Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creating a Digital Portfolio

With the rapid growth of the internet it is impossible to avoid a digital footprint. It is also impossible to control the entirety of that footprint. But we do have input in how we are viewed by others through the internet. Part of this control comes through what we create as our own digital portfolio. I have put effort into keeping my professional and personal lives separate, especially on the internet. The reality is that there is a great deal of crossover. Some of my colleagues have become dear friends and even a few of my friends are now colleagues. My family is part of the community where I teach. But, the effort will continue.

I have also had to put forth additional effort to separate some of my professional development presentations from the work I do for my school and district. One of the steps that will help is the creation of my own web page for professional use. After looking at some samples portfolios on different websites, I chose to build a site using

My digital portfolio site

I used the free account and did not find that upgrading was necessary to create an attractive and clearly constructed site. It was far more difficult to decide what the content should be than to actually build the site. Editing a site is similar to creating a presentation in PowerPoint or Prezi. Some of the controls are different, but they are not difficult to figure out. I only used help once and found the answer immediately. There are many options for setting up and organizing pages. Creating buttons to link is simple.  Adding videos and images is easy. Sadly, I did not find a way to embed content like Glogster pages, but creating button with a link was simple. Over all, the building experience lacked frustration and I am pleased with the result.

Choosing the content for the site was more challenging. I tried to categorize what I do to create individual subpages that make sense. With classroom technology tools and flipped classroom there is some overlap so I had to make some choices to define the classifications more tightly. The variety of items I wanted to include on the page made it impossible to just use a template without a lot of editing. I can envision this being a site worth maintaining as my work with educators increases. I am already finding that I want to add additional subpages.

It was an interesting experience to look through a digital lens and see what others see when they Google me, check my school website, Facebook, Twitter or Google+. All of them represent a different view of my life. I will add my own professional site to the mix with this site. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Start to Finish DIY Webinar

Having watched and analyzed a webinar it was time to do my own.

I have attended a few webinars and presented two of them. I have given presentations that were live streamed for virtual conference attendees. Also, I am familiar with the process of planning and giving presentations and workshops. The experience of presenting via webinar is unique. You have an unseen but interactive audience. Putting this together takes more work than I realized. This week I had the chance to do it all myself. 

This week I tried to do it all myself. I planned the presentation, wrote the script and was ready to tell the story of implementing the 20% project in a classroom. The steps that were new started with picking the service for the webinar, scheduling and promoting the event, running the technology and moderating the webinar. All of these take time and would have been easier with a team of experts.

The service I chose was This tool has has a minimum plan that is free and offers basic broadcasting, screen share, a chat window for interaction and recording capability. It was not completely intuitive, but using their help tab was useful most of the time. It does have an event scheduler to help design a flier, share the event through social networks and will allow posts to the event. Software had to be downloaded to my computer to broadcast through the service. I realized during the first test run that it would take one computer to broadcast and another to monitor the webinar and chat window.  I grabbed another lap top and set up a separate event brilliantly called Test Run, but I did not understand the each event had a unique stream name. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why Test Run was not showing a broadcast, while everything else was working just like it had the for the first test. It turned out that I spent the whole frustrating time broadcasting through my 20% project webinar stream instead of Test Run. Yikes! I hope no one saw that crazy broadcast. Fortunately the early broadcast could be deleted and I did figure out how the chat window and record worked. So the technology portion was ready to go.

I picked a time in the evening, not realizing it was opposite Scandal. I wanted enough time to plan and practice, but I also wanted to keep it during the work week and Friday night I would be at the Allen Eagle football game. (The games are Texas high school football at its best!) I created a poster and sent it out through Twitter and Facebook as well as emailing my classmates in my Master’s Degree program. I sent reminders through Twitter up until the event. I did not want to over promote myself, but perhaps I erred by under promoting.

The night of the even, I set up early, sent out another reminder of the event through Twitter and crossed my fingers. I had an audience and the broadcast went without a hitch. I asked questions that could be answered in the chat window and monitored the window for questions. I had two people attend and we had some minimal interactions towards the end. My presentation was much shorter than I expected since there were not many questions to pause to answer. The recording was much longer since I set up early and it runs the whole time. (The video below has been edited to eliminate the wait time due to early log in.)

Now that I have gone through the process alone, it could be done in the classroom. I would try a different tool such as Google Hangout so that we could actually interact with a few people as well as broadcast and record. There are enough jobs to involve an entire class with many abilities and interests in the preparation and broadcast. There would be technology hurdles and internet safety issues to address before broadcasting from a class. I do believe the experience and learning would be worth the efforts of everyone involved.

20 percent project webinar from Kathryn Lanier on Vimeo.

Learning from a Webinar

I have been using video to teach in my flipped classroom for four years. Oddly, I had never considered teaching with a webinar until this week in my Master’s Degree program where the focus has been on webinars as a teaching tool. I chose a webinar about using flipped classroom methods in adult training, Extend the Shelf Life of Your Training: Lessons You Can Implement from the Flipped Classroom. This topic is interesting to me as I am transitioning from the classroom to working with teachers using technology.  With a dual purpose, I participated in the webinar.

Matt Pierce and Ryan Eash created an engaging presentation with beautiful illustrations and very little text. They conveyed their information with voice and engaged us with a variety of interactive features found in the webinar service, Blackboard Collaborate. There were many options for interacting including an interactive white board feature where comments could be added by the attendees. They did a good job helping the attendees find and use the tools like “thumbs up/thumbs down” and the text and draw, but some of it was still difficult to use effectively. The chat box was lively. The time only allowed for only some questions to be chosen for response.  With a large audience real conversation was unrealistic, but there were opportunities for feedback and assessing knowledge. One of the surprising benefits of the webinar format was when the presenters were covering information I already know, the history and basics of flipped learning, I could do other things and really listen when they were talking about how to use it with adult learners. I was not distracting others during that portion of the webinar by being visibly off task. I was able to access knowledge of experts by attending the webinar.

This access to experts could be helpful in the classroom. Often there are times when it would be more meaningful for students to see how the topic they are studying is used in the real world. When choosing my webinar I saw there is a great variety of webinars available and many are appropriate for involvement in the classroom. Review sessions via webinars would serve students who could not physically attend the session due to scheduling. The ability to record the webinar insures students throughout the day will get to see the same presentation, even if they cannot interact. I can also envision a group of students using a webinar as a way to reach an authentic audience to share results of a project or experiment. Like many technology tools, once you find one use and give it a try, others start to appear. 

Eash, R., & Pierce, M. (2014, October 9). Extend the Shelf Life of Your Training: Lessons You Can Implement from the Flipped Classroom. Retrieved October 9, 2014, from

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Social Networking for the Quad Copter Project
My Scientific Research and Design (SRD) students have been given an unusual opportunity. We have been challenged with choosing and building a quad copter that is capable of taking pictures. This is the largest project we have undertaken thus far. We will have to plan, divide the responsibilities, track progress and continuously communicate. We will also need to communicate with our industry experts who have volunteered to help us be successful. Social networking web tools will be a key to accomplishing our task.

We have started the planning stage of this project. The first step is learning about quad copters and the physics of flight. For efficiency, students need to share the resources and information they find as well as comment on their contributions. Each student is expected to contribute at least one link or relevant information to a Padlet page. This will give students an engaging platform for sharing information and allow me to evaluate the relevancy of the resource and give credit to students when they contribute. As more resources are found, additional pages can be set up to keep things organized. We are also doing some self-evaluation in the class to see who has some of the skills we anticipate needed and who is willing to learn others. To collect this information students are collaborating on a google document. Once again, everyone is expected to participate so that we can plan effectively.

We need to establish our essential questions for this project. Partners have been assigned to read an article and share what they have learned on large posters. After all students get an opportunity to review the posters we will use a google document to collect thoughts, create essential questions and a learning plan. Students will be asked to participate in an online discussion identifying what they believe to be an essential question and a possible way to find the answer. They must also respond to a classmate with a question or constructive comment. This could be accomplished with a collaborative google document or using Edmodo, we will be using Canvas learning management system for our discussion.

With questions established and plans made for learning we can choose our kit, divide into teams and start the learning while waiting for delivery. From this point forward, teams will be expected to continue contributing to the Padlet page. Additionally, each team will maintain a blog on Kidblog that all students and our experts can access. By recording updates, progress, learning and challenges each week everyone will apprised of the work each team is accomplishing. The hope is to compile a class blog to share with the public each week.

This is an exciting project and by using web tools to network we will be able to more effectively communicate with each other, the experts and the public. Students will know what is being done by everyone in the class and can help each other solve problems. Our experts can track our progress without leaving their workplace. There may even be an opportunity for a Skype, or similar video phone, session with our experts if school technology allows. Improving communication through social networking web tools will help this project progress smoothly.

Twitter Challenge - Build Your PLN with Imaginary Friends

This week my course work included a social networking challenge. Every day I had to follow 50 new people and tweet at least 6 times. I have been hesitant to increase the people I follow since I do not get around to reading the posts from the 300 people I was following already. But a challenge is a challenge, so now I am now following 671 people. Most of the people I follow are educators focusing on educational technology and flipped learning.

I am an active participant in the #flipclass chat. The chat is weekly on Mondays at 7 PM Central Time and is an energizer for the week. Each week in an honest, reflective and helpful way, ideas are exchanged, questions are asked and answered and best practices are analyzed. The topic of the chat changes each week and new people are welcomed into the discussion. This chat goes by fast and is one that I look forward to every week. To keep up with the chat I use Tweetdeck, and Twitter on my laptop and my phone to keep up with notifications. All of that technology is not necessary, but it helps me until I get better at using Tweetdeck. 

In the spirit of the challenge I added two additional chat to my list, #iteachphysics. This was the first time I had been part of the chat. Participants were active and honest. The focus this week was standard based grading. It appears that this chat will be similar to #flipclass with teachers who are trying to improve their practices for their students. #oklaed was talking about flipped learning, so I hopped into that chat. I was able to answer some questions and have a great discussion about flipped learning with low tech schools. I had hoped to find other chats so I checked @cybraryman's web site.  Jerry Blumengarten keeps a schedule of chats for educators. He also has other great information about building a professional learning network and some superstar educators to follow.

Following 50 new people each day seems excessive, but it turns out to be easier than I thought. I did not want to just randomly follow new people. I started by following people from the chats that I had interacted with. Then I looked at who some of my favorite tweeps follow and added them. Each time I followed someone more suggestions popped up. I am sure I missed a few by clicking too fast, but they will pop up again sometime. I already had some of the superstars from Jerry Blumengarten, but I used the opportunity to add a few more to my list. I added others by searching on topics that are of current interest such as #PBL and #edtech.

This challenge had some interesting results. I was checking my feed more often. I have a new source of collaboration and guidance for my class that is currently building a quad copter. Many people are sharing their blogs and other interesting articles they have found. Without seeing the tweets about articles pass by I might never have read the timely information that was right at my fingertips at a convenient time. Articles I want to read when I do not have time can be marked for reading later. I made some new connections and time will tell where they go. 

I fondly call the people I interact with through twitter imaginary friends, most people call them tweeps. Since starting to use twitter at the Flipped Learning Conference in 2012, I have had the honor to meet some of them and build real friendships. Even if we have not met yet, we still learn together and work to improve our methods for our students. I look forward to building my professional learning network
and making new imaginary friends.

Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Becoming a Teacher

This week the assignment in my Master’s Degree course was to create a video using only a phone. Seems simple enough, but the topic was "I knew I was going to be an educator when..." Also, the video had to include voice, photos, video, and audio from only a phone. Fortunately editing could be done with another program.  I considered a single take, a paper slide video, and white board drawings. With time limitations and my questionable art skills I chose to piece together a video from elements created with my phone. I used my iPhone to take pictures and videos and Camtasia to edit the video. There were some interesting challenges with both the theme and the limitation to one device. 

 With the theme being reflective over a time that predates digital cameras and cel phones, the pictures from the time I knew I wanted to be a teacher are in an album somewhere, if they even exist. For this project, pictures would have to be collected within the week of the assignment, already exist or be chosen from Google searches to reflect the theme. If I did not already have quite a few pictures from my classroom for presentations and training, there would have been much less variety of personal pictures and more generic ones from internet searches.  Another challenge was creating a word cloud with an iPhone. The websites I had used previously require Flash and would not work. I was able to find an app, TagCloud to make the word cloud, but it cost $0.99. The music in the project is provided by our marching band. (It is at the end of the video. I did not have the heart to cut out the band students in the interest of time.) Using music from the editing program seems like cheating and the music on my phone has copyrights. I could have searched the internet with the phone for some free music, but transferring files from the iPhone to a Windows laptop is not always straightforward. Pictures and videos had to be copied to the laptop, saved and then imported into the editing program.

It was surprising that the limitation of a smart phone was actually not all that limiting. The phone has internet access and images were easy to find and save. An app was available to add a little extra touch.  Taking new video was easy. I only needed to access the camera and hit play. Having gone through the exercise, it is reasonable to assign a similar project to a student and expect success with minimal frustration. Access to an editing program is helpful but not necessary. If the assignment is structured so that students can use one take or use a method such as a paper slide video they will not have to know how to use an editor. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Making Mobile Devices Learning Tools in Middle School Science

You might think that allowing middle school students to use phones during class would lead to chaos. Actually, with guidance from an innovative teacher they lead to learning. Stacy Lovdahl has found that phones are a great learning tool for her 7th and 8th grade science classes. Her students have been using phones in the classroom for over five years and when her school implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) policy she had already been using them regularly in class.

When BYOD was introduced the hope was that students would bring their laptops to class for instructional use. Over time and with inconsistent use, the heavy laptops stayed home, but phones continued to be carried to school. At first, phones were a distraction in class. The school policy allows for instructional use of devices only. Students are not allowed to use them in the hall or between classes for personal or entertainment purposes. This consistency within the school and daily use in class help maintain the expectation that the devices are for class work only.

Stacy found that with daily purpose and advanced planning the phones were becoming a regular part of class and less of a distraction. She uses phone applications such as Socrative and Kahoot to check student learning in ways that are engaging and give fast, easy to interpret results. An advantage that phones have over computers is there is no waiting for powering up, booting up and logging in so students can quickly get to work. Students use their phones for projects and research. Stacy’s favorites are the research projects that end with student created videos. Students research topics such as physical versus chemical , biomes or cells and share what they have learned with the class. Even the most shy student can be successfully included in creating the videos. Instead Stacy lecturing about the entire topic, students are becoming experts and sharing their knowledge in their words and voices.

From start-up to daily implementation, there were some challenges and some surprises. In a community with low education levels and high unemployment, one might expect young students would not have access to smart phones. Surprisingly, almost all students have regular access to a smartphone with a data plan. For those students there are class computers available. Another challenge is teaching students when and how to use the phone during class. Setting a routine helps students understand how to use the phones in a classroom as well as set the expectation that they are needed for learning every day. By keeping parents informed of the purpose and expectations of the phone use parents understood their importance and made sure that data plans could accommodate the lessons. For a teacher, the variety of devices in each class can be overwhelming. It is unreasonable to expect the teacher to know how each device works. Meeting this challenge in a creative way, Stacy appoints Chief Technical Officers (CTO) to be the designated expert in one particular device. The CTOs are the leaders charged with instructing and sharing students with like devices. This allows Stacy to focus on the learning instead of becoming an expert in every device. Communication, planning and creativity are key to successfully including devices in lessons.

Stacy is an innovative teacher who uses flipped learning and technology to engage her students and colleagues. She has taught middle school science for 14 years in Catawba County, North Carolina. She is currently the Instructional Technology Facilitator for her district. She is a lifelong learner and educator and shares her ideas and expertise with colleagues and her professional learning networks on Google+ and #flipclass on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @bravenutrino and her blog can be found at sciencetoybox.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

These Web Tools Are Brought To You By the Letter P and the Number 3

Padlet, Powtoon and Physion

Hunting through directories of web tools for the classroom like and can be both eye-opening and overwhelming. I find myself drawn to fun icons or names. This is not the best way to find useful tools. Using search parameters can help limit selections to items that are more related to the planned use. Even so, I am sure I missed some good tools. For me, the ideal tool is one that is free, protects student identity, web-based, intuitive to use and has more than one possible application in the class.

I chose to try Padlet, a web-based pin board, Powtoon, a web based presentation creator, and Physion, a physics simulation creation tool. At first glance, all three are free to use and look engaging. Padlet and Powtoon are web-based and require an account to create items, but not use or view. Physion requires software be downloaded to try the tool and has a web-based library to share created items. All three can be used by teachers to create lessons or by students to create products.
Padlet is a web-based pin board creator. After creating an account, the most difficult step is deciding what you want on a wall that would be worth sharing. I decided to create an overview for an upcoming unit. The tool is clear and in a few minutes I could create, edit and share a wall. Privacy can be set in a variety of ways. You can allow anyone with the link to add comments, pictures or links and move items around or just allow viewing, or keep it completely private. Posts can be moderated by the owner to protect students and the wall. Padlet also provided embed codes. I was able to embed the wall in our district learning management system (LMS). Students will be able to add pins either by going straight to the link or within an LMS assignment. Like many other tools, as you use them, you get more ideas of how to use them. I see this as a way to brainstorm as a class to identify main ideas, big questions and sharing what was learned in class. I also see it as tool for curating information for students on specific topics and student created videos and blogs. If students choose to set up accounts, they can create their own walls to collect information and show their learning. I will definitely be sharing this tool with my students.

Another tool worth sharing with students and teachers is Powtoon. With Powtoon, users can create short presentations in the form of simply animated videos. The videos can be shared in a variety of ways. This web tool is free with an inexpensive educational upgrade available. The free version did not feel limited. The educators account allows for longer videos and video downloads.  After logging in, the user screen is uncluttered. Creating an animated presentation is intuitive. Editing and changing the video is simple and there are a lot of options for the free account. There are templates for lessons and a way to upload images. I chose to create a personal video for my daughter’s upcoming wedding. I spent about one hour working on getting everything just right. It was easy to upload to After one use, I am confident I could create a new presentation in half of the time.

One of the biggest challenges I had with this site was more of a personal problem. I am so accustomed to web-based sites saving work automatically I did not save frequently. Flash player kept crashing and I was forced to restart from scratch. This is easily overcome by using the save button often. Powtoon has a forum for adding ideas for improvement to the site. I requested they consider auto save or recovery. It will be interesting to see their response. Over all I enjoyed this tool the most and will use this for creating some video lessons, profession development videos and encourage students to use this for the projects where video reports are a choice.

            In order to even being to understand Physion, software had to be down loaded to my laptop. I always hesitate to do this without some research. There are also added complications when downloading software to district computers. The demonstration videos on the website were more of a showcase than information. I downloaded the software and started trying to create something. The vocabulary and controls on the screen are specific to programmers and not intuitive. Even creating a shape requires left and right clicking with a mouse. I had hoped the process would be friendlier for a novice. There are tutorials and practice exercises. Unfortunately I do not already know how to code in Java. I will have to learn, then create, then share. It will be a while before I have anything to use in a lesson. Since programming is not part of the curriculum, this will not be a site for a student who does not already know how to code.

            Two successes out of three trials is not bad. Powtoon and Padlet have immediate applications in my classroom. Physion will have to wait even though it has possibilities in the right situation. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

URL Shorteners, QR Codes and Bookmarklets, Oh My

When choosing technology to use in the class I am quick to try what will help me and the students right now. This makes URL shorteners an easy choice, QR codes interesting and trendy and bookmarklets a personal thing.

URL shorteners are wonderful ways to get student to a website with a long URL quickly without the difficulty of misspellings. For the last few years, I have used and allows you to customize the shortened name which makes the URL meaningful and easier for the student. is easy, but you have to remember the shortened URL you create. To help my overloaded mind, I have used for the convenience of saving the shortened URL to my Google account. I have not found how to customize it, so the shortened URLs can be confusing if not shared with students in certain fonts. Either is better than asking a student to type in some of the very long URLS needed to access online simulations, labs and other resources.

QR codes are interesting items that have been talked about in professional development for a few years now. Students simply point their phones at the QR code, scan, and they are at the website referenced by the code.  I have use to create QR codes and shortened URLs. This week I tried It offers the ability to save the QR code. I have not had much opportunity to implement QR codes in the classroom for activities. I have used them for quick access to extra information. They require students to have the ability to use a QR scanner. Since most of the content is delivered in video lessons and applied in class, it is easier to provide a link for students to click on from the laptop they are using. Not all of my students have smart phones and it is unreasonable to ask them to download apps without parent consent. I did put a QR code on the parent night flier to provide parents a way to see my website. Since I share a classroom with another teacher, it was impossible to put both of our information pages on the screen in front of the room. The QR code was a fun way to give access to that information. Students were far more familiar with how to use QR scanners than their parents.

Bookmarklets are new to me. I like the idea of a quick click to access a website without the drain of running in the background. This can make laptop tools accessible like the apps I love on my iPhone. However, downloading and adding something to the toolbar on my personal computer makes me cringe. The computers at school are locked down making it impossible to add anything to the toolbar without the technology team installing the bookmarklet. I added the bookmarklet for keepvid, which is actually now, to my tool bar. I thought that the ability to download videos would be helpful. The install was simple. After installing it I had trouble thinking of a YouTube video that I wanted and could not download. Once I remembered one that did not offer a download, I realized that this was stealing. Now I might add bookmarklets in the future, but only for personal use.

So much of what is useful to teachers depends on the technology and set up of the tools available. Ease of use and immediate applicability make a difference to teachers who are short on time and searching for better ways to reach students. When trying new web tools, I always look for what is easy for me and the students to learn, easy to integrate with the content and will make the biggest change in student learning.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Web Tools to Record and Share Learning

Next week my senior science class will start one of my favorite learning activities, the 20% project. This activity is based on the ideas started at Google where the employees are given 20 % of their work time to pursue new learning or serve the community. At the start of the year students choose a topic or service project that they can work on in class every Friday for the whole year. There are only a few requirements; they are learning something new, they must work in class, the topic is school appropriate and they can create a plan showing it will last the whole year. Students must also keep track of their learning and are expected to share what they have learned at the end of each semester. None of this is for a grade. It is learning for the love of learning which is something that students do not get the opportunity to do and will serve them in the future.

One of the biggest challenges for me has been to find effective tools to help student keep a record of their learning and to share what they have learned with an authentic audience.  Students can use a paper log sheet or keep a note book. Some have even kept a blog. But many do not want to use paper and pen to record their work. A solution to this problem may be found in internet tools. Often, using the computer seems less like work to the student. They will write, or record, and share more readily when given the option to use a computer. By choosing the correct tools students will have a better product to share and an easier way to do so. I am looking for tools that are easy to learn and use, safe for students, are accessible at school and do not cost anything. I am evaluating three of the tools recommended in Untangling the Web by Steve Dembo and Adam Bellow that I hope to use this year.

Students have choice in how they record their progress and planning during the project. In the past I have suggested notebooks, paper logs, blogs and photo journals. The students who maintained their notebooks had the most success in progressing through the project and when creating their final presentation. The few who maintained blogs has similar success, but the blogs were difficult to keep track of and share with other students due to privacy issues. Sadly, no one has taken advantage of a photo journal or video log yet.

Kidblog is a web tool where teachers and students can set up a free account to blog as a class. I was able to set up my teacher page in a few minutes. It appears that it will be just as easy for my high school students to join my class and set up their own pages. This site also allows teachers to moderate posts and comments. Having this will not only protect the students but it will give me the opportunity to help correct posts before others view them. Parents can sign up to have viewing rights so they can see what their students are learning. Posts and comments can be limited to class members only or opened up to include any one who goes to the site. When opened up to the public, the moderator still can choose to approve either before they are posted. The upgrade cost is minimal and might be an option if enough students choose to take advantage of this service. With the blogs appearing in one place, they will be easier to access by other students. One issue that may be a problem is the space limitation. If students wish to post pictures or videos to their blogs they could use up the allotted space. Over all I am willing to give this a try for those students wishing to record their 20% project by starting a blog.

Since my students have access to laptop computers and iPods, video edit tools are very limited. I have one unit that ends in students creating a documentary or movie trailer instead of a standard written lab report. I would like to extend this same activity to the 20% project as a way to record progress and communicate learning to an audience beyond the classroom. The authors of Untangling the Web suggest wevideo for cloud-based video editing. The capabilities of this are similar to expensive editing programs like camtasia. Students can easily create videos using pictures and video clips the adding music and narration. This tool has a free version and an educational version that costs $149 per year. The free version is very limited in space and the ability to upload the product. Students could individually sign up for an account, but I would not have any ability to moderate their work. They do require names and email addresses to establish an account. Unfortunately this web tool does not meet my needs or the needs of my students. Students will still be able to use video to record their progress, but we will continue to use the programs we have.

To help students find good information and easily access the blogs and videos of their classmates I need a curating tool. Symballoo is a suggested site I have wanted to try. Since the publishing of Untangling the Web, SymballooEDU has been introduced. This is a free tool that provides a single place to post links to give students easy access. Setting up an account and getting started was easy. The account requires email verification for the teacher, but students can use the site without an individual account. The format is pleasing and can be changed to suit the user. I can add the student blogs for those who wish to use their own established blogs. If desired, the page can be set to private and shared with only those who have the link. It will be interesting to see if students will use this site to access information and view the blogs of their classmates.

Of the three tools, two will be worth trying in my class. Student information is either protected or not required, there is not cost and they were easy to use and will not overshadow learning. Wevideo would be useful for a school that needs a cloud-based program and is willing to purchase the license. Since our laptops have editing software already, that is not an option for my class. Now, the real test is what do the students think about the sites and will they really use them.

Dembo, S., & Bellow, A. (2013). Untangling the Web. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Teacher Tries New Tricks

Gary Strickland from Coleman Independent School District shares his experience implementing Google docs in the science classroom.

Deciding which of the abundance of internet tools introduced for use in the classroom are worthy to try can be overwhelming. Once a tool is chosen there are a number of questions to be answered. Just to get started, teachers have to know if it will work with the available technology, does the level and content match the curriculum, is it easy to use and what it will cost. Many teachers are wading through the process every day in hopes of finding great tools for their classrooms.

Gary Strickland, a physics teacher in Coleman, Texas, is one of those teachers who readily embraces technology in his classroom. Technology was needed In order to implement flipped learning in his science classes. He has gone beyond teacher use of technology and encourages students to try new tools. He understands that once students graduate, businesses and universities value experience with technology including the use of technology to communicate and collaborate. Google docs fill this need in his classes.

Google docs are readily available and already familiar to many people. The variety of documents available in Google docs gives Gary a tool for formative assessment as well as one for student collaboration. Based on availability within his district and recommendations from other teachers in his professional learning network he began experimenting with Google docs. By setting up a google form, a quiz or survey and sharing that with his students, he can discover what students have really learned without calling them out in class. This protects students who are shy and encourages those students who are hesitant to take a chance and give answers that are not driven by their peer group. He can also use question that directly relate to the lesson and inspire students to think along lines that will help them learn in future lessons. Students using Google docs and presentations can collaborate in class and out of class from different locations. The similarity to products found in Microsoft Office allows the focus to be on the content and collaboration rather than the technology.

Even though his district had already adopted Google docs, there were still some challenges to overcome before the tool could be used effectively with students. Some student only had access when at school, so extended hours have been established to meet those needs. Parents are often insecure with instructional methods that are different than traditional teaching methods. Transparency with both parents and administrators regarding methods and instructional techniques helps eliminate conflicts. In the class, time must be taken to teach students how to access and use the documents as well as the proper etiquette for collaboration. Addressing the needs of students, parents and administrators helps smooth the implementation of new technology.

I believe Gary would advise teachers to dive in and try new things. Teachers should plan ahead and be flexible when things go awry, but do not fear new tools or technology. He does emphasize that including parents and administration should be part of your plan. He would also encourage you to get to know the technology team in your school or district.

Gary Strickland’s website is He is also an active participant in the #flipclass professional learning network on Follow him at @SciAggie. On a personal note, he is one of my first invisible friends from #flipclass and I am looking forward to our collaborating on a workshop this fall at the Conference for Advancement of Science Teaching in Dallas, Texas. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Are Those Weird Symbols Under the Profile Picture?

Choosing a Creative Commons License

The premise behind creating a license is to give advance permission for sharing work with interested people  (Licensing Portal for Educators, 2010). For a teacher this may seem silly and up until now, I had not considered putting a license on my work. Plenty of people have shared their work with me and I am happy to share what I create with others. It is an added joy if my efforts can make another teacher’s day a little easier or help someone learn. As a teacher who is often changing lessons and improving activities up until the last minute, I understand the requirement to ask for permission is limiting. By granting certain permissions up front to a possible user, the work can be used at the moment it is found and the user is inspired.

I assume teachers are honest about borrowing and using the work of other teachers. In my role as a teacher, I create videos, lessons, labs and activities and many of them are posted in various places on the internet. I also give workshops and presentations on various topics for flipped learning.  I also know that others use things I have posted in one form or another. Some ask for permission, and I am sure that many have not. I do not mind if people use my work, but there are some things that would bother me.

Choices for the Creative Commons license range from permission to freely use material in any manner for any purpose to restricting how and when the material can be used (Licensing Portal for Educators, 2010). For items that I post, I do not care if they are changed or edited. I do feel strongly that none of it should be used to create income. I would also like credit for my hard work. I thought the share-alike license was unnecessary and adds complication.  I chose the license you see in the sidebar of my blog, giving advance permission if there is attribution and the use is non-commercial.

For those teachers who are kind enough to ask for permission before using my work, thank you for your consideration. You now have my permission, for what it is worth, enjoy and please return the favor by sharing improvements with me and others. For those teachers wanting to learn more about Creative Commons and getting your own badge for your website, go to the Licensing Portal for Educators to learn more and pick your own.

Licensing Portal for Educators. (2010, December 1). Retrieved September 4, 2014, from Creative Commons:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Made This! (Look What Happens When Teachers Are Coaches.)

On a trip to Seattle, my daughter and I were looking for something to do on the day we flew out. We had a half day and wanted to do something unique.  I found a studio, Seattle Glassblowing Studio, to visit and then learned that we could take a 30 minute glass blowing class. I was skeptical about what sort of learning would go on in 30 minutes. Certainly I have zero skill and there are serious safety issues to consider. Even so, we booked our class.

We arrived, selected the pieces we were going to make. I was still very skeptical and of course my daughter and I chose what seemed to be impossible creations. We were introduced to our instructor. He gave us goggles and showed us the equipment; metal poles, colored glass, furnaces heated to over 10000 F, and tools for shaping. He then explained the overall process to create the items we had chosen. He was reassuring and said he would get the glass on the pole from the hottest furnace, talk us though adding colors and using the smaller furnace. He made suggestions for how to sit, how to move, and what colors combine well. He explained our jobs with demonstrations. He reiterated that he would be there to help, give verbal instructions and all we had to do was follow instructions. He reassured us that following his lead, we would not get burned and we would be successful.

I started tot think the task we were about to undertake was possible, but I still felt it was very unlikely that we would produce anything like the items we had selected. If we had just chosen to visit and watch the artists, our learning would have already been complete. But, we dared to create something.

Our instructor got the glass on the blow pipe and handed it to me. My job was to keep it turning so it would stay round, add color, and reheat the glass to melt the color into the clear blob. The instructor was kind, clear and patient. I added the colors, heated the glass, twirled the rods and managed to keep the blob round. Once the color was added the blowing could start. He took the rod and positioned it so he could turn it, maintain the shape of the glass, and instruct me on how to blow the bowl. I had to blow based on his instructions and not grab the turning rod as it moved side to side with my hands. (I had been correctly advised this would be a temptation.) This was quite awkward, but really amazing.

As I blew, the glass magically changed into a ball. It was amazing how little air was needed to make any change in the shape of the hot glass. (There’s great science stuff here!) To get the bowl shape, I had to inhale and pull the top of the ball into the bottom of the ball. It actually worked! I had a bowl. The instructor removed it from the rod. I was so pleased with the work. I could hardly believe that a complete novice could actually successfully create anything close to the model. My bowl was blue and swirly, round and evenly shaped. Now it just had to survive the annealing furnace where it would cool slowly and then the shipping home.

The more I thought about this experience, the more I realized how much more my daughter and I learned from actually getting to create our own glass items. Being coached through the experience was much more valuable than watching or listening. We had both done something I could not have imagined doing.
Neither of the things we made is perfect. Plus, we had a lot of help achieving success. I do know a lot more now about glass blowing; how hot the furnaces are on your face, how the rod feels in your hand, what it takes to keep the glass round, how to add color, and tiny breaths make big changes. If it was just a demo or lecture I would know about what I knew before giving this a try. We had a great, patient coach who walked us through a difficult process and we were successful. I blew a blow, my daughter sculpted a flower and we are going back for more lessons!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Classroom Benefits of the 20% Project

The summer break gives time to reflect on the past year. One of the best classroom experiences has been our 20% project. Every Friday students had the entire class period to learn what they wanted to learn.

Now, this is not a free-for-all. It is actually very structured with a few non-negotiable rules:
                Learning must be new learning or service learning.
                You must work during class. (You can work outside if you wish.)
                You will present your learning. (We presented at the end of each semester.)
                You will keep a record of your progress and learning.

Baghdad Battery
While some teachers restrict the topics, the only restrictions for my students were that it is safe and school appropriate. After eleven years of being told what to learn and how to do it, they are on their own to choose. 

They choose what they want to learn, how they will do it, and how they will show their learning. This is not for a grade, it is just learning for the joy of learning. Every Friday they are given the chance to choose to do the right thing during class. They set the pace, decide what to accomplish and must decide if they are meeting their own requirements. Howard Gardner calls this using the ethical mind (Gardner, 2008, pp. 127-151). Students call this difficult. I call it real-world learning.

Genius Exposition
Since there is no grade assigned, teachers wonder how they will get the students to do the work. First, it is their choice of learning or service project. This will help them embrace the idea and become engaged. Second, the hesitant will see others dive in and love what they are doing. They will follow along with some coaching. Lastly, students have an audience for their learning. They must present at the end of the semester. In May we hosted our first Genius Exposition. Friends, family, and community members were invited to attend and see the wonderful work our students have done. They can also opt to keep a public blog.

Since these projects are primarily individual learning. The opportunity to learn to work with others has been limited. According to Howard Gardner learning how to use the respectful mind and work together is an important part of learning (Gardner, 2008, pp. 103-125). Next year, to encourage more interaction between students, I am setting up a peer review process where the student of their choice comments and guides the other through the process. By giving students the opportunity to give constructive criticism and comment politely and professionally they practicing skills for coaching and collaboration they will need in the future.

The Gariphone
Being a guide on the side for this experience I have had the joy of watching students learn how to learn. They struggle with the freedom and then embrace the opportunity. Student who never smile or speak are sharing what they are doing with others. I have the chance to see what students really want to learn. I have watched students start a novel, begin an illustrated movie, create a recipe from least favorite foods, build an original musical instrument, write a musical, compose music, and design a car. It is amazing the things I have learned from my students. 

More information on the structure of the 20% project in my classroom can be found at 20% project.

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Press. p. 103-151.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Respect and Good Work in a Bubble

I teach Scientific Research and Design (SRD), an elective science course for seniors, in the largest high school in Texas. Allen High School has over 6000 students. A week ago our community filled the American Airlines Center, where the Dallas Mavericks an Dallas Stars play, to celebrate the graduation of over 1500 students. There is only one school in our town, so eventually every kid in Allen is together; all income levels, all ethnicities and races. In a school the size of a small town it is important to provide opportunities within a classroom that not only teach the content but build community and foster good work.

With such a large school it is often the case that in a class of twenty five students any given student may only know one other person. I have had cases where a student who has lived in our community their whole life is in a class with no one they already know. We also enroll one hundred to two hundred new students each semester. SRD is problem based learning and it is essential to build a collaborative environment. Students must learn to work together with others outside their usual groups. To give this opportunity (or force the issue) at the start of the year, the first project begins with small groups selected by the students and becomes a whole class project. Students are tasked with designing a bubble out of a piece of plastic 50 feet by 10 feet that can be inflated with a standard box fan, has an entry, and can contain twenty students comfortably. The bubble will be used during the year by our class and then given to an elementary science teacher to use for lessons in the future.

In small groups they create proposals and model of their bubble. As a class we chose solely from the written proposal and model. After an opportunity to collaborate with the whole class to improve the plan, the chosen bubble is built for the whole class. The designers of the bubble are now the project managers and other jobs are assigned based on conversations about abilities and interests. Everyone must have a job every class period.

While students begin with a group they are comfortable working with, eventually they have to learn to work with everyone in the class. Personalities clash, skills are discovered and students learn to interact with one another with a goal in mind. Students range in academic ability from the struggling student to those taking Advanced Placement courses. Some students have never built anything before; others are welding barbecue smokers in other classes. They all must figure out how to relate, communicate and cooperate with one another. The expectation is that all discussions will be polite and constructive. This takes practice. Students have to learn to replace “that’s dumb” with “the problem with that is _____, and _____ might work better”.

One of the key steps in the project is between the selection and the build. This is the time where the class has the opportunity to be sure they are building the best bubble possible. The short time allotted for improvements to the bubble design is often painful for the winning designers. The class chose them so they must be the best. The other class members can go to the designers and suggest elements that they used that would improve our final product. It is difficult for the designers to hear some of the criticism, but they must listen and figure out a way to include the improvement or explain why the improvement will not be incorporated. This process helps student reflect on their work and learn to collaborate to improve their final product.

During the build more ideas pop up and opportunities for trouble shooting always present themselves. As they work through the process they must keep the goal of building the best bubble in mind. Every idea and solution must be measured against the knowledge that this is going to last for years and be used by other, younger students, and perhaps even their favorite elementary teacher.  This project breaks down walls between groups in the class. It also gives students a taste of what is to come throughout the year. Plan, try, make mistakes, learn, fix mistakes, learn and do your best work every day.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Digital Twist on the Word Wall

A word wall is a common sight in a classroom. It is useful for introducing and reinforcing vocabulary. Its usefulness is obvious in an elementary, language arts, or foreign language class where vocabulary lessons are part of the curriculum. In my physics class where there is not enough time to really teach the core of the curriculum, the word wall has become an educational decoration. The main problem is how to use a word wall in a flipped classroom where there is very little whole class instruction.  There needs to be a way to adapt the word wall for individual or small group work time.

Personal Word Wall
For vocabulary, I introduce, define and explain new vocabulary in the video lessons and provide a list of new and commonly misunderstood words. Based on some of the questions and responses from students along with physics word barf, I can tell this is not quite enough work with the academic vocabulary used for physics. For a student paced classroom, I created the Personal Word Wall activity. In this activity students use the vocabulary to describe and analyze the physics found in a photograph. Then create a digital poster, single presentation slide or sharable document. This allows the student to think about the physics, process how their thoughts can be expressed using academic vocabulary and create a product that communicates their learning. The work is compiled to create a whole word wall for the class, giving everyone access to vocabulary with pictures and descriptions.  With the ability to narrate as a choice, students who find writing difficult can still express what they understand about the topic. Pictures give an interesting visual reference to engage students. By using real examples, students are forced to move beyond the diagrams used in lecture and see how physics really applies in the real world.

I am looking forward to trying this next year. This version of a word wall activity, happening at the start of a lesson, has more instructional value than waiting for review day.