MacReach Show #38: Apple News & Resources

This week on MacReach: We discuss lots of Apple new, Apple resources, and an awesome app of the week!  We invite you to join in on the conversation about Apple’s impact in education as we look to the future.

Show Hosts: Meg Wilson (@iPodsibiities) and Kelly Dumont (@KDumont)

Leave us some feedback! 

Contact us with any questions or comments-

InstaGrok Educational Search Engine

Can you define the word “Grok?”

Grok Definition

InstaGrok is a developing answer-engine that is specifically designed for the education market. The mission of  InstaGrok is to teach 21st Century research and curation skills in a safe, age appropriate environment. InstaGrok is commercial free and organizes search results according to themes and concepts. In a way, InstaGrok is similar to Wolfram|Alpha as it provides answers and information rather than a list of links. Using the search box, type in any term or idea that you are interested in learning about. The results returned are divided into five categories:

  • Overview
  • Websites
  • Videos
  • Q&A
  • Quizzes
The results returned are derived algorithmically which means the database is as wide as the internet. There are three features of InstaGrok that are especially noteworthy and should excite educators:

InstaGrok's version of the "Wonder Wheel"

Anyone who enjoyed using the Google WonderWheel (RIP) will appreciate the concept map feature of InstaGrok. Much more sophisticated that its predecessor, this concept map includes the ability to click on related terms or the ability to see the relationship between two words by clicking on their connecting lines.

Dynamic Leveling
All results returned from an InstaGrok search can be sorted by academic level. The current options include “College”, “High School” and “School.” All of the content returned in a search are clearly marked with its associated level. Leveling is determined by vocabulary and work complexity.
Quiz Questions
InstaGrok is able to dynamically create multiple choice quiz questions from relevant content. Students can answer questions and receive immediate feedback on the answer as well as the ability to read the content from which the question was generated. This is a very exciting feature that teacher will appreciate.
The next time you or your students are research information, give InstaGrok a try! Let us know what you think.

I let my students grade me.

At the end of the year I ask my students to complete a course evaluation. They typically enjoy this because I tell them that this is their opportunity to give me a grade for my performance as a teacher. I take this survey seriously and try to make adjustments the following year based on the feedback that I get. In typical high school fashion some students leave suggestions that are completely ridiculous (“let us mess around more”), impossible (“let’s have class outside all the time”), and just plain funny (“get rid of all your plants and animals”). Others, are helpful.

Of all the questions that I ask, these are the ones that I pay most attention to:

  • What was your overall experience in class this year?
  • Did you have to think in order to do well in this class?
  • Did Mr. Sowash teach using a variety of different methods?

This year I also added a question asking students to describe my class using one word. There were lots of creative responses! You can see the results in the word-cloud in the infographic below (click to enlarge).


2011 Course Evaluation Infographic

Course evaluations are a humbling yet informative exercise. Teachers spend an entire year grading their students, it seems appropriate that at least one time during the year, the students should have the opportunity to grade their teachers. Accountability can be painful, but it is also a stimulus for growth.

The usefulness of these evaluations is expended when they are used annually. Last year I gave the same evaluation. As I compare the results year to year I can see areas of strength and weakness. I posted my evaluation from 2010 on my personal blog. There are some remarkable similarities!

If you would like to try your own class evaluation, here are a few tools to get you started:

  • Here is the template for my evaluation which was created using Google Docs Spreadsheet. The associated form can be accessed via URL, embedded in a class page, or emailed out.
  • There are several neat wordcloud generators on the web. Wordle and Tagul are two that I have used.


Open Houses…Advice for New Teachers

You’re a new teacher. Congratulations, you’ve made it through your first year of school. In the past couple of week’s you have probably received several open house invitations which is likely to lead to great social discomfort:

Image Via Flickr user c.a.muller

Are you obligated to attend all of the open houses that you are invited to?

Can you pick and choose?

Should you just skip them all?

Does a Facebook invitation hold the same weight as an invitation mailed to your home or put into your school box?

Do you need to bring a gift?

These are some of the questions that I had to work through during my first few years as a teachers. Here, for your review, are my policies regarding open houses.

1. The invitation

I will not consider attending an open house unless I receive a personal invitation. It can be put into my school mailbox, hand delivered, or mailed to my home address. Facebook and casual “hey, c’mon over” invitations don’t cut it. Perhaps this is an old-fashioned, and stuck-up policy, but it makes for an easy decision.

2. Picking the Party

Just because I receive an invitation doesn’t mean that I attend every open house. Sometimes I am surprised at the students who send me invitations: “I haven’t had you in class since your freshman year and you haven’t talked to me since. Why are you inviting me to your open house?” There are some students, however, that I have become very close with as a result of their involvement with teams that I coach, extra-curricular activities, or frequent informal conversations throughout their high school careers. These are the students that I am connected with and feel that it would be appropriate to attend their open house.

3. The Present

It is customary these days to give graduates money. I graduated in the year 2000 and remember raking in over $2,000. I’m sure that today’s graduates pull in even more. Despite this custom, I am a teacher and don’t have spare cash to doll out to students. Most other graduation gifts are too tacky to be seriously considered. So, instead of the gift, I write a fairly long personal note to the graduate commending them for their hard work and providing some insight or encouragement for the future. No Washingtons, Lincolns, or Hamiltons.

These three rules keep the number of open houses that I attend each year to a manageable number. This year I only have two on my calendar.

Veteran teachers, what are your rules for attending open houses?

Help Students and Parents Fight The Summer Reading Slump


Summer is just around the corner, and as teachers and administrators wrap up the year they will give their annual inspirational ‘win one for the gipper’ speeches; in an effort to encourage their students to read over the summer.

Ironically I just sat down this week to type up a letter to be distributed to my tier 2 and tier 3 reading intervention students, doing this very thing. I’d like to share some resources, ideas, and tips that teachers and administrators can use and share with parents and students. I hope that this post encourages you to be proactive; show parents and students the importance of summer reading, and equip them to fight off the “summer slump”.

Use research to show parents the importance of engaging students in active reading this summer. I really like this short two page research brief on the benefits of engaged summer reading:
summer reading brief

Check out your local library’s summer reading incentive programs. My local library offers some great programs for children, teens, and adults: Carmel Clay Public Library and Zionsville Public Library

Do you live near a college or university? Many universities, small colleges, and community colleges offer intensive to less intensive reading programs. Here is an example of one in my community:
IUPUI Reading Class

Check out some universal summer reading incentive programs that some big name publishers and major bookstores offer:
Scholastic Summer Reading Program
Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program
Book It! Summer Reading Program

Start your own online book clubs! Our students live online, why not engage them in community there! Take some time to set up a book club online using an online learning platform, here are a few I would suggest:

Google Groups

Check out these additional great Ideas and resources from Reading Rockets:

Have a suggestion? Please comment and share with everyone else! Summer’s just around the corner, don’t just throw summer reading to chance!

Image credit: Flickr via Klearchos Kapoutsis


Where is YOUR classroom?

Every day, I am an active participant in an amazing classroom that is filled with engaging and unique learning opportunities. I learn all kinds of information about a variety of different topics; it all depends on what I find interesting or necessary at the moment. I have access to an incredible wealth of credible resources, and I am given as much time as I need to synthesize information and determine how to best leverage it. I have opportunities to collaborate and learn with, and from, experts all over the world. I have the chance to participate in challenge based learning projects where I work to find solutions to a variety of real world problems, and I do it with individuals in locations that I have never been to. I work hard to publish content that I feel is important to share. I am allowed to be curious, and I am encouraged to be creative. Most importantly, the classroom is always changing and morphing into an even better, more efficient and personalized classroom.

You may be wondering where this amazing classroom is, and my response is unique given the time of day: at home, the gym, my car, the gas station, a school, a picnic table, a friend’s house, my back deck, a restaurant… and that is just a few of today’s locations. With the help of my iPhone and iPad, my classroom can be completely mobile, it can go wherever I go. That means that whenever I want, I can find information, validate it, synthesize it, communicate it, and use it to solve problems collaboratively. Since my classroom is not located within the confines of four walls in a specific building, I am able to learn more simply because I have more opportunities to do so.

So… if I can recognize that my own classroom is mobile, why am I still demanding that my students come and sit in a room to learn? Isn’t it time that educators start discussing how mobile learning devices can really change the educational experience for our students?

I am certainly not saying that mobile learning is not being discussed. In fact, it is currently one of the hottest topics with educators, including myself. Educators can’t seem to stop talking about how to use mobile learning devices in the classroom. But that is part of the problem, we keep talking about using mobile devices IN the classroom. It is a bit absurd to talk about mobile learning taking place in a classroom… unless your definition of a classroom has changed. Thanks to the many types of mobile technologies available today, I can now consider a classroom to be anywhere I can learn or gain experience. I am a huge advocate for using mobile learning devices because I get to experience their educational value on a daily basis in my own mobile classroom. Technology has without a doubt changed how I learn, what I learn, how much I learn, and of course, where I learn. And I am not alone.

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the Mobile Learning Experience conference, where it was refreshing to talk with a variety of educators who are using technology to transform students’ learning experiences. There is a definite shift happening in education right now, or a ‘disruption’ as some might say. Graham Brown-Martin set the perfect tone for the Mobile Learning Experience with his keynote about disruption, innovation, and learning. His thought-provoking discussion about how disruptive technologies like social media, video games, the Internet, and mobile devices have changed every industry but education was eye-opening for many at the conference. Educators were either inspired or enraged as they thought about how to best answer Graham’s bold question: what would the “napsterfication of learning” look like? I know that I personally left the conference feeling like these disruptive technologies are not only great tools for students, but they are essential tools for students’ future success: disruption will drive student innovation, foster creativity, and offer new learning opportunities.

As educators, we need to embrace and encourage disruption in and out of our classrooms. We need to listen to students like Dan Brown and Travis Allen speak about how institutionalized education has failed them. We need to question what it really means to be educated in a world where facts are free. We need to rethink the location of our classrooms, and recognize the impact mobile devices actually have on the roles of school buildings and educators. We need to understand that the goal is to use technology to empower students so that they will change the world for the better.

Educators need to think about how we can give students the right tools, strategies, and experiences so that they can be the best students possible in their own classrooms, wherever those classrooms may be.

MacReach Show #11: iPhone Madness! …and Great Apple Resources

Kelly Dumont and Scott Meech join me for an episode filled with iPhone talk, Apple education resources, and tons of fun!

Mac News

Is Apple tracking you?

The white iPhone is finally here! ….does anyone care?

Tough Covers: How to protect your iPad from a 500ft drop out of a plane.


There are so many great Apple education resources out there, we wanted to highlight a few of them:

Hottest Apps Used by Apple Distinguished Educators: App Reviews by ADEs

Apple Education Seminars and Events: seminars, webinars, and all kinds of other professional development (and most are free to attend!)

Apptivities: a website dedicated to the “Application of Apps!”

App Challenge

It was easy to come up with lots of ideas for our App of the Week! Here’s a hint… it’s quick, easy, and fun to use for many ages!

Macs for All

Quick access to Zoom on your iOS devices through the programmable triple-click home button… good stuff.

Stay Informed on Education Reform: Three Blogs To Read Daily

As an administrator and lifelong educator I make it a priority to keep a daily watch on news, technology, and legislative action that impacts academia!  This year has been particularly active; a recent article by the NYT stated it well: “With the dust settling on legislative sessions around the country, 2011 is shaping up as one of the most consequential years in memory for changes in the way schools are run.”

We need to be informed educators!  We should know the issues facing us and be ready to voice our opinions.  Legislative action, case law, and perceptions of our stakeholders has a huge impact on how we implement quality curriculum and use technology in our schools.  I’d like to share with you three blogs that I think every educator should be reading to stay informed on the issues impacting education.

1.  This Week In Education by Alexander Russo

Mr. Russo does a remarkable job of fishing out great stories and highlighting the sweeping legislative action taking place across the country.

2.  EdJurist

This blog is a must for staying informed on the legal ramifications of current, and past, educational case law.

3.  EdReach

If you want a great filter for education innovation news, and opinions, look no further!   This blog is a must read (I know I’m a bit biased)!  I think the vision statement says it all: “Ed Reach provides a platform for passionate, outspoken educators- aiming to strengthen their voices by highlighting innovation in the field of education, through reporting critical educational news and providing commentary and criticism of the educational issues of the day.”

So, what are you waiting for?  Be informed, stay informed, and contribute to the conversation!

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by matt.davis



Are you being hypocritical about copyright and attribution?

Just in the past couple of days I was a “fly on the wall” for a number of different situations that all involved copyright is some way.

Here is the first – I happened to be by a number of faculty members who were discussing the benefits (and potential drawbacks) to leveraging YouTube videos as a classroom teaching tool. The conversation went something like this:

Teacher 1: “There are some really great videos out there, but what happens if the person who uploaded a video takes the one that you have been using for a particular lesson down”

Teacher 2: “That’s not a big deal, when you find one you really like, just download it to your computer using XYZ site and then it doesn’t matter what happens to the one on YouTube…”

Here is the second – I was working with a science teacher who was having the students research different forms of minerals properties. One of the students asked about attribution for the cited information:

Student: “When we find a good source for the information, do we have to cite the source in MLA or APA format?”

Teacher: “I’m a Science teacher not an English teacher… I don’t need any [air quotes] ‘special format’, just be sure you put down a link back to the original source of your information…”

Shortly after having those two experiences, I ran across this blog post about “Keep your favorite YouTube videos” in my RSS reader. Granted this is a quick blurb, and I know the author very well and his personal views/stance on copyright, but all of these situations presenting themselves in such a short timeframe and quick succession, it really got me thinking about the idea of copyright, fair use, and the very real classroom attitude of “don’t do what I do, do what I say…”

I am a copyright hypocrite

I have to admit that have been guilty of this in the past. When I was teaching, coaching, scrambling to get it all done, AND prepare lessons, I would often use an image or a video clip, or start a thought provoking session with a great quote all without thinking about copyright or attribution. My teaching PowerPoints would end with a blank black screen with no “work cited / attribution” slide… I was guilty of hoarding video clips and shared concerns about streamed media (no / flaky network connectivity), but I was ok with the “stealing” of video clips from a number of websites, all with the justification of “fair use”.

My thoughts were: “I am an educator, I am using these resources strictly for the betterment of my students, I am never going to ‘profit’ from the use of these materials…’ So, I never contacted the true creator of those resources to even inquire if he or she would mind if I used the materials they created for my purposes. At the same time, I would require my students to adhere to copyright… require them to have a work cited page, and appropriate inline citations and / or footnotes. (Being a Social Studies teacher and a historian, I favored Chicago style.) So, I am here to say: Yes, I am (was) a copyright and attribution hypocrite!

Well, what about Fair Use?

While, copyright law is confusing at best, especially for educational uses, Renee Hobb’s (Temple university) book Copyright Clarity provides a great resource and a quick read primer on copyright and fair use in education focusing on new media.

From my viewpoint, at the minimum, the easiest thing all educators can do is STOP being a hypocrite. The best teaching tool is example, be a good one.

  • Be sure that all materials you use in a lesson, presentation, or demonstration are part of a work cited page or slide.
  • Work with the English departments, or librarians within your schools and agree on a citation format (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) and encourage ALL departments to use this format for ANY student research work.
  • Learn about Creative Commons licensed resources. Visit for additional information about the various types of licensing (Share-alike, Attribution, Transformation, Commercial, etc)
  • Think about licensing your own work under Creative Commons Licensing.
  • When desiring or “archive” a streaming media source (for off network purposes), at the minimum, contact the creator and request permission to download his or her material. Then keep it only for the purpose and time frame intended.
  • Remember the key to Fair Use: Transformativeness ~ Repurpose – Add Value

Copyright is a huge and valuable topic. In a future post, I will outline how to use Google, flickr, and WikiMedia Commons to find Creative Commons licensed images for use in lessons and presentations.

Image Credit: Keshiki

Video Credit: MediaEdLab on YouTube – Copyright Education User Rights, Section 107 Music Video

Infographics: intersecting art and science

I really like infographics. They’re entertaining and informative. Why not have your students create them?

I teach science, biology to be precise. All of my students fall in to one of two [very] broad categories: artists or nerds. The artists are the students who would prefer to work with words or art supplies. The nerds are much more comfortable working with numbers.

In case you are wondering, I’m an artist.

It is very difficult to get a nerd to write a complete sentence. It is very difficult to get an artists to create an accurate data table and graph.

The cool thing about an infographic is that creating one requires artistic creativity and mathematical precision. Pairing up nerds and artists further communicates the importance of collaboration and teamwork.

Here are some of my favorite infographics:

And here is my own attempt at creating an infographic. The data is from the course evaluation that I gave at the end of the 2010 school year.

There are a lot of interesting conversations that can result when viewing and creating infographics:

  1. Can the data in an infographic be misleading?
  2. Is the design or the data more important?
  3. Is quantitative or qualitative data more important?
  4. How do you analyze qualitative data?
  5. How do you select a graph to appropriately display data?

Have you ever created infographics with your students? If so I would be delighted to hear about your experience and showcase their work!

Get Connected: The Power of a PLN

“When we are connected to others, we become better people.” -Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

These days it is hard to imagine my life without Twitter, which is pretty humorous because two years ago I was rolling my eyes at just the mention of Twitter. I was definitely one of those people who thought tweeting was only about what you had for lunch, who you shared that lunch with, or where you ate that lunch. In all honesty, I only joined Twitter because I wanted to know what my students were doing; I have a huge issue with my students using technology that I don’t know anything about. So I asked my students what they liked about Twitter and got a range of answers from “I want to know what Britney is doing” all the way to “I get breaking news alerts.” So I signed up and started following all kinds of news sources, celebrities, friends/family on my contact list, and of course, anyone who followed me. It didn’t take long to figure out how to operate Twitter but I just didn’t see it as useful in my life, personally or professionally. I thought is was surely a fad that would fade quickly.

That was until I saw people I admired, people who talked about things I wanted to hear about, people who liked the same things I did, tweeting great resources and experiences. (Thank you to @TonyVincent for reigning me in!) And they weren’t tweeting about their lunches; they were tweeting about their thoughts, their ideas, their experiences, their passions. I was hooked. I dropped the personal account and began a more educational-based account, one that I saw as an extension of myself as an educator. It only took a few tweets before I realized how having a Personal Learning Network (PLN) could change me as an educator. People had fantastic articles and resources to share, and I had a forum to talk about the things that I am truly passionate about in an online community where others cared to listen. I asked questions, and I got immediate answers from expert educators…how often does that happen? If you are a new teacher, I highly recommend that you be a part of the Twitter community. If you aren’t comfortable tweeting just yet, you can still make great use of Twitter searches. You can locate some excellent resources just by searching hashtags like #EdReach, #EdChat, #EdTech, #IEAR, or #SpEdChat (just to name a few, but there really is a search for almost every topic out there… Jerry Blumengarten has a fabulous list here). Once you experience the wealth of resources that are available on Twitter, I am positive that you too will want to be a part of the conversation.

My PLN is an amazing part of my life. It is filled with smart, forward-thinking, honest educators whose resources have changed my classroom in ways they will never know. My PLN pushes me to stay connected to what is happening right now in education and to stay connected to phenomenal educators who make me want to be a better educator every day. For these things, I am truly grateful as a professional.

But this week I am grateful on a truly personal level. This week I experienced the amazing power of my PLN. As an educator, I think it goes without saying that I love teaching and learning. I love working with students and I would be lying if I said I know how to separate work from home. And I’m alright with that because my job represents a huge part of who I am. My “work” is not just professional, it is personal. I think most people who work with any group of people closely would agree. I love what I do and I do what I love, and that alone makes it personal.

Last Sunday evening, I got a phone call that I had hoped to never receive. Our middle school’s Emergency Phone Tree was being used to contact every staff member in the school: a 7th grade student was missing. My thoughts swirled around: “I hope she is safe”, “things like this don’t happen in our school”, “you only hear this kind of stuff on the news”, and most importantly, “what can I do to help?” Upon finding out that the local police, state police, and FBI were involved, I personally felt helpless. Until I realized there was one thing I could do: I could help to get the word out. People don’t vanish… SOMEone saw, or might see, SOMEthing. So I hijacked my Twitter account where I usually only focus on all things iPod and iPad and tapped into a community I knew could help me, my school, and most importantly, my student in a desperate time of need. I kept sending her photo out and asking others in my PLN to do the same …and kept hoping someone would recognize her. And after four frightfully long days, we received word that she had been found. Someone had seen her and recognized her from posted photos; she was returned to her family safe and unharmed. My school, my community, my family and friends, and kind of surprisingly, my PLN breathed a huge sigh of relief and celebrated her return right along with me.

(Side note: Many have inquired about the student and what happened to her, but I believe her story is hers to tell, not mine. I am simply thrilled that she is safe.)

Once the cheers of joy were shouted, and the news was tweeted, I found myself thinking about a community of educators who had helped me not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level. They could have ignored my requests to retweet something that didn’t have anything to do with iPods, iPads, Apple technologies or education at all. They could have carried about their day, but they didn’t. They retweeted, emailed, and FaceBooked her picture because I needed help. Their messages of caring concerns and support reminded me that “when we are connected to others, we become better people.” I could never express my sincerest thanks to every, single person who shared her photo, but I hope this message reaches each of them: my deepest gratitude for your help is more than I can ever express in words.

Although I do not know exactly how the woman who discovered the missing student had seen her photograph (and I certainly cannot say that it came from one of my postings), I can definitely say that she saw the photograph because so many people were sharing it. I used to see how far one of my tweets of her FBI Missing Persons poster had traveled, and I was BLOWN AWAY. That one tweet had been seen by over 29,000 people! All because my PLN clicked “retweet” …WOW. Now, THAT is the amazing power of a PLN.

So on both a professional and personal level, I thank my PLN and the EdReach community from the bottom of my heart. I am humbled by your support and knowledge on a daily basis: you have truly made me a better educator and a better person.


What We Can Learn About Teaching From Steve Jobs

Educators are many things; we are instructors, managers, intellectuals, learners, motivators, performers, and salesmen to name a few.  Yup, that’s right… I consider teachers to be salesmen, businessmen, suppliers, or whatever you want to call it.  Education is indeed a business where community members pay (usually in the form of taxes or a tuition) for schools’ educational services. I don’t mind being considered a salesman because teachers are in the business of selling something truly worthwhile: education.

Most people will agree that Steve Jobs is one of the best salesmen of all time. His ability to create excitement, engage, and motivate consumers to take action is unheard of in the world of business. When was the last time you heard about a Keynote speech from Steve Ballmer (he’s the guy running Microsoft)? Jobs has certainly found a successful way to draw in an audience as he teaches the world about his latest gadgets.  As a Mac fanatic, I have watched quite a few of his Keynote speeches and I have learned a few things along the way that have helped make me a better teacher.

Be prepared. You will never see Steve Jobs give a speech where he is unprepared. He knows exactly what to say without reading a slideshow presentation, and that makes his message much more powerful.

Stick to one main message. Steve Jobs definitely understands the meaning of the word objective. All of his Keynote speeches focus on one main message that is repeated throughout the speech. It is the one thing he wants the audience to know after watching his presentation.

Acknowledge the other side. There are two sides to every story. Every great story has a villain, and Steve Jobs always makes a point to talk about what his villains, or competitors, are saying or doing. By addressing the other side of the story and providing reasons for why it is not true, he creatively persuades his audience to be on his side so that they are willing and ready to hear what he has to say.

Keep it simple. Every presentation that I have seen by Steve Jobs included a very simplistic Keynote slideshow. I’ve always found it interesting that he does not use bullet points to list ideas; instead he combines visuals with simple text to convey his meaning and keep his speech on track. He’s proof that you can make a point without actually putting a point in front of it.

Focus on the benefits. Why should the audience care? Steve Jobs always spends time outlining the benefits of the topic at hand in a quick, clear, concise, and positive way. The audience doesn’t care about what he is selling unless they will benefit from it in some way.

Switch it up. Steve Jobs makes sure to not lecture the whole time, whether he shows a video, asks a colleague to speak, or physically demonstrates to the audience how something works.  And better yet, he has fun while he is doing it. Audiences can quickly lose interest in long speeches, but switching it up can help the audience stay focused.

Create a moment worth talking about. Most of Apple’s Keynote speeches involve an emotionally charged moment that is greatly built up throughout the speech. Steve Jobs never comes right out and says “here’s our new product.” No, instead he tries to lead into a moment where he leaves the audience talking long after the speech is over.

Sell the idea. Yes, I understand that Steve Jobs’ Keynotes are so that Apple can introduce new products and in turn sell them. But every Keynote also includes a bigger pitch: do something amazing with technology. Do something meaningful and make your life better. Steve Jobs was once quoted saying that his goal in life wasn’t to die rich, it was to go to bed each night thinking that he and his company had done something amazing, and I respect that.

Steve Jobs’ Keynote speeches make me think of the many Keynote speeches I have seen at conferences. As an educator, I really enjoy attending conferences. I am passionate about education because I do truly love to learn, and that is exactly what I get to do at conferences. I always leave conferences feeling energized, excited, and ready to get back to my classroom to try the new things I have learned. The Keynote is almost always the best part of a conference because the speaker is passionate, knowledgable, energetic, and usually entertaining. And when I leave, I feel like I take all of those things with me.

Teaching is certainly a performance of salesmanship; teachers must entertain and educate at the same time all in an effort to try to get students to buy into what we are selling. By rethinking our classroom lectures and presentations, we can incorporate some of Steve Jobs’ tried but true techniques and give our students the Keynote experience. If we start viewing our classrooms as an opportunity to deliver Keynote speeches daily, can our students leave feeling like I do after a conference or a Steve Jobs’ presentation? I would say it is definitely worth a try.


Free Professional Development

Flickr: Travelin' John

While school budgets are being reduced, the expectations placed on educators certainly are not. One of the first areas that budget cuts commonly occur is professional development. That’s something like taking away half of a builders tools and expecting him to continue building at the same quality.

Has your school cut your professional development budget? Mine has.

These cuts are especially challenging for new teachers. Even the best teacher education program can’t fully prepare a teacher for the rigors, trials, and surprises of the classroom. Establishing connections to other experienced educators is critical for long term success.

If your funding for PD activities is limited, you might find these free resources helpful:

Google Apps for Education Professional Development Series

These one hour webinar sessions are delivered bi-weekly by educators around the country. The topics covered vary greatly from “how to become a Gmail Ninja” to “Collaborative Projects for STEM Classrooms.” The common theme throughout all of these webinars is the utilization of Google’s suite of productivity tools (Gmail, Docs, Sites, Calendar, etc).

Classroom 2.0 Live

If you aren’t a member of Classroom 2.0, you should be. This highly active social network for educators is a great place to ask questions and post answers. Every Saturday at 12pm (Eastern) you can join a live webinar featuring prominent thinkers and innovative educations. Some webinars are philosophical in nature while others highlight a specific tool or classroom application. You can also view past sessions on the Classroom 2.0 iTunes Page [iTunes link].


iTunes has a specific section devoted to education. iTunesU contains video and audio podcasts from some of the world’s greatest higher learning institutions including MIT and Harvard. iTunesU K12 contains resources designed for students in grades k-12 and their teachers. I have been cultivating a library of screencasts [iTunes Link] related to Google for the past two years. All of these resources are available free of charge, on demand, right on your mobile device.

TED Talks

Technology, Entertainment, Design. That’s what TED stands for, but it’s much more than that. TED stands for “ideas worth spreading.” Some of the most innovative, inspirational, and moving talks I have ever heard have been TED talks. An invitation only event, the TED conference is held annually around the world and is the place for the worlds most innovative thinkers. Being invited to attend a TED conference would truly be an honor. Speaking at a TED conference is like winning an Oscar. For those of us who haven’t reached rockstar status, you can “attend” any TED talk on their website, iTunes, or YouTube.

You can find a TED talk on pretty much anything. I show them to my students. They are short (18 minutes maximum, that’s the TED way!), and are cutting edge. Some of my favorites include Daniel Pink on “Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose”, Simon Sinek on “How great leaders inspire action” and Sir Ken Robinson on “Why schools kill creativity.” Check them out, they’re worth 18 minutes of your time!

I’ve shared four free PD resources with you, but I know there are many others. What resources would you recommend? Help out a new teacher by sharing your favorite free PD resources!

iThink iCan: Using Mobile Learning Devices to Individualize Instruction

If you want to make something popular these days, it seems like all you have to do is throw a little ‘i’ before your product or idea. Clearly, Apple has expertly created this hype with their iconic mastery of product branding. How did the ‘i’ become so popular? The consensus is that the original lowercase ‘i’ that first showed up in Apple’s iMac stood for ‘Internet,’ yet many people have come to associate the ‘i’ with the word ‘individual.’ It makes sense to me: Apple’s iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iLife products can all be highly personalized for the user. That personalization is the reason I fell in love with my first iPod so many years ago: I could carry my entire personal music library with me to listen to whenever and wherever I wanted. It was a powerful idea that quickly translated to my classroom due to the personalized tools and resources students could have access to, wherever and whenever they needed them. Mobile learning devices like the iPod and iPad have absolutely transformed how I use technology to accommodate exceptional students of all abilities. I have become an advocate for mobile learning devices because of the plethora of opportunities they offer students in the classroom. And it seems that I am not the only one that feels that way.

Last year’s release of the iPad helped make mobile learning devices a very trendy topic of discussion in education. Schools quickly jumped on the iBandwagon in droves that Apple certainly wasn’t expecting (hence the late arrival of the Volume Purchase Program). Twitter exploded with questions from educators about how to incorporate the new technology into their classrooms. The Blogosphere filled up with list after list of “Best Apps to (fill in the blank).” Wikis were created to post lessons, tutorials, and experiences. This abundance of new resources is important, valid growth and I’m more than thrilled that educators want students to have access to these devices in their classrooms. I believe that there are numerous ways that these devices can help educators be better educators, and help students be better students; and I think that we can start to leverage technology in schools to be more than just an activity. It is my hope that the all of these “i” conversations going on will spark a greater interest in using technology to help individualize and improve instruction for all students.

In the field of special education, the word ‘individualize’ is not an option, it is the law. As a special educator, I look at students’ strengths and weaknesses and use that information to create an Individualized Education Plan that accommodates their individual learning styles and needs. Everyday I experience how that plan helps to create just the right lesson, with just the right technology tools to produce a successful learning opportunity for the student. Personalizing instruction for students creates a very powerful learning environment, and it is one that should be experienced by all students. So, why are we not doing this for every student?

One of the most obvious reasons schools are not currently providing personalized plans of instruction for every student is the sheer overwhelming difficulty of the task. We have high expectations of teachers: we ask them to deliver quality instructional programs that meet the different needs of students, to plan and execute engaging lessons, and to collect meaningful data and assessments so that they can start the cycle all over again. The demand to do that for a classroom of 25+ students viewed as individuals, and not a group, can simply be outside the capacity of one teacher. How can teachers possibly be expected to plan the perfect lesson for every student, every day? How can schools provide enough teachers and resources to meet the individual needs of every student? Will there ever be enough time to identify every student’s individual needs and still provide quality personalized instruction for each one? How much will it cost and where will the money come from? These are valid questions that will require schools to think outside the traditional classroom experience for solutions.

Technology may not be the answer, but it certainly is an idea. How can the hype of mobile learning devices translate into a meaningful classroom tool? How can schools start leveraging technology to better plan personalized instruction for students? How can technology help collect data on students so teachers can ensure that all students are successful learners? How can teachers use technology to plan for each student individually and still have time do provide a high level of quality instruction? How can technology help provide personalized learning experiences? These are all ideas worth exploring, and one school is doing just that.

In New York City, a pilot program called the School of One is exploring customized educational programs for students of all abilities. The program is focused on an individualized learning platform that is made up of a student profile, a series of high quality lesson banks, and a learning algorithm. The algorithm helps to match the student’s needs with an appropriate lesson, in an appropriate modality, for every student. The overall goal is to use technology to allow teachers more time to provide quality and effective instruction and at the same time offer students more opportunities to be successful learners. There is an interesting podcast on Freakonomics Radio about how the School of One is a customized experience like Pandora Radio, entitled “How is a Bad Radio Station Like the Public School System?” While the School of One relies heavily on technology to identify individual student needs and daily progress, it is important to note that it doesn’t mean students are using an electronic device all day long; students have the option to learn in a modality that works for them, whether it is through a one-to-one tutor, a hand-ons demonstration, or cooperative group learning activity (among other options). The School of One’s individualized learning platform is a fantastic example of how technology can lead to a change in how we customize education for all students.

How many educators are thinking like the School of One? How many schools are just using technology as an activity, and not a tool? With the release of iPad 2 right around the corner, I hope that schools are looking past all of the “i” hype and are trying to find innovative ways to use mobile learning devices to help individualize instruction for all students.

New Teacher – New Strategy #3: RSS – From Weidig

In this post, I will be looking at RSS the power and potential of Real Simple Syndication. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a tremendous way to simplify your processes in searching and gathering information. Overall, RSS keeps you from having to hunt for information… especially from sites that you frequent often to gather information. This saves time and energy and focuses your attention on evaluating information and choosing whether to delve further into researching a specific topic or simply moving on to other more relevant information and activities.

With RSS you setup a aggregator called a “reader” through which you gather “feeds”. Once a “feed” is setup, information comes to you as opposed to you hunting for it. My choice of RSS Reader is Google Reader. Aside from being one of the free Google tools, there are many 3rd party “readers” that can connect to the feeds within Google Reader that allow you to extend the capabilities of Google Reader as well as view information in the way you prefer. Here is a quick video by Lee Lefever that provides a great overview of explaining RSS and how to setup an RSS Reader:

RSS in Plain English – by Lee Lefever

Once you setup your RSS aggregator, and begin to add feeds, news stories from around the world as well as information from educational and instructional blogs will begin to flow into the Reader. Additionally, most magazine type services (and all search engines) have RSS feeds embeded into their sites that you can tap into. This type is resource allows you to become a “grazer” and evaluator of information as opposed to a hunter of information.

Educational uses.

First and foremost, leveraging RSS provides another way to find, gather, and catalog tremendous amounts of resources and information. It can be used to extend a personal learning network (PLN) as well as augment the process of “giving back” to your PLN by making it easy to share the resources you find. Because you can add feeds about any subject or topic your reader provides an opportunity to create a dynamic learning environment. There is the ability to create a permanent grouping of feeds around instructional methodologies and classroom practices, while having more flexible groupings setup around specific topics, ideas, and even units or lessons for which you are preparing.

Classroom Ideas

Think about how you have students research the internet right now… Typically, a teacher schedules 3 days in a computer lab all devoted to “research.” (Or two days of research and one for pulling it all together) Students do a lot of things with that time… some of it is even researching their topics, however, there is also a great deal of just gathering information without any true evaluation of the source or even the material they find. Too often students take the path of least resistance and only click through the couple of Google links (before abandoning that search or declaring “there is not information on this topic…”. Then they cut and paste this information into a PowerPoint or some other tool. Finally they read from the screen along with the rest of the class when presenting… Sound familiar?

How different could it be if this was how the research went like this? Two weeks before you are set to begin an inquiry based project you schedule one (1) (<- see that ONE) day in the lab for research. The students would have had an RSS Aggregator set up in the beginning of the year or you take the first five minutes of class for them to register with your favorite. Now you have the students begin researching current relevant topics through news agencies and blogs (you can even use diigo, delicious and technorati as search vehicles) by doing google searches and ONLY grabbing the RSS feed for the topic or going to specific sites of some interest and grabbing the RSS feed. Now all of the information that is returned is NOT REVIEWED AT THIS POINT but, put into the RSS Aggregator to be allowed to continue to collect for the next two weeks. Perhaps you have them work a bit to create folders to categorize some of the information on the fly like:

  • Background information / Google search RSS
  • Relevant News Stories
  • Blogs and other first person accounts
  • Misc.

Then when the hour is over, you all go back to your regularly scheduled classes for the next two weeks. However, during this time the RSS Reader is chugging away gathering more and more information related to the topic of the students choice. When it comes time for the inquiry based project to begin, you bring the students back to the lab, and they now begin to use and develop their skills at “grazing” information, evaluating the relevance of the information in their reader, the credentials of the source of the information, digesting the information and what type of impact it would have on their project. They would also begin the process of evaluating possible presentation vehicles. These vehicles will become the tools for presenting this information so their peers, parents, and teachers best understand and be impacted by the message they are working to get across. How much different of a learning experience would that be for your students?

Other Thoughts

On an aside while you can do group work with RSS, through Google Reader, with each student having their own account account they can leverage RSS in ways more personal to them. What about setting up a class reader or feeds? Unit feeds? Share some of your personal feeds on a class website? or even set up your own RSS feed of a class blog or Ning so parents could subscribe to what you are doing in class.  What are your thoughts other ways to embrace RSS for your personal learning environment as well as the advancement of student learning and achievement.

RSS Aggregator Options

There are a number of RSS Aggregators (Readers) out there. Some carry a $ cost with them others are free. Below is a brief list of a few of the more popular Readers (all free):

  • Google Reader
  • FeedReader
  • Bloglines
  • At the end of this post I have a couple of links that have links to many… many… more RSS Readers.

    There are also have other RSS Reader options. Most “portal” sites like Microsoft LiveiGoogleMyYahoo,and Pageflakes, (among others) have RSS Aggregators as a part of their functionality. Most email clients have RSS capabilities… Additionally, the Mac OS X and Windows 7 have desktop widgets that allow for RSS feeds to be displayed… get the idea that that RSS is all over out there, you just need to be open to a better way of pulling information to you as opposed to going to get it?

    Now all you need to to is create an account with one of these services, and then start gathering “feeds” into your RSS Reader. Here are a couple of criteria that I like to use when trying to choose RSS Readers:

    • How easy is it to use?
    • Can I organize the feeds into folders or categories?
    • How easy is it to add a feed? Does the service have a “wizard” of some sore that helps me find a feed on a page?
    • Can it be used online and offline? (this is key for me in case you have time, but not a connection to the internet)
    • Can it be accessed via mobile device like a smartphone or tablet… either via the web or an application?
    • Is there a “toolbar” feature that makes it easy to subscribe and get to feeds? (see picture below)
    • Is it visually appealing? (vain, but if I am going to be looking at something repeatedly, I want it to be nice ;))

    As you begin to explore and investigate RSS, you will find there are additional options like being able to add personal notes that attach to the articles you are saving, “star” important information, “share” information and articles with others or the world in multiple ways. One caution… RSS can get addicting. Start with a few feeds and begin to work up to more as you feel more comfortable. Also, know that it is OK to simply “mark all read” if you feel the amount of information is getting out of control. The really important information will bubble back to the surface again in the future.

    Image Credit: Marcos Vecino Rosado via Flickr CC
    Video Credit: Lee Lefever via YouTube

    Five Inspiring Google Maps Resources

    Google Maps has a way of making learning visual and interactive.  Google Map’s open API has allowed developers to truly expand applications of use beyond what Google could have ever imagined.  I want to share five resources and sites that I believe can help any educator access inspiring ways for using Google Maps.

    1. Google Maps Mania

    This is my go to Google Maps resources site!  This blog is constantly positing creative maps that have multiple uses in all kinds of classrooms!

    2.  BBC Dimensions

    Give students some perspective on how big or small landmarks really are in Google Maps.

    3. David Rumsey’s Historical Map Collection

    Access several historical map overlays in Google Maps.

    4. History Pin

    Submit and browse historic photos in Google Maps!

    5.  Globe Genie

    Jump around the world in street view.  Give your students an opportunity to randomly explore physical geography all around the world.

    Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by laihiu

    Conferences: What do you take away?

    Yes by is an amazing month for educational technology conferences. It typically starts with the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC), then comes the Midwest Educational Technology Conference (METC), and this amazing month ends with the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference. Having the opportunity to attend (and present at) two of these three conference this year was amazing. So, with the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) conference just wrapping up and February coming to a close up my thoughts begin turning toward the question: “What am I really going to take away from the time I spent at the conferences?”

    Is it the new “tools” I heard about? Was is the thought provoking conceptual sessions on student learning and changing educational process? How about the practical sessions on best practice? Or simple ideas like being sure to show kids how I want them to do something? The new friendships that you created? Or were there times that I was simply overwhelmed by the ideas, thoughts, concepts, and lots and lots of tools… or was it the absolutely fantastic conversations that sprung up at seemingly random times…

    The answer is probably a bit of all of the above with a lot of overwhelmed thrown in for good measure. From years of experience, I can share one thing for certain. If you do not act upon at least some of the new knowledge and experiences you have had at conferences (or any professional development opportunities) within 5 days, you will lose most or all of the ideas, concepts, and motivation you invested so much to gain simply because of everyday life. So, here are a few tips to help capitalize on the wealth of experiences and knowledge gained at conferences:

    • First, decompress. While it might not feel like it, conferences are simply overwhelming with the volume of information transferred to participants. Take a day to let some of the ideas settle in… this will help begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
    • Second, within 2-3 days review your notes from the sessions you attended. Add information to them from the conversations you had during both inside and outside those sessions that are pertinent to the topic AND your personal thoughts and ideas on that topic.
    • Third, organize your notes and ideas. some may fall into topics like: classroom strategies, communications ideas, student focused, personal learning, tools, projects, stuff to further research, and even contact the presenter…
    • Fourth, again take another day to let the new ideas you most likely have generated from the above settle then pick TWO or THREE of those ideas or concepts, the ones that resonate with you, and immediately revise you personal practice or classroom plans and begin to implement them immediately.
    • Finally, BE PATIENT. Did anyone have a session where things didn’t go exactly as planned for the presenter? A tool they were presenting about just not want to cooperate at that instant? We all know it happens. Simply, be patient, but DON’T GIVE UP. Changing personal and professional practices takes time and you WILL experience stumbles, setbacks, and questions while on this road to change.

    Notice I said, “pick TWO or THREE of those ideas or concepts” not tools? While I am SURE you saw (will see) some incredible tools at conferences. However, tools or websites will come and go. Additionally, there is often two or three (or ten or twenty) very “tools” that will accomplish just about the same thing. Focusing on an idea or concept will help guide you toward a “tools” that will aid in achieving the outcome you desire.

    Finally, when you “hit that wall”, lose motivation, forget really what and why you were trying to change in the first place, take a few minutes about a month after the conference to GO BACK to your notes, GO BACK to the conference resource website, or contact the presenters that motivated or challenged you. Each of these actions will help to continue building your personal learning network and reinvigorate your passion for learning.

    To help with that, here are the post conference resources for FETC, METC (METC Virtual Conference), and ICE (Wednesday Session HandoutsThursday Sessions – Handouts). Even if you were not able to attend these conferences, there are great resources, presentation, videoed sessions, and more. If you can’t find something you are looking for, I can’t stress enough how happy the presenters would be to help get you those resources and to continue to build a relationship with you. Remember, they are always building their own PLNs.

    Also, FETC is having a Virtual Conference April 28, 2011. This is another chance for incredibly learning!

    Image Credit: “Ireland” by Infomatique on Flickr