What We’re In For

screenshot_1468541447836Another school year came to a close and our students had left for the summer. As we completed our final grade verifications, cleaned up our classrooms and packed for the summer, I heard the delightful squeal of a co-worker’s toddler. As she strolled in my room, she was curious what I was doing at my desk. Seeing my laptop she gestured for me to pick her up to sit on my lap and explore. It’s been a awhile since my own children were this small, but I knew one place I could go to find something for her to see. My YouTube search for “Elmo’s World” returned the familiar opening to my youngest child’s favorite program of many years ago.  The toddler was seemingly delighted, but not even for the entire video.  Her eyes raced up and down the suggested videos where she located “The Magic Schoolbus” series in nanoseconds. Wishing to change her selection, she started tapping on the screen expecting the new video to play.  My Windows laptop was not up to her toddler-tech specification, but she somehow knew the keyboard was a possibility. In no time she had raised the volume, enabled the closed captions and somehow muted the video so all that was visible was a black screen with text.  She had explored, and figured things out, but was soon stopped in her tracks. A simple page reload and click on her video of choice brought back her smile.

Allowing her to explore was not something I had planned, but proved to be a learning experience for me. Our learners and children are changing. This toddler’s behavior was evidence for me of how very different things are for her than they were for me as a tot. While she was able to get pretty far, she came to a point where she needed help.  Observing and waiting is perhaps something we should try from time to time with our learners. While the tot had some familiarity with technology, she needed a little coaching to meet her goal. Affording her time to explore, seemed to build her confidence. Assisting her when she needed it helped her to understand better. As I close this post, I ponder how this may work in a classroom. How much time do we allow for exploration and, yes, failure, so students really understand and learn?  It is sometimes difficult, but we should find ways to make this happen using the tools available to us. It won’t be too long before these toddlers are our students. Perhaps they can help us to make this happen.

Transforming Learning

IMG_2217Welcome back! This message is intended more for me than for my readers. I have recently been caught up in my day-to-day work and hence have not posted in a while. Today, however, I had a special experience that I just had to write about.

A few weeks ago, our class was having a discussion about how far-reaching the Internet is in our world today. Unsure that my students were impressed by this concept, I went on a quest to to find another classroom outside of our country with a similar need. I did not have to look for too long when I discovered a teacher in Canada searching for participant countries in her Global Foods lesson in the Connected Classrooms Google+ Community.  Pam Vinzce from O’Gorman High School in Timmins, Ontario has started a shared Google doc for interested teachers to join in. When I saw teachers from Mexico, Nigeria and Malaysia expressing their interest, I  saw an opportunity to connect my students on a global level using technology.

Pam and I collaborated on a class activity that was engaging for our students. Each class researched and completed a shared Google Slides deck on the foods of each other’s country. Students also responded to questions in an online interview using Google forms. This work culminated in a Google Hangout where each student’s findings were presented to each other. There were a lot of surprises in both classrooms when each presented their findings. While there were some accuracies, both classes discovered that their findings were not entirely accurate. Most interesting to my class was information about New England foods reflecting traditions from times long passed.

Students in both classrooms were engaged, having fun and learning about each other. Once our Hangout ended, my students were effervescing about the activity. While technology brought this experience to fruition, the most important outcome was a transformed learning experience created by two teachers who have never met.

Now THAT’S Real World!

RW2EditedagainSometimes opportunities arise when we least expect them. When Google approached me to participate in their Expeditions Beta, I could not refuse.  It’s no secret that Google has multiple ways to support teaching and learning, as well as boost personal productivity. Integration of multiple Google Apps is one of the main foundations of my blended classroom. As a former IT professional, I jumped at the chance to explain the concept of testing phases for software developers to my students. They learned to document their experience, as well as define our environment for the Google Team. Student engagement was at it’s peak as we sifted through the Google Help Center together and learned how to access the Playstore, navigate Android devices and play with a Google Cardboard. Did she say play? Yes! The room was a buzz as the students experienced virtual reality samples on their phones. They were playing, but also learning… plearning.

When our report was completed (and yes, for a grade), I shared the students’ work with Google. Their response caused a shift in my classroom that will not soon be forgotten. “This is super helpful! I just requested access for my UX team to review and add comments.” At our next class meeting, my students were amazed to see questions from the Google team about their experience in the comments section of their shared Google Doc. They quickly got to work providing feedback and responding to the Google Team’s comments. Words like “internship”, “my chance with Google”, and “helping out” were resonating in the room. The students later commented that they felt their work really mattered and were impressed that Google cares enough about their product to actually listen to their feedback. “I thought this was very cool because “Google” is an extremely big company and it shows how much they care about the overall user experience of the device or product.  They answered our questions and asked questions of their own.  I can’t wait to see what the final product of Google Expeditions is!” said Connor G. in his recent blog post.

We are looking forward to our next opportunity when the Google Expeditions Pioneer program comes to our school on March 30th! This will be a full day of virtual field trips for teachers who have signed up to take their students to places where no school bus can go!. French classes will be touring the Palace of Versailles, while some of our English teachers will be taking students on London’s Literary and Globe Theatre tours. Our science teachers will be embarking on a journey with their students on the Ecosystems of Borneo, while the Visual Arts students will explore careers of 3D product engineers and Handmade Product Entrepreneur, Nadira El Khang. My students will experience Expeditions on a larger scale and see first hand how teachers in many content areas may use this great resource. Stay tuned!

Just In Time Tech

IMG_0171Technology just for the sake of itself will not transform learning, but it certainly can make a difference when we are aware of its usefulness at the right time. The right time came during my class today. My students were given their first writing assignment for the semester and were all busy working in their Google docs…except for one. Right arm in a sling, he was doing his best to navigate between his keyboard and mouse with his left hand. Naturally right-handed, this was obviously cumbersome for him. At that moment I thought of the Voice tool in Google Docs, one of those hidden gems in the Tools menu added over the past few months. Within seconds he was writing by voice and back to working efficiently.

When we attend training sessions or read about tech updates, it is sometimes difficult to see the benefits. This is one of the more difficult aspects when delivering teacher professional development. I find incorporating actual classroom examples to work best. Finding that balance between knowing about technology and applying it in a way that makes sense is the real goal. Which comes first I cannot say. When the Voice tool was released I thought it was slick, but I did not have much use for it. Today I realized its usefulness and I’m pretty happy that I paid attention.

The Benefits of Smoothies

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A new shop opened in our little New England town this past year that boasted healthy shakes made with combinations of nutritious ingredients promising benefits beyond tasty consumption. After sampling a shake of banana, kale, spinach and yogurt, I was pleasantly surprised at how such a concoction could not only taste so good but be so good for me. If innovation can be found in the food industry, then it certainly could be found here.  The creator of such an experience took the time to try different combinations that meet nutritional needs while being pleasing to the palate, inventing a blended experience like no other.

Blended experiences can happen I guess anywhere and it seems to be a buzzword that’s becoming pretty popular in education. Defined as a way to leverage the Internet and technology to create personalized learning experiences for students, blended learning is about engaging students in rich and meaningful activities both online and face to face that meet their needs as individuals. Many of us struggle with finding the right recipe to make this happen. Technology is the blender that helps to mix it all together. Call it an educational smoothie, if you will!

While personalizing learning experiences for our students is the goal, teachers also need to personalize teaching experiences in their own way to bring things full circle. Like students, no two of us are alike. I will therefore not offer a prescription for blending learning in your classroom, but only a recipe that you can tweak to meet your students’ needs.

So here goes…

Classroom Smoothie Recipe

Start small. Find one concept you would like for your students to dive deeper into

Connect online. Give students a virtual space for content sharing and collaboration

Choice. Give clear goals, but provide opportunities for students to choose their own learning pathways in attaining them.

Student-centered. If the need for direct instruction arises, resist the temptation to impart knowledge and instead have students view lessons at home. This will free up class time for more meaningful conversations and learning together.

Assess. Gather feedback from students using technology tools or by having a conversation, then use this data to zero in on students’ needs. Once identified, time saved on direct instruction may now be used for peer coaching, 1:1 time with the teacher or small group work.

Let Go. Students are naturally curious and, given the opportunity, will explore & learn far beyond our expectations when given the chance.

A Perfect Season

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As I watched the undefeated New England Patriots fall to the Denver Broncos last night, I couldn’t help but think of their perfect record being marred with a loss. While some of their wins were hard-fought, the determination of this team is an inspiration to anyone who is a fan. Feeling crushed, I started to think about the silver lining. Repeated attempts by this team to succeed and somehow arise victorious had come to be expected. Digging deeper, I started to reflect on how hard work and determination pay off, but more importantly having the grit to see things through. In the most precarious of situations, the Pats are quick-moving, decisive and are not afraid to take risks.
The best teachers I know are similar. They take risks to create meaningful learning experiences for their students. Like the Pats, they see things through regardless of unexpected situations that may crop up.  We cannot be afraid to take risks and try something new if we want to transform learning. In my own practice, sometimes things don’t always go as planned; however, I’ve learned to take advantage of these moments to engage my students in situational problem-solving and we all learn together. Any moment in my classroom where students are enjoying learning is perfection in my viewpoint. Now that Fall is coming to a close and Winter is upon us, I’m looking forward to another “perfect” season.

Sharing is Caring

(Wednesday October 21, 2015 1-59 PM, EDT)

Today was one of those days when you just sit back and think “Wow”. I just returned from the MassCUE Conference where my students had the opportunity to participate in the CUEKids Showcase. As part of #techteamma, we also co-presented with four other high schools in the state, sharing the different ways we have implemented student-run tech teams in our schools. When I asked two of my students to co-present at the last minute, they didn’t even bat an eye. Sharing our experiences is an important part of our own learning, as well as helping others with theirs. While no two schools or even classroom are alike, there is a common thread that resonated throughout the day. Every teacher knows that their students should be central to everything they do. How many, however, create student-centered learning experiences that propel them to the that next level of deeper understanding and ownership of their own learning?

Affording my students such opportunities has reaped rewards far beyond my expectations. Seeing them present this to others, however, showed me just how much. Today was a day of authentic learning for them. They demonstrated a deeper understanding of concepts in a real-world setting, proving that such experiences are far more fruitful than a standardized test.

At the end of the day I thanked my students for sharing their experiences and asked them to blog about it. They were pretty humble, not thinking about all they have accomplished. I look forward to reading their reflections on what this day meant to them. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

That “A-Ha” Moment

How many times can we honestly say that we have had that a-ha moment in our classroom. You know, that time when things just all come together for your students. After nearly a week of testing and collaborating on their iOS 9 review, the students that support technology for our school reached that point today. It was a Friday so we were all pretty energetic and ready to tie up the loose ends on the report prior to sharing our findings. Collaboration was happening at all levels…in the shared Google doc, talking things out and, yes, even a little goofing around using the Docs chat feature. The students were actively engaged in their own learning, but more importantly in each other’s. Conversations flowed throughout the class period as they worked on their first collaborative report as a class. Were there some disagreements on formatting and sentence structure? You bet. And when the students would turn and ask me what was correct I turned it back to them to decide. As their confidence grew, the ideas seemed to multiply. One student was astute enough to pick up on inconsistencies in capitalization. When I pointed out the global find and replace option, his response was “ahhh, never knew I could do that.” Another was struggling to format a page on our website and two others joined in to work it out alongside him. When the review was ready to share, students responsible for the online help desk support learned about link-sharing and making their work public on the Internet for anyone to view. After Tweeting their findings, anonymous animals started popping up in the shared Doc. “Mrs. Kiley! Who are all of these anonymous viewers?” The appearance of the anonymous aardvark, cat, anteater, etc. was indeed a surprise…the finale to class time well-spent. My students had a transformative learning experience…their hard work culminated in a report to help support others. This help they soon learned was more far-reaching than they ever would have imagined. “Can they copy and paste out of our report”, one student asked. “Yes, if you want them to”, I said. “If you don’t want it copied I can show you how to prevent it though.” They thought about it and decided it was fine with them for others to take whatever they needed. The final question of the class was my favorite. With new-found confidence one student asked, “Do they have to cite me?” Priceless. 

The Quickest Way to Create a Google Form

Voice ToolThe new school year is underway and there are some exciting new updates from Google. In addition to some slick updates to Classroom, there are some great time-savers with updates to Docs, Slides and Sheets which include voice typing, templates and data interpretation tools in Sheets.

One of my favorite Google apps is Forms, which I use at the school start to survey new students, as well as for quizzes and formative assessments. After playing with my favorite of the latest updates for Google Docs on the web ..the Voice Typing tool…I found a quick way to create Google forms for assessments that will save teachers time. Here’s how:

  1. Create a new Doc and give it a name
  2. From the Add-ons menu, find and add the GFormIt add on
  3. Go to the Tools menu and activate the new Voice Typing feature
  4. Click the microphone icon and allow access to your computer’s microphone
  5. Narrate each question. End each by saying “question mark” and “new line”
  6. On each new line narrate the answer and say “new paragraph”.
  7. Select Add-ons then GFormit to generate a Google Form and its accompanying sheet with the same name as the Doc.
  8. The first row in the sheet contains your answer key, deeming it Flubaroo-ready for autograding student responses.

Give this one a try! You will be amazed at how quickly it is to create a quiz with just a few clicks.

Have a great school year!

Better Together

6-30-15 - 1It’s been one week since I left ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia and I’m still in awe with all I have learned from others. As a presenter, I had the opportunity to share my curriculum and experiences in running a blended classroom. Some at my poster session were incredulous that I was handing over my curriculum and resources, but I truly believe there is no other way to be. When our school was planning its 1:1 transition, the need for support was evident. When looking for a way to make this happen, I reached out to other schools who had already started this model. My first contact was to Burlington High School’s Jenn Scheffer, who generously showed me how she was running a course at her school. I am forever grateful to Jenn for helping me get started in developing my school’s version of a student-run helpdesk course. The Applied Practical Technologies Course that I run provides our school with technology and integration support. In addition to a student-run help desk, my students also provide online guides and integration training for teachers. This has given them a real-world experience where they gain first-hand experience working on an educational technology team.

While my students’ experience working as an edtech team has been fantastic, the connections we made working with other schools has made this experience extraordinary. Using social media, we have been able to connect with each other and share ideas. The monthly student-run Twitter chat #TechTeamMA gave us a way to stay connected until our first meet up this past April. Google+ has provided us with a way to provide info to our own school, while also staying connected to other educators through public posts and like-minded communities.

I don’t recall where I first heard the quote by John Heywood, “Many hands make light work”, but it resonates with me as I reflect on my experiences over the past year. While Heywood lived centuries ago, he had the right idea. I find that working together with others is more fruitful and far more enjoyable than working alone. We are definitely better together!