Without Context

Sometimes I have conversations in my head and then speak out loud. When I do this, the response from others is usually, What are you talking about? I’ve left out the context for the other person, and in turn, they can’t really engage in the conversation. They can’t provide their thoughts, opinions or research, they can’t agree, disagree or ask relevant questions- they can’t reason. In short, I have to provide context for the conversation to move forward.


So why, then, do we ask students to do things out of context? They practice spelling words from huge lists and they do tens to hundreds of math problems in class and for homework…but can they truly reason, can they then apply what they know to other problems or words? They’ve been given no context, and in turn, can’t provide their thoughts, opinion or research, they can’t agree… you get the point.

This thought was triggered by a blog post by David Wees, who frankly talks over my head about math most of the time, but this one stuck. In his post What does effective mathematics teaching look like?, he discusses what students are doing and what teachers are doing…and wrote this:

5. An effective teacher uses technology to focus students on mathematical reasoning.

Classroom technology, in an effective mathematics classroom, is used to support student’s mathematical reasoning. Rote practice exercises, even if administered via technology, do little to help students develop their reasoning skills, and because they lack context, have limited ability to help students develop connections between different areas of mathematics.

Imagine a classroom where students are looking for connections between different forms of a quadratic function. They could plot these functions using pencil and paper, and then look for connections, but during the time students would take to draw the functions, they would lose track of the goal of the graphing. Every time we ask students to do another task in preparation for mathematical study, they lose active cognitive resources to keep track of the overall purpose of the task. Instead, in an effective classroom, the teacher would give students access to a graphing calculator or graphing software, and students would be able to focus on seeing connections between graphs, instead of creating the graphs.

Obviously he caught my attention when he spoke of classroom technology. With or without technology, shouldn’t we be supporting reasoning in all content areas? Scientific reasoning? Spelling reasoning? How can we ask students to learn, to critically think, to reason through a problem when they are given no context? Why do teachers continue to have students repeat problems without context? And why do they use the iPad, of all amazing clown car gadgets, to have kids practice math facts on apps that provide no context? They could be using it for students to create their own problems that have context and meaning, and have kids solve their own problems. Or they could be creating apps or games that demonstrate and apply those skills. Or take a real world problem and try to solve it.


Zydeco Inquiry App

This is hands down one of my favorite apps. It was designed with science inquiry learning in mind, but the awesome thing about it is that it can be used for ANY content area. The teacher (or student) creates an investigation with a guiding question and possibly add a hypothesis or supporting questions, then users in the investigation collect data and observations in the format of audio, movie, photos, or text which is all stored in the app. Once the students are in wifi, all their data is collected together so they can see what each other collected as well. They then type in their claim (which may or may not be the same as their hypothesis), and are able to tap in any piece of evidence from the investigation- regardless of file type or the person who collected the evidence. Once they’ve pulled in their evidence, they must write in their reasoning for why the evidence supports their claim. Genius. I mean, genius.


This can be used for literacy, social studies, music, etc. What is so great is that curriculum and assessments are continuously striving towards students showing their understanding through evidence…which is why this app is so perfect. It provides enough basic structure for students to support their thinking with evidence and reasoning.

For more information regarding Zydeco, go to their site http://zydeco.soe.umich.edu/ You may notice that the site says UMich…aka the University of Michigan. Yes, this app was designed by science educators from the University of Michigan and it was funded by an NSF grant. Which means it was fairly well thought out. Also, the developers are really nice guys who are always trying to improve it and are open to feedback and suggestions.

You can also access the app through the web at https://www.myzydeco.com/users/sign_in which is awesome, especially if you forget your iPad at work, or a student is using it.

I can’t stop Hangingout

So a few great things happened in my life in a very short amount of time…I’m talking 24 hours.

1. I missed a Hangout with some fellow GCT’s from the Google Teacher Academy in Stockholm regarding “How can personalized that broadcast live enhance learning situations?” I really wanted to either listen in or participate because one of the participants recently got Google Glass and I was curious to hear her experiences and I just wanted to learn more about it.

2. I Hungout with 2 friends from the GTASWE who were both in Asia- one in Singapore and one in Hong Kong…both of them at their schools during breaks, while I was comfy on my sofa at home. It was great to hear what they were up to, and particularly what PD they are offering others as well as more PD they are attending. And it was just fun to giggle with them and try on Google Effects.

Hangout with Anita and Anne

3. I attended a Live On Air Connected Classrooms Hangout with the Doodle for Google team and a couple participating schools. I’m not gonna like, when the kids showed their Google Doodle to the doodlers at Google, I got a wee bit verklempt. Ok fine, I wept. Why? Well, I’m a weepy person. But in my head and heart, I was imagining what that experience would feel like as an elementary kid- to show not only the world my doodle (live, on air on YouTube), but to show the artists who make the Google Doodles my own drawing.

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What is so great about these 3 things? They NEVER would have happened without Google Hangouts. My own professional growth and curiosity is stretched to different corners of the world with a variety of people in such different professional situations, all learning and sharing. The ability to reconnect and see and talk with my new friends who live on the other side of the world (while wearing puppy faces and devil horns) couldn’t have happened without Google Hangouts. And lastly, those elementary students were able to share their creative brains with the exact people who make Doodle Googles. That’s like meeting Julia Child and sharing your recipe/food with her and getting direct feedback. Boom. Need more convincing? Google Hangouts is literally becoming the backbone for all of my communication- personal and professional.


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One of the features of Google+ that I love is the Hangouts. The more you use it and search around, the more cool stuff you find. For example, did you know there are scheduled On Air Hangouts with awesome conversations? Like this….

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I mean, awesome. Who wouldn’t want to hear that conversation as it happens…live…for free…

But even better, wouldn’t you want your students to participate in an On Air Hangout WITH Bill Nye? Or some other really smart and quirky person?  Or what about with kids from another classroom around the world? Well, they can. Join the Connected Classrooms on Google+ and do just that.

Google Connected Classrooms

Want to connect with teachers from all over the world, but you don’t know how? Join the Google+ Connected Classroom Community and find all kinds of other educators who are eager to chat with your class. And, if you want to refer back to the video chat and watch it later, or have students who are sick and can’t make it into the classroom that day watch it at home while it’s occurring? Just make it On Air and and anyone can watch.


Google+ Presentation for BVSD

Google+ is my new bestie

Google-Plus-LogoWhy is Google+ my new bestie? There are so many ways as educators that we can collaborate and communicate through social media…and they all have a purpose. I still use Twitter a bit, but IMHO (in my humble opinion) it has become this odd popularity contest and faux celebrity status, especially during the ISTE2013 conference. And I felt validated in my feelings when Andrew Marcinek wrote a blog post about just that! My fave part:

I’m not trying to argue the merits of Twitter, but simply offer a different path for new teachers looking to test the waters of social media. There are days when I can’t quite grasp the credibility of Twitter voices: the blind re-tweeting, the pseudo celebrity aura, the echo chamber, the hierarchy, the “let’s change the etymology of the word cheating (and every other word in order to show what a progressive, disruptor I am” persona. It’s deafening. And quite frankly, if I were mentoring a new teacher, I’d tell them to hold off on Twitter.

There are many other educators who agree with Mr. Marcinek and me, but many use Twitter religiously and probably do a way better job of filtering out all the noise. To those that ask for people to follow them so they can reach 100,000 followers? Pffftttttt. That’s bunk. Share your experiences, your trials and tribulations, your failures and successes and helpful hints so that others can learn…that’s what being a teacher is all about. Humble pie.

I digress. Google+ is my new bestie. Since most districts are going GAFE, most are allowing at least their teachers to be a part of G+ (btw every time I write G+ in my head I say/sing G Unit like 50¢) if not their students as well. And if I may add my own 2¢ (ha, get it?!), I think all things Google will be in G+ very shortly. As of now, it’s like a backbone of their entire platform that they will slowly build everything on…YouTube is linked to it, Hangouts is linked to it…and pretty soon my guess is Picassa will be entirely linked to it as well.

Why do I love thee?

  1. G+ allows you to compartmentalize or put put certain people into certain circles, which means wading through the BS retweets on Twitter doesn’t happen here.
  2. Everyone from work (because you are in GAFE) can easily be put into different circles- or multiple circles- so you can share or not share easily.
  3. I like that when I post a video on YouTube it can automatically post it in my G+ feed as well (a feature you can always turn off).
  4. Communities. They are fab. I can follow and/or join communities that are specific to what I want to learn more about and I can create my own! Having a huge and diverse set of PLNs is key to continue growing as an educator.
  5. I love me some Hangouts. If I can’t make it to a teacher’s classroom or a school for a variety of reasons, or if they can’t make it to a class, meet up in a Hangout! And better yet, wear a crown and a snorkel while meeting!
  6. It’s really easy. Enough said. When I first started Twitter a few years ago, I had to google how to send a private message. And then realized why bother when I can only type 180 characters? Argh. G+ is easy…you can easily see who you are posting to, you can easily view or not view certain circles, it will #hastag your posts for you (genius). I can schedule a Hangout and it will show up in my calendar and send me the link and reminder email in case I forget. Boom.
  7. It’s multi-platform…aka I can use it on my computer, iPad, iPhone and Android tablet.
  8. The photo galleries are easy and awesome…and it will even make and end of the year auto-awesome summary of all your photos and videos, make a highlight reel and easily allows you to tag others or have them tag themselves.
  9. There are many more reasons that either I haven’t formulated in my brain or they just haven’t happened yet, but I know they will.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology


I’ve finally created a blog regarding a large portion of my job- to help teachers and students integrate technology with a purpose. Most of my work is compiled on our STREAM website, but I thought it may be smart to have a blog with small tidbits of info. I shall start with this lovely infographic about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology created originally by alwaysprepped.com, and the infographic made by Mark Bates.

Each of these 7 habits are key to being a highly effective teacher, but in my opinion, the first one is THE MOST IMPORTANT. As a teacher, everything you do should have a purpose. Cause you know the second you do something that does not really have a purpose, the one/two/five snarky kids in the corner will ask WHY and you will have no response…and mutiny will occur. What’s worse than a mutiny? Unengaged kids.