Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beginning Blogging

As I settle down to write this entry, I’m confronted by the irony of a blog about blogging but here’s my step into the Twilight Zone.  Earlier this year, I wanted to implement blogging into my classes on a trial basis but this never became a priority.  We are now nearing the end of this school year and I plan to finally implement blogs this quarter in order to work out any potential pitfalls for full scale blogging next school year.  There are a wide variety of blogging tools available but for this classroom we'll be using Edublogs.

Edublogs is an advertising free blog creation site with all the basic blogging features and a paid version incorporating more themes, mobile access, custom domains and ability to include video.  Edublogs allows blogs to be open or private, and the site only hosts education related blogs making it the perfect platform for students.  Edublogs also allows teachers the option to create student accounts along with ability to grant varying levels of access from commenting privileges to the ability to contribute their own blogs entries.  The service also provides professional development, detailed help documents and access to other educators as resources which ensures teachers have the tools needed to be successful blog creators and administrators.  Edublogs was chosen at my school system’s recommendation and I feel the choice is a sound one.

Why Blog?
The desire to blog in my classroom comes from a variety of sources:  the desire to replace paper journals, the ability to involve greater numbers of students in classroom conversations, and the integration of 21st century skills.
The blog will facilitate classroom communication, a critical 21st century skill.  My classroom already has a Blackboard site where homework and lesson summaries get posted but the blog will add another layer to this communication by allowing students to take a part in the discussion.  The blog will be a two way source of communication and I hope will even eventually allow learning to be more student directed as they share their insights with the class.  The blog will allow communication of idea primarily through commenting but can also benefit from forum postings and student submissions.  I plan start small and then grow the blog following the students where it takes us. 

As more students are involved in the conversation the site should become more collaborative.  I plan to use the site as an outlet for students to plan group assignments and share ideas through the forum features.  After planning, the blog will also serve as a perfect place to share group efforts.  Since blogs can be revised, collaboration can also take place as students comment on each other’s submissions.  The problem here will be to teach students how to provide appropriate feedback to their peers, but with moderation features we should be able to help guide the students without too many hurt feelings. 

As for involving the rest of the 21st century framework, my blog will cover two of the core subjects: science and social studies.  Due to the nature of blogs and the subject areas covered in my classes, it will not be an issue to ensure the inclusion of other core subject areas into the discussion, especially the area of language arts.  The information and media skills will also have a prominent place in the blog by allowing students the chance to share and evaluate sources of information or even by asking students to do research to back their comments with facts through citations.   As for the other four C's, blogging has been shown to increase critical thinking and creativity according to research.  

The blog should be a huge step forward for my classroom.  I foresee the development of the blog to be a great learning experience for all but thanks to the features of Edublogs, the students and I should find a safe environment within which to share our ideas.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Glogging for Gold

This week my students have been studying the nervous system in class and one of the topics we planned to cover is how drugs affect the nervous system.  The traditional activity when talking about drugs is to make a drug awareness poster, so with that in mind I began thinking of ways to take this activity out of the 80s and into the 21st Century.

Enter Glogster
Glogster is a web 2.0 site that allows students to create interactive posters called glogs.  These glogs allow users to combine all kinds of multimedia elements including text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds and drawings.  These multimedia posters are like web pages that require no coding on the part of the user.  Users select items from a various palettes, upload graphics and add their informative texts to customize the glog.  Once complete glogs can be shared across a variety of other services by using the share button to connect to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter or by using the embed code. 

Educators can choose to use a special version of Glogster called Glogster EDU that addresses privacy concerns unique to the education setting.  The downside to Glogster EDU is pricing.  In order to have access to the most useful features of Glogster EDU, teachers or districts will need to purchase a licensing plan.  Teacher plans range from about $30 a year to $99 a year depending upon number of student accounts you wish to manage.  The school and district level accounts are more but also based on the number of accounts. 

Glogster Uses
Despite the drawback of cost, Glogster is still a site worth checking out.  The sheer number of ways glogs can be incorporated into lessons is astounding.  Glogster can replace or enhance any classroom presentation.  Book reports, research projects or even a chapter review can be changed into a glog.

Glogster and the 21st Century Skills
Glogster works very well in the 21st Century framework.  The nature of the tool is one that allows it to cross multiple subjects with ease, therefore all core subjects can be represented with glogs.  Think of using a glog in science to display research or even lab results as if it were a project board.  Further, history would come alive by creating thematic posters based on social studies units.

The best way to discuss the rest of the 21st Century framework with Glogster is with a sample assignment. 

Scenario:  Students in a language arts class might have been assigned to read "The Hunger Games."  After completing the book, students are given the role of a stylist from the games and they have been asked to create a poster ("Glog") to drum up support for their district's champion. 

Areas addressed:
  • Core Subject:  Language Arts
  • Creativity and Innovation:  Completion of a poster product which drums up support.
  • Critical Thinking:  Analyze their knowledge of the book to produce a product that would appeal to the audience of the games.
  • Communication and Collaboration:  Students could be placed in groups to facilitate collaboration.  Communication will be paramount in the students attempt to sway the audience to their side.
  • Information, Media and Technology Skills:  These issues can be addressed in a variety of ways depending upon the teacher.  Information literacy will stress copyright in use of Hunger Games logos.  Media Literacy will be taken into account as students attempt to analyze their roles and it is tied into the way real media outlets influence the public.  Technology skills are addressed as students work to sharpen their computer skills by integrating this new piece of technology in the classroom.

Glogster is an exciting tool if pricey for those users wanting to ensure the most control in their classrooms.  Glogster is very efficient in allowing a number of subjects to achieve all the goals of the 21st Century framework.  Next time a poster is assigned in class, consider using a glog instead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding Foursquare

The topic for this week's entry jumped off the screen at me tonight as I was out at trivia night with friends at a local Raleigh establishment.  As I checked the time on my phone, I was reminded by a friendly little icon to "check-in" and suddenly last week's topic of mobile technologies on 21st Century learning came flooding back to me, so without further ado I give you.... Finding Foursquare.

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is a social networking service that uses smartphones and GPS to allow users to "check in" to locations they're frequenting.  In addition to checking in, the service allows users to leave tips or messages along with their check-ins and share their activity with friends through Foursquare, Twitter followers or Facebook.  All of this is accomplished through smartphone apps for all major smartphones including the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows phones. 

The way the service works is simple.  The user opens up the app using their smartphone and the app allows the user to see the status of their friends, view their own profile including their check in statistics, shows them local places to explore based on categories and distance, and the app allows users to view lists created by other users that are local to the area they're in.

Foursquare motivates users to participate in a few ways.  First, users can earn badges for their user profile for completing certain achievements.  For example, the first time a user checks in they earn the "Newbie" badge and other badges can be earned by checking into specific types of venues such as the "Gym Rat" badge for checking into a gym 3x in a week.

Next, Foursquare encourages users to check in by allowing users to become "mayors" of specific venues.  The user with the most check-ins at a location in the span of two months time becomes the mayor of that venue.

Foursquare can also be viewed as a competition between friends.  Each check-in earns the user points based on the following criteria:
  •  First time check-in at a venue = 5points
  •  Adding a venue to the Foursquare database = 5 points
  • Being the first in your group of friends to check-in at a location = 3points
  • Checking in at a place you've already visited before = 1 point
  • Location multiplier for each place a user goes in a day = 1 point per location
  • Checking in at a location with a friend also checking in = BFF Bonus

The points allow users to compare their activity with their friends and points are counted in a seven day rolling total.

Finally, Foursquare has paired with businesses to create specials for check-ins.  Some specials are unlocked based on just checking in while others are unlocked based on number of check-ins, whether you are the mayor of a venue or partnerships between businesses.  For example, American Express currently has discount specials for users linking their credit cards to their Foursquare account, checking in while checking out at specific venues. 

Could aid education by replacing or enhancing the field trip?
As you can see, Foursquare turns the world into a playground for users with a smartphone, but savy teachers can adapt this technology for use in education.  The easiest way to use Foursquare seems to be through field trips.  A savy teacher might use the ability to leave tips at specific venues to turn a field trip into a scavenger hunt.  The teacher could tell students to check-in at the field trip destination leaving a tip with a riddle or clue to follow.  Students could then follow this trail to find successive check points.  Then back at school they would have a record of their field trip to reflect upon once they logged back into the Foursquare website. 

The other way I could see this being used in class is through the list feature.  Students could use the list feature to research their towns, then create a list of local attractions or historic sites for the area to visit.  The students could also research these locations and add helpful tips.  These lists could be shared with their classmates creating a virtual field trip.

So far these are mostly social studies applications but what about health and Foursquare?  Health teachers could use Foursquare to encourage students to become more active.  Students could check-in and share their after school workouts and encourage each other to become more fit.  Also, students could create lists of healthy dining establishments and leave healthy living tips at locations.

Other potential applications for Foursquare in educational settings could be fundraising.  Perhaps schools could contact Foursquare and local businesses to come up with a plan to raise extra funding.  This could be very beneficial to all groups involved since it would help Foursquare grow their business to older adults, businesses to simply make money through new customers and schools by receiving extra income for their programs.  These ventures could be similar to the current education nights held by several chain restaurants like McDonalds or Chick-fil-A.  

Foursquare is a tool that requires some imagination to make use of in the classroom.  Communication seems to be the major area of focus for Foursquare as it applies to 21st century learning.  Foursquare features allow for communication of ideas through the tips, lists, and status updates.  Foursquare apps also allow users to broadcast their check-ins to Twitter and Facebook so this also enhances its communication capability.  Foursquare isn't perfect but perhaps it can find a place in education.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Doing Dipity

One of the most amazing things I have constantly reinforced is how little understanding students have of time.  Being a social studies teacher, one might be able to understand why I think the passing of time and the sequence of events is a pretty big deal for students to understand.  I think it's difficult for students to understand the importance of many of today's major political and social issues if they lack a historical perspective.  With this in mind, I set forth to find a tool to help students place things into perspective and I think Dipity might be it.

What is Dipity?

Dipity is a service that allows users to gather information from around the internet and organize it by time in the form of a timeline.   In true Web 2.0 fashion, Dipity allows users to create, share, embed and collaborate on timelines through use of multimedia.  Dipity doesn't cater to one specific category of user boasting users of all backgrounds, be them journalists, teachers, students, or even celebrities. 

So how does Dipity work?  The concept is simple users create timelines about various research topics which are them categorized by title.  Timeline creators also have the option of making their timelines public or private and allowing other users to edit.  Timelines can also be "followed" so users can keep track of their favorite topics just like they might keep up with their favorite users on other social networking sites.  Furthermore, to make it easier for users to find popular topics, the main Dipity page lists the "hot topics" of the day.

Will this impact the classroom?

Dipity is a unique tool among web 2.0 sites and its potential for revolutionizing teaching especially in social studies classrooms is great.  Gone are the days of boring lectures students can venture forth researching major historical events and displaying their research in easy to read timeline format.  Also, as their knowledge of a subject expands so can their timelines.  

Dipity achieves all the goals of 21st century learning with ease.  Core subject knowledge will form the cornerstone upon which timelines are built and the research going into timelines will foster great gains in information and media skills.  Critical thinking will manifest as students make choices concerning what to include on their timelines.  The very nature of a timeline fosters communication, but students will refine that skill by learning to use timelines to tell a story.  Students will be able to team up and collaborate on the larger challenges using the tools Dipity provides.  Finally, the flexibility of Dipity to handle wide varieties of content will allow students to be creative in their approach to covering topics. 


The benefits to studying history are many:  History Helps Us Understand People and Societies, History Helps Us Understand Change and How the Society We Live in Came to Be, Studying History Is Essential for Good Citizenship, and History Provides Identity (Stearns).   These concepts are difficult for adults to explain, so perhaps the use of tools like Dipity will allow students a chance to earn an appreciation for the subject.  

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Exploring Edmodo

Last week, my studies led to an exploration of Google Plus.  Google Plus is a great new social media tool that's still maturing, but after listening to other educators and their experiences with social media in school, I'm left thinking there might be better options currently.  This week we'll continue to review social media in the classroom as we explore Edmodo. 

What is Edmodo?

According to Edmodo own site, their goal is to "provide teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate, share content and educational applications, and access homework, grades, class discussions and notifications."  As of this writing, the site boasts connecting more than 6 million teachers and students across the world.  The site got its start in 2008 when its founders, Nic Borg and Jeff O'Hara having worked in educational IT departments, decided to fill a need they saw for a safe, secure social media environment for schools to use. 

How does it work?

On the surface Edmodo looks like Facebook for the classroom.  The interface mimics the layout that has become the standard view for most social media sites with a profile picture and name, a status feed that shows latest postings, and a toolbar across the top of the page that includes navigation options and content controls.  Teachers are able to sign up for access to the site for free but there are also options for district adoptions.  Finally, Edmodo also provides access to the site through smartphone apps for both iPhone and Android devices like many other social media sites. 

Attention... 21st Century learning Ahead

Edmodo pulls out all the stops to create an environment that fosters communication between students and teachers.  This is accomplished by engaging students, connecting various stakeholders, and through content management.  Students are engaged through use of a familiar social media system that mimics those they already frequently use in their personal lives.  This combined with the way the site uses features such as polls, online quizzes, badge awards, status updates and smartphone access ensures students will be interested in what their classmates are doing so it stands to reason they will also want to join in.  Communication also exists between teacher and student in the way the tools aid submission of homework and grading.  In other words, Edmodo gets an A+ in the area of communication which we all know by now is a huge part of 21st Century learning.

Collaboration is another area where Edmodo earns high marks.  The site makes it easy for teachers to join communities.  These communities allow teachers to connect with one another to share resources.  Edmodo also allows for professional development to be delivered through its system and features resources of its own in the realm of collaboration through webinars and its help center.

Don't think Edmodo forgot content.  The Edmodo help center offers suggestions on how the service can be used in all the core subject areas: math, science, social studies and language arts.  One creative suggestion for using Edmodo on their site offers the suggestion of the teacher role-playing as Thomas Jefferson who seeks the aid of students in rewriting the Declaration of Independence in modern terms.  Content ideas like these are a sure hit with students and this should also accomplish the rest of the four Cs... Critical Thinking and Creativity!

Working within this system will also allow students the opportunity to learn information, media and technology skills while at the same time providing a safety net since this is a closed environment controlled by the teacher and students.  There is still risk here and the teacher will need to remain vigilant because as much as administrators will admire you for incorporating 21st Century skills in the classroom, students will need to be taught how to behave properly online.  Further, you will need to check with district policies governing the use of outside resources.


Edmodo has won numerous awards and has garnered much attention from those in education.  Edmodo certainly has the tools to be useful in the classroom and it recently opened its API to 3rd parties so we can expect more content from the site in the future.  This move will likely allow the site to become even better in motivating students to make use of the site assuming educators use it.  This does open some potential questions regarding its future security but since the service is grounded in the understanding that security is a primary concern among educators its likely this won't be a problem.  If you're looking to involve social media in the classroom then Edmodo is certainly worth a look.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gauging G+

I've been a Google Plus "user" for quite some time but only in name. Sure I had an account but I've not really gone out of my way to use it. G+ has largely been yet another social media site that while I had an account hadn't wormed its way into my daily life, however due to class Google Plus was brought to the forefront of my attention.

History of Google Plus
Google Plus if you didn't happen to know is Google's latest foray into social networking. The service was widely launched to those over the age of 18, in September of 2011 after an invitation only beta testing. The launch of G+ initially captured large amounts of attention but that seems to have cooled a bit in recent months as people are still trying to decide why they should migrate from Facebook, the perceived rival of the service.

What does G+ offer?
Google Plus has three major components. First, is the "Stream." The Stream is simply a newsfeed of all the people you're following. Second, is "hangouts." Hangouts are a video chat service that allows for collaboration between you and 9 other people at once. Finally, there's "Circles." Circles are Google's way of organizing your contacts. Through creating circles, the user can not only organize contacts but also set limits on what to share with certain groups.

Additionally, G+ has the usual social media bells and whistles such as users having a profile page and a way to share photos. The photo album is actually quite nice since it's based on Picasa and it allows the user the ability to edit photos as well as creating albums, adding tags and commenting.

Impact on Education
The big question is what impact does Google Plus hold for education? Will Google's new service be the bridge that finally allows social media a proper way to the classroom?

Certainly, Google Plus has some value and it is easy to see how its ability to facilitate communication and collaboration could be harnessed in the educational setting. The tools best suited to this purpose are "Circles" and "Hangouts."

The circles feature lets the user craft custom groups of users with which to share particular sets of information. Teachers might use this ability in any number of ways. Some ideas include, creating a circle of parents with which to share information that is of interest to the entire group, like a daily homework message or upcoming test announcement. A teacher could use the feature to help organize book clubs, study groups or to manage a group project. Hangouts allow similar features and can even allow students to discuss ideas outside of class, further these same students can keep minutes of discussions using Google Docs since it's integrated. This makes Google+ a grand addition to 21st century learning tools as it greatly enhances both communication and collaboration, two of the 4C's.

Google+ is not without its disadvantages. Students need a Gmail account in order to gain access to G+. This means students need to be 13+ which limits the tool's use to mostly high school students. Also, Google+ is a social media tool and there is a good possibility that it will be blocked by many institutions due to fears of security and privacy.

The Verdict
Google Plus can be a very handy tool which I believe will only get better over time. Google is clearly dedicated to seeing G+ succeed where earlier social networking ventures have not. The desire to uproot Facebook as the number one social media tool, "Chromebooks for Education," and the ascendance of the Android smartphone OS means Google has more motivation to succeed than ever before. There can be no doubt that G+ will continue to be refined and provided social media becomes more accepted in education, Google will be well-positioned to take advantage of the trend. The major hurdle for G+ it appears lies with schools, government and the public determining how we want students learning in the 21st Century.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Presenting Prezi

After reading "The World is Flat," I decided this week's entry had to be something stressing collaboration. According to Friedman, the surplus of fiber optics after the dot-com boom made it easy to send massive amount of information overseas and back. This ability to collaborate worldwide is one of the reasons for the "flattening" of the world since today companies can easily outsource work that once had to be done locally. I've also had the experience this week of collaborating on a presentation using Prezi, so I thought why not use this experience for this week's post.

What is Prezi?

Prezi is an online presentation software that strives to bridge the gap between a whiteboard and PowerPoint. Prezi is unique in that it allows the user to zoom in and out. This ability allows for creation of a slideshow that captivates audiences instead of being just another lifeless set of slides.

Prezi gives the user a blank "canvas" to work with. The tools are minimal with most text being added just by clicking which spawns a text block. Adjusting text is achieved by selecting the text which gives the user a set of controls called a "zebra." This "zebra" control ring allows for rotation and re-sizing of text among other things. Other options such as adding images, links, shapes, themes and colors are done by using a palette located at the top left. In true Web 2.0 style changes are saved automatically.

Ready to get started?

Prezi is a very user friendly site which makes it easy to get started. Users need simply sign up for an account to have access to all the core features of Prezi. If you need other features, there are more advanced accounts available with more storage, more security options and more personalization such as using a custom logo during loading screens. Educators will also be treated to an upgraded account that includes many of the advanced features mentioned above, just for using an EDU email address for registration.

Once you have an account, there are many options available to help learn Prezi. There are a number of tutorials on the site plus a YouTube channel with videos which aid in instruction. PowerPoint users can also upload old presentations and use Prezi's new features to add motion to their old works. Further there are discussion forums, a Prezi blog, Twitter feeds and Prezi U Educational Community to help users learn the best ways to implement Prezi into the classroom.

How Prezi collaborates?

Prezi allows for collaboration in two ways: Prezi Meeting or through starting an online presentation.

Prezi meeting allows multiple users to share the same canvas. Each user has their own avatar and can make changes in real time. Invites are sent by clicking the "Meeting" menu located at the top of the Prezi canvas. If you just want to show off the Prezi but not allow other users to work on the presentation there's also a way to collaborate that way.

Will Prezi prepare students for a global world?

Prezi is one of the better tools available for students for free that allows students a chance to improve upon skills needed to excel in the 21st century. Speaking of 21st Century and Prezi, this is an excellent tool for students to develop competencies in all the major 21st Century student outcomes.

Prezi is the perfect tool for teachers who prefer a constructivist approach and want students to showcase their learning. This is really the heart of 21st Century learning in general but to be specific:

  • Communication: Prezi is a great platform to communicate ideas to others and the animated movement can help to make that communication more effective.
  • Creativity: The blank canvas nature of Prezi with limited themes also encourages creativity which is something other presentation software sometimes fails at.
  • Collaboration: Prezi provides a number of ways to collaborate whether in groups, or just to share information with others.
  • Critical Thinking: Prezi has very few limits on choice so critical thinking is key in creating effective presentations.
  • Core subjects: Prezi provides a vehicle for ideas to be shared but content is up to the user. This means presentations can be created for any subject including any of the 21st century core areas.
  • Life and Career Skills: The ability of students to be effective communicators and to present their ideas to bosses will pay dividends for advancement in future careers regardless of the career path.

Final Thoughts

If students are bored with traditional presentation methods such as PowerPoint or just plain old paper, inject a little life into the classroom with Prezi. Registration is quick and the learning curve is simple enough that students familiar with other presentation programs shouldn't have trouble getting started. So take the motion sickness pills, sit back and prepare yourself for a wild ride with Prezi!