Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Edmodo for Professional Development

Over the past couple of weeks I have been completing the remaining requirements to earn my Edmodo Ambassador credential.  This was an interesting endeavor because although I am a very frequent user of Edmodo, it is not in the traditional classroom setting.  In my position with the State Department of Education, I am heavily involved in professional development for teachers.  Edmodo works well in this scenario because it is web based and participants can be from any district.

While many would state that Edmodo doesn't completely qualify as a Learning Management System (LMS), it is a perfect tool for the management of a professional learning community.  It provides a great venue for group discussion in the form of posts and replies to specific topics.  Edmodo also includes a polling feature, quizzes and a library system in which you can easily store resources.  These are features found in most LMSs but the openness of Edmodo in allowing the individual teacher to regulate enrollment.  This outshines most LMSs for my uses in that there are no restrictions on who can be added to a group.  Google's Classroom limits participants to users in the same Google Apps for Education system (Google recently added the ability for administrators to "whitelist" other GAFE districts allowing select cross population.)

Let me walk you through a typical use case for Edmodo for professional development.  The State Department of Education was set up by Edmodo as a school district.  That allows us to add various programs as schools.  Once teachers, in our case various State Department of Education staffers,  have been added to the schools, they can create groups.  Each group normally represents a particular professional development session or professional learning community.  These groups can be used to completely manage the session if it is to be presented asynchronously or can be used as a supplement to a traditionally presented PD session.

To manage a completely online session, the facilitator (or in Edmodo terminology, the teacher) can add resources, make assignments, take polls and even give quizzes.  Using Edmodo in this way does take some planning.  You don't really have a way to post a course structure as many LMSs do.  However, you can create folders and add files, links, and quizzes.  The teacher might create folders for each unit or module of the course and post the needed materials in the folder.  Participants (or students in Edmodo-ese) would need to learn to switch to the folder view to navigate through the content.  (Note, participants would utilize the same Edmodo account they would use as a teacher in their school, they would simply be referred to as a student in these groups.)

A more frequent use of Edmodo for us is as a supplement to in person PD sessions or conference presentations.  The presenter of the session can preload content and additional resources into the group and referred participants to the group as a repository.  However, the group could also be used during the session to post feedback, take polls to gather data and even allow for 'back channelling discussion amongst the participants.  This is made possible with the quick and easy enrollment process using group codes and the availability of full-featured mobile apps.

Research has shown that one-shot PD is not very effective (Darling-Hammond, 2009), so one of the greatest advantages of Edmodo as a supplement to the traditional PD session or conference presentation is to provide the necessary follow up and extension activities to ensure teachers actually integrate their learning into their practice.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Palo Alto, CA: National Staff Development Council and The School Redesign Network, Stanford University.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EdCamp- Turning Teacher Professional Development Upside Down

It is a common refrain.  You are sitting in a professional development session that the district required you to attend.  The presenter stands in the front of the room droning on about the latest changes to the student information system (SIS) or the resources that came with the newly adopted textbook series.  Maybe there are some text-filled PowerPoint slides glowing on the screen behind her.  You wish you were anywhere but here.

There may be several reasons for the way you feel.  Maybe it is because you piloted the SIS and you already know all of the information being shared.  But you wish there was a way to speak with someone that had been using the system for a few years to ask them how to handle more advanced tasks.  But instead you keep looking forward, pretending to pay attention while slowly becoming more and more frustrated that your time is being wasted.  You want to walk out.  But you can't do that.  The principal is sitting right there.  Of course, he is not paying attention to the speaker either because he, too, has already mastered today's content.

Suddenly, it hits you.  Have you become that teacher?  You know, the one that always complains when a staff meeting or professional development activity is announced.  The one that is still presenting the lessons they created twelve years ago and doing so the exact same way they were presented originally.  The one that the kids dread.

But you know that it isn't true.  You love learning and trying new ways of teaching.  You were up last night until the wee hours of the morning pinning bulletin board ideas on Pinterest.  You participated in two different online chats about formative assessment last week.  You spent hours this past weekend designing a new online activity for your students because they just didn't seem to be as engaged in math as they were the previous week.  So why do you feel this way?

It is probably because you are being forced to sit through a session that will not benefit you.  Maybe it is because you have already mastered the content or possibly it is because it doesn't even apply to your subject area (but is, never the less, required by the administration).  In either case, the problem is choice.  The lack of choice is probably a better description.

With all the talk of differentiation and personalization of learning that garners so much attention in regards to students, many administrators have yet to make the connection that this also applies to teacher professional learning.  Yes, of course, there are some topics that must be mandated for all teachers.  But these should be limited to policy and legal updates.  And even these could also be presented in a blended format to reduce teacher "seat time."

But what if administrators gave teachers voice and choice (two of the core principles of Project-based Learning so commonly promoted for students)?  Too hard to manage?  They wouldn't do it?  I have to disagree and I have some evidence to back me up.

Just over 6 years ago in Philadelphia, a movement started that is sweeping the education world by simply giving teachers voice and choice in their professional development.  EdCamp is an "unconference" movement that is based on teachers choosing the learning that they want to participate in and feel they need.  Almost always held on a Saturday or during the summer break, EdCamps are organized by teams of education leaders.  Everyone is invited and very few things are formally planned.  On the morning of the event, a blank session board is opened up to the participants.  Do you want to share a great strategy that you use for online assessment?  Put it on the board.  At the assigned place and time, you will be able to facilitate a conversation about your strategy, sharing it with others that are interested and hearing how they have done similar things. Don't know much about digital portfolios but want to learn more? Put it on the board.  The participants that show up may have experience with portfolios and will be great resources.

Oh, and if you sit down in a session but quickly realize that it isn't what you wanted or needed, the EdCamp model encourages you to get up and head to a different session.  It is all about what is best for you.

Are you ready to take charge of your learning?  Head over to the EdCamp Foundation website and check the map for an upcoming Edcamp near you.  Or better yet, come join us in Alabama.  There are at least a half a dozen EdCamps each year, including the inaugural EdCamp Lake Eufaula of which I am a member of the planning team.  This event will be held on a Friday in July and provides a great chance for you to attend a valuable professional development activity and then stay the weekend at beautiful LakePoint State Park.

Learn more about how attending an EdCamp can make a difference in your professional practice by viewing the EdCamp video below.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Guest post on Using Video to Flip Professional Development

I just learned that the GoAnimate for Schools blog picked up my blog post on flipping PD.  You can check is out at

Learning to Code One Box at a Time.

Flashback to 1988.  I'm lurking in the electronics department of the local Sears department store.  I drift over to the shiny new IBM clone computers.  After a quick glance left and right to ensure the coast was clear, I deftly exited out of Windows 2.1 and launched GWBasic from the command line.  I only needed two lines of code.

10 Print "Sears is full of Idiots"
20 Goto 10

I'd press enter as I quickly walked away.  Not too far, however, because most of the fun was watching the "television expert" or the "appliance specialist" notice my handywork and struggle to try to stop it.  Soon, two workers would be huddled around the PC trying any number of key strokes before finally reaching around and pulling the power cable out of the back of the machine.  For those without any coding experience, let me explain.  Those two lines of BASIC code would display "Sears is full of Idiots" on the screen. Again and again, ad infinitum. No, this isn't a "how I got caught shoplifting" story of my arrest, but the middle-aged appliance salesmen probably thought it should be.  This oft repeated exercise in hilarity was available to me through learning to code.

During the 1980s and 90s, coding was the realm of the geeks, the War Games watching nerds who entertained ourselves, I mean themselves, pounding away at a keyboard copying hundreds of lines of code from the latest copy of the Basic Computer Games series of books.  Back then, programming was for a small number of teens that had a particular interest in it.  Over the last five years or so, as technology has become more and more a part of our everyday lives, coding has become more popular in the mainstream of education. launched the first Hour of Code event in late 2013 and more and more schools are becoming involved.  However, many schools do not have the experienced teachers to fully implement a program and often the teachers feel too pressed to cover mandated curricular topics.  Coding is working it's way into that category, but for most it is not there yet.

Many teachers, Instructional Technology Coaches and parents, however, see the value of coding and not just during one hour of one year.  But they need fun and engaging strategies and tools to use with students.  One interesting approach has been adopted by the team over at  They provide a monthly subscription program that delivers a box full of interesting coding activities by mail.  Last month, they shipped a sample box for me to take a look.  Now, as eager as I was to dive in, I decided that since Bitsboxes are targeted towards kids, I needed some help.  So I recruited a couple of nine year old kids (twins, A. and E.) to help me out.

Opening the box was exciting.  The box contained app trading cards, stickers, temporary tattoos and a mystery toy.  In keeping with the Spy theme of this box, the toy was a pair of special glasses that allowed you to look behind yourself undetected.  These are of course just novelty items to add a little interest; the heart of the box is the book full of coding apps.

The book is a well produced, glossy soft cover book of about 20 pages.  It feels good and I expect it will last even with repeated use.  It is filled with apps that can be entered into a web-based program that will actually execute the code.  Each sample app has an app code that you enter on the Bitsbox website from a computer with a hard keyboard.

So, we pulled out the MacBook and opened Chrome and headed over to  The instructions said to click on "Get Started" but I couldn't find any such link.  I scrolled down and back up.  I reloaded the page.  Nothing.  I Googled it and the help I found was the same- just click "Get Started."  But it was no where to be found.  I fired up a Windows PC and had the same results, no "Get Started" link to be found.  After I muddled around for a few more minutes, I played a hunch,  opened up Safari and there is was, top right corner, just where it was supposed to be.  I checked Firefox and the link displays properly there as well, but this is something the BitsBox team needs to address.  Especially with the popularity of Chromebooks in schools, this should work in Chrome, but if they can't make that happen, then it needs to be prominently a part of the instructions.

Once you get into the site, you have to create an account.  This worried me a bit as it does require an email address for the kids account, but it is necessary to save your apps.  The FAQ page does include a tip on how to use the parents email address to setup a kids account and even how to create multiple accounts under the same email address.

Once that is done and you log in, you will see a virtual tablet.  Click the New App button a the bottom and you are prompted for a four digit App Number.  These numbers are in the App Book included in the kit.  Enter the number and you are presented with a virtual tablet computer alongside a coding area.  Now the kids enter the lines of code from the book.  Once entered (exactly, of course) you can click the green arrow to execute the program.  If everything has been entered correctly, the app will run on the virtual tablet.  The book will then prompt the kids to change a setting or two to demonstrate how the app works.

Here is where I was left wanting a little more.  I have the background to talk the kids through thinking about what was happening, but not all parents or even teachers may feel comfortable with that.  For instance, Bistbox uses the stamp command to display a picture.  I felt I needed to walk the twins through understanding that the stamp command would always do that but the variable that followed the command determined what picture would display.  There is no discussion of what is happening with each command in the App Book.

The apps start very simple, just two lines for the first one, but get progressively more complex.  With a bit more explanation by me about how the commands work and worked together, the twins were really starting to get the hang of not only entering and executing the sample programs, but were getting really good at predicting what was going to happen and how they could modify the app.  I wish the App Book included that challenge of predicting what might happen as that is a true gauge of student understanding.

The apps were engaging for the kids.  My test subjects took a bit of time to enter the lines of codes, however, which with taking turns meant that one of them was always just waiting in the wings.  I tried to keep the second kid engaged by prompting them with questions about what they thought this app might do, but for many teachers and parents, this could be a problem.  Any time a kid has to wait with nothing to do, there is a risk of losing them.  It would be great if the App Book included a background story that could be read by one as the other entered the lines of code.

Once an app has been entered into the web-based system and executed on the virtual tablet, you can click the share button to display a QR code.  The code can be read with any QR code reader app on a tablet device and the app will open and can be played on the tablet.  Once this is done, it does give that second kid something to work on while the next lines of code are entered into the computer.

It will take kids several sessions to work through a complete App Book, especially since the book ends with Coding Challenges that provide only a challenge and a few new variables that can be used to code an original app to complete the challenge.  While we haven't gotten to these yet, I looked over them and expect them to provide an extended session while the twins work through the challenge.

All in all, I found the BitsBox to be well designed with only a few things I wished to see.  The missing link in Chrome should be an easy fix.  My desire for a backstory or some other activity to fill the time of a second child while the first one enters lines of code would be a huge plus, but I strongly believe that a parent/adult guide to accompany each book to provide guidance and vocabulary help would really make these kits an incredibly valuable tool.  They have such a guide now but it is not mentioned in the App Book.  I found it on the website in the Educators section, an area many parents may never think to visit.

Bitsbox does provide additional online activities and even has a dedicated Hour of Code page that can be used without a login and provides several additional free activities.  They also have a dedicated Educators page that includes that great Grownups Guide along with coding activities, some of which can even be completed without a device.

Bitsbox is a $30 per month subscription for the regular Bitsbox but a download only version is also available for just $20 per month.  You can learn more and sign up at

Note: Bitsbox provided me a complimentary sample box upon request, which was used to write this review.  They did not request, nor were they provided, any editorial review of this post.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Parent's Guide to Finding the Best Apps and Resources for Kids

Just a quick post to thank the crew over at GoGuardian for sharing my guest blog post on the importance of parents selecting the best and most engaging app for their kids. Check it out at

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Eye Observe Classroom Observation App Review

Earlier this week, I became aware of what could be an incredibly handy iPad app for Instructional Technology Coaches and administrators.  The app is called Eye Observe and, at least for now, it is available free in the App Store.  The purpose of the app is simple- provide a quick way to record educator observations, both notes and even video.

The app opens to a login screen at which you must create an account.  While not everything about the account is made clear, you are able to store observations to pull up later so hopefully that is the only purpose.  Once you are logged in, you are presented with a split screen. On the right is a live feed from you iPads camera above a blank area that you'll later learn will display any video clips you have captured.  Below this area are a trio of buttons- New, Aggregate Reports, and Saved Forms.  Tapping New gives you a pop up men from which you can choose from four types of observation forms.  The included forms are Coaching, Record, Teaching Standards Assessment, and Technology Competency.  

The Coaching form is a well designed guide to record an initial coaching meeting with space to record outcomes and action plan for example.  It even includes space for both Coaches and Teacher comments.

The Record form provides a quick, easy to complete form to record classroom observations, walkthroughs, conferences, really any type of interaction between a coach and a teacher or admin and teacher.  You still have the option to capture video or still images that can even have notes attached to them.

Let me skip down to the Technology Competency form for a moment and I'll come back to the Standards Assessment in just a moment.  The Technology Competency form provides a nice observation tool to record much if the technology usage and integration that is observed by the coach or admin. A self assessment is also available.  This forms allows the observer to record the number of students engaged with different technologies as well as the tools, software or web resources being used, but also gas prompts to record what type of interaction is taking place.  The prompts seem well thought out and there is just a hint of some local influence; that is some competencies and strategies that may be common or even required in Arizona but may not be as common in other areas.  I do wish there were national references here such as the ISTE Standards or even a quick SAMR scale to measure the level of integration but as the author is from Arizona State University and the app is copyrighted by the Arizona Board of Regents, there may have been some specific goals the team was trying to achieve.

Which brings us back to the Teaching Standards Assessment form.  Once again, this is a well designed tool to quickly record observations in a variety of settings.  The description provided indicates that this could be used either as a formative, ongoing assessment but also as a sum native assessment.  It appears to be very closely aligned to the Arizona evaluation system but it demonstrates some wonderful features.  While the bulk if this form is a series of Likert scale items a quick tap on the information button for each displays the continuum for that item.

While I have not tried to create a large number of dummy forms, the Aggregate Report and Saved Forms buttons clearly indicate at lease the ability to record multiple observations and to compile some of that data.

Now for a wish list.  This is clearly a fresh project.  All information that I could locate indicates that the app is free...for now.  Hopefully the Board of Regents will continue to provide this app for free.  Possibly they could add the analyzing of additional data for Arizona users for a fee to subsidize the app overall.

There is also the question of data security.  Is the data being stored on my device or, because I have logged in, is t being stored on a server somewhere?  Since this could include teacher performance evaluations, that answer needs to be made clear.

That login screen is a bit buggy too.  It works fine, almost too well.  Every time you leave the app, you are forced to login again.  This includes even if you simply jump out to check a text message or email.  During a full evaluation, this would get frustrating. (During the writing of this post as I jumped back and forth to detail the various forms, I have logged in 22 times.)

One promising thing is that it appears as if there is room for additional forms to be added.  This has great potential and could be the source of income.  I'd gladly download the app for free to have access to, say, just the coaching form, but take advantage of in app purchases for a few others, especially if they were less locally specific or even specific to my state.  

All in all, this is an incredible handy app as it is and with a few tweaks and a reasonable pricing model would certainly find a permanent place on my iPad.  Hopefully the team will continue to make it available to the education community. 

Eye Observe is available in the App Store at

Sunday, April 3, 2016

EdCamp Montgomery Recap

On Saturday, April 2nd the first ever EdCamp Montgomery was held at Montgomery Academy.  I was a part of the planning team for this event and overall, everyone agreed it went great.  We had a smaller than expected turn out, but in some ways that was better.  In fact, well over ninety percent of those in attendance indicated that this was their first experience with EdCamp.  That is a great thing.  The EdCamp experience is different than other conferences and I believe word of mouth will have a positive effect on next years event.

Once the crowd gained an understanding of how things worked, the activity level and excitement really began to grow.  Even with such a large number of first timers, the session board filled quickly.  Members of the planning team were prepared to jump in to lead multiple sessions in case the participants were hesitant to lead sessions but as it turned our, some of us had to hustle to the board just to lead one!

I heard multiple positive comments and many sessions had standing room only.  The Google Classroom session was packed and all of the sessions I participated in were well attended with eager participants.  Davina Mann (@DavinaMann), Instructional Technology Coach from Owens Cross Roads Elementary School, lead a great session on Nearpod (@nearpod) and I hosted a session on Participate Learning (@participatelrn).  Mark Coleman and I joined up to facilitate an EdCamp tradition by hosting a "Things That Suck!" session that had the attendees debating a variety of education topics in the boisterous way that proves just how passionate today's teachers are about their jobs, their schools, and most of all their students!

Just check out a few of the Tweets from the events: