Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Take a Risk

I returned from the annual CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference on Saturday afternoon.  It is now Wednesday evening, and my brain is still spinning.  I have so many great things I could tell you about!  From tips and tricks, to apps and web tools, I learned some really fun stuff.  As amazing as all those things are, it isn't what I want to focus on for this post.  Many of those cool tips, tricks, and web tools I will tell you about in later posts, but for today, I want to focus on my biggest takeaway.

The overarching idea, the thing that had attendees buzzing in the hallways is the shift that is beginning to occur in education.  Some are fully engaged and others are knee deep, but most teachers are still standing around the edges of the water, not even daring to dip a toe into the educational shift that is rising.  Something that we've been talking about for a while now, is that our kids are different.  The world they are growing up in is quite different from the world most teachers grew up in.  We are preparing students for jobs that don't even exist yet.  How is it that we plan to prepare these leaders of tomorrow with the education system of yesterday?  I am not saying that everything about that system is wrong, because I don't believe it is, however I do believe that the needs of our students today are very different from the needs we all had as students.

This brewing trend is seen as a shift away from feeding students large amounts of information and asking them to memorize it.  All the information they could ever need is available to them at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse.  We need to teach students to utilize this wealth of information in an appropriate way.  We need to teach them to tell good information from bad.  They need to learn to collate information and to apply it effectively.  They need to learn to collaborate and create, to be producers and not just consumers, to think critically and design purposefully.  Our students need us to engage them and to inspire them, to jump into the trenches and learn alongside them.  Are you ready?

The biggest thing I walked away with is the simple, yet not even close to easy, command of "Take a Risk".  It is easy to have conversations about all of this and think, "Yeah, this is great!  When I have some time I'll..." or "Next year I can...".  The time is now.  Take a risk.  Today, tomorrow, next week, or next month, just make sure it is sooner than later.  Start small.  Change one lesson, one unit, one subject.  Add something new.  Instead of requiring your students to write the same old 5 paragraph essay, let them pick the way they would like to show you evidence of their learning.  Instead of reading the Science or Social Studies text one day, ask students the big question of the lesson and let them research in groups to answer it.  Give them a time frame and make them present in some fashion what they learned.  Flip a lesson or even a chapter.  Start a genius hour or 20% project.  Maybe your risk for today is just Googling flipping the classroom, genius hour, and 20% project to figure out what they are.  Start somewhere, anywhere.  Start now.  Take a risk.

I took a risk and changed up a lesson on Monday.  It worked pretty well.  That doesn't always happen.  Don't be afraid to fail.  If we never model failure for our students, failure will devastate them instead of inspire them to do better the next time.  If you try something and it doesn't work, try something else.  Maybe even involve your students in conversations about what worked and what didn't and take their suggestions for how to make it better.  Taking a risk is just that, a risk.  You are educators, you know yourselves and your students, and you probably have a pretty good idea of how something will work.  I'm not suggesting you go off the deep end and try something extremely crazy that has little chance of success.  Do what you do best in the classroom, but take a little risk now and then.  Your students are worth it.

Thank you for stopping by the TeachingTechNix blog.  Stop by again soon to hear about some of the neat tips, tricks, apps, and web tools I mentioned.  I can't wait to share them with you!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Drinking From a Firehose - iPad Summit Day 2

I was so worn out after "drinking from the firehose" for two days, that I didn't get this post written on day 2 of the conference.  Better late than never though, right?  If you missed my Drinking From a Firehose - iPad Summit Day 1 post, click here to read it.

Day 2 Takeaways

The big ideas remained the same as day 1, so I'll focus here on some of the little things that stuck out to me.  
  • Be risk takers.  It is ok to try something new in the classroom that you think might be really wonderful for student learning, only to find out that it was a bust.  Kids didn't take to it like you thought, or maybe the technology didn't work the way you wanted it to.  It's ok!  We can't be great innovators and change-makers without making some mistakes along the way.  Involve the kids in that journey.  Let them know that you are going to try something out together.  Let them help you decide if the lesson or project is a keeper or not.  They LOVE to feel like they are taking part in the design of the classroom.
  • Beth Holland is an instructor with EdTechTeacher and she is a really great speaker.  I went to a session with her called Reading, Writing, and Devices.  She talked about how some people are ready to throw out paper and move completely digital, while others are complaining about kids having so much screen time.  Paper is great!  It has served us well over the years.  It still does.  Some things are just better on paper.  Electronics are amazing and wonderful and can do really incredible things and kids can create some spectacular products.  Regardless of what you are doing and how, you need to find balance between the process and the product.  Both are important!  Ask yourself, is this activity/project/product appropriate?  Is it meaningful?  Is it empowering?
  • You don't have to be a "techy" person to utilize technology well in your classroom.  The students are our biggest untapped resource.  They will be more than happy to help you figure out a technology.  Give them 5 minutes with it, and they very well may know more about it than you, even if you've been playing with it for 3 months.  Don't be afraid to let them help you figure stuff out.  Find something you want to try.  Become familiar enough with it to run your lesson or launch your project, and let them help you if you encounter issues along the way.


Plickers is really great for a low tech classroom.  If you are in a situation where your students don't have access to devices and you would like to use a student response system, this is for you!  This is a website and an app.  You sign up for free - the app is free too - and set up your activity.  You can also do impromptu questions.  You print "paper clickers" which are all different shapes and work sort of like QR codes.  The students hold them a certain way to designate A, B, C, D, True, False, Yes,  No type responses.  You simply scan the room with your iPhone, iPad, or Android device and it inputs the answers.  Each person has their own "paper clicker" so you can even know who answered what.  Very simple solution if your students don't have devices. 

Classkick is a free iPad app.  It allows you to create lessons and activities that include text, video, audio, photos, etc.  As the teacher you can see each child's progress individually and in real-time as they work on it.  Sounds very cool.  Makes me wish I had 1:1 iPads.

Web Tools

Kahoot is for game based learning.  It allows you to make quizzes, discussions, or surveys and your students can participate from any device that has internet access.  They can rack up points by answering quickly and correctly and compete against one another.  Your results are stored for you.  You can even save the results right to your Google Drive.  We did one in a session and I have to admit, it was pretty fun.  I'll be using this in class for sure.  

Socrative is one of my favorite tools.  It is also an App (all free), but my students are on Chromebooks so they just access it via the web.  I first learned about this from Jen Roberts.  She did a post about it on her blog,  You can read it here.  It is a way to give your students quizzes, short answer questions, exit tickets, tests, etc.  The students just browse to a webpage, or use the app, and type in a room code to access the activity you have created.  I love it especially for the voting feature that it has.  After students submit answers, you can hide the names of who submitted the answers and then ask the students to vote on their favorite.  Jen used this in her class as you can see in her blog post.  I used it in the same way, only scaled down for the 3rd graders and they LOVED it.  

Zaption is a website where you can turn online videos into interactive activities.  I haven't used this yet myself, but it definitely seems worth checking out.  You can insert questions into videos and require students to answer them as they watch.  Zaption is free.

EDpuzzle is similar to Zaption in that it allows you to add things to a video.  You can crop video, add voiceovers or audio notes, and add questions along the way.  Like Zaption, it is also free.

Club Academia is a website where students make tutorials for students.  Pretty neat. is another site where kids make instructional videos for other kids.

Well, there it is - Day 2 things to remember!  I hope you found something you can use in your classroom.  Thank you for stopping by the TeachingTechNix blog!  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Free High-Resolution Photos with Unsplash

My new favorite website is Unsplash.  I was working on a Google Slides presentation for a training I was holding and came across this amazing website while I was searching for pictures.  It is a website full of high-resolution photos that you can do whatever you want with - no attribution or special permissions necessary.  They add 10 new photos every 10 days.  The best part is that they are free!

You can use these photos for presentations, flyers, even writing prompts for your students.  Here are a few examples of the beautiful pictures that were recently added to the site.  

Gorgeous, right?!  Beautiful pictures for download, free of charge, no attribution.  It doesn't get any better than that.  

Thank you for stopping by the TeachingTechNix blog.  See you next time!

Helping teachers incorporate technology, one tech tip at a time.