Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Smartphones are like Swiss army knives on steroids

Some may argue that technology brings a lot of laziness to the world. I would argue that that laziness is sometimes confused with efficiency. When the Swiss army knife came out in 1891, it totally revolutionized what people could carry in their pocket. Instead of having a bunch of individual tools jingling around in their pocket or tool box, people could have one lone item, with many different functions. You never know when you might need a knife, screwdriver, saw, pincers, toothpick, corkscrew and whatever else they have. In our world, our version of the Swiss army knife is the Smart phone. It really is a smart device. It's a Swiss army knife on steroids. Think about it, "how many things has the smart phone eliminated?" 

  • We no longer need those big bulky phone books with size 8 font. Simply search what/who you want to call and you will find it, or Siri will tell you.
  • No need for a flashlight as the smartphone comes with one. Still using a pedometer clipped to your belt? No need because you can simply put your phone in your pocket (which you probably do anyway) and it will keep track of your steps, among many other things that a pedometer can't do.
  • Smartphone cameras have improved so much they rival and surpass many digital cameras. The digital camera is basically obsolete thanks to the smart phone camera.
  • Video devices are the same. Remember the Flipped Video camera? Goodbye. Hello smartphone.
  • Still keep a grocery list on a piece of paper on your fridge? Keep track with many smartphone list apps.
  • Alarm clocks are gone because the smartphone has an alarm clock with many different alarm sounds, which are more pleasing to the ear when you wake up than the dreadful sound alarm clocks have.
  • Want to figure out where to go or get some place? Don't waste your money buying a Garmin GPS because your smart phone has all you need for free navigation.
  • Keep track of your life with the calender.
  • With Google Play, you can turn your phone into a movie theater or a book.
  • Can't find the thermometer to check to see if you have a temperature? Don't worry! Use the body temp app and get yourself to the doctor!
  • The dictionary app eliminates the need for a big, huge dictionary taking up space.
  • The newspaper is on its way out because you can get so much of your news with twitter, and customize it to what you want to see.
  • The compass app waves good by to an actual compass.
  • Music player eliminates the Walkman (OK, those were eliminated long ago.)
  • Google Wallet and Apple pay make it so you don't even need a wallet!
  • Running from the law so you need to leave the country? Turn your phone into your passport with the passport app. 

When you think about it, the smartphone has truly changed the way we live. Some would argue that smart phones have had a negative impact on our life, and in some cases, I would agree with that. But they have had a major impact on how efficient we can live and I think that's a good thing. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Tackk project

Tackk continues to provide a great website builder for education. What makes it great is it's simplistic style and ease of use. It does not overwhelm the user/student with a million different options or effects, which just distract and take away from the learning. Without a ton of options/effects, it doesn't take forever to show how to use the site. A quick overview of the features and the kids are off and running. Tackk websites provide a way for students to show what they know using something they are familiar with: the Internet! Kids don't get excited about making a poster anymore. They are digital natives and want to use the technology they were born with. They also want to create and "do." Creating a Tackk website is a great hands-on activity that pushes the student to create something dynamic and engaging. With the students' google account, they can register for free and begin creating. Click below to see one example of how I use Tackk with my students. You can also add "tags" for all the tackks to be gathered in one spot in the "tackk board".
I provide a link to the Tackk builder itself, a checklist of what I want to see, both format wise and content. I provide a few resources to help them, then I provide a link for them to click on and submit their final product. It has gone well in the past and students have done a good job with it. I encourage you to try it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Picmonkey: Edit images and create collages for FREE

Picmonkey is a website that allows you to edit images and create collages. It's free to use and doesn't even require the user to register. Simply go to the site and start using it. There is a paid version, so some of the features will not be available, unless you pay $2.75 a month. However, if you are looking for a basic, free way to create collages and share them, this could be the site for you. I especially like the option to create collages by dragging and dropping. This site has many templates that you can choose from depending on the look you are going for. Next week, we will talk about using Picmonkey in combination with Thing link to make interactive collages. 
Check out Picmonkey! (I'm not paid to say that).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thinglink: Create and share interactive Maps

"Thinglink" is a tool that you can use to create interactive images. It allows you to create an image that students not only can look at, but interact with. I've posted an example of a thinklink I created for my students to help them review in preparation of the Map challenge coming their way. The map is a blank map of Mesopotamia that I just found on Google Images. I uploaded it into Thinklink and then attached "tags" to various places on the map. The students can see the "tags", think about what that location is, and the hover the mouse over the tag to see if they are right. It's an easy, fun way to review. You can also link the tags to external websites, making it even more interactive and dynamic. The possibilities and uses of this tool are endless! Create one with a plant, an atom, a battlefield, a scene from a story.. You can sign up for free with your google account. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Move to Online options. But why?

The online course option is obviously an extremely popular choice for many students and adult learners. For a lot of them, it means the ability to take a course or not, which is a category I would fall into myself. The online option should not be limited to just college students or adult learners looking for more education. I think we should be providing an online option for k-12 students as well. Classes could move to a more hybrid format because obviously high school and middle school students aren't going to stay home and take all online classes, but we could be providing them with online options to do as supplement or extended exploring. So why the online format? A few reasons to chew on like a slim jim. 

  • Discussions no longer end with the bell. If you are having a lively or even heated debate/discussion and you want it to continue, too bad because the bell rang. Move the discussion to the discussion board, it can rage all night. 
  • Students set the pace and schedule. If the material is out there, the student can work at their own pace at their own time. They can get to it when it works for them, instead of trying to jam something into a time window that just isn't open. This requires a bit of responsibility on the learner, but that is a good thing. There are so many diverse learning abilities and styles that an instructor only led course is going to hold back the full potential. 
  • Students can showcase their work to their classmates (and the world!) They can share, discuss, analyze and critique (respectfully, of course.) This increases pride and ownership of the work. For me, if I know only my professor is going to read something or view something, I won't work as hard as if I know my whole class will be viewing it. 
  • It's a method focused on the Learner's style. Let's face it, there are so many styles of learning. We are not all in a one room school house, k-12, listening to Miss Beadle drone on and on about Pa and the history of his suspenders. Our world is different! So quite trying to put everyone in the same box. We have visual, verbal, analytical, experimental, hands-on, media-centered, morning people, evening people, sprinters, plodders, extroverts and introverts. 
Providing a hybrid format to you k-12 classroom is a tough task. A time consuming one. Perhaps sprinkle in a little bit at a time. But I think something worth looking into. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Google Continues to invade my life (and I like it)

Feel like watching a movie? Did you just get your wisdom teeth out and can do nothing but lay on the couch and watch something? In the past couple weeks, Google has invaded my life in yet another way: Movies. I think movies are great. Movies allow us to enter a different world and see things and imagine things. Movies allows us to relax and enjoy a creative experience. I believe movies are a good thing to foster imagination. From now on, Google Play is where I will go to watch movies because of how efficient the process is. For me, I have a bad habit of always getting late fees whenever I rent a movie from a store. I also have a bad habit of going to the movie rental store, looking around for 30 minutes, then getting home and being too tired to actually watch it. It got really bad a couple weeks ago when I rented a movie, "Noah", and turned it back in 10 days late and never even watched it. How ridiculous is that? With Google Play, all that ridiculousness is avoided, so for me, Google Play is great. With your gooogle account, simply sign in to Google Play and you can browse movies that you can rent. The movies you have to choose from are the same new releases you will see in the movie rental store. It is NOT like netflix in which a quality movie gets posted every ten years. Google Play movies are the newest, greatest ones. Some of the movies you can choose from are still in theaters. For me, I love it because I can browse the movie selection from home, rent one in seconds, and watch it. Another great thing about it is that once you rent a movie, you have 30 days to watch it, which is a long time. No late fees, it just goes away. Once you start the movie, you have 48 hours to finish viewing it. Again, no late fees, it just disappears if you wait too long. You pay with paypal or any type of credit card. Cost of the movie rentals is very comparable to that of the movie rental store. You can watch the movies on your TV with a chromecast stick ($30 at Bestbuy). I love this feature because I can use my Google Play movies app on my phone, open my movie and chromecast it to my TV and watch it in comfort.
So, looking to watch a movie? How about Captain America? Or Safe Haven?  Check out Google Play and I think you'll like it. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finland > United States. What?? (A look at Finland's education system)

Interesting article in CNN about the top-notch education system in Finland. The article compares the education system of Finland to what we have in the United States. The article is linked below, but some highlights for you to chew on:

*Finland school districts focus on the child as a whole, not viewing each child through the lens of academic achievement and having that be the end-all. 

*Teachers in Finland have time to work with their colleagues during the school day, not having to worry about running around in the morning before school starts or trying to do something during a common lunch period. Having time to collaborate with colleagues is huge! After all, isn't that what we want our students to do? 

*Finnish teachers have half the work load as teachers in America, according to OECD.

*Every class in Finland must be followed by 15 minutes of recess to give children a chance to expend some energy. 

*School days are shorter and homework is kept to a minimum so students aren't over burdened and can spend time on hobbies and other interests.  In America, it seems like loading up on homework is the norm and the only way. I couldn't disagree with this anymore. We gave way too much homework. 

*Education in America is MUCH too defined by test scores and data. 

*Too many students in America have novice or nonprofessional teachers in their classroom. In other words, people are teaching who shouldn't be because they are terrible and the students are missing out on an opportunity to learn and grow. 

A few interesting points indeed. American can not become Finland. There are some differences between the two countries for sure. I will point out, though, that the American Education system produced Youtube, Facebook, and Google. Where would the world be without that stuff? Although, was it the educational system or just the creativity that flowed through the veins of those pioneers? I would venture to say the latter. It seems, at times, the public education systems tends to squash the creativity and free spirit of the student and teacher. What would have happened if Benjamin Franklin wouldn't have been allowed to create and explore? We'd be in the dark, that's for sure. Maybe we still are...

Here is the article in its entirety: Why Finland's schools are top-notch

Monday, October 13, 2014

Teachscape Basics (video tutorial)

Teachscape is an important tool for the observation process in our school district so it's a good idea to become familiar with it and how it works. The video above is a quick look at the basics of Teachscape, how to use it, and the components of the site you will actually use/do. Nothing happens on Teachscape until your evaluator starts the process. Once things are scheduled, then you can begin working on the pre-observation form.  If you have any questions, I'm certain your evaluator will be happy to help you. And one other thing, don't get all bent out of shape about an observation.  Observations have a negative stigma in the education world, I believe, which is unfortunate. It's not a situation in which anyone is trying to "catch" you doing something wrong or bad. It's a chance to have a great educational discussion with your principal, a chance to bounce ideas off one another, a chance to get input and reflect. Use an observation as an opportunity to improve, not as a major stressor. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Tip of the cap, to Curt and his crew

I would just like to take a moment to thank Curt Vlaminck and his crew for their efforts at the Middle School the last few days with the Internet/Server problems. It was an unavoidable problem, yet, a major one but Curt and his guys kept calm and worked extremely hard trying to get everything back up and running. Most impressive, Curt was able to save the files on the "P" drive, which at first, seemed to be lost forever. Many teachers had a large amount of important stuff on that drive, so Curt turned that devastation into jubilation when the announcement was made that all was well. His tireless efforts and long hours to get the server/internet back is much appreciated, and I know I speak for everyone when I say that. So again, Thank you, Mr. Vlaminck and Mr. Henson. Great job this week.