Event Debrief: EdRev 2015

One of the great displays at EdRev 2015.
One of the great displays at EdRev 2015.

This was my fifth — fifth! — year at EdRev and it was maybe the best one yet. I’m so grateful to my gracious hosts at PEN for inviting me to speak and for welcoming me so warmly back to my west coast home in SF. Here are some highlights from my trip.

  • The keynote was terrific. Lieutenant Governor (and former San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom gave the keynote address and I just loved it. His message was inspiring: he’s dyslexic, and he’s managed to see his dyslexia as an asset that’s helped him be creative, flexible, and successful. That’s a powerful message to send to kids — to see one of the most powerful leaders of your state say he has the same learning difference that you have and that it’s an asset, not a liability. He was warm, funny, and very real, and I was so excited to see the kids’ and families’ reactions to his talk. (Also: is Gavin Newsom running for president? Because this SF native said some awfully nice things about the Dodgers.)

  • The tech section was better than ever. The EdRev tech section was run this year by assistive technology guru and all-around edtech rock star Shelley Haven, who I admire very much. This year, the tables were well-positioned with demos grouped by theme. I was at the executive function and attention table, and I was paired with Fred Jaravata, an edtech guru in his own right and a teacher and technologist at Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco. It was great to see my old colleague here, and we had a good time talking to families about the particular challenges their kids faced and what our best ideas were for addressing them. The positioning of the tables was really smart: we were interspersed with vendors’ tables but we were away from the vendors themselves. That way, I could talk about the benefits of various tools and strategies and then refer families over to the vendors’ tables (like Notability and Ponder, among others) to get more information and (occasionally) free stuff. (I’m a big Notability believer, and I was delighted when those kind people gave me a free tee shirt.) I got to talk to a ton of families about big-picture ideas about using technology to support their kids’ academic progress. Highlights included when I got to demo how well Notability’s audio recording features interact with its note-taking features (“are you kidding?!” one mom exclaimed) and showing a family the built-in accessibility features on the iPad. These “aha!” moments are the reason I love this event and the reason I love this work. I think the PEN folks and Shelley Haven did an exceptional job of making this one of the most high-impact elements of the day, and I was thrilled that I felt like I got to help a lot of people.
  • I feel good about my talk. In spite of flinging my computer off the table at the beginning of my talk and regrettably letting fly a mild expletive when my laptop hit the floor, I’m generally pleased with the talk I gave. I think folks were expecting me to spend more time talking about specific technology tools parents can use to help their kids with social emotional learning, but that’s not really my style (as you’ve likely gathered by now). I’m much more inclined to talk about the relationship piece: I think it’s important to talk about the real-world dynamics that we can model and teach to kids. Once we’ve got that larger infrastructure in place, then we can talk about the particular tools that help support that system. I made a big list of tech tools and websites and resources (which you can find here) that I referred to as I ended the talk; I’m hopeful that that was helpful to the people who came looking for that information.
  • I feel really good about my resource list. I’m really pretty proud of that list of resources. I highly recommend you check it out.
  • Have you watched Todd Rose’s TED Talk? You should. My former HGSE classmate and teaching fellow Todd Rose attended EdRev again this year. He’s previously been the event’s keynote speaker, and now he’s a key supporter of PEN and its efforts nationwide. Todd is one of the few people I know who’s as intensely kind as he is brilliant. Take a look at his TED talk (see below) and keep an eye out for what he does next. He’s doing great things for education.


School Visit Debrief: Elizabeth Forward School District

This week, I had the opportunity to visit an amazing, innovative leader in technology in our region: Elizabeth Forward School District. EFSD has received regional and national recognition for its innovations, including inclusion as a member of the League of Innovative Schools and the designation as an Apple Distinguished School. The district hosts free events like this once every couple of months, and visitors like me get a guided tour of the district’s high school, middle school, and one of its elementary schools. There’s a special focus on technology, but there’s also a larger narrative about what it means to transform the culture of a school. I was so grateful for the insights of Superintendent Bart Rocco and Assistant Superintendent Todd Keruskin, and I was inspired by the students, teachers, and administrators I spoke with throughout the visit. I was one of about eighty people who attended the event, but I felt like I got a detailed, personal look inside what makes these schools special.

This visit reminded me of the day I spent with my Schools of the Sacred Heart colleagues visiting San Domenico School and Marin Country Day School a couple of years ago. (Also see here for the best kindergarten classrooms ever.) Just like that day a couple of years ago, I found myself winding down unfamilar country roads and wondering when I’d ever reach my target. At least in Marin, it was clear to me that I could only go so far west; I’d eventually hit an ocean. On this drive, I knew I’d eventually hit West Virginia, but that’s a lot less obvious than the Pacific. In any case, 45 minutes later, in an unassuming, almost-rural community south of Pittsburgh, I found a community where kids and teachers are doing amazing things. Here are some highlights.

  • Warriors are BRAVE. Like any school, Elizabeth Forward High School has lots of school spirit. The residential streets leading to the schools all have banners proclaiming “This is Warrior Country” and school spirit posters and art cover the walls. Additionally, even more posters urge Warriors to be “BRAVE,” as part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventional Strategy (PBIS). The video above is part of promoting that program. I was struck by how often the PBIS/BRAVE came up organically in conversation: students we heard from in the music production studio talked about it, little ones at the elementary school talked about it (a little less eloquently, but no less powerfully), and middle school students mentioned how it helped them, too. Administrators and teachers all indicated that the technology innovation has only been possible in the context of these larger cultural initiatives. This was music to my ears as a person who believes in the power of social emotional learning, and it reminded me of my experiences at Convent, where the Goals and Criteria of the Religious of the Sacred Heart are deeply imbued in the school’s culture and daily life. Elizabeth Forward is a district that’s embracing technology as a means to an end, and that end is a safer, richer learning environment for their students. The 3D printers, iPads, and gaming and programming classes are doing great things to support kids’ learning at these schools, but the kids are thriving because their school has a supportive, safe culture where those innovations can happen.
  • Community is key. To add to the same point, I was struck by the sense of inclusion and togetherness in these schools. Student-produced and faculty-produced music plays over the loudspeaker at the high school, giving kids a way to showcase their work and building community and admiration among faculty and students. The library is a warm, flexible space where kids work and play, and there’s a cafe where kids can refuel and hang out throughout the day. The cafe is staffed by students in the school’s special education program as part of the social development component of their coursework. It was thrilling to me to see these students — whose schoolwork is often separate from that of their classmates — so centrally included and involved in the life of the school. This says something powerful about the school’s perspective on inclusive education, and it sends a powerful message to all students about who belongs in their community. Everyone belongs in this community, and everyone contributes.
  • Change one room. In his opening remarks, Bart Rocco paraphrased Gregg Behr, Executive Director of the Grable Foundation. Mr. Behr encouraged EF to think not about changing the whole school, but about changing one space and going from there. There’s something powerful and approachable about this perspective: Elizabeth Forward isn’t a wealthy school district; it’s an almost rural community of modest homes almost an hour from the “big city” here in Pittsburgh. But they’ve taken that advice to “change one room” to heart. I saw this in small changes, like the worn but tidy EFHS school auditorium, where the overhead lights screamed 1970s but oddly complemented the brand-new JBL speaker system. I noticed that contrast when I sat down for the opening remarks, and it seemed important: This is a school that seems to be investing in details that matter. The FabLab was the room that perhaps struck me most. This room full of 3D printers used to be the in-school suspension room. Now, it’s an extension of the wood shop and an extended space for building, creation, and design. This seemed symbolic too: instead of giving kids detention, they were being given power tools. As we admired the canoe one student’s been building (follow his progress on Twitter here), I was fascinated by the trust and autonomy these students have. This is a district that’s investing in its students one by one. It’s using cool tools to do it, but the innovation comes from the creativity of leadership, not from the coolness of the toys.
  • Partnerships make an impact. Again, Elizabeth Forward isn’t a wealthy district, so they’ve relied on their own district funds, corporate partnerships, and foundation and nonprofit investment to transform their school. Administrators and teachers have found creative ways to bring together universities and companies and foundations to give EFSD students great opportunities. It can feel a little corporate — the sponsors of certain technology are definitely recognized in posters on campus where their donations and inputs are displayed, like in the Fab Lab and the room where the game design classes meet — but it also feels pretty exciting, too.

I’m far from the first person to write about Elizabeth Forward School District; to get more info, visit their district page, read this entry from eSpark (one of the vendors they’ve worked with) and this missive from the Remake Learning Network. Learn more and get inspired: this is what transformative education looks like here in western Pennsylvania. It can happen here, and it can happen anywhere.

Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

From Jamie Martin’s website, http://atdyslexia.com

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.

Dispatches from the K-8 Universe: Apps at CES and SHB

I got a great message last week from Krista Inchausti, one of our school’s Educational Innovation Coordinators. Krista’s role is to help teachers and students in our elementary schools to find creative, innovative educational tools and solutions for their classrooms. This sometimes means offering tips on great technology for the classroom. Here’s a list of killer apps that she recommends for younger students. Many thanks to Krista for sharing her insights!

Inspiration Maps is a helpful visual organizer. We have been unable to print the full concept maps but the maps can be transposed into outlines which print easily.

Notability is useful, primarily because there is no spell check in the iPad version of Google Docs. [edit from PMK: there is now but may not have been before. Anyway, Notability is still amazing.] This has presented a big problem for many of the girls but when they copy and paste their work into Notability they are able to check their spelling without moving to a laptop.

Dragon is improving their speech to text capabilities on the iPad (this app still works better on laptops). HOWEVER, newer iPads have Siri as a part of the keyboard, allowing for quick dictations in any iPad app.

Spell Better is a writing app that provides spelling suggestions to students as they type and will read their writing back to them aloud. We have only experimented with the free version.

Zapreader.com (website that works on iPads) is a speed reading tool, but breaks down text and presents it one word at a time. Speed is adjustable and there are pause and play buttons – just copy & paste text. Some students have found this helpful for getting through dense text.

Common Sense Media Appy Hour

Greatest thing since sliced bread? Maybe.
Greatest thing since sliced bread? Maybe.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to appear on a webcast for Common Sense Media. The “Appy Hour” series gives educators the chance to talk about great educational apps and websites that they’ve used in their classrooms with great success. I’m a writer and reviewer for Graphite, Common Sense Media’s website for educators, and last year I reviewed an app called Subtext, which I still believe is one of the most spectacular tools out there for reading and annotating text. CSM staff paired me with a teacher from Palatine, Illinois, named Jen Krause, who is an amazing and passionate teacher who uses Subtext to great effect in her classroom.

I’ve never done a webcast like this, and I had an absolute blast. Clearly I talk too fast (as usual), but I was thrilled to have the chance to speak at length about one of the coolest apps I’ve reviewed yet. I’m less passionate about a lot of the apps I’ve reviewed, so it was a pleasure to get to speak at greater length about a tool that I really, truly believe in.

You can read Common Sense Media’s own recap of the Appy Hour on Graphite here. You can also watch the full video below. Enjoy!


The Week in Links: Terrific resources around the web

One of the things that makes me most thankful to be an educator here in San Francisco is something called BAISLD. The Bay Area Independent Schools Learning Differences group is a community of educators who work with what we like to call “neuro-diverse” learners in the independent schools in our region. Most of us are the learning specialist/academic support director types in middle schools and high schools, but our lively listserve and meetings include educators, counselors, diagnosticians, and educational therapists who work with students with a variety of learning needs. We meet in person two to four times per year, and we talk about best practices, trends, and helpful resources on our listserve daily.

Something else I'm thankful for: the view from my office window.
Something else I’m thankful for:                                                    the view from my office window.

It’s always a highlight of my semester to attend a BAISLD meeting. I have the selfish pleasure of coordinating the meetings, so I get to pick when they take place and where we’ll go. Last semester, we started our meeting at the Bay School, which may have the only view of the Golden Gate Bridge that’s nicer than the one from my office. Our latest meeting was yesterday at Marin Country Day School, where they have a great view of the hills and, perhaps less notably, of San Quentin State Prison. (Note to self: at some point, I’ll write about why I recognize the view: I’ve been visiting the prison and singing with my friend in music ministry there since the fall.) Among other things, the conversation ranged to technology tools. We pledged to share our ideas via the listserve, which we did. I shared some things I was aware of, but I discovered some terrific new tools that I’m eager to share with you. Be forewarned: these sites are a little link-dense, but they’re worth it.

Once again, I’m grateful for the wonderful personal learning network that BAISLD is for me. Many of us who serve neuro-diverse learners in schools are one-man or one-woman shows. I was thrilled this week to have a first-time meeting attendee exclaim, “I’m so glad I’m not alone!” That’s the most rewarding part of this kind of collaboration: it helps us know that we’re not alone–better still, we’re among smart, passionate, knowledgeable friends who are eager to help.

And now: the links we talked about this week in the wonderful world of BAISLD.

“iPad as…” This is an old favorite of mine. I love how this site phrases the question of how to use technology: it’s not about picking a cool tool and then retrofitting it awkwardly onto something meaningful for learning. Instead, the site organizes apps by the ways that teachers or students might use them for addressing their needs. Super cool, and a powerful way of thinking about technology.

Tech Potential. This is the website of local assistive technology guru Shelley Haven, whose work I admire and whose PEN talk and workshop on our campus at Schools of the Sacred Heart both blew my mind. Visit her site and comb through her wealth of resources. You’ll discover that your devices have all kinds of built-in features to support learning.

Power Up: Apps for Kids with Special Needs and Learning Differences. Common Sense Media is the nation’s leader in reviewing media for children and families. Full disclosure: I think Common Sense Media is great, and I happen to have written some reviews for their educator website, Graphite. I’m impressed by the work that CSM does to reach out thoughtfully and responsibly to families about digital media and digital citizenship. This isn’t a list that I helped make, but it’s one that makes me proud to be connected to such a smart, socially responsible company.

Teach Thought’s 55 Best Free Education Apps for iPad. This is exactly what it sounds like. And it’s delightful. Give yourself some time to explore–it’s worth it.

New Reasons to Love Evernote

Today my Twitter feed lit up with posts from Evernote’s annual conference here in SF. I’m already on record as a die-hard Evernote fan, which has helped me survive the iOS7 update to the app with a degree of patience I wouldn’t have for other apps. (Really? I have to delete and then reinstall the app for it to see all of my stored notes? Really?!)

Today’s new offering absolutely blows me away: Evernote is partnering with 3M to make Post-It notes that can interface directly with Evernote. This means that people–and especially students–can take notes by hand or using a digital device and automatically store and organize all their notes via Evernote.

Here’s a neat slideshow about this, and here’s a Wall Street Journal write-up about it as well.

I’ve been excited about the LiveScribe Pen and similar technology since I first saw it in 2009. My former boss started using the pen to record conferences he attended and faculty meetings he led–always with full permission from participants that they were being recorded. I think this product has brilliant potential for education, especially for students who can’t always capture every word of a

The challenge for me with LiveScribe/EchoPen/whatever it’s called now was always the super-special notebooks that seemed hard to get. Post-It notes are everywhere, and I get the impression that these new Evernote-compatible Post-Its will be similarly easy to find.

While this Evernote innovation won’t capture audio (…yet), I love the idea that it makes it even easier for students to keep track of their written notes. I know lots of students who can’t or won’t take notes on their iPads but who love its portability. This new tool could help them save, share, and review their notes digitally while not sacrificing the skills they’ve developed as longhand note-takers.

And thus my life as a devoted Evernote fangirl continues. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

And now, just to review, a little clip about the history of Post-Its: