Monday, September 15, 2014

The EdCamp Mindset - How An “Unconference” Can Yield An “Unclass”

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Perhaps only an EdCamp could inspire educators to dedicate a September Saturday to vigorous professional development. Despite the bustle of back-to-school work — and the ache to cling to summer's penultimate weekend — several hundred teachers and parents convened yesterday for the inaugural EdCamp Long Island event at the Willets Road School in Roslyn Heights, NY. 
Following the mold of the EdCamp movement, this “unconference” featured a roster of organically generated sessions. Rather than being tethered to a prefab schedule of speakers, participants at #EdCampLI could join conversations posted by like-minded souls on a wall-size chart of sticky note suggestions.

Not surprisingly, many of the workshops centered around technology. We were intrigued by Voxer in its combination of voice, text, and photos. We were also excited to try TodaysMeet as an easy backchannel for student questions and feedback. Our two favorite sessions, however, had little to do with edtech and everything to do with communication and leadership. 

Source: Voxer
The meeting about “Transformational Leadership In The 21st Century School" with Dr. Sheilah (@docsheilah) demonstrated a host of tried and true ideas built around the philosophy that just because it’s always been done one way, it doesn’t mean you can’t step back and rethink the purpose. Imagine faculty meetings where the administrators make their own simple “TED” style talks to promote discussions, or an a la carte menu of meeting topics from which teachers get to choose. This forward-thinking approach made it clear that in this type of school, the administrators model the concept of "lead learners."

The round-table discussion on “Fostering 2 Way School-Home Communication” gathered thoughtful teachers and parents who were genuinely motivated (and at times frustrated) in getting school constituencies on the same page. The small-group seminar was organized by principal Dennis Schug (@DJrSchug) of Hampton Bays, NY, and parent Gwen Pescatore (@gpescatore25) of Philadelphia, PA (and #PTchat). The unstructured confab yielded honest questions about the most efficient technologies for communication and the barriers to inclusivity in PTO meetings. There were also creative strategies to welcome non-English-speaking families and adults intimidated by social media.

Source: TodaysMeet
In fact, the day’s free-flowing learning made us realize that regular faculty meetings could be better structured like an EdCamp. They could involve authentic colloquies spawned from the bottom-up. They could welcome differentiated dialogues initiated by teachers themselves, rather than administrative decrees.

Even more, our classrooms could become miniature EdCamps. We could do more to solicit interest from the students themselves, to invite direction based on kids’ curiosities and passions. Our daily lessons could embrace the messy beginnings of finding a path and honing an objective. In the end, we would probably still nurture the same key skill sets. But we would reach our goals by letting the children themselves scribble post-it notes of wonder and glom onto subjects that matter not to us, but to them.

If you were unable to attend, here is the Google Doc of session notes from Saturday. Also, the hashtag #EdCampLI captured all of the lively exchanges and resources. Many thanks to the organizers who staged yesterday's event, and we look forward to EdCampLI 2.0 next year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Centaur - How Collaborative Edtech Is Building A Brawny Hybrid Beast

Source: Smarter Than You Think
Gnawing at the edtech underbelly is the unshakable worry that today's digital stampede may not be helping the herd. It is unquestionable that apps and devices are changing education. But the question remains: Are they genuinely building better students, sharper thinkers, and smarter learners? Or is the edtech "revolution" an example of change-for-change's-sake, when newfangled glitz replaces traditional tools that worked just fine?

Clive Thompson makes the compelling case in his book, Smarter Thank You Think (Penguin Press, 2013), that technology is indeed transformational for the good of humankind. Thompson posits that the evolving hybrid of mind and machine is generating a new species. This potent beast is greater than the sum of its parts, strong and nimble in combining the best of the human brain and the efficiency of computational thinking. Thompson calls this new cognitive animal "the centaur."

Source: Padlet
The metaphor of the centaur is perhaps more approachable for classroom teachers than the tiered SAMR model or the complicated Periodic Table Of The Internet. The daily marriage of student ingenuity and digital possibility can spawn a creation that would have been impossible before the advent of 1:1 technology.

Source: Padlet

One of the clearest examples of higher-level, centaurian potential is Padlet. This Web 3.0 resource combines an interactive, collaborative doc with a customizable, embeddable canvas to offer students avenues for publishing and sharing that were unimaginable only a few years ago. Formerly known as Wallwisher, Padlet underwent a winning redesign to enhance its flexibility and usability.

Source: Padlet

Padlet allows learners anywhere to share ideas on a cooperative whiteboard. The design options offer a host of backgrounds and icons, and each url can be personalized to suit the class. Best of all, the "smart" space welcomes any web link and transforms it into a clickable image or video that can be accessed without ever leaving the Padlet world.

Source: Padlet

Padlet accepts all embed codes, so third-party media and flipped videos are easily extended to students. Furthermore, it permits learners to broadcast their projects, posted online for peers to appreciate and internalize.

Ultimately, Padlet is a daily tool. Kids can ask questions anonymously. They can post homework responses. They can share links to current events. They can document notes from the day's lecture. They can elevate their regular thought processes to a fusion of technology and partnership, in which the new mutant creature is more beneficial and compelling than the pre-digital brute.

For other resources, please see:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kids Have Questions: Visualizations About Terrorism

Source: GTD WebGL Globe
With the constant discussion in the news about the high-tech use of social media by the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to recruit members from around the globe, we know that many of our learners will have questions as we head into the new school year.

National newspapers show armed police in public places, and the threat of homegrown terrorism is a daily conversation from the networks to the Congressional floor, no matter what the media.

While we don’t want to make the discussion of terrorism a routine part of our classes, we do know that providing ways for students to process and understand what they see and hear can ease anxiety. Giving them concrete ways to visualize information provides opportunities to decipher the constant bombardment in the news on the subject.

Source: Periscopic

The World of Terror was produced by Periscopic to visualize the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database that catalogs terrorism events from 1970 to 2013. It is a fascinating interactive view that adjusts depending on the categories, including longest active group, recent activity, victims, geographical spread, and name of group. It’s color coded to show the number of incidents, and a click on the map provides more information depending on the selection criteria.

The GTD WebGL Globe from the University of Maryland is an interactive geographic visualization that plots location and frequency. The timeline of incidents sparks at different lengths in a neon show to pinpoint sites on a darkened globe. The globe itself can be rotated to view each year and the number of incidents that have occurred.

Source: GTD WebGL Globe
The last interactive graphic called Strange Bedfellows was produced by The Wall Street Journal. It shows how the spread of ISIS may be pushing enemies often at odds with each to work together against a common enemy.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The educational process is not just the prescribed curricula; it's about the need to help our learners understand to the world around them. Anytime we can provide multiple views to help them comprehend the complexities of world politics, the better off they are at making informed choices as young adults.

For other resources, please see:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Resource Roundup: The Pencil Metaphor - The Point, Labor, And Fun

Source: ASIDE, 2014
We are down to the last few days before the Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer. All schools will be back in full swing next week, and summer Fridays will end for those lucky enough to have them in the work world.

For most educators, back-to-school decorations still include the proverbial apple, school bus, writing strips, and black and white composition notebooks. We definitely need a revamp in the bulletin board market to bring it into this century. We’ve yet to see tablets to add to the decor. That said, one of the most useful, iconic, and versatile images in education is the pencil.

Looking back, we wanted to round up some of our favorite resources that highlight the pencil as a metaphor for leadership, work, and fun.

The Pencil Metaphor graphic that has been reproduced in many places is a perfect place to start. It symbolically represents a continuum of where individuals might be on the learning curve of adapting new technology. The closer to the point, the more willing to take chances, lead, and share knowledge with others.

Source: Chief Technology Learning Center

I, Pencil: The Movie could not be better suited for the holiday weekend. It’s a symphony of human activity at work to produce one of the most basic tools used to record information, draft ideas, and doodle creations. It represents the interconnectedness of labor in the same way the pencil connects with learning.




Lastly, #Pencilchat had to be the one of the best viral chats on Twitter in 2011. It was friendly and a real mix of clever ideas, but at the same time a pointed discussion about technology integration with the coming onslaught of the tablet boom. We cannot help but revisit the hilarious video entitled Ode to #Pencilchat: Technology Integration in the Classroom.




Whether metaphor, symbol, or tool, the pencil is flexible, durable and timeless. We wish everyone a great school year.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Nifty Notes Company: 1st Grade Entrepreneurship

Source: ASIDE, 2014
We introduced the concept of teaching first graders about entrepreneurship three years ago and never looked back. This spring, our young entrepreneurs completed their third successful year building the Nifty Note Company.

This interdisciplinary project-based learning unit reaches across subjects, including media, design, branding, and economics. When these first graders go into production, printing, designing, and packaging 1000 note cards from start to point of sale, it is mind blowing.

We learned this project at a presentation at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference from the first grade teachers at the Collegiate School in Virginia. We modified and expanded their Critter Creations unit to brand our own company called Nifty Notes. It not only easily connected with language arts, math, and social studies, but it also could be expanded to include other components such as media literacy to broaden the learning concepts.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

It opened opportunities for the students to show off their creativity as well as make decisions about what designs would be best to maintain quality and consistency. Their inventive nifty characters (above) are something to behold.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
At the start of the project, each student gets an employee manual with the history, vocabulary, and job descriptions and qualifications for production. We use a host of resources to teach them about wants and needs, supply and demand, quality over quantity, etc.

Through stories such as Little Nino’s Pizzeria by Karen Barbour, the students learn about natural, capital, and human resources. These ideas are continually threaded throughout the entire process that believe it, or not, is completed within three-to-four weeks.

The multiple layers built into this project in addition to the actual production include doing a market survey, applying for a job in the company, filling out a job application, collecting data, creating the advertising for the school community, running the store, counting money, and issuing receipts. For samples of some of our handouts for this project, click here.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Perhaps one of the most valuable takeaways the students learn is charity. Each year the first graders make a charitable donation with a portion of the profit from the sale of the note cards to an organization of their choice.

Source: One Hen Inc.
A go-to book that's perfect for helping young children know the importance of giving is One Hen: How One Small Loan Made A Big Difference by Kate Smith Milway.

The One Hen website also provides lots of addition material and ideas for teachers, and the non-profit organization, Kiva, lists opportunities for individuals to lend small amounts of money to help others around the world.

Source:Amazon
Our library has a strong collection of resources, including books at the primary level, for teaching economics with titles such as Do I Need It or Do I Want It from the Exploring Economics series, and Lemons and Lemonade: A Book About Supply and Demand from the Money Matters series. In addition, there are some excellent children’s picture books that we use to talk about money, opportunity costs, and marketing.

Teacher collaboration makes this project work. When first graders manufacture, market, and sell a product to real customers as a class business, the experience is priceless!



Source: ASIDE, 2014

Project Materials: colored cardstock, white envelopes, cellophane bags, mailing labels, inkpads, and Sharpie markers

For more resources, please see:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Media Literacy: War And Peace Journalism

Source: ASIDE, 2014
This summer we’ve seen unprecedented violence and conflict, from our own backyard in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Ukrainian-Russian border. We’re sure that our learners have seen it, too. Wherever the conflict is, you can rest assured the media is there in full force as well.

The sound bites, prompts, replays, jolts per minute never end. The hyped negativity abounds with each new event. The good news is relegated to filler material that is never enough to make anyone feel good for long. No wonder parents are reluctant to let their children watch the news. In some ways our media is like the Capitol of Panem in The Hunger Games spicing up the story to keep the masses engaged. In the competition for viewership, ratings matter.

So what is Peace Journalism? The principal founder of the concept is Johan Galtung. He claims that our common daily news should be classified as War Journalism, because it tends to present conflicts as endless battles, or war.  According to the Center for Global Peace Journalism, the practice of “Peace Journalism is when editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace.” These journalists carefully choose their words to create an atmosphere favorable to peace in order to make non-violent solutions more visible and viable.
Source: Center for Global Peace Journalism

Now more than ever we need to include discussions about war and peace journalism as part of media literacy instruction in our classrooms. It's important to help learners sift through messages from the media to find ways to change the view from a culture where aggression sells to one that diffuses turmoil by finding commonalities in humanity. By guiding students to seek solutions to conflicts, they become better peacemakers and peacekeepers. If we can flip classrooms, let’s get kids to flip the news to look for positive ways to present current events.

The following video was created by Oded LevRan as a project in visual communication studies at Holon Institute of Technology. It’s called Chickpeace. It presents the main principles of Peace Journalism using hummus as an analogy to reality that this is a staple dish for both Israelis and Palestinians.


chickpeace from Oded LevRan on Vimeo.

Depending on grade level, students could take a topic, event, or place and present it as a way to build common ground. Aiding students in this type of endeavor teaches them the art of framing a topic around a positive approach to the world around them. Using reframing techniques, they can take an existing report and come up with a way to down play the hostility to foster a greater understanding. As always, teaching students to deconstruct messages, call out biases, or highlight sensationalized reporting builds stronger media and news literacy skills.

For more information, please see:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ten Tech Tips To Spice Up Summer Reading

Source: ASIDE, 2014


Most kids (and teachers) hate summer reading. They view it as a chore, an unnecessary evil, a relic of schoolhouse drudgery. Even students who love to read groan at prescriptive lists of books that will receive little attention once the academic year begins. Even when offered a choice of titles, students drag their heels in completing linear book reviews or reader-response journals.

Click image for larger view
This is because in their active lives, kids are multitasking on social media while setting up Minecraft servers. They don't understand why summer work should force them to take a step back in time and technology. In order to spice up their summer literary lives, why not let students savor some easy tech ingredients, to make reading a zestier part of their wired worlds?

1. Animated book trailers - Instead of a book report, invite students to create animated book trailers to advertise their favorite titles to friends. Adobe Voice and Vine are perfect options for free, fast, embeddable movie-making.

2. Remote book clubs - Children regularly see their parents laughing in living room book clubs. Kids can form their own real-time remote clubs via Skype or FaceTime, to network and debate with classmates even while on vacation.

3. Journal blogs - Rather than relying on paper and pen, kids can publish their thoughts via personal blogs and then comment on peers' posts. Kidblog is a safe and self-contained option, with teacher-controlled classes to monitor conversations.

4. Character infographics - Visual thinkers and graphic artists will love making infographics of themes and events. Easel.ly and Piktochart are flexible platforms to unleash creative potential in ranking events and rating characters.

5. Chapter podcasts - Many learners prefer audio books, so why not encourage students to record their own podcasts? Audioboo, for example, will let kids embed recordings of chapters or reviews, to disseminate to classmates underneath their Beats headphones.

6. Twitter chats - Teachers can set up unique hashtags around specific questions, to unite students in online chats. Twitter will then serve as a permanent archive of notes and quotations, to tap for further discussion once the school year begins.

7. Virtual pinboards - Symbolism and visual metaphor can be difficult to teach. Virtual pinboards such as Pinterest offer fun ways for students to curate and share pictures that connect to specific plot points or motifs.

8. E-reader magazines - Any type of reading counts as reading, so instead of limiting kids' choices to a few books, schools can open up the options to magazines, newspapers, and graphic novels. E-readers like Kindles and Nooks provide portability and bookmarks for easy access.

9. Plot comics - Boiling down a book's plot to a few cartoon panels is harder than in sounds. Web tools like ToonDoo present a range of settings and personalities to capture key events, or even invent alternate endings to a novel's action.

10. Original fan fiction - The best follow-up to reading is writing, and many students love penning their own fan fiction to continue the interplay of favorite characters. Wattpad is a popular publishing site for young wordsmiths.

If you have any other suggestions to enhance summer's literary recipe, please share them. We'd love to hear more engaging tech ideas!
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