Spring Digital Learning: Global Connections & Students as Creators Dr.Daniel Downs

Our world is changing. We are adapting to new technologies, new required skills and constantly shifting our understanding of how technology changes what is possible in the world. As educators, it is more important than ever to support our students to recognize this expanding world of technology in a safe and thoughtful way. One of the primary roles that technology has played in education is that is has enabled students of all levels to envision themselves as digital creators. I wanted to share some of the digital learning infused projects in the North Reading Public Schools that have been completed in the past month that support students understanding of the global classroom and their inherent nature as creators. Please feel free to view samples and photos of these projects on our April Share located at http://bit.ly/aprilshare

Spanish teacher Maggie Miller completed an amazing lesson with her 9th grade Spanish class with the assistance of a Kathy Dasho K-12 Digital Learning Specialist. The class conducted a Google Hangout with a school in the Dominican Republic and during this online hangout students were able to connect with their pen pals and ask a series of questions. Students during this lesson were expected to speak entirely in Spanish and utilize the webcam to be able to view and interact with the students in the Dominican Republic. This was an exciting lesson which connected two worlds’ together and enabled students to improve their fluency with a foreign language. It was truly a great example of a global classroom.

At the Batchelder School 5th grade students have been introduced to the digital tool Canva in their Digital Learning block. Canva is a graphic design tool which enables students to make their own infographics by providing an interface to create a background, add icons and use a range of shapes and styles of text. The 5th graders assignment was to create an infographic about a World Explorer and define the explorer’s country of origin, country sailed for and their impact in the world. This tool enables students to become creators and supports their ability to research and explain their learning with graphics.

In the Middle School World Language Department Ms.Houghton and Ms.Lahaie  worked on their Mi Familia project with the support of middle school Digital Learning Specialist . The Mi Familia project has students utilize web based digital tools to collect and upload images family images to Google drive and use Google Docs web based text editor to describe their families using the Spanish language. The final project was a digital board created by the students using Thinglink.com.

Thinglink.com acts as a virtual poster board that has links to sound, images and text. Students can share the link to their final project to teachers, family and friends to show off their work. This project greatly enhances students’ connection to their language learning by connecting their descriptions of their family. This lesson improves their fluency using a non-native language during their presentation as well. The students’ use of a range of digital tools also supports their adaptable use of technology in the classroom.

In the Middle School robotics classroom Charles Osgood has been working with students on implementing the engineering design process with students. Utilizing a “Speed Maze Challenge” students learn about gears and how to use the engineering design process to assist in solving real-world problems. One of the central components of this lesson is that students are able to review and understand the drive ratio of a transmission and be able to create engines that can meet different speeds. Teacher Charles Osgood was recently named the MassCUE Featured Educator. See the link here or the April Share link above for more information.

The Spanish 2 honors course in the high school students used the Pixntell app to create videos in which they narrate slides that are responses to questions around the Spanish speaking country’s geographical location, local food options and experiences of navigating in a Spanish speaking country. The Pixntell app enables students to create a presentation and narrate over the presentation and record the combined audio and video. These types of projects support the students’ ability to apply research skills in the content area and share their learning and fluency with the language. Students can also authenticity describe their research discoveries and drive the depth of learning.

Assisting teachers to support teachers with engaging and creating with digital tools are the Digital Learning Specialists. Beyond the time in the dedicated blocks in the elementary schools and classroom integration at the middle and high school they support teachers at adapting to new skills. In April, elementary Digital Learning Specialist Sam Anthony provided a multi-session professional development for teachers at the Little School on using Google Apps for Education.  Multi-session tiered trainings like Sam Anthony’s support teachers’ ability to embed technology into their lessons successfully. Each month the Digital Learning Specialists are providing a range of professional development to provide support to teachers to try new tools and enhance their instruction with technology tools.

These are just a few of the in-classroom projects and technology integration which are bringing students and teachers together to expand learning opportunities with digital tools each day. Digital Learning is more than the tools in the classroom, it includes how these tools are embedded and into lessons and support the instructional goals of learning the content. In North Reading we are supporting students as they begin to connect with the larger world around them and support them with the tools and skills to create, collaborate and engage in their world.

Video: Exploring Chrome Apps & Extensions For Education

Chrome Apps & Extensions can greatly extend your ability to utilize apps and tools for the web right within the Chrome Browser.
View this video to get an overview of how to find them, add them, and look for new ones to support your teaching.

Chrome Apps & Extensions
Find Apps:
Find Extensions:

What’s the Difference ?
A major difference between Chrome extensions and web apps is the fact that while extensions are used to enhance the functionality of the Chrome Browser, web apps run within the browser having a different user interface. Unlike web applications, extensions have little or sometimes no UI component.

North Reading Public Schools joins 15 catalyst districts as part of MAPLE

One of the strategic partnerships the North Reading Public schools has made in the past year was to become one of the original 15 catalyst districts for the MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network). As part of this collaboration administrators and educators from North Reading have participated in strategic sharing of the processes, experiences and professional development to support personalized learning initiatives in Massachusetts. This has included visiting districts sharing their own experiences during learning tours and strategic discussions around teacher support and resources.

Creating personalized learning experiences for our students can be achieved through a variety of ways in our classrooms and supporting shifts in personalized approaches requires informing our process with clear and defined goals. A definition developed from surveys of educators from the iNacol organization, one of the most respected sources for educational research related to personalized learning research is outlined below.

Definition of Personalized Learning:

“Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.” iNacol

What does Personalized Learning can mean for our students?

Many of the components in this definition will be met through the leveraging of technology and shifts in classroom practice to support student choice and to provide the flexibility with resources so that all students can benefit from their education being tailored to support student voice and their potential on a self-driven path. Samples of this can include the use of web based assessments, student grouping strategies and aligning digital curriculum to support student learning to enable independent progression.

Taking advantage of our partnership with the MAPLE catalyst districts enables North Reading to share in the rich sharing of other districts experiences with implementing 1:1 learning initiatives, supporting innovative student driven learning pathways and enriches the conversations that our digital learning team and educators can have around supporting student learning with technology and resources.

The goals of technology integration will always be to best support the instructional strategies and resources that enable students to reach the highest standards possible. This partnership supports the sharing necessary to support the implementation of personalized learning instructional approaches and the opportunity to evaluate the technology to support these shifts.






Defining Your “Language of Innovation”

Setting The Stage For Higher Ordered Thinking

One of the most powerful teaching and learning capacities adults and students have is the ability to adapt and learn new vocabulary to scale their understanding. With most fields of study, a student can learn the general vocabulary and corresponding meaning across contexts very quickly. With technology, the ever changing landscape continually shifts, requiring users to adapt to new vocabulary to use it most effectively. Understanding the language and the context of student learning with technology is a necessity to prepare students to understand the scale of skills and associated knowledge’s to achieve higher ordered learning experiences. A never ending shift of transitioning terms and learning experiences providing tremendous amounts of innovation in schools and in preparing students to be college and career ready.

The Words We Use Create The Context Of Our Learning

In the past few years alone we have seen several words come to the forefront in education that challenge the context of teaching and learning. Words like personalized learning, gamification, college and career ready, big data/data driven have arrived and begun to become a consistent language of teachers, administrators and students. These words inspire a new type of learning that supports enabling students to have access to a more individualized experience with their content. Not only is learning content on a pathway which meets them where they are at but it is also delivered using technology interfaces and devices that meets them in equitable ways. Well aligned digital curriculum and devices which enable teachers to assess and measure each student to best identify their needs has shifted student learning experiences.

Shifting Teacher  Practice Through Language

Educator’s awareness of the tools to shift their practice to provide deeper student learning with technology drives digital learning. It can be extremely difficult for teachers and students to find the time to become familiar with these terms and to recognize the ways to shift their practice and learning. A district needs to adopt a “language of innovation” which can be a part of their culture and to implement this language with a sincere approach that is collaborative and includes sharing their early adopters experience liberally.

To assist in scaling the digital learning initiatives in North Reading, I believe it will be essential to keep in mind the key terms and goals in educational learning environments.  Identifying a common language of terms can assist to scale student and teacher understanding around powerful dialogues in educational technology.  Scaling student understanding between grade levels will require compelling conversations around the integration of technology to support student learning that are considerate of the most innovative strategies.

Defining Key Areas & Support Needs

Within K-5, words arise quickly out of the components of our current digital learning curriculum. Words like online safety, digital citizen, coding and information literacy are commonplace in the elementary schools and serve to provide a base of knowledge to protect students as well as support their growth with technology. Digital learning specialists and teachers work in traditional and interdisciplinary spaces like the Makerspaces which also introduce a range of new understandings such as the Design Thinking and Engineering Design Process. These learning spaces are shifting the contexts of student experience and also adding new entry points for learning in hands-on ways and provide a systematic problem solving process that enables them to engineer the futures.

Within the 6-12 grade levels, the “language of innovation” continues to challenge traditional classroom pedagogy and enable students to be to college and career ready. Students are refining their ability to communicate digitally and utilize web based citation tools to improve their writing. Students are exposed to robotics and the prototyping processes that drive creative solutions and improve collaboration skills. Topics such as cloud computing, sensors and user interface design support students in the early stages of considering college and career focus areas to explore deeply.

The digital learning team teaches and supports the “language of innovation” across the schools. It is important that we scale understandings, tools and pedagogy related to personalized learning and college and career options for students. When we scale these understandings, we are scaling the opportunities for our students. With technology it is important to keep an open mind and recognize the tremendous trans-formative powers it has to student learning and how we can best prepare students whose futures require that we are open to it.

Low Cost Tech Professional Development: Finding Conferences & Support For Innovating In Your District

A challenge to many educators is finding out about many of the opportunities to go out and get professional development in areas of high need or to come across sources of inspiration or to network with other educators. In this presentation I have attempted to organize a list of opportunities in Massachusetts or with national organizations to connect with other educators and get empowered by learning about a new topic.

You can find this presentation  online at  http://bit.ly/lowcostpd

Daniel Downs, Ed.D.    @danieldowns    

MassCUE Board & Coordinator Of Digital Learning North Reading, Ma

ITS/Technology Teacher Challenges

  • Licensing Needs: PDP’s & Content Knowledge
  • Classroom Technology Shifts In Devices & Software
  • Digital Curriculum
  • Supporting Teachers With Classroom Content
  • District Initiatives (1:1, Personalized Learning,GAFE)
  • Time For In-Person PD
  • Cost Of Conferences & Classes

Organizations To Consider Joining Or Following

Professional Organizations

COSN/METAA (Tech Directors & Administrators)

MassCUE Membership includes an Atomic Learning Account

New England ISTE

BATEC Summer Institutes

CSTA-Computer Science Teachers Association Email List (Western Mass & Boston Lists)

EdTech Teacher

November Learning



EDCO Collaborative (accepts non EDCO members)

SEEM Collaborative

Salem State “The Collaborative Project”

Member Districts

Initiatives & Events Which Keep You In The Loop

EdCamp Calendar

#GoOpen Initiative: Summits and Open Group

Future Ready

District Based Innovation Summits: Natick Innovation Summit

Office Of Digital Learning

ODL Blog

Present, Present, Present………

Fall Conference, Spring Leadership Conference & Sponsorship For District Events Worcester & Foxborough

Online & Community Based

Free Webinars

New England ISTE

November Learning

EdTech Teacher Webinars

PBS Learning Webinars

Education Week Webinars

Google+ Groups & Communities

Google Educator Training

Intel Teach Elements

PBS Teacherline

Annenberg Learner

International Society For Leadership In Education

Library Of Congress Teacher Modules

Online PD Courses


Focus Areas


Teach For Google

STEM/Computer Science

Boston STEM Network

MassCAN Workshops


Massachusetts Exploring COmputer Science Partnership

Exploring Computer Science Summer Trainings

MIT Scratch, App Inventor and STarlogo training for teachers

Personalized Learning

The Friday Institute

The Friday Institute Math & Technology

SIG Groups Through MassCUE

  • Makerspaces
  • Personalized Learning
  • Computer Science

Learn Launch Across Boundaries Conference: Start Ups Meet Student Innovation

On February 3rd, I attended the Across Boundaries Learn Launch conference at the Hynes Convention Center. As the tech director for a catalyst district, it is a great opportunity to get a better handle on the dynamics of the Learn Launch community and the MAPLE personalized learning initiative in Massachusetts.

North Reading’s Middle School robotics project Mission to Mars was accepted as one of the 28 ignite sessions of student groups who presented their innovative projects. The other sessions targeted educators, ed tech start ups, venture capitalist’s and collegiate academics. A range of topics from the role of Big Data to the challenge of scaling start ups in the ed tech space.

This conference was a great opportunity for students to share and connect around their projects. Students spoke from their heart around topics such as Makerspaces, design process, green engineering and robotics. With each year these topics become more embedded into schools in a variety of formats and curriculum’s and challenge the traditional formats of school.

The energy which comes from the presentations related to ed tech businesses and student learning creates a ranges of diverse feeling and dichotomies as the understanding of educators as to what is important in an ed tech product is sometimes different than the perceptions of an ed tech entrepreneur. Over time, I am sure the dialogue between these two groups will congeal and become more streamlined and open.

As a catalyst district I feel the MAPLE personalized learning initiative will assist districts in moving forward with expanding the discussion and strategies around blended and personalized learning methodologies in schools. This conference provides a chance to connect and build new relationships in a new context of ed tech.