Monday, November 9, 2015

Blogging for Engagement

Between course work, regular work, conference preparation, family / parental duties and triathlon training, I appear to have completely abandoned the idea of blogging.  This is not a good thing and I intend to change that starting now.

An interesting question arose in a discussion this week on GAFE (Google Apps for Education) ideas for the classroom.  A member of my grad school cohort suggested they would like to try blogging with their junior high school students.  However, they expressed concern for the students ability to stay on task.

I believe this is one of those moments when you need to take a leap of faith.  Students can surprise you! Especially, if they know their work is going to be published and commented on by their peers or "worse" complete strangers! I've seen it time and again where students panic after pushing Publish. Post or Send.  You've seen it too: "Oh no, I made a mistake!", "Can I get it back?", "Does it really stay on the Internet forever?"  Your students do listen to you - even if it doesn't seem that way - provided you have the conversation.

So how would I approach blogging with a class of junior high students?

  1. Have a conversation about publishing (including copyright and citation) and digital citizenship. Actually have a conversation!  That means not only telling them what you think they should hear but truly listening to your students concerns and addressing them appropriately.
  2. Set expectations.  Explain that you expect them to take their blogging seriously and that they are expected to respond to others post.  Let the golden rule be your guide and do unto others...
  3. Assign topics that are meaningful.  It's great to start off with the "What I did on Summer Vacation / Spring Break" because that's what they know and expect.  But, also give them insightful and important topics to consider.  Have them respond to a news article they read, create a tutorial on one of their hobbies and above all allow them to express themselves!
  4. Facilitate without impediment.  If your students have a tendency to get off task, analyze what is happening.  Are they really off task? Ask why? Are they looking for inspiration? Think about what you do when your mind gets blocked?  I'd guess you back off and do something else for a little while until you feel ready to come back and tackle the problem.  While we may go for a walk, students like to surf.  Blogging should be about personal engagement, self discovery and sharing.  Try not to impede the process.  If a student gets so off task or it becomes inappropriate, treat it for what it is - a classroom management issue and deal with it accordingly.
  5. Let the students own their work.  Once they have a handle on where their passion lies, you'll probably find they want to keep writing on that topic.  Let them! If they are writing about Minecraft or Taylor Swift, it may not be your "thing"; but, it is something they are particularly interested in and they are writing and meeting ISTE Standards for Students as well as a plethora of Common Core State Standards which should please you and your administration!
  6. Share their work! Create a classroom hashtag and let the world know your students have a voice. Post some of their work to your PLN each week and encourage positive feedback from your global colleagues.  This doesn't just apply to blogging but any published work on the web.  When students see "strangers" giving them praise, it boosts moral, self-esteem and encourages further engagement.  It also "keeps it real."  When it's not from someone they see everyday, it can have even more impact.
If you'd like to get started blogging with students I would highly recommend using BloggerEduBlogs or KidBlog.  They all have their special features and pros / cons that you should evaluate before choosing a platform.

As always, if this advice has been meaningful to you, please share it with your PLN on the social networks or leave a response below.

Cross-posted from the JMGubbins96 Reflection Blog

Friday, November 6, 2015

Plan B

A funny thing happened on the way to IETC 2015.  Actually, it wasn't very funny at all.

Wednesday night I went to review my presentation for Thursday morning and realized I had left my power adapter for my primary presentation laptop at the office (which is 3 hours away from Springfield). Fortunately, I had a backup laptop with the proper power adapters ready to go as well as my trusty Chromebook.

Thursday morning I loaded up my presentation on both devices so I could monitor my back channel on my Chromebook.  Halfway though the presentation, the Internet died!  This is a common occurrence at conferences and I had already taken Google slides presentation offline and wasn't at a point where I even needed to switch to screenshots (yup, I had those too).  I continued to move along with the discussion until the laptop decided to BSOD (Blue Screen of Death)! Whoops! Wasn't expecting that.  Quick switch of the laptop from the VGA connection to the projector to the projector's HDMI cable connected to the Chromebook and we are back in business. Eventually, I got to a point in my presentation where I would need Internet and contemplated turning on a hotspot (had one of those too) but it came back just in time and I was able to finish what I hope was a successful presentation.

Day 2 - has to be better than Day 1, right?!  One would think.  But no, the gremlins returned in my presentation about presentations.  First, the projector provided would not mirror my laptop display.  Tech support got it to work; but, then Google Slides wouldn't go full screen properly because of the resolution adjustment to get it working.  Great, that's the way to demonstrate good presentations.   Alright, laptop, let's just avoid a blue screen and we'll be fine.  Right? Right! Wrong.  I'm not sure how it happened because I had run through the presentation many times but a link got misdirected and my browser got hijacked! Beep! Beep! Beep! Quick close that pop-up window! Pop up comes right back.  Disconnect speaker from laptop so it doesn't drive everyone crazy.  Still beeping - shut down laptop and switch to Chromebook which is set to extend instead of mirror.  Of course, I lost my timer on my laptop when all that happened; so, now I've lost track of when the session ends.  Thankfully, I think I had enough resources  to keep interest and the attendees were extremely patient with me as I scrambled to cover as much as I could.  I'm sure the reviews won't be stellar; but, I'm pretty sure everyone left with something new to explore.  You know the saying "never let them see you sweat", don't know how successful I was with that - but I was able to finish.
Moral of this story?! Have a Plan B and in some cases a Plan C or even a Plan D! Just please don't let the Gremlins follow me home!

 I plan on reviewing IETC 2015 once I have a day or two to digest the whirlwind!

For those in my presentation session, the correct link to the site that was Hi-jacked is  My link was somehow missing a character but has been corrected. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New Beginnings

As I sit here in Springfield, preparing for an early morning session at the Illinois Education and Technology Conference, I realized it has been months since my last blog post.  In fact my last post was in February following the ICE Conference.   I've been trying to figure out why that is and the only excuse I have is that over the last few years I have been shifting my focus from tools, which are easy to write a quick post about, to how to assess and analyze the use of those tools to achieve learning targets and engage students.  This is a welcome trend; but, has required a lot of introspection and self-reflection.  I have also taken on a number of new challenges both personally and professionally that have limited my available time for writing carefully considered reflective posts.  I am hoping that my edtech batteries will be recharged and my focus renewed during IETC 2015.  This conference holds a special place in my heart as it is the first conference I had the pleasure of presenting at many years ago! I'm looking forward to connecting and learning with many amazing educators in the next 48 hours and continuing this amazing journey through education and technology with all of you! 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Already Thinking About #ICE16

Wow! Just woke up from a power nap after coming home and "crashing" the couch following one of my favorite conference of the year: ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) at the Pheasant Run in St. Charles Illinois.  This years theme was "Make the Difference" in honor of the maker movement.  Not surprisingly the culture of making and creating was front and center! The poster sessions were moved to an area previously reserved for the PLN Plaza in favor of a "mini-Maker" Faire where we got hands on experience with Squishy Circuits, the 3Doodler, the Makey Makey and a whole bunch of other tools that allow you to create and invent.  Many of the presentations were themed around the concept including "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from the truly Super Awesome Sylvia Todd.  I even got in on the act with my latest experiment "Gubbins Glass" (an action cam attached to a baseball cap).  More on that in a future post perhaps.

But here's the thing, educators have always been makers.  Students have always been curious.  This is nothing new!  Sure technology has allowed us to change the landscape a bit by allowing us to make flashier things - but who remembers Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and LEGOS.  Of course, today, we can build LEGOs that we can program to do some pretty amazing things! My point is this all these fun and innovative tools that let us create and demonstrate conceptual knowledge are just that - they are tools. No different than the plethora of online resources apps and extensions that bloomed with the dawning of a new millennium.

Here's the deal - the "Difference Makers" are the amazing educators who inspire and innovate by allowing these tools to enter the classroom.  Here are just a few that made my conference experience just that much better.

Tara Linney who connected coding to CCSS with "Coding in the Curriculum".  Her 7 habits of effective coding take the fear out of trying something new in your classroom.

Speaking of coding Jen Gilbert's poster session "Kids Can Code: Computer Programming for Kindergarten and Up" attracted a lot of attention.  But beyond that, in speaking with Jen at breakfast both Wednesday and Thursday, it became obvious that she has a genuine passion for being innovative and is willing to take risks to make her learning environment a better place!

Josh Stumpenhorst who is leading the "Teacher Revolution" gave an empowering, inciteful and much needed talk that shared heartfelt stories and offered sage advice which resonated with truth.  After spending time with Josh, it's difficult not to feel inspired to do great things!

David Tchozewski and David Fischer once again packed the Zanies Comedy club with The Return of “Hi, I’m David and I’m an APPoholic!” sharing tons of valuable resources.  It's so good to see "resource sessions" are still being well attended and when "the David's" share a room it's easy to see why.  I'm looking forward to going back and reviewing what they shared!

It was great to finally meet Nicholas Provenzano after his Digital Tools to Support Reading and Writing session.   He demonstrated how tried and true tools like Tagxedo, Storybird and KidBlog can still be used with purpose.  We don't always have to jump to the latest flashy reource.

And these were only a few of the many sessions I jumped in and out of throughout the week without even mentioning amazing keynotes from Slyvia Martinez and Jim Sill! You can find the resources and shared notes at visit to access my liveblog of the event.

Of course, my favorite part of any conference is getting to hang out with amazing educators and to get swept up in the culture of learning.  It will take me days to process and reflect on everything I discovered about education, technology and myself over the past few days.  I am absolutely blessed to be a part of an amazing community of educators who lead, inspire, innovate and make every single day! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to learn from you.  You are all amazing and truly Make the Difference!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Little Moments

This blog has started to shift towards not only finding tech tools but using them in meaningful ways. This year I have started to really focus on the power of video and how it can be used effectively in an educational setting.  Video can be a connector.  It can create a cognitive bridge to knowledge.  Recently, I created a Google Community "Creative YouTube Video Ideas for Your Classroom" specifically as a means for educators to share the amazing projects that come out of their classrooms.  I encourage you to join this community as well.  Whether you are a student or teacher who has created a work for use in an educational environment or you are using media in ways to link students to content - it is so important to share.  I just checked in on the community and was both thrilled and shocked to see there are already 93 members! Obviously, I am not alone in my belief in the power of video!

But that was not the only reason for this post.  I was struck this morning by the power of video to transcend language.  Shirley Rodrigues is a part of my Facebook PLN (yes, I have a separate Facebook account just for my Professional Learning Network - a post for another day).  According to her profile, Shirley is an educator in Rio.  She and I have never met, but through mutual friends became connected on Facebook.  Her posts are typically in what I believe is Portuguese.  I don't speak a word of Portuguese.  Yet, thanks to the somewhat rough translation tool on Facebook I learn new things from her quite often.  Sometimes I learn something strictly oriented to education, sometimes I learn about culture, and frequently I learn about the human condition.  You see many of Shirley's posts are videos.  A long while back I believe it was on her timeline I saw a video of a siege on the streets of Brazil that tugged at my heart.  I can't find it now, but those moving images are etched in my mind.  But life isn't always tragic.  Often videos she posts just make me smile.  Other times what she shares simply gives me hope as you will see below.

So thank you my friend (whom I have never met) for teaching me through your posts (in a language I may never understand) that we can connect and learn from each other without ever saying a word and proving the power of video!

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's Been Too Long

My last post was sometime in March of 2014.  My presence on social media has also been quiet for far too long.  I've also noticed that throughout my PLN there has been a noticeable deterioration of resource sharing.  Why is this you may be wondering?  I have been asking the same question during my apparent (yet somewhat intentional) hiatus and I think I may finally have some answers.

For the past five years, it seemed like a new web 2.0 tool or mobile device application was coming out every single day that could be used in an educational setting.  It was a fun and magical journey.  I enjoyed surfing that wave and finding ways to assist others integrate these new tools into curriculum in meaningful ways.  But then, something happened.  I don't know if it was that the market became saturated with so many tools that performed similar tasks or if having so many options became overwhelming, but the enthusiasm for these tools suddenly seemed to fall off.  In fact, a number of these tools began to join the deadpool (not an obscure reference to Wade Wilson, but rather the place that software good and bad becomes permanently deprecated).  It seems there has been a massive shift in focus to larger well established tools (e.g. the Google Suite, Edmodo or Schoology, Audacity) for this reason.  While that doesn't mean there are not some amazing yet less known tools out there, it does suggest that the wheat has separated from the chaff as it were.

With this in mind, I have also noticed a shift in implementation.  Gratefully, educators have begun to get over the "cool" factor of an application (remember Blabberize?) and have begun analyzing how tools can be used to enhance and transform curriculum in meaningful ways.  Many sets of models, frameworks and standards are emerging to help analyze and assess our use of technology in education.  While ISTEs NETS have been around for some time we now have Common Core (for better or worse - more on that in a future post), SAMR, TIM, TPACK to guide us.

If you've attended any of my breakout sessions or even workshops over the past six years at conferences, you know my mantra is that the resources available are "Tools Not Toys" which, when used properly, can seamlessly transform the learning environment.  But the challenge is getting from exposure to empowerment in 45 minutes to an hour.  Sure, I can show you what QR codes do, provide a few sites to create them and even give some exemplars.  I can leave you with a sense of motivation to go and try something new.  But, do you leave with a clear understanding of how it will work for you in your environment?  Probably not.

With that in mind over the past year and especially the last six months, I have been trying to change my approach to presentations.  Last year I added some sessions to my lineup that hopefully made you think about the pedagogy behind utilizing technology in the classroom.  We need to develop implementation strategies based on the aforementioned frameworks and methodologies so that the technology tools we choose have impact and are transformative.  Thus, if you choose to spend some time in one of my sessions at a conference this year I encourage you to open your mind to the potential the ideas I share hold for your classroom.   I plan on including a great deal more interactivity and conversation into my sessions this year and I hope you don't walk away with just new resource to explore but a new idea of how to implement it successfully!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Visualize Your Thoughts

It's been awhile since my last tool post.  There are some reasons for that. First, it's been conference season. It starts for me in September as I plan out my accepted sessions for IETC in November.  In September, I was a part of RSCON for the first time.  The past few years I was the Chair for the SET Connections "SPUn" Conference in early November, then come the holidays and more conferences.  In fact this year, three in the span of six weeks.  Starting with the NICE Mini Conference at the end of January, the new and hopefully annual Google mini conference in February and of course ICE which was just last week.  It's a busy time.  And I'm not done yet. I'll be at WEMTA in a few weeks and I believe Tech Forum in May.  And that busy schedule doesn't even start to touch what some of my colleagues put on their plates.

However, I open every session talking about this blog and how I write about tools.  I will say that I have started getting away from the tools in favor of focusing on learning outcome.  But anyone in my "Taking the Tech Out of Technology Integration" sessions this past year knows that to successfully infuse tech you need to have a knowledge and foundation of what is available.

Enough blathering?  Get to the tool already?  Alright, here's are two.  I am a big fan of diagramming thoughts and of visualizing processes.  Whether that means mind mapping an idea or creating a flowchart.  Two great tools for this include Lucidchart and one I just discovered today  Both of these tools integrate with Google Drive - which is a major plus in my book because it makes it easy to share and collaborate.  And each offers a drag and drop interface.

If I'm being honest, Lucidchart seems a bit more robust.  It has a huge number of starter templates to create a number of different charts, graphs, maps and diagrams.  It also has a very professional interface.  I feel like I'm working in Visio or a more expensive application as I lay out my thoughts and ideas.  I LOVE the fact that it allows you to search for additional images to add to your charts and graphs through Iconfinder and Google Images.

On the other hand there is,  This tool just feels intuitive.  It has very similar features to Lucidchart with the exception of image search.  But it feels like you are working inside Google Docs.  It may not be as feature rich, but that can sometimes be overwhelming. just seems to work.  Big bonus - You don't need to sign up or in to use it or to save your work!

Both have offline modes available.  Lucidchart has a number of subscription levels beyond the free version as well.

If you are a visual person like me.  I highly recommend trying either of these online applications to get your thoughts and ideas organized.

get your own embeddable forum with Talki