October 10, 2016
Want Better Collaboration and Communication with Your Students? Try Google Classroom.

One of our last assignments in ET605 was to post a review to Common Sense (formerly Graphite). I chose to review one of my favorite edtech tools: Google Classroom. Below is a screenshot of my review: 

You can access and read my full review of Classroom by clicking here.

I would recommend Common Sense to other teachers because I found many reviews on their site that lead me to other tech tools. Students would benefit from reading and writing reviews, as well, because their voices need to be heard in any discussion of what works in edtech.

October 3, 2016
Experimenting with Kahoot! and AnswerGarden in British Literature

For ET605, we were challenged to re-create a lesson, unit, or class using technology to gather formative assessments from our students. I was in the middle of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, so I thought I would try a beginning-and-end approach with two forms of assessment.

At the start of class, I had students group up and take a Kahoot! challenge to gather some information about what they understood about "The Wife of Bath's Tale." Here is a screencast of the students forming their groups and answering the questions:

Walking around the room as students discussed and answered the questions, I noticed two things. First, many students were astonished at how simple the questions were. They had clearly read and my basic content questions were no challenge to them. Second, whole groups were getting answers incorrect. This clashed greatly with the first observation. This forced me to realize one of two things was happening: a) the groups weren't communicating well or b) the student in control of the device was answering incorrectly.

I may be better served in the future with individual Kahoot! challenges, just so I can identify exactly which students aren't getting the main concepts and which are. Fortunately, I had perceived that this may be an issue, so I incorporated another bit of tech into the lesson.

After our Kahoot! challenge, we discussed a reflection question I had added as the final question and then reviewed some of the information from "The Wife of Bath's Tale" that groups had gotten incorrect. As we arrived at the moment where we discussed the overall themes of the text, I asked students to choose one word that best described the overall theme of the tale and add it to an AnswerGarden I had created:

AnswerGarden is a word cloud generator, where the size of the word indicates the number of people who have chosen it. In this class, "justice," "honor," "humble," and "equality" reigned supreme, though you can see other quality choices in the minority.

Showing this to students, I asked them that night to compose 1-2 paragraphs where they reflected on any one word in the AnswerGarden and discuss how and where it appeared in a character's words, actions, and thoughts in the tale. I will receive these assessments today, and my hope is that this exercise generated some brainstorming in the students.

AnswerGarden is not without its pitfalls, however. I chose to trust my students and use Classroom mode, so they could see their word choices without me having to moderate every single new word entered. I was treated to a few inappropriate answers, sadly, and with AnswerGarden, there is no way to identify which student wrote these answers. The site does have options to moderate and add security to your AnswerGarden, though, and I plan to pursue these options in the future.

Overall, it was interesting to see how I could incorporate more tech in my classes. I didn't feel I was forcing tech where it didn't belong, although, as always, the more comfortable I become with something, the better I may use it in any situation. Practice makes....well, better anyway!

September 27, 2016
Share Yours Skills With Screencast-O-Matic

Creating screencasts is a skill I've attempted to improve for quite some time. I find it difficult, even with a script, to sound natural when narrating. I've relaxed quite a bit, however, after discovering Screencast-O-Matic, downloadable screencasting software so simple, even I can use it with ease!

Our task this week in ET605 was to create a screencast where we explained to a group (our class, a colleague) a concept or introduced them to a piece of technology and explained how to use it. Since we discussed Twitter in class, and since I love using Twitter, I elected to focus my screencast on it.

Screencast-O-Matic is effective because after setting your options, you click one record button and you're off. You get a countdown from three to one, and then everything within the area of your screen that you selected is recorded. You can choose to have your cursor highlighted so that specific areas of your screencast are evident, or you can choose not to do this. You get a full fifteen minutes of screencast time per video, and when you are finished, you can edit it within Screencast-O-Matic and then upload it to your YouTube channel for further editing and publishing.

I now enjoy making screencasts and sharing them with my colleagues and classes. I find them extremely effective edtech tools because the users can stop videos, take notes, playback sections on which they need extra review, and go back to the video again and again, as each individual student needs. I'm now amassing a library of screencasts on a variety of topics, and I anticipate having students create their own in the future to explain what they've learned in a lesson.

Here is the screencast I first made for ET605 discussing the basics of Twitter. Enjoy!

September 26, 2016
Expanding Your Mind with Text2MindMap

Along with this week's screencast, ET605 was asked to create a mind map focusing on online tools for teachers and students and their relationships with Bloom's Taxonomy. I have never really used mind maps, but this year, several of my students mentioned using them. These students are members of my school's DePaul Program, which helps students with accommodations achieve. They told me mind maps help them visualize characters and plots better, so this project for ET605 provided me a method to learn more about what helps my students.

Once I got started with mine, I quickly understood what they meant. Text2MindMap was the online tool I used to create my map. Text2MindMap uses simple text and indenting to separate main ideas from supporting and subordinate ideas. You can change colors, add as much text as needed, and it's easy to move around your text boxes to create something informational and aesthetically pleasing. Here's the map I wound up with without any trouble at all:

If you would like to try Text2MindMap, however, I would offer one caveat. Their security license seems to have expired on October 1, 2016, so the following warning is delivered when you go to the site:

If you click "Advanced," you can opt to proceed to the site regardless, but safety first! Do not (under current conditions) input any sensitive material, data, or information that you would not want others to use or see.

Overall, I found the tool not only helpful in discussing how online resources helped teachers and students with Communication and Collaboration; I learned firsthand how helpful a mind map could be, and why some of my students found them so appealing.

September 20, 2016
Dinner & A Movie (and a Cartoon)

OK, so the dinner was just with my dog as I completed this week's assignments for ET605, but it was still a good time. This week, we focused on how the medium is the message. We needed to blog about our roles as 21st Century Educators and then present the same information in a movie as well as in a cartoon, exploring the ways we could create all three.

You can find my blog entry by clicking here. A basic summary is that while I may have a great deal of technology at my disposal, it means nothing without a solid pedagogy. Tech needs to follow sound lesson plans and ideas, involving the 4 C's, and getting students involved in their own learning. I explored these ideas in a brief video I made using iMovie on my iPad:

Since I teach where I was taught, the comparison of 20th Century teaching to 21st Century teaching was easy. I really enjoy using iMovie. It is intuitive and produces films that look professional.

ToonDoo is a cartoon production tool I used to transform my blog and video messages to cartoon form. This form, surprisingly to me, was the most difficult. Crystallizing my message in a few panels and reducing my words without reducing my theme was much more frustrating than I thought it would be. In doing so, however, I discovered a valuable tool for introducing information to my students and having them create panels where they explain their understanding of a novel or a poem. All you do is select how many panels you want, add backgrounds and avatars, and then add word bubbles (if desired). Most options are customizable in small ways, so possibilities abound. ToonDoo is free to use and allows you to download and share your product. There are myriad options, so how you illustrate examples is not limited much. I was very pleased with ToonDoo and hope to use it with my students in the future. After dreading how I was to present my message in cartoon form, I was happy with the end result:

September 13, 2016
Assessing Groups with Google Forms

This week we learned about collaboration and how to assess groups. Our assignment was to create a Google Form that we could use to assess groups we made in one of our own classes. Making formative assessments with Google Forms is something I have done for a few years now because it is effective, simple, and integrates perfectly with my use of Google Classroom.

My Google Form has three sections: Individual Assessment, Group Assessment, and Evaluation Suggestions. The last section is included so students can have a say in what I assess and how I assess it. When students are allowed to assess themselves and their groups, they take better ownership of what they do. Having them self-assess enhances learning because students reflect on the process of creative and collaborating in addition to being creative and collaborating. Reflection is an important concept in any area of growth, and providing students time to reflect is as essential as assessing their work.

To see my whole Google Form, please click here: TeachDMD's Group Eval Form.

September 10, 2016
Create Better Links with Goo.gl

While not an official ET605 artifact, I wanted to share an excellent tool I've used not only throughout the course but also in my everyday life: Goo.gl.

Goo.gl is Google's URL shortener. When you go to the site above, you can copy a long URL into Goo.gl and click "Shorten URL." Goo.gl then gives you a more manageable URL that fits and looks better than most of the monstrosities sites give you (ironically, even Google gives you long URLs after creating Forms, Docs, and Sheets).

As you can see above, not only does Goo.gl shorten URLs, but it also saves URLs you have shortenened, acting as a bookmark curation tool. Try Goo.gl and see how easy it is to use, and share it with your students. It adds to the value of shared links, keeps important links in one place, and it is all stored in the cloud.

September 6, 2016
Infographics with Venngage

For my first grad school Power Hour assignment, I was asked to create a document that explained to a technology neophyte what "the cloud" is. Since the term "document" allows for many interpretations, I decided to create something visually appealing as well as informational.

I chose an infographic creation tool called Venngage. After checking out the templates and considering what I wanted to do, this seemed like a worthwhile tool to learn. Venngage is relatively intuitive; a quick quarter hour playing with the tools feature helped me learn what I could and could not do with fonts, colors, and the moving of elements. I chose a free template (others were premium only, more on that later), and began adding my cloud information. Here's a look at what I created:

I like how this turned out, but I think my use of Venngage will be limited. If you use the free option, you may only create 5 infographics. Yes, I could delete and make room, but extra work for me means less convenience in your tech tool. The premium options look great, but the "cheapest" premium option (if you pay yearly) is $16 per month. There are plenty of free options out there that can do what Venngage can do, but without the extreme cost. 

Overall, Venngage was easy to use, but the premium options and limited number of creations will probably keep me from using it too often.

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