Guest Post by Isaiah Olsen: How EdCamp Changed My Trajectory

I have been in education for 16 years and the last two years have been extraordinary.  Two years ago I applied for a TOSA position for Educational Technology.  This position seemed like a natural fit for me as I have always been an early adopter when it came to technology and was often asked to help facilitate professional development at my school site.  I’ve always enjoyed helping other teachers learn how to use new technologies to help their students, but I really had no idea what my position would look like on a district level or where to begin.  Most of all, I had no idea what I was missing as far as my own professional growth and learning.  This shift began when I attended my first EdCamp.

First off EdCamp is about connecting people and good ideas.   EdCamp’s Mission: “To build and support communities of empowered educators by promoting free, participant-driven, un-conferences to maximize personalized professional learning experiences and peer networks.”  

I had no idea what an EdCamp was and a colleague of mine who happens to be a TOSA in another district invited me to participate in an EdCamp specifically designed for instructional coaches.  It was called EdCamp SplashThat, hosted by Irvine Unified and was billed as “THE FIRST SOCAL EDCAMP DEDICATED TO INSTRUCTIONAL COACHES, TOSAs, & CURRICULUM SPECIALISTS.”

Right away, I was able to connect with like-minded educators who had also woken up very early on a Saturday morning to come together and share ideas, collaborate, and talk about issues that mattered to them regarding education.  It was an amazing learning experience.  There I met some leaders in educational technology and people who have mentored me.  I still rely on these  folks for their expertise and advice.

My biggest take-away was how educators were continuing their sharing, collaboration & communication by staying connected through Twitter.  I had been on Twitter for years, but never supposed educators were using it.  I thought Twitter was only for famous people.  I now have access to 24 hour/ 7 days a week professional development thanks to Twitter.

EdCamp has changed my trajectory because I realized how important continued professional development and learning is so important to being a leader in education.  It is also so inspiring to connect and learn from like minded educators.  Please don’t pass up the opportunity to attend one of these events.  

“If leaders want people to try new things, they have to openly show that they are willing to do the same.”

George Couros

Tenets of EdCamp:

  • Free to all attendees. This helps ensure that different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
  • Hosted by anyone. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host EdCamps.
  • Participant-driven. Sessions are determined the morning of the event, and there are no prescheduled presentations or keynotes. The goal is to keep sessions spontaneous, interactive and responsive to everyone’s needs.
  • Open to anyone who wants to present. All teachers and education stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
  • Reliant on the law of two feet. Participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. EdCampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides an effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format. Noncommercial and have a vendor-free presence. It is, after all, about learning, not selling.
Edtech EdCamp Smackdown

The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) is sponsoring an Edtech Edcamp Smackdown on July 25, 2017, a fast-paced opportunity for sharing and networking. Participants volunteer to share a tech tool, teaching tip, lesson plan, or anything else they’d like to share with the group about dynamic teaching and learning with technology. (Registration Link)

Isaiah Olsen is an instructional coach for technology at Inglewood Unified School District, considers himself a dendrite developer, and is active in musical theater with his family. His Twitter handle is @isaiaholsen_edu.

Book Review: Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie

High school English teacher Trevor Mackenzie’s recently published book by EdTechTeam Press, Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice, presents an approach to personalized learning requiring students to eventually take ownership of their own learning.

A tough student situation sparked his own dive into inquiry. Mackenzie sought ways to retain students who might otherwise seek alternative classes or drop out altogether. His seven year journey culminated in the publishing of this book.

Dive Into Inquiry has a broad scope, and isn’t a narrow lesson, unit, or experience. It is a fundamental, yet doable shift that requires educators to keep in mind:

  • a mindful transition to foster student agency and support the shift in pedagogical models students will experience
  • a collaborative journey through the Types of Student Inquiry that nurtures a gradual release of control over learning in the classroom
  • gaining a grasp of Understanding by Design and planning for a performance task that demonstrates deep understanding
  • honouring our students, their passions, and goals and tying them to the learning objectives of the course (quoted from the introduction, bold mine)

This easy to read book (about 130 pages) outlines shifts in pedagogy, types of student inquiry, essential questions, creating an authentic product and displaying it publicly.  He starts with some classroom management strategies, such as being flexible, teaching real skills, making eye contact with students, and taking the time to get to know them.

Inquiry based learning is not about telling students to find something that they want to learn about and go do it. Inquiry based classrooms aren’t about the teacher sitting in the back of the room checking email and correcting spelling and grammar. This approach is about scaffolding students’ journey into learning about something that they care about and guiding this trip by assisting students in developing a free inquiry proposal and providing prompts.

Sprinkled throughout the pages are QR codes that link to YouTube videos of student work, some his own and some from across the globe. These students have produced work and broadcast it to the world. Video evidence is one way students demonstrate their learning, as well as writing, video/audio, photography, and dance. His learners record evidence of their learning with storyboards, compilation of resources, their learning process, photography, feedback from mentors or critics.

Mackenzie recommends starting small, but with a plan. You can start by revising an existing unit of study, designing a syllabus with your students, or infusing a smaller chunk of learning with the Dive Into Inquiry process, which scaffolds each step into the next. Plan, do, iterate, and reflect.


(I was not paid to write this review, nor was I given the book to review it. I did receive it for no cost as a prize in a recent Teacher Appreciation promotion by EdTechTeam and thought it was very worth reading and reviewing.)

Smore Newsletters

Put an end to boring email communication! Smore provides email newsletters and electronic flyers with a variety of templates, colors, and styles. You can add your own photos and links, then send to parents, colleagues, and students.

The educator rate is $79/year, and allows you to set your flyers to private in order to protect your students’ privacy. Perks of the paid version also include additional educational background graphics, no ads, 5000 monthly emails, and the ability to remove the Smore branding. With the enhanced options that the paid account provides, you can have students build their own newsletters for an authentic audience in the Smore “classroom.” (See linked image below.) Make sure you are following your district’s guidelines for student data should you have students creating content.

Powerful analytics show who has received your newsletters, opened or clicked for more information. No more, “I never received that information,” comments. You can see where the traffic is coming from, and where the click throughs are going. The Smore newsletters are optimized for viewing on mobile devices as well as on a desktop mail application. They can even be printed as infographics for those hard copy enthusiasts.

I initially had an issue with my district’s email server blocking the newsletters from reaching my teacher and administrator audience. Fortunately, I was able to talk directly to the network administrator and he whitelisted the Smore domain and there haven’t been any issues since then.

(I was not paid or reimbursed to write this review. I have been a paid Smore user for 18 months.)


ISTE Coach Standards

Instructional coaches for technology are becoming more prevalent to begin to bridge the gap between where schools, teachers, and students are to where they should be. The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Coach Standards outline key strands of successful leadership, teaching/learning, professional development, and professional growth.

Visionary leadership: Tech coaches work with stakeholders to develop a shared vision for technology integration for all students and teachers.

Teaching, learning, and assessments: Coaches assist teachers in developing rigorous educational experiences and assessments for students by modeling and coaching using a wide variety of strategies, engagements, and tools.

Digital age learning environments: Coaches maximize student learning in all modalities by modeling classroom management, maintaining digitals and resources for students and teachers, evaluate use of adaptive and assistive technologies, troubleshoot problems, and collaborate with teachers and administrators.

Professional development and program evaluation: Tech coaches conduct needs assessments, professional learning programs, and evaluate effective practices of teachers and examine technology implications of student learning.

Digital Citizenship: Tech coaches model and promote equitable access to technology, model and facilitate ethical use of digital information and technologies, and promote diversity and global understanding by collaborating locally and globally with stakeholders and the larger digital community.

Content knowledge and professional growth: Technology coaches are familiar with and demonstrate competence in pedagogy, content, as well as the areas of adult learning and leadership. Continual learning is necessary to implement student, teacher, and administrator ISTE standards.

What do you see as the impact of the ISTE Coach Standards on your practice? How will you continue your professional growth and improve content knowledge? What tools do you use to conduct program evaluation? Do you work with other coaches to reflect on your programs at the end of the year?

ISTE Administrator Standards

Is your administrator a visionary leader? Are you a visionary administrator? Effecting fundamental change in an educational environment is definitely challenging for even the most innovative leaders. People are resistant to change, even when something isn’t working, and shifting a school’s or district’s paradigm requires a solid plan, competence, and inspiration.

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has updated its standards for students, teachers, coaches, and administrators to reflect a positive, non-platform or skill-based vision for the future (and present.)

The five focus areas for administrators include:

  1. Visionary Leadership
  2. Digital Age Learning Culture
  3. Excellence in Professional Practice
  4. Systemic Improvement
  5. Digital Citizenship

ISTE’s standards for administrators are jam packed with action verbs: inspire, facilitate, engage, advocate, create, promote, ensure, model, collaborate, recruit, establish.

Teachers- download and share the ISTE standards with your principal and district administrators to begin a dialogue about effective technology use in schools. Remember, it’s not effective educational technology if it can be replaced by a workbook or worksheet.

ISTE Administrator Standards PDF (ISTE encourages free use of the ISTE Standards for noncommercial educational purposes under our permitted educational use agreement. The permitted educational use agreement grants permission to download, link to, digitally publish and/or import the standards into your intranet or other digital platform.)

ISTE’s Lead & Transform tool provides educational visionary leaders with a road map to tech integration. Matching your school or district’s current technology environment to the 14 critical elements in a research-backed framework can lead systemwide change. Find your school’s strengths and weaknesses. Identify steps to effective implementation.

ISTE Teacher Standards

Educational technology is not about the device, software, or platform.

Teaching using educational technology is at its root about making connections with students, colleagues, and parents as human beings in the digital age.

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has developed rigorous standards for teachers, administrators, instructional coaches, and students. None of the standards talk about proficiency using word processing or spreadsheets, coding or programming. The standards are about inspiring, promoting, facilitating, designing & developing, modeling and engaging using technology.

The five standards for teachers are:

  1. Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity
  2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments
  3. Model digital age work and learning
  4. Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
  5. Engage in professional growth and leadership

Notice that 21st Century Skills are not mentioned anywhere in ISTE standards. It is well into the 17th year of the 21st Century. 21st Century Skills are just skills. 21st Century Learning is just learning. My colleagues laugh when I say this, probably because I say it too often.

Where are your strengths according to the ISTE Teacher Standards? Where do you see needing to focus your efforts for growth?

Synergyse/G Suite Training

Synergyse Google apps training was such an awesome product that Google acquired it and is available natively directly within G Suite as well as via video in your browser.

G Suite Training (aka Synergyse) is a Chrome extension that gives very clear and interactive lessons while you use Google apps. After you install G Suite Training extension, when you’re using any of the G Suite apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, etc.) simply click on the training icon. You’ll be presented with a menu that corresponds to the particular app you’re using. G Suite Training is also available via their portal where you can watch the training videos.

Training icon in your extensions:

Training icon in G Suite: 

G Suite Training portal:


Recap- Reflecting on Learning

Reflecting on learning is vital to increasing deep and critical thinking. With Recap, you create and assign your students a question about their learning that day (or perhaps at the end of a lesson/unit of study.)

They record a video (15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 or 2 minutes) answering the question.

Recap is available on iOS, Android, and via browser. Student responses are collected and collated in the cloud and viewable through the teacher dashboard. Student responses can be shared with parents and other teachers.

Recap Quick Start from Swivl on Vimeo.


Creating a class is simple! Just sign up at using a Google address (gmail is fine too…) You can choose to have students log in with an email address (recommended) or use a class code. Using a class code allows students to log in without an email, but runs the risk of having students use another students log in. Using the class code allows for fast student switching using shared devices or for younger students who might not remember email and passwords.

Once you’ve added your students, click the green Add Recap button to enter your first question. Give your question a title, put what you want answered, then click next.

Specify the duration of the recap, 30 seconds to two minutes. You can also add a self-evaluation of understanding of the concept. Enter a due date and send the recap to your students. You can also send your recap to more than one class at a time.

When students log in, they’ll see their recaps on their dashboard. They’ll click Respond now. They’ll need to allow Recap to use the microphone and camera on their device.


Last, they need to hit that red submit button in the lower right hand corner. This is where most students go awry, because once they see their trophy, they think they’re done. Not the most intuitive of interfaces, but I think Recap will fix things with their UX once they have enough feedback.

Google Earth- now web based!

Just in time for Earth Day, Google Earth is now web based and runs on almost any device with the Chrome browser.

  • Search for more
  • Learn with Knowledge Cards
  • Orbit the world in 3D
  • Take the helm with Voyager to choose your adventure
  • Feel lucky and let Google Earth take you somewhere in the world

Imagine the possibilities for your classroom and broaden your students’ horizons!