Heading to the (Droid) Dark Side (Part 2)

Well, I did it! About two weeks ago, my new Google Pixel arrived. I was excited and a little nervous, but I figured it’s a cell phone. How bad can it be?

Set up was pretty easy. I simply popped out my SIM card, put it in the new phone and I was ready to go. Because I already use a ton of Google products, most of my information was there when I signed in. And surprisingly, most of the apps I’d had on my iPhone installed automatically on the new phone.

There are a few things that have been a little harder to get used to. One is having the fingerprint lock on the back of the phone. The iPhone has always unlocked from the front (either with the home button or Face ID). I’ve also added an unlock screen pattern which gives me the option to unlock it when it’s sitting on the desk without picking it up. The other thing that is different is that the iPhone puts all of the apps on separate pages that you swipe through. The Pixel puts them all in a large list that you can see if you swipe up, but you have to put them on pages manually if you want to swipe left and right. The last thing isn’t hard to get used to, but it’s just a pain. Because the Pixel doesn’t use the same charging cables as Apple, I’ve had to purchase a few new charging devices. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all used the same technology?!

One thing I’ve added since getting the phone is some home automation. I purchased a few smart plugs and smart nightlights and have them programmed so I can turn them on by voice command. Some people may think it’s silly to tell your phone to turn the lights on, and maybe it is (it’s certainly a first world problem!). But to me, one of the purposes of technology is to make our lives easier. Plus, my son thinks it’s funny to tell the phone to turn the lights on for him. I haven’t purchased any of the smart speakers yet, but they’re likely on my shopping list sometime in the future. I don’t want to buy smart home things just for the sake of buying them, just for things that would truly make things more convenient.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did have one major setback in the process. I noticed almost right away that my camera didn’t work the way I expected to. It would often freeze when I tried to use it, particularly inside another app (like when I tried to use the camera for mobile deposit in my banking app). I couldn’t video chat either; the camera would lock up and often restart the phone. Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated. But after a couple of calls with support to see if we could troubleshoot the problem, Google sent me a new phone which arrived a couple of days ago. So far, the new phone appears to be working well!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m sticking with Google for now. Of course, now that I’ve bought the Pixel 3, they’re talking about rumors about the Pixel 4. I’m also hopeful that Google is going to eventually release a smart watch that plays nicely with the Pixel. For now, I’m pretty happy with my purchase.

Heading to the (Droid) Dark Side

I’ve had a cell phone since late 2001. It was my first year of college and I had the same sweet Nokia gem with the (mint green) changeable faceplate that played Snake. I don’t even know how many different phones I’ve had since then, but once the Apple iPhone hit the market, I was a loyal customer. I believe the first iPhone I had was an iPhone 4 and I’ve carried almost every iteration of the phone since.

If you’d have told me at any point in this journey that I’d become an Android user, I’d say you were crazy. I’ve been an Apple fan for years. I have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook Air. I’ve loved how they communicate seamlessly with each other and the user interface has always been much more intuitive for me than any other platform. But lately that’s started to shift.

I still have no intention of giving up my Mac. I have a PC at work and I honestly hate it. But between my laptop and my phone, I rarely use my iPad anymore. It’s a little older and the battery life isn’t great. And because it’s an iPad mini, it really isn’t that much larger than my phone. I bought a Kindle Fire a few months back that I use primarily for traveling because the storage capacity and battery life was superior to my iPad when wanting things to read and watch on an airplane.

Plus, I’ve been hanging out on the sidelines watching as the whole home automation scene has been exploding. Nothing about my home is “smart,” but I’m intrigued by a few tools that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. The Google Assistant looks promising (I’ve never been in love with Siri and the Reminders app on my iPhone) and being able to control a few things from my phone would sure be handy (my parents would probably say lazy, but oh well).

After LOTS of reading online and visiting the store to see and touch the tech toys in their native habitat, I decided to buy a Google Pixel 3. Almost everything I use is already Google: email, calendar, photos, documents, maps, and so on. I’ve never used the native Apple apps for any of these, at least not for long.

The biggest problem with this change is that it means I won’t really have a use for my Apple Watch anymore. Admittedly, I don’t wear it every day. I like to wear it on weekends, playing in the water with my son, or working out. I also wear it certain times at work when I need to make sure I’m not missing phone calls or notifications. So, that will be an issue to figure out once I evaluate the phone situation.

I’m sure it will be an adjustment. I’ve never owned a non-Apple smartphone (though I did own a Blackberry for a short time in the mid-2000s). But I’m pretty techie and a quick learner, so it should be fine. The phone should arrive later this week – I’ll be sure to write an update to share how the transition goes!

Have you ever made a major change like this? How did it go? Do you think I’ll love the Pixel or hate it?

MMEA Resources

Here are the resources from the three sessions I’m presenting at the MMEA Mid-Winter Clinic this week:

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bit.ly/MMEALittleHands

 

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bit.ly/MMEAChrome

 

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bit.ly/MMEASubPlans

The “Other” One in 1:1

I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my delayed flight home from the Leyden Symposium near Chicago. I’ve just spent the past three days filling my brain, meeting new people, and exhausting myself thinking about all of the possibilities for how I can apply it all. The Symposium started a few years ago as the folks at Leyden were forging ahead with their 1:1 device initiative. Educators from several states come to West Leyden High School to talk technology and best practice.

One thing stuck out to me though. While there was definitely talk of technology at the Symposium, there were more sessions that started to shift the conversation a bit. More and more, conversations centered around innovative teaching and learning and how technology supports it.

We are beginning to realize that our 1:1 initiatives might not be enough. It’s not about the devices, but rather the opportunities they provide for access and collaboration. In fact, the organizers of the Symposium know this, too. This year’s event was billed as the Innovative Teaching and Learning Symposium, as opposed to previous years when it was a 1:1 Symposium.

And the change isn’t unique to Leyden. Earlier this summer, I attended an EdCamp and noticed the same thing. Gone were the obligatory tech tool sessions of EdCamps past. Now, teachers were asking for ideas for project-based learning, student centered classrooms, and student voice and choice.

We’re starting to pay more attention to how students learn, what skills they will need to survive in the world after high school, and turning the tables on educators who refuse to adapt to the times. Suddenly (but really not so suddenly), the way we’ve always done things or the way we learned them in school is not enough. This change can be difficult, particularly for those teachers who’ve never been shown another way, but some districts are trying to help the process along.

Some districts, including Leyden, are changing the roles of their instructional coaches. In years past, they may have had specific technology coaches in addition to math or literacy coaches. Now, those positions are merging to one instructional coach position that focuses on good teaching as a whole. Despite the fact that I’ve worked as a technology coach (though under a different title), I like the change.

When I would work with teachers, I would often notice other issues in the classroom that merited discussion, but they didn’t fit into the category of “technology.” I also believe that the title of “technology coach” implies that technology is somehow separate from the rest of the teacher’s practice. Instead, I believe instructional coaches need to be skilled (or at least resourceful) in all areas of pedagogy, including technology, to be able to serve their teachers.

One of my favorite takeaways from the conference came from a session about innovation facilitated by Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey). One graphic he posted (originally credited to Molly Schroeder, @followmolly), encouraged us to remember the “other” one in 1:1. It’s far too easy to focus on the device and all of the neat things it does. However, the device will change as will the tasks it can perform. What doesn’t change?  The “other” one.Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.36.43 PM

What IS the other one? The kid using the device.  The students are why we do this job, why we have these conversations, why we attend these conferences. Ultimately, everything we do should make the educational experience better for them. We have to let go of our old ideas and biases about what education did or should look like and continually ask ourselves one question, “Is this really what’s best for kids?”  They’re the ones we need to worry about.

Guided Access on iPads

Have you ever used iPads with your students and caught them using a different app than what you asked them to use?  Frustrating, right?  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep them in the app you wanted in the first place?  Oh wait, you can!

The iPad has all kinds of tricks and hidden gems built in to make life easier for its users.  One of them is called Guided Access and what it does, among other things, is lock the iPad into a particular app.  It’s not exactly straightforward to find and turn on, but with a little digging, it can make classroom management with many iPads much simpler!

Guided Access is hidden in the accessibility settings.  To find it, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings menu.
  2. From there, click General.
  3. Click Accessibility (there are actually several features here you might want to check out, but we’ll move ahead for now).

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4. Scroll down to Guided Access (near the bottom).

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5. Tap the switch to turn on Guided Access.

6. Then click Passcode settings.  (You will need to create a passcode if you don’t already have one.  This is what you will need to exit Guided Access when your students are done working.  Be sure you keep track of the passcode!)

You’re all set!  To activate Guided Access, enter the app you’d like students to use and then triple-click the home button.  The window will shrink a bit and you will see the Guided Access controls appear on the screen.  Click Start at the top right corner and Guided Access will be activated.

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Now when your students use the iPads and try to back out of an app, it won’t work.  They also can’t double-click the home button to scroll between open apps.  When you’re done using that app, triple-click the home button to reveal the Guided Access controls again.  From there, you can either end or resume Guided Access.  You can also use the Guided Access menu to turn off access to particular parts of the screen.  This can be helpful if their are buttons you don’t want your students to bump accidentally.  Remember, Guided Access has to be turned on each time you enter an app!

Beginning to Power Up – Prepping for a 1:1 Rollout

Many districts have made the move toward 1:1 device access for their students.  This can look different in every district; what devices are used, what ages of students are involved, whether students take devices home, and other variables make each 1:1 deployment unique.  Because of these differences, there really can’t be a “one size fits all” handbook when it comes to starting this type of program.  There are, however, books available now that try to provide some guidance and answers for teachers and districts as they navigate this new frontier.

Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, written by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe, does just that.  Both authors are teachers who have experience teaching with 1:1 access for their students.  While their two teaching assignments and 1:1 programs do not look alike, these differences allow them to provide more varied examples for teachers to learn from.

I just picked up this book for my Kindle a few weeks ago and finally had a chance to start digging in.  I’m about a quarter of the way through it, so I’m certainly no expert.  But I work in a district about to embark on its 1:1 journey and thought it might be a helpful resource.  So far, I have quite pleased and plan to share many of the ideas in the book with the teachers I support.

The first thing I love most about the book is that it is written by teachers.  The book is accessible and because you know the authors are “in the trenches,” it gives them much more credibility.  They are also very honest with their experience.  They aren’t preaching for teachers to change their entire curriculum in the first year and they don’t claim it will be easy, but they do provide some valuable tips for teachers to make things easier that they themselves learned along the way.

I also appreciate the abundance of ideas for class activities and assessments they share throughout the book.  They provide a longer example to begin with, but then share snippets of additional assignments that teachers may choose to use instead.  This is particularly helpful for teachers who are new to integrating technology and helps to get their minds spinning about all of the possibilities.

One wish I would have for the book so far is that I would love to see more examples for younger grades.  Both Neebe and Roberts are secondary level teachers, come with a wealth of experience, and their ideas in many cases could still be modified for younger students.  Still, as someone who has spent the majority of their career in K-5 settings, I would appreciate more examples of ideas for successful 1:1 implementation with those students.

I’m excited to continue reading the book and look forward to sharing more learning!

Google Expeditions!

Today, we hosted the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program at our middle school!  The program uses Google Cardboard, which is a viewer similar to the Viewmaster toys many of us had as kids.  Except this time, the view is in 3D and you can turn a full 360˚ and see everything around you.

The Expeditions program is still technically in beta form and they are “taking their show on the road” to let schools try out the app and get feedback.  They have an extensive and varied list of places and things to see around the world, including Mt. Everest, coral reefs, various cities around the world, and national parks and monuments.

While the scheduling process was a bit tricky, we were able to figure out a plan that allowed every 6th, 7th, and 8th grader at our school to take part in at least one Expedition.  8th grade world studies students learned about Syrian refugees and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 7th grade social studies students checked out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and world language students went on a tour of Barcelona and saw the Sagrada Familia in its yet unfinished state (complete with construction cranes).

The students were absolutely mesmerized!  Many of these students may never get to see these wonders of the world in real life, but the 3D viewing capability makes it feel like you’re really there.  Many of them asked if they could buy the Google Cardboard viewer for themselves.

My one frustration with the whole process is that our teachers didn’t have any idea what to expect from the program.  Though they were encouraged to choose an expedition that supplemented their curriculum, they didn’t get a chance to see what they’d actually be doing with their students until just before school started.  Once the program is widely available to teachers and schools, I can see how something like this could be incredibly valuable in the classroom.  Imagine learning about the Great Wall of China and then going to visit it in 3D in the next lesson!

What is amazing to me is that now geography doesn’t even hold these kids back.  If they want to see the Colosseum in Rome, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse and they can be standing right outside.  While it’s definitely not as good as being there in person, it’s much better than looking at an Atlas or a photo in an encyclopedia like previous generations.  My hope is that seeing some of these sites will make these students want to travel the world themselves one day.  I know it’s definitely making me want to check my own passport!

Google Classroom: Class Workflow Made Simple!

How many of these have ever applied to you as a teacher:

  • You have had to send students to the library to print an assignment they forgot.
  • Students left their papers at home.
  • Someone was absent and now needs to know what the assignment was or needs a copy of a handout.
  • Your shoulder is sore from hauling home a massive stack of papers to grade and comment on.
  • Your shoulder isn’t sore because you forgot all of the papers you needed to grade that night on your desk at school.
  • You’ve gotten several papers turned in with no names on them.
  • You have students share their finished Google documents with you only to get dozens of “shared with you” emails and then have to try to sort through all of them to put them in folders so you can find them later.

If any of these apply to you, you need to stop what you’re doing and get yourself on Google Classroom.  I’m not kidding; stop reading right now and go set it up.  I’ll wait until you get back.  It’s that awesome.

So now that you’ve set up your account, here are a few things you can do with Classroom to make your (and your students’) life easier.  First of all, it provides a place where you can post any class announcements, handouts, and assignments.  It’s a one-stop shop where students should be able to find any and all information they need to do their work.  No more “I can’t find my _______.”

Since it is a product within the GAFE domain, it works extremely well with Google Drive.  In fact, when you create assignments and have students submit them, Classroom will “talk” to your Drive account and automatically create a folder for each class and assignment, meaning you no longer have to deal with students sharing documents with you (and the dozens of emails that go with that) or trying to organize all of them in your Drive.

Evaluating student work becomes easier with Classroom as well.  Once assignments are submitted, the teacher can use the built-in commenting or suggesting features of Google Docs to leave feedback for students.  Tools like Doctopus and Goobric make rubric grading and other evaluation go much quicker (learn more here) and one like Kaizena allows you to leave voice feedback instead of writing or typing comments (check out Kaizena).

My absolute favorite feature of Google Classroom is that when you create an assignment and need to share a document with students, you have three options: students can view file (no editing privileges), students can edit file (everyone edits the same document), or make a copy for each student.  The last one is my personal favorite because if I attach a Google document or other file type, it will automatically generate a separate copy for every student AND put their name on it.  And again, because it’s Classroom, all of those files are neatly organized in the appropriate folder in your Google Drive with no additional work from you.  I suggest to teachers that they create a template for their students (even if the entire thing is blank) because then each assignment will come in with the same title and include the student name.

For those of you who teach more than one class at a time: when you post an assignment, you can assign it to any of your classes simply by checking a few boxes – no need to recreate the assignment for every section.  You can also add students easily by giving them the 6-digit alphanumeric code that Classroom generates for you; this is much more efficient than entering hundreds of students names yourself.  You can even add a co-teacher if you share your class with a colleague.  Finally, for all of my primary teacher friends out there, Classroom can even be used with your students!

If I haven’t yet convinced you of how awesome Google Classroom is, then feel free to check out some other resources.  There are several guides to Google Classroom for sale on Amazon, the most popular of which is Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller’s 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom (available here).  Keeler also has a tremendous amount of blog posts, suggestions, and tutorials on her website (www.alicekeeler.com).  I also wrote a short e-book that can help get you started with the basics of Classroom (free e-book here).

Get Them Talking About Their Learning!

If you’ve spent any time with children, you know that the majority of them LOVE to talk.  In fact, as many parents and teachers can attest, once you get them started, it’s hard to get them to stop!  Teachers cite excessive talking as a problem issue for many students in class, but what if we could teach them to harness this power and use it for good rather than evil (well, not really evil, but certainly not productive)?

What if instead of giving a student a test at the end of a particular lesson or unit, you had them talk about what they know or what they learned?

Would you be able to say with certainty whether or not the child had mastered that standard?  I feel confident that if I got to hear my students talk through their learning, I could get a pretty good handle on what they know and where their learning gaps were.  On top of that, while reading and writing are extremely important skills for students to develop, the ideas of speaking and listening are too often neglected yet just as valuable.

But what about the fact that you have 20+ kids in your class?  Or multiple classes?  How can you get to every student?  You can’t always count on them to listen to each other, because it takes a fair amount of practice for students to evaluate each other well and give constructive feedback (though I would absolutely recommend this as a good practice to get into the habit of doing in your classroom).  So how can a teacher reasonably listen to that many students to ensure that he or she truly knows what their students know?  By using technology, of course!  Teachers can have students use a variety of tools to record themselves sharing their thoughts and listen to them later, freeing them up to work with other students or manage other tasks during the school day.

The easiest way to have kids create an audio or video recording with a mobile device.  My favorite is simply the video camera on an iPad.  They can record in “selfie mode” so you can see them as they talk or they could use the back camera to show something they worked on (paper/pencil, manipulatives, artistic creation, etc.) and explain what they did or learned.  Rather than spending time outside of class correcting papers, the teacher would watch the videos instead.

If you want to get a little bit more exciting, you can try out a few iOS apps like Chatterpix Kids, Tellagami, 30Hands, Educreations, and Book Creator.  Each of these apps works a little differently, but what they all have in common is they have an audio recording feature that lets students talk about what they’re learning.   And each app allows students to take or import a photo of something they have working on and would like to tell you about.  Not only that, but each of these apps is easy to use and content-agnostic, meaning you can use them with literally any subject area.  That’s particularly important because teachers get more bang for their buck when they can teach one app to do many things rather than many apps that each do one thing.

For the most part, each of these apps creates a video that can be exported to your device’s camera roll.  Once there, you can choose to view it from the camera roll or collect it elsewhere.  One tip though: if you have many students doing this type of project, it is helpful to have them include their name on the project somehow.  In Chatterpix, for example, I have my students put their name on the photo they record so I can easily see which student I’m listening to.

Once you have all of these great artifacts showing student learning, you can manage them using a great app like Seesaw.  At its most basic level, Seesaw is a digital portfolio where you and your students can collect all these great photos and videos, comment on them, or annotate them.  It can pull items directly from the camera roll or you can record right in the app itself!  And it’s so easy to use that even the youngest learners can use it independently with some pre-teaching.  The biggest benefit to Seesaw, though there are many, is that the photos and videos are already organized for you by student, which makes assessing and later sharing with parents much easier.  If you prefer not to use Seesaw, see my previous blog post about getting photos and videos from a iOS device to Google Drive for storage and viewing.

What should students record?  Anything and everything!  Use Educreations to work out a math problem and record themselves solving it and talking through their answer.  Snap a pic of a reading passage using Chatterpix and have them read it on video for a fluency check.  Show a diagram of the water cycle and create a Tellagami to explain how the process works.  Instead of doing a traditional report on an animal, state, or other common theme, create a slideshow in 30Hands and narrate the entire thing.  Create a story with Book Creator and narrate it, either in addition to or instead of writing the words – your choice based on the time and readiness of your students.

By the way, as I was searching for images to use with this post, I couldn’t find many pictures of kids talking in a school setting. It was almost always kids reading or watching the teacher talk.  I was able, however, to find several pictures of adults talking to each other.  What does that tell you?

iPad Full of Photos? Send Them to Google Drive!

Photos and videos can be a powerful tool for students and teachers.  But getting photos from place to place can be tricky.  It used to be the only way to move photos from your iPad to your computer was to email them a few at a time.  It took forever!  Not a good use of any teacher’s time!

Many teachers find themselves with very full iPads. Often, this is because they and their students are documenting their learning through photos.  Pretty soon, though, the iPad is full but we still want to keep those pictures.

Your iPad has limited storage, but your Google Drive does not.  You can now easily move photos from you iPad device to your Google Drive, where you can store as many photos as you need.  Once the photos are uploaded, you can delete them from your iPad and free up much needed space.

Teachers can opt to do this in one of two main ways: manually or automatically.  Now, you might be asking why I would even mention a manual option when it can be done automatically.  I like teachers to have options that meet the needs of their workflow.  If you have students taking photos, you may want to go through them before they end up in your Drive, so you’d rather upload photos as needed (Manual).  Or maybe you’d prefer an automatic solution and you’d like to go through the photos on your computer instead (Automatic).  No right or wrong answer here because both will accomplish what we need to do.

I have created directions for performing both options (click each option to see the directions I created for my teachers):

Manual Uploading

Automatic Uploading

Hope it’s helpful!  And keep taking photos!

Update: In the short few days since I created these tutorials, I’ve shared them with at least a half dozen teachers in my district! Apparently, I was more timely than I thought!

Voxer: Professional Development in Your Pocket!

Many educators out there have been touting the merits of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for connecting with fellow educators for promoting ongoing learning and development.  I agree with them, and I’d like to add another app to the list: Voxer.  It’s a free website as well as an app for iOS and Android and it will literally change your professional life.

Voxer is essentially a walkie-talkie where you can either listen to people talk in real time or hear their recorded messages later.  Messages can be sent to individual people or multiple users can send messages back and forth in a group conversation.  The result?  You can listen to colleagues from around the globe asking questions, providing solutions, and offering support in real time.

I discovered Voxer a few months back after joining in on some Twitter chats with some fellow Minnesota educators.  I was added to the group and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Then I was added to another group that made me almost give up Voxer entirely – the group was huge and I couldn’t keep up with the messages!  But then I found the #TOSAchat group and it has been the best thing that has happened to me as an educator!

The group is active, but they make it okay to come and go as you please.  We use a hashtag system, which allows users to know the topic of the message so you can skip over it if it doesn’t apply to or interest you (this was me when some of them were talking about some standardized testing issues in California when I’m in Minnesota).

Just like Twitter, some people actively participate in the voice chats, while others prefer to listen and lurk.  You can record voice messages or you can write text messages.  You can like another person’s message and you can forward them to a variety of other apps to store them for later reference.

I take advantage of my commute time by listening to Voxer messages while I drive.  Time that would normally be “wasted” in the car is now time I use to enhance my practice and connect with other educators.  No other social media can do that!  Others listen during breaks during the day, others at night during Twitter chats.  Because you can listen to messages any time, you can hop in and out as you please.

Have a question? Throw out a message in the morning and you’ll likely have a response later that day.  Just need to vent?  Throw out an “edu-rant” and get support from like-minded colleagues.  Want to celebrate a major “edu-win?”  Share it with your pocket pals who will be more than happy to celebrate with you!

The friends I have made and connected with the past few months have literally changed my life.  Being the only TOSA in my district can be a lonely life sometimes, but I know I’m not on my own because I have an entire network of fellow coaches in my phone who support and challenge me to grow every single day.

Your first step is installing the app and creating an account.  Next, you need to find the right group.  I have seen lists floating around Twitter of all kinds of groups around a variety of topics.  Many times Twitter chats will also have a Voxer group on the side for continued discussion.  If you’re having a having trouble finding a group, reach out to me on Twitter (@halversonandrea) and I will try to help you find a group that meets your needs.

Overwhelmed by Social Media? Meet Nuzzel!

One of the comments I hear from teachers all the time, particularly if they are new to social media, is how they feel overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of information that can flood your news feed every day.  I’ve often heard it described as trying to take a drink from a fire hose.  I’d say that expression is generally pretty accurate.

The best way to get connected and really learn from others is to follow a lot of people.  When you don’t follow many people, you don’t see as much in your news feed.  On the other hand, once you start down that road, it can become impossible to read everything that comes into your feed.

Some Twitter fans use other sites or apps like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to organize their feed into different lists or groups, but I’ve never really had much success with that.  I know I won’t be able to see and read everything, but I’ve always felt like I have been missing good information that could really benefit me as an educator.

Enter Nuzzel!  One of my fabulous #TOSAchat colleagues introduced it to me last week and it has CHANGED the way I do social media, particularly Twitter.  Available for both iOS and Android, Nuzzel is an app that shows you the most relevant tweets from a given time period, such as the past 24 hours.

Not only that, but it tell you how many of your social media friends have shared it.  Now you can know exactly what everyone is talking about (or tweeting about) because it shows up first on the list.  You can view the tweet (or connected blog post), share it out again on social media, or export it anywhere (like Evernote where I personally like to store info for later reference – see blog post about Evernote).  There’s also a “friends of friends” screen so I can expand my search out to beyond just my own Twitter circle.

I can still go back to Twitter any time I want and take a sip from the firehose, but Nuzzel allows me to focus my searching and see the best of what’s out there with just a few taps on my phone!  Almost everything I’ve read through Nuzzel has been worth retweeting because it has been just that good.  If you tweet, you MUST use Nuzzel!

Nuzzel Website

Nuzzel for Android

Nuzzel for iOS

Classroom = No Phone Zone?

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook that made me stop and think, and then get frustrated.  The photo was originally posted by the account of a newspaper in Oklahoma and showed what appeared to be high school students in a classroom.  In the foreground, a box with slots held all of their cell phones.  The caption read, “Do you think this would be a good idea in schools?”

As I scrolled through the comments, I was surprised to see that almost every one I read said yes.  A handful thought the same practice should be applied at meetings, in the workplace, and in the home.  One said she thought it should be used while driving as well.  So far, I’ve only seen one person say no but it was because she felt students should have access to phones in case of an emergency.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that there are many aspects of cell phones that are problematic.  Obviously, distracted driving is a major concern among teens (and adults).  And yes, I am a little concerned with the number of teens I see buried in their phone screen rather than talking to the table of friends sitting with them.  I do value humans engaging and interacting with one another in meaningful ways that don’t include technology.

But that’s where I have to draw the line.  What does it teach kids that we need to lock up their phones in order to teach them?  What does it say about our teaching that the only way to get students to listen to what we say is to take away their personal property?  I know, I know.  Cell phones are a distraction in class, kids can cheat on tests, and teachers are up against a pretty big competitor when it comes to keeping kids focused when phones are in the room.

Humor me for a second, won’t you?

What if it didn’t matter that cell phones were in the classroom during an assessment because the “test” being given didn’t have answers you could Google.  Or text to your friend across the room or in the next period.  What if students were using their phones to create new content based on the material, such as blog posts or videos that make it virtually impossible to cheat unless you copy and paste the entire thing?

What if students were expected to engage in a backchannel for additional questions or discussion during class?  The teacher could check for understanding, the students would be engaged, and those students who tend to keep quiet in class would have a forum for their viewpoints or questions.   And since many students have phones, the teacher wouldn’t even need to provide many (if any) additional devices to do it.

What if teachers were so engaging and their content so relevant to their students that the kids couldn’t help but pay attention?  Maybe the teacher has a gift for turning everything into a compelling story that students just have to hear.  Or maybe kids really want to learn about what they’re doing because they need the information for a project that they’re doing, particularly one that has real world application or an authentic global audience.

Now, I know you’re probably saying that I’m crazy or unrealistic to think that any of this would work.  Maybe I am.  But I’ve also walked past many high school classrooms that still largely consist of lectures and worksheet packets.  Now tell me that you’d be able to leave your cell phone in your bag and pay attention!

We as teachers need to make sure we are engaging our students as fully as possible.  Engagement, however, is not the same as compliance.  Just because students are sitting quietly and not disrupting class doesn’t mean they are engaged.  They need to be thinking, and more importantly, they need to be talking.  Multiple sources say that the one doing the talking in the classroom is the one doing the learning.  Mobile devices like cell phones provide another way for students to “talk” and discuss the course content.

As more schools start moving toward one-to-one access with mobile devices, this is an issue that deserves some critical thought and reflection.  What kinds of questions should we be asking students when they have Google in their pocket?  How can they connect with others, not just in the classroom, but around the world?  Why write something just for the teacher when it can be shared globally?  Why watch videos when you can create your own?  How can we use the available technology to personalize each student’s experience for his or her learning style?

These changes won’t happen overnight, but if these questions aren’t on your radar (or if you have been the teacher with the cell phone box), you need to start thinking about them.  Gone are the days when teachers brag about keeping technology away from their students.  Instead, pride yourself on teaching them to use it appropriately and responsibly.

In the end, kids are going to be using cell phones anyway.  Might as well have them use them for something worthwhile.

 

Create Music Scores Online with Flat

Having been a music teacher for nearly ten years, I get pretty excited when I see some great resources out there for music educators and their students.  One of my biggest frustrations with schools moving toward Chromebooks is the lack of music apps and resources that were included on the iPad.

Flat is a website trying to change all that.  It allows users to create their own musical scores on their browser (translation: no iPad app needed!).

The benefits are huge here.  Flat offers free services as well as paid premium options (many good iPad notation apps are paid apps), but working in the browser means that student work is mobile.  Creating in the cloud means they can feasibly edit and create on any device with an internet connection.  No more “I forgot my iPad” or “my work is on that iPad over there that’s being used by another student.”

Another issue? Printing from iPads.  Many times, students and teachers need to be able to print scores once they are done creating and editing.  By using a browser notation tool like Flat, scores can be printed like regular documents without the hassle of emailing copies to another computer (note: your district setup may or may not allow printing from Chromebooks, but you should be able to pull up your score on another computer that is capable of printing).  Flat allows user to print an entire score, individual parts, or both.

What I’m really excited about in Flat’s site is the ability to collaborate and share scores with others: think Google Docs but with music scores instead of text documents!  Flat also allows users to login with their Google credentials – a huge plus for my students in a GAFE environment.  Flat also offers Educator accounts, which allow teachers to integrate work with Google Classroom.

What do you think? Have you used Flat or a similar tool?  I’d love to hear more!

Want to keep track of things? Try Google Keep!

It seems like there is a never-ending stream of information for teachers, staff, and students to keep track of.  You write it down, but then that post-it note falls off your computer. Or you can’t remember where you saved a file with some important info.

One possible solution is Google Keep.  It allows you to create notes that look like sticky notes, but with so much more power!  Here are a few great features you might like:

  • Title your notes
  • Choose a note color to keep yourself organized
  • Add a note reminder
  • Search your notes for any words in the title or body of the note
  • Share notes with colleagues
  • Tag notes with keywords (which allow you to pull up all notes with that tag)
  • Add images to your notes
  • Copy a note to a Google Doc if you need to do more work with it
  • Can access on mobile devices (iOS and Android) or on the web
Use them with your PLC to have shared notes with reminders.  Use different colored notes to keep track of different things (students, parents, PLC, grade level, etc.).  Collect information or data on students and tag with the student’s name to find quickly.  Keep track of teaching resources, websites, etc. that you need to reference later and tag by subject or standard. The possibilities are endless!

To check it out, view the video below or visit https://keep.google.com/.