It’s Digital Learning Day!

Digital-Learning-Day4Today is the annual Digital Learning Day, a day that celebrates and promotes digital learning around the globe and encourages teachers to try one new thing to enhance their practice. I’ll be tweeting and retweeting throughout the day, so feel free to keep an eye on my twitter feed (I’m @PMKievlan) as the day goes on for what I’m seeing and thinking about. It’s a nice day for reflecting on how digital learning impacts and influences life in the classroom and on the homefront. I encourage you to read, think, and explore as the day goes on to think about how digital learning has transformed your own practice as an educator, your life as a student, or your home as a parent. Feel free to comment below or connect with me on Twitter to discuss as the day goes on. Also, if you’ve never dived into Twitter, let today be the day: follow the hashtags for Digital Learning Day (it’ll likely be trending with #DLDay) and #edtech and #edchat. They’re my favorite ongoing conversations, and they’re a great way to get informed and inspired.

In the meantime, here are some things to explore and keep an eye on as the day goes on:

Graphite: I’m so proud to be part of the amazing team at Graphite. This is an amazing group of people committed to bringing a thoughtful, critical eye to edtech. Keep an eye on posts from @graphite and @commonsenseedu throughout the day to learn about great edtech tools that can transform the classroom and help teachers better reach their students.

WQED: I’m newly a member of the education team at WQED, the amazing station that brought you Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood and which continues to be an education leader in our region. I’m now the manager of iQ: smartparent, a program about parenting children in the digital age. Keep an eye out for posts from WQED and WQED Learning, and watch out for our hashtag, #iQSmartParent.

Have a fabulous day and happy learning!


Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

From Jamie Martin’s website,

I attended a great webinar today sponsored by the amazing people at Learning Ally. Connecticut-based assistive technology consultant and trainer Jamie Martin was the presenter, and he did a terrific talk about different technology to support dyslexic students as they write. I loved one of the first things he mentioned: while these tools will be especially helpful to dyslexic readers, they’re great tools for all readers who want to get strategic about their writing. He talked about three specific challenges that need to be addressed in the writing process: spelling and grammar, organization, and editing. Check out his website and his Twitter feed for the specifics: he has some great recommendations for tools that address each of those three tasks. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, Learning Ally is putting together a virtual conference next month for the parents of kids with dyslexia. It’s the first event of its kind and it looks really interesting. It might be a little spendy for some (registration looks like it’s $129 and up), but it could be worthwhile. Learn more and register here: Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia.

Design Thinking Debrief: More Who, Less How

The Gutenberg Bible at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.
The Gutenberg Bible at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

I had a fabulous time at the Ellis School’s design thinking unconference over the weekend. As I said when I introduced myself there, I can’t get enough of design thinking. I think I fell hardest in love with it last year, when I read a book called Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly, the brothers who helm IDEO. This idea of “human-centered design” seems so obvious, but it isn’t; sometimes people get so caught up in the what of their design that they lose track of who they’re designing it for.

This idea hits so close to home for me because it’s been at the heart of my work in education all along. In graduate school, I took a class on museum education at Project Zero and I investigated two nonprofits’ efforts to bring a rare object into the K-12 classroom. The two projects both centered on a rare book–a first folio edition of Hamlet from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Harry Ransom Center’s Gutenberg Bible–and a university’s work to digitize elements of that book and bring it to life for K-12 students. In both cases, the people I spoke with at MIT and the University of Texas said the same thing: if they did it again, they’d spend more time focusing on how kids would use these resources than on the resources themselves. I characterized this (perhaps in a cumbersome way) as an imbalance among content, medium, and audience. The content in both cases was solid, to be sure, but the developers may have spent more time concerned with the  practical challenges of bringing the texts online than the kids who might eventually use them. All digital media, I argued, should focus at least as much on the “who” as the “how.”

Design thinking is all about the “who.” I’ve been in some terrific design thinking workshops, from a couple of days spent working on a redesign of spaces at my last school to a days-long design thinking workshop I led in my French 3/4 class last year when we redesigned what school could be for all students. We also had a schoolwide design thinking symposium last spring, where we talked as a community about what it means to think, innovate, and design from a “human-centered” perspective.

Saturday’s workshop at Ellis let us consider big questions about the future of education. In each case, our big-picture ideas had to be all about people: who were the stakeholders? What would their needs be? How would we meet those needs? Our big ideas wouldn’t matter; regardless of how well-thought our solutions might have seemed, none of them would matter if we didn’t consider the real-world impact on the people we abstractly wanted to help.

For more on design thinking, check out this TED talk. I’ve seen it in other design thinking workshops, and I think it helpfully sums up the heart of this important approach to innovation.

Weekend Adventure: Design Thinking UnConference at Ellis School

Tomorrow, I’m joining educators from around the region at an UnConference at The Ellis School here in Pittsburgh. UnConferences are terrific: they’re gatherings without a pre-set agenda that allow attendees to share their interests and passions and then foster impromptu discussions and presentations. I’m a big fan of unconferences; I attended my first one last October at the OETC IntegratED conference at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in SF, and I was hooked. The energy and excitement of sharing out ideas on the fly is terrific. It’s a great way to harness the expertise and passions of all the people in the room, and it’s a great fit passionate educators who are hungry for ways to learn and grow in their practice.

You can learn more about UnConferences here, and you can learn more about the Learning Innovation Institute at Ellis here.

I’ll be posting live to Twitter during the conference and I’ll post a debrief about my adventure next week. Watch this space to find out more!

Upcoming Event: “What’s next after high school?”

This is a great upcoming event for students with dyslexia and their families, and it could be helpful for students with other learning differences as well. It’s a great opportunity and i encourage you to attend! — PMK

What’s Next After High School? Preparation and Planning for High School Students with Dyslexia and their Families

Presented by the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association

WHEN: Saturday, October 18, 2014 9:30 AM to 1 PM

WHERE: Allegheny Intermediate Unit at The Waterfront 475 East Waterfront Drive, Homestead, PA 15120


  • High School Students
  • Parents/Guardians of High School Students
  • High School Counselors Teachers and Tutors

Topics will include:

  • What are the options after high school?
  • How can you determine what school will be a good fit?
  • What kinds of accommodations are available for students with dyslexia in a
  • college or technical school, and how do you get accommodations?
  • Should a student reveal a learning disability on an admissions application?
  • How can a counselor from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) help?
  • Is there a difference between the SAT and the ACT? Which test is better?

These questions and others will be addressed by an educational consultant, current college students, college disability services personnel, OVR personnel, and parents who have been through the process.

Cost: $10 for the first member of a family $5 for each additional family member
Online Registration: Go to
Questions: Email

Click here to view and download the flyer for this event.

Event Debrief: Open Forum for Pittsburgh Education Technology

Last Monday, I attended the main education-related event of the week-long Thrival Festival. This edtech meetup was hosted at Thrill Mill, a startup incubator in the East Liberty neighborhood that served as one of the festival’s main sponsors. The idea was to bring together educator types and technology types to foster a conversation about “what’s next” in education and technology for Pittsburgh. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the event I co-hosted at the Sterne School in San Francisco last March, where we invited folks from both camps to engage in conversation. The best part of that spring event was that we made the focus be on listening: too often, tech folks will develop tools without anticipating the on-the-ground needs of teachers in the classroom, while teachers aren’t always aware of how tools can be used in the context of the many, many things they need to do every day with their students. This event had great intentions that addressed the same need to bring those groups together. I really enjoyed the conversations

The one drawback I observed was that I felt like the tech folks far outnumbered the educator types. In the small groups where we started the evening, I found myself seated in a group of five, where the other four folks were all part of tech startups. While it was interesting to hear about their products, I felt a little on-the-spot. Each of them were kind and friendly, and they seemed eager to tell me about their work and hear what I thought of it, but less in a we’re-having-a-pleasant-conversation way and more in a I’m hard-selling-you-my-product-right-now way. I was genuinely interested in what they each did, because I’m enthralled by the startup culture here. I guess I had hoped there’s be a little more give and take in the conversation: I’m interested in what they do, and I’d hoped the conversation would range more broadly about how tech and education types can connect and how their worlds intersect rather than a really specific conversation about the nuances among their products.

I think other groups were more successful than mine, and I ultimately had a lot of great conversations and met some terrific people. It was a great start for such partnerships here in Pittsburgh, and I’m glad I went.

This Week: Thrival Innovation + Music Festival

South by Southwestern Pennsylvania?
South by Southwestern Pennsylvania?

This week, I’m hoping to attend a few events at Thrival, Pittsburgh’s ‘premier music, media, and mind mashup.” This week-long festival ends with a giant concert next weekend (apparently right on my doorstep here in Bakery Square?! More on this later) and features a week of events on topics from music to education to technology.

My first, more cynical reaction was, “Austin called; it’s pronounced ‘South by Southwest.'” Because this sound a lot like what SXSW has become: a now multi-week celebration of new ideas in education, technology, and (arguably most importantly) music. Less cynically, I’m really excited about this festival, because it embodies something I’m starting to sense about my new home. Pittsburgh has great energy right now: in schools, in nonprofits, even in restaurants, people are excited about pushing boundaries and trying new things. People here love their city and they’re excited about doing things to keep it great and help it grow. I’m looking forward to getting involved in things this week and finding ways to learn more about the great things going on in the Steel City.