iTunes U Courses on Innovation and Common Core

I’ve authored two iTunes U courses which you’re welcome to subscribe to.

Innovation and Communication is a course for school leaders on how to start a movement, support teachers, and lead by example.

Technology in the Common Core is a course on how to integrate technology into the teaching of the Common Core.

As with all iTunes U courses, you must have an iPad to view.

Using Notability for Classroom Observation

This article describes how to use the app, Notability, to assist in classroom observation.  Classroom teachers can easily adapt these directions for student observation.  I recommend Notability at a cost of $1-$2 over any potentially costly commercial classroom observation system I’ve yet seen.  Notability provides the most flexibility for meeting individual needs.

If you’re looking for a checklist system of observation, Google Forms provides a free system that’s fully customizable.  Notability offers a blank page for handwriting notes, typing notes, and adding pictures and audio recordings.  If you’re still using Apple’s built in notes, stop.  Here are step by step directions for using Notability as a classroom observation tool.

You will want to create a notebook for each teacher.

1.  Create a notebook by tapping the plus sign.

2.  Tap the edit button to bring up the option to color code your notebook.





3.  Choose a color.  You may wish to color code grade levels so that all first grade teachers are blue, for example.

4. Create a new note.  You’ll use a new note for each observation and store all notes in the individual notebook.












5.  Add a photo by tapping the plus sign towards the top right and choosing “Take a Photo.”






6.  You can either handwrite or type or your notes by selecting the appropriate icon.


7.  Share the note by tapping the universal share button and sending it by email.














That’s it.  Repeat this for each teacher or student you wish to observe.  You can move notes around between notebooks by dragging and dropping them into a different notebook.

One of the best things about Notability when used this way is that each teacher/notebook will have a number next to it showing you how many notes/observations have been completed.  So, you can clearly see how many visits each teacher has had.

Please leave your tips or suggestions below.

Update:  You can import PDF documents and then handwrite and/or type on them.

How do I import a PDF?

There are several ways to import a PDF into Notability:

  • 1) If importing from an email attachment or Safari browser
    Tap the PDF to preview. Then select Notability from the
    “Open in” list.
  • 2) If importing a PDF file from Dropbox and other cloud services
    Tap the Import button on the top toolbar in the library and select
    the desired service.

What Good Teaching Looks Like: Digital Research

As per the Common Core State Standards students must incorporate digital research in their work.  I interpret this to mean that students need a twenty-first century version of book sense.  We used to teach students how to find books in a library, how to determine who the author and illustrator is, and where to find copyright information.  We now need to teach them how to determine keywords, know how to search, be able to determine who created a particular web page and evaluate a page for bias and reliability.

How do you do this and what does it look like in a classroom?

Let me be clear, I’m a fan of digital libraries (LAUSD teachers should check out the LAUSD Digital Library).  However, in addition to putting expensive high quality pre-vetted resources in front of students we also need to be teaching them how to choose keywords and use Google like a pro.

Picking Keywords

Beginning in kindergarten I would be modeling how to pick keywords before entering them in the Google search box and finding results.  For example, let’s say you’re researching where an octopus lives.  Say to students,

“I’m looking for information on where the octopus lives.  What words should I search for?”

With your help, students should come up with something like “octopus home” or “octopus habitat” depending how much academic language  you’ve seeded.

This two minute step would go a long way toward building effective researchers.

Sharon Sutton at the UCLA lab school has compiled and created some resources to help.  Scroll down to the Information Literacy Worksheets, in particular the keywords and synonyms one which asks students to list keywords and synonyms for a research question.

Advanced Googling

Familiarize yourself with the Google Cheat sheet.

In particular, know that using quotes allows you to search for a particular name or phrase e.g. “Mathew Needleman” gives you only people with my first and last name rather than any page with both my first and last name, possibly disconnected on the page.

Also know that using the minus sign “-” eliminates results.  For example, when searching for information about the band, The Eagles, you might search “eagles -football” (eliminating results about the football team).  In this example, you will likely need to add keywords to specify information specific about the band and not the bird.

Bias and Reliability

Students should always check for an “about this page” link.  If there isn’t one, move on to another site.  I’m a fan of the site All About Explorers, it’s created by teachers and gives absolutely false information about famous explorers.  Will students catch the errors or will they report that Columbus was born in Australia?  Students always need to triangulate the data, find information from multiple sources to eliminate inconsistencies and gain depth.

Have any tips to add?  Post them below.


Technology in the Common Core: What Do Students Need to be Able to Do?




While there are no isolated technology standards in the Common Core State Standards, technology is embedded across the the grade levels.  Many people are focused on students needing a device to take the assessment and not thinking about what students will need to be able to do with that device.  The assessment will not only require a computer for students to take it, students will actually be tested on their use of their device.

According to the language arts standards here are the three major things students will need to be able to do.

1.  Research

Students will:

Use search tools.

Interpet interactive elements on a web page.

Draw on information from digital sources.

2.  Writing

Students will:

Explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing including in collaboration with peers.

3.  Multimedia

Students will:

Ask and answer questions about key details in [multi]media…

Include multimedia elements…in presentations.

I haven’t separated the standards by grade level.  The same requirements exist at all grade levels with different amounts of teacher assistance and depth and complexity.

In future posts I will suggest sample activities to meet each standard.  If you want a preview, please check out my slideshare presentation, Technology in the Common Core.







Four Steps for Troubleshooting iOS Devices

There’s not too much you can do to fix a problem when your iPad or iPhone stops working…that’s the good news.  There’s just a few things you can try and these usually work.  Try each of these one at a time and see if one of them will fix your problem.

1.  Update your apps.

2.  Force quit the app.  Double-click on the home button.  Find the problematic app on the bottom of your screen where it shows recently used apps. Press and hold on the app icon until it wiggles.  Click on the red circle with a minus sign.  Your app icon goes away.

When I’ve used this successfully: iMovie was crashing.  Forced it to quit and then it worked fine.

2.  Restart the device.  You don’t normally need to turn off your device.  However, whenever you’re having problems, it’s a good idea to do so.  Press and hold the power button on the top right of the device until you see “Slide to power off” on your screen.  Now, swipe to power off the device.  Then press the power button to turn the device on.

When I’ve used this successfully: A strange fluttering was showing up on the screen in all apps and on the home screen.  Restart and problem went away.

3.  Delete the app and reinstall (use this for app-specific problems).  Press and hold on the app icon on the home screen until it wiggles.  Press the red circle.  The app will be deleted after you confirm.  This sometimes might also delete your data for that app so only try this when you have to.  Then go to the iTunes store and download the app again.  You will not be charged twice if you are using the correct account.

4.  Restore the device.  This wipes out everything and is done by hooking up the device to iTunes.  I’d only use this if a bunch of apps are giving you problems as it’s a headache having to set up all your apps again.

If you have any other troubleshooting steps, please add them below.

Understanding Technology in the Common Core Standards

I’m reviewing technology use in the Common Core Standards this morning and thought I would share a few resources I’ve found for better understanding them.  Remember that I am based in California so the information related specifically to our state might not apply to you directly.

What is the difference between California standards and the Common Core?

There is a lot of overlap.  However, the Common Core standards are based on college and career readiness standards.  The Common Core:

  • Focus to a greater extent on text complexity and drawing information from sourcesAs I interpret this, students now have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different text sources (including digital) and comprehend information that comes from media  as well as text.
  • Address reading and writing across the curriculumThere’s reading in science as well as reading in language arts.  All disciplines require writing
  • Where’s the technology?Technology is a tool rather than a set of isolated standards.  I like this.  The Common Core speaks generally about students choosing a variety of texts (including digital) and publishing writing in a variety of formats including digital.

My sources:


Caine’s Arcade and Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model in the Classroom

The 80/20 Theory

As I understand it, Google allows employees to work on their own pet projects for 20% of time while having them work on company chosen projects for the other 80%.  Allowing employees the chance to choose what they want to work on for some amount of their time increases motivation in the other 80% and leads to innovation that Google might not think of on its own.  Even though most of the pet projects never come to fruition, some of the ones that have have been great.  How can we bring this innovation to the classroom?

A Dreamer Becomes a Hero

Like many, I was inspired by the video making the rounds about a nine year old boy, Caine, who built an arcade out of cardboard boxes in the front of his father’s auto parts store. What is striking is Caine’s passion, his perseverance, his creativity, and the point at which idle work in his father’s shop turns into genius. The video which has been widely seen has generated a large college fund for the boy.

[youtube faIFNkdq96U]


I love the part in the video when Caine describes how he made alterations to a game to make it harder.  Many of the students I see in reading intervention classes seem to give up on most things after only one try.

Sometimes it seems like our students are apathetic.  But maybe they’re just apathetic about school.  Do we know what they’re passionate about? Do we encourage them to find their passion? And do we let them follow passions far enough that they can go past the necessary point of frivolity and blossom into something substantial?

Let me ask a deeper question.  Are you as a teacher, passionate about teaching?  Do you as a teacher have something that you are passionate about?  I write this as I am finishing writing a script for my first film project in ten years not to be made in a classroom.  I love teaching.  But my passion is making movies.  If you’re not feeling some passion in your own life, how can you encourage it in children?

It’s a safe bet that for most of our students, school is not their passion.  We forget that decoding words is not the fun part, discovering and applying knowledge is.  Long division, multiplication facts, and timed tests are not enjoyable but problem-solving, brainstorming, and code-breaking might be.

The Past

I’ve done a couple of things in the past to offer moments of independence in my classroom:

  • Independent Work Time (students choose their own activities after completing assigned ones)
  • Writer’s Workshop (you write whatever you want but you have to publish on an agreed upon deadline)

The Future

I want students to take an interest.  I don’t’ care so much what they take an interest in.  I don’t want to give up class time for them to play games.  However, I do think I can give up class time for them to research, create, and explore while I guide, encourage, and motivate.   They can’t create Caine’s Arcade, it’s already been built.  I want them to create their own projects.  I’d like to give up as much of 20% to this notion.

I hypothesize that the lost time will be made up for in increased productivity and job skills when it comes to the assigned curriculum.  I could be totally wrong.  What do you think?

Is There a Place for “Drill and Kill” on the iPad?

Last week, I posted on Twitter when a highly engaging math app went on sale for 60% off.  I didn’t oversell it by any means:

It’s just drill and kill simple math facts with fancy graphics and music but it’s fun.

I’m torn on whether to mention the name of the app here (I will list all the apps we use in a future post).  However, imagine an app with a first class movie soundtrack, mission impossible-like graphics, and an excitement that is not present in many other apps.  Yes, I do consider it “drill and kill” but as an app of this kind, it’s best in class.

I received this self-righteous response from a twitterer I don’t know and won’t mention:

How can anyone consider drill and kill fun?  Lets move onward & stop promoting these kind of apps!

I don’t consider this particular app fun.  My math intervention students do.

The twitterer went on to tell me that what I was doing was “immoral” and suggested I have students make an iMovie or Doodlecast about how they found their answers instead.

Let me back up and explain a little bit how I used the app.  With our single iPad hooked up to a projector at the beginning of class, my intervention students trickled in from recess, students shouted out answers to questions as they came up on the screen.  I sometimes guided students to count backward 9-2 or count up 9-5.  We discussed adding and subtracting doubles (3+3, 8-4) and near-doubles (3+4, 8-5).  Then as a treat, small groups of students used the iPad individually to complete some of the games.

If we bought the iPads just to do games like these I would say that we’ve wasted a lot of money.  The first PD I lead for teachers on using the iPads (after the one about how to turn the device on) is how to use iMovie.  I begin the PDs discussing both Bloom’s Taxonomy and Needleman’s Technology Taxonomy:

However, to say that we should not use any apps that encourage the memorizing of facts stinks to me of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I wrote a post Are You Smarter Than a Google Search? suggesting that how you collect, synthesize, and apply knowledge is more important than having it memorized.  However, the idea that you don’t need to have any knowledge at all is ridiculous.  While I encourage kindergarten teachers to teach the meaning of numbers (e.g. 3 is 2 and 1 more) in addition to teaching students to count.  However, I also see that students who do not know basic math facts struggle when doing anything else related to math.

“Drill and Kill” is just one of the many things you can do on an iPad.  If it’s the only thing you’re doing then you might as well invest in a good set of flashcards.  I don’t want it to be the toolbox but I do think it has a place in the toolbox.

If you think I’m doing it all wrong.  Let me know in the comments.

Also worth reading is Diane Darrow’s mapping of iOS apps to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Parent Better and Change the World in 2012



On a recent journey to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to reflect on good parenting.  Due to a brief layover, we had to switch planes mid-way and on each leg of the journey, we found ourselves sitting in front of children (yes, the same people we left our classrooms to get a break from).

I’m not (yet) a parent.  However, I believe the principles that I’ve laid out previously about classroom management apply to parenting as well.  Specifically, when you can help it, never expose children to a new situation without first letting them know what to expect from that situation and what appropriate behavior is in that situation.  Naturally, life presents unexpected situations all the time.  However, taking your students to the library, the computer lab, or a performance and taking your sons and daughters on airplanes are not unexpected events.

We teach children about individual upcoming events ahead of time for two reasons:

  1. Once we’re in a situation, it’s too late to teach the special rules (you can’t stop a performance, or halt takeoff and landing to discipline).
  2. Most importantly, misbehavior results from children being anxious.  When we explain to them what to expect they are less anxious and less likely to act up.


In the classroom, if you’re taking your students to the library, you first discuss what’s going to happen in the library and the special rules there (use a marker to find a book, whisper when you talk, etc.).  I do not take my students to the library until I’m confident that they know how to behave there.

Rafe Esquith talks about having his students sit through the entire sound recording of a symphony in his classroom before taking the students to see the real symphony.   By listening to a CD beforehand, he taught them when to clap, how to listen, and what to listen for so they were not bored when they got there.

Living Room

At home, if you know you’re going on an airplane, into a toy store, or to the post office, you need to explain the special behaviors expected in each of those places.

How This Plays Out “In the Wild”

On the first leg of our journey, as the plane was taking off, the child screamed at the top of his lungs and yelled out, “I’m scared.”  His mom laughed.  Perhaps she didn’t care that her child was screaming—but that’s for another blog post.  He spent the flight kicking my wife’s seat.  When we landed, his mom asked him to be responsible for his own jacket and told him he had to walk.  He said no, started crying, and his grandmother ended up carrying him.

During the break, I discussed with my wife how we’re going to parent differently and then on the second leg of our journey, another family provided a perfect example.

On the final flight, another child sat down behind us with his mom.  Before the flight took off, she discussed with him the popping he’d feel soon in his ears when the flight took off.  She explained that he would need to keep his seatbelt on.  She reviewed with him what they were going to be seeing in Costa Rica.  That child was a dream to sit in front of.  Nothing was a surprise to him and he knew how to behave.

When the flight landed, another passenger asked this dream child what he was looking forward to seeing.  “A volcano,” he said, “I want to see the lava coming out it of it.”  As a bonus, talking to your child develops language and verbal ability.  I didn’t hear the annoying kid say anything other than screams and grunts on the first flight.  It seems obvious, but talk to your child if you want them the learn to talk.

The Future

I’m worried.  I’m worried about what I see as a complete breakdown of expected behavior in public.  Mild-mannered me has been getting in fights with people at movies and plays about them texting during the show.  I’m not sure how we address a growing self-centeredness that puts one’s own needs ahead of anyone else.  However, I believe it’s those parents who are not setting behavioral expectations who are contributing to this general breakdown.  If you really don’t care about others, then I’m not sure I can help you.  However, if you want a better world, I think I’m laying out for you one way we can get there.

New Book: What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies

I’m honored to have a chapter I authored on integrating digital video production in the classroom published in the just-released hardcover book, What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media edited by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehman.

The other chapters are written by  several of the educational technologists whom I’ve come to admire and respect through their blogs, presentations,  and work in the field.  The book is arranged in easy to digest chapters on relevant subjects you can read or reread when you’re ready for them.  I recommend it for principals, tech committees, and teachers who have an interest in transforming education.

The book is available now in hardcover or for the Kindle and includes the following chapters:

  • Introduction, Chris Lehmann & Scott McLeod
  • Foreword, David Warlick
  • Learning Tools


    More Learning Tools