LakeVille tech news tips & thoughts from Mike

A tech newsletter?

Yes, I'm hoping a lengthy, rambling but attractive newsletter will be an improvement over several lengthy, rambling emails. If nothing else, please look at the pictures.

I set a goal to regularly update everyone on what LakeVille teachers and students are doing with tech. I will also include tips and thoughts about new ways to integrate technology to give students skills and tools for success. This first edition has:

  • Highlights from three recent tech integration projects or classes
  • Suggestions for two simple, free apps and related online resources
  • Thinking about your PLN
  • Other news or noteworthy items

How often will I be churning these out? I strive to use up all publications allotted by my free Smores account before summer. You can help me reach this goal by making sure I have enough content every month or so.

In other words, please say "YES!" when you see me around (or read one of my emails) begging for teachers to do a project with me. Or keep sending me your ideas if you think I can do anything to help with them.

If you find anything here useful or worth a comment or opposing view, I will always be glad to hear from you in person or by email.

Tech Integration Highlights

Math, Music & video production at Columbiaville

Crystal Owen and I worked for five weeks with all the 5th grade students on what was certainly the most ambitious, exciting and rewarding project in the two decades of my career. Seriously, it was that big.

We called it the Smart Jams Math Music Video project. Besides math content, I was able to blend many of my skills and interests into the work. It made for an engaging, creative activity the students really enjoyed. I also learned a ton that will be useful for projects I do with other students and teachers.

In the project, students wrote short, original songs about math skills and we recorded them along with video performances.

This added up to more work than I anticipated, but the grant funded project achieved nearly everything I had hoped for - more time on math, new tech tools for teachers and students and a extra dose of all 4 C's. Crystal and I will be presenting our project for educators from around Michigan at the MACUL conference in Grand Rapids next month.

I put some pictures below, but if you want to watch samples of student videos see my blog post here.

And be sure to see the example video below that Crystal and I made about area and perimeter.

The Perimeter and Area Song

Interactive stories shared from high school to first grade

In Julie Kram's high school Digital Media class, students created digital stories for younger children. A couple groups used an iPad and the free Tiny Tap app to make interactive stories.

I loaded one of the stories on iPads at Otter Lake and Andrea Thelen let me hang out with her first grade students (some pictured below) to show them what the high school students created. Not one of them needed help working the iPads, but one girl asked me to open her milk carton. It was good to be needed.

The story went over well. Honestly, one group looked less than impressed, but I asked everyone if it was a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Given those limited options, all thumbs were up.

The interactive story was posted online on the Tiny Tap sharing center and it has received some "Likes". The creators of the app were impressed we had older students make stories for younger students.

So there's the main takeaway: It's easy to focus on career planning and talk about getting a good job someday, but what could we have students make that would benefit others in the near future? Students are motivated by making a meaningful contribution.

Middle School Stem Lab - Project Based Learning Everyday

As I was deciding on just three projects to highlight, I was shocked to realize how little I have reported about the innovative learning that takes place day after day in the middle school STEM Lab. Jennifer Dennis and Ginny Gaudard have done an incredible job of transitioning to the new environment and style of instruction.

The three of us were trained for four days in the summer--nowhere near long enough to learn the enormous variety of software and all the possible projects available to us in the lab. From there the teachers (officially known as "lab facilitators" by the Creative Learning Systems people) have become our resident experts in the project based learning model.

I could say much more, but I'd rather let some students do the talking. Take a look at this short video we put together for a board meeting in December.

Simple, Free Apps for content creation

Pixlr for Photo Editing

If you do projects that could involve edited photos (like adding text, filters or other enhancements) Pixlr is a great option to have on your iPad or other device. There is an app for iOS and Android, but there's also an online version (be sure to pick the Express option on the website since it's powerful, but simple.)

Compared to Instragram, it adds a lot more control over the final look of your picture, but the options are not overwhelming.

Many students used this app or the online version when creating photos for Melinda Newcombe's six-word memoir assignment in her English 11 classes. Here's a video containing many of the best examples from that popular project. If you've had any of the current juniors over the years, check it out and watch for former students.

Free, Simple Comic Creator

I was glad to see a free app for Make Beliefs Comix released recently. I know some of you have used the website in class. This app does the exact some thing that online version does.

You can arrange and resize characters, props and backgrounds then add speech and thought bubbles for dialogue. It's not the most powerful comic creation tool and the interface is smaller than I'd like, but free and easy makes up for any shortcomings.

Thinking about your PLN

Maybe you've heard teachers talk about their "PLN". Some will suggest everyone needs one. I'd say we all have one already, though they vary in quality. In all cases, they can help or hinder us in doing our best work.

A PLN is a personal learning network. I hear it most often in reference to social networks like Twitter, where professionals follow and contribute their own thoughts among peers and leaders in their fields.

I say everyone has a PLN because we all have a group of people we learn from. Some will talk about being "connected educators", but we are all connected to some degree. Whether it's to authors we've read, speakers we listen to at conferences or the other teachers in our buildings, we have a network that shapes how we see our work.

But not all PLNs are equal. For the sake of our students and the profession, we all should evaluate the quality of our PLN. We can do that by asking three simple questions:

  • How does my PLN impacted my professional growth?
  • How many teachers am I regularly connecting with?
  • How often do we connect?

When measured in those ways, the advantage of technology becomes obvious. In fact, that's why PLN commonly refers to a large tech enabled social network. It's a given that we should use the most powerful tools for the job.

Those who regularly stay in contact through large social networks will confirm this. The anytime, anyplace nature a dedicated PLN is a lot like hanging out with teachers at a conference whenever you have a spare minute. It grants immediate access to timely answers, a source of collective wisdom, best practices and a perspective of education on a global scale.

If you already use Twitter, Edmodo or some other network as a PLN, I'd encourage you to share contact information with others in your building or across the district.

If you aren't yet a part of a larger network, I suggest taking the time to get started with Twitter. It only takes seconds to sign up.

This Teacher's Guide to Twitter is a good place to start for basic information. Here are two other good posts to start with if you are looking for other teachers to follow:

Also, I set up a Twitter account for LakeVille technology tips or other related communication. Right now the only followers are me and Kevin Honeycutt (and he could split at any minute). So if you've got an account, join in and you'll make a very significant contribution to the number of followers. The account is the same as the title of the newsletter: @lv_tech_connect

Other News or Noteworthy Items

Opportunities for Professional Development

First, remember I am moving a lot of tutorials and resources over to the LakeVille Tech Group in Edmodo. The Join code is pe8hhu and the resources can be found in the Folders area.

Also, I've really enjoyed meeting with teachers the past two months since I sent out that reminder about the half-day sessions. We still have limited PD hours available and I will be meeting with several teachers over the next few weeks. If there is a tech tool or process you (and possibly others in your grade level or department) want to work on, please contact me soon.

I compiled these quotes* from satisfied teachers I met with recently.

"These free tools have supercharged and transformed my approach to PE. My classes are going to see less kickball, more computer lab from here out." - Chris Mahl - Formative Assessment Tools in Google Apps

"I am amazed at these comic and video creation tools. I haven't had this much fun since you taught me how to use layers in GIMP." - Ginny Gaudard STEM Lab 2 Resources

"Mike, thanks for showing me how to make the videos. Just let me know if you want any tips for dressing better." - Andy Horning - Video Lessons for Math

*These are not direct quotes, but they represent the clear impression I got after working with these teachers for half a day. Don't miss a chance to enjoy your own personalized PD experience.

Free eBooks for Teachers

Last month I sent out the article The 10 Commandments of Innovative Teaching by A. J. Juliani. I know not everyone enjoyed that one as much as I did, but I was glad to find the author's blog. It has been a source of good thoughts on effective, passionate teaching.

I wanted to point out you can download his free ebook Teach Above the Test if you sign up to follow his blog here.

Also, he sent out this list of 21 other free ebooks for teachers. I have only read one off the list so far, but it gave me a lot to think about. If you're interested in expanding your usual reading material, please check it out and be sure to let me know what you think.

Free on-demand webinar on formative assessment

As a final resource for professional development, I highly recommend this webinar from Dylan Wilman. In it he makes a case for the importance of formative assessment. It is part of a series, so you enjoy the first one be sure to see the others. I especially enjoyed the first two.

The webinar is free, but you will have to fill in the requested information on the page in order to access it.