Friday, March 10, 2017

What is the SAMR model and why should I reference it in my teaching?

Yay acronyms!

Actually, I can't stand acronyms. They are the intellectual equivalent to "What do you mean you don't know who Mark Zuckerberg is?" This snobbish notion that "everyone who is anyone knows what PBIS stands for" and the lethargic statement of "it's just easier to say it this way" are equally infuriating to me. This practice also can create barriers between new educators and "established" educators, as well as leaders and team members. But, now I am ranting...back on topic in 3...2...1.

So, let's talk about the SAMR (pronounced SAMMER) model, or the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition model! Before becoming an Educational Technology Coach, I had no idea what this was. But after doing some research on this model, hearing about this model from its creator Dr. Ruben Puentedura, and hearing some perspectives from colleagues in the technology education community, I am really excited about how it can change the way technology is used in the classroom.

This model is designed to help teachers consider how technology is being used in their classroom and classifying each activity by a particular word; either Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition. The end goal is simple: improving student outcomes through increasing understanding and application of concepts. Take a look at one of my favorite illustrations of this model below.

  image courtesy of and @Sylvia Duckworth 

I love the analogy of ocean exploration in comparison to technology. The important thing to remember, as we reference this work as teachers, is that just like the ocean, there are progressively deeper experiences to expect from every level. You are unlikely to see a deep sea fish that has transparent skin while rowing your boat close to the shoreline. This analogy applies to student outcomes. The depth of student knowledge increases with each level, with the end goal that students are able to think like a historian, mathematician, scientist, and so on. And at the same time, there are certain activities that work perfectly well in the "Enhancement" levels, so thoughtful implementation is key to this process. 

With that thought, let's "dive" (pun intended) into each category within the context of one assignment. The assignment begins with a traditional essay assignment. Originally this assignment is to compare and contrast two similar topics within your content area (ie. dystopian literature vs. real world oppressive cultures/societies, Chicago Blues vs. Memphis Blues, balancing equations vs chemical formulas, etc.). Regardless of the content, here is how you would enhance it using these categories:

1. Substitution- Instead of having the students hand write their essay, students would use a word processor. This category is a direct tool replacement. Instead of a pencil and paper, you use a tool like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. This would work the same way if you were having students within a classroom present a PowerPoint or a Google Slides Presentation instead of a presentation with hard copies of pictures or an easel with printed visual aids for structure and charts. 

2. Augmentation- In this step, you would use a tool like Google Docs with the student sharing their working document with the teacher. The teacher and student are able to provide comments and chat about the essay digitally, being able to highlight specific sentences or sections to clearly discuss specific grammar and content. This category is using a tool that provides functional improvement to the processes, such as providing easier communication, simpler assigning/returning work, or other useful functions that make the processes easier in the classroom.

3. Modification- Here is where the activities start their metamorphosis into something different. These categories can not take place without the use of technology. As an example, the essay now is published to a class blog, where other students comment on the content within the blog outside of the school day or with another section of the class. The student could also find an expert to interview to gain perspective on one of the topics with video conferencing.

4. Redefinition- In this category, the assignment has the same goal of student understanding of content, but using an alternative means to demonstrate that knowledge or a way of applying that knowledge to real life situations. This can also be a way to use technology to take the understanding and share it with the world. In this example, the students would create a video that demonstrates the student's understanding of the similarities and differences between the two topics. This could also be shared online through YouTube, Google Hangouts with another student across the country or globe, and sharing a link to the essay/video that sparks a discussion using a particular hashtag on Twitter. These are all ways to extend the learning and experience of learning outside of the classroom using the technology that we have at our fingertips. For more redefinition ideas, visit this blog.

If you are having difficulty determining the category your activity fits into, that's okay. Mark Anderson, a world renowned keynote speaker, educator, and advocate for "purposeful use of technology linked to pedagogy", has created a wonderful flowchart that can help guide the thought process of both assessing current technology usage as well as devising activities targeted at reaching a specific level of the model. (ICTEvangelist. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2017, from

Also, for a firsthand look at SAMR model from the perspective of its creator, watch the videos below to enhance your understanding of this model.

How to Apply the SAMR Model

An In-Depth SAMR Explanation (First 11 minutes introduces SAMR, the rest is great too if you have time)