Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Google Workshop for the Common Core

I'm excited to announce that I will be teaching a seminar for CUE on February 1, 2014 in the city of Ontario.  My Google Workshop for the Common Core focuses on meeting the literacy and technology standards of CCSS.

Registration is now open at this link.  Below is a description of my workshop on CUE's website.

Location: Ontario Christian School
1907 S. Euclid Avenue, Ontario, CA 91762

Brought to you by Computer-Using Educators (CUE), producer of the nationally acclaimed "Google Teacher Academy"

Go Google to create an academically rigorous curriculum and prepare students for the Common Core. Use Google Apps to investigate, collaborate, create, and publish. This workshop addresses the literacy and technology standards required by CCSS. Educators will learn strategies and technology tools that prepare them for the pedagogical shifts required by the new standards. This is a hands-on, "Make-and-Take" seminar where teachers will practice and apply newly acquired skills. Empower and motivate students to become critical thinkers, imaginative creators, and digital leaders. Help them achieve beyond their expectations and leave with inspiring ideas that you can implement in your classroom.

This workshop is taught by a Google Certified Teacher. Requirement: participants must bring their own WiFi-enabled laptops. A hand-held device, like a smartphone or iPod touch, is recommended for the creation of a video-based project. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Digital Fight Against Bullying

We have all heard or witnessed the devastating affects of bullying in schools. Though it always existed in previous generations, with the prevalence of technology, bullying is now amplified and in many ways worse because of how it can extend beyond the physical boundaries of school hours.

It is important for all educators to take a proactive role in fighting bullying, and I especially applaud those who make it their passion to do this on their own time, utilizing their own resources. For this reason, I'd like to nominate Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi's Digital ID website: for an Edublog award.  

Their Upstanders. Not Bystanders campaign encourage all students to take an active role in speaking out against bullying. The Digital ID website is also rich in resources that both students and teachers can use when learning how to become upstanding digital citizens.  This is definitely a wonderful blog, and I hope you will take a look because we all should be upstanders against bullying. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Misconceptions of a 1:1 Classroom

Photo Credit: Kai Schreiber 

Maybe I should have a sign that hangs outside my door: "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

In my school, I am the only one who teaches with 1:1 devices in an academic content area, and it has come to my attention that some believe my students must sit in front of their screens all period, typing away at their keyboards in silence and never talking to each other.

Perhaps this is my fault.  After all, I shared that I don't subscribe to the "sage on the stage" philosophy, that I'm a facilitator of learning, and that my students work hard every day to create content, not just consume it.  I told them that my students use their Chromebooks every day in my class.  Intensely.

To them, it means that my students are zombies, sitting in invisible cubicles, deprived of their ability to practice their social skills.

To me, it means that my classroom is a vibrant, noisy place where students are analyzing text (loudly), leading their own discussions (verbally and online), and constructing meaning among themselves (animatedly).

My students write to explain, deconstruct, reflect, and argue their viewpoints.  They use web 2.0 tools to collaborate on projects and create multimedia presentations.  They present in front of the class to share their findings.  They stand by their Chromebooks at their team tables, showcasing their Google slides while other students circulate around the room listening to their poster-style presentations.

My students blog with the world, and they're building their ePortfolios using Google Sites.  While they work, they are far from quiet, as they are regularly asked to view each other's work, give each other feedback, and compete against each other in teams.  Peer editing and peer nominations are encouraged and required in my classroom.

My students are prolific writers, intellectual thinkers, and inquisitive learners.  No, they are not droids, and using technology in my class will never turn them into robots.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Google-Powered Classroom

Students in my class working on their Chromebooks
Copyright 2013 Alice Chen
This year we deployed Google Apps for Education for all staff and students in my district, and I was given the opportunity to pilot 1:1 Chromebooks in my classroom.  To say that I am ecstatic is to put it mildly.

Why? Because Google Apps and Chromebooks are truly a winning combination.  First of all, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is entirely free for schools and districts.  Secondly, Chromebooks are inexpensive and with the Management Console, very easy to manage.  Paired together, it is a good solution for schools on a tight budget.  For me, it gave me the means to put a device into the hands of all my students and the ability to bring my classroom into the 21st Century.

Yes, I understand that Chromebooks are largely Internet-dependent and are not laptop equivalents.  At the same time, everything I need my students to create in an English language arts classroom could be accomplished with web applications - and the 10 seconds it takes to boot up these devices are probably less time than how long it usually takes for students to unpack their backpacks and take out their learning materials.

We've only been using Chromebooks for a couple of months, but here are some ways in which Google Apps have made my classroom more efficient, collaborative, and rigorously demanding.

My students use Google Docs to...

  • Work on a project together - Its real-time, group collaboration capability is fantastic.  Students love seeing their contributions fly across the page alongside their peers.
  • Brainstorm and organize ideas together - Students use one document to build on each other's ideas and knowledge.
  • Peer edit each other's work - Students invite their peers into their documents, and these extra pairs of eyes are extremely helpful in pinpointing simple grammatical and mechanical errors.
  • Collaboratively annotate a text together - Students read short texts in groups and insert comments as they read, asking each other for clarification and posting analytical questions to scaffold each other's understanding.
  • Motivate each other - All my students' work are "public" within my classroom.  By expanding beyond a one-teacher readership, my students have learned to step up their game.  I regularly ask for peer nominations on assignments, and students love to be nominated and recognized in this way.
My students are using Google Slides and Google Drawings to...
  • Create multimedia presentations
  • Design their own computer graphics for projects
  • Publish digital books
  • Generate mind maps and organize information
  • Create flow charts and understand organizational structure
My students are building Google Sites to...
  • Showcase their work and share it with their friends and families
  • Write to an authentic audience
  • Embed multimedia on webpages
  • Learn digital citizenship and create a web persona

With Google Apps, my students are far more prolific than those from previous years.  It is very motivating for students to produce work for a larger audience.  The collaborative nature of Google Apps is what sets this suite of web tools apart from the competition.  It's only been a couple of months, but my students and I are having a great time.   And this is just the beginning.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Flipped Learning Served with a Side of Fun

You’re ready to flip your classroom. You’ve seen it done with the usual tools and methods – screencasts, teacher-created videos, Khan Academy, or other curated videos. But what if you could flip your lesson in a fun and humorous way?
Instead of filming myself explaining a concept, I prefer to use the colorful and unique characters from GoAnimate for Schools to do it for me. For example, when reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” my students encounter quite a bit of irony in the story. I can make a presentation slideshow and add a voiceover, but that’s just not my style. I’d much rather rely on GoAnimate for Schools’ myriad of interesting characters to create a more engaging lesson.
However, if I ended my lesson with just the animated video, then I’ve only accomplished half of my goal. Where’s the inquiry, the collaboration, the discussion, or life of the lesson?
In many flipped classrooms, teachers assign a video for students to watch for homework and sometimes they include some form of teacher-driven assessment to hold students accountable. In my classroom, I teach my students to collaboratively find the answers through self-directed inquiry.
Enter GoAnimate and Schoology – a more exciting way to flip your classroom.
Schoology is my Learning Management System of choice, and it’s a perfect platform where I can seamlessly embed my GoAnimate videos. Because I want my students to discuss and question what they’re learning, I prefer to post flipped learning materials under Schoology’s discussion forum. After watching a short and funny GoAnimate clip that explains a new concept, my students can demonstrate their understanding by posting directly underneath the video. They can ask questions about what they just watched or explore ideas beyond what was covered in the video. The key is to train students to do this, and once they master this skill, they will amaze you with their answers.
With the GoAnimate for Schools app on Schoology, you’re not just flipping with videos. You’re now flipping the learning by giving students a chance to engage and explore together on a platform built for social learning.
After watching my GoAnimate video on irony, my students were astonished to discover I had created it. When I told them that they will be making some of their own animation videos, they cheered – literally. My students can’t wait to take the learning into their hands. Thanks, GoAnimate, for another successful lesson!

This post is also published on GoAnimate Educator Experiences blog.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Don't Just Flip with Videos. Flip the Learning

One of the hottest trends in education these days is the flipped classroom model. Teachers would assign instructional videos for students to watch for homework, which allows the teacher more time to work on other learning activities in the classroom the next day.  Some teachers also assign questions for students to answer to prove that the student has indeed watched the video.

Is this enough?  Is this innovation?

This is still a teacher-centered classroom, where the questions are driven by the teacher.  This is not new pedagogy.  It's simply moving the geographical location of the lesson from the classroom to the home with the help of technology.

Even Jon Bergmann, one of the first pioneers of the flipped classroom model, will argue in "The Flipped Class: Myths vs. Reality" that this method isn't just about watching the video.  He explained that it's "an environment where students take responsibility for their own learning" and that it's a "blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning."

So how can you flip the learning to the student?

Instead of the teacher providing the questions as accompaniment to the video, teach your students how to ask critical thinking questions that will drive the learning into their own hands.  Assign the video, but also embed it on a platform that will allow students to actively discuss the material they watched with each other.

If students are passively watching the video and simply answering questions that only the teacher will read, they are missing out on an opportunity to explore, question, and challenge their knowledge.  They are missing out on an opportunity to learn from each other.

There are many web tools and learning management systems that do a great job of hosting your flipped learning materials.  My platform of choice is Schoology.  To read more about why, view my post "Why I Chose Schoology Over All the Rest."

So the next time you assign a video for homework, consider creating an environment where all students can actively engage in the learning.

This post is also published on GoAnimate's Educator Experiences blog.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little Known Script Called formMule

If you're a Google Forms ninja, then you've probably experimented with scripts.  If you haven't, then you should definitely give them a try.

In July of 2013, I presented a session called "Let Google Sites Be Your Digital Assistant" at the Google Apps for Education Summit in Redwood City.  Here's the description of my workshop:

School websites are typically created to share information with parents and students.  But what about the teachers?  Learn how to use Google Sites to let teachers schedule their own computer lab hours or to check out mobile carts.  Sites could also be used to share professional development resources or to disseminate information to your school staff.  In this hands-on session, you’ll learn how Google Sites can be an efficient digital assistant when powered by Calendars, Forms, and the script FormMule to automate many administrative tasks.

I love FormMule (a script written by the legendary Andrew Stillman), and I use it to schedule appointment slots in Google Calendar (handy if you don't have a GAFE account) or if you want to trigger email notifications from a Google Form.  This is a great script to try in you want to venture into the world of scripts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is Technology Just a Tool?

Recently, I had a conversation with someone about using technology in the classroom. Though it was acknowledged that students should learn with technology, the conclusion drawn was this. Technology is just a tool.

I think this could be true, depending on what type of teacher one is describing. Teaching with technology just to be cool, modern, or hip is not good pedagogy. However, to downgrade technology to being just a tool misses the point as well.

Could I perform my job without technology? I'm not the type of teacher who teaches straight out of a book. Whenever I come across something that I think I can use in the classroom, I'm always adapting it, revising it, and trying to improve it. It's hopeless. I can't stop tinkering.

I prefer to create my own teaching materials. Even now, after teaching for over 18 years, I still constantly revise my own teaching documents and presentation files -- sometimes from one class to the next because I want to give my students the best work I can produce. So could I effectively do this part of my job without technology?  No.

What about research and learning? Without the Internet, I couldn't look for new literature, author biography, current events, or digital media with which to supplement my lessons.  For example, one year, I decided to augment my "Flowers for Algernon" unit with medical articles about disabilities to help my students appreciate the challenges of living with a disability. Prior to the invention of the Internet, I would have never thought about doing this because I didn't have the resources.

So how do my students benefit from a technology-rich curriculum?

Having access to technology has enabled my students to write for a global audience. As a result of blogging, my students are far more prolific than those from my previous years, and they also have the added advantage of being able to connect with other students around the world through Quadblogging.  This has shown them that the world is bigger than they realized, giving them glimpses of other cultures to which they previously wouldn't have been exposed.

Having access to technology has enabled my students to participate in the Mystery State Project and to have had the opportunity to Skype with a State Senator. We're finally able to bring the world into our classroom.

Having access to technology has enabled my students to create more digital media projects like video animations, live action movies, still photography, comic strips, and podcasts to name a few. These projects taught them how to be creative and collaborative. They learned the importance of revising their work and the necessity of observing copyright laws when choosing their media. They were also more engaged during the learning process.

Could my students learn without technology? Yes. But did technology elevate my students' learning to new heights? Without a doubt.

Like it or not, technology is immersed in our lives - in our homes, at our jobs, and out in the world.

Would you run a company without technology? Then why would you run a school without it?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How Common Core Will Propel Schools into the 21st Century

I have always believed that my job as an educator is to prepare my students to be successful in the world beyond high school.  To me, that meant developing critical thinkers, teaching career-transferable skills, and nurturing an appreciation for humanity in my students.

I believe that some of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects emphasize the same goals I envisioned for students when I first started teaching almost 20 years ago.  I also believe that technology is the gateway through which these goals will be met.

Here are some CCSS that recognizes the importance of technology in the classroom.

1.  "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting."

These standard could easily be met through the use of Google Docs.  To publish their writing, students could write blogs, create websites, and collaborate on wikis.

2.  "Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration."

Teach students how to Google Search properly and how to discern valid sources would be perfect here.

3.  "
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a  standard format for citation."

Students need to learn how to use the Internet for more than just social networking and gaming.  Exposing them to quality journalism, online news and other similar media are crucial in their development as critical thinkers and well-informed, responsible citizens.  Learning how to properly give attribution to not just the written text found on the Internet, but also the plethora of images published online, is just as important.

4.  "Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest."

Teaching students how to use presentation software like Google Slides, Keynote, or PowerPoint not only meets Common Core Standards but is also an important career skill.  Here, they can build upon the skills gained in #3 above and incorporate that information into their presentations.

5.  "Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech."

Many online dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and can easily serve this purpose.  Chances are your students already use them so this standard is easy to meet.

6.  More informational text is expected to be taught across all disciplines now which "includes the subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience."

What better way to prepare students for life in the real world than to expose them to more nonfiction writing, which includes the various media outlets that adults access on a regular basis like CNN, The Wall Street Journal, or National Geographic?

7.  "Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table)."

By practicing #6 above, students will naturally come across the various forms of infographics that are used in the world today.

8.  "Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic."

Need an excuse to use YouTube in the classroom?  Here it is.

9.  "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and

Since my students blog with the world, this one is one of my favorites.  Blogging has truly motivated my students to explore their written creativity.  Read my post "For the Love of Blogging" to learn more.

I'm excited about what Common Core will bring.  I think the standards truly reflect what it means to be a 21st century learner.  Let me know what you think below.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skyping with a State Senator

Today my students had the privilege and honor of Skyping with Senator Kimberly Yee from Arizona.

We just recently finished a persuasive speech unit. During the unit we read "The Gettysburg Address" and "I Have a Dream." I also add a third speech, and it's usually something very recent, like President Obama's inauguration speech. It obviously varies depending on the year we're in. As we studied the speeches, my students learned about the rhetorical strategies used by these dynamic orators - allusion, simile, metaphor, symbolism, and so on. Then, students were instructed to write a speech that would enact positive change in the world. They spend a couple of weeks researching facts that will support their idea (a great opportunity here to teach how to discern valid sources). Afterwards, they write a speech incorporating three facts and numerous rhetorical strategies.

In line with this idea of changing the world, I thought, "What better way for students to understand this than to video conference with an elected official?"

Fortunately for me, I met Senator Yee last summer at the Partner's in Learning U.S. Forum in Redmond, Washington -- an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of Microsoft. Each year, Microsoft selects educators from all over the country to showcase the innovative ways we are using technology in our classroom. It was a wonderful experience, and all the participants shared their projects in a science fair setting. On the second day, Microsoft hosted professional development sessions and gave us the opportunity to also network and collaborate with other educators.

Senator Yee was one of the judges at the event and the only elected official. Immediately, I realized that she'd be a great guest to have in my classroom, considering the speech unit that I usually taught in the spring.

As my class got ready for our video conference session this morning, my students were excited and awed at the idea of being able to speak to a state senator. We had a list of questions ready, and no shortages of students who volunteered to read them. In fact, many students were arguing over who will get to ask the questions. They had to battle for this role, rock-paper-scissors style.

When the call came through, the whole room was silent and attentive. My students were polite and respectful, and they came up eagerly to the camera when it was their turn to ask a question. I was especially impressed by one student who prefaced his question with a "Good morning, Senator Yee," something I had not prompted him to say.

Here are the list of the questions we had.
1. How did you get started in public service?
2. What is the campaign process like?
3. What is the lawmaking process like?
4. What does a typical day look like for you?
5. What is the best part of your job?
6. What are some fun things you get to do?
7. What are some challenges of your job?
8. Do you travel a lot?
9. Do you get to meet famous people?
10. What advice do you have for us?

Senator Yee did a fabulous job of praising my students for their thoughtful questions, and she answered them with energy and enthusiasm. One especially memorable part was when she shared that as a high school senior, she introduced a bill, which eventually passed into law. I thought that was such a great message for my students to hear - that we do have the power to affect our futures, regardless of age.

It was such a great experience, and I hope to invite more guests into my classroom. If you use video conferencing with your students, please share below.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Giving Up My iPads for Chromebooks

I teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom, and I asked to pilot 1:1 Chromebooks for the next school year.

Truthfully, it wasn't an easy choice to make.  Secretly, I tried to squelch my nagging desire to do more with my students.  After all, I loved teaching with iPads, and I'm proud of all the work, creativity, and fun that came out of using them.  Besides, iPads are cool.

But I had to be truthful.  I had to be creative to use the iPad as a creation tool, and I had to find workarounds.  And there were things my students just couldn't do on them.

I teach four classes of 8th grade ELA, and in my classroom, I heavily emphasize writing, analysis, and critical thinking.  A keyboard obviously would've been nice, especially since my students pounded out over 2,600 blog posts over the course of six months alone (in addition to the essays, responses, and online discussions they write for me).  Many of my students cite the lack of a keyboard as a shortcoming, but my school couldn't justify this additional expense, seeing that thousands of dollars have already been spent to build our iPad carts.

Also, I wanted my students to fully utilize all the features of Google Docs - annotating text, commenting, and all the social and collaborative aspect that makes Google Docs - Google Docs.  But these features weren't available on the iPad.  (Note: some months after the writing of this post, the Google Drive app has been updated to include the ability to add comments. However, this iPad version is still lacking when compared to its full web capability.)

Additionally, I'd like my students to create Google Slides, which isn't possible so I had to resort to using other apps.  Then, I had to teach them how to export their work in order to import it to a LMS or a Dropbox folder.  Export work just to import it again?  It seems silly to me...and an efficient use of instructional minutes.

I also wanted my students to create content on Glogster, Nanoogo, Storybird, GoAnimate, and many of the myriad of apps out there that don't work on the iPad.  (Read my blog post on "Using GoAnimate to Fight Bullying" on how we used this great video animation tool in the classroom.)
I can see iPads, with its learning apps, having a greater role in the elementary classroom, and though there are also some great apps for the secondary classroom, it's still a device designed to consume content rather than to create it.

For secondary students, this isn't enough - not for a rigorously, academic curriculum called for by the Common Core.  I've always believed that writing should be a shared, cross-curricular responsibility, and using Google Docs with its full potential is better suited to meet this essential need.

Can students fully utilize Google's core productivity apps with the iPad the way they can on a computer/laptop/netbook?  No.  That's why I wanted to bring Chromebooks into my classroom.  But will my students still use iPads?  Absolutely.

Luckily for me, my current iPad cart will become available for checkout, and I'll book it when I want my students to create digital media projects - on iMovie, Audioboo, Zoodle Comics, and J&C's PhotoStory to name a few.  (Read my blog post on "How to Use Zoodle Comics in the Classroom" for ideas.)  However, for every day use, I plan to fully utilize Google Apps for Education on the Chromebooks, the way it was meant to be used.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Using GoAnimate to Fight Bullying

"Student Working on a Project" / Copyright 2013 by Alice Chen
In the classroom, student engagement is essential to learning.  Without this component, students are merely going through the motions.  When I discovered GoAnimate, I realized immediately that it was a great product that my students and I would love.  In just under 10 minutes, I was able to quickly create a professional-looking video to jumpstart one of the many professional development trainings I provide to other teachers at my site.  Soon, I was also using it to teach new concepts in my classroom.  Naturally, the next step was to introduce it to my students.

In my classroom, we not only read stories, but we also analyze them and make connections between the world of literature and the world in which my students live.  For example, bullying is unfortunately a reality in schools today, and to address this issue, I challenged my students to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) on what it means to take a stand against bullying.  They were to choose an upstander (someone who speaks up against bullying) from literature, history, or modern times.  It could be a literary character from many of the stories they analyzed throughout the semester, a political leader they studied during our speech unit, or even an acquaintance they knew.

For their PSA, my students first had to write a script that included the emotions, actions, and dialogue of their characters.  Then they had to bring their script alive through the use of multimedia.  At this point, I gave them a choice of creating a podcast, an iMovie, or a GoAnimate video.  Though my students had never tried GoAnimate before, many were immediately drawn to using it and the majority of them chose this as their vehicle of expression.  

As my students worked, I can hear the excitement in their voices as they argued (in a friendly fashion) which characters and settings to use.  In the past, when my students use a new technology tool for an assignment, I have to front-load the activity by creating my own tutorial, which is obviously very time-consuming.  Luckily, GoAnimate provided a quick and easy tutorial on their website that modeled how to create animation videos.  However, most students didn’t even have to watch the tutorial, and they went right to work, easily maneuvering GoAnimate’s site without any need for guidance.

After my students finished their GoAnimate PSA’s, they couldn’t wait for me to show them to the rest of the class.  Also, they were truly interested in viewing each other’s work as well.  In the end, I was pleased with the quality of work my students created, and they had so much fun using GoAnimate that they didn’t even realized that they were also learning along the way.

This post is also published on GoAnimate's Educator Experiences blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lesser Known Google Search Tools

Here are some lesser known Google search tips.

Do you have some favorites you'd like to share? Please add them to the comments section.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Using iBooks Author to Create a Digital Handbook

Before technology became available in my classroom, my students would create a paper handbook at the end of the year sharing what they learned with next year's students.  Now with iBooks Author, they can create a digital version.

  1. Students can work in groups of three or four.
  2. The following pages are required: Cover, Message from the Authors, Table of Contents, Chapters, and About the Authors.
  3. Chapters must include: "Classes," "Skills Learn," "Teachers," Front Office," "Extra-Currcular Activities," and something of their choice.
  4. I tell students to keep the handbook positive.  Balancing honesty with tact and diplomacy is a good skill to learn.

Animation for Beginners

GoAnimate is an easy way to make video animation for your classroom.  Adding characters, dialogues, and a setting for your story takes only a matter of minutes.  They offer free personal accounts, but you can upgrade to two different accounts for more features.

Here are some ways I see how it can be used in the classroom:

  1. Math - Explain concepts
  2. Science - Present the Scientific Method on a particular question or problem
  3. History - Provide a timeline of events that led to an important moment in history
  4. English - Show character analysis or theme.  Illustrate the most pivotal moment in a novel or short story.
  5. Health - Create a Public Service Announcement on a health tip.
Recently, my students created Public Service Announcements using GoAnimate to speak up against bullying.  My detailed post can be found on GoAnimate's Educator's blog.  Click here to read it.

What do you think?  What are some ways GoAnimate can be used in the classroom?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Let the Guessing Begin

Last month, I stumbled upon the Mystery State Project. In this activity, two classrooms video chat with each other but do not reveal their individual locations. Before meeting online, both classes research facts about their own state and create clues about their location. Then, each class takes turns asking yes/no type questions in a race to solve the mystery.

The first clue should be rather general and vague with each subsequent clue becoming more specific and obvious.

The other class went first and our exchange were as follows:

  1. Other class:  Our professional baseball team is very famous.
  2. My class:  Are you on the East Coast?
  3. Other class:  No.
  4. My class:  We are west of the Mississippi River.
  5. Other class:  Are you located in one of the central states?
  6. My class:  No.
Some classes like to assign specific roles to students (i.e. greeter, clue giver, questioner, researcher, runner, photographer, videographer, notetaker, etc.).  However, I like giving all my students some camera time with the other class so this is the method I implemented.

  1. Form teams of three or four students.
  2. Set up three or four chairs in front of the camera.
  3. Each team gets a chance interact with the other class by giving clues and asking questions.
  4. Teams waiting in the wings can strategize as they wait their turn.  They should also be furiously researching and debating over the answer, maybe even tweaking their clues or questions if needed before they sit in front of the camera.
  5. The team that guesses the location of the other class can win a prize.

It was a fun activity for both my students and myself. I loved how they immersed themselves in researching our state so that they can come up with the best clues. Inadvertent learning. Which teacher doesn't applaud that?

When the day came for our online meeting, both classes were really excited. Our mystery partners were enthusiastic and welcoming. Both sides worked hard to guess the other's location with the use of search engines and maps. The period flew by quickly, and soon we had to say goodbye. Later my students asked when we could do it again.

To find other educators who are involved with mystery video calls, you can join Google+ Communities like Connected Classrooms or my friend Jo-Ann Fox's Mystery Location Calls.

What do you think of this activity? How could you adapt it to your classroom? If you'd like to join us in this activity, please contact me. I look forward to working with you!

Why I Chose Schoology Over All the Rest

With so many Learning Management Systems (LMS) to choose from, which one should you adopt in your classroom?

Without a doubt, Blackboard has the largest market share in the field of LMS's, and I believe it's because they were one of the first companies to offer a product many colleges and school districts needed.  However, being the biggest company out there doesn't equate it to being the best.  I've tried Blackboard and found it frustrating.  Their layout is clumsy and their features are illogically named.  One of my colleagues told me that they actually sell a Blackboard for Dummies.  Surely an LMS shouldn't be that complicated.

Many dissatisfied users of Blackboard have turned to alternatives such as Moodle, Haiku LMSCanvas by InstructureEdmodo, and Schoology.  Not having truly tried Moodle beyond a superficial dabbing, I can't render an opinion.  However, I have used the latter four extensively with my many classes.

Haiku and Edmodo are great products.  These sites are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and are easy to navigate.   I know many who love these products, and I do, too.  I thought my search was over.  I could easily have chosen either of them for my classes.

Until I found Schoology.

Schoology has a Facebook-like feel to it, with its news feed (called Updates) and the ability to upload your picture or avatar.  Students and teachers can post to the Updates page and "like" or add comments.  Since most of my students are 13 or older, this similarity to Facebook is a big plus.  No need to purchase a Schoology for Dummies with this product.  I'm sure such a book would never exist.

What makes Schoology a clear winner is that it works well multiple platforms - whether you're using a web browser, smartphone, tablet, or even the Kindle Fire.  I can't think of many products that offer this last option.

So what about Canvas?  Canvas also has a clean interface and is definitely superior to Blackboard in its ease of use.  As a matter of fact, Canvas was created by two computer science graduate students who were inspired by the comment, "Think of the worse software you use and you probably have a business idea."  They realized that it was Blackboard, and thus, Canvas was born.

I really liked Canvas, too.  Navigating through their website is easy, and they have an awesome iPad app called SpeedGrader that allowed me to give audio and video feedback for student assignments while reclining on my couch.  However, it was originally created for colleges and graduate schools, and it looked serious and plain, not quite as appealing for the younger students.   (Nevertheless, it looks like Blackboard has some competition here because in December of 2010, the Utah Education Network of 17 colleges chose Canvas to replace Blackboard, and they've continue to convert many other universities since then.)

In the end, I found Edmodo to be most similar to Schoology, but I discovered that Schoology has richer features and does everything I want.

In my English language arts class, discussions are vital to my needs.  The only place to host discussion on Edmodo is on its "wall," which over time becomes buried.  I appreciate the fact that Schoology has its own discussion section, and I can create different topics for my students to discuss.  These discussion threads are always stored separately, and I can go back at any time to check them or view a student's response.  Plus, Schoology offers analytics so all  I have to do is click one button and instantly I can see how many times a student participated.

Additionally, I can embed videos, insert a link, or host my Google Slides in these discussion threads.  This is great for flipped learning because students can react to these teaching resources in the comments below.  Lastly, I am given the option to score their responses if I wish to grade them on their contributions.

Schoology also has some nice features like creating students groups.  If your class sits in teams like mine, this comes in handy if you want to issue group assignments.  A quick click to assign work to a pre-determined group, and you're go to go.  You can also assign work to individual students.  Another nice feature is the ability to align your lesson to the Common Core or to your specific state's standards.  This is helpful if your site administrator wants to see how your lesson meets these standards.

Being an English language arts teacher, I tend to assign written responses and essay exams, but I think many teachers who teach other content areas would appreciate the rich features offered by Schoology when it came to quizzes.  Here's a brief overview of what options you have as a teacher.

  • Create timed tests.  You can time the entire test or time each question.  This deters cheating since students won't have enough time to look up the answers on the Internet.  
  • Randomize the questions and the answers.  Students who sit next each other will have different questions even if they're on the same number.  On top of that, even if they're on the same question, the multiple choice answers can be randomized.
  • Create math tests with formulas in the test question and test answer.
  • If students are taking the test on the iPad and they exit the Schoology app, the test will end and be scored at that point.  This also prevents students from going on the Internet to look up the answers.  (Of course, if you allow students to retake the test multiple times, then they can try again so keep this in mind.)
  • There are many types of test questions available: True/False, Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Reorder, Matching, Short Answer/Essay.
  • The quizzes can be self-grading.
  • There's an option to allow students to retake the quiz multiple times (as a teacher you determine the number of tries you will accept).
  • You have the ability to score answers on the best score out of X number of tries or on the last score.
  • You can configure it so that only one test question is viewable at a time.
  • You can determine when the quizzes will be available 

Here's a screenshot of one of my classes in Schoology.  I love how organized it looks.

I've been converted.  And I'll never look back.

Here are a couple more resources to check out.

How about you?  Which LMS do you like and why?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two-way Sharing with the Dropbox App

You're using iPads in the classroom.  Now what?  How do you collect the work they created?

I found Dropbox to be a great two-way sharing tool.  Students can share their work with you, and you can share files you want them to access, too.

According to their website, "Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring all your photos, docs, and videos anywhere. This means that any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computersphones and even the Dropbox website."

This is my setup:
  1. I have two Dropbox accounts: one that I use to store all my teaching files (I'll refer to this as my teacher account), and a second one that I use only for my class set of iPads (I'll refer to this as my iPad account).
  2. I create a folder called "iPad Language Arts Folder" from my teacher account and share it with my iPad account.
  3. I create subfolders in this "iPad Language Arts Folder" for each of my classes (i.e. Period A, Period B, etc.)  My students would upload their work to their specific class folder.
  4. I also have subfolders of the unit we're studying (i.e. Short Stories, The Outsiders, etc.)  I usually leave those folders there for students to access all semester.
This setup allows me to easily drop any file I want to share with my students.  What do I share?  They're typically files I create just for my students.
  1. A word document
  2. A presentation file I want them to follow (You can turn off your LCD projector to save your bulb!)
  3. A PDF file
  4. An audio file
  5. A video
  6. Pictures (I take pictures of the participation points they're earning in my class.  I also take a screenshot of their current grades from my computer.  Both are posted anonymously.  You no longer have to post paper grades on your wall for everyone to crowd around.)
What kind of work can your students share with you?  The Dropbox app allows you to import images and videos from the iPad camera roll.  It could be any picture or video they created on the iPad.  It also could be a screenshot of any work they created on an another app.  See my post on "How the iPad Transformed My Classroom in 30 Days" to read about the different apps you can use with iPads.  I also describe in detail how I use Zoodle Comics in my classroom on a different post.  

How do you use the Dropbox app in your classroom?  Please share in the comments section.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How to Use Zoodle Comics in the Classroom

Students can create their own comic strip by using Zoodle Comics.  It comes with the ability to add speech bubbles, captions, and characters.  Students can import their own images to personalize the comic strip even more.  They can use a non-copyrighted image from the Internet or take their own photos.  Just make sure they save it to the iPad's camera roll in order to import these images.  There are two versions, free and paid.  The paid version has more features, but I found the free version to work just fine for my students.

It's a great way for students to express what they've learned.  In science and math, students can explain a concept.  In history, they can depict a historical event.  In English, read on.

Tableau vivant: A group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history.

Goal:  Students will analyze a character or theme from the story they read.

  1. Students will sketch four scenes in the style of a tableau vivant from the story they are reading.  
  2. They will depict a character or a theme from the story on a storyboard.
  3. After students finish the storyboard, they need to take a photo of each tableau vivant they created.
  4. Next, launch the Zoodle Comics app and have students import their tableau vivant photos.
  5. Students will add speech bubbles and captions to explain their scenes. 
  6. Save work to the camera roll.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jing? Snagit? or Camtasia?

Recently, I was asked by a colleague what I thought of Jing and Camtasia by TechSmith.  It's a question I asked myself in the past when I first started researching screencasting tools.

Last year, I started using Jing, and for a free product, there's lots to love.  It's simple and easy to use for your first dabble in screencasting.

With Jing, you can take screenshots of your desktop and add annotations to get your message across.  You can also record what you're doing on the computer.  You can easily share your captures via email, your social network, or host your videos on their website.

However, it is a beginner's tool so if you're looking to do more, then you might consider Snagit or Camtasia.  What's the difference, and do you want to pay more?

Obviously. paying more means more features.  For example, with Jing, you're limited to a five minute video but Snagit has no such limit.  Also, with Snagit, you have full image editing capabilities, and I have to say, those tools are very cool to have.

How about Snagit and Camtasia?  There are two major differences upon first glance.  You can use Snagit to capture images.  You can't with Camtasia.  However, Camtasia has video editing capabilities.  Snagit does not.  Of course, there are many other features that differentiates the two, and  I think this TechSmith employee's explanation is well-written and quite detailed.

Here's also TechSmith's product comparison chart on their various products, which includes Jing, Snagit, and Camtasia.

Snagit and Camtasia both come with a 30-day trial so it's a great way to try them out if you aren't sure which one you want.  They also have an educator's discount so if you decide Jing isn't enough for you, try Snagit or Camtasia at their reduced price.