Sunday, July 8, 2012

Increase Student Engagement with Skype in the Classroom

Guest Post from Lisa Mims.

It’s always amazing to me how educators, can grab hold of something that wasn’t developed with us in mind, and make it our own. We have a knack for doing that, and we’ve done it with Skype. With Skype, educators are knocking down classroom walls,allowing our students the chance to hear from experts, and creating global learners.

I heard wonderful stories of teachers using Skype in their classrooms, and I envied them. I vowed that 2011-2012, I would take advantage of Skype.  At the beginning of the school year, I got webcams from DonorsChoose. Then I bugged my IT person for three weeks, until he finally came  in and hooked up my webcam. (Not that I didn’t know how, but I didn’t have administrative access).  We were ready!

My first experience was Mystery State. I connected with a teacher in another state. Our students exchanged clues in order to guess each other’s states. We did this several times with various classes throughout the U.S., during the school year.  Each teacher had their own preference  for how it was done.

We participated in the Global Read Aloud Project . Students from all over the world read “Tuck Everlasting” and then discussed it. I connected with a teacher in Mississippi, and our classes had a book discussion via Skype! What an opportunity to engage our students and promote critical thinking!

We Skyped with a marine biologist and a student marine biologist! The student biologist Skyped from a beach in Florida!  The questions were flying and our experts answered every one of them! On World Read Aloud Day, we had an author, a CNN analyst, and his wife read “A Wrinkle in Time”, a story we were enjoying for Read Aloud.

All of my connections were made through Twitter, but you can find experts anywhere! A parent, someone in your community, anyone who would be willing to Skype with your students, and provide that “real world” application so often missing from our lessons.  

An excellent resource, that I did not take advantage of last year, is Skype in the Classroom. This site gives you access to an enormous amount of projects, with people all over the world, who are willing to Skype with our students.

Helpful Tips for Implementing Skype in the Classroom
  • Make sure Skype is not blocked in your district. If it is, find out who can unblock it.
  • Create a Skype account.
  • Classroom management is a must! Assign jobs.
  • Make sure everyone can be seen and heard.

  • Do a test run before the actual Skype.
  • Make sure there’s someone there who can help if you need it, it could be a student.
  • Be prepared! My kids always had their questions on index cards.
  • Have a time limit.
  • Don’t panic if the tech messes up, it happens! :) Reschedule.
  • If Skyping with someone who has given of their time, send Thank you letters or notes. (optional)

There are so many ways to use Skype in your classroom, hopefully you will take advantage of at least one! Who you gonna call? :)

Lisa Mims is a 27+ year educator, who is still passionate about teaching! She is a 5th grade teacher in New Castle, DE. She loves discovering, and learning, about creative, techy, ways to engage her students. Lisa is the author of two blogs, Diary of a Public School Teacher! and Word of Mouth:Tech Tools and Resources! She can also be found on Twitter @BriteEyes49.

The Most Popular Guest Posts on Free Technology for Teachers

There is a trail through there.
Good morning from the Free Technology for Teachers world headquarters in Greenwood, Maine. I'm back from a week of mountain biking in the highlands of Iceland. If you're ever in Iceland, I recommend visiting and inquiring about tours.

In a classic case of "the Internet really does connect us," shortly after we met, one of the guides for the trip who is also a teacher said to me, "oh yes, I saw your name as a presenter for iPad Summit USA." Fortunately, we both recognized it was vacation and didn't spend too much time talking shop during the week. Although teachers never really do stop talking shop completely.

While I was away I ran guest posts from educators who were willing to share their experiences with you. Thank you to all of the guest writers who helped me out this week. Below is the list of the most read guest posts of the week.

1. One Music Class - One iPad - Now What?
2. The Teacher-Librarian is Your Best Tech Resource
3. Making Educational Blogging Work For You
4. Gathering Feedback with Socrative Classroom Activities
5. Creating Infographics with Middle School Students
6. Welcome to Online Textbooks
7. Tech Alternatives for the One Computer Classroom

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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 

Friday, July 6, 2012

How to Ace Your Interview for a Teaching Position

This post could be subtitled “Show me the Money!” You see, I’ve hired a good number of teachers over the years, and, while I’ve hired some top-notch teachers, I’ve also been burned a few times (BTW, I consider being burned once “too many”).  

As an educational leader, I need to ensure that all students in my building have access to a great teacher.  Not just good, great.  In the past I’ve relied mainly on responses to interview questions to determine who would be a good teacher.  Sure, I asked for writing samples and examples from class and questions about development and lesson planning and so on.  But I very rarely asked for demonstrations, prototypes, or products.

This hiring season, that’s all going to change.  My new motto is, “Show me the money.”  If you interview with me, you better be able to demonstrate that you have the skills to help students be successful 21st century learners.  I’m no longer interested in answering the question, “Can you teach?”  Anyone with an overhead projector can stand up and ‘teach.’  What I want to know is can you use the latest technology and methodology to facilitate learning, collaboration, problem solving, and creative thinking?

Because we are living in a digital world I don’t want to see this stuff in a three-ring binder with a cute cover.  I want you to use digital tools, the same ones your students will use in class, to demonstrate why I should hire you.  Here’s what I want to see (feel free to comment about anything you want to show me that I left out).

1) Your professional Social Media persona.  

What you don’t have a professional SM presence?  Well why not?  Every teacher and administrator should have, at a minimum, a professional Twitter and Facebook page.  If you have access you should also sign up for Edmodo and may consider Google+ which is growing, especially among professionals.  I want to see how you are interacting with parents and students.  I want to see who is in your personal learning network (PLN) - in other words, who you are learning from.  I want to see how you augment what’s going on in the classroom.  

I do not want to see your personal Facebook page or Twitter stream. Your personal and professional lives should be chronicled on separate pages.  Facebook will not allow you to create two accounts but as a teacher Facebook will allow you to set up Page (formerly Fan Pages or Groups).  All you have to do is click on Create a Page on the login page (highlighted).  The page will automatically be connected to your account.

Creating a page rather than an account will enable you to communicate with students and parents without friending them (I never recommending friending students).  Twitter allows you to have more than one handle so there’s no problem there.

2) Your blog.

I believe everyone should write.  Having a blog forces you to work out and organize your thoughts and ideas.  You can blog about any aspect of your professional life.  If you’re looking for your first teaching gig blog about what you plan to do when you get your own classroom, what you did as a student teacher, or about great teachers.  Write about methodology, pedagogy, or any other ‘ogy’ you can think of.  Write about your challenges and your successes.  Write about anything. Just write.  Wordpress, Blogger, and Edublogs all have excellent and free blogging tools.  My only word of caution with blogging is to keep student information confidential, you don’t want to wind up on the 6 o’clock news because you wrote about Sammy’s bloody nose, bad behavior, or poor test grade.

3) Your digital portfolio.

I also want to see everything else you’ve created on-line, your web projects, your student videos, your animotos, your Vimeos, and even your VoiceThreads but I don’t want to spend the entire interview typing web addresses so make sure you pull everything together into one site.  Sites like, Glogster and will allow you to pull from many web sources that way during the interview I only have to type in one address and you can guide me through your digital life.  

And if you’ll allow me just one more …

4) Your email.

After the interview I may want to email you. That’s why now is the perfect time to set a professional email account.  Call me old school but when I see a candidate’s email address as, “” or “” or even, god forbid, “” it really makes my skin crawl.  As a hiring manager my thoughts immediately jump to whether or not you have the maturity to handle a classroom.  Email is free.  Set up an account with some variant of your name and use that for all professional correspondence.

Good Luck!

Scott A. Ziegler has 20 Years of experience in public education having served as a teacher, school administrator, and district level administrator.  He is life-long learner, lover of all things tech,  devoted husband, father of five, and weekend adventure seeker.  He also practices what he writes and invites you to connect via his blog, Twitter, Facebook (under construction), Linkin, or Flavors.