Saturday, December 27, 2014

So What Exactly is ISTE?

Over the next few months you are going to hear a lot about ISTE. Chances are if you have spent 5 minutes on Twitter over the last few weeks you have seen people tweet about presenting (or not presenting) and ISTE this summer and you wondered what all the fuss was about. Hopefully this help make some sense of it all. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a nonprofit organization that “serves educators and education leaders committed to empowering connected learners in a connected world.” ISTE is an international organization that has over 100,000 members. I first became familiar with ISTE in 2008 when I was doing research to figure out how to better use technology in my role as a teacher. I joined one of their virtual networks and I attend their annual conference and I was absolutely blown away by my experience. I have been back every year since then, mostly on my own dime. Needless to say I have become an expert on how to attend ISTE on a shoestring budget, but that is a completely different post.
Over the next few months I’m going to write a series of posts about ISTE which I hope you will find useful on some level. This first one will focus on what ISTE is and why becoming a member is beneficial to you as a professional. After this post I will narrow the focus to the ISTE standards. Later in the spring I will share some posts that will be useful to first-time conference attendees. (It is actually quite an overwhelming experience and it can be frustrating if you don’t approach it with a game plan.)
So what is ISTE? Basically, ISTE is an international professional organization that provides educators with resources, ideas, and networking opportunities to help advance the use of technology in education. Here are the highlights of what ISTE  provides for members:
  • Technology standards for a variety of different groups of people from students to administrators. These standards provide a clear picture of which skills are important in our changing society.
  • Variety of professional development opportunities including webinars, books, and online courses.
  • Advocacy opportunities to help promote change anywhere from the local to national level.
  • Membership in affiliate organizations from around the world. Many times membership in an affiliate organization means you qualify for a discounted ISTE membership.
  • Meaningful way to give back to our learning community by providing volunteer opportunities.
  • Connect with educators year-round in the online ISTE community. You can also connect with other educators using official conference hashtag which is #ISTE2015. (Rebels will use #ISTE15 so you might want to follow both.) The ISTE Twitter account, @isteconnects, is also very active and responsive to questions. You can also connect with ISTE and ISTE member on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
  • Digital and print access to entersekt.
  • ISTE’s annual conference. The conference is held at the end of June in different  cities across the United States and it attarcts anywhere from 15,000 to 18,000 educators. To say it is HUGE is an understatement. This year the conference is going to be in Philadelphia and in 2016 it will be in Denver. I will write much more on the conference in the coming months but I would urge you to find a way to get there and get a room booked soon because they are filling up fast! If you are planning on attending try to find a way to get there by Saturday morning. There is always a great “unconference” that takes place and it is a usually one of the highlights of my ISTE experience each year.
Membership in ISTE is around $100 which is less than 30 cents a day. I look at it as an investment in myself. I have had the opportunity to do so many things because of my membership in ISTE. Please take a few minutes to check out their website and consider joining if you can. If you can attend their conference this summer it would be an experience that you would never forget!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best of the Week of Dec. 12, 2014

I have been busy collecting great resources, but I got behind on sharing them! If you have a few minutes before the end of the year you might want to check out some of these posts. 

  • 60 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom- Twitter is one of the most powerful communication tools we can use. We can connect to anyone in the world in an instant. Lots of educators shy away from it because they see it as a waste of time, but when used with a purpose it can help us do so many great things! Students are already using it so why not incorporate it into our repertoire? This article has lots of interesting ways that students across grade levels can use Twitter in the classroom.
  • 12 Expert Twitter Tips for the Classroom- This post explores how Twitter can help make connections between learning and concepts.
  • How ‘Deprogramming’ Kids From How to ‘Do School’ Could Improve Learning- This article explores what differentiated instruction looks like and how one teacher completely transformed his classroom by using a different approach.
  • Mission #1: The Power of the Blog- This blog will probably only appeal to math teachers, but it's a really good resource so I wanted to share it.
  • Creating on a Chromebook- Peter Vogel is a Canadian educator who was one of the first to use Chromebooks. He has shared this doc that is a list of common tasks and apps that students can use to complete the tasks. It's a great resource!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stories in the Data

Last week when I was at the Google Teacher Academy in Ausin, Texas I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Aviles. He was a brilliant and energetic lead learner and his session on 21st Century Storytelling left my head spinning. The focus of this session was how we can look at data and tell a story with it. Chris introduced us to a tool called Ngram viewer. Ngram allows you to search for words in over 5 million books that date back 500 years. I don't know about you, but I think that is incredibly impressive!

David Warlick just wrote a post about how he is using Ngram to help him write a book about this history of educational technology. Imagine all of the possible ways that students could use this in a classroom! Instead of telling students how events and people are related, with some guidance, they can begin discovering these connections for themselves.

Ngram is not the only powerful tool that you can use to search data. Here are some other ones that Chris shared with us:

  •  Google Trends- shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages. Click here to learn more about Trends.
  • Google Scholar- Google defines Scholar as a "simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research."
  • Google News Archive- Search current or archived news stories from the US and other countries. Users can also search by topic.
  • YouTube Trends- Google describes YouTube trends as "a new destination for the latest trending videos and video trends on YouTube and a resource for daily insight into what’s happening in web video."
  • Google Correlate- Google Correlate is a tool which enables you to find queries with a similar pattern to a target data series. The target can either be a real-world trend that you provide (e.g., a data set of event counts over time) or a query that you enter.
Possible applications for these tools: 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Creativity through Photography

Earlier this week I attended the Google Teacher Academy in Austin, Texas where I had the privilege of learning with over 50 of the brightest minds in education. One of my favorite learning sessions was Mobileography which was led by Cory Pavicich and Nicole Dalesio. We learned about about design principles as well as how to use NFC (Near Field Communication) tags. This article explains how NFC's work and this one provides some interesting ways to use them.

I enjoyed this session because ever since I was really young I loved taking pictures. I remember getting my first 35mm camera when I was in elementary school. When I was in high school I took an entire year of photography and I learned how to develop my own pictures. I can still remember the chemical odor of the darkroom and my excitement as the images began to develop. While darkrooms are a thing of the past for most of us what has replaced it is better! Mobile devices allow us to take pictures of everything which is great, but it can also be overwhelming! I learned how to take better and more interesting pictures in this session.

Imagine how photographs can enhance what we do in the classroom! If we teach students to take great shots and then use those images to tell a story. Photos can be used in so many creative ways to help students express their learning. If that isn't enough here are even more nine more projects to try with your students. I encourage you to think of a way to incorporate photography into your classroom before Christmas. Even if you have just a couple of devices students can take turns taking pictures. Take them outside and have them explore our world! Then for fun take a series of pictures and use Auto Awesome to create a movie!

Here are more resources shared by Cory and Nicole:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

PDF's into Google Sites

Over the last couple of weeks I have had more than a handful of teachers ask how they can insert PDF's into their classroom websites. To be perfectly honest I do not have much experience working with PDF's so I did some research and I want to share what I have found. If you have a file that you would like to upload into your classroom site without losing the formatting then converting it to a PDF might be a good option. Some teachers have found that when they try to convert some of their Word documents to Google Docs that some weird formatting things happen. When she saved the file as a PDF she was able to upload it into Drive without losing the formatting. You can convert different file types to PDF's including slides. To get the PDF into your class Google Site takes one extra step, but it is pretty simple. After you create the PDF you will need to upload it into Google Drive. Change the settings on the PDF so that anyone with the link can view it. Copy the link to the PDF then open your Site and go to the page where you want to embed your PDF. You can create a new page if you wish. Go into edit mode then select Insert -----> More gadgets ------> Include Gadgets (iframe). Once you select the iframe gadget a box will appear. Paste the link to the PDF that you should have copied into the box. I recommend setting the width at 100 percent. Adjust the other settings if you like then save. Your PDF should appear on your page.

This would be an easy way for students to share different projects with you as well. If they were to create a trifold brochure using LucidPress or a diagram using LucidChart they could either share it with you through Drive or hyperlink it on a document that is editable by students that is shared on your Site. This might sound complicated but it is actually quite simple to set up and it is MUCH easier than sorting through 150 emails! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gmail 101

Teachers in my district have been using Gmail for almost a year. The switch from Outlook was welcomed by some and dreaded by others. I get that. Change is difficult, especially when we are crunched for time. When I planned workshops for this year one of the things I knew I needed to teach was Gmail. 

I put together this slideshow to help teachers as they being to make sense of Gmail. I had a Gmail account for years before it ever occurred to me that I could customize and make it work for me. Of course I changed the theme to make my inbox more attractive, but that was merely a superficial change. The true magic began to happen when I realized how to make Gmail work for me. 

My hope is that each teacher in my district will take the time to explore Gmail so they can really get a grasp on all of its wonderful features. I only have about 45 minutes with them to show them the features which is not even close to enough time! I wish I could take all of the credit for this presentation, but the amazing Amy Mayer is the one who created and shared the fabulous tutorials which I have included. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Meet Josh Stumpenhorst

Where are you from and what do you do?
I am from Oswego, IL and teach 6th graders to love reading, writing and history as an ELA and Social Science teacher. In addition, I am a basketball coach, track coach, athletic director and academic team leader. (Josh is also a former Illinois Teacher of the Year)

How are you connected to Beth?
I first connected with Beth via twitter a few years ago. We connected prior to an ISTE conference where she helped me get connected with other educators as I was a bit of a social media novice at that time. We have since worked together on other things including presenting together on a panel at ISTE.

How did you get involved in educational technology?
I see my involvement in educational technology as simply a natural extension of my role as a teacher. To me, technology is a series of tools and resources that allow me to do my job in a more effective manner. Early on in my career I sought out ways in which to use technology to engage my students in meaningful work beyond just use for the sake of use.

How has being a networked educator impacted your life?
Being a connected educator has changed my life in profound ways. I recently wrote about this for Corwin.

What is some advice you can give to teachers about how to start finding resources and building their own PLN.
This is a huge question and not a simple answer. To start the obvious first step is to get online and create accounts in these spaces. From there, reach out to other educators doing similar work to you and connect with them. I always suggest newbies use twitter and hashtags to find folks worth connecting with through that manner. For me, I started following the #SSchat on twitter and found lots of great Social Science teachers to connect with and learn from.

What is a tool that has captured your attention at the moment? What do you like about this tool?
The tool I have become quite fond of in recent years is KidBlog which allows my students to share content with a global audience. While this is not a new tool it has been new for me and I find it incredibly powerful as a way to create authentic audiences for students.

What is one piece of advice that you can give to educators who are just getting started with integrating technology into their classrooms?
The best advice I have is to stop and think before using any technology in your classroom. Is the technology going to allow you or your students to do something they can’t do without it? Will the use of technology improve the learning or simple be a distraction or a replacement for something already going on? The answers to those questions I find critically important to the way in which technology is used in schools in appropriate ways.
What are some things you hope to accomplish professionally in the next year or two?
Surviving common core and the new standardized assessments might be high on my list of accomplishments in the next year or two. :) Beyond that I hope to finish my first book with Corwin Press for teachers looking to start a revolution of ideas and practice within their classrooms. As always my goals are always to stay relevant and evolve my practice to best meet the individual needs of my students.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Google and Chromebooks?

*This is a very long post. See the last paragraph for a TLDR (too long, didn't read) version.
As I have worked in different buildings in my district over the last couple of months the same two questions keep coming up over and over. Why Google Apps and why Chromebooks? These are not only fair questions, but the answers are essential for everyone to understand so we can provide this information to all stakeholders when they ask the same questions.

I did not work in my district when these decisions were made, but I will try to provide the best and most accurate answers that I can.
The easiest part of this question to address is why we went with Chromebooks instead of laptops. Cost was a major factor. When Chromebooks first came out there were a lot of people that knocked them because they were so affordable. How could any device that is so inexpensive possibly be worth anything? Chromebooks held their own and it wasn’t too long before the critics had to eat their words. While Chromebooks do not work for every class, they do everything that students need them to do most of the time for most classes. Specialized classes which require specific software will still be held in computer labs, but for the most part, nearly everything that students need to do can be accomplished on a Chromebook. This even includes working on Microsoft documents. Yes, you read that correctly.  Word, Powerpoint, and Excel are all free apps that are available in the Chrome Web Store.
Since we are on the topic of platforms, this is probably a good time to address another issue that really should not even exist. The question that often comes up is, “Should we teach Microsoft or should we teach Google Docs?” This is a moot point and we need to stop wasting time discussing it. Word processing works pretty much the same way regardless of the platform. Slide creation is slide creation whether you are using Slides in Google, Powerpoint in Office, or Keynote on a Mac. What matters much more than the platform are the skills the student are learning. These skills will transfer from one platform to another so it really doesn’t matter if a student learns how to create a visual presentation using Google  or PowerPoint. Also keep in mind while it might be difficult for adults to switch between platforms, students have a much easier time with this. They have the remarkable ability to learn and unlearn which is makes it easier for them to thrive in the world we live in today.
Harvard, Brown, Rutgers, Northwestern, Cornell, University of Virginia, Brown, Notre Dame are just some of institutions which have adopted Google Apps for Education. In fact, nearly ¾ of the top 100 colleges and universities in the United States have gone Google.
Students and professors report using the robust suite of Google Apps for many reasons which include:
  • taking collaborative notes using Google Docs
  • managing clubs and creating ePortfolios using Google Sites
  • collecting data through the use of Google Forms
  • coordinating meetings using Google Calendar
  • maintaining a transparent budget using Google Sheets
  • holding virtual office hours using Google Hangouts (video chat)
As more educational institutions adopt Google Apps, it will lead to a generational shift in the business world; a shift is already underway.  In 2012, 40 million people were using Google Apps, including over 4 million businesses. Over half of the Fortune 500 companies are paying to use Google Apps and over 60% of Google Enterprise (business sector) customers reported they are no longer going to invest in Microsoft. Seven percent have already deleted or plan to delete Microsoft products from company owned devices.
Companies have realized there are tremendous benefits to using the Google Apps beyond Gmail, which was what typically what brought them to the cloud in the first place. Businesses are also starting to invest in Chromebooks because they require so little maintenance and they are incredible cost efficient. Updates occur automatically and there is no software to install which frees up the IT department to work on other projects.
Google Apps are a practical and attractive option for many districts because of the “F” word. No, not THAT “F” word--the other one! GAFE are FREE! Keep in mind that free does not mean the product is cheap or inferior. Henry Thiele debunks this myth and other misconceptions surrounding Google Apps in his fantastic presentation called Killing the FUD and Dispelling the Myths Around GAFE. (I’ve personally attended this session twice because it is so great!)  Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud version of its Office suite, but it costs $2.50 per student per month and $4.50 for each staff member per month. This is a hefty cost to a district which has a couple hundred staff members and a couple thousand students! While Office 365 is cloud-based, it is tied very closely to Windows which makes it difficult to operate on non-windows devices. GAFE can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines making it ideal in environments where users might work on one platform at school and something entirely different at home. And contrary to popular belief, Google Docs work just fine offline.
Google Apps allow teachers, students, and administrators to communicate, collaborate, create, and think in ways that have completely changed (or at least have the potential) the educational landscape. Here are some examples of what GAFE will allow us to do:
  • Increase communication through the use of Gmail, YouTube, blogging, and Google Docs
  • Engage our community through the use of Google+ communities. Communities can be created for each class which will allow students to keep in touch even after they graduate. Communities can be created for different organizations and groups within the district.
  • Easily create and share docs, videos, images from a single platform that works on virtually any device--desktop, laptop, tablets, phones.
  • Establish a positive web presence and promote the school brand using Google Sites. Teachers can use Sites to maintain a virtual classroom while students can take advantage of Sites to create an ePortfolio of their projects and accomplishments. Schools can even use Sites to host their district website! (For free!)
  • Connect with experts from across the world using Google Hangouts and Google+. Teachers are no longer isolated in their classrooms. They can reach out to an entire world full of other educators and learn from them. Students are no longer confined to learning from only their classroom teachers. They can learn anything at anytime. They are part of the “YouTube mechanic” generation.
  • Provide feedback in a timely manner using Google Docs. We can also collaborate with anyone anywhere in the world using Google Docs!
  • Hold study sessions using Hangouts.
  • Access our documents anytime, anywhere, and from virtually any device. (This is HUGE!)
  • Share our work digitally which means less printing. This not only saves money on ink and paper, it is the environmentally responsible thing to do.

*This was an incredibly long post so let me TLDR in case you did read all of it. Microsoft and traditional laptops are incredible expensive. Many districts and businesses have seen the benefits of Google Apps and Chromebooks and have decided to go that route. Not only is the cost effective, but GAFE provides access to tools which allow users to create, collaborate, and communicate in ways that were not possible before. Technology is supposed to make our lives richer and easier and that is exactly what Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks do for us.

How have Google Apps for Education impacted your school?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Part I: Stop Robbing Students of Tomorrow

There are some common myths surrounding *technology that we need to addressed because they are often used as excuses for why we are not integrating technology. We must find a way to get past these barriers so we can move forward and do what is best for our students. John Dewey said “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Myth #1  Technology will increase student performance.
There is a common misconception that putting a device in the hands of a student will magically increase test scores and engagement. Good teaching increases student performance. Using effective teaching methods increases student performance. Technology alone does not increase student performance. Many teachers believe they are effectively integrating technology when they move their traditional activities into a digital format. This is the first step in the SAMR model and it is a start, but it is far from where we need to be. Providing students with opportunities to analyze, evaluate, create, collaborate, and communicate will increase performance. Giving them a worksheet to complete, even if it is in a Google Doc, will not increase performance. Doing what we have always done and only changing the method of delivery will not yield different results. Technology is simply a tool that allows students to engage in ways that will help them develop a deeper understanding of different subjects and ideas.
Myth #2 Technology will increase student engagement.
We all like new, shiny devices. Who doesn’t like getting a new laptop, phone, or tablet? Imagine how a class of 8th graders would react the first time they got their hands on a Chromebooks. They are going to be very curious about what they can do with it. Perhaps the first few times they use it in class they copy notes from the board using Google Docs or they complete a worksheet that has been shared with them in Google Drive. The first few times these assignments might be exciting because the way they are completing it is new, but before long the novelty wears off. In the end they are still passive learners who are completing the same assignments at the same time as everyone else in class.
Were the students in the example ever truly engaged or were they simply entertained and intrigued by a shiny, new device? Entertainment and engagement are not the same thing, but so can look the same to the casual observer who might be walking by a classroom. Genuine engagement does not simply happen when technology is introduced. Teachers must work to create conditions that foster it. Tapping a screen, interacting with a white board, and answering multiple choice questions with a clicker might be entertaining and they might keep a student busy for a while, but these activities are not truly engaging.
Technology allows us to engage in ways that were not even possible until fairly recently. Technology provides numerous ways to communicate, collaborate, create and innovate. It also provides teachers the ability to differentiate instruction so each student is learning at the level and pace that is right for them. All of these factors increase engagement, not the device itself.

Myth #3 I’m not techie and I do just fine teaching the way I have always taught. I don’t need to change.  
In what other profession is it acceptable to not keep up with changes in the field? Would you go to a doctor who graduated from medical school in 1975 and never bothered to learn anything new since then? Of course not! Sometimes we use the excuse that all of this technology is new. It isn’t. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow project, which provided students with extensive access to the newest technology available at the time, began in 1985. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is an organization that has provided technology integration resources for over 30 years. Tech & Learning has been around for over 30 years as well. I could go on, but my point is that the field of educational technology did not just spring up overnight. Resources and professional organizations that educators can turn to for support and resources have existed for at least three decades.
The world of education has changed dramatically over the last ten years. The skills students need to possess have not changed much, but the way they build these skills has evolved significantly. Digital tools allow students to work at their own pace on assignments that are appropriate for their level. The days of students working on the same assignment at the same time are numbered. Worksheets are giving way to assignments that have more value and meaning to students. While this might sound like quite a bit more work for teachers, it isn’t. Instead of grading and correcting hundreds of papers each week now many teachers are now using formative assessment to provide feedback to students while they are working on different activities and projects. Formative assessment paired with a change in grading practices can have a huge positive impact on student learning.  
Teachers across all subject and grade levels are expected to be digitally literate. But what exactly does this mean? ISTE has published a set of standards for teachers that provides a very clear picture for what skills we need to possess. Organizations such as ISTE and CUE provide numerous professional development opportunities. There are plenty of informal ways to learn as well. The easiest is to join (or just follow) any one of the dozens of Twitter chats that take place. Here is a list of over 300 different chats that take place around the world.  From there you will find passionate educators who will be thrilled to help you learn new things.

Change is definitely not easy. If it was then people would not be so opposed to it. In the end we need to do what is best for our students. We need to find a way to overcome our fear of the unknown so we can provide our students with the opportunity to build the skills they need in order to be a productive citizen in the world they will be living in tomorrow.
*In this post the word technology is referring to web-enabled devices such as Chromebooks, laptops, tablets and phones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Adam Bellow


Founder of Educlipper  and WeLearnedIt

Where are you from and what do you do?
Born and raised in New York.  Currently I am the Founder and CEO of WeLearned.It / eduClipper / eduTecher and I also do some public speaking on educational technology and edreform.

How are you connected to Beth?
I had the pleasure of meeting Beth at ISTE 2010 in Denver.  I had known of Beth from her work with the “Newbie Project” and had read her blog, but didn’t meet her until just about a half-hour before my very first ISTE presentation. I was hanging out in the bloggers cafe before heading over to the room where I was to present and was really nervous. I wound up chatting with Beth and she came to the presentation and the rest is like history. We connected on Twitter, became closer friends and even started staying together with a group of friends at subsequent ISTE conferences.  I find Beth to be one of those amazingly rare people who are not only passionate about the work that they do, but helping to support, connect, and help to promote the work of others around them.  

How did you get involved in educational technology?
I have always loved technology. Since I was a little kid I was programming computers, playing video games, and when I found myself a teacher in 2003 I became interested in using technology to help connect my students and deepen the learning. In 2006 I became an adjunct professor for a graduate program for educators.  That next year I took a position working as a technology training specialist for a school district and started the website eduTecher.  In 2010 I became the senior director of educational technology for the College Board schools and then in 2012 I started the website eduClipper.

How has being a networked educator impacted your life?
Being a networked educator has made a huge and profound impact on my life. I grew up as a child with very few friends and feeling quite alone. When I was a teacher I remember feeling like very alone as well. I loved trying new technology in the classroom and often found my peers, many of whom were great educators, to not be interested or supportive of my visions for doing things differently. Starting to connect with other educators in 2007/2008 gave me a glimpse into the fact that there were so many like-minded educators who were not only passionate about the area that interested me, but that they were willing to share and would help support the work I was doing, question (in a positive way) some of my ideas, and be truly kind in a personal and work-related way. I can honestly say that some of my best friends are people who I met interacting with on social media in 140 character bite-sized interactions.  I am truly honored to have so many people I can depend on and look forward to sharing and learning with every single day.

What is some advice you can give to teachers about how to start finding resources and building their own PLN.
Building a PLN is different for everyone. I think the best advice I have is to just start small.  Start by following 10 people - they can be people you know personally, work with in your school, or some of the really active Twitter-educators like Beth, Steven Anderson, Kyle Pace, Nick Provenzano, Steve Dembo, Kathy Schrock, and the list goes on and on and on.  This will let you see what some of the active people are talking about and if you start looking at their following list or the lists that they are a part of on Twitter you can see other people that might interest you.  I think another manageable way to get into building a PLN is to check out a TwitterChat - there are tons of them and the list of the various chats and their times can be found here -  By being part of a chat or just looking at the tweets (and tweeters) of the chat you can pull out a bunch of people to start following and connecting with on a topic that is of interest to you. Beth, Richard Byrne, Steven Anderson, and Tom Whitby all have excellent posts and how-to guides on getting started with building a Twitter PLN.  

Twitter is great, but for some people it can be daunting for people to get started. I often recommend people go to an EdCamp in-person PD event.  These unconferences are free and allow you to meet in person and learn alongside about 100-200 people usually that are in the same area as you live or work. Making a few personal connections can be a great launchpad to building a PLN - it can start in person and grow into a digital network as well where people you connected with at a conference or event introduce you to other people that you can share with and learn from.

What is a tool that has captured your attention at the moment? What do you like about this tool?
I really like which is a tool developed by fellow educator Carlos Fernandez.  The tool is a backchannel platform that was designed specifically for educators and students.  It is similar in concept to Today’s Meet, but offers far more functionality and useful features for teachers. I love the fact that all students can participate in the conversation with a backchannel and that 81Dash makes it easy to use other social conventions like file sharing and @ mentions to help conversations even easier.

What is one piece of advice that you can give to educators who are just getting started with integrating technology into their classrooms?
The longer I am in the Educational Technology space, the more I realize that the tech is less important than the educational value.  Tools (hardware/software) may be flashy and fun - but if they don’t help you or your students or others in the world it usually isn’t worth spending tons of time integrating in the classroom. One new thing at a time. There is so much happening with edtech and so many initiatives, tools, and things that educators want to try that it can be overwhelming. The trick is to evaluate and take time to try out solutions that make a positive impact on your teaching and the learning taking place in the classroom. Testing one thing out at a time will allow you to determine if it worked the way you wanted/needed it to. If it did, then you can continue to use it and refine the value it provides you. If it didn’t work out you decide if it is worth trying again or just pass on the specific tool/technology and go about getting the results you desired another way.  

What are some things you hope to accomplish professionally in the next year or two?
Currently I am working on a new website called WeLearned.It - It is going to be a social learning platform for educators and students to make project based learning easier and more effective in the classroom. It is hard to see two years down the road, but whatever it is I am doing at that point, I certainly hope it is something to help educators and students and also will make a positive impact on the educational community.