Monday, April 13, 2015

Edcamp Branford: Reflections

My experience, limited though it may be (but growing), tells me that each Edcamp has something unique to offer. Edcamp Branford, held this past weekend in Branford, FL, certainly helped prove this theory. Thirty minutes off the interstate in rural Suwannee County, Branford High School is the very definition of a rural, small town public school. In fact, Branford is actually a grades 6 to 12 institution with about 700 students. It was clear from the start that small town did not mean short on enthusiasm for sharing and learning.

Making new connections is part of the Edcamp experience
Photo Credit: @jen_williams & @la_Profe_s

The 8:00 am start time meant leaving Tallahassee at around 6:00 am. Early for a Saturday morning. I was thankful that the Starbucks in my neighborhood opens a six, and my venti dark roast almost lasted the entire drive. Well if the coffee had not done the trick, the school band entertaining teachers as the entered the school cafeteria would certainly help get the blood moving. It was awesome to see kids investing in their teachers professional development. Student involvement throughout the day was one of the hallmarks of Edcamp Branford. In every session that I attended, students were actively participating in discussions. Whether it be about the value of homework, the burden of testing, or the use of Google applications in the classroom, student voice was a major part of the day's learning.

Getting ready to kick-off my PLN session
This was an inaugural event and Tammy Neil and her team did a great job in making sure everyoneTammy approached me as I entered the door and asked that I do a session of Twitter and PLNs. I pulled some slides out of the can and tackled the first session of the day. True to Edcamp form, those that attended my session made my job easy. Only about half of the 15 or so teachers in the room had used Twitter, and most left eager to employ social media in establishing and building a PLN.
had a valuable PD experience. I had intended to attend this Edcamp without signing up to share a session, but

Jerry Swiatek of Edcamp Citrus has been doing a session entitled Things That Suck for the last year or so, and it has become a favorite of mine. The idea of  the session is to give teachers an opportunity to discuss "hot topic" issues in education - thing that suck. The topics to be discussed are crowd-sourced through a Google Doc. Homework, testing and cellphones in the classroom received the most votes. While there were some real differences of opinion on each of the topics, the most valuable contributions were made by the students in the room. I guess the big takeaway from this session - and really from the entire event - was the value of student voice. We need to do a better job at including them at the table when decisions are being made.

Students talking homework at the Things That Suck Session

Sean Farnum of Edcamp St. Augustine led a discussion on Genius Hour (20% Time) that drew a pretty good crowd and lots of good discussion. I suspect their were those like me that have wanted to implement a Genius Hour in our classes, but needed to hear from those that have made it work in their classrooms. Genius Hour is built on the idea of providing students with time to follow their passions, to work on a project that they care about. While Sean was able to share his experiences in an elementray setting, Sergio Yanes of Chiles HS (and Edcamp Leon) in Tallahassee talked about how he has made it work in his high school language arts class. Sergio shared how he was inspired by the work of Kevin Brookhouser and his #20time Project. Sean also mentioned the work of Joy Kirr as a resource for anyone wanting to take the leap. I am determined to make this part of what I do with my students in 2015-16.

Edcamp Branford is sure to become a regular event on the Florida Edcamp circuit. Congrats to Tammy and her team. If you have still not experienced the power of Edcamp, I urge to checkout the schedule of events coming up and spend a day that will change your life. If you are in my nech of the woods in North Florida, here are a few events that you won't want to miss:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dropbox teams up with Microsoft

Microsoft and Dropbox announced today a partnership that will provide a seamless integration of the two products.  It does appear, at least on the surface, to be a move by both to rival the functionality offered by Google Drive.

The partnership will make it possible for Office users to save files to their Dropbox accounts without
leaving the application, This will work across platforms. It will allow Dropbox users to edit Office files from within Dropbox.  This is huge convenience for Office users that prefer Dropbox to other cloud storage services.

The big question that lingers is whether Microsoft will begin offering its Office 365 services for free.  Currently, Office 365 requires users to pay a subscription. If the motive for the partnership is to square off with Google, it would seem that dropping the subscription requirement is the next ;logical move. We'll have to wait and see.

This should also be big news for teachers within school districts that have adopted Office 365. One concern that I hear from teachers from my District is about who controls access to their MS OneDrive storage. This would seem to ease those concerns.

This latest move provides further evidence that under new CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is finally beginning to adapt to the demands of mobile computing. These are exciting times.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is it really cheating in the 21st Century?

If this is your first visit to Teaching in Tallahassee, let me make one thing clear from the start - This is not a math blog! As most of my readers know, I'm a history teacher and I blog about both edtech issues and, on occasion, history topics. That being said, I believe that the appearance on the scene of a new math app raises some important questions about what constitutes cheating in our tech-infused world.

PhotoMath, which bills itself as a "smart camera calculator," is a new app for iOS and Windows smartphones (coming to Android in early 2015) that utilizes the phone's camera to solve math problems for users. I don't often get overly excited about new apps these days, but this thing is truly amazing. My immediate reaction was, of course, to lament over why this tool wasn't available as I struggled through high school math.

Once you get past the coolness factor, PhotoMath should force us to deal with some fundamental questions about the use of tools like this in our schools. I shared the app with a group of my 11th grade students this morning and their immediate reaction was elation over how easy their homework would be from now on. But once we talked about the apps potential for a little while, students began to appreciate PhotoMath as a tool that could help them learn. You see, in addition to providing the user with a solution, PhotoMath also provides all of the steps that go into solving a problem. That could be extremely powerful for struggling students, if used correctly.

So how do we define that fine line between cheating and proper use of the tools that emerging technologies provide? I think that can be answered in the same way that I would answer questions about many tech tools that students are using, whether or not we as educators approve.  We can either shut our classroom door to the tool (as many have done with smartphones), or we can embrace the tool, incorporate it into what we are doing, and teach students how to use the tool in a responsible and productive way.  One thing is for sure, kids are going to use PhotoMath. The question is: How will we as educators adapt?

I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Here is a video from the PhotoMath website that shows how this app works.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Edcamp Lake: Reflections from a Day of Leraning

w/ Jerry Blumengarten
It was an early start for a Saturday morning. To make it to Eustis, FL - home of #EdcampLake - I had to leave the house at 5am. The minute that I walked into the cafeteria at Eustis High School, I knew that the four hour drive would be worth it.  Most of the teachers in the room were Edcamp first-timers, but the session idea board was already filling up. I scrambled to make sure I secured a spot to lead a discussion on transforming the classroom with cloud-based tools.

It doesn't matter how far from home an edcamp takes you, there always seems to be a familiar face in the crowd.  If that edcamp happens to be in Florida, one of those familiar faces will probably be @cybraryman1 himself, Jerry Blumengarten. Then there are the other connected educators that you know by their Twitter handles, but have never met face-to-face. It was great to connect with folks like Tammy Neil @mathneil and Shauna Liverotti @MsLivFL. Like with any workshop or conference, some of the most valuable takeaways come from the connections made outside of the scheduled sessions.

Tammy Neil talking Twitter
I decided, as I was driving south, that I would spend much of my time at #EdcampLake floating around so that I could get a sense of what was on the minds of teachers in attendance. After sitting in Tammy Neil's session on Twitter, two things became abundantly clear. First, we still have a long way to go to get teachers connected. Second, and perhaps more important, teachers are clamoring for ways to get connected. Tammy is doing a great job at spreading the message of the PLN. One of my big takeaways from her session was learning about #FledChat, that meets on Twitter every Wednesday at 8pm, and which Tammy co-moderates. I can't wait to sit in on my first #FledChat this week.

I also sat in on a couple of sessions led by Shauna Liverotti, one on Flat Classrooms and another on Effective Feedback. It was interesting to hear how teachers from all over the curriculum are trying to extend learning beyond the walls of their schools. I believe that we are just now scratching the surface of possibilities with regard to flat classrooms.  That's what makes events like edcamp so important. Teachers are not getting what they need through traditional district-run professional development. This is one of those discussions that reminds me that for authentic change to happen, it will have to come from teachers. Despite the efforts of people like Eric Sheninger and the work he and others are doing to connect principals, we have a long way to go before school administrators will start to lead in areas the really matter.

Shauna Liverotti & Flat Classrooms
The discussion that Shauna led on effective feedback was one that challenged me personally. Between the rush to cover ever-changing standards and trying to integrate meaningful learning experiences for my students, I struggle with providing feedback in a timely manner. I know that to be meaningful it has to be timely. We were fortunate to have a student in the room, and her insight was extremely valuable. How often do we consult with students about what it means to provide meaningful feedback. The issue of allowing student input on things like grading rubrics was discussed. An interesting idea, to be sure.

Finally, I can no longer say that I never win anything at the closing door-prize sessions. I walked away with a Livescribe Echo SmartPen. Now I just have to find time to play with it. Before closing I should offer my congratulations to Jim Curtis and the rest of the Edcamp Lake organization for a great event. This was their first year, and they are off to a grand start.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Remind just got better

Exciting news broke today from the folks at the popular education text-messaging service Remind.  They've added two new features - Stamps and Voice Attachments - that I believe will become incredibly popular with teachers this school year.

Up until now, Remind has given educators the ability to distribute information to students and parents through a one-way avenue. Stamps allows teachers to collect instant feedback from students and parents. The way teachers send messages hasn't changed, but when the messages are viewed by students and parents who are using the Remind iOS and Android app they will have the option of responding with one of four Stamps - a yellow star, a green check, a red X, or a purple question mark. Only the teacher will see the responses and who sent them. Remind provides teachers with an aggregated list of responses. I can't wait to see the great ideas that teachers come up with for using this new feature.

The other new feature is the addition of voice attachments to messages.  Teachers can now add voice message of up to 15 seconds in length to any outgoing message. As Remind CEO Brett Kopf says,  the "tone" of messages will come through on the student/parent side. This will give messages some life and make them more meaningful. Voice is also really easy to use. Simply select the attachment feature when sending a message and record your message.

Both of these options work best when used through the mobile app. Stamps can only be used by students and parent that are also using the mobile app. Those receiving messages through text will not see the Stamp feature. Voice attachments can be received through both text and the mobile app.

If you haven't yet done so today, go update your iOS or Android Remind app and give these new features a try. Then come back here and share your ideas through the comments.

Not using Remind yet? Go there right now and sign-up! You won't be sorry.

Check out this recording of Brett Kopf and Erin Klein discussing today's news in a Google Hangout.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Revisiting Audioboo: Podcasting made incredibly simple

I received an email from a colleague a few days ago asking for advice on a podcasting app that she can use with her students.  I immediately suggested that she check out Audioboo, even though it had been a couple of years since I last used it myself.

Audioboo offers one click audio recording, with a simple publishing process. With the free account, students can record up to 10 minutes per post.  What Audioboo lacks in extensive editing tools, it makes up for with a very simple cropping tool. Its simplicity makes it the perfect podcasting application for use with students. Though I discovered Audioboo through its iPhone app, there is also a user-friendly website interface as well as an Andriod app (currently in beta).

Check out the Audioboo in Education page for ideas and examples for using podcasting with your students. School news, expert interviews, peer assessments, biography projects; the possibilities seem limitless.
I was also excited to learn that Audioboo is now available in the Edmodo app store, offering unlimited use for just $4.99.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inklewriter: Choose Your Own Adventure for the 21st Century

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books from the 1980s? They were the ingenious creation Edward Packard, and put you, the reader, in the story. At the end of a chapter, the reader would choose how the story would proceed from among a couple of plot options.  I was not a prolific reader in my youth (something that I regret now) but I do remember how engaging these books were.  The web application Inklewriter puts the power of creating this kind of interactive story at your fingertips.

Inklewriter allows writers to focus on their writing, while the application takes care of the challenging task of organizing the various plot twists.  I believe that this kind of application has the potential to revolutionize creative writing classes.  I teach history, and I know that there is an application for this product in the history classroom - I just haven't figured it out yet.

Here is a promo video put together by Inklestudios: