Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Code Week at RGS

If you remember over the summer we had about 50 people come to the high school to play around with Scratch (a visual programming language built for beginners). http://scratch.mit.edu/studios/232165/

We wanted to follow up with more events during the year. On Saturday December 14th we invited students to Richmond Grade School to play with Scratch again, this time as part of code week. http://csedweek.org/

Turn out was smaller, but still fun. http://scratch.mit.edu/studios/301143/

We plan to repeat the activities again at least twice more before summer. I hope you will join us.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Visiting Schools

It is sometimes difficult to be a technology integration person. Some folks see you as a technician and only ask questions about the technology, some see you as the person who knows that one perfect app or website that might make teaching a subject easier.

Those two assumptions are true (to a certain extent), but they do not define me or my job. Integration of technology is not about the technology, its about facilitating relationships.

There is a relationship between myself and the teachers.
There is a relationship between the teacher and the students.
There is a relationship between the students and the content.
There is a relationship between the students and other students.
There is a relationship between the teachers  and the content.
Finally, there is a relationship between the teachers and teachers. 
(Idea taken from Shawn McKusker)

Technology’s part in all of that is to facilitate the relationship, to enhance the relationship. For example, 20 years ago I worked at a summer camp and started dating a woman from England. At the end of the summer she moved home and we started writing letters (many of which I still have). But we haven’t talked in 18 years. Today my son is in a book chat with a boy in Japan, he plays Minecraft with another in Australia, and he video chats with his cousins in Germany. Technology has made it possible for him to build these relationships.

My job is to help teachers find way to enhance these relationships.

I started in kindergarten. Kids love to use the smartboard in those classes, but today they were sitting quietly and listening.

Later they read off of a card before lining up. Some folks might want me to show her a way to do this with a tablet, but I don’t think there is a better way.

I moved to first grade where the teacher spent about two hours the night before creating a picture movie of her students so that parents could see their children in class while waiting for their conferences. I think she was more excited than the kids.

Later I moved to 4th grade to find children making connections between Earth Science and minecraft. They built a cool board game that included minecraft skins and rocks. I learned that obsidian is an igneous rock (It’s a rock in minecraft and my son keeps asking about it because he has never seen it before)

I moved up to high school where Mr. Ghilani who has freshmen most of the day and is comfortable in the one to one environment, had students using glogster to create virtual posters.

Finally, I visited Mademoiselle Gibbons. She uses a lot of technology in her classroom. Today as students entered they opened their new Chromebooks and finished some “bellwork” before the class started. Each student does all of his or her bell work for the year on one google Document and Mademoiselle Gibbons can comment when she feels it is necessary.

I had a few suggestions for some of these teachers, but mostly I just wanted to celebrate what they do. In the end it isn’t about what I tell them to do, its about how comfortable they feel trying to forge these new bonds.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Using QR in the classroom

Last week fourth grade found a fun activity that used a math word problem on a notecard.

Start with a problem (I’m going to grab a sample test item from a test generation site that you might want to consider as a resource)

An example test item from http://my.triand.com/

Under the problem post a QR code and a short URL (web address) to the answer.

In this way the student can use a phone, iPad, or netbook to look up the correct answer.

I took the screenshot of the question and put boxes around the answer using skitch. https://evernote.com/skitch/

I used http://imgur.com/ to host the answer image. (it’s free)

I used an extension in Google Chrome to make the QR code and short URL.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mystery Language Skype/Hangout

Have you heard of mystery Skype? Basically two classrooms get together on a video call and play 20 questions trying to figure out where they other class is located.
It seems pretty popular
It has even moved to Google Hangouts
It just seems natural to me that we would add the component of language to the mix. Evidently, I'm not the only person to whom this idea has occurred. https://education.skype.com/projects/5823-play-with-us-mystery-skype-in-french
So here it is a google spreadsheet. Add yourself to the list and connect on your own.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Art work and the inner child

I was wandering around one the elementary schools this morning admiring the artwork on the wall. I love how they have some framed and presented from contests in years past.

I love this pic by Donald Thomas in 2001.

As I wandered down the hall I saw some great current art work as well. But this assignment caught my eye.

It got me thinking about Carol Dweck and her idea of mindset. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICILzbB1Obg

Which of the words that the students used to describe themselves are examples of fixed mindset and which are examples of growth mindset? I haven’t even looked at the individual words yet. I’m just going to copy them down below and let everyone look at them together.

tough, smart, funny, brave, strong, wild, loving, wonderful, sweet, crazy, fun, awesome, nice, lucky, cool, confident, wacky, kind, sensitive

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sharing documents with young students

You can share a Google document (document, presentation, spreadsheet, etc...) with students without Google accounts, but that document would have to be set to a sharing option of open to "anyone with a link". (See video on how to do that here) This means the document is literally open to anyone with the link directly to the page, but the page is not included in any Google searches. Making it highly unlikely that anyone would stumble upon the document by accident.

However, it is also public so make sure you tell students that they should only use first names.

Another alternative which I used yesterday in a classroom is an etherpad. (https://etherpad.mozilla.org/) Again this is an open document, but is not included in any search engines. The advantage of the etherpad is that each person who uses it is given a different color highlight so it is easy to see who has done what. (Video on opening an etherpad here)

With either option then the hard part is sharing the URL (the web address of the page) because they tend to end in a looooong string of random numbers and letters. (for example this is an etherpad https://etherpad.mozilla.org/SL2ewWbm2R and this is a google document https://docs.google.com/a/rbchs.com/document/d/1OhXsRzjkHP0iel46VaI3GazY4JfxZPNCOB5whitZf1Q/edit)

I like to use http://tinyurl.com/ to make the address easier to remember. To use tinyurl take the web address of the page one of the really long URL’s from above and paste it into the first box. Then I like to add a custom alias in the box in the bottom, such as murphypad1. This way it is easy to remember and type into the browser. Then click Make TinyURL!. (Video on how to do that here) Because every web address has to be different you cannot reuse the same custom tinyurl more than once.

You can use both an etherpad and google doc again and again. Here is an international company that reuses the same note pad for meetings on a monthly basis https://teach.etherpad.mozilla.org/mentors-thursday Yes they hold monthly meetings with an open notepad and not only can anyone watch live, but you could participate if you want.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Apps in the classroom

With the new technology in the schools there are a lot of people asking what apps to use with iPads. This is a very difficult decision for me to make. I’ll share some ideas, but frankly they will leave you unsatisfied. At the end of the day the apps you use in your classroom will depend on what and how you teach.

Some apps are great for use in centers. Some are better for individual use. Some track student usage, most don’t unless you pay for it. Some tie into other programs such as BrainPOP. My best solution is three fold.

First, do like the kindergarten team and discuss apps together and decide which ones you want to use across the grade level. (Don’t forget to include support staff or at least supply them with a list of the apps you use)

Second, use app review sites. Here are my suggestions. There are many out there and I like to find the ones created with education in mind.

Third, share what you learned. I have a form here where you can review the apps you use. If you don’t have time then send the apps to me and I will put them in (it just won’t be as good because I don't use them in the classroom)

App review sites

Also don't forget about my website and Diigo list. Which are really the same thing in different forms.

A list of webapp review sites with notes on the quality (feel fee to add any you know)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New and improved Google Forms

A few years ago I suggested the idea that a teacher might use google forms to create self grading quizzes for pre-tests.

This is a pretty decent idea I think, as a pre-test  should be low stakes enough so that you don’t need to worry about cheating. I also liked the quick graphs to see what questions were the most and least troubling.

Most teachers, I think, use something a bit easier to set up like using their HaikuLearning account.

Recently Google upgraded their forms to allow inserting pictures and now video.

Imagine the flipped classroom now. Insert a video, ask three questions, insert next video.

It doesn’t have to be a measure of mastery, but simply a quick check to see if the student is getting the main idea. Later, in class, the teacher can use the answers to make groups for the day, start the conversation from a general point of contention, etc.…..

Friday, August 2, 2013

How I would run an independent study in school

During a training the other day a teacher was ruminating on the possibility of creating learning stations in math class. Of course it stuck in my head until I wrote it out. So here is my first thoughts on the concept.

There are a lot of math programs out that that allow a student to learn or supplement learning online. I’ll talk about implementing two of them. Khan Academy, because it is the 800 pound gorilla and Manga High because it seems to take an almost complete opposite approach to teaching math. Both are free for US educators.

Both have a full curriculum, both allow you to assign work to students, and both allow the teacher to monitor student progress.

What does the classroom look like?

Students are given the curriculum at the beginning of the year. Using an LMS I create learning modules. Students are given a choice each day.
  1. Learn what I am teaching
  2. Work a lesson in Khan Academy
  3. Work a lesson in Manga High
  4. Conference with me

Students who work on their own sit around the walls with the computers facing out so I can easily see if they are on task.

Every evening or during break I quickly check to see the progress of each student. I can add assignments to students as I see fit.

The assessment for each module consists of one or more of the following. Common assessment created on the LMS. reflection by student of standards learned, including their interpretation of the math concepts involved. Paper and pencil assessment.

Students should share their reflections on the general discussion board in the LMS so that later students can read if they get stuck.

Students who find themselves stuck, or in need of assistance can schedule a conference with me. (Even when teaching the later part of the period should be open for impromptu conferences). They can also check the discussion board for each unit. The answer might already be there or they can ask a question.

I wonder how you might do it?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Online Video Editing

Just a few months ago I was desperately looking for an online video editor. My laptop was slower than molasses and I didn't have a desktop. I couldn't find anything that would fit my needs.

Since then the new cheaper Chromebooks have come out and schools have been buying them like mad. This in turn has encouraged online developers to improve their products. Or maybe the cause is different, but at any rate I found two quick and easy chrome apps to create movies.

The first was http://www.wevideo.com/ This was a bit difficult, but only I think because I was using the advanced editor instead of the simple editor.

I liked the option of adding my own voice over to the movie. I tried playing the movie and recording a voice over in audacity, but for some reason the timing ended up being wrong. Instead I used the wevideo voice over tool and it seemed to work out fine. It was nice to watch the time of the sound slowly expand so I could almost get my timings correct. (this is only a feature in the advanced editor).

See the screen cast of doing that. http://youtu.be/zb5s3KBNOg8

Finally a video I created using the tool. This first one took me a few hours because I was learning the tool, but the second one I did took just a few minutes. The biggest detraction is that it takes forever to encode the movie for viewing.

 As you can see the video has a wevideo watermark and is in standard definition. It costs extra to removed those, but the cost seems very reasonable.

I also like Mozzilla popcorn maker. They make it very easy to modify and add to the video. I especially like the options of adding twitter streams and such. The only drawback to Popcorn is you have to upload the video somewhere else first, youtube, vimeo, or just your own website if you know how to present it with HTML5. I might try that sometime later.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Infuse Learning Review

An interesting learner response system compatible with any device. http://www.infuselearning.com/ 

A quick easy to set up virtual classroom. 
In the virtual classroom you can ask a questions out loud and allow students to answer using just about any internet capable device. 
Or you can create a quiz before hand and assign it to students as the come in. 
You can download the responses to an Excel sheet.

Answers can be in the form of:
  • freehand drawing
  • true/false
  • multiple choice
  • sort and order
  • short answer
  • numbers
  • Likert Scale (1-5)
With the prepared quiz you can watch student progress and see correct and incorrect responses. 

If you use this in the classroom I'd love to hear some feedback on how it works for an entire class. 

I just opened my sample excel sheet and it actually is very nice.

Friday, February 15, 2013


November is national novel writing month. http://www.nanowrimo.org/ Participants are challenged to write 50,000 words in one month. (For the math adverse that is 1666.67 words per day)

One group decided to take a different approach. they decided to write the entire novel in one day. So they opened a Google Doc and invited anyone to help with the writing. This is what they wrote. Title: Digi Daze

This may not be your cup of tea, but there is more. I was in a webinar with one of the organizers of this novel and we wrote a crowdsourced poem in half an hour. We wrote Mayhemism 

This might be possible in a regular classroom. However, as with most things some ground rules actually help the process. As Jesse Stommel says,
"A potential pitfall of this sort of work is a variation of the bystander effect, whereby participants will see a problem or gap in the document but assume someone else will fix it. The more collaborators involved, the more the effect is amplified. One solution is to delegate ownership of different parts of the process to each participant. While smaller scale collaborations (of 2 or 3) are simpler logistically, they still present certain challenges."

To see a 30 minute poem being written try the YouTube video (yes it is sped up)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Structured Support

The structured support people in our district are really pretty helpful. I noticed a lot of the kids (well not a lot but a few around the building) have this huge rubberband on their desk.

I'd never seen it before but it sure looks like a great way to keep an ansy kid focused when s/he needs to be. 

Then yesterday our Occupational Therapist sent out a list of 20 stations she has set up around the school. Some in classrooms, in the halls, in the cafeteria, just all over the place so students can find a workstation close by, wherever they are in the building. But the best part is the instructions:
These stations are for little jobs or breaks intended for our little friends that need a purposeful movement break.

Please use your best knowledge as to if the child should be chaperoned or are responsible enough to be independent at the school station(s) or exercises. Also, keep in mind if a child/job is in another classroom or special, to be respectful and considerate of the teacher/class if they are busy with something else please come back at another time and/or choose another station. 
I think it is the most awesome thing in the world for a teacher to have the option of saying, "I think you (and I) need a bit of a break. Why don't you go erase scuff marks on the floor." Or "Why don't you do the activity at station 1."

Lot's of educators say it is difficult on the students and teachers to be cooped up for 6.5 hours a day and make all that time productive. But this is a person who is doing something about it.

 Below are some of my favorite activities.

  • Move chairs Place chairs on top of or remove chairs off of the table.
  • Erase scuff marks on floors   Stick with tennis ball on end, erase black marks on floor.
  • Deliver mail or boxes to classroom Carry milk crate or delivery to office or another room  
  • Stack paper   Take packaged Xerox paper packs and remove or stack in/out of boxes under table.  
  • Sharpen pencils   Sharpen pencils with electric sharpen (please feel free to bring a class cup with pencils in to be sharpened) 
  • Tear paper   Tear paper in small pieces from recycle bin
  • Straighten paper  Make sure colored paper is in neat piles on shelves. 
  • Ride bike up and down hallway Ride bike up and down hallways with weight on back for resistance.
  • Window stickers   Window clings in motor room- Hang window clings on upstairs window by parking lot.  

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Friday, February 1, 2013


It seems to me that teacher evaluation is becoming a bigger and bigger topic of concern. I think perhaps most people are starting to realize that no matter how big or expensive, or well crafted a test might be, it is still just a test. Some people will do well even when they guess and some people will freeze up and do worse than they should.

The obvious solution of course is to work together with master teachers and constructively critique each other until everyone is an outstanding teacher. If we had money, time, and patience for such an endeavor we would be doing it.

Some companies suggest schools should implement a video evaluation system. I don't think a video is any substitute for an actual live person in the room and therefore shouldn't be used for evaluative purposes. I like the idea of working with colleagues in a constructive manner to improve teaching practices.

There are many methods that don't involve direct observation - LASW - PLC - Lesson Study - COP - Reflective writing, blogging, twitter, etc....But I think this video stuff could be one of the many tools teachers can use to improve their own practice. We just don't need to pay for it.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Grabbing an image from the web

While watching some training videos on SMART boards today I realized an essential skill before attempting to create a lesson on the smartboard would be to ability to capture and use media.This of course is a great model for the common core standards

Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.

Thus a primer on the use of screen capture and basic annotation tools. Though perhaps the annotation software is less necessary for the SMARTboard. (note I do not talk about copyright use, but the images I use are Creative Common copyright 1.0 from Gerd Altman)

When getting a picture from my computer to use in a presentation I usually want to do a few things.
  1. I only want to capture a part of the screen
  2. I want to use an arrow or something to point to a particular part of the image
  3. I want to add a bit of text
  4. I want to outline an area on the screen
  5. I want to mask a student name or similar

My favorite is Skitch from Evernote.

This cool tool can be used on most any platform. (Windows, Mac, iOs, and Android) The exception being Linux computers, but there are many fine alternatives there and if you are using Linux you don’t need me to point you to them.

Skitch has the most often used annotation tools right there when you capture 

The little drag me tab at the bottom means I can drag and drop it into word or a power point and it resizes for the program. I don’t have to save the image and then find it and all that other stuff. However, it doesn't work as well with Google docs. It is also easy enough to take a full screen capture and crop it down to size. 

Windows Snip

Before I started using Skitch I used Snip. This program has the advantage of be included in Windows 7.

Snip can quickly snip a small area of the screen and allows you to highlight or write with a pen, but does not have the shape tools or arrows or similar. It is easy enough to copy and paste the image into a document, but it will usually require a resize.

Of course the original screen shot is still on all keyboards. The button print screen will take a full screen still of everything, including a second monitor if you have one and save it on the temporary clipboard. If you then paste the image into an editing program such as Paint in Windows you can edit the picture as needed. You can even paste the image into Word and resize and crop  and add arrows and everything else. 

For Macs the same process can be done using the keyboard shortcuts Command Shift 4. The image is automatically saved onto the desktop and must be pasted into a program to do any annotations. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

How to use twitter

This topic has come up a few times recently and then today I found this great primer for getting started. Most of it is self explanatory, but if you need additional help and you work in the district please feel free to ask. (If you don't work in the district I can't promise I can find time to help)