Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting Students To The World

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in sixth grade and sitting at a desk in my language arts classroom. We had been doing an integrated unit in all our classes about cultures around the world. We’d been looking at all sorts of places that, at the time, seemed exotic to me. I had “traveled” all over the world through the books, articles and stories we read. But that day, sitting at my desk was special.

I had gotten a letter from my pen pal in Asia.

We exchanged letters a few times throughout the school year. We learned about each other and what our lives were like. It was one of the neatest projects I can remember doing in school. (I wish I had saved the letters!)

Today, those places that seemed so far away and exotic aren’t really all that distant. Technology has flattened our world and made it possible for students, no matter where they are, to connect, just as I had through letters, in ways I never dreamed of when I was in school.

There are many technologies that you could pick up today and instantly break down the walls of your classroom. But I think there are two really simple ones that can work in any classroom, whether every student has their own device or there’s just one computer for everyone.

Blogs
Reading and writing blogs is one of the simplest ways to connect your students to the world. These spaces are often the places where students today are discovering that there is a world beyond their own. In a friend’s classroom, students wait eagerly each morning to see all the dots appear on a world map that show all the places where people read their classroom blog the previous day. There is power in those dots! In lower grades, a blog that is written as a class is a great way to get started. In upper grades, students can maintain their own spaces. Either way, they get to see that their words do travel far! Check out Getting Started With Blogging In The Classroom for ideas.

Skype
It seems that Skype is one of those tools that is talked about as an afterthought, but it really should play a key role in breaking down global barriers and connecting your classroom to the world. Skype in the Classroom has made it so easy for educators to “advertise” their classrooms and partner with others in countries everywhere. There are also places to look for experts to bring in virtually. My favorite, Mystery Skype, brings in a visitor from an unknown location, and using their investigative skills, students have to guess where they are from.

Whatever tools you use to connect, do something. Students need to see that their world is much bigger than your classroom and is filled with possibilities, just like my teachers had showed me by having me write to my friend in Africa. And today, it’s easier than ever!

What tools are you using to connect your classroom to the world? Leave your suggestions below.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ensure Success This School Year

When I was in the classroom I always looked forward to back-to-school. Getting my classroom ready, that feeling of the excitement for a new year left me with the anticipation for great things to happen. But heading back to school and getting in the groove was less about content and more about ensuring we had a successful school year. 

Whether you've been in school for a few days or a month or two, there are a few, simple things you can do to find that success. 

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get starting with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial

Setting Goals-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. 

Get Connected-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Joining Twitter, reading blogs and contributing to an online community are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning. 

Celebrate The Good Things-For some educators the thought of inviting parents into the classroom is a terrifying one. Parents want to be involved in the classroom and should be. Make contact with parents as early as you can. I would always beg my principal for my class list early so I could write and send home a personal note to each of my students and parents before school started, welcoming them to my class and letting them know a few things about me and our classroom. This continued through the year. I tried to write a note twice per year for each student that got sent home in the mail. With email and texting services like Remind, it’s even easier to make those connections. Starting off with the positive makes having to discuss the tough points easier because you’ve established that relationship and dialogue in a positive way first, rather than a negative one.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Whatever you do remember. Teaching and learning is not just about content. Kids need to know you care about them and their learning. Establishing relationships, showing you are a true life-long learner and celebrating them are just as important (and sometimes more-so) than how to multiply fractions or who the 13 President was. 

What are some ways you ensure success in your classroom? Leave a comment below. 


Photo Credit: seeveeaar via Photopin CC

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Learn More About Chromebooks From Intel

Tech integration in the classroom has become a hot topic in recent years. Educators are presented with so many device options for the classroom, but recently, Chromebooks have gained momentum. More and more districts are moving to Chromebooks as a cost effective option to put technology in the hands of more students. And because everything is in the cloud, Chromebooks don’t need any special software and can be easier to maintain for technology departments.

The folks over at Intel Education are excited to help educators get better acquainted with Chromebooks. Their new site http://Intel.com/ChromeEDU is filled with helpful facts and information about Chromebook performance, as well as a contest to help keep things fun!

Over at the site you will find out answers to all your Chromebook questions including things like what battery life is like, how durable they are and how you can expand what your Chromebook can do by checking out the Google Play Store for Education.

One of the best parts of the site are the resources you’ve got access to, including using Chromebooks in primary grades, how they remove some common barriers to technology integration success and all you need to know about getting started with them.  

But why read all about Chromebooks when you can get one of your own! After you explore the site and learn more about these devices you can decide which feature matters most to educators. Is it speed? What about battery life?

In order to win your own Intel-powered Chromebook, simply follow @IntelEDU on Twitter, then tweet your favorite feature in a Chromebook is with the hashtag #IntelChromebooks. Once you’ve followed and tweeted, you are entered to win! Contest ends 9/30/2014, so act fast!

Be sure to check out the Intel Chromebook site and learn how Chromebooks influencing the technology integration landscape.

Thanks to Intel Education for sponsoring this post.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

100,000 Thank You's

When I made the decision to leave the classroom to pursue my career in Instructional Technology I didn't know where it would take me or what I would even face. I was leaving kids and that bothered me somewhat but I knew that working with teachers was a calling for me and I was making the best choice for my career.

Fast forward to today and as I reflect on all that I've been able to do, I know there is no way I could have done it alone. Over the past 6 years I've had some incredible opportunities I never thought I would have as an educator. I've presented at conferences all over the country and the world, even keynoted a few, worked with educators in just about every state, have 1 book published and 2 more on the way. But most of all I have learned with and from countless, passionate folks from all corners of the globe.

I recently crossed the 100,000 follow mark on Twitter. Anyone who's heard me talk about Twitter knows I don't really talk about numbers. When it comes to social media the quality of the interactions are more important than quantity. I am humbled that even a few people have followed me and read my tweets. Everyday I get to interact with so many great educators! I can't buy that kind of professional development or learning anywhere.

When I started on Twitter I did it to share blog posts with the teachers in my district and I saw the power it had the first time I got a comment on one of those blogs from someone in another state. The power our knowledge can have when we share with the world is important. As educators we have a responsibility, I believe, to ensure all kids everywhere have the best possible education. My end goal with all social media is to show just how powerful it is when we connect and to help as many realize their own professional potential.

So here are 100,000 thank you's. Not only to those that find value in what I am sharing but to those that have dedicated their lives to ensuring that kids everywhere find their passions and share them with the world!


photo credit: Avard Woolaver via photopin cc

Friday, August 29, 2014

Checking Out @WeLearnedItApp

Learning has been (and should be about) authenticity. Students should have the opportunities to investigate, discover, research, examine, etc, content that is meaningful to them; learning they can make a connection too.

The influx of digital devices as definitely made bringing more authenticity into content easier. Students have access to all known knowledge at their finger tips. But we still face challenges. How do we organize that information? How do we best share it with peers? How can we invite parents to see the work that has been done? As a teacher, how do I keep track of it all?

Enter WeLearnedIt.

Adam Bellow of EduClipper fame is back with a new iPad app that allows teachers and students to organize those authentic assignments more easily and share resources across devices.

WeLearnedIt allows teachers and students to create digital portfolios of work. For teachers, they can create multi-layered activities that allow you to pull content in from a variety of places like the web, a built in-whiteboarding tool, Dropbox or Google Drive. Students then pick up that assignment through their device and complete it. For them, they can bring in content from a variety of places also, adding to the idea that learning comes in many of forms.

When assignments are turned in teachers can do all the grading in the app and share feedback with the students all in one place. No need to fuss with papers home or lugging boxes of projects. Grab your iPad and get to it!

There are loads of free features but you can take it to the next level through paid school or district accounts that allow you to add rubrics and share data with other teachers, administrators and parents.

You can tell Adam wanted to create something that would really relieve the problems that come with trying to organize and present with digital materials. And I think he's got a great app here.

There is so much more you can learn about WeLearnedIt. Check out the webinar coming up on Sept 4. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

#Edchat Is Now On @RemindHQ

In an effort to make sure all those that take part in #edchat each week have the most up-to-date information on chat times, topics and special events, we have teamed up with Remind to get you that info lickidy-split!

Don't know what Remind is?

Remind is a reminder and texting service for classrooms. As a teacher you set up a class and invite your students and parents to join. The best part is you don't exchange any personal numbers. You create a special join code that is used to join your class. Once joined, you can send messages, reminders, and more that can be retieved through the Remind App or via text message or email. It's a really simple way to keep parents and students informed as to what is happening in class.

You can check out my post on it too.

For #edchat we will be sending out links to the poll question each week, reminders for the different chat times and other special #edchat events. (We don't like spam either and promise not to do that do ya.)

So how do you join?

It's easy!

There are 3 ways so you can pick the one that is right for you.

1) You can join by text message (1) or use the app (2).


Or you can visit http://remind.com/join/edchat (3).

You can download the instructions here too, if you need them.

We hope you'll take advantage of this service to stay in the loop on everything #edchat!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Evernote and Postach.io, A Match Made In Tech Heaven

If I've said it once, I've said it quite a few times, blogging is an open reflection of learning and is a wonderful (and easy) way to share our learning. I have been blogging in this space for over 5 years now. I have over 500 posts and have shared a bunch. I couldn't imagine my professional life without my blog.

Recently, I've been wanting to share more and more. But I faced a quandary. I wanted to share just little bits of information with a little detail. Just one or two things that didn't need much depth but that just didn't fit in this space because that isn't the focus here either because of a specific timeframe or for some other reason. I have so much rich information I am curating and I want to share it but I need the right way to do it.

Well Steven, Twitter would be a great use for that. And frankly you are already doing that there.

Well Self, you are correct. But I am limited with Twitter. 140 characters doesn't leave me much room for the kind of depth I was seeking.

Then I discovered Postachio.

And now I have a new obsession.

Postachio is dead simple blogging and publishing. Don't believe me? Watch.


In its essence, it's a hook for your Evernote account that allows you to post by simply tagging a note in a specific notebook with a Published tag. That's it. No fuss, no mess.

Y'all know how much I love Evernote. (If you don't you should read my posts.) So for me this made so much sense. I am curating so much in my Evernote already. And using some IFTTT recipes (you can read about those too) I am saving a bunch there. So now I have an easy way to share that. I move notes into my Postachio specific notebook, edit them, then just add a Published tag. Thats it!

And you can take advantage of Evernote's powerful tools like the web clipper and Skitch to really create amazing and simple posts. And because Evernote lives on all your devices (at least it should), you can publish from virtually anywhere.

So for me, this solution was perfect! I finally have a way to get those short, individual thoughts out of my Evernote and share them with the world.

Which got me thinking...

This would be incredible for schools!

Think about it. Evernote has so many wonderful portfolio features like audio notes and inserting documents and PDFs right into notes. So for students to create portfolios there makes a whole bunch of sense. Now hook that portfolio notebook to Postachio and you have a wonderful, shareable, public representation of student work. It really can give kids a simple way to have a global audience for their work.

And not just kids. I advocate for School Leaders, Administrators and Teachers to use Evernote for professional growth portfolios. Now with Postachio those can be easy, public representations of learning.

For me, Postachio won't at all replace this space. It's the additional space I was seeking for so long. But for some, Postachio could be a great place to start the blogging process because of its integration with Evernote and all the rich features there.

Oh, did I mention both Evernote and Postachio are free?

You can check out my new Postachio site at http://postachio.web20classroom.org to see what I am curating.

And be sure to check out the Postachio blog. They have a great series on #PostachioEd, using the platform in a variety of ways in the classroom.