Sunday, April 28, 2013

Instagrok: A new way to engage students

A funny thing happened on my way to edmodo one day. Edmodo recently added apps to their learning management system which gives it another dimension for student/teacher interaction. As I was looking through the apps one day I noticed one called Instagrok. It sounded familiar but yet not and thus peaked my interest enough to check into it further. What I found and what my students discovered was an all in one research and writing tool that was perfect for meeting Common Core State Standards.

Instagrok can be a standalone research and writing tool or you can purchase it through the edmodo app store and have the added feature of submitting assignments directly from Instagrok to edmodo. So, how can Instagrok help you and your students? Well, vocabulary building is the first great feature. As students enter a topic of word a web of connected concepts is displayed. Students can then click on any concept to get additional connections and vocabulary. Definitely an excellent tool for getting students to understand academic language.

In addition to the vocabulary features there are other useful tools like the reading level tool at the top center of the site as well as the journal and results sections. Students can toggle to their journal page and add research summaries, images, videos and glossary words to their journal by clicking on the little push pins next to each key fact or image.
The assignment I gave my students was to use Instagrok for all of their research and then write a paper in the journal feature of Instagrok. I had my students add all of their research and images at the end of their paper and required them to incorporate it into their assignment.

Students can then write their paper or start another search with another term and add multiple pages of research and vocabulary while maintaining one with the writing assignment. The ability to connect all of these features sets Instagrok apart from other search engines. In fact, Instagrok is not just a search engine but a tech tool designed to meet the needs of students and teachers.

Common Core State Standards call for the use of technology and Instagrok is a convenient tool that engages students and gives them the means to expand their learning. Whether you use the free version or invest in all the features with the paid app on edmodo or standalone, Instagrok is sure to excite student learning.

Below are some examples of what my students produced from a couple of projects they did this year:

The top image shows all of the groks a student did for a project. A journal with all of the pins is represented in the second image and the third image is the final essay by one of my students. 

My students came up with an appropriate saying: "Grok is good!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

World News in 10x10 and 160

World News in 10 x 10 and 160

By Ron Peck

I love it when students get excited about an assignment. It's great when they see new tools and a new way to learn; their eyes light up and they eagerly get to work. So, when Rachelle Lamoureux came up with this idea for getting students to use several online tools to produce a collaborative news map for our NCSS12 presentation, I knew my students would take to it right away. First of all, the 10 x 10 News site is easy to use and visually appealing. Then add in the Visuwords site, Newspapermap, and Google Maps and you have the makings of a wonderful new way to engage students with current events, language arts and geography. 

The 10x10 news site is excellent for students. It lists the 100 most popular news words of the day and then links it to a photo with several stories associated with it. Follow these easy directions to get your students started:

Directions for the Project

Step 1: Students will utilize the 10x10 site in order to interpret and analyze current event headlines.
Step 2: Students will utilize the Visuwords website to build and connect vocabulary.
Step 3: Students will utilize the newspaper map site in order to interpret and analyze current event headlines. Students will use news sites from around the world.
Step 4: Students will engage in group discussions about information gleaned from current event articles using news websites from around the world. 
Step 5: Students will use a collaborative Google map to denote the location of their article.
Step 6: Students will write 160 character summaries and add those summaries to their Google map place marker. They can also add images of their story.
Step 7: Students will share the collaborative Google map to make connections and draw conclusions about their 160 character summaries.

The goal of this assignment is to not only to get students thinking about what's going on in the world but to also connect it to vocabulary they read in the news as well as to the geography of events in the world. Additionally, students have to compare their news story version with another version from the place of origin. Newspapermap is a fantastic resource for finding and reading news stories written in newspapers from around the world. 

When students finish posting their stories to the Google Map they can then share with the whole class or have students describe other students' stories. Also, the map can be created each time for the assignment or the same map can be added to each time. If more than one class is adding to the same map, have each class use a different color place marker so they can see who is who. Have fun with this assignment. You can do it in one day in the computer lab or in class with a 1 to 1 set up or have them work on it outside of class if they want to get into more detail, especially at the high school level. Good luck and please share your experience after your students create a map. 

The screencast here gives you more information on how to get started with this project. Apologies to Rachelle. I pronounced her name wrong. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Staying Connected with TeacherCast

Guest Post by Lynda Hall  The original post is on her blog at:

With the month of August in the rear view mirror, so too is Connected Educator Month.  Over the past several weeks, countless educators have expressed great appreciation and enthusiasm for the new teaching connections they have made as well as the new learning resources they have acquired.  With the new school year now upon us, the goal is to incorporate those innovative pedagogical ideas into our current teaching practice.  

To continue to grow as an educator however, it is important to stay connected.  Not only is it essential to nurture current teaching contacts but it is also important to continue to build your PLN (Personal Learning Network).  Doing so can be difficult for some educators however.  To aid in this process, a wide selection of resources in various formats in a central location is needed.  Consequently, a website educators must try that offers these services and much more is TeacherCast.  TeacherCast is the brainchild of Jeffrey Bradbury, a music teacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Jeff's passion for connecting educators and sharing educational resources is clearly evident through his ongoing work with TeacherCast.  In fact, the underlying principle of TeacherCast is to build 'a place for teachers to help other teachers'.  With a reach of over 400,000 followers and growing, the collaborative nature of TeacherCast is truly motivating and engaging. 

Jeff's enthusiastic support for his teaching colleagues does not end with just the TeacherCast website, however.  Jeff has recently added TeacherCast University, an educational consulting service for teachers who are looking to expand their teaching practice with a more hands-on approach.  Jeff is a frequent workshop presenter at Edcamps, TeachMeets and other educational conferences with the workshop topics ranging from technology integration to learning about Web 2.0 tools.  Virtual workshops are also available for those looking for a more cost-efficient way of benefiting from Jeff's expertise.  The goal for each workshop is to provide engaging and relevant material whereby each attending colleague leaves with something new to add to their teaching methodology.  TeacherCast University provides additional professional development opportunities as well such as conference keynote presentations and technology integration consults.  For those teachers who are unable to attend a TeacherCast University workshop, Jeff also shares his expertise through highly engaging webinars.  Below is the first TeacherCast webinar on Sandvox, an easy to use website creation tool for Mac.

TeacherCast offers a wealth of information on various educational topics.  Below is a brief summary of some of the excellent features TeacherCast provides: 

1.  TeacherCast Mobile App - Simply put, the TeacherCast iPhone/iPad app is "education at your fingertips"!  This free, time-saving app easily allows educators to stay informed about the most current pedagogical practices, technologies, educational trends and much more.  In fact, students can benefit from the TeacherCast Mobile App too by accessing a myriad of popular web tools and applications such as KidBlog.  It is evident that this app is designed to be "the one app educators can use everyday."  Click here to download the TeacherCast mobile app.   

2.  App Reviews - These very popular teacher-tested app reviews are a definite educational treasure for teachers!  TeacherCast's dedicated app reviewers, current classroom teachers themselves, recommend the best educational apps and suggest possible classroom activities for each.  Click here to sample one of dozens of app reviews TeacherCast offers.

3.  LiveBinder Gallery - A wide array of educational resources are shared by educators from around the world in this nicely organized LiveBinder Gallery.  Click here to view the more than 15,000 LiveBinder resources!

4.  TeacherCast TV - A library of educational videos are available ranging from tutorials on the latest technologies to keynote presentations.  To sample one of the many screencast tutorials, refer to the video below.

5.  Career Center - Looking for a job?  The TeacherCast Career Center offers a central meeting place for both employers and employees to connect.  To further assist prospective teachers, a search engine is available to help narrow down your choices.

6.  TeacherCast Pinboard - A collection of educational links organized by topic that every educator will find very helpful.  Links range from information about upcoming professional development opportunities to blogging tips.

Without a doubt, TeacherCast makes the task of staying connected very easy!  

This is the first in a 3 part series about the benefits of staying connected with TeacherCast.  Next week's post will focus on the TeacherCast Podcasting Network - a network of very informative and highly engaging presentations featuring respected educators who share their knowledge and expertise on the most pertinent topics affecting education today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cybraryman and The Newbie Project

The phone call was nothing unusual. Jeff Bradbury calling to discuss a podcast or website issue is what I figured at first. But Jeff's question was different this time. He asked, "Can you help me? I want to get Jerry to ISTE." Okay, great idea so, what do we need to do? We talked about possible ways to make it happen that included sponsorships as well as getting people we knew to donate and I agreed to get the word out to see if my network of people had some ideas.

Bazinga! Suzie Nestico got back to me within the day and asked if Jerry had been to ISTE. If not, then he might be a candidate for the ISTE Newbie Project. I knew about Beth Still's Newbie Project from last year when George Couros was the Newbie. I quickly contacted Jerry and sure enough he had never been. Suzie let Beth know and she agreed to make Jerry Blumengarten this year's Newbie. What a great idea! I love it when an idea becomes reality. Now it's just a matter of getting people to donate and raise the money. Not an easy task but we are confident that our goal will be met. What better way to give back to someone who gives so much to so many of us in education.

So, if Jerry has helped you in some way or you have used his endless links and resources, then please contribute to this worthy project. If you're going to ISTE, then you'll get a chance to be thanked by him directly.

WE DID IT! Jerry is going to ISTE12.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this great cause.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Experience of a Lifetime: Edcampss

Wow, what a rush! After 1774 emails and a dozen Skype calls, we made it happen. Edcamp Social Studies is in the books. I was so fearful that a subject specific edcamp just wouldn't draw people. Thankfully, I was wrong. All those nightmares of having Kenneth C. Davis speaking to ten people was just wasted energy. We had close to 100 people attend throughout the day and it was a huge success. To pull off a national edcamp is quite an accomplishment but it would never have happened without the hard work and dedication of the Edcamp social studies crew Jamie JosephsonAngela CunninghamSuzie NesticoHeather Kilgallon, Shawn McCusker, Greg Kulowiec and Becky Ellis. Sadly, Becky could not make it but her work with the group on edcampss was invaluable. I am grateful to be part of such a passionate, dedicated and ambitious group. Thank you to these outstanding educators. 
Jamie, Angela, Suzie, Heather, Shawn, Me, and Greg

Of course we could not have done any of it without the tremendous support of our amazing sponsors: Collaborize Classroom, Ed Tech Teacher, Diigo, Dipity, Edmodo, Edutopia, Finding Dulcinea/Sweet Search, Flocabulary, Herff Jones Nystrom/Stratalogica, LiveBinders, Milestone Documents, Poll EveryWhere, Science Leadership Academy, Simple K12SurveyMonkey, TCI, and TeacherCast. Interestingly enough it was Collaborize Classroom who were the first to jump in to sponsor us. I really appreciate the faith all of our sponsors had in us as educators and as an organization. We are blessed and amazed at the willingness of such great companies to support our little venture in education.

As I reflect on all that went into the development and organization of Edcampss, I can't help but think that without the technology of today, we all would have never met let alone worked together so well as a team. Two years ago along comes Twitter and we have the opportunity in our lifetime to connect with each other and look what happened. The creation of #sschat and the SSChat Ning have given many social studies teachers a place to learn and share virtually at any time. And with Edcampss there was an opportunity for some to meet face to face and extend the learning and sharing.

Choosing to have a subject specific edcamp was as much about the model for professional development as it was about the energy we generated as we talked and joked about it. The moment we had someone offer to sponsor us is when we all sat up and thought...Hey, we can do this. And we did and it was better than I ever expected. The only down side was the lack of time we had together. The upside was getting to meet so many outstanding educators. People came from all over the country and shared their best practices throughout the day. Kenneth C. Davis did a fantastic job with his Keynote and helped fulfill my dream of meeting him and getting not one but two of his books signed by him. Thank you, sir!

None of this would have been possible without the educators who attended this event in the city of brotherly love. Many traveled great distances to be there. Some flew in while others drove several hours. Thanks for your dedication. And a special thanks to Chris Lehmann and Diana Laufenberg as well as the student volunteers, especially Jeff Kessler. 

There were many great sessions as the session board filled up rather quickly. We actually added another room and it filled up in just a few minutes. I was able to live stream Mr. Davis in the main room and some of the sessions were recorded via Ustream and all can be viewed. 

Now that I'm back home and my education cup runneth over, I am on to many more projects and perhaps Edcampss2 is on the horizon. It may be too soon to tell but if our group gets to out!

Edcampss was definitely an experience of a lifetime. I just hope our group has many more in the years to come.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lights, Camera...Engagement!

Using Video in the Classroom to Empower your Students and Their Learning

How many times have you thought to yourself, "In what way can I spice up this unit and make it student-centered?" One great way is to let your students be creative using video. With all the tools and technology available, making videos is easier than ever for you and your students.

Recently at the annual National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) conference Becky Ellis, Greg Kulowiec and I presented three different ways you can use video with your students in the classroom. Below is the slide show we used to introduce these tools:

There are plenty of ideas and resources available through the links we shared and below is an overview of these video styles each with varying degrees of technology and resources needed:

Step 1: Sign up
Animoto is an easy to use website where you and your students can create 30 second videos for free. As an educator you can sign up and get a free Animoto Plus account. The Plus account allows you to sign up 50 of your students for six months with the ability to create videos of unlimited length. The account is renewable so be sure to take advantage of the free offer. Otherwise, the Plus account is $30.00 a year which is not bad but we already spend enough money on our classrooms.

Step 2: Try it yourself and then show your students
The great thing about Animoto is that all you have to do is follow the easy steps they provide you. Load photos and/or text, select your music and theme then produce. Your students will have access to over 600 music tracks to select from or they can download their own music for their video creation. Great for students to create a variety of projects from current events to a video biography or whatever you and they can imagine. All you need is access to a computer and your students will be creating cool videos with just a few photos from the internet and their imagination. My students were able to get started at school. I was able to assist them with the sign up process and then they did most of their creating at home where they had access to their own pictures and music. 

Step 3: Share with your classes
Students really enjoyed watching and presenting their videos. I had put a time limit of three minutes on the videos so that it wouldn't take too long to watch and critique their work. The students had a lot of fun with it and the topics they chose were interesting and well thought out.

Here's an example from last year:

Common Craft
What are Common Craft style videos?
CommonCraft videos are made using simple paper cut outs and dialogue that focuses on explaining concepts “in plain English”. Pioneered by Lee and Sachi LeFever, this style of video utilizes a white background and will have all elements planned out to make a complex subject simple. Another key to the video style is that it is short--usually around 2-4 minutes.

Tasks for Creating Common Craft style videos

Storyboard a script for the video.
This will involve making sure students are explaining how something works, or why it was important. Encourage students to time their explanation in order to reduce it to it’s most simple form.

Creating props for the video. Props in this case will largely be paper cutouts of simple drawings. Students can plan to use printed words as part of their props. Ideally, printed words should be used for a title slide and a bibliography slide. It will take students a few extra minutes to type but will result in a more professional looking product.
Filming the video... usually best left to the teacher when there are time constraints. Students familiar with video production can be trained to take on this task.
Narrator. 1-2 students can be assigned to this task. Students can narrate as the action is taking place, or narration can be added on a separate voice-over.
presentation specialists (2 -3 students) These students are involved in manipulating the paper cut-outs in sync to the narration/explanation of the historical event.Steps Needed for a Common Craft Style Video Project.

Step 1
Assign topic
Students determine images central to project.
Students script or “storyboard” their topic.
Students find clip art or draw their figures for the presentations.
Step 2
Students participate in a trial run of the shoot where they practice the script and manipulation of figures and words.
Students will need a template for the area the camera will see when they are practicing.
Students are encouraged to make changes to their script and use a timer to make sure they are talking about the most important aspects of the historical event.
Step 3
Teacher or student videographers film student projects.
Students who are finished with filming may then add a voice-over if time permits, or edit out any parts they feel detracts from the expository nature of the film. Students complete a group project evaluation form.
Step 4
Videos are shown to the entire class. This would be appropriate as a test review or as a culminating project for the entire unit. This activity does not have to be done directly after filming. The whole Classroom Wins with this style of video:

Electing a US President in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.

Classroom Wins with this Style of Video:

CommonCraft video projects are student friendly.  After seeing one example, students understand their task.  This particular video style honors Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences and allows students to excel in areas of strength. By having students work on  the storyboarding, script, and manipulatives and titles as homework  a teacher only needs to spend a part of the class period to complete this project.  The meaningful homework assignment is a bonus as well!  CommonCraft style videos are a low tech. You only need a video camera, tripod, and white surface for students to create this type of culminating project.

Choose Your Own Adventure - CYOA
CYOA videos are a fun way for students to learn content and be creative. You need to be a little more advanced with technology but the process is simple for the students. Students will need a green screen, video camera and tripod as well as great preparation before they start filming. These projects are great for teams to collaborate and learn. 

Typically CYOA projects are one week of class time and would follow this basic timeline:
Day 1 - Introduction and begin Planning
Day 2 - Finish Planning and Write Scripts
Day 3 - Finish Scripts and begin filming
Day 4 - Filming
Day 5 - Finish Filming, editing and linking

Tips and Pointers for CYOA
  • If you have computers available for student use, then they can edit and link the videos themselves.
  • If you are limited on computers, you could cut this timeline down to four days and edit and link the videos yourself.
  • It is reasonable to expect that students will be responsible for the content of the scripts as well as the digital images needed for the backgrounds.
  • You will need to get a green screen. Any green material will work as a green screen.
  • Make sure you have a light source between the students and the green screen to avoid shadows behind them.

The most important part of Choose Your Own Adventure Videos is the planning phase. Below is the process that Greg's students went through to plan their video and filming.

Making videos is a natural medium for this generation. Students make videos and post them to Youtube on their down time. So, why aren’t we bringing video production into the classroom? Using Animoto, CommonCraft, or Choose Your Own Adventure videos can really spice up your classroom and take the pressure off you as the teacher.  Having students make their own videos helps them to be in charge of their own learning. As an added bonus, using videos in the classroom helps school get just a little closer to a kids real life.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Edmodo ~ Student Management in the 21st Century

Edmodo...the name sounds kind of cool. What does it mean? Well, it means a lot of things to different people. Ed= Education + Modo= Methods as was pointed out to me by Betsy Whalen of Edmodo. However, the reality is Jeff O'Hara, one of the founders of Edmodo, just made the name up. Excellent choice!

For me and many other educators, Edmodo means connecting, collaborating, teaching, and learning. My teaching has changed because of it and I love how it has broken down the walls of my Students now have more help with assignments, projects, and anything they might need assistance with after hours. I even have office hours in the evening if students have a question or just need help. That's pretty powerful! So what's all the fuss about? Well, here are a few of the features and how to get started with Edmodo:

Some of the features I didn't mention in the video include:

  • The Student Backpack - students can add items for reference and use.
  • Blogging
  • The Edmodo Help and Support Center
  • Group Management
  • Archiving Groups
All of this and more can be accessed in the Help Center and if by chance you don't find an answer there, you can go to the Support Group and post your question. Help is only minutes away. The support team is very helpful and lightning fast in responding. A truly great group of people. 

Another great thing about Edmodo is that the students love it and find it extremely easy to use. They really like the ability to post messages to everyone or directly to me if they have a question. For me I like the fact that students often times help each other when one of their classmates is in need of help.

Edmodo is safe, secure and doesn't require student emails. It's a great blend of social media and student management system that makes the administration of teaching easier. 

I know it's made me a better teacher.