Archive for June 2013

This is a 'Hackathon'

GR- iBooks Author Hackathon, photo via Steve Dickie

I can't tell you how often I get asked the question: "Why is this called the iBooks Author Hackathon? What does that mean?"  Let's break it down and tell you why.

What is a 'Hackathon'?

According to Wikipedia
an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week in length. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. 

But aren't 'hackathons' just for programmers? Nope! Back in February 2012, Steven Leckart wrote in Wired Magazine 

The trend [hackathon] has already spread beyond the conventional tech world. There are women-only hackathons, hackathons for teens, hackathons for college students, hackathons to fight autism, hackathons to improve education, hackathons to help veterans, hackathons to build Occupy Wall Street protest tools, hackathons on clean energy...

So this is how we found ourselves calling this the iBooks Author Hackathon. It is a multi-day, intensive, collaborative event to create usable products that will improve education...this is a hackathon! 

The Characteristics of an iBooks Author Hackathon 

1. Passionate and creative educators seeking to author high quality interactive content. 
To date over 85 educators and a half a dozen trainers have come together at a hackathon to learn about iBooks Author and create interactive 'books' for their content area / grade level. In addition, participants learn about copyright, creative commons licenses, open educational resources and a way to collaborate with colleagues to share these books. 

2. Collaboration of workers to create in community. 
We truly believe one of the factors that makes this event so powerful is the ability to collaborate with a common goal in mind. Participants spend some time throughout the two days whiteboarding their thoughts and ideas for their books. A lot of our time is spent with individuals helping them think through creative ways to build their books. 

3. Inspiring each other with their creativity and sharing of ideas.
In addition to collaboration, sharing is another big goal of this project. Too often teachers create and work in isolation from one another. A key factor of any hackathon or Google 20% time is to share out what you are working on, what you are creating and get feedback, input, and help from the greater audience. Throughout our time together we paused to share out what we were doing. 

4. Energy and a buzz of excitement around the end goal. 

For me, this is perhaps the greatest characteristic of these events. A full day of professional development can be a lot to ask of a teacher especially in June (early June). But we weren't asking for 1 day, this was 2 FULL days of learning and making. At the end you'd expect folks to be checking out, playing games, and basically doing anything but creating. Not here. 

Participants worked up to the bell. They were excited about the potential for impact these interactive modules (see and download my examples here) could have. They weren't jumping through some administrative hoop, they weren't checking an item off their to-do list. Rather, the product they were making was desirable, it will help teachers and schools sustain their iPad environments, and the they could grasp how to make it happen through the training and resources they were equipped with. 

Of course when you put on a hackathon there are a few requirements to keep that edge of excitement. For us, that meant raffles a few times throughout the day, a video chat from the team at, cool t-shirts supplied by Bookry for the participants, awesome lunch food, great snacks throughout the event and finally a free registration towards MACUL 2014 to give away. 

This was a great two days of making. We have several more planned throughout the summer (see details here). However, we also recognize this is the first in a string of years to come that will be necessary to truly meet the end goals of this project- open educational ibooks for k-12 content- that others can download, personalize, and distribute to their students. 

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Failure is Part of the Process

I failed today.
It hurt.
It sucked, actually.
It knocked me down, left me spinning a bit, raised questions...
even worst, raised doubts.

I've come to find out over the past few years that failure is a part of the process. The process of making. The process of living. The process of teaching and learning.

I had written a proposal for a large grant that would greatly aid the efforts of my project. I spent days pouring over the application process and making sure the dozen page report I was submitting met all the criteria. Writing is a difficult task for a math teacher who is typically not so inclined grammatically  perhaps you've noticed by reading this.

I thought for sure the organization would see this proposal as a way to impact educational environments on a global scale. I thought for sure they would see how this money and their name could go towards opening up high quality educational resources for teachers around the world. After all, that is the way I was seeing this project. But instead this is the response I got from my work.

I am writing to inform you of the grant evaluation committee's decision to not fund your project at this time for reasons such as,
The proposal did not clearly identify specific ways in which the project would be an innovation in the use of the technology in education, or have a specific measurable impact on a target population.

After Failing.

I got it wrong.
My art was not valued in the eyes of others.

I could chose to be defeated. I could chose to walk the other way and hold on to my failures. I can keep looking for people who see things the way I see them. Those who will agree with me and see my creations as I see them.


I can chose to iterate. I can listen to my audience. The judge of my work. The beholder of my art. I can tune in to what they see as beautiful, acceptable, and honorable. I can wipe the canvas clean, if needed, or just had the missing strokes, colors, textures that are needed to make this work beautiful in the eyes of the beholder.

The doubt raised by this failure can not get the best of us. Doubt must lead us to seek. Seeking must lead us to a deeper understanding. This understanding must lead us to iteration and transformation.

This is what it means to live fully, exposing your work, risking your heart by creating your art. To keep that art locked up where no one can criticize it, admire it, or display it would be selfish of us and robbing ourselves and the world of something beautiful.

Keep seeking. Keep making. Keep transforming. You and the world will benefit.

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How My Learning Environment has Changed with the iPad

In the Beginning

Towards the end of the 2010-2011 school year I started flipping my classroom by having students read for comprehension from the textbook and filling out a sheet of guided notes prior to coming to class.  Class time started with reviewing select problems from the section, then progressed to independent practice and group work.  Class concluded with a 4 question check for understanding students would complete on their own.

It struck me how poorly kids could read for comprehension.  Was this the fault of the textbook companies for writing content in such a boring and non engaging style?  Was this a result of our societal shift to more video and less reading?

Along came the iPad

click here from an iPad to see my first chapter
Despite being a newbie to all things Apple I jumped right into creating content for my students using pages and exporting to epub files.  I loved it and I truly thought it was great, there was text, images, videos, and links to websites.  The interactive of the ibooks was twice that of a regular textbook and I thought for sure this opened up multiple channels of communication for the learner.
However, students seemed to really struggle with reading for comprehension and knowing what the desired outcomes where for each section. Was there a breakdown in the ebook or was there a more deeply rooted issue that was ingrained in the learning philosophy of our students?  

There were multiple areas of change concurrently taking place.  First of all these students were freshman and coming into the high school environment was new to them.  The issue iPads was completely new to all students but to freshman equipped with trapper keepers for every subject the issue of digital organization was confusing.  These students wanted and needed a physical form of homework in front of them.  All this said I knew this year was going to be more than teaching about math.  I knew I would have to focus my students on unlearning their bad habits of sitting and getting information.  I knew it would be a fight to transform their belief that learning was passive and instill in them personal responsibility of their learning and taking an active role in their education.

Despite believing this and in the interest of easing students into these changes I cut back on text, images, and links, and focused solely on video.  I was convinced that students were struggling with the new style of learning, they weren't ready to be responsible for "learning" the material on their own.  They needed a more structured teacher directed lesson in which they were told exactly what to write down and where to write it.  Students were asked to view vodcast lectures at night, and to come to class prepared to talk about that content the following day. However, there were issues, just like when you assign a problem set with homework you'll have those students that don't do their homework.  Same was true here even though the homework was just to watch a video and fill in the notes.  All flip teachers have been here before.

Was this really flipped instruction?  Was this really benefiting students?  Was this at all removing the teacher from the role of the sage on the stage?  Or was this just re inventing the traditional classroom lecture on a nice shiny device?

Test run on Textbook App

Right before the end of our semester we decided to flip our class using only the free sample of the textbook app that our textbook company provided in the app store.  All other factors remained constant, the only difference there was no guided video notes from the teachers, only those videos that were done by the app creators.  Students were given instructions on how to navigate the app and how to interact with it then set free to move through the chapter. You can read my blog post found here but essentially this is what we found:

  • using the app was equivalent to having the students use the online site and read the textbook
  • students struggled to piece together the video examples with their guided notes
  • the app took up huge amounts of space on the iPad (1+ GB for one chapter)
  • students felt disconnected from their teacher due to the fact the videos featured a teacher they had no personal relationship with.
  • Final thoughts were sealed after meeting with our textbook rep- it was going to cost $49 per app for students for a 6 year period if we purchased the app through them.  This would mean that student devices would need the app loaded onto their device in some way other than downloading from the app store.  Can you imagine connecting 2000 devices one at a time or even 30 at a time, multiple times a year to load the next chapter or semester of materials on?   This seemed all to unpractical.  There has to be a better solution, a better method of delivering and interacting with content,

iBooks Author and the Mastery Flipclass

from iPad, click here to see our first ibooks author attempt
The release of iBooks Author and iBooks2 was truly thrilling to me.  And again only having a few months of Apple knowledge under my belt it was too appealing to not jump in and see what could be done.

Students were becoming more comfortable with exploration learning, engaging in problem solving and learning through feedback. 

In addition to making the shift to using iBooks Author to create more interactive content, I also moved to the Mastery Flipped class methodology.

Under this methodology students were no longer expected to be on the same page on the same day. They all received a unit roadmap with certain checkpoints along the way.  The checkpoints served as accountability for students.  The order of their learning took on the form of reading/viewing content in ibooks, practicing a problem set, self correcting this problem set, passing an online formative assessment with an 80% or better, then completing a 4 question paper and pencil quiz- this grade went into the grade book.  If they received less a 2.5/4 then students would complete a reteach worksheet provided by our textbook company.  Students were encouraged to work in groups of 2-3 they were encouraged to create Showme videos and post them to Edmodo for their classmates to view and review.

The beginning of class was a time to check in and connect the content students (majority of students) were working on to real life problems.  For example, during our unit on surface area and volume we took time to calculate the volume of plastic saved by bottling companies when they went to a smaller sized screw cap.  We took time to process why this was important and what our place and math's place was in this real world connection.  Often times we employed apps such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere, or Nearpod to gain student data.

Following a large group check in, students would break up and work on problem sets, projects, or quizzes and tests, while I (the teacher) went around to each student and group and checked in.  Some days were high demand teacher days and I found myself quickly adopting the "ask 3 then me" rule.  Other days students did not have a lot of questions, but overall I found myself spending more time with students working 1 on 1 or 1 on 3 way more than in the past when I would lecture and spend little time problem solving.

Some days class was loud and crazy and I fought my inclinations to quiet the crowd and keep things orderly.  Yes, some students need that peace and quiet to concentrate and focus, while others seem to thrive in the noise.  Other days I would have pockets of students taking quizzes and tests and therefore would need to keep the classroom environment quiet so as to not compromise that testing environment.  Anything that went in the grade book was done by the individual student in class on paper and pencil and was hand graded by me.  I really wanted to accurately measure my students understanding and felt that online assessments while great for formative evaluations and immediate feedback did not provide insight into a students thought process and problem solving techniques.

Students were shedding the layers of passive learning, sit and get philosophy, and starting to take responsibility of their learning.  Those motivated students were moving through the content at accelerated paces.  These students were given opportunities to extend their learning by completing non traditional content related projects. While those who needed extra time, had busy schedules, or just learned less quickly than others were supported in this and still moved through the materials.  Unfortunately, there were those students who chose to do absolutely nothing.  There were students who, no matter what you did or how you motivated them, they dug their heels in and refused to take on the responsibility, they chose to fail.  The good news in this is, out of the 95% of students who did chose to work in this setting all of them passed the course.

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Reflections from First iBooks Author Hack Event

It has begun. Over the past 6 months this moment has been built up, played out, and romanticized in my mind. It is hard to believe that the first of several of these 2 day events has come and gone.  This marks the beginning of the summer of an amazing movement by k-12 educators around the nation to make open educational ibooks. This project is described in more detail on our website:

If you haven’t heard of Monte Vista Christian Schools it’s because it may be the countries best kept private school secret. This beautiful campus is tucked away in the outskirts of Watsonville, CA and is home to about 800 middle and high school students. Among their many claims to fame is the fact that they were the first school to go one to one iPads in the U.S. And now they are first into this initiative to create a repository of open educational ibooks for k-12 education. 

Our relationship began a few months ago when high school principal Steve Woods reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to come out host a hackathon event on their campus. Here are a few reflections on our time. 

There were 25 hackers in all from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to Los Angelos (actually the folks from LA had to drop at the last minute but are still participating virtually). We gathered on the beautiful campus of Monte Vista Christian School in a Mac computer lab perfect the size of group we had. 

We spent a few minutes talking about how this project came to be, why it is important to k-12 education, and what the end goals are. The following two hours consisted of learning about iBooks Author as an authoring tool and attendees built their first book using resources that I had gathered for them.  Even though most of us didn’t get around to creating our actual books in iBooks Author I think it is best to spend that morning time learning the authoring tool and showing attendees the possibilities of an interactive learning experience. 

Right before lunch we were privileged to get a Google hangout chat with the wonderful staff from If you don’t know what Bookry is all about I encourage you to check them out. In a nutshell they provide complimentary service to educators creating widgets to use in their iBooks. Rhys, the company founder, gave us an overview of their upcoming quiz widget, sure to be a smashing success among educators looking to get student feedback on a variety of question types. 

The afternoon consisted of learning about copyright, creative commons, and public domain content. I want to thank Josh Mika (@ijoshmika) and the invaluable resources he has provided in this area. I don’t know if we could have spent enough time on this topic as it is surely a concern when creating digital content. We scoured the resources provided in our iTunesU course in addition to learning a few search techniques for finding creative commons content. 

Another good chunk of our afternoon consisted of learning about the collaborative space we will all be working in to access each others work and build our repository. The space we have chosen to do this in is called Again, if you haven’t looked into Box I highly recommend them as they offer some amazing services in addition to their cloud storage. This area of the training came to take up more time than I had anticipated as folks needed to see how to function within this platform. So we ended up spending another hour demonstrating how a content area team could work together to create different chapters of the same book. This did prove to be beneficial and I believe Box will help us attain our goals.

In upcoming hackathons I will do this a little differently, including getting folks into this space sooner, stashing content there for them to download and experiment with and model the collaboration process.  Furthermore, it became evident that people need to see a workflow modeled for them. Including how to search, find, and attribute open educational resources. They need to be exposed to tools such as Skitch for capturing their screen, Textmate for editing HTML code, and the basic Apple suite such as Quicktime, Keynote, Pages, and iMovie for creating and formatting content. 

Overall, it was a success. I consider it so because it’s a first step down a long road of creating high quality multi-touch interactive books that others can download, personalize, and distribute to their students. Without the first step of exposing them to the project, training them in the tools, and bringing them into the collaboration the movement would have not begun. We would have continued to create in isolation. However, the community is forming, the learning is beginning, the content is growing, the ideas are improving, the flywheel is starting to move. 

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Going First.

Daily I'm reminded of both the thrills and fears of going first. Mainly I see these extremes through the eyes of my children when they are either screaming "Me first!" or "Not me!" For example, when it's time to serve birthday cake and ice cream they're all too ready to receive the first piece ahead of their cousin whose birthday we're celebrating. However, when it comes to getting their haircut, fingernails clipped, or bath drawn they're all too willing to let their siblings go first. Funny how that works, but not unpredictable.

When reward or treat is bring offered we are all about it. At the same time when an event occurs that we don't see the immediate benefit in we are not so quick to sign up and will gladly let others go first to see what's in it for them, then make our decision to jump in. Likewise, when an opportunity presents itself that raises a bit of fear in us we're not creatures that readily select ourselves to go first, exposing our vulnerability and drawing upon our courage.

There is too much safety and comfort built in to remaining where we are. However, this may be the most dangerous of all places- to simply remain where you are. What if no one ever took that risk? What if no one ever led? What if no one ever chose to be vulnerable, courageous, the first?

Lead well today. Take risks today. Be first for selfless reasons today.

 photo via PD 

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