Month: January 2013

Student Collaboration with Google Drive

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This past week a handful of my colleagues and I utilized Google Drive to brainstorm, draft, revise, and finalize a proposal for the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in Boston next November.  If you’ve ever prepared a proposal to present at a conference before, you know how harried and nerve-wracking it can be.  Trying to organize six people to do one together, with 24 hours until the submission deadline is…well…it’s crazy!  It’s almost as crazy as trying to get a group of students to write a paper or create a presentation together.  In both scenarios–whether it’s a group of adults or students– here are some collaboration pitfalls:

1)  One person does all the work.  The high-achiever of the group grins and bears it as they carry the weight of the project.
2)  No one does the work.  If the dynamics of the group fail to include the driven personality, then chances are, nothing gets done.
3)  Too many chiefs…you’ve seen it happen, or perhaps you’ve been in a group where everyone is trying to lead and direct.  This is almost as bad as having no direction.  The final project lacks cohesiveness and rather than a unified, solid presentation

The night before our deadline, our go-getter sent a call out through Twitter and text to get our attention that basically said, “hey, this thing is due tomorrow!  Get your butts on Google Drive before 10:00 am or it’s not happening!”  And so we took our brains, individually, to the document created by our group leader and started to draft, revise, and comment, which was cool by itself.  The magic, however, occurred when we were all in the document, working at the same time, our multi-colored cursors moving around the document, communicating through the chat feature about what we were doing and should we do this or that, adding comments and resolving comments until finally, with two minute to spare, we had a proposal submitted to NCTE.

From the other side of our various devices and locations strewn across the metroplex, we all shared a collective sigh and appreciation for the power of collaborative writing and tools such as Google Drive that breathe life and spirit in to the writing process.

So here’s the skinny on Google Drive:

1)  It’s free.  Doesn’t get any better than that.
2)  Google Drive operates through cloud computing, which means that you can create, store, and share your documents through the web.  No more wondering where you left that flash drive or stressing out over loosing a document on your laptop after an unexpected re-imaging.  For our students, this means that they can work on documents anywhere they have web-access.
3)  Google Drive hosts a miniature Office Suite line-up of products including Documents (Word), Spreadsheet (Excel), Presentation (PowerPoint) plus a whole host of apps available through Google Chrome web store that can be downloaded and added to your Drive.
4)  When you create a document in Google Drive you can choose to share it with collaborators, allowing them access to edit, view, or share the document.  You can make your document private, public (open to the web), or public through the link.

Applications for learning:
Some of my friends have 200 students this year. We know that powerful writing instruction relies upon students writing, talking about their writing, and receiving feedback.  The teacher, alone, cannot be responsible for continually providing feedback on student’s writing with a 1:200 ratio.  Peer response is a powerful tool for a young writer,  but teachers cannot provide the type of quality feedback and evaluation on 200 essays more than a few times throughout the semester (if even that much).

Can we still have the same learning goals for students and their writing if they are participating in a collaborative essay or project that we would an individual assignment?  YES!  Do we address more learning goals by having them use technology to work collaboratively on a writing task?  YES!

ISTE’s NETs for Students even address this skill as relevant and integral to today’s workforce and post-secondary environments:

2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

If we consider the SAMR model as a protocol for planning technology integration, Google Drive falls under Redefinition,  allowing an entirely new experience that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.  

I can attest to the power of collaborative writing experiences.  Google Drive can engage students who are too timid to speak up face-to-face in a group.  It alleviates some of the responsibility for providing timely feedback from the teacher and engages students in the writing community as a class as well as the smaller communities they form in groups.  Group members can collaborate remotely, from their own devices and locations, or side-by-side in a computer lab.

Coming soon!  My Big Campus allows you to integrate Google Drive as an application, much like it does Facebook and Twitter, which means that students can collaborate on Google Docs and more through one portal: MBC! 

What is your personal experience with using Google Drive?  Do you see any advantages for using it with students?  Are there pitfalls or obstacles to integrating Google Drive into your learning activities?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 1/28/13

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Wow, I’m so anxious right now I can hardly stand it!  I’m furiously hitting the refersh button on my browser, waiting for the ALA Youth Media Awards to start so I can grumble and hooray at the list of honor recipients and award winners.  So, to pass the time, I figured let’s go ahead and blog about our reading plans for the week (in third person I told myself this). 

Books I finished:

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel–Fun, sci-fi read sprinkled with philosphical inquiries into the interplay between faith and science. I enjoyed Oppel’s attempt at providing some backstory for Victor Frankenstein as to a possible explanation for his obsession with harnessing the power to create life (which I won’t give away here…but I’m not sure if Mary Shelley would entirely agree with this new age take on her protagonist when most critics seem to agree that the mad scientist is modeled after her inner psyche’s turmoil as a result of the multiple tragedies she faced as a young woman).  But, nonethless,  a satisfying read complete with a fiery heroine in Elizabeth, Victor’s adopted sister and eventual bride in the original tale.  3 1/2 out of 5 stars for imagination, creativity, and memorable secondary characters.

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha–Here was a last minute addition to my stack for this week.  This book was all the rave at the TCTELA conference last weekend in Dallas.  Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, it promptly arrived on Tuesday, just in time to be included in a lesson on expository writing with some students on Wednesday.  The book is an extension of teh blog  The author writes short reflective entries about things that are awesome (pushing the button on the elevator and it opening right away, finding a few remaining fries at the bottom of your take-out bag, high-fiving babies, sticking your hand out the car window while driving down the freeway, making a rollercoaster motion….AWESOME!)  After reading this book, you can’t help but join in the meme of recounting the most trivial parts of your day as deep thoughts of awesomeness.  5 out of 5 stars for originality, breadth, and depth.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio–(Sigh)  (extra long sigh thinking about this lovely story NOT receiving mention in 36 minutes and 18 seconds during the ALA awards…keeping the faith that it will).  What can I possibly say about Wonder that hasn’t been said before?  Not much, so instead, I’ll let R.J. provide us with a glimpse into the heart of kindness with one of my favorite excerpts:

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you wil try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”

I’m tearing up all over again just thinking about it! 

If you haven’t read it, put every other book on hold for this week and get it, NOW!

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh–I know it took me a few weeks, and the first half of the book didn’t necessarily leave me compelled to read the whole book in one sitting, but oh my gosh, I loved this book by the end.  You know how sometimes you have reading weeks when the books seem to be talking to one another?  This was one of those weeks.  Between Jepp and Auggie from Wonder and a few other characters I’m just getting to know, the underdogs really had a lot to teach me about life, love, and free-will.  Wow, just wow.

So, I had to get serious about my library class this week, which took a bite out of my reading plans, so my next two lists are somewhat repetitive from last weeks.

Books I’m reading this week:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot–I don’t want to put this book down.  I’m only a few chapters in and already I feel like I’ve known Henrietta my entire life.  She’s such a strong, soulful presence in this true account of HeLa cells and their impact on the medical community.  We’re toying with the idea of using this as a whole-school read, tying in activities from all the content areas. 

The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner–I would have finished this short novel during naptime yesterday had the warm weather not inticed me to work on my winter garden and prune the rose bushes.  Again, there’s something about the underdog in this one.  More on it when I’m finished with it.

Books to read this week:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare BlakeAfter reading The Diviners by Libba Bray this fall I swore off scary books with ghosts for a while (too many night-time reading induced nightmares with jazz music and occult serial killers).  But, a library regular insisted that I read Anna because it is “just so good!”  She’s fantastic about taking any book I recommend to her, so I figured I’d bite the bullet and hide under my covers for her.

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Pena–here’s my sports pick for this week as an attempt to meet my book gap challenge (and because I’m kind of enamoured by Matt after hearing him speak at TCTELA ❤ ).

Oh, my gosh…only ten minutes to go!

Happy Monday everyone, and happy ALA Youth Media Awards Day!  I’m sure next week’s Monday blog post will be full of all the books mentioned this morning that I haven’t read yet….

Trailer Thursday–Books to the Big Screen

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The Golden Globes recently aired on television, ushering in the awards’ season for film and t.v. Next month, the Oscar’s will air with all its glamor and glory.  In the spirit of the season, I wanted to feature a few books that will be released this spring as feature films!  Eeek!  There are few greater pleasures as a reader when a book that you love is turned into a movie that you love (and few worse experiences as a reader when a book you love is turned into a movie that you hate…).

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia
Release Date:  February 14th, 2013
The Great Gatsby by F. Scots Fitzgerald
Release Date: May 10th, 2013
The Mortal Instruments:  City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Release Date:  August 2013
And coming later in 2013:
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, November
The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, November
Grab that popcorn and get reading!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 1/21/13

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Overall, if was a fairly productive and satisfying reading week.  I attended a conference over the weekend, however, that amplified my TBR list to include a healthy selection of nonfiction titles especially.  So here’s my report:

Books I Finished:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  Of course I adored Katsa’s chutzpah, her super-survival abilities, and her yummy un-boyfriend, Po.  Since I finished it, I’ve had the nagging desire to change my calico cat’s name to Po.  But seeing as how she’s not a boy, and Po probably would turn his nose up at that, I guess we’ll stick to Bebe afterall.
3.5 stars for an overall enjoyable story with some twists and depth of character, especially in the secondary character department (Bitterblue and even Leke), but nothing in her prose pushed me over the top.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  You all told me I would love it, and I  harbored some doubts half-way through the book, but then there was Amsterdam (sigh).  I think it was quite serendipitous, by the way, that I finished the book on its release date anniversary and the same date that John and Hank sold out Carnegie Hall with A Night of Awesome!

A hearty 5 out of 5 stars to one of my favorite “literary” YA books for its splendid treatment of a heart-wrenching subject, awesome characters, and awesome writing….awesome. 

Currently Reading:

Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh.  I really am digging this sweet little book.  I don’t feel compelled to rush my way through it, and even if I wanted to, I leave it in my special spot at the circulation desk to enjoy during 7th and 8th period after the lunch bunch has left for the day.  Like I predicted, Marsh broke my heart, but I’m seeing a new adventure on the horizon and excited to see what is in store next for our little dwarf.
(Anyone else notice a pattern from last week…stars, fate, destiny…last week’s stack inspired me to start working on a review of “stars” books…so stay tuned!)

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel.  This guy is a prime example of my tendency to withhold certain books as reward since a friend “loaned” it to me over a year ago, and I’m just now reading it.  The sequel, Such Wicked Intent came out this past August, so I figured it was time I got serious about this one.  A pre-quel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, what literature-loving-English-teacher-turned-librarian could pass this up!  Speaking of chutzpah, Oppel’s reimagined Elizabeth has loads;  I love her little asides about women’s lib, an homage to the original author’s activist mother I’m assuming. The quest narrative allows our imaginations to run wild as we see the seeds of obsession planted in young Victor’s mind….okay, I better finish this post so I can see what happens next!

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.  Oliver’s first book in this series, Delirium, did take me some getting in to before I was invested.  I felt there was a surplus of exposition in the first installment–a criticism I usually reserve for the sophomore in a series.  Much like Ally Condie’s Matched and Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, this series takes us to a dystopian future where society has re-organized itself around the eradication of the root of all evil, only this time the culprit is Love.  Deliria Nervosa, as it the illness is known, is “cured” by an invasive procedure to the frontal lobe when a person turns sixteen.  After gut-wrenching revelation and a heart-breaking decision at the finale of Delirium, Lena’s complexity is said to really develop once she finds herself alone at the start of the second book.  I’m early in, but already I see potential for some serious evolution in character. 

To Read:

My sources tell me that ALA will release their coveted book award honorees and winners lists soon!  You know what that means–just like the pre-Oscar countdown, it’s time to read (or re-read) some of the hottest contenders:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

And to keep in touch with my YA base,  how about Gae Polisner’s Pull of Gravity.

…And to work on my book gap challenge, let’s throw in some nonfiction with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  by Rebecca Skloot. 

On the Path to Technology Integration…We Need a Map

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Great things are happening here at The Ridge!  I’ve always believed that the leadership, innovation, and vision of individuals on this campus have the potential to make us leaders in education, especially in regards to raising student engagement and closing the achievement gap.

Recently, Fossil Ridge was awarded a KISD Education Foundation Grant.  The project titled, “Closing the Gap” was the collaborative brainchild of a handful of these leaders.  

The goals of the project are:

  1. Close the gap in access to technology that exists in our student population, allowing for equity to digital tools and resources and extending the school day to a 24/7 model.
  2. Investigate the role that technology has on learning.
  3. Inform the long-range vision for technology integration and strategic plan for our campus.

I am pleased that the community and district leaders recognize the efforts and leadership capacity on our campus and am thankful for the present and future support we will receive as we work towards these goals.

As discussions took place regarding deployment of our project, which involves selecting twenty AVID students to receive Dell tablets and Verizon mi-fi cards for use at home and at school, we all agreed that in order to truly understand how technology impacts learning.  We needed to form a leadership team, who would engage in a PLC that explores theory, methods, and tools for educational technology.  It’s not enough to simply provide students with access to technology.  Even the largest 1:1 programs in schools, without a professional development plan for teachers, will not produce the impact on learning that designers anticipate.  

This team will visit schools in the Metroplex who have adopted some kind of technology model (1:1, BYOD, etc.) and observe how their deployment model impacts learning, what type of systems are in place to support student and teacher integration of technology, and measures that can capture the data we need to inform our vision.  In addition to field trips, the team will also meet regularly to share resources, explore models, and create lessons that integrate tools.  But, it all has to come back to the same point:  How does technology impact student engagement and learning?

This past weekend I was explaining our project to another National Writing Project teacher consultant who is an instructional leader in a neighboring district that is exploring these same questions and working to support teachers as they grapple with technology that is integrated into instruction.  She suggested that we start with the SAMR model developed by Dr Rueben Puentedura.  Through this model, Dr. Puentedura demonstrates how our goal when considering a long-range technology adoption cycle on any scale, from district-level down to the classroom, should be to move from enhancement to transformation.

SAMR stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefintion.Substitution:  At this stage you are using technology as a direct substitution for another tool. Think using a word processor in lieu of a type writer without utilizing functions such as spell check, grammar check, etc.  Dr. Puentedura argues that at this level, productivity actually decreases. 
 Augmentation:  If we continue with our example of the word processor, then at this next level we would use its built-in features such as Spell Checker, word count, copy and paste, etc.  Productivity or work flow might increase at this level, perhaps students can produce a finished draft more quickly using a word processor, but how has the tool transformed their thinking?

Notice the dotted line between the Augmentation and the next level in the model.  This is meant as a target.  When considering tools and tasks that integrate technology with learning, our goal should be to be above this line.

Modification: Again, if we consider the word processor as a tool, how could we modify the tool to allow for greater productivity?  Rather than printing the file and sharing it, what if we integrated another tool such as email or drop boxes to publish and share?  Or, what if we integrated a product or feature of another tool such as a chart from Excel, digital photos of artificats, etc.  At this level, Dr. Puentedura claims, student learning begins to transform.

Redefinition:  Here’s where my mind really starts to bend…In the redefinition level, technology allows us to do things otherwise impossible to create new products in new ways.  Rather than a word processor where one student is authoring a product, what if students utilized Google Docs to collaborate in real time!  This would not have been possible before.  Students couldn’t work from their own houses from their own devices on a task at the same time.  Now, technology allows for this level of collaboration and creation.

My colleague explained it to me much more simply…instead of old things in new ways, our goal is to shoot for new things in new ways.  

I did some reflecting over some of the tools I’ve highlighted in the blog that meet this goal. Below you’ll find a list of tools and links to those blog posts that help us reach the Enhancement level of learning through technology.

Google Earth

My Big Campus

GoAnimate and Sock Puppets





I’m curious to hear your take-away after thinking about this model and how it applies to your decision making and lesson planning process.  Limitations, drawbacks, confusions, applications?  Leave your comment!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 1/14/13

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In an effort to take my participation in the blogosphere up a notch, connect to a community of book bloggers, and do a better job documenting what I am reading, I have decided to participate in “What are you reading” Monday, a meme started by Sheila over at  On Mondays, I’ll share the books I finished the previous week, have started reading, and plan to read in the coming week.
Be sure to jump on over to her blog to see a list of other meme participants.  It’s a fun, fast way to learn about possible TBR titles and get to know some of the other bloggers out there.
And so, here’s what I am reading this week:

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

Fate: Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born? Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands? Jepp of Astraveld needs to know. He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer. After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper’s carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can’t even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master–a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars–who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past. Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real histori-cal characters, “Jepp, Who Defied the Stars “is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny. ”

I picked up this lovely, little guy at NCTE this past year when I happened to stroll by the publisher’s booth and notice a line of people waiting for an author signing.  When I learned the book was free (shameless), I jumped on in, completely unaware of who I was waiting to see.  Oh, my gosh!  It was Katherine Marsh (The Night Tourist).  Lucky me!
My first impression was to oooh and ahhh over the cover art.  The minute silhouette of the protagonist, Jepp, a dwarf in the Spanish Infanta’s court is set against a city’s skyline underneath a milky-way night sky. The title dominates the cover in ornate silver lettering; the ink inside is indigo blue!  “Defy the stars!” Katherine inscribed on the title page addressed to the students at Fossil Ridge, and I thought to myself how empowering the call could be for so many of them.
Confession:  This little guy sat on my “to be processed” cart until after the Winter break when I finally finished barcoding and covering its dust jacket with our shiny, protective film.  And, instead of shelving it I ended up snatching it away to horde in my office to read at school.  So far, I am enjoying getting to know Jepp, and I have formed a fondness for him, especially once he leaves his mother to be a prized possession of a spoiled and corrupt court.  I have a feeling, however, that Katherine is about to break Jepp’s heart (and my own!).  

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

His eyes, Katsa had never seen such eyes. One was silver, and the other, gold. They glowed in his sun-darkened face, uneven, and strange. She was surprised that they hadn’t shone in the darkness of their first meeting. They didn’t seem human….
Then he raised his eyebrows a hair, and his mouth shifted into the hint of a smirk. He nodded at her, just barely, and it released her from her spell.
Cocky, she thought. Cocky and arrogant, this one, and that was all there was to make of him. Whatever game he was playing, if he expected her to join him he would be disappointed.

In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even shedespises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.
When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

For shame, for shame, I have never read Graceling.  Now that it’s 2013 I knew it was time to get serious about catching up on some terrific 2012 books, which include Bitterblue, so at the urging of several of my library regulars, I stored Graceling in my TBR pile on my night stand.  I’d walk by, glance at my pile, notice it sitting at the bottom and sneak it up a few spots in the stack until finally, there it was, right on top!  

At first I had a sneaking suspicion that I had read it before.  Female assassin who is controlled by a corrupt entity to do another’s bidding questions her place in society and her entire identity.  Enter in exotic, yummy young man who tempts our fearsome heroine away from her understood station in life only to discover that she’s met her equal in intelligence, skill, and strength…sounded an awful like Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers to me, which coincidentally was written after Graceling.  I don’t care if the plots are similar;  I love them both!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now. 
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. 
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Another goodie that I have been withholding from myself as a reward for doing this and that.  Am I the only one who uses books as motivators to do the unpleasant stuff first?  I’m not moving through this one as quickly as I anticipated, but I think I had just come off a rocky, realistic fiction binge over the break, and my reading soul cried out for a little bit of magic and fantasy for a while.  

Stay tuned to see if I finish them by next Monday and what books are up next!
It’s Monday!  What are you reading? 

Adventures in iPads: Apps for Exploring

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Tapping into the natural curiosities of our students with apps to explore information

The advent of mobile devices like iPads and smart phones have ushered in a new heightened era of information for our 21st Century students.  With a swipe of a fingertip, endless amounts of information become available to us instantaneously as it streams 24/7 through our devices and into our lives .  Access to information at this rate is a double-edged sword:   At times a bombardment of messages, information can clutter our lives, leading to increased habits of multi-tasking, and letting go of a critical stance to information in favor of “more” stuff.  On the other hand, we now have access to perspectives, events, societies, phenomena, and knowledge from around the globe.  Such knowledge adds to our cultural and intellectual wealth when applied in creative ways.

For our students, Google is the main portal to the world of information.  As a self-professed Google-lover, I understand the power of an advanced search engine.  Do my students?  Well…we’re working on that.  Rather than sending students to “Google it,” I’d like to suggest a handful of apps designed for the iPad that foster academic exploration of topics, inquiries, and contexts appropriate for all content area learning.  These apps utilize multiple modes of media to enhance and engage.  Articles, videos, and resources are easily shared through the app feature, allowing for easy adaptation for BYOD projects where students may access the information from personal devices, including laptops, desktops, and mobile devices.  I suggest utilizing these tools when introducing new topics or units to students.  In a Flipped or VESTED classroom, these tools fit well into initial previewing and building background knowledge.

The following iTunes apps allow students the opportunity to explore a myriad of topics and content areas, engaging them through authentic connections to the world around them and utilizing mobile technology to access information in rapid time:

iTunes U

According to Apple, iTunes U is the world’s largest collection of free educational content.  Users can access courses from the world’s leading universities.  In addition to participating in a course through readings downloaded into iBook, videos, assignments, and podcasts, students can also select from over 500,000 free lectures, videos, and podcasts.  Teachers may utilize iTunes U as a tool to introduce a new concept or unit.  For example, students may view a demonstration of a heat engine as an introduction to thermodynamics for an upcoming physics unit.  Professor David Hoxley of La Trobe University has an entire classical physics course in iTunes U complete with video demonstrations and podcasts.  

Other contributors to iTunes U include:

  • Cambridge University
  • Harvard University
  • MIT
  • Library of Congress
  • Oxford University
  • Stanford
  • Yale
Students have free and unlimited access to ivy league courses at their fingertips.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a free, online collection of over 3,500 videos covering multiple disciplines including K-12 Math, Science, Humanities, and test prep.  An Economics student may have questions regarding the Fiscall Cliff and America’s economic difficulties.  A quick trip to the Khan Academy app could lead him to this engaging and simple video that utilizes diagrams, graphics, and voice-over to explain complex issues.

Khan Academy’s popularity is largely due to its simple, direct, and concrete illustrations of difficult subjects and complex concepts.  Like iTunes U, students can subscribe to courses to continue their exploration into a specific discipline, topic, or skill.  

TED “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

Ever wonder what is so fascinating about the dance of the dung beetle?
Intrigued about the controversies and perspectives surrounding the Second Amendment and gun control legislation?
Perplexed by the tumultuous and fragile relationship between Iran and Israel?

TED Talks capture inspiring, hilarious, creative, and informative talks by people who are pushing the envelope with their theories and actions.  Students can browse and search for videos relating to a host of topics related to technology, business, design, entertainment, science, and global issues.  TED Talks have been growing in popularity as thousands of videos are shared through social media sites.

TED-Ed is the site’s education platform with 167 videos that can be shared, edited, or flipped for classroom use. This video was created by an educator and animator to demonstrate the power of effective introductions from famous authors.

On the TED-ed site for this video, students can respond to questions and explore further resources related to powerful introductions.  Educators can even customize or “flip” the video to create a unique lesson for their students.  

Personalized Learning

For a little brain candy about the flipped classroom and blended learning check out Sal Khan’s Ted talk! (He’s much more concrete about it than I have been on the blog :-)) 

These resources are valuable tools to provide students with opportunities to explore content related topics whether in a flipped, blended, or traditional classroom.   Inviting them to explore these resources through their own curiosities supports their natural learning tendencies, allowing for a personalized learning experience.  As online learning platforms continue to expand and evolve, soon, public education will need to consider how best to meet the needs of learners who can feasibly enroll him or herself in a free online course and master the content on their own through their own devices rather than the traditional educational setting.  Public institutions have begun to integrate iTunes U courses into a traditional setting by creating unique courses for students to enroll in for a personalized experience.

But, it’s about baby steps and becoming comfortable with the sheer amount of information available, learning to control and manage the continual stream, and then become producers of solutions and innovations.  iTunes U, Khan, and TED are leading facilitators of information collection and production.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher

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Title:  Period 8Author: Chris CrutcherPublishing Date:  March 2013

Summary (

In this full-length novel from Chris Crutcher, his first since the best-selling Deadline, the ultimate bully and the ultimate good guy tangle during Period 8.
Paul “the Bomb” Baum tells the truth. No matter what. It was something he learned at Sunday School. But telling the truth can cause problems, and not minor ones. And as Paulie discovers, finding the truth can be even more problematic. Period 8 is supposed to be that one period in high school where the truth can shine, a safe haven. Only what Paulie and Hannah (his ex-girlfriend, unfortunately) and his other classmates don’t know is that the ultimate bully, the ultimate liar, is in their midst. 
Terrifying, thought-provoking, and original, this novel combines all the qualities of a great thriller with the controversy, ethics, and raw emotion of a classic Crutcher story.

I first met Chris in 2006 when I brought my class to the lecture hall to hear “this great author for guys” my librarian recommended to me.  When we walked in I thought to myself, “no way is this man going to make my guys lift their heads off the table and listen to what he has to say.”  Boy, was I wrong.  Immediately, Chris started shaking their hands, talking sports, chatting it up in that “guy-way” I make a poor attempt at with my students.  By the end of the talk, even my most reluctant readers–boys and girls–were lined up to meet Chris and buy his books.

When I heard about Period 8, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an ARC.  Thanks to a librarian friend who hunted one down at YALSA, I was able to devour this fast-paced, thrilling read one day over the winter break.

“Any subject is fair game.  No qualifications to enroll, no grade or credit, no attendance taken, but in a given year membership is consistent.  There were years when Period 8 was the only reason Logs taught, when the educational philosophy du jour provided him almost no satisfaction; years when his personal life was in such a shambles he could barely bring himself to the classroom each day.  But Period 8 always brought him to life and grounded him.”

As I raced through its final pages, closed its cover with a satisfied pat, I sat for a moment thinking, “did that really just happen?”  There were many appealing moments and facets of this book for me including its stunning finale.  First of all, as an educator and librarian, this third space that Mr. Logsdon (Logs) and his students create together feels like several smaller, similar experiences I’ve had with students through the years.  There’s this community that can evolve suddenly in schools, which allows all participants a safe place to do the unsafe, a place to belong, a place to stretch and grow.  They pop up in various arenas on campus, on stage in a school production, on the field formed through the team, in a band room, corner of the library, classroom, before, during, and after school–pockets of Period 8s provide a neutral space somewhere between the world that belongs to home and the world that belongs to academia.  I thank Chris for honoring that space with this story.

Secondly, the somewhat reluctant protagonist, Paulie Baumb, stands out, who battles his own heroic tendencies against his need to preserve himself and secure a future of his choosing.  At first I thought that Paulie was up there with my top five favorite male protagonists…but now I realize, Paulie is in my top protagonist list, period, male or female.  Paulie clings to the desperate hope that he is not his father’s son, while indulging himself in an emotional lashing for making a mistake that made him the unwitting pawn in a psycho-path’s twisted plot.  Tortured, honest, and brave, Paulie remains a role model throughout the book even when his choices are flawed. 

Finally, the plot!  I mean, wow, I think I saw it coming, but I didn’t believe that Crutcher would go there.  I’m still conflicted between feeling that the sensationalism and scandal is too far out of reality to make a satisfying resolution, but, “it” happens, right?  It’s difficult to convey my feelings about the plots twists and turns without spoiling the ending, so I’ll just leave it at that.  Knowing a little about Chris’ experience with mental health and teenagers, I’m leaning on my trust in him to craft a work of realistic fiction that is more real than fiction. 

Judging from the last page, I’d say there’s possibility that fans of the Period 8 gang might have more to look forward to in further installations, but until that time my mind is happy to grapple with the possibilities and wisdom Logs imparts on their final day, “Don’t listen to me.  I’m an old guy.  Turn me loose and I’ll want you to learn from my experiences.  I’ll remember things that happened to me in my time and think I should warn you.  But that’s all BS.  There is one teacher in this world and that teacher is experience.  Mine for me, and yours for you.”