Not a Box, Resolution

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Happy New Year! Hopefully, you have had some time to relax and are ready to head back to school.  In thinking about the past year I had the chance to reflect on some  of the great things I’ve seen from local educators. Below is an article I wrote for the MACUL Journal. If you haven’t heard of MACUL, this is a non profit organization that supports teachers in the effective use of technology. Check out their website for resources and information on their yearly conference.

Every April, the Jackson County ISD Ed Tech team hosts the Connected Educator Un/Conference. It’s an incredible opportunity for educators to get together to learn from the unique classroom experiences each has to offer. During the morning kickoff, I had the honor of talking with participants about a book I had recently read to my son called, It’s Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. The book is centered on thinking about seemingly ordinary things in an imaginative or innovative way – what might be a box to one person can be something very different to someone else, it’s all a matter of perspective. In the story, the main character is repeatedly told he is sitting in a box, standing in a box, or wearing a box, but to this he repeatedly responds, “It’s not a box.” To him, it is a rocket ship, a racecar, or a mountaintop he has reached. Throughout the event I was struck by the number of educators who create magic in their classrooms – those teachers who think about things differently, those “not a box” thinkers; teachers who face obstacles and challenges, yet can engage and enhance learning with what they have been given.

For example, I had the incredible experience of building my own Brush Bot thanks to Micheal Mendvinsky, a music teacher from the Bloomfield Hills school district. A brush bot consists of a toothbrush head, a watch battery, pager motor and wires. The idea is to get your bot to move in one direction. This is an activity that he has used in his own classroom to inspire and engage his students. Mendvinsky gives no direction for creating brush bots, but allows his students to play, ask questions, and explore. Students work together to create their own bot, which will then race against other bots in the classroom. This opportunity to work together effectively builds lasting relationships in his classroom and teaches the importance of failure and redesign, and the technology is neither cutting-edge nor expensive. Interested in creating your own bot? Check out these instructions from PBS Kids.

It wasn’t only educators sharing ideas Joanne VanRaden brought her Manchester fourth grade students to teach all of us how to build our own green screen videos, and they had the room full of teachers completely energized! Do-ink is an iPad app that allows you to easily design videos using images with live video or make an animated video. Students presented on how they used Do-Ink to produce their own how-to videos. Along with green screen videos, students shared their electronic books designed with the app Book Creator. Book Creator allows students to invent E-books that can be shared with others or saved as a PDF. VanRaden’s students took pride in sharing their knowledge with the adults in the room and made sure we played and created.

With a new year upon us, I challenge you to think about what is your “not a box?” Think about the tools you have in your classroom or in your building. How might you utilize what you have available to create opportunities for learning? What will your students see in a different light? Instead of thinking outside the box, think about what types of possibilities that a box can hold. Remember it’s not about the technology, but the learning.

Beginning to Blend

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Ever want to embed a document easily on a website? What about write your own book and share it online? Scribd is a free service that allows you easily to upload a document and share it in book form. Simply upload your document from your computer, Dropbox or Google Drive and Scribd. does the rest.  Not only can you share your writing you can also see how many people have viewed your document and get feedback.  Create your classroom handbook and embed it on your website for parents or have students create ebooks they can share with an authentic audience. Below is an example of how I uploaded a PDF to Scribd and turned it into an ebook, the process was super simple and it was free.

My Scribd. Example

Blended learning can mean many different things, but the fact is a number of teachers are blending in their classrooms and not even realizing it.  Combining face to face instruction with online learning to provide rich learning opportunities for students is really what blended learning is all about.  There are so many tools you can use with students to provide instruction beyond the classroom and the restraints of time. Because there are so many tools it can be hard to determine which you should use, recently I have created a blended learning handbook to outline what I think to be the best resources.  I wanted to share this book with all of you as a guide for starting your adventure in blending.  Its nothing fancy, but you may find it useful.  Let me know what you think.