Four Ways to Become a Digitally Engaged Educator

I can’t believe I’m doing one of these numbered-tips styled postings, but these ideas have been on my mind lately. So here are my four tips to becoming a more digitally engaged educator.

First, use your mobile device in the classroom. An IDC Research report states, “49% of the entire US population uses a smart phone” (source). That percentage is projected to reach 68% in four years. Students need to see teachers modeling how to use the device properly. So pull it out to Google an answer, scan a QR Code, text or tweet a positive behavior, etc. But, also show the students when it is appropriate to leave the device in your pocket as to not distract others. Our example will show students that this is an everyday tool used for purpose not just play.

Second, as mentioned above, use QR Codes. These are powerful means to help students get to selected material. When grading an assignment, place a QR Code next to a question the student answered incorrectly; when scanned the student is directed to a short screencast or video showing how to properly answer the question. They’re a variety of educational ways to implement QR Codes in the classroom, so be adventurous and try something new.

Thirdly, as was custom in some of my previous schools, the copy room became a place to share paper resources. One teacher creates a worksheet or finds an article that might benefit others, they leave a copy of it out for others to duplicate. Do the same virtually! Create a school/district Pinterest account or use anyone of several social bookmarking tools. When you find that blog, screencast, video, webpage, etc. pin it or bookmark it so we can all have access to the best resources available.

Finally, tweet from the classroom. I visited a school district in northern New Jersey who uses twitter to showcase their one-to-one initiative. Administrators, teachers, and parents look to their hashtag to see how they are using their Chromebooks. By tweeting out successes, the teachers and students are being showcased in a global way; one which is much broader than just hanging something in the hallway. Students now can feel their work has an audience. They can take pride in sharing what they are learning and creating.

I feel that each of these, for lack of an over-used term, ’21st Century Skills’ must be seen in our classrooms to model for students what we do correctly in a digital age.

Stake your claim on social media venues. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Why It’s Time To Take Ownership Of Your PLN

I know the old saying can be true, teachers make the worst students. But we need to take ownership of our learning, and sometimes that means we need to be the presenters in our own learning environment.

I have gone to a few ‘unconference’ EdCamp-styled events the past couple years. At each of these, I left with tons of ideas, felt inspired and rejuvenated. Each time I went as an attendee, with the mindset to sit back and absorb as much information as possible. But I was wrong, I was being selfish and using the other attendees for my own personal gain. The buzz phrase lately has been PLN – creating a personal learning network. A network involves connections. As an audience member, I was not connecting and engaging with the other learners, my fellow teachers.

Taking Ownership

I went to an event recently in NJ with the goal being to get involved. Yes, it can be a scary feeling. Intimidating, too. But we all have ideas to share that can be beneficial to others’ teaching, and to our own learning.

When I arrived at the event, there were about 50 educators, none of whom I knew. I saw the sign-up board; only four spots were taken out of about 25 available. Only four people had something to share. I thought about it, I knew I could get involved. I have this app that I have used successfully, maybe there are some teachers who could benefit from hearing about it. I didn’t have a formal presentation, no slide show to click through. All I had was my iPad where I could access the app and have the audience see an example lesson I did with some second graders. So jumping in, I signed up.

That signing up spurred me to go further. I started to tweet to the event’s hashtag. This connected me to some other teachers, present at the event who had similar interests (technology). I saw an individual was recording a podcast of the event. He was looking for educators to interview, but no one was going over. I felt encouraged to keep going outside my comfort zone, so I went over to him. I ended up having a very rich and in depth conversation on engagement in the classroom.

Creating Your PLN

When the time came to present, I had about a dozen teachers who came intrigued to hear about this app that I was willing to share. Of course, technology being what it is, I had a couple connectivity hiccups, but sailed through the rough waters by having a discussion on what topics I’ve taught with the app. Once we connected, we were able to get interactive with it, and even though I was the presenter I was learning by listening to all the ideas they generated. Statements like, “I could do this…” or “the students would be able to do that…” Echoed around the room. My willingness to share one item that works well for my teaching gave a wealth of ideas back to me from the audience members.

I’m looking forward to the next ‘unconference’ where I will get up and present again. Sharing a strategy or activity that has worked well for me and maybe a benefit to someone else’s teaching style. But the true benefit will be to me. By getting interactive, creating connections, and building a network that grows my own professional learning.

Cross-posted on Edudemic:

How Nearpod Brought Active Learning To My Classroom

Engaging instruction is the goal of every educator. So when I was introduced to an app that promised such a lofty ideal, I had to try it.

At the time, I was teaching sixth grade math and social studies in a Pennsylvania school district. I had a challenging lesson coming up and sought the assistance of a fellow teacher who was piloting an iPad cart. He allowed me to borrow it for my math lesson on changing fractions. The math series we used had a lesson called ‘The Licorice Lace Problem’ which described a few teens going on a hike. They were dividing up licorice equally among themselves. Just after they cut the licorice another friend shows up, now they need to redistribute the licorice. This is spatially a hard concept to imagine.

But I had an idea!

Nearpod is an app that allows a teacher to present an interactive lesson on the students’ iPads. I had prepared a set of informative slides to describe the scenario. I then created slides that were used as background images for Nearpod’s Draw It slides. Here the students were able to draw right on their iPad, which for this math problem, required them to mark where they would cut the licorice lace. These pictures were submitted to my iPad, wirelessly through Nearpod, so I had instant feedback if they understood the concept or if they needed another attempt. I could share out student examples anonymously to their iPads for class discussion. I was also able to pose a poll, Q & A, multiple choice, or true/false style questions. Students would get instant feedback on their answers to these questions. All in all, active learning was taking place.

As soon as I opened the cart, I had the students’ attention. After establishing some management guidelines with the class, everyone logged into Nearpod with the student pin. My struggling students were participating and weren’t afraid to be wrong because it wasn’t directly in the eyes of their peers, like it would if they were up at the board or showing their work under the document camera.

The excitement, engagement, and of course, every teacher’s favorite word, data proved this app to be useful. I was able to go into the Nearpod website with my log-in credentials (free account) and access all the information gathered during the lesson. I could see the Draw Its each student submitted and create graphs on student responses.

Currently I’m employed with a NJ school district as a teacher resource specialist for technology. Their iPad initiative includes three iPads in every first and second grade classroom in each of their four elementary buildings. By sharing iPads among grade level classes or working on targeted mini lessons in small groups, teachers have been able to do Nearpod lessons on topics like telling time, counting money, and weather, to name a few. This has been a useful tool!

Teachers can download the free app and create a free account. The site is user friendly and straight forward. I’ve made my slides on PowerPoint or SMART Notebook then saved as images to upload into my Nearpod lesson. Nearpod is adding more features as well. You have the ability to share out a website during a lesson, embed a video, and its newest feature for the flipped classroom Nearpod Homework, where the students can go through a lesson at their pace. This is a wonderful tool that has a growing following on Twitter (great place to go to read how others have used it or ask questions #NearpodTeachers).

Teachers want a way to deliver interactive lessons to engage all learners and I feel, no, I know, Nearpod has been my answer.

Cross-posted on Edudemic:
Tech & Learning Advisor Blog:

“Going to a SMART Showcase is a Must-Do:” Dan Gallagher Explains

Dan Gallagher, a SMART Exemplary Educator from West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey, recently attended one of the SMART New Collaboration Solutions Showcase events in New York City. He kindly shared what it’s like to attend one of those sessions from the educator’s point of view. Remember you can also register for these events here. Over to Dan!

By Dan Gallagher

Time can be a precious commodity for educators. Creating lesson plans for missing a day at school can be an arduous task. But going to a SMART Showcase Event is a must-do experience. I went to New York City and was able to be hands-on with a variety of new and updated products. Here are the top seven things that stood out to me and why.

LightRaise 60wi interactive projector

This wall-mounted projector will display from 64 inches to 100 inches. It has a built- in speaker and microphone for recording and playing back your lessons. You can use the rechargeable pens or your finger with up to two users at the same time. This is so cool to operate, just as long as your wall is flat. It has a laser scanning just above the surface of the wall to detect your activity. One part you need to get use to, as it took me a couple of reminders, unlike the other SMART Boards where you pick up the pen to write and then use your finger to select — you must identify each time you switch to a different task. At the event we were told the LightRaise is a perfect secondary display in a classroom or collaborative learning space.

SMART Board 8055i interactive flat panel

This option comes in two sizes, a 55 inch or 70 inch display. No longer will the teacher have to worry about casting a shadow over the image. It is an LED-backlit LCD screen, which two users can operate together. Now schools don’t have to worry about bulb burnout. Another nice feature is it automatically detects a person’s presence. When you are not near the device for a period of time it will power down, saving on electricity and then when your proximity comes closer, it will power on.

SMART Table 442i collaborative learning center

Coming from a district that had the first version of SMART Tables, this update takes every concern we had and improves upon the original design. Just like the original, the Table can manage eight users. But better than before, this Table can allow students to sit around it comfortably. It is scratch proof, liquid resistant, and instead of displaying by a projector it is a 42 inch LCD. They made a point to focus on how to make this accessible for children with special needs. There are four headphone jacks with individual volume controls, plenty of room for a wheelchair to access it, and five USB ports for a variety of devices like a student’s joystick or integrate a SMART Document Camera. On the teacher end of operations, you can now access activity packs from a USB, those saved to the Table (which can be deleted easily) or from the SMART Exchange directly.

These next few items aren’t devices but great collaboration tools!

XC Add-on Beta for Notebook software: This add-on to Notebook allowed us to submit comments to the SMART Board at the start to our lesson. We were shown an object and had to submit what we thought it was. It engaged our learning while also kick starting instruction.
Bridgit for iPad app: I tried this on my iPad. It was a free app,* which allowed me to join a SMART Notebook activity. I was able to interact without having to touch the board. This could be extremely helpful in classrooms that have SMART Notebook or if you want more than one user actively engaged at the same time.
SMART Notebook app for iPad (available on the iTunes App store) and Dropbox: Like a previous post I wrote, we were able to open a Notebook file, which was shared to us through a Dropbox folder. In this activity, we were split into groups, each received a page in the file to work on collaboratively on our iPads with the SMART Notebook app and then upload back into the Dropbox folder.
SMART Response VE interactive response system: Our lesson concluded with a short virtual quiz. Our devices were able to access it by going online to SMART Response and entering the class through a code. The questions and answer choices or space to type a response was displayed on our device and we could answer them at our own pace.
This event provided an opportunity to be hands-on with each of these tools. We were able to have all of our questions answered and were shown where we could reference follow-up information. Our day ended with a give-away SMART Slate.

Shout out to Tara Mattingly, our Educational Consultant and facilitator of fun!

Cross-posted at EdCompass Blog:

SMART Notebook App for iPad Benefits Absent Students: Dan Explains

You and your students enjoyed a great collaborative learning experience with your students using SMART products, but one or two students were absent. You’d like to share the content from that class but know the experience isn’t the same social experience when one student is interacting with a SMART Board interactive whiteboard alone while the rest of the class focuses on alternative activities. Dan Gallagher, a SMART Exemplary Educator from West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey, finds SMART Notebook app for iPad (available on the iTunes App store) is a great way for students to catch up on the lesson using a student device.

By Dan Gallagher

How can absent students catch up if they miss a group activity with the SMART Board interactive whiteboard?

We’ve all been there, you have a SMART Notebook interactive lesson prepared and a couple of students are absent or pulled to go to instrument practice, speech, to the office or nurse, etc. When they come back that day or tomorrow, you would like them to do the activity but do not want to run the SMART Board for just one or two students. What about the rest of the class? Will it be a distraction or too repetitive? You originally took all that extra time to make it fun and engaging for all your students.

This won’t be a problem if you have access to the SMART Notebook app for iPad! Now you can take your interactive lessons, upload them to a Dropbox or Google Drive account and access them on your iPad.

SMART Notebook app for iPad works within the parameters of iPad iOS

Anything you created in the Activity Builder can be completed, reset, and completed again. Sorting activities are now mobile. Each student can cycle through either as a learning center or as a 1:1 activity with the teacher. This provides a chance for students to complete activities using ink, adding text, sounds, pictures, as well as create and move objects. Some of my favorite techniques which bring independence to a lesson are pull tabs and erase to reveal. The pull tab is a way for students to check their work with grouped answers which are accessed by sliding a tab across the page. Another way to cover your answers is with pen ink which the students can then erase to reveal the correct responses.

Note: The SMART Notebook app for iPad, being on an iPad, is restricted to the confines of Apple’s iOS. Anything created using Flash will not operate on the iPad. That means any interactive elements like having your dice spin, adding a timer or a Voki (speaking avatar) created in Flash will only show as a locked image. Creating an Internet browser and having it pinned to a particular page also comes up as a locked image. The math tools like the ruler or protractor unfortunately do not work either. My rule of thumb is to test it out ahead of time to ensure everything in your activity works properly. But, as seen with the latest update, SMART is adding more features from the recommendations of its users.

Additional applications

Since this is SMART Notebook software, your students can also make use of the app to create presentations which can be emailed, uploaded, or projected from the iPad. They have the ability to take photos with the iPad camera, use images on the camera roll or paste images they find online. They could record their own sounds up to a minute in length which are connected to images or objects. This is a lighter version of Notebook, but in the hands of a student, it can be a medium to display knowledge.

Justifying the purchase

We have started to see some fee-based content on the SMART Exchange and the SMART Notebook app is also something to be purchased. It is $6.99 which some teachers might dismiss, but don’t. You might be thinking, “I’ll just use Notebook Express,” but that version of SMART Notebook requires Flash and is not suitable for use on an iPad. Any student, anywhere can be engaged in learning. Lessons can be accessed for those who miss the activity, need remediation, or you can use it to increase the rigor of an activity for your high flyers. No longer will students be completely missing out if they weren’t able to participate on the SMART Board that day. The app enables students to benefit from SMART’s interactivity on a personal device.

Cross-posted at EdCompass Blog:

Its been a while…

Lots of changes… Left the School District of Springfield Township; joined the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School district in New Jersey. Between moving, getting engaged, planning for a wedding, etc. I completely forgot about keeping up with my blog. That doesn’t mean I stopped blogging. I will be adding a few blog posts I’ve made other places. Hope to get back into this…