Friday, June 29, 2012

Things I shared at ISTE

I was new to ISTE but that didn't stop me from being a part of presenting some very cool sessions, in my opinion. If you came to one, thank you. If you missed something this should help you catch up.

On Saturday I went to #SocialEdCon for the first time and had an awesome experience listening and sharing about teaching tech, using ipads for media creation, and online writing. Of course I got to meet many people I already knew from our internet connections. It is very surreal to have others blogging and tweeting about things I said there that resonated with them. My big #eduwin there was that several people from my district came just because I told them about it at a workshop the day before. A huge thank you to Steve Hargadon for organizing that experience for us all.

Monday I helped my friend Will Kimbly with his Rockstar session on Google forms. Mostly I assisted, reminded him about a few things, and took a few questions, but I also got to share some slides I made earlier for our Google English Teacher hangout about a unit our team did for comparative analysis. This was relevant because I used Google Forms to get kids collaborating on the literary analysis aspect of the prompt. I also described this project a bit during a session at SocialEdCon too.

Tuesday I was on two panels. This first, organized by Vicki Davis, was about Collaborative Writing and the Common Core Standards. I believe Vicki is planning to put the slides up on Slideshare, but here are the ones from my portion of the presentation.  I got lots of questions about The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, which is an awesome resource for teaching narrative writing, with curriculum and support for teachers and students. I highly recommend the experience. Also there was a lot of interest in the writing groups that I do with my students. I built a site with all my resources about that,  Roberts On Writing.

Tuesday afternoon I was on the panel of Google Certified Teachers sharing what's new with Google tools and I got to show them the research bar in Google Docs. It is quite amazing to hear an audience gasp when you show them that the links and pictures you have been adding to a document are already cited in the footnotes automatically. Even better is hearing them oooh and ahhh when they find out they can choose MLA or APA for the citations.

This video by Ronnie Bincer gives a pretty good overview of what the research bar does. It will also let you search for images that you can just drag into your document and switch the search to Google Scholar too. There are lots more videos on YouTube about using the research bar if you want to learn more. I also really like this one.  Both were made before searching Scholar was an option, though.

By Wednesday my main goal was not to present anything.  Next time I get to post it will be about the cool things I saw and learned at ISTE12.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dropbox for Curriculum Collaboration

This year I got to be a part of an amazing team of gifted educators, who agreed to collaborate all year long and then did it. The essential tool that made it possible was Dropbox.  I think if you made a wordcloud of all of our meetings this year the biggest words would be reading, writing, scaffolds, and Dropbox.

*See my earlier post, A Functional PLC about how we worked together as a group.

I didn't think the way we were using Dropbox was that revolutionary or innovative. We just needed that kind of functionality. But, having now seen another group use it less functionally and after having some quite tech savvy folks ask me how we did that, I figured a blog post was in order.

Dropbox is a web 2.0 tool that offers free cloud storage starting at 2.5GB. It comes with a client you can put on your laptop that makes your Dropbox folder look and act much like any other folder on your computer. (This is good for people who are comfortable using files on their computer, but aren't too sure yet about browser based collaboration tools.) The crucial element is that, within Dropbox, you can have a folder that is shared with other Dropbox users, whom you select.

My team shared a folder called 9th Grade English.  Inside of that main folder, we had a folder for each of the units we created and most of those units had subfolders for resources, assessments, grammar support etc. The important part here is we only had ONE shared folder for the team. Everything went into it. The team was already familiar and comfortable with Word for creating curriculum materials, so Dropbox just made it easy to share those files.

I realized the importance of the ONE folder per team part when I saw another PLC where each person had shared a folder with each other person on the team. So, everyone on the team had folders named after each other member. That meant that to find anything you needed to know who created it. It doesn't work because each person had their own naming conventions, some had sub folders and some didn't. Part of this reflected the group culture, as each person held tightly to the things they had created that they wanted credit for. No, ONE folder is way more functional. It may take a little time to move your creations into the sub-folders where they fit, but others will be able to find them, and that's the point.

The other thing everyone in your group needs to know about Dropbox is that if one person changes a document in the folder (or a sub folder) that change will happen to that same document for everyone else.  Say I want to customize an exit slip for my students and ask them a question that the rest of the group won't need.  I can do that, but if I just save that change on the document it will percolate quite quickly to the rest of my PLC. Instead, I would open the document and use "Save As" to create my own copy BEFORE making my changes. Most of the time I saved that copy in a folder of my own (within Dropbox) that was NOT shared with my PLC. If I felt I was making changes that another group member might want, I could also use "Save As", but save the doc back to the original folder with a modified name to indicate the change.

The really helpful part of this syncing across the dropbox came when we inevitably found typos in our materials.  One of us would just open the doc, fix the mistake and save it again. The next teacher who used it would get the corrected version. Plus when a document syncs there is a little popup message you get down in the corner of your screen to let you know a document was just updated. Often this was a hint that one of my colleagues was working on something and a reminder that I needed to be working on things for the team as well. A little subtle professional peer pressure.

Though we met twice a week, our email communication was frequent, often along the lines of, "I thought we needed a graphic organizer for...... so I made one and put it in the Dropbox." Often, I would walk into a colleagues room, see them doing something and start to ask, "Is that...?" But, before I could finish the sentence, the reply was already, "In the Dropbox? Yes."

Now, the other four brilliant and generous people I worked with this year are all laid off. It is left to me to recreate our work with two teachers who both previously taught other grades. The fact that all of our work is organized in Dropbox is what will make that feasible. In the end I made a backup copy from Dropbox of all of our work from the year, 239 files taking up 33MB of storage. In binders it would sit on a shelf. In Dropbox it will live to be used, revised and reinvented on a daily basis as we adapt to the changing needs of our students every year.

PS If you have an English position open, I know four excellent teachers who might be interested.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

No Chip Heads Here

I found the line, the line my intellectually curious, technology savvy, digital native type freshmen won't cross, and it surprised me.

We were talking advances in technology, things that will be obsolete, and their frustration with the terrible track pads on the school issued netbooks. iPads have made them crave touch screens. They look forward to controlling their television with a hand gesture, and they expect speech to text will make typing a thing of the past before they finish college.

Taking the discussion just a bit further, I mentioned that the day would come when a chip in their brain would convert their thoughts directly into whatever device they were operating. They were shocked, horrified, and stunned that I would even suggest something like that. I told them about the disabled woman who recently controlled a robotic arm with her thoughts after doctors added an implant to her brain.

My students thought that was all well and good for someone unable to move their limbs, but they saw no reason for "normal" people to need that kind of thing. Playing devils advocate I suggested that their grand children would likely have no problem with the idea of a brain implant, but they were not swayed. "No one is putting anything in my brain ever!"

In an instant these children, who fully embrace technology and even crave its improvement, became nostalgic for the tech they currently have. In that moment they reminded me very much of my grandmother, who refused to ever have a microwave oven in her house, stubborn, certain and absolute.

I asked them then if they had heard about the Google Glass project. They hadn't and I showed them the video (below). They loved it, wanted it, but were almost immediately discussing the drawbacks of the physical glasses. "A brain implant would solve a lot of that." I mentioned one more time casually, but no dice.  They were firm. They would put up with glasses, phones, remotes and all of the other tech that they would like to see work better as long as no one ever puts a chip in their head. Well, what can you expect?  They were born in the 20th century, just like my grandmother.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Goodreads in the Classroom: Reprise

I've been using Goodreads with my students now for over a year and we love it. Okay, I love it and most of them like it more than I thought they would.  Last spring I started using it with juniors and this year I have used it with my freshmen all year long.

Students can set up a Goodreads account using their Google login information. That's a great short cut for them. I haven't tested that with a Google Apps for Education account, so I'm not sure if that would work. Students do need an email account to create a Goodreads account, so they should be at least 13.

My students add me as a friend on Goodreads and then I can see their updates about the books they are reading, and their book reviews.  They also friend (v.) each other. I don't require that. They just do it naturally. I have noticed that students with more friends on Goodreads tend to read more. I think seeing their friends updates regularly creates a little positive peer pressure about reading.

I am amazed at the insights Goodreads gives me about their reading behavior.  Last year one of my Junior boys added Memoirs of a Geisha to his "to read" shelf.  I happened to have that book, but I never would have thought to recommend it to him. He told me he had been looking for a copy for a while. I never would have guessed.

With my freshmen this year I found they needed a push to read independently. I found it helped if I asked them to read and review two books a month. I feel some ambivalence about setting reading expectations that way. Kids who were not reading at all certainly read more (and even liked it) to meet that simple goal, and kids who naturally read a lot continued to do so, but I know there were a few students who read two books and stopped because they met the requirement.

Today I asked students to use the recommend feature to suggest books to friends and me.  That was a lot of fun and hopefully will give some of them ideas for summer reading.

NOTE: Good reads will suggest recommendations for you if you have rated over 20 books.  My students like that.  The process I had them use today was to go to a page for a book they already read and find the recommend button there. After that it pulls up a list of their Goodreads friends and they can check off the ones they think will like that book.

*My original post about Goodreads in the classroom.

I want to answer some of Rachel's questions in the comment below.
1. I grade reviews by having students submit a form with the direct links to their reviews. This makes it much easier to find their work and saves me a lot of time. The form is embedded on a tab in our class blog here 

2. I don't worry about my students seeing what my friends are reading. (Disclaimer, I teach high school.) I don't worry because my students will only see my friends activity if I interact with their posts. So yes, if you "like" your friends review of an inappropriate book your students may see that.  There is no private on the internet. Act like a teacher at all times when online. And you students have probably already read the books you are worried about anyway.

3. What to do about former students? Keep them. I love seeing what my former students are reading. Most of them drop off in their Goodreads use after my class, but a few keep going and it is great to stay in touch.  The model for a book review I gave my students this year came from a student I had two years ago and he wrote it this past August. Two years out of my class and he is still writing reviews I can use as an example.  I have a colleague who deleted all her students from last year. Many of them are my students this year.  They were very hurt to be unfriended. If you are using a Google Form to collect URL's of reviews from current students then you don't need to worry about former students making it hard to find current students.

Friday, June 1, 2012

That Search Makes You Look Good

In an era of social media dominance who you know matters. But how do you get people to want to know you?   

You can be powerful: I'm not.
Innovative: Some people call me that.
Informative: I try, but other people are much better about breaking ed tech news than I am.
Influential: Last time I checked my Klout score was the the same as the AFLAC Duck, really.

All I've got left is funny.  I can do funny. Nick Provenzano (@TheNerdyTeacher) once told all his followers to follow me after I replied to a comment he made about airport security with a Spinal Tap reference, something about a vegetable in his pants. Pop culture is currency in social media. Knowing about the things that other smart people know about makes you part of the club. But what do you do about the things you don't know? Can you just Google it?

A few weeks ago I began following James Sanders (@jamestsanders) because I heard he was the keynote for a conference I can't go to on Google Apps in Education. His Twitter profile looked good and I decided he was a keeper. He is, innovative, informative, influential and it turns out, also funny.

Last Friday morning he tweeted that Doris Fisher would be in his classroom that day on short notice. He seemed like this was a big deal, so I wondered who she was. I was waiting in the drive through line at that coffee place to get some tea and scrolling through twitter. I switched over to Google and searched. Turns out it is a pretty common name. She was either a singer, a billionaire or a dead British politician. I went with the billionaire and in a few clicks found out that she was the founder of The Gap and also a major funder of KIPP schools. That fit.  Feeling more informed I tweeted back to James that I hoped he was wearing the right jeans. He got the joke and replied that he had on the wrong brand and was therefore doomed. It all happened in less time than it took to get my tea.

Am I a fraud for acting like I already knew who he was talking about? Is searching about a twitter reference cheating? I hope not. I'd like to think that's just information literacy being applied to social media. I have cultural currency in some areas, but I do borrow from Google when I need to. Now if you'll excuse me I have some online shopping to do.