Why Do We Do It?


Last week was the Beaufort County School District's Summer Institute. This our school district way to bring the conference experience to teachers every year and save money as teachers get some great professional development. The theme for this year's institute revolves around the 4 C's of 21st century learning. This concept comes from the Partnership of 21st Century Skills, a national group whose goal is to prepare our students for the 21st Century world by fusing the "3 R's" with the "4 C's." The 4 C's identified are:

-Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
-Creativity and Innovation

It should be clear these elements will make students stand out from tasks that can be routinely done by machines. Add Common Core standards (another two C's) and we will have students that can tackle any future problem they will encounter. Since we have no clue what will be required in the future as far as careers are concerned it is safe to say there will be many problems. All of the sessions at the Summer Institute touched on all of these themes including my session on the Flipped Classroom.

While I did the Flipped Classroom in Greenville earlier this summer, I was given more time in Beaufort to actually work with teachers and let them experiment. After defining what the Flipped Classroom was and its possible benefits followed by a question and answer session, participants grouped by subject area created lessons and video them using the Paper Slide method I learned in Greenville. Later, each participant went on to create their own flipped lesson. I was struck by the fact that almost all of them worked together to share information and techniques even though it was an individual activity. The 4 C's in action and everyone learned something.

One of the great things I really like about conferences is the chance to see friends I have made at such conferences over the years and the conversations we have. Probably because we know we don't have much time we get down to business discussing educational issues. One such discussion was about the Flipped Classroom that I advocate. One friend said he could not grasp the flipped concept and pressed me hard on its merits because he felt it would eventually take away jobs from teachers. My friend later apologized for, in his perspective, upsetting me. There was no apology needed because my looks were actually me thinking about his questions and trying to formulate intelligent answers. If if my friend annoyed or upset me I should not take it personally. It is these type of questions that educators should always be asking each other because if we cannot adequately defend our classroom techniques then why are we doing them and even worse trying to get others to do them too. Too often we fail to ask the hard questions to each other out of fear of upsetting other friends and colleagues. If we wish to raise our standards and incorporate the 4C's in teaching students then we should be willing to use them amongst ourselves. If not then why are we doing it?

UTC 2012

Last week I was privileged to participate in the Upstate Technology Conference (UTC). Once again the technology staff of the Greenville, SC County School District did an outstanding job putting on one of best small educational technology conferences anywhere. It is also remarkable that in this era of shrinking budgets the folks in Greenville are able to offer this conference to all comers for free. Thanks should also be given to Discover Education for being the main sponsor of this event along with the other sponsors as well. UTC is always one of the highlights of the year for me and I would attend even if I did not do a presentation for them.

This year I presented the Flipped Classroom from the point of view of having tried it in my Computer Technology classrooms. Before I did my two sessions I was scared that nobody would come. The reason was Dr. Lodge McCammon, Director of the FIZZ Project at North Carolina State's Friday Institute, was the Keynote Speaker and his specialty is the Flipped Classroom. In other words, I was going head to head with a legend in the Flipped Classroom field. After watching him at both his keynote address and his two Flipped Classroom sessions I wondered if anyone would want to waste their precious development time with me when there were many other wonderful sessions going on at the same time? Lodge's arguments for doing the Flipped Classroom are essentially the same as mine: less time lecturing, more time with students, differentiation in the classroom, less discipline problems, research to backup his methods, etc.... The technique to create the lecture videos was fairly simple and probably within most teachers' comfort zone. Finally, Lodge is far more entertaining than I am. I did have one trick left up my sleeve, there is more than one way to skin a cat or flip a classroom. Lodge was kind enough to allow me to add his methods to my presentation for which I am grateful. My worries were groundless too because both of my sessions were full and all of the participants seemed satisfied with the variety of methods I shared with them. This week I will be working with a group of middle and high school teachers in Beaufort County in helping them create real lessons to flip their classrooms with the variety of techniques I have to share.

The other session was done by my good friend Shirley Smith on how Richland, SC School District Two is phasing in a 1:1 technology initiative in their schools. My own school district wants to provide iPad carts to core academic classes and I wanted to see how Richland Two did it. Except for a few exceptions that went iPad, most schools opted for Google's ChromeBooks. I got to play around with a ChromeBook while I was in Greenville and I can say it is a serviceable but limited device. Anything one does on the device must involve the Internet and Google Apps in particular. The biggest question is how a user could create and edit media on the device and I am sure there is an answer to that question (please feel free to answer in the comments if you know how). The other main question I had was how were teachers trained on how to use the devices effectively in the classroom. Richland Two is phasing in the devices over a three-year period and staff development is ongoing. Each school is assigned their own technology coach whose main job is to help teachers learn how to use the devices in the classroom. An independent group is studying how teachers are using the devices through classroom observations and providing feedback to the district on how to use the devices and what further training needs to be done. What about any teachers who do not get with the 1:1 program after the three years are up? Let's just say they will need to make sure their resumes are updated. Ouch!

Finally, the Discovery Education Star Educator dinner at the Wild Wing Cafe was a great event. If you use Streamline or any other Discovery media products in your classroom and find yourself sharing what you know about them then you should sign-up. There are a lot of great benefits to being a Star Educator (you must be a subscriber of Discovery to view this page) besides a free meal. Many of my best friends in the Educational Technology community are Stars.

As always, I had a great time at UTC this year. It is always great to see old friends and make new ones as I usually do in Greenville. I also look forward to coming back next year but one participant requested that I do a session on Edmodo. Fran, Tim, Jeff, and the rest of the UTC Staff considered yourselves warned. Thanks to you for a great conference!

My Video on the Flipped Classroom

Dr. Lodge McCammon's videoi on the Flipped Classroom


Yum! Projects!

Delicious cell project created by a 7th grade science student.

My son's The Scarlet Letter Project. It was all I could do to keep him from making an F on this one because it looked and smelled so good. 

As yummy as both projects look do they really teach others about cells or Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary masterpiece?

It is getting close to the end of the term and that usually means project time. This morning the 7th grade students from one team were bringing in all kinds of ways to show parts of cells for their science class. There were models, poster boards, and even some delicious looking cells (see the photo above).

This brought me back to something I have been thinking of over the past few week, should students create computer programs for projects? One group of students are creating an interactive cell using Scratch for their final project in my class. The thought first occurred to me when I observed students doing their Scratch during the semester. Last week I mentioned to a science teacher that one group of students was creating an interactive cell program and her eyes grew big. It seems to me that teachers would like to see something new. Not only that but something that would actually be useful in teaching something to other students.

Lately I have been requiring my students show value in what their projects can offer. Part of this would mean creating projects that may do more than demonstrate what the creator knows about the topic. What can that project offer to other people to increase their knowledge of that topic. Is that not what the creation and distribution of information is all about? When my 6th grade students started creating video commercials for library books I told them they would be used by our media specialist during the morning school news show. The students thought I was joking until they started seeing what their classmates had turned in on the Promethean boards of their first period classes. This realization motivated those who had not finished their videos to start taking their work more seriously. 

If students realize that what they do will actually be used by teachers or other school personnel for a purpose they will work harder to make sure their work is correct. For now on I can tell students that any project they complete may show up in places they have never dreamed of before.

Here is an example of a Scratch program that teaches about cells that was created by a team from my Computer Technology 7 class. Not bad for four days of work.

Thoughts from the Upstate Technology Conference 2011

The 2011 edition of the Upstate Technology Conference just wrapped up for another year. UTC has become one of my favorite conferences because of the quality of the sessions and keynotes. This is the result of the hard work of the Instructional Technology Staff of the Greenville County School District. Not is this hard work done to provide quality educational technology training for Greenville teachers, they also invite anyone to attend free of charge. Those Greenville folks know how to share and collaborate!

I was fortunate enough to give two presentations. One was on using mobile devices in the classroom and the other was on using Edmodo to communicate with my students. In the session on mobile devices there was some great discussion among the participants. It surprised me that the group mostly accepted the fact that technology is becoming more mobile and it will filter into the classroom soon. The biggest discussion was around how to do manage students to make sure they stay on task. There was agreement with the analogy of when paper was introduced to students to use there was some resistance by teachers who feared there would be doodling and note passing going on. We don't see spiral notebooks be taken away and teachers have developed classroom management techniques to combat these problems but it has not gone away. Students texting each other just presents new challenges in classroom management but this group seemed up to the challenge. The group also thought about ways to incorporate the mobile devices and agreed that school-funded 1:1 initiatives will never happen. Parents are going to have to pony up the money. As far as Edmodo was concerned, this group was very accepting and liked the idea of a way to interact with their students online in a variety of ways safely.

When I was not giving presentations I was attending some to see what others are doing. With the large list of opportunities it was difficult to choose six to sit in on. One thing the planners of UTC did was to bring in some fresh ideas. While podcasting is a great classroom tool, do we need more of it? Sprint had an interesting idea of managing content with the Sprint ID Pack which allows IT managers to select which apps will be allowed for a business or school. This will need work if students are allowed to bring their own mobile devices but it is a start. The next session allowed me to see an application I am considering for Computer Tech 7 at Bluffton Middle School, goAnimate4Schools. It was good to hear how a teacher in Greenwood, SC used this application with her students. A session of some web applications stimulated my thinking towards looking at some more offerings for my Computer Tech 7 class. This might become a two-year class with all of the possibilities. I gave some time to the historian in me as I learned about the Library of Congress's program to video interviews America's war veterans to get their authentic story. I love researching primary resources in history and this would be a way to engage student to help create those sources for future generations. Finally, my good friend Shirley Smith reported on South Carolina's e-Textbook experiment. She brought two participating teacher from the project to tell their story. One had netbooks and the other had iPads with textbooks loaded on them. One thing that stuck out was that the teachers really did not need the textbooks when they had other resources at hand. While did not go to the session on QR Codes, from what I hear they may be over used by teachers. Turing-in homework assignments as QR Codes? Really?

I still have a lot to digest from the two days at UTC and will over the summer. I am also looking forward to next year as I get to always see old friends and make new ones. Thanks Greenville for your hard work!

Thoughts From SCETV Summer Workshop

This past week I had the pleasure of attending South Carolina Educational Television's Summer Technology Workshop for teachers. Donna Thompson and Debbie Jarrett kept me busy by having me conduct sessions on Digital Portfolios, Social Media in the Classroom, and Using Mobile Phones in the Classroom. It was a great time and it seemed everyone got something useful as they had a great time. Here are some of my thoughts of my time in Columbia.

Edmodo: The more I use Edmodo, the more I like it and can't wait to use it in the classroom. Participants who used it signed up with little trouble. Edmodo allowed everyone to share and collaborate during the session at a level I have never seen. Hopefully, this will work for students too and I will keep you posted on how this works out.

MightyMeeting: Although I planned to only use this app in my sessions on Mobile Phones, I quickly uploaded my other two presentations. It was nice to be able to roam around the room and control the presentation from my iPhone. MightyMeeting allows you to do just that. Also, you may invite others to join in by providing your Room ID number. This allows presentations to be given over distances when used with voice communications such as Skype. A chat room provides a place for back channel discussions which can the iPhone app allows participation. 

Using mobile devices such as phones, iPods, and iPads in the classroom is coming sooner than I thought. Augmented Reality and QR Codes have led me to this conclusion. Tongues started wagging when I covered these topics. Guess what? I was only scratching the surface with what I shared on the possibilities of what mobile devices can do.


After giving presentations on using social networks in education there is still a need to promote cybersafety to education professionals.

It is always to gather with friends and professionals who share the same passion I have regarding education technology. A group of us gather for dinner at the Carolina Ale House. During the gathering, Chris Craft proposed we try something I have read about, an unconference. The idea is intriguing and I think it would be worthy of continued study so it can be tried to see how this would work. The gatherings allow educators to gather for unplanned, unstructured discussions on whatever topics individuals wish to lead discussions on. Participants just pick and choose what they want to participate in.

Livescribe: I keep finding more uses for using my Livescribe Pulse smartpen. This time I used the pen to take notes on my research as I prepared for my presentations. All I had to do was sync my pen to my computer and run Myscript for Livescribe to get text that I copied and pasted into PowerPoint. This became a big time saver.

Finally, South Carolina Educational Television is a valuable for teachers. Imagine trying to teach without OnePlace, Streamline, ITV, and other media resources available to enrich your lessons. Also, SCETV is one of the few networks that provide experts to help work with groups on a variety of topics at no cost. Also, SCETV provides teacher technology workshops in March and July each year. These valuable services and more are at risk of being cut due to budget cutting mood of the South Carolina Legislature. Please contact your legislators often to tell them how much you value SCETV. If you do not know who your legislators are you can find out here. Also, consider either becoming a supporter of SCETV with a financial contribution or volunteer your expertise at a technology workshop.