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


Lessons Lessons Learned

Soon I will be putting the wraps on another school year and my first experimentation with the flipped classroom. For those who are not familiar with the flipped classroom, it is a teaching style where the teacher records lectures for students to view or listen to at home instead of in the class while the students would do their "homework" or other assignments normally given to do outside of the classroom. In other words, the class is flipped. My experimentation is a hybrid of the true flipped classroom style. My lectures and demonstrations were recorded and made available to students but most of the viewing was expected to be done in class as well. My reasoning was for students to attempt to view what they needed to do then attempt to do the task themselves. This would free me to work with students who continued having problems with an assignment. After trying this with four classes over the last year I must say it was somewhat successful but I did learn some things along the way.

Lesson number one is that students need to be taught how to watch a demonstration video. One of the reasons I went to my flipped style class was based on how students performed after watching me do demonstrations in the past. Usually, it was like I did not do a demonstration at all. I would still have to go over the task about 30 times because students only saw the demo once and rarely bothered to take notes. When I told students to watch the video I created, they would watch the video all the way through and not stop to attempt the steps as the video progressed. Then they would look up and say they did not get it. Once I showed them they could stop the video at any point and rewind when necessary did the videos become more effective.

Lesson number two is that it is hard to break years of conditioning. This did not really surprise me because I have done other things in my class that runs counter to what students have done in other classes. Still students would sit at their seats and wait for me to do some kind of lecture even when I told them their assignments and resources are on Edmodo. This usually took a few days for students to get used to.

Lesson number three is the grades will be horrible at the beginning. As I implied in lessons one and two, students need a period of adjustment. They will keep trying to do things they are used to without success and get frustrated. Administrators and parents will want to know what you are doing by suddenly becoming the hardest class to pass in the school. Hold your ground because it is almost like a light switch turning on when students finally figure it out. The grades will shoot up like a rocket. Most parents who meet with me to put my head on a platter usually look at their child and say "I wish I had this when I was in school" after I demonstrate how the videos work.

Lesson 4 is to have your gradebook with you as move around the class. The grades will quickly let you know who needs the extra help and who does not. I carry around an iPad that is connected to my computer via Splashtop. This allows me to see grades at an instant to determine who needs help. Also, it allows me to enter grades immediately when a student shows me a successfully completed assignment which save a lot of time come grade report time.

Lesson 5 is to hold the students accountable. Many times a student will tell me he or she does not understand what to do. The first question I ask is if the student watched the video. The answer is usually no because students who watch the video usually have a more direct question about a certain step. In the past some students did have a legitimate complaint because the videos did not work due to technical problems but I would quickly work to fix the technical problems. If students are not working quickly enough then I make a call to parents to offer my after school services to give extra help. While that cures most problems, there are students who are in legitimate need.

Here is a lesson I learned from another teacher who is doing it with her class: make sure to upload the lecture video as soon after school as you can. I heard one parent complain that a video lesson to be viewed at home was not uploaded in a decent hour. The problem was technical but you should be mindful of parents who want to download the videos so their children can watch it. Also, there are those high-maintenance parents who can never be satisfied.

Now that one year of using a flipped classroom is almost in the books I will be looking and reflecting on what happened. There will be videos that will need updating as tools change. Also, I will look at lessons that need videos if no other reason than to show what a successful product looks like. Over the summer I will be sharing my experiences with teachers from one end of South Carolina to another and help them create their own flipped classroom lessons. Then I will be looking forward to doing it again next year.

Greetings Pizza Maker

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.

It's not always this easy

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. 

'Nook Simple Touch--Daily Image 2011--June 23' photo (c) 2011, rochelle hartman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/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.

Be Careful of What You Wish For

'Stop complaining.' photo (c) 2006, Alan Turkus - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/For years, many in the EdTech community have been wishing for the day when students would come to school with a digital device that would serve as textbook, notebook, research tool, and homework folder all rolled up into one small, lightweight package. With Apple's recent eTextbook announcement along with (surprise, surprise) President Obama's call for students in the United States to use digital textbooks in the next five years you would think the day of jubilee has come. However, instead of shouts of joy, I seem to be seeing complaints about this move to the digital student. The funny thing is many of the arguments are the ones I used to hear from teachers who did not want to embrace technology at all.

The complaints I am hearing are the likes of the Adobe PDF format is too hard to work with or iPads and the necessary accessories will cost too much. One argument I can agree with partially is do we really need textbooks at all? It seems to me the attitude is that unless every student can take part in the new educational digital revolution then forget it, we won't play. What are people thinking? Steve Jobs was going to leave an iPad to every student in his will? This is the type of thinking that hampers education to begin with. Why don't we outlaw new safety features on cars until every car has them instead of seeing them on luxury cars first? Because we know these features will eventually come down to the masses as standard features eventually if they work. We should not act surprised about this digital education revolution either. If you read Steve Jobs' biography you got a clear warning that education was one of the next things Jobs wanted to reinvent. Actually, Jobs has been talking about this for many years but the pieces have now come into place.

Okay, we know there are not that many interactive textbooks, iPads in the hands of students, teachers trained to take advantage of these advances, and school districts that have the infrastructure to handle the rush of mobile devices. Well new content will start flowing with iBook Author. Also, there will be other products that will do the same thing for other platforms by the end of the year. As far as getting iPads into the hands of students, I am willing to predict that the iPad 3 will be the top of the line device but Apple will still sell iPad 2's at a cheaper cost. Apple is still selling iPhone 3GS's and iPhone 4's and they are plenty serviceable. Google and the Android supporters will not go sit in the corner and sulk? They should have something out before the end of the year if they wish to compete with Apple. Remember too that five years in the tech world can see many changes. Teachers have been warned for years this day would come so if they are not ready, it is probably their fault and they better start cramming. The new digital tools will change the way teaching in the classroom is carried out. 20th Century practices will not work in 21st Century tools. Likewise, districts should have seen this coming too. Some have taken steps to welcome the new technologies but I am sure the recent announcements also caught many unprepared. Do we really need to continue investing in interactive whiteboards?

There it is, the time is at hand to put up or shut up. When I was stationed in West Germany during my Army days, the idea of a divided Germany was a given fact even though West German propaganda talked about reunification. When I left West Germany in 1988, everyone (including myself) thought the East-West border would continue to divide Germany for many years to come. However, within two years the Berlin Wall was down and Germany was reunified surprising many people (again including myself) that it actually happened. Well the wall between old and new, analog and digital, paper and eReader has been torn down. It is now time for us to quickly gather our wits and forge the new future we have dreamed about but did not expect to happen.

You Can't Afford Apple's Education Revolution Gizmodo

What's Wrong with the Dept. of Ed and FCC Digital Textbook Push? Hack Education

The First Ghost of Steve Jobs

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

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.

Tonight's Homework: Get These Apps

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.

SC to Wavier Bye-bye to NCLB?

'Group of Children in Gaza waving goodbye' photo (c) 2011, proisraeli - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I just returned from a meeting held by the South Carolina Department of Education seeking public feedback on a flexibility wavier request from requirements under the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) otherwise known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it looked like many states would not meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements that 100% of students meet educational goals because this is not a realistic number, the United States Department of Education allowed individual states to apply for waivers to seek relief from the punitive repercussions of not meeting upcoming AYP goals. It was stated by SCDOE presenters that this wavier request is not a permanent solution to NCLB problems, just temporary relief. Once the current version of ESEA, already about four years overdue, is revised and unauthorized by Congress and signed by the President (whoever that will be). The waivers need to meet conditions under four principles outlined by the USDOE for a wavier to be considered. Those principles are:


  1. College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students
  2. State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support
  3. Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership
  4. Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden


Here are my thoughts about what I saw tonight.


  • Principle 1 College and Career Ready Expectations for All Students The biggest reason we educate our students is to prepare them to, hopefully, become productive members of society. This means students need to be ready to enter college, the work, or (I am adding) the military. This includes English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or similar type students. South Carolina will also be adopting the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. As with NCLB all students will be assessed yearly that may or may not be an adaptive test. The current PASS test given to students in grades 3-8 will have to change because they mainly measure what students have memorized. Common Core Standards are mainly geared around critical thinking and problem solving which PASS does not assess. All of this sounds good so far.
  • Principle 2 State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support I am not going to go through all of the details but this is the meat of the wavier. Schools will be measured on student growth. The problem is that the growth is measured from year to year based on a annual assessment like PASS testing. I would rather see growth be measured from a pre assessment to post assessment. I thought it was funny when the SCDOE officials said they did not want to overburden students with assessments. Guess they have not heard our students are given Measure of Academic Progress assessments three times a year. Schools will be given a "report card" based on the following criteria for high schools: ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Biology Proficiency, History Proficiency, ELA % Tested, Math % Tested, and graduation rate. For grades 3-8 it will be ELA Proficiency, Math Proficiency, Science Proficiency, Social Studies Proficiency, ELA% Tested, and Math% Tested. The normal subgroups are broken down with the addition of gender. To make AYP schools must have 90% in all categories. Schools that do not meet AYP may allow children to transfer to higher performing districts and must give other academic support to those students who do not make the growth cut. Schools that do not make AYP will be labeled either Focus or Priority schools depending on how much growth is needed. No school will be listed as failing. The biggest problem I have with this is what stake do students have in this testing? What is their incentive to do well? School pride? I think not.
  • Principle 3 Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership Probably the biggest thing I saw is that ADEPT will be five ADEPT Performance Standards and 19 Indicators. This is down from the four Domains, 10 APS's, and 34 Indicators. After that things get rather fuzzy. Since ADEPT will be streamlined are all teachers going to go through this evaluation process every year? Teachers will also be measured on the growth of their students as well. Nothing was said about how this will be used but it needs to be addressed. Will this become the tool to weed out the "bad teachers" whose students do not do well on the tests?
  • Principle 4 Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden Anything to make our lives better and easier I am all for!

The attempt by South Carolina to seek the ESEA flexibility waivers are commendable. If we must test then showing student growth is better than attempting to make some arbitrary line drawn. It also looks like there are attempts to ease the burdens of teachers which is a good sign. However, some of the glaring holes that are in NCLB are still there in this growth model but those are the federal government's making and not South Carolina's. This includes no student incentive to do well on these tests and taking into account the family situation a student comes from. One day we may have the technology to do ongoing assessments of students over the course of a year that gives a teacher the immediate feedback to help a child do their best academically. Also, we may have the tools to deal with all factors a child must go through when he or she enters the school everyday. For now, as my principal always tells us, we are being sent the best children each family has so we must do our best to cherish and see to their academic growth as best we possibly can.


Goodbye 2011 and Hello 2012


'Happy New Year 2012(Free Animated gif->Download the Original size of this photo)' photo (c) 2011, Lenabem-Anna - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/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.

If you want more about innovations in 2011 you can read this article from Good and this collection of articles from the The Next Web.

Happy New Year to all of you and I hope 2012 brings you good health and prosperity. 

Ready for what Santa Hath Wrought?

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.


BYOD? Why Not?

The other day I was discussing what my 6th grade students were doing with Dr. Sheryl Abshire when I pulled out my iPhone. I explained that this year I encouraged students to bring whatever device would help complete a video booktalk/commercial for our media center. In the past I further explained, we would force the students to fit into whatever tools the school had which would be Audacity and Microsoft Movie Maker in our school. As I thought about this I thought this might limit the creativity students could show in future projects. Usually if a teacher wants a technology project then he or she would book the computer lab and march the students down to all do the project the same way with PowerPoint or Publisher being the tools of choice. Would this frame of mind work with the philosophy of the Computer Technology classes of students using what they learned in Computer Technology in any academic situation they may encounter. No, it was time for me to differentiate among the tools students happen to have to create the booktalk projects and tell the students to bring those iPads, iPods, smartphones, and whatever else they have at home.

Of course this took some planning. First, I created a new project planning packet I adapted from a project planner by Duncan Germain of the Voyager Academy in Durham, NC. I first read about how Mr. Germain used this plan with his 6th grade students in Dr. Cathy Davidson's Now You See It. Some of the elements of this plan include why is the project being done, what resources are needed and what will be the source of these resources, who will the team turn to for help and feedback, what is the backup plan, and justification for doing the project. As expected most of the students had difficulty with this planning process. First, many teachers don't ask students to do indepth planning for a project and, second, students are almost never asked to be so introspective with an assignment. I still have some students who are having problems with this planning process so I am trying to be patient because this is another disruption Mr. Woodring has done in their educational process. The other part of the planning process was going over ground rules for using personal devices at school. Along with the do's and don'ts is a permit for students to use their device for the project. The student asks for the permit, gets a parent to sign it, then I counter sign it make it valid. Students are responsible for bringing any cables that are needed to transfer media from the device to the computer. I give recommendations for apps such as Splice for video editiing but students are also told to research apps for themselves since better and cheaper apps always come along. Once the planning process is completed with plan, script, and storyboard the students are ready to begin production.

While the planning process has been very slow, video production is rather quick. Students who used their plans admitted they helped keep them on task when creating their videos. Another thing students have told me is that they rarely think how a project in one class can relate to other classes or life in general. This is not going to be good news to my future students because they will be challenged to think in ways they have never thought before. I cannot wait to see students do a project on British tax policies that led to the American Revolution and have them compare what the modern Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements possibly relate to those policies. Another thing that has speeded up the production process is allowing students to use their own devices. While I have a classroom with 30 computers, I only have five microphones and four cameras. With 25 to 30 students per class this process would take much longer. I would hate to think what would happen if a teacher had to wait to book a computer lab and could only get the lab for one or two days during the project. It would never get done at all. I may be viewed as a heritic for encouraging students to bring phones, iPods, and other personal devices into my classroom but so far the majority of students have been responsible of the use of these devices. The other thing is students are eager to use their devices in school. So way not have a bring your own device learning party?

Nook App Love

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.

'Nook Color' photo (c) 2011, Kevin Jarrett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/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.

A Mobile Life For Me

'iPad' photo (c) 2010, FHKE - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/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.


Why Should Ken Burns Have All the Fun

Today I attended the Community Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Port Royal in nearby Hilton Head Island. I have a degree in history and I am certified to social studies which is why a tech guy like myself was at a Sesquicentennial Civil War event (you would be surprised at how often I get asked that question). Hilton Head Island was the location of Fort Walker which was one of the Confederate forts defending Port Royal Harbor and Beaufort which were captured by Union forces 150 years ago. There were Civil War reenactors, amateur historians, Civil War buffs, and curious onlookers who probably lost their way to the car show which is also going on in Hilton Head Island this weekend. Almost everyone had digital cameras of different types such as point-and-shoots, video, and mobile phones. The only thing I did not see was a tablet. I had mine but left it in the car. As I toured the grounds of Fort Walker it struck me that there was all these cameras recording the events and the Civil War was one of the first wars that was recorded by photography. In fact, the Civil War saw many technological changes in warfare such as the machine gun (Gatling Gun), aircraft (balloons), and submarines (H.L. Hunley). As I was observing all these cameras be used there was one demographic that was not recording the event. This was middle and high school age students and this disturbs me.

Many Civil War buffs have told me they got interested in Civil War history by watching Ken Burns' landmark documentary on the war. In other words, it was a media event and not what some poorly written textbook said (or didn't say) that interested people on the subject. So why are local students from Hilton Head Island or Bluffton not crawling around the Fort Walker site creating their own documentaries? Ken Burns proved that compelling stories can be told by just using still photographs mixed with videos of interviews. Civil War reenactors love to go on camera and talk about their passion for living like a soldier did 150 years ago. These guys do pains taking research to make sure they and their story is as authentic as possible then share their research whenever they can. Today, I saw probably the best Civil War reenactor I have ever seen. This man (pictured) portrayed a doctor of the time period complete with medicines, medical instruments, and hospital setup of that period of time. The man was going nonstop with stories of how doctors were trained and practiced medicine during the Civil War and not all of it was pleasant. He told us he is not a medical professional but learned his information by reading medical journals of the time, diaries, and searching on the Internet. That is how real history is done. That is how Ken Burns did it. They researched the subject then shared their research in creative ways. This is what students need to do.

Teachers should be sending their students out and tell them to come back with creative media of various subjects. Subjects you ask? One of the reasons Fort Walker fell so quickly is because Union Navy officers figured out a weak point in the fort and exploited it to great effect. Sounds like a geometry lesson to me. Document the angle the Union Navy found and figure out what the Confederate Army could have done to strengthened that weakness with video or annotated photos of the Fort Walker site. Students create a video of their results. Those who will do well will do as much research on the Civil War as possible given a time period. Teachers should be looking at upcoming historical events so they can assign their students the projects even if it is in a future unit. Just spend a little time discussing the event then tell students there wi be a project o the subject and you will expect their work when you reach that subject. Easy! Right!

There are historical places and people all around us and we need to get students to start documenting these events. One, it gets them out of the boring textbooks and do some real history and two, the events, places, and people are disappearing everyday. Our students could be the best people to document our history for future historians to have a record to study. I think it my be great to have students interview the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters and counter-protesters if the event is nonviolent. Their interviews can be compared to news media accounts of what is going on so students can get an overall picture. The OWS is history in the making and we should be documenting this event. One of the overlooked tragedies of the American Civil War was the fact that the European powers ignored its lessons which led to the slaughter of World War I.

SC EdTech 2011

'no pictures please' photo (c) 2011, Kai Schreiber - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/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. 

Why Have a Tablet

Note to event operators: if you want people to share what is going on with your event you should at pick a venue that has public WiFi.

This past weekend I was able to attend TEDxCharlotte for the second time in as many years. Last year was such a great experience I could not wait to go again. As far as the event itself was concerned, I was not disappointed. Participating in a drum circle led by DrumStrong.org with the entire audience was something to behold. However, the venue itself had a huge problem.

When I purchased my tablet this past summer I envisioned going to a TEDx type event or conference without carrying a heavy laptop. I proudly stuffed my Acer Iconia A500 into my small sling pack along with the Bluetooth keyboard (don't ask why, I don't even know). As I walked into the auditorium at Queen's University I ignored those with iPads looking down their noses at me who dared to bring an Android tablet to a TEDx. I quickly unpacked my tablet after finding a seat and turned it on. When I tried to connect to the WiFi I saw the university's WiFi was locked down. That was okay, I have been to plenty of events where WiFi was locked down but participants were given the access code. I scoured the program looking for the access code and no luck. Then I went to Twitter and using the event hash tag asked about the access code. No luck their either. Many were asking the same question I did. Glumly, I turned off my tablet and returned it to my sling pack where it stayed all day. I was forced to use my phone to do my TEDxCharlotte sharing for the rest of the day. There was one consolation. Even those carrying iPads had that same look of why am I carrying this thing too.

Again, in today's interconnected world, why would some hold any kind of event without providing WiFi access? I am certain the team will receive a black eye over this oversight. This will be too bad because it really was a great event to share. Especially, an event that charged $20 to attend.

Personal Legacy of Steve Jobs

'Steve  Jobs ,RIP.' photo (c) 2011, indigo_girl - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Like many in the world, I was saddened by the death of Steve Jobs this week. While many are going on about the contributions he made to computer and personal technology, I want to remember Steve Jobs for what he has done for me as both a person and a professional educator. No, I did not know Steve beyond what I have read about him. I did not have the pleasure or misfortune of meeting him personally and not really  sure how such a meeting would have gone because I heard Jobs could be conceited and a bit of a jerk when he wanted to be. It was Steve Jobs' vision that has touched me.

Steve Jobs had the ability to take the crazy ideas of Steve Wozniak and others and turn them into products that everyone wanted from the original Apple computer to the iPad. When I first put my hands on a computer in 1979, the machines were not nearly personal. They were too limited and too expensive to be in homes of ordianary people. Apple computers changed all that. While I never owned an Apple computer until recently, the computers I did own were certainly created because of the success of Apple in proving computers could help ordinary people.

I have used computer technology all throughout my teaching career. It was Apple, again, that opened the door to what computers could do in the classroom. Now, I could not think of me walking into a classroom as a teacher or student without a computer to assist me. Lately, Apple again will change education technology by making tablets a portable computing device. I already have started using my tablet in my classroom and cannot think of teaching again without it. Soon, students will storm the gates of knowledge armed with their own tablets, smartphones, and other pocket-sized computing devices. This could be an exciting time in education as students learn to use their devices to write, read, research, photograph, video, draw, and be more creative in ways I cannot imagine now. The fact that I currently get paid to teach computer technology to middle school students can be owed to the vision of Steve Jobs.

My personal life has been touched by the influence of Steve Jobs along with my professional one. I use devices whose creation was due to Steve Jobs' vision. Personal music players and smartphones are a constant companion whether I am driving around, walking or running, or doing other tasks. I listen to books, music, and podcasts to entertain and inform me while I do other things. Apps can track how far and fast (or slow in my case) I have gone. A library of books that would normally take up many shelves of space can fit into my pocket. Vast libraries of information at at my fingertips anytime of day or night. There have been many instances where I needed something and all I had to do was use my computer or phone to order the product I needed. If I need to get in touch with someone I can text, tweet, Facebook, talk, or video chat. As time goes on, I am sure I will be amazed at how Steve Jobs inspired devices will be more a part of my life.

The passing of Steve Jobs made me pause to reflect on how much the man has directed my life. As time goes on people will realize how much Jobs has changed society much like Johannes Gutenberg did with the printing press. As he lay dying, John Adams said "Thomas Jefferson lives!" as his last tribute to a man who gave the United States its guiding principals. Today, Steve Jobs lives through the innovations he inspired. However, somewhere in the heavens Steve Jobs is addressing a group who helped shape the world over time, dressed in his trademark black turtleneck shirt and blue jeans. After he talks about all the things he has done he says "And one more thing, it is the iWorld and it is magical." Rest in Peace Steve Jobs.

Check your sources!

'who thinks i have a book problem? (274/365)' photo (c) 2008, Eunice - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/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?

Lights, Camera, Teach

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.