Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

Moving the conversation from “Learning about Apps” to “Learning (with apps, and…)"

 (reposted from Guide 2 Digital Learning)





It’s an exciting time for technology using educators, with an abundance of choices and apps. But before we get app-a-plexic (or app-athetic), let’s take a deep breath and remember that it all starts with “learning”.


While the technologies continue to change, my general framework for thinking strategically about teaching, learning, and technology still applies.




We’re surrounded by “education standards” and learning objectives; we’re also surrounded by data – albeit sometimes not in the right form or at the right time to be entirely useful. What is sometimes missed is the students. We don’t have to wait for standardized tests in the Spring to know that for some students, “schooling” as they’re currently experiencing it doesn’t work for them.


The first question is not, “What apps are good for 5th grade?” Rather, the first question should be, “Are all my 5th graders ap-t (sic) to succeed?” Using all the data at our disposal, from formal assessments, to student-produced work that demonstrates mastery, to attendance rates, discipline rates, and simple qualitative indicators, we can and must articulate what’s not working and for whom. These are the challenges worthy of our laser-focused efforts.




I first blogged about this back in 2005, then repeated in 2009 with “Successful EdTEch: First the Verbs, then the Nouns”. This framework is based on a memorable conversation with my friend and education colleague Dan Gilbert, who worked with Stanford faculty who were attempting to use the Stanford Wallenberg Hall high tech experimental classrooms. The most common first reaction was something akin to “deer in the headlights” – frozen when confronted by a vast array of technology.


Dan began to explain, “Think about the VERBS first” – the actions and activities of students and teacher/facilitators. Once they articulated what the desired experience would be, then he could set about helping to identify what the NOUNS (technology) needed to be to create and support these experiences.


Great teaching has always been about “powerful experiences” best described by verbs, so it’s no wonder that Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards are emphasizing “higher order thinking” and other active learning verbs.




Whenever I get asked, “What are some of your favorite technologies for learning?” I find myself talking about experiences. Core to these experience of some of my favorite verbs:


Accessing Caring People – Sure, access to information is good, but access to great people is even better. Students, especially those who are struggling, benefit tremendously from caring mentors, tutors, coaches, experts, and peers – from all around the world. For students with a personal learning network like this, there is no stopping them from exploring their interests and catapulting their careers in exciting and meaningful directions.


Collaborating in (international) Teams – Most, if not all, of the great challenges facing society will require collaboration to solve. We also know that the most memorable, high-impact learning experiences are challenge-based, problem-based activities that involve students in addressing real issues in their community and around the world – and in this flat, global economy, problem-based-learning in a context that requires international collaboration is even more rewarding (see “4 Reasons Why Global Fluency Matters – an open letter to 6th graders everywhere”). Let’s prepare our students for the REAL 21st century where global fluency is the next resume differentiator.


Creating (not consuming) – I first heard this mantra from Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High in San Diego, California. When I asked, “What role does technology play at your schools?”, he replied, “Students should be creators, not consumers…” It’s not sufficient to memorize answers to questions in the back of the chapter. The world (and the world of work) needs graduates who can think and can create solutions to real challenges; who can not only write to pass the test, but can publish to change minds and shape society; who can not only recognize works of art, but can exercise extraordinary creativity to create art that helps us remember our humanity.


Inquiring and Investigating – Science is greatly misunderstood. Let’s let our students in on a little secret: Doing science is not about following a recipe that gets us to “the right answer” before the bell rings. Real science starts with wondering – and in many ways, begins with NOT knowing. Allowing our students to explore and wonder unlocks their curiosity; technology allows them to more deeply inquire and investigate, unlocking real scientific experiences.


STEP 3) IDENTIFY THE NOUNS (technologies)


The goal in the end is to create powerful learning experiences that solve the challenges described in STEP 1. More often than not, these experiences are ones that would not have been possible without the combination of great teaching (verbs) and the right technology (nouns).


As an advocate for the transformation of STEM(+) learning and teaching, I’ve been a big supporter of pen-based computing. It started with grants to educators a decade ago when when “tablet pcs” were convertible laptops with high-resolution digitizing pens and screens. For STEM(+) subjects, drawing diagrams and graphs is a natural – and sometimes the only way to have a meaningful math/science/engineering design discussion. When it comes to STEM(+) learning and teaching, even simple software becomes immensely important (see “5 Easy Tablet PC Tips” circa 2007-2009).


But the nouns have continued to evolve – so I will followup this article with Part 2: My Favorite EdTech Nouns (and why). If you'd like me to include some of YOUR favorite EdTech nouns, tweet me @jgvanides and tell me what and WHY...












Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Global Education Program Manager
Corporate Affairs

Follow me on Twitter @jgvanides


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chrisgaza | ‎11-09-2013 05:37 PM

the use of technology especially apps for learning is way overated. i think we can only use these technologies starting in high school. first theyneed to learn how to use the computer in primary school and along the way the phone then apps

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About the Author
Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is...
About the Author(s)
  • A former K-12 district administrator and adjunct professor of communication, Elliott has won over 60 state and national awards in school public relations, is a past columnist for Electronic School, School Administrator and American School Boards Journal, and has been interviewed for many leading educational publications. Recently, Elliott helped developed models for personal learning, which in testing increased successful completion of algebra from 33% to 71% versus traditional classroom instruction. His work is featured by HP at www.hp.com/makeitmatter
  • I am part of the HP Calculator team, working on the HP Prime graphing calculator. I taught mathematics for 20 years and have extensive experience in the professional development of teachers of mathematics. My area of interest is mathematics education; specifically, how technology affects the teaching and learning of mathematics.
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
  • Mike is a passionate education advocate dedicated to helping schools design, build and deliver solutions that solve the complex instructional challenges that face K12 leaders every day. Mike is interested in working with individuals and organizations that share the same level of commitment to improving Instructional outcomes with and through the use of technology

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