Friday, March 30, 2012

Curating Content

I do a whole lot of research. Whether I am preparing a workshop or writing a keynote I am constantly looking up information and trying to figure out the best ways to organize it all so I can not only recall what I am saving but to make sure I have it, no matter where I am working. 

I have three, go-to apps and programs I use on a daily basis for just that: 

Evernote-Hands down, my favorite app for organizing. Not only do I have it installed on every computer I have but on my mobile devices as well. With it I can organize everything I am doing into notebooks and notes. On the web I have the Clipper installed so I can snip quotes, references or parts of blog posts that I want to come back to. Best part? All the annotations come with it so it makes the citation later much easier. From my phone I can add to or edit my notes, insert photos or audio. No matter where I am or what I come across I can add it to my notes and notebooks in Evernote. (I wrote some posts recently about how I am using and ways others are using it as well. You can see them here and here. 

ReadItLater-This is another app/program that I have everywhere. Believe it or not I do a lot of my researching on Twitter. Either following a hashtag or asking people to send me stuff. Often times I don't have time to look at everything as it is coming in so that is when I can ReadItLater. With this browser extension I can, with the click of a button mark the site as something to read later. I can search by tag or key word and since I have it installed on my mobile devices I can read my saves when I have a moment or save something to my list when I am out and about. 

Diigo-This is another place I save web resources. Again with a browser extension I can take the items I am ready to permanently save and add them to my Diigo list. Oh and I can use the various tools there to annotate and mark up the pages and add any notes. I add tags to organize them and I can share all my saves with a link or two. If you are an educator you get even more perks like the ability to create accounts for your students, sharing lists of sites easily and creating groups so students can share resources. 

Of course there are lots of other ways to curate content. Even using something simple like a Google Form or Doc could work. I believe the thing to consider when curating content is how are you going to have access to it. I like to be able to access my content anywhere and from any type of device, easily. Thats why Evernote, ReadItLater and Diigo are my go-to apps and programs for curating digital content. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Free Teaching Resources From Microsoft Education

Back in 2010 I wrote a post highlighting some of the great (and free) resources from Microsoft Education. Well I am back to update that information because they have added some more handy guides for the classroom.

For me, one of the more handy guides was the Digital Storytelling guide. Hopefully we know that when we give students the opportunity to create something related to what they are learning they are more likely to remember what they have learned and be able to apply it in the future. In this guide there are tons of examples of how projected-based learning helps improve student achievement and how digital storytelling is one, easy way to introduce project learning to your students. There are also lots of handy tips on taking pictures, recording audio and ideas for lessons. On the digital story telling site there are video examples and templates you can download right into Photostory for easy use.

Another great guide is the Developing Critical Thinking Through Web Research Skills. In it you will find lessons, strategies and ideas to help you and your students develop good search habits and better understand where their information comes from.

There are a bunch of others as well:

  • Movie Maker
  • Microsoft Office
  • Using OneNote
  • Windows 7 In The Classsroom
  • Microsoft And The Math Classroom
  • Accessibility

The TeachTech Twitter feed is another place to pick up some good ideas and content as well.

So head over to Microsoft in Education site and check out the guides and the other content they have to offer as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

#ASCD12-A Presentation On Creating Social Media Policies For Schools And Districts

Earlier today I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at the Annual Conference for ASCD. It felt like more of a homecoming as the conference this year was in Philadelphia, a city I have been to several times over the past 2 years for conferences and meetings. The presentation was the featured morning session and livestreamed.

I presented with Sam Walker, an Instructional Technologist at Kimmel Farm Elementary School in my district. Our topic was creating and crafting social media policies for schools and districts. 

Here is our presentation:

And here is our resource document:

And the video we created to help educators understand the importance of the use of Social Media in Education:

The message here is a simple one. Most, if not all school districts, have standards of professional practice. Why continue to put in place restrictive policies that handcuff the ability of educators to do their jobs? As you can see, our social media policy is not a policy at all, but it is a set of guidelines that anyone in the education community (students, teachers, administrators, parents, etc) can follow. We need less rules, and more opportunities for creation, collaboration and sharing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Product Review-Easi-Speak Pro

Back when I was in the classroom, I went to great lengths to try and capture audio. Whether it was just my lessons so I could post them online or to record audio for student portfolios and feedback I never really found a good way to do it. It always felt combersome. I had to have my laptop and an microphone and then I had to worry about power and storage space. I never really got a good set up that worked well.

So when the folks over at Learning Resources sent over an Easi-Speak Pro for me to try out I got excited because there has to be teachers out there just like me in similar situations. Basically its a wireless microphone that records and stores up-to 4 hours of audio. For me, the best part, no batteries. It is completely rechargeable.

It works like other digital recorders. Press the record button and that's it. When done, you stop. Every recording is timestamped so when you head over to your computer to grab the audio you can identify each one easily.

No computer? No problem. You can play back the recordings through the built in speakers or hook up some headphones and listen. So you could use the device as a listening station or to model good speaking or reading skills.

I had no trouble out of the box to get going. I did some sample recording of my 2 year old practicing some reading and the pick up was great. When we played back the files there they were crisp and clear and editing was a breeze.

I wish I had an Easi-Speak Pro in my classroom to capture all those moments that, trying to get with a laptop just won't do. Head over to Learning Resources to learn more about how you can pick up one of your own.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Checking Out Class Connect

I am always interested in easy ways to share content and collaborate on projects with others in quick and easy ways. So when I heard about Class Connect and it's ability to do just that, my interest was piqued.

First some back ground. When the founder, Eric, was in high school, bored, a teacher asked him what would make him interested in the class. He wanted to work with the other kids in the class and use technology at the same time. Since the school didn't have the software in place to do what Eric wanted, he built it. He spent the next several years designing, testing and refining, getting teacher input along the way and really turned the site into something pretty useful. (You can read more about Eric's story here.)

So what is Class Connect?

Think of it like Dropbox but with a few more features. When you sign up for an account (which is free by the way) you get 1 gig of space to store files in. And you can upload pretty much any file there.

So for demoing I uploaded some PDFs into a folder I created there.

But you will also see a few additional things. One is a video. You have the option to add video embeds from around the web. So if you wanted to include a Youtube (or TeacherTube, SchoolTube, Vimeo, etc) video in your files you could do that here. You also have the option to add other embeds there through the use of HTML coding.

You will also see you can add Google Docs here. The docs have to be shared as Public first but then you can make them accessible here as well.

Each file, when you click on it has a place to add a description and a place to share comments. So I could see this as a sudo-forum where you could post a discussion document and get feedback right there with the file.

So you have lots of options to store all sorts of materials. Great for projects for the classroom. But it gets a little better. You can then invite colleagues or students to individual files or whole folders or all the files. The choice is yours. Each file has a share button.

You have three options:

  • Courses-You can create courses/classes and then, through the use of an enrollment key give access to students (or colleagues) access to the materials stored there. 
  • Colleagues-Similar to sharing in Google Docs you can invite others to view and edit or just view what you have shared, via their email. 
  • Public-This makes the content view-only by anyone who visits your profile. (You can claim a custom url to make it easy if you want. Mine is The upside here is anything you share publicly doesn't count against your storage total. 

Class Connect is a promising site and can definitely prove useful for sharing files, videos and docs with a class. And I like the idea of promoting sharing your files and work publicly. After all that's how we get smarter! Do your self a favor. Head over to Class Connect, sign up for an account and try it out!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Brief History Of #Edchat

As one of the founders of #edchat I get a lot of questions about the what, where, when and why. So here is everything you need to know (or wanted to know) about #edchat.

The History
#edchat started out of a series of conversations between myself, Tom Whtiby and Shelly Terrell. Tom is a bit of an instigator and likes to push people's thinking about various topics in education. One day he was asking several of these though-provoking questions and he was getting comments from all angles. He turned to Shelly and I for help. Afterwards, he suggested we needed a hashtag to make sure we didn't miss anything. Shelly suggested a weekly format where anyone could participate and I suggested we have the community vote on what we would talk about. And thus, #edchat was born. We had our first real chat in July 2009. And we have had one every week (except for a break at Christmas) ever since. 

The Basics
To participate users need only add #edchat to their tweets. We have organized chats every Tuesday. The main chat is at 7pm EDT and lasts an hour. Another chat for our friends in Europe and beyond is held on Tuesdays at Noon EDT. Polls are posted by me (@web20classroom) on Sunday afternoons and voting ends Tuesday mornings. The highest vote getter is discussed at 7pm EDT and the second place is discussed at Noon EDT. Participants are welcome to suggest topics for discussion by filling out this form

Following Along
You will need a way to follow the conversations. Many folks use a third-party Twitter client like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and have a column set up to search for #edchat so they see all the tweets during the conversation. Others use  services like Tweetchat or Tweetgrid to follow the chats. These work every well and will auto include the hashtag when tweeting, which can be handy. 

The archive is usually posted by the next day and it includes all the tweets during the hour time span. Archives of all chats are up at and are viewable any time. (To be honest, I usually have to go back to the archive to read up on everything that happened.)

You can't follow every conversation during #edchat. We average about 200-300 active participants a week and over 1500 tweets for the hour. (Most of the time those numbers are much, much higher.) So following everything is nearly an impossibility. We recommend tossing out an idea or two and see who latches on. Or just engage with someone(s). Everyone, for the most part, who comes to #edchat is open minded and wants to discuss what the topic is and offer up their thoughts on it. So push someone's thinking or better yet, have yours pushed back. 

#edchat is just a small part of a greater education community that regularly engages in conversations to make learning better for kids. We are big believers in action after the chat and encourage our participants to go out and do something as a result of the chat and blog/tweet about it and share it with the world. The chat is our opportunity to engage and think and share but it means nothing if we don't do. So thats why you regularly see people use the #edchat hashtag during other parts of the week to share what they are doing or thinking or saying. 

I am proud of #edchat and the direction it has gone and continues to go. Each week I get to talk to new folks and hear of amazing things that are going on in schools and districts around the world and engage in meaningful conversations about a wide range of educational topics. 

I hope you'll join us!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why You Should Give Edmodo A Try

Recently I attended the North Carolina Technology In Education Society's (NCTIES) Annual Conference. Each year it gets bigger and bigger and we try to find more and more ways to engage with the attendees to make the conference more meaningful and to carry on conversations beyond just the sessions. So this year we did something new. We partnered with Edmodo to create the NCTIES community. This was something they had done with FETC and had great success with so we were eager to see how it would work for us.

We created a group for every session and invited the presenters to post their presentations, handouts, polls, etc to the group. Then attendees were invited to join before, during and after the conference. It was a huge success. The beauty of it was that even if I didn't attend a particular session I could still take part in the conversations around that session because of the group. And these are groups that will stay open throughout the year so anyone can visit and have a taste of what the learning was like and, again, continue on those conversations.

So you might be asking yourself, what is Edmodo?

Edmodo is a social network designed for education. While it looks like another popular social network the differences are clear.

See for yourself.

Look like something you've seen before?

Here is how it works. You sign up for a free account. Really all you need is a name and an email address. Once created you can then create groups. Groups can be used for all sorts of things. A group could be your class or it could be literature groups, project groups or anything you can really think of.

When you create a group you get a alphanumeric code. You give this code to your students. Here is where the beauty of Edmodo comes in. The only way that students can connect to Edmodo is through the group code you give. They register for a free account (no email required) with the group code and they automatically become a part of it.

So lets say I am teaching Chemistry. I give all my students the group code for our Chemistry class. All the students join. From here I can post class updates, discussions, lessons, quizzes, handouts, really anything. Any discussions we have are all threaded and the newest information appears at the top each time you log in.

Worried about how you will keep up with all this on the go? No worries. There are mobile apps that give you the full capabilities of the site right in the palm of your hand. So whether you are an iOS user or an Android user you can download the Edmodo app so you are always connected.

My favorite part of Edmodo are the parent codes. Whenever a student joins a group a parent code is generated. This then allows the parents to sign up for a free account and they can go in any time to see what their student is saying/doing. This also gives them access to the gradebook (if you want to use that feature.)

There is so much more to Edmodo. Here are some places to go to learn more:

  • Edmodo Help Center-If you are new (and even if you aren't, you will want to spend some time in the Help Center going over the different parts and making sure you understand how it all works. 
  • Edmodo Livebinder-This is a comprehensive resource with lots of ideas for use and other places to get more information. 
  • Educating With Edmodo-This is a wonderful Google Site put together by my friend Paula who uses Edmodo in her classroom everyday. You'll find all sorts of valuable information there. 

We use Edmodo in our district and our teachers are loving it. But not only are we using it with students we are using it with our teachers as well. We have several PLC groups that use Edmodo and many of our user groups for Promethean, Smart and other technologies also are using Edmodo as a way to share the wealth of knowledge. So it's not just for kids.

How are you using Edmodo? What advice do you have for those who want to get started? What do you wish you had known when you started. Leave some comments below.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Taking A Step Back And Thinking Critically About Technology

I am probably going to take a lot of heat for this post. But maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps more conversation is needed...

I remember where I was when I heard the iPad announced. I was sitting in my office when I was still working at a school. I had the live blog from Techcrunch on one screen and Twitter on the other. Tweets were flying by with all sorts of comments about the name (both good and bad) and what the device could do. I admit. I had to have one. I was in love. Not long after the announcement I had one and at that time it was all I hoped for. This was going to replace my laptop. I was going to be super productive and only have to carry my iPad.

And I did just that to my first conference. But by the end of the weekend I was frustrated. I couldn't move through programs as fluidly as I hoped. It was a little difficult to take quick notes. I chalked it up to being new and the fact I was still learning.

As time went by my iPad went from being a productivity tool to a consumption tool. Reading blogs and articles,  checking Tweets when I was away from a computer and playing games. My 2 year old was the same way. While she wasn't reading blogs or sending Tweets she was learning letters and making matches.

Sure, I thought, there is a real advantage here for a child to learn with with this tool. It's pretty engaging. Its flashy (pardon the pun). And its was around the same time that many schools saw the iPad as "The Device." It happened in my district too. We got several requests less than 3 months out of the box to buy some.

This is a trend that continues to grow and grow and grow. And frankly it's a little frightening to me. A lot of schools have put all their eggs in the iPad basket or hope to put them there. When maybe we should be slowing down and thinking about what we are doing.

No doubt the tablet trend is on the rise and will continue to rise. I have 2 of them. Lots of the folks reading this post might be doing it on a tablet. I forsee a future classroom that has tablets as one tool for kids to use but this jump to replace or forgo purchases of laptops or desktops for tablets instead has me a bit concerned.

I was recently reading over some proposals for a project to give grant money to classrooms. Of the 20 or so I read 18 of them involved wanting iPads. Not tablets, but specifically the iPad. Many were wanting iPads to say they had iPads. What they wanted to do would not have been more enhanced through the use of the iPad and frankly more money could have been spent putting a netbook or even laptop or Chromebook in the hands of more kids than buying a few iPads.

There are lots of great programs out there that demonstrate these devices do have a positive impact on the classroom and learning. Look at Patrick Larkin at Burlington High School or Kelly Tenkely and her school in Colorado. 2 great examples of doing it right. They thought about it, talked about it, investigated it, and most importantly, worked tirelessly on PD so that it works.

And now there is a large push for digital texts because of the release of the iBooks author that will allow anyone to make their own book. I was online for that announcement too and, like the first iPad announcement there were the voices that said this was the ultimate. Finally textbooks are in control of the teacher. (When the first 5 available for sale were from one of the major textbook manufactures in the world.) But, you had to have a Mac, oh and you had to have a pretty recent version of the OS. Oh and you had to have the iPad to get the end product. So the 57,000 students in my district are locked out of those because we don't use Apple products. I can't even build one if I wanted too.

Look, the iPad here is just an example. I am not anti-iPad or anti-Apple. (Quite the contrary. I have written loads of posts and have lots of resources for apps and how to get the most out of these devices for learning.) I think they can do wonders to help engage kids. Like I said, I have seen it with my own daughter. My concern, as it is with any technology is buying something because it is new or flashy or has the perception to make change.

Technology exclusively can't change learning. You can't put 30 iPads (or Chromebooks, laptops, IWB, or whatever type of technology you can think of) in a classroom and in an instant learning gets better. It just does not happen that way. It takes a lot of stepping back, looking at the why's and the how's and deciding on the direction to go. And even before devices hit the hands of kids, there has to be lots and lots and lots of PD on how access to these tools in the classroom changes the way we teach.

Lets just slow down, and think, is buying this the best decision for me? Or for my students?

 photo credit: waferbaby via photopin cc