Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From Bethlehem With Love

Photo by Megan Black
I am visiting family in Christmas City, USA; AKA Bethlehem, PA. Can't make it back to Detroit due to the blizzard headed directly across I-80. Ah well, another day of snacking, napping, watching movies, hanging with the dogs, and eating cookies. Rats.

Before we left on break I learned about Knowmia via Tweets from a variety of cutting edge, Ed Tech pioneers. Knowmia is free. It requires registration on their website which is a quick and painless process. 

Knowmia is another app in the vein of Khan Academy. In other words, you use drawing tools, annotate, and import images on a virtual white board to explain concepts and step by step processes.  Like Explain Everything, Show Me, and Educations, Knowmia allows you to record your voice as you draw or annotate. You can upload your lessons to a lesson bank online, for free and student scan access those lessons for free. Unlike the others, in Knowmia you can also include video explanations and video clips. There are more tools available in Knowmia than the competition. Additionally  I find the interface easier to navigate and use. 

The iPad screenshots of Knowmia on the iTunes store just happen to contain a similar concept as one my brilliant colleague, Michelle Roberts, did in her Science Class. Michelle had students create presentations, old school, in a software program using the tools to create atom models and show the electron exchange that takes place between elements. Michelle's lesson was successful, fun, and memorable. Knowmia wouldn't make it better but  it would allow the students to record their explanations and provide their final product with a greater audience. They could also do it anytime, anywhere they had their iPad.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Words fail. Our hearts break for the community of Sandy Hook. I pray for healing, realizing some wounds can never heal. I cope by preparing, acknowledging many things are beyond our control. 

Disaster Caster  is a free App that will blast out a  a 911 call and pre-programmed plan to family members, faculty, whoever you assign in the event of an emergency.

Remind 101 or  are both free text blasting services schools and other organizations can use to set up groups to blast text messages. Messages can be sent from a cell phone or a computer. 

Pocket First Aid and CPR  is made by the Red Cross and will give detailed instructions on how to help deal with medical emergencies. 

Psycological First Aid  This is an app for First Responders to help following shortly after a traumatic event.

PTSD Coach  This app provides users with help and information to support others coping after traumatic tradegies

I learned of this article from Richard Byrne. It is well worth the read and full of useful security and preparedness information.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tech Zero?

Photo by: Megan Black
It surprises most folks but I am not a tech junkie. I am lucky that way. It isn't difficult for me to set limits because more than anything, I jones for balance. Nature, and a long hot bath, are my tickets to peace. Having said that, technology often leads me to new ways to look at the natural world. New ways to hope when I despair.  Stories to remind me why we are here and how we can serve each other and this astonishing world we were given.

And so I would like to share two non-tech, but innovative, 21st century thinking, inspiring, media centric, super cool things I came across over the weekend. The first is the 20 Best Mobile Apps by John Spencer of ReThink Education. John is the latest gem collected in my Personal Learning Treasure. I spent a good hour and a half pouring over his eloquent and relevant blog. I feel the message below is crucial in today's world.

The video I embedded below was shared via Facebook with me from my dear friend, singer songwriter Chris McCall.  I found the story incredibly inspiring and it shows the kind of thinking that is needed in our world today. Please enjoy and like them on Facebook to help provide future funding for Landfill Harmonic.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Marygrove Treasure Trove
Two weeks ago Marygrove College hosted a webinar, Ten Common Technology Challenges for Teachers with Richard Bryne of Free Technology for Teachers. The webinar was free to the public but unfortunately it was also scheduled right at the end of the school day so many were unable to attend, including myself. Luckily, they posted that webinar online. When I went to retrieve it and share it with my staff, I discovered they have all kinds of goodies online.

Some of their offerings include: Step by Step Downloadable Guides, Best Practices, Webinars, and Teacher Talk PodCasts from experts in Education. Please check out Marygrove's Free Resources Page. 

To view Richard's Presentation Ten Common Technology Challenges see the embedded video below. This is also a link to the video if you do not have time currently and would like to bookmark it for later. The webinar is about an hour long and worth its weight in gold. 
Ten Common Technology Challenges for Teachers10 Common Challanges Edit rev1 from Marygrove College on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Read, Write, Think Apps
Read, Write, Think part of Thinkfinity has long been one of the best interactive literacy websites on the Internet. They are now matching their excellence in the iPad app world. Recently, they developed Word Mover. Word Mover is a free app where you can create your own found poetry. It works in much the same way as the poetry magnets of old but what makes it extra groovy is the backgrounds you can import and the fact that you can use word banks from famous works. For Example, you can take Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech and create your own poems with his eloquent words. Word Mover also allows students to add their own words to the bank. It can also be used as a story starter and personally speaking, it works well to free up writer's block.
Another admirable app developed by Thinkfinity is Trading Cards. Trading Cards can be an effective teaching tool in every core subject. Students can create trading cards for vocabulary, biographies, fictional characters, objects, concepts, historical events, genres, or really anything they can imagine. Thinkfinity provides students with guiding questions to help them create more dynamic profiles for the cards. Students then can collect and trade cards on a topic. The educational uses of this app are endless and cross many grade levels. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pauper in a Palace

Earlier this week I gave a presentation to my faculty where I granted them permission to lurk. My principal thought that was scandalous. Not really, but he did find it amusing. The thing is though that most teachers are great thieves and even better hoarders.  I find I am always on the look out for a great idea I can beg, borrow, or steal.

I want to contribute to the feast but often feel like I am the last one to arrive and I brought the Lima beans.  No one wants to feel like a mooch. Least of all teachers who have willingly chosen to live in abject poverty, labor long hours, and put up with precious few who truly understand how hard they work all for the sake of their "kids."

So, sometimes we need someone else to say, "Its okay! Eat up! Just be sure to thank the host by name." And pay it forward when you are able. 

Having said that, this blog is a remix of two tasty leftovers from some fine Ed Tech dining I enjoyed last week. I would like to thank Richard Byrne author of Free Technology for Teachers who has fed me great resources and ideas or the past four years. This is the latest version of his best tech resources. These resources are a mix of Web 2.0 tools, sites, cloud based tools, and apps.

I also want to thank Shelly Terrell of the fantastic blog Teacher Reboot Camp for this wonderful slide share of paired iPad activities. 

Both Shelly and Richard are constant sources of learning and inspiration for me and I highly recommend adding their blogs to your following. You will be well nourished for years to come. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gratitude to my PLN

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Stuck in Customs: 
A foodie's favorite holiday is once again here.  My mind wanderings mirror those of Homer Simpson, complete with the drool. However, food is not the only reason I love this season. Thanksgiving is special to me because it celebrates what we should be doing everyday; noticing and appreciating all the blessing in our lives. There is no doubt that one of my greatest treasures in the past few years have been the supportive, generous educators from around the world and close to home that I call my Personal Learning Network. They have contributed to my growth as teacher, as a learner, and as a human.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term PLN (Personal Learning Network) it was coined a few years ago to describe the folks you connect with both in real time and online to share ideas, resources, and lessons plans. There are many ways to do so but some of the most popular are: Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, Learnist, Blogging, Diigo and Delicious, and Edmodo. Basically it is the process of harnessing social networks for the greater good, to learn, to grow.

The process begins simply enough. Pick a network or two and begin by following others and collecting what they share. It doesn't take long for something to strike your fancy. Diigo or  Delicious are great for collecting and sorting resources. As you become richer, hopefully you feel the love and start to pay it forward by sharing your own creations, discoveries, and lesson plans.

My growth has been exponential since I started to develop my Personal Learning Network. There are many big names out there that have helped. See my blog roll. However, I truly owe a debt of gratitude to my neighbor at Southfield Christian, John Sowash. Make note of his name because I am sure he is an up and comer. John not only leads fantastic trainings, but he is always available for advice and generously shares his training resources. You'll find them on his website Sowash Ventures.  

If John can't answer my questions, Eric Curts will. Eric is also a mensch and expert on all things Google. Eric has many sites to his name and you can find them all at Eric

Silvia Tolisano, AKA Langwitch, is deservedly, a well known name in Ed Tech circles. Lately, she seems to have a direct, psychic link to what I need and has created it in such an extraordinary way that I couldn't possibly improve upon it. I am sure she has no idea how much she has helped me and those I support and I do not want to bore you with all the details but let me simply say her websites are a great stepping off place for all things Skype, Edmodo, or iPad.

Finally, my newest discovery in Ed Tech Dharma comes via Melissa Scott. Melissa recently came to our school to lead a professional development Training the Trainers. The superb educators in this PD will train their equally amazing peers on iPad integration and lead the Personal Learning Networks we hope to form at Grosse Pointe Academy. Melissa exemplified the quote by Tom Peters, "Leaders don't make followers, They make more leaders." You will find Melissa's offerings on her blog, My Learning Journey.

I am grateful beyond measure for so many things: the health of my body and 
Megan Black
mind, (although some might question the latter), the people and animals I love and who love me, meaningful work, this good earth, my home, reliable transportation, delicious and nutritious food, music, beauty, peace, stories, and learning. The world is full of wonder and we are all connected. I know this now more than ever thanks to people I have never met face to face but who have inspired me and helped me grow. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2 APPS 4 U

I recently learned of two new apps for the iPad that are free, fun, and have tremendous educational impact. I learned of these apps via Richard Byrne's terrific Free Technology for Teachers blog so for those of you on the cutting edge of ed tech this will be old news. Nonetheless, many have never heard of these apps and they deserve a place on the Pad.

My first recommendation is called 5 Dice: Order of Operations. This app makes a learning game out of the order of operations and involves HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills). Basically, you get 5 standard dice in a toss along with drag and drop addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division signs, as well as parenthesis, and exponent. You also get a target number. Your objective is to drag and drop the dice and operations so that they equal the target. Let me be honest, it took me almost ten minutes to figure out my first toss. The game is recommended for upper elementary but I believe it is a good enrichment activity for grades beyond fifth. 5 Dice is challenging, engaging, and free. Go on and get it.

Pixntell is another excellent learning opportunity. With Pixntell you can put photos in a slide show and record a voice over to go with each photo. There is no limit to how long your recording can be. However with a free account you are only allowed to create photo shows of five images. For a mere 0.99 cents you can get the premium version and create unlimited photo shows. Pixntell can be shared directly to Youtube or Facebook. You can also e-mail a copy and it will send the recipients an MP4 video file of the show.

There is tremendous creative learning potential for using Pixntell in the classroom. Students can easily gather fair use images on a topic, import them into Pixntell and explain their reasons for inclusion. They can use their own images to tell a story. Students as young as four can use it as a vehicle for show and tell. With five images students can record verbal and visual directions to step by step processes. Below is a video introduction. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

LearnZillion Meets Mentor Mob

Mentor Mob teamed up with Learn Zillion to create interactive playlists of lessons based on the ELA and Math Common Core Standards. Each play list is a concept unit in a step by step format complete with instructional videos, coaches commentary, guided practice, and downloadable documents. Teachers give students a code to access the playlist or embed the entire lesson right in their website. 

Every Standard starts with a video. The video begins with the objective of that lesson. The video goes on to present the material with engaging, easy to understand instruction. The next segment is guided practice via video and interactive elements. Most concepts have independent practice and extension activities. There is an assessment piece for each concept as well. 

This is a free service and I highly recommend it as an excellent resource for homework and additional practice as well as for days teachers need to plan for a substitute. You can rest assured that students are getting easy to understand step by step guided instruction. If you are one of those early adopters, you could even use LearnZillions to flip your classroom. 

Learn Zillions have taken the additional step to provide teachers with a template letter to parents explaining how to best utilize their services. If you would like to see how some schools are already incorporating this tool please view the video embedded below. 

Will iPads soon replace teachers? from Katie Banks Reports on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mission In Progress

Several years ago, I was asked to craft a mission statement for a class. My eyes rolled to the heavens. I judged it an exercise in pretention. It was the same sort of reaction I get now when I hear people talk about Branding. It isn't pretty to admit but I can be rather judgy. I'm working on it. But, I digress. Back to the mission statement assignment. Eventually, I got over myself and came up with the statement that resides on all of my websites. It reads:

"Learning is a life long process. Education assists people in becoming their greatest selves. A love of learning widens the possibilities of the mind, opens the heart to hope and understanding, enhances the capabilities of the body, and deepens the capacity of the soul. I teach to learn." This simple statement, was often the sole reason I was able to get out of bed in the morning when my teaching situation was one that would have broken me otherwise. 

Grosse Pointe Academy has a new mission regarding technology integration. They have taken a bold move to go from a school with basically very little technology into an environment where it is as Chris Lehmann says, "Ubiquitous, invisible, and necessary." As I understand it, the school's mission is to integrate their influx of technology into their already strong curriculum so that it is used to create, produce, communicate, collaborate, and innovate. GPA would prefer to de-emphasize technology as a tool for consumption. Instead they would like it used as a tool to help students reach their full and unique potential as learners, creators, innovators, and leaders.  

I believe that when teachers receive supportive, consistent development they are the change agents to bring about a shift in consciousness not only in their students but in the community as a whole, for we are all connected. My Mission Statement specific to this year reads, "To empower the GPA community to model and apply the ethical use of technology as a tool to create and innovate; communicate and collaborate, research fluently; and problem solve employing critical thought. To support the instructional staff as they design, implement, and assess lessons that engage students, develop Global citizenship and empathy, and establish a lifelong love of learning." 

So with hard earned humility, I admit I have come full circle. Not only do I value mission statements, but I cherish the process of composing them, and I treasure the effect. Having a mission statement keeps me focused. It gives my work purpose and meaning. I hope that it leads to a shared vision and acts as a compass as we walk the unknown path. Who knows, maybe I'll even brand myself one of these days. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


TED is a forum for "ideas worth spreading." It began in 1984 in Monterrey California and was designed to bring together people from three innovative areas; Technology, Entertainment, and Design to talk about their best ideas. But it evolved and grew. TED now hosts innovators from every profession and craft and from all parts of the world. The format for a Ted Talk is that of the storyteller. Many are deeply personal. Speakers are asked to present in 20 minutes or less. I have watched hundreds of TED Talks by now and not once do I ever remember feeling like I have wasted my time. Often I find myself laughing out loud or weeping openly. I am always inspired. I usually watch them while working out. Good thing I do that at home.  

In the past few years, TEDx events have been planned. TEDx gathers speakers based on themes or the area of the world where they are hosted. There is a TEDYouth forum too with some phenomenal kids presenting mind blowing ideas. Ideas they not only had but acted on, successfully so. 

TED Ed started last year and I encourage all Teachers in Grades 4 and up to take a look at the site. The videos are well edited and motivational. Every TED Ed Lesson begins with the video or Watch Section, followed by  the Think section with comprehension questions and quizzes. Last but not least, there is a Dig deeper section where students will find related links to research further. You can find lessons by Series, Subject, or Best Rated. 

Even if you do not want have the time to incorporate TED Ed into your curriculum, I encourage you to pick two or three TED Talks and see if you get hooked. Who knows? They may even change your life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guided Access on the iPad

Guided Access is an accessibility feature on the new Operating System of the iPad. I highly recommend setting it up and using it when handing out iPads in a multiuser cart. Guided Access forces student to remain on the app the teacher selected to use. It also disables their ability to crank up the volume. Teachers can disable features inside the app if they do not want users to access them. Finally, you can turn off touch screen capability if need be, as well as lock the screen in landscape or portrait mode. 

You enable Guided Access through Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access

Once inside Guided Access, turn it on and click the Set Passcode tab. It will prompt you to input the code twice to ensure it is what you want it to be. Hint: Do not make this easy to hack, such as 1234 or 1111. My first graders tried that right off the bat. 

Once Guided Access has been enabled, you can decide when you need to use it. Simply enter the app for use, and triple click the Home Button. You will enter a precursor screen that allows you to circle features to be disabled, and select some of the other options I mentioned above. Click Start and the student is locked into that app with that volume level. When the learning session is over, the teacher can disable Guided Access by triple clicking the home button again and inputting the code. 

There is a slide show with pictures and annotations embedded below that explains this process. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nearpod, Near Perfect

Nearpod is a free educational app that you would be crazy not add to your teaching toolkit. Nearpod works in much the same way as the Socrative App in that it turns the iPad into a sophisticated student response system. However, Nearpod has far more capability to integrate media. Nearpod allows you to upload presentations, pdf files, and video to create slides. It also offers interactive elements you can add to the presentation in between slides including: multiple choice questions, polls, short answer questions, drawings, etc...While Socrative works well on the fly, Nearpod requires careful preparation. The results are worth it on the back end. It will e-mail you reports of results on both an individual and whole class basis. Additionally, you can select share and send individual results straight to the students after they post. It has a feature to inform you if a student exited the presentation and allows you to control how the content flows.

Below, I have included two excellent video tutorials brought to my attention via John Evans. The screencasts were made by iPadagody which is based in Australia so they are fun to listen to as well as informative. They each run about 10 minutes and are well worth the time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Class Dojo and Class Badges

Ever wish you could elicit the same enthusiasm for good learning behaviors as students show for games? Well, now you can do just that by using the free technology services called Class Dojo and Class Badges. Both resources help teach students the habits and behaviors we want them to develop to succeed. 

Class Dojo is both online and available as an iPad, iPhone, or Android app. Setting up classes is easy and intuitive with Class Dojo. You can quickly create a class set of monsters by copying and pasting your class list into the system. You can set the behaviors you want to acknowledge and those you want to correct from a list complete with badges. 

One of the greatest aspects of Class Dojo is that you can easily keep track of specific behaviors both positive and negative. You can also create individualized reports that can be printed out and shared with the students themselves or their parents. Student have the option of tracking their own progress online. You can decide to track progress privately on your phone or tablet, or display progress via your projector. 

Class Badges is designed for the sole purpose of marking progress and achievements on learning goals. It is also a free service and easy to set up and manage. Each student gets a private account where they can keep track of their own progress. There are hundreds of badges to select from and several that apply to each subject area including foreign languages, PE, and the arts. Kids love earning badges. Studies show that badges are a good bridge toward the development of intrinsic motivation. Hat tip to Richard Byrne Free Technology for Teachers

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thinkfinity, Think Incredible!

One of the greatest free technology integration services out there on the Internet is Thinkfinity. Its list of offerings is deep and the tools are engaging and rigorous. The latest offering by Thinkfinity I came across is Science NetLinks via a post by Richard Byrne on his Free Technology for Teachers site. Science NetLinks offers free detailed lesson plans and outstanding web based interactives on a variety of science topics. They are sortable by content and grade level. I highly recommend any science teacher, not matter the grade level bookmark this site and consult it when planning a unit. You may find it especially valuable for planning for a guest teacher.

Among Thinkfinity's other offering are Read, Write, Think. My guess is most educators are aware of Read, Write, Think but if not, please go and acquaint yourself as soon as possible. Before iPads and Web2.0,  Read, Write, Think had to foresight to create interactive tools that captivate students of all ages and levels into the writing process.  It also has interactive activities that include the best practices of early literacy instruction. Once again, you can sort the tools and lesson plans by grade level, skill, or concept.

For IlluminationsThinkfinity partnered with the NCTM. They offer over 600 lesson plans, activities, manipulatives, and weblinks sortable by skill, grade level, and standard.

Wonderopolis is the Bomb dot Com! Use this site to enrich your instruction for your gifted learners and to establish the habits of inquiry, imagination, and wonder into your instruction. You can bookmark it and you have a solid enrichment tool for the students in your class to go to when they finish early with out any extra effort. See the video embedded below.

Thinkfinity wisely partners with the leaders in their field for each of their other content offerings. For example, for Art's Edge they partnered with the Kennedy Center;  for History Explorer they worked with the Smithsonian; EdSitement the best of Humanities on the Web was created with the National Endowment for the Humanities; National Geographic's education site was made in partnership with Thinkfinity and is the one stop shop for social studies, geography, and science resources. Finally, the council for Economic Education also collaborated with Thinkfinity to create their EconEdLink site of economics and personal finance resources site for K-12 educators.