Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Resources To Make Your Next Presentation Pop

Perhaps you are like me and have to sit through presentations often. Sometimes they are great. You can tell the presenter put a lot of thought into what they want to talk about and it feels like they really know their stuff. The slides they use are engaging and help reinforce the story that’s being told.

But then there are those times that are the complete opposite...

The presentation seems disjointed and incomplete. The design of the slides leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe the spinning transition is just too much or the typewriter sound every time a new bullet appears is over board.

Or maybe the slides look like these...

A lot of the work I do has me creating presentations several times a week. I am far from perfect and actually spend a lot of time reflecting on each presentation I give trying to make sure I keep evolving what I do and to ensure the story I am trying to tell matches with the expectations of my audience.

There are some great resources to make your (or your students’) presentations really pop. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Presentation Zen-One of the first books I bought after I started doing presentations regularly was this one by Garr Reynolds. It is full of ideas for preparing, designing and delivering the best presentations ever. His site too has lots of suggestions like how to get to know your audience, the best way to outline a presentation, design ideas and tips for the perfect delivery. This is a resource I use all the time.

The TED Commandments-It you look at a previous post all about using TED Talks in the Classroom there are some common themes in the videos even though they are all different. Anyone that gives a TED Talk is strongly encouraged to follow the TED Commandments of giving a good talk. Mostly funny, they do encourage presenters to make sure they tell a story, focus on their curiosity and passion, and never read their talk among other things. These are great rules to follow for any presentation.

SlidesCarnival-One of my new favorite presentation tools isn’t really a tool at all. SlidesCarnival is a collection of some really awesome templates that you can use in Google Docs or PowerPoint. The template you choose for your presentation can really help to frame your conversation and make an impact. These templates are unlike anything you’ve probably seen. Very well designed, the templates come with lots of suggestions for design and even their own icons to use to callout elements in your talk. Best part they are all free!

The Noun Project-Speaking of icons, sometimes you need to find just the right one to fill out the design of your slides. The Noun Project has you covered. With 1000’s to choose from, pick the one you want to use and use it. Some come with a Creative Commons license (more on that in a minute) and many more are just free to use how you want. It the Noun Project doesn’t have it, it doesn’t exist!

Creative Commons License-One of the best things any presenter and educator can do is allow others to use their work freely and build upon it so others can share in the knowledge. The Creative Commons Licenses allow for just that. But answering a few easy questions you can license your work so others can use it. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

What's Your #OneWord2017?

As we begin a new year many folks have taken to Twitter to tell the world what their #OneWord2017 will be. The idea is you have this one word to use as your mantra to guide your work and focus to have a successful year. Many are also writing blog posts to explain why they picked that one word.

This post from Neil Gupta does a wonderful job of explaining the why and the how.

Here are just a few of my favorites.

Now, if you are like me, Shaelynn challenged your thinking by picking Eunoia. In case you were wondering it's the goodwill a speaker cultivates with their audience.

My #OneWord2017 is Reflection.

I always try to take time to think about my work. The time I spend with teachers working on making classrooms more innovative or to help them think differently about how learning can be done. Or after I work with administrators and leaders on implementing technology initiatives or better understanding the role of technology in learning. And while I try to reflect often I don't do it often enough.

As 2016 came to a close I looked at several of my keynotes and presentations I had been doing over the past year and decided I was unhappy. I wasn't motivated by the content any longer and it all seemed routine. I sat down and reviewed them one at time thinking about how I had presented them, the content and how I could improve. Many hours were spent redoing just one presentation but in the end it was worth it! I was excited about the content again and I had so much fun again presenting it.

Taking that time to reflect and realize I wasn't happy with what I was doing and I could do a better job made all the difference in the world. I want to bring that same mantra into other aspects of my work besides presentations and keynotes. So Reflection is my #OneWord2017

This would be a great exercise when kids head back to the classroom after a winter break. Get them to think about what drives them and what word do they want to be their focus and help them realize their potential.

What will drive you this year? What do you want to accomplish to make this the best year ever? What will your #OneWord2017 be?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How TED Talks Make Tough Conversations Easy

We've all been there.

We are sitting in a group of peers or strangers ready to discuss a topic but no one wants to take the lead and get things going.

You need that one focal point for everyone to rally around to get things moving.

Videos and images are a great way to jumpstart creative thought and to get folks talking. The same is true in the classroom. It can be helpful to start a unit or a topic off with some kind of visual stimulant that gets those creative thoughts moving. Or maybe there are topics that emerge in the course of classroom discussion that need some context or a great understanding to make the conversation more rich.

That is why I love the TED Talks. These videos are great, snapshots of what could be longer conversations in short bursts. They come in loads of topics that could start a class discussion around that unit or topic. But where I see TED Talks being really useful are for those concepts that are hard to teach. Relationship building, self control, data manipulation, leadership and more. These are the conversations students really need to have but many teachers find them hard to discuss.

Below are just a few of my favorite conversation starters or videos to help students tackle these tough conversations.

Derek Sievers: How To Start A Movement-This is hands-down my favorite one. I use this video to talk about leadership, obviously, but also the perils of the movement as well. It's important for students to understand how things go viral and what that means for them.

Rob Reid: The $8 Billion Dollar iPod-In this age of fake news and a real lack of understanding of where information comes from this talk from Rob shows how easily data can be manipulated to make a point. This could be a great jumping off point in a digital literacy lesson or a science classroom. 

Renny Gleeson: 404, The Story Of A Page Not Found-Through something simple like a 404 page relationships can be built. This is a great talk for kids all about relationship building, and the need to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. 

Joachim de Pasada: Don’t Eat the Marshmallow-Joachim tells the story of the famous Marshmallow experiment and how self control is developed. For kids this could be great at understanding impulse control and how that leads to success later in life. 

Logan LaPlante: Hackschooling Makes Me Happy-Told by a 13 year old, Logan describes how he hacked his education to get the most out of it. Another great video for kids to understand how they are in control of their own path and to make the most of their learning experience. 

Evelyn Glennie: How To Truly Listen-This is a powerful video in which Evelyn, a deaf percussionist explains how we can listen to music without ever hearing it and why all our senses are important to our interpretation of the world. 

JK Rowling: The Fringe Benefits of Failure-Most wouldn't consider JK a failure. Far from it actually. But in this talk she talks about how she failed many times and how that encouraged her to keep trying. A wonderful talk for kids to discuss failure and its place in learning. 

The TED-Ed website is also full of videos, lesson plans, talking points and more for most of the TED talks in the series. You can build your own lesson or look at what others have created for any of these videos. And it doesn't have to be TED Talks either. You can build them around any video on YouTube. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Combating Fake News And Teaching Digital Literacy

If the most recent U.S. Election has taught us anything it's that we live in an era of fake news and sites. With accusations flying of manipulation of stories, the media and voters, it’s truly hard to know if what we read on blogs, social media and other sites is actually the truth or a tale spun to generate clicks.

To further compound the problem a recent study from Stanford shows that the vast majority of students can’t determine it what they read on websites is true or baloney. The study showed More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.

With many schools and districts rolling out 1:1 initiatives and a push to digitize learning, helping students understand where their information comes from, and if it is reliable and accurate are critical skills, not just for learning for but life as well.

When I was teaching digital literacy to students in my 8th grade science classroom we would examine current event articles for reliability and truthfulness. Loosely we used the following criteria:

  • Where was the information published? Was it a .com/.edu/.org site? Anyone can create a webpage? Was the source someone we could trust? 
  • When was the information posted? Or, how long ago was it updated? How can you tell? 
  • What do you know about the author? What else have they written? 
  • Can you verify the information posted on another website you’ve already determined to be accurate and reliable? 

While we can still use many of these same “look-for’s” a deeper understanding of where information comes from and judging it for accuracy and reliability is crucial. As teachers we need to have an understanding ourselves where information comes from so we can help guide students through their own understanding.

Here are several resources to use for professional learning as well as some to use in the classroom. These span all grade levels and subject areas.

Fake News and What We Can Do About It-The folks over at the ADL have a great HS lesson plan for looking at fake news and learn specific skills to determine it what they read, especially on social media (where 90% of Millennials get their news) can be trusted.

How To Spot Fake News (And Teach Kids To Be Media Savvy)-I lean on Common Sense Education for a lot of great resources when it comes to Digital Literacy and this post from them is no different. They have expanded on the “look-for’s” I used in my classroom and added questions to ask like who is paying for this content and more. There are loads of great ideas here and a resource not to be missed.

Snopes-This site has been around on the internet for a really long time and their mission is to help readers determine it what they read or hear is true or not. Everything from urban legends, to posts on Facebook that promise money it you share it to, current events. They have everything. And they can help students see how to vet stories because everything is linked to proof.

How To Teach Students To Evaluate The Quality Of Online Information-This article has more tips on ways to help students evaluate the information they read online.

Crap Detection-From Howard Rheingold this video and related resources is worth a watch for any educator. Howard explains how we can hone our built in filters when we are evaluating information and how we can help students do the same.

Real News vs. Fake News: Determining The Reliability of Sources-This from the New York Times Learning Network is a full lesson plan to help students look at information in ways they might not be doing already. What’s great is the plan can be adapted to any grade level so even younger students can start learning about reliability of information.

What Are You Doing To Help Students Spot Fake News Stories? Bill Ferriter is someone I’ve followed for a long time because he helps push my thinking. This blog post asks some tough questions of educators and offers many suggestions and ideas for helping students look for fake news and information in their learning.

Depending on the news or information you may or may not want to use current events or actual news articles, especially with younger students. But there are still sites you can use to help students look for fake information and teach them these important skills. My friend Shaelynn Farnsworth has a curated list of websites that contain no real information but students will encounter if they are doing research on a wide variety of topics.

These skills of evaluating fake news and information for reliability and validity are part of a wider and more comprehensive Digital Literacy program. It you don’t have one or don’t know where to start, Common Sense Education has a K-12 program that is full of additional resources, lesson plans and more.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Celebrating Hour Of Code

When I was a senior in high school my school got their first computer lab. There had been computers here and there throughout the school but this was the first dedicated space for computing. For many teachers (and students too) the room was off limits. Either self-imposed isolation because they were scared they would break something or for most students they were not allowed to touch them because, you guessed it, they might break something.

I was one of the first students in the school to use the new lab because I joined the newly formed Computer Club. We learned about all the history of computing, the various parts of the computer and, my favorite part, learning BASIC to code flowers and move objects around the screen. I had so much fun! I wish I had kept up with it and continued learning coding.

Fast forward to today and now kids all over the globe celebrate Computer Science Education Week (CSEW) and, more importantly, Hour of Code the first week of December.

Hour of Code started as a way to demystify coding and give every kid the chance to see what coding is all about and how easy and fun it can be. While any hour can be taken at any point in the year, the Hour Of Code during CSEW aims to bring together every kid on the planet and for one hour, code something.

Hour of Code can be done in any classroom. You don’t even need a computer to code! All you need is an hour of time and some resources and anyone can code.

Here are several resources to celebrate Hour of Code:

Hour of Code-This is the main website to learn all about Hour of Code. You can sign your class up and add your pin to the growing map of other classrooms that are joining as well. There are tons of additional resources like websites and lesson plans. The coding activities target kids with themes like Star Wars, Frozen and Mona.

A Beginners Guide To Bringing Coding Into The Classroom-The article has several suggestions and resources to start coding in any classroom. It also lays out the importance of learning coding and how it can reinforce things like math skills.

Comparison of 50 Coding Tools-The list to end all lists. It you are thinking about coding in your classroom this is the list to look at. Lots of choices for every classroom.

Never Too Young To Code-Think coding is for older kids? Think again. Here is why kids as young as 4 and 5 can learn to code.

Hour of Code Suggestions By Grade Level-Here is a great list of all sorts of ways to integrate coding K-12.

15 Ways To Teach Coding (Even Without Technology)-No access to computers? No problem! Here are some suggestions on how you can do it with pencil and paper.

Edweb Coding and Robtics Community-Newly launched this community on Edweb will have webinars and conversations on the integration of coding and robtics into the classroom.

Coding doesn’t have to take place on computers either. Do you have iPads? There are great apps that are highly engaging and fun to support coding in the classroom.

Swift Playgrounds
Human Resource Machine

Remember, Hour of Code, while celebrated next week can take place any time. And it doesn’t have to be an hour only. Coding can build creativity, problem solving and math skills amongst other things. And it doesn’t have to happen in the computer lab. Coding can happen in any grade level and in any subject!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Flipping Out For Professional Learning

During a professional development session a while back I thought I killed someone.

He didn’t respond when his name was called.

He didn’t respond I tapped his shoulder.

Finally, he responded when I shook him a bit harder.

Lucky for me (and him) he was just asleep. But it was a wake up call to me and the way I approached delivering Professional Development. It also got me thinking about how much boring time educators spend in meetings and “PD” when they could be doing something more authentic.

I'm going to bet we can all recall a meeting or boring PD we had to endure. Those meetings that drag on, and on, and on. Seemingly pointless meetings that, while they may have had a purpose when being planned that purpose got lost in the message and delivery. Many meetings are just information transfer. What are the dates for training for administering the next state exam? Who is going on the field trip? Remember to walk your kids to the cafeteria.

Think about Professional Development, specifically technology-related PD. Much time is spent on the how-to of technology. How to sign into the LMS. How to create a Google Doc. How to send a Tweet. Much of the time in the actual PD is eaten up by tasks that can be learned outside the actual PD, freeing up the time when we do get together on more the why-to with technology PD or any type of professional development really.

What if that hour/90 mins/half day was spent on meaningful, embedded professional development that was participant driven? We complain we don't have the time for that really good PD. Why? What if we adopted the model of the flipped classroom and applied it to meetings and Professional Development?

Flipping PD and faculty meetings is essentially the same as flipping the classroom, but with adults. The idea is, there is some sort of information transfer (basic information about a learning concept) outside of the learning environment (classroom/meeting/PD) allowing for further discussion or extended learning when in the learning environment. The watered down version of flipping is that we front-load information about a concept outside of the classroom (meeting/PD) so when kids (adults) are in the classroom (meeting/PD) the time is spent on knowledge extension or deeper understanding of the content.

I will admit it. I am not a big fan of flipping the classroom. I am, however, a huge fan of flipping faculty meetings and Professional Development.

Now, I am by no means the first person to think about flipping PD or faculty meetings. Many have come before me and even my friend Peter DeWitt has a book dedicated to the subject. The notion has been around for a while yet it is still not yet caught on in many places.

The time we spend together as professionals improving our practice should be meaningful and we should be able to walk away feeling as it the time was well spent. Meetings and Professional Development should provide opportunities to examine current pedagogical trends, learning, classroom embedded teaching techniques and technology and, above all else, the chance to talk with other educators and learn from each other. Each time we meet and learn together is another opportunity to be better for kids.

It seems educators meet all the time. When I am working with teachers or administrators the consistent thing I hear is we meet too much with little or no end result. So instead of continuing meeting with no purpose, let's flip that time. Let's front load with all the basic information we all need, freeing up that faculty meeting or professional development time for more learning, PLCs, sharing, etc.

The traditional notes in the mailbox and faculty memos are a great start. Distributed information ahead of time for review or study certainly frees up time when meetings or PD takes place. However, this is an area when technology can be of much benefit. There are many tools that can be used to share different types information ahead of time. You need to find something easy and something that won't take a whole lot of time, but will communicate what you need to. There is no rule for which works best. Try a few and see which is most effective and run with it. But don’t be afraid to gather feedback and refine your practice.

What are some simple and easy to use tools you could flip those faculty meetings and professional development

Videos-These are the traditional tool of the flipper. For many this will be a great option. There are some easy to use screencasting tools out there (Screencast-o-Matic being my favorite). Think about it like this. You can sit for 10-15 mins and record a mini presentation. Review the notes for the faculty meeting or demonstrate how to use the particular tool for the technology PD. Our attention spans aren’t much longer than that anyway. Participants can watch as many times as they need to get the information. And you don’t have to be Spielberg. Keep it loose and keep it natural. Have fun with it!

Blogs-A simple faculty or technology blog can transfer a great deal of information pretty simply. When I was an Instructional Technology Director many of my principals used blogs as a way to get the basic information out to staff each day. Who was going to be out of the building, reminders and links to important information. It becomes a running record of the day’s events and a great look-back for information. The same could work for a technology blog. Post all the how-to information or videos on the blog. Either way, you’ve freed up that time to spend on more meaningful conversations when you meet.

Collaborative Docs-Tools like Google Docs could be used in the same way as blogs but more privately. Post all the necessary information ahead of time, but now we can add in a collaborative element. Using the commenting feature participants can share ideas, other resources or ask questions. The doc too can become a running record. Simply put the newest information at the top and push the previous information down the page. I’ve seen many faculty meetings flipped using something simple like Google Docs.

Collaborative Learning Space-Perhaps your district or your school uses a Learning Management System like Canvas, Edmodo, Google Classroom or something else. No matter what you use, create a space for faculty or participants in a PD session. This was wildly popular in my district. We’d create spaces for PD sessions where we could communicate ahead of time with registered participants, get them started on the how-to, and they had a space to share with other participants in the class or course. The same was true for faculties. I had many principals using Edmodo with their faculties because they could post book study questions, presentations, and other information. Then the actual meeting time was spent on more meaningful conversation.

Remember, the tool is the least of your worries. There are many more tools here I could list that could aid in flipping faculty meetings or professional development. The point isn’t the tool you pick. It’s what you do with the time you gain when you flip. Focus on using that time in faculty meetings to build culture or problem solve or dig deep into how to make the learning environment better. In professional development use the time gained to focus on the why. Why is this method better? Or how can it be applied to a specific discipline. Either way make the most of the time gained and you’ll reap the rewards.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Show Off Your Creative Side With Infographics

By our very nature humans are drawn to images and graphics. Rather than reading table upon table of boring statistical data, we put them into graphs and charts so they are easier to read and understand. (And they look nicer too.) With the dawn of social media the use of these graphics to represent all sorts of information has blossomed into a whole new category of image.


You have probably seen them before. They are a visual way to represent just about any sort of data set you want to. Sometimes they are great for getting at the heart of data, while others, well they are what some would call clickbait. Either way they catch our eye and draw our attention.

There are so many different types of infographics out there on a wide variety of topics. Here are just a few. (Click the images to see more):

We know infographics do a great job of conveying some sort of data or message in an appealing and visual way. They can also provide an alternative to students who are looking for a better way to demonstrate their understanding or to show off their artistic abilities. Infographics can be used in all sorts of projects. And believe it or not, you don't have to be a graphic designer to create them. All it takes is some data you want to visualize and knowing where to go to create them.

Here are a few of my favorite sites and tools to use when creating infographics.

Wordle: Chances are this is one you have heard of. But in case you haven't, Wordle takes chunks of text, speeches, songs, or just lists of words and creates graphics out of them. The larger the word, the more often appears in the text. It's a really great tool for seeing which words are most emphasized. While it might not look like the others above it's still a visual representation of data, it's just the data is words instead of facts or numbers.

Canva: This is another that you may have heard of. Canva has been around for a little while and provides a free and easy way to create visuals. With tons and tons of templates to choose from you simply drag and drop different elements to make the perfect design. And it’s not just infographics that you can create. Images for social media, slide decks and more can be created there. They also have a whole section for educators to learn how Canva can be used in the classroom.

Adobe Spark: Similar to Canva this is a tool that starts with some text or data and builds a graphic around that. There are many templates to choose from and it’s easy to insert your own graphics, additional text and change the entire look and feel of your graphic with the click of your mouse. And like Canva, graphics can be created for all sorts of other kinds of purposes. This has to be one of the most widely used infographic programs around. Like many of these sites, pick a template and customize. What I like about are the collection of templates. They already have an infographic look and feel to them. So for the classroom kids simply pick the one they want to use and insert their data. There is very little design needed. Just the data. Of course it they want to customize their image they can. The tools are very straightforward and easy to use. You can also search the gallery for infographics already created to get ideas or to find something to use in your next project.

Creately: Creatly is an online mind mapping program that is pretty powerful. You can create all sorts of diagrams and you can do it collaboratively so this could work really well in the classroom. You can even try it out without signing up for an account. These graphics could be used as part of a larger infographic project too. I like Creately because of the ability to create flowcharts to show how data moves through systems or just for simply organizing ideas for an infographic project.

Google Public Data Explorer: It probably goes without saying but Google has access to lots of data. On this site they make it very easy to mine public data and return some amazing visuals and animations. Want to know what the unemployment rates in Europe or the birthing trends in the U.S. look like? Here is one I created on the population sizes of various states after the last census. Again, this would be a great site for gathering images and graphs.

Kathy Schrock has an entire website dedicated to using infographics in the classroom. She has gathered a ton of apps, sites, lessons and ideas and reviews how infographics are a great way to assess what kids know. It's definitely worth checking out.