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?

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

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?

Becoming global citizens

What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens? That is the question posted this month to the Top Global Teacher Bloggers – a group I am honored to be a part of. This is my answer.

Global Citizenship students Becoming contributing global citizens

To develop children into global citizens, we must let go of the traditional view of school as the place were knowledge is loaded into kid’s brains –however inefficiently- and then pass them on to higher education -or society- to continue with yet another step in the process for mass-produced humanoids. Here are four ways to challenge this view.

You don’t need to know everything. Which is not the same as to say that you are fine knowing nothing. We all need core knowledge, and now in ever increasing areas (technology, government issues, human rights and ecology pop from the top of my head) – but the era in which those who knew the most were the best is rapidly wearing off. The same rationale applies for teachers. We are no longer (and really, we never were) the all-knowing gurus with all the right answers. Any over-confident teacher could be easily and embarrassingly defeated by a child with a device connected to internet. Even if you are an educator savant, there is just no way you can beat Google.

Critical thinking skills are, well, critical. In the age of information overload, the real challenge is to be able to unravel the true and valuable from the garbage and inaccurate. Let our school days be full of the “structured serendipity” that will foster creative and disciplined minds.

You need to grow a larger sense of belonging. How can you embrace the fascinating diversity of the world without neglecting your own culture? How can you expand your mind to accommodate different viewpoints and ideas, without compromising your values? Cognitive humility can liberate us from isolating, self-serving bias –but it doesn’t come naturally. We need to incorporate failure into the teaching equation –there is much to be learned when things don’t go your way. Tolerance and empathy flourish. Being wrong reminds us of our frail humanity – and being human is what unites us all.

Global citizenship kids

The right to share the world we live in comes with responsibility. There is no such a thing as a free ride for a true global citizen. Many of the world’s problems come from the arrogance of humans and their sense of entitlement. “I am the King of the Universe and everything should always come my way. I am better than the rest so I deserve more” If we came to understand how limited and minuscule we really are –and at the same time, how precious and valuable each life is- we could do a better job of taking care of our planet and its inhabitants.

Children’s most significant and enduring learning will come from observing the world and people around them. The first step to help them become global citizens is to make sure we are already on that road ourselves.

The Global Search for Education: Top Global Teacher Bloggers – What’s New On Social?

By C M Rubin

This post was originally published here.

2016-04-27-1461770339-1502221-cmrubinworldTopGlobalTeacherBloggersTechnologyMontage500.jpgOur world is interconnected. We no longer live in isolated communities. More than ever before we are part of a global community. The social media innovations making this connectivity easier with each day that passes are also being used to enhance learning.

Our Global Teacher Bloggers are pioneers and innovators in fields such as technology integration, mathematics coaching, special needs education, science instruction, and gender equity. They have founded schools, written curricula, and led classrooms in 13 different countries that stretch across every populated continent on earth. These teachers empower and enrich the lives of young people from nearly every background imaginable.

Today in The Global Search for Education, our Top Global Teacher Bloggers share their answers to this month’s question: What are the best examples you have seen of teachers using social media to enhance learning?

Maarit Rossi (@pathstomath) from Finland says her school has partnered with the YLE’s (Finnish Broadcasting Company) News Class. It’s all part of a media education project in which students learn about journalism “under the guidance of professional journalists.” Maarit explains it’s a win-win situation for all. Teachers are able to have access to great resources and students get real world media experience. As for YLE, they “get a new dimension to their operations, the young people’s perspective of the world’s phenomena.” Read More.

Your students are already caught in social media – so how do you compete for their attention? You don’t – just find them there! Elisa Guerra (@ElisaGuerraCruz) from Mexico does just that. One of her amazing projects: she teamed up with a music teacher in New York and many adventures later, live concerts were held miles from each other. Skype, FaceTime and LiveStream all played a role. “Our Concert was far from perfect, but our audiences exploded in applause….” Read More.

Referred by Todd Finley (@finleyt) is Gerard Dawson (@GerardDawson3) from New Jersey who highlights the ways Twitter can be used to build a culture of reading among teachers and staff as well as among students. One example: his school librarian Amy gave each teacher a sign for their doors on which to post the book they were currently reading along with the unique hashtag: #HHSReads. The hashtag has become a place for teachers to share and discuss their books. Twitter can also be used by students to share and recommend books. Read More.

Dana Narvaisa (@dana_narvaisa) recommends the perspectives of Oskars Kaulens (@Oskars_Kaulens) who discusses the benefits of blogging. Blogging motivates students to share their opinions on various topics. Blogs help develop writing skills and create online discussion. “They learn to be polite and be responsible for what they write online. My students have created culture diaries (online blogs) to write short references on cultural events they have attended.” Read More.

Global Poetry Unites is all over Twitter right now for National Poetry Month, and Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) from Camilla, Georgia points out “…classrooms are participating from everywhere! Just look at the hashtag #ClrPoem on Twitter and you’ll see lots of kids involved in the current challenge to write a poem using the color red.” Check this out plus 9 other cool things Vicki has seen educators doing. Read More.

Warren Sparrow’s (@wsparrowsa) school in South Africa has produced a learning platform for all students, which allows them to create their own social media accounts that the school can monitor, and to administer rights to the various learners. Students have the option to use either Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365. They have managed to use a single sign-on so that “the students do not have to worry about logging onto the one account and then having to log into a different account to change platforms.” Read More.

Miriam Mason-Sesay (@EducAidSL) based in Sierra Leone reminds us that not all schools around the world have the good fortune to be able to use social media in a classroom setting yet. “With so many schools both in urban and rural settings lacking even the most basic amenities: toilets, blackboards, enough exercise books etc., the means to get online and participate in the global conversation about anything is well out of reach of even the most committed educators.” So what did EducAid’s teachers do during the Ebola crisis to engage youngsters with their education while schools were shut? Read More.

Rashmi Kathuria (@rashkath), hailing from India, talks about the benefits of using closed Facebook groups to enhance learning. Students and teachers are able to “share important questions, post assignments, create discussions and share useful weblinks for learning a particular subject. Every year, I create a closed group with my students for doing the same.” Read More.

Blogger at Large Beth Holland (@brholland) recommends we check out Meghan Zigmond’s (@MeghanZigmond) blog. And Zigmond really likes Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud which connects classes through social media. “When a class participates they are invited to read books on a schedule, tweet their thinking, and even participate in chats on Twitter. Designated hashtags are an amazing way to facilitate this. Check out last year’s tag of #GRAAmy to see examples”. Read More.

Craig Kemp (@mrkempnz) highlights the value of Ed-Chats. Teachers are becoming more and more engaged in online chats through Social Media tools such as Twitter. During these online chat sessions, educators from all over the world can come together to discuss a topic, sharing resources, articles, links etc. “This learning gets transferred directly into their learning environments and spread to improve student learning opportunities.” Read More.

Nadia Lopez (@TheLopezEffect) shares the story of Julia DeCoteau, a 7th grade teacher at Mott Hall Bridges Academy who used social media to execute a non-fiction unit of study based on the book I am Malala. The book tells the story of Malala, the remarkable young woman who was nearly killed because she advocated for girls to have access to education in areas like Pakistan. Ms. DeCoteau believed her students would be able to empathize with Malala’s story “because of their own experiences with daily violence and lack of equity that exist in a poor community such as Brownsville, Brooklyn.” Just prior to beginning the unit, loss of funding impacted the purchasing of the Malala books and it was at this point that social media became an essential tool. Read More.

The Top Global Teacher Bloggers is a monthly series where educators across the globe offer experienced yet unique takes on today’s most important topics. CMRubinWorld utilizes the platform to propagate the voices of the most indispensable people of our learning institutions, teachers.

For more information.

2016-04-27-1461770496-930595-cmrubinworldtopglobalteacherbloggers_headshots5001.jpgTop Row, left to right: Adam Steiner, Santhi Karamcheti, Pauline Hawkins2nd Row: Elisa Guerra, Humaira Bachal, C. M. Rubin, Todd Finley,
Warren Sparrow
3rd Row: Nadia Lopez, Katherine Franco Cardernas, Craig Kemp,
Rashmi Kathuria, Maarit Rossi
Bottom Row: Dana Narvaisa, Richard Wells, Vicki Davis, Miriam Mason-Sesay(All photos are courtesy of CMRubinWorld)


Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.
The Global Search for Education Community Page

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld, and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.

Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: 

Follow Elisa Guerra on Twitter: 

Social Media in the Classroom: Tips and Ideas

Social Media in the Classroom: Tips and Ideas

Your students are already caught in social media – so how do you compete for their attention? You don’t – just find them there.

Social media is an area where I recognize myself as a learner. With so many new tools and trends coming out, I realize I might be behind the newest and latest, and even neglecting many amazing resources that have been out there for a while. That said, here are some ideas:

 Flip you classroom with YouTube. I designed social studies projects that could be completed almost independently by my 7th to 9th graders, produced videos with the content that I would have otherwise taught at school, uploaded them to YouTube, and searched for resources already in the web that I could use. I created documents in which I described each assignment and rubrics. Then I organized everything neatly on my school’s website (you could use your own blog as well).YouTube Webschool Filadelfia

At first, it was a lot of work. Producing and posting videos and lessons on top of my regular teaching schedule was tough. Then I made it part of their projects to have students actually do some of the teaching. Either individually or in teams, they produced and published videos as well. My workload decreased somehow, but most importantly, their learning increased substantially!

Now, the kids do a lot of video producing, -not just for my own classes anymore. And some students even have their own YouTube channels.

Facebook as a collaboration tool. I wanted a place where I could virtually and safely interact with my students, and where we could keep our conversations organized. Because I had made my flipped classrooms open to anyone, I created a Facebook page for content sharing, but also a closed Facebook group for our class. My students were already in Facebook on a daily basis, so our learning integrated with their lives seamlessly.

Tweet to reflect on learning. “The most important thing I learned today was…” Answer that in 140 characters. This is what I asked my students to do after each class. Their answers could be related to actual subject content, new or revised abilities, and personal insights. Use a classroom #hashtag to easily find what everyone else is saying and to engage in conversations.

Skype your music to the world. One of the most ambitious media projects I have ever embarked on was #ConcertIn2Countries, for which I teamed up with Melissa Morris, a music teacher in New York, The plan was to have our elementary school violin ensemble perform alongside Melissa’s high school musicians.Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 9.48.51 AM

After many rehearsals and substantial challenges, we held our two concerts miles away from each other. Then, at a set time, we used Skype, FaceTime and LiveStream to connect live – and the magic began. Our Concert was far from perfect, but our audiences exploded in applause.

Social media will not teach your lesson – it will enhance it. It will not change your curriculum or even make your subject more interesting (that’s our job, isn’t it?) But, it will bring content closer to your learners and make it easier and more appealing for them to engage.

And of course, we all want engaged learners, don’t we?