Thursday, July 27, 2017

Host Remote Meetings with FreeConferenceCall

I had a great experience this week with FreeConferenceCall. I had assembled a committee of people from all over Ohio and we needed to meet to finalize a recommendation. Rather than try to get to one location, we used FreeConferenceCall to meet digitally. It was so easy. I downloaded the desktop app and clicked the video button to begin the meeting. I could invite people by email or share a link. As people joined the meeting, they showed up on the right of the screen. If they used a webcam, we could all see up to five video feeds. If they called in, they had a white placeholder screen with their name or phone number.

I had considered a couple of other similar services, but what swayed me toward this one was that many people could participate at once. I only needed space for 12 participants (2 more than Google Hangouts allows), but FreeConferenceCalll allows for 1000 participants! That was just one of many things I liked. Here are some of the others:

  • When someone is talking, they automatically move to the center of the screen. Other participants' video feeds (or placeholders for audio callers) move to the right.
  • Screen sharing is so easy with the click of a button. Screen sharing also includes a drawing tool and the ability to switch presenters.
  • The entire thing can be recorded for people who were unable to participate.
  • The very simple dashboard includes common icons that make using the tool easy.
  • The chat feature allows users to send responses to all participants or to certain ones. This feature was great for one of my participants who we couldn't hear.
  • When the meeting is over, data is available about how long it lasted, how many people participated, and so on.
  • It's free.

If you need a free way to connect with people and conduct a meeting or bridge classrooms or collaborate with faraway colleagues, FreeConferenceCall is one I would recommend. Check out their list of features here and the FAQs here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Stroke of Genius [Hour]

Dalton created a chicken nugget game controller.
Kids bitsboxing during Genius Hour.
In my last post I mentioned the inclusion of a Genius Hour into coding camp. The addition of an extra day this year created some found time in our camp structure. With a plethora of new coding apps and tools coming out all the time, we decided to allow for free exploration of a variety of these tools at the end of camp each day.

Our daily routine at coding camp includes completed the unplugged and computer-based activities provided by We also schedule time to work with ozobots. When we finished those projects, we set up centers around our room where students could choose coding activities to further explore. Our coding centers included:

As high school teachers managing upper elementary students, we really weren't sure what to expect when we first provided this time. We worried that students would not be able to focus for find enough to do for the full time we allotted. To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Each day they worked diligently. Some stayed in one place for the entire time, while others moved around, but they rarely had to be reminded of expectations during this time. They couldn't wait to get to Genius Hour every day. In fact, one student said she wished every hour of school was a Genius Hour. Several campers said their favorite thing about camp was something they learned during Genius Hour. Not convinced? Watch this video where Katie describes what she learned through Scratch.

My only previous experience this sort of loosely structured activity or assignment was in a professional development class that I teach about Google at Lake Erie College. After a typical class here, the participants write lesson plans or reflection papers about how to incorporate the tools we explored. In an effort to include Google's "20 time," I encouraged class members to propose a project, focused on a Google tool, and begin it during class instead of the typical lessons or paper. I just finished teaching this class for the fifth time and almost everyone chose the project option this time. Some created school calendars to share with colleagues and schedule events, some set up Google Classrooms or blogs for the coming year, and others leveraged Google tools in ways they hadn't before this class. Regardless of the project, people were grateful for the time to work on something that was meaningful to them. Just like the kids at coding camp.

As summer begins to wind down and my attention turns to returning to my own classroom, I need to think about how I can incorporate Genius Hour in my classroom. Any chemistry teachers doing this? I'd love it if you'd share your ideas.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Coding is Your Jam

Last week I co-hosted our second annual Coding Camp for students entering fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. This year our camp expanded from four half days to five, so with that change came some new activities. One of them was the addition of Genius Hour (more on that in a subsequent post) where we encouraged campers to explore an application of coding that interested them. One of the more popular selections was the new Osmo Coding Jam.

Osmo is an attachment for your iPad that allows a child to play with Osmo toys in front of the iPad and interact with the Osmo apps on the iPad. There are nine different apps, with more on the way, that target everything from language arts to math to art. Read more of my thoughts on Osmo here. In a post a year ago, I highlighted Osmo's Coding app. This spring Osmo released Coding Jam, an app that creates music by arranging coding blocks.

I tested out the app before camp. Though the app is very intuitive, users begin with a tutorial mode that asks for certain combinations of the coding blocks to create certain sounds. This is especially helpful for students who are new to coding or new to Osmo. Through this process, a player learns where the blocks have to be placed and how to click them together and turn arrows to create the drag-n-drop style code that is similar to Scratch. As users work through levels of coding challenges, they earn new characters who play different sounds.

In addition to this step-by-step walkthrough, a studio mode allows free play and creation of masterpieces. Here coders can choose characters (and their unique sounds) and use the coding blacks to program a melody. They repeat this process until three character musicians combine their talents to play a collaborative tune. This studio mode is where Coding Jam really surpasses the capability of the original Coding app. The studio mode encourages application of coding steps while simultaneously valuing creation and musicianship. With interesting programmed chord progressions like those from Pachelbel's Canon or a typical blues sequence, kids will make beautiful music where they can change and incorporate many elements. My children, ages 11 and 13, both preferred the studio mode because they were very familiar with the Osmo and Coding apps and wanted to be left alone to create.

Last week at Coding Camp, Osmo Coding Jam was an option for all campers at the end of our sessions. Once a child sat down and started creating, we often had to almost drag them away from the station for parent pick-up. Osmo seems to specialize in engaging, intelligent toys and apps; Osmo Coding Jam definitely lives up to its brand. Check it out for your small coders!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Are you #NOTATISTE, too?

This week you can't swing a dead cat without hitting 5 or 10 tweets about ISTE17. I've never been, and I'm sure it's awesome (or is it?), but I have participated a couple of times in the #NOTATISTE Community on Google Plus. The community was started in 2013 by Dennis Grice, but this year is hosted by Peggy George, Vicky Sedgwick, and Jennifer Wagner.

In the #NOTATISTE Community, there are resources to make your own badge, connect with others, attack daily challenges, and win door prizes. In short, lots of great sharing like there is at ISTE without delayed flights and overpriced hotel rooms. Today's daily challenge was to post about someone you follow (Here's looking at you, Eric Curts!). The community of G+ has almost 2000 members (wow!) and you can meet some of them here.

I like the atmosphere and the sharing on Google Plus, but I really like the communities. Anyone can start a community about any topic. I belong to a bunch of them (Google, iPads, Apple, Science Specialists, Math Specialists, Coaches, Makers, STEM), some more active than others. Communities are a great place to connect with like-minded educators. If you have never joined one or checked one out, this is a great opportunity to do so. You might even win a door prize! Come learn with us!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Recap Journeys

In one of my most popular posts, I compared some key features of Recap and Flipgrid, two great tools that use video to capture student thinking. Last week I had the great fortune to talk a bit with Brian Lamb, co-founder of Recap, about some of the innovative things happening at Recap. The one that I was most excited to learn about are Recap Journeys.

The foundation of Recap Journeys is student curiosity. Pose a problem. Show a scenario. Do a demo. What do students notice? What do students wonder? Use the questions of the students to drive the learning of the lesson. The Recap Journey begins with a 60-second video that quickly introduces a topic. Students can use Recap to share their noticing and wondering, their predictions and estimations, their ideas and hypotheses. When building a Journey, teachers can curate a small set of resources that students can use to explore the topic. The student ideas can then become the focus of the lesson.

As a long time lover of scientific inquiry and a new admirer of modeling instruction, this focus on curiosity at Recap has captured my interest. When I introduce a new topic, I sometimes show a quick demo to get students thinking about what we will learn. That could become a Journey. Using Recap Journeys, I can easily adapt many of the inquiry labs I already do to collect student thinking along the way. Love three-act math tasks? Those are made for Recap Journeys. If you like the approach of modeling instruction, that aligns perfectly with what a Journey will accomplish.

What makes Recap Journeys so perfect is how they combine several hot button topics. Technology can be integrated in ways that heighten learning or squander that opportunity. Recap has created a great tool; now they are modeling ways that it can maximize engagement and learning. Much has been written about how traditional school can drum the creativity right out of a student. Along come Recap Journeys to shine the light back on curiosity. We know that students learn more when they are engaged; the focus on student-driven questions will increase engagement.

To help teachers get started with Recap Journeys, Recap has created Discover, a platform for sharing great Journeys so that we don't all have to start from scratch. Discover is searchable by subject and grade-level. Teachers can submit Journeys to Discover with some incentives in place to reward hard work. The vision is for Discover to become a YouTube-like resource, entirely focused on student curiosity.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

6 Highlights of my Apple Teacher Training

Last week I posted to my blog that I achieved the Apple Teacher designation and that I picked up a number of handy tips during the process even though I had been using iPads in my classroom for over five years. Here I share my favorite things I learned:

1. Slide Over

OK, in fairness, this one was not really new to me. I learned about Slide Over, the ability to slide over a multi-tasking work panel while in an app (two apps open at once), last year. I admit, though, that I haven't used it much at all. During the Apple Teacher work, I often worked in one app and used the slide over panel to read directions for the projects. Now that I have done that so much, it's becoming part of my work process. I can be browsing with Safari and adding things to my calendar or responding to text messages without closing an app. It feels more productive!

2. Markup Photos

I can't believe that I didn't know that there were markup tools native to the Photos app. Click the Edit icon and then the More icon. Click Markup. You can write on photos, add text, magnify a bit of the photo, draw shapes that will autocorrect to make straight lines. I love it!

3. Interactive Charts

Within the iWork Suite, you can create interactive data charts. When you use data to create a chart, in Pages or Keynote for example, you can choose a 2D or 3D chart like in other programs. You can also now click interactive charts to insert a chart with sliders that you can move and watch data change. It's very slick! Check out this great YouTube video to see more about it from the people at

4. Keynote Live

You can use Keynote Live to play a presentation over the internet so viewers can see it beyond the room where you are presenting. This concept isn't new to me. I use Nearpod for this all the time. Still, I didn't know you can do it with Keynote and just a few clicks. Presentations can be "joined" with or without a password by 35 people on a local wi-fi network or 100 people around the globe. How cool is that?!

5. Magic Move

And speaking of Keynote, there is a really fun animation feature called Magic Move that allows you to animate an object to move from one position to another during a slide transition. Here is an example I made in fewer than five minutes:

A quick aside: Keynote also just added hundreds of beautifully drawn shapes. I used two of those in the video above.

6. Instant Alpha

Like Slide Over, I think I knew about this one, but haven't used it. Instant Alpha allows you to remove parts of an image by simply dragging a finger across the image. In the example at the right, I used a piece of artwork my daughter created as a background image. Then I took a photo of her with other artwork and used Instant Alpha to remove most of the background so that I could layer her on top of her artwork. Instant Alpha can be used in Keynote and Pages! 

These are just the best 6 things I learned on my way to Apple Teacher. Maybe some of them are new to you, too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An Apple for the Teacher

Last September I signed up for Apple Teacher. Apple Teacher is a free professional development program that offers educators an opportunity for self-paced PD and recognition for what they know and are able to do on an iPad or a Mac. 
It was my goal to earn this distinction by the end of the school year, but I didn't quite make it (until this past week!). One of the reasons that I kept back-burnering this was that I didn't know exactly what to expect. In case, you're in that same boat, let me give you some details.

By earning eight badges, a teacher earns the distinction of Apple Teacher. There are three tracks: iPad, Mac and Swift Playgrounds. The badges are

iPad:  iPad, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie, Productivity, & Creativity

Mac:  Mac, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie, Productivity, & Creativity

Swift: Swift Playground App, Coding Concepts, Swift Code, Coding in the Classroom

Once a teacher is signed up, she gains access to the Apple Teacher Learning Center where resources have been collected to help earn the Apple Teacher recognition. The most valuable resources in the collection were the iBook interactive guides. Each guide takes the user through a project using a particular tool. By the time you finish the project, you have learned the key features of the tool. Because I have been a active iPad user for six years, I didn't need to complete several of the projects, but I still read through the guides and learned several new features. I have very little experience with GarageBand or iMovie, so those projects really helped me understand the important elements of those tools. I am inspired to use iMovie more this year!

After you have mastered material, you take a five question quiz. You have to answer four of the five questions correctly to earn the badge. If you don't answer four questions correctly (Grrr, GarageBand), you can take another shot. The quizzes are not timed and you can easily refer to notes while you take them. A couple of times I opened up an app and fiddled around with it for minute to be sure I knew an answer.

The amount of time you spend on this will depend on your proficiency with the content. I spent about 20 minutes reading guides for apps where I felt very confident, but for the apps that were relatively new to me, I spent 45 minutes or so. The quizzes all take 5-10 minutes. I am also a Google Educator and Trainer; those modules and tests were much more difficult and stressful than these Apple Teacher training tools.

So why bother to become an Apple Teacher?
Most of what I know about iPads is what I learned on-the-fly. I appreciated the opportunity to work through some formal lessons at my own pace, discover some tips and tricks that will make me more productive, and explore a couple of apps I have rarely used. If your school is adopting Macs or iPads, I would recommend everyone work through these lessons. The modules emphasize the value of applying the tools to maximize learning! They are fast and fun essentials that will boost skills very quickly. The Apple Teacher credential verifies those skills.