A SAMR deep dive: Deconstructing SAMR with examples

Technology can help us do things in the classroom that were previously inconceivable. Here, we examine two activities through the lens of the SAMR model. (Flickr / US Department of Education)

Technology can help us do things in the classroom that were previously inconceivable. Here, we examine two activities through the lens of the SAMR model. (Flickr / US Department of Education)

When I first learned of the SAMR tech integration model, it was like fireworks went off in the background.

I was at a technology conference. I had been using technology in the classroom for a few years but had no framework for implementing it well.

SAMR opened my eyes to the meaningful, intentional use of technology. The concept, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, allows teachers to identify their integration in four categories:

  • Substitution: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change
  • Augmentation: Tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement
  • Modification: Tech allows for significant task redesign
  • Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable

After seeing it, I wrote a post about what SAMR is, referring to it as a ladder. Later, I gave SAMR a second thought and realized it’s not as simple as climbing a ladder. My most recent post about SAMR offers 10 ways to reach SAMR’s redefinition level, where learning ideas are new, created by the unique abilities of the technology.

What’s hard about SAMR for many who learn about it is seeing an activity progress through all four levels. That process can help them see SAMR for what it is and help them own it to improve their own teaching.

With that in mind, Noah Geisel — the 2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year — and I chatted recently about SAMR. We took two classroom activities — a virtual cultural exchange and annotating articles online with Diigo — through all the SAMR steps. 

You can see our Google Hangout conversation in the video below:

The idea was inspired by this great post, “Putting Activities Through the SAMR Exercise,” by Siliva Tolisano of the Langwitches blog.

The two classroom activities follow, but one takeaway that Noah and I both had is worth mentioning first. We’ve noticed that many teachers — ourselves included — have been nervous to talk about how and where we categorize activities on the SAMR framework. We’re just like our students — afraid to get the wrong answer and to be discovered in the wrong!

What SAMR is really about, though, is finding ways to make learning deeper and more relevant in the classroom. As Noah said, there’s room for subjectivity. There’s not always a single SAMR classification, and one person’s “modification” may be another person’s “redefinition.”

As with many things in education, the discussion process is key and can open your eyes and improve your instruction. (In fact, Noah opened my eyes to how one of my “redefinition” activities might only be at modification and how it could go deeper. It was a great learning experience for me!)

ACTIVITY 1 — Virtual cultural exchange

Summary: Students from different countries meet weekly on a video chat service like Skype or Google Hangouts. They take turns conversing in each other’s native languages, offering suggestions for improvement. Later, they write each other questions and answer them in the different languages.

Substitution: The basic idea of this activity is a conversation — exchanging ideas. That process, when done with a direct tech substitute with no functional improvement, could be a basic phone call (only voices) or traditional pen pals.

Augmentation: The simple exchanging of ideas could be augmented — a tech substitute with some functional improvement — by adding video chat. In this scenario, students can see each other’s facial expressions and unspoken cues, as well as interpret context clues. With pen pals, it could be improved with real-time communication in a shared Google Document.

Modification: To allow for significant task redesign, which the modification level requires, students could send questions back and forth to each other in a shared Google Document and discuss them in a video chat. That unique combination of suggestions and revisions in real time wouldn’t be possible by with sending letter or making a phone call. In this case, we have changed the task completely.

Redefinition: By adding a social media element — students becoming Facebook friends and staying in touch with each other frequently and long-term — the task becomes something that was previously inconceivable.

When discussing this virtual cultural exchange, Noah and I noted that the toughest jump in SAMR is from augmentation to modification. In substitution and augmentation, teachers are often plugging technology into activities they already do. Going to modification and redefinition often requires reinventing tasks completely, which is really hard.

ACTIVITY 2 — Diigo bookmarking

Summary: Students find and view articles online. Diigo allows them to make notes on the articles, highlight important passages and share commentary as if they were in a chat room, all from the article. They can share these articles and annotations with anyone online.

Substitution: The core idea of this task is highlighting and making notes on an article. Adding technology without changing the task would be to annotate on the article using a word processor. Students could simply add bookmarks using an online service like Diigo to reach substitution as well.

Augmentation: Augmentation adds some “functional improvement” and take the activity to the next level. In this bookmarking activity, students could move their word processor document to a Google Document and share it with others. When using Diigo, they could add tags to their articles to make finding them easier.

Modification: To create “significant task redesign,” students would go beyond just highlighting. They could engage in commentary within the article, creating a digital conversation they could never do before. They could also reach modification by accessing bookmarks from home while sick to stay with the conversation.

Redefinition: This task could be completely redefined by sharing these digital Diigo conversations with people all over the world. Students would be exposed to their unique cultural viewpoints and experiences, giving them a wider world view.

As I mentioned earlier, SAMR is just a tool to help teachers examine their technology usage. It’s not a multiple-choice test where there’s one right or wrong answer. I hope that you’ll use it as that — a conversation starter.

Question: What do you think of the SAMR classifications Noah and I did? On what points do you agree or disagree? How is your classification different? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Western Wayne (Ind.) Schools Pershing, IN
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Monroe #1 BOCES (New York) Fairport, N.Y.
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Caesar Rodney School District Camden, DE
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Paoli Community School Corporation Paoli, IN
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Paoli, IN
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09:00-09:45 a.m.
Pacific Northwest Apprenticeship Education Conference Portland, OR
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PowerED Up Conference Leopold, IN
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Making a Splash with Digital Learning Conference Batesville, IN
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626 N. Huntersville Road
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Summer Spark (Wisconsin) Milwaukee, WI
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REMAST Conference (South Dakota) Brookings, S.D.
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+ 06/20/2016
Indianapolis Sister Cities Int'l Conference Indianapolis, IN
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7525 W. 21st St.
Indianapolis, IN 46214
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Western North Dakota ESA Dickinson, ND
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+ 06/26/2016—06/29/2016
ISTE Conference Denver, CO
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700 14th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Public Event
+ 07/12/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
MSD of Martinsville Martinsville, IN
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+ 07/13/2016—07/14/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Pulaski County Special School District Little Rock, AR
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+ 07/18/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Sheridan/Hamilton Heights Sheridan, IN
   Public Event
+ 07/19/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Launching INquiry Fishers, IN
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Fishers, IN 46038
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+ 07/20/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Blended Learning Summit Salina, KS
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605 E. Crawford
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+ 07/21/2016
08:30-04:00 p.m.
iPadpaloozaEastTX Longview, TX
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Longview, TX 75604
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+ 07/22/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Tyler ISD Tyler, TX
  Sponsor:Tyler ISD 
+ 07/25/2016—07/26/2016
E3 Technology Conference Warsaw, IN
  Venue:Warsaw High School
1 Tiger Lane
Warsaw, IN 46580
(574) 371-5098
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+ 08/01/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Catholic High School New Iberia, LA
  Sponsor:Catholic High SchoolPrivate Event
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1301 de La Salle Drive
New Iberia, LA 70560
+ 08/05/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Fort Wayne Lutheran Schools Partnership Fort Wayne, IN
  Sponsor:Fort Wayne Lutheran Schools PartnershipPrivate Event
+ 08/09/2016
Southwest School Corporation Sullivan, IN
  Venue:Southwest School Corporation
110 North Main Street
Sullivan, IN 47882
(812) 268-6311
Private Event
+ 08/11/2016
Groesbeck ISD Tech Conference Groesbeck, TX
  Keynote:Ditch That Textbook!Private Event
Venue:Groesbeck Independent School District
1202 N. Ellis
Groesbeck, TX 76642
(254) 729-4100
+ 08/15/2016
Beggs Public Schools Beggs, OK
  Venue:Beggs Public Schools
1201 West 9th
Beggs, OK 74421
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+ 08/16/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Etoile ISD Etoile, TX
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+ 08/17/2016
8:00-3:00 pm
Tech Academy  
   Private Event
+ 08/22/2016—08/23/2016
West Central School District Hartford, SD
  Venue:West Central School District
705 E. 2nd St.
Hartford, SD 57033
(605) 528-3217
Private Event
+ 08/24/2016
8:00am-3:00pm
Walled Lake Consolidated School District  
   Public Event
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Hillsboro School District Hillsboro, OR
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+ 08/29/2016
8:00am-3:00pm
Service Learning School District Detroit, MI
  Sponsor:Service Learning School District 
+ 09/16/2016
New Prairie High School New Carlisle, IN
  Venue:New Praire High School
New Carlisle, IN
Private Event
+ 09/19/2016
Big Walnut Local Schools Sunbury, OH
  Workshop:The Digital PIRATE: Tech Like a PIRATEPrivate Event
Venue:Big Walnut Local Schools
36 Harrison St
Sunbury, OH 43074
(740) 965-3205
+ 09/20/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
NH Best Practices in Curriculum, Assessment and Assessment Conference Concord, NH
  Sponsor:New Hampshire School Administrators AssociationPublic Event
Venue:Grappone Conference Center
Concord, NH
+ 10/12/2016—10/13/2016
Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency Betterdorf, IA
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7 thoughts on “A SAMR deep dive: Deconstructing SAMR with examples

  1. Because out focus or goal is effective student learning, technology should indeed support that goal (as contrasted with seeking to utilize technology as a goal itself). I see the substitution-augmentation pair as seeking to add technology to change the sharing or saving mode; it is worth something to add different options for sharing (mostly speeding the transfer) as well to have different saving options (e.g., with the electronic copies with both submitted material and teacher feedback included).

    The modification-redefinition pair as the ultimate goal, enabling the activity to be changed. As many of us seek to get rid of textbooks, get rid of grades, indeed to change the dynamic to one that’s student-controlled, it seems to me this pair gains truly meaningful value. The creative uses explored by students as they address our driving questions truly raises the effective learning to higher levels.

  2. Matt,
    Nice post. In the past I reviewed SAMR and enjoyed it as much as you. Since then I have discovered RAT (Replace, Amplify and Transform), which I like more. In my mind, within the SAMR model, Augmentationa an Modification can be difficult to distinguish between. RAT makes the process a little more clearer.

    Since then I have been moving my organization into the blended environment. I, like you, find the model to be very helpful. I have been able to diagnose a teachers blended skill (diagnostic assessment) to determine where they fall regarding the three phases of RAT and digital tool literacy. I am then able to provide PD that will move them across the RAT framework while supplying multiple tools for each stage of the framework.

    Also, I think it is important to note that for this process I have also developed a lesson plan template that will allow teachers to plan:
    1) which 21st century skill
    2) content
    3) appropriate blended tool
    4) cognitive challenge

    I believe each lesson should proved students a chance to learn and master the content, 21st century skills and be cognitively challenged all while using the appropriate blended tool(s).

  3. This is the first year of beginning to implement the SAMR model with a small group of teachers in our district. Next year we are rolling it out to quite a few more through PLCs. I’ve found it a simple way for teachers to view and assess their integration of technology and the feedback I’ve received from the teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. They appreciate the simplicity of the model and how easy it is to use in their lesson planning.
    Unlike a previous comment, my teachers have had more trouble distinguishing between modification and redefinition levels than augmentation and modification. However, they’ve struggled a bit in reaching the modification level, as the move from mostly substitution to augmentation was much easier.
    I think it is important to remember that not all activities and lessons should be at redefinition, as some lessons it is more appropriate to use technology at a substitituion level. There is a video on YouTube (“The SAMR Model Explained by Students” by Rich Colosi Media https://youtu.be/OBce25r8vto ) that describes SAMR as a pool rather than a ladder. I’ve found this analogy to be very helpful- that sometimes you swim in the shallow end (below the line) and sometimes you are in the deep end (above the line). I like this view rather than as a ladder where it seems that redefinition is the ultimate level to reach and stay.

  4. I would love for you to come to Michigan, specifically the Detroit metro area. I’m sure there are other teachers who would love to hear more about your methods!