Thursday, March 22, 2012

Virtual Field Trips!

Looking to get your classroom beyond its walls, without filling out all the paperwork, renting buses, and sending home permission forms?  Take a virtual field trip.  On a virtual field trip, students can explore different locations and times, using the internet as the guide.  Many of these are what used to be called Webquests - where students are given a set of tasks to complete as they move through a virtual environment - with images, video, 3d renderings... 

Explore an ancient Roman villa...

...Or sit through the first Thanksgiving...

You can apply these to virtually any subject, all it takes is a bit of hunting to find something relevant - you can see some decent tours here.  

Or, better yet, build your own.  In fact, we have the opportunity for people to take a graduate level course in designing virtual tours, courtesy of Hudson Public Schools.  This class will involve a three-hour session on April 24, and then six online sessions between then and June 5.  You get 67.5 PDPs for 250 bucks, or 3 grad credits from Fitchburg for a fee.  Interested?  You can view the flyer here:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Highlights from the New England 1:1 Summit

This past weekend, we were fortunate to attend the New England 1:1 Summit at Burlington High school. We were joined by Sherwood foreign language teachers Adriana Anderson, Paula Vargas, Heather Leger, and Chin Huei Yeh. We learned a lot about how other schools are implementing a "1 to 1" approach in their classrooms. For this week's tech tip, we will share highlights from the conference.

Burlington High School iPad Implementation

This is the first year for the BHS 1:1 iPad program. The program has been spearheaded by their principal, Patrick Larkin, who received the 2012 NASSP Digital Principal Award. They have put a vast amount of information on the BHS iPad Initiative Page for students, parents, and other schools to utilize. It is definitely worth a look! 

At BHS, students will have the same iPad for all four years and will have the option to pay a "tech fee" in order to keep it once they graduate. Before students were allowed to take the iPads home, they had to attend information sessions with their parents to learn how to use and care for the iPad. The high school has continued to offer Parent Tech Nights and a "How Do I Do That" series for teachers (similar to this blog) aimed at providing opportunities for staff to learn about technology topics and devices. 

When students first received the devices earlier this year, no apps were pre-installed for them. It was up to the students to download their apps. Most of their teachers gave them a list of recommended apps to download that they would be using in class. The whole school has made an effort to embrace the technology. All teachers are expected to have some type of "web presence" that contains a homework calendar and class handouts. They let teachers choose how they would do this. Some options include:
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Edmodo
  • iTunesU (This is a pretty cool service from Apple that lets teachers create courses and share all class resources with your students such as documents, audio and video, iBooks, website links, and more!)
Students and teachers have the flexibility to use the apps they prefer. It often depends on the assignment, but these are the "Big 3" that were mentioned over and over again by students:
  1. Google Docs
  2. Evernote
  3. Dropbox
Students no longer have server accounts. All of their documents are stored online "in the cloud" using one or more of the services listed above. They use these to share resources with teachers and their peers. This is also the last year teachers will have access to the school server. Next year, they too must move all files to the cloud as well. Read at our 1:1 Summit Notes Google Doc for more information about some of the other apps they use. 

One of our favorite features about this high school is the BHS Student Help Desk. Students take a "Student Technology Integration" course that prepares them to troubleshoot tech problems. The student tech crew then maintains the help desk one period each day for tech problems. They also help teachers across the district implement technology into their classrooms!

What became clear was that 1:1 implementation requires flexibility and a forward-vision.  Person after person emphasized the importance of training and sharing - that it's the big picture, the change in philosophy around the tools that makes the difference - not the tool itself.  As one presenter put it, you can't take a 21st century tool and just put it in a 19th century box (the old education model).  We need to be ready to embrace collaborative, real-time work and let go some of the old ways of doing things to really allow these 21st century skills to flourish.

To quote from our notes on the day:  “Institutions tend to cram innovation into the existing models” - tech is brought in, and the efficacy varies dramatically from room to room because the foundational classroom model has not changed to match the technology.  We end up putting 1:1 devices into an environment not designed for it.  This strikes us as very similar to what happened when we changed to the standards-based approach: at first, many of us simply tried to cram what we already do into this new framework.  Given time, however, it led to a philosophical shift - a change in our approach, delivery, and assessment models.  The same is true for this new wave of technology.

Key Learnings from the Day 

One of the terrific things about a day like this - aside from the fact that we got to earn PD at a free conference - is the chance to talk with other educators and share ideas.  We learned a lot, and sat in on some very good seminars... here are a couple of the key take-aways:
  • Writing has been shown to be a major area for gains in the 1:1 model - studies repeatedly show that scores go up in the 1:1 model.  The gains come when the nature of the process changes - not just typing a final draft, but using the tool collaboratively in the writing process.  Again, it's not the tool itself - it is how the tool helps shape the instructional model into a more collaborative approach.
  •  There are many innovations out there, especially regarding some simple conversion over to the cloud.  Some administrators have converted teacher evaluations and many other forms over to the IPad, reducing paper and allowing for instant delivery of documents.  One English teacher - whose excellent blog is worth a peek - now has her kids keep digital portfolios, and she grades all the papers online - she has some how-to videos explaining how she does it, and will be presenting at the EdCamp Boston conference in April.
  • iBooks Textbooks currently has digital textbooks being sold by some of the major textbook publishers for around $15 apiece. They promise to be engaging and interactive. Unfortunately, these digital textbooks must be sold to individual students. What this means is that schools would be need to purchase these digital textbooks again every year. Most school districts are hoping teachers will collaborate to create their own FREE interactive textbooks using the iBooks Author program. Teachers can then share these for free with their students and colleagues.
Cool iPad Accessories
  • Clamcase ($150) is a very cool iPad case that also acts as a keyboard. It swivels to let you alternate between using the device as a laptop or a tablet.
  • Kensington ($80-110) also makes keyboard cases that convert the iPad into a more conventional laptop when needed, and act to protect the iPad when it's closed.  Both of these cases would be well worth the investment, especially for those who want an actual keyboard for typing on the iPad.
  • Apple TV ($100) lets you wirelessly stream content from your iPad to a TV or projector. This allows you to walk around the room freely with your iPad while, for example, displaying student work via the iPad camera. Kevin Buckley at Oak has used the Apple TV for this purpose with great success.

Upcoming Education Technology PD

EdCamp Boston (currently sold out, but you can get on the waiting's free!)
Burlington High School Summer EdCamp Tuesdays (anyone is welcome!)
MassCUE - They will hold their annual conference October 24th and 25th.

If you are interested in reading all of our notes from the conference, we've made them into a public Google Doc.  All you need to do is go to  - we can't guarantee they are entirely coherent, but -we hope - there are some good points worth a few minutes of your time.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tech Tips: Multimedia at your fingertips!

Hi Everyone,

First off... a quick, selfish plug:  the Google Docs course continues Thursday at 2:30, in 309.  This week's focus is on using Google Docs for peer editing.  Come on by!

For this week's tech tip, we're going to share a few different resources - highlighting a bit of what is available out there, to help you teach whatever you need to teach in your class.  When we're looking to further explain something, one of the first things we do now is try to find online videos / podcasts that illustrate the central point - sources that we can post on our team website, or on our discussion board, for students to view from home.  To illustrate this, this blog includes some key sites for each of several subject areas below...  plus (as a bonus!) a newsletter which those of you looking to keep up with some of the latest stuff in technology in education may be interested in.

The newsletter is: 

Now, this isn't like some of the blogs we've shared, where people discuss cool new web-based apps or websites - rather, it's looking at a bit of the bigger picture: trends in using technology in schools, the pros and cons of IPads in the classroom, and ways that schools and districts are engaging students through technology.  If you're looking to stay up to date with current trends in our craft, this is a good subscription for you.  Interested?  You can sign up here  or drop us a note and we can forward you one or two recent editions.  It's free!

Now to the subject-basedmultimedia stuff.

For ELA, I've taken to searching youtube (and Google-video) for videos that can support my class.  Part of this is looking towards the "flipped classroom" course with which I'll be assisting in June - as kids need to review concepts or refresh themselves about things, having them watch a presentation at home can be quite useful - afterwards, they can touch base with me.  As part of this search, I stumbled into "Love Your Pencil" -- this site features some podcasts and handouts on some key writing concepts.

Specifically, I've linked to the ten-minute video on symbolism - it's not very exciting, but he gives a good, clear explanation and you can download the handout that is featured in the podcast.   For students in need of a refresher or a bit of help, it's proving quite useful. 

For Social Studies, one of the blogs we follow turned me on to perhaps the coolest social studies (and some ELA)videos I've seen -- courtesy of Amy Burvall (self-classified as an Edupunk singer).  She's a history teacher who can sing - and she does so well.  She takes historic eras and classic works of literature, rewrites popular songs to teach the topic, and then records a music video.  Watch one, and you'll be hooked!  You can visit her site here:!portfolio/vstc1=press

For math, we'll continue to multimedia trend... NPR features their "Math Guy," Keith Devlin, who does math segments on Weekend Edition.  He explains the math behind real world scenarios, from the geometry of the design of a soccer ball, to the ever-present question of "What do we need algebra for?"   These are all audio files - easy to click and play as a short side-discussion or to illustrate a point...  Take a listen here:

For Science -- and a LOT more (math, history, art... really, take a peek) there' Khan Academy.  Now, don't take it as far as some of the zealots do - some folks want this sort of thing to BE teaching - but to supplement, it's pretty solid.  Just go to
 And here's the video you see above:

Lastly, here's something for health class and phys ed -- in this episode of CNN's "Explain it to Me," concussions - and their impacts are explained very clearly.  With the number of students who suffer these on the rise, it's worth a look!

So, to recap - when you're looking to introduce or reinforce, don't forget to do a search -- there's so much out there, and there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Exploring Infographics defines information graphics, otherwise known as infographics, as "graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge. They are used to represent a lot of complex information in a quick, user friendly way.

Infographics are becoming very popular and can be used to display many different types of information. Some are even interactive! is a website that has over 12,000 infographics and data visualizations that you can browse or search by topic, such as "science" or "education." It's worth a look!

These visualizations can be very helpful in trying to explain difficult concepts to students. Right now, it is very difficult to create an infographic yourself because you need graphic design or coding skills. Luckily, sites like are in the process of creating tools that will let anyone make their own. It's not ready yet, but we should be able to design our own graphics soon.

My 5 Favorite Infographics:

(Click on any of these to zoom in.)

1. The Designer's Toolkit
This summarizes the tools and apps that creative and design professionals currently use the most. Looking at the graphic, you can see that some of the most popular tools being used are things that many of us are already using (Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote, and Gmail)!

2. Class in Session: Learning Tools Over the Years

3. The Growth of Social Media

4. Visualizing Density

5. Renewable Energy