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Friday, May 29, 2015

TUIT: Adam Hicks, Katrina Boone, Kari Patrick (Shelby County High School)

Today is the last day of school for students in Shelby County!  As the end of my tenth and final embedded school visit with Simpsonville Elementary comes to completion, I feel the inevitable wrapping up of Edtech Elixirs for 2014-2015 fast approaching.

As my last #ShelbyTUITshoutout for this school year, I want to highlight some previous work by three fine teachers at SCHS: Adam Hicks, Katrina Boone, and Kari Patrick.

(Quick plug: Adam is also our county's Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015!)

By reviewing their innovative work, we can also look ahead to what teaching may be like in our high school classrooms next year, as our 1:1 initiative begins.

Mr. Hicks, Ms. Boone and Ms. Patrick worked collaboratively on a new digital way of teaching, creating and revising writing in a blended learning digital environment. A few months ago, they discussed their "flipped writing" work at the 2015 KCTE/LA annual conference.  (Their presentation materials are on Mr. Hicks's website.)

First, as students begin writing their essays, Mr. Hicks has a series of tips pertinent to certain writing skills always accessible via his website.  (Here's an example on using text evidence.)

Next, after major writing assessments, student exemplars are chosen.  This honors excellent work and offers an authentic publishing opportunity.  However, as Mr. Hicks points out, the samples are not always from the same “good writers”; rather, a diversity of student work is showcased, since exemplars concentrate only on certain standards/skills, which exhibit the various strengths of each member of the classroom. Mr. Hicks considers this the most meaningful part of the flipped writing experience.

Lastly, students use digital remediation in a variety of ways: peer review, reflection, and revision.  The students create Google Blogs and Docs to share their thoughts and give commentary on work. (This is a great example to consider while training for GAFE next week!)

  • For Mr. Hicks's student directions on how to create a Remediation Blog, click here.
  • For examples of student blogs and Docs, scroll to the bottom of this page.
In addition, Ms. Boone and Ms. Patrick’s Hybrid Research Paper utilized a bank of videos, made by several 10th grade SCHS teachers, that gave pointers on certain writing standards and skills.  Students could access and revisit these videos “anytime, anywhere,” and the feedback from students on its impact has been positive.

These three outstanding teachers -- like so many of our #ShelbyTUITshoutout educators -- truly show the power of the digital conversion of learning, and how blended learning can be transformative for our district. May they be a model for the rest of us for how technology can help us aspire to heights we never thought possible.

Some last words for the hardworking teachers, admin, and staff in Shelby County Schools as they say goodbye to their students today: Cherish and celebrate! You have helped make academic growth, you have forged relationships, you have made a crucial difference in other people's lives. Education is never a final product, but always a process of becoming. Before you look forward to the summer ahead, look back and reflect on all your real accomplishments. I am proud and honored to be among you!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Flubaroo, Doctopus, and Goobric

Today, I thought I would discuss a very obscure, hardly ever used edtech tool:  Google.

Ahhh, I kid of course.  Of all the questions I got asked most often by teachers in our district this year, the top one must have been, "When will we get Google Apps for Education [GAFE, which rhymes with "laugh"] for Shelby County?"   (Unlike the public version of Google Drive, no individual can get GAFE; the district has to decide to activate it. ) So, Shelby County took the plunge mid-April, and we have been quietly having teachers activate their accounts over the last few weeks.   We won't stay quiet for long, though!  We are about to kick off a PD plan based on the "train the trainers" model.   First, a school team was chosen by each principal, consisting of a teacher, the Library Media Specialist, the Instructional Coach, and a district person (for example, I am a part of Wright Elementary's team).  All of these teams came together and were trained on Google in mid-May (thanks Laura Raganas!) and will lead several days of PD in the first week of June, right after our Closing Day.

When discussing GAFE, one of the key questions that come up is, "How is GAFE different than 'regular' Google Drive?"  Let's begin by first addressing the ways they are similar.  Drive in both modes still allows you create, collaborate with, and share files and folders.  They both have the same productivity apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and others) that allow you to make documents in the cloud in a way that never gets lost and constantly gets saved in the background.  However, there are some differences worth noting.  Here are some, but by no means all:

  • GAFE has an unlimited Drive space per user (compared to 15 GB for the public version).
  • GAFE operates in a "walled garden."  Besides the typical private/unlisted/public versions of regular Google documents, Sites, Blog, etc., you can also choose that certain things are only visible to users logged into the school domain.
  • GAFE users have access to Google Classroom, while public Google users do not.*
  • Many of the GAFE users' functions, such as Chrome apps and extensions, can be easily managed and pushed out by an admin console controlling the domain.

All of this info about GAFE is really just to give some context about today's entry.  These tools hold a lot of promise in transforming the way we collaborate and teach in our district.  One intriguing Google tool in particular is Google Forms, which is unlike Docs, Sheets, and Slides in that there is no direct Microsoft program that is its doppleganger.  At its most basic, Forms allows you to compile information from recipients -- this could be as simple as a survey.   Share the link and anyone can click on it to get to the Form and answer the questions. When you create a Form, a corresponding Sheet is made where the submissions are automatically organized and saved.   That said, it's the ability to use Google Forms as an assessment tool with students that I'm particularly excited about.  A survey could just as easily be a quiz and you could use the Sheet to review and grade answers manually.  However, what if you had a way to grade instantly, easily distribute copies of a template, and assess using a rubric that automatically attached itself to the bottom of a student's Doc?   Then you need Flubaroo, Doctopus, and Goobric.  The best part?  All three are free!

Flubaroo is a Google Add-on that is done on the Google Sheet where the submitted answers have gone.  (Find Add-on's like Flubaroo under Sheets top menu Add-ons > Get Add-Ons.  Each Add-on has to be installed with permissions given to run only once; afterwards, your Add-On will be available to run on all future Sheets when needed.)  Note that you as the teacher have to submit a correct set of answers via the Form for this to work, as Flubaroo will use this submission for an answer key.  Watch this video for how Flubaroo can grade your student's answers.  It's very easy and only takes a few times of practice before you will be an expert!

Doctopus is also another Add-on for Sheets.  It allows you to take an existing Google file -- for example, a Google Doc -- and easily send copies of it to a series of students from a previously created roster.  This in essence makes your document into a reproducible template, where the "copy" version will have its own unique file name that the student can edit without messing up your original, then share back to you for assessment.  (Note that Google Classroom does a very similar function.)  This video helps explain how to use Doctopus (thanks Jay Atwood!) as well as some general info on Google Add-ons:

Goobric is a Chrome app instead of a true Add-on.  Once installed on your Chrome browser, you are ready to partner up with Doctopus.  Goobric will take that shared template edited by your student and use a rubric (created by you, or now from a library of pre-made resources) that you can score.  This scored rubric, along with written feedback, will be attached to the bottom of the student's copy (IF it's a Google Doc) which means the student can easily see and review it.  Now you have a way of assessing more than just multiple choice quizzes; grading essays or projects can be done digitally as well.   This last video (again by Jay Atwood) walks through how to use Goobric:

Of course, there are other helpful Add-ons, but hopefully this gives you a sense of how Google Forms can truly change our efficacy and save time.   Good luck playing with these tools!

Do you use Flubaroo, Doctopus or Goobric?  What do you think of them, and how have you used them?  Share your Comments below.

*Although available to all GAFE users, we decided not to include training on Google Classroom next week for two reasons.  First, it allows us to spend more training time on other tools.  Second, we will get training on a true, robust Learning Management System when one is picked by the district and it rolls out in Fall 2015.   Starting next school year, you could decide to use Google Classroom if your students' GAFE accounts are added to the domain.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

TUIT: Zachary Ramsey, SC Area Technology Center

Zachary Ramsey is an English teacher at Shelby County's Area Technology Center, or ATC.  He has been on my radar for a #ShelbyTUITshoutout for quite some time.

I first was impressed by Mr. Ramsey in the middle of the school year, when he came over from the ATC to attend one of my after-school PD's at East Middle School.  His enthusiasm and willingness to learn was extremely evident.  I next began noticing his online presence.  Zachary has grown his digital PLN on Twitter by regularly engaging in multiple edchats, even making a guest blog appearance about Twitter on Coaching Corner Collaborative (run by Jennifer Cox and Tracy Huelsman).  Mr. Ramsey has also began blogging on his new website (PBL Place) about his classroom's Project Based Learning.

The latest nudge that lead to this entry came from a visit I made to the ATC a few weeks ago:

It was awesome to see students take a classic piece of literature and make it relevant -- in this case, using health sciences as a way of analyzing the charged emotional choices of the characters from Romeo and Juliet.

In addition, one of his students made an aura using Aurasma, an augmented reality (AR) tool that Zachary learned from an AR PD that I had presented in February.  Interested in learning more? Here's a short video that showcases how Aurasma can work in an elementary school setting. (While it's three years old, I like how it demonstrates the use of Aurasma by students.)

Congrats to Mr. Ramsey for his well-deserved and delayed #ShelbyTUITshoutout!

Monday, May 18, 2015

TUIT: Connie Putnam and Dan Edelen (Clear Creek Elementary)

Last Friday, a principal had asked if I could arrange a tour of teachers who were doing some innovative things with technology in the classroom.  As it turned out based on test scheduling and other conflicts, the best place to visit multiple teachers was Clear Creek, so away we went.  One of the teachers we saw was Janice Bullard. I had given Ms. Bullard a #ShelbyTUITshoutout back in October, so the fact that she became CCE's Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015 was not surprising.  However, after this visit, I have to make sure Connie Putnam and Dan Edelen also have their moments in the sun for their own well-deserved shoutout.

First, we saw Janice's fourth grade classroom.  I already knew she integrated tools such as Padlet and Voicethread, but her students impressed us with their ability to do so many different digital learning experiences in the same space.  Some worked individually, some had a partner or worked collaboratively in a small group, but ALL were engaged.  We even saw some use Google Docs, which makes me have hope of how it can be integrated into the learning of younger students.

Next, we visited Ms. Putnam, a second grade teacher.  After the students worked together on a learning objective ("Today we that we can.....I'll know I have it when..."), they quickly moved into learning centers to apply and practice their math knowledge. Some students had iPads, others used pencil and paper.  At the end of the lesson, Ms. Putnam used Plickers as a way to check for understanding as well as pre-assess what students may need her help on Monday.   However, I learned two ways to use Plickers that I didn't know before (and to think I considered myself an expert after this blog entry!); both involved the Smart Board.  The first is that a student who wanted to change their answer could go up and uncheckmark their box, which would enable his/her card to be scanned fresh.   Not only was that a helpful tip I didn't know, but I like how Connie had students take responsibility to make a do-over.  Second, after student answers were recorded and while still in Plicker's "Live View," Ms. Putnam asked for a volunteer to come up to the board and demonstrate their work.  Using the Smart Board pens, he did just that, writing in the empty space between the question and the student names. It was a clever way of integrating the Smart Board into the learning of the whole class.

Last but not least, we visited Dan Edelen, another second grade teacher who just passed his KTIP.  Dan and his students moved seamlessly through several tools: they started with a Kahoot (more about this tool in a previous entry), wrote reflectively in their KidBlog, and finished by sharing their work to Mr. Edelen's MacBook Air (which was hooked up to his Smart Board) via the downloadable program AirServer.  Like a virtual cloud-based AppleTV but without any need for special hardware, AirServer allows students to simultaneously share their screen with a main display computer.  There is a PC and Mac version, and the program has an one-time cost of $7.99 to $11.99.

Mr. Edelen showing his AirServer in action. Note the multiple shared student screens.
As the year draws quickly to a close, I was excited to see so many teachers in one building embracing a digital conversion of learning.  I should add that while all these CCE teachers check out school devices as often as possible, none have a class set full time.   Despite not having a daily 1:1 experience, they are still facilitating fantastic learning with their students.  Kudos to Ms. Putnam and Mr. Edelen (and a nod again for Ms. Bullard) for their #ShelbyTUITshoutout!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garlic Necklace, Not a Silver Bullet

It's now been two months since my attendance at ASCD's Annual Conference in Houston.  Upon reflection, what I learned there is still permeating and percolating in my consciousness, and has already lead to some transformative action.  (To take one example, I incorporated what I learned from Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann and changed my Flipping and Blending PD.)

One of the perks of ASCD membership is access to a wealth of resources, such as their monthly magazine Education Leadership.  In this month's May 2015 issue, a title of an article jumped out to me: "A Vision for Mobile Learning: More Verbs, Fewer Nouns," by Julie Evans.  As our district is waist-deep in charting our digital conversion course for next year and beyond, Ms. Evans reminded me that our concentration should NOT be on "the features of specific devices, concerns about infrastructure, and debates on policies to support (or limit) usage."  Rather, "educators need to pay much more attention to the learning goals associated with mobile initiatives" if they want to "transform teaching and learning."  As the title suggests, "the primary emphasis in many schools continues to be on the nouns of delivery mechanisms, rather than on the verbs that demonstrate the impact these devices have on learning efficacy and reaching important goals" (author's emphasis).

In my journey this year with our district, I have learned to juggle many nouns. Let's just examine Internet-capable devices I've found in our schools. Nearly every classroom has a Smart Board.  As the beginning of our digital conversion plan (and parallel with the creation of my position last summer),  teachers received either a MacBook Air or a Lenovo Yoga Win8 hybrid touchscreen laptop, a choice based on each individual school's decision.  Beyond that, devices for student use at each school include carts of iPads, laptops, Surfaces....and let's not forget labs full of desktop computers.  Looking ahead, we are currently neck-deep in discussion to determine what the student device of our 1:1 will be.

There is pressure to make the right choice, from within and without.  We want to spend money and time wisely, and make choices that will ultimately improve the learning of our students.  And like so many districts,  we eagerly wish for a silver bullet.  Can we find one clear tool -- for example, a student device -- that meets all of our needs simultaneously?

It then occurred to me, right in the middle of Evans's article, that the solution is not trying to answer that question but to question the question itself; in other words, to question the very premise of the metaphor "silver bullet."  Perhaps such narrow thinking in single-item solutions reveal bigger drawbacks.  We don't need a silver bullet that at best can kill a single werewolf; we need a garlic necklace that can affect multiple vampires, and all at once.  We need to change the paradigm and the metaphorical thinking.

Before you think I've gone looney (see what I did there with the moon reference?), remember I am a former classroom English teacher, and let me unpack my metaphors.

Why is a garlic necklace approach better?

  • More cost and time effective.  You just need garlic cloves and some string.  Silver bullets require...well, silver that's pricey, along with the time to smelt and shape the calibre bullet.  Before you pay considerable money on one tool, see if a choice can blend well with your existing materials people are already familiar with and meet your needs in an acceptable period of time.
  • Better longevity.  Garlic necklaces may do their job for days if not weeks.  Silver bullet is a "one and done." Will your choice of tools only meet one need and/or just fulfill one short term goal?  Sometimes that's necessary, but tools that can meet multiple needs of your visionary "big rocks" are usually better.
  • More user and environmentally friendly.  When it comes to tech, you need things that work well right out of the box with low learning curves whenever possible.  It should also play nice with what you have.  All you have to do with a garlic necklace is put it on and you're thwarting vampires.  Now consider all the ways a silver bullet can go wrong. It's useless without a firearm; if made even slightly wrong it won't fit the chamber; if you have bad aim, you won't have a chance to kill that werewolf.  How well does your edtech work on its own?  How easy is it to learn how to use it?  How well does it work inside your existing infrastructure?
  • Opportunity for personalization.  By the nature of what it takes to make a garlic necklace, yours will undoubtedly look a little different than mine, even if we are borrowing from the same bushel of cloves.  (Heck, you might even add a little flair.)   In the same way, even if utilizing the same cornucopia of digital tools or devices, a school or teacher might still customize how those tools will work together to serve unique needs.  On the other hand, from the very start of making a silver bullet, you are forced to consider the delivery system it is going in and make sure it fits.  We as educators often do the same thing with our digital materials: we force a tool to fit a prescribed perspective, without even questioning if the perspective itself is best for the "verbs" our students need.
  • Accepting messy reality instead of fruitless quests for purity.  Garlic cloves are less than perfect; they crumble and smell.  Silver bullets tantalize in their purity and tempt us to seek them out.  But be wary. I love Voltaire's saying that "Perfect is the enemy of good."  There may be times that a single tool as is meets all demands in its pure form.  More often than not, we must realize that a tool (or combination of tools) may meet many of our needs but hardly any one tool solves all of them.  Their are LMS's, for example, that do more or less than others and have varying prices. But it's possible you may have to pair a LMS with, say, an adaptive learning system that meet some of your other specific needs.  The key is, don't let the chase for "the" solution make you refrain from choosing any solution, even ones that are less than perfect.  You'll be fine as long as you always keep your objectives in mind.

(Yes, I noticed the irony of using a bulleted list to describe the benefits of a garlic necklace approach!)

It should be noted that there are times when one uniform tool might make sense.  For example, to make it easier on students going class to class, a school might benefit from choosing one LMS instead of using half a dozen.  But like anything, you have to weigh the pros and cons of conformity with the more essential needs for the school or district.

It is this type of open, honest reflection that goes straight to the heart of determining district and school level needs and the specific solutions that address them; for example, choosing a student device to purchase for a 1:1.  At first, it seems to make sense to seek the "silver bullet" -- something that does everything and does it with a twinkling flash.  After all, aren't the students worth a little silver?  But it would be better to determine your needs first, and see what resources you already have.  Maybe the correct answer to the wrongly worded question of "Do students need a tablet or a laptop?" is "Yes."  That's not to suggest that you have to have a budget-busting 2:1 or 3:1 or 5:1 initiative.  When considering a student device, if your main daily needs are accessing formative tools, playing streaming videos, sending emails, etc. and you only occasionally need a high-end video editing software suite or take pictures or run AutoCAD software for the entire student body (as opposed to, say, engineering students), do you have other resources to fulfill those short-term projects?   If you are like Shelby, the answer is absolutely yes -- see the third paragraph of this entry!  Indeed, it solves another hairy issue of what happens to all of your existing tech when you go 1:1.  It is not thrown away or sitting unused; the money spent on them has not been wasted. While your 1:1 device may be one kind of device, you still have access to laptop carts, iPads,  and computer labs (with large desktop hard drives and powerful processors) for specialized work.  And speaking of devices that do specialized work, let's not forget that many students already carry one in their pocket: a smartphone.*

All of this ties back into the article by Evans. Twenty-first century learners need that garlic necklace of options:
Students acknowledge that working with a smartphone or tablet can raise their engagement in class, but the stated reasons they value such machines have more to do with efficacy and the effectiveness of the learning process than with the compelling nature of the devices.  In addition, if we accept that most students' vision for learning places a high premium on social, untethered, digitally rich experiences, their optimum learning environment would have to include access to a wide range of mobile devices with differentiated functions that support many ways of learning and many kinds of final products.  One size does not fit all in students' prescription for effective mobile learning.
We must realize that "one size" -- one silver bullet device or tool, be it analog or digital -- does NOT fit all learners and modes of learning at all times.

As future-ready educators, our job is to not only be the "guide on the side" to facilitate their learning, but to also be the "dean of the screen"** that leverages the power of multiple mobile devices to meet students' needs.  On the way in that journey, we should not get hung up on operating systems or brand names or educational acronym fads. As always, the tools are merely methods to get students to communicate, collaborate, and critically think.  In the wonderful words of wisdom I will openly steal from Ross Vittore (Director of Innovative Learning at CCSD59), "We are not teaching students to Toyota or Honda.  We are teaching them to drive."

* I realized after originally publishing this entry that I had not even mentioned the power of personally owned smartphones or BYOD programs as part of a student's "garlic necklace."  I rectified that with a short mention here.

**After using this term, I Googled and found an obscure reference from the past.  Although used originally as a reference to cinema, I must give a nod of the head to J. Stuart Blackton for originally coining this phrase.

As a side note, the Evans article also has some great data on the results of Speak Up surveys from 2014 that include student voices on how they want to learn.  I was particularly interested in Project Tomorrow's recent white paper findings on "Digital Learning 24/7." The infographic "Ten Things Everyone Should Know about K-12 Students' Digital Learning," gathered from over 400,000 Speak Up participants, is highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TUIT: Traci Georges, Simpsonville

I have struggled throughout this school year to find a good video editing tool to share.  It's certainly not from a lack of choices!  I have played with iMovie on an iPad as well as my MacBook Air; in the past, I have had my own students use Windows MovieMaker for projects; I've edited personal films at home with Adobe Premiere.  There are things about each of these I enjoyed, but for practical classroom use they have limitations.  iMovie and especially Adobe Premiere are costly, and the learning curve can be steep.  All are limited to a certain OS and can only edit video stored on the local hard drive of that particular computer/device.

I had heard of WeVideo before (and had known some Shelby teachers who used it), but I haven't had the time to check it out.  When I discovered Simpsonville's National Board Certified art teacher Traci Georges was using it with her elementary students, I was finally motivated to try it, and what I found inspired me to give her a #ShelbyTUITshoutout!

The advantages of WeVideo are quickly apparent:

  • It's free, although there are some limitations, such as 5 minutes a month of publishing time.*
  • It's cloud-based editing and storage, so you can access your projects anywhere you can get to the Internet, on any device or OS.
  • Besides the website, you can access your projects via an Android or iOS app, and it can be integrated into your Google Drive.
  • The URLs of finished videos can be shared and played straight from WeVideo.
  • It's easy to use, yet adaptable to your learning curve.  You can start with a Storyboard mode (which reminds me of MovieMaker) and move up to Timeline mode for a more professional, Premiere-like experience.
*An annual $249 K-12 account gives you 50 student accounts with 10 GB of cloud storage and one  hour a month of publishing time per account.

Here's a short video that shows the Storyboard interface, but also serves as a good introduction to WeVideo:

Back to Ms. Georges!  She has had multiple roles in her 25 years in education.  Traci spent 13 years at Southside Elementary as a Hearing Impaired Teacher, then 12 years at Simpsonville teaching many different grade levels.  This year is her first as an art teacher, although she has always been an artist.

WeVideo is not the first video editing program she has tried to use with students. "I have used MovieMaker and had lots of trouble," Ms. Georges explained. "We tried xtranormal in 4th grade several years ago.  The students had fun, but our computers were too slow to handle the site. WeVideo is so much faster. Very student friendly."   Her students have edited several projects with the tool, including a "virtual museum" of Ft. Harrod with fourth graders, and a reoccurring school news show (WSES) focused on the Seven Habits.

We are thankful for Traci's years of experience and her willingness to challenge our younger students with technology integration!  Congrats to Ms. Georges for earning a #ShelbyTUITshoutout.

Do you use WeVideo?  Have another favorite video editing tool?  Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Friday, May 8, 2015

TUIT: Nicholas Edwards, Painted Stone Elementary

I'm about to finish my first week at Simpsonville Elementary, my last embedded school of the year.  But let me do a quick flashback to my previous school, Painted Stone, in order to give a #ShelbyTUITshoutout to Nicholas Edwards!

Nick is a 5th grade teacher who heard of EDpuzzle from one of my PD presentations.  (If you're unfamiliar with the tool, read more in my previous blog entry.)   Mr. Edwards decided to try it as part of his sub plans over multiple day with different substitutes, which caught my attention and I therefore reached out to see how it went.

How easy was it to make the EDpuzzle video?

Extremely easy, I just had to watch the video and add captions.

You had explained to me earlier that the students didn't have an account to answer questions individually, so you used EDpuzzle in a more presentational way.  How did that work? How easy was it for a substitute to follow your plans?

The subs really seemed to like it, and I just had to leave them the video and the link and say play the video. I told them the video explained the information, so they led the discussion as the questions came up.

Any last thoughts or reflection on EDpuzzle that you want to share?

It was extremely easy to create, and easy to use. It makes videos more interactive for the kids as I had them reflect about the video and the questions.

Congrats to Nick for earning a well deserved shoutout!