Summer Tech List

Summer break is just around the corner!  I am a  list person, each summer I create a  summer reading list for myself.  I think it dates back to the summer reading programs I participated in at the local library while growing up!  My criteria is pretty flexible, though I try to include one completely mindless novel and one book that will somehow stretch my thinking professionally.  Last summer I met neither of those criteria, reading all historical fiction.  If you are looking for a couple of good ones, I recommend The Kitchen House and The Other Boleyn Girl.  I haven’t settled on anything for this summer, so if you have any recommendations, I’m looking for a few good books!

The other thing I have been inspired to do is try a new technology each summer.  I think other people do this stuff year round, but in the world of an educator, the summer seems to be the time that the world slows down a little to really engage in some personal learning. So, if you are looking to add to your lists and want to create a Summer Tech Lists, here are some things you might consider:

  • read a book on a Kindle, Nook or iPad … I enjoy sitting down with a paper book, but I have to say I enjoy reading digital books with options to change the screen background, font size and access a glossary.
  • explore Pinterest or Twitter  – You can spend hours finding ideas for projects and interests, school and personal!
  • try a new app – Waze might be a good one if you are on the road traveling and Animoto is a great way to create short videos with text, images & music.
  • Get in the Cloud – experiment with Google Drive – it is a great way to backup files and access your files from anywhere, anytime!
  • check out a new technology – Chromebooks can be signed out for the summer in the Library.
  • start a blogWordPress.com is easy to use!
  • try using a social bookmarking tool like diigo – save your bookmark to the web so they are available anytime, anyplace and can be annotated!

Book List, Tech List, No List . . . I hope you have a great summer!

technology integration

I love learning new things!

I know I became a teacher because I like learning new things.  I also didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day, I like working with people, and I was inspired that no two years, let alone 2 days, would ever be alike.    I digress, back to learning new things!  I recently came across this video on my Twitter feed, You’re Doing it Wrong! How to Manage Multiple Google Accounts.


As we have rolled out Google Apps for Education this year, I know many of you are in the same boat of having multiple Google accounts.  Logging in and out of them can be a pain in the neck and confusing!  This tutorial provides clear and simple steps for creating Chrome accounts that can easily be toggled between, essentially erasing any confusion about which account you are in, and making it easy to access files from different accounts. I was able to set up my accounts in a matter of minutes.   The added benefit is that your browser settings, bookmarks, apps and extensions are also saved and accessible anywhere you access your Chrome account(s).

technology integration

Infographics – Make Data Visual

Infographics, information graphics, are visual representations of data.  We know there is a large body of research about the power of visual learning, and we know this is one way to reach our students!  Sometimes data can be dense and difficult to understand.  There is value in learning how to read and analyze data, but there is also value in sharing data with students in a visual way, as well as allowing them opportunities to share data visually.  I like this infographic to describe infographics:


Want to see more infographics?

Interested in creating an infographic? 

Would you like to create infographics with student?

technology integration

Using Twitter for Professional Development

I remember when Twitter  came out in 2006, I didn’t get it.  Why did I care what people had for breakfast or which celebrity someone spied at the airport!  The idea of reading people’s 140 character thoughts on random things held no appeal.  A few years later I was at a conference and one of the speakers was raving about how Twitter had changed his professional life. He was pretty convincing, so I signed up for an account.  Other than signing up, I didn’t do much with my Twitter account, I still wasn’t seeing the value.  Fast forward a couple more years and I finally see the value of Twitter as a great professional development resource.  I can’t say there was an aha moment, but working as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I don’t have a large team of colleagues in the same building doing the same job.  Twitter allows me to connect with other individuals around the world in the educational technology field doing similar work.

The best professional development I have experienced has been through observing, talking with, and collaborating with colleagues.  While I value the daily interactions with teachers within my school, what I can learn grows exponentially when I log into Twitter.  The 140 character nuggets posted by teachers and leaders in the field often include an image, video or  link that shares a practical tip, best practice, new technology, or engaging food for thought.  The 10-15 minutes a day I spend on Twitter allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of educational technology, encourages me to try new tools, and inspires me to promote and encourage best practices integrating technology into classrooms.

I am by no means a Twitter expert, I’m pushing myself to move from consuming information to sharing ideas and seeking feedback.  I think this is where the real power of Twitter can be found.  We have a community at our fingertips that can challenge us to stretch our professional selves and provide rich meaningful just-in-time professional development over time.   I also think that once we recognize the value of Twitter in our professional lives and build comfort using it for PD, it is a natural leap to think about the  power of using Twitter as a tool in our classrooms.

Want to Learn More?

Follow me on Twitter @aimmcalpine.

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

Ever feel iPhone-solated?

I recently read an article in the Boston Globe, iPhone Obsession Is Ruining Our Ability to Deal.  A study at the University of Missouri looked at iPhone dependency and it turns out our dependency can lead to physiological effects, task inefficiency and anxiety when we are removed from our devices.  We can experience iPhone-solation. Yikes!

I love technology; hence, my work as an instructional technology specialist.  I strive to help educators use technology to enhance both their productivity and the teaching and learning. Yet, this, albeit one, study is great food for thought.

There are two things about this article that struck me.  First, people actually experienced increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as anxiety and task inefficiency if their phone rang and they could not answer it.  So what does this mean for us in  classrooms? We can be guaranteed that students have devices in pockets on vibrate.  How do we help them learn that sometimes they need to be disconnected and that is okay?

Second, just because we can use technology; doesn’t always mean we should.  We owe it to ourselves and our students to model and encourage thoughtful and meaningful uses of technology that do not promote an overreliance on technology.  There is a time and a place for technology and there are some skills, content, and experiences that are better shared without technology.

My take away – it seems an overreliance on technology can be a distraction!  I don’t think this means we shouldn’t use it, there are lots of great ways that technology facilitates communication, collaboration, creation, sharing – all 21st century skills.  The one word that resonates in my mind after reading this article is balance.  We need to harness the power of technology to communicate, collaborate, create and share, but we also need to be able to walk away, enjoy some technology free time, and not feel as though we are missing out on something.

Balance.  Tomorrow, I might try leaving my iPhone at home!