Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Simple (and legal) way to download video that is licensed for reuse from YouTube

Lately I have been working on a lot of multimedia projects with middle and high school students.  We have been experimenting with a lot of green screening as well.   One of the things that has been a little hard to find are videos that are licensed for sharing or reuse that can easily be downloaded.  Since students are familiar with YouTube and like using it, I have been looking for a way for them to download and use those videos in a way that reflects principles of good digital citizenship.   

My new colleague, Eric Makelky, and I messed around with YouTube the other day and here is a simple process we found to easily download content that is licensed for reuse.  

1. Login to YouTube and search your topic

2.  After you press enter, you will have the option to filter your search.  Select the Creative Commons option.

3. You should now have a list of videos that have a Creative Commons Attribution License.

4.  Find the one you want and click on it. Then select the “Remix this video" button

5. You can then remix using the YouTube editor, or just click “Publish” which will add the video to your video manager list.
6.  Once it is done processing, video will be available for download from your video manager.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ask More Questions!

As I sit on the plane heading back to WY from Educon (bracing for culture shock) I am reflecting back on what I have really taken away from the conference. In truth, I am more than a little shell shocked.  Being in such a large city (there were probably more people in the hotel I stayed at than live in my town) and surrounded by so many fascinating people with so many interesting ideas (every single person I talked to was doing something truly innovative and inspiring in education) has left me needing some time to decompress.  

Luckily I have notes on all the big ideas, things to look into, and interesting theories that occurred to me during the conference that I will refer back to and process over the coming weeks.  But as I sit here on the plane there is one huge “aha” moment that is at the forefront of my thoughts. That is the need to ask more questions.

This “aha” occurred for me during a David Jakes/Pam Moran/Christian Long session that I attended on design thinking.  The conversation leaders did an amazing job of facilitating meaningful conversations in a way that I had not previously experienced.  Each section of the room was given a scenario (ours was a tech saavy middle school teacher who only had two computers in his room).  Instead of proposing solutions (we were in fact forbidden from problem solving), we were directed to determine directions for further questioning that we would recommend pursuing before ideas for solving the problem were proffered.

This type of conversation required a bit of a mindshift for most folks in the group who were by their own admission, problem solvers.   However, I think it is a mindshift that was worth the effort.  When I reflect back on decision making processes, both personal and those I have collaborated on with others, that have not resulted in ideal outcomes, it occurs to me that more questioning might have led to a different path.  Taking time to generate thoughtful questions and to explore them leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the context and thus a more thoughtful solution.   

This evening I will be a part of a strategic planning session for my district.  I am not sure if people will take time to ask deep questions before making a 3 year plan for the district.  I most likely will not be able to change their approach if they don’t.  However, I will look at the process through a new lens and learn something regardless of what happens.  

Forget About the Technology

As a K-12 technology facilitator I work with all grade levels and all subject areas.  One of the challenges of this arrangement is suggesting ideas for technology integration that teachers will buy into.  

In my experience, teachers have many different motivations for wanting to use technology in the classroom.  Their motivation to use technology can come from administrator directive, interest in keeping pace with their peers, increasing student engagement, curiosity, and at times (although less often that I would hope) from questioning what instructional practice will best support student learning.   

This disparate set of motivations can lead to many different types of interactions with teachers.  Sometimes teachers already have an idea of a technology tool that they want to try, others say What should I do? or Tell me what you want me to do? More often than not teachers have a vague idea about some technologies but aren’t sure of the details.  

I have tried various approaches in all of these scenarios, some with more effect than others as might be expected given the range of teacher personalities.  Lately however, I have hit on a new approach that I think has some promise.  Here is how it works:  I begin the conversation by saying:

Forget about the technology.

I follow this up with:

What do you want to bring to the classroom experience for your students?  Assume anything is possible.

I am finding this approach to be effective for several reasons.  One, it really allows me to identify what is important to the teacher.  If I just give the teacher a list of technology tools or just throw out ideas, it is a shotgun approach, somewhat akin to the sit and gets that they have to sit through at the beginning of the year where they get links to hundreds of websites with thousands of resources. Asking what they want to bring to the classroom experience allows me to see what the teachers’ priorities are before suggesting any solutions.  Secondly, it frees the conversation from the constraints of the teacher’s knowledge of technology tools (and mine for that matter) and allow it to go freely in the direction of students and learning.  That is after all the intent of technology integration into the classroom.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Can Technology Hinder Learning?

I recently attended a parent advisory meeting at an elementary school in my district.  I put on a short presentation about some of the potential benefits to students that I hope will result from the recent 1:1 initiative that was launched at the school for grades 3-5.  I discussed outcomes such as information literacy, digital citizenship, and shifts in student thinking (using Bloom's Taxonomy as a framework).  At the end of the presentation, a number of parents brought up concerns about an over reliance on technology.  They mentioned that they worried their students wouldn't learn to function without the assistance of technology and that they didn't want students to be on computers all the time.  As a follow up, one of the parents sent out a link to this article from the NY Times and their coverage of the Waldorf School and reiterated her suggestion that the school create a guideline for the percentage of time technology should be used in the classroom.

I responded to the parents' concerns in the meeting with comments indicating that the goal of using technology is to develop students capable of creating, innovating, communicating and thinking critically regardless of whether technology is present or not. I also pointed out that for better or worse technology is ubiquitous in our society and that not teaching our students how to use it effectively will likely put them at a disadvantage.  I also responded to the parent who shared the article about the Waldorf School (you can see my emailed response here).  Nonetheless, the issue really got me thinking about technology, potential drawbacks to using it with young children, and why parents might have concerns about its use in school.

Here is what I have been thinking:

1.  I can empathize with the concerns of parents about how technology is being used - If my child were being put in front of programs such as EDM, AR, etc. and it was being hailed as effective use of technology, I would certainly question it. It is clear to me that technology can amplify poor teaching practices just as it can amplify effective ones.

2. I worry a lot about my daughter's school experience (which will start in 2 years) but I have concluded at this point I would prefer to send my daughter to a school where higher order thinking skills, creativity, and problem solving are encouraged - even if they don't use technology.  Granted, I believe technology is a tool with fantastic potential and I really want my daughter to use it in school BUT if the teachers and leaders aren't focused on sound pedagogy then I would choose to sacrifice technology to put her with teachers that are.

3. Effective technology integration is a process and will not happen over night.  Many of the teachers I work with are under trained, don't have effective networks, are assigned heavy workloads and are under enormous pressure to have students perform well on standardized tests.  Nonetheless they are trying.  Initially, they are learning ways to run their classrooms more efficiently by automating grading, using word processing programs, and digitizing assignment submission processes.  However, projects that incorporate digital resources, student creation, global communication, and social learning are slowly working their way into classrooms and conversations.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Classrooms

Photo by: Celso Pinto de Carvalho
How can we evaluate the outcomes of instruction? I think that one way, albeit somewhat unscientific and unsystematic, is simply by observing students.  I had the chance to observe some students this week and what I saw gave me some food for thought.

The first group of students were fifth graders.  At the request of the fifth grade teachers I make myself available for drop in consultation one afternoon a week at the elementary school.  While I was waiting to speak with a teacher, I had the opportunity to watch several students collaborating in the workspace outside of the the fifth grade classroom.  The three students had their laptops open and were making plans for their service learning project.  Taking turns speaking, and referring to some web resources they had available, they collaboratively worked through some of the details of how they would raise money for, and at the same time raise awareness of, world hunger.  They were very engaged with the process of collaboratively creating and there wasn’t a teacher anywhere around.

Contrast that with the experience of my colleague who is taking certification courses to get his teaching license.   When I talk to him about what he is learning he is dejected and totally unenthused.  He has vented to me that his synchronous online classes require him to basically watch his professor read the book to the class.  He is required to attend and the class is held accountable by the teacher selecting people at random to answer questions.  There is no collaboration, no self-guided learning or personalized construction of knowledge.  The result is a very intelligent and motivated adult learner who is totally disconnected from the subject he is studying.  

As I thought about these two situations I was reminded of a quote from Seth Godin’s Manifesto - Stop Stealing Dreams. He wrote:




Which column do you pick? Whom do you want to work for or work next to?
Whom do you want to hire? Which doctor do you want to treat you? Whom do
you want to live with?[end quote]

Every day I see variations of these two approaches to education juxtapositioned.   Fortunately I have permission to speak because I am tasked with bringing technology into the classroom.  Fortunately I have the support of leadership in my district.  Fortunately the majority of teachers I work with are open to having a conversation with me.  I do at times get frustrated by teachers who read the text book to students and call it education. However, I am more often inspired by what I see happening in my district which is good since I would prefer to live in a world with folks described by the first column rather than the second.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Keeping it Simple

Due in part to moving my family to WY, starting work in a district that just launched a 1:1 initiative in grades 3-8, and summer in general I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus.  However, I am committed to keeping this blog going in part because it helps me reflect on why I am doing what I do and also because it has given me the opportunity to connect with others around the world facing the same challenges as I do.

As I mentioned I am now working for a school district that launched a 1:1 program at the beginning of this year for grades 3-8.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this! My role is to work with teachers to get them to effectively use technology in their classrooms.  Before starting the position, I was asked to develop staff trainings for all teachers k-12 that I would conduct prior to the start of classes.  Thinking through what would be most useful I decided to keep it simple.  

Our schools just converted to Google Apps for Education (GAFE) at the end of last year and teachers were not 100% familiar with all that this suite has to offer.  In addition, I worked with the tech department to set up an Edmodo domain.  My reasoning was that with these two platform technologies teachers would have a set of tools that would allow them to develop quite a range of classroom innovations.  I think often times as a technology coach it is easy to overwhelm teachers who may not have strong technology skills.  By just introducing two things GAFE and Edmodo my goal was to reduce the anxiety that technology can produce for teachers and get them using it in ways that positively impact students.

To support this approach I worked with the Director of Technology on a number of initiatives.  We did staff training on GAFE and Edmodo prior to school starting, we held parent nights and let parents try out Edmodo and GAFE, we did basic training for all students on digital citizenship and used Edmodo to facilitate it, we worked with administrators to help them model the use Edmodo and GAFE in their roles as instructional leaders, I blogged about ways teachers are using Edmodo in their classrooms, and I held drop in help sessions for teachers before and after schools so they could get support on using Edmodo and GAFE.  

Now, five weeks or so into the school year I would say the keep it simple strategy is paying off.  Many teachers are using Edmodo and GAFE to run their classrooms and as they become more comfortable with it they are starting to be more innovative in their uses.  I find students using these tools all the time as well, which is the whole point.  Last Friday I stopped in a math class to take some pictures of students using Edmodo and while looking at students’ screens I found: one student working on a collaborative English assignment on a Google Doc, another student reading his classmates’ posts from a social studies discussion on Edmodo, and another student working on a history blog;  all this was occurring during the 5 minutes between students finishing their math warm up and the teacher starting instruction - how great is that!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


As part of an initiative to improve STEM education in the district I work at, a local parent group worked with our local 4-H chapter to provide training for community members and teachers interested in running after school STEM programs.  I participated in the STEM energy training (see my previous post “Fun With STEM”) and learned quite a few PBL lessons that I could do with kids.  This past week I ran two after school “The Magic of Electricity” workshops with elementary students.  It was a lot of fun and I was able to make some observations about doing PBL with elementary kids.

The first thing I noticed was the kids strong curiosity about anything put in front of them.  Our first project involved making a flashlight from foil, a battery, and a light bulb.  However, once kids got this figured out they were immediately on to experimenting with their electricity kits even before I could get the next task explained.  I didn’t bother to reign them in as they were so excited about making circuits with buzzers, diodes, motors and switches.  They really loved it and some of them got very inventive and were able to make some very complex circuits with self-engineered switches made from paper clips, cardboard and fasteners.  To me this engagement and ability to explore and construct knowledge is what makes PBL so attractive.

While this was only a short intro class, it did make me wonder about to what extent I should have been introducing the academic language and more formal laws and theories underlying what the kids were experiencing with in their projects.  I don’t have a whole lot of experience with elementary students so I wonder to what extent they are capable of understanding more abstract concepts like electron movement.  I also wonder how useful those abstract concepts would be for them at this point and at what point in the sequence of learning about electricity it makes sense to delve into the complexities of electricity such as alternating currents, electromagnetic fields, etc.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fun with STEM!

About a week and a half ago a local parent group teamed up with the school district, our local 4-H club, and CSU to host a STEMasters training to build capacity in our community for supporting STEM education.  There were four different training options and I opted for the Energy Module.  I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but I have to admit it was a very engaging experience.  

At the end of the day our instructor admitted that she is not fond of speaking in front of a group.  Let me tell you she proved it!  From start to finish we built one thing after another.  We made so many things I had to make a list.  Here it is:

circuit - parallel and series
wind turbine
solar powered motor

Not only did we make all these things but we were given the opportunity to try our new ideas and test hypotheses like: “what kind of windmill blade design will generate the most electricity?” ; “how will electricity act when we set up different kinds of circuits?” ; “if I wire solar panels in series, will they generate enough power to turn a motor?”.  The opportunities for inquiry were endless.  Plus on top of it I learned more about electricity, solar power, motors, and wind energy than I have in my whole life to date.....and I had so much fun doing it.  

I can’t help but reflect on how effective this teaching approach was. Our teacher’s strategy was to give us some simple materials, a challenge (build a light switch with tacks, paper clips, and a fastener, for example) and let us go.  After the challenge was met, we started extending our thinking naturally:“can I make it easier to use?”; “what happens if I use different materials?” ; “how can I make a 3-way switch?” ; “Why does it work this way?”. Plus the classroom was set up in such a way that we could see what other groups were doing and compare products and methods.  

I am so glad that our parent group was able to coordinate this training and I look forward to conducting some of these activities with students.  Here is a short slideshow to show off some of our creations:)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mirroring iPads in the Classroom - Apple TV and the Reflection App

Ever since I started helping teachers and students use the iPad in the classroom I have been looking for ways to wirelessly mirror an iPad to a projection screen. I really thought it would be useful if students and teachers could quickly and easily share what was on their iPad screen, whether it be a digital story, a model of an atom, or a demonstration of how to do something with the iPad.

When the second generation Apple TV came out I found this could be accomplished using the AirPlay feature in iOS5.  The one issue I came up against was sound.  The ATV outputs sound via HDMI or Optical Audio. The problem is that many of the teachers in my district have older projectors that either don't have an HDMI input or if they do, don't have an audio output so they are stuck playing the audio on the projector's small speakers which are typically low quality.  I was able to work around this problem with either of these two products

 I prefer the second one as it is about half the price.  This setup still has a few issues:

1. Sound works for most apps/videos/etc. but not for all.  It is a good idea to test it out before using it in class.
2.  For overhead mounted projectors the outlet requirements start to add up.  To start with you have the projector and the wireless receiver you are using to connect with your computer.  Then you add the Apple TV, an HDMI or Optical Audio converter, and potentially speakers. Now you need 5 outlets.  Our ceiling mounts were wired with only two outlets.   If you have LCD projectors on carts this is a non-issue.

So now that I have gotten all that figured out and teachers and students are happily mirroring their iPads ot the projector,  a new application has come out rendering this setup obsolete (well only for those teacher who have Macs) !

The Reflection App for Mac came out last Wed. making wireless iPad mirroring to your Mac (and then to your projector) possible for around $15, about $135 less than the set up mentioned above. So my recommendations is if you bought Apple TVs make them available to your teachers who don't have Macs and use the Reflection App for those that do.  Of course this will all be moot when OSX Mountain Lion is released this summer with AirPlay functionality built in:)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mini Grants and Training Starting to Pay Off

Photo by Olga Belobaba

As I have described in some of my previous posts this year I am facilitating a mini grant program in my district.  In addition, I have worked with my co technology coach, media specialists, and other teachers to make available numerous trainings on a variety of tech integration strategies.  These programs are both firsts in our district. While these initiatives have led to many successes and increases in capacity for tech integration amongst teachers, admin, and support staff, this week 3 things have happened that really made me realize the potential of the programming we put in place this year.

Social networking with Kindles - This week I started working with an English teacher who was funded for a set of  Kindles in his classroom. I suggested using Twitter to let kids share comments on what they are reading with each other (at home or at school) and to eventually tap into what other people on Twitter are saying about the books/authors that the kids are reading. He is excited to give this a try and we are working out the tech kinks before getting kids started next week.

Collecting Data With iPads/Google Forms - a Health teacher who came to a Google Forms training this week came up with idea of having her students use iPads combined with a Google Form to collect data from other students during lunch.  She then wants to have the students analyze the data, draw conclusions, and publish it to their blogs.

Using Wikis and Google Docs to support Alternative Ed Students - The principal at our alternative school, for which we had funded a classroom set of netbooks, had arranged for an all staff training on Google Docs earlier this year.  I stopped by to chat with him this week and he shared with me how he felt that using Google Docs combined with wikis had really been a game changer for him this year.  His students have a high absence rate but because of these tools he and his staff are able to post content, tutorials, and videos that students could access anywhere and anytime which allowed his staff to provide a more flexible learning environment for students. He then asked what else I would recommend; looks like we'll be doing a Twitter/Blogging training in a few weeks:)

These are just a few of the exciting things that are happening in our district as a result of giving teachers and students access to technology and then supporting them through training, coaching, and tech support.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Questions to Ponder - Perspectives Needed

So a teacher friend of mine posed two scenarios to me this week that really got me thinking.

Scenario #1 - I am teaching grades 3,4, and 5 abroad next year and the international school I am working for has asked what technology I would like to have in my restrictions!

My first reaction was WOW!.  Then we started talking about various hardware, configurations, etc. that would be best for allowing the widest range of learning activities for kids.  What we decided was that a classroom set of MacBook Airs and a classroom set of iPads would be ideal.  We figured that iPads would be great for running apps. They would also be the best tool for collecting images, recording video, and browsing the web for information, or interacting with others via video conference while moving about inside or out of the classroom. The Airs we thought would be best for producing projects which involved more in-depth editing, writing and data analysis and other tasks where more robust software was valued over mobility. The other question that came up was what teacher display tool to use.  My friend mentioned that at a site visit to a nearby school she had seen many teachers using large HDTV's for a display but we couldn't really see how the advantages of these, such as high definition display, made them a better choice for a classroom than an LCD projector which allows for a much larger display which we thought was important for a class of 20. 

2. Scenario #2 - I have 7k to spend on technology for 5 elementary classrooms at my current school. The only technology that these classrooms have currently are teacher computers and LCD projectors.

This started a really good conversation as we weighed the pros and cons of various devices.  In the end my recommendation was to get as many iPad's as possible.  My reasoning for this was that iPads can do almost everything that a netbook or Chromebook (Airs weren't even discussed due to their price) can do but can also do things that those devices cannot - like run tons of great apps with more being developed everyday.  Plus for an elementary classroom, robust software functionality is probably not as valuable as the mobility, interactivity, and ease of use that iPads allow. One caveat to this recommendation was that teachers who were unaccostomed to using iPads or those who viewed computers primarily as word processing and researching tools would need adequate training to get the most out of their iPads.  The major drawback to this plan is the amount of access you can get for your money. iPads are around $560 with protective coverings + $ for apps while a netbook can be purchased for around $350.  So for every two iPads you could have around 3 netbooks. However, given the benefits and reliability of the iPads, I feel the tradeoff is justified.

We would love to hear additional insights on this.  Please leave a comment and let us know your perspective.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Using Science Apps with Voice Thread

Today I started out by experimenting more with the Voice Thread app and then proceeded to try out some science apps I found here.  Voice Thread already has so many potential applications for educational activities and now the mobile app opens up even more possibilities.  While experimenting with the science apps I also came up with some ideas for using them with Voice Thread.  

Voice Thread - iPod,iPad (free) - Voicethread, a great way to “Create and share dynamic conversations around documents, snapshots, diagrams and videos” has been around for a while but with the iOS app that was just released at the end of Nov. it is even easier to use on a mobile device as you can capture video or film with your device’s camera and then upload it directly to your Voicethread where you can narrate and “doodle” on it. Then you can easily share it with others so they can comment as well using video, voice, or text.  This app is great for classroom iPod stations with multiple users because all work is stored in the cloud and students just need to login to access it.  If you want to use images you have on other devices it’s easy to access them by using a Dropbox  (iPad/iPod, Free) account and app.  

Ideas for Classroom Use - 26 Interesting Ways to use Voice Thread in the Classroom

 Project Noah - iPod, IPad (free) - Great app for exploring the biodiversity around us and sharing findings with people all over the world! This app allows students to take photos of flora and fauna and then document and submit their findings to Project Noah.  Through the Project Noah network they can get help identifying their finds, see what other people are finding through an interactive map, as well as join missions and earn badges for completing specific tasks such as reporting 25 wildlife spottings.   Students do need to create an account but then all their data is stored in the cloud so this app also works well with iPad stations who have multiple users   

 Ideas for Classroom Use - Take students on short field trips around the school grounds and have them document and share their findings using this app.  Then have them look at what other people in other parts of the world are observing. They can then take screen shots of different plants or  animals and use Voice Thread to compare and contrast the environments and make observations about how different plants or animals have adapted. They can share these with other students who can also make observations.  

 Molecules  iPad, Ipod (free) - Molecules is an application for viewing three-dimensional renderings of molecules and manipulating them using your fingers.  

 Ideas for Classroom Use -  Have students compare and contrast molecules by taking screen shots of two or more models and then uploading them to Voice Thread. They can then record their observations and share them with other students who can comment on them.
Self Assembly  iPad only, (free) - Self Assembly lets non scientists figure out how to form interesting structures by manipulating the shape of the molecules, the concentration of the solution, and its temperature.

 Ideas for Classroom Use - This simulation allows students to change several variables.  Have students hypothesize about various outcomes related to these variables and then test their hypotheses by running the simulation. Have students record and share their hypotheses, observations, and explanation for variances using narrated screen capture images on Voice Thread
 Pocket Heart iPad(6.99) - This app demonstrates all components and functions of the heart in 3D.

 Ideas for Classroom Use - If you are teaching a unit on the heart this app is great for a demonstration (hook the iPad up to your overhead) or for a station where students can interact with the model. With that said I think this app is a little narrow in scope for the $ and doesn’t allow much interaction beyond looking at the heart from different angles and taking quizzes on the the parts of the heart. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sun Goes Up and Down

Over the past few weeks my daughter has started to notice the sun. That the sun wasn’t a given would never have occurred to me before having a child, but I guess before a certain age (she is 2 and a half) kids just take the sun for granted.  In the mornings she wakes up, lifts up the blind, peeks our and says “sun goes up?” in the evening when I pick her up from pre-school she again inquires “sun goes down?” Sometimes she observes “sun goes up and down”.  At first I thought maybe she learned this at preschool but when I asked they said it wasn’t part of the curriculum.

I started thinking about my daughter’s observations and how they demonstrate the natural curiosity inherent in humans after I read George Couros’ postYou have to” vs. “I want to. In his post Mr.Couros discusses the lack of enthusiasm some students have for learning that at times is forced upon them.  He also encourages teachers to use video to get students excited about classes they will take.  I think this is a great idea but would also suggest  that teachers find a way to design instruction in such a way as to tap into the inner curiosity that all students have. 

Personally, I can't say the word "excited" could ever have been used to describe how I felt about the classes I took in school.  As an adult however I am constantly investigating, exploring, and learning but not because someone else dictates exactly what I have to learn and repeat but rather because technology has made it easier than ever before to pursue my interests and curiosities.  Clearly students need guidance in their learning but perhaps if we give students some freedom to observe, explore, and create we will continue to foster the excitement for learning that we all start out with.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rising to the Challenge

Today I started conducting a research project as part of my Master’s program. In summary, I am required to identify a topic that was challenging for students to learn (as measured by standardized testing) and develop a technology based learning activity that would address it.  The research design is of the traditional quantitative sort with treatment and control groups as well as a post test, the results of which I will analyze using statistical methods.

The objective for my learning activity was for students to demonstrate (and deepen) their knowledge of similarity concepts in Geometry by using Excel to create a model that could be used to solve a variety of problems involving similarity concepts.  As part of the methodology I observed the first half of a Geometry class while the teacher gave notes and then took half the students to a computer lab to work on the activity I had designed.

While sitting in the class today, I observed one student who was particularly disruptive.  He was shouting out, bothering those around him, and talking constantly.  As I called out the names of the students who where to go to the lab with me, I was happy to see that he was one of them as I could tell the teacher was frustrated with him and I was sure that she could use a break. To my surprise as I introduced the activity and got the students started he became very engaged.  He didn’t make a sound the entire class period.  When I checked his work at the end, he explained his “similarity problem solver” to me and demonstrated how he was using it.  While many other students had chosen to make a modified version of the model I had provided, he had done his a different way.  After he explained it twice, I understood what he had done.  It was impressive.  

I acknowledged and thanked him for his hard work and asked him what he thought of the activity.  He stated that he thought it was useful as it allowed him to solve problems without getting tripped up by calculations that included large numbers or multiple decimals but rather allowed him to focus on answering the question.  I was astounded at his insight as it really got at the heart of the theoretical basis of the study which aims to shift some cognitive load to tools like Excel so students can focus on the higher level thinking required to solve unique, context based problems.  

I started to wonder how many other students could improve their academics if given the opportunity to take on challenging, meaningful tasks.  While this student certainly stood out because of the contrast in his behaviors, there were others in each section that were able to create thoughtful, complex models to assist them with their geometry problems.  There were also those at the other end of the spectrum, who when faced with a task that had multiple possible outcomes, where frustrated and hesitant to proceed without a certain amount of handholding.  I guess what I learned is that kids can surprise us.  Often students get pigeonholed academically by teachers or their peers or their learning environment.  Changing this pattern and letting them try something challenging, meaningful, and stimulating can bring out the best. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

What I Learned About Social Media From My Grandmother

It was warm, sunny, and blue skies today as I piled my 2yr. old daughter into her Chariot (a bike trailer but with skis) and began nordic skiing up the trail.  Usually being outdoors with my daughter in good weather buoys my spirits in a rush of fresh air and endorphin fueled euphoria; however today my thoughts drifted to work and the coming challenges of second semester.  As I considered the 2 research projects I will conduct before concluding my masters degree, a second round of technology grants to facilitate, numerous details to work out for our fledgling online ed. program, and an uncertain job situation for 12-13 (I chose to scale back to part time the last two year as I complete my masters) I began to feel some feelings of stress creeping into my otherwise idyllic outing.  To overcome this I thought back on many of the inspiring blog posts I have read over the past two weeks, which helped. And as I reflected, another source of inspiration came to me.

This Christmas I went with my wife and daughter for our annual visit to my Grandmother who lives in Florida.  I have always been close with my grandparents and consider them to be a very positive influence in my life.  While I was there my grandmother asked me to read her story.  I knew she had been working on it since my grandfather passed away 2 years ago and that she had spent a great deal of time on it.  Reading it was very emotional for me as it first told of her and my grandfather’s early life together and then detailed the struggles they experienced as my grandmother cared for and watched my grandfather fade away over 8 years as he battled with Lewy Body Dementia (similar to Alzheimer's) which robbed him of his memory and finally his ability to take care of himself.   

Gram asked me what I thought about the book and what changes I would recommend.  After I got over my initial emotional response, I asked her who her audience was.  She responded that she had written the story to share with others so that they could learn from her experience and avoid some of the negative experiences that had made a difficult experience even worse.

While I didn’t realize it in Florida, skiing up the trail today I thought more about what it had taken my 82 year old grandmother to complete her story, the document was over 45 pages long, and what that implied about the strength of her motivation. My grandmother had polio as a child which left her with only partial use of her left hand.  In addition, she has arthritis. She also has deteriorating vision.  She typed the entire thing on a Windows laptop that my family bought her 2 years ago so we could Skype and email her.  Prior to owning that laptop, she had never owned a computer in her life and to my knowledge has never done much typing (she prefers writing letters by hand).

Thinking about what she had done, I realized two things. The first of course is that my challenges, while not trivial, are certainly no greater than those of others and in many respects pale in comparison.  The second was the power of human desire to share experiences and the potential for society to benefit from this sharing.  Gram’s experience with my grandfather was truly terrible, however she believed that by sharing it others could benefit.  I think this really gets to the heart of what social media can offer. I have found that interacting with others on Twitter and the Blogosphere to be a great source of inspiration, validation, and knowledge.  I believe that part of human nature is to share our experiences, whether positive or negative, so that others may benefit.  

As I stood in the sunshine on top of the mountain, considering the potential of technology supported knowledge sharing to positively impact our schools, and our world, it was enough to wash away my concerns about the coming semester and reignite my passion for overcoming the challenges on the horizon. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Using Limited Resources Strategically, Reflection on a K-12 Grant Program

At the district where I work financial resources for technology purchases and professional development are limited.  Luckily, last year some community members took on fund raising initiatives to bolster our tech coffers.  Even with their help we were far,  far away from being able to set up all district classrooms as “ technology rich 21st century” in the way that we had defined it.  As the district technology committee pondered how best to spend what funds we did have, a proposal to distribute the funds to teachers as grants gained favor; the logic being that teachers who were willing to write a grant proposal to get technology in their classroom were likely to use it effectively and provide model classrooms for teachers less comfortable or motivated to use technology for instruction.  A decision was made to move forward with this plan and to hire 2 district technology coaches (at .25 fte each) to facilitate the program and to provide targeted professional development to support grant recipients as well as other interested teachers.  I am one of those coaches.

Today marks the end of the first semester in which we offered the grants (we will be offering them again next semester).  By our submission deadline we had tremendous response to our request for grant proposals with almost 5 times the amount we had to distribute being requested.  While it was great to see so much enthusiasm, the vetting process was extremely difficult as the committee and coaches clearly would have liked to fund every teacher that took the time out of their already extremely busy schedule to write a proposal.  After a great deal of discussion, negotiating, etc.  I feel we were able to identify grants for funding that would have a strong impact on student learning.  

Next came the determination of what each grant recipient really needed, as well as ordering, configuring and distributing, all of which took somewhat longer than expected leading us to move our submission deadlines back for second semester. In addition, we initiated a rigorous offering of 2 hour, after school, technology courses taught by the tech coaches and other district tech experts throughout the district to support the grant recipients as well as other interested staff.  Attendees were given the option of receiving hourly pay or credit toward lane advancement. These courses were well attended the impact was evident as participants shared with us the many ways they had used tools such as Google Docs, Voicethreads, Wikis, and others tech tools in their classrooms.  

Once they received their equipment the teachers and students were ecstatic.  We funded a diverse group of grants including;a classroom set of iPod touches for home podcast viewing, software that supports instrumental instruction, numerous classroom iPad stations, MacBook stations to support the creation of a year long summative elementary portfolio for 5th graders, a Mac with a large screen for a vision impaired students, and many others.  It has been rewarding to see the teachers try out the new technology and see the curiosity and excitement of students!

With the objective of the program being to use financial resources strategically to place technology in classrooms where it will make the most difference, I would say that initially it has been a success; although it may be too early to tell as most teachers have only had the new hardware in their classrooms for about 5 weeks. We did come up against some challenges, one being that the tech coaches often got bogged down in technical trouble shooting which detracted from the time they could spend supporting teachers in instruction and planning.  Another issue was that our network is not optimaly set up to support iOS devices. This is something we are addressing but it would have been nice to have taken care of it before it caused problems with devices being used by students.  All in all I would say that the program is off to a great start but we will continue to observe and gather data as we evaluate its effectiveness.  It has been great to see so many inspired projects funded and put into action.

If you are interested, here is a link to a website we used for the program with links to our grant proposal form, schedule of courses, and other supporting materials. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More tested and approved apps for K-12 educators

Found time to test out more apps over the past week. Here is the best of what I found along with some ideas for classroom use!
Fotobabble iPad, iPod, iPhone (free) - Take a picture and then record an audio track to go with it.  Students need to sign in if they want to share their product via email; however you could just use one generic account for the whole class.

Ideas for classroom use:  Student can take a picture of any product (models, drawings, etc.) and then explain their understanding orally.  Great for developing academic vocabulary! Model work can be accessed from teacher email and shared with the class using an LCD projector.

Wolfram Alpha iPad, iPod, iPhone (2.99) - Great resource for all kinds of data from global temps., to utility costs, to where earthquakes occurred globally in the last 24 hours.

Ideas for classroom use:  Use as a real world, up to the minute, data source for science and math lessons.  The data can be copied into Numbers (or other spreadsheet) and analyzed to answer critical questions you provide.

Social Skills iPad, iPod, iPhone (3.99) - Has six photo tutorials (with audio narrative) with 2 levels each (basic and advanced), for a total of 12 tutorials.  The great part is that you can add your own photos and audio to the tutorials

Ideas for classroom use: This app was designed with autistic students in mind; however, I think it could be used to model appropriate behaviors for any struggling students.  You could also have student add their own images and voice to demonstrate their understanding of the appropriate behavior.  

My Congress iPad only (free) - See Twitter Feeds, YouTube Channel releases, and recent news for any member of Congress.

Ideas for Classroom Use: Use as a current events resource for lessons on government (social studies).  Have students analyze politicians communications and rhetorical strategies (language arts).  

Fotopedia Heritage -   iPad, iPod, iPhone (free) Developed by UNESCO with over 25,000 amazing images from around the world. Each image has attached information so student can learn more about the location.  They can also see on an interactive map exactly where the photo taken.  Students can also plot their own trip anywhere in the world and then view a slide show of images from the locations they chose.

Ideas for Classroom Use - Use as a resource for social studies projects.  Have students plot a trip, view it, and then write a creative journal about the places they visited (language arts).