Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The 3 Things Digital Classrooms Really Need

My first experience with technology in the classroom was the good ol' Apple IIe and endless hours playing Oregon Trail and Math Blaster. That evolved to an after school coding club in high school where I learned how to make a square and a flower using BASIC. I got my first personal computer as a freshman in college (1998) and finally got Internet at home when I came home at the Holidays the same year.

And look at where learning is today...

The classroom is becoming less about the physical space it occupies and more about the cloud. Today, many teachers are beginning to shift their instruction from stand and deliver to more interactive, engaging and participatory styles of teaching and learning.

To add to the physical changes happening in the classroom, they way students interact with each other, both in the class and outside the class, is shifting as well. With 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs taking hold across the country (and the world) students have access to just about all known knowledge at their fingertips.

This Powering The Digital Classroom movement brings many challenges to overcome and demands several creative solutions to provide more engaging content for students, diving into how students are learning and having students reflect on how they know what they know.

Engaging Content-It is clear that students want to be more engaged with their learning. If we look at the world in which they live they are surrounded by screens, games, music and more. So why not take cues from their world and make the learning environment a bit more familiar to them? And that means more than just allowing them to use a cellphone as a calculator or a laptop to create a presentation.

Traditionally the classroom has been a place of comfort for the teacher rather than the student. Teachers-created lessons that were easy to deliver, yet for many students the lecture style of teaching that takes place in many classrooms doesn't suit this generation of learners. If you are bored teaching the content, think about how the students feel.

Digital devices have the potential to change that.

With the access to devices students can have access to a multitude of variations when it comes to their content. Teachers are no longer limited to transparencies on the overhead. Students can watch videos, examine live Tweet streams, talk to experts via Hangouts or perform virtual experiments otherwise not possible.

Understanding How Learning Works (Or Doesn't)-With the proliferation of tablets, mobile devices and laptops, students can be more connected to their learning than ever before. The use of these devices makes its easy know what students know, the moment they know it.

Formative assessments were a large part of my classroom. By the time I gave a test or a quiz at the end of a unit, it was too late. I needed to know how well my instruction was working, or more importantly, not working. Embracing formative assessments helped me do that. Through mostly non-digital means I could quickly understand if my students were struggling with concepts or if I needed to bump up my instruction because it was too easy.

Now, digital tools like virtual polling, online sticky notes and others allow us to not only guage understanding in the moment, we can record that data easily and use it to make better decisions in our classroom. We can see how student understand changes over time with the click of a button and share that information with the student so they better understand their learning as well.

I truly believe Formative Assessments have the power and the potential to radically change how instruction is done in the classroom, when the data gathered is used to inform decisions about teaching and learning.

Reflections On Learning- Since I started teaching one thing I embraced early on was reflection. It was important to me to examine how I was teaching, how well I was or wasn’t doing, and how I could improve my craft. Many times these reflections took place with the voice in head. Now they take place for the whole world to see on my blog.

Blogging is a huge part of who I am as a professional. It allows me to think out loud with whomever will listen and get their feedback and wisdom. My blog is a place for me to share new ideas, think openly about issues that matter to me and serves as a place to learn as well.

Blogging in the classroom takes many forms. From the class blog that is maintained by the teacher, to the group blog where each student has an opportunity to contribute posts, to students having their own blog to openly reflect on their learning and share their struggles with their learning.

Teachers are not the only ones who benefit from blogging. Students benefit from this type of reflection as well. Because blogging and microblogging have become so easy,  and now students have access to their own devices, this type of reflection is possible. And students have a variety of platforms to choose from. Teachers are seeing blogs as a way to encourage student conversation and to open a dialogue between students.

These are exciting times to be in the classroom, whether that room is a physical space or in the cloud. When we Power Up The Classroom with Engaging Content, Meaningful Assessments and Reflections Through Blogging, we can truly leverage the digital tools at hand to create innovative and creative learning spaces.

What do you think? What will a transformation to fully digital classrooms require? Leave you thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Learning Neighbourhood 2011 via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why Librarians Are Awesome #TLChat


Media Coordinator



Whatever you call them, those folks who work in our libraries and media centers are amazing.

And you should be paying more attention to them.

From an early age my Mother instilled in me the value of reading. I was read to constantly as a child. I was surrounded by books. As an only child with an absent Father my Mother would spend great deal of time with me, usually at a library. Some of my earliest memories are in libraries looking through books or going to storytime.

As I got older my love of reading waned, mostly because of one teacher who required us to read what she wanted us to. I wasn't into Monster Trucks or Sports. I liked stories. And it was a Librarian that helped me discover my love of reading again.

I spent an entire Summer in the library in Battle Creek Michigan. Normally I would go in in the morning and plop myself down in front of the Apple IIe and play Oregon Trail until my eyes went cross. But the Children's Librarian there encouraged me one day to spend more time in books than dying of dysentery for the 1000th time. She asked me if I have ever read Little House on the Prairie. Of course not. Those were books for girls. I had no interest in them. She said give the first one a chance. If I didn't like it she'd help me find something else.

I read everything Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote in about 2 weeks. The books were amazing! That lead me to other series like the Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children and others. I read and read and read everything I could get my hands on.

I spent so much time in that library reading and helping out I got the 1990 Patron of the Year Award and a Gold Library card to go with it!

Librarians in our schools are under constant threat. Some don't see the position as valuable. On the contrary, it's one of the most important in the school and here's why you should go thank yours right now.

Being in the library is more than just checking out books. That professional there is just that. Most are teachers. And want to be as much a part of your classroom as you do. The library is an extension of your classroom and the librarian can be an extension of you. When working on a project or some deep learning, the librarian can be the best resource you have to finding those resources students really need. Mearly looking on the shevles amilessly wastes time. Use the brain of the librarian to find where the real learning is.

But it's more than that. They are fountains of knowledge when it comes to digital citizenship, copyright, and using technology. All those things some teachers have trouble wrapping their minds around. Like my friend Jennifer LaGarde says, being a librarian is more like being like MacGyver.

And look at what is happening in Libraries across the globe. They are turning into spaces where kids not only can find a love of reading like I did but they can discover their passion for programming, tinkering, building and more. Take Laura Flemming and the work she is doing in high school library. Pretty cool, huh?

So whatever you call yours I hope you take the time to thank them for the work they do and remind them just how awesome they are!

(Thanks to my friend Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian for letting me use her graphic!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

We Have To Stop Pretending... #MakeSchoolDifferent

Earlier this week my friend Scott McLeod tagged me in a post that he had written in which he describes 5 things in education we need to stop pretending. He challenged me along with several others to come up with our own lists of those things we need to give up and move past in order to make real change.

I encourage you to read Scott's post along with the collection of statements other have made.

So, we have to stop pretending...

  • That technology is something to fear and that it will just one day "go away."
  • That the role of the school leader has become too managerial and there's no room for instructional leadership.
  • That summative assessments provide a clear picture of student learning and understanding.
  • That standing in front of kids and talking for 40 mins straight actually teaches anything.
  • That social media can't be a valuable conduit to information and understanding.

What do you think? What are the 5 things we need to stop pretending? When you write you post tag it with #MakeSchoolDifferent so everyone can reflect.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Using @IFTTT For Better School Communications

Recently, I was talking with a few school administrators on how they could better communicate with their parents and the community. One obstacle that many schools and districts face is figuring out the most effective ways to ensure all are well informed and have all the information. Traditionally, notes home in a Wednesday Packet or using a website have been used. However, it seems that life sometimes gets in the way of these traditionally methods being effective. In my conversation with these leaders we talked about the struggles they have and how non-traditional means could be used to reach larger parts of their communities. 

Now we have to remember, communications is more than just information. Sure, the upcoming athletics schedule or after-school meeting times are important. But equally important are the stories that are told through the learning that happens everyday in every school building everywhere. There are usually many great things that deserve to be told each day. Those stories can be powerful and go a long way in building support with the community. 

I've been an advocate for the school leaders to be a walking PR Machine for their schools for a while now. Mobile devices we can carry in our pockets are powerful. They can take pictures, record video and audio. And combine that with access to the Internet, those can be shared across the globe in an instant. So during a walkthrough or just on a stroll through the building, its easy to capture, tell and share those stories. 

In my conversation with the school administrators on sticking point keep coming up over and over again. While there are many great places to share these stories, it takes so much time to post them to all the various places. Sharing a tweet on Twitter, and a post on Facebook and a post on Instragram and a brief story on Tumblr and on and on and on, it can be overwhelming or too much to keep up with. 


If This, Then That. 

If you've heard me before I've professed my love for all things IFTTT. The premiss is that when you do something (take a picture, post somewhere, etc.) then something else happens somewhere else. For example, a recipe I use all the time is if a picture of me that I am tagged in on Facebook is posted there, then that picture is automatically saved to a folder in my Dropbox. I set up the recipe one time and IFTTT does the heavy lifting for me after that. There are recipes for all sorts of things. Weather, data, blog posts, controlling your lights, if you can think of something you want to happen when you do something there is probably a recipe for it. 

So my love of IFTTT got me thinking. 

If the barrier to using these means of communication is not being able to keep up with them all, then IFTTT could be the answer. You set things up one time and done. 

Some recipes to try:
And now with their new DO App, its even easier. 

The DO App automates the process even more by taking a lot of the guess work out things. Designed for photos and notes, the DO will will make it that much easier and frankly remove any excuse you have for sharing. 

So after some time setting things up and talking about what stories to tell and how often, these school leaders were ready to share with their communities all the great things that were happening behind their walls. 

What about you? How do you make the sharing process easier in your building? What tools are you using? Leave your thoughts below. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Learn What The Intel Education Accelerator Can Do For You!

I am excited to partner with Intel to announce the launch of the Intel Education Accelerator program!

The Intel Education Accelerator program is dedicated to entrepreneurs in the education technology space who are looking to help transform the industry. As you know, edtech is a vital part of preparing students for 21st century success – something Intel is passionate about.

So do you have an idea you want to get off the ground to help kids in the classroom?

What You Need To Know –

  • Start-ups will receive up to $100,000, with up to $50,000 available immediately from Intel Capital
  • Silicon Valley seasoned mentors and advisers will provide customized guidance based on the needs of each start-up
  • Access to Intel Education’s global network of educators, governments and partners will be available throughout the five month program
  • In partnership with GSV Labs, the Accelerator program will offer a creative center in Silicon Valley to drive innovation and collaborate with other great minds 

Check out www.intel.com/EduAccelerator to learn all the details. But hurry. You only have until May 22, 2015 at noon, Pacific Standard Time.

Seriously, this is your chance to get that idea off the ground that you believe can have a serious impact on teaching and learning.

Good Luck!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Being Digital Isn't Just About Technology-#DLDay

Digital has truly made our world smaller. From the desk in my classroom I can travel to far off places and talk to friends via Skype or share my thoughts through my blog or experience historic sites like never before. The digital tools we have available to us for both teaching and learning is (and will continue to have) dramatic effects on both.

And there is a shift (albeit small) in professional learning as well. I am no longer bound by the learning prescribed to me by my district. I can develop my own learning goals and by using digital tools I can seek out experts, connect, learn, share and grow, anytime, any place.

Digital Learning Day celebrates the impacts these tools are having on teaching and learning. Educators, Schools and Districts around the U.S. will gather and share, both in person and virtually all that digital tools enable them to do and encourage others to adopt the same attitude.    

But I believe being Digital or using Digital Tools is more than just giving devices to kids or even providing professional development for teachers. For me it's really less about technology and more about relationships and attitudes.

Technology should never isolate us. Spending time together is how we learn. I will be the first person to tell you I use social media to make connections and learn with so many different people from around the world. But I will also tell you that nothing beats the face-to-face time I get to spend with people at conferences, meetings, or just over coffee. That face time is so valuable to my learning. So we have to get out from behind the screen often and learn together and from each other. Technology enables us to interact easier or across great distances, but there is still room for face-to-face time.

Talk Less and Listen More. Goes back to the face-to-face time right? And really, it's more listening than it is talking. As a leader we have to be willing to listen to ideas, suggestions, or complaints and use them to grow ourselves, each other and our organizations. And really listening should happen much more often than talking, especially when it comes to leadership. As leaders we have to be willing to listen and hear ideas, even if they make us uncomfortable or that we might disagree with.

Enable Collaboration. Ideas are made better when they are shared. This is another that doesn't happen enough in our schools, even though technology-enabled collaboration has made it so much easier. Share the good stuff. Let kids build, discover, and problem solve, together. (We should do that more as adults, too.) And share what happens. Let others take what you've done and build upon it and make it better so that can be shared with even more people. Just like before, we can learn better together. Your story is important and deserves to be shared but more importantly, others deserve to learn from your success and failures too.

"Care For" means more than "Care About." This leadership quality is an important one. Chris Lehmann has said many times before that  a simple change in our language can have a huge impact. Saying "I teach math." and "I teach kids math." have 2 differences in meaning. And it so true! We have to care not about our jobs or what we do. We have to care about who we are doing it for and that is kids. No matter what we do we always have to keep our kids in mind and make sure we are doing what is best for their interests. But most of all, we have to care about kids.

Unlocking Passions. School shouldn't be preparation for real life. It should BE real life. We've got to do better as leaders to help kids (and adults) unleash their passion. Providing time in the day to tinker, explore, reflect, learn and grow helps us all discover who we are inside. Kids will do incredible things, if we enable them and get out of their way. Schools should be safe and caring places for them to discover and peruse their passions.

What does Digital mean to you?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why You Should Give @Canva A Try

I will be completely honest with you.

I don't have a designing bone in my body. When it comes to drawing, art, graphic design or anything like that I am the last person you want on your project. And it's been that way my whole life. I just wasn't born with that sort of creativity.

But now, thanks to Canva, no one has to know!

I discovered Canva a while back while working on a workshop about Infographics. I love the visual appeal of the way data can be presented in infographics. And I always wondered how those were created...probably by someone with tons of skills I bet. But as it turns out, anyone with some basic skills and a free Canva account can create anything on par with the infographic making the rounds on Twitter.

Canva is an elegant, simple to use platform that allows you to create graphics to share in presentations, on social media and other places. If you can point, click and drag, you can create anything!

You start with a layout. This could be the header photo for your Twitter or Facebook page, an image for a blog post or one of the several possibilities they have. This helps set the dimensions for your image automatically. If you are feeling daring, you can set you own.

Once you have a layout, then you can apply a template. The templates bring in fonts colors and images that you can customize to your hearts content. Many of the templates are free, while some only cost a few bucks. So if there is one you really want to use it won't break the bank.

Now you are set to add in your own text, change colors, add items and more. There are thousands of images and graphics to choose from (most free, but others only costing a dollar). You can even bring in your own images and include them on your graphic.

Once you are done designing, you can share directly to your social networks or download as a PDF or high quality image. You always have the choice to keep your creations private or make them public for the Canva community to view.

Yeah this is great, but what about the classroom?

Canva can add another dimension to your classroom projects. Because there are so many templates and ways to design images, students can take their understanding and turn it into something viral.

A great place to start is the new Canva Design School. There you will find all sorts of helpful tips and tricks on not only using Canva but how Canva can be incorporated into your classroom. There are some great tutorials to help you and your students get started.

And my favorite part are the Teaching Materials. First you will see 4 recorded workshops that you can view on-demand to learn how to use Canva. Below you will find a plethora of lesson plans that all incorporate using Canva in some way. I along with Vicki Davis and a few others have created several different types of lessons that you can use to see how Canva can fit into the classroom.

So while you may be like me and not be able to design anything, help has arrived with Canva!