Tag Archives: Teaching

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).


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.


My Experience Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 1

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many educators have an unhealthy relationship with Wikipedia. While we may use it to grab some quick information or knowledge, we tend to forbid our students from accessing. On the one hand, we recognize it as a ready repository of information on the other hand we are hesitant to accept its validity. Check out Robert Connolley’s College Seminar class on teaching Wikipedia. I promise, it will be eye opening!

My Experience Teaching a Class on Wikipedia, Part 1.

Library of Congress – Resources for Teachers

The Library of Congress offers a variety of classroom materials as well as professional development to help teachers use their free materials effectively in their classroom. You can even organize and search material based on Common Core  or State requirements. The Library of Congress contains a repository of primary resources in a variety of media (texts, images, audio, video, etc). Their professional development includes funded trips to the library to work at your own pace, free modules. Be sure to check out the Library of Congress’s Resources for Teachers.

Screen shot of the LOC Search Page

Screen shot of the LOC Search Page

Hesitant Teachers Can Learn New Tech

This is reposted from my article PLP Voices.

Many educators feel overwhelmed by new technology and may feel apprehensive when it comes to adopting it in the classroom. But I’m here to make the case that learning to use technology and employing it as part of your curriculum is actually easier than ever. Way easier.

Both hardware and software have never been more user friendly. Developers know that consumers want ease of use and have delivered in an unprecedented manner. Additionally, all producers are now compelled to provide free and easy how-to instructions – trust me, no more 1000-page manuals written in convoluted “tech speak” or a quick trip to the big box bookstore for the Dummies guide.

If you see a new project or idea that you want to bring to your own classroom that requires an unfamiliar software tool, do not hesitate to adopt it. With rare exceptions, you’ll find introductory videos at the producer’s website, tutorials by fellow educators at YouTube, and a community of users at the product’s Facebook or social-network page who are eager to help. If you’ve developed a Personal Learning Network using Twitter and other social media (and if you haven’t, now is a good time), you’ll have even more potential sources of support.

Here are just a few methods that I use to teach myself new tools as well as provide my own “technical support.”

Just Do it!

If I am interested in trying out a new (and most often free) tool in my classroom (Google DocsEvernoteiMovieDropbox, or more) then as Nike taught me, I “just do it!” I download the software and start exploring. Most people are surprised at how easy these tools are to use.

I set aside one hour of uninterrupted time where I simply sit down and play with the program or tool. I try out the features and get creative! No one else is watching. This is time for me to get familiar with the designers’ intentions, the user interface, and to brainstorm about its possibilities. I don’t have to worry about colleagues, students, or anyone else looking over my shoulder.

Yes, you can “just google it”

When I was first learning about digital stories and exploring how to employ them in my classroom, I sat down with iMovie and tried to make my own documentary. While using this software, I found that I had a series of questions. For example: “How do I add a transition?” or “How do I insert credits?”. How did I find my answers? I simply googled it. Google’s algorithms are so user friendly now that you can simply type in the question: “How do I add credits in iMovie?” and your browser displays a series of instructional documents and videos. If you have a question, “google it.” Googling is also a good way to search for examples of how other teachers using the same tool you’re exploring.

YouTube is Your Friend

YouTube isn’t just a place for silly cat and adorable dog videos. Amid the dreck there’s actually an amazing repository of knowledge, including lots of helpful clips posted by educators.

YT-Pinterest-how-toA quick YouTube search, using nothing more than the name of the tool or program you’re exploring, will turn up step-by-step instructions on how to troubleshoot common problems, use specialized features, and even more. (Videos with high numbers of views are a good place to start.)

I have a series of Ed Tech channels that I follow for my favorite webtools and programs, where I often learn about new and exciting features. I can honestly say that YouTube has become my go-to resource for any technology problem, question, or pursuit currently on my plate. It’s so easy to find what you need and the information is usually offered in an easy to follow format, with little to no technical jargon. If you find that’s not the case, try another video on the topic. There’s seldom just one.

Ask the students

As an educator, I often go through some internal struggle before I look to my students for answers to technology quesitons. After all, aren’t I supposed to be the font of knowledge? Then I get over it. They often know more than I do about available programs and features, and they also have the knack for figuring out the user interface quickly. I can tell you that they are never more excited than when they can show their classmates and me something new. Not only does it allow them to showcase their talents, but also it provides them key opportunities of leadership in the classroom. As a result, they become more confident and engaged in their academic environment.

Trust yourself

What I have learned over the years about employing technology in my classroom is that you have to stretch yourself, get over your fears, and trust your skills as an educator and your students as learners. The results I have gotten have far exceeded my expectations. The resources and tools now available for those who want to learn to use these tools is not only free, it’s readily accessible and easy to use.

So go in your room. Close the door. Boot up (or wake up your iPad). Guess what. You can’t break this stuff. And as your confidence and knowledge grows, you’ll be amazed at how much these tools can actually make your teaching more engaging, more fun and more effective.

Creating an iPad Classroom: iPad vs. Product – Greg Kulowiec

The second keynote address was given by Ed Tech Teacher’s Greg Kulowiec.

Greg is a full time employee of Ed Tech Teacher and a former history teacher (go history teachers with technology!!). The crux of his talk is the focus on using iPads as new, integrative tools – to move beyond the substitution model (using them as a new word processor). We should be considering how we use these devices.

He asks the audience: “What is the most impactful and significant aspect of using iPads?’ In other words, what makes these different from traditional computers or even pen and paper?

Greg argues that the iPad is first and foremost a tool, it is a part of the educative process but it is not the end all be all. It should be a means to an end and allow students to achieve their objectives and goals.

“If you give kids a project and you get all the same results, then you have given them a recipe not a project.” – Chris Lehman

The iPad is not a replacement for “traditional” education practices and tools – in fact, traditional media should be a part of the exercise – hand drafts, scripts, clips, etc. However, we need to focus on students creating rather than simply consuming.

He also noted that iPads change the physical construct of the classroom – they are devices that lend themselves to sprawling rather than sitting in a straight row. Teachers need to reinvent the physical space of their classrooms.

“IF the nitty-gritty details of iPad use distract us from our larger mission, then we need to smash them. If we get too lost in the ‘how’ of iPads in classrooms, then we need to stop and ask why?” – Justin Reich “If You Meet an iPad on the Way, Smash it!

We always need to ask why we are implementing these tools – we need to have objective goals. At first it will be chaotic, but ultimately we will be able to streamline the process.

iPad Summit – Keynote Speaker Tony Wagner

The iPad Summit officially kicked off with its keynote address given by Harvard Professor Dr. Tony Wagner. Dr. Wagern is the author of the best selling book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People who will Change the World.

His talk focused on the changing needs of young people – innovation and creativity. What is most challenging for students and teachers is that we need to adapt our teaching and learning to incorporate failure. WIthout risk (and failure) there is no innovation. A highlight of his speech is below:

Editorial: Restoring the Prestige of Teaching

This Week’s Stanford Daily included a brilliant editorial on restoring the prestige of the teaching profession. In my personal opinion, the pervasive idea that teachers are ‘prestigious baby-sitters” or that “those who can’t do… teach” are  harming our educational culture. Consistently, those who enter education do so as a ‘fall-back’ position consistently have lower GPAs and test scores than their peers. If we want to improve the quality of education our children receive, then we need to make the profession of teaching more enticing, competitive, and respected.

I’m posting it in its entirety here, but again, visit Stanford Daily to respond and engage with others on this very topic.

Editorial: Restoring the prestige of teaching

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Ask the Stanford Class of 2012 what they plan to do next year, and you will receive many impressive responses. There are countless students aspiring to prestigious professions as doctors, lawyers and academics. There are those entering the high-tech industries of software, programming and engineering. There are also those choosing to enter the arenas of business, consulting and investment banking. All of these fields are united in their high salaries and resultant prestige, and it is generally no surprise when another bright and high-achieving Stanford student chooses one of these career pathways.

One answer you are less likely to hear is that of “teacher,” a profession that popular opinion does not quite equate with the others mentioned above. Unfortunately, the status afforded to elementary, middle and high school teachers is not very high, both on the Stanford campus as well as around the country. A recent University news article explores the differences between the Finnish school system and U.S. education, noting that teachers in Finland are compared to lawyers and doctors while teachers in the U.S. are perceived to be more on par with “nurses and therapists,” according to Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg.

Other authors have also addressed the diminished prestige of teachers. Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof remarked in a March 2011 piece that, “We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.” At a time when the U.S. educational system is losing its competitive edge against the schools of other countries, it is lamentable that the choice to enter the teaching profession is not always highly regarded by students graduating from elite colleges.

By “the teaching profession,” we do not mean temporary stints in education, such as those provided by Teach For America (TFA). Skeptics of the program remind us that participation in TFA does not indicate that students seek to be teachers; indeed, last year this Editorial Board highlighted the appeal of TFA as an organization that “has turned education reform into a status symbol” (“Teach for America’s Rise Reveals Need for Options,” March 9, 2011). Some students certainly use TFA as a springboard to either professional schools or different career paths, but one should not generalize the motives of those well-intentioned students admitted to the TFA corps. A study published in October 2011 on Education Week finds that 60.5 percent of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment. Whether this means that TFA members take up a long-term career in teaching or merely one additional year past their two-year TFA contract is unclear, but it suggests that they are not necessarily ending their tenure as teachers with their completion of TFA.

Still, the popularity of temporary teaching fellowships does not address the root problem of low teacher status in U.S. society. Several means of addressing teaching’s lack of prestige have been proffered. Kristof’s suggested solution, based upon findings of a McKinsey study, calls for an increase in teacher salaries. Sahlberg, referring to teaching qualifications in Finland, points out that candidates must complete a three-year master’s degree before teaching. He notes that teachers in Finland are highly coveted, and primary school teaching positions are harder to obtain than entrance to medical school.

All of these possibilities — more selective admission to teaching positions, more stringent educational requirements for teachers and higher teacher salaries — are essentially methods of elevating status. And for better or worse, this may be the most effective way to make the job more appealing to graduates of elite colleges such as Stanford. But if we want results that will not take their toll upon the current educational system, we cannot suddenly restrict admission to master’s programs in education or increase the number of years in the program. The current nationwide shortage of qualified teachers renders these options incredibly damaging in the short-term. Nor can schools simply offer higher salaries without cutting costs elsewhere.

More important is a shift in mindset, a shift that will hammer home the point to Stanford students that teaching is as noble a profession as any other and certainly one that is crucial at this point in time. Reminders from professors to consider teaching as a career; events to showcase the importance of teachers in society — these are just some possibilities. Those students pursuing degrees at such programs as STEP, offered by the Stanford School of Education, should be no less proud than their peers of their interest in a teaching career. And for those students who would raise a questioning eyebrow at a peer who aspires to be a high school teacher — this is the attitude holding back the US educational system. The change must begin now, and it certainly must begin at the level of elite institutions such as Stanford.