Here and There

Jessica Donaldson, SC DEN Leadership Council

Jun
28

ISTE 2011: The PEOPLE Factor

Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

The ISTE conference was a bit overwhelming when I got here. The Pennsylvania Convention Center is HUGE, and the conference maps were confusing at first. In addition to that, there are so many great things to choose from when it comes to sessions and exhibits!

So I did what every intimidated Newbie should… I asked questions when I saw a blue ISTE shirt or orange volunteer shirt, and texted or Tweeted friends who are ISTE (should I say NECC?) veterans. And after a few hiccups, I felt confident enough to feel comfortable. That’s right, I can officially say that, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

The smartest thing I did was stop by the Newbie Lounge. My new friends in orange shirts gave great advice. Stick with a “theme” and try to follow those sessions. There is so much available that you can get lost trying to keep up with it all. Secondly, there is not a dedicated lunch break, so MAKE TIME to eat.

I didn’t get to attend all the sessions I wanted to attend yesterday, but that’s OK. I know which educators I rely on via Twitter that share great information. While Twitter can sometimes be too much in terms of conversations, it was exactly what I needed when I was not permitted to enter two “full” sessions (full meaning no empty seats at tables). In fact, thanks to DEN members, I felt like I attended two and THREE sessions simultaneously!

I’ll share about my Stop Motion session later, after a few more conversations and after I collect a couple of links. Information aside, I’ll share what made that session fantastic. They let us play! Laptops and cameras were set up, but more importantly, they had dedicated people on hand to assist every group. I can’t wait to put that blog post together for you and tell you more about Adobe’s Youth Voices program.

After a short stint in my hotel room (got a little sick), I made it out to a Google sponsored event. Now who doesn’t want free food, right? But that WASN’T what it was about at all. I reconnected when DEN LC members from Maryland, New York, and Illinois; I met teachers from New Mexico and Florida; I had time to get to know fellow South Carolinians from a different part of the state.

What was ISTE all about for me yesterday? THE PEOPLE. Malcolm Gladwell talked about the “loose connections” formed by social networks in an article published in The New Yorker. But yesterday, I experienced how these connections become very tight when we can close the distance gaps that separate us. We are all educators, and that passion that we have to help students grow has been extended to other educators here at ISTE.

Jun
25

Let Your Geek Flag Fly: ISTE11

Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

As I prepared for my first ISTE conference, I had WAY too many questions swimming through my head. Did I pack all my chargers? Can I camouflage my power strip? Should I clean up my Twitterfeed? Do I really have to print all those Event Brite tickets? Am I starting the Double Dream Hands too early?

Not sure when it happened, but I realized that I had missed the boat on the most important part of the conference. What sessions should I be attending? In all the excitement of planning and networking, I completely forgot about the whole point of the conference…I had overlooked the most important part of what ISTE has to offer! The nation’s best and brightest in the EdTech community are gathering in Philadelphia, giving me the opportunity to have conversations and hear innovative ideas for technology integration in education. That is “it,” isn’t it?

I took the time to re-read a blog post for ISTE newbies by Steve Dembo, which helped me to focus. I put away my double dream hands and went back to the ISTE website to do some conference pre-planning. After jotting down some notes on my phone, I downloaded the conference’s mobile guide to my iPad and Droid, and made a mental note to talk through a few things with my conference-veteran friends. Then I took time to filter through emails and plug events and locations into my Google Calendar. If I’m already this overwhelmed and still at home, I can only imagine what I’ll feel like once my feet hit the convention center floor.

I’m looking forward to my first ISTE experience. My goal is to write a blog post each day to reflect on events and information. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll hit information overload, but with a little help from my (edugeek) friends, I know I’ll appreciate every minute of it.

Now it’s time to let my geek flag fly.

Jun
17

Save Ever(y)note and Drop(box) It Like It’s Hot

Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

If you’re still reading this post after you rolled your eyes at the title, thank you. In my defense, it sounded funny in my head… but I digress….

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly on the go. I juggle mobile devices depending on what it is I’m doing at the moment in regards to my job. In a department meeting, I usually have my iPad in tow, with its nifty Zaggmate so I can keep up with what’s being said. If I’m in an office or classroom for an impromptu meeting, my Droid is in hand and I’m snapping photos and tagging them for later, or taking notes that are short and sweet on my iPod touch.

Gadgets are fine and dandy, but what do you do with all the digital “stuff?” How do you manage to collect all of the important information in one area for you to piece together later? I’m glad you asked.

I’ve been using Evernote for several years now, but I haven’t really been using it effectively until about a year ago. I have the app loaded on my Android phone, iPad, iPod Touch, and laptop. If I leave any number of those behind (and survive the impending heart attack), I can just login to the website from any computer. Evernote allows me to upload files and images, archive articles, or create my own notes. These notes are all synced to my different devices and accessible to me as needed. In fact, since I downloaded to my desktop, my family can edit the “groceries” note to let me know that we’re out of chips and salsa as I’m walking down the grocery aisle.

The basic features are really impressive. I have notebooks to group things together, and I can tag for easy searching later. The browser add-on makes adding articles easy when I’m on my desktop or laptop- I just use Web Clipper to make that page or post available to me when I have more time to digest the information. I can also share notebooks or notes with colleagues when we’re collaborating on a project.

To a lesser extent, I also use Dropbox, which has a lot of similarities to Evernote. I have the ability to share folders with others and sync across devices to easily access the same files and information that I need later. However, I find myself using Dropbox primarily to transfer photos to my iPad for presentations, or to take pictures of notes/diagrams that need to be transcribed for a project. The basic account is all I have needed- I’ve been “rewarded” with additional storage by referring friends to Dropbox. The inability to create notes forces me to float between this app and Evernote, though.

In classrooms, I have been working with teachers who share files between each other, or use iPads and need a way to share or view assignments. Dropbox is great because we can share SMART Notebook files with each other, and not just PDFs or images. Our only success so far has been home/mobile phone use primarily at the professional level, though, as current district filtering will not allow for the use of either program for students. I’m hoping that won’t always be the case, though. I’m happy to say that other districts have permitted usage with students on Netbooks and iPads.

If you’d like to see how other educators are using Evernote and Dropbox, check out these posts:

  • 10 Tips for Teachers Using Evernote
  • How My Students Started Using Evernote
  • Top Tips for Using Dropbox at School
  • 5 Reasons Everyone Needs a Dropbox Account
  • Feb
    26

    Why iPads Aren’t the Best Fit

    Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

    I love my iPad. As an adult, it helps me organize my life by giving me access to Google tools that I use daily via Google for iPad. Every morning, I launch The Weather Channel app while I plan for my day. On the weekends, I grab a cup of coffee and snuggle on the couch with my dog as I swipe through the Pulse app for news, but also to see what my friends are up to on Facebook. I carry my iPad with me almost everywhere, so if I end up in a waiting room while my car gets an oil change, I have one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books ready and waiting for me on the Kindle app. Or if I’m looking at a longer wait and fighting off boredom, I call upon my army of aggressive animals using Battle Bears or Angry Birds while listening to my favorite playlists.

    Like I said, I love my iPad.

    That being said, as an educator who knows that students are the most important part of my job, as an employee who is conscious of budget shortfalls and possible job cuts, as a resident of the district I work in who demands fiscal accountability, I do not think Apple’s iPad is the right tool for the classroom.

    A lot of people will disagree with me, and I would never question your freedom of speech which, according to my iPad’s Constitution app, is a constitutional right. I have been a part of a pilot program in my district and have had a number of conversations with other tech educators that have brought me to this- my own personal opinion.

    First, let me point out the obvious: Flash. My school district’s website is built around a platform designed by a company called School World. Guess what? It’s Flash-based. Additionally, at the Central Office level, we have invested in two websites for teaching and learning. Gizmos by Explore Learning subscriptions are provided to every K-12 math and science teacher; Cicero is available to every K-12 teacher who covers American History. According to usage reports, teacher and student feedback, these two sites are a good investment for us. These two sites are Flash-based. That’s a problem when a device cannot view Flash items.

    Second, not all of our buildings have WiFi access. Buildings that do have WiFi are limited to certain areas, meaning after walking so far with the mobile device, students lose Internet connectivity. And having the largest district geographically in the state, we have a lot of rural areas that make access to the AT&T network way too unreliable to even consider purchasing 3G iPads. There is no way on the device to connect an Ethernet cable, so you cannot hard wire yourself in if you lose your wireless connection. I know what you’re thinking, “Why not retro-fit all schools and join the 21st Century?” What do you think the potential cost is for a roll out like that in 40 buildings (including equipment and man power)? The short and cheaper fix is to allow for WiFi in designated areas.

    But there’s probably an app for that, right? If there was, it would be one app- one app that you want to load to 30 devices. Show of hands: how many of you have successfully batch-synced a classroom set of iPads? That is, no less than 20 devices. And while we’re talking about doing something successfully, how many teachers have easily -that’s the keyword- easily connected an iPad to a ceiling-mounted projector for displaying on an Interactive whiteboard? Now you can buy a peripheral (expense) that allows for that if you have the right set-up. Generally, though, you will need to bring in a document camera (expense). And while you’re at it, give a classroom FULL of student learners this assignment: launch a writing app and, using the virtual keyboard, write four sentences that introduce yourself. How long do you think students need for this assignment? I can tell you that a class of 5th grade students I worked with needed all of 15 minutes to type TWO sentences stating their name, what school they attended, and what grade they are in this school year. Of course, you can give them a keyboard to use with their iPads to speed up the process (expense). Alternatively, they can use a stylus with a journaling app (expense).

    Another issue for me is the inability to use printers we already have in place in schools and classrooms. Can you print wirelessy using an iPad? Yes, if you download the AirPrint app and buy the correct kind of printer (expense). Of course, you could forgo purchasing new printers and use your already networked printers by having students save to removable storage devices, right? Wrong, iPad lacks the ability to use removable storage. That’s not entirely true, though. If you have Apple’s Camera Connection kit (expense), you can use the SD card reader.

    Lastly, and this is the BIG one for me as an educator. What kind of expanded learning takes place when students launch an app? One of my favorite apps is Physics Fingers, created by PressOK Entertainment. This app is a great tool for a number of learning standards in science in regards to forces in motion, magnets, and gravity. But once a student solves a level, they are promoted to the next level without any reflection. You cannot replay your moves, you cannot analyze the angles of your structure, you cannot show your friends what you created and challenge them to find a completely different solution. Why? Because the app was not created by educators or for education- it’s a game. What students should get in the classroom from an app like this is some questioning, some “how” and “why” behind what they accomplished. In fact, as good as a lot of the apps are, a lot of them function that same way. The only progress saved is that the level was completed. Wouldn’t it be great if Angry Birds showed the angles that you were creating before you launched that troubled, feathery projectile? It’s a lot of fun, and teachers can ask the right questions and guide students to higher-order thinking, but it would be nice to have a little of that built-in.

    I love my iPad- it has become an invaluable tool for me on a personal level. I own the WiFi model and I know where to go when I need access. Cost? Roughly $500. To keep my iPad “protected,” I purchased the cheapest case I could find at the time, which was $40. For writing (like this post that I edited in Google Docs), I prefer a keyboard. As I began researching keyboards, I found a Bluetooth keyboard that doubled as a case called the ZAGGmate for $100 (other keyboards friends and colleagues use are around $70). I also use a Boxwave stylus with some of my writing apps for $20, and the Camera Connection kit to work with images, another $30. For over $600, I have a mobile device that cannot browse a Flash-based website or connect to the Internet if WiFi is not available. I cannot read PDF files without a specific app, and I cannot print documents without a specific printer.

    For the cost of the device, the limitations are just too much. In my district, and according to conversations with other educators on Twitter, the BIGGEST pro of iPads in the classroom seems to be one-on-one access to the Internet. Have teachers found creative and innovative ways to use iPads and its various apps with students? Absolutely! Good teachers make any tool a valuable part of the learning process- after all, it isn’t about “the thing,” right? Good teaching is good teaching, PERIOD. We can all agree that there is no magic tool that increases student achievement without an educator to support it.

    In my opinion, and that’s all this is, the iPad just isn’t the best choice for schools at this time. Prove me wrong! Show me research that says “Apple’s iPad was integral in raising student achievement in XYZ” or share your own field experience with schools over a period of time. We are facing budget cuts in public education that are so deep in some areas that teachers and administrators are being furloughed. There are funds designated to be spent on technology within every district. Knowing that you cannot get that money back, and knowing that there are mobile devices out there that function like the iPads and without its limitations, can you say that iPads are a good investment right now? There are too many additional purchases schools would have to make in order to make an iPad a well-rounded tool for all learners. Let’s give one classroom a set of iPads and a second classroom a set of Netbooks and track some results. What do you think we’ll discover?

    Are iPads fun and innovative? Yes. Are they new and different enough to encourage students to explore? Yes. But let’s revisit this in a few years as textbook companies start investing, and as educational websites and companies start to develop apps with nothing but educators and learning in mind. If districts are limited on funds already, why should they purchase a tool that has so many limitations?

    Dec
    15

    The Case for Google Docs in Education

    Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

    I’m surprised to learn that a lot of the educators I work with still prefer using Microsoft Word with their students versus Google Docs. When I ask why, I almost always hear the same response, “Word has clip art!” I’d like to make a case for Google Docs, and I’ll even include clip art sites for you to check out at the end. Deal?

    Google Docs allows for easy file creation, management, storage and collaboration. I prefer Docs over Dropbox and Evernote with students for one primary reason: there is nothing to install. I see it this way: as an adult, I installed Dropbox on my home desktop, cell phone, iPad and laptop (same goes for Evernote). Most students will be working among mulitiple computers in a school, and some at home as well. Not all parents are as up to par with tech as their children, so I hesitate to ask them to download ANYTHING, much less an application that will allow shared access among devices. Sidenote: think of the most non-tech savvy person you can and how they would react when you suggest that they install something to their computer that allows different people to access and add to their files. [I’m not saying we should never try this, just that not everyone is as open to this idea with their 10-year-old child.] And since we’re working online, I don’t have to plan for students to use portable storage devices, nor do I have to be concerned about running out of room on my school server.

    So, again, I don’t like asking anyone to download anything and now I can eliminate the need for portable storage devices. But wait, there’s more! Google Docs has other tools that I can use with students that include Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, and Drawings. I’m thinking of learners across all grade and ability levels here, and Google Docs is simple enough for both my younger students and my more challenged students to use. In creating that one Google account, I can also decide whether or not to bring in a whole host of other Google resources (e.g. Calendar, Sites, SketchUp etc.) later on in our learning.

    Another big win for me in regards to Google Docs is formatting. We all know that Microsoft makes it difficult to work between different versions. Did you run the compatibility check? What version of Word are you using? And is it fair to assume that students are using MS Office at home? If you purchase a base-model computer, as most of our student families do, chances are that you are using Microsoft Works at home. Now, tech savvy folks understand that you can save a Works document in a format that can be opened in Word, but how many times have students forgotten to do that? And as a former user of both Works and Open Office, I can tell you that working among different file formats can be an absolute nightmare. In the past, I suggested to my students that they complete the document in one version before moving it to something else. Google Docs eliminates the need for that. Again, formatting between different versions will still give you some quirks here and there, but I have yet to find a format that Google Docs would not convert and upload. If the file is an RTF, TXT, DOC/DOCX or ODT, you’re good to go.

    Lastly, and this is the BIG ONE for me. As an educator, Google Docs allows me to focus on content. Why are we even thinking about clip art before we think about our content? Well, unless you’re creating a written response to an image, of course. Students (and educators) can spend a ridiculous amount of time looking through clip art. When I use Google Docs with both educators and students, I have folders waiting for them with images ready to use; if I’m working with older students, than we already searched or plan to search for images and built-in that time. I can now use adding images as a teachable moment to explain organization, a very important skill for digital literacy and a much desired work skill. Let’s talk about using a filing system with folders and subfolders. While we’re at it, we can discuss relevance of your image to your content, or even talk about what those file extensions for images mean…maybe we can get into how to select the correct image size for our document or presentation. Why not?

    The case for Google Docs should be open and shut:

  • Store everything online and eliminate the need for portable storage devices.
  • There is nothing to download, so students can easily edit from multiple computers.
  • Bring in other Google tools associated with having a Google account.
  • When working between school and home, there is no need to worry about compatibility issues.
  • Focus on content!
  • If you’d like to learn more about Google Docs, check out any of these tutorials to get you started, or check out the Google Docs blog. If you’re already using Google Docs and ready to take it to the next level with your students, look into real-time collaboration for peer editing!

    And if you’re worried about the lack of clip art (sigh), here are some great sites to snag images:
    Discovery Education
    Phillip Martin
    Stock.Xchng

    Nov
    25

    Tricks of the Trade

    Posted by Jessica Donaldson under DEN

    My current role within my school district forces me to wear many hats (preaching to the choir on this one!), but most of my day consists of “how-to” emails and phone calls. Let’s face it, the world of education looks very different each school year as technology hardware and software consistently changes. And shouldn’t it? If the way the world communicates and collaborate has evolved, then the way we teach should evolve, too.

    Easier said than done.

    In a perfect world, new technology would not be rolled out until users had the training with which to employ it. Of course, in a perfect world, educators would actually have time to attend all of those trainings. We paint ourselves into a corner sometimes- we know the tools we need to use, but we don’t always have the time or the resources to learn to use them. Or, we use a tool in the classroom that has become a part of our daily routine…until that tool gets a massive update that has left us baffled at the “upgrade.” Sound familiar?

    Enter SnagIt.

    "DE Passcode"SnagIt is a tool that I use daily with teachers, students, and administrators. It allows me to capture screen shots (still images or video) that I can share via email or on Screencast to help someone walk-through virtually any process.For example, I used this screenshot to follow-up with someone after a Discovery Streaming workshop. We had a great 45-minute session, and each person was given the school’s passcode to set up their own account. The following day, a teacher could not remember how to create her new account, so I simply emailed her screenshot with some added elements and VOILA! A quick fix in just a few clicks.

    Don’t think this is all that SnagIt can do. You can’t always find what you need online, but I have the freedom to create customized graphics for a school or department. And what about teachers? I’ve created custom images for assessments, SMART Notebook activities, PowerPoint lessons…you name it.

    SnagIt has a free 30-day trial and is available for both Mac and PC. Whether you’re a teacher who needs to create an image for a review activity for students, or a technician/tech coach who needs to explain an update to a large group of people, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this tool. I’ve been using this software for almost three years and have really put it to good use. The creators of SnagIt provide a lot of help for new users that include video tutorials and a blog just for educators.

    And hey, SnagIt knows what educators want: FREE STUFF. If you are a SnagIt user, click here to brag about it (like I just did!) and enter to win some pretty nifty toys. If you’re new to SnagIt, go ahead and ask me some questions by leaving a comment below- I’d love to help you get started!