Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to...Google Docs

                 Most of us are well-accustomed to productivity apps such as Microsoft Word and the like. A word processor is one of the essentials of any person’s computer, and probably the most widely used productivity application in the world; but an evolution has recently begun to take place…

                When I was young, we would go to the local “Good Guys” or "CompUSA" (the predecessors to Best Buy)  and browse all the new software titles available. So many interesting programs existed, but we weren’t sure how good they really were, and they all had to be paid for. Then came Web 2.0, and all of that changed drastically.

                Now you can find tons of great productivity apps at the click of a button. Most are cloud based, so no downloads necessary, and best of all they are all virtually free.  Additionally many of the apps we have grown accustomed too, have been updated and now include new ways of utilization in the work field as well as the classroom.

                One such app, of which I am very fond because it was my first foray into Educational Technology, is Google Docs. Google docs are part of the Google drive suite. Anyone who has a Google account (i.e. Gmail) has a Google drive, which is a group of applications similar to Microsoft Office. Besides being cloud-based, what makes this product unique is the ability to collaborate within the system.

                Google Drive allows you to share whatever it is you are working on, (i.e. excel sheet, powerpoint, document, etc) and all edits are synced and updated in real time. For example, I am writing an essay, and I want to share it with a few colleagues for advice. Instead of emailing them the actual document I can share it with them, and they then can edit it online. I have the capability to choose the editing options they have when accessing the document (i.e. edit, comment or view only).We can even edit together at the same time, and our edits will come up as we type!

                I took this idea and put it into an educational framework. I uploaded a document to Google docs (for my Torah class, 5 Pesukim, and for my Talmud class, a Mishna). I then emailed everyone in the class with a link to the Document. The students are then informed to post comments and/or questions on the text. The only rule I implemented required students to post their own, unique question/comment. Since all the data inputted in the cloud automatically syncs, the students will immediately view their classmates posts. 

                As I mentioned, this was the first time I had ever used educational technology in the classroom. I expected a few comments, and some questions, but what I got was an immediate outpour of questions, comments, and opinions. I was thrilled to find students inquiring about minute details of the document. Everyone was required to collaborate and to sincerely think about his peer’s ideas. To my amazement, students were not only posting comments, they were answering their classmate’s questions and making remarks on what another student said. 
               It was great to see the kids really engaged outside of school. Besides having one of my most productive classes, the following day kids stopped me anytime I saw them in the hallways to ask questions about whatever it was I posted. I could see that my students were clearly impacted by the experience. The opportunity of “real time” communication that a Google doc provided motivated students and provoked immediate interest and engagement. 

                Now, as a Director, Google drive is the first application I tend to teach the beginner teacher in Educational Technology. It’s amazing to see teachers put it to good use. I have a science teacher who teaches using Powerpoint. She now uploads the slides, the night before, on Google drive, and has the students, as a homework assignment, make comments on what they see. By the next day, the students have an idea of what is about to be presented and the teacher can prepare based on what the students commented. (Flipped classroom?!)

                I’m sure there are many more great ways you can find to utilize Google Docs in the classroom. Please feel free to share in the comments section below!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to...Podcasts

The thought of recording, editing, and sharing audio or video recordings has always been the domain of TV studios and Hollywood…not anymore! 

Podcasts (and Vodcasts) are probably my most favorite webtool. A Podcast is a video or audio recording which you create, upload online and allow people to subscribe to (almost like a magazine subscription but more engaging!). Whenever you upload a new recording or “episode” online, the subscriber automatically receives the new episode on his computer or mobile device. 

Now at this point I’m sure your head is just reeling at all the unbelievable possibilities that have just been realized. If that’s not the case, its ok, that’s what Rabbi Mike is here for!

Lets start from the top:

For creating, editing and uploading you can find extensive sources online or click on the link here

The process is pretty simple:

        1) Create a script (content, goals, etc.) and rehearse. It comes easy once you do it a few times.
        2) Record yourself (video or audio) on your computer using one of the recording tools from the aforementioned link
        3) Edit your recording. In the beginning, focus on the intro and conclusion, once you get better at it, you can play around with the middle too.
        4) Find a website to “Host” your Podcast.
        5) Let everyone know that your an awesome teacher!

My first podcast took me over 2 hours for a measly 8 minute video; But after a while, I got used to it, and it now takes me less than 20 minutes!

The next part is how to integrate this tool into your classroom.

Well think about it: “What do you gain by creating a podcast for your student, and what can a student gain from creating his own podcast?”

As a teacher I am able to:

 - Back up my lectures (no “I was sick” excuses!)

 - Create summaries of what we learnt in class that day.
 - Introduce supplemental sources for  discussion
 - Use as an intro to the next class (i.e. introduce new concepts and ideas you plan on teaching the next day …”Flipped classroom” anyone?)
 - “Different” way of introducing a homework assignment

As a student they are able to:

 - Summarize what they learnt in class.

 - Investigate and introduce supplemental sources for next day discussions
 - Recreate historical scenes or chapters from a book
 - Create a weekly newscast
 - Summarizing a plot to a story

Most of the examples mentioned I have used in my own classes; I am sure that you can think of many more examples. (Psst: feel free to share in the comments section below!)

Students, through podcasts, are forced to plan, organize, rehearse, and produce their own content. The mere fact that someone other than the teacher is watching, virtually forces a superior product. The famous quote by Confucius says it all: “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand”…you can’t get our students more involved than this.   

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to...Twitter

I still remember the first time I heard of the word "Twitter" and Although I tried to wrap my head around the use of such a silly childish thing (I mean seriously, "I'm tweeting you," "did you get my tweet?") I quickly lost interest and moved on with my life. I could not (and still don't) fathom why anyone would need to hear what are or how the trivialities in my life are going.

But before we get ahead of ourselves what is twitter? In truth Twitter is just a brand name for "Micro-blogging" (kind of like Tylenol is to Acetaminophen) In my last post  I discussed Blogs and Twitter is very similar, almost like a little brother in that you are limited to a certain amount of characters (140). The major advantage is that it is mobile and can be accessed from your phone through an app or SMS.

When you start a Twittter account, besides the blogging part of it, you are also able to follow ("following") people who you might have an interest in, and their tweets will come up in a feed. Additionally people can follow you ("followers") and your Tweets will come up on there feed. 

Twitter is part of the social media family and as such can be used to find out about whats going on in any persons everyday life. As I mentioned earlier, I find no interest in such things, but I have found many advantages of using twitter in my classroom, but even more so, I find it as the most significant factor of  and contributor to my professional development. 

In school, I use it as a quick exit poll. I will tweet an open-ended question (which I prepare before class) and watch the tweets pour in. I will also post assignment due dates, and links to websites I want them to look in to. When we go on feild trips, I will create goals they must accomplish during the trip and have them tweet it to me in real time. I am sure you can find even more innovative ways that Twitter can be used online. 

(Update: Here's a great post by one educator)

For PD, this is something new that I have only recently begun to explore. It started with a hashtag by the name of #Jedchat (oops, forgot to mention, A Hashtag is a way of tagging ideas in your tweet so that someone else will have an easy time finding them. For example, if I tweeted something that has to do with Jewish education and I want other Jewish educators to easily find it, I would end the tweet with this #Jedchat) I noticed that besides tweeting personal things, like "I had a bowl of Trix this morning and it was awful..." people would also tweet things that could help me in my classroom.

For example, someone commented about using podcats in the classroom. I, having an interest in podcatsing, immediately responded and this eventually led to a conversation on the phone with a principal in Wisconsin!
Another time a tweet led to a discussion on iPads in a Gemara class with a Rabbi in Florida. So many educators who need help or have experience to help are just waiting to connect with you!

I have come to love Twitter (not for its original intent!) and I would happily advise as well as help anyone who would like to get started. 

Thanks for reading my Blog!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to...Blog

                Whenever I hear the word “blog” my mind automatically paints me a picture of an extremely obese individual with superhuman strength (otherwise known as the “BLOB” for all the X-Men fans out there). But what is a “Blog?!”
                 Well I assume that by now you have figured out that you are reading a blog, and it has nothing to do with X-Men, but it can be. In fact, blogs can be about whatever you want. There are millions if not billions of blogs in the world with everyone ranting and raving about their opinions. You have blogs that talk about what is the best steak sauce to how to build a nuclear warhead.

                In reality the word blog is really a conglomerate of the two words, WEB LOG (hah!). The concept is fairly simple; write about something, post it online, and allow people to view and (if you want) comment on what it is you wrote.  For an excellent article on the basics of blogging, please click here.

They’re a variety of sites (most free) that you allow to achieve this amazingly simple feat! Some examples are:

All are pretty simple to setup and easy to maintain. The tool I am currently using to host my blog is “Blogger” which is owned by Google, and free. There is no particular reason (although I am a Google fan) why I chose to use this as opposed to another site.
                When it comes to education, there are many different ways a blog can be utilized to achieve a number of goals you probably have setup for yourself in your course already.
For example, in my Talmud class, I will post a question with some background information and ask the students to 1) formulate a short answer and 2) comment on at least one other students answer. I prefer to use private educational blogs, like Edmodo or an Edublog and make sure to hide all comments to the student unless he has answered the question. That way I don’t have to worry about a student coming to the same conclusion as another student (which happens) and allow them to still use that same answer.
Here are some examples of blogs that give you more control over what is posted  and are geared towards the educator:

For ideas on how to best incorporate blogging into your classroom, start with your PLN (Blog on PLN’s coming soon!) or ask below in the comments section.
Thank you for reading my blog!