Using Evernote for Lesson Plans

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to mention that I’ve been having some issues with pages taking a long time to load and general slowness on this site. I put in a help ticket with my web host after trying to fix it myself without much success. The site appears to be running more smoothly, so even though I haven’t heard from my host, I am wondering if they took a look already and figured out the problem. At any rate, please be patient with me if you are having issues.

This year, I am trying a new experiment using Evernote for my lesson plans. I love Evernote. I use it quite extensively for personal note-taking, such as keeping my soap-making journal, planning trips, and the random article or PDF I want to save. I have Evernote Premium, which allows me to annotate and take notes on PDF’s as well. I also have offline access to notes, higher monthly uploads, and some other additional features, but I mainly wanted to be able to annotate PDF’s without using a separate app.

As much as I use Evernote, I wasn’t really using it for lesson planning at all. When I inquired on Twitter, I discovered Jim Burke would not be publishing a 2014-2015 Teacher’s Daybook. I had decided to go back to the Daybook after trying an electronic planbook that was brilliant, but just wasn’t working for me (not sure why). I was bummed about the Daybook, and though Jim publishes the templates online, I just didn’t want to print them out. Something told me that I wouldn’t stick with it. I happened on Nick Provenzano’s post about using Evernote to plan a while back, and I decided to give it a shot, particularly since I already liked Evernote.

First, I created Evernote notebooks for each of my classes. This process is fairly straightforward, so I’ll skip the explanation, but if you have trouble with it, feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.

I created a calendar template next. The dates can easily be changed each month. In order to create new calendar notes, I use the following process:

  • Navigate to the appropriate notebook (in my case, World Literature II or American Studies in Literature—whatever you called your class).
  • Add a new note and name it with the correct month and year.
  • Go to my calendar template note and copy the text in the note (the calendar grid).
  • Paste the text into my new note.

After I created the calendar template, I created a daily lesson plan template. This template suits my needs. It includes my school’s Portrait of a Learner (objectives), which are not as extensive or complicated as CCSS. This template forces me to think about a good hook or interest grabber at the start and how to tie everything back together at the end of the lesson with a good wrap up. In between, I can list all the parts of the lesson with detail. I can think about which areas of Bloom’s Taxonomy the lesson addresses and be thoughtful about the kind of homework (if any) required. My favorite part, however, is a reflection. After the lesson, at the end of the day usually, I take about five minutes and write short reflections on the lessons.

I can link the daily lessons on the calendar template by right-clicking on the note and selecting “Copy Note Link” in Evernote. Here is Evernote’s Knowledge Base article on this topic in case you need help. Then I paste that note link on the appropriate date in the calendar, and I have a nice, linked up monthly planner that organizes my daily plans.

In addition, I use tags, such as unit titles, course titles, book or other literary work titles, authors, and types of lesson (e. g. writing workshop) to further link my notes. I can then search my notebooks using any of these tags and see all my lessons from a given unit, course, etc.

Evernote notebooks can be shared, so using Evernote is a solution for teachers who are planning together as well.

So far, I am liking it quite a bit. I’ll keep you posted on the experiment.

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Digital Storytelling Workshop

storytelling photo

Thanks to my school, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a digital storytelling workshop with the Center for Digital Storytelling in Denver at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.

I will admit that I went into the workshop with a fair amount of hubris. I thought to myself, I’ve been teaching English for sixteen years. I know a lot about these kinds of projects. I’m a technology integrator. I know iMovie pretty well. I’d go so far as to consider myself an expert in comparison with many teachers—though I’d not go so far as to say I know everything there is to know about it, I can do pretty much everything I might want to do for school purposes. I didn’t really expect to learn very much from this workshop, but I was glad I would have the opportunity to visit my grandparents, who live in the Denver area.

On the first day of the workshop, we engaged in probably the most powerful part of the entire experience (for me), which was a story circle. We were advised to come with a draft of a script, but I tried to sit down and write one, and I found I couldn’t figure out what to say. As it turned out, very few of the participants were prepared with a script. In story circle, we each had twelve minutes to talk about our story, answer questions, ask questions, and obtain feedback from the facilitators and other participants. I think the reason it was such a powerful experience is because it was such a bonding moment. Several of us cried as we reached the heart of what it was we wanted to say, and the facilitators were excellent at provoking us to really think about what story we wanted to tell.

I started my spiel with the idea that I wasn’t going to cry at all. I told everyone I was visiting my grandparents. My grandfather is a WWII vet, and I decided I would make a digital story about his experiences in WWII. He has some really interesting stories about being inducted into the Navy, joining the Seabees, breaking his glasses and running afoul of postal censors when he wrote home asking for his parents to send him two pairs to replace the broken ones, coming up with a secret code so he could communicate with his mother, and contracting meningitis and causing the Army’s 7th Division to fall under quarantine and have their Christmas leave canceled. A couple of years ago, he was able to travel to Washington, DC on an Honor Flight to see the nation’s capital, specifically the World War II Memorial. He enjoyed the trip a great deal. So, I said to the story circle, that’s what I want to tell a story about.

The facilitator looked at me, a pointed expression on her face, and she asked me, “Dana, how is this story about you?” I was startled by the question, but I thought for a minute, and then, naturally, I burst into tears. It was about me because of everything my grandparents had done for me. It was about me because they are elderly, and I don’t know how much time I have left. It was about me because I will be devastated when they are gone.

With this much-needed clarity, I began to write my script. I was having trouble paring it down to the 300-word suggested limit. I thought I might be able to do 500 words, but 300 was too little to say everything I thought I needed to say. I decided I would just rebel and make a longer video, and I set to work with that script. The facilitator helped me record my voiceover. I interviewed my grandfather, who spoke for an hour about his experiences, and I selected the parts I would use in the story. I scanned lots of pictures my grandparents had around the house.

When I began stitching together the different pieces, I accidentally deleted a whole segment in which my grandfather goes into some detail about having meningitis during the war. After I listened to the video, though, I realized I didn’t exactly need the clip, so I let it go, and I actually managed to get the video at the upper time limit. I never thought I’d do that. It has taken me a couple of weeks’ worth of soul-searching and wrestling to decide whether or not to share the story I created.

YouTube Preview Image

The experience of making the video convinced me to pull digital storytelling into my own curriculum. One natural place I could see it falling is in my American Studies in Literature course. I had already decided to incorporate This American Life into my American literature curriculum, as I see media like podcasts and videos as the new “wave” of writing/storytelling. Well, maybe not so new anymore, but you know how it is in education. Near the end of the year, I plan to explore the theme of the journey. I did not select a large number of works because I knew I wanted to do a culminating project of some kind. The journey, can, of course, be a physical journey. It can also be an inward journey, a self-discovery. Like my video was, after a fashion. Here is another example from the Denver director of the Center for Digital Storytelling:

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It really impacted me when I watched it. Obviously, I would not ask students to tell stories that they are not ready to tell, but I think this could be one of the most powerful experiences for my students:

  • We all have stories, and think about how important it is for us to tell them. Think about how interesting your average episode of This American Life and The Moth is. Think about how entertaining it is to read, say, David Sedaris.
  • We often ask students to read the stories of others, but we don’t ask them to tell their own. We ask them to analyze the stories of others.
  • Digital storytelling is a new way of sharing narrative. In the past, we listened to storytellers. Then we read. I think this might be the next thing. Not that we stopped listing to people tell stories or that will will stop reading. But this adds a new dimension to storytelling.
  • The “writing” aspect of this project is some of the hardest writing I have ever done. I can see people challenging the idea that this is writing, but drafting the whole story was an extremely challenging and rewarding process.

Here is more of Daniel Weinshenker on storytelling:

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One aspect of the process that I will definitely borrow is the story circle. It fits hand-in-glove with the kind of writing workshop I have been doing in my classes.

In the end, I even learned some useful technical tricks that made my video better (and here I thought I was an expert!).

Years ago, I was in Coleman Barks’s last poetry class at the University of Georgia. The final project we did in his class was to bring our own poetry to class and share it. Dr. Barks anthologized it. He told us explicitly that after we studied the great 20th century American poets, we were now among them, the next generation if you will. And I believed it. I want to give that gift to my own students.

If you have a chance to take one of the Center for Digital Storytelling workshops, don’t hesitate. They do excellent work. Next to Folger Teaching Shakespeare PD, it’s the best PD I’ve ever had in my life.

Photo by Jill Clardy

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Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute 2014, Part One

Me at the Folger LibraryYou’ll have to forgive my windswept look, but I took this picture after spending two thrilling days at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, working with participants in this year’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute.

My role at the institute is to teach and coach the participants in creating projects integrating technology. Here is the list of tools we talked about:

Some of the other instructors discussed other tools, and I also taught other tools during a “technology fair” in which TSI participants circled around for quick instruction and discussion about various tools.

If you are an English teacher, you really must try to find a way to go to a TSI. If you can’t give up four weeks of your summer (I know how that is because I couldn’t do it either and went instead to a mini-TSI), then you must seek out opportunities to see the Folger educators at conferences, such as NCTE, or try to bring them to your school. You will learn amazing things, and you will never teach Shakespeare the same way. You probably won’t teach other things the same way either. The Folger education folks are awesome at what they do.

I was thrilled to be asked to join them, and I had a wonderful personal tour of the library. I saw some unforgettable things. Of course, I was most excited to see a First Folio (I really wanted to touch it). Aside from that, perhaps my favorite item on exhibition right now is a vellum pedigree scroll commissioned by Edward IV for the purpose of legitimizing his kingship. It truly is incredible. Imagine that this scroll once belonged to Edward IV. THE Edward IV, as in the Yorkist king who overthrew the Lancastrian King Henry VI and was father to the two princes in the Tower and brother to the “evil” brother Richard III. That Edward IV. Can you imagine? Here are some details of the scroll: Detail 1 and Detail 2. Detail 1 shows Edward IV at the top, and begins his pedigree with God, moving down to Adam and Eve, and then Noah in Detail 2, and then forward to some (perhaps) more legitimate ancestry claims.

I also was able to see the drafts of the Shakespeare Coat of Arms from the College of Arms. It was really interesting to see such very old documents. Another real prize on exhibition is a family tree of Queen Elizabeth’s, starting with Henry III at the “root”—all the “branches” sprouting from Henry III’s stomach. You can see a detail of the pedigree here. Of course, through Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, Queen Elizabeth descends from the York family (daughter of Edward IV), and from Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, Queen Elizabeth descends from the Lancaster family. Both the Yorks and the Lancasters find their “root” in Edward III, who was the father of both John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. It’s a fascinating document to look at, with so much detail.

Dan Bruno, who blogs for High School Matters (NCTE’s blog for the Secondary Section), has been capturing what being a part of the TSI is like for participants, and I would urge you to check out his blog, where you can learn much more about what is happening at the TSI.

The big takeaway about technology integration that Peggy O’Brien wanted participants to walk away with is that we don’t want to use technology for the sake of using technology. We want to use it to meet a need we have, which is exactly what the SAMR Model of technology integration asks teachers to examine. I took a stab at organizing the tools we discussed according to how I think they might fall on the SAMR Model, but of course, this organization scheme is subjective. Some people might use a tool as a mere substitution, while others might redefine an activity using that same tool.

Substitution Task can be done without the tool. The tool is used as a direct substitution and isn’t necessary for the task. There is no functional change. Scrible, ToonDoo
Augmentation The tool allows the task to be done more easily, with some functional change. Google Drive, Animoto, Shakespeare Searched
Modification The task is changed significantly because of the tool. There is more functional change; in fact, the tool might allow you to do the task in a way you couldn’t if you didn’t use the tool. VideoNot.es, Explain Everything/Educreations, Wordle/Tagxedo
Redefinition The task couldn’t be done without the tool. The tool allows for designing tasks that couldn’t be conceived of without the tool. Popcorn Maker, QR Codes GarageBand/Audacity, iMovie/Windows Movie Maker

My thinking on this grouping is that Scrible, which allows users to annotate websites and save those annotations in a library, essentially substitutes a technology tool for something you can already do. You can print articles/pages from websites and annotate them by hand. Scrible makes it unnecessary to print. ToonDoo is similar in that it allows you to create cartoons, but certainly we could always draw cartoons by hand. I see both of those tools as substitutions that don’t add real functionality. Of course, that is not to say that we shouldn’t use them. There is nothing wrong with substituting a technology tool for another kind of tool, but it is problematic if substitution is all we do when we say we are integrating technology.

I see Google Drive as having great potential. Depending on how it’s used, it can be redefining, but I placed it in Augmentation because we can certainly already use other tools to write, and we can either type or handwrite comments and feedback on that writing. What Google Drive does allow for is easier collaboration and editing of a document, so we do see a functional change. Google Drive has advantages over tools we have used to write with in the past. Animoto allows us to upload pictures and select a theme and music, and it organizes the pictures into a movie. We could certainly use other tools to do this same work, but Animoto does the editing for us quickly and easily, making it perhaps somewhat easier to use than, say, iMovie for editing a similar video. Shakespeare Searched similarly allows us to do something we could already do—search all the works of Shakespeare—but it adds a significant amount of functionality through the use of a search engine. We might take quite a long time to perform the same task without the tool.

I see the screencasting tools, word cloud tools, and VideoNot.es as offering something more than a functional change, however. Screencasting tools allow us to create videos of whatever we might be doing on a computer or iPad and share those videos with our students or the world. They offer opportunities to flip the classroom, or to demonstrate a technique or problem-solving process. Anything we can show someone how to do on a computer, we can also screencast. Theoretically, we could the same type of thing without the tool—but the tool allows for significant modification of the task. Word cloud tools, as much as we consider them to be somewhat simple technology tools, really do significantly modify a task. Can you imagine painstakingly filtering every word in a work of literature (if the work is long, the task is even more daunting), and taking a word count, then creating a word cloud indicating word frequency based on the size of the words in the cloud? Me either. I would never do this task with students if not for Wordle or Tagxedo, which means to me that these tools allow for significant modification of a task (perhaps even redefinition). VideoNot.es allows users to annotate videos. Sure, we can already take notes as we watch a video, but VideoNot.es integrates with our Google Drive account to save those notes to our drive, and it also allows us to navigate the video using our annotations.

I see Popcorn Maker, QR Codes, podcasting tools, and video editing tools as redefinition tools. Perhaps one could try to remix or put together various pictures and videos in iMovie, but Popcorn Maker doesn’t stop there: you can also add hyperlinks and social media to your remix, and you can also collaborate. I can’t think of a tool that allows users to do all of these things (or at least not as well as Popcorn Maker), so I see it as a tool that allows us to do tasks we couldn’t do without the tool. Podcasting can technically be done with a recording device, but GarageBand has a lot of elements that allow easy creation of podcasts and music. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who was using podcasting in their classroom before these tools came along. Actually, movie editing tools are similar. I think I made a movie with classmates for English class when I was in high school. We used a camcorder, which was cutting edge technology for the time. We certainly only did the one project, and it was quite unusual for students to create video projects at that time, and teachers just were not asking us to make them—most of us had no access to equipment that allowed us to make movies. Now, creating video projects is easy, and tools like iMovie make it simple to tell a digital story and edit it. I am seeing a lot more movie-making in classrooms today than I saw even five years ago. Going back ten years ago, it was rare, and fifteen years ago, when I was a fairly new teacher, no movie-making was happening in my school. Finally, I placed QR codes in the redefinition list because I was thinking of how I’ve seen them used. One project I was particularly proud of took place at my previous school. Students filmed each other working on art projects and talking about their artwork. Those videos were uploaded to YouTube and linked to QR codes. These codes were placed next to the works in exhibition around the building. This kind of interactive art exhibit wouldn’t have been possible to do without the QR codes—at least not with the kind of equipment we had. Worcester Academy had a QR code scavenger hunt for Digital Learning Day this year, and I don’t think the task could have been designed without the QR codes. Because they can link to anything, they’re useful in paper projects with digital elements. For example, one of my students created film as one of his genres for his multigenre project, but when he handed in the paper copy of the project, one page had a QR code linked to the film. It was quite handy.

In all, I think the discussion of exactly why you might want to use a tool, and what it can offer in terms of fuctionality and redesign of a task, is an important discussion to have. Substituting is fine, but if we really want to get the most out of our use of technology tools, we want to shoot more for modifying and redefining tasks using technology.

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I Don’t Get What’s Wrong with Asking for PD

Every year during ISTE, a version of this tweet makes the rounds. It gets a lot of favorites and retweets.

I totally understand the spirit of the tweet. A lot of teachers don’t use a tool (or much technology at all), and some techy folks view asking for PD as an excuse not to use a tool. And there are probably quite a few teachers who can’t make the time for PD, but claim they don’t use tech tools because they haven’t had the PD.

The problem I have with this thinking is that I don’t understand why asking for PD is problematic. Most teachers I have worked with in the last few years I’ve been a tech integrator are quite interested in learning how to use technology. They set aside time to meet with me, or they come to PD sessions for the express purpose of learning to use technology. It makes them feel better to have a guide teach them the basics before they dive in on their own. I don’t blame them. There are several things I prefer to have help with when I do them.

The other problem I see is that when I introduce a tech tool to students, I always take time to teach them how to use it. Sure, some of them prefer to dive in and figure it out, but often, I find students are not the tech savvy digital natives they’re believed to be. There are things they know how to do, and tools they know how to use well, but they don’t know how to do everything, and there is a lot they don’t know about working with some technology. So yes, I have had students ask me to show them how to use technology. In a sense, isn’t that asking for PD?

I would much rather teachers and students both felt comfortable asking me for help when they need it than that they felt there was something wrong with asking for help. Am I just not getting it or something?

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iPad Apps for School

A teacher on the English Companion Ning recently posed a question about which apps to buy with the $50 her school was giving her to outfit her iPad. You can find these sorts of posts all over the edublogosphere, so perhaps my contribution isn’t worth much, but for what it’s worth, these are the apps I think an English teacher should have, along with their current prices.

notability_iconNotability ($1.99). Notability is a note-taking app that allows you to type your notes or write them with your finger or stylus. You can import PDF’s, annotate them, and export them out again, which is great for literary analysis and annotating texts. It has a fairly intuitive interface with several kinds of editing tools, including a pencil, highlighter, eraser, and scissors for cut/paste. You can record and play back audio and incorporate other media. It does a lot more than the Notes app that comes with your iPad, though that is the app I frequently see people use when they are taking notes on the iPad. It’s an incredibly useful note-taking app.

imovie_iconiMovie ($4.99). iMovie is a great movie-making app. The iPad app is a scaled-down version of the iMovie app for Macs, but it still has a lot of options. You can use the app to create tutorials for students or presentations, and students can use it to demonstrate their learning of a concept through digital storytelling. One of our teachers reported that he liked it better than the Mac version because it was more intuitive on the iPad.

explaineverything_iconExplain Everything ($2.99). This app is great for demonstrating concepts, similar to Khan Academy-type videos. One of our teachers uses apps like this to have students explain their learning. The videos can then be exported and posted in a place where others can view them. If you are looking for lighter apps, Educreations (free) and ShowMe (free) are also good, but they don’t have all of the features that Explain Everything has. If you teach younger students, you might also look at ScreenChomp (free).

evernote_iconEvernote (free). Evernote is fabulous. I take almost all my notes on the computer in Evernote. Be sure to check out Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment to learn more about using this app. It is so easy to clip websites and insert images into this app, and what makes it nice is that you can use it on all your devices, and it will sync so that your notes are available everywhere you go. You can even log in to your account on the web and access your notes from a computer that doesn’t have the program installed.

flipboard_iconFlipboard (free). You can use Flipboard to create personalized magazines full of content you are interested in. What makes Flipboard a game-changer and nudges Zite, a similar app, out of the way is Flipboard’s ability for you to follow Twitter hashtags using the app. One I would recommend you follow right now is #engchat. A few others, particularly if you are integrating iPads are #ipadchat, #ettipad, #ipadedu, and #ipaded. You can also integrate the app with Facebook, and there are several suggested topics if you don’t know how to start. Browsing on Flipboard is as much like browsing through a print magazine as is possible on an iPad. I love it.

sonnets_iconShakespeare’s Sonnets ($13.99). This app is expensive, but it is so worth it if you spend any time teaching Shakespeare’s sonnets in your classes. It includes all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, both in print and read by actors and scholars such as Sir Patrick Stewart, David Tennant, Stephen Fry, and James Shapiro. In addition, it includes the Arden Shakespeare notes and commentary by David Paterson. It’s a fairly large app, as you might imagine with all that media. I am continually having to remove it to free up space when I’m desperate, but I always wind up adding it again. It is the 800-pound gorilla of Shakespeare apps.

shakespearepro_iconShakespeare Pro ($9.99). Shakespeare Pro has all of Shakespeare’s plays, all of the sonnets, other poems, and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, as well as a concordance and a glossary. It also includes, if you care about that sort of thing, a collection of portraits and quotes. I find I don’t use them that much. Through the app, you can also create an account with Shakespeare Passport, which will give you discounts at all kinds of Shakespeare venues.

bookcreator_iconBook Creator ($4.99). Book Creator allows you to create multimedia books on the iPad. You can send them to friends, submit them to the iBookstore, or read them in iBooks. Students of all ages can use it, from pre-K to college. Teachers can use it to create their own books, too. It has an intuitive interface and allows for importing pictures, video, music, and even recording your voice.

haikudeck_iconHaiku Deck (free). Haiku Deck is a presentation app that allows you to create beautiful presentations. It finds images that match your words, or you can personalize it with your own photos and screenshots. You can share it via the web to be viewed on any device capable of surfing the web.

blogsy_iconBlogsy (if you blog, $4.99). Blogsy is great for blogging on your iPad. It connects to WordPress (.com and self-hosted), Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type, Joomla, Drupal, and Tumblr, among others. You can drag and drop images into the post using Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, or Instagram, and you can even pull videos from YouTube and Vimeo into your posts. Text formatting is easy.

googledrive_iconGoogle Drive (free). Using Google Docs used to be painful on the iPad if it even worked at all, but Google Drive’s app is really easy to use and WORKS. It does not have all the features that Google Drive on the web has… yet. For instance, you can’t see the revision history, and it doesn’t allow access to multiple Google Drive accounts, which makes it harder to use in schools when you have students continually signing out and signing back in, but you can get around these issues with an app called GoDocs ($4.99) if these are features you need right now. My advice would be to wait because I have a hunch that Google Drive will include at least revision history in a future update.

You will notice that most of these apps are not English/literature/language arts-specific. You are better off establishing use of a series of apps that allow you to work and create on your iPad rather than focusing on subject-specific apps, which too often are simply drill-and-kill and lower quality.

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Reflections on ISTE 2013

Dynamic SerenityI am still gathering my notes on the ISTE conference last week. You can see them in this public Evernote notebook I’ve shared. Sometimes it’s not the most helpful thing to try to parse someone else’s cryptic notes, but for what it’s worth, feel free to have a look.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, but I have two pieces of advice for anyone who is using a slidedeck to present at a large conference like ISTE.

  1. Don’t put text on the bottom of the slide. If the room is really crowded, some of the people in the room will not see the text. They will stand up a little to see better, which only makes the view worse for people behind them. I know lots of templates have text on the bottom, and it looks pretty. I have done it, too. You just never know what the room will look like, however, and text on the top is more accessible.
  2. Why not share your presentation via Google Presentation or SlideShare? If you do that, seeing it in the front is a moot point, and you can put text wherever you want. The presentation is now in the hands of your audience, and they can more easily annotate it, download it, and (dare I suggest it?) remix it.

Invent to LearnI came away from the conference excited about the possibilities of maker spaces, and after an energizing presentation by Sylvia Martinez, I downloaded her new book, co-written with Gary Stager,  Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. I can’t wait to learn more about making and engineering. One statement she made, which I will share here, is that we wouldn’t be talking about how to integrate the arts into schools and turning STEM into STEAM if schools hadn’t artificially removed art. She said you cannot stop kids from being artists. She shared the example of her daughter going through art school and how she learned that artists are on the cutting edge of technology.

One focus of the conference was gamification, and I am interested in exploring that topic further, as well. You have probably heard of the Mozilla Open Badges project (if not, check it out). I am excited to see how this project develops, particularly after Bill Clinton endorsed the idea. To be dead honest, my instructional technology masters was almost completely useless in terms of preparing me for what I do. And don’t get me started again on the test I had to take to add technology instruction to my certificate. It helps to have the degree on your résumé, I guess, but I hope, in light of how expensive education is (and it’s getting more expensive) that we can consider alternative credentials. Put together with endorsements, similar to LinkedIn, and I think badges could be more valuable than wasting money on classes with content you never use again. I’m just thinking out loud, and I don’t have the answer. Certainly some attention to personalized learning is in order.

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Digital Learning Day at the Worcester Academy Library

Digital Learning Day was February 6. How did your school raise awareness for digital learning?

Worcester Academy’s library chose to showcase QR codes. We commissioned a display project from art students. We were thrilled to discover the QR code they created actually scans!

QR Code ProjectLibrary staff researched media such as e-books, podcasts, videos, and websites that connected to library books and other materials.

Materials DisplayThen we created QR codes and affixed them to the books and materials. in the picture above, you can see Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys. The QR code attached is linked to a YouTube video cartoon version of one of the many Anansi folktales. The other book, 1812: The War that Forged a Nation by Walter Borneman is linked to an episode of the In Our Time Podcast that discussed that war.

DisplayThe display was wide-ranging and included links to library resources, Black History Month resources, and resources related to the curriculum.

2013-02-13 08.47.41Books connected to a major World Civilizations project that ninth graders complete at Worcester Academy had QR codes that linked to e-book versions that students could access from home.
Novels and Other MediaFiction and other media were not slighted, either. A new box set, The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music has a QR code that links to Black History Month resources, and Rachel Cohn’s novel Beta links to the Human Genome Project’s Cloning Fact Sheet.

2013-02-13 08.48.01We also displayed some titles from our Professional Development Collection.

You may have noticed the iPads as well. The library owns a set of iPad 2’s and 3’s loaded with a QR code reader called Qrafter. Students and teachers can scan the QR codes using their own devices, or they can use one of the iPads and send the link to themselves from the iPad.

QR Code SuggestionsWe set these slips of paper out among the displays for students and faculty to suggest QR codes for books and other media. Two of our sixth graders have already shared QR codes. One student shared a book review of the children’s novel Tuck Everlasting and another student shared a Britannica blog post connecting gladiators in ancient Rome to The Hunger Games.

QR codes have enormous potential to extend learning in libraries and information services far beyond the four walls of the libraries themselves.

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Tuning Out

Fingers in EarsSometimes you just need to take time off and check out.

I can’t remember the last time I checked Twitter and tried to read most of the tweets. I can’t remember the last time I checked out one of my favorite blogs. I haven’t written a whole lot lately, either. And all of that is OK because I think sometimes we need to take breaks from all the information overload.

I like to be a part of the edublogosphere and keep up with my colleagues and friends on Twitter. But sometimes it can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of information can be daunting. So, I have been on an information sabbatical, and it has been wonderful. I have learned how to make soap, and it has become a satisfying, engaging, and interesting hobby for me. I have been reading a little. I watched the entire first season of Doctor Who and a few episodes of the second, so now I’m totally hooked. I have been busy with the start of school in my new position.

The move from Georgia to Massachusetts was mentally and physically exhausting, and I think I just needed some time to recharge my batteries. I didn’t unplug right away, but I would say it’s been about a month since I really kept up with all the social media I usually use. I am beginning to feel recharged. I think once I get my bearings at my new school and find myself settling into the routine of the school year, I will be able to engage in social media again. As for right now, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well, here I am. I am not the kind of person to announce a hiatus or quit altogether, but I recognized I needed to tune out the cacophony for just a little while.

It’s been a wonderful vacation, and I know in my heart I’ve missed some really important things, but stepping back can be important, too, and I think many of us hear the message that we need to be continually engaged in the conversation or people won’t read our blogs or will not follow us on Twitter. I decided not to worry about that a long time ago. If my blog is good, people will visit when I post. If they are looking for quantity, they probably won’t. If what I tweet is helpful and interesting, people will follow, and I don’t need to worry about losing folks who think I don’t tweet enough. This is great advice to anyone who wonders how to juggle it all. The fact is, I’m not sure anyone can. You have to set priorities based on your goals. Right now, my goal is to settle into my job and enjoy my new home. So far, so good. I will be in touch soon.

Image via Roxie’s World

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What is a Connected Educator?

August is Connected Educator Month.

What is a Connected Educator?

Let me start with a reflection about my children. My children use YouTube constantly to learn how to do things. Tonight at dinner, my daughter Maggie told me how she used YouTube to learn how to create a flash dress up game. Keep in mind she opened Flash for the first time maybe a couple of weeks ago, if that. She used the tutorial to create the game. I frustrated myself trying to do anything in Flash for most of a semester in grad school. Anyway, Maggie’s game looks awesome, and it works great. Maggie knows how to leverage her personal learning network—in this case, YouTube—to learn how to do something. That is how our kids are learning. They are curating and collecting resources that help them learn to do what they want to learn to do.

Maggie is not too different from the students in your classroom. Your students are connected. They can’t remember a time when everyone wasn’t connected. Teachers should be lifelong learners, and one of the things teachers should learn is how to get connected to other teachers. One of the best ways to connect to other educators is through professional learning networks, or PLN’s.

My favorite professional learning network is Twitter. I recently acquired an iPad and use the apps Zite and Flipboard to discover stories that are relevant to me. I also follow many educators on Twitter and group them according to various interests (e.g. “readers,” “tech,” or “writers”) so I can quickly check in on their latest tweets. I participate in #engchat, a weekly Twitter discussion of issues related to teaching English. Many folks share items they feel will interest English teachers with the hashtag #engchat even when a chat isn’t scheduled, thereby making it easier for English teachers who follow #engchat to find their tweets.

Another way I connect with my personal learning network is through this blog. I post about whatever is on my mind, and if people are so inclined, they share the post with others and comment on the post. I reply to their comments, and we have a conversation about the issue. I first realized the power of this kind of connection when I decided to read Understanding by Design several years ago. I began reflecting on my reading here, and before I knew it, there was a loosely structured book club, a wiki for sharing units, and a connection to Grant Wiggins.

If you are looking for a way to connect with educators, my suggestion would be to try using Twitter. Locate good educators to follow. It’s OK to lurk at first, but when you feel comfortable, you should begin conversing with the teachers you follow and posting links to resources you like. Participate in an education chat on Twitter. Jerry Blumengarten has a great list of hashtags and Twitter chats that educators will find helpful. You’re sure to find one that interests you. As you begin to use Twitter more, you might want to download a Twitter client or use an in-browser client like HootSuite. Most clients allow you to save searches for hashtags so you can easily check in on your favorites.

Here is Will Richardson on personal learning networks (PLN’s):

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Here is a great collection of books for connected educators. Check them out!

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to figure out all of this Web 2.0 connectedness your tech-savvy colleagues are talking about, what better time than Connected Educator Month? You can follow the Connected Educators Project on Twitter at @edcocp, and follow their hashtag #ce12.

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The Future of Books

Thank you to my WA colleague Wendy for bringing this wonderful iPad app to my attention:

This app is a digital book based on an Academy Award-winning short film entitled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It’s a fabulous film that tells a mesmerizing story about the power of books—how we can give new life to old books by reading them, and they can, in turn, give life to us; how they can change our lives and help us write our own life story. The film comes bundled with the app, which is currently $4.99 (and a true bargain). The reader can interact with every page of the digital book. You can help Morris get lost in a book, spell with alphabet cereal, make books talk, and so many other cool events drawn from the film. As you read, a narrator reads the story to you, the text of which runs along the bottom of each page. My son and I sat down together and read it. He rarely comments on things we read, but he kept saying “Great!” as we were reading. Even though Dylan is verbal, he rarely talks (and when he does, it is often echolalia rather than a direct response), and it is unusual for him to make any remarks at all when he’s engaged in activity like using an iPad app, but he simply loved this one. It didn’t take him long before he was touching everything on the screen to see what it would do.

Two other digital books have recently been released which I haven’t had a chance to purchase yet: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

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And the complete collection of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which includes Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, and David Tennant (among others) interpreting the sonnets:

(“Sonnet 29″ is my favorite poem, by the way.)

In addition to dramatic readings, both apps include the complete text for a new multimedia reading experience, as well as also includes commentary and notes to help readers understand the text and make connections. For the kind of experience you get with these apps, the prices really can’t be beat, especially if you consider that a good paperback copy of either The Waste Land or Shakespeare’s Sonnets, complete with annotations (never mind the media) would probably run at least $13.99.

No one asked me to endorse these apps, but I’m so excited about the rich reading experiences they offer. Would you want to read every book this way? Perhaps not, but for particularly thorny texts like The Waste Land or the Sonnets, it makes a great deal of sense to include all these tools for comprehension and extension that will help readers from a variety of backgrounds—learning difficulties, English language learners, disabled as well as gifted and/or avid readers. I can see the power a book like any one of these three would have. I don’t know how you feel, but the possibility of teaching these books, using these materials, is exciting. I keep thinking of Miranda (and not in the usual ironic kind of way): “O brave new world that has such books in in it.”

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