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DropBox Is Awesome!

March 14, 2010
One of the biggest problems I have dealt with a a teacher is the inability to access information from my work computer when I’m at home or files on my home computer when I’m at work. I’m constantly emailing documents I create in one place so I can work on them more or use them in another place. Another way to transfer information is to use the Flash Drive. Sometimes I would forget it at home or leave it at work. I know I have talked to other teachers and they have said access to school files from home would be great. Well, I don’t think the school will be opening up their servers to teachers anytime soon. Dropbox is the answer to all of our file sharing problems.

I’ve heard some of the teachers in my PLN talk about Dropbox, but I really didn’t think twice about it.  Crawling around the web the other day, I stumbled upon Dropbox and finally decided to give it a look. I’m angry at myself for waiting this long to investigate. The days of Flash Drives and Emailing documents are over. All of my school documents are only a few clicks away. Below is a video you should watch to give you the ins and outs of the system. below I will give you some of the key points that have me excited and some thoughts about how I could use it in the classroom.

I hope you liked what you saw. Once you jump on their website, they have another great video walking users through the Dropbox process. Here are some of the things that really got me excited about using Dropbox as a teacher.
  • I no longer have to worry about transferring documents from one computer to another. If I create a test at home, I only need to save it to the Dropbox Folder. Once I get to school, I only need to log-in to Dropbox.com to download the document and use in class.
  • Sharing is easier. We have shared folders in the district, but many of us do not use them for one reason or another. Most of what I do is created at home. Once I create it there, I email to school, make copies and that’s that. With Dropbox, I can create folders for each unit I tech and share them with the teachers in my Department from the luxury of my home computer. There is no need for extra steps. Once a folder is shared with other people, they will be able to access it whenever they want. Again, teachers are no longer chained to their computer in the classroom and that is a huge plus.
  • I can create folders for work and for personal use. Sometimes I want to share a bunch of pictures from a trip. I can place the pictures in the folder and share it with family and friends. Too often, pictures are all over the internet for people to see, but this can allow people to actually keep copies of pictures taken at events.
  • iPhone access! I downloaded the Dropbox app and can have access to all of the same documents on my phone that I would see on the computer. I can double check to see what documents I have access to from anywhere in the world. If I decide to make a document accessible to the public, I do not have to wait to get to a computer to do so. I can also take pictures from my camera and post them in the shared folder. On a trip, family and friends could view pictures as I take them instead of having to wait until I get home to upload them to a site like Flickr.
  • I can share individual files with anyone I want. If I really don’t want someone to look at my entire folder, I can store the document (Word Doc, Picture, Song, etc) in a public file and it will create a special URL link I can send to anyone I choose. Click here for an example.

The last point is very exciting to me. In theory, I could create public folders for each of my classes and share documents with my students from any computer I want. hey could be assignments, news articles, pictures, etc. Not only that, student could share documents with me through a public folder. This could be the last step in my attempt to create a paperless classroom. Now, any assignment I want, can be turned in to a public folder for me to grade. I’m sure there will be bugs to work out, but this could be a valuable tool as teachers look for ways to make important class information available to students no matter where they are.

Lastly, Dropbox is not for teachers only. Any person that uses multiple computers will find this helpful. Think about the times yo have wanted to work on a document, but it was on the “other” computer. With Dropbox, those problems are now gone.

@TheNerdyTeacher

Winter Olympics with Shidonni

February 26, 2010

Picture 15

What it is: The Winter Olympics is here! There is so much learning to be done. In my computer lab, my students will be completing the following assignment using Shidonni and various Olympic websites for research. I have created a Weebly site as a research landing page for students.

View lesson plan here.

Cross post from http://ilearntechnology.com

Tech Integration is Like Cooking

February 16, 2010

Before I start this post, I want to give a shout out to the Teacher Twitter Nation that responded to some of my tweets that led to this post being written. @ktenkely, @cpoole27, @mattpearson, @fejoknom, @BArcher001, @ShellTerrell, @Russsauntry, @SeanBanville, @Marissa_C, @msmithpds and anyone else that re-tweeted my comments. With educators like these, the world of education is heading in the right direction. 🙂

I love to cook. It’s  right up there with gardening. People think I’m weird when I tell them I love to do those two things. I’ve always been a bit of a jock and videogamer, but I have a creative side I get to show in the classroom when I teach, but also when I garden and cook. I was thinking about cooking, mostly because I was hungry, but I realized that there is a link to how I learned to cook and how I have integrated technology as a teacher. I hope these comparisons help you or teachers you know start to bring new forms of technology to your students.

Start Boiling Eggs Before You Make A Turkey

I needed to start off simple so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself on the first time out. Once I mastered the easy stuff for myself and then my friends and family, I could move on to more complicated dishes. You need to build confidence as a cook. You are not going to run your own kitchen on the first time out, but you can develop some very important skills while learning the ropes on easy dishes that will prepare you for more difficult ones later on.

Finding new technology for your classroom is the same. You need to find things that you feel will be easy to take on when starting out. It can be a blog, a discussion board or a class website. Whatever you feel you can tackle first, start there. It’s important that you use something you feel comfortable with before you start to share it with students. If you are not comfortable, they will not be. Imagine a cook that does not look confident biting into their own burger, Yikes!

Don’t Reinvent the Cookbook

When I started cooking, I relied on The Food Network, The Naked Chef Cookbook and various websites. These sources of information were helpful as I tried new and different things. Although one person might be an award winning chef, someone else might have an even better take on the same dish. I looked for sources of information that could help me become a better cook. You might be surprised to know that your friends have recipes that you would love. At this stage, I did not need to create a new recipe every time I cooked, I just needed to see what recipes worked for me.

With Technology, we are blessed with so many people out there that know more about tech that you or me. These teachers are dying to share their information with the world. The only thing you need to do is look around. If there is a teacher in your building using “Clickers” in their class, ask them how they use it and if you can watch. There are many blogs by teachers and for teachers that deal with technology. Your reading one right now.  Once you find something you like, try repeating what they did. Once you master that, try changing it to better fit your needs.

One Spice Does Not Fit All

In my early cooking stages, I would find a spice I loved and I would use it on everything. I did not care if the spice was for pork only or chicken only, I used it on everything. There were a few meals that were not great because of it. I had to learn that certain spices work for certain foods for a reason. Find the right spice for the right food and you will have a better meal in the long run.

It is very easy to assume that this new technology you have fallen in love with will apply to all areas of your curriculum. That is not always the case. Trial and error is the best way to explore, but be prepared for a bad lesson or two if you use it on everything. Use your tech sparingly on the outset. Look for ways that lessons can be connected using the tech and integrate them that way. Not all lesson might need a spice of technology.

All Of The Spices At Once Is Not A Good Idea

Spices are good things. They can enhance the flavor of any dish. They should be used to accent a flavor already found in the pasta, meat or veggie. Adding too much or too many spices will take away from the food itself and can even make the meal taste terrible.

Don’t just use all of the technology at once because technology is good. Use only some of it here and there to add some flavor to your lesson plan. They should not take over the actual lesson, but just give it a little kick to appeal to a wider audience.

You Need A Few Bad Meals Before You Create A Masterpiece

I cannot even count the number of failed recipes I tried to put together when I started to explore my personal creative side of cooking. I would mix and match spices that seemed great separately, but were a total disaster. Learning cooking times for certain veggies and meats so that everything can be done at the same time is not an easy thing to learn on your own, but it was important that I do not get discouraged as I cooked. I was ok with making bad meals as long as I went back and noted what went wrong and tried to fix it or scrap it and start over.

We have all created lessons that have not worked out in the classroom. We go in with the best intentions and sometimes it is just a dud. At the end of the day, we sit back and try to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes it’s something very simple and the lesson is a hit next year. Other times, the whole thing needs to be scrapped. Integrating technology needs to be treated the same way. You might plug it into a lesson and it works great or it fails. It’s important not to give up and try to find what went wrong. If ti can be fixed, fix it. If it can’t try to find another way to make it work with a different lesson. You can’t give up after a few bad lessons. Most of us would be gone after the first year if that was the case.

When You Finally Get the Right Recipe, Write It Down!

There have been too many times where I finally found the right mix of spices, cooking length and other variables and then I realize I did not write any of it down. I got so into the process and the great thing that I was creating that I didn’t take a second to jot some notes down. It’s ok if you get used to cooking something that you no longer need a recipe, but it is always good to have in case you need it or your friend asks for that awesome Eggplant Parm you make.

Bookmark or save pages that are helpful to you. Write down and save lesson plans that you create. These are great sources of information when something works or doesn’t work. You can go back and hopefully pinpoint the best or worst part. Also, when something works well, you should share it with the world. The only way you can share that awesome lesson on The Declaration of Independence is if you have it written down somewhere.

Know Who You Are Cooking For

I love Tomatoes. My Wife does not like Tomatoes. It’s amazing we got married despite this terrible division. When I cook , I need to remember that she is not a fan of tomatoes and I need to make adjustments to my recipes. Some tomato use is unavoidable and she grins and bares it, but I try to make the accommodation because I do not want to eat alone.

Just because you love the Document Camera does not mean everybody is going to love the Document Camera. They should try it, but they don’t have to love it. Your students might not like the different types of tech you bring to the class. That might change from year to year. Kids are picky. You need to be ready top adjust your lessons so everybody can enjoy the learning process. Like my wife though, some students will have to have some technology whether they like it or not because it’s just part of the recipe, I mean lesson.

You Are Now Ready For Thanksgiving Dinner

After spending time working on the various recipes, I felt confident to invite the family over for Thanksgiving Dinner. I decided to use a combination of personal recipes and ones borrowed or tweaked from other people. I had others who helped me along the way, but I was in charge of the show. There were a few stumbles along the way, but the meal went very well. Drinking Wine along the way did not hurt. 🙂

After some time, you will feel comfortable to show everyone what you have learned. You can do this at a department meeting or in front of the entire staff. Know that you do not have to do this alone. Ask others to help you along the way and do some of the little things so you can focus on the big picture. It would be a shame if you learned all of these new tech tips and did not share them with the teachers in your building. Sharing is what teachers do. Teaching teachers is not an easy thing to do, but if you can teach one teacher, you are teaching hundreds of students.

Post a comment with your thoughts. I know I left some things out that I will add in at a later date, but I wanted to get a few of these ideas down while they were fresh in the noggin.

Cross-Post from The Neardy Teacher

Filling the Production Gap

February 12, 2010

PBS FRONTLINE’s digital_nation is full of great clips and sound bytes. Addressed in that film by many of people interviewed as what Arne Duncan refers to as the “Opportunity Gap.” This opportunity gap sounds very similar to what many of us are calling the “Production Gap.” I have taken the important clips related to that topic from that documentary, added clips from a keynote speech by Alan November, interviews with Seymore Papert, and clips from old public domain ephemeral films from the Internet Archive. Combined, I feel it both explains and makes the case very well for addressing the production gap as a social justice issue.

For full-length versions (16 min) of this film:

Filling the Production Gap on Vimeo.
View this clip on Blip.tv


View the abridged version on YouTube

While school filtration policies play an important role in sustaining the production gap because they limit our ability to engage students in tools and with information as content producers they are not the only issue. What is more important are practices of pedagogy and I think the video makes this clear. So, how do we fill the production gap? Here are four simple prescriptive steps:

  1. Open access to read/write web resources (stop blocking blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking, and vodcasting sites like YouTube)
  2. Create a learner-centered learning environment (tailor learning experiences to individual student interests, needs, and abilities)
  3. Engage all students as content producers.
  4. Provide all students with a thorough and honest digital literacy education so they understand the levity of what they post online and are able to manipulate the web to meet their academic and entrepreneurial needs.

What are your thoughts? Is the problem laid out here valid? What are the consequences of not addressing the production gap, especially for economically disadvantaged students? Would you change or add any steps to this list? Let me know.

Cross-Post from Techno Constructivist, February 8, 2010.

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February 12, 2010

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