Friday, January 27, 2012

Making The Right Digital Decisions

Recently, my district began a huge initiative to combat bullying/cyberbullying and to help students become more aware of the choices they make both in their face-to-face lives and their digital decisions as well. There is no one right way or right answer that will stop the problems. However, I do believe that the classroom and our schools are the places where tough conversations need to be had.

I have been collecting several resources and I want to share. By no means is this all the stuff that is out there. And some of it may work or may not. The point is to find something (curriculum, activity, website, video, etc) and start having the conversations, not just with students but with teachers, administrators, parents and our communities.

To start, I want to share this powerful video that was recently shared with me. It's all about the choices our kids are faced with everyday and the consequences of their actions.

So besides the interactive nature of the video (which is pretty neat) there are some tough issues here and no doubt these are some of the digital decisions our kids are making each and every day.

How can teachers and schools help? As with most things, education is key. Understanding where kids are in today's Digital Society can be a helpful first step. PBS did a masterful job capturing teen voices in their series, Digital_Nation. You can hear from teens themselves, parents and other experts as they discuss what it means to be a Connected Kid.

There are lots of curricula out there to use in the classroom.You can do a quick search and find lots of free (and paid) stuff. However, I believe one of the best are the lessons and activities from Common Sense Media. They have a full, K-12, free curriculum you can use and adapt to your needs. There are even alignments to the ISTE NETs, AASL, and the English Common Core.

Another way to show students the power their digital footprint has is to check out a great interactive from The Discovery Channel, Your Digital Footprint. In it users are posed with different scenarios and the site shows the impact of that choice and how their image, information and more are recorded and stored. It's more about awareness and understanding than avoidance.

Here are some more just general resources to check out.
These are just a few resources. I have many more in my Diigo links and you can find that here. I also have a post that I wrote awhile back about Taking Care Of Your Digital Self, that has more ideas on knowing about your online identity.

For me, we need to start having and keep having lots of conversations. Everyday, educators all over the country are asked to use digital tools with kids and increasingly, kids are becoming more and more connected. The earlier we start talking and the more we keep talking, again, not to just our kids but our teachers, administrators, parents and the community, the easier it will be to deal with these digital issues as they arise.

These are some of my favorite resources. What are yours? Or what are you doing to start these conversations where you are? Leave some comments below.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

So...You Wanna Be A Blogger

So this is a blog.

Yep. It really is, or at least I want it to be.

This is a space for me to reflect, share, learn and grow with anyone who stops by. It has been a wonderful experience for me and I really do enjoy working on this. 

Besides the professional growth, blogs can be a wonderful addition to any classroom too. 

So you are thinking? I wanna start blogging? But I don't know anything about it? 

Fear not kind reader! I have several resources for you to read and consult as you begin this wonderful journey. 

First, you are going to need a space. There are lots of them out there:

  • Blogger-This is my platform of choice. If you use anything Google you can set up a blog, for free and start. It's as easy as picking a name and writing your first post. There are lots of customization options too that allows a lot of flexibility to personalize your space. 
  • Wordpress-This is also free and there are 2 options. You can open a Wordpress account and, just like Blogger, begin pretty easily. The other option is to purchase your own domain and install Wordpress there. It really isn't as complicated as it sounds. (In fact lots of web hosting sites will do a bundle, the domain and the hosting, for a discount.) There is a great guide to getting started with all that here
  • Posterous-Again, free. Posterous is unique in that you can submit posts via email. When you create your space you get an unique email address that you can send your posts too and poof! they appear on your blog. Its great too because you can add collaborators via their email address and they can post too. (Great for classroom blogging.)
And there are apps for all these so you can blog on the go.

Still confused with all the options and how to get the most of of what you choose? My friend Richard has created a great page with lots of tutorials on how to use Blogger, Wordpress and Posterous. 

Ok. Now that you have a space. What exactly are blogs all about? 

So you have your space all set up and you have a working knowledge of how things work. What do you post about? Well that's what's great about blogs. They are your personal space on the Internets. Post whatever you think you need to or want to. Decide on a focus but don't get married to it. This blog has gone through lots of changes and I post about all sorts of things. Sure its about Web 2.0 but I touch on Leadership, Education Reform and some personal stuff too. Your blog is what you make of it.

Maybe you are thinking about staying away from the personal reflection stuff (although I really, really encourage it) and you want to do just a Class Blog or have your students blogging. If its a class blog, what do you want to communicate? Maybe its just keeping parents updated on happenings in class. Or you want to spur conversation with your students. There are lots of ideas. The key is to find something to get your started but realize that the focus will change over time and that's ok.

So how about some more resources?

Lets look at the stuff for using your blog as a professional space:
Blogs By Discipline- I think its helpful to see how other educators are using their blogs. This site has a boat load of them listed out by discipline. Find yours and see what others are doing.
7 Reasons Teachers Should Blog-Still not convinced? Check out this excellent post from my friend Steve on why teachers, especially should blog. (His post on the reasons teachers don't blog is worth a read too.)
Blogging Secrets-Richard has a very, very popular blog. People ask him all the time on how to get their blog as popular as his. He gives great advice. While we disagree in some areas the advice is still solid and worth a read.
Getting To Know Your Blog-This is a wonderful post that lays it all out there. Everything you need to know to get started and do more with your blog, no matter the platform you use.
Using Blogs As A Part Of Your Personal Learning Network-Blogs are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse in your area or in education in general. Find out how by reading this post.

On to the Blogging In The Classroom resources:
The Best Sources For Advice On Classroom Blogging-This is my go-to source for everything classroom blogging related because it is updated constantly. Lots of great links to other sites and good information too.
Student Blogging Guidelines-If/When you get started with blogs with students you are gonna want some ground rules. This post goes through some simple guidelines you can use with your students.
Student Blogging Resources-There is more to consider than just the rules in your classroom. Your district might also have rules that you have to follow or forms you will need to send home. This site has sample permission forms, and examples of how blogs are used in the classroom.
Teaching Commenting Skills-One of the powerful parts of blogs are the comments. But kids might need help in getting theirs just right. This page, from an experienced classroom blogger walks you and your student through the process of learning how to comment, the right way.
Comments4Kids-Kids commenting on each other posts are great. But when they get those comments from people they dont know from another part of the world, thats just awesome. Comments4Kids is a great way to make that happen.
15 Topics For Your School Blog-Just some ideas to get you started.

This is just a handful of everything I have collected about blogs and blogging. I have tons more in my Diigo so be sure to head over there and check out everything there.

Like I mentioned before, I really do find blogging rewarding. So if you aren't a blogger and you want to be or you just need some help getting yours off the ground I hope you can use the resources found here.

What advice do you have for beginning bloggers or teachers that want to use blogs in the classroom? Leave some comments below.

Image under CC License from [martin]

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Watch, Know and Learn With @WatchKnowLearn

A few weeks ago You Tube announced their commitment to education by moving a lot of their educational content to a separate domain, This allows schools and districts to, depending on their filtering, unblock the videos found there for use in the classroom. It's been open for a while now and reaction has been positive. New content gets added daily and the site continues to grow.

However, one of the complaints is the variety of the content found there. Much of it is for secondary and higher ed, leaving the elementary folks with out a solution.

Until now.

I have known about WatchKnowLearn for a while now. While it looks like your typical video site, it isn't. It's a powerful tool for you to use in your classroom.

When you first visit the site you will see several things:
  • The Featured Videos Section-This is an ever changing list of the best content found on the site
  • The Most Recently Posted Section
  • The Highest Rated Section
  • The Most Viewed Section
While all of those are great places to start, most folks are going to want to drill down to their subject area. There is a place to do that on the left. 

You can see that in many of the content areas there are over 1000 videos and in the major core areas the numbers top 4000. And just look at the variety of content there! When you go into and area you get topics and sub topics and in some cases sub sub subtopics. 

Sure, you can drill down. Sure you can search. But maybe you just want to search by the age of your students. You can do that too. 

Take the slider from either side until you have the desired age range. Put in your topic and off you go. Wanna search more than just WatchKnowLearn? Use the drop down to search School Tube or Teacher Tube also. 

All of the videos are reviewed by teachers and the folks at the site for their quality and applicability to the content area and age level. The comments are also a great place to learn how other educators are using the videos in the classroom.

So you ask yourself, what makes this site so special? Well, for one, it's just plain awesome. But, really it's where the content comes from. Most of it comes from You Tube and other video sites that many districts blanket block. WatchKnowLearn has software that allows for the streaming of the content from You Tube and the other sites without school filtering blocking it. Remember, the content here is reviewed before it ever appears on the site. So there isn't the junk that you would find on many sites nor do your see the junk that would normally accompany videos from You Tube found here. It is a definite win for those that want to have access to this type of content in their classroom.

Oh and it's founder? One of the Co-Founders of Wikipedia (Dr. Larry Sanger)so there is some major backing here so rest assured the site can only get better. 

WatchKnowLearn is a wonderful addition to your arsenal of video sites. Or better yet it might just be a replacement for most of them. You can get lost in all the great content. So head over there and definitely check it out!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

So That's What I Think About That...

Yesterday, my friend Steve Wheeler posted an interview with me on his blog. I though I would post it here to. Basically we talked a lot about #edchat and my philosophies on education. It was great to sit and reflect on his questions and it was an honor to be asked to do this. 

How did you start out in education? I took a very traditional road to the classroom. I went to college wanting to be a teacher. For the longest time I thought I would be teaching music. I was in marching band all through high school and in college as a tuba player and thought that would continue into my career. In the middle of my sophomore year I volunteered in a Kindergarten classroom a few days a week reading to kids and working on colors and shapes. It was then I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. So I changed majors and graduated a few years later with a degree in Middle Grades Math and Science Education. 

What inspires you to continue working in education? I love the idea of learning and I love to learn. The more involved I get in education through what I do, the more I get to learn. I enjoy spending time watching kids be curious and discover their world. While I work mainly with adults I cherish the moments I get to spend in the classroom talking to kids. It is the drive to constantly be better for them that brings me back everyday. I want to create learning environments for them that allow them to be kids. 

Why are you so passionate about using social media? Social media has done so much for my own personal and professional learning. Sure, sending tweets and posting on Nings has had a great impact on my thinking and doing but it's more than that. It is the personal connections that I have made with people from all over the world. My thinking gets pushed everyday because of my involvement in those spaces. And think about it from the seats our kids sit in. It's one thing to read about the Arab Spring in an article or watch a video on You Tube about it but it's a whole other, powerful deal to talk to someone who lived it. Or for some Kindergarten students see something like the weather around the world everyday, is just moving. I started in social media to share resources easily with teachers in a very small district. And for me it has grown in to something more powerful than resources and tools. It is a constant learning, growing and sharing experience. 

What is the idea behind #edchat? #Edchat started as an idea between Tom Whitby, Shelly Terrell and myself. Tom loves to ask questions and get people thinking. He is an instigator. He had this idea of a weekly chat where we asked a question to the educational community to get people talking and ideas flowing. Shelly and I helped, initially on the organization and getting the word out. Over 2 years and 100 chats later it has been an incredible experience to be a part of. Not only do we have our main chat at 7pm EST but we grew into a chat for folks in Europe and Asia at 12pm EST. And it has helped create other specialty chats in all sorts of educational topics. Some think of the chats as echo chambers and maybe sometimes they are but we always want people to share their action steps. #Edchat is more than talk. Its about action and causing real change wherever we are. 

What other innovative projects have you been involved with? In my district I have been involved with a big push to get kids learning about social media and their digital selves as early as possible. One of our elementary schools came to me and a colleague wanting their school to better understand the role social media could play in not only the learning of the students but the learning of the educators as well. So we worked with the school the entire year talking to the students, K-5, about digital footprints and how to be a good digital citizen. We worked the parents to help them understand the same and to help them see that social media and online learning can be beneficial for even kids that young. And with the teachers we developed a social media policy that embraced its use in the classroom rather than ban it. It was so successful we are working with more schools this year and our district leadership is looking at adopting the policy we create, district wide. 

What are the barriers to good learning? Most of the time it's adults. A lot of what I see are adults getting in the way of good, solid learning. There are lots of people who have ideas for what could be better or what needs to be better in education. And most of the time those ideas are self-serving. If we could let teachers teach and kids learn I think all would be well. 

If you could change anything in education, what would it be? I wish I could change perception. Take social media for example. There is a perception by some in education (and more not) it has absolutely no place in education. Because of the way celebrities use the products or the way people abuse the products that, to some, instantly means there is no educational value. The same can be said of the educational technology movement. Some say that computers, iPads, tablets, have no place in the classroom. Kids need to learn math and learn how to read and kids only use those devices to play games, not to learn. So to that end I just want people to know that kids can learn with social media and educators can grow and learn with it too. And cellphones, iPads, tablets, computers, laptops, games, pretty much the stuff I fight for in classrooms everyday, have value and can help kids learn and discover and grow. 

What is your vision for the future of education? I would like to see a point at which access for all isn't an issue. Access to information is power and all kids deserve to be powerful. So when all kids have access to information, what they learn changes completely. I would like to see more emphasis placed on creating, debating, communicating and collaborating. I would also like to see a point at which kids get to pick courses they are interested in. The Open Courses from MIT and Stanford are so intriguing to me. I think schools could be more like that and offer kids the opportunity to learn what is interesting to them. And those classes may be offered in their school or maybe online or virtually. So maybe the idea of school as we know it now will be different and I am excited about that possibility. 

What message do you have for teachers? Focus on kids. Forget about the other stuff. The reason we are in this business is for kids, plain and simple. When we spend our time and efforts and attention on them, then we can go home at the end of the day knowing we've done a good job. 

Thoughts? Feelings? Reactions? Leave some below. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Back At 2011 And Looking Forward To 2012

For the past few years (here and here) I started a tradition (if we can call it that) where I look back at the year in #edtech and try to make predictions as to what's going to take hold in the coming year. No science behind any of this. Just my feelings from what I have been reading and seeing and what I believe will take a great hold in educational technology.

So, how did I do last year?

QR Codes- I said QR would take more of a foot hold. That I believe to be true. We are seeing more and more teachers, conferences, and companies embrace QR as another way to engage students, audiences and customers. One of the most useful examples I saw this year was at a Moodle conference where in the digital conference guide was a QR next to each session. When scanned the QR set up a calendar event with a reminder for the time and location of the session, and the contact information for the presenter so you had it after you left. What a pretty nifty idea. Still don't believe me? My buddy Richard over at FreeTech4Teachers had 10 posts this year about QR. Everything from code makers to ideas for use in the classroom to a way to use them for scavenger hunts (which is pretty cool too.) If you still wanna learn more you can check out my Livebinder all about QR.

More Social Networking- This all boiled down to the continued growth of using Social Media and social networks for learning. While I believe this did happen this year I don't really have a way to measure it. I can say from what I saw in my travels around that educators still are just scratching the surface when it comes to 24/7 Professional Development. We did see things like #edchat and The Reform Symposum grow this year which is great but there is still resistance out there that has to be overcome. Perhaps we will see some movement there this year.

Tablets- It's going to be tough to find anyone who would argue that Tablet did not increase in use in education this year. I wrote several posts about my favorite places to find information about iPads in education or my favorite iPad/Android apps for Administrators. Even in my district we began a tablet roll out with Galaxy Tabs for our Administrators. Look at what my good friend Patrick did at his high school, going 1-to-1 with iPads. These are just a few examples. There are so many more out there and I believe many more to come.

Xbox Kinect- This was my wild card. I didn't really see or hear of much of it's use in education this year. There might be examples out there for Special Ed or Physical Ed that I just didn't hear about but I would love to if you have any examples. Leave them in the comments below.

So what do I think is going to happen this year?

Free Online Courses Will Continue To Grow-Over the past year we saw schools like MIT and Stanford offer up totally free courses in computer science and engineering to anyone who wants to take them. (MIT has had something like this already for a while called OpenCourseware.) But these are the same classes that the students at the universities take, open to the public. Now, its not enough for a degree or anything but if you wanna get your feet wet and do it with some of the greatest minds out there, why not? I think we are going to see more colleges and universities open their courses to the public like this for free. This idea of access to education is only going to grow, I believe, into something pretty amazing.

Badges-Playing off of the Open Course movement I think we will continue to see badges grow in popularity. Think of it like a Merritt badge. You do something, show mastery and get a badge. There was a great piece in Mindshift KQED just before the holiday about badges and how employers could use them. I think, maybe, one day we could see badges rank up there with degrees. Why specialize in one thing when you can take a buffet of courses, get some badges that show mastery and be a versatile member of society. Of course all of this is a long way off but I do think we see more and more conversations about badges and their place in learning.

BYOD- Many are exploring the idea of Bring Your Own Device as an alternative to purchasing devices for students. Look at my district. 57,000 students. And we are only the 5th largest in NC. Providing devices for all students is definitely a challenge. BYOD can help. For me, the device doesn't matter. Its the access to information and the ability to create new learning that's important. I think more districts will revise cellphone and device policies and we will see more and more schools and districts allow students to bring technology with them. Of course that means a change in pedagogy and teaching and (hopefully) we will see that right along with this.

Overall I think we will see more educators embrace social media, more schools and districts see social media as a viable alternative to Face-to-Face Professional Development, digital learning books will take more of a foothold (because of tablets and personal devices in the classroom) and maybe, just maybe, we will see a shift away from learning about specific tools to how learning can be enhanced (TPACK) through the use of technology.

It was a great year. Loads of great things happened. And there are still lots of unknowns out there. But that is what makes working in Educational Technology so exciting right?

What do you think? Is there anything you see that will make waves this year? Leave some comments below.

Image under CC License from and the bird took flight on Flickr. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guest Post-1:1 Technology in the Math Classroom

To start the year I have a guest post all about 1:1 in the Math Classroom. Enjoy!

Perhaps the single subject area that stands to gain the most from the introduction of a 1:1 technology program is math.  Math classrooms with 1:1 technology can greatly expand the differentiation of content provided to students, can prevent student misconceptions from developing, and can free the teacher to focus on teaching and planning rather than grading.  Let’s look at each of these benefits in further detail.

Expanded Content Differentiation

Students in a math classroom without access to 1:1 technology typically follow a textbook in lockstep fashion.  With only the teacher as a source of information, pacing and content for all students must be kept identical.  1:1 technology allows each student to have, in essence, his own personal teacher.  Through the use of video, a math instructor can record all of her lessons (or utilize videos created by outside sources), allowing students to work through material at their own pace.  Similarly, practice problems no longer need to be limited to those found in a textbook; instead, a teacher can utilize online texts and resources that provide problems of varying difficulty and which adapt to students’ previous answers, becoming harder or easier when needed.

A lot of conversation has centered around the idea of “flipping” classroom instruction, allowing students to watch a video lecture as homework so that class time can be devoted to discussion or application of the content being presented.  1:1 technology can certainly permit this, but it can also take it a step further, allowing for classrooms to not only be flipped but also individualized.

Preventing Student Misconceptions

When students complete practice problems in a typical non-1:1 classroom, they often are asked to complete a large number of problems before receiving feedback on whether or not their work is correct.  This is incredibly harmful, as students who are doing something incorrectly on a paper/pencil assignment will repeat that error multiple times and get it ingrained in their mind before it can be corrected.  1:1 technology prevents such misconceptions from taking hold by providing students with immediate feedback after each problem is completed.  Many online programs don’t just provide a correct answer (even a textbook can do that), but also provide students with a written and/or video explanation of how to solve the problem at hand.  This is incredibly valuable not only in preventing misconceptions from developing but also in allowing students to take ownership of their own learning.

Freeing the Teacher

As 1:1 technology provides students with instant feedback on the various practice problems they complete, another huge benefit emerges: the teacher is freed from the crushing, constant burden of assessing student work!  Suddenly freed from this overwhelming task (my own math students, from all classes combined, can easily complete thousands of problems each day), the teacher is now able to focus on planning and teaching more effectively.  Videos can be created and plans can be individualized in the time no longer spent grading student work.  Teachers will still be familiar with their students’ work, of course, because the online tools described above are able to provide the teacher with a detailed summary of how their students performed on their online practice problems.

For any district looking for a place where 1:1 technology will be instantly valued and appreciated, math classrooms might be the best place to start.

About the author:
Mark Pullen, 1:1 classroom teacher, on behalf of Worth Ave. Group. Worth Ave Group provides laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance to schools and universities. They have been insuring schools since 1971.