Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A really cool online micro-polling, brainstorming website

The website is called AnswerGarden, and it's similar to PollEverywhere and some online quiz-games. But it has some important differences.
Image result for answer garden
Both AnswerGarden and PollEverywhere let you pose questions to poll your students and get instant feedback.  What makes AnswerGarden so cool is that it can tabulate the responses and display them in a word cloud.  That means that it could be most effective as a brainstorming tool because it would reflect the frequency with which specific answers were given.  You will pose questions to your students and then display their responses using an LCD projector on a screen.  AnswerGarden's Moderator Mode lets you manually approve student responses before they are displayed to the class. (Phew.)

The reason that AnswerGarden is a micro-polling application is that student answers must be limited to just a few words.  So it would not replace review games like Triventy, Quizizz, or Kahoot.   Here's a sample AnswerGarden question ("What makes you happy?) and resulting word cloud:
And here's a tutorial (4:34) on how to use AnswerGarden:
As of now, AnswerGarden operates just with computers, laptops, and iPads.  That's a deal breaker for me because it won't operate on iPhones.  (Our school has laptops but they're not reliable and have other problems.)  I've written to AnswerGarden's developers  about when they might have an iPhone app and am awaiting their reply.

T/H to @rmbyrne for his post on AnswerGarden.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Google Drive Tutorial

This is a nice overview of Google Drive and its power.  If you are like me, you have almost completely (I recently found my first use for Microsoft Word in the last year).  The video above shows you many of the highlights and how to use them in just a few minutes.

You can find technology tips you can use in the classroom on my new blog called eLearning Blog which is designed for students, teachers and administrators who want to learn using technology. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Periodic Table of Education Technology

The writers at DailyGenius, an online chronicler of educational technology news, have created a fantastic graphic that summarizes the EdTech products and events that they think are most valuable to teachers.
periodic table of education technology
The graphic is in the form of the periodic table of the elements.  Just like the real elements table, this graphic divides the best EdTech into color-coded categories like social networks, online learning, and hardware.  They also use abbreviations just like the elements table, so Twitter is coded Tw, Dropbox is Db, and ISTE is Is.

Clicking on the graphic opens it into a pdf format for easy printing.

Kudos on the cleverness of the design.  A suggestion for the future would be to make the graphic interactive, so that by hovering over and then clicking on a box would open a new window for that tool.

They say that they'll be updating the graphic several times a year.  That's good to hear.  You can follow DailyGenius @DailyGenius.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Another online game platform (but this one may be the best one yet for promoting mastery learning)

In a perfect world, we would monitor each student's learning and growth by name and need.  One student may need help with mastering causes of the War of 1812.  Another can't remember the 3/5 Compromise.  How to structure instruction so that each student's individualized needs are met?

A free online game platform that could certainly help is called BrainRush.
BrainRush allows you (or your students) to create learning games that adapt to the learning skill of each player.  To learn about BrainRush I took one of the activities that they had prepared on the Civil Rights Movement.  Whenever I answered a question incorrectly (whoops), that question was pushed back into the deck of upcoming questions.  It was then repeated in a different way several times, giving me extra chances to become confident in the correct answer and demonstrate my mastery.

This video (1:23) gives you a good short introduction to how BrainRush works.
BrainRush has four learning-game formats:
  1. Cards Template: Just like flashcards.  Great for vocabulary; students match the front to the back of cards.
  2. Buckets Template: A categorization activity; students drop and drag text, images, and/or audio into the correct bucket.
  3. Sequencing Template: A chronology or list-order activity; students drag and drop items in order.
  4. Hotspots Template: Students are presented with one image containing 10-15 hotspots, each one corresponding to a different concept to learn.  They match the concept to the hotspot on the map.  Hotspots Templates are best for diagrams and maps.
The last template was the most fun to create and play.  For my practice I uploaded a blank outline map of the contiguous 48 states, and created four hotspots.  I then associated a concept (like the Missouri Compromise Line) to each hotspot.

Playing my activity as a student, I was first shown the image (the map) with the four hotspots I had created.  My first concept was in the left margin, and in the first round, I had to click on the correct hotspot to demonstrate mastery.  Later in the Round 2 I was shown a hotspot and asked to type the correct concept in a dialogue box.

What was great was that I could not complete the activity until I gave correct answers to every concept.  And the activity was personalized for my learning.  Every time I made a mistake, questions about that topic were repeated (several times, interspersed with other questions) until I got it correct several times in a row.

Once you create your activity you post it to the online classroom that you create for your students.

One thing that's great about BrainRush is the amount of online teacher support it gives.  It currently has 9 general video tutorials and three other describing BrainRush's game templates.

BrainRush makes creating engaging and effective activities that promote individualized mastery learning that much more achievable.

US Inequity and Marriage

This is an interesting short study (also featured in the NYTimes) that proffers that part of the growing income inequity in the US is due to selecting mates of similar educational and income backgrounds (The Big Sort also looks at this) that says it has increased the income inequality in the US.   The best part about this is that (as you can see above) it mentions this relative to the Lorenz curve and the
Gini coefficient (which grew from .34 to .43 since 1960 to 2005). 

PBS is looking for America's most innovative, tech-savvy educators

PBS sponsors a program that recognizes teachers who use digital media in their classrooms and are educational technology leaders.  It's called their PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovators program, and you can apply to participate in this program for the 2016-2017 school year.  Applications are due by February 8 at 9:59pm EST.
The application process is easy.  Just create one short video, answer two short essay questions, and complete an application.  And here's the best part: if you submit a complete application by the deadline, you will automatically be invited to join the program!  Benefits of applying include one year of free PD opportunities, invitations to special events, and other benefits.

From that self-selected group, PBS LearningMedia will select 54 teachers to serve as Lead Innovators.  This group will receive a 3-day, all-expense paid trip to Denver to participate in a conference on June 25 and 26, and to attend the ISTE conference on June 27.  They will also receive a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

Here's a video one Digital Innovator submitted last year as part of his application.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Best Websites for Teaching and Learning 2015

Right now there are about 1-billion websites, give or take 50-million.  Which ones are most engaging and rewarding for our students?  Thankfully, a highly-respected authority has already done the scouting for us.

The American Association of School Librarians publishes an annual list of its best websites for teaching and learning.  The sites it recognizes
foster the qualities of innovation, creativity, active participation, and collaboration.  They are free, web-based sites that are user friendly and encourage a community of learners to explore and discover. 
One particularly cool website on the list is called WhatWasThere.  That site uses Google Maps to explore what a location used to look like.  I used the site to compare one intersection near my home.  It displayed a photo taken during the 1860s with a Google Street View of what the intersection looks like now.  It was fascinating to compare the two.  WhatWasThere also offers an accompanying iPhone app.
All told, this year's AASL list has 25 sites on it.  With a list that comprehensive it's hard to know where to start.  But by focusing on just one new site per week we would be able to introduce our students to a new type of engagement weekly, almost until the end of this school year.

A free app that nicely complements

I use Remind with my students and I love it.
Image result for
Remind creates a whole new communication stream with my students that transcends the 90 minutes we have face-to-face with each other every other day.  When I send them a text message I know that they received it on their phone instantly.

I use it sparingly, however.  I want my students to be responsible to check our class Assignment Calendar (a Google Calendar linked from our class Blackboard site) on their own initiative.  For that reason I use Remind only to announce that I've posted a new assignment, or have made changes to previously-posted assignment deadlines.

The consequence of my policy is completely foreseeable: Students forget (or neglect) to check the Calendar, and consequently forget that they have a project due at the end of the week or a quiz tomorrow.

The ideal solution would be to push to the students the obligation of monitoring their due dates using a more efficient and effective platform.  The WhatsDue app just might be that ideal solution.
Image result for whatsdue app
WhatsDue is a free app for students (and their parents).  WhatsDue lets teachers create a to-do list of upcoming due dates that students can access from their devices.

Teachers register with WhatsDue and share a join-code for each class with their students and parents.  From the teacher dashboard, they then record each assignment and when it is due.

Registered users then get push notifications of upcoming due dates that are added to a clear display on their devices.  This picture shows an example of how that looks:

In this example, the student has six assignments due.  One (the Homework to "Do Assignment 3") is marked in red because it is due tomorrow.  The other assignments are listed in the order in which they are due.

I'll keep using Remind to alert my students to schedule changes.  But WhatsApp seems to go further in helping my students manage their assignments than simply using Remind alone, so I'm going to roll this out on the first day back from winter break.  Even better: Could you imagine how cool it would be if all teachers throughout your building used WhatsDue?  I'll work on promoting that as well.

Another alternative to PowerPoint

This might be the coolest presentation package that I've seen yet.

I have already blogged my thoughts about this topic on the US History Teachers Blog.  If you want to stick with your existing PowerPoint presentations, you can make them interactive by uploading them to nearpod and then your students can watch them on their devices and respond to questions that you embed.

If you want alternatives to PowerPoint entirely, you can make presentations with either prezi or emaze.

But this presentation package was entirely new to me.  It's called PowToon.  PowToon's banner says that "It's free and it's awesome."  I concur as to both.

PowToon makes animated videos and presentations.  I could write paragraphs describing what it does but it would be much better for you to see two short examples.  Both were created with PowToon.
Want more more encouragement about PowToon's awesomeness?  PowToon was named one of the best websites for teaching and learning by the American Association of School Librarians in 2014.  Here's what they said:
Powtoon is ideal for those seeking a nice alternative to more traditional presentation tools. Simple to use, it makes creating engaging, interesting, and exciting animated videos extremely easy. Users can create and show presentations straight from the Powtoon site, or opt for the export to Youtube option, or even download a MP4 video format for use offline.
PowToon has a set of tutorials on its QuickStart Guide page.  I also like this tutorial (6:55).

The PowToon animations are so cool that I will be assigning them to my students to use.  Why should I have all the fun?

A new online quiz-game platform

Which online quiz-game platform do you use with your students?

Kahoot is very popular, and recently I've been experimenting with quizizz.  Both are easy to use and engaging for students.

But I just recently learned of a new platform called Triventy.
I've been giving Triventy a test-drive over the break and have been favorably impressed.  Creating a game is easy, the template for writing questions is straight-forward, you can add images to your questions, it has sound effects as you play, you can limit the time to answer each question, and it's easy to share your activities with your students.  And did I mention that it's free?

My friend and teaching colleague George Coe (Twitter: @ggcoe) also adds that teachers can invite others (like our students) to write questions for a game.  Great idea to increase student engagement.

How new is Triventy?  As of this writing they have just 15 followers on Twitter.  It's so new that there are no video tutorials yet.  But here's a link to Triventry's very easy-to-read printed instructions.

I'm sure that Triventy's Twitter followers will grow and that more help materials will become available soon.  You can follow Triventry on Twitter: @Triventy

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 Cloud based Lesson Planning

As I began planning for teaching AP Government after the Holiday Break I found a great site for lesson planning: Planbook.comSome of the features included: State and National Standards already available, ability to plan for many different types of school schedules, Google+ and Google Calendar integration, provides for controlled student and parent access, share plans with other teachers, administrative access for school accounts and able to create different templates for classes. And of course your lesson plans would be all set for the following school.  There is a small fee of $12 for an entire year or a (3) year subscription for $30.  This is an awesome and efficient way to lesson plan, share and innovate into the future.  Highly recommend using this time saver.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How to explain last week's Fed rate hike to your students

Image result for federal reserve system

Last Wednesday's Federal Reserve decision to raise one of its benchmark interest rates, ending a multi-year period of near zero-level rates, by one-quarter-percentage point was the top economic story of the week.  (Serious Fed-watching teachers can read the Fed's own press release announcing the change.)

Image result for federal funds rate

How best to explain that hike, and its impact, to your students?  Here are four resources.

1. This video clip (1:52) reports the news.

2. The Fed's action as a Rube Goldberg machine?  Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist who drew fanciful multi-step machines and inventions designed to perform often mundane tasks.  Click here for examples.  The New York Times built an actual Goldberg-inspired machine to explain what happens when the Fed raises rates.  The video showing the machine's processes lasts 1:20.  It is accompanied by a 10-step easy-to-follow explanation.

3. This video (1:31) from CNBC's On The Money show discusses how the Fed's action will impact credit card rates, auto loans, and decisions to buy/sell homes.

4. This USA Today story interviewed industry leaders to gauge the likely impact of the rate hike on housing, autos, construction, banks, and money-market mutual funds.

The Fed itself publishes a host of valuable educational materials, including a video (9:14) explaining how it operates.  Separately, Federal Reserve Banks in Philadelphia and San Francisco make other publications available for teachers.