Teachers as Content Creators

This week in ECMP 455 we discussed the idea of teachers transitioning from the role of content facilitators to becoming creators of their own content, and in class we explored different content creation tools that are available to teachers.

I like the idea of teachers creating their own content and sharing it openly with their students.  I strongly believe in making education accessible to students outside of the classroom. Sometimes, I think we treat education as this teacher-held secret that students can only acquire if they are in class to write it all down — as if learning can’t take place outside the four walls of a classroom. But, if there is anything that I learned during my internship it’s that some kids have a lot going on in their lives and sometimes my Physical Science 20 class, or whatever class, isn’t their priority. I get that, and I don’t think that a student’s education should have to suffer because of that. After all, on the most basic of levels, our job as teachers is to help students learn. We shouldn’t restrict that learning to inside classroom. When teachers create and share content openly, students can access and review that content anywhere and everywhere, and as many times as they would like.

As I mentioned in a previous post, during my internship, I set up a Google Calendar for my Physical Science 20 class — the class that I taught all semester. At the end of every class, I would upload any notes/class work directly from my SMART Board to the Google Calendar, along with any handouts or assignments, in order to make the course content available to my students outside of the class. Looking back now, though, I realize that maybe there was a more effective way for me to share content with my students.  Although my students could access the notes and view them exactly as they were taken in class, they were just that — static notes. I realize that for some students it may have been tough to decipher the notes because they couldn’t hear me explain step-by-step how to solve a mole calculation problem, they could only see how I solved the problem. That being said, for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to explore different screencasting tools that would allow me to record a video of myself explaining the content. I ended up coming across one tool in particular that I really liked: Educreations.

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Photo Credit: Dakota Moncrief via tes.com

 

Educreations is an app that essentially turns your iPad or computer into a recordable, interactive whiteboard that enables you to create Khan Academy-style video tutorials, lessons, or stories. Right away, I was really intrigued by this tool because, as a student, I am someone who needs to watch and hear a concept be explained multiple times before I get it, and I know that many of my students during internship were the same way. With Educreations, you can create a video lesson for your students which they can watch whenever or wherever they want, and replay or pause as many times as they want. If you have never come across Educreations before, here is a tutorial video that provides an brief overview of the tool:

One of the things that I like best about Educreations is how easy it is for teachers to use. Other content creation tools, like PowToon for example, have a lot of bells and whistles — you can add visuals, animations, background music, etc. This might make presentations more visually appealing, but I think it also adds a lot of extra work for teachers. For instance, the other day I spent some time exploring PowToon, attempting to make a chemistry lesson using the tool. However, I felt so overwhelmed by all of the different features that I got nowhere with the actual lesson — I spent most of my time trying to pick the perfect background and sound effects. What I’m looking for in a content creation tool is something that is practical and simple to use — I don’t want to spend a lot of time making a video lesson. Maybe that makes me sound like a bad teacher, but in my opinion, teachers already have a lot on their plates — it’s not realistic to spend hours upon hours creating a video lesson, especially if it’s something that you do/are going to do on a regular basis. For me, something like Educreations is just more practical. Educreations many not have as many options (you can draw, add text, or upload pictures), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing — depending on how you use the different features I think you can create an equally engaging lesson.

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PowToon — a lot going on

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Educreations in contrast — much simpler 

Another thing that I really like about Educreations is that is enables you to deliver instruction in a simple, clear and concise fashion. Last week in class we were introduced to Crash Course — a digital education channel on YouTube that provides information on all sorts of different topics from physics to psychology. I had never heard of Crash Course before so I spent some time watching some of their science videos, like the one below:

One thing that I noticed was that the videos were actually quite hard to follow — they are full of graphics and animations which I found distracting, and on top of that, the creators speak quite quickly. So, while I might have understood the content that was being presented, I didn’t actually take anything away from the videos that I watched. Now, this is not to say that the videos were not good quality — they absolutely were! The videos were very fun and engaging and were, I thought, unique way to present information. However, at some point, I think all the flash and fun impedes the facilitation of the content and takes away from the learning. Sometimes I think simplicity is key, and that’s what I like about Educreations — you can provide simple explanations or simple inquiry and still be helpful and engaging.

Overall, Educreations is exactly the type of tool that I was looking for to be able to share content with my students. I’m excited to explore it further and maybe start creating sample lessons to practice using the tool. To sum up, here is my pro/con list for Educreations:

Pros

  • It’s free (you can upgrade, but in my opinion, the free version works just fine)
  • Can use on iPad or computer
  • It’s compatible with Google, so you can upload documents and pictures right from Google Drive
  • Very easy to use
  • Simple — not a lot of bells and whistles (this may be a con for some people)
  • Khan Academy-style video lesson creator
  • Can be used in multiple contexts
    • Flipped classroom
    • Some teachers use it as a way to create simple tutorial videos for their students, like the one here
    • Create and share an answer key — can work through the assignment showing and explaining the solutions
    • One teacher uses it as an assessment tool in English, math, phys.ed, and health

Cons

  • Simple — not a lot of bells and whistles
  • Have to upgrade (which costs money) in order to access more features
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HTML, JavaScript, Python, Oh My!

This week in ECMP 355 we learned about coding! Coding, or computer programming, is essentially a language for machines — it is a precise set of instructions that tells a computer exactly what to do. Coding is what makes it possible for us to create and use computer software, apps, and websites. Learning how to code means learning how to read and write in “machine language”.

Coding is starting to make it’s way into the classroom (check out the #CodeinClass hashtag on Twitter), as it is becoming an increasingly important and beneficial skill for students to have.  For one, many young people are making their living from computer programming on platforms such as Android and iOS. In fact, roughly half the highest-paying jobs in America now require some basic knowledge of computer programming. Aside from making a living, coding also provides students with valuable life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and digital literacy.

So, for homework, we had to learn how to code — or at least give it a shot. We had two options: We could code a short project using Scratch (a kid-friendly computer programming language), or we could take part in one of the Hour of Code options on Code.org. I chose to do the Hour of Code.

I took three separate screencasts during the Hour of Code to show my learning progress throughout. In the first video I work through puzzles #1 and #2. Puzzle #1 was easy, but the angles tripped me up on puzzle #2 (my geometry teacher would be so disappointed). It took some thinking, but I was able to quickly fix my mistake to complete the puzzle!

In the second video I work through puzzles #5 and #6 after being introduced to the “repeat loop” block which allows you to repeat a line of code x number of times. In puzzle #5 I had to figure out how many time to repeat a given line of code in order to draw a flower.

In the third video I work through puzzle #8 where I was introduced to the “function” block. A function is another type of programming tool to help you avoid repeating yourself. I used the function block to draw three colourful flowers without having to write out the code each time.

The final puzzle, puzzle #10, was a free-for-all — I was allowed to design whatever I wanted using code. Check out what I made:

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Hour of Code Certificate

My Hour of Code certificate of completion

So, how did it go?

To be honest, I went in with  a negative attitude. I had seen formal coding language before (like the HTML view on WordPress) and it always looked intimidating — how was I supposed to replicate something like that? Plus, many of my friends who have taken computer science complain about how hard coding is. I was expecting to hate every second of it. However, I was surprised at how fun it was to learn how to code!

The Hour of Code was challenging, but in a good way — I was forced to think and problem-solve my way through each puzzle. Sometimes it was frustrating when my code didn’t work, but it also motivating — I actually wanted  to back and find where I went wrong so that I complete the puzzle. I also really liked working with Blockly. Code is usually written in text, but Blockly uses visual blocks which you can drag-and-drop to write a program. Underneath I was still creating code, but Blockly just simplified the formal code language which can be overwhelming and confusing for beginners.

After taking part in the Hour of Code, I can totally see the value in teaching coding in schools. In terms of the Saskatchewan curriculum, coding can connect to units in both the Math and Arts. Ed curricula. I even think that coding can connect to English Language Arts. There are many different forms of language; students use a different type of language when they are at home with their families vs. hanging out with friends vs. in the classroom. Coding is just another type of language, only digital, and I think it is important to give students opportunities to practice and develop all these types of languages. Aside from direct curricular connections, I also see how coding can help students to develop important life skills like problem solving, reasoning, and patience.

Overall, I really enjoyed learning how to code; I felt a sense of empowerment and pride afterwards, and I had a lot of fun. However, before I go and integrate coding into my classroom, I need to learn more about it, spend more time practicing, and find good resources. I know what I’m doing this summer!

Know of any good coding resources for students? How/where do you integrate coding into your classroom? Please share with me below!

 

 

 

 

 

#EdTech: Are We Trying Too Hard?

When it comes to #edtech, are we trying too hard? This is a question that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Robin and I co-wrote a post on the pedagogical value of Snapchat — one of the most popular social media apps used by youth today.  Snapchat can be used to live broadcast school events, to communicate with parents and/or students, to showcase student learning, and much more.  However, just because Snapchat has potential educational value doesn’t mean that it is the best learning tool for my students.

We seem to do this a lot; we feel pressure to stay up-to-date on the newest, hottest tech tools, so every time a new website, app, or social media platform come out, we feel the need to “edufy” it to make it usable in the classroom.  This brings me back to my original question: Are we trying too hard? Do all these new technologies really have a place in the classroom when there are a million and one technologies already out there? Are we, in some way, just trying to “have an in” with our students?

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify something: I am not arguing against the use of Snapchat (or any other new tech tool for that matter) in the classroom.  As I mentioned before, Snapchat does have educational value.  What I am arguing, however, is that we as teachers be more critical of the technologies that we implement into our classrooms and the ways in which we implement them.  I strongly believe that technology integration needs to be planned and purposeful; there needs to be a reason for doing it — it should not be random.  This TED-Ed article outlines three questions that teachers should ask themselves before using technology in the classroom:

  1. What is the primary goal, and how will this technology support it?
  2. How will this technology choice broaden students’ perspectives?
  3. How is this technology choice going to help my students learn?

Teachers can (and should) use these three questions to evaluate a new tech tool before integrating it into the classroom.  Teachers should also use these questions to evaluate the tools they already use to determine if they are still effective.  Amie Reid, a fellow ECMP 355 classmate and someone who is pro-technology, recently wrote a blog post in which she argued against using Twitter in the classroom.  Amie made some excellent points (in a very creative fashion, might I add), but one in particular struck me:

“My 14 yo says Twitter (like Facebook) is old news. She doesn’t tweet.  She uses Instagram, Snapchat, etc. So why force this tech on Ss?”

I think Amie’s point nicely addresses why we need to be critical of the technology that we use in the classroom — both old and new.  Twitter and Facebook may be tried-and-true edtech tools, but these technologies are becoming obsolete to youth.  So, as Amie asserts, why force do we still these tools on our students? Surely there are more engaging apps that we can use to meet students’ learning needs other than Twitter and Facebook.

I guess my point is this: Instead of “edufying” every new technology that comes our way, maybe we should spend our time and efforts making good use of a few technologies that we know are engaging and effective learning tools for our students. This is not to say that we should never try out new technologies, of course we should, but not everything has to be turned into an edtech tool.  In my opinion, the whole point of edtech is to support and enhance student learning — it should not be used just for the sake of it.

 

 

 

Aww Snap!

[This post was written jointly with Robin Tuck and also appears on her blog]

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Photo Credit: The Daring Librarian via Compfight cc

The world of #edtech is ever growing; the newest addition: Snapchat. Snapchat is one of the most popular social media apps used by young people today, and it is starting to make it’s way into the classroom in a variety of ways (more on that later).  The problem, however, is that Snapchat, although extremely popular, is also a very controversial app, so it’s use in the classroom might raise some concern.

A lot of the concern surrounding #edtech is often fear of the unknown, but that doesn’t make the concerns any less valid.  As teachers, we need to be aware of the concerns/oppositions held by parents, administrators, and other educators, and be able to justify our use of #edtech in the classroom.

Outlined below are several concerns that parents and/or teachers may have about using Snapchat in the classroom, as well as our responses to those concerns:


Concern: It’s not safe — I’m afraid that my child will send pictures/videos to random people.

Snapchat is not the only tech tool that young people use to communicate.  Different online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr allow students to connect with people all over the world.  However, Snapchat, like all of these tech tools, has customizable privacy settings that allow the user to decide who can contact them and who can view their Story.  

Concern: Snapchat has the reputation of being a sexting app!

Yes, Snapchat is known as “the sexting app” (although co-founder Evan Spiegel says that’s not what it was created for).  Some people believe that Snapchat encourages sexting because the pictures/videos that you send are time-specific — they only last for a designated amount of time before they “self destruct”.  This prevents, or at least makes it difficult, for inappropriate pictures to be screenshot and shared.

In the video below, Theresa Payton, a National Cyber Security Expert, discusses the dangers of Snapchat and advises parents against allowing their children to use the tool:

Note: Not all information in this video is accurate; Snaps can last for up to 10 seconds, and Stories last for 24 hours.

Frankly, we can’t control how students use their personal technology, but we can teach students how to be responsible online.  Just because a tech tool has possible negative repercussions doesn’t mean we should shy away from it.  Snapchat’s negative reputation allows for a teachable moment.  The truth is, everything on the internet is permanent, even Snaps. This opens up the opportunity for teachers to have a discussion with students about digital citizenship and online safety like one teacher from the UK who used Snapchat to teach her Year 5/6 students about internet safety; she took a screenshot of a Snap and shared it on Facebook to demonstrate how quickly a “private” Snap can go viral.  

Concern: Snapchat is too distracting.

Distraction happens, especially if students aren’t engaged in their learning.  As teachers, we have a responsibility to develop and facilitate creative and engaging lessons that keep our students wanting to learn.  Using a popular app like Snapchat might be a way to do this — if students on it all the time, they might as well use it for educational purposes

Concern: Some children might not access to Snapchat at home.

This is a concern when using any type of technology in the classroom.  As teachers, it is our job to make learning as equitable as possible.  This means providing students with the appropriate resources that they need to learn as well as making adaptations to our teaching.  For example, if a student does not have access to a cell phone or Snapchat then we could send them the same information via email or in a Remind message.

Concern: As a teacher, I do not want my students to have access to my personal Snapchat.

This is a simple fix! If you do not want students to have access to your personal Snapchat then you can create a second account (like a classroom Snapchat) to use for professional purposes only.  If students add the classroom Snapchat as a “friend” then they will have access to the teacher’s Snaps and Story, but the teacher will not have access to students’ Snapchat acccounts. 

Another concern along the same lines is that a teacher might not feel comfortable sharing their personal phone number with students, nor should they have to.  Snapchat makes this easy — you can add “friends” by scanning a barcode (aka a “Snapcode“) or by searching a username. 

Concern: How does Snapchat enhance my child’s education?

Snapchat is still a relatively new tech tool (released in only 2011), so it is not as commonly used in the classroom as other tools like Twitter, Edublogs, Remind, Kahoot, etc.  In fact, neither of us personally know of any teacher who use Snapchat in their classrooms.  However, that doesn’t mean Snapchat doesn’t have any educational value.  

Snapchat can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways:

These are just a few suggestions as to how Snapchat can be used in the classroom.  Amy, who is a chemistry major, also had the idea of using Snapchat to share a mystery chemical reaction with her students prior to class.  This would get students excited for, and thinking about, the learning that is to come. Ultimately, Snapchat is another tech tool that can be useful in the classroom — you just have to be creative!

From Tears to a Fave Tech Tool: My Twitter Journey

Roughly one year ago in ECS 300, Katia Hildebrandt forced our class to participate in #saskedchat–a weekly Twitter chat for pre-service and practicing teachers across the province.  For many of us, this was our first introduction to the popular social networking site. Prior to the chat, Katia quickly showed us how to use Twitter; however, the time of our class and the time of the chat overlapped, so much of our learning was trial by fire–that is, we learned by doing.  Now, learning how to use Twitter can be overwhelming under normal circumstances; tweeting, retweeing, using hashtags, replying, following–it’s a lot to take in.  But learning how to use Twitter while simultaneously taking part in a Twitter chat? Now, that’s a whole different experience.  Long story short, there were a few meltdowns on my part.

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My first Twitter experience was off-putting; I thought Twitter was complicated, and I didn’t see how it would benefit me as a future educator.  I also didn’t like the public-ness of Twitter–I felt uncomfortable putting myself out there for the entire digital universe to see. However, I’ve have been a member of the Twitterverse for just over a year now, and my opinions on the social networking site have completely changed.  Now, Twitter is one of my go-to tech tools.

I mainly use Twitter as a professional development tool.  As overwhelming as my first Twitter chat was, I now participate in Twitter chats regularly such as #saskedchat, #canwestchat (a chat for educators across western Canada), and #rpstrtalk (a chat hosted by Regina Public Schools to discuss the TRC report).  One of the benefits of participating in Twitter chats is that doing so allows me to connect with, and learn from, other educators across Saskatchewan, in Canada, and around the world.  Essentially, Twitter helps to me expand my PLN. Another way that I use Twitter for professional development is by following hashtags that interest me as an educator.  For instance, as a chemistry major, I like to follow the hashtags #scichat and #chemchat.  By following these hashtags, I am able to see what other science educators are sharing or doing in their classrooms which in turn allows me to collect ideas for my own future classroom (like this super cool Periodic Table Battleship game!)

Aside from being a beneficial tool for teachers, I think Twitter can also be a useful tool for students.  In fact, I read an article recently that describes 50 ways in which Twitter can be employed in the classroom.  Ideas included anything from starting class Twitter page to keep students (and parents) up-to-date about assignments and class goings-on to asking students to live tweet a book or movie in lieu of the traditional book report.  Though I have never used Twitter in the classroom, I plan to try some of these neat ideas out during my internship in the fall.

Overall, despite my rocky introduction to it, I have become pro-Twitter–I think it has a lot of benefits for educators and students alike. How you do you use Twitter in your classroom? What are the benefits/drawbacks of Twitter? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!