Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning to Blog again at EdTech30

A couple of years ago blogging was all the rage in the classroom. The idea of having our students become content creators instead of just consumers was almost impossible before blogging came along. It gives students the opportunity to feel like their opinion matters and that they can publish their opinion for anyone in the world to see. 
I can see a blog being useful in middle school, high school and beyond so that students can have a place to reflect on their learning and feel safe expressing their thoughts and reflections. I have used KidBlogs several times in an upper elementary school classroom but did not have as much luck with it because of the maturity level of the students and their lack of delving deeper into their own thoughts and opinions. It would be useful in a Language Arts or Social studies classroom because those subjects allow for opinions and thoughts to be written and shared. Another way to look at a blog is not just explicitly asking a question or stating an opinion but as a sort of diary. This can be very powerful for students who need extra practice in writing. 
Sometimes a teacher can be overwhelmed with reading all of his/her student blogs. In that case, they should be carefully assigned and not necessarily used for nightly homework. Another option is to insist on peer review and assessment to alleviate the pressure off of the teacher to give critical feedback.
In order to assess student blogs, carefully designed rubrics need to be created for blogs that may be different than assessments for essays or research papers. The rubric needs to be discussed at length with the students so that they know exactly what the teacher expects. Students need to understand that blogging is a form of writing and all grammar rules and punctuation need to be followed even though it can be perceived as a more relaxed method of communicating like texting.
Blogging can be a very powerful tool for both the student and th parent. and can connect your classroom to the rest of the world!
I wrote this article a while ago. It might help you on your blogging journey!

Why Teachers and Students Should Blog

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Yom Haatzmaut Station

Yom Ha Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is a meaningful celebration for Jews worldwide, but especially outside of Israel. Celebrating Yom Ha Atzmaut has been a way to express solidarity with the State of Israel and to strengthen own alliance with it. Many organizations and communities around the world come together on Yom Haatzmaut to celebrate Israel and what it means for the Jewish people. Regardless of what stream of Judaism you may come from, many Jews celebrate Israel in a public display of love and appreciation.

Our day schools are often challenged with the task of celebrating Yom Ha Atzmaut in memorable and meaningful ways to impart the love of Israel onto their students. Most of these students have never even been to Israel but we teach them that the connection to the Land and the State of Israel is a huge part of our Jewish identity. As educators, we are constantly challenged to develop programs and experiences that our students will enjoy and learn from. We want them to celebrate Israel’s Independence day in a meaningful way. A way that will prompt them to think about the land and what it means to them as well as share what they have learned about the country.

This past Yom Ha Atzmaut, the activities director asked me to be one of the “stations” at our annual Yom Ha Atzmaut interactive experience. “Huh?” What am I supposed to do with the kids? I don’t bake pita, I have not served in the IDF, and my Hebrew is mediocre. Isn’t this a “Hebrew teacher thing?” So she challenged me to think of something to do in my computer lab that was in the spirit of Yom Haatzmaut and under 15 minutes per time slot. I started out with my usual buddy Google looking at some sites and videos and creating a Symbaloo web page for my Yom Haatzmaut links. My internet findings included, episodes from Shalom Sesame for the younger students, great videos showcasing Israeli cities from to pop music, and even the “Let it Go” song from the Frozen movie in Hebrew by Mona Mor, “LaAzov” .

I included an interactive tour from Discover Interactive Israel, a glimpse into the Google Campus Tel Aviv project, a video called What does Made in Israel Mean to you?. I also found an interactive map from Eye on Israel and displayed the famous Kotel Cam on my SMARTboard, while live Israeli radio was playing in the background.

But the best part about my “IsraTech” station was my new find, the Green Screen app by Do Ink! Green Screen makes it easy to create incredible green screen videos right on your iPad. When I first heard about green screen technology in the classroom I thought that it would be expensive and also require a lot of creativity. I figured that it was something high tech and fancy that high schools might use in their media lab for school TV news and channels and would never work in elementary school. I was looking for something easy to “transport” our students to Israel and wanted to look deeper into green screen technology. Thankfully, my Google search included the keywords, green, screen and app. That’s where I watched a cute little girl explaining how easy it is to use the app. So I gave it a try. I found green (you can use any color) bulletin board paper and covered up my whiteboard in the back of the computer lab. I hooked up the iPad to the tripod and set it up so that students can stand in front of the iPad with the green wall behind them. My iPad was also setup with the Apple TV screen so that students can see themselves on television. I previously selected pictures of the Kotel, the beach in Tel Aviv, Golan heights and many more.  I called in a couple of students at a time to pretend they were davening at the Kotel. One student even pretended to put a kvitel into to wall. They set up their scene as I recorded it easily with the app. Then we played it back for the class to see. What a riot! They were amazed by what they say. Some of the kids pretended to float in the Dead Sea, surf on the beach in Tel Aviv, eat fruit at the shuk, and ride on a camel in the desert! Not only were they mesmerized by the fact that they were on “TV” and “in Israel”, they were discussing how they once went to that spot in Israel or got excited for their upcoming summer trip to Israel. One scene was a kosher McDonalds and two students were ordering a meal in Hebrew! The teachers got into it too! This was really a fun exercise and really made the station come alive!

After this experience, I realized how much technology and tech tools are able to assist not only in content learning but also experiential learning. The students truly had a visual experience that heightened their excitement and love of Israel that day. You know what they say, “there’s an app for that”, even for Yom Ha Atzmaut!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shiny New App

I’m sure many of you have been hearing the buzz around the Mercava Project which promotes an innovative app that will take the future of Jewish Education by storm. Of course, we can all claim that all education is changing and evolving along with 21st century living and innovation. Jewish education as we know it today is changing partly because of technology and the other part due to affordability. More and more schools are moving toward mobile learning in the classroom as a way to take advantage of a new wave of electronic devices that offer portability and ease of use on a budget. Mercava is just one of thousands (closer to hundreds of thousands) of examples of using technology to enhance traditional learning methods and assisting students with critical thinking opportunities that they are already engaged in. Many apps and online programs attempt to improve the student learning experience in the classroom in various different subject and core curriculum areas. It’s really great to see that more Judaic tools are being created to add to the educators toolbox but it might be far from any tool to claim to be the key to education. But that’s OK. Once again, anyone can claim to be the best!

Over the past few weeks, administrators, parents and board members in our school community have been sharing the links to the Mercava project video through email and social networking sites (free PR!). I get tons of emails asking me to “Check this out!” or “We need to contact them immediately!” Board members and parents have shared with me how they know some of the educators and Rabbaim in the video from their days living in the the NY area. They see this shiny new tool and think about how innovative our school could be (just like a NY school!) if we used that tool in our classrooms! Don’t get me wrong, I love to see our school community excited about something relating to technology (job security!) So I feel bad breaking their spirits down and crushing their excitement.  I gently tell them that I appreciate their excitement in technology and innovation and that I will take their inquiry into consideration but ultimately, it’s not the tools that will create innovation in the classroom, but the teachers and students “on the frontline” - in the classroom. Any innovative program needs support from all parties involved from the administration of the school right down to the students in the classroom. The creativity, communication, connections and information sharing that happens in the classroom are the most innovative “tools” that can elevate our students learning experience.

Ultimately, successful school-wide change will not occur without strong resources and support from a variety of sources. While few technology innovations could be implemented without considerable financial resources; money alone will not ensure successful implementation. Changing an entire school requires hard work by all involved. Changing a school also requires that teachers and administrators support each other and share a vision for the future of the school. Mercava, Sefaria, Artscroll and other Judaic apps as well as the actual technology, mobile devices, online blended learning models, are amazing facets of innovative Jewish education. However, they are not the ultimate answers. It is the school culture, trained teachers, administrative support, parental support and motivated students as well as the clear mission of all school members that is the future of Jewish education.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making Global Connections with Mobile Devices

We know how connecting our students to the world around them is essential to 21st century learning and creating partnerships between student and educators throughout the globe. Taking our students beyond the classroom walls in the quest for knowledge and understanding teaches communication, cooperation and creativity on a global scale. Teachers all over the world are using tools like Skype, Facetime, and Google Hangout to make learning more exciting and memorable. Connecting with another part of the world offers an immediate way to help students discover new cultures, languages and ideas, all without leaving the classroom. Teachers can use these tools to educate students on different cultures, languages and people.

Just last week our 5th grade Hebrew class Skyped with a 5th grade classroom in Nesher, Israel through the Global School Twinning Network. A global collaboration project doesn't just happen overnight. Like any successful project, it requires planning, preparation, connecting and communicating. It had taken several weeks to plan the 30 minute call. All parties involved had to decide on the right date and time that would be best for both schools in the different countries with 8 hour time differences. Then both Hebrew teachers designed lessons which included writing brief introductions about a subset of the students in the other classrooms native language. In addition, each class spent time perfecting a special song about Israel and Chanukah that they would sing to each other. The students planned and planned but hadn’t really connected with what they were going to experience until the conference call happened. You should have seen the faces of all of the students! They felt as if they were in each other’s classrooms. Our students spoke Hebrew, the Israeli students spoke English and the singing was amazing. We culminated with all of us singing the Hatikvah. Priceless. Only after the call did our students realize how exciting their morning was and how it was only possible through technology!! Next time we “meet” we will encourage real-life conversations where our students can practice conversing in Hebrew and help our friends in Israel practice their English skills. Although in this example we did use a classroom desktop and webcam to Skype with the other class, we will consider using an iPad one time to be able to take our Israeli friends on a “tour” of our school campus!!

Global connections can be incredibly easy with the help of mobile devices. Assuming your wireless abilities are up to snuff, you can make impressive connections through video conferencing apps. One advantage to using video conferencing apps on iPads, for example, is that you can take your students out of the class and to another, more relevant area. For example, if you had a gardening program at your school, you could connect with a professional gardener or farmer through the use of the mobile device. Your class can go out to the school garden where the professional could look at your garden and give you tips on how to keep your produce growing well. Another advantage of conferencing on an iPad is that if you are on a field trip with your class you can connect back to your school so they can experience some of what you are experiencing. For example, a couple of weeks ago our school had a contest on which classroom could bring in the most canned food for a local food bank. Class 4A won the contest and their prize (in addition to an ice cream party) was that they got to load up the truck with all of the canned food collected (kids loved it) and then go to the Food Bank to stack the shelves so they can see how their efforts in charity go directly to people in need. In hindsight, it would have been wonderful if 4A Skyped their friends in 4B so they can also see the fruits of their labor!! We will definitely try that next time.

Mobile devices, like iPads and iPhones make it very easy and flexible to connect with the outside world. The apps that are available are mostly free so it’s doable on any budget. You just need to be able to make a connection beforehand and put some thought into it. Programs like the Global School Twinning Network, ePals , iEARN,  Skype in the Classroom, The Global Classroom and the Global Education Conference are great resources for you to start your journey “out of the classroom.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ideas for Podcasting in your Classroom

Podcasts have been used in education for years. There are hundreds of educational podcasts available on itunes that can offer a teacher and her students alternative and enlightening ways to learn and tackle most lessons.  People generally produce podcasts to share ideas, presentations, or music. Podcasting is useful for recording a teacher’s lesson or a student conversation. It can be used to create a homework assignment or even be part of a test. Students can produce their own podcasts to interview each other and create their own “radio show”. Schools can also use podcasts to make announcements via their web site.

Creating podcasts in the classroom has many educational benefits, including strengthening skills in research, writing, collaboration and creativity. Many web tools and apps have been popping up everywhere to help teachers and students create their own podcasts very easily.  Here are some examples of easy to use podcasting software:

  • Vocaroo is a extremely easy to use because it does not require any downloads of any kind and can be used in a computer lab. Audio is recorded live on the website and then available to email or embed in a website or blog. This is a great option for a classroom without any podcasting software.
  • SoundCloud integrates a social commenting aspect to podcasting so that “listeners” can make comments for the podcasters. Audio can be recorded on a mobile app but gets displayed on the SoundCloud website to easily share with others.
  • Yodio - With Yodio you can use your cell phone to narrate pictures. Create a card (one picture & one recording) or a tour (many pictures and multiple recordings).
  • Google Voice - Google Voice is free with a google account. Create a unique phone number through google that students can call from a cell phone for added flexibility. Calls placed to a google voice account are stored in an email-like inbox that can then be downloaded as an mp3 file or embedded.

There are so many ways you can engage your students in the classroom by integrating podcasts into your assignments and projects. Recently I coordinated with our 3rd grade General Studies teacher who had introduced her Social Studies unit on US Presidents. She had assigned a different president to each student and a book report project. I wanted to extend the lesson into the computer lab so we decided to create interview podcasts in class. We used SoundCloud because I had access to iPads. The students were paired up and wrote scripts for interviewing each other acting as their assigned President. The main goal of the podcast was to be lively, informative and funny but offering up information about the President and the time in history when they held office. For example, “So Mr. President, you sure have a nice beard!” (Abraham Lincoln) “ Why yes I do, I am the first President to have a beard in office!!!”

The Education Technology Network offers some great examples on how to use podcasts or vodcasts (video podcasts) in your classroom:

Teacher created Podcasts/Vodcasts:
  • Record classroom expectations at the beginning of the year
  • Classroom lectures
  • Supplemental information - information beyond what is covered in the classroom
  • State testing review sessions
  • Record classroom discussions
  • Record a class discussion
Podcasts/Vodcasts created by outside sources:
  • Get information from an expert in a given field
  • Supplemental information
  • iTunes U
Student created Podcasts/Vodcasts:
  • Student projects
  • Student radio style broadcasts
  • Digital storybooks
  • Student created content overviews or reviews
  • Conduct interviews with individuals in the community or school
  • Document a field trip
  • Weekly classroom news broadcast also offers a great resource to get you started called Podcasts: The Nuts and Bolts of Creating Podcasts.

Keep on Podcasting!!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Paperless or Less paper?

Education today is evolving with the onset of innovative learning tools like the interactive whiteboard, mobile devices, and online learning. 21st century education pedagogy is deepening our curriculum, how we teach and how our students learn. Education is changing at a rapid pace looking less like traditional classrooms looked just 10 years ago. We are moving away from pen and paper writing, ongoing classroom testing, and delivering information to our students. Today's learning includes implementing assessments in all areas, offering critical thinking opportunities, evaluation and incorporating project based learning in the classrooms where our students create their own learning experience. One area where this is becoming more evident is the idea of a paperless classroom.

A paperless classroom is just that... paperless. It is the integration of technology in the classroom that eliminates all purposes of paper. As a result, it removes any issues of students having supplies, clutter, and losing their work. Instead, a classroom is cloud based and helps students become more organized. Students can access their lessons, homework, grades and even textbooks solely through the internet or mobile device from anywhere and anytime. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. Or is there?

The idea of a paperless classroom promotes not just a reduction of paper and other physical resources, but rather a more efficient workflow. Classroom workflow includes quicker communication and feedback, improved access to learning materials, seamless digital portfolios, and a more connected student-teacher and peer to peer environment. Using apps like Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote to keep organized, create, annotate and share documentation, allow students and teachers to create a workflow and organization that works for them. In addition, there are several complete classroom workflow products available like eBackpack and Showbie that give you and all-in-one options. As an added benefit, think about how much money your school would save on printing costs! Even save a tree or two!

However, some things might seem more natural with a paper and pencil. For example, reviewing writing samples or rough drafts, whether its for a peer review or for teacher evaluation, no one can refute the strength of the infamous “red pen.” Sometimes annotation tools are a little bit awkward to use and may not have the same effect. Writing out complicated math problems on an 8 1/2X11 piece of paper may just make more sense to some students because there is more real estate available than on a tablet. Especially, in a subject where showing your work is essential to success. You also need to consider the fact that being totally paperless may not be the right thing for every one of your students. Some students may be too distracted by a stylus or their finger and would just doodle when using a note-taking tool instead of actually taking notes. Some of our students already have challenges taking on everyday classroom activities so it can be confusing to add on the technological literacies of an online or paperless classroom.

So you need to ask yourself whether you want to go fully paperless or just streamline some aspects of your classroom workflow to use less paper. Don’t we all try to use less paper in our daily lives? We use online banking systems, key card and business card readers on our phones, keeping our grocery lists and address books online. Sometimes we don’t even remember how much clutter we created before having our mobile devices “carry” the information for us. But don’t you dare take away my to do list notepad. It’s just never going to happen. I NEED that legal pad and pencil! I need to go through the motions of making a list and crossing tasks off !!! We should be able to give our students opportunities to be as productive as we crave to be. This is part of educating our students for adulthood and professionalism. If our students prefer teacher notes or taking online quizzes, and the resources are available, let them! If they can’t get a handle the math problem unless there is a pencil, eraser and notebook in their hand, then they should be able to. It’s another balancing act and a lifelong skill we want our children to experience in this 21st century environment.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Digital Citizenship and iPads

As educators of 21st century students, we sometimes assume that because our students have been born into a digital world, they know a little bit about the rights and wrongs of connecting within that world. After a year of iPads in our school, it has become apparent to our educators and administrators that adolescents might be well versed in digital technologies; however, they are not well versed in the digital ethics or aware of the footprints they are leaving online.  

While almost every student in our school has access to an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone at home, these mobile devices not only create  numerous exciting entertainment and learning opportunities but also open the door to new challenges. Cyberbullying or inappropriate web publishing happens more often through the use of the simple built-in camera than a regular computer! In addition, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to keep track of who is doing what with the device or whether the device itself is safe.

According to Holly Clark & Tanya Avrith at EdudemicOur students are like cowboys living in the wild wild west. Without any guidelines or structure they can get in a lot of trouble. Armed with a concrete plan for teaching about appropriate use you can guide your students to become better digital citizens, who will learn how to build their digital presence in a positive and productive way”.

This year I hope to create a structure for our students and focus on digital citizenship through conversations, activities, and practices with students. I also plan to bring in experts to come and speak to our students about the seriousness of their digital footprints and how to enjoy certain social medias but how to stay safe doing so. Sharing online resources with our educators, students as well as our parent body will be important in creating a community culture of positive digital citizenship. For example, there are various classroom and home educational opportunities on Common Sense Media that are easy to follow and share. They offer a free K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship classroom curriculum that educators can follow and easily implement with their students. We may even invite law enforcement professionals to give a presentation on the grim realities of internet safety and the dangers and consequences of texting and social networking. Sometimes, showing our students these realities may be the only way they will commit to following online safety rules.
In addition to educating our students on digital citizenship as it pertains to their mobile devices, as a school, there are certain boundaries that we can put on the devices to help eliminate certain enticements. With the proper Mobile Device Management System implementation at schools, you can disable apps like iMessaging, Youtube, cameras and videos.

By empowering our students with knowledge in their use of social media, we can guide our students to become better digital citizens, who create a positive and productive digital presence. They will, in turn, shape their online identities, create successful and authentic online experiences that they will be proud of and then...they might thank you for it!