SmartBrief education editors are attending FETC 2013 this week in Orlando, Fla. Here’s a look at some cool, new tech tools that experts — eduTecher founder Adam Bellow, Leslie Fisher of, John Kuglin of Kuglin Consulting and educational technologist Kathy Schrock — highlighted during the pre-keynote session Technology Smackdown 2013.

1. Popcorn Maker allows users to infuse Web content, video and pop-ups into an image, creating dynamic, interactive images. Check out this example.

2. GoAnimate helps teachers create tutorials by writing scripts for animated characters. This example offers a lesson in counting.

3. Screenleap gives educators the ability to share a code with students so they can access a presentation on a teacher’s computer even if they are using a variety of devices in the classroom or at home.

4. Remind101 provides a means of communication with parents and students using text messages. After you register and create a class list, you’ll be able to send reminders to students from a program-generated number, and students and parents cannot text back. (read more…)

It wasn’t that long ago that suggesting America’s schools had become test-obsessed was a lonely endeavor. Although organizations like FairTest and campaigns like Time Out From Testing have been decrying the flawed logic behind high-stakes tests for years, the reality is that for the past decade, many of us kept our complaints reserved for the privacy of the parking lot.

People vented. Policymakers nodded. And absent any real noise, the tests continued.

In 2008, however, the election of Barack Obama seemed to augur a new era. All along the campaign trail, the Illinois senator suggested a clear understanding of the ways a single measure of success can distort an entire system and narrow the learning opportunities for children. Then he made history by becoming the nation’s 44th president — and unveiling a series of education policies that further entrenched America’s reliance on reading and math scores as a proxy for whole-school evaluation. (read more…)

The fallout from the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., continues to reverberate as various proposals have been created to discuss the best way to ensure that a similar event does not occur in one of our schools in the future. Listening to so many people with so many differing points of view state their case with solutions like armed principals, armed janitors, armed guards, etc. has been both tiresome and sad. At what point can we focus on some proactive steps to minimizing the chances of mass shootings in our schools, our theaters or any public place where someone with bad intentions could harm large numbers of innocent people?

If we are at the point where we truly believe that the trump card is a gun on top of another gun, then I think we are missing the bigger picture. One gun on top of another gun simply puts us at an impossible impasse. (read more…)

Over the past year, most of my time has been spent helping fellow teachers and school leaders to “think backwards.” And while it’s tempting to imagine this merely involves reciting the alphabet from Z to A, it’s actually an instructional framework (developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) where the goals precede action.

Beginning with student-focused goals allows us to ensure that we strategically prioritize time and resources in our classrooms. Although this way of thinking was initially designed for instructional units, it is also the perfect methodology for planning a new technology initiative.

In essence, this three-step process helps you to remain hyper-focused on student learning as you select devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.) and applications.

Step 1: Define the goals of your technology initiative using desired outcomes, not tools. What types of learning do you want to enable via this initiative? Consider the following examples.

  • Increase access to cutting-edge texts, news and primary sources.
  • (read more…)

When we polarize the worlds of education and business, we miss what we can learn from each other. For example, there are many ways to apply an entrepreneurial approach to become a more effective educator:

1. Don’t wait for “someone else” to solve a problem. We know the issues that need solving because we live and breathe them, which means educators are in the best position to articulate and perhaps even develop solutions. I continue to be surrounded by other educators who are true experts and have workable ideas. I value their expertise and experience as much if not more than researchers, and certainly more than most policy makers.

2. Develop an online professional learning community (PLC). Entrepreneurs recognize the importance of networking and finding out what others are learning and doing. You are not the first educator to encounter the problems you’re facing. We learn from the successes and failures of others. (read more…)