Category Archives: Technology

Turning Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

The following post is part of a collaborative effort with Erica Speaks (@TeachingSpeaks), and you can find her discussion of the benefits of this activity for student learning on her blog, Teaching Speaks Volumes.

As Will Richardson pointed out in the original edition of “Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts“, student work benefits from the presence of a real audience.  Students are motivated to work harder and gain meaningful feedback from others when they publish their ideas and efforts in an online forum.

But, the technical barriers to setting up a blogging experience for students can be daunting.  Even educators with experience themselves blogging, or publishing other online work, may struggle to find an effective and streamlined way for students to put their writing on the web.  But, the advent of turnkey blogging platforms for education (like Edublogs) and simple tools for collecting student writing (like Google Forms) has made this task much simpler.  I present here a four-step method that any teacher can use to turn old-fashioned book reports into online book reviews that encourage authors to interact with their adolescent readers.


1. Create a blog: The video below illustrates the simplest method (in my opinion) using the free WordPress.com service.  Edublogs is a hosted version of WordPress that is specifically designed for classrooms, but you need their “Pro” level paid service to activate the “post by email” feature that makes this process much simpler.  So, I recommend going to WordPress.com as a free alternative.  After creating the blog, you can customize the site to include a school or district logo, or just tweak the colors to make it more appealing.  Note: Any blogging platform that supports the “post by email” feature will work for this purpose.


2. Create a form: The video below demonstrates how to use Google Docs to create a form that collects the information that you find important.  Keep in mind that some of the collected information will be used to generate the blog post, but other information (e.g., student identifying details) can be kept off the blog and only viewable by the teacher for the purposes of assessment.  Feel free to start with my template, but be sure to go to the File menu and Save a Copy before editing it.


3. Use a plugin to convert the submitted form into an email message: Here I explain how I used formMule to perform this function, including the important step of matching the format that WordPress.com accepts in their Post by Email feature.


4. Create a submission page on the blog: The final step is to embed the Google Form on a page of the WordPress.com site that is password protected so that only your students can submit blog entries.  You can moderate all entries so that no unauthorized submissions get published as blog posts.


Tips and Troubleshooting

  • If the blog posts are not showing up on your blog, start by checking that the form is saving information.  Do this by looking at your Responses spreadsheet in Google Docs.  If entries are found there that are not posted on the blog, move on to the next bullet.
  • Next, go to the Dashboard for your WordPress.com blog and go to the All Posts area.  Check to see if the posts are sitting in Draft form or otherwise waiting to be published.  You may need to tweak the language in the formMule template to get the blog posts to be published automatically.
  • Be aware that the author of the post will be you.  The blog post author’s name will match the name of the WordPress.com account that activated Post by Email.  You may want to adjust the official name on that account to look more like “Student Blogger” or something similar.

My First Month With My Apple Watch

IMG_0806As an Apple Store employee, I was fortunate enough to purchase one of the new Apple Watches and receive it about a month after it first started shipping.  Over the past four weeks, I have tried to observe closely the benefits and disadvantages of the new device.  Here are my top five takeaways:

    1. As Matthew Inman (of The Oatmeal) pointed out in his much more entertaining piece about his Apple Watch, it is a passive device that is not designed for creating content.  In fact, the spectrum from most creative (but least portable/convenient) Apple device to least creative (and thereby most portable/convenient) would have the iMac or Macbook on one end and the Apple Watch on the other.  But that tradeoff doesn’t make one device better than the other, only better suited to certain purposes.
    2. It is unnecessary gadget for almost everyone.  No one needs an  Apple Watch.  Let’s just get that out of the way.  But, as a timepiece and a tool for making my iPhone more useful, it is really handy.  As a teacher, I don’t like to pull out my phone even to perform professional duties, like adding Experience Points in Classcraft or sending an email to a student.  In truth, I want to model for my students how to engage with other people despite my own unhealthy obsession with electronics.  The Watch lets me feed my desire to stay connected without drawing my attention for long periods of time.
    3. The Taptic Engine that provides Apple’s brand of haptic feedback is amazing.  Until you actually wear an Apple Watch, it is difficult to understand how subtle and effective the notifications are.  No one around me knows that I have received one and it doesn’t interrupt nearby conversations.  This has led to the odd (for me) experience that many of my close friends and co-workers don’t even know that I own the Watch.  It’s not something that asks for attention.
    4. Digital Touch is a fun and interesting way to interact with others.  Unlike text messages (and much more like Snapchat) the taps, sketches, and heartbeats don’t remain on the watch after they are viewed.  It is an ephemeral yet personal way to communicate and I see a lot of potential as more people purchase Apple Watches, in the same way that AirDrop and iMessage became killer tools once iPhone adoption reached a certain level.
    5. I am a lazy dude.  That is a fact.  I have tried using a Fitbit to track and thereby encourage more physical activity, but it didn’t work for long.  For me, the tradeoff between getting exercise feedback and having other benefits of a true watch was a difficult one.  Now that I can get all of that on one device, I find myself sticking with it a little bit more…. for now.

That’s right, I went to bed like this. #selfcontrol #littlejoys #365project

A photo posted by Paul Cancellieri (@mrscienceteach) on

 


Do you have an Apple Watch?  Share what you’ve learned from it.  Have another wearable and want to share your opinion? Use the comments.

“Technology is a tool, which when used correctly, can assist a teacher in transforming instruction. However, technology will not transform instruction without a teacher creating engaging, interesting activities for students.”

-Mark Samberg in his recent piece “Why I’m Done With SAMR”

Speaking of guys (sorta) returning to blogging.  I am 90% in agreement with Mark here.  It’s not SAMR that is the problem, but rather the way that BIG ED steals good ideas and turns them into bad ones using testing.

BTW, I’m linking to my Instapaper version of the post because I keep getting a malicious code warning when trying to visit it on marksamberg.com.

The LEGO model for edtech integration

medium_7588638570If you’ve spent any time reading about the intersection of education and technology, you’ve probably heard about the SAMR model, originally developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura.  It suggests that teachers’ use and integration of technology follows a progression from substitution to augmentation and then to modification and finally redefinition.  The general idea is that teachers will move from doing what they currently do with the addition of tech to reinventing their practices to doing entirely new things because of the tech tools.  It’s a concept that anyone who has provided support and professional development to teachers has experienced.

With all of that rolling around in my head, I recently looked up from my laptop to see my own kids playing with their LEGOs.  Watching them build, unbuild, and rebuild with these ridiculously over-priced, yet wonderfully open-ended little bricks reminded me of the way in which I’ve observed teachers using and integrating technology into their practice.  It occurred to me that the way kids develop as LEGO “users” mirrors the way teachers mature into technology-infused-educators.  Here is the soon-to-be trademarked “LEGO Model for EdTech Integration”:


STAGE 1: Watching Dad Build

This is the stage at which the child may simply lack the dexterity to snap bricks together, or might not be able to understand the three-dimensionality of the images in the instructions.  Either way, their contribution to the construction process is minimal, but they will gladly play with (and break) the finished product.

In the classroom, this is when a teacher needs the support of tech savvy colleagues and/or students to figure out how to use a tech tool.  She is likely to become easily frustrated, especially when that support isn’t present.  Many (most?) educators never leave this stage.


STAGE 2: Build and Glue

At this stage, my son and I would build LEGO models together, although I would be doing most of the work.  This was a fun stage, but it was heartbreaking when the finished model fell into pieces soon thereafter and he would bring it to me to fix… every five minutes.  My solution to this problem–and I truly regret resorting to such a “nuclear option”–was to use super glue to connect the pieces permanently.

I see this stage of teacher development when teachers learn one way to use a tool and are unable to adjust to differences or fix problems.  They can become quite adept at performing one task with a device or app, but can’t apply those skills to new situations.


STAGE 3: Following Instructions Independently

I was really proud when my son (and later, his younger sister) were able to follow the instructions that come with a LEGO set and build a model on their own.  To me, it was a demonstration of focus, hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail.  It clearly wasn’t a very creative adventure, but definitely successful.

Teachers indicate that they are at this stage when they can dive into a new tool or technique and figure it out by themselves.  Despite not being comfortable creatively thinking of new uses for the tool, these teachers can often troubleshoot minor issues related to the handful of ways that they know how to use a tool.  They can even demonstrate the tool and its use for others to duplicate.


STAGE 4: Building Original Creations with the Bricks

This is the stage that my son has now reached in his own LEGO development.  He will pull out a bin of assorted bricks and begin connecting them to match a pattern in his head.  He spend large amounts of time experimenting with different arrangements to get the visual effect and structural strength that he seeks.  In many ways, the bricks become just a medium, similar to a sketchbook or lump of clay.  He doesn’t care so much that they are LEGO-branded, as much as he wants to have a sufficiently diverse collection of them to make his imagined constructs come to life.

This is clearly the ultimate stage of teacher tech maturity, as well.  It’s a stage that I would love to see every educator attain, although so few (myself included, much of the time) have done so.  At this stage, a teacher thinks first of the learning outcomes that she wishes to achieve.  Only then does she choose the tech tool that will help her students reach that goal in the most engaging and effective way.   The tool (or app or website or gadget) is simply a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.


Just as with the SAMR model, which Puentedura intended as a way to assess and promote tech integration in education, these stages exist on a ladder that moves teachers in the direction of better teaching.  The goal for educators, schools, and larger organizations is to shift instruction in the direction of transformation.  And that requires a serious commitment to putting quality instruction ahead of whiz-bang novelty.

What LEGO are you at?  What would it take to move you forward?
photo credit: Robiwan_Kenobi via photopin cc

Podcasts: Cliff or Runway?

podcast_iconI’ve been a fan and active consumer of podcasts for many years.  Over the past eight months, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road and so my interest in podcasts, especially as a free way to enjoy content from some smart and funny people, has grown.  They can really help a 5-hour drive fly by.

For the sake of clarity, when I refer to podcasts I’m talking about audio programs hosted on the internet that are automatically kept current on your device.  Using a podcasts app (my favorite is Castro, but Pocket Casts and Instacast are pretty snazzy), you can subscribe to a show (or discover one that fits your interests) and new episodes magically show up in the app.  It’s like custom radio with no commercials*.

(I know that some folks will point out that there are video podcasts (vodcasts?) available, too.  But for me those are useless.  I need something to listen to while driving, walking the dog, or doing the grocery shopping.  Any content that requires me to look at the screen is not solving any problem for me.)

But, the thing that I keep thinking about is that podcasts have been around for awhile, and yet most people (outside of a nerdy core of users) don’t listen to them.  Despite their great content, convenient availability, and more widespread knowledge of their existence, they have not taken off with the non-techie crowd.  I often compare podcasts to RSS feeds in this regard.  That’s another tool that I use to consume content, and one that has been around for years.  Yet, very few people make use of them.  That scares me a bit because lack of adoption sometimes leads to services and products disappearing.

So, naturally, I felt some measure of hope when I listened to the latest episode of “The Talk Show” in which the guest host was Mike Monteiro who leads the Mule Radio Syndicate of podcasters.  His take, which is obviously biased toward a positive fate for podcasts, was that we are on the cusp of something great.  As soon as the hardware and software evolve to the make consumption easier and more seamless–they used the example of Apple’s new CarPlay in-dash interface–people will begin enjoying this form of entertainment in huge numbers.

So, which is it?  Are podcasts getting set to take off?  Or, are they heading toward a drop-off?  What do you think?

*Commercials in podcasts are similar to public radio: short promotions for products that usually appeal to me.  When they appear, they are less than a minute long and happen only 1-2 times per hour.


BONUS:  Here are my favorite podcasts right now

10 Twitter accounts that make me better

Disclaimer: I completely stole this idea from Justin Tarte (who would be #11 on this list)

1.Twitter___Search_-_philip_cummings

2. Twitter___Search_-_shawn_cornally

3. Twitter___Search_-_plugusin

4. Twitter___Search_-_mark_samberg

5. Twitter___Search_-_larry_ferlazzo

6. Twitter___Search_-_grant_wiggins

7.Twitter___Search_-_evan_herreid

8. Twitter___Search_-_aaron_slutsky

9. Steven_W__Anderson__web20classroom__on_Twitter

10. Nicholas_Provenzano__thenerdyteacher__on_Twitter

 

My Work-from-Home Rules

My newly renovated "work cave"
My newly renovated “work cave”

My work environment has recently changed in a HUGE way.  After 12 years as a classroom teacher, I am now working from home and traveling all over the state working with teachers.  It’s that first location–my home–that has really inspired me to create a set of personal expectations.  I’ve found, in just a few weeks, that sticking to these rules makes my time much more productive.

As a disclaimer, these rules are my own and they work for me.  Others may find these too restrictive or no structured enough.  If that’s you, tell me in the comments.

  1. Stick to a schedule.  I decided early on to get up each morning at the same time and end my work at the same time each day.  I find that this keeps at bay the temptation to sleep in and waste a perfect morning.
  2. Exercise.  I have never been a guy who gets regular exercise.  Now, however, I can’t use any of the reasons that I once did because I make my own schedule.  So, I make a point of getting out of bed at the same time I used to when I was going to school.  I spend the first hour with some physical activity (walking, jogging, a seven-minute workout, etc.) and then I take a shower and start my day.
  3. Eat lunch.  During my most recent year of teaching, I often skipped lunch because I just didn’t have time.  Now, my biggest problem is that I snack a lot.  To combat this, I started a habit of taking a break at lunchtime, going downstairs to the kitchen, and making myself some lunch.  It gives me a nice Facebook/Twitter/feed-reading break, too.
  4. Work the Pomodoro.  I recently heard about the Pomodoro Technique from a friend, and I’ve started using it to keep me productive.  In essence, I work on a task for 20 minutes, and then I take a mandated 5 minute break.  I decide how many “pomodoros” each task will take and I try to complete it in less.  It actually works.
  5. Kiss the wife.  Okay, not everyone gets this perk.  My wife runs a daycare out of our home during the day, so I generally avoid leaving my “work cave” when I have a lot to do.  But when I complete a big task, or finish a phone call/video conference, I usually take a walk downstairs and steal a smooch from the Mrs.  It keeps me grounded.  And, I don’t think that she minds, either.

I’m sure that list will grow as I learn more of the pitfalls of working from home, but my level of productivity and sanity are stabilizing in a good place, thanks to the structure that these rules bring to my workplace.

What’s your system?