Thursday, December 18, 2014

Using @RemindHQ For Leadership

In the past, I've written about how much I love using Remind. So much so, I am an advisor to the company. But even if I wasn't an advisor I think the simple way the service allows for educators to connect to students and parents via text messaging is elegant and so simple to use.

What is Remind?

In it's simplest form it allows for a teacher to create a virtual texting group to exchange messages with members. As a teacher, I would be concerned giving my personal cell phone number to parents or students or having theirs but with Remind I don't have to worry about that. No personal information is exchanged. Group members simply need a code and a special number to text to to sign up. Once they do, I can send messages, voice messages, motivational stamps and more. Downloading the app to have Remind anywhere I am makes it so I can be engaged with my students from anywhere.

Remind is very popular with teachers, as you would assume. My wife, a math teacher uses it, along with her colleagues to keep parents up-to-date to team happenings, special projects and reminders. In younger grades teachers are using it with parents and in upper grades many are using it directly with students. The Remind Blog has some great examples of how different teachers are using it to better communicate with students and parents, so do be sure to check that out.

Here lately, though, I've been thinking and working a lot more with school and district leaders. Remind can be a great tool to engage with staff and the community in ways you might not realize.

Here are a few ways School and District Leaders can use Remind:

Keep In Touch-One of the first ways you might be thinking is about keeping in touch with the community. And honestly, it is one of the easiest ways as a Principal or District Leader you can let the community know what's happening. Besides the obvious ways of posting meetings, reminders, and events, use the Voice Memo feature to send short, personalized, audio updates. Or, since you can send attachments, use it as a way to have parents opt out of receiving paper copies from the school or district to save time and money. You can also use it to help bring attention to the great things that are happening.

Staff Reminders and Meetings-I've written about flipping meetings in the past. This allows for more free time for staff to engage in meaningful PD. While it might be easy to turn to email to decimate information, we know email can sometimes be a burden. Remind can work out so much better. Your messages can only be 140 characters you've got to be quick. But since you can send attachments you can summarize meeting notes and items and easily get those out immediately without it getting lost in the inbox.

Book Talks and Article Studies-Remind can be a great way to engage in professional learning. While staff are doing a book or article study, questions or other information can be sent via Remind. And remember, you've got a voice message available in the Remind app. So you can send voice questions, comments and more, extending the use.

Voice Memos-Speaking of the voice messages, these could be used in all sorts of ways. Sending reminders, of course, is one way that comes to mind. But why not send motivational messages each morning. Or well-wishes to your staff. A little bit of voice messaging can go a long way to creating a positive school culture.

As school and district leaders, it's easy to overlook using technology or dismissing technology as "just for the classroom." And for some, Remind would fit into that category. The reality is, Remind is a perfect entry point for those skeptical about how they can use technology as a leader because its so simple to use and there are so many different uses.

Those are just a few of the ways you can use remind as a School or District Leader. What are some others you are doing or you've seen? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Taking An Hour Of Code

Recently my daughter and I have been enjoying our Kano computer. If you haven't heard, a Kano is a small Raspberry Pi computer you build yourself. For under a $150 bucks it's a steal because you get to program it to do pretty much whatever you want.

Upon booting it up we were greeted with several screens to no only learn how to use it but if we wanted to play a game or use a program we had code it ourselves. And since the language used in the programing is so straightforward and easy, most (even my 5 yr old daughter) can code it.

She will sit for hours coming up with different ways to make the snake game harder or easier or faster or slower. And she has to remember the different commands and experiment with how, in combination, they work.

The best part? She doesn't even realize the skills she is working on and how they will be ever valuable as she continues to learn.

Coming up next week (December 8-14) is the Hour of Code. Kids (and adults too) from all over the world will take an hour (or many more) and learn how to code or expand their knowledge of coding and coding languages.

This video sums it up nicely.

The theme this year is Frozen. Have you hear of that movie? (I have a daughter who could educate you!) All in the hopes to get more kids, especially girls interested in coding and showing them that anyone has the capacity to code.

You might be sitting back saying, "No way. I can't learn how to code or program. And even more, no way my students can either." It's so much easier than you think and the plethora of resources available to participate are endless.

Here are several so you and your students can participate in the Hour of Code: | Learn: Over at the site they have a ton of ways to practice coding. Everything from learning how to code Angry Birds, to an introduction to Javascript to so much more. Don't have any computers or devices in your classroom? Not to worry! There is a whole section on programing with paper, which teaches the math skills developed through coding.

Scratch HOC 2014: Scratch is a program that has been around for a while. In its simplest form, students take different blocks which represent different programing commands and put them together like a puzzle to make Scratch the Cat do different things. Some kids are taking it to the next level and designing games and interactives to share. Scratch is free to use and download so it makes a great addition to the classroom for Hour of Code. For Hour of Code they have a whole site dedicated to using Scratch to learn how to code and some simple project ideas kids can complete in an hour. And it's not just older kids. There is Scratch Jr. for the younger ones as well.

Made With Code | Monster: Who doesn't love a good monster, especially when you can make it dance and do crazy stuff! On the Google site Made With Code, they've created a friendly monster you can learn to code with. Similar to Scratch, kids take the building blocks to construct the instructions the monster will follow. A very simple and fun way to embrace programing.

CodeAcademy: Geared towards older students and adults, CodeAcademy is a great place to learn pretty much any programing language. Lessons are interactive and fun. And they have an app so you can learn where ever you are.

HOC Teacher Resources: Of course, there are many more resources to explore and learn how to make coding more of a presence in any classroom. The site has a great section for teachers with more sites, plans and ideas than you can shake a stick at!

I hope that every kid gets a chance to enjoy the satisfaction and fun coding can bring next week!

What resources do you have that you can share? How will your students participate in the Hour of Code? Leave some ideas below.

Photo Credit: kjarrett via photopin cc

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Overcoming The Barriers To Creativity And Innovation

It's been a few weeks since I returned from Doha, Qatar and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). If you aren't familiar, this conference centers around scalable, actionable ideas for the future of education worldwide.

It is, by far, my favorite conference I get to attend each year because of the level of conversations that are had there. With some conferences the focus is on hot topics or what will bring in the biggest crowds. At WISE the conversations are on the topics that might be controversial or need to be addressed for education to move forward.

But there is always a focus on actions. 

The theme this year was on creativity and innovation and they were in full effect. In addition to some great keynote addresses on why creativity and innovation need to be cornerstones of education moving forward, there were thought provoking conversations around the future of universities and the value of college degrees, how important play really is to learning and more. There were makerspaces for attendees to build computers and work with Legos and opportunities for more unconference events to allow anyone to share ideas or resources. 

In all the conversations and sessions there were a few barriers to creativity and innovation in learning that kept being repeated over and over that we must overcome on a global scale. 

Emphasis on Standardized Assessments-As to be expected, many conversations centered around our global fascination with data and comparison of students. PISA, rankings, etc, where all cited as examples of our focus being on the wrong thing. One area I believe we all can agree upon is data is important. We need to know what our students are learning, when they learn it and how they know they know what they've learned. I also believe we can all agree that many of the data points used in education worldwide don't hold much meaning, other than to say one countries education system may or may not be better than another. 

To overcome we have to move this reliance on the wrong kind of data to the kind that truly matters. We must focus our efforts on the data that matters. What does that look like in your classroom? Formative assessments must be the norm. Relying on formative assessments to tell you what students know and don't, provide for an environment where kids can be creative and innovative. Sure, you might still have the typical standardized test at the end of the year, but students will be better prepared because your focus was on their learning, to ensure they are where they needed to be. And you will have provided an environment where kids can explore, reflect, grow and follow their passions through learning.

Lack of Fundamental Changes To Teacher Education Programs-Another, perhaps surprising area that was mentioned as a barrier, was the inflexibility of change in teacher education programs. Remember, this isn't just a U.S. problem, this is a global problem. Many of the programs worldwide still teach future teachers using outdated methodologies for a variety of reasons. In the U.S. there are many reasons but it is the lack of pushback from districts saying they need a different kind of teacher that is the main driver (or lack there of). If that is the case, why would programs need to change? This lack of change is turning out teachers in many locations that aren't prepared to use technology, amplify student voice or use the right kinds of data. 

This lack of change in teacher education programs is something that will take more than blog posts and conversations. It's going to take districts, Superintendents and others to better articulate the need for teachers to be prepared to be facilitators of learning rather than lecturers in the front of the room. Students need (and deserve) teachers who can, again, create those environments where they can explore, reflect, grow and find their passions through learning.

Leadership Crisis-As my friend Thomas Murray often says, what we have in education is a crisis in leadership, and I tend to agree. Despite many challenges and barriers, there are some teachers who exemplify what it means to promote creativity and innovation in learning. And an often cited reason for their success is a leadership who "get's it." A leadership who either gets out of the way and lets the teachers do what is best, or is hands on and pushes teachers to be better for their students. 

So if we have a leadership crisis, that begs the question, what do we do? As a classroom teacher it may be difficult to change the minds of leaders who might not understand why creativity should be more important than summative assessments. However, as I tell all who ask me, keep doing what is best for your students. The crisis in leadership can begin to be solved by schools and districts spending more time on the right kind of professional development for leaders. The kind that focuses in on those areas they need most like technology integration, understanding innovation can be part of learning and how to be a coach and instructional leader rather than a manager.

As you can see these are complex problems with no easy answers. One thing is for sure. Creativity and innovation should part of the learning process. And while there are no quick fixes, we all need to ensure kids have those opportunities to learn, reflect, grow and follow their passions, through learning. 

What do you think? What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your classroom? How are you overcoming them? Leave a comment below. 

Photo Credit: Bernat... via Photopin cc

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Encouraging Authenticity In Learning

In the last several years, a major shift in instruction began to happen. Instead of students having access to handheld technology (tablet, laptop, etc) only part of the school day, more and more students began to have access when they need it. Either 1:1 or BYOD or some combination of both is giving students the opportunity to discover learning or create new information in a variety of ways.

Before I left my position as a Director of Instructional Technology, our district was undergoing this shift (albeit a bit late, but we were headed in the right direction). We were going to allow students to bring their own device to the classroom to use in the course of their learning. But through a pilot program we discovered that the focus of our professional development around BYOD needed to not be on technology. Rather, we needed to focus our efforts on pedagogy and the change in instruction needed when students have access to pretty much all known knowledge at their fingertips.

Now, there are so many ways educators are making the shift, improving their pedagogy and providing innovative ways for students to engage in learning. However, we saw there was one approach that could have a much greater effect on learning.

Problem or Project-Based Learning has been around much longer than any device or technology. The definition for these differs everywhere you go but in essence students are given a problem and options for presenting their solution and understanding of the content that makes up that solution. This was the method we used in our district, as many of the teachers were formally trained in PBL; however, we put our efforts into creating authentic-based learning.

For us, authentic-based learning meant that students were given problems that relate to their life. They were problems their schools or communities were facing, so the solutions they created were practical and meaningful. Many times traditional PBL has students take on a role they can’t relate to. What we found was that when students are working on a problem that directly affects them or their community they become highly engaged in the learning process.

So where you can start?

Buck Institute for Education-The Buck Institute is regarded as the leading source for anything and everything Problem-Based Learning. What I really like about the resources here is that they are easy to access and highly authentic. Not only do they have a huge archive of curriculum resources, they also have videos, webinars and more. This is a site you will spend a lot of time with whether you are new to PBL or experienced with it.

Authentic Based Learning For Students-Kathy Schrock has curated a large collection of resources on everything authentic based learning. From frameworks to assessments and more, you will find a lot of great content here.

As you can probably guess, this method of learning isn’t dependent on technology. Many of our teachers were trained knowing they would gradually ease into BYOD. However, technology does enhance this type of learning. It provides students with more access to real-time information, as well as the ability to connect to more resources and create the information needed to make an argument. There’s a deeper level of engagement you can’t get offline.

If you are in a classroom or school that is moving more toward mobile devices for learning it’s important to know that your pedagogy has to change. Simply using devices to look up answers or take assessments isn’t anything that could be done without them. Look for ways to use the devices for learning that wouldn’t be possible without them.

Authentic-based learning is just one way. What are some of the ways you are using devices to take learning to another level?

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, November 5, 2014

Learning Beyond The Classroom Walls

When I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology, I started out like many students do. I sat down at my laptop, went to Google and started searching. Eventually I landed on a program at an in-state university that was one of the first of its kind. Everything was virtual. Not once in the 18 months I was in the program would I set foot on campus. I completed everything from the comfort of my home or the road.

Just a few years ago, programs like the one I completed were very few and far between. There have been correspondence courses for a number of years but these normally led to certificates and rarely led to actual degrees. Today, students of all ages have virtually an unlimited number of options to not only obtain degrees in any number of subjects, but to learn from some of the leading thinkers and doers around.

Take online degrees like the one I got. More and more traditional colleges and universities are providing these as an option for both traditional and nontraditional, working students. Many students can now obtain full degrees, from bachelor’s to PhD, all from a laptop in their living room, rather than a stuffy classroom in a building named for someone few remember. This idea of anytime learning extends far beyond K-12 and has far-reaching effects in higher education as well.

Traditional colleges and universities are also facing a new generation of learning options through MOOCs. Massively Open Online Courses are just that - virtual classes on many topics where you might be in a class with your neighbor or someone from Sub-Saharan Africa. These courses touch all continents, and in many cases are taught by the same professors and educators who are teaching them in prestigious colleges and universities around the world. And, in the case of courses offered by colleges and universities, they are free to take. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Economics or Physics from leaders in the field, for free?

Where can you discover some of these innovative courses?

Lifehacker U-This is the first site I visit when I want to see what’s new in the world of virtual learning. The folks over at Lifehacker put together some pretty comprehensive lists of free courses on a wide variety of topics, including Computer Science, Astrophysics, Dinosaur Paleobiology or The Importance of Play In Everyday Life. There’s course for almost anyone!

Keep in mind there are a few things to consider before enrolling in online courses, so do your homework. You might want to consider what the course outcome will be, if the courses lead to degree or certification, or if there is additional course work you’ll need that isn’t offered online.

It’s not easy to convert a face-to-face course into a virtual experience. So make sure you also research whether the professors and educators leading the course are certified to teach online. It doesn't hurt to ask if you can sample the course to ensure it will meet your needs, too.

Online and virtual courses are certainly a convenient way to engage in learning, whether it’s to further your education or just to learn something new. Just be sure to find the one that’s right for your needs.

Happy learning!

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.

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.

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.

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