Monday, September 28, 2015

Making The Most Of Social Media In The Classroom

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

Social media often gets a bad wrap when spoken in the same breath as education and learning. Ask around and many folks might consider it to be a time suck or a place where very little learning happens and therefore has no place in the classroom. 

The reality is social media (and digital learning in general) have a place in the classroom And whether we choose to embrace it, or don't, students still will leave our buildings and use it. So what if we embraced it as a medium that is here to stay and leverage it for learning? All the while we could have deep and serious conversations about digital literacy and the ways to use it appropriately.

Social media can provide many benefits to student learning and understanding.  Whether you are an expert yourself, or wanting to learn more, there are some simple ways to introduce social media to the classroom.

It's All About The Hashtag-As I've said many times before, hashtags can be great ways for educators to jump into the world of social media and connecting with other professionals. But they can be very useful in the classroom as well. A class hashtag can serve as a platform for students to share conversations (backchanneling), the teacher to post simple reminders or as a way to gather data. I once had a kindergarten teacher gather weather reports from across the globe to share with her students using a simple hashtag. The hashtag can extend far beyond our own networks into the networks of others, amplifying voices. 

Hashtags are also a great way to track conversations around world events or events that are unfolding in realtime. Conflicts, elections, sports, everything it seems these days has a hashtag and students at all grade levels can review these tweets (all without accounts mind you) to look at trends, propaganda, or investigate the stories behind the headlines. 

"Instagraming" Learning-The fastest growing social media network in 2015 is Instagram, which when you think about it makes sense. Facebook is huge and touches large populations already. Many others either have limited appeal to wide audiences (Snapchat) or have a learning curve that can push people away (Twitter). But Instgram is easy. Snap a picture, add a snazzy filter and share it with the world. 

Besides the way it could be used by leaders or teachers to share images of learning with the community, Instagram could be used in a variety of lessons. Imagine a person from history. What would they take pictures of? How could they tell their story in images? In younger grades, what about a scavenger hunt for geometric shapes or letters? (My first grader did this. She learned lots!) There are lots of simple ideas here and here

Pin A Rose On Your...Pinterest Page-I freely admin I don't understand the appeal of Pinterest. While I've eaten some great things from there and even built a few projects found there, in the classroom I really didn't see a use. Until I started to think about all these educators finding and curating content there around their classroom. Sure I can find all sorts of cute bulletin boards or methods for improving classroom management. But what about taking a step further and using it as a psudo-learning management system for your class. 

Create a board for each unit/topic/standard you teach. Gather up resources and share them with students on your website, Edmodo page or where ever you share stuff like that. Invite students to post what they find as well to help curate the boards further. Or better yet, turn everything over to students. Give them some blank boards and let the students fill them up. These could be shared resources with parents too, providing a valuable set of resources to help them understand the learning that is happening in your classroom and provide a means of help when working with their student at home.

Pinterest not your thing? Not to worry. My friend Adam Bellow has you covered with eduClipper. Similar in thought but educational in delivery, eduClipper is very teacher and student friendly and easy to use! 

Those are just 3 simple ways to think about when wanting to use social media in the classroom. What others do you have? What have you found works well? Leave your thoughts below. 

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

photo credit: Collage of Digital (Social) Networks via photopin (license)

Friday, September 18, 2015

4 Inexpensive (or Free) Google Apps That Help Students Collaborate

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

Bringing technology into the classroom can feel like an uphill battle. But as we know, engaging with students on devices and platforms that they are already comfortable with creates a better, more natural learning environment. 

In addition to helping teachers modify curricula for different learning styles, classroom technology also primes students for research and collaboration in higher education and beyond. In fact, 83% of organizations support tablets in the workplace, according to a 2015 Spiceworks survey. That number is only growing.

Here are four Android™ apps—available through Google Play for Education—that enhance collaboration and make the most of limited school budgets. All are supported on smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks.

A free thought-mapping tool that helps students organize their ideas by creating visual diagrams with little assistance from their teacher. Students can share their mind maps in small groups. Grades: 3 to 12. Subjects: All.

This $0.99 app teaches algebraic concepts using virtual manipulation. Students explore concepts and solve problems in small groups, then present their findings to the class. Grades: 5 to 8. Subjects: Algebra.

A free app that lets students browse primary documents about UNESCO World Heritage Sites, visit them virtually and learn about them in a geographic and historic context. Good for presentations and small group work; students can present what they learn to the class. Grades: 8 to 12. Subjects: Geography/History.

4. Trello 
This free project management app allows a group of students to access the same educational materials and track their progress on a given task. It supports both graphics and text, and keeps small groups engaged both in and out of class. It’s also great prep for life after school. Grades: 9 to college. Subjects: All.

What other apps do you use on your Google devices that help students collaborate?

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

photo credit: Deep at Work via photopin (license)

Heading Back To School With @appoLearning

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to check out and learn more about appoLearning. You might remember I wrote about my experience in finding and curating content there. And then how easy it was to create a collection of high quality resources to share. The site really does make it easy to find resources like websites, apps, and videos that have been curated by other educators and create collections that can be private, shared with a small group or made completely public.

As we head back to school there are 3 things about appoLearning you should remember.

To prepare for units, appoLearning is incredible tool that makes it easy to find groups of free digital resources (by searching previously contributed  collections and resources)-Take a look at my Professional Learning Collection. I get asked all the time about the best resources to for educators to drive and direct their personal professional learning. I have a ton of them. And normally I have to hand out long lists of websites sometimes with little explanation about what makes them great or what are the best aspects of the resources. By putting them into an appoLearning collection I can share a much larger list easily, with comments and explanations in additions to tags so that others can find the resources easily too.

You can also use appoLearning to collaborate with fellow teachers - both in and out of your school - to prepare these units. This is incredibly important as many teachers are isolated and don’t have a true collaborative partner in their own school. With the new collaboration features on collections, now I can create a collection and invite colleagues to work on it with me. Take my good friend Erin Klein. We spent the last several days working on 2 collections. In mine, resources for Connected Educator Month we were able to add several items and post comments back and forth to each other, in real-time. And its that real-time aspect that is incredibly helpful as we are several states away. This new collaboration feature is great for providing depth to the resources in a collection.

appoLearning has tons of FREE content and is all DIGITAL tools-Lest we not forget, appoLearning is more than the collections and collaboration. At it’s core it is a huge repository of high-quality, free content to browse and use in the classroom. With the ever increasing number of digital devices teachers need good places to go to find resources to teach with and supplement into learning. appoLearning should definitely be in your top places to find those resources.

So as you head back to school and get back into the swing of things add appoLearning to your list of must visit (over and over) sites for high-quality digital resources for your classroom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Which Device Can Support Different Learning Styles?

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

One of the strongest arguments for classroom technology is the ability it gives teachers to easily adapt curricula for different abilities and learning styles. Give students a choice in how they receive information—and how they interact with it—and their ability to absorb and recall educational material improves immensely.

Neil Fleming’s VARK model groups student learning into four styles:
1. Visual
2. Auditory
3. Read/write
4. Kinesthetic

Just how important is modifying curricula for different styles? Really important.

87% of students fall into multiple categories, while only 13% prefer only one learning style, according to a 2014 study from the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine.

So, which device makes differentiated instruction easiest on teachers and schools?

While there are many choices, tablets can provide the mobility and flexibility that teachers want and students need.

Tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Education allow students to choose how they learn through stylus-enabled drawing programs, audio and recording tools, speech-to-text and onscreen keyboard abilities and touch controls. These capabilities make differentiating instruction easier than ever, so teachers can focus on educating and inspiring their students.

Tablet technology goes beyond learning styles—it also helps special education students immensely. Special education technology includes built-in tools that help educators adjust material to individual education plans. This allows special needs students to communicate in their own way, and in many cases it fully integrates them into the classroom. Learn more and hear Lilly’s story here.

Students today are digital natives. They’re most comfortable using electronic devices with touch-screen abilities that give them immediate feedback—and when they’re comfortable, their ability to learn expands tenfold. With educational technologies and apps at their fingertips, our next generation of thinkers are primed for big things.

For more content like this, follow Samsung Business on InsightsTwitterLinkedIn , YouTube and SlideShare

photo credit: Padcamp 2012 via photopin (license)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Think Before You Flip Your Classroom This Year

For a while now I've been saying something provocative about Flipped Learning.

"It's the worst idea in the history of teaching."

I own that.

I've said it.

I say it that way to get educators attention. Because I like to have a conversation about it. While I am not going to walk that statement back like a disgraced politician I am going to do a little explaining (finally) why we need to think before we "flip" learning.

First a little knowledge leveling.

When I am talking about Flipped Learning in this post I am referring to the method by which teachers create videos (or find other videos online) and assign students to watch them at home, thereby freeing up time in the classroom to go deeper with the content because the students have the content knowledge from the videos. I am sure there are multiple different variations of Flipped Learning but for this post, this is the definition I am working off of.  It's an idea thats been around for a while and some teachers have said they've found success with it.

So what's my problem with Flipped Learning? Seems like, on the surface, it could be great. Kids get the basic understanding of topics outside the classroom and when they come back they can go deeper and do something with it.

But if we look a little deeper Flipped Learning may need some serious considerations before implemented.

Too Much Focus On The Videos-In most (not all, but most) of what I have read and seen on flipped learning there are always way too many conversations on the videos. How to make them. How long they should be. Where to store them. How to ensure kids can access them.

I was in a small group discussion at a conference early this year where the conversation revolved around how to ensure kids could access the videos at home if they didn't have the technology. Eventually they talked about taking the time to make the video and then pass them out on flash drives or burn them to DVDs to all students. While the conversations around equity are important seems to me its the wrong conversation to have. If you are spending hours, bending over backwards to record, distribute and track the videos kids are required to watch at home, are you really gaining anything?

Not Enough Conversations About Pedagogy-In all that I have seen and heard, there are very little conversations about pedagogy when it comes to Flipped Learning. In order for educators to be effective in their content they have to understand pedagogy and how to ensure students are best understanding that content. The truth is, many are content experts but pedagogy needs work. Now we are going to video weak pedagogy those weaknesses just get amplified. Maybe they are using others' content. Are we effectively analyzing the videos first to ensure they are effectively communicating the content in the best way? Are we looking at them with a critical eye?

Or perhaps the direct instruction pedagogy is strong (which these videos are just that, direct instruction, which we know isn't the most effective way to gain content knowledge) but the pedagogy or understanding how to formatively assess that students understanding of the content delivered in the videos is lacking. Now there's all this free time what do you do?

We have to have serious conversations about pedagogy first before we flip. If we look at moving from direct instruction to more student-owned classrooms, where students navigate through content by their own means, we might find that the effort put into Flipped Classrooms, creating videos, and tracking views isn't really needed or necessary.

When Are Kids Supposed To Be Kids? Record yourself in your classroom for the 6-8 hours you are there teaching. Now go home and watch yourself for an additional 30 mins to 3 hours. Do you want to spend that much time listening to yourself? Maybe not. And I would bet your students, while they like you a whole, whole lot, most don't want to listen to you more than they have to.

A student's job is school. Thats what they do for those 6-8 hours. Think about our jobs. No one really looks forward to working all day then going home and working more. Why, then, should students be forced to go home and do more of work by watching these videos? We talk about wanting students to innovate, make, tinker and be creative. And there is mounds of research to suggest homework doesn't help students be better students, so why not let kids be kids when they go home.

Those are my concerns. Yet, I will admit, there might be teachers who have flipped their classrooms and who have addressed these 3 concerns I have. I wish their voices were louder because I think we could all do with those examples.

So while I am provocative when I talk about it, I do that to have a conversation. If you have flipped or are thinking about it, don't just take it at face value. Think critically about what effects it will have on you, your students and your classroom.

photo credit: dora dora 2 via photopin (license)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rediscovering @CK12Foundation Flexbooks And More!

A while back there was a push to move away from traditional textbooks and move to something more flexible and nimble. (Still true today!) Something that could adapt with the ever changing knowledge base educators and students could pull from along with being more personal. Digital devices ushered in an era where all this (and more) is possible.

I can remember many an afternoon spent in high school science and math classrooms talking about CK-12 Flexbooks. These were online, high-quality, completely customizable textbooks that, in addition to having some really great content were completely free to use and change. Teachers jumped at the chance to integrate them because they could supplement other content into their text and take advantage of them being digital by adapting them on the fly.

I'll admit. I had forgotten about them...

That is until recently when I had the chance to rediscover the awesome that is Flexbooks and found there is so much more!

Flexbooks-There are the tried and true Flexbooks I came to love with my high school teachers but their offering has expanded to include many more science and math areas, english and history too. You'll also find Engineering, SAT Prep, and much, much more. And it's not just high school. There are Flexbooks for middle school and even some for Elementary Math. They are still fully editable and you can use different concepts from different sections to create your own customized text. All the content is Common Core aligned so you can be sure its high-quality and timely.

Simulations-A new feature are some pretty sweet physics simulations. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to understand physics concepts or impossible to replicate them (like an actual rocket launch). With the simulations students are introduced to the concepts and then can test various aspects of them. And these can be included in a Flexbook too!

More Instructional Materials-In additional to all this there are flashcards, lesson plans, assessments and other materials that can truly make your digital learning a complete experience. There are also apps for Apple and Android devices that can provide an even more rich experience. Using Google Classroom? You can create your materials and share them instantly to your Google Classroom classes. And check out the Blog there to see how other districts and classrooms are reaping the rewards of CK12 materials.

Are you new to CK12 or, like me, are you needing to rediscover the awesome? Check out their Back To School Promotion where you can build your own, personalized box of CK12 materials to get started this year. Science and Math job posters, sample Flexbooks and a B2S checklist are just a small amount of what you can get there. And remember it's free!

If you doing BYOD, 1:1, or some other digital initiative, CK12 can be a great addition to your classroom. Check it out!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A More Holistic Approach To Technology Planning

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology I was deeply involved in the technology planning process from one end to the other. Regularly I had to sit through presentations of new products, listening with a skeptical ear while instructional promises were made. I'd also council administrators who felt that the next flashy thing they saw walk through their door, their school had to have. And often I would evaluate our programs and purchases to ensure we were headed on the desired course or if we needed to make a u-turn.

Typically the technology planning process can go wry in many ways:

Lack of True Planning: Sometimes a rush to make things happen can cause the entire planning process to come off the rails. For whatever reason (funding running out, keeping up with the district next door, or a general sense of urgency) the normal, rational process that many would take when it comes to undertaking major technology initiatives is lost in the desire to get things done and make them happen as quick as possible.

No Measurable Outcomes of Goals: When spending the amount of money that normal technology initiatives take it is critical to the success that there are MEASURABLE goals and outcomes. It's all well and good to have those goals that make us feel good but we have to have something measurable that we can judge our successes and our failures against. And these are not test scores. These are not behavior intervention reports or referrals. We have to look at the type of technology we are integrating and decided what outcomes do we want to see? Instructional? A change in pedagogy? Something else?

Focus On The Stuff: Stuff is fun. Stuff is flashy. Stuff is what we are sometimes judged against. If the focus off our initiative is on the stuff it will be easy to loose focus on what really matters; the learning. Often the beginning of the planning process starts with the question "What stuff do we/can we/want to buy?" rather than looking at what needs to change and how technology can support that change?

What is needed is a plan and a more holistic approach.

So what would that look like? What's involved in a more holistic approach to technology planning?

Form A Team: One of the most important aspects of the technology planning process is having many voices represented. Technology and technology systems touch so many different people, it's important to ensure they all are consulted and have a voice in the initiative. It's not just your technology staff or school or district administrators. It's looking at the Special Education department, or the Transportation department, or the Food Services department. But it's also students, parents and the community as well. Consider who the technology could touch and invite representatives to the table for conversations.

Examination Of Current Landscape: Before even thinking about a new initiative it's important to look at where your class/school/district is currently. You have to get a sense of what is out there now before deciding to do anything new or different. Some questions to consider:
  • What aspects of the current technology program work really well?
  • How is pedagogy keeping up with technology integration? Is there a need for more technology or is all that is needed is a deeper focus on pedagogy?
  • Is the technology that is currently in classrooms being used as well as it could be or even at all? 
  • Taking that all into account, what really needs to happen? 
Putting In Place Measurable Goals And Outcomes: Remember, we talked about the need to look at measurable outcomes. I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) Goals. This method helps to hone your focus and decide on what really matters. Some may not like the SMART approach and have one of their own. Great! Whatever method you use it's important to consider the desired outcomes. Some examples:
  • Number of Classrooms with High-Speed Internet Access
  • Equitable access to devices for students and teachers
  • Equitable access to high-quality instructional resources
  • Development of Next Generation Professional Development
Professional Development: When considering anything to do with technology, most often the PD is much, much more important than the stuff. Large amounts of dollars are spent on the stuff, but I argue an equal amount should be spent on the PD needed to integrate this stuff successfully. Consider the current PD landscape and how it can be leveraged or changed to meet these new needs. This is an area that needs a lot of time, attention and input.

Reflect and Examine: Through out this process, from visioning, planing and implementation there has to be time set aside to reflect and examine how things are going. Where are you as you progress towards your goals? What's missing? Think of it like formative assessment for the planning process. It's easier to catch things that could derail the project as they happen rather than waiting until the end and then looking back.

These are just a handful of things to consider. The technology planning process can most often be complex and challenging. However, it can be more effective and meet more desired outcomes if we step back and consider what we are doing, why we are doing, how we will get there and how will we know we've arrived. 

Photo credit: ORDCampers at MSI Fab Lab 20.jpg via photopin (license)