Monday, April 25, 2016

YouTube: A Gift and a Curse

YouTube has become a household name throughout the country and the world.  According to YouTube, "YouTube has over a billion users — almost one-third of all people on the Internet — and every day people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views."  That's a lot of videos!  Because of the vast quantity of content on YouTube, people - especially young people - turn to YouTube for entertainment, as well as to learn new skills.  If you ask your students to research how to do a task, the first place they will look is, most likely, YouTube.  I was working with Michal VandenBerg's third-grade class at Lake Center on their Genius Hour projects last week.  The students were researching everything from how to do snowboarding tricks or playing the piano,  to how to design and build a video game.  Each of the students was, at one time or another, on YouTube, watching videos explaining how to do the task or skill they were researching.

We live in a video-based world where you can "research" how to do just about anything, simply by typing a search into YouTube.  Last year, our district unblocked YouTube.  It was a labored decision, but once done, we had very little push-back or negativity about it.  In fact, we had more thank-you notes than anything else.  So many valuable resources for blended-learning, like EdPuzzle, use YouTube for content delivery.  When we blocked YouTube, using these resources was a hassle, at best.  Now teachers and students can create their own educational videos using the YouTube creator studio, as well as make their own playlists for learning and stream their school announcements live!

YouTube can be an amazing gift as an educational resource, however, like any great tool, there are also drawbacks with using user-created content sites.  The content is not always the highest quality, and since the content is not specifically tailored to the education world, the videos may not always be appropriate for our students.  There are a few easy things you can do to help your students be safe and successful when using this tool.

  1. Turn off auto-play: You may be watching a video with your kindergarteners on colors and shapes, when all of a sudden the video is done and another video begins playing.  This "next up" video may not be as five-year-old friendly as the previous video.  In order to prevent videos from auto-playing, all you need to do is turn off the auto play feature.  This is done with a simple toggle switch in the top right corner of the video play screen.

  2. Use a YouTube Scrubber: If you want a nice and clean interface to show YouTube videos to your class, then you can use a YouTube scrubber to eliminate all the advertisements and distractions.  In Portage, we recommend using  You can create a clean and simplified version of the video using this link.  Simply copy the video URL from the address bar at the top of the YouTube video page, paste the link into, and you will get a link with no advertisements or "up next" playlists.  You can then show the video to your students on your TEC using this new link, or you can create your own playlist in Google classroom or a Google Doc.

  3. Walk around your room: I know this one goes without saying, but the best way to manage something like YouTube is proactive classroom management.  Walk around your classroom.  Set up your room so you can see the screens when students are working.  Look at the browser history (ctrl+H) if you have any questions or concerns to see what sites/pages/videos the students have been on during class.
For other tech tips on using YouTube, check out:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Register for PPS Tech Camp 2016 today!

August may seem like years away, but we all know summer will be here before we know it.  So it is time to look at your calendars, dream of long days at the beach, and REGISTER FOR TECH CAMP!!!

PPS Tech Camp 2016
When: August 10-12, 2016.  Come for one session, or stay for them all!
Where: Portage Central High School
Who: All PPS teachers, administrators, and staff, as well as any visiting teachers who want to explore and learn with us.

Come dig in, explore, and hone your teaching skills at PPS Tech Camp 2016. As we prepare to welcome student technology into our classrooms, let's learn and collaborate across grade-levels, departments, and throughout the district to ensure successful integration and maximize engagement and learning. Have fun diving into topics, such as...

  • Blended Learning
  • Formative Assessments
  • Reading Tools/Strategies
  • Classroom Management
  • Online Assignment Management
  • Data Management
  • Chromebook Basics
  • Video Lessons
  • Data Collection

PPS Teachers, come to Tech Camp and be one of the first to receive your teacher chromebook!  Get a jump on how these devices could be used in your classroom to engage students and enhance learning.

Also, new to Tech Camp this year... PPS Tech Camp Maker Space! Bring your family and friends to make, create, tinker and play!  Friday afternoon, 1:00 pm.

So what are you waiting for?  Head to and register today!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: True Collaboration

It didn't take long at the MACUL 2016 conference for our next guest blogger, Katelin Lopez - Central Middle School World Languages, to find her inspirations.  She found her big take-away in the opening keynote by Jaime Casap.  Here is her thought provoking reflection...

Katelin Lopez - April 13, 2016 
My biggest take-away from the MACUL '16 conference was not from a workshop, although they were great too, was actually from one of the keynote speakers, Jaime Casap. 
Jaime Casap is part of the Google for Education Team and works with organizations, helping them find ways to improve the quality of education by using and enabling technology capabilities.
As Jaime spoke, I kept thinking, "WOW. This guy thinks outside the box. He is so right!" And “I wish my brain worked like his.”
Everything he said made total sense to me, but I never would have come to those conclusions on my own.
This sheer epiphany in and of itself is exactly what Jaime spoke to. I never would have thought about collaboration in this way, without Jaime talking to us about it. His points were simple and well taken; students must be given opportunities to discuss, explore, and most of all- problem solve together, because we are greater together than individually. Just like me being at MACUL to explore, discuss, and problem solve with other educators.
 Jaime talked about collaboration. True collaboration. A collaborative environment where students work together to solve problems, similar to the way they will in the real world. 
Upon returning home from MACUL, I was so moved by what he had to say at the conference I wanted to hear more of his thoughts. I hopped on Youtube to see if I could find videos of Jaime Casap. I was not disappointed.
Jaime is a big component of not asking students what they "want to be when they grow up," but instead asking them "what problem they want to solve," because their world is much different than the one we, their teachers, grew up in. They don't necessarily have to go to college to help solve real world problems. They can use information available to them at their fingertips to solve many global issues. 
Jaime drove his point home with an example that struck me. A 15 year old student created a flashlight that runs off a person's body heat. She "initially thought of the idea after learning that a friend in the Philippines, who didn't have electricity, was failing in school because she didn't have enough time to study during daylight hours." This was the problem she wanted to solve. Read her amazing story here
Moving forward, I know I need to think out of the box to prepare my students for the world they will work and live in. The need is so great for them to be problem solvers!
Listen to Jaime Casap for yourself:
MACUL '16 Keynote by Jaime Casap
Education is a Silver Bullet - Ted Talk
Extra Yard for Teachers
Works Cited:
Nguyen, Tuan C. "This Flashlight Is Powered by the Touch of Your Hand." Smithsonian. 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16 - Iteration and Student Expectations

As promised, here is Part Two of Collin Nuismer's - Central Middle School ELA - MACUL 2016 reflection: Iteration and Student Expectations.

Iteration. I did not know what this word meant before going to MACUL. Now, 3 weeks later, I think this word might define the future of educational design.

Iteration consists of success and failure. It’s a techy word used most often to describe endless variations of code, but my favorite definition of it comes from Jamie Casp’s keynote address at MACUL, “[With iteration] there is no end point. There is no final. Do it, learn from it, do it better, keep doing it.” It sounds so simple, right? Do something, learn from your mistakes, do it better next time, learn from those mistakes, do it better again, repeat for infinity.  In a nutshell, that is the formula to being successful at anything in life. Even babies understand iteration. For example, I’m a tremendous walker. I bet you are too. But, you wouldn’t be such a walking savant if it wasn’t for the grit and determination of the baby version of yourself who constantly fell, got back up, tried again, fell, got up, tried again… you get the picture.

But, I think I may have made a rash indefinite statement in that first paragraph. “[Iteration] is the formula to being successful at anything in life.” What about K-12 education from a student perspective? Is iteration a quality that our students must have in order to be successful in school? Quite simply, no, and that’s a major problem.

Our evaluation system for students creates endpoints for them. Once a student receives a passing grade on an assignment their work is done. They can punch out and head home. I say passing grade because getting an A is not the qualification for passing for every student. Once a student is satisfied with their grade there is no reason for them to spend any more time thinking about whatever it was their assignment concerned. In our simplistic terms of iteration, most of our students follow this process in school: do it, look at grade, re-do if necessary, consider it done.  This is a bigger issue than we realize it to be. How can we expect our students to grow and learn from their mistakes if we say, “Here is the goal. Get there and you will have success.”  Furthermore, how can we expect teachers to be evaluated based on the growth of their students if the students are working within a system that only promotes growth to a certain extent?

Technology in the classroom gives teachers a greater potential to promote student iteration. The breadth of resources available for teachers to give students the opportunity to learn things, do things, learn from those mistakes and keep trying will only continue to grow exponentially. But, the only way we can maximize the potential of these tools is if we create an environment that promotes limitless growth, not limited benchmarks.

It took me 5 paragraphs to get here, but my second take away (my big picture take away) from MACUL is hitting the reset button on the academic expectations we have of our students. The content and concepts we teach in school are not changing. There are still certain things that students need to know at certain points in their schooling, but the things students are able to do with that knowledge are changing, and our expectations of students need to change accordingly.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Common Ground

Our next guest blogger, Collin Nuismer - Central Middle School ELA, has written an excellent two part MACUL reflection which I am very excited to share with you all.

Below is the first part is his series - Common Ground.

What was my big takeaway from MACUL?  To answer that, I want to start with a conversation I had a few weeks after MACUL. After school, I was out enjoying some beverages with a few colleagues and myself and a colleague started an in depth conversation on the role of technology in the classroom and how its role impacts the role of the teacher. My colleague is an over 25 year veteran of teaching, and, seeing as I’ve only been alive for 27 years, you can imagine that we might have had some differing opinions on the role of technology in the classroom. And, for the most part we did. When I mentioned the word “facilitator” instead of “educator” or “instructor” I could see my colleague cringe, as I did when they mentioned teachers being “replaced by technology.” But, what struck me about our conversation wasn’t our differing opinions about how technology is changing, or will change education; what stuck me was our commonality in why we both enjoy educating, which, simply put, is the art of teaching. The fact that we come to our classroom everyday because our job consists of creating ways to inspire and educate future generations of human beings and we each have the freedom to do this in our own unique way.

As I was reflecting on this conversation during my drive home, I realized that over the last year I’ve had multiple conversations about the role of technology in the classroom with a range of colleagues because of my current label of “blended learning teacher” in our building, and every conversation was, overtly or subliminally, centered around the question “Will the role of a teacher be less in a blended learning classroom?” and, to a more poignant extent, “Will technology take away the art teaching?” The short answer to the latter question is “Absolutely not,” but I think it’s important to understand why this fear, or aversion, or apprehension, or whatever you want to call it, toward technology in the classroom exists in the first place.  

The fact of the matter is we, as educators, operate in one the most unstable and unsettling professional environments of any job in this country. Over the last 20 years, classroom teachers have seen the ideology that drives what we do (pedagogy) change at a more rapid pace than maybe any other profession in America. Throughout that time, we have also been subjected to a number of public disputes centering around our “effectiveness” as educators, but, for the most part, we have never really been asked our professional opinion on how our effectiveness should be judged. Or how the advances in our understanding of adolescent psychology is influencing pedagogy, and thus how it should play a part in any evaluation of our effectiveness. So, when you take all of this instability and mix in the rapid (and I mean seriously rapid) advancements of technology use in and outside of school, it is only natural for any classroom teacher to be skeptical, and maybe a little fearful, of how the proliferation of educational technology, yet another “change,” is going to affect their role as an educator.

So, with all of this in mind, my takeaway from MACUL this year was that we as educators all share a common ground: teaching and inspiring our students to meet and exceed their potentials in our own unique ways. Every educator, from kindergarten to college, has this same goal. We all want to take our individual talents and use them to educate and inspire something special in our students. In essence, that is the art of teaching. Currently, technology happens to be playing, and will continue to play, a much larger role in how we educate and inspire; in how we produce our art. But, the key word in that sentence is “we” because there will never be an alternative for a great teacher. True learning happens because of great instructional design and designing instruction that educates and inspires is a uniquely human quality. It cannot be replaced by any technological innovation.

My experiences at MACUL and discussions with colleagues have lead me to believe that, as educators, we should take our focus away from the unknown fear of what technology could do and instead focus on our common ground as we begin to discuss, debate, implement and iterate the most effective ways to use technology in our classrooms. While doing this we should not discount the unique values each classroom instructor brings to their students, and, above all else, we should understand that technology does not shrink our instructional canvasses; it broadens their potential to educate and inspire.

Skyward: Viewing Previous Grade Periods/Quarters

Now that we are entering into the fourth quarter of the school year, many of you may notice that your third quarter is no longer visible in Skyward.  This may be a problem if you are trying to finish up your third quarter grades.  Fortunately, it is very easy to adjust which quarters you want to view in your online gradebook.

Step 1: Open the Gradebook for which you want to see the previous quarter.

Step 2: Hover over the Display Options menu.

Step 3: Click on Grade Period Display

Step 4: Check the boxes for the quarter you wish to view.  Make sure you click Save when you are done.

NOTE: You can un-select the quarters using the same method.  Just uncheck the ones you no longer wish to see.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Prepping for a 1-to-1 Classroom

In Portage, we are rapidly approaching our district-wide 1-to-1 implementation.  As part of our preparation for this implementation, we have been diligently training our teachers on integrating tech into their teaching and blending their instruction.  It has been very exciting watching the teachers rework their instruction and engage their students in new and exciting way.  Our next guest blogger, Darcee Thomas, fifth grade teacher at Moorsbridge, took her MACUL experience to reinvision what her classroom will look like with consistant access to technology tools for her students.

I enjoyed attending MACUL this year.  It had been several years since I had been to this conference and it was a great way to get energized about technology in my classroom, especially as we get closer to 1-1 devices in our classroom.  One of the sessions that stood out to me was the “Breakout EDU”.  I loved the activity and immediately began thinking of topics/themes to use the classroom.  A few of our staff members have already put things in place to purchase kits that we could share and I have been searching the games already created and found one that relates to our social studies curriculum.   

Another session that I liked was presented by Matt Miller.  His website is called  This has some very cool resources and so many of them!  There are several already-made graphic organizers, ideas for Google Classroom and creating comic strips on Google drawings,  as well as virtual field trip connections and mystery Skype opportunities.  There are so many resources on this website and they are all free!  This is an AMAZING website! 

Lastly, the two sessions I attended on “Blended Learning in the Classroom” and “Coding in the Content Areas” were very valuable.  It made me think about a subject in my room that I could start blending more and the coding is something I want to learn more about!  ~Darcee Thomas, Moorsbridge

What will your classroom look like in the future?