DENSI Day Two

Today, we joined the Principal Summit for an unconference. This was really cool because today was also EdCamp Fort Worth, which I was supposed to be at as a member of the planning team. I still got to unconference and watch both streams (#DENSI2014 and #edcampfwtx) on Twitter.

The blending of DEN LC members and principals was a unique opportunity and ended up providing a great diversity of perspective into the sessions. My day started off with a session I proposed, which was the gamification of professional development. The double room I was scheduled in was packed and we had a balanced blend of teachers and administrators in the room. Lots of resources were shared but the thing I’m most excited about was the decision to attempt to come up with a framework and basic “game” written by DEN members that can be used in any school or district. Many districts do not have the staff or the resources to pull something like this off very quickly, so here is another chance for the DEN to provide a much-needed resource to those who need it most!

Next, I went to a session led by Howard Martin about how resources can be shared within the Discovery Education platform. This discussion led to some great ideas and suggestions for future development by DE.

While the principals went to a session led by DE staff, the LC broke out into their teams for planning. I’m a part of the blog and social media team. I won’t tell you the things we discussed in there because I want them to be a surprise if they ever happen! What I will tell you is that the blog and social media team is filled with a terrific bunch of ideators who brainstormed enthusiastically the whole time. Lots of great stuff being talked about!

After lunch, I went to a session about online spaces. This session was facilitated by DENnis Grice and Marita Diffenbaugh. They shared the platforms their districts have used and/or have quit using to open up the discussion about providing online spaces for students and teachers. A lot of discussion was given to Edmodo and Schoology and the logistics of rolling out a new platform.

The mid-afternoon session was when many of us became overwhelmed with the activity for the day and a few even participated in #napchat which was held in the second floor lounge area. I went to a session in the cinema hosted by Sandy MacDougall, where he shared ways his district has developed and used PD.

During the 3:00 session, I spent time in a discussion facilitated by Rachel Yurk to toss around the idea of a way to tap into the talent that exists in the DEN. It was a great discussion, and I think some really cool things will come out of that session.

At the end of the day, we gathered in the cinema for a closing by Jannita. In it, she encouraged us to decide who we are and what our goals are, then do something about it. She awarded each of us the “Light Award”, which was a really powerful way to remind us that we make a difference every day.

All of the session notes are attached to the unconference schedule. You can access it here.

The evening festivities included a bus trip to the Wildhorse Saloon. It was perfect. There was good music, fun dancing, and space to talk with friends.

 

DENSI Day One

I decided to (attempt to) write a blog post each day that I am at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI). DENSI is a week that Discovery brings together a hundred or so educators from across the country to learn and share with each other. This is my sixth institute and, as always, I already started a journey of enhancing my understanding of true technology integration yesterday.

Our day was short – checkin was at 3:00, but we still had a lot of time to sit and visit with each other. Before checkin began, Judy Uhrig and I started talking about her news stories and I shared an app with her called TouchCast. TouchCast is a simple way to create news casts that look like real news shows. Adding names, tickers, and images is very simple and with one touch, you can begin a live newscast while it records. I created this TouchCast the first time I tried it out.

Later in the evening, I also shared a time-waster called Thisissand. This app probably doesn’t have a use in the classroom, other than a calming influence on those students who need to have something in their hands in order to focus. However, I was at a conference talking to Hall Davidson once, and he came up with a great use – start the app at the beginning of a conference session. At the end of the conference session, the size of the sand art you have created is a measure of how good the session is. You will just have to decide whether you will add sand to it for each thing you learn or whether a large piece of art means you were so bored that you played with Thisissand the whole time. Here is one of mine from a session I attended – I won’t tell you which way I did it:

sand

 

6 alternatives to slide presentations

This morning, I began a search to see what new, innovative options there are for presentations. After doing a search, I found many blog posts touting alternatives to boring presentations, but all of them listed presentation websites and software whose only real stray from PowerPoint was the name of the website or software itself.

This blog post aims to give folks an alternative to presentations using websites which are not laid out like and serve nearly the exact same purpose as PowerPoint. You won’t see Haiku Deck, Prezi, or Powtoon here – although they are all good, free resources, they are still basically a slide show. Yes, even Prezi is basically a slideshow that has exploded and landed in whatever array you choose.

The six tools I have selected here meet the following criteria:

1. They can deliver customized content
2. They allow for incorporation of websites and video
3. They do not have default settings that encourage us to simply recreate our presentation on its platform
4. They are all free and web-based
5. They allow for easy sharing

Bonus if they also allow for downloading so that a presenter won’t be stuck with nothing in the event of internet connectivity issues.

In no particular order, here are my top six picks:

1. Thinglink – Thinglink is a classroom favorite of mine. Its simple interface and rich functionality makes it suitable for teachers, students, and administrators to deliver information. As a presentation platform, simply upload a picture relevant to your presentation, then create touch points which you can use to pull up additional websites and media. Your audience will not be subject to text-heavy slides and you will not have to click through slide after slide to jump ahead or back in your presentation. This is important because we all need to be flexible in our delivery, according to our audience, and as speaking guru, Kevin Honeycutt taught me, you should always have more content in your presentation than you will realistically be able to cover so that you keep your audience wanting more. Adding text to a Thinglink being used for a presentation also gives your audience information to review after your session is over.

2. Symbaloo – This website is basically a visually interesting bookmarking site. Teachers can use it in the gamification of their instruction, for self-guided learning, or simply providing useful links to their students. As a presentation tool, Symbaloo’s simple design in pages called webmixes allows for a presenter to pre-load every link they will be visiting during a presentation and eliminate the need for slides with hyperlinks. As with Thinglink, Symbaloo’s webmixes are shareable, so audience members can return later to review the information. I learned from web guru, Steve Dembo, that innovation exists when something is being used for something other than its intended purpose. Using Symbaloo to link to a selection of documents, images, videos, etc. that you have stored in the cloud can be one of those innovative uses.

3. LiveBinders – This tool is unique in this list because it has been created with presentation features in mind, although it meets my criteria because it isn’t a slideshow. LiveBinders allows you to create a virtual binder of information. You can link to websites, embed video, or create your own pages within the binder. Of the five in this list, I have used LiveBinders most often for my presentations. As with the others, I can share a link to the LiveBinder I created for that topic and my participants can use it during my presentation for any audience response items I’m incorporating. After the event, they can return to it for reference. I enjoy adding pages to the LiveBinder as we go through the session and will often continue to add additional information after-the-fact, so that the binder becomes a dynamic resource my audience can use for as long as they wish. An example of one of my presentation LiveBinders is this one I created for a BYOT session. You can see that I used Symbaloo as the starting point for this presentation, then linked to the LiveBinder from there.

4. Infographics – This choice isn’t a specific website, although there are plenty of options out there, including Piktochart, Infogr.am, or Smore. The concept of using an infographic as a presentation platform is desirable because of the potential for it to be smooth, succinct, and useful as a standalone resource. Creating an infographic with the high points of your presentation can be visually interesting and useful as a poster in a classroom. Although I normally don’t use an infographic by itself for a presentation, I do use one as a piece of my presentation (you can see an example of that in the Zoho section, next).

5. Zoho notebook – Zoho notebook is another favorite classroom tool of mine. Students can log in using their Google account, which means one less login for them to remember, and the notebook can store literally anything they may want to store. Books can be created with numerous pages, embedded websites, videos, audio, and text. Zoho can even record video and audio for you. Once a book is finished, it can be published to the world, or individual pages of it can be shared. As a presentation tool, Zoho can be one location for a presenter to compile all of the information they will be using during a presentation, along with any files, websites, or other information they may want to share with audience members. The published version works much like a book and its clean look is just my style. One big, big drawback is that it only works 100% of the time in Internet Explorer. In Firefox, you can often get it to work by clicking on a page. In Chrome, it often just doesn’t load websites and images. This is a huge drawback which hopefully will be resolved. Here is a presentation example I created for a presentation I will be doing next week (be sure to open it in IE!).

6. Timeline JS – As I sat down to write this post, I intended to stop at five, but then I remembered this gem. Designed to be a timeline creator, I immediately saw its potential as a presentation tool the first time I discovered it. One of the really cool features of Timeline JS is that it uses Google spreadsheets to create the timeline. There is an easy-to-use template to download from the website. Just place all the info you would like to have on your timeline in the spreadsheet (incorporating video and other media is as easy as putting a link in the media column). Timeline JS will use the link to your spreadsheet to create a visual representation of the information within the spreadsheet. Presenters can think of the timeline as the agenda for the day, with rich media quickly available.

All of these tools are free and easy to use. All of them can be shared to an audience. Some of them do have the ability to download for offline use. All of them should help you to think outside the slide and create stimulating presentations your audiences will appreciate.

Top three classroom management tips that have nothing to do with procedures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my profession, I have worked with first-year teachers, seasoned teachers, and teachers in between and have noticed one common thread – struggles with classroom management. This is not to say that all of the teachers I have worked with have classroom management issues – instead what I’m saying is that when I see issues in a classroom, or ask a teacher what their biggest struggle is, classroom management is usually at the top of the list.

When I see classroom management issues, I can usually see the reasons for it. It isn’t always about procedures and it isn’t always about whether the teacher has prepared a meaningful lesson that will reasonably take the whole class period to complete. Often, it has so much more to do with the way the teacher interacts with his/her students.

I’d like to point out the three most important things (in my opinion) to consider when examining the reasons behind classroom management issues:

1. Like children. We all got into this profession, hopefully, because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. However, I have seen teachers who clearly do not like kids. Whether they have always disliked youngsters or whether they have become burnt out and resent them, the result is always the same – constant battles between students who are keenly aware of their teacher’s dislike for them and the teachers who are just counting the minutes until class is over.

If you find yourself in a position where you are quick to make statements like “kids nowadays have no respect” or “teenagers are just a bag of hormones” – you may want to step back and see your students for what they are – young versions of the adults you and others will influence them to be. Young people are all the hope and possibilities contained in our futures, wrapped up in little bodies and brains that are (or can be) excited into wonder. Be in awe of them as they walk in your door. Smile at the realization that you have been given one more class period to be a part of who that child will be for the rest of his/her life.

2. Have clean slates. I’m not talking about making sure to clean your whiteboards or chalkboards, I’m talking about wiping clean the slate in your brain that says “Johnny always gives me trouble” or “Susan never has her books”. This slate absolutely must be clean every single time a student walks in your door. If you are remembering Julio acting up during yesterday’s class while he is trying to answer the question you just asked, you will react differently to his answer than you would if you had wiped the slate clean. It is so important that each new day is truly new – that our students understand that if they made a mistake yesterday, it will not be held against them today. If you tend to hold grudges, or predict how your “troublemakers” are going to react, the result will be constant battles with specific students which quite possibly could be because of your own influence.

3. Think about the big picture. I have witnessed teachers spending many precious minutes of instructional time enforcing rules that have no bearing on the potential for learning in that classroom. If I have a rule that says my students cannot chew gum in my class, and it takes me the first five minutes of class each day to make students spit their gum out, I’ve just placed gum as the most important thing in that classroom for the day. We all know it is going to take longer than five minutes in a secondary classroom, because students who are subject to rules that make no sense to them will stretch those rules to see how far they can go. I’m using gum as an example, but what I want you to do is take a look at the rules you have in place – are they really necessary? Did you just add this one because the teacher next door has it on her list? Does it really matter if Tanya has a pierced lip?

Ask yourself: Does this affect the ability of students in my classroom to learn? If the answer is yes, then it must be a part of the rules you enforce in your classroom. If the answer is no, choose your battles wisely, because it is very easy for us to make a small situation much worse and demand much more time than is warranted. When working with teenagers, this is especially important because when they are in your classroom and you think they are thinking about other things, they are often considering the reasoning behind the rules and the reasoning behind the assignment you just gave them. If they cannot “buy in” to why they have to comply, they won’t, and some of those students will turn nonsensical rules and irrelevant assignments into the miserable hours of disciplinary issues that some teachers face daily.

I’m not trying to say that procedures should get thrown out the door. Obviously, there must be procedures in a day of learning that has so much in it and so little time. These tips are just a way to think about classroom management AFTER you have the procedures in place and are still struggling.

Take a look at your style from an outsider perspective. Then take a look at it from a student perspective. Reflect on those perspectives and make the changes necessary to provide the best learning environment for your students. You will go home at night much less stressed and there is a bonus – you will build stronger relationships with your students.

Even then

I’m working on a master’s degree in Sociology with a focus on cultures and institutions. Today, I came across an interesting observation in a paper written in 1903 by Georg Simmel entitled The Metropolis and Mental Life. I have nothing to add to what he says here. I’m sure that educators will understand its meaning, and considering this idea has been around for over 100 years, can ponder on the reasons why things have still gotten to where they are today:

Here in buildings and educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technology, in the formations of community life, and in the visible institutions of the state, is offered such an overwhelming fullness of crystallized and impersonalized spirit that the personality, so to speak, cannot maintain itself under its impact. On the one hand, life is made infinitely easy for the personality in that stimulations, interests, uses of time and consciousness are offered to it from all sides. They carry the person as if in a stream, and one needs hardly to swim for oneself. On the other hand, however, life is composed more and more of these impersonal contents and offerings which tend to displace the genuine personal colorations and incomparabilities. This results in the individual’s summoning the utmost in uniqueness and particularization, in order to preserve his most personal core. He has to exaggerate this personal element in order to remain audible even to himself.

Microsoft vs. the Google

This year’s ISTE conference has been a very different experience for me. It is the first time I’ve attended without having a presentation obligation. I’ve really enjoyed having power over my own schedule and I’ve noticed some things that I believe may be unique to this year.

One of the things I’ve noticed is an increased presence from Microsoft. Beginning on Saturday when they started handing out free Surface RT tablets, continuing when Bing made the announcement about Bing for Schools, then surprising me when Bill Gates himself tweeted using the ISTE13 hashtag. I know he was tweeting for the foundation, but Microsoft still comes to mind when one sees that name.

I had a bit of a Twitter conversation with Mark Wallaert, who is a behavioral scientist working for Bing, and it really got me thinking about how Google is embedded in education and Microsoft is sort of skirting around the outside of it.

Google has been working its way into classrooms for years. There are thousands of teachers who have adopted the free and easy-to-use Google docs in their classroom, districts have adopted the free Google Apps for Education, and ISTE has been full of sessions about how to maximize the use of free Google products. All of this seems very nice of Google, but the company has actually earned millions of dollars from the advertising that appears in searches at schools across the country, so don’t feel sorry for them.

I have always been a Microsoft user who also loves Google. Because of pricing, I choose to use the PC platform and my first smart phone, by choice was Windows based. I’m an Android user now, but that would be a topic for another blog post. I have spent the bulk of my adult life in the corporate world, not the education world. In that universe, Microsoft is king. In the education world, it is not.

Will Microsoft take a bite out of the education market with the roll out of the new Bing for schools project? Time will tell. It is just interesting to me that Microsoft is making the move for the education community – I will be standing on the sidelines with my Surface tablet, iPad mini, Android phone, and PC laptop, ready for the ride!

Tell me what you think . . .

Things I never remember to do at ISTE

I’m not a newbie at ISTE, but I wouldn’t call myself a veteran, either. I have attended a few, but I never attend two consecutive years. This means that I have two years, at minimum, to completely forget all of the things that I learn when I attend. Here are some of the things I’m realizing that I have forgotten this year. I’m sharing in the hopes that typing and reading this list will help me remember next time. I also hope it might help someone who is visiting ISTE for the first time not feel quite so much like a newbie:

1. I really wish I had thought to get shirts printed with my Twitter handle. Either that or purchase one of these cool Twitter nametags. This isn’t an ego thing – I just really like to connect with folks who are in my Twitter network, and the more of us who are walking around with our Twitter handle visible, the easier those connections can be. I also really like Dave Tchozewski‘s wish that we all have our Twitter handles hanging above our heads in word clouds, but that augmented reality app isn’t quite perfected yet.

2. Once again, I totally forgot to bring printed sheets of address labels with my contact information so that I could sign up for anything and everything in the massive exhibit hall. Truth is, I normally run from the exhibit hall after just a couple of minutes of exposure – it is just too much for my easily distracted mind to take in. However, this year my main goal is to last at least one hour in there, and the stickers would have been nice. If you see me in there tomorrow, ask me how long I’ve been there – and encourage me to meet my goal. It will be difficult, but I am up to the challenge!

3. I never remember to pace myself or to take restful breaks. This means that I’m overloaded and worn out by 2:00 (which is also why I have this rare moment to write blog posts – I’ve already returned to my hotel for the afternoon. For those of you who are attending ISTE on school business, this works out okay if you do like I did and arrive a couple of days early to take in HackED or workshops, or other pre-conference offerings. We don’t normally work on Saturdays or Sundays, so the hours you accumulate on those days can spread through Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, to complete your full work day.

4. Bring cash. In my “regular” life, I never carry cash. Transactions with me are strictly a plastic or app exchange. When I’m in the same location for this long, I really need to have cash on hand to tip hotel staff, valets, etc., and I never have it with me. Note to hotel staff, etc.: If you got one of those nifty gadgets that plug into your smart phone and allows you to take credit card payments, I would be really generous!

It isn’t all forgetfulness, though. Some of the things I have done right this year are:

1. I took Kathy Schrock’s advice and purchased a case for the Surface tablet. I bought a cheap one and had it shipped to my hotel so that when I returned to my hotel on Saturday with Surface in hand, the case was waiting for me at the hotel desk.

2. I’ve been very strategic about what I carry with me. I’m quite happy using my phone (an HTC Evo LTE) as my only mobile device. I can do anything I need to do with it. Blogging isn’t so comfortable on it, but I would be lying if I told you I will ever blog during the conference. I always reserve that for reflection at the end of the day.

3. I actually remembered to bring a water bottle this year. It is great to be hydrated all day without having to purchase an expensive bottle of water at the convention or wander the streets of San Antonio looking for a CVS.

4. This is something I never fail to do at ANY conference – I found Starbucks! There are a bunch of them close to the convention center. The best ones of the nearby stores are the ones in the lobbies of the Marriott Rivercenter and the Marriott Riverwalk.

Enjoy the conference!