technology integration

Cloudy with a Chance of Learning

The weather has finally turned nice and summer break looms on the horizon.  The prospects of summer days ahead adds a certain amount of sunshine to each day.  Why not add some clouds to the mix, word clouds that is!

word cloud of prologue from Romeo & Juliet
Prologue from Romeo & Juliet

At this point in the year, tackling new technology can seem daunting.  However, word clouds are versatile and easy to create, providing a different way to look at text.  What exactly is a word cloud?

A word cloud is a visual representation of text.  An image is created out of words.  Word clouds can be created from existing text (poem, historical document, literature passage, song, definition, etc.) or created by contributions from an individual or a group.  The words appear in different sizes to reflect the frequency with which the words exist in the text used to create the word cloud.

lyrics to Star Spangled Banner
Star Spangled Banner

Word clouds are great teaching tools, especially when they are used to:

  • activate prior knowledge
  • analyze text
  • describe anything (e.g. character traits, properties of something, etc.)
  • brainstorm anything (e.g. character, setting, plot, traits, properties. etc.)
  • create an entrance or exit-ticket
  • supplement a biography or autobiography

    geometry terms
    Geometry Terms

There are many tools available to create word clouds, my favorite is Tagxedo.  It is simple to use and word clouds can take on a variety of shapes, color patterns and font styles.  Several examples are shown to the right.

Overview of Use:

  • Go to
  • Click Create.
  • Click Load.
  • In the text entry field, type or copy & paste text.

    Newton's 1st Law of Motion
    Newton’s 1st Law of Motion
  • Click Submit.
  • Change the shape, themes, font, etc. using the side menu.
  • Click Save/Share to generate an image file.

If you would like more detailed directions, check out this terrific tutorial.

I hope there is a chance of a few clouds in your future!

technology integration

Happy Digital Learning Day!


Happy Digital Learning Day!  Today marks the 4th annual Digital Learning Day sponsored by the Alliance for Educational Excellence.  What is digital learning?

Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience. It emphasizes high-quality instruction and provides access to challenging content, feedback through formative assessment, opportunities for learning anytime and anywhere, and individualized instruction to ensure all students reach their full potential to succeed in college and a career. – Source

There is a lot of great digital learning happening at MHS on a daily basis!  In the past week I have seen Google Classroom being used to facilitate the research process, interactive learning tools being created in Easiteach for use in the classroom, Discovery Education videos shared as homework assignments to support literature being explored in class, and students engaged in a webquests during class time to explore new concepts.  In each of these instances, what is most exciting is that the focus has been on learning and not on the technology.  Teachers are using tools with students to engage them, differentiate instruction, and facilitate tasks to allow more time for higher order thinking.  Digital Learning Day is meant to provide an opportunity for educators to share best practices.

If you have the opportunity today, ask a colleague about how they are using technology in their classroom. Check out the Digital Learning Day site to learn how others around the world are using technology in classrooms.  Stop by my office or send me an email to talk about an idea you have, I want to help you turn those ideas into realities . . . every day at MHS can be a digital learning day!

technology integration

Blizzard Bags

This has certainly been an interesting winter.  Boston has had 78.1″ of snow this season and this winter is poised to go on record as one of the top five snowiest winters.  With snow in the forecast two times within the next five days, I’m guessing we’ll make it to the top five!

While the first couple of snow days were pure bliss, the snow days are adding up and I find myself less thrilled with the prospect of being in school until the last moments of June.  Hence, my fascination with Blizzard Bags!

You may have heard of this practice recently highlighted on CBS:


Some schools in New Hampshire have been adopting Blizzard Bags to make up for snow days.  Students engage in online course work (25 minutes per class) from home on snow days.  If 80% of the students complete the work, the Blizzard Bag experience counts as a school day.  In Massachusetts, the Burlington and Wayland Public Schools have been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education to implement a similar model to make up snow days this year.

This makes sense to me for a few reasons:

  • If Blizzard Bags are assigned for completion on a snow day, momentum is not lost. Being in school 2 -3 days a week during three recent weeks that included snow days has definitely impacted learning.  Imagine if students came back to school having already read, watched, practiced and/or discussed content that kept them focused on the curriculum?
  • We have the technology tools to easily facilitate Blizzard Bag learning (Discovery Education, Aspen, Google Drive, Google Classroom, Canvas).
  • There is nothing like an old-fashioned snow day to stay in your pj’s all day and read a good book, or to get out for some sledding and snow play.  Burlington’s approach to the Blizzard Bag is to plan projects and learning experiences that do not need to be completed by the end of  a given snow day.  Rather, utilizing existing web tools  the project timelines, updates, and assignment resources will be made available to students online.  Student completion of these projects will amount to one school day.
  • Blizzard Bags provide flexibility, one New Hampshire superintendent indicated that some days are just snow days, while others are Blizzard Bag days.  Wouldn’t it be nice to use the five snow days allotted on the school calendar and make up the rest with Blizzard Bags?

There are also challenges to this model:

  • What if students do not have access to the technology that allows them to engage with Blizzard Bag content?
  • What if students lose power at home and are not able to complete Blizzard Bags for a next day due date?
  • What if 75% of students complete Blizzard Bags, falling short of the 80% required for the day to count as a makeup day? What happens to the students who did do the work and now need to physically attend a makeup day?
  • When does teacher training and support take place to help develop meaningful and engaging Blizzard Bag content online?
  • The name, Blizzard Bag – it is catchy, but most snow days aren’t blizzards and there is no bag going home!  How about Storm Sites? Interest Icicles?  Snow School? Ask some elementary kids learning about alliteration and I’m sure they could brainstorm something catchy and representative of the model!

Ultimately, Blizzard Bags are great food for thought!  The model pushes us to think outside of the box, to take advantage of the ways in which technology can facilitate learning beyond the four walls of our schools.


technology integration

Reasons I Like TED Talks

I think, like most educators, I entered the teaching profession because I love learning and want to inspire that love of learning in students.  In the frenetic pace of daily life it is easy to get caught up in our “to do” lists and learning something new isn’t always at the top of the list.  TED Talks provide an oasis for learning that is manageable, but more so inspiring, making the time spent, time well spent.

If you aren’t familiar with TED Talks:

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Here is an example, Clint Smith: The danger of silence (4:18)

In list form, here are 5 Reasons I Like TED Talks:

  • The TED Talk motto is “ideas worth spreading.”
    How cool is that?  The TED Talk mission is to, “make great ideas accessible and spark conversation.”   TED Talks provide a food for thought resource, a place where you can hear a different perspective, challenge your thinking, and/or learn something new!
  • Talks are short.
    Most talks are under 20 minutes, with many falling under 10 minutes.  Who doesn’t have 10-20 minutes to spare every once in a while?
  • TED-Ed – Lessons Worth Sharing
    TED Talks have enormous potential for teaching and learning – introduction to a unit or lesson, information for research, or possibly a model for a student project!  One of TED’s initiatives is TED-Ed, lessons worth sharing.  There are two types of TED-Ed lessons: those created by educators in collaboration with screenwriters and animators to create a lesson, and those created by anyone who visits TED-Ed in which a YouTube video is supplemented with questions, discussion topics and other materials.  Check out their library of lessons.
  • Real World Connection
    As a classroom teacher, my goal was often to connect what we were doing in the classroom with the world beyond the classroom walls.  With speakers from around the world on countless topics, TED Talks are a great way to connect student learning to what is happening in the world!
  • Universal Design
    Click on any Ted Talk and you can immediately begin watching the video, but if you look to the lower-right of the bar beneath the video, you will see Subtitle and Transcript options.  This allows for the selection of subtitles in numerous languages, while the transcription is interactive in that text is underlined as it is spoken in the video.  Transcripts can also be translated to numerous languages.  These options make the videos widely accessible!
technology integration

Looking to mix up your presentations, try a Thinglink

Thinglink is a fantastic web-based tool that allows teachers to create interactive content.  This is a great option for creating presentations or an easy way to create interactive content to share with students.    Teachers are using Thinglink in other interesting ways, including creating interactive:

  • maps
  • vocabulary development activities (multimedia definitions)
  • reading lists
  • tutorials
  • prompts for class discussion
  • collection of links
  • study guides
  • share space for student work
  • virtual tours

How does it work?

Once you create a free educator account, you can upload any image (picture, map, diagram, etc.) to serve as a background.  From there, you add tags (there are a variety of icons to choose from) to spots on the image that serve as links to text you add or any web content (images, videos, audio snippets, primary source documents, simulations) you decide to include.  Thinglinks can then be shared via a link or an embed code, both of which can be added to a teacher website.  To interact with a completed Thinglink, you hover over icons to access content, small versions pop-up on top of the background image.  Click on any item for a larger view.   That’s it!

How do I get started?

Sign up for a free educator account by going to:  Under Sign Up for Free, click the I’m a Teacher button.  Then you can follow this brief tutorial to get started.

Check out these Examples
(Click on the link above each image to explore each Thinglink.)

Boston Tea Party


Famous Composers


Graphing Linear Inequalities


Parts of the Neuron Explained


Reading List


technology integration

What is Technology Integration?

Slates, books, pencils, mimeographs, tape recorders, overheads, calculators . . . these are all tools that have been used in schools over the years.  Today’s technologies – interactive white boards, sensors and probes, document cameras, mobile devices and tablets – to name a few – are also tools that can be used in schools.  Technology Integration isn’t about the technology, it is about teaching and learning. We know, in our roles as educators, that a primary goal is to help students reach learning objectives set before them.  Just as we do not use a book or ruler or beaker in every lesson, we wouldn’t use technology in every lesson.  Technology for the sake of technology is, pedagogically, a bad idea.  However, there are numerous ways in which we can use technology tools to improve or enhance teacher productivity, lesson delivery, student access to curriculum, student engagement with learning activities, student demonstration of their understandings, and teacher feedback, assessment, and reporting.  Never before has the need for technology integration in our classrooms been so important. We are living in a world in which the pace of technological innovation is unparalleled in our history.  Our students are headed into a future that we cannot even imagine.  Part of our responsibility as 21st century educators is to prepare students with the skills and strategies necessary to ensure their success in a digital world.

When I began my teaching career,  I shared one Apple IIe computer, that resided on a cart with a dot matrix printer, with four colleagues.  The technology has certainly changed, and I find it mind boggling that many students bring to school a device that fits in the palm of their hands with far greater power than that Apple IIe. What hasn’t changed is my belief that the use of technology as a tool in learning has the power to transform teaching and learning in ways that can move us from an Agricultural/Industrial model of educating to a model that truly engages and prepares our students for the future.

The task of integrating technology can seem overwhelming. More and more demands are being placed on teachers, and using technology can easily be viewed as an “add-on” to what already has to be done in the classroom. Often times, the add-on approach results in “technology for the sake of technology” experiences in the classroom.   There is a wonderful framework being widely referenced in Instructional Technology circles called the SAMR Model (Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition).  This model purports that teachers often progress along a continuum as they adopt and integrate technology in the classroom.  It is overwhelming to think about reaching the Redefinition stage (using technology in ways that were previously inconceivable), and not always appropriate for tasks to reach this level.  However, starting small, by re-envisioning a lesson that you are seeking to revise anyway, presents a great opportunity to think about how the plethora of technology tools available might replace existing tasks and activities to  help students achieve lesson objectives.

In my role as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I seek to collaborate with classroom teachers as content experts.  I believe this collaboration must center upon crafting learning opportunities that include meaningful and seamless uses of technology, by teachers and students, as components of a lesson or unit.  I believe the goal of technology integration should be on supporting students as they work towards meeting learning objectives.  I am looking forward to supporting technology integration at MHS by collaborating with classroom teachers through consultation about ideas, through  1:1 and small group training sessions, through co-teaching in classrooms, and through sharing ideas and resources in this blog.