Canva Makes Your iPads Even MORE Useful

One of my biggest beefs with schools that spend thousands of dollars pushing iPads into classrooms has been the fact that the iPad has never REALLY been a great creation tool.  Instead, iPads often end up doing nothing more than reinforcing the kinds of passive consumption behaviors — watching videos, reading text, searching the Web — that I think we ought to be pushing OUT of our classrooms.

That’s why Canva’s new iPad app has caught my attention.

Designed to extend Canva’s remarkable desktop design functionality (see here and here) to mobile devices, this app has the potential to turn classroom iPads into tools for teaching students how to create stunning visuals.

Check out this video introduction:

The simple truth is that learning to create remarkable images is an essential skill in a world where we are surrounded by visual messages.

While being persuasive will always depend on written text — think about the the fact that I am trying to change your thinking every time I sit behind my keyboard to blog — being persuasive in a skim-first, read-later world ALSO depends on the ability to craft content that captures the eyes of viewers.

Canva remains the most approachable tool for helping kids to design extraordinary visuals.  If their new app makes it possible to do so on the iPads sitting in our classrooms, they will have hit an #edtech home run.

In the next few weeks, I’ll have some of my students experiment with the app.  I’ll share what they create here.



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Using Canva to Teach Visual Influence

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks!

One of my professional mentors is Tom Many — longtime superintendent in the Chicago area and full-time consultant with expertise in setting up professional learning communities.  Tom — who writes a regular bit for the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association — reached out a few months back, looking to interview me for a column on teaching with technology.

Thought you’d be interested in the conversation that we had:

Tom: I often hear that technology motivates kids? 

Bill: The notion that technology increases a student’s motivation to learn, Tom, is fundamentally flawed.  While it is true that today’s kids are comfortable with technology, being comfortable with technology is not the same as being motivated by it.  Sean Crevier – a business teacher in the Greater Chicago area – probably said it best when he argued that today’s kids are no more motivated by technology than they are by their shoes and socks.  To kids, technology is functional, not fantastic.

What really motivates today’s students are meaningful learning experiences built around the chance to do work that matters.  For example, the kids in my classroom are the most motivated when they are fighting global poverty or raising awareness about the sugars in the everyday foods that we eat.  While technology serves as an accelerant in both of these examples, the technology that we use is irrelevant.

Long story short:  Real power rests in the hearts and minds of teachers who are working together to design lessons that introduce students to required content and skills while they are solving real-world problems together.

Tom:  Another reason in support of using technology is that it results in higher levels of student engagement.

Bill:  I’m not a big fan of the notion that we can use technology to engage students, Tom, because it suggests that technology alone can overcome poorly designed lessons.  In fact, I’d argue that using technology to sweeten boring lessons is a lot like drowning Cheerios in sugar:  Today’s students are savvy enough to know that you are still serving Cheerios.

I’d even go as far as to say that trying to use technology to engage students is inadvertently insulting to kids because “engaging students” still fundamentally suggests that we are trying to teach our content and our skills without any effort to listen to the voices of the learners in our classrooms.

How would instruction change if our primary goal was to empower – instead of engage – our learners?  The beautiful part of technology is that it makes it possible for anyone to ask and answer their own questions and to work together to wrestle with knotty problems.  Shouldn’t we be designing lessons that show students how to actually leverage the learning potential in the devices that surround them?

Tom:  I am told that technology encourages kids to engage in higher level thinking, does technology increase the rigor of classroom lessons? 

Bill:  Technology is never rigorous, Tom.  Tasks are.  When we spend time focused on the tools kids are using instead of the tasks that they are wrestling with, we inevitably end up failing ourselves, our communities and our kids.  Does technology make it possible for teachers to effectively and efficiently develop and deliver more rigorous tasks?  Sure.  But until we center our collective attention on tasks instead of tools, we’ll never increase the rigor of classroom instruction.

Tom:  Some argue that schools need to expose students to technology in order to better prepare them for the 21st Century.  Can you share any insights into that idea?

Bill:  The students who succeed in tomorrow’s world, Tom, will be those who learn to filter, manage and evaluate information in increasingly complex literate environments.  What’s more, the students who succeed in tomorrow’s world will be those who can build knowledge together through cycles of collaborative dialogue and who are skilled at solving problems that cross domains.  Finally, the students who succeed in tomorrow’s world will be those who can influence and persuade those around them.

That should be good news to teachers and schools because those skills – evaluation, persuasion, collaborative dialogue, problem solving – are skills that teachers are already comfortable with and believe in.

The difference is that technology makes it possible to for everyone to efficiently wrestle with those skills on a more regular basis.  So in a sense, I guess that exposing students to technology matters – but only because it will enable every kid to develop fluency with the skills that once only mattered to the small handful who were headed to college.  Divorced from those skills, however, exposing students to technology is somewhat pointless.

Tom:  I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the relationship between teaching, learning, and technology.  In closing is there anything else you would like to share?

Bill:  I guess I would like to close by saying again that there is no substitute for good teaching.  In order to better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world, it is far more important to have a school full of learning-savvy teachers than tech-savvy teachers.

The folks driving meaningful change in the classroom through the innovative use of digital tools aren’t tech geeks, they are teaching geeks.


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Technology Gives Kids Power

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Problemitizing the Curriculum [SLIDE]

The thinking of Garfield Gini-Newman has been a source of challenge for me lately.

One of Garfield’s arguments is that problems should be used as an invitation to bring students into the learning process.  Here’s a slide that makes Garfield’s point:

(click here to view and download image on Flickr) 


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Looking for a School Leadership Survey? Try This.

A few years ago, my buddy Parry Graham and I created a survey that could be used to gather data on the work of leaders in a professional learning community.  Check it out here:

Professional Learning Community Administration Survey

Recently, a principal reached via email and asked how our survey was designed to be used.  Thought you might be interested in my reply:

Our administration survey was designed for one simple purpose:  So that administrators could model the kind of data-driven vulnerability that they expect teachers to wrestle with on learning teams.  Principals are often ready to argue that teachers should “get comfortable” with data that defines their practice, but “getting comfortable” is A LOT easier said than done — especially when you haven’t ever seen anyone model an open, nonjudgmental attempt to interpret data results.

So I always suggest to school leaders interested in using this survey that they keep the process simple, remembering that the purpose isn’t to show teachers everything that there is to do with manipulating and learning from data, but instead, to show teachers that looking at data — even when it points to areas where practice can be improved — can be done with courage and in a way that still respects the practitioner.

In action, that could look a lot of different ways — but I recommend that principals find three takeaways in the data that they collect and share those three takeaways in a presentation at a faculty meeting.  Those takeaways might be things like “We do a good job making ourselves available to faculty, but we haven’t been especially clear about what our school’s priorities are” or “We need to do a better job celebrating the great things happening in our buildings.

Then, I recommend that principals be open about the specific steps that they plan to take to address those takeaways — both in the initial meeting and in follow-up meetings.  Phrases like, “based on our recent administrators survey, we are going to try ______________.  We think it might help with ______________” model the notion that practitioners should make decisions and take action based on data they’ve collected about their practice.

The mistake some school leaders make with the survey is trying to get TOO bogged down in manipulating and analyzing the data.  While that may have some value in private, the public purpose of the document is to show that school leaders are collecting data on their practice — and that the process of publicly wrestling with what we know about our practice can be positive instead of threatening.

Does this make any sense?

Our goal was to remind school leaders that pushing teachers to be publicly vulnerable about their practice is disingenuous when principals aren’t embracing the same practices.


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Presentation Materials: Solution Tree #atplc Institute

Over the next few days, I’ll be working alongside the super motivated educators at Solution Tree’s PLC Institute in Tulsa.  The goal for most of the participants will be to find ways to polish their collaborative practices in order to help kids learn.  Together, teams from individual schools will study everything from the core beliefs that support learning communities to the nuts and bolts of making effective collaboration possible.

I’ll be delivering three different breakout sessions at the Institutes.  Here are the materials for each session.  Hope you find them useful:


Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Download Session Materials

If schools are truly working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences need to be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality.

In this presentation, Solution Tree author and full-time classroom teacher Bill Ferriter will introduce participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to (1). provide structure for differentiated classrooms and (2). differentiate learning experiences by student interest.

Plug Us In:  Using Digital Tools to Facilitate the Work of PLCs

Download Session Materials

For professional learning teams, collaboration can be nothing short of demanding.  Developing – and then organizing – collections of shared materials, making important decisions, and communicating with colleagues across grade levels and departments often requires additional time that classroom teachers just don’t have.

As a result, many teachers question whether or not the costs of coordination outweigh the benefits of collaboration in Professional Learning Communities.  In this session, full-time classroom teacher and Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter introduces participants to a range of free digital tools that 21st Century learning teams are using to make their collective work more efficient – and therefore, more rewarding.

We’re Meeting.  Now What?:  A Look Inside a Learning Team

Download Session Materials

For teachers on novice learning teams, collaborative meetings can be nothing short of overwhelming!  Not used to making collective decisions, teachers can struggle to organize their early work together and begin to question the benefit of a school’s decision to restructure as a professional learning community.  In this session, full-time classroom teacher and Solution Tree author Bill Ferriter explores the kinds of actions that successful learning teams take to make the most of their time together.

You can also find my PLC related posts on the Radical here and download a TON of free handouts from my PLC books here and here



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These are OUR Kids