Saturday, January 31, 2015

Social Interactions With Web 2.0

               In today’s day and age classrooms have access to information from around the world with only a click of a mouse.  However, this information online is not simply for viewing anymore.  In the classroom of today students, and teachers, have the ability to connect and interact with others as never before.  From a Skype call to another classroom to a presentation made through google docs, the ability to quickly and effectively connect with others from around the country or world is now possible.  With this in mind, today I will be reviewing three different websites that do just that.  The three sites will focus on the social interactions possible today, the creative ability and the ability to store and easily access your favorite resources from the web. 

                With the world connected through social media, I feel that exploring the social possibilities of a particular website is the perfect place to start.  I choose to review a website called Remind, which is a free text message service that allows the teacher to text out a message and for anyone subscribed to that class to receive the text.  (As a side not they also have an app that you can download for your smart phone.)  This is an incredibly valuable resource for today’s students, because they might come to school without their backpacks but they always have their phones.  This resource also allows parents to sign up, meaning that if a message was sent out to the class reminding them about a test each parent would also get that message.  Student’s private information is also never accessed as the only information that is provided to the website is their cell phone number.  Throughout the entire process the students, and teachers, personal information is not displayed so students can’t send you annoying texts.  Resources like this truly allow educators to provide every opportunity for their students to succeed by reminding them outside of class to work and study for tests and assignments.  At my school a number of teachers use this service and have found that both parents and students really appreciate the extra reminders and the accountability that it provides.  For any teacher, especially secondary, this website/app is something that you should consider using with your class, as it is free and easy to use with a huge upside to your students and their families.

                As a social studies teacher I am constantly struggling with finding creative ways for my students to present the information that they have learned.   Let’s face it, you can only sit through so many PowerPoint presentations before you, and the class, want to beat your heads in.  To that end, I have found that by having students put information down chronologically in creative ways helps solidify their understanding of the material.  Now creating timelines on word documents is next to impossible and is basically an act of frustration, but today there are great resources online to help with this.  The one that I found is a site called Timetoast.  This online timeline creator is free to use and can easily be embedded in a presentation or a link emailed for an assignment.  The website also offers each person the ability to have their creation be public or restricted to only those with a specific link.  While you do need to register for this site by providing an email address, that is all that is required.   When I asked a fellow teacher about this site, they raved about how it provided students with the flexibility to be as creative as they wanted while still maintaining the educational goals of the assignment.  What this teacher did was have the students create a timeline about an absolute monarch of Europe and then embedded that information onto a wiki site.  The students then visited each other’s sites and quickly could grasp the main points of the monarchs rule by examining the timelines that were created.  To the students it was more entertaining than a presentation and for the teacher it allowed a quick assessment to see if the student truly understood what an absolute monarch was.

                The final site that I choose to review is one that allows any user to quickly and easily assemble all of the websites that you use frequently.  I know that for me, as I go through out my day teaching I have about four or five different websites that I frequent.  Well Symbaloo puts all of your websites on a homepage where they are within one easy click for you to access.  Using a 10X6 grid there is more than enough room to get your favorite sites organized however you like.  All that is required is your email address and then you are up and ready to start organizing your digital world onto one easy to use platform.  While this is a great resource for teachers, this can also be used with students as a great starting off point for research projects.  As the teacher you can create a webmix and then share that with your students.  On this webmix you could have already bookmarked a number of trusted academically relevant sites for the students to use to start their research.  Regardless of the age of your students, that function alone is worth the time and effort of setting up your account with Symbaloo. 

                Hopefully, you will find one of these sites a benefit to you and your students.  If there are any other sites that you use that fit either of these categories let me know by leaving a message at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Using New Technologies; An Interview With An Expert.

                As I delve deeper into the world of Web 2.0 I am often left wondering how you can determine which sites are worthwhile for the students.  The amount of time and effort that needs to be invested in some of these resources is daunting, so I want to make sure that the end results are worth it.  While googling the question, “Best Web 2.0 tools for teachers” get you some results, 1.8 million, how can anyone determine what sites are actually worthwhile.  With that in mind I interviewed a fellow teacher who uses technology exceptionally will in her classroom.  Aside from being an excellent teacher she is also one of my building technology people, meaning she attends monthly meetings and helps other teachers in the building with their questions and concerns.  As any teacher or professional would know, often times the best resource is someone who has experienced the same issues that you are struggling with and overcome them.  With that in mind I sat down and talked with Jill Berge a 20 year veteran teacher.

I first asked Mrs. Berge about how she decides which web 2.0 and technology tools to use with her students.  She responded that, “She is constantly looking for new ideas, and try to choose tools that will appeal to students.  The biggest consideration however is will this offer a fresh way for them [students] to accomplish the task they need to do.”  That statement really struck me, if the resource you are trying to use is not appealing to the students, then what good will it provide you in the classroom?  It also brings up the notion that technology should not be used and incorporated into the classroom simply because it is technology.  It needs to serve a purpose and add to the content that you are already teaching.  Forcing a resource onto a student, simply because it uses technology, will often have the opposite effect of what you were trying to achieve.

I then discussed what obstacle she has needed to overcome to obtain permission to use technology with her students.  “I’ve had to work with our district filtering system to get certain sites approved, and with the publications department to get certain platforms approved for use.”  The filtering software in our district takes the approach that it is better to block everything rather than let in one thing that might not be appropriate.  While definitely the safe approach for a district to take, especially considering CIPA legislation, it is frustrating for teachers.  Basically, it makes it so a teacher must be planned out weeks in advance in order to assure any new technology that will be used in the classroom will make it through the district filters.  With this in mind Mrs. Berge concluded by saying, “I’m sure I’ve also used some tools that were not approved by the district, but weren’t blocked, so I used them anyway.”  This seems to be the approach of most teachers in my school, if the filters are not blocking it just go ahead and use it.

The final question I asked was what advice she would give to a teacher seeking to replicate her efforts.  Her response was short and to the point, “Try things out.  Be willing to have the kids take something and run with it, even if you’re not an expert with it.  Learn from students.”  Great advice to any teacher regardless of what they are trying to achieve.  I know that when I first started teaching there were many ideas and activities that I tried with students that just did not work the way I wanted them too.  What I learned was that is okay, just be honest and ask them for advice on how to change things up.  Not only will your lessons and activities improve, but students will also appreciate the input that they are able to provide.  In this day and age, teachers must realize that most of the students sitting in front of them are far more tech savvy than we are.  They are a resource that must be utilized, just as Mrs. Berge stated in her response.

Throughout the interview the underlying theme that was present was the idea to constantly be adapting and changing.  Do not become rigid in what you do and above all else try new things.  Without the need to innovate and explore, more effective techniques are not discovered and student learning suffers.  So educators, I implore you to look at what you are doing and try something new, while it might be difficult at first the rewards are worth the risk.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


My district takes the issue of internet safety very seriously and has a number of meetings throughout the year around this subject.  At the start of each year we review FERPA, COPPA and CIPA and how those would look in our classrooms.  Our district AUP is extensive and references the above laws a number of time throughout.  After reviewing my districts AUP I can safely attest that my district is following CIPA laws above and beyond what is actually outlined.

CIPA can basically be broken down into three sections; Schools must filter material, must monitor student activity and must educate minors on appropriate behavior.  In regards to the filtration of material, my district uses a program called Lightspeed which is our brute force filtration software.  I classify it as brute force because it basically blocks everything until the district comes in and specifically allows that website to access.  For instance, ESPN was blocked for a while because of its repeated references to balls.  As for the monitoring of students who are using the internet my district has started using a program called DyKnow.  Because each of my students has their own laptop it is impossible to see everyone’s screen at the same time.  DyKnow allows the teacher to sit in the front of the room and see everyone’s screen on our own computer.  This allows all teachers to monitor the students and make sure the material they are viewing is appropriate.  Finally, once a month during our homeroom class time students go over anti-bullying information or computer awareness training.  This includes what should and should not be posted on social media sites and other smart practices with computers.  These actions together clearly demonstrate to me that my district is meeting the law as outlined in CIPA.

Unfortunately my district AUP has nothing in it about using new technologies with students.  When I asked one of my building technology people about this the reply was that it was up to the teacher’s discretion when using third party websites.  They followed that up with a rule of thumb, if the students do not have to enter any personal information then most likely the website is fine to use.  As for bypassing the filters, that is not possible.  Although a number of students have figured out ways around them.  If you want to use a website that is currently blocked, you need to email the district with the URL and an explanation of why you want the site unblocked.  I had to do this last year with a site called blabberize, while time consuming it was not overly difficult to go through the process.  I wish there was clear guidelines to follow, but again it is being left up to teacher discretion. 

My district AUP is a fairly restrictive document that does try to limit the amount of websites that students can use.  It also was written to apply to grades K-12, something that is not truly possible to accomplish.  At my high school we don’t have to worry about COPPA because all of our students are over the age of 13 so we have more flexibility then the elementary and middle schools.  That being said, the three laws together definitely try to restrict the use of new technology in the classroom, but by not concerning ourselves with COPPA we are able to introduce new technologies into the classrooms fairly easily.  It is simply a matter of justifying the resource to the district, basically the same as trying to teach a new curriculum or novel in your class.  If you can show the academic relevance of the material, and how it applies to the standards, then you may use the resource with no worries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Creative Commons License

         I have decided to add CC license to this blog at the urging of one of my teachers. After reviewing all of them I decided to add an attribution and noncommercial license to my work. The rational for these two licenses is that I want people to be able to take any part of my research and thinking and apply it to a situation that works best for them. I know that as I am sitting down to create a lesson or plan a unit any guidance and insight that I can find is like a God sent. For that reason, if anyone finds the work that I have done on this blog useful I want them to be able to use and reference this material.
        The attribution license will allow anyone to, “Copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request.” I also added a noncommercial license, which has the exact same stipulations as above but does not allow the person using the material to make money off of it. I want my educational property to help others and I do not want anyone to have to pay for that. Teachers are not paid enough as it is, the more free information that is out there as a reference the better for all. So, if you ever find anything of value on this blog please use it with my blessing. Teaching is a noble profession and one that is often undervalued in our society today. Thank you for the work you do and just consider letting others use the excellent work that you have created, because when it comes down to it the most important thing is the education of our students.

Licensing Portal for Educators/Choosing a License. (2010, December 1). Retrieved January 20, 2015, from