When IT Hits the Fan with Technology (and lines of symmetry)

I spent the day presenting at a summer institute in Ontario, Oregon, where hundreds of educators were eager to add to their knowledge and understanding of best classroom practices. But little did I know (though I should have expected it) that I would be the one learning the most valuable lesson during my afternoon presentation.

The topic was using Evernote in the classroom, but it could have been anything for that matter. My lesson learned wasn’t about the digital tool I was presenting on because there wasn’t much presenting going on. That is because of how slow the building’s WiFi network was due to the demand on the bandwidth. Now, I have my suspicions that we were somehow connected to the old AOL dial-up that you could get free trials of at Blockbuster. Aside from being wireless, the experience didn’t seem to be much different. Nevertheless, when things begin to fail and you’re left standing in front of a few dozen expectant learners, what are you supposed to do? There are many options, sure. But, in my opinion, the best one is to acknowledge that your plans have gone awry and forget about your silly pride.

I didn’t learn that lesson on the spot today, however. It’s been marinating in me since my first year teaching, four years ago. I was standing in front of my third grade students, teaching them about lines of symmetry with various shapes. When we looked at a pentagon (that I had drawn very poorly), I asked the class how many lines of symmetry the five-sided shape has. Many of them, having looked at my sketch, said that it had one line of symmetry, which I agreed with. However, one astute and antagonistic student stopped the lesson to claim that a pentagon didn’t have only one line of symmetry, but five. Having my intelligence as a mighty first-year teacher questioned put me on the defensive, and, rather than asking why this student thought that a pentagon had five lines of symmetry instead of one, I asserted that he was wrong. This 8-year old boy proceeded to explain the difference between regular and irregular polygons to the class and that a regular pentagon not only had five lines of symmetry but rotational symmetry as well, all the while I stood by getting “pwnd” in front of the kids that I wanted to impress.

Fast forward to today. Though WiFi crashing isn’t the same in a lapse of judgement, the issue at hand (I now like to call it a learning opportunity) was identical. How could I create value out of a situation that went embarrassingly wrong?

Though it took me days to come to my senses and apologize to my third-grade student back then, I saw the train wreck at today’s conference for what it was, an opportunity to teach a lesson much more important than what I had intended to teach. So, what was more important for teachers to learn about in a class about Evernote than how to use Evernote itself?

How to roll with the punches when tech goes wrong.

Sure, I didn’t have the aesthetics and media of the slide-presentation I had spent days preparing. And few session attendees were even able to download the app or access the website. But things like that don’t make a learning experience valuable. What does is the honest connection between teachers and learners. So, we did what any group of opportunists would do. We put down our devices and had a discussion.

Everything inside of me wanted to duck my head and leave that room quicker than you could say “network error.” That instinctive response hasn’t changed since my third-grade math class. But having the courage to acknowledge that my plans had gone awry and leverage the moment for a very valuable learning opportunity was now something I was mentally and emotionally prepared to do. And surprisingly, nobody threw rotten tomatoes at me or “asked for their money back,” so to speak.

I’m positive that their responses would have been different if I tried to force them to learn what I had “canned” for them to learn this afternoon though. And from what I hear, tomato is very hard to get out of clothing.

A “Tech-Savvy” District Is . . .

Having recently accepted a new job as a Technology Integration Specialist at a school district which serves as a model of educational technology use for the state of Idaho, the learning curve for me is quite high. Among other tasks to orient myself to the district’s vision and goals was reading a report from a technology audit performed an outside panel on the district in 2012. The audit’s purpose was to give the administrative team within the district an idea of how we are doing in our work to become a “tech-savvy” district. While there is plenty of work to do in this pursuit, identifying the key qualities of a “tech-savvy” district not only benefits those in the technology department, but stakeholders in our district as well as educators interested in technology initiatives themselves. So, what did I learn about creating a “tech-savvy” district? Three things. A “tech-savvy” district is:

Saturated by Technology at Every Level

So much of our thinking about educational technology focuses on how teachers and students can use digital tools to enhance their classroom experiences. However, when school or district administrators aren’t getting their hands wet with technology themselves, not only is there a lack of support for classroom integration, there is a lack of understanding of why technology in the classroom matters. Equipping everyone with mobile devices isn’t sufficient either. Instead, a district’s staff must know how to create, communicate, and collaborate with their mobile devices as well as be willing to share ideas and best practices for doing so.

A Culture Where Technology Use is Driven by Pedagogy

Before any technology or instructional software is purchased or adopted, an infrastructure or instructional need that has otherwise been unmet must be identified. In other words, rather than saying, “My students now have Chromebooks. What should we do with them?” staff in a “tech-savvy” district should share a vision that leads to question such as, “My students are struggling with writing for an audience, what digital tools could help them to publish their content and connect it with the world in a meaningful way?” Plenty of money can be spent on the newest and most feature-rich technology devices, but unless they were purchased with a strategic plan to support infrastructure or instruction, nothing is going to change. For more on this point, refer to the TPACK framework along with the SAMR model of technology integration.

One Where Technology Use is Purposeful, Intentional, and Efficient

Naturally, time and resources must be spent to learn how to use a new device or instructional software. However, after adequate professional development and training has been provided, if a new technology isn’t adding authenticity to learning, or causing it to be unnecessarily slow, then we should look for something else. I’ve been feeling that technology, when used as it should be, should fulfill a role similar to that of a stage crew; where the show doesn’t go on without them, yet their work doesn’t get in the way. And in the conclusion of the technology audit report that I read, the authors shared this sentiment, saying, “Technology should be like oxygen, invisible but necessary.” As we continue to strive to use technology within the framework of a strategic plan aligned with a common district vision and mission, it is then that stakeholders in learning begin to thrive.

Surely, there is more for me to learn as I continue to climb this steep mountain that is my learning curve. But for now, this question that prompted this post was worth sharing with you. I tweeted out “Finish this sentence. A “tech-savvy” district is . . .” And I’ve curated what some of you said in the Storify embedded below. What would you add? How can you help your district to become more “tech-savvy?”

 

Get Rolling with SPRK Programming Curriculum

Robotics and programming have quickly become the project du jour of classrooms and students at all levels. There are a number of different platforms and websites to introduce students to the world of coding. But the SPRK (Students, Parents, Robots, and Kids) free online curriculum designed by Orbotix, to be used with their Sphero product line, is guaranteed to get your classroom’s experience with programming rolling . . . literally.

The SPRK curriculum is built on the belief that “play is a powerful teacher.” And rather than teaching students about programming by having them write lines of code on a computer, SPRK puts a Sphero and an iOS or Android device in students’ hands to let them see what coding and programming look like with an actual robot.

The free six part SPRK curriculum introduces students to the Sphero and enables them to explore STEM concepts such as rate and time, 2D geometry, percentages, and programming concepts that would otherwise seem inaccessible to learners in the classroom.

 

Each Common Core aligned lesson in the SPRK curriculum comes with a Teacher Guide, a Student Guide, and an associated worksheet in PDF and Microsoft Word formats. With these materials, it doesn’t matter if you or your students have never programmed so much as an alarm clock. SPRK walks you through each step of the learning activities sequentially with text and supporting screenshots of the programming user interface (read: iOS or Android app).

But rather than telling students what to do and then labelling it learning, SPRK sets the conditions for problem-based learning and then encourages and guides students through the process of problem-solving and collaboration to not only find solutions to programming-related problems, but to also think critically and engage in additional higher order thinking skills with classmates.

As an example, in the 2D Geometry lesson, students are tasked with writing a macro (program) to move the Sphero along the perimeter of a piece of paper. Naturally, we might think this as simple as travelling some distance in between a series of 90 degree turns. However, with Sphero, this is not the case. Instead, students will explore Sphero’s language in order to be able to communicate with it, resulting in the ability to not only program it to travel along the edges of a rectangular piece of paper, but along the edges of a triangle, parallelogram, pentagon, or hecatonicosachoron for that matter.

Similarly, in the Rate and Time lesson, students learn about the relationship between motion, duration, and distance through play and experimentation. By manipulating variables in the MacroLab app, students develop an understanding of physics as it pertains to keeping their Sphero from driving straight off the edge of a table (that’s my adaptation to the floor-based SPRK version of the lesson challenge) to its gyroscopic death (no Spheros were harmed in this activity, though Orbotix warns against letting Sphero fall more than a few inches from the ground).

Regardless of whether you use the SPRK curriculum with fidelity or customize it to fit your students’ needs, one thing is assured. Your students will learn the basic concepts of programming, robotics, and math, and they will remember them long after the SPRK lessons end. . .if you can ever get your class to put Sphero down, that is.

4 Free Web Tools for Student Portfolios

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on Edutopia.org. You can view it here.

I still have every single project I ever completed in preschool. My dad collected them and kept each one in a grocery bag that he tucked away in the back of his closet. Looking through his collection now, there’s nothing incredibly prodigious about the work that I created as a four-year old boy. I see doodles, collages, coloring pages, and awkward attempts at writing my own name. Nevertheless, the story that it tells is special to me.

This is the effect of good portfolios. They craft a narrative of learning, growth, and achievement over time. Though mine was created by my perceptive father, often the best portfolios are those put together by students themselves. And as our focus in the classroom continues to move toward performance-based assessment, the following four web tools will help you and your students to compose as memorable of narratives of their learning as my paper bag portfolio did of mine.

Kidblog

Kidblog is unique among the web tools featured here because it is built by teachers for teachers. Their website explains that their mission is “to empower teachers to embrace the benefits of the coming digital revolution in education.” And as students continue to become creators rather than simply consumers, Kidblog provides teachers with everything they need to help students create their digital portfolios safely. With Kidblog, teachers have administrative control over student blogs and accounts. Though private by default, teachers can choose to make posts public or password-protected so that parents can view their student’s blogs too. But whether they access their child’s blog or not, Kidblog gives mom and dad peace of mind as it is fully COPPA compliant and does not require any personal information from students.

Google Sites

If your school is fueled by Google Apps for Education, then using Google Sites to create student portfolios, or “Googlios,” makes perfect sense. With Sites, students can create media-rich websites to display their work throughout the school year. By starting with a template and a site structure in place, students are able to integrate their work with other Google apps to create a comprehensive story of what they have learned. This obviously means that such apps as Slides, Blogger, and YouTube integrate seamlessly. And as long as your students and you have Google Apps for Education accounts, you, as the teacher, have administrative control over who sees student sites and how they are used.

Evernote

For classrooms with BYOD or 1:1 initiatives in place, Evernote can serve as a viable option for creating student portfolios. For those unfamiliar with the app, Evernote can be thought of as the Swiss Army Knife of organization. In other words, it does just about everything. As opposed to a blog or website, Evernote allows students to write, take photos, record audio, upload content, and more with the ability to tag items, create notebooks for organization, and share content socially. Something else that makes Evernote so versatile is that it can sync across multiple computers and mobile devices. While students may start cataloguing content into their Evernote portfolio with an iPad at school, they can continue working on their entry from a laptop at home and vice versa. Additionally, Evernote offers a variety of apps, including Skitch for annotations, that all work great together. However, unlike other options, with Evernote, there is no way for teachers to moderate its use by students. Then again, unlike the alternatives, Evernote isn’t publicly viewable either.

Three Ring

A mobile app with a desktop version, Three Ring is worthy of consideration as well. Similar to Evernote, students can create and upload content from their own devices and tag, search, and share their portfolios. However, what Three Ring offers that Evernote doesn’t is teacher-created class accounts. In other words, teachers initiate the use of Three Ring in the classroom by creating classrooms within the teacher account and adding students to each class. Students can then access their teacher-monitored account with a username and password provided. Whether from an iOS or Android device or from a desktop or laptop computer, content can be added by the teacher or student and commented on by both. Three Ring even allows parents to view their student’s accounts once linked by the teacher.

Regardless of the platform you choose, empowering and authenticating your students’ learning with digital portfolios is a decision you won’t regret. Through providing them with web-based space to collect their own work, you will be helping your students to practice digital citizenship while helping them to learn important technology skills simultaneously. But perhaps more importantly, like my dad did for me over twenty years ago, by connecting your students with their own digital portfolios, you will be allowing them to compose a narrative that will not only inform your own assessment of student growth and achievement, but will leave a legacy of learning and who they have become years after leaving your classroom.

How Teachers Use Paper Blogging to Promote Student Voice

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on GettingSmart.com. You can view it here.

With how much connected educators (myself included) refer to blogging with students as if it were a common practice in every classroom, it is easy to feel like yours is the only one without 1:1 devices or access to blogging websites. Though this is certainly not the case, a lack of infrastructure needn’t keep your students from engaging in the social learning and higher order thinking opportunities provided by posting and commenting on blogs. Paper blogging, as an offline alternative, is popular with teachers and students whether they have the means for digital publication or not. And to get started, you need little more than, well, paper.

Paper blogs are exactly that, blog entries written on paper. Ranging from a simple composition akin to a personal essay all the way to an analog replica of a blog platform’s user interface (with tag clouds, “plug-ins”, and more), paper blogging serves as an entry point to reflective writing, offline discussions about digital citizenship, and best of all, continuing conversations through commenting.

Unlike the comments thread of an online platform, paper blogging has students submit their comments by writing them on a Post-It Note and adhering them to blog entries. As the blogger responds to individual comments, he or she also utilizes a Post-It Note and adheres it to the bottom of note being responded to. Not only does this organize students’ conversations, it also focuses their thoughts.

Pernille Ripp, an elementary teacher and active classroom blogger uses paper blogs to get her students to share what they are most passionate about. “Using paper blogs to get my 5th graders to think about how to comment . . . and how to start a conversation with their comments is one of the essential things I do every year” says Ripp. “It has developed into something I love doing and find essential as we prepare to blog and converse with the world.”

The activity of paper blogging is just that, preparation for real world interactions. In 5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog, George Couros says, “Giving students a place to share their voice is extremely important. . .In a blog, you may learn a lot about not only what students are learning in school, but what they are passionate about and hopefully how we could serve them better as educators.” Couros goes on to ask, “In a world where everyone can have a voice, isn’t it essential that we teach students how to use this powerful medium to share theirs in a meaningful way?”

Blogging, both online and on paper, can do just that. And Leonord Lowe, an E-Learning Designer at the University of Canberra’s Teaching and Learning Centre, has a lesson plan to help teachers get started with their own paper blogging activities.

According to Lowe, “[Paper blogging] demonstrates what blogs are, how they work, and why they can be a powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners.”

Rather than confining paper blogs to the classroom alone , Lowe actually uses paper blogging activities with teachers in professional development workshops. In his design, educators take 10 minutes to individually respond to a video clip that Lowe shows to start his session. As they do, they add keywords to reflect the theme of their responses. Once everyone has a blog post written, each of them meets with two other people to exchange their responses. While reading others’ blog posts, participants use Post-It Notes to add a comment for their colleague, eventually moving on to another classmate and another blog post.

However, during this activity, Lowe gets teachers thinking about the actual experience of publishing online content as well as digital citizenship by introducing spam. Using fluorescent pink Post-It Notes, Lowe has a designated spammer leave short unwelcomed comments in everyone’s comment thread. “Spam leaves you sitting there wondering what is going on and leaves you wondering what you can do about it.”

As teachers in Lowe’s paper blogging sessions retrieve their original blog posts and get back together as a class, they reflect on their posts and the new comments thread. Each is encouraged to ask themselves, Do you want to add anything? Delete anything? Has your thinking changed at all? And through identifying others with similar keywords as their own, Lowe’s paper bloggers get together and discuss these questions and their overall experience blogging.

Whether with teachers or students, paper blogging can be a very powerful, eye-opening experience. As Couros says, “Not every student will take to blogging the way that we envision as teachers . . . If we make them do it the way we think it should be done, they might have trouble adopting this past the school setting.” But as students and teachers are allowed and empowered to write about what they are interested in and what stokes their passions, paper blogs might eventually leap off the page. As students and teachers are encouraged and supported in writing their own blogs, they might even see the value in sharing their own voices whether digitally or on good old fashioned paper.

Google Apps Summer Camp: Drive

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on GettingSmart.com. You can view it here.

In the first two installments of the Google Apps Summer Camp blog series, I wrote about Gmail and Calendar, two incredibly versatile and valuable tools that you should definitely be using. However, while I like both of them, I wrote each blog post knowing that I was inching closer to writing this one. Google Drive is, hands down, my favorite Google App for Education and the one which I believe could be your favorite too. Why? Because it does everything.

Drive is Google’s free cloud-based suite of tools including Documents, Presentations, and Forms (Sorry, Spreadsheets and Drawings; not a large enough word count limit for you this time.). In addition to creating each of these things, Drive is also a boundaryless repository for all of your files, whether they were created by Google Apps or not. In other words, you can make, share, store, and access everything you need all within Google Drive.

Documents

Google’s word processor is all that I ever use to compose text-based files for school and work. Partly due to its automatic-save feature, I know that I can always count on Google Docs to get the job done. But Documents has so much more to offer. Recently, Google added a new Add-ons tab to the top of Google Docs which has reinvented the way that text files are created and used. With Add-ons users can create an Easybib bibliography within their document, highlight PDF files and take notes for class, curate Tweets, create a table of contents, access a thesaurus, and more. Not to mention, all of this can be done while working on a Doc with other users who can see, track, and chat about changes to the text file in real time.

Presentations

Though it is not as robust as PowerPoint or Keynote, Google Presentations is still a tool worth its weight in the classroom (do web tools have weight?). As with other Google Drive Apps, Presentations allows for multiple people to edit, comment, and share slide-based creations at the same time. Additionally, Presentations can be published to the web for others to view. In a classroom with 1:1 devices, this means that students can follow along with a given presentation right on their own computer. Similarly, groups of students can work together on a project on Presentations without being in the same place or being available at the same time. Google Presentations can also be downloaded in various file formats including PDF, JPEG, and PPTX (PowerPoint). As for PowerPoint and Keynote, they can be uploaded to Drive to be stored and shared as well.

Forms

Need to collect information from a class, parents, staff, or other stakeholders? Google Forms is the way to do it. Whether using it to poll students’ interests, administer assessments, communicate with parents, or gather information from faculty and staff, Forms not only bridges the communication gap, it also organizes collected information into a Google Spreadsheet for you do with it what you like. With the ability to customize forms as little or as much as desired, this Google tool is ideal for flipping instruction. That’s because Forms allows for question items to be collected as text, multiple choice, scale ratings, or chosen from a list, among other options. This may not seem that incredible. But when paired with the ability to embed video and pictures into the Google Form as well, the possibilities for using Forms with students become very intriguing.

With Google Drive, you now have your own digital attache case (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?). All that you can do with the tools in Drive is certainly beyond the scope of one blog post and quite possibly an entire website. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting started with your own exploration of Drive. The deeper you get, the more relevance for you and your classroom you will find. Quite possibly, you’ll also find that you love Google Drive as much as I do too, if that’s even possible.

 

How Quest-Based Learning is Improving Student Achievement

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on Smart Blogs. You can view it here.

There is a common imperative given to teachers to leave no child behind. This alludes to getting all of our students to similar levels of proficiency by year’s end. But in a system that relies on a traditional linear gradebook approach to learning, is ensuring that no child be left behind actually keeping them from accelerating their education? According to proponents of quest-based learning, the answer is yes.

Quest-based learning (QBL) is an instructional theory that relies on elements of game design in learning communities to support student choice within the context of a standards-based curriculum. Moving away from a top-down approach to informational acquisition, quest-based learning offers new possibilities for learning and knowledge construction. In Understanding Quest-Based Learning, a white paper by Chris Haskell, ED.D and a leading games professor at Boise State University, “Quest-based learning design focuses on an individualized and flexible curricular experience. In QBL, students can select activities, called quests, rather than assignments in a fixed linear order.” Haskell goes on to explain that, “Students leverage choice to promote engagement rather than waiting for a due date.”

But would allowing students such autonomy over what and when to learn really promote academic achievement and mastery of content standards? Haskell and a colleague from the Department of Educational Technology at BSU designed and implemented an experimental quest-based learning management platform just to find out. Having taken a curriculum built in modules, and converting the content into quests, Haskell began using this approach with pre-service teacher candidates in 2010.

The results were astounding. As reported in the white paper mentioned above, “93% of students using this approach reached the winning condition, described as receiving a course grade of ‘A’ . . . the average completion time was reduced from 16 weeks to 12 ½ weeks with one student completing [the course] in just four.”

Inherent in the system is an attitude and mindset towards students creating their own paths through their learning experience, connecting with each other to complete content-based quests, and constructing new knowledge in a meaningful context. Interestingly, “Despite being able to walk away from the class once they had completed the requirements (2,000 experience points + a completed portfolio), students continued playing through the curriculum, demonstrating persistence in learning.”

While it may be tempting to rationalize such data as the result of students participating in trivial learning tasks disconnected from content standards, the reality of the instructional design is quite to the contrary. The quests in Haskell’s model are tied to standards which are tracked and documented in the user interface of his learning management platform. As students determine which quests to complete and submit them in return for earning experience points, Haskell reviews each submission and either approves the quest or returns it to students to revise and resubmit. What he doesn’t do is penalize students for failed initial attempts at mastering course content.

As quest-based learning continues to move from university courses like Dr. Haskell’s down to the K-12 level, there are key insights that we should all take note of. Research shows that students do more work on average using QBL, they receive higher grades overall when compared to traditional courses, and such courses are being completed by students in less time than those with a more linear design. In quest-based learning, students aren’t being left behind, failed instructional designs are instead.

 

Educators Continue Innovating with App Smashing

Editorial Note: This post originally published on Getting Smart. You can view it here.

Teachers are relentless in their pursuit of innovation. They seek after solutions to perceived or previously unarticulated problems in an effort to further engage their students and meet the needs of each individual learner. And while there are a number of new, innovative methods for achieving these goals, one of particular interest is App Smashing.

It’s the practice of using a variety of apps to create a single project that is then uploaded or published to the Internet. A natural point of entry for implementing technology into learning, App Smashing has a lot of educators smitten. But is this new instructional approach simply another fad, or is there substance to “smashing?”

Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec), largely credited with coining the term “App Smashing,” often begins his professional development sessions on the strategy by asking, “Why limit our students to one tool at a time?”

What App Smashers soon discover after being introduced to the practice is that many iOS apps can be connected by exporting created products to the Camera Roll in order to then import them into secondary apps. As an example, Greg illustrates how an avatar can be created using Tellagami then, by funnelling it through the Camera Roll, can be included as a foreground narrator in an Explain Everything screencast. Though a basic example of App Smashing, this sequence illustrates the concept and piques curiosity in the what App Smashing enables.

Craig Badura (@mrbadura) has latched onto App Smashing with his students and professional learning network, inspiring them to experiment with creating their own digital recipes in his App Smash Challenge. As teachers share their ideas for integrating apps with one another, Craig explains, “It doesn’t have to be earth shattering. What you think as menial could be magnificent to another teacher.”

But it does have to be simple. Rather than creating a complicated machine to perform some task in an indirect and convoluted way, the focus of App Smashing should be on engagement with content learning through leveraging compatible digital tools.

Jeremy Macdonald (@mrmacnology) cautions, “If we have to distract our students with these tools from what they are learning to keep them interested, we’re missing the point.”

App Smashing, in other words, should provide a solution to a previously identified classroom need. It shouldn’t be a fun idea looking for an excuse to interrupt learning.

When contextualized as offering a relative advantage, according to Edudemic, “App Smashing projects have the ability to enable student collaboration . . .aligned to several Common Core Standards across grade levels.”

The key is allowing students to explore and experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

In Technology and the Basics, George Couros (@gcouros) writes that, “We all need options, and if we are to truly empower our learners, we have to ensure that we help them find what works for them, not us.”

So, while educators utilize App Smashing to problem solve and innovate, they must do so without forcing students to create their learning products in a certain way. Otherwise, App Smashing could end up as a buzzword and a fad. And no avatar wants to narrate that story.

Encouraging Reflective Learning with Podcasts

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on Getting Smart. You can view it here.

It’s no secret that students today belong to a very tech-savvy generation. Whether a consequence of an increased culture of technological innovation or perhaps the cause of it, today’s young learners have made technology an integral part of all aspects of their lives. As a reflection of this phenomenon, students no longer want to be passive consumers of their education (have they ever?), but instead want to be active participants in constructing knowledge. Recognizing this desire, many teachers are leveraging Web 2.0 tools to incorporate innovative new practices into their classroom instruction. One of these, podcasting, has found its niche at the postsecondary level of education already. Considered to be the audio form of a blog, educators are beginning to find meaningful applications for podcasting at the high school, junior high, and elementary levels as well.

Effective implementation of podcasts into the curriculum happens at two levels, instruction and activity. Cornelia Rüdel has broken podcasting down into four types of podcasts defined by the role of content creation in a recording. He categorizes podcasts by their ability to:

  1. substitute audio recording for a traditional face-to-face lecture;
  2. provide material to enhance students’ experiences with course content;
  3. offer supplemental information not necessarily essential to passing course exams; and
  4. enable students to generate content for the teacher or other students.

However you choose to use them, imperative to effective podcast integration into any classroom is embedding podcasts into a curriculum-based task design. Fortunately, the technology for creating podcasts for and with your students is readily available and often free. Audacity is an open-source online software that allows users to record sound, import clips, and perform a number of edits and digital enhancements to a recording before exporting it as a sound file and uploading it to a podcast hosting site like Podomatic or Podbean. Once uploaded to a hosting site, teachers and students can then connect the RSS feed of the site with iTunes to further enable downloads and the streaming of tracks.

Even simpler, still, is using Spreaker. With both a website and an Android/iOS mobile app, Spreaker doesn’t boast the advanced editing capabilities that Audacity does, but it has a significantly smaller learning curve without sacrificing general sound quality. Press one button to record, manipulate a slider to fade between music and audio, include various sound effects while recording, and press that initial button again to end. Users can broadcast their podcasts live or upload them to their Spreaker channel after recording. Additionally, Spreaker podcasts can be embedded in a website or blog, downloaded by listeners, shared on social networks, and uploaded to iTunes just like Audacity and many other software options can.

As numerous as the platforms for recording your own podcast are the opportunities for innovative applications of student-generated podcasting in the classroom. Creating a gallery walk, discussing a story, verbally synthesizing research on a topic of interest; these are but a few of the projects that students have created with simple podcasting technology. While each artifact is different in appearance, effective curriculum-based podcasting in any form aims at one objective above all others, to enable reflective thinking and meaningful knowledge construction.

It’s no secret that learning is an active rather than passive process. Academic podcasting helps students to see that they can actively create content for the curriculum. Where teachers fail to successfully scaffold the use of podcasting in the learning process is when they view podcasting as another technology rather than a teaching tool at the pedagogical level. When used correctly, podcasting in the classroom can create a mechanism that allows students to have conversations with themselves, other students, and curricular content all at the same time. Through leveraging language as an important part of the learning process, students build new knowledge from previous learning and content acquired in class.

To be clear, podcasting is no more important or valuable than reflective blogging is to learning. Instead, it is simply another medium for students to access content through a constructivist approach. Similarly, podcasting is an access point for teachers to engage students in higher order thinking skills. In a technology-driven world, the key to keeping students’ attention is meeting them at where their preferred forms of entertainment  and technology use collide. When educators embrace this notion, learning and achievement can readily occur. With podcasting, such results are only the push of a button away.

Google Apps Summer Camp: Calendar

Editorial Note: This post originally appeared on GettingSmart.com. You can view it here.

A blog post about calendars seems about as exciting as a documentary about sand, unless the calendar being blogged about is Google Calendar. Then, it’s more like an in depth look at the many ways you can use a pocket knife. That’s because Google Calendar is more than just a calendar. And for those of you who read the first of my six-part Google Apps Summer Camp Series, that Google’s tools are more versatile than you thought should be no surprise. Calendar is no exception. And following are a few ways that you can start using Google Calendar to further enhance and streamline your work at the district office, at your school, or in your classroom without much more of an investment than just getting started.

Layering Calendars

When you first get started with Google Calendar, everything that you schedule will be grouped on your default calendar. That’s expected. What you may not know, however, is that you can create multiple different calendars to organize and keep track of different parts of your professional and personal lives. On the left-hand sidebar of the Calendar interface, there is a drop down arrow next to “My Calendars.” By clicking this, you can then create new calendars for work, family, recreation, or even your individual classes and classroom projects. By clicking on the squares to the left of each of your calendar names, you can reveal or hide each calendar allowing you to see as many or as few of your calendars overlapping as you would like.

Creating Lesson Plans

After having created a calendar for each of your classes, you can then use Google Calendar to lesson plan. By first selecting the calendar that you want to use to organize your lessons and then clicking on the create button at the top of your left-hand sidebar, you can begin scheduling your lesson plans into a daily, weekly, or monthly view. By clicking “Create” to schedule a lesson, you can set the date and time for the lesson to begin and end, enter a location for where this group of students will meet, copy and paste your entire lesson plan into the “Description” field, and even add attachments. Not only does using Google Calendar to lesson plan allow you to access your schedule in the Cloud, you can also display your day’s worth of classes and school work by clicking the “Agenda” tab and printing this vertical delineation off for students to view as well.

Sharing Calendars and Appointments

But if printing just isn’t your thing, then simply use Google Calendar to share your class’ schedule with your students, their parents, and your department and school administration all at the same time. Google Calendar allows you to schedule your life across multiple calendars and share the ones you want without revealing to your students where you plan to go to dinner Friday night. By either making your chosen calendar public or sharing it with specific people through entering their Gmail addresses, you can grant access to individual calendars which can then be simply viewed online or edited and shared by those whom you have entrusted to do so. By sharing unique calendars with class schedules, lesson plans, and due dates for assignments, students and parent no longer have to wonder if they are staying on track with the expectations of your classroom. Rather, they can meet those expectations and plan ahead for future work to be done.

Showing When You Are Busy or Available

If you prefer to keep the details of your schedule private, but would like students, parents, and colleagues to know when you are available and when you are busy, Google Calendar allows you to do that too. By clicking on the drop down arrow next to an individual calendar, selecting “Share this Calendar”, and then adjusting the permission settings to “See only free/busy (hide details)”, you are then able to share your calendar with specific people without allowing them to view information of no consequence to them. This feature may serve as a public posting of office hours, ideal times for staff collaboration, or after-school availability for parents to stop by and chat.

How deep you decide to dive into Google Calendar’s features will greatly determine how versatile this free web app is for you and the stakeholders you work with. Whether managing a classroom of students; a building of teachers; or a district of administrators, educators, and parents, leveraging the workflow capabilities of Google Calendar will certainly save you time, energy, and uninvited stress. It might even make the managerial aspect of your job tolerable, or dare I say, fun.