Monday, September 30, 2013

Excited to be participating in #RSCON4

In a few days, thousands of educators from various countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON4.  RSCON will be held October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. The entire conference will be held online using the Blackboard Collaborate webinar platform. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide.

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I will be presenting on Building Playgrounds on Sunday, October 13 at 8:00 (CST). I hope you will join me!

If you missed the presentation, here is the link to the recording:

Building Playgrounds

Useful links (click on any item for more information):
Opening plenary- Sugata Mitra, 2013 TED prize winner and instigator of the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment, will speak about The Future of Learning.
Musical guest- Steve Bingham, the internationally renowned electric violinist, will conduct a live performance.
10+ international keynotes
4 panel discussions featuring distinguished experts
100+ presentations by educators around the world
5 EdInspire Award Recipients- nominate an inspiring educator here
Get your RSCON I'm Attending blog badge here

We would like to thank the incredible organizers- Shelly Sanchez Terrell, Steve Hargadon, Clive Elsmore, Chiew Pang, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Paula White, Bruno Andrade, Cecilia Lemos, Greta Sandler, Peggy George, Marcia Lima, Jo Hart, Phil Hart, Dinah Hunt, Marisa Constantinides, Nancy Blair, Mark Barnes and Sara Hunter

We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!

Friday, September 27, 2013

This is Tim

My friend Michelle Green asked me recently to share a vision of what a day in my life as a connected educator looks like for her team's Connected Educator Month activities. She didn't give me any specifics on what this needed to look like, but she did give me a pretty tight deadline of a few days.

My initial brainstorming for this project went in a lot of directions. I thought about screencasting examples of how I connect throughout the day. I wrote a blog post as well, but I didn't like the feel of it. The first-person voice sounded wordy and self-congratulatory. Honestly I was at a bit of a loss.

How do you show what being connected is and why it has value? I eventually landed on the question, "How would Disney explain this?" My answer: They would tell a story and make it visual." I'm sure they would do a better job than I did, but I'm glad I came to this approach. It allowed me to simplify the ideas and remove myself from the topic.

This is what ended up with:

I had fun with this project. I wrote a script first. Then, I illustrated that script as I thought it would take shape as I read it. I used the Explain Everything app on my iPad to do the illustration and record it as I went. Explain Everything is available on both iOS and Android.

Next I recorded the script using GarageBand and exported the file as an MP3. The audio ended up being 1:33.

After that, I exported the illustration movie and brought it into Camtasia 2 for Mac to edit the dead spaces out and to speed up the process to match the length of the audio. In all, I took a twenty minute video and edited it down to a minute and a half.

I realized at the end that I hadn't ended with the full illustration in view, so I exported a picture from the final illustration in Explain Everything to my computer and imported it into the Camtasia video project.

I brought in the voice audio, then found a piece of audio of comparable length in GarageBand, exported that, added it to the Camtasia project, ducked the music audio and changed the tempo to perfectly match the rest of the project.

I really enjoyed creating this video. It wasn't difficult to do, but it did involve problem-solving, creativity, working outside of my comfort zone, and using tools together that I hadn't blended in the past.

I wonder what students would come up with if we gave them a similar open-ended project to acheive within a time-frame.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed making it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Explore and Wonder

Take a moment to assess the times in your day when you explore a topic purely because it interests you and the times when something you hear or see acts as a catalyst for your curiosity and imagination. This happens to me quite a bit, and I take it as evidence that I am a learner by nature. I see the same experiences happening to everyone around me. I love it when conversations start with "Guess what I heard on NPR this morning..." or "I wonder what it would take to make X happen." Even our most reluctant students are constantly sharing information that excites, amuses and inspires them.

In the Digital Age, this type of sharing and exploration are enhanced through social features in the digital tools that we enjoy most. Every time I like, retweet or +1 something, I am sharing my learning with the folks I'm connected to, which may mean that I am inspiring wonder in others and driving their own exploration of the world.

Looked at in this way, it's hard to say that there is any real learning crisis in America. People are learning and developing organically all the time.

So Why Isn't This What School Looks Like?

From a classroom perspective, this type of informal learning can appear less rigorous and less relevant to the task of preparing students for college and career. This is partly because learning that is self-guided may not fit into the curriculum maps that we have created to represent and ensure a well-designed educational experience. With self-guided learning, we worry about what is missing instead of what is being gained.

Another problem is that this type of informal learning lacks the checks needed to guide students to a more critical form of exploration and rumination. If we just let kids explore and wonder without teaching them how to avoid faulty logic, ask critical questions, weigh issues, and come to supportable conclusions, then we risk creating uninformed citizens who can easily be manipulated by forces bigger than themselves. Certainly, this is one of our most important tasks as educators. I would ask, though, if there is really any one piece of content that every child must experience in order to gain these skills. If not, I wonder why we are so rigidly committed to a standardized academic canon.

Finally, while exploration and wonder are the forces that can point us to our passions, some of our great passions in life come to us after we have struggled to learn something, and many of our passions come to us because we are exposed to them without our having chosen them. In this sense, teaching a broad range of content to all students may be wise. The problem may be in our expectation that all of this content will and should "stick" to every child in the same ways.

I Think School Could Look Like This

I share all of this because I don't want to suggest that informal learning by itself is enough to qualify as an education. Still, I do want to suggest that using a person's natural curiosity and desire to learn through exploration is currently under-represented in formal education, and I believe that we have an opportunity to develop our own and our students' creativity by encouraging exploration and wonder in our classrooms.

So how does that play out?

I'd begin by suggesting that a portion of the time we have with students ought to be earmarked for self-guided learning that is supported by teacher-coaching. Students should be given regular opportunities to explore, research and develop projects that are personally meaningful, that require ongoing effort and personal growth, and that end in real-world demonstrations of learning. The role of the teacher in these types of projects ought to be to inspire curiosity, to ask probing and relevant questions, and to offer paths to support when students get stuck. For this reason, I am a big fan of 20% time in classrooms as well as more structured Project-Based Learning models.

I'd also suggest that giving students the opportunity to share something they've learned outside of the curriculum every day would be a great way to build community, inspire curiosity and de-segment learning. Teachers should also be in the habit of sharing their informal learning and modeling ways that informal learning can enhance the work at hand.

Teachers could even provide space in their classroom blog, LMS or website for sharing great and inspiring digital content, and for drawing connections between the syllabus and the rest of the world. For teachers who are fortunate enough to be able to use social media with their classes, creating a Google+ community, a Facebook group, or a Twitter hashtag for sharing discoveries might be a great way to keep the learning conversation going 24/7.

Another great way to inspire wonder and encourage exploration, is to give students examples of great digital content that is built for exploration. A teacher could, for example, curate a collection of age-appropriate digital learning spaces (a digital learning playground) and provide "recess" times for kids to interact with these spaces. These digital playgrounds could be very general in focus, or they could be built around concepts that students are or will be learning about. This wouldn't be assigned work in which every child is expected to interact with every piece of content in a specified way. Instead, it would be an opportunity to guide their own exploration on their own terms. The teacher can then ask some important questions. What did you learn? What was missing? What would you have added to the list? Why is what you learned important? Will you remember this learning? Why or why not?

Here's an example of what one of these playgrounds might look like (this one is focused on learning about Shakespeare):

Click here to open this binder in a new window.

Here are a few of my favorite places to explore and to share with my learners:

10 Great Places to Learn and Play
10 More Great Places to Learn and Play

Possibly more importantly, we can learn to effectively and safely explore the Internet for our own purposes as well as teaching our students to do so. Actively teaching skills that enhance online research and habits that support online safety can help us to ensure that our students are successful informal learners even when they are not in our care.

Here are some resources that can guide you:

How to Use Google Search More Effectively [Infographic]
10 Tips for Smarter, More Efficient Internet Searching
Searching the World Wide Web Introduction
Google Can Do That? How to Search the Internet Effectively [SlideShare]
5 Ways to Keep Online Searching Secure for Kids
Help Your Children Search the Internet Efficiently and Safely
The Teachers' Guide to Keeping Students Safe Online

Additionally, here is are links to tool collections that can enhance this work:

Curation Tools for Teachers
Media Sharing Tools for Teachers
Research Tools for Teachers
Social Networking Tools for Teachers
Web Content Management Tools for Teachers

Our Task

There is no shortage of great content on the web, representing countless opportunities to learn. Taking the time to formalize our surfing, to think of our self-guided exploration as purposeful and relevant to our growth as individuals would go a long way to bridging the divide between learning and school. Building opportunities for exploration and giving the green light to wonder as legitimate uses of our time as learners will help us be more creative in our thinking. Doing the same for our students and supporting them as they develop their own exploration skills and curiosity will help to engage those students as learners and prepare them to forge their own paths safely and confidently.

photo credit: Johan Larsson via photopin cc
photo credit: cordiaz2000 via photopin cc
photo credit: Stitch via photopin cc

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tellagami is Super Cool!

My colleague Kris Gordon introduced me to an amazing app the other day, and I haven't stopped thinking about its classroom applications since. Tellagami is a super-simple animation app for the iOS that allows users to create 30 second videos in which an avatar they create stands in front of a background of their choice and speaks.

Each step of the creation process is very simple, yet there is a surprising range of versatility built into the process as well. Here is an example:

I created this animation in a series of steps:

First, I created my avatar. I had the choice between a male or female avatar, and I had several options in terms of skin color, eye color, hair color and style, and clothing. I also discovered that I could move my avatar on the screen, resize the avatar with pinch and stretch motions, and turn the avatar by swiping.

Next, I added emotion. This was useful as I chose the "happy" option, since my avatar was going to be located in the "Happiest Place on Earth." I liked the silly and surprised options as well. I definitely recommend playing around with this, as the avatar's expressions change as it speaks.

Third, I selected my background. I really like this feature. I had the option of selecting from my camera roll, taking a photo, or using one of the in-app options. I liked how the in-app options looked more cartoon-y to match the avatar, but I wanted a Disney location. To solve this, I brought one of my Disney photos into another favorite app (BeFunky) and added some filters. Then I added the cartoon-y photo to my camera roll. I also discovered that I could re-size and move the background using similar gestures as the ones I used to design my avatar.

Once I had my avatar all set up in front of the background, I recorded my voice. The app gives me the option of either recording my voice or typing in text. When I used the text feature, the results were what you would expect from an artificial voice, good but not great. Once I hit the record button, I had a 30 second recording window represented by a countdown. It took me a few tries to get the feel for recording, so I appreciated the ability to review and re-record.

Finally, I shared my Tellagami via the share screen. I had the option to text, email or share my Tellagami through Twitter or Facebook. When I shared it through email and text, I received a unique URL from which to view the animation. From there, I also had the option to copy the URL or get the embed code.

I like this app because it is so easy to use, and because I was able to create a quick animation with impressive results in a very short timeframe.

I could imagine teachers using this app to have students capture and show learning anywhere. For example, it would be easy for a student to take a picture of a lion on a field trip to the zoo, create an avatar of themselves explaining what they learned about lions, and share that avatar with the teacher. The teacher could then share those impressions on a class website.

Most importantly, this app is free and does not require a login. I encourage you to check it out, and let me know what great classroom applications you find for it.