Implementing Atomic Learning: Day 1 - #edtech

Last week I got the email back from Atomic Learning saying that all of my teachers have been added to their database. It took them less than 24 hours from when I sent in my list of teachers and email addresses to being up and running. They said it might take three days, so I love it when a company gets things done quicker than expected. Tom, my rep with Atomic Learning, sent me an email that outlined how to get things started with my teachers. I had to put all of this aside for a week while I got through the rush of back to school, but now my classes have starting to flow smoothly so I can shift my focus back to Atomic Learning.

So the first thing I did this afternoon after I logged in was to go to the Support section and then to Getting Started. I found toturials and training on how to implement Atomic Learning in my school. Tom did a good job with his training so I sailed through the video tutorials.

The next thing I did was print out the 21st Century Skills Professional Develpment Worksheet. It is a simple one page worksheet that took me less than 5 minutes to fill out. I probably could have breezed through the worksheet in 90 seconds, but I want to do this right, so I spend a little time on each question to makes sure that I knew where I wanted all of this to go. The worksheet asked questions like: "Who will participate in the program?"

Next up; a poster to promote using Atomic Learning. I printed up a bunch of their ready-made full-color posters and filled in blanks with my school's information. I am planning on putting one of these in each teacher's mailbox on Monday.

The final thing that I did today was to open on of their sample emails to introduce Atomic Learning to teachers. I copied it and I am planning on emailing it to every teacher this Monday morning. I decided that Friday afternoon is not a good time to introduce and new idea to tired teachers.

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Creating a Facebook page for your School - #edtech #elearning

Our rationale for creating a Facebook page for our school is to "Go where our parents are."

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Since the majority of the parents of our students check their Facebook account daily, but only check our school webpage a few times a year, doesn't it make sense for our school to have a Facebook page? For example, if we were about to have an Ice Cream Social and we put a notice on our webpage, very few parents would see it. But if we put the same notice on our Facebook page, most of our parents would now know about it.

Mr. Flick's Guide for Creating a School Facebook Page:

  1. Go to www.facebook.com (if you are automatically logged in, you will need to log out so you go to the actual front page of Facebook.)
  2. Click on the link "Create a page."
  3. Click "Local Business" and then select "Education" from the pull-down menu.
  4. Type in the name of your page, for example: Bethke Elementary School.
  5. Click the checkbox that says you're the official representative for your school and you can do this.
  6. Click the "Create Official Page."
  7. The next screen will ask you to log into your Facebook account.
  8. Fill out the appropriate information and upload some school photos (I wouldn't upload any photos of students, just shots of the school and teachers)
  9. You now have a Facebook Page for you school.

Now make a link on your school website for people to go to your school's Facebook page and ask your parents to "like" your school on Facebook.

Later, when you want to edit your school's Facebook page just log into your Facebook account click on Accounts in the top right of the webpage and click "Manage Pages"

Check out our school's website: www.BethkeElementary.com and click on our Facebook link to see what ours looks like.

Related Articles:

Facebook for Educators - Atomic Learning

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Atomic Learning adds credit classes - #edtech

Admittedly, I use and abuse my Atomic Learning account. For years I have used Atomic Learning to make me look like an expert, however this fall the jig is up. You see, soon my school will have an account which means that everyone will figure out that I'm not really as smart as they thing I am -- I just know where to find answers and help really fast.

Now I need a new edge on the rest of the teachers in my school...

So I was pleasantly surprised when I logged on this morning to find out that they have added a new course offering what they are calling "IT4Educators" which are college credit classes for teachers that they can take online -- anytime or anywhere. Here's a sample of what is being offered (3 credit classes)...

  • Blogging for Teaching and Learning
  • Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
  • Google Docs in Education
  • Internet Resources for Educators
  • Moodle Integration
  • Powerpoint for Teaching and Learning
  • Technology Tools for Educators

The list goes on and on, I think you get the idea, teachers can now earn college credit for learning more about how to use school technolgy. Here is a link to the website itself.

So now it looks like I can earn a little college credit to go with all the other things I use Atomic Learning for.

Pay raise here I come.

Buying Netbooks for Students - Where to Begin?

How to decide which netbooks to buy. When it comes to netbooks it seems that every computer manufacturer is getting in on the action. All the big players such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Intel are now making netbooks, which explains why netbooks are one of the top selling computers.  The specifications on these netbooks from these different companies and the differences between models can make it very confusing for the average teacher or school to pick the netbook that is right for their students. The following items are some things to consider to help you choose the best netbook for your school or classroom.

Netbooks vs Notebook

There are some people who argue that with the cost of some netbooks being around $350 that schools should just buy a full-size notebook computer for about $100 more. However, price isn’t the only criteria to consider when buying a netbook. Size of the netbook is a critical component of success in the classroom. Smaller sized elementary students seem to fit the netbooks a lot better than a full-sized laptop. An additional plus for the smaller sized netbooks is that the netbook fits on student desks with greater ease. With a netbook on a desk there is still plenty of room for a textbook, but if you have a full-size notebook computer, there is really only room for the computer and nothing else.

Windows vs Linux

Netbooks that we tested usually came in two flavors: Windows or Linux operating systems. We chose the Windows system for two major reasons: compatibility with existing software and the current Wi-Fi system. One aspect to consider is how many educational software titles exist within each operating system.

Keyboards

All netbooks have smaller keyboards than regular sized laptop computers however, this doesn’t mean that all netbook keyboards are the same. For example, the Asus models have very small keys with some of the keys in different locations and different sizes than a traditional keyboard. On one Asus model, the right shift key was about half the size compared to what it traditionally would be, plus the keys were so small that a regular-sized adult hand could not effectively type on this size of keyboard. These netbooks were designed for young students, who by the way, get used to the small keyboard quite quickly. Within a week or two, elementary students didn’t even notice the size of the keys and this smaller size did not affect their typing speed. If you are considering netbooks for an elementary school, small keyboard size might not be an issue.   However, if you are looking at netbooks for a middle school, this would definitely be an area of concern since there are several students in the eighth grade that are just as big as an adult and have adult-sized hands. In our opinion, the best keyboards for larger middle-school sized hands were the Dell, Intel, Acer, and HP models with a slight preference for HP. I even found myself easily adjusting to the slightly smaller keyboards of these models and students were not even phased when coming from a full-size keyboard to a netbook keyboard on these models.

Size

The size of netbooks vary a little from manufacturer to manufacturer and from model to model. Basically there are 7 inch netbooks, 9 inch netbooks, and 10 inch netbooks. The sizes refer to the diagonal measurement of the screen of the netbook. The best size netbooks for schools are the 10 inch models. Keep in mind, the actual total size of one 10 inch screen netbook may be different from another 10 inch screen netbook. For example, the 10 inch Acer Netbook is about an inch wider than the Asus. So even though both models might be 10 inches diagonally at the screen, the Acer netbook is bigger. A larger sized netbook means that you have a larger keyboard which in turn makes all the difference in the world when you compare these two models.

Screen Resolution

When choosing netbook software, one important aspect to remember is that almost every netbook has the screen resolution of 1024 by 600. There are some software programs that simply will not work on these smaller sized screens. Double check before buying any software.

Processors, Hard Drives and Memory

Processors are the speed at which your Netbook performs. I would not recommend that you buy a netbook that has a processor speed less than a 1.6 GHz. When we have tested models with processors speeds at less than 1.6 GHz’s, they were simply not worth the savings in money. However, netbooks that operated at 1.6 GHz seemed to be acceptable. We tested the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and the netbook literally operated at the same speed as most laptops. Most adult testers didn’t notice a speed difference between their regular laptops and the test netbooks.

Since netbooks were supposed to be "network notebooks," many early manufacturers only put small solid state drives (SSD) in their netbooks instead of a real hard drive (HD). This was done to save money and because it was thought that netbooks would only be used to perform online tasks. While SSDs are fast and great for holding an operating system, they do not provide much room for anything else. In many instances, you may want to put more things on your netbook, including Google Earth and some photos for a project. Because of this need, I recommend selecting an HD that is at least 100 GB. By having this much space, students can temporarily store photos, music and videos on the netbook HD and transfer them to Adrive or a server when they are done.

Batteries

The question to answer when asking which batteries to buy is how will the netbooks be used on a daily basis within the classroom? There are two basic types of batteries; the three cell battery and the six cell battery. The three cell battery will give you about 2 and a half hours of operating time and the six cell battery will give you nearly 6 hours. Since most schools are open for six hours a day people tend to think that they need the six cell battery. However, students will rarely need to use their netbooks continually for six hours during the day. With just a little planning, most schools can operate using the three cell battery with no impact on instruction. To clarify this rationale, refer back to the typical netbook day to see how many times the netbooks were returned to their chargers during the day. By purchasing the three cell model instead of the six cell model, schools will save money on the overall price per netbook resulting in substantial saving. This means that school could purchase more netbooks with the savings.

Applications

Typically, most districts will not allow teachers or principals to buy netbooks personally and bring them directly into the classrooms to be used. Instead, netbooks will probably have to be taken to your IT department where they will make an "image" of the perfect netbook computer. This image is then copied to all the rest of the netbooks for your school. Teachers will want to think carefully about what they want included on that image. The image includes everything from installed software to the settings in Windows. Each school and district is a little different so teachers will have to spend some time considering this. Preplanning will be critical at this stage since if your school has already paid for a license to a particular math program, you will want that program installed on the original image. Remember, netbooks do not have a CD drive.

Installing Applications

Installing applications on a netbook can be rather tricky since it does not have a CD drive. The easiest solution is to just buy an external USB CD drive to use for installations. Another option is to just buy the digital downloadable version of an application instead of the CD version. This way you just download the install file to the netbook and continue with the install process. Some IT techs install directly from a district server and others install from USB flash drives that they have copied the application install file to. Installing applications is usually something that needs to be pre-approved through most IT departments so check before continuing with this activity.

Subscriptions

Having the right subscription with your netbooks increases their value exponentially. I know that is a bold statement but there is incredible curriculum subscriptions for netbooks that has changed our way of viewing netbooks as student's tools for learning. Here is an example of one subscription services that was critical to the success of our netbooks within classrooms.

Atomic Learning provides video step-by-step tutorials for just in time training. Imagine being a teacher who has now been thrown into the world of netbooks computers and is having to be a part-time tech teacher to all their netbook students. Many questions can arise such as “How do you make a graph in Excel?”, “How do you make a bullet point list in Word?” and “How do I save this document in a different format?”

With Atomic Learning, all we had to do is log in and then find the short video tutorial (usually under 3 minutes) to show exactly what to do. We could even display the video up on the LCD projector for our students to follow along. Atomic Learning has literally thousands upon thousands of video tutorials. The video tutorials can be “assigned” to students, so that they can learn at their own time and pace.

Atomic Learning also provides something called Lesson Accelerators which are pre-made lessons about using technology in the classroom. Teachers that were wanting to accelerated their students’ 21st Century Skills assigned these lessons to students to increase their capacity. Atomic Learning has also recently added an entire section dedicated to teaching and embedding 21st Century Skills in the classroom.

Online Applications

The concept of a netbook is that you use it online -- all the time. Which means that many applications that used to be installed on our computers now live online in the “cloud.” This is why Google Docs is used so much in a netbook classroom, but what about other applications? Let’s says, for example that you need to edit a photo. Just go to a free photo editing website like www.Picnik.com and upload your photo, edit it, and then download it back to your netbook, done. That is cloud computing, see my website link at the end of this book for more examples of this.

Optimizing a Netbook

There are a few tricks to optimize your netbook to meet the needs of students. Regarding the track pad on the netbooks, we disabled the tap feature that allows students to tap their track pad rather than clicking the button. We found that tapping the track pad was very confusing to elementary school students so we disabled it. We also slowed down the speed of the pointer and the double-click speed. We made changes to the Internet Explorer so that it had minimal menus as screen real estate is such a premium on a netbook you do not need to waste it on things like a Google bar or tabs. As a bonus, the new Internet Explorer does have a full screen option (F11) which allows students to see a lot more of a website by going to full screen mode. It also includes a zoom feature, so if students need to they can zoom out to see the entire web page. Mind you, on a netbook screen, the text will now appear very tiny. Another way to increase screen capacity on the small netbooks is to set the task-bar at the bottom to auto hide.

Near Paperless Teaching with Netbooks

By using Google Docs and emails, a teacher can almost teach without printing documents. Teaching students about having an environmentally responsible classroom is just one aspect of being a 21st Century student. As educators, it is very easy to print reams and reams of paper. Instead of printing projects to turn in, a netbook classroom teacher can check student work on a screen.

Let’s see how a nearly paperless assignment might continue. Let’s say that the student’s assignment was to gather information about the red-eyed tree frog. The teacher starts off by sending an email to all the students (a distribution list set up in his or her email program) which sends all the students to a Google Doc worksheet. This worksheet asks the students questions about the frog that they need to research on the Internet. This document also contains the list of tasks that the student is to complete such as obtaining three photos and a map showing where the frog’s habitat is and a short video about the frog which is found on SchoolTube.com. Since the teacher is set up on each student's worksheet as a collaborator, there is nothing to turn in and revisions can be done as many times as needed. When the student is done, they add the word "final" to their file name and the teacher will know that the grading can begin. To conclude the project, the teacher uses a Google Docs “form” to test for retention (i.e. a quiz without paper).

Blended Learning -- The best of both worlds.

At the recent ISTE Conference in Denver I sat down with Kathy Schroeder of Atomic Learning and we had a great talk about different ideas regarding the future of education. At first we bantered back and fourth about the regular stuff like iPads and digital books, but they Kathy brought up blended learning, a concept I strongly believe in but I have never really given it much thought. Blended learning is when the student gains an education from both a traditional teacher-taught lesson and an online lesson. Take my son for example, this year he is entering high school but will take 2 of his courses online -- the school he attends does not offer some of what he needs.  What also works for my son, and other students just like him, is that he can do is online classes when and where he wants to -- the power of asynchronous learning.

I strongly believe that students need to learn how to take online courses and classes, this will prove to be invaluable for them in the future as they enter the work force.

The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those that cannot read or write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.  -- Alvin Toffler

What do you think about blended learning?

Second Day Presenting at ISTE Denver

Denver, CO -- I had a great time meeting with new people from all across the world as I did my four presentations at the Atomic Learning booth at ISTE today. During my presentation on iPads I had one gentleman in the back that kept looking at me funny when I said anything critical of the iPad. During one slide I talk about the possible knock-offs that could be made by other computer manufacturers like the new HP Slate, I caught the dismay on his face when I mentioned it. Later, after most of my people left, he introduced himself as being from Apple. He said he enjoyed my presentation overall but there were some parts he didn't really like. We had a good talk and it was great to meet someone who is truly concerned about providing the best possible school technology solution. He said that Apple is closely monitoring how iPads are being used with students and will make any improvements that might be needed.

In other news... I have met quite a few of the followers of this blog, which is always kind of fun and strange at the same time. I am still trying to get used to the fact that people know me through my online work.

Tomorrow I am off from presenting so I am just going to go and enjoy the rest of ISTE. Hope to see you there.

Great time presenting at ISTE 2010 Denver

Denver, CO -- Many thanks to everyone who came by the Atomic Learning booth today at ISTE to see me present. I had a great time talking with educators from all over the country, people who are as passionate as I am about school technology education and gadgets. My biggest crowd was during my presentation on iPads in the Classroom, it seems that many school districts are considering them. So as you can imagine I was pretty busy during the question and answers part of my presentation.

I would also like Atomic Learning for sponsoring me to speak, I have always loved their product and I feel it is a privilege to be backed by such a good company. In fact, just before ISTE began they announced that they have new online training for both the iPod Touch and iPad as part of their digital library.

I speak again tomorrow so come and stop by to see me if you have the chance.

My ISTE 2010 School Technology Predictions

The ISTE 2010 Conference starts in just a couple of days, so before I pack my backs and go I would like to make a few predictions about what will be the thing this year.

Drumroll please...

Ubiquitous Education: Anywhere - Anytime Education. Think about it, students being able to access their education from anywhere they are at anytime they want. In my district students cannot access their student folder on the school's server from home, so we moved them all over to Google Docs and now they can access their school work from anywhere they have the Internet. I like to call it portable learning.

So I believe what we are going to see a lot at this years ISTE conference are products and services that promote this type of learning. Here are a few examples:

Netbooks: they are small and portable - perfect for ubiquitous education.

AtomicLearning.com: provides their quick video tutorials any thousands of subject that you can get to anytime you need their help.

iPods/iPads: apps promoting curriculum when and where the student wants to learn. Check out this frog dissection...

Student Learning Systems: services like Blackboard which allows students to access their lessons anytime and anywhere they want.

I can't wait to see what the vendors and speakers will be offering this year -- I hope to be blown away.

ISTE 2010 Denver - Edtech Geeks Unite!

This summer ISTE's annual conference will be practically in my own backyard -- Denver, Colorado (it used to be called NECC if your are confused).

This is the event to be at if you are into technology and education.

There will be tons of workshops on everything you could possibly imagine and even a few that you never thought were possible. Thousands of people just like you an me are at one location for three magical days. You will finally not feel alone in your struggles with school technology integration. (It's okay to wipe away a tear now.)

One of my favorite parts of the conference is to see all the exhibitors -- to see the latest and greatest in education technology. I usually get my best ideas from talking to the many vendors. Last year I got interested in Atomic Learning and LEGO WeDO from the demonstrations I saw the conference when it was in Washington, D.C. I have already started my list of exhibitors I want to see this year.

I always return from these conferences with my edtech-batteries recharged and ready for another year of teaching and integrating school technology. The ISTE annual conference is probably the singular most important event I do for my career as a teacher.

So you can see why I got excited when Atomic Learning asked me to speak at their booth on Monday and Tuesday on integrating 21st Century Skills and on teaching with netbooks and iPads, now I get to be able to share my ideas with the attendees (a chance to pay back for all the ideas I steal each year). So stop by if you get a chance, you'll finally get to meet the man behind the blog.

See you next month.

Look into my crystal ball of school technology.

Often when I work with school districts someone will inevitably ask me to predict the future of school technology. "What's going to be the next big thing?" They ask like I have a crystal ball that I can just look into and figure out where districts should spend their technology money. The truth is I don't, but I do live and breath school technology so I guess it is a fair question.

So here is my list what a standard 21st Century Classroom should have:

Hardware:
1) Interactive whiteboards paired with LCD projectors. The projectors should be permanently mounted to avoid damage and the annoyance of always having to align the interactive whiteboard. More and more teachers are getting these every year and lessons are slowly getting converted over to embrace this technology.

2) Document cameras go right along with number 1 since you should already have a LCD projector. Teachers hate giving up their old overhead projectors at first but then after a few months they love, yes love, their document cameras -- because you can put practically everything underneath it: calculators, books, dissected frogs, you name it.

3) Classroom sound systems, hopefully the days of little back-row-Sally not being able to hear her teacher are coming to an end. Since so much of what happens in a classroom is auditory, like the teacher talking, watching a video, listening to music, etc. we need to make sure every student has a fair chance of hearing what is going on.

Software:
1) Go Web 2.0 whenever possible, if there is a choice between a math CD or a math website -- go with the website every time.

2) Online professional development, pay for a good quality company like AtomicLearning.com and reap the benefits of not having to sit down and train each and every teacher individually, let the online PD do it for you. Let's say your teachers are struggling with how to create their first podcast, all you do is assign a few online lessons and check back in a few weeks to see how their podcasting went. You can't expect teachers to use new technology unless you plan on training them how to use it.

That's all for today -- tomorrow I will tell you about some cool future technologies that I see coming over the horizon.

School Technology I Use: Atomic Learning Report 1

Being 42 years-old and a digital immigrant, I need every trick I can find to keep up with the digital natives that surround me.

My secret? I cheat.

Now before you get all judgmental about a teacher cheating, let me explain...

The other day I got an email asking me about how I podcast. As you already know, my students podcast every day at my school. 
My answer -- I use Atomic Learning.

I have been a subscriber to Atomic Learning for the past four years, and it has saved my bacon so many times I have lost count. You see, Atomic Learning has what they call "Just in Time Learning" which allows me to look up almost any subject and watch a short tutorial and voila! I now know how to do it.

Just in time learning is great.

I remember a few years ago when I was teaching web design in high school and I had to do something that I had never done before in Dreamweaver, I just logged on to my Atomic Learning account, looked through the library of training, found what I needed and then taught it to my students the next day.

I think it was Einstein who once said that you didn't need to know everything, you just needed to know who to ask. When I don't know something, I ask Atomic Learning. I bet use it three to four times a week.

I have used Atomic Learning for all of the new school technology that I use and integrate into my classrooms. Everything from how to make graphs in Excel to how to make this blog. So there, you now know my secret to my great wisdom and knowledge. Don't tell me principal, she still thinks that I am really that smart. But I guess she will know soon enough because we getting a subscription to Atomic Learning for the entire school for next year.

I'll keep you posted on how that goes, I know that the students and teachers are going to love it.