Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Forget Fancy Ed-Tech Tools... Instagram Builds Engagement Around Learning

By Nicholas Faccenda

To many teachers, Instagram may seem like a waste of time in the classroom, a huge distraction for a lot of students. But at the Met Providence High School, we use it as tool for sharing our real world learning opportunities within our advisory, and throughout our school.

Many of the students in the Galaxy advisory are comfortable using this form of social media, making posts about internships, informational interviews, even volunteering opportunities. Instagram makes it super easy to share and access photos, videos and reflections on our RWL (Real World Learning.) This also helps to show ownership of work we do out in the real world in pursuit of our own passions.

For example, for one assignment I talked about my internship with a program called Living History, where we are actual Civil War reenactors of the 14th RI Regiment. In the past year I was promoted within the program to a 2nd Lieutenant, making me the second in command of the Regiment, but it wasn’t completely official. Around the start of senior year, my mentor, Rob Goldman, gave me the paper pictured above which is my official commission confirming my status as a 2nd Lieutenant in the RI Militia. I posted this picture of my commission on Instagram in order to show how far I’d gone in my internship, also to show what sort of good things can come from persevering in the real world. It filled me with pride and accomplishment to be able to share it in such public manner.

The advisory can even share steps they’ve taken in the search for an internship. Here we have Donni, a student with an interest in fashion and barbering. This was his first ever informational interview, which is simply when a student asks questions about the field they are interested in while also hoping to find an internship mentor. Through his interview, Donni was actually able to establish a shadow day with the barber shop, where he comes in for a day in order to observe what an average day would look like as an intern. The shadow day then became an internship. This is an example of how everyone stays aware of what people are doing, giving students their own accountability and helping to show love to each other. It’s also a way for people to find interests they never thought they had or to get a better view of what their interests look like.

We also use Instagram beyond what we just do for school internships. It’s all about sharing what we are passionate about inside and outside of school. This is a picture of Mackenzie with her horse Penny after they won a competition. We use of Instagram helps to share our passions with each other easily, and to give love to people who work hard. Mackenzie’s passion goes beyond just animals though, her interests lie in behavioral analysis and she wishes to join the Air Force and the FBI. This is awesome!

This is a senior in the advisory named Hannah, and she did a RWL presentation for the whole class. She was the first to step up to the task and present her own real world learning experience. By doing this she helped to show some of the sophomores in the advisory how they can discover their own interests. She made a design on the computer and made a special stencil for it using a wooden frame. Once she had the stencil set in the frame, everyone was given the chance to print the design on our own shirts.

Using Instagram in advisory for talking about and sharing what we do in our internships has made things easier. Everyone knows what each other does and we give each other credit for it. It ultimately brings everybody closer and makes sharing so much faster and easier. This also helps to bring attention from different companies based on the hashtags that are used when we make our posts.


Nicholas Faccenda is a Senior in the Met High school in Providence, Rhode Island. He has an interest in journalism and hopes to go on to study journalism and communications in college. His passions include history and mythology. Nick is also a hardcore Boy Scout who is working on completing his Eagle Scout Project. Nicholas is now an officially commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the RI Militia, belonging to the 14th RI Regiment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Project Management Tools for Personalized Learning

When managing the complexity of personalized learning, it is critical to have the right tools in the toolbox. Most schools use some sort of Learning Management System (LMS) to handle the day-to-day operations of the school. Attendance, school communication, assignments and assessments are all handled in LMS's. And some, like Edmodo, Canvas and Schoology, offer a highly powerful and intuitive environment. They create enormous engagement and efficiencies. These platforms are so compelling that they are a big part of the rapid growth of Education Technology.

But here's the problem....

Some of these LMS's are incredible tools for building communication and collaboration. They provide highly intuitive, and even fun, ways to build participation. But at the core of almost all LMS's is a simple assumption that STUDENTS ARE IN CLASSES! Most LMS's have, at their core, a traditional grade and attendance matrix. Students down the left side and assignments or school days across the top. 

Wait, what's the problem?

Traditional LMS - Rows and columns at the core!
The problem is that when you have students in rows and assignments in columns, the tool begins to drive practice! Let's face it - Teacher, student and parent expectations about where to find their academic progress often comes from the LMS. This is great and awesome in a school model where students have uniformity in the courses that they learn, the assignments that they complete and the timing and sequence of the content. For traditional schools,

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Powerful and Engaging Literacy Tools to Start Your Year

I was recently at a Seattle EdTech Meetup and learned about this very engaging new tool to help improve literacy. Like MyOn and Overdrive, Actively Learn gives you the ability to provide a virtual library to your school that is device agnostic.

Unlike those other services, Actively Learn allows teachers to get in and chunk the text, add thought-provoking questions throughout, and build supporting content - like videos and images. Actively Learn also allows teachers to track if students are gaining a deep understanding of the content. Students can annotate their version of the content and post discussions with the class around parts of the text.  They can quickly get the definition to words and have sentences spoken.

There is lots of content already in the Actively Learn library, including subject-area content and tons of free books. And you can add your own content and add links from major news services (this is huge!)

Actively Learn is also building partnerships with publishers to grow their paid content. They currently have many books from HarperCollins and Simon and Shuster. Teachers can "rent" titles for .99 cents per copy for a 3 month period (districts can purchase longer contract lengths for content.)

And lots of the content that is in the Actively Learn library comes pre-loaded with prompts and assessments (that you can use or discard).

Oh yeah, and because of support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation, the platform is free for teachers and students. (There are, of course, pro versions that enable school administrators to oversee content progression and rigor.)


We've all done this before: I find a terrific news article as I am reading the New York Times and think "this will be a great discussion piece for my advisory." I then copy the link to the article to my LMS or email it to my students (or print out copies to hand out.)

Problem is... you are making the assumption that all of your kids are at the same reading level.  But for many kids - especially those who we want to engage the most - the article is just not at their reading level. This can effectively disengage students from the content and, therefore, the instruction. It also can enforce with these kids that news and current events are not something for them... not good.  

Newsela is a great service that takes current event content and builds articles on the same topic at different reading levels. You can assign individual students the reading level that is appropriate for them to understand the content, or let the students choose. You can print articles on good-old-fashion paper and (like Actively Learn) you can add quizzes to check for understanding, offer an introduction or background about the text. Oh yeah, many articles can also be read in Spanish.

Again, the basic version of Newsela is free for teachers. This is a terrific tool for getting ALL your kids reading about the world around them!


Monday, July 6, 2015

BPL at ISTE 2015

The International Society of Technology in Education conference was last week in Philadelphia. 20 thousand EdTech innovators in one space in an inspiring site. Add almost 4000 exhibitors and endless presentations and it is enough to make and geeky teacher turn blue.

There continues to be cool innovation in Ed Technology software - though my sense is the pace is slowing a bit. Some standouts:

Bretford Charging Lockers

With BYOD and the age of digital content, large backpacks full of textbooks are long gone. But tablets and smartphones have brought with them new challenges. Keeping them charged and secure can be tricky. This 21st century locker is great. Students can store computers, phones and tablets. Each locker has a charging port. Students can easily set the password so they can store their devices wherever they need on campus, just find an empty locker. 

This creates terrific opportunities for BYOD moments but also ensures secure storage for times when student devices are not what is needed.


If you have not heard of NewsELA  you must check them out. There is no better way to get all students accessing current events. NewsELA gives you current event news articles that you share with students. The difference from just sharing, say, New York Times links is that students can choose the same article at a variety of reading levels. If a student finds the highest level of the text too complicated, they can pick easier grading levels. This enables all students to participate in discussions revolving around current events.


PollsEverywhere is great... but Kahoot is set up specifically for education. It is a terrific way to build engagement at large all school meetings like Pick Me Ups and Kick Me Outs. Oh yeah... it is free! Another great one to check out for improving all school meetings is Mentimeter.

NetRef and Impero

BYOD creates immense possibility for technology fluency and access to information as students can utilize their own smart phone, tablet or computer. However, the risk has been that these devices do not have the ability to be integrated into classroom management and progression. NetRef solves this problem. By requiring their application to be installed on a student device as a condition for accessing the district WiFi, the student device instantly becomes incorporated into the academic environment. Advisors direct students to websites quickly and easily. They can track internet usage and shut down internet access at times when discussions or instruction is happening. Impero goes a few steps further, allowing (with the right wifi network) student devices to be monitored, but also enabling all school computers to be shut down at the end of the day and the ability to create a print budget for every student.

Both of these tools allow innovative teachers to integrate phones and student devices into the classroom, while satisfying concerns from parents and district folks.

Meet the Teacher

Big Picture Schools work hard to deeply engage parents, mentors and others in student learning. But the complexities of scheduling meetings with all of these folks can make the teacher need a personal assistant.  Meet The Teacher saves a huge chunk of time by easily coordinating meetings. There are other non-ed-specific apps that do this (often for free!) such as doodle.com, assistant.io and (my favorite) youcanbook.me,

Monday, June 29, 2015

Do Staff Meetings Better

I am here at ISTE2015. 20,000 school innovators all in one place! This conference is absolutely amazing and I am looking forward to sharing some of the great tools and practices out there that help foster student engagement. 

But before I dive in, I have been wanting to share a tool that is from outside of the EdTech world but that has potential to greatly improve one of the most universal components of schools.... the staff meeting! Yes, the lowly staff meeting.

Now staff meetings can be invigorating and empowering experiences - a time when teachers and administrators can dive into the 'why's' of their practice and leverage collective wisdom to become better. Or.... they can be an automated and dull roll call of bureaucratic updates and long-winded discussions that can meander well off of the agenda.  My experience is that staff meetings are usually somewhere in between.

Check out Do.com. This terrific service pulls your calendar events off of Google Calendar or Office 365 and builds a beautiful timeline. Find a meeting in your timeline and you can invite participants to add agenda items, add notes to the agenda items and share documents related to the agenda item. 

And Do.com goes a big step further. During meetings everyone see's a very well designed workflow of agenda items on a projector or on individual screens. As notes are added to the agenda items, they can be categorized as "Followup" or "Outcomes". This brings everyone to consensus on what is agreed upon and what needs to happen next. Really amazing! At the start of the next meeting, the Followups can be revisited to track progress.

There are other cool features like a countdown timer to keep meetings from running late, a place for private notes and the ability to export the meeting agenda (to satisfy the district folks for instance.)

And the mobile app (which is also beautiful) allows you to quickly send quick emails to all of the meeting invites - like an apology that you are running late. 

Try it out. And consider trying it out with meetings in the classroom too!