Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Geocaching: A High Tech Treasure Hunt with Educational Benefits!

Muck boots? Check.
Jacket? Check.
GPS Receiver? Check.

It is spring, I think, so that means it is time to do some GEOCACHING! During the fourth quarter I get the opportunity to go geocaching with various groups of students. If you haven't heard of geocaching before, check out the basics on geocaching.com.

Depending on the grade level, discussions beforehand include but are not limited to:
  • What are latitude and longitude and how do they help with directionality?
  • What is GPS technology?
  • What is a GPS receiver?
  • What is geocaching?
  • Why would anyone want to geocache?
  • What types of "treasures" can be found?
  • How can one place a geocache?
  • Where might geocaches be found?
  • What is geocaching etiquette and lingo?
  • How do we use geocaching.com?
  • Can we go outside now?
One of the beautiful things about geocaching is that it can be tied to just about anything in the curriculum. Because of this, the caches contain different things. With my 8th graders the purpose is simply to learn how to navigate with the GPS receiver. Because of that I place different stamps in each cache and send them out with GPS receivers and index cards. To prove that they found a cache, they stamp their card.  Because we don't have any official geocaches on school property, I create my own.

Here is my process:
  • I take one GPS receiver (GPSr) outside, locate, and mark various waypoints (spots for geocaches).
  • I hook the GPSr to my PC, open EasyGPS, and send all waypoints to the computer. I create a folder for the waypoints.
  • Next, I hook each GPSr, one at a time, to the PC and send all waypoints to them. 
  • I gather the caches. Some are plastic containers, others metal with magnets inside, some are old 35mm film containers.... I try to have a variety of different types of containers, similar to some that the students might encounter when geocaching out in "the wild."
  • I prepare the caches. In traditional geocaching, each cache contains a log sheet. I don't always do this in the interest of time. I tend to place stamps, decorative hole punches, or stickers in the caches and give the students index cards for them to mark the caches they have visited.
Sometimes the caches contain QR codes! More on that another time.

What an awesome way to get outside and get moving while incorporating various skills! The best part.... some students share geocaching with their families who then participate in it together! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

BYOD Resources

We are currently running a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) pilot in some classrooms in our high school. I am always keeping my eyes open for tools that the teachers and students can use in these settings. Not every student brings his/her own device, but all students have the ability to sign out a laptop from the library. Because of this, I look for tools that are web based so that all can participate. Many of these tools do offers apps as well. Here are just a few of the tools that we use...

  • Socrative is a student response system that works on any web enabled device. 
  • Teachers have the ability to create multiple choice, true/false, and short answer responses. Our teachers have used these as exit tickets and bell ringer exercises, as well as ways to gauge prior knowledge and to check comprehension. 
  • Activities can be created in advance or on the fly and can be student or teacher paced. 
  • Students visit m.socrative.com or open the Socrative Student app and enter the room number provided by the teacher. 
  • After starting the activity, the teacher can watch the results live to get immediate feedback to inform instruction.
  • Results can be downloaded in an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Socrative 2.0 is in beta and has some added features.
Poll Everywhere
  • Poll Everywhere is a polling tool where a question is posed and answers can be sent via text or the web and answers appear live. The free account currently allows up to 40 responses per poll and does not allow for moderation prior to posting. 
  • If using the web, students go to pollev.com and enter responses there.
  • If texting, students text their responses to a certain number the teacher provides them.
  • Our teachers use this in much the same way they use Socrative.
  • TodaysMeet is one of many backchanneling tools, but this one is super simple to set up and implement on any device that has access to the web. 
  • Our students use this to communicate during debates, videos.... at times when they want to discuss something and not interrupt the flow of what is happening in the classroom. For example, many English and History teachers use video as part of their curriculum. TodaysMeet allows for discussions to happen during the videos, for clarification purposes and for the teacher to interject important points and for both students and teachers to ask and answer questions.
  • The teacher creates a room and decides how long the room will remain open. 
  • Students join the room by going to todaysmeet.com/(the name the teacher assigned the room) and clicking Join.
  • Chat can't be moderated in TodaysMeet like they can with some other backchanneling tools, but our teachers opt for it because of its ease of use and the fact that transcripts can be downloaded and saved.
  • This web based and app based tool allows users to create notebooks, add notes, and organize them via tags. Notes can be typed, spoken, or snapped with a camera, depending on the device capabilities.  Notes and notebooks can be synced across many devices. 
  • Many students are using this in place of traditional notebooks in the BYOD classes. In some cases students snap pictures of classroom posters, vocab lists, PowerPoint slides... and can even annotate them with Skitch. Notes can also be printed, exported, and shared.
  • In many classes students and teachers use Dropbox as a cloud-based storage space. Dropbox is web based and app based, allowing users to upload files to the cloud. 
  • Our BYOD students don't have network access on their personal devices. This tool allows them to save work if they are working on multiple devices and it allows them to get their work to a networked machine for printing purposes. Previously, students would email the work to themselves.
  • dropitto.me is a web based service that connects with Dropbox and serves as a virtual hand-in folder for students. 
  • Teachers create an account at dropitto.me and link it to Dropbox.
  • Students go to the teacher's dropitto.me site, enter the upload password that the teacher has created and upload their files. These files sync to the teacher's dropitto.me folder within the Dropbox. 

These next two are new to us and I credit Brandon Lutz, Scott Synder, and Mark Perlman for them! I attended their 60 in 60 web tools presentation at PETE and C this year. We can't wait to give them a try!


  • Mentimeter is another web based polling site. Unlike polleverywhere, texting responses is not an option.
  • The teacher creates a poll question, students go to www.govote.at and enter the code provided by the teacher and then complete the poll question.
  • Results do appear live.
  • The free version does NOT have any restriction on number of votes per poll, unlike the free version of Poll Everywhere.
  • Results can't be exported to Excel unless you buy a membership.
Infuse Learning
  • Infuse Learning is much like Socrative. We like the added "drawing" question feature. Students can draw responses and submit them. (draw shapes, draw chemical compounds, show how a math problem is solved.....)
  • Teachers can create classes and even upload rosters. They provide the template. 
  • Additional question types include true/false, multiple choice, sort in order, open ended text answer, numeric, and Likert Scale.

A note about our BYOD pilot....

When we started this pilot, we didn't want these devices to be used solely for googling something or typing papers. Our teachers use them to engage students in new ways! We are still trying things and looking for new resources. The technology itself is not the focus, the learning is the focus. The technology is used where it fits, where it is the right tool for the job, and where it enhances the learning. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Day

About five years ago I had a detour in my career path which I thought was going to be temporary. A technology integration coach was needed in the high school to help fulfill a grant obligation. With much fear I left my familiar third grade world and ventured into the high school. To make a very long story short, my district decided that this was a viable position and hired me full time as a K-12 technology integration coach. I miss the classroom terribly, although I love my current role. This week I have had to make a decision.... there is an opportunity to return to the elementary classroom should I choose to do so. I have lost sleep, made the pros and cons lists, asked for advice, prayed... and I have finally come to a decision. I was made to be a technology integration coach.

No two days are the same. My duties range from teacher professional development, co-planning and implementing lessons and projects, to basic troubleshooting. Teachers contact me via text, gchat, skype, email, and phone. I eat lunch at my desk while catching up on a TED talk or spending quality time with my Google Reader and Twitter feeds and their rich resources. Each day I attempt to gain proficiency with the various Mac and Windows operating systems, accompanying software applications, while trying to keep current with some of our newer initiatives.... iPad and Mimio implementations, a Bring Your Own Device pilot program...

The best part of this job, is that I get to connect with students, teachers, staff, and administrators in all of our 6 buildings. I get to continue to learn! Gone are the days when I would walk into a building and a teacher would ask me, "What do you do?" Phew! I am very thankful that my district values this role, and I feel that it is one that I am meant to hold for a little while longer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Using Pen and Paper at a Technology Conference?!

So, I headed to PETE&C, Pennsylvania's annual educational technology expo and conference, with devices charged and ready to experience all that the conference had to offer! I was armed, ready to take notes, tweet about them, and backchannel while keeping tabs on my school email and gmail chat. As I left the hotel room on Monday morning I decided to experiment a bit. Rather than lug my laptop for the day, I grabbed my phone, Livescribe pen, and notebook. Could I accomplish what I needed to.... without the appendage that is my laptop?

I took ALL notes in my Livescribe Notebook by writing with an actual pen, checking in on email and twitter occasionally with my phone. I will be using this approach from now on because:
  • Things tend to stick better with me and make more sense when I physically write them. It just suits my learning style.
  • I did a sync with Evernote and all of my notes are now digital and available on all of my devices. I can still share them out, now they are pdfs. I can still post them to my wiki, share with colleagues...
  • I was able to give full attention to the presenters and presentations. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but without the continual tweetdeck updates, chat messages, and email, I could FULLY attend to the sessions.
I still checked twitter and followed #PETEC12, favorited tweets to explore later, shared out resources that I was discovering, but in between sessions or during lunch. So, I feel I got as much information during this conference as I would normally get, but it was a much more rich experience without some of the distractions of "multi-tasking." Yes, I know multi-tasking is a myth. ;)

As a technology integration coach I am continually on the look out for ways to integrate technology WHERE IT FITS, WHERE IT ENHANCES, and WHERE IT MAKES SENSE... basically, when it is the right tool for the job. I think, for me, this is the best of all worlds. I physically worked with the information by writing it, I have it in a notebook, and I have access to it digitally as well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Using Wordle

I recently facilitated a district course on Web 2.0 tools, and Wordle was a huge hit! Wordle is an amazing creation that allows the user to create word clouds from text. The premise is that words that are used more frequently appear larger than the words used less frequently. Below you will find some tips, potential classroom uses, and a visual of the various fonts in Wordle.

What is Wordle?

Take text, type or paste it into wordle.net, and it generates a word cloud. In a word cloud, words that appear more frequently appear larger.
You can use the ADVANCED tab to enter words and assign them values instead of typing or pasting.
To keep phrases together, use a ~. For example, if you type New York, wordle treats them as two separate words. If you type New~York the two words are treated as a phrase and stay together

Potential Classroom Uses:

These come from a variety of sources....

  • create synonym or antonym posters (make the root word larger than its synonyms or antonyms)
  • paste student work into wordle to check for over used words (make sure there isn't a check mark under remove commonly used words)
  • character analysis, biography, autobiography (make the person's name larger than the adjectives/phrases used to describe)
  • paste in famous speeches, provides a nice visual of "important" words
  • compare and contrast inaugural presidential speeches, leave out the names and see if students can accurately identify the president
  • create class t-shirts with names, activities....
  • great "All About Me" project/ice breaker
  • holiday/theme "word walls" (i.e. type SUMMER and make it large, type summer related words that students might use in writing and make them smaller
  • summary of a book, keywords
  • Just about ANYTHING!


  • I highly suggest creating your wordle text in a word processor first... then save it. It is just about impossible to go back and edit a wordle since they are not saved.... and I do not suggest saving to the gallery. What is placed there can't be taken down. This way you still have your text and a simple copy and paste can save you time over having to recall and type everything all over again.
  • TO SAVE and PRINT: You need to save the wordle as an image. In some cases you can right click (control click on a Mac) and save the image that way. If it doesn't work, take a screen shot! On a PC that's a print screen. On a Mac, use SHIFT-COMMAND-4 and your cursor turns into a camera. Drag over the wordle then let go. The screenshot is saved to your computer, most likely your desktop.
  • Something to consider... if you are printing a large amount of wordles, consider the background color. Black consumes a great deal of ink.

Monday, July 4, 2011

ISTE Thoughts and Takeaways, Part 2 (Organizing Digital Photos)

One of the presenters I like to see is Leslie Fisher, and I got to two of her sessions. YAY! Here is a plan of attack I developed after attending her session about organizing digital photos. Right now, I have years worth of photos just sitting in iPhoto, some organized into albums, most just hanging out in their event folders.

My Plan:
1. Get Adobe Photoshop Elements for Mac and learn how to use it!
2. Attach keywords or tags to photos on import.
3. Make use of the stars for favorites.
4. Hit the delete key more often to get rid of photos. (I keep everything.)
5. Replace my camera card with a better one - one that has rescue software that I can put on my computer.
6. Encourage everyone I care about to stop backing up photos to DVD or CD.
7. Attach my Time Machine backup more frequently ;) and look for a second backup solution.
8. Scan the hundreds of photos I have sitting here from my grandmother (using 300 or 600 dpi).
9. Spend the rest of my summer organizing all of my current pictures.
10. Since every list needs a number 10, learn to use my DSLR as a DSLR, instead of a point and shoot camera. ;)

Some of these things might be obvious to most people, but they were not to me. And, besides, Leslie's humor coupled with great information... awesome experience.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

ISTE Thoughts and Takeaways, Part 1

 Three and a half days with brain food and inspiration around every corner... student and teacher showcases, lectures, sessions, bring your own laptop sessions, vendors, playground areas, discussion areas, friends, networking, and very little sleep... that would be my take on the ISTE 2011 Conference this year. To call this a technology conference would actually be only partially correct. I am pleased to see that student/teacher learning is at the heart of this conference.

Keynote speakers were not all self-proclaimed technology experts, instead we heard from Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and the author of Brain Rules.  My biggest takeaways from his talk:  We know that "every brain is wired differently from every other brain and learns differently... according to its wiring." He admits that there is much we know about the human brain, but much we do not know. When asked if he could design a classroom based on what he knows of the human brain, he was quite clear. Exercise increases brain power (Brain Rule #1). Medina suggests that aerobic activity we at the center of what we do. He went so far as to say that schools should have uniforms and those uniforms should be gym clothes.

As I reflect on my own classroom, which I dearly miss, I remember taking power walks with the students once or twice a day, taking frequent stretch breaks, dancing to learn the times tables, and, yes, the Cha Cha Slide became part of our daily ritual. According to Medina, this helps, but isn't enough. The day would be one huge aerobic class with pockets of learning, instead the inverse is true. Is this practical?  Probably not. But the point that exercise increases brain power is one point that cannot be overlooked. For more about his insightful Brain Rules, check out his website, linked above. It is research combined with anecdotes, making it a very interesting read. He has this is in audiobook form and he reads it to you... it's almost worth getting just to hear him read it. ;)

Time to do more mental digesting before I continue writing. I need to take my own advice, the advice that I give folks taking courses or working through trainings with me, don't expect to "get" everything all at once. This was an incredible buffet from which to sample. I need to sift through my learning, decide what to keep, what to try, what to put on a shelf for later, and so on.

One last bit that I want to share for now... I took all conference notes on various devices, my iPhone, iPad, and laptop, depending on what was charged up and the time, using EVERNOTE.  This is an application that can be downloaded for Windows, Mac, and iOS operating systems and, here's the awesome part, it syncs across devices! That means when I took and saved notes on my iPhone and went to my laptop, the notes were there! All ISTE notes were arranged into one notebook (or folder) and each session got it's own page. AMAZING! I did learn that I could take notes with my LiveScribe pen and sync those to Evernote as well! (More on that later.)