Saturday, July 7, 2012

Unite Online to Amplify Teachers’ Voices and Impact!

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

It’s terrifying how much education policy is made with little to no teacher input. There are millions of teachers around the world, but the impact of our voices does not match those massive numbers. How can we fix this? How can we, the educators, amplify our power? The answer is online unity.

As a Boston Public Schools teacher who runs a travel blog and a Global Education site, I straddle the travel blogger and education blogger worlds. What many educators don’t realize is that travel bloggers have accomplished something remarkable that can be replicated by teachers. Through online unity, travel bloggers have changed how travel is done, and who profits from it.

It used to be that big travel companies had all the power in travel and got all the business, but nowadays if you Google a phrase like “Traveling for Teachers” you are more likely to get an independently run website than a corporate mammoth. (Try it and see!) Because the online traffic now goes to the little guys, this has caused seismic changes in how the travel industry runs.

I just returned from the 800-person TBEX Travel Blogger conference (which was packed with travel companies jostling to work with bloggers) at which the CEO of Blogworld declared: “You bloggers deserve a professional conference, because you have proven that you are professionals. Travel bloggers have changed the travel industry forever.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say that to teachers, with regards to education?

Learning from the triumphs of the travel blogger community, here is what we as educators can do to amplify our voices and impact through online unity:

Create a blog, and/or guest post on education sites. As educators, we have vitally important words to share about what is going on in education, and we must write for readers beyond our own schools. It is YOU who needs to be heard by the world. Yes, you. Please write.

Embrace social media. Once you’ve created a blog or article, get it read. Do this by cooperation with others via social media. Join the Education Bloggers Facebook Group and Twitter Chat, and find mentor bloggers who can teach you tricks of getting traffic through Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google Plus, Pinterest, SEO, and more. Travel bloggers have been doing this for years, and their collaboration has paid off immensely.

Go to conferences. In-person networking is vital to forming powerful online partnerships. For example, it was at the wonderful EdCamp Boston Conference that a group of us came up with the idea for the Education Bloggers Facebook Group.

Do not feel guilty about becoming a successful education blogger or “Teacherpreneur.” People try to silence teacher voices, making us fear being heard. Teachers are discouraged from being outspoken, business savvy, or compensated for work we do beyond traditional teaching within the classroom. To that I say, “Pshaw!” I am proud to be both a teacher and a hard-working entrepreneur. Because...

Having a powerful online presence with a global audience makes you a better teacher. “Oh my gosh, Miss Marshall--” one of my 7th grade students squealed last week, “I can’t believe you have almost 4,000 Twitter followers and were published in the Huffington Post!”

“Indeed,” I replied with a smile. “That’s why I’m so strict on all of you with grammar lessons. I want you to write for world audiences, too, and when you do, your writing needs to be fabulous!”  

Lillie Marshall (@WorldLillie) is a teacher in Boston Public Schools who runs the Education Bloggers group and chat, along with two GlobalEd websites, and You can also find her on Google Plus.

Mobile Formative Assessment; A One Device Solution

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Formative assessment has been stuck in a rut for years but tablets and Smartphones have the potential for increasing the amount of formative data that teachers collect and use on a daily basis.

The combination of touch screen devices and cloud storage allows teachers to create a manageable flow of connected data, collected on the fly using mobile platforms, but ultimately available for reflection and action steps on any device with Web access.

Unfortunately, not enough teachers know about the power of their own personal handheld devices. EdTech buzz is usually focused on tools that require one-to-one or at least a large amount of classroom computer availability, but so much can be done with one handheld device and access to the cloud.

Student facing assessment platforms like Compass get a lot of attention along with student response systems like Socrative, but both require students to have their own devices they can use to beam back formative information directly to the teacher.

These apps are great if teachers have the devices, but in order to increase the actual numbers of teachers who are using these tools to personalize instruction we need to shift our national focus toward how these tools can be used when a teacher has a personal tablet or Smartphone at their disposal.

The Highlander Institute has been working with teachers on a three app system that collects all of the ongoing formative data a teacher might need in order to more efficiently and effectively group students for differentiated instruction.

There are many formative assessment applications on the market, but each one has its limitations. We’ve chosen the following three because they are cloud based, free, and they compliment each other’s weaknesses.

Evernote: (E-portfolio Formative Assessment) Set up one folder for general classroom observations, then make a dedicated folder for each student in your class. Instantly your phone or tablet becomes your eyes, ears and brain. Collect visual data, record audio, and add notes as you have time. Later, process all you collected and decide who achieved mastery and who you need to meet with the next day. Read more

Metryx: Missing from the current app market is the ability to track a percentile score in a flexible and ongoing basis. Teachers using exit tickets, online activities, pop quizzes, problems at the board, or just oral questioning need a way to document their students’ correct or incorrect responses in one centralized location. Metryx is the on-the-fly, flexible formative tracker that allows teachers to choose a skill, choose a student and take in quantitative or qualitative data. Metryx also analyzes and graphs the data automatically and separates students into groups based on how close they are to achieving mastery. (Currently in beta with Version 1 ready for the fall).

Educreations: Sometimes a yes or no answer is not enough. You need a way to sit with that student and observe the ways they attack a problem. Place a tablet with Educreations between yourself and the student and hit record. Everything they write, everything they say, and their step-by-step process will be recorded on the screen for you to review later, share with colleagues or parents.

There are other formative assessment apps we like for specific and targeted tasks, like PickMe for randomizing classroom student responses or ClassDojo for tracking positive and negative behaviors over time, but the three app system described above is a great entry point for teachers with limited hardware, but a strong desire to use more formative assessment.

* (Disclosure notice: the author is also the CEO of Metryx)

Shawn Rubin is the Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute