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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Burlington High School Goes Live

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas on Free Technology for Teachers. This is a guest post from Jenn Scheffer.

Since January, the Burlington High School student-run Help Desk has been integrating Google Hangouts Live On Air into the curriculum. As the new Instructional Technology Specialist at Burlington, one of my goals for the program was to leverage the power of Hangouts, empower student voice, and connect my students with a global audience.

We’ve aired eleven episodes so far and it has been a rewarding learning experience, both for me and my students. The weekly broadcasts, occurring each Friday and lasting approximately thirty minutes, provide students with an authentic learning experience, and while each show has been successful, there are quite a few logistics that go on behind the scenes to make the episodes possible. The first step in creating our show, which we named Help Desk Live, involved students creating our own YouTube channel as well as our own page on Google+. Students also collaborated to develop a logo for the show as well as a new category on our blog called Help Desk Live. Each episode is scheduled in advance as a Live Hangout On Air and is made public. Episodes are promoted several days in advance via Twitter and the Help Desk blog. A schedule of upcoming episodes is also created using Google Docs. This document is made public and it lists the guest, show hosts, topic, day and time of the episode and features show notes.

Producing a Hangout On Air
The production process of a Help Desk Live episode starts with the identification of a topic and guest. Over the past eleven weeks, topics have centered around several trending educational topics including digital citizenship, social media in the classroom, student blogging, Google Glass in education, augmented reality, and student-run tech teams. Most guests are members of my professional learning network (one is my former student!) and were contacted and booked to appear on the show either via Twitter, email, or a phone call. Booking guests using social media has shown students how a tool like Twitter can be used for professional networking and connecting with industry experts.

Beyond networking, and booking “talent,” students have learned how to coordinate the logistics of a live broadcast, developed their interviewing skills, and understand how to conduct themselves professionally in a high-pressure situation (going Live can be quite nerve-wracking!). Help Desk students have rotated hosting episodes and conduct research on the guests to prepare for the interview. Students have also contributed to the development of interview questions and during the episode itself, students must be active listeners and use their critical thinking skills to keep the conversation going.

The Future of Help Desk Live
We plan to broadcast fourteen episodes total for season one of Help Desk Live (14 for 2014) and for next year, my goal is to have students produce episodes independently from start to finish. I also plan to have students utilize more of the features in Hangouts including the Screen Share and Q & A option. Lastly, I hope to have several guests on each episode at a time (ultimately a panel of 10 guests would be ideal) and bring to the forefront educational issues that are student-driven. In terms of learning goals, I know students will produce even higher quality shows in 2014-2015, as they will have an archive of fourteen past episodes which they can critique (my performance as a host included) and determine how each aspect of the show can be improved.

Students Learning from Students
One of the most exciting episodes of the first season of Help Desk Live was episode 6. In this show, we had the opportunity to talk with Paige Woodard, a senior at Franklin Community High School in Franklin, Indiana and a member of Don Wettrick’s Innovations class. Paige has been nominated for a Bammy award in the student voice cateogry. From my perspective, and I think many teachers would agree, this episode was one of the best because it was students learning from students. Education is shifting so much so in the 21st century that the lines between students and teachers is becoming more and more blurred. We are now at the point where we are all learning together and this particular episode underscores that educational paradigm shift.


Jenn Scheffer, M.Ed. (@jlscheffer) is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Burlington High School and has thirteen years of teaching experience at the secondary level. Jenn’s background is in teaching technology, marketing, and business management courses. Prior to becoming an educator, Jenn was the Assistant Director of Admission at Southern New Hampshire University. Jenn also serves as the co-moderator to the Digital Citizenship Twitter chats held every second and fourth Wednesday of the month.

Good Web Resources That Teachers May Not Be Using

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas. This guest post comes from Sean McCutcheon.

You might be thinking, Okay great...here we go...some guest blogger telling me something I probably already know about. Well that could very well be the case but I certainly hope it's not. If you read this post and give me a few minutes of your time, I will change how you use the Internet with your students. It might also engage them in literacy, improve their writing and help them communicate their thinking when solving math problems. I should also mention here that all of this is free.

When it comes to PD I have heard the term, “learn today and try tomorrow.” These sites are more along the lines of “learn today, check out tomorrow, decide for next week.” Implementing them in your class is very easy and takes a small amount of time (especially if you already have your students blogging).

All this can be accomplished by ‘using’ three websites. The first two are writing based. They are the Five Sentence Challenge http://fivesc.net/ and the 100 Word Challenge http://100wc.net/. Depending on the the grade you teach, and/or the level that your students are at, you would use one of these sites. The 100 word challenge in designed for students under 16 and the five sentence challenge is for beginning writers. I currently teach grade 2 and use the five sentence challenge, so that is the one I will explain.

Every two weeks a new prompt is posted on the site. I assign that prompt to my class and they write about it on their blogs. Then, I link their blog entries to the five sentence challenge page and wait. What takes place next is amazing. My students will get constructive feedback about their writing from teachers around the world. Our class is in Canada and we often have comments from Europe and Australia. Teachers dedicate their time to read and comment on the writing. Also, as a class we check out other student work and discuss possible next steps for that student, and leave a comment. Students are writing for authentic purposes and a real audience. They are also analyzing and thinking critically about writing.

The last site is totally amazing and it is a math version of the writing sites above (it is also my site)...Minden Math! http://mindenmath.blogspot.ca/ My students and I loved the writing idea so much I created a math one. On the second Tuesday of each month a math problem is posted. The problems are often open ended, so that a variety of responses or solutions are possible. Teachers are encouraged to have their students solve the problem and then link the solutions. If you link a student's solution they will get feedback. Currently it is a primary level problem, however thanks to positive feedback, we will also be posting a problem more suited for older grades starting in September.

Check out the sites, bookmark them and think about them for the fall. If the Minden math site is something you are interested in, you can follow me on twitter and I will remind you when new problems are posted. Twitter Name: Sean McCutcheon @mindenmath

Sean McCutcheon is a grade two teacher in Minden, Ontario, Canada. He is always looking for innovative ways to prepare my students for the future. Sean is a seeker of educational connections, classroom collaborations and technology resources. You can connect with Sean via Twitter or via email.

Guided Reading in Google Apps for Education

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Trevor Krikst. 

The ability to link various documents within Google Apps makes it ideal for a digital Guided Reading program. Bringing Guided Reading into the Google realm has made it simple for me to consolidate my plans, texts, student work, and assessment into one location. It all begins with the Guided Reading Launch Page, a hub which, through linking, allows quick and easy access to:

  • a weekly schedule 
  • anecdotal assessment documents 
  • an assessment form 
  • digital texts 
  • guided group folders (within which I store tasks, student work, and texts)
Here is the Guided Reading Launch Page:
Click to view full size.
As you can see, the Launch Page contains information found in traditional Guided Reading planning templates, such as group names, student names and the instructional focus for the week. By being a digital document, there is the added convenience of being able to easily adjust groupings by dragging or copy/pasting students from one column to another. The individual anecdotal records, to which each student is linked, move with the names when you restructure your groups in this manner.

With this ongoing observational record, the teacher can make regular anecdotal notes within one document - accessing this document is as simple as clicking on the desired student's name in the Launch Page.

As an alternative to anecdotal records, or in addition to, the Launch Page links to an assessment form.

This form allows the user to capture an abundance of assessment data. Data entry is incredibly quick with the use of drop down menus, which allow you to quickly select a student, a group, and curriculum expectations assessed. The lower portion of the form includes specific expectations from the curriculum for reference purposes.

With two methods of assessment so easily accessible from the Launch Page, I've found myself gathering more assessment data than with my previous, traditional Guided Reading programs. And the use of forms has allowed me to gather very specific and valuable assessment data. The end result is that I have a much clearer picture of individual student strengths and needs, and I am able to change my groupings on a much more frequent basis based on this data.

As more and more technology finds its way into our classroom, the more common it will become to use digital texts. In my classroom, digital texts include:

  • PDF texts 
  • eBooks 
  • online texts & articles 
  • websites 
  • Tweets 
  • student work samples

In summary, here are all the features and conveniences of going Google in Guided Reading with a Launch Page:
Click image to view full size.
All of the documents and forms required to implement your own Guided Reading program in Google Apps are included here for your personal use: Guided Reading in GAFE

Remember to review the included instructions before using the Launch Page in order to determine which files are there for you to use, and which ones you need to create for yourself.

Good luck and get launching!


Trevor Krikst is an elementary teacher at Teston Village Public School in Maple, Ontario. He received his BEd from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. From early on in his career, Trevor recognized the value of integrating technology into classroom learning experience and the resulting increase in student engagement. As Technology Lead Teacher at his school, Trevor created multiple opportunities for the staff and students to explore and learn about various technologies and how to facilitate their integration into the classroom. Most recently he had the opportunity to share his developing expertise in Google Apps at the York Region District School Board’s Google Camp 2.0. Along with friend and colleague Wahid Khan, Trevor recently created and is a regular contributor to InspireandInquire.ca, an online hub exploring the vast potential in the nexus where technology and education converge. He can be contacted at krikst@gmail.com, @trevorkrikst or @inquireinspire

Are You Ripe for Change?

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Dr. Robert Dillon. 

Watching vegetables grow until the moment that they are perfectly ripe for harvest can be an exercise in patience. Each day it means carefully inspecting a variety of facets of the vegetable with the eventual question being, “will it be even better tomorrow?” Waiting one more day holds the potential for vegetable nirvana, but it also gives the squirrels another day to destroy all the patience and waiting that led up to the day of perfection in one tiny squirrel bite.

Too many schools around the country are waiting for perfection to begin the transformative changes needed in our spaces of learning. They are waiting for a better infrastructure or few more people to retire. They are waiting for the completion of the right amount of professional development or the semester change when things will settle down. They are waiting. They are waiting. They are waiting. Waiting is often an effort to ignore doing the really hard stuff. Waiting is a strategy to avoid failure and not lean into the uncomfortable. Waiting is hurting kids. Waiting also allows others outside of education to fill the void.

Over the last 18 months, the Affton School District in Saint Louis, Missouri has broken through the inertia of waiting and into a fresh mindset of fire, ready, aim. This shift in mental model (by a growing number of learners throughout the ecosystem) has unleashed fresh energy for innovation throughout the district. Two factors have been the primary catalysts for allowing this to occur.

The first was building a culture of service. When things are broken, in need of update, or outdated, the innovative spirit is crushed. When instruction is inhibited because there is no support, risk taking becomes non-existent. As the lead innovator in the district, it was important for me and my team to take visual, concrete steps that showcased that fresh culture of service and rallied every human resource available, both technical and instructional, into action to solve the backlog of problems. The result has been a new trust and the opportunity for new conversations around our future as a learning community.

The second was a dedicated effort to saying YES. The most powerful change agent in education is the word YES. It unleashes ideas. It grows confidence. It builds momentum. It releases trapped wisdom into the system. It really is that powerful. Affton said yes to an app development pilot. Affton said yes to a Bosnian Studies program. Affton said yes to traveling to other schools to see innovation in practice. Affton said yes to a library redesign. When NO is your default setting at any level of your organization, bits and chunks of the system are wilting.

Affton School District hasn’t arrived. It is on a journey, a long journey, but no one is waiting. Instead there is a growing acceptance that failing forward fast and being in beta by design are the new way forward. Transformational change, the kind that comes from when we are working with the goal of being different as opposed to getting better, is exactly what all of the kids should expect each day from the adults that are in charge of making our schools ripe for learning.

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. He blogs at: aprincipalspeaking.blogspot.com, and he learns and shares on Twitter @ideaguy42. His first book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's School Today is set for publication in the fall.

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