Tech PD and Speed Geeking with Digital Teachers at ASFM

Since the implementation of the first Technology Integration Specialist and Technology Vision at ASFM 4 years ago, so much has changed. Professional Development went from nothing… to teachers reflecting on adopted tools and using staff created video tutorials to improve their tech knowledge and purposeful use of technology in lessons and units. Whether most of the staff know it or not, the teachers at ASFM are in a very good place, especially considering where we were just 4 years ago.

This year, we have 3 Tech Integration Specialists and 1 Director of Technology Integration- all who work collaboratively with IT, administration, curriculum coaches, teachers, and students to make the learning experience at ASFM the best it can be for everyone.

For our first “official” Tech PD session of the 2014-15 school year, the Tech Integration team decided it was time to move away from our standard PD practice. In the past we met together as a full staff for a few nuts and bolts and then headed in separate directions for teachers’ individual needs. Again, while this has helped develop staff knowledge and capability, we wanted to begin the year with energy and excitement and something different. We decided on Speed Geeking- ASFM Style.

6 volunteer Digital Teachers were each willing to showcase and share what they were doing with technology in their classrooms, a solid start. With these 6 volunteers leading different Tech Sessions, we were able to divide the 100+ staff into groups of approximately 18 teachers per group. Since we decided to showcase the talent in ASFM, we wanted to be sure every staff member was able to see exactly what each DT was implementing. Therefore, we set up a time table for our Speed Geeking:

  • 6, 2 minute presentations
  • 2 minutes for staff to travel from classroom to classroom (a chance to see each DT session)
  • 6 tools/practices would be showcased
  • 24 minutes to complete the entire cycle

Following the 24 minute Speed Geeking format, grade level teams met to discuss their individual needs and to reflect on how they would be able to implement/adapt one of the ideas presented during the Speed Geeking time into a lesson, assessment, or unit.

There were multiple reasons why the TIS team chose to follow this Speed Geeking PD style.

1. Being a risk taker. Sure- things could go exceedingly well, and we could celebrate innovation, staff learning, and DT leadership. Or- they could completely fail, especially during our first attempt at something new. But no matter what- we spoke to teachers about how we would reflect on the experience and work on improving the portions that did not work so well, and work even harder to replicate the sections that did prove successful.

2. Learning from Within. We can pay a lot of money for consultants and outside sources of knowledge to come in an guide us- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that- when it’s needed. However, there are such power practices coming from right within the walls of our school, this was a great time to give exposure to those practices, and recognize the fact that- we have experts right in our building!

3. Developing Leadership Skills. DTs had the chance to lead a PD session, and for some of them this was their first experience in participating in such a task. It was a great time to provide them with an opportunity for planning and executing their own session, in a supportive and comfortable environment.

4. Enjoying learning. The teachers at ASFM work harder than in any other school I have witnessed. If there is any chance to take a moment and have fun learning during a PD session, take it! Why not sing and dance between sessions? Why not Tweet your learnings? Why not leave an afternoon of PD feeling energized and inspired?

5. Promoting Creativity. Not only were the 2 minute presentations in need of being creative and energetic, but how teachers ended up adapting what they learned from the Speed Geeking sessions proved creative as well. The very next day, teachers were implementing tools and practices into their lessons in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Based on feedback from teachers, it appears as though Speed Geeking at ASFM proved a valuable learning experience.

6 Sessions Presented:

  1. Use of iPad app Coaches Eye by P.E. teacher, Ernesto. @ernestoer5
  2. Flipping the Classroom with librarian, Fiona. @FiMora71
  3. Clamation and Stop Motion with art teacher Babbi and Monica. @BabbiArt @MonyGdD
  4. SMARTBoard usage by Nursery and Kindergarten aides, Paula and Miriam.
  5. Use of Chatterpix app by 1st grade teacher, Mireya.
  6. Appsmash of Explain Everything and ThingLink by 5th grade teacher, Laura.

Multiple Tech Tools Don’t Get in the way of Good Teaching

Be sure to read Laura’s reflection on the experience at the bottom of this post and video.

Last week I had the chance to head into a 5th grade homeroom teacher’s class for an hour of learning. Teacher and Digital Teacher at ASFM, Laura Blanco, had informed me that she was going to be using a few new tools she had not tried out with students before. While she was not asking for help by any means, and was simply sharing this information… I invited myself into her room anyway out of sheer intrigue with what she had described. Luckily, she accepted.

One day prior to this experience Laura first heard about the creation tool ThingLink (upload an image and add links to text, images, and video, then share) in a DT meeting. Just over 24 hours later she decided to try implementing the tool into a lesson with 20 fifth graders. That was the first thing that excited me. Laura had no fear about trying out something completely new to her. She recognized that if the tool proved unsuccessful, she would learn from the experience and either adapt, try again, or accept that this was not the appropriate tool for the lesson.


After creating the ThingLink, Laura then embedded the image into her class Edmodo site for easy sharing and access for her students. Within just a few weeks of school starting, Laura’s students know their Edmodo page is a place to consume, create, and share content.

The ThingLink contained screen cast tutorials (using Screencast-O-Matic), made by Laura, which linked to directions for her students to follow. These directions could be paused, repeated, or fast forwarded so the students were able to learn at a pace that was suitable to their needs.

With the teacher creation and student consumption complete, it was now time for students to begin creating.

Students used the tutorials to create slides in the Explain Everything iPad app- for the creation of their own math tutorials. Based on the results from students’ math assessments, they were assigned a math problem they had mastered, and were asked to solve/record a problem and describe their thought process or steps for completing the problem along the way.

The next step in this project is to go even further. The tutorials the students created will be shared and uploaded into ALEKS (a web based, individualized, and adaptive math program). The videos will be available as a resource for other students to use when they reach a problem of the same skill level they do not know how to answer. These tutorials will act as support for other students with their learning.

Two final pieces about Laura’s implementation of technology caught my eye- beyond being a risk taker, flexible and a problem solver. First, throughout the hour, the focus was never on the technology tool. Sure, there were some nuts and bolts in the beginning of the lesson, but the primary focus was on the learning and development of 21st century skills in her students. Technology did not get in the way or become the star of the hour, student learning was clearly the focus, and technology just provided a means to that outcome. The second, and final, piece, was that students were provided with an authentic situation for the development of these tutorials. Students will witness the direct implementation of the videos, and watch how their own planning, collaborating, creative thinking, and creating are able to help others with their learning.

 Laura’s reflection on the experience:

Creating the videos had two main benefits. First, as the students created the tutorials and tried to figure out how to best explain a concept, they deepened their understanding of it. The second benefit was having these tutorials available for other students to learn from. I knew that the students in my class were in different places with their knowledge and their comfort in using the app and I also knew that some of the math concepts they would be explaining were more difficult than others and some students would need to review first.

I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!

Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.

Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.

This activity was asking a lot from the students. They had to learn about the app, review the math concept, think of the best way to explain it and then plan and execute their video tutorials – and I challenged them to be as independent as possible. I was interested in seeing how much they could take on and how they could problem solve and figure things out on their own.

It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything – they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review partial products before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the ‘challenge’ was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.

Developing 21st Century Skills Through Mystery Skype Calls

As part of my Individual Professional Growth Plan, this year I decided to pair my own goal with an ASFM School-Wide Goal to: “Establish and expand students’ 21st Century Skills through the use of technology by continuing to develop the skills of communicating, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and civic awareness.” Right now 21st Century Skills and technology are being said simultaneously in the same sentence nearly 100% of the time. And while 21st Century Skills really only include a small portion dedicated to technology, technology does lend itself as a valuable tool for purposefully practicing and developing these attributes. Therefore I sought out to accomplish this goal in a manner that would easily blend the two components together, using Mystery Skype as the major tool for the job.

Mystery Skype Calls occur when two classes connect from different locations in the world. The students from each classroom do not know where the other is located, however the goal of the call is to find out exactly which school they attend. Different teachers have different rules and guidelines. We stuck with 2 rules: only “yes” and “no” questions and each class takes a turn at asking questions. The rest is really up to the students. Some jobs we created in my classroom were: Question Askers, Question Answerers, Researchers, Runners who take information to/from Researchers and Question Askers, Recorders that type and post questions and answers through TodaysMeet, and Documenters who took photographs and videos of the experience.

This year my group of 4th graders had their first chance to engage in a Mystery Skype call with Marcie Lewis and her 4th grade students at Ridley College in St. Catherine’s Ontario, Canada. I met Marcie in the MSU, MAET overseas cohort. She actually introduced me to the idea of the event, and provided me with some helpful guidance. Our second call was with Sarah Hayward and her 5th grade students at South River Elementary School in Grottoes, Virginia, USA. I used to teach 3rd grade with Sarah at Elkton Elementary, and knew she would be game for connecting our classrooms. Prior to each live call, my students and I did some “practicing” and developing of our 21st Century Skills to further prepare ourselves for the real thing. Primarily working on, Learning and Innovation Skills– critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills were developed through the “yes” and “no” questions students asked the other classroom about their location. In doing so, students practiced deductive reasoning skills by asking about hemispheres and continents, then narrowing it down to countries, regions of countries, states or provinces, cities or towns and then individual schools. Problem solving came into play when asking questions regarding; Private or public school? International school? Population of students? All of the answers to these questions would lead students in a more direct path to locating the other class. Critical thinking skills were also important in deciding which tool to use: iPad, iTouch, laptop, atlas, globe, or social studies book? Which tool would be the most efficient and effective in locating the class quickly? Even which search engine to use was decided upon by students. They made the decision about the appropriate time to switch between Google Maps vs Google throughout the 45-60 minute call. Students who were in charge of speaking to the participating class also developed their critical thinking skills, as they reviewed the knowledge they had already gained and would field questions based on this information.

Communication and collaboration are skills that were relied on and strengthened during the Mystery Skype calls as well. Communication was important as students researching needed to remind each other of questions that had already been asked, as well as the answers that had been provided. Students shared their knowledge of geography and researching skills with one another as they worked toward finding the other group of students. “Runners” moved between research stations and students in charge of speaking directly to the participating class, to communicate the questions that had been formulated by the collaborative teams. Speakers discussed with one another whether the question was suitable based on the criteria they had already attained. In addition, pairs of students collaborated and communicated on documenting and keeping record of what had been asked and answered, in order to assist with future inquiries. On a final note, my classroom is full of ESL students, as a majority of them are native Spanish speakers. This experience also provided an authentic format for practicing their communication skills with native English speakers.

Creativity and innovation played a role when students were conducting their research and formulating questions to be asked. If students were having a difficult time with search results, they often altered their search. Wording the search differently or posing a question into the web browser were creative ways students tried to receive the information they were looking for. Searches for blogs about schools in specific areas, looking at “Top Ten” lists of popular cities in a state or province, or using Google Images were all innovative ways students had been able to use the web to draw their search nearer. When providing yes or no questions, students had also become innovative. Rather than asking, “Do you speak English at your school?” students asked, “Is English the first language in the country where you go to school?”- trying to determine if it is an international school or a country where English is the native language.

21st Century Life and Career Skills were also developed as it is easy to see how flexibility and adaptability are required throughout the Skype call. Based on responses, students needed to adapt searches and inquiries, especially at the beginning of the call. As there is very little teacher involvement in the experience, students took initiative and self-directed their plan of action. Student voice is definitely heard throughout the call, as students are the center of the learning that is taking place. Social and cross-cultural skills were strengthened not only with the individual class, but with the class they were participating with- by taking turns, listening purposefully, and speaking clearly. Leadership and responsibility came through naturally from the beginning of the call to the end, as students reminded each other not to repeat a question and to stay on task. And finally, productivity and accountability were reflected on after the call was complete, asking, “What went well?” and “How might we improve for the next time?”

What I have found most valuable about this experience is how it aligns with our School Wide Goal of enhancing these skills through the use of technology- and it is not a stretch to do so. From making the actual Skype call, to researching, to aggregating questions and answers, to documenting the whole experience- none of this would have been made possible without the use of technology.

If you are interested in participating in a Mystery Skype call with us, feel free to contact me directly or register at #MysterySkype.

See a transcript of our class’s most recent Skype call.

Tools used by our class: