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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TUIT: Ben Nichols, Collins High School

This week’s #ShelbyTUITshoutout goes to Ben Nichols, 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Collins High School. Mr. Nichols integrates edtech in his classroom in multiple ways.  For example, he uses Remind as a way of – well, reminding – students and parents about homework assignments and upcoming tests.  Ben can push out a text alert to the students’ phones without revealing his personal number (or knowing theirs).

But the main reason I have to give Mr. Nichols a shoutout is his use of Thinglink.  I have loved this tool since first using it in my English classes last year, but Nichols goes the extra mile; he usually has students work in groups and do at least three Thinglinks over the course of the school year.

How does it work?  Basically, you upload a picture and annotate it with “clickable” text boxes, website links, videos, etc.  You can also “Touch” other people’s Thinglinks to remember them later (think of “Favorites” on Twitter).  This can become a very useful presentational tool, especially when coupled with a SMART Board, as a teacher or a student can quickly survey the picture by tapping around the icons on the screen.  Of course, Thinglinks can be easily shared by their URL or other social media tools.

Note that an app for iOS and Android provide additional functionality.  You can access your device's photo roll, so you can take a picture and use that as your annotated image; you can record video, add it to the image, and upload it directly to your Thinglink account.*

How could you use it?  Teachers could use it as a substitute to a PowerPoint, especially since hyperlinks and videos are so easy to embed. Take a picture of your classroom and engage students or parents at an open house with helpful resources (for example, tag your phone with a text box of "The school phone number is..") Students could do "About Me's," collate research information, make an interactive poster, or snap a page from a book and analyze the text using higher-order text reflections and links to relevant Web 2.0 content.

Downsides?  Getting the right size picture uploaded can sometimes be tricky (some are too small to either annotate or present well).  I really wish Thinglink had a "full screen" option when presenting, but they don't.  Here's one trick if the size of the picture is small: add the Thinglink to a "Channel" (a way you can organize Thinglinks together on your account), then present the Thinglink(s) as a "Slide Show," which is the only way to maximize them on a screen. (Thanks to Mr. Nichols and Beth Jones for the slide show tip!)

Wondering what a Thinglink looks like?  Here’s one of me and my car from my senior year of high school, from my own account.  Hover your mouse over the picture to make the icons appear.

(You can also click this link to go directly to it.) 

Thinglinks can also be a powerful way of demonstrating visual literacy as well. On a basic level, choosing an exclamation mark versus a shopping cart icon should be deliberate within the context of the information that pops out.   After students are familiar with the site, push students to not just annotate with information, but intentionally decide icon placement in order to add another level of complexity and understanding.  For example, in my Thinglink above, there was a reason I put Nirvana’s “In Bloom” video icon in the trees!

Mr. Nichols has done Thinglinks for a few years now.  One piece of advice for teachers: "They may be digital natives, but don't assume they automatically know what to do online."  I agree.  While Thinglink is very user-friendly, give students time to not only craft their content, but to practice their skills of creating a Thinglink.  Ben also has a very clear rubric on what he expects the students to achieve with their finished Thinglink, which is essential in any project, but especially important when using edtech.  (Bells and whistles may be cute, but it's the content that counts.)

I caught up one of Mr. Nichols's classes near the end of the project, as the groups were presenting their finished products.  The engagement was genuine; the "publication" of work was authentic; the sense of shared ownership and cooperative work was palpable; and the note-taking of the audience (along with their Q & A at the end of each presentation) showed there was true value in the content given.  Once again, tech created a leadership opportunity for the students.

Congrats to Mr. Nichols for his well deserved #ShelbyTUITshoutout!

*Note 5/20/15: I added the info about how the Thinglink mobile apps work.

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