Amazing Rio Technology Team

The Rio School District employs nearly 500 people in one role or another. All working together to provide the best possible learning environments and opportunities to our more than 5000 students in grades TK-8. One amazing team of four people, Kathryn, Tony, Oscar, and Brian make up our technology team. Together they do an incredibly complex and large scale job with great efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism. Our District is a One to the World District with one computer device for every student and multiple devices for staff. The Tech-Team built, and maintain a robust wired and wireless network that provides tremendous access to Internet based and other multimedia resources. Maintaining a mindset of security and protection while utilizing open source tools such as our Linux based Ubermix and Google schools platforms is a challenge that yields great rewards for learners of every age.

The Rio School District has leveraged much in the way of instructional shifts towards 21st century learning through the use of technology. Our powerful tech team of four are truly world class. Their type of work is often unrecognized except when things go wrong, which they rarely do, and this is just the nature of their work and people’s orientation to technology. This blog post intends to fleetingly make folks aware of the outstanding work they do to keep the Rio School District technology infrastucture and human users growing, learning and making a 21st difference for learners of every age.

If you happen to see a member of the team of four…pass along a word of appreciation. I recieved an email today doing just this and I showed it to one of the team on my cell phone which was routed through the wireless network system. Seamless.

Why we switched from Zimbra to Gmail

Our district’s transition to Google Apps for Education is now complete.  The pain of transitioning from Zimbra to Gmail has been more accute for some than others, but I firmly believe that in short order the potential in the Google for Education environment for our staff and students will diminish the tribulations of change.  I’ve been asked several times why we did this.  Why switch from Zimbra email to Gmail?


We switched for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it’s not just about email.  The Google Apps environment affords everyone (staff and students) powerful opportunities for collaboration and sharing of documents and information in an efficient manner that isn’t possible with Zimbra.  21st Century education calls for tools that allow students and staff to adopt to ways of thinking and ways of working in a world that is connected, integrated, and dynamic.  As such, we need tools that provide us the ability to create, communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve.  Using The Google Apps environment, all users’ information (mail, documents, calendar, etc.) is saved in the cloud and can be accessed from any device (computer, phone, tablet  etc.) that has an internet connection, anywhere in the world.  Users can share their documents, at their discretion, with individuals, groups, or anyone on the web, and collaborate in real time on meaningful work, saving their work as a document, spreadsheet, presentation, website, blog, wiki, drawing, etc.  These tools are fully integrated, and totally support our move towards adopting the Common Core standards. Again, this isn’t possible with Zimbra.
Second, our ability, for free, to provide staff and students with the same tools, inside a district supported environment, makes it possible for teachers and students to work together and do things that they couldn’t do previously.  I mentioned that this environment is free to schools – we will save several thousand dollars a year using Google Apps instead of Zimbra in software licensing and support fees and server licensing and maintenance, power consumption, and manpower required to keep the servers secure, up to date and running properly.
Third, our information is more secure, better protected from spam, and is backed up in a much more reliable manner than we can afford as a small K-12 district.  The simple fact is that by virtue of Google’s size and scale, they can afford to spend more on security and back-end infrastructure than we can.  Google has been certified by the Federal General Services Administration as meeting their stringent cybersecurity requirements.  This is something we could not afford to do.  Google’s spam filtering, intrusion prevention, and backup solutions are all top of the line.  The fact that this is all done in a cloud-based solution makes it all the more valuable.  Being cloud-based, all of a user’s information can be accessed anywhere, at any time, from any web-accessible device.
As of the middle of 2012, over 60% of colleges and universities with hosted email use Google Apps, including Stanford, Brown, Yale, Boston University, Pepperdine, Cornell, and several UC and CSU campuses.  I think once everyone gets used to the environment, that people will find the system easy to use and will see possibilities for creative, collaborative work that simply can’t be done without an integrated, web-based environment like Google Apps.  The number of K-12 districts using Google Apps is in the thousands and is growing daily.  There are other environments out there that do this, but they are expensive, require at least some back-end infrastructure on our part, and are more complicated for the end user.  The simple truth is that Google Apps for Education meets the needs we’ve identified in our Technology Plan better, at lower cost, than any other platform we’ve seen.
We offer classes virtually every week on how to use the mail, calendar, documents, and other tools that are available.  Feel free to bring your laptop and drop in if there is something you’d like to learn more about.  Alternatively, there are tons of helpful resources available on the district Tech Support page.  For a perspective about where we’re heading with Google Apps, check out this:


Expectations – Jamie Casap

If you don’t read Jamie Casap’s blog, you’re missing alot.  Jamie is one of the most insightful and progressive thinkers about education around.  He works for Google as an Education Evangelist.  Read below his blog post about Low Expectation Syndrome, and vow never to perpetuate it or allow yourself to be a victim of it!  You can read Jamie’s blog at


I’m the Taxman

“Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman”

– The Beatles

When I was in 3rd grade, I took one of those “what are you likely to be when you grow up” assessments, with some interesting results.  According to this assessment, I was to become an IRS agent.  Every time I mention that in a talk, I get some big laughs from the audience.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with being an IRS Agent.  I am sure it is a fine and honorable profession but if you know me even just a little bit, you would know why there was something seriously wrong with that assessment.  I am clearly not IRS Agent material and members of my team will tell you that I can barely figure out the tip.
However, that’s not the point of the story.  What happened after I got the results is what makes this story interesting.  My teacher looked at me in the eyes and said, “oh honey, you probably aren’t going to be an IRS Agent but don’t worry, I am sure you will work hard and get a good job.”
Without knowing it at the time, I had just become a victim of a horrific affliction –  Low Expectation Syndrome.  Looking back at my life, I can point to very specific examples of Low Expectations Syndrome.  The problem with low expectations is that you don’t know you are a victim of it for a long time and I would argue many people never realize it.  These low expectations have dire consequences on students, especially students growing up in disadvantaged environments.  Low expectations give you permission to not work hard, to be lazy, to tell yourself that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.  It is truly a life altering decease.
Luckily for me, my 4th grade teacher had the antidote and treated the Syndrome with a new set of expectations and kicked my ass.  She was the first real great teacher I had.  I handed in work and she handed it back with,  “I stopped reading after the first paragraph.  I know you can do better than this.  Work harder.  Do better,” written across the top. She taught me to never say, “I don’t know how to do X.”  She corrected me every time and told me to say, “It’s not that I don’t know how to do X, I just haven’t learned how to do it yet.”  I feared her, not because she was scary or mean.  I feared her because I came to believe she knew me better than I knew myself!  Now I realize that she didn’t need to know me.  She understood the power of expectations and the human potential to do amazing things, no matter what your circumstances.
It’s tough enough dealing with society’s low expectations, especially if you are a poor Black or Latino kid.  I remember trying to stay out of the sun when I was younger.  I didn’t want to be any darker than I already was.  No one on TV looked like me and I wanted to fit in.  One summer I put Sun-in in my hair.  A commercial told me that I could highlight my blonde hair.  I spent the summer with burnt  red hair, looking like Dennis Rodman.
In school, no one talked about college or more importantly, careers.  I would tell my principal that I was going to go to medical school to be a doctor and he would just pat me on my head and say, “sure kid.”  We were just marred in a sea of low expectations.
The problem with Low Expectation Syndrome is that it is a deadly silent killer.  It impacts you without you recognizing it.  When I was in college, I wanted to continue my education and go to graduate school to study public policy.  My favorite political science professor suggested that I apply to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  I thought he was insane and said, “kids like me don’t go to Harvard, I’d get eaten alive there!”  He couldn’t talk me into it.  I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to get in, let alone do well there.  Never mind that I took four of his classes and he knew me well, or that I taught Intro to Political Science over the summer, as a senior.  Of course now I look back and I know that not only could I have gone to Harvard, I would have kicked it’s ass!  But at the time, I didn’t know I was suffering from Low Expectation Syndrome.  It took graduate school, working for the Governor of New York, and years working at Accenture before I truly got the syndrome out of my system.
I read an article where a University of Minnesota professor (Sherri Turner) and a postdoctoral fellow (Julia Conkel Ziebell) did an interesting study on the career beliefs of 97 inner-city adolescents.  Students were asked to rate how much they believed career focused statements and the results are telling.
The most interesting one was, “success is related to effort.”  If you think about that statement for a second, what do you think your own kids would say?  Would they agree?  I know my kids would.  As a competitive swimmer, my daughter got up at 4:30AM several times a week for years to practice before school.  She worked her ass off and graduate high school on a team that lost one swim meet in 30 years and she finished as the second fasted breaststroker in Arizona (we do swimming well in AZ).
Well in this study, only 24% of students believed that that statement to be true.   70% of them completely disagreed with it.  The authors say turning around these negative beliefs should be a major emphasis among school administrators.
No kidding.  This is an important topic that isn’t addressed much.  I will be posting much more on this subject in the future.


Integrating Tech into the Classroom

It takes more than hooking up a bunch of computers…  here’s the experience of a 4th grade teacher from Chicago.  (From Ed Week –


Redefining Instruction With Technology: Five Essential Steps

By Jennie Magiera

In the fall of 2010, I was awarded a grant that brought 32 iPads to my classroom. I had high hopes that this would revolutionize teaching and learning in my class. These devices would help me to create a magical, collaborative learning environment that met all my students’ individual needs. These seemed like lofty goals—but they all came true. Eventually. First, I had to learn a hard lesson: Just bringing new technology in your classroom and working it into day-to-day routines isn’t enough.

The iPads arrived two days before my students, and I quickly made plans to integrate them into our curriculum. Despite my high hopes, the next two months were less than successful. A casual observer would have witnessed a sea of students glued to glistening tablets, but the effects were superficial. The iPads were not helping my students make substantial progress toward self-efficacy, academic achievement, or social-emotional growth. Around the end of September, I took a step back—it was time to evaluate and reflect on what was happening.

I asked myself: “What have we been doing so far with this technology?” Students used math apps instead of math card games. They’d made slideshow presentations for isolated units. They’d done some research on the Internet. In short, things were going … OK. Nothing to write home about. Not what I would consider “worthy” of a $20,000 grant. Clearly it was time for a change.

The problem, I began to realize, was my own understanding of how the iPads should be utilized in the classroom. I had seen them as a supplement to my pre-existing curriculum, trying to fit them into the structure of what I’d always done. This was the wrong approach: To truly change how my classroom worked, I needed a technology-based redefinition of my practice.

A year and a half later, I know a little more about what that really means. Here are five lessons I’ve learned about redefining classroom instruction with technology—whether iPads or other tools.

Break down to rebuild. As terrifying as it may sound, the first step is to take a proverbial sledgehammer to your existing classroom framework. This realization was a turning point for me. I would have to be willing to depart from what I had “always done” or “always taught.” I needed to review my program with the power of my new tools in mind. By setting aside my pre-conceived notions of how my classroom “should” look, sound, and feel, I was able to transform my practice from the ground up.

Redefine with a goal in mind. When rethinking your curriculum and classroom, identify the goals you have for yourself and your students. I focused on two important goals: increased differentiation and robust, efficient assessment. Next, I asked myself, “Can the iPads help me reach those goals?” Realizing that they could, I redesigned my classroom practice around the goals, with iPads as the infrastructure. Here are a few examples:

• I created interactive video mini-lessons to increase differentiation.

• I used online student surveys and audio/visual apps such as Toontastic to allow my students to voice their emotions, curiosities, and academic goals in private.

• To redefine assessment and differentiation, I employed websites such as Google Docs and Edmodo to create a faster feedback loop. These sites utilize color coding, instantaneous feedback, and automatic student grouping to allow me to immediately analyze data. I can enact same-day differentiation—no need to spend an evening reviewing paper-and-pencil exit tickets.

Get more app for your money. I also asked myself the question: “What can I do with these devices that would be impossible to do without them?” In other words, I was hoping to create new teaching methods rather than just replacing old ones.

I moved away from content apps, such as Rocket Math or Math Ninja, which are very engaging but only address a handful of standards. Once a student has mastered the relevant standard(s), such apps only serve as practice—and the data I can collect from them is limited.

Instead, I focused on student-creation apps. Moving beyond replacing paper math games with flashy math apps, students are now creating their own math videos, writing math blogs, and conducting challenge-based-learning math projects.

For example, the app Educreations allows students to record notations on a virtual whiteboard along with their narration, generating a multimedia lesson or problem explanation. This app can be used to address standards in all subjects and engages students at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy: creation. Other versatile creation apps and programs include Toontastic, iMovieGarage BandPaperPort NotesKabaamPopplet, and Aurasma Lite.

Embrace failure. Last year gave me an invaluable lesson in celebrating failure. When the iPad integration didn’t go as I’d initially hoped, I had the rich experience of reflecting and restarting. I teach my students to evaluate their own incorrect math strategies to better appreciate the beauty of one that works. Similarly, I had to fail—and take a good long look at that failure—to truly understand why what I’m doing now works. To be honest, I know that I still have a lot of room for improvement. I’m sure I have more failure in my near future and I can’t wait.

So if you begin to implement a new app in your classroom and it falls flat, react by asking yourself what you’ve learned. Welcome your students into this culture of learning from adversity. By creating a safe, open environment and by being clear that this endeavor is as foreign to you as it is to them, you encourage risk taking—and greater achievements.

Enjoy the results, reflect towards the future. After redefining my classroom, the iPads were out all day, every day. They were being pushed to their limit so that my students could be pushed to theirs. This effort paid off: 10 times as many of my students scored at the 90th percentile or above on the 2011 state test as compared to the 2010 state test. I saw students become active agents in their own learning—because they now had choices about the methods that worked best for them. Kids who’d professed to hate school were now eager to engage in the classroom. One student wrote in her daily reflection, “[iPads] make me want to come to school every day because I know that Ms. Magiera has a lesson just for me.”

These “wins” were a source of euphoria for me as an educator, but I also know that there is more to do, more to learn, more to try. Our classrooms must grow and evolve to meet the fluctuating needs of our students and take advantage of the ever-changing array of technological tools.

Someone recently asked me, “What do you predict the classroom of the future will look like?” I had to say, if I could predict what’s in the future classroom, I’d be sorely disappointed. I love being surprised by new developments in technology and pedagogy. Classroom redefinition is an ongoing process, and I can’t wait to discover what tomorrow brings.

Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools. A Teacher Leaders Network member, Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction, and Apple Distinguished Educator, she explores best practices in math pedagogy and technology in her blog, Teaching Like It’s 2999, and on Twitter @msmagiera.


Netbooks Still the Way to Go

Tablets are all the rage these days – iPads, Samsung Galaxies, Acer Iconias, even Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook are getting press as an educational tech tool.  But a good quality netbook is still the best tool for the job – especially when cost is factored into the equation (as it should be!).

While netbooks don’t have the “glitz” of a tablet, I’ve had a chance to test iPads and Android tablets alongside netbooks, and hands down as an educational tool the tablets can’t compare.  This isn’t a single decision – other districts have the same opinion.  Read about Wentzville School District in Missouri.

Netbooks are easier to manage and much lower cost (especially when the cost of software is factored into the equation).  Furthermore, there’s nothing one can’t do on a netbook that can be done on a tablet, but there’s alot one can do on a netbook that one can’t do on a tablet.

Budgets being what they are, it’s a struggle not to see a 1:1 netbook initiative as much more than a pipe dream, but personally, I just can’t give in.  The sooner we can get these devices in the hands of our students, the sooner we can start seeing revolutionary changes in learning in our classrooms!

Making Progress

Exciting times – in spite of the state legislature’s best efforts to stymie progress, we’re moving forward with our technology initiatives.  We’ve distributed new laptops to everyone, and getting through the growing pains of adapting to PCs from Macs.  We have also just gotten our application accepted by Google to adopt Google Apps for Education in our district.

Teacher Laptops

Our quest to get new laptops for teachers is done, but not without some 12th-hour drama.  Trying to complete a major purchase (215 mobile devices) when there isn’t any money and the future budgets are so uncertain requires the committment of everyone – including the Board, district leadership, and tech staff.  I have to commend the Board’s vision and committment to our teachers to authorize a purchase of this magnitude when there’s so much uncertainty and pressure on our budgets.  Working with the Business Services department, we were able to pull together enough funding that wasn’t part of the general fund (EETT funds, eRate reimbursement funds, etc.) to fund the laptops.  Working with Dell, we were able to locate a unit that met our performance requirements and our budget limitations.  We tested a Dell Vostro 1014, running Ubuntu, and we tested all the software we could identify that teachers would need and other software they might find useful that they probably didn’t know about.  We ordered the laptops, and had a delivery committment from Dell.

Then I went on vacation.

While I was on vacation I got notice that there was a problem and I contacted Dell.  Our Dell rep said he was very sorry, but they would not be able to deliver the Vostro 1014 laptops as promised.  In the course of our conversations over the next three days, Dell was also not able (or willing – still not sure which is the case) to deliver any of five different laptops that would meet our performance and budget requirements.  Dell would be more than happy, according to our rep, to provide us with some significantly higher-priced units, but our budget constaints wouldn’t allow it.  At that point, Oscar and Tony (my crack tech staff) went to work and contacted all of the major vendors.  Mind you, we now had very, very little time to make this work – after weeks of testing units, building an image, getting field testing from our Technology Champions – we had three days to find a unit and still be able to get something in place in order to conduct training and get units in the hands of teachers before the start of the school year.

Oscar and Tony located a unit from Toshiba with similar specs to the Vostro (even better – bigger screen, numeric keypad on the keyboard!).  We overnighted a unit for testing.  The video chipset runs flaky under our Ubuntu mix, though, and we are out of time to work on a fix.  Now, we have a conundrum – give up on the mobile units for teachers, or delay our move to an open source operating system.  I’m not going to force teachers to go through another school year using now 7-year old laptops.  We’ll stick with Windows 7 for now, and see about Ubuntu down the road.  We’ll certainly solve the issues with Ubuntu and the laptop, and if teachers want to make the switch we’ll accommodate it.

So, mission accomplished – we will be providing brand new laptops for our teachers.  Strategically, we are moving ahead.  Tactically, things didn’t go quite as planned.  But, as always, that’s the way of the world.  I can’t begin to express my dissatisfaction with Dell – we trusted them for a critical purchase, and they let us down, big time.  Kudos to Toshiba for stepping up and coming through in an absolute pinch.

Why Netbooks For Students?

Sam Gillickson posted a blog on June 30, 2011 talking about 21st Century learning and technology tools.  While he focused on iPads, I’ve taken his blog and substituted netbooks.  The message is the same (but netbooks are $300 cheaper!).  Read his original blog at

You Want Netbooks for Your School, But is That Enough?


Everywhere I turn schools seem to be buying netbooks. Critics question whether investment in a relatively new and untested technology can be justified (this statement certainly pertains more to iPads than netbooks!), especially given the current economic climate. To some degree, I think their scepticism has merit.

Buying netbooks for your school may not improve the standard of education.

Technology is a tool. The issue of greater consequence should be how you plan to use them. To be clear, this isn’t a question of whether you should use this particular app or that app. Overall, I think the whole “netbooks discussion” centers far too much on a review and critique of available apps. The particular app that you use for Math or the cloud app you use for collecting documents all have their purpose on a micro level. The macro question however is one of vision…

“How will I use new technology to change the fundamental practice of education?”

You see, without a clear vision your educational dollars may in fact be wasted.

If you want netbooks so that you can distribute digital reading material to support a largely teacher driven, content based program … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks so that children can practice drills without any knowledge or context of how the skill being drilled has relevance to their daily life … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks so that you can develop and disseminate flash cards that help students cram for testing … it’s not enough.

If you want netbooks because you envision them improving education by making existing processes more efficient … it’s not enough.

And of course, if you want netbooks because they’re cool and everyone else is buying them … that’s clearly not enough.

On the other hand…

Maybe you want netbooks because they can enable students to access and evaluate vast pools of knowledge in order to help them resolve problems and form original opinions?

Maybe you want netbooks because they provide an instant gateway for students to research themes that have intrinsic interestto them?

Maybe you want iPads because we live in a global society and iPads are an excellent way to communicate and collaborate with people around the world?

Maybe you want netbooks because they have an integrated camera and microphone thereby allowing students to express themselves in a variety of media instead of purely text?

Maybe you want netbooks because you see them as tools that may enable education that is both differentiated by abilities and interest?

Maybe you want netbooks because you see that it might ignite student motivation to learn.

Maybe you want iPads because you recognize that they help students with less resources tap into their creative potential to develop music, art, photography and more.

Maybe you want netbooks because you have a vision of how they might empower students to pursue their passions and takegreater control over the path of their own education?

We’re still talking about bringing education into the 21st century – yet we’re already eleven years into it. Our society, culture and industry are all forging ahead at exponential speed leaving the practice of education in their wake. We could quote overused cliches such as, “it’s not about the technology” but frankly finding ways to place technology in our schools is an important first step. However it’s just a first step. Technology has become a core component of almost every facet of our daily lives but modernizing education requires significantly more commitment than simply providing students with access to technology.

Are you buying netbooks or other technology because you see an urgent need for change in our aging, “business as usual” system of education? If not, then it’s simply not enough … and our kids are screaming for more.

Building A Better Mousetrap

What would happen if we started a conversation about educating 21st Century kids in 21st Centruy ways by wiping the slate clean and redesigning what we do and how we do it?  What would happen if we tossed the textbooks, and handed every student a small, mobile portal to the web and the world, and they used it like we use a pencil and paper?  To start, we wouldn’t talk about technology, we’d talk about education and what it is kids should be doing and what they should know.  In the old days, the traditional approach could be summed up with the words watching, listening, and remembering.  In the 21st Century, though, we need to use descriptors like collaborating, evaluating, synthesizing – these are the skills that students need to have!

Two seminal articles to frame the conversation – the first is by Herb Childress, an ethnogropher who observed high school students in the late 90’s – 17 Reasons Why Football is Better Than High School.  The second is a piece by Alfie Kohn, writer and former teacher, “Well, Duh!” — Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring.


What would happen if we started anew, and challenged our traditions about classrooms and pedagogy?  I’m only partly sure about the outcome, but I’m really sure it would be fun!


Tools for Learners

30 of the best tools for auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners – as presented by  Much of this software is free!