Are your students podcasting yet?!

Podcasts and collaborative audio projects are becoming more prevalent in the classroom, thanks to technology that is constantly improving and the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices. Kids are learning on the go, and these evolving opportunities must meet them where they live—on the devices that are always at their fingertips.

Today’s recording technology makes it easy to collaborate. This feature wasn’t available until recently, and it gives educators a unique tool to improve creativity with project-based learning that empowers, engages, and excites students.

Kids love making podcasts because they love to make. Period. Whether it’s a project proposal, a presentation, or a piece of art, they want to be creators. They don’t want to merely consume, and podcasts are an awesome outlet for their original compositions. By giving our kids an even greater voice in driving their own education, we change the way we teach and personalize the way they learn.

After spending over a decade in classrooms teaching music and technology, I know the importance of taking a thoughtful approach to this rich medium. To proceed strategically, we first must understand why and how audio-recording projects benefit our kids. Here is why I recommend podcasting and audio recording in the classroom:

  • Clarification and confidence. As your students listen closely to their tone, they learn to include appropriate pauses and master their speaking through repetition. This helps them clarify their personal voice and become more confident speakers.
  • Reflection and discussion. Working with recorded audio offers students an alternative place to reflect on their thinking and engage in candid discussions about their work. These discussions are wonderful opportunities to construct new ideas and improve existing ones.
  • Read, revise, practice, and present. When students record themselves reading their writing, they get a new perspective on the written word and an alternative method for revision. Further, as they read and revise their writing, they practice before making the oral presentation to peers. This combination of writing and presenting is authentic practice for what they must master when they enter higher education and/or the workforce.
  • Assessment without anxiety. If our task is to assess our learners’ understanding rather than their writing, we can now lower their blood pressure by giving them an alternative space to explain themselves that eliminates worrying about spelling errors or sentence structure.

How to get started

One of the more effective audio-recording technologies for the classroom is Soundtrap, an online collaborative digital podcast and audio recording studio that accommodates all devices. This is an important feature for many schools because students often times bring in their own devices. An added benefit: Kids can collaborate on their projects at home—on their own time. The Soundtrap platform resembles a Google Drive file storage system for audio files, only it’s easier to use and more creative.

The following steps can help you execute a beginner podcast project effectively and inspire your classroom to collaborate on projects that excite and educate.

  • Plan thoroughly. Spend some time listening to high-quality podcasts to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Next, outline your goals and identify the audience. Decide on a topic and format. Determine the length of each episode and the frequency of their release.
  • Pre-production. Identify a name for the podcast and select a host. Determine who will be heard in the recording, and if you will bring in guests for interviews. Decide how long your podcast will run. (Recommended running time is 3-5 minutes.)
  • Record. Do this with short portions of audio at a time, making sure to save often. It sounds backwards, but I recommend recording the introduction last. That way, students have a better understanding of the entire podcast and can more easily sum up its theme.
  • Post-production. This is where you edit and refine the audio. Add music, ambience, and sound effects, making sure to properly credit the artists that are featured in your podcast. You’ll find that these nuances really enhance your production. Export the file as an mp3 or upload to the proper social medial channels.
  • Publish. Link your audio file to Twitter, Facebook, web pages, and other online platforms. Share and promote the podcast to the appropriate audiences.
    Inspiring ideas to get you started

If you need some audio-recording ideas, here are some of my favorite projects, lesson plans, and ideas from educators across the globe.

  • Use podcast creation in conjunction with Google Tour Builder to create virtual field trips with student-recorded tour guide voiceovers.
  • Build an original soundtrack that complements a novel’s rising action, climax, and resolution.
  • Create a “day in the life” documentary that describes the sights, sounds, and activities in an ancient metropolis.
  • On a field trip, ask students to use a voice recorder (such as the one in the Soundtrap app) to capture notes and then compile them into a podcast that touches on highlights or instructional outcomes.
  • When used correctly, podcasts and other audio projects engender collaboration, improve listening and comprehension skills, encourage critical thinking, and inspire creativity. Happy podcasting!

This was originally posted by eSchool News.

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Four Iowa Schools Getting Personalized Learning Right

I am a mother, wife, and teacher who lives in rural Iowa. The closest music store is 35 miles away, the closest art museum is 106 miles away, and the closest science center is 152 miles away, but we nonetheless manage. Interestingly, Iowa even happens to be quite the leader in “outside of the box” educational institutions, in spite of many of its schools’ remote locations–how is that possible?

Personalized learning.

What does that look like for Iowa, how can others get there, and what emerging technologies support us?

Today, I’d like to showcase a few Iowa schools that I think are absolute gems of personalized learning, with some key takeaways for educators and administrators implementing personalized learning in their own classroom, school or district.

Waukee Apex

I had the opportunity to visit Waukee Apex in Des Moines, Iowa. At the time, I wrote about my experience, but the long and short of my takeaways is that through inquiry-based learning and authentic experiences driven by their interests, students build skills in key areas: productivity, accountability, complex communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability.

Take Away – When considering your course design and/or offerings, think about how you can allow your students’ to bring their own interests into their learning (check out what APEX offers).

Iowa BIG

Head east a couple of hours to Cedar Rapids and you’ll hear the Iowa BIG Co-Creator & Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering evangelizing for personalized learning: “Let your passions drive you to do something great and be open to building authentic relationships and teams.” I was lucky enough to visit this learning space a couple of years ago, which shares a space in a co-op building with many local start-ups. Their model is competency-based with deep roots in personalizing the educational experience to honor student interests and goals. It started (by accident!) when the founders started evaluating the current K-12 model and wanted to #makeitbetter.

Take Away – Have a conversation. How does your classroom/school score with shifting from our traditional model? (This is a great starting conversation piece with your leaders).

Iowa BIG North

A few schools a couple hours north wanted to adapt a version of BIG for their rural area, and did just that with Iowa BIG North. Four districts came together and embraced the same pedagogical foundation of personalized, passion-based learning, but did so while facing a different set of challenges and opportunities given the location and community sizes. They are doing this beautifully with their program, helping businesses in their communities finding solutions to real problems. The students and businesses work on authentic problems together.  Students from participating schools work as one across district lines on their initiatives.

Take Away – What challenges are your community facing, and how can your young learners help solve them? Check out the current initiatives going on in Iowa BIG North’s small communities for inspiration.

Van Meter Schools

And last, head back to the west-central part of the state to Van Meter Schools (student enrollment 500), which was one of the first districts in the state to implement a 1:1 student computing initiative, and also one of the first districts in Iowa to be named an Apple Distinguished School. That being said, their more recent work on project-based learning, standards-based grading, competency-based education and flexible schedules where students have voice and choice in how much time they need to spend on their learning is very inspiring. Not to mention, the voice/choice has bled into the teacher professional learning. Rarely do the teachers learn in whole-school scenarios…instead, they identify the skills they have and need, then personalize their learning for professional growth. Simple yet genius!

Take Away – After you and your colleagues feel somewhat comfortable with the idea of shifting towards more personalized learning – do it. Dive in head first and turn your classrooms into a personalized learning environment!

Any time you’re using technology in the classroom, whether to personalize learning or otherwise, you must keep the tech relevant to the goal. I also encourage you to consider creation tools versus productivity tools (some my favorites are WeVideoSoundtrapExplainEverythingMinecraftCode.org and Seesaw – stay tuned for a follow-up piece on these!). Most of all, have fun and get creative, and it will be contagious for your learners!

This was originally posted by Getting Smart.

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4 Benefits of Classroom Podcasting and 4 Ideas to Try Today

“In humans, as in songbirds, the sounds produced by the individuals are essential for normal vocal development.” – Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2000

Podcasts…the not-so-latest buzzword going around in education circles. This is an exciting medium for adding to our teaching toolkit but, as educators, we of course benefit from taking a thoughtful approach. There are many rich reasons why we should integrate audio recording, including podcasts, into the classroom. My suggestion? Get some great implementation ideas from your peers and then, by all means, JUMP!

4 Student Benefits to Understand

When you understand some of the powerful ways audio recording in the classroom can benefit student learning, it will be easy to make a strong case to your administrators, your peers, and, not least of all, to yourself! There are numerous tools that make podcasting and media-making simple for teacher and student alike, but using technology without understanding the specific student needs in play, and why it effectively addresses them, isn’t strategic. Here are some of the important student benefits that are helpful for each of us to understand, to look out for when evaluating our use of recorded audio in the classroom, and to be able to explain to others:

  1. Clarification and Confidence – As your learners listen closely to their tone, learn to include appropriate pauses, and master their speaking through repetition, they will clarify their personal voice and become more confident speakers.
  2. Reflection and Discussion – Working with recorded audio offers students an alternative place and space to reflect on their thinking and engage in candid discussions about their work. These discussions lead students toward the opportunity to construct new and improved ideas.
  3. Read, Revise, Practice, and Present – When your learners record themselves reading their writing, it gives them a new perspective on the written word and an alternative method for revision. Further, as students read and revise their writing, they are engaging in much-needed practice before making the oral presentation to peers. The combination of writing and presenting is authentic practice for what students will have to master when they enter higher education and the workforce.
  4. Assessment Minus Anxiety – If the task at hand is to assess our learners’ understanding, rather than their writing, we can now lower their blood pressure by giving them an alternative space to explain themselves that doesn’t include worrying about spelling errors or sentence structure.

6 Phases of Incorporating Audio Recording

A while back I came across integration coach Corey Holmer’s presentation “Broadcasting Your Story: Podcasting with Chromebooks” and was immediately a) inspired, b) grateful for the work he had already done, and c) excited to share with my teaching peers. He very simply breaks down the podcasting process into six phases for teachers who are interested in incorporating audio recording in the classroom:

  1. Goal Determination
  2. Scripting
  3. Software Acclimation
  4. Planning & Implementing Recording
  5. Editing
  6. Publishing

In addition to explaining each of the steps in detail, Holmer also provided his audience a Podcasting Project Guide. Although this was originally created for a workshop session of educators, it can be easily adapted for any classroom. Even if you have little or no personal experience with podcast creation in the classroom, no problem – I find Mr. Holmer’s explanation easy to understand and a fantastic place to start!

4 Ideas (And Many More) to Try Now!

Need more inspiration on audio recording ideas? Check out the classroom projects, lesson plans and ideas I have compiled here from various educators across the globe. Here are just some of my favorites:

  1. Use podcasts in conjunction with Google Tour Builder to create virtual field trips with student recorded tour guide voice overs.
  2. Build an original soundtrack that compliments the rising action, climax, and resolution of a novel.
  3. Create a “day in the life” documentary that describes the sights, sounds and activities in an ancient metropolis.
  4. On a field trip, students use a voice recorder, such as the one available through the Soundtrap app, to take notes and a digital camera to take photos.

This was published by ASCD and cross-posted here: http://inservice.ascd.org/4-benefits-of-classroom-podcasting-and-4-ideas-to-try-today/.

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Check Yourself

I recently had an opportunity to listen to Mr. Kevin Brookhouser’s speak on the 20time Project at the Toronto GAFE Summit. His message: teachers who offer choice can meet learning goals while creating powerful experiences that lead to increased motivation, creativity and divergent critical thinking. Simple yet very profound. I wrote the following thoughts while on my plane ride home.

My teaching career started when I was in high school during a job shadowing experience.  A real-world learning experience inspired me as opposed to memorizing facts and figures in my core subjects…who knew!  Imagine 16-year-old me, I liked music, I was pretty good at it, the music rooms were my second home. When I had the opportunity to mentor someone, it just seemed natural to shadow my band director.  I had my “lightbulb” a-ha moment when I was presented with an opportunity to teach a rhythm lesson to 10-year-old budding percussionist. I helped her through grasping a concept and when she got it, I got it…I want to teach. 

Little did I know, that moment would lead me down a very interesting path in education.  It has been a path that has engrossed me, a path that is unfinished, a path that if you squint hard enough drops off to…where?  

Prior to seeing clarity with the scary (yet awesome) realization that our 21st century educational thoroughfare is being built as we travel it, I taught instrumental music in a very rural and high-poverty school for almost a decade.  I loved it, was good at it, and kids usually liked coming to my class.  Naïve-me thought their engagement in my class was a reflection on my teaching – ha!  I eventually figured out they liked coming to the band room for the same reasons I liked it when I was in high school – they enjoy music, they like playing an instrument, and my classroom felt safe.  One could argue that none of those reasons are because of me.  This is where my mother’s voice pipes up and says, “Now Meredith, they feel safe and secure in your room because you fostered that. They love music because you have inspired them. Etc., etc., etc.” Ok Mom, I’ll take a tiny bit of it but it really comes down to the fact that they felt empowered in my classroom. 

Learners felt safe – check.
Learners felt supported – check.
Learners were given autonomy – check.
Learners were given an authentic audience – check.
Learners were passionate and interested in the content – check.
Learners saw a potential future with the work they completed – check. 

Here’s the kicker – my learners chose to be in my class.  That’s huge. It wasn’t until I was out of the classroom teaching teachers, facilitating professional learning, presenting to all content area educators that I realized most educators don’t get to experience the luxury of being an elective teacher and how absolute key that was to my (accidental) classroom success. 

Now and probably for the rest of my time on this earth, I will encourage all educators (and leaders!) to pattern after or emulate an elective class by giving student voice, choice, and ownership on their learning while also providing some authentic audience and networking outside of the classroom walls.  Technology obviously provides an accessible avenue to achieve this work.

I’ll sign off by asking one simple question: Do you want to take your class?

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Let It Go

I am Meredith: Mother of Cameron & Morgan, Creature Who Carries Purse and She Who Sings Orders…you can imagine that Frozen’s Let It Go has not escaped my house. Rather, it moved in, does not pay rent and does not appear to be leaving. However, these three words have resurfaced and this time, I am the vocalist. Below are a series of pictures from the South Second Street Lego Saga.

IMG_3885Picture 1: My OCD attempt to make order. All legos were separated by color and placed
into drawers. Big, ugly, plastic organizer was stored in the closet.

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Picture 2: Inevitably, the legos ended up like this and one of my
baking sheets was consumed by the closet (I did not bake for 13 months).

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Picture 3: One of the many creations that were hiding in the closet. First clue
I needed to stop suffocating their creativity by keeping it closet-bound and provide an accessible, convenient building environment.

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Picture 4: Fifteen minutes after relocation and drawer dumping.
Surprisingly, the mixing of colored blocks was very satisfying visually
and audibly to this left-brainer.

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Picture 5: My favorite. This is where I found them the next morning and have since been playing
here for hours.  Note: check out my youngest, rockin’ the bed head.

Simply put: Let It Go, Mom.

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“Saved the Day”

I put this title in quotations because 6 people think I saved their day from 4,057 miles away….Instead, I did what any high school (maybe even middle school) student could, would, and should do if given the access and reason.

Back story: Meet my parents – Robin and Steve.  My mom is a retired English teacher and my dad is a farmer that will never retire. In 2011 they went on their first international trip to the UK.  That was the first of many.  My role has been their travel agent, something I quite enjoy.  I get to surf the Internet for cool B&B’s, make reservations, map out pretty and practical routes and then live vicariously through them via their agenda and Facebook posts.  They just returned from their 5th trip, (this time going with 4 friends) which I had the pleasure of planning.

Break to: SUPERMAN JUMPS OUT OF THE PHONE BOOTH!!!  Or, rather, Meredith answers a panicked FaceTime call over the noon hour.

Robin: “Meredith, we have a problem. This B&B only has one room available for tomorrow night, we need three!” (First thought, uh-oh I messed up…mom assured me not, their mixup, blah, blah….second thought, maps.google.com).
Me: “Hang on mom, we’ll get it figured out – no worries.”
Robin: “Steve, look how cute she is when she’s concentrating.” (Remember, this was FaceTime, I was on a mission and these are my parents)
Me: “Mother. ” You get the idea of how the rest of the conversation might have went between a daughter and her parents…

Fast-forward 15 minutes: I had done a quick online search of the area they were traveling, found the desired route for their next booked B&B (taking into consideration the roads my dad felt comfortable driving on), split the difference of mileage (based on how much drive time they wanted to get done the next day), clicked my favorite “Hotels Nearby” button, cross-referenced that list with tripadvisor.com (over 320 million user reviews of anything travel related-seriously, check it out), found two possible B&B contenders, viewed their respective websites, read reviews, made a decision, called the winner (using my computer I’ll have you know) and made the reservation with a very nice English-accented woman named Vanessa, whom the traveling party met the next day and adored!

Did  I remember the date of the signing of Magna Carta?  No. (June 19, 1215)
Did I remember the name of the current Prime Minister? No. (David Cameron)
Did I do a crazy algebraic equation to get my mileage? Nope.

What I did do was:

  • Apply critical reading and thinking strategies.
  • Determine importance of information and its relevance to essential questions.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Make inferences, identify trends, and interpret data.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Exercise flexibility in information seeking and collaborated with peers.

In shorter terms, I analyzed, evaluated, interpreted, and inferred. All wonderful, great skills we want our bright, 21st century learners to be practicing and applying. I used what resources I had to solve a problem, a real problem. It wasn’t rocket science and it wasn’t fancy-dancy Academia stuff but those 15 minutes of clicking and surfing “saved the day” for 6 people on vacation. It put their minds at ease and I played a role with that, which makes me feel good.  

I want students to feel good about the work they are doing in schools. Are they helping someone or something? Are they solving a a real problem? What work are they doing in school to be part of a solution? What are you doing to be part of a solution?

 

 

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Playing With Circuitry

Math and Science were not my strong subjects in school. I gravitated more towards English, Social Studies and, of course, Band. Why do certain subjects resonate more with some students than others? Multiple intelligences, right vs. left brain dominance, disengaging or un-relatable instruction? Any, all, and other factors probably play a mix of roles with children leaning toward particular subjects throughout their schooling. Regardless, I do consider myself a life-long learner and have had some amazing opportunities to do just that through my position as an Instructional Technology Consultant for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency.

One such opportunity to learn has been through recent circuitry “toys” and the amazing and incredible process of making the light light up or the fan to whir.  My first experience was with littleBits (more to come on that later) at TICL last June and the list grows every day.  I decided to offer a quick synopsis of each one I have had contact with so far.  I tried to list them in a chronological order by grade level but quickly realized that one “toy” can be easily adaptable to a wide range of ages, depending on the activity/learning goal.  Here goes…

  • littleBits – These Bits snap together with magnets, no soldering, no wiring, no programming.  Color coded (Blue=power, Green=output, Pink=input, Orange=expands) modules lend for hours of exploration and limitless possibilities.
  • Snap Circuits – These components snap together instead of magnetize. Color coded as well but create circuit boards just like the ones found in electronic devices.  The sets come with a project manual but the real fun comes when the user gets comfortable enough to deviate from the manual and make their own creations.
  • Makey Makey – This video [2:12] captures the Makey Makey capabilities much better than I could – super cool.
  • Squishy Circuits – Using two different doughs (which the user gets to make!) as circuit building materials to connect the components (buzzer, LEDs, motor). Engineering students from the University of St. Thomas started this program and include lots of videos for classroom use here.
    • Ages: “Allows kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics.”
    • Classroom Ideas
  • Arduino – A bit different than the above mentioned but still requires a shout out. This is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software (I even managed to get the light to light up!) Users can study the hardware to understand how it works and make changes to it. The company encourages users to share under their Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.
    • Ages:”The 10 year old me would have been all over this!”
    • Classroom Ideas

It’s not about the “toy”…tool, program, app, whatever. It’s about the magic that happens when a student is allowed the freedom to explore, create, problem-solve, make something work, and relate it to the real world.

First step teachers: eliminate that worksheet activity you have done every year that’s getting stale. Instead, have your students “play” with a “toy.” I recommend having your students reflect, document their learning/failing process and celebrate by sharing their learning/failing through your school website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc.

Enjoy the mind shift I promise you will witness and experience!

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The Art of APEX

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to visit an extremely forward thinking school in the Des Moines area, Waukee APEX (Aspiring Professional Experience). After circling the downtown block with the correct address several times, I finally committed to parking… “Really? This is the school?” There was no school signage, business people were going in and out, and there wasn’t a student in sight (at least, upon first assumption). My world was about to be rocked. Inside was, indeed, a business. Most of the people I saw were employees but mixed in were junior and senior students from the Waukee school district, dressed and definitely acting the part of an employee.  Their “classroom” is housed the business space of DLR Group and without prior knowledge, one would think of these young individuals as paid employees doing regular work.  They was 17 students, an instructor and a buzz of activity. This particular course was Designing Communication Solutions which is within the APEX Business, Technology & Communications Strand (other strands can be found here). Throughout the semester, these students are paired with businesses to complete requested projects and work for a few hours every afternoon instead of attending conventional, bell-to-bell classes.  I would normally put air quotes around work but I can’t, they are doing real, actual work for real, actual businesses.  They have clients to consult and deadlines to meet. Sounds familiar – like my job – but they are high school students. LOVE!

Through inquiry-based learning and authentic experiences, students build skills in key areas: productivity/accountability, complex communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and flexibility/adaptability. They are featured below (graphic art/design credit: Brandon Vacco, APEX Student).Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 12.33.09 PM

As a mother, educator, community member and regular ‘ol human being – I want this opportunity for ALL kids. Rural or urban. Small or large district. Financially stable or financially struggling. How do we make this happen? If you are a parent, ask your child’s teacher what real-world applications are happening in your their classroom. Volunteer your business or expertise if you see a fit.  If you are an educator, keep doing awesome things but #makeitbetter – there is always room for improvement. If you see an opportunity to work outside the 4 walls of your classroom, take it! Only good can come from students seeing the relevance and real-world application of the work they are doing in their classroom. And if you are removed from the local educational institution for whatever reason (kids have graduated, etc.) – get back in there, attend a school board meeting, ask questions, offer your services, listen, volunteer, be active! It takes a village.

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