Tuesday, September 25, 2012

EarWorm Challenge, using music to engage students

In 9th grade English we read The Odyssey, we read the Fagles translation and we read the whole thing.  I try to leverage the students interests into projects that get the students to think about the major themes in the story and to work together.

This class began with a journal prompt inspired by my own chance encounter with the word "earworm."

As the students shared their journals (very high energy) I played pieces of some of the songs.  Inspiration hit a second time and I designed the "Earworm Challenge" this challenge is essentially a mashup of some song and images or scenes from The Odyssey.  I asked the students to focus on books 1-6 and told them the videos had to be 30 seconds long or more.

Here is a sampling:

Another great example The discussion in class, the energy, the engagement it is everything I am looking for.  And yes there is a direct connection between "call me maybe" and the scene where a naked and dirty Odysseus approaches the beautiful princess Nausicca.

Responding to Student Writing (videos)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Student Engagement and BYOT

Friday, September 21, 2012

Building Your PLN, Chat, it is good for you

One of the best ways to build your PLN, is to connect with people. I love twitter chats for just this purpose. Below is a great storify capture of the #teaching2030 chat I participated in. (thanks @dlaufenberg) I didn't know the chat was happening, saw a question posted and I responded using the hashtag #teaching2030. An hour later I had new professional contacts, new ideas, and a renewed sense of worth. That is epic PD (like a boss)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Building Your PLN, Auto-Curate for Readability

Last night I was working with twitter open in another window and I hadn't clicked over for about an hour and I noticed I had 423 new tweets.

I honestly don't know when the traffic is heaviest on my feed, I am sure I could find out (if you know how, leave a comment). In one hour last night I had over 400 tweets and I only follow slightly more than 600 people.  That is a huge amount of information.  I read 3 of those tweets in that group of 423.  As for the others I don't worry about them.  The main reason for this is that I never try to read all of the tweets that come in, I use curation tools to help me read and recognize the ones that will be most relevant to me.
Curation is one of the keys to avoiding overload on twitter.  There are many apps that can use your twitter stream as a primary source and collect information based on the searches you set up.

Right now I have 2 favorites for curation, one that I read and the other that I share because it reflects the SM work I am doing in an attractive way.

I read my Paper.li newsletter.  Paper.li creates a daily summary of articles from my twitter stream while also picking up stories from G+, FB, and even Google Search.

The next Curator I enjoy is a recent find for me Rebelmouse. This site creates a "social media front page." This auto-updates to include my blog posts, tweets I have sent, articles I have liked. There is even a blog function so I can add items directly to this page. Rebelmouse found me during an #edchat and invited me to try the platform. I love the look of it and I like the idea of a "frontpage" like a SM calling card. Instead of sending someone to my G+, my Twitter, and my FB.  I can send them a like to my Rebelmouse page.
These tools allow me to find quality content while not becoming overwhelmed, and this allows me to relax and learn. (and learning is living)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cyber Begging for Schools, Please Help (us all)

I got a note  from my friend Michelle, she teaches at Andrew Cook elementary in Waukegan.  She is a second year teacher.  Michelle asked me to pass along a plea for her school for a "chase giving" competition.  I believe in her and her school, so I voted.  Here is the information:

Andrew Cooke Magnet School PTO - economically depressed area, budget slashed to almost nothing to the point of not having enough laminating paper... a magnet school for the arts and sciences with an antiquated sound system so that the 3 shows a year are not heard.

$10,000 for the first 196 charities...we to DOUBLE OUR 388 votes by wednesday.... Vote now on FB.

Now I will pause for a second to let you click out to FB, allow the app to access your information, and vote. (soapbox follows)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Engaging Students Wired for Distraction

How does being "wired for distraction" affect the classroom?

You have to be connected to connect

I believe in running a connected classroom, so I have a learning environment where if I don't inspire students to use the internet for "good" they will use it to meet their own goals.  While many argue that we have to create a quiet and distraction free work environment, we also must acknowledge that our students are trained to "check-in" to their devices on very regular intervals.

 What strategies can educators use to create engagement? 

Teach positive tech engagement as a skill:

So in this environment is is necessary to teach students how to manage their digital resources and engage the internet in a purposeful manner.  I use this challenge as the opportunity to teach my students about digital citizenship and how to use and develop Personal Learning Networks.

Leverage their pre-existing engagement

All of this falls under the basic idea of meeting the students where they are at, leveraging their pre-existing engagement into learning.  I once told a colleague, "If I have to crawl through a student's earbuds to get to them, I will!" Now I reflect on how fortunate I am that I can get at the kids through their ear buds, I can come at them bigger than life in a video, I can lead them on a digital journey.  All of this is possible because I am teaching them how to use their toys for work.  

Teach them everything you need them to know

My last piece of advice for this post is to not assume anything about skills or comfort with your students and tech.  If we look at them as digital natives, we need to indoctrinate them into our academic culture and shape them into digital citizens.  This requires meeting them wherever they are at and teaching every skill along the way (from managing login information to file naming conventions).  By teaching and modeling mindful application of tech to learning we can help all students realize more of the potential in themselves and their tech.  Learning is Living.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Tech Should I Buy my Child?

As a teacher toting an Ipad, a Laptop, a Livescribe pen, and 2 different ereaders around,  I get asked this question at least twice a week.  The parents asking are looking for an authoritative answer.  They want to know which tech is good for school and which tech is not.

The short answer I would like to give is this: parents should buy their students the most powerful platform that the parents are willing to learn how to use alongside their child.  I know that the device they buy for their 9th grader will be outdated before that student heads to college.  The question is, in the intervening 4 years which digital skills will the student have a chance to develop.

How capable does the platform need to be?  

(this is a question often inspired by the idea that students will spend less time gaming if they don't have a computer that does gaming well.)  The computer needs to be powerful enough to allow the student to engage in all types of creative expression. The key is not to try to limit what the student will do by hobbling the computer.  Distraction comes in all forms, I just downloaded a bunch of 8-bit games onto my Ipad, management of these distraction is learned through interaction.

If you were going to buy a new pen, and you needed to use that pen for the next 4 years, what would drive your decision? (available ink colors, quality of pen, ability to find the pen using the internet?, the ability of the pen to write on all types of paper?).

So the tech needs to be as capable as possible.  Over the likely short life of the device it will become less capable in relation to other pieces of available tech.  Buying the most capable and dependable hardware you can afford is an investment in prolonged functionality.  Although I have seen a number of enticing minimal devices (alpha smart anyone?), my suggestion is to get the best tech you can, but make a commitment to learn and exploit the full functionality of the device.

What tools can make the difference?

1. Camera
My 9th graders have 2 or 3 option of making a video during the year.  In the Eloquent essay class I teach we have talked about the rhetoric of VLOGGING.  Yesterday I was greeted in the hallway by a student holding a laptop open to me "Look! it is Roee, he is in Israel. Roee say hi to Dr. Patterson."  The camera built into the devices creates opportunity to produce original content in video form.  Our students watch more videos than ever before.  My goal is to prepare them to be Critical Consumer and Powerful Producers, so a camera and enough memory to edit video can be really important.

In addition my student in my class use their cameras to take notes.  When I write something on the whiteboard, they know they can pull out their phone and take a picture.  In fact I often have them send me that pic so I can post it to Schoology, our class LMS.

2. A full-sized keyboard
Even if you decide to ask your student to try to do everything on an iPhone, a full size keyboard (cheap Bluetooth ones are available) is a must.  While schools don't spend much time teaching cursive, many also don't teach typing.  A full size KB gives kids a fighting chance to begin to develop the muscle memory needed to type well.  (Otherwise they, like me will be looking at the keys their whole life, but at least I did handwriting worksheets for 7 years of my schooling.)

3. A fully-capable internet browser.
Whatever device students are walking in the door with, they need to be cloud-ready.  Our school email system is built on top of a Gmail platform.  This means all of our kids have Google Drive available to them. Drive  integrates well with many tablet apps including our LMS, Schoology.  Using the app, students can associate their Google account with their Schoology account and be able to "submit" assignments directly from Google Drive.
When I first started using my Ipad it did NOT have a fully capable browser and this was a problem.  As updates and apps have improved I find I can do ALMOST anything I need to on the Ipad.

Yesterday I saw a tweet "Ipad, I am sorry, I know you are not a laptop and I never should have tried to make you be one."

4. The ability to create, edit, share, and sometimes print documents.
Yes, the guy who has the blog titled "mypaperlessclassroom.org" just recommended you be able to print.  Students are going to be working with many different teachers and they will need to create hard copies of their work  The printing needs to be able to work via wifi, at the very least.

A final word of advice

Don't choose to buy a less capable tool in the hopes that students will misuse it less.  They will simply use it less.  If we want our students to make the move from digital natives to digital citizens, we have to give them tools and guidance in equal measure.

One more thing!

Don't be afraid of gaming, there is much good in gaming from social interaction to computer skills.  Gaming is just another piece of our digital life.  Now that I have finished writing this I am going to go learn some new words, playing Words With Friends. After all, learning is living.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Modeling a PLN for Students

In the first Ed tech class I ever took we learned about Web Quests. A Web Quest was a guided internet activity.  A big part of designing a web quest is finding resources that the students can use and showing the students how to get to the resources.

We never called what we were doing "curating" but when we found the resources of value and then used hyperlinks to put those resources within our student's grasp and we used text to describe why the resource had value we were curating.

Now some 12 years later, web 2.0 tools have automated much of curation, (a word my spell check does not yet know) and there are more ways to organize and tag web resources than ever before.  If I was supposed to use a web quest to teach my students to navigate the web 12 years ago, what kind of tools have been developed to meet the web's expanded functionality?

This is where I am using the concept of a Personal Learning Network to teach my students about digital citizenship.

What is PLN? PLN stands for Personal Learning Network.  It can be used to refer to an actual site you use to interact with others, such as the Educators PLN.  I often use the term PLN to refer to a way of interacting with the internet.  When I am engaged in my PLN I might have several browser windows open Claco, Twitter, and Diigo, for example. I am finding resources others have already annotated and shared on Diigo, I am assembling them into a binder on Diigo and I am running searches on twitter to find other resources to include.

Teaching students to use these strategies can help them transform how and why they use the internet.  Students may be "digital natives" but has anyone in their lives talked to them about tagging and fileneame conventions?

Before I turn my students loose into the world of digital resources, I give them a guided experience.  Using Livebinders.com, I develop a pre-made PLN, complete with web 2.0 discussion tool Todays Meet.

You can see that each resource has it's own tab.  The Kidblog page helps the students get to their blog.  The shmoop and Mythweb sites are there to assist in comprehension challenges.  I have included a link to the Butler translation to allow students to compare translations.

I also included a couple "resources" in the binder that I may not use in class, like the game and the rap.  Even after the first day students came in and told me they liked these pages.  I always load some good but extra content in because if a student wants to explore more there should be more available to engage them.

My students seem to have taken to the idea of the livebinders quickly.  I showed them a Graphic Novel adaptation of the Odyssey in class and one of their first questions was "Will that be on the Livebinder?"

The next step in PLN instruction will be to walk the students trough my process of finding and evaluating resources and giving them a reason to build a binder of their own.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gadget of the Day: my Ipad 4 Ed App List

Since I act like I know what I am doing and I carry an Ipad, a number of parents, teachers and friends have asked me which apps I recommend.

This list is really just an inventory of what is currently on my Ipad, for each app I will discuss why I have decided to keep it. There have been many apps that have cycled through my iTunes, but only the most useful and least annoying get to have a permanent home.

The apps I use for in my 9th grade Writing Language and Literature class fall into several groups.


Schoology is the LMS used by our school.  They are awesome and so in their app.  I love the product as well as the team behind it.  This platform improves everyday and is a great base for my students' online learning.  It allows me to share a calendar with students, make groups for clubs, create closed networks for discussing issues with other staff members.

Blogsy is a blogging platform for the Ipad and one of the few non-free apps I use.  This allows me to maintain blogs on both Blogger and Wordpress, and the app is equipped to connect to almost every blogging platform out there.  When I started using the Ipad last year I struggled to feel like I could produce good-looking content on the Ipad and this app allowed me to begin doing just that.

Twitter, I can't live without it and I never would have guessed it.  The Ipad plus twitter have had a profound impact on how I use the internet.  Almost all of the curation tools and apps I will discuss have their roots in Twitter.  There are many twitter apps out there (hootsuite, tweetcaster), I love the simple layout of the native twitter app.  I like the clarity and ease of use, although later I will discuss how other apps, like Hootsuite, help me exploit more of the potential of my twitter feed.


I found zite by reading tweets.  At the bottom of a number of tweets from people I judged to be expert twitter users I saw the line "via Zite." Zite's tagline is "intelligent magazine."  This app uses my twitter feed as a content filter and the magazine is created using information collected passively on my twitter stream.  The reading experience is very comfortable and the page layout is sophisticated, especially for an automated process.  When I was to sort I go to twitter, if I want to read I go to zite.

Diigo and Diigo browser  I was introduced to these tools during an ISTE 2012 session lead by Vicki Davis.  Her session made me realize that I could get so much more out of my online time, as could my students.  it was time for me to let go of the idea that searching means googling and embrace  digital curation.  The new focus is not on searching, but on sharing and indexing.  I loaded both Diigo and Diigo browser on my Ipad during the session.  I still don't know if I understand these tools enough to teach them, but I will soon.

Evernote had to reach a critical mass in the discussions I had with other teachers before I put the time into setting it up.  Evernote is an awesome connectivity, indexing, and annotating app.  Evernote allows me to index and annotate all types of digital content.  Photos from my device can me annotated with a voice over, creating mini-lessons on the spot.  Evernote has plug-ins for outlook, shortcuts for twitter, a partnership with IFTTT , in an age when connectivity, Evernote is everywhere.  These are just the type of tools and skills my students will need to be successful.  


Technology is changing reading. As a teacher and a scholar in literacy, I am alarmed with the possibilities in changing the reading experience contained in digital media.  I am alarmed because we understand so much less than we should about how the platform alters the experience of reading.  The tool requires us to develop new protocols, from looking up information to taking and sharing notes.  I came to the Ipad because I had to learn about ereading.  After using it for a year, I am sold on ereaders and below is really just the best of what I have had a chance to look at.

Overdrive Media Console
When I hear that a friend has gotten a tablet of any kind this is the first app I recommend.  This is really the best of the electronic world because OMC bridges the gap between my local libraries website and my tablet.  I can check out ebooks in several common formats as well as audio books.  The app helps me download the books and keep track of how much time I have left with each book.  on the Ipad the audio will play in the background allowing me to browse or even game while also listening to an audiobook.

Kobo Reader
I found the kobo app after I purchased a kobo touch ereader. I lik e the idea of using ereaders in the classroom for their potential to isolate the text from the rest of the internet.  (Imagine my disappointment when I found the touch had a browser built in.)  The Kobo reader app lets me open many different types of epubs, and the kobo bookstore carries the Robert Fables translation of The Odyssey.  Kobo is still building their platform.  Recently they expanded the "kobo reading community."  This is an intra-app community, connecting people who are currently reading the same book and allowing them to share notes and comments.  I can envision all of my students interacting in such a community, but I don't require my kids to use a certain ereading platform.  So right now I am the only person in the kobo community reading The Odyssey.  I love the ability to publish notes privately (only on my copy) or publicly (to Kobo community).   Another feature I love is the in-app lookup.  If you tap a word the app opens a window with dictionary definition, google results, and wikipedia entry.  This creates much less interruption in the comprehension building process.

Kindle App While there seems to be a good deal of disagreement on the Kindle market share, (4-22%) , there is no denying that Kindle has a firm and foundational foothold in the fiberoptic folio frakus (sorry).  With my own goal of being able to help students use their e-readers more effectively, this one is a must.  The native bookstore is robust, but it is not the only game in town.  I can read library books in kindle format as well as open books from Project Gutenberg.

When I bought the Kobo I also bought a nook.  I have not used the app as much as I have used the ereader itself. In fact, I just signed into the app and it says I have no books.  This is awkward.

Hats off to a wonderful, flexible reading platform.  I use it all the time to view PDF's on my tablet.  The reader has features like "read aloud" that authors can exploit to make their texts more dynamic.  One of the most exciting things about ibooks is the fact that Apple has opened the market up to allow anyone to create distribute and sell their own ebooks.  My goal is to produce students who are critical consumers and powerful producers, so this is one of my goals.  I want my students to create e-texts.  (and once I figure it 1/2 way out, I will turn them loose on it.)

Subtext is another app I would have to describe as seeming awesome, but I have not fully learned it yet.  The idea behind subtext is to develop and manage class-based book discussions within the ereader.  If all of my students were on ipads, this is how we would read any of the texts we were reading that are available in this app.  (for my class that list would include Twain's Innocent's Abroad and Macbeth.)