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A Tablet for the Little Ones – Leapfrog’s LeapPad Explorer

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Recently, my wife and I, purchased Leapfrog’s latest tablet device for our daughter. The LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet is their newest offering and is aimed at children ages 4-9. This rugged little tablet comes in a couple of colors and is built to withstand the rigors of a youngsters day.

Once my daughter got it in her hands she automatically went to work using the stylus, and her finger, to set up her profile, navigate menus, draw, take photos, videos, and play learning apps. The LeapPad has many of the features of the full-fledged tablets such as a microphone, rear facing camera (stills and video), home button as well as a button for navigation. The touch screen is very responsive and the stylus does a nice job drawing and navigation. It does not connect to the Internet, no Wi-Fi card or browser, so you don’t have to worry about little ones straying into uncharted territory.

The expanding choice of learning games are where this device really shines. You have a choice of purchasing them as downloadable apps or as small cartridges. Each one of them is game based learning for improving reading, writing, math, science and life skills. The games titles include familiar characters from Disney, Sponge Bob and others. Plus, with the included software for your PC call LeapFrog Connect.  With LeagFrog Connect you can sync and update your LeapPad with apps or software upgrades.  What makes this really power is what they call “Learning Path.”  Learning Path gives parent, or teachers, the ability to track the progress of the users so they can see if they are progressing well or need any with certain skills. Also, depending on the learning app, you can make the game more easier or more challenging.  For instance, you can adjust math from single digit adding or subtracting all the way up to basic algebra and probability.  Language and reading is also adjustable.  You can do it or the app will adjust the child progresses for you.  It even allows you to upload vocabulary words that will be included in the stories and games that are currently being played.

LeapFrog sells bundles, in quantities of five, for schools to integrate into their curriculum’s. These bundles include the tables, AC adapters, headphones, cases and learning apps. For elementary school teachers these devices would make great learning centers as well as allow young students to apply creativity and learn responsibility in a familiar, game based environment.  Each tablet allows up to three individual profiles  so you can track multiple students with each unit. LeapFrog Connect is a great tool to track progress in the classroom too. The only drawback with these tablets is that they go through batteries fast, so be sure to use rechargeables or the AC adapters whenever you can.  Overall, this little tablet is a powerful and unique solution for elementary learning. See the demo to get the full story and see it in action!

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Three Simple C’s of Social Media Success for Educators

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

I have to admit that when I first started using social media several years ago I was skeptical about how valuable it would be for me as an educator. But, the more that I learned about it, as well as how to leverage it for my needs, the more I wanted others to see that it really can be a valuable resource that saves time. But in order for you to be successful, and not be overwhelmed with the vast assortment of resources out there, you need to do some research and pre-planning as to how you will build your social media “tool kit.”  Don’t just jump in with both feet, but do some testing and talk to others that have had success to see which tool is right for you.
I like to keep things simple and efficient.  So, after reflecting on it a bit, I  have broken it down to the three steps or three C’s that guide me in social media participation.   My three simple C’s to social media success are Connect, Contribute, and Curate.
  1. Connect – This is pretty self-explanatory. You need to get connected to the right social media tool that works for you. There are many out there so do the research, sign-up, or “lurk” a bit by spending some time “playing” with them. Starting a free blog and inviting people to join is an easy place to start. Of course, Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Google + and Posterousare all great places to start too. This is an important first step because you want to pick a tool that will address your needs.When choosing, think about how easy it will be to use in order to connect with the right people to address your needs.  If you are a math teacher, and not that many math teachers are connected to the social network that you are looking to join, then you will only be frustrated. Keep looking and lurking.You have to get started so get connected!
  2. Collaborate– This may seem obvious but many people forget how important it is to success.  So many people connect to social media but do not leverage the “social” aspect it offers.  Yes, we have all heard the horror stories of the dangers of social media. But, if you are smart about your privacy you will be fine; and by all means keep professional and personal use separate!Let’s say you join Twitter and just consume the information that is being shared. If you fail to contribute back to the community of people you are connected to you will be missing out on some really valuable connections. By contributing you will also gain more followers that will in turn allow you to increase your connections and collect valuable resources. If you have a blog see if your host allows you to connect to Twitter or Facebook. If so, whenever you create a new post it will automatically generate a tweet and/or wall post to all of your followers and friends with a short message and link back to your blog.
  3. Curate– OK, so you have all of this information, now what do you do with it?  Well, I am a big fan of using tools that make your job efficient while allowing you to integrate resources together in one neat package.  It is easy to become a “digital hoarder,” when you see all of this great information coming your way. By selecting tools that allow you to sort things out and remain organized you will then be able to receive, and share what you have learned, more effectively.  You will be able to extend your reach in the realm of social media by becoming an efficient collaborator.By using a free social media “dashboard” like Tweetdeck or HootSuiteyou will be able to include multiple social media sites in one location that will allow you to both consume, contribute, and curate information. They will also allow you to curate who you follow. This is good because you need to make some decision as to whether someone is still a valuable resource.  You will need to curate your personal learning network (PLN) as well as your digital library of information.One of my favorite tools for digital curation is the social bookmarking site Diigo. Since many of the resources you receive point back to blogs or web sites, it’s a great tool that will allow you to save, share, and organize your resources. You can connect with others that share their bookmarks as well as share your own to a group with like interests. Diigo has some very nice web services as well.  One that I use allows you to link your account to your Twitter favorites, so whenever you create a favorite in Twitter, it is automatically saved in your Diigo account. You just have to go in and organize them into lists, etc. afterwards.  The Diigo toolbar is also great for quick bookmarking as well as highlighting and note taking.That being said, don’t be sucked into the practice of digital hoarding.  Go back occasionally and do some tidying up to make sure you stay current and you don’t share out-of-date information. If you are a digital hoarder check out this blog post by Leo Babauta for a 3-step cure.

So, if you are ready to take the next step, I hope you find these three C’s valuable.  Please, do your homework and get connected. Then find the right people to collaborate and share with and share them with others too.  Finally, if you take the time to carefully select and curate your shared resources you build a valuable network of colleagues and resources that will improve not just your professional experience, but those you share it with.

The Top Three Most Important Issues Facing K-12 Educational Technology for 2011-12

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Recently, Christine Wiser T&L’s Managing Editor, asked the Tech Advisors the following question:

What do you think are the top three most important issues facing K-12 edtech this year?

I thought that this was a great question that would generate a lot of discussion. So, I wanted to share with you my top three and see what you have to say. After all, sometimes, the more voices heard the more progress can be made.

Here are my top three:
1.  Mobile device adoption. Especially bring your own device program implementation.
   Obviously, mobile devices are very popular and just about everyone has one.  They come in so many “flavors” that there are many to choose from. Also, with school district budgets not getting any better they are becoming more attractive for schools to explore due to their overall lower price points.
   Furthermore, with the diversity of technology assets available to consumers, bring your own device (BYOD) programs are starting to crop up all over the country. I really like this idea and think that with more and more students owning technologies that can meet their needs for school, BYOD promises to have benefits well beyond cash savings for school districts.
   The challenge lies, just as it does with a one-to-one program, in the implementation.  Policies have to be properly written, to protect not just your network but to comply with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA).  Web filtering needs to be selected carefully so staff and students can still pass through the filter with their device so inappropriate sites can be blocked and network security solutions have to be carefully considered in order to protect the integrity of your staff and student data.
   So, although I believe that this is the way to go, there are many things that need to be considered and it’s important enough that we all, as educators, collaborate on effective models for success.
2. Getting people to really understand what is meant by 21st century teaching and learning.
   Twenty first century teaching and learning is defined in many ways. For the most part it is teaching our students the following skills – Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation. But, many educators are overwhelmed with the task of implementing a plan to address these needs. More understanding and training needs to take place and districts need to implement plans that work for them. This will help bring those reluctant, late adopters, along at a comfortable pace that will allow them to have small successes that will motivate them to continue and build confidence.
   One skill, which I believe is very important for our students to learn is empathy and I am not alone. In a February 2008 eSchool News interview entitled “Four things every student should learn…but not every school is teaching,” Alan November discussed global empathy –

“November said he was talking with a senior executive at a global investment bank recently, and he asked the executive: What is the most important skill for today’s students to learn so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?

“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different points of view.

Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.
It’s not hard to find people who are smart, the executive said. What is hard to find are employees who have to ability to empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries.”

So, we need to teach students skills that will prepare them to not only to be intelligent, creative thinkers, but also to have emotional intelligences to succeed in future jobs that are still to come. This is quiet a challenge, with a skill set that many educators need to learn in parallel with their students.

3. Anytime, anywhere learning.

   This is the piece that links together numbers one and two. If school districts are provided the opportunities to give students, and staff, the ability to access school resources outside of the classroom then powerful learning can take place.
   The advent of virtualization and cloud computing can allow a BYOD program to succeed.  Access to software and resources at home will allow students to do their work without having the fear of not having the correct software.  It can also save a school district money over time.
   If technology departments would look at putting resources into their “back end,” network development by implementing, for instance, a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), then students with just about any device can safely and securely access learning resources and files.
    Mobile and BYOD programs can then be designed using the VDI environment as the vehicle to enhance and supplement teaching twenty first century skills.  Students and staff can use their own technologies, if they want to, and school districts can effectively extend the life of some of their older systems since VDI is server-based and requires a much less powerful workstation The teachers and students can then work on projects that will allow them to use the same tools both at home and at school.
   So there are my three.  What are yours? I urge you to take time and reflect on the question. Then contribute and let the readers of T&L know what you think. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Student Centered PLN’s

I was thinking the other day just how much I have been able to learn from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) and how I have been able to take the information that I get from it and share it with my colleagues. The information that I have received from some of the most respected names in educational technology, as well as teachers in the “trenches,” has been priceless. I primarily use Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and a variety of Ning’s to aggregate and share information. As professionals we need to develop the skill of choosing these tools, as well as who to follow, what hashtags to use on Twitter, and how to “mine” for the information that we are looking for to achieve our desired result.

But, what about our students? In our 21st century learning environments it would be an injustice if we didn’t teach them how to develop a PLN. If they can realize the value of the information that they can receive and share with others, as well as the collaboration that can take place, they will have a tool that will help them throughout their lives.

So, how do we do this and still accomplish our curricular goals and satisfy the requirements for standardized tests? Well, I have to say that I definitely don’t have all the answers but, if we use the power of this PLN and collaborate then maybe we can all benefit. So here are some of my ideas:

  1. Be A Model – Show your students your PLN and have a conversation with them about how you went about developing it. Let them know the work you had to put in at first and, if your like me, how it just got easier as you made those connections and learned about more resources. Remember, once they get the concept, and see the value, they are going to start to get more and more ideas.
  2. Start with an inside out approach – Start in your classroom. Develop a PLN amongst you and your students. It’s an easy thing to do with Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis. Start a class blog for discussion and collaboration or maybe a wiki for students to share resources or brainstorming ideas. There are a whole host of other tools out there, just think about how you can use them to start a class/course PLN. From there encourage your students to invite other teachers, administrators, or even parents to your PLN. You may be surprised at the response you get.
  3. Social Networking – Of course, there is Twitter and Facebook and Ning’s, and now Google+. But, depending on the grade level that you teach, they may not be feasible. Facebook has a policy that you have to be thirteen years old to be a member, so that disqualifies most of the younger students. Some Ning’s may not be appropriate for students and Google+ isn’t widely available yet.
    Twitter is valuable if you use it appropriately. One idea is to teach your students about hashtags or create lists for them to follow on Twitter. It’s important for them to see social networking as a tool for learning.
OK, so there are three of my ideas. You may think that they are pretty obvious but if you are innovative enough, and listen to your students ideas, then you will reap the benefits of your hard work. If you can get your students to buy in to the value of PLN’s, and allow them to explore a bit, they will do much of the innovation for you. Heck, you may even learn something!
One of the goals of this post, as all blog posts should do, is to get your opinion and collaborate. So, please comment and post your ideas or resources for developing student PLN’s here for others to see. Also, why not post to Twitter. Use the hashtag #studentpln and let’s get the ideas “flowing.” Remember, we are the examples!!

Collaboration, Community and ISTE 2011

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Last week I had the pleasure to attend the annual International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia. This was really exciting for me since the last time it was even near me, I am in Southern New Jersey, was when it came to Washington, DC. Even then, it was far enough away that the budget, both mine and the school district’s, was only able to handle one day. That day was spent just trying to make it through the vendor area, and poster board sessions.  Talk about a head spinning, overload of information!! This year was going to be different.

If you couldn’t make it this year I suggest that you check out the following resources to give you a “flavor” of what you missed.  As well as the opportunity to get some quality PD.

Here you go:

  1. The ISTE YouTube Channel – It has some great videos of the key notes (see Chris Lehman’s and be inspired), interviews and overviews of the conference.
  2. The ISTE Unplugged Wiki – It was created for those that always wanted to present but were not selected.  This wiki, run by Steve Hargadon, allowed attendees to sign up for spots to present to their peers. Don’t be fooled, the recorded sessions (45 of them) have some good quality PD. Check it out!
  3. Use your Twitter hash tags to search out some good information that you may have missed.  Just do a search for #ISTE2011, #ISTE11 or, if you are an ISTE member and belong to a Special Interest Group SIG just plug-in the initials of your group.

As huge as this conference was it was still all about collaboration and sharing.  If you went and just wandered around this year with stopping in a “Playground,” or a poster session you missed out.  For example, I was walking through the videoconferencing playground and got a chance to stop and talk, live, with the distance learning person at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I got a fantastic resource from a guy who was just sitting there on a computer screen waiting for someone to talk to him.  Overall, it was a chance to see the best of the best showing off their talents and being more than willing to tell you about how they do it.  That’s what it’s all about.

If you went, keep sharing and innovating. If you didn’t, try to go when you can and look for the resources that are still out there for the taking.  There are plenty of blogs for information as well as other resources from this conference.  Do some searching, it will take you a whole lot less time then getting through the vendor area.  I can promise you that!!

Innovate, Collaborate and Achieve!

As educators we can boast that we integrate technology, but can we do it meaningfully, and thoughtfully, to achieve our curricular goals?  I have seen, far too many times, technology used just because it is there or it looks good during an observation. I too am enticed by the newest instructional technologies on the market and sometimes just look for a way to include it somewhere in someone’s curriculum. But, we have to remember to keep things in perspective and see where we, and our students, stand with our technology integration skills.

Are our students really as skilled and prepared as we, and they, think that they are? Overall they are used to using technology for entertainment. They need to learn how to use it as a tool to innovate and leverage for maximum benefit to achieve their goals. Students need to see that the technology that entertains is also the same technology that teaches and helps them innovate, collaborate and create.

Let computers do the computing! You are the ones that will encourage and engage your students through your passion for learning. Kids are more savvy than we give them credit for, the can sense it when we are “forcing” it. If we can learn how to do this, and use our creativity and innovation skills to get the technologies to do what we want them to do, amazing things can happen. But, this isn’t always easy since many of us see technology as an analytical tool and not a creative one.

We need to be fearless in our teaching and we need to take control of our own learning. We need to be researchers and collaborators who move forward with the help of our colleagues. Furthermore, school leaders need to build a culture that fosters meaningful integration of technology that has measurable results. We all need a “road map” for success. Sometime we just need the path drawn out for us until we can create one for ourselves.

Students need to know that the same social media that they use to connect with their friends is the same one that can teach and connect them with very well-known, and well-educated people. They can “friend’ and “follow” these experts, educators and innovators to enhance their learning. Technology has great potential to allow people to express their viewpoints that they may not otherwise share. It can unleash a great debate with minds and scholars once thought unreachable. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by!

If you have done this for any period of time then you know that technology integration is a “messy” thing and nobody has really come up with a “clean” way of  handling it. If you think you do, or even don’t, then speak up and share your thoughts. That’s why we have the “Comments” feature on this blog. So, let’s collaborate, debate and share right here and now. Our futures depend on it!

Inspiration When We Need It Most

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

Recently, I have seen too many news stories about school budgets being voted down, federal educational technology programs no longer being funded, and the continued attacks on educators from politicians and other organizations. I know that this has been going on for a while but it has really made me reflect on where we are in terms of the state of our educational programs in this country and the attitude we must take. We are a country that is supposed to be a leader in this world and we are spending more time, and money, pointing fingers then trying to fix our problems.

As educators we are supposed to be preparing our students for their futures as wise content consumers and producers. Savvy technology users that can innovate, collaborate, and be creative with a global perspective. Yet, for the most part, we continue to feel demoralized for not being given the proper support and tools to achieve these goals.

Now that I have vented, I want to put this into perspective. I want you all to meet Moliehi Sekese, a Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher Award recipient. Moliehi, from the very small and poor South African country of Lesotho, has been globally recognized as an innovative integrator of technology. Her class size is about 100 students, that is not a typo, and the school does not have electricity. But she uses her personal laptop, as long as the battery lasts, and some innovative teaching techniques to teach and integrate technology. Please take time to listen to her words in the video below and read her story on Ewan McIntosh’s bog. You can also, read more and see a longer interview on the Cool Cat Teacher Blog. She is an amazing woman who can teach us all how to be innovators in a time when we need it the most. As you will hear her say,

Stop blaming the challenges. Use a stumbling block as a stepping stone to success.”

So, if you are feeling sorry for yourself when you are faced with the one computer classroom or you can’t get that new set of mobile devices for your school, take a minute and remember Moliehi, and what she doing to be innovative, successful and inspiring to her students and colleagues. She is certainly an example for all of us to remember when we think we can’t overcome a challenge.

I will leave you with this quote, by Dr. Martin Luther King:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

It serves as a reminder to me when I get upset or depressed about that challenges that I face everyday as I try to help the teachers and students in my school district achieve their goals to become twenty-first century workers and learners. I hope it inspires you to move forward as well. I know that Moliehi is a living example.

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