Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I chose to explore Edmodo more deeply this week. After seeing this tool in use at METC I had to learn more about it.

There are three main aspects to Edmodo: Social/collaborative; virtual classroom; and applications. I find the social aspect to be slightly lacking at this point. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few of my colleagues at my school that were already Edmodo members. Communicating with colleagues is a great thing, but from what I have seen many of the members are possibly fake? People that don't write good English; or ask really strange questions? I'm purposely sounding confused because I'm not sure if I'm seeing some kind of spam or something. These are my first impressions, so maybe down the road things will get better here. It would be a good tool to collaborate if the right people were on there. Twitter it ain't.
The virtual classroom aspect is still very intriguing. I have learned how to create a 'group' -- actually just a class -- but adding people to the group is not as easy. I have tried to copy the url that leads people to the group but it wouldn't paste from my clipboard. Not sure what is going on there. I have the code to give people that allows them to join the group; and managing 'students' looks to be a relatively easy and  productive. I just need to find some students to add.

Finally, purchasing apps is a mixed bag for me so far. Some of the apps that are available look to be useful in this climate; some maybe not so much. Some are free, which is cool; but some are really expensive. I went ahead and used my credit card to buy some store credits. After I had purchased a couple of apps I discovered I had actually only purchased a one-year subscription. The store was less than up front about that. Oops. That's dirty pool. It's like the Amazon store: great potential, but too much 'nickel and diming.'

I really do love the potential of Edmodo. I would love to learn more about it. So I will keep exploring and discovering if the reality lives up to that potential. A mixed bag so far, but very intriguing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I can honestly say, as I walk to my car, which is parked about 4 miles from the St. Charles Convention Center -- OK, it's not that far, it just seems like it -- anyway, I'm pooped. Exhausted. But in a very good way. I hit as many sessions as I could; I got my boy dropped off at school as early as possible so I could take in as much of the keynote speakers as I could. I had an early lunch on Wednesday so I wouldn't forget to order flowers for my wife. I refused work -- hey I'm a still a sub -- all so I could attend the Midwest Education Technology Conference in St. Charles. I am not sorry.

Facilitating for a couple of the presenters was a blast, although I don't know why offering paper surveys to someone would offend them. Anyway, wondering around that convention center, looking for just the right session that wasn't full, was not a blast. Trying to actually do something online was not a blast. But I enjoyed every minute. I really, really like this stuff. I attended last year, and that's when I knew I needed to pursue an MET. This year only strengthened that commitment.

I'm not sure why the conference is so cool. I guess because as educators, it's everything we want school and learning to be. It's our panacea, our respite, our fantasy world. We just want to stay here, forever. I'm sure it's disappointing for the many educators who return home and enter the same dreary 20th Century classroom they left behind a couple of days earlier. It's also disappointing for someone like me that has all of this new knowledge and desire but can't apply it because I don't have a classroom. How lucky are those that return to their home districts and can actually apply what they have learned to improve the quality of their classes in a hands-on fashion. I wonder if they realize how lucky they are.

It seems strange to say, but in the plethora of breakout sessions offered, the number of different subjects was actually rather limited. 'Bring Your Own Device' and '1:1' are a couple of the more popular concepts, along with education tools Moodle and Edmodo. The use of video in the classroom was very big this year. But probably the most popular subject matter was iPads. How to use them, how to get them, how to make sure every student has them, how to incorporate them, how to love them, how to throw them across the frickin' room when they don't work right (it flies just like a frisbee!). Of course, for the 40 percent or so of tablet owners that prefer Android, there was not one session offered that I saw on the program guide. Why the discrimination? You don't think Android is a real competitor to Apple; or a real force in technology? Have you seen the sales figures for Samsung devices?

iPads are certainly cool, and after attending this conference I may be opening my wallet soon. Some of what I saw was pretty amazing. An app called 'NearPod' allowed teachers to control all of the iPads in which students had logged in with. When the teacher swiped to the next page, all of the iPads went to the next page. Amazing technology. The app is not available in the Android store. If you are going to buy iPads for all of the students, I guess this is not a big deal. If you're going to allow students to 'bring their own device,' then you need to have a more diverse technology.

I was fascinated and pleased with the pair of sessions I attended that discussed the use of Edmodo. I had heard about it, but hadn't realized you could set up a classroom on it. With the apps available, plus the social aspect of the site, it is quite an all-encompassing tool. I could not say the same with the Moodle sessions I attended. I am very interested in improving my Moodle skills, but the two sessions offered little if any hands-on training. It was all about concepts and ideals. I did not attend any sessions dealing with Common Core, but obviously this is the national trend and a scary proposition for many educators. I think most see some wisdom in the core standards, but fear their implementation will mean more work and more needless testing. Someone smarter than me once said that it's ironic when we apply words like 'standardized' and 'common' to students who are 'unique' and 'individual.'

I'm sure Professor Hartman would assume that I'm brown-nosing if I called her sessions the best that I attended (I would never admit it if I was). The highlight was the Cool Tool Duel, because the format was so different than all the other sessions. And the tools were cool, as advertised. I think the audience reaction said it all. And the Powerful PD session Wednesday morning was also good, because I could sit back like a fly on the wall and listen to what educational media experts were thinking and doing (I really need to investigate 'EdCamps' further). This was different because of the extreme level of audience participation/discussion. I wonder if Professor Hartman knows that not all of the breakout sessions receive thunderous applause.

So the trends of 2013 are clear: iPads, video, Moodle, Edmodo, BYOD, 1:1, free web tools, and Common Core.

I want to talk a bit about the common framework throughout the conference, and professional development in general. Looking back on my undergraduate career, it was always a laughing point among us students that all of our teachers told us we needed to create different ways of teaching to our students, but when we would go to class what would we get? A lecture. If we were really lucky: a lecture with PowerPoint. This being my second METC conference, it struck me near the end of Day 2 that I was viewing my ninth slide presentation in the last two days. That's a lot of slides. No wonder I have a headache. But how creative is that? How excited and interested should we be knowing we are about to see another slide presentation. Some presenters are better than others, but they're all among the top educators, right? So even the best of the best just use PowerPoints? Even Josh Stumpenhorst and Howie DiBlasi used a slide presentation. (It didn't matter, they were soooo good.)

Each classroom has a projector that someone can hook their laptop to. I mean really, is there no other way we can learn about this stuff? Maybe not, but no one would accept that in our classrooms. We are, after all, talking about a conference where every classroom is BYOD and 1:1. Just like my undergraduate professors, I wondered why they couldn't be as clever as they expected us to be.

Finally, as I look at the conference as a whole, I think it may have outgrown the venue. Many classrooms were stuffed full, to the point that dozens of people had to sit on the floor. This occurred much too often. Once or twice, I could not attend either of my first two choices because the room was packed full of people. Meanwhile, other less-popular sessions were poorly attended. One session I facilitated had less than 30 people. And it was a good session, too.

Also, as much as it pains me to pile on a worn-out subject, the Internet access remained very poor. This is a technology conference, and the main conduit to that technology was lacking. Even presenters, who had their own wi-fi network, were stifled by the lack of a quality connection. This was the case last year, so I really thought it would be much better. It's truly a bandwidth thing. Sitting in a room, I found it almost impossible to get anywhere when the place was full. Yet after the session broke up, sitting in the same spot, I found the connection to be fast and effortless. My suggestion would be to bring in a couple extra cell towers, like they did during Mardi Gras in St. Louis. This way you could encourage the people with data plans to access their cellular networks, easing the burden on the wi-fi. Being in the middle of a developed area, with a major network, I was unable to get 4G anywhere on the grounds; and inside the building I had poor reception at best.

But as I have said many times, overall the conference is spectacular. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first two years there, and even with all of the difficulties and challenges I would gladly come back again and again. I don't know why completely -- it's just that cool.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


It really is exciting how quickly my personal learning network is expanding, and in really good directions. I am a confirmed member of Classroom 2.0, and that looks very exciting as I'm just exploring that site. I am a member of EdWeb, and I can see potential there, but it's not as obvious as some other places. I'm glad I'm on there, but it's going to take something I haven't seen yet to get me excited about that site.

I am waiting on acceptance to the ning, the Educator's PLN. That place looks really exciting, and I've barely begun to scratch the surface. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tom Whitby created that ning. I've been following him on Twitter for about two months, and he's among the best.

I always have the job search in the back of my mind. I'm starting to get up there in age, and I've been working part-time and going to school for about seven years now. I want full-time work yesterday. So anytime I stretch my PLN I'm hoping that I make a connection that pays dividends down the road. But as for learning, there is nothing better than colleagues and peers that know what you know, feel what you feel, and know your needs. And the information that is shared is absolutely incredible. That's why I like Twitter so much. I feel like I've learned a ton just by being on that network. If I could just apply everything I'm learning...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Twitter Chat, Pt. 3 (Most Useful)

I write, now, the blog post I should have waited to write before. My post Monday night is the definition of "knee-jerk" reaction, with the emphasis on "jerk." I apologize to anyone I may have offended, although I believe what I said needed to be said; and I have already seen the positives beginning to emerge. But it took decency and forbearance by many of my colleagues to make that happen. I should have said it differently.

But I was mad; and I shouldn't have been. The ILEdChat was not arranged for my benefit. Although I was invited, I did not set the agenda. Many high-level admins from across the state were a part of that chat, and they had extremely important details to work out. And I don't think everyone's answers are ever going to be provided in a one-hour chat format. I need one of those epic question-and-answer events like you see on C-SPAN about 2 o'clock in the morning.

The next day I was less mad, and slightly less stupid. Still, I sensed that I was making a difference somehow. I had gotten some people's attention, and not in a negative way. Like I said, my colleagues deserve the credit here. They could have sent me to Twitter Hell somewhere, but they sensed my honesty I guess.

I was being honest. Maybe too honest. But as long as I make a difference, then I'm happy. I saw a conversation that I didn't think was helping any student in Illinois. And I couldn't imagine a conversation between educators that didn't do that. But for admins in the education system, these are the things they are responsible for; so they were doing their jobs. And I was doing mine.

In the end, it's all good. I made some new connections, and I sense a real desire, collectively, to make a difference in the lives of Illinois students. (People seemed to genuinely care that I felt like I was left in the cold.) But we must make these differences in our own way. I won't criticize others for the way they work; and I expect they wouldn't criticize me for the way I work, as long as we're on the same proverbial page. The positives here already have surpassed the negatives. I plan on being in on the next statewide chat, and I know that I am welcome, so it should be productive. I know more about what I'm getting into, and hopefully they know that listening to me is at least as important as me listening to them. I think that's the only way it will all work. I think that is the objective of the 5Essentials.

I did participate in another chat Tuesday night, and this one was much more mellow. It was just between us classmates (MBU 543) and our esteemed professor. It went very well, I was able to spout off several times and all of our questions were answered and discussed. I think that's kind of how it's supposed to go, but I am still new at this, so I'll wait and see. It is interesting that our group is made up of educators in various stages of professional development. As a group I think we're very strong and able to solve all of the educational problems in this country if we were allowed to do so. I'm only kidding a little bit. I truly believe we all care very much about the students we are involved with. Unless they are disrespectful, then it's a paddle to the behind. Yeah, even the adults. Ok, now I'm kidding. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A More Useful Take (Possibly)

I offer this post as a contrast to my previous one, which was basically a rant. Having 12 or so hours to soak up what I experienced, I am in a much better state of mind to offer something constructive after my first Twitter chat last night, #ILEdChat. By the way, I would have to look at the chat archive to be sure, but I believe I was the only teacher in the discussion, and I believe I might have been the only participant south of Springfield, although I could be wrong. But I'm sure I was the only substitute teacher -- and the only student -- in the discussion.

My guess is few if anyone else that participated in the chat would read this post; and certainly they wouldn't want to read my post from last night. I was not a happy camper, and I still have a bad taste in my mouth. The reason is because I genuinely tuned in to that chat in order to learn something. I did learn something; but not what I thought I was going to learn.

The 5 Essentials survey -- at least the one the teachers fill out -- asks multiple questions about, in a nutshell, collaboration. How well do teachers work with other teachers; with principals, with parents, and with students. I thought that is what the chat would be about. But it wasn't. The chat was all about the survey itself; and how "highfalutin" Illinois educators apparently do not like how the survey is set up and what potentially could be done with the data.

Here is what I would like to say to the educators that took part in the chat: I realize by the time I see the survey for the first time you have probably seen it, dissected it, and talked about it with really "important" people for some time. But by refusing to "come down to my level," you are pushing me and the rest of Illinois' teachers, parents and students aside. Most of you spent the entire hour talking to each other about scientific mishmosh: how will the data be extrapolated, how will the state's "report card" be affected, how will the variables be analyzed. I can see a segment of Illinois educators being interested in that, but it's a small segment; and everyone else that was invited to the chat was left to marvel at the collective "intelligentsia." As a newbie, and a part-time teacher "somewhere downstate," -- and a concerned parent by the way -- I felt like I was out of place, out of sight and out of mind. Only a couple of the educators in the chat even recognized my opinions. Most of you just kept talking about that same "stuff," in your "dee-luxe apartment in the sky." I know you're all caring educators, so what happened? Because the days of you relating to us "common folk" are apparently over. Or, I was invited to the wrong chat.

Notice how many quotation marks I used in the last two paragraphs. I'm not quoting you educators, obviously, I'm telling you how I perceived you. You can blow me off as ignorant if you want, but in a survey that concentrates on collaboration as a means of reaching our collective state education goals, I would suggest that maybe you should pay attention to us little folks down here at the grass roots level. You might learn something.

I would hate to discover that one of the reasons we have to go through exercises like this survey is because talking heads at the upper levels of state education have their heads so far up their own butts they can't see what is happening in the schools. From what I discovered last night, I'm beginning to wonder.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Must Be Missing Something

A half-hour after I finished my first-ever Twitter Live Chat, I'm left wondering if I have chosen the wrong profession.

Have I completely misjudged my competency as an educator? Have I somehow regressed into some pre-undergraduate state of stupor? How is it that I could enter a chat with supposedly like-minded educators from across my home state of Illinois, and an hour later wonder why the heck I bothered to turn my computer on. Not sure, but I think there might have been a new episode of Market Warriors on tonight. Bummer.

I decided to join the first-ever ILEdChat. How remarkable, I thought, that my first-ever chat would be the first official Illinois Educators' chat on Twitter. Seems like a match made in heaven. Turned out to be a match straight from Hades.
The subject was the Illinois 5 Essentials Survey, a survey created for Illinois' parents, teachers and students to answer questions and help organize Illinois schools for improvement. It sounded like a great topic to chat about: something that could help shape public schools for years to come in Illinois. I took the survey. I wouldn't say I was overly impressed, but I did see the potential for using the data. Most of the questions had to do with collaboration: between principals and teachers, between teacher peers, between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and students and students. I could see how gathering all of this data could point out deficiencies in academic collaboration; and if nothing else, make everyone think twice about how they work with other stakeholders in the equation. I could see how this data could help all students.

Unfortunately, most of the participants either questioned the validity of the survey, discussed how the survey could be used against them, or complained about all of the variables contained in the data. The moderator did ask a total of five questions over the hour-long chat. The questions weren't terrible, asking about how the educators reacted to the survey and what they thought the data might say about them; but few of the answers were relevant. I wanted to talk about collaboration, and how we could do better, and how important it was to connect with parents, students and community leaders. How about some concrete ideas, about how to reach out to people in order to gain their trust and get their input.

I never got any of those. I never really found out what the 5 Essentials even are. I don't know how any of these "important" educators feel about collaboration or what techniques they recommend. I learned nothing. Nothing. And at the end, everyone was congratulating themselves on what a great chat it was and how they can't wait for the next one happening next week. Am I crazy? Am I just not cut out to be an educator?

You know what? I reject what I witnessed, and I reject the attitude that surveys like this are created to somehow entrap educators or blemish state "report cards." I reject the idea that educators can spend an hour talking to other educators and virtually nothing productive comes from it. I know I can do better, I know I can provide more information and concrete answers to difficult problems, and all I am is a graduate student. There were principals and administrators and state officials in the chat, for goodness sake! They offered me nothing.

It's embarrassing, is what it is. I know my next online chat will be better than this one. It has to be.

Here is a copy of the chat archive, via Storify.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Teacher's Dream

Just picture a classroom that is completely networked: By that I mean each student has the ability and the opportunity to build their own PLN. Each student would need access to their own device; and the teacher will have had to lead them through the process of building the network. But once that was completed, there would be nothing a student could not explore. There would be nothing a student could not accomplish. Each student could draw from multiple resources, and with the teacher's help and guidance, find their own answers to the learning activities.

Then imagine a school district where all of the educators are networked. Each teacher with the ability to collaborate, confer, and analyze educational issues with experts and peers. Each school in the district on the same curricular page, and in constant contact with each other. There would be nothing a district could not explore; and nothing they could not accomplish if they had the opportunity to do so. With the guidance of educational technology experts, and the desire by districts to bring everyone online, this can be done. Imagine the learning and professional development that could take place. via Google Images
Imagine an entire education society networked. Districts connecting with other districts, ideas being shared across the country. It wouldn't solve everything, but it would go a long way toward enabling us as a society to achieve the goals that are so important to our educational system. We will get there one day, I predict; probably sooner than I think.

But it will take a lot of money, and I don't know where that is going to come from. It will take a lot of changed attitudes about technology, and a lot of work by teachers. Sure, government will have to get on board, unfortunately, and administrators will have to push hard for reform. But in the end, it will be the teachers who seek the knowledge, attend conferences, encourage each other, inspire students, and facilitate the learning. We have to stay on top of technological trends, and we have to move one step closer to the goal each day. We need teachers that are so in love with technology that they'll stay up until 1 o'clock every night figuring out how to make this all work. 

It can happen, and it will happen. It will be the teachers that make it happen. We'll probably get no credit, but we don't care. Bureaucracy will get in the way, but we'll get around it somehow. Budgets will be drained, but we'll contribute whatever we can. Because we know that a networked classroom provides the most differential, individual, and diverse learning opportunities for the students of the 21st Century. A networked classroom belongs to the students. They can make it whatever they desire.

I can dream, can't I?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Love That Twitter

I can remember a few years ago when I first signed up for Twitter after hearing the buzz. I signed up -- I mean why wouldn't I? -- but I didn't get it. I couldn't see what the big deal was about. I found a few people to follow, but moved on, back to Facebook.

Now, I couldn't imagine getting on the computer without spending the bulk of that time on Twitter. What started as a fascination has warped into a ritual. I love everything about Twitter. The brevity, the freedom, and the conversations. What still troubles me is the Twitter site itself. It's still one column. There are settings to personalize the service, but it's still this single column of tweets. There are more dimensions to Twitter.

Tweetdeck Dashboard
I really fell in love with Twitter when I discovered Tweetdeck ( As Prof. Hartman says, it's a great tool. I set up my columns and tailor the experience to fit my needs and wants. I set up one column that combines my Twitter and Facebook feeds (Tweetdeck is no substitute for the Facebook site, by the way); one column with all of my notifications; and two or three columns with search terms. Using hashtags (the pound sign in front of the search term) is a great way to get in on pertinent conversations. Sometimes it takes a while to discover the best hashtag, but I like to use #edchat and #edtech as search columns. Anyone that includes that hashtag in their tweet shows up in the search. This keeps me up to date with what my peers are saying about education and technology. I have recently added a column #metc13 so I can follow happenings at the Midwestern Education Technology Conference in St. Charles next month. During the conference, presenters will use this hashtag to elicit responses and strike up conversations during and after their presentations. And once you've found like-minded tweeters, then you can really begin to add follows and followers. Cool, cool, cool.

There is also a 'list' feature to Twitter, which I'm just getting into. You can group those you follow into lists that make it easier to find who you want to read. Personally, it hasn't been that important, since I could sort my tweets into searches.

Facebook has its place, especially when it comes to family and friends. But for colleagues or peers, nothing beats Twitter.

When I'm on my android phone, I also use Tweetdeck. It's fabulous; and my favorite mobile app. I've also discovered Scope. I like it too, because it also incorporates Instagram (another service I really like) into the feed. Scope is not quite as reliable, however. I can use other apps like Engadget, which features edtech news, and easily share what I like with Twitter. Along with new Web 2.0 sites like Facebook and Twitter, the exciting element of the web for me is the ability to share between sites and apps so easily. It makes it easy to find information and share it with your peers quickly.

It's amazing how far this technology has come in just a few years. I heard somebody mention the other day that the first iPad is only about four years old. Now our society is completely addicted to tablets. It's all moving so fast, it can be hard to keep up. That's why collaboration between educators and tech experts is so important.

P.S. I'm sorry everyone, I can't believe I forgot to include my twitter name: @lategrad

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Creating Networks

For those of you that may not be familiar with my blog, I like to float around in the middle somewhere, between those that think technology is overrated and has no place in the classroom, and those that think computers and the Internet is the answer to everything. I am a lover of modern technology, but I also believe there are other things we can do in the classroom that are still worthwhile. My observation is that many of today's educational leaders are pushing a computerized agenda down our throats. My instincts tell me we need to remember that technology comes in many forms; that not every old idea is a bad idea; and that personal relationships are still the best kind of relationships.

What I often worry about is the desire to get students "plugged in" while they are at school. Sounds pretty cool, until one considers that that's pretty much what they're doing all the time when they're not at school. Sometimes I think school can provide an escape from the fast-paced, short-attention-span world that children grow up in. At least for some parts of the day, for goodness sake! Some students need that break, whether they know it or not.

But this doesn't excuse the school district that thinks modern technology is just some "fad," or not worth the money it would take to effect that kind of change. We must channel every dollar we have toward providing our students with modern, real-world tools. By this I don't necessarily mean computers, nor any specific device. I have heard about districts buying iPads for their students. Although I can see some value in that, I wonder what will happen next year when the iPads you just bought are already obsolete. Just because something is popular or cool doesn't mean it's the right investment. I once heard someone much wiser than me say: "Date the device. Marry the skill."

Three things about the beginning of our PLN book that I thought were particularly interesting (I am enjoying the book very much so far): Being a former newspaper reporter/editor, I could really relate to the authors' narrative about how newspapers failed to revolutionize their product when they had the chance (p. 4). Instead, they tried to tweak it, believing their business model was still sound. Many students today probably don't even know of a time when newspapers were relevant. As is obvious today, newspapers failed to fully adapt; and their demise is legendary -- and nearly complete. I got out just in time; although I still miss it. More than accurate, the example parallels how many school districts see their "business model." The Blockbuster example (p. 6) was also insightful and relevant. I wonder when school districts will finally see the writing on the wall.

The authors make two statements that are related, in my opinion, and very useful, later in the introduction (p. 7). They say that many teachers, especially younger ones, are probably pretty good at using the Internet and social networks, but they don't necessarily understand how meaningful these types of networks can be for his/her classroom. Just a couple paragraphs later, the authors state that students are already embracing the "building blocks" of the most incredible learning tool ever invented, but they don't realize it. These are two things educators should focus on: helping teachers understand the tools that are available; and showing students how their favorite social tools can dynamically change the way they learn and understand their world.

I was beginning to get a little worried about the authors' focus only on adding technology and enlarging the students' role in the learning process. It's a worthwhile idea, but where do the teachers fit in? Should we just fire them? They just get in the way anyway, right? Fortunately, the authors make their feelings clear in a positive way, on p. 19, saying "if you think we're sketching a vision of students sitting in front of computers working through self-paced curricula and interacting with a teacher only on occasion, you're way, way off." The authors add they simply see the potential for "meaningful, experiential, constructivist learning" to occur in online interactions, just as there can be in face-to-face meetings. "It's the melding of the two that will shape our schools in the 21st Century."

Yes. Thank you. That's exactly the balanced attitude that I believe in.