Blind Kids, Touchscreen Phones, & the end of Braille?

This week’s WNYC’s Note to Self focused on smartphones and their role in educating and

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

empowering blind students. It was a fascinating look at how smart devices are both helping and hindering students’ academic and social development. Smartphones and tablets have offered a lower point of entry for students for assisted learning. Additionally, smartphones have allowed blind adolescents to feel “normal” and just like their peers. At the same time, these tools have limited students’ growth in other necessary academic enterprises. For example, their reliance on speak to text or text to speech have limited blind student’s growth in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This is a fascinating look at the benefits and pitfalls of using technology in helping students with disabilities access educational tools. You can download the episode for free, here.

Podcasts to help Students think Creatively about Traditional Content

One of the great privileges in my position at Ransom Everglades is that I still get to work directly with students in the classroom. I teach two sections of United States History. This work not only “keeps me honest” when it comes to technology, but it encourages to hone my skills as an educator and learner. Teaching a “traditional” subject using “non-traditional” tools can be a challenge. I want my students to think outside the box, explore things from new angles, and challenge accepted interpretations of historical events. This can be difficult not only for them, but to me. After all, history has been taught a specific way (focusing on names and dates and the expertise of Ph.D.’s) for generations.

One way I have found to disrupt this tradition is to bring podcasts into my classroom. Podcasting is an amazing medium that has disrupted terrestrial radio in unimaginable ways. As a result, there is a wealth of information out there to bring into the educational environment. By using engaging and well-researched material to provide students alternative perspectives and media. Here are a few of my favorite Podcasts (I’ve highlighted a couple of episodes). I hope that you will share your favorites below as well.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect: More Perfect explores the role of the Supreme Court throughout history and in the modern era. I never thought that someone could make court cases engaging, but I was happily proven wrong. One of my favorite episodes is “Kittens Kick the Giggly Blue Robot.” This episode explores the history of the court and how it became one of the most powerful entities in the land. Every episode includes citation of sources and case law. They also provide this handy song to help you remember who is currently on the Supreme Court:

Footnote: A Show about Overlooked History: Historians often state the worst fate of a figure is to be condemned as a footnote to history. Footnote explores those often overlooked figures and the impact they had.For example, in the Day of Two Noons they explore how we developed time zones and the financial (and sometimes fatal) results.

Revisionist History: Malcolm Gladwell’s new series explores and reinterprets historical narratives. Check out “The Lady Vanishes,” which explores the impact of tokenism in the art and political worlds.

NPR Code Switch: With the rise of Social Justice in the news and the prevalence of multi-racial communities, Code Switch does an amazing job of tackling uncomfortable conversations about race in an effective and safe medium. One topic I found especially informative was “Say my name say my name (Correctly Please),” where contributors discussed the challenges that arise from “difficult” names in the broader community.

History Chicks: This podcast focuses on women throughout history. Women often take second fiddle to their male counterparts. History Chicks delves into these figures in great detail. For example, explore the history of Katharine of Aragon (Henry VIII’s set-aside first wife). She is more than a footnote to the Tudors.

These are just a few examples of podcasts that I enjoy with my students. I hope you will explore and find some topics to share in the notes below or in your own classrooms.

Free Interactive & Directed GAFE Training Tool

Synergise has been a long popular training tool for Google Apps. It provided interactive training and walkthroughs for organizations at a nominal fee. Last Spring, Google acquired Synergise in order to offer this support to a broader audience – for free. Now, your institution (Google Apps for Education/Work/Non-Profits) can roll-out this in house training system for free under the rebranded “Training for Google Apps.” It’s a great resources for your users and allows them to expand and self-direct their training.

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Courtesy of Google Chrome Store

To use this feature, your Google Apps administrator will have to install it using Google’s Marketplace Apps. Next, they can either force-install it as a Chrome Extension for the institution, or direct users to install this tool via the Google Chrome webstore. Training for Google Apps also allows you to shape your organization’s support system by recommending lessons, adding your own content, and running reports. This is a great way for you to provide scaled and relevant support for your school or workforce.

5 Uses for Google Forms in Schools

Over the last year, Google has showered Forms with a lot of attention and, as a result, has enjoyed numerous, productive updates for educators. I use Google Forms regularly in my school and now more than ever, it’s become instrumental for both my academic as well as administrative duties. Here are five ways that you can use Google Forms in your school.

Bell Ringer/Exit Ticket

I’m a fan of bell ringers and exit tickets. Bell ringers are a great tool to check for understanding and to get my students in the mind-set of the class. Exit tickets are a great way to check for understanding at the end of a lesson. With Forms, you can post an assignment for students to complete when they walk in the door or a quick quiz to assess them at the end of a lesson. If your students are in a 1:1 environment, you can email the form to them. You can also distribute the form with a shortened URL (using a tool like Google’s URL shortener, goog.gl) or even post a QR code for students to scan with their smart phones. New Forms now includes a “quiz” options so that students can be assessed once they hit “submit.” To activate this feature, click on settings (the gear icon) and select the “quiz” option. You can then select whether or not students get feedback right away, what answers they see, and more.

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Collect Emergency Contact Information

If you take field trips or want to keep an emergency packet, Google Forms can be a great way to collect emergency contact information from parents and guardians. Simply create a Google Form that asks for names, phone numbers, and email addresses. As Google Forms collects this data into an aggregated spreadsheet, you have access to all of the information in one place. If you have teaching assistants, parent volunteers, or chaperones, you can share out this information using “view only” mode in preparation for field trips or emergency planning.  A nice feature here is that phone numbers collected in spreadsheets serve as a “hot-link” on phones; click the number and it will auto-dial!

Collecting Feedback

Feedback is an important tool for both students and teachers. If you are trying out a new lesson or project, wanting to hear how students feel they are learning, or otherwise collect feedback, Google Forms is a great way to do this. Using Forms, you can make the feedback anonymous or collect user data, give open ended options or scale responses to a list or a grid. I periodically collect feedback just to take the pulse of my classroom and to improve on my teaching methods.

Sign up for Project Topics

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.30.11 AMI love to make students teach in my class! Often, I will break down a large subject into various, smaller topics. Using Google Forms and the add-on Choice Eliminator, I can not only ensure that my students sign up for a project, but that they each select a unique topic. To use this feature, be sure that you have the add on Choice Eliminator (you can access it in the Chrome Web Store). Choice Eliminator will remove question options (check box and multiple choice) once a user has selected it. To access your add-ons, click on the Add-On button (it looks like a puzzle piece) and select “Choice Eliminator.” Select “configure” and then choose the questions you want use Choice Eliminator on. If you need a little extra help, check out the Choice Eliminator tutorial below.

Volunteer sign up

Do you need to find volunteers for prom, to count votes for an election, or chaperone the class volunteer trip? Google Forms is a way to collect volunteer information, have them sign up for shifts, or indicate that they can volunteer to carpool. The flexibility of Forms and add-ons make it a great tool to wrangle in your volunteers. For example, if Prom is a particularly popular volunteer activity, you can use the add-on formLimiter to stop accepting sign-ups after you have hit your maximum. If you want to divide the form into shifts, you can combine formLimiter and Choice Eliminator. The flexibility of Google Forms make this a great tool for wrangling your volunteers, collecting contact information, and organizing them effectively.

Google Forms is one of the most flexible tools within the Google platform. Not only is it useful as a classroom tool, but for administrative tasks as well. These are only five options, however I encourage you to play with this and find ways that it can make your life easier. Post your suggestions below!

3 Virtual Reality Tools for the Classroom

This is reblogged from my post on Daily Genius.

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Virtual Reality (VR) has long be seen as the realm of science fiction. However, VR has been making a big splash in education and, with a low price point, is entering the classroom quickly. Here are three tools that you can use to bring Virtual Reality into your classroom.

Google Expeditions

Last year, Google announced Google Expeditions, a system that brings educational virtual reality into the classroom. While you have to be a partner school to try it out, you can use the same features in your classroom with Google Cardboard, a smartphone, and cardboard compatible apps. For example, students can hunt for dinosaurs in their own Dino Park, take a virtual tour of the National Parks and Museums with VR Tours, or learn about the brain by playing InMind. You can even create your own Virtual Reality experiences using an Android Phone or Tablet with Cardboard Camera

ThingLink 360° & VR Editor

This year, ThingLink introduced its own 360° and Virtual Reality editor. It allows users to create annotated and “touchable” 3D experiences, check out this demo below:

https://www.thinglink.com/mediacard/784836856347885570

This is a great way for students to create content to demonstrate their learning. For example, on a field trip, they could record the environment and annotate the vegetation or animals that they see. These ThingLink VR experiences can even include multimedia.

Nearpod Virtual Field Trips

Nearpod VR and Nearpod Field Trips allows you to send students on “virtual field trips” right in your classroom using the Nearpod learning platform. Students can visit the Roman Colosseum, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Great Wall of China (just to name a few). This is a great way to add context to existing learning experiences. Many of these Virtual Field Trips are free, just browse their content catalogue.

These three tools are just a handful of new applications coming into the classroom to enhance student learning using virtual environments. Now students can not only consume, but create Virtual Reality content and share it with others.

Must Read Educational Sites for Summer

This is reblogged from my post on FreeTech4Teachers

There are a lot of resources on the web for educators, and it can be challenging to sort through all of that information to find those hidden gems. Here are a few of the websites and blogs that I recommend to educators looking to get started. Some are on the general topic of education while others focus on specific themes or topics. Check out this list and add your own in the comments below!

General Education Topics

Edutopia – Edutopia was founded by the George Lucas Education Foundation to provide a place to share evidence-based practices and programs that help students learn. They cover topics from professional development to digital citizenship initiatives.

EdWeek – Education Week covers topics in education around the country, including public, charter, and independent schools. They report on current events, publish articles, and touch on pedagogical practice. Some parts of EdWeek are free but note that others are paid.

Huffington Post Education – The Huffington Post Education section includes a curated list of stories and blog posts on education. They may cover school policies, digital equity, or teacher pay disparities. This is a great resource for educators who want to keep the pulse of topics in education.

NPR Education – National Public Radio reports on education topics at the national, state, and local level. Always a great resource, NPR reports on topics such as chronic absenteeism or violence in schools.

MindShift KQED – MindShift focuses on innovative practices in teaching and learning. They cover both theory and practice in a way that is both academically sophisticated and accessible in short bites.

Educational Technology

To read the complete list, visit FreeTech4Teachers