Friday, July 17, 2015

Creating A Professional Learning Collection With @appoLearning

Last time you read about this new site I had been checking out, appoLearning. I have really enjoyed getting to know this new platform and even create a collection myself. And I think for educators it can be a great way to organize sites, apps, videos and more so they are more easily shared with students, colleagues, even parents and the community.

Before we take a look at my collection I've been working on, lets think about why we would even want to create a collection in the first place.

Curation is a super important topic to me. We are teaching in what might be the most incredible times ever, due to the shear amount of information we have access to. Websites, apps, videos, games, you name it, there is probably countless number of resources for it. The more and more we rely on the knowledge of others (as we should, in addition to creating our own new knowledge with it) we need a system to organize and share that information.

And for students it's equally as important a skill to have.

But sometimes we all just need a little help. Be it to find good resources that others have curated or an easy platform to curate and store that information ourselves.

Thats where appoLearning can help, a lot.

I've been working on a Professional Learning Collection. I get asked all the time about the best places for educators to learn from other educators on their own time. So creating this collection will be an easy way to share all the places I've gathered over time to share with others.

Creating a collection couldn't be easier. You sign in with your Google, Twitter or Facebook account. Then give your collection a title, a description and decide if you want it public, private or viewable by anyone who has the link.

A note about the privacy settings. This can be really helpful. Some of your resources you'll want to share with the world. Others, you might have resources that can only be viewed by the teachers on your team or grade level. And other times you might just want to keep a personal collection. The choice is yours!

Once you've set up the collection you then need to add the resources. Remember you can add any type of resource. For mine I have websites, apps and some videos. All you need a link.

And you aren't limited to resources you bring in. Use the wisdom of the other users of appoLearning. You can search from the entire collection of resources already uploaded to appoLearning and make incorporating them easy too.

appoLearning will figure out what kind of resource it is and some basic information. Then you can fill in the rest. Give it description, tell what grades it's good for and tag it so its easier to find. The more information you can provide, the easier it will make to find it in search.

And thats it! Easy peasy! Collections are only as complete as you want. If you find a new resource, come back and add it. One not relevant anymore, delete it.

As we mentioned earlier you can create collections for a yourself, your students, your colleagues, you could even create collections of resources for your parents and the community. The possibilities are only as endless as what you can create.

Remember, all this is free. So give it a go!

Oh and check out the Professional Learning Collection. Tons of places to improve your practice on your own time!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Curating Content with @appoLearning

Curation, as many of you know, is near and dear to my heart. (Heck I even wrote a book on the subject!) And especially now, for teachers, its becoming increasingly important as more and more digital devices begin to enter the classroom. Finding the right apps, videos or other digital resources can be tough. And keeping it all organized can be even tougher.

I was excited to learn about appoLearning. This is a great resource where educators can find and share all the digital resources they are curating. All of the resources found there are vetted by other educators so you can trust that what you are search for will be the best of the best.

Recently they unveiled Collections. And this is something I am really excited about.

appoLearning Collections enable teachers to create, annotate and share lists of hand picked digital resources, including YouTube videos, iOS and Android apps, and websites, around specific subjects, topics or lessons. Collection creators can easily:
  • select from thousands of expert-vetted, standards-aligned resources from appoLearning search
  • and/or add their own resources (including anything that is URL-addressable including videos, apps, websites, assessments, Dropbox links, Google Drive links, Evernote links) and upload their own files (Photos, Lesson Plans, Videos, PowerPoints, PDFs, etc.). 
Collections empower teachers to continually manage the use of great digital resources into their classroom and to share these with peers, parents, students, and administrators.

Creating a Collection couldn’t be easier.

Click or tap “Create a Collection” to get started. From there, login via Facebook, Google or Twitter to get started. Once one has named, described and tagged a collection, there are three simple and fast ways to build it.

Some things to remember:

  1. Resources for any Collection can be pulled from the thousands of digital resources already vetted by appoLearning experts. Simply type in the search term on appoLearning, or browse by subject, grade-level, device and Common Core Standard, to find a list of vetted resources. While searching, one can also filter to show only FREE options. Simply press the “Add” button next to each resource to add to a collection. Click the “View” button to go back to the collection at any point.
  2. Add in resources from other collections by simply pressing the “Add” button for individual selections or the “Add All” button to grab the entire collection
  3. Digital resources that are not included in appoLearning search can also be added to a Collection. Simply paste the relevant URL - any URL, including those that point to a website, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play,  Prezi, Pinterest, Vimeo, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc., - of the selected educational resource, and it will be instantly added to the appoLearning database and included in the collection.
  4. Files can also be uploaded to be shared via a collection.Simply drag and drop the file - any digital file including photos, videos, lessons plans, quizzes, powerpoints, pictures, Smart Notebook software and more - and it will also be added to your appoLearning Collection.

We know that one of the most important parts of the curation process is sharing and sharing a Collection is easy. Each collection has its own unique URL that can be shared via email, messaging, or any social media channel.  appoLearning includes an embed feature to include the collection on a website in addition to one-click sharing for Twitter and Facebook.  .

All appoLearning Collections can be found via the search box at top of the Collections page or by using the tag navigation to the left of that page. So you will be able to see what others are creating and use those as a starting point for your own collections too.

You are probably thinking to yourself, what’s the catch. There has to be a subscription or a feee to do this. Nope. appoLearning Collections are free of charge.  As you begin to plan and organize your lessons for the upcoming year (after some well-deserved time off!), I encourage you to start creating and sharing your own Collections of resources to understand how easy - and addictive! - it can be.

The folks at appoLearning are getting tremendous feedback from teachers on how to make the product even better, as well as a lot of special requests for how schools and districts can best take advantage of the platform and technology.

You can get started right away, or contact them for a personal demo so YOU can become that teacher everyone turns to for recommendations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Evaluating Technology? Here's What To Look For...

In my former life as a Director of Instructional Technology I worked with school leaders to make the best choices when it came to technology. We would spend great deals of time looking at funds and how they could best be used to make an impact on student learning.

I believe many districts do that. However, often, when the hardware is installed and the software has been trained on that is where conversations end and responsibilities shift. The problem with that approach is that how do we know that what we purchase is actually being used appropriately or even being used for that matter?

I began looking at technology after the purchase. How could we help school leaders better understand the technology they purchased and could they determine how effective it was really being used in the classroom.

With that in mind I development 5 questions that school leaders should be able to answer on a walkthrough. Now keep in mind, it takes time to develop an understanding of all these. And while you should be able to see some, you may not see all. And that doesn't automatically mean the technology is useless or is being used ineffectively. It just means that more time may need to be spent on understanding the purpose.

Who is using the technology? Is the technology being used exclusively by the teacher? By the students? Is there a mix of both? While this will be dependent on the type used, there are situations to be mindful of. Take, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. Is the teacher the only one engaging with and interacting with the technology? If so, than we might need to look at pedagogy. We would install $10,000 teaching stations that would only ever be touched by the teacher. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. So look at the lesson and look at who is using the technology. Could something better be happening?

If you took the technology away, how different would the lesson be? This observation aims to get at the pedagogy and how the technology is being used. Ultimately technology should enable students to do something they couldn't do without it. I can communicate with students around the globe by having a pen-pal but by using Skype or Google Hangouts I can do it much quicker and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact. Take a long, hard look. Could you do the same lesson and it have the same impact without the technology? If in English class students are using their laptops to just write a paper, that technology isn't very transformational. But if those students are creating podcasts or book trailers or something else entirely, than the technology might really be necessary and transformational. Think critically about how it's being used and would the learning be the same without it.

How much variety with the technology is there? When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things. Are they just using Wikipedia or the calculator? Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programs? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn't pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know. Kids need to have opportunities to use several different types of apps and sites and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways as well whether the teacher knows them or not.

What opportunities do students have to collaborate with or through the technology? Students need the chance to learn with and from each other. And, again, technology enables us to do that much, much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? Are they using a social network like Edmodo or Schoology? Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just seeing one student using the technology individually. If so, depending on the purpose it may be time to evaluate how students work together through or with technology.

What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology? Learning really happens when students can take some piece of understanding and actually do something with. Either create a meaningful product or some new knowledge with that understanding. And, again, technology makes that creation much easier and in some cases more meaningful. When you see students using technology are just merely doing recall and low-level learning. Or are they truly creating something meaningful?

These questions should lead to deeper reflections with school leaders, teachers and students on how technology is being used in the course of learning. They meant to provide a starting point for conversations. They aren't the end all, be all when it comes to technology use in the classroom.

Interested in an infographic for this post? Download one here!

What do you think? What do you look for when evaluating how technology is used in the classroom? Is it these? Is it something else? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Tracing relations via photopin (license)

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.