Friday, December 18, 2015

How Tech Can Enrich Your Next Field Trip

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

Devices like tablets and wearables don’t just enhance classroom learning—they can also transform field trips, making educational outings more interactive and memorable than before.

Culturally stimulating field trips were found to improve critical life skills in children in a 2013 study from the University of Arkansas. And with tablets, smartwatches and virtual reality headsets in hand, a whole new avenue of learning opens up for our educators and students.

“Today—and tomorrow’s—mobile technology can enhance the actual educational impact of the field trip through all phases of the learning experience,” says Ellen Paxton, founder of the Professional Learning Board.

Getting students truly involved in their surroundings during a school outing by using technology to capture information, do research and visualize the unseen makes them more invested in the experience. It “provides a stronger personal connection to the learning objective of the field trip,” according to Paxton.

Here are a few ways to make it happen:

Scavenger Hunt
Build time into the trip for students to explore the destination freely. Send them on a technology-enhanced scavenger hunt where they use tablets or Samsung’s Gear smartwatches (which come with built-in cameras) to capture photos of certain objects, landmarks, details or personal discoveries. They can take notes on the go, and complete photo descriptions once back in the classroom. This article has a nice idea for doing a scavenger hunt on school grounds, too.

Data Collection
Science field trips can encourage students to explore an environment independently, conducting field research by capturing photos, video, measurements and other observations.

The Sequoia Park Zoo in Northern California did just that by partnering with Humboldt County Office of Education to create a technology-based experience for visiting students using Samsung School. Students go out to the Redwood Forest behind the zoo to collect data and beam it back to the zoo learning center, where teachers can monitor how their students use the technology. Learn more about the program here.

Virtual Field Trips
Virtual reality technology allows students to hear and see things that would be otherwise unavailable to them—places like outer space, ancient Rome, or the bottom of the ocean become accessible. These multisensory experiences enhance students’ conceptual understanding, and improve their ability to recall information. Samsung is partnering with Oculus Rift to build the Samsung Gear VR, which is a mobile VR headset.

High school guidance counselors can even use virtual reality experiences powered by YouVisit Colleges to help students explore university campuses around the world and find the right school

This is just the beginning. Who knows where technology will take us next?

Photo credit: GraysonHighlands-hiking via photopin (license) For more content like this, follow Samsung on Insights, EDU Twitter, EDU LinkedIn , YouTube and SlideShare

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bing In The Classroom

The folks over at Microsoft Bing in the Classroom Initiative hope to help students be better searchers of information and build a foundation of good digital literacy skills. It's definitely something worth a look.

It all starts with registering your district (or independent school) as a Bing In The Classroom partner. When your schools community members use Bing at home they can donate to your school to receive credits from their searches. Those credits add up to free Surface tablets for your school. Simply search and earn free tech. Neat!

What I think the most beneficial part of the Bing In The Classroom program are the free to use digital literacy lesson plans. They range in topics from traditional computer science lessons like programming and coding to more integrated content areas like math, chemistry, the arts, design and more. Lessons range from Kindergarten all the way through High School. Each is aligned to the Common Core and has additional resources to help extend the lesson.

Some of my favorites:

  • K-4: Query Formulation-Even our youngest students can learn the best terms and ways to find the information they need. 
  • All Grades: Texting-There are several lessons for all grade levels to help students (and adults) understand texting, how to do it appropriately and how to avoid the pitfalls as we grow older. 
  • K-8: Robotics-These lessons introduce students to the history of robotics but also the impacts robots have on our daily lives. 
  • HS: Hungry On Mars- Students are challenged to grow food in an environment hardly supports life. 

There are so many more! And many have a tie in to the Skype Education community so you can find a subject matter expert to help extend the lesson.

Take some time and check out the entire Bing in the Classroom initiative. There's lots to discover and learn!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Teaching Educator Digital Literacy With A Pinterest Party

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

I will freely admit that Pinterest is one of those services that I haven't been a big user of. When it first appeared my wife took to it instantly. Now, she is a teacher but she didn't go in the hunt of resources for the classroom. She was looking for recipes, design ideas and oddly enough, wedding dresses (we were already married so I'm still not really sure about that one).

During a multi-day workshop I was running in one of my schools a few years ago, we had teachers divide up in to curriculum teams to investigate and find resources for a unit of study they felt they were weak in. As soon as we turned them loose to get started, multiple hands went into the air.

"Why is Pinterest blocked?"

"I need to get to Pinterest to get started and I can't!"

I heard this over and over from across the room. The teachers, when setting out on a task to find resources for their classroom were not going to Google like they had done traditionally. They went to Pinterest to find what they needed. I had no idea it's popularity (nor did I know it was blocked in our schools). I had it unblocked and teachers went about their way.

But then we had a problem.

Most of the resources they were finding and wanting to use just weren't right. Some where not aligned to the correct content area. Others were just not pedagogically strong. And still others were copyrighted material that should have never been posted in the first place. The problems came when the teachers said the lessons looked great, or pretty, or fun. They weren't evaluating the resource, rather they were evaluating the look of the resource.

I am sure there are wonderful resources for the classroom and learning that are posted there. Many folks that you know through social media have boards there on a variety of subject areas. But Pinterest wasn't designed for sharing instructional resources. It's a visual medium for food and design and fashion. So if we are going to use it to share instructional resources, we have to take additional steps to ensure what we are finding is right for the classroom.

Traditional professional development in the realm of digital literacy can be quite boring. With all PD we have to rethink the way we do professional learning, especially when thinking about technology related PD. The learning needs of the educators has to be considered as well as the classroom environment.

This led me to an idea.

Curation and digital literacy are such necessary skills today. Understanding where to find the best information, how to vet that information, organize and share that information are crucial skills in this digital age. (Shameless plug-So important I wrote a book about it!) What if we combined the values of curation and resource sharing on Pinterest into an event.

A Pinterest Party!

The way it works.

Invite anyone, teachers, coaches, instructional staff to your Pinterest party. These could be teachers of the same subject or grade level or a mix of the two; however you want to do it. Then there are 2 rules. They must bring a board of resources they've collected that they are using in the classroom for an upcoming unit of study. And they must bring a dish that they found on Pinterest to share with everyone.

Who wouldn't want to come to a professional development with tons of food!

While we are trying out all these great dishes of food we can get down to business. Talking about digital literacy. For each resource participants need to answer 4 questions:
  • Where did the resource come from? Can you tell from the post who the original poster of the information was?
  • Based on where the information came from, is it copyrighted? Can you reproduce it, post it yourself, or even use it without proper license? 
  • Is the resource aligned? Look at your standards/units/instructional plans and decide, does this resource help you meet a teaching goal? 
  • Will this resource help students learn? The most important question to answer, we have to look past how fun or "cute" a resource looks and determine if it will really help students meet an instructional objective. 
The goal is less about the actual resource finding and more about teaching those necessary digital literacy skills to find the best information in the classroom.

While Pinterest can be great medium for finding resources we've got to ensure they are the best resources.

For more content like this, follow Samsung on InsightsTwitter, LinkedInYouTube and SlideShare.

Photo credit: balloons via photopin (license)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Becoming Connected Is Easier Now More Than Ever

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

Across the globe educators just wrapped up celebrating Connected Educators Month. During October the focus was on helping all educators, everywhere, understand the importance of being connected to one another and an examination of all the ways to make that happen. It's always a fun month filled with book clubs, webinars, chats and conversations.

My one complaint with Connected Educators Month is that it's just a focus for a month. Being a Connected Educator can't be something we push once a month or for a week here and there. Being a Connected Educator is a mindset.

As Tom Whitby and I point out in our book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning (Corwin, 2014) we believe there are 8 things all Relevant, Connected Educators do:

  • Practices and Models Lifelong Learning
  • Views Failure As Part of the Process of Learning
  • Believes in Sharing and Collaboration
  • Willing to Explore, Question, Elaborate, and Advance Ideas Through Connections With Other Educators
  • Uses Technology and it's Connection to Other Educators to Learn and Teach
  • Uses the Tools of Technology to Personalize Their Professional Development
  • Comfortable With New Technology and Shows a Willingness to Explore
  • May Put Creation Over Content and Relevance Over Doctrine
These Tenets of being a Relevant, Connected Educator should be embraced by all in the teaching profession. We are deliberately provocative for a reason. In order to maintain relevancy in the classroom for students and each other, educators need to connect together, to learn, share, reflect and grow. 

While it sounds like a daunting task for those that are just beginning to explore this world, it doesn't have to be. Our mobility, use of social media and access to devices has made making connections easy and impactful. 

Learning On The Go-More and more educators are writing, reflecting and sharing through blogs and articles. Because of the shear volume it can be difficult to find exactly what you looking for. And who has time to sit in front of a laptop for hours searching for just the right blog post. We can use those in-between times because of our access to mobile to do some learning, growing and reflecting. Waiting for a doctors appointment? Picking up the kids after school? Any time we're waiting can be time for learning. 

Apps like Flipboard curate the web and find the content that you want to see. It allows the user to customize the sources and type of content you want to see. For example, I can give a piece of content and thumbs up and now the app knows I like that source and like that topic and it will find similar content for me. Apps like this not only make learning happen anywhere, it makes that learning truly personal. 

Personalizing Professional Development-Personalized learning doesn't have to stop at apps. Educators, now more than ever before have multiple options to take part in professional learning from the comfort of their own home. As Samsung points out in a great post, over 90% of teachers have a need for specific PD in digital resources. And in most cases these needs are drastically different (just as they are in the classroom). The reality is, districts can't provide personalized PD to every educator. Therefore, we have to seek out those places on our own to fill those gaps. 

Edweb is one of my favorites. Edweb is a group of communities on a wide variety of educational topics. Leadership, digital learning, the arts, school communications, even school gardens are just a handful of the 100's of communities that are there. Communities have message boards to share ideas and ask questions, blogs, and more. But the best part of Edweb are the free (and on-demand) webinars that take place there. On any given day you can find 2-4 free webinars on an even wider variety of topics. And after each webinar every participant gets a certificate of attendance. Can't attend a webinar live? No worries! You can view it on demand in the community. 

Reflecting on our Learning-Just as it's important for students to do, educators need to reflect on their learning and share that growth with others. Often we just need to talk-it-out with others to better understand our own positions and thoughts. Teaching can be isolating but it doesn't have to be. Alone we are smart but together we are brilliant. We have to work and share together to all be better. 

Twitter chats, as I have said for a very long time, can be a great starting point for these types of reflections. As a founder of #edchat, I have seen the evolution of Twitter chats over the last 7 years and seen the impact and power they can have for educators. In the beginning there were just a handful of chats to pick from. Today there are in upwards of 30 a day. Most states in the US have a chat, and there are chats that take place from all corners of the globe on just about any topic you can choose from. Check out the Twitter Chat schedule to learn more and, most importantly, commit to participating or lurking on a chat. 

As Educators, being connected should be an important part of our growth process. If we are truly committed to being lifelong learners and we want students to learn the importance of lifelong learning than we must use the power of mobility, social media and digital devices to reach out and learn, reflect and grow together. 

For more content like this, follow Samsung on InsightsTwitter, LinkedInYouTube and SlideShare.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Quick List of Classroom Blogging Resources

I originally wrote this in 2013. Since then a few resources have changed and I've come across some different ones. Enjoy!

Blogging is an important part of who I am as a professional. I can use this space to share resources with you, reflect on my own practice and try to figure out how to be a better educator. It is my public reflection on technology, leadership and learning.

Think about when you were in school. You write an essay. Who read it? Most likely the teacher and that is where it ended. You pour hours and hours into reflections on Shakespear, the economic and political effects of wars on society or how plants have evolved over time, yet the only person who read your thoughts are the teacher. Maybe you shared with a close friend or even the class. But generally the world was unaware of your thoughts and feelings.

Blogging changes that for kids. Now the audience is global and anyone can read, and in some cases respond and comment. Kids can post their writing, projects, thoughts and reflections. Teachers can provide prompts or starters and kids can pick up and run with it.

More and more teachers and classrooms are embracing blogging in the classroom. You're thinking about it, but are unsure where to even start or how to get started. Lets take a look at some classroom blogging resources to get started with.

There are lots of platforms to use. And the one you pick will depend on your district (blocked or not, policies, etc.) and how you want to manage them. Two very popular platforms are Edublogs and Kidblog. Both are very teacher friendly and ofter lots of features that make management easy. Edublogs has a great Getting Started section that will walk you through creation of your blogs and how to use them in the classroom.

Five Steps To Starting A Classroom Blog-Ms. Morris offers some great and personal advice on classroom blogging, learned from her own trial and error.

Educational Blogs and Blogging Resources-A wonderful Pinterest board fill of not only classroom specific blogs but additional resources for classroom blogging.

Two Critical Tips For Blogging Projects-From my good friend Bill, this post offers some more great advice on blogging in the classroom and how to make it successful.

Collection Of Blogging Resources-When I think of classroom blogging I think of Silvia Tolisano. She has been blogging, on, well blogging for a while. Her resources for classroom blogs are extensive and worth spending lots of time with.

Tips For Blogging With Students-Sue Waters (from Edublogs) also has written a lot about blogging with kids. This collection of tips are definitely not to be missed.

Student Blogging Guidelines-Some teachers will want some guidance in place when they undertake blogs with kids. Kim lays out some easy to follow guidelines that might make implementation easier.

So you can get started. You can manage your blogs. But what will you do with them. More over, what will kids do with these spaces. In addition to the ideas I laid out earlier, there are a couple more to consider.

The Student Blogging Challenge is a great way to get into blogging and get kids into their blogs. The challenge is hosted by Edublogs but you don't have to use Edublogs to take part. The challenges range from helping kids understand the mechanics of the blog to learning about digital footprints. Each challenge has prompts the kids can use as starters for posts too. And while the challenge goes on for a specific time, you can certain jump in any time and start.

And lastly, one of the great communities out there that supports student blogging is Comments4Kids. Remember before when we talked about reflection beyond the teacher? Comments4Kids aims to extend the reach of student blogs and provide feedback on posts and show kids the world is reading what they are writing. There is a Twitter hashtag too (#Comments4Kids) that you can use to post blog links or ask questions. Join the Comments4Kids blog and share your posts with the world!

Do you have a favorite resource for blogging in the classroom? Or some advice? Leave your comments below.

photo credit: Kristina B via photopin cc

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reaching The Community With Periscope

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

I am on the road a lot. Traveling the country, working with teachers and districts to improve the way they use technology and bridge the gaps in the way they communicate with their communities. And while I have the best job in the world, that means I miss many opportunities to be involved with my first grader and what's happening in her school. Parent-Teacher Conferences, After-School Events, other meetings, are just out of reach.

Or are they?

Periscope is a live video streaming app that lives on your mobile device. To broadcast, simply fire up the app, give the broadcast a title and go. No complex set-up. No special equipment needed. You carry around a full fledged broadcasting station in your pocket with the power of one app.

To view, one gets a notification on their device that a broadcast has begun and they can tune in. While watching they can type comments and even favorite individual parts of the broadcast by touching the heart in the bottom right.

I am by no means the first to suggest using Periscope in Education. In fact a simple Google Search for "Periscope in Education" yields over 2.1 million hits. But if you begin to look at the suggestions most focus on in the classroom. And while there is potential in video streaming events in the classroom, I believe the greater impact is out of the classroom, getting parents and the community excited about whats happening in our schools.

Here are just a handful of ways to think about using Periscope to build community relationships:

Broadcasting After-School Meetings-Many adults don't work in traditional settings nor do they keep traditional hours. Those that work 2nd or 3rd shift or have multiple jobs may never be able to attend a parent meeting in the evening because of other conflicts. Or the lack of child care can prevent some from being more involved. With Periscope you can broadcast those meetings simply and easily allowing anyone, anywhere to see, comment and ask questions.

Athletics Highlights-Many schools have programs to record or even broadcast live the major sports in their schools but what about sports that don't typically get covered? Soccer, cross-country, tennis, track and field, these sports are just as important. And again, not every parent can be there for every event. So using Periscope could help them be more a part of them. And with the privacy functions built into the app you can allow in just who you want so you are in control of who can view and who cannot.

Parent-Teacher Conferences-In my situation using Periscope could be a great way for me to be at the conference without actually being there. Sure, using something like Google Hangouts would be a better choice because its 2-way video, but what about if I'm in a busy airport with lots of noise, or the equipment for a 2-way video chat just isn't available where the teacher is. Using Periscope allows me to be involved and takes the guess work out of the setup.

The inevitable question will arise, yeah but what if I can't see it live? Periscope doesn't offer a feature to save or publish videos. Fear not! With Periscope you can save your videos to your camera roll. Then you can publish them and share them to your social media accounts.

Periscope can be a great addition to the tools you use to communicate with your communities. Remember, its not the only way or replace what's already working. It's just another way to build those bridges.

For more content like this, follow Samsung Business on InsightsTwitter, LinkedInYouTube and SlideShare.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Making The Most Of Social Media In The Classroom

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

Social media often gets a bad wrap when spoken in the same breath as education and learning. Ask around and many folks might consider it to be a time suck or a place where very little learning happens and therefore has no place in the classroom. 

The reality is social media (and digital learning in general) have a place in the classroom And whether we choose to embrace it, or don't, students still will leave our buildings and use it. So what if we embraced it as a medium that is here to stay and leverage it for learning? All the while we could have deep and serious conversations about digital literacy and the ways to use it appropriately.

Social media can provide many benefits to student learning and understanding.  Whether you are an expert yourself, or wanting to learn more, there are some simple ways to introduce social media to the classroom.

It's All About The Hashtag-As I've said many times before, hashtags can be great ways for educators to jump into the world of social media and connecting with other professionals. But they can be very useful in the classroom as well. A class hashtag can serve as a platform for students to share conversations (backchanneling), the teacher to post simple reminders or as a way to gather data. I once had a kindergarten teacher gather weather reports from across the globe to share with her students using a simple hashtag. The hashtag can extend far beyond our own networks into the networks of others, amplifying voices. 

Hashtags are also a great way to track conversations around world events or events that are unfolding in realtime. Conflicts, elections, sports, everything it seems these days has a hashtag and students at all grade levels can review these tweets (all without accounts mind you) to look at trends, propaganda, or investigate the stories behind the headlines. 

"Instagraming" Learning-The fastest growing social media network in 2015 is Instagram, which when you think about it makes sense. Facebook is huge and touches large populations already. Many others either have limited appeal to wide audiences (Snapchat) or have a learning curve that can push people away (Twitter). But Instgram is easy. Snap a picture, add a snazzy filter and share it with the world. 

Besides the way it could be used by leaders or teachers to share images of learning with the community, Instagram could be used in a variety of lessons. Imagine a person from history. What would they take pictures of? How could they tell their story in images? In younger grades, what about a scavenger hunt for geometric shapes or letters? (My first grader did this. She learned lots!) There are lots of simple ideas here and here

Pin A Rose On Your...Pinterest Page-I freely admin I don't understand the appeal of Pinterest. While I've eaten some great things from there and even built a few projects found there, in the classroom I really didn't see a use. Until I started to think about all these educators finding and curating content there around their classroom. Sure I can find all sorts of cute bulletin boards or methods for improving classroom management. But what about taking a step further and using it as a psudo-learning management system for your class. 

Create a board for each unit/topic/standard you teach. Gather up resources and share them with students on your website, Edmodo page or where ever you share stuff like that. Invite students to post what they find as well to help curate the boards further. Or better yet, turn everything over to students. Give them some blank boards and let the students fill them up. These could be shared resources with parents too, providing a valuable set of resources to help them understand the learning that is happening in your classroom and provide a means of help when working with their student at home.

Pinterest not your thing? Not to worry. My friend Adam Bellow has you covered with eduClipper. Similar in thought but educational in delivery, eduClipper is very teacher and student friendly and easy to use! 

Those are just 3 simple ways to think about when wanting to use social media in the classroom. What others do you have? What have you found works well? Leave your thoughts below. 

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photo credit: Collage of Digital (Social) Networks via photopin (license)

Friday, September 18, 2015

4 Inexpensive (or Free) Google Apps That Help Students Collaborate

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

Bringing technology into the classroom can feel like an uphill battle. But as we know, engaging with students on devices and platforms that they are already comfortable with creates a better, more natural learning environment. 

In addition to helping teachers modify curricula for different learning styles, classroom technology also primes students for research and collaboration in higher education and beyond. In fact, 83% of organizations support tablets in the workplace, according to a 2015 Spiceworks survey. That number is only growing.

Here are four Android™ apps—available through Google Play for Education—that enhance collaboration and make the most of limited school budgets. All are supported on smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks.

A free thought-mapping tool that helps students organize their ideas by creating visual diagrams with little assistance from their teacher. Students can share their mind maps in small groups. Grades: 3 to 12. Subjects: All.

This $0.99 app teaches algebraic concepts using virtual manipulation. Students explore concepts and solve problems in small groups, then present their findings to the class. Grades: 5 to 8. Subjects: Algebra.

A free app that lets students browse primary documents about UNESCO World Heritage Sites, visit them virtually and learn about them in a geographic and historic context. Good for presentations and small group work; students can present what they learn to the class. Grades: 8 to 12. Subjects: Geography/History.

4. Trello 
This free project management app allows a group of students to access the same educational materials and track their progress on a given task. It supports both graphics and text, and keeps small groups engaged both in and out of class. It’s also great prep for life after school. Grades: 9 to college. Subjects: All.

What other apps do you use on your Google devices that help students collaborate?

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photo credit: Deep at Work via photopin (license)

Heading Back To School With @appoLearning

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to check out and learn more about appoLearning. You might remember I wrote about my experience in finding and curating content there. And then how easy it was to create a collection of high quality resources to share. The site really does make it easy to find resources like websites, apps, and videos that have been curated by other educators and create collections that can be private, shared with a small group or made completely public.

As we head back to school there are 3 things about appoLearning you should remember.

To prepare for units, appoLearning is incredible tool that makes it easy to find groups of free digital resources (by searching previously contributed  collections and resources)-Take a look at my Professional Learning Collection. I get asked all the time about the best resources to for educators to drive and direct their personal professional learning. I have a ton of them. And normally I have to hand out long lists of websites sometimes with little explanation about what makes them great or what are the best aspects of the resources. By putting them into an appoLearning collection I can share a much larger list easily, with comments and explanations in additions to tags so that others can find the resources easily too.

You can also use appoLearning to collaborate with fellow teachers - both in and out of your school - to prepare these units. This is incredibly important as many teachers are isolated and don’t have a true collaborative partner in their own school. With the new collaboration features on collections, now I can create a collection and invite colleagues to work on it with me. Take my good friend Erin Klein. We spent the last several days working on 2 collections. In mine, resources for Connected Educator Month we were able to add several items and post comments back and forth to each other, in real-time. And its that real-time aspect that is incredibly helpful as we are several states away. This new collaboration feature is great for providing depth to the resources in a collection.

appoLearning has tons of FREE content and is all DIGITAL tools-Lest we not forget, appoLearning is more than the collections and collaboration. At it’s core it is a huge repository of high-quality, free content to browse and use in the classroom. With the ever increasing number of digital devices teachers need good places to go to find resources to teach with and supplement into learning. appoLearning should definitely be in your top places to find those resources.

So as you head back to school and get back into the swing of things add appoLearning to your list of must visit (over and over) sites for high-quality digital resources for your classroom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Which Device Can Support Different Learning Styles?

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

One of the strongest arguments for classroom technology is the ability it gives teachers to easily adapt curricula for different abilities and learning styles. Give students a choice in how they receive information—and how they interact with it—and their ability to absorb and recall educational material improves immensely.

Neil Fleming’s VARK model groups student learning into four styles:
1. Visual
2. Auditory
3. Read/write
4. Kinesthetic

Just how important is modifying curricula for different styles? Really important.

87% of students fall into multiple categories, while only 13% prefer only one learning style, according to a 2014 study from the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine.

So, which device makes differentiated instruction easiest on teachers and schools?

While there are many choices, tablets can provide the mobility and flexibility that teachers want and students need.

Tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Education allow students to choose how they learn through stylus-enabled drawing programs, audio and recording tools, speech-to-text and onscreen keyboard abilities and touch controls. These capabilities make differentiating instruction easier than ever, so teachers can focus on educating and inspiring their students.

Tablet technology goes beyond learning styles—it also helps special education students immensely. Special education technology includes built-in tools that help educators adjust material to individual education plans. This allows special needs students to communicate in their own way, and in many cases it fully integrates them into the classroom. Learn more and hear Lilly’s story here.

Students today are digital natives. They’re most comfortable using electronic devices with touch-screen abilities that give them immediate feedback—and when they’re comfortable, their ability to learn expands tenfold. With educational technologies and apps at their fingertips, our next generation of thinkers are primed for big things.

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photo credit: Padcamp 2012 via photopin (license)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Think Before You Flip Your Classroom This Year

For a while now I've been saying something provocative about Flipped Learning.

"It's the worst idea in the history of teaching."

I own that.

I've said it.

I say it that way to get educators attention. Because I like to have a conversation about it. While I am not going to walk that statement back like a disgraced politician I am going to do a little explaining (finally) why we need to think before we "flip" learning.

First a little knowledge leveling.

When I am talking about Flipped Learning in this post I am referring to the method by which teachers create videos (or find other videos online) and assign students to watch them at home, thereby freeing up time in the classroom to go deeper with the content because the students have the content knowledge from the videos. I am sure there are multiple different variations of Flipped Learning but for this post, this is the definition I am working off of.  It's an idea thats been around for a while and some teachers have said they've found success with it.

So what's my problem with Flipped Learning? Seems like, on the surface, it could be great. Kids get the basic understanding of topics outside the classroom and when they come back they can go deeper and do something with it.

But if we look a little deeper Flipped Learning may need some serious considerations before implemented.

Too Much Focus On The Videos-In most (not all, but most) of what I have read and seen on flipped learning there are always way too many conversations on the videos. How to make them. How long they should be. Where to store them. How to ensure kids can access them.

I was in a small group discussion at a conference early this year where the conversation revolved around how to ensure kids could access the videos at home if they didn't have the technology. Eventually they talked about taking the time to make the video and then pass them out on flash drives or burn them to DVDs to all students. While the conversations around equity are important seems to me its the wrong conversation to have. If you are spending hours, bending over backwards to record, distribute and track the videos kids are required to watch at home, are you really gaining anything?

Not Enough Conversations About Pedagogy-In all that I have seen and heard, there are very little conversations about pedagogy when it comes to Flipped Learning. In order for educators to be effective in their content they have to understand pedagogy and how to ensure students are best understanding that content. The truth is, many are content experts but pedagogy needs work. Now we are going to video weak pedagogy those weaknesses just get amplified. Maybe they are using others' content. Are we effectively analyzing the videos first to ensure they are effectively communicating the content in the best way? Are we looking at them with a critical eye?

Or perhaps the direct instruction pedagogy is strong (which these videos are just that, direct instruction, which we know isn't the most effective way to gain content knowledge) but the pedagogy or understanding how to formatively assess that students understanding of the content delivered in the videos is lacking. Now there's all this free time what do you do?

We have to have serious conversations about pedagogy first before we flip. If we look at moving from direct instruction to more student-owned classrooms, where students navigate through content by their own means, we might find that the effort put into Flipped Classrooms, creating videos, and tracking views isn't really needed or necessary.

When Are Kids Supposed To Be Kids? Record yourself in your classroom for the 6-8 hours you are there teaching. Now go home and watch yourself for an additional 30 mins to 3 hours. Do you want to spend that much time listening to yourself? Maybe not. And I would bet your students, while they like you a whole, whole lot, most don't want to listen to you more than they have to.

A student's job is school. Thats what they do for those 6-8 hours. Think about our jobs. No one really looks forward to working all day then going home and working more. Why, then, should students be forced to go home and do more of work by watching these videos? We talk about wanting students to innovate, make, tinker and be creative. And there is mounds of research to suggest homework doesn't help students be better students, so why not let kids be kids when they go home.

Those are my concerns. Yet, I will admit, there might be teachers who have flipped their classrooms and who have addressed these 3 concerns I have. I wish their voices were louder because I think we could all do with those examples.

So while I am provocative when I talk about it, I do that to have a conversation. If you have flipped or are thinking about it, don't just take it at face value. Think critically about what effects it will have on you, your students and your classroom.

photo credit: dora dora 2 via photopin (license)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rediscovering @CK12Foundation Flexbooks And More!

A while back there was a push to move away from traditional textbooks and move to something more flexible and nimble. (Still true today!) Something that could adapt with the ever changing knowledge base educators and students could pull from along with being more personal. Digital devices ushered in an era where all this (and more) is possible.

I can remember many an afternoon spent in high school science and math classrooms talking about CK-12 Flexbooks. These were online, high-quality, completely customizable textbooks that, in addition to having some really great content were completely free to use and change. Teachers jumped at the chance to integrate them because they could supplement other content into their text and take advantage of them being digital by adapting them on the fly.

I'll admit. I had forgotten about them...

That is until recently when I had the chance to rediscover the awesome that is Flexbooks and found there is so much more!

Flexbooks-There are the tried and true Flexbooks I came to love with my high school teachers but their offering has expanded to include many more science and math areas, english and history too. You'll also find Engineering, SAT Prep, and much, much more. And it's not just high school. There are Flexbooks for middle school and even some for Elementary Math. They are still fully editable and you can use different concepts from different sections to create your own customized text. All the content is Common Core aligned so you can be sure its high-quality and timely.

Simulations-A new feature are some pretty sweet physics simulations. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to understand physics concepts or impossible to replicate them (like an actual rocket launch). With the simulations students are introduced to the concepts and then can test various aspects of them. And these can be included in a Flexbook too!

More Instructional Materials-In additional to all this there are flashcards, lesson plans, assessments and other materials that can truly make your digital learning a complete experience. There are also apps for Apple and Android devices that can provide an even more rich experience. Using Google Classroom? You can create your materials and share them instantly to your Google Classroom classes. And check out the Blog there to see how other districts and classrooms are reaping the rewards of CK12 materials.

Are you new to CK12 or, like me, are you needing to rediscover the awesome? Check out their Back To School Promotion where you can build your own, personalized box of CK12 materials to get started this year. Science and Math job posters, sample Flexbooks and a B2S checklist are just a small amount of what you can get there. And remember it's free!

If you doing BYOD, 1:1, or some other digital initiative, CK12 can be a great addition to your classroom. Check it out!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A More Holistic Approach To Technology Planning

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology I was deeply involved in the technology planning process from one end to the other. Regularly I had to sit through presentations of new products, listening with a skeptical ear while instructional promises were made. I'd also council administrators who felt that the next flashy thing they saw walk through their door, their school had to have. And often I would evaluate our programs and purchases to ensure we were headed on the desired course or if we needed to make a u-turn.

Typically the technology planning process can go wry in many ways:

Lack of True Planning: Sometimes a rush to make things happen can cause the entire planning process to come off the rails. For whatever reason (funding running out, keeping up with the district next door, or a general sense of urgency) the normal, rational process that many would take when it comes to undertaking major technology initiatives is lost in the desire to get things done and make them happen as quick as possible.

No Measurable Outcomes of Goals: When spending the amount of money that normal technology initiatives take it is critical to the success that there are MEASURABLE goals and outcomes. It's all well and good to have those goals that make us feel good but we have to have something measurable that we can judge our successes and our failures against. And these are not test scores. These are not behavior intervention reports or referrals. We have to look at the type of technology we are integrating and decided what outcomes do we want to see? Instructional? A change in pedagogy? Something else?

Focus On The Stuff: Stuff is fun. Stuff is flashy. Stuff is what we are sometimes judged against. If the focus off our initiative is on the stuff it will be easy to loose focus on what really matters; the learning. Often the beginning of the planning process starts with the question "What stuff do we/can we/want to buy?" rather than looking at what needs to change and how technology can support that change?

What is needed is a plan and a more holistic approach.

So what would that look like? What's involved in a more holistic approach to technology planning?

Form A Team: One of the most important aspects of the technology planning process is having many voices represented. Technology and technology systems touch so many different people, it's important to ensure they all are consulted and have a voice in the initiative. It's not just your technology staff or school or district administrators. It's looking at the Special Education department, or the Transportation department, or the Food Services department. But it's also students, parents and the community as well. Consider who the technology could touch and invite representatives to the table for conversations.

Examination Of Current Landscape: Before even thinking about a new initiative it's important to look at where your class/school/district is currently. You have to get a sense of what is out there now before deciding to do anything new or different. Some questions to consider:
  • What aspects of the current technology program work really well?
  • How is pedagogy keeping up with technology integration? Is there a need for more technology or is all that is needed is a deeper focus on pedagogy?
  • Is the technology that is currently in classrooms being used as well as it could be or even at all? 
  • Taking that all into account, what really needs to happen? 
Putting In Place Measurable Goals And Outcomes: Remember, we talked about the need to look at measurable outcomes. I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) Goals. This method helps to hone your focus and decide on what really matters. Some may not like the SMART approach and have one of their own. Great! Whatever method you use it's important to consider the desired outcomes. Some examples:
  • Number of Classrooms with High-Speed Internet Access
  • Equitable access to devices for students and teachers
  • Equitable access to high-quality instructional resources
  • Development of Next Generation Professional Development
Professional Development: When considering anything to do with technology, most often the PD is much, much more important than the stuff. Large amounts of dollars are spent on the stuff, but I argue an equal amount should be spent on the PD needed to integrate this stuff successfully. Consider the current PD landscape and how it can be leveraged or changed to meet these new needs. This is an area that needs a lot of time, attention and input.

Reflect and Examine: Through out this process, from visioning, planing and implementation there has to be time set aside to reflect and examine how things are going. Where are you as you progress towards your goals? What's missing? Think of it like formative assessment for the planning process. It's easier to catch things that could derail the project as they happen rather than waiting until the end and then looking back.

These are just a handful of things to consider. The technology planning process can most often be complex and challenging. However, it can be more effective and meet more desired outcomes if we step back and consider what we are doing, why we are doing, how we will get there and how will we know we've arrived. 

Photo credit: ORDCampers at MSI Fab Lab 20.jpg via photopin (license)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Creating A Professional Learning Collection With @appoLearning

Last time you read about this new site I had been checking out, appoLearning. I have really enjoyed getting to know this new platform and even create a collection myself. And I think for educators it can be a great way to organize sites, apps, videos and more so they are more easily shared with students, colleagues, even parents and the community.

Before we take a look at my collection I've been working on, lets think about why we would even want to create a collection in the first place.

Curation is a super important topic to me. We are teaching in what might be the most incredible times ever, due to the shear amount of information we have access to. Websites, apps, videos, games, you name it, there is probably countless number of resources for it. The more and more we rely on the knowledge of others (as we should, in addition to creating our own new knowledge with it) we need a system to organize and share that information.

And for students it's equally as important a skill to have.

But sometimes we all just need a little help. Be it to find good resources that others have curated or an easy platform to curate and store that information ourselves.

Thats where appoLearning can help, a lot.

I've been working on a Professional Learning Collection. I get asked all the time about the best places for educators to learn from other educators on their own time. So creating this collection will be an easy way to share all the places I've gathered over time to share with others.

Creating a collection couldn't be easier. You sign in with your Google, Twitter or Facebook account. Then give your collection a title, a description and decide if you want it public, private or viewable by anyone who has the link.

A note about the privacy settings. This can be really helpful. Some of your resources you'll want to share with the world. Others, you might have resources that can only be viewed by the teachers on your team or grade level. And other times you might just want to keep a personal collection. The choice is yours!

Once you've set up the collection you then need to add the resources. Remember you can add any type of resource. For mine I have websites, apps and some videos. All you need a link.

And you aren't limited to resources you bring in. Use the wisdom of the other users of appoLearning. You can search from the entire collection of resources already uploaded to appoLearning and make incorporating them easy too.

appoLearning will figure out what kind of resource it is and some basic information. Then you can fill in the rest. Give it description, tell what grades it's good for and tag it so its easier to find. The more information you can provide, the easier it will make to find it in search.

And thats it! Easy peasy! Collections are only as complete as you want. If you find a new resource, come back and add it. One not relevant anymore, delete it.

As we mentioned earlier you can create collections for a yourself, your students, your colleagues, you could even create collections of resources for your parents and the community. The possibilities are only as endless as what you can create.

Remember, all this is free. So give it a go!

Oh and check out the Professional Learning Collection. Tons of places to improve your practice on your own time!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Curating Content with @appoLearning

Curation, as many of you know, is near and dear to my heart. (Heck I even wrote a book on the subject!) And especially now, for teachers, its becoming increasingly important as more and more digital devices begin to enter the classroom. Finding the right apps, videos or other digital resources can be tough. And keeping it all organized can be even tougher.

I was excited to learn about appoLearning. This is a great resource where educators can find and share all the digital resources they are curating. All of the resources found there are vetted by other educators so you can trust that what you are search for will be the best of the best.

Recently they unveiled Collections. And this is something I am really excited about.

appoLearning Collections enable teachers to create, annotate and share lists of hand picked digital resources, including YouTube videos, iOS and Android apps, and websites, around specific subjects, topics or lessons. Collection creators can easily:
  • select from thousands of expert-vetted, standards-aligned resources from appoLearning search
  • and/or add their own resources (including anything that is URL-addressable including videos, apps, websites, assessments, Dropbox links, Google Drive links, Evernote links) and upload their own files (Photos, Lesson Plans, Videos, PowerPoints, PDFs, etc.). 
Collections empower teachers to continually manage the use of great digital resources into their classroom and to share these with peers, parents, students, and administrators.

Creating a Collection couldn’t be easier.

Click or tap “Create a Collection” to get started. From there, login via Facebook, Google or Twitter to get started. Once one has named, described and tagged a collection, there are three simple and fast ways to build it.

Some things to remember:

  1. Resources for any Collection can be pulled from the thousands of digital resources already vetted by appoLearning experts. Simply type in the search term on appoLearning, or browse by subject, grade-level, device and Common Core Standard, to find a list of vetted resources. While searching, one can also filter to show only FREE options. Simply press the “Add” button next to each resource to add to a collection. Click the “View” button to go back to the collection at any point.
  2. Add in resources from other collections by simply pressing the “Add” button for individual selections or the “Add All” button to grab the entire collection
  3. Digital resources that are not included in appoLearning search can also be added to a Collection. Simply paste the relevant URL - any URL, including those that point to a website, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play,  Prezi, Pinterest, Vimeo, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc., - of the selected educational resource, and it will be instantly added to the appoLearning database and included in the collection.
  4. Files can also be uploaded to be shared via a collection.Simply drag and drop the file - any digital file including photos, videos, lessons plans, quizzes, powerpoints, pictures, Smart Notebook software and more - and it will also be added to your appoLearning Collection.

We know that one of the most important parts of the curation process is sharing and sharing a Collection is easy. Each collection has its own unique URL that can be shared via email, messaging, or any social media channel.  appoLearning includes an embed feature to include the collection on a website in addition to one-click sharing for Twitter and Facebook.  .

All appoLearning Collections can be found via the search box at top of the Collections page or by using the tag navigation to the left of that page. So you will be able to see what others are creating and use those as a starting point for your own collections too.

You are probably thinking to yourself, what’s the catch. There has to be a subscription or a feee to do this. Nope. appoLearning Collections are free of charge.  As you begin to plan and organize your lessons for the upcoming year (after some well-deserved time off!), I encourage you to start creating and sharing your own Collections of resources to understand how easy - and addictive! - it can be.

The folks at appoLearning are getting tremendous feedback from teachers on how to make the product even better, as well as a lot of special requests for how schools and districts can best take advantage of the platform and technology.

You can get started right away, or contact them for a personal demo so YOU can become that teacher everyone turns to for recommendations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Evaluating Technology? Here's What To Look For...

In my former life as a Director of Instructional Technology I worked with school leaders to make the best choices when it came to technology. We would spend great deals of time looking at funds and how they could best be used to make an impact on student learning.

I believe many districts do that. However, often, when the hardware is installed and the software has been trained on that is where conversations end and responsibilities shift. The problem with that approach is that how do we know that what we purchase is actually being used appropriately or even being used for that matter?

I began looking at technology after the purchase. How could we help school leaders better understand the technology they purchased and could they determine how effective it was really being used in the classroom.

With that in mind I development 5 questions that school leaders should be able to answer on a walkthrough. Now keep in mind, it takes time to develop an understanding of all these. And while you should be able to see some, you may not see all. And that doesn't automatically mean the technology is useless or is being used ineffectively. It just means that more time may need to be spent on understanding the purpose.

Who is using the technology? Is the technology being used exclusively by the teacher? By the students? Is there a mix of both? While this will be dependent on the type used, there are situations to be mindful of. Take, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. Is the teacher the only one engaging with and interacting with the technology? If so, than we might need to look at pedagogy. We would install $10,000 teaching stations that would only ever be touched by the teacher. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. So look at the lesson and look at who is using the technology. Could something better be happening?

If you took the technology away, how different would the lesson be? This observation aims to get at the pedagogy and how the technology is being used. Ultimately technology should enable students to do something they couldn't do without it. I can communicate with students around the globe by having a pen-pal but by using Skype or Google Hangouts I can do it much quicker and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact. Take a long, hard look. Could you do the same lesson and it have the same impact without the technology? If in English class students are using their laptops to just write a paper, that technology isn't very transformational. But if those students are creating podcasts or book trailers or something else entirely, than the technology might really be necessary and transformational. Think critically about how it's being used and would the learning be the same without it.

How much variety with the technology is there? When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things. Are they just using Wikipedia or the calculator? Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programs? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn't pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know. Kids need to have opportunities to use several different types of apps and sites and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways as well whether the teacher knows them or not.

What opportunities do students have to collaborate with or through the technology? Students need the chance to learn with and from each other. And, again, technology enables us to do that much, much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? Are they using a social network like Edmodo or Schoology? Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just seeing one student using the technology individually. If so, depending on the purpose it may be time to evaluate how students work together through or with technology.

What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology? Learning really happens when students can take some piece of understanding and actually do something with. Either create a meaningful product or some new knowledge with that understanding. And, again, technology makes that creation much easier and in some cases more meaningful. When you see students using technology are just merely doing recall and low-level learning. Or are they truly creating something meaningful?

These questions should lead to deeper reflections with school leaders, teachers and students on how technology is being used in the course of learning. They meant to provide a starting point for conversations. They aren't the end all, be all when it comes to technology use in the classroom.

Interested in an infographic for this post? Download one here!

What do you think? What do you look for when evaluating how technology is used in the classroom? Is it these? Is it something else? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Tracing relations via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The 3 Things Digital Classrooms Really Need

My first experience with technology in the classroom was the good ol' Apple IIe and endless hours playing Oregon Trail and Math Blaster. That evolved to an after school coding club in high school where I learned how to make a square and a flower using BASIC. I got my first personal computer as a freshman in college (1998) and finally got Internet at home when I came home at the Holidays the same year.

And look at where learning is today...

The classroom is becoming less about the physical space it occupies and more about the cloud. Today, many teachers are beginning to shift their instruction from stand and deliver to more interactive, engaging and participatory styles of teaching and learning.

To add to the physical changes happening in the classroom, they way students interact with each other, both in the class and outside the class, is shifting as well. With 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs taking hold across the country (and the world) students have access to just about all known knowledge at their fingertips.

This Powering The Digital Classroom movement brings many challenges to overcome and demands several creative solutions to provide more engaging content for students, diving into how students are learning and having students reflect on how they know what they know.

Engaging Content-It is clear that students want to be more engaged with their learning. If we look at the world in which they live they are surrounded by screens, games, music and more. So why not take cues from their world and make the learning environment a bit more familiar to them? And that means more than just allowing them to use a cellphone as a calculator or a laptop to create a presentation.

Traditionally the classroom has been a place of comfort for the teacher rather than the student. Teachers-created lessons that were easy to deliver, yet for many students the lecture style of teaching that takes place in many classrooms doesn't suit this generation of learners. If you are bored teaching the content, think about how the students feel.

Digital devices have the potential to change that.

With the access to devices students can have access to a multitude of variations when it comes to their content. Teachers are no longer limited to transparencies on the overhead. Students can watch videos, examine live Tweet streams, talk to experts via Hangouts or perform virtual experiments otherwise not possible.

Understanding How Learning Works (Or Doesn't)-With the proliferation of tablets, mobile devices and laptops, students can be more connected to their learning than ever before. The use of these devices makes its easy know what students know, the moment they know it.

Formative assessments were a large part of my classroom. By the time I gave a test or a quiz at the end of a unit, it was too late. I needed to know how well my instruction was working, or more importantly, not working. Embracing formative assessments helped me do that. Through mostly non-digital means I could quickly understand if my students were struggling with concepts or if I needed to bump up my instruction because it was too easy.

Now, digital tools like virtual polling, online sticky notes and others allow us to not only guage understanding in the moment, we can record that data easily and use it to make better decisions in our classroom. We can see how student understand changes over time with the click of a button and share that information with the student so they better understand their learning as well.

I truly believe Formative Assessments have the power and the potential to radically change how instruction is done in the classroom, when the data gathered is used to inform decisions about teaching and learning.

Reflections On Learning- Since I started teaching one thing I embraced early on was reflection. It was important to me to examine how I was teaching, how well I was or wasn’t doing, and how I could improve my craft. Many times these reflections took place with the voice in head. Now they take place for the whole world to see on my blog.

Blogging is a huge part of who I am as a professional. It allows me to think out loud with whomever will listen and get their feedback and wisdom. My blog is a place for me to share new ideas, think openly about issues that matter to me and serves as a place to learn as well.

Blogging in the classroom takes many forms. From the class blog that is maintained by the teacher, to the group blog where each student has an opportunity to contribute posts, to students having their own blog to openly reflect on their learning and share their struggles with their learning.

Teachers are not the only ones who benefit from blogging. Students benefit from this type of reflection as well. Because blogging and microblogging have become so easy,  and now students have access to their own devices, this type of reflection is possible. And students have a variety of platforms to choose from. Teachers are seeing blogs as a way to encourage student conversation and to open a dialogue between students.

These are exciting times to be in the classroom, whether that room is a physical space or in the cloud. When we Power Up The Classroom with Engaging Content, Meaningful Assessments and Reflections Through Blogging, we can truly leverage the digital tools at hand to create innovative and creative learning spaces.

What do you think? What will a transformation to fully digital classrooms require? Leave you thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Learning Neighbourhood 2011 via photopin (license)