Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Elementary 1:1 Must-Haves!

This year we have embarked on an adventure that would make Captain Cook jealous. At Rock Valley, uncharted territory is our game. For a number of years, our students have had fantastic access to technology. We have never steered away from trying new things. We have the Smartboards and once used the associated "Clickers" (aka Responders). We have Apple TVs, iPads, Macbooks, Smart TV's, TouchScreen TV Displays, a 3D printer, Laser name it. With these adoptions, thankfully, came the addition of a technology integrationist (that's me!) who left the classroom to fulfill one of my biggest passions- ed tech that's rooted in best practices. If you've followed my blog long enough, you know that I'd die on the sword for my philosophy of only using technology where it is the BEST tool for the job. After all, it's not about the technology, it's about the learning!

We are starting our fifth year of 1:1 in grades 6-12. Over the last four years, I have watched the technology-skittish turn into 21st-century champions of their craft. I have seen things tried, failed, and tried a new way. I have watched our CET department start up a student-run "real-world" business run, in large part, by computers and digitized machines (more on that in an upcoming post). The pride I have in our teachers and students is extraordinary. I head to conferences and share about what we are doing only to see baffled faces ask "You're doing all of that in Iowa? In a school of 850 students?" Yup.

This year, we branched out even further. In looking at standards and knowing what our kids need to be successful in their futures, and in keeping with our district's motto to "Teach Today's Students for Tomorrow", it was decided that the best way to go about this was to get a device into each student's hand. When coupled with training in best practices and research-based ed tech sites and apps, this is powerful. It was time for our littlest people to see that the 3 R's need to get in touch with the 4 C's of technology integration: creativitycritical thinkingcommunication, and collaboration.

In keeping with our goal of providing the best tool for the job, teacher input was key. Our fourth and fifth-grade teachers opted for Macbook Airs to suit their curricular needs. Our first through third grades opted for iPads as their Tool de Choix. There are a plethora of excellent app choices to bolster the 4 C's and 3 R's. While our list of apps is far lengthier than this post should ever be, here are a few of the key players we wouldn't be without...

1. Google Drive- We are a Google Apps school, which means that we have the ability to provide protected usernames and passwords to Google Apps we can use across grade levels. It's free, so there's really no excuse to avoid 'Going Google'. We fully utilize the suite of apps in grades as low as first! Don't underestimate their abilities. Having a device for each student means signing in one time (can I get an amen?!?)

2. Class Dojo- This judo master of free ed tech classroom management had a big facelift this summer to include digital portfolios, in addition to its already fundamentally sound classroom management/behavior tracker. While I am NEVER a proponent of public displays of student behaviors, when done correctly, Dojo can provide students and parents with weekly summaries of both positive and negative behaviors. These notifications can and should be a springboard for communication with the student at home (They made great, positive conversations at our dinner table!). And the Digital Portfolio feature is fantastic. Much like that of SeeSaw (another favorite of mine), students scan their class code and take pictures or videos of their work for private viewing by family members who have set up their account and linked it to their child. Teachers have the option to share Class Stories to the entire group, as well.

3. MackinVIA- This free platform for digital reading has so many extras that make it perfect for readers of all age. With book purchases from our AEA (ESU's for some of you), we have a solid offering of thousands of titles, including audiobooks and alternate language titles. With us also using Accelerated Reader to level books, MackinVIA has the ability to sync with a school's AR login for student testing within the app. Couple that with built-in dictionaries and databases, note-keeping "backpacks", and a robust search engine, kids have all that they need to be supported with their reading and research.

4. Nearpod- This doozie is another favorite for a number of reasons. Besides having a library of ready-made and yet fully customizable lessons at your fingertips (many of them totally free), Nearpod offers a user-friendly platform for creating lessons that are engaging, interactive, and assessable. Not only can you upload those well-crafted Powerpoints of yesteryear for use within Nearpod, you can build in interactive activities within the slides to make it current and in keeping with the goals of 21st-century learning. Nearpod has also fairly recently provided excellent Digital Citizenship curriculum for students in grades K-12. Common Sense Education partnered with Nearpod to create 4 bands of age-appropriate content for teaching students about what it means to behave in this digital world. With paid school accounts, this material is completely free. The cost is not outrageous, though, if you opt to purchase them. They have had specials on and off all summer! We use this curriculum as the core of our Digital Citizenship teaching in the district.

5. Write About This- Our newly adopted writing app has so many incredible features, it was a no-brainer to add it to all of our iPads. To be completely forthright, we used to be avid ScribblePress users. However, this spring, they made a great update to this app. What's the bad news?? All those paid app codes of the previous version were rendered completely useless, and if I wanted to use it, they wanted me to re-purchase all of the licenses. Nope. I don't enjoy being played.  Enter Write About This. This nifty app has offered a tremendous alternative with its options for picture prompts, audio-recording options(also great for those with dexterity issues!), and a professional appearance that is easy to share directly from the app. The personalization makes it a grow-with-me writing application that can be used throughout our students' school years.

6. Scan- QR codes have offered teachers a wide variety of easy sharing options, easing the deadly "type in this gigantic URL and don't make any mistakes" direction that used to strike fear in the heart of any educator. is probably my favorite for creating such codes to link to sites, videos, etc... However, I have noticed in recent years that scanning apps have really taken a nose-dive. We all need to have funds to function, I get that, but many scanning apps have sold out to the highest advertising bidder. This often leaves sideline ads that are completely inappropriate for the school environment. Thus, Scan. This app, while paid, is worth its salt. It picks up codes incredibly swiftly, not requiring the massive amounts of hand-eye coordination that some do.

7. Google Classroom- Being a Google Apps school made this a no-brainer, but I got the sideways stare from early elementary teachers when I first recommended its use in their classroom. "But we don't have homework" and other sentences were quickly chewed and swallowed when we delved into this during our technology in-service day. Now our teachers have a quick way to poll their class, share videos or other websites, provide a Google Doc that auto-generates a student copy for each kid, and neatly stores all of those documents in folders in their Google Drive. Once again, it's a once-and-done sign in that saves the day (and SOOO much time) in the long run.

8. AR 360- For schools like us who use Accelerated Reader, this will be your new go-to. Before, students and teachers needed to sign onto either the AR app or the STAR app to complete whatever function was needed. No more. With the death of the STAR app last week, teachers went into panic mode wondering how they were going to access the STAR test from an iPad without having to type in a lengthy URL. Besides being able to "Save to Home Screen" from Safari, the answer came through AR 360, which reports being a one-stop-shop for all things Renaissance Learning. Teachers are even able to assign readings to students. Win!

9. EPIC!- Another reading app, this excellent app provides additional digital titles, audiobooks, and alternate language reading for students. There are no longer student excuses for not finding a book that interests them. Between MackinVIA and EPIC!, there are tens of thousands of options and no need to leave the classroom or wait for a library book to be returned. Teacher accounts are free and students can be entered under your name. However, home use is paid (that's how they make their cash). It's still a definite must-have for schools.

Well, there you have it. I'll be focusing a lot of my efforts this year to giving you specific examples of what we are doing within our school walls. With every conference at which I present, I get more and more requests to share about what we, I aim to please. Until next time...


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Badging....It's Not Just for Boy Scouts

My friend Sarah and I have an agreement. The day either of us shows up at work in an apple-embroidered frock or wearing wooden jewelry that features pencils and the like, the other is to have an immediate intervention calling one to hang up the teaching hat.  Now, don't freak. If that kind of teacher-y attire is your thing, bless your sweet heart. Truly. Some of my very favorite teachers were dressed that same way. It just isn't ours. More than anything, it represents, for us, being in too deep. Not continuing to change with the times. Becoming stagnant and typical in a profession that requires constant evolution and the courage to try that which might push boundaries. I'm midway through my career (oh wow...excuse me while I choke on this realization), and I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to look at everyday things within the scope of solid pedagogy.

Being in ed tech, specifically, I have the need for change smashed in my proverbial face daily. There's quite literally always something new. Just when you have one site or tool mastered (if there is such a thing), there's something sparkly ready to replace it. It's sort of like a twisted version of Whack-a-Mole. However, in this summer of Pokemon Go and its Augmented Reality superstorm, I am finding delight in what changes can mean for students as we provide them with self-directed learning opportunities. We need to quit teaching AT kids. Our kids need to learn how to think and where to find... period.

One of the ways in which I plan to foster this is through the use of Digital Badging. Think of it as your dirt brown Girl Scout sash (is that why we were called Brownie Scouts?!?) or that green blaze of glory across your chest that proudly showed the world your masterful accomplishments. I worked hard on those suckers. HARD. Why? I had started many a campfire before becoming a girl scout. Why did I bust my backside to prove it to others? Because of that ding-dang badge, that's why! It was a sense of pride. Of honor. Badges are visual representations of what we know. In the words of Sheldon Cooper...BAZINGA!

Creating Digital Badges can happen in myriad ways. There are several sites out there that allow a person to create badges. Credly and OpenBadges or even Canva all have badge-creating options. However, creating the physical design of the badge is much less taxing than the thought that must go into creating something that is badge-worthy. I'm also currently reading a few digital texts on the topic, and I suggest the book, Reward Learning with Badges, by Brad Flickinger. I picked it up at ISTE in Denver this year, but it's available online.

The first thing to consider....are your badges one-time completion or are they a metabadge? Think of a metabadge like those pie-shaped game pieces that come with Trivial Pursuit, where there are lots of different accomplishments (micro-badges, if you will) that comprise the whole. Who are they for? Teachers to show professional development learning? Students to show aptitude for standards and skills? All of that must be laid out in advance to give you the big picture and help you set realistic goals.

The next step is to design the actual BIE site for project-based learning ideas that you can use for badging. If doing metabadges, collect several related, smaller projects that will fit under the same concept umbrella (ie; Digital Citizenship Metabadge).

These projects should be substantial and something that a person isn't going to accomplish in one sitting. Use a rubric so students can see what the expectations are. (See this list from the BIE or create your own here).

Once you have created your badges, it's time to roll them out to students. This can be done in a number of ways. Just like the Scouts, you could put them into a booklet (a digital book would make sense here) or a web page where students can always go back to check what's available and what others have accomplished. Weebly, Google Sites, and Wix are three of my favorites for classroom websites.

Now, get after it. It's a marathon, not a 50-yard sprint. I'm still in the early phases of this newest endeavor, but I'm excited about its possibilities. I challenge you to join me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ISTE 2016 Live from Bloggers' Cafe: How to Survive the Chaos

If you've never attended ISTE before, you should know that it is a bit like a cage filled with 18,000+ caffeinated hamsters. This is my third ISTE conference, and I whole-heartedly admit that I learn new tips and tricks every year for making the most of my time here. No-brainier tip number 1: make labels....lots and lots of labels...prior to coming to ISTE. There is no bigger waste of precious learning and socializing time than writing out hundreds of tickets for swag.

My second tip is to generate some themes on passion areas in which you really want to grow. While not being locked into only seeing exhibits and sessions on these topics, it really helps me focus my efforts to make sure I come back with exactly what I'd hoped for and more. This M.O. has not disappointed. A couple of my areas of focus included AR and VR.

If you read my last entry, you'd know that I really felt like I hit the jackpot in terms of getting started with moving this into curricular areas. Go read it here, if you're interested. To further enhance my knowledge and get ideas, I also visited several booths and poster sessions on the topic. Nearpod offers one of my favorite VR experiences through their site/app. Their virtual field trips are phenomenal (available with a paid subscription that is well worth it)! Nearpod is also currently giving away VR headsets if you're lucky enough to have the magic touch at the wheel. (Sadly, I didn't get one, and I'm still sulking.)

Today was a burst of information in another one of my focus areas: professional development. As the technology integrationist for my district for the past 6 years, part of my responsibilities lie with preparing and delivering professional development to our K-12 staff. Because I've been in education for 22 years, if you do the math, you'll know that I've been exposed to my fair share of professional development. Some excellent. Some marginal. Some atrocious. I never, ever want to be associated with mediocre professional development. Hence, the constant learning and acquiring of new PD skills and ideas to enhance my craft.

One of the PD sessions I was most looking forward to was provided by Adam Bellow and Steve Dembo, entitled "Fear the Sitting Dead". If you've never attended a session by these two, just know that they never disappoint. Throughout the session we were able to hear of and participate in several activities that would get both teachers and students involved and excited about their learning. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for PD as delivered by these two:

1)  Fast Pass- Modeled after Disney parks, a fast pass can be something as simple as a quick survey or sticky note display done upon entering PD. Teachers select the areas of your presentation they are most interested in and you begin there. Easy-peasy. And teachers are happy because their topics of choice are guaranteed to be covered.
2) Snowball Fight- Using nothing more than paper, participants can write down information relevant to the topic (list your favorite tech tool and how you use it, for example), wad it up and toss it to another person around the room. Others then open it, add a comment or question, and give it another toss. In the end, simply post results and address questions  or share them out however you wish, and you have all-inclusive learning.
3) Rocks or Sucks- While I've used this method in the past, it was fun to hear a new take on it. In this method, a relevant  issue is displayed. For example "Is homework a good idea?". Moderators set a timer and the participants move to the designated side of the room for their feelings on the issue. During the allotted time, discussions on the issue happen.People may even change their minds after hearing others' opinions. In this case, they mosey on over to the other side of the room (or the middle for the indecisive).
4) Speed Geeking- A new take on speed dating, this lends itself to many variations. I'm already dreaming up ways in which my student tech team could utilize this in a PD setting to introduce teachers to new technology. The key is a timer. The session is only to wet appetites, not divulge every bit of information available about a topic.
5) Block Walks- Research validates that movement increases engagement and retention. Walking or exercise in any form can really lend itself to fantastic conversations when done in pairs or very small groups. We have done Walk-n-Talks in the past, which is the same concept. Give teachers a focus and let them collaborate and discuss while also burning off that morning donut.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of PD ideas that were mentioned, it should give you a good start into super charging upcoming PD for your district. I have a lot of ideas about what makes great PD and I'm passionate about individualized learning.  PD is no longer the Ferris Beuller-style awful classroom filled with droolers and gum bubble blowers. It needs to be meaningful, relevant, engaging, and applicable. Thanks to Adam and Steve for adding to my PD toolkit.

Monday, June 27, 2016

ISTE 2016 Live: Reflections on Day 1

My feet are a couple of fat sausages. My Apple Watch tells me I've more than doubled my move goal. My body aches like an 80 year old.  And yet, I've got a super-charged attitude and am ready to run right back to my office and begin planning for the coming school year! On this first full day of sessions at ISTE 2016, I have to say I'm thrilled to be gulping from the fire hose of information that has come at me today.

As with every ISTE gathering, trends and lead topics start to rise to the surface as I peruse the exhaustive list of session choices. Along with mainstays like coding, Makerspaces, and effective PD, I have seen some new trends gain more and more momentum. Topics like digital badging and AR/VR  are hot and really have the potential to be game-changers in ed tech, especially after hearing the poignant words from Opening Keynote speaker, Michio Kaku. His focus on education needing to transform from memorization and 1950's automation to conceptual thinking is nothing really new. However, hearing the evidence and seeing his vision for the future really helps drive this need home. We truly are preparing our students for jobs that don't yet exist. We need to develop a generation of independent thinkers, doers, and dreamers. We can do this, in part, through these new hot topics.

Digital badging is becoming more and more relevant as we work to individualize instruction and motivate students to pursue passions. A session today led by Theresa Richards, of Carnegie Mellon University's "Girls of Steel" robotics program, Katie Bordner and Dustin Stiver, introduced us to the ideas behind the creation, design, and issuance of a digital badge. Through this process, teachers are able to guide the students through lessons, workshops, and activities they already do with more focus and a goal that still allows for plenty of voice and choice. While their experiences mostly lie with the Pittsburgh Cities of Learning Initiative, we attendees were given guidance, templates, and ideas for ways in which we could develop our own digital badges. In content-focused small groups, we were even able to attempt the workflow of digital badge development with great success. The concept of digital badging is so diverse and lends itself to so many wonderful opportunities to let our kids shine as they choose to achieve in a modern day version of the varsity letter jacket.

Another trend I saw throughout my ISTE session lists was virtual reality and augmented reality. Considering where theoretical physicist, Dr. Kaku, says we will be in the upcoming decades, there is no doubt in my mind that AR and VR are forces that definitely demand curricular attention. His prediction that science and medicine, in particular, are going to be the driving careers of the future lends itself to this need. With surgeries taking place virtually using robots armed with scalpels and driverless cars careening through our future streets, students can benefit from learning about the power of virtual reality and its development now. In a panel discussion that included one of my favorite tech guys, Richard Byrne of FreeTech4Teachers, among others, the conversation stemmed around the experiences that can enrich the learning of students. VR and AR level the playing field. No longer are students trapped by their physical location. With virtual and augmented reality, there is really no experience that can't be simulated or enhanced. More and more scenarios are being created on a daily basis and these are even being developed by students as another means of showing aptitude. Suddenly an object that was once inanimate and by itself non-descript can become layered with new material, videos, examples and the like. It's souping up the ordinary to make it extraordinary. Personally, I have been quite excited to use Google Cardboard for VR and Aurasma for AR, although I know there are several options out there and more will continue to grow and evolve. Companies like Nearpod have really stepped up their game to include field trips that give teachers the ability to bring students, virtually, all over the world to enhance lessons and spark student interest and learning. I think we will see more and more companies follow suit.

Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to another jam-packed day of learning. Until then, I'm going to go put up the sausages so they can set out on my continued quest for what's next in ed tech at ISTE 2016.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

ISTE 2016 Live: Kaizena

Making my list....checking it twice...

While I'm not Santa, I certainly do feel like I'm in the midst of an Ed Tech Christmas, as I sit here basking in the sun overlooking the gorgeous Colorado Rockies in Denver for ISTE 2016. There are already so many people bustling around checking out presentations and poster sessions that intrigue them. I started the morning with a meeting to learn more about the new features of Kaizena, a student feedback site and iOS app. Admittedly, I'm very excited about what this means for the teachers back in my school in Rock Valley, Iowa!

For those of you new to Kaizena, it's a relatively recent addition to ed tech and my toolkit. It was marketed, originally, as a way to give verbal feedback to students. However, it's so much more than that. Once I dug into Kaizena, I saw that it was a quality venue to give meaningful feedback in a wide variety of ways. I was fortunate enough to have a scheduled meeting to speak with Edward, of Kaizena, this morning at the Blogger's Cafe and see a demo. He was also able to show me some newly developed tools that are coming to Kaizena users very soon.

Some of the key features that promise to be incredibly useful to teachers:
* common responses to students saved as "lessons" and can be used again and again
* easy microphone recording allows students to hear your feedback in your voice (time saver!)
* available app for iOS allows for phone uploads and feedback
* embed videos viewable and links to help resources directly into student feedback
* watch embedded videos directly within the app/website
* students can respond to your feedback in a chat-like conversation
* students and teachers are notified through emails/notifications when there is a response that needs to be viewed
* students can make "got it" when they've viewed and understood the feedback
* create rubric-like scoring called Skills, and tie it to highlighted text. COMING SOON- aggregated results to help you best score an overall assignment
*COMING SOON- Google Classroom integration will automatically run turned-in assignments through Kaizena for feedback.

These features and more are coming to Kaizena in time for the 2016-2017 school year! If you're at ISTE, I encourage you to check them out and ask for a demo. Download the Kaizena app or go to I promise you won't regret it! You're welcome....


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Polish Your Chrome with These Great Extensions!

Chrome Extensions for Teachers

Found within the Chrome Web Store are these gems sure to make life a little easier. Here are my top 10. If you’d like to know more or be shown how these tools work, book me!

  1. Grammarly- Spell check and grammar check as you type anywhere online. Boost your credibility everywhere you write!
  2. OneTab- If you’re like me you have about 15 tabs open on your computer at any given time. By clicking the OneTab icon, it will bring all open tabs into one tab with a list of links within. You can also undo this and restore all tabs with one click.
  3. Awesome Screenshot- More than it sounds. Screen capture any part of a page. Add annotations, comments, blur sensitive info, and share with one-click uploads. Alternative to Skitch. 
  4. Page Marker- Draw or highlight directly on any website in real time without having to take a screenshot. Great for drawing attention to details as they appear on the screen for students. 
  5. URL Shortener-Shorten a long URL with one click, share it by link or a pre-generated QR code. It will also keep track of the number of times the URL is used. 
  6. Socrative (available for both Teacher and Student)-Quickly access your Socrative account for bellringers, exit tickets and other formative assessments. 
  7. Screencastify-Simple video screen capture software for Chrome. Works like Screencast-o-Matic with the simplicity of one click. 
  8. Kaizena-Provide students with audio comments. Save frequently used comments for use with multiple students and save time while grading papers. 
  9. Turn Off the Lights-The entire page will fade to dark as you watch videos as if you were in the cinema. A perfect way to utilize YouTube when you need to use it in the classroom. 
  10. Readability-This is an extension that zaps clutter and shows web articles without all of the ads so it can be read easily. Choose to save it or even send it to Kindle.

Save yourself some time and work more efficiently!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Celebrate Spring with a New Twist on Green! Green Screen App Review

After months of Mother Nature's winter tantrums, I am ready for spring. The kids are ready to get outside and run off pent-up energy. We all struggle with the notorious third-quarter-slide, and yet we have a multitude of standards to teach in the final months of school. One of the ways to keep it interesting and inviting to students is through the use of green screen.

When most people hear of green screen, they automatically visualize the weeknight weatherman and his ninja-like map skills. However, with the emergence of technology in the classroom, there are ways to put this magic into the hands of students. My app of choice is Green Screen by Do Ink. For a mere $2.99 in the App Store, your students can give their reports on location, provide special effects for a video project, or pretty much anything their imaginations can dream up. Such a simple concept can take the mundane to exhilarating. See here for some tips on working with the app in the classroom.

This week, I worked with a third grade classroom who had been writing reports about famous landmarks around the globe. Suddenly, a task that could be written and quickly forgotten was now going to become a short movie that was going to be shared with the outside world. The energy was palpable as the classroom teacher and I worked with students to find fantastic images that would work well for the project. The goal was to locate a picture or two that would allow them to virtually stand beside their landmarks as they gave their speeches. Not only were students meeting various writing, speaking, and listening standards, but they were also tackling a host of the 6 ISTE Student Standards. These standards are a staple of 21st Century learning as we prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers in jobs that likely don't yet exist.

Maya and Gabriel working to add a Great Wall image
Working the app is fairly simple. Upon opening it, you will find a student-made tutorial. In the upper right-hand corner, is a plus sign which will allow you to begin a new project. Once opened, the magic happens via the three bars along the bottom. It is suggested to use the middle bar as the location for adding the green screen video. Your green screen can be as elaborate or as simplified as you wish. In our case, we used sheets of green rolled paper taped to the front whiteboard in the classroom. I've also seen this done on a small scale using tiny puppets and nothing more than green folders. I would also suggest a green bed sheet or even a green plastic table cloth as viable options. You can choose to record the green screen video straight from the app or import from the camera roll. Considering the experience and age-level of the kids, we opted for the latter. The "chroma" color wheel feature within the app allows you to tinker with the coloring as needed to make the images appear just as you'd want them. To show you exactly what I'm talking about, check out this short video from my friend, Jonathan Wylie.

The bottom bar in the app is used for the video or image you'd like to have as the background. Again considering the age of our kids, we chose to use images so that the kids could find suitable backgrounds with ease. Keeping in mind that our informational writing standard was at the heart of this project, we also didn't want to take any chances that their sweet voices wouldn't be heard clearly. You'll note that there was a top bar we didn't use. If you so choose, this can be for adding animations. Do Ink has a sister app called Animation and Drawing by Do Ink for $4.99 that would work perfectly for an added element and some extra challenge.

Ella giving a video report on Big Ben

It goes without saying that the "coolness factor" of the project really helped get kids into creating a unique video worth sharing. To save the video, our students exported it to the camera roll of the iPad (an option that will pop up upon hitting "Save"). This allowed students to be able to independently upload their videos to their Seesaw Portfolio for all classroom parents to see. Seesaw works a bit like a private social media experience complete with "likes" and commenting. Before we knew it, kids were getting responses from their uploaded "on-site" reports. I'll definitely be covering Seesaw in more detail in the coming weeks.

So, as we head into the fourth quarter, I encourage you to ramp up your teaching with a tool like Green Screen. Keep learning fun! I promise you won't regret it.