Sunday, August 18, 2013

Global Connections

Teachers today are faced with the task of teaching 21st century skills. These learning skills require students to collaborate, create, and communicate information.  There are a variety of technology tools that allow for students to easily achieve these skills and interact on a global scale. Students have a significant opportunity to connect to other students from anywhere around the world. As Thomas Friedman claims “technology has made the world flat.” Which means that technology has made it incredibly easy to connect with people around the world and complete simple tasks without leaving the comfort of your home.

Many students have rarely have the opportunity to travel out of their home state, or country. The opportunity to experience world cultures and global attitudes is a great educational value. It helps provide perspective on your own life. Technology tools have the ability to connect students globally, and provide that opportunity to learn and discuss cultural differences, global issues, and gain a better world perspective without having the physical means to directly go to these exoctic places. There are a variety of tools where the teacher can provide this experience, however it can seem like a daunting task. Integrating these tools and a global experience into a classroom can be more successful if the teacher takes small steps.

A good first step may be to include some social networking tools like Edmodo or Google Plus to encourage students to collaborate online with their own class. These tools are safe ways for students to interact online and begin to understand how they can collaborate in a virtual setting  The next step would be to extend the classroom collaboration to work with another teacher in the building through the same social networking tool. Again, this can provide that virtual experience, but there is also the familiarity that these students are just down the hall. Once students are used to the online collaboration other tools might be used to bring that global connection. Tools like ePals, or Taking It Global are similar social networking sites, but they are better organized to connect educators and classrooms from around the world. The teacher can make an account for the students in the class and find projects that pertain to their lesson. Then students have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with other another classroom around the world to explore the same concepts. Other tools like wikis and blogs can allow students to collaborate globally, but there are more indirect. There is a chance that students and individuals from around the world will collaborate with those tools, but it is not a guarantee. If the teacher is committed to provide a global connectedness ePals and Taking it Global provide a safer, and more organized way to connect to other classrooms, globally.

When starting out with this type of collaboration, taking small steps to get started has potential to provide more success and offer a better experience.

Friedman, T,L. 2005. The World is Flat: A Brief History of The 21st Century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Embedding Digital Texts

"Education is the most fundamental public resource."(Bonk, 2009). The availability of information has significantly increased. There are so many ways to access content through the use of technology, and many of this access is free. Open course-ware, digital text, and other e-learning opportunities are a very useful tools for educators and provide resources at minimal costs. Similarly, these resources are easy to share with students.

With the increasing availability of materials online, the fees and costs for materials are decreasing  A single textbook for a typical math class may hit the budget for around $100. With the availability of digital texts, that price could be zero. All that is required is some creativity from the teacher and some some online searching through online courses, digital texts, and other open source learning environments . 

There are other resources available to help teachers create a virtual learning environment. Some of these resources will allow the teacher to create and manage a virtual classroom. These tools provide opportunities for learning without being in the traditional setting (Lakhan, 2008)  These virtual classrooms can be built using open source tools  like Moodle, Claroline, .LRN (dotlearn), Dokeos. Another realm of creating a virtual classroom is through the use of some Web 2.0 tools. A free tool like Edmodo will allow a teacher to create a virtual learning environment, be able to manage assignments, grades, and participation. 

Digtial texts, e-learning, and open course software are changing the face of education. There are so many resources available where teachers can enhance the curriculum with 21st century learning opportunities. To be able to include these materials requires the teacher to know where to look, or know how to search for the materials they want, and be able to share those materials with the classroom. These materials have the potential to change education and create a global community where resources are easily shared and accessed. Education is a free resource in many countries, and technology is allowing educators and students more opportunities to connect and share information. Using the tools and information available online will help education save money on software licenses, and other fees (Lakhan, 2008). In the end, this will allow for money to be better spent and provide quality 21st century education for students

 Here is a quick list of some popular places to obtain free resources for education. 

Free software for education

Free online classes and content materials

Free textbooks

Make your own course with these tools:  (the downside with this one is you need to have iOS tablet or laptop, it just doens't run well on a pc or linux)

Bonk, C.J. 2009. The World Is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education.                (Kindle Edition. ) Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Lankhan, S. JhunJhunwala, K. 2008. Open Source Sotfware in Education. Educause Quarterly.       Retrieved from

Friday, August 9, 2013

Building Media Literacy

Media literacy is an important skill to obtain through school, and will help students become lifelong learners. Media Literacy is providing the skills to learn how to be critical thinkers through inquiry, communication, and research. In the 21st century, this means that students need to be able to use technology tools safely, to gather information that is valid, cross reference information from a variety of formats  and be able to effectively communicate and collaborate through social media and other collaboration tools. I like this definition provided by NAMLE "The ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature"

The goal for media literacy is to provide students with the skills they need to effectively gather information online, and be able to successfully communicate to share that information. These skills will help provide an understanding that not all information they can obtain is accurate. Information needs to be cross-referenced and verify among a variety of resources.  

Media literacy starts with inquiry, or curiosity to have the desire to answer some question or obtain some information. Knowing how to use search tools like Google to gather relevant resources is a necessary skill.  Basic research skills are needed to be able to validate credible resources, appropriately cite resources, and be confident that the information you are sharing is accurate. Students need to verify resources, use multiple locations, and use multiple types of media to verify information. Finally, the most important piece is learning how to cite resources, and provide credit to those who provided the information. Learning these skills will allow students to be an effective digital citizen to successfully collaborate online, and be able to accurately obtain and share valuable information.

National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). 2013. Retrieved from
Partnership for 21st century skills (P21). 2012.
EAVI EN - A Journey to Media Literacy. 2013. Retrieved from
Center For Media Literacy, 2002-2011. Retreived from
Image created from the text in this blog post on Tagxedo.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Web 2.0 Tools

In my own teaching I use a variety of Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning. My school has a Google Apps domain where all teachers and students are able to use most of the Google Apps. These tools are a great way for students to create authentic assessments  collaborate, and be creative to demonstrate understanding. The Web 2.0 tools I use the most with my students are Google apps (Google sites, documents, spreadsheets, forms, maps, presentations), Prezi, Edmodo, Diigo, Glogster, Flipboard, Edcanvas, livebinder, TED, and YouTube  I prefer to use tools that allow students to store information in the cloud. This helps to reduce the chances of a student losing their work. I also tend to try and use tools where the teacher can create accounts for the students to always keep track of student user names and passwords. Students often have so much other things on their mind that adding yet another username and password to their online life may be quickly lost. 

In the future I plan to use Evernote with my students to take notes digitally and make digital study guides. This tool is a bit easier to organize, navigate, and is available through a variety of platforms. The tool also allows students to clip webpages, images, video, and audio.Similarly, students and teachers can link the tool to their Google accounts to add easier opportunities for collaboration   It has more accessibility options for students who may struggle with writing or typing  They can record audio and transcribe it to text. The tool has a variety of opportunities  I use the tool for my own personal organization of class lesson plans, and reflections about lesson success and challenges. I have found this tool very useful for my own use, and believe that students could also benefit from using the tool. Many students have their own technology tools that they could use in a classroom setting, yet there are still some who do not. To overcome this obstacle, I plan to obtain a classroom set of Chromebooks  through the aid of DonorsChoose to be able to provide students access to online tools while they are in my classroom. 

Web 2.0 tools offer huge potential for learning. The free tools often have storage in the cloud and allow for students to access their work anywhere. It helps to provide a different approach to traditional assignments, and provide students with opportunities to be more creative and utilize their learning styles. The use of Web 2.0 tools combined with place-based, hands on learning, and realistic application of technology tools will create a student who is a well rounded learner. Students will gain an understanding of how to use a variety of tools to enhance their own learning, to become life long learners. 

Google Apps In Schools

Google Apps in schools is a phenomenal resource. I started using this with my students in 2009 as a pilot project for the school. Initially we were only given access to documents, sites, presentations, and spreadsheets. I quickly gravitated toward using the cloud and teaching my students how to create, organize, share, and collaborate through these tools. Now, Google has evolved to a much more powerful and versatile educational tool. My school now has a Google Apps domain where teachers are given access to all Google Apps except for Google Plus. As part of my work with the current technology integrator in my school district, we are collection data to make an argument to turn Google Plus on for teachers and students to start collaborating on a larger scale. Here are the results of two surveys I deployed through my own PLN to obtain data to use as evidence to integrate Google plus. 
  • This survey was used with this course to help gather more specific information related to technology tools in general, and eventually arrived at questions pertaining to the use of social networking. 
It appears as though I have enough data to show that there might be some value in using social media in schools, again my avenue would be to use Google Apps to allow students access to Google Plus. The debate around social media in schools is a large  undertaking, and is better saved for another discussion, however, I do think that Google Plus can provide a great addition to the Google Apps for education. 

Since Google has been continuously evolving, I have been using Google Apps more and more with my students. I no longer have students print out papers, or store any information on our school network. All of their work, for my class, is created with Google Apps, or is linked to Google Apps in some way. I have my students create web sites for digital portfolios. They create documents and use comments to peer-edit, collaborate, obtain feedback, and make group presentations. They have used forms to take mini quizes. The beauty of using forms as a quiz is that you can make them self grading, students gain instantaneous feedback. The simple survey and presentation we used in this course, barely skimmed the surface of the power of Google Apps. 

Once all the teachers are comfortable with the tools, Google Drive could help to streamline teacher meetings. For example, our school is going through the NEASC Accreditation renewal process. We have to generate a great deal of documents to create a report based off specific criteria. I have been slowly convincing more and more groups to collaborate through Google Docs to write reports, instead of sitting together, while one person types, and the rest argue about grammar. I have also been training folks on how to use Google Calendar. Schools have so many functions, events, different schedules for some days, field trips, meetings...etc. Google Calendar is an easy way to share schedules, and follow others. They don't' have to manually share the calendar with you, all you need to do is search for their email, and you can "follow" their schedule. This provides a great deal of ease if you have the need to meet with a special educator, or administrator. You can quickly see their schedule to find a time to meet, without having to ask them.

Google Apps is a valuable tool for education. It is so versatile, and can easily blend into all contents. It provides an simple way for students to collaborate, and an easy way for the teacher to share documents with students, other teachers and parents.