Friday, November 27, 2015

Online Holiday Shopping Tips and Tricks

Happy Holidays! Every year I share a revised guide to shopping online during the holiday season. It is a busy time of year and my wife and I find that doing the majority of our shopping online helps us both reduce our stress level and save a little bit of money. This guide is built for educators, but just about anyone can find some resources to save some money online. Please let us know in the comments below if you have any additional suggestions or resources we can add to this guide!
Here are some tips to help teachers, their families, and just about anyone to save a little green this holiday season.

1. Online Cashback
There are many sites that take advantage of online advertising to provide the consumer with coupons and cash back for major retailers. They also provide links to some great online coupons from most retailers. They are free and easy to use. Combine this with rewards on a credit card and it can really start to add up.
  • Mr. Rebates - Cash Back rebates of up to 30% on all of your online shopping plus get free money-saving coupons at over 2000 online stores. 
  • Ebates - Find coupons and earn cash back at over 1800 stores when you shop at Ebates! Save with online rebates, deals, promo codes and discounts. 
  • Mainstreet Shares - MainStreetSHARES gives you more than just cash back when you shop. We help you turn your shopping into an investment in you! 
  • Fat Wallet - Find coupons, cash back, hottest deals from hundreds of top retailers. Get deals shared by our huge community of frugal shoppers. 
2. Apple / Google / Amazon
What Tech are you looking for this year? Smartphone, iPad, iPod, Tablet, Kindle, Wearables, Chromebooks or Macbook? Most major tech retailers will have online and in-store sales.
3. Educator Union Membership Card
Did you know that the IEA / NEA / AFT posts some excellent deals for teachers? These deals include merchandise, restaurants, and travel.
4. Shopping and Coupon Websites
Many websites that compile information about sales, coupons, and deals year round.
5. Protecting Your Credit Card Online
Most online stores / credit card companies do a great job taking care of credit card purchases, but a great way to pay for many online purchases is to use PayPal. It’s free and provides an extra layer of security between your credit card and online shopping.
6. Amazon,, and eBay
Great places to shop for just about everything new and used. All three sites have great customer support.
7. Electronic Reviews and Retailers
I know many of you are searching the best gifts for your favorite educators. Here are some great places to research and by electronics for teachers.
Get the Reviews – What’s good or not so good? A couple of sites that I use to decide what I want.
  • c|net (Great Reviews of Just About Everything Electronic)
  • Consumer Reports (Great Reviews and Guides to Lot’s of Stuff)
  • PCMag (Main Focus is on Computer Tech)
Online Electronic Retailers – Good prices and excellent service.
  • newegg (New and Refurbished Electronics – Just about everything)
  • TigerDirect (Tiger Direct and CompUSA all in one – They even have a warehouse on 59 near the mall if you want to save on shipping. 
  • (Great deals on new and refurbished electronics)
Fun Stuff for the Geek at Heart

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Learning to be an #EdTech Coach

A recent ISTE post in the Ed Tech Coaches Network asked the question: 
"If you were given the chance to develop and Ed Tech coach certificate - what college courses would it need to have?"
My first thought was to avoid focusing on the tools. My Masters in Instructional Technology courses seemed to primarily focus on the tools and less on the pedagogy of good teaching. To add insult to injury, most of these tools no longer exist. (Hyperstacks anyone?) It was not all bad, I did think about instruction as I learned about the tools, but instruction was secondary to learning how to use the tools. Instruction should have been first in everything I was learning! 

My next thoughts were about a few of the resources we've used to plan professional development. We always try to start with the idea that technology can serve to enhance a good lesson. We try to remember that technology alone does not have the power make a bad lesson great. Technology only enhances what is already there. Great teaching must come first or the power of instructional technology is most likely wasted. 

All this being said, here are a few of the resources I shared in my response:

Specifically I would probably focus on these 5 big concepts:

What courses do you think would be essential for an #EdTech Coach? 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The All Powerful and Almost Magical Chrome Browser

The Chrome Browser is a power tool to enhance your learning experience and save you time while online. Understanding how Chrome can help teachers and students be more efficient with their time online is an essential skill. 

Getting Started with Chrome

Open Chrome and make sure you are signed into Chrome on the device you are using. Click here if you need help signing into Chrome. When you sign in to Chrome, you can save and sync things like your history, bookmarks, and passwords, so you can get to them on any device.

Chrome Browser Essentials 

Chrome Learning Activity 1:
 Review the Chrome Essentials Document and learn more about the following aspects of Chrome: 

  • Making Chrome the Default Browser
  • Setting Homepage
  • Setting Startup Pages
  • Incognito Window
  • Bookmarks
  • Omnibox
  • Tabs 
  • Shortcut Keys
Chrome Learning Activity 2: Explore the Chrome Store Web Store and find an Extension or App that could be used to support teaching and learning.

Click here to share an Extension or App.
Click here to view responses.

Learn more about Chrome Browser 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Communication Resources for the Modern Leaner

When I review a new EdTech tool or resource I want to know how it can support and build essentials skills before I think about content. I always start with how a tool can support one or more of the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. 
There are many incredible tools to support communication. ISTE has a set of standards to connected to essential communication skills for students. 
Communication - Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students will:
  • Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

With the help of my incredible PLN, I've compiled a list of tools that can support communication for students and teachers in classrooms. 

What other tools can you recommend to build communication skills with students and staff?

How can we build bridges to better support learning? 

Monday, October 26, 2015

What is the Best #EdTech Tool?

I recently responded to this question in one of my collaborative networks I. I think many of us have answered this question many times.

Hello All,
I was charged with the task of creating technology rich PD sessions for content area teachers. Could you share the best tech tools for Science, Social Studies, Math and Literacy for middle and high school students?

Here is the essence of my response:

Wow, big question with so many answers. We've been down this path from a few different directions with varying degrees of sucess.
I want to share some advice before sharing the tools.

1. The tools can be great and can be a catalyst for change, but they can also be a dead end if the a tool is no longer available for some reason. It is important to have a few choices to accomplish a task. I usually give my students a couple of options to see what works best for them. A list of tools to meet a certain set of skills helps steer us clear of the idea that there is only one way to get something done.

2. Start with the skills first. "What do you want students to be able to do with the content?" is an essential question we always ask when supporting staff. It is important to have a model or plan for why you uses the tools, not just what the tools are for.

Here are a few ways that we've successfully modeled our training and integration of technology to enhance instruction.

3. Try to find as many tools as possible that are not for a single subject, instead focus on tools that can be used across multiple subjects. Students are much more comfortable and effective learners with a handful of tools they can effectively use across classrooms. This will reduce the stress on both teachers and students to learn the tools.

4. Finally, it is important to consider the culture and teaching 1st. There is a big difference between a traditional teacher-centric culture and a student-centered 1 to 1 environment.

Here are a few of our main tool collections for staff:

If you have a specific need for a skill or concept, I can probably narrow down this list quite a bit. Just let me know in the comments below. 

How would your respond to this question? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Using Collaborative Networks to be Heard

It is all about engagement! Can you hear me now?

I have a tendency to sound like a broken record more often than I should. I can ramble on when I am passionate or worked up about something. I've been rambling for years about how Twitter and EdCamp have done more to impact my teaching and learning than anything else I might point to. I've encouraged anyone who will listen to attend an EdCamp or engage in Twitter. If you are looking to grow as an educator, I firmly believe that you need to find an EdCamp near you ASAP. While you are waiting for EdCamp, learn a little more about social networks to engage in a Personal Learning Network.

Collaborative networks can be used to communicate and collaborate. These networks are great resources to build critical thinking skills and inspire creative thinking.

Connected educators use Social Networks to:
1. Get the word out about school events and resources.
2. Share resources and classroom conversations.
3. Engage in Personal Learning Networks to improve teaching and learning.

Collaborative digital tools can be powerful resources to amplify student voices, teacher voices, and a school voice.

Learn more about how to get started, manage, and engage in Social Networks to support teaching and learning with this interactive set of tutorials:

Connected Educator Interactive

Please share your ideas, resource, and tips in the comment section below. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

It's Not About the Shiny New Tools

Many teachers still love the shiny new tool and get excited when we show them a new resource, but over the years we've discovered that this did not move teachers forward in their teaching very often. We also struggled when a tool caught on and then either disappeared or we lost district support for. We got a bit tired of hearing, "Why should we use this if it is gone in a year?"

For district required Tech Tools (Gradebooks, LMS, etc.) we create online tutorials and offer periodic face to face help sessions, but we don't teach the tools. We instead facilitate the use of the tools to support teaching and learning skills. 

When we plan Instructional Technology PD we try focus on specific teacher and student skills rather than the tools, with these two foundations: 
  • We model our PD around learner-centered activities, with this infographic as our foundation: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology. We ask teachers to approach PD and planning with 1 or more of these in mind. We design any pd offerings with 1 or more of these in mind. 
  • Our second primary goal is to support a shift to learner-centered classrooms where teachers use the 4Cs. We believe that EdTech tools can help a teacher use their course content to help students develop skills connected to Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Here is one of our resources sites connected to this idea: Recharge Learning
Despite our goal to focus on skills, sometimes you still need to have tools in place to help teachers shift to the skills. In the big picture, the two resources that have given us the most leverage to shift our learning: 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Professional Development - What is good?

I have a confession to make . . . I am addicted to Professional Development. It is honestly a bit of a sickness. I spend more time than I should in search of resources and ideas to help me evolve and hopefully improve as an educator. I attend EdCamps and other conferences whenever I can find the time. I've built and incredible PLN. I actually look forward to Inservice Days and School Improvement Days when I see an engaging topic.

There is never enough time to get to everything, so it comes down to time management. Where can I get the most "bang for my buck"? Part of my job is to provide professional development for staff , so I am also always looking for new and different ways to deliver resources, ideas, and content to teachers.

I do not want to have anyone leave and PD like the poor soul in the staff meeting. We've all been in a "sit and get"presentations. Sometimes these are timely and a great use of our times. There are also those other times that we feel like we'd rather been anywhere else doing anything else.

In a recent PD session, I decided to focus on three themes as I planned:

Engagement - Differentiation - Learner-Centered

Using Google Classroom as the framework, I put together an interactive document that I hoped would meet these three goals. Here is my attempt to meet all three of these themes in a quick 20 minute PD sessions led by a facilitator: Google Interactive

Overall, I think it worked well and I am hoping to modify this for a presentation at Google Midwest Summit in November.

Please share you ideas about good PD in the comments below.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Collaboration is an Essential Skill for Today's Learner

When an educator evaluates a new digital resource, it is important to start with the essential skills that can be connected to the tool. Too often, a tool will fail to meet its full potential when the teacher simply uses the tool to distribute content. A web quest is not innovative if it is little more than a digital worksheet.
Don't get me wrong, I have experienced some incredible learning in classrooms with technology at the substitution level. The substitution level of the SAMR model can be a great starting point for incorporating EdTech. I do believe that if a tool is never used beyond substitution, it may live up to its potential to support teaching and learning.  
Tools must support good teaching before I think about the connecting the tool to any content. I want every tool I use to support at least one of the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. 

My go to skill is collaboration. I am a strong believer that we learn best by sharing. I try to blend digital and face to face collaboration in my classroom on a daily basis. 
Collaboration - Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students will:
  • Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

With the help of my incredible PLN, I've compiled a list of tools that can support collaboration in classrooms. These tools can also be used to support teacher professional development.  

Here are some great video clips connected to collaboration:
What other tools can you recommend to build collaborative skills with students and staff?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Learner Centered Classrooms and Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education has changed how I teach and how my students learn. A few years ago I agreed to pilot Google Drive after spending years using Microsoft Office and Smart Technologies to support teaching and learning. Up until that time, Google was only a search tool that help with research in and out of the classroom. My students collaborated on a some in-class activities, but we rarely collaborated using digital tools. My classroom was very teacher centered. We focused on content first and foremost and student skills connected to learning was an afterthought. 
I can't tell you that I started using Google Drive and I immediately became a different teacher. It was probably a full year before I fully engaged in Google Drive. Today I rarely touch an Office Tool or Smart Notebook file. They are great products but no longer meet the needs of my classroom. My classroom has become a learner centered space with content supporting the development of critical student skills. 
The change in tools also brought a change in my teaching. Today the activities in my classroom start with the 4 Cs (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity). Google Apps for Education provides me with a great set of tools to support these skills. 
Since I shifted my classroom to be more learner centered, my own learning has shifted to a greater reliance on my personal learning network. I've learned a great deal about Google Apps for Education and a student-centered classroom and I am always driven to learning more. I learn the most by sharing, so here are a few resources that I've found or created to support learning in a student-centered classroom using Google Apps for Education: 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  ― W.B. Yeats

I am just amazed how much education has changed in a decade. I earned my Masters of Education in Instructional Technology in 2004. This was three years before I took on the dual role of part-time Science Teacher and part-time Instructional Technology Coordinator. (I might argue that both are full-time jobs, but that may be a post for another day.) I earned my degree in the 21st Century, but I honestly don't remember any of my classes focusing on 21st Century Skills. 
Much of my learning was focused on the creation of tools, technical skills,  and technology resources. EdTech was only a for substitution, not for enhancement. I learned very little about the skills needed to support learners in a student-centered classroom. 
The tools were cool, but I'm not sure I could name more than a handful that I used to complete my Masters.  While the tools have faded, my learning and philosophy has continued to evolve. 

I first began to think a bit about the 4Cs and 21st Century Skills in 2008 when I stumbled on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills Website. P21 was a game changer for me as a teacher and learner.
  • I've heard many a keynote speaker or read a blog post mention how important 21st Century Skills are for schools. 
  • On the flip side I often hear or read about teachers and students already being in the 21st Century so we need to stop talking about 21st Century Skills. 
I stand firmly in the middle of these two statements. I think the 4Cs are essential and should blanket everything we do in every classroom. I don't think we need to sell them as something new and innovative. I believe that the 4Cs have been supported by most good teachers throughout educational history. We just sometimes need a reminder about how essential these skills can be for the future of our students and our world. We cannot get to trapped in our content. 

My recommendation to all educators: 
Remember that the 4Cs are skills students can use in any classroom at anytime. More importantly, they can use them outside of the classroom in their daily lives. I challenge each of you to to design and develop classroom experiences that fit your curriculum, but also support student mastery of the 4Cs. I've embraced this challenge, and it has made all the difference in my love of teaching. 

Do you want to learn more about tools and ideas to support 21st Century Skills in education? I've created a site dedicated to the 4Cs. The site provides resources and digital tools that I use to influence teaching and learning in my classroom. 

Checkout the tools and resources I use to support the 4Cs in my classroom:

Above and Beyond - 21st Century Skills and the 4Cs

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Technology Habits for Teachers - Planning Professional Development

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it’s useless.
Thomas Edison (Inventor)

A year ago we started using this infographic with our faculty: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Effective Teachers Who Use Technology. It started more as a motivational idea, but actually became part of our planning and implementation of the professional development activities. Depending on the topic, we will share one or more of these to open up our learner centered professional development. I love the simplicity of the seven habits and it has really helped us move forward with many instructional initiatives connected to Instructional Technology. 

Here are a few examples of how we've used several of these habits:

  • We use the habit of embracing change to get people started with a new resource. For example, this is a great starting point to introduce and new LMS or Gradebook.
  • We use the habit of sharing to get people to collaborate and share their learning  both in our PLCs and embracing broader PLNs. Here is an example in our PLN Challenge
  • We use the habit of why to start conversations about how the technology could support learning.  We shift the focus away from the tool and on the pedagogy the tool can support. 

Think about it: 
  • What other Habits might you suggest? 
  • How could you use these Habits to support teaching and learning? 
Additional resources: 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Day at NSTA

The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. -William Lawrence Bragg

NSTA 2015 Conference

The NSTA Conference is an incredible event filled with science teachers of every size, shape, and teaching style. The diversity and skills of the educators at this event cannot be truly described. Add to the incredible educators is the incredible Vendor Area. (Probably the biggest I've ever seen. I hauled out 3 bags of cool stuff. I was a bit conflicted as an Environmental Science Teacher.)

Most of the time I love being a learner even more than a teacher. Believe me, I love being a teacher a whole heck of a lot. I consider it a boring day when the only questions anyone asks me are the ones I already know or think I know the answer to. 
When it comes to environmental science, technology, and online resources for teachers I sometimes fall into a trap of forgetting how much I don't know. No worries about that at the NSTA a conference. I found many new inspirational questions.

So what questions am I looking for answers to after my first day at the NSTA Conference?

  • What can the Argo Buoys tell my students? How can I use the data to support learning and engage my students?
  • What are the Next Generation Science Standards? How will they help my students "Change the Word" (Courtesy of Bill Nye!)
  • How do we think like an expert without being an expert in the content? (We want students to learn to behave like experts. Not no it alls, but learners who solve problems like the experts.)
  • What is 3 Dimensional Learning and how can I use it with my students?
  • How did Bill Nye become and expert on taking selfies? (You had to be there!)
  • How did I not know about so many of the incredible resources the vendors shared today? (I actually have 3 full tote bags for of some awesome learning swag! More to come tomorrow!)
  • How can I use more formative assessment to support learning and improve my teaching?
I guess its time learn some new things and be inspired.

This is my secret to staying young - Never Stop Learning!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Teachers - You Must Share to Learn and Grow

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”Mahatma Gandhi

I love being a teacher because of the constant need change. There is something new every year, every month, every week and every day. Yes this can be stressful, difficult, time consuming, but it is never dull. I always tell anyone who will listen that if I ever start to believe I am good enough, I will quit teaching. While perfection may be out of reach, it is a great goal.

There are 2 things that have changed my teaching and learning in the last 5 years than anything I've ever done connected to being a teacher. I've shifted from a teacher centered content delivery machine to a learner centered facilitator of learning and student choice. I thought I was good at what I was doing before and maybe I was, but I am better at what I am doing now. I owe this fundamental shift in my teaching philosophy to both face to face interactions and my online social network, including:

I tried an experiment a few weeks ago with the teachers in my building. My idea was to engage them in digital Personal Learning Networks. Our building is full of incredible educators who share incredible things in our established Personal Learning Communities. Many teacher present and share what they now at local and national conferences. The only area where I don't see extensive engagement is online. I wanted to see if I could change this, so I created the PLN Challenge.

The PLN challenge seemed like a great idea, but it was complete and utter failure. Two teachers in a building of 300 staff engaged and tweeted to our district hashtag: #iplearns. Reflecting back, I think I failed in the delivery of the challenge. I believed that sharing the challenge through our Department Chairs and ILT would be enough to get the ball rolling. I did not take an active role encouraging teachers to participate. I did not help teachers who might be new to Twitter. I did not do enough to convince teachers how powerful a personal learning network could be.

We learn from failure, and in the future I will approach encouraging teachers in a more active way. I'm still thinking about how to best accomplish this, but digital PLNs are too powerful of a learning tool to ignore. I plan to take what I learn from this first attempt and turn it into something better.

How do you promote / share the power of Personal Learning Networks? 

A few PLN resources:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why Blog? - Inspired to Get Started Again

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." 
- Mahatma Gandhi

Last night I was able to participate in the second half of the ECET2 Twitter Chat immediately after I left the kids with mom to finish up our nightly bedtime rituals. (Read Stall-tactics if you have kids.) It was an early bedtime for the boyts after a weekend of them all being up later than they probably should, but that is not the inspiration for this post.

Sunday nights do not typically allow me the time or energy to jump into Twitter for a fast paced Twitter chat no matter how interested I am in the topic. The topic questions all focused on blogging as an educator. If you take a look at the archives of this Blog you might notice that I don't appear to be a very active blogger.  (Not my first go around at blogging, but the first one I've come back to.) It was not a topic I expected to engage in, but when I opened my Twitter feed their were a couple of posts that caught my interested and I was hooked.

Here are the first Tweets that caught my attention:

I quickly became fully engaged in the conversation and before I realized the conversation shifted in my direction and I committed to becoming a blogger again.

I love being a teacher because I love learning. I also love sharing what I learn because I believe that I always get back more than I give. Twitter has been my outlet for a larger audience, but I realized that last night it was not enough. I am convinced that I can using Blogging as another tool to share and learn.

It will take me some time to land on the best direction for this blog, but until then I will enjoy the journey. Thank you to everyone who inspired me. Feel free to let me know what you think at anytime.

Check out ECET2 on Twitter for some inspiration for yourself.

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