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!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Reflections after the first year of an 1:1 iPad Initiative

This past summer I spent alot of time reflecting on the first year of our middle school 1:1 ipad program. What went right and what went wrong was subjective and answers differed across the various stakeholders in our school community. Students had the most positive things to say about the program. I mean, we did give them their own an iPad! Most students wouldn’t normally have one of their own and they got one “for free” from their school so their superficial feelings towards the program was positive. However, some reflective students did have meaningful opinions about the program one way or another. Some embraced the organizational options that iPads gave them and others enjoyed the creative freedoms they were allowed to explore using ipad tools like iMovie and ScrapPad. A minority of students just couldn’t manage this new skill in the classroom.
Teachers were the in-between group. Those that valued technology in the classroom embraced it, learned from it and tried to used it to elevate the learning. Those teachers used it well in the area of student-teacher and student-student collaboration and communication. One major challenge was classroom behavior management. This was a huge added strain in the classroom and was never really mastered.
The majority of parents were against the whole ipad program. Saying it was a waste of time, upset when their child shattered their ipad screen and they had to get it replaced and were overall annoyed with it. They did not fully understand the goal of the program and how it is not an end result but a means to an overall goal of elevating student learning in our middle school.  As a result, it made the administration very anxious about how we were doing and now, as our first year begins, we are taking precautionary measures to ensure that we have learned from our year-long experience. As we begin this tightrope walk back into our iPad program, all of our school community stakeholders can see that we are missing something without these mobile devices in our students hands and that we still have a need to pursue becoming a 21st century school.

I have learned several key points after experiencing our first year of a 1:1 ipad implementation. The first one is patience. Having patience with all 4 major stakeholders is key. Patience with our administrators to get on board, with our students and parents to be able to understand the goals of the program and with our teachers who are apprehensive about altering the way they teach. Not everyone is tech savvy and even those who are in their personal or business world, may not understand it’s place in education. You need to be patient while giving them as much information as they need to get on board. This leads me to my next area of improvement, communication. Communication with the entire school community is critical. What are we doing, why we are doing it and how are we doing are essential questions to answer over and over again. In particular, to our parent body who is the most cynical of the bunch. They do not see what our students and educators see is going on in the classroom. They are missing out on the amazing and positive learning outcomes achieved from using ipad tools. It is our job to communicate it to them on a regular basis. Because, let’s face it, it doesn't matter how old a child is, when you as them “What did you do in school today?” the answer is usually, “not much” or “same old thing.” They are not getting information from their students and it is our job to share the classroom experiences so that any of their negative thoughts can be balanced with some positive aspects as well.

Finally, I learned something that as adults, we don’t often know how to do well, learn to fail. After reading  Aran Levasseur’s 5 Lessons for 1:1 Integration on Common Sense Media, I have come to the realization that our first year was a success!!! “All scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs understand that failure is part of creativity.  If you’re not willing to fail then you severely limit your creative capacity.  When integrating a 1:1 program there will be failures. Yet, for the most part, schools have an aversion to failure. Learning to fail, and how to recover and adapt, is an essential skill if you hope to be resilient teacher, student, or school.”
So as an educator and proponent of education technology, I embrace any and all “failures” and look forward to Year 2 of our 1:1 iPad implementation with more experience, a carefully thought out plan and a positive attitude.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Easy Summer Professional Development using Social Networking

It’s summer! We are all exhausted and perhaps we have already begun enjoying the carefree days that summer brings. Some of us have plans to travel with family and friends. Others may relish in the fact of staying home and re-organizing a room here, a room there and maybe even organizing other aspects of their life that require time and reflection. Yes, summer brings us time that we have already accounted for and as we all know too well, it will fly by before we know it!

As educators, we all know that education is an ever-changing field and we must do everything we can to stay on top of it. Ignoring it for 2-3 months will not help anyone, particularly our students. Professional development may be part of our intended summer plans but do we have the energy to go and sit in a classroom or start an online course that lasts the whole summer? Do we have the financial ability and flexibility to fly out to an educational conference over the summer? How can we keep up with trends, updated curriculum, innovating lesson plans, educational technology etc. without having to be tied down and losing our much needed summer vacation? The key is using social networking for your professional development. It’s quick, easy and mobile. You can use it to learn, reflect and share at your leisure and in the process expand your personal learning network and meet educators with similar interests and positions. And of course, all of these social networking options are iPad apps so you can PD wherever you go this summer! Here are some of my favorite and easy ways I try to learn from other educators and experts in education.

A content sharing service that allows members to "pin" images, videos and other objects to their pinboard. It’s similar to other social networking sites but it;s very visual and easy to follow.

Instantly connect to what's most important to you. Follow your friends and experts. Connect with a group of people with similar professional interests with a twitter hashtag. You will notice that some have specific “meeting” times to discuss interesting topics and trends.
Here are some popular education hashtags on Twitter:
#jedchat – Jewish Education
#edchat – General Education
#ipadchat - iPads in Education
#edtech – Technology in Education
Here is a Twitter Guide for Educators to help you get started.

Blogs are a great way to increase your personal learning network by reading other educator blogs and reflections. Some blogs are a part of a collection of many blogs in one field. For example, Edutopia is a K-12 Educators blog site which offers a great Summer Professional Development Blog Series. Adam Bellow’s EduTecher is the complete reference and resource for educational technology web tools. Kathy Schrock’s Blog is a helpful place for in classroom technology ideas. Don’t forget Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers and Sylvia Tolisano’s Langwitches blog.
Try writing your own blog this summer! You can start out with your family vacation and them get comfortable enough to move to a professional blog. Try Google’s Blogger app!  

Another easy way to increase your professional development this summer is to check out any virtual conferences and webinars online from the comfort of your own home. Any way you do it, learn something new, get excited about it, share with your fellow educators and try it in your classroom this fall!!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How do I use iPads to flip my classroom?

Have you always wanted to try flipping your classroom? The flipped classroom phenomena means removing some of the lecture-based lessons from your classroom and giving students the ability to learn that content in their own time at their own pace. Advantages to flipping your classroom includes eliminating the guesswork of whether or not your students understood the information you delivered. In addition, you have an opportunity to create an enhanced differentiated learning environment and attend to the specific needs of most of your students during face-to-face class time. This is sometimes done through recording video-based lectures either live or prior to delivery.

There are several online web tools that can be used to record lessons or screencasting your computer desktop to deliver content information to your students through digital formats.These include, TechSmith’s Jing, Screencast-o-matic and Youtube. Youtube even has the Youtube Annotations feature now that allows you to add interactive commentary to your videos.

iPad apps have jumped on the flipped classroom bandwagon with offering simple and easy to use recording, screencasting, and interactive whiteboard apps available for free or minimal cost. Many apps like Explain Everything, Show Me, and Screen Chomp lets you annotate, animate, and narrate explanations and presentations. You can create dynamic interactive lessons, activities, assessments, and tutorials using the ipad as an interactive whiteboard and record your voice and movements on the screen as you go. They also have the capability to upload your lessons to their respective web sites building a gallery of lessons developed and shared by teachers. Educreations has a similar concept but also offers animation capabilities to your illustrations which make for an amazing learning experience. Doodlecast Pro saves videos to the camera roll making it easy to import them into popular video editors or presentation tools such as iMovie, Keynote, or iBooks Author. One of the highlights of Knowmia Teach is the option to use your iPad’s camera to record yourself while drawing on the whiteboard. You will appear in the corner of the screen so that your students can see you while you’re talking them through the lesson. Students can use Ask3 to ask questions about the video, mark the video with drawing tools, and create their own audio comments about the video.

In addition to specific apps available to record lessons and facilitate flipping your classroom, TED ed is committed to creating “lessons worth sharing”. It’s an extension of TED’s mission of spreading great ideas and encouraging “flip teaching.” Because every learners' needs are different, TED-Ed videos come equipped with optional supplementary materials. When you "flip" a video you get to decide which of those materials you keep, and whether to create your own. This will allow you to relate the resulting lesson to your class, to an individual learner, or to a wider group.

You can also use Itunes U to develop and store a series of recordings and/or podcasts associated with your classroom or subject matter eventually authoring your own course. iTunes U gives educators an easy way to design complete courses with audio, video, and other content and distribute them through the free iTunes U app. In addition, iTunes U integrates with iBooks and other apps to make it easy for students to keep up with your course. Documents, notes, highlights, and bookmarks taken in iBooks are consolidated for easy reviewing in the iTunes U app along with the course recordings.

There are so many available resources to begin flipping your classroom, try one and see what your students think? You may even want to test it out on your colleagues first as a professional development activity. You should stay focused but have fun with it and you may find that it will enhance your students overall learning experience.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tachlis! How do I use the iPads to engage students and assess them?

Inevitably, we need to assess our students to make sure that they are reaching our learning objectives and improving achievement! Teachers are spending more time than ever before testing students, but testing alone does nothing to improve teaching or learning. It's the use of analyzed test data that improves teaching and enhances student achievement. Assessment has always been an arduous task because teachers need to spend many hours creating, grading, and analyzing assessment results. Thankfully, there is improvement in this area with the increasing use of web tools and mobile devices in the classrooms. These tools allow teachers to create assessments in a shorter period of time and create more of them for valuable results. Instant assessment results provide valuable insight to both the teacher and student. In general. assessments best suited to guide improvements in student learning are the quizzes, tests, writing assignments, and other assessments that teachers administer on a regular basis in their classrooms. Teachers trust the results from these assessments because of their direct relation to classroom instructional goals. With the onset of online tools and apps, results are immediate and easy to analyze at the individual student level. Teachers can also use informative assessment to make instructional and curricular changes intended to yield immediate benefits to students.

Basically, the concept of a pop quiz has evolved and has become a more interactive and informative activity with the use of iPad apps like Socrative and Nearpod. In addition, using app created assessments has made entry and exit “quizzes” both possible and easy to use. The traditional “let’s review what we did yesterday” only works for some students. We have all seen the same classroom scene. The eager to please students in the front row raise their hands and the students that are not so sure of themselves try to avoid the teachers eyes. Only a couple of students raise their hands to answer just a couple of questions which is not enough to make an overall class generalization. The teacher does not get a sense if every student in the class understood the lesson delivered yesterday or 20 minutes ago. Creating quick quizzes on an ipad gives the teacher the ability to assess the entire class and each individual student. Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers by engaging their classrooms with a series of educational exercises and games. Teachers set up their own accounts and construct a series of questions they would like the students to answer. These can be quick quizzes, multiple choice practice, short answers, or exit tickets. The teacher can receive instant feedback by watching live results or downloading a detailed report. Nearpod allows teachers to use an iPad to manage the content on their students iPad participate in assessment and collaboration activities. Teachers can create presentations with interactive features such as quizzes, videos, polls, and drawing tools. They share content with their students and manage the flow of the lecture and later on access post-session data and obtain detailed activity reports that will help them gauge each students understanding on the lesson.

In addition, there are various degrees of assessment presentations from answering multiple choice questions to writing essays. Social networking options like Edmodo offer several types of  assessment options including the most recent assessment option of commenting and microblogging. Edmodo is a safe and secure social networking site developed expressly for educational use that has a similar look to Facebook. In Edmodo’s environment, teachers and students can collaborate, share content, and use educational apps to augment in-classroom learning. These powerful capabilities enable teachers to personalize learning for every student. Current uses of Edmodo include posting assignments, creating polls for student responses, embedding video clips, create learning groups, post a quiz for students to take, and create a calendar of events and assignments. Students can also turn in assignments or upload assignments for their teachers to view and grade. Teachers can annotate the assignments directly in Edmodo to provide instant feedback. It’s a great tool for teachers to track student comprehension and understanding of concepts.

Google Forms are also an easy way for teachers to give full on exams to their students with supporting tools like Flubaroo to make grading easier. They can be used as a survey tool where teachers can draft questions whose answers can be collated and analyzed. Question types are text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, choose from a list, scale and grid. This makes pre-testing and post-testing students easy and available to teachers so that they know exactly what their students know at the beginning and end of a lesson.

Finally, using iPad apps we now have the ability to assess behavior which is a huge impact on student learning and meaningful classroom time. ClassDojo is a behavior management tool where students can self-assess themselves in addition to the teacher assessing them. This offers everyone in the class real-time feedback and can be effective in improving and changing behavior over a period of time.

Hopefully our assessment strategies are thought through and used to effectively improve student learning outcomes. Despite the importance of assessments in education today, few teachers receive much formal training in assessment design or analysis. This has been a long struggle with educators and school administrators over the years and there is constant conversations and improvements in the area of education. We must focus on helping teachers change the way they use assessment results, improve the quality of their classroom assessments, and align their assessments with valued learning goals. Apps have the ability to assist teachers and students on this journey towards improvement as well as offering a simple way to promote 21st century learning.  When teachers' classroom assessments become an integral part of the instructional process and a central ingredient in their efforts to help students learn, the benefits of assessment for both students and teachers will be boundless.