Category Archives: Collaborative Tools

Branding Your Classroom: What’s Your Story?

twtMy colleagues are probably getting a little tired of me touting the power of Twitter as a tool for developing a personal learning network. I won’t be swayed, of course, but I may be shushed just a bit…but only because I’ve come across an even better idea for how to leverage social media in the classroom.

I’m a bit of a podcast freak and I’ve just discovered Talks with Teachers, produced by Brian Sztabnik. Brian publishes regular interviews with some of the most interesting educators in the country. The podcast promotes itself as a resource for K-12 ELA teachers but truthfully it has something to offer everyone.

I chose two podcasts this week. The Power of Branding with Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo told the story of two administrators who used student interest in Twitter to build a visible digital “brand” that gave insight into what their schools were like and what they had to offer from a student perspective. Over time their tweets gave the community a public view of their school from the student stakeholders themselves. My thought was that this could provide great advertisements for schools as we move into situations where we may be vying for pools of students with expanded school choice options.

I followed that podcast with an episode by one of my favorite bloggers and presenters, Vicki “Cool Cat Teacher” Davis. She talked about using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to record those aha moments in the classroom- connections students make- or just documentation of what happens on a regular basis.

She took it a step further and suggested the use of Storify to create a weekly newsletter for parents and community members based on the week’s tweets and social media entries. I tried it- it’s easy! Here’s a sample of a quick one (10 minutes, I promise) based on our Hour of Code in early December:

There are several take-aways here:

  • Using social media in this way gives students an introduction to blogging… and blogging enables students to connect with content on a personal and authentic level.
  • It’s the epitome of student voice.
  • Learning becomes transparent.
  • Allowing students to create the newsletter adds choice to their voice.
  • Your classroom suddenly has a story that’s being actively told.

Like it or not, your classroom is already “branded.” Is it the one you want? If not, how can you change your practice to change the story that can be told?

Edmodo: 12 weeks later

In the infancy of this blog, I wrote a post about Edmodo. I was looking for a platform upon which to build my 7th and 8th grade class sites. The post describes the pros and the cons of using Edmodo and is still a good place to start learning about it.

I didn’t ultimately use Edmodo. I had just discovered GoogleDocs and decided to put my efforts into learning how to use Sites. Not a bad tool…but this year my needs changed and I gave Edmodo a try. The rest of this post is a synopsis of my trimester.

ImageIn a nutshell, Edmodo is a self contained classroom that looks like Facebook. There really is no learning curve for students- they get it right away. It’s easy to introduce and the workflow for students is simple- log in, check the progress pane to see where you are, and get to work.

From a teacher’s viewpoint, the advantages to Edmodo are many:

1. Notifications: Students and parents (yes, there is a parent login) can receive updates from you via text message or email. The text option has proven to be quite popular with both parents and students. I even have my notifications set so I get a text whenever someone posts something. This helps kids stay within the classroom rules that we set about what the Edmodo wall is for.

2. The Library/Backpack/Activity Stream: I often find extra resources that I’d like students to have access to outside of class. The Backpack allows me to share folders in my library that show up in the student’s backpack. The activity stream shows me who is accessing them so I can tell which ones are most readily used.

3. Differentiation Tools: You can easily create small groups within Edmodo. Have kids that need remediation? Create a group, add members, and assign work to just these students. Need more complex assignments for your students who are ahead? The same process works for them as well.

4. Progress Page: Students and parents can easily see progess. The progress page has visuals as well as links to assignments and the status of each. No more wondering if a teacher has graded an assignment and not put it into the grading software. Teachers can grade work as they review it, comment on it, link to resources etc., cutting down on the time it takes for feedback to reach students. Students can also ask questions about the assignments without having to wait to see the teacher or hoping he or she gets an email.

5. Connections to other communities: As teachers living with non-existent budgets, professional development can be hard to come by. Edmodo has subscriptions to communitites to help you bridge the gaps that budgets create. I subscribe to a smartboard group (Teq). By following a community, you get updates on YOUR page without having it show on your students’ pages. Of course, they could follow the community as well if it enhances what you do in your class. Communities and resources are well categorized which is a good thing because there are SO many of them!

6. Badges: Think of badges like virtual stickers. Even 8th graders like to collect them! They can be customized as you wish and assigned for anything- academics, work ethic, or anything else you celebrate in your classroom. Just be prepared to stay on top of it once you start doling them out!

7. Tech support: This probably should be in the number one place. Edmodo’s tech support is unsurpassed. First of all it’s done by live people in real time. I almost always get an answer to my questions within an hour of asking them- and frequently its much quicker.

Bloom’s Mashup

Blooms Taxonomy Tools and TutorialsI’m always interested in how we can promote higher order thinking among teachers. Andrew Churches started us off with his Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy chart which describes what technology activities might be done at each level.  My PLN member Kelly Tenkley has done a great job of illustrating technology tools that can be used with this digital taxonomy chart (she has many- search her site for Bloom’s taxonomy). I’ve added a bit to the mix by combining the two into a tutorial library for use with the different levels of Bloom’s. It wasn’t altogther altruistic- I needed to create a resource for an online class I’m taking and this seemed like something useful beyond the parameters of this semester. It’s a work in progress- share as you see fit.

Blooms Taxonomy Tools and Tutorials

Prezi. Just Plain Good for Content

Prezi samples

The Prezi sample window

I’ve been messing around with Prezi for the better part of a year now, and I like what I see. If you aren’t familiar with Prezi, it’s that very popular presentation software that allows the presenter to easily zoom in, flip things around, and play videos with relative ease.  I like it for a whole host of other reasons.

First and foremost, I’m not a big fan of student created powerpoints. Far too often the bulk of their efforts are put into the animations and transitions with little thought to the way these detract from the content. Students read from slides without having a good grasp of the information they are trying to present, and the audience is numbed into silence when it comes time to ask questions. They are just glad it’s over.

Here are the advantages of Prezi as I see them:

Formatting: Prezi limits “glitz” options significantly. It has about 8 backgrounds to choose from, and each has pre-programmed fonts and colors that can’t be changed. No more getting lost in the color picker or the font window.

Text: It’s easy to put in small amounts of text and more difficult to enlarge the boxes to add “too much” text. This encourages students to use bullets rather than paragraphs.

Images: Images can be added and users can use frames to zoom in to a particular portion of a photo. For example, you can have the program zoom to a portion of the photo- ask prediction questions- then have the program zoom out to show the entire scene. You can also easily focus in on a detail that might be lost when viewed as part of the whole photo.

Video: Embedding video doesn’t get much easier than Prezi, especially if you are taking it from YouTube. Prezi also lets you upload a wide variety of file formats for images and videos, but limits the file size to 50 MB for the free version.

Sharing: This is a new feature in Prezi, and a pretty significant one. You can share presentations with up to 10 viewers and allow them to edit-making collaborative work a breeze. Users can sign up for accounts easily.

Prezis embed easily into most webpages and can be used as standalone teaching aids with some creativity in the design of the presentation. Links to public prezis can be posted or emailed- making student work easy to share with family and the world.

Differentiation: The biggest difference between Prezi and traditional slideshow programs is the layout. Picture a large, flat pallette upon which you lay the different elements of your presentation. They can be in any arrangement you choose, unlike the linear display of a PowerPoint. Creators use a path to connect the elements, and this path allows users to move easily from one element to another and back again. This layout is great for kids who need to brainstorm, move things around, figure out the order, move it again, and have flexibility in their design.

Wheel Reinvention: It just may be that the presentation you are wanting to create for your class already exists, at least in a semi-useable form. Many users post their prezis and allow others to copy them, edit them, and use them for their own purposes. What a great time saver!

Dream Big: Week 3

I just love it when lessons have unintended consequences. Dream Big has moved into its third week, and the kids are polishing their plans and analyzing the skills they need for success. We used the Remember the Name Michael Jordan Remix by Fort Minor as our transition song- the lyrics talk about “10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will” which gives a great lead in to the importance of determination and hard work. They all know Michael Jordan and the story of how he was cut from his high school basketball team. We talk about the choices he had- he could quit, he could blame outside issues, or he could get to work on improving. We had a great discussion about coaches and teachers who “don’t like me” and what the options for the kids are in those situations. I hadn’t planned this part- it just sort of appeared as a teachable moment-so I expanded and suggested that teachers that are “mean” by pushing them to do better probably see a spark of promise in them. This surprised a bunch of the kids- you could see the lights go on.

The other unintended gift of this project has been having the seniors come visit. At first, the seniors were a bit reluctant, thinking they had little to offer. Now, the word appears to have spread. I have kids stopping me in the hall asking if they can talk to my classes. They come and talk about handling setbacks, about making choices to be successful and how they stay on track. It’s great to see them recognize the value of the strength and dedication to their own dreams. One young woman pursuing a career in art said, “When you get up in the morning, you will be with yourself all day. If you can put yourself in a place where you are happy, it will be a good day. Don’t let others define where that will be.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Dream Big: Week 2

What a fun week! Students are excited about their dreams and those of their classmates. Our first task was to help each person share their dream with others.

Each class handled the task of sharing dreams a little differently. Some decided that we needed some norms, and focused on respect for each other with regards to what is included in their dreams. One class was clear that a person’s dream belonged to that person and others were not to ridicule or try to change the owner’s mind. Others were interested in being able to see each other’s work to help encourage each other. What I saw and heard from them bodes well for the future!

We tried out a variety of tools to put their dreams into a central document. We used email, etherpad (one day before it was disabled!), and a shared document. (Email actually worked the best). Eventually I got all of their dream statements into one space and was able t0 put it into a Wordle. It looked like this:

6th grade wordle

6th graders dreams (click to see larger image)

I greatly underestimated the importance to students of having their dreams represented in this graphic. They needed time to be able to look for their words as well as to see the scope of the project from their peers’ viewpoint. There was a lot of curiousity about who wanted what- and a great deal of validation as we learned who was dreaming what.

I chose a new “transition” song for this week- “It’s My Life” by Jon Bonjovi.  This video gets them cranked up a bit and gives some great lyrics to jump into discussion with. We talked about being a “just a face in a crowd” and “making your own breaks.” After this transition I introduced our daily guest from the high school. One, a recent graduate, was following his dream of being a professional wrestler. Another is an aspiring baseball player with a long history of hard work and success.

Overall, the students talked about the importance of staying dedicated to their goals. They talked of frustrations. One student had his graduation gifts “revoked” when he said he wasn’t going to college right away. Another spoke of personal sacrifices made socially to stay on track with his dream. The best quotes of the week were: “When people tell you you’ll never achieve your dream, don’t listen to them. They are just mad because they aren’t living theirs.” “Make sure what you do puts you in the best possible place to be successful.”

My students then started planning their own dreams. We used a template I created in GoogleSites with three sections:

  • Identify the dream
  • What skills do you need to be able to “do” your dream?
  • What are you doing now to get yourself ready to reach your dream?

This format allows me (and other students) to comment and collaborate with class members to work on their dream plans.

This is where we stopped…and next week is vacation. We’ll be picking this up with renewed enthusiasm on April 26th.

Dream Big

Dream Big

Dream Big

I started what might well be the most important unit I have ever attempted today. It’s called Dream Big, and it was inspired by a link to a video from a member of my Twitter personal learning network.

The teacher in the video began with a simple set of statements. “In order to reach our goals in life, we have to have a dream. We have to have a plan for our future.” she says. “What have you done to make your dream come true already?”

Heady talk for 6th graders? I think not. Julia Clukey, a member of this year’s Olympic Luge team, took her first “luge run” at 12 at a trial on a street in Portland, Maine. She’s been “making her dream come true” ever since. The video created an aha moment for me and sent me on what I think could be the most important trek of my career.

It sounds dramatic, but the teacher’s statements really hit home for me. Success rarely happens by luck. It is the result of tenacity, of belief in self, in a person’s ability to be resilient. It’s also something we don’t teach directly. We assume kids get it. Many don’t.

The teacher in the video listened to the dreams of the kids and validated each one. Each and every dream was reasonable and valuable; each child felt valuable as well, I’m sure. She also emphasized the need to plan and follow through in order to achieve a goal.  I felt as though a mirror was being held up to me- did I offer this same assurance and encouragement to each and EVERY one of my students? Or just the ones I thought could deliver?

With renewed energy and resolve, I’ve started the Dream Big Project. On the surface, it’s a multimedia project that teaches kids about the elements of a good presentation, using short strong impact statements, and organizing information that is relevant to them. We’ll produce short Animoto clips to share- some may be a combination of dreams, other single shots, as students desire. Each class starts with a transition from keyboarding to the Dream project with the music video “Dream Big” by Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband.

The project is bigger than this. It has to be more than merely lip service to my students- I have to have at least the same belief that they do that they can, in fact, do anything they set their minds to.

I’m having students from the high school come down daily and talk about the paths they have followed in pursuit of their dreams. Just a quick 5 minute pep talk. Basketball stars, artists, those that thought they would never graduate- all are invited. My 6th graders will see dreams in action.

My hope is for each student to not only have a dream, but to carry a dream. Sometimes it will be all they have. To inspire hope, we have to believe in possibility. This will be an ongoing series of posts…wish me luck.