Importance of Focusing on the Big Picture in #EdTech

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now.

photo: strategydriven.com

photo: strategydriven.com

It’s (almost) the end of the year, and planning has started for the next.  At this point, I’m feeling like I need to be more effective – to work smarter, and to focus myself so that I can focus others.   In order to achieve this goal, I find that the first step is to focus on the bigger picture.

Like many others with the title ‘Technology Integration Specialist’ (or something similar), I came to this new (for my district) position last year in a round about way.  For me, the idea of being the person to define a brand new position was too enticing to pass up.  So, after several years in the classroom and several years in administration, I became the District Technology Integration Specialist.  About 4 weeks before school started, the superintendent told me that I would also be teaching elementary kids Monday – Wednesday, reducing my time for interacting with teachers to two days each week.

Planning for next year has started, and I won’t be teaching any more (as of now).  I’ve sent out Google Forms to see which apps should be put on the iPads going out to our next school with the tech upgrade.  I’ve sent out a Google Form to obtain information on how people like to receive their PD.  I’m glad I sent those out.  The results are not what I expected (that’s a whole other post!).

I feel like this year has been kind of the shotgun effect.  I tried many different methods of trying to spread the edtech word: weekly disctrict-wide emails, personal conversations, weekly Techie Lunches in my computer lab, random emails to people who would appreciate different resources I found on Twitter (thanks, PLN!), etc.   Somehow I feel like the 80/20 rule can be applied here somewhere, and I’m looking forward to going through my survey results in a couple days when the window closes.

To be honest, our district is WAY behind where it could be.  We are still proud to be moving into using PowerPoint instead of an overhead, and yet as the only connected educator in my district,  I am on the Internet seeing classrooms like this one where 4th and 5th graders are backchanneling a Skype conversation with Twitter and GDrive, while others are preparing a blog post and still others recording the whole lesson.

So.

I put on my administrator hat, stepped back, and looked at the whole picture.  I dug around on the website and found our Technology Vision Statement.  The good news is that it’s decent  (The bad news is that I had to dig for it).  I then searched for other people in my position on the Internet.  I found good stuff from Bill Ferriter, Kim Cofino, and Nancye Blair, just to name a few.

Then, based on my personal reflections and what I learned from others, I came up with the skeleton of a plan:

1.  Start by communicating the big picture.  Share the district’s vision for technology integration, and share instances of some other classrooms around the world who are practicing our vision to the nth degree.  “This is what’s out there folks, and this is where you COULD be if you want to.  And I will help you get there.”  [I know, the whole buy-in piece is missing.  I’d like to be able to work on this for a good bit of time with the staff as a whole, but I’ve been told that time is limited; this year alone, I had at least a day and a half of School Improvement time rerouted from tech to something else!]

2.  Continue to build relationships with teachers.  Fortunately, that’s always been pretty easy for me, and I can enumerate dozens of examples where the relationships I have nurtured have paid back huge dividends.

3.  Model good teaching.  Start where the student (in this case the teacher) is, set attainable goals, and keep planting those seeds for their next step while fully supporting and celebrating their current efforts.  Realize that not everyone is going to jump in with both feet (as I tend to do!).  Use baby steps, and have the teachers become familiar with that one puzzle piece before showing them another.

I’m interested to see what others have to suggest.  I am passionate about education and helping people be the best they can be.  I also strongly believe that technology can take us to levels we haven’t even dreamed of yet in education.  Please comment or email with your insights!

Writing with iPads 2: Putting Words on “Paper”

Apps 4 Writing


INTRODUCTION:
In Writing with iPads 1: Brainstorming & Organizing,  I covered how to get kids to start thinking about writing – topics and ideas to start those wheels turning, and then how to organize some of those ideas, whether with a traditional mindmap, or with little post-it notes that could be rearranged.  This section will describe some apps which can be used to actually get words onto paper (such as it is…), and allow editing.  Aside from Dragon Dictation, they all provide basically the same functions: writing and editing with the ability to save into Google Drive.  You need to play around with each one and determine which one suits you best.

Dragon DictationDRAGON DICTATION:  This app allows the writer to speak into the iPad and have his/her ideas converted to text.  I can see this as being especially beneficial for students who struggle with keyboarding or handwriting.  You tap the ‘+’ sign in the upper bar, the red button to start recording, tap the screen when you’re finished talking, and everything you’ve said appears on the screen in text format.  You cannot save to GDrive, but you can copy (don’t worry about highlighting – it just copies everything) and then open another app, such as one of the ones below, and paste.  You can then edit and save to GDrive.

PaperDesk LTPAPERDESK LT:  The app is probably the most intuitive of the ones described here.  It looks like a notebook with a menu (that can be switched from one side to the other).

 

  • the audio adds an audio file – it does not change the audio to text.
  • you can import pictures from your iPad or a picture you take.
  • You can make different paper, including graph paper and a musical staff
  • You can type words, or write them with your stylus (or finger)
  • Tracks the number of words.

NoteMaster LiteNOTEMASTER LITE:  NoteMaster is a pretty straightforward notetaking app.  It’s designed to have writing done with a keypad (as opposed to handwriting).  One can insert pictures and drawings, although the drawings are turned into pictures, and not actually on the note itself.

 

  • No audio
  • Can import pictures from your iPad, the camera, or a drawing (opens up a new page where you make your drawing, save it, and it’s inserted into the previous page of notes).
  • different colored papers available, but no graph paper or musical staffs.
  • Has easily selected themes with different fonts and a slider bar for font size.
  • Menu on the left shows all your folders of notes.
  • If you toggle on the hyperlinks mode, any phone numbers, emails, or URLs will become ‘hot’ or clickable.

NotabilityNOTABILITY:  Probably the most inclusive of the writing apps highlighted here.  This app will also be featured in my papers on Reading with iPads as a great way to get students to actively read.  Depending on your taste, this will either provide you with tools you will love, or with too much ‘extra’ stuff you would rather do without.

  • Audio notes can be inserted, but not changed to text.
  • Importing media includes photos from your iPad, the camera, figures (shapes and lines of varying thicknesses and fill), web clips (sends you to either Google or Wikipedia; when you click ‘done’ it takes a screen shot and inserts it into your notes as a picture), and stickies (four available varieties of post-its you can drag onto your notes and draw on, &/or add captions to).
  • Bookmarking feature
  • Search function
  • Various paper colors (15) and line thicknesses (4) and graph paper sizes (4).
  • Includes an optional left-handed mode


GDrive
GOOGLE DRIVE:  While we usually think of Google Drive (GDrive) as strictly for storage, you can also create documents and spreadsheets within the app.  There are no fancy frills such as handwriting or different colors of paper.  You can do basics.  The main advantage to using GDrive for word processing is that others can collaborate at the same time from any other computer (desktop, tablet, laptop, etc.).

Office2 HDOFFICE2 HD:  This handy app is actually quite powerful. It will take any of your existing Microsoft Office files (Excel, PowerPoint, Word) and allow you to edit them on your iPad.  You can then save them to GDrive.  While I’m not sure I would START a document on this app, and I would not recommend it to students, it sure is nice to be able to work with all my old files!

What other apps do you recommend for teaching writing to students with iPads?  Do you have specific lesson plans or processes you follow?

Writing with iPads Pt1: Brainstorming & Organizing

StoryStarters

Using iPads for writing instruction can be
intimidating.  Just remember that you don’t have to do all of
it at once.  Choose one app or one step in the writing process
with which to begin your infusion of technology.  Of the apps
I experimented with, these are the ones I found to be the
best:


Story
Dice
is a simple app that can be used to come up
with topics for all ages, even the youngest kids who can’t read
yet, since it’s all in pictures.  Simply select the number of
die you would like to have showing, shake, and roll.  Kids
could each make a story using the same die rolls, and then could
vote on which had the best character, plot, overall story, etc.

Shake-a-phrase has three
parts:  Shake It!, Story Starter, and Quiz Me!  Shake It!
generates silly, random sentences where you can tap words for
definitions.  Story Starter gives a ‘what if…’, ‘Imagine
if…’, ‘What would happen if…’ sentence that would get students
writing.  Quiz Me! gives a silly sentence and asks the
students to tap a certain part of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives,
prepositions, or conjunctions).  You can choose from all or
just one to differentiate.
Idea Sketch allows you to
mind map your writing with curved lines and Idea Sketch allows you
to mind map your writing with curved lines and different colors.
It allows you to rearrange them, too.  You can only
share by sending to email, FB, or to your camera roll (which would
allow you to save it for later projection or viewing on the same
iPad). photo copy 8 Popplet
Lite
is another version of graphic organizer
that allows mindmapping.  Export features include emailing as
a .pdf or .jpeg, or it can be saved as a jped on the iPad.
photo copy 4
iBrainstorm looks like
post-it notes on a Masonite board.  You can change the color
of the Post-it squares and you can draw on the board with different
colored markers.  Exporting options are sending in an email
and saving to photos. iBrainstorm Corkulous
is similar to iBrainstorm.  You cannot write on the
board, but there are a lot of different shapes that can be
attached, and you can change the color of the post-it notes.
Just use the file drawer at the bottom of the page. Corkulous In Part 2, I’ll go over apps which are good for
making the ‘Sloppy Copy’ and for editing.  In the meantime,
try one or two of these this week.  No one expects you to
adopt all of these at once (although you are more than welcome
to!), but the only way you will become comfortable and familiar
with them is to play with them on your own and use them with the
kids.

21st Century Teacher Skill: Embracing Change

Alternately titled, “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

As I spend some quiet time on this Snow Day catching up on some computer work, I take a moment to reflect on all the issues swirling around my district’s educators right now.  While the entirety of this list may be unique to just me, I’m sure many of them affect you, too.  Among them:

1.  Trying to pass a $.49 increase in the Education Fund tax rate to make up for delinquent payments from the State.

2.  Planning iPad implementation at another school next year, and trying to figure out how to excite/involve teachers.

3.  Finding time to educate myself on edtech tools and trends so that I can pass on the best to my teachers.

At the heart of it all bubbles up this resentment – why should I have to work so hard to cajole other teachers into keeping current?  How is it my responsibility to motivate them into wanting to do better for kids?  Why is providing exemplary customer service a mantra for everyone else except teachers?  I think that when we interview teacher candidates, one of the most important questions we can ask them is, “Describe a time in your life when you had to stretch out of your comfort zone.  What was the issue, what was your response, and what did you take away from your experience?”

I find myself remembering an episode from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ where Leonard’s mom tells him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!”*  and I want to start off a staff meeting with this quote.  And just sit there for a good 10 seconds of silence.

But then I think that maybe I’m the one who needs to quit being a sissy pants and to “Buck Up.”  Baby steps, Matt, baby steps.

*Season 5, Episode 2

Tech Rant #1

from itineraryforvision. wordpress.com

FACT:  Almost two months ago, I joined Twitter and started blogging.

FACT:  I have now connected with more than 200 other educators around the world and have taken advantages of experiences I would not have had otherwise.

Have you ever notice that once you do something you automatically assume that everyone else is or at least should be doing the same thing?  You start dieting, and…how dare they bring in brownies – don’t they know we are ALL being ‘good’?  It’s worse when you accept change faster than most people (my other half calls this trait ‘fickle’ – ! ).  You find yourself surrounded by people who are so…so…so flip phone!  And if you aren’t on Twitter or FaceBook, (I can’t even think of an appropriate metaphor).  Clearly, I love my technology.  I love the cool things my toys can do, but most of all, I’ve finally found the power of using technology as a tool to become a connected learner.  I’ve had my epiphany; why hasn’t everyone else had theirs?  Why do my teachers look at me with their pitying/condescending/he’s-totally-crazy look when I start soapboxing about Twitter?

My month-old desktop computer may already be outdated, but technology itself is here to stay.  The internet is not a passing fad.  Landlines will never be back in style.

And so we must embrace technology into the classroom.  When we ask kids to unplug and power down before coming into class, we are not meeting them where they are.  We are asking telling them to meet us where we are.  1950.   Dial tone and 45’s.

When I hear other educators talk about how we need to keep YouTube out of the classrooms because kids may make inappropriate comments, or that we need to make a rule that all cell phones must be turned off and in their lockers because they may text each other, or that we can’t access Facebook because they may connect with each other or with other peers during school, I cringe.  I, then, become afraid – scared that we are making school policies based on fear.  Fear of what MIGHT happen.

I am not advocating that we ignore the inevitability that kids will make poor decisions.  They will.  And so will we.  They will abuse the privilege, and we will not support them properly.  But we cannot let our fear of what may happen lead us to extinction.  Darwin theorized that species that survived did so because they adapted – they changed.  Our problem is that we have a forebrain that lets us think, and realize we are changing, and then it tells us that we shouldn’t like all that change.

Rather than listen to our forebrains, let’s trust the kids to do right.  Let’s embrace the inevitabiltiy of change, and  realize that technology is here to stay, and it’s here to help.

~Matt

Using LiveBinders for Content Curation


What Am I Supposed to Do With All This Information?

So it was not even 2 months ago that I joined Twitter…

…not even two months ago that I started ‘favoriting’ all those great links other educators posted on Twitter.  Great links to all kinds of interesting educational topics.

What was I going to do with all that content?  I couldn’t just let my Favorites stream get even longer!

Then I ran across the terms “Content Curation” and “Social Bookmarking”.  Seems these two terms are synonymous, and refer to what someone has to do with all the information they are bombarded with when they use social media – like Twitter.  In his Influential Marketing Blog, Rohit Bhargava talks of five models of Content Curation: aggregation, distillation, elevation, mashups, and chronology.  While his posting was fascinating (go ahead, add it to your favorites), I just wanted a place to organize my material for later use, and perhaps to share with other educators.

After looking at Evernote, Symbaloo, Diigo, Pinterest, and LiveBinders, I decided that @LiveBinders served my particular needs the best.  The layout isn’t particularly visually appealing, but its organizational method closely resembles my old fashioned file cabinet and my bookshelf of 3-ring binders.  Call me old, it’s OK.

In a LiveBinder, you organize each main topic into a binder, for example “Teacher Resources”.  Inside each binder are tabs (I used Teacher Blogs, Classroom Tech, Teaching Articles, Flipped Classrooms, Project-Based Learning, and Game-Based Learning).  Each tab can then be opened to reveal sub tabs, which are the links themselves.  The cool thing is that these links are live, and not just snapshots of what WAS.  Once you access them from within the binder, the links are still active.

from MrWeld's "Teacher Resources"

Screen Shot of LiveBinder "Teacher Resources" by Matthew Weld

People have been busy using LiveBinders to curate their content.  There are hundreds of binders already made on just about as many topics – from weight loss and the US Presidents to using Angry Birds in the classroom.  You can comment on them, rate them, and some authors even allow you to add to their binders – nothing like crowd sourcing to find the best information available!

If your ‘favorites’ stream in Twitter is getting just a tad too long, check out LiveBinders, download the “LiveBinder It” button for your toolbar, and start quickly building a resource for not only you, but for the other members of your Professional Learning Network.

My LiveBinder, “Teacher Resources” can be found here.

As always, I invite comments and suggestions – I’m always wanting to learn!

~Matt