Friday, October 21, 2016

Nationwide is on Your Side

Lunch with Lance

I love lunch. Yes, I have a deep appreciation for food, but that's not why I'm discussion my love for lunch. I try to spend the lunch hours hanging around the teacher's lounge due to how precious that time is. Teachers frequently ask questions about technical issues they are having or ways to better implement the tools they are currently using. It is such a valuable time for teachers to learn a new tool, tip, or trick that will in some way benefit them and their class. I have no actual data to prove the benefit of being available during lunch in comparison to holding before or after school training sessions, but I do believe it is of more value due to the fact that teachers visit in shifts. I can personalize the learning experience at a much better level than having a sit-n-get session.

Lunch is also of value as the most important ingredient in driving change is to make connections with people. Gaining trust is vital to the process of building a culture of growth. It is interesting to me because this truth is exactly the same with my fourth graders from six years ago. I don't proclaim to be an expert in building a great culture, but I understand its value and want to strive to get better. I certainly have had great examples in the importance of culture. I think of Heather Green, principal at Rome City Elementary, when I was at East Noble School Corporation. She made connections with teachers very quickly and gained their trust merely by listening to people. My transition to the MSD of Steuben County was no different. I quickly built a connection with Ann Rice, principal at Angola Middle School, and have been amazed by how connected her staff is to her. She invests time into people. Great leaders connect with people in ways that make them want to improve. I'm so grateful for these examples. 

Nationwide Vocabulary

So what does this have to do with the Nationwide jingle? I created a 'Nationwide Vocabulary' Google Slides Template due to these lunch-n-learn sessions. It seems like the best ideas come from my conversations I have with staff as I learn about specific classroom needs. My lunch sessions aren't always about technology. I tend to gather technology ideas when the discussion is seemingly unrelated.

Not long ago, I was sitting in the lounge at Carlin Park Elementary; we were discussing the horrible performance by the Indianapolis Colts as of late. Every Colts fan that is perturbed by the 2016-2017 Colts will eventually connect the conversation to the Peyton Manning era. Somehow (my memory doesn't serve me very well here) the conversation shifted from Peyton Manning to a discussion about vocabulary instruction. That's when I had an epiphany and Nationwide Vocabulary is born. 

Vocabulary instruction must go beyond words and definitions. I think back to the era when I had a list of words and looked them up in the dictionary. How much did that really benefit me? I didn't even learn what the word meant as I copied the dictionary. (Even less beneficial today as students can merely copy and paste the answer straight from Students need to work with words in a way that will cause them to go beyond memorizing a definition and knowing the word meaning at the most basic level. Can a student synthesize new meaning and ideas with the vocabulary words? My Nationwide Vocabulary template forces the student to know the definition, but they must change it to fit the tune of Peyton Manning singing, "Chicken parm' you taste so good." If the student can manipulate the definition to meet the turn of the Nationwide jingle, they have to really understand what the word means.

When I brought home my great idea to my wife, she of course wanted an example. I had referenced my idea as an 'epiphany' of some sort. So she naturally wanted an example: 

The Template

You can find my slides below. When the students are in edit mode in Google Slides, they can click the plus to add a new slide and it should automatically give them a new slide so that the students can add a new word to the template. You can download your own copy to your Google Drive by clicking here. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about hyperdoc templates that teachers can use to better utilize the Chromebook. Creating hyperdocs makes workflow so much easier for teachers and Google Classroom. There are a lot of learning experiences that are on paper or on the Internet that can be duplicated through Google Docs or Slides that would be much more time efficient for students and teachers. I will continue to be a listener in the teacher's lounge and scrounge up some more fun activities that I can Googlify. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog


Ever see or participate in an "ignite" presentation? To say that it is stressful is an understatement. I've done my fair share of presenting in front of my peers or at various conferences, but the amount of time it takes to prepare for an ignite speech is a bit shocking considering that it only lasts a grand total of five minutes. The presenter gets a total of 20 slides that last 15 seconds each. Did I mention that the slides move automatically? 

At the Indiana Connected Educator's Conference, I had the opportunity to give my first ignite session. I suppose it is very fitting that I'm going to blog about my topic: Teachers Should Blog. There are a number of reasons that I run through as to why that is, but it all roots from my own experience as a teacher. I had a website. It was terrible to use, but it is what I had available. I attempted to make the most of it and genuinely made an effort to engage students and parents with it. I would update it frequently with pictures/videos of learning experiences taking place in class. I would make homework help videos and post them to assist with mathematics. I even had students helping me with making math videos and updating the homework list on my site. I put a lot of time and effort into my teacher website as it was my main source of communication with parents.

What I found over time was that it didn't meet my needs. Websites are intended to be more static. You may update bits and pieces of information from time to time, but websites are intended to stay fairly consistent. What I truly needed was a blog. I needed a chronological record of learning experiences.

Here are three reasons you should have a blog:

1.  Be Informative

The chronological nature of a blog allows eliminates the problems that exist within a traditional website. Teachers need to have a continual flow of information that parents can count on week after week. This is much like your weekly newsletter you are more than likely already creating. What types of information do you include on it? Classroom learning experiences, upcoming events, and other various classroom needs. These pieces of information can all be covered within the confines of a blog. 

What do you avoid by discontinuing a newsletter and moving into blog format? Students/parents losing your newsletter. Your readers merely need to subscribe to your blog so that they can receive email updates letting them know that you have updated information. Also, it is quite simple to push out to forms of social media. Teachers do not have time to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What if you pushed out news via your blog but use social media as a means of distribution? 

I know what your next question is before you can even ask it. You're going to ask about your parents that do not have Internet access. Surely you still need a newsletter to send home in paper format. The solution is quite simple: PrintFriendly. (Click for more information) Find out which parents need a paper copy and create printer friendly versions of your blog posts just for those individuals.

2. Share Your Story

There is a lot of negative information floating around about educators. How much of it is actually true? Eyewitnesses are key. Being transparent about the learning experiences you are providing for your students will build rapport with your stakeholders, students, and even your colleagues. It is essential that you are the one telling your story. By doing so, the teacher can reduce the amount of fiction floating around and build support from parents. Who wouldn't want to see a quick blurb of what is happening inside the walls of their child's classroom?

As I said previously, eyewitnesses are key. So if you are feeling like a blog is something you cannot maintain, make it a class project. Have students get involved by making it a continual writing project. Students love the idea of being able to contribute to a class blog. They go home and share with their parents what they wrote. In turn, you get traffic building up to your blog as they also share these experiences with extended family.

3. Refine Your Craft

Teaching is an art form. It is something you never truly perfect as there are always things that can be changed and new challenges arise. When I look back at my teaching experience, I have only my memory on which I can rely because I was constantly updating my website. Those experiences are no longer recorded. Ultimately, a blog allows you to store your memories so that you can bring them back and relive a teaching experience. What better way to refine your teaching craft than to be able to revisit the experience that you or your previous students recorded? It will give you the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn't. How is your class different this year than last year? How can you better meet the needs of individuals? 

When I visit my blog, I can visually see growth. I can see where I once was and where I am going as a teaching professional. I have five years of information built up that helps me recall my experience in educational technology. The greatest value of a blog isn't so much in the nature of it as a communication tool or the opportunity to share your story. The greatest value comes from the opportunity to reflect upon my work. 

I'm Talking to You

I understand the reluctance to have a blog. Many teachers believe they do not have anything to offer. Teachers are busy people with a long list of responsibilities. I'm not suggesting you tack one more thing on your list. It is about replacing. Replace your newsletter. Replace your traditional site that you hate to update because it takes too much time. Blogging is easy because it is about sharing the passion you have for this profession. Be proud of what you accomplish with students. 

Want to get started? Blogger is a great place for teachers to have a blog. It is easy to use! Click here to see all my tutorials and suggestions on using Blogger. 

My Ignite Speech

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Custom Color with Colorzilla

What is Colorzilla?

To put it simply, Colorzilla lets you select colors from images or any website so that you can match the exact color. Well...not necessarily does it let you select the color, but it allows you to select the hex code necessary to match a color. Not sure what I mean? Look at my banner above. Notice how the colors of the text match the colors emitting from Godzilla's mouth and back. Colorzilla is digital eyedropper that allows you to grab any color on your display so that you can match it accurately. 

I love using Google Slides and Google Drawings. I use at least one of the two on a daily basis. Those that know me best are aware that I'm not satisfied with prepackaged themes. I prefer to customize and display information to my liking. Colorzilla works perfectly with the Google suite of apps as Colorzilla automatically copies the hexcode to your clipboard when you capture a color from your display. You can then easily select a custom color in Google Slides or Drawings where you can paste it in. 

Classroom Application

As an advocate for creative uses of technology, Colorzilla is a natural fit for students. Any time they want to express their learning utilizing the digital tools available to them, they will want to match colors precisely to images or clip-art they import. This is applicable to any presentation, poster, advertisement, or report they create. This is also applicable to you as the teacher as you build templates with color coded boxes or shapes. You can be sure that you will match colors exactly by using Colorzilla.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Indestructible Graphic Organizer

Frayer Model

Ann Rice, principal of Angola Middle School, sent out an article to her staff about vocabulary instruction that caught my attention. It provided great information in regard to what we have students do with vocabulary. Because of the ease of access to information with a class set of Chromebooks, having students lookup definitions isn't an effective way to immerse students in the key terms of your unit of study. In fact, I don't know that it was very effective in my school days because I recall copying the dictionary or the glossary of my textbook word for word. In short, we need students interacting with vocabulary in a manner that will engage a student's mind. 

The article offered a couple technology resources. One resource I had never utilized before; The Academic Word Finder. This is a great free resource as teachers can copy and paste a digital text, select a grade level, and it will determine which words are grade level appropriate. This allows the teacher to quickly sift through any text and create vocabulary discussions/activities based upon the resource. 

The second was a PDF version of the Frayer Model. If you aren't familiar with the Frayer model, it requests more than just the definition of a word. It could include an image or illustration of the word (my favorite), examples, or even non-examples of the word. is in PDF format. PDFs are okay, but usually annotating a PDF is not the smoothest experience for students. Also, the workflow for my teachers in Google Classroom isn't great as the teach would need to download and upload each student copy to give quality feedback. So I contemplated on how to "Googlify" graphic organizers so that the workflow in Google Classroom would be a smooth experience. 

The Indestructible Graphic Organizer

There are several ways this could have been accomplished, and I admit that I probably took the long way to doing so. I could have easily taken a screenshot of the Frayer Model and inserted it as the background in a Google Slides presentation. That would have been by far the easiest route, but I like to use color. Visually appealing activities make a difference. Differentiating by color allows you to give better directions as well as help students differentiate between the pieces of information. To do this, I go through the process of utilizing Google Drawings for the background. Once your template is created, you can download it and insert it into the background of your Google Slides. The students can't move the pieces of your graphic organizer! Here is where you can download your own copy.

In Hindsight...

I realized after I made this video and template, that all the same tasks could have been accomplished through changing the slide master in Google Slides. The difference is that making it via Google Drawings makes it slightly more secure. A student could easily enter the slide master and change the format of the entire deck. If you don't want to bother with the extra steps, skip Google Drawings and jump right into the slide master settings. This will save you a few minutes of your time. It would also allow you to make easier adjustments to the activity if an aspect of your template does not work well for your class. 

I will be sure to create a tutorial for editing the slide master in the near future...