Sunday, January 27, 2013

Professionals Make Time for Learning #edchat

I was reading a comment on a blog post the other day and it really set me off. The comment boiled down to the same old excuse that I'm just tired of hearing. "I just don't have the time for tech." Of all of the excuses out there, this is the one that drives me up a wall and is the most devastating to students in the classroom.

First, I want to say that I am a High School English teacher. I am busy teaching 5 sections of English that have essays and projects. I'm also a father and a husband. That takes up some time as well. I also write for Edutopia, Smartblogs, my own site and prepare presentations for various groups. I do all of these things in the same 24hr period that everyone else has. I wish I had a TARDIS or a flux capacitor enabled Delorean, but I do not. I find the time because the time needs to be found.

The excuse that there is not enough time to look into new technology and integrate it into the classroom is a lazy excuse. There is time, but priorities must be shifted. I do not play as many video games as I used to because I need to focus on other things. I work on my blog or I read great blogs instead of shooting zombies. It was a tough choice, but my students benefit from it.

I have also integrated technology into my life in such a way that I actually have more free time. That is the part that really burns me. If these "too busy" teachers actually took the time to invest in technology, they would actually save themselves time in the long run. Some time up front will save plenty of time on the back end.

As a professional, "not enough time to learn new things" should not be in the vocabulary. What other profession gets away with ignoring tools that can make their job easier, more efficient and valuable to their clientele? I do not want a doctor to tell me they are using the old methods because it takes too much time to learn the new ones. My dad is a doctor. I grew up watching him be very busy. He constantly had to read and learn for the betterment of himself and for his patients. As teachers, we have a responsibility to be lifelong learners. As part of that, we need to learn about the new tools that are coming out that can help us and the students.

I'm not suggesting that every teacher learn every tool that comes out. That would be impossible. What I am saying is that teachers need to make the time to learn something new and try and use it to make them better at their job and/or improve the learning in the classroom. We cannot allow each other to sit back and make excuses as to why we are not pushing ourselves to be better. "Not enough time" is a phrase that makes all teachers look bad. We need to eliminate that from our vocabulary if we want the respect we deserve.

Lastly, do not end up like Jessie trying to do it all. It's not possible.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Creative Space in the Classroom #EdChat

I'm excited about the new additions to my classroom this week. I was lucky enough to get some IdeaPaint for my classroom a few weeks ago. I was excited to have this back wall painted with it so I could have this large space where my students could work, plan and just be creative. Sadly, my plans were not able to unfold due to some problems with the wall I wanted to paint. I was frustrated, by the school's team of awesome engineers came up with a solution that ends up being a win win for me and my students.

The engineers installed two large pieces of particle board on my wall. They look like whiteboards and are just as easy to write on and clean. The boards were up for only two class periods and this is what students did.


You will notice the epic nerdiness of my students in these photos. I assure you that I had no influence over the quotes or pictures the students used. 

It is so awesome to see students get excited at the chance to be creative. A blank canvas and some dry erase markers inspired my students to draw and share their passions. Whether it was by drawing a TARDIS or the symbol for Skyrim, my kids were excited to share. The board is even crazier looking today than it was a few days ago when the picture was taken. Students have really taken to drawing and sharing bits of wisdom. 

Now I have the creative space I wanted, but I have IdeaPaint that needs to be used. I'm excited to take the paint and use it in a couple of places. I will be painting the door between the two pieces of particle board and I will be painting my desks as well. Now, my students will have a space to draw right on their desk and will be able to capture their work on their iPads using Evernote. This is perfect! 

As much as I love tech for certain aspects of my personal and professional life, I also just love to draw things out. It helps me think through various issues and plan my writing. I know that this is true for my students as well. The IdeaPaint will now allow my students to draw their ideas out and save them into Evernote. All of this can be done without the need to scrap paper. More trees will be saved!

The Plan:

The left wall will be used for planning. This is where groups can get together and plan out larger ideas for their projects. They can use it for story boards or large mind maps if they want. It is a work area for the groups that can't get all of their ideas out on their desks. 

The right wall will be the creative space. This will be reserved for students that need a place to doodle or share some art from their brain. It will be for before or after class use, but it will be their space. The board will be refreshed every Monday, so students are encouraged to take pictures, leave comments and support the work of their peers. It's a fun chances to bring some art into the classroom and I feel I can have some really great writing prompts created based on the art my students put up. 

The door is going to be a place for goals, dreams and quotes. I want this to be where students can write down what they aspire to be or do with their life. It can serve as a constant reminder of why they do what they do. This might be my favorite idea for using the IdeaPaint. 

These are just some of the things I plan to do with the creative space I know have in my class. What would you do with this space? I would love to hear from you. 



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When Will I Be Normal? #EdChat

Short answer is never, but this is about a different issue.

I'm the tech guy in my building. I'm sure many of you relate to this. You get the same types of emails from teachers or admins asking for help to solve various tech problems. I happily send instructions to solve their problem or direct them to the correct website for the answer they need. I am the "go to" guy for all things ed tech. How long is this going to last, or should I be asking, "How long SHOULD this last?"

At what point should the expectation be that teachers know how to deal with common issues in educational technology? At what point should a teacher be expected to know how to use Google or any of their apps? When will being on Twitter or other social media be the norm and not something that gets people the stink eye?

There had to be a tipping point where using Power Point, email or chalkboards became the norm, when will this happen with vast tools available to the average teacher in the field? There needs to be a push to make these tools the every day tools of the teacher. I think the best edtech specialist in a district should make themselves obsolete. If they really do a good job, nobody will need them down the line.

So I ask, when will the tech that I integrate, and many other teachers integrate into their classrooms, be just as common place as the innovative pencil was in its time?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Epic Evernote Experiment Semester in Review #EdChat #EvernoteLife

The first semester is drawing to a close and I have had some time to reflect on how the Epic Evernote Experiment has impacted my classroom. Here are some of the areas I really looked at:


Evernote has allowed me to get rid of handouts. I just don't make them anymore. All of my projects are shared with my students through our shared notebooks and all assignments are posted on the Assignment shared notebook that is available for parents on my website. Traditionally, these handouts would be viewed by students then trashed. Now they can view them on Evernote and trees can be saved.

Also, I'm not stuck in line at the copy machine in the mornings or during my prep. I have had more time to lesson plan and prep this semester now that everything is in Evernote. Going paperless saves time. It is a fact for me now.

Lesson Planning:

It was a pain to move everything over to Evernote because it took time, but now that it is all there, I couldn't be happier. I can find anything and everything I want in a simple search. I can change things on the fly and leave notes to myself on how lessons went and what I should keep an eye out for next time. This is so much better than a physical plan book. All of my documents are uploaded or scanned into notes in notebooks that I can easily share with other teachers in my building. I also love having access to all of my lessons on my iPad, iPhone and desktop. No lost lessons for me.


I have all of my students keeping their work in a notebook that is shared with me. I am able to check the notebook and leave comments on their work. They also are able to review their work and improve their next assignment. No more lost assignments for my students. By using the Doxie Scanner, my kids have all of their work available wherever they are. The portfolio idea has been so successful, it might replace the stand alone final exam in other classes next year to better reflect student achievement.


I couldn't be happier with how my IPEVO document camera, Doxie Scanner, Livescribe Sky Pen, and Boogie Board Rip have worked in my classroom. They have become parts of my classroom that I can not live without. I'm excited to start using IdeaPaint in my classroom in the coming weeks once my doors and desks are coated. These extra tools allow for a deeper integration of Evernote. I travel with many of these tools when I attend and present at conferences because they make my workflow so much smoother. I used my Evernote Moleskine notebook to jot down ideas for this post actually. Thanks to all of the partners.

Overall, I have been very happy with how Evernote has integrated into my classroom. My students use it every day in class and have loved sharing notebooks for their group projects. They are always learning something new about Evernote every day and love to show it off to others. I can't wait to see what the second semester holds for my students and Evernote. Keep an eye out for future posts.

If you want to start your Evernote journey now, follow this link to sign up!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Sale! The Complete Guide to Evernote on Education

In honor of going back to school from break, my Evernote book is on sale for the week. Check it out!

I've been talking about Evernote for some time and I have been doing many presentations about how awesome Evernote is for education. I finally decided to write the book on Evernote in Education.

Currently, the book is available on Amazon but will soon be available on the iBookstore.

I'm really excited about this book. It covers all of the important areas educators consider when looking at new technology.

I write about Evernote as a lesson planning tool, as a cloud storage tool, as a great tool for sharing with students, teachers and parents. I also share how Evernote fits in with BYOD and 1:1 learning environments. Evernote is great at being something to everyone and it is really worth checking out.

If you have questions about Evernote after reading the book, feel free to tweet me or email me and I will be happy to answer them for you.

As an official Evernote Education Ambassador, I really wanted to do something to help more people see how Evernote can make a positive impact in their classroom.

If you are interested in using Evernote on your iPad, you should check out my book on the iBookstore. The Beginner's Guide to Using Evernote on the iPad.

Have a great day everyone!


Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's The Deal With Homework? #edchat

I've been reading plenty of great posts on homework, or more specifically, the lack of value to homework. Research has been done and it says it shows that homework has little impact on learning. I do not want to argue the research. My issue is the broad definition of homework.

Just because it is done at home, doesn't make it worthless. Are these studies being conducted focusing on worksheets and study guides? The odd numbered problems in the textbook? If so, I tend to agree that those assignments do not impact leaning as much as people think. However, if they are talking about the first two chapters of The Great Gatsby, the research is wrong.

I'm a high school English teacher. We have to guide our students through the invisible world of themes, symbols, satire and other important ideas that will add value to the world around them. I learned a little while back that handouts and study guides were not really helping to reinforce these ideas. It was just busy work to grade. That does not mean I ditched homework all together.

Students need to read at home and come to class ready to discuss what they have learned. At the high school level, English teachers do not have the time to let kids read all they need to read in class. When I want students to read Huck Finn, Gatsby, Catcher, The Cricible, Death of a Salesman, poems from Dickinson, works from Poe and other pieces from great American authors, reading in class every day is not possible.

Learning to read at home and annotate is an important skill that needs to be practiced at home after the skill is taught in class. So this work that is assigned to be done at home is homework, but it is valuable and important.

We all need to read and find value in our jobs. I did so when reading other posts on homework and I can now articulate my writing based on what I read. This is possible because I learned to read on my own and create my own thoughts to share with others.

I get annoyed when parts of education are generalized as all being bad or all being life changing. Like all tools, how work assigned to be done at home is used is dependent on the teacher who assigns it.

There is bad homework. There is also valuable homework. I think we need to remember that so we can have meaningful discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let the comments begin!