Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Slow Down to Go Fast

By now you have probably heard about more than just a handful of different teaching practices utilizing technology, technology tools, digital resources, etc. For sure it can seem intimidating, especially with the educational technology landscape evolving at such a fast pace. There are things that can be done to make it a little less scary and menacing. I wouldn’t say go ahead and ignore some of the great things you hear and read about, but simply put items on a list to remember to go back to (I use Google Keep). For the short term though choose one to three new tools, resources, or instructional practices to incorporate into your daily routine. This consistent use will allow you and your students to fully understand the benefits of the chosen resource, etc. This regular use may also lead to questions and concerns, which is also a good thing.  Sometimes the best thing that we can do to keep up with this train is to, “Slow down to go fast.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

Students as Creators

How many of you have looked up the typical weather patterns in a geographical area during a specific time of year before you booked a vacation there? What about reading a review of a restaurant on yelp, movie reviews on fandango or rotten tomatoes or a resort on trip advisor? I’m sure all of you have done at least one of those things before.

Fisherman are no different. For years, my brother in law and our families spend a couple of weeks in Maine around the 4th of July. Time after time we look up how the striper fishing is going in the Kennebec River only to find out it just isn’t the right time of year for that fishery in that location. But, our options are limited and we go anyway. Sure enough, an early wake up call and hours on the water later we only have a few small fish to show for our efforts. The last handful of years we decided we have suffered enough and have heeded the advice of different fishing reports and sought out closer bodies of water that hold my favorite game fish, the largemouth bass.

The point that I am trying to make in all this surrounds the fishing reports that I pore over or more importantly those reports I wish were available but I just can't find any evidence of. Without the knowledge that can be gained from reading reports and reviews, fishing on a new lake or even finding one becomes a much more difficult endeavor. The time that fisherman put into writing a fishing report can help countless others as well as themselves. The act of putting down on paper all the details of that fishing trip; water temp & color, weather, time, species, bait used, etc. allows the author and other readers to make the most informed fishing decisions before their trip. Without these fisherman creating these reports, it may take a lot longer to figure out the hotspots on the local lake.

Students also must be encouraged to be creators. Creators of information and not just consumers. The internet offers a global platform for users to put their thoughts and creativity on display. The same social networks that students use on a daily, if not hourly basis can be a vehicle for learning as well as for teaching others, sometimes without even knowing it. The ability to take some existing prior knowledge and apply it to producing something new and informative is an important and valuable skill to have. Being a creator is not always an easy thing to do. For me, simply writing this blog sometimes feels extremely daunting as the writing process is not an easy one for me. We must all do our part in encouraging our students to not be intimidated or afraid to represent their thoughts and ideas and present them to others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Back to the Well

wacky senko.jpgEvery fisherman has his or her“go to” lure. This lure is one that will produce fish in almost any environment regardless of the conditions. The “go to” may not catch the biggest fish in the lake but it will most certainly lead to fish in the boat. For me, this little lure is a wacky rigged Senko. It may not be the fanciest presentation out there, but I’ll hook into something every time out there. As you can see in the picture, the basic presentation of this lure shows the hook being held in place by a rubber band around the worm. This little tweak improved upon the original presentation of actually hooking the worm straight through the worm body. The hooking of the actual worm instead of using the rubber band would result in the hook pulling straight through the worm and losing that worm on almost every hookup or even on missed hits.  That small adjustment to the presentation of using that rubber band has made the presentation of this bait even more effective.

Every educator should have their “go to” tool just the same. This should be a tool that produce results each and every time.  Not only is it effective in its most basic form, but with small adjustments and enhancements it can take on a whole new life.  For me, a tool I suggest to take this role of the “go to”  is Google Slides. Students, as well as teachers can utilize this tool in many different capacities. As a simple presentation tool it is very easy for most students to use. Many students have begun using this is a resource starting in early elementary grades. Just like the little rubber band on the wacky rig, we can add small components to make Slides even more advantageous. The just released Explore button helps you design your presentation with ease based upon the content you put in each slide. You can mask images and make them take on a variety of shapes. Adding transitions and animations can give your presentation an almost movie like feel. These are just a few of the ways to step up educators and students use of Google Slides.

I wanted to go into more detail about one of my favorite ways to make your use of Slides a little different and more exciting. I refer to it as making your presentation interactive. Having  worked with classes on developing things like an “Interactive Renaissance Museum” and an “Interactive Art Gallery” there is much potential in implementing this type of activity across the curriculum. My next project using this type of interactive presentation development will be with teachers and students making a “choose your own adventure” story. The students really enjoy these projects and both students and teachers are pleased with the end product. Providing opportunities for students to be creators of information is such a big focus when thinking about technology integration and this type of activity is such a great vehicle for students to show off their creativity.

Here are two (Renaissance Museum, Virtual Museum) of the examples I put together when explaining this concept to teachers and students. Below you will find a video tutorial explaining the development of the Virtual Museum.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Getting them Hooked and the Importance of Engagement

Getting a chance to get out on the water these days doesn’t happen as often as it used to. I
have a wonderful wife and three small children ages six, four, and one. Things tend to be pretty busy, so if I get some time to fish, either by myself or with any of my children, I really try to make it count. In the past when I could be out on the water for hours I may be using a specific bait that would target the big bass on the lake. It didn’t matter if it took all day to catch a fish, the one I caught would be worth the wait. Plus, I could get back out there the next day and try again. Now, it's a little different story. I want to use a lure that is going to allow me and my daughter or son to catch the most fish we can. This lure that I choose has  to be effective for all sizes and types of fish. As a dad and a fisherman I have to know when it is time to go after that one huge fish or keep everyone engaged, excited and keep fish swarming the boat. It’s about being out on the water and most the time I’m just helping the kids fish without actually doing any fishing myself.

This same concept of using a tool to get the most bang for your buck definitely applies to my work with teachers and students. I am not looking to introduce a tool to a teacher that they may end up using with an individual or small group of students. Our teachers’ time is extremely valuable, I really have to make it count. The resources that I bring to the table, especially with teachers that don’t have a high comfort level with technology, are ones that can be applied to various situations and used with a variety of students and classes.

periodic table.jpgFor example, I may be asked to work with a set of Chemistry teachers during their PLC time. I can arrive to this meeting ready to provide a training on the best interactive periodic table out there. The use of this table can provide images, videos, historical information, you name it. But, the focus of this tool is narrow. Students can use it primarily only when they are working with the actual chemical elements. Instead of a training on using an interactive periodic table I may come to the teacher meeting with a tool that allows students to create an interactive timeline. Using this timeline, students can create an engaging, informational, presentation-like-timeline that includes images, audio, video, text and interactivity. Students are still learning about and working with the chemical elements, but they may be doing it by creating a timeline of chemical element discoveries. One of the timeline tools I promote with staff was developed by Northwestern University’s @knightlab and can be found here.

This emphasis on a tool that has the ability to be applied to other areas of Chemistry or different content areas has such a greater impact on teachers and students than one that has a narrow focus. A Chemistry teacher can now give an assignment regarding how the modern atomic theory came to be or the life of a chemist and students can use this timeline to create a product to explain their understanding. Students can walk into an art class and develop a timeline regarding the Renaissance or they can go to History class and create timelines representing a variety of concepts, people or events. The application of this tool spans all subject areas.

Don’t get me wrong, those specific tools and resources available, like the interactive periodic table or 3D solar system that can be virtually manipulated are extremely important and valuable to our students’ education. As teachers and technology integration specialists we should become comfortable applying their use in our classrooms. But, just like fishing with my kids, we have to know when to go after that lunker bass or simply keep everyone engaged, excited and coming back for more.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Beginning of the Trip

Although I started in this educational space in 2003 and have been incorporating technology in my practice, I can say that this is only my 4th year being charged with making technology the core of my job as a technology integration specialist for Medway Public Schools. The field of educational technology is of great interest to me and I absolutely enjoy my job and the people that I work with. Outside of school I have a fondness for the outdoors, especially fishing. A little while ago I began to think of the similarities between these two passions of mine. All these thoughts gave me inspiration to start writing a blog.

If I am going fishing it is usually for Bass, but there are many different species out there in both freshwater and saltwater. Each of these species is attracted to various types of forage. As a fisherman you have to know what lure or bait is going to give you the best chance at catching your target fish that day. Have you ever been to Bass Pro Shops or Cabelas and looked out across the aisles? More than a few choices, right? 

Teachers come across this kind of situation every day. In a sense, they have it harder than the fisherman. Most of the time, a fisherman will target one type of fish, analyze the weather, water temperature, clarity and time of year to then make the best decision as to what lure to try out that day. There may be a couple of specific strategies that are known to be productive for any given scenario. On the other hand, the students that are in teachers’ classrooms are so varied in their interests, personalities and learning styles. It is impossible for teachers to just target one type of student (fish). Teachers must be prepared to catch all the students, every day. 

Just like the aisles and aisles of lures available to fisherman, teachers have thousands of apps to choose from, various technology teaching strategies to implement, devices to use, and so on. A good understanding of the resources available and their uses in the classroom is essential in effectively integrating technology into lessons and activities and engaging every student.

It is my hope that through this blog I will be able to share with educators some of those stories, tips, tricks, strategies, tools and resources that will help reel in all those unique and wonderful fish in your classroom. So I ask you, What’s On Your Hook?