Monday, February 29, 2016

Twitter for Your Professional Learning Network

Twitter is a place I go almost daily to learn more about how to do my job, connect with other educators and make posts to help others.

Watch the video above and it will tell you how to set up and use Twitter.  Some of the bigger players (not me, but you can follow me if you want) are listed below.  From them you will find lots of others to connect with and slowly your list of people you are following will expand.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Homework and Student Success

Someone one once told me that when teachers have their own kids it makes for them being better educators.  My penultimate principal happened to come into my life at the same time that my own children were starting to get lots of homework from their 5th grade teacher.   At the same time my county set our homework max at 10%, Dave (principal) wanted to have late work count for no more than 20%.  I accepted the 10%, but fought the 20%.  But Dave was persistent and personable and so I tried it.  Really I went all the way.  In three years I haven't given a late grade for an assignment.  But I also went from being a teacher who could give a fair amount of (sometimes pointless homework like reading notes) homework to, in my last year, someone who never game more than 30 minutes per AP class and less for standard ones.  In fact when I left the classroom one of my best student notes thanked me for "not hating homework and my life outside the school day."

So there are a lot of things to consider.  One is it unhealthy to have lots of homework an issue the NYTimes looks into and that many kids get three times the recommended rule for homework.  Many experts talk about the ten minute rule or ten minutes per year until high school when two hours is the max which is the rule in my county, but is hardly followed.  Furthermore this article and this one claim that more homework does not correlate with higher test scores.
So now I have taken a peripheral role in my county's attempt to not have more than two hours of homework a night.  Sure if you have six AP classes this is a tough mandate, but generally as with my ex-principal's new late policy it means rethinking how you teach students.

But not everyone believes there is too much homework.  This review finds that it is less a burden in standard classes and that there are even lots of parents who do not think there is enough homework.

Anecdotally I would say that AP/IB students have too much and that the lower levels have too little whether because the teachers didn't think the students would do it or rather because the students refused to do it so often the teacher gave up.

What is clear is that educators have to change the way they teach in the class and why they give homework.  Other than reading a book for English, reading isn't as good an assignment as it used to be especially since notes can readily be found online.  Furthermore class time should be used for letting students explore the learning have having the teacher facilitate that process.  Whether homework is necessary then would be left to if a student needs more help or can start with an overview of the next lesson.  Either way we need to repurpose our students' learning.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Simple Wikipedia for Quick Details

Wikipedia, in my mind, is one of the great innovations of the Internet age.  I know there are many people who disagree, but I have done extensive research on the way each site is maintained and have great faith in it.  Besides our students are going to use it regardless of how much teachers are against it.  But if I had one criticism of it, it is that it is too wordy for what we need in our classrooms.

Enter "simple Wikipedia."  Type in something you want to look up, such as Einstein and then "simple wikipedia" and you will get back a one page summary that even begins with a one hundred word mini summary and then provides links and summaries on the side.   So if you need more depth, you can go find it elsewhere.  But if you are looking for some quick details, it is better than Wikipedia.

What I love the most about this is that I found out about it from my daughter Madison. Isn't that the way it should work.  Teachers teach and then learn from their students in a symbiotic relationship. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Facebook as a Collaborative Teaching Tool

Schools are spending a great deal of time developing collaborative learning teams and while there are many advantages to them, they have some disadvantages. Notable disadvantage number one is that the team is undoubtedly small and rarely changes its members so your teachers probably get to know each other quite well and know each other's lesson plans.  But that can't be enough.

Enter Facebook.  There are many teacher groups for Advanced Placement (not as easy to find IB pages) educators.   All you have to do is enter, say "AP Physics Teachers.  Most of the groups are closed and will only give you entry if you send them a link from your school and give them an edu membership.  What you gain is an immediate group of educators who are driven, imaginative and willing to help.  Most people freely offer lesson plans and/or quickly respond to those who want new ideas.  From my experience they are rarely a place to vent (other than when AP US was undergoing its disastrous roll out of its new test last year.  Thus you are almost certain to find helpful resources and a new network of educators you can connect with on a regular basis.  A super collaborative team if you will.  Below are a few of them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Protecting Children Online

My county has long had several people who have done exhaustive research before approving the use of websites requiring logins.  Indeed during all 6000+ posts of mine I do not think I have done more than a handful of them talking about this topic.  But two weeks ago my wife and I decided to finally give smartphones to our 8th grade daughters.  While we are still not allowing them to use social media, we also know that we will soon have to use an app to monitor their online presence - be it on a smartphone, their Chromebook, Kindle or their much less used iTouch.

So here is my first, I am sure, of many posts discussing protecting our students as told from the parents side of the equation.  First off a new blog I am just starting to follow is TechSavvyMamma written by a DC area mom who was an educator and technology expert.  She posts every two to three days.

Secondly, here is an amazing overview of so much of what parents need to know.  It starts with best practices (setting guidelines), goes through many of the most popular social media apps (Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, etc.).  It then shows how you can go to settings and set up parental controls as well as mention some of the best parental apps out there to protect kids.

Speaking of what apps to use for student protection, this site and this one are a start.

While school systems can certainly not promote one site over another, giving parents information about how to best deal with online predators, not to mention deviants from doing homework and being better prepared for school is an issue that many schools are now grappling with and so I will be posting on it from time to time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tech Conferences

On March 7th and 8th I will be at the South by Southwest Education conference in Austin.  Another conference that I have enjoyed is the ISTE one which this year is in Denver from June 26-29.  The key, if you can do so is to find someone else to pay for you.  For example I am doing work for TES (more on that coming later) and so they are paying my entry ticket.

So why bother?  Well first off you will meet lots of tech minded people like yourself and make some connections that you can work with when you return home.  Secondly there are lots of companies showing all of their latest wares and then, there are talks and demonstrations - literally hundreds of them.  

If you can't get the big ones, look for one close to home.  Here is a place to start. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

10 Hacks for Using Google Drive

So I have not used Microsoft Word in several year so if you are converting or have your students using it, this post on Google Drive should be quite helpful.

Thanks to my former administrator Chris Cashman for this one.  Here are "Ten Hacks for Google Drive."  One, above, tells you how to use notation in Google Drive for math or economics students. A second one tells you how to convert a Word doc to a Google doc; how to email the Google Doc to someone; how to edit offline (see video below); see earlier versions of a document; thype using your voice (my son's favorite one); open up a tab for research; create a table of contents; 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Doodle for Setting Up Meetings

I am starting consulting work with TES which has a lot of great free online services for teachers which I will log about later.  But for now we just set up our first meeting using Doodle.   Have you ever tried to set up a meeting and you spend a lot of time emailing back and forth.  Well Doodle is your free meeting time savior.  You simply create an online e-sheet, share it with your friends and they check off the dates and time they are available for a meeting.  So in a matter of minutes you can set up your next meeting.   Best of all is that you don't even need to set up an account to use it.   Here is an actual example that you can click on to see how it works. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tips for Online Classrooms

This is a pretty go list of tips for online educators.  It says you should start with sending our something in advance to help focus the class.  In class it says start with banter (I ask for activities my students have done recently), go to "housekeeping" and then get to the class and let students go into chat rooms as part of the class.  There are other tips online such as this, this, this and, this one that has 147 tips.

So for example last night my students started with the discussion as president of persuader so I sent out this Vox article beforehand.  Then we started with a discussion of what they did over our snow break and then we went over some of our midterm and finally went into the article (about 10 minutes into our hour) and my questions and activities for my students.

If you like these tips, you might want to follow Zoom on Twitter

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

OutWhiz for Help in Math and English

Outwhiz is a free online service for students and teachers where you can practice or (if you are a teacher) assign problems in math through Algebra I and in grades 1-6 in English.   It allows you to accumulate points so it provides a competitive edge for students when practicing.