Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Finding My "Teacher Voice" on Social Media

As I get rolling with my 10th year of teaching in Shrewsbury, I have been reflecting on my use of technology and how it has changed over the years. Some of you know that my team has had a pretty awesome website ( since the beginning, and this site has evolved over the years. We embedded a team Google Calendar, converted many of our handouts and nightly homework into Google Docs, inserted an Animoto video, and even added a Google Translate button for families that do not speak English at home.

Recently, the focus has been on social media. It seems like whenever a new social tool emerges, it promises to reinvent education. I have been to a few "ed tech" conferences where there is a feeling by many that if you're not using social media in class, you're not a good teacher. I don't agree with that idea at all. However, like many of you, I have been trying to trying to wrap my head around how (and even if) I should use sites like Facebook and Twitter. Since Shrewsbury public schools seem to be hopping on the social media bandwagon, I figured now is the perfect time to share my thoughts.


I started an official 8 Gold Facebook page two years ago. This format allows me to share information without having to "friend" students and parents. I would NEVER recommend for a teacher to "friend" students or their parents. A general rule many teachers I know follow is we will accept friend requests from former students once they graduate high school, no earlier. Our team website has a button that lets parents and students "like" our Facebook page, which allows them to see team updates in their Facebook News Feed. 

There are two primary purposes for the team Facebook page: 
  1. Communicate with alumni (students and parents). This is a great way to let them know about upcoming team and town events such as road races or hiking trips up Mt. Monadnock.
  2. Share pictures and videos. I created a team photo gallery for last year's students and added pictures from different events throughout the year. ALL students and parents can access the pictures, even if they do not have a Facebook account. They can "like" photos but comment and tagging are both disabled. I set up a new photo gallery for this year's class. 

While the Facebook page came naturally, I have had a tough time embracing Twitter. In fact, I downright hated it for the longest time. Again, I will go back to one of those ed tech conferences I attended with Derek. We were the only two teachers with name tags that included our actual names. Everyone else wrote their Twitter handles instead. Really? The whole thing seemed very pretentious to me.

I've always thought Twitter had potential for sharing news in "real time" but wasn't sure about how to utilize that in an educational setting. Just this past weekend, I sat with a friend in a bar in Boston before the MixFest concert. We thought we could stroll up fashionably late to the Esplanade to see our new favorite band from Iceland, "Of Monsters and Men". At one point, there was confusion among people at the bar whether the gates had already been closed off to more people. I pulled up Twitter on my phone and searched for "MixFest". Sure enough, the very first tweet was by the Boston State Police. (see below) As upset as I was that I wasn't about to get inside the gate, I was secretly impressed with myself that I was able to find an answer to our question in about 20 seconds. 

I started a personal Twitter account about a year ago (@mrmularella). The toughest part was identifying my audience. Who would care about what I tweet? Who do I care about enough to read their tweets? I now "follow" a few friends but primarily use it to follow experts in the field of education. There are some scientists, teachers, principals, and leaders in the ed tech field. I mostly lurk in the background, reading their tweets and occasionally retweet something. Very rarely did I post something myself because I kept thinking, "who cares what I have to say?"

Over the summer, it all finally made sense to me. I could use it as a communication tool with students and parents. I did not want them to follow my personal account so I made a new account for our team (@8goldteachers). I shared the login infomation with the other 8 Gold team teachers so all of us could tweet out under this name. This then led to the most recent update to our website. I embedded the team Twitter feed into our main site so anything we post to Twitter also shows up on the website. This allows us to share team news and events in "real time"!. 

So, how am I using Twitter to communicate with parents and students? 
Here are some of the things tweeted during the first few weeks of school: 
  • Links to online resources (bullying, social media, cross country signups, etc.)
  • Quick reminders and notes like "Great to meet you all at Curriculum Night")
  • Pictures from class labs
  • Links to team YouTube videos
One of my potential favorite aspects of using Twitter as a communication tool is the act of "retweeting". The @8goldteachers account is "following" school and district administrators, as well as others in the community. See the full list here. If Dr. Sawyer tweets something I think our parents should know about, we can retweet his thoughts, which add them to our Twitter timeline. 

As of right now, we have thirteen students/parents following us on Twitter, but I'm hopeful that number will grow throughout the year. Other those thirteen, I honestly have no idea how many people are looking at these updates on the website. The parents seemed very receptive to the idea on Curriculum Night, but I may find out I'm still not reaching my desired audience. The experiment continues!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Taking notes on a video? Try this!

Nowadays, for almost any topic in any subject, you can find a supporting video somewhere on the web.  Whether it's a flipped lesson, where you record a screencast for kids to see later, or a clever music video about a history topic you found on Youtube, there are many opportunities for both teachers and students to expand their learning base.

One issue I've run into when setting up a video for the classroom is narrowing down a lengthy video to the selections I want to use in class, and then getting to those clips quickly.  Another issue is a solid way for students to take notes from a video, quickly and efficiently.  

Enter a new web tool to solve both problems:

What is it?  Put simply, it is a site which allows you to take notes while watching a video, and it synchronizes these notes with the video itself.  In other words, if you are watching a 20 minute video, and see something you want to use 3:15 into it, you type the note while watching and your note becomes a video bookmark: click on the note you made, and you go to that point in the video.

Here's how it works.

First, go to the site.  It will ask you to link with your Google Drive, and it can also connect with Evernote.  This is a nice feature - as you'll see, once you click "Connect with Google Drive" it will create a new folder called in your drive account - this is where all the notes you take will be saved.

If you have more than one Google Drive account, it will allow you to choose which account to use once you log in.  The first time you sign in, you'll be asked to give the app permission to modify your folders.

Once you agree to this, here is the basic interface:

On the left side, you enter the URL for the video you wish to use.  The site recognizes ones on Khan, You Tube, Coursera, EdX, Vimeo, etc.  This is a limitation - for example, if there is a video on a news site, you can't load it in, unless it has been loaded onto You Tube as well.

On the right side, you take your notes.  As soon as you start typing, that line of notes is tagged with the exact second the video was on.  When you hit return, it ends that note and you're ready to start the next one.  Click on that note later, and the video will automatically move to the moment connected to the note.

Once you finish your notes, you can then save them to your Google Drive account at the touch of a button.  The notes will appear in a folder called, although - in order to view them - you must go to the site.

If you try to view them in Google Drive, you'll get this message, and clicking on"Google Drive Viewer" does not work - you need to click on the option in order to go to your saved notes.

 The way to overcome this limitation is to link your to your Evernote account.

 In Evernote, you can take a snapshot of the video and attach it to your notes.

 Furthermore, the notes are fully visible in Evernote - giving you full access to your notes without having to be in the site.

This is particularly useful if doing research, as you can tag your notes from multiple sources in order to sort by topic, etc.

I can see students using this tool on projects, when working with a flipped classroom video... and - from the teaching perspective - being able to click on a bookmarked note and go to the exact part of a video you want to show, and then hop to the next segment when done, can be a real headache saver.
Give it a try and - per usual - let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Derek & Jeremy