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.