Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Strategies for Getting Access to Websites Blocked By Your School

For those hoping that this post might teach you how to bypass filters, I'm sorry there is nothing in this post about bypassing filters. That's not a strategy that I endorse. 

I can't tell you how many times I've presented a website or tool at a workshop and a teacher has said, "that's great, but my school blocks everything." Having useful sites blocked is frustrating for everyone. I've been there. In the fall of 2009 I returned to school after the summer break to find that all of the sites (VoiceThread, Wikispaces, Blogger, Animoto, and others) that I had planned to use were blocked by the new filter that had been in place. Fortunately, my principal was willing to listen to me and some of my colleagues and he overruled the network administrator. If you find yourself in a similar situation, try these things before throwing up your hands in frustration.

Tactics for getting access to the websites that you want to use.
1. Attitude: don't sit back and complain quietly, don't sit back and complain loudly. Rather you should go to the top with research and a plan. Straight Talk from the DOE is a good place to start that research.

2. Relationships: if I didn't have a good working relationship with my principal I wouldn't be able to walk into his and have him seriously consider what I ask for.

3. Persistence: changing a school's or a district's policy isn't going to happen overnight.

4. Recruit supporters: if it's just you leading the fight you might be looked at as "that crazy teacher," if there is two of you you might be looked at as "those crazy teachers," but if you can get a third supporter then you've started a grassroots movement. This is an idea that I borrowed from this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers and from Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant.

Update: Shortly after this post went live Doug Johnson emailed me with a link to something he wrote on the same topic a couple of years ago. Doug outlines ten steps in his post. But what I like best about his post is the chart that he uses to show the correlation between "knowledge of educational uses" and "permissiveness of internet use." Take a look at Doug's chart here.

Gooru Adds Helpful New Narration and Comment Options

Gooru is a great service for creating and sharing collections of educational videos, texts, and images. Gooru currently offers materials in math, science, social studies, and language arts. As a teacher you can create collections, add text narration to each element in the collection, create quiz questions about items in your collections, and share your collections with students either publicly or privately.

This week Gooru added two helpful new options. Now when your students are working through a collection they can react to a collection through the use of emoticons in the comments. The emoticons are offer a quick way for students to express whether they "get it" or not.  You can have your narration (which is what Gooru calls text-based captions for elements of collections) appear in a pop-up dialogue box as an introduction to each element of your collections. See a sample of the pop-up narration by visiting this collection.

Applications for Education
Gooru makes it easy to create collections of videos, images, and interactive websites to use as part of a flipped lesson. Being able to add quiz questions for students to answer as they go through one of the units you've created is the feature of Gooru that I like best. By having students answer as they go through the collection I can get a sense of what I need to spend more or less time covering in my classroom.

Gooru does offer an iPad app. You can learn more about their iPad app here.

Save the Cell Phones!

A couple of weeks ago I finally caved to the marketing pressure of US Cellular and upgraded my mobile phone by using a bunch of reward points and $30. The new phone is great. I now have two smartphones kicking around my house that I can't use to call or text, but I can use to take pictures and connect to the web through my wireless network. My guess is that you probably have a similar situation in your own home.

These deactivated smartphones have a bunch of uses in the classroom besides weighing-down papers. If your network administrator will allow it, connect them to your school's wireless network to use them as response tools during a Socrative activity. Or use them as cameras for the creation of a classroom gallery of presentation pictures. When connected to a wireless network your students could use those phones for manipulating augmented reality layers through Aurasma.

Don't just chuck that old smartphone into a drawer, re-purpose it. Ask your students' parents to donate old phones to the classroom for students to use. Just make sure you clear out any old personal data before giving them to students to use.

Fun and Learning With Peep and the Big Wide World

Peep and the Big Wide World, produced by WGBH, offers a great collection of online games, videos, and offline activities designed to help pre-K and elementary school students learn and develop math and science skills. In all there are fifteen online games available through Peep and the Big Wide World. The games cover skills like pattern recognition, color and shape recognition, distances, and counting.

The educators and families sections of Peep and the Big Wide World offer great activities designed to extend the science and lessons provided in the Peep and the Big Wide World videos. In fact, when you're on the video page you will notice that there is a suggested Anywhere Activity listed with each video.

In addition to the browser-based activities Peep and the Big Wide World offers six free iPad apps for students. The iPad apps offer six of the games provided in the browser-based version of Peep and the Big Wide World.

Applications for Education
Peep and the Big Wide World is a good place to find resource for pre-K and early elementary school science and mathematics lessons. In your next newsletter or blog post for parents point out the family activities section in which parents can find activities to do with their children to support what they're learning in your classroom.