IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Technology Mindset Shift: From Means to End

If you’ve read my book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, you’ll know I promote focusing on the ends over the means of standards. It’s easy to focus on the means, or the effort, without focusing on the end, or the results. Let’s not make this mistake with educational technology.

My systems analyst days

People in the business world use technology to accomplish their goals. Few, if any, tout how many computers they have; rather, they use them seamlessly and purposefully toward a greater goal. In 1981, I made a side-trip from teaching to work as a systems analyst. Day one I was handed my terminal (precursor to today’s Chromebook; a gateway to a bigger computer.) I don’t think any of us bragged over our 1:1 environment; we didn’t focus on it at all. Instead, we focused on the software we were designing with it; the interoffice communication it allowed, and analyzing data.

Yet in the educational world, we tend to lead with “we’re 1:1,”  “we’re BYOD,” “we’re a GAFE district,” “we have a Mac graphic design lab,” and so forth. In reality, all of this means little unless you’re using it to develop students who can think at high levels, communicate well, collaborate, problem solve, and exhibit the skills and attitudes needed for their future. Don’t get me wrong, schools should have a lot of technology available for students and educators — a lot! The possibilities for the advancement of achievement are unparalleled. Just don’t stop at the inventory.

The greatest gift given to me by my stint in the design and coding world was that I returned to teaching with a mindset of ends-based computing: what are we doing with it? Over the years, I’ve categorized computer use in a variety of ways, including my Tech Hierarchy and Ten Characteristics of a ‘NetCentric Society. One, the Categories of Tech Infusion, offers seven ways in which students interact with computer technology in the learning process. (Note: this is not about the creation and design process; that’s another topic!) Let’s look at these categories through the lens of results.

As schools work to build skills in executive function, the information management aspect of technology can be extremely powerful. Teach students naming conventions for files so they can easily find them later, how to manage their documents, how to bookmark web pages, how to use an online calendar, and more. … What? You struggle with these skills too? See how important they are?

If you want students to master the ELA skills of the standards, they need to be immersed in an environment of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A silent blog (students all discuss an issue at the same time, online, in silence) allows everyone to engage in the conversation (as opposed to just those whose hands are up.) Students need to read and respond to others: it’s real time, it’s engaging, it builds communication skills, and it gets them ready for Twitter chats! 😉

Sometimes, two heads are better than one, but only when they truly collaborate rather than trying to convince one another to switch sides. Collaboration skills are complex but so worthy of being taught. Cloud-based Apps that allow students and teachers to offers suggestions and comments, and to co-create, build a “felt need” for collaborative skills. With technology, students can not only collaborate with students in the classroom, but with those in other classrooms, schools, cities, countries, solar systems. . . (Ok, maybe not solar systems … yet!)

There are many experiences that are not available to students in schools, such as traveling in space or to the bottom of the ocean, engaging in a revolution, managing a city, building an amusement park, blood typing on a crime scene, and more. But these are all available through simulations. Simulations are powerful for building understanding of content, cause-and-effect relationships, and unintended consequences. I’m thinking many of us should use auto simulators before heading out on the road!

Students spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to wear, what backpack they want to carry, what language they want to use, and more. Why? Because they are appealing to an audience: in these cases, an audience of their peers. Nothing says “pay attention to detail” better than an audience. When students produce for an audience beyond the teacher, they tend to focus more on the quality of their work; and, they experience the power of one’s voice being heard. There are many websites where students can publish their writing and ideas anonymously (anonymity is a must!)

Building an understanding of concepts and skills requires grappling: struggling and wrestling with content. Teachers’ wonderful explanations just don’t do it. If you’re going to learn to swim, you have to get in the water! Provide students with ample time to explore content, solutions, and ideas. I recently saw a fifth grade teacher trigger students’ awareness by asking how the students’ plants (science experiment) were going to survive over winter break without anyone to water them. I asked a student if he ever heard of the term aqua globe? He immediately looked it up on computer and was excited to find the term, which led him to read more about the concept. He returned from lunch with a plastic soda bottle, armed with the grit to make one himself. He watched YouTube videos; he thought through different ideas, researching more and more. He presented his teacher and classmates with his idea for feedback. This powerful learning experience was made possible by the availability of technology to explore concepts and skills.

Gaining popularity are 3-D Virtual Environments, which are related to simulations. The two differences are that they are three-dimensional, in that you feel like you are actually in the environment, walking around, driving, etc.; and that you often interact with other live human beings as opposed to just a computer. There are virtual environments that are just simulations with better graphics; but there are also those through which you engage with others who are online at the same time as avatars, for maximum engagement! It’s not mainstream in schools yet, but just wait!

I hope these categories will help you to think through the opportunities you offer students to build higher levels of content understanding and application. You can access a blank grid for brainstorming on the IDEportal — our online instructional resource for student-driven learning.

If you’re headed to FETC 2017 in Orlando, find us at booth 2440. If you’re headed to Techspo 2017 in Atlantic City, find us at booth 104. For a look at our presentations at both, visit the news section of our website.

Three Levels of #LATIC Implementation

I have great respect and appreciation for teachers who work hard to shift their paradigms and practices to design Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms. The multi-year process requires that they move through three levels of innovation implementation:

Level I) The Framework

As a foundation, the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a combination of Authentic Learning Units (ALUs) and a collection of structures. The first step in design is to create a compelling problem-based task for the unit, followed by a rubric to provide clearly-articulated expectations. Creating activity lists of required, choice, and optional activities builds student responsibility for learning, as do structures, such as: the Help Board, Peer Expert Board, and Resource Area. All of this becomes the first level of design in shifting to a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

However, students may not show the desired achievement gains without . . .

Level II) Purposeful Learning Activities

As students encounter an unknown skill or concept on the rubric, they should be able to look at the activity list and find a variety of ways to learn, such as through: videos, how-to sheets, learning centers, and more. The challenge is that conventionally, a teacher presents the content to the whole class and then assigns activities to practice what they’ve learned. In Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms, teachers minimize the amount of whole-class instruction; however, they must still provide direct instruction through a variety of venues, Therefore, once teachers have the foundation, they turn to creating and improving upon their library of learning activities. This improves student achievement, however, to raise the level of academic rigor so that students build deep understanding of content and can apply it to new situations, you need . . .

Level III) Masterful Teacher Facilitation

The role of teachers in Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms shifts to engaging with students “in-the-moment” as they pursue learning goals. Teachers help students learn to self-assess, set goals, manage time, and select appropriate learning resources. They work from the Help Board to assist those in need of help. Most importantly, they probe students’ thinking through “what if?” questions and content-rich conversations. They observe and listen to students, synthesize the data, determine the natural next step for a student, and then provide guidance. It’s difficult to locate teachers because they’re sitting down with students.


It’s important to move through to include all three levels of implementation. Take the worthy journey to design classrooms that are the embodiment of Students Taking Charge, and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Form Follows Function

The term “form follows function” derives from an article by American architect Louis Sullivan entitled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. To summarize the meaning:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The influence of the factory-model of efficiency had a profound impact on schooling, in spite of the fact that churning out products has little to do with nurturing thinking. Classrooms today still resemble the factory approach of individual seats set in rows, though in recent decades schools have worked to modify that by clustering desks or placing them in a circle. What must happen, however, is that schools need to rethink the function of schooling and outfit classrooms accordingly.

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students engage in learning in a social environment, as collaborators as well as individual content masters. Students are actively engaged in a variety of activities throughout the day; and while short, whole-group lessons are a part of the day, they are nowhere near the bulk of the day. Therefore, the form of the classroom should address the various functions related to student work. Students can then move seats and sit in a variety of areas for the whole-group lesson. Here are a few considerations for furniture purchases:

1. To create a culture of collaboration, ensure an unbroken surface among collaborators. Round tables ensure that equals sit around a table with an unbroken surface, thus not designating any area as belong to any member, and not having any member at the head of a table. I recommend 42″ tables for most four-person collaborations as it allows for discussion with lower voices than the more common 48″ tables. A clover table is a great “hybrid” — students sit at the indent, 42″ apart, while surrounded by a little more table space with a 48″ diameter at the longest side.

2. For pairs discussions, and for speaking activities in a world language classroom, use smaller, 32″ café tables. A smaller table allows two students to converse with one another without adding to the overall noise level of the classroom. It provides a form that follows the function of a one-on-one conversation.

3. Consider high-top tables, particularly in middle schools. Students who are experiencing growth spurts and hormonal changes often need to move around and shift position during the class period. A high-top table allows students to continue to engage in learning whether they choose to stand or sit. While working, you’ll see students stand, sit, and stand again without interrupting the conversation.

4. For individual work, consider using some individual desks, perhaps placed in an area of the room away from the collaborative areas. Standing desks can be useful as well; a recent Forbes article pointed out the value of standing desks for energizing the brain.

5. For small-group discussions of, for example, the current problem students are trying to solve, consider soft-seating such as couches and comfy chairs so students are engaging in what feels more like a living room. Students can sign up to reserve the discourse center for their group work.

6. Teacher facilitation is an important part of the learning experience, and, while students are working, teachers should be moving around from table to table, area to area, to partner with them in the learning process. While facilitating, teachers should sit with students (or stand alongside them) rather than hover over them. To accommodate this activity, a stool makes a great seating option for the teacher. Teachers can carry around a lightweight stool or have several set up around the room.

7. For conferences; small-group, mini-lessons; and book discussions, you might want to use a rectangular table, allowing for a more formal environment with, perhaps, a group leader.

These are a few ideas for furniture that fits within the generally accepted ideas for classroom furniture. However, more and more school furniture companies today are developing unique options for various activities. Just consider the function, and find the appropriate form to match that function!

Here are some “tweeted” options from our client Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (click on the image for the full tweet):




Desks with writeable surfaces


A variety of areas in third grade

Student-created areas

And more . . .


Meditation is to Teaching . . .

Happy New Year! The January return to school is always accompanied by resolutions and energized educators looking to continue to make that difference in the lives of their students. It’s also a time when people are determined to take time to take care of themselves: going to the gym, daily meditation, reading more novels, etc.

My last blog post of 2016 focused on the quest for innovation. For my first of 2017, I thought I’d use meditation as a metaphor for teaching. The purpose of meditation is to achieve deeper levels of consciousness, positioning one for greater success and happiness. The purpose of teaching is to achieve deeper levels of learning and understanding, positioning one’s students for greater success and happiness.

When meditating, you sit up very straight, elongating your spine, which takes deliberate effort. However, you then begin to relax most of your muscles, from your head down to your toes. The infrastructure of your spine supports you; the part of your body that expends energy to work and move relaxes into a calm state. I like to think this describes a well-run Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

The “spine” of the classroom is the infrastructure you put in place: the problem-based tasks, rubrics to guide students, activity lists, how-to sheets and videos, resource area, help board, peer expert board, and more. Setting up your infrastructure takes deliberate effort. However, the “muscles” that you have used to ensure everyone is working, gather students, give directives, handle behavioral issues, hand out papers, etc. can now relax, knowing that the students’ actions are supported by the infrastructure. That leaves you to now relax into the classroom environment and use your mind to help move students to deeper levels of understanding through your facilitation.

You can observe students in action; ask clarifying questions to assess their level of understanding; ask higher-order, probing questions to push their thinking; offer suggestions for their work plans; offer instruction when they’re stuck; and more. If the spine is strong, the muscles can relax. So to enjoy the mental stimulation and conversations between teacher and student in the classroom, take steps to strengthen your infrastructure.

Wishing you all the best for 2017!

#LATICinsights – Avoiding the No-Man’s Land of Innovation

Innovation requires a shift in mindset and action, sometimes taking you outside of your comfort zone. As you design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you will no doubt find times that you are outside of your comfort zone. Your tendency might be to drop a structure that doesn’t seem to work for you or your students. Don’t do it!

In the game of tennis, players first played at the baseline. The ball would cross over the net, bounce in the court, and as it approached the back line, the player would hit it back. Over time, the game, and tennis racquet fotolia_tenniscourt_xstechnology, evolved, and the net game was born. The player would run up to the net and hit the ball as it crossed, not waiting for it to bounce first. For some players, this was natural and comfortable. For others, being at the net was stressful, and they would begin to back up, fearing they would miss the ball. The problem is that if they backed up to just the middle of the court, they would find themselves in what tennis folks call “No-Man’s Land” (the center of the court between the net and the baseline.) The balls would bounce at their feet and they could not hit them.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, if teachers back up and drop a structure here and there, they end up in #LATIC No-Man’s Land. The classroom will not run as smoothly and the students may not achieve to the desired levels. The key is, you can’t drop a structure because each one has an important reason for being there, and the structures support one another. Take a look at the list below. This represents just some of the many structures that make the classroom work.


As you innovate, be sure to lean in, embrace the change, reflect and adjust, but keep moving forward. When something appears to not work, it’s usually because a structure or strategy is missing. Rather than reverting to former methods, find out what’s missing that needs to be added. Avoid No-Man’s Land! Innovate and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Social Learning Environments Accelerate Literacy Development

fotolia_kids-collab_xs_croppedIf you want to build literacy skills, leverage the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as a social learning environment. Consider that students engage in problem-solving as part of a learning community in which they engage with teachers, outside experts, and one another. They spend their day speaking, listening, reading, and writing! It’s a veritable literacy playground, if you set it up well.

Problems and Solutions word on wooden table

Through the solution-finding process, students discuss what they know, what they need to learn, how they will learn, what they’ve found out, possible solutions, and how they will present the solution to others. In addition, the structures of the classroom provide myriad opportunities for teachers to build literacy skills outside of deliberate literacy instruction.

When I ask students what they like about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, they invariably mention the ability to choose what they do when. That freedom is enhanced through literacy. Given students are motivated to control their own time and learning activities, teachers can use that motivation to deliberately build literacy skills. post-it-tenacity

  • Use your notes in the two-pocket folder to build vocabulary by using a word and then defining it.
  • Model strong language use on your activity list. Instead of saying, “Read article on water cycle and draw your own,” say, “Peruse (read thoughtfully) the article on the water cycle and illustrate a depiction of your own.” Instead of “Write down your ideas from reading the story and meet with a group member to share ideas and agree on one main take-away,” say, “Generate and capture in writing your insights upon reading the story; meet with a colleague to collaborate on determining one, key insight to glean from the story.” If you want students to build language skills, you need to model them. Create a culture of literacy!
  • Have students use a design process to work through a problem, keeping a design notebook in which they write their findings and ideas. (The problem itself will promote reading.)
  • When you facilitate, ask students to tell you about what they’re doing and why. Engage in conversation! Introduce vocabulary words there as well.

Below is a grid on just some of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom through which teachers can build literacy skills.


Deliberate and purposeful use of language in the classroom paired with maximizing opportunities for students to speak, listen, read, and write are foundational to building a culture of literacy. Add to that direct instruction in literacy through learning activities; small-group, mini-lessons; and concept-based benchmark lessons, and you have the formula for accelerating literacy development. And with strong literacy skills, you can … change the world!








Hour of Code for Raising Student Achievement

As a former computer programmer, who believes that programmers run the world, I have a particular fondness for the first full week in December, known as “Hour of Code.” Coding deserves a lot more respect than it gets for raising overall student achievement.

Coding is the art and science of giving commands to a computer to make something happen. For students, it often focuses on moving characters or objects around a screen to accomplish some task, or giving commands to a robotic device to have it carry out specific tasks, such as picking up an object or moving. The Hour of Code site has many coding activities in which students (and you) can engage.

You can think of Hour of Code as an introduction to the field of computer science. However, the academic skills students will build during that hour are powerful. First, they will be exercising many executive function skills. The highlighted skills below are just some that stand out; you could actually highlight almost every executive function skill as being addressed through coding. As you plan or use existing coding activities, map them to executive function skills to see how you robust your coding activities really are.


Coding also building reasoning skills, which are essential to student achievement. Here are just three types of reasoning supported by coding:


For a more comprehensive list of types of reasoning skills, visit the changing minds website.

Try some of this year’s Hour of Code activities and think through how each one builds executive function and reasoning skills, both key to increasing student achievement. Then consider building coding opportunities into your classroom or course throughout the year. Promote coding; change the world!

#LATICinsights: Inspire Big; Teach Small

Teaching should not be transactional; it should be transformational. The goal of teaching is to ensure that students gain a level of understanding of content that enables them to apply it to new situations, thus transforming them.

Learning comes from making sense and meaning of content (Sousa, 2011) and is enhanced when students have:

  • a felt-need for the content
  • time to explore and grapple with the content
  • direct instruction in skills at the appropriate time in the appropriate modality
  • time to practice skills and content application

The first bullet speaks to a teacher’s ability to inspire students. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, that comes from the teacher providing students with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve, and from whole-group lessons that present concepts that leave students on the edges of their seats. Teachers can inspire through whole-class lessons: inspire big!

The remaining bullets are not accomplished through whole-group instruction, but through small venues: a small-group, mini-lesson offered by the teacher; one-on-one or small-group facilitation by the teacher; independent learning activities; and peer assistance. screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-12-07-33-amThese are critical structures in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as they provide the most meaningful instruction and learning opportunities for students.

When you stand before the entire class, inspire! Trigger students’ awareness of new content they can use.

quotePlan your lesson well; present for no more than 15 minutes; use a combination of voice and visuals. Do not teach skills! Skill development is a verycomplex process, taking place mostly through internal cognitive processing. Can some people listen to a teacher, cognitively process the information, and learn without missing the next sentence? Maybe. Can an entire class? Absolutely not; not even if they are all homogeneously grouped. Inspiration grabs students’ attention, focuses them, and causes them to generate questions they want answered. So you can inspire big! But . . .

Teach small! Provide ample opportunities for students to engage in a variety of learning activities. Offer small-group, mini-lessons on targeted content aimed at varying levels of ability. Rather than a lesson on “perimeter,” offer lessons, such as:

  • What Is Perimeter? (for beginners at the concept)
  • Calculating Perimeter of a Square or Rectangle
  • Calculating Perimeter of Various Polygons
  • Understanding Circumference: The Perimeter of a Circle (advanced mini-lesson that requires passing an entrance quiz to receive a ticket)

Also consider what videos are available or can be recorded to present lessons. Students who need more time to think than the pace of the lesson can stop and rewind.

Following are some classroom snapshots where you can see the “teach small” concept in action:

Inspire big! Teach small! Change the world!


#LATICinsights True North

Illustration of old fashioned nautical compass, isolated on brown background.

In navigation, “true north” is the direction to the Earth’s axis. It differs slightly from a compass’ magnetic north, and from a map’s grid north. So it takes some reflection, calculation, and adjustment to find. In life, the metaphor plays out to mean finding one’s authentic life and living it to one’s fullest potential. So I thought I’d relate it to the plight of a teacher running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, in relentless pursuit of the greater purpose of ensuring learning for all students.

In #LATIC, true north would be a set of beliefs to which you are striving, always pointing. They include:

  • All students can learn at high levels; it is a teacher’s job to help them figure out their personal path to success.
  • Engagement is key to learning: not compliant engagement merely through activity choice, but that which comes from grappling with real world problems that give purpose to instructional activities.
  • Students must be empowered through responsibility and choice in order to build executive function and be prepared for life beyond school.
  • Direct instruction in rigorous content is essential and is provided through carefully crafted learning activities; web-based activities; how-to sheets; and small-group, mini-lessons.
  • A teacher’s role during class is to facilitate: ask probing questions, challenge thinking at deeper levels, gather assessment data to drive further activities, and be a key part of a student’s learning process.

As you continue to design and perfect your classroom learning environment, keep your sights on true north. Check the daily decisions you make against the beliefs held by Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Teachers.


#LATICinsights: Protocols for Powerful Engagement

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, the teacher is a “bridge builder,” creating structures that allow students to take charge of their own learning. It’s important to ensure that at any point in time, you can look at a student and know what is going on in that student’s mind. Is real learning taking place?

Protocols can help! A protocol is a set of guidelines for interaction. A strong #LATIC bridge builder provides students with protocols. A direction sheet with clear steps to follow to complete an activity is a protocol for how students will engage with information toward learning. As students engage in group work and discussions, protocols can ensure that they are getting the most out of the experience.

You can teach students proper “rules of engagement” for discussions to make them productive. Once students build the skills, they will be able to schedule and engage in discussions on their own. Here is an example of a protocol for a group discussion (If you would like a pdf of this protocol and the others mentioned in here, please contact us using the box on the right.):


This protocol references a placemat activity to begin the discussion and a Six Hats and PMI chart for consensus building.

Thnsrflogoe National School Reform Faculty has a great collection of protocols to use with students. The key is to provide the “bridge” structures to allow students to take charge of their own learning.

That frees up the teacher to facilitate and engage in important discussions around content rather than organizing student action. Empower your students; change the world!