The start of the 2012-2013 school year seemed to be more hectic than ever. First, my family was finishing picking up the pieces of a house fire that happened in late May. It was not fun living in hotel rooms over the summer except for that week we spent in Florida. Bluffton Middle School got a new principal because our former principal was promoted to be the district's new Chief Instructional Support Officer. While she has not made too many changes, she is naturally curious about what our school does and Computer Technology is no exception. The state of South Carolina is making changes as it moves toward the Common Core State Standards and a new way to evaluate students, teachers, and schools so the No Child Left Behind requirements may be waived. The biggest news of all is our school's core academic teachers are receiving iPad carts for students to use this year. All of this means big changes in the focus of Computer Technology but I had been moving toward this since last year because I saw it coming.
First, we all knew about state's shift towards Common Core which is required to get out from under No Child Left Behind. The features I like best about Common Core is how it requires students to be able to think about problems and seek solutions. This includes being able to seek information to help solve those problems. Anything that requires students to research information and then present the results of that research is always welcome to this Social Studies (yes, that's right) teacher. The other aspect of Common Core is how it encourages teachers to create cross-curricular projects. This is something I have wanted to do with Computer Technology from when it was created. So far I have had some great discussions with the academic teachers about how we can do joint projects and I am excited by their enthusiasm so far. There will be fits and starts but once the kinks are worked it out it will be a great experience for everyone involved. Another thing is that I have my students do research on effective presentations and cyber safety then present their findings. As I explain to them I could do a whole group lecture but it would not mean as much as to have them learn it then give a whole group lecture.
Second, while our school is getting iPads, I was put on notice that the only iPad I will even get a sniff at is the one I bought recently and carry to work everyday. Students will not be allowed to bring the Apple tablets due to security and logistical concerns. The iPads will not be allowed to go home with the students. Hopefully, as the district gains experience and confidence this will change. For now it poses a problem for me. How do I teach students how to create technology projects using iPads when I only have PC's? Believe it or not this problem is actually simple: I teach students the basics of design. This means instead of teaching PowerPoint, I teach students how to design presentations that can be effective using PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Presentation or any other presentation application. The same goes with video, photos, audio, documents, etc.... I teach enough of any application for students to create that basic project. My students still want to throw everything into a project but the kitchen sink but I keep after them to keep things simple as I explain they will not have time to do this in their other classes. There is a lot of bad habits they have picked up over time and most of it done by teachers who do not know how to design presentations for an audience. As students are working on projects they are slowly getting the idea that products are for other people and not themselves which is an important step. My students will not have the iPads forever and they won't have them at home either. This means students should learn how to use the devices he or she has at home because that can be depended on throughout their days in school and beyond.
There are other minor changes that I have made that show promise and I may write about over the course of the year. It is safe to say that so far I am mostly pleased with the way things are going and I hope it stays that way.
One of my favorite science fiction movies is The Last Starfighter. The story is about Alex, a teenaged video game wizard, who beats all the levels of the game "Starfighter" which pits the player in a simulated war against an evil empire. Little does Alex know that the game is actually a recruiting tool for an alien society needing warriors to repel a real invasion by an evil intergalactic empire. Our Earthling hero must use all of the skills he learned playing the video game to save the galaxy from tyranny. Game-based learning is one of the hottest topics in envisioning the future of education. Many of the skills needed to be successful in video games such as learning new skills, figuring out solutions to situations, and teamwork are considered vital skills in the 21st Century. It would only be a matter of time when a game would come out that would serve as a recruiting tool and it finally happened. Surprisingly, it is not from the military.
The game is the iPad app "Pizza Hero" and is published by Domino's Pizza. The player needs to create pizza with speed and accuracy to achieve the maximum amount of points. There is also a link to order your creation online when the game makes you hungry for that pizza you are slaving away to create. However, the aspect of the game I found most compelling is that if you demonstrate a high enough level in the game you may be invited to apply as a pizza maker at your local Domino's. At least that is what the game description in iTunes claims. I may never get to know if I have what it takes to become one of the elite Domino's pizza makers. So far it takes me too long to create a sad looking pie and the manager yells at me so much that I may quit if I don't get fired first.
Making virtual pizzas aside, this game is an interesting marketing ploy by Domino's. I am sure they hope people will get hungry for a pizza as they are tapping on those pepperoni and they will also tap on the order now button as well. Those people who are still out of work might also be playing this game as a desperate means to find employment. I am not sure how serious Domino's is about hiring pizza makers through their game but it would be cruel if they don't hire a few at least. This is not the first gimmick to use creative ways for companies to find employment. Once upon a time, Google secretly used a billboard with a complex mathematical formula to find potential engineers. If "Pizza Hero" proves to be a success in both selling pizzas and recruiting quality employees then I am sure other companies will also start using games to help screen potential employees. Our society is rapidly getting to the point where potential workers will need to demonstrate a skill to be hired and one skill I don't see a need for is filling in bubble sheets.
Many of the people I work with at my school must think that either my knowledge of technology was preprogramed in me at birth or that I was the result of some super secret government experiment (probably gone wrong) in which I was bombarded with radiation that gave me mystical superpowers of education technology. Actually, neither is the case. My knowledge of technology came to me by way of lots of research and even more time with trial and error. In other words, old-fashioned hard work. I have had more things go wrong, blowup in my face, and lost mega amounts of data, and said lots of words that would make my mother constantly wash my mouth out with soap.
One example happened last weekend when I was attempting to download a book from Overdrive to my Nook. The process was so frustrating that it almost made me turn Kindle. First, I sent the file over to my Nook and of course nothing happened even though it was supposed to be an epub file. Oh wait, I needed Adobe Digital Editions which I downloaded. Tried the file again and met with failure again. The file would not open. That's right, I have to convert the file you silly person! Somehow I got the file converted then sent it to my Nook. I opened the file to only to see a message that my device was not authorized. Colorful metaphors were coming from my mouth at a steady stream now. After a couple of more unsuccessful attempts, the dog was seeking a place of shelter as far away from me as he could get. After about an hour or so I was finally able to authorize my Nook and open the book I downloaded. After that ordeal the only thing I could think was I wonder if it is as much trouble for Kindle owners as for epub reader owners. If not then Amazon stands to make a lot of money off Overdrive.
When I shared my Overdrive adventures and key lessons from the ordeal with our media specialist, instead of laughing along with my story she gave me the strangest look. The look was similar to what Glen Walter recounted in his book So Where's My Apple when a student saw him eating in the faculty dining room and exclaimed, "You eat!" Yes folks, I am human after all.
Like Matthew Sobol, the protagonist in Daniel Suarez's book Daemon, Steve Jobs has come back from the dead to attempt to redefine society. Those who read Jobs' biography know the two areas Steve Jobs wanted to change was television and school textbooks. Well like how the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future changed Ebenezer Scrooge, the first Ghost of Steve Jobs wants to change a stodgy and stuck-in-the-past education with the release of iBooks 2, iBook Author, and the iTunes U app. Whether Jobs' specter will make a positive change remains to be seen.
The most intriguing of Apple's recent releases is iBook Author. This is a free application for Macs which allows anyone to create a multimedia rich book. The primary target is teachers who wish to create their own textbooks that would help their students. Now all those teachers I know who do not like to share their curriculum unless someone pays for it have an outlet to share their great secrets to turn students into super learners at up to $15 a pop. However, I can't wait to see teachers who have embraced the flipped style classroom and teachers who have their students create a book as a review project start having their work popup in the iBooks store. This is a great creative outlet for both teachers and students alike looking for ways to share or celebrate learning. This could be a money maker for schools because students can contribute to a virtual yearbook that actually relives memories and they don't have to work with yearbook publishers. I would like students to become editors of a class companion or textbook and produce updates to a review book during the school year. The only downfall is it currently works with the iPad but I am sure that will change and other other programs will come along that will cover Kindle and other eReaders.
Tech News Today said Apple's education announcement could eliminate schools. While this was an attention getting headline for the show, the iTunes U app could have an impact on schools. I have often told teachers that iTunes U was one of the best kept secrets of education. Where else can one see lectures from universities around the world with the prestige of Harvard, Stanford, and Duke. It now looks like Apple wants iTunes U to become a place where students can retrieve course materials such as syllabi, lectures, and other course materials. While this is an interesting first step to make class materials easier to get on an iOS device, the lack of interactivity will not see iTunes U replacing classroom management systems such as Blackboard, Edmodo, or Schoology.
Like other Apple products, the introduction of iBooks 2, iBook Author, and the iTunes U app are not something never before seen products but are meant to make creating mobile online class content easier to do providing you are on the Apple ecosystem. However, you can bet others will be coming out with similar tools to support Android, ePub (Apple claims to support this but iBooks Author is hazy on this), and Kindle (is it real Android?). Hopefully, like Scrooge's transformation, this offering from Steve Jobs' ghost will transform schools to be more welcoming to mobile devices in the present and future than they have in the past.
Photo credit: everwonderpowdersplunder
The other day in my Computer Tech 7 class, I was walking around monitoring students as they were working on their final assignments and making up missed work. I spied one students doing the tell tale signs of hiding something. When I asked what he was hiding he said nothing, usual first response. When I pressed him further, he said it was a lollipop which he knew was a big no-no in my class. When he went to throw away the offending item I noticed nothing went into the trash can which is another student trick. When I pressed him about not noticing anything resembling the item he was trying to hide go into the trash can he finally and sheepishly gave up the offending item. It was an iPod Touch. He took a moment to look at his device as if he was saying goodbye to good friend which I am sure is what he thought was going on. In most cases saying goodbye would be the appropriate sentiment. However, I wanted him to started thinking of his iPod as a tool as well as a toy.
When he surrendered the iPod Touch, I took a look at the apps he had on the device. Not surprisingly it was full of games. To this student, and I am sure he is not the only one, this was a toy. I went back to my desk and pulled out my iPhone and started jotting down the name of some apps that would be beneficial in any class and made sure they were free ones. When I finished the list I called the student over. I told him that I had a homework assignment for him. He was to download all the apps that I had on my list, which I gave him. I further told him that I would check his iPod Touch the next time he came to class and better have the apps on the list on his device. I explained what the apps would do and even showed him a demo of a couple of them. The class had fun with Action Movie by Bad Robot Interactive. This is one where you can create a movie clip with a special effect added in. Then you can insert the action clip into a larger video project. The students loved being blown up by incoming missiles or blown to Oz by a tornado. I am sure this app got downloaded many times because I saw students writing down the name of the app. Years ago, I read in the book "So Where's My Apple" that sometimes you have just watch the dump trucks. So I guess you have to take time out to launch virtual air strikes on students so they can have fun. I must admit it can be therapeutic for the teacher too.
Here is a copy of the list I gave to the student with the iPod Touch. They are all iOS and can be found on the iTunes App Store. I will note down apps that I know are also on Android but search if I don't.
Edmodo: new updates allow students to do homework on mobile devices. There is an Android version too.
EasyBib: This site and app makes creating bibliographies a snap. Just scan a barcode or type in the title of a book for a citation. They just created an Android version too.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Free Version) or Dictionary.com: Who does not need a handy dictionary? Also on Android. Tell those kids to look that word up themselves.
Blogger, Tumblr, and Posterous: All are blogging apps and all have Android apps too.
Genius Scan: Okay, I know that it is not cool to create copies of tests but classroom management will have to take care of that one. However, being able to scan documents can be helpful to students too as well as saving paper costs. There are similar apps for Android.
Splice (free version): A decent video editor that some say is better than iMovie for iOS.
PS Express: A nice photo editor. There are many other good ones for both iOS and Android too.
Red Laser: If you or your school does anything with QR Codes then this is a must have app. There are similar apps for Android.
If you know of any other good apps to share with students please share them in the comments.
Another calendar year has come and gone. Of course teachers generally go by the school year calendar which usually ends in May or June but everyone else looks at the past year and what to expect in the upcoming one. Here are some of the highlights of 2011:
I survived my first year as a middle school teacher. This was something I thought I could never do because I know myself enough or thought I knew myself to believe me teaching in a middle school would be a bad idea. Of course I could not have achieved this without the support of the administrators, faculty, and staff of Bluffton Middle School. This is surprising because those who taught at the previous school where I served as a technology coach sometimes thought of me as a dangerous mutant alien influence that needed to be destroyed. I guess now that I proved I knew my way around a classroom I was not so dangerous after all. Of course there could be a sign somewhere near my lab that says "Dangerous Contaminate, Do Not Open."
Computer Technology 6 and 7 are off and running! I was able to make some adjustments to the Computer Technology 6 Program with the other Computer Tech teacher that made the experience much better for students and teachers. Computer Technology 7 was created with some radical new ideas such as a modified version of the Flipped Classroom. Despite a rocky start, the class took off and i believe most students are actually enjoying the experience. The class proved to be a disruption that students needed and with some tweaks it will be a great success.
Winning a Second TIPS Award. I have met many people who have only won one of these awards given by the South Carolina Association of Education Technology but I don't recall meeting many mulitple winners of this prestigious award. I was excited and humbled to hear that Computer Technology 6 won the 2011 award.
Learning to work with Tablets in my classroom. I purchased an Android tablet this past July and finally got to work with it along with the iPad our school received in my classroom. The experience has been great because it lightened my workload and allowed me to share things with students one-on-one or small groups. Also, it has been a liberating experience to break free from the front of my classroom and move around the students. If you have a tablet then invest in Splashtop and other apps and start using it in your classroom.
Now it is time to look ahead at what to expect in 2012.
Integrating what I learned in my years in technology as I plan my return to Social Studies. While I love technology and have learned how to use it in the classroom, my true passion is teaching History, Government, and Economics. This is why I got into education to begin with. While I enjoy working with the students, faculty, staff, and administration of my present school, outside circumstances have made it necessary to explore making a change to another teaching position.
Finish the coursework needed to become Gifted and Talented qualified.
Start working on a doctorate. I have put this off long enough plus I believe there will be major changes in education in the near future. These changes will require professionals who are knowledgeable in technology, learning research, and 21st Century skills to help lead schools in this change. This will be an exciting time and I want to be in at the ground floor.
Happy New Year to all of you and I hope 2012 brings you good health and prosperity.
During the few times I went out into our neighborhood yesterday I noticed a lack of children playing with the new toys Santa surely brought them the previous night. I seriously doubted all of the children in my neighborhood received coal in their stockings for bad behavior. Despite our troubled economy, I also doubted they received a Big Chief writing tablet and an apple like those who grew up during the Great Depression received and were glad for it. No, I feel all of the children in our neighborhood, the United States, and around the world received electronics from jolly man in the red suit whose technology lab rivals that of Silicon Valley. One young man was spotted riding what looked to be a new bicycle but in his ears were the tell tale white earbuds of an iPod. Now the question for teachers who will welcome their charges back in 2012 is are you ready for what Santa has done?
You know students are going to bring their newly given devices to show all of their friends. I am certain my students are going to show me what Santa and various other relatives gave them. The electronic devices will be welcomed and put to work in my classroom. What about yours? Have you really thought about what Santa has done to your classroom and will you welcome them with ways for students to use their devices and make Santa feel good about what he has done or will you be the Grinch who takes away Mary Lou Who's iPod Touch with video editing, and writing apps?
Another trend I saw and believe will only increase is the number of games and toys that require an iOS or Android device. Take a look at the video below to see how one of my Christmas presents can be controlled by my iPhone.
I hope that you and your family had a great holiday season. Rest up.
I guess I cannot let an announcement about the Barnes & Noble Nook eReaders go by without saying something. No, I am not getting another Nook or at least not anytime soon. For many the Nook Color and new Nook Tablet can be considered the "Poor Man's or Woman's Tablet" because they are cheaper ($199 and $249 respectively) than any other Android Tablet. I am not going to discuss the Kindle Fire yet because it just came out and time will tell if it can hold its own against the Nooks. Also, there are not that many apps for the Kindle Fire yet. The iPad is in a class all by itself.
Earlier today I was going through the apps available for my wife's Nook Color just to see how things have grown. You still won't get as many apps as you would from the Android Market Place or Amazon App Store but the selection has grown. There were some apps I saw that impressed me as well. These are apps that could serve a teacher looking to break free from the front of the class. I have mentioned some of these apps in other blog posts but they are worth mentioning again because being available for the Nook Color and Tablet surprised me.
- Evernote: The app I probably use most of the time outside of social networking. I am always jotting down notes and sometimes inserting pictures. This can be from articles I see online to things I may want to purchase later, to capturing thoughts rattling around my head. The thing that makes Evernote stand out is it syncs to all other versions of Evernote. Given Evernote's philosophy I should not be surprised it is on the Nooks.
- Splashtop: This was a real shocker. It never occurred to me to use a Nook Color to wirelessly mirror what was on a computer. The screen size of the Nooks may make controlling a computer on the devices a challenge but it should work.
- Quickoffice Pro: For those who need to draft a document, start or edit a PowerPoint, or crunch a few numbers this is your app. It has been available for Nook for awhile but as I am using other tablets the importance of this app on Nook is significant. The ability to connect to cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Docs is a huge advantage.
- Dropbox: Another app that surprised me but it should not. When I draft a document on a tablet then cloud storage is a must. Dropbox makes the storage and, more importantly, the sharing of files very easy. I would hate to think about how to get a document from the Nook to other computers without it.
- Skitch: This app allows you to annotate pictures and screen shots. I am not sure how this would work on a Nook but if it does then it should be a useful app.
- Drop2sync: This app allows you to sync different types of files to your Nook. Works with Dropbox and Box.net.
There are other apps that I may not have mentioned that could help teachers break the chains that bind them to the front of their classrooms. Also, I would like to see Edmodo port an App for the Nook. At least one does not have to look on with envy at another teacher with a more expensive tablet computer to get the some functionality.
This year I have been using tablets in and out of my classroom for a variety of tasks and I have loved the experience. I have been switching between my Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet and the Apple iPad 2 received for winning the TIP's award. Saving time when it comes to grade reporting has to be the biggest reason for using a tablet alone. I loaded Splashtop on both tablets I use along with my laptop. A few taps on the screen I have my laptop's screen on my tablet screen. This allows me to enter grades in both Edmodo and our Power School gradebook as I check student work during class, a huge timesaver. Also, I can pull up the e-book we use for learning Scratch programming and can go over questions students have which is also nice. Needless to say, I plan on making more use of using tablets in my classes and other teaching duties. It is the mobile life for me!
Here are a few applications I use with either my Acer tablet, iPad, or even my iPhone 4S and how I use them:
- Read school email but not reply (it is forwarded to a Gmail account I created when I was a tech coach).
- Take attendance through Splashtop.
- Show a presentation using either Quick Office, Keynote, or Splashtop and either an HDMI cable, VGA adapter, or WiFi connection.
- Communicate with students and other teachers via Edmodo. While the Android and iPhone apps are nice the iPad app is the full Internet version. I wish the Tablet app would do this too.
- Write reports, memos, or other documents with Quick Office. Just don't expect forms to come out the same way.
- Shoot and edit videos with iMovie or Slice.
- Blog and share pictures with my students, parents, or teachers using Blogger or the Squarespace apps for iOS and Android (glad this one is available).
- Take notes in meetings with Evernote.
- Run a quiz or do exit tickets with Socrative.
- Surf the Internet for lesson ideas although it is limited due to access restrictions.
- Read and share ebooks.
- Share videos downloaded from YouTube or Streamline.
- Grade student work with Edmodo and/or Splashtop.
- Confer with other Education Professionals with Twitter, Google+, and/Edmodo.
- Quickly divide the class into teams with Team Picker (iOS) or Random Student (Android).
There are probably many more things but I just can't think of them right now but feel free to leave a comment to share how you use your phone or tablet in your classroom.
A little over three weeks ago I received a phone call from Don Cantrell of the South Carolina Department of Education. He called to tell me the South Carolina Association of Education Technology (SCAET) had been trying to contact me since September to inform me that Bluffton Middle School's Computer Technology 6 course (which I had mainly written) had won the Technology Innovative Program Award. To make a long story short, our school's core technology team along with our principal were going to Myrtle Beach to attend the SC EdTech conference and accept the award.
The theme for this year's conference was Unwired and Unplugged and most of the sessions were about the use of mobile devices in the classroom. Once the conference was pretty much over, many of the veteran EdTech people felt this was a down year for the conference and some complained it was a waste of time. As I have had time to sit down and reflect on what transpired over the three days at Myrtle Beach I don't think it was a total waste and here are my reasons why:
- The use of mobile devices such as iOS and Android devices have basically taken education by surprise with the speed of adoption by the general public. It shouldn't have but it did. Now school districts are going to be in disarray in trying to justify the continuation of money spent on laptop carts, computer labs, and interactive whiteboards. Mobile devices are the wave of the future so teachers are going to have to learn to deal with it.
- Most of the sessions were about what apps teachers can use in the classroom. Apps are proliferating at an exponetial rate to even attempt to recommend certain apps to use. While a few apps seemed cute, teachers really need to know how to find and evaluate apps for themselves to determine what is best in the classroom. Also, teachers need to do a better job in keeping up with the latest technology developments. This leads to my next point.
- Unlike laptop carts, mobile devices such as iPads and other tablets, iPod Touches, iPhones and Android phones do not work well in a unified controlled system like computer do. Mobile devices are designed to be, well, mobile. This means each device needs to be tailored to the unique needs of the individual. This means more differentiation of instruction for teachers. However, learning how to use these individual apps will have to fall to the student because different mobile operating systems act in different ways. Even the apps in different OS's behave differently. For example, the experience in using Evernote is way different on an Android device verses a iOS device.
- Again, most of the technology demonstrated at EdTech this year is still fairly new. I have to give credit to all who bravely stood in front of groups to do the sessions. At least they tried. I do have to say the group presenting the creation of videos from the College of Charleston did the best job. The one thing I was looking for was how were devices integrated into the classroom. This group did that by explaining what the assignment was, how it was evaluated, and how they let students use the tools they thought would be the best to use. Why force someone to use Windows Movie Maker if the student has a Mac with iMovie. Better yet, if a student has an iOS device such as an iPhone should they not use iMovie for iOS or Splice? It is the finished product that counts. That is what I wanted to see.
- Even if you go to a bad session (and I went to a few) you can always get something from it. Even if it is not how to do certain practices. The college professor that led the Online and Hybrid course session did have some good insights on course management techniques that she learned the hard way. While I felt a few problems were self-inflicted, others are good to keep in mind.
- Wireless carriers are going to have to pitch in and help. I have seen AT&T and Sprint come up with management tools for wireless devices but they will have to come together and adopt a single standard if schools will have safe use of student-owned devices (BYOD). Both companies have told me they have solutions but they cannot be balkanized like the carriers themselves.
- SC EdTech is not usually a conference that showcases the latest technologies but there were a few nuggets that impressed me the most. Augmented Reality reading, vocabulary and writing aids. It was cool watching an alligator shake his head no when you asked him if he ate grass. The latest in robotics programming that could tell a good story and dance up a storm. However, at $16,000 per unit for something I might could get at Target for $200 I will stick with Lego Mindstorm. Multi touch HD displays. I have been waiting on these for awhile and I hope my wait is almost over. This also spells the beginning of the end of Interactive Whiteboards as we know it. One technology that was not at EdTech but has been talked about, The ability to wirelessly mirror an iOS device to an Apple TV device. If the Apple TV was not HDMI only I would already have one in my room but there are alternatives.
The bottom line is that South Carolina educators, like other educators across the country are trying to deal with game-changing advancement in technology. I feel the time has come for students to start ditching traditional textbooks and bring their own mobile devices to school Teachers are going to have to start planning on how they are going to incorporate these devices in their classrooms and telling students to put them away will not cut it. If those who attended SC EdTech this year were not happy with their experience they need to realize the conference was asking presenters and attendees to venture into a totally unfamiliar area.
The other night I was settling in for a too short of a late summer nap when my son turns the light on and jumps onto my bed. Now he wanted my help with his upcoming U.S. History vocabulary quiz the next day. He told me about the quiz earlier in the evening and I asked him what era of U.S. History he was studying. He told me he thought it was the colonial era and the Constitution, a rather vague but normal answer from a 16-year old. I offered then to help him with his vocabulary since I was a history teacher once upon a time. He declined my offer because he wanted to do it himself. Another normal answer from my son but this trait comes from my side of his DNA pool. Getting back to the story, he asks me about various terms such as Shay's Rebellion, compromise (I am glad he did not ask Members of Congress about this one), Virginia and New Jersey Plans, and other terms about the time the United States Constitution was written and ratified (another one of the terms). I helped him as best I could then he threw his notebook at me and asked me to go over the terms with him.
As I looked over his work I noticed what he had written was not quite right but not really wrong either. The problem was his definitions did not fit the context of U.S. History. I asked him where he got his definitions from. My son replied, "Dictionary.com." Huh?! No wonder things looked disjointed. I told my son that while Dictionary.com could define words, he needs to find a history site that would give him the definitions he needed for class. In the past I had students turn-in such work and I gave partial credit because the work did not encompass the historical topic we were studying. However, in those days, students who had Internet access was not very common.
This past Friday night I saw my son's U.S. History teacher, an old friend from when we taught together, and relayed the story about the study session with him. His hope was that the students were using their textbooks. News flash for all of you who think students really use textbooks at home or involved in the argument about virtual textbooks! Students stopped using textbooks at home years ago. The things are too heavy, get destroyed by rain at sports practices (who uses lockers), and too big a pain to use for students to use. Guess where they go? That's right, the Internet. You probably could tap into the browser histories of some of your better students and you would have your online textbook ready to go. However, there are students like my son who will make an honest effort but often go to the wrong website for information. I told my friend he might want to find a history website that would have the information he wanted and share that with his classes. This is something we all should probably do. It occured to me that students are now driving the innovations with our input or without it. Which way would you want it?
My students this year are more convinced than ever that I have really gone mad with the technology. Over the last several days I have been producing more video than a B-movie studio lot on a variety of topics such as Edmodo, Edublogs, network navigation, and other quick how-to videos as I go through the process of "flipping" my classroom. A few minutes ago I just wrapped up a video on how and why to make presentations more effective in which I recorded myself giving the Keynote presentation. Even "raising your hand" has had a 21st Century make over as students text me though Edmodo with their questions or to ask me to check their work. Surprisingly, I have found these new changes rather helpful even if some students have found it disconcerting, Am I rapidly going into Education 2.0 or even 3.0?
When I decided to try the Flip-style classroom this year I knew that I would very busy shooting, editing, and publishing videos needed for this teaching style to work. I will shoot a video on a topic, such as creating a blog post, I think the students will need. Later, I find myself doing reshoots when a need to focus more on a specific task such as inserting a link into a blog post comes up. Its okay because this is a learning process for me too and the students are proving to be excellent teachers. The trick is for the students who have spent the last five to six years having instruction delivered to them via lecture, group or individual work, or reading from a book to buy into going to the videos I have created first. Guess it take a while to change the years of conditioning students have gone through of either raising their hands or coming up to the teacher when they have a question. Some have not realized yet the educational power that is at their beck and call. They have a teacher who is always upbeat, never gets cranky when they ask to be shown how to do something for the 10th time, and have a private tutor at their home on nights and weekends. Another thing they may not realize is they actually get more time on the computer because I don't have to do as much whole group instruction. Finally, with an average class load of about 30 students over the eight classes I teach, I need a way to "shrink" the class down to a size where I can actually give more individual attention when it is needed. The videos help because many of the students can watch them and then they are good for whatever task they saw and they may not need my help, just some periodic feedback.
When I thought about the other means of transition my way of teaching I was not quiet sure I would like it and thought it could really drive me insane. I entered my mobile phone # into Edmodo as a means of learning social network management because I would receive a text message on my phone whenever the students sent a message, even the silly ones I try to stop. One thing I asked the students to do is if he or she had a question, even after watching the videos, they should post their question on Edmodo. My goal is for these students to learn how to tap into the power of Personal Learning Community as a means to find the answers they seek. I saw myself as the facilitator as I monitored their posts and be ready to step in if someone was being lead astray. This is actually beginning to work as the students are becoming more confident in using Edmodo to take charge of their own learning. I just hope this will lead to similar attitudes when they go to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or whatever social network is popular in the future. Back to the text messages, They help me prioritize which students had their "hand up" first which allows me to be fair to all. Another hidden benefit is the text messages allow me spot trends quicker than if I was getting emails that could come much later. One warning, don't try the text message option unless you have an unlimited text messaging option because I receive messages at all times.
I am excited about how new technologies are being adapted in my classroom and I will be giving updates on how things progress over the semester. For now I will continue to push, prod, guide, or otherwise teach my students the subtle lesson of taking charge of their own learning so they may be more successful in the future.
As I get ready for the 2011-2012 school year here are some thoughts I have bouncing around my head.
Computer Technology 7: This is the course I really worked hard on since, in all honesty, last January. I have notes scribbled across three or four Livescribe notebooks, four notebooks in Evernote, one Livebinder site, and one blog post on this website. It was written across three states over the summer. I consulted PhD holders, Media Specialists, administrators, and people working in the technology field. Probably put my job in jeopardy by begging, pleading, arguing, debating, and discussing the course's needs with district Instructional Technology gurus. The only thing I have not done yet is threaten anyone’s life but the year is still young.
There are still some last-minute compromises left to do with the other Computer Technology teacher and it should be ready to go. I can tell you how it will look. The course is building off what students learned in Computer Technology 6 which was how to create basic digital text, audio, and video media. Now the seventh grade students will need to take these lessons and apply them to a variety of tasks designed to share their knowledge of cybersafety. For example, a student may research the topic of cyberbullying to create a presentation in Prezi. Once the presentation is create, he or she will do a screencast giving the presentation which will be uploaded to the student's Livebinder page.
After all the media options are done then the students will be introduced to computer programming using Scratch. I already have the ebook, Shall We Learn Scratch, by Jessica Chiang loaded on Edmodo for the students to read. This is the first time I have worked with an ebook with students and I am looking forward to the experience. The things I will closely watch is how well students like using an ebook and if any of them download the book onto an iPad, Nook, Kindle, or other device. Students will work through the problems in the book to get comfortable with writing programs. Then the students will create their own original program. If there is time, they may even write apps for Andriod and iOS devices.
While I have tried to foresee every possible problem, there are still about a million things that can go wrong with this course. Also, would someone please let me know where I can get a job that allows me to be a whinny, spoiled, overpaid teacher who only does this to get the summers off. I worked my tail off to create this course and did not receive one penny for the effort. Still, it had to be done if I wanted to make sure my students have a great experience.
Apps and gadgets I can't wait to use: This year I really want to test how mobile devices can work in a classroom setting (one of the things that can blowup in my face). I am going to set Edmodo to send me a text message whenever a student has a question. This would allow me to help students in turn, force the students to send proper messages, and inspire the students to use a social network as a collaborative tool. Students will be told to ask questions on Edmodo while they are working. I will encourage the class to post an answer to the question if anyone knows the answer. If a question is answered correctly before I get to the student who asked the question, the better off students will be. I plan on making use of my new tablet as well. One thing is to determine if a tablet will be good enough for a student to complete most of his or her assignments. I wrote about Socrative earlier but I am really can't wait to try this out with my students. This app is a web-based Student Response System and is much cheaper than makers of the so-called "clickers" that Promethean, Smart, CPS, and other vendors make. Apps can be downloaded to iOS or Android devices and works pretty good. Once an assessment is completed, the teacher will receive a spreadsheet report by email. I plan on giving Edublogs another chance this year. When I received emails saying no emails would be needed and there was no more advertising it made me one happy camper. While Kidblog is a great blogging app, the way it requires teachers to administer the blogs got to be a chore. Also, it was easy to accidentally delete an entire class's blogs. I still think Kidblog is a good blogging tool but probably more for elementary or some middle school teachers who may take care of only one blog per class or really does not care about creating tools students can use as they move from grade to grade. Finally, I hope I can get all of my team on Google+. The ability to communicate with each other using this platform has lots of potential. Also, if Hangout works, if a teacher is missing a meeting or needs to talk face-to-face it can be done relatively easy.
Renewed focus on reading and writing in United States History and Social Studies in general: Last year I heard, to my dismay, that some high schools were telling history teachers to stop writing and only focus on preparing for the End of Course exam. This troubled me because I knew that this approach would not prepare students for college and the worship of test scores had gone out of control. This year reading and writing are put back into the curriculum. Teachers will be expected to have their students read primary sources, answer document-based questions, and write essays. Theodore Roosevelt and I say "Bully!"
Working with the adults: I am really excited to hear about the number of teachers who are willing to give Edmodo a chance when they realize Computer Technology would continue to use it. There are more teachers in my school willing to use technology and they would like something to help make the task easier. Attempting to use the school's network and website for communications, collaboration, and exchanging assignments is not getting the job done. Plus they like the fact that most of the students already have accounts and are trained on how to use it. Another thing I would like to do is gather a group of teachers who are willing and attempt to take charge of our own professional development. Two things I would love to work with a group on is creating and delivering better presentations. Another learning opportunity I would love to do is start looking more at brain research and how we as teachers can use it to help our students. One of the things I learned over the summer is that countries that outperform the United States had true professional teachers who were expected to research or get training the latest techniques then share them with the rest of the faculty. I wonder how many teachers will want to give this a try too.
Alright, here are my main thoughts as we start the 2011-2012 school year. It will be interesting to see how things progress over the course of the year. To all of you who will soon have young faces staring up at you as school starts I hope you have a great school year.
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A few weeks ago I wrote about getting an Acer Iconia A500 tablet and the reasons I got with the biggest one being economic (Staples had a $100 off tablets coupon deal). Well, I have been putting the Acer through its paces and so far I have been pleased. My biggest reason for getting a tablet was to have a bridge device between my phone and my laptop. There have been times when taking a laptop to places wound up being impractical. On the other side, trying to do some tasks using my phone have been a bit of a chore too. So I guess the tablet is my Goldilocks device, just right. Am I ready to sell my laptop yet? No way! When I was shopping for a new computer a few months ago I actually asked if a tablet would suffice. I was told no in no uncertain terms and I agree with that answer now. So what do I use my tablet for?
One thing I have heard is that tablets are not creation devices which is not true. I like to hole up at a local coffee shop and write my drafts of blog post (such as this one) or other documents such as course curriculum. Then I retrieve the document and put the finishing touches on it. When I had an iPhone, the typing experience was not too bad but it changed when I switched to my Atrix Android phone. It was just uncomfortable for me so I stopped drafting documents which hurt my productivity, especially my blogging. Even though I can attach a physical keyboard to my tablet I think doing so defeats the purpose of having a tablet. I know the ASUS crowd will disagree with me but if I need a keyboard I should just bring my laptop. I do recommend spending a few dollars and purchasing a good mobile office suite app such as Quickoffice Pro. While Google Docs has an app it is not a great writing experience for me. Probably the best app to have on any device is Evernote but using it on a tablet is a great experience. I also, like checking my social media and responding, especially Google+ in which I tend to share my opinion more than Facebook and Twitter. One thing bit of creativity I have done that surprised me is taking pictures. I always thought a camera on the back of a tablet was a waste but there have been a few times I actually snapped a photo with my tablet because it was handy. The ability to edit photos and video is getting better but it still does not compare with using the power of a laptop.
How do I consume using my tablet? The biggest strength of tablets is as media consumption devices. I do surf the net for sites but I sometimes mark them using Read it Later. When I sat in on some interviews recently, I used my tablet to lookup candidates' websites without being too obtrusive. Reading news and blogs is great on my tablet when I use Pulse and the Google Reader apps. After school, I can go somewhere to get away from my classroom and use the tablet to check student blogs and check-in with Edmodo for grading and answer students’ questions. At home I must check the IMDB app several times while I am watching TV to learn more about a program or movie. Another nice thing is I have logged in to watch streams of a few conferences because I don't have to drag out the laptop and it really does not drain my battery. Something I would like to try at a conference sometime is hookup my tablet and have it show back channel streams while my presentation or demonstration is going on my laptop. The problem is my tablet uses an HDMI port for video out. It looks nice but many projectors do not have an HDMI port.
While my laptop will never be too far away and I will always have my phone, I actually see my tablet becoming a constant companion. It is light and has a small footprint which is perfect for coffee shops and attending conferences. My tablet allows me to do small writing projects or start larger ones. It fits into a small slingpack I bought at Eddie Bauer's along with my Nook and Livescribe notebook and pen. All I have to do is grab it and head to the library, coffee shop, book store, or other places and I am ready to be productive or playful depending on my mood. This setup also allows me to grab a few things from the store without lugging a lot of weight. Will tablets become the computing device most people will use in the future? Without a doubt and I think Apple is pushing us that way now. Can students be successful using a tablet in the classroom now? Yes, with some logistical help from home and school. Remember, tablets are not yet fully functional computers yet but I believe they make a better device to bring than a phone (but phones will work too). Chances are if you see me then my tablet is probably not too far away.
Here is another reason to start letting those mobile devices into the classroom. I saw this post from Mashable about a new, web-based student response system called Socrative. The idea is to create quizzes and students would use computers, iOS, or Android devices to take these quizzes. Teachers can see how students are doing in real time. Results from the quizzes are emailed to the teacher in an Excel spreadsheet format. There are free apps for teachers who have iOS or Android devices to give quizzes remotely. Right now the site is in beta testing and is free to use. Hopefully, this will continue for teachers or least an inexpensive price to use. Other sms devices, usually known as clickers, by companies such as CPS, Promethean, and Smart can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Plus, the companion software can be complicated to figure out and take valuable time to setup a quiz. Socrative can be up and running within a few minutes at the most if you have to write questions. Quizzes can be multiple choice, true/false, or short answer.
Here are some screen shots to show you how Socrative looks:
This is the Teacher's main page where quizzes can be created and shared with students. Each teacher has their own room number to share with students so the correct quizzes can be taken.
Teachers can create, import, or delete quizzes.
This is the students' page where they enter a teacher's room number to start a quiz.
Once a student enters a room they need to identify themselves for the record. Teacher can tell students to enter other names if he or she is concerned about privacy.
This is a page from a multiple choice quiz. All the student needs to do is click on an answer.
Students get instant results when they answer questions.
If a student misses a question, he or she is shown the correct answer.
One of the curriculum changes I have been wrestling with this summer is should sixth graders setup and write using a traditional blog such as Blogger or Word Press. I have used Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog in the past with some but not overwhelming success to suit me. Also, with between 210-240 per semester, it becomes an issue of do I want to have some kind of life outside of school? My wife and son would like to see me once in a while if only for me to give them money or pickup something at the store. Our school network really drags sometimes when attempting to access the sites, causing frustration for me and the students when we go to the site. Finally, whenever I hear about how all students take to technology like ducks to water I roll my eyes. Most students may be tech-savvy but definitely not all. This was a lesson I learned the hard way last year. To make writing online a much easier and more enjoyable experience, I am thinking of using the learning social network for blogging or online writing.
In the past, most teachers would post a question or writing topic in a blog post then let the students write their responses. This is usually done on schools' websites but I found our district's current system is rather had and buggy. I tried it last year and students' replies went all over the place. For example, I would find a response written during second period over in third period. The site also uses a code name system for the purpose of protecting identities. Unless I had the roster of student names and code names, students would be protected from getting a grade because I could not tell who was who. I could change the settings to show the names but why should I do that when I am logged in as the teacher? Fortunately learning social networks, such as Edmodo and Schoology, can allow responses to a teacher's post or let the student post independently. Both have the capability to allow the teacher to have selected students' writings made public that gives students the feeling of sharing with the outside world. Finally, students can insert links and/or embed media easier than on traditional blogs.
An argument can be made about using sites such as Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog for online writing and I am not proposing traditional blogging is going away. If I did, you would be reading this in Google+ instead of my website. Actually, my seventh grade students will probably be creating Edublog pages this year. This will give them them some experience with managing blog on the most popular blog engine in the world today. Blogger is out because our district blocks it because of the Next Blog button on each site. However, I have come to believe it is easier for students to write on the learning social network site then move them along as they get more experience. Finally, it will be social networks such as Facebook or possibly Google+ where students will do most of their online writing in their future. Would it not be a good idea to teach them how to share on these sites properly? Then again, laws like the one recently passed in Missouri might put an end to student writing online. Please give me your thoughts about using blogs or social networks for students to write online.
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I had been waiting for the right moment to jump into the tablet market but that market would not wait for me. After doing a personal technology refresh by purchasing a Macbook Pro and Motorola Atrix, I felt it was time for me to slow down a bit. Also, I have been waiting for the iPad that I wanted and I thought the iPad 2 was not quite it. Android tablets, while arousing my curiosity, just did not have what I wanted as far as apps were concerned plus I still have a considerable investment in iOS apps from my time with the iPhone. Also, I thought Android tablets were overpriced for what you got. Then why am I writing this post on a Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet? Like the Godfather always says, "Give him an offer he can't refuse!" In this case the Godfather was Staples. Earlier this week I noticed the Acer tablet was on sale at Best Buy for $396 which got my attention and started researching the device. I was surprised at what the Iconia had under the hood and the positive reviews it got from users and critics alike. A couple days later, Staples had a coupon for $100 off any tablet. Staples listed the Iconia for $399. So with the coupon the tablet is now down to $299. I found a way to snatch up this deal.
This is the third Acer product I have owned and I had great experiences with a desktop and netbook that gave me a lot of years of service. After purchasing my tablet I went to Barnes & Noble to set it up. Fortunately, a table next to an outlet was available. So I pluged it in and started the setup process. The 10.1 inch high resolution screen looks good and with a NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core processor and 1 GB of RAM it is pretty fast. This tablet has not one but two USB ports, a micro and 2.0 port to connect to a computer, additional storage, or other peripherals. The Acer tablet also has a micro-HDMI connection and can mirror displays which is nice and something my Atrix can only do if I pay AT&T more money. The Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system is a bit different than the 2.2 found on the Atrix but comparing a phone to a tablet is a bit unrealistic. The 5.0 rear facing and 2.0 front facing cameras do a great job at taking pictures but still wonder why a tablet needs a rear facing camera except for classroom activities. Another feature that impresses me is the ability to add a 32 GB micro SD card to the 16 GB of storage Acer put in the tablet. The iPad does not have these specs!
There are a couple drawbacks with the Iconia. First, the thing is heavy for a tablet. Much heavier and thicker than the iPad all tablets are compared to. Also, with all of the USB ports the Iconia has, you would think you can charge the tablet but no. Guess I will have to pack another charger whenever I take this tablet on the road. Fortunately, the Iconia has up to 8 hours of battery life so I won't have pull that charger out too often.
How would this work in schools? If promised updates to all tablets that will intergrate them to Android phones comes then it could be a good device. It quickly and easily found the wi-fi signal at Barnes & Noble. There are enough apps in the Marketplace for students to do a wide variety of activities. I am actually drafting this post on the Blogger app which is free to download. The typing experience is pretty good in the widescreen mode but is a bit award and hard in portraite mode due to size and weight of this tablet. Also, because of the weight, this tablet won't be replacing my Nook anytime soon as an ereader. If manufactures can produce tablets like this consistantly for under $300 then we have an economical way for students to purchase technology.Given that I was able to get this tablet on a near impulse purchase, the Acer Iconia and other Android tablets will probably finding their way into schools this fall or the next. Are we ready to welcome them?
photo © 2006 D. Sharon Pruitt | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier this week Miguel Guhlin shared on his blog this question: Is it ethical for a teacher to have a student lie about his or her age when signing up for a website? My first thought is why not? The 13 year old age restriction before being allowed to sign up for a site is almost the Internet version of removing a mattress tag or maybe following the 55 mile per hour speed limits on Interstate Highways. Yes, its the law but is it really strictly enforced? The age restriction was placed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 otherwise known as COPA. This federal law says that websites cannot collect information on children under the age of 13 without parental consent. This law also says that children under the age of 13 cannot be marketed to via electronic means such as email. Instead of taking measures to protect children and obtain parental permission, most sites just forbid children under the age of 13 from signing up for a service as part of the terms of service. If a child is found to have violated the terms of service by signing up then the company will terminate the account. The purpose of the law was not to prevent children from signing up for websites or email, it was to prevent information to be collected and used to market to children. However, most people interpret the law that signing up a child without parent permission or violating the terms of service is illegal. Not true.
Now back to the original question, is it unethical for a teacher to get a child to lie about their age to sign up for a website? Yes. However, do we as teachers do unethical things to get our jobs done? All the time. One of my grad school professors said that "teachers need to be great thieves." We usually have to do unethical things all the time to get our job done. Is it ethical to ask parents to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, and other items on a supply list because the school does not have the budget to provide those items? We would be upset if we went to have surgery and the surgeon told us that we needed to bring the surgical instruments? Still could we be held accountable and risk our professional career if we had a student sign up for a site against a parent's wishes? Yes again. This is why I always recommend that teachers inform parents about what they plan to do using the Internet. My students have to have an acceptable user policy (AUP) signed by themselves and their parents. If a parent does not wish for their child to participate in an activity then I have to find an alternative assignment. Does that cover me ethically? I think so because I made a reasonable effort to inform parents of my intentions but others may disagree. In may way of thinking, in order to teach students how to use the Internet safely, students need to use the Internet.
However, Miguel's post and discussions gave me pause and food for thought. Where are websites that are appropriate for children under 13 years old that can be used in schools for educational purposes. Sadly, I could not think of one so I created one but I need your help. I created a wiki called Sites for Younger Students where we can enter links to websites that are appropriate for younger children. Anyone can edit the page but I do ask that you enter the link and give a brief description of what the site does. Please make sure the sites are educational or can be used for an educational purposes. Also, please share the link to this wiki because I am sure there are many elementary and middle school teachers looking for sites that can be used in their classes. Thank you for helping out with this project because working together we can help all children.
Update: Miguel updated his discussion with some useful information. You can read it here.
Okay, I can't take it anymore. One of the things pundits, "experts", and even my own friends said when Cisco decided to kill my beloved Flip camera line was "people are starting to use their phones to create video." I can understand that logic up to a point. Even I reach for my phone more often than not to take pictures or videos. Television shows show people grabbing their phones to record some fight or other altercation. The video camera on my Motorola Atrix is better than my Flip camcorder because the Atrix can shoot in HD. Big woop! I sometimes shooting HD at the consumer/amateur level is overblown anyway. Do you all want all of your flaws shown in glorious color? Didn't think so. A television news reporter I know almost broke into tears when I announced I could now see her show in 42 inches of High Definition glory and she preps for looking good on television everyday.
Alright, if phones are the new recorders of our lives then where are the accessories that help do the job? Mainly tripod mounts. The pickings are pretty slim. Amazon has a few that supposedly fit the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4. That's it. David Warlick once observed that in the future, people will think we only have one arm because the other one is working the phone/camera. I say another question future historians pouring over Facebook pages will have is did these people never have any fun? They are never in the pictures uploaded on the ancient social network site. On second thought this might be a good thing depending on what is going on.
If phones are supposed to function as cameras then they need the accessories to help with the task. I tried to interview someone with my phone once and it was not a pleasant experience. My arms ached because I had to hold them still for so long. Naturally, the video was jerky because I could not hold the camera still. A tripod is designed to cure that. So all I am asking for is a decent tripod mount so I can shoot some decent 720p HD video with my phone. Hey people is that so hard!?