Monday, April 18, 2016

Why Open Education Resources Matter #GoOpen

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

Imagine you need to run to the store to get the ingredients to make a cake.

You get the mix, eggs, oil, everything you need to make this most awesome cake.

When you get home you decide that cake isn't really what you want afterall. No, you want another dessert. And since you have these cake ingredients you might as well use them. You're not making the cake anymore, just using the stuff to go in a different direction.

Then a knock at the door.

It's representatives from the cake batter company. They tell you that what you did was wrong. You can't use the ingredients to make anything but cake and you violated their rules. You'll have to go with them to sort things out.


Might not be the best example but that's what happens to educators everyday. We rarely have anyone knocking on our doors but the fact is there is a lot of money in a closed system of education resources. Educators face, on a daily basis, the fact that many of the resources they use are expensive, can't be posted publically, can't be remixed and can't be shared.

This closed system of educational resources only hurts students. Using resources that require a specific piece of technology or can only be used in one particular way only serves to stifle an educator's ability to innovate in their classroom.

We are in a place where Open Education Resources (ORE) are poised to transform classrooms. The US Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology has placed heavy emphasis on the creation and use of OER resources in the classroom. When districts and educators #GoOpen they use copyright free materials, which usually come at no cost, and allow for educators and students to reuse, remix and share.

This short video does a great job of explaining why OER matters.

But you might be thinking these resources can't be all that great if they are free or can be changed around or reused over and over. Actually there are tons and tons of high quality OER resources out there, many can replace most of the paid resources educators are using the classroom right now.

Below are a few of my favorite OER sites and resources.

CK-12: I've been a fan of CK-12 Flexbooks for a really long time. These are OER digital textbooks that can be used in any classroom, for free. They are fully aligned to state and national standards. But beyond that they are completely editable. Educators can edit the text, examples, reorder chapters, completely make a textbook that is theirs, customized to their classroom. All open and all free.

OER Commons: This is a powerful OER search engine that will help you discover lessons and resources created and uploaded by teachers. It's not just lessons either. It's data sets, simulations, assessments, primary source materials and more.

PBS Learning Media: The folks over at PBS are constantly creating powerful shows and the PBS Learning Media site has all the resources to go along with those shows. Everything is sortable by grade or subject area. I can even look at specific standards to find just the right video, simulation or lesson.

MIT Open Courseware: Why stop with open textbooks and open resources. The folks over at MIT Open Courseware have created entire open courses for high school subjects. Biology, history, mathematics are all covered here and available for use and remixing.

These are just four of many. Edutopia has a deep list of OER Resources. I would also recommend spending time looking at the USDOE Open Education site. You can see what districts and states are participating along with some pretty interesting open sets of data. And coming soon, Amazon Education is releasing an OER registry too. So there are tons and tons of places to explore and find the best OER resources for your classroom.


photo credit: Come in, we're open via photopin (license)

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Some Videos of Our Favorite Things From #ASCD16

If I've said it once, I've said it 1000 times.

The ASCD Annual Conference is the must attend conference for any educator each year. The quality of the sessions is not something you find at too many conferences. The shear amount of educational leaders and growers that are so accessible is not something you find at many conferences.

I would save all my pennies each year to come to this conference.

This year I decided to do something a little fun. Rather than wrap up sessions or conversations I thought it would be great to find some emerging technologies on the show floor that are worth telling the world about.

Now this is daunting. The show floor is huge and if you've been to any conference similar to this, there are very few flowers in a sea of weeds. Many of the "tools," books, and other resources aren't worth very much time to talk about. But there are those hidden gems. Those new and exciting tools and resources that could have a great impact on the classroom and on learning.

So with the help of Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) and Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) we hit the show floor to find our favorite things. We broadcasted them live via Periscope and then archived them with to be able to embed here.

We started with Littlebits. Nick and I are both huge fans of these snap together circuits. I'll let Nick tell you more.

We are excited about what Littlebits can do for any classroom. You can learn more by visiting their website or checking them out on Twitter.

Next we visited something I was excited about and that was a virtual reality system where students could get inside a heart, take apart an engine or follow the metamorphosis and transition of butterflies.

You can learn more about what ViziTech can do for your classroom by visiting their website and checking them out on Facebook.

From ViziTech we visited another place all 3 of us were excited about. Robotics in the classroom has been traditionally out of reach. That landscape is changing with EZ-Robot.

Imagine being able to 3D Print your own replacement parts. Or just the fact the pieces snap together. And then with the technology behind coding the robots these could be in any classroom! Check out EZ-Robot at their website and on Twitter.

And lastly something for the little folks. We don't often see high-quality edtech tools for kids 3-8 years old. That is changing with Tiggly. These are manipulatives to use with the iPad that help reinforce concepts related to shapes, colors, numbers, and letters.

As a father with young girls, Tiggly is definitely coming to my house. I love how the apps are all different to help keep kids engaged. And they aren't just drill and practice. There is practical use with the digital storytelling and sharing. Visit Tiggly on the web to learn more and check them out on Twitter.

So there you have it! Our favorite things from #ASCD16. Be sure to check them all out!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reflection Makes Us All Better

Back when I was in the classroom I spent very little time going back over my teaching.

I of course went back over test questions, quizzes, formative assessments and the like to see where students had gaps in their understanding or those content areas we needed to revisit.

But rarely did I sit down and just think about my teaching. What was I doing? Could it be better? Was it effective? What was working well in my lessons that I could perhaps replicate in other lessons?

I regret that. There were so many opportunities I missed to be better or change things in my classroom for my students for the better because I just didn't take the time to reflect.

Reflection is such an important part of the learning process. We ask kids to do it all the time. (Or at least we should be.) As educators the reflection process is just as important for our improvement as it is for students. Even now, in my role or working with schools and districts on communications and technology or presenting at a conference, reflecting on my processes, methods, what I say, what I did, all deserve some internal and external review.

Reflection is how we learn and how we get better.

Whether you spend a great deal of time reflecting and want to do it better or you want to start, there are some great resources out there and some great tools that you can use for the reflection process.

Reflection4Learning-This is a site I have used often to talk about reflection in learning. Geared mostly towards student reflection this site has some great resources like reflection models and how to fit reflection into the classroom. It's been around for a while so some of the tools are a bit outdated, it can, however serve as a jumping off point to more places to learn about reflection in learning.

Learning Through Reflection-In the book Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind from ASCD authors Costa and Kallick explore what habits all educators need to develop to improve. Thanks to them, the full chapter on Reflection is posted for you to check out. In it there are methods to reflection and most importantly why it helps us all improve.

High-Tech Reflection Strategies Help Learning Stick-This great piece from Edutopia not only lays out why students need opportunities to reflect but how technology can help make that process better in the classroom.

In addition to learning about reflection its important to understand there are many technology tools that both students and all educators can use to openly reflect on learning.

Blogs-As you read in the piece from Edutopia blogs can be a great way to openly reflect on our learning and invite the comments of others to help us see differently or think differently. I often use this blog as a place to reflect on my own learning. There are many different blogs and blogging platforms so the choice is really yours. Check out this post I wrote a while back about getting started with blogging and this post on using blogs in the classroom. 

Twitter-I am a huge fan of using Twitter for reflection. I will often tweet out quotes from speakers to reflect upon my own thinking. This give me a platform to engage with others out there on a myriad of issues. Sometimes I get push back from what I tweet and other times I am the one pushing back. The debate and discussion helps us be better and think smarter. Moreover, Twitter chats have proven a great way to discuss, debate and reflect on pressing issues in edu. Visit the Twitter Chat Calendar to find a chat and take part in the discussion. Don't know about Twitter chats? Here is a post about the most popular, #edchat, and how to get involved. 

Recap-Currently in beta this app has the potential to really change reflection in your classroom. When the app is launched students (or could be teachers after a professional development session) record their thoughts and feelings on what they've learned. Videos are uploaded to the site for review by the teacher. When recording the video students (or teachers) can self report their understanding and the platform breaks out those that are still having trouble so you can focus on the learning that matters. I had the chance to take a look at it and if I was still in the classroom this would be a must-have app for me. 

Technology certainly makes capturing and sharing reflection easier and we can do more with it. But there's nothing wrong with good ol' paper and pencil. I carry a journal with me to write down what I am thinking. Sometimes just writing to get words on a page helps me see another side I hadn't considered.

Whatever you use, always take the time to reflect on what you've been learning and teaching. And allow students to do the same!

photo credit: Red and blue via photopin (license)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Quick List STEM Resources For The Classroom

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






I had the honor of being both a Middle School Math and Science teacher. Those were some of my fondest times in the classroom, blowing things up (it happened once!) while at the same time being able to connect the math to the science we were doing. I always had a passion for learning about the way the world works and the elegant patterns we find in everyday mathematics. (Heck, I even married a Math Teacher!).

STEM today is so much more than just the 4 areas that make it up. And it's important to embrace STEM in every classroom and at every level. But how can you do that? How can you incorporate Math into Language Arts or Engineering into Social Studies? And beyond that what about the Arts, Coding and Making? Don't those all have a place in the "STEM" classroom?

Here are list of 7 place to learn more about STEM, how you can incorporate it and what you can do with it.

ISTE: Rethinking STEM-ISTE (The International Society for Technology In Education) has a bunch of STEM related resources in their archives. In particular, this blog post that has 5 simple things Educators can do to rethink what they know about STEM. From Following STEM leaders on Twitter to taking in a free webinar there's a reason this on is at the top of the list.

ASCD: STEM Resources-ASCD (Formerly The Association of Curriculum and Development) also has a great list of STEM resources for the classroom. It's a little older but still a great collection of sites to explore.

Teaching Channel: Videos For Making STEM Come Alive-I find myself spending more and more time on the Teaching Channel and this post is why. These videos are great! There are some super lessons here and not only do you get the plan, you can see how it was done in the classroom!

Samsung: STEM Fuse Curriculum-If you are interested in a STEM Curriculum Samsung STEM Fuse is worth a look. It contains Tablets, Guides, Resource Packs and more to get STEM started in the classroom.

PBS Teachers: STEM Education Resource Center-Another not to miss resource set. Here they have tons of Activity Packs, Resources from NASA (which are awesome), discussion boards and more.

Edutopia: STEM to STEAM Resource Guide-Just about everything that comes out of Edutopia is top notch and this is no different. The Arts should be just as much a part of the classroom as Math and Science. It's actually easier than you think to bring in drawing, music and other aspects of the Arts into STEM classroom. This guide has all you need.

Resources For MakerSpaces and 20% Time-This was a post I wrote a while back that has tons of sites, blog posts and personal experiences with Maker and 20% Time. These can be the cornerstone of any good STEM/STEAM Program.

This is far from everything. What are your favorite resources, sites, posts, people to follow when it comes to STEM and STEAM? Leave your thoughts below.

photo credit: IMG_5274 via photopin (license)

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Why Not Become A @Graphite Certified Educator

Y'all know I love Graphite and the work that the folks over at Common Sense Media are doing for educators and students.

Their site is full of helpful tips for digital citizenship, the best apps and sites for a plethora of content areas and so much more. There are lesson plans, boards to share your favorite groups of content, and a community to connect with other educators.

Well now you can do even more with Graphite and become a Graphite Certified Educator.

The aim is to give teachers who are using technology through the course of their teaching a place where they can contribute their ideas, share their failures and successes and learn from a broader community of other educators.

According to the site:

Our Graphite Certified Educators say the best things about being certified include:

  • Being connected to an amazing group of expert educators from across the world.
  • Helping other teachers by sharing their experiences with using tech tools in the classroom.
  • Earning incentives for their efforts and contributions on Graphite.
  • Publicly receiving the credit they deserve for their efforts.
So what do you have to do? 

In order to apply, educators must have registered on Graphite, completed a full profile, and have already created and published on Graphite a minimum of Three high-quality Teacher Reviews and One high-qualityLesson Flow. The site has an explanation of what "high-quality" means as well so you can ensure you're on the right track. There are also some other more basic qualifications like being a good writer, working with kids, etc. You can learn more in the FAQs. 

What do you have to do?

Once approved, over the course of 2016, Graphite Certified Educators will write at least one Lesson Flow (in addition to the Lesson Flow submitted as part of the application). Certified Educators also will engage in four of the below activities in any combination:

  • Writing a Teacher Review
  • Creating a Lesson Flow
  • Writing a blog post
  • Participating in or leading a Graphite Twitter chat
  • Posting in the Graphite community discussion forums
More over you're contributing to a community of educators that is sharing technology best practices with other educators globally. That's pretty awesome!

There's more to learn to head over to the Graphite Certified Educators page to see all that you can do, how you can participate and their pretty sweet list of incentives. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

TCEA 2016...A Wrap-Up

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

As I have for the past several years I had the pleasure of gathering with thousands of educators from across Texas and beyond at the annual TCEA conference in Austin. I enjoy spending the week there learning and sharing because of the high quality of sessions and folks that are there. It really is one of my favorite conferences and I encourage you if you get the chance to go, do it!

This year I had 3 general sessions that I delivered and I wanted to share the presentations and resources with everyone so we can all grow together. All the resources are open for sharing, comment and adding to so if you go through them and have anything to add please do.

The Tech-Savvy Administrator- A little over a year ago I published a book with ASCD by the same title. The goal is to help school leaders be more comfortable with technology in order to better understand how it works in the classroom. This session focused on the various ways that school leaders could use common, classroom tools in their practice. Once they have a grasp of how they can work for them they can begin to understand their use in the classroom.

Resource Doc:

Curating Content-Centered around another one of my books, this session introduced the concept of curating information and the tools used to do it better. We talk about my 4-step curation process, the need for teachers to improve their information literacy skills and what are my favorite curation tools. The benefit here is everything we talk about for teachers, can work with students too so the benefit is two-fold!

Resource Doc:

Improving The Technology Walkthrough Process: Based on this blog post I wrote awhile back this session focused on how school leaders can better look at how technology is being used in the classroom. There are 5 simple questions we need to ask when looking at how technology is being used. We covered that and how we can coach teachers through the technology improvement process.

Resource Doc:

The Vendor Floor was packed with new, updated and some interesting solutions for the classroom. Normally I don’t get too excited about many things happening there but this year was different. I had the chance to spend some time with the folks from Samsung EDU and they have a great program to increase the value of hardware in schools and districts.

Partnering with Neverware you can purchase a set of Chromebooks and get a set of licences to convert already existing hardware to Chromebooks as well. Great for those on a budget who want to improve technology but stretch the dollars as far as they will go. I would encourage you to check out the site they have dedicated to it to learn more.

The other exciting thing I saw at the Samsung Booth was the fact that no matter their curriculum solutions they are offering on-going Professional Development to go along with it as well. Now that's important. Many products schools and districts buy come with PD but rarely do they come with ongoing PD. That can be a major part of adoption of new technologies. Check out their Education page to learn about all the solutions and how they can make a difference in your classroom.

I absolutely enjoy every moment of TCEA. Even though my Ignite session kicked my butt and I didn’t get to spend as much time networking with folks as Iike to it was still a wonderful learning experience for me and am already looking forward to TCEA 2017!

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Make Your Classroom Truly Global

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

One of the great things about being a connected educator is the conversations that happen on a regular basis with colleagues and learners from across the globe. Being connected means that educators can think and learn, grow and reflect with not just those directly around us but also those in the far reaches of the globe.

How awesome is that!

I just love the fact that the world gets so much smaller when we use technology like that. There really are endless learning opportunities for students (and teachers as well).

During the Arab Spring a high school teacher in my district was struggling to get her students to understand the whys of those events. It was easy to read about them in a magazine or watch a news report but she knew there had to be a better way. We talked and I suggested we try to Skype someone in. It was a long shot to get someone from that region but worth it so the students could hear first hand what was happening and why it was happening.

I took to Twitter and through some connections was put in touch with a teacher in southern Egypt. We arranged a brief Skype chat where he was able to describe what was happening and, most importantly, the why.

We knew it was important to connect the students to their content. And we did so by going global.

You know it's important too. But where do you start? And what sorts of global projects are out there?

First, what tools will you need?

That's a tough one to answer. It will all depend on the type of collaboration and project you want to undertake. Internet is a must. But if you want to do video chatting, a good webcam and external mic is necessary. I always recommend external devices for that sort of thing. Built-in stuff can be a challenge to manipulate and get the image or the sound just right. Spend a little bit of money and get something good.

Additionally, Samsung provides a variety of educational technology with lots of options to tailor the product to the learning experience you are trying to create. Samsung unveiled their Chromebook 3 solutions at FETC this month, including a phased approach to converting classrooms to Chromebooks  to help schools with budget and resource constraints leverage their existing hardware during the transition.

You will also want a Skype account. Skype to Skype calls are free and include video. You can use your Skype account to call cell or landline numbers for a fee but for collaboration voice and video are always great and free. Google Hangouts can be a great alternative. If you have a Google account you can start a video hangout with up to 10 people which is great for multiple rooms participating or multiple locations. And Hangouts make it easy to record your sessions and post them to Youtube later.

So, with the software and hardware out of the way we can focus in on where to find people and projects.

Hashtags-Yep, Twitter. Ok, I know. You've heard me ramble on about Twitter. But seriously. If you want to make global connections, you've got to be on Twitter. I mean, where else can I have a conversation with a teacher in New Zealand at 4am? Hashtags make it easier and easier to narrow your focus on who to collaborate with. And with the number of state and national chats and hashtags it might only take a matter of moments to find someone. Check out my post on using Hashtags and visit this page to see all the current educational hashtags being used.

Teacher's Guide To International Collaboration On The Internet-From the U.S. Dept. of Education, this handy resource is full of ideas and projects for collaborating internationally. Everything from email exchanges to video chatting to global challenges can be found here. And it's broken down by subject area so you can easily find a project to fit your needs.

QuadBlogging-This is one of my favorite projects. The idea here is you and your students blog and comment with other students in another country. One week your class does the writing and the other classes comment and the next week it switches. It can be very insightful to see what other students are writing about. I have seen some pretty powerful posts come from this project. Check out their website to learn more.

Skype Classroom-As I mentioned before, Skype Classroom can be a powerful resource to connect your classroom to the world. Registering for free with your Skype account gives you access to message boards that allow you to look for someone to collaborate with or post looking to collaborate with someone else. You can direct your posts for specific countries or regions too. And the projects here are pretty neat. Definitely a place not to miss.

Have you made a global connection? What tips to do you have for others getting started? Leave your comments below.

photo credit: Home Base via photopin (license)

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