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Educated By Design Blog

Filtering by Tag: Teacher

The Secret To Learning With Technology Is Not What You Think. It's Why You Think.

Michael Cohen

When I was eight years old living in Southern California, my parents bought a video conferencing system to talk with my grandparents in Philadelphia. To this day I could never figure out how my grandfather, set it up on his end. The mammoth devices used a combination of wires to connect to our house phone and television delivering a blurry 200x100 image of my grandparents whose movement was delayed by 45 seconds as they their voices echoed through the telephone. It was at that moment through a mixture of “Hi Michael” , long pause, and a 45 second delayed handwave,

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4 Ways Soft Skills Will Prepare Students To Overcome Hard Challenges. #4 Will Surprise You.

Michael Cohen


In education today, there at times can be an overemphasis on the value of specific skills. It is these skills that then define the success of our students. We then expect students to automatically appreciate and value these skill sets to the same degree as we do. Just last night I was discussing the value of memorization with a new colleague. He was adamant that memorization helps build capacity and allows for great problem solving skills later. While I agreed with him, I questioned memorization as a skills and ability rather than a rote process. I can recite to you the preamble, tell you where just about any country in the world is located, and even name drop a couple elements from the periodic table. For what?!? Why do I need any of that? Is it to be considered well rounded? Intellectual? Please. If my entire learning experience 4th-12th can be googled then what do I need school and learning for? This is NOT what we want our students to be able to say.  

The struggle in education is that our reference point worked for us, but it simply does not work anymore. Technology has developed a tool for knowledge access and that is a threat. It's the same level of threat as the pencil was to Socrates and the Greek methods of learning. What we need to do is step back and look at the essence of these skills that we are programing, I mean preparing our students succeed with are similar to mini Google search engines. The problem is that Google is way better than any student could ever become. Remember, a good robot stores and recalls information efficiently, executes commands within a hair’s breadth, and does not deviate from its pre-programmed parameters. Sound like the “ideal student” right? In the end, we are teaching students from a very young age not to think for themselves, discover on their own, and more importantly take risks knowing that those risks could help them reach a higher level in their learning. That is why it is critical to help students develop a mindset that focuses not just on skill and ability but on how they output and manage their learning experiences. As an educator we need to aid students in rising above these standardized skills as the sole method of success. This will also allow them to better understand technology’s role in helping them reach greater heights.  


Now there are dozens of ways that technology can help us in teaching and learning. I have found the following four to be impactful but most importantly scalable. Yes even creativity is scalable. 


Artifacts of Learning






This is one of the most critical areas of learning. Where is the evidence? How is success measured?  How do I know you learned something, or better yet how do you know you learned something? In general this area is addressed via worksheets, quizzes, and cumulative tests. It's all about the sumative. While there is nothing wrong with these assessment tools, they tend to rank low on the engagement scale, high on the anxiety scale, and give you a very standardized and even limited glimpse into the minds of students, only to the point of knowing they can regurgitate pieces of information and forget it after the test successfully. There are many ways in which technology is able to completely redefine how learning can been showcased as an artifact. These articles of learning can not only demonstrate students understanding but can also be used to support the learning of other students. The reason why I tend to describe student work as artifacts, is because I want student work to have life to it, and have substance. I want their work to tell a story. I want student work to be something someone can look at, learn from, and appreciate. I have never seen a worksheet achieve that, but you never know.


Artifacts of Learning in Theory

Traditional evidence of learning is found through essays, worksheets, and tests. Consider how technology can empower students to development artifacts that can provide evidence of understanding. 

Artifacts of Learning in Practice

Using social engagement as a reference point, consider what excites students in today's world. Look at how visual, audial, and interactive media outranks almost all other experiences. Look at how students could create a video, graphic poster, or interactive publication or game that provides the same or even greater level of understanding than traditional work. How can we design learning so that student output is used to facilitate the learning of other students? I share some lessons in depth in one of my iBooks here


The creativite process seems to be purged right around the 3rd grade when students then become inundated with standardized and constraining learning experiences. We define creativity as a talent rather than a way of thinking and approaching problems to solve. These problems could be your own inter struggle of expression, or those affecting others. So how is creativity manifesting outside of our schools? Think for a moment about the massive success of social media. What is it that makes it so contagious? Two words, Creativity and Shareablity. At one point social media was about “what you ate for breakfast today” or “that awesome vacations to Tahiti”. The main players in the social media game Snapchat and Instagram have shifted their strategy to that of telling stories, and storytelling is ALL about creative expression. Creativity is about promoting ownership, choice, and knowing that others will benefit from or enjoy your work. Creativity pushes us to go the extra mile and challenges us to create a product or solution that makes an impact. While it's ok to set limits and create guidelines, it is beyond vital to bring creativity back into the classroom. When I was in 9th grade I taught myself how to use Photoshop 6.0. While 1998 might not seem that long ago, it was still years before Youtube or Google, so my skill development was limited to experimentation, asking a friend, or Photoshop 6 for Dummies to master this complex software. Still, I was driven by a thirst for creativity and control, and drove me it did. Nearly 20 years later, I have taught Graphic Design courses to 5th graders, High Schoolers, and even at the College level through the lens of creative freedom, opportunity, and experience.


Creativity in Theory

Creativity is about challenging ourselves to thinking in a non linear way to solve problems, communicate ideas, and help others. It give a person pride and ownership that can be shared and seen by others. This is a powerful ingredient for the classroom.

Creativity in Practice

There are so many ways to engage creativity in the classroom. Students can use photograph, film, animation, and design to create projects that are unique. Further they can use strategies like Design Thinking to understand how 50 ideas synthesized together will solve a challenge to a greater degree than one or two ideas. Take a short movie or graphic poster for example. Such a project not only shows student learning but it can be used as a resource for others to learn from unlike a student’s filled in worksheet.



It all started with someone drawing in a cave. It might have just been some scratch paper, or maybe a manifesto for generations, but one thing is for certain. Humans are designed to connecting and communicate. Two of my favorite communication quotes are “Communication is key” and “Communication is a two way street”. It's not enough for our students to simply understand their teacher They need the space and the ability for their teacher to understand them as well. This is one of areas in a classroom that is critical to foster a potentially positive and successful learning environment. Verbal, written, and even visual communication all play a role in how we connect and share information with each other. Our ability to communicate with students effectively and give them a voice as well will directly enhance the other areas of life and lead to an increase in student’s academic success. 


Communication in Theory

Communication is one of those differentiation challenges every teacher faces. How, when, and to whom we communicate with is very complex. The question that should be asked is how can technology or other methods of instruction besides frontal teaching allow for communication to change or be enhanced.

Communication in Practice

Two amazing examples of how communication is redefined in the classroom is through the use of technology and student leadership. Technology can allow for discussions to take place in a way that students who are introverts can feel empowered to contribute to a conversation, or be used as an archive for reference later. Remember, you can't be paused yourself, and while recording a lecture is one way of using technology, it does not produce a very engaging artifact. The second is student leadership which beyond clubs and the extra curricular, should be about identifying students who can be lead learning in the classroom. Instead of enriching advanced students with “extra work”, challenge them to help their peers. This is a nature always demonstrate their level of understanding of the material. 



There is a double edge sword with efficiency. Efficiency doesn't mean getting done quick or being first. At times, it might mean extending an experience to ensure that later down the road things will run quickly and smoothly. It's where their short long road and the long short road meet up. In education, we are so focused on the short long road because of our ability to measure success more often. Many times in fear of not covering all the curriculum we rush through areas of learning, or feel that technology and other tools, methods, and process can not be incorporated for fear that we won't meet curricular objectives. That is because efficiency is about quality AND quantity. Therefore it is critical as educators to ensure that we are making the best use of time, being properly organized, and clear in our expectations.


Efficiency in Theory

Efficiency allows for us to not just get work done, but complete it in an organized and effective way. This has two benefits. One is that it allows for work to be completed at a faster pace allowing for more learning to occur and second it allows for students to learn at a self paced rate allowing for enrichment for strong learners and support for struggling learners.

Efficiency in Practice

Mapping out learning is critical for success in the classroom. It isn’t enough for you to have a carefully planned lesson or unit outline. Students need to have this as well to allow for them to best organize and plan out their learning. Consider creating a week long list of objectives that promote student choice in how they are completed rather then you being the exclusive guide of the learning process.


These four areas should focus on complementing or enhancing your teaching practice and student learning. We sometimes compartmentalize teaching and learning. The crossover between the two is where meaningful learning occurs. These teas are meant to enhance the learning culture of the classroom to allow successful learning to occur. It also gives a foundation when considering how other models such as SAMR, TPACK, RAT, Design Thinking, and PBL can be used in the classroom to avoid extremes or overstauration of progressive models that can support learning. These are some of the fundamental skills to prepare students to succeed. In the end no model will achieve success without a high quality, passionate, and self-sacrificing educator in the room aka you.


The Forgotten Stakeholder In Education, And What We Can Learn From The Business World.

Michael Cohen


There are so many places to start when trying to shift the culture of leadership in a school. Before I share where we should start, let’s get where we shouldn't start out of the way.

“Successful educational ventures do NOT start with the top down dictating how the bottom up will succeeded.”

So where should you start? Should you focus on grassroots bottom up passion, or a veteran top down approach? To truly innovate education, I see both are required. That also means looking at what and who is a leader a bit differently. In my experience in education, I have been a teacher, director, and even for a second was a final candidate for a principalship. What my experience in and out of education has shown me is that there are two ways to approach leadership. A leader can lead through their own strength, or lead through nurturing and empowering the strengths of others. At the end of the day, people only want to invest in something when they feel they are part of the process. Especially when the process directly affects them. You want all individuals to feel invested and inspired to contribute to the success of the venture. When people are involved at that level, they tend to be more passionate, driven, and willing to go the extra mile. While leadership that is about control and hierarchy can work, it only succeeds in the short term. I am not talking about toxic environments where power and submission are the goals of leadership, where schools have high turn over rate and a culture that is full of negativity. My only recommendation is that you either figure out how to fix it or get out. I feel most for those students who can "find a new school". So back to the positive. Successful organizations without a doubt have clear leadership who ensure the vision and mission are inline with progress, but they understand that they cannot be successful without the unique skills of others. It is time that education looks outside of education to find progressive and successful models on leadership, development, and implementation. 


Imagine a construction site with one of those 300 ft. cranes. They are set up and ready to go, but the foreman isn't talking to the crane operator and the material isn't ready because the architect and the contractor are busy fighting over the ratio of steel and concrete. What happens if the surveyor thinks he should be the lift operator, or one of the construction techs feels the foremen doesn't support him? Is this building going to get built? The cost, time, and quality will all be in jeopardy if they cannot act as a true team. The challenge in education is that we are not building something. Rather, we are nurturing and preparing someone, and the final results are only seen long after they have left the four walls of our school. If the school leadership isn't on the same page as the faculty, or giving a clear message of support. When teachers are not empowered take a risk to do something that would impact student learning in an amazing way, then how can success be met? How can we value test scores without losing focus of other ways to assess value and quality? Are we looking at students as people or as processes? 

So how do we build out an awesome leadership approach? It goes like this:



 You do not need to be an expert in all areas of technology and innovative methods of teaching and learning, but you do need to be open to it. You need to listen to your teachers and take time to research and find resources to help you and staff better understand technology and creativity's role at your school. Or better yet, you should empower your faculty to research and present their findings, so the research is on their terms with their experience and outlook taken into account. That is also empathy FYI. When we are empowering others to solve their problems, that can be just as impactful as you solving it for them. It's not enough to use an iPad or a Chromebook, you need to ask faculty the right questions. The good news is that there are dozens of amazing educational leaders on social media like Twitter. Just search "principal" or "life-long learner" and be amazed at who you can follow, and more importantly connect with. 

One action item is discovering how to support risk. The lightbulb wasn't perfected, the computer wasn't developed and we sure didn’t land on the moon by playing it safe. There was a plan, but it was open to change based on how the process unfolded, and it is absolutely critical that you help guide and mentor your teachers to balance risk with planning that can lead to awesome learning experiences. 

Educational Leaders are like...

You are the captain of the ship, just remember, the most majestic ship you can sail on your own is a row boat. Hashtag #LeadLAP


To reside here you must think outside of the box. You must believe that there might not even be a box to begin with. The question is why aren't you sharing the wealth? Doing awesome work in your classroom is not enough, you must get the word out and share! Faculty leadership is a role that focuses on helping your colleagues who do not understand the purpose behind things like technology use. Faculty leadership is about helping colleagues that are intimidated by the "consequences" (It's honestly sickening to imagine a school where teachers get consequences for trying to do something awesome for students) if they risk shifting their instructional practice. There are so many places to start lets say when considering technology’s role in a school. Where should you start? If you are reading this post, I assume you are on Twitter. It is the dominant medium in which my thoughts are blasted out. How many of your colleagues are NOT on Twitter, or social media beyond Facebook, because they don't see how it ties into their professional toolbox? Get them on Twitter! A friend of mine who is a huge force in Education on social media shared the following thought with me. "People think I am big in Education because I have X thousand of followers. That is .01% of global educators. How are we connecting with the 99.99% of educators that are NOT on social media?" Social Media is a goldmine for educational resources and professional friendships with other passionate educators. Education programs in Higher Education MUST engage future teachers in how social media can support their development. Thankfully some forward thinking professors like Dr. Terri Cullin at University Oklahoma are incorporating this into their teacher programs.

We should strive to help our colleagues reach breakthroughs and have their minds blown by how epic student learning can be with technology and student empowering strategies. When I succeed in this area, I get something called “nachas” which when translated means a totally epic rush of sheer enjoyment and happiness. The reason your colleagues aren't pioneering isn't because their lack skills, or creativity. They are teachers and that means they are awesome, passionate, selfless, and thrive on helping others be successful. So lets support them and help them grow.


Faculty Leaders Are Like...

Your role is not just an innovator for yourself and your students, but a mentor to your colleagues in a way that an administrator simply cannot support.


Strong educational and faculty leadership are crucial but we tend to forget the most important member of the team - the students! As someone with years of experience in design and marketing (they call it storytelling now), I was shocked to discover that education the role of the student is almost identical to when I was in school. I thought as the world progressed, the role, responsibility, and input of students would have shifted as well. I am not sure how many students will read this but as their teacher you must understand the loss occurring in education today. No other industry on the planet engages with their “customers” the way schools do with students. A company that informed their clientele how things are and that they must conform would be bankrupt before year one was even done. Yet in education we dictate to students as if they are completely incapable of anything without our direct instruction. Yes, students need to learn to read, write, research, and learn to solve problems, but why does it have to be done via a worksheet??!? Why does it have to be done through passive experiences of lectures and transcription? Students need to be heard, take part, and help create their learning experiences. Even in 1st grade this can materialize, and students should be encouraged to take an active role in their learning. Anytime someone voices concern of the ability for a faculty member to master iMovie, I always look back to a video I saw years ago produced by year two kindergartens. We do not give our students enough credit when considering who is capability of being responsible to take charge of their education. 

In design, the motto is client is king. If you want to keep your sanity, and be a successful designer, you must be empathetic and design to help your clients succeed through your designs, rather than you succeed through your good design. Students are the forgotten stakeholders. If they are part of an educational process, program, or new venture, they must be consulted via a panel, student council, or some sort of voice. They must be given a say to charge them with accountability, since in the end their follow through is the measure of success. 

Today in education, whether it's technology, learning strategies, or learning spaces, adults make the decisions of what's best, and expect students to engage, embrace, and ultimately succeed through our decisions, not their own. 

 We must change this to truly innovative to scale in education. 

Student leadership is like...

It doesn't matter if your team has the best coaches, at the end of the day the players are who make the runs, scores the goals, and make the wins. 


So where do we go from here? I would hope that schools would be open to develop a culture of multitiered leardership that involve students as a significant stakeholder in their education process. This isn't a quick fix, or a semester project. This is a 24 month process that will have ups and downs, wins and fails, and might even shift along the way. We need to look at that long term when the short term is overwhelming us. We want change now but that's not how the world works. We need more patience in education, that's for sure.



The Reason Why Teachers Are Afraid Of Technology, and 2 Ways We Can Help Them Embrace It.

Michael Cohen

When I was eight years old living in Southern California, my parents bought a video conferencing system to talk with my grandparents in Philadelphia. To this day I could never figure out how my grandfather, set it up on his end. The mammoth devices used a combination of wires to connect to our phone line and television, delivering a blurry 200x100 image of my grandparents. It was quite a scene. With a mixture of movement delayed by 45 seconds and their voices echoing through the telephone, I felt as if I was in a 14.4K internet induction program.

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The Third Grade Teacher


I have been working on this article for awhile. When I saw this post during the #1to1techat on twitter I finally knew how to phrase it.

Students teaching students is totally awesome meaningful learning.

Becoming a teacher might not be on everyones bucket list but after watching eight year olds teaching eight year olds about native american life, I hope they realize just how powerful the ability to educate someone really is. Being in charge of other peoples learning was a new experience for these third graders. I began the conversation by asking them the following question,

How do you know how much you know? 

One answer is, teach it to someone else. Our next challenge? If our students are able to become independent learners working towards becoming facilitators of learning, then where does that leave us as the "real educators" in the classroom? The massive outpour of information as well as the technology to harness its power actually leaves educators with a very powerful and humble mission.

It empowers us to help students become caring, thoughtful, and serious learners. 

If we choose to answer this calling and put aside our slightly bruised ego and title of sage on the stage, then the student, teacher, and technology partnership can begin to create some truly awesome results.

Third Grade Native American Tribal Life Project

in collaboration with Deborah Littman and Joanna Benporat, 3rd grade classes

Digital Publication using Book Creator for the iPad

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="a/" query="" width="440" height="280" /]

unnamed-7 unnamed-8 unnamed-6 unnamed-5

The initial planning phase of the project went very routine. Questions of purpose, time spent, objectives, and curriculum alignment were asked. Questions about student's understanding of the applications of choice were answered. We projected the project would integrate technology between the A and the M on the SAMR model due to its use of audio-visual capabilities as well as how the technology would allow the learning to be shared. The objective of the student was to demonstrate their knowledge of a Native American tribes to the class. After reflecting on the final outcome of the project, we compared the projects use of technology to how the project was accomplished by traditional means.

21st-Century Skill Acquisition

Traditional Method

Learning With Technology

Oral Communication



Visual Presentation



Understanding of Content



Cooperation and Collaboration



Engagement and Enthusiasm



Organization and Time Management



Students as Facilitators



Now each one of these skill sets that students developed during this project have a specific objective.

Oral Communication: Through the use of audio recording and filming, students had the ability to clearly and effectively share their learning with other people in an engaging way that gave the viewer a sense of choice. The traditional method consisted of students presenting in groups in the front of the class reading from index cards.

Visual Presentation: The traditional method consisted of hand made poster boards and dioramas. In the past digital slideshows such as PowerPoint we used as well. Using the iPad students could create an audio-visual multimedia presentation that incorporated hand made artifacts into the project.

Understanding of Content: Many of the traditional methods of learning were still utilized by students including reading from books, note taking, and basic researching. The information was internalized further through the use of multimedia such as audio record, video filming, drawing, and creative writing.

Cooperation and Collaboration: Through the use of technology, this area yields unbelievable results in respect to frequency and sustainability of student partnerships. Students in traditional group projects tend to have one dominant student or have other students who lack motivation to fulfill their group responsibilities. Through the use of the iPad students were able to work independently, build off each others ideas, and help their peers create better quality work.

Engagement and Enthusiasm: At this point in our 1:1 program the "iPad excitement" has worn off. Students were engaged on a much higher level due to the personalized learning experience that allow for independence, choice, and serious ownership over their work. Students were not only enthusiastic to create something their peers would see, but even more so when they worked on traditional worksheets answering questions based on viewing their peers projects.

Organization and Time Management: This is a hit or miss with technology. Technology in of itself doesn't make either of these qualities shine, but with the proper mindset students can use technology as a powerful tool to develop these critical skills. Having all their work in the cloud to work on at home and use the iPads together in class did contribute to success in this area.

Students as Facilitators: This was the best part of the entire experience. Students were on inspirational fire as they shared their learning and made sure students understood the valuable information that they had learned. Students concluded this unit with an in-depth understanding of a specific piece of the unit, as well as a general albeit superficial understanding of the rest of the unit due to their peers amazing ability to share their learning in a serious, but fun and engaging way.

Technology is a Tool, and so is a Hammer!



While it is true that there is an app for just about anything, that does not mean that it is a valuable and authentic replacement for other methods of achieving a specific goal. This is why I am a strong advocate of the philosophical approach that,

Technology is a Tool, and so is a Hammer!

The problem is that sometimes we use the wrong tool at the wrong time and justify it because we are using Technology!

I would like to preface the following with how inspired I get when I see teachers who have been in the profession for 20+ years tell me they want to use iPads in their class and they are serious about not only integrating the computer and tablet technology into their current curriculum but even to use it to create new ways to teach their students. It's unbelievable and really is something to reflect on as an educator who grew up with computer technology and doesn't know what life is like not using it.

One of the main challenges in integrating technology not just into education but life is general, is when individuals misunderstand what "technology" really is. Technology is not an iPad, or an app or even something battery powered.

Technology is making or modifying an object, in order to solve a problem, improve an existing solution and achieve a goal.

This means that a pencil is technology, and so is the printing press, and so is instant coffee, and thank God for the latter! Technology is when you are able to utilize tools and the advancement of these tools to achieve a better quality product with faster results.

While it is important to utilize all means possible to solve a problem or challenge, it is easier than ever to force a solution for the sake of using technology. Technology is supposed to give a user a better end-product in a more productive and effective manner. If it takes you twice as long to do something, even if the results surpass the quality of another method, the individual should honestly reevaluate whether this longer process is the best option or if it was done for the sake of Glorified Technology. A good example of this concept can be explained through the


Now, the first step is to acknowledge the problem or the challenge. In this case, I have two pieces of wood that I really want to attach together, and I need it done fast and as cheap as possible. I have decided that a thin small metal rod aka a nail would be the best method to secure the two pieces of wood together. The question is how do I complete this task? Anytime an individual attempts to solve a problem, the diagram below should be put into consideration.

In the ideal world, all three circles overlap. The outcome of the center of the venn diagram, should be top quality, low cost, and with a fast turn around. Unfortunately we live in reality where that central area does not exist. This means that

The cost involved in technology must be justified through the quality and time invested in its use.

This is simple with the above analogy because everyone can agree that using a rock to hammer in nails is cheap but gives you a time consuming and low quality result. The modern hammer is a huge leap in the right direction in that cost is still minimal, quality is greatly enhanced, yet time is still needed to get the job done . The more nails needed to hammer, the greater the time needed to finish the job. That is where the  Bostitch Nail Gun gets the quality job done fast, but with a price. The cost is justified by the precision and speed in which an individual is able to accomplish the task.

Cost = Success

The problem with Technology today, is that many users think that Cost = Success, in that if they invest the money, the best product is guaranteed. This is unfortunately FALSE, as you can find cheaper paper notebooks than $400 and cheaper whiteboard than $5,000 as we see many users using iPads and Smartboards as glorified technology that simply substitutes previous tools. When I read that Los Angeles Unified School District was putting an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher, I wondered how much of that $30 Million would go towards professional development? Why is an iPad any different than a robotic arm at an automobile assembly plant? A technician at an automobile plant is not permitted to operate such a machine without extensive training to make sure that they can safety operate the machine not only for themselves, but around others as well. Why is a teacher with an iPad any different? While, thank God, the iPad when used improperly is not able to sever a student's limb, technology in a classroom used superficially is very destructive.  

Image courtesy of:

Authentic Technology Integration

The above seems to be clear in the educational community because conferences such as #ISTE13 had dozens of presenters showing how they effectively and appropriately utilize technology in the classroom. The SAMAR Model is an amazing model of taking current projects and lessons and enhancing them through technology integration. Here is a great article in Understanding the SAMR Model in 120 seconds  by Med Kharbach.

The Power of Technology

Technology can be powerful, beautiful, inspiring, but it can also be destructive, revolting, and depressing. We have to be certain that we are using technology to benefit ourselves and humanity, and not just as an infatuation to let us shed our responsibility to work hard. If a process becomes instant through technology then it is our responsibility to utilize the time we would have spent to instead be innovative, creative, and thoughtful.