Sunday, November 1, 2015

Teachers and Copyright

Sites where teachers can sell resources to one another are becoming more popular. Teachers Pay Teachershas been around for a number of years, and some teachers make over a million dollars from the sale of these products. Now, other sites are springing up, like TES. Another website, Edmodo, a social networking site for education, has recently opened up Spotlight where teachers can recommend or sell resources. The CEO of Edmodo recently traveled to the White House to promote Spotlight at the Open Education Symposium.

Other teachers are creating content like books and video lessons that fellow teachers can benefit from using. Teach Like a Champion by Don Lemov already has a second version available for sale. Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is popular. The newest books circulating the education circles are about Genius Hour, and the Growth Mindset, like the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. Meanwhile, Learn Zillion has had a Dream Team of teachers working on content for their video lessons.

With all of this great creativity and content development happening, it's important that teachers take a closer look at copyright. The district you work for may own the copyright of anything you create while under their employment. This may be the case even if it is not specifically written in your contract. It might be included in a Board Policy, or simply interpreted as a "general rule" in our legal system.

Professors at Universities have been subjected to these copyright laws for decades, if not centuries. Now, the American Association of University Professors is encouraging professors to negotiate Intellectual Property Rights to make it a win-win for the colleges and the professors. In these agreements, the professors retain the Intellectual Property Rights for anything created, but grant the college free use of the material created.

With the move toward Open Education Resources and districts posting materials on the internet for all to access, I believe that districts should be able to freely use and distribute material created by their employees. However, I believe the employees, especially teachers, should retain Intellectual Property Rights and be able to distribute and sell the material to others.

Copyright laws were originally created to "promote the progress of science and useful arts," according to the Constitution. When a district owns fhe copyright of anything their teachers produce, it stifles the creativity of the teachers. I encourage my colleagues at all levels of the education field to find out who owns the copyright of material they create. Whatevervhappens, continue being creative, transformative teachers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cool New School Tech and Robotics Update

New Tech

The MicroK12 TechFest Conference on October 15th was a great conference to check out the new technology offerings that are applicable to the classroom. After listening to the Keynote speaker, I was reminded to read the Horizon Report.

The coolest new tech I saw at this conference was Virtual Reality that can be used in the classroom called ZSpace. This works with Cyber Science 3D. I had the opportunity to try a couple Electricity Modules, which asks students questions and leads them through some problem solving situations. I was surprised how much collaboration this encouraged, since there was one person "driving," or using the software, while others of of wore 3D glasses and were encouraging him in how to solve the problem. Zspace also has a heart unit where you can feel the heartbeat through their stylus. They have done a great job on the software, so you can learn vocabulary. Every part of the heart you select with the stylus highlight the name of that part in a vocabulary box on the screen. This is definitely worth a closer look for high school and colleges.

Mimio has a Device called MimioPad, a wireless pen/stylus tablet that will integrate with existing projectors, including the Epson Interactive Whiteboard. They also have an app called MimioMobile, which you can use with every student device to interact with the lesson displayed on the Interactive Whiteboard. Both of these aim to get the teacher away from the front of the classroom, as we head away from a "sage on stage" view on teachers, so we can help teachers become mentors of individuals as they wander through the classroom.

If you need a cart to store wireless devices like Chromebooks and iPads, Anywhere Cart is a family-owned company that is definitely worth looking into. The workmanship is very nice. I especially like their smaller unit that stores about 12 devices. It is stackable, so it's perfect for classrooms that do not quite have 1-to-1 devices, but hope to move in that direction eventually.

FIRST Lego League Robotics

This week, our FIRST Lego League Robotics table arrived. Randy Hunt and Ernie from the Whidbey Island Wildcats Robotics Booster club assembled the table and delivered it. High school mentors helped me re-arrange furniture in my classroom so that it will fit and still leave ample room for teaching. It's sitting on top of a few two-drawer file cabinets, so I don't need legs. We rolled out the field mat. Next week, we'll begin putting the Lego "Mission Models" in their correct locations. Simultaneously, we'll finish building lego "Mission Models," "Basic Robots," and begin learning the Lego Mindstorm programming software.

A gentleman from our Information Services Department came to help load the Lego Mindstorm software on them. That was a little tricky because the location of "My Products" is not intuitive to locate when logging into the Lego Education website. It worked out, and once the software was loaded, he put the computers into deep freeze so the students can't load other software onto them.

I am coaching two teams simultaneously. In addition to the Robot Game, students are required to complete a community project related to a theme. This year's theme is "Trash Trek." Both of the teams will be helping to perform a "Waste Audit" of our school as part of the process to become a Washington Green School. In the cafeteria, we'll have students put their food waste into 5 gallon buckets and only non-food trash in the trash can in order to weigh this different amount of trash. At the end of one school day, we'll take the trash and paper recycling from eight classrooms, and sort and weigh that. Since we already have a recycling program at our school, the sorting should not be too difficult.

We had two wonderful guest speakers talk with the teams about their prospective projects. Gene Clark, Island County's Recycle & Hazardous Waste Coordinator, spoke to our Blue Team about batteries and the importance of recycling them. In the future, we will also have someone from Pacific Power Batteries talk to this group. I am not sure what Innovative Solution this team will design. It may be as simple as making posters to educate people about the importance of recycling batteries with information of where to recycle these.

Janet Hall, Washington State University's Waste Wise Coordinator, spoke to our Green Team about composting. She has already worked with two other schools in our district to install compost systems, including Hillcrest Elementary which won a "Green Ribbon Award" from the US Department of Education.

At an earlier meeting, we went around a circle, stating things we had thrown away that day, students realized most of them had thrown away food scraps at lunch, except one student who said he saved his banana peel to take home to put in his compost system. After that, a few of these students, completely independently spoke with the principal about starting a compost system at our school. The principal said she thought that is a great idea. To support the students' efforts, I've proposed a grant to the Oak Harbor Education Foundation for helping with the cost of installing a compost system in our school.

I've spoken with the founders of Bug-a-bay about their compost system, as this is the system that they use at Hillcrest. Bug-abay will be sending an educational video they've created called "Garbage to Gold." Bug-a-bay is a local company, and their worm-bin compost systems are different than others, because they are dug into the ground. This allows all food scraps, including meat products and even bones to go into the compost system. This compost does need to be covered daily to avoid attracting rodents. Since we are working with young children, we will be covering the compost with Peat Moss. The other option is aged manure, but peat moss is a cleaner option when working with children. Since this system is dug into the ground, it drains and breathes, so it does not have to be aerated and turned like other systems.

Once I get notification on the acceptance of the grant, we will move forward with installing this type of worm bin. It's turned into a busy and exciting year! Stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Flipped Whole Brain Teaching Robotics w/ PBIS

This school year has been very busy for me. Our district is adopting PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention Supports this year. I'm on my building's committee for that. In my classroom, I have implemented Whole Brain Teaching classroom management strategies. I've also decided to flip my classroom for Math this year. Plus, I am coaching two FIRST Lego League Robotics teams after school.

PBIS has already made a difference in my classroom. I made a few purposeful "positive phone calls home" for students that displayed behavior issues with other teachers. I simply observed small things these students did correctly and showed appreciation for this. PBIS encourages 4 positive feedback encounters, or more, for every negative, or corrective feedback encounter. These positive encounters with parents encourages them to be supportive of me as a teacher. Positive encounters with students encourages them to want to come to school to learn.

When I first came across Whole Brain Teaching, I was reluctant to implement it, because it seemed too prescriptive and was more like creating cookie-cutter children, which contradicts the idea of differentiation and individualization that I aim to acheive in my classroom. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try since I needed to improve my classroom management techniques. I have the five WholeBrain Teachingaa rules posted in my classroom and taught them to my students. I use "Class"-"Yes" to get students' attention. I also use "Teach"-"OK" to encourage student to student talk and for solidifying concepts through repetition. One of my students said Rule #5 "Keep Your Dear Teacher Happy" was the easiest rule to follow since, "My teacher is always happy." That definitely goes with my philosophy that teachers should smile before Christmas. I believe happy teachers lead to happy students, which leads back to happy teachers.

I have been thinking about having a flipped classroom for a couple of years. However, I never felt I had the time to make high quality videos. Plus, I was not sure how to hold students accountable for watching the videos. After hearing parents frustrations about trying to help their children with math homework related to the Common Core State Standards and seeing some students not completing their homework worksheets, I decided this is the year to flip. This summer, I came across the youtube channel, Talesof4thGrade, by Mrs. Proffitt. She has an excellent video called "The Flipped Classroom for Parents." In that video, she mentions that she has her students complete Guided Notes that accompany her videos. Instead of making my own videos, I am curating videos that already exist for the math concepts I want students to know. To keep students accountable for watching the videos, I create Guided Notes that students must complete. I told parents that this allows me to draw from other great teachers around the country. I draw from Khan Academy, Learn Zillion, and other great resources. Next summer, I plan to make videos to fill any concepts I can't find adequate videos for during this school year. Eventually, I plan to assign videos Monday- Thursday. On Monday, we complete some type of activity in our Interactive Math Journals, since students did not watch a video the night before.

I have a wonderful parent volunteer, who helps administer individualized spelling tests and helps me prepare for science lessons. I've decided to do Science every Monday, since I do not have Specialists/ planning time that day. This also allows me to prepare on Friday night for the Science lesson on Monday.

The thing that has taken up most of my time has been coaching Robotics after school. We have an amazing robotics team at our local high school, who was recently featured in the news for making a prosthetic arm form a local girl. They compete annually in the FIRST Robotics Challenge. I learned that FIRST has a program for students age 9-13 called FIRST Lego League. So, I decided it would be fun to coach a team of up to 10 students for this competition. To participate, the parents pay the local Booster Club $100, since the costs of running a team is about $900. I thought that I would be lucky to get enough interest to form a team of 10. Instead, the response was overwhelming. So, now I am coaching two teams of nine, and helping a colleague start a Jr. FLL team for younger students. Fortunately, I've received support from our local Robotics booster club, as well as parents and high school mentors for the robotics teams. So, I've been able to take on more of a role of coordinator.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Google Classroom vs. Edmodo

This year, I will be using Edmodo and Google Classroom in my teaching. Students will be using Chromebooks to access assignments and resources. In this blog post, I will describe the features in both of these Learning Management Systems (LMS), and attempt to analyze the benefits and shortcomings of each of these systems. 

Google Classroom first went public to all teachers in the 2014-2015 school year, and had been beta tested by a select group of teachers prior to that. It is part of the Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite, which is free for all schools. Chances are your school district is already using GAFE. In our district, each student has been assigned a username and password with @ subdomain.

To create usernames, consider using a system of graduation year, followed by first initial and last name. For example, Jane Doe who will graduate in 2024, create the username 24jdoe. If the username is already take, add the graduation year at the end again, ex. 24jdoe24. For passwords, I use the lunch numbers our students are assigned in our district. You can add a few letters to the password if needed.

To get started with Google classroom, go to and log in with your GAFE email. Click the + in the upper right-hand corner to create a new class. You will see a code that students can use to join the class, or you can add students by searching for their GAFE account. In the About tab, you can add materials that won't change frequently, like your syllabus and websites you will allow early finishers to explore. In the Students tab (this is Classmates tab in the student view), everyone in the class can email each other. As an elementary teacher, I am not in favor of students emailing one another. At least with GAFE, they cannot email anyone outside of the district. In the Stream tab, you can add Announcements and Assignments. Students can add Announcements and comment on Assignments and Announcements. 

My favorite thing about Google Classroom is the ability to "Make a Copy for each student" when you add a Google Drive document, slide or sheet as an assignment. Before, this was possible through Doctopus script. Google classroom makes the process much easier. No more running to the copier! Just make a template of what you want the students to work on, add it as an assignment, and set it to make a copy for each student. When the student opens the assignment, it adds a document to the student's Google Drive and shares it on your Drive.  It makes a Classroom folder in your Google Drive where these documents can be found.

One shortcoming of Google Classroom is that the information is not accessible to parents. So, parents cannot check on students assignments without logging in as the student, which is not a good idea when we are trying to teach students to keep their passwords private.

Edmodo was founded in 2008 by two school district employees who wanted to bring social networking to the education field. When you sign in to Edmodo, teachers can join or create groups. Once you create a group, you are given a code that students can use to join the group. Students do not need an email account to join Edmodo. They can create a username and password, which I sometimes create for them. 

Teachers can add resources, like web-links or documents to a personal "library." Inside the group, you can add these resources to a folder that your students can access. Students can then move these resources into their "backpacks." In the group you can post an assignment, poll and quiz or Snapshot to the group's stream. You can pin these posts, so they remain at the top of the stream. 

Snapshot is why I became heavily involved in Edmodo. It provides short formative assessments for Common Core State Standards. This is the easiest assessment tool I have seen that is aligned with the Common Core. The results are beautiful and provide resources for students who are struggling with a concept.

Students cannot message one another in Edmodo, but can post to the group's stream and message the teacher. In the settings section, you can control students' ability to post to the stream. I like to start the year by moderating all posts, at least until I teach some digital citizenship lessons.  The ability for students to be able to send a message directly to the teacher to get clarification on a topic is ideal for students who may be embarrassed to ask for help in front of their peers. Within the group, you can create subgroups, which is ideal for differentiated instruction. 

 The primary reason that I will be using Edmodo this year is because of the new parent apps they created this year. Each student has a parent code that they can share with all the parents/ guardians involved. Parents can not post in the same group stream as the students, however they can message other parents in a parent group. They can see their child's upcoming assignments, scores on completed assignments and quizzes. Plus, they can see all posts their child made, including all messages between the child and teacher. This makes the teaching process transparent and I hope that it will involve more families in the education process. 

Another thing that makes Edmodo stand out is the connections teachers can make with each other. Teachers can grow their Personalized Learning Networks, by posting notes in Subject area communities. Teachers can also connect with other teachers individually, or join groups created by teachers for teachers. Edmodo is like Facebook for education in that regard.

Edmodo recently added a marketplace called Spotlight that is similar to TeachersPayTeachers. Teachers can add free or paid self-created resources to Spotlight, or just make recommendations for other resources, like websites. Teacher-created resources are moderated before they go live on Edmodo.

One shortcoming of Edmodo is it does not seem to offer a digital copying mechanism like Google Classroom. Plus, neither LMS offer an integrated lesson planner. You can read my previous blog post about that.

I've decided to use Edmodo as my primary LMS system, rather than Google classroom, because of the parent apps and Snapshot program. However, I will still use Google Classroom for digital copies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

In Search of the Ultimate Digital Lesson Planner

As I am beginning to prepare for the upcoming school year, I am looking for the perfect digital lesson planner/ online calendar for teachers. Below, I look at a variety of calendar options to use for lesson planning: Google Calendar, Standards Planner, and mySmartPlanner.

Google Calendar is part of Google Apps for Education, to which my school district subscribes. You can also use Google Calendar for free with a Google account. Standards Planner ( is a Free Lesson Planner. mySmartPlanner is a calendar available through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s which my school district uses for Reading and Math curriculum at the Elementary level.

Below, I am going to analyze the positives and shortcomings of each of these calendars.

Last year, I used Google Calendar for my lesson planning. I liked that I could add repeating slots to the calendar and I especially liked that I could share this Calendar with parents, or post it on my website. You can add different colors for different subjects, and make certain events private, so I could use the same calendar for confidential school meetings, and it would display “busy” to the public calendar on my website. The one shortcoming that Google Calendar seemed to have was when I tried to use it for scheduling parent-teacher conferences. It required the parents to have a google account to sign up for a slot. So, I ended up using for scheduling parent-teacher conferences instead.

About halfway through the school year, I was introduced to Standards Planner ( ). Standards Planner is attempting to serve both as a calendar and a repository for resources you can use in your teaching. This is a great idea! The free resources posted in the default mode are mostly geared toward upper grades (middle school and high school). The great thing about Standards Planner is that you can draw on resources from your Google Drive and you can upload your own resources as well. I think this is incredible in theory. but there are still a few kinks to work out before I would use Standards Planner as my sole teacher’s planner. For instance, the Khan Academy videos did not load for me. Plus, it seems that you must upload all the resources, rather than giving a link to a resource on another website (like the resources I find at ).

Think Central’s mySmartPlanner is pretty cool has the ability to load resources from the curriculum that my school district uses into the calendar. The issues with mySmartPlanner, is that it is only available to people who use this certain curriculum, and it does not seem to have the ability to load resources outside of this curriculum (like from EngageNY like Standards Planner offers). I love the fact that I can use the Browse feature in Think Central and assign certain resources to the students and schedule the resources on the calendar.

So, what would I envision as an ultimate calendar for planning lessons as a teacher?

Ultimately, I would like to have a calendar that works as a lesson planner. So, I could find resources that I need from anywhere, and link these resources by scheduling them to a specific subject or day/time.

I’d like to rough sketch this timeline, or rather have the ability to push all following planned material forward, or backward a day. This would be great as I tend to overplan a given day of lessons and then realize I need to spend more time on a given subject. Or, sometimes, my students know the material, and I don’t need to spend as much time as I planned.

I would also like the ability to assign these resources to students, so that they appear on a student’s calendar. has the ability to add assignment due dates to students calendars, which is nice, but does not seem to put these on a teacher’s calendar.

Eventually, I’d love to have a  calendar, or rather a to-do list that students can log into on their own and work through tasks in a given order. This would allow me to make more personalized learning experiences. For instance, I’d love for students to log in to their computers, sign into a certain website and have a list of experiences/ assignments they need to complete to master a certain standard. It would be good to have this also with a calendar format so that students know there are due dates for their assignment.

The ultimate digital lesson planner does not yet exist. So, I believe there is opportunity for growth in this area. Perhaps Standards Planner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Edmodo can work together to make this happen. Then, They can make it exportable to Google and iCal so we can access it from other devices. Let me know if you have found your ultimate digital lesson planner.