Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tech in an Election Year

I'm all about integrating the real world into the classroom. As we enter November, politics and the election are on everyone's mind -- especially in the year of a presidential election. Usually my students are doing all kinds of cool stuff with the presidential race to make the experience real and engaging. And while you may want to back off getting overly political(especially in the current political climate), the themes of the election are still very robust opportunities for engaging instruction.

So what CAN you do this year to "tech" up your election year lessons? Since elections are all about the dissemination of information and the analysis of numbers, it's not too much of a stretch to make these themes work in the classroom. Check out these four tech integration ideas to help you get started.

1. Online Polls

Use a tool like Polleverywhere or Google Forms to to have students anonymously vote on political issues. Compare and contrast the class results with national results. Have students explore these similarities or differences with an online blog. While it's easy to do paper ballots or voting by raising hands, technology provides immediate responses and allows for truly anonymous voting.
Live polling with Polleverywhere

2. Discussion and Debate

Break students into groups and have them research each candidate to prepare for a debate. Students can either take turns debating or the teacher can assign roles (researcher, writer, debater). To save time, create a custom Google Search Engine of election sites. You could also use an online chat tool such as Today’s Meet to moderate a dialogue on an election topic. This kind of debate or dialogue can even extend beyond the school walls by coordinating with another teacher so that students across two schools (or more) are able to discuss an election topic.
Setting up a custom search

Abe talkin' sense with Blabberize

3. Persuasion and Rhetoric

Maybe you don't want to get into the issues, but you want to use the election as a jumping off point to discuss campaigning and persuasion in the political process. Have students create a candidate and try to get them elected. Create commercials with Animoto, Stupeflix, or Magisto. Have them do quick campaign speeches with Blabberize,Vocaroo, or Voki. Or have them record radio commercials or podcasts with Beautiful Audio, Spreaker, or MicNote. A lot of possibilities here.

270 to win electoral simulations

4. Election by the Numbers

Many of these activities focus on social science and language arts. What if you want to integrate some other content areas, such as math and science? A tool like 270 To Win might be a good place to have students do some number analysis. Have them analyze the likelihood of victory for a particular candidate. Or they could develop the different pathways to win the election with the votes needed. Take it a step further and have students use numbers to justify campaign strategy. "If this candidate needs to get to 270, what numbers do they need in each state? Which issues should they focus on.

Maybe you could have a student design an infographic on how the electoral college works, or paths to presidency. Integrate your polling activities to talk about probability of victory.

When you start the think about the parts of our brain we use during the election season, it's easy to see why it integrates so well with the ideas and concepts we are already teaching. So go ahead and bring the election into your classrooms. Tech tools make it easy, but remember to be discerning about how you approach this very hot topic with your students.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Creative Power of Lolcats

I saw an amazing presentation at a conference last week about design thinking and creativity in school. The hook was how our schools have emphasized consumption over creativity. I realized we do a lot of things to have kids consume: worksheets, lessons, lectures, etc. Creating consumers doesn't do much for learning though -- it teaches you how to access information but it doesn't force you to think critically or reflect on that information. I read a book recently called Cognitive Surplus which suggests that even the smallest creative contributions can make a significant impact on society. The accompanying TED Talk likens it to "lolcats". If memes of cats are the stupidest possible creative act, it's still a creative act. And that naturally leads to a greater capacity to be a creator. Creators have to plan, think, and develop their ideas. And while it may seem dumb, try to remember that the next time you see a cat picture on the internet. Someone engaged a design philosophy to create that. That's more than a lot of people create.

Think of this: what are you doing in your class to have students develop their ideas? How are you engaging them in creative tasks? What makes your student a critical thinker? What's the lolcat in your classroom?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Recapping for Assessment with Recap

Here's something that's new to me that is making a big impact with some of the teachers in my district. It's called Recap and it's a completely free assessment resource available on the web or on your iPad. The power of the tool is that it allows you to get your students create short video responses to your questions or prompts. Great for a quick assessment at the end of class or something to report back to you after trying something out at home.

So what makes Recap so great? Check it out:
  • Teachers can record a video question or type one up to send to their students
  • Students easily sign up with a pin or their Google account
  • New updates allow you to include up to 10 questions in your assessment, but you can also send out as few as one
  • Send your questions to one student or the entire class -- great for differentiation
  • You can set a response time - guide students to get to the point
  • Reflection tool after the assessment allows students to judge how well they think they did
  • Reportable data to see how students did in their assessment by each student or an aggregate of the entire class
  • Option to leave feedback on student videos
  • Review reel lets you get a video of all student responses spliced and edited together with graphics and music - a great sharing out tool
  • Share out the links to individual videos - great for sharing activities with parents or administrators
It's super easy to get started. Create your account by connecting to your Google account. Next, just create your class and create a question for students to respond to. You can create a text question, or you can create a question and upload a video of your own to go with it.

After you've created your question, it's super easy to share it out with your students. I would recommend having your students log in with their Google accounts, but if you just want to add your students manually and have then sign in with a pin, you can do that as well--but be warned, if you use the pin, students could easily log in as each other. 

Once you have your first question created, share it out. Your students will log in with their email or their pin, see your question, and record their response to it. 

After the student responds they can review their answer, rate whether or not they think they "got it" and then submit. If they feel like they would like to rerecord their response, they can. It's all about having the student record a quick and to the point response to a question -- that's why it's so great for formative assessments.

After your students have recorded their responses, you can get back in and check on how they did. Recap gives you some pretty awesome reporting and review tools to go over your students' work.

In your overview report you will see your students self assessment. Along the bottom you have a thumbnail of each individual student's response. But then you have the coolest tool of all -- the Daily Review Reel in which you will get a video complete with every student response played back to back with some slick sound and animations included to round out the package. This would be great to review student responses as a class or to simply help you get a snapshot view of how your students did on a quick assessment.

After you have reviewed your students overall, you can go in and review each student individually. There is a place for you to type up some feedback and return it to your students. This is a great place to leave some commentary about how they did, what worked, or maybe what they need to work on.

Even with all this, perhaps the coolest feature of Recap is the sharing tool. Was a student's response so awesome that you just need to share it with your team? Want to email it to the student's parents so they can share the awesome? Sharing Recap responses is super easy.

Just click the attachment button on the student's video response and find a weblink, Tweet it out, or email it directly by popping in an email address.

Recap makes a lot of the things we place importance on very easy. It's an innovative tool that allows students to express and create. It provides a powerful tool for assessment with and efficient and meaningful data and feedback tool. And you can share the great things your students do easily with a few clicks of a button. I am excited about continuing to use Recap in classrooms. Definitely check it out!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Explore the World with Current Events

Something I often insert into my teaching to keep things relevant are current events. The government iPhone hack story last school year really had some legs with my lessons. That was a great story to engage students because so many of them have phones and place a high priority on privacy while using their phones. My students were motivated to read and write about that topic. 

And that's the power of using current events in your teaching. It allows you to access something relevant that your students are going to have heard about and have ideas and thoughts about it. It's a great way to begin integrating your content into something they already have background with.

A great place to start is Google News. It features stories from a variety of sources and countries. Google News collects all the news you can use, so there's going to be something you can apply to your teaching. And everything is categorized..sports, US, world, tech...whatever. Current events in several areas make opportunities for applying to your teaching flexible.

What do you do after you find something you want to use with your students? Have them map the coverage of a news event or issue from different countries with an interactive map. Mark and take note of the important areas where the story is taking place, or track the development of a story as it moves around the country or world. Google My Maps is an awesome tool for geographical annotations. 
Have students type up a response or develop a presentation about the situation. Have them collect images around an issue and develop a photo essay that explores the situation and implications. Publish to the web so they can contribute to the buzz around the current event. When it comes down to it, getting creative is the easy part with current events. There are so many ways that students can show their thinking or contribute to a discussion that the possibilities are almost limitless.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Supercharge your PD with Badges!

So one thing I wanted to put in place when I started as a tech facilitator was pushing teachers to personalize their own learning. Basically, I wanted teachers to have more voice and choice in the kind of technology they were learning to use. I am still working on the voice, but I have been really working hard to add choice via our new district ed tech website.

The main choice component is our tech badges page. With our tech badges teachers simply go through a short course, complete an artifact to provide evidence of learning, and then I issue them a credential with a badge and a testimonial to their new skills.

That's the short version -- here it is a little more in depth:

Choosing a Badge

Teachers start by choosing a badge they want to earn. Since I alone create the courses, we only have nine available, but I aim to continuously add more as the school year goes on. Teachers are given a look at all the badges we currently offer. They click on the tool they want to learn more about and are taken to a page where they read about the tool and how they can use it in their classroom.

Taking a Course

After they read about the tool and decide if it fits their interest, they go through a short course consisting of the basics of it's use. The course is created through an embedded Google Slide. Since the site is built in Google Sites, Slides embeds easily and provides a clean way for a teacher to learn about the tool without having to dig around too much through a bunch of different tabs and websites. Each slide begins with objectives--the skills teachers will learn through the process. Instruction occurs through a series of YouTube videos that discuss different facets of using the tool. To get an idea, check out the WeVideo course I designed below.

After they go through the course, they are instructed to complete a Google Form as evidence of learning. You can check out an example here. When I verify that a teacher has completed the task and they have demonstrated mastery of the tool, I use Credly to issue the credit. Teachers get a badge in the email that looks like this: 

I believe that the best part of the entire process is that it results in a teacher having created something they can use. A lot of PD tends be the type of thing where a bunch of teachers sit in a big room and have someone talking at them for a few hours. When teachers leave, they have nothing to show for it and no new skills. By earning one of these badges, teachers have proven they can use a tool and have created something they can use in their class tomorrow. The personalization and the authenticity of use is what makes this powerful for our teachers. And our teachers receive state mandated PD credit for taking these courses. While it's small now, I seriously think this program is a game changer for teacher tech proficiency in our district.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Get Funky with a Backchannel

Get funky with what now?

Okay, you're probably asking "What's a backchannel?" A backchannel is basically just a space where people carry on discussion in the background of a task. For example, Twitter is a common backchannel during major cultural events. Sporting events and award shows often feature hashtags where people will chime in with thoughts about big plays, funny commercials, or the biggest snubs.

So how does this apply to the classroom? 

Maybe you are working with a group on one task and other students are busy with independent tasks. You want students to work independently, but also have a way to collaborate or ask you a question if they need. So how do you deal with this? Backchannel!

Maybe you want to facilitate student collaboration on a group task while you're watching a video on YouTube. You want students to carry on discussion and respond to questions as the video plays, but how do you have students talking and watching at the same time? Backchannel!

My favorite backchanneling tool for students is Today's Meet. If you've ever been in my classroom or in one of my teacher workshops, you have probably seen Today's Meet in action. It's simplicity combined with minimal setup time for teachers and students make it a big time winner in my book. So, how do you get started with it?

First of all, Today's Meet is free and does not require logins or accounts. You can create an account if you want to keep track of all the rooms you have created. In reality, all you really need to do to get started is create a room. From the main page type in your room name and how long you want to keep it open. BAM - room created.

You can direct your students to your  Today's Meet channel by putting your room name after the Today's Meet url - in this example mine is Once in, you'll want to get everyone settled in with a nickname or a handle. In my class we always do first initials, but later on in the year we'd allow nicknames. It's fun. To create a nickname, just type the name you want in the "nickname" box and click join. Chatting is as easy as typing your message in the "Listen" box and clicking "say". Be careful, like Twitter you only get 140 characters to get your thought out.

Depending on how you use it, the backchannel can be structured very differently. If you are having students use it to follow along with a video, you might post a question for them to consider and have them structure their answers to go along with the question. I use a Q1/A1 structure to keep everything organized.

You also might set it up to be a place for student to ask questions or come to you for clarification on assignments while you are working with other students. It's a good structure to have for working with small groups. Just let students know you'll get to questions as soon as you can. I also tag them with "@" so they know who I'm responding to.

You should also encourage students to respond to each other and have questions that facilitate a dialogue between students.

Really like what happened in the backchannel? Save a transcript with the Room Tools at the bottom of the screen. Great for formative assessment tools or artifacts to share with parents.

Is this something you can use in your classroom? Start backchanneling with Today's Meet today! I'd love to hear about other backchanneling tools you like - please share them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Start Explaining with Mysimpleshow

When I heard about mysimpleshow earlier this week, I was pretty eager to try it. I love technology that makes presentation easy and engaging. I was blown away by how simple these are to make and how slick they end up looking. Mysimpleshow provides an elegant solution for your presentation needs.

This tool is web-based, so anyone with a web browser can use it. Teachers could use this to develop "how to" videos for lessons, or challenge students to use it to teach a lesson or create a presentation on something they have researched. This would be a great way to have students show their understanding after a lesson or a unit.

The real selling point of this tool is that it's so easy. I made a practice one about the life of Jimi Hendrix and it took me about 10 minutes from beginning to end. I really like the way it turned out.

The setup is genius. It's really as simple as filling out the information in the boxes, confirming the pictures and the voice over information, and saving your video. After typing up your script, mysimpleshow will give you suggestions for images that go along with your words. You can keep them, change them, or select new words and images that it didn't choose. The site is pretty bright though - it generally hits the high points of your presentation. Still, you'll want to check over the final product to make sure it found the kind of images you were going for. We had some confusion with "record" (music album vs. writing down information).

Follow the simple steps and soon you'll be creating your own awesome presentations. A slick visual presentation with a pretty quality AI voice over of your script. You can also record yourself, but seriously, the robot reading chops are legit here. 

Once published, your videos will be available in mysimpleshow, or you can export them to YouTube and share it however you want. I really can't say enough about this awesome tool. Check out my sample presentation below to get an idea of what you could be making.

Get started using mysimpleshow now! I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Spinning Plates

I took my girls to the state fair last week. Between stuffing our faces with corn dogs and riding trains that weren't built to accommodate the adult male body, we did manage to squeeze in a pretty sweet circus session. The girls loved the clowns and the acrobats, and the stunt bike show was very cool....but the thing that really got me thinking was the plate spinning act.

If you don't know what I am talking about, the plate spinning act involves a guy sprinting back and forth on the stage, placing an absurd amount of plates precariously atop long poles. Once they are spinning, he is forced to maintain each plate's motion, even as they come seconds from toppling over and breaking. The crowd is absolutely dying with each near plate collapse. The tension is palpable.

So why does this act resonate so greatly with me? Because as educators we do something very similar. Your job has so many points of accountability - planning, instruction, grading, creating safe learning environments, maintaining student relationships, parent contact, collaboration, etc. etc. etc...It's madness. When you work in schools, you have a lot of plates, and those plates are always spinning out of control. It takes constant care and vigilance to make sure that you are getting everything done. The plate spinner of course has one major advantage over the teacher -- if his plate falls, it's only a bit of broken ceramic. If your plates fall, well, the consequences are much worse.

To all my friends as we begin a new school year, may your plates spin swiftly and may they never fall.