Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I had the opportunity to visit a school just outside of Edinburgh yesterday. While my overall intent was to look at the use of OneNote and Office365, what resonated with me so strongly was the fluidity with which both educators approached their classes.  I admit, I was taking notes furiously.  So much so that I often felt rude because I wanted to make sure I captured both what they said but also what they did and how they did it.
It reminded me of once reading how they built the first bread machines.  Random thought, I know.  The engineer in charge of making a machine that replicated a human baker had, of course, interviewed bakers to get an idea of how they manipulated and molded the dough.  While the bakers had tried to describe in words what they did it was only by watching them intensely and for a long time that they noticed that the bakers hadn't adequately described the "twisty-stretch" that was one of the most important manoeuvres in bread production.
And that was what I noticed about the teachers yesterday.  They talked a lot about the way they used OneNote, how they designed projects, look at ways of assessing, gave feedback, developed a professional learning community. Given my objective, they succeeded in giving me the notes I wanted.  I watch as they interacted with students and as they both implicitly and explicitly managed a classroom environment. All of these are steps well known and universal across teaching programs; either teacher would make a good case study for beginning teachers.
But the "twisty-stretch" that they never vocalized but was clear through observation and listening was the totality of their understanding and passion - likely too strong a word -- they were in their groove. These are professional athletes who clearly enjoy playing their sport. But they weren't just doing a job by following all the steps correctly.  They flowed, deftly, intuitively, making instructional decisions based on tacit knowledge that would be difficult for the non-teacher to see the near-instantaneous reasoning that led to it.
It's why people think "teaching is easy" - because they see situations like this. But they miss out on the hours of preparation, the reflection on student work and the years of experience (and errors!) that led to yesterday.  The value in observing classes can not be understated.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Evolving Questions

So while my hometown undergoes a rare March Break blizzard, I'm enjoying 13C and sun in beautiful Edinburgh. It's quite enjoyable to be relaxing in a coffee shop watching the Scottish go about their daily tasks while I get caught up on emails, blogs, tweets and the like.  (Don't worry, I was a tourist yesterday).
Today I start my school visits and so before I head out, I thought I'd best outline my curiosity.

When we laid out the initial structure of the OneNote, there's no question it was pushing on continuous feedback -- we wanted a way of taking advantage of digital ink, audio and video to support student learning both while in the classroom space but especially when the students are not physically present.  We are a very active school with extracurriculars (sports, service, international travel) that it was important to be able to engage students in the formative cycle even if they couldn't be present in class.  So, one of my questions will be "How has OneNote affected your feedback to students?"

After the ability to use digital ink, OneNote allowing students to interact & work offline was the second reason we chose OneNote over GoogleDocs.  That also played into our first reason - if students aren't at school, if they're in transportation, if they're in locations with little or no wifi, can they still be actively engaged with both my content (as teacher) and their earlier content (as learners).  OneNote gives that easily.  Once it's in the Notebook, it's there to stay and anything new syncs up as soon as you find wifi again, in exactly the right place.  And both students and teacher have (respective) control over their space and access to all kinds of digital content (and digital forms of physical content).  That prompts another question for me: "How has OneNote affected your teaching & learning content?"

And since good things come in threes, my third question is one that vexes us at Appleby College.  "Where do we go from here?"  This goes beyond OneNote, of course -- although their first response will likely be what they want to be added to OneNote. While it's all well-and-good to be transfixed by Hololens and to be astounding by the seemingly predictive power of data analytics (my two favourite next-steps in education), classroom teachers recognize that there's a big gap between the marketing and the reality, in terms of time, money and implementation.  So what do those folks on the ground want and feel they need when it comes to technology?

My last question is more personal: "How have you changed as an educator?"  My own journey is commingled with OneNote, digital ink, PCMI, and the wise guidance of my colleagues.  How are others evolving? What is prompting their ongoing evolution? And what are the pain points?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The #OneNote Grand Tour - Part 0

In the summer of 2012, I started a new position at Appleby College.  Moving from math teacher to "indeterminate job title"1 meant that for the first time in 20 years, I would not be in the classroom.  The goal of the school was to make technology use meaningful at the School by working directly with the folks in IT, while retaining the link to the teaching faculty.  And the first result of that project was our OneNote Binder which engendered what would become Microsoft's OneNote ClassNotebook.
I'll never forget sketching out on the whiteboard the structure that Jason Llorin, our programmer, would bring to life in my OneNote.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016.  Our School, through the generosity of our parent community, has a travel grant that teachers can apply to for support in doing their own independent research.  And so I submitted one to look at how our initial work with OneNote has travelled around the world.  We want to see how others use it in different countries, different schools, different contexts.  How did we get things right? How did others adapt the Notebook?  And where are we headed with the technology?  What can we learn and what can we share?

Thanks to the assistance of the folks at GlowScot in Edinburgh and the indefatigable Marjolein Hoekstra (@OneNoteC) in the Hague, I'll be visiting a large number of schools and talking with as many teachers and other users of OneNote as possible.  I cannot wait!

(And I will be riding a motorcycle around the south of England on the weekend.  Hey, the schools aren't open on the weekend!)

So stay posted!  I start on Monday the 13th and return on the 25th.

1This really is true. Our CIO has never been able to settle on what I should be called, so he just makes up a name that describes the situation at that point in time.  And I'm okay with that -- just as our learning space is under continual evolution, so do the expectations and demands of my position evolve.  Names define things and by not putting a pin in it, we can remain responsive.