on can be linked to each other to demonstrate the process path.
  • When students are given a lot of freedom to demonstrate their understanding, a lot of them need structure and some clear guidelines or else the product does not turn out very well. This may improve with practice and more opportunities for them to work independently.
  • Many students didn’t fully follow the KWHL routine, and only posted an explanation to their problem. In some cases the explanations were wrong. In many cases, they didn’t actually post the KWHL page, and so they lost sight of “the point”. Maybe because this was a new process, a lot of students produced “the bare minimum “. Generally speaking, students who are conscientious and engaged did well and produced meaningful blog posts. If they did the KWHL process correctly, they documented what they didn’t know before they began researching their problem, and then demonstrated what they learned in the process.
  • There is a sense among many students that this is actually ‘more work’ than just taking a test, and therefore it is harder.

These observations are helping us continue to strive for meaningful activities and strategies that support student learning. I am often reminded of Vicki Davis’ blog post, Fail Foward, Move Foward. The word “fail” has a connotation in education, that has to change, along the paradigm shift of how we learn best and differently. In the spirit of Failure is Mandatory in the Culture of Innovation, we are celebrating these “failures” and seeing them as challenges to continue to talk, think, rethink, repeat, throw out, tweak and re-imagine…


Quote seen in Tweet during #asbunplugged

I am excited to see how we will continue to make thinking visible in Math and help students write /blog about their thinking strategies in order to become fluent in the language of Math. A big thank you goes out to Adam for learning along side!
Stay tuned for Part 2 in Visible Thinking in Math…

iPhoneography: Photo Challenges, Ideas & Literacy

cross posted from Langwitches Blog by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

I have been facilitating an iPhoneography activity for our Middle Schoolers over the past two quarters.


iPhoneography is defined by Wikipedia as:

iPhoneography is the art of creating photos with an Apple iPhone.This is a style of mobile photography that differs from all other forms of digital photography in that images are both shot and processed on the iOS device. It does not matter whether a photo is edited using different graphics applications or not

The class was 40 minutes long, which I divided into the following workflow:

  1. 10 minutes of challenge explanation
  2. 20 minutes of “in the field” photography
  3. 10 minutes of photoapping and sharing of final images

We worked on:

  • basic photography tips, such as contrast, brightness, depth of field and saturation
  • photoapping (sending one image through several apps to achieve a desired result)
  • storytelling
  • communicating via images

In addition, the class discussion, activities and reflections  lend themselves to:

  • copyright (digital citizenship)
  • photo etiquette (digital citizenship)
  • (exponential) producer-culture (media & information literacy)
  • editing of media (media & information literacy)
  • visual storytelling (media literacy)
  • instant sharing (network literacy, digital citizenship)
  • photoapping (tech fluency)

I built the class around photo challenges (There are many, many photo challenge suggestions shared online… just google them. I also use an app iPhotography Assignment Generator) :

  • Feet
  • Selfies
  • Something green
  • Depth of Field
  • Clouds
  • Forced Perspective
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Reflection
  • Black and White
  • Angle & Perspective
  • Cartoons

What’s next?


During the last nine weeks of the school year, I will be offering another activity for Middle School students. We will focus our efforts on the infamous Cultural Phenomena of the Selfie. We would love to make contact with classes from around the world to exchange selfies in order to look for cultural trends, best photography tips and overall give our students an opportunity to redefine the concept beauty.

Interested to connect and collaborate with my students about Selfies? Interested in “just” contributing selfies? Get in contact with me via Twitter (@langwitches) or via this blog.

Take a look at some of the challenges I shared with students and examples below. (Thank you  and credits to all the photographers from iPhoneography! Ana Luiza, Ale, Laura, Vicki, Anna, Fiona, Hannah, Ian, Patricio, Lara, Ida, Giovanna, Ana Clara, Manuela, Gabriela, Belen, Laura, Lauren, Isabel, Martina, Luiza)

Look on down…Feet, Feet and More Feet

Let’s take a look at our feet today.


Why feet you might ask? …Why not?
Sometimes it is not “just” about the object in your photograph, but about the STORY behind it.


It is about the story “your feet” tell.
I wanted to share with you the following blog, with a truly inspirational post about : Why Take Self- Portraits of your Feet?
Your mission today is to tell a story with a picture of (your) feet.
Colors… Colors… Colors… Our world is colorful. Photography allows us to focus in on one element of our world and bring it to the foreground to enjoy without distractions. A photographer leads the eyes of the viewer to something that otherwise he/she might not have noticed.Let’s focus on the color green.
There are entire Pinterest Boards dedicated to the color green.





You have all seen these photos. Only part of the photograph is in focus, the rest seems blurry and further away. That is called in photography terms “Depth of Field”.
“Depth of Field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.” (Wikipedia)
Let’s work on photoapping today.
use any app you would like or try out this new (free) one Pixlr Express+
After you sent your photo through one, two or three apps, use a Pic Collage app (like PicStitch) to show BOTH pictures and email them to me to upload and showcase them on our Pinterest Board
Let’s look up today! Up, up, up to the clouds. It is ok if we have beautiful blue skies in São Paulo… make it your challenge of the week to take a photo of interesting clouds, photoapp it and send it to me via email to be included on our Pinterest Board.
Ever heard of “forced perspective”?Definition according to Wikipedia:

Forced perspective is a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is. It is used primarily in photography, filmmaking and architecture. It manipulates human visual perception through the use of scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera

Let’s look at lots of examples


Today you will complete a Scavenger Hunt!
You will roam campus to take one image for each one of the assignments to complete the hunt.

  • Once you have images for all assignments, import to PicCollage app and label the image with the title of the assignment.
  • E-mail me the final image from PicCollage.
  • The time stamp of the email will confirm the winning photographer.

Photograph the following assignments (Total of 7 images):

  1. cold
  2. funny
  3. brave
  4. light
  5. fuzzy
  6. jumps
  7. separated


It is the photographer’s job to show something that others do not see in their photograph.
Today’s challenge is to capture a reflection.It can be an intentional reflection or a reflection that normally we would run by and might see it.
Let’s see how creative you will be.
“Selfie” was voted Oxford’s Dictionaries word of the year in 2013.

“a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”

What types of selfies are out there?

  • outstretched arm
  • duckface
  • mirror
  • “tongue”
  • smile/pout
  • tilted head
  • peace sign
  • sign language for “I love you”
  • rapper fingers
  • eyes squinting
  • winking
  • funny face
  • shadow
Definition of a Silhouette by Wikipedia

 A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject.


Perspective Challenge

Sometimes ordinary photos can be transformed (edited) with just a few adjustments. Check if your favorite photoediting app has adjustments for

  • Contrast
  • Saturation
  • Brightness

Suggested Apps:


Upgrading a Rubric based on Purpose and Audience

Eric Simpson is secondary English Language Arts Coordinator at Lewisville ISD in Texas.

Cross-posted from Just Start for Kids and Schools.

I began the upgrade looking at our 8th grade, Unit 3, Stage 1 desired results. Click to see the unit: 8th_Unit_3_Revision. Our transfer goals for that unit are:

Students will be able to independently use their learning to…

  • use others’ ideas to support their own claim;
  • formulate personal arguments supported by examples; and
  • analyze persuasive elements across genres using text evidence for interpretations.

Our desired results are open enough to allow transformation through Media Literacy, so I can focus on instructional approach. Using an infographic, like Piktochart, allows students to build skill in both receptive and generative capability in Media Literacy. For the infographic, I concentrated on the first two learning outcomes, but I think I’ll be able to gather significant formative assessment regarding the third outcome while observing students as they work with their sources.


With our first two transfer goals in mind, students could showcase their learning with new media in an authentic way, and make some pretty sophisticated choices to achieve their purposes. They will need to work with traditional texts for their research, but they are also going to benefit from exploring a host of other media to inform their arguments. Then they are going to have to synthesize what they find into a new medium, and determine the most engaging and persuasive way for an audience to encounter their information. Most importantly, I want the evidence to highlight the students’ facility with research.


I modeled my rubric after viewing an infographic rubric from Christy Taylor at Cache Mid-High School, in Cache, Oklahoma, but made some important changes.

  1. I didn’t want the rubric to be a source of point manufacturing that would emphasize the grade over the quality of student work, so I removed the numerical values associated with the gradations of mastery.
  2. I also added a fourth column to make the feedback to the student clearer; with no middle column, we won’t be inclined to sit-on-the-fence.
  3. I liked the way the rubric described a quality infographic, but since the focus of the student learning will be using research with a persuasive purpose, I’ve decided to imbed all the design elements into that persuasive lens. This will help students make purposeful decisions while approaching this assessment, and notice these elements in the sources they investigate in their researchers. Heidi and Allison pointed out during their rubric session, “Good rubrics help students notice effective qualities more in other media.”

I used the language from our Stage 2 documents to sketch a rough draft of the highest end of mastery for each category. Click here to see Stage 2:  8th_Unit_3_Stage_2. I went ahead and filled out the other columns on two of the categories to capture a representation of my thinking during the process, and those examples can serve as a jumping off point when I come together with my teachers, or share the rubric with students. Here is the current state of the rubric.

“Gaining Advantage” Infographic Rubric

Performance Level 4

Performance Level 3

Performance Level 2


 Level 1

Present claim

Student:Formulates of a clear claim based upon their independent research Student:Presents claim, but claim lacks clarity of purpose

(parts are missing, remains too broad, sits on the fence etc.).

Student:Has statement that resembles a claim, but claim isn’t the primary message communicated.


Student:Does not state a claim.

Construct Research Plan

Student:Determines guiding research questions to locate evidence in support of their argument.


Student:Identifies types of information that relates to their argument, but fails to investigate holes in their knowledge. Student:Compiles information related to their issue, but without clear relation to their purpose. Student:Conducts research without purpose in mind.

Interpret and Evaluate Sources

Student:Evaluates media messages for bias, rhetorical devices and logical fallacies. Analyzes sources and selects verifiable information to enhance credibility. Interprets source in relation to their claim.

Incorporate Outside Ideas in Support of Claim

Student:Use ideas of others to support their own claim. Blending text evidence into writing. Summarizing, paraphrasing, and directly quoting sources to enhance effectiveness of message.

Blend Graphics and Writing

Student:Graphics are related to the topic, match the facts, and make the research easier to understand. The infographic is accessible, and exceptionally attractive in terms of design and organization.

Use Personal Perspective To Persuade Audience

Student:Transitions between personal and research perspectives to connect with audience. Uses variety of personal appeals.

Consider Specific Audience

Student:Anticipating objections to their position, and creating responses to objections. Attributing source of information in a way beneficial to audience. Adjusting arguments to increase credibility. Identify gaps and revise with specific audience in mind.


Heidi and Allison assert that the best rubrics are formed when students and teachers work together to produce criteria based off their mutual values. This may be the most significant shift for me in my consideration of rubrics: any rubric I create in isolation can only be a model for others to base their work upon. Students and teachers will need to study infographics together, and make some decisions about what makes the genre most effective. Only then can teachers come together and tweak the wording to represent what’s most valuable to them as they go through the learning process.

Eric Simpson is secondary English Language Arts Coordinator at Lewisville ISD in Texas.

A Reflection on TEDTalk21: Creating a dynamic and joyful environment

cross-posted from Just Start for Kids and Schools

Golden light of evening over Torrey PinesGuest Post By: Craig Gastauer

Natural learning experiences are generated by observation and questioning.  As individuals share their different perspectives, each of us begin to make meaning of these experiences and deepen our understanding of the world.

Hiking on the cliffs above the the Pacific Ocean with my nine year old son creates for us a safe space to explore the world.  Questions abound as we come across animals, plants, rock strata, and even the wonderful variety of people we encounter.  And as a science teacher I may have an idea of much of what we come across, I hear from the nine year old perspective new questions and thoughts that may have never occurred to me.  There are no texts or assignments forcing students down a path that the teacher wants the student to focus.  Instead, the child’s questioning and wonderment lead the discussions and the ideas to explore.  The generated excitement even invites those people passing by to add their understanding and questions.  Learning opened through the initial questions and new insight allowed us to look at the experience in new ways:

  • Why are all the organisms under plants or why are the animals a certain color?
  • What eats what?
  • Why there are more insects than lizards?
  • Why do the birds circle above?
  • Why?  Why?  Why?

The TEDTalk21 invitation to remember a safe learning space reminded me of how a simple hike led to an natural and engaging learning experience in which my 9 year old has developed a new understanding of the world in which he lives.  But it has also opened a new learning experience for myself.  Seeing the child’s excitement and the additional different perspectives brought into the experience has led me to wonder:

  • How can this excitement and natural engagement become the learning norm in my classroom?
  • How can these natural interactions be replicated to invite in others through new formats using digital literacy so that everyone can impact their own creative learning process?

Actively participating with the Lead21 team in learning how to actively engage learning through the use of technology to replicate this system has opened a new world.

 Why are so many of us using technology as a replacement of the ribbon based typewriter instead of the social environment that could help learning flourish?  

Setting up something as simple as a student blog opens the door to the natural learning cycle.  Asking students to publish their learning, followed by others positively promoting different perspectives or inquiries, provides students an opportunity to re-engage with all these ideas to deepen their understanding.  The static learning experience transforms into a dynamic space that strengthens them as resilient learners.

For teachers, this promotes deeper learning of the content, but also of three essential components to becoming engaged, life-long learners.  We can help them learn to self-regulate, self-motivate and self-evaluate their learning process and products. As teachers, we need to:

  • Promote and actively engage students in asking where they are in their learning process
  • Ask what strategies they have employed and how they have worked
  • Ask what their engagement is trying to achieve
  • Ask what their next steps need to be in order achieve their goal

We can never create a destination to where every student wants to go to, but our students can. By opening up the learning experience to a more natural, collaborative, self directed way, students can take charge of and build their own meaningful learning process.

Reflection question (would love to see your comments below):

How do you set up the use of technology to incorporate the natural learning cycle in order to help students deepen meaning making and become more independent learners?

Craig is a high school biology teacher in Northern San Diego County.

Digital Microstories

Collaborative Blog Post written with friend and colleague Danielle Hardt of Starpoint Middle School in Lockport, NY. Danielle is a literacy rock star, a highly effective teacher, and a secret practical joke enthusiast (a skill I highly prize!).

It has become the rage as of late to “Close Read” everything in American Common Core classrooms. Almost all of the states that are providing curriculum resources (including NY) and many of the vendors that are selling Common Core aligned products are focusing on Close Reading as an essential strategy in their materials, overusing an instructional methodology to the point of killing the love of reading. Our students are noticing this too, and ever since the beginning of education, the students are our largest sounding board as well as our biggest obligation. We need to listen to them.


In an effort to bring a little love back to literacy (note the alliteration), we’d like to suggest a little brevity and levity and “webevity” to instructional processes with the use of digital microstories. This avenue provides a medium students are very comfortable with.  Using digital formats fosters engagement and efficiency and proficiency in the classroom, as many students either use these tools already or require limited explanation of their usage. In many modern classrooms, students are educating us as teachers in the easiest ways to utilize the technology. When this happens, the learning skyrockets! We are all partners in learning.


Digital microstories are based on short fiction pieces that range from six words to 140 characters to a couple of sentences to a couple of paragraphs. The emphasis is on brevity, certainly, but also on a student’s ability to make connections and inferences based on the few words they read–then extending those connections and inferences to a visualization using a teacher- or student-selected web tool.


Besides just sheer engagement, another attribute of this format is the instant gratification for students to complete and “turn in” an assignment in one class period or block. What middle schooler doesn’t love to weave a tale about the hero/heroine that escapes a torturous conflict, barely rising to the top? Perhaps a midnight terror that shivers the spine? Maybe they’d delve into a short poem or riddle or other clever play on words. Any which way, digital microstory formats allow for these and many other options for the writers of the world to concisely demonstrate critical thinking, focusing on evaluation and synthesis without the rigmarole of days of analysis or the constant revisiting of text for the sake of answering what amounts to a bunch of comprehension questions.


Allowing students the opportunity to choose dramatically-engaging topics in relationship to the visualization within these digital formats creates a natural connection to inferencing. A relationship with close reading happens organically, rather than through a need for direct instruction. This organic and authentic version of close reading hits the heart of the way we analyze details and extend the learning beyond anything we could have imagined in traditional ways of teaching. It also extends opportunities for further discussion and reflection.


Getting back to the topic at hand though, access to resources around microfiction are numerous. You can “Google” search terms such as “Microstories,” “Microfiction,” “Microtext,” etc. and find a plethora of resources related to short fiction. Note that some of these resources might be inappropriate for sharing with kids, but would be great for sharing/generating ideas with teachers about how they might engage micro-literacy with their students.


Here are some of our favorites:


Six Word Stories:


Visualizing Famous Quotes: Make a Web2.0 visualization of your favorite quote!


Two sentence horror stories:


Very short stories:


Extremely Short Stories:


“Tweet the gist:”

  • Tweet the plot of a favorite movie.

  • Tweet the central idea of a favorite song.

  • Tweet the main idea of a favorite poem.

  • (Note that these tweets might be physical, in-class experiences, rather than an online tweet. Just keep them to 140 characters!)

  • Then, “Instagram” the tweet: What visual would enhance the tweeted message?

There are several important task-specific functions that go along with Digital Microstories, primary among them are analysis of text and students eventually writing their own versions rather than always analyzing someone else’s writing. Both of these are aligned to Common Core standards for Key Ideas and Details (Anchor standards 1-3) in all grade levels in the reading standards and the first six writing standards around text types and production of writing. Additionally, because students are adding a visual component, they are also engaging reading standard 7 around the integration and evaluation of diverse media formats.


Now that we’ve defined the “What,” let’s take a look at the “How.”


There are many web tools available for creating visualizations of text, merging multiple types of media, and developing digital representations of thinking. For this particular instructional activity scenario, we’re looking for tools that engage the brevity factor. Those tools that let us create short, quick media productions will be the most useful for digital microstories and thus our opportunities for instant classroom gratification and analysis…and assessment…and engagement.


Here is a sampling of tools, both Web 2.0 and Device Applications, that we think would be extremely useful for digital microstorytelling:



With a vast variety of tools online and apps on devices/tablets, this short list is just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below! Additionally, these photo and image resources may help:  Stock ExchangePixabayFlickr’s Creative Commons


Using some of these web tools, we created some examples here, with Ernest Hemingway’s original Six Word Story, “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”:



Six Word Stories: Hemingway






Note how our choices of associated media in the different web tools creates opportunities for divergent discussions, perhaps even comparative analysis of several visualizations of the same short text. How awesome would that be to explore in class?


Since these digital microstories are dependent on both text and other media, if you need help with images to create your own visualization, check out the photo and image resources in Mike’s Diigo account: While many of these resources include free content, we would urge you to remember and model that attribution is still important and students should give credit where credit is due.


Here are a couple of useful sites to assist in providing that credit:



Some of the web tools include content that students can use without attribution because they are an embedded component of the web tool or application.


So what’s the point of all this?


Learning and engagement are extremely powerful together. High levels of both help students remember more and evaluate better. Giving students opportunities to investigate short fiction forms and create them on their own opens up a plethora of avenues to creative development and ownership of learning.


Digital microstories offer students many opportunities for creativity, textual analysis, discernment, evaluation, engagement, and choices. How powerful is that? If we’re really going to work toward college and career readiness, shouldn’t we give our students authentic tasks and tools? We think so. And we think Digital Microstories are a great way to get there!


Reflections of Astronaut as He Circled Around the Globe

By Allison Zmuda

As I read the next installment one of my favorite blogger’s writings (Shane Parrish of Farnam Street), he  shared a brief excerpt of an insight astronaut Chris Hadfield gained when he was in outerspace. I was intrigued by his comment: If you view crossing the finish line as the measure of your life, you’re setting yourself up for a personal disaster. Curious (and curiously late to the party as it may be old news for most of you), I spent much of the morning researching who he was, his perspective on life, and what he considers as worthy accomplishments.

Commander Chris Hadfield has done two spacewalks, which is the equivalent of being outside about 15 hours or ten times around the world. He had rockstar status because of how he engaged the world through social media — both creating YouTube clips as well as regular Twitter posts about his adventures.

Other insights from Commander Hadfield in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross:

  • “The contrast of your body and your mind inside a little one-person – essentially, a one-person spaceship, which is your little spacesuit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a poring glory of the world roaring by silently next to you, just a kaleidoscope of it. It’s just – you – it takes up your whole mind.”
  • “It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side. And when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe. And it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge, yawning endlessness just on your left side. And you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.”
  • “But when you look outside, when you look through your visor, you are standing on nothing, with 250 miles of emptiness between you and the world.”

And in a video clip where he answers questions from silly (being interviewed by Star Trek actors in character) to scientific advancement (overcoming osteoporosis for future space flights) to profound (insight when looking down at the Earth)

But it is leading up to this moment where he offers advice to anyone who is pursing a dream. Again, Chris Hanfield:  You need to honour the highs and the peaks in the moments — you need to prepare your life for them — but recognize the fact that the preparation for those moments is your life and, in fact, that’s the richness of your life. … The challenge that we set for each other, and the way that we shape ourselves to rise to that challenge, is life. 

It gives clarity that how we all inhabit the earth — how we treat the environment, how we connect to one another, how we contribute to something of value — can be measured through daily actions. Working hard for a glorious moment (which may never come) is very different from working hard in the moment to pursue a passion, a calling, a meaningful existence.

First Experiences with Google Glass at School

by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Cross posted to Langwitches Blog


In December, I received a Google Invite to become a Google Glass Explorer. I was not given much time to accept the hefty price tag or let the Google invite expire. In the name of education and my passion for thinking and exploring new ways to transform teaching and learning, I accepted…. (still not sure how I feel about …)

On Monday, I took my Google Glass for the first time to school. We had a pre-service workshop planned (we just returned to school after the summer break here in the Southern Hemisphere) and I wanted to test if I could use the device to document the workshop to

  • capture moments of discussion
  • record what the presenters shared
  • share what participants contributed to the conversation

Google Glass- Reflection Workshop from langwitches on Vimeo.

Here are a few thoughts after the first week:

  • I am overwhelmed ( …too much stimuli)
  • Not as intuitive as I thought it would be…  (I feel like a student driver having to pause, before I step on the clutch>shift into gear>push the gas pedal> slowly let go of the clutch… while at the same time look in all the mirrors and forward to steer where I need to go)
  • My fluency is missing. (…yes… that one… the one that I am so used to having with my smartphone, iPad and laptop…so used to it in fact that I usually don’t think about it anymore… I feel illiterate…)
  • Tickling behind the ear from speaker that vibrates the bone behind my ear… (…It is a weird feeling…)
  • battery life…(…used to battery lasting all day+ with my other devices…) need to build in breaks during the day to recharge..
  • Unit gets hot when using too much (especially recording video and googling)
  • Long, curly and unruly hair that constantly tangles in front of the camera is a problem in terms of recording,  tapping and swiping. (… not cutting my hair or wearing a pony tail is not an option…)
  • I was not prepared for the attention and the varied reactions the device evoked in people. (… I am admitting that the varied emotions from colleagues and students have hit me almost like a brick… from super excited to curious, not interested to (not openly) negative and almost hostile emotions. Again, NOT all of the reactions were verbal or bodily clues, but more (strong) waves of emotions directed in my direction… Never quite experienced or was aware of something similar…
  • Feeling on the spot when recording… self conscious… what do I say? How does my voice sound?
  • I am definitely in the Substitution stage, when looking at using Google Glass through the lens of the SAMR model.

Many colleagues wanted to see what I was seeing and were eager to try the Google Glass on. The easiest instruction, I was able to give, as I could not see what they were seeing on the screen was:

  • When you see the time… say “OK Glass”, then “take a picture”.
  • Swipe down… then tap on Glass again and swipe forward to see the last images taken.

So far, I was not able to screencast from Google Glass to my iPhone via wifi (it continuous to show me the black screen with the instructions, even though glass and iPhone are on the same network. It is simply too much multitasking to handle Glass, turn off wifi, then turn on bluetooth, then connect iPhone and Glass to be able to demonstrate screencast on the spot…)

It was interesting (also for me) to later see the images the testers had taken..


(tall perspective… this is how I look to a tall person…I was not aware that the ceiling could look so threatening… :)


(test shot from someone that is more of my height)

Google Glass test

Curious colleagues having a go at wearing Google Glass.

photo 3

photo 4

Here is a selfie to show how I am managing using my reading glasses at the same time as Google Glass. Not the best solution, but it seems to work for now….



Students were lining up after class asking to wear Google Glass in order to give it a try. Most of them had heard of Google Glass. It spread like wild fire throughout our Middle School.  There were a lot of  “cool” and “wow”. It wasn’t long before Paparazzi also arrived wanting to take a picture of Google Glass as evidence of having seen one.

Do you remember the first email you sent? The first email you received? Remember having to dial in to check your email and not being able to use the phone line while you were online?


Above is a vignette image taken with Google Glass. I was sitting with a new students, helping  set up her school laptop. I received a vibration sound behind my ear and looked up from the computer screen at the Glass screen to see that my mother had emailed me an article from the La Nación (Argentinean Newspaper) about how wearing Google Glass could get me into legal problems. The irony of the moment was not lost on me. :)


I am not the only explorer at our school. A High School student, Bruno, is also a committed user. I felt a sort of camaraderie, as both of us are on the forefront by experimenting and walking a fine line.  What is acceptable in a school environment regarding wearable technology and what is not? Bruno has been wearing Glass routinely during the day, showing a much higher fluency and adaptation. He inspired me to make sure that I was only going to find out how Glass was going to transform my work, if I wore it consistently. It reminded me of ” The best camera you will ever have, is the one that you have with you” that pushed my iPhone into the number one position to be followed by my SLR camera.

While my focus of using Google Glass to “explore new worlds” in terms of teaching and learning, Bruno is focused of finding innovative ways to transform and “make his life easier”.  His point of view is that of an app developer.

Just as I experienced a myriad of reactions when wearing Glass, a student wearing Google Glass, a technology that all of us (administrators, teachers and peers) are not familiar with, inevitably will bring up anxieties, disruption and fear.

Bruno is dealing with setting the example at our school. What will this mean when more and more students start having these powerful devices and will  that mean in terms of teacher/student relationship, student learning, curriculum, assessment practices, what do we consider cheating, how do we deal with multitasking, distractions, inappropriate use of the technology, etc.?

I believe Bruno is aware that he is setting the example and is taking on the responsibility.  Our school administrators and teachers are recognizing the need to start the conversation now! WHAT DOES THIS TECHNOLOGY MEAN IN OUR EDUCATIONAL SPACES? They are also recognizing that Bruno is an integral part of that conversation to craft a policy that does not BAN and BLOCK, but encourages exploration and innovation.

I am looking forward to being part of that conversation…

School policy regarding wearable technology were not the only discussion that were sparked by the simple appearance of Google Glass on campus. I have had super interesting conversation about

  • the meaning of wearable technology and what does that mean for our future?
  • we wondered if in 10 years, we will laugh about how “silly” we/I looked with such a “big” device on our/my head (same type of feeling when we think of the size of our first cell phones or the big air conditioned rooms that held a computer…)
  • Image in Public Domain

    Image in Public Domain

  • Freely giving away our private data (GPS location? What do we see at the moment? What words are we googling? etc.) I am not saying that we are not already doing this with other devices, but wearable devices have the purpose of making it even more “natural” and instantaneous to do all these tasks and transmitting and sending them. (… I have to admit I am increasingly more uncomfortable when Google ( or other companies), by default, takes the choice of NOT wanting to share or collect data away from me…
  • What about Google Glass etiquette? When is it appropriate? When is it inappropriate? What about in an educational environment? What about in public spaces? (… I am very conscious of etiquette… I know I am walking a fine line as soon as I wear Google Glass… I want to be able to gain the trust of colleagues and students… that I will not take images nor film without making sure that they are aware of the device being on and a “no questions asked” policy if someone feels uncomfortable…)
  • How can we use such a “disruptive” device to transform (re-define) what we teach and learn?

I was able to take Google glass into a Science classroom (with permission from the teacher ,of course) and take photos and videos of the students conducting a lab. Google Glass is such a novelty though that students were interested in Glass rather than their lab… most of them begging to wear them…I was very conscious of NOT wanting to disrupt the class (…. will need to make sure that students have a chance to look at them, ask questions and wear them… before I go into the next classroom)


Google Glass- Science from langwitches on Vimeo.

I also wanted to test out wearing Google Glass while driving… yes,  I can hear all of you yelling at me from afar. I literally have a 2 minute drive to school… I left a little extra early for even less traffic… and as you will be able to tell from the video, I am a VERY safe driver… looking several times right/left/right/left and one more time, before turning at an intersection…

Google Glass- Way to Work from langwitches on Vimeo.

The Film Canon Project

I am so excited to finally be able to share the Film Canon Project from my colleagues Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Frank Baker. (Click the Hyperlink to visit)


This website and the accompanying resources are the culmination of several years of work collecting and curating films that are valued for their timelessness and impact on culture, education, and thinking.


The website release is coinciding with the release of the new book series Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy which includes a book devoted solely to Media Literacy. In the book, Jacobs and Baker explore the role that media, specifically film, plays in the preparation of our children to be ready for college or their chosen career. Their chapter is specifically on designing a film curriculum and analyzing the impact that film has on multi-mediating content, engaging students, and a new platform for deep analysis, discussion, and research.


On the website, you can explore films by grade level, type, and release date. The films include basic information and links to resources through the Internet Movie Database. In some cases, the trailers are linked as well. Visitors to the website can also submit films to the database.


The solid gold piece of this website is in the resources section, where visitors can explore scripts from Oscar-nominated films, gain access to Frank Baker’s considerable resources in his media clearinghouse, and access multiple resources related to film in different eras and in different countries.


One of the reasons I’m so excited about this is because it supports work I’m already doing with teachers, particularly around the Common Core Standards. In the reading standards for literary and informational text, specifically standards for the Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, students are asked to consider multiple types of media to comprehend what they are reading and researching. As students get older, the standards shift from considering multiple types of media to evaluating specific mediums for impact and which are the best to emphasize the story or text. Eventually, students will speculate, with evidence from multiple sources, why a specific representation in a particular media is more effective than other representations.


Additionally, our colleague Allison Zmuda uploaded a blog post about the values that the Netflix company seeks in its employees. The timing of her blog post is awesome, considering that access to film has never been easier thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. The philosophy that the Netflix company strives for are pretty good philosophies for our students to strive for as well in the classroom.


I encourage you to visit the Film Canon Project and see the types of films that they have curated there and perhaps submit your own suggestions for films to include. As multiple types of media are increasingly available thanks to technology, websites like this one will become more and more important as we seek structure and priorities in the mountain of resources available.


Using Talent Management Ideas from Netflix As Inspiration in Schools

By Allison Zmuda

Netflix, the multi-billion dollar company, created a unique talent management philosophy grounded in performance, freedom, and responsibility. Here are some of the key values and skills managers at Netflix use when evaluating performance of their staff that have real promise for growing talent in our schools. I would advocate that these values and skills are as important to grow in our students as they are in our staff (with a little bit of tweaking based on context). What I appreciate about this set is the straightforward, simple, and inspired language. I also admire the balance between individual and working with others in pursuit of excellence.

1. Judgment. You make wise decisions despite ambiguity. You identify root causes, and get beyond treating symptoms. You think strategically,and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do. You smartly separate what must be done well now, and what can be improved later.

2. Communication. You listen well, instead of reacting fast, so you can better understand. You are concise and articulate in speech and writing. You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you. You maintain calm and poise in stressful situations.

3. Impact. You accomplish amazing amounts of important work. You demonstrate consistently strong performance so colleagues can rely upon you. You focus on great results rather than on process. You exhibit bias-to-action, and avoid analysis-paralysis.

4. Curiosity. You learn rapidly and eagerly. You seek to understand our strategy, market, customers, and suppliers. You are broadly knowledgeable about business, technology and entertainment. You contribute effectively outside of your specialty.

5. Innovation. You re-conceptualize issues to discover practical solutions to hard problems. You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches. You create new ideas that prove useful. You keep us nimble by minimizing complexity and finding time to simplify.

6. Courage. You say what you think even if it is controversial. You make tough decisions without agonizing. You take smart risks. You question actions inconsistent with our values.

7. Passion. You inspire others with your thirst for excellence. You care intensely about Netflix’s success. You celebrate wins. You are tenacious.

8. Honesty. You are known for candor and directness. You are non-political when you disagree with others. You only say things about fellow employees you will say to their face. You are quick to admit mistakes.

9. Selflessness. You seek what is best for Netflix, rather than best for yourself or your group. You are ego-less when searching for the best ideas. You make time to help colleagues. You share information openly and proactively.

I fully understand that some educators may take offense to using a model from a for-profit company to inspire education policy and practice. At the same time, innovation can come from playing outside of your speciality and tailoring the idea to suit your own culture and context. What are the values and skills that govern your classroom or school? Do the values and skills reflect key priorities within and beyond school? Are the values and skills integrated into performance evaluation? What feedback do you receive around the values and skills? How do you continue to improve the quality of your work and the contribution you make to the learning organization?

To see the complete Netflix slide set, you can peruse it here.

Upgrading our Recipes for Learning

 Originally blogged on on December 8, 2013

By Mike Fisher

Back in the early 90’s, my grandmother taught me how to bake biscotti in a traditional way. She was a baker by trade and taught me about the precision of measuring ingredients to get a perfect dough consistency, how to lay out the initial loaf, cut on the diagonal and re-bake until the cookies reached their optimum crunch.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with the basic recipe, adding additional ingredients, replacing others, trying different thicknesses of the cookie, dipping the cookies in chocolate, etc. My ultimate goal is to get to the cookie, even though my path to get there changes every year.

Around this time of year, I start thinking about the biscotti (and Grandma!), and what I will modify, replace, upgrade, or delete for this year’s batch. Sometimes that decision is based on new ingredients, sometimes on the audience for whom I’m baking the cookies, or the event(s) where the cookies will be shared. There is always a modification to the previous year’s process though the goal is always to get to the cookie.

Biscotti and cookies

I’m using Grandma’s cookie procedure as a metaphor for instructional actions. The end result is always extremely important. The task, the assessment, the demonstration of learning, the product–all of these are the goals of instruction. In this day and age, though, with our new digital landscapes, we have opportunities for replacing pieces of the instructional sequence, invigorating the learning, and producing a better product—a better cookie.

The things we need to do with students, the tasks that we challenge them with, are the important factors here. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know Wordle or Socrative or Wikis or Storybird. It doesn’t matter that Padlet or Today’s Meet or Notepad is part of your everyday practice. It matters that you understand and design instruction around the outcome. The path to that outcome is what we will replace, not necessarily the outcome itself.

Digital Learning Perspectives

In workshops with teachers, I often try to paint a mental picture of the modern student. I talk about the differences between the world this kid lives in outside of school and the one he or she inhabits in school. There should not be such a wide chasm in decades between the two. I realize that there is at least one, maybe two generations separating students from their teachers, but everyone in the classroom is in the present time. Right?

I discuss how students are used to working and interacting digitally. Sometimes school is a potential impediment to learning when traditional instructional methods are primarily favored. These modern students don’t separate technology from other activities — they don’t think about it because it’s always been there for them, always been available. Except, many times, in school.

These students can find all kinds of information but don’t necessarily know what information is important, why or how they should prioritize it, or how to make connections or creations from it. They are not discerners; they are gatherers. These modern students are not interested, necessarily, in current school constructs for separating Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. They are looking for integrated and authentic opportunities.

I do realize that in the wake of new standards, new devices, and new ways to interact, teachers are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. So much newness is bogging them down and actually decreasing the professional actions they might ultimately take to improve their practice and work within a modern educational mindset.

That modern mindset is really about willingness, not digital knowledge. It’s about trying new things and exploring new tools and avenues for instruction. It’s about exploring WITH the students rather than FOR the students. The end result is still a cookie, but over time, that cookie gets better and better.

Let’s Take a Bite

1 plaid cookies

When teachers decide to start replacing instructional actions with digital tools, they should do so with the task in mind, not the tool. Let’s take the analysis of text, for example. What does this look like in your class right now? (Aligned to CCSS Reading Standards 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3)

In a 7th grade ELA classroom, a teacher I work with in Lockport, New York wanted her students to consider how Stanley Yelnats and the other characters in Louis Sachar’sHoles deal with justice as a thematic element in the book.

She talked with them about fairness and her ultimate goal: to get them to be able to use textual evidence to write about justice as it relates to the arc of the multiple storylines in the novel. She was really excited about using a collaborative note-taking tool, Padlet, in her classroom, and we had a discussion about HOW she might go about using it.

Initially, she wanted to spend a couple of days teaching the students how to use Padlet and hold the students accountable for the depth of information they shared. She was very concerned that students might share non-instructive comments like, “That was cool,” or “OMG. LOL.” She wanted to use a rubric I had shared with her called Notice, Think, and Wonder (which I recently blogged about HERE) to enable students to think critically about the comments they were making.

I asked her what this activity had looked like in the past. She said that students, individually, would locate moments in the book where they saw incidents of justice in any form: Stanley’s day in court, Kissin’ Kate’s reputation and actions, the Warden’s losses at the end of the novel, and (spoiler alert!) the fact that Stanley is cleared of his crimes in the end.

1 a padlet

I reminded her of her ultimate objective, the writing about justice and the connections between the types of justice described in the book. I reminded her that she can’t favor the tool over the task. The kids still had to write about justice and its interconnections and/or its relationship to advancing the plot of the novel.

She decided that short mini-lessons on using Padlet and the rubric for Notice, Think, and Wonder, were better than spending days on either of those things. Students could still collaborate using the online tools, and she would shift her expectations for their writing to include the collective thinking of all of the students and what they assembled on the Padlet Wall as a component of their end product.

In sum, she re-focused on the end-result but replaced some of the instructional sequence with a digital tool that moved what was once an individual exploration or small group discussion to a “group think” model where everyone participates in the collection of textual evidence. This, in turn, gives the students opportunities to understand what their peers believe to be important and offers them the chance to collaborate and communicate around deeper text analysis and negotiate deeper interactions than what she’s done before. She amped up the level of engagement while still holding students accountable for evidence of why they were thinking what they were thinking.

The tool, Padlet, was a new vehicle for better connections and interactions and thinking, but her lesson wasn’t a “Padlet Lesson.” It was still focused on justice as a theme in the novel. The students, in general, provided a more in-depth analysis because they were allowed to see their peers’ thinking in a way they had never seen it before. This led to deeper discussions, deeper connections, and better writing. This teacher changed the recipe and got a better cookie.

The Big Takeaway


The big takeaway here is that the task, the objective, the demonstration of learning remain the priority and focal point of instruction. The strategy, however, can be variable while the end point remains fixed. Vary the recipe but still work toward the cookie!

Teachers need a treasure trove of strategies, a virtual toolbox of opportunities, to meet today’s student where they need to be met. These digital learning strategies don’t require the teacher to be an expert in their function; they only require a willingness to let the students try some new ways of doing things. This is an opportunity to utilize digital tools for the sake of differentiated instruction and divergent thinking, where students construct their own versions of learning and critique the work of their peers.

By the way, you can read my grandmother’s basic biscotti recipe HERE (and downloadhere). I encourage you to try out your own recipe replacements, deviations, and subversions, in the classroom and in the kitchen. This year, as a sneak peek to the reader, I can share that I’m considering some new ingredients including lime juice, cream cheese, and a blueberry/pecan trail mix that I enjoy.

If you’re interested in learning more about Digital Learning Strategies and instructional replacement ideas, my new book will be available from ASCD on December 13th. It will be available in both print and digital editions and is part of ASCD’s new short form texts called ARIAS, meaning that the book is meant to be read in one sitting, perhaps while you’re waiting on that first batch of biscotti to come out of the oven.