Great Lesson Ideas: Powerful Teachers Utilizing Powerful Tools

Great Lesson Ideas: Powerful Teachers Utilizing Powerful Tools

Collectively, teachers are the MOST creative and resourceful people I have ever met.

In my work with staff members in the last two weeks, I was once again blown away by the ideas that have been shared with me by SDW teachers who are working with students.  It is evidence that when you provide educators with powerful tools they find amazing ways to use them.

In an effort to inspire others, to jumpstart ideas, and to celebrate the interesting opportunities Waukesha teachers are giving to students to show what they know, I will share two of my favorite instructional practices that utilized technology.

Building Interactive Learning Modules in Explain Everything

Several teachers at Hadfield shared that they are building interactive learning modules for their students using Explain Everything on the iPad.

In this case they are teaching letters and letter sounds to Kindergarten students.  In order to create interactive lessons that include BOTH an instructional mini-lesson and a place for students to practice in the same file, the teachers are creating the lesson using Explain Everything.

On the first slide of the Explain Everything presentation, they are placing instructional videos (some that they have created or that they have found online) directly on the slide.  These are SHORT videos (just a few seconds to a few minutes) that teach the skill or introduce the concept.  In some cases they have even placed two or three related videos on the slide (Keep in Mind: Video files can become very large if too long, so select short videos if you want students to have success in getting the files downloaded onto their iPad)

On the following slide(s), the built "prompts" or wrote directions for the students to follow to practice the skill covered in the video.  This could be directions such as:  "Use the pen tool to practice writing the letter 'D'"  or "Type/write/record words that begin with the letter 'M'."

To share the files with the students there are two options. 

From Explain Everything you can share the file with others, but you MUST select "Project" file for this to become an interactive lesson for the students.

The teachers at Hadfield are using AirDrop to share the files with their students.  If students are in the proximity, this is a great option.

Another option is to send the "project" file to Google Drive, and then place the link in your Blackboard course to share with students.

How about checking on the student work?  Well, this can be done a number of ways.  A teacher can physically move from student to student, group to group, and look at each student's progress and evidence of thinking.  You could also have students package up the lesson and export it as a "movie" 
to their YouTube account (they all have one), or as a project or movie file that is shared JUST with the teacher via Google Drive.

Value Added

  1. This format closely links a mini-lesson of direct instruction on a skill/topic with some sort of immediate practice.
  2. The video allows the teacher to bring in other instructional supports - video from another source, a different way of teaching a skill, or even another student who can explain it to students in another way.
  3. The direct instruction mini-lesson is now reviewable -- the student can play, pause, and rewind the instruction until they truly understand (or can perhaps better speak to the teacher about what they do not understand).
  4. Once a library of these types of lessons are built up (consider building these with other teach-alike colleagues), you now have a variety of resources students can choose from (and we know kids value having choice).
  5. No instructional, subject, or age boundaries exist -- this works K-12 (and beyond) and any topic/skill can be broken down and instructed in this method
  6. The kids can share their thinking with any size audience.  In this case, every student is asked to make their thinking visible (to at least the teacher), and can actually share that thinking with a much larger audience if appropriate.

Carousel Stations with QR Codes

A teacher at South High School shared a strategy used to get students talking/thinking on a variety of perspectives and focal points on the same topic.

The teacher setup looked like this.  In advance, the teacher identified several websites, resources, or Google Docs that would serve as "prompts" for his students to discuss.  In this case they were all focused on the topic of heroes, heroism, characteristics of heroes, etc.  Then, using a QR code generator (here's an article with links to some of these types of sites), the teacher created QR codes, printed them, and set them out around the room.

When the class arrived (with their iPads already installed with a QR Code reader app such as i-nigma), the class was broken into small groups and asked to travel from station to station (in a carousel style, making one full rotation during the 20 minute exercise).  They then scanned the QR code, watched/listened/read the video/audio/prompt, and then followed the instructions at the site to begin their small group discussion. 

To make the thinking of the group visible, the teacher had a place that each group could demonstrate their thinking/conversation so that the group following could make connections with other student's thinking as well.  This could have been done digitally in a Google Doc, but I appreciated that it was physically written on the board/paper to create an anchor chart of the class's thoughts/reactions.  This was especially helpful in the follow-up conversation the teacher facilitated with the group.

Value Added

  1. Every student was asked to engage with the topic by shrinking the group size from 25 to groups of 2-3.  In small groups there was less room for students to "hide" behind the answers of students more willing to talk to the teacher.  Every group needed to write something on the thinking sheets.
  2. The expert (teacher) was de-centralized to begin the lesson.  The students could not wait out the teacher or simply agree with the teacher's perspective.  In this case they were presented with a prompt or idea.  They had to form some sort of response to it that was original.  This is the act of thought that we desperately need our students to engage in.
  3. The instructional practice of a Carousel Discussion can be continually used and the media/prompts where the QR codes point can be easily changed. This means it will work throughout the year for a wide variety of new topics.
  4. This format, mixed with intentional grouping, can give the teacher the ability to give students just what they need instructionally when they need it without drawing obvious attention to that differentiation.

Making the Most of the Tools You Have

Tonight I'm going to be leading a webinar on the Intel Teach Live series called The Dangers of App Overload.  If you would like to register to join and follow along live, here is the link:

Before I write any more, I want to say thank you to Naomi Harm (@naomiharm) and Vanessa Jones (@vkajones) for the opportunity to connect and share tonight.  It is an honor! Thank you for the opportunity.

This blog post below is inspired by my reflection on and preparation for tonight's webinar.

Something I hear more often in my work than I would imagine, and something that forces me to reflect on the question of how well we are using the tools we have available to us for teaching and learning is this comment that I will sometimes get a version of from teachers:

"So, I used to use this tool that I could use for lots of different projects.  Is there an app for that now, or something that is just like it?  It was called Photo Story. It was great."

Now, for those of you reminiscing about Photo Story, here is the reality.  Photo Story has not been updated since 2006.  As late as 2013 I can still find posts of people successfully installing and running Photo Story, but after that I'm not sure that there is quite as much success (except for those of you still rocking the XP).

If you don't know Photo Story, it basically allowed users to create a Photo Slideshow complete with instrumental music, transitions, voice overs, and text.  By today's standards that maybe doesn't sound that impressive.  Remember, this software was available at a time when merging and mashing media was, well, complicated.

Anyhow, the bigger picture is this.  When I engage teachers in the question of why they loved Photo Story so much, the response is generally pretty consistent.  

1 - It was easy to use.

2 - It was easily adaptable.  

3 - It was reliable.

Teachers could learn the software once and then apply it to almost any media project or presentation.  Want to tell a digital story?  Use Photo Story.  Want to create an engaging version of a science lab report?  Use Photo Story.  Want to impress your parents and students with photos and music from the spring concert?  Use Photo Story.

The landscape looks VERY different today for teachers.  Back then there was definitely a lot of software available at the time when Photo Story became popular. The trouble was that the software was most often not free (at least the well designed, easy-to-use stuff was not often free) and it was a laborious process to have it even installed on computers.  Today, there is an ever-flowing stream of high quality, innovative, well designed free software, and it is all a button tap away from being installed on your tablet for use in your classroom. Apps are easy to acquire, easy to use, and there are generally several to choose between.

This leaves us with a new challenge, and it  relates closely to the topic of digital distraction. It is incredibly easy to find new tools, use new tools, and replace new tools with newer tools.  

Buggy app?  Switch to a new one.  Not fond of the advertisements?  Switch to a new one.  Clunky layout?  Switch to a new one. Friends (or students) using something else?  Switch to a new one.  We are switching our tool set so frequently that the reality is we never really get to be truly proficient and productive with the tools we use.

So, maybe our new tools are easy to use. That's generally a given as no app can make it very long in a design-conscious marketplace.

Are they adaptable, though?  Well, if Photo Story could be considered adaptable, so could nearly ANY creative app today.  Whether it is iMovie, Pages, Notability, Explain Everything, the Google Apps Suite, or anything else you can imagine, the adaptability of the tool is in the mind of the user (and in my case, the mind of the teacher framing the instructional goals).  These tools have the power to be used for a wide variety of instructional reasons.

The last question, though, is if these apps are reliable.  And that is an interesting question.  Software and apps today are more reliable than ever.  Developers get more feedback from users today (or at least can get the feedback and data if they choose to) more quickly than at almost any other time in history.  So, the apps themselves are very reliable.  The follow-up question, though, is if we, the end users, are committing to the tools reliably.  If we are fickle consumers and users of these apps, especially the apps that we use in our classrooms with students, then we will NEVER get to a point where we can determine the reliability or the adaptability of these powerful tools.

As educators, we must focus on how to make the most of the tools we do have readily and reliably available to us.  Teachers are the most creative people I know.  They can make meaningful lessons out of almost any set of resources.  We now just need to slow ourselves, commit to the tools we do have, and then make magic happen in our classrooms.

I hope that in 10 years some teacher says to me, "Hey, do you know of any apps that I can use with my kids that is just like Explain Everything.  That app was great.  My kids did so much with that!"

Then again, in 10 years I hope that no teacher is still saying to me, "Do you know if Photo Story is still available for download?" :)




Pages and Keynote for the iPad: Productivity Meets Creativity

We have all used productivity software in the past (whether that be a Microsoft Office product or some other version of productivity software).  We know what it can be used for.  Many of us have even moved off of the old standards to a cloud-based productivity tool set (Google Apps for Education and others).

When we consider the touch pad interface of the iPad, though, and the elegant user interface that Apple includes in ALL of their software, we may want to think about re-incorporating productivity software that makes use of the iPad to make beautiful, hands-on presentations, brochures, letters, resumes, and learning modules.  This presentation focuses on ways to use these products creatively to think outside the standard of productivity software, and how to put the iPad touch interface and camera to use in these projects.  Bring your understanding of productivity software along with you and quickly progress up the SAMR ladder from basic substitution (you already know how to do this've used this type of software before) to Augmentation and possibly even Modification!

Each of the resources below are stored in Google Drive.  Click on the links provided from the browser on your iPad (or Mac) and open in the appropriate apps.

Presentation Resources

Pages and Keynote for the iPad - Presentation (Keynote Format)

Pages and Keynote for the iPad - Presentation (PDF Format)


iOS Summit Wisconsin

Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day of learning for educators from across Wisconsin and neighboring states!  The iOS Summit is coming to Waukesha, WI!  We are eager to host and can't wait to see some of the amazing sessions, hear some of the inspiring ideas, and connect with some of the awesome educators that are putting the iPad to use to do amazing things in their classroom!

See you there if you are lucky enough to join us.  The hashtag on Twitter -- #iossummit -- follow along as the day progresses.

What a wonderful way to spend a cold February day in Wisconsin. :)



Going Public: Yes, people are eager to read and view!

It was not long ago that the only way anybody would know about the powerful, amazing, creative work happening in our classrooms was if they would physically talk to  us.  While face-to-face connections are powerful, the ideas shared in those conversations only spread as far as the humans wish to take them.


Many of us have at least signed up for a social network like Google+ or Twitter, but are we really leveraging it to share our work, our students thinking, and our classrooms with the world?  Should we be?


A few weeks ago I spoke with a parent that was very impressed with one of the videos she found on an SDW teacher's YouTube channel.  "It is so nice to see what is happening in the classroom."  As a parent myself, it feels like the events of my children's school days are somewhat of a mystery -- 8 hours of school summed up into a ten minute conversation hardly seems to cover the scope of what they experienced throughout the day.  Parents are looking for some insight into what their children experience each day and the important work they are doing. Using these social networks and media outlets to share what is happening in our classroom is just one way we can offer parents a chance to investigate the great things that are happening instructionally.


Equally true, educators are scouring these social networks for ideas and examples of what is being done in other classrooms.  I regularly search the archives of Google+ to see how we, as educators, are "going public" with our thinking, using the tools placed in our hands, and giving our students a voice that can be shared with the world.  This was one of the great focal points of our summer institute work surrounding literacy -- giving students an authentic audience to share their thinking (making it visible).  Like it or not, we carry this responsibility.  Our students have plenty of opportunities to share "socially" with the world in informal settings online.  This is our chance to show them how to productively use these media outlets to share academically, professionally, formally, and respectfully in order to make a difference!


Finding a new, authentic audience is not as time consuming as it once was -- we no longer have to gather an audience of parents or community/business leaders in advance, or make connections with teachers from across the country weeks before the unit of study.  


These social networks are bringing an audience right to us.  The devices in our hands, available in our classrooms, are built specifically with the intent of sharing with these audiences.


The question is not about who will read our thinking or view our students' work.  


More importantly the question is:  What will you and your students share?  How will you "Go Public" with your thinking?