Sunday, December 14, 2014

Impact of a Makerspace

One of the best parts of my day is checking in on Media Specialist/Teacher Librarian Laura Fleming as she always shares the incredible work her students are doing in the makerspace she created at New Milford High School. Whether it is pictures or Vine videos, each day I witness high school students tinkering, inventing, creating, and making to learn. She has created a learning space and environment that students truly find value in as they are afforded the opportunity to explore their passions, be creative, and take ownership over their learning.  Lately I have been seeing many pictures from a specific group of students who have developed an interest in building their own computers. Last week I was utterly amazed when Laura asked me to check out the website (NMHS Computer Designs) that these students had created. After looking it over I asked if one of the students would consider writing a guest blog post for me. Luckily for us he said yes.  I hope you enjoy this guest post by NMHS freshman Chris Pavone as he explains the impact Laura and a makerspace have had on his high school learning experience. 

My name is Chris and I am a freshman at a New Jersey High School.  I always had an interest in computers, but that increased even more thanks to my library makerspace. When I started school this year, I found out that the makerspace had a Take-Apart Tech Station where students could visit and take apart computers.  Through this I learned the parts of a computer.  I enjoyed the experience so much that my friends and I then decided to challenge ourselves and began to think what we really could do with computers.  We decided to not only take a computer apart, but also to then put it back together.  We also decided to make a new computer case to put our computer in.  

The first thing we had to do was find a working computer to take apart.  Once we did that, we carefully took everything out of it.   There were a lot of screws and parts to disassemble.  It took us about three days of working on it to get everything out without breaking any of the parts.  After the computer was completely taken apart, we then began to think of ideas for making a new computer case.  We started looking around the library and in the back room we saw some empty boxes.  This is when we decided to turn a regular cardboard box into our new computer case!

We planned out how we would arrange the computer components in the box and drew lines where we wanted all of the parts to be.  Instead of screws, we used hot glue to attach the pieces to where we wanted them to be in the box.   We cut out pieces of the box to make cutouts for all of the plugs.  In order to do this, we measured the pieces and the size of the holes we needed to cut in the box.   After that we only had to put in the hard drive and the CD drive into our case and on day four our new computer was assembled!

At that point we attached a monitor and a power supply and turned our computer on to test it.  As amateur technicians, we were not surprised that we ran into a few problems. We spent some time researching the error messages we were receiving.  After a few hours, and with the help of Mr. Caronia, a member of our school IT department, we figured out the adjustments we needed to make. After successfully booting up our computer, Mr. Caronia created a user account for us to be able to login and gain full access to our computer.  We set it up so that other people in the library could use it and test it out too.  Right away students were logging on and using the computer to play games and do their work.   They were shocked that a computer in a cardboard box could work!  My school principal even came down to look.  After a few days, we moved our computer out into the showcase in our hallway.

If it weren’t for our librarian and Mr. Caronia, none of this would have been possible. Although this project was difficult at times, it was so fun and we were proud to have pulled it off.  A few days later, we wanted to try the same thing again and this time we decided to turn an old G5 Mac into a Windows-based PC. Once again, we really enjoyed it!

At this point we decided to create a website in order to share our creations with other schools around the world.  Our hope is that students and teachers all over will learn from our work.  Not only do we hope they learn from it, but we hope that they participate in it. Visitors can register on our site to receive updates, they can post messages and questions in our forum, and they can participate in our challenge.  On our site we have a challenge for students to build their own computers and put them in a creative case. Students who do this can submit creations to us and we will post them in our gallery. We are proud that we have comments from teachers all over the country on our site already.  I am also proud that a student contacted me to tell me how much my website impacted her and a project she was working on.  I was even contacted by a librarian looking for my help in setting up a makerspace for her library!  

We know this is just the beginning for us and have plans to continuing taking apart computers, creating creative computer cases and sharing them on our site.  We hope our work inspires others to do the same!

Our schools are in desperate need of teacher librarians and media specialists like Laura Fleming. Had it not been for her growth mindset and innovative spirit, the learning environment that invokes relevancy and meaning in Chris's school day would not have become a reality. This is now the case for hundreds of students at NMHS. Informal learning is just as powerful, if not more, than formal learning.  Create a space that works for kids and let them make for the sake of making

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's Elementary When it Comes to #EdTech

As a practitioner I am always looking to learn how to better assist educators at all grade levels.  Superintendent Scott Rocco provided me with a great opportunity to not only work with teachers in his district, but to also push me outside my comfort zone, which has always been secondary education.  In my position as K-12 Director of Technology Integration and Innovation in the Spotswood School District, I am assisting with the district’s transition to Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as well as working with teachers on the effective integration of technology.  Our goal is the purposeful integration of technology to support or enhance learning.  We not only want students engaged, but also want to see evidence of learning aligned to high standards as well as the development and application of essential skill sets.

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The other day I had the unique challenge and opportunity of working with elementary teachers in the Spotswood School District. This was a particular challenge as the teachers of this particular school serve students in only grades pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first.  The goal was simple, to introduce and train them on some age appropriate technology tools while identifying natural pedagogical fits.  To accomplish this I had to quickly familiarize myself with some new tools. I had a few in my toolbox, but needed more. So I did what I have been doing for the past five years and that was submit a query to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) using Twitter and Google+. 

Within minutes I was bombarded with so many new tools.  As I started to look them up I quickly realized I had to revise my query, as I was not specific enough. The teachers I was working with only had access to a laptop cart, thus apps that had to be downloaded on a device were not an option. Within minutes I received new recommendations and I took a few minutes to learn how to use each new tool. Due to the intuitive nature and ease of use, this did not take much time at all.  At the meeting later that day I introduced each of the tools to the group and noted which ones did not require student access to a computer. Each demonstration was then following by a quick discussion on the natural pedagogical link and possible learning activities.  Below is the list of tools presented:
  • Padlet - Create an online wall of virtual, multimedia post-it notes with your students
  • Kahoot - game-based digital pedagogy  
  • Plickers – No tech, no problem! Download and print cards for free; make sure you also download the free app on your phone
  • Little Bird Tales - digital storytelling in the primary classroom
  • Build Your Wild Self - creative design application that is great for writing prompts
  • AWW - a web whiteboard - a free, online whiteboard to foster creativity
  • edshelf - search for web-based tools by age, subject, platform, and category 
After just thirty minutes the group of passionate educators I worked with were now equipped with a new set of tools that they could begin to immediately implement as part of their lessons the next day. The added benefit for me as a result of this training is that I learned about an array of new tools to better assist elementary teachers with technology integration in Spotswood and beyond as I work with educators across the globe.  What web-based tools that can be accessed through a browser would you add to this list? Please share in the comments section.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stop Ignoring Google+

In case you didn't know there are thousands of educators and an array of learning communities over at Google+.  The bottom line is that many people are missing out on some great content, resources, and conversation.  From my point of view educators become quickly attached to one specific social media tool as their go to source for his/her Personal Learning Network (PLN).  Take Twitter for example.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love Twitter as a professional learning and networking tool. It has been and will continue to be my number one choice when it comes to learning in the foreseeable future. Twitter has many positive attributes, but also a growing number of negative aspects.  Some examples in my opinion, include an increasing amount of negativity and disrespect, rise in social media cliques, difficulty in following chats, noise, and overbearing opinions.  Even as Twitter still works great for me and others it is not the only player out there.  Nor should it be considered the best learning option for all. At times I just need to get away from the echo chamber to focus more on my learning.

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Lately I have been spending more and more time over at Google+.  It amazes me that some people think that it is a dead community. This is obviously not that case or I would not be dedicating as much time as I have recently.  There are some similarities between the two social networks.  One great characteristic shared by both Twitter and Google+ are hash tags (#). The only difference being that popular hash tags in the Twitter world do not carry the same weight over in Google+.  Instead of favoriting a tweet you give it a G+.  The practice of retweeting is mirrored by a simple arrow at the bottom of the post that will allow you to share it across your network and beyond.  As a social network you can also share text, images, videos, and links, but in a much more dynamic way. This is one of the many ways that a Google+ experience differentiates itself from Twitter. Here are some other key differences that provide an enhanced learning and experience:
  • Circles - Unlike Twitter you can place all of the members of your PLN in different circles. With Twitter you send out a tweet and everyone who follows you, pulls up your page, or accesses the hash tag (if you use one) has an opportunity to see it. You can do the same thing on Google+, but you also have the ability to send your message to a specific circle, all of your circles, extended circles, or the entire Google+ world. With circles you can organize your PLN sort of the same way you would your websites using a social bookmarking tool.
  • No Character Limits - Twitter is a bit prohibitive with it's 140 character limit. This is the one feature I love the most about Twitter as it allows me and others to be brief. What if you want more? With Google+ there are no character limits so you can be as detailed as you want. This really adds to your ability to make a point, explain a strategy, discuss an issue, etc. It also keeps all those random rants from entering into your stream that Twitter is becoming notorious for.
  • Threaded Conversations - Twitter chats work for some, but they definitely do not work for all. Just the shear pace of a chat makes them difficult for many educators to follow. Personally I have found that when I try to engage and ask questions directed to specific people those questions go unanswered.  With Google+ each update becomes a threaded conversation that you can engage in at your own pace.  Comments also live in the update so you can go back and reference them at anytime. You can even share the thread across other social networks while accessing all of the resources, ideas, and knowledge that was discussed. I see this characteristic as bringing order to chaos.
  • Dynamic Updates - In addition to sharing text, links, videos, and photos with Google+ you can also create and share events and polls right from your status update box. 
  • A More Comprehensive ProfileYour Google+ account seamlessly links your YouTube account. If you use Picasa all of the pictures you upload will also go to your Google+ page. Another cool picture feature is that all pictures include in my Google Blogger posts are archived in the photo section of Google+.  The about section allows you to include much more detail than Twitter without character limits and and array of additional categories.
  • Hangouts - Many educators are aware of Google Hangouts (GHO's) that allow users to engage in free group video chat.  Hangouts on Air are even more dynamic video chats where you can schedule live broadcasts, host interactive conversations by taking audience questions in real time or in advance, use live apps to enhance the viewing experience, and immediately archive to YouTube when finished.
  • Communities - This is one of my favorite features of Google+. Anyone can join an existing community or create a new one. The difference between Twitter is that you can have rich conversations and share blog posts, resources, ideas/strategies, plan/publicize events, and have discussions aligned to specific categories. Evan Scherr and I have created a Digital Leadership Community. With the evolution of #digilead on Twitter our goal was to develop a space that brings together all the people, ideas, resources, and conversation related to digital leadership and learning. Evan and I hope that you will consider joining this community and sharing everything that you already do on Twitter. Not only is it free, but it gives you a chance to amplify your work and voice while engaging with like-minded educators at a deeper level. 
Google+ is a powerful and dynamic social media tool that many educators and leaders are not taking advantage of.  To begin simply start by setting up your circles, connect with other educators, share your content (i.e. blog posts) and lurk for a little bit. Search for and join a few communities as well. If you need any help please feel free to connect and engage with me on Google+.

So what is stopping you from using Google+? If you are using it consistently what added benefits would you highlight?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Wake Up Call For School Leaders

So the other day I tweeted out this comment, “I am amazed each day to see so much educational progress in my Twitter feed. This should be the norm, not the exception.” Many people in education talk a great game when it comes to the effective use of technology, but the results (lack there of) speak for themselves. I constantly see and hear about leaders who tout themselves in a way that makes others develop a perception that they actually know something about the effective integration of a variety of technology tools to improve professional practice. However, once you get past the rhetoric you quickly realize that it is just talk with a clear lack of substance.  This is not to say that they are unwilling to learn or embrace significant change in this area.  It just hasn’t happened yet, at least from my view.  Thus, the use of social media in schools by educators continues to be an uphill battle.  

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For those educators and schools that are either resistant to or unsure about using social media, I challenge you to move from a fixed to a growth mindset to create schools that work better for kids and establish relevance as a leader in your district, school, or classroom.

  • Begin to strategically utilize an array of free social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate important information (student honors, staff accomplishments, meetings, emergency information) to stakeholders in real-time. Consistency aligned with intent is key.  
  • Take control of you public relations by becoming the storyteller-in-chief to produce a constant stream of positive news.  If you don't share your story someone else will and you then run the chance that it will not be positive. Stop reacting to public relations situations you have limited control of and begin to be more proactive. When supplying a constant stream of positive news you will help to mitigate any negative stories that might arise.  
  • Establishing a brand presence should no longer be restricted to the business world when schools and districts now have the tools at their fingertips to do this in a cost-effective manner. Simply communicating and telling your story with social media tools can accomplish this. When you do, the brand presence develops solely based on the admirable work that is taking place in your district, school, or classroom.
  • Connect with experts, peers, and practitioners across the globe to grow professionally through knowledge acquisition, resource sharing, engaged discussion, and to receive feedback. This will not only save you time and money, but will open up your eyes to infinite possibilities to truly become a digital leader. Who would not want to tap into countless opportunities that arise through conversations and transparency in online spaces? Don't wait another second to start building a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  • If you are an administrator, stop supporting or enforcing a gatekeeper approach and allow educators to use free social media tools to engage learners, unleash their creativity, and enhance learning. Hiding behind CIPA is just an excuse for not wanting to give up control.  If you want students that are real world or future ready, they must be allowed to use the tools that are prevalent now in this world.
  • Schools are missing a golden opportunity and failing students by not teaching digital responsibility/citizenship through the effective use of social media. We need to begin to empower students to take more ownership of their learning by promoting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the use of mobile learning devices if schools do not have the means to go 1:1. By BYOD I don’t mean just allowing kids to bring in and use their own devices in the hallways and during lunch. That is not BYOD. Real BYOD initiatives allow students to enhance/support their learning experience, increase productivity, conduct better research, and become more digitally literate. 

It is time for the profession of education to catch up to society. In order to start moving schools in a better direction we must help leaders experience the true value of technology.  Once this happens they can begin to better model expectations for others, which will result in sustainable changes leading to transformation. Our students deserve and demand better.  Together we can continue to be the change that we want to see in education.