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Tuesday
May262015

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: https://engage.intel.com/events/1269

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?" :)

 

 



Friday
Feb272015

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 anyhow...you'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)

http://tinyurl.com/qbnpsgl

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

http://tinyurl.com/kobw8nx

Friday
Feb272015

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. :)

 

Thursday
Feb192015

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?

Monday
Feb162015

Key to Engagement: The Launch of a Lesson

I have led enough staff development to say this with certainty: No matter how much time I have available to teach adult learners, I can completely jeopardize the effectiveness of my entire time with them within the first few minutes of our meeting. 

How?  Failure to launch (not necessarily a reference to that Matthew McConaughey movie)!

Almost every teacher I have worked with has thoughtfully engaged in the instructional planning process.  They have thoughtfully selected the lesson they deliver to students for some meaningful, often instructional purpose.  Most teachers are even excited to share those lessons with their students.  That tends to be a constant -- teachers plan and teachers believe in what they do with students.

So why does it so often happen that students (especially our older students) tend to disengage and find little relevance in these well thought out lessons so quickly and so consistently?

After watching a few classrooms this week I was reminded that it might just come down to a failure to truly launch a lesson in a meaningful, engaging, inspiring way.
What I notice about adult learners is that I have about five minutes (on a good day) to hook them on learning some new tool or embracing some new strategy.  Unfortunately, the "hook" isn't always the first thing I need to share with them -- it doesn't come first in the chronological process of learning to utilize the tool.  If I miss that window I tend to lose my least dedicated audience.  And every additional minute or two after that I can visibly see waining interest in a growing number of learners.  Sometimes I can recover and bring them back, but it often seems as if we never get that initial enthusiasm back if do not plan well and miss that initial opportunity to hook them.  And truly no marvel of technology that I can share with them is going to bring them back!
This means I have to plan a little differently. I have to think about my intro.  I need to answer questions like, "Why does this matter to my audience?" or "What is the most important or interesting element in what I'm sharing with them today?"  When I know that, I have to strategically re-think my delivery -- how do I deliver on these elements early in the lesson without completing losing my audience.  Teachers hold the ability to do exactly that -- re-structure a lesson order and then find a way to tie it all together in the end.
This week I saw some pretty interesting lessons on topics that should definitely be of interest to students!  However, in several cases an initial failure to make a compelling argument as to why the topic was worth the investment of time and energy to students, or a failure to hook students and develop an interest right from the start of the lesson, left many students visibly disengaged from the meat of a well developed lesson.
 In journalism taking the most pertinent element of the story and burying several paragraphs in is called "burying the lede."  Instead, be the salesperson you want to buy from!  Put a little showmanship into the first few minutes.  Be dramatic.  Be fun!  Oversell the product a little.  We all want to be part of something special, and the first few minutes of anything seems to be the key to making something stand out from the ordinary.  You already plan great lessons.  Now just spend a few extra minutes thinking about the sizzle that is going to draw them in and find ways to highlight that first.   Once you have them hooked, it is amazing what learners are willing to put forth.