EdGamer Special: On the Road at GLS!

This week, Gerry, half of the EdGamer team, took a trip to the Games+Learning+Society Conference (GLS8) in Madison, Wisconsin. This annual conference, in its 8th year, is the pinnacle event in the gaming and learning (education) world and features guest speakers and committee members such as Dr. James Paul Gee (ASU), Dr. Kurt Squire (UW-Madison), Crystle Martin (UW-Madison) and Eric Zimmerman (independent game designer) along with professionals from the gaming field, professors and students from ASU, UW-Madison, MIT and many, many more.

As I write this summary, I have just returned from my three day stay in Madison, Wisconsin for the 8th annual Games+Learning+Society Conference. To say that I need some decompression time is a massive understatement. I was swamped with so much food for thought (and belly) over the last three days, I am bursting at the seams. Let me first and foremost thank everyone involved in setting up GLS 8 and those who helped EdGamer get there, primarily: Crystle Martin (UW-M & hopefully future EdGamer guest), Dr. James Paul Gee (ASU & repeat EdGamer guest) and Dan Rezac & the EdReach.us family (who are always welcome to be EdGamer guests)!

What made this conference truly wonderful and unique was its excess in three categories: content and new knowledge, amazingly talented and personable people, and food and drink. Each of these three areas was extremely well represented and set on the backdrop of a beautiful and historical town of Madison. It was a conference I will do everything in my power not to miss in the coming years. If you are an educator and have any interest in gaming personally or educationally, you can easily find something for yourself or your classroom. If for some odd reason you can’t, the food and drink is second to none.

My three takeaways from #GLS8 (twitter feed):

1. Education in Torpor: Torpor is my new favorite word. I have to give credit to three presenters: Sonam Adinolf, Selen Turkay & Devayani Tirthali from Columbia College who gave a presentation called, “In Torpor, Not Dead: A Look at a Collectible Card Game that Sticks Around.” The presentation itself was incredibly interesting and was focused on a CCG (collectible card game) and its survival though non-print times, as well as its social and educational impact. I mention this to remind people that this is not only a video game conference; there was a nice representation of board and card games as well. My main takeaway here is not from this presentation (again, it was a great presentation) but instead borrowing from their wonderful vernacular to help illustrate a large underlying feeling at GLS8.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word, torpor can mean either a short or long term deep sleep (similar to hibernation). Sadly, I think this word captures the state of education in our nation due in part to its dark undertones. Education is in a deep sleep, in torpor, but, fortunately, there are many new forces in field ready to awaken it. Many of the educators at the GLS Educators Symposium (GLSES), which was held on the first day of the conference, were upset with the current state of education and its largely unchanging curriculum and models. Do not get me wrong, these are not people that have been burnt out by education in the past. This conference is full of educational professionals: Ph.D. recipients, doctoral students, professors, assistant professors, graduate students and teachers from all levels. This is a group of educators who want change, and have come together to decide how to best facilitate that change. As opposed to simply complaining about the rigor mortis that is much of modern education, these professionals have joined forces to offer gaming as a possible avenue of clarity for some educational issues. Almost every educational professional at this conference will be the first to tell you that gaming is not the answer to all of education’s problems…nor should any simple solution be.

2. Assessment & Immediacy: Assessment is a hot topic issue for many districts around the country as they struggle with grading reform. The wonderful thing about gaming is that it excels in assessment (or its reaching mastery level for our new age assessors). The sentiments we have mentioned several times on the EdGamer program were oft repeated during the conference in multiple sessions. Games are simply more accurate, less prejudicial, and imminently faster at assessing than humans. Computers are also obviously more accurate and quicker with regards to data collection. There is something to be said for the acceptance of failure from a machine as well. For instance, when a game (computing machine) tells you that you have failed, you accept this, push past minor frustration and try again until you succeed (assuming good game design). I will agree that a good teacher can present failure to a student in a motivational way; however there are many teachers that lack the compassion to help students see failure as a step in a larger process of learning. Games are naturally good at that, and the conference was flush with new ideas on how we can use games to assess. From edutainment to hardcore gaming, there was no shortage of assessment through gaming, examples on everything from World of Warcraft, to Minecraft, to Math Blaster.

 3. Crap Detection: Ok, this is another borrowed term from yet another great presentation. Crystle Martin (UW-Madison) gave a presentation titled, “Crap Detection and Information Literacy in the Online Affinity Space of World of Warcraft.” Ernest Hemmingway is largely credited for the term “crap detection,” from over half a century ago, but as Crystle Martin brought up in her presentation, it is more relevant now than ever. As we begin to look past individual intelligence and start to think about seriously integrating (and assessing?) group or community intelligence, we begin to understand the new skill sets that students are going to need. We can listen to every argument we want (or don’t) about the relevancy of Wikipedia, but if you cannot tell the difference between getting information from a 4th grader’s blog and a professional or educational online source, your skills in today’s marketplace may be lost. One of the best and most repeated things I heard from the conference this year was we need to stop trying to force gaming on all students and teachers and start appreciating the skills that gaming gives certain students. Games and forums can present an avenue for students to help increase their ability to “crap detect,” or accurately analyze data.

 In summary of this point, instead of making gaming the lottery-winning answer to all of education’s problems, is let’s simply call it what it is. Gaming is a tool; a tool that is better used and received by some more than others. When we can agree that games should be viewed on an even pedestal in regards to learning techniques with modalities such as books or PowerPoint, then we will really be getting somewhere. This group of gamers and educators is not seeking world domination through gaming, we just want to make sure our voice is heard though research, data collection and powerful presentation with successes and failures in tow. After all, this is the group that learns from and is motivated to improve by failure, not one that accepts in and starts in a new direction.

To say that I was inspired or interested by what I saw at GLS8 would be inadequate at best. I was able to be part of an amazing community of people that celebrate learning through play and engagement…and enjoy arguing about the difference between the two over great food and drink even more. Forget cloud 9…I’m leveling up to cloud 10 and I am already planning my return to the Games and Learning conference! When does registration open for 2013?

Again, my tremendous thanks to everyone at UW-Madison, GLS8, EdReach.us and all of my new contacts for helping make this a great experience. This review was a snippet of the entire conference and a few brief highlights. It was not meant to give summary to all of its parts, which would be impossible without serious review of every great session I attended.


Gerry James




Check out Episode 56 of EdGamer for more review of the GLS Conference

EdGamer 54: Summer Prep for Games Next School Year


It’s summer time on EdGamer this week…well at least for some of us. In episode 54 we figure out what steps teachers would need to take this summer to get ready to use games in the classroom next year. We include some valuable links to resources and also look ahead to some great summer conferences you should consider attending! Watch out, it’s another don’t miss episode of EdGamer…summer style!

Show Host: Zack Gilbert

Show Contributor: Gerry James

Here’s our Show Notes

Contact us with any questions or comments- edgamer@edreach.us


EdGamer artwork by Tricia Fuglestad

Real Quick… Have You Seen the Qwiki App?

Here at EdReach, we are big fans of the educational tool Qwiki. (Did you notice the Qwiki of the Day on the sidebar?) For those of you who have not yet have the pleasure of experiencing Qwiki, it is a fantastic tool that allows you to learn about literally millions of different topics in a matter of moments. According to Wikipedia, “Qwiki is a platform that creates interactive, on-the-fly, multimedia presentations of information.” Basically, Qwiki lets you quickly learn about almost anything – people, places and/or things – in a multimedia format! It truly is an information “Experience”.

As if the free Qwiki.com website wasn’t great enough, they have gotten even better by going mobile! You can now download their app for the iPad via the App Store. After playing around with the app for quite awhile, here are a few of my favorite features of the Qwiki app:

  • it is a combination of images, maps, videos and infographics that are narrated by voice and text to create a short digital story that is relevant to today
  • you can explore topics by searching, browsing a map, or simply by what’s popular
  • once you have watched one Qwiki, it will make suggestions for other related Qwiki you may enjoy
  • it goes where ever you and your iPad go!

A Qwiki is a great way to introduce new topics, expand on previously mentioned topics, review topics quickly, or just let students tap into their own curiosity to learn. This is a great tool to bring into your classroom, regardless of how tech-savvy you may or may not be. If you can type a topic, Qwiki will work for you!

With rave reviews from ABC News, TechCrunch, and The Washington Post, it is clear that Qwiki is just getting started. Like Daniel Rezac, I have to wonder, is Qwiki the next, best platform for digital storytelling? If you are an iPad user, download the FREE app (and if you don’t have an iPad, just head over to Qwiki.com!) and let us know your thoughts on using this awesome tool in the classroom!


Qwiki iPad App Demo from Qwiki on Vimeo.

Celebrating Failure: It’s About the People, Not the Technology

What happens when you throw a bunch of Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) in the middle of the Arizona desert for a week of sharing and learning? Some pretty amazing things! It was an absolute honor to be able to attend the ADE Summer Institute with such a phenomenal group of educators. The week-long institute was an opportunity for me to share, learn, and grow in ways I had never imagined. While I left the Institute with loads of valuable ideas and resources, I left with something far more valuable: two very important life lessons.

Lesson One: Celebrate failure!

According to Webster’s Dictionary, failure is defined as “a lack of success”. This of course, is right in line with what I learned growing up: failure is bad, success is good. The negative connotation of the word failure can impact us and our students in deep ways; when we feel we have failed, we feel defeated, crushed, embarrassed, beat down. We usually carry that failure with us, and let it dictate our path in the future. Up until last week, I admit that failure is a word I personally didn’t want attached to my name in any way… it is just not who I am. Or is it?

I was challenged to rethink my idea of failure when I was asked to start celebrating my own failures, my colleagues’ failures, and my students’ failures. Wait… celebrate failure? At first, it didn’t seem right. Success should be celebrated, not failure. Isn’t that the message we want students to hear? We strive to help our students succeed, not fail. In our grading system, an “F” is the worst grade you can receive. It seemed odd… why should we celebrate the negatives? After giving this a lot of thought, here are a few of my reasons why we should be celebrating all failures, no matter how big or how small.

Failure doesn’t represent a person, it represents a moment. Failure is truly authentic learning. Failure is where we change our thinking about something. Failure is the opportunity to re-evaluate ideas, thoughts, and processes. Failure is where we discover what didn’t work. Failure is where we explore other options and opportunities. Failure is where we are challenged to do better, and to be better. Failure is what makes us who we are.

When we start to celebrate failures, we are doing many things:

  • we are supporting the real fact that we all fail in life at some point, and most likely do it daily
  • we are acknowledging that the person is not a failure, that it was just the moment/idea/experience that failed
  • we are recognizing that we will learn more from our failures than we will ever learn from our successes
  • we are removing the fear of failing, and reinforcing the perseverance to not give up
  • and most importantly, we are creating a learning environment that celebrates learning at any moment

And, let’s be clear and very specific about how you should celebrate failures. Don’t just recognize failures and say, “well, I failed. I’ll try not to do that again.” No! Throw both hands up in the air and shout, “WOO-HOO!” as loud as you possibly can. Take this strategy back to your classroom this fall. Explain to your students that every time anyone fails, it will be celebrated… because those are valuable learning opportunities. Whenever someone makes a mistake, an error, an omission, a miscalculation, an oversight, a slip-up, a misunderstanding, a blooper, or any other inaccuracy of any sort… have the whole class throw up their hands and shout in celebration, “WOO-HOO!” Not only is it fun, but it creates an unbelievably supportive environment. I guarantee that your community of learners will take this life-long lesson with them when they leave your classroom: failure is good, and it needs to be celebrated.

Whether it is personally or professionally, this was a life-changing lesson for me: celebrate failures! Stop looking at your failures as a bad thing, and see them for what they really are: the opportunity to make you a better person. A better educator. A better student. A better parent. A better individual.

Lesson Two: It’s about the people, not the technology.

Lesson one brings me to lesson two. I walked into the ADE Summer Institute ready to talk about Apple technology all week. All my mental preparation was about technology tools and uses. Well… WOO-HOO, I failed!!! I couldn’t have been more wrong. In many ways, I feel like I hardly talked about technology at all. So you are probably wondering, I spent the week in the middle of the desert with a bunch of techie teachers and we didn’t talk about technology? So what did we do all week? Simple, we told stories. And through these stories, I met some amazing people who taught me how to do some amazing things with technology. The relationships that have formed will be far better resources for me than any website, Web 2.0 tool, software program, or any other other piece of technology could ever attempt to be.

In education, we often focus on the tools, resources, and content that we want students to understand and manipulate. But that shouldn’t be our main focus; it should be about the students. Each individual one. I know that I teach because I want every single one of them to be a better individual and to have a meaningful contribution to society and the world we live in. Everyone has a story to tell. And yes, technology can help us tell that story. When we shift our emphasis to relating to our students and their stories, we open up a door to using technology and content to share, learn, and grow. When we forget about competencies and standards, we remember the individuals sitting in front of us every day.

It isn’t about the technology we use with students. It is about the actual students. Kevin Honeycutt said it best, “technology is nothing without a real relationship with our students.” Yes, technology can help our students do some pretty amazing things. But it is people that use the technology to do amazing things. So shift your focus to your students and start asking them how they can leverage technology to share their own story? Start using Challenge-Based Learning to bring storytelling, technology, and real-world issues to your students. You might be surprised to find out how much you learn when you approach education this way.

All week, ADEs focused on storytelling: how do we tell our students’ stories? How do we tell our own stories? How will others learn from those stories? There is so much power in teaching through stories, especially when they are personal to you and your students.  Throughout last week, our main focus as ADEs was to create meaningful and authentic content for iTunesU. Our goal was to show the world how we use technology to tell our students’ stories, and our own. And I am proud to say that we achieved our goal! Stay tuned because this October, educators around the world will see the fruits of our labor on ADEs on iTunesU, where we created nine amazing collections to help other educators empower, engage, and educate students. In these collections, you will find fantastic resources, strategies, and stories that celebrate both the failures and successes of learning in the 21st century. It is our hope that other educators around the world will start to share their stories of success and failure with others, and that the online community of educators sharing and learning together will continue to grow each day.


MacReach Show #21: School is Still in Session with iTunesU!

School may be out for the summer, but iTunesU is still in session! Christine DiPaulo and Scott Meech join me this week to talk about all the great content and resources available on iTunesU, and some really great summer travel apps!



Apps of the Week: Ten Great Travel Apps for Summer

Macs for All: Christine shares a great app for your Mac: Fluid! …definitely worth checking out!


EdGamer 18: Bad Gaming Idea for Eminem

Welcome to EdGamer Episode 18! As we creep closer and closer to our 20th episode we dive deeper into the world of mass gaming. Our topics of interest this week include a look at just how fast gaming is growing through social media, the way social media is corrupting the image of gaming, and how businesses are using gaming as educational tools. We also check out a great site for students where they can keep themselves busy and refresh some skills during the summer months. This week’s show is packed with tons of more great gaming and education references for you to check out. Tune in to EdGamer Episode 18!


Show Host: Zack Gilbert

Show contributor: Gerry James

Subscribe to The EdReach Podcasts on iTunes

Subscribe to the EdReach Podcast Feed

The complete show notes are now on the EdGamer Wiki.

Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.



No Free Lunch in Room 128

There has been a tide of discussion on where schools are headed and what they should do to correct themselves.  My thoughts go directly to one weakness, problem solving.  How can I make my students (and my own children) better at this skill? 

Problem (or at least what I see)

We need “Good deed doers,” divergent thinkers, and problem solvers.  We need students who don’t need to be hand-held and spoon-fed.  I tell my students this all the time, but I catch myself helping and enabling.  I know there is a line of helping and hindering and I also know there are times that I need to cross it in order for the student to learn.  If I help them too much, are they really learning?  Are they just playing a game and getting the teacher to provide the necessary information in order to complete the task?  That answer should be known by the teacher and each situation is different and so complex. (I hope I am not losing you in this banter…I am thinking out loud)

This reminds me of my high school psychology/sociology teacher, Mr. Evans, who had a sign hanging in his room that stated there was “No Free Lunch in Room 118.”  I always thought I knew what it meant, but it took years of teaching and having my own children to truly understand this statement.  I think my mother, father, and older generations had a better grasp on this philosophy because of the times in which they lived.  Maybe today’s difficult times will help a new generation understand that it takes hard work to get the things you need, to create, to design, to imagine greatness, and then be able to achieve it.

But I am scared. I am scared of what I see within our society.  I am scared of the flip side, of those who want things done for them, of those who don’t want to take the road less traveled.  It definitely feels like there is a large group of the populous that fits into this category.  Why does this scare me?  If we want to compete on the world stage, then we need well educated citizens and I am not talking about people who can perform well on multiple-guess standardized tests. I am talking about the problem solvers, the creative, and the divergent thinkers. The survival and the success of the United States (or any nation for that matter) depend on the education of our youth.

Solution (Just one possible solution)

What am I doing to help?  I don’t feel like I am doing enough.  I am crossing the line too often and I am not letting the students sink or swim.  I know I am over-exaggerating and I also know I have helped many students see their potential, but I can do more.  I can expect more and demand more from all of my students.

Solution = Consistent and High Expectations = Higher Probability of Self-Reliance

What will hang in my classroom this coming school year?

“No Free Lunch in Room 128”



Image Credit:

FreeDigital Photos.net


My Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

My summer seems to be pretty busy and I am always feeling like I am doing mindless tasks.  I made a conscious effort to make sure that I was completing activities that worked the mind this summer.  The list below shows most of the activities that I am involved with during my “vacation.”

Teacher Feast- This is a week long training camp for teachers to learn technology for the classroom.  It is a great model for professional development.  I am teaching for two weeks.  Not only am I sharing my knowledge, I am always learning new ideas while I am at the Feast.

Tech Feast- Tech Feast is designed for district or school Technical Coordinators and technically-oriented business decision makers. I am co-teaching a couple of classes on technologies used within the classroom.

I need to give a big thank you to Jim Peterson and all those involved with the Feast.  I feel very lucky to be part of this group.  I greatly appreciate the support I get from the wonderful people in District 87.


SMART Certification- I will be trained in July to become a SMART Certified Notebook and Response Trainer.  This is a great opportunity to be able to learn more about SMART and have access to great resources.

My new iPad 2- I am having a great time learning this device.  I know it is not perfect, but it does a great job and fits many needs for myself and my students.  Go to IEAR.org to read teacher reviews of great apps for you and your students.

Zite- Is one of my favorite apps on my iPad 2.  It is basically a daily magazine that finds articles that interest me.  It connects to my Google Reader account and I also tell the app other topics I would like to read.  It is a very slick looking app and I learn something new every time I use it.

Play some games

Words With Friends HD- This is a very addictive iPad game.  I can play a scrabble-like game locally, I can play with random people, and I can hookup with friends on Facebook or Twitter.  You can have multiple games going at the same time.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PC)- I am going to finish this game soon.  If you need some action and have already played the Call of Duty series, then give this one a try.  It is a lot of fun and can be challenging, especially in multiplayer.  I play this game through Steam and it sells for $19.99.

My Classroom- I am moving from a portable classroom back into my school.  They couldn’t keep me out forever.  Although this is a difficult task, it will be nice to organize the things I need and purge the excess.  I am also going to organize my files, books, and teacher resources.  I hope this will make my classroom run a little smoother this coming year.

Update my Delicious Bookmarks- I just finished organizing my Delicious bookmarks.  I stopped using the tool because I was frustrated with how it sorted.  I am to the point where I should be able to tag my sites properly and if I need the bookmarks in a specific order, for a classroom activity, I will create a Jog the Web.  As most of you know, this is an ongoing process and battle to keep up to date.  I also created a new folder within my Chrome browser and I named it “New.”  Any new bookmarks will be placed here. Each day I will place these bookmarks in the correct area.  If I want them in Delicious I can place them at this time and then I can drop the bookmark in the correct folder within Chrome.  I love how Chrome can sync bookmarks between computers.  I know this looks like a process, but each person has to use what works.


All these activities pale in comparison to the time spent with my family.  I feel very lucky that my wife and I both teach and can spend some quality time with our children.  A balance has to be made between professional work and home.  The biggest summer lesson for teachers is to spend time with the ones you love.


EdGamer note- Gerry and I will post an EdGamer podcast next week.  Our “summer vacations” are very busy.  Look for an exciting podcast next Saturday.



Image Credit:

FreeDigital Photos.net


For Summer PD, Facebook is the new Twitter

I always try to think of ways that will get teachers excited about sharing their learning experiences. At conferences, taking teachers to the session about the Personal Learning Network is usually fun. They learn about all the social networking tools that will help them. They end up signing up for Twitter- then – never use it again.

I think Twitter is really one of the best resources for getting ahead in Ed, however, it’s not for everybody. Even one of my close, fabulous, tech-savvy colleagues has trouble with getting into Twitter. It just takes- effort. And especially in the beginning- lots of effort. A PLN based off of Twitter takes curation. It takes study, creativity, sharing, and reciprocation. I think, back it 2006, to build my core Twitter PLN, it basically took- an entire summer. I listened to Webinars, podcasts, EdTechTalk, anything that could get me some conversation with educators who were doing amazing things with their students. It was an entirely new place for me (and tons of fun).

As the summer looms and I focus on giving my fellow teachers resources to ponder- to learn from and get inspired- I’m not going to show them Twitter. Not most of them, anyway. Instead- this summer- it’s time for Facebook.

Why? Because- it’s where they are. They are already sold on Facebook. Everybody is. Rather then try to sell them on Twitter, which can be a beast, why not leverage Facebook as a place where educational learning and development can happen- along with staying in touch with friends. Educational sharing is a learned behavior – that takes time to fall into. With a simple “Like,” an educator’s Facebook stream can now be a place where not only can they converse with their friends and family, but they can also stay ahead on all of latest Ed news, resources, and innovations. In Facebook, educators can begin to see who is commenting on what, they can start finding new education friends, and they might even run into some familiar educators (like teachers in their own districts.)  The question is: will Facebook be a place where teachers will allow ‘work’ stuff to flow into? Doesn’t hurt to try.

Aside from finding education “friends” on Facebook, let’s look at it simply as a place to get new resources. So- what education Facebook pages are a good place to ‘Like?’ Let’s start with some basics and create a (FLN) Facebook Learning Network:

1.  iTeach Special Education- iDevices in Special Education- this is an open Facebook group that I highly recommend any teacher join. The cool thing about this group is that you’ll be reading about the most innovative technology related device implementations, as well as connecting with some talented educators.

2. Sir Ken Robinson: Sir Ken Robinson wrote The Element. If you’re an educator who hasn’t read that, well, click here. Then ‘Like’ Ken’s page so you can learn something new every day.

3. Edutopia: while I sometimes think Edutopia has had its day in the sun, it sometimes surprises me.

4. International Society for Technology in Education: If you ‘Like’ this page, you’ll be opening up your world to relevant technology integration news and events. A must Like!

5. Speed of Creativity: ‘Like’ this page, and you’ll be getting all the wonderful resources direct from the educational patriarch of ed tech- Wesley Fryer

6. Angela Maiers: A great source of educational goodies, Angela’s tone speaks directly to teachers. If Wes Fryer is the patriarch, then Angela is most possibly the educational matriarch of ed tech. A great addition to your friends.

7. ASCD: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development : Obviously the authority on Curriculum and Instruction, why not get some relevant ideas from them every day?

8. Participant Media: Participant Media put out the film An Inconvenient Truth as well as Waiting for Superman. Although Superman wasn’t quite the film that I had hoped for, leaving a lot of holes, this company puts out films that deal with relevant social and economic issues. They always have new and interesting news and videos on their page. Great for your learning stream.

9.  The Symphony of Science: My favorite You Tube channel is also on Facebook. While they don’t update often, when they do, you’ll see a science-themed music video that will inspire you to ponder, think, and question the origins of the universe.

10. Facebook.com/EdReach There are some people who say we do offer some relevant news and resources of our own. Why not add it to your Facebook stream?

So, this looks like a top ten list, huh? Well, it’s not a top ten, but it is ten. Ten great resources to add to your Facebook stream that will get any teacher thinking, reflecting, and eventually sharing their thoughts on the future of education.

Twitter may have to wait.



Summer Ed: Learning for All

With summer almost upon us (I know I still have a few days), it’s the time of year to sit back, relax, and try something different! Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you stop learning, but it gives you a time to do it in a different way, so take a look a few ideas.

Podcasts: I am addicted to podcasts! I rarely listen to the radio in my car, and always have a backlog of 20 or so to listen to at any time.  If you are looking to fill the time on a long drive check out the A.T.Tipscast from Chris Bugaj.  All sorts of tips for using technology to help learners, and most of the time the episodes are less than 10 minutes!

Looking for something for the kids, try Night Light Stories.  Written by Chris & Melissa Bugaj (recent guests on EdCeptional), these original stories are delightful to listen too.  If you are looking to extend the learning by checking out the Lighting the Way with Words section of the blog, and coming soon summer activities to do with kids (something to share with parents!).

Access:  Learning to use a computer is a hard skill to master for students who need alternative access methods.  One site that makes it fun is Help Kidz Learn.  Games, Stories and ways to be creative make it fun to practice using 1 or 2 switch access or even fun to practice using a mouse.  Or check out Priory Woods new website, tons of great cause and effect videos (especially good for older students) as well as talking storybooks.

Academics: Some students need that additional support for the summer, a time to review skills.  How about making it fun & social like Arcademic Skill Builders.  Great math, reading, or games that allow you to play your friend down the street, or someone across the world.  Starfall.com is great for beginning readers and Tarheelreader.org is a great place for kids to write their own stories.

Share: This might seem like a strange one, but take a moment to share these finds with your colleagues.  Summer is the time when many teachers take time with family, but many times they have a chance to “catch up” on all the things they meant to do during the year.  Take some time, share posts with friends, teach them to use Google Reader, and help them find content to read about.  Get someone new on Twitter, and if you need help convincing them try this post by Scott McCleod – if you were on Twitter yesterday… By helping a colleague you are extending your professional learning network.


Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons:  bernat…

Summer Ed: Vacation? Changing the mindset of the “turn-off” society.

It may not scare you a bit, but it scares me. I’ve worked quite hard this year to spread the love of assistive and integrative technology, to show teachers and students what can be accomplished when you turn on the fire hose of learning, how to streamline the access of knowledge with tools like Qwiki.com and Diigo.com, and what can happen when you tap into your potential as a life-long learner. That about sums up what I do in a few sentences.

Now the big questions come- what happens over the summer? Will it stick?

As we start to hear teachers already talking about vacation plans, does it make you weary? What about that teacher blog that they spent the year putting together? What about those video production skills that they worked on so that they could create their own learning channel? What about that new Twitter account that they started, so that they could open their world up to the Personal Learning Network? Will those skills go by the wayside because “summer is a-comin’?”

How do we combat the reality of the “turn-off” society? What strategies do we use to push educators in the direction of life-long learning?

I think the answer to those questions starts with mindset. You can’t make a life-long learner overnight, and the idea that every teacher’s summer is going to be chock full of education conferences is probably out of the question. To get people in the mindset that the summertime is a wonderful time to learn, is really- a marketing job. You have to sell this idea- the idea that summertime is the time for every teacher to explore new ground:

  • It’s a the time to start a new blog and reflect on the year’s progress.
  • A time to create the best darned digital story you’ve ever made.
  • A time to learn how to play that Civilization IV game that you plan on playing with your social studies students.
  • Summertime is the time to dive into Twitter, look at other people’s followers, and find those educators that are worth following.
  • A time to be more creative than you ever had time to during the year.
  • A time to take a “learning vacation” like I did through National Louis University, where my marine biology course spent a week on the Belize Barrier Reef.
  • It’s a time to read a real book, as opposed to online snippets, like my new favorite, The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman.

Summertime is…

There are so many possibilities. One of my personal sayings is “everything has legs.” Anything can be turned into a learning opportunity or an opportunity to share learning with other people. That’s why I blog. That’s why I host the EdReach Show. I think one of the most important things we can teach our teachers, is that there’s legs behind everything they do, that any activity can become an authentic activity. A trip to Disney World could be an authentic learning experience. A trip to an amusement park could be a field-trip for the aspiring physicist (just ask to talk to the in-park ride engineer).

There are so many possibilities for learning during the summer. How do you promote the idea of “keeping the lights on?”

Summer Ed: School’s out, but the learning continues

As the temperature soars and the countdown to the end of the school year reaches single digits, everyone begins to think about summer vacation. Plans of days at the beach/pool, road trips, sleeping in, time spent with friends…many people are wishing they had become a teacher come June. Certainly the pace slows down for teachers in the summer, but if your summer is shaping up anything like mine, you are scheduling leisure time as well as work commitments.

While teachers have their fair share of fun and relaxation over the summer, I do not know one educator who gets “three months off”. For teachers, summer is the time to organize, refresh, and plan for the upcoming school year. In my district, many teachers will be changing to a new grade level. Not only does this entail packing up their classroom and unpacking in their new classroom, but it requires learning new curricula, working within a new team, and possibly learning about the social-emotional needs of a completely new age group. Many teachers use the summer to double up on graduate classes to finish up their advanced degrees or spend days/weeks at professional development courses to hone and refine their teaching skills; perhaps as a district requirement, but often as a choice. Summer School teaching or other part time jobs are a needed income supplement for many teachers who commonly are only paid for the 10 months of the school year.

I will begin my summer with conducting some professional development in my school district and readying parts of a project to be put into place by August. One of the highlights of my summer will be attending the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. This will be five days of intense learning that will leave me exhausted and inspired. August will bring more professional development teaching and before you know it the 2011-2012 school year will be underway! I also picture my more “leisure” days to be filled with blogging — reading and some writing, hours spent on Twitter learning from others which will lead to more online hours investigating links, resources, and ideas, and possibly reading some books that will enrich my professional and personal lives.

Throughout the summer, look for our SummerEd series on EdReach. Our contributors will be sharing their personal summer learning journeys as well as ideas to enrich yours.

Also, please share with us how YOU will “spend your summer vacation”. Leave a comment on this post (or any SummerEd post), leave us a message at (443) 93REACH, tag your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, or blogpost with #SummerEd, or come say “Hi” to us at the ISTE Conference. Much of the EdReach community will be at ISTE. We’d love to talk with you!


Forget Working Hard, Summer Says Play Hard

Summer is finally here, and both students and teachers appear anxious to trade the confines of classroom life for something much more fun. The general consensus from most of my students is that they consider summer to be the best part of their year. As a teacher, hearing this sentiment verbalized makes me feel like someone just broke my iPhone: I work really hard during the school year to make learning fun and exciting for students, and summer is stereotypically classified as a lazy time period. So what does good ole’ summer know about engaging students that I do not? Lots apparently, because summer is an expert on taking PLAY seriously, which is something educators can learn a thing or two about.

So you might be wondering, what do educators need to know about the importance of play?

  1. Play is essential to learning: Study after study has shown that play is not only practical, it is an essential part of the learning process. The act of playing allows individuals to be curious, to investigate, to create. Play fosters communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and provides opportunities for important life skills like collaboration and patience. The art of play is imperative to good human growth because it is a safe opportunity for people to explore and learn physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  2. Play is intrinsically motivating: It is amazing how much you can learn when your goal isn’t to learn. Summer knows all about this hidden gem of information. Without a doubt, one of the best parts about play is that it is something individuals engage in for no other reason except for pure individual enjoyment or interest. Although play should never have a bigger purpose than this, individuals will still take away a wealth of information and skills in the process. Teachers can’t create this type of motivation in students, but play certainly can.
  3. Play is social, in a good way: As children grow up, the social aspect of life becomes much more important. Peer pressure creeps in at a very young age, and how our peers view us starts to matter more than how we view ourselves. Not only can play provide excellent opportunities to be social and gain important social skills, play can also give individuals an opportunity to step outside the boundaries of the real world and be creative without the worries of what others think. People start to express insightful scenarios and solutions for problems when they aren’t worried about getting something right or wrong in front of their peers. Competition can be fun, not hurtful, when you are only competing for the best solution or bragging rights, and not a grade on a report card.
  4. Play is therapeutic: Summer allows students the time to learn through playing without a set purpose. We wonder why students come back to school so relaxed… Playing without a purpose calms you and makes you feel good on the inside, which then shows on the outside. Play can make you feel young at heart and worry-free while you are doing it. For many individuals, play can be a way to bridge the gap between bad memories and good memories, delineate between appropriate and inappropriate situations, and even offer the opportunity for basic acquisition of social skills. Giving individuals guided play therapy by trained professionals can provide many struggling individuals with the appropriate skills, strategies, and tools to be a healthier and happier contributing member of our society. Whether play is needed for a specific therapy or not, play is indeed therapeutic for people of all ages, all sizes, and all abilities.

Summer recognizes how important play is for our students… why don’t teachers? Summer gives students the time and opportunity to explore and learn, and educators can learn from that precious allocated time. As students move through our public school systems, we start to take away crayons, sandboxes, toys, and other creative and fun tools from children and replace them with with functional tools like desks, books, and pens. Why not continue to give students age-appropriate, creative, 21st century toys/tools that they desperately desire to play with… and then let them play? Are we concerned that all of those fun and games might impact their learning?

We should be concerned, because it will. Play can impact their learning in ways we simply cannot. And play is not just for children. Play is important for all ages, as it is critical to our daily success and knowledge. I am often asked about my expertise on iPods, iPhones, and iPads: where did I learn so much? My answer is easy and effortless, I play. Some people love playing football (and can give statistics about their favorite players throughout their careers), and some people love playing music (and can talk about which chords were played best on which instrument for a given song). I just happen to love playing with iOS devices (and can you tell you about all kinds of tips, tricks, apps, and related history). I truly enjoy just playing around with touch screen technology, I find it to be magical personally. I love discovering new apps, and then I love trying to figure out what they do. I like to challenge myself to see how I could use it to do something unexpected. I didn’t mean to, but I made my learning into a game itself, which allowed me to turn playtime into my daily job. Forget teaching, I get paid to play… teaching just happens to go on during the process of playing.

So I play. And I learn. As simple as that. I don’t play to learn… the learning is really just a byproduct. My motivation is intrinsic, I play because it is fun. Although my play is often independent, it is still social: when I come across something interesting in my explorations, or find a way to do something creative with an app, I share it. I talk about it, I tweet about, or I show someone. My play is therapeutic as well, it a calm time at the end of my day. I take a lot of ribbing from people when they see that I tweet in the middle of the night: “what are you doing up so late working?” Easy, I’m not working. I’m playing.

Play can take many forms, and can happen at any age. It can be formal or informal. It can be structured or unstructured. No matter what type of play, play is important. As our school years close out, I hope that teachers encourage their students to play hard all summer, and offer them tools, resources, and toys to encourage that mentality. But I hope that teachers, administrators, and parents play hard too. There are so many wonderful technology tools, resources, and toys available to help us improve students’ learning throughout the year. Spend some time this summer just playing with Web 2.0 tools, apps, and online content without a purpose in mind. Just play, and see what happens after.

So listen to summer, stop working hard and start playing hard. You might be surprised what you will learn in the process.



Summer Development: Creating ePub eBooks for Students

Summer in the United States is almost here! Teachers and student will be basking in the glow of the sun, spending time on the beach, relaxing and resting up, AND getting a head start on preparing for the next school year. (Not to mention summer school). Even outside of summer school, summer vacation provides tremendous opportunities for learning and creating. With the tremendous explosion of eReaders (both inside and outside of schools) there is not a better time to buildout an eBook for your students.

Since the majority of teachers have their curriculum material digitally, a simple bit of massaging and editing (coupled with good planning) can created a fully interactive searchable eBook that a student can highlight, annotate, and even perform dictionary, Google, and Wikipedia searches directly from inside the eBook. Additionally, ePubs have the ability to use hyperlinks AND play embedded audio and video with within the book! What better project for the summer?!

There are many eBook formats, however, one of the most popular is the open standards ePub format used by:

Kobo eReader, Apple’s iBooks app running on iOS devices such as the iPhoneiPod Touch and iPad, Barnes and Noble NookSony ReaderBeBookBookeen Cybook Gen3 (with firmware v. 2 and up),COOL-ER, Adobe Digital EditionsLexcycle Stanza, BookGlutton, AZARDI, Aldiko and WordPlayer on Android, Freda on Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7, and the Mozilla Firefox add-on EPUBReader. Several other reader software programs are currently implementing support for the format, such as dotReaderFBReaderMobipocket, uBook andOkular. Another software .epub reader, Lucidor, is in beta. – Wikipedia

Pros to ePub

  • Open Standard Format for electronic books
  • Reflowable content which is device agnostic, font size and orientation independent.
  • Optimized for mobile devices
  • Support for embedded video and audio
    • Audio and video need to be simply in sequence with the text.
  • When text is most important, use ePub

With the many eReaders available ePubs are a wonderful way to mobilize your curriculum for students. Back in February, Meg Wilson discussed creating ePub eBooks using Pages on her MacReach show here on EdReach. With Pages ’09, Apple built in a native export to the ePub format. While any document can be exported to become an ePub, to really become a usable eBook a very specific set of formatting must be used to allow for the automatic creation of the ePub table of contents. Once again, Apple comes to the rescue by developing an ePub Best Practices Template which users can leverage to learn all about the proper formatting for a ePub eBook.

To learn more about using the ePub format and get a better feel for how a Pages document might appear as a book in iBooks, it’s a good idea to download the “ePub Best Practices” sample document. After reading the guidelines and instructions within the document, you can use it as a template to create your own document. You can also import the styles from the sample document into a new document you create.



Pages Template

Leveraging the template in Pages makes for the easy creation of an ePub. Now for the hard work: Planning and preparing material. Earlier, I had made the statement “a simple bit of massaging and editing” can produce an eBook. This is very true. However, the better the planning, the better the results will be. Handouts, worksheets, and reading materials provide much of the fodder to mold into a book, but without the narrative that is necessary to introduce and support all of that content, the book could turn out to be nothing more than a digital collection of worksheets, handouts, and readings…

Here are a few tips to turn your ideas (and a mountain of content) into a stunning eBook for your students:

  1. Collect all of the content you want to add into the eBook in one place. this should include:
    1. Digital Handouts, worksheets, hyperlinks to resources, hyperlinks to audio and video files, audio and video files themselves, etc.
  2. Take a few minutes to organize the content into appropriate groupings.
    1. Honestly, these will change as you begin to develop your book. While it is often easy to determine how to verbally teach a specific set of content, moving said content into a book format often necessitates a different paradigm as the verbal connections between material is not there.
  3. Begin laying out the planned content into a story board format. Perhaps even write out a set of large index cards that you can stick to a wall.
    1. Using a story board format will allow for you to start with large generalities (Ideas – Theory) as Chapters, then move to topics within the ideas (sub-chapters), and then finally to content.
    2. Being able to quickly move Ideas around to Topics between ideas will help prevent a lot of cutting and pasting that could eventually cause other fighting with the TOC of formatting issues.
  4. Once you have your Chapters and sub-chapters laid out, now begin making a list of the supporting content that you have for those areas by writing that information on the appropriate note cards.
    1. Here is where the “rubber meets the road”… at this point you will begin to understand if you have too much (need to break out the content more), too little (need to find or create more), or if you need to re-group sub-chapters, or even revise chapter ideas… to improve the flow of the eBook.
    2. This stage will also allow you to begin to get a feel for the introduction and connecting or transition material you will have to write.
  5. Look to the end… Take a hard look at the last chapter. While this may seem silly, and for some content it will simply be another chapter to close the material, most authors intend to have a culmination point at the end of the book. If you look closely at this chapter, you will see if all of the material you have, staged in the way you laid it out on the story board “wall”, will lead the students to that point.
    1. Right here you may find yourself revising again to ensure that you make the point you intended.
    2. You actually may want to write the entire last chapter first. This may help with the old adage: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them, then review what you told them…”
  6. Begin pulling it all together one chapter at a time.
    1. Don’t let yourself get distracted by material that pulls you off topic.
    2. Don’t pull in more that you originally planned on the story board (unless absolutely necessary) – See above.
    3. Layout your content in the appropriate places in the sub-chapters and THEN write the introductions, transitions, and re-format the content you have to get across the desired message and learning.

Formatting Tips

  • All formats of media are available in Pages. However, because of how ePub works to re-flow the text for different screen orientations and sizes, be sure all images and video is set to be “inline” and not “floating”.
  • While shapes and text boxes can be used to build diagrams, it is best to build them and then use a program like “Skitch” to capture everything as a single image and then embed that image where appropriate in the text.
  • Save often, and test on your eReader of choice, iBooks, Good Reader, Nook, etc. as you go. This will help prevent an issue early on from causing formatting to TOC issues for everything beyond.
  • The best thing about ePubs is that you can link to them from a website, email them, provide them on a drive or file to students, even pre-load them to devices.

Final Thoughts

Take your time and be patient. The more you plan up front the easier the actual “massaging” will be. Use media rich content whenever possible. Remember these devices are (typically) connected to the internet at all times. They are media players as well as eReaders. Hyperlinks in ePub will automatically launch a web browser. Media you embedded into the ePub eBook (audio and video) will play right from inside of the eBook itself. Leverage these resources to deepen your students experience and understanding. That said, please remember to adhere to copyright when leveraging content, images, audio, and video.

Image Credits:

Wikimedia Commons – ePub

EdReach ScreenShot

Two questions that are still outstanding in my research:

  1. Embedding a YouTube video into an ePub – I have read a couple of posts about this and how iBooks DOES recognize HTML5 based content. However, I have not figured out how to make this work in Pages. Yet.
  2. Is there an easy PC-based ePub plugin or tool for Word?

Love to hear your thoughts, comments questions, or concerns in the comments section.