Sunday, October 30, 2016

Texture: The Netflix of Magazines

As a digital reader, I've missed magazines.

There's something about a magazine I enjoy.  Maybe it's the relaxing nature of its content.  Maybe it's the gloss and shine as I turn the pages.  Maybe it's the shorter reads tucked within its pages.  I do enjoy magazines but, honestly, as I've become more digital I don't read them as much.  I just don't seem to have the interest in picking up a paper magazine, carrying it around, having it clutter up our house, and then having to properly recycle it.  Additionally, I'm deterred by the ever increasing cost of picking up a magazine in the grocery store checkout line.

Though I've been a converted digital reader for some time, I still want a magazine to seem like a magazine when I read it.  I've tried to order magazines on my device, but haven't found that to be easy enough that I have continued the practice.   

Recently, however, all of that changed!  A few weeks ago I stumbled upon Texture and have found myself once again spending time with magazines, a guilty pleasure.  I began my subscription about two weeks ago, and have found Texture to be like finding a seat near the magazine rack at the local Barnes and Noble.  I've been so excited about its content.  

  • allows me to read from a variety of popular magazines.
  • brings popular articles from different magazines to my attention.
  • allows me to download magazines so I can read outside of a wifi network. 
  • allows me to create a "favorite" magazine shelf for quick access to the magazines I want to read most.
  • maintains the look and feel of a magazine when I read from my tablet. 
  • can be placed on up to five devices. 

While the perks of Texture are obvious for the magazine lover, I've recently discovered a perk as a teacher as the service has several children's magazines as part of its collections including:  National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids, Cricket and Ladybug.   These titles are sure to be useful in providing digital shared reading opportunities with students.

Texture may well be the greatest thing since Netflix!  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Going Digital with Our Youngest Learners

It always makes me smile to walk into the classrooms of kindergarten children with spaces set up for learning and discovery, interactive writing hanging on the walls, as well as tools of learning placed carefully in areas for our youngest students.  These classrooms are always filled with math manipulatives to solve problems.  There are picture books around the room to help students take their first steps into our literate world.  These classrooms are full of markers, crayons, pens and a variety of styles of paper for our youngest learners to draw and write to tell their stories.  In addition, you'll find a variety of other tools for students to use to grow as learners.  Our youngest learners benefit from these concrete experiences, from being able to physically hold items and move them, from being able to test out their hypotheses, and from opportunities to learn beside friends.

What does all of this mean as we add iPads and digital tools to the classrooms of our youngest learners?  When I'm thinking about ways to grow digital opportunities for our youngest learners I like to consider applications that allow students to do the same things they like to with other tools found in a kindergarten classroom.  I look for tools that allow students to create, discover, talk, and solve.  I also consider how applications work across platforms and ease of sharing.

Here are a few of my favorite applications for our youngest learners:

What It Does:  This is one of my favorites for the K-2 learner as it allows students to take pictures, create video, and use audio.  They can talk, write, or draw in VoiceThread.  This tool works best when wanting to share creations and connect with other learners.  Students can ask a question, as well as share a book, creation, or picture on VoiceThread.  Students can talk about what they are sharing, and then publish it to get comments from peers.

Benefits for Our Youngest Learners:  It's easy to create and navigate using VoiceThread.  It allows students to talk to share their thinking, build oral language skills and helps our youngest learners share all they know with greater ease.  You can create identities within the teacher account.  This was a game changer for me.  When Deb Frazier showed me how to put all of the students under my account I was then able to use this during our whole group lessons and small group lessons for students to share their thinking around topics as we talked together (and sharing this with parents was helpful).  This was a great way to begin before giving students their own VoiceThread accounts.  (Having district accounts is an additional benefit for our learners.)

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Connecting, Collaboration, Commenting, Curating, Embedding other media, Sharing

Here's an example of a VoiceThread I created for first graders as a geometry preassessment (nothing fancy, but it shows how the tool works):  

What It Does:  When we think about blogging, the first thing we think about is writing --- and let's be honest, writing isn't all that easy for our kindergarten students in the first weeks of school.  However, I like to think about Kidblog as a box as it can hold a variety of types of media.  Students can use Kidblog to share their creations with others.  Kidblog provides a place for students to share writing, video, images, and so much more with an audience.  When my K/1 students would begin to use this tool to write, I worked to maintain appropriate developmental expectations for their writing.  A K/1 blog will look like a K/1 student wrote it.

Benefits for Our Youngest Learners:  Kidblog allows students to share their thinking, work, and creations with others.  It is very intuitive and easy for our youngest learners to navigate.  Teachers can moderate posts and comments, and have the ability to set the preferred privacy for a class.  Students accounts stay grouped as a class, making it easy for young learners to find their friends' posts.  Kidblog gives our quietest learners space to share, and commenting helps to build community.

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Connecting, Collaboration, Commenting, Curating, Embedding other media, Sharing

Made in Kidblog:

What It Does:  Pixie is one of my favorite applications for our youngest learners.  It's versatile allowing students to draw, take pictures, write, type, and use audio.  It is possible to put multiple pages together in Pixie to create a story or connect ideas.  When sharing creations in Pixie, it is possible to share as an image, a video, or a Podcast.

Benefis for Our Youngest Learners:  It is easy to use and has a variety of tools available for creation.   Students can create in a variety of ways.  It's an application that grows with students.  As they gain control over greater abilities to write and draw, Pixie will allow them to work in different ways.  Of course, I appreciate the ease of audio for our youngest learners.  Creations from Pixie can be shared in Kidblog or VoiceThread.

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Drawing, Typing, Writing, Inserting Image, Adding Audio, Making Multiple Pages and so much more.

Made with Pixie:

There are so many things that can be done using these three applications that they might be all a primary classroom would need.  Taking the time to use these applications in shared and interactive learning experiences before moving toward independence is a smart way to begin.  Just like shared reading and interactive writing, using these tools as a class to share thinking and to connect with others will help students begin to understand, not only the tool itself, but the significance of purpose and audience in selecting which tools to use.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Real Innovation: What Digital Literacy Brings Us #immooc

"I'm defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better."    ------ George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset (loc 374)
For the next six weeks, I've decided to join the community conversation around The Innovator's Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros.  This conversation is being led by George and Katie Martin.  You can join the conversation at the #immooc event hub, the Twitter #immooc hashtag, or the Facebook group.  

Recently I was gathered around a table of educators discussing our district's move toward 1:1 in our elementary schools.  I'm continually reminded how fortunate I am to work in a district that values this shift toward new opportunities for our students.  We have always had people working toward the vision of growing the possibilities afforded through digital technologies.  There has been careful planning of devices, applications, and professional development, complemented by the side-by-side support of technology coaches to help us through these new steps.

As I've moved from building to building in conversations around these blended learning opportunities, there is a mix of excitement and caution as we take these new steps.  Many are excited about the new possibilities that 1:1 will allow our students, but I also sense a bit of caution as educators try to balance this possibility with pedagogy.  As I dig deeper into the shift toward digital learning, I realize that it is less about the tools and more about our instructional practices and the opportunities students have as a result of these new tools.  Couros reminds us, "Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about the tools like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things."

As educators, we work to do what is best for the children that sit beside us each day.  It's the how (his emphasis) that I've been thinking a lot about lately.  For me, this shift isn't as much about digital learning as it is about digital literacy.  It isn't as much about completing tasks, as it is about intentional decision making.  It isn't as much about working independently as it is about connecting to other learners, growing your community beyond your classroom, and having a voice today.  It isn't as much about using digital tools as it is about purposefully selecting from a variety of tools, digital or otherwise, to intentionally create and compose a message.  It isn't as much about learning how to work digitally as it is about learning to live in the new culture created by the availability of digital technologies.  It isn't as much about being a student as it is about becoming a global citizen.  It isn't about schooling; it's about education.

These two tweets were among my favorites this week for showing how students can own their learning process and make intentional decisions (note the digital and print decisions):

Shifting Our Thinking 
The how requires a shift in our thinking.  I'm going to push Couros's definition for innovation in education one step further by saying that innovation creates "something new and better" and raises the level of learning for students - they own it.  Technology allows us to do all kinds of new and better things, but not all of those are best practices.  One of my friends has a new saying, "Just because they can, doesn't mean mean we should."  If the innovation isn't growing the opportunities and understandings of our learners, if it isn't developmentally appropriate, if it doesn't take our learning to new levels, if it doesn't connect us, then perhaps we need to push ourselves to go deeper.

One of my favorite quotes about change is from Troy Hicks in The Digital Writing Workshop, "When we simply bring a traditional mindset to literacy practices, and not a mind-set that understands new literacies into the process of digital writing, we cannot make the substantive changes to our teaching that need to happen in order to embrace the full potential of collaboration and design that digital writing offers (p.2)."  As we move toward 1:1 learning environments we need to be patient with ourselves in this journey, but we also need to ask ourselves the hard question, "What could be different?".

Expanding our definition of literacy to include digital texts, tools, and networks, is one step toward innovative change.  However, it is also requires us to work in "new and better" ways that lift the level of learning.  Perhaps innovation is quite simple.  Perhaps it is just about turning the decision making over to students.  Perhaps it is just about valuing questions over answers.  Perhaps it is about connecting learning communities.  Perhaps it just about being willing to take the first steps.