Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Solve a Problem

One of the essential skills that we all need to develop is the ability to solve our own problems. As we travel through life encountering and responding to problems, we develop a larger and larger palette of tools with which to solve the next problem. Building that toolbox helps us to feel confident in our ability to approach the world creatively.

In the Digital Age, we have a world of resources and opportunities to not only help us find answers and practice problem-solving, but to give us the resources for imagining and developing our own solutions to problems. Our Internet-enabled world can help us become better problem-solvers and can help us develop those skills in our students. I've shared just a few areas and resources below.

Finding An Answer

What did you do BG (Before Google)? I know that we often take our ability to find an answer at a moment's notice for granted, but it truly is an amazing gift to be able to access so much information with such ease. I often tease my kids when they ask a question to which there is an obvious "right answer" for not going right to their phones. I say, "If only there were some sort of device that was connected to a network of information and resources..." They roll their eyes, but this just goes to show you that just because we have the ability to get information this way, it doesn't mean that we have the workflow or skills to put that into practice. We all forget that we can use the Internet this way. Even my most tech-savvy colleagues will occasionally give me the opportunity to use the Let Me Google That For You Web Tool.

So one thing we can learn for ourselves and help our students learn is the ability to search for information well on the Internet. There are many great blog posts like this one that will give you handy tips and tricks for searching Google effectively. (If you want more, google "How to search Google effectively). If you are teaching these skills to your students, I'd definitely recommend Google Search Education and this infographic as a starting place.

Beyond Google, there are plenty of other ways to search for information on the web. There are, of course, plenty of other search engines and tools. More importantly, though, the Internet is a social space where you can ask a question directly to human beings. My favorite method for this is to ask a question on Twitter or in one of the Google+ communities that I belong to. Also, if there is a particular person to whom you would like to address a question, it is not hard to locate their contact information online and then reach out to them. I've often been pleased to find out that authors, thought leaders, and celebrities are more than willing to reply to an email, a tweet or a post on their social media pages.

Learning a Skill

I'm often surprised that people I talk to feel that they don't have time to learn how to do simple things. That is a mindset from a different era. If I could teach everyone just one lesson, it would be how to find instructional resources online. When I don't know how to do something, I don't call an expert first. I look to see if anyone has created a tutorial online. YouTube is an amazing resource for this. I use the search box to look for my topic (e.g. how to change a dyson vacuum belt) and I am presented with a list of video tutorials that step me through the process.

There are thousands of sites that are dedicated to helping people learn how to do all kinds of things. Check out this great list to learn about just a few of them. Some of my favorite places to learn new skills include: MindTools, DIY.org, LifeHacker, Instructables, MAKE, and Howcast. Of course, depending on what you want to learn, there are also great resources that are more focused on a particular topic. And again, there are great ways to connect with folks who share your passions through social media. Pinterest is an excellent example of a digital space where people share what they have learned to do.

Thinking Through a Problem

The digital world is a great place to sort through a problem as well. Anyone can collect great data to help them look at a problem using any number of online polling and survey tools. People can also map out their thinking using visualization and mind-mapping tools. Then, of course, if a digital solution to the problem is appropriate, there are hundreds of amazing tools that can be brought to bear on the project individually or in a combined form.

In fact, that is the healthiest way to think of digital tools. While a tool by itself has some functionality, it is when we use the tools we have together that we produce the best results. Try building a birdhouse with just a hammer or just a saw. Recently, I created this video during a workshop:

In order to create that product, my partners and I used a combination of GarageBand, Thumbjam, email, text, PhotoShop, BeFunky, Camtasia, and of course, YouTube.

We didn't set out to use all of those tools, but we pulled from the tools that we knew how to use to create the experience we were looking for (i.e. to solve the problem at hand).

Gaming for Practice

Another way that technology can help to build problem-solving skills is through gaming. Having students explore and create with games like Minecraft, solve puzzles digitally, and even create their own games is an under-utilized strategy in education. List list below represent just a few great resources to explore in this area:

TED Talks Gaming Playlist
PBS Kids Problem-Solving Games
The Problem Site
30 iPad Games for Your Brain

Problem-Solving Skills

Of course, ultimately we need to be purposeful in how we approach  problem-solving for ourselves and with our students. Creating environments in which students can safely take on the role of problem-solver is the focus of many of the most compelling initiatives in learning, including Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and the Maker Movement.

Learning about these pedagogical approaches is a great first step for bringing problem-solving skills to the classroom. While a Google search will get you there, You might want to begin with some of the premiere educational sights like Edutopia, TeachThought, Edudemic, and MindShift.

Our Challenge

Giving students the opportunity to identify problems and design and execute solutions is a big step from what goes on in the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Learning how to do this so that students develop confidence in their own abilities to creatively approach the world with a will to make things better takes a similar effort on our part to imagine classrooms that meet this need. Fortunately, we live in a time and place in which the the tools and community exist to make this a reality.

photo credit: colemama via photopin cc
photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

Friday, December 13, 2013

12 Days of #EdTech

During this holiday season, I hope that each of you has the opportunity to reflect on the semester behind us, and dream big for the semester ahead. To help you on this journey, these are my virtual gifts to you. Please feel free to re-gift them :) 

On the Twelfth Day of #EdTech My Playground Advocate Gave to Me:

12 Tips for Creating Classroom Videos
11 Things to Know About Teaching Without a Textbook
10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom
9 Lessons from Walt Disney World
8 Mobile App Reviews
7 Teacher Creativity Skills
6 Places to Find Apps
5 Pretty Cool Places to Play
4 Web Tools Demonstrated
3 (x10) Days of Digital Tools
2 Amazing Conferences
1 Go To Website for Educators

6 Places For Discovering New Mobile Apps

Teachers often ask me where they can find great educational apps. I learn about apps from a lot of sources, and not just from sites that curate lists of apps. However, having a short list of go-to sites that will keep you aware of the latest and greatest apps is definitely helpful. I have a list that I created with several of these sites. It can be a bit overwhelming, so if you aren't interested in picking through the entire list, I've included 6 of my favorites below:

Fun Educational Apps- Apps for iOS. This site has tons of reviews of apps from multiple content areas and age ranges. Plus you can sign up for free app alerts.

Smart Apps for Kids-  Another website that is searchable by age and subject-area. Sign up for email updates in multiple categories.

Edshelf- A great community of educators sharing their favorite digital tools, including apps. A super-useful space for discovering and sharing your favorite apps.

APPitic- Awesome site with curated lists of apps in many categories including apps for flipped learning, Challenge-Based Learning, and the ISTE NETS. Also includes supporting resources.

I Education Apps Review (IEAR)- Another community effort, IEAR includes tons of app reviews, but even more resources around using tablets and apps in the classroom.

Appolearning- A great site for finding both iOS and Android apps. The resources are organized by operating system, grade level, subject area, and task.

Of course, the best way to find great apps is to join the great conversations around Ed Tech on social media, to attend live and virtual sessions from presenters who have experience with tablets in the classroom, and to collaborate with colleagues to explore app solutions that fit your classroom best. Hopefully, the resources above can help drive those conversations.

If you have a favorite source for learning about educational mobile apps, I'd love to know about it. Please feel free to share that in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dreaming About What We Teach

This is the post I wrote last year for Brett Clark's 12 Days of Dreaming Series. I came across it today, and thought it was worth a second share. I'm still challenged by the final paragraph, and I wonder what progress I've made in the past year. You can view the original post at Brett's Education Dreamer Blog

As long as we're dreaming, I'd like to spend some time dreaming about a new focus for learning. As it stands now, students spend the vast majority of their time "learning" (read memorizing) content that has been divided into discrete subject-based boxes of time and being herded from place to place to add a physical separation to the temporal one. Our students chose these classes from a McMenu of choices that vary little from town to town across the nation, and that is further homogenized by corporate content engines that have a stranglehold on a curriculum that hasn't significantly changed in decades. The message to students is four-fold: 1. The subjects we offer are the ones that matter, 2. These subjects can adequately be learned in isolation from one another, 3. A person's worth as a learner is dependent on that person's ability to master a particular menu of subjects regardless of that person's particular talents, interests, or resources, and 4. The purpose of an education is to stockpile knowledge for later use.

This isn't the dream of learning that I hold for my own children, yet I drop them off everyday at the doors of schools that are set up the same way as I've described above. These schools are perfectly adequate, the teachers are more than capable and caring, and my children are happy enough to attend, but I feel I'm failing them because I can imagine something better.

My dream begins with the realization that the purpose of an education isn't to amass content-knowledge. Short of some very basic math, writing and reading content, there isn't any one piece of information that I could say is essential for every child to know in order to live a happy, rich and meaningful life. Note: I am not saying a child could be limited to the basics of math, reading and writing, and expect to live a happy, rich and meaningful life. I am instead suggesting that beyond those basics, any course of self-selected study could foot the bill, and given the on-demand access that today's students have to information, pre-packaging that information does nothing more than make our learning environments seem artificial. Rather than running students through a wide gauntlet of coursework that is of little relevance to the learner, why not encourage learners to engage with the content that speaks to them personally?

In my dream, the purpose of an education is to develop the habits of mind and skill-sets that bring the learner success and satisfaction and that will serve the learner well in the future. Every second that my children spend memorizing information that they could easily look up on their own, and that they did not select for themselves based on an intrinsic desire to learn, seems wasteful and wrong-headed. Every class that my children take to satisfy graduation requirements, instead of satisfying their own curiosity or desire to create, strikes me as a missed opportunity. Every time my children complete an assignment that they don't need in order to understand the material because it counts toward their grade, I cringe and secretly hope they will push back a little.

So, let's design schools that don't limit students to courses that are beholden to traditional subject-area designations. We could begin by offering cross-curricular courses that help students make connections among subjects. Moreover, let's offer more courses that fall outside of individual departments, such as philosophy or social networking or philanthropy courses. Let's create paths for students to design and complete courses that meet their needs as real people who are living in this world, as people who have aspirations beyond graduation. Let's refuse to let the needs of the system outweigh the needs of learners, or let the needs of the 19th and 20th centuries continue to define learning in the 21st.

 Let's design courses whose purposes are to build skills and enhance life.

I've said before that I wish my children could take Creativity as a class. I wish that their class schedule included 1st Period Collaboration and 2nd Period Advanced Leadership. I mean this. We don't have to get rid of other topics like English, History, Math and Science, but we can certainly offer them alongside Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking. Ideally, we would teach the content inside the framework of teaching skills instead of the other way around.

I also dream that at least 20% of my children's days would be devoted to Independent Research and Development. I dream that my children could choose to attend a school in which they would collaborate on teams to develop feature-length films, or solve community problems through design solutions, or answer questions posed by scientists.

And I dream that my children would be measured as learners not by the number of credits they check off of a pre-determined list or by the score they get on a single test over content from an isolated topic, or by the arbitrary measurement of how well they "play school." I dream that my children will one day be measured as learners by their satisfaction and success in their chosen field, by their contributions to their work and their colleagues, and by the passion and ideas they generate when pursuing their dreams.

All of this makes me wonder how I would be measured against this standard. I see this vision for learning so clearly, yet I relegate it to the land of dreams, an educational Camelot or Shangri La. Is it enough to write blog posts while my children play school? Is it enough to give a Like or a Retweet to others who suggest similar improvements? Is it enough to do my best inside a broken system, and blame my failures on forces beyond my control? Is it enough to continue to dream, or is it time to wake up? I think we know the answer.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Animoby- Cool Whiteboard App for Creating Learning Resources

Recently, I downloaded the Animoby App for my iPad. I've been looking for a whiteboard app that is free, teacher-friendly, and does what it says it will do, and Animoby definitely fits the bill. Here is an overview:

To use Animoby you will need to set up an account. You will be prompted to do this inside the app, or you can do so at the Animoby website.

From there, it is easy to learn how to use the app through Animoby's useful video tutorials and user-friendly Help menu.

Here are a few other introductory resources as well:

EDUTech Review
That's Absolutely Genius Review
Animoby: Animated Learning for Anybody
Tapscape Review
The Ed Tech Round-Up Review

An Example

I created this Animoby video as an example of what you can do with this tool:

You can also visit the link here: http://www.animoby.com/a/3243

What I Like About Animoby

One feature that stands out for me is the variety of pre-loaded images with which a user can work. I was especially pleased to see so many images and backgrounds for teaching math and music (two areas that require specialized symbols).

Additionally, I like the ability to bring in images from my photos or from DropBox or to even snap a photo for use while inside the app.

I also like having the ability to work in layers as I add elements to a board. This comes in handy as I am creating and I want to bring features to the front or move backward.

I definitely like the ability to create multiple boards and then create presentations with my own voice as I move through the boards like slides. I also like that I can start and stop the recording, rather than having to get my recording in a single take.

I can also share my presentation via email or facebook, so if I have an email list for students or a Facebook group, I could share the presentation with them directly. Each presentation I make has a unique URL, so I can also send them the URL for viewing, share it through social media- including Twitter and Google+- or get the embed code to include the presentation on a website or blog.

More importantly, I can have my students create presentations with Animoby, and we can share them with the world.

I also like that Animoby is now available for both iOS and Android devices, which makes it much more versatile in a BYOD environment.

A Few Limitations

With the free app, I am limited to videos of 2 minutes in length. While this is actually preferable when sharing video lessons with students, it does present some challenges for bigger topics. The solution to this is to purchase the paid version of the app for $7.99 which allows users to create videos of any length.

The paid version also allows users to make presentations that are private for selected viewers, a feature that some will consider valuable.

I would like more post-creation editing features, but that may fly in the face of the intent of the app- which is built to create videos with minimal fuss and bother. This could be fixed if I had the option to download my finished video from the website and bring it into a separate video editor. Again, this is not a feature that all folks might want, but it would appeal to some. Short of shooting a screencast of the video and then bringing that file into a separate editor, I don't see a solution to this. Hopefully, Animoby will add a few features for post-recording editing in future versions.

How to Use Animoby in the Classroom

Here are just a few ideas that I had for using Animoby in the classroom:

  1. Create short demonstration videos for students and parents.
  2. Create short lessons that teach a concept for reinforcement or flipped-classroom teaching.
  3. Have students tell short stories or make short story books that they read in their own voice.
  4. Have students demonstrate learning using.
  5. Have students create persuasive commercials.
  6. Have students teach a concept for younger learners.
  7. Have students create introductions of themselves.
  8. Have students create a music video using images and live performance.
  9. Have students show a process through pictures and voiceover.
  10. Have students explain a timeline of events through pictures and voiceover.
  11. Have students create Animoby presentations to enhance other projects in tools like The Mad Video, ThingLink, and Murally.