Thursday, July 31, 2014

Let's Build Something Together-Maker Spaces and 20% Time

Maker Movement

20% Time

Genius Hour

The idea of students looking away from ridged content focus all throughout the school day and giving them back some time to explore and make is gaining a foothold in many classrooms. Educators are turning towards ideas like the Maker Movement and 20% Time to foster creativity and innovation in their classrooms and to get their kids thinking and doing more.

Recently I was talking to a group of educators about how they can get kids thinking differently and asked if any of them were creating maker spaces or using 20% time in their classrooms and very, very few had any idea what I was talking about.

So what is a maker space? What exactly is 20% time? Here are some great resources I've found.

First, Maker Spaces.

In it's simplest form Maker Spaces are places where kids can explore and, well, make stuff. The idea is that we provide the tools, resources and time to see what can be created. Many maker spaces are simple with just random supplies donated by parents. While other spaces are decked out with 3D Printers, electronics, the works. And there are spaces in between. The point isn't really what is in the space. The point is what comes out of it and giving kids the freedom to explore making stuff that could turn out to be pretty innovative.

Maker Education Resources-This page from Edutopia has just about everything you will need to get started with creating and utilizing Maker Spaces in your classroom or school. Be sure to check out the post on the Maker Tools and how Problem-Based Learning can be enhanced through a Maker Lens.

Maker Faire Education-Maker Faires have been around for a very long time. On the site they have a whole section dedicated to making in schools. They also have other resources like kits you can buy and leads on Maker Faires in your area.

A Librarian's Guide To Makerspaces-Media Centers and Libraries are popular places for creating maker spaces and for good reason. This post is full of great content, whether you are a librarian or not.

I have a few favorite tools for Maker Spaces. Makerbot makes an awesome 3D printer at a super reasonable cost for schools. Little Bits are easy to use circuit boards that snap together that allow you to control all sorts of objects. The Kano computer is something I am really excited about. (I was a backer on Kickerstarter.) Its a computer you build, then program. And I am a huge fan of Sphero. While you don't build Spheros you do program them and programming can fit into any maker program. (I wrote a post about it not to long ago.)

So what about 20% Time.

The idea here is simple. You give back 20% of the time you teach back to students to allow them to explore something they want to learn about. (And in the process they learn a lot about themselves and their learning.) The idea of 20% time became popular with Google. They give their employees 20% of their time to work on something not related to their assigned area. Things like Gmail came out of 20% time there. You really can do some pretty neat things when you just have the time.

I know what you are thinking? There is too much pressure on me and my classroom already. No way can I give up 20% of my instructional time for my kids to explore something that isn't even related to our content. It's actually easier than you think and there are tons of resources out there to help you out.

20 Time In Education-This is the first place to spend researching. Here you will find loads of resources for getting started with 20 Time including a great template for introducing 20% Time to your class and how to organize yourself when you give that time back to your students.

20 Time: How It Really Works-I think with anything out-of-the-box it's important to have a practical example to look at. My friend Nick Provenzano did 20 Time with his students last year. And they did some pretty amazing things. He has a whole series of posts on his blog about his and their experience. If you are looking for someone who has "been there, done that" Nick is your guy.

Genius Hour-For some, giving back 20% of the time back to students may be a bit of a challenge. But that doesn't mean you can't give some of the time back. Genius Hour could be an alternative. Just taking an hour a week or every other week can still get kids doing some pretty incredible things. The Genius Hour site has tons of ideas, books to read, video interviews and more.

Whether you create a Maker Space in your school or give back 20% of your time, or something entirely different, kids can do some amazing things when given the chance.

These are just a few of the resources out there. What are your favorites for 20 Time, Genius Hour or Maker Spaces? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: wemake_cc via photopin cc

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!