#InnovatorsMindset – Pedagogy


Those thinking about or new to using technology in the classroom may be under the impression that technology is the magic potion that is going to radically change student engagement and achievement in the classroom. That is a huge misconception. Technology in and of itself is not the magic potion. If teachers simply hand students a mobile device without changing the task, it’s no better than using the more affordable alternatives – pencil and paper. In fact, the technology tool (in this case) becomes no better than a $1000 pencil.

What needs to change is the task itself. And this is where pedagogy comes in.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura is credited with defining how technology can transform learning tasks through the use of the SAMR model. John Spencer sums it up quite nicely:

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with tasks at the Substitution level. After all, teachers and students need to start somewhere. But if that is all that is done…then the technology tool becomes an expensive alternative to paper and pencil. Those of us in the educational field know that money doesn’t grow on trees (remember when we used to have department budgets?) so the thought of spending vast amounts of money on technology only to have it being solely used at the lowest level of SAMR is a travesty.

But in order for teachers to understand the need to change the learning task, they first have to understand the pedagogy behind the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. This is where the TPACK model comes in. Candace M does a great job summing up TPACK in 2 minutes.

So you see, teachers have (or should have) the content portion down pat. And some may even have differing levels of technology prowess. But without understanding the pedagogy, the learning tasks associated with technology will have little to no connection to authentic learning. And now we’re back to the $1000 electronic pencil analogy.

But I recently came across a term that is making me think more about how I structure learning tasks for my students and PD for my teachers: pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). In the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, pedagogical content knowledge is defined as “knowledge about how to teach in particular disciplines” (p. 167). In other words, it’s not enough to know the content, teachers must educate themselves on how to teach that specific content. The discipline of history needs to be taught differently than the discipline of math. In fact, the National Research Council states “expert teachers are sensitive to those aspects of the discipline that are especially hard or easy for new students to master” (p. 166). Take the discipline of history, for example. History is more than a mere list of names, dates, and places. Shocking, I know. Good history teachers will help students develop skills to critically read and interpret primary and secondary sources, corroborate evidence, as well as understand the problematic nature of historical interpretation (National Research Council, 2000).

So on top of clearly articulating the pedagogy behind meaningful integration of technology to teachers who attend my PD sessions, I also need to keep in mind the reading, writing, and thinking skills of how students should approach the study of history in my own classroom as well as how teachers should approach lesson and task design in their history classrooms.

And since I’m a serial book reader, I get all excited when topics of my books come together. Having finished The Innovator’s Mindset earlier this month, I’m stoked that the book How People Learn is helping me to make more sense in how to design meaningful learning opportunities for students. The sketchnotes below is my reflection on Chapter 9 from the #InnovatorsMindset book.


#InnovatorsMindset Part 4 

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” — Jon Madonna

My quest to sketchnote each chapter as a reflection of Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset continues…

Chapter 6 focused on discerning the difference between engagement and empowerment. Truth be told, empowerment wasn’t high up on my radar because I was one of those teachers who focused more on the engagement side of learning. Oh, but I’ve had tons of conversations with my #PLN about teaching skills versus content and I understand the important role that both play in student learning. But what stood out to me from this section is the importance…no, the imperativeness (I hope that’s a word) of empowering my students to truly take charge of their learning. It’s not enough to introduce them to the tools and the content, but rather I need to make sure that each child that walks through my door understands that they have the power of choice. In my department, student choice is actually part of our classroom expectations. And we don’t merely pay lip service to the term either. Using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, we’ve broken down the standards by skills: Level 3 – describe/define, Level 4 – analyze, Level 5 – synthesize/evaluate/create. Students choose their level of learning for each unit and complete tasks, assignments, and activities for that level. But what I see that we need to do better is give students choice in what they want to study. Sure, we have standards that students will be tested on (district benchmarks, anyone?) but why not give students the power to choose which aspect of the content they would like to explore further? Because we use Haiku Learning for our classes, we could easily create a place for students to curate their learning. In fact, Flipbook is something that we tried last year at the 7th grade level and we (the teachers) loved it! Actually, our students really enjoyed it as well because they could see the Flipboard magazines from the other World History classes and comment/like what they saw. Hmmmm, and the wheels are turning in my head…

Now because I’m about ready to start my doctorate…and because I’m a HUGE geek when it comes to schooling, I’ve already started to read two of the books for this upcoming semester (I know, I know. Please don’t judge me).

What I found interesting is that Couros isn’t just taking about pie-in-the-sky learning experiences for students; what he’s proposing is supported by research. While Couros (2015) states that “it is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them” (p. 1368 eBook), the National Research Council (2000) explains the importance of active learning, “New developments in the science of learning also emphasize the importance of helping people take control of their own learning. Since understanding is viewed as important, people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information” (p. 12). Sounds a lot like empowering students is important in order for them to become self-regulated learners.

But it’s not enough to simply talk theory and what if’s. In order to truly make a difference, Couros next focuses on shared vision-making. What the admins want is nice. What the teachers want is nice. What the students want is nice. But without coming together and creating a shared vision about what learning should look like, everyone is really just out for themselves. It’s not easy bringing many stakeholders together for shared vision-making, but it’s one that is absolutely necessary. And I think that schools (mine included) may need to go back to the drawing board or stay at the drawing board until a shared-vision is created and accepted by all.


National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/9853

#InnovatorsMindset Part 3

So this is my view from the deck as I finished this latest set of sketchnotes and blog post…

I would rather be out on the dock but I’m afraid I’ll either drop my new iPad Pro or Apple Pencil. 😁 But I couldn’t ask for a more serene setting with which to reflect on Chapters 4 & 5 of George Couros’ (@gcouros) book The Innovator’s Mindset.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am not an administrator but I do consider myself a leader, a change agent. I’ve always found myself in some type of leadership position even from a young age…which is a bit odd to me since I don’t like being in any type of limelight. But I do have the gift of being able to empathize and relate well with people which brings me to the main focus of Chapters 4 & 5 – relationships. George brings the issue of successful and sustainable change back to the idea of people…understanding them, empathizing with them, building a relationship with them, connecting with them. His idea of being a leader is more about servant leadership. Through consensus building of a school-wide vision, stepping into the shoes of the end-user (teachers & students), removing barriers to success, scaffolding the change process, and most importantly, keeping in mind that at the heart of innovation are the people, not stuff…not policies, not initiatives.



I think all too often educators at all levels feel the pressure to conform to policies and regulations…and get stuck right there. But George’s idea that we need to innovate inside the box is exactly what we need to remember when feeling discouraged or bogged down by issues that are behind our control. Innovation is happening at this moment…it’s better that it happens beyond “pockets of innovation” (p. 226) but it has to start somewhere. We’re not all fortunate to have a George Couros in our districts or at our school sites, but we do have leaders who understand the necessity of change and the importance of cultivating an innovator’s mindset.

Step aside naysayers, there’s a new mindset in town.


#InnovatorsMindset Part 2


Only educators know this fact: summer vacations are rarely a vacation that doesn’t involve some type of personalized professional development. Now that PD can come in the form of EdCamps, Twitter/Voxer chats, workshops, conferences, PatioPDs, and the like. For me, my PD is definitely personalized. I’m reading what I want, when I want, and talking/sharing my thoughts on Twitter and this blog. Summer is not only a time to recharge our batteries before the new school year but it’s also a time for us to explore what truly interests us…our passions.

Earlier this summer, I finally had a chance to read a book by one of my favorite educators – Carol Ann Tomlinson – Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom. Assessment is an integral part of education whether we are assessing our students’ or our own learning. But what draws me to Tomlinson’s work is her understanding of how to differentiate the learning for our students. I saw many parallels in Tomlinson’s work to George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. In fact, what struck me as most interesting is how both authors repeatedly brought the main focus back to the individual (whether it was the teacher or student) and how empathy plays an instrumental role in giving the learner true agency in the learning/growing process.

The above sketchnotes is from Chapter 2 “The Innovator’s Mindset”. It sums up how we need to change our mindset if we want to truly create an innovative learning environment at our school site. Having said that, Couros’ pearls of wisdom are not just for the individual classroom – we are no longer teaching on an island, after all – but rather his suggestions apply to school sites and beyond. For those who are familiar with differentiation, the sketchnotes contain key ideas that apply when working with gifted learners as well. But what I really like is the phrase “Learn to innovate inside the box”. For many years now, we’ve been told to think outside of the box..and for some things that works but the reality is…is that in education we are bound by constraints, such as: time, grading periods, funding, ed policy, district initiatives, etc. Trying to think outside of the box works but when it comes time to actually apply those thoughts…well, constraints is what holds many of us back…which is why I really like the idea of learning to innovate inside the box. Working within our constraints. Figuring out creative solutions within our constraints. Looking at new ways of doing things within our constraints.

Our conversations at our school sites would be more fruitful if we keep in mind that we can learn how to innovate inside of the box. Couros is quick to point out that everyone (teachers and students) are not only learners but leaders in this process. However, in the case of Chapter 3 “Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”…the information is more for administrators and teacher leaders and not so much for students.


The prevalent idea from this chapter is that change is not only a process but one that must be transparent. Grassroots change agents can get the ball rolling but change needs to occur at all levels for it to truly be successful and sustainable. Leaders (administrators in this case) need to be out on the front-lines. Couros writes, “As leaders we cannot tell others they should be innovative while we continue to do the same thing” (p. 883). The same applies to teachers…we cannot tell our students that we want them to be creative and take risks if we are not willing to do the same. So you see, if we are to have an Innovator’s Mindset, it must happen across all levels. It’s a definitely mindset change…one that I’m happy to oblige.

#InnovatorsMindset Part 1

Have you ever tried sketchnoting with a puppy on your lap? Well, I have. It wasn’t easy but my drive to finish at least one sketchnotes from Chapter 1 of George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity was the driving force to press forward inspite of the cuteness that just wanted to snuggle.

I finished The Innovator’s Mindset yesterday evening and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was a bit forlorn. I loved being immersed in how to create, hone, and honor an Innovator’s Mindset. George Couros (@gcouros) has the gift of writing because the whole book was like sitting down next to a good friend and having an insightful conversation about education. I found myself answering his questions…adding my own thoughts…even nodding and smiling along as he explained how to cultivate an Innovator’s Mindset into my professional practice.

As I began reading, I found myself highlighting what seemed like every other sentence – his pearls of wisdom are THAT good – which made me think, “How am I ever going to narrow all of this down into one comprehensive sketchnotes?” But then I thought, “Why limit myself to just one sketchnotes?” There are so many good things to keep in mind and best practices to instill into my daily routine that the learning would be lost if I tried to shove everything into just one sketchnotes. So, what I’ve decided is that I’ll create a sketchnotes for each chapter…highlighting George’s pearls of wisdom along with my own understanding of what constitutes an Innovator’s Mindset as a reflection piece for myself.

Now I’m on summer vacation…enjoying the beauty and relaxation that goes along with #lakelife so it might take me awhile to get all of the sketchnotes done. But there’s no rush…in fact, I truly believe that one cannot rush creativity or the creative process. So I plan to thoroughly enjoy the freedom to take things (all things) one.day.at.a.time.

I managed to finish two sketchnotes this morning (with the puppy on my lap the ENTIRE time). I don’t claim to be an artist, I’m really more of a doodler…but here is my understanding as gleaned from The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Enjoy!



Chapter 1: What Innovation Is and Isn’t


Closing Shop & Movin’ On…

As this school year came to a close, I decided that this summer I would finally learn how to use Word Press for blogging. It started yesterday when I found myself with a huge block of time where I could play around with the various features of Word Press. Easy UI it is not. But the overall presentation when all is said and done is very nice. It helps that the template I chose for that site is named for one of my favorite authors: Hemingway.

Now that I’m up and running with Word Press, it’s time to say good-bye to an old friend…my first professional blog “Tech is the New Black”…I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a bit sad at moving my blog to a new site, but it’s time. I’ve been using this site to share my thoughts on education and technology integration for several years now. In fact, my first post was February 17, 2011 appropriately titled My Nemesis. I’d like to admit that technology ceased to be my nemesis over the years but I’ve found that with the increased integration of technology into my curriculum it served to open up new opportunities for technology to throw a wrench in the whole learning process. There were days (in the not too distant past) where I had to use pranayama breathing (kinda sounds like Darth Vader) so that I wouldn’t lose my mind. But if one wants to use technology, one quickly learns that you have to take the good with the bad (er, challenging).

I want to thank those of you who have read my blog posts over the years. I wrote them in part to share the triumphs and challenges of using technology but this blog was also cathartic in many ways. It helped me to see my growth over time as I overcame various technology hurdles and barriers. The new blog “Emerging Tech Notes” will continue to serve both purposes. The new UI is out of my comfort zone, so I apologize ahead of time if the blog posts, images, or anything else is out of whack. Just chalk it up as part of the learning process.

With much appreciation and fond memories, I bid “Tech is the New Black” adieu as I move forward in my learning journey at my new site “Emerging Tech Notes“.

Catch ya on the flip side!

A Time to Reflect

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.40.16 PM

This year my department rolled out a fully blended learning program for both World and U.S. History. Each member of my department was given an iPad cart to use with our students. We met over the summer to design our courses using Haiku Learning as our learning management system. The conversation flowed as we threw out ideas about how to make learning more student-centered while staying true to our philosophy of providing a rigorous learning environment with student choice. Integrating technology at this level with varying degrees of techxpertise (thanks @MisterCoyle for the nomenclature) was certainly something that kept us on our toes all.year.long. It forced our department to take collaboration to the next level. On a regular basis (i.e., daily, before school, in between classes), we discussed how technology could help our students practice historical thinking, reading, and writing skills. Luckily, we are all veteran teachers who know the value of flexibility and having an open-mind. Because in the end it’s the students who benefit from all of this work…we’re just the care-takers of the process.

Top 10 Things We Learned This Year

  1. BaiBoard is a awesome app for collaboration – to make it easier to follow along (and hold students accountable), have students fill in a Google Form with their BaiBoard name + password; use the desktop app to monitor progress
  2. Google My Maps though it has great potential in the history classroom, the UI on the iPads is still severely lacking – it’s a bummer to have students create slideshows on a pin only to have it show up on some iPads but not others #csuftcs
  3. Padlet is an easy way for students to display their work – to prevent cheating or stealing of ideas, we found that it was better to require students to post their work first in a discussion forum in Haiku Learning to time/date stamp the entry and then post the assignment in Padlet
  4. District’s default password for GAFE accounts needs to be changed right away – birthdays are a big deal at the middle school level…hence it’s pretty easy to figure out the default GAFE password (mmddyyyy) #duh
  5. Haiku Learning is an easy way to create a blended learning environment for students – use a linear format (e.g, Task 1, Task 2) because it helps students know what to do next and they can progress through the tasks at their own pace
  6. Memes are a fun way for students to practice critical thinking skills – students not only used memes for historical writing but also to demonstrate their creative side; middle schoolers speak memes #truestory #funnestprojecttograde
  7. Student choice is one way to personalize the learning process – using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, students were able to chose their learning path: Level 3 (describe/define), Level 4 (analysis), Level 5 (synthesis, evaluation) #leveledlearning #studentchoice
  8. Collaboration is key – having an open-mind is just as important
  9. Technology will work when it wants to, not when you want it to #murphyslaw
  10. Middle schoolers are inherently curious and to a large extent fearless – give them a challenge and they will rise to the occasion…how do you think we’ve learned various tips and tricks of the apps that we use?