The Moss-Free Stone

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” -Peter Drucker

Web 2.0 Tools for Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration

July 29, 2014 by · 2 Comments · 21st Century Skills, collaboration, creativity, Digital Storytelling, Educational technology, images/video, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

More notes from this week’s conference presentations in Cy-Fair ISD. Here’s an ever changing list of some new or fairly new Web 2.0 tools that have captured my imagination.

Google Docs embed a little strangely, so if you’d rather access the document directly, you may do so here.

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Code Breakers Presentation Slideshow

July 29, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Educational technology, innovation, STEM

I’ll be sharing some info on getting kids started with coding at the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Digital Learning Conference tomorrow and Thursday. The short slide show is below, as are links to all of the sites referenced (and a few more).

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3 Student Activities For Easing Into BYOD This Year

July 28, 2014 by · No Comments · BYOT/BYOD, podcasting, Teaching and Learning, Twitter

byod

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/i3VoBV

BYOD (Bring your own device) initiatives have been around for more than a decade now in one form or another in schools and businesses. As I conduct workshops or engage in conversations with teachers on using student-owned mobile devices in the classroom, there is almost universal agreement as to the incredible potential of today’s pocket-sized supercomputers. There is, certainly, some trepidation, as well–questions regarding discipline, management, privacy, theft, etc.  The thing is, while these concerns are not unjustified by any means, we are not blazing a new trail here. Thousands of classrooms have gone before us, and there is a mounting evidence in the research of the benefits to students of the well-planned BYOD program. For those on the precipice, here are 3 painless ways to test the waters when school starts this year.

1. Student Planning/Scheduling –Instead of having students copy assignments off of the dry-erase board or projector screen every Monday morning, as is the ritual in countless classes, have them use their cell phones’ calendar apps to save assignments, due dates, etc. As quickly as young fingers nimbly text on their tiny keyboards, this isn’t likely to take up more time than having them use paper and pen. It’s also more reflective of what most college students or adults would do in 2014. My daughter’s principal told me last week that students at her middle school will do this starting this fall–kudos to Mr. Garza for a great first step.

2. Class Backchannel –Using free tools like Todaysmeet, Google Forms, Twitter, etc., teachers can easily leverage student devices to gather student observations, understandings, and questions. These can be used for quick formative assessment during class to re-direct activities or instruction as needed to clarify or correct misunderstandings. By creating a unique class hashtag (e.g. #mrsmithsmath), Twitter goes from a potential distraction to a very powerful group discussion tool, and it is not necessary for users to follow one another to utilize a common hashtag. Just search for the hashtag within Twitter and see the entire discussion at once.

3. Podcasting –Class podcasts, especially audio podcasts, are very easy to create and provide a powerful tool for archiving student learning, sharing creative works, communicating news, and more. If you’re still not sure what a podcast is, it’s like a TV or radio series, only based on the web. Here’s an example by an educator friend, Technlandia. The great news is that it doesn’t take incredible techiness to be able to put together a show like this. Basically, you or your students record an audio file and upload it to a host site, like Podbean or Podomatic. Even easier, try a tool like Audioboo for Education. Audioboo’s app is ridiculously simple to use. Students can quickly record, title, tag, and upload audio podcasts to their own or a class podcast. Ease into the idea by having a student record announcements into a daily/weekly class podcast, then move on to letting a student share a short summary of the day’s lesson(s) at the end of class, share their writing, etc.

These aren’t flashy, but they’re easy to get you and your students started. The aim is to give students opportunities to leverage the bigger capabilities of their phones and get students viewing their phones as something more than entertainment or 24/7 pipelines to their friends. Not an easy task, but management gets easier as the novelty fades. I’ve heard of teachers using many different strategies to varying effect. At the outset, a simple technique is to require phones to be left face-down on the desk’s corner when not being used instructionally.

If you’re planning on giving BYOD a shot this year, good luck! It’s likely to be a learning process, as with any resource, and you and your kids will come to see ways to use the devices naturally and effectively with practice.

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No Place in School?

June 13, 2014 by · 1 Comment · creativity, innovation, Teaching and Learning

Braeden

Braeden and Fancy the Flamingo

I spent the day today in White Oak, Texas, speaking and learning at the TCEA Region 7 conference. I’ve come to this one for years now, and it is one of my favorites. The people and events are always fantastic, and they feed me very, very well. This year was extra special, though, because I got to meet and learn from an amazing 9-year old, Braeden. Braeden is the nephew of a talented educator friend of mine, Rafranz Davis. Through Rafranz’s Facebook page, I’ve become familiar with this amazing boy over the past several months. Braeden’s unique gifts lie in designing, creating, and using puppets. We’re not talking the paper sack puppets that were the limit of my abilities as a child, either. No, Braeden is a true artist and master craftsman. His puppets resemble something from Sesame Street or the Muppet Show. In fact, he even now corresponds about his creations with Jim Henson Studios.

The striking thing to me is that Braeden has been tested for gifted and talented programs at his school 3 times. 3 times, he has been deemed not qualified. Let that soak in for a minute. I can’t explain it. I know it is an archaic system at work in most schools, one based upon IQ tests most of all–IQ tests that measure a tiny fraction of human ability and are of extremely dubious validity. But I cannot comprehend it’s inadequacy (complete worthlessness) or justify it in the face of such an amazing talent.

Braeden

Braeden’s talents have attracted the attention of Jim Henson Studios.

The thing that hit me squarely in the gut, though, was the thought that Braeden is not alone. In fact, I’d guess he’s in the majority in our classrooms. We force sterilized, standardized, irrelevant, outdated curriculum on our students and ignore their passions and gifts. We spend our time and energy to prep them for annual tests or the misguided goal that all students should be bound for MBAs. Meanwhile, students like Braeden get to have their gifts nurtured only if they have families who gives them  their support and encouragement. Obviously, many of our kids aren’t this fortunate in their homes. We can’t always influence that, but we can change our schools, and it will require that we get past the archaic idea that education and its goals are one-size-fits-all. No discussion of educational “reforms” will ever lead to meaningful change if we don’t question the big ideas and institutions that we cling to with such fervor: rigid curriculum, grade levels, accountability systems based primarily upon tests, college-or-bust mentalities, etc. There are isolated examples where this is happening, but, frankly, we are mostly stagnant and too silent, allowing policy to be dictated in spite of its inadequacy. The power of learning is in the empowerment of the individual to achieve his/her potential, and that potential is unique to every child. When we get to a point where every Braeden is nurtured as the amazingly unique person he is, we’ll change lives, and that will in turn change the world.

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Pixiclip–Online, Collaborative Whiteboard and More

June 2, 2014 by · No Comments · Flipped Classroom, images/video, Teaching and Learning, Web Tools

The video below is a very quick overview of Pixiclip, a free, online whiteboard that is a potentially very useful tool for teachers looking to create online tutorials, particularly for flipped classroom applications. The site allows text, drawing, images, audio, and even webcams to be included in presentations, and it has a very user-friendly interface.

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Eat More Cheese, Get PhDs

May 30, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Educational technology, Teaching and Learning

The incredible abundance of information available to us today comes with an important caveat. For all the helpful and accurate information that exists, there is at least that much that is less accurate or even purposefully misleading. It’s not just the internet, either. The media, politicians, unions, even schools make heavy use of data and information that supports their goals and ideals. A critical skill is the ability to look carefully at the reams of data and information that comes our way and be able to see biases, misinformation, correlations that don’t make sense, etc. In other words, to be information literate. There are a number of well-established internet resources that are helpful tools for teaching information literacy. The Pacific Tree Octopus, with it’s convincing testimonials and archival images, is a great conversation starter. All About Explorers poses as a legitimate page about world explorers of the past, but it is filled with often hilarious bits of information such as the statement that William Clark “…when he was 9, Clark was in fact reprimanded by Lewis’s father regarding a suspicious pile of watermelon seeds near the Lewis’s yard gnome.” Students can spend hours dissecting the site’s “facts” and figures.

Add the new site, Spurious Correlations to the toolbox. A law student at Harvard designed the site to teach people about statistics. Specifically, it is a lesson in the concept, “Correlation does not equal causation.” The graph from the site below shows the shocking correlation between cheese and engineering PhDs.

cheese and doctoratesI was also surprised to know that precipitation in Texas is linked to the number of female editors at the Harvard Law Review.  Note to Harvard: Hire more women editors–we need the rain!

law and rainThis type of data could be used as a part of a series of mini-lessons on information literacy. Students could argue the validity of any correlations, then conduct tests or research to determine whether or not the two are related events. It could also be a part of a writing activity on persuasive writing.

What are your thoughts? Are there other resources you are using to promote this type of critical thinking? Love to hear from you!

 

 

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So, What’s in Your Browser?

May 27, 2014 by · No Comments · Bookmarking, Educational technology, Web Tools

Many folks still don’t realize that the browser they are using at this very moment is designed to be customized. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, even Internet Explorer–all have some really cool and powerful add-ons (called extensions) that do countless things, from blocking annoying popups to checking spelling to making sites more easily readable for people with visual impairments. You name it, there is probably an extension for it. As a way of an introduction, I thought I’d share a screenshot of my own Chrome toolbar and the extensions that reside there currently (It’s a fluid list.). More Chrome extensions can be found here, and Firefox extensions here.

Chrome extensions 2

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