Friday, October 30, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Storybird (5 of 5)

Storybird picked this up as part of their Google Classroom case study. Check out their post. 

As the final installation in the 5 Creative Tools series, Storybird truly gets imaginations going. Essentially, it's a way for students to create their own book and publish it online. Storybird lets student choose the set of artwork they like, then write their story based on the images.

My kindergartener published her first book in about 30 minutes, so I know from experience this is an incredible tool for even the youngest budding author.

Check out how it works with Google Classroom in the screencast below.

Check out the rest of this series:

Monday, October 26, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: MoveNote (4 of 5)

We're continuing to look at tools for student creativity that work great with Google Classroom. MoveNote is a fantastic web app that lets students record themselves presenting anything they've created and stored in Drive. They create their product, pull it into MoveNote, hit record, then publish their presentation. Final step? Submit that link in Google Classroom so you can give them feedback on their work.

Think of MoveNote like a global show-and-tell. It's an amazing way to give your students an authentic audience where they can practice those critical communication skills.

Friday, October 23, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Vocaroo (3 of 5)

When I was a kid, my cousins and I spent an entire summer entranced by the tape recorder my dad gave us to play with. It amazed us to hear the sound of our own voice coming out of that little box, so we wrote scripts, acted out books, and basically made stuff up just to see what it sounded like.

I can only imagine what we would have been like with Vocaroo.

Vocaroo is the simplest way I know of to record online audio. Your students can use this for simple podcasts, reading fluency, dramatizations, or anything else their creative hearts desire, then submit the link to their recording through Classroom. Check out both the teacher and student side in the screencast below.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Storyboard That (2 of 5)

In the first post in this series, we looked at the simple and straightforward Coggle, a fantastic mind-mapping tool that lets students create connections between ideas.

Now we'll turn our attention to Storyboard That. There are countless blogs out there extolling the virtues and possibilities of this tool (like here, here, here, and here), so this screencast focuses on the specifics of getting in, signing up, the basics of storyboard creation, and how to submit published work using Classroom.

Check out the rest of this series:

Saturday, October 17, 2015

5 Creative Tools to Use with Google Classroom: Coggle (1 of 5)

We recently conducted a professional development session for the teachers in our 1:1 pilot, and the focus was "From Consumers to Creators." The goal was to give teachers tools they could use for students to create products, not just consume content.

Honestly, not every teacher is at this point in their comfort level with technology, but we're trying to create a vision of what technology use can be in the classroom. Teachers were able to choose their own path during the session: they could go back and review the tools we explored during our August Institute, or they could go on and investigate these new tools for their teaching toolbox.

For each tool, we wanted to be explicit about how students would create an account, create their product, then submit their work in Classroom. In most of the videos, teachers saw both their own teacher view as well as the student view. De-mystifying the process from both sides goes a long way toward helping teachers take the leap to student creation.

Coggle is up first. Possibly the most straightforward mind-mapping tool ever, it integrates with Google Drive and allow students to make all kinds of connections about what they're learning. Whether it's vocabulary, concepts, or events, Coggle lets you make thinking visual.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

ReadReflect: Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker

As part of a team vying for a part of the $2.5 million dollar Raising Blended Learners grant initiative, I recently spent two very intense days in a San Antonio ballroom fleshing out what blended learning could look like in our district.

These grant workshops (this was one of four) were coordinated by Raise Your Hand Texas with the goal of taking a focused, immersive approach to planning our district strategy. We huddled, whole-grouped, blended, small-grouped, discussed, imagined, broke-out and strategized about the needs our students have that could be better served by blending our approach to instructional design.

And while the workshop organizers worked hard to address everything we need to know about blended learning, it was challenging to find time for reflection. This made it doubly hard for me, because I know this about myself: I need a quiet, uninterrupted space to make sense of information, and I couldn't find one anywhere.

With that in mind, the best part of the workshop actually happened over the last three days (a week after getting back from the Alamo City) when I sat down with Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker's book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Staker led our workshop, and the material she presented has its origins in the book. But it took having time to just sit down and read with my precious yellow highlighter in hand for me to think deeply about what we want to do with blended learning, as well as what problems it could solve for our students.

Here are my abridged reflections on the book. I highly recommend it for anyone planning blended learning at any level, you'll definitely find something in the book that's useful to you.

  1. Blended learning is not, by itself, "disruptive innovation." It depends on the model of blended learning you use as to whether or not you are sustaining an innovation or truly disrupting the incumbent educational system. (Good article from Horn and Staker on that here)

  2. "Time-in-seat" is really a ridiculous way to measure student mastery, but that's what most of us are doing. On the other hand, though, how do we start to integrate a competency-based model in our psychotically test-driven educational universe? This is a problem I don't think we have an answer for (yet), but that doesn't mean we should shy away from trying to solve it.

  3. Disruptive models are best suited to address areas of non-consumption: in other words, areas where "schools cannot provide a learning experience" and "they have no easy option other than to do without it" (p. 105). This could be credit recovery, advanced courses, or dropout prevention. Sustaining models are best suited for core problems, where the traditional classroom services students, but that service could be improved by being personalized.

  4. The discussion about types of teams in chapter 4 was completely eye-opening to me. We all know from experience that institutions need different types of teams to affect different levels of change. What I didn't know was the continuum: functional, lightweight, heavyweight and autonomous.

  5. The "jobs-to-be-done" theory and how it relates to students' view of school. Since students essentially have two "jobs" they want to accomplish, when we redesign the learning environment we should start with those jobs in mind. If students want to (1) feel successful and (2) have fun with friends, we should be leveraging this natural motivation to make school a place they want to come every day. Does our current educational system address these jobs well? I think you know the answer to that.

  6. From my own experience teaching in a blended setting, it's clear that the role of the teacher changes dramatically. Going to from lecturer to facilitator is no easy task, but once you start to understand how well you can get to know students and start talking with them instead of at them, you start to understand the power of blending. In chapter 6, the authors offer a vision of what the teacher's role can become in a blended setting, and I think it has great potential for creating mentors and guides for the students we serve in my district.

  7. An online content strategy is, of course, a massive decision to make about blended implementation. The spectrum ranges from building your own content to using a facilitated network where user-generated content can be developed, shared and curated in "modular bites." I lean towards the latter, but I'm still looking to find the ideal platform to do this. How can we guarantee high-quality content in an open-source, open-API type platform? Who is the gatekeeper? I like the theoretical appeal of a meritocratic, crowd-sourced, "may-the-best-content-win" platform, but is it actually possible in real-life? Not sure yet, but for blended to work, the content has to be excellent and rigorous, not mediocre.

  8. Finally, the discussion of culture in chapter 8 makes me realize how intentional schools and districts must be about communicating the priorities of the organization as well as the processes used to execute them. I don't think institutions give as much attention to this as they should, and if we are working to transform the very essence of what the role of school is, we would do well to consider our culture carefully.
With these thoughts in mind, now we get down to the nitty-gritty of writing this grant. I'm excited for the opportunity and for the potential it has to positively impact our students for years to come. The deadline is November 20th, and we'll know if we're on to the round of 10 in early 2016. Here we go...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Geek in the House: Two Minute Tech - PDFSplit & PDFMerge

No matter how interactive and tech-rich our classrooms get, it doesn't look like the formidable PDF is going anywhere soon. Whether it's lesson plans, online curriculum, OERs or other resources, being able to merge and split PDFs is becoming an every day necessity. These Two Minute Tech videos focus on  two free-and-easy ways to do just that.


With PDFMerge, upload the individual PDFs that you'd like to combine and PDFMerge will smash them together into one, easy to manage file.


When you have a massive document but you only need a few pages, use PDFSplit. With a couple of easily customizable options, you can extract each page into it's own file, or pull out only the page ranges that you need.

The PDF is going to be around for a while, so when you have to work with them, it helps to have the right tools for the job.