Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Growing your PLN with Voxer.

Yesterday was one of those busy busy days at school! I ate on the run, as I worked with all kinds of teachers on everything from resetting passwords to great ways for students to show their learning in ELA.  As I walked out of school, I could hardly wait to get home to my cheeky monkeys. I knew we had soccer practice, diving and a cross country meet. It was going to be just crazy! 

Time was flying by when I realized that it was already time to get online to co-host my show on the EdReach Network, Learning RedesignED, with Amy Lamberti. I took a deep breath, then hopped into a Hangout.

There is something so powerful about connecting with other teachers who are passionate and excited about what they are doing in their classrooms. It just refills me after stressful days. Kelly was a fantastic guest, and showed all kinds of amazing pictures of her classroom as she has transformed to make it more student centered. What a pleasure to interview her. Be sure to check out our show.

Then, she mentioned Voxer. I just lit up at the mention of it! I love Voxer! I use it to talk asynchronously with my sister who lives in Sydney, or with my busy girl friends. I love that I can send off a voice message whenever I have a thought or free moment.
Kelly blew me away when she said that she has been using it to connect with her PLN. Apparently, there are Voxer Edu groups where you an connect with teachers in group chats on Voxer.  I dug around today, and found this Google Document via @Joe_Mazza with tons of teachers (#EduVoxers) all over the place connecting on all kinds of topics. Then, I went to Twitter and looked at the #Eduvoxers hashtag...another great way to find people to Vox with. Joe Mazza writes all about great ways to use Voxer for growing your PLN and PD and also for podcasting. 

The part I love best about this idea is being able to listen to people's excited voices, providing feedback to one another on all kinds of ideas. Imagine putting a question out to your PLN when you have a moment, then coming back later to hear everyone's thoughts! You could ask for feedback on ideas, rehash lessons that did not go well, ask for about a teaching strategy. It would be like listening to a podcast on my way home from school...which I love doing after a busy day. It is like a little shot of positive energy refilling me after being used up.

Have you been using Voxer for you own PD or growing your PLN? I would love to hear your take on #EduVoxers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who uses Twitter in their Classroom? Just curious.

Today, as I sat in our Building Leadership meeting, I heard a question I hear often. "Who uses Twitter in the Classroom? Just curious."

I have learned that this question is asked when a teacher has not seen the power that connecting teachers and parents together can bring to a school.

Twitter can be just one more way that teachers can share the amazing things they are doing in their classroom. As a parent myself, I crave to get a peak into my child's classroom. Each time there is a blog post or email shared with glimpses into my kids' day, I feel more confident in the education that they are getting. I feel more connected to my school. I love my kids' teachers more. Why not embrace administration using Twitter in school?

This teacher was asking because our new building principal was reassuring teachers that Twitter is used almost like a blog for schools now. This teacher was possibly pointing out that this idea was silly, as none of the teachers, on our Building Leadership Team were using this powerful tool to share student work, ideas, much less connect with others, in my school because not one raised their hand.

Our admin was sharing how important social media can be to allow parents and the community a glimpse into what is going on in their classrooms. A way to share a quick picture with our learning community.  A way to promote the great lessons or projects students are engaged in. A way to promote how competent and passionate our teachers are to the people who entrust us with their most precious beings.

Our teachers are nervous about the administration using any kind of social media to share what is going on in our school.  Last year they were surprised by a Facebook page that was developed by our last administration, and some felt like they should have been asked permission before a picture of their classroom or their lesson was posted.

"Surprise" + "Social Media" = Angry Teachers. 

I have learned from my dedicated and cautious to change staff, that to win reluctant teachers over to technology, a clear picture of why something is needed in school is best practice. But is the use of social media by administration really up to the teachers? Could an administrator's mandate to share good news from school be trumped by a reluctant staff?

I feel a Twitter Thursday Tech Three coming....Maybe by this time next year that teacher will asks, "Who uses Twitter in their classroom? Just curious..." more than half the teachers around our Building Leadership Team will be confidently raising their hand.
After all, aren't building leaders agents of change?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rolling Out Google Classroom

It is already the third week of school! The days are flying by as I run around fixing tiny issues, resetting passwords, re-teaching how to set up grade   But, amongst the chaos, I have managed to get some teachers excited about Google Classroom!

Google Classroom is going to alleviate most of the trouble with document sharing, commenting and assigning grades to student work. It creates a folder in your drive for each assignment you give students. Their work gets turned into that folder, and not into your Incoming (or Shared with Me)drive. So, your Drive is neat and tidy! Plus, there is a stream where students can interact with each other and their teachers. Grades can be assigned through this stream too! It is almost like Edmodo meets Google Drive. A match made in Heaven?

I rolled out Google Classroom in a Thursday Tech Three email, which I have resurrected after a year’s break, but with a twist! Instead of throwing tools at the teachers each week,  I thought I would concentrate on promoting communication and collaboration between students and teachers that might reach beyond the classroom. The plans is to send out email each Thursday, with a screencast or quick tip to get teachers interested, then host mini sessions throughout our collaboration day (the one day my middle school doesn’t hold a formal team meeting during team time). It has worked out so well! Teachers come, after reading or listening to my Thursday Tech Three tip, then work together to figure out how the tool can improve communication or collaboration with students. This is the quick tip I shared with them. Google Classroom

We have been a #GAFE school for over 8 years, and still, some of the teachers are struggling to manage their documents inside Drive. I think it is because teachers like a clean surface, a clean desktop and everything sorted into their correct place. Up until now, some have been reluctant to share documents with students, and prefer to have them print them out and turn them old school style.

How do you, as a tech coach, roll out new initiatives? I would be interested to hear!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pixel Press Floors

I am SUPER DUPER excited about a new app from Pixel Press. It is called Floors. http://projectpixelpress.com/

It is a game designing product that is creative. You can either design levels in the app, or you can draw your game on the special grid paper and then take a picture of it, and then the app creates your game.
After testing and tweaks, students can upload their games to the Arcade (searching the Arcade is not great, but email, Facebooking or tweeting it to friends works really well) and share it with friends.
I gave it to my son this morning, after playing with it a yesterday, and he created a two level game in like 10 mins. He is SUPER DUPER excited about creating games for his peers.

I can totally see this used in my coding class next year! I love that the games can be brainstormed, drawn collaboratively, tested, re-tweaked and then finally published and shared with a larger audience. It is a perfect example of a great design thinking lesson! Today, on my EdReach commute (see previous post http://edtechsmith.blogspot.com/2014/03/edtech-just-tool-in-classroom.html) I learned on the 2 Guys Show, that they are going to be designing lesson plans to help teachers implement Design Thinking lesson around Pixel Press for release in July 2014.

Their Vimeo channel is also really awesome for mini tutorials too!
http://vimeo.com/pixelpressgame. The tutorials are great for kids because they are short and easy to navigate. 

A link to the special grip paper

It is only iOS right now, but they are working on an Android version as we speak.
Guys Show #32 

I heard about it from my friend Carrie (@heck_awesome) and then on the 2 Guys Show #2GuysShow on the EdReach Network (@EdreachUs). 

If you search #PixelPress on Twitter, you can see lots of examples of what teachers are already doing with Floors in their classrooms. Enjoy creating!

LOVE this tool!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Do You Know Your Students?

Yesterday, I had to opportunity visit a Jennifer Leigh's @jen_leigh1 lunchtime coding club for 3rd graders in a elementary school in my district. The students were so excited to share their learning with me. They wanted to take me step by step through the creation process. They shared what programming languages they liked best and why. They talked about how they used other student's work to build their games off of. They knew to give the students they borrowed their work, credit. The coders talked about how they wanted to learn more about Scratch so that they could make more interesting games. They were reflecting on their work and the process of learning to code freely and authentically.

The Code Club was a hive of activity. Students working together, helping each other, going to Khan Academy to get more skills, creating new games based on their favorites.  They even knew which student was "huge on Scratch" because he had created lots of games that other Scratch lovers liked to play. I loved seeing students so excited about learning in school. Persevering through trial and error to create programs.

This has been a busy week for student creations for me.

Over the weekend, we hosted a sleepover, and O and Dylan, my nephew and my son created a video with a side by side screen perspective so that the viewers could "get the full experience". Both boys are 10. They used my computer to screencast their Minecraft Mini-Game, using Quicktime, then, used iMovie to edit the movie into a side by side view with audio, transitions, and titles. They even learned how to create a thumbnail for the video, using pixlr.com to "Make it look professional".  We even had a discussion about copyright of images and their digital footprint in an authentic, teachable moment kinda way.

These boys used tools that they had little to no experience using to create a well edited video with just my guidance. They persevered through the tech to create the finished product that they had in their mind's eye. They used Google Search to figure out what to do. They problem solved together. They were excited to create the video and could not get it on Youtube fast enough so that O's subscribers could revel in the creation! They must have checked their views 10 times throughout the next two days to read comments and see their view numbers. (If you view their video, feel free to comment on their videos...it will make their day!)

Why is any of this important?

These students are all 10 years old or younger. They are all creating digital content for audiences that are larger than their classrooms. They are all craving feedback from their audience. They are all creating in digital tools that they need to learn to create their projects. They are all persevering and embracing failure because their are working on their passions. Do these students have this opportunity outside of their Code Club or their homes?

If students are excited about creating at home, could we as educators not leverage their passion to "trick"  them learn content in the classroom?

Simply getting to know our students would help us learn about their skills. Do you know what your students are passionate about outside of school? Do you let them bring their passions into the classroom? Do you allow creation in your room?

Packets are not engaging. Worksheets don't allow feedback from an audience. Answering teacher generated questions does not help students learn.

Let them use their mad skills to create. Let them have choice. And they will happily learn.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Updating my Résumé: A Great Way to Reflect on Change

This week, I have been working on my résumé. Not because I am thinking of changing positions, but because I vowed to myself that I would always have an up to date resume. As I added the tweaks to my position description and added in new professional roles, I began to reflect on my teaching practice.

I live in Illinois, and teachers have a new evaluation system. Say what you will about the evaluation process, the Danielson Framework that it is based on, does force teachers to reflect on their practice. I know that this process being more intentionally built into my evaluations has changed my practice.

Writing my résumé proved to be a good process because I did have to make changes to the descriptions of my work over the last year. Once it was completed, I sent it to my husband for proof reading, and he responded that it was amazing to see all the items that I added to it. That got me thinking about Teaching in Beta (previous post) theory. Should all teachers have to change their résumés each year even if they don't change positions? Do they take on different leadership roles within their school? Do they change methods of delivering content? Start incorporating blended learning into their classroom? Integrate technology when they didn't previously? Should they be changing their practice, and thus the description of their position on their résumés? Gawd yes!

Become connected and you too will need to update your résumé!
Writing my résumé, or better still, tweaking my old résumé allowed me to see where I am changing, evolving and letting some previous practices go to my lesson grave yard. And, better still, it allowed me to see for myself that I am having an impact, coaching teachers to change their practice and having success at it! Maybe rewriting your résumé will help you get through this Spring too!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Teaching in Beta: Do You Have a Lesson Graveyard?

I have been listening to an EdReach podcast each day during my commute, learn more in a previous post. (Edtech: Just a Tool in the Classroom). This week, I had the opportunity to listen to another great podcast from the EdReach Network. I became inspired when Molly Schroeder @followmollywho was interviewed on Flipped Learning with Troy Cockrum @tcockrum, discussed the idea of teaching in beta. It has been ringing in my ears ever since. I can't stop thinking about it!

First, what does "beta" mean? When new tech tools become available online, they are often offered in beta. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a beta is a "nearly complete prototype of a product". In other words, a not quite finished product. Often, these tools are ever changing. A perfect example is Google. It is always changing!

Molly contends that is how teachers should think about their teaching. Ever changing. Their lessons should be tweaked, upgraded, and the most important part...put in the graveyard if the lesson just isn't working anymore. This idea got me thinking.

 I think that some teachers are reticent to embrace tech in the classroom because they think of it as "just one more thing". They add it onto of all their lessons and then feel overwhelmed because they just can't let anything go. Or, maybe, they aren't aware that they can use tech to substitute or change a lesson, and then let the paper pencil part, or the packet that they used to use go, or let the students choose how they are going to show their learning. Molly suggests that we should not be afraid to try something new, and if it fails, to use that failure as a learning for the next time. To prototype lessons, to change them as they need to be change and to put the lessons that don't work anymore in the lesson graveyard.

Slate Magazine created a Google Graveyard for all the beta products that did not have as much success as they had wanted. If Google ins't afraid to put a tool in the graveyard, after all that time and energy has been spent, then why can't teachers have a lesson graveyard too? Change is exhilarating and thinking of teaching in beta might put a spring in your step. It sure has for me!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Idea Lady

I am the Creative Innovative Specialist in a middle school. This is a title that my associate principal gave me after thinking that Technology Integration Specialist just didn't describe my role in our middle school. I coach teachers in integrating technology into the curriculum.

The best part of my position as a Creative Innovative Specialist is working in different classrooms each day. I learn so very much about classroom management, differentiation and connecting with students from co-teaching with teachers in my school.  The teachers rely on me to help them redesign lessons or help them offer more learning product choices to students especially in the area of technology.  I plan with my amazing LMC director to incorporate research best practice too. It is rewarding to have the opportunity to rethink lessons, plan with colleagues (which seems to help the idea juices flow better), look at cool new tools and to design lessons that will engage the students.

There are days, like yesterday, when I hold a professional development session that I really wish I had my own classroom again! I exposed the teachers to education.weebly.com and as I drove
home, thought about all the cool things that could be done with a weebly site and students. Blogging, digital portfolios, sharing images, ideas and building their own sites. I was thinking that the teachers who came to the workshop would create a teacher website, and not choose to use the tool to change the way they deliver lessons, or allow students to connect, or encourage the students to build a digital portfolio. I was pleased that they came to learn about the tool, but worried they would not make any change to their current plan either way.

The hardest part of my position is I share a many many ideas to change lessons, or engage students, or offer more student choice, to allow the students to reach the world outside of the school, to meet the Common Core Standards, to change the classroom from teacher-centered to student-centered, and most of those ideas are never used! The staff sees me as The Idea Lady. The one who is always sharing how to change. Some love it and take me up on all kinds of ideas, while others just never plan with me. The teachers who never work with me are the people I feel the most responsible to reach.

On the days when I feel like I am not impacting education in my school, I think about returning to the classroom where I could implement my ideas and see them come to fruition. Be the master of my own universe! I could really impact a small group of students, to offer more student choice, to do Genius Hour, to blog with students, to use social media to break down the classroom walls!

Then, I remember that I love being The Idea Lady! That I impact lots of kids and lots of teachers, I am changing education in my school (slowly) and I learn so much each day from the people around me. So, I embrace The Idea Lady.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Edtech: Just a Tool in the Classroom

 I am a co-host of a show called Learning RedesignED on the EdReach Network (@EdReachUs), and honestly, until about a week ago, I had not consistently listened to another podcast on this amazing network in more than a year. I have been listening to the EdReach Network podcasts each morning on my way to work. A great way to use the time wisely! I arrive at work, feeling relaxed and like I had spent a little time doing something for myself.

In a week and a half, I have learned so much about what other passionate educators think about education from how important a crisis plan is for a school (Mission Monday), to the cool new features of Google Play for Education (Google Educast).
The one thing that idea that keeps rattling around in my head is that the term "Edtech"needs to be changed to just plain education. Technology is present in all of our lives and in all other businesses. People in other industries don't have a choice to use technology. It is built into their work. Why is it so different for teachers?

Never do we give teachers classes on how to use a pen or a desk or an overhead. We don't attend conferences around the other "tools" we use in the classroom. Technology in school is here to stay! We need to use technology in our classrooms to make our instruction more relevant, to vary our presentation method, to allow students to be creative, to allow students to connect outside the classroom walls, and because it is part of their lives already!

If I was to ask how many people didn't use technology today to a group of teachers even, I will wager that no one would raise their hand! Technology makes our lives easier to manage. It will do the same for our classrooms. So, stop talking about "technology in the classroom" and start talking about ideas that work to get students to be creative, to collaborate and to be critical thinkers.

Oh, and I recommend listening to the EdReach Network on your way to work! It is like a little shot of good news each morning. Get inspired to change or rethink a strategy or try something new.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Students Involved with Technology Conference 2014

On February 22nd, all across Illinois, students were sharing and learning at an amazing Saturday event called The Students Involved with Technology Conference, sponsored by State Farm. There are several locations around Illinois where kids gather. We helped organize the North Campus of the conference in Buffalo Grove, IL. I was lucky enough to hear of this event two years ago from my colleague Amy Lamberti (@amylamberti). Since, I have been singing its praises to my friends, their kids, my educator friends, really, to anyone who would listen.

The day is magical because third through twelfth graders spend the day learning from each other and creating together. The students prepare presentations on technology related topics that they are passionate about, then present to each other in a conference breakout session style. There are also SIT Sponsored presentations on creating movies with green screens, Maker Space exploration, a Minecraft Challenge room, a SIT Logo room, and a Mystery Challenge room. Each of these rooms are places where students can create something collaboratively using some form of creativity.

Carrying their "Tech Bags" 
The magic really happens when you see kids, passionately sharing their expertise to each other. They shared about being Tech Gurus in their schools, how to make great movies using iMovie, how to create apps, how to use iTunesU to learn, building a great YouTube Channel and all kinds of other topics. They were not forced to present. They wanted to share their passion at the conference. They wanted to do the work. It was amazing to see 3rd graders present to a packed room with such confidence. The energy and excitement just filled me right up!

My 10 son and his 9 year old cousin presented during SIT 2013 for the first time. I don't think they could have had more fun. They presented on how to create great movies using an app called Splice (iPhone app). Watching my two little tech geeks captivate a room for kids and adults for 30 minutes got me thinking...do their 4th grade teachers even know that they are presenting at a conference? Do they know they have a YouTube channel (OPLAYSMINECRAFT) with all kinds of followers? Do they know that they love to share what they are passionate about? Probably not. Why not?

The SIT Conference has a special place in my heart because it is a day where kids who are really into tech can gather, share and learn. Be free to be who they are. Connect, get feedback and share their skills with people who are really interested in their passion too. Don't we all want to be heard? Validated?

Creating his winning entry in Minecaft Challenge.
In a previous post (Diorama to Minecraft: A Shift in Audience), I encouraged my son to use Minecraft instead of creating another diorama for school. His teacher was impressed, and mildly annoyed that I changed her learning product, but nothing has changed in his classroom. Minecraft is not just a game kids are obsessed about. It is a creativity tool that could easily be brought into school. If we can harness that excitement for creation and technology and connecting with others inside the walls of our schools, kids would be running into school, not home.

I guess the bigger question is, why are creation tools that kids are into at home so far removed from what they do in school? Shouldn't we be embracing that passion
for movie making in school somehow? Shouldn't my nephew be able to use those skills to share his learning?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are You Connecting? Better get on that!

I have just spent the weekend resting and reconnecting with my family after 4 days at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference 2014: Connect to Learn #ICE14. Each year, I come away swimming in ideas, connections and exhaustion!

 How To Speak "The Twitter" presentationThis year, for the first time, I presented a half day workshop with two of my amazing colleagues, Jenna Hacker @jennahacker and Carrie Baughcum @heck_awesome on "How to Speak the Twitter". It was such a rewarding experience! The workshop had interested educators who knew the power of Twitter, but needed help managing the noise and understanding how to get into the conversation flow.

Every time I even think about presenting I feel like I really need to step out of my comfort zone.
Sometimes I wonder who wants to hear from me? Or, what do I have to offer when there are so many amazing educator speakers out there who are so much more respected than I. After this weekend of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I connect with people each time I present. The teachers I help, then become part of my PLN, and I then get to learn from them in turn. Also, as innovators it is imperative to share what we are doing. If we are to move education in the direction we know it needs to go, then the people who are changing their pedagogy have a responsibility to share what they know.

Those who know me think of me as chatty, gregarious and outspoken. But, the truth is, I sometimes have trouble picking up the phone to call for pizza. The thought of speaking to a crowd of people I don't know, makes me feel paralyzed. Then, once I get going, take the first leap into the session, I get this feeling of confidence, almost like a high.

I would encourage any one of you to reach out, present, share and connect with other teachers. If I can do it, so can you! I feel strongly enough about connecting with others to venture to say out loud (well in a blog style out loud) if you are not connecting with other teachers at conferences or on social media, then you are going to become obsolete. The idea that you already know everything because you have been a teacher for a long time is wrong! We need to change our thinking. Gone are the days of copying what you did last year for this year. When you connect with other educators, your eyes become open to the shift in education from worksheets, to project based learning. Real world connections for kids. Students want to share what they know outside the walls of their schools. They want to connect with experts, to share their dreams for the world. A poster board project just can't do that! Getting connected changed my professional life. It can do the same for you!

If you are thinking about becoming connected through Twitter, check out our How To Speak The Twitter Presentation, or our Thinglink. It is a great place to start!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

HandBrake to the Rescue!

How do you create screencasts as tutorials to teachers? I use Quicktime Player most often. It allows you to capture the whole screen, or a portion of the screen very easily. It is my go to tool!
I do also use Mimio Recorder too, and I love that you can pause the recording, then resume it when you are ready. What a handy feature! If you are not on a Mac, you can also use Screencast-o-matic. It is really handy also!

Today, I needed to capture a promotional video for fundraiser we are doing in our school from a DVD. I  spent two class periods trying to figure out how to screen record from a DVD to include on our announcements at school on my Mac.
I tried my favorites, Mimio Recorder, Quicktime Player and Screencast-o-matic. Did you know that all of these record the audio input not output? I learned from Googling my problem (thank goodness for Google right?) that these tools only record input audio. Then I hooked up speakers to the computer...still no luck!   Then, I remembered HandBrake! What a great free app that you can download to capture video from a DVD. It worked like a charm!
I have in the past used Handbrake to move DVD movies to our iPad for students and my own kids...shhh! That's a secret!

Anyway, if you follow the prompts in HandBrake, you can take a video from a DVD and convert it to an .mp4. Awesome! A tip: Notice how long the video is you want to convert. Then it will be easier to select the right movie file on the DVD to convert in HandBrake.

This is why I love my position at school! Each and every day is different. Some days I am working with students on projects. Some days, I work with teachers in PD. Some days I have time to learn new tools or tricks to make all teachers in my school better at using tech to change their curriculums. Each and everyday I learn something new...that is the best part! It's all about the learning.