Thursday, December 29, 2016

How TED Talks Make Tough Conversations Easy

We've all been there.

We are sitting in a group of peers or strangers ready to discuss a topic but no one wants to take the lead and get things going.

You need that one focal point for everyone to rally around to get things moving.

Videos and images are a great way to jumpstart creative thought and to get folks talking. The same is true in the classroom. It can be helpful to start a unit or a topic off with some kind of visual stimulant that gets those creative thoughts moving. Or maybe there are topics that emerge in the course of classroom discussion that need some context or a great understanding to make the conversation more rich.

That is why I love the TED Talks. These videos are great, snapshots of what could be longer conversations in short bursts. They come in loads of topics that could start a class discussion around that unit or topic. But where I see TED Talks being really useful are for those concepts that are hard to teach. Relationship building, self control, data manipulation, leadership and more. These are the conversations students really need to have but many teachers find them hard to discuss.

Below are just a few of my favorite conversation starters or videos to help students tackle these tough conversations.

Derek Sievers: How To Start A Movement-This is hands-down my favorite one. I use this video to talk about leadership, obviously, but also the perils of the movement as well. It's important for students to understand how things go viral and what that means for them.

Rob Reid: The $8 Billion Dollar iPod-In this age of fake news and a real lack of understanding of where information comes from this talk from Rob shows how easily data can be manipulated to make a point. This could be a great jumping off point in a digital literacy lesson or a science classroom. 

Renny Gleeson: 404, The Story Of A Page Not Found-Through something simple like a 404 page relationships can be built. This is a great talk for kids all about relationship building, and the need to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. 

Joachim de Pasada: Don’t Eat the Marshmallow-Joachim tells the story of the famous Marshmallow experiment and how self control is developed. For kids this could be great at understanding impulse control and how that leads to success later in life. 

Logan LaPlante: Hackschooling Makes Me Happy-Told by a 13 year old, Logan describes how he hacked his education to get the most out of it. Another great video for kids to understand how they are in control of their own path and to make the most of their learning experience. 

Evelyn Glennie: How To Truly Listen-This is a powerful video in which Evelyn, a deaf percussionist explains how we can listen to music without ever hearing it and why all our senses are important to our interpretation of the world. 

JK Rowling: The Fringe Benefits of Failure-Most wouldn't consider JK a failure. Far from it actually. But in this talk she talks about how she failed many times and how that encouraged her to keep trying. A wonderful talk for kids to discuss failure and its place in learning. 

The TED-Ed website is also full of videos, lesson plans, talking points and more for most of the TED talks in the series. You can build your own lesson or look at what others have created for any of these videos. And it doesn't have to be TED Talks either. You can build them around any video on YouTube. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Combating Fake News And Teaching Digital Literacy

If the most recent U.S. Election has taught us anything it's that we live in an era of fake news and sites. With accusations flying of manipulation of stories, the media and voters, it’s truly hard to know if what we read on blogs, social media and other sites is actually the truth or a tale spun to generate clicks.

To further compound the problem a recent study from Stanford shows that the vast majority of students can’t determine it what they read on websites is true or baloney. The study showed More than two out of three middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust a post written by a bank executive arguing that young adults need more financial-planning help. And nearly four in 10 high-school students believed, based on the headline, that a photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, even though no source or location was given for the photo.

With many schools and districts rolling out 1:1 initiatives and a push to digitize learning, helping students understand where their information comes from, and if it is reliable and accurate are critical skills, not just for learning for but life as well.

When I was teaching digital literacy to students in my 8th grade science classroom we would examine current event articles for reliability and truthfulness. Loosely we used the following criteria:

  • Where was the information published? Was it a .com/.edu/.org site? Anyone can create a webpage? Was the source someone we could trust? 
  • When was the information posted? Or, how long ago was it updated? How can you tell? 
  • What do you know about the author? What else have they written? 
  • Can you verify the information posted on another website you’ve already determined to be accurate and reliable? 

While we can still use many of these same “look-for’s” a deeper understanding of where information comes from and judging it for accuracy and reliability is crucial. As teachers we need to have an understanding ourselves where information comes from so we can help guide students through their own understanding.

Here are several resources to use for professional learning as well as some to use in the classroom. These span all grade levels and subject areas.

Fake News and What We Can Do About It-The folks over at the ADL have a great HS lesson plan for looking at fake news and learn specific skills to determine it what they read, especially on social media (where 90% of Millennials get their news) can be trusted.

How To Spot Fake News (And Teach Kids To Be Media Savvy)-I lean on Common Sense Education for a lot of great resources when it comes to Digital Literacy and this post from them is no different. They have expanded on the “look-for’s” I used in my classroom and added questions to ask like who is paying for this content and more. There are loads of great ideas here and a resource not to be missed.

Snopes-This site has been around on the internet for a really long time and their mission is to help readers determine it what they read or hear is true or not. Everything from urban legends, to posts on Facebook that promise money it you share it to, current events. They have everything. And they can help students see how to vet stories because everything is linked to proof.

How To Teach Students To Evaluate The Quality Of Online Information-This article has more tips on ways to help students evaluate the information they read online.

Crap Detection-From Howard Rheingold this video and related resources is worth a watch for any educator. Howard explains how we can hone our built in filters when we are evaluating information and how we can help students do the same.

Real News vs. Fake News: Determining The Reliability of Sources-This from the New York Times Learning Network is a full lesson plan to help students look at information in ways they might not be doing already. What’s great is the plan can be adapted to any grade level so even younger students can start learning about reliability of information.

What Are You Doing To Help Students Spot Fake News Stories? Bill Ferriter is someone I’ve followed for a long time because he helps push my thinking. This blog post asks some tough questions of educators and offers many suggestions and ideas for helping students look for fake news and information in their learning.

Depending on the news or information you may or may not want to use current events or actual news articles, especially with younger students. But there are still sites you can use to help students look for fake information and teach them these important skills. My friend Shaelynn Farnsworth has a curated list of websites that contain no real information but students will encounter if they are doing research on a wide variety of topics.

These skills of evaluating fake news and information for reliability and validity are part of a wider and more comprehensive Digital Literacy program. It you don’t have one or don’t know where to start, Common Sense Education has a K-12 program that is full of additional resources, lesson plans and more.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Celebrating Hour Of Code

When I was a senior in high school my school got their first computer lab. There had been computers here and there throughout the school but this was the first dedicated space for computing. For many teachers (and students too) the room was off limits. Either self-imposed isolation because they were scared they would break something or for most students they were not allowed to touch them because, you guessed it, they might break something.

I was one of the first students in the school to use the new lab because I joined the newly formed Computer Club. We learned about all the history of computing, the various parts of the computer and, my favorite part, learning BASIC to code flowers and move objects around the screen. I had so much fun! I wish I had kept up with it and continued learning coding.

Fast forward to today and now kids all over the globe celebrate Computer Science Education Week (CSEW) and, more importantly, Hour of Code the first week of December.

Hour of Code started as a way to demystify coding and give every kid the chance to see what coding is all about and how easy and fun it can be. While any hour can be taken at any point in the year, the Hour Of Code during CSEW aims to bring together every kid on the planet and for one hour, code something.

Hour of Code can be done in any classroom. You don’t even need a computer to code! All you need is an hour of time and some resources and anyone can code.

Here are several resources to celebrate Hour of Code:

Hour of Code-This is the main website to learn all about Hour of Code. You can sign your class up and add your pin to the growing map of other classrooms that are joining as well. There are tons of additional resources like websites and lesson plans. The coding activities target kids with themes like Star Wars, Frozen and Mona.

A Beginners Guide To Bringing Coding Into The Classroom-The article has several suggestions and resources to start coding in any classroom. It also lays out the importance of learning coding and how it can reinforce things like math skills.

Comparison of 50 Coding Tools-The list to end all lists. It you are thinking about coding in your classroom this is the list to look at. Lots of choices for every classroom.

Never Too Young To Code-Think coding is for older kids? Think again. Here is why kids as young as 4 and 5 can learn to code.

Hour of Code Suggestions By Grade Level-Here is a great list of all sorts of ways to integrate coding K-12.

15 Ways To Teach Coding (Even Without Technology)-No access to computers? No problem! Here are some suggestions on how you can do it with pencil and paper.

Edweb Coding and Robtics Community-Newly launched this community on Edweb will have webinars and conversations on the integration of coding and robtics into the classroom.

Coding doesn’t have to take place on computers either. Do you have iPads? There are great apps that are highly engaging and fun to support coding in the classroom.

Swift Playgrounds
Human Resource Machine

Remember, Hour of Code, while celebrated next week can take place any time. And it doesn’t have to be an hour only. Coding can build creativity, problem solving and math skills amongst other things. And it doesn’t have to happen in the computer lab. Coding can happen in any grade level and in any subject!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Flipping Out For Professional Learning

During a professional development session a while back I thought I killed someone.

He didn’t respond when his name was called.

He didn’t respond I tapped his shoulder.

Finally, he responded when I shook him a bit harder.

Lucky for me (and him) he was just asleep. But it was a wake up call to me and the way I approached delivering Professional Development. It also got me thinking about how much boring time educators spend in meetings and “PD” when they could be doing something more authentic.

I'm going to bet we can all recall a meeting or boring PD we had to endure. Those meetings that drag on, and on, and on. Seemingly pointless meetings that, while they may have had a purpose when being planned that purpose got lost in the message and delivery. Many meetings are just information transfer. What are the dates for training for administering the next state exam? Who is going on the field trip? Remember to walk your kids to the cafeteria.

Think about Professional Development, specifically technology-related PD. Much time is spent on the how-to of technology. How to sign into the LMS. How to create a Google Doc. How to send a Tweet. Much of the time in the actual PD is eaten up by tasks that can be learned outside the actual PD, freeing up the time when we do get together on more the why-to with technology PD or any type of professional development really.

What if that hour/90 mins/half day was spent on meaningful, embedded professional development that was participant driven? We complain we don't have the time for that really good PD. Why? What if we adopted the model of the flipped classroom and applied it to meetings and Professional Development?

Flipping PD and faculty meetings is essentially the same as flipping the classroom, but with adults. The idea is, there is some sort of information transfer (basic information about a learning concept) outside of the learning environment (classroom/meeting/PD) allowing for further discussion or extended learning when in the learning environment. The watered down version of flipping is that we front-load information about a concept outside of the classroom (meeting/PD) so when kids (adults) are in the classroom (meeting/PD) the time is spent on knowledge extension or deeper understanding of the content.

I will admit it. I am not a big fan of flipping the classroom. I am, however, a huge fan of flipping faculty meetings and Professional Development.

Now, I am by no means the first person to think about flipping PD or faculty meetings. Many have come before me and even my friend Peter DeWitt has a book dedicated to the subject. The notion has been around for a while yet it is still not yet caught on in many places.

The time we spend together as professionals improving our practice should be meaningful and we should be able to walk away feeling as it the time was well spent. Meetings and Professional Development should provide opportunities to examine current pedagogical trends, learning, classroom embedded teaching techniques and technology and, above all else, the chance to talk with other educators and learn from each other. Each time we meet and learn together is another opportunity to be better for kids.

It seems educators meet all the time. When I am working with teachers or administrators the consistent thing I hear is we meet too much with little or no end result. So instead of continuing meeting with no purpose, let's flip that time. Let's front load with all the basic information we all need, freeing up that faculty meeting or professional development time for more learning, PLCs, sharing, etc.

The traditional notes in the mailbox and faculty memos are a great start. Distributed information ahead of time for review or study certainly frees up time when meetings or PD takes place. However, this is an area when technology can be of much benefit. There are many tools that can be used to share different types information ahead of time. You need to find something easy and something that won't take a whole lot of time, but will communicate what you need to. There is no rule for which works best. Try a few and see which is most effective and run with it. But don’t be afraid to gather feedback and refine your practice.

What are some simple and easy to use tools you could flip those faculty meetings and professional development

Videos-These are the traditional tool of the flipper. For many this will be a great option. There are some easy to use screencasting tools out there (Screencast-o-Matic being my favorite). Think about it like this. You can sit for 10-15 mins and record a mini presentation. Review the notes for the faculty meeting or demonstrate how to use the particular tool for the technology PD. Our attention spans aren’t much longer than that anyway. Participants can watch as many times as they need to get the information. And you don’t have to be Spielberg. Keep it loose and keep it natural. Have fun with it!

Blogs-A simple faculty or technology blog can transfer a great deal of information pretty simply. When I was an Instructional Technology Director many of my principals used blogs as a way to get the basic information out to staff each day. Who was going to be out of the building, reminders and links to important information. It becomes a running record of the day’s events and a great look-back for information. The same could work for a technology blog. Post all the how-to information or videos on the blog. Either way, you’ve freed up that time to spend on more meaningful conversations when you meet.

Collaborative Docs-Tools like Google Docs could be used in the same way as blogs but more privately. Post all the necessary information ahead of time, but now we can add in a collaborative element. Using the commenting feature participants can share ideas, other resources or ask questions. The doc too can become a running record. Simply put the newest information at the top and push the previous information down the page. I’ve seen many faculty meetings flipped using something simple like Google Docs.

Collaborative Learning Space-Perhaps your district or your school uses a Learning Management System like Canvas, Edmodo, Google Classroom or something else. No matter what you use, create a space for faculty or participants in a PD session. This was wildly popular in my district. We’d create spaces for PD sessions where we could communicate ahead of time with registered participants, get them started on the how-to, and they had a space to share with other participants in the class or course. The same was true for faculties. I had many principals using Edmodo with their faculties because they could post book study questions, presentations, and other information. Then the actual meeting time was spent on more meaningful conversation.

Remember, the tool is the least of your worries. There are many more tools here I could list that could aid in flipping faculty meetings or professional development. The point isn’t the tool you pick. It’s what you do with the time you gain when you flip. Focus on using that time in faculty meetings to build culture or problem solve or dig deep into how to make the learning environment better. In professional development use the time gained to focus on the why. Why is this method better? Or how can it be applied to a specific discipline. Either way make the most of the time gained and you’ll reap the rewards.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Show Off Your Creative Side With Infographics

By our very nature humans are drawn to images and graphics. Rather than reading table upon table of boring statistical data, we put them into graphs and charts so they are easier to read and understand. (And they look nicer too.) With the dawn of social media the use of these graphics to represent all sorts of information has blossomed into a whole new category of image.


You have probably seen them before. They are a visual way to represent just about any sort of data set you want to. Sometimes they are great for getting at the heart of data, while others, well they are what some would call clickbait. Either way they catch our eye and draw our attention.

There are so many different types of infographics out there on a wide variety of topics. Here are just a few. (Click the images to see more):

We know infographics do a great job of conveying some sort of data or message in an appealing and visual way. They can also provide an alternative to students who are looking for a better way to demonstrate their understanding or to show off their artistic abilities. Infographics can be used in all sorts of projects. And believe it or not, you don't have to be a graphic designer to create them. All it takes is some data you want to visualize and knowing where to go to create them.

Here are a few of my favorite sites and tools to use when creating infographics.

Wordle: Chances are this is one you have heard of. But in case you haven't, Wordle takes chunks of text, speeches, songs, or just lists of words and creates graphics out of them. The larger the word, the more often appears in the text. It's a really great tool for seeing which words are most emphasized. While it might not look like the others above it's still a visual representation of data, it's just the data is words instead of facts or numbers.

Canva: This is another that you may have heard of. Canva has been around for a little while and provides a free and easy way to create visuals. With tons and tons of templates to choose from you simply drag and drop different elements to make the perfect design. And it’s not just infographics that you can create. Images for social media, slide decks and more can be created there. They also have a whole section for educators to learn how Canva can be used in the classroom.

Adobe Spark: Similar to Canva this is a tool that starts with some text or data and builds a graphic around that. There are many templates to choose from and it’s easy to insert your own graphics, additional text and change the entire look and feel of your graphic with the click of your mouse. And like Canva, graphics can be created for all sorts of other kinds of purposes. This has to be one of the most widely used infographic programs around. Like many of these sites, pick a template and customize. What I like about are the collection of templates. They already have an infographic look and feel to them. So for the classroom kids simply pick the one they want to use and insert their data. There is very little design needed. Just the data. Of course it they want to customize their image they can. The tools are very straightforward and easy to use. You can also search the gallery for infographics already created to get ideas or to find something to use in your next project.

Creately: Creatly is an online mind mapping program that is pretty powerful. You can create all sorts of diagrams and you can do it collaboratively so this could work really well in the classroom. You can even try it out without signing up for an account. These graphics could be used as part of a larger infographic project too. I like Creately because of the ability to create flowcharts to show how data moves through systems or just for simply organizing ideas for an infographic project.

Google Public Data Explorer: It probably goes without saying but Google has access to lots of data. On this site they make it very easy to mine public data and return some amazing visuals and animations. Want to know what the unemployment rates in Europe or the birthing trends in the U.S. look like? Here is one I created on the population sizes of various states after the last census. Again, this would be a great site for gathering images and graphs.

Kathy Schrock has an entire website dedicated to using infographics in the classroom. She has gathered a ton of apps, sites, lessons and ideas and reviews how infographics are a great way to assess what kids know. It's definitely worth checking out.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leadership Lessons From A Dancing Guy

The work I do allows me to travel all across the US and the globe talking to various groups of people about all aspects of education. One of my favorite things to talk about is leadership. For example, I will work with groups of Principals or Superintendents to talk about what technology leadership looks like or how they can grow their leadership through the use of technology tools.

In our sessions we will often begin by trying to define leadership. Defining leadership is actually pretty easy. I'll let Marriam-Webister's Dictionary do that for us:

  • a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.
  • the time when a person holds the position of leader
  • the power or ability to lead other people

And while I can't really disagree with those definitions they don't really speak to the heart of what leadership means.

In education we have lots of leaders. Superintendents, Principals, other positions of power, actual or perceived. However, being a leader isn't one of position or even power. It's those qualities that people possess that make us want to follow and work as hard as we can. Teachers can be leaders. Students can be leaders. Parents can be leaders.

From time to time we all need to be reminded what awesome leadership looks like.

And when I need that reminder I turn to the Dancing Guy.

There is a lot Dancing Guy can teach us about our own leadership.

Ask yourself these questions...

Do you have guts? This guy is my hero. He felt something inside his soul. The music made him want to move. He didn't care what others would think. He got up and started moving. Kinda like in schools sometimes. Being the first person to stand up and dance is risky but often times it starts a movement. We have to have guts to be a leader. Leading is tough and standing up for what is right (which often isn't what everyone believes in) takes guts.

Are you easy to follow? The leadership Dancing Guy provides is instructional almost, as the video points out. So from the very beginning people watching know it is going to be easy to mimic.

Kinda like schools sometimes. Leaders need to lead in a way that is easy for others to follow. Nothing complex. And being followed shouldn't be a difficult task. Just simple leadership to drive change.

Do You Lead Publicly? When the first follower decides to embrace the leadership, Dancing Guy doesn't just keep doing. He shows the follower how to do the dance. He embraces the follower and wants him to feel as good as he does.

Kinda like schools sometimes. When we want people to follow, we not only need to be easy to follow but we need to do it in a way that is easy for others to embrace. Sometimes that means showing them. Modeling good leadership is an important skill to master. Like the video says, "he embraces the follower as an equal. So it's not about the leader any more." Leading publically means more than just in the classroom or in the building. Leading means connecting with other leaders to discuss and debate. We have to look beyond our walls and seek out those connections.

Is Your Movement Public? Once that first follower follows and they both are embracing the dance others begin to join in. Their (notice is plural now) leadership is public and then becomes a movement. And that movement is public for all to see.

Kinda like schools sometimes. If the leadership wants to gain momentum and followers we have to make our movements public. Using social media tools can help. Showing what you are doing on your school Facebook page or Twitter account, posting videos to You Tube about the movement, talking to others. The more open your movement, the easier it is for more followers to join in. Like the video says, " Everyone needs to see the followers because followers emulate followers, not the leader."

Does Your Movement Have Momentum? Once we get 2 then 3 then more followers the momentum takes over and the movement is in full force. More and more people join in and then the tipping point. This is the time at which people feel compelled to join in because there are more followers now than watchers.

Kinda like schools sometimes. Once the movement gains steam and more and more followers join there comes a point at which people feel they have to join. They don't want to be "that guy" looking from the sidelines while the movement passes them by. So if we include the ideas from above, if our movement is public and we are modeling what we want and we foster leadership in others than it is that much easier to lead. It actually takes care of itself doesn't it?

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Ideas For Providing Internet Access At Home

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

When I was an Instructional Technology Director one of the challenges I faced was working to ensure that students, no matter where they lived in my district, had access to the same tools and opportunities. I could provide technology that could be used in the schools, and provided high speed network access while they were in schools. However, when students went home there was no way to guarantee they’d have any access to high-speed internet when they got there.

For schools considering 1:1 initiatives, Bring Your Own Device or other digital rollouts, ensuring that students have access to a high-speed internet connection outside of the school building is key. Often, much time and decision making power is spent on the device chosen, rather than if it can be used at home.

Access to the internet and digital resources is now easier than than just a few years ago. We carry around, many times in our pockets, a portal to the proverbial information superhighway where we can find just about anything we want to know.

It’s not like it was back when I was high school when this was a familiar sight.

However for many students there is a struggle to provide that access at home so they can access those digital resources away from the classroom. Be it because of the cost is out of reach, the geography or topography is preventive or some other factor, the reality is many students go home and don’t have the access they need.

In a new whitepaper from Samsung, they outline if we want to further shift classrooms to being more digitally centric we have to focus efforts on ensuring students have access to digital resources at home.

“Technology has transformed education, but the initial focus was to equip schools with high-speed Internet access and students with devices. Now, “the biggest challenge is the at-home piece,” says Brent Legg, vice president for education programs at Connected Nation, a nonprofit committed to bringing high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.”

Samsung, along with other companies, are working with districts across the U.S. to help figure out the best ways to overcome this digital divide and get that access to where it is needed the most. I encourage you to check out the whitepaper to learn more.

What can be done? Is there anything schools and districts can consider when it comes to providing access at home? I believe there are 3 considerations.

Throw Open The Doors-Because of initiatives like ConnectEd and others, many schools are now able to provide faster and faster connections in the classroom. While there is still work to do (as you can see in this report from Education Superhighway) progress is being made. After about 4pm in most schools the doors are locked up for the night and everyone goes home. That internet connection just sits there unused. If we want to make schools the center of our communities again, why not throw open the doors and keep the schools open a few days a week giving the community access to that connection? Sure libraries and community centers already do this but why not add additional locations that have good equipment and are already set up? Staff it with volunteers and classes in basic technology skills, digital citizenship or other necessary skills could be offered.

LTE Access-One of the ways I was able to provide access at home to students who needed it was to purchase devices with data plans built in. I was able to secure a grant to buy hundreds of devices and to pay for the data plans for a year. Each device had unlimited access and I had a deal with the data provider for a low cost plan after the grant ran out. This worked great for my high school students who needed the devices at home to complete senior projects, apply for college or study for entrance exams. There were some students who abused the devices and the plans but we had reporting set up to make sure we could intervene with that student and have a conversation. This may not work for every district. It can get expensive and may be out of reach but even offering something like a hotspot (like the NY Public Library does) could help to close that digital gap.

Partners, Partners, Partners-Another way we worked to provide that access home was to partner with local ISPs and businesses to reduce the cost as much as we could to high speed internet connections. Families could apply for a discount and receive that connection at near to no cost. The program was supported by the ISP and many businesses chipped in as well. Start by talking to the major internet providers in your area and see it they have a program like that. If not, maybe you can start one!

I know some of these solutions may seem over simplified. Providing internet at home is a challenge in many locations for a variety of reasons. There are many barriers and factors to providing that access. These are just a few options to consider to help provide that access to those that need it the most.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Learning About Ormiboard-Part 1

When I began to introduce Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to my former district one of the questions (albeit anxiety filled) from teachers was with all these devices in the classroom how will we make sure students are doing what we need them to be doing? We spent a great deal of time with them talking about pedagogy and why designing lessons that were highly engaging was critical in an environment where every student has a device.

While those conversations around content and pedagogy are important, the need for specific tools to enhance that learning environment are crucial. Being able to push content to devices, especially when all those devices are different is important as well. There are several ways for teachers to push content to student devices, however, there is a new tool that will be worth the time investigating especially if you teach in a 1:1 or BYOD classroom.

Recently, I was introduced to Ormiboard and over the next few weeks I am going to explore what it is and it’s potential impact on the classroom. To start we will look at the basics, what it is and how it works. Then we will look at how it can be used to build interactive lessons for any device. And finally we will examine some advanced features and what’s coming.

To start let’s get a basic understanding of what Ormiboard is and how it works.

Ormiboard is a collaborative interactive whiteboard workspace that is browser based and works on virtually any device. To start, head over to https://ormiboard/com and register for an account. Right now accounts are free and have all the features, although there are plans in the future to have paid accounts with additional features. You can sign up through email or use your Google Account.

The idea is that an interactive lesson using a virtual whiteboard space can be created and then joined by students or other participants via a code. Users don’t need an account to use any of the features or join sessions but by having the account you can save your boards and get access to additional features.

Once registered your workspace is created and you have access to several featured boards to get started. I jumped right in started creating a new board. You also have the option of importing an existing interactive whiteboard file like those from a SMARTBoard or Promethean Board if you choose. If you import those you will notice a few of the interactive features don’t import but I am told that is currently being enhanced so any can be used.

If you are familiar at all with creating IWB lessons or even PowerPoint or Google Slides presentations creating content in Ormiboard will feel similar. As you can see there are a variety of tools you can use from inserting text or images to changing backgrounds or adding clip art. When adding that content you get a lot of control of how it looks and feels. From adding shading and colors to objects to even the way those objects look everything is done through a point, click and drag process.

One of the more advanced features you’ll want to explore are the individual object controls. Things like if the object is moveable during interactive mode or hidden, etc. You can create some interesting object controls by mixing up how the objects are moved or used.

Once you satisfied with the content on that board you can choose to be finished or add a new board and continue to build out your lesson. Once finished your board is ready to be shared.

Students (or adults if you wanted to use this for delivering Professional Development) visit the same Ormiboard link as before. The difference is they enter the code seen at the top of the board to join the lesson. Once they do the will see the content on their device and as it is manipulated and changed by the teacher it will be changed and manipulated on their screen.

To get a good sense of what is possible with Ormiboard check out the sample boards they have when you sign up for an account. These featured lessons have a lot of advanced features like automatic movement of objects and some interactive games built in. The Mission To Mars is a great example of what is possible with embedded video, a quiz and movement of objects all right there to explore. And you can copy any of the featured lessons to modify and make your own.

There are plenty more features to explore like the coding that can go into lessons, quizzes and more. But we will save those for a future posts.

I have 3 Challenges for you:

  • Sign Up For An Account
  • Explore The Featured Boards
  • Build A Play Board where you can become familiar with the various features
  • Invite a handful of student or friends to try out the collaboration features with one of the Featured Lessons. 

In the next post we will explore how to add some simple interactivity to an Ormiboard lesson and take a look at the polling and quizzing features.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

CommonLit-Free Informational And Literary Texts For Any Classroom

Recently, I was talking with my friend and literacy expert Shaelynn Farnsworth about the shifting definition of literacy and how we are all teachers of literacy. We had a great discussion on how today literacy is more than just reading, that it’s this complex set of skills that all of us need to find the best information, decode it, determine its validity and usefulness along with understanding where that information comes from and how to apply that information to a new task or skill.

When I was teaching middle school science one of the most challenging tasks I faced was finding grade-appropriate texts for students to see how the concepts we were discussing in class worked in the real world. In talking with other educators this seems to be a challenge as well. Often, these passages available online or in reproducible products, however these are generally expensive and don’t offer the support or data I need to ensure I am giving students something that they will understand but also challenge them.

I learned about CommonLit and after a few days of looking around and trying it out I am excited for the possibilities this could bring to any classroom.

Best part? It’s free!

CommonLit is a growing library of over 500 literary and informational texts for students in grades 5-12. The site also includes lesson plans for the texts and some brand new features like the ability to create classes, data dashboards to track students progress, and more!

To get started sign up for a free account and create a class. Once you have your class created, students can use your unique code to join that class. Or even better, they can just click the unique sign up link! No email addresses required which is a huge bonus.

Then you can start browsing the library. Search by key terms or use any of the filters like theme or genre, even literary device (juxtaposition, tempo, meter, ethos, etc) or Common Core Literacy Standard. You can also search by lexile range it you have that information for your students as well. And remember students have accounts too so they can use the same filters to find pieces of interest to them.

The pieces they have are diverse and cover a wide range of topics. From speeches like the Gettysburg Address or Conservation as a National Duty from Theodore Roosevelt to interviews, and other informational texts there is something of interest here to every student.

The texts themselves contain just more than the actual text. Take Malala Yousafzai's NPR interview. The text introduces the context of the interview and provides footnotes, definitions and all throughout, discussion points to get students thinking about the impact certain statements have had on history or to put themselves there to think about the implications of what Malala wants for girls everywhere. Each text in the library has these discussion questions which go beyond basic recall and get kids to think about the greater context of what they read.

Teachers have the ability to search for texts and assign them to students. Assignments go to all the students in the class (although I wish I could hand select individual students) and you can track their progress on the assessment on your dashboard. Assessments are 5 questions and including a writing prompt to get kids thinking about what they read and use the text as a source for their answer. Teachers can grade using a rubric and submit feedback to students. Students can then track their progress on their own dashboard in their account.

CommonLit can be a great edition to any classroom to provide supplemental texts that are both informational and fun to read. Even it you don’t use the assignment features you can still find value in the hundreds of texts that are there. Head over and check it out!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let's Make Professional Learning Meaningful Again!

I remember it as it if it were yesterday...

The worst professional development session I have ever delivered.

It had already been a long week. And this was the last session I was delivering. The participants could tell that this was the last place I wanted to be and really it was the last place they wanted to be too. I trudged through the scripted content with little passion. They asked questions because they thought they had to in order to move things along and I answered with one word or two.

It was a disaster. 

As everyone was getting up to leave I noticed one person didn’t get up. In fact he wasn’t moving at all. Great, my PD was so boring I’ve killed someone. Fortunately he was just asleep. But still. He was so disengaged that sleeping was a better alternative.

I know this is an extreme example but this type of PD happens all the time. Just ask the teachers in Chicago Public Schools. The fact is, educators have to sit in terrible professional development all the time. Either because there is a true lack of understanding of what goes into the needs of educators when it comes to their learning or like my example, it’s just plain boring.

Many, if not all educators, are familiar with pedagogy, or the theories related to learning and teaching children. Andragogy are the theories related to teaching adult learners. These are two totally different concepts and the ways that kids learn differ from adults. Yet if we look at the way PD is designed it often neglects the needs of adult learners.

I have the opportunity to take part in, observe and deliver hundreds of hours of professional development a year, either through conferences, meetings or during the work I do. Sometimes I am lucky and I get to sit in with someone who has a passion for what they do and it shows during our time together. Other times I see PD delivered to teachers that is much like the kind in the video from Chicago Public Schools, boring, scripted and participants that are disengaged.

We would never stand for teaching kids this way. Why do we not take a stand when it comes to our own professional learning? 

Professional development comes in all forms and can be delivered in a multitude of ways. But I believe there are 3 things for us to remember when it comes to any type of professional development or professional learning.

3 Essentials for Professional Learning 

Keep It Simple: Professional development that is overly complex and over-planned tends to lead to disengaged learners. Limit the focus of professional learning to one or just a few concepts at a time. I am an advocate of depth over breadth in the professional learning rather than the “one and done” or “6000 Tools in 60 Minutes” type sessions. With a concentrated focus, learning can include application, collaboration, and evaluation. Adult learning theory tells us adults need to have their voice as part of the conversation within the first six minutes of the learning to promote engagement. When we keep things simple, more time is available to hear those voices, provide choice in learning path and better understand the needs of all learners to cultivate a more meaningful professional learning experience. Keep things simple and build in time for exploration, conversation and tangents.

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect: As a PD leader what I do is never perfect. There is always room for improvement. One of the tenets of instructional design theory is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By keeping it simple, and having that concentrated focus we get the opportunity to take a step back to determine what is going well or what changes to the instruction are needed. What is working? What isn't? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help?

Educators need time to think about how a new tool or learned skill fits into their classroom and with their kids. Even if we believe what we are presenting is an easy concept to master there has to be some time for reflection. Adult learning theory tell us that educators want that tie back at the end of a learning session to goals and objectives laid out in the beginning. They also need direction in their thinking for afterwards. We want to have them leave thinking about what we want them to be thinking about. Giving opportunities during and after PD for reflection can help solidify the learning we ultimately want them to walk away with.

For leaders, time absolutely needs to be taken to look at the session as a whole. During the session temperature checks and informal formative assessments (simple feedback questions or times set aside to see where learning is) are critical to ensuring that the learning is on the right track. And afterwards take a look at what went well, and what could have been better? Solicit feedback from individuals and use those comments as opportunities to build even PD the next time.

Play: Look back at those teachers taking part in the PD from Chicago Public Schools. I have a hard time believing that providing an opportunity to play entered in at any part of their day. For professional development to be truly effective individuals need to be invested in their learning. And it’s hard to deny that when one is having fun they are engaged. Build in time for exploration and play, especially when it comes to Edtech or technology PD. Educators need time to digest and experiment (guided practice) with the tools they are learning. Look at BreakoutEDU and how they are redefining how PD is done. Learning is fun again!

Professional development is an important part of the learning process for all educators. More time and attention needs to be given on crafting PD that is simply designed, utilizes reflection as part of the growth process and lets everyone play a little more. As we head into another school year let us all, educators and professional development leaders alike, resolve to make professional learning meaningful again.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Innovative Ways To Improve School:Home Communications

My oldest daughter, Reaghan, is getting ready to be a 2nd grader. Heading back to school with her is one of the busiest times of year. There are lots of meetings, papers to read and fill out, and new things to learn about her school. As a parent, I rely heavily upon the communication efforts of the district and her school. Classes haven’t even started yet and she’s getting many phone calls, letters from her school and the district and lots of other information.

We still have 2 weeks to go!

This is a great time of year for any school or district to look at how they are communicating; evaluate methods used, analyze effectiveness and longevity of communications, and assess audience reached. The ultimate purpose of these communications is to not only share information but to promote engagement within the school, the district, and the community.

Traditionally, schools and districts have used things like the notes home, weekly packets, phone calls and/or emails to communicate throughout the year. While many of these still are valuable and have their place there are new and not-so-new mediums like social media that could be used to deepen the engagement with the community or do something entirely different. These mediums can be a quick and easy way to not only share timely information but moreover tell the wonderful stories that exist in your buildings.

Here are some new and new ways of thinking when it comes to improving School:Home Communications.

Twitter: You might not think that 140 characters provides adequate space to convey one’s message but Twitter can be a powerful medium to engage with parents and the community. In 140 characters one can share a powerful idea, reminders of upcoming events, and notes of encouragement. Twitter is continuing to grow as a popular place for parents and community members. Hashtags can also be powerful to increase a district’s or school’s reach. Today, many schools and districts are creating and using hashtags on Twitter as a means to unify conversations. Those hashtags can be used by parents, students and the community to share as well.

Ideas for Twitter:

  • Share a daily quote or message of encouragement. 
  • Post links to resources or sites for parent engagement or curriculum resources. 
  • Promote the use of the school or district hashtag to encourage parents, students and the community to share stories, pictures and video from their point of view. 
  • Share links to any of the other ideas below. 

Instagram: Pictures can better help us tell a story or capture what’s happening in your building. Parents and the community like to see their students in the classroom or athletes on the field. Instagram has made it easy for anyone to become a professional photographer and the sharing of those images simple. Using Instagram in schools or to tell the district’s story can be another way to get parents and the community involved providing a window into the school and showcasing the learning and accomplishments that take place.

Ideas for Instagram:

  • Share a student of the day or images of what’s happening in the classroom. 
  • Images from athletic events, clubs, or concerts highlight the student involvement in the district.
  • Images or short videos to help parents better understand curriculum, standards, or where to go for help. 
  • Give students a voice and let them take over the account once a week or month and let them decide on the story they want to tell through images. 

Snapchat/Instagram Stories: You might not think that Snapchat or Instagram Stories have a place in the classroom or school but they can be very exciting and an easy way to broaden your audience. The premise for both is the same. You add images and short videos to your story. They stay a part of your story for 24 hours and after that they are gone. (On Snapchat you can explore Stories there to get an idea of how it’s used for events or holidays or  other celebrations.)

Ideas For Using Stories:

  • A Day In The Life of A Student or Staff Member
  • A Day In The Class. What are different classes in your building like on a typical day?
  • Share images and video from a specific event like a Career Fair or assembly. 
  • Create a story around the big game, concert or arts event. 

Periscope/Facebook Live: Video can be a great way to engage the community when the community can’t get to the school. In the past, broadcasting videos and events from within the school was a difficult process that used expensive equipment and needed a high level of expertise. No longer! The phone you carry or the tablet you’re using to read this post can all be used to help you broadcast video in real-time. Periscope and Facebook Live are two easy ways to do this, no special equipment needed. With Periscope, videos are archived  and can be  shared via a link, posted to your Twitter account or published to platforms like YouTube. Facebook Live requires the use of a Facebook account but the video is instantly archived and shared in your News Feed. Both services include ways for commenting and sharing as the video as it’s being broadcast live.

Ideas For Using Live Video:

  • Broadcast Back-To-School Meetings or other meetings throughout the school year for parents and community members who can’t attend. 
  • Weekly message from the Supt. or other leadership team members about what’s happening in the district. 
  • Broadcast sporting events or have students provide commentary from events. 
  • Doing a science fair, geography fair or other student celebration of work? Broadcast it and have students provide the commentary. 

Finally Use Your Website: I know this post is supposed to be about innovative ways to improve School:Home Communications but let’s be real. The school website is still a vital and valuable tool to communicate to your parents and the community. Many still visit your school website to find information, contact numbers, and resources for helping their student at home. Increase the duration of a viewer’s stay by blending educational news with posts that share a story. Posting pictures, video and news stories that capture what it’s like to be a student or a staff member in your school or district can be a great way to let the community to know what’s happening there. Your website becomes less about the static information that’s posted there and more about the stories. And remember, many of the tools we’ve listed here can be embedded on your site. So you can put your Twitter feed or Instagram feed right there where everyone can see.

Ideas For Your Website:

  • Post the morning announcements via a video or if you’re using Google Hangouts On Air you can embed the video archive. 
  • Recognize a Student/Staff/Volunteer Of The Week. Give them a short questionnaire that you can post the responses to. 
  • Have a contest where you post baby pictures of students/staff have in the comments have folks guess who they are building school culture and community.
  • For high schools, run stories in the Fall of where staff members went to college to get Juniors and Seniors thinking about where to apply.

The key takeaway with any of these is that communications are ever changing. There is this dynamic ebb and flow of communication with stakeholders that needs to always be considered. What works for one may not work for another. Therefore it is vital to keep evaluating the methods and tools used and measure their effectiveness. Analyzing metrics and surveying parents and the community can give you valuable insight into how effective you are engaging and perhaps also, provide a new path to take when it comes to improving your School:Home Communications.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Embracing Formative Assessments This School Year

For me, the beginning of the school year was the best time of year. I always enjoyed getting back into my classroom, setting things up and getting pumped for the journey ahead with my students. The beginning of the year was a good reset. I could reflect back on the previous year, examine what I had learned over the summer and plan for a better year coming up.

One area of improvement still to this day I wish I could go back and improve even more was assessment. Mainly, embracing formative assessment.

In my first year of teaching I taught the way I was taught to teach. Delivering content to my students, assess at the end, remediate if necessary. With that cycle, I always had kids who were behind, who never seemed like they could catch up.

I was talking with a teacher friend the summer after my first year and she suggested something simple. Put a large piece of paper next to the door. Give every student a pack of sticky notes. On the way out the door they could put their thoughts about what they didn't quite get or what they were still having trouble with. They could leave their name or not. Either way it gave valuable insight to how the students were learning but also could help shape the lesson for the next day.

What a difference that made.

The following school years that board became an important place for myself and my students. It provided them a way to tell me what they needed and a place for me to reflect on my teaching and give my students what they needed.

Now, as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are taking over our schools, it's becoming even easier to formatively assess what our students know and for our students to leave feedback as to what they need because of this ready access to technology. However, look at my former classroom. I was able to embrace formative assessment without the need for any devices. The technology certainly helps but isn't always necessary.

Here are a few of my favorite sites and apps that can help you more easily fit formative assessment into your classroom this school year.

Online Sticky Notes- Just like the physical space in my classroom there are lots of virtual sticky note sites out there. Two of my favorites are Padlet and Lino. These provide a virtual corkboard for students to leave notes or questions or comments on their learning. Both sites are easy to set up and free. Best part, kids don't have to have an account to leave a note and they can do it any time, anywhere. All they need is the address. (So you don't even have to be a 1:1 classroom or BYOD. The kids could do them from home.)

Backchannels- Hugely popular at conferences and other educational gatherings the backchannel provides a way for participants to share in conversation while participating in learning. In the classroom they can be a way for kids to collaborate without shouting across the room. In terms of formative assessments, questions at various points through the lesson could be posted there and kids could respond. My favorite backchannel service is TodaysMeet. Again, simple to set up (all you need is a room name and to decide how long you want the room to be open). Free as well, it's available any time, anywhere.

Plickers- A tech tool for the non-tech classroom students merely need to hold up a card with a QR code on it. Using the free Plickers app, teachers then scan the room. The app reads the QR codes. The way the student is holding the card corresponds to an answer choice or letter or whatever you want that end to represent. Once the teacher scans the room you can see instantly who answered what and respond accordingly. It's a quick and easy way to use the power of technology to formatively assess without all students needing the technology.

Kahoot- Kids love friendly competition. And Kahoot is a formative assessment tool cleverly disguised as a game. Simply enter questions into an easy to use template and then students, either as individuals or as teams can see who can gather the most points by answering the questions as fast as they can. For the teacher there are dashboards that show who answered what and that, along with the instant feedback when the questioned is answered can be a great way to introduce and use formative assessment.

Poll Everywhere- This is another one of my favorites, simply because of the variety of uses and methods of submitting responses. Similar to the others, the teacher can create a simple feedback poll or leave the question open ended. The students can respond via text message, website or even Twitter. Again, the point here is we can capture the feedback from the students using a variety of methods, almost instantly. Another great feature of Poll Everywhere is the data analysis you get. You can export results to create more ways of analyzing data. (Like if the questions are open ended, you could export the results to put them into a Wordle to see what terms are showing up the most.)

Socrative- This one is quickly become a go-to app for formative assessments for educators everywhere. The teacher creates an account and a room (for, you guessed it, free). Then the students go to the site (either through the app or through a browser), enter the room number and they see a question or a open response question to answer. I like this one a lot because of the variety of choices for questions to answer. One is even called Exit Ticket where kids can quickly summarize what they learned and tell you what they need for tomorrow.

Quick and easy, six tools you can use this school year in your classroom to help improve formative assessment.

These certainly aren't all. What are some of your favorite sites or apps to help with formative assessment in your classroom? Do you have a suggestion about formative assessments? Leave some feedback below.

photo credit: GettyImages-Examen via photopin (license)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Setting The Stage For A Great School Year

Back when I was in the classroom this was the most exciting time of the year for me. I always enjoyed heading back to school more than any other time. Getting back in my classroom and getting things set back up, buying new supplies and planning for all the great things I learned over the summer were just some of things that excited me. I couldn’t wait for kids to get back in school and for learning to start again.

While back to school can be a fun time it can also be a challenge. It should be a time where we set the stage for a great year. However, there is always so much going on and so many things to do it’s easy to get bogged down in the weeds of endless meetings, paperwork and lesson planning.

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your kids at the start of school to have a great year. Here are just a few.

Get Connected
-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Reading blogs, contributing to an online community or checking out a Twitter Chat are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. Coming up in October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what we were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo or Schoology) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Set Goals And Reflect Often-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. Or if you want to take it to the next level, using Recap, students can record those goals through video as part of a larger portfolio to keep track of their learning all year.

Add Something New To Your Technology Toolkit-Odds are over the summer you learned about something new to try in your classroom. The beginning of the year can actually be a great time to think about new ways to integrate technology into learning. One of the tools I learned about this summer is EdTech Software. This is a textbook ebook solution for the classroom. If you use any kind of adopted textbook the EdTech Software can organize all those companion ebooks into a shelf for students so they can access them easily. But it’s much more than that. We know many textbooks aren’t all that flexible. With Shelfit you can supplement with videos, links and other resources to extend the ability of that static textbook and provide a customized learning experience for students. You can check out what it can do here and sign up for a free trial.

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get started with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial.

Remember, this really is an exciting time of year. Take time to enjoy it!

What are your favorite ways to get ready for a new school year? Leave some thoughts below. 

photo credit: Homeschool Supplies via photopin (license)