Monday, July 21, 2014

Making Curation Easier With @IFTTT

There is simply no end to the flow of information available on the Internet. When it comes to trying to organize it and do something with it you may run into some challenges. I know I regularly am looking for ways to make that process better. 

Thank goodness for IFTTT

I've written about If This, Than That (IFTTT) in the past. Of the many tools I rely on each day, IFTTT that is one that I can't live without. It's so simple to use but so powerful too. 

If you need a refresher, IFTTT is sorta like coding. If something happens here, than something happens there. The "something" could be an action on the internet, an action you take in your email or something else. Since I last wrote about IFTTT the catalog of apps that work with the service has grown and you really can do a great deal with it. 

Where I think IFTTT that really shines is it's ability to curate information and organize the curation process. By setting up recipes to automatically send information to specific places, locate new information or more quickly organize that information can lead to better curation. 

There are some recipes you'll want to check out to make your curation of resources easier and more organized: 

Twitter Favorites To Evernote-If you are like me you are getting loads of great content and resources from Twitter. The dead simple way to make save the stuff you find there is to favorite those tweets. But the big flaw is if the tweet gets deleted, so does your favorite. Another flaw is you can't search them. You'll want to get those favorites out of Twitter to somewhere more user friendly. Using this recipe when you favorite something on Twitter the tweet and all it's contents get sent to a notebook you specify in Evernote. Once it's in Evernote, you can search it, tag it, do so much more with it. Not an Evernote user? Not to worry. You can send those favorites to a Google Spreadsheet

RSS To Email-I was a big fan of Google Reader before it shut down. Since then I've moved away from using an RSS reader and find most of my information on Twitter. But that doesn't mean RSS isn't still useful. With this recipe, using the RSS feed for any webpage, you can have new content sent to your email as it happens. While you probably wouldn't want to use it on content that changes constantly, you could set up a search for a particular type of content or news event and when new items were added you'll get an email. This is great for kids doing real-time research on events happening now. Email not your thing? You can save those RSS items to Pocket too

Weather To Anything-As as science teacher I am all about data. And having practical, real-life data for my students was always better than made up data from the textbook. Weather was always a great source for data. There are loads of weather recipes to use. Sending the weather to spreadsheets or getting notified when there is rain. These can be really helpful for capturing easy data. 

Fitbit To Anything-Using a Fitbit is an easy way to keep track of fitness goals. Many of my PE friends are using them to help their kids stay aware of how active they are and how they can improve their fitness. IFTTT has several recipes to get that data out of Fitbit so you can do something with it. Send it to a spreadsheet, Evernote or somewhere else so you it could be analyzed or manipulated. 

Something new is Collections. These are sets of recipes pre-made that instantly give you lots of options. One of the best is Recipes for Following The News that has all the necessary recipes for doing just that. Again, great for keeping up with real-time events. 

Those are just a few of the simple ways you can leverage IFTTT to curate, find and work with content from across the Internet. What are some ways you are using IFTTT to do the same? Leave a comment below. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Making The Best App Choices With @Graphite

When I was beginning to roll out a Bring Your Own Device initiative in my previous district we spent a great deal of time sitting and talking with teachers. There are many misconceptions and questions that arise when we allow students to use their own technology in the classroom, so I wanted to make sure we addressed those right away so we could focus on the learning and not the classroom management.

10 times out of 10 the question came up, how could they find new and exciting tools, apps and sites to use with their students but still ensure they were effective and meeting their curriculum goals?

At the time the answer was an elusive one. Our Instructional Technology program had done a lot of front loading and cataloged many of our favorite apps and sites and tried to align them. But we knew that is a loosing battle as new tools are added and created everyday. 

Now teachers don't have to look across the Internet for the answer. 

Our friends at Common Sense Media have created Graphite

Graphite is an amazing site with loads of app and website resources for any classroom. 

It really breaks down into 4 different areas:

Ratings And Reviews-This is the heart of the Graphite site. Looking for information on a specific app or website? Maybe you don't know either and you are looking for suggestions. This is the place to go. You can filter all the site has to offer by type of resource (app or website or even console game like Playstation), grade level, subject area or cost. Once you find a resource you want to investigate you get a page full of helpful information. Screenshots, Graphite and Teacher reviews (which are super helpful), pros and cons of using the resource it's all there to help you make an informed decision on the best resources to use in your classroom. 

The best feature I think is the Learning Score. Broken down into Engagement, Pedagogy and Support, this is where the Graphite rating comes from. Reviewers look at the resource and score it against a rubric in those three areas. As a teacher you get a good idea of how the resource will work in your classroom and support learning. 

Top Picks-This section is just that, the top tools, apps and sites. But it's not just a listing. They are broken down into areas like Top Tools For Remixing or Tools For Teaching And Learning About Diversity. There are loads of these topic areas and they change all the time so you will definitely want to come back and see whats new and exciting. 

Common Core Explorer-For many teachers following the Common Core Standards is a reality. Finding technology resources to support the Common Core can be a challenge. In this section you can drill into your specific set of Common Core Standards for Language Arts or Math. There you can find educator reviewed technology tools to help you teach those standards.

Teacher Center-This section is full of helpful resources for using apps and websites in the classroom. Start with the Getting Started section to see the videos for using the different parts of the Teacher Center. 

Then spend some time with App Flows. Starting with a standard lesson plan template, App Flows help you look at the different parts of your lesson to see if technology fits there and what type of technology works there. For teachers who need help understanding the role technology has in learning, App Flows can really help. There is a large community as well so you can see the other App Flows that have been created. 

Lastly you can check out the Appy Hour videos and sign up for the next one. Done through Google Hangouts, you can join live or see the recording of how various, popular apps are being used in the classroom. 

I am a big fan of what Common Sense Media has created with Graphite. Its a fabulous resource for helping teachers in 1:1, BYOD or any classroom better use technology for teaching and learning. 

Head over to Graphite and see all it has to offer!

Friday, June 20, 2014

3 Simple Rules For Attending Any Conference

As the end of June approaches that means the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology In Education) Conference is around the corner. ISTE is one of my favorite conferences because I get to catch up face-to-face with those I haven't seen in the past year, I get to learn with some incredible educators and I get to see the latests gadgets and must haves for the classroom.

If you are a social media user or a blog reader you may have seen several posts related to getting more out of ISTE. Many who attend have loads of great ideas to maximizing the impact you have while you are in attendance.

Some of my favorites for ISTE 2014:

These are just a handful of posts related to ISTE with loads of great advice.

In reading all these posts, I was reminded something was missing.

I think there are 3 things to remember, not only for ISTE, but for any conference or learning event you attend.

Put Your Thinking Cap On And Push The Boundaries Of Your Thinking-It is easy to attend conferences like ISTE or any conference and only go to the sessions lead by our friends or go to sessions where we already know a lot about a specific topic. While there isn't anything wrong with that, are you doing the most with your conference experience? Push your self. I am still a skeptic of flipped classrooms. So I make a point to attend at least one session where its discussed so I can widen my perspective. Try to find those gems of sessions that you might just walking away thanking yourself for attending. Make a point to attend at least one session where you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Go in with an open mind and make the most of your experience.

Reflect, Often-Because you are going to challenge yourself and your thinking, it will be important for you to reflect on your learning. Review your notes at the end of each day and write down your thoughts. I love Evernote for this. I can compile everything there (notes, drawings, pictures and handouts) and have it on all my devices. If you don't have a blog, attending a conference can be a great time to start so you have an audience for your reflections as well.

Don't Be A Hoarder, Share Your Learning-Speaking sharing, do it! Think about if you shared what you learned with 5 people and those 5 people shared with 5 and so on. The learning becomes so much more valuable. Find many ways to share both at the conference (social media is great for that) and when you get back to your school/district. Did you go as a member of team? Have your team take 5 mins and share all the resources with those that couldn't attend. Flying solo? Post your Evernote notebooks to Twitter or to your blog. How ever you decide to share, just be sure to share!

Combining these tips with the others that are out there you can have a very rewarding conference experience.

What about you? What tips do you have for doing more and getting more out of conferences? Leave some comments below.

photo credit: zo-ii via photopin cc

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Quick Collection Of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Resources

More and more districts are realizing the power that Bring Your Own Device can have on teaching and learning. Students get the opportunity to use the technology they are familiar with and be exposed to how technology is being used by their peers.
But while students are embracing BYOD with loud applause, educators are taking a step back and thinking about the impact BYOD has on their teaching.
I recently worked with teachers on a BYOD initiative and the first questions I would get asked centered around how they were going to utilize all the different devices at the same time, how they would see what was on each screen and how did their teaching need to change now that every student had a device.
These were challenging questions to answer. While we spent a great deal of time working through to find solutions, inevitably they would ask for more resources.
This week I am thinking about BYOD resources. Even though we might be at the end of the school year, these sites have compiled some great tools, tips, tricks and more around BYOD for you research over the summer. Whether you’ve been doing BYOD for a number of years or just starting out there is something for everyone to learn.
Depending on where you are, the letters B Y O D together can mean "powerful impact on learning" or "another bad technology policy." There are many truths and many myths out there in the BYOD discussion. THE Journal lays out 7 myths and 7 truths around BYOD. And you might just be surprised.

Over at Edudemic, they’ve assembled a solid list of sites and apps to use in the BYOD classroom. These are great because all the tools here work on any number of devices (which is important in BYOD) and they almost all are collaborative. So if you have students working on a PC, iPad and Windows Phone they can all still work well together.

Edutopia has put together a very comprehensive list of tools, apps and sites to use in the BYOD classroom. There is a little overlap here with the Edudemic list but what I like here is the breakdown. Not only do they provide the tool but a category to which it fits, like Formative Assessment or Expression or Electronic Notetaking. Each resource comes with a small explanation which is definitely helpful.

BYOD isn’t all about great tools or apps. It’s about the structures in place too. Over at TeachThough they’ve assembled a 9 point checklist of things to consider when embarking on the BYOD journey. Consideration of things like looking at successful BYOD initiatives, researching policy changes can forming informational groups are just a few of the considerations here. This is a great document to those starting out but also for those who have been there to ensure they are on the right track.
One resource that might take you all summer to go through, simply because it is jam packed with awesome stuff, is this Livebinder on Everything BYOD. Everything from the planning process to policy considerations, to ideas for BYOD PD, there is lots here to explore and learn.
Those are just a handful of BYOD resources. What are your favorites? What has helped you or what resources do you turn to when planning for BYOD in your classroom? Leave a comment below.
Happy Learning!
photo credit: miniyo73 via photopin cc

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Formative Assessments Matter

Back in my first year, I was teaching a unit on the parts of the Periodic Table. The students needed to know where they could identify elements that were typically metals, non-metals, gases and be able to identify elements based on their Atomic number among other tasks. At the time, I believed I was doing exactly what my standards said I had to. My students needed to know the organizational structure of the Periodic Table and by golly they were gonna know. 

So for a week, I stood in the front of the room while students furiously wrote down every word that came out of my mouth. Atomic number, Lanthanide Series, electrons. I could see at the end of each day confusion on their face but I chalked that up to their needing to go home and review their notes so they would "get it." No need for me to change what I was doing. They needed to catch up. 

At the end of the week was the big assessment. I was pretty proud of myself. I had imparted all sorts of Periodic Table knowledge on my students and now we were going to see them shine with it came time to recall all that information. That weekend I got the biggest wakeup call of my, then brief, educational career. Most could not recall a single thing. Some got an answer here or there but for the most part, there were no bright spots from this assessment. 

After the anger at my students subsided, I looked inward. What could I have done differently? There had to be a better way than letting my students get all the way to the end of a unit of study to have them not know anything. 

Formative assessments changed my classroom. 

That look of confusion on my students faces was a clear sign I needed to step back and look at what I was doing and how I was teaching. Had I used some kind of formative assessment I wouldn't have needed the summative at end, nor would my students have gotten to the point of utter confusion. 

Formative assessments are simply little gauges or indicators of how students are progressing towards a learning goal. It could be anything from a simple conversation to something like a clickers or response via a website. It is the formative assessments throughout learning that give us the indication we are headed down the right path with our learning or whether we should take a right turn to get back on track. The use of the formative assessments help teachers understand where their students are and, more importantly, where their teaching is. Had I used formative assessments, I would not have had to take another week breaking things down with the Periodic Table. I could made my adjustments along the way. 

How can you use formative assessments today? Simple!

1) Ticket out the door-One of the first things I did was put sticky notes on every student's desk. at the end of class they had a chance to summarize what we did that day and ask any questions they wanted. They could put their name on it or could remain anonymous. Either way I had a good indication of whether my students got it or didn't. And I could make those on-the-fly adjustments for the next class or for the next day. Now we have virtual sticky notes like on Wallwisher and LinoIt that make this process that much easier. 

2) Real-Time Feedback- I can make those on-the-fly changes by using a real-time feedback program like UnderstoodIt. By having students simply answer "Understand" or "Confused" at various times of class, you gain that valuable feedback needed to make changes to the learning. You don't have to wait until tomorrow. And you can better understand the learning needs of your students to customize the learning environment to them. 

3) Building It In- There are loads of services and sites out there do polling, quizzing or response. Utilizing these can help in the formative assessment process by building in those natural places to stop and reflect on how the learning is going and how it might need to be improved. Again, if I can make those adjustments as I go, I can catch things before they go off the rails. 

Whether you use something at the end of class or during or both, formative assessments can change your understanding of your students and yourself. After our disaster unit on the Periodic Table, I used formative assessments in my classroom everyday and never again did we have a repeat of that week. Over time the students felt comfortable enough to tell me when they really didn't like the learning style I was using or that they enjoyed a particular way I presented the content. I had a better grasp on the learning my students were doing and they had a better grasp on the content. It was a definite win-win. 

How have you used formative assessments? Leave some insight below. 

photo credit: Benjamin Chun via photopin cc

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Twitter Chats Matter

As a co-founder of #edchat and a life-long learner I've had the opportunity to be a part of 100's of Twitter chats over the past 5 years. From the beginning of #edchat when it was just a few people chatting to now state and specialized chats that get 100's of people following, these chats matter.

But why?

Meeting New People-Social media is called that for a reason. Twitter chats expose you to colleagues and friends you might not otherwise engage with. As I've written before, hashtags are powerful. While you might not follow me, we can still engage in a meaningful conversation because the hashtag connects us. One-way conversations don't really work on Twitter. I find engaging with new voices one of the reasons I keep coming back to Twitter chats.

Hearing New Ideas-These new colleagues that you are engaging with will bring new ideas to the table. Twitter chats not only expose us to new people, but we hear new ideas that could be a great takeaway afterwards. I've had many experiences where after I chat I think what great ideas to share with my teachers or administrators or something new I wanted to try for my own professional learning. This exposure to new ideas and sharing of what works is what drives many to engage in Twitter chats

Opposing View Points-Twitter chats often get knocked as "an echo chamber" or "pats on the back." Sure, are there times when everyone agrees? Definitely. When it comes to how students should be learning or how students should be engaging with technology, many people in the Twitter space have similar ideas or thinking. But the reality is we all are doing something different and even thinking a different way. This is my favorite part of Twitter chats. I don't engage with people because we all think the same. That would be boring and frankly we wouldn't learn anything. I engage because I want my thinking to be pushed. I want to see an opposing view point. I want to learn.

Finding New Resources-It usually never fails. I sit down to a Twitter chat and by the time I am done my Pocket list or Evernote notebook has grown exponentially because of the number of blog posts, new tools, videos and more that are shared. Because of the educators involved, the new ideas and the opposing view points, I will find a new blog to read, video to watch or website to check out. These are not only times for me to push my thinking, they are times for me to be a learner too. And I like that.

Creating Action-Since Twitter chats provide valuable information, resources and thinking, many take to blogs afterwards to chronicle what they are doing as a result of their conversations. I am a believer in establishing, at the end of the chat, what you are going to do as a result of your conversation. Turn your words into actions and then report back. Write a post on your blog, tweet out using the hashtag, share your learning with someone else. Don't let the benefits of the chat stay with you. Share them with the world.

What about you? Are you drawn to Twitter chats for a particular reason? What benefit do they provide you and your learning? What is your favorite Twitter chat(s)? Leave some comments below.

Looking for a chat to join? Check out the official EDU Twitter Chats List:

Happy chatting!

photo credit: eclecticlibrarian via photopin cc