Powerful Learning First, Technology Second

Buddy Blog inspired by Part III of The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. Tina Abbott, IT Director from Newnan, Georgia, and April Padalino, Title 1 Literacy Intervention Specialist from Green Bay, Wisconsin, have paired up to share experiences infusing technology to enhance learning.

While thinking about focusing on “powerful learning first, technology second,” George Couros writes in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Technology is for empowering kids to find their own answers and launch their own learning.”

Yes!  That said, technology is not the point in learning. We shouldn’t “do” technology just for the sake of saying we use technology in the classroom. But technology can provide learners with opportunities to deepen their learning in ways that would not be possible without technology. It can empower them to learn and release them from complete dependency on a teacher.  That is a great thing!  After all, one day they will be out of school.


This graphic has been hanging on the wall in our Makerspace all year (many thanks to creator, Bill Ferriter – @PlugUsIn)  and it was fun to see it appear in The Innovator’s Mindset. It shows the positive effects technology can facilitate.  Here are a few examples of those “Right Answers” we have experienced in our schools.

Raising Awareness

Sharing an issue through a blog or social media has far greater reach than just hanging posters or making an announcement at assembly.

Start Conversations

Blogging and sharing through social media also invites feedback and conversation from a larger audience than just the classroom.  While friends in the classroom sometimes limit their feedback to compliments and congratulations, external feedback may include more constructive criticism from which learners can gow.  Occasionally, feedback may be negative. It can be a great experience for learners, with teacher guidance, to learn how to handle negative feedback, when and how to respond, and how to divert the conversation back to the positive. Better to learn with guidance from a wise teacher than to face that in the real world, alone.

Find answers (to their questions)

We had a middle school learner take an afterschool program on 3D printing and design last spring.  It ignited a fire in him!  He has spent the last year scouring YouTube and Instructables to learn more and more about the subject.  He asked for a 3D printer for his birthday and has begun designing cars with moving parts.  He says he has to work hard to make them work.  He has to measure very carefully and use his math skills. He has to try and try again, but he never gives up. His enthusiasm has gotten other friends involved.  They are creating a game and 3D printing the game pieces. Collaboration! Engineering! Design! Creativity! Iteration! Persistence! All self-taught and self-motivated.

Join partners

Our kids have partnered with video pen pals in Palestine, India, and Costa Rica. After the first couple of video exchanges, the kids became very comfortable, friendly, and open with each other.  They shared ideas, discussed books, and collaborated on designs – across the globe!  One of the most valuable things they learned through this impossible-without-technology process is that they have more “alikeness” than differences with their global partners. That has positive implications galore.

vlogChange minds

A few learners wanted to use vlogs to share about and discuss books. Working with the Technology Integration Specialist we came up with a way they could use the Schoology app on their iPads. The learners used this to show accountability, review and reflect on their own reading, and share with others about books. In the example vlog, we were totally surprised by the animation and expression we witnessed. This example makes me think about when George states, “students who have never felt comfortable speaking up in class may now feel free to share their voices through a different medium, such as videos, blogs, or podcasts.” Without technology, this girl may not have found her voice, which changed her mind and broadened her opportunities for expression. It likely also changed the minds of her classmates and teachers, in terms of how they viewed her (more confident, more expressive) after that.

Make a difference

ELLBookTechnology can be used as a tool to empower English Language Learners (ELLs) to read, write, listen, and speak in English. A couple of examples include using Book Creator and Google Translator. Book Creator allowed educators and learners the ability to create needed vocabulary and phrase books to support communication at school. Once started, the kids took over the books to make them their own. (In the e-books, a speaker icon is next to each word or phrase so the kids can hear them in English) In order for them to participate in collaboration and develop relationships, Google Translator was taught to all the kids in the class.  It also made a difference for our ELLs by allowing them to read and complete assignments. GoogleTranslate

Take action

Our district has been implementing personalized learning and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) frameworks. It has been made clear that this does not mean to only use technology.  It does mean technology is a tool we can offer learners for use or for instruction. As it states in The Innovator’s Mindset, “we should be trying to understand the opportunities it can provide for each individual.”  Learners are empowered by having responsibility for their learning and how they want to learn.  By offering opportunities to deepen their learning and explore their passions, technology helps empower them to take action.

BookSnapDrive change

In an effort to drive engagement in daily reading, we decided to explore some new ways to let kids share their reading.  We found learners like having the choice of Booksnapping to annotate text using Book Creator. It gives them an opportunity to share what they know about what they read and empower them to use their thinking voice while they read.

StoryRetellingAfter attending the district’s Creation Days PD and learning about app smashing with the Book Creator comics, we decided to try it out ourselves and then teach the kids.  It has helped them understand (and enjoy) retelling stories. Example

Final Thoughts

We need to use whatever tools will work best for each learner. Can innovation happen without technology?  Absolutely! We can name numerous examples of that, and maybe we will in another blog post. But innovation can also happen with technology, so let’s include technology in our toolkit where appropriate. From The Innovator’s Mindset, “Technology gives us the power to accelerate, amplify, and even recreate learning.”  And that is a beautiful thing.

Some additional websites to support learning

Booksnaps – Snapping for Learning by Tara Martin

Book Creator – Comics Tutorial

How to create a Vlog for students by April Padalino

Sample Book Snap by a student to annotate an article

LevelUpVillage.com for ways to implement global partnerships


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