What, Why, & How of Instructional Technology: Our School’s Story

Using new technology just because it looks cool or because it makes you feel innovative is not enough. Culture, instruction, and the needs of students come first, technology comes after. At Ashland Elementary, we have worked tirelessly to research and try new technologies but to also quickly re-assess usage for students. I talk every day with my superstar Instructional Technology Coach Mr. Benware and the rest of our staff about what is best for students and teachers. Many times we discuss what we will not do along with what we will do next.

Our educational philosophies drive our implementation of technology.

  • We believe in our shared school vision of Kind, Creative, Hard-working, Safe, and Fun.
  • We believe that ALL students should have access and learn through the best technology available and that it shouldn’t be dependent on if we feel like doing it or not.
  • We believe that technology should give students a voice and build confidence.
  • We believe that students and teachers should be supported emotionally and physically when taking risks and being innovative.
  • We believe in our school motto of Together We Soar Higher and that we all have a role in sharing our school’s story and best practices.
  • We believe in using video for motivation, fun, and creating special moments.
  • We believe that instruction and content should drive implementation.

Because of the hard work of our school team, our students are performing higher than they ever have (state performance results above 90%) and our student engagement and leadership is better than it ever. This post is a summary of the many ways we implement these tools at Ashland. I hope this shows the great efforts put in by our staff and the positive effects those efforts have on our students! Maybe you will find a new strategy to take back to your school!


INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS and DOCUMENT CAMERAS are not new, but do you have them in EVERY room? Your reading, special education, ESOL, and gifted education teachers? What about counselors, music, art, conference room, and even your office? We do. This is a very important place to start if you don’t have this already.


It’s common to see students pushing the carts full of IPADS down the hallway to their classrooms. We have multiple classroom sets and teachers use an online shared calendar to check them out each day.


For instruction, practice, and assessments, we have THREE COMPUTER LABS in place for students. Similar to the Ipad carts, teachers use an online shared calendar to book these labs. Most of of our unit, diagnostic, and progress monitoring assessments are now online and these labs provide real-time performance data to adjust instruction. This is in addition to the handful of desktops or laptops in every classroom.



BEEBOTS and SPHEROS can be used for more than just fun. Our students learn CODING online starting in kindergarten through free websites like code.org so they can use the tools for content instruction and practice. Even our small groups for remediation are involved with this. What better way to review skills than to create excitement and fun which ultimately increase engagement of students most at-risk, such as our special education students, ESOL students, and students below grade level. Other tools like OSMOS are another way to ‘trick’ your students into reviewing basic skills while having a lot of fun.



We use AUGMENTED REALITY such as Aurasma to give students an interactive learning experience. Find the picture and see it come to life in a video!


Our students are learning to think in three dimensions using our DRONES. They are currently using measurement, geometry, and critical thinking to form shapes and words on the ground that the drones can capture from the air!

Even ASSESSMENTS themselves can be interesting and fun. We use online programs like Kahoot and Plickers to provide formative assessments and engaging review.



Our teachers created a grass-roots movement in creating their own VIDEOS FOR INSTRUCTION for their students, parents, and even staff. Some of these are made at home, some recorded while actually teaching students, and some are for the staff. For instance, our reading teachers recently made a piece about Dyslexia to help our teachers better understand how they can help with that disability. (see playlist of examples below)

We also capture examples of our school using instructional strategies. For instance, we have implemented Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures and the staff opened their classroom doors for each other by posting their pictures and videos on YouTube and Twitter.


One of our teachers started a motivational series called “Mr. Jacks and the Falcon” to give our students tips for doing their best on tests. The laughs behind the scenes with the teachers was almost as special as hearing the kids singing the theme song in class. We are currently making the 2nd edition this year and it’s going to be epic!

For a few years I led an edchat with discussions on new strategies through #PWCSedChat every Thursday night. Seeing so many teachers and administrators voluntarily connect at night just to professionally grow has been so invigorating.

I write BLOG POSTS like this post using WordPress to share insights into decisions and leadership called OnPointForKids.com. I highly recommend school leaders reflecting and sharing in this way. It has been on my more favorite uses of technology to grow my leadership skills.


For the third year in a row, we have teams going to the state and world competitions for VEX IQ ROBOTICS! Our “Falcon Bots” teams learn programming, teamwork, engineering, and problem-solving through building their bots. We also have teams for LEGO Mindstorms that reach our 3rd-5th graders.


It is vital that young students understand how the technological tools they use every day really work. This year we were the first elementary school to implement the VIRGINIA STAR PROGRAM! Our 3rd-5th grade students disassemble, clean, reassemble, wipe hard drives, and install new software to refurbish computers. These computers are donated to families in need for their homes. We are on track to refurbish and donate over 100 computers in our first year alone! What’s great about this is that ALL of our students in these grade levels, no matter their ability, disability, or background enjoy this program.


Our MUSICALS and CELEBRATIONS have used our technology to immerse viewers into the performances. We also use these for students during lunch for “Monday Motivation” which was initiated by one of our student leaders.


We even created a DIGITAL CHECK-IN process for signing into the building for visitors and signing out students for early dismissals. Not only does this set the tone of innovation, it provides us with a more accurate accounting for students and visitors. The typical scribbling on paper is usually very difficult to read for the office staff.


Our 5th graders this year were the first elementary school students to participate in the new THINKABIT LAB AT VIRGINIA TECH. Our students reflected on personal strengths and learned programming and engineering skills through a maker lab led by Virginia Tech professors.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As we started making more videos, we learned the power in brief and fun COMMERCIALS. Now our community and students regularly see these on morning announcements and social media! I made one to remind my students to wear appropriate winter clothing. The student Green Team made one to teach energy conservation. Our music teacher made one to teach concert etiquette. Even our school division recently got into the act and asked us to be the stars in their commercial! (see playlist below)

We change state testing from obligation into opportunity for our students. We create MUSIC VIDEOS to motivate our students. The entire staff gets involved! Last year, the video below had over 15,000 views on Facebook and other schools were using it in their assemblies!

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then videos are worth a thousand pictures! Videos help connect with others immensely more than just typed words or pictures. For the last three years, all of our staff have recorded and posted updated INTRODUCTION VIDEOS on our staff website. Our parents have given such positive feedback, especially those families that are moving across state lines and unsure about their next school. The students feel connected to their teacher before the year even starts! Click here for mine on our school webpage. Check out a few examples from our staff below.

Another way to connect with your families is to use social media and video to SHARE NEWS AND UPDATES FROM SCHOOL. We have used this for principal newsletters, student-led news, and segments from our student news show like “Games with Guests” where teachers compete live in front of the students.


We began to FLIP OUR BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHTS. If we shouldn’t give boring lectures to students during the day, then why do parents have to sit through that for Back to School Night every year? We began ‘flipping’ the learning so parents could have a consistent message from grade level team and have more time to actually meet and talk with their classroom teacher.

Our students use GREEN SCREENS in group projects to turn typical review into exciting moments. Below is an example of one student interviewing “George Washington” from Mt. Vernon




Share best practices, share your school story, and learn from each other using social media. Our administrators, teachers, parents, and now students post to our SCHOOL HASHTAG #AshlandSOAR every day. It’s a great way to learn how amazing your school is and let parents jump into the action! Three years ago we piloted opening up Twitter and Facebook in the school for Prince William County Schools and now every school is open to these tools based on our successes. We have it proudly displayed for all visitors when they walk in the door along with a video of our school.


Our team has been invited now to many schools to provide their staff with SOCIAL MEDIA WORKSHOPS on how to do this themselves! The passion for this is contagious.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Our student news team capture great moments and post them to Facebook and Twitter. I started a Social Media Student Internship Program to teach students one at a time to  learn how to be positive and professional when using social media. Each of them have their own hashtag, such as “#AshlandIntern8” and a checklist of challenges they have to meet.


Just about every day we highlight our students by calling home and tweeting out selfies with a #GOODNEWSALLOFTHEDAY from school! Parents love sharing these selfies posted on Facebook and Twitter. Click here for a Twitter search of #ashlandsoar & #goodnewscalloftheday.


Celebrating and SHARING AMAZING MOMENTS help to show what your school culture is all about! One example is a surprise visit from a military dad that just got back from being deployed. Not only was it amazing for that family and our school, so many others shared that video and appreciated the support for military families. It received over 55,000 views, 913 likes, and 128 likes on Facebook and over 9,000 views on YouTube.

Our students create and run their own school stories every day. Our 5th grade STUDENT NEWS TEAM lead a state of the art news show in the style of Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show using multiple cameras that toggle live between them for the best angles, teleprompters, news anchors, and even run audio/visual from the production board. They literally can come in without relying on staff to invite adult guests, start the programs, and run the show independently. Mr. Benware works with the students directly to develop their skills from the first day of school! I’m usually a guest every day and it is so exciting to see our students in charge and how that has developed their leadership and confidence.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I’m so excited to be rolling out 1:1 TABLETS for all of our students and teachers this year! We have been discussing this for a long time, but the price points were not feasible. Now with Kindle Fires being so inexpensive, we are going for it! For a school as large as ours with almost 900 students, it’s not easy, but we are determined to provide every opportunity for our teachers and students as we can! Our staff meetings and classrooms have become much more innovative!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We need to dive into our sets of Makey Makey kits. We have been using the Snap Circuits but Makey Makey provides a higher level of hands-on with coding and engineering. Also, virtual reality is a new option for students to explore the world around them. Working with the 1:1 tablets will also bring a new reality to our instructional technology in the future.


  • Leaders must model and regularly use these technologies if they want others to do the same.
  • Leaders must stay on point with new innovations and take risks on using these. Just be careful to not go too far without re-assessing the value and implementation.
  • One thing we could do better is to provide more systematic professional development and follow through. Teachers deserve as much support as you can provide with new technologies.

Thank you to my #principalsinaction friends and all of those instructional technology leaders out there that have influenced our school’s journey! We are better when we share and learn together! I can’t wait to see where our story takes us next!