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: