Category Archives: technology

The School District and Technology Integration: The Path of the Butterfly or Bullet?

For the past year I have observed the integration of new technologies in classroom lessons, school programs, and districts. I have begun writing chapters for a book that will appear in 2018. From time to time I will publish posts here taken from the manuscript that I am writing. 

In Silicon Valley there are 77 school districts arrayed across five counties in the San Francisco Bay area. All have technology plans for their schools. These districts buy lots of hard- and software, wire schools with WiFi, provide classroom carts of laptops and tablets, offer teacher workshops on technology integration and then cross their fingers that teachers will use what the district has provided for daily lessons. Voluntary participation is the rule. Teacher choice of using devices and software means that great variation exists not only in every single school within a district but across each district heralded as embracing high-tech.[i]

Only two districts, however, have gone beyond having a plan, buying devices, building infrastructures and then crossing their fingers that teachers will use all of the available hardware and software in daily lessons. Only two districts have adopted policies that nudged all teachers in every school to use new technologies, blend learning, and create personalized lessons.  Only two districts have built a systematic infrastructure of broadband and WiFi, incorporated newly developed software, sponsored professional development, and provided technical assistance with the explicit expectation that all district teachers would go beyond considering use the new technologies in their daily lessons and actually incorporate the hardware and software into their 45 to 90-minute customary sequence of activities.

These two districts are Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District and Milpitas Unified District.

In the Mountain View-Los Altos district I profiled two of its schools and described 10 classroom lessons I observed in both schools. In Milpitas, a dozen miles away, two elementary school principals invited me to observe their primary and upper-grade classrooms. I did visit classrooms and interviewed principals and teachers at each school as well as district administrators.

Knowing that each level of schooling–classroom, school, and district–contains its unique complexities and knowing that districts are not command-and-control organizations, I used a tri-focal lens—classroom, school, and district. I sought to understand how implementing policies aimed at changing what classroom teachers do, altering how schools operate daily, and improving district performance is no easy walk in the park.

Describing the move from policy to practice illustrates the complexity of all the interacting factors that come into play when policymakers seek to see their decisions unfold in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Each of these three systems is nested in one another. Each level affects the other as teachers go about doing what is expected in classrooms, school staff wrestle with instruction and curriculum, and both individual teachers and school staffs connect to the district school board, superintendent, and administrators from which policies and resources flow downward. These three levels of schooling are Siamese triplets that are separate and interactive but cannot be severed.

There are so many moving parts in this loosely-coupled system called a district.  Because there is so much interaction and overlap in these nested communities, any hope of effective implementation depends not only on having money and staff but also continuity in student/teacher relationships, principal/staff cooperation, and school board/district administrators building and sustaining a culture of working together. Not an easy set of tasks to keep settings smoothly operating, especially since districts and schools are vulnerable to outside influences ranging state policies impinging on district actions, angry parents condemning a new curriculum, vendors lobbying administrators, civic and business leaders wanting quick improvements in student performance, and controversies over teaching evolution, language in textbooks, and other similar issues.

Furthermore, district and site administrators unendingly search for resources and support from groups inside and outside the system. Include also among the many moving parts, the ever-changing political interests that have their own ideas of what is a “good” teacher and what is a “good” school district.

The fact is that classrooms, schools, and districts are open systems with permeable boundaries that can be easily crossed by outside groups such as single issue advocates, state officials, national lobbies, etc. It is one fact that policymakers, researchers, and parents have to not only grasp but also show it in their decisions about access and use of new technologies in classroom lessons.

If educational decision-makers cannot let go their vision of command-and-control organizations and wrap their minds around open, loosely-coupled places established to help students (not customers), these top decision-makers will continue to flit here and there seeking school reform in brand new technologies yet be ever disappointed in the results.

District work is not for the faint-of-heart or those who fail to grasp that complexity across and within each of the three organizational levels. The path toward classroom, school, and district improvement is closer to zig-zags of a butterfly than a bullet fired at a target.


[i] I have an expanded view of “Silicon Valley” which historically referred to the stretch of land between San Jose and San Francisco. But the label for the terrain in 2017 encompasses Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties in the Bay area. Other researchers could include other counties. I chose these five. From these counties, I identified 77 school districts.


Filed under school reform policies, technology

The Analog and Digital Lives We Live

Did you know that new calendars, appointment books, and planners had increased sales of nearly 10 percent over 2014-2015 amounting to nearly a half-billion dollars?

Did you know that over a half-billion print books were sold in 2015, nearly four percent more than the previous year while e-book sales fell?

Did you know that the sale of vinyl records, board games, film photography and paper journals have increased annually over past few years?

The resurgence of analog products in the midst of a digital revolution in how we now live is a marker, an early sign of millions of people (and I include myself) figuring out what’s important in living a life fully in a world that has become increasingly digital.

Feeling the pages of a book, having a watch with numbers and a sweep second hand, playing Monopoly and chess on an actual board with others, taking family photos with an actual camera– while easy to dismiss as whiny nostalgia–are signs of many people figuring out pathways to a life that mixes the analog and digital.

The persistence of the analog also means that interacting with people at work, at Costco, in a hospital and home care, in churches, playgrounds, in bars and at home matters a great deal. Face-to-face relationships are analog. They are the bonds that bind each of us to one another in families, among intimate friends, neighborhoods, and workplaces. They matter far more than Facebook “friends.”

Consider the helping professions (e.g., doctors, therapists, nurses, ministers, social workers, teachers). Doctors and nurses have patients; therapists and social workers have clients; ministers, rabbis and imams have congregants, and teachers have students. Each of these professionals is immensely aided by new technologies they use daily yet their work depends upon human interaction and unfolding relationships. And in these relationship-bound professions is where the analog and digital intertwine. Not either/or, one or the other–analog and digital easily mix in these helping professions. And it is in schools especially where face-to-face contacts occur daily, where relationships begin and mature, where the analog and digital world come together.

Because schools are relationship-driven, where adults interact daily with children and youth, they are basically analog institutions in democratic, market-driven societies. They won’t go away. Bricks and mortar schools will be around for the rest of the century because communities need them to convey to children and youth knowledge, values, skills and attitudes essential to that society and becoming adults who will contribute to their communities. Schooling is as much about the head as it is about the heart. A fact often forgotten by those avid reformers (and parents) who see schools as efficient escalators to the workplace, who see children and youth as brains on a stick.

The head and heart come together in schooling through adults interacting daily with children and youth in and out of classrooms. Digital tools, hyped as they are, have surely entered  teachers’ repertoires to reduce administrative work, increase efficiency while enriching instructional preparation. But the digital will not (and cannot) replace teachers with online schools, robots, virtual reality goggles or similar fantasies. Those schools that work best socialize the next generation into thinking, feeling, and acting beings who work in communities, thrive in workplaces, and learn to live fully in a digital world.

How can I be so confident of schools as analog places where relationships are central and not be replaced by the brave new digital world?

My half-century of experience in schools, awareness of the central role of schooling in a democratic, market-oriented society, and awareness of classrooms across the nation but especially in Silicon Valley have convinced me that schools as analog institutions will persevere and outlast the magical thinking that technologically-driven reformers peddle.

In the past year, I have observed scores of teachers integrate new technologies in their classrooms in the heart of Silicon Valley. These teachers and the schools in which they work have blended the analog and digital into a mix of activities and personal interactions that are both familiar and new.

Familiar in that teachers work in age-graded schools–a two-century old institution–where daily lessons, teacher/student relationships, and classroom situations echo school practices from earlier generations. Yet overlaid with the familiar is the new, the device-driven activities during the school day, the mix of digital and analog. In a  first-grade room, students work in whole groups, small groups, and individually over the course of a six-hour day. For part of the day, they move to different learning stations (e.g., math, reading, science, art), some of which are device-driven while other children settle into independent work, and even other stations where pairs of six year-olds figure out a task together. And the teacher? She would be working one-on-one with students who were plowing ahead of the lesson, falling behind, or just keeping up with the work. The digital and analog come together easily such classrooms.

No one observing these first-graders during a school day would say that schooling has become a digital institution.

With the current resurgence of analog devices and activities noted above, adults also are learning to combine the analog with the digital to live their lives fully.


Filed under technology

Toddlers and Touchscreens: What Does the Research Actually Say? (Marnie Kaplan)

“Prior to joining Bellwether, Marnie [Kaplan] worked as a policy analyst at Success Academy Charter Schools, where she analyzed local, state, and federal education policies. Previously she worked as a program manager at the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she tracked and analyzed special education compliance, and as a Stoneleigh Emerging Leaders Fellow at the Education Law Center, where she proposed solutions to reform Pennsylvania’s alternative education system and improve the accountability of cyber charter schools. Marnie began her career as a middle school English and social studies teacher in New York City. She went on to earn her M.P.P. and J.D. from Georgetown University. While in graduate school, Marnie interned at the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the DC Public Schools’ Urban Education Leaders Internship Program; taught street law to high school students; worked in a day care center; volunteered with 826DC; and served as a research assistant to the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. Marnie also holds a master’s in the science of teaching from Pace University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania” (Bio taken from Bellwether staff descriptions)

This post appeared December 8, 2016 in Ahead of the Heard, A Bellwether blog.





You walk by an outdoor restaurant and see a toddler watching a movie on an iPad while his parents eat dinner. Your first thought is:

  • a) those parents deserve a break
  • b) screens don’t belong at meal time
  • c) is the video educational?
  • d) alert: bad parenting

Is there an app to help us decide how to respond? No. But a quorum of pediatricians might be able to help.

From 1999 till 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discouraged the use of screen media by children under two (which might have led an informed passerby to loosely circle answer d while feeling slightly judgmental). But just last month, the AAP departed from its previous strict restriction on screen exposure for this age group.

There was a lot of media attention heralding the departure from the “no screens under two rule.” Some celebrated the beginning of the end of the “screen wars.” In reality, while the new guidelines offer a more nuanced view of screen exposure, the debate will likely rage on. Screens continue to pervade modern life so rapidly that research can’t keep up.

Let me fill in some background on why the AAP changed its recommendations. The “no screens before two” rule was first issued in 1999 as a response to interactive videos for infants such as Baby Einstein. Research showed these videos decreased children’s executive functioning and cognitive development. In October 2011, the AAP reaffirmed its original statement regarding infants and toddlers and media. The AAP’s statement cited three reasons: a lack of evidence on children learning from television or video before age two, studies showing a link between the amount of TV that toddlers watch and later attention problems, and studies pointing to how parents and playtime are affected by always-on TV. Since this statement was developed through  a lengthy internal review process, it was drafted before the iPad was first introduced to the market in April of 2010. So for the last five years, the strict restriction on screen time included touch screens even though the committee hadn’t evaluated the emerging research on this media.

In the intervening years, many doctors and scientists urged the AAP committee on children and media to revisit their recommendations and take a more balanced approach to media. In 2014, Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, urged experts to base their recommendations on evidence-based decision making instead of values or opinions. He criticized pediatricians for focusing too much on negative effects and overlooking the positive effects of media on children. Later that year, Dr. Dimitri Christikas, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at University of Washington, suggested rethinking the guidelines to distinguish between TV and interactive screens. Dr. Christikas was one of the first researchers to determine that the time babies and toddlers spend in front of the TV was detrimental to their health and development. He posited that the time young children spend interacting with touch screens is more analogous to time playing with blocks than time passively watching a television. In 2015, a trio of pediatricians published an article offering further support for the idea that interactive media necessitated different guidelines than television. In the same article, they recognizing the need for further research and argued that doctors should emphasize the benefits of parents and children using interactive media together.

So what are a quorum of pediatricians saying in 2016?

The new AAP guidelines still set rather strict restrictions for children under eighteen months. The AAP recommends that infants and toddlers only be exposed to screens for the purpose of video chatting with family members. This squares with some emerging observational research but likely also displays pediatricians’ understanding of modern life. The new AAP guidelines say parents can introduce children between 18 and 24 months to education shows. For children between the ages of two and five, the AAP recommends a max of one hour per day of “high-quality programs,” which they define as PBS and Sesame Network.

But there remains a lot that pediatricians, neuroscientists, and developmental psychologists cannot say conclusively. How does a small child clamoring to watch videos of herself affect a child’s conception of self?  Does the sensory experience of interactive screens have negative effects on small children’s brains?

Scientists continue to approach the research regarding long-term effects of this exposure from different perspectives. In fact, earlier this month, at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience, new research was presented which hinted at the possible detrimental effects of touch screens on young brains. Dr. Jan Marino Ramirez, from the Center for Integrative Brain Research at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, presented new research which revealed that excessive exposure to sensory stimulation early in life had significant effects on the behavior and brain circuits of mice. The mice acted like they had attention deficit disorder (ADD), showed signs of learning problems, and engaged in risky behavior. Ramirez therefore recommends minimizing screen time for young children. In a recent interview, Dr. Leah Krubitzer, an evolutionary neurobiologist at University of California, Davis, was less concerned about the detrimental impacts of screen time. She believes the benefits may outweigh the negative effects. Krubitzer argues that fast-moving interactive touch screens may prepare children for our increasingly fast-paced world.

So, parents of young children can now feel less guilty encouraging their toddlers to video chat with family across the country. And possibly we have a more clear answer for the scenario above (e.g., If the child is at least two years old, the appropriate response is c, at least for now).


Filed under medicine and schooling, preschool, raising children, research, technology

Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What’s Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions (The Onion)*

September 28, 2011

Vol/ 47, Issue 39, Science, Technology, and History

WASHINGTON—With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.

According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.

“In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues,” Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. “And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not.”

“It’s actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen,” Collins continued. “Did the thing we’re thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it.”

In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable—if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside— then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now.

While the new strategy, known as “Look Back Before You Act,” has raised concerns among people worried they will have to remember lots of events from long ago, the historians have assured Americans they won’t be required to read all the way through thick books or memorize anything.

Instead, citizens have been told they can just find a large-print, illustrated timeline of historical events, place their finger on an important moment, and then look to the right of that point to see what happened afterward, paying especially close attention to whether things got worse or better.

“You know how the economy is not doing so well right now?” Professor Elizabeth Schuller of the University of North Carolina said. “Well, in the 1930s, financial markets—no, wait, I’m sorry. Here: A long, long time ago, way far in the past, certain things happened that were a lot like things now, and they made people hungry and sad.”

“How do you feel when you’re hungry? Doesn’t feel good, does it?” Schuller added. “So, maybe we should avoid doing those things that caused people to feel that way, don’t you think?”

Concluding their address, the panel of scholars provided a number of guidelines to help implement the strategy, reminding the nation that the biggest decisions required the most looking back, and stressing the importance of checking the past before one makes a decision, not afterward, when the decision has already been made.

While many citizens have expressed skepticism of the historians’ assertions, the majority of Americans have reportedly grasped the concept of noticing bad things from earlier times and trying not to repeat them.

“I get it. If we do something bad that happened before, then the same bad thing could happen again,” said Barb Ennis, 48, of Pawtucket, RI. “We don’t want history to happen again, unless the thing that happened was good.”

“When you think about it, a lot of things have happened already,” Ennis added. “That’s what history is.”

In Washington, several elected officials praised the looking-back-first strategy as a helpful, practical tool with the potential to revolutionize government.

“The things the historians were saying seemed complicated at first, but now it makes sense to me,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who reversed his opposition to oil-drilling safety regulations after checking past events and finding a number of “very, very sad things [he] didn’t like.” “I just wished they’d told us about this trick before.”


*The Onion satirizes news. The above “article” pokes fun at prevailing, strong ahistorical attitudes in the U.S. when it comes to major decision policy decisions See here.


Filed under technology, Uncategorized

Teaching 8th Grade Science: Technology Integration

The hour-long science class at Jordan Middle School* that I observed October 13, 2016 began with the daily video announcements produced by Jordan students about the weather, upcoming events, and a segment on the new bike lanes around the school including an interview with an adult crossing guard. I looked around the room and saw that most students were attentive and enjoyed seeing classmates doing announcements.

After the announcements, Erica Goldsworthy launched the lesson for the day. She has taught six years at Jordan and, as she told me, “ I have the hang of it now.”

There are 24 eighth graders sitting four to five students at joined tables facing one another. On each combined table sits a cup filled with markers, colored pencils, and rulers.

erica room.jpgerica agenda.jpg

erica poster.jpg

Wearing a gray sweater over knitted white blouse and dark slacks, Goldsworthy directs students’ attention to the slide on the interactive whiteboard (IWB):

Bell work: day 3

1.Do you think gas molecules move differently if they are cold or hot? Explain your answer.

  1. What is the phase change from solid to gas called?
  1. When does thermal apply in our phase change cartoons/story?

As I scan the class, I see most students writing answers to the questions in their notebooks. A special education teacher is also in the room for the half-dozen students with disabilities. She goes from table to table to see how these mainstreamed students are doing on the questions.

After five minutes, Goldsworthy begins review of student answers to questions, calling on students who raise their hands by name.

On the first question about hot and cold molecules moving differently, one 8th grader says hot molecules move faster and gives as his reason kinetic energy. Teacher explains difference between thermal and kinetic energies and compliments student—“great answer, Michael.”

After finishing the Bell Work questions, teacher says:

“I am going to segue into our storyboard conversation—I checked off your storyboards—you need to double-check—look at your rubrics that I passed out on your tables”

Goldsworthy and her next-door colleague have teamed up in designing a “Phase Change Project” to understand how a solid changes into a liquid and then into a gas (e.g., ice, water, vapor). Concepts of thermal and kinetic energy are central in explaining how solids go to liquids and then gases (see here for slides that elaborate on the project).

The project requires each student to:

Create a cartoon or story about a substance going through a series of phase changes (solid to liquid to gas) to show how energy affects the phase that substance is in.

They are into day 3 of the project. The teachers have each day’s work broken down into a series of activities in which students work. The class has been working on drafting their storyboards and cartoons by hand and today they will complete a draft of storyboard, decide whether to do a final copy by hand, use a computer to type their text and add cartoon panels and even go further by making a video out of cartoon they have created. These student decisions are governed, in part, by the categories in the rubric called “above and beyond.”  See below.**

Above and Beyond

Meeting Requirement – Computer generated cartoons.

Above – Paper or computer generated cartoons with YOUR OWN pictures (either computer generated or hand-drawn).

Beyond – Creating a video that includes voice and your own pictures.

*All categories must meet all requirements listed*

Goldsworthy is ready to have the class working for the rest of the period on the project. Students vary in what stage they are in completing the project; some are drafting their storyboard; others are typing in text and putting their cartoon on the computer and some are figuring out how to do a video.

Before launching into a work session, Goldsworthy says: “Be mindful how you are completing your work” She gives example of how to make project look professional by using a ruler. She gives another example by pointing to student and saying if “Leo wanted to make a stop/motion video of his cartoon, he can do it on the computer.” She finishes by saying: “If you are not sure of what meets a standard check with us. Tomorrow we have Science Friday.

“OK, get started,” Goldsworthy says.

Students go to cart to get a iPad or laptop and return to their table. Students confer with one another and look at each other’s draft of storyboard, cartoon figures in each box and after a bit of shushing from teacher, get down to work. Teacher circulates through room asking and answering questions from individual students.

I look around the room and see all students writing, showing their storyboard to table-mates, or tapping away on their device. Low-level murmuring envelops the class. I do not see anyone off-task.

I go around to various tables asking students to see their storyboards. One student showed me her storyboard cooking with coconut oil . Then she showed me the final product of cartoon panels that she was typing into her iPad. After she finished, she told me, she would compare her cartoon of cooking oil as it went from one phase to another, to the standards in the rubric in assessing her work to see what she needs to add or amend before turning it in.

Another student is working on final storyboard that he will turn in. It is a one-foot square white laminated board showing how a solid—ice—turns to water and then evaporates. He is going to go “above and beyond” by making a video. He has looked at the rubric and wants the highest grade the teacher can give.

As I look around the room, there is a noticeable quiet, a purposeful silence with a few murmurs from students showing one another what they are doing. Many students have pencils and colored markers in hand; others are tapping away on devices (at least half of the class is working in laptops or tablets. Here is a combination of low- and high tools in use for this teacher-chosen project. Students easily shift back and forth between paper, iPads, and storyboards. I see one 8th grader holding an iPad in his left hand and with the right hand draws with colored markers on his laminated story board what he sees on the device.

The teacher announces that: “You have 20 more minutes left in class.”

Both Goldsworthy and the special education teacher move from table to table inquiring of each student if he or she needs help or materials and answering questions.

Some students confer with one another, others laugh and speak softly in showing their storyboards. A few go to Goldsworthy to ask questions.

I see one student working on an iPad and ask him what his storyboard is. He shows me a series of cartoon panels of a man—solid—who goes to a sauna and turns into a liquid. He then goes to a doctor who lowers his temperature to zero degrees so that the man can return to his solid state.

At this point, Goldsworthy tells the class, “we have 3 minutes so it is time to clean up. Put away your rulers, colored pencils. We will work on this tomorrow.

Students with devices return them to the cart. Others pick up paper off the floor and put rulers back into cups on the table. In a few moments the whispering turns into open talking among students. The teacher says “if you are cleaned up please be quiet in your seats.

Buzzer sounds but the teacher doesn’t release students. They wait until she looks around to see that chairs have been returned to their places at the tables and the floors under the table are clean. Teacher lets students go to their 15-minute brunch recess and wishes them a good rest of the day.


* Jordan Middle School is one of three 6th through 8th grade schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The school (2015) has over 1100 students of whom 52 percent are white. The largest minority is Asian (30 percent); Latino (9); African American (3); multi-racial (5). Seven percent of the school is classified as “disadvantaged”, meaning that they are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Five percent are English Language Learners and 11 percent are classified as special education.

On state test in language arts, Jordan students score almost twice as high as students across the state in meeting or exceeding state standards and in math, nearly two and half times more that state figure in meeting state standards (see here)

** I asked Goldsworthy about the rubric and the “above and beyond” category. She told me that her students felt that if they completed the work as assigned they should get an A+ . The teacher felt that completing the work minimally was satisfactory, a C. So she developed in the rubric that meeting the standards was adequate but not “above and beyond,” work that merited the highest grades. She then laid out those specifications.


Filed under how teachers teach, raising children, technology, technology use, Uncategorized

Stages of Technology Integration in Classrooms (Part 3)

Technology integration is not a binary choice: you either do it or you don’t. Anyone who has taught, observed classrooms and thought about what it means to include electronic devices and software into daily lessons knows that technology integration, like raising a child, learning to drive or cultivating a garden, is a process–not an either/or outcome. One goes through various stages in learning how to raise a child, drive a car, grow a garden. In each instance, a “good” child, driving well, a fruitful garden is the desired but not predictable outcome.

A host of researchers and enthusiasts have written extensively about the different phases a teacher, school, and district goes through in integrating technology into their daily operations. Most of the literature seldom mentions that such movement through increasingly complicated stages is really phases of putting a new idea or practice into action. The labels for the levels of classroom practice vary–novice to expert, traditional to innovative, entry-level to transformational.

Writers and professional associations have described how individuals and organization stumble or glide from one phase to another before smoothly using electronic devices to reach larger ends. And it is the ends (e.g., content, skills, attitudes) that have to be kept in sight for those who want teachers to arrive at the top (or last) stage. Buried in that final implementation stage is a view of “good” technology integration and, implicitly, “good” teaching. Often obscured but still there, these notions of what are “good” teaching and learning are embedded in that last stage. Figuring out those ends and what values are concealed within them is difficult but revealing in the biases that model-builders and users have.

As with arriving at a definition (see last post), I have examined many such conceptual frameworks that lay out a series of steps going from a beginner to an expert (across frameworks the names for each step vary). Most often mentioned are the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) and the SAMR models. Many implementation frameworks in use are variations of these two.

The ACOT model.

The earliest stage model came from the demonstration project Apple launched in the mid-1980s when the company placed in five elementary and secondary classrooms across the country, a desktop computer for each student and teachers—the earliest 1:1 classrooms. Moreover, each classroom had a printer, laser disc, videotape player, modem, CD-ROM drivers and software packages. The project grew over the years to 32 teachers in ACOT schools in four states. [i]

One of the longer initiatives ever undertaken in creating technology-rich classrooms—ACOT lasted nearly a decade—researchers drew from observations and interviews with teachers and students a host of findings one of which was the process that teachers went through in integrating technology into daily lessons.


That five-stage process that ACOT teachers traversed went from Entry where teachers coped with classroom discipline problems, managed software, technical breakdowns and physical re-arrangement of rooms to Adoption where beginners’ issues were resolved. The next stage of implementing technology in the classroom, Adaptation, occurred when teachers figured out ways to use the devices and software to their advantage in teaching—finding new ways of monitoring student work, grading tests, creating new materials, and tailoring content and skills to individual students. At this stage, teachers had fully integrated the technology into traditional classroom practice.

The Appropriation phase comes next when teachers have shifted in their attitudes toward using technology in the classroom. At this point, the teacher uses the technology seamlessly in doing lessons. New classroom habits and ways of thinking about devices and software occur. The authors of Teaching with Technology say: “Appropriation is the turning point for teachers…. It leads to the next stage, invention, where new teaching approaches promote the basics yet open the possibility of a new set of student competencies.” [ii]

In the Invention stage, teachers try out new ways of teaching (e.g., project-based learning, team teaching, individualized lessons) and new ways of connecting to students and other teachers (e.g., students providing technical assistance to other students and teachers, collaboration among students). As the authors summed up: “Reaching the invention stage … was a slow and arduous process for most teachers.” In short, at this stage of implementing technology, ACOT researchers believed that teachers would replace their traditional teacher-centered practices. The majority of teachers, however, never made it to this stage. [iii]

The SAMR model.

Developed by Ruben Puentedura, SAMR stands for: Subsitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition. The four rungs of the implementation ladder go from the lowest, replacing an existing tool (e.g., overhead projector) with an electronic device (e.g., interactive whiteboard) but displaying no change in the pedagogy or lesson content to the next rung where the lesson is modified through use of new technology (e.g., study the concept of the speed of light by using a computer simulation). The third rung of the ladder of putting technology into practice is where the teacher modifies the lesson and “allows for significant task redesign” (e.g., students show their understanding of content in class by recording audio and then saving it as a sound file) and, finally, to the top of the ladder, redefinition, where the technology “allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable.” Examples here would be students creating a movie or podcast and putting it on the Internet to get comments or students writing posts for a class blog on the web about the history of the Great Depression. At this final stage of technology integration, student engagement is highest. The SAMR model assumes that high student engagement leads to gains in student academic achievement. Thus, the SAMR model implicitly promises improved student achievement.


More popular with practitioners and consultants marketing professional development in the U.S. and abroad than among researchers, this implementation model is context-free, hierarchical, and unanchored in the research literature on integrating technology. While some researchers have criticized it extensively, it remains popular among teachers and technology coordinators. [iv]

Both ACOT and SAMR involve what teachers know of subject-matter content, insights into their own teaching, and what they know about using technology. This interplay between content, pedagogy, and technology has led to another popular model among technology coordinators, practitioners, and researchers in the field.

Not a stage model of implementation, these domains of “Content Knowledge, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, and Technological Knowledge”, like intersecting circles in a Venn, overlap. The resulting clumsy acronym is TPACK for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. TPACK slides easily into SAMR adding to what teachers are expected to know and do in moving from one stage to another. Like the other models, TPACK also has come in for extensive criticism.[v]


These models—and there are others as well—seek to move teacher use of technology in daily lessons from the primitive to the sophisticated, from exchanging pencil-and-paper for word processing, from redesigning classroom activities through available software to engaging students in learning. The top stages of these implementation models reject traditional modes of teaching and implicitly lean toward a preferred manner of instruction—student-centered. [vi]

Too often, however, the top rung of the ladder—where putting technology integration into creating active learning tasks for students–becomes a proxy for success. Either “Invention” in the ACOT model or “Redefinition” in SAMR becomes surrogates for judging teacher success in not only effectively integrating their use of technology but also in improving student outcomes. And that is unfortunate.

The next and final post explains why I say “unfortunate.”


[i] Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, and David Dwyer, Teaching with Technology : Creating Student-Centered Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997). See p. 187 for number of ACOT teachers, schools, and states.

[ii] Ibid., p. 43.

[iii] Ibid., p. 47.

[iv] For a description of SAMR, see Ruben Puentadura’s presentation at:

For a short video on SAMR, see:

Critics include Erica Hamilton, et. al., “The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model: a Critical Review and Suggestions for its Use,” Tech Trends, 2016, 60(5), pp. 433-441; Jonas Linderoth, “Open Letter to Dr. Ruben Puentadura, October 17, 2013 at

I did a Google search for “SAMR model” and got 245,000 hits; “ACOT model” received just over 63,000 entries. September 4, 2016.
[v] Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler, “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge,” Teachers College Record, 2006, 108(6), pp. 1017-1054. For criticism of TPACK, see Leanna Archambault and Joshua Barnett, “Revisiting Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Exploring the TPACK Framework,” Computers & Education, 2010, 55, pp. 1656-1662; Scott Bulfin, et. al., “Stepping Back from TPACK,” Learning with New Media, March 19, 2013 at:

A Google search for “TPACK model” on September 4, 2016 produced just under 90, 000 hits.

[vi] The summary of ACOT research and practice is in: Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, and David Dwyer, Teaching with Technology : Creating Student-Centered Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997). The sub-title captures the intent of the model. The SAMR model highlights increasing student engagement at each rung of the ladder. Among advocates of student-centered classrooms, engagement is a synonym for “active learning,” a principle undergirding student-centeredness in teaching. While increasing active student involvement at each stage beyond Substitution, Ruben Puentadura has not stated directly his preference for student-centeredness as a goal. I have found no direct statements on his seeking student-centered instruction. Those curriculum specialists, teachers, technology coordinators and independent consultants who have picked up and ran with SAMR, however, have indeed seen the model as a strategy for teachers to alter their classroom practices—with qualifications and amendments–and embrace student-centered instruction.

See, for example, Cathy Grochowski, “Interactive Technology: What’s SAMR Got To Do With It?” June 1, 2016 at:

Jennifer Roberts, “Turning SAMR into TECH: What Models Are Good For,” November 30, 2013 at:

Kathy Schrock, “SAMR and Bloom’s,” (no date) at:



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What Has Done More to Improve Living Standards: Indoor Toilets, Air-conditioning, or Smart Phones?

Living in the heart of Silicon Valley–where bullet-proof coffee, gluten-free muffins, and traffic gridlock prevail–I am surrounded daily by unrelenting optimism about the promise of technology making our lives better. I would guess, then, that fellow Valley-ites, if given the above choices, would pick “smart phones.” *

Were they to do so, they would be wrong. According to economic historian Robert Gordon, between 1870-1970 standards of living rose far more dramatically than the half-century since 1970. As he puts it:

The century of revolution in the United States after the Civil War was economic, not political, freeing households from an unremitting daily grind of painful manual labor, household drudgery, darkness, isolation, and early death. Only one hundred years later, daily life had changed beyond recognition. Manual outdoor jobs were replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by electric appliances, darkness was replaced by light, and isolation was replaced not just by travel, but also by color television images bringing the world into the living room. Most important, a newborn infant could expect to live not to age forty-five, but to age seventy-two. The economic revolution of 1870 to 1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because so many of its achievements could happen only once.

And since 1970 and the advent of computer technology in daily life? Gordon says:

… economic growth since 1970 has been simultaneously dazzling and disappointing. This paradox is resolved when we recognize that advances since 1970 have tended to be channeled into a narrow sphere of human activity having to do with entertainment, communications, and the collection and processing of information. For the rest of what humans care about—food, clothing, shelter, transportation, health, and working conditions both inside and outside the home—progress slowed down after 1970, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Thus, an unheralded, stunning century of innovation and economic growth produced the telegraph, phone, television, house lighting, automobile, airplane travel, and, yes, indoor plumbing. These inventions networked the home and workplace in ways that raised living standards and increased workplace productivity considerably. It was in that same century that medical advances reduced infant mortality and lengthened life of Americans dramatically.

The half-century since 1970 has surely seen innovations that have enhanced these earlier inventions but the template for economic growth was laid down for that fruitful hundred-year period.  In past decades, new technologies have clearly expanded communication and entertainment, making life far more instantaneous, convenient and pleasurable. But social media, immediate communication, and constant access to photos, video clips, and films have not increased the standard of living as had the decades between 1870-1970. This is the argument that Gordon makes in the Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016).

What does Gordon’s argument and enormous evidence he compiled (the book is 762 pages long) have to do with the current school reform movement prompted in large part by  A Nation at Risk that appeared in 1983?

Recall that the highly influential report that CEOs, philanthropists, and political leaders embraced was driven by an economic rationale–the human capital argument–for improving U.S. schools:

If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all—old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority.

Linking school reform to economic growth and competition, the Report spurred a generation of reformers to raise curriculum and performance standards for both students and teachers, increase testing, and create accountability frameworks that included rewards and penalties in subsequent decades. Marrying school reform to the nation’s economic growth–the human capital rationale for schooling (see here and a rebuttal here)–occurred, according to Robert Gordon, at roughly the same moment–1970s–when the “special century” of inventions, innovations, rising standard of living and productivity were ebbing.

In other words, reforms aimed at getting U.S. students to perform better on international tests for the past three decades–think No Child Left Behind, expanded parental choice in schools, more computers in schools, and Common Core state standards–was of little influence on growing a strong economy, raising median income, or lessening inequality, according to Gordon. These reforms, while aiding low-income minorities in many instances, overall, contributed little to improving productivity or raising standards of living.

Of course, Gordon and others (including myself) see schools as crucial in a democracy for many reasons. But one of them is not better schools leading to economic growth, an enhanced standard of living, and workplace productivity especially since that standard of living had dramatically improved between 1870-1970. Gordon, like others (see here and here), have begun to undermine the dominant rationale for school reform since the early 1980s: the belief that public schools’ primary focus must be economic in preparing a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. That prevalent human capital rationale has ignored for more than a quarter-century other historic aims of schools: civic engagement to keep democracy vital, independent decision-making, and a well-rounded schooling that enlarges children’s and youth’s potential and sensibilities. Preparing the next generation for the workforce remains as an abiding goal, of course, but not the dominating one it has been for over three decades. And that is why Gordon’s argument and evidence is useful for those seeking to build a political coalition of policymakers, practitioners, researchers, civic and business leaders, and parents who question the shotgun marriage of schools to a growing economy.

Gordon, like some other economists and policymakers, recognize that economic growth has slowed down, productivity has lessened. and inequalities have risen. All of these have occurred because the “special century” has ended and because “the basic elements of a modern standard of living had by (1970)… already been achieved along so many dimensions. including food, clothing, housing, transportation, entertainment, communication, health, and working conditions” (p.641). In his final chapter, Even with his argument that the “special century” ended decades ago, Gordon does see policy interventions that can help reduce current economic inequalities and lowered productivity. He lists ten such interventions such as raising the minimum wage, more progressive income tax reform–earn more, pay more– and eliminating many deductions, and encouraging high-skilled immigrants to come to U.S.

For education, however, only three of the ten interventions appear–investing in preschools, state and federal school financing rather than local taxes, and reducing student indebtedness in higher education. Not a word about the dominant school reforms in 2016–Common Core standards, standardized testing, technologies in schools, charter schools, accountability (see p. 648).

In questioning the dominant beliefs in current school reform as essential to economic growth, Gordon’s argument and evidence are useful to those politically active decision-makers, teachers, parents, and researchers who know that a democracy needs schools that do more than prepare children and youth for the workplace.


* At a coffee shop near Google campus in Mountain View (CA), I overheard one software engineer say to  a friend: “I lost my phone and didn’t find it for two days. I thought my life was over.” For the references to bullet-proof coffee and gluten-free muffins, I thank Janice Cuban.



Filed under school reform policies, technology