Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SAMR: Model, Metaphor, Mistakes

I have been doing a lot of thinking for a presentation on technology in the English Language Arts classroom I am planning for the end of January. In the course of my preparation I came across the SAMR model developed by Ruben N. Puentedura It provides a framework for how technology impacts pedagogy. This YouTube video does a great job briefly explaining each of the stages. As such, the SAMR model can help teachers think about their own implementation of various tech tools in the classroom.
While thinking about the best way to present the model to teachers, I came across a blogpost by Tim Holt that compared the various levels of tech implementation to ordering coffee from Starbucks. A person ordering from Starbucks can simply substitute its coffee for the homemade version or order a Pumpkin Spice Latte, which truly redefines an espresso drink. This metaphor gave me the inspiration to create the following slide (included here as a stand alone image) for my presentation. The comparison is between the drinks a person could order from Starbucks and the coffee he or she could make at home.
But I also came across this blogpost by Catlin Tucker about the limitations of the SAMR model. The mistake would be to assume that the SAMR captures the typical journey of tech implementation in the classroom, beginning with substitution and ending with redefinition. Instead, she suggests, tech implementation involves a transformation to the teacher. Most teachers get connected with other teachers using technology, and through that influence begin to teach with engaging online tools. This observation also fits with the Starbucks metaphor since people also start drinking coffee and espresso drinks by connecting with others who do the same. The SAMR model can help such a teacher evaluate his or her use of a particular tool as technology continues to transform the teacher and classroom.
Finally, this blogpost, especially the comments, made me realize that SAMR can not be read hierarchically or be used as a way to look down on other less tech savvy teachers. At different times in the classroom the substitution level of technology implementation can be just as valuable as the redefinition level. Indeed, a redefinition of a task may later turn out to be less valuable than the original task. In addition, many teachers are already teaching at high levels even before technology tools are used in the classroom.
In conclusion, the SAMR model, in conjunction with the coffee metaphor, can help teachers think about technology implementation in the classroom. But it can not take the place of connecting with other technology using educators and thinking about how these levels impact the high level of teaching that is occurring in so many classrooms across the country.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chrome Extensions for Educators

One feature that makes the Chrome web browser so powerful is the ability to add extensions. You can find extensions in the Chrome Web Store. They are easily installed with a one button click. Below you will find a list of Chrome Extensions that you can start using right away.

Adblock for Youtube
I was recently observing a lesson by another teacher which used a video from Youtube. Unfortunately, a video ad played first. This extension will solve that problem. It eliminates all video ads from Youtube and allows you to only show the content you intended.

This is the first extension that I install on any web browser because it is so helpful. It blocks the ads on any web page. In addition and also keeps pop ups from opening in a new window. Therefore you can browse the web without all of the annoying distractions.

One feature I miss from Outlook is desktop notifications. Luckily, there is a Chrome extension that adds this feature to the web browser. Once installed, you need to give the extension permission to access your calendar. Then you will start receiving notifications of your appointments. You can even add events quickly to your Google calendar.

Previously I have written about extensions for Firefox that allow you to download videos for YouTube. I was not aware that the same kind of extension existed for Google Chrome. But this is an extension for Chrome that lets you download a YouTube video and save it to your hard drive. When watching a video, the extension icon changes to a green download arrow. Click on the arrow and choose "add video to video list" and then chose "show video list." From the video list you can download a copy of the video to your hard drive.

See something on the web that you want to save for later? Pocket is the extension for you. You can save articles, videos, images, etc. to view later. A great feature of Pocket is it syncs across all web browsers and devices.

Awesome screenshot
We all need to create quick screenshots from time to time. This Chrome extension lets you take a screen shot and edit it all within your browser. You can even save the images to Google Drive.

This extension lets you grab images from any webpage and instantly begin editing them. Or, using the Chrome app, you can edit pictures from your hard drive. Picmonkey has all of the features you need to quickly edit and share images from the web.

Open tabs in Chrome can use up a lot of memory. This extension converts all of the open tabs into a list. You can then open the tabs one at a time or all at once when you need them.

Black Menu for Google
Miss that black bar with all of your Google apps? This extension gives you a one click access to all of your Google services. A great feature of this extension is that you can use it from any webpage.

Split Screen
Ever wanted to have two web pages open in a single window? This extension allows you to type in two URLs and have then open in the same tab. Great viewing assignments and then entering grades into an online grade book.

Sometimes you just want to read an article on a webpage and remove all of the distractions. The Clearly extension removes all extra content from a webpage and presents the article in clean, easy-to-read format. If you are an Evernote user, you can also clip the page to your Evernote account.

Now its your turn to supercharge your Chrome web browser. Choose one extension that fits your needs and install it today. Leave any extensions that you love and I forgot to mention in the comments.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting Started with Google Drive

Install the Desktop Application

The beauty of Google Drive is your files do not have to only exist on the web. By installing Google Drive for Windows or Mac, you can access your files on your computer without having to open a web browser. The application creates a Google Drive folder on your computer that syncs any files put into it to your web account. This allows you to have drag and drop capabilities for your files. Any changes you make to a file in Google Drive are immediately synced to the web and any computer that has the desktop application installed. In addition, anything you add to a shared folder is immediately updated to all other users who have access to the folder.

Create and Share a New Folder

This is perhaps the easiest thing you can do. Login to the web version of Google Drive. Click on the folder icon with the plus sign and give the folder a name. Then right click on the new folder you created and add the email addresses of the people you want to share the folder with. Each of the recipients will receive an email notifying them that you have shared the folder. Initially the folder will show up in the "Shared with me" drop-down menu. Each recipient can make sure the shared folder shows up in their own drive by clicking on the shared folder and selecting the "Add to my drive" button.

Create Something

Google Drive also includes Google's full office suite. This includes a word processing application, a spreadsheet creator, a presentation tool, a form creator, and drawing tool. You can immediately begin creating an office document without needing to open Microsoft's Office Suite. Once the document is created you can work on it wherever you have an internet connection. Documents can be shared with others and can be edited by more than one person- even at the same time.


Finally, take time to experiment and discover new features yourself. Google Drive is a pretty powerful online environment that Google is constantly updating and adding features to. If you are looking for other things to try you can visit this website and try some of the tips and tricks mentioned.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Starting the Year Off Right: Parent Communication

Consistent and relevant parent communication is essential for a good school year. Luckily, there are many great tools that make communicating with parents relatively easy. First, Remind101 provides a free and safe way for teachers to communicate with students and parents. After signing up for a free account, you create your classes. Remind101 then  provides you with a phone number and a separate code for each class. Parents and students simply send a text message with the code to the number given by Remind101. They are then subscribed to any messages you send out for that class. Parents and students can also signup for email updates, but this is not as obvious. If you click on the print button on the left hand side of the screen, it will create a PDF with the instructions for signing up for text messages and email messages. Now you are ready to send out alerts to parents and students. Just click on a class, type a message, and then hit send. It is blasted out to everyone who is subscribed. You can even tweet the message to a class Twitter account.

Google also provides tools that help with parent communication. Google Voice is a web service that allows you to create a phone number that anyone can call or text message. When parents call the number they can leave a message, when is then transcribed to text and sent to your email. This allows parents to contact you easily while maintaining your privacy. Gmail is also an excellent way to keep in contact with parents. At the beginning of the year, have parents provide you with an email address. Then create a contact list with the emails. Now you can send out messages to parents with one click of a button.

Class websites are an important tool for keeping parents informed. My school uses the free web service Schoolloop for our school website. I put up basic class information and I also post our class agenda online for any students who are absent.

A class blogger is another way to give parents a window on what is happening in the classroom. Each week assign one student to create a short blog post about what they learned that week. This way parents can check in and see what is happening in class from a student's perspective. This also provides accountability for the student whose turn it is to blog that week. Online blogging services for students like Kidblog make this easy.

In addition, learning management systems like Edmodo are an easy way to extend your class outside of its four walls. Students can help each other, ask questions, and even complete assignments from home. Edmodo also provides a code for parents so that they can stay involved with their child's online work.

Finally, and most importantly, don't pass up opportunities to meet with parents face-to-face. Technology can make you more available, but a live meeting makes you more personal.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Using TED talks and iTunes U to Develop Students' Listening Skills

One of the goals set out in the Common Core standards is to make students better and more discerning listeners. More specifically, the standards require students to "Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric" (CCRA.SL.3). This standard considered in isolation can appear daunting. Put in exaggerated terms, it would require a regular round of speakers invited into the classroom and/or a heavy dose of student presentations. Both of these options are important in developing students' listening skills, but neither can happen on a consistent enough basis to provide the repeated practice students need to master this standard. But students can receive a steady diet of engaging presentations through online resources like TED.com and iTunes U. In addition, when videos from these online resources are embedded into units focused on Big Ideas or Big Questions, students are motivated  to do the hard work it takes to delineate a speaker's reasoning and evaluate the speaker's point of view on a topic.

First, TED.com and iTunes U are both excellent repositories of video presentations on a wide range of topics from a diversity of speakers. TED.com is best for concise and polished presentations since each speaker is only allowed eighteen minutes to communicate a message, a format that forces each speaker to narrow the topic. Anyone can stream the video directly from the TED site or download it for offline use. There are many lists available online of TED videos that are good for classroom use. In the last year, TED.com has also developed TEDEd, which is a collection of short, captivating videos teachers can build lessons around. iTunes U is another source of videos for classroom use. As the name suggests, it requires iTunes to access the videos and is generally geared towards upper academic levels. But if you are teaching Night by Elie Wiesel, the interviews available here will definitely supplement your unit. Of course, Youtube deserves a mention, especially if your district has unblocked Youtube for schools.

Second, videos discovered in the ways described above are most effective when embedded into units that focus on a particular novel, theme, big idea, or big question. This gives students a reason to watch the video and do the hard work it takes to understand the message that is being communicated. In this way, the videos, along with the fiction and non-fiction being read in class, become another source for considering the big idea or theme of the unit. For more information about designing units based on big questions, I would recommend Jim Burke's book What's the Big Idea? The first chapter of the book can be found here.

This year I plan on incorporating more video into my big question units to provide my students with more opportunities to practice their listening skills and to provide captivating sources for considering answers to our collective questions. On a side note, I am still trying to develop a helpful graphic organizer for delineating and evaluating a speaker's point of view, so if anyone out there has some ideas, please let me know.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Postach.io: Blogging via Evernote

I am a huge Evernote fan and I find myself using it in more and more ways. I was excited to discover that I can use my Evernote account to create and post to a personal blog. The website Postach.io (yes that is the website's name) allows you to use your Evernote account as a blogging platform. Postach.io creates blog posts from notes in your Evernote account.

After signing up for a free account, you can start a new blog by clicking "Create New Site." You begin by creating a sub-domain, a title, author bio, and description for your new blog. The next step is to choose a notebook in your Evernote account to associate with your new website. By default, Postach.io creates a notebook entitled "Postach.io," but you can choose any notebook you desire. Notes within this notebook become blog posts when the tag "published" is added to the note. Finally, you can link various social accounts with Postach.io, enter a Google Analytics code, use Disqus for comments, identify if you want to use Markdown or not, and choose a theme for you blog.

Now your website is ready to go. Simply create notes within the notebook you chose and tag them "published" and they will appear on your site. Pretty much anything you can include in an Evernote note can be published on your blog. There are differences between the web, mobile, and desktop versions of Evernote, so you may find certain tasks and editing are easier on one platform compared to the other.

With so many tools out there, I try to consolidate as much as possible. While the blogging platform is simple, it gets the job done for me and makes my Evernote account that much more useful. If you have an Evernote account and have not started blogging, Postach.io may be the tool that gets you started.