Thursday, December 1, 2016

Celebrating Hour Of Code

When I was a senior in high school my school got their first computer lab. There had been computers here and there throughout the school but this was the first dedicated space for computing. For many teachers (and students too) the room was off limits. Either self-imposed isolation because they were scared they would break something or for most students they were not allowed to touch them because, you guessed it, they might break something.

I was one of the first students in the school to use the new lab because I joined the newly formed Computer Club. We learned about all the history of computing, the various parts of the computer and, my favorite part, learning BASIC to code flowers and move objects around the screen. I had so much fun! I wish I had kept up with it and continued learning coding.

Fast forward to today and now kids all over the globe celebrate Computer Science Education Week (CSEW) and, more importantly, Hour of Code the first week of December.

Hour of Code started as a way to demystify coding and give every kid the chance to see what coding is all about and how easy and fun it can be. While any hour can be taken at any point in the year, the Hour Of Code during CSEW aims to bring together every kid on the planet and for one hour, code something.

Hour of Code can be done in any classroom. You don’t even need a computer to code! All you need is an hour of time and some resources and anyone can code.

Here are several resources to celebrate Hour of Code:

Hour of Code-This is the main website to learn all about Hour of Code. You can sign your class up and add your pin to the growing map of other classrooms that are joining as well. There are tons of additional resources like websites and lesson plans. The coding activities target kids with themes like Star Wars, Frozen and Mona.

A Beginners Guide To Bringing Coding Into The Classroom-The article has several suggestions and resources to start coding in any classroom. It also lays out the importance of learning coding and how it can reinforce things like math skills.

Comparison of 50 Coding Tools-The list to end all lists. It you are thinking about coding in your classroom this is the list to look at. Lots of choices for every classroom.

Never Too Young To Code-Think coding is for older kids? Think again. Here is why kids as young as 4 and 5 can learn to code.

Hour of Code Suggestions By Grade Level-Here is a great list of all sorts of ways to integrate coding K-12.

15 Ways To Teach Coding (Even Without Technology)-No access to computers? No problem! Here are some suggestions on how you can do it with pencil and paper.

Edweb Coding and Robtics Community-Newly launched this community on Edweb will have webinars and conversations on the integration of coding and robtics into the classroom.

Coding doesn’t have to take place on computers either. Do you have iPads? There are great apps that are highly engaging and fun to support coding in the classroom.

Swift Playgrounds
Human Resource Machine

Remember, Hour of Code, while celebrated next week can take place any time. And it doesn’t have to be an hour only. Coding can build creativity, problem solving and math skills amongst other things. And it doesn’t have to happen in the computer lab. Coding can happen in any grade level and in any subject!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Flipping Out For Professional Learning

During a professional development session a while back I thought I killed someone.

He didn’t respond when his name was called.

He didn’t respond I tapped his shoulder.

Finally, he responded when I shook him a bit harder.

Lucky for me (and him) he was just asleep. But it was a wake up call to me and the way I approached delivering Professional Development. It also got me thinking about how much boring time educators spend in meetings and “PD” when they could be doing something more authentic.

I'm going to bet we can all recall a meeting or boring PD we had to endure. Those meetings that drag on, and on, and on. Seemingly pointless meetings that, while they may have had a purpose when being planned that purpose got lost in the message and delivery. Many meetings are just information transfer. What are the dates for training for administering the next state exam? Who is going on the field trip? Remember to walk your kids to the cafeteria.

Think about Professional Development, specifically technology-related PD. Much time is spent on the how-to of technology. How to sign into the LMS. How to create a Google Doc. How to send a Tweet. Much of the time in the actual PD is eaten up by tasks that can be learned outside the actual PD, freeing up the time when we do get together on more the why-to with technology PD or any type of professional development really.

What if that hour/90 mins/half day was spent on meaningful, embedded professional development that was participant driven? We complain we don't have the time for that really good PD. Why? What if we adopted the model of the flipped classroom and applied it to meetings and Professional Development?

Flipping PD and faculty meetings is essentially the same as flipping the classroom, but with adults. The idea is, there is some sort of information transfer (basic information about a learning concept) outside of the learning environment (classroom/meeting/PD) allowing for further discussion or extended learning when in the learning environment. The watered down version of flipping is that we front-load information about a concept outside of the classroom (meeting/PD) so when kids (adults) are in the classroom (meeting/PD) the time is spent on knowledge extension or deeper understanding of the content.

I will admit it. I am not a big fan of flipping the classroom. I am, however, a huge fan of flipping faculty meetings and Professional Development.

Now, I am by no means the first person to think about flipping PD or faculty meetings. Many have come before me and even my friend Peter DeWitt has a book dedicated to the subject. The notion has been around for a while yet it is still not yet caught on in many places.

The time we spend together as professionals improving our practice should be meaningful and we should be able to walk away feeling as it the time was well spent. Meetings and Professional Development should provide opportunities to examine current pedagogical trends, learning, classroom embedded teaching techniques and technology and, above all else, the chance to talk with other educators and learn from each other. Each time we meet and learn together is another opportunity to be better for kids.

It seems educators meet all the time. When I am working with teachers or administrators the consistent thing I hear is we meet too much with little or no end result. So instead of continuing meeting with no purpose, let's flip that time. Let's front load with all the basic information we all need, freeing up that faculty meeting or professional development time for more learning, PLCs, sharing, etc.

The traditional notes in the mailbox and faculty memos are a great start. Distributed information ahead of time for review or study certainly frees up time when meetings or PD takes place. However, this is an area when technology can be of much benefit. There are many tools that can be used to share different types information ahead of time. You need to find something easy and something that won't take a whole lot of time, but will communicate what you need to. There is no rule for which works best. Try a few and see which is most effective and run with it. But don’t be afraid to gather feedback and refine your practice.

What are some simple and easy to use tools you could flip those faculty meetings and professional development

Videos-These are the traditional tool of the flipper. For many this will be a great option. There are some easy to use screencasting tools out there (Screencast-o-Matic being my favorite). Think about it like this. You can sit for 10-15 mins and record a mini presentation. Review the notes for the faculty meeting or demonstrate how to use the particular tool for the technology PD. Our attention spans aren’t much longer than that anyway. Participants can watch as many times as they need to get the information. And you don’t have to be Spielberg. Keep it loose and keep it natural. Have fun with it!

Blogs-A simple faculty or technology blog can transfer a great deal of information pretty simply. When I was an Instructional Technology Director many of my principals used blogs as a way to get the basic information out to staff each day. Who was going to be out of the building, reminders and links to important information. It becomes a running record of the day’s events and a great look-back for information. The same could work for a technology blog. Post all the how-to information or videos on the blog. Either way, you’ve freed up that time to spend on more meaningful conversations when you meet.

Collaborative Docs-Tools like Google Docs could be used in the same way as blogs but more privately. Post all the necessary information ahead of time, but now we can add in a collaborative element. Using the commenting feature participants can share ideas, other resources or ask questions. The doc too can become a running record. Simply put the newest information at the top and push the previous information down the page. I’ve seen many faculty meetings flipped using something simple like Google Docs.

Collaborative Learning Space-Perhaps your district or your school uses a Learning Management System like Canvas, Edmodo, Google Classroom or something else. No matter what you use, create a space for faculty or participants in a PD session. This was wildly popular in my district. We’d create spaces for PD sessions where we could communicate ahead of time with registered participants, get them started on the how-to, and they had a space to share with other participants in the class or course. The same was true for faculties. I had many principals using Edmodo with their faculties because they could post book study questions, presentations, and other information. Then the actual meeting time was spent on more meaningful conversation.

Remember, the tool is the least of your worries. There are many more tools here I could list that could aid in flipping faculty meetings or professional development. The point isn’t the tool you pick. It’s what you do with the time you gain when you flip. Focus on using that time in faculty meetings to build culture or problem solve or dig deep into how to make the learning environment better. In professional development use the time gained to focus on the why. Why is this method better? Or how can it be applied to a specific discipline. Either way make the most of the time gained and you’ll reap the rewards.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Show Off Your Creative Side With Infographics

By our very nature humans are drawn to images and graphics. Rather than reading table upon table of boring statistical data, we put them into graphs and charts so they are easier to read and understand. (And they look nicer too.) With the dawn of social media the use of these graphics to represent all sorts of information has blossomed into a whole new category of image.


You have probably seen them before. They are a visual way to represent just about any sort of data set you want to. Sometimes they are great for getting at the heart of data, while others, well they are what some would call clickbait. Either way they catch our eye and draw our attention.

There are so many different types of infographics out there on a wide variety of topics. Here are just a few. (Click the images to see more):

We know infographics do a great job of conveying some sort of data or message in an appealing and visual way. They can also provide an alternative to students who are looking for a better way to demonstrate their understanding or to show off their artistic abilities. Infographics can be used in all sorts of projects. And believe it or not, you don't have to be a graphic designer to create them. All it takes is some data you want to visualize and knowing where to go to create them.

Here are a few of my favorite sites and tools to use when creating infographics.

Wordle: Chances are this is one you have heard of. But in case you haven't, Wordle takes chunks of text, speeches, songs, or just lists of words and creates graphics out of them. The larger the word, the more often appears in the text. It's a really great tool for seeing which words are most emphasized. While it might not look like the others above it's still a visual representation of data, it's just the data is words instead of facts or numbers.

Canva: This is another that you may have heard of. Canva has been around for a little while and provides a free and easy way to create visuals. With tons and tons of templates to choose from you simply drag and drop different elements to make the perfect design. And it’s not just infographics that you can create. Images for social media, slide decks and more can be created there. They also have a whole section for educators to learn how Canva can be used in the classroom.

Adobe Spark: Similar to Canva this is a tool that starts with some text or data and builds a graphic around that. There are many templates to choose from and it’s easy to insert your own graphics, additional text and change the entire look and feel of your graphic with the click of your mouse. And like Canva, graphics can be created for all sorts of other kinds of purposes. This has to be one of the most widely used infographic programs around. Like many of these sites, pick a template and customize. What I like about are the collection of templates. They already have an infographic look and feel to them. So for the classroom kids simply pick the one they want to use and insert their data. There is very little design needed. Just the data. Of course it they want to customize their image they can. The tools are very straightforward and easy to use. You can also search the gallery for infographics already created to get ideas or to find something to use in your next project.

Creately: Creatly is an online mind mapping program that is pretty powerful. You can create all sorts of diagrams and you can do it collaboratively so this could work really well in the classroom. You can even try it out without signing up for an account. These graphics could be used as part of a larger infographic project too. I like Creately because of the ability to create flowcharts to show how data moves through systems or just for simply organizing ideas for an infographic project.

Google Public Data Explorer: It probably goes without saying but Google has access to lots of data. On this site they make it very easy to mine public data and return some amazing visuals and animations. Want to know what the unemployment rates in Europe or the birthing trends in the U.S. look like? Here is one I created on the population sizes of various states after the last census. Again, this would be a great site for gathering images and graphs.

Kathy Schrock has an entire website dedicated to using infographics in the classroom. She has gathered a ton of apps, sites, lessons and ideas and reviews how infographics are a great way to assess what kids know. It's definitely worth checking out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leadership Lessons From A Dancing Guy

The work I do allows me to travel all across the US and the globe talking to various groups of people about all aspects of education. One of my favorite things to talk about is leadership. For example, I will work with groups of Principals or Superintendents to talk about what technology leadership looks like or how they can grow their leadership through the use of technology tools.

In our sessions we will often begin by trying to define leadership. Defining leadership is actually pretty easy. I'll let Marriam-Webister's Dictionary do that for us:

  • a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.
  • the time when a person holds the position of leader
  • the power or ability to lead other people

And while I can't really disagree with those definitions they don't really speak to the heart of what leadership means.

In education we have lots of leaders. Superintendents, Principals, other positions of power, actual or perceived. However, being a leader isn't one of position or even power. It's those qualities that people possess that make us want to follow and work as hard as we can. Teachers can be leaders. Students can be leaders. Parents can be leaders.

From time to time we all need to be reminded what awesome leadership looks like.

And when I need that reminder I turn to the Dancing Guy.

There is a lot Dancing Guy can teach us about our own leadership.

Ask yourself these questions...

Do you have guts? This guy is my hero. He felt something inside his soul. The music made him want to move. He didn't care what others would think. He got up and started moving. Kinda like in schools sometimes. Being the first person to stand up and dance is risky but often times it starts a movement. We have to have guts to be a leader. Leading is tough and standing up for what is right (which often isn't what everyone believes in) takes guts.

Are you easy to follow? The leadership Dancing Guy provides is instructional almost, as the video points out. So from the very beginning people watching know it is going to be easy to mimic.

Kinda like schools sometimes. Leaders need to lead in a way that is easy for others to follow. Nothing complex. And being followed shouldn't be a difficult task. Just simple leadership to drive change.

Do You Lead Publicly? When the first follower decides to embrace the leadership, Dancing Guy doesn't just keep doing. He shows the follower how to do the dance. He embraces the follower and wants him to feel as good as he does.

Kinda like schools sometimes. When we want people to follow, we not only need to be easy to follow but we need to do it in a way that is easy for others to embrace. Sometimes that means showing them. Modeling good leadership is an important skill to master. Like the video says, "he embraces the follower as an equal. So it's not about the leader any more." Leading publically means more than just in the classroom or in the building. Leading means connecting with other leaders to discuss and debate. We have to look beyond our walls and seek out those connections.

Is Your Movement Public? Once that first follower follows and they both are embracing the dance others begin to join in. Their (notice is plural now) leadership is public and then becomes a movement. And that movement is public for all to see.

Kinda like schools sometimes. If the leadership wants to gain momentum and followers we have to make our movements public. Using social media tools can help. Showing what you are doing on your school Facebook page or Twitter account, posting videos to You Tube about the movement, talking to others. The more open your movement, the easier it is for more followers to join in. Like the video says, " Everyone needs to see the followers because followers emulate followers, not the leader."

Does Your Movement Have Momentum? Once we get 2 then 3 then more followers the momentum takes over and the movement is in full force. More and more people join in and then the tipping point. This is the time at which people feel compelled to join in because there are more followers now than watchers.

Kinda like schools sometimes. Once the movement gains steam and more and more followers join there comes a point at which people feel they have to join. They don't want to be "that guy" looking from the sidelines while the movement passes them by. So if we include the ideas from above, if our movement is public and we are modeling what we want and we foster leadership in others than it is that much easier to lead. It actually takes care of itself doesn't it?

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Ideas For Providing Internet Access At Home

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

When I was an Instructional Technology Director one of the challenges I faced was working to ensure that students, no matter where they lived in my district, had access to the same tools and opportunities. I could provide technology that could be used in the schools, and provided high speed network access while they were in schools. However, when students went home there was no way to guarantee they’d have any access to high-speed internet when they got there.

For schools considering 1:1 initiatives, Bring Your Own Device or other digital rollouts, ensuring that students have access to a high-speed internet connection outside of the school building is key. Often, much time and decision making power is spent on the device chosen, rather than if it can be used at home.

Access to the internet and digital resources is now easier than than just a few years ago. We carry around, many times in our pockets, a portal to the proverbial information superhighway where we can find just about anything we want to know.

It’s not like it was back when I was high school when this was a familiar sight.

However for many students there is a struggle to provide that access at home so they can access those digital resources away from the classroom. Be it because of the cost is out of reach, the geography or topography is preventive or some other factor, the reality is many students go home and don’t have the access they need.

In a new whitepaper from Samsung, they outline if we want to further shift classrooms to being more digitally centric we have to focus efforts on ensuring students have access to digital resources at home.

“Technology has transformed education, but the initial focus was to equip schools with high-speed Internet access and students with devices. Now, “the biggest challenge is the at-home piece,” says Brent Legg, vice president for education programs at Connected Nation, a nonprofit committed to bringing high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.”

Samsung, along with other companies, are working with districts across the U.S. to help figure out the best ways to overcome this digital divide and get that access to where it is needed the most. I encourage you to check out the whitepaper to learn more.

What can be done? Is there anything schools and districts can consider when it comes to providing access at home? I believe there are 3 considerations.

Throw Open The Doors-Because of initiatives like ConnectEd and others, many schools are now able to provide faster and faster connections in the classroom. While there is still work to do (as you can see in this report from Education Superhighway) progress is being made. After about 4pm in most schools the doors are locked up for the night and everyone goes home. That internet connection just sits there unused. If we want to make schools the center of our communities again, why not throw open the doors and keep the schools open a few days a week giving the community access to that connection? Sure libraries and community centers already do this but why not add additional locations that have good equipment and are already set up? Staff it with volunteers and classes in basic technology skills, digital citizenship or other necessary skills could be offered.

LTE Access-One of the ways I was able to provide access at home to students who needed it was to purchase devices with data plans built in. I was able to secure a grant to buy hundreds of devices and to pay for the data plans for a year. Each device had unlimited access and I had a deal with the data provider for a low cost plan after the grant ran out. This worked great for my high school students who needed the devices at home to complete senior projects, apply for college or study for entrance exams. There were some students who abused the devices and the plans but we had reporting set up to make sure we could intervene with that student and have a conversation. This may not work for every district. It can get expensive and may be out of reach but even offering something like a hotspot (like the NY Public Library does) could help to close that digital gap.

Partners, Partners, Partners-Another way we worked to provide that access home was to partner with local ISPs and businesses to reduce the cost as much as we could to high speed internet connections. Families could apply for a discount and receive that connection at near to no cost. The program was supported by the ISP and many businesses chipped in as well. Start by talking to the major internet providers in your area and see it they have a program like that. If not, maybe you can start one!

I know some of these solutions may seem over simplified. Providing internet at home is a challenge in many locations for a variety of reasons. There are many barriers and factors to providing that access. These are just a few options to consider to help provide that access to those that need it the most.

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For more content like this, follow Samsung on Insights, EDU Twitter, EDU LinkedIn , YouTube and SlideShare.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Learning About Ormiboard-Part 1

When I began to introduce Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to my former district one of the questions (albeit anxiety filled) from teachers was with all these devices in the classroom how will we make sure students are doing what we need them to be doing? We spent a great deal of time with them talking about pedagogy and why designing lessons that were highly engaging was critical in an environment where every student has a device.

While those conversations around content and pedagogy are important, the need for specific tools to enhance that learning environment are crucial. Being able to push content to devices, especially when all those devices are different is important as well. There are several ways for teachers to push content to student devices, however, there is a new tool that will be worth the time investigating especially if you teach in a 1:1 or BYOD classroom.

Recently, I was introduced to Ormiboard and over the next few weeks I am going to explore what it is and it’s potential impact on the classroom. To start we will look at the basics, what it is and how it works. Then we will look at how it can be used to build interactive lessons for any device. And finally we will examine some advanced features and what’s coming.

To start let’s get a basic understanding of what Ormiboard is and how it works.

Ormiboard is a collaborative interactive whiteboard workspace that is browser based and works on virtually any device. To start, head over to https://ormiboard/com and register for an account. Right now accounts are free and have all the features, although there are plans in the future to have paid accounts with additional features. You can sign up through email or use your Google Account.

The idea is that an interactive lesson using a virtual whiteboard space can be created and then joined by students or other participants via a code. Users don’t need an account to use any of the features or join sessions but by having the account you can save your boards and get access to additional features.

Once registered your workspace is created and you have access to several featured boards to get started. I jumped right in started creating a new board. You also have the option of importing an existing interactive whiteboard file like those from a SMARTBoard or Promethean Board if you choose. If you import those you will notice a few of the interactive features don’t import but I am told that is currently being enhanced so any can be used.

If you are familiar at all with creating IWB lessons or even PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations creating content in Ormiboard will feel similar. As you can see there are a variety of tools you can use from inserting text or images to changing backgrounds or adding clip art. When adding that content you get a lot of control of how it looks and feels. From adding shading and colors to objects to even the way those objects look everything is done through a point, click and drag process.

One of the more advanced features you’ll want to explore are the individual object controls. Things like if the object is moveable during interactive mode or hidden, etc. You can create some interesting object controls by mixing up how the objects are moved or used.

Once you satisfied with the content on that board you can choose to be finished or add a new board and continue to build out your lesson. Once finished your board is ready to be shared.

Students (or adults if you wanted to use this for delivering Professional Development) visit the same Ormiboard link as before. The difference is they enter the code seen at the top of the board to join the lesson. Once they do the will see the content on their device and as it is manipulated and changed by the teacher it will be changed and manipulated on their screen.

To get a good sense of what is possible with Ormiboard check out the sample boards they have when you sign up for an account. These featured lessons have a lot of advanced features like automatic movement of objects and some interactive games built in. The Mission To Mars is a great example of what is possible with embedded video, a quiz and movement of objects all right there to explore. And you can copy any of the featured lessons to modify and make your own.

There are plenty more features to explore like the coding that can go into lessons, quizzes and more. But we will save those for a future posts.

I have 3 Challenges for you:

  • Sign Up For An Account
  • Explore The Featured Boards
  • Build A Play Board where you can become familiar with the various features
  • Invite a handful of student or friends to try out the collaboration features with one of the Featured Lessons. 

In the next post we will explore how to add some simple interactivity to an Ormiboard lesson and take a look at the polling and quizzing features.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

CommonLit-Free Informational And Literary Texts For Any Classroom

Recently, I was talking with my friend and literacy expert Shaelynn Farnsworth about the shifting definition of literacy and how we are all teachers of literacy. We had a great discussion on how today literacy is more than just reading, that it’s this complex set of skills that all of us need to find the best information, decode it, determine its validity and usefulness along with understanding where that information comes from and how to apply that information to a new task or skill.

When I was teaching middle school science one of the most challenging tasks I faced was finding grade-appropriate texts for students to see how the concepts we were discussing in class worked in the real world. In talking with other educators this seems to be a challenge as well. Often, these passages available online or in reproducible products, however these are generally expensive and don’t offer the support or data I need to ensure I am giving students something that they will understand but also challenge them.

I learned about CommonLit and after a few days of looking around and trying it out I am excited for the possibilities this could bring to any classroom.

Best part? It’s free!

CommonLit is a growing library of over 500 literary and informational texts for students in grades 5-12. The site also includes lesson plans for the texts and some brand new features like the ability to create classes, data dashboards to track students progress, and more!

To get started sign up for a free account and create a class. Once you have your class created, students can use your unique code to join that class. Or even better, they can just click the unique sign up link! No email addresses required which is a huge bonus.

Then you can start browsing the library. Search by key terms or use any of the filters like theme or genre, even literary device (juxtaposition, tempo, meter, ethos, etc) or Common Core Literacy Standard. You can also search by lexile range it you have that information for your students as well. And remember students have accounts too so they can use the same filters to find pieces of interest to them.

The pieces they have are diverse and cover a wide range of topics. From speeches like the Gettysburg Address or Conservation as a National Duty from Theodore Roosevelt to interviews, and other informational texts there is something of interest here to every student.

The texts themselves contain just more than the actual text. Take Malala Yousafzai's NPR interview. The text introduces the context of the interview and provides footnotes, definitions and all throughout, discussion points to get students thinking about the impact certain statements have had on history or to put themselves there to think about the implications of what Malala wants for girls everywhere. Each text in the library has these discussion questions which go beyond basic recall and get kids to think about the greater context of what they read.

Teachers have the ability to search for texts and assign them to students. Assignments go to all the students in the class (although I wish I could hand select individual students) and you can track their progress on the assessment on your dashboard. Assessments are 5 questions and including a writing prompt to get kids thinking about what they read and use the text as a source for their answer. Teachers can grade using a rubric and submit feedback to students. Students can then track their progress on their own dashboard in their account.

CommonLit can be a great edition to any classroom to provide supplemental texts that are both informational and fun to read. Even it you don’t use the assignment features you can still find value in the hundreds of texts that are there. Head over and check it out!

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