New features in iMovie update!

If you haven’t checked it out yet, there are some great new features in the recently updated iMovie app. To take advantage of the update you must also have updated your iPad to iOS 7. The article below from Greg Kuloweic at EdTechTeacher does a great job of illustrating some of the new options. Click through to read more…

iMovie + iOS7 + AirDrop + App Smashing = Great Ideas from Greg Kulowiec!

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5 Tips for Better Managing iPad Memory – from TeachThought

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Like many others, you may be experiencing the squeeze of the 16GB storage capacity of your iPad. Here’s an article from TeachThought.com with some good tips about how to manage the limited resource that is your iPad’s memory.

5 Tips for Better Managing iPad Memory” – from TeachThought.com

If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn? – from Edudemic

As automation and artificial intelligence become more and more of a reality in daily life, what are the things that our students must learn? Katrina Schwartz addresses this question on the Edudemic blog…

If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn? – Edudemic

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Let’s Talk About Bandwidth…

By this time I’m sure that we’ve all experienced the reality of bandwidth limitations at BLS. If you don’t know, “bandwidth” is the measure of the flow of internet data to our campus. It is the size of the “pipe” through which the stream of the internet flows.

BandwidthThere is a very real limit on the size of the pipe that connects BLS to the internet. IT uses some sophisticated hardware and software to help mitigate the effects of that limit and to ensure that our critical systems (like the phones) stay functional, but in the end there is only so much that can be done. When we use up all the available bandwidth, our experience of using the internet will suffer.

Several individuals have asked why we don’t have more bandwidth available. It would seem that increasing the size of our pipe (aka the amount of bandwidth) would be a simple fix for this problem. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. The reality of the way that the internet works is that we use all the available bandwidth almost the entire school day. If we were to increase the available bandwidth, we would very quickly use up all of that as well. We use what is available. There was a very clear picture of this truth on Monday. That day, the juniors and seniors were off-campus, and the freshmen and sophomores were participating in service activities. No one in the high school was using the internet in any significant way. All of the bandwidth of BLS was at the disposal of the middle and elementary schools, which have significantly fewer internet-connected devices. And yet, tests showed that we still used the maximum bandwidth the entire day!

The other limiting factor in this is simple economics. Our geographic location makes increasing bandwidth very expensive. There just isn’t a lot of internet infrastructure coming this far up Monticello Road, and there aren’t any businesses past us that would make expansion worthwhile for the telecommunications providers. That means the cost of any improvements must be financed by us.

So what does this mean for us? Well, for starters, it means that IT is doing a great job of managing the limited bandwidth resources that we have so that the effects go largely unnoticed. Even though we use all available bandwidth almost all the time, most users do not notice this very often unless they are trying some particularly bandwidth-heavy task like streaming video.

The second, important implication for us is that we need to think creatively about how we use the internet. General web surfing uses very little bandwidth. Even streaming audio has a small bandwidth footprint. It is streaming video that is the main culprit for issues we may encounter. Think about the design of your class and how you can best face this reality to minimize problems. I am not saying that you should never have anyone streaming video. I am saying that if you can download a video ahead of time you should. If you can’t, be prepared for the possibility that it doesn’t work. Also, think about efficiency. If you want everyone to see the same video, show it on the TV or screen instead of having everyone stream it to his or her iPad. And, of course, always be mindful of whether your students are on task. Non-instructional videos aren’t just distracting in your classroom… they may also be causing a problem in the class next door!

Finally, please don’t see this as an attempt to shut you up if you are one of those who has reported a problem. If you experience a drop in connectivity, it is still important that you report those incidents to the helpdesk. It is important that we have a record of these events when they occur. If the problem you are experiencing is not caused by bandwidth limitations, helpdesk staff will work to correct whatever they can. Just be prepared that if it is, there may not be anything that they can do about it.

If you have other questions about this, or if you would like help with how to accomplish your curricular goals in light of these things, please let me know. I want to make sure that you are equipped with all of the knowledge and tools that you need to be successful in your job!

Student Collaboration on an iPad

Collaboration is a buzzword in our school these days. With the introduction of iPads to our classes, the challenge is to find ways for students to collaborate using the iPads. Greg Kulowiec from EdTechTeacher has posted an excellent video that highlights six different ways you can have students work together on the iPad. He highlights several apps, including some paid apps that we do not have on our iPads, but take a few minutes to check out what he does with the ones we do use – particularly Notability, Google Drive, and iMovie!

You can also read the full blog post at the EdTechTeacher site.

The PLN, part 2: Twitter for Teachers

This post is the second in a series about Personal Learning Networks. To read part one, click here.

What is it?

twitter-logoAccording to their “About” page, Twitter is, “a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” Twitter is a social networking site that can provide different types of experiences depending on what you’re looking for. After you create an account, you select people to follow. As you add people to the list of who you follow, their posts (aka “tweets”) appear in your timeline.

The utility of this all depends on who you follow. Unlike Facebook, you can add people who you do not know. This could include celebrities, news organizations, or just people who post interesting things. It really is up to you to decide what Twitter looks like.

For more info on getting started with Twitter, click here.

Why should I be on Twitter?

The great thing about using Twitter as an educator is that it can be a sort of Reader’s Digest for educational news. We all know every teacher’s #1 excuse to not try something is “I don’t have time.” Once you’ve set it up, it takes very little time. Check here or there, whenever is convenient, and follow up on links or posts that interest you.

Another benefit of Twitter is that you can start a conversation with someone who you may not have the opportunity to meet in real life. I was recently at a conference and tweeted about something a presenter said. He replied, and we had a back and forth dialogue – all while I was waiting for my flight at the airport a few hours later! If you use common courtesy, most people who tweet are happy to engage you.

Who should I follow?

The good news is that there are many great accounts that you can follow that will give you great ideas and resources for teaching. These range from individual educators to organizations. There are tons of lists out on the internet, but here are a few that I follow:

  • Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) – Assistant Superintendant of Burlington (MA) schools. 
  • Justin Reich (@bjfr) – Blogger at EdTechTeacher and EdTechResearcher
  • Gregory Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) – Blogger at EdTechTeacher and former History teacher
  • Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) – Math educator & blogger
  • TCEA (@tcea) – Texas Computer Education Association
  • Bill Gates (@billgates) – Yes, its that Bill Gates, and education is one of the focal points for his foundation
  • Evernote Schools (@evernoteschools) – All about using Evernote in the classroom
  • Michael Fisher (@fisher1000) – Blogger at digigogy.com
  • Barrett Mosbacker – (@bmosbacker) – Superintendant at Briarwood Christian School
  • NASA (@NASA) – you know, the space people
  • David McVicker (@DavidMcVicker) – This guy I know

Should I tweet?

This is really up to you. You may think that you don’t have anything to say, or that no one will care what you do say. But once you start you may be surprised with how many people want to interact with you, or just who finds what you have to say interesting. With that said, it is perfectly acceptable to follow people and read their tweets without ever posting anything yourself.

As a teacher, you should also always consider your audience before you post anything to Twitter. Remember, anyone can read what you post, so make sure its never something you might later regret!

So, do you tweet? Who do you follow? Let us know in the comments!

Another Great Update for the Google Drive App

There was a big update for the Google Drive app for iOS today. The last update gave us the ability to create and edit word processing documents in the app, manage sharing, and upload pictures and video. This time we got:

  • Create and edit spreadsheets within the app (including realtime collaboration on shared spreadsheets)
  • Upload any filetype from other apps using “Open in…”
  • Manage file uploads

These are all great improvements, but the biggest change in my opinion is the “Open in…” feature. I tried it out and found that I could create a document in Pages and then upload that document in .pages format to my Google Drive. Once there, I can share that document with another user, who can then download and view the work in Pages on his iPad or Mac! I was also able to upload a large Keynote file in the .key format.

The upshot of all this is that now we have a way to share all sorts of filetypes without resorting to email (and the limitations that brings). For example, I can have a student create a great Keynote presentation and then turn it in via Google Drive without worrying that the file is too big to attach to an email.

Google has really improved their Drive app in the last few months to make it an excellent option for use on the iOS platform. What features would you like to see them add next? Let us know in the comments!

100 Learning?

100 Cute?

For my son, 100 is the biggest number in existence. If you ever want to express the idea that something is truly superlative, just label it with 100. For example, if you had a really great time at the park today, you had “100 fun.” If I am eagerly awaiting a weekend birthday party, I’m “100 excited.” You get the idea.

Of course the idea of using a quantitative measurement for an abstract concept is ludicrous. But he’s four years old, so we give him a pass. After all, he’s cute!

As I think about the way we treat assessment in our classrooms, it occurs to me that we might do the same thing. I teach a unit. I give a test. A student takes that test and gets a 92. He now has 92 learning.

We have attached this type of quantitative measurement to teaching and learning for so long now that it doesn’t even strike us as being odd. We never ask the question, “what do these numbers mean?” Are we measuring what we think we’re measuring? Are we even using the right unit of measure?

The fact that we’ve been using this method for so long should suggest that a) something about it works, b) its too hard to do anything else, or c) we’re afraid of what a better assessment might reveal. I suppose there is also a third option – a combination of the first three.

I am willing to admit that there is a correlation between a student’s grade in a class and his ability to show mastery of the concepts. But when we use those grades to rank and sort and determine important life decisions like college entrance is correlation enough? And when we also use factors like “neatness” and “class participation” in the equation, does that not lessen the correlation?

All this to say, I find myself more and more on the student portfolio bandwagon. Not just because it is the latest fad in assessment and not because it gives me another opportunity to use technology to solve a problem. I am in favor of the idea because in a world where the number we assign to a student can make or break him we owe it to that student to be as comprehensive and transparent with the grading process as possible. A cumulative portfolio of student work gives us a tool to attempt just that.

Of course no single classroom teacher can change the entire structure of academic assessments. But just because you still have to give a grade doesn’t mean you can’t also provide a portfolio. If what people like Tony Wagner (of Harvard University) and others say is true, colleges and universities are slowly starting to see the value of a portfolio in their admissions process, while simultaneously devaluing standardized assessments.

How can you do this in your classroom? Here’s a simple two-step solution:

  1. Assign meaningful work
  2. Archive the products of that work

Step one is really the hard part. Keeping an archive is easy. There are a variety of ways to do this, including just taking pictures or making recordings of the student’s work. You can then save it to a hard drive or post it to a blog so that there is a lasting record of what that student has done. Use standardized file formats so that they are easily accessible across platforms, and you’ve got an invaluable tool for that student to give an authentic account of what he or she can do.

We can argue all day about whether the educational system will ever change to fully adopt methods like this for assessment. The answer to that question, however, is irrelevant. If we can see the value in the endeavor and know that it is technically possible, why not start now?

We 100 owe it to our students.

The Personal Learning Network – Practice What You Preach

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” – Luke 6:40

This, for a teacher, should be one of the most sobering passages in scripture. The idea that my students will be like me when fully trained gives me a renewed focus to “practice what I preach.” In other words, am I an example of what I want my students to be?

It is easy to gloss over this idea with a simple “yes” and move on. If my objective is for my students to have knowledge of a subject then I can affirm that I do know my subject. However, if my objective is more than just knowledge, but also includes actions and dispositions, then the scene is a bit more cloudy.

To answer this question, we must first be clear on exactly what we want our students to be like. Again, the question is not “what should they know,” but rather, “what should they do.” Lately we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the ideas around the “4 C’s.” Creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are the skills we say are necessary for our students to bear influence in the world that they will inherit. We could probably add a few things to that list, but I think it is certainly a good starting point.

So then, in light of the wisdom of Luke 6:40, what is the example that you are setting for your students? I would ask if you “model” the 4 C’s, but I don’t think that word is strong enough. To really do this, we must truly embody the 4 C’s, not just model them. Its not enough for us to talk about these things in class, they must be part of who we are! I think of it as the old idea of being a “lifelong learner,” re-imagined for the 21st century.

This is a tall order for many. Our lives are filled with so many things, who has time to invest in remaking ourselves into a 4 C’s teacher? It seems such a daunting task, but there are things that we can do to lower the barrier to entry and get ourselves moving in that direction.

To that end, I want to spend a few posts expanding on the idea of a “Personal Learning Network,” or PLN. Your PLN is a network of people around you that you can interact with and learn from. They may be people you know or (thanks to the magic of the internet) people who you may never meet. It is a sort of etherial thing that can bring real growth in the way that you think about your classroom and your students. It is a place for two-way interaction through conversations, comments, and even tweets! And, perhaps most importantly, it is something that you can initiate with surprisingly little effort.

So, I’m going to spend the next several weeks developing this idea a little more fully. In the mean-time, here are a few links to sites that expand on the idea of PLN’s – mostly without the Biblical guilt trip. 🙂

Personal Learning Networks for Educators: 10 Tips – Mark Wagner, Getting Smart

5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network – Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator

PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy – Kate Klingensmith, Once A Teacher…