Tech Dreams…Part 2

Thanks for coming back to read my second post about my visit to Randolph Township High School. If you’re interested in learning more about their virtual learning summit, you can read the press release on their web site. I’m using my blog as a place to hold all the notes I took when I visited Jon Olsen and his colleagues at RTHS.

Yesterday I wrote about Randolph’s BYOD initiative and 21st century classrooms. If you missed that post, you can find it here. Today I’ll address two areas that are integral to the success of making these investments work: instructional coaches and learning tools.

Instructional Coaches

Randolph recently hired four instructional coaches (or, as they call them, iCoaches (not sure if I have the capitalization right)). The iCoaches are Randolph teachers who have moved into this new leadership position while remaining in the classroom for one period a day.

To me, being an iCoach sounds like a dream come true. Coaches are there to provide teachers with in-house support with technology, lesson ideas, or anything else teachers need. They are responsible for finding relevant professional development opportunities and scheduling one-on-one or small group meetings. A typical day for an instructional coach would be one period of teaching and the rest of the day spent co-teaching, planning lesson and PD sessions, and collaborating with their peers.

iCoaches are not punitive or evaluative in any way, and more often than not, they work with teachers at the request of the teacher. They’re not there to remediate teachers or imply that teachers are doing a bad job. It seemed to me that the coaches are there as part of a true support network rather than something that is imposed upon teachers in a top down way. Basically it’s what I want to do, so if you’re reading this and you’re looking for an instructional coach in your district

The thing I loved the most about the iCoach idea was that it really was teachers helping teachers. Because coaches remain in the classroom for one class a day, they are able to try new ideas with their own students. Both iCoaches who I spoke with remarked that even though they’re the coaches, they’ve learned a ton from their colleagues as well. The peer-to-peer interactions (you know, the ones we always try to foster but never have time to schedule) have been integral in rolling out the BYOD initiative.

Randolph Superintendent Dr. Browne stated that creating four new positions was not an easy sell to BOE members. The idea came about when administrators were discussing ways in which they could lower class sizes. Instructional coaches formed a good compromise; their replacements handled their old teaching load, but they still opened up four new class sections for the iCoaches to teach. Everyone benefits from the deal. As is probably obvious, the positions were posted, and anyone could apply (they have teacher contracts, not administrative ones). They went through a formal interview process just as they would for any other position in the district. We didn’t speak with them for too much time, but I will say that they were open, professional, knowledgeable, and fired up about their jobs. Simply put, it was pretty cool.

Cool Apps and Other Learning Tools

Ok, this section is going to be difficult to write. The fact that I had to split my blog post into two should make it clear that I struggle with conciseness. In the interest of not keeping you here all day, I’ll go with a list format. My copious notes were filled with names of technology tools that teachers and students use at RTHS. Of course, the ideal scenario for many of these is to use them in a BYOD environment, but it’d still be worth trying most of these with computer carts and other tech solutions.

Before I get to the list, I must make note of one more thing that Dr. Browne said. I think it was my favorite quote of the day. I’m probably paraphrasing because my notes were messy, but he said that it’s important to let teachers discover how they can use the tools. He tries to stay out of teachers’ way and give them ownership over the tech.

I believe that it’s necessary to have faith in teachers to use technology responsibly and creatively in order to have success with a BYOD initiative like the one at RTHS.

Ok, let’s get to that list! Each heading below links to the web site for the corresponding tool.


I had done a little bit of research about Nearpod a couple of years ago, but I’m pretty sure it was iPad only at the time. Much to my delight, that has changed, and it now works on pretty much every device (they started as an app but have since developed a web version). Basically, when students are in Nearpod, the teacher can mirror her (or his! I don’t think all teachers are women, I promise!) screen on student devices. So I could import a file (say, a PPT or something like that) and transmit it to the screens of student devices. I could then annotate directly on the file, and students could watch my annotations. They also could access a blank version of the file and do their own annotations. Then they’d submit their work via Nearpod, and I could choose a couple of the best and shoot those back out (anonymously) to student devices. So, yeah. It’s basically amazing.

What’s even cooler is that you can tell immediately if a student is following along in Nearpod or not. If a kid closes the app, his name turns red right away, and the teacher can redirect him without even having to physically see his screen. I will be definitely investigating this tool; I know I’d have tons of uses for it.


At first, I was like, “hmmm that basically just sounds like a QR code,” and I almost lost interest. Until I saw it in action. So I think I should just show you how amazing it is rather than trying to put it into words.

Pretty crazy, right? Think about it…imagine a yearbook with Aurasma pages scattered throughout. For instance, last year we did a school-wide Biotech Harlem Shake. It was certainly a memorable moment for everyone involved. Obviously you can’t put an actual video in a hard copy of a yearbook, but what if you used Aurasma to embed it? Kids could scan the page with the app and immediately watch the video on their screen. (You still could do the same thing with QR codes if you so desire.) What a fun way of making the yearbook even more interactive than it already is.


I have been wanting to investigate Socrative for a while, but I just haven’t had the time. I also think it sounds a little annoying to sign out laptops to use it, so I am kind of putting it on the back burner until we are in a BYOD situation. It’s a student response system that can be used to gather loads of formative data. I’ll let Jon Olsen’s blog post speak for me since I don’t know too much about it.

Google Lit Trips

According to their web site, Google Lit Trips are free, downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from literature on the surface of Google Earth. Even if you don’t use the official site or their files, I loved the idea of using Google Earth to map a character’s travels. Personally, I’d wait until I could think of a clear connection to the LA objectives that go beyond basic comprehension, but I could easily see this being super useful in a history or geography class. Seems like an obvious idea that I probably never would have thought of in a million years.


This one, though a bit silly, was one of my favorites. Incredibox allows you conduct your own group of human beatboxes. It’s super easy – just drag and drop different beats on the little people on the screen – and the beats are great! At RTHS, they used Incredibox to create beats to use for their royalty raps in history class. I could totally see myself using this to create beats for raps from characters from novels we read, or maybe do news raps based on articles we read in The New York Times. The sample below is not from RTHS; it’s a generic one I found on YouTube.


Ok, so THIS one is my favorite. I seriously LOVE this idea! Essentially, you can import videos from YouTube and add quiz questions and a note-taking space on them. I could require my kids to watch my Word-a-Minute videos (shameless plug alert!) and answer one or two questions to show that they know what the word means. They can annotate in the note-taking space on screen, and their notes are timestamped so you can see if they take notes continuously as the video plays. The best part is that fast forwarding is disabled, so they have to watch the whole thing (insert evil teacher laugh here). Sure, I guess it’s kind of Big Brotherish when you think about it, but I’m willing to accept that. I think I might try this when I create my next screencast for the IB Individual Oral Commentary (IOC).

That’s all, folks.

That’s about all I have as far as notes from our visit. Thanks again to Jon and his team at Randolph for hosting us; we learned a lot! I don’t even mind that I had to get up an hour earlier than usual to make the hike up there; it was totally worth it! And thank you to Dr. Eno and MCVSD for giving us the PD day to do it!

Thanks for stopping by! Sorry for all the exclamation marks in this last section! I can’t help it! Feel free to comment and share more BYOD ideas!

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