Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SnapChat Got Me Thinking

Catching up on my blog reading, I stumbled upon this video about SnapChat.

Full confession here... I don't use SnapChat and have no intention to get started. However, the blog entry intrigued me, and I thought I would watch the video since SnapChat is so wildly popular with students these days.

Thoughts flooded my mind as I watched the video, but I'll try to limit them to two main topics.

1. What is the value of sharing my entire day (my story) with you and the rest of the world? This summer, I read a very interesting novel called The Circle by Dave Eggers (my review here), which was a real eye-opener of what our world's obsession with social media could become if left unchecked. As much as the idea of showing every aspect of my day sounds good, the reality is some things are best left unpixelated. John Spencer summed that up beautifully in this recent post (though he came at it from a different angle).

2. This is the direction our society is moving. Our faculty is reading Artificial Maturity by Tim Elmore this year. I'm holding off on a full-fledged book review till I'm done the book (one of only three I'm reading right now). Elmore writes about Generation iY  -- those born in the 1990s -- and their collective struggle to become mature adults. One of the causes of this phenomena is living life online. Our students are glued to their devices and spend more time sharing posts and pics with their friends than their own families. While watching the above video, I was stunned that Jerome Jarre could gain a million followers by just being online.

Based on what I've written so far, you can probably guess I see a problem forming in our world. The problem isn't SnapChat specifically or social media in general. My concern is that we'll spend so much of our time online that we'll forget to live offline.  To quote a character in The Circle, "Do you even go outside anymore?"

Even as I write this, I realize I'm guilty as charged. SnapChat isn't my thing, but I know I have tendency to be addicted to the social media I do participate in. If I'm not careful, my face can be pointed at a screen more so than the living, breathing human beings sitting in the same room as me, some of whom are infinitely more important to me than those people on the other side of the screen.

Technology will be a part of life for the foreseeable future.  Indeed, barring a real-life Revolution it would seem that being a technonerd will be a viable skill for everyone moving forward. While social media is not exactly a necessary thing in our lives, it provides good entertainment, connection, and even learning.  It's not a bad thing...in moderation.

Moving forward, our job as educators is teach a balance in these things.

  • It's great to be online with our friends, but when was the last time you spent a half hour with your family and no screen?
  • It's wonderful to see many things outside our own world online, but when was the last time you actually enjoyed something outside?
  • What is more important -- winning a level on a game or trying out something adventurous?
  • Learning from your device is good, but so is exploration and exploration.  When was the last time your hands got dirty?
What do you think? Am I off base here? I welcome your comments below. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SMART Boards: Reflecting On My Visit To Summit View Elementary

As the TechLead at my school, I have been tasked with finding ways to use our Sharp Aquos flat panel touch screen TVs.  (From here on out, I'll call them our big screens or IWBs for Interactive White Boards.) We have a small collection of these big screens in our school - one each in our two computer labs and two science labs.  Sadly these are not being used to capacity, except maybe as projectors.  

My desire has been to find ways to intentionally use these big screens as creative and collaborative tools rather than showing what the teacher wants the students to see.  This has not been an easy quest, but I have been learning how to better use them as teaching tools.  

The classrooms at Summit View Elementary School in Independence, KY, are equipped with SMART Boards.  (One teacher I talked to said she has had hers for at least six years.)  I spent some time observing three teachers teaching with their IWBs and learned a lot. 

In my research over the last few months, one thing I've learned is to ignore the software included with the IWB. Let me debunk that myth right now.  I watched Ms. Sparks teach her third graders about different types of rocks, how they are formed and identified, all while using the SMART Notebook presentation that came with the board. Let me say that in a different way.  Not only did she use the software, she used the "canned" presentation (which she tinkered with to fit her tastes). And she did a masterful job at it. Her students were engaged, listening, and participating. I've taught that lesson before, and I did a great job by making it boring -- reading it from the book and talking about it. Nope. Ms. Sparks let the software make it exciting.  When the computer used animation to teach vocabulary (and show how the rocks are formed) every student was paying attention.  

I also spent time watching two different math lessons (Ms. Shumate in 1st grade and Ms. Suchanek in 2nd grade).  They used Houghton Mifflin's online teacher pages to assist them in teaching the lessons.  In both cases, students had manipulatives on their desks. The IWB was used to mimic what the students should have had on their desks. Students were chosen to go to the board and virtually put the manipulatives on the screen. Since the software was aligned with their books, they didn't have to change terminology or graphic organizers, making the process easy for the teachers.  The lessons seamlessly wove from IWB to manipulatives to (on one room) student white boards. This gave spark to more classroom conversation.  "Do you agree with Billy?"  

Overall, I came to the realization that the IWB was merely a tool in the teacher's toolbox.  It did not define them as teachers.  They still used Cuisenaire rods and base 10 blocks. They still used white boards.  They still lead the conversations and asked great questions. They still needed to dig deep into their classroom management skills and use their primary teacher voices and facial expressions.  I got the impression that the SMART Board isn't used every day, but it was the tool of choice for today.  

True, I didn't find a secret Web 2.0 formula to make IWBs the greatest tool to hit schools since iPads, but I did see that it can be a great tool to teach the basic building blocks of knowledge and skills.  And that's not a bad thing.  

A few extra things. 
  • Houghton Mifflin's interactive site can be found here. Sadly, it doesn't appear to be free. 
  • SMART Notebook's software can be found here. It, too, appears to need a subscription.  
  • Ms. Sparks downloaded SMART Notebook to her student computers, including the interactive presentations.  This gives students another chance to check out the info (and the cool animations). 
  • SMART Notebook had a number of "quizzes" (for lack of a better term) sprinkled throughout the presentation to check for understanding.  These included matching (drag the term to the right definition), putting a check in the right box, and dragging a word from one side of the screen to the other to see if your guess was correct. The students ate this up.  
  • Keep the kids on their toes.  Pull popsicle sticks to see who goes next.  Those kids were paying good attention so they would be able to use the board and/or answer the next question to come up.
  • It's not easy keeping kids' hands off manipulatives and watch someone else tap the IWB.  However, the teachers did a good job of keeping students focused.  
  • All the classrooms had overhead lights dimmed (half of room off) and two had lamps on around the room.  That made  it easier to see the screen and created a homie ambiance.  I liked it.  
  • I learned that a group of butterflies is a flutter. Did you know that? The 2nd graders did.  
  • My school isn't the only one with intermittent connectivity woes.  Blessings on those IT people who keep things running as well as they do! 
  • There was one little girl who just loved my iPad and my laptop.  She was enamored. I hope she learned something about math today. :) 

Thanks so much to the faculty at SVE for allowing me to visit and learn from them.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Using Photos The Right Way

Deep down inside, I know that it's just wrong to grab a picture off of Google Images and use it in a blog post, document, or presentation.  To be completely honest with you, it's just way too easy to do it that way, though.  And, who really wants to be the picture police? It's kind of like the grammar nazi who points out the bad use of the word "and" at the beginning of the previous sentence. Still, it's best to teach our students the correct, unconfusing, and completely legal way to finding usable pictures online.  I put together this list for my students to use, and I'll happily share it with you. 


Perhaps the easiest way to find pictures for projects and personal use is to do a Google Image search for your topic. Save it and use it, and all is good...except one little thing. It could very well be illegal. By snagging a picture off Google Images (or Bing Images, for that matter), you could violate the original photographer's copyright privileges. For this reason, it's much more acceptable to use Creative Commons for your picture needs.

Creative Commons is a fancy term to describe sites that post pictures that can be used for free. It is desirable that you use Creative Commons sites for your pictures while at school. The sites below may be helpful for you.

  • photopin.com -- Free pictures. (Beware the first dozen or so pictures are "sponsored photos" meaning they cost money. 
  • thenounproject.com - Free icons. 
  • pixabay.com - Free pics 
  • openclipart.org - Free clip art. 
  • canva.com - Spruce up your pictures with special filters and words. 
  • easel.ly - Create your own infographics 
  • recitethis - Spice up your quotes with fancy backgrounds 
  • aviary - Use this free app to create your own memes and do other fun things with your pictures.

Of course, the best choice is to take and use your own pictures whenever possible.

Below are some great photos I collected or things I've created using these tools.