Tildee – You Explain, They Understand

Oh, this could be good!

I’m constantly trying to find ways to bring the philosophy of the flipped classroom into the professional development trainings I do.  I don’t want to talk at a group of teachers for two hours about technology – I want them using it.  The problem is teachers (like students) are all at different levels of understanding when it comes to the technology I’m trying to help them use in the classroom.  So instead of forcing them to learn the exact same things at the exact same pace I provide them the “how-to’s” beforehand and then spend the face-to-face time letting them learn by doing.

A lot of my tutorials are done by screencast using Camtasia.  Screencasts are great for seeing how to do something but can be a little time consuming for a perfectionist like me.  Some times simple step-by-step directions with a few images thrown in are all that’s needed.

Enter Tildee.

Tildee lets you create step-by-step directions that can include text, images, videos, and even Google maps.  Once you’ve created your how-to, Tildee creates a unique URL that can be e-mailed or linked.

Here’s an example that I created yesterday for an iPad training I’m doing.  Let me know what you think.

REMC Connected Educator Series

I’m part of a grant/project called the REMC Connected Educator Series.  The big idea is to find the most innovative edtech leaders in Michigan and let them tell their story so other educators across the state can be inspired.

This grant allows us to give showcased educators a $100 stipend and pay for expenses at the MACUL 2012 conference.  Teachers who are in the series would participate in the following:

  • Work with me to create a screencast describing how you use a particular ed tech tool to promote 21st Century learning.  I want the focus to be “It’s not about technology – it’s about learning.”
  • A webinar where teachers can ask specific questions about what you do.
  • A panel discussion during a session at the MACUL 2012 Conference.
Are you a Michigan educator who is using technology in innovative ways to help your students learn more effectively?  If so please let me know.

Adam Bellow’s Tech Commandments

The person responsible for my teaching and learning with technology obsession tweeted a great resource the other day.







This is Adam Bellow’s presentation from the #140edu conference.  If you are interested in making your classroom relevant to your students in the second decade of the 21st Century (thank you Ron Houtman!) this is a must see!


“12 Most Important Things to Know about (21st Century) Kids Today”

Innovate Educator Post by Angela Maiers

Angela Maier post - 12 Most Important Things to Know about Kids Today

I read a great blog post this morning by Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) called the “12 Most Important Things to Know about Kids Today.”  Quite honestly, I needed to be reminded of this.  There are a lot of negative stereotypes about kids and it’s easy to get caught up in them.  Personally, it helps to be reminded of just how amazing these kids can be when given the chance.  I think it stresses the importance of making our classrooms and learning relevant for our students.  That’s a hard thing to do some times but well worth it.

Online Posters

Having students create something to demonstrate what they understand takes a little more time than taking pencil and paper multiple choice tests, but if done the right way tell much more about what a students does or doesn’t understand.  When appropriate for the topic, one activity I liked to do in my class was have students create online posters showing what they understood about a specific learning objective.

My favorite site for this is GlogsterEDU.  There are free and paid versions, but almost everything I wanted my students to demonstrate could be done on the free version.  Be sure to steer clear of the normal Glogster website in your classroom as it could have some school inappropriate examples.

A new online poster site that I just discovered is Webdoc.  It looks very similar to Glogster but since it is still in beta it doesn’t seem to have an EDU version.  Definitely check it out on your own before letting students use it.

Cit Pat article – “Are texting and social media sites harming our children’s literacy skills?”

Alright gang! Here’s my article for the Jackson Cit Pat.  It was supposed to only be 500 words (it’s currently close to 900) but I can’t think of what to cut without losing important details.  Please tell me what you think.
I was blessed with a phenomenal English teacher in high school.  Mrs. Wilcox had a gift for pushing us beyond multiple-choice tests and regurgitating lines from Macbeth or mindlessly churning out five-paragraph essays about For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Her focus was to have us take those works and create something that applied to our world.  The common medium of expression at that time was pen and paper, but we were content with that because it was all we knew.  Given the explosion of social media and other Web 2.0 tools available today, I wonder what Mrs. Wilcox would have inspired us to create to express our ideas if we had tools like podcasts, blogs, YouTube, and even Twitter or Facebook at our disposal.You see, many view literacy as simply being able to read and write, but it’s really much more.   At the very least, literacy means being able to communicate clearly regardless of the medium.  But in a world where effective communication is so vital, literacy should imply being able to take an idea or message and understand, critique, and explain how it effects you and your world.   However, with the recent boom in social media, the way we communicate with others is permanently recorded and available for all to see at any time.  Because of this, social media sites and texting are easy targets for those who want to label the rising generation as lazy, ignorant, or out-of-touch.  While examples of people (and not just students) using social media poorly are plentiful, we need to be very careful to not confuse “correlation” with “causation”.

It would be foolish to suggest all students were mini-Hemmingways in waiting until Facebook, Twitter and texting wandered onto the scene and corrupted them.  Social media didn’t cause those deficiencies, but it does display them for all to see.  Those are the sites many students visit and interact when they aren’t in school.  Which is what makes the supposed tension between learning, literacy, and social media so intriguing.  The frustration many students express with school is that it doesn’t apply to their world.  In my opinion, schools have an obligation to make learning relevant to the real world.  If we choose to pretend that these forms of communication and media don’t exist or aren’t important to them, we force students into a dichotomy of choosing between “School World” or “Their World”.  If students have to pick one or the other, “their world” wins every time.  But why can’t educators find ways to promote literacy using the tools that are already shown to engage students?  Why can’t we help students see how “school” prepares them for the “real world” by using “their world” to engage them?  Now let me be blunt. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use social media in schools just as there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use a paper and pencil.  What I am advocating is using the social media tools available today in a monitored, educational setting to help make literacy relevant for students.

Here are a few examples of educators and students using social media tools the right way to promote literacy.

  • Texting in the Classroom
    • There are many free tools like http://www.polleverywhere.com which allow teachers to poll students during lessons through text messages. Rather than basing whether students understand or not on one person raising her hand and answering questions, this allows a teacher a glimpse at what the whole class understands in a matter of seconds.
  • Facebook in the Classroom
    • With parent permission, Michigan Center chemistry teacher Matt Withers set up a Facebook group for his chemistry class where they could go for information about the class after school.  The student-to-student collaboration and communication that resulted were great examples of how social media can be used the right way in education.
  • Sylvia’s Super Awesome-Maker Show
  • Mathtrain.tv – Kids Teaching Kids
    • http://mathtrain.tv
    • Want to see if a student really understands math? You could assign problems 1-25 at the end of the chapter or have them create a video (aka “screencast”) showing how to work out a math problem in their own words.  They can then post it on iTunes or a classroom blog so their classmates can access them whenever they need help outside of school. The 6th graders who originally began creating these tutorials struggled in math before they started doing this.  Now they pour their heart and soul into creating their mini-lessons outside of class because they know their work will be available for the entire world to see.
  • Shakespeare in 140 characters
    • Did you really understand Shakespeare?  You can’t paraphrase what you don’t understand.  Have students use Twitter to paraphrase what is happening in 140 characters or less.  You’ll be amazed by their increased interest, level of understanding and creativity when they get to use a social media site that is normally reserved only for outside of school.

Can students learn to read, write and express their ideas without social media – of course!  But schools have an obligation to be relevant for students and social media is an important part of their world.  In the second decade of the 21st century there are amazing tools available that, when used the right way, can inspire students to see how their world really can prepare them for the real world.

Dan Spencer is currently the Educational Technology Coordinator at the Jackson County ISD.  Before that he taught chemistry and physics and coached cross country and track at Michigan Center High School.  He can be reached by e-mail at dan.spencer@jcisd.org or on Twitter at @runfardvs.  Feel free to continue the conversation on his blog www.techtoolsforteachers.edublogs.org

Cit Pat Article – Social Media and Student Literacy

Our local newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot just asked me to write an opinion piece on whether or not texting and social media sites are hurting our children’s literacy skills.  I have a very strong opinion on this but I’m hoping for some ideas to help give it more substance.  Here’s what I’ve brainstormed so far:

  • Social media and texting are easy to blame as the downfall of the traditional idea of literacy.  There are abundant examples of students using social media poorly, but we need to be careful not to mistake correlation for causation.
  • Literacy is more than just being able to read, write, or pass a multiple-choice test.  It also involves being able to understand, interpret and critique.  Meaningful communication must be part of this, as well as being able to create.
  • New forms of media create new forms of literacy.  Writing an essay on Shakespeare or Hemmingway have their place in literacy but I want to help people understand that blog posts and YouTube channels have their place as well.  Colleges allowing student-created videos instead of essays during the admission process might be a good example.
  • I want to address Prensky’s idea of “Digital Natives Digital Immigrants“. This quote seems to be very relevant: “It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes.  Our students have changed radically.  Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach . . . today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.”
  • Teaching media literacy and digital citizenship. This doesn’t happen in schools because social sites are almost always blocked.  If we can’t model healthy digital citizenship in schools where will students learn it?
  • I realize this is for a newspaper but does my piece really have to be in print?  Maybe I could do something in addition to the written part?
I hate to use broad, over-generalizations, but CitPat (and MLive.com) readers tend to be very negative and condescending when it comes to educational topics.   There seems to be a strong mentality of “back when I was in school we didn’t need . . .” and anything new or progressive is seen as yet another example of educators coddling bratty kids.  I really want to give positive examples of teachers and students using social media the right way in schools and learning.  The Google doc of the work in progress can be found here.  Feel free to take a look but please share your thoughts in the blog comments or on the G-doc.

The Best of Twitter + Facebook = Google+

Even though it’s been out for a few weeks I’m just starting to explore Google+.  My initial impression is that it’s a hybrid of all the best features of Twitter and Facebook.  What really intrigues me is how this can be used for collaboration and how it can help make PD more meaningful.  I’ll let you know what I find but in the meantime, feel free to share how you think you could use it in the classroom.