Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Case for Change #EdChat

"It worked for the past ten years. Why change it now?"

I think many of us have  heard this statement from colleagues over the years and I hope it drives you as batty as it drives me. For all of the teachers out there that refuse to update their lessons because they seem to "work", I have this to say, "It's not about you".

I have many lessons that have worked well and others that have worked great. However, I'm constantly changing, updating or tweaking my lessons because I believe that I need to be preparing students, not for today, but for tomorrow. My lessons need to reflect the skill sets my students will need years from now in college and in the job market. They do not need the exact same skills I was trained in when I was in high school and not the exact same skills I was using with my students 10, or even 5, years ago. 

One of the most time consuming aspects of my teaching career of late has been reflection. I think it is also the most valuable thing I spend my time on during the school year. I look at lessons after they are completed and decide whether or not the lesson itself is still meeting the goals and if the tools I use are still relevant to me and the students. If I do not like the answers I get from my reflection, it is back to the drawing board. This might be a tweak or a complete overhaul. I never know until I dive back into the lesson and move things around. 

While this can be a time consuming part of my year, I can feel assured that my lessons are always the best lessons I am offering my students that year and the next.

Just because a lesson "works" does not mean it is the best lesson for that topic. Their are many lessons that can "work" just fine, but there are others out there that could have a great and longer lasting impact on the students if the time is taken to review them and look for alternatives. We all want lessons that are great for our kids and are not too time consuming on the teacher's end. Some of the best things we do as educators takes time and lesson planning and reflection is no different. 

As you go through your school year, please take the time and look at your lessons and ask whether or not this is the best lesson for this topic. In the end, it is not about you right now, it is about the students and what they need years from now. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reminders with @Evernote #EdChat

I'm always looking for ways to better communicate with students and keep them up to date with what we are doing in class. One of the ways I'm going to do this is by using the Reminder feature on Evernote. It is a great way for students to remember what they need to do before they head home for the school day. Here is how I set it up.

1. I share specific notebooks with students that they join. These notebooks are assignments, handouts, notes, etc.

2. I tell students they can download Evernote for their phone if they choose to receive reminders. They download Evernote and turn notifications on for their device.

3. I create notes in the notebooks I want students to access. When I create the note, I set a reminder for the day and time I want the students to receive the reminder.

I always set the reminder for my students for the end of the school day. 

4. When the time comes, a notification will appear on their phone at 3:05 reminding the of the homework for the day. 

5. I can review all of my reminders in the notebook and check them off when they have been completed. 

This is a simple way for me to send another reminder to my students that they have something to do before they go home. I look to do some other things with the reminders as well. I can pass along messages of encouragement in notebooks and set a timer for their reminder. I can set long term notifications for projects to help them stay organized. I'm sure there are many more ways I can use reminders to help my students. Leave any ideas you might have in the comment section. 



Monday, April 14, 2014

Use @Evernote for all of your lesson planning needs #EdChat

Since I started to use Evernote in every aspect of my classroom, I wasn't really sure what I was going to discover. I was sure there would be some way that Evernote was not going to meet my needs and I would be forced to add another tool to my chest while I continue the experiment for the school year. One way I was weary of was lesson planning. I have used the the traditional planner book for years and it has always been very good to me. I could easily flip back and see what I what I did the year before as I planned the upcoming school year. I'm not a big fan of trying to fix things that are not broken, but I figured I needed to give it a try in the name of the Experiment. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

Here is a shot of my desktop version of Evernote. I have created lesson plan notebooks for each class I'm teaching. Within those notebooks, I've created notes for the individual units I have created for the school year. For each unit, I do not place dates, because I want the flexibility to move units around as I need to. 

Within the notebooks for the specific classes, I have scanned and uploaded various assignments I had in paper form only and added them to new notes. For assignments I already had in digital form, I copied and pasted them into new notes. This was a very simple and smooth process. I now have every document I need to teach a full year of school. 

Since all of my students will have Evernote accounts, I can easily share the assignments with the students in specially created notebooks. I can take a note, copy it and place it in the shared notebook when I assign the work. No handouts, copies or lost work. It will be there for the students the moment I place it in the notebook. There will be a tremendous amount of time saved by not having to pass out assignments to everyone at the start or end of the class. 

I have also created notebooks that contain notes on tech tips for using the various tools. The students will have complete access to any and all information when they want and where they need it. Simple things like this will save everyone involved some time when it comes to troubleshooting. As the school year moves along, I will be able to add new notes to address issues that come up along the way. 

One of my favorite parts of lesson planning in Evernote is the ability to tag my notes. 

If I want to see all of the different essay assignments for first semester, I just need to search tags for "Essay writing" and "First Semester." Only those notes will appear in the search field. I can narrow the search down as much as I want. It is awesome. I was never much of a tagger when it came to using Evernote for personal use, but for lesson planning, it would be stupid not to tag everything. My notebooks are only going to grow over time, so tagging makes sense when I want to find something to edit it or even share it. Tagging is going to save me so much time down the road. No longer will I be digging through a filing cabinet looking for "that" assignment. A quick search of my tags will have it ready in a flash. 

As I look at the set up, I have to say the best part is the fact I do not need to re-invent the wheel a year from now. It took me hours to sit and plan out an entire school year for three classes, but it is worth it. I will not have to do it again. I will have to tweak assignments and I might remove or add readings, but the bulk of my content is saved for life. 

Another nice bit is that my lessons are available on my iPhone, iPad, home computer and anywhere I have Internet access. If I want, I can download all of these notes and access them when the Internet is down. I've spilt drinks on my lesson planner before, it was an awful experience. Now, it's not a problem. 

If you are looking for a new way to approach lesson planning, please take the time to explore how Evernote can change and improve the way you prepare for the school year. You will not regret it. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

#NerdyCast S2E3 - BYOD and Google Glass #edchat

Here is the new #NerdyCast for April. Tim and I talk about Glue Sticks, BYOD, Google Glass, and Girl Meets World. You can also find us on iTunes as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sphero 2.0 - A Young Programmer's Dream #EdTechChat #EdChat

Update: Orbotix has launched their education page that has lesson to make Sphero part of your class. They have also launched an #SPRKScholarship contest on Instagram. Check it out so you can bring Sphero to your class.

Orbotix reached out to me and sent me a Sphero 2.0 for the purpose of this review.

Before you read anything else, please watch this video so you can get a feel for what Sphero 2.0 can do.

I was sort of into RC cars when I was little. I would drive them around the house and run into things and generally scare the crap out of my dogs and cats. Those fun memories came flooding back to me after I had a chance to play with Sphero 2.0

I have to say, the Sphero experience is way better than any RC car I had growing up. By connecting the Sphero to my iPhone using a Bluetooth, I was able to control Sphero very easily. The movements were just as smooth as you saw on the video (You did watch the video right?) and controls were easy to understand. My students picked up my phone and were able to control Sphero without any instructions. 

I love that there are many apps available to do different things with Sphero. Here is a picture of the apps I have on my phone. 

The Drive app is simple driving and changing colors. It has some pre-programmed patterns it can do and flashing multicolored lights. It is a great app to get a user comfortable moving Sphero around. 

Draw and Drive is exactly what the title says it is. You can draw the path you want the Sphero to take and it will follow that path. It takes some getting used to to fully understand how far a line drawn is to the actual surface you have, but once that is figured out, it is a really fun app to play with in a large space. 

Rolling Dead is an Augmented Reality game that allows you to roll Sphero around and shoot zombies that crawl out of the ground. Here is a shot of some zombies and Sphero in my school hallway. 

This is a fun game that takes some time getting used to moving the device to follow Sphero to keep it in the camera view, moving Sphero around, and shooting zombies. After a few minutes of playing with it, my students were soon competing for high scores. 

One of the coolest aspects of Sphero is the fact that it has an app that can allow for some coding. This is really what sparked my interest as I thought about the implications a device like this could have in the classroom. The MacroLab app allows users to design their own programs for Sphero

A person can design their own paths, color combinations, and any other tricks they can think of with MacroLab. As I think more about coding for younger students, I love it when I see something that could fit perfectly in a classroom. Here is a shot of one of the programs that can be run using the app. 

What is even more exciting about Sphero is that the company, Orbotix, is going to be launching a program called SPRK (School, Parents, Robots, & Kids) that is designing lessons to go along with MacroLabs and Sphero to help kids learn about Geometry, Physics, and Basic Programming. They will be running contests to get people Sphero in their classroom so they can help their students so amazing things. Stay tuned for some cool updates in this department. 

Sphero 2.0 is priced at $129.99 and I think it is worth every penny. The apps that are available are free and will lead to hours of enjoyment and learning for adults and students. If you have a budding programmer in your house or classroom, Sphero is a fun way to get started. Heck, if you have wanted to do a little programming, Sphero is perfect for you too.