The good, the bad and the best in EdTech tools for learning

These are amazing times for being a teacher. Our classrooms are no longer constrained to chalk or paper, our lessons no longer imprisoned in textbooks. Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes passion and initiative, and along with the challenges come the exhilarating opportunities.

EdTech tools have literally exploded everywhere, so it would be impossible or at least impractical to list them all. However, here are some that we have tried at our school: the good, the bad, and the best.

The good

Edmodo – An effective social edu-platform that keeps us connected and organized

YouTube – Used it to flip the classroom

Duolingo– perfect for learning languages

Prezi – A way for both teachers and students to create engaging presentations

MakeyMakey – Maker kits that were a great addition to our MakerSpace


The bad

I really can’t mention any “bad” technologies. Yes, there were some we tried and eventually were not very excited about – but we realize that the very same tools could work wonders in other contexts. However, I must say I feel cautious about “one size fits all” EdTech classroom solutions – the kind that some companies try to push into schools. They offer you the skies of technological innovation –usually at a high cost- and promise you “effortless” integration. Materials are pre-done and ready to administer in the rented equipment. Two things worry me about these apparently brilliant solutions: One, with technology in the classroom, there is no such thing as effortless integration, ever. And if it is, then no one is really learning, at least as much as they could. We all need to stumble a little here and there to find a good match for our very diverse needs and interests – and those of our students’. Second, when you invest that much in something, you feel compelled to use it, even if it turns to be not what you expected. Out of economic guilt, you commit to your provider’s tech ideas, extinguishing your own.

Teachers and students should have the freedom to explore what works and what doesn’t in their unique environments. You can achieve the skies those companies offered you – and you don’t need to shed so much cash. Yes, you will work more, but the outcomes can be equal or larger.

Legos, cardboard and creativity play along with technology to create a stop motion animation movie

The best

These are the tools that have totally rocked our classrooms!

  1. Skype – we use it widely for connecting with schools around the globe, having virtual fieldtrips and inviting guest speakers to our classrooms. It’s easy to find partners in Microsoft Educator Community.
  2. Stop Motion Studio Creativity unleashed! My students created stop motion animation movies in a wide variety of themes- then we had a red-carpet premiere!
  3. Weebly – Easy and fun way to learn how to create websites and blogs. You can manage your students’ assignments from your educator profile.
  4. Paths to math: Created by fellow Top Global Teacher Blogger Maarit Rosi, it’s math teaching at its best. Students engage in real life problems to be solved – while having fun!
  5. PowToon – My kids absolutely love the animated videos you can create with this tool. Here is one example.

I am fully aware that there are so many more tools out there – and oh, we are so ready to welcome 2018 playing around with some of them!


As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?

Normalizing Struggle: Building our better self

Her fists were clenched. She tried to tame the tears that were so close from storming out. Maybe disguising her anguish as indifference would do the trick.

It didn’t.

She was staring at her unfinished work, drowning at the task at hand. What the task was doesn’t matter. How she felt does.

– “I just can’t do this” – she whispered to me as I approached her desk. “It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough”

– “Nobody gets it perfect the first time”, I said. But it did not convince her.

– “Oh, yes they do. Most of them. Just not me. I don’t want to do this anymore”

What was she afraid of? You name it. The giggles. The shame. The flunk. Maybe the biggest fear was to face, once more, the perceived confirmation that she was not good enough. Failure is painful, and we naturally reject what hurts.

How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

You have not failed until you give up

The first step in preserving a risk-taking mentality in our students is to take the “failure” out of the “struggle”. The world’s greatest scientists, inventors and artists reached the skies after years of sustained effort. However, they have been romanticized by history and media as born-that-way geniuses. The truth is, every child has the seed of genius within – dedication and hard work is what eventually will make them fly.

A supportive environment to thrive

You would not jump into the void without some sort of a safety net: that is called calculated risk. Our students will weigh in the possible outcomes for being daring and bold in their academic pursuits. If there is a big chance that they will fall prey to ridicule, most likely they will not go for it. Let’s promote a supportive school environment that values trying as well as achieving, and process as well as results.

We should also recognize and even cherish our own struggles: If, instead, we run away and hide them from our students, we are strengthening the idea that struggling is a shameful deviation from achievement, instead of a powerful opportunity for growth.

Yidan Prize winner Carol Dweck has extensive research showing that intelligent people are not just born smart: kids can identify their current achievements and then work towards improving, actually getting smarter.

When you teach about the great characters from history, science and art, be sure to portray the whole stories: the pains as well as the gains, the human side entwined with the brilliance, the challenges along with the glory.

It’s not about minimizing struggle, it’s about normalizing it. When we take failure out of the equation and embrace struggling as part of the journey, learning becomes again the joyous, stimulating gift it was always meant to be.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

El currículo que se cambia a sí mismo

Más o menos cada diez años se publica un nuevo plan de estudios para la educación básica en mi país, México. Por lo general, el documento, cientos de páginas de largo, se anuncia con gran fanfarria.

Es difícil, si no imposible, mantenerse al día con el ritmo acelerado del mundo de hoy. Desafortunadamente, incluso antes de que se seque la tinta del más nuevo currículo, éste pudiera ya ser irrelevante, estar desactualizado, o ambos.

Si tuviera el improbable poder de crear el plan de estudios para las escuelas de educación básica, trataría de diseñar el currículo que se cambia a sí mismo.

Los currículos que he conocido están completamente secuenciados, son lineales y en su mayoría fijos. Hay muy poco espacio, si es que hay alguno, para tomar emocionantes desvíos hacia los intereses del estudiante.

Mi plan de estudios se basaría en “proyectos de pasión” dirigidos a adquirir conocimientos y habilidades, pero también a descubrir cualquier cosa que dispare el corazón de un alumno. Iluminar la mente iría de la mano con acariciar el espíritu. Cada niño o adolescente tendría la libertad y la responsabilidad de elegir su propio camino educativo. Los proyectos de pasión les darían los fundamentos, desde el lenguaje hasta las matemáticas, pasando por las artes y las ciencias, y los incitaría a venir por más. En vez de una escalera lineal, veríamos una red caprichosa con muchas líneas, diferentes para cada estudiante o, por lo menos, para cada grupo, guiados por el docente. Todo comenzaría en el centro, el núcleo de la telaraña, y avanzaría hacia fuera en muchas direcciones, incluso tomando giros y dando saltos.

El currículo sería enorme, pero sólo para acomodar la diversidad de los intereses de los estudiantes. No se esperaría, de nadie, cubrirlo todo. Uno podría fácilmente profundizar en un tema que le susurró al oído, y pasar por los que no lo hicieron de una manera más superficial.

Cuatro elementos básicos guiarían el flujo, pero no deberían confundirse con “materias”: Tecnología, Ciudadanía Global, Habilidades del Pensamiento y Lectura.

La tecnología sería la plataforma, el cohete que hace despegar al contenido. No sería el profesor ni el contenido mismo. La tecnología – incluso la gran tecnología – no reemplazará a los maestros, buenos o malos. Pero sin duda cambiará la forma en que enseñamos. La tecnología daría al currículo la habilidad de actualizarse con facilidad y transformase para cada niño. Además, pondría a disposición de maestros y alumnos el enorme acervo de recursos en el ciberespacio, orientándolos hacia el contenido pertinente y relevante de acuerdo a sus intereses. El currículo también daría la pauta para que los mismos estudiantes y maestros desarrollaran contenidos paralelos y los integraran a esta gran nebulosa, contribuyendo con su granito de “polvo cósmico”.

A medida que continuamos evolucionando hacia una especie de escuela mundial, la ciudadanía global es una necesidad para guiar a nuestros estudiantes por los vericuetos de la sociedad hiperconectada y multiexigente en la que ya estamos inmersos. La tolerancia religiosa, la igualdad de género, la inclusión, el respeto a la diversidad, el uso responsable de nuestros recursos y sí, el conocimiento y atención de los problemas más apremiantes del mundo -tanto globales como locales- son mucho más importantes que, digamos, memorizar la fecha en la que Colón llegó a América (un dato que muy fácilmente nos puede dar el Dr. Google).

Esto nos lleva a las habilidades de pensamiento crítico. El conocimiento sigue siendo extremadamente importante – pero junto con él, la capacidad de diferenciar lo veraz de lo inexacto. Google, ciertamente, tiene todas las respuestas: incluyendo muchas erróneas o sesgadas. No necesitamos saberlo todo, pero debemos saber dónde y cómo encontrar la información fiable que requerimos – y qué hacer con ella.

Mañana, los niños tendrán que reinventarse constantemente para mantenerse al día con los desafíos de esta cuarta revolución industrial. Por ello, hay una gran demanda de autodidactas. Si queremos personas que aprendan de por vida, necesitamos lectores de por vida. Nuestros sistemas escolares han tenido cierto éxito en el desarrollo de personas que pueden leer, pero no en desarrollar lectores. Hay algo completamente equivocado en esto – y necesitamos encontrar soluciones ahora.

¿Es este supuesto currículo una utopía? Bien podría serlo.

Pero bueno, yo

sólo soy una maestra.

Too poor to be bright?

He has not yet started school, but he is already behind. Barely six, he is still somewhat unaware of the many injustices to be faced in the world –many of them, hurting him directly.

One of the first injustices, at school, is that he is not up to speed with the other first graders. And, you know, it is not because he’s not smart. He is. But learning is nearly impossible when you are hungry or sick, and vey difficult when the environment is preventing you from reaching your potential. However, the world will see this child as stupid or lazy. That is the second injustice. The third one is that he will believe them.

In the first years of life, children’s brains develop furiously. A shortage of nutrients –for the body, the mind and the soul- can very likely impact the learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. Failing then is not due to lack of intelligence – but for lack of resources. And it is, also, because the school that should embrace our little boy is actually expecting him to fail.

Solving poverty is not the prerogative of educators. There are things we just can’t change. But there are many, many others we can.

First, let’s start with your classroom. It should provide all children with an environment rich in stimuli and opportunity. And when we say rich, we mean exuberantly opulent. Lots of books, plenty of experiences to nourish and satisfy a child’s curiosity. Even Spartan premises can accommodate powerful learning environments. You don’t need fancy equipment or luxurious facilities. The way you talk, the words you speak, the warmth in your voice, your enthusiasm and creativity are key. Add as many exciting and nurturing happenings as you can. Make your classroom a window to the world.

Secondly, beware of your expectations. If you are convinced, even before they had a chance to prove you wrong, that these children will fail, most likely, they will. And then you will become part of the problem. Don’t pity your disadvantaged students. Believe in them, and teach them the power of hard work and determination. Share stories of successful people that overcame great hardship. Don’t assume you know what they are going through because, most likely, you don’t.

Also, get involved in local community actions to end poverty and hunger. Inspire your students, of all backgrounds, to be compassionate and caring. Teach them not to let their minds fall prey of prejudice. Every child bears the seed of genius within, and disadvantaged children are not too poor to be bright – they are too precious to be lost.


As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What Can Schools Do to Address Poverty? How do we instill inspiration in those who are economically and socially disadvantaged?

The curriculum that changes itself

Every ten years or so, a new curriculum for basic education is published in my country, México. Usually, the document, hundreds of pages long, is announced with great fanfare.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up with the pace of our world nowadays. Unfortunately, even before the ink of the newest curriculum dries, it is already outdated, irrelevant, or both.

If I had the unlikely power to change the school curriculum, I would try to design the curriculum that changes itself.

The curriculums I have known are completely sequenced, lineal and mostly fixed. There is very little room, if any, to take exciting detours towards student’s interests.

My curriculum would be based on passion projects, aimed at gaining knowledge and abilities, but also at discovering whatever fires a student’s heart. Enlightening the mind would be hand in hand with caressing the spirit. Each child or teenager would have the liberty and responsibility of choosing his or her own educational path. The passion projects would give them the basics of many subjects, from reading to math to arts to science, and tease them to come get more. Instead of the lineal ladder, we would see a capricious web with many lines, different for each student. All would start at the center, the core of the web, but move outwards in many directions, even taking jumps and turns.

The curriculum would be huge, but only to accommodate the diversity of student’s interests. It would not be expected from anyone to cover it whole. You could easily go in depth to a subject that called you and cover the ones which did not in a more superficial way.

Four core elements would guide the flow, but they are not to be confused with “subjects”: Technology, Global Citizenship, Thinking Skills and Reading.

Technology would be the platform, the rocket that carries content. It would not be the teacher or the content itself. Technology – even great technology – will not replace teachers, good or bad. But it will certainly change the way we teach.

As we continue to evolve into a kind of worldwide school, Global Citizenship is a must to guide our students into the hyper connected and multi demanding society we are already immersed in. Religious tolerance, gender equality, inclusion, respect for diversity, responsible use of our resources, and yes, knowledge and caring about the world’s most pressing problems –both global and local- are far more important than, say, memorize the date in which Columbus arrived to America (something Dr. Google could easily drop in).

That brings us to critical thinking skills. Knowledge remains being very important – but along with it, the ability to tell the truthful from the inaccurate. Google indeed has all the answers: including many wrong or biased ones. You don’t need to know everything, but you must know where and how to find the reliable information you need.

Tomorrow, children will have to constantly reinvent themselves to keep up with the challenges of this fourth industrial revolution. Therefore, autodidacts are in demand. If you want lifelong learners, you need lifelong readers. Our school systems have been somewhat successful in developing people that can read – but not into developing readers. There is something completely wrong about that – and we need to find solutions now.

Is this proposed curriculum a utopia? It might well be.

But hey, I’m just a teacher.


As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st century world?  If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?


Photo credits:

Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: attaphong / 123RF Stock Photo

The 5 things I wish every parent knew

I became a teacher by accident. When Leo, my first child, was born, my journey as an educator began. I wanted to teach my baby about the everyday miracles of nature, the poetry of simple words, the exhilaration of music… and instill on him a lifelong love of learning.

Parents are the first -and most influential- teachers for their own children. In fact, the most important factors for academic achievement, and even life success, are early home environment and parental involvement.

What you do today will have a profound impact in your child’s whole life. No other responsibility will be as large or important as becoming the best possible parent.

Here are five things I wish every parent knew.

First years are crucial. Much of what our children need to lead successful lives is established even before they enter kindergarten. A kind, nurturing environment that provides ample stimulation and opportunities for development, as well as proper nutrition, adequate health care and warm, loving relationships with caregivers are vital. Play with your child. Read with her. Sit him on your lap and talk about the wonders of life and love. Offer her your warm embrace as a safe haven for adventure and discovery.

High expectations create high achievers. And we are not precisely talking about pressure here. On the contrary, parents who believe in their children’s potential have no need to push, but to engage. They provide encouragement, coaching and support. Every single child has the seed of genius within.

Want bright kids? Educate yourself. Research has shown that parents with higher levels of education correlate with kids’ better academic performance. It’s not just that educated parents can reach higher socioeconomic status –also a factor for school achievement- but they usually read more, use more sophisticated language and have more positive parental interactions –thus creating quality learning environments at home.

Parents and teachers: we are all on this together. That’s right: we are on the same team. Sometimes it doesn’t look like, I know. There is an unspoken, competitive jerk among us. We feel like parents don’t respect teachers enough. And parents feel like we want to dump on them the blame for everything that does not go well. We bully each other… children get caught in between and that is not fair. So let’s shake hands and, once and for all, make peace. Kids deserve the best version of ourselves.

Dream big and work hard. Become the source of inspiration your child needs. If you are willing to pursue your dreams with dedication and purpose, chances are your child will do exactly the same.

Mom and child running

My youngest son runs his first Triathlon- with mom trying to keep up the pace. Parents are the best teachers, trainers and coaches for their own children.



As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: What are the top things you want to tell all parents?

Exploring Genius Time in Schools

According to Fortune 100, Google is #1 in the list of best companies to work for – six years in a row. There are surely many reasons for this, and one of them might just be Genius hour.

If you were an engineer at Google, you could use 20% of your working time developing a project of your own interest –something you think could benefit the company- freely and independently. Creativity and innovation flourish when people are allowed to focus on their passions within work, and many successful Google products reportedly have been created during this time.

Could Google’s model be applied in schools? And if so, how?

For many years now, we have been implementing what we call “Enrichment Cloisters” at our school. It is not exactly Google’s Genius Hour – but the concept is similar and has proven to be effective in promoting creativity and motivation with our kids.

How does it work?

Every year, we set apart one full week in our school calendar, where regular classes will simply not take place. Instead, kids will work on a project of their choosing – within a range of options. Early in the school year, we poll the students to find about their interests: What would you like to learn about this year? What would you like to build, create or develop? What are you passionate about?

We use this information to design 8 to 10 different workshops or “cloisters”. The topics are chosen taking into account as much of the student’s input as we possible can. Teachers then choose which workshop will they mentor, moved by their own expertise or learning interests. We enlist parents as resources and co-mentors.

A crew from Al Jazeera filmed one of our cloisters -carpentry-  as part of their documentary on our school (Rebel Education Series)

We then publish the topics for the workshops and allow students to register to whichever cloister they like. There is no age or gender limitation. Boys and girls of all grades, 1st to 9th, share their working space for one week. We have covered topics such as carpentry, medicine, photography, architecture, radio, film and television, veterinary, ecology, magazine editing, restaurant entrepreneurship, science and technology, among many others.

At the end of the week we host an exhibition of products. Some of them are already complete, others represent an invitation for further development. There are both independent and collaborative outcomes of the experience. Kids report that this is their favorite week of the year.

A group of kids working on stop motion animation

Of course there are challenges. The only reason we do not host the cloisters twice a year or even more is time constraints. It is difficult enough to give up one week of regular lessons and still meet the curriculum. And surely, we would love to be able to offer even more cloister options –but hey, we are a small school with limited resources.

There are absolutely no grades at this “genius time”. And really, who needs them? Enthusiasm is so high you could use kids’ energy to light up a city.

Every child bears the seed of genius within. And one of the greatest joys for educators is providing the time and environment for it to gloriously emerge.


As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How could Google’s “Genius hour” model be modified and utilized in schools?