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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From East to West, and a Mid-Year Journey Checkup

It does not seem possible that I've reached the middle of my first school year with Shelby, but here we are.  On my first day back from winter break, I will officially leave East Middle to start my embedded visit at West Middle.  To Mrs. Martin and the rest of the staff and teachers of East Middle, thank you for your hospitality and your willingness to attend so many PD sessions.  As for West, I'm already intrigued to see your library's Genius Bar in person!

A photo posted by The WMS Library (@thewmslibrary) on
As part of my mid-year reflection of considering my impact since starting at Shelby, I've examined some numbers and I'm surprised and invigorated.  Numbers alone can't tell an entire story, of course -- the personal emails I've received and the hearty in-person handshakes and head nods of thanks and shares of your personal stories of edtech success go a long way, too.  However, since I sorta-kinda gave myself a goal of reaching 2500 views on my blog by the end of the year, I thought now would be a good opportunity to look at several metrics.  At the genuine risk and probable likelihood of achieving a #humblebrag, here we go!

  • As of today, I have cleared over 4000 total views to Edtech Elixers.  It took me from August to  October to hit my first 1000, but since then I have averaged over 1500 a month. Considering only about 700 of those views came from my mom, I'll consider that a success!  I hope at least a few dozen of you have stuck around as regular readers.
  • As I approach my 3 year Twitterversary, I realize I am definitely more active on Twitter.  As of several days ago, I passed the 2000 tweet milestone.  (To put that in perspective, it took me 26 months to reach 1000 tweets.  My next 1000 took nine months.)
  • On August 9 of this year, I got my 300th Follower on Twitter.  Since then, I've acquired many more at a rapid rate (in no small part thanks to Shelby educators!) and got Follower 500 on December 13.  My first 300 Followers took 2 1/2 years, but I'm well on track to doubling that amount in six months.
  • I've just begun utilizing Google Plus, and my numbers there (11 followers) reveal I have a long way to go to rival my other social media areas.  However, I'm already grateful for learning from Google Circle communities such as GEG Kentucky, and thanks to Renee Boss, I recently had my first Google Hangout video chat.  (Quick plug for Renee: check out The Fund Kentucky, the subject of our Hangout.  It has interesting outreach opportunities for both individual teachers and districts -- including grants!)
There is a lot of work ahead in 2015.  Besides completing my embedded tour with Shelby schools, we must plan for the beginning of our student 1:1 initiative rollout.  I also have some professional development opportunities on the horizon, including a few presentations I will lead at KySTE in March.  And of course, I hope that Edtech Elixirs continues to be a valuable and entertaining source of information.   I am definitely in a mindset of growth as I will do my best to absorb all outside wisdom, advice, and knowledge to enrich myself and others.

But that is all to come.  As the last hours of 2014 tick down, I wish you and yours a happy and safe New Year 2015!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

SCHS Media Arts Showcase

As our Shelby County winter break begins, I wanted to highlight a special occasion that occurred last Thursday night, and in the process give Jacinta Newsome a #ShelbyTUITshoutout.  Her two Shelby County High School multimedia classes,  along with a few other Shelby County students, presented their multimedia work for the public.  I was flattered and excited to be a judge to help score student presentations, along with some other Shelby County colleagues: Ryan Allan (our district PR person and voice behind its social media), Julie Webb (LMS of SCHS), and Lee Louden (our network guru).  Kathie Wrightson, a SCHS teacher who got her own shoutout recently, also helped Jacinta in orchestrating the showcase.

Here would be a good point to give a hurrah to Matt Simons.  Resulting from a request from Jacinta for help, I reached out through a Kentucky tech leader listserv looking for tips and assistance on running a digital showcase.  Matt contacted me and generously offered his workplace facility Creative-Image Technologies as a host location for the showcase.  (C-IT is responsible for installing much of Shelby County's intelligent classroom edtech, as well as offering training sessions to our district personnel, as I wrote about in a previous post.)   It is a beautiful and modern environment to highlight student work, and we were very fortunate for the opportunity.

Each judge met with about ten students, who presented their work one at a time in a different room in C-IT. When they finished, judges and the audience were encouraged to ask questions; each judge was to assess the product and presentation using a rubric provided by Jacinta.  Her instructions were clear: hold the students and their work to a high standard, so the feedback would help them grow.

And the work was impressive.  Students presented everything from video games to digital magazines to music (in appropriately designed CD cases) to short films.  Here are some pictures of the evening taken by Gerald Tegarden, a Yearbook staff member at SCHS.

A screenshot of a video game created by Jaime Rosales (junior, SCHS).

Brenna Gargan (senior, SCHS) presents her digital literary magazine.
Morgan Allen (senior, SCHS; pictured on screen) filmed a documentary about "true beauty."
A certain judge/blog writer looks at a logo from Barby Womack (sophomore, SCHS). Her project was a film about love, cleverly interviewing and editing together the responses of four couples.
Of the work I judged, one of my favorites was a short film by Cole Ivey.  Not only did he compose the music, but Cole shot and edited the video.

Congratulations to all the students who presented work, demonstrating the passion, ambition, leadership, and creativity of Shelby County youth. Thanks again to Matt Simons and C-IT. And a tip of the hat to Jacinta Newsome for providing her students with an authentic learning experience!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Hour of Code in Shelby County

As many of you know, we are at the end of Computer Science Education Week, when students worldwide have been challenged to complete an #HourOfCode.   Programming is not only for future computer science majors.  As the Steve Jobs quote at the beginning of this video reminds us, "Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer...because it teaches you how to think."

President Obama made history by being the first President to participate:

Of course, coding is a gender-neutral endeavor, not just "for the boys."  As a father of two daughters, I am heartened to see the efforts of others (and websites like this) that give young female programmers a starting nudge.  After all, as this tweet reminds us:

 Computer programming may seem daunting at first, but from small beginnings big things come.  Websites  like offer fantastic resources -- for free! -- that teach coding in modular small steps that even our youngest students can learn from.

While at East Middle, I knew that Amber Hall taught a technology class to 6th and 7th graders, so I asked if I could slide on by.  Sure enough, she was having her students use to independently practice code.  The website allows the teacher to create accounts for the students and monitor their progress as they complete modules.  The students were incredibly engaged and dedicated to making their programs work.  For many of the lessons, it involves moving your game-like avatar around the screen in a prescribed way.  The code algorithms are "drag and drop" elements that can easily be rearranged, although the actual code can be seen with a click, much in the same way that the "compose" in Blogger shows "what you see is what you get," but you can click on the HTML button to see the underlying code.

An example from a student's screen. (from Heather McCall's class, SCHS)

Here is a tweet from Amber showing her students in action:

Amber is enthusiastic to receive some new Windows laptops in January so that she can have students assemble and program robots, using the same basic code algorithms they are practicing now.  Awesome stuff.

Earlier in the week, I emailed and tweeted out to Shelby County teachers to share their Hour of Code stories and pictures.  Here are some of their responses!

Valerie Ricchio at the Shelby County Area Technical Center had her students do an Hour of Code.

Laura Smith at West Middle is having her 6th and 7th graders in Robotics program their robots to move around.

Lest you think programming is only for middle and high school students, here's a Clear Creek Elementary student programming with the Smartboard, shared by LMS Vicki Stoltz:

Vicki also created a Symbaloo webmix of coding sites.

Heather McCall, an Engineering teacher at Shelby County High School, has her freshmen through senior students do programming all year long.  "We use ROBOTC to program motors and use input sensors to create robots and machines to accomplish different tasks. In Computer Integrated Manufacturing we program a CNC machine to mill parts out of wood or polycarbonate materials using G&M codes and AutoCAD for 3D modeling."   Here are some of Heather's tweets:

Let us come full circle back to East Middle. Using a class set of iPads, the students of Tina Eden (7th Grade Science) and Terry Walther have written over 6000 lines of code this week in an "Flappy Bird" coding program:

As a final tribute, here's' a Magisto video to Shelby County Hour of Code 2014!

The week may be ending, but that's no reason to stop teaching computer science and programming.  The free curriculum is out there, so keep using it!  Don't stress out if students know more than you do; learn beside them and let them teach you.  Take a breath and remember:

A very special #ShelbyTUITshoutout to all of the above educators, and thank you for sharing your stories!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Flipping Your Classroom: A Reflective Checklist

Flipping the classroom has been on my mind for a few reasons.  Firstly, I am leading a PD on flipping and blending at East Middle School next week.  Secondly, Heather Bell from Collins High School emailed me today looking for some resources and guidance in flipping her classroom.  As I pondered and put together my response, I realized that sharing some of that information on Edtech Elixirs might be helpful to others.  So thank you Heather for inspiring this entry!

From the perspective of edtech tools, here is a Prezi I made on that very subject.  Along with some general pointers and resources, I discuss how Khan Academy, EDpuzzle, ShowMe, Flipgrid and Youtube can be your technological allies for flipping.

But as I've often said, tools are just that -- tools.  They are only a means to an end.  What you want to be careful about is how and why you are flipping your classroom.  Why change the paradigm?  How will it meet your learning objectives more effectively, especially if following a workshop model?  Additionally, be careful of replicating ineffective teaching practice in new emperor's clothing.  If you lecture in class for 45 minutes in a 102 slide PowerPoint without discussion or interaction or a break, and you decide to flip your classroom by recording and uploading a 45 minute video of yourself just staring into a web camera and talking and talking and talking.....well, it's likely the same students that tune out at school will not stay focused for the experience at home.  (At the very least, go shorter and include visuals!)   The trick as always is to find ways that technology in general and "flipping edtech" specifically can transform your teaching into something different and more impactful on learning.

Tools aside, if you are considering flipping your classroom, here is a reflective checklist for you to use. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • "What's the best use of your face-to-face class time?" The quote comes from Jon Bergmann (see note and links below), a pioneer in flipped classroom instruction.  The heart of this question is the "why" of flipping.  Before you worry about edtech tools or the logistics of recording, make a list of what you would hope to do more of between the bells, so you can determine what you might be able to reschedule for outside the brick and mortar of a school.
  • What will be the learning content you will flip for home?  For many, this will be some kind of video, either one you make or one already made (Khan Academy, TED, etc.).   There are other options, however.  For example, have students watch a Prezi of yours, perhaps with embedded audio made by you that narrates each movement of the “slides.”  Or the students experience an online science simulation game. The key is some kind of content delivery and/or hook to get them interested in the learning to come. Note: as a rule of thumb, don’t make a video/presentation any longer than what you would expect them to handle in one sitting as a lecture in your class.  (In fact, Bergmann and his partner Aaron Sams recommend the length to be 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per grade level; therefore an average 12th grader video would be about 15 minutes long.)   Without you as an in-person guide, having students watch long videos will probably make them stray and lose focus. Obviously, anything flipped for home that can be made interactive will keep them more involved.
  • Be honest to yourself about the time commitment.   When preparing flipped material, it will take longer to plan and prepare instruction -- especially at first.  But there's good news.  Flipped material will be reused in the semesters and school years to come, and you are saving class time delivering content in order to spend more time workshopping with students as they apply and refine their knowledge.
  • Where will you put the flipped material?  If you don't have a site that pairs with your finished product (for example, Prezi and ShowMe), you could put it on your own website or LMS (Learning Management System, like Edmodo or Canvas by Instructure).  Just make it easy to access. I should point out that putting your videos on your own YouTube channel (like this) not only makes it easy for students to find and play them (it's in the same place all year long), but gives you other teaching tools, such as making playlists and Liking videos you might share with students.
  • How will you make them accountable?  Don’t make it overwhelming, but have them commit to some kind of meaningful action before coming to class. Note the "meaningful" part; as in class, if it feels simply like a compliance tool or a lower order thinking worksheet that can be easily Googled and cheated on, consider other options.  It could be a short reflection tool, as 6th grade math teacher Mary Lohr from Oldham County uses (also see links in the Prezi above).   Or it could be to answer higher order embedded questions while they watch the video, which you can do with a tool like EDpuzzle.  Be firm in this as you would any other "legitimate" homework (it is assessed, it is collected, it is required, it gets feedback and returned).  If they have issues with Internet access at home, see below.
  • How will you address tech equity?   Do all students have some kind of device and Internet access at home?  If they do not, see what arrangements they can make to use the library’s computers before or after school, or stop by your classroom during lunch to use a class iPad while eating.   (For some districts, this is a widespread, pressing and valid issue.  Be aware of your community's reality and adjust your flip plan accordingly.)
  • What if they don’t do it?  The whole point of flipping is to save time by doing content delivery for homework and spending classtime DOING and APPLYING.  Have clearly communicated consequences and remedies for those that don’t do your flipped (home)work, while honoring those that did what they were supposed to do.  For example, If you simply end up playing the video for the whole class at the beginning, you will teach students to not waste time doing it at home….and cut into precious workshop time.  Perhaps the handful of students watch the video on personal devices and headphones while the rest of the class workshops; later, you drop a polite note to home, asking if there's anything you can do to help the student successfully complete their important homework.  Point out that by not watching the video, it takes away from one-on-one time in class with you, where you can make the most difference in their learning.

If you have advice on flipping or blending your classroom, or integrate edtech tools that are helpful, please tell us about it in the Comments below.

Note on revisions to entry:
12/17/14: After publishing this article, I found a very enlightening series of flipping/blending articles on Edutopia by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams.  One of these discusses how to get ALL participants -- teachers, students, parents, administrators -- on board with flipping and blending.  It's a great read and a wonderful start to their related articles.  You should also check out their website here.

4/27/15:  I inserted a recommended length of flipped videos, a link to Sams and Bergmann's website above, and added Bergmann's quote about the best use of classtime as the first bulleted question.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TUIT: Mindi Keiner-Rummel, EMS

Mindi Keiner-Rummel is a veteran educator.  In her 23 year career she has been a teacher, counselor, and administrator. Mrs. Keiner-Rummel has been at East Middle School since 2005, mainly in the role of ECE teacher, but also recently as a Math Intervention specialist.

Mindi is also proof that even after more than two decades in education, you should never stop learning and growing . . . particularly in edtech, which is why she is getting a #ShelbyTUITshoutout.  To help her team of teachers gather data on students, she created a Google Form for the first time.  Now they can easily submit observation data on the fly, and the information goes to the Form's Google Sheet for later analysis by Mindi.  Additionally, she is using Symbaloo.  Mrs. Keiner-Rummel first saw it in a differentiated instruction/ELL PD that I had at EMS, and realized its potential for organizing and sharing resources with others in a graphical interface.

Symbaloo is a free and easy tool to use.  You create a "webmix" of resources by making tiles that are directly linked to URLs.  (No long web addresses to type -- just click and go!) The tiles can be customizable in different colors and icons.  Once ready, you can publish the webmix and share the URL for others to visit.  You can edit it as often as you like.  Symbaloo can help with DI. Imagine color-coding tiles red for one group of students, blue for another, and so on; when students visit the webmix, they know what resources/content/activities they are to click on by what color grouping the teacher has assigned.   Of course, you can make many different webmixes: one for each period, for each grade level, etc.  It should be noted that Symbaloo is not limited to webmixes created by teachers. Here is a popular video made by a 7th grader where she discusses using Symbaloo to organize her "personal learning environment" (PLE):

Mindi has been working on a Symbaloo with math sites her colleagues can use. Click and check it out!  Again, it is a work in progress, but already has several useful sites for middle school math.

Mrs. Keiner-Rummel inspired me to finally make my own Symbaloo.  So here's a "Greatest Hits" of my favorite edtech from my various presentations and blog entries so far.  Note the deliberate arrangement of the tiles.  On the left side is student productivity tools, top center is apps, bottom center is data collection/formative assessment tools that create reports and allow tracking of performance, and the right side is tools that help a teacher better organize or manage their classroom environment. (When you are the creator of the webmix, Symbaloo gives you an embed code to plug it directly into your website, as I've done below.)

Congrats to Mindi for her well deserved #ShelbyTUITshoutout!

Monday, December 8, 2014

ACE Test

In the previous entry, I mentioned my ACE Test in passing.  But since I hadn't yet explained the ACE Test in more detail on my blog, I thought I would take today's entry to do so.

As a Technology Integration Coach, I peruse a good amount of edtech tools.  The struggle, however, is to find tools that are pragmatic enough for actual "in the field" teachers.  To me, there are three main areas of consideration:

  • Is the tool device agnostic?  In other words, will it work on any device that has Internet access, regardless of the device's OS?  Or is it limited? (For example, an app only available on iPads.)
  • How much does it cost?  Free is obviously best for schools and/or individual teachers.
  • How easy is it to learn?  Time is precious for a classroom teacher, and a tool that requires a large investment of operational practice may be a concern.
Taking the first letter of a key word from each area -- Agnostic, Cost, Easy -- I came up with ACE.  By rating the tool on a scale of 1 to 4 in each area (4 being best), we can determine an overall pragmatic score.

I have used the word "pragmatic" twice so far in this entry, and the emphasis is important.  The ACE Test is only meant to judge how easy or burdensome it may be to incorporate that tool into a classroom.  It is NOT meant to assess how the tool meets specific learning objectives, which of course should be the primary consideration of any edtech tool; no standardized test could determine such a unique need.  (Only the teacher can judge if a tool would help meet the objective of her third lesson in Unit Two of her 7th grade math class.)  Also, if the teacher feels an edtech tool would have a unique and significant impact on learning, it may still be worth it despite a low ACE score.  I think of Shakespeare in Bits as an example. I loved integrating SIB when we read a Shakespeare text in my classroom; it allowed for personalized learning and self-directed pacing, tons of explanatory resources, and most students highly enjoyed it.   However, even though it met my learning objectives well, it would have scored low in the ACE test.  I needed to check out an iPad class cart for a few weeks to use SIB, and the app costs $14.99 per device. (It should be noted that SIB now has a Windows and Mac desktop solution, but the cost could still be considered prohibitive for some.)

Let's take Evernote as an ACE Test example.
  • Is it device agnostic?  Yes! You can access Evernote from any browser with an Internet connection, as well as iOS, Android, and even Windows mobile apps.  It definitely earns a 4.
  • How much does it cost?  Technically it's free, but if you are someone that plans to use it often, you will probably want a premium account that allows you 1 GB of uploads a month (versus 100 MB) and many other useful features, such as allowing Skitch to annotate PDFs.  Cost for premium is $45 annually, which would rate it a 3.
  • Is it easy to use?  Evernote's basic features -- making Notes or Notebooks, attaching files -- take little to no time to figure out, though you would benefit watching or reading a tutorial or two to understand other functions.  Let's rate it a 3.
Adding up the individual scores and dividing by 3 gets us a 3.33 overall score.  That puts Evernote as a 3 ACES: Strongly Recommended.  (If you scored the cost as "free" it would be even better, a "Highly Recommended" tool.)  This makes Evernote very pragmatic, but can it help your students meet their learning objectives?  If you have a lesson like this one, yes!  But again, the teacher should always view the objective first before determining what tools to integrate.

As an example on the other side of the scale, let's take a typical "clickers" system.
  • Is it device agnostic?  It is the very opposite.  Clickers can only do one thing, and they only work inside of its own branded system (in other words, Brand X clickers won't work with Brand Y's system).  (1)
  • How much does it cost?  Prices vary, but most run well over $120 for a class set. (1)
  • Is it easy to use?  I tried to use clickers once in my classroom -- just once.  Even with the LMS's help, it still took most of the period to just register the devices, and there were still clickers that didn't work.  It was overly complicated and a pain to set up. (1)
Not only do we have a 1 ACE "Not Recommended" overall score, but common sense tells you that with any set of Internet-capable devices, there are plenty of free and much more powerful alternatives to clickers, such as Poll Everywhere, Socrative, and Kahoot.

I hope the ACE Test gives you a way of objectively quantifying the utility of edtech tools.   Teaching can be hard enough -- don't burden teachers with tools that are difficult or expensive if you can avoid it or find a better alternative.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


As a classroom English teacher, I always fretted about feedback.  I worried I didn't give enough of it, I worried that it was not effective enough, and I worried that it just took too long.  If there was a digital way to enhance my methods, I was ready to try.  The trick with tech is always the pragmatic issues.  An excellent piece of edtech will ace Adam's ACE test.  Is it device Agnostic?  (Yes.) How much does it Cost? (Free!) How Easy is it to use?  (Very.)

As a notation tool that allows audio as well as text feedback, I played around with Notability my last few years of classroom teaching. There is much I can positively say about the product, but there are a few barriers worth noting: it takes a bit of a learning curve to figure out, it was only an iOS app until very recently, and it usually costs $9.99.  (In fairness, I should mention that it recently became available as a Mac app [MacBook users, take note!], handwritten notations are allowable, and it's currently on a holiday sale of $4.99.)

Which brings us to Kaizena.  It's free to use, the learning curve is not steep, and it can be accessed anywhere you have Internet access, so long as you integrate it with your Google Drive.

How does it work?  You have to first install Kaizena as an Add-On.  Open up your Google Drive, click the "New" button, find the "More" at the bottom, and choose "Connect More Apps."  You can search for Kaizena and okay any permissions.  From the teacher "dashboard" side, you can also do some management by going to Kaizena's website and logging in with your Google credentials.

Once installations are done, you can now annotate many documents inside of, or shared with, your Google Drive.  This includes Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but not Forms.  There are some workarounds for other types; for example, if you are willing to open a Word .doc as a Google Doc, you can annotate them as well.

Annotations are tied to highlighted text; the highlighter color can be changed if you and the students have a color-coded system.  Once highlighted, you are first asked if you want to tag it as a rubric criteria, as well as assess how well they did it; for example, a good opener could be annotated as a "hook" and given a 3 out of 4.  (You can also skip this step, and these criteria are saved as "Tags" under your management page/profile.)  After text has been highlighted, you have three types of annotations:

1)  You can leave an audio comment by recording directly in Kaizena.
2)  You can add a resource. A resource is a link to a website or video that further clarifies a concept the student may be missing.  These resources are stored under your account so you can reuse them, and can be managed and edited when you log directly into Kaizena.
3)  You can type a comment.

Keep in mind that you could do just one of the above items, or conceivably all four.  Your feedback is shared automatically and in real time;  students can get your commentary when they open their document and click on "Comments" in the upper right. Students can even give feedback to your feedback, creating an ongoing loop of communication.  (Kaizena will notify you of any feedback left from students to you.)

Here are three videos that will be helpful.  The first is a montage edited by Kaizena that gives a great overview demo of the tool (3:01):

This second video, also from Kaizena, has a narrator that could speak a bit quicker, but it's a good step by step for setting it up (5:02):

This last video is the longest and demos a slightly older version of Kaizena, but Stacy Behmer is thorough in excellently walking through installing and using Kaizena (11:20):

How could you use it?  You can see the advantage of communicating feedback through Kaizena; it's paperless, it's quick, and can be done in a mobile manner.  No stacks of papers at a desk -- you could assess work with a laptop anywhere there is an Internet connection.   Kaizena makes differentiating feedback very easy. Think of how using audio commentary combined with a few resource links could really change the paradigm of how students process feedback, reflect on teacher commentary, and effectively revise their work.  Remember, it's not only essays, but presentations and spreadsheets as well.  Students that install the app could also do peer evaluations of each other, and not only share their feedback with the writer, but with the teacher to keep you in the loop.

Downsides?  The only major hangup I can see is the issue of Google Drive; both the teacher and the student need it for this to work.  However, by having Google Drive (and a Google account in general), there are many other collaborative and creative work tools available, so it may be worth the time to set up.

Do you already use Kaizena, Notability or another annotation/feedback tool?   Please share in the Comments below.

Correction 12/3/14: I edited under "Downsides" about Kaizena not editing PDFs; as the comment below points out, it will work if you publish the PDF to Google Drive first.