Tool Review: Blendspace

One of the challenges of teaching science to sixth graders is that many of the most common lab procedures and processes are new to them.  Everything from identifying constants and variables to using lab equipment properly can lead to a slew of questions and slow groups to a steady crawl.

That’s why I started tinkering with Blendspace — a digital tool that makes it possible for users to create a landing page filled with content that users can consume.  I figured that if I could point students to one site that could answer all of their questions, lab time would be more manageable for me and more productive for my kids.

Need to see a sample of Blendspace in action?  Check out this one, covering important information for a lab we are currently completing:

http://bit.ly/6sciptlab

Each tile on the Blendspace represents a piece of content that will help students to successfully complete their lab.  Students can work through the space in order from beginning to end by hitting the “Play” button at the top of the screen OR they can click on the icons in the bottom right hand corner of each tile to explore individual resources answering specific questions.

Creating my Blendspace was a breeze.

After planning out all the content that I thought my students would need in order to successfully complete our lab, I sat behind my cell phone camera to record and upload my videos directly to YouTube.  Adding those same videos to Blendspace tiles was a one-click process.  The other content — links to online tutorials or videos, links to individual Google Docs, text-based slides sharing directions and/or information — were just as easy to add.

Putting this Blendspace together — recording videos, organizing content, adding tiles, making a short link with Bitly — probably took about 90 minutes from start to finish.  That’s TOTALLY worth it if it helps students to answer their own questions during our labs AND if I plan to use the same lab in future years.  Better yet, my Blendspace will help other teachers on my learning team who are teaching the same lab — saving everyone a ton of time and energy.

I see potential in Blendspace because it’s a tool that solves a specific problem for me.

Providing students with recorded directions and organized sets of materials for every lab promotes independence and frees me up to interact more meaningfully with the kids in my classroom.

Whaddya’ think?

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Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Screencastify

Tool Review:  Google Expeditions

Tool Review: Edpuzzle

“There Will Always Be an Overhead.”

Marcy Hannula — a fantastic teacher and friend who has challenged my practice for the better part of a decade — was cleaning out her professional library the other day when she stumbled across a chapter in a book on computers in the classroom.

The graphic below caught her eye because she knew it would rile me up.  See if you can figure out why it drives me completely crazy:

(click to enlarge)

Overhead Projector

Have you figured out what it is inside the text that rubs me the wrong way?

It’s not the suggestion that overhead projectors would be around for “many generations to come” or that overheads have always been “a much loved tool” of teachers.  It’s not even the suggestion that overheads “have undergone a metamorphosis” as teachers use tools like PowerPoint to “make their transparencies more effective.”

It’s the tacit suggestion that the primary job of classroom teachers is to communicate information to the kids in their classrooms.

What frightens me the most is that while we may have pushed our overhead projectors aside, we are STILL hell-bent on finding new digital tools that can make it easier to deliver information to the kids in our classrooms.  Teaching — which ISN’T synonymous with learning — still stands at the forefront of the work that we do in our schools each day.  We still control what our students study.  We still control the questions that are asked and the ideas that are shared in our classrooms.  And we still control the steps that students take and the pace that those steps are taken through our “courses of study.”

Isn’t it time that we retire “content delivery” as an instructional priority?

In an era where instant access to ideas and opportunities is nothing more than an internet connection away, shouldn’t we be working to create learning spaces that encourage students to discover essential truths — about themselves and about the world around them?  And if discovery really is more important than delivery, shouldn’t we be investing in technologies that allow teachers and students to challenge the existing structures of schools instead of using our purchases to reinforce the status quo?

Worth thinking about, right?

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Helping Students be Comfortable with NOT Knowing [ACTIVITY]

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

Note to Principals:  STOP Spending Money on Technology

 

I’m Planning a Pokemon Go Rally for My Middle Schoolers

I have a confession to make:  I spent the first two weeks of July rolling my eyes as I read article after article in my social stream about the “transformational power of Pokemon Go.”  I had the app on my phone, I’d caught more than a few Pidgeys, and hit up more than a few Poke stops — but to me, there was nothing truly transformational about it.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I’d delete the app before school even started.

But then I showed it to my seven year old daughter, and she was hooked!

Something about the clever monster names, colors and actions caught her attention and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has enriched our lives.  Each day, the first thing she asks me is, “Dad, want to go for a walk and catch some Pokemon?!”  Those moments together are worth everything to me — including the extra $25/month I had to plunk down because I blew up my data plan.

And when my sixth graders started school on Monday,  I realized that I just couldn’t ignore Pokemon this year.  As soon as I mentioned that I was a Level 16 trainer with a pretty hyped up Vaporeon, stories started.  “Oh yeah?  Well I have two Snorlaxes!” said one girl.  “My dad wasted like 15 Poke balls on a Pidgeotto.  He stinks” said another.  Needless to say, catching Pokemon is well and truly a middle school craze — and that makes it worth exploring.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I STILL don’t think there’s anything transformational about chasing imaginary pocket monsters around.  Pokemon Go ISN’T the silver bullet that we’ve all been waiting for to save education.

But I have hatched a plan to use it as a fun team building activity.  In just a few short weeks, I’m going to host my first ever Pokemon Go Rally.  

Here’s the handout:

Handout – Pokemon Go Rally

The basic plan is to invite parents and their kids to work together in teams to catch Pokemon at a local hot spot that offers free Wifi.  My guess is that our first rally will happen at the local mall, given that it is like 105 degrees outside here in North Carolina.  To make the game more challenging and to encourage strategic thinking, I’m limiting:

  • The time that players have to capture Pokemon.
  • The number of Poke Balls that they can use during the rally.
  • The extras — incense, lucky eggs, lures — that can be used to increase capture rates.

I’m also awarding bonus points for a range of different captures.  Participants who hatch the most eggs or catch the most Rattatas can earn a huge bump to their final point tallies. 

All of these limiting factors will force participants to think critically about their choices.  If you have only 60 Poke balls, can you really burn four of them trying to catch a Pidgey with a Combat Power of 30?  If hatching an egg is worth 100 bonus points, would walking further be a better strategy than hanging out at a Poke stop where a lure has been set to catch whatever happens to show up?  Will staying in the well-trafficked areas of the Rally Grounds be a better strategy than traveling as much ground as possible to get away from the other teams who are playing?

In the end, I’m hoping to get a ton of parents and kids to come out and play together for an hour.  If it works, it will be an easy way to build a bit of team spirit.  Better yet, it will be easy to replicate.  All I’ll need is a list of public spaces with free Wifi!

Can you see my unique technology lens here?  What matters to me is building a classroom community by bringing people together for a shared experience.  Pokemon Go makes that possible.  My goal is driving my technology choices — not the other way around.

Technology is a tool.  Not a learning outcome.

So whaddya’ think?  I know this isn’t transformational, but is it worthwhile?  Is it something you’d think about doing?

Looking forward to your feedback.

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Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

More on Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks.  Not your TECH Geeks.

 

 

 

Session Materials: WCPSS Summer Leadership Conference

For the first time in it seems like forever, I’ll be making a presentation close to home!  On Tuesday, August 2nd, I’ll be sneaking out during my planning period to talk about student involved assessment at the 2016 Summer Leadership Conference hosted by the Wake County Public Schools.

Here are my session materials:

Our Students CAN Assess Themselves

In the spring of 2012, Canadian educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog when he wrote, “So I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reigns over to them?” Dean’s challenge resonated with sixth grade teacher Bill Ferriter, who had always been dissatisfied with the grade-driven work being done in his classroom. This session will introduce participants to the tangible steps that Bill has taken to integrate opportunities for self-assessment into his classroom as a result of Dean’s challenge.

Session Slides

Session Handouts

Make Copies of All of Bill’s Student Involved Assessment Handouts in Google Drive

Nicole Ricca has developed a unit overview sheet for Kindergarteners that she is giving away for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Read more about Ms. Ricca’s work with unit overview sheets here on her blog.

Download Ms. Ricca’s unit overview template here on her Teachers Pay Teachers page.

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Related Radical Reads:

Turning Feedback into Detective Work

Activity: Feedback Action Planning Template

Activity: Where Am I Going Reflection Sheet

Feedback Should Be a Work For/Work On Process

My Middle Schoolers LOVE Our Unit Overview Sheets

Edpuzzle Just Made Transitioning from Zaption Simple.

A few weeks back, I shared an example of digital resilience here on the Radical when I learned that Zaption — one of my favorite tools for creating digital tutorials for my students — was going out of business in early September.  

To be honest, I was devastated.  Zaption tutorials have become the first step that I take in my classroom whenever I want to reteach individual concepts to my students or to provide enrichment for kids who are ready to move on before our lessons even begin.  Stated more simply, Zaption tutorials made differentiation doable — and I had invested a ton of time and energy into creating tutorials on dozens of topics connected to my required curriculum.  Losing that work was hard to imagine.

That’s when I stumbled across Edpuzzle — a service that makes it possible for users to create the same kinds of digital tutorials.  Better yet, Edpuzzle is seamlessly integrated with Google Classroom — making it possible for users to import their class rosters, assign content, and track progress back and forth between the two platforms.  For a guy like me working in a Google Apps for Education district, that is an awesome feature that Zaption didn’t offer.

After tinkering with Edpuzzle for just a few minutes, I knew that I’d found a great replacement for Zaption.  Creating videos and tracking progress is just as easy in Edpuzzle as it was in Zaption. Edpuzzle users can also ask the same kinds of questions and include the same kinds of content in their digital tutorials as Zaption users.  In fact, the final products made possible by Edpuzzle are nearly identical to the final products made possible by Zaption.

The only hitch:  I wasn’t all that excited about recreating the 30+ tutorials that I had stored over in Zaption.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

That’s when Edpuzzle saved the day yet again, dropping me a message in Twitter that pointed me to a new feature that they’d just finished developing:  One click transitioning from Zaption to Edpuzzle.

Here’s the details:

 

Do you see how ridiculously valuable that is to Zaption users like me?

Thanks to the work of the folks over at Edpuzzle, losing Zaption isn’t going to hurt me at all.  By making it possible to automatically import my Zaption content into their service, Edpuzzle has saved me a ton of time AND made it possible for me to continue providing differentiated learning experiences for the kids in my classroom.  That matters.

#grateful

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Related Radical Reads:

Goodbye Zaption. Hello Edpuzzle.

Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Being Digitally Resilient

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks