technology

Cool Tool – eduCanon

Below is a post from another place that I blog (http://durantroadms.wcpss.net/web/tech/).  I thought I would share it here as well. Enjoy!

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Recently, I hosted a flipped classroom tour at Durant.  We visited Mr. Dunton, Mrs. Holland, Mrs. Miles, Mrs. Desmarais, and Mrs. Myers.  At the end, the tour group sat down with Ms. Hodges, Mrs. Kensmoe, and Mrs. Richardson.  I received a lot of very positive feedback from the group.  They really enjoyed their visit and learned a lot about the flipped classroom from some great teachers!

Now…I tell you all of that…to tell you this.  Teaching is learning, and I learned just as much from them as they did from us.  They shared a lot of great resources and ideas with me.  During that tour, one of their teachers and the principal both mentioned a tool called eduCanon.  It’s a very powerful tool for the flipped classroom or really any classroom interested in incorporating video!

In a nutshell, eduCanon allows you to make any YouTube video into an interactive video lesson.  You can add questions throughout a video that require students to pause the video and answer the questions.   In fact, the video pauses itself and requires students to answer.  This feature helps students to stay focused while watching the video and avoid zoning out.  Students can rewind to review material, but they cannot fast forward to skip the video.  It’s impossible to bypass the questions and just scrub through the video.

Teachers can also assess how much students know as they watch the video.  EduCanon records each student’s answer, ties it directly to their name, and records their grade.  No more need to go around and “check” video notes.  You can log into eduCanon and see which students completed the video, correct or incorrect answers, and grades.  Just transfer the mark into your gradebook based on your grading preferences.  It’s all right there for you!

Check out the video below…and yes…I know Mrs. Covington (formerly known as Ms. Gimbar) is in the video.

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Just wait…

My school is ready.  The students love ’em.  The teachers are hungry for ’em.  The administration thinks we need ’em. The PTA is buying ’em.  iPads are here.  My school is slowing moving to a tablet-enriched environment.  Sure…we only have 30 iPads and still hundreds of laptops and computers, but we made the switch.  I was in on the conversation.  I helped make the decision.  Heck…I was the loudest voice of moving towards tablets for student use.  So we did.  Our tech team and principal set down, and we hashed out a plan to buy 30 iPads, 30 cases, a charging station, cart, and macbook pro.  This is the biggest decision – both financially and pedagogically – that I have made (and possibly the entire tech team has made) for my school on behalf of students and staff.

So now what?

We wait…we learn…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

The deal was too good too pass up.  We had time-restricted money to spend and the choice was iPads or laptops.  But I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared about the decision we made.  So many times we purchase the next hot item because it’s cool, but we have no idea how to use it or worse yet we have great ideas but are afraid to put in the up-front work.  I’m nervous that these iPads will be just that or teachers will see them as a cure or quick fix.  You see I have done my research, and my team did their research.  We really do believe that tablet computing has a strong place in middle school education.  We see how well it can be integrated into a new common core curriculum full of documents, images, resources, etc.  We see how well it can used to enhance a 21st century classroom that simply lacks resources other than textbooks and 4 desktops.  My team believes that tablet computing can be our answer to moving towards a 1:1 environment.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

As the resident tech guru at my school, I preach to my colleagues and administrators that just acquiring technology such as iPads, clickers, laptops, or smart boards does not instantly improve classroom instruction.  Just like hiring teachers does not mean they will be good teachers.  Lecturing using a projector and lecturing using iPads where students can flip through the slides is exactly the same.  Technology integration is an artform just as project-based learning and flipping the classroom are artforms.  You cannot just add in iPads and expect magic to happen.  Learning will not improve unless you are prepared to put in a little TLC.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

There’s no reason to rush into this.  It’s a marriage.  Technology isn’t going anywhere, and tablet computing has proven it’s place in society and in the classroom.  That’s why it’s important to wait, learn, study, plan, create, and wait.  Our students have to wait for their teachers to be ready to use the iPads.  As a staff, we have to study and put in the time to know what it means to teach in a 1:1 environment and use tablets as effective vehicles of learning.  Our administration team has to plan for the direction we are moving as a school.  Tablets in the classroom are very different from laptops and smarts boards and we need an instructional plan.   As a tech team, we have to create appropriate and meaningful staff development to help our staff feel ready to use iPads effectively and with minimal setbacks.  As a school, we have to wait.  It’s important to wait to make sure we have 100% buy-in.  It’s important to wait to ensure we use the iPads to the best of our abilities and to benefit our students in the best ways.  It’s important to wait, study, plan, and create so that we can teach.

WordPress – Why It’s More than Just Web 2.0

Ever since my college days, I have been an avid user of WordPress.  Some might say I am a WordPress fanboy.  I currently host my personal blog on WordPress (the one you are reading).  Trust me…any avid reader of my blog knows that I have experimented with multiple hosting solutions for this blog, but I always come back to WordPress.  It’s the best solution out there in my opinion.

In addition to my own personal use, I have been using WordPress at my school for the past 3 years.  About 3 years ago, a colleague – who I have seemed to mention a lot lately – came to me about the idea of using WordPress Mu to host our school website and provide websites to teachers and students.  Prior to that conversation, my colleague and I recently attended NCTIES and listened to @samandjt give a talk about how he had launched WordPress Mu at his school and his teachers, students, and parents were reaping the benefits.  Needless to say, when @mrscienceteach approached me about piloting WordPress Mu at our school, I was hooked.

Since WordPress Mu was incredibly successful, WordPress Mu is no longer a separate WordPress project and they dropped the Mu.  The same process is now referred to as Multisite or MS.  I believe that WordPress is one of the many tools (like most other blogging platforms) that students should have a basic of understanding of by the time they leave school.  In the past, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were the three main tools we taught students, but now teachers should be showing their students multiple creative tools such as WordPress to help students showcase what they have learned and how they have applied it.

At my school, we currently use WordPress as a our homepage as well as for teacher websites.  Of course, there are a few teachers who are resistant to WordPress and continue to use other website tools like SchoolNotes, but those that have bought in love it.  The Multisite or Network Admin feature allows me the ability to troubleshoot any problems that may arise for any teacher as well as post any upcoming news, major events, or announcements that our community needs to know.  The troubleshooting feature takes the fear away from teachers trying new things within WordPress without the fear of breaking it since I am there to help.

However, the part that I love the most is the collaboration component of WordPress.  With the ability to embed videos, pictures, polls, etc. into WordPress posts and pages, students can access tons of information without ever leaving my website.  For most of my posts and pages, I allow students to comment on the items I have posted creating a threaded discussion about whatever we are learning in class.  Commenting on my website has allowed me, as a teacher, to see the different stages of learning for my students and catch their “ah-ha” moments when they are discussing whatever I have posted related to class.  We have a geometry teacher who is using WordPress as a discussion board to work through theorems.  We have other teachers holding discussions on civic and government issues.  Other teachers use the commenting features as a way for students to ask questions.

Off and on for the past 2 years, we have dabbled with the idea of WordPress portfolios for student work.  While the portfolio aspect of WordPress has died down due to teacher turnover recently, the portfolio concept is not something I’m giving up on just yet.  The key to the portfolios is to have the students create a WordPress blog during their 6th grade year as a place to share, comment, and archive their work throughout the year.  Then when they move onto 7th and 8th grade, they continue to use the blog creating a portfolio of their work over the course of their middle school experience.  The portfolio component of WordPress is a great way for students, parents, and teachers to see the evolution of learning as the students moved from 6th grade to 8th grade.  At the end of the 8th grade year, if students want to keep their portfolio going, we can export the file and put it on a flash drive for them.  Then they can create their own WordPress blog and upload the file to keep their portfolio going into high school.

All in all, I think WordPress is one of the best tools out there that a school can utilize to enhance communication, improve website layout, create teacher websites, and create students portfolios.  It’s time for schools to begin looking past the flashy web 2.0 tools like Glogster and Prezi and begin to use tools like WordPress and Edmodo that improve the community and greater good of school.  Sure Glogster and Prezi are cool and useful, but in reality, they are showy presentation tools that do not do much more than that.  If schools begin using innovative tools that incorporate collaboration, scaffolding, communication, presentation, etc., students will be much more equipped to succeed outside of our classrooms both digitally and personally.

Today’s Meet

Currently, I teach 8th grade Social Studies.  We are learning all about the development and creation of the United States.  One of the many perks of being an 8th grade Social Studies teacher is that every 4 years we are able to discuss the Presidential election in class.  Since I’m a fairly new teacher (and a very new 8th grade SS teacher), I have not had the opportunity to cover the election in class until this year.  And lets just say…it’s been a fun few weeks.

This past week on October 3rd, Obama and Romney squared off in the first of 3 Presidential debates.  Needless to say, you probably heard of all that happened and the analysis that came with it.  I won’t bore you with the gritty details.  However, my students have had a hard time buying into all the hoopla over these Presidential candidates.  So during this past Presidential debate, a colleague and myself used a tool called TodaysMeet (http://todaysmeet.com/) to engage our students as the debate was happening live.

TodaysMeet is normally used as a backchannel.  A backchannel is “everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter” (http://todaysmeet.com/help/backchannel).  The idea of TodaysMeet is very similar to Twitter in that you must write your responses in 140 characters or less.  However, “TodaysMeet gives you an isolated room where you can see only what you need to see, and your audience doesn’t need to learn any new tools like hash tags to keep everything together” (http://todaysmeet.com/about).  The room is simple yet engaging.

My colleague and I created a chatroom  at http://todaysmeet.com/MrMiles and told the students to visit the URL at 9:00 and be prepared to discuss the debate as it was happening live.  I asked them to be sure to use their first names to indicate who they were and leave off their last name for privacy reasons.  After they became familiar with how TodaysMeet worked (that took 90 seconds or less) we started discussing the live debate.  I had a few rules they had to follow while chatting:

  1. Be respectful – You must respect other people’s opinions. No name calling or insults even if you disagree.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
  2. Pay attention to the chatroom – There might be a lot of people in this chatroom so if you are chatting with just one person you will need to follow the chat very closely to see what they are saying.
  3. Answer my questions – If I pose a question, please answer it.
  4. No TEXT talk – It’s okay every now and then, but we need to understand what you are trying to say. However, you only have 140 characters.
  5. Do not ask who anyone is voting for.
  6. Do a little research beforehand. (I gave them a list of resources on my class website)

For the most part I served as the moderator of the chat.  I posed questions to the group or guided their thinking as they discussed certain things about each candidates.  I also made sure the rules were followed to protect the online learning environment.  At the of the chat and debate, TodaysMeet allows anyone to view the transcript of their chat, which I archived and shared with the students that participate. It was a great activity, and I received a lot of very positive feedback. With the exception of a few minutes, the backchannel worked flawlessly and provided a great technology tool to engage my students as they had fun learning.  It was a different and unique experience for them.

Social Media in the Classroom

I recently had a discussion with an employee from Cisco about social media in the classroom.  He was really interested in what I do in my classroom and far I am willing to push my social media agenda with my students.  During his experience as an educational consultant, I got the impression that he is continually baffled why schools and teachers do not utilize social media tools as much as they should.  That conversation got me thinking about the tools I use in my classroom and how they have positively enhanced the classroom experience for myself and my students.  As of right now, I currently use the following social media tools on a regular basis in my classroom to stay connected with my students.

  1. Google Voice – Students can text me questions about HW, due dates, content, etc.
  2. Twitter – Students follow my class where I tweet reminders, interesting tidbits, etc.
  3. WordPress – Students regularly check my website to see updates, download missing work, and leave comments on assignments.
  4. TodaysMeet – Students meet in a chatroom at a regularly scheduled time to discuss the big events going on in our country (i.e. the Presidential debate)

Now some of you may say that not all of those are social media tools, but I consider any tool that opens lines of synchronous and asynchronous dialogues to a be a social media tool.  For the past 4 years, I have tried just about everything from edmodo to nings to try and find some tools that help give my classroom an interactive and interconnected feel.  I have finally narrowed my social media tools down to the four tools above that improve my classroom atmosphere the most.

Take a look at this infographic on student social media use provided by ASCD and notice the question at the top: “How can schools harness this social for learning, while attending to some persistent concerns?”

I think schools know there is a lot of value in social media tools, but they are afraid of the “persistent concerns” that continuously pop up with parents, administrators, and district leaders.  However, instead of trying to find ways to address the concerns and teach students how to use these tools appropriately, we have decided to block the tools altogether and just prevent students and teachers from using them in the classroom and as ways to stay connected with peers and their teachers.  I encourage teachers to embrace social media to create an interconnected classroom.  All teachers should try to find a few tools that they would want to use with their students, but teachers have to teach their students acceptable use of the tools they introduce to make sure to address the persistent concerns.

Why I Love RSS

~The following post is written for my ECI 512 class, but you may enjoy the read anyway.~

RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a way to aggregate all of the information you read on the Internet in one central place that is normally spread out all over the Internet.  RSS users can “subscribe to a website’s content using tools such as newsreaders or aggregators” (Duffy, 2006).  I use RSS feeds to pull in the latest blog posts from the edu-blogosphere that I read consistently. I also use RSS feeds to pull in articles from New York Times, CNN, local news, tech news, and sports.  It’s a great way for me to stay on top of everything I would like to read without spending tons of time checking all the websites to see if they are updated.  You see…RSS feeds have changed the way I read the news.  Instead of going to get the news, RSS feeds allow the news to be sent to me and then I can sort, categorize, read, ignore, or just about anything depending on the RSS tool you use.

RSS feeds have yet to really find a place in education except for among techy teachers.  However, I feel that RSS feeds can be used to improve best practices, create a transparent classroom, and help teachers grow professionally.

How to improve best practices using RSS:

  1. Teachers can compile a list of websites that generate content related to their subject field (Duffy, 2006).  Students can access these feeds when researching to ensure they use creditable websites.
  2. If students are creating current events in your SS class, create an RSS feed of news-bits that have a political bias.  Have students summarize their current event but also analyze and address the bias in the news report.
  3. “In using blogs with students, instead of visiting each student’s individual blog teachers can subscribe to an RSS feed that allows them to obtain instant notifications and updates relating to any new content added…Additionally, students themselves can also subscribe to the feeds of their friends, peers and teachers” (Duffy, 2006).

How to create a transparent classroom using RSS:

  1. Students and parents can be notified of classroom website updates via RSS feeds.
  2. RSS feeds eliminate the need for email subscription lists and parents can be notified of announcements, events, dates, and student news by email.

In order for teachers to grow professionally using RSS, they have to be committed to reading other teacher, administrator, student, or parent blog. While teachers may not always like what they read in the blogosphere, it is important to have your thinking challenged and inspired.  Using RSS aggregators is a great way to bring blog updates about the educational blogosphere right to your computer.  This is the number one way that I use RSS, and I love it!  It’s the best kind of professional development.

While I have been using Google Reader as my RSS reader on my mac and FeeddlerRSS on my iPhone, there are tons of various web-based RSS feeders out there as well as tons of apps for iOS and Android phones.   I encourage all of you to find a few blogs and websites, and then find an aggregator to get started.  If you are daring enough, try using RSS feeds in your classroom and let me know how it goes. Bring the Internet to you!

Sources:

Duffy, Peter and Bruns, Axel (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, pages pp. 31-38, Brisbane.

Mr. Miles…Unplugged

Hi, my name is Luke Miles and I am tech-junkie.  I know the first step is admitting that I have a problem.  I have a problem, and I am not the only one who noticed.  Oh wait…one of my students told me the first step was denial.  I don’t know have a problem.  And the second step is admittance.  I do have a problem, and I am not the only one who noticed.

My fiance once asked what I did last night while she was at work.  I replied, “I watched Steve Jobs unveil the new iPad.”  Then she asked the question I knew was coming, “How long?”  I regrettably admitted, “2 and half hours…give or take.” That’s when she knew my problem was bad…

Now being a tech-aholic is not always a bad thing.  In fact, it has opened up many doors/opportunities for me.  Knowing new and emerging technologies has really helped me to enhance my classroom.  Many of my students have experienced new ways to learn using web 2.0 technologies–something that many of them have never experienced before in a classroom.  We are running twitter accounts, making music videos, creating glogs and web maps, using backchannels during debates, creating voicethreads, and creating websites.

However, it got bad…I mean it got real bad…like really bad…

I was subscribing to RSS Feeds faster than Usain Bolt runs the 40.  I was tweeting in #edchats more rapidly than a speeding bullet.  I think I have lost many of my non-educational followers. My blackberry really had become a crackberry addiction.  I checked my facebook and my fantasy baseball team before going to bed instead of reading.  I mean it was really bad.  Even my students started noticing that I wasn’t actually that cool because I was a little geeky.

So I decided to make a change.  I teach at year around school so every nine weeks we get 3 weeks off.  I decided that during my 3 weeks off (more commonly known in the year-around world as track out) I would unplug from cyberspace.  I signed off from everything.  My fiance reset my passwords to twitter, facebook, nings, my blog etc.  I turned over my computer to my fiance unless I absolutely needed it (I work at a church so I would need it from time to time). I removed my RSS feeds from my mailbox.  They were still there.  I just couldn’t see them.   You know…outta sight, outta mind.  I went to Verizon and switched my phone to a basic flip phone with only texting.  I became completely unplugged.

During this time, I learned a lot about myself and decided to compile a list and share it with all of you guys.  Here it goes…

1) I am really(^7) addicted to social networking (especially twitter) and the blogosphere.  I thought I read news websites, visited CNN.com and my local news affiliate, but OMG…I had missed so much.  I spent so much time receiving the majority of my news in 140 characters or less that I was not even aware of the details/plot twists associated with each news story that twitter failed to include.  Even in the educational realm, I had spent so much time on twitter that I missed a lot of the big picture news in education.  By being plugged in, I was actually becoming more and more unplugged even though I thought I was plugging in and I didn’t realize it until I decided to pull the plug.  Weird…huh?

2) I am much more productive when I am not surfing the web, reading articles/blogs, tweeting, facebooking, or checking fantasy baseball on ESPN.  Not to say that what I do on twitter and the articles/blogs I read are not productive, engaging, or necessary for my job, but I got a few more things done around the house.  I tended the natural areas in my yard, I painted 2 rooms (started a 3rd), and much more.  I was able to finish strong on my second job before the new person stepped in full time. (I worked a church part time as a youth minister while they searched for a full time minister).

3) I found out that I enjoy walking my dog at local parks with my fiance…yeah yeah yeah…I know…sappy, but it’s true.  I never really took longish walks before.  Normally it was a quick stroll around the block and then head back home.

4) My fiance and I nailed down some final details about our upcoming wedding.  Well she nailed down some final details and I just made sure I liked it.

5) I read 3 complete books.  Now this may blow your mind a bit, but I have not read a complete book in quite some time.  Maybe 8-12 months…maybe longer.  However, during this 3 week unplugged period I read The Lightning Thief, A Whole New Mind, and The Lost Symbol.

I think it goes without saying we all need to take a few days off from time to time.  It is not good for our sanity to be so engrossed in an issue than it dominates/controls our lives.  It’s hard to justify reasons to unplug yourself from the educational world because it is such a great cause, but there are things in each of our lives that are more important.

And if I have learned anything since becoming a teacher, it’s that the problems with schools/education will not disappear over night.  They will be right there waiting for when you get back.  In fact, more often than not new problems will arise.  Schools and students need great teachers, but great teachers who are mentally and emotionally drained are worth nothing.  So take a second, wind down, grab Diet Coke, watch a few episodes of House, and read a book…that may be my method of relaxation.  In the end, you will realize how much you needed that break.  I feel re-charged, ready to finish out the year, and tackle any problem in front of me, and I know you will be too.  Enjoy!