Month: December 2015

A Letter to Teachers From Santa

This article was reposted with permission from Michael Gorman (@mjgormans). Gorman has been district Teacher of the Year and Indiana STEM Educator of the Year. He was recently awarded the honor of being one of Microsoft’s 365 Global Education Heroes; he writes about his experiences at his 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning blog.

santaDear Teachers,

I have been meaning to write this letter for a long time! It is a letter that I feel is long overdue and with the elves getting all ready for my long ride, I finally found the time! I have been watching teachers for many years and I am amazed at the work they do. I have come to a conclusion that the teaching profession, like my own, must be filled with bits of  magic! Please let me provide ten statements of evidence for my belief.

1.  I travel the world one night of the year visiting all the boys and girls of the world. The teaching profession works with every boy and girl all year long. This equates to each teacher fulfilling educational needs for 30 – 200 children each and every school day. Seems like magic to me!

2. I deliver presents to all the boys and girls. From my Toy Repair Shop statistics, I find many of these gifts are broken or no longer garner a child’s interest within months!  Yet teachers find inner gifts in every child. Teachers nurture these inner gifts  until they develop into true presents that will last a lifetime.  These kinds of gifts sure seem like magic to me!

3. I keep my naughty and nice list for every child. Some people believe this job is pretty amazing! Yet when I look at the teaching profession, teachers provide a constant evaluation of all their students! Their list covers all the aspects of developing and learning which they report to children’s parents and to the children themselves! This evaluation is based on a wide variety of observations, data, and student performance.  Teachers will then use this list to help improve each and every student! Wow, keeping track of every student’s ability and prescribing ways to be successful must really be magic!

4. I leave presents to students who are on the nice list and who believe in me. Teachers work with all children because they believe in every student. Teachers continue to do so, even when students stop believing in the educational system’s ability to help them achieve.  That type of persistence has got to be magic!

5. I have operated my workshop using the same technology for hundreds of years and it has worked for me. Then again, I work with children when they are asleep, delivering presents in my own way. Teachers work with children when they are awake and they have spent time learning how to engage children using googles, blogs, phlogs, glogs, prezis, and all these other words I really don’t know! Being able to teach, transform, and accommodate for this new digital generation must really be magic!

6. I have made it a practice to leave coal behind for children who do not make my good list! It seems every year the same children always get the coal. Teachers refuse to leave coal, in fact, they are working hard at leaving no child behind. To work towards a goal of leaving no child behind is a true act of magic!

7. I read the news and I am always so thankful to read all the nice articles about my work. It really does provide me with motivation to keep up my vocation. I read news articles about the education profession and it seems that most articles are unsupportive. Yet, teachers keep working hard at providing success for their students! These teachers must be operating on a little bit of magic!

8. I have thousands of elves, of course the reindeer, and the  community of the entire North Pole to assist me. Teachers work every day, many times by themselves, as they provide new opportunities for their students! Carrying that load alone must be much heavier than my bag of toys. It must really be magic!

9. I receive many a thank you and millions of pictures of happy faces as children open their presents each year. Teachers don’t always get a thank you, or may never see the present get eventually opened. When they do, appreciation may come from decades later!  A thank you that appears after many years must be the result of pure magic!

10. I discovered a light in Rudolph brightens up a dark, foggy, or snowy night so that I can deliver joy to all the children across the world. Teachers provide the light that brightens our world in both the darkest night and brightest day! It is the light of learning and knowledge!  The ability to keep that light burning  bright  must take a quite a bit of magic!

You see, I have found that magic does not come easily! It is made possible only by those who work hard and keep believing, and seek what they know is possible! As you can see, there must be a great deal of magic in the education profession! Please continue to keep this magic alive and know that you are all on my good list! After all, I had to learn all that I do from somewhere! So from across the years I know I have many teachers to thank!   Last, to all teachers across the world… I really do believe in you!

Thanks for all the magic,



Educational Techn0logy Predictions for 2016

by Kristie Burk

Happy (almost!) New Year. I am looking forward to the start of 2016. Every year, I take this time to think about what has happened in the last year, but I also like looking ahead.Here are some of the things I predict we’ll be talking about even more this coming year:

  • eBooks – the line between textbooks and websites will become very blurry as ebooks grow in popularity and become more interactive. In fact, the US Department of Education’s 2016 National Technology Education Plan advises districts to focus on “replacing commercially licensed textbooks with openly licensed educational resources.” Earlier this year, I talked about some good resources here and here.
  • Blended models – The US Department of Education’s 2016 National Technology Education Plan also recommends states, districts, and post-secondary institutions explore blended learning models, including hybrid classes like the ones offered at Downingtown Ivy Academy, flipped classrooms, and station rotation models.  Learn about the different blended models here.
  • Games in the classroom – The blur between electronic games and learning will continue. For example, Minecraft partnered with to offer students a chance to learn how to code with Minecraft. At the ISTE conference in Philadelphia this past summer, the line was out the door and down the hall for a workshop on using Minecraft in the classroom. Educators around the world are thinking of new and innovative ways to capture students’ fascination with online games to help them learn. Here are three ways to use Minecraft in the classroom.
  • Competency-based (Mastery) learning – In 2016, more schools will be exploring competency-based learning, which goes hand-in-hand with technology.  Customization and personalization for students allow children to progress at their own pace, but they must demonstrate mastery of a skill or academic content before continuing. You can read here how one Spanish teacher is using Schoology’s student completion functions to introduce competency-based learning in his classroom.
  • Makerspaces – a Makerspace is a place where students can use a variety of tools (littlebits, Legos, art supplies, etc.) to create something out of nothing. They’re becoming popular because they foster creativity and entrepreneurship; some are even being used as incubators and accelerators for business startups.
  • More ways to earn college credit online– Earlier this Arizona State University announced a partnership with EdX, which will allow the University to offer freshmen the opportunity to earn full college-credit for the year by completing a series of completely online courses. Why is this program unique? There is no admissions process and students can choose to earn ASU credit for the course by paying $200 per credit after they’ve completed the course.
  • Drones – The Downingtown Area School District has been using drones to get some great shots of kids going to school on the first day and football games. As drones become more ubiquitous, creative teachers will think of even more ways to use them in the classroom.
  • Virtual reality – more virtual reality devices like Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift are making it into the market; it’s only a matter of time before they become a reality in the classroom.  Imagine if you were doing a lesson on Egypt and could have your students virtually explore inside a pyramid!
  • 3D printing – NASA is currently experimenting to see if it can use 3D printers when space explorers venture far from Earth; the astronauts can create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts. Explore some great ways to use 3D printers in the classroom here and here.

Do you think we left anything off this list? Let us know at

Food for Thought Friday: The National Education Technology Plan

dept_of_edby Kristie Burk

Earlier this month, the United States Department of Education released the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, which outlines the vision for states and districts across the country.  This plan is released every five years and aligns to the Every Student Succeeds Act as authorized by Congress in December 2015.

The model of learning described in this plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all learners.

The model asks that we focus what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, where and when they will learn, and who needs to learn. It brings state-of-the art technology into learning to enable, motivate, and inspire all students, regardless of background, languages, or disabilities, to achieve.

It leverages the power of technology to provide personalized learning and to enable continuous and lifelong learning. – US Dept of Ed 2106 National Education Technology Plan

In January, we’ll be looking at this document in more detail, but I encourage you to have a peek now. This is not a boring government document; the plan is filled with links to real case studies, videos, infographics, and other resources to help educators reach these goals. (Use the links on the website instead of downloading the pdf.) The document is organized into five sections: learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure.



Website Wednesday: Common Sense Graphite

by Kristie Burk

Common Sense Graphite is a free website that helps teachers find the best apps, websites and digital content for their students. Each item is rated on a five-point scale (1 to 5) that indicates the learning potential of the tool based on three areas: engagement, pedagogy and support.

Teachers can search by subject area, grade level, or Common Core standards.  Take some time to look at the Top Picks section to find:

To go just one step further, The Lesson Flows section includes lesson plans with all of the digital content you would need as well as student notes and teacher notes.



Tech Tip Tuesday: Some Google Search Tips You May Not Know

by Kristie Burk

How often do you use Google to search? If you’re like me, I use it all day long.  That’s why it’s always good to know a few Google search tricks, such as:

  1. Reverse image lookup – Did you know that you can search in Google with images instead of words?  First, you need to go to  Then, you can drag and drop an image right to the search engine box or click on the camera icon and attach a file.  Google will return sites that include the image or similar images.
  2. File types – type your search keywords and then filetype: *file type* to find files with these keywords.  For example, you can search on Civil War filetype: ppt to find PowerPoints on the Civil War.
  3. Number range – If you type “..” in between two numbers, Google will return any items between that range.  For example, if you search New York City 1880..1889, Google will return sites with information on NYC during this time period.
  4. Tracking numbers – Type any UPS, USPS, or Fedex tracking number into a Google search and track your package immediately. (So useful this time of year!)
  5. Conversions – type a conversion into the search and Google will return the calculation.  For example, typing .5 cups to tsp will return “24 tsps.”  (Good to know!)  You can do this for metric conversions, currency conversions, etc.
  6. Movie Times – Okay, this one may not have much educational value, but I like it.  Typing a movie title and a location (e.g. The Force Awakens, Downingtown) and Google will return all of the movie times, dates, and theaters near Downingtown.
  7. Quick word shortcuts – Here are a few more of my favorites:
    1. define – type this before any word to get the definition
    2. etymology – (even cooler than “define”) type this before any word to get the origin and history of a word
    3. stock  – type this word before a company name or ticker symbol to get the current performance of a stock
    4. time – type this before any location and Google will return the current time in that place
    5. weather – type this word before a location and Google will return the current weather
    6. timer – type this word before something like “5 minutes” and Google will start a timer countdown

Do you have a favorite Google search trick? Share it with us at

Surprise! Kids May Not Be More Tech-Savvy Than You!

by Kristie Burk

This article is dedicated to all those educators who feel like their students know more than they do about technology.

I bring you good news!

Professors from the New York Institute of Technology, the University of Connecticut and Utah State University wanted to know if middle schoolers were really more tech-savvy than their teachers.  They did some research on over 1,000 middle school students and their teachers… and their findings may surprise you.

Wang, S., Hsu, H., Campbell, T., Coster, D. C., & Longhurst, M. (2014) found that the teachers’ use of various technologies was higher than the students’ use both in and out of school!

Should I say that again!?

The teachers’ use of various technologies was higher than the students’.

The researchers found that the teachers used productivity tools, such as word processing, and search engines more frequently than the middle schoolers. Students, on the other hand, used technology mostly for social connections and interpersonal communications outside of school. Surprisingly, this study found that teachers seem to have a better grasp of the uses of technology than the digital natives.

Do you want more good news?

Researchers also found that the teachers’ age did not correlate with technology usage. Younger teachers used technology more for social connections (like their students) but they did not integrate technology into the classrooms any more than the older teachers.

Unfortunately, we’re not off the hook.  This difference between the teachers’ knowledge and the students’ knowledge may be caused by the students’ lack of opportunities to use technology for work in addition to personal use. The study finds that digital natives do not have the skills to use technology to solve complex cognitive problems; inside school, the students were not using tools that supported creativity and productivity, such as blogs or movie productions.

That’s where we come in.

I hope that the results of this study offset the belief that our students are far ahead of us when it comes to technology and remind us that it’s our job to show them how to move beyond using their devices for texting and games.

Food for thought…

Wang, S., Hsu, H., Campbell, T., Coster, D. C., & Longhurst, M. (2014). An investigation of middle school science teachers and students use of technology inside and outside of classrooms: Considering whether digital natives are more technology savvy than their teachers. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(6), 637.


Website Wednesday: Hour of Code with Minecraft

by Kristhour-of-code-minecraft-tutorialie Burk

From December 7th through December 13th, tens of millions of students in over 180 countries are participating in Hour of Code events designed to get students excited about computer science.

If you have time this week, show your students this awesome Minecraft Hour of Code! Students do not need to have the game installed; they can access it through the web browser.

Students start by watching an introductory video by Jens Bergensten, a lead developer on Minecraft, who explains how he started programming as a preteen.

Students then select a character (Alex or Mike) to program through Minecraft using drag and drop blocks with concepts like repeat loops and if statements.

It’s really a lot of fun and educational!