Closing Shop & Movin’ On…

As this school year came to a close, I decided that this summer I would finally learn how to use Word Press for blogging. It started yesterday when I found myself with a huge block of time where I could play around with the various features of Word Press. Easy UI it is not. But the overall presentation when all is said and done is very nice. It helps that the template I chose for that site is named for one of my favorite authors: Hemingway.

Now that I’m up and running with Word Press, it’s time to say good-bye to an old friend…my first professional blog “Tech is the New Black”…I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a bit sad at moving my blog to a new site, but it’s time. I’ve been using this site to share my thoughts on education and technology integration for several years now. In fact, my first post was February 17, 2011 appropriately titled My Nemesis. I’d like to admit that technology ceased to be my nemesis over the years but I’ve found that with the increased integration of technology into my curriculum it served to open up new opportunities for technology to throw a wrench in the whole learning process. There were days (in the not too distant past) where I had to use pranayama breathing (kinda sounds like Darth Vader) so that I wouldn’t lose my mind. But if one wants to use technology, one quickly learns that you have to take the good with the bad (er, challenging).

I want to thank those of you who have read my blog posts over the years. I wrote them in part to share the triumphs and challenges of using technology but this blog was also cathartic in many ways. It helped me to see my growth over time as I overcame various technology hurdles and barriers. The new blog “Emerging Tech Notes” will continue to serve both purposes. The new UI is out of my comfort zone, so I apologize ahead of time if the blog posts, images, or anything else is out of whack. Just chalk it up as part of the learning process.

With much appreciation and fond memories, I bid “Tech is the New Black” adieu as I move forward in my learning journey at my new site “Emerging Tech Notes“.

Catch ya on the flip side!

A Time to Reflect

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.40.16 PM

This year my department rolled out a fully blended learning program for both World and U.S. History. Each member of my department was given an iPad cart to use with our students. We met over the summer to design our courses using Haiku Learning as our learning management system. The conversation flowed as we threw out ideas about how to make learning more student-centered while staying true to our philosophy of providing a rigorous learning environment with student choice. Integrating technology at this level with varying degrees of techxpertise (thanks @MisterCoyle for the nomenclature) was certainly something that kept us on our toes all.year.long. It forced our department to take collaboration to the next level. On a regular basis (i.e., daily, before school, in between classes), we discussed how technology could help our students practice historical thinking, reading, and writing skills. Luckily, we are all veteran teachers who know the value of flexibility and having an open-mind. Because in the end it’s the students who benefit from all of this work…we’re just the care-takers of the process.

Top 10 Things We Learned This Year

  1. BaiBoard is a awesome app for collaboration – to make it easier to follow along (and hold students accountable), have students fill in a Google Form with their BaiBoard name + password; use the desktop app to monitor progress
  2. Google My Maps though it has great potential in the history classroom, the UI on the iPads is still severely lacking – it’s a bummer to have students create slideshows on a pin only to have it show up on some iPads but not others #csuftcs
  3. Padlet is an easy way for students to display their work – to prevent cheating or stealing of ideas, we found that it was better to require students to post their work first in a discussion forum in Haiku Learning to time/date stamp the entry and then post the assignment in Padlet
  4. District’s default password for GAFE accounts needs to be changed right away – birthdays are a big deal at the middle school level…hence it’s pretty easy to figure out the default GAFE password (mmddyyyy) #duh
  5. Haiku Learning is an easy way to create a blended learning environment for students – use a linear format (e.g, Task 1, Task 2) because it helps students know what to do next and they can progress through the tasks at their own pace
  6. Memes are a fun way for students to practice critical thinking skills – students not only used memes for historical writing but also to demonstrate their creative side; middle schoolers speak memes #truestory #funnestprojecttograde
  7. Student choice is one way to personalize the learning process – using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, students were able to chose their learning path: Level 3 (describe/define), Level 4 (analysis), Level 5 (synthesis, evaluation) #leveledlearning #studentchoice
  8. Collaboration is key – having an open-mind is just as important
  9. Technology will work when it wants to, not when you want it to #murphyslaw
  10. Middle schoolers are inherently curious and to a large extent fearless – give them a challenge and they will rise to the occasion…how do you think we’ve learned various tips and tricks of the apps that we use?


Fun with GHO

So today I met up with my co-presenters for the Think.Create.Share conference.  We were talking about the student work that we planned to include and how best to share that work with attendees considering the fact that we cannot share outside of our GAFE domain.

But as usual, when getting together with passionate teachers…the topic evolved into a share-faire of new technology tools and how we could use those with colleagues and our students.

First up, GHO.

A couple of us have tried using GHO on a school device using the district wifi.  It seemed to work, but the video lagged here and there.

Today?  It worked beautifully.

The three of us (@PrimoHistory @WHistTeacher) joined a GHO using our GAFE accounts.  Now anyone who knows me knows how much I HATE being on video.  I love that I can turn my camera off during a GHO and just have my profile pic on the screen.  But today amongst my friends I learned how to let go of my fear of being on camera.  In fact, there were even some points in the conversation when I even forgot that I was on video.

When we all first joined in…I shared what I learned about GHOs from last summer’s #edcamphome.  I showed my friends how customize their lower third and explained a bit about Google Effects.  I chose to wear the princess crown which went well with the devil horns from @WHistTeacher.

And then we discovered the Draw tool.

I’m not sure how long we played around with that tool on each other’s pictures, but it offered us a much needed respite from testing and end-of-the-year burnout.  In fact, I don’t think that I’ve laughed that hard at work in awhile.  In hindsight, I should have taken a couple of screenshots of our handy work.

Oh well.  Next time.

While we were laughing and playing around with adding features and text to each other’s faces in GHO, we were also brainstorming about how this tool could be used to foster collaboration with peers.

After all, it’s not just fun and games with us.  We actually do look at the practicality of things.

In fact, earlier this week I was talking with another colleague about the possibility of using GHO to replace a face-to-face PD session.  The conservative nature of my district doesn’t allow for teachers to work “at home”…it’s like we have to be physically present in order to earn a stipend or get credit.  But it’s that kind of mind-set that is preventing us from being #FutureReady.  If we’re on video…and “they” can see us…then why do we have to be physically present in a meeting?  Any seasoned teacher knows that students can be physically present in the classroom and not hear one thing that the teacher is saying.  Being physically present does not equate to active participation.  But in a GHO…if a participant is on camera then there’s not much difference where the participant is in a physical sense.

I can see the power and usefulness behind using GHO for PDs and collaboration.  First, it would allow teachers to meet with content area peers who teach at a different school.  No longer should a singleton art teacher have to sit through a collaboration with other singleton subject-area colleagues who each have a different content specialization.  Second, it would allow more opportunities for vertical collaboration.  How easy would it be to set up a 30 minute GHO to share best practices?  Think about the value of the whole process.  We’d be using a new technology tool and unleveling the PD at the same time.

Sounds good, right?

Challenge Accepted

Challenge Accepted – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires.

My friend Jody Green (@peerlessgreen) challenged me to #makeschooldifferent. So I decided created a HaikuDeck to sum up my thoughts on how I plan to make school different.  But let me clarify on my challenge…

#1 Freedom
Give students the freedom to choose their learning journey.  Let them choose the path.  Yes we have standards to cover…but why not give students the freedom to choose how they demonstrate mastery of those standards?  Of course they will need guidance, but we need to step aside and get out of their way.   Don’t be an obstacle to their learning.
#2 Rethink
Technology forces us to rethink how we teach, but it’s easy to become complacent in the tech tools that we use.  Switch it up.  Do some app-smashing.  Collaborate with different peers.  Exchange lesson ideas.  Expand your PLN.  But more importantly, be open to new possibilities…even those that may come from students (see #1).  

#3 Slow Down
Teachers often get caught up in pacing guides, fervently rushing to cram important information down the throats of our students and for what?  A standardized test?  Slow down.  Breathe.  Give students time to explore issues that are relevant to them.

#4 Engagement
Who doesn’t want to have fun?  Life is hard enough.  Let’s give students the opportunity to learn in ways that are creative, fun, and engaging.  Tests aren’t fun.  But tests aren’t going away (at least not any time soon).  So why not make learning fun in the process?

#5 Advocate
If we don’t stand up for what’s best for our students, who will?  We can’t rely on politicians and those outside of academia to decide what needs to go on in the classroom.  Teaching is a craft and those of us in the trenches day in and day out know what’s best for our students.  Stand up.  Speak up. 

I challenge my friends Gregg (@tattedteacher), Chris (@mrhousepian), Sarah (@mrshousepian), and Adrian (@teacherlucero).  How would you like to #makeschooldifferent?

For the Love of Learning

I think that sometimes educators underestimate students’ desire to learn and better themselves.  And I’m including myself in that mix.  But I’m always trying new things in my classes to see which students will rise to the occasion.
The picture I included here is one that I also posted on our class Instagram account which was pushed out to Twitter.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops that these students were writing JUST TO WRITE!
I’m not kidding.
I told all my students that they needed practice in how to write like a historian.  Meaning…they needed to learn to cite evidence to support their statements.  But more than that, they needed to be able to analyze primary and secondary sources in order to be able to effectively use them in their writing.
So I gave them three primary sources.  I told them that as a group (self-selected) that they had to choose which Big Idea they wanted to prove:  “The Tang dynasty used (ruthless/ingenious) methods to strengthen China’s government, expand its borders, and increase its economy.”  I pushed the assignment out through Google Classroom.  Then the students decided who was going to be the owner of the document and from there he/she shared the document with their peers.
The students then tackled the primary sources, annotating as necessary as they looked for evidence to prove their Big Idea.  Some students started with bullet points, but others delved right into writing a full paragraph.  It was a site to behold.
Now keep in mind, this was an optional assignment.  Students are typically not required to do Level 4 (analysis/synthesis) or Level 5 (evaluation) writing assignments.  Student choice for leveled learning opportunities is the crux of the history program at our school.  We use a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales so that it’s VERY clear what students need to demonstrate mastery of in order to earn a specific grade.  
Click HERE to go to a wiki resource that contains the learning scales for World History.
Students who want to earn an A or B in the history classes need to write and write well.  As I tell students on their first day of World History, “We don’t give a lot of extra credit in our class.  You will not pass this class with extra credit.  You will, however, pass this class with blood, sweat, and tears…not necessarily in that order.”  There’s always a bit of nervous laughter from students that follow.
The purpose of collaborative writing assignments is to give students practice in writing with their peers.  And not just writing individual sentences strung together, but actually writing together in which they are actually editing each other’s posts and leaving comments for each other.  This type of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration is exposing students to the 21st century classroom.  Not only are students learning how analyze primary and secondary sources, but they are utilizing the thinking skills of a historian as they find evidence to prove their thesis or in this case the Big Idea.  Students are not only practicing digital literacy skills but also History’s Habits of Mind.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Geeking Out at #CUE15

If you’re looking for a place to recharge and reconnect, the CUE Annual Conference is the place to be.  Like last year, I had a blast!  It was great to meet new techies colleagues, reconnect with old ones, and share the triumphs and pitfalls of technology integration in the classroom.

This year’s offerings were larger than the last.  There were SOOOO many workshops and not enough time.  In fact, when I set up my Sched, I actually booked two to three workshops for each time period so that if one room was full, I had backup options.  And believe me when I say that I’m thankful for those backup options!

My take-aways from these past few days include…

  • Interest-based learning –> “What matters to you, matters!” – Glenn Warren
  • Voxer is a means to connect & collaborate
  • Finding the citation for an image taken from the Internet is quite easy
  • Bring humor into the situation when someone asks a question that is Googleable (yes, I know that is probably not a word) –>
Though this type of conference can be taxing on the mind (there is so much to remember and process…), it was totally worth it when one factors in the relationships built over shared triumphs and frustrations when integrating technology into the curriculum and PD. I left Palm Springs this morning with a heavy heart because I know that I have to wait a full year for the next CUE conference.  Having said that, I am confident that the connections made this past weekend will continue to grow as we reach out to each over over Twittersphere…and perhaps maybe Voxer.  😉

Moving Mountains

This past weekend has been fraught with dreams in which I was unable to control anything around me.  Having a background in psychology and an interest in dream interpretation, I took that to mean that I was internalizing a bunch of stress because I was locked out of my TodaysMeet account that I created using my GAFE credentials.  I previously posted my frustrations because this is not the first time that I have had to go WAY of out my way to get access to a technology tool that in all reality should be open.
And just to make things clear.  TodaysMeet was not blocked by my district’s firewall.  But I was unable to get the password reset email from TodaysMeet because we are unable to receive emails from outside of our domain.  
Because of my panicked emails which I sent to the Powers-that-Be, I started my day with a phone call from our Director of Technology who then spoke with “someone” in IS.  And within five minutes (I’m not exaggerating)…someone from IS called my room.  They wanted to see what was happening on my end.  
It was interesting to watch them work through all of the possible solutions to rectify my problem (we were screen-sharing).  But I know a little about technology, so I tried to troubleshoot things on my end before I sent the email last Friday.  I even troubleshooted this weekend on my home computer using my own network thinking that it was a district firewall issue.
And it was.  
It turns out that the password email I sent last Friday, prompted TodaysMeet to not accept my username/password combination even though I knew it was the right one.  The problem was that my GAFE account could not receive the password reset email from TodaysMeet because they are outside of our domain.
I asked if IS could somehow for one hour lift the ban on outside entities sending to my GAFE account so that I could see if TodaysMeet actually sent me a password reset email. I was told (by two very patient IS techs) that that kind of request needed to go up much higher than them.  They mentioned something about the Assistant Director of IT or even our Cabinet (we’re talking all of the Assistant Supts AND the Superintendent) being the only ones who could approve that kind of request.  
Geesh.  Things were getting serious.
I told the two IS techs that this was an expedited request because I needed the transcripts from my TodaysMeet classes for my CUE presentation.  I told them that it didn’t really matter if I could use my GAFE account ever again with TodaysMeet…I just needed the transcripts.  
They said they would try their best.
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang again.  It was the two techies from IS.  They asked me to check my GAFE email.  
My latest email was from TodaysMeet with a link to reset my password.
So, I immediately reset my password and logged in to my TodaysMeet account.  I finally had access to my transcripts.  I.mean.seriously.  Someone moved mountains for me.  And believe me when I say that I’m so very grateful.  
I have so many people to thank…starting with the two techies in IS (D+G), my principal, the Director of Technology, the Assistant Superintendent, and whomever gave the GREEN LIGHT to let an outside entity send an email to my GAFE account.  
All is right with the world again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep much better tonight.