Video killed the Teaching Star

The droids we're googling for
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Stéfan via Compfight

Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work’s down the drain – David Bowie

I recently was involved in a conversation on Twitter that grabbed my attention.  One of the people I follow was attending a conference and the session they were at involved using Youtube. I suppose the question was raised, “what do I do if Youtube is blocked by my school?”  To which there was a reply, 1. Complain (okay I agree with this), 2. Add an “S” (to the http) – hmmm I’m not so sure I agree with this.  I know what the teacher was attempting to do.. show a video that was relevant and maybe helped students learn the material better, but exploiting a security weakness in the schools filtering system seemed to be rather underhanded (I’m also not a fan of giving advice at conferences that has the potential to get many others in trouble with their admin or I.T. departments).

When I raised the specter that perhaps it was best to download the video and then show it (thus eliminating the need to circumvent in-house security protocols while also having the added benefit of having offline viewing for reliability during down Internet moments) it seemed that I was in the minority. Some felt that they would “do whatever was necessary to teach the students” or that the blocking of sites like youtube had nothing to do with protecting children but was mostly administrator or I.T. ignorance.

At one time, I’m sure I would have been in the same camp with these educators. Maybe its the administrator side of me that is finally beginning to say, “hey wait a minute… there are reasons for this.”  I have youtube open for use by my teachers, but there are other schools and administrators that do not.  I’ve heard their arguments and I have to say that they are erring on the side of caution (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to children and potential exposure to inappropriate language in an annotated video, or an advertisement that runs counter to our Catholic values) – Note, my school is a Catholic school so this is a very big deal.

I guess what surprised me the most was that these educators felt it was their right to circumvent school or district policies to do their job.  My opinion is that one should work within those policies or work to actively change them to meet your needs. However, to do otherwise jeopardizes your job as you put yourself in direct violation of the policies set forth by those who are entrusted with making these types of decisions. You may not always agree with these decisions, but it is your duty to adhere to them or to find acceptable alternatives (such as downloading for offline viewing).

I wonder if those educators who “will do whatever it takes to teach their students” will still feel that way when they are removed from the teaching profession entirely because they refused to follow protocols put in place to protect children. Sure, it may be ignorance in some cases, but it is the ignorance of those who are held responsible for protecting children and they may need some education to help them understand how to safeguard children while maximizing learning opportunities. However, It isn’t the teacher’s call to willfully disregard these decisions… at least not without the possibility of negative consequences.

Its a tricky issue… so I welcome your feedback and comments… I’m open to dialogue, and as an administrator I can say that I’m not ignorant when it comes to technology… I see both sides of this issue… my main concern is that we may lose some great teachers because they decide they can do whatever they feel is in the best interest of learning even if it violates school policy.

I look forward to your comments. click the comment bubble at the beginning of this post to leave your mark, or click here to leave a comment, thought or question.

To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

The Times (and the Classrooms) are a-Changin’

Photo Credit: John Wick

you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone – Bob Dylan

I recently had the pleasure of giving a presentation (though it was really more of a discussion) about the removal of textbooks from the classroom.  At the beginning of the presentation, I demonstrated how classroom environments have changed little over the last several centuries.  Think back to your childhood classrooms and more likely than not you’ll picture a square room with rows of desks all facing forward in a straight line. Its the tried and true lecture style of teaching.  We have grown to expect that teachers will be the lone keepers of knowledge, safe in their ivory towers of isolation, doling out bits of wisdom from their state approved tomes of power. The problem is that this line of thinking is woefully outdated and does not accurately reflect the world in which we live.

I cannot remember the last time I ever held a job, or within my career, when I was asked to sit with 30-40 other people in straight rows to complete a task.  Our world has become one that values collaboration.  The ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances is one of the most vital skills any person can learn.  Yet, we force our students into these artificial rows and accept this as the normal setup for any classroom environment.  What a shame that we automatically think of these environments as necessary.  It’s teacher centered, and diminishes the ability of the students to collaborate.

The picture at the beginning of this blog post [blurred and cartoonified to protect students’ identities] is taken from one of the classrooms at my school.  I had one brave teacher who was willing to take up my challenge and change the way her classroom worked.  I posed the audacious question: “Why do we need student desks?”  Together we pushed the desks out of the classroom and asked the students how they would like to learn.  The results were amazing.

Students brought in bean-bag chars, bouncing chairs, folding chairs, and seating devices I had never seen before.  Parents raised an eyebrow but knew we were trying to do something different, something that would help their children.  Every student in this class has an iPad and we have a projector with an AppleTV that allows the teachers and students to instantly interact with each other on the subject they are learning. We put Ideapaint on the wall and now the entire wall is a creative work surface. We have a few students who like the feel of a desk and they use it at their discretion.  This setup has been a huge success.  Students are engaged and excited to come to school.  Students in other grades are talking about how they also want to have the same setup.

There are difficulties associated with this.  The teacher has to give up decades of indoctrination into the rows and lecture style of teaching.  The teacher has to become a facilitator, a mentor, a collaborator in knowledge making.  The teacher has to be brave enough to sometimes say “I don’t know, lets see if we can find out together.”  It is time we stop blindly walking into our classrooms and accepting what is there simply because it has always been there.

I challenge each of you with a classroom, or you administrators in charge of a school, to walk into  your rooms and look at them with new eyes. See it as a big empty square box and try to remember what the childhood version of you wishes he or she could have as a classroom.  Ask your students to help you.  There is no reason why we have to adhere to models that were designed for lecture halls and Industrial Age societies.  We are all experts in our field of study.  Lets show the world that students come first and that we can help them succeed by giving them the environments they deserve.

If you do nothing else, make one major change to your classroom this week and try it out, the results may surprise you!

As Always I welcome your thoughts and comments on this.  What do you see as the benefits of changing classroom environments? What do you see as the challenges?

Click the comment bubble at the beginning of this post to leave a message or you may also click here to leave a comment.

Teaching an Egg to Fly

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn how to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.” – C.S. Lewis

I start this post with the above quote from C.S. Lewis.  We have been eggs for too long my friends and we face the prospect of going bad.  In this regard, I speak about our failure (yes, if we are being honest it is failure) to have every teacher use technology effectively in the classroom.  We’ve been told that we need to teach 21st century skills, yet we are over a decade into the 21st century.  Must we believe that our teaching should encompass 100 years as an acceptable learning timeframe for technology?  Technology changes too quickly.  In the latter part of the 21st century will we really want to know how to operate an iPod or post a video to YouTube? Instead we need to teach this year’s skills and look toward the future. Yet we have failed. There are many schools in which teachers have resisted technology in their classrooms and they are still resisting it to this day.

Far too often I find that administrators focus on what makes their teachers the most comfortable and not on what the students need in the classroom to thrive in our current and future society.  This is the year 2013 and there are still teachers who rarely, if ever, use technology to help teach a lesson in the classroom, let alone providing the students with technology to use in their actual lessons.  I was in elementary school when the Apple IIe was being introduced to schools.  These computers were being placed in schools twenty years ago, yet we still have teachers who refuse to use the technology.  I say refuse, because at this point there really is no excuse for not learning how to use technology and implement it with students.

I think part of the problem emerged with Prensky’s “Digital Native – Digital Immigrant” labels.  At one point these labels may have been true, however I believe the labels have crippled any real progress toward teachers integrating technology.  It is far too easy for teachers who don’t want to use technology to say, “I’m a digital immigrant”.  Once that label is used there’s a sense of entitlement the supposed digital immigrant believes is his or hers.  They need help and we have to take it slow with them. – This is their belief and, unfortunately, the belief of many of their principals.  I’m sorry, but Prensky’s article was written in 2001 and for the term to still be in use over a decade later makes me want to laugh, cry, or both. Think of all the changes that have taken place in the last twelve years with technology, iPhones, iPads, Surface, etc. Technology has moved forward at an exponential rate (Moore’s Law anyone?) yet we have been taking microscopic steps toward holding teachers accountable for integrating these technologies.

Our students live in a world where they go home, use a computer, use a tablet, use a cell phone, video chat, etc. For 16 hours of their day they are surrounded by technology.  The true crime is that for 8 hours of the day we put them in an artificial reality (one devoid of technology) hand them books and pencils and we tell them to learn using almost none of the technology they use on a daily basis. If we think we are doing students any real favors we are deluded. How do we expect our students to be successful in a world that demands the competent use of technology if we hardly ever let them use it in their formative learning years?

I believe its time we stop holding the hands of those who are holding our children back. I cannot sit idly by and allow students to be hindered because an adult feels uncomfortable with technology. It is important that we remember that we are there for the children and not for the adults. The only way that we are going to help the children succeed in their future lives is to have strong administrators and teachers who are ready and willing to stand up for children.

We have to ensure that all teachers are using the tools of today so that our students will be ready to handle the realities of tomorrow.  I ask that you take a look at your own schools and teachers.  I’m sure you will find at least one individual who is fighting the rising tide of technological innovation. We have to get through to these people that the time for change is not now… it was yesterday.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on developing methods of helping students receive the quality education they deserve.  C.S. Lewis was right, we must grow or we face going bad; unfortunately resisting technology doesn’t just cause the teachers to go bad, it also threatens to cripple our students’ future lives.  We should already be learning to fly, but so many of our colleagues are still in their shells.  Its time administrators and fellow teachers make a stand to crack a few bad eggs.

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Image: Artwork and permission to use image granted by Terry Border  http://bentobjects.blogspot.com

Expired: The current state of traditional pedagogy

 

 

Four steps to bring new life into the classroom

Hello again, I recently had the pleasure of attending a professional development seminar by Heidi Hayes Jacobs on the topic of Curriculum Mapping. I’ve long been a proponent for radical changes in pedagogical approaches within our classroom setting and it was refreshing to listen to another expert in the field of education share similar thoughts. While the topic of the seminar was “curriculum mapping” I felt a strong resonance with the underlying educational philosophy espoused during the session. I believe that if one were to choose the most important aspect of the session as a take-home point to remember, it is that we MUST serve our students by preparing them for their future. One of the great questions asked by Dr. Jacobs was to conduct an honest self-evaluation of your school and try to determine (overall) what year you are preparing your students to enter in adulthood. I have a feeling that few could honestly answer 2020 or beyond, which is a huge injustice to the students. After attending this seminar I walked away with a four step program in my head to bring classroom pedagogy into the era in which it belongs.

Step 1. An Honest Look in the Mirror

The first step is taken directly from Dr. Jacob’s question. “What year is your school preparing its students for?” When I gave this serious consideration, I was shocked to come the realization that it was somewhere within the range of 1970-1980 for my school. This era reflected a time when computers did not dominate the work force. When Apple was still just a hobby kit in Job’s and Wozniak’s garage. Now, I teach a great deal of technology in my classroom, in an attempt to prepare students for their future, however when looking at the school as a whole I was forced to come to the conclusion that many teachers still relied on paper and pencil, books, and pedagogical practices that they had been using for the last several decades. This is frightening… after all if Moore’s Law holds true (and it has for quite a while) the rate at which technology increases is exponential and doubles every two years. How then can we say we are reaching our students if we are using pedagogical methods that do not use technology that was created within the last five years? The truth is, a good honest look in the mirror is necessary so that change can occur.

Step: 2 Prehistoric tools for space-age learning

After this look in the mirror you may find that a great many of your colleagues are attempting to use prehistoric tools for space-age learning. It is difficult to fathom how teachers expect to truly prepare students for their future careers using only books, pencil, and paper. I’m sure the argument is that this approach has worked for hundreds of years and therefore should still be adequate for today. However, a hundred years ago we did not have technologies that allowed instant access to information from around the world delivered within seconds of searching for the information. A job a hundred years ago depended more upon your ability to be a skilled laborer or farmer rather than to be able to seek out information and turn it into something that can be used to support a family.

The truth is, our school system is largely outdated and needs a massive overhaul. Jim Grant in his book The Death of Common Sense in our Schools explained that our current school calendar was brought to American in the 1840s from Prussia by Horace Mann. This calendar prepared students for work in factories but also allowed students to return home to help on the farm. Essentially what Grant states is that “our current educational structure is built for a European state and an American farm economy that no longer exist”. This alone is a huge detriment to our students, and change to the calendar year and schedule is something that will take quite a bit of work to revise. However, as teachers, we have the ability to affect change on a much more local level (our classrooms). While its ridiculous to maintain a school structure built on “Expired” political and economic conditions, it is also equally ludicrous to maintain teaching methods and tools from the pre-cold war era in our information age. The truth is, we are supposed to be preparing our students for a future when they will hold jobs that use technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. How are we preparing our students for this future if we are not even using the current technology of today? Its akin to telling a person that they will one day be expected to navigate the internet to search for information effectively, however (for the time being) we are only going to provide them with an encyclopedia and a dictionary…. good luck future web surfer. If we are to truly aid our students in their ability to have successful lives, then we must prepare them for their futures by not only providing them with recent technology, but by surpassing the present to meet their future needs.

Step 3. Surpassing the Present to Prepare for the Future

What do I mean by Surpassing the present? Can it be done? I think it can. The trick is to envision the growth that may occur within the next five years and to provide an infrastructure and pedagogical methodology that enhances students’ abilities to thrive in the future. Dr. David Thornburg in his book Edutrends 2010 made the argument that we should not be striving to put into place systems of the present… because by the time we install and implement these systems, they will have already become outdated (Moore’s law in action). Instead we should be aiming for an attainable point in the future and striving to ensure that our pedagogy, technology, and students are prepared for this time. In that way, we are never trying to “catch up” to the technology trends, rather we are riding the wave and directing our students toward the rich waters of future success. What does this mean for the modern educator who has looked in the mirror and decided that prehistoric tools will no longer be used?

Essentially, it means that we must look at what exists in the present, and anticipate the future. I can easily ask my students to create a youtube video about a topic for their assignment and this will be a huge success in helping students to meet present needs. However, the future is right around the corner and a new service, or medium may arise that causes the extinction of youtube. The key is that educators need to be on the cutting edge. We need to be aware of current technologies and how they are used in the world to create jobs and stimulate the economy. If I am preparing students for their future they need to be prepared for the technology skills that will help them to lead successful productive lives. That means that we must seek to always be on the cutting edge, to embrace change and to prepare our students for a world that is rapidly changing. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”. I think this philosophy should be adopted by all teachers. If we live on the edge we can peer beyond the event horizon and help our students thrive in the world in which they will soon be living. Life on the edge means eliminating prehistoric teaching methods to give control of the learning environment to the students.

Step 4. From Controlling Students to Student Control

Most of our students are ahead of us when it comes to technology, and for the teacher who lives by the use of prehistoric tools this is a frightening concept. The traditional approach is that the teacher is sitting in what Paolo Freire would term an “Ivory Tower of Isolation” providing passive knowledge to those who are under them. Instead, I argue that it is important for us to acknowledge students’ advanced knowledge and to construct a more meaningful classroom learning experience by engaging them in solving real-world problems using the abilities they possess. I’m highly constructivist in my approach and I believe that students should own their learning experiences. This is difficult for some teachers though. There are teachers who believe that they must teach only from the textbook; what a frightening concept! The truth is, students bring with them a plethora of skills and knowledge that utilizes real-world technologies and that can be used to solve real-world problems. The traditional knee-jerk reaction has been for teachers and schools to bury their heads in the sand and say “you can’t use facebook in the classroom”; “You can’t use youtube”; “you can’t do X,Y,Z” etc. Educators have a long standing bad habit of ignoring the elephant in the room. Our students use technology every day. They are highly adept and efficient in its use. The day is coming when the student who is able to gather and use relevant information quickly and efficiently will be the best prepared for the world in which he lives. If we surpass the present, the future success of students will largely depend upon these skills. Embarking on this four step journey can be scary. Giving up a totalitarian grip on teaching practices is a frightening process for those who have lived by that sword. However, it is our duty to embrace change, to prepare our students for the information age in which they live. To do otherwise is an injustice to our students and our profession.

Your Thoughts:

I’ve been sharing my thoughts on the topic of necessary educational reform at the classroom level. I’ve intentionally kept this short and basic because I’d love to hear some of your thoughts or questions. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

 

Lesson Planning Moves to the Cloud

A New Kid in Town: Planbookedu

Planbookedu Logo

It’s been quite a while since I’ve added any posts to this blog. The reasons are many but chief amongst them is my work on my dissertation research, enrollment in a new certificate program with LMU, and my first year as an administrator.  For my lack of posting, I apologize… now onto the good stuff…

Nine months ago I spoke very highly of Hellmansoft’s Planbook.  It integrated well with my mac, my iPad, and dropbox.  I still highly recommend the program, however within the time that it takes to bring an infant to term a new lesson planning software has been born.  I introduce to you, Planbookedu. This is the first cloud-based lesson planning solution that I have found to truly be versatile and simple enough for my faculty to embrace and use.  By no means am I denouncing Hellmansoft’s planbook… instead, I offer this review of planbookedu for those who are trying to move an entire faculty (with those who traditionally resist technology) to interactive electronic planbooks.

While I was quite comfortable utilizing the Helmansoft program, I knew that, for some, setting up the lesson plans… creating the schedule…. and the use of CSV files to import standards would be too much for some people to handle.  I was looking for a solution that was as close to the Helmansoft planbook as was humanly possible while providing a format and interface that was intuitive and easily adapted to the everyday teacher (including tech resistors). I also wanted to ensure that there was an easy way to share lesson plans with anyone and to have a centralized repository for the lesson plans so that administrators could easily review them.  After many trials I found the solution, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in revolutionizing their lesson planning.

What’s this? It’s Free?

That was my reaction… when I first looked at the website.  They offer a free plan (with a few features missing that are offered for a paid subscription) so testing out the planbook is really a no-lose situation.  What do you get for free?  lets take a look under the hood:

  • True cloud lesson planning – No software to install – and 24/7 access to your plans
  • Awesome rotation options such as: Weekly, A/B, A/B Week, and 4-6 day rotations
  • WYSIWYG editor -for ease of implementation and use
  • Supported by all major browsers (I’ve used firefox, IE, and Safari with it)
  • iPad and iPhone supported

Not too shabby for a free trial.  Of course they hook you with all the great features that you get when you subscribe to the paid plan. Oh before I forget… you can get a free 14 day premium trial when you sign up for the free plan… that is what got me hooked!

What’s this, the paid plan is super affordable???

Most of the solutions I looked into cost a great deal of money.  If you’re at a school that has the funds then that’s great.  If your at a school that is watching its budget, then you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.  Here is the rundown of what you get with the paid subscription:

  • Everything in the free plan
  • Ability to attach files to your lesson plans
  • Common Core, State, and Custom standards (built in – No CSV files necessary)
  • Ability to embed your planbook in your website
  • Ability to share your plans with anyone for any specified timeframe
  • Print from browser in single page or two page layouts
  • Export to MS Word or PDF extensions
  • Built in Spell checker
  • Unlimited number of planbooks

Okay, sounds great… but the question is, How much? If you’re looking to purchase it as an individual… its only $25 a year… wow! dirt cheap. For the price of five coffees at the local coffee shop I can have a year’s worth of lesson plans in the cloud.  Hold on… it gets better… Group Discounts are available   the price plan is as follows:

  • 5-14 users $22 a year
  • 15-49 $19 a year
  • 50-250 $16 a year
  • anything over that call them for a quote

In my situation the $22 a year plan worked out great.  For a faculty of 10 the price for a year is only $220.  Outstanding!

There’s one more really great thing you say???

yes… just when you thought it couldn’t get any better… it is completely able to be integrated with Google Apps for education! that means that your faculty will not need to remember new login names or passwords… its all accessible from within google apps.  This was one of the major selling feature that had me hooked. A simple email and they had me set up with my entire faculty.

How does it hold up?

After only one day of training with the faculty (and a great video tutorial from planbookedu) they were off and running.  We’ve been using it for four weeks now with no major issues. Even the most technology resistant teacher has found the ease of implementation and use to be outstanding.

For administrators, we have the ability to view every teachers’ lesson plans as they click the “turn-in” button and to review the standards they have entered.  The ability to attach files to the lesson plans means that worksheets, blackline masters, etc are easily accessible.  If a teacher is absent there is not mad rush to find their plans or to go to the emergency substitute teacher lesson plan folder.  The administrator can simply print up the plans and give them to the substitute.  Even better, they can download any files that have been added by the teacher… no more looking for worksheet pages.   I also envision leaving an administrator account open for accreditation committees so that they can view all of the lesson plans at will as they make their recommendations for school accreditation.

An active Social developer

Another great feature is that “liking” the planbookedu page on facebook gives you direct contact to the planbookedu team.  they are very responsive to suggestions, requests, and questions.  When I was going through the installation process they were extremely responsive and quick to answer and help with any questions I had regarding implementation.  I can’t say enough good things about their product or their customer service.

Your Input

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about planbookedu.  Have you tried this product? What do you like and dislike about it? How do you think it compares to other lesson planning software? Share your thoughts. This is an exciting time to be in education!

 

Ps. Here’s a video of planbookedu in action:

 

Flower Power! 8th Grade Graphic Design

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Inkscape – The Open Source guru of graphic vector design

As, I stated earlier… my students are working on developing their graphic design skills in their 8th grade class.  Specifically they are working toward developing their skill set to produce a very nice silk-screened t-shirt for their graduating class.  They will eventually design three t-shirts each and the class will vote on which t-shirt they end up using.  This has been a wonderful assignment with which the class has been highly engaged.

Can I just say, that Inkscape is the way to go if you really want to put a powerful software program into the hands of 8th graders?  Its totally free and is a Godsend! What you see above is the result of 2 class periods working through a tutorial on how to develop floral designs.

Blogs are still your friend!!!!

In my last post, I mentioned that you shouldn’t re-invent the wheel and that still holds true.  The lesson that the students followed to create their floral designs are from a design studios blog : Verysimpledesigns.  If you click on this link you can follow along with the video tutorial and be producing some of your very own floral designs. My students are excited about incorporating some of these designs into their t-shirt design.  I’m not going to write the instructions step-by-step because Verysimpledesgns does an excellent job of laying out the instructions.  What I really want is for you to embrace the blogs that exist, grab lessons that will enrich your students’ lives and help them to understand that learning is a collaborative and constructive effort.

You cannot rely on video

Lets be clear about one thing… you cannot just turn on the video and expect everything to turn out great. It won’t.  You still have to facilitate, demonstrate, and intervene to help students master the techniques being taught. Be an active participant with the students and learn with them as you progress through the tutorial.  The fun part is when a student says “what if I do this…” and you let them…. Control-Z is always your best friend and everything can always be undone.

Try it out!

So try out the tutorial. Download Inkscape and let your students have some fun while learning graphic design.  Share your experiences here. What are your thoughts on incorporating this type of lesson into your classroom setting?

*The images here are actual student products… simply amazing!

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Synthesizing photosynthesis in 7th Grade

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Blogs are your friend!!!

Okay, I am a firm believer in never having to re-invent the wheel.  There are so many great educators in the world and many of them share their ideas and lessons freely on the Internet.  I ran across one such lesson which utilized technology to help 7th grade students learn about photosynthesis.   Educator Tara Raymon’s blog details a very nice lesson that is highly engaging for students.  You can access the lesson here.

Some Assembly Required!

Now every school site is different in terms of its technology resources and every teacher has different teaching styles.  That means that you cannot simply go to a blog and tell your students to start working on the instructions verbatim.  Some changes will be necessary because only you know your technology resources, skills, and the students who are in your class. Taking the time to evaluate the lesson and adapt it to your own classroom situation is vital to students successfully mastering the concept. I have 7th grade technology courses once a week for 45 minutes of instruction.  That means that a lot of what we do is built upon previous lessons in the technology lab.  Using what the students already knew, I adapted the lesson with only minor changes to help the students garner a firm grasp of the material.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… OPEN SOURCE OPENS DOORS!

I’m a firm believer in the open source movement.  It helps schools to drastically reduce operational cost of technology while putting quality materials into the hands of teachers and students.  For this lesson I utilized Mozilla Firefox as well as Tux Paint.  I know what you’re probably thinking… ‘Tux paint… isn’t that for little kids?’  Well yes… and… well no. Yes little kids can utilize tux paint (and they do so regularly in my class).  However I explained to the 7th grade students (who were already familiar with the program) that they would need to broaden the use of the program .  That I expected quality work from them.  And I was not disappointed in the results.

My Adapted (only slightly) Version of this lesson

So here’s how it all works.

I provided students with URLs to the materials by utilizing TinyURL to help them see the benefits of using a web 2.0 tool to shorten URLS and to ease in their entry of the URLs into their Firefox browser.

Step I.

Students are asked to type in http://tinyurl.com/jh6kg into the address bar of their browser.  This, of course also allows me to assess if students know what a URL is and where to correctly enter the address.  Strict attention to detail is necessary because an incorrectly typed URL will not lead to the correct page.  This is something that is vital for my students to learn before they get to the 8th grade when they will be taught HTML and CSS using only text editors.

This takes students to the NOVA website where they can launch the flash animation Illuminating Photosynthesis.  I instruct students that they are to explore this animation and to pay careful attention because they will be expected to produce something with what they are learning.

Step II

After visiting this site, I ask students to type the following URL into their address bar: http://tinyurl.com/qtfywl Once more I ask them to explore the entire site and to pay careful attention to the material.

Step III

I ask students to open Tux Paint.  They are expected to produce a picture depicting how photosynthesis and respiration occur in plants and animals.  This must be representative of a cycle. I inform students that I am looking for creativity and for everything to be neat and labeled.

I also instruct students on the popular hot-key command ALT-TAB to switch between the full screen view of Tux Paint and their Firefox windows. I allow this so that their affective filter is lowered with regards to trying to memorize the entire respiration cycle.

Step IV

Students save their work and then are told that they can type in the following URL into their address bar: http://tinyurl.com/4qkjvkw, this is a very fun and interactive review of photosynthesis and all the students loved finishing with this portion of the assignment.  I was thoroughly impressed with the level of creativity and mastery that my students demonstrated in their pictures of the respiration cycle.

So, What’s your Story?

So what’s your story? Have you used tux paint to help students demonstrate mastery of a topic? What are your thoughts and questions?  If you try this lesson, please comment, I’d love to hear how you used it or altered it to make it work for your class.  Was it a success? A failure? Share your story, we’d love to hear from you!

*Note: the pictures here are actual student work in progress… Not completed but on a great start!

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Memes the Scene! Using Memes in the Classroom.

Josh CD

Memes – An introduction (or rather explanation)

We’ve all seen them.  They propagate in our email in-boxes, fill our facebook update pages, tweet their way into our twitter feeds, spread across the blogosphere, and explode on myspace profiles at a Fibonacci expanding rate. I speak of course about Memes.  A simple google search reveals many definitions and examples of memes however I prefer the one offered by Wikipedia:

meme (play /ˈmm/, rhyming with “cream”[1]), a relatively newly coined term, identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[2]

So, what does this actually look like in practice?  Well, how about the ubiquitous iTunes memes in which people are asked to post the length of their total music collection, sort the order and list the first and last songs, list the longest and shortest song, etc. ?  Note:  for this complete meme (yes there is more to it than what I wrote visit Neil Turner’s Blog).  In essence memes are those forwards and posts which ask us to share information that, usually, entertains or informs us in one way or another.  While I’ve experienced the proliferation of memes as much as the next person, I never really gave much thought of their potential usefulness.

Memes are useful??? The evolution of an Edu-meme.

Memes can be useful.  With the right amount of creative energy and slight manipulation they can become highly educational tools to use within a classroom.  It simply requires thinking outside of the box and pushing the limits of the meme. I recently received a meme from a Facebook post that a graphic design friend forwarded to me. This post asked the participant to create an album cover using various random results from websites.  I saw this as an excellent opportunity to help my students learn about and embrace some of the free technology tools that are available at their fingertips.  I’ll walk you through this step by step…

Try the Meme yourself and make necessary changes

Okay, so I tried the meme. it worked but the instructions (like so many memes before it) are vague or poorly written. Adapting this for a 6th grade classroom required breaking the meme down into very clear and concise instructions.  It also required me to develop a method for assessing students’ progress toward the learning goals.  Oh, I suppose that also means I had to come up with some learning goals as well… don’t start a lesson if its not going to educate!  So here is the edu-meme as I implemented it.

Learning Goal

The goal of the edu-meme was to serve as an introduction to Web 2.0 technologies that are free for students to use.  It also served as a means of discussing Wikipedia and its appropriate uses in academia. It allowed for discussions of copyright and creative commons. And it introduced photo-editing and graphic design concepts.

The Edu-meme

Step I – I presented the class with a scenario.  I told them all that they were to play the role of graphic designer for a new band. I stated, “The band hired you to create their new album cover, but they have some very strict and unique methods they want you to use to design it”.  I explained to students that in the business world, sometimes you are hired to do a job and it may not necessarily be the method you prefer but it is the only way you’ll get paid.  This helps to keep students on-task and focused on the instructions.

Step II – I wrote the instructions on the white board and ran through a quick demonstration of the entire assignment using my projector.

Step III – (Okay here’s the actual edu-meme instructions):

1. Go to www.flickr.com and click on the bottom right of the page click on “Interesting photos from the last 7 days” Click on the image and check the Licensing terms on the right side of the page try to find one that has the creative commons license that will allow you to make changes (this allows you to discuss creative commons).  You may also get into a discussion of Fair use copyright for education and work with images in this way.  This step is actually not the first in the meme I received, however teaching about copyright, creative commons, fair use, and finding actual images that can be used takes a great deal of time. You could actually spend an entire class period discussion this and finding the images, but its a good conversation and learning experience for the students.

2. go to www.wikipedia.org and click on “english” (or whatever your native language is). Then, on the left side of the screen click on “Random Article”.  This is the name of the band (no you may not change it… the band forbids you).

3. go to www.quotationspage.com .   On the left side of the screen click on “random quotes”.  The band has given you a little freedom here.  You can choose the last 4-5 words (only the last 4-5) of the final quote on the resulting page and this must be the album title.

4.  Go to www.picnik.com and use all the above information and photo to create your album cover.  Picnik.com is a wonderful free photo editor that the students really grasp and have a great time working with.

What was learned

  • Useful Web 2.0 tools
  • Copyright, Creative Commons, and Fair Use
  • Negative and positive uses of Wikipedia for academics
  • A quotations resource
  • A free photo editing website and how to use its tools
  • Graphic Design, and business lesson

Your Experiences….

So, what are your experiences?  Have any of you ever adapted a meme or thought about adapting one for education?  Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences below by commenting. I’d love to hear what you have done in your own classrooms!

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but STIC just saved my learning.

Tech integration tools

Spontaneous Technology Integration within the Curriculum of a University class STIC

Most of what I write is about pedagogical methods and activities within the k-8 setting, because this is the environment in which I teach.  However, I am also a doctoral student nearing the end of my program toward a degree in Educational Leadership with a specialization in teaching and learning theory. During my last class session, I was witness, and participant, to Spontaneous Technology Integration within the Curriculum [STIC].  Of course, this is of great interest to me because I am also a technology coordinator for a school. Therefore any sudden use of technology automatically captures my interest.  For those of you interested in the STIC that took place skip to that section, but if you want to understand this more read on. First some background…

Background

As has been the case with just about every class I’ve taken at the university, few students purchase their textbooks for the course until after the first class.  This is because 9 out of 10 times the professor changes the required texts that the bookstore has listed for the course, or the bookstore has the incorrect texts listed. This practice is so prevalent that professors have often commented to new students that they should refrain from purchasing the texts. Few students enjoy this reality but it creates a bit of a paradox for the first day of most courses.  That is, we have 4 hours to fill with instruction and almost no student with a textbook. Sure, some time can be used to go over the syllabus and the expectations of the course, but this in no way reaches near the 4 hour mark.  So what is a student to do when you have the rare teacher who expects you to have your textbook ready to go on day one?

STIC in Statistics

So my colleagues and I are sitting in the first session of our Advanced Statistics and Data Analysis course and the professor asks us to take out our textbooks to begin work on some problems and review.  Okay, momentary shock and horror passes and we quickly realize that something has to be done to make our class productive when about half the students do not have the textbooks. My colleague sitting next to me has the required text, however I do not and neither do two of my other colleagues sitting next to me. This is when STIC occurs for our own academic survival. Witness the evolution of students quickly (because instruction is occurring during all of this) problem solving this situation.

One of my colleagues takes a picture of the page we are working on with her cell phone, however the resolution on the phone is not great for macro photography required to get a clear picture of the text. While my colleagues are struggling with that, I pull out my Droid X change the photo settings to macro and quickly take pictures of the necessary tables and charts. Another colleague asks me to email her the picture and I proceed to do so.  However, email is a little cumbersome from the cell phone especially at the rate at which I will be expected to take photos and mail them… this is when it dawns on me… I have other options to make this streamlined.

Dropbox

I’m a recent adoptee of dropbox and have been using it mainly to sync my lesson planning program from my mac to my iPad as well as keeping some key files with me on all my electronic equipment. I quickly create a folder for my class and upload every image to the dropbox with just a few clicks from my phone. The URLs are then shared with my colleagues and BAM! They have instant access to the necessary material. In the meantime, my other colleague is using Evernote to take some photos and notes and sharing them with his colleagues. For me, this was a shining moment of students using the tools they have every day at their fingertips to solve a real world problem and improve the classroom instruction.  I can vouch that this approach solved our problem and we were able to proceed with the class at a regular pace.

Implications

Well what does this all mean? Have we finally reached a point where this generation of scholars is able to quickly adapt technology to suite its needs? I hope so.  In the meantime… I’m going to make this simple recommendation to you, my fellow teachers and students: Download Dropbox. Its free and it has potential to be used in a variety of ways that will revolutionize your life as a student and a teacher. As I said, I am new to Dropbox. However, I’m already beginning to play around with some ideas that may prove effective for classroom practice in the k-8 environment. Perhaps creating folders that students can upload and collaborate within the dropbox… maybe a shared dropbox for faculty collaboration… who knows… I’ll keep you posted as I implement some of these ideas.

Your Experiences

So, what are your experiences with STIC?  What have you witnessed within the classroom setting? Have you used Dropbox or Evernote in your classroom? Cell phones to improve instruction? Please, share your thoughts and ideas, leave your comments below, we can only benefit from the shared collaboration of the professional community to which we belong.