Monday, November 24, 2014

"Set Your Clocks, the Hour of Code is Coming Soon!" - #techeducator Podcast Episode 76

The #techeducator podcast was all about code this past week as Sam Patterson (@SamPatue) facilitated a great discussion on ways to incorporate programming for the upcoming Hour of Code, set to take place between December 8th and December 14th.  Special guests included Susan Bearden (@s_bearden), who described her experience with Crescerance (last week's guest!) in creating apps with her students, and her own app that is available (Tweechme). Tara Linney (@TechTeacherT) also joined in the festivities as she shared her expertise on how coding can help meet Common Core State Standards. Family coding nights and engaging "beyond the hour" activities were also discussed.

The podcast will be taking a break so everyone can enjoy the holiday weekend.  It will return on Sunday, December 7th.  The topic is subject to change, but right now student response systems, such as Poll Everywhere and Kahoot, are currently on the schedule for exploration and demonstration.  Thanks for watching!

Miss last week's show? Check it out here:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Do You Want to Build An App - Man?" - Techeducator Podcast Episode 75!

Apps are a powerful tool for informing communities and parents about what is happening in your school. Unfortunately few schools know where to turn to make this happen.  This episode featured "Crescerance" and has plenty of great advice to get districts, AND students, creating apps! 

Next week, we are doing a little more to gear up for the Hour of Code. It is coming before you know it (actual dates - December 8-14). Be sure to join us at 7pm EST/6pm CST every Sunday night!

Check out this past Sunday's show here:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"99 Ways to Say: Get Organized!" - #techeducator Episode 74 Recap

The #techeducator podcast was a tour de force on Sunday night, with nearly 15 curation and organizational tools demoed.  The new Google Bookmark Manager got some love, while standbys such as Diigo, Livebinders, and Symbaloo received much due respect. The night could best be summed up by regular #techeducator viewer Peggy George, in saying "I think it's important to find curation tools that meet your needs and stick to them rather than trying to use many--so hard to keep up with them all."

Next week, #techeducator dives into the exciting world of App creation for schools with a representative from Crescerance as a special guest!. Don't miss it on, 7pm EST, every Sunday night!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why I'm Doing #NaNoWriMo14

I'm don't consider myself a writer.

I wasn't that great in English class.

I haven't written fiction since creative writing in high school. Even then, it was a struggle (I thought having turtles in a play was a good idea. Come on Ms. Triplett!).

So why, as a 26 year old guy busy with a job as technology integrator, surrounded by devices and video games and presentations, am I choosing to devote copious amounts of time to writing?

It is simple really - writing is important, and I want to be able to come back to my school and my students and walk the walk.  Too often in school, we do things that have absolutely no relevance outside of the school day. Because of this, we might turn off students to the possibilities of that skill or tool because they have now forever associated it with something that is unfun. Of course, this isn't always the case, but as a student myself, that is how I felt.

Writing was tough. I'd try my best, but my thesis would be off. I'd get a bunch of "So what?" on my paper.  Even though I didn't get terrible grades, I am still sure my teachers went through at least an entire pen of red ink on mine. Well, except for Ms. Kuzcmarski.  Apparently, everything I wrote for her was gold. Even if it was done the night before (once again, what does that say if that is constantly what happens? That is a blog post for a different time).

Anyways, after a lot of challenges and difficulties with writing for an audience of one, it can be hard to shake off the idea that we aren't good at writing, or why bother, it isn't any fun.

Well, I'm here to say we can shake that off.  Writing is important, and you only get better at writing if you are reading and writing. As educators, we need to do a better job of walking the walk when it comes to a lot of what we preach to our students.

"Make sure and divide this up. You can't do this all at the last minute!". Teacher devotes 6 hours to grade papers in one night.

"You are going to need to know this math for the future!". Teacher uses a calculator for most math, or stores numbers in a spreadsheet or financial program.

"Make sure you have the right thesis statement, and your citations better be correct MLA format!" Teacher doesn't write anything academic beyond college, and only links to resources used for class activities.

Note:  I'm not here to blame teachers. We are in a system that values doing things to prepare kids to do those same things the next year.  But, we need to reflect on this issue and realize that it doesn't have to be that way. We can be doing things that are authentic and meaningful.

Like writing a #NaNoWriMo story.  It is meaningful because it is an expression of me. It is a way to show I can focus on one thing for a stretch of time, and commit myself fully to it.  It is authentic, because I am sharing my story with many others (and soon, the world).  I don't just want to do it, I want it to be as good as I can make something.

Most of all, I want to break the perception that some people are writers and others are not. Or some people are techies, and some aren't.  Or some people are math people, and others aren't.  This is all a big pile of BS. Sure, we have our own talents, but we have to stop shortchanging ourselves, while at the same time building in excuses for failing or not doing something. We are all capable of whatever we want to do.  We just have to commit, be willing to fail and keep trying, and get better. We need to broaden our horizons and challenge ourselves in areas we are weak in.

To end, let me tell you a story that is a little embarrassing for me, but helps emphasize this point.
As a young kid, probably no more than 7 or 8, I tried to ride a bike with training wheels. I ended up crashing into the swamp, and never tried again. That is until I was 26 years old, and I received a bicycle as a gift, with the obligation that I needed to learn.  I'd be willing to be there are few things more hilarious than watching a grown man try and learn to ride a bike. I looked like a toddler. I fell. And fell. And fell. I got frustrated. Threw tantrums.  Probably made my wife feel like this probably wasn't a good idea. But to her credit, she stuck by me and supported me. She wanted this to be something we could do together, and she wasn't going to let me fail.

So, this summer, I'd go out and shoot hoops. Then, on my own, knowing that I would probably fall again and again, I brought out the bike, determined to beat.this. After about two weeks of daily crash and burn sessions, I was able to stay up, on the sidewalk for a few seconds. Then I was able to make it to the end of the driveway. Then down the road. Then on a bike trail.

Now, that was over the period of one month, doing something almost every day for about an hour.  I went from being absolutely unable to do something to being able to serviceably do it on my own. Yeah, I'm not comfortable going in the road, I'm not great at turning, and I still wobble like a toddler.  But now I've seen the success and it is addicting. I went from never wanting to ride a bike, to wanting to do it more so I can get better.

So get out there and do something you suck at.  I don't mean do something you hate. Clearly there should be value to it. But let's all get real about our role. As educators, we are to be examples. If we are closed minded, only focused on the things we are already good at, we, whether you agree with me or not, are doing our students a disservice. They need role models who can demonstrate the willingness to try and fail like we expect of them. It might not be the silver bullet, but it will improve your relationships with your students and help everybody get a little better at something in the process.

And that's what it is all about.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Review of Lightbot

The Hour of Code is coming soon.  My team at Coding Connect and I are working hard to help you decide which tools will be best to use in your classroom for the Hour of Code...and beyond!  This week, I bring you a short review of Lightbot!

How do we get there?

Lightbot is an Android and iOS app that you can pick up at Google Play or the App Store for $2.99.  There is also a Jr. version for younger kids that is the same price. Thankfully, there is a free "Hour of Code" version online here.


Lightbot is a quick and easy intro into code. It is a game, making it instantly engaging of the bat for students. However, under the hood are some key fundamentals to coding.  You must be able to break down complex commands, like turning on three lights on your way to the top left corner of the screen, into independent steps.  In later levels, you need to be able to utilize variables and loops to solve the puzzles. Ultimately, students will get to experience the joy and frustration of coding without needing to mess with a coding language.


Lightbot is not a programming language, nor does it really prepare you for one. Yes, it does cover some key computational thinking concepts, but it really doesn't give you a leg up learning a particular language. This is a great Hour of Code activity, but if you are looking to integrate more programming into your class, you'd find the opportunities to integrate Lightbot to be slim. It is a game - a great one for introducing programming, but not one you can easily combine with other things you'd be doing.


Engaging, fun, and simple - Lightbot makes the perfect introduction to computational thinking. Even though it isn't programming, it is a close relative and deserves consideration as a way to whet students' appetities on the way to some serious coding.

Want to see a demo? Check out this short tutorial I made for Lightbot:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"I think I want a Mac!" - #techeducator Podcast Episode 73 Recap

The #techeducator podcast is in full swing, having just completed episode 73 on the new Mac OS - "Yosemite".  This show did not disappoint. Jeff Bradbury and Jeff Herb bantered back and forth about numerous built in features that educators would find very useful, like screen recording using Quicktime (which can also show your iPhone screen!) and automatic signing of PDF files.

Next week, #techeducator takes on digital curation and organization. With so many things to manage, like your email, your appointments, your bookmarks, or anything else digitally, this episode will be here to help!  Looking forward to seeing you next Sunday at 7pm/6pmCST!