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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Breaking Down to Rebuild: Redefining the Innovative Classroom

Recently, I’ve been talking to other school districts about our iPad program and the process by which we began to integrate these devices. At each meeting, I’ve been avidly referring to the SAMR model, an innovation continuum developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. This model describes the various levels of your technology innovation: Substitution > Augmentation > Modification > Redefinition. Think of it as the Bloom’s Taxonomy of innovation. The highest level, redefinition, is of course our goal. However the question becomes – how does one redefine a classroom?
My next suggestion has been met with mixed reactions. I tell everyone that what we've realized seems so simple yet so scary at the same time: to rebuild, one must first do some demolition. By this I mean, you have to be willing to set aside, even discard, your previous understandings of what assessment, differentiation and instruction look like, sound like and feel like. You have to be willing to start over with the new building materials available: i.e., iPads. Instead of trying to insert iPads into an already-existing structure, you must start over and rebuild a structure that utilizes the iPads in the most effective way – to redefine the way your classroom functions.
To illustrate this, I show the following graphic I created explaining my understanding of SAMR. Note that the substitution bubble is the largest, yet still does not outweigh the redefinition bubble. This is meant to demonstrate that while you may create 10, 20 even 30 lessons on the substitution level, their sum effect on your students' learning can still be less than that of 1 lesson on the redefinition level. 
As an example I go back to my argument about apps.  Content apps, like Rocket Math or Math Ninja, while very engaging only address a handful (if not only a single) set of standards. Once your student has mastered that standard, they only serve as practice. Even then, data collection from these apps is limited and the level of student cognition is often low. Consider then, a creation app like ShowMe. This app can be used to address a wide range of standards from math to science to literacy - and will engage students at the highest level of Bloom's Taxonomy - creation. Relating this back to SAMR - the content apps are all substituting or augmenting pencil and paper learning. A creation app such as ShowMe is redefining teaching and learning. Thus one redefined lesson outweighing dozens of substitution or augmentation lessons.

While the concept may seem simple, the execution is anything but. Teachers need to be inspired, then supported, then supported some more. It is frightening to be risking not only your comfort, but your students' success on something you've never tried. I always recommend that school leaders begin by taking their teachers to visit schools who are doing this well- who have already made the journey through the SAMR model - or are currently doing so.

After your team has been inspired to take a sledgehammer to their proverbial classrooms and start anew, school leaders must be ready to help the teachers pick up the pieces and support them in rebuilding a new, more innovative classroom. Frequent and relevant professional development, release time to plan and fostering active learning communities are a few of the supports that have helped me to be successful in my first year of redefining my classroom.

While this may seem a daunting task no matter the hat you wear: district leader, school leader, coach, classroom teacher - consider the reward at the end of the day. Consider what redefining your classrooms will mean to the students who learn in them.


  1. You should try out the new app called TableTots. Teachers can work one on one with a student. They can work on math problems, coin counting, & 10-base blocks.

  2. you make some great points here. That last step is the hardest one and the most unsure.

  3. Very interesting article. As an elementary school technology teacher, the immersion of students using technology can not be accomplished correctly without the schema of the classroom changing too.

  4. sharing this with my teachers TODAY!! I love this. I've read this post several times and I still get something out of it each time I read it. Thanks Jennie!

  5. thanks for share.

  6. RE: the teeter totter comment Kelly, I think it refers to the less is more idea. Redefinition is a lot in a nutshell or the world can shrink so we can access knowledge from anywhere with less effort.