Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gaining Google Knowledge from GAFE Webinar

Image from

I just want to start off saying that I had no idea what "GAFE" was before listening to this webinar. I have always been a very strong Google supporter and consider myself fairly knowledgeable in all things Google, so when I found this archived webinar, I knew I had to give it a listen. 

This webinar was hosted by Classroom 2.0 Live, and the guest was Google-certified instructor Lisa Thumann. She quickly took the group through the "20 Need-To-Know Features of GAFE You Should be Using Today." Thankfully she explained what GAFE was before she started; Google Apps for Education. Turns out I have been using them for years, I just didn't know it! 

I won't go into everything Lisa explained, but my favorite topics she covered were image editing in Google Docs, Slides, etc., Google search and research in Docs, and canned messages in Gmail. Instead of having to open up a third-party application or program to edit a photo that you want to use in a Google Doc or Presentation, you now have extensive options to crop, edit, resize, etc, any photo you'd like to include. I'm always struggling to switch between programs to present and edit photos, so I'm very excited about this. She also explained that you can now do a Google search directly in Google Docs. You can highlight text and instead of hyperlinking to a link you already have, you can put keywords into the search bar and search for a relevant link to use. Likewise, if you highlight a certain word or phrase and right click on it, you have the option to "research" that phrase. A sidebar will pop up that shows you websites, definitions, pictures, etc, that are relevant to what you're trying to learn more about. One other thing that I thought was really neat was the canned responses in Gmail. Basically, you can preset email messages, so if you send a lot of the same type of emails over and over, you can insert a canned response so you don't always have to type everything out again. I didn't even know this existed! Like I said, Lisa went into much greater detail on many more Google-related features, but those were some of the ones that were new or interesting to me. 

Google is incredibly valuable to education in our 21st Century classrooms. I'm not sure there are many classrooms who have not accessed Google in some way, and I'm amazed every time Google comes out with another feature that can be used in education. It not only makes it easier for students to create, share, and learn, but it also helps the teacher communicate and collaborate with other teachers, parents, and students. It helps all users be more productive, and gives easy solutions to problems that may be much more difficult to tackle on any other software. 

I am proud to say that my future students will be avid Google users. I love how much I can accomplish with the help of Google, and I know there is so much I still have to learn.  I love that everything is streamlined and simple, and I'm excited for the increased functionality and productivity that Docs, Gmail, and all the Google Apps have. I think that my students will greatly benefit from using Google Apps, and I'm so excited to learn how to use these tools with my students! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Global Collaboration with the Global Youth Debates

Photo used with permission from
Not often do you get the chance to interact with people across the world , let alone work with them, but that is what I got to do. I volunteered to be a judge in the Global Youth Debates, a Flat Connections global project that creates a global experience for students to practice global interactions through debate.

I participated in the practice debates, as well as round 1 of the real, scored debates. It was very helpful to be part of the practice debate, because this was the first time I had ever been in a debate like this. Granted, I wasn't actually the one debating, but the students benefited from the practice as much as I did. The practice debate I judged was a little rough, but I was supposed to interact with other people from around the globe to judge the debate collaboratively. The students were debating against a school on the other side of the globe, and I was judging with people on the other side of the globe.

This is much easier said than done. While the concept of the Global Youth Debates was very interesting and unique, it was extremely difficult to collaborate with someone you've never met and can't talk with in real time. It was hard to communicate with the people I was assigned to work with, and I never really got to talk with them directly. I completed my portion of the debates, but my group was never really able to complete the debate as it was meant to be done. We were supposed to comment together, come to a consensus about how the debate went and score it, then each leave our own comments on the VoiceThread that the students were debating on. This was all well and good, but we ran into problems as far as being able to complete the judging in enough time to talk about it together, so we really weren't able to make that collaboration factor work.

For the first global collaborative project I've been a part of, I really enjoyed it, even though it turned out to be sort of unsuccessful. If anything, it taught me how hard it can be to coordinate collaboration on a global scale, even though it is extremely rewarding if it can be successful. Global collaboration is an amazing tool to help students (and teachers!) think globally and consider the people in the world as assets and friends, not as enemies or competitors.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Diving into Web 2.0

Photo by  jonas_therkildsen,

It's no surprise that the technology around us is changing, and the World Wide Web is no exception. We've come a long ways from the days of static, text-based web pages with zero interactivity for users, also called Web 1.0.

We're in the Web 2.0 age, which consists of the most effective, interactive, and engaging web experiences. That's not to say that Web 1.0 is gone and Web 2.0 has taken over; both have been around since the beginning of the Web, according to HowStuffWorks. There are elements of Web 1.0 in our day to day lives (there isn't a super way to spice up reading a scholarly article, for instance. You just have to read the text...but maybe someone should change that ;), and there have been elements of Web 2.0 since web pages were created.

People now understand how to use Web 2.0 most effectively to engage their online visitors and create an interactive experience that will keep them coming back. There are Web 2.0 tools on almost anything, and you can find collections of many of the best ones (like this one from Edudemic), or use a simple search engine to find one that meets your needs.

While I tend to consider myself decently knowledgeable about the Web 2.0 tools that are out there, I came across two that sparked my interest: LiveBinders and Storify. I wanted to learn a little more about them, and I decided to share them with you!

Let's start with LiveBinders. It's "your 3-ring binder for the web." And let's be honest, as a future teacher, I'm an organizational freak, as I'm sure many of you are as well. I love to make sure all my things are in the proper place, but online stuff gets hard. My personal computer is filled with orderly files, but what if I could do that with web content? With LiveBinders, I can! Take a look at this video to get a quick overview of LiveBinders:

Pretty cool concept, huh? Here's more of a fun video that shows what LiveBinders does to replace your old organizational system, and even features some testimonials from students and educators about their experiences.

If you're looking for a tutorial on how to use LiveBinders, check out this website. It has a video tutorial and a cheat sheet so you can easily set up your own LiveBinder! Also, take a look at this great example of a LiveBinder. It's all about Free Technology Tools for Teachers (how relevant!), and it has a TON of resources linked under each category. Play around with it and see how a LiveBinder works, and take a look at some of the great resources!

The other Web 2.0 tool I played with was Storify. Storify, according to their website, is simple, social storytelling. It's a pretty cool concept; you take elements of the web (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr posts, Flickr/Instagram photos, YouTube videos, and countless other social media forms) and drag and drop them into your 'story', a blog of sorts. Once you drag and drop these elements into your story, you can rearrange them and add text to create an all-encompassing story of whatever event or concept you're trying to explain. From there, you can share it with people on your social media sites or directly link it to the people that you've quoted in your story, and it remains a live document where people can click, watch, and interact with the content you've collected. It's a little hard to explain, so watch this video to see Storify in action and get a feel for how to use it:

If you're interested in a more in-depth tutorial about Storify, watch this video, too!

I think that Storify could be a great tool to use in the classroom, and you don't have to just use it for news stories! Take a look at this article to see 4 ways you could use Storify in the classroom, and check out these examples of what you could do with Storify to highlight a news story, national holiday, or an event.

Pretty cool, right? I think LiveBinders and Storify could be awesome tools to use, not only for personal development, but also for students to practice skills like organization, writing, and research. Other than the ways listed above, what are some ways that you could see yourself using these resources in your classroom? How could students use LiveBinders to create a personal resource? What could students create using Storify? A book report? A science tutorial for other learners? Comment with your ideas!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning to Game with Kingdom Rush

Image by RebeccaPollard,

This week's homework was a little different than normal.

Our class was instructed to play a game called Kingdom Rush for three hours this week, then think about how the gaming process fit with the learning process, how we could merge the two, etc. I've learned a decent amount about gaming in education in other classes, and I love games myself, so I was very excited about this assignment!

I decided to document my Kingdom Rush experience with a video and reflection (5 mins), which you can view below! (Navigate to if the embedded video isn't working)

As you could probably tell from the video, I got really into this assignment. Although I've never played Kingdom Rush, I caught on quickly and found myself losing track of time and anything outside of the game. This, according tDr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the concept of Flow: a state where people are the most concentrated and engaged in what they're doing. You might be familiar with this state of mind associated with artists, musicians, or athletes, but it happens all the time. Whenever you do something that you're completely immersed in and enjoy, you're experiencing Flow. 

I know whenever I do jigsaw puzzles or play my favorite Nancy Drew computer games (shameless plug, call me a nerd if you want ;) ), I lose myself in them. I'm completely focused on what I'm doing in that moment, I'm challenged, and want to keep trying to complete the task or get better. This is Flow. I know I achieved Flow while playing Kingdom Rush, too, and it was interesting to finally finish a level or two and realize how into it I had actually gotten. 

Games have flow naturally built into them. They're challenging, they're engaging, they're satisfying, and they're reinforcing. If we can harness games in education, wouldn't our students be so much more engaged? I can't think of a single kid who doesn't like games. Adults, too, for that matter. Playing is human nature, and it doesn't make much sense to me to have an entire educational system where our love for games isn't built upon. Why can't we have fun teaching and learning the topics we need to learn? If kids stay engaged and learn things from games, we can harness that and apply it to education.

That's easier said than done, obviously, but I think that the perfect execution doesn't matter as much as the attempt at execution. If we try to use games and gaming in the best ways possible, we'll figure out what works and what doesn't. I know that for my future students, they'll be playing a lot of games. Will they be pointless and 'just for fun?' No, of course not. I wouldn't bring games into my classroom that weren't tied with instruction, but I think that games can be created or tweaked to fit the needs of our students and schools. 

I want my students to have a love for gaming, just like I do. But more than that, I want them to have a love for learning. Why not tie those two together?

What do you think? What are your ideas about how gaming could be used in the classroom? Are there any situations where gaming isn't appropriate? Have you seen any classrooms that were exceptional about including games and gaming in the curriculum?

Monday, September 22, 2014

The YouTube Generation

Photo by jonsson,
It's no doubt that YouTube is a great tool for watching, sharing, and creating videos. It's been around as long as I can remember, and I'm not sure if I've ever not gone to YouTube when I've wanted to learn about something. My most recent example of this was a few days ago when I started thinking about ebonics. If you don't know, ebonics (or African American English) is a dialect of English most commonly spoken by African Americans. While I had heard of ebonics before, I hadn't really learned anything about it, nor heard it being spoken fluently. I, of course, turned to YouTube and found this video:

Within this video, a school demonstrates how they've been teaching their students (who primarily speak African American English at home) how to speak American English. They treat each of these dialects as two distinct languages, and they've been having huge success in helping students speak academic English, whereas normally, ebonics-speakers might get in trouble or ignored because they don't speak correctly. Definite win for YouTube. I was able to search for my topic and watch a short, informative video (with an example in education, no less!) in less than 5 minutes.

This is what YouTube is all about. Yes, we may like to watch cat videos and have a laugh at someone's expense because the video of them falling off of a trampoline went viral, but really, we use YouTube to learn things. We do research every day through YouTube. We look up news stories, we get updates from our favorite bands or celebrities, we wonder about random things and learn about them through YouTube. There's an entire category on YouTube for education, (YouTube EDU) where YouTube "brings learners and educators together in a global video classroom." This isn't for people who are currently in college somewhere, this is for anyone with a desire to learn. Your 13 year old cousin is a genius and wants to learn about biochemistry but doesn't have the means in school? She can find entire courses on YouTube that she can take, completely for free. Your grandma decides that she wants to finally take that trip to Russia she's always wanted to go on? She can watch hundreds of videos about the culture and brush up on her Russian (or learn from scratch). What about the guy who dropped out of high school and now works a minimum wage, dead-end job? As long as he has access to internet, either at home, a library, coffee shop, etc., he can start learning about topics he's never even dreamed about.

Photo by aisletwentytwo,

Of course YouTube isn't completely educational. You do have to be careful when you use YouTube in class because not every video is appropriate. Inappropriate content can also pop up in the video suggestions sidebar, and the comments people leave on videos are often not suitable for children to read. If these things make you less excited about using YouTube in the classroom, an alternative is TeacherTube, an online community for sharing educational videos. While I haven't personally used TeacherTube yet, I've heard extremely positive things about it and I think it offers a great solution for teachers who don't want their students on YouTube or if they want a more educationally-themed video resource for themselves.

Regardless, YouTube is changing education. Whether it's by letting everyone become a learner and viewing instructional videos or by letting everyone become content creators by uploading their original videos, YouTube can be a great resource. Check out this article to read more about how YouTube is revolutionizing education, or watch some of 2013's ten most popular education YouTube videos.

How do you plan to use YouTube in education? Have you ever run into things that you can't find on YouTube? Have you uploaded your own content?

Lastly, I'll leave you with this graphic, which I think explains social media in general pretty well. ;)

Photo by ChrisL_AK,

Friday, September 19, 2014

Innovation and Education - What I learned

Image by CERDEC,

This week I did something I've never done before. I viewed a recording from the Global STEMx Education Conference that took place in September of 2013. The session that I viewed was "Innovation and Education: Why and how they belong together" by William J. Ashby. He spoke about how innovation and education are cyclical; education feeds into innovation, and innovation (and innovators!) feed back into education. He also explained how education is still working in the pre-information age, where schools, libraries, etc., had to get information to people. Now, however, people have more information than ever at their fingertips. Why do schools need to teach them things they can look up on Google? Instead, this is the information age, and our problem now isn't to help people get to information, it's to teach them how to problem solve and take risks. People need to learn how to use the information they have access to in order to solve the real world problems that we don't have answers to, like curing cancer, creating better fuel alternatives, or restructuring our education system.

Although the webinar format was frustrating at times (I could only see the powerpoint slides, so whenever participants commented, watched a video, used a poll, etc., I couldn't participate), I really enjoyed being able to listen and take part in this session, even after it had originally taken place. It's pretty neat that a conference that happened one time is available for me to use as a resource any time I want!

The biggest thing I got from this webinar was that in order to solve problems, you have to define the problems. This may seem like a no brainer, but the participants in the session thought that this was the biggest issue in STEM education. You can't solve a problem when you don't know what it is! Ashby explained the design he uses for understanding and developing a problem. First, empathize with the students (or whoever the problem affects) to help you understand the problem. Then, dig deeper so you fully understand by rephrasing the answers you received. Write your findings down, then define the problem.

I feel like this is a good model for problem solving both in the classroom and out. Ashby believes that this model for problem definition is efficient, and I can see it working too. He was presenting it in the context of defining a problem that requires innovation to solve, but I could see it in a much smaller scale as well. If classroom conflicts or problems arise, such as a student who is struggling, I think that this could be a good way to get to the root of the problem instead of jumping to conclusions about what the problem is. By empathizing with my students, digging deep and rephrasing the information, and defining the problem in a concise way, it could help to get a more accurate idea of what's actually going on. Obviously this could be applied to a much larger scale, but for my professional practice, I could see myself using it within my own classroom.

I used to think that innovation was for 'big thinkers', or people who were far more educated and creative than I am. Now I think that innovation can happen on a smaller scale and can be accessible for me and my students. We just have to ask the right questions, get to the problems, and find solutions to those problems! What do you think fuels innovation? Do you think that defining problems can help lead to more innovation in education?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Next Big Thing is Here...Until the Next Big Thing Gets Here?

Photo by Street matt,
Ever since the hubbub last week with the Apple event, I've been thinking a lot lately about the progression of technology. In case you're unfamiliar with Apple's huge unveiling of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch, etc., it's been quite a big deal for Apple. Longer battery life, larger screen size (a LOT larger, in the case of the 6 Plus), an Apple smartwatch? It seems that Apple has finally caught up to what companies like Samsung have been doing all along.

Okay now, this isn't going to be an Apple/Android/PC/Windows/Anything debate in the slightest. But really, why are we so excited about these new devices? So there's a larger screen. There's a new smartwatch on the market. Our technology-centered society gets so excited to embrace these new innovations, even though last-year's model is perfectly fine. Technology progresses so incredibly fast, and it's not likely to slow down.

This got me to thinking; why is education so far behind? The iPhone 6 will officially be available tomorrow, and I know that people are just itching to turn in their iPhone 5s or 5c to get the next thing, which they will undoubtedly trade in when next year's model is released. Meanwhile, our schools are still struggling to integrate the use of laptops or tablets in the classroom. I can't think of any classrooms that utilize smartphones, at least in this area, and a good number of schools that 'have' technology don't use it effectively. What is education doing wrong? Why aren't we staying up to date with technology?

Well, I didn't have the answers to these questions, so naturally, I Googled it. I came up with this blog post on Edutopia that discusses this very topic. I really liked this post because it talks about the TPACK and SAMR models for technology integration, both of which have been presented to me in my classes here at UNI. These models help us to utilize technology to its full potential, but education often appears to be content with hanging out and doing things like they've always done until technology slows down. While things are definitely headed in the right direction, this article says that "the only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it".

So how can we plunge into technology integration if it's constantly changing? The blog post suggests admitting that you're not an expert and that there will be things you don't know! You can set aside some time to learn a new tech tool that you've never used and to be a curious learner. It's also important to be familiar with the standards that you're following, whether they're the Common Core, Iowa Core, or other state or local standards. If you know what standards you need to be meeting, it can be easier to decide what technology to use to help you meet those standards. It's also a great idea to read and interact with those people who are considered experts in the field and ask for their suggestions.

Technology is constantly changing, evolving, and influencing the world we live in. It holds incredible potential to be used in education, if we can take a leap of faith and get away from what we're comfortable with. Although it may be painless to simply do what we've always done, it's going to take a little transitioning, experimenting, and adjusting to finally go with the flow of technology. We've been thinking about technology as "Oh no! Something new came out! But I'm still trying to figure out how to use this old technology!", when we should be thinking "Awesome! Something new came out! How can I use what I've learned from prior technologies, both good and bad, to use this as best as I can?"

What do you think? Can education ever 'catch up' to technology? Have you seen evidence of or used effective technology integration in your classrooms? Please comment and let me know what you think!

Photo by mkhmarketing,