Sunday, December 4, 2011

You Don't Have to Be a Pro Photographer!

I am not, by any measure, a great photographer.  I am very much an amateur. That is why it amazes me when easy-to-use tools come along that make my photos look great!  My latest tool is Picasa.  This is another Google tool that is free and very easy to use.  I logged into my Google account, clicked on More...Even More and scrolled down to Picasa.  There is a part that you install on the computer and another part that sits in my Google Account.  I decide if I want to upload a photo or an album to the web to share with others.  It is a great way to organize school photos for a website.

We have a deer cam on one of our wooded areas in northern Wisconsin.  The camera took this great photo of a mother deer and a yearling.  It looked very similar to the right with the camera info at the bottom and the photo looking a bit "blue".

I uploaded the file into Picasa when I was uploading all the photos on the SD card.  Picasa automatically put all the photos into a folder with the date.  I could easily change the name of the album if I like, but I left it with the date because that made sense to me.

Next, I double-clicked on the photo in the album and several editing options came up.  First, I clicked on "Crop" and quickly got rid of the camera information at the bottom of the photo.  Next, I clicked on "I'm Feeling Lucky" and it changed the picture into the great photo I now have.  (Please note this photo is copyrighted as I plan to make prints from it.)  That was so easy!

Because the photos are now uploaded into my Picasa  web album, it is really easy to insert into my blog.  When I am editing my post in Blogger, I click on the insert image icon, click on "From Picasa Web Albums", and I just had to find the photo in my Picasa Dropbox.  How simple is that?

We use Google Apps for Education at school, so I always have to check to see if the same features are available at school.  I was thrilled to find that Picasa Web Albums is there under under More....Photos.  Tomorrow, I will test it out with one of my student's accounts.  That would be really slick for sharing field trip photos and class project photos on our website.

How do you use photos for education?  What other free and easy tools are out there?  Please add a comment to share with others who read this blog.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning With Your PLN

I often get asked how I learned what I know about technology.  That is not a simple question to answer as there are so many different avenues I use to learn about new technologies or how to use older technologies in newer ways.  I think of the Beatles song "With a Little Help From My Friends".  Now, not all the lyrics support my process but the "help from my friends' part definitely is.  "My friends" are the people in my Personal Learning Network, my PLN.

I use a few different sites to connect with others interested in how to use technology to improve teaching and learning.  The most effective one for me right now is Linked In Groups. I have joined three groups: International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Technology Integration in Education (TIE), and Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association (WEMTA). These three groups provide me with answers to questions I post as well as allows me to learn from others' postings and questions.  If you have not already joined these groups, I suggest you give them a try.  Create yourself an account at Linked In, join these groups, and start adding colleagues into your professional circle.

Another way that I learn about ed tech tools is to search sites like Slideshare and Prezi to find presentations created by others.  Often times, there are wonderful presentations posted there that make it easy for me to quickly scroll through the presentation, stopping only at the points where I will learn something new.

YouTube is another great place to search for tutorials and presentations to learn about any new ed tech tools. Create an account for yourself and you can save favorites as well as subscribe to "channels".  These channels are created by individuals or organizations and are gold mines for learning about ed tech.  For instance, if you subscribe to Google Apps channel, you can get an email each time a new video is uploaded. The same is true for TED talks and many other great YouTube channels.  Check out Michael Welsh's video on Reinventing Education.  It took me two minutes to find this on YouTube.

At times, I use Twitter to find information, although, I have to admit that it is less productive for me.  I use Tweet Deck to easily see others' tweets as well as to follow specific hashtags such as #edtech.  I also contribute by tweeting things I find on the Internet as well as retweeting posts that I think others will find valuable.

While these tools are not the only tools I use to learn on my own "with a little help from my friends", these are some of the key ones.  Look for a future post about how to use Google Reader to stay on top of the blogs you want to read the most.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Problem or Project Based....Does It Matter?

Photo by Tomasz Stasiuk on Flickr
For the past 5 years, I have been guiding teachers as they write problem based learning units.  I often get asked the question, "What is the difference between project-based and problem-based?"  While I know some people use these terms interchangeably, I believe their is a difference. 

In project-based, the students are working on a project with a product as the result of their work.  In problem-based, the students are solving a real-world problem and produce a product to show their solution.  While both approaches involve students working on developing some type of product, the problem-based task is focused more on the problem solving process and less on the product.  As stated on the EduTech wiki:

"Project-based learning typically begins with an end product or "artifact" in mind, the production of which requires specific content knowledge or skills and typically raises one or more problems which students must solve. Projects vary widely in scope and time frame, and end products vary widely in level of technology used and sophistication. Problem-based learning, as the name implies, begins with a problem for students to solve or learn more about. Often these problems are framed in a scenario or case study format. Problems are designed to be "ill-structured" and to imitate the complexity of real life cases."

I find that problem-based tasks are also more rigorous and often involve higher level thinking skills.  If the problem task is well-defined and "ill-structured", students need to work collaboratively with other students as well as experts to figure out the best solution for the problem. 

Designing the problem-based learning task scenario is often to most difficult part of the unit design.  You must begin with the end in mind, determining what you want the students to learn.  Then you must figure out what real-life scenarios would lend itself to this learning.  That is often tough to do.  You might want to contact your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a list of experts who are willing to help teachers come up with real-life problems related to the content they are teaching.

In problem based learning, there is a process the students' use to solve the problem.  The Illinois Math and Science Academy has defined the process as shown in this image:
There are also other problem solving models such as the Big6 Research Model and the 4D's.  While the Big6 process works well for initial teaching of researching information to  solve a problem, it seems that middle and high school students would best benefit from using either the IMSA model or the 4D's model.  It focuses more on the problem solution rather than specifically information research.  While information research is necessary when solving problems, these two models seem to work better for older students who have information research skills already.

Our district did a lot of work on problem based learning several years ago. We did a comparison of Big6, Super3 (Big6 for primary students) and 4D's.  While these all will work to some extent, I really like the IMSA model for upper elementary through high school. It seems to give enough guidance through the process without feeling to rigid.  I am teaching a graduate course this spring which is a one-credit introduction to problem-based learning.  As I prepare for this course, I will add blog posts with resources I find. I would also like to know what questions teachers have about problem-based learning.  Please share in the comments below or by emailing me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flipped Classroom - Is It Really Innovation for Elementary?

We are hearing more and more about the "flipped classroom" lately.  As I started hearing this in various places, I thought I better learn about this new innovation!  Of course, I don't want to miss out on a great teaching and learning strategy that uses technology, right?  Well, unless I am missing something big here, I don't think the "flipped classroom" is very innovative at all for an elementary classroom....unless you are still teaching with lectures. I do, however, think there may be some uses of a modified version of this for elementary.

If you are using problem or project based learning or engage your students in a lot of hands-on activities, you will not find the "flipped classroom" as a radical innovation.  I can't remember the last time I saw a teacher actually deliver an all out lecture in an elementary classroom.  According to Jonathan Martin's February 13, 2011 post on 21K12 blog "For those educators who never use, nor feel the need to use, classroom time for lecturing,  reversing learning probably has little significance; hence, extremely progressive educators and practicioners of pure PBL may find this innovation a bit passe." 

From: User Generated Education blog
According to Jackie Gerstein, the flipped classroom should be part of a bigger model as shown above.  The "flipped" part is in the asynchronous individual sections for "what" and "so what".  It is not just students watching lectures, but they are responding and sharing their insights in what they learned.  You will also notice in her model, that there are hands on activities and project based learning.  I like how she has blended the pedagogies and used the aspects of hands on projects during class while the more traditional teaching and reflecting are done outside of class.  This makes sense to me because it has the teacher working with the students during the time when they will need the most guidance...during the hands-on activities and project based learning.

John R. Sowash, on The Electric Educator Blog, explains how he had been using "reverse instruction" or "flipped classroom" for his anatomy and physiology class.  As he notes, he does a lot of lectures in this course so this shift in pedagogy made sense for how he currently teaches his class. While he is pleased with his new pedagogy, is that the model of education we really want in the 21st century?  He has recorded the lectures for viewing at home and now kids do the "homework" in class with his help. While this might be an improvement to classic traditional instruction, is this really where we want to get to?  How about revising the course more to include some problem based learning?  He does do a great job of sharing tips and tricks for making the "flipped classroom" work.  Again, this is a secondary class that typically used a lot of lectures as the main mode of instruction.  Check out his You Tube video on skin and body membranes.

By using this model, John has figured out a way to save the precious class time for guiding his students.  I do think this is an improvement over traditional instruction, but I would really like to see this morphed into the model Jackie has explained.  By using the "flipped classroom" for delivering content and reflecting on learning, class time can be freed up for doing problem based learning.

While I know I have more to learn about this model of teaching, I do think it may work in a modified way in elementary. For example, I know that when I preteach the math lesson to my special education students for 10 minutes just prior to math class, they are better able to learn during the math instruction in the classroom.  While the math class is mostly hands on work including team work, manipulatives, and figuring things out together, there are vocabulary words and prerequisite skills that help students prepare for the lesson.  I plan to experiment with using a modified "flipped classroom" model where the students watch the prelesson skills in a video either just prior to class or at home the night before.  If that works, it would be great to have the students watch the videos at home the night before.  It would allow me to keep them in their regular classroom for those 10 minutes OR it would allow me to use those 10 minutes to catch them up on other math skills that they are lacking.

When we plan our problem based learning unit for this year, I want to see if there are places within the unit where we could use the "flipped classroom" concept for some direct teaching and student reflections. This would free up class time for students to work in groups on their solution.

I would love to hear from other elementary teachers who are attempting a "flipped classroom" model.  Please share what you are using this strategy for and how it is working for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Symbaloo is a quick, easy way to organize your weblinks.  It is free and you can share your Symbaloo mixes with others.  Basically, Symbaloo is a grid where you place your "buttons" for your web resources.  They have a grid that you can get started with.  You can delete buttons, add buttons, and edit how the buttons look.

For elementary students, I really like how you can add an image to a button so it is easier for them to find it.  Here is the start of mine.

Once I make it publicly available, I can post the link on our class website.  I can easily share it through Facebook and Twitter.  I can also add it as an app on our Joli Cloud for the netbooks in the room.  I still have to find out if this would also work on an iOS or Droid-based tablet.  You can also add it as an app in Google Chrome.  If you can use it in so many ways, this may be a great way to get links out in a BYOD classroom.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jeopardy Labs - Will this work for BYOD?

As teachers are beginning to have a variety of student devices in the classroom because of B.Y.O.D., we need to find tools that work on a multitude of devices.  This year, with our JoliOS netbooks, we have to change how we do some things because we don't have Microsoft Office on the netbooks.  In the past, we used Jeopardy games created in PowerPoint as review games.  Well, that won't work this year, so we had to find a new tool.

On one of my list servs or Twitter feeds, I found out about Jeopardy Labs.  This is a free website where you can create Jeopardy style games without PowerPoint.  This site was created by Matt Johnson, an undergraduate at Washington State University in Vancouver.  While he willingly accepts donations, there is no charge for this service.  Thank you, Matt!  (BTW I will be sending a donation your way.  Keep the tools coming!)

Without any training, it is very easy to create a Jeopardy game.  My co-teacher created one for Latin roots review with no problems.  If you know a little HTML, you can easily add in some images or media to the questions. training needed.  What more can you ask for?

This works great on our netbooks because it is just a web link we need to give the kids and off they go.  What I need to know, however, as a potential BYOD classroom, is if it will work on other devices.  Will it work on Android OS devices, iOS devices, etc?  What is the best way to plan ahead without having all these devices to try it out on?

If I could get several different devices to test out our Latin roots game, I would really appreciate knowing if it worked on your device.   If you have an iPad, Android device or other OS/device, please try our Latin roots game and let me know if it worked or not.  I will then update the Google Spreadsheet to show which devices it works for.

In an attempt to start gathering tools that work across most devices, I started a Google Form to collect this information.  If you have tools that work across most devices, please add them to the collection.  The final spreadsheet will grow over time.  If you see something on the spreadsheet that you think is wrong, please email me to fix it.  I am hoping that we can all work together, with our vast experience with devices, and help teachers select the most universal tools for BYOD classrooms.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Delicious Stacks!

Delicious has a new feature called Stacks.  The idea is to bundle between 3 and 20 of your links together to share with others.  I decided to give it a try.  If it worked, it might be a great way to easily save and build a list of links for students to use.

First, I watched the two-minute Delicious video tutorial to see how it works.  It appeared to be pretty easy, so I built a stack on PBL, problem based learning, which is one of my passions.  As I started to build my PBL stack, I could not get it to work.  In the video, it looked so easy.

I filtered my links by the tag PBL and I checked the box to select them all.  Next to the "select all" checkbox was a droplist.  I clicked on it and picked "Create Stack" an error message.  After several tries at it, I figured out that I was getting an error message because I had more than 20 links checked to include in the stack.  You can only have 20.  I went back to my list and selected some of the best links to include in the stack.  Once I did that, it worked quite easily.  Although the video did not match the screens exactly, I was able to figure it out.

Since I made all the links public, I assume you can click on my link to my stack and get to all the links.  I like that the links have pictures associated with some of them.  I am not sure why some have photos and others don't.  If you know, please post in the comments below.  Please also let me know if you could access the links in my staff even if you are not logged into Delicious.  If so, this is a great possibility for my students.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cluster Maps to Show Blog Visitors

Perhaps you have a classroom or teacher blog, but do your visitors see where all of your readers are located?  Clustr Maps is a neat way to show who is visiting your blog.  If your blog is hosting student content, this can be especially motivating for the students.  How excited would they be to see that someone from China or Africa visited their blog?   Clustr Maps are free and can be put into many different types of sites including blogs, wikis and websites that accept HTML/Javascript.

If you click on a Clustr Map, such as the sample one on the Clustr Map website itself, it is enlarged and gives you more statistics.  The statistics include which number of visitors from each country and state.  It also shows the information about where the most recent visitors were from.

One teacher, Derrick Willard from North Carolina, shows how the audience on his class blog increased and locations varied over time in this SlideShare presentation.  Students would be motivated by the increase in audience and also learn some geography at the same time. Tom Barrett, in his blog post, also strongly suggests that you include a Clustr Map on your class blog as helps students to realize they have a real audience.

I added a Clustr Map to this blog as a demonstration.  At first, no dots show on the map.  Over time, this will increase.  See if your dot shows on the map!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Top News to You with Newsmap

Newsmap is a neat way to see what the top news stories are in many different countries.  According to their blog, "In Newsmap, the size of each cell is determined by the amount of related articles that exist inside each news cluster that the Google News Aggregator presents. In that way users can quickly identify which news stories have been given the most coverage, viewing the map by region, topic or time. Through that process it still accentuates the importance of a given article."  

This would be a great tool for social studies teachers to quickly show students what the top news stories are for that day.  You can click from country to country to see how the news importance changes by location.  Give it a try!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Joli Cloud: A New Way of Thinking

In my co-teaching classroom, we were provided with 7 netbooks this school year.  These netbooks, in an attempt to reduce the price, are loaded with Joli OS.  I guess the tech department really wanted to run them with Chrome OS but had issues with printing.  Anyway, this is what we are using this year and I have a lot to learn.  Since I like to know about the technology I am using with students, I decided to learn more about this Joli OS.

I found a video tour about the OS which provides an overview.  I really like the concept of having my own Joli Cloud.  What this means is that I can have my own apps organized "in the cloud".  It is very easy to add apps, like Facebook and Google Docs, to my Joli Cloud.  I can link in my Dropbox account as well.  No matter which computer I use, I can log into my Joli Cloud and have access to all my apps.

Joli Cloud desktop
At school, we are using a shared account which means changes made on one computer are replicated across the rest of the netbooks. So far, they have all of us in the district using the same Joli Cloud account.  I think we are going to want to have our own account because the desktop is already getting messy with all the different apps the teachers are adding to the account.

Is anyone else out there using Joli Cloud in the classroom?  Why kind of apps are you using?  Please share any tips and tricks for using this new setup.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Student Made Math Tutorials

Two years ago, I received a small grant of $500 to purchase a WaCom tablet for my classroom workstation.  This tablet allows users to draw on the tablet and show what they are doing on the computer screen.  Now, if you have a Smartboard in your classroom, you could do the same thing with that.  I also purchased Camtasia Studio to do screen recordings.  With these two tools, I was able to teach my students how to create their own math tutorials.

WaCom's Bamboo Tablet
My purpose in teaching them this was two-fold. First, I needed to teach them how to write a non-fiction piece about how to do something.  Secondly, I need to give them practice in reading fluency.  They were able to write the directions for how to do a math process and then practice reading it until they were fluent.  They used the WaCom tablet to do the math writing for their process.  Once they had the screen capture of the math writing, they added the audio to the video.  Not only did they learn their reading and writing skills, they also learned more about math!  They were very engaged and wanted to make more once this first one was complete.

Check out a sample showing how to do Partial Products Multiplication.

Today, I came across a blog article about Eric Marcos is a sixth-grade math teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California who is doing basically the same thing with a tablet PC.  The blog article includes tutorials for creating screen casts.  You can use free software such as Jing or CamStudio to create the screen casts as well as using the recording feature of the Smartboard software.  Next time you are trying to figure out how to improve your students' math understandings, have them create a video.  It is fairly easy...and the students will catch on fast!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Have you heard Google's recent announcement?  They are working on and soon will be releasing Google+.  It is meant to be direct competition for Facebook and I think it has potential in education.  Unlike Facebook, Google+ allows you to create separate circles or groups of people who only can see and interact with each other.  This would allow teachers to create circles of students who can only interact with each other.  The teacher, on the other hand, could see all of the circles from one place.  

Another neat feature of Google+ is the Sparks area.  Users can enter as many interests as they want (sports, movies, music, politics, and research topics) and then Google+ provides them with constantly updating links to content on the Internet specific to the topics they listed.  Wouldn't this come in handy for a research project?  I see this as using the power of the web to bring the content to the user automatically.  

Hangouts allows you to hold a live video chat with up to 10 users at one time.  This could easily be used for students to collaborate from home in the evening.  Seriously, they really do work on their projects from home if we give them the right tools.  This feature could also be used to hold virtual meetings, saving staff time and cost for traveling to a central site.

Ready to get started?  Well, we will have to wait a bit yet. Right now, Google+ is by invitation only.  It also requires Google Profiles which are not yet available in Google Apps for Education. You can request that you are notified when this is available by filling out this form.   

For more information on Google+, check out the links below.  I look forward to seeing how this roles out in education.  Perhaps this is a safe way for school to provide social networking within our schools, especially for students too young for Facebook and other social networking sites.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Using Paideia Strategies for PBL Teamwork

Over the past ten years, I have written several problem based learning units with teachers who have then implemented them with students.    One area that they see students struggling with is learning how to work as a team to solve the problem.  Now that I am back in the classroom, I am seeing this first hand.  It appears that we often assume students know how to work in a team.  What the students actually need is specific instruction and practice in developing teamwork skills. 

I came across a resource that may help with this.  The University of North Carolina is associated with the National Paideia Center.  This center works to improve "the ability of adults and students to think and communicate so that each might become a good citizen of the world, earn a decent livelihood, and lead a good life."  They have training materials as well as teacher resources.  This even includes a K-1 seminar checklist for teaching students how to work through a seminar with other students.

Classrooms or schools using the Paideia, pronounced (py-dee-a), use seminar dialogue to teach both critical and creative thinking.  The seminars are focused on deep understanding of a significant text.  One example given on the website is for The Gettysburg Address.  The purpose of the seminar is to give students a dual purpose of understanding the text but also participating effectively in the discussion.  In the Gettysburg Address instructional plan, students are given participation goals for the seminar.  They then self-assess on the specific participation goals.  After the seminar is complete, the students are given a collaborative tastk to complete related to the topic of the seminar.

While I have some more exploring to do, I think this strategy may have potential in building the creative and critical thinking skills of students.  Check out their website for more materials as well as information teacher training.