Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seeing Auras, Through Aurasma, That Is!

I've been hearing a lot about augmented reality in the last few years and it's been hard for me to imagine how it could work in classrooms. Luckily, some great teachers I work with began to pave the way. My science teachers came to me to show me the app Aurasma (Lite). Aurasma lets you add augmented reality layers to any trigger image you choose. The science teachers wanted to use it to have a video play once students were finished reading an article.

It went like this.

The students read an articles on bees from a physical piece of paper. They took notes and did some great reading strategies while reading the article. When they were done, they picked up an iPad, opened the Aurasma Lite app, and hovered the camera over the photograph in the article. And then,


A video appears in place of the photograph. (Commence oohs and aahhhs) Not forgetting that the point is to have the students then learn more from the video that has been magically summoned by the technology gods, students were to record new facts about the topic (bees) that were covered in the video but not in the article.

Talk about raising student engagement.

Students that hadn't read the article, suddenly buckled down and began reading.

Students that had been FAR off task, took on leadership roles and began showing other students how the app worked (and discovered some things the science teachers and I hadn't tried yet!)

It was a great class and a fun way to use the app.

But I want more.

What if students recorded themselves doing a book talk and then used the cover of the book as the trigger image? Anyone with access to the app could scan the cover of the book and then watch the students' book talk.

Or what about once a student has completed a work of art? They could record themselves discussing what what challenging about the piece or what ideas they were trying to convey.

I'd love to hear from other educators about how they've used this app or how they envision it being used. I love the idea of a school covered with augemented realities that show off student work in a multitude of formats and media.

In the mean time, Aurasma has great tutorials and guides to get you started, check out Creating Your Own Auras on

If your interested in creating a lesson like the science one described above, see my post Augment Your Own Reality.

Augment Your Own Reality

The world of augmented reality continues to amaze and astound me. Below are some directions for how you can create your own augmented reality experiences for your students. For a simpler process, see my post, "Seeing Auras, Through Aurasma, That Is." Below is a way to link trigger images (like a photograph in a book or article) with educational videos (from YouTube or elsewhere).

These instructions might seem long but the process is really quite simple and the website is very intuitive.

1. Set up a (free) account with Aurasma Studio.
  • Go to
  • Use your name for “Company” as well as for “Contact Name”
  • Submit the form
  • It will take 1-2 days for Aurasma to get back to you with a username and login.
2. Once you get your login information from Aurasma, go to


To make an article with a video aura:

  1. Find an article you want to use.
  2. If the article already has an image in it, right click on the image and save it in a location where you can find it again.
  3. Find a video you want to use.
  4. Download a copy of the video by using a website like KeepVid ( or by downloading a program like aTube Catcher (

Creating a channel:

  1. 1. Go to and login
  2. Click on Channels

Adding the image for the aura:

  1. Go to and login
  2. Click on Trigger Images
  3. Click on Add
  4. Give the image a relevant and concise name
  5. Browse for the image file
  6. Click on Close

Adding the video for the aura:

  1. Go to and login (if you aren’t still logged in)
  2. Click on Overlays
  3. Click on Add
  4. Give the video a relevant and concise name
  5. Browse for the video file
  6. Click on Close

Making the aura:

  1. Go to and login (if you aren’t still logged in) 
  2. Click on Channels
  3. Select your channel
  4. Click on Add Aura
  5. Click on “Aura details”
  6. Give your Aura a hame
  7. Select the trigger image
  8. Click on Overlays
  9. Select he video you want to display
  10. Make necessary adjustments and click on Save
Your Aura is now accessible!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Launching a Virtual Book Club

I am giddy with excitement about the opportunity to host a Virtual Book Club discussing the fantastic book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time by Julie Lindsay and Vicki A. Davis. The book club was announced last Sunday night in my school division and I am thrilled that we already have thirteen teachers signed up! Even better, we have teachers from across our school division and from all different grade levels. It is a wonderful thing when already busy teachers find time in their lives to discuss powerful educational ideas with their peers. 

Now, I am ready to get some global participation in this book club. I can't think of a better way to brainstorm about global projects than to have teachers from across the globe in the session together. So, we are inviting all teachers, parents, students, thinkers and learners out there to join us for six live meetings to share what they think about the projects, resources, and research discussed in Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds.

We will be meeting on Tuesdays at 00:30GMT (Mondays at 7:30pm EST)

(find the time in your country/time zone here)

on the following dates:

January 7th - Meet the Flat Classroom, Chapters 1 & 2

January 21st - Connection and Communication, Chapters 3 & 4

February 4th - Citizenship, Contribution and Collaboration, Chapters 5 & 6

February 18th - Choice and Creation, Chapters 7 & 8

March 4th - Celebrating, Designing, Managing a Global Project, Chapters 9 & 10

March 18th - Rock the World

Meetings will be live using Blackboard Collaborate and will last one hour. We will spend the time sharing thoughts about ideas raised in the book. It will also be a great opportunity to connect with other educators that share similar passions and beliefs about flattening our classrooms walls. We will share strategies and resources for building those 21st century skills like collaboration, communication and creativity in authentic ways.

Inspiration for this Virtual Book Club came from Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis themselves. I was lucky enough to participate in a Virtual Book Club hosted by Engaging Educators last spring. It was great because I
  • actually read the book (instead of the book just staring at me from my book shelf, desperate to be read but collecting dust instead)
  • met educators from across the United States and around the world
  • learned about global projects that already exist that I could participate in
  • was inspired to do more to help students and teachers connect and collaborate
I hope that you can take some time to read the book and join us for our discussions. If you are interested, please complete this quick form so that I know you are interested and I'll get back to you with information about our first meeting. And, please, spread the word!

If you aren't familiar with the idea of a virtual book club or with this text, here's more!

What is a Virtual Book Club?

A virtual book club is one in which readers come together to discuss a text using a web-based platform. Readers connect by logging onto a website in which they can be active learners and collaborators. The virtual room allows readers to speak, listen, chat and read about what others think about the text. All participants need is a web link, a computer with access to the Internet (and preferably a working microphone) and thoughts and ideas about the reading. It is like a book club but you can stay home and be in your pajamas!

What book will we be reading?

We will be reading the text Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis. This book is co-written by classroom teachers that have transformed learning in their classrooms by communicating and collaborating with other classrooms around the world. Learn more about how global learning provides authentic literacy experiences, gets students engaged in their learning and opens up numerous opportunities for differentiation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Launching Digital Writing Month

So, two happy events collided today.

Today my presentation for the K12 Online Conference went live. I feel so fortunate to be selected to present and to be included with such amazing presentations as Tiana Kadkhoda's Kids Teaching Kids and powerful learning ideas as Ben Rimes Video Story Problems. If you haven't watched either of these yet, you absolutely should. Tiana makes a poignant case for why we need to turn the tools and the content over to kids more and let them lead us towards transformative instruction. You won't think about teaching math the same. In a similar spirit, Ben Rimes shows us how turning on the camera on our phone can lead to engaging story problems that students will love solving. And, that once students see a few of these, they will take off with creating their own. Both of these presentations will get you thinking more and more about where student voices are in your classroom or your school.

Authentic Voices has been a place where I have tried to help student voices be heard. In a previous post, Learn. Share. Remix. Joining the K12 Online Conference I go into more detail about my presentation, but here (ta-da!) is the link to the live video:

Today is also the beginning of Digital Writing Month. I personally have set a goal of posting something to my blog everyday for the month of November. I have no idea if that will get me to the suggested 50,000 words, but I can't wait to find out! I love this idea of folks all over, with differing interests, writing styles, opinions and ideas all just trying to get their ideas out there and published. While I wish I had prepared and gotten an English/Language Arts teacher or two to participate with me, I know that by just trying myself, I'll get some buy-in from them in the future.

So, today I got to share the inspiring work of students who have put their voice to their very personal writing and have published for the world to see. And, I start my own efforts to put my own voice out there more frequently and more openly.

A good day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Learn. Share. Remix. Joining the K12 Online Conference

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us… Your playing small does not serve the world.”  -- Marianne Williamson

I am so excited to be a part of the K12 Online Conference this year. The theme this year is Learn, Share, Remix with four substrands: Getting Started, Visioning New Curriculum, Kicking It Up a Notch and Student Voices. I am thrilled to be sharing stories about Authentic Voices as part of the Student Voices strand.

If you haven’t participated or “attended” the K12 Online Conference before, you are in for a treat. Everyday for two weeks at 1pm (GMT) four video presentations are launched. Each video needs to be under 20 minutes and related the the conference strand. There are a number of different presenters hitting on topics as varied as Immersive Gaming, Social Media, involving parents and delivering professional development.

For my presentation, the hardest part was choosing which voices from Authentic Voices to share. For me, every post on the wikispace has a story to tell. I remember each student: how they responded to recording their work and publishing it, what was happening in their lives and how writing became a successful moment in their learning day.  But I forced myself to choose just four pieces that seem to represent the breadth of writing on the site and highlight different powerful aspects of the project. I hope my listeners enjoy the selections I play.

In addition to sharing student voices, I wanted to emphasize three themes:
  1. Recording leads to revision
  2. Authentic audiences help writers bloom
  3. Finding collaborators is challenging but worth the effort
I believe these are the heart of this project and can be applied to a number of different kinds of projects across subject areas, ages and classrooms with differing access to technology.  If you tune in, please leave me a comment and let me know what you learned, what questions you have, and what ideas you have to improve the site.

After watching the keynote address by Kevin Honeycutt I was both inspired and completely intimidated. His video captured enthused students building an Apollo 13 museum interspersed with his poignant and passionate appeals to make education engaging, powerful and meaningful. I was scratching down quotes during the whole video and more than once rewatched a segment to make sure I captured his points. If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is, watch it. And then follow him on Twitter and get further inspired.

With the same breath that felt inspiration from Kevin Honeycutt, I felt desperation about my own presentation. I realized that my video would be posted as part of the same conference! What did I think I was doing? While I am passionate about Authentic Voices and the experience it provided for students I work with, my work is no where near the same level as what Kevin Honeycutt has done. What’s worse is that the video itself is certainly amateurish and basic (just installed Camtasia days before!). How will I hold up? Should I withdraw? Plea for another week to edit my presentation?

Then I remembered, part of Kevin’s message is that we have to keep trying. We have to keep putting ourselves out there. It is time to not just consume the ideas of others but to contribute to the movement of making educational technology part of school reform. My project might be small and my presentation might lack finesse, but keeping it to myself does not serve my students well or serve anyone well. Which brings me back to the opening quote by Marianne Williamson,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us… Your playing small does not serve the world.”

So, I am repeating this quote to myself and breathing deeply.

I am excited to be a part of something big and not over-thinking my own contribution.

I am thankful to be included and not second guessing whether or not I’m worthy.

And I am joining the conversation.

Learn. Share. Remix.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

5 Great Educational Technology Blogs
Let me start by saying I love "top" lists. I'm the first to click on "11 ways to use Twitter in the classroom" or "15 rules to live by." Now that it is time for me to try to make a top 5 list of great educational technology blogs, I am feeling very inadequate and shy. But teachers and colleagues often ask me which blogs I read and so I'm feeling like it would be a good idea to post some of my favorites here. I cover everything from tech tools, to teacher reflections to posts that challenge the status quo. I find I need all of these popping up in my Google Reader to keep me thinking about my work and working on my thinking. And really, there are so many wonderful blogs out there, this is really just a starting point:

Cool Cat Teacher - Vicki Davis's blog is everything I appreciate: current, humorous, sincere, authentic, inspiring. Her blog is filled with great resources and great tools. A first stop for teachers wanting to learn more about what technology to use, how to use it and why to use it!

Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything -  Kathy Schrock is legendary in the Ed Tech realm. She finds great tools, communicates them well, and keeps current on what is shifting and changing in education. This is a great spot to find just about anything you are looking for in terms of best practices and educational technology.

The Global Classroom Project Blog - I am partial to this blog because I have had the chance to guest blog on it (full disclosure). But what I love about it is just that, it is filled with different teachers from around the world sharing what they have tried in their classrooms, what is working, and what challenges they still face. While not strictly and educational technology blog, most of these projects that are described, use technology in some innovative way - getting students to connect, learn and work together across time zones, borders and oceans.

Free Technology for Teachers - Richard Byrne's blog is chock-full of reviews of all kinds of apps, software, web 2.0 tools and more. This is a great stop-off if you want to learn 5 new storytelling apps or the best video-editing software.
Okay, so maybe I'll do my top six.... *smile* These last two are my reality check blogs. These two thought leaders consider the big picture and ask what learning should really be about.

Dangerously Irrelevant - This is one of the first blogs I began subscribing to and Scott McLeod was one of the first people I began following on Twitter. His posts make me think. They challenge the traditional way of teaching and learning many of us experienced and asks powerful questions that make me reconsider what classrooms should look like. I don't always agree and sometimes it shakes my thinking too deeply, but I know I need these ideas to shape what I do and what I believe.

The Innovative Educator - It took me longer to find Lisa Nielsen but her posts serve a similar place in my professional learning and growth as do Scott McLeod's. She really pushes the envelope in terms of questioning what schooling is about and how it relates or doesn't relate to learning and education. I encourage you to check her out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Compulsory Why

Today I was asked the most important question of all:

Why do I do what I do?

This question came from our leader of educational technology (an inspiring woman) with just a brief introduction. We were just asked to write a bit about why we do what we do.

I love this question. I typed furiously for the whole time she allotted to us. I went from the lofty, to the practical and back again. I also loved hearing all the typing and writing in the room around me. Knowing that I was on a team with a group of other passionate educators got me writing even more. Here is what I wrote:

I do what I do because I believe in the transformative power of educational technology. I believe that when students are given the opportunity to create, share, and problem-solve using relevant, powerful digital tools, they become more engaged in their education, more confident in their abilities and more curious about the world they live in. I believe that education needs to stay relevant as the world is changing and we need to provide teachers and students with the tools and resources they need to understand the complexities of the world they live in, to communicate and collaborate with others beyond their own classroom and to solve real problems that exist in the world today. I believe that teachers have a tremendous burden to teach children, curriculum and skills and that I can help share that burden by sharing what I know about digital tools. I also believe that students that are not currently feeling successful in school can grow and benefit from exposure to digital tools and resources when given the freedom to choose and reflect on the work they do.
When we "finished" what we were writing, we were introduced to Simon Sinek's TED talk "How great leaders inspire action" If you haven't already listened to this TED talk, it focuses on change agents. What Simon Sinek argues is that what distinguishes leaders from everyone else is that they focus on the "why." Instead of explaining what they do or how they do it, they communicate why they do it. Leaders let you know what they believe and inspire you to see what you believe in, in what they believe. Leaders share their I believe statements with you, not just their plans for action. As all good TED talks do, he has great visuals and great examples. If you are interested in considering how you can be a leader that inspires action, I recommend this thought-provoking video.

So, back to me. So why were we shown this video? Why were we asked to write why we do what we do? I think that in educational technology (like many fields) it is easy to get caught up in the what and they how. Here are some examples of typical "what" and "how" types of statements.

"Here is a new, great tool!" 

"Here is where to click to make your... photostory, glog, prezi, [fill in the blank]"

"We need more laptops, iPads, headphones [fill in the blank]"

But we need to spend just as much time on the "why." So, here are some of the statements I want to make a regular part of my work with teachers and school leaders:

"I believe that asking students to publish their writing on a wiki will change how they think of themselves as writers." [More on this, see Dude, Can You Please Edit]

"I believe that if students communicate directly with students from other cultures. we will create more compassionate, caring young people." [More on this, see Teachers Teaching Teachers about Global Projects]

"I believe that by playing an immersive, multi-player math game, students will do more math and become more confident in their math skills." [More on this, see Running to get to math class]

I left our meeting today more committed to sharing my "why" with the teachers and school leaders I work with. I am passionate about what I do and I do believe in what I do. I need to make sure others see this and want to believe it too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fine 'Tooning

with Toontastic

One of my favorite things about the iPads and the apps that have been developed for them is the opportunity for students to show what they know in new and creative ways. A great example of this is the app Toontastic.

Toontastic is a story-telling app. Its stand-out feature from other story-telling apps or software is that it provides the skeleton for the basic elements of a story – setting, conflict, resolution and conclusion. What happens is that when you open the app, you are invited to make a new cartoon. As you do so, the app displays a visual of this story arc. This encourages the author or cartooner to consider more than just how the story will start, but how the story will build and then be resolved. I love this aspect since we’ve all seen too many digital stories where the visuals are wonderful but the story-telling is lacking.

Another great aspect of Toontastic is that it is scaffolded in a way that a very young child could use it with very limited support (ask my 5-year-old about this). However, it is also sophisticated enough that a high school student can tailor the app to fit his or her creative ambitions (ask the ninth and tenth graders I worked with last week). The scaffolding happens this way: there are already scenes drawn for you and animated characters created that you can choose. For instance, you can select a pirate boat, desert island, and ocean scene with pirates, sharks and crabs. This is great for simple story telling, again, ask my son who has made endless stories about these pirates. Or, you can draw your own scene, tailor the animated characters or create your own characters. This is what the high schoolers I worked with did to describe the four agents of erosion. They amazed me with the sophisticated drawings they made or the creative decisions they made about designing their own characters that they could animate.

From an educator’s perspective, Toontastic gets five stars for student engagement. When I first introduced Toontastic, I made my own sample story. I had a good time creating it and laughing at myself as I showed it to the kids. They were amused, but what got them to the edge of their seats was when I showed them how I made the little movie. I could see their posture change as they realized they were going to be able to create their own movie using this app. Students would so much rather have the chance to make something original and imaginative than complete a worksheet or watch a dated movie clip.

In addition to the cartooning piece of Toontastic, students can also record their voice and add (pre-set) music to their films. This is one of my favorite aspects of Toontastic but one of the hardest sells for high school students. Some students did a great job with this, writing out what they were going to say, practicing and perfecting it until they were satisfied. Others shied away or avoided this aspect in any way they could manage. As I do more with Toontastic and high-schoolers I think I will do more to get them ready for recording their voices. I hope that in the future, we can create instructional cartoons that we would show to a younger grade level to teach a concept. I work with a number of bilingual students and it would be so great if they would make ‘Toons in their home language that could be used in classes with native speakers.

One other take-away from my first go ‘round with Toontastic had to do with saving work. Toontastic saves the settings each student creates and even the story they are working on, which is great. What is tough with iPads though is that when the next class sits down to use them, they can see all the previous classes’ work. Actually, seeing it I don’t mind at all, deleting it, I mind a lot. On our first day we had two different students delete other students work. I was devastated when I realized what had happen. Those first kids had worked so hard, only to have it gone by the end of the day. This helped me learn a few things:

  1. Be sure to know which student is using which iPad – whether this is through a sign-out sheet, permanent assignment of iPads or another system, accountability breads responsibility
  2. As soon as a student feels their ‘Toon is done, upload it to the Toontastic website. Toontastic has a website associated with their app where all the ‘Toons can be viewed. Once the ‘Toons are up there, only the teacher can delete them.
  3. Be clear about expectations with the iPads. I feel we had done a good job talking about handling the equipment safely and staying on task, but I had not been specific about respecting other students’ work. I am now. *smile*

The other lesson learned is the same lesson I learn over and over again.

Be clear about expectations for the assignment

Our first try with Toontastic yielded really uneven results. I think that is definitely because there wasn’t a clear assignment sheet explaining what we were expecting. While the classes I was working with were small and we frequently reminded students of what they needed to do, a hard-copy assignment sheet laying out expectations, maybe as a checklist would have made a big difference. I swear, I will always require this of teachers I work with in the future.

I am less certain about the requirement to do a story board or rough draft before jumping into an app. These apps generate so much innovation, I’m wonder if a rough draft would limit the resourcefulness of the students. Students often thought of ways to show the content (agents of erosion, the rock cycle) that they probably wouldn’t have consider until they started using the app. Similarly, they might have had an idea in their storyboard that they couldn’t recreate in the app. I am still debating about this part of digital stories. I feel like more planning would make for better projects, but I’m not sure at what point this should happen. I’m wondering if you let the kids create for 20-30 minutes and then have a check-in point where partner’s review each other’s work and give suggestions. This has the added benefit of students getting ideas from each other and students practicing giving productive feedback.

So, as you can see, I’m still Fine ‘Tooning my work with Toontastic. I would love to hear from you what projects you’ve tried with this app! Or what suggestions you have about how to use it effectively in classrooms. Or, if you teach Kindergarten to Grade 5 and would like to collaborate, with my students teaching your students new concepts through Toontastic!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

4tVirtual Con Adventures with Digital Reading/Writing Workshop

In addition to collaborating and presenting on The Global Classroom Project (Teachers Teaching Teachers About Global Projects) I was lucky enough to pull together four amazing Language Arts/English teachers to share their experiments and adventures with Digital Reading/Writing Workshop at the 4tVirtualCon. If you've read some of my other posts: Dude, Can You Please Edit and We Have Authentic Voices, you know that one of my passions is using digital tools to give students authentic opportunities to write and to reflect on what they've read. These four teachers are doing it and shared their ideas in this presentation.

I wanted to use this post to share their amazing work. They were all generous enough to also share some hand-outs they use and resources they found helpful. If you have additional resources or if you've blogged about similar topics, please comment here and add your own ideas, links or questions!

Here is a link to the slides from the presentation:

Read more about "The Students Take Control: Virtual Literature Circles" here:

Plus, read this article from Educational Leadership 

Read and listen to middle and high school students publishing their work:

Resources for trying out character blogs:

Plus this great post from Read, Write, Think: 

Highly recommended reads:

The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks
Because Digital Writing Matters by National Writing Project, with D├ánielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks

And, here is the link to our presentation:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Teachers Teaching Teachers About Global Projects

What a great name for a virtual conference, TeachersTeaching Teachers about Technology! This conference title spoke to me immediately. This is exactly the kind of collaborative climate I try to create in my own work with teachers, and here was a virtual conference I could participate in that would expand the circle of teachers teaching each other to a national and global level. And, if you've read The Best Conference I Ever Attended Without Leaving My House, you know my love for online conferences. Here was a chance for me to give back by sharing a topic I'm passionate about! I quickly tweeted my #globalclassroom tweeps and asked who else would like to co-present about The Global ClassroomProject.

Two great colleagues jumped on it: @tdallen5 and @Elle_Gifted. We co-wrote the presentation over Google Docs, not the least deterred that we lived in three different states: Virginia, Illinois, and Mississipi. I also contacted some teachers I’m lucky enough to work with in my own school division ( and to see if they could participate as well and speak first-hand about their experiences with global learning projects. Despite calling @tdallen5 an hour earlier than she was expecting me once (darn those time zones!) and at least one teacher being thwarted from participating by state testing, we are set to present Tuesday, May 22nd at 2:30pm EST. And, of course, none of that would have been possible without the help of @mgraffin who not only connected us in the first place, but proofed our presentation and helped us connect with even more resources!

In addition to loving the fact that putting together this presentation was in itself a global project, it was a great chance to reflect again on why I am so passionate about global projects. Listening this past Thursday to one teacher practicing online with the moderator (in Michigan), I was reminded how much we have to gain by letting students communicate with their peers around the world.

Communicating with others fosters self-reflection

  • American students were stunned to learn that their friends and Hong Kong were planning to study over their winter vacation
  • Two girls connected about how hard it is to change when you get headed down the wrong track

Students rise to the occasion when there is an authentic audience

  • English Language Learners in the United States practiced their speeches over and over again to make sure that their friends in Hong Kong could understand them
  • Students revised their “finished” writing when they knew students elsewhere would be reading and listening to their work

Teachers grow from global collaboration too

I am so grateful to Global Classroom Project for:
  • helping me create a PLN where I can send out a tweet and end up presenting with peers across the country in a virtual conference
  • providing a place where teachers can create their own project and connect with teachers across the world
  • keeping me motivated and inspired to make global project a part of as many classrooms as I can

And, finally, for helping teacher teach teachers about global projects!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Video Games Could Save Schools

feel very lucky that this was published in Learning and Leading, May 2012

Do you know what is really compelling about a great video game? It is not the great graphics or the amazing sound effects or even the ability to do things you can’t do in real life. The really compelling feature of video games is their ability to give you a task to complete that is hard enough that you feel challenged but easy enough that you know you can do it. In addition, as you work towards that challenge you get constant feedback about how you are doing. And I don’t mean the computer is shouting back at you “Alllriiight!!!” or “Way to go dude!” but rather that at any moment, you can see your score, your time, your distance, and see how you compare to others in the game. And what’s more, the challenge you are completing is epic. It is part of a larger story, often part of the ubiquitous hero’s journey. In this journey, the choices are yours to make. Your decisions will make a difference and will contribute to events more important than your individual life.
Think about all that for a minute.

Photo By Ryan Somma
What if going to school felt the same way? What if when they arrived at school students knew they were about to be presented with a challenge that was difficult but achievable, a challenge that was significant to the world outside of the classroom walls, a challenge during which the student would consistently learn if he or she was on the right track, a challenge where students could make their own decisions and choices.

I think we would have students that love coming to school, have high engagement in their learning, and would be prepared for a future world of work and learning where they will need to solve difficult problems.

I have been lucky enough to work in some classrooms where teachers are trying to make the connections between video games and content learning. Several classrooms in my school division are currently using online, multiplayer, content area games. When you walk into the classrooms playing these games, you can feel the excitement in the air. It is loud as students shout encouragement back and forth. It is busy as students ask for help with problems they are unsure of. It is focused as students work on content area skills to conquer an online problem. Furthermore, playing video games, students are building their confidence in content areas. Whether it is simulating the challenges of being president in iCivics, or determining why the fish have left a national park in Quest Atlantis, working as a team to solve math problems to conquer a node in Dimension M or trying to help the American Revolution in Mission US, teachers report that students are engaged, persistent, and better problem solvers as a result of their experience playing games in schools.

We can do better than dismiss video games as violence-producing time-wasters. We need to stop thinking about video games as things that are sucking our students away from learning and instead find out what they are learning from playing video games. Then, we need to find more ways to make school like video games: self-directed, relevant, challenging and epic.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who doesn't love a mystery?

I am dying to get a teacher that I work with to try Mystery Skype. The concept is simple but powerful. You link up with another class somewhere in the United States or in the World. You ask questions of the other class and provide clues about your own class until you can each guess where the other class is located. Poof! Fun, authentic, high-level application of geography skills.

I really can't emphasize what a great example this is of using technology in a way that transforms learning: Students will:

  • develop excellent questioning and reasoning skills as they create questions to uncover clues about the mystery location
  • practice communicating via 21st century tools (certainly Skype and can be expanded from there if the classes choose to stay in communication)
  • learn about worlds beyond those of their classroom or school from those who actually live in those places rather than via textbooks or sanitized non-fiction readers
  • have a chance to take on leadership roles as they prepare to answer questions about their own location
Photo by woodleywonderworks
Below are some ideas and instructions for getting going with Mystery Skype. I've pulled these together from lots of great blogs and teacher websites like the following:

Mrs. Yollis
Mrs. Pripp
6th Chat
Mystery State Skyping
Mr. Avery 
School Is Cool  (video)
Teaching Geography and Mystery Skype

I hope to keep adding to this post as I coerce teachers into, I mean, assist teachers with Mystery Skype. Please add your own comments, advice, warnings in the comments below. And if you have a blog or posting about Mystery Skype, please add your link. I'd love to be able to refer teachers to this post as a go-to spot for getting started with Mystery Skype.

STEP ONE Establishing Accounts:

To begin, if you don’t already have one, set up a Skype account for your class. It is free and easy! I found that when I was at school, I was blocked from setting up my account, but I could browse projects other teachers had posted. And I could set up my account easily from home.

BONUS STEP: It is not required, but it is recommended to have an educational Twitter account. If you don’t have one already, create one. Teachers often set up an account like “MrsDunbar” or “MrsD5th” You might find this a useful way to communicate with your Mystery Skype classes or with other professionals (you don’t have to follow the cast of Jersey Shore).

STEP TWO Connecting with other classrooms:

Sign up for Mystery Skype using one of the following links:

Or, make your own connections!

  • If you know teachers in other regions, ask them if they’d be willing to Mystery Skype with you
  • Ask colleagues, parents and students if they have contacts in other states, see if they want to Mystery Skype
  • If you are on Twitter, you can also just tweet that you are looking for classrooms to Mystery Skype with

STEP THREE Preparation for the call:

The technology:
Find out what the procedures are for your school or school division. In my school division, teachers contact the Help Desk so that Skype can be unblocked for that day, time, and location. Our Help Desk will also provide a good web cam and microphone as well as hang around to make sure everything goes well. If you have a great tech department like ours, get them involved in the call too! They can give a clue or ask a question!

Your class:

  • Be sure your students know about your our own region! Have different students research the geography, history, landmarks, weather and other aspects of our location that make your location unique. You want to make sure that your class can answer questions accurately.
  • Brainstorm questions to ask the other class. Usually Mystery Skype projects use close ended questions. Help your class develop a list of Yes/No questions that will help them figure out the location of the other class.
  • Give students roles for the time of the call. The links below have great ideas about how to do this.

The other class:
Try to communicate actively with the other class. Be sure that you are both clear about how the call is going to run, including if you are using Yes/No questions, who is going to go first, what roles your students have. Also be clear if the location will be revealed during the call or after the call. Don’t be afraid to say this is your first time, we educators need to take risks and support each other.

STEP FOUR Share how it went!

I am looking forward to sharing how the first Mystery Skype call goes. I have a couple of victims, I mean, teachers in mind that I am hoping are feeling brave enough to try this out. I will be sure to post here once that happens. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from more teachers how Mystery Skype enhances learning in their classrooms. You can share here too, or tweet about it, or write on your own blog, or share at a faculty meeting, or just share with the teacher across the hall!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Flattening your classroom and Flattening your own world

I have been having a great time reading Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. This book is an excellent resource for anyone considering global projects or for any teacher who is just interested in expanding their own classroom view. The book itself models a collaborative global project in every way imaginable. Here are some of the ways it does this:
Photo by Clive Darr
  • Whenever a classroom project example is given, or a powerful quote from a teacher or expert is provided, the authors encourage the reader to follow that person on Twitter. I have loved this. There is really no better example of how flat our world is than just clicking the "Follow" button under someone's name. You now can follow their thoughts, find out who they are following, and even mention them in your own Tweets. 
  • Along with the book are 15 Flat Classroom Challenges. These challenges encourage you to set up RSS like Google Reader (check!), start a blog (check!), join a collaborative network like Google Teacher Academy or Apple Distinguished Educators (check!), from there the challenges get more, well, um, challenging. But I love this idea. To encourage readers to take on the challenge, the authors suggest tweeting as you complete the challenges or posting on the Flat Classroom Ning. This helps make it all feel more like a fun scavenger hunt instead of homework. I love this idea so much I am considering how to make it a part of some of the local professional development I do.
  • There is a virtual book group! I was so glad I checked Twitter at the moment an announcement about the book club came across my stream. The book club meets once a week for an hour via Blackboard Collaborate. Ben and Neil from Engaging Educators moderate and either Vicki or Julie (the authors) are always there. This is a great opportunity to share your own reflections while reading the book as well as to ask questions of amazing teachers that have been living and breathing global collaboration for years now.
  • More! QR codes that link to student projects, Flat Classroom Diaries that give you glimpses into the personal stories behind different global projects, and a professional development toolkit that I haven't checked out yet.
There are many, many aspects of this book that I am finding inspiring, stimulating and thought-provoking and I hope to blog more about these in the future. For now I'd like to say that I am so thrilled to see a professional learning tool that really models what it values. If we want teachers to start to use technology in transforming ways, we need to do more to model professional learning experiences that mirror what teachers can be doing with students. That is what is knocking me out about this book. By encouraging teachers to tweet, blog, connect, comment and engage with this book, the authors are really showing what learning in the 21st century looks like. To quote Vicki Davis during our last book club, "Learning is not about consuming, it is about contributing and creating." Kudos to Julie and her for writing a book that doesn't just talk about that idea, but lives it. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What does family mean to you? What does it mean to your students?

Families depend on each other a lot. They show each other how to handle problems and they show support to each other when help is needed. They show how to set goals and they care for one another...
"A day my sisters had to depend on me was on Mother's Day a couple years ago." (read more)
" The person I really depend on is my brother. I just want him to be around when I need him. My mom I really don’t depend on because I know she is going to be here regardless. But my brother…I depend on him because he needs to be here when something happens. I mean my mom can protect me but not like my brothers can or dad." (read more)
"One time that my family depended on me was when my grandfather was very sick because of his diabetes." (read more)
Above are three responses from students about what family means to them. Their Language Arts teacher provided the opening sentences but then the students took it from there. They wrote about times they helped their families, times their families helped them and times their families let them down. Each essay told a new story and shed new light on the nature of families. But the essay also shared commonalities: how connected we are with our families, how our actions impact on families and how our families' action impact us. Read more of the students essays here.

But what we want to know now is:

How similar are families around the world?

We have issued ourselves a challenge. Can we find students from 10 different countries to share with us what their families mean to them? By May 1st?
Will your classroom be one of them?

We would love that! If you are interested, leave me a comment here, contact me on Twitter @edtechdunny, or just go ahead and join our wiki. We can send you more information about how to add your essays to our wiki. But basically, if you can type up your essays, we can add them to our site! Let's give our students a chance to learn about families everywhere and to see a world bigger than their own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dude, Can You Please Edit?

The last two years I have been lucky enough to work with a group of middle school Language Arts teachers that were interested in implementing a Digital Reading Writing Workshop in their classrooms. Inspired by Troy Hicks'  The Digital Writing Workshop, we met regularly and compared notes about how best to incorporate some of the ideas presented in the book into our classrooms.

One of the brilliant ideas that came out of these early morning gatherings was to use the wiki tool in Blackboard as a digital writing portfolio. This was one of those ideas that was so good, I was mad I hadn't thought of it! This colleague of mine, Teacher Wiki, set up individual wikis within her Blackboard courses for each student. Each student would then create a new page of the wiki for each new writing piece. That meant that each time they revised that page of their wiki, all revisions were saved. Furthermore, because the wikis were all public, all students in the class could read each other's writing and leave specific feedback about each piece. Further, furthermore, students could get ideas for their own writing based on what they read in each other's wikis. A simple and elegant way to help students track their own progress, publish their work for feedback and view examples from their classmates of great writing.

So, as you can tell, I was excited about the use of this tool to truly build a digital writing workshop. But what was even more exciting was the student writing and interactions that came out of this practice.

Teacher Wiki had one student who would type a few sentences and declare himself done. Using all her Teacher College Writing tricks, Teacher Wiki would cajole and needle and work hard to get the student to write more. However, Student Y would just not elaborate or even re-read what he had written. That is until, he got some feedback from his peers.

Dude, Can You Please Edit?

This was shouted across the room at him in a none-too-patient voice from a friend across the room. It was clear that when Student X went to give reluctant writer Student Y some feedback in his wiki, the piece was filled with too many errors. It was after this across-the-room exchange that reluctant writer Student Y quietly asked Teacher Wiki where the spell check function was in the wiki tool. Quietly, surreptitiously, reluctant writer Student Y went back and began to revise and edit his piece. That quick exchange with his peer made more of an impression on him than repeated attempts by his teacher. And I question whether or not the scenario would have unfolded the same way if the students had just exchanged papers. Instead, this is a perfect example of what can happen when students are encouraged to write from the beginning in a digital format.  Editing and revising is so much easier in the digital format but, more importantly, when adolescents get feedback from their peers, they are much more interested in revising than when they get the same feedback from their teacher.

Now, of course, Teacher Wiki works hard on teaching students how to give appropriate and helpful feedback to the writer. (I don't think "Dude, can you please edit" was one of her model examples). She gives students specific ideas about how to respond to other students' writing and highlights model responses. As the school year goes on, students get better and better at giving each other feedback. While they still often slip into casual chat talk, they do give advice about word choice and provide suggestions for adding detail.

When I interviewed students at the end of last year, one students was able to tell me both how he got his writing topic idea from reading other students' wikis ("When I read how that student wrote about breaking a vase, I remembered the time I broke a window."), and how he improved the piece based on feedback from a classmate ("They suggested I use the word 'shattered' when I described the window breaking. I had just said 'broke.'") This was great testimony to the importance of letting students read each other's work in a friendly and open way.

Example of a student adding transitions to her writing
The ability to track all the revisions on a writing piece, have students giving and recieving feedback from each other and creating a space for students to collect more ideas about what and how to write has made using the wiki tool in Blackboard a huge success for these Language Arts students. As more and more teachers experiment with this format, students will benefit. They will grow as writers and as learners.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

We finally got to start using Quest Atlantis last week! If you have never heard of Quest Atlantis before, it is an immersive learning game. Students have avatars and enter a 3D world where they are assigned missions and quests. The missions and quests all are connected to real-world problems and have engaging story lines. Students must navigate the 3D world to find information and clues to solve a problem. Along the way they meet virtual characters who guide the students and provide information. There is also the opportunity to interact with the avatars of students from other schools. The basis of Quest Atlantis is the concept of transformative play. As the Quest Atlantis website explains:
Students who play transformationally become protagonists who use the knowledge, skills, and concepts of the educational content to first make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform the play space and the player.
So, I was curious, how would my students react to this 3D space? Would they experience tranformational play? Would they enjoy exploring the virtual world more than they enjoying learning in a traditional classroom?

Honestly, I wasn't sure I would ever find out. The first hurdle to tackle was getting permission slips signed. Because Quest Atlantis is funded by Indiana University and used for research about emerging technologies and learning, students were required to have parental approval before logging into the Quest Atlantis world. Unfortunately, asking parents to sign a permission slip for a class assignment was not a top priority for these students. After a little cajoling from me and some tough talk from their principal, we finally had all the permission slips in. Whew, step one complete.

The first day playing went, well, great. The students were excited. They were laughing and talking and fully engaged for the 30 minutes we let them play. It was fascinating to watch their personalities emerge online. Some went right to finding out their mission and were running off here and there without really absorbing their task or the information given them. Others spent a tremendous amount of time getting their avatar just right. Still others tested the limits of the world and immediately dove off cliffs, swam in the water and tried to get into places they shouldn't. It was all behavior I would completely expect when giving adolescents a new toy. They were experimenting: some with recklessness, some with caution and some just took it as it came.

Day two we began by showing students how to know where in the 3D world they were. Quest Atlantis uses North, South, East, and West indicators for students to know where they currently are and to locate the places they needed to get to. I was pleased that students got the directional concepts but was fascinated to watch them play and realize that they didn't really understand how to apply these concepts. Since we were playing during their social studies class time, I loved that they were absorbing directionality in a whole new way and actually applying it in a way that was meaningful to them.

My other take-away from day two was that my students need help following directions! I guess I always knew that but assumed that they were having trouble following directions because they didn't really care about the assignments or weren't listening to the directions the first time. But watching them play Quest Atlantis, I realized they actually needed help reading carefully and doing tasks in the order assigned to them. Since many of my students have struggled to achieve in traditional schools, this observation wasn't a shocker, but it was still useful to observe it in the virtual world.

The next step with Quest Atlantis will be for the students to tackle content-related missions in the 3D world. Until then I'll be excited about the following things:

  • The school administrator commented that she'd never seen Student X talk so much as she did when playing  Quest Atlantis that first day
  • A student that was going to be absent for Day Two asked if she could play the game at home. (Yes!)

If playing Quest Atlantis means students are excited to learn and want to work on school work outside of school, I'm ready for more!