Response To: The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom

Recently, I’ve had a bit of a “reawakening” in my professional life. As things in my personal life have recently taken an all-time high in the crazy department (we added twins to the picture this past summer, so we’ve also added to the cute department), my presence in Twitter chats and my blog have taken a severe plunge. I’m the first to admit – I can’t do it all – and something had to give. But, as we come out of the fog of what is life with newborn twins, I’ve begun to re-emerge, joining my favorite chats once again, interacting with those I respect and admire on Twitter, and now, thanks to my most recent #leadupchat, I’ve resolved to spend more time in my “whitespace,” which has resulted in my renewed interest in my blog. Add to the mix that one of the people I so admire and respect, George Couros, tweeted a very thought provoking article (at least thought provoking for me), and alas! My first new blog post has been born.

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As you can see in the image above, the article that George tweeted is titled, “The Dark Side of Tech in the Classroom: Caveats for Implementing Tech in Schools.” The article can be found here. The article quickly got my attention, and as I read on, I knew I couldn’t respond how I would want to in 140 characters or less. So, I’m here to take you through my thoughts – right, wrong, or other.

First, I want to make one thing very clear. My response is in no way an attack on the author of this article. In fact, it seems as though we’d be in the same school of thought when it comes to technology. He considers himself a tech-enthusiast, and the last sentence of the article reads, “If used properly, tech in education can (be a) fabulous tool for learning.” This statement is one that I can 100% be on board with. High five! If you know me, you know I am indeed a tech-enthusiast. I’m very pro-technology. But you know what? I’m also pro-personal interactions. Pro-have a good handshake. Pro-make good eye contact and speak clearly and respectfully. Pro-appropriate social interactions. Pro-face to face conversations. Pro-self advocacy. You get the idea. The thought here is that it’s all about balance. Technology is great, but solid teaching practices have to come first. I’ll touch more on this later.

As leaders, we are automatically charged with several things. Two of them, as they relate to this article are:

  1. Leaders are called upon to nudge people out of their comfort zones. As you well know, there are effective ways to do so, and there are also very ineffective ways to do so.
  2. With this in mind, when trying to initiate change, or when asking people to step outside of said comfort zones, it’s important that you listen to their concerns just as much if not more than you push the change upon them.

So while I may not agree with the majority of what is in this article, as a leader, I need to understand that these are not just “excuses” that people are throwing out there. They are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. If you toss them into the pile of “excuses,”  if you don’t hear what these people are saying, and if you don’t try to work with the so called “excuse givers”, what do you think the chances are of you getting them to step out of that comfort zone we talked about earlier? Build relationships. Learn to work with those who oppose you or your ideas. This is not something that happens overnight. It comes over time by building trust and modeling and encouraging risk taking. I wanted to say that, because as I go through the points the author is making, it may seem like I’m brushing this above point to the side, but please know that I understand this to be true with every fiber of my being.

One last bit before I dive into this article. I know we are taught at an early age not to assume things. You know how that saying goes. But, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to assume the following:

  1. We (educators) want what’s best for kids.
  2. We (educators) are good people at heart who want to do the right thing.
  3. We (educators) want our classroom to be a place that kids want to be.

Ok, now that you hopefully have a better understanding of my philosophy as a whole, I feel as though I can have some honest dialogue about the aforementioned article.

The article

I want to start by addressing a sentence found very early on in the article. It states:

“Oftentimes, technology is thrown into classrooms while the school administrators sit back and wait for the high test scores to roll in.”

I cannot cringe enough about this statement. I’ll put it as simply as I can: An ineffective teacher with technology is still an ineffective teacher. There. I said it. Technology does not improve test scores. It is not the magic solution. Pedagogy ALWAYS comes before technology. Good teachers improve learning, and good teachers integrate technology to help students learn. While I see the point that the author was trying to make with this statement, what I see here is a leadership problem, not a technology problem. If the leaders of your school expect technology to all of a sudden make kids perform better on standardized tests, then they’re missing the point of why technology integration is important. This is hard for many, because the effects of technology are not easily shown with numbers and data and test scores, but rather with creativity, projects, and genius hours. I like to compare it to “soft skills.” Is there a standardized test for responsibility? Dependability? Gumption? Grit? Just because we want to integrate character education in our buildings, doesn’t mean it has to correlate with test scores. We do it because it’s good for kids. Similarly, wanting to prepare students and teaching them how to problem solve, create, and be fluent with technology in a digital age is enough reason for technology integration, without looking solely at test scores. To complete my thought from earlier in this paragraph, if you give technology to an effective teacher – now that’s something to be reckoned with. The possibilities are endless.

Counterpoint to First Caveat:

“Students may not be interested in activities that don’t use technology.”

The simple counterpoint: Effective teachers will find ways to engage students both with and without technology.

My more complex description: Teachers have been engaging students without technology for years. They will continue to to so for years to come. You want to know how? With lesson plans that are relevant and interesting. This may or may not involve technology depending on the week, day, activity, etc. I’m going to lay it all out there for a moment: If you really cannot find a way to meaningfully engage our students without using technology, it’s time for some deep reflection on why you are an educator. I truly believe that as an educator, you should be able to reach your class in meaningful ways that don’t involve technology. Yes, technology can be an excellent way to engage students in higher order thinking, and a great way to add relevancy to lesson plans, but in the end, it’s YOU that’s engaging (or not engaging) students. The school I’m currently in is a 1:1 school with Chromebooks. And you know what? It’s awesome. I see teachers effectively using technology all the time, and it’s so fantastic. And you know what else? I see teachers effectively not using technology too, and it’s so fantastic. They are finding other ways to engage students, working on ALL THE OTHER skills that are important for our students to leave us with. Remember what I said earlier? It’s all about balance. So while I do think it’s important for educators to grow, learn, change, adapt, and meet the needs of learners, it doesn’t always mean technology all the time. It’s not a “technology or nothing” mindset. That would be counterproductive.

Now, I have to admit, that previous paragraph is just a reaction to the title of this section of the article. The actual example it gives under this section is essentially this: If students are so used to typing essays on a laptop, and turning them in via Google Classroom, then they won’t want to write those essays by hand, if something were to happen to the technology. He states, “Most will prefer to use the computer than doing it the old fashioned way.”

Can I just say for a moment, that I’m with the students on this one? I can’t blame them for not wanting to handwrite an essay (other assignments – sure…essay? Probably not).  I’m not de-valuing having students write things by hand. I think it’s important for a number of reasons, I know the research is there – handwriting IS IMPORTANT (remember – balance), but to think that someone wouldn’t prefer to type an essay is a bit of a stretch for me. Do you know how many times I’ve hit backspace typing this? Deleted entire paragraphs? (You’re welcome.) There aren’t enough erasers in the world for me to write this out formally by hand. I bet if you took a poll of adults and asked if they would prefer to handwrite or use a computer to compose an essay, I’d be willing to say a vast majority would want to use a computer for such a task. Now let me take a moment to recognize and give a shout out to the hand-writers out there. Good for you – you do what works for you. In fact, I hand wrote the outline to this blog post. But there’s no way I would want to write my finished product by hand. Furthermore, if while completing, let’s say, my Master’s degree, I lost all ability to use technology to type my papers, I’ve got to admit, I would have been pretty bummed. And by pretty bummed, I mean I probably would have lost my mind. Also, there’s a reason that things like Google Classroom and Blackboard exist. It’s called organization and efficiency. I’m going to go extreme here for a minute, if you’ll allow me to do so. We no longer use quills for pens and carrier pigeons for message delivery, as those methods no longer meet our needs, right? We’ve deemed them inefficient. I don’t keep a carrier pigeon around in case I lose all electricity and the USPS goes under (I’ve found my Harry Potter owl much better for such cases). I digress. What I’m saying here, is that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the students on this one. Sometimes technology is a good thing that can make our lives easier, and it’s ok to accept that.

Counterpoint to Second Caveat:

Teachers in-service training is generally needed when introducing new technology — another workshop or staff development they don’t have time for.

I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet, because this is a topic I could write on for a very long time. I said this earlier, and I’m going to say it again. This is a leadership issue, not a technology issue.  What are the leaders in this building doing to promote a growth-mindset among their staff? What are they doing to attempt to intrinsically motivate teachers to learn and grow? This is true whether your PD is technology driven or not. Good teachers will make time to learn something new. Remember my assumptions before? Educators want what’s best for kids, and they are good people at heart. Tap into this and find a way to get their gears going. Work to personalize their PD (shoutout to my #personalizedPD crew!). Give them choices, find what they want to learn about, build relationships, build trust, invest in your teachers, and eventually, they’ll come play for a bit in your sandbox. You cannot just say “here’s what we are learning so learn it.” Find a way to make the technology (or any PD) relevant to what they do, how it can transform their classroom in a good way, and then differentiate/personalize/individualize the heck out of your PD.

I have one more point to make here (well several more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I’ll make this the last one for this section). Don’t assume that teachers don’t want to learn and that they don’t have time for new PD. If you work to make learning relevant to teachers and balance that with getting them out of their comfort zone, amazing things will happen. I want to talk specifically about those veteran teachers who get a bad rap sometimes. The author states, “Getting veteran teachers to try a new teaching method, let alone something they have to take time and learn, can be something of a chore.” I’m sure this can be true. I’m not naive enough to think that there are no teachers out there who aren’t “stuck in their ways” so to speak. I know you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, etc. etc. However, in my experiences, some of the best learners are veteran teachers. I think if we automatically write veteran teachers off as unwilling to change, we are doing everyone a huge disservice, and even missing out on amazing leadership potential in our buildings. Again, do some leg work to find where they want to grow, and create PD to match that, while still stretching them out of their comfort zones. But please, can we stop throwing veteran teachers into this massive pile of “unteachable teachers?” My mom was a teacher for 38 years, and up throughout her last year, she was learning new ways of doing things, integrating technology, making lessons fun and engaging for kids. There’s a teacher at my school who is retiring at the end of this year, and I’ll be darned if she’s not taking things from PD days and applying them almost immediately. Remember, educators want what’s best for kids, educators are good people at heart, and educators want their classrooms a place that students want to be.

Before moving on to counterpoint 3, I’m just going to pose this question, because I can’t seem to shake it. Has it crossed anyone else’s mind that this article was written satirically? I’m going to paste a paragraph below, to which I won’t respond necessarily, but it almost seems like the author was being sarcastic here.

Teachers spend six or seven hours in a classroom but as most teachers know, a lot of their teaching time is dedicated to preparation. After all, someone has to put together those Powerpoints and worksheets as well as enter student work into their grade book. Attending training on something entirely new will take them away from their necessary tasks.

Counterpoint to Third Caveat:

Technology could prove to be a distraction for students.

Yes. This is true. Students are…SQUIRREL! Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Counterpoint: Everything can prove to be a distraction for students. Your poster on the wall. An email they received earlier. The kid sitting three rows up. What they’re having for lunch. Thinking about the game after school. Kids are distracted creatures by nature. Whether you “allow” cell phones/technology in your classroom or not, kids are texting in class. Fifteen years ago, they were writing notes to each other on notebook paper. Today, they text each other.  This is a classroom management issue. Yes, you’re going to have kids try to text and get on social media at inappropriate times. These are teachable moments. Use them as such. Have clear classroom expectations, use strategies such as positive behavior supports, conferences with students, and when necessary, discipline. Be consistent. Be fair. If you let the fear of students using technology for communicating with friends keep you from using technology at all, you’re really missing out. Yes, it will happen. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it’s something you can overcome.

Similar to a statement I made earlier: A teacher with good classroom management skills will continue to have good classroom management skills with the addition of technology. Similarly, a teacher with poor classroom management skills will continue to have poor classroom management skills with the addition of technology. As leaders, we can help them overcome this.

Counterpoint to Fourth Caveat:

Teachers use it because “they” like using it, with little concern for the students.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a response to this. Not because the argument is so solid that there is no rebuttal – quite the opposite. The author points out that if a teacher gets a new computer, they’re going to spend all their time ONLY making presentations on said computer because they like it, disregarding all other forms of teaching. I know I’m young, and I have a lot left to learn in my career, but I’ve literally never met a teacher like this. Sure, there are teachers who are slide show heavy (I had a professor in college nicknamed Slide Show Eddie), and I would encourage these teachers to continue to seek engaging ways to have students learn the material. Most teachers that I know that use slide show presentations also utilize really awesome projects, assignments, and activities that are student centered and good for kids. I’ll end this counterpoint with a statement I made at the beginning: pedagogy always comes before technology. If a teacher is putting technology ahead of pedagogy, let’s all rally together to bring them back to the mothership.

Final Thoughts

I always have the intention of being short and to the point, but rarely measure up to that intention, so I thank you for hanging in there with me ’till the end. I do want to share a few closing thoughts before I wrap this up. Technology is a really powerful tool that teachers can and should integrate to maximize student learning, to create innovators, to create problem solvers, to create great communicators, and to have fun. However, we all know that technology is not always sunshine and rainbows. It’s not easy. Neither is being a teacher. It’s hard work. Really, really  hard work. But what a great opportunity that we have – to model to students how to problem solve and work through difficult situations, to take risks and learn from mistakes. To teach them when it’s appropriate to use technology and when it’s not appropriate to use technology.  We are preparing the leaders of tomorrow, and if we don’t use technology because there are going to be too many difficulties along the way, then we are doing our students a disservice. Yes there will be times when the network goes down. Yes, there will be student misbehaviors. Yes, your hard drive may crash (be sure to back up!!). I encourage you to take these challenges head on, learn from them, improve upon them, and continue on the path of creating great lessons for kids. I’ll end with a quote from the great John Wooden, someone I look up to immensely:

Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.

 

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Tech Tuesday: Student Presentations That Are Not Slideshows!

Well Hi There! Happy New Year!!

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, in case you were wondering. I know, I know, I’ve been lagging on my blogs – but for a good reason, I promise! I’ll blog more about that in an upcoming post.

What I want to talk about today are three Tech Tools that you can have students use that are not slideshows. I’m not trying to knock any of my favorite slide show tools, such as Google Slides and PowerPoint, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a little variety in the mix… especially if you’re viewing over 100 student presentations.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to draw your attention to a few things. First, please remember a while back, I did a Tech Tuesday over Digital Storytelling, where I highlighted the tools Animoto, WeVideo, and VoiceThread. These are really great tools for students to use on a presentation or project, but not what I’m presenting today. Also, I’ve presented Storify to my staff before as well, which definitely has its place for some projects and presentations. The final point I’d like to make today, is that my blog post today is all about the tools, but I have a disclaimer for you: Just using a fancy tool with a surface level project that’s not meaningful to students doesn’t mean that you’re using technology for the betterment of student learning. It won’t turn a bad assignment into a good assignment, just because you use one of these technology tools. Please continue to put pedagogy first, technology second.

You’ll also notice that for each of the tools that I present below, I’ve included a presentation about Genius Hour, using the tool at hand. Genius Hour has been a topic of conversation at my school, and several teachers have been wanting more information about it – so today’s Tech Tuesday was a 2 for 1 – come learn about some presentational tools, and if you want, here is some information about Genius Hour!  I more or less have the same presentation three times, so you can see what the differences look like in each of the three tools. My main resources for putting together this presentation were: www.geniushour.com (and several links and videos that I gathered from that page), this Edutopia article, and this LiveBinder, put together by Joy Kirr.

Ok, without further adieu, here are the three tools that I presented today during Tech Tuesday!

Tool #1: Adobe Slate

Adobe recently released the web-based version of their presentational tool, Slate. Slate was previously only an iPad app, but has since made the transition to being completely web based. Here is a promo video for Slate, where you can get an idea of what some of the products have a potential of looking like.

The idea behind Slate is that you can get a great, professional looking product, without having to be a designer. If you like something with pre-made themes, this is for you. Since the themes are set for you, it allows students to spend more time on the content, not on the style. This has both pros and cons, depending on what you are going for – some people prefer something they can customize a little bit more. I, on the other hand, appreciate the fact that I don’t have to think about the design.  One limitation is that you cannot embed videos in Slate, but you can put a link in for a video.

Here are some examples of what Adobe Slate looks like:
If you click on this link, it will take you to the Slate website, and if you scroll down just a bit, you can see quite a few of examples for you to click on and view.

Here is a brief tutorial on some of the features in Adobe Slate.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Slate.

Tool #2: Smore

Smore is a tool where you can build online newsletters and flyers. I use Smore to send out a Friday Focus newsletter highlighting the great things I see in classrooms each week. The version I use is not the free version, but rest assured, there is a free version, so don’t let the “pricing” page fool you.

What I really enjoy about Smore, is the ability to embed a YouTube video into the newsletter itself, and you can watch it without leaving the page. In this one aspect, I believe it is better than Slate, but I enjoy the options that Slate offers with photos more than what Smore offers.

In a similar way as Slate, Smore is another tool where you can choose backgrounds and themes and fonts, but most of the formatting is done for you.

Here is a brief tutorial on what Smore looks like.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in Smore.

 

Tool #3: PowToon

Bring your slideshow to life with PowToon. Although the paid versions offer some really neat features, the free version is more than enough to add some pizzaz to a typical presentation. You can choose from ready-made templates where you fill in some information here and there, you can choose a theme that’s ready for you to add all the details, or you can start completely from scratch.

When you are making your presentation, you’ll have a choice to be in “movie mode” or “slideshow mode.” In movie mode, all you have to do is hit play, and the “movie” that you’ve created will play. In slideshow mode, it will be, well, a slideshow. You can still have all the same features as movie mode, but it’s more ideal for “presentations” so you can stop and go at your own pace. PowToon allows you to tell more of a story than a typical slide show. Also, If you want to embed video or hyperlinks to your presentation, you can only do so in slideshow mode.

You have the opportunity to add background music, and even some voiceovers for some really neat sound effects.

PowToon is much more complicated than the other two tools that I’ve shown today, but it has the potential to make a really great product that the students can have a lot of ownership over. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It simply means more problem solving and working with the technology. Also, you don’t necessarily need to be an expert in PowToon to have your students make one. Have them be resourceful to troubleshoot some of the issues they come across. (But just in case, here is a link to some tutorials for PowToon.)

PowToon Examples:
https://www.powtoon.com/examples/

*These examples are made with premium accounts. You can’t have “people” in the free version.

Here is my Genius Hour presentation in PowToon – it is in “slideshow mode” for the sake of having hyperlinks and videos. You’ll notice that on sides where I have links and/or video, I have placed a “hold” at the end of each slide to allow myself to “pause” the presentation if needed, so we can visit those links. That is why there is a brief pause after each slide. I could take these holds out, but it is a neat feature for students when presenting. You’ll notice it does interrupt the flow of the music a bit. The holds are not necessary if you take your presentation off of “autoplay” and manually change the slides. I did not opt to have holds on slides without a link or video.

NOTE – THIS IS NOT LIKE GOOGLE DOCS – IT WILL NOT SAVE AUTOMATICALLY. PLEASE REMEMBER TO HIT SAVE MULTIPLE TIMES THROUGHOUT YOUR WORK!! OR ELSE YOU’LL LOSE IT!!! (Speaking from experience here.)

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Those are the three tools for today! I hope you enjoyed the lesson, and learned something as well! Happy Tech-ing!!

-Megan

Tech Friday: Student Blogging

Well, in the imperfect life that is school administration, my Tech Tuesday turned into a Tech Friday, but I was just glad to be able to get it on the schedule, regardless of the day! This week, I aimed to provide a quality resource (or curation of resources) to teachers about student blogging. In my lesson, I make the case for blogging, and some really awesome “side effects” blogging can have for students. I referred to an article by George Couros where he does an excellent job of explaining why students should blog. I then linked up a bunch of resources and examples of student blogging, followed by four (free!) platforms that make the process pretty easy. Don’t get me wrong – there is quite a bit of work to get started with student blogging, but using the right tools can help the process become easier. I hope you enjoy the lesson on student blogging! Thanks for reading!

Click here to access the lesson on student blogging.

-Megan

Tech Tuesday: Digital Storytelling

(Programming Note: If you don’t want to read my commentary about the process I went through to produce this week’s Tech Tuesday, I link up my presentation at the very end of the post, you can just scroll down:)

Before Tech Tuesday this week, I sent out a survey to staff asking which type of professional development they were most interested in. The choices were “Alternative tools for student presentations (besides Google Slides and PowerPoint),” “Teacher tools for organizing your digital life,” and “Digital Storytelling.” I wanted to be sure that I was presenting on topics that the staff wanted to learn about, and this survey would help me determine the priority of the professional development that teachers wanted. As it turns out, all three were tied in interest level almost all the way through. At the end, Digital Storytelling barely prevailed, and I was very excited at the thought of putting together professional development for this.

And then, I Googled it.

If you ever want to be overwhelmed by resources, you should try Googling “Digital Storytelling” sometime. It was tough to know where to start. Luckily, I had recently made a connection with the educational technologist that is now at a school where I used to teach. She had recently completed a large project for a master’s class on Digital Storytelling, so her resources provided me with a FANTASTIC starting point. I then got on Twitter, because if I ever need a bunch of GOOD curated information, I head on over to @cybraryman1’s website (cybraryman.com) and I know I will find a ton of excellent resources. So using these two platforms as my launching pad for research, I knew I was in good hands. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to my PLN and all of the interwebs for your resources.

When I taught, I cannot say that I used a ton of digital storytelling in my classroom, but I did use the heck out of GoAnimate (back in the day where you could do some cool stuff for free) for some funny Spanish videos with my students (hey, all that matters is if I thought they were funny, right?). And that was about the extent of my knowledge on digital storytelling. So, I knew I had quite a bit of work to do when it came to this professional development. I needed to get to know the ins and outs of digital storytelling in about a week. What better way to get to know it than to start making a few videos?? But what do I make a video about? The obvious choice is to make a video about my daughter (which I did), but I knew I would need something a little more powerful. Something that came from…. the students. So I talked with our video production teacher to see if I could borrow a few of his students in his upper level video class to be in my video. I asked them a bunch of candid questions about storytelling and why it’s important, and how technology helps them tell their stories. I was blown away by their responses. Check them out!

The fun thing about this video, besides the students providing me with some amazing responses, was that I completed it ALL on my phone. (Shout out to the iPhone 6s for coming complete with iMovie!) Now, here’s where my Tech Tuesday adventure took a fun little turn. I sent my completed video to the video teacher and another tech-savvy teacher so they could see how great the kids did. I also put a plug in there about how iPhones rule, because they are both passionate about their Android devices. This spurred a fun and friendly video competition. The video teacher laid out the parameters for the contest:

Length: 45 seconds – 1 minute
Theme: Your Kid(s)
Must Haves: Text, a close-up shot, and a spoon.

I’m a sucker for competition, so I made my second video for Tech Tuesday. Check it out!

Through this competition, I was able to include mobile storytelling in my presentation for both Apple and Android devices.

I then knew that I needed to become familiar with some web-based Digital Storytelling programs. Throughout this process, I bet I looked through 15 or so web-based programs, and it was a lot of work to go through and weed out the ones I felt didn’t offer as much. Through my research, I came up my version of the best FREE ways to complete digital storytelling in the classroom. (Sometimes you have to get creative for “free.”) The top three that I found were:

WeVideo (Free version allows for 5 minutes of video production per month.)
Animoto (Apply for the educator’s package to get 50 free student accounts – get creative with student grouping if you have more than 50 students.)
VoiceThread

All three offer slightly different types of stories to be produced, based on teacher preference and comfort level with each one.

I finished my presentation with curricular ideas for implementation, to get some creative juices flowing for teachers.

What digital storytelling lessons to you incorporate in your classroom, or what ideas do you have for future use? I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, below is my presentation that I used during Tech Tuesday today! I hope you can find something useful out of it! Thanks for reading!

-Megan

Tech Tuesday Presentation: Digital Storytelling (Note – you can only watch the videos if you are in “Present” mode in Google Slides. And the links in the slides only work properly if you are not in “Present” mode.)

Tech Tuesday: Google Hangouts

Good Tuesday evening to you!

I apologize in the lack of blog posts lately. I could give you a myriad of excuses, but nobody wants to hear that, so onward we go.

Today was my third Tech Tuesday with my staff, and today’s lesson was all about Google Hangouts!  As I’ve stated in earlier posts, we are a GAFE school, so I wanted to do the first several Tech Tuesdays utilizing tools that we all have available to us, and that can be utilized across content areas.  Prior to putting this lesson together, my experience with Google Hangouts was fairly minimal, so I apologize for the raw-ish video tutorials that go along with the lesson. I will say though, that the more I learned, the more I loved about Google Hangouts. There are some really great ideas out there about how to utilize Hangouts (I hope I cited all the proper sources!). One of my favorite discoveries through my “research” were two Google+ communities, which I talk about in my lesson. They are a fantastic way to connect with educators not just across the country, but across the world. (Wow – how powerful is that?! Sorry, sometimes the foreign language teacher in me comes out, and I just get awestruck with things like global connections – and how easy it is to have them in today’s classroom.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the lesson, and can find something useful out of it as an educator.

Happy Hangout-ing!

Here’s The Lesson

-Megan

Tech Wednesday: “Google Docs: More Than Word Processing”

Today I had my second Tech Tuesday. Well, it was actually a Tech Wednesday. Tuesday of this week was a disaster scheduling wise, so Wednesday it was. It doesn’t quite have the ring that “Tech Tuesday” does, but hey – I think I can let that go.

Anyway, to keep it short and to the point, this week’s lesson was about getting the most out of Google Docs. It was not a lesson about Google Apps overall, but it was three mini-lessons about how to use Docs for more than word processing. Now, my disclaimer is this: Word processing is a good thing. It is a needed skill, and students need to know how to write a variety of texts, and write those on a computer. I’m not undermining the importance of that in the least.  I spend a good portion of my days putting my word processing skills to use.  The goal of the lesson today was to explore what else Docs can do for us – because there is a lot. With the collaborative features, and the ability to link up websites, articles, images, videos and more – you can turn a Doc into a really interactive experience.  I hope you enjoy the lessons!

Click Here To Access The Tech Wednesday Lessons

If you’re a teacher, I hope you can find these mini lessons helpful! If you’re an administrator, I hope you can find these mini lessons helpful! 🙂 Feel free to comment below to let me know your thoughts! Have a fantastic day!

Megan

P.S. How about this short and sweet post?! It’s a miracle!

Tech Tuesdays – A New Adventure

One of my goals for this school year is to provide differentiated, meaningful professional development to teachers in our building. For those of you who have been charged with PD implementation in your respective buildings or districts know that this is no easy task. However, I’m passionate that professional learning should have relevance to teachers, so I aim to provide them with relevant topics and ideas for professional development. You may have read my post on how we are allowing teachers to participate in Twitter chats for PD points. That is just one path on my adventure to personalize PD this year.

Last year, I would give monthly, hour(ish)-long presentations to staff about a technology tool or an idea of how to better incorporate technology into lesson plans. It was a decent start, but I knew I was somehow still missing the mark. I tried to reach as many content areas as I could within a single presentation, but as you may well know, it’s hard to have a one-size PD session where everyone leaves thinking, “Now THAT is something I will start using immediately.”

This year, we decided to restructure that PD time. Those days once a month are going to be used for teacher collaboration, and we will not interfere with that time. However, technology is an initiative we feel is important for our school to continue to progress and stay relevant to students and stakeholders. So where does that put us for technology professional development?  Enter Tech Tuesdays. Twice a month, I will put together a PD “menu” so to speak, for teachers to come pick and choose what tech tools they want to learn about.  I set up shop before school, stay in the library all day, and stay after school to try to meet the convenience needs of as many teachers as possible. Oh – and did I mention this is optional?  We want to support and encourage teachers who want to take risks and try new things by providing them with ideas and resources. But if you don’t want to come play, I’m not going to make you.

So today was our first Tech Tuesday of the year. I set up in the library conference room, a little nervous, a lot excited. After all, I had spent probably close to 15 hours researching, making decisions and choices, creating video, curating content, and putting it all into a neat little package. This was a “Labor of Love” that I was really excited to share with staff.

I decided to make today’s Tech Tuesday all about Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Our district is a GAFE district, so why not spend time investigating ideas of how to better incorporate this FREE resource that is available to us? So, I put together the first in a series of GAFE Tech Tuesdays.

When teachers came to see me, I first shared with them this Google Doc. This Google Doc was a “table of contents” more or less that contained links to the three different lessons I had created for the day. Teachers could do all three lessons if they wanted to, or they could pick and choose the one(s) they felt were most relevant to them.

The first lesson option (click to see the lesson) that they had was an update to Google Classroom. I studied up on some of the updates, had a teacher show them to me, and put together a little screencast featuring the updates. I paired this with an article and video that I found on the “Ditch That Textbook” website that described 12 creative ways to use the new features in Classroom. There was another link that helped navigate Google Classroom in general. At the end there was a discussion question in my Tech Tuesday Google Classroom for teachers to discuss how they have used Classroom in the past, and how they can see themselves using it in the future. (The discussion question aspect was present in each lesson option today, with the hopes of sparking some online collaboration and sharing of ideas.)

The second lesson option demonstrates how to use the “Go To Page Based On Answer” feature in Google Forms to differentiate instruction for students. Using this feature, teachers can create a Form that is responsive to the answers that students submit, and take them to various pages within the Form based on their answers. For example, if a teacher has a multiple choice question on a formative assessment, and the student answered it wrong, based on that wrong answer, the Form would direct them to a review page rather than the next question. When they finish the review page, they can try to answer the missed question again, and when they do answer it correctly, they can then move on to the next question. Pretty neat stuff.

The final option for today’s Tech Tuesday was another lesson that featured the “Go To Page Based On Answer” option in Google Forms, but this time it centered around the idea of “Choose Your Own Adventure” (you remember those books form the 80s and 90s?). Check out the lesson linked above for details. (Thank you to #sstlap for getting me engaged with this idea!)

I’d like to give a quick shoutout to my PLN on Twitter for providing me with a vast majority of the resources found in those Google Docs. I tried as hard as I could to give credit where it was due throughout the lessons – please do not think by any means that I created all of the resources within these lessons. Curated – yes. Created – no. A BIG shout out to the makers of HyperDocs who helped me with the organization of my lessons for Tech Tuesdays. It will be a really seamless way for teachers to access the lessons, especially when I put them in my Tech Tuesday Google Classroom.

I want to sincerely thank the teachers who came to Tech Tuesday today. I so appreciate you dedicating your time today to some professional learning. My attendance rate today was not through the roof – but it was a good starting point. I received some good feedback from the teachers who attended, so I will continue to try to build and improve upon what I have started for future sessions.

If you have any suggestions, feedback, comments, etc., please comment below, or contact me via Twitter, @MeganBlackEHS. If you are a school leader, I hope you can find something useful to share with staff. If you are a teacher, I hope you can find something that speaks to you to use in your classroom. Thank you for taking the time to read through my post! Stay tuned for the next Tech Tuesday in a couple of weeks! Have a fantastic day.

Megan

Twitter? For Professional Development? You Betchya.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. So, naturally, I can’t sleep. It’s either blog or have a dream that I show up and have nothing actually prepared for the big day. I’ll save the latter for later.  Although I’m so excited about our first day tomorrow (I’m getting more familiar with why they call it “on pins and needles”), I’ll wait to blog about it until it has actually happened. Let’s just say I have roughly 25 upperclassmen taking the reigns for a good portion of the day, and I’m so anxious to see them rock it!

The last few days have been a whirlwind. We, as an administrative team, worked very hard to prepare the first two days of inservice for our staff. We have a lot of logistical changes this year, and our staff, like the champs they are, took them all in stride. I feel very fortunate to work at the school I work at. The teachers are hard working, open to new ideas, and down to have fun. I took them through two ridiculous team building activities, and we had SO much fun with it. Truth bomb – it was the first time I had played these games with adults, and I was a little nervous about it. All I knew is that I thought the games were hilarious and fun (and could deliver the points we wanted to make), and hoped the staff would enjoy them. We may have left the gym sweaty, but we laughed the entire way back to the library, where it was off for more learning. Anyway, back to my point – our teachers rock. Today, one of our secretaries came by my office just to say, “I love where we work. How did we get so lucky to work with such amazing people?” All I could do was agree with her, because she was absolutely correct.

Nonetheless, when presenting new ideas to a group of teachers, it’s easy to find yourself second guessing your presentation, how you delivered it, how it was received, etc. (Which is why we started giving out feedback forms after each inservice day – we want to know how our teachers feel about how our time was spent!) So when I delivered the presentation on how to earn Professional Development Points by learning via Twitter, I was both ecstatic, and a little nervous.

Let me back up just a little bit. Back in February, I attended the NASSP Conference in San Diego. This was one of the best things that I think could have happened to me in my first year as an administrator (because let’s be honest, I need all the help I can get in this still-new-to-me-role). With people like Eric Sheninger, Dwight Carter, and Daisy Dyerr Duerr presenting, how could I not come away with some of the most amazing ideas? (Which by the way, I’ve taken at least one thing from each of those education gurus and implemented a version of it at EHS, so thank you for that!) Even though the presentations I watched from these leaders were not directly about Twitter, I couldn’t help but notice that Twitter was everywhere around me. Hashtags here, @’s there, presenters tweeting as they’re presenting, attendees live-tweeting the conference – I was submerged into the Twitter-verse. So one night in the hotel room, I took a look at my Twitter. I had a private account. I tweeted mostly just personal things, little updates (that no one probably even cared about), the Royals, and occasionally, maybe something about school. That night, I started following the conference hashtag and started following some people from the conference. I started looking at what they tweeted about. I looked at who they followed, and what they tweeted. I found more hashtags. More resources. More everything. I started reading articles on the benefits of using Twitter for professional reasons, and I was hooked. That night, in the hotel room, I made a change. It was subtle at first, but the more I got into it, the more I loved it. I began the journey of transforming my presence on Twitter. I started leveraging Twitter for professional growth and telling our school’s story, and I haven’t looked back. Now, if you look at my profile, it’s nothing to brag about. In fact, 629 followers as of tonight does not qualify me as someone to be looked to for advice on, “How to get more followers on Twitter.” But more importantly than the number of followers I have, is what I gain from Twitter each time I get on. I should probably re-phrase that. Twitter is the tool I use in which to get resources; however, what I gain, I gain from like-minded, driven, passionate educators around the world. From reading articles, to getting resources, to new ideas, to collaboration – Twitter is a vehicle that will take you all of those places, and I knew that night in San Diego, that Twitter was something I needed to get to know. Now.

Last year, I worked with a couple of teachers at my school, and with the professional development council in our district, to write and approve a policy that allows teachers to earn Professional Development Points if they participate in their own PD on Twitter. By submitting a “proof of learning,” they are eligible for up to 2 or 3 points per submission. If you’re interested in the policy itself, feel free to check it out here.

I spent some time last year trying to lay some groundwork so that this policy could be ready to roll out this year. We spent some time as a staff learning how Twitter works, researching hashtags, and exploring what it has to offer educators. Yesterday, I was able to briefly re-touch on those points, and present to the staff the opportunity to gain PD points through their own learning experience, followed by time to explore and play around on Twitter (and Storify).

One of our goals this year is to improve and transform professional development in our building. We hope to be able to bring a bigger, better EdCamp to our teachers, implement Genius Hour, and include other innovate ideas that our teachers came up with for professional development. We hope that by implementing our Twitter PD Policy, it will only have a positive effect on teaching and learning in our building. I think it’s important to note that this is not going to be an expectation of our teachers – we understand that this isn’t for everyone. We simply want to provide teachers the opportunity to get rewarded for taking the initiative to learn on their own, and encourage them to use this massive resource if they feel it can benefit their growth journey.

I had a teacher today tell me that she always has a hard time finding new, innovative ideas for CTE classes. With one of the hashtags from the presentation yesterday, she said she already found a few! I was A) so happy for her that she found some resources, and B) so excited that she shared that with me.  I told you earlier that our staff is awesome.

Here’s to a new school year – one full of change, opportunity, learning, and let’s not forget to sprinkle in some fun and laughter. As usual, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. Now off to dream about all the t’s I forgot to cross and i’s I forgot to dot for our first day of school.

-Megan