Friday, April 30, 2010

The Magic Number for School Technology: Seven

In my computer lab I have seven Flip video cameras, seven microphones, seven digital cameras, and seven tripods. No, it is not that I am obsessed with the number seven, it is that I am cheap.

Since I  cannot afford a classroom set of microphones, cameras, etc., seven is the next best thing. You see, with seven items you can easily split the class into teams of around four students to do some digital work. In fact, I think I prefer to have the students work in teams rather than as individuals, not to say that I would say no to a classroom set of digital equipment. Remember that collaboration is a 21st Century Skills.

When it comes to buying school technology we have got be like NASA was asked to be ten years ago: "Work smarter and cheaper."

My magic number seven works for everything from iPads and netbooks to digital microscopes and data-probes. Four students can share one digital device without a lot of drama (unless you work in a middle school).

So the next time that you are out begging for bucks, think about my lucky number seven.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

School Technology Book: Disrupting Class

I am currently reading the book Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen and I am finally not feeling like such a freak. Let me explain...

The tagline to this book is: How Disrupting Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Which is what got me to buy the book in the first place and, I am happy to say, I was not let down. You see, I have always felt a bit like and outsider looking in, I want to try things differently, I hate the status quo. I want more, new and innovative ideas when working with school technology for students and teachers.

The premise of the book is that the way we learn doesn't always match up to the way that we are taught. So if we want our students to be able to make it in the new digital and global economy, we need to rethink our understanding of intelligence. Which means we need to overhaul our educational system.

I believe the perfect place to start is with school technology, after all we're expected to be constantly changing. If you are still teaching the same tech lessons that you did five years ago -- it is time for a change. Every summer I look at my tech curriculum and throw out the old and add the new.

For example, a few years ago when I was teaching middle school technology and taught a lesson about social media, which at the time it was about MySpace. If I was to give that same lesson today it would be about FaceBook instead. If I was to teach middle school students about MySpace they would make fun of me: "MySpace is so 2008 Mr. Flick."

What is innovative one year, can be a joke the next. So make sure your tech lessons are current and fresh.

Once when I was visiting a school they took me on a tour of their "modern computer lab" the students at the time were working on a worksheet about technology (for the record I hate worksheets) and one of the questions was to have the students label different computer parts, one of which was a diskette. Really -- a diskette. Come on people, we can do better than this.

Tech curriculum should always be in a state of innovation and change, we must keep up with the times.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Websites I use -

I got an email yesterday from Jerry in Montana who wanted to know what websites I used on a regular basis with my students as part of my school technology plan. So from now on I will try to do this on Wednesdays with my "Websites I use" post.

The website that I want to talk about this week is Picnik. Picnik is a Web 2.0 application that is completely online. Students take a photo, transfer it to their computer and then upload it to a free account on Picnik. Once it is uploaded to Picnik they can alter and manipulate the photo a lot easier that other conventional applications like Photoshop.

Once students are done editing their photo, they simply download the photo back to their computer.

Although Picnik has a fun side like being able to make someone look like a zombie, it can be a photographer's dream, it can do really beautiful work. Here some samples from a student's photo.

The original

The Lomoish Filter

The Ortonish Filter

The Cross Process Filter

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Begging for Bucks - how to fund school technology

No one needs more money than the technology program of a school. It is an never ending need, because even if you do get money to say; buy 10 laptops, those laptops will only be good for a few years. Every piece of technology you buy for your comes with an expiration date. So with this reality you need to be constantly looking for funding.

Here are a few things I do:

Sell DVDs:
I video record every performance at my school, I then offer DVDs to the parents at $10 a piece. It costs me about $1 for each one so I make about $9. Since I usually sell 20 to 30 DVDs of every performance this has been making the tech department in my school quite a bit of money. Parents like it because they can just sit back and enjoy the show without having to watch it all through a viewfinder. In addition I use a tripod and a hi-fi shotgun mic to get the best picture and sound. You will need to get permission for any copyrighted material, let's say your school is putting on Peter Pan, but this is usually pretty easy to get when you tell the copyright holder that it is a fundraiser for your school technology program.

Work with your PTO or PTA:
I love my PTO, they have been very generous to my department. When I get an idea for what I might need I sit down with the PTO to see what is possible. If they like what I am trying to buy, which will usually impact every student in the school like buying seven Flip video cameras, they go for it.

Apply for Grants:
Once a month I go trolling for grants, I look everywhere for any grant, big or small that I can apply for. I was able to get $2600 worth of LEGO WeDO this past fall from a grant that I applied for. Once you have the initial paperwork done for one grant you can do them all because they basically ask the same questions: "How will this improve student achievement?", etc.

Charge Student Fees:
I charge $40 for the before school tech class that I have once a week for a quarter. I open this up for only 10 students but this one program alone brings in $1600 to help buy new school technology.

When all else fails, beg for help from the parents.

I hope this helps and inspires.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The iPad in Schools - Week 2

Well I have had my iPad for two weeks, so now what do I think about it?

Truthfully, I am still amazed at how great this device really is. If I had to put a factor on it, I would say that the iPad is turning out to be ten times the computer I thought it would be, but there has been some disappointments, let me explain...

I have been buying apps like crazy, in fact I think I am addicted. Every day I check to see if there are any new apps that I might need (or not need). I do not like using iPhone or iPod apps on my iPad, although they do work and you can make them bigger to fill the screen, they just don't look anywhere near as good as native iPad apps. So far there have been no iPad educational apps that I like. There are a ton of apps for pre-schoolers, things like shapes and letters, but I am yet to find any apps for my elementary-aged kids that I like -- let me take that back there are a few...

National Geographic Atlas
Magic Piano

That's it, four apps. I am still looking for great math and reading apps.

I haven't bought any books yet, I hope to buy a few this week. This is actually the part of using an iPad I am most excited about.

Battery Life:
Nothing compares at how great the battery in an iPad is. I have used it for three days without recharging and the lowest I have ever gotten it to is 30%. Finally, there is a device that can last all day at school without recharging.

I didn't really see this one coming. Everyone loves to come and check out my iPad when I am out an about. Kids to grandparents come over to me to see what it is all about. Who knew I could be so popular by just owning an iPad. Finally I am cool! I hope the honeymoon never ends.

I am now used to the on-screen keyboard and type nearly as fast as on a physical keyboard. I was going to buy the keyboard attachment, but now I wont.

Bottom Line:
I still believe that the iPad is a game-changer, it is truly a piece of school technology that could change everything for our students. This next week I am going to put it in the hands of students and see what they think of it and watch how they respond to it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Podcasting Students - The Lazy Way

I got quite a few emails about yesterday's blog on students that podcast, it seems that a lot of you want to know how my students podcast everyday.

First of all let me just say that my 5th grade students practically podcast by themselves, I am usually just outside the podcasting studio working at my desk. Here is how it all happens...

The assigned students show up at school 15 minutes early. I assign each student a certain day for two months, this gives them enough time to get past being nervous. So for example, one student might be the host for every Tuesday show and another might be the sound-tech for every Monday show. It only takes two students to do a podcast.

The students come into our studio (a room just off of our media center) and start to get the show ready.

The Host:
This student takes a new fill-in-the-blank script and starts by putting in their name and the sound tech's name. Then they fill in the date, announcements, what the hot lunch of the day is and then the sound tech will look up the lunch recess weather and they fill that in as well. They look up any birthdays and finally they look for a joke in a kid's joke book.

The Sound Tech:
This student sits down to the studio laptop, looks up today's lunchtime weather and starts up a soundboard program. The soundboard is loaded with our sound effects and music tracks (royalty-free music). The student does a quick sound check and the waits to do a rehearsal.

Both students do a rehearsal about 6 minutes before "show time."

The Show:
Just before the show starts the sound tech will start our digital recorder and then signals the host to begin. They do the show, complete with music and sound effects and then bring me the digital recorder as they go off to their first class.

Post Show Production:
I take the digital recorder and copy the MP3 to my computer and upload to our website which is connected to our iTunes account which means the show is listed on iTunes with a few hours of being posted on our website. Done, my time is about three minutes to do all of this. I told you I was a lazy podcaster! Podcasting is one of the easiest pieces of school technology to incorporate into your schools.

To check out our podcasting, go to iTunes and search for KBOB or Bethke Elementary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Podcasting 10-Year-Olds

Today I had the chance to show off my podcasting 10-year-olds. It was part of a demonstration I was giving on what 4th grade students are capable of doing with current school technology.

So in front of 450 local business leaders my two little podcasters did it. I am telling you, I have never been so proud. They were fearless.

I have been podcasting with my students for the past year. Every day they do a podcast of the school announcements each with a little personal twist of their own style. At first it was difficult to get it all together but then we started to work out the bugs and now the students run the whole show. They have over 1700 subscribers on iTunes -- students from all over the world.

The digital natives of today are so used to seeing the world as a potential audience.

You just wait, it won't be long before they are wanting their own dressing rooms with a star on the door.

If you would like to hear our podcasters, go to iTunes and search for KBOB.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The keyboarding dilema - Part 2

So if middle school it too late for our students to start learning keyboarding, when should we start?

I start about half-way through kindergarten! I feel that keyboarding is a key foundation for any future school technology.

I spend the first half of the school year teaching the kindergarteners how to use the computer, but then in the second half we start with Typing Tots, an online typing program. It is funny to watch them type the first few months, some of them are convinced that there keyboard is missing a letter. "Mr. Flick, my computer doesn't have the letter M!"

Just think about what is going on in their little brains; they are converting from lower-case letters on the screen to upper-case letters on a keyboard and are also having to learn a new sequence of letters -- they just figured out the ABCs and now they have QWERTYs.

First grade students mostly work in MS Word, I have three sentences on the screen that they must re-type. They do this to learn punctuations and how to properly use other keys like "enter." Keep in mind that they are still just using the "hunt and peck" method of keyboarding.

Second grade students now begin the long road of touch typing, or keyboarding without looking, they are now introduced to the home row. I use Dance Mat Typing, which the kids really enjoy.

Student repeat these same keyboarding lessons in the third and fourth grades.

In fifth grade the students should be proficient in keyboarding so I move them onto Nimble Fingers with is a down-and-dirty-nothing-fancy typing app. They must be keyboarding at 30 words a minute by the end of 5th grade. Most students finish at around 50 -- well prepared for middle school.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The keyboarding dilema - Part 1

As I speak at different conferences across the country about school technology I am often asked about keyboarding. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting but I believe it is one of the greatest tech skills that students need to develop.

Many school districts have dropped keyboarding, or typing, from the curriculum in both middle and high schools. It has been pushed down to the elementary-aged students.

I agree with this completely.

By the time a student shows up in middle school they need to already be proficient at keyboarding. Many of the assignments that are given to 12-year-olds and older are to be completed on a computer, not many teachers will allow hand-written work any more.

If a student shows up at middle school only typing a few words a minute they are severely handicapped. Imagine an assignment to do a 1000 word essay on the U.S. civil war. After about 30 minutes of work the student who is struggling at 8 to 10 words per minute is still working on his opening paragraph while another student who is at 50 to 60 words per minute is done.

I once had a 5th grade student that could type at over 100 word per minute, imagine his advantage over his classmates.

A student who struggles at keyboarding will struggle at school. He could be a very bright student with horrible grades because of keyboarding.

I will give more details on this tomorrow, everything from kindergarteners who lose letters to 5th graders who can type blindfolded.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The school technology paradox.

There are some that might argue that students will naturally acquire 21st Century Skills since they are surrounded by so much technology in their daily lives. Why do we need to spend so much money on bringing technology into our schools?

That would be the same as saying that since a student has a paper and pencil he will naturally acquire math skills like algebra or writing skills like poetry.

This is the paradox of school technology and 21st Century Skills.

Just because a student might have a computer at home, it doesn't mean that they know how to truly use it. They lack the necessary skills.

And if his teachers do not have the proper tools and training, they cannot teach the skills.

Teachers cannot teach 21st Century Skills without tools.

Tools like interactive whiteboards, netbooks, cameras, flip videos, etc.

Modern technology doesn't replace teachers, it makes them more important than ever.

Most of the students I teach were all born in the 21st Century, they are truly digital natives, they know no other world that this. They cannot remember a world without the Internet or iPods.

We are all just tourists in their world.

So there you have it:




Good luck with trying to figure this one out...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Teaching with the iPad

My iPad finally arrived and I couldn't be more excited. Sure it is cool and new, but what really gets me is what it could mean for education. Let me explain...

Digital Books: This past January when I was flying to Florida to speak at FETC I sat next to a man who had a Kindle. We started to talk about technology and he showed me the 112 books that he had loaded on his digital book reader. He let me hold it and I was amazed. 112 books in something so light. I couldn't help but think how heavy the six books were in my carry-on that was shoved above my head. "Yeah, but I love to highlight, scribble in the margin and dog-ear my pages (a librarian's worst nightmare)." I explained to him. He then showed me how he could do all that. But the most amazing part is what he said next. "The one thing you can't do with a paper book is search the text. I can search my whole library in seconds." He was right, imagine the day when our students have every library book pre-loaded onto their iPads! No waiting to check out a book, no two weeks to return it, it is just there for the student to use any time they want.

Educational Apps: Although I have only had my iPad for less than 24-hours, my 13-year old son has already taken it over and has filled it with great apps: graphing calculator, spelling test, math prompts, a periodic table that really cool. There are thousands and thousands of great edu-apps.

No More Back Packs: Have you seen the size of the back packs that students take to school? They are huge and heavy, full of text books, notebooks, and library books. In a few years they will just have an iPad, no need for a locker or a back pack, everything will be in their iPad.

What an exciting time to be involved with school technology!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Student Blogging for Assessment

Recently my 5th grade students finished their blogging project about the Renaissance.

After meeting with the 5th grade team earlier in the year we decided that we wanted more from the unit on the Renaissance than just a test. We wanted to incorporate not only 21st Century Skills but also 21st Century Assessment.

To ensure that the students would be safe online with their blogs, they were only allowed to use their student ID numbers instead of names since all of these students are only in elementary school. The students very quickly learned each others ID numbers when commenting on the classroom blogs. "Hey 48392, this is 38291, I really liked the photo you used of Leonardo da Vinici's Mona Lisa, it was nice and clear."

We were very surprised at how quickly the students picked up the art of blogging like making new posts, adding photos and images, commenting on other's blogs, etc.

What the students enjoyed was the fact that they had made a blog that was being read by many people instead of just their teacher (like most projects). When we got our first comment from someone in Australia students really stepped up the quality of their work.

It is just amazing that our students are growing up in a time where they have a voice that they can literally share with the entire world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Programming with Scratch - First Steps

Last fall I was introduced to Scratch, a programming application made by the beautiful minds at MIT. I was very excited about what Scratch might mean for my students because of it simple, yet powerful interface. So last month I set my fourth grade students free on it. The challenge: to make a video game. My students were practically shell-shocked with the assignment: "We get to make a video game?"

Step 1: Since I did not know how to use Scratch, I sent my students to the website: which taught them most everything they needed to know about programming with Scratch with easy to follow screencast tutorials.

Step 2: Give them the impossible task of making their own video game.

Step 3: Stand back and be amazed.

These young students now have the programming bug, they are starting to "get" the world that is around them. They don't look at their iPod Touches apps the same way. In fact, I had one student show me a game that she had made in Scratch that was just like the app on my iPod Touch. Which is why I added Step 4...

Step 4: Share any future video game royalties with Mr. Flick.

If you want to see examples of student made video games using Scratch, just check out the gallery on their website.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Basics of Digital Photography

The other day I asked one of my 5th grade students to take some photos of a project that we were all working on together.

The photos I got back were... how shall I say this... not good.

I thought that these so called "Digital Natives" were experts in these types of things. But if truth be told they are not. Which is why I have come up with this new line: Owning tools does not mean that you have the skills to use them.

Case in point:

Most YouTube videos.

Most Facebook photos.


Get the point?

A student might have an iPod Touch in their pocket but it doesn't mean that they know how to truly use it. Sure, he might be an expert at some games, but I am talking about truly being able to use it.

That is where we as teachers step in. We teach digital natives how to effectively use the technology tools that are all around them.

But there is a catch...

To be able to teach these skills we need the tools. For example; after seeing the horrible photos that my young student took I taught him and all his classmates how to take a good photo. They picked up on it quickly (as I knew they would) and were soon taking exceptional photos, probably better than most of their parents. But I could not have done any of this without the tools, which in this case were the seven digital cameras I have in my computer lab.

Teachers need tools to be able to teach 21st Century Skills!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Using video with younger students.

Since I am an elementary tech teacher I do things differently than my middle and high school counterparts.

For example, a few weeks ago I was interviewed on a TV program about students and 21st Century Skills. I was part of a panel of tech teachers representing all ages of students. During one segment we started to talk about students doing video work in the classroom. The moderator asked me at what age do I teach my students video work. I explained that I started with the basics of videography in the third grade.

I do a lot of incredible video work with students in fourth and fifth grade so I need my students to have a general understanding of videography by the time they come into fourth grade. By the time my students finish the "Flip Video Boot Camp" they are taking better video than their parents.

We do not do anything with green screens or any fancy editing, just basic video work -- I save the hard stuff for when they go to middle and high school.

I am constantly amazed at what students can do with their 21st Century Skills if we just give them a chance and the tools (like a $120 Flip video camera).

If you would like to see some of student work from my school visit:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Setting up a diverse work team around the world.

I am currently reading the book 21st Century Skills and I would like to comment about something I read in Chapter 5.

There is a section in Chapter five that starts off: "Diverse work teams, scattered around the globe and connected by technology, are becoming the norm for 21st century work."

Some people are reluctant at first to accept this, but people change...

Last week my brother Mike called me about a frustration he was having when working with a programmer for a website project that he was doing. This programmer just needed to fix a few bugs in some Flash code on a photographer's website that my brother hosts. My brother thought it was something that would take just a couple of hours at most. But week after week he kept getting the run-around and now he didn't know what to do.

I told him to fire his US programmer and find someone in India. "That's too far away, how can I manage it?" he asked. I told him that it was easy and to use an  in-between company like oDesk or Elance. He was reluctant at first but then dove into the deep end.

He registered with a company (in this case, posted his job, reviewed a few of the hundreds of applicants that wanted to work for him. Picked a qualified person from some strange european country that I can't even pronounce and hired him to do the job. He managed the work through a slick interface that allows him to see the work progress as his person works on the project.

The next day he opened his email to see the completed programming and a bill for less than one hour of work: $7.41 (my brother had set the limit at three hours).

Wow, guess who just went down the rabbit hole?

"Holy Crud!" My brother exclaimed to me on my phone this morning. "Do you know what this will mean to my company and the backlog of work that I need to get done?"

I think he posted five more jobs this morning.

I would like to repeat what I just read...

"Diverse work teams, scattered around the globe and connected by technology, are becoming the norm for 21st century work."

What does this mean for the students of today?

Get used to working online with colleagues all across our planet -- your future depends on it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The World has enough Ugly Websites

As teachers, we do not need to contribute to the sea of ugly websites, the Internet has already enough of them.

Let's face it, we are not graphic artists or web designers, we are teachers. So let's stop pretending that we know how to make websites and leave all the fancy stuff to the professionals.

Years ago when I was teaching web design in  high school I would spend a lot of time with my students reviewing what made web sites not only functional but also good to look at. I would then conclude my lesson by allowing students to make the ugliest websites possible -- break every rule we just talked about and make an ugly website. It was a helpful exercise to get my students to get all of the ugliness out of their systems; so they would have animated logos, funky backgrounds with hard to read text, you name it -- if it was tacky they used it. With the ugliness out of their systems we would then start to build beautiful websites. The had learned the lesson.

But some teachers haven't learned this lesson.

As teachers we sometimes get sucked in by all that we can do on a website...

We add cute little animations.

Strange backgrounds.

Every page looks different.

We even put music in the background.


I tell teachers to just go to a free website creation website called Weebly, there are plenty of these kinds of websites so just pick one, and make a classroom website with one of their templates. 

Schazam! Instant beautiful website.

A second grade teacher recently sent me an email telling me how happy she was to have a good looking website and blog by using Weebly. Here is a link to her website and you can see how nice it is to see a classroom website that is organized and nice looking. 

We can do this teachers...


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Hatred of Flash Drives

When the idea of students using flash drives (or thumb drives, or USB drives, or whatever you want to call them) first occurred to me I thought "This is going to be great! No more troubles with students taking files to and from the school to their home computers."

This year every student came to school with their own flash drive...

Oh, how wrong I was!

Although my idea was great, the practice of this idea was horrible.

Have you ever had to deal with any of these situations?

1) Student: Mr. Flickinger have you seen my flash drive? It has my report on it and I need to print it out and turn it in. Me: Does your report live anywhere else but on your flash drive? Student: No.

2) Student: Does a flash drive still work if it has been through the washer and dryer?

3) Student: Mr. Flickinger my flash drive doesn't work any more. Me: What are these marks? Student: Oh yeah, my dog chewed on it a bit. Me: Are you kidding me, you are trying the ol' THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK line?

By trying to solve one problem with technology, in this case a simple flash drive, I created an even bigger one. Welcome to the world of a tech integration specialist.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Technology Integration Workshop Q & A

Many visitors to my blog have asked me questions about the Tech Integration Workshop, I would like to spend a few minutes answering some of the most asked questions...

Question #1: Who is this workshop for? The workshop is for anyone who is in charge of educational technology for their school or district.

Question #2: How long will the workshop take? Most people take about six months to complete the workshop. You set your own pace and schedule.

Question #3: What do I get out of the workshop? By the time you are done the workshop you will be an expert on technology integration and embedding 21st Century Skills into lessons. You will also have a School Technology Plan up and running.

Question #4: How much does the workshop cost? Although the workshop is free, I do recommend different books and products to buy, plan on spending a couple of hundred dollars on books and supplies just to get started.