Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Technology, Social Engagement and Superstorm Sandy

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

I feel very blessed to be someone that not only lives at the Southern New Jersey shore, but had the opportunity to grow up on one of its barrier islands. I have weathered many storms, and have heard about the really "big ones" from the old timers, but Superstorm Sandy was different.  Needless to say, we knew it was time to get out of town so we boarded up and left.

One thought going through any homeowners mind is, "What will it be like during the storm and what will the town, and our home, look like after?"  Enter the power of the Internet and social media.  During uncertain times knowing how to leverage these resources becomes a life line of information for people when they are away from home. It is also an opportunity to teach our students about the power, and importance, of  social media and web resources.

I know we have heard this said before but, we need to reflect and ask ourselves,"Do we spend the time in our schools teaching our students how to best use technology for social good?"  If it wasn't for YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and other resources, I would have had a hard time knowing what was going on.  Through these 21st Century "media outlets" I was able to see videos and pictures of my town during and after the storm.  I was even able to find pictures of my home and my families homes to let them know if they were flooded or damaged.  I was even able to find a video of my street and house during the storm.  Local bloggers and websites provided me with information that was invaluable and even gave me a head start when were allowed to re-enter after the storm.  A 10-minute drive still took 2 hours but it could have been worse.

Social media was used for social change as well.  When one local town reopened and the only bridge in was charging a toll.  So, people went to social media to put the word out, the local news media outlets then heard about it and the bridge owners relented and allowed people back for free.  In fact, they went so far as to take all of the toll money they already collected and donated it to the relief effort.  Now that is a teachable moment!

Some grass roots movements started through social media as well.  One started with a young person creating a graphic that he posted as his FaceBook profile picture.  He received so many likes and encouraging messages to make a t-shirt that he and his friends have started a highly successful fundraising group, Restore the Shore, that donates 100% of their proceeds to the relief effort.  Many large companies have supported them as well as locals dropping off supplies to be distributed. All of this from a FaceBook account!  What an example for our students!

We are in an era of global social engagement and collaboration.  Events such as Sandy are a great opportunity to teach our students how to use social media and technology to create, share and obtain information.  Young people in our society should be developing the skills to use these tools in innovative, entrepreneurial, and socially responsible ways.  We as parents and educators need to learn about them as well to help guide and instruct them.  It shouldn't take a natural disaster to see the importance.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Your Town as a Learning Community

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Recently, I started thinking about the concept of a city/community as an extension of the school. It made me start to believe that this should be the goal of all schools.  Obviously, every community and school is different, but I wanted to share them anyway.  I also want hear back from all of you as well. We all know that a school is not a place that can succeed in a vacuum. It takes everyone, with students or not,  taking responsibility and doing their part. Of course, technology can play an important role in facilitating this and getting people involved.

If you want to build support and get people involved you need to do some outreach and research. There are so many people out there that are untapped resources for your school that just need to be asked. When a child leaves the school to go home for the day they pass by so many opportunities that can help a school in educating our youth. They just need to learn how to identify them.

It can be as simple as inviting community members into your school to see what is being taught and then exchanging ideas on what they may be abel to contribute. If someone is not able to come on site, offer to have them speak to the class via a Skype session or maybe via a pre-recorded video presentation. This can also be an opportunity to teach them something that will enrich their life or improve their business. Everyone needs to look at this as a give and take learning scenario.

Developing relationships and collaboration skills are so important for our students to learn. So, why not use your local community as the starting point.  I am sure that both parties have a lot to share. Students can use a variety of technologies to record interviews or create presentations to share with their classmates.

Let’s not forget that technology is not just computers.  There are local experts out there that can come into your classroom and teach students about a variety of STEM subjects too. These relationships will empower the students and show them real world, living examples to emulate.  Participating in STEM related activities can be such a great learning and idea sharing opportunity.

The city government needs to take a roll in this as well. Building shared services with your local library and city government to offer resources, computer time and instruction after school hours will pay great dividends to those that don’t have a computer or Internet connection at home. To take this one step further, opening community technology centers that can be manned by local experts or teaching staff that can offer supplemental technology time would be great. Something just as simple as keeping the school’s computer lab open for evening access can solve this problem.

The school district and city IT departments can work together to create city wide technology resources. A wide area wireless network or a private cloud infrastructure can really break down the walls of the school to create anytime anywhere learning. That, coupled with collaborating with your local intellectual resources, can created a community that works together to educate their children.

I really believe that this is the way of the future for building strong school community bonds. These bonds will return great dividends with not only a better education, but people wanting to live in your community and former students coming back to live with their families too. After all, why wouldn’t they want to live in a community that works together to educate their future. The economy, tax base, and educational opportunities will only expand.  At least, that’s what I believe will happen.

Your thoughts are welcomed..

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why Can't All Professional Development Be Like an Unconference?

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

A little over two years ago myself and a small group of educational technologists in my area discussed the unconference model for professional development (PD).  We all thought that it had a lot of potential and that the Edcamp unconferences cropping up around the country were really great.  So, one of our group said that we should put together an unconference dealing with mobile devices, mainly tablets, that day PadCamp was born. This summer we held our second PadCamp on a beautiful August day at the Southern New Jersey shore.  Over 300 educators and students, yes students, ran sessions and shared ideas and resources.

Shoot, they could have gone to the beach! It was a gorgeous sunny day and the ocean water was warm! But they didn't and that's profound. They didn't because they were "hungry" and wanted to learn and do it in a way that was productive and collaborative. So I said, "Why aren't more school districts holding their own unconferernces?"  We all have gone through too many in-service days where the end result was boredom and frustration. Or, people got so "off course," due to being told what to do, that nothing productive come out of it. Many school districts have gone to the "turn key" approach to PD where a few staff members go out and get trained and then come back to train their peers. Don't get me wrong, this is can be effective, but it can be better.

Just imagine a day where the staff walks into the school cafeteria or auditorium, with a blank schedule in hand, and are asked to create a PD day that they control. I think that the thought of this makes many administrators cringe in fear. But, as professionals we have a lot to share and sharing is what it's all about. Remember, collaboration is a twenty first century skill!

The unconference model fosters sharing and collaboration. It gives a voice and platform for educators to share best practices and resources.  How great would it be if  the people that organize PD in school districts would take that chance? I firmly believe that people would leave feeling empowered, excited and motivated to go back and implement what they just learned. I have seen it in person and it's too obvious to not stand up and pay attention.

We are at a crossroads as educators.  We are asked to teach to a test in a prescriptive manner that stifles our creativity. If we can take take come control of our professional growth and learn what we need and want, instead of going through more of the same, we can grow better professionally and our students will benefit as well. The unconference model of professional development gives you a voice and allows you to do what you do best - teach, learn and collaborate. Unconferences don't have to be technology related either, just use your imagination.  So, if you haven't attended an EdCamp, PadCamp or any unconference yet please do!  It's a PD experience that will be well worth your time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Have you planted a Pearltree today?

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

If you have not checked out Pearltrees then you owe it to yourself to give it a try.  Pearltrees is one of the newest social bookmarking sites to hit the web that takes a very innovative approach to content curation. At first, I didn't think that I was going to be able to get much value out if this site, but after I used it for a while, I can really see its value. If you are a visual thinker then this is a great way to store and organize your bookmarks.

When you're ready to go all you have you do is "plant" your first Pearltree, this is the category or topic of your links,  and then add your pearls, which are the websites that you want to store.  From there you can "branch out" and continue to "grow" your tree by adding more pearls. The entire tree collapses and expands to show all of your links.  You can also re-organize your pearls or create new tress from what you have.  Your tree is a fluid graphical interface that can be "pruned" and "cultivated."

Once you have created your trees you can share them with others on social media or invite people to collaborate on a tree with you on the Pearltree site. You can also search out others trees and either team up with them or "pick" some pearls to use on your own tree. They also have a browser plugin that they call the "Pearler." Pearltrees  site also has a feature that will recommend trees of related interests.



I must say that this really works for me and it will for any other person that is a visual thinker.  Once you really get the hang of it, it really makes sense and you will find yourself having a great time organizing, collaborating and discovering Pearltrees.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book Review: "Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds"

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

There is a new book on the market, that I think, is a  much needed "guide" for those that want to collaborate in their classrooms but are not quite sure how to get it done.  Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis have provided a wonderful resource in their book "Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds - Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time."  This is more than a book, it is designed using an interactive, action based approach that puts readers through a three part process that involves fifteen actions to give you, "a live learning experience connecting you to other learners."

In part one -  "Meet the Flat Classroom,"  the authors will familiarize you with the concepts of flattening your classroom through solid research and examples.  You will read how to embed and enhance current projects as well using stories from educators and students that are globally collaborating.  Part two - "Seven Steps to Flatten You Classroom," will get you involved by teaching you how to connect and build your global reach as well as communicate effectively.  The authors include information about how to sustain your projects, build relationships, while teaching digital global citizenship using what they call the "7 Steps to Flatten Your Classroom."  Finally, part three - "Project Development," guides the reader through the framework to create and manage their own global projects. These final chapters take the reader full circle from connecting, to collaborating, and then creating and managing your own global projects. Every chapter ends with a great summary, some essential questions, one of the fifteen challenges, a diary entry from one of the authors, and case studies. These features give great closure and application to all of the concepts that have been covered.

As I stated earlier, this is an interactive book with many great features that help educators apply what they are learning, and share them at the same time. Just about every page has a QR Code to scan, a website to visit or resources for connecting to others. For instance, they list key people to follow on Twitter under "Add Friend" or give the address of a recommended social network.  Furthermore, the ISTE NETS Standards and 21st Century Skills that are discussed can be found listed in the margin on the same page. Plus, they give you six months of free access to their PD Toolkit that is chock-full of case studies, downloadable tools, templates and assignments.

Overall, this is a great book written by 21st century educators, for 21st century educators, in a way that not only instructs, but engages that reader and gives them the tools to act and lead. I have met and spoken with so many educators that want to include 21st Century learning and pedagogy in the curriculum but feel overwhelmed and are not sure how to start. I now have a resource to point them to that is a complete and actionable resource to make them not just global collaborators, but leaders that can share what they learn and spread the "Flat Classroom" ™ movement. Or, better yet, become a Flat Classroom ® Certified Teacher!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Tablet for the Little Ones - Leapfrog's LeapPad Explorer

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Recently, my wife and I, purchased Leapfrog's latest tablet device for our daughter. The LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet is their newest offering and is aimed at children ages 4-9. This rugged little tablet comes in a couple of colors and is built to withstand the rigors of a youngsters day.

Once my daughter got it in her hands she automatically went to work using the stylus, and her finger, to set up her profile, navigate menus, draw, take photos, videos, and play learning apps. The LeapPad has many of the features of the full-fledged tablets such as a microphone, rear facing camera (stills and video), home button as well as a button for navigation. The touch screen is very responsive and the stylus does a nice job drawing and navigation. It does not connect to the Internet, no Wi-Fi card or browser, so you don't have to worry about little ones straying into uncharted territory.

The expanding choice of learning games are where this device really shines. You have a choice of purchasing them as downloadable apps or as small cartridges. Each one of them is game based learning for improving reading, writing, math, science and life skills. The games titles include familiar characters from Disney, Sponge Bob and others. Plus, with the included software for your PC call LeapFrog Connect.  With LeagFrog Connect you can sync and update your LeapPad with apps or software upgrades.  What makes this really power is what they call "Learning Path."  Learning Path gives parent, or teachers, the ability to track the progress of the users so they can see if they are progressing well or need any with certain skills. Also, depending on the learning app, you can make the game more easier or more challenging.  For instance, you can adjust math from single digit adding or subtracting all the way up to basic algebra and probability.  Language and reading is also adjustable.  You can do it or the app will adjust the child progresses for you.  It even allows you to upload vocabulary words that will be included in the stories and games that are currently being played.

LeapFrog sells bundles, in quantities of five, for schools to integrate into their curriculum's. These bundles include the tables, AC adapters, headphones, cases and learning apps. For elementary school teachers these devices would make great learning centers as well as allow young students to apply creativity and learn responsibility in a familiar, game based environment.  Each tablet allows up to three individual profiles  so you can track multiple students with each unit. LeapFrog Connect is a great tool to track progress in the classroom too. The only drawback with these tablets is that they go through batteries fast, so be sure to use rechargeables or the AC adapters whenever you can.  Overall, this little tablet is a powerful and unique solution for elementary learning. See the demo to get the full story and see it in action!