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 Curts.com.

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.