Friday, December 27, 2013

Accessibility in Education is where it's AT

Learning has never been more accommodating than it is today, thanks to innovative advances in Assistive Technology (AT). Fortunately, students today have access to lots of different technology that assists them in the learning process.

The purpose of this blog post is to bring awareness to Assistive Technology and to highlight some of the best resources and learning tools that are available to our students.  However, before we take a look at some of the best AT tools, let's look at a quick definition of Assistive Technology.

In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 602 [1], AT is defined as:

" ... any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of children with disabilities" (

"There are two important concepts in this definition.  First, assistive technology is any item or piece of equipment.  Second, AT increases the ability of a person with a disability to do something functional, such as read, write, or organize thoughts" (Bowser, G. 2013).

As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I try my best to provide staff, students, and parents with the best tools and resources to assist with teaching and learning in the digital age.  Below is a compilation of some of my favorite AT tools and resources.  Thankfully, most of these AT tools are self-explanatory, so I have just included links and screenshots to the tools that are featured in this post for you to explore and share.

Accessibility for iOS

Accessibility for Mac

Accessibility on Android

Google Voice Search

Google Advanced Search

Google Translate

Dragon Dictation

Chrome Extensions

Chrome Webstore Extensions: Accessibility

Other Chrome AT Apps & Extensions

While these are only just a few of my favorite AT tools, I have found them to be extremely useful and valuable to students.  I encourage you to explore these Assistive Technology tools and try to continue to find creative ways to enhance learning for all students.   After all, if we want to level the playing field regarding equitable access for ALL students, "Accessibility in education is where it's AT".

Please leave a comment to this blog post if you have a favorite AT tool that you have personally found to be useful and valuable in education.

More Assistive Technology Resources 

  2. Bowser, G. Assistive Technology in the Digital Age. Learning&Leading with Technology. September/October 2013 Vol. 41 No.2

Did You Know? Evernote Clearly

Image is labeled as free to use or share commercially
Did you know that there is a way to easily read content on the web that removes clutter to enhance your reading and comprehension experience? It's called Clearly and it is clearly one of the most effective and productive Chrome Extensions in the Chrome Webstore.

Clearly is an extension provided by Evernote which allows users to not only remove clutter on webpages, but it also allows for additional features which syncs with your Evernote account.

How it works

"Clearly makes blog posts, articles and webpages clean and easy to read. Save them to Evernote to read anywhere."

All you need to do is perform an "Extensions" search for "clearly" in the Chrome Webstore.  Then simply add the Extension to your Google Chrome Webrowser.

"With one click, Clearly makes blog posts and articles clean and easy to read. Clearly eliminates all distractions from your online reading experience, and even allows you to browse multi-page articles in one, seamless view. Connect Clearly to Evernote to clip and sync articles with every computer, phone and tablet you use."

Organize it
"Clearly can automatically tag articles sent to Evernote for fast and easy retrieval."

Text To Speech in Clearly
"Sit back and let Clearly read blog posts, articles, and web pages to you thanks to the new Text To Speech feature powered by iSpeech, available exclusively for Evernote Premium subscribers."

Highlight it
"Use the highlighter to remember the details. Any highlights you make in Clearly will be updated in Evernote."

Here's an example

Now that you know

  1. The next time you read an article, website, or blog post online, consider using Clearly for a "clean and easy read". 
  2. How might you integrate Clearly into your instruction?  How might you encourage your students to use Clearly as an Assistive Technology tool?

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Did You Know? QuickTime Recordings

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Did you know that you can use QuickTime Player to record three different types of multimedia, for free?  In fact, QuickTime Player allows users to create a movie recording, an audio recording, or a screen recording.

How it works

If you are using a Mac, QuickTime Player comes preloaded on your computer, so all you have to do is launch the application to get started.  You can also download QuickTime Player if you need to.  After you have launched QuickTime Player, simply click File and choose one of three recording options:

  • New Movie Recording:  Records video and audio captured from the built-in video camera
  • New Audio Recording:  Records audio captured from the built-in microphone, or from a an external mic that is connected to your computer
  • New Screen Recording:  Records audio and video captured on your computer screen

If you are planning on using an external microphone, be sure to click on the tiny "down arrow" just before you begin recording.  This will give you a few additional options regarding the audio device you want to use and the quality of your recording.

After you have created a new recording, you will need to click "File", then select "Export" to save your recording to your local device.  You could also choose to either share it to iTunes or other social media tools like SoundCloud, AudioBoo, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.  

Here's an example

Now that you know
  1. The next time you need to create a video, audio, or screen recording, consider using QuickTime Player for a free, high-quality recording. 
  2. How might you integrate this tool into your instruction?  How might your students integrate this tool into their projects?

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Did You Know? Incognito Mode

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Did you know that your Google Chrome Browser has the capability to create a new window that will allow you to browse in private?  It's called Incognito mode and it is very useful.

How it works

After you have downloaded and installed the Google Chrome Web Browser, you must first launch Chrome to get started.  Then you must click on the "Settings" button at the top right of your browser window (it looks like three, short, horizontal lines).  Then, when you click on this button, select the link that says "New Incognito Window".   When you select "New Incognito Window", Chrome will open up a new window in Incognito Mode and will present you with the following message:

"Pages you view in this window won't appear in your browser history or search history, and they won't leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close all open incognito windows.  Any files you will download or bookmarks you create will be preserved ..."

Here is a screenshot image to help you locate the settings button on Chrome.  This screenshot also highlights the button to launch a "New Incognito Window".

When you select "New Incognito Window" Chrome will open up a new window for you in Incognito Mode.  Here is a screenshot of the webpage message that you will see when you are in Incognito mode.

By default, your other Chrome Extensions will not show up in Incognito mode.  This might simply be because you have not enabled these Extensions to be used while you are in Incognito mode.  However, there is a way to easily display and use your Chrome Extensions while you are in Incognito mode.

To enable them, simply go into your Chrome settings and select "Extensions".  This is where you will be able to "Enable" the Extensions that you would like to use when you have gone "Incognito".

Here's an Example

Incognito mode can be particularly useful when students share devices.  For example, if Student A is using a computer and logs in to his or her Google account, Student B can quickly open a "New Incognito Window" to quickly log in to his or her own Google account to access his or her own  information.  Now, Student B can use this Incognito window to quickly access their Google Apps such as locating a Google Doc, open a Google Site, check his or her Google Calendar, and much more, all without logging out of Student A's Google account.  Then, when Student B is finished with his or her account, he or she can simply log out of the Incognito Window, without a trace, thus, keeping his or her private information and preferences and unchanged and secured.

Similarly, Incognito mode is also particularly useful if a teacher needs to quickly access his or her account on a student machine to check to see if a Google Doc was successfully shared with the teacher, check grades, and any other information inside of the teacher's Google account.  The teacher can then simply logout of the Incognito Window and no trace of the teacher's account will be left on the student machine.

Lastly, this is also helpful when a teacher needs to demonstrate something on another teacher's machine.  Teacher B can launch a "New Incognito Window" on Teacher A's machine to perform the quick demonstration, then logout of Incognito mode without leaving a trace of his or her own personal information.

Now that you know

  1. The next time you need to quickly access your Google Account on a student machine, or on another teacher's machine, consider launching a "New Incognito Window". 
  2. How might you infuse this feature into your classroom instruction? 

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Did You Know? AssistiveTouch

Image is labeled for commercial reuse.
Did you know that you can use the AssistiveTouch tool on iOS devices as a cursor?  This is particularly helpful when trying to give presentations or when you are trying to perform a demonstration on iPad.

How it works

All you have to do is visit your Settings on iPad and select the "General" tab.  Then select Accessibility at the top.  Next, scroll down to the Physical & Motor section and select "AssistiveTouch".  You will notice a tool appear, which you can now use as a cursor for demonstrations.

"AssistiveTouch allows you to use your iPad if you have difficulty touching the screen or if you require an adaptive accessory."

Here is an example

Now that you know
  1. The next time you give a presentation or a demonstration on iPad, consider using the AssistiveTouch feature as a cursor.  
  2. What are other ways in which your students might be able to use AssistiveTouch?

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Demonstrate to Educate: YouTube Playlist
Did You Know?  Blog Series

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Did You Know? Google Inside Search

Did you know that Google has an entire website dedicated to Search tips and tricks?  It's called Inside Search, and its super helpful.

Everyone uses Google Search to look up information, but not everyone knows how to maximize their Search results.  Inside Search is a great place to learn basic, and advanced Search strategies that will help to yield more desired results.

How it Works

Inside Search provides lots of information in different categories, such as How Search Works, the Knowledge Graph Carousel, and other related Features of Search.  However, the best part about this website is the All Tips & Tricks page which gives Search users helpful information about best practices in search and other fun tricks you can do with Google Search.

Users can even perform a test of each Search strategy without leaving the All Tips & Tricks page.

Here's an Example

Did you know that you can simply type in "timer 5 minutes" into a Google Search and Google will begin a countdown timer starting at 5 minutes.  You can enter any amount of time that you want as long as you type "timer" then "minutes" and "seconds".

Now that you know

  1. Before your next Google Search, consider visiting Inside Search to learn some more tips and tricks to enhance your search skills. 
  2. How might you integrate these Search tips and tricks into your next lesson?  

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Did You Know? Flickr CC Attribution Helper (Updated)

Did you know that there WAS a Google Chrome Extension that helped you give proper attribution to images on Flickr? Well, there was and it was called Flickr CC Attribution Helper ... and it was awesome!

Unfortunately, the most recent update on Flickr does not allow for this chrome extension to work properly. Luckily, the creator, Alan Levine, was able to create a new solution to this problem by creating the new and improved Flickr CC Attribution Helper. I highly recommend reading Alan's blog post that describes the Flickr CC Attribution Helper tool that he created in greater detail.

For those of you who like to blog, or use images for different projects and presentations, this tool is perfect for you.  As an Instructional Technology Coach, I try my best to educate teachers and students on how to give proper attribution to various sources of multimedia.  And one great resource is Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr.

While its relatively easy to find these pictures on Flickr, its not as easy to find and give proper attribution to the owners of the images.  However, the Flickr CC Attribution Helper makes this process very easy and efficient.

How it works

All you have to do is visit the Flickr CC Attribution Helper website, then click and drag the blue flickr cc attribution helper button down at the bottom, to your web browser's bookmark bar. You could also choose to copy the bookmarklet code in bookmarklet code box if you would prefer to create your attributions manually.

Here is an example

Simply visit Flickr and type your search in the search box.  After you search, you will notice a little "Advanced Search" button appear.  Click on "Advanced Search" to locate the Creative Commons search settings.

Then, scroll down to the bottom of the Advanced Search page and check the Creative Commons box.  I personally just use the pictures that I find so I check the "use commercially" box.  However, if you are interested in searching for pictures that you can "modify, adapt, or build upon", you can also check the second box.

Now, when you complete your search, and select the image that you want to use, all you have to do is click on the Flickr CC Attribution Helper bookmarklet that you have added to your browser.

If you want to use that image, then simply copy and paste either the Attribution (HTML) string, or the Attribution (text) and link to use in your webpage, or presentation.

Finally, when you have the picture you want, and the proper attribution, simply insert the image into your website or presentation and include the Attribution text and link.  The picture below was found using Advanced Search on Flickr and was properly cited using the Flickr CC Attribution Helper.

cc licensed (BY-ND) flickr photo by The Eggplant

Now that you know

  1. The next time you need to use an image for your next blog post or presentation, consider using the Flickr CC Attribution Helper.
  2. How might you model this skill to encourage digital citizenship for your colleagues and students?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Did You Know? Appshed

Did you know that there is a super easy way to create your own apps?  It's called Appshed and its awesome!

I recently attended the VSTE Annual Conference in Roanoke, Virginia and had a great time meeting new people and learning new things.  I was really excited that I got the chance to meet Vicki Davis and Stephen Anderson among lots of other amazing innovative educators who are integrating technology into their classrooms.

While I was at the VSTE Conference, I was fortunate to be able to present a workshop titled Appsolutely Awesome that featured the webtool Appshed to create and customize apps.

How it works

You see, there's not always an app for that. Which is why Appshed empowers its users to create their own apps that meet their individual learning needs. Appshed allows teachers to create apps for students, and also allows students to create apps for projects and practical use. Not only is Appshed extremely easy to use, but it also builds apps that can work on any platform, on any device. Since Appshed uses HTML5 to build apps, the apps work nicely on practically all mobile devices that use web browsers.

Here's an Example

This is the App that I created to serve as a tutorial for the participants in my workshop. It's called Appshed App and it provides lots of different resources and examples to guide and support new users in Appshed. Visit the website on your smartphone or tablet by either clicking on the links, or scan the QR Code on the image below.

After telling one of my students about Appshed, he decided to use Appshed for his STEM Fair project. He fulfilled a need by creating an app for students, staff, parents and community members to easily navigate, find, and organize information about our middle school.

Now that you know

  1. The next time you find yourself wishing you had an "App for that", consider using Appshed to create your own!
  2. If you were to create an app, what app would you create?  What types of apps might your students create?


Appshed Google Presentation
Appshed App
Appshed Tutorial Video

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Did You Know?  Blog Series

Why you should Tip "20 Percent" to Students

From left: Principal Seidah Ashshaheed, Linnea Skotte, Ethiopian 
Deputy Ambassador Tebege Berhe, Sally Hahn of CauseLife.
Something really amazing happened at my middle school this Fall, and it's all because of an empowering learning opportunity that was given to a group of 8th grade students.

At my school, we have a one-hour block of time everyday, known as FLEX, which provides remediation and enrichment opportunities for our students.  This year, I was able to work with one of my teachers to facilitate a Google 20% Time [1] project in her 8th Grade FLEX class as an enrichment learning opportunity for the students in her class. Her students were assigned this Google 20% Time project for a total of 9 weeks, and they were encouraged to perform an independent study on a topic of their choice.  At the end of the 9 weeks, students were encouraged to present or share, what they had learned or created from their project.  One student's project was particularly inspiring.

On Friday, November 1st, an eighth grade student, Linnea Skotte, organized a presentation on world water issues for her classmates and teachers.  To kickoff the presentation, Linnea shared some information about her project:

"I am trying to raise money for clean and safe drinking water for people in impoverished countries around the world.  There are nearly one billion people that lack clean water!  World Help organization is addressing this issue. They are a nonprofit organization that allows people to create an online fundraising page called My Cause, to help people receive clean water via the internet."
"I first started this project over the summer. Then about two weeks ago in school we were told to make up a project about something that we are really passionate about and are willing to put time and effort into. For my project I decided to use the fundraising page I created earlier, and am hoping to help as many people as possible through this. The people you are providing clean water to and I would greatly appreciate your donation."

Linnea personally reached out to Ethiopian Deputy Ambassador Tebege Berhe, and Sally Hahn from CauseLife and invited them to give a presentation about two separate world water issues.  Ethiopian Deputy Ambassador Berhe spoke about the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project (GERDP) on the Nile River, and Sally Hahn spoke about the importance of providing clean water to all people, on behalf of CauseLife.

Linnea started a fundraiser with CauseLife to do something to make a difference. On Monday, November 4th, she even held a bake sale during Parent-Teacher Conferences.

This is the link to her online fundraising page:

Moral of the Story

Students have the ability to do amazing things in school.  This is just one story to serve as an example. As educators, we need to provide students with these types of opportunities that truly empower them to ask difficult questions and solve challenging problems.  The Google 20% Time Project is just one of the many different types of Project-Based Learning or Challenge-Based Learning projects in which students can participate to either learn about something that interests them, or create something that is meaningful to them.

Let's "tip" our students with "20 Percent" Time to create more opportunities for them to be the change they wish to see in the world.  I can't wait to see the projects that my students will create in future FLEX classes!

You might also like

Why "20% Time" is Good for Schools
20 Time in Education
Let's Save "20% Time" Projects
Connecting Career and Technology to Education


[1] "The best known company to embrace [20 percent time] is Google, which has long encouraged engineers to spend one day a week working on a side project. Some Googlers use their "20 percent time" to fix an existing product, but most use it to develop something entirely new." "In a typical year, more than half of Google's new offerings are birthed during this period of pure autonomy." - Drive, by Daniel Pink

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Did You Know? Google Tips

Did you know that Google launched a website just for Google Tips?  Google Tips is a great place to learn more about how to become more productive and more efficient with Google Apps.  In short, it's basically "A bunch of stuff that you can do with Google".

How it works

Find a card you like and "flip" it over to learn more.  You can share your favorites with friends and even suggest tips for Google to add.  Google keeps adding new cards to Google Tips, so come back to this website often to check out what's new.

Here's an example

You can ask Google to fetch your stuff.  Google now has a built in Voice Search that will allow its users to search information within their Google account.  So now, Google can instantly fetch stuff in your Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, or Google Drive, and show this info only to you, when you're signed in! Ask Google your flights, reservations, package delivery info and more.

Either using the Google Now App, or using Google Voice search in your Chrome Web Browser, you can ask Google these types of questions and Google will not only fetch this information for you, but it will speak it back to you.  Once you're signed in, you can ask Google about info from your Gmail.  For example, ask about your next flight.

Now that you know

  1. The next time you sign in to your Google Account, consider asking Google to "fetch your stuff" rather than searching for it.
  2. How might you apply this feature to education?  How might you use this with students?

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Did You Know?  Blog Series

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Deliver a TED Talk

After hearing about a TED Talk project about a year ago, I decided to team up with a teacher to have students create their own TED Talks.  The students were tasked with choosing either a topic to inform their audience, or to persuade their audience.  While this project helps to develop persuasive writing skills and presentation skills, it also allows for student autonomy to choose a topic that they are passionate about.

To provide some presentation tips, I decided to create a trial run of a TED Talk by delivering a presentation to my students in the form of a TED Talk.  My goal was to not only inform my students about presentation techniques, but to also test out the technology that we would be using to film their presentations.

Now that I have created a TED Talk about How to Deliver a TED Talk, I have decided to share my video and resources for other teachers and students to use for similar projects and presentations.  Before I created my presentation, I researched some of the latest, best practices for giving presentations.  The two books that I used for my research included How to Deliver a TED Talk by Jeremy Donovan and To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink.  Both of these books had tons of great information that I was able to integrate into my presentation. 


If you are interested in learning about the latest presentation tips and techniques, feel free to check out the notes that I took from both of these books:

I also got some great resources from Danielle Hartman, who is also doing a TED Talk project with her students.  Here is my Google Drive Folder with additional resources.

Final Thought

I hope that you find these resources to be helpful if you decide to do a similar project with your students to share some "Ideas worth spreading" and "Lessons worth sharing".

You might also like

TEDxYouth: YouTube Channel
TED-ED Clubs
What if kids hold the solutions to our biggest problems?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Knowledgeable vs. Knowledge-able

Image is labeled for commercial reuse at

After participating in an International Baccalaureate Programme workshop regarding the concept of "knowledge" I began to "rethink" what knowledge is and what it actually means.  I also began to question how we are helping our students to "acquire" knowledge in the digital age.

Background "Knowledge" 
The theory of knowledge (TOK) requirement is central to the educational philosophy of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  It offers students and their teachers the opportunity to:
  • reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and on areas of knowledge
  • consider the role and nature of knowledge in their own culture, in the cultures of others and in the wider world.
In addition, it prompts students to:
  • be aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge
  • recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected but uncertain world.
The big idea behind TOK revolves around the question, "How do we know?"  The purpose of TOK aims to have students apply their "knowledge" with greater awareness and credibility.  But what exactly is knowledge?  Wikipedia tells us that "Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education", although there is not one widely accepted definition of "knowledge".

Application to Education

So my question is, "How are we preparing our students to become knowledgeable in the digital age?" Some argue that the ability to Google just about any question one has is not contributing to one's knowledge.  However, I would argue that Googling answers to questions we have is actually adding to our knowledge.  This thought-provoking video really made me think about Google's role in our knowledge acquisition:

What is the difference between researching an answer to a question using a credible Encyclopedia, or Googling a credible website? I think the difference is that Google's search technology allows us to retrieve reliable answers anytime, anywhere, in the matter of seconds.

More importantly, I think we should be teaching our students not only to be "knowledgable", but to become "knowledge-able".  We should be teaching our students HOW to learn.  To first, ask purposeful and meaningful questions, and then teach them how to find their answers. Whether they can find their answers from a Google search, from experiential learning, or from critical and creative thinking, is irrelevant.  What is relevant, is knowing how to search, where to look, and who to contact to find the answers to their questions.

In a world where information is ubiquitous, I would argue that today's students need to focus on learning how to learn, rather than just focusing on "what" they are learning.  A teacher's role is not to impart his or her knowledge to students anymore.  Instead, it should be to coach students in the learning process.  We need to empower our students to be curious, to inquire, to research, and to reflect on the things that they find meaningful, at the times in which they find them meaningful.  Not only will this instill a love for learning in our students, but it will help to provide them with the foundation to think critically and creatively in order to tackle some of life's most difficult challenges. 

Final Thought

Albert Einstein once said that "Information is not knowledge".  But I would argue that we need information in order to acquire knowledge.  And Google can help us to find the information that we need to construct our knowledge.

Whatever your role is in education, I urge you to ask yourself the following question:  How am I helping my students to become more knowledge-able?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blogging to Document Student Learning

Blogging is a great tool for writing and sharing ideas and resources.  But it can also be a very powerful tool to document student learning and understanding.

Students can use their personal blog to upload various types of authentic projects that they have crafted in order to create a backchannel of their learning.  This not only serves as an ePortfolio, but it also allows students to document and share their learning objectives with their teachers.  What's more, students can even "tag" their blog posts and create labels that are specific to state and national standards of learning.  To read more about this idea, visit my blogpost, Tag, You're It!

Better yet, teachers can even access their students blogs as a way to assess their learning and understanding.  It also serves as a great method to document evidence of their students mastering specific learning objectives.  Teachers can even leave feedback in the form of comments on student blogposts and encourage them to edit or update their posts with suggestions and recommendations.

When we think of blogging, we typically think of writing.  While writing is a great way to communicate learning and understanding, there are also lots of other ways to communicate learning with multimedia.  For example, students can embed pictures, videos, and other multimedia projects into their blog posts.  Below are just a few examples of how students can document their learning and understanding for various assignments and learning objectives.

Student Writing Samples
  • Book Reports
  • Persuasive Writing
  • Creative Writing
  • Storytelling
  • Poetry
  • Lab Reports
  • Current Events
  • Reading Logs
  • Microblogging (140 characters or less)

Student Created Images, Pictures and Artwork

Science Experiments

Math Explanations

Student Projects

Student Presentations

These are just a few examples of how students can use a blog to demonstrate their learning and understanding.  The best part about this is that students are practicing their digital literacy skills by learning how to write effective and appropriate blog posts, with guidance and direction from their teachers.  Thereby, helping to contribute to the global society by becoming a digital citizen.

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Tag, You're It!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Lesson Worth Sharing

"An idea not shared, is just another passing thought" - Unknown

Something amazing just happened to me! And if it wasn't for amazing individuals sharing powerful information and using the technology of social media to share this information, this experience never would have happened.

Here I was, just sitting in my office, reading blogs in Feedspot (my new RSS Feeder that replaced Google Reader), when I came across a particular blog post that grabbed my attention.

Richard Byrne, author of Free Technology For Teachers, wrote a blog post titled, "A Lesson In Overcoming Obstacles".  In his blog post, he shared a very powerful and inspirational TEDEd Video titled, "There's No Dishonor in Having a Disability, by Steven Claunch.

I was so moved by the video, that I felt like I just had to share it.  So, I decided to share this video on Twitter, like I normally do.  This was the Tweet that I posted:

What happened next, was something that took me by surprise.  A few minutes later I received a notification on Twitter that I had two new Interactions.  When I checked my Interactions, I saw that someone had ReTweeted and Favorited the Tweet that I just posted.  This is what I saw:

I was so intrigued to find out who this person was that ReTweed and Favorited my Tweet that I decided to visit this person's Twitter Page.  When I clicked on this person's Twitter Handle, this is what I found:

I was speechless!  I cannot imagine how much my Tweet meant to this person with a physical disability.  I'm sure that the video that I shared resonated with this person in a way that I cannot even begin to comprehend.  The fact that this person ReTweeted my Tweet and Favorited it, leads me to believe that this person truly valued the message of the video and probably even gained a sense of motivation and inspiration. 

What I realized is, that there was a series of events that lead to my Tweet reaching this person.  The fact that Steven Claunch had enough courage to battle his disability and to tell his story on TEDEd is nothing short of amazing.  Secondly, was the fact that Richard Byrne connected with that video in a way that empowered him to write a blog post, explaining his personal connection to the video.  And finally, the fact that I follow Richard Byrne and believed that the video he shared was something that every student should watch, empowered me to Tweet this video to share with the rest of the world.  

However, none of this would have been possible without the technology of social media.  Without using tools such as YouTube, Blogger, and Twitter, this person would have never been inspired by this message.  

My Reflection
  1. This is just one example of how social media can be used to share "ideas worth spreading" and "lessons with sharing".  I wonder how many times this same experience happens every day?
  2. I hope this encourages more people to share.  Often, we are so afraid that people will not value what we have to say, or what we have to share.  If I had this mentality, the video that I shared might have never reached that person. 
  3. With regard to sharing, the worst thing that might happen, is that someone might disagree with what you share.  If this is the case, that's totally acceptable.  At least, it would have made someone think about what you shared. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tag, You're It!

Image is labeled for reuse.

In the Age of Accountability, teachers often find it difficult to document student learning and understanding.  Even more difficult, is to document student learning and understanding that meets state and national standards, promotes workplace readiness skills and integrates technology.  But it doesn't have to be that difficult.  Better yet, it can be quite simple.

A colleague of mine, Kyle Pearce, recently shared an innovative idea that really resonated with me.  This idea, was to use student blogging as a way to accurately and effectively document student learning in a way that was specifically tied to standards and learning objectives.

It Works Like This

A teacher identifies and communicates a learning goal with his or her students.  In addition the teacher identifies and communicates a standardized "tag" that is directly aligned to the learning goal.  For example, a learning goal in Language Arts might look like "LA.7.4" where "LA" identifies the subject, "7" identifies the grade level and "4" identifies the specific standard or learning objective. Then, the teacher allows each student to create a blog post that authentically demonstrates mastery of that learning goal using a variety of technology tools and digital media.

When the students are finished writing their blog post, they will "label" their blog post with the specific standardized "tag" that is aligned to the learning goal, such as "LA.7.4".  Readers (including the teacher and other students) can see ALL of these tags as "labels" on the blog.  What's more, the readers can visually see how many times each "tag" is used on the students' blog.  Furthermore, when readers "click" on an individual "tag", all of the blog posts that are labeled with that "tag" will appear in a list.


The state of Virginia uses Standards of Learning (SOLs) to identify and communicate learning objectives and standards to educators.   However, this concept can be applied to other state and national standards, such as Common Core standards.

Blogging Tool

There are many blogging tools that are out there, but the tool we will be using is Google Blogger.  Blogger allows us to use our Google Apps for Education account to create blogs and easily share them with the people that are in our school district.  Blogger is also easy to use, and easy to customize!

The Need 

1.  21st Century Challenges in Education

I would argue that there are two very different challenges that face educators today in the 21st Century.  These two challenges are:
  • Prepare students for success on standardized tests. 
  • Prepare students for success in life.

The act of students blogging to create a backchannel to document their learning and understanding for specific learning objectives, is ONE way to overcome these challenges.  This process not only documents evidence of student achievement, but it also documents learning opportunities for students to purposefully use technology to demonstrate their learning and understanding.  Furthermore, blogging allows for students to use workplace readiness skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and communication. 

2.  Teacher Evaluations

In the Accountability Age, teachers are evaluated on several different categories.  Two of these categories might include:
  • Documenting and demonstrating student achievement on various assessments.
  • Documenting and demonstrating the use of effective technology integration. 

Encouraging students to blog in order to demonstrate their learning and understanding is a great way to meet both of these objectives.

A Win-Win Situation

Students benefit because they are learning critical digital literacy skills and they are also improving their reading and writing skills.

Teachers benefit from being able to document both student achievement and effective use of technology integration for teaching and learning.

Other Benefits

1.  Student Autonomy

By blogging, students have the opportunity to document their learning and understanding in many different ways.  The blog simply acts as a container for lots of different digital artifacts that demonstrate learning and understanding.  Here are some ways that students can document and demonstrate their learning in all content areas on their blog:
  • Create a video
  • Create a graphic organizer or other non-linguistic representation
  • Draw a picture and upload a photo of the picture
  • Write Creatively
  • Write a poem, or short story
  • Record a skit
  • Make a Digital Story
  • Create an Audio recording

2.  Interdisciplinary Learning

Multiple SOL tags can be used on a single blog post from different subject areas. Thus creating and documenting more interdisciplinary assignments and lessons.

SOL tags can be used for arts integration, technology integration, and interdisciplinary assignments to document holistic learning opportunities.  Other teachers could even notice that a student has multiple standards in many different subject areas on one blog post which documents holistic, interdisciplinary  learning.

Furthermore, with every blog post, students are using technology to practice their writing skills and their communication skills.  Students will naturally work toward mastering both Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs with each and every blog post they write.

3.  Reflection

Students could even have a section on each blog post that is designated for reflection. Students could reflect on their work and write a few sentences about what they learned and what their struggles were.

4.  Comments as Feedback

Teachers and students can comment on individual blog posts. This will allow for more opportunities to practice appropriate feedback, model digital citizenship, allow for multiple student perspectives and connections on blog posts and increase communication between students and teachers.

5.  Collaboration

Students could also work in teams on assignments and cross post on each others' blog.  This would allow each student in the group to document their learning and understanding on their own blog.

6.  Continuous Learning

Students will be encouraged to revise their blog posts when they learn something new or when they make a meaningful connection to what they have learned.  Blog posts can be updated indefinitely to reflect a student's knowledge and understanding of specific content matter.

7.  Quality Work

Research suggests that when people have a broad audience, their quality of work tends to be much better.  This same concept applies to students.  Blogging gives students a much broader audience than just their teachers and classmates.  Blogging allows the potential for anyone in the world to view their published work.  Therefore, when students blog, they are intrinsically motivated to produce quality work.

Example for Application

As an example, I have labeled this blog post with the SOL strands in both Computer Technology and English Writing.  The labels I have used are:
  • CT6-8.13
  • CT6-8.14 
  • LA.6.8 
  • LA.7.7
  • LA.8.9
This lets my readers (and me) know the specific learning goals I was trying to achieve with this blog post.  When my readers click on these labels, all of the blog posts with those same labels will be displayed on my blog.  This lets my readers know how many times I have blogged while trying to achieve these learning goals, as well as how many different learning goals I have attempted to achieve.

As a resource, I have created a Google Spreadsheet with all of the SOL Tags listed for each content area in grades 6-8.  Teachers who use this spreadsheet will easily be able to identify the correct SOL Tag and communicate these SOL Tags to their students.  This same concept can be applied to Common Core standards.

Final Thought

This is just one idea that can be implemented to solve some of the challenges that teachers face regarding documenting student learning and understanding in the Accountability Age.  My hope is that this instructional strategy will help to promote digital literacy skills for our students, and help to empower students to take ownership of their learning by monitoring their progress of achieving learning goals.  I also hope that this instructional strategy helps teachers not only be able to document student learning and understanding, but to be able to quickly and easily access this documentation.

For me, the "tag" idea seems to be my solution.  Put simply, "Tag, You're It!"


Google Spreadsheet of SOL "Tags"
SOL Standards Google Drive Folder (All Subjects, Grades 6-8)
Writing SOLs and Computer Technology SOLs
Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning
Common Core State Standards