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Classroom Bargains

Tablet pricingWhile using tablets in the classroom can enliven a lesson and take kids where desktop and notebooks can’t, there’s another side to the slate story in schools. As the number sold has bobbed up and down, the average selling price has come down 21 percent over the last year, according to IMS Research. Because there are now small tablets that cost under $200 and second generation iPads with closeout pricing, the average selling price of a slate is now just $386, about $50 less than the cheapest notebook computer.




Last Thing to Do

Call2recycle logoWhat’s the last thing you need to do before leaving on summer vacation? Go through the classroom and collect every burned out rechargeable battery and bag them up for recycling and proper disposal. While nobody will come and get them, Call2Recycle has a slew of drop box locations so the old, worn out cells will be turned into new ones and not end up in a landfill. There are collection points at Best Buy, RadioShack, Home Depot, Staples and other stores.


Question of the Month: Is Tech Good or Bad for School?

From projectors and notebooks to tablets and networks, technology has taken over the school, but what will be its ultimate impact on education? According to a survey of 1,145 people by Poll Position, 47 percent think it will have a positive impact on the education of our children, while 33 percent said it would have a negative impact; 21 percent didn’t have an opinion. What’s your opinion?


Deborah bakerDeborah Baker

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Brighton Central Schools

Rochester, NY

I can completely understand why 21 percent of the respondents didn’t have an opinion as to whether or not technology would have an ultimate impact on education. Do we have concrete data on whether or not chalk, pencils and paper have had an impact in the classroom?  Probably not. 

For many years, we have been asking the question and seeking answers…as if technology was the panacea for all of our problems associated with reaching all students and helping them to learn. In continuing to ask the question, we once again relegate technology to “an event”; it’s a place we go (for example, the tech lab), something that we “do”. Instead, I believe we should no longer consider it an option, but rather view its incorporation into a classroom as a catalyst for fostering the type of learning environment we are striving for. 

Last fall, I was fortunate to be a part of an educational delegation to China. Part of that trip included a presentation about the history of the Chinese educational system and a review of their current goals and attempts at changing the way teachers teach and what students learn. Specifically, the lecturer talked about how historically in China, students were taught how to “take tests”. “We’re very good at teaching our students how to pass tests,” he explained, but now “we’d like to teach them how to think critically, be creative, and make a contribution to the world economy” by inventing and developing.

In other words, they are aspiring to be more like the American educational system, where we embrace creativity, individualism and innovation. The highlight of the trip was when we toured schools and classrooms. Consistently, we found that the typical high school classroom contained 50-to-60 students, crowded together in desks with the teacher lecturing from the front of the room, literally elevated on a five-inch platform. In most rooms, there was little evidence of technology. At best, a teacher may have access to a single computer with a projector. There were computer labs in the schools, but they were few and far between. That’s not to say that the students didn’t have access, but most of the students that we talked to said that they had access at home.

I found it interesting to observe the disconnect between the national desire for open classrooms, which fostered higher order thinking skills and the actuality of the classroom setting. In my opinion, it’s not just a changing philosophy that needed to be communicated to the classroom teachers, but also a realization that their current structure will never support their desire. Even if a teacher wanted to arrange students in collaborative groups and engage in a project-based pedagogical model, he/she would not have the resources or physical space to accommodate such an environment.

So back to the question at hand: Will technology make a difference? It will, but only if the conditions are such that our pedagogical models align to its use. Think about the tools and the functions each affords. If a teacher/building/district fosters, supports, insists upon a pedagogical model that fosters authenticity of learning, collaborative problem solving, and real time analysis of individual student learning, then absolutely, technology will make a difference. In many ways, such an environment would be impossible to realize if there were no access to the various technological tools. If on the other hand, a system allows/condones learning environments which emphasize memorization of content and drill and practice of skill, then the expense of purchasing and maintaining the technology just isn’t worth it.

Again, it’s not about the tools, it’s about what we do with them which will ultimately determine value and impact.


Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio



I believe the influence of technology and its expanded use in education will have a positive effect on the education of every learner. The influence of technology is probably greater for learners who have been raised with technology, but it is beneficial for learners who were not raised with technology to be exposed to it as a learning tool.

I believe anyone who desires to further his or her education, no matter what age the person happens to be, is able to benefit from a technological approach to learning.  Technology has changed and continues to changes the way we think, act, and go about our daily business. Banks have had ATMs for years, and most people have become used to using these machines to pay bills, get cash and transfer money from one account to another. The number of people who have cell phones continues to skyrocket, and the use of pay telephones is negligible so that many businesses and schools have removed them due to the cost of providing the service. 

The sale of tablets is yet another indication of how many people are growing accustomed to having information at their fingertips all the time. Sometimes these changes take time and once the change occurs, it is not always immediately obvious. To illustrate that point, I once saw a picture of a man at an airport using his cell phone while standing in front of a row of pay telephones.

It is incumbent on educators of the young and not-so-young to embrace the use of technology when teaching. The approach educators employ when using technology in learning must be geared toward the audience. Adult learners who are not familiar with, and sometimes afraid of, technology may need to be convinced that technology can make their learning (and lives) easier.

Educators need to be prepared to show such learners specific examples of how technology can help them accomplish everyday tasks much easier. I believe it is also important that educators allow younger learners the opportunity to share their technological expertise. I have seen many examples of students teaching the teachers about technology, not only the mechanics of how to use technology but how to use it to enhance learning.

Technology has also become very important from an economic perspective. The world economy is very closely aligned with technology, and many unemployed or displaced workers are finding their technology skills lacking as they search for a new job. I have heard news reports of jobs going unfilled because of the lack of workers who possess certain technology skills. Many people are finding the need to return to school to learn new skills, and most of the new skills include a certain level of expertise in technology. Educators who are assisting these learners must be aware that learners who have not been exposed to very little, if any, technology will need special care in this area.


  John OrbaughJohn Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

Tyler, TX



From my perspective technology for the sake of technology will only have a negative impact on our schools and communities. Technology is an ongoing and expensive addition to our classrooms, that’s not a news flash for anyone I realize. 

If we are just throwing technology into classrooms in order to say that we have it you can bet it will have little effect. However, when the technology placed in our classrooms begins with an instructional basis, links to lesson plans and is engaging to our students then you can expect a couple of things to occur. 

  • First, we will minimize the financial impact on our schools and tax payers. We won’t find ourselves in the indefensible position of trying to explain why thus and such piece of technology was purchased and why it isn’t being used. 
  • Second, by starting with an instructional basis for the purchase decision we are able to focus our technology on areas of greatest need and it will have the greatest effect.  
  • Finally, when there are instructional resources built into lesson plans our teachers aren’t left to founder about looking for ways to tie the technology to the lesson. 

For example, we had a department a couple of years ago decide that they wanted to install interactive whiteboards. Great product and great for student engagement, but because not all the teachers selected to receive these units were prepared, trained or even interested in using the technology some sat idle for a few years. Once we were able to move the units to a classroom where the teacher was properly prepared for the technology did we finally begin to see a difference being made with our students. 

In other words, if the technology and lesson aren’t one, then technology is just a “thing to do” in addition to the lesson. The effect of being an addition is that it falls to the side because teacher’s don’t have time to waste on yet another thing when they are trying to get students over the hump of the next high stakes test.  If we don’t do our preparation for technology upfront then those who say technology is a waste will be proved right.

Question of the Month: Online Classes

A computer screen can never replace a real, live teacher talking to the class, but there are some circumstances where online education can enhance a school experience. In your district, where and when are online classes appropriate?

Mark weedy




Mark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio


Online learning for students is a growing trend in education today. Universities have been doing it for some time, and K-through-12 schools have started to embrace it. I believe online learning has a place under the right circumstances and must be tailored to the needs of the students. Some students would thrive with minimal direction while others need more instructor involvement to make online learning effective.

School districts in Ohio started using online learning last school year as a pilot program to make up days of school missed due to inclement weather.  These days are generally referred to as “eDays” where instructors post lessons on the district’s web site. Students are expected to complete the requirements and provide evidence of their work to the respective instructors.

The Ohio General Assembly approved Ohio Revised Code 3313.88 which grants school districts permission to use up to three online makeup days to replace days missed due to calamities. Such days may be used only after a district exhausts the five calamity days permitted under state law. Students who fail to complete the online assignment are counted absent on the calamity day. Students who fail to complete the assignment but then make it up are given credit for their work and counted present for the day.

In order to make eDays work successfully, parents, students, and instructors must work together. The expectation of completing the assigned work must be embraced by all. Some students need face time with the instructors in order to complete the work successfully. Students in rural areas with fewer connectivity options will have to be more creative in completing the work.

Online learning is perhaps even more important to adults.  Many times adults have more difficulty finding time to further their education, and online learning is a viable option for many.  Commitments such as a job and/or taking care of children and others many times interfere with a typical school schedule. Working on assignments at their own pace, adults can complete required coursework if given the flexibility by educational institutions.   

As with their K-12 counterparts, some adult students need face time with the instructors from time to time. Face time with the instructors could be in small groups or on an individual basis. Even though I think online education is a good thing, I believe some time in a classroom setting is necessary. I think students need the interaction with fellow students to get the most from the material that is presented.


Deborah baker


Deborah Baker

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Brighton Central Schools

Rochester, NY


Currently, my district does not support the use of online courses for students. It’s not that we haven’t considered it. As a matter of fact, last year, we had an entire committee of educators research the topic and consider its feasibility for our students. Through this work they learned that many states as well as individual districts have adopted online learning solutions for students in K-12 education. They reviewed the success stories as well as the not-so successful attempts and came to the conclusion that for our students and our district, online courses were a solution to a problem we didn’t have.

In other words, our students already have access to a plethora of educational opportunities, including 18 advanced placement courses, core courses designed for all levels of learners, and electives ranging from leadership development to jewelry making and everything in between. They have dedicated teachers who are willing to accommodate their learning needs by differentiating material and instruction and help labs and support structures to assist them in real time, when they need assistance. Our students are offered a rigorous curriculum in which our staff takes great pride. The belief that being taught by a real person who can build a relationship with a student and respond to the classical mood swings of an adolescent will go further in helping our students be successful than any online experience can afford. Our teachers work very hard and our students are extremely fortunate. This, I believe is what our staff would say if asked why we do not offer online courses.

I cannot argue with many of these beliefs. I do know, for the majority of our students, our current practices work, and work well. Our students are routinely accepted into four year colleges and universities, including many of the Ivy League schools. For me, though, I think about the outliers; those students who don’t really respond to the rigorous curriculum or the caring teacher willing to drop almost anything to invest in their success. I also think about the student who may be so bright that the enriching opportunities and possibilities for advancement we do offer still are not enough.

School should be a place where all students feel valued and connected. Can we really afford, as a society, to raise another generation of students who are disenfranchised from this system? Can we afford to allow students to drop out, or even settle for a GED, when we know the eventual cost to society this means?  While I don’t purport to make the case that online solutions are the panacea for these students, but I believe for some, they may provide additional opportunities for success.

Instead of choosing to view the issue of whether or not to offer online learning as an all or nothing decision, we should instead, be focusing our energies on identifying those situations and learner types who may benefit from this mode of instructional delivery. We should be spending our time identifying which online curricula to align with our own so that we can be ensured that the rigor of the educational experience will not be jeopardized by the method of delivery. And we should work with our faculty to reassure them that the addition of online courses is not the district’s attempt to reduce their jobs, but rather, expand our abilities to help every student meet his/her potential.

In today’s modern school, the decisions should not be “if” we offer them, but rather “how” we offer them that should be our focus.





Thomas Brenneman

Executive Director for Technology

Kansas City Public Schools

Kansas City, MO


We are using on-line programs. Success Maker and Plato are two of the most widely used. We use them to provide additional learning opportunities for our students. The computer programs offer the ability for students to review class material as well as learn new information at their own pace. This opportunity allows our students to catch up with classroom instruction and to better understand the course material. 

The programs do offer a different way of learning as compared to the teacher lecturing in front of the room. These programs offer interactive and fun exercises that can offer a more personal experience to student. We have found that some students associate with interactive technology better than the traditional classroom environment.

FETC 2012: Welcome

Fetc 2012It’s that time of the year again when the teaching world descends on Florida to talk tech. Yes, today the Florida Educational Technology Conference starts and it looks like there will be no shortage of ideas about how to update the classroom. I’ll be reporting from the show floor this week to bring you the coolest devices, software and services for tomorrow’s teaching.



Putting the “E” into Textbooks

Apple logoToday, Apple announced a plan to get more digital textbooks into the hands (and backpacks) of school children and teachers. The idea revolves around the revamped iBooks site as a purchasing portal for schools and kids to download the texts they need. At first, iBooks 2 will feature texts from the likes of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson, which together sell most of America’s textbooks.

Currently only about 3 percent of textbooks are in e-book format, but that could change quickly as publishers are freed of having to print, warehouse and distribute physical books. According to Apple, these e-texts are expected to cost as little as $15 compared with $100 for the typical full-year textbook.

The big pay-off is that rather than presenting static pages with type and the occasional illustration, an e-book can have video, animation and interactive elements that can take education to a new level. Only time will tell whether e-texts will catch on, but there’s one place where it will help right away. Instead of the typical student lugging a 30-pound backpack full of books, consolidating them into an iPad make a lot of sense.

Library ChromeBooks

Palo altoAs iPads are starting to filter into libraries for loans, Samsung ChromeBooks will also be available. Visitors to three branches of the Palo Alto library can check out ChromeBooks for up to 2 hours at a time to perform research, watch videos and nose around the Web on the library’s WiFi network.





Question of the Month: Future Tech

In the classroom, technologies come and go and sometimes don’t even leave an impression, while others change the way we teach and learn. What is the most pressing issue in school technology and how are you tackling it at your district or school?


Deborah bakerDeborah Baker

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Brighton Central Schools

Rochester, NY


We’re at the tipping point. As a matter of fact, some may say we’ve already tipped.

That is, we’re at the point where, many (most?) educators have found it essential to incorporate some form of digital resource into their (daily) instruction. That’s what we’ve been hoping for, correct? The problem in my district however, is that we’re not ready.

Teachers are asking that, instead of their classes being scheduled in their regular classrooms, they want them to be scheduled into the computer labs. This is causing a strain on our resources because we don’t have enough computer labs to meet the demand. While some may think this is a good problem, it’s one we weren’t ready for. Old buildings and fiscal restraints don’t allow for the development of the infrastructure at the pace of the demands. Desktop units are far cheaper than laptops and we’ve made a conscious decision to invest in this type of technology instead of the more portable devices.

Currently, we’re trying to be judicious with the way we schedule our labs. Teachers are still being asked to take turns and plan their lessons accordingly; clearly not our desired state, but one which we must live with, at least for the time being. We’re also investigating additional possible solutions to the growing problem. It doesn’t seem practical to think that anytime in the near future we’ll be able to provide all of the resources that our teachers and students are demanding so we’re looking into the issues surrounding a BYOD (bring your own device) approach.

There are a few districts in our area dabbling with this practice, and we’re trying to learn from them. What applications will our teachers need to work primarily from the “Cloud”? How open can we let our network be and still maintain the security we require? Do we need to standardize on the type of device we’re asking students to bring to school and if not, what new issues will unfold when all of the students bring something different?

It truly is an amazing time to be in education. Demands on the classroom teachers are coming from all fronts; new state regulations on teacher evaluation, student demands for engaging learning environments, parent demands for real time communication of their child’s progress, and the need to meet rigorous state standards and assessments.

At best, we’re trying to think of these demands as opportunities. Work smarter, not harder the old adage goes. The only way to do this is by capitalizing on all the capacity afforded us by digital environments.


John OrbaughJohn Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

Tyler, TX




Bring your own device is the next frontier for our district.  With the funding cuts we have experienced it is no longer feasible to provide all the computing power that our students need. Not only is this no longer feasible, it was at least for us, not a sustainable computing model either. 

Our district is implementing a virtual desktop solution for both our student and staff computing needs. This approach to the problem of an aging fleet of computers allows us to extend the life of our 5 – 10 year old PCs by using them as a thin client device.

Later, when these units finally die, we will replace them with a zero client device that cost less than half of a standard desktop PC and will have a useful life of 10 years. Additionally, we will use the virtual desktop as the delivery vehicle to the student’s computing device, be it a iPhone, iPad, netbook, laptop, Droid tablet or what have you. The virtual desktops delivered via our wireless network will keep the student’s devices separated from the district’s network to prevent virus and malware attacks. The virtual desktops can also be delivered across the Internet to the student’s device at home or any WiFi hotspot. 

Preparing our network infrastructure for the onslaught of student owned technology entering our buildings and training our teachers to deal with the devices in their classroom are the immediate concern now that our virtual desktops are in place. 



Freebee Friday: Time to Speak Up

LrrmiThere’s not much time, but the Association of Educational Publishers and the Creative Commons are asking educators and administrators to comment on the current version of the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative’s technical working group; the spec is available online. The spec can help educators improve the search process for educational resources. Comments are due by November 11 and will be published a week later.



Teacher Central

ScholasticScholastic’s popular Teacher site has been one of the most popular online education destinations with more than 1.6 million weekly viewers. It just got a whole lot better. The upgrade not only adds a variety of instant activities to get the day started, but more than 7,000 lesson plans and an expanded Book Wizard section where educators can find the exact right book for everything from a child’s research project to a class project.





Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.