Friday, October 28, 2011

What Is Innovation Anyway?

What we need is more innovation in schools.


Over the past few days I have been tossing around the idea of innovation, especially when it comes to schools and learning. And the more I think about it, the more I just don't like that word.

In its simplest form, the word innovation means "the introduction of something new." But when it is tied to learning I believe folks that want more "innovation" want something more than just something new. Innovations are supposed to be life changing and ground breaking. Take Steve Jobs. Most would agree he was an innovator. The products and vision he created at Apple were true innovations. Cell phones are the way they are because of him. Personal computers, the way we listen to music and more are the results of his innovations.

But what happens when we want that of everyone?

We should be pushing kids to think differently and to be creative in the classroom. No doubt we need much, much more of that. But when it is said that we need schools and kids to be more innovative I wonder, what happens after? Let's assume we get to a point where folks can proclaim schools and kids are now innovative. Ok. What next? Where do we go from there? After everyone and every classroom is seen as an innovator or innovative what happens?

What we need in schools is more creativity. We need to create environments where kids can explore and learn and grow together and on their own and especially environments where they can fail and feel good about that failure and learn from that failure.

I understand where the want for more innovation comes from. Many schools and classrooms have remained static for more than a century, with only a few changes in thinking here or there. So an "introduction of something new" is definitely needed in some places. But as pointed out in this piece, we have to be careful with the words we use because many of what is called "innovation" is just smoke and mirrors for failed initiatives already in place now in many schools and districts.

I think the best part of this week was the feedback I got about my questioning innovation on Twitter. There were a wide variety of opinions and ideas on what is needed. But it seemed even through all those conversations it came back to fostering a community of creative thinkers and doers.

Lets just choose our words carefully. Forget about buzzwords and words to just get a rise or reaction out of people. Kids are more than buzzwords. Learning is more than buzzwords. Let's create communities of learners where they can feel like they can do and try and be anything.

What do you think about innovation in schools? Or that word in general? Should we be using it when it comes to kids and learning? What does that word really mean when it comes to kids and learning and schools? Leave some comments below.

Photo From thinkpublic Under CC License

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bring On The Text Messages With @ClassParrot

Cell phones and other mobile devices are beginning to take whole in classrooms around the county. And let's face it, even if our schools or districts haven't embraced the technology for learning, kids are still using phones whether we know it or not. According to Pew Research the cell phone "has become the favored communication hub for the majority of American teens."

I am not sure any of us would argue. Many kids, if not most, have a phone. And according to the same Pew Research poll, text messaging far out weighs any other type of use of the phone. And the average teen sends 3000 texts per month. My sister (12 years old) got a cell phone for Christmas last year. With in 8 days she racked up over 1500. So needless to say, text message in an important form of communication for school-aged kids.

Keeping all that in mind....

Being able to quickly and effectively communicate with students is important. And there are lots of ways to do it. I have advocated Twitter and Facebook in the past. But maybe there is an even easier way? Maybe we can take what we know about text messaging and use that to our advantage somehow?

Enter ClassParrot

ClassParrot is a relatively new service that allows teachers and students/parents exchange text messages without exchanging numbers. Here is how it works. You as the teacher create a free account. Once you have the account you create a class. Now, the class name is important because it was will be attached to every text so it is important to choose something everyone will recognize.

Then you have to decide if Parents/Students will be able to reply. That is what sets ClassParrot apart. If you allow this anyone who subscribes can reply. But, what is great is you can turn it off if you don't want this feature but you can only set it up when you create your class.

Anyway, now that you have a class you will get a unique number and code to text too. This is what you give to students. The number they will be texting to is not your phone number, rather it is a number that is generated by ClassParrot and assigned to your class. When the students reply they then follow the series of texts they get to give their name so the teacher knows who they are. In your class account you can see who is subscribed by name and if need be you can delete someone. But again, no other information is there. No phone number, email address, anything.

Once all the set up is over then you can begin sending messages. Everytime you want to send a message you log into your ClassParrot dashboard and send your message. But you can also send a poll. You decide the question and what responses you want to get back. The default is yes/no but you can change this to anything and have more than 2 responses. They have to respond with one of the choices and you can see those responses come in under your History. That is also where you can read replies to your messages (if you set that up.)

Ok, so yes, ClassParrot is free. works on credits. When you sign up you get 500 credits. And each month you get 200 more. It costs 1 credit to send a message or a poll. And it costs 1 credit each time someone replies. An unlimited plan is $9 bucks so not too bad but I know budgets are tight. If you simply turned off the reply feature and just used it to broadcast you would probably never need to pay. You have to decide what is going to work best for you.

ClassParrot could be a great service if you want to help classes keep up with assignments or dates. Or for coaches/sponsors who have afterschool activities where it might be great to keep parents informed of schedule changes or what have you.

Overall I like ClassParrot for the privacy aspect and ease of use. And I think it has the potential there to open up communication with your parents/students in a familiar and easy way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Can Passion Cross The Line?

Today I spent some time talking to a education related company, offering feedback on their various products and their social media presence. First, kudos to them for bringing in teachers and other educational professionals to have open and honest feedback about what they are doing right and a little about how they could be better.

And here is where I am at a crossroads...

Those who know me or read regularly know I love reflection. Taking that time to think each day about what we have done, what to do or just to think is so important to our personal growth and learning. Open reflection is even better. That is what I truly enjoy about this space is that I can openly reflect here and have folks help me stretch my thinking. 

So what we were doing here with this company was the same. We were asked to reflect on products and services and offer ideas to make them better or how they could be changed or what needs to be different. Yet every time we talked about something new the conversation instantly turned to attacking various parts of products or services.

Believe me, I love constructive criticism. I want to be better and I believe this company wants the same. But is there a line that can be crossed when we turn from constructive criticism in to complaining or just flat out whining?

(Maybe I am whining in this post...)

Angela Maiers is one of my most favorite bloggers/tweeters/people. She speaks a lot about passion and why we need to have passion for what we do. There was a lot of passion in the room we were in today but is their a point where passion crosses the line? 

What do you think? Help me work through this one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why Diigo Rocks!

Recently, I was asked why do I use Diigo for my social bookmarking tool. The more I thought about it the more I needed to write about all the great features Diigo is not just for regular ol' users but has some great features for educators too.

First, what the heck is Social Bookmarking? Most people are familar with favorites or bookmarks in their browser. Basically, when you come across a website you want to make sure you come back to later or want to visit a lot, you bookmark it (or for you Internet Explorer users you favorite it). But there is a flaw. Unless you have some add-on installed or special program, your saves don't travel with you from computer to computer and device to device.

Enter Diigo. When you save to Diigo your saves go anywhere because they are saved to the cloud. Sounds mystical doesn't it? The social part is because you can make your saves public and share the wealth of knowledge with others. Say you are a science teacher. Your fellow science colleagues can go and view your saves because you have made them public.

There are loads of other features as well, like highlighting on a webpage, adding sticky notes to pages, saving pages to read later without actually adding them to your collection and so much more.

One of the most powerful features is the tagging. Basically, if I save and don't tag it, I will have to remember the name of the site or something in the address. That can be tough when you start to get 1000-2000 saves like I do. Trying to remember exactly the name of a site I want to share just isn't going to happen. Instead I use tags. With tags I can categorize my saves. So, looking at I might tag that as "Search" or "Search Engine." So this way I look at my tags and find what I need. Now, I do at this point have too many tags but its super easy to go back in and reorganize things.

Another feature I love is the ability to auto-post to my blog. If you look at the post previous to this one you will see 10 of my favorite saves from last week. I set that up through my preferences. I tell Diigo what saves I want to post (either everything I save or specific tags) and what time I want it to post. And presto! A fresh blog post of resources to share.

And the groups are great too. Have a special interest or area that you want to find resources for and share with? Maybe you have an Interactive Whiteboard or you are interested in Pre-K education. Or perhaps you are in a 1:1 school. There are groups for all these where members can share their saves to not only their inventory but to the group as well. Diigo will email you once a week with all the new content. Pretty neat, huh?

Anyone can do any of those things. Joe Smith off the street can sign up for a Diigo account and do all of those things. But if you are an educator, watch out! So many more features await you.

First thing to do is get a regular Diigo account. Then visit the Educator Area and apply for the Educator upgrade. Once you get upgraded you can access all the new features in the Teacher Console. You can create class groups and student accounts.

The next step is to create a group. This could be one group for all your students or individual groups for individual projects. You give the group a name and it gets a unique URL. And one of the best features is you can make the group private, meaning only who you want to see the information will be able to.

Once the group is created you can create student accounts. No email addresses needed. You create the username and password. Then you can add those created accounts to the group. If you have already created accounts you have the option to just add those accounts then.

The advantage here is that anything the students save goes to the group. So if students are working on a group project they can share their saves together, automatically. Or as a class, if you are working on something everyone can contribute information they find.

There are so many more features to learn about. Check out this video from the good folks at the Palm Breeze Cafe to learn more.

And don't take my word for it. I asked this on Twitter.

And these are a few of the responses I got back...

There you have it. Head over to Diigo and get started.

Oh if you want to check out my saves you can do that here.

What do you think about Diigo? If it is something you already use, what do  you like about it. If you don't what do you think you will like most about it? Leave some comments below. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Tribute To #SteveJobs

I know there will be lots of posts and commentary over the next several days and weeks to one of the greatest innovators that ever lived.

While I have nothing profound to add I did want to take time and space out to offer a humble post to someone who influenced pretty much everything around us.

This is his 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford. Watch and listen. Do it twice.

Powerful stuff.

My take away...we have to be better. We have to want to be better. We have to be willing to take the necessary risks and have the passion to make the necessary change.

I am gonna try to be awesome not only today but everyday.

Thanks Steve...