Digital Learning Project: Summary

This term I decided to start blogging with my Social 9 class for my digital learning project. I have had several posts throughout the term about my trials, tribulations, and successes with the project:

Time for Social Media! – First post, and my first ideas.

Third Time’s the Charm – Finalization of my decision to start blogging with my class.

Blogging about Blogs – Background work to starting blogging such as parent letters and organizing how I want the project to look.

Setting the Stage – Setting up student blogs and getting going on how to use Edublogs.

I’m sorry, you don’t have access to this webpage…. – Getting students online and troubleshooting issues.

Making International Connections! – Our first posts AND comments!

Inserting Pictures, Copyright and Copyleft, and some Free Write Time! – Learning about Copyright and the Creative Commons. Also, our first pictures in our posts.

I would also like to show off my classroom blog. My posts are pretty boring as they mostly constitute the assignments for the class but some of my students did a really good job and really embraced the process.

I have had an amazing time with this project and intend to continue its use. I feel that, at times, I was really pushing my students to work on the blog in an inorganic way so that I could talk about what we were doing in class for this project. I look forward to being a little less pushy moving forward, using it more as an option for how to submit assignments as opposed to a “YOU MUST DO THIS” as I had a few students who really did not enjoy the process.

I made blogging with this class a part of my Professional Goals I submitted to my division so that I am encouraged (and feel obligated) to continue the project throughout the year. I can’t wait to see where this takes me as I have wanted to start blogging with a class for a long time but could never actually get to the point where it was set up and ready to go.

Thanks for a great class and I look forward to creeping in and learning about Digital Citizenship and Media Literacies on EC&I 832 posts next term!

 

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Meet my new BFF: Padlet!

This week I was excited to find and review an application or tool that I had not previously used. I liked a lot of the tools that we talked about but realized that my entire experience with Padlet was to post my intro picture for #eci831 and #eci834 but that I had never truly spent time discovering what the tool was capable of. I was also inspired by my former classmate Megan from #eci834 who retweeted another’s use of Padlet on Twitter. So…here goes.

Account

When signing up for Padlet there were a few different options: You can sign up for an account with your Google account, your Facebook account, or via email. I like this as I have enough different passwords and usernames to remember, linking this to my Google account is easy and I can (and have) created a Google account that I use primarily for my school-based work and bookmarks so this is very convenient. Add the self-esteem boosting mandatory “click this box” portion of signing up, and who could be upset???

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Screenshot of signup page for Padlet (and a great pick-me-up!)

Dashboard

The dashboard is simple and easy to follow. I like that there is a space for Recent activity for if you are sharing your Padlet with others so that you can see any updates that have occurred. Overall, it is exactly what I would expect from such a page to help organize your different pages.

Create

This is where I feel Padlet really shines. They have generic blank templates that you can use and they also have more stylized templates to help you come up with ideas. I right away started with the stylized templates to see what Padlet is capable of. Their premade templates include a Moodboard, Bookmarks, Q&A, Kanban Board, KWL Chart, Video Playlist, Storyboard, Organization chart and a space to request a specific type of template. Each of these has a Preview option to help create ideas of how the tool can be used. After reviewing each and playing with the different styles, I decided to create my own Padlet.

I decided to follow the lines of the example above and create a grid-style Padlet. We are moving to a new unit in my Social 9 class right this week and I thought this may be a great way to collect some resources. I started by choosing a background and coming up with column headings. For now, I chose to be the only one who can edit the Padlet, given my intention of its use. Then I started to collect some (rather random) resources. As soon as I started to input information, I knew that I liked this tool.

 

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Screenshot of my Egypt and Mesopotamia Padlet

 

I loved that you can provide links, you can watch videos right on the Padlet screen or move to the hosting website, you can drag and drop for reordering items on the board. The tool is very user-friendly and allows for a lot of personalization. I could easily see how I could plan activities and lessons on Padlet and share resources and links easily with my class. I invite you to check out my Padlet and play with the videos and see how easily you can navigate the board!

Strengths

In terms of strengths, I feel that Padlet is a great tool. In fact, I was very happily sharing it with my colleagues today after school and they were excited with how easy it was to use. The easy way to add (or subtract) items from the board, to move them around, and to share with others is great. If you were to collaborate with others, you can easily add to the board from Android and Apple apps on your phone or desktop versions including a Chrome extension and Chrome app. There are paid versions for relatively reasonable prices for educators and for businesses. “Backpack” (school) accounts allow for unlimited students under a teacher account.

The supports for schools are actually quite impressive: they integrate with Google apps and LMS, they have better privacy and security options, and they will even send you a hand-written love letter to thank you! They are also working on analytics and content filtering so it seems they are continuing to develop the platform.

Probably most impressive is their refund policy. I have never seen ANY refund policy that is as customer-centered as this one. You seriously need to check it out. They will do back-refunds and work with you to ensure you are happy if the tool does not meet your needs (or if you just stop using it)!

 

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Weaknesses

There is a bit of restriction on the free account in the limit of 4 Padlets and the limit in options but, as it is quite affordable if you are going to use it regularly, I feel that this can be avoided. I guess you could also create multiple accounts but then you would need to remember multiple usernames and passwords and I am not good at that on the best of days…..

Given that a paid teacher account allows for unlimited students, teachers that team teach content or students may be able to collaborate on one account if they wanted or needed to save on costs to the school or teacher wallet, I could not find Terms of Service that said this was not allowed but I may not be correct on this.

Potential

This is something that I think I would use for planning primarily. I can see myself using it much as my demo board is set up, to help guide an inquiry-based unit or project, or to collaborate with other teachers to share resources and links. In talking about sharing in previous posts, I feel that I may have solved my dilemma of how to organize, share, and collaborate with others, I really like the visual but organized flow of this tool. This is a tool that I will be using in the future.

Another fun fact is that there is a plugin for Padlet on WordPress (if you host your own site) where you can embed a Padlet in your post, something that I find very interesting! Now, I think I may be fully convinced: I may just have to get my own domain! (I need to figure out how first though…. anyone know how to go about that?)

Have you ever used Padlet? If so, how did you like it? Would you use it again? If you have a moment to pay around with it, do you agree with my assessment of it? I would love to hear from you!

If you aren’t sharing, you aren’t truly teaching

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I want to start my post this week with a true story about how sharing has helped me. I used to carry all of my teaching files back and forth between school and home on an external hard drive. A couple of years ago I arrived at school in January and plugged my trusty drive into my laptop at school to find…..nothing. Nothing at all. I tried not to panic and quickly headed home (a mere 7 blocks) to plug it back into my home computer, I must have just unplugged it without “removing safely” and I would definitely be able to access my files at home still. Unfortunately, I arrived at home and again…nothing. I was ready to cry. I demanded of my husband he was to take my drive to Regina (2 hours away), find a good tech person, and have them recover my files. I specifically remember telling him I didn’t care how much it cost him. I was 2 weeks away from the end of my semester, I was finishing making my final exams, and I did not want to start from scratch. I considered quitting if my files were all gone.

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I headed back to school with intense anxiety. I went to my teacher friends and shared my life-shattering morning and that is when my passion for sharing came in handy. I had completely forgotten that at the beginning of the year I had a “sharing party” with several of my colleagues and we had shared all of our teaching files back and forth. I hadn’t lost EVERYTHING, just some of the newer files and some of the edits I had made during the past semester. Even though it wasn’t all of the files I had been looking for to work off of to edit my final exams, I had the majority of what I wanted. Because I was willing to share my resources, it actually came back to help me when I lost everything.

Sharing. It is one of the first social skills that we learn and probably one of the first that we fail at as well. So much of our world and our society is built on the sharing of resources, ideas, and skills, its impossible to imagine our world without it.

Steven Johnson talks about Where Good Ideas Come From, describing the beginning of the Enlightenment which occurred in coffee shops to the development of GPS as a side curiosity of two scientists. Johnson’s talk really appealed to me: I like coffee, I love hanging out in coffee shops, and history is of great interest to me. This is all great but what was most interesting was his opinion that we need to spend time connecting our ideas instead of always just protecting them.

Sharing is my way of life in education. I made a video that describes how I use sharing in my everyday teaching and life.

As mentioned in the video, one of my favourite types of professional development is to sit in a room of educators with a common subject area or group of students and talk. Talk about lesson ideas, behaviour ideas, education ideas. I always leave these sessions feeling energized and excited to go back to my students and implement the ideas that I have gained or shared in creating.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic to share their ideas, many people are afraid that they will be judged or that their work is not “good enough” to be shared with others. This is where Derek Sivers‘ video Obvious to You: Amazing to Others is imperative and meets with Johnson’s talk. If we do not share our ideas with others, even if they are not fully formed yet, we are not able to continue our personal growth and realization. This can be even more difficult in a society where everything that you put online is there forever and searchable. This is why the culture of sharing, adapting, and remixing is important to develop. Many teachers and educators are ready and willing to share and start this revolution, in fact, many of them already have, but there are many who do not know HOW.

Finding a platform to share what I have created is one of my biggest barriers. I have tried many different platforms and have not fully been happy with any of them but, as mentioned in my video, I feel that has more to do with my perceived lack of connection to others and I need to work on ensuring that I am still putting myself out there. I believe that this is also one of the things that is a barrier to creating the culture of sharing online as so many people are not sure HOW to share their work and so they don’t, they end up hoarding it, not because they want to, but because they do not know how to put it out to the online world.

What types of platforms have you used to share your work? Do you find that some platforms are better than others? In what ways can you support your colleagues in learning to share online?

To finish my hard drive dilemma, apparently, they are definitely not made to be hauled around in a teacher bag…they are not that durable. And, The Computer Clinic in Regina saved me and (for a very reasonable price) they were able to retrieve all of my files!

**Sorry this is a little late…I am having issues with my internet this week…ugh.

Inserting Pictures, Copyright and Copyleft, and some Free Write Time!

This week on our blogs, we learned about inserting pictures, giving attribution, and we had a work period to catch up on posts and write an optional “free write post” for those that are all caught up.

We started our pictures lesson with a discussion about copyright and the creative commons. We talked about how everything is copyright by default and discussed why this is the way our society worked. We discussed Napster and I realized how long it has been since Napster was a thing as none of my Grade 9s  had even heard of the file-sharing site! We watched the first few minutes of the video of Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich speaking at the Senate Committee and discussed why he felt so passionately about his stance.

Once we had a good idea of copyright and the rules around it, we talked about copyleft and the creative commons. I showed them the different licenses that the creative commons website can help users hold and what each of the different parts means (such as non-commercial, attribution, share-alike) and why some internet users decide to allow others to use their materials. We then went looking for pictures to post!

I had all of my students use Compfight for their images and we learned out to insert an image of their choice into a blog post and use the caption area of the image to put in the photo credit. I also had students define copyright and copyleft on their posts so that I could check for understanding. When I was going over their submitted posts to publish them, however, I found that some had “copy and pasted” a definition of each of these two words into their post….I am going to have to have another conversation about using one’s own work next week, and not copying off of others.

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Screenshot of Google Images tools

I also briefly showed my students the search tools on Google Images. On this, you can search for different usage rights on images. I have used this in the past when I find that Compfight is not bringing up what I am looking for but I did stress that Compfight is a little easier as it is better stream-lined (in my opinion) and relatively user-friendly.

Once we were done images, students were able to work on their Current Event, catch up on other posts, or write about something that they were interested in. This gave me time to go around and help some students more one-on-one with using the Edublogs platform and fix up any posts that they either hadn’t submitted or that I would like them to make some edits to. I encouraged my student that, now that we know how to link to other websites and insert pictures with attribution, they should be integrating these skills into their future posts.

This week, we will be starting a research project on First Nations locations in the prairie provinces. They will be required to insert pictures into their posts and link to their sources…I can’t wait to see the results!

OpenStax: Mathematical Goldmine

When looking at the list of Open Education Resources (OERs) this week, I wanted to take a look at something that I do not have a lot of experience with and that I may actually use in the future, I am all about practicality in assignments where possible.

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Banfield1 at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I already have some experience with some of the OER repositories such as Khan Academy and TED Ed which I use in the classroom as supplemental support and visuals for my students. Khan Academy has great videos for mathematics where concepts are mapped out and taught in a method that I would use, but often with much better drawings. TED Ed also has great lessons for that “filler time” at the end of a lesson in their puzzles, my students LOVE them, but I find that although many these lessons come complete with Questions, Dig Deeper, and Discuss sections (see link for example), they are often what I refer to as “island lessons” where there is no way to make them all flow together to create a unit of sorts.

I first looked at American Institute of Mathematics. I found that they had quite a few open textbooks available but that most of the content was at a university or college level meaning they are not overly useful for a K-12 educator, outside of some of the Precalculus 30 outcomes. I did look through two of the textbooks, Precalculus and Precalculus – College Algebra – Trigonometry,  and found they were not bad but were very wordy, something that I often find students struggle with.

Next was MERLOT, I had never heard of this one and I was drawn to its name for some reason……… I did not like the look of this one, it was not very user-friendly in my opinion as there were a lot of things going on and it was not very easy to tell what type of resource each item was before clicking to open it. Probably the most critical downfall was that most of the math resources I clicked into were applets and interactive, needing Adobe Flash Player, and support for Flash Player is being phased out, my division is not updating our Flash versions any longer.

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Then I hit the open jackpot (for math anyways). I took a tour through OpenStax and I loved the layout, it was very easy for me to find an area that contained their math resources. I skimmed through all of their Algebra textbooks, through their Precalculus and the first two Calculus textbooks and, I was impressed.

  • The textbooks were available in several formats: PDF (with high and low-resolution options), web-based, and print for a small fee.
  • Textbooks cover content from my Grade 7 to university Calculus, meaning that I could find outcomes from every curriculum hidden in one of the courses!
  • The PDF was hyperlinked so that you did not have to do the “long scroll of death” to find what you were looking for.
  • There was a good balance of visuals and text through the textbooks, enough visuals to keep you engaged and to understand concepts but nothing for the sake of an image.
  • Textbook examples and solutions are well-described, colour-coded to help with understanding, extensive and thorough.
  • Problem sets contained a comprehensive list of types of questions including word problems, real-life applications, technology applications, review of basics, and the list goes on. This is the part that I was most impressed with by far as often I find that textbooks do not contain enough varied practice for students.
  • Odd questions have answers provided to help students guide if they are completing the exercises correctly.
  • At the end of many sections, especially in higher level courses, there were links to Youtube videos which further described certain concepts that may be difficult to comprehend if just reading examples.

Overall, I was very impressed with the diversity of these textbooks and their quality and will 100% be sharing them with my math colleagues for additional exercises and supports for students. My only critique would be that I would like to be able to download portions of the PDFs at a time instead of the whole thing but, all in all, I don’t really think that is a true thing to complain about.

I took a peek at the Physics textbook which seemed good for the above reasons but I do not teach Physics so feel that I was not able to state whether it applies to our curriculum, it is for AP Physics so there may be some units that would apply. The Social Science and Humanities textbook offerings do not align with Saskatchewan curricula so I did not look too far into these.

I love the idea of OERs but unfortunately, our educational system has become very monetized, I am afraid to know how much is spent on textbooks each year in the North American K-12 system. Getting a textbook on the “approved” list for a curriculum is not always the easiest and some of the approved textbooks are less than desirable. What benefits do you see to moving towards OERs in Saskatchewan in our current economic situation? Do you think that they would be a “hard sell” to prove that they are just as valid as textbooks from the “big companies” or do you think that most people would accept them easily?

Making International Connections!

This week was very exciting in my Social 9 class and for my Learning Project. We have been working on making some handouts in a jigsaw activity and this week students shared them on their blogs (except one group…more on that a little later), we linked our group members’ blogs to our own, and we had a small reflection that was to be posted. I modeled how to link, and how to attach our handouts on my SMART Board and some of my students helped to support their peers one-on-one. Some of my students, such as Sydney, did an amazing job by already linking her summary to various other information in her post, some were still at a beginners level. I shared my reflection on our progress so far to Twitter and the magic happened!

I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Sue Wyatt who runs the Student Blogging Challenge on Edublogs as she went in and commented on many of my students’ blogs. Not only that, she asked questions and provided some additional information via links or videos, and she related our knowledge of First Nations culture and history in Canada with that of her home country, Australia. I am honestly not sure who was more excited, my students or myself. This was what I had hoped for when starting blogging with my students and it was happening, and a lot sooner than I had hoped for!

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So this week, we replied to comments on our blogs (after a conversation that went Students: “But what do I do if someone asked me a question?”, Me: “Answer it!”), we finished up our first “true posts”, and we started our Current Events assignment for November, which I will be requiring to be posted on the blogs by November 30 (our regular due date). This upcoming week, we will be completing a Location Research Project and learning how to cite our sources for information and for images when blogging as it is different than if they are sourcing in print. We will also be commenting on our peers’ blog posts for this assignment.

I learned a few different things about using Edublogs this week that I wanted to share as well:

  • Once I have reviewed and published each post, students cannot go back in and edit it. I have the security setting set so that I have to approve all posts and comments before they are “live” and one of my groups was not quite done their handout when I published some of their posts. This is something I will have to keep in mind for the future and will be looking into maybe I just didn’t find the correct button to allow this.
  • Once I have approved a comment, students were able to respond to comments and they were published without my approval. This is something I am okay with but I will have to ensure I watch the comments while we are still learning how to be appropriate online.

I am so excited with how well this project is going and I am hoping to continue it for the entirety of the year with my class and continue into future years. Outside of my next few planned assignments, I hope to find another class that we can start to interact with. Has anyone done pen pals or blog pals? Is there a specific site that helped you find a buddy-class or do you have any suggestions on how I can get started?