Guest Post: Gadgets and Gizmos Aplenty


Post by: Kim Penrod

Gadget Day.  It can be quite chaotic or it can go smoothly.

Our middle school opened up a public wireless network and allowed BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) this past spring.  The students were thrilled, the staff had mixed opinions…mostly positive.  With not enough desktop or laptop computers available for all of the classrooms, I was one of the happy ones.

Having resources available “on demand” is a great thing.   Students could (and did) look up answers to things that I couldn’t provide them with.  We were able to look at bios of people important to the time periods we were studying.  Accessing the class and other webpages during class for additional content was a real plus.  Collaboration and communication increased.

It was a work in progress for the district as they looked at usage and bandwidth needs in each of the buildings.

Some things I learned with my 7th grade students in this process…

  1. While kids are pretty tech savvy, there is still a lot to be learned in the area of Netiquette.    (I like cheese is not an appropriate response to someone’s post)
  2. Surfing is not searching.  (But I still can’t convince some 12-year-olds of that)
  3. Youtube clips are still blocked, even if the videos are embedded in another site.
  4. Not all gadgets are appropriate for online tests/worksheets.  (Screen size really does matter in this case)
  5. Never underestimate the importance of earbuds.
  6. The school user name and password should be the same for web 2.0 apps used for/at school. (Or keep a list for your students)
  7. Long-term projects (2+ days) need daily objectives.

Things are moving forward.

I know more gadgets will be finding their way into my classroom next year.  I have come into possession of a Kindle Fire and possibly some Nooks as well.

The middle school is organizing lessons for the first week of the year so all kids hear the same message in the same way.

We are moving into Google Apps.  Students will now be able to access their docs from home or school.

It can only get better!

Kim Penrod is a social studies teacher and gadget guru.


Commentary: Flipped Communication…is it really flipped?


The flipped classroom and flipped learning have a bad reputation in some circles. I know in my own school district that the idea of flipped learning is often either looked at as lazy teaching or just another fad in education that will disappear so there’s no reason to try it. To be honest, both of these can be or might be true. Flipped learning when done incorrectly or instituted by a lazy teacher is definitely lazy teaching (although I would consider using the same lesson plan for 5+, 10+, or 20+ years without reflection or change as lazy teaching as well). In addition, the term “flipped” might disappear from the vernacular of education just as quickly as it was introduced. However, I believe that the concepts and design of flipped learning, whether given that label or not, will stay in the educational world for quite some time.

One of the biggest reasons why I believe the concept of flipped learning is here to stay is because of the number of applications it has in the classroom (and by definition, outside the classroom). Peter DeWitt wrote an blog post titled “Take a Risk…Flip Your Parent Communication!” In the post DeWitt wrote about how he communicated with parents using video and explained why he did it. I love the idea of using videos as an additional way of communicating with parents, and I agree with the reasons why DeWitt engaged parents using videos as one of his many tools for communication. However, I am hesitant to label what DeWitt did as “flipped.” My reason behind this: flipped learning is not just about videos; rather, it’s emphasis should be on how the everyday classroom changes (for the good) as a result of moving videos and lower level thinking content gathering to each student’s home and the critical thinking, higher level discussions, debates and projects into the classroom. We do the flipped learning community a disservice by labeling everything that involves watching videos as flipped, when in fact, the change in the classroom environment is what is so great about flipped learning. I actually like a title one of DeWitt’s Twitter followers gave the article: “How to move communication with parents online,” though I understand the reason why he calls it flipped communication is to emphasize videos rather than other online tools like email or a classroom website.

Semantics aside, DeWitt makes a good argument for using videos for communication. In a world in which 1.4 billion cell phones will be in use by the end of the year, using videos may be a more efficient way of communication as well as a more personal way of communicating with a large audience. In a given year I will teach between 100-130 students. By sending or posting videos of classroom happenings or upcoming events and assignments it may be easier to develop a personal relationship with parents when compared to sending a newsletter or even posting assignments to a calendar or website. I have no intention, nor do I want anyone else to give up the modes of communication we currently use with the parents of our students. I simply want us to be open to adding another tool to our communication toolbox. Flipping communication with parents might not be for everyone (teachers and parents included), but if it allows me to communicate better even with a handful of parents and students, than it’s worth it for me.

What tools and strategies do you use to employ student-driven technology in your classroom?


One of the platforms I stand on in regards to educational technology is that the focus of technology use in the classroom should be student-driven. It pains me to see teachers who have all this technology at their fingertips hoard it for themselves without getting their students involved. My goal as an educator is to prepare my students for living in the 21st century. My students aren’t being prepared by looking at PowerPoints or simply watching videos on a projector (although they can be effective tools for presenting materials). There are definitely times when presenting information via a PowerPoint or Prezi is a great thing, but that shouldn’t be where technology use in the classrooms stops. We need to find ways of getting students engaged in using technology effectively and appropriately, and I believe the best way to do that is to get them involved in using technology in the classroom.

What tools and strategies do you use to employ student-driven technology in your classroom?


Top 5 Videos for a Middle School American History Class


Since I began teaching, I have held the belief that when showing a video in class, the daily allotment of time dedicated to watching the video should not exceed 15 minutes. (I teach 50 minute class periods. In a block schedule I would be willing to watch two, separated 15 minute blocks of video). I think it’s important to chunk these videos for three reasons.

First, students in my class already watch short (8-10 minutes max) videos that I create for my flipped classroom. Keeping video segments in class to less than 15 minutes keeps in line with students are accustomed to when watching videos for homework.

Secondly, research has shown that students have 10-18 minutes of optimal focus time with 3-5 minute “break” intervals in between focus time segments. I need to remember the purpose of showing the video. The purpose of using videos in the classroom is not so I can get some correcting time or because I was too lazy to plan lesson. The real purpose of showing videos is to engage students using a different medium than lecture. For students to get the content and remember the parts of the video that are important, it needs to be chunked.

Finally, chunking a longer video into 15 minute chunks gives the students something to look forward to the next class. Not all students are going to enjoy watching videos in class. Not all students enjoy [insert teaching technique here]. But for the students who do enjoy and learn best from videos, they will be more engaged on more days of class.

5. Redtails and 4. Flyboys

These two movies are rated PG-13 so showing them in their entirety to my class wouldn’t be possible (I teach 12-13 year olds), but segments of both are good for students to see the evolution of war in the skies. As an added bonus, they are Hollywood released movies (2012 and 2006) so students tend to enjoy watching them more than documentaries.

3. BBC’s Space Race

An engaging four part series on the race to outer space. The series focuses on the USA versus the USSR and the victories each side wins on their way to the moon. At 4 hours long, it’s probably not possible to show the entire thing. I like to show a 10-15 minute clip from each of the four episodes.

2. The Civil War by Ken Burns

A documentary series on the Civil War that uses stories and still photography to explain major battles and emotional stories from the time period. Another long series (over 10 hours), finding segments that fit the content for the day is an excellent approach to using this tremendous resource.

1. America the Story of Us

A twelve part miniseries created by the History Channel, America the Story of Us takes topics from American History and “recreates” them using 21st century special effects and reenactment rather than documentary. Topics covered include the Civil War, Westward Expansion, the United States in the new millennium and many others. The reason I rank this #1 is because of all the video segments I’ve shown from a number of different movies and documentaries, my students enjoy watching this the most. In addition, the topics are covered from a historical perspective with commentary from historians, celebrities, and politicians.

Honorable Mention: Glory and Gettysburg

These are two Hollywood released movies that are relatively historically accurate, but because the movies are older (1989 and 1993) students at the middle school level have a hard time engaging to the content. Also, Glory is rated “R” so finding appropriate segments may prove challenging.

Are there other videos you use in your classroom that engage your students?

5 Tools for Flipping the Classroom

This past school I experimented with a flipped classroom. In my experiences I’ve found a number of tools and resources that worked for my students and me. This is not a comprehensive list of all the tools that are out there for flipping; rather, this is a list of tools that I found useful when I first started.

1. Screencast-o-Matic

Screencast-Matic is a Java based, free online screen recorder. This tool allows you to record whatever is on your screen (PowerPoint, SMART Notebook, websites, etc.) and creates a voiceover of whatever you’re explaining. Because it is an online tool and Java based, both PCs and Macs are compatible. In the free version you are able to create and record up to 15 minutes of video and publish the video as an MP4, AVI, or FLV file as well as upload it to YouTube. For only $15 a year you can upgrade your account to PRO which does not limit recording time, offers more upload options (Google Drive and Vimeo), and includes editing tools. When I first started I used the free account, but after a few months I switched over to a PRO account because of the large number of benefits for such a low cost. I would recommend the free account for beginning screencasters and the PRO account for those who are more advanced.

2. Brainshark

Brainshark is a free online tool that allows you to create a voiceover for an already created PowerPoint presentation. The benefit of using Brainshark is that you don’t have to recreate any of the presentations you already have. It also allows you to create the voiceover individually by slide rather than having to create one voiceover for the entire presentation. For those of you that are worried about making mistakes in your screencast or stumbling over your words, Brainshark might be the best option for you as it chunks the presentation into smaller parts.

3. Google Apps for Education 

Although this might not be an option for all schools, I’ve found the integration and application of Google Apps to be the piece I was missing when I started flipping my class. Specifically, Google Apps offers the ability to create a Google Form. A Google Form can be embedded into a website or the learning management system (LMS) of your choice. Students are able to access the form and respond to questions regarding the video they have just watched. Using these forms changed  how my students responded to their understanding of the content in the videos, and no longer could they say, “I left it at home.”

4. Schoology 

Schoology is the learning LMS I have chosen to use with my students. My district as a whole does not use it which means I run off of the free account Schoology offers. In terms of flipping, I can embed videos and Google Forms into my lessons. My students have their own private accounts where they can access information for the class. Students can be a part of discussion groups and interact with each other through discussion boards. Finally, if needed, students can also take tests and quizzes and submit their homework or follow along sheets from the videos they watch. If your district has a different LMS, I would encourage you to see if it has some of the same functions (embedding and discussion opportunities being the most important).

5. Flipped Classroom Network

Not specifically used to create or upload videos, the Flipped Classroom Network is a great place to get ideas, find videos, read stories about other teachers who flip, and share the successes and struggles of your own flipped classroom. There are different groups depending on what content or grade level you teach. For example, if you are a middle school social studies teacher (like me), you might want to join the “Middle School” group or the “History Teachers” group.

What are your favorite tools for flipping the classroom? Are there tools you’ve found you “must have” in order for flipping the classroom to work?

Blogging Proposal

This week the assignment was to write a letter and a proposal detailing why blogging in the classroom is beneficial to students. The purpose behind the assignment is that whether using blogging with students or writing a blog as a teacher, it is important to get permission from administration. This was a very beneficial assignment as it really made me think about why and how blogs can be used in the classroom. It’s always been my position that technology should not be used just for the sake of using technology. What I mean is that the use of technology in the classroom should be purposeful and not just an add-on or obligation. By completing this assignment, I now have a better understanding of why blogging can be beneficial in the classroom and a more justified reason for using it in my classroom.

Blogging Letter/Propsal by Tyler Zunker


My name is Tyler Zunker and I am a middle school social studies teacher teaching in Winona, MN. I just completed my third full year of teaching and am looking forward to teaching the same content at the same grade level for the first time in my teaching career (7th grade American History). Over the course of this summer I will be continuing my education in the EDTECH program through Boise State University, go through the process of becoming a Google trainer for my school district, and continue my quest to “flip” my classroom.

For the past year I’ve contemplated writing a blog about my experiences in the classroom as well as my thoughts on technology in education. Every time I finally thought I was ready to start, some other obligation or responsibility seemed to get in the way. When I saw that “Blogging in the Classroom” was an option as an elective course this summer, I came to the realization that this would be a great time to start!

I’m looking forward to learning how to blog effectively and how to incorporate the use of blogging with my students. In my experience in the EDTECH program, I’ve found that there is such a strength in our collective knowledge and experiences which makes me eager and excited to learn with you (and from you all) over the course of this class!