Monday, April 22, 2013

Educational Collaboration Through Pinterest

Pinterest screenshot by Erin Mulder

You've probably heard of Pinterest, the online, quick-sharing, social networking pin board where you can share pretty much anything and everything. It's used for sharing photos, websites, crafts, recipes, videos, etc., by 'pinning' the item you want to share to a 'board'. You can even follow specific people and subscribe to their pins if you especially like the type of stuff they repin. Your followers can view your pins and boards and can repin the items they like. A lot of people have boards dedicated to crafts, food, wedding ideas, animals, quotes, etc., but the board that I pin on the most is my "Teacher Things" board. There is so much educational material on Pinterest; it's incredible. All you have to do is search for something education-related and thousands of pins appear showing everything from lesson plans to classroom management techniques to new educational theories and technologies.

Although Pinterest is typically thought of as a fun, time-wasting activity (it's a great procrastination tool!), I see great value in Pinterest as a collaboration tool for teachers. It's extremely easy to share your ideas with other teachers and get ideas from other teachers, too. There are lots of free activities and project ideas that you can do in your classroom or tweak to make them your own. Pinterest is the ultimate collaboration tool. It makes it possible to see thousands of examples of what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and allows you to take those ideas and add your own creativity to Pinterest for the world to see. Nothing like this has ever been possible before; you can't achieve this sort of share-power through snail mail, email...not even necessarily by sitting down with someone and bouncing ideas off of eachother. Pinterest allows you to become connected with thousands, maybe even millions, of educators and gives you free access to all of the resources and creativity that each of these educators bring.

Best of all? Pinterest is fun!

Here's a great article about some of the pros that Pinterest presents for educators.

or,

check out this site to see the top 20 best Pinterest Boards about Educational Technology.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cursive Conundrum



I stumbled onto this article by Ian Jukes this week and learned that there is a bill that is being passed in North Carolina that brings multiplication tables and cursive handwriting back into the classroom. This bill is called Back to Basics and requires 5th graders to know how to write in cursive and memorize the multiplication tables.

I had to learn both of these skills when I was growing up (even though I was homeschooled...yes we still learn things!), and I can see the value in both of them. Multiplication tables are really helpful because there are lots of times when you just need to know what two numbers multiplied together are and you may not have the time or resources to do heavy calculation. I can see why they would place their focus on that.

However, I'm not sold on bringing cursive back. (I understand that this bill is being passed in North Carolina, not Iowa, but it got me thinking about the topic.) I learned cursive by using the Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting Series, but even though I technically know how to use cursive, I rarely do. The only time I do is when writing my signature, and even that isn't necessarily required to be in cursive, as long as I do it the same way every time. When I write things out on paper, I'm usually in a hurry and would never write in cursive in a normal setting; it takes longer for me and requires a lot more thought on my part. If given the chance, I type my notes, etc., on my laptop.

Typing is so much faster than writing it out on paper, and you can delete and rearrange text as you  need to. Students in the 21st century thrive on computers and technology. If given the change, I'd bet that 9 out of 10 students would type an assignment on a computer instead of hand write everything out on paper. Even my sister, a serious writer and published-author-to-be, types out all of her stories on her laptop because it's so much more efficient.

I admit that in some circumstances, it is necessary to hand write things. Once upon a time, people had to learn to adapt to technology and start using pens and pencils as their primary writing tools. But now, perhaps, our primary writing tools are changing. Obviously kids have to know how to use a paper and pencil. But do they really have to spend time and energy learning how to write in cursive when they only seldom write in print, let alone in cursive?  Do we, as teachers, have the time and energy needed to teach them this skill? I feel as though cursive is unnecessary, at least as far as public education is concerned, and that time can be better used elsewhere, perhaps toward improving students' typing skills.

Photo from Flickr.com, by Chrissy Johnson1, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsj1/4441258076/

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Starting younger and younger these days! Ed Tech for the win.

Over spring break, I was visiting my friend's family. They're big fans of Kindle Fires, and everyone in their family has one. My friend's mom, Brenda, was telling us about how her three-year-old granddaughter, Emery, likes to play on Brenda's Kindle Fire. Apparently Emery likes to play with an app that lets you build different vehicles out of various shapes. Brenda told us that usually Emery has around 4 or 5 different vehicles she can do, but one day Brenda noticed that Emery suddenly was making some new boats and airplanes in addition to her regular vehicles. Emery had actually figured out how to purchase and install the $1.99 version of the app, instead of the free version that Brenda had downloaded on it! It really got my attention because I was astonished that such a little kid could figure that out! It only goes to show how incredibly smart kids are and how good they are with technology, even at the ripe young age of three.

I was probably 4 or 5 the first time I played with a computer (granted it wasn't a very high tech one...computers in 1995 were a little sketchy), and the first time I had access to a touch screen was when I was about 15. I consider myself to be pretty technologically-minded, but think about how much more so kids of today are going to be! They've literally been born with technology in every area of their life. It's no wonder kids hate school and would rather play video games these days; school is old fashioned and games are fun and exciting.

We have got to start making school rich with educational technology if we want to keep kids interested!

I'm proud to report that I'm now an official Educational Technology minor! I'm really excited to see where it takes me and learn about all of the ways that technology can be harnessed and used in the classroom.

If you want to check out some kid-friendly apps for a tablet or smartphone, check out this online article from TheGuardian. Lots of those apps are really great places to start kids out on the fun technology you have in your home, and are educational and creative to boot!

Ed tech is becoming such a big deal nowadays, it'll be exciting to see where else it takes us in the future.

Photo by Tim Wilson, Flickr.com, http://www.flickr.com/photos/timwilson/6578700171/

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Can Voxer be a viable tool in the classroom?

Maybe you've heard of the app Voxer before. Maybe you haven't.

     Voxer is basically a walkie-talkie that you can download onto your smart phone and send voice, text, and picture messages in real time to one or more people.

     I use it frequently with my friends because you can send voice messages in real time, but the other person doesn't have to listen to it until they're ready. When you send a message, the other person gets it literally the second you send it, and if they're on Voxer too, you can basically have a conversation just like if you were on the phone. However, if the other person has to go do their laundry or drive to work or go to the bathroom or anything else, that message just stays there until they're ready to listen. I find it really handy when I'm too busy to have a phone conversation or write out a long text, but I have a few seconds to just say what I want to say. It's useful for giving directions or telling a story; you know, stuff that would take a long time to text out.

I got to thinking about this handy little app...what if we could harness this and use it in our classrooms?

     It started out when my group was working on our WebQuest in Ed Tech & Design. I was in charge of thinking of gadgets for our make believe class to use when using the WebQuest, and I realized that if a few kids were working on a project at the same time, but at their own houses, everyone could be on Voxer and talk and ask questions as necessary. With Voxer, you don't have to be on the phone constantly, and you can share the same messages with everyone in a group. When you text people, you can only get and receive messages from one person at a time. Sure, you can send your message to multiple people, but when those people respond, their messages only go to you, not to everyone who got the original message.

     Suddenly, Voxer makes sense! What if, assuming our students had access to a smart phone or iPad (which, in our 21st century classrooms, many children do), students had the teacher's and  each other's information within Voxer so that they could contact each other? Here are some situations where I could see Voxer being beneficial to the class.

1) Students collaborating outside of school on a project.
     As I said above, if students agree to work on a project at the same time but can't meet in the same location, Voxer can be a great way for kids to talk to each other as a group and ask questions if they need to. They can even send pictures of how their part of the project is coming if they want to! They just have to select the people they want to include in their conversation, and they're set!

2) When you, the teacher, need to send a message to your students.
     I don't know about you guys, but when I'm teaching, I don't want to have to call 25 kids to remind them to bring something for the next day, or email a bunch of parents, or print of a ton of paper to send reminders home with kids. Maybe you wouldn't do any of these things if the situation didn't really matter, but what if you could easily remind all of your students, at once, that they have a quiz the next day or that they need to make sure to bring a photo of themselves from home? Instead of sending home notes or emailing parents, you could just send a voice message to your students telling them whatever they need to know. If they have questions, they can Vox you right back, just like if they were in class and had a question. Plus, everyone can see everyone else's messages, so the other students can benefit from hearing another student's question and your response.

3) When you're on a field trip and want to let students have some freedom.
      This idea is what really got me excited to use Voxer with my class. Say you, the teacher, were taking your class to the zoo for a day. While you could take the class around the zoo at your pace and not let students spend as much time looking at the animals that they want to, what if you just let them go and explore by themselves? You're probably thinking, "Whoa, bad teacher alert!" But seriously. What if you let your kids go in the morning and see the animals at their own pace? Little Jeremy might hate watching the penguins and giraffes, but maybe he could sit in front of the tiger exhibit all day. Sally and Mary? They're not so big on the tigers, but they love the dolphins and don't really care about seeing anything else. With Voxer, your kids can send voice messages back and forth and communicate with you, their teacher, about what they're doing and things they find interesting. Your kids can even send pictures to your whole class! Sally and Mary have been hanging out at the dolphin pool and caught a picture of one of the dolphins doing a 10 foot jump in the air. Suddenly, your whole class can see how cool the dolphins are, and can go over and check it out for themselves. Toby, over at the polar bear exhibit, snaps a picture of the largest polar bear pressing his nose to the glass, right in front of Toby. Michaela, by the lemurs, shares a photo of a baby lemur riding on his mom's back. Suddenly your entire class can see what their peers are seeing. And you, the teacher, can send messages and pictures that help guide your whole class's learning, even though you may not be with them.
      Obviously not all of your students may have smart phones. If you pre-assign groups and make sure that every group has a smart phone that works and is connected to Voxer, you can reach all of your students. Some students who don't have phones can even hang out with you if they want to (but that may be kind of un-cool...you know how kids are.) It's way more fun to be out on your own than it is to be dragged along by your teacher.
     Now here's the thing; kids can get lost. A zoo (or wherever you're on your field trip) can be a big place and you definitely don't want to lose your kids or have any worries about where they are. Voxer helps you with that. It has a built in GPS locator that automatically sends your location out with your message. The listeners just have to tap your message to see where you sent it from (and it's actually very accurate!). You could Vox your students every, say, half hour or so, and ask every group to send a message to check in. They could give their location in the message, or you can just make sure they're in a place they're supposed to be by clicking on their message and using the GPS. If you have any doubts and want all of your students to come back to the entrance to physically check in, all you have to do is send a message. If your kids are going to be late (we've all been in a park and had to meet someone and couldn't contact someone when they didn't show up), they can just send you a quick message about why and you can respond.

     So there you have it. I know I'm going to have to try to use Voxer in my classroom someday. Obviously you'll have to train your students to use it wisely, just like any other technology, but I think that it could be a really awesome tool that will befit you and your class. I tried doing some basic research online about if Voxer had ever been used in a way like this, and I couldn't find any information about it. I doubt I'm the first person to think of it, but hey. Weirder things have happened! A version of Voxer was created for businesses to use, maybe education is the next step. You can check out Voxer's official website to learn more! Now get Voxing!

(Voxer screenshot taken by me, via Voxer application for Android :)


Friday, March 1, 2013

First post!

Hi readers! This is my new blog for all things educational. I had a personal blog that I only used semi-regularly, but I'm very excited to dive deeper into some more professional topics that will help me in my career (and help others in their careers!). 

On my old blog, my last post that I made was about how we're not being creative anymore. I'm going to post it here just for thought's sake. Enjoy!

Where did all of our creativity go? 
Seriously, think about it. We now live in a world where we can repost things on Facebook, retweet things on Twitter, repin things on Pinterest, reblog things on Tumblr, etc, etc, etc. I'm NOT saying that any of these websites are bad or stupid or anything like that. I use all of these sites and I enjoy them very much. But I did some pondering over this last night while I was in bed. We're so busy reposting and repinning that we don't ever show other people our own creativity. Think about it, 90s kids (cuz I know that's who you are), when we were little, making crafts and playing games was the best thing ever. Remember? Way back when before the internet was popular. At least to us. Before we all got Facebook accounts and cell phones, we actually made things. I have boxes and boxes of art projects in my attic from all of those years where I made things when I was bored. Even when I started getting into technology at about 12 or 13, I quickly figured out how to use Photoshop and other graphic tools. I had an entire website devoted to making my own graphics. At some point though, I let it go. I stopped making my own graphics and stopped creating the things I loved most. It didn't hit me until yesterday that we've all slipped into the habit of re-whatevering the things that other people have done. I'm not saying that no one is creative anymore; obviously someone had to post the cool things that we're sharing with others. But when was the last time that you pinned an original picture to Pinterest? Or posted one of your own pictures to your wall for others to share? If you're like me, not very often. I've had this urge lately to create things on the computer. To make things my own. To share my own creations with other people. I love photography, but I haven't deliberately sat down and taken/edited pictures in so long. Why? I assure you, it's not because I don't have time to sit on Facebook and Tumblr. I find plenty of time to do those things. So why can't I make something for others to see for once? I want to take pictures and put my Photoshop skills to good use. Maybe you're a fashion designer. Maybe you love to write poems. Maybe you used to build the best Lego buildings ever when you were little...so go do it now, too. You might be surprised how creative you can be.
We loved being creative when we were kids. Let's bring it back. <3