This post starts with my experience in grad school. I am currently finishing up my instructional technology specialist, and I have become a bit frustrated by the inherent problem with a degree in a field that is innovating so quickly. That problem is course work that is just not up on the latest and greatest innovations in the field. I can even understand why it's not considering. Education technology has changed at a frenzied pace in the last 16 years.
That frenetic pace of innovation has brought us to a place where we have two generations of people, companies, and thoughts in the education technology field. You can see that separation in degree programs, classrooms, and conferences every day. The most obvious place is in conference exhibit halls because products are sitting side by side, and I term that split the smart board generation vs. the mobile generation. I fall squarely in the mobile generation, and I think to make education technology a game changer we need to move others to mobile as quickly as possible. It’s going to be a long hard road though as most teachers still fall directly in the smart board generation.
The SmartBoard Generation
The SmartBoard Generation is typically the older generation, but the influence of this generation over college programs and new teachers has put many younger teachers squarely in this generation. As innovators and thought leaders, we have to start advocating for this generation to change their thought process. The Smart Board generations view on education technology is what is one of the main factors leading to the backlash we tend to see against technology spending.
When we talk about this generation, Education Technology sits squarely in consumption. This is the generation that grew up with student creation being difficult when you moved outside of Microsoft Office. This is the generation where having a smart board and annotating over it in teacher driven instruction matters. This is also the generation where many of their creation projects are with analog (think tri-folds) or super basic technology like power point.
Unfortunately, I believe that this generation is still winning when it comes to how technology is used in the classroom. It’s incredibly obvious when you visit big conferences like ISTE. Who has the big booths? Smartboard makers and textbook companies. The size of the booth means they are still making boatloads of money with districts. Even when you look at smaller booths, they are filled out many times by digital consumption companies. The businesses that are truly for the mobile generation are typically either in small booths or not on the show floor at all. It is changing though as companies such as Nearpod have seen enough growth to see their booth slowly expand.
When talking the Smart Board generation, the easiest way to see it in a classroom is through the prevalence of things like digital content. Many school districts are spending boatloads of money on platforms that supposedly measure where the student is in their understanding, and then they try to ask the students questions to raise that level of understanding. These platforms include things like IXL, ST Math, Imagine Learning, and much, much more. These platforms sit squarely in the Smartboard generation though because they are all about consumption. Most of them accomplish their goals by asking what amounts to multiple choice questions and students sit passively in front of a PC just clicking away. Many times the curriculum within these platforms is also preset.
I honestly think these platforms are doing more harm than good. I can see their use somewhat with young children to learn and support things that are necessary rote memorization such as sight words and math facts, but these platforms, want a bigger piece of the pie. Many platforms have a curriculum that goes much higher in grade level and some cases content. We are also starting to see digital platforms that focus on content outside basic literacy and math, and that has caused students to spend more and more time on them. I have two elementary age children who have 3 to 4 digital content logins. Another issue with these platforms is the fact heir curriculum is present. This is intended to make the teacher's life easier, but is it what is the best course of action for students? I would argue it is not because it is never going to match up to exactly what students need.
I am going to take heat for this, but I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft OneNote sits squarely in the Smartboard Generation. OneNote is gaining in popularity with schools because it is paired as a free tool with a district email solution (Outlook) and it gives you many of the same functions that an LMS would. While I have some issues with the product on the technical side (the way it syncs is just crazy), the biggest problem I have with it is the false sense of high-level technology use it brings to many. I have seen too many folks who have gotten on there, moved their classroom to a paperless vision, and then thought they had achieved that high-level use. Student creation then becomes stuck at a level where students are annotating and recording a little bit of audio. Most of the time this is in response to something that is pushed down by the teacher. Some outliers have found surprising, creative ways to use OneNote, but the majority of use cases do nothing for student creativity and originality. If you come to this conclusion and move to just using OneNote as a conduit for teacher turn in, you then sit squarely in a camp that makes Google Drive the better option because of its deep integration with Google Drive and the superior experience it gives the user over OneDrive.
Even though the mobile generation is what we desperately need teachers and education as a whole to move into, it's going to be a very hard road. The teacher-centered, consumption culture of education technology is still a major focus of university programs, and because there is still such a focus on experience in the education field, it's what is pushed on young teachers when they get out into schools. It's high time we change that; it's time to move everyone into the mobile generation.
The Mobile Generation
When you think of the mobile generation, we typically think of the younger teachers that have grown up in the smartphone world. While much of that is true, there are still plenty of older teachers who are intrigued by the vast changes in the technology landscape and have put themselves out there with amazing work that allows students to create and make. It's high time we moved everyone to this space.
When you look at this space from the business side of things, it usually centers on companies that are innovative start-ups. Often these firms look at an issue at education and the devout all of their resources trying to solve that problem and iterate on that design. In fact, I think you could do a fantastic case study with students on some of these companies reasons for existing, consistent iterations, and models that they have used to be successful.
When I look at a company that has been around for a while but sits squarely in the mobile generation, Nearpod comes to mind. Nearpod saw an issue, utterly boring content delivery, and they used mobile innovation to make the delivery more personal for students and give them the opportunity to interact with the content in new ways. They took presentations away from the front of the room put them on a device in front of the student, and they allowed the teacher to personalize content by putting students on different presentations at the same time. Nearpod can be used to enable teachers to create their own digital content.
You might look at Nearpod, and say what is the difference between it and a tool like OneNote? I think it all comes down to knowing what you are. Nearpod knows that it is strictly a content delivery device. It adds interaction and chances for students to do things like creating original drawings within that content delivery. In OneNote, you can create original drawings, but most of the use cases focus on annotating and recording over teacher delivered documents. It also gives that false sense of high-level use, while Nearpod is just a tool utilized in the broader toolbox of the mobile teacher.
The mobile generation also sits squarely in the student creation camp. If you want to be considered part of the mobile generation, the best way to start is to get your students using the power of their device to do things like make videos, audio, websites, games, animations, and much, much more. To do it and ensure learning, you need to design both a process and scenarios that put students in real-world situations. An example could be something like creating an audio commercial for the new products of the industrial revolution. Students will never forget that invention if they have to act as if they are selling it.
Another key aspect of student creation in the mobile generation is giving students a process of learning that they have to undertake with each project or assignment. I see teachers all the time who decide to do a project, and it comes down to just telling students to give them a final product. If you develop a process that allows students to both plans, create, and reflect the learning becomes much more powerful. A great place to start with a process is the steps of the STEM design process.
The biggest area of progress though for the mobile generation is the frantic pace and amazing products that are coming out of the maker and coding movements. In the last few years, there has been a push to get kids to create and make in places like makerspaces and classrooms. Making can focus on so many things, and because of that, it has become a massive area of innovation in education technology. New products and services come out every day to push students into the making space.
One of the biggest focuses in the maker movement is on coding. For years, teaching coding on schools got down to having to type the real code into a terminal. Now there are tons and tons of both programs and toys to teach kids how to code from a very basic level all the way to complex code that will truly create something unique. A few of my favorites include Dash robots, Spheros, Swift Coding App from Apple, and Ear Sketch. These can be fantastic ways for students to learn and create their own mobile experience!
To close, think about what you truly are? Think about your colleagues. Where are they? How can we move the needle into what students truly need with the Mobile Generation and student creation? We are going to face push back as an education technology community until that shift happens. Outsiders (including our wonderful politicians) will continue to not understand the use if we stick in that Smartboard Generation. They will see it as a waste of money because student learning and achievement may not move that much. If we move students to the mobile generation with student creation, student achievement will more than likely move, but best of all we will be preparing our students for the world that wants them for the mobile generation.
So, Betsy Devos got confirmed. It's a sad day for public education. Ms Devos comes into office with absolutely no experience in public schools and a lifetime of advocating for them. From a personal standpoint, seeing my Senator Johnny Isakson vote for her might have been the saddest part. I worked as an intern for Senator Isakson, and I was hoping he would be willing to stand up for the right thing in education, rather than the party thing.
Through Senator Isakson, I saw one of the biggest issues in public education: politics. All too often we are letting members of both the Federal and State Congresses make education decisions based on what their party says. It does not matter if it's a poor decision for kids.
I have seen some say that Ms. Devos will get the federal government out of the education system and return local control to the states. If that were the case I might be more for her, but for those that think that I ask, "How do you figure?" Ms. Devos has spent her life working on education from a government level. Now she sits in a seat of power to push that policy through. If anything, my guess is we are for more politics in education.
As I have contemplated the reasons behind some of our Republican Senators votes, I have come to the conclusion that the voice of teachers was just plain not loud enough. Teachers are just not heard. Yes, there are teachers union groups in Washington to lobby, but they have been delegitimized over and over again. At this point, no matter what good they do, they can't help.
We need a grassroots organization made of educators that can be mobilized to lobby for education policy. From the little bit I have seen, this group does not exist. I, of course, may be wrong, and I would love to help if it does.
Again, this group should not be a teachers union. To keep it legitimized they should focus completely on the policy that affects kids, and they should ignore the things that focus on things like teachers job benefits. As soon as a group moves to discussing shared benefits, there is a certain group of the country that does not listen.
With an advocacy group like this, all of the educators putting their views out on Social Media could have had a unified front. A group like this can also make powerful statements with Marches on Washington and State Capitols. It could be a powerful way to say we won't settle for the status quo of politics entangling education.
Not matter what party you associate with, I think you can agree that teachers really don't have a say in education policy. Education advocacy is fragmented, and teachers unions hold no weight with a certain group of politicians. It's time we change that. Who's with me?
For years, one of the major spaces of competition in the education technology space has been Learning Management Systems. There are several companies big and small that have gone from startup to major player in the ed tech space, but I think we may be soon in for a bubble burst. LMS's may go the same way as most things in technology....they may be controlled by just a few companies.
So, what is a learning management system or LMS? It's basically a place that organizes your classroom into a digital hub. You can post assignments, assessments, content, and more so students can access it digitally from anywhere. Almost everyone in education needs a space like this so that if a student gets lost, doesn't know where to go, is absent, or just generally confused they know where to start.
I think when you look at the LMS space there are four distinct categories: the big boys, the upstarts, the virtual school platforms, and the build your own with a website. From a death standpoint, I think the one that is in real danger are the upstarts, but the virtual school platforms could also be a development in the future. Let's look at each category to understand the space.
The Big Boy Group
The big boy group is the newest category, and it's the scariest for the upstarts. Basically, it's Apple, Google, and Microsoft's solutions for an LMS, and they are scary to the upstarts because they can offer total solutions that districts seem to be moving in droves.
Google started the trend with Google Apps for Education, but they soon realized they need a simple LMS type solution. This brought about Classroom. Smaller LMS companies struggle to compete against it because it integrates everything on the Google side: email, drive, and the LMS. It makes it easy to turn in assignments and deliver feedback. That ease of use is always a winner.
Microsoft soon realized Google's lead, and they began pushing out their own with the 365/One Note Universe. When you look at their LMS, it revolves around One Note. One Note is a Note taking an app that syncs across multiple devices, and teachers can also set up Class Notebooks within the system. It's adoption hinges on the fact that many schools are moving to Office 365 to provide their employees access to email and Microsoft Office in the cloud.
This is a space that Apple falls a little bit behind the others, but you are starting to see Apple have signs of life. The closest thing they have to an LMS type system is Itunes U. It gives the teacher all they need to set up an online class, but their format to switch classes can be a little different from the typical LMS. Their advantage over the little guy though goes back to their hardware. Itunes U works incredibly well on Ipad, and if that's the avenue a school goes it's likely that's what they will pick.
The Little Guys
There are lots of little guys out there, and I think with Apple, Microsoft, and Google's entrance into the game you are starting to see signs of death. When we talk little guys these are your platforms such as Edmodo, Schoology; It's Learning, Canvas, and a host of others. I think you see many schools who would much rather pick the all in one solution that also provides things like email and office rather than one that is just an LMS.
The interesting one of the bunch is Canvas. Canvas started as an answer to the problems of the others. Canvas is an open-sourced platform that is both feature packed and integrates well with other apps. Schools are seeing those integrations and jumping on board. They also market the product almost like the virtual school versions do which has allowed them to sit in a nice sweet spot between and LMS and virtual school platform.
Canvas seems to be growing, but are they soon going to be come tapped out thanks to the big boy solutions? Solutions from Microsoft and Google give you more then just the LMS, and I always wonder if schools will just use their versions to accomplish that digital hub. I think we already see the decline of some of the others because of the "Big Boy" versions. I have seen several schools in the past couple of years shift from one of these little versions of One Note or Google Classroom, and I think that trend is bound to continue. The little guys seem to be doing everything they can to hang on to their existing user base, but growth is a slow go. If you are thinking about one of the Little Guy solutions, I would proceed with caution.
The Virtual School Platforms
The Virtual School Platforms are a whole different ball game entirely. Many school districts are being virtual school programs that are fully online for students to do things like summer school and grade recovery. To do so, they need to have platforms which are not just supplements but are the full class online. This has led to a rise of feature packed platforms such as Blackboard, D2L, Edgenuity, and more. The interesting thing is watching districts try to adopt them to regular classrooms. The thought is that if we are going to spend a whole bunch of money on a virtual school platform, then why not have a uniform LMS across a district. Almost universally, this has been met with pushback from teachers, and in many instances rightfully so.
The differences between these platforms and an LMS is all about features. Most LMS platforms are meant to be supplements to class instruction, while these are supposed to be the entire class. Typically, it means these platforms have features and integrations that others don't. Things like having a virtual conference, email, and gradebooks come with these, but don't typically come with an LMS because there are usually other solutions for that. You are also starting to see some of the platforms come with pre-loaded content so that a virtual class is standardized.
While these features may be great for virtual school, they can overwhelm teachers.
They are so feature packed that teachers get lost. They also can be convoluted when it comes to students finding things within the platform.
From a leader standpoint, I think I would have to go with D2L. The interesting thing is that I might have said Blackboard less than a year ago. D2l has made inroads in the avenue by starting with Universities and expanding out. They are my graduate school platform, and now I am starting to see them move into K-12 school districts. They are gaining traction because they have easy integrations with other apps. That easy integration is the real key to making these platforms stick.
These platforms are also in an interesting place in the grand scheme of things. Lots of districts are starting virtual schools, and they see these platforms as a need. Will it continue? I don't know. I think asking these platforms to transfer over to everyday use is a major stretch, and are virtual schools going to stick to being a major district thing? I also think you might see the virtual schools switch to something like Google Classroom as it adds more features. That all in one solution may end up winning out if the features come up to the Virtual School Level
The Build Your Own
Personally, my preference to the digital hub solution is to build your own website. I think it's the most customizable, and it allows you to get the most out of learning tools by using HTML to embed them. To use websites as solutions though, you run into two major issues: 1) It's hard to standardize 2) It's not an easy entry.
The idea behind a website is that you take one of the free builders like Weebly or the New Google Sites, and you design what your digital hub looks like. You can then customize it by adding other learning apps such as Padlet, Nearpod, Touchcast and many others through the magic of HTML embed.
The issue here starts with the fact that this is a hard entry. For many teachers, asking them to build their own website is a lot. It takes planning and a deep understanding of the website platform. This typically is a project for the "techie" teachers, but I think you could implement school-wide with high expectations.
The other issue that comes with a website is that it is hard to standardize and control from a broader perspective. Many districts are so freaked out by laws relating to student digital use that they want you to be on the district level domain. Websites might be the best solution for kids, but other factors mean that you may never see a wide spread use.
The LMS question is going to be an interesting one for years. It's one that as of now looks like it's going to go similar to smart watches. Startups start the movement (like Pebble in Smart watches), but when the Big boys get in (like Apple and Google), the little guy dies. What we know more than anything though is that the need for a digital hub is just going to increase. Every school and every teacher needs to have a solution. Schools just need to have high expectations for them.
I started to write this post in my last blog, but I realized that I was putting the cart before the horse. My last blog started off as five tools to present content in an alternative way, but it soon turned into strategies rather than tools. The funny part of it is that it helped give me the reminder that we always need: technology is used to amplify instruction and the tools should always come second!
The tools below all give you great options to get started in producing and using content in different ways. If you have not read my blog on alternative strategies to deliver content, I highly encourage it. I think the best way to use these tools is to find some structure that puts you in between the traditional lecture-based classroom and the flipped classroom approach. All these tools can be used to get you there!
1. Touchcast (touchcast.com)
Touchcast one of my favorite tools. It is also one of the only Ed Tech tools I still use personally. I also think it is one of those things that keeps the conversation going about Ipads in schools because as of now it's Ipad only.
Touchcast is an excellent video creation app for Ipad that includes EVERYTHING. Part of that everything is an amazing tool to put news style graphics called Vapps in your video that can be websites, videos, photos, cloud documents, and more. These graphics than can be used directly with a tap straight from your video. You can use these to make your video interactive in a variety of ways, and students can find all of that interactive content in one place. Cutting down and organizing scope of clicks always helps kids get where they are!
The interweaving are what makes Touchcast stand out, but it has other amazing tools to make your alternative content solutions stand out. It has some basic things like titles and effects, but it's the whiteboard, green screen, and teleprompter that make it stand out. As you record videos you can annotate on the screen, and there are several backgrounds that you can annotate over. The green screen effect is amazing as all you do is pick the picture or video you want and stand in front of a green screen. You can also add a teleprompter that lets you copy and paste notes then it scrolls up the side.
When you are done creating, you also have some options in how you get it to the kids. You can always post to Touchcast's site and get the interactive videos. You can then embed that video on a website or link out to it. If you want to make your videos easier to find you can also have a one button touch to upload it to Youtube. Best of all, it also lets you download the video to the camera roll. Not only does it mean that you can download the video to put everywhere, but it also means students can use it as a video creation/green screen app. If you have young kids, just don't log into the app.
2. Nearpod (nearpod.com)
If you have old power points, there is an easy way to move them into that alternative content sphere. It's a PowerPoint on Steroids. It's something that can be interactive. It's something that can be switched into a student-driven mode. It's Nearpod!
The idea behind Nearpod is just to make content delivery better. It has two significant differences from a standard presentation. The first is that it takes the presentation from the front of the room, and it puts it on the device in front of the student. You can still have it in the front of the room, but by putting it in front of the kids, it inherently makes it more personal.
The 2nd main difference is that Nearpod adds all kinds of interactives. The interactives started as mostly just assessment activities such as open-ended questions, polls, multiple choice, and my personal favorite draw it. Draw it is awesome because you can use it as a whiteboard or you can put a picture/pdf in the background to annotate. They are beginning to add amazing new interactives like 3D objects, Sways, and best of all virtual field trips.
The biggest reason to use Nearpod though is its ease of entry for teachers. Teachers can take old PowerPoints and just bring them into a Nearpod. Many of their interactive pieces can be put in just by search. That search capability is one of the biggest reasons that Nearpod is one of the easiest entries into the VR space.
On top of everything else, you have options when it comes to how you deliver content to students. Nearpod has both a teacher-paced and student-paced mode that allows you to either lead the lesson or let students lead themselves through the lesson. The student-paced allows you to personalize content by allowing students to work on different content at different times. You can basically build your digital content instead of depending on that curriculum in box solutions.
3. Screen-Cast-O-Matic (screen-cast-o-matic.com)
While Nearpod is a good entry, Touchcast can be a difficult entry into the video space for some and others just don't have an Ipad. We also live in a space where Youtube tutorials are the way people learn things. This all means an easy screen capture software is super important to have. That's where Screen--Cast-O-Matic comes in.
Screen-Cast-O-Matic is simple screen capture. The idea is you pull a box out across your computer screen, and then you hit record to record and narrate everything you do on screen. You can also turn on your webcam to put your picture at the bottom of the screen. The screencast becomes an easy way for teachers to show students how to do something on a computer or record a presentation to use in an alternative way while also giving
After you finish recording your video, you can either download it or post it to Youtube. This makes it a super easy to record and share in places that students can see. The free version only gives you 15 minutes of record time, but for most teachers, that's all they will need to get their content across.
4. Buncee (edu.buncee.com)
Buncee is a new one for me, but I like what I see, and I have friends who are all over it. Where it becomes a fantastic alternative solution to content is all the things that you can do with it. It reminds a little of a cross between a digital poster and a presentation. What makes it interesting as an alternative content solution is all the things you can add and all the ways you can share.
To make a Buncee, you manipulate the platform in much the same way you do PowerPoint. The idea is you create a slide, choose a background, and add stuff. What takes the process past PowerPoint is that they have hundreds of backgrounds to choose from, and you can add tons of stuff to make that Buncee interactive. Some of the things you can add are stickers, animation, lists, 360 videos, QR codes, and much, much more. All of this means that you can create amazing interactive content presentations with all kinds of content.
The other part that makes Buncee an awesome way to present content is the ability to share them in tons of ways. You can download them and add them to other things like Nearpod. You can also embed, use a link, or email to get it out to students. Sometimes that ease of use is the answer!
5. Breakout Edu (breakoutedu.com)
Escape Rooms have become a cultural gaming phenomenon, and of course, there had to be a way to adapt it to education. The problem is no one wants to lock kids in a room, so someone had to come up with a solution. James Saunders did, and it's called Breakout Edu.
The idea behind Breakout Edu is that you take 6 or so pieces of content and you write clues for them that open up 6 or so different locks. The locks are then placed on a tool box with a hasp, and the goal becomes students need to open the box. If written well, the game can provide an immersive story that gets students to the point of student driven content discovery, and if we get to the students to that point, it can be amazing!
When you talk about setup, that's where Breakout can get a little complicated. There are games on their site, but it can be hard to find one that actually fits what you want to do. I have concluded that the way to start is to figure out what 6 or so pieces of content you want students to know. You then figure out how to connect them to the locks that you have. The last step is then to have an inter-weaving story.
Breakout takes creativity, but it is well worth it. The best way to get started is to write your game, and then have someone test it. You then can know if it will be a success!
The flipped classroom approach has been in the ed tech lexicon for many years. The idea is that students do the hardest part of their work in class and the easiest part at home. The easiest part, of course, is the delivery and receiving of teacher-led content. That act of a teacher standing up in front of the class and delivering information to students gets shifted to home through video or some other content. I think the biggest question with this approach though is: does it work?
I think the flipped classroom approach might work for some, but it does not work for most. Students are so trained in the traditional instructional approach that it becomes incredibly difficult to transition them to a flipped approach. You also run into issues of students who fail to do homework, and if every class is running flipped, it becomes a ton of video.
In my mind, a traditional flip may not work, but it does not mean we just need to lose the ideas of alternative content delivery. There are too many teachers who are stuck in PowerPoint after PowerPoint mode, and the kids are just plain bored! Video and interactive presentations can be a powerful way to combat that!
While the tools are necessary, you really need to start with the structure you want to change your instruction with. How will you use these? There are lots of structures you can put in place that don't go to a full flip, and what's most important is they create time for you to have kids create and critically think!
5 Non Traditional Content Formats
1. Station Rotation
Station Rotation is tried and true, but what's interesting about it is that middle school and high school teachers often see it as beneath them. I think you also see many middle and high school classrooms where the furniture in the room actually makes a station rotation tough.
To do an effective station rotation, you just have to be creative. You have to have a structure that works for both you and your students, and you also have to have activities that are highly engaging. The lack of either could lead to behavior management issues, but if you have it right, it could give you that time that you so desperately need.
The simplest form of a station rotation is to have a digital content, station, a teacher directed station, and a creation station. The best part of having a digital content station is that this is where students can get the content they need, and because the teacher is not delivering the content to all students, that content can be personalized by putting different students on different content at the same time. While there are some quality digital content solutions, many times teachers will have to create their own content, and that's where the alternative tools to content creation come in! Look out for a blog post soon that has my favorite five options for alternative presentation of content.
Station rotation also gives you the benefit of having both the teacher station and the creation station. With the actual content delivery being done in the digital content station, you can make the teacher station a place for students to get more personalized support and help. This more personalized approach helps raise student achievement. With a creation station built in, you can get down to the creative aspects of your content and students have the opportunity to think critically.
Station Rotation is a win-win. It may be difficult to do in certain middle school and high school classrooms because of the furniture situation, but it is worth pursuing. You just have to get creative!
2. Choice Model
I have found that most teachers who try to implement a full flip get pushback. They get students who say, "You are not teaching me!", and what's worse is they get parents who say the same thing. When you try a full flip, you also have kids who are so trained in the traditional approach that they struggle, and some kids just plain can't handle a full flip. We all know that kids don't do their homework!
That's where a choice model comes in. The basic idea is that you give students a choice between a direct instruction model or a flipped model. The idea is that there is a direct instruction time in class. Students can choose to participate in it, or they can work on projects and assignments. If they choose to work on projects or assignment, they then get their content from flipped videos.
The key with this is to force the hand of students who you know would struggle with the flip. You can require them to take part in the direct instruction. This also gives you time to put in creation projects, and that's what we REALLY want.
3. Somewhere in Between
You can always get creative with things too! If you want to experiment with an alternative way to do a presentation of content why not look at a new way to use video. Why not use a flipped video as the way to do direct instruction in your classroom?
The way you get this done is to start by recording a flipped video. You then use that flip video basically as your PowerPoint while you do direct instruction. You watch the video with the students, but you stop every few seconds to explain every little bit.
This type of presentation does two things: 1) It gives you a flipped presentation that you can use with students who are absent and students can access later. 2) It gives you an opportunity to use flipped style video without having to a second presentation! The best part about this is that you include this format as part of the choice model listed above.
4. The Exploration Model
What is the ideal method of students gaining content knowledge? It's self-discovery. It's classrooms where the teacher becomes more of a facilitator than a knowledge giver. There is nothing like hitting on the joy of discovering knowledge for yourself. The key is brining that joy and fun of learning back, and there is a good way to do it.
One of the new cultural gaming phenomena is escape rooms. Well, two guys (Adam Bellow and James Saunders) thought how can we adapt this for the classroom. They for sure did not want to lock kids in a classroom, so they settled on having a lock box with various locks that took clues to unlock them. It's called Breakout Edu (breakoutedu.com)
By gamifying content, you make self-discovery easy. Kids have a path to get the content you want through the game's clues, but they are the ones who come up to the conclusions. By using Breakout or other gamified avenues, you almost trick kids into that self-discovery. You are also building a love for learning, and that's an incredible thing.
5. Sketch Noting
This blog post intends to get away from two key points of content delivery: Lectures and full flipped classrooms. This format almost requires you to lecture, but it's such a different way of taking notes, that kids don't even realize what you are doing. It's all about that Sketch Note.
Sketch Noting very simply is drawing pictures in a format that tells the story of the class presentation or content. You can see an example below. It looks difficult, but it's not hard to get started. The creativity and artistic ability is also not the point.
When students sketch note, they are almost automatically going deeper in the content. Within the Sketch Note, they have to process the information more fully from the get go because they have to draw a picture. It also lets them see how things fit together more fluidly as the best notes tell a story.
I am no expert at Sketch Noting, but I have been around a few (like Sylvia Duckworth, Marie-Andree Ouimet, and Amber McCormick) so I have tried to come away with a few tips. To do it effectively, you need to ease kids in, and I think you start with two key concepts: grid lines and common images. The grid lines help make the sketch note neater. It's likely that you will also use many of the same images in lessons, so why not teach them how to do them!
Those two tips should get you started, but if you want to go deeper, I highly suggest following these three ladies: Sylvia Duckworth, Marie-Andree Ouimet, and Amber McCormick. They will be able to get you further than I ever would.
One of the things teachers are always weary of is change. We are constantly bombarded with new initiatives and programs meant to improve education, but in reality, they will be gone in just a few years. If the past two presidential administrations are any indication, that new initiative or push is for sure coming with Donald Trump, and based on her confirmation hearings there is reason to be concerned about his pick for Education secretary, Betsy Devos.
Traditionally, education has been a state and local issue, but ever since the George W Bush administration the federal government has increasingly become involved in school reform. The federal government can’t make laws that affect schools, but they have used the time-honored tradition of giving money to those who play ball by their rules. For things like No Child Left Behind, there were states that weren’t tied to it, but they also were states that did not get federal funds from it. That funding forces most states into those reforms, and whatever the Trump administration lays out is likely to go the same way.
Ms. Devos is a school reformer, so it's almost inevitable she will try to push schools reforms. Her past and her responses to Senators questions worry me. This list tells you why.
What Worries Me
1. Her Embrace of School Choice and Privatizing Schools
I am not opposed to school choice and charter schools in theory, but I think reality tells us to tread incredibly carefully in this space. The argument for them hinges on that school choice will allow students who attend poor schools to choose a better school. That argument is off base, and charter schools also run into the same issues business do: some are successful, and some are not.
The whole charter school movement started as a way for parents to get their children out of bad schools. The idea is that by giving parents a choice, the bad schools would dwindle in enrollment, and they would eventually die. This just scratches the edge of the problem, though. Poor schools typically are not just a management issue. They are a community issue. Poor schools typically are poor because they exist in communities that have deep issues. Those broad issues mean kids come to school with deep issues, and those deep issues make it difficult to hire and retain quality teachers. It means that even if you open up charter schools in lower economic communities, there is no guarantee that they will be successful. Charter schools end up just like a business: some work and some do not. Can we afford to put any children in what amounts to a failing business?
The other issue that comes up is who full school choice benefits. Wide school choice benefits parochial schools more than any other. Today’s parochial schools are expensive, and the hope of many school choice advocates is that state vouchers could be used to get middle school children to attend those schools. I think that could be good, but there are a host of issues with the federal government providing funding for a religious education
School quality comes down to leadership and the ability to hire and retain quality teachers. That’s why schools in lower economic areas struggle. Educators and administrators both get bogged down by the reforms put in place and the issues students bring with them to the classroom. It makes it incredibly easy to burn out. The fix to these schools comes down to finding the quality that is invested in the community. With that in mind, one possibility is to build teacher preparation programs into these schools. Hopefully, by doing that you can get teachers who will stay because they hope to make a difference where they grew up.
I see charter schools and school choice as just putting a band-aid on the problem. It might positively affect a few, but it won’t bring long-range reform to the education system. A comprehensive federal plan that advocates school choice is frightening because it diverts both attention and money from the real issues. Hopefully, Ms. Devos will be limited in her scope of implementation.
2. Her lack of experience
One of the things that Democratic Senators hit Ms. Devos on was her lack of experience. Ms. Devos has never designed policy for education, and she has never worked in K-12 education. While I would feel better if she had fashioned policy, the lack of K-12 experience is the bigger worry.
To be successful in education reform, you need to have empathy. You need to understand what teachers, administrators, parents, and students go through. That lack of empathy is the main reason we end up with unrealistic reforms like No Child Left Behind. It’s also why few realize that constant changes are more harmful to schools then just staying with one.
How is a wealthy woman with no experience in K-12 supposed to have that empathy? She has never lived through how tough working in a school can be. She has not even had to face elections and constituents over a policy she advocates. This is very concerning.
3. Her lack of knowledge
Ms. Devos might know her avenue well, but if there was anything that was apparent at her confirmation hearing, it was her lack of knowledge on education issues and topics as a whole. Two exchanges prove it, but in reality, she may be lacking knowledge in many areas in the complex world of education.
The first exchange that showed she lacks some knowledge was the exchange with Senator Al Franken from Minnesota. Senator Franken asked Ms. Devos about the difference between growth and proficiency. Growth is showing how much the student improved from year to year while proficiency is meeting a certain standard within a year. Ms. Devos had no idea. This is incredibly concerning since this is the key issue that many teacher evaluations are hanging on. In the past 20 years, the federal government has increasingly set the policy of which one we look at, and now we may have an education secretary who has no idea what they are.
The second concerning exchange was the one with Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts where she asked about her knowledge of the student loan program. Senator Warren asked her about her experience both running and in the program. Ms. Devos had no experience on it, but what was worse is what seemed to be her surprised response. In these replies, I saw her lack of empathy as well of lack of knowledge, and that is cause for concern
4. Her funding ties
We all know Washington hinges on money, and Ms. Devos is in the conversation because that's what she has. She has donated millions of dollars to Republican causes, and Senator Bernie Sanders was right when he hinted that she would not even be there is she had not donated.
Her donations are also causing concern. Government intervention is always tough for schools to deal with, and I wonder if her donations will prevent her from opposing certain Congressman’s legislative measures. I wonder if she will support certain things because she gave them money rather than them being what is right for schools.
I also worry that Ms. Devos will help individual education companies over others. I think we are just scratching the surface of what those ties look like. I think it's highly possible that Ms. Devos could reward government contracts to a group she has funded or supported without looking at the effects. If schools pick resources based on past relationships, why wouldn’t the Secretary of Education?
5. President Trump’s Lack of Interest
For the first time in a LONG time, education barely was even mentioned during the 2016 presidential election. I think Hillary Clinton’s record of focus in education topics means it was for sure not her. It was Donald Trump. Judging from his election performance, he does not care that much about education, and what he does believe relates to his business ties.
What all of this means is that Ms. Devos will have more influence than other secretaries of education. President Trump has laid out few ideas on education which means Ms. Devos will set policy. That means the only thing we can probably expect is school choice. Are we going to leave the other policies to chance? At the very least we should have a Secretary that we know where they stand.
It's time for me to step my Twitter game up. I recently attended the Nearpod Pionear Summit, and I got to bend the ear of two Twitter power users in Monica Burns and Jennifer Williams. Both Jennifer and Monica clear 20,000 followers, and I want to get up there with them. My Twitter game isn't bad at over 5,000 followers, but they gave me some good tips to get even better. Being in the ed tech sphere is all about reach, and here are the five things I am doing to raise my game.
1. Chat, Chat, Chat:
Chatting is one I knew, but I had gotten away from. Twitter chats are easy ways to find like-minded educators on Twitter. The idea is that you get on a hashtag at a particular time of day to have a conversation centered around a topic. There is a moderator who sparks discussion by asking questions that folks respond to.
The good thing about chats, is there are tons of them out there. You can find a list of all the chats in the country on Cybarman's Page (sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar) You can also easily chat through Participate Learning's platform (participate.com/chats) which gives you an amazing way to see the chats and tweet directly from their platform. I also like their platform because it catalogs who is chatting which makes it easy to follow like minded individuals.
Chats are a great way to build that PLN because you start to realize you see the same folks in several of the same chats. From that, a relationship is born, and you can become fast friends when you see them on the Ed Tech circuit.
2. Always post pictures
Most of us respond better to images, so why not use them on Social Media? They help catch they to what you are trying to say, and everything can have a picture thanks to the magic of programs like Canva and Spark Post.
Both Canva (canva.com) and Adobe Spark Post (spark.adobe.com/about/post) give you the ability to design graphics for Social Media and in Canva's instance many other things. Personally, I have known about Canva for a while, and I have used it to design social media graphics. I do however find it to be a bit cumbersome at times. There are just so many options within it, and I end up spending lots of time customizing my post to fit what I am trying to say.
Monica suggested Spark Post, and it has been something of a revelation to me. It makes creating those graphics simple and quick, and it even has an app. All you have to do is start with the text, pick a template, and then pick the picture. You then get a great graphic, and that takes me to the next tip.
3. Tag, Tag, Tag
A few years ago, Twitter added the ability to tag up to 10 people in a picture. The original goal was to allow users to let other users who were in their pictures know that those pictures had been posted, but in reality, you can use that function effectively to expand your social media reach.
If you're like me, this comes in handy because it lets you ignore the feed. If you have a large following the actual feed of what folks you follow post is a jumbled mess. There is just SO much in there because you get every tweet from people that you follow. If you tag a person in a photo, it shifts that tweet into their notifications where they are much more likely to see it, and if they see it, they are much more likely to retweet it. That's called expanding your reach.
The one thing that gets funky with tagging is, "who, so you tag?" I have built up enough friends that I have a list of people saved in notability to tag. Some I tag for some things, and others I tag for other things. Ideally, I try and tag the ten people that have the most reach and I know are also interested in the topic.
4. Have content
I also have been a content provider for a while, but I need to step up my game in a big way in this space. To get folks interested on Twitter you have to have content that people care about, and I think there are two avenues to go: original and sourced.
Original content all starts with a blog or a website. You need to have a place that you totally control to put your ideas out there. For me, edtechspeeddating.com is that avenue, but there are others out there. Medium and Word Press can be good places to start a simple blog, or you can go full on website with something like Weebly or Google Sites.
On my front, it was interesting to hear Monica talk about her personal blog and to listen to some of the tips she had for that medium. The first was to not worry about advertising. You can make some money off Google Ad Sense when having a blog, but in reality, it's not enough to have a passable income. I have tried this in the past, and it was interesting to hear about how that was still her take even though her blog is wildly successful.
I think she also made me think about how I structured my blog. For the longest time, I have had three blogs: deep thoughts, app of the month, and gadget of the month. Going forward, I just have the blog. I think from a reader's standpoint it was too much. I needed to simplify. I also could easily roll the same type of app of the month blogs into my main blog. My hope is that it will make it easier for me to post, and it will make it easier for me to have articles that catch the attention like this one about upping your Twitter game.
5. Use IFTT
One of the things I struggle with is managing all of the things that come at me social media wise. I want to be proficient on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and the others, but I don't want to have to post separately to all of them. That's where If This Then That (iftt.com) comes in.
The idea behind IFTT is to be able to set off an internet reaction that ties to apps together. For example, I have an IFTT recipe setup that natively tweets any picture I post to Instagram. This allows me to post on Instagram and try to grow my Instagram following, but these post still go on my more followed Twitter account. You can also setup IFTT's that use Facebook. It comes down to what you need.
If you're not on Twitter, it's time to start. It can be a fantastic way to grow your following as well as connect with other educators. If you're a Twitter user, hopefully, these tips will help you step your game up. I know they will be part of my strategy!
So, this post is going to sound like I am the no fun police, but I hope you will hear me out. I think elementary schools in the United States have a fluff problem, and I believe it might be affecting children in a very negative way. I believe that it's also possible that it is making the jobs of middle school and high school teachers harder.
My kids are now in 3rd and 4th grade, and we are starting to see some struggles with motivation. Now part of that is an uninterest in particular topics which is natural, but I also think some of it stems from things like them getting worksheeted to death. Many of the instructional strategies that they are becoming accustomed to aren't fun, and in some instances they lessen the will to learn.
As a high school teacher, I had always wondered how we let kids get to me with basically two mindsets: I hate learning, or I have to get a good grade for college. Rarely did I get kids who just plain loved our topic of study and wanted to do it for the love of learning. While again, I think some of this stems from a student's personal preferences, but most of it is from poor instructional strategies that they have grown accustomed too.
So, why do motivation and the fluff go together? What do I mean by fluff? To me, in elementary school, there are several events and parties have nothing to do with instruction. I faced it with my children this week as they had holiday parties. Their reactions to these parties got me thinking. They were excited! They were motivated to go school! My question then became, "Why don't they react this way to learning?". Could it be that they see events like these as the fun at school and the learning is not?
I think there is something to the fluff affecting a student's motivation. Let's think about middle school and high school for a second. When kids get to those grades, many of the holiday party type perks are gone. Could that be why they think school is not fun? Think about foreign countries that are now seen as ahead of the United States in academics. What's the one common factor usually? They are rigid in their standards! I would imagine that the fluff is just not there in their primary grades.
As we move into the new year, I hope we can make learning fun. In the end, if kids enjoy learning we could add the fluff type things back in!
So, let's talk about the election. At this point, it does not matter what side you supported. What matters is the lessons we can take to move forward, and I think my biggest takeaway for education is WE Must DO BETTER!
Let's start with the positive. I live in the state of Georgia, and thankfully Georgia voters made the right decision on what was Amendment 1 on our ballots. The amendment was one to the state constitution that would give the state government the power to intervene in underperforming schools. Our governor's plan was to add these schools than to what he called the Opportunity School District. What does that mean? The state plan was to take those schools over.
Georgia voters realized that politics should have as little say in education as possible. Yes, funding comes from the political battles fought in our legislatures, but more political involvement will never solve an education-related issue. The schools that would have been part of this district have many issues, but the main one is that they struggle mightily to hire and retain good teachers. A state takeover was not going to solve that. If we want to fix these schools, our education community must build them up. We must be willing to go and help our most disadvantaged children. We have to do better to ensure these students success.
The presidential race is a whole different story. Frankly, both sides showed us how important education is, and they we are not doing enough to educate on civic duty and especially not doing enough to curb hate.
One of the saddest things I have sene in the last two days are stories from schools and students where this election has already done drastic damage to our children. I recently attended the Google Innovator Academy with a Colorado principal whose student population has a large population of immigrants. Reading messages from her on how her student and parent community was reacting was truly heartbreaking. No matter what you believe politically, schools have to be a safe-haven for people. It does not matter what they look like, how they got here, or what they believe. We must provide that safe-haven. We must do better.
I have also seen several stories about bullying on the rise and students who are being attacked because of the way they dress or how they look. One story out of a Louisiana University told us of a Muslim student who was attacked by two students who felt the freedom to show their racist tendencies because of our Presidential election. This can not happen. Teachers must stomp out this hate as quickly as possible, and we have a duty to ensure that our students know bullying is not ok. They may not be getting that same message at home. We have to do better.
As a former Social Studies teacher, this election also just made me sad. We live in an age where reality stars like the Kardashians rule, and in many ways, we deserve to have a reality star president. The sense I get is that many Americans did not take this election with the seriousness it deserved. They did not understand the gravity that comes with the Presidency and all of work that comes with that office. No matter which side you chose, there are many Americans who did not cast that ballot based on policy decisions. I also think there are many of us who feel a sense of hopelessness over prospects that we only minority effect.
You know how we change this? Education. We have a duty to educate our students on what a President actually does and how they can make a difference. In reality, this election proves we as teachers have not done that well. We must do better!
No matter which side you believe in, it's time for schools and teachers to take the lead. We have to stop hate in it's tracks, and we have to teach our students to look through the weeds and find what is true. We have to teach them to be citizens, and they may not get that from home. It's now obvious that we just did not do good enough for certain generations. We must do better.