Snow Day… Can’t Stop Digital Learning Day

Today is Digital Learning Day sponsored by the Vermont Agency of Education; it’s also a snow day. Perhaps snowing on the parade of the masterminds working to promote technology in the 21st century classroom, but I say ‘Nay!’

The beautiful thing about technology is it connects teachers and students even when not in the same place. Even as I write this is at 6:50am (physically impossible to sleep in really),  I have already created a tutorial using an iPad app called ShowMe, the tutorial will to aid my students in completing a Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium homework assignment due tomorrow, since I won’t see them for questions today. Check it out: http://www.showme.com/sh/?h=JVCs1Ca.

But, since I won’t be able to document and share how technology would have been used as a learning tool in my classroom today; I figured I would share some of my favorite examples from earlier in the year:

1. Stop Motion Studio: A free iPad, iPhone app (as well as other smartphone and tablet versions I believe) that allows you to easily create stop motion productions by taking a series of images in the app, adjust the length of time for each image, as well as the ability to add voice over to narrate the images. Here’s an example from an AP Biology class teaching about G-Protein coupled receptors.

 

2. Puppet Pals: Free or paid versions, more tool options with paid version. This app lets students create a character (their puppet) that they can superimpose their face onto. Then as they manipulate and move around their puppet they can record the movements they are doing with the puppet while simultaneously narrating with a script.

 

3. iMovie: iMovie can be purchased both in desktop/laptop versions as well as on an iPad. Effects are slightly more limited on the iPad; however, video, images and audio can easily be imported from the camera roll and put into a well crafted video. This allows students to create a well crafted video product in a very short amount of time. Students in this example created a video of still shots of their earthquake project to share before doing a physical demonstration with their model. After their presentation, which they recorded, it was quick and easy for them to insert the recorded video of their model in action to support their video.

 

4. Garage Band: A fairly straight forward user interface allows for mixing tracks prerecorded with other devices or, recording directly from the tablet or computer being used. This allows for songs, vocal and instrumental to be recorded separately and then put together into on song. Using iPhones students recorded both vocals and acoustic guitar tracks on the voice memo option. These audio files were then emailed to a computer that edited to two tracks and aligned them to make the final songs. This song was then imported to iMovie serving as the music for the video the class made in parallel to the song, creating this final music video product:

 

The most important idea to remember when incorporating digital learning into the classroom is patience. Technology is an amazing tool, but their is certainly always going to be hiccups along the way. Be patient, be flexible and use our students as resources. They are great technology problem solves and should be part of the team as we work to blend technology and our classrooms. It is about their learning after all.

Even on a snow day, digital learning still can happen!

Man vs. Chicken 2.0

Last year about this time I wrote: Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science describing a laboratory investigation into the different types of fractures using chicken bones. As most teachers, from year-to-year I create new activities, get rid of the flops and tweak those that have been successful in the past. That’s just what I did with this investigation.

There were two major adjustments this year:

1.Instead of simply using cleaned, dried bones students used a combination of cleaned bones and wings with muscles (that’s the meat) and cartilage still intact. This allowed them to compare the differences between imitating fractures in both situations, and analyze which represents more true-to-life fracture events.

2. This is where the 2.0 comes in. In past years I have had student make sketches and observations based on the fractures they had created, and then answer discussion questions related bone structure and fractures. However, this year we went paperless. Most students carry with them a small computer in their pocket; smart phones complete with a video camera. So the assignment became filming their fracture events while narrating the process. There were 5 main idea they were to include in their video:

  • Describe how they will be fracturing the bone.
  • Predict what type of fracture they will produce.
  • Explain how this fracture may occur in real life.
  • Observe the fracture, describe and determine if their prediction was accurate.
  • Determine which bones best modeled accurate fractures, why?

These videos were then emailed to me, which I then compiled into a class video that was viewed as a class. Overall, the new tech version of the chicken bone lab was quite successful. Students seemed much more engaged and provided great narration and dialogue regarding the fractures that would not necessarily have occurred in the same fashion if they had been simply writing about what they had observed. Also, filming provided a role of cinematographer to students who were not interested in getting hands-on with the chicken bones. Finally, students love an opportunity they get to use their phones in class without having to sneak a text message from under the desk of a sweatshirt pocket.

Already looking to next year, I plan to delegate the video editing to students who are interested in creating videos. Here is the final video, enjoy.

Technology, a Tool for Instruction.

Seems like these days new technology arrives daily. Phones, laptops, tablets, you name it. I’ve never been one to buy the newest tech just because its new, and I’m sure most teachers will tell you their schools are not state of the art. In fact, until this year I’m pretty sure we were running briskly walking Office 2003.

Technology, in all of its facets, is not going away. So, as educators it has become an additional aspect of our profession to teach students how to use these new tools. For many schools, especially smaller ones like my own, there is not a full-time technologist or technology instructor. It comes down to those who dabble and explore technology simply because they have personal interest and motivation to learn for themselves. It takes these individuals, I’ll include myself  in this category, but also the appropriate tools to instruct with.

In order to teach students how to use technological tools it is quite important that you have access to these tools. In fact obviously its the only way to provide students with meaningful opportunities to development technical literacy that will benefit them in the future. However, the most important point I would like to make is as I stated earlier these are tools for instruction, and do not replace instruction. We need to know how we plan on using the new technology we plan to incorporate into our classrooms.

Unfortunately, with ever-changing technology and schools’ attempting to keep up I have noticed a common trend: School’s buy technology  and then try to figure out what to do with it. This is an ineffective use of funds, and a poor way to plan student learning. For instance, during a planning meeting between myself and a few special educators I co-teach with earlier this year some one said to me (to the gist of)  “Our department got half a dozen iPads, so what can you do with them?”

This, to me, is absurd. If we are going to spend hundreds of dollars on technology let’s know what were doing with it. How will we use that tech to teach students the skills to succeed in the age of technology? Or how will we use that tech to teach classroom content? These should be the first questions asked before any purchasing is done, or else you end up with teachers with really expensive note pads and calendars that maybe have some fun games too.

Yes, I can write about this and be frustrated all I want, like so many others, but I decided to put my money where my mouth is and joined my school’s technology committee. The goal of the committee is to develop a plan outlining the direction our school’s technology  use. Where will we be over the next few years and further into the future. This plan is to include both physical purchases of technology but also create, and then hopefully install, a technology curriculum that will be used in our school to guide how we employ this technology to make 21st century students.

It may not be possible for school’s to keep up with the technology race, but we should try to at least pace off of it so we don’t get left in the dust. Remember, technology is a tool for, not alternative to instruction.

Simply Inspired: LuminAID

I believe strongly in the ideas behind conservation biology, and the efforts of so many dedicated individuals and groups to protect the amazing biodiversity of the natural world we live in.

This internal passion is one of the most important messages I try to instill in my students. They can make a difference in the world around them. We do this by increasing their awareness of some of the ecological threats we are facing today, and examining what we can do to improve the state of the natural world. Something so important, because honestly we are taking it for granted.

Last Wednesday while reading articles from TreeHugger.com, a site that compiles informational content related to the environment, conservation, and technology, I stumbled upon a product that ignited excitement and inspired me. Its pure simplicity paired with innovation that has huge possibilities to make the world a better place for so many.

© LuminAID

The product is called LuminAID. Put as simply as it is elegant: it is an inflatable solar light. A water proof pouch that contains a solar panel, rechargeable battery and LED light. The video below describes the LuminAID.

The LuminAID inspires me, catches my imagination, and gives me hope for the future of our planet. Yet, I can’t  quite put my finger on exactly what aspect of the LuminAID I find so magnificent.

Could it be its simple, yet practical and innovative design. A small, foldable design that can be used in so many ways. This simple, inexpensive product can provide light to disaster victims, to people in developing nations without reliable electricity, or even to me as I sit at home on a Vermont winter night, when the power is out.

Or could it be the the “Give Light, Get Light” business motto they have taken. For each LuminAID light someone buys, they will then give a LuminAID to the community projects they are working on around the world. An approach that motivates giving.

Or is it the implications for the planet.  This simple product could reduce the use of many make-shift lamps and lanters in those same developing or disaster struck areas. Helping to cut down on toxins harmful to both people’s respiratory systems, but also the environment.

The LuminAID isn’t going to change national energy production, and all the detrimental ecological problems aligned with it. However, it is innovation moving in the right direction. Change starts at the personal level. If we are going to change how a nation produces energy, first we have the change how the individual thinks about energy. Making people aware of the successful use of renewable energy, like solar, and increasing its prevalence in our U.S. culture, and other cultures around the world, is the first step in shifting the energy paradigm.

LuminAID has done this for me. It inspired me to share its informational video with all my classes, about 80 students, and some even said ‘cool’ out loud. Perhaps they will share it with their friends or family. It has inspired me to write this post. It has inspired me to “give light, get light.”

I hope you are inspired to get more information or give light yourself. Their goal is sell 10,000 dollars world of LuminAID, but I think we can do better than that. Our planet deserves it.

Give Creativity a Chance

Earlier this year, two of my classes made videos teaching about different threats to the environment and how we as humans can reduce those threats. This was the first time that I, or any of my students had made academically based videos. Needless to say this was a busy, stressful and bumpy ride.

Mainly due to dealing with technology issues both with the hardware videos were made with, but also using software to edit the video for the first time, and helping to facilitate creativity and progress. One group even used VHS, not easy to digitally edit with the technology we had at hand, but it did bring me back to my childhood.

Even with the struggles and obstacles we had to overcome together some great videos were produced. You can check out these videos here: Conservation Videos.

Though the three weeks it took were a blur and not the easiest, the outcome was worth it. Students have been able to recall information from the videos in class, even months after we concluded the project. Given the success and the learning that was achieved through the videos 3 weeks ago I decided to undertake our second video project.

“Why do I look different than you?” A simple question that gets at the heart of our genetics unit. Students were charged with creating a video that answered this question. Making connections to the information we have discussed thus far in our genetics unit regarding DNA, our genetics code, and protein synthesis.


I felt like I was taking the risk to attempt a second work intensive and time consuming project so close to the end of the year. As any teacher can tell you, productivity steadily decreases as you approach June. I was happily surprised at the excitement and eagerness students showed as they jumped at the opportunity to create another video.

The second time around saw many less hurdles; though the were there. All students used digital video recording equipment, and having used our video editing program previously they were able to jump right in a pick up where they left off with it. As with the first set of videos there was a spectrum of quality regarding the final product and depth of content; however, I can say all students were much more engaged in the project and willing to go out on a limb to create a better video than the first round.

This year I have worked a lot with project based learning, designing an implementing projects throughout our course of study that promote students taking an active role in their own learning and how they will be assessed on that learning, beyond just a test. Of all my trials as I have made this journey I can say for sure: The things that are worth doing in education are not easy.

Take a risk. Go beyond the text book and test. Give your students the chance to be creative,  and then, give them more chances. Creativity like everything else must be nurtured. If you provide your students with opportunities to surprise you, they will.

No Generation Left Behind

Sunday evening I watched Higher Ed Live, a web-based interview show that promotes conversation about current events in higher education, technology, and the use of the social media to promote higher education.

The topic of Sunday’s show, in a nut shell, was a debate regarding how higher education failed YouTube EDU, or from the opposing side, how did YouTube EDU fail higher education. From what I’ve gathered of YouTube EDU it is a branch of YouTube that academic institutions can apply to be part of as a easy and identified place to share educational content.

One of the key points that grabbed me was that higher education institutions fail to provide academic content, thus falling short of YouTube EDU’s guidelines for being a member. So, the membership is not what it could be.

This is how my brain has processed the plethora of ideas in the discussion during Sunday’s show, if you are interested in more information check out the link above.

How does this connect to my life as a high school teacher you may ask? Well part of the gift and curse of being in education is it’s always on your mind.

So, as this discussion regarding use of YouTube was happening I thought, hmmm all the content I post to YouTube is academic, do I qualify? My channel is dedicated to posting student produced video and linking to videos we have watched in class.

Seems pretty academic to me, check it out: youtube.com/reidbio

Beyond this though, my main reflection was that technology is not going any where, and it needs to be embraced. Here is a group of people, both those involved in producing the weekly show as well as its loyal followers who are actively engaged in keeping their field up to date in the ever changing world of technology, embracing it with a big ole bear hug.

Unfortunately, if you’ve walked into lots of public schools recently, you may have noticed let’s say a “mature” and experienced population of teachers. This is not the same population that is so willing to embrace technology.

For instance, the solution to my computer glitching because Office 2003 and Office 2007 were installed on my computer was to uninstall Office 2007, teachers didn’t like the new version… yikes.

Don’t get me wrong these a good teachers, who have been working in schools for a long time and have many great ideas. However, in general they would rather use an abacus than a calculator. (An exaggeration, but you get the point)

In an age when most students have a smart phone in their pocket, they have access the the web and its endless supply of content, good and bad. As teachers it’s now part of our job to help instruct and model how this amazing tool can be used as an educational resource.

How we can empower ourselves and students with its limitless capabilities?

As teachers it is  our responsibility t0 move out of our comfort zones and learn about the new technologies available to us, and then engage students with it. If we don’t, we risk leaving an entire generation of wired in adolescents behind, failing to engage and instruct them. Or even worse, get left behind ourselves as they realize we are no longer relevant.

So, I say to YouTube EDU, if you want academic content, go to the source. Make it easy for those with the academic content, teachers and professors, to provide it. Don’t make us jump through hoops to become a member, accept us for who we are and we will provide.

Finally, let us as teachers look to our higher education counterparts as role models and strive to stay informed and up to date. Who should know better than us that knowledge is power.