I got a touchscreen Chromebook for Christmas this year.  I am pretty much in love with the thing, especially since I'm a heavy Chrome user on any other device anyway. I was recently searching for a way to screencast using my Chromebook, and kept coming up empty-handed until I found Screencastify. This is a neat little Chrome extension that allows you to screencast what's on your tabs from within the Chrome browser.  Check out what it can do below in the screencast I made yesterday for our staff concerning how Google Docs can be used to support Common Core Writing Anchor Standard 6.

To get started using Screencastify, add it to Chrome first from the Chrome Web Store.  Then, click on the extension to get started with your recording.  There are a few options from which to choose once you start using this extension:

As you can see from the image above, you can record just the tab in which you are currently browsing or you can record your entire desktop and switch from tab to tab.  However, the desktop option does not allow you to pull up windows from another browser during recording; you'll see that you did while recording but it won't show up in the actual screencast (and you'll be talking about something people can't see on screen, which is always a little awkward).  

You can record in different tabs; however, as you can see in the Screencastify options pictured below, you have to manually tell Screencastify that you want to record in a new tab.  The default settings for options in Screencastify are shown below.
Whatever screencasts you've recorded are "saved" in a list in the tab itself under "Your Screencasts," so you can always get back to them.  However, if you want to get them somewhere where people can actually view them, you have the option of downloaded them to your computer, or of uploading them directly to your Google Drive or straight to YouTube.  These options appear directly above the date and time when you hover your mouse over a particular screencast.  And speaking of hovering mice, during recording the mouse arrow is embiggened for better viewing, and a red circle appears around the mouse arrow whenever you click on something.  When I was screencasting for my students, they often said they didn't know where my mouse was when I was clicking away on screen; this feature in Screencastify makes it easy to see where you're moving your mouse.

But the option I nerded out about the most was the "Embed webcam video in the bottom-right corner" option.  This records you, the speaker and creator of said video, whilst you are creating the screencast, and shows you in all your wondrous glory in the bottom-right corner of the screen in the final product.  However, you don't get to see yourself during the actual recording unless you check the "Preview window" option that appears after you start recording.  Once this is checked, you will see a small window appear that will show you what your screencast looks like as you record it as well as what you look like in the embedded webcam video.
Check "Show preview window" to see what's really happening during recording.
Screencastify with the preview window showing during recording.
I think this is a fantastic Chrome extension for screencasting, and something that students can easily use to record evidence of their understanding.  This would also be a great tool for teachers, in case they wanted to screencast directions, an overview of a website, or if they wanted to screencast some of their instruction in a flipped classroom sort of way.  If you have a Chromebook and are searching for a good way to do screencasting, I think Screencastify is your best bet.  If you know of any other good screencasting apps for Chrome, please feel free to let us know in the comments.
I was planning on showing my staff the wonders of Educanon and EDpuzzle, two tools that allow the addition of interactive elements to videos, during some regularly scheduled professional development time.  I hit a snag when I was trying to decide what video to use as an example; should I pull one from YouTube?  Vimeo?  Or just use one of my own?  Eventually I decided to make my own video, but was then stuck on exactly what to make the video about.

And then it hit me-why not make it about the PARCC website?  I'm always getting asked where to find things on this site (I feel it is confusing to navigate), so why not take people on a short guided tour?

Below is the video if you'd care to take a peek.  It gives an overview of what I consider to be the more important parts of the PARCC website--the parts that would be most useful for teachers.  Just be aware that this was my first time experimenting with Camtasia Studio, so please forgive any technical issues you may see.

(In case you're interested, here is the link to the same video below in EdPuzzle, where questions have been added at certain spots in the video.)
Earlier this year, I came across a neat little video tool called Educanon as I was cruising through the #edtech hashtag. This is an easy-to-use web tool that allows you to make interactive video lessons.  I checked it out at the time and liked what I saw, but recently had the opportunity to get a tour of the inner workings of Educanon for myself, thanks to Swaroop from Educanon.  After the tour, I took it upon myself to get into Educanon and make a video lesson of my very own. And, after making one, I have to say that this is a great tool for anyone who wants to start flipping their classroom.  Let's take a look at this tool shall we?

The Goodness:
  • You can login using your Google account.  Since I have long since acquiesced to the fact that Google will eventually take over the world, I get all excited when I see the "login with Google" button on a website.  I also love the fact that I don't have to remember another login and password, because I am getting old and my brain is slowly succumbing to inevitable entropy.
  • Building a lesson is extremely easy.  Just grab the link to a video from YouTube, Vimeo, or TeacherTube, add a title and a learning objective, categorize the subject and grade level, and you're on your way.
After that's done, you can go ahead and start adding interactive elements to your chosen video.  You let the video play until the point at which you want to add a question, and then click on "Build Question."  In the free version, you can only add multiple choice or what they refer to as "Pause Text" questions; the paid version allows for free response questions.  After adding a question, it will save that question for you, and it will show up at that time point in the video when students view it later.
  • When creating questions, you can add feedback for students for each answer choice in multiple choice questions.  When students answer the questions as they are watching the videos, it gives them instant feedback as to whether they get the answer right or wrong.  You can choose to add in feedback concerning each answer choice during question construction.
  • You can insert links and images into questions.  Personally, I love the ability to put links into the "pause text" questions, and I love that you can hyperlink text rather than paste long ugly URLs into that space. This is a great way to have students practice concepts and process information at the time of first learning.  
The activities are hyperlinked so students can practice what they just learned elsewhere on the internets.
  • You can crop the video.  If you just want students to watch a small part of a larger video, Educanon allows you to crop the video.
  • Assigning lessons to students is pretty easy.  Students will need to create their own login (and if they're in a GAFE school, they can also login with Google and save themselves from remembering another login); however, after they login, students hook into a teacher account using a unique code given to the teacher upon signup.  As a teacher, you have to create your classes first (up to 8) and then you can drag and drop lessons to your classes in order to assign them.  Tack on a due date, and voila!  Lessons assigned.
The teacher-end of the assign lessons screen.
What students see when they access their lessons through their student accounts.
  • You can monitor individual student responses to questions.  Personally, I love that this feature is available in the free version.  Other web tools that I will refrain from mentioning will only allow you to look at students responses if you cough up some cash, but not Educanon-you can check out how your students did on each question.  However, downloading your lesson grades to an Excel file does cost you--it's a feature in the paid version.
If you click on each question number, you can view the actual question. Obviously, you will have more than one student listed.
The Wish-List:
  • When you're first setting up your lesson and writing in the objective, it would be nice to be able to choose standards (Common Core specifically) from a list. Edited to add: I found out you can!  If, when first setting up your video, you choose English or Math as your subject, you get a drop-down menu of the CCSS for those areas.  What's on my wish list now?  The Next Generation Science Standards being available in a drop-down when Science is chosen as the subject.
  • From what I experienced in Educanon, it doesn't look like you can upload images to questions from your computer-only from entering in a URL. This would be a nice feature to add.
  • I wish there was a way to upload your own videos from your computer to Educanon.  Currently you can only insert links to existing videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or TeacherTube.

I really think this is a great tool for the beginning flipper in any classroom.  It's also super easy to use, which is always a bonus.  Don't believe me?  Check out the one I made below in a little under an hour. (And yes; that's me in the video.  I apologize.)
Yesterday I again had the privilege of presenting at the IETA conference.  This presentation, titled "The Flipped Classroom: Flip for (Almost) Free," first emphasized how flipping is really doing learning differently - and is not just about the videos.  We then explored some free (and some not-so-free) technology tools that can be used to flip classrooms, and then went on to use some of the tools to make a small flipped lesson.  The participants were fantastic, and even put up with a video of myself and my former colleague hamming it up for our students at the end.  I've included the full presentation below for your perusal;  if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
I got the wonderful opportunity to present at the IETA Conference in Boise, Idaho today, a great technology conference for educators.  Today I facilitated a session titled Grading for Learning; it was intended as a mini-PBL unit, but it didn't quite work out that way.  However, there was a lot of great discussion, fantastic insights, along with some technology tools that can be used to keep track of student progress towards mastery.  You can take a peek at the full presentation below, or you can access it here.  Any questions?  Please feel free to ask them in the comments.

In my 16 years of classroom teaching, I never felt like I had the power to change anything about my work environment.  I'm not talking about my students, my instruction, and their learning--I did whatever I could to change those things for the better inside my little 4 walls of science-filled goodness.  

I'm talking about the larger work environment.

Constant vortexes of negativity.  Consistent lack of focus on what's good for kids.  A reactionary instead of a proactive culture. Rampant mistrust and suspicion of other adults.  Locking up what works for kids in classrooms and never letting it escape for fear someone may "steal" those ideas.

How do you change those things?

I think you start by recognizing that those negative influences and practices exist in your environment.  But the real work begins when you actually ask that question above and start mapping out a plan for change--and holding people accountable for their roles in the change. 

Asking how we change rather than should/would/could/do we need to change, is the key.  I only wish I had possessed the courage as a teacher for all of those years to ask the question outside of my head rather than keep it trapped inside.
In case you've been living under a nice warm rock, you've probably heard that my little piece of Midwestern real estate is currently being held hostage by some very cold polar air and dangerous wind chills.  This has resulted in a day off from school for me, so I of course used this time to indulge my continuous obsession with social media.  Checking my Twitter feed, I noticed that Brian Wright had brought this tweet to my attention:
This is exactly how I felt during my last few years in the classroom.  I also started to feel that real learning couldn't really happen unless I just shut-up and let students actually do the work of learning.  How much learning could really go on if I was up in front jabbering away?  Sure, (most) students were staring at me dutifully while I talked, but learning sure wasn't taking place while I was talking.  

So, instead of planning to jabber at students on a daily basis, I started designing learning activities for students.  Less me, much more them.  More listening to students while they were working than listening to myself talk.  It wasn't always a perfect design for learning, but it was helping students learn more than my lectures ever were.  As time went on and my classroom became more learning-focused than content stuff-focused, I started having students shoulder more of the responsibility for reaching understanding, for learning how to learn rather than just memorizing stuff from the text, internet, or my mouth.  As Grant Wiggins said in a recent blog post,

"There has to be a clear, constant, and prioritized focus on ‘understanding’ as an educational goal. Content mastery is NOT a sufficient goal in an understanding-based system; content mastery is a means, in the same way that decoding fluency is a means toward the real goal of reading – meaning, based on comprehension, from texts. This logic requires teacher-designers to be clear, therefore, about which uses of content have course priority since understanding is about transfer and meaning-making via content."   

The focus should be on students using content that is selected carefully in order to help students achieve crucial understandings that students should remember for their lifetimes, not just for the next course. This is done by designing learning activities that require students to learn content that can then be used by students to generate understandings.  It's done by observing students, reflecting on the outcomes of teacher-designed (not textbook contrived) learning situations in order to respond to changing and unexpected student needs.  It involves collaborating with other teachers as to what works and what doesn't.  It involves getting to know your students as people and as learners by sitting down with them and having conversations with them about what understanding looks like rather than taking a correct answer on a multiple choice question as evidence of "understanding."

Spending most of your instructional time talking at students about content stuff doesn't help them achieve understanding.  It wastes time they could have used to build their own understandings and learn those thinking skills they really need.

Less talk, more learning.

This weekend I helped out my high-school aged neighbor with some of her math homework.  She is in Algebra 2, and she is struggling.  We worked on solving quadratic equations via GCF and factoring as well as equations involving imaginary numbers.  Below is a picture of the text out of which she was working, showing some of those imaginary numbers problems:
I'll be honest--I took one look at these problems and was clueless about how to solve them.  I haven't used any of this since I was faced with a similar-looking textbook page when I was in high school.  Luckily my tutee had a sheet of example problems, walking through how to do each type of problem that could be encountered.  We studied that together, and then worked on matching the homework problems up to the examples and then solving each one.  I had her study the similarities and differences between the various problems and summarize that in writing before I left.

Except for the part where I had her summarize, I felt like a big teacher cheater.  A total fraud, a huge phony.  Someone who was just helping her game the system, focusing on just finding ways to solve the problems rather than really understanding the problems.  

I asked her if she knew why she was working with quadratic equations or imaginary numbers.  She simply shrugged her shoulders and said, "I have to get this homework done because I'm getting a D." She didn't even know why someone invented the concept of imaginary numbers in the first place.  I also asked her if she knew what the "CCSS: Structure" meant in the upper left-hand corner; she didn't know. 

Is this the best we can do?  Slapping new labels on the same old stuff we've been dishing out to students for years?  Still teaching process out of context?

I think we can do better.
Thanks to Dave Mulder and Tamra Dollar for the inspiration and the conversation.

I was cruising my Twitter feeds Friday and came across this tweet from Dave Mulder:

Below is the conversation I had around that tweet:
I used to assign worksheets in the name of practice.  After all, how else are students going to learn which way water moves when a cell is placed in a hypertonic, hypotonic, and isotonic solution?  How else can they learn to calculate things like density, momentum, and kinetic energy?  They have to practice, right?

Sure they do.  Students have to monitor their progress towards mastering important skills and concepts (and what exactly is important shall be reserved for another blog post).  But if mastering that skill or concept is all you're doing with that particular skill or concept, then the worksheet is busy work.  It's busy teaching students skills and concepts in isolation rather than for a reason, for application....for transfer.  

So, if students can do the worksheet, can they then use the information or skill from it in a meaningful way in a new and unknown situation? (i.e., to solve a problem, create/design a solution)?  If they can't do the worksheet, can they use it to monitor their progress towards skill or concept mastery-and, afterwards, apply their knowledge?  

Like I stated in the conversation above, whether worksheets are good or bad all comes down to the original design and intent of learning. If the design is that the learning stops with the worksheet, then what's the point?  Don't let the only work of worksheets lead students to dead-ended "we're learning this because you need to know this for the next class" or "we're learning this just in case you need it later" learning.
I've been working on a series of professional development meetings regarding creating student learning targets.  Because I firmly believe in modeling appropriate technology use, I created a review of our first session using a free tool (there is a paid version) called Mural.ly, which is a neat and easy-to-use online poster and infographic maker.  You can check it out below.
The drag-and-drop interface makes this tool incredibly easy to master; I learned how to use it today in about 5 minutes.  You can scroll and zoom freely around your canvas, and you can add text, sticky notes shapes, pictures, and change the backgrounds to various patterns.  What's even better is the fact that you can pull items from your Google Drive, Evernote, or the web onto your canvas as well.  You can easily share your canvas with others by sending them a link or by (obviously) embedding it onto a website or blog.  There are also collaboration features available where you can invite others into your canvas.  

I think this is a fantastic tool for students to use to create and publish their work, perhaps to show synthesis of ideas at the end of some extended research (infographics).  I can also see teachers using this tool to post lessons, resources, or other neat stuff on their websites for students.  

Or I can see administrators using it for professional development and then blogging about it on their blog well past their bedtimes.