Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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Back to School Adventures

It’s Back-to-School season. Since my own start of school at the end of July – you can read about it in A Call to Action for the First Day of School – I have traveled back and forth to schools all over the place. The map below shows all of my August adventures and if you click on the picture it will open in Google Maps with more info.
Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.59.56 AM

With all of the Back-to-School fun, I’ve written a handful of posts which I have not remembered to post here as well as participated in a number of Google Hangouts about a few of my favorite tools. You can view those on the EdTechTeacher Webinars page if you are interested. This afternoon, Sabba Quidwai, Jodie Deinhammer, and I will be talking iTunesU as well.

My classes start next week, but I will try to continue to post updates here. Good luck to all of my teacher friends – and those of you who have kids going back to school. Here’s to Surviving September!


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Around the East Coast in 30 Days

I started to write a post yesterday and then didn’t. No real excuses, just didn’t get there. However, this morning, Cathy Rubin (@cmrubinworld) gave me a shout-out in her Around the World in 30 Days post for June, so I figured out my angle.

June 1 – Asking Essential Questions

Ever since I heard Jay McTighe talk about the concept of Essential Questions and read his book, I’ve been inspired about what it takes to get people to engage in deep inquiry. Leveraging the power of Visible Thinking, I spent the morning of June 1st with the teachers from the Williston Scholars program at Williston Northampton School in MA wrestling with the question:

How can the Williston Scholars teachers design a curriculum that encourages deep inquiry and exploration across cohorts as well as creates experiences unique to the individual courses?

June 3-4 – Strategies, Literacy, & Fluency

From Williston, I traveled South to work with teachers in Charlotte, NC. This group was preparing to go 1:1 with iPads next year. With a team of 5th and 6th grade teachers, we tackled questions of strategies – how to address note taking and active reading with digital tools, literacy – how to build an understanding of media and address the impact of possessing a global library inside of a tablet, and fluency – how to develop a growth mindset such that learners become comfortable regardless of the interface of various apps and tools.

In many ways, it’s because of these early workshops that I wrote about empathy as a key trait for teacher leaders.

June 6-10 – iPads & Chromebooks in Atlanta

To kick off our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshop Series, I flew down to Atlanta, GA and set up at Woodward Academy for the week. What most impressed me about that week was the amazing educators who arrived with open minds and a thirst to learn, explore, and challenge their own ideas. We continued with those themes of empathy, strategy, fluency, and literacy with a constant objective of empowering students to construct understanding and create artifacts as evidence of their learning.

With the Google & Chromebook group, we also had a chance to explore the power of DocHub for active reading and collaborative note taking. I wrote this post about it for Free Technology for Teachers.

June 17-19 – Minnetonka Institute & Skokie, IL

When I submitted my problem of practice to Johns Hopkins for the EdD program, I talked about the need to provide high-quality, sustained, professional development to teachers as a means to create lasting change. These three days helped to shed significant light on the subject.

In Minnetonka, the district has made an investment in PD. They provide consistent, high-quality opportunities inside of their schools and also invite in neighboring districts. For their institute, teachers drove from as far away as 3.5 hours (I now know where Worthington, MN is located) to take part in 2 days of learning.

After leaving Minnesota, I flew down to Chicago to kick off my first full-year program with the K-6 teachers in Skokie, IL. I am a huge fan of these learning opportunities because there is no pressure to race through concepts and ideas. We can iterate over the course of the year and build on various concepts over time. It’s after participants can begin to see the power of leveraging all technologies (yes, even paper and pencil) that they realize the power of student-centric learning. However, it’s also this experience that led me to write about the need for A New Metric for Learning.

June 22-26 – Chromebooks & PBL

Last week, I continued summer workshops in Chicago. For the first few days, I worked with a number of teachers in a Chromebook Classroom workshop. These three days reinforced my believe that we really need to address the concepts of strategy, literacy, & fluency in professional development. More on this coming soon…

With my Project Based Learning workshop, I hit a few snags – namely a misunderstanding of the concept. More on this coming soon as well.

Rounding out the Month

To end June, I’ll be kicking off an extended program with teachers in Westborough, MA as well as catching up on my homework. Keep an eye out on Edutopia (@Edutopia) as I have a new post running either today or tomorrow about The Art of Reflection.

July is going to get interesting as well!


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My Technology Workshops NOT about Technology

Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher? Have you ever spoken to a teacher? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, please keep reading…

This summer, I’m teaching eight DIFFERENT workshops with EdTechTeacher in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston. Some of them are very obviously technology based: The iPad Classroom, The Chromebook Classroom, iPads in the Elementary Classroom, and Google & Chromebooks in the Classroom. During these workshops, we will be hands-on with all sorts of devices, tools, apps, extensions, and other digital features. However, I have been doing considerable research for three of my other workshops that are more focused on process and pedagogy and less on the tools themselves.

Project-Based Learning, June 25-26 in Chicago

Project-Based Learning (PBL) encourages students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. Now, there is a huge difference between teachers asking students to complete projects (think exploding volcano, giant posters, and short videos) and incorporating PBL as an instructional strategy. Though many teachers may feel as though it’s difficult to fit in PBL given the constraints imposed by state curricular requirements, standardized tests, in these two days, we are going to prove otherwise.

Sure, we will use some digital technology. In fact, participants are encouraged to bring anything that their students may be able to access in the next school year. However, the focus will be more on the pedagogy and how to ignite student curiosity in order to encourage them to engage in deeper thinking about a particular subject. Don’t believe me? Sign up and come find out!

Digital Portfolios, July 9-10, in Boston

Digital portfolios have almost reached buzzword status. Students are using Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, KidBlog, Evernote, and a whole host of other online sites to create these compilations of their work. However, in my workshops, we may spend the entire first day using paper.

Alvin Toffler, the futurist, wrote “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” If truly literate people will be those who can easily adapt and evolve as emerging technologies change the ways in which we communicate, create, and think, we need to provide students with an opportunity to keep track of not only what they learn but why and how.

I have a post about all of this coming out on Edutopia in June. In the meantime, here’s some of the background information that won’t be published and what we will be doing on Day 1 of this workshop. First, we are going to look at Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Rather than focus on portfolios as the final step in a learning activity, we are going to examine curriculum with the idea of beginning every unit, project, and even school year with the concept of reflection in mind. Here’s what that may look like.

Original Learning Objective New Learning Objective
I want my students to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits. I want my students to document their discovery of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits.
I want my students to make  a personal connection to the characters in the book/story/novel. I want my students to share how and why they made connections to the characters in the book/story/novel.
I want my students to understand how US involvement in WWII set a precedent for responses to future conflict. I want my students to identify “lessons-learned” from WWII and explain how those lessons could be applicable to how they personally respond to future conflicts.

In all of our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops, we stress the importance of beginning with clearly defined learning objectives. During this Digital Portfolios Workshop, we are going to do the same thing. Once we have identified our objectives, then we will explore what may be possible with regards to the actual digital component.

Reading, Writing, & Research, July 16-17 in Boston

There has been considerable research published in the last 18 months about the effectiveness of reading and writing with digital tools. As I’ve written on several occasions, I strongly disagree with much of this research as it focuses on the device rather than the process.

Whether your students have access to iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or smart phones, digital tools can have an enormous impact on how students access and analyze content as well as how they then communicate their understanding through written text. Yes, we will explore a number of tools. However, our primary focus will be on how we teach reading, writing, and research strategies given the functional improvements afforded by technology – whether it be Google Docs or pen & paper. Seriously, come find out!

Differentiating with Technology, July 23-24 in Boston

I think we can all agree that students learn in different ways and at different speeds. When in the classroom, I had students who constantly needed a challenge as well as those who needed considerable support given their specific learning needs. From text-to-speech and speech-to-text to alternative assessments, we are going to take a deep dive into the concept of Universal Design for Learning in order to develop tools and strategies that both support and enrich.

This will be the third year time that I have taught this workshop and every year it evolves to address new capabilities as well as meet the needs of my participants. I think differentiating for students is a challenge for all teachers and this workshop is a great place to start.

Come Play!

I work with an amazing set of instructors. We have workshops in 5 cities this summer on a whole host of topics. Again, if you are a teacher, know a teacher, or just want to learn for yourself (you don’t have to be a teacher), please pass the word along and come play!

ETTSummer


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The Backstory of “Fitting in PBL”

This year, Greg Kulowiec and I added a Project Based Learning (PBL) module to our EdTechTeacher T21 Online Courses. While reading through the discussions, I found two recurring themes of interest:

  1. There was still a lot of confusion about the difference between Project Based Learning and having students complete projects. I like to think of it this way: The former is an instructional strategy that encourages students to engage in inquiry and engage in a real-world context. The latter is a form of assessment that typically does not appear in paragraph form.
  2. I got a ton of “Yeah but…” comments. As in “Yeah. I agree, but I don’t have time.”or “Yeah. Sounds great, but I have to get through my curriculum.”

With those two things in mind, I went on a quest to find great examples from excellent teachers who ARE fitting PBL into their curriculum. I can’t thank Meghan Zigmond, Kyle Pearce, Jodie Deinhammer, and Christine Boyer enough for their help with this post.

>> Read “Fitting In” PBL on Edutopia

Shameless Plug!

I am super excited to be teaching a Project Based Learning  workshop June 25-26 in Chicago. Come play with me!

ETTSummer


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Supporting Struggling Readers with Technology

I apologize. This post was inspired by Twitter conversation with a thoughtful high school educator. I remember that much. However, I don’t remember who I was talking to when I engaged in the conversation. If you read this, please refresh my memory. I apologize – particularly since I promised that I would share this post as soon as I wrote it.

Anyways, from what I remember of the conversation, it went something like this:

  • Thoughtful Educator – “What is the impact of digital texts for struggling readers at the high school level?”
  • Me – “I think that there is tremendous power in providing digital texts as an option. For some students, it allows them greater access to content in that they can focus on comprehension vs decoding. I’ll write more…”

Well, I did keep my promise to write more!

The Value of Reading Digitally

I submitted this post to the wonderful educators with Diversa in Brazil. It has been published in English and Portuguese.

Over the past few months, in a number of different contexts, an interesting question has presented itself. When teaching about the power of text-to-speech, several teachers have asked whether or not it could have a long-term, detrimental impact. These thoughtful educators question if being able to hear words could actually decrease literacy skills and remove the need for students to learn to read.

However, a 2013 report indicates that eReaders are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia. Researchers found that the “use of the device significantly improved speed and comprehension, when compared with traditional presentations on paper for specific subsets of these individuals,” particularly those who struggled with decoding specific sounds and identifying high-frequency, commonly used words – aka. sight words. Furthermore, in a recent EdSurge article, Valerie Chernek (@valeriechernek) wrote that “For students with dyslexia, the multi-modal sensory experience of seeing and hearing text read aloud may be a smart way to reconnect their minds to decode more words and comprehend information.”

While the two statements above refer specifically to students with dyslexia, let’s consider the impact of providing a multi-modal reading experience to all students. If we approach the process of reading with “Universal Design for Learning” as an instructional blueprint, then all students could benefit from accessibility features and not just those who may have a language-based or print-based learning disorder.

Scenario #1  – Touch & Know

One of the great features of using Text-to-Speech is the power of being able to touch any word and have it read out loud. Consider the student who struggles to identify specific words and yet can synthesize the content. If the learning objective is comprehension of the material, and not decoding of the text, then this feature provides an additional pathway to access the material.

Scenario #2 – Multi-Sensory Supports

With a number of screen readers, such as the Speak Screen that is native to iOS8, Easy Text to Speech for Android, as well as ChromeVox in the Chrome browser, not only is text read back to students, but the words are highlighted as they are read. This can support eye tracking as well as guide students in order to facilitate the process of comprehension by allowing them to hear words that they otherwise may not be able to decipher.

Scenario #3 – Enrichment

While we often think about using text-to-speech to support struggling readers, what about those who are working to synthesize and analyze texts that are either above reading level or beyond their language skills. By encouraging students to take advantage of the technology, they can engage with content that challenges them and pushes them to make deeper connections.

I think that it’s important to remember that the value of digital reading is in the Accessibility Features, meaning the tools that allow students greater access to the content and the learning experience. These tools do not replace the need to read, but add functionality to the process. While this in no way undermines the value of close reading, it does provide supporting tools to allow students to more independently engage in reading as well as have multiple pathways to accessing the content.

Want to learn more? Shameless Self-Promotion!

I will be leading workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, & Chicago with EdTechTeacher. Come work with me!

ETTSummer


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What are the Biggest Mistakes that Teachers Make with Technology?

As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I’ve been asked to identify some of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers making with technology. In thinking about how to respond to the query, I kept circling back to the concept of word choice. When teachers describe their efforts with technology, they often struggle with the words they use to define their endeavors.

Word Choice Issue #1 – Integrate

Image Credit: Greg Kulowiec

Credit: Greg Kulowiec
Is your tech IN your school or ON it?

Oftentimes, the teachers in my workshops feel enormous pressure to integrate technology; they see it as a looming weight. Given their limited time to address content and curricular standards, they worry about how to “fit it in.”

However, we don’t hold trainings specific to pencil integration, nor do we ask teachers to specify plans to incorporate pencils into each lesson. Rather than being told to integrate technology, teachers need to have it presented as a way to enhance or support teaching and learning.

Word Choice Issue #2 – “Technology” Projects

Many teachers tell me that they feel forced to create “technology projects” that lie outside the scope of their curriculum, just so that they can check off a box for “integration.” The power of digital tools is in how they give students voice & choice. Rather than assign a technology-based product and stress over how to “fit it in,” give students an objective (i.e. show your problem solving, demonstrate your understanding, communicate your opinion) and then encourage them to use any tools – analog and/or digital – which enable them to be creative.

Shawn McCusker, Social Studies teacher in Libertyville, IL, gives his students a Choice Board for each project. As a result, they can create on paper or possibly even with video, like this student:

Word Choice Issue #3 – “What?” vs “What If…?”

Teachers often ask me, “What do I do with this app/tool/device?” or “What app/tool/device should I use?” They begin the conversation focused on the technology and not the learning.

The more interesting question is What If?

  • What if my students could explain their problem solving?
  • What if my students could collaborate to visually demonstrate the vocabulary?
  • What if my students could curate their learning into a multi-media journal?
  • What if my students could share their learning with a wider, more authentic audience?

When we start to ask “What if?”, we remove the limitations to our thinking. From there, we might see how to leverage all of the available technologies to best support teaching and learning.

Other words that I like to emphasize when approaching professional development in technology are play, explore, improve, and try. When the intent is improving teaching and learning, teachers rarely make mistakes.

The other bloggers in this series also posted excellent responses to this question. Read the entire post at CM Rubin World.


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Organizing Research with Diigo Outliners

For the past few years, I’ve been heavily reliant on Diigo – a social bookmarking tool. For the most part, I’ve just used it to save and tag bookmarks. However, in the past few months, I’ve begun to take advantage of the annotation features as well. While this system is great because I can search my notes and links, I still found it a bit cumbersome to then do anything with all of that content.

However, a few months ago, Diigo introduced Outliners and everything changed!

Now, not only can I save research but I can organize it in outline form as well! This is a complete game changer for teaching research skills. To learn more, check out the article that I wrote for Free Technology for Teachers.

Shameless Self Promotion

With EdTechTeacher, I’m teaching a two-day workshop, July 16-17, in Boston this summer on Reading, Writing, & Research. I can promise you that we will look at using Diigo to support these processes. Registration is open!


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Croaking about my EduSlam

If you haven’t yet checked out Eduslam.me – created by Holly Clark & Tanya Avrith – you should. They have some amazing videos posted from incredible educators. Which is why I was really excited to get the opportunity to do my own slam.

A few weeks ago, I wrote KISS – Keeping It Shockingly Simple and talked about Croak.It. Every time I show it to another teacher, I get the same reaction: this is amazing! What more could you ask for? One button. No Login. Dozens of uses. It’s the perfect EduSlam!


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The Balancing Act of Screen Time (Long Version)

The post first appeared on Edutopia. However, they have a 1,000 word count, and I had a lot to say. If you would rather read the abridged version (978 words instead of the 1,700+ here), then check it out.

“Television rots your brain.” I remember hearing that frequently as a child. In a similar vein, video games turn your mind to mush and staring at a screen for too long potentially makes you a zombie. In 1999 – yes, over a decade ago – the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a report suggesting that children under two should NOT have any screen time – no television, no computers, no iPads, no smart phones – regardless of content. Since the release of that report, numerous studies, articles, and books have emerged to address this issue of screen time – from the 2012 report, Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early education, to Lisa Guernsey’s Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child.

Particularly when working with elementary teachers, I frequently hear concerns about bringing technology into the classroom. These educators worry that students already spend too much time with a screen at home and need to learn to play, create, explore and communicate in the physical world. They are not wrong. Students should learn to interact in a face-to-face setting. Children do need to experience the physical world and go outside. However, much like we cannot say that all television rots our brains, we need to look beyond saying that all screen time is bad for our students. In fact, even Lisa Guersney recommends “focusing on the three C’s: Content, Context, and the individual Child.” So, building off of her recommendations, I would ask these three questions when approaching the issue of screen time:

  • Is it Appropriate?
  • Is it Meaningful?
  • Is it Empowering?

Appropriate Use

Jim Henson is my hero, and while I love all things involving Kermit’s clan, when contemplating the issue of screen time, I always come back to this iconic Grover sketch from Sesame Street.

In a pre-school setting, would showing this clip, rather than experiencing the concept of near and far in person, be appropriate? What about over and under or inside and out? Students do need to experience the physical world in order to make sense of what is around them. In this instance, projecting a YouTube video as the sole means for teaching the concept is certainly not be the most appropriate use of a screen.

However, what if students explored in the physical world through play or experimentation, watched Grover, and then created their own videos to demonstrate their understanding of these abstract concepts? What if they could design their own sets, create their own puppets, and then record their productions? What if they published these videos to a class website or blog to interact with a broader audience and extend the learning context beyond the classroom? While a screen may be involved in this activity, it would be enhancing the physical experience rather than replacing it. When the integration of technology is appropriate, it can also become meaningful.

Meaningful Interactions

Two summers ago, during an EdTechTeacher iPad workshop, one of our participants said that she knew her program had to change when she saw “iPad Time” included on the daily schedule. Though her teachers had found educational apps to reinforce math and reading concepts, the students used these tools to passively interact with content. Rather than constructing understanding, creating meaning, or demonstrating knowledge, the interaction consisted of students just tapping on a screen.

Lisa Guersney described a very different scenario after visiting a school in Zurich that had deployed over 600 iPads to elementary students.

The school has an unconventional take on the iPad’s purpose. The devices are not really valued as portable screens or mobile gaming devices. Teachers I talked to seemed uninterested, almost dismissive, of animations and gamelike apps. Instead, the tablets were intended to be used as video cameras, audio recorders, and multimedia notebooks of individual students’ creations. The teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it. – The Smart Way to Use iPads in the Classroom, April 15, 2013

What “screen time” looks like can differ from person to person and within various contexts. As Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy), a 3rd grade teacher in a BYOD environment, points out:

90 minutes of Candy Crush is very different than 90 minutes of online research or writing. 90 minutes of watching MTV is very different from watching the History Channel for 90 minutes… Our screens can be valuable learning sources and can provide opportunities to reach out and become involved as citizens in the community.

Consider the image below created by a second grader at Trinity School in Atlanta on his first day of school. While a similar activity could have been undertaken with pen and paper, by incorporating a screen, the student not only had the opportunity to articulate his thoughts, but also become connected to a global audience when the teacher published his creation to her class Twitter account.

Image Credit: @SecondSteinberg

When students engage with technology in appropriate and meaningful ways, they can then become empowered as learners and creators.

Empowered Learners

As a middle school advisor, at each reporting period, I found myself in at least one parent conference discussing the need for their child to “speak up”, to “contribute more to class discussion”, to “participate.” Oftentimes, these were bright, well-prepared students who had wonderful insights but not the inclination to speak over the din of their peers. At the time, we did not have student devices in the classroom, so strategies ranged from set a goal to raise your hand one-time per class to write your thoughts down before class so that you feel better prepared. Some of my colleagues would even reach out to these students before class time to “warn” them of impending questions so that they had more time to prepare a response.

Last January, Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker) wrote Voices for Introverts: A 1:1 Success. By incorporating a backchannel through TodaysMeet, he gave all of his students a voice by incorporating their screens. Those students who felt more comfortable contributing to class discussion orally could do so, and those who preferred to see their thoughts in writing first suddenly became empowered to speak up.

“Today, if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have,” writes Shawn, “I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them.”

In a recent workshop, however, when teaching about using a backchannel in this manner, a participant raised an interesting question: what happens when a student has to speak up without the aid of being able to type a response? In other words, by allowing the screen time, are we enabling a student or empowering her? I posed this question to Ben Schersten (@benschersten), instructional technology specialist in Burlington, MA.

It’s not that introverts can’t speak up in a group. We can, it just isn’t our preferred method; it takes a lot of energy for us. Providing a backchannel creates a place where we can contribute in a thoughtful way that isn’t exhausting… The screen isn’t a crutch. It’s a way to make minor adaptations to make the interaction one that creates energy, rather than expends it.

Technology doesn’t empower only the introverts. Incorporating a device provides all students with an opportunity to make deeper connections with the content as well as their learning. In Using TodaysMeet During Literacy, Kristen Wideen shares how she empowers her students to connect, question, and infer as she reads to them. In a traditional setting, students would have to wait to share their comments until she finished reading, or risk “interrupting” or “disrupting” the class. However, as younger students, by the time they wait until the end of the story, the immediate connection could be lost. Through an appropriate and meaningful use of technology, she provides her students with a vehicle to think, collaborate, and construct their own meaning, turning a teacher-directed activity into a student empowered one.

Image Credit: Kristen Wideen (@MrsWideen)

Finding the Balance

Regardless of the amazing affordances of technology, we do have to be mindful of when it’s a good thing to unplug. Taking time away from the constant glare of a screen, as well as the pressure of always-on connectivity, can reduce stress, relieve eye strain, and support a healthier lifestyle. Perhaps, even more important, is the need to balance screen time with the learning experiences that students gain from the peers and adults around them.

My first classroom was a 50 foot sailboat with ActionQuest – an adventure program for teens. At the time, mobile technology did not exist. This summer, however, I noticed that I could follow the program via Facebook and Twitter, as well as the ship’s blogs. Curious about the impact of screen time on the program, I called Travis Yates, longtime friend and ActionQuest Director of Operations.

He explained that shipmates only have access to cell phones while on shore, and that many of them don’t even ask for them after the first few days. The program is mindful of the fact that teens may have their music, cameras, and books on mobile devices, and therefore encourages them to bring an mp3 player, a camera, or a paperback instead. The ship’s blogs are written each day, on paper, and then typed up by an instructor. In reading through these entries, I noticed there are no mentions of wanting for Facebook, email, or even calls home – though plenty of excitement about hamburgers, ice cream and real showers! It’s nice to know that some things don’t change.

“Innovation shouldn’t look like a tablet or a laptop. It should look like a learning environment where students—with teachers at their side— choose their learning targets and aim to hit them.” writes Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman) to begin his ISTE article, Learning and Leading With Technology. With the growing numbers of screens being introduced into classrooms, the challenge for teachers is to maintain a balance between the physical and virtual worlds as well as  to ensure that screens are being used for innovation in appropriate, meaningful, and empowering ways.


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Current Events & US Geography with Technology

Tweets from @ugafrankI woke up this morning to discover these two tweets from Drew Frank (@ugafrank), Lower School Principal at Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA. Drew helped us coordinate our first set of EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops in Atlanta two years ago, and has recently become extremely active on Twitter. While I wanted to quickly respond, I realized that it just wouldn’t fit in 140 characters. Hopefully this post will suffice (yes, I will tweet the link back to him).

How can we incorporate more technology with our current events?

My initial response was how can you discuss current events and NOT incorporate technology?? With the proliferation of social media, I don’t think it is possible to even discover current events without a reference to television, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, the Today Show has even embraced the impact of technology on current events with Carson Daly’s new segment. This morning, he deconstructed the tragic shooting at the DC Navy Yard by commentating on a string of social media posts: the official Navy tweet, a photo from Instagram, the first Vine…

So, what can students DO to construct a better understanding of the events unfolding on a daily basis?

  • Use current events as an opportunity to reinforce online research skills. Given the sensitive nature of some events – such as yesterday’s Washington DC Navy Yard Shooting – a Google search could be a terrifying prospect. With KidRex, results are filtered and make for a good media literacy discussion.
  • Incorporate kid-friendly news into reading activities. Whether you use an app such as News-O-Matic or a site like Time for Kids, students can find events of interest and then guide the discussion.
  • Let students report the news. Rather than just passively consuming news stories, let the students do the reporting. A great opportunity is to create videos for the CNN iReport (in fact, the iMovie app exports directly to the site.
  • Empower students to post their own news. Whether you choose to have a class blog, Twitter account, or Facebook page, empower students to do the posting. When I first started supporting teachers with class blogs, rather than creating multiple accounts for students, we linked to a variety of Google Forms. Each form provided the students with a framework for entering their news. It also gave teachers an opportunity to approve each post without any concerns about students posting without permission. This form is an example of our Sports Report.

Incorporating technology into current events has one other unintended consequence: it provides a great opportunity to discuss digital citizenship.

What are the best iPad apps for learning and practicing location and spelling of US States?

Last winter, Justin Reich published Breaking Research: Most Apps Bad. There may be some apps devoted to the States. However, rather than thinking about the apps, let’s look at the learning process. The objectives here include:

  1. I want my students to develop map reading skills.
  2. I want my students to learn the geographic location of the US States.
  3. I want my students to work on their language acquisition with a focus on the US States.

Given that focus, what if….

  • Students used the Google Earth app to explore the 50 states. They could work in groups to find each state from a list.
  • Students collaborated to create a ThingLink map with an observation, fact, image, or video.
  • Students created a US States book with Book Creator. Each page could illustrate the location of the state as well as include a fact and/or image from that state.
  • Students practiced identifying states on a map, and their spelling, by annotating an outline map inserted into a screencasting app such as Educreations, ScreenChomp, or Explain Everything. By capturing the process with a screencast, teachers are able to see their students’ thinking.

When I taught the states to my 3rd graders, I found some great resources on Enchanted Learning.

This may not have been the response that these teachers were looking for, but hopefully, it sparked some ideas!