Thursday, January 30, 2014

Opportunities to Address Digital Literacy

As teachers, we have the ever-growing responsibility to teach Internet safety and appropriate online behavior to our students. February 11th is Safer Internet Day – a global initiative to promote online safety.  This year’s theme is “Let’s create a better internet together”.

Safer Internet Day was created by the European Commission in 1999, and has grown to over 100 countries since then.  Their site includes a lesson gallery teachers can access (tip: filter by language, not country) and use in their classrooms. 

We have other phenomenal resources that promote Internet safety.  Check out:

  • Common Sense Media
  • NetSmartz
  • InternetSafety101
  • iKeepSafe
  • BrainPop
  • DigitalID  (Informational webpage focused on digital citizenship by our MERIT colleagues Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi)

Digital Learning Day is February 5th.  The goal of the program is to highlight how technology can be an effective tool to improve student learning.  According to their press release, “Digital Learning Day recognizes innovative teaching and common-sense, effective applications of education technology that support teachers, improve learning, and help students achieve at their highest potential.”
Check out the site, it’s full of resources to help educators infuse their lessons with technology.  If you’ve been apprehensive and need some motivation to take that step, the materials available for Digital Learning Day are a good jumping off point.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What students say when they think we're not listening...

Please read What students say when they think we're not listening, a blog post by my friend Diane Main. Some phenomenally insightful quotes from students about school, expectations, their teachers, and tons more. Interesting stuff!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Using a Chromebook Offline

chromebook from
From Wikimedia Commons
Chromebooks continue to gain traction in education, and they can be an awesome tool for students to support Common Core and much more.

Here's a list of Chromebook Apps that can be used offline. They also, obviously, run online as well, and are considered best in breed by various folks... You can also use the base Google Apps for Education Tools, like:
  • Docs - edit and view
  • Gmail - write and view
  • Calendar - create and view
  • Spreadsheet - edit and view ("new" spreadsheets) 
  • Presentation (Slides) - edit and view
  • Drawing - edit and view
For schools, you can allow the 'offline' capability by going to the Google Apps Admin Console, then select Google Apps - Setting for Drive, then General Settings, and finally "Allow users to enable offline docs."

Learn more about offline capabilities here and more specifically about Chromebook offline access settings  - looks like it's 'automagically' enabled, I believe.

After a quick search, here are a few no-brainer offline tools for you to consider.

Google Keep - A note taking app that I use and love. Automatic syncing across devices, too. This is on a short list of apps that has actually helped me get more organized.
Pixlr Express - Free offline photo editing with basic functions like cropping, resizing, rotating, color and contrast adjustment, and effects. It also allows you to open and save files directly to and from Google Drive. Of course, there's an even more simplistic photo editor built into Chromebooks image viewer app. 
Lucidchart for drawing flowcharts, mindmaps and so on, Lucidchart is one of the best.

This citeworld post helped jog my memory about the three apps listed above. 

From this Fractus Learning post, here are four more keepers: 
Desmos Graphing Calculator - self explanatory title, I think.
Geogebra - interactive geometry and algebra app very useful for demonstrating/visualizing math concepts. 
BioDigital Human- great way to understand and visualize the workings of the human body.
Planetarium - again, self explanatory, I think.

Media and such
Of course, the built-in media player allows you to listen to music, watch videos and so on for anything already loaded to the Chromebook's solid state drive. Here are a few more...

Kindle Cloud Reader - for your Kindle Library.
Google Play Books for reading books, pdfs, etc. offline. If you've acquired the book from Google, the full capabilities are intact (highlighting, etc.). For uploaded books and pdf's, you won't necessarily get all the built in capabilities.
Readium for Epub format books (haven't tried this yet). 

Here's another fairly comprehensive list of apps for Chromebook available offline, from the Chromestory blog.

For you start-from-scratch types, here's the definitive list of Chromestore apps that run offline.

Please fill in this quick form with any Chromebook offline "keeper" apps you and your students use.

Results can be seen here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Four great Math video sites

Teaching Common Core math requires a definite pivot for most teachers. Our Standards for Math Practices page - ripped from the CC headlines - outlines the focus at a very high level. You can find the specific standards yourself in many places, including Mastery Connect (and here's a post about Mastery Connect's iOS and Android apps, too).

Here are a few of our most popular Math Video posts, so you can more effectively learn how to implement Common Core Math standards, or provide your students better resources and support.

Teaching Channel- MANY high quality math videos - Teaching Channel has a stunning array of Math videos for you to choose from. Excellent quality, relatively brief videos are the norm here. They have a wide variety of other educator PD, from classroom management to Common Core and more. If you look nowhere else, look here.

Numberphile- Engaging Math Videos - This is for teachers to brush up on certain  topics - laws, theorems, applications, and so on. The videos can also be posted to your class site, and used in a 'flipped' approach so students can learn more directly about the topics you need them to learn.  

SEDL - Common Core Math and more SEDL has a detailed set of videos describing key standards of the CCSS in math, by grade level. Each video focuses on one or more specific standard and includes examples and illustrations. Main purpose: clarify the meaning of the standard, not how to teach the standard.  

Mathalicious- Real-World Problem-Solving -  includes “real life” topics that keep students engaged. This site provides junior high math teachers with lessons to teach math in a way that engages their students and understand how the world works.

And one to grow on...

This is not a video resource, but I'm compelled to put in another good word for the National Science Digital Library. Plan on spending some quality time here - it's a stunning array of easy to find resources and online tools that are directly linked to the Common Core Math standards.

Again, what resources for math do YOU find most useful? Please let your community know by responding to this post!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

3 Tools for Students to Show What They Know

Girl by OCAL, Clikr
When demonstrating knowledge in an area of study, students are often required to make connections, provide resources, embed videos, and provide instructions.  They can do this using online tools that not only provide the information, but allow for creativity, self-expression, greater depth and provide for a wider audience. 

These three tools have different capabilities, so depending on the content and the expectations, one may be better than another.  As an alternative to digital storytelling, these tools are fun ways for students to show what they know!

Snapguide: A creative way to make a “how to…” with images, video and captions.  This is web-based or iOS (free).  As always, take care as this is a public site (nothing dicey there yet, mostly recipes). Consider having students use this site to illustrate a math solution, walk through a lab, provide step-by-step instructions (an ELA standard), or demonstrate cause and effect.

Meograph: We shared this site with you awhile back.  Meograph is a timeline creator that allows students to narrate understanding and add images, video, text and Google Map links to their timeline. The Causes of the Civil War and Moses are nicely created student works that demonstrates how it can be used in a social studies classroom.  Free and premium accounts available.

Thinglink: A teacher favorite. Thinglink allows any image be interactive by attaching live links to it. Students studying the Industrial Revolution can select an appropriate image and attach links that illustrate early inventions, pioneers, the working class, maps, documents, and more. These might be self-created documents, resources, other images, etc.  It’s very easy to use, and saves the created work as an embeddable link or jpeg. The picture frame on the Thinglink home page shows many ways how it can be used in education.

Know of other tools that fit this criteria?  Let us know and share with our readers!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Music: The Best Way to Boost Brain Power

We've had some requests from teachers about how to better support music programs. Here's an interesting article from our friends at We'll circle back soon with some resources that can be used to better support music education in your classrooms. If you have any great resources, please let us know! 

The following article was originally posted on December 16, 2013 on .

Whether students are tickling the ivories on the piano or strumming a guitar, the hours they spend in music lessons and rehearsals are worth every penny. According to Education Week, studies presented at a recent Society for Neuroscience meeting pointed to the many academic benefits of learning a musical instrument. According to the studies, time spent doing so has been connected to a positive boost in creativity, memory, decision-making and multitasking skills. As with any talent or skill set, the earlier students get involved in music, the better.

One of the greatest outcomes of music instruction is the pleasure that students get from listening to beautiful sounds—an intrinsically rewarding experience. Gottfried Schlaug, the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory director at Harvard University Medical Center, claims that few activities are as rewarding as music instruction. Students must organize and utilize multiple senses simultaneously and work with others while receiving an emotional experience that offers regular, immediate feedback. Schlaug said, “It’s really hard to come up with an experience similar to that.”

The ability to multitask well is one of the most useful abilities that students gain from music instruction. At the University of Montreal, researcher Julie Roy led a study to test both musicians and non-musicians in “sensory processing tasks.” The participants in the study listened to sounds while receiving touch stimuli to a finger. The task was difficult because they needed to ignore the sounds in order to report what they physically felt. When listening to more than one sound, participants often believed that they felt more than one touch. However, seasoned musicians had double the accuracy on these tests than their non-musical counterparts.

The benefits of music training don’t end there. At Beijing Normal University in China, Yunxing Wang led a research team from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in studying the brains of adults between the ages of 19 and 21. All of the adults had music instruction for at least a year between the ages of 3 and 15 years old. The results showed that individuals who began their music training prior to turning seven had more sophisticated development in the brain areas of “language and executive function.” While starting instruction at younger ages may lead to greater gains later on, researchers argue that music instruction is beneficial at any age. Ana Pinho, a Karolinska Institute researcher in Stockholm, firmly believes that it is never too late to learn an instrument. She said, “Even after stroke and disease, starting musical training can still help you get more from your brain. All of these findings show [musical training] can create a lot of plasticity that can produce effectiveness across the brain, in cognition and behavior.”

All of these findings are good news for music teachers, who have long advocated for quality music programs in schools. University of Southern California neuroscience Professor Antonio R. Damasio shares in such advocacy as he has been studying students from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. In this orchestra, low-income students are offered free instruments and training while researchers commit to studying students for five years, beginning when students are only six or seven years old. In the Heart of Los Angeles site, teacher/conductor Nikki J. Shorts is impressed by how much the students, many identified as at-risk, mature over the course of a few years. Students learn discipline and how to concentrate. Shorts stated, “In order to cultivate the skills to sit and focus, they’re like athletes: We exercise our brains and our bodies, and then we have to take a break, relax, and come back to it. And over time, that skill builds up.” While schools don’t require students to learn a musical instrument, it’s clear that the benefits of quality music training are priceless.

--Michelle Manno is an Associate Editor at where she writes about education reform and pop culture pedagogy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Simple ideas for effective search results

I was fortunate to attend a training session on Google Search last week at the Napa Valley 1:1 Institute, presented by Courtney Hampson, a Content and User Education Specialist from Google.  Here’s the link to her So You Think You Can Search  presentation. Here are a few quick tips about effective search from that session.

How to organize a search.
  • What is it I’m looking for? Think about common keywords. DO NOT simply type the question into the search box!!! 
  • How would someone else talk about it? What words would they use?  How would THEY describe it?
  • Which of those terms would be most common
  • Which of those terms would be very specialized to this topic?
  • What does my answer look like? What am I expecting back? Do I want a single web page, a definition, a collection, an image, or something else?
Use Search Operators to narrow down your search results.

  • Search an exact word or phrase by adding quotation marks around the phrase, e.g.,  "to be or not to be"
  • Remove words from your search by including a minus sign, IMMEDIATELY followed by the word, e.g., jaguar –car  (no space after the minus sign!)
  • Search within a domain or site. So, to search for Olympics only within the, type olympics
  • To fill in the blank (if you only remember part of a saying, for instance), add an asterisk (*), e.g.,  a * saved is a * earned .
Control or Command F!

Did you know you can search on ANY web page for a key word or phrase? This should work on any browser, on any web page. Simply press Control – F (PC) or Command – F (Mac). This will bring up a search box, into which you can enter any search term. The webpage will then highlight each occurrence of that word or phrase. This can SAVE YOU TIME. 

My go-to Digital Citizenship/Digital Literacy site, Common Sense Media, also has some great lesson on becoming more skilled at vetting sites, the other (possibly more important) side of this equation. Here's one Identifying High Quality Sites lesson to check out. We'll circle back to evaluating sites in more depth soon.

Here's a recent post we did on Effective Search lesson plans.

Finally, A Google A Day is an engaging website where you and your students can practice searching in a challenging, fun way. 

What do YOU do to improve - or evaluate -  your search results? Let us know!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Brief List of iPad Creativity Apps

fllickr by melenita2012, some rights reservedLaptops, tablets, BYOD, computer labs - what’s the best way to outfit a classroom that wants to introduce or update its technology?  Much goes into purchasing decisions, and hopefully the most important factor is, “What will best meet our learning objectives?”

Having been involved in discussions regarding hardware choices, one frequently mentioned concern has been whether tablets serve elementary and junior high classrooms as a production tool.  Can students reach those higher levels of learning (Bloom’s “Create” level) using a tablet?  Absolutely!

Here are some activities and my favorite iOS apps that support student creativity in the classroom.

Mind maps: Great for brainstorming and building connections between concepts
Popplet Lite

Audio: Giving students a voice builds confidence and accountability
Fotobabble (iPhone only)

Presentation: Students show what they know to a broader audience
Haiku Deck

Video: Serves students of all learning styles, great for demonstrations

Book Creation: Transformative, as the student becomes the teacher!
Book Creator
Story Creator

As always, we'd like to hear what you use.  Please share your favorite creativity apps!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top 5 Posts on Common Core & Ed Tech - December

Here are the top 5 posts on Common Core and Ed Tech for December, 2013. Thanks for reading! Let
us know what more you want to see!

Infusing Technology into Literature Circles

Prezi Reinvents Presentations

Thinglink - higher level thinking resource

Keyboarding tools on the web to support CCSS

Hour of Code resources

Happy 2014  and happy learning!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Finding Focus in Fourteen

Happy New Year - Old Man and a Baby by j4p4n from
Old Man and a Baby by j4p4n
Welcome to 2014! I think this year has possibilities to be just as enjoyable, crazy, confusing, and, ultimately, uplifting as 2013. I’m taking a whack at my very own list of hopes, aspirations, and desires for this year. I’m hoping this will be useful food for thought as you chart your voyage to 2014 ed tech Nirvana. No chart? Ok, at least give yourself some time to think about your direction...

I’m involved in educational technology on many different levels- edtech planning and implementation responsibility at my PK-8th grade school; board member of the Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators; involved in professional development for a few different organizations (recently, the Krause Center for Innovation) . I really do spend a lot of my time on ed tech. Correspondingly, it's easy for me to WASTE time on ed tech... Co-authoring this blog encourages me to have some sort of future plan. So, here are some ideas of mine. Might be worthwhile for you to ponder your plans, too.

Find Tools that Impact Student Learning

Student impact OR teacher productivity
I need to be more discerning when it comes to evaluating a new tool, technique or approach. I admit, on occasion, I suffer from ‘shiny object syndrome’ and need to resist the ‘oh this is cool’ reaction to new stuff. How will it positively impact student learning? If that’s not obvious, how will it (clearly) improve teacher productivity? That needs to be a standard part of my thinking.

Newer is not automagically better
Avoiding the ‘gee whiz this is new/must be better’ reaction will, I think, help me focus more on asking some hard questions. Audrey Watters (a favorite blogger) put it well in a recent Hack Education post “a lot of “me too!” startups – that is, those who are moving along a path that others have already forged for them.” A little more skepticism on my part is a good thing. Remembering that there are many nuances to implementing ‘new’ student-centered edtech in a classroom should be part of that approach. Not simply saying it's new, gotta be good. Be open, of course, but not naive. That seems right to me.

Use Social Media More Efficiently

I need to be more self-reflective and guard my time better. Like most, I’m busy. Too busy much of the time. I need to more consistently ask myself if the time spent on ‘whatever’ is worth it. For instance, while I fully understand the use and benefits of social media, I waste too much time cycling around semi-aimlessly among Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  I definitely need to figure out how to best utilize these tools. I absolutely need more help with Twitter. Right now, my use of Twitter seems random and does not seem particularly purposeful. Need to definitely work on that. I also need to focus on a few less feeds, and a few less blog feeds. These need to be part of the (shorter) list where I focus:
  • Hack Education by Audrey Watters
  • Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension by Pernille Ripp
  • Metwriting by Deanna Mascle
  • The Principal of Change by George Couros
  • disrupt learning! by Dr. Karen Mahon

Find Focus and Stick With It

I need to focus better overall. I say that as I stare at 15 tabs open in Chrome. Sigh… Keeping my eye on the prize - how to positively impact student learning by effectively leveraging technology - is paramount to me moving forward as an educator. I ‘think’ I have an important perspective to add, and getting too far afield does not lend itself well to actually MAKING PROGRESS on a shorter list of important areas to learn more about.

For instance, I think that “Digital Storytelling” (aka “Use of Media in the Classroom”, “Digital Media,” etc.) is hugely important in the modern educator’s toolkit. It allows for student voice, it’s a great way for kids to practice collaboration, creativity and communication skills, it fits well with a project based learning approach, and so on. I feel I’m reasonably knowledgeable here, but if I FOCUS, I could really add to this conversation. Being more selective about what I take on, and where I spend my time, needs to happen in 2014.

Plan Strategically

I need to ‘slow down to speed up.’ By that, I mean that taking a bit more time to assess ‘problems’ and ‘opportunities’ - perhaps a bit more of a strategic view - is important, and does not seem to occur regularly in my circles. It’s fairly easy to jump to a solution when presented with an alleged ‘problem.’ Being a bit more purposeful in understanding the true problem or opportunity is important and should not get lost in the shuffle. Spending a bit of time (minutes not days…) assessing potential solutions fit the overall ‘strategy’ (aka, student focused curriculum augmented by technology, improving students’ communication skill, improving higher order thinking skills…) will reap huge dividends later. I need to be more mindful of that.

Focus on the Positive

Finally, I can always be a bit more optimistic. I think I’m an optimist by nature, but I also know I’m susceptible to reacting (overreacting?) to the day to day struggles moving an organization forward. It’s easy to get caught up on the negative stuff, the naysayers, the outliers, or people stuck living in the past. Focusing more on the numerous successes, the opportunities at our fingertips, and the resulting hugely positive impact on student learning is where more of my time needs to go.

Ok, that’s my top of mind recap of some ‘resolutions.’ What’s important for you in 2014? Please comment - we want to know!