Wednesday (12/7/2016), the Media Specialist at one of my high schools, Nan Lanford, and I put on a BreakoutEDU experience for the staff during all four planning blocks. We each heard about BreakoutEDU earlier this semester, and we have been excited about the possibilities of bringing this experience to the teachers and (ultimately) the students. BreakoutEDU is a learning game based upon the recent escape rooms wherein participants are locked in a room and must solve multiple puzzles in order to break out within a certain time frame. The primary focus in these games is building teamwork and collaboration.
In a meeting a few weeks ago, I was completely surprised by a young teacher's comment that he did not like using technology. At all. I was shocked. He said he did not see a reason to use it and preferred to utilize lecture and book work. Double shock. How was this possible? A young teacher would not be who I expected to fight me on technology. He had grown up with technology - it shouldn't be intimidating to him. As it turns out, it wasn't that technology was intimidating to him; he just didn't care to use it. He saw no value in it. So I was left with the question - why do I use technology?
When I graudated with my Bachelor's in Secondary Social Science Education in 2006, I left school confident in my decision to not allow phones in my classroom. I had been trained that they were distractions, and with good classroom management, I would be able to avoid having students distracted by them. That lasted for approximately one year. I spent a LOT of time my first year fighting the overwhelming tide of technology crashing into my classroom. During my first summer "break" (that I spent most of training on how to be a more effective teacher), I spent some time reflecting on whether or not this fight was worth continuing. I began to wonder if maybe the key to technology was to just embrace it. I have always been fairly tech savvy, and I have enjoyed technology ever since elementary school playing Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe (see this article for GREAT pictures of those dinosaurs). So maybe technology wasn't really the horrific corruptor of children's minds that I had been led to believe.
I began to incorporate technology on a limited basis. When students wondered something in class that I wasn't sure of, I encouraged them to take out their phones and see if they could find out. Believe it or not, students became more engaged. I was starting to reach them where they were. As the years went by, I incorporated iCivics to engage with my Government students. They loved the games, and colleagues and I had competitions going for high scores as well! Eventually, my slow incorporation of technology became a snowball running down hill, and it grew larger and faster with every new tool. Within a few years, I actually flipped my AP Psychology class and utilized Twitter to divide and conquer the massive amount of vocabulary inherent in an AP course. (For more on that journey, check out a blog post I did for Sophia.org.)
All of this became a springboard into the position I moved into approximately a year and a half ago. What I have found over the years through my own battle against and then for technology is that technology has the capability to make your classroom more efficient, your students more engaged, and your teaching life more exciting and more engaging for you. However, true integration of technology becomes a transformative element in your classroom. If you were doing worksheets all of the time and you have moved to doing worksheets digitally, they are still worksheets. Contemplate using technology to move yourself one step up. It is not necessary for you to use all of the technology immediately. It's perfectly fine (and much more practical) to incorporate a few things at a time. As Vicki Davis said in her recent keynote presentation at GaETC in Atlanta, Georgia, innovate like a turtle.
Happy teaching with tech, my friends!
While working with students in a Physics class today, I was searching for a way for them to create a fun story on waves. Into my brain popped Mad Libs. I searched and came across Mad Takes, which is a fun way to create your own Mad Libs. I created a quick one to promote the switch to Office 365 in our district. What I love about Mad Takes is that it generates HTML code, which is then easily embedded into your own website. I loved Mad Libs as a kid (sometimes as an adult as well!), and now I can share that fun with students and teachers! If you have a chance, I would definitely suggest checking this one out. I know many of you are MUCH more creative than I am.
Happy teaching with tech!
Thursday was another great day at #GaETC16! I presented at 4:30 p.m. on Multiple Tech Tools for Social Studies. Below is the handout for this presentation.
What I have to say that I value the most about conferences like this is the true collaboration between teachers. It's one of the only times I see teachers have the time to sit and talk. While some of this seems like simple socializing, it rarely is. When you get close, you hear amazing things. Teachers, I believe, are inherently social, and we draw strength from collaboration with others! I want to really thank all of you who came to my session. I know it was late in the day, but I so much appreciated the time spent learning together.
Friday brought time to connect with more educators. Big thank you to my friend Kenya Ransey (@kenyaransey) for her patience in teaching me Voxer and adding me to some great groups. I am already learning so much. Happy teaching with tech, y'all!
Today was a great beginning to GaETC16! I was fortunate to see the entire Opening Keynote by Josh Stumpenhorst. I so much appreciated his perspective on technology, i.e. that the technology is not the most important part! While I may absolutely LOVE educational technology and technology in general, at the end of the day, it really does not matter how much technology I use if I do not know how to teach. Pedagogy is king.
What I also loved about Josh's presentation was his focus on making learning fun again. So often, I think we lose sight of how amazing kids really are. We take students who LOVE to learn at age 5, and by age 16, many are sick of school. Sir Ken Robinson speaks to that in his TED talk on how schools may be killing students' creativity.
Another session that I particularly loved was hearing Tony Vincent talk about "The Wonderful World of Widgets." Readers beware, after hearing that talk, you may be seeing WAY more widgets on this site. Special note on this one, because of Tony, you will see no "suggested videos" following Sir Ken Robinson's talk above. To make this happen on your own blog, simply find a YouTube video, click Share, then Embed, then Show More. Scroll down and uncheck "Show suggested videos when the video finishes."
Amazing sessions today. I learned so much, and I cannot wait for tomorrow! When educators work together and treat each other as professionals, we all win. I hope to see you at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 3, 2016, in Kenya 3-4 for my presentation on Multiple Tech Tools for Social Studies. Happy teaching with tech!
One area I have always struggled with is spatial reasoning. My family and friends have found it amusing over the years as I consistently get lost coming and going to even familiar places. I had a difficult time in the classroom because I would see a great design for desks that would greatly help facilitate collaboration, but when I tried to implement it, things would go horribly awry. It never failed - I always wound up with not enough room for way too many desks. Growing up, my Dad would pick me up from a youth group meeting and casually ask me how many people were there. I had no idea. It could have been 5 or 50. I had no way to estimate and was left with simply counting the people so that I knew I would have an answer.
With all that being said, I have really LOVED whiteboard animations. My fascination with them began when I first saw the RSA Animate of Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk on Changing Education Paradigms. The brilliant illustrations completely brought to life Robinson's conclusions on how education needs to evolve. I felt envy. True envy. Not only am I not spacial, I am also not gifted with an ability to draw anything. Even my attempts at stick figures are disappointing. I have accepted this inadequacy and made my peace with it. However, that has not stopped me from dreaming that I could do something like the whiteboard animations that RSA Animate does.
Enter VideoScribe. VideoScribe is a program by the United Kingdom company Sparkol that allows ANYONE to do whiteboard animations! They offer a free trial so that teachers can experiment with the animations. Included within that free trial are a large number of different animations that can be pulled into the video. Additionally, free music is available, and you can record your voice to explain the concepts to your students.
I decided to give it a shot. I took several hours and just played. I did not really have a purpose when I started, but as I played, an idea developed. I would create a video highlighting the amazing things happening in a school I was serving at the time. As I mentioned above, I struggle with spatial reasoning, so understanding that the board was not limited to my screen, and in reality, was infinite was difficult for me. However, the final product turned out great and has been used to promote the school.
If you have been curious as to how these whiteboard animations are developed, I would really encourage you to sign up for a free trial with VideoScribe. Playing with this program has been fun, and even my husband is using it this week for a project in his education class!
Happy teaching with tech, my friends!
Today, I will be presenting at the GCSS (Georgia Council for the Social Studies) Conference in Athens, Georgia. The presentation handout is available below. Please feel free to download it and use it! The resources are linked within the document. While this presentation was for Social Studies teachers, many of the resources are appropriate for all subjects!
Thank you to all of you who attended today's session and stuck it out even though there was no projector! I had a great time with all of you! What a wonderful session of collaboration.
Happy teaching with tech!
My husband recently went back to school to finish his teaching degree after years out of college. We kid that after years of living with a teacher, the fact that he still wants to be teacher must mean he is committed… or should be committed. As he is taking his first Education class this semester, it has been interesting for me to see the changes in the education of our next generation of teachers from when I was in school. One thing I found the most interesting last week was that he had an upcoming project, and the professor preferred the presentation be in PowerPoint or Prezi. While both of these offer interesting possibilities, especially with the addition of Office Mix to PowerPoint, this made me really want to highlight on this blog a newer presentation technology, Spiral!
David Geurin (@DavidGeurin) stated, “Classrooms don't need tech geeks who can teach, we need teaching geeks who can use tech.” Given that, there is no more important goal to me than to provide an easy transfer for teachers to new technology. One amazing thing about Spiral is its ability to import existing PowerPoints for ease of transition. This is accomplished utilizing the Discuss app within Spiral. With Discuss, a new presentation can be created OR an existing PowerPoint can be imported. While there are some size restrictions on these imports, I have found them to be fairly reasonable. Once the PowerPoint has been uploaded, questions and tasks can easily be added to the presentation. Much like Nearpod, the teacher has control over the students’ devices, and when questions and tasks come up, the students’ devices are paused so that focus can be directed to the task at hand.
Spiral has two other apps, QuickFire and Team Up. In QuickFire, a quick question is asked by the teacher, projected on the screen, and sent to students’ devices. Settings within QuickFire allow the teacher to determine whether students will answer in text or with a drawing. A timer is easily set, and an image can be attached to the question. In Team Up, the teacher enters a title and creates an overarching task. There is a possibility to differentiate the tasks into separate objectives. Spiral can team up your students randomly or purposeful teaming up in order to differentiate is easily done.
Spiral is one of my newest favorites in EdTech. I hope that you’ll check it out! It’s easily incorporated into your existing curriculum, and Spiral offers lots of support. Happy teaching with new tech!
Several years ago (2013), while working on my Ed.S. in Instructional Technology at Kennesaw State University, I was tasked with evaluating an emerging technology. I chose eReaders and examined my district’s financial status to create a presentation that attempted to justify moving from traditional textbooks in the classroom to eReaders. Although I strongly believed this was the wave of the future, I recognized that the technology did not really exist yet to make this happen in a widespread manner.
Today, I had the opportunity to meet with John Cochran, business analyst for TreeCabin. TreeCabin is a relatively new startup company that is aiming to bring what I dreamed of years ago into reality. TreeCabin began with an idea akin to Netflix for college textbooks. Students would pay a flat fee every month and be able to rent all of the textbooks they need for the semester. Textbooks would be protected within the platform so that students could not take screenshots of the materials, which kept copyrighted material protected.
From the initial idea for college students, a K-12 district platform has evolved. John previewed that proposal for me today. When I left the meeting, I tweeted the following:
During the Fall semester of 2009, an eReader pilot was conducted at Princeton University. The final report noted that students involved in the study suggested that better highlighting options, annotation tools, and true “flipping of pages” would be great additions to an eReader. TreeCabin has made these adjustments and more and offers a truly amazing platform that is tailored to adjust to numerous mobile devices.
Within the TreeCabin platform, K-12 students would each have a unique login with no requirement for an email address. Upon logging in, students will see a school district branded desktop with a bookshelf containing all of their textbooks for the semester or the school year. What makes TreeCabin truly amazing is the level of interactivity available with these textbooks. Students can zoom in on text, highlight, annotate, and more. Additionally, teachers can annotate and highlight then make those notations available to their students. With this platform, reading a textbook becomes truly interactive!
If you are a district contemplating moving to a digital platform for textbooks, TreeCabin (@TreeCabin) is definitely a company you should consider. CEO Paul Ngalle (@paulngalle) is passionate about making this work for K-12 students!
Almost a week ago, I published my first post on this, my brand new site. As I wrote, I felt compelled to share that a fear of failure can hold us back from trying new things. I wrote, and I published, and I sat back, pleased with myself for helping others.
The next day, I was to co-host my first webinar on Skype for my department. I felt confident in my skills, unwilling to allow a fear of failure to hold me back. The first show went so well! Our presentation was great, a high number of attendees, technology mostly worked, and comments from the audience were complimentary. Then, unbeknownst to me or my co-host and sometime between our 3 pm and 5 pm shows, disaster struck.
We had left our laptops hardwired and ready to go for the 5 pm show. There were no power issues, no network problems, but everything still went haywire. Neither of us could present the PowerPoint we were using. The spinning circle that we all fear was present on both of our computers. I took deep breaths and tried to think rationally through the problem. Everything I tried failed. Frustration built and I wanted to cry. What had happened?
And then I remembered my blog post from the night before. Fear of failure holds us back. I rolled away from my computer for a couple of seconds and then remembered that our team lead was also a presenter. I quickly emailed the presentation to her and called with a request that she take over and show the PowerPoint.
An old saying, "Physician, heal thyself" came to mind. I had been so busy sharing what I just knew was beneficial knowledge with all of you amazing readers that I neglected to give myself time between webinars to reboot. Thank God for having an extra presenter who always answers her phone!
No matter how good we become with technology, failure is still always a possibility. Have courage, and try not to let that fear hold you back.
Leah Kurtz, Ed.S.
I am a Technology Training/Integration Specialist for a public school district north of Atlanta, Georgia. I am passionate about supporting teachers and students in transforming their classrooms using technology. I am a firm believer that technology should not be a special occasion; rather, technology is at its best when it is a seamless part of our everyday actions.