Thursday, April 27, 2017

“Swivl-ing” into Professional Learning

This is a repost of a blog post I wrote that was recently featured on the Swivl blog.

A review of the wonderful posts on the Swivl blog will highlight the many benefits of using the Swivl system to implement individualized observations with students. Being able to review any lesson via video is great, but the additional features that the Swivl+ system provides cannot be overlooked. As teachers, we often pride ourselves on “being able to hear a pin drop across the room” and “having eyes in the back of our heads” but everyone knows that neither of those claims is truly accurate. We cannot see or hear everything. With the Swivl+ system, you have a much clearer picture of what your students are doing, and most importantly, what they are “getting.” 

However, as much as I can tout the benefits of individualized observations for students, I can only do so from afar. As the Educational Technology Specialist for a statewide STEM initiative, I work primarily with teachers, not students. When I applied to become a Swivl Pioneer, I shared this with the Swivl team but also discussed some of the many ways that I felt Swivl could benefit educators at all levels including allowing us to truly review and reflect on our work. I present between ten and fifteen professional development sessions each month ranging from 30-minute overview sessions to six-hour workshops. The formats run from online webinars to conference presentations to hands-on workshops. Topics range from Google Teacher Boot Camps to Microsoft Office to web tools in the classroom. 

Teaching adult learners requires a different mindset than working with students, but the goal is the same- I want each of them to “get” it. I recently set up the Swivl+ system and used it during a portion of the Google Teacher Boot Camp I was leading. I did so with several goals in mind. First, I knew in advance that several of the participants would not be able to attend this first session and the recordings would provide an easy way for me to share the information with those participants. Now, I know that I could have done the same with a video camera on a tripod or even a webcam, but the Swivl+ system would also allow those participants to see and hear the discussions of the other participants. 

When it comes to teacher professional learning, almost every teacher will mention the “teacher conversations” as one of the most valuable parts of an effective professional learning session. But the Swivl system also helps me as a trainer and facilitator. This is the first Boot Camp I have led as a Google Certified Trainer. Having the video of my session will provide me with incredible feedback on my performance. Were the teachers truly engaged during the presentation? What conversations were they having as they worked through the various activities? Were they off track (yes, teachers do that too) or were they engaging in peer learning? I have a second session of the Boot Camp scheduled for next week. 

After working through the process the first time, I plan to use the Swivl system again and hope to record a whole session. I included in my personal professional development plan that I would “review recordings of at least two training sessions I conduct and reflect on my performance.” I also included “I will ask a critical friend to review the same two sessions and to provide feedback on my performance.” When I wrote that plan, I had my Swivl but was only casually familiar with Swivl+ and certainly was not part of the Pioneer program. Now I know just how much easier it will be to complete that plan. 

Inspired by my experience with Swivl? Apply to become a Swivl Pioneer!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A collection of coding apps and resources.

Coding for kids.

Over lunch today, I was pulling together a few resources related to data governance for a different project and was digging through the great resources provided by Common Sense Media Education (on Twitter @CommonSenseEd).  As I search for my original target, I came across this video on ways to get kids coding.  Take a look. . .

While the three tips included are things I had heard, and shared before I still found myself pulled into this quick little video.  I have been working on a broader project working to integrate computational thinking and computer science into the work of our (primarily) Math and Science efforts.  This has resulted in me taking long looks at several coding apps, robotics programs, and other computational thinking related resources.

By far, my current favorite is Tynker.  The app is extremely well done on iOS and the web resources are incredibly rich. We are, however, still in the midst of a funding quagmire. The Tynker app on iOS is free (the school version incomes with a $6 price tag). The training options on the website, the curriculum itself, is outstanding and comes with a pricing model designed for whole school adoption.  Yes, they have "classroom" plan, but that seems to fit a program that has the same 30 students under one teacher for a whole semester (12 lessons with 62 activities falls a bit short of the traditional 90 class days of a semester).  But for many teachers, schools, districts, and in my case, programs, do not work that way.  If I am an innovative 5th-grade science teacher and I want to integrate computer science, and coding, into my course, I may have 60-80 students (if students rotate teachers). I may not need 60+ activities because I may not have the time available or I may elect to use some of the great resources from Code.org to supplement as well.

Before I go any further, this is not a criticism of Tynker.  In fact, they have a great 6 lesson course that would fit perfectly into the scenario that I described and it is offered free. But it is one course. Now it is up to me to piece together Tynker, Code.org, and other resources to build my own curriculum. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is more work for the teacher. Especially when you look at the management of these varied resources.

I want to use resources from Tynker, Code.org, Sphero, Wonder Workshop, CS First, Swift Playgrounds and a half a dozen other apps and programs. But I also want to keep my sanity. Developers, please don't take this as criticism  I am after all a teacher. Take it as a design challenge.  I am here to teach students.  In the words of Jerry Maguire, "Help me help you!"

Well, until those developers contact me directly for my thoughts, here is a Participate Learning collection of my favorite coding resources.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Love Symbaloo? Get certified!

If you follow my blog or follow me on Twitter (@bigtechcoach in case you don't!), or if you have ever attended one of my presentations then you likely have heard me wax poetic about Symbaloo.  The visual bookmarking platform saved my life after Google killed iGoogle! Seriously, my Symbaloo webmix jumped in front of a speeding bus and Saved. My. Life!

Ok, Ok, maybe that is a stretch, but I truly don't know what I would do without Symbaloo.  My home webmix is as large as the platform allows. Just take a look!


I estimate that 80% of the sites I visit on any given day are just one click away because I have them on this wonderfully crowded webmix.

I love Symbaloo so much and was using it so frequently to create organized collections of links for the classes I teach and the presentations I share that I decided to take part in the Symbaloo Certified Teacher program and eventually became a Symbaloo PD Pro.  When I completed the Certified Teacher program I had to pony up ten bucks for the privilege.  I didn't mind, however, because certified teachers gain access to exclusive opportunities like free swag to give out at your presentations.

They still require that small administrative cost. Except when very cool sponsors step up. I received an email today from the team over at Spiral.  Apparently, Spiral and Symbaloo have formed a partnership (read about it here) and to celebrate, the folks at Spiral are going to cover the cost of Symbaloo Certification for you!

Here are the details:
To learn more about SymbalooEDU and their certification, check out their website here: http://www.symbalooedu.com/certification/
Click on the link “HAVE A PROMO CODE? CLICK HERE” and enter the code SPIRAL17SYM to waive the admin costs.
Complete your SymbalooEDU Basic Certification using the Symbaloo Lesson Plan that they provide. (Hey we said it was ‘free’ not easy).
Show off your SymbalooEDU Certification badge and be the envy of all your friends :)
Give us a tweet at @SpiralEducation and @SymbalooEdu to show off that you’re certified!

So, head on over and take advantage of this opportunity.  And if you do, Tweet me with the cool badge you will earn.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Want to improve your practice? Observe yourself!

It is often said that the first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  For educators, this could be expanded to say that the first step towards improving your practice may be identifying the problems in your current practice. Teachers and technology coaches that are truly interested in improving their practice may be overlooking some of the most practical ways to get started.  You cannot fix what you do not know is broken.

Yoda- The teacher that needs no evaluation!

Here are a few great tips for educators to identify areas for improvement:

1. Actively participate in the mandated teacher evaluation system.
Teachers get evaluated, that is nothing new. The systems used to evaluate teachers vary from state to state, even district to district. The importance that administrators place on these systems also varies.  It may be simply a task that they have to complete and could, therefore, be of little value to teachers.  But if you have an experienced administrator that truly sees teacher evaluation as a mechanism for teacher improvement, pay attention to their comments and suggestions!

2. Take a look, hard look at your own practice.
When was the last time you took your own test or completed the same assignment?  Do you have quirks in the way you create assignments that could be improved?  Are your instructions clear? Are your examples and test questions free of bias?

But self-evaluation does not end with the products you create.  It also includes taking a good look at yourself in the mirror.  Well, the modern equivalent of a mirror.  Technology has improved to the point that recording yourself in the classroom is so easy that arguing against its use is futile.  I did this myself during a professional development session just a couple of weeks ago.  I set up my iPad mini along with my Swivl C- Series C1, my own personal robot videographer! I recorded the entire session and then, a few days later, I watched the recording.  I looked for any tics, overly repetitive phrases, and my general interactions with my audience. (I actually used a portion of this recording in my PBS Digital Innovator application; you can see a portion here.) Remember, few people like to see themselves on video.  Just get past that and evaluate your practice objectively. Are you providing wait time? Do you call on boys more frequently than girls? Or particular students?

3. Critical friends
Never underestimate the power of having a close friend sit in on your class and then have a frank and honest discussion with them.  What did I do well? What could I improve? What might you do differently?

Want more tips on teacher self-assessment? Check out this page of resources from Scholastic.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Creating the perfect set of Plickers cards

As my organization rolls out G Suite for Education to our eleven sites across the state, I have been scheduling several professional development sessions over the next couple of months.  One tool that I will be sharing during these sessions is Plickers.  The Plickers app is an easy to use assessment tool perfect for classrooms and other settings with limited access to technology.  If you aren't familiar with Plickers, please take a look at my post "Formative Assessment is the One Device Classroom"  Plickers is perfect for our specialists because oftentimes were are presenting in locations that have limited access to the internet.  Since presenters are at the mercy of the network admins as to what access they may be granted, it is imperative that presenters are prepared with effective tools even in the face of limited access.

In preparation for this rush of presentations, I decided to create a new set of Plickers cards to stash in my presentation bag.  Plickers provides a pdf document of the card set is a couple of sizes.  With the convenience of packing in mind, I went with the standard size for a set of 40 cards.

With visions of grandeur in my mind, I first tried printing the cards directly on card stock with my desktop laser printer.  The smearing that resulted made the set unusable!  So, I tried another approach.  I printed the pdf on plain paper using the "big" printer/copier that is shared in the office.  I then loaded the card stock in the bypass tray, made an adjustment for think paper and simply copied the pdf.  The results were perfect.

The set will print as two cards per page so, of course, some trimming was needed.  I knew that I wanted to end up with a set that was nice in appearance and that was as uniformly cut as possible.  Off to the paper trimmer!  Of course, a good trimmer with a measurement grid is essential.  Now I had to calculate the dimensions.

After a couple of dry runs here is the procedure I followed:

  1. Cut the paper in half vertically by placing the car stock in the trimmer lengthwise with the left edge at the 5 1/2 inch mark. This will give you a half sheet with one card.
  2. Place one of the resulting cards in the trimmer lengthwise, this time with the left edge at the 6 1/2 inch mark (removing 2 inches from one side of the card).
  3. Rotate the card so that the right edge you just created is now the left edge and place the edge at the 4 1/2 inch mark.  This will cut 2 inches off of the opposite edge.
The resulting card should look like this:



Next, I needed an easy way to carry the cards without worrying about creases and tears.  A quick look around the office and I located some leftover cardboard mailers, the kind once used to mail CDs.  The entire set of 40 cards fit nicely in the mailer and the cardboard is sturdy enough to protect the cards.

However, I really didn't like the look.  I scrounged around and found some Avery 5165 Full Sheet printable labels. I opened up Microsoft Word and changed the layout to landscape.  I inserted a shape with the dimensions of 5.75" tall and 7.25" wide.  I added my name and organization as well as contact information in case I leave the card set somewhere.  Hopefully, a kind participant would shoot me a message, but in all honesty, if they did, I'd probably suggest they keep and use the set.  As a final touch, I added my Plickers Ambassador badge to the label.  

Here is the holder with the label applied:

As you can see, the printing on the mailer still shows through a bit.  Next time, I'll first apply a blank label and then the printed label of it, but this will certainly do the trick.

While looking for the full page labels, I came across some 1" x 4" mailing labels.  I took a few minutes to create a quick label for the back of my cards.  I also took the time to add the card number and small letters to help the participants orient the card on the back.  This took several minutes, but I think it will pay off during sessions.  Here is how the back of the cards look now:

All told, this project took me about two hours, but that includes a couple of interruptions, a bit of searching for materials and the time consuming adding of the letters to the back of the cards.  Two hours invested gives me a ready-to-implement assessment strategy that is always available in my presentation bag.  Even if I intend to use something different but run into network issues, I can pull out my Plicker cards and immediately demonstrate a technology based strategy that will work in a pinch or everyday, especially in a one device classroom.









Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The benefits of technology certifications

I recently was successful in earning my Google Certified Teacher Level 2 certification.  This comes on the heels of completing the BrainPOP Certified Teacher online course. I, of course, took the time to add these certifications to my biography page and it got me thinking about the value of these certifications.  What do they really mean to me as a teacher and presenter of professional development? A trusted colleague often teases me about the number of certifications I hold and the dedication I display in seeking them out.  He doesn't describe it as dedication, however.  He has more colorful language to describe it, but I'll go with "dedication."  I have explained that I am an outlier.  As the Educational Technology Specialist for a statewide program that serves a variety of schools and districts, I feel it benefits me to have a wide range of experience and exposure as it relates to technology integration.  Would a classroom teacher need such a variety? The likely answer is no.

However, they did agree on two points about certifications. First, if two candidates displayed equally impressive soft skills, then earned certifications could be a deciding factor because, and this was the second point, the earning of respected technology certifications did indicate the desire and dedication to go the extra mile to learn more and demonstrate their knowledge. I see this extra effort on the part of a teacher as incredibly important.

If I were looking to add staff to serve in instructional technology, certifications would not be the driving force, but could certainly "steer" my decision. (See what I did there?) I would never hire the prospective coach that held nine certifications without a long, thorough interview to evaluate the soft skills, but the earning of certifications, does, for me, demonstrate a teachers' desire to expand and improve their practice.

 Teachers that are charged with, or simply find themselves in a position that they are often called upon to share their knowledge related to technology integration should strongly consider seeking the respected technology certifications for the tools they use frequently.  After all, no downsides have been mentioned and having them in your bag of tricks serve two purposes.  First, if the teacher approaches the certification process correctly, it will inherently improve their practice; it will help them teach better.  Second, it will likely open doors of opportunities for them- opportunities to share and present to others, for instance. If you are part of the technology leadership team for your school or district, you can easily identify those teachers that are effectively integrating various digital tools in the classroom.  Take a few minutes to determine if there is a certification path for teachers on that product. If so, take the time to share the information and encourage that teacher to pursue certification. The benefits to you are obvious- more qualified teachers that can be utilized to increase and improve technology integration. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Formative assessment in the one device classroom

By now we all understand the necessity and benefits of formative assessment.  We must know where our students are in their learning so that we can be sure that they are ready for the next step.  By assessing students at regular intervals, we can ensure that we know this and can adjust our lesson, either for the entire group or begin differentiating based on the results of these formative checks.

In a perfect world, one in which every student has a device or ready access to a computer, there are many great options for quick and easy assessments that utilize technology to help teachers collect and analyze the results.  From Kahoot! for an interactive and fun experience to Edmodo for a more structured setting, options abound for the tech heavy classroom.  But what about a classroom that is sparse on technology?  In this situation, Plickers may be the perfect solution.



Plickers is an interactive assessment tool that only requires a single device in the hands of the teacher.  Students are armed only with a simple, pre-printed card that displays a unique code, similar to a QR code.  The cards can be purchased, but they also can be freely downloaded and printed by the teacher to save costs or because you simply want to get started quickly.

The first step for the teacher is to head over to Plickers.com and grab a free account.  Set up your classes and add students.  You can do this manually, but Plickers also lets you import a spreadsheet as well. Students are assigned a number that corresponds with a particular Plicker card.

Now that the students have been added, you can move on to adding questions.  Note that you can add folders here and that is a good idea, especially if you teach multiple subjects.  You can nest folders as well, making it easier to stay organized.  Once you have your questions added, switch to LiveView on the computer that is connected to the projector.  Then launch the Plickers app on your phone or tablet.  On your device, select a class then go in to your library and find the questions you want to present.  If there are several questions you'll be presenting, add them to the queue.  If it is only a single question, go ahead and tap Scan Now.

The question will displayed on your projected computer.  Students will rotate their Plicker card so that the answer they choose is at the top and will hold the card facing the teacher.  You will then scan the cards in the entire room by pointing the camera of your device towards the students.  You do not have to scan each card individually; the app will detect the cards automatically, even scanning them as a group!  The students responses are captured and stored in the reports section of your Plickers account.  You can also display the graph view on the projected computer to see live results.

As you can see, using Plickers is quick and easy once you have things set up.  You will add your classes and add students first.  Then add questions to your library, or create them on the fly.  Students respond by holding up their Plicker Cards and you capture their responses with a quick pointing of your device.  It's that simple!

Plickers is a great replacement for expensive Student Response Systems and is a breeze to capture formative assessment data in the classroom but don't forget to think outside of the box.  Traditional clickers and expensive student devices might not always be the best choice for every situation.  Consider capturing feedback while on a field trip.  The students are outside at the nature center (or museum or on the bus heading back).  It's not an appropriate place for student devices due to the risk of loss or damage.  The teacher can verbally read the question and answer choices, quickly scan the responses, and get a good idea of student understanding before you leave the site!  Now that is anytime, anywhere learning!