Category Archives: Educational Resources

Show your Typing Merits with TypeDojo

sample-certificateMicro-credentialing has become a new trend in the educational world. It’s a quick and easy way to show off and demonstrate your skills without having to spend more on a new degree. Additionally, it’s a way to show skills that are simply not demonstrable through traditional methods. If you’re looking for a new credentialing service to show off your students’ typing skills (a skillset that is on the decline), then check out TypeDojo.

TypeDojo allows you to show off your typing skills using a variety of tests for both speed and accuracy. You can demonstrate proficiency in a 1 minute, 3 minute, and 5 minute tests as well as demonstrate mastery and words per minute (WPM). Even better, you can target a test’s word strength by grade level (grades 1-8) and then dive more deeply into the skillsets as you progress (e.g. compound words, left hand words, etc). If your students need a refresher (or to learn how to type properly), try out one of their typing games; I especially enjoyed Ninja vs. Zombie during the Halloween season!

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If you’re an educator, pairing the typing games with proficiency testing is a great way to help kids master their keyboarding skills. Check out TypeDojo today!

 

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Play Video Games for Well-Being

I have been a (video) gamer since childhood. I played pong on a friend’s television. We got Atari one year for Christmas… my consoles evolved from there. Videogames specifically have been demonized over the years. Often attributed to violent or anti-social behavior. However, videogames are often incorrectly targeted. I loved this recent episode from the podcast Note to Self: Play Video Games for your Mental Health.

Featuring research Jane McGonigal, the episode focuses on the positive benefits of playing video games. Namely, honing your ability to work collaboratively, develop grit, creative problem solving, and stimulating positive feelings in your brain. If you are concerned about a child’s focus on video games, give this podcast a listen. It might change the way you think!

Edutopia’s New Resources on Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship is always a hot topic with both educators and their schools. I have long been critical of the “stranger danger” focus of most digital citizenhsip curricula. This focus has over-exaggerated the risks of online predators and misinformed a generation of children and their parents, often with detrimental effects.

I was so happy to see Edutopia’s updated curriculum and guidelines, What Your Students Really Need to Know about Digital Citizenship, crafted by the esteemed educator Vicki Davis. It focuses on students created robust passwords (that they don’t share with others), not posting private information, not sharing without permission, the idea of media ownership, and more.

With this ideas coupled with Common Sense Media’s curriculum or the new one introduced by Google, you will be well prepared to help your students be successful online.

Learning How to Learn

As a history teacher, I am a great fan of the Crash Course history series. Over the years, Crash Course has expanded beyond World and US History, covering physics, philosophy, mythology, and more. This Fall, they launched a new series: Crash Course Study Skills. This is great series to help students learn various techniques to help them be successful in school. Through their series of amusing and informative videos, students learn how to effectively take notes, retain information, active reading, and more. Try it out!

Navigating a Natural Disaster with Social Media

It has been more than a week since Hurricane Irma ravaged the state of Florida. As a long-time Miami-Dade resident, this is my third hurricane (but my first “big one”). My partner was here for Andrew as well as the 2005 season (when Katrina, Rita, & Wilma swept through the state). If you have never been through a weather related natural disaster, there is a lot of anxiety in the air before as well as after. What made Irma different for me was not the storm itself, but the myriad of tools available to residents to help prepare and recover from the storm. Social media played a significant role for my community as we prepared for the storm and as we began to pick up the pieces afterwards. However, in order to use these tools effectively, it was necessary to understand how to navigate them! Here are a few things that I learned over the course of the past week.

Follow your State/County/City Government

Miami-Dade county employed all of the social media networks to get their messages out there: Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope were how I got my information about evacuation orders, emergency supplies, and more. I am a cord cutter (meaning that I have no cable). This was the first time I was concerned about local channel access (antennas are an option as well). However, it was not a problem as Facebook Live notified me when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Governor Rick Scott, or our local Emergency Offices were sharing updated information on evacuation zones, shelters, and storm preparations. I did not miss an update. What I found especially helpful on these announcements for the community at large is that, unlike the postings on major news networks, they shared information in all three of the prominent languages in Miami-Dade County: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

Be Careful with “Viral” Information & Tips

Both before and after a storm, misinformation is rampant. People are trying to be helpful

Snopes dishwasher

Courtesy of Snopes.com

and, as such, may share out information that is simply not accurate. For example, prior to the storm I saw so many people share out this information about storing valuables in your dishwasher (and other appliances). In fact, even a few news agencies ran with the story. So, if there is a storm, should you do this? Absolutely not! The NHC, Red Cross, and other information sharing organizations made a point to try to correct this information. Just an FYI, the best place to store your important documents and valuables is in water tight, plastic containers. After the storm, misinformation spread about reimbursements or food stamps for those who lost food as a result of a power outage. Sadly, whatever food is lost can only be recouped via an insurance claim. However, as power outages lingered on, the community provided hot lunches at local parks and schools.

Follow Your Local News

Local news is far more important than national news during a crisis. They can give you up to date information about what is happening not just in your city, but in your neighborhood. Additionally, if you don’t have power, they may be simulcasting in your community. During the storm, our local NPR affiliate was great at getting out information, especially after the storm. They even started a Facebook group for Keys residents to help check in on one another.

Twitter is Incredibly Powerful, If you Know How to Use it

Both before and after the storm, Twitter was my best friend in getting pertinent, up to date information. Before the storm hit, I was trying to figure out where to put my car. Like most older homes in South Florida, I don’t have a parking garage. My neighborhood also has a lot of trees. I was trying to find a local garage in which I could store my carCapture (shielding it from wind, debris, and possible storm surge). So, I tweeted out looking for help. As the Miami Herald was working overtime, I asked them for help. I was surprised and pleased when they responded immediately with some up-to-date information. I was ultimately able to park my car in the garage at Marlins Park (after some local pressure, they finally opened them up).

After the storm, by navigating some local hashtags such as #Miami, #MiamiAfterIrma, and #Irma, I was able to find restaurants that were open (after day 3 of pop-tarts and Peanutbutter sandwiches, we wanted a hot meal), progress of Florida Light & Power, distributions of ice, and other areas where we could seek comfort and refuge after the storm. Twitter crowd-sourcing is one of the best ways to find out information relevant to you and your area during a crisis.

 

All in all, my city was spared the worst that Irma could bring. However, South Florida has a bullseye painted on it and I know that we will face another storm in the future. I’m hoping that these tips will help you and your community weather the next crisis.

Smartphones, Depression, & Adolescents

Circling around the interwebs recently has been an article on the Atlantic by Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” If you have not yet read the piece, then I encourage you to do so. It is a powerful and interesting look at the impact of social media on the post-millennial generation (that the author terms iGen). If you know me, or have been a reader of my blog, then you know that I do not advocate scare tactics and believe that these tools are both transformative in school and outside of them. I like this piece because it is a well thought out look at the shifting landscape of modern adolescents.

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Photo Credit: https://howtostartablogonline.net/ Courtesy of HTSABO

Twenge is not a luddite or an author nostaligic for the days of her youth. The piece is careful to highlight (repeatedly) that correlation is not necessarily causation and that generational differences are just that – differences. She is also careful not demonize smart phones or social media, rather the author focuses on the correlation between the prevalence of Smartphones and the rise of depression amongst teens.  Twenge highlights several disturbing and significant trends that we see in our communities that correlate with the smartphone and social media, especially among teens that spend less time socializing peer to peer and more time socializing online.

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

What struck me throughout this article is that iGen is a group of adolescents that are less inclined to engage, unsupervised, with their peers than previous generations. They are less likely to be independent through part-time jobs, unsupervised activities, and drivers licenses. This is not a trait that we can blame on “this generation,” but is more often seen as a result of parenting trends. danah boyd (sic) highlights throughout her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, that adolescents today are more governed and controlled by their parents and society than any generation prior. This is likely connected to the fact that while it has never been safer to be a child in the world, our perceptions of danger have never been higher. As such, children are sheltered to an unprecedented degree. While many of us Gen X’ers can remember being dropped off at the mall to “hang out” with friends for a few hours or “going out” with friends on a Saturday night, today’s tweens and teens are not afforded such freedoms. It is so uncommon, in fact, that a “new age” parenting technique deemed “Free Range Parenting” has arisen. The quotes are not accidental, the child rearing of our youths is now deemed “radical.”

Twenge does an excellent job highlighting that the struggles of today’s adolescents are more complex than simple “screen time.” The issue that most struck me was the role that social media plays in amplifying traditional adolescent anxieties, especially of “being left out.” All of us remember being the one “not invited” to a party or event. It was hurtful on Monday morning to find out that your friends were all having fun and you were at home. With today’s social media, however, “left out” teens are bombarded with images and videos of the events as they are happening. This is in keeping with technology as an “amplifier.”

There were a few elements in Twenge’s article that I felt merited further exploration or may be less conclusive than the author presents. Many of the trends she highlighted were already on the rise (or decline) by the time that smartphones came on the scene; for example teenagers dating or getting drivers licenses were decreasing for years. Additionally, measuring things such as mental illness, depression, and suicidal ideation have become more prevalent in the modern era with the professionalization of mental health services and the continual de-stigmatization of certain mental illnesses (such as depression). As such, these may have simply been grossly under-reported in the past. Additionally, while suicide remains stigmatic mode of death, more people are talking about and acknowledging when individuals (especially teenagers) take their own lives. Less often are suicides labeled “accidents.”

An article posted on JSTOR, “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation But Not of Kids,” takes greater issue with Twenge’s research and data. It also highlights the fact that it is parents’ social media use, rather than kids’s, that is more alarming.

…when parents are distracted—as today’s parents are, perpetually, by our online lives—it’s the encouragement that suffers, more than the control. The result? Kids who stay inside their semi-gilded cages, because they don’t get the support they need to spread their wings.

This is not to say that I am dismissing Twenge’s conclusions. The piece is quite thoughtful and presents some compelling evidence that adults (parents and educators) should be more thoughtful about the time their children spend online and more open to more “analog” and “independent” activities for children.

Read the article and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

3 Ways for Students to Create with Devices in the Classroom

Devices have become omnipresent in our classrooms. Often, these tools are used as expensive, electronic content delivery systems. However, the real power in technology in schools is that it empowers students to become content creators. Smartphones and tablets, even more so, have allowed them to become mobile and agile ones. Most educators know that individuals learn far more about a topic when they must explain it to someone else. Additionally, by employing multiple learning modalities through the creative process (tactile, kinesthetic, visible, etc), students process material more thoroughly. As you think about your lesson plans in the future, consider empowering students to create rather than just consume. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Create a Video

I am a fan of giving students guiding questions and parameters, then having them make an educational video. In my documentaries project, students must answer address a specific topic (e.g. “Where did George Washington get his reputation for honesty?” or “Was Benedict Arnold solely a villain of the Revolutionary War?”). We talk about creating

content in an engaging way, incorporating images and videos effectively (and ethically), pacing content, and selecting what to include or leave out. Videos are not exclusive to the humanities. I have seen math teachers effectively use them by having students demonstrate how to solve complex problems and science teachers as a recording and reflection for labs. I also encourage students to post their videos publicly (when age appropriate) or to the class via a closed portal (for younger students). By posting their videos publicly and sharing with the class, they are presenting to an authentic audience. Making a video is easy and can by done with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer. Free software options include iMovie (MacOS & iOS), Movie Maker (Windows), and FilmoraGo (iOS & Android).

Create a Podcast

Podcasts are become ever more popular. There are podcasts to cover news, popular entertainment, hobbies, sports, cultural phenomena, and more. Task your class with

creating a podcast on a topic relevant to your course. If you are a Social Studies teacher, perhaps a weekly podcast on current events. If you teach science, a weekly science report relevant to the topic. Math? Try incorporating an update on a complex topic students are tackling that week. Podcasting can help students work on their public speaking skills as well as how to effectively present to an audience. Again, by sharing the podcast with the public at large or just the class and/or school, students learn what it is to engage with a broader audience. Podcasting can be done easily with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer paired with a simple microphone to drown out ambient sound (the microphone on headphones can work in a pinch or you can invest in something a little more substantive). My favorite free apps for podcasting include: Garageband (MacOS & iOS) and Audacity (MacOS & Windows).

Websites

My students complete a year long research project that they post on a comprehensive website. Through creating an online portal, they learn how to write effectively for a broad audience, how to cite material so that it is accessible online, how to create and incorporate various types of media, and how to effectively organize and lay-out content. What I especially like about website creation is that it allows students to combine skills that they have learned throughout the year (e.g. video and podcasting). We have all seen “good” and “bad” websites. When it’s published online, students want theirs to look good. As such, it also serves as a basic primer in basic graphic design. There are numerous free website tools out there. If your school is a G-Suite for Education school, then I highly recommend using the new Google Sites. Not only is it easy to use, but it readily allows for collaboration. You can also check out weebly or wix.

If you’re in a school where students have access to devices, I strongly encourage having them turn those devices into content creators. You will find that it empowers them as learners and makes their learning more applicable and deep.