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Friday, March 27, 2015

Edtech Share Fair 2015

There are two things I can say about March.  One is that it has been extremely busy...KySTE and the snowmaggedon.....ASCD in Houston....and last but not least, our first ever Edtech Share Fair.   The second thing I can say about March is that I have way too many "Post-.... Wrapup" entries.  So just to be contrary, I'm just calling this one "Edtech Share Fair 2015."  I know, I know.....the educational world is trembling at my non-conformity.

The Share Fair story lends itself well to pictures and tweets; more on that in a moment.  I will say how extremely pleased I was at the turnout (over 50 attendees, including visitors from Henry and Nelson County!), the modern facility (the newly christened Blair Center next to Southside Elementary) and of course, the presenters themselves.  All nine deserve acclaim, so I'll list them now: Makenzi Hunter, Mindi Keiner-Rummel, Maddie Meyer, Adam Hicks, Lindsay Ricke, Karen Falkenstine, James Wampler, Bart Roettger, and Eric Miracle.  (Congrats also to Adam Hicks and Lindsay Ricke for just being named Teachers of the Year at their schools!)  We were also fortunate enough to get written up in our local newspaper, The Sentinel News. The article by Ashley Wilkins is here.

From the website.  Grab a copy on the newsstand today!

I run the risk of sounding like an Oscar speech, but I want to publicly thank several people that made the Edtech Share Fair a success.  I was blessed with the support of our superintendent James Neihof and deputy superintendent Lisa Smith, who encouraged me to run with the idea and think as big as possible.  Our CIO Tommy Hurt and his IT team made sure the tech was in place to ooh and ahhh the crowd.  Our staff developer Lora Shields helped out behind the scenes and at our Share Fair check-in desk, making sure everything went smooth.  Our Instructional Coaches worked tirelessly these last few months, from getting teachers to put in a presentation proposals to getting attendees to the event; in particular, a huge shoutout to Fox DeMoisey, Maggie Terry, and Robyn Marcum for being part of our Share Fair committee who sifted through proposals, gave good advice, and were there to help as the event was running.   Last but not least, thank you to anyone that came. Without an audience, the presenters would have had a looooong afternoon staring at each other.  I truly hoped you had good takeaways!

And now the promised tweets and pictures!  I put together a Storify that captures the event well.

Did you go to the Share Fair?  Feel free to leave your Comments about the event below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Post-ASCD Houston Wrapup

With just over 24 hours before our inaugural Edtech Share Fair, I am busy coordinating last minute details. But I wanted to take time to reflect on the ASCD annual conference last weekend. First, a picture:

I went to Houston with our district deputy superintendent Lisa Smith and several of our best and brightest secondary level teacher-leaders: Katrina Boone, Melissa Chesterfield, Adam Hicks, Amanda Hum, Christi Mishio, Elyse Overton, Lindsay Ricke, and James Wampler.  This year's focus was on "Disruptive Innovation," and it certainly gave us plenty to consider.

I participated in so many great sessions that it is nearly impossible to summarize or choose which ones to share without feeling guilty of ones I will omit.  With that in mind, I'll still plunge ahead and share highlights from three of my favorite presentations:


I was excited to see Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams in the flesh.  Bergmann and Sams are pioneers in flipped classrooms (I mentioned them in a previous entry, and their Edutopia toolkit on flipped is here).   Some of their excellent points:
  • Don't let equity stop you from flipping!  Bergmann and Sams mentioned a recent Pew survey that stated student home Internet access is as high as 95%.   A few years ago, they had started with DVDs and thumb drives to supplement those that didn't have Internet in some form.
  • Start teachers with the question, "What is the best use of your in-class face to face time?"  With this in mind, see how flipped can help.  As always, it's not the tool, but how it is integrated.
  • "The ideal flipped classroom has choice."  It doesn't have to always be videos; it could be games or something else interactive. Try to differentiate videos or other options for students.  In addition, if you use videos, keep them SHORT.  They recommend 1 to 1 1/2 minutes long per grade level, so an average senior video would be around 15 minutes.
  • Don't assume students know how to actively watch videos at home.  Model in class how students should take notes or use whatever reflection tool you desire.
  • Consider the four hurdles to flipped and blended learning: thinking (it's a different teaching model and both teachers and students need to process through it), technology (what tools will you use?), training (don't just flip videos and expect mastery; teachers need good models), and time (give time for teachers and student to learn; consider what teachers will do with "extra" in class time).
  • Last but not least, don't just stop with flipping videos. Go deeper!  Flipping and blending can be combined with many other pedagogies:


I had the privilege to see Superintendent of BCPS (Baltimore County, MD) S. Dallas Dance speak about his district's S.T.A.T initiative, which began in 2013-2014.  Dance strives to bring equity and equality to the students of his district.  Two key components of BCPS's Theory of Action are:

  1. All students will have equitable access to device....not just for each student, but equality across schools. Students will graduate with a positive digital footprint.
  2. All will have opportunity to learn second language, which begins in 4th grade!

Personalized learner-center environments are keys to success in BCPS:

S.T.A.T. – Learner-Centered Environments from Baltimore County Public Schools on Vimeo.

This involves everything from technology to flexible furniture arrangements to even the language teachers use to reflect the students owning the learning.   Technology integration began in elementary pilot schools and over the next several years will work its way up to high school; Dance spoke often of "going slow in order to go fast."  Language acquisition is facilitated by an ELL teacher who spends one day per school (ratio: one teacher per five schools) combined with daily lessons in an online platform.

I want to spend some more time fully exploring the S.T.A.T website and following BCPS's journey.


The last session I will share was presented by Beth Holland.   She pointed out the difference between technology simply being used, and tech being used (I would say "integrated") effectively.  Holland pointed out the five key questions when evaluating edtech integration effectiveness:

  1. Are students engaged?  (Engagement does not equal learning, but without engagement, they cannot learn.)
  2. Are students constructing their own understanding?
  3. Are students creating artifacts as evidence of their own understanding?
  4. Are students reflecting on their learning?
  5. Are students sharing their learning? (Not the same as publishing!  Is there true interaction between two or more people?)

 Her presentation was rich with teacher and student examples.   To take one example: Mark Engstrom had students integrate a "collaborate and curate" strategy for taking notes during his lectures.  He creates groups of students to work together in a method that fits their learning style (visual, interpersonal, logical/linear, etc.) making each student have a role in the classroom's "digital learning farm."

Collaborate & Curate from langwitches on Vimeo.

One group Googled facts and sites that supported and added to the lecture information; another found images that corresponded with what was said; a third group did Cornell style notes; a fourth did a TodaysMeet where they posted questions verbally asked during the lecture as well as questions of their own, along with any connections to the material.  (The first three did their collaborative work via Google Docs.)  Halfway through, Engstrom did a check-in with all the digital spaces to see how the groups were doing, correcting and praising as necessary.  At the end of the lecture, each individual student had access to the multiple digital spaces and was responsible for curating their own notes, checked by Engstrom.   And you thought lectures couldn't be powerful learning opportunities!


We left Houston invigorated and excited not only to apply what we learned, but to share it with others.  So whether you are down the hall or an email away, seek the teachers out and ask them to describe some of their favorite sessions.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Mention in Star Wars Insider!

Today's entry is short, but for a Star Wars fanboy like myself, I have some news that makes me giddy.  First, some context.  Back in November of last year, I wrote a blog entry about an English unit I created around Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope.  The unit lead to a series of events, including having my materials posted on Star Wars In the Classroom and at Quirk Books (Doescher's publisher), as well as a guest turn on Dan Zehr and Cory Clubb's podcast Coffee with Kenobi.

Dan recently wrote "Much to Learn You Still Have," an article for the latest issue (#156) of Star Wars Insider. In it, he was kind enough to give my English unit a plug!

My dreams of visiting Skywalker Ranch or having a cameo in Episode 8 or 9 may never be realized, but to get a mention in my favorite film series's official magazine is a fantastic consolation prize and a thrill beyond words.  I am extremely grateful for Dan including me in his excellent article.  Educators of all grade levels, please hit the newsstands and pick up a copy so you can read it -- the article discusses with depth K through college examples of how Star Wars can impact learning.

Besides a shoutout of appreciation to Dan, Cory, and Ian, let me finish this entry by giving thanks to Thomas Riddle and Wes Dodgens at SWITC and Eric Smith at Quirk Books for their support.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Post-KySTE 2015 Wrapup

It's a week of transitions and reflections here at Edtech Elixirs.  Yesterday, Shelby County kicked off its Thinking Strategies Institute, being held at our brand new Learning Center (the same site where our March 26 Edtech Share Fair will be held . . . hint hint, plug plug).  Today marks my last day at Wright Elementary, and I begin my embedded stay at Heritage Elementary tomorrow.   And last but not least, I have a chance to catch my breath and reflect on last week's KySTE 2015 conference.

As always, the conference was full of affirmation, inspiration, and new edtech tools, and I'd like to share some of it with you.  The following is not meant to cover every beat of every session I attended, but simply a highlight of memorable moments and tools.

Wednesday, March 4
Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Thomas Nelson High School and learning about their fantastic school culture and staff-wide deep use of Google Drive from Wes Bradley (principal) and Heather Warrell.  (It tells you a lot about Heather and TNHS when you find out her title is "Vice Principal of School Culture and Instruction.")   On KySTE's opening day, Heather had a session about the various innovations of her school. Although I already knew many of the technical ways TNHS is excelling and impacting learning, I still learned new facets at Heather's session.  For example, when the school opened three years ago, they decided not to buy any filing cabinets for teacher classrooms.  The reason was twofold: to encourage teachers to start fresh and not use the same lesson plans from years ago, and to embrace Google Drive as a digital repository, sharing and creation space.  (The integrated use of Google Drive at TNHS is remarkably dense; to take just one example, teachers create lesson plans in Google Slides saved in department shared folders, which can be commented on and viewed in real time by administrators, and are actually presented by the teachers to classes of students for "Scholar Starters," share agendas, and a guide through the day's activities.)   Heather and Wes encourage their staff to #flycloser to the sun -- to dare to dream and not be afraid of lofty goals.  Their academic performance reflects their passion; their composite ACT average has grown from 18.6 to 20.9 in just three years. But their culture is more than scores.  Every Friday they take time at a faculty meeting to celebrate staff accomplishments for the week; college acceptance letters adorn hallways; astronaut pictures (often with teachers' faces Photoshopped in) and aircraft carrier murals make the launching of learning obvious and inevitable.  In short, Thomas Nelson is a fantastic place and worth a visit if you can make it.  If you do, say hi to their purple cow!

Leslie Fisher shared new Web 2.0 tools.  I learned of a few sites I had not heard about before. Quizizz is a formative assessment tool that is similar in flashy style to Kahoot but with one important distinction: the question and answer choices are pushed directly to the device, so a projector is not necessary.   Publicly shared quizzes are available or you can create your own, and reports of student results can be exported.  Screenleap allows you to easily share your screen with others for free; students would only need your "share code" to see your broadcast. Educators can get up to 2 hours a day at no charge, but the free account is limited to sharing with 8 students at once.  (For $15 a month, you can broadcast up to 8 hours and share with 30 students.)

Leslie also pointed out that TodaysMeet now has "Teacher Tools" for $5 a month that puts teacher's posts in a chat room at the top (easier for students to see and follow), and allows password protected chats.

Bret Foster is the CIO of Anderson County, and he discussed the recent upgrades of the school libraries of his district.   (Read the Kentucky Teacher article about the county's renovations.) His goal is to make the library used by students all of the time.  Bret shared a tip to make more space: run a report on checkouts, and donate any books that have not been checked out in five years.  After one of his libraries did this report, they gave away 65% of their books!  Many of the upgrades were inexpensive, like making the tops of some tables dry erase boards by installing shower wall, and adding casters to table legs to make them easy to move for collaboration. In the future, the libraries plan to house their own Minecraft servers for students to locally and privately build their own virtual worlds.   Bret's session really made me think on how we use (and misuse) learning space.

Thursday, March 5
Well, there was this little snowstorm that happened.  Maybe you saw something about it on the news.  I was desperate not to miss sessions as well as scheduled to present one of my own, so I dug out the driveway and backed out into the street . . . where I immediately got stuck and needed neighbors just to push my car back into the garage.

So I tried to temper my disappointment by participating in the marathon 24 hours of #KyEdChat, a side event to the KySTE conference.  After being a participant, I was the moderator later that night on the topic of augmented reality tools, and I was very grateful for the co-moderation help of Jennifer Cox.  It was exhilarating, exhausting, and fun!  We were also extremely thankful that a separate group of Indiana educators joined us who usually use the hashtag #INeLearn.  The party responsible for reaching out across the river is Michelle Green, who was fantastic enough to archive our chat as a Storify here.

Friday, March 6
Half of my final day of KySTE was spent being a presenter.  First, I was able to host my augmented reality tools presentation after all, thanks to someone else having to cancel their session.  Secondly, I took part with a group (Tommy Hurt and Susie Burkhardt) to discuss Shelby County's tech initiative and how the construction of Southside Elementary fits our 21st century goals.

I also sat in on a session by KDE's Marty Park, who shared some of the basics of how to set up Google Apps for Education (GAFE) / Google Classroom with our network sign-in structures.  (For the slides and other resources from his sessions, Marty created a special page for KySTE 2015 on his website.)

Last but not least, what visit to KySTE would be complete without going to at least one session of Donnie Piercey, the Google certified educator and eminent Eminence educator?  He focused on tips and tricks of Google (a well as other useful sites) that were geared toward the K-5 crowd.  I encourage you to check out Donnie's Google doc with more, but here are my top five of his shares:

  • If you type an equation into Google's search box, you can not only get the answer, but an interactive calculator will appear.  (You can just Google "google calculator" as well.) Google can even recognize order of operations and do higher math functions like an area of a rectangle or plotting a line graph.
  • Do you have a class economy with cash, salaries, and jobs...but hate keeping up with the paperwork and the photocopied currency? can create a virtual economy for free for up to 50 students.
  • In a Google document, you can Insert > Image > Take a Snapshot and use your webcam to take a picture.  Donnie gave an example of students answering a math problem in a shared doc, but if you want them to "show their work," have them take a snapshot of their pencil-and-paper computations.
  • Peanut Gallery Films uses your spoken text and incorporates it as titles in a silent movie.  The final short film can be shared via URL.  Perhaps you can use it for teacher reminders (they would have more fun hearing about a project deadline if a movie is telling them), or for students to do short captures of their understanding ("What did you learn today?" "What was the key facts from today's content?").
  • I knew that Google was archiving thousands of newspapers for accessing online.  (Reminds me of my student days in high school when I went to the library to look at microfiche.)  However, I didn't know this trick: after you find an article, click on "Link to Article" on the right.  Next, click on a headline, and you will get a URL you can share that will take students straight to that newspaper article.

I look forward to KySTE 2016.  Except this time, there better be no snow.

If you attended KySTE this year, share your thoughts below in Comments!  What were some of your favorite sessions?  What new tool are you excited to try out?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Here we are on the eve of KySTE 2015, and what better way to celebrate than to share a new tool?

It's strange how the world works.  Infuse Learning is an assessment tool I've plugged in several of my PDs in the past.  Unfortunately, they recently sent out a mass email and wrote a blog entry informing its users that the site will close down permanently on April 3.   Although there were some beta and buggy issues that sometimes compromised the tool, it had a lot going for it, and it was hard to complain about its cost (free!).

But as one door closes, another one opens.  Usually when a company follows me on Twitter, I give its website a glance for 30 seconds and move on.  However, a few weeks back, the folks at Formative got my attention.  I looked at their site....and looked at it some more.  That led to a slew of emails and a Skype chat with Kevin McFarland (one of its creators), and here I have to give praise. McFarland has gone above and beyond answering my questions and demoing this new website with me.  He's a former educator with a passion for his product, and it shows.  Now, McFarland admits that Formative is just out of beta with some powerful upgrades still around the corner, but I have to be honest: even from playing with it as is, I can tell this will quickly become one of my favorite formative assessment tools.  Plus, it is completely free.

How does it work?  Formative is a Web 2.0 tool that is device-agnostic -- if you can get to the Internet you can use it.  Basically, a teacher can create formative assessments (Formative calls them "assignments," as a reminder that the site can be more than just a quizmaker) and students can take them one of two ways: either in a "open" way that requires no account or registration, or they can log in to begin a data trail tied to their name.  In a novel touch, when teachers create assessments, they are given either a "Quick Code" or a direct URL they can share with students that would technically work in either registered or unregistered mode.  This dual nature of Formative is powerful.  The open mode makes it easy for teachers to try it out with their class, and allows students to take assessments in seconds (much like the open systems of Nearpod's "sessions" or joining a Socrative "room number").  On the other hand, registered accounts will eventually allow student data to be collected and analyzed over time, something that is beyond the current capabilities of Nearpod and Socrative.  While on the subject of those two popular tools, Formative has obviously studied them and others in an attempt to bring the best options together in one product.

There are two types of assignments that a teacher can create: "build your own from scratch," or "upload & transform a document."

Build your own from scratch:  After deciding on your assignment title, you can either "Add a Question" or "Add Content."  For questions, you can choose a typed response, multiple choice, true or false, or "show your work," which is basically a whiteboard tool for students.  (This drawing function reminds me of one of my favorite aspects of Nearpod.)  For content, you can easily embed a YouTube video, or draw and share something you created on a whiteboard.  There is also a Rich Text Format editor as a content option, but I had issues successfully embedding code or making hyperlinks active; at the very least, this could function as an informational text box inside your assignment.  The RTF editor aside, the tools were easy to manipulate and edit.  In an upcoming upgrade, McFarland says you will even be able to tag questions with specific Core Content standards.  The eventual implications of this is enormous; for example, perhaps you could see how one student is handling a specific standard, or run a report of all the standards with how your class is doing with them.

Upload & transform a document:  This to me is one of the more awesome aspects of Formative.  We often talk of making a paperless classroom, but for many teachers like myself, we have reams of great assessments that either exist as paper versions only (you could scan it and make a PDF, but then what?) or are carefully crafted in an electronic document that doesn't easily lend itself to be reconfigured as a quiz.  How do you make the bridge? Formative has the easiest solution I've seen so far.

If you choose upload, you are confronted with a myriad of choices, as the picture below shows.

In Formative's upload tool, you can transform a website, access your Google Drive for docs, access Facebook (!) or even take a picture (!!), among several other options.
Once uploaded and transformed, Formative allows you to edit the assignment in various ways.  The most obvious is you can add "answer boxes" wherever you like in whatever size you like.  Answer types not only include text and multiple choice, but drawing and taking a picture!  (You also have a whiteout tool to "cover" part of your upload if necessary.)   You can delete pages you don't need and resize, delete or move any boxes after the fact.

After an uploaded assignment is saved, you can choose it from your Dashboard, go to Live Results, and edit the answer key for automatic grading of right and wrong answers.  I like how you can list multiple answers as correct ("30," "Thirty" and "thirty," for example).  The Dashboard will give the assessment's Quick Code or direct URL, and allow a teacher to see students' answers in real time.   The default grade value of each question is 10 points, which you can change.  As students answer, you can manually change the right/wrong answer grades as well as assess the qualitative responses, like drawing or text.   Here again, Formative has a unique tool with a red to green "slider" which can make the points go from zero to the maximum amount.  (According to McFarland, giving additional written feedback in this same slider area is a near-future upgrade.)  From the Dashboard, you can click "Export" and download an Excel spreadsheet that gives a simplified, but useful, report on all the students who have taken your assignment.

Clearly this student has not watched Star Wars.
Like any brand new tool, there are some quirks that you either need to be aware of to avoid or will hopefully be improved in future versions.  I already mentioned the RTF editor issues when creating an assignment from scratch.  When working with an uploaded document, I hit a few walls.  For example, if you add answer boxes to multiple pages and then decide to delete some of those pages, you will notice under Live Results that the "deleted" answer boxes are still there.  (Perhaps delete the answer boxes BEFORE deleting the pages.)  Multiple choice answer boxes create how many letters and number of choices you want (A, B, C...) but you can't actually add answers to each letter (A: blue, B: red....), so if the multiple choice selections aren't already on the uploaded document, you are probably better off with a text response.  Another annoyance is that if you add an answer box after the fact in the middle of two existing answer boxes, the number assigned is not in sequence but what would actually be the next number as if it is at the end.  For example, if after making an assignment with 36 answer boxes, you decide to go back and put an answer box between #7 and #8, it will number it #37.  Issues like these actually led to me deleting my uploaded assignment and starting over, so for now, plan your uploaded assignment creations carefully.  But these are quibbles.  I cannot stress enough how awesome it is that Formative can magically transform your existing documents into digital assignments; it's a game changer and by itself makes the site worthy of a try-out.

How could you use it?  As mentioned previously, Formative's strength is that it could do the best of both worlds.  If you want students to interact with digital assessments without registering, you can easily do so via its Quick Codes or public links (much like Nearpod or Socrative requires no student account to interact with its tools).  If you plan on using it often and want longitudinal data, students can create accounts and you can eventually analyze their answers over time.  And don't forget your ability to digitally convert existing documents, or even transforming a webpage or a picture into an interactive assessment.  Last but not least, a flipped/blended or differentiated classroom experience can be as easy as handing out Quick Codes. Simply put, Formative is one of the most user-friendly and powerful formative tools I've found.

Downsides?   You may have to wait a few more months for some more useful upgrades like tagging questions with Common Core standards and giving written feedback, but patience will be rewarded with this tool.  Mr. McFarland really cares about input from teachers that can improve the product, so this is a site that can only get better.  He also promised that the core product will always be free for teachers, and that's music to my ears.

Go now and get Formative!  If you are already a user or after you try it out, leave a Comment below and share your successes and challenges with the tool.

Monday, March 2, 2015

24 Hours of #KyEdChat

With just over a day to go before the beginning of KySTE 2015, another quick announcement.   #KyEdChat will have 24 hours of educational social media conversation starting at 10 am EST on March 5 and ending 10 am EST on March 6.  Spearheaded by Donnie Piercey and others, this marathon of twittering will nicely parallel with the last two days of KySTE.

I was flattered to be invited on this adventure.  This is my first time creating questions and moderating a #KyEdChat, so I'm very thankful and excited. My time slot is 9 to 10 pm EST on Thursday, March 5, and the conversation topic will be an extension of my KySTE session earlier that morning (pragmatic augmented reality tools, as I detailed in my previous blog post).   Thanks in advance to Jennifer Cox (instructional coach at Collins High School) for helping me moderate the session.  If you can't join for my slot, there are 23 others to pick from, so grab your device and tweet!

And now I will leave you with a very cool animated GIF.