apple-304470_1280Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 12.27.29 PMI’m not sure why it strikes me in such a funny way, but the recent TurboTax commercials regarding how much their basic services cost – free, reminded me of what so many teachers love – things that are free! When I started teaching back in the 19-none-of-your-businesses, the internet was barely a thought in people’s heads, let alone in the primary and elementary school settings. There was an internet service I used that allowed me to communicate with families in a more fluid and 21st-century manner – teacherweb.com, which I found using the WaybackMachine website while researching for this blog. To make a long story short, part of the reason I loved this website was that it was free free free. I used it for about 2 or 3 years until the day I got an email from the owners of the website saying that there would be a fee of $2 or $3/month for the continued use of the service. At the time, this seemed like highway robbery as that meant that my school would have to shell out $24/month just for me to continue to communicate with families that used to be free. It actually didn’t even seem like much back then, but for me, it was the principle of what felt like a bait and switch operation. Truth be told, for all the time I was using teacherweb.com I couldn’t figure out how it could have possibly been free. But, I stopped using the service on principle. Thank goodness that there were still many free online services that allowed me to continue getting the most out of the internet.

In the six years that I’ve been here at Stone Ridge, there have been several FREE online teacher resources that now require a monthly or yearly subscription price. animoto.com, Padlet, haikudeck.com, are three girl-2940655_1920great resources that come to mind. I had one website that I had set up for my classes to use and it seemed that very day the pricing structure changed so I had to scrap my plans. Oh, well. So goes technology sometimes.

If you wanted to bank on two resources that you can bet will be free for your foreseeable teaching future, consider anything owned by Google, docs, drive, forms, and Khan Academy.  Although Google products aim to be free, they make their money by the revenue generated from the advertising and sponsored links that you’ll find in google search finds. Khan Academy will remain free because Sal Khan found some very wealthy and philanthropical people like Bill Gates who wants to help reduce the chasm created by those who have internet access and those who don’t!

Other resources that you can count on being free, are the edtech teachers and leaders who know that charging for things cuts off a lot of educators who really want to impact their students’ learning. I wrote a blog earlier about my experience at SXSW.edu and Jennifer Gonzales’ Cult of Pedagogy blog. Some blogs are so worthwhile that you may want to find a way to buy the blogger a cup of coffee or adult beverage, but the great and effective ones make their money by the keynotes and consulting they do as part of their spreading their messages. Most blogs show you just how to support the great work they’re doing.

So, in the spirit of finding things for free, here is a list (not exhausted) of free resources that you might find useful for you in your academic, as well as personal life. Enjoy and good luck! I’d already posted some amazing education blogs in an earlier post from SXSW.edu, but you can never have enough inspiring and helpful blogs and websites. As a bonus, I’ve placed the websites I use to find tech bargains on the web at the very end. Happy shopping!

Academic:

How to find edtech bargains:

asus tabletFirst, if you’re anywhere near a Goodwill or Salvation Army Retail store and there are at least four of them within a 7-mile radius of Stone Ridge, you’ll often find some amazing tech gems in their special, glass-encased sections or in the more traditional spots. I can’t tell you the number of digital cameras, android tablets, LCD monitors, even HDTVs that I’ve found at incredibly low prices. At Goodwill, if,

  • Techbargains.com – Tech discounts galore that scroll on a seemingly endless webpage!
  • Bensbargains.net – Similar to the first link, but not an endless scroll.
  • dealnews.com – Formerly dealmac.com, but this list is shorter and they’re mostly about tech news and some bargains
  • shopgoodwill.com – Goodwill’s online national auctioning site, similar to eBay, but you’re helping out goodwill when auctioning on this website.
  • Amazon refurbished and used products – Great bargains to be found here if you’re okay with refurbs or used items. Amazing discounts going this route and you have the safety of Amazon if something goes awry!

 

girl-388652_1920 If we believe ourselves to be life-long learners, then Khan Academy (KA) would be a resource that any autodidact might want to have in their arsenal to learn and grow a little (or a lot) every day. My role as an instructional technologist is to help teachers find resources that help them teach more effectively and efficiently. However, KA could be equally useful for teachers in their out-of-school lives. If you’re a learn-by-doing kind of person (“that’s me!” says the author), this would be a good parallel as it helps fill in the gaps that the sometimes non-linear path that learning in real time misses.

If you’re asked to take on the role as church treasurer or your children’s school parent blog, you might consider “going back to school” and use KA to brush up on the skills you’d need to do these tasks effectively. Once using KA in this ways, my bet is you’d quickly see how it fits into your classroom instruction.exclamation-48283_1280

Let’s get things straight first – if you teach French, Spanish (ixl.com now has a Spanish module), Music Theory or Religion, KA won’t be of much use in the classroom, as they haven’t added those subject areas in their vast library of resources. They’ve come a long way though! KA started out as solely math-focused, with science and engineering following closely behind. Over the years, KA now includes World, US History and Government, Language Arts/Grammar, Comp Sci, as well as a comprehensive set of lessons regarding test prep. There are even more modules that deal with careers, growth mindset, personal finance, entrepreneurship, and so much more.

Perhaps, most amazingly, Khan Academy is FREE! As in free free free free free free! However, it has the feel of a well-oiled, well-funded organization which it is because Microsoft and other companies have a large stake in their desire to provide quality educational resources for all!

Here are a couple of resources on how to get up and running with Khan Academy:

IMG_0408As a middle school, we use ixl.com extensively and over the years ixl.com has also expanded from its initial math-only roots. If you haven’t looked lately, please view the added subject areas that they’ve added over the years. If you’d like to try subject areas other than Math, English, and Science such as Social Studies and Spanish, let me know so we can upgrade the ixl accounts to allow you to utilize those subject areas.

  • Here’s a nice primer on using KA as a newbie – link
  • How to use KA in class practice – link
  • How to use KA for homework – link
  • How KA supports personalized learning –  link

Although it’s getting later in the school year, you might consider implementing this into your classroom instruction in the fall! Remember, your EdTech Team is here throughout much of the summer to work within a more relaxed and non-stressful setting. As one of the video states, computers/technology can replace teachers, but it can help teachers be better at what they do! Khan Academy might be just the thing you need to help your students help themselves!

IMG_7269A couple of weeks ago, the SR EdTech Team was able to attend a relatively new education conference of nine years, SXSW Edu  – link. It was an amazing trip and I got a chance to listen to amazing keynote speeches, attend interesting and new-to-me edtech workshops and discussions, as well as meet an energetic and vibrant community of educators. I won’t forget this trip for a long time and I hope that I’m able to share the resources and great ideas I gathered over this four-day gathering in Austin, TX. I will dedicate another blog post on SXSWedu in the coming weeks, but I wanted to get you a list of great websites that can help pull you out of a funk, find a good lesson, think out of the box, organize yourself, and connect you to a community of folks that are only looking to help you whenever you feel stranded. Jennifer Gonzales and her blog cultofpedagogy can be an inspiring place to go when you need inspiration and her keynote rang a familiar bell in many people’s minds that were in the audience.

As the title of this blog post suggests, I wanted to share some of the blogs, websites, and resources the tech team accrued while we were there.

That said, here are the websites that I hope you can find some use for as you continue your journey as a passionate educator here at Stone Ridge.

I need to give props to Stone Ridge’s own series of Lunch Duty Podcasts. Ken Woodard, Urvi Shah, and several other Stone Ridge educators continue to create a series (16 so far) of podcasts for teachers by teachers. It’s the first link in the list below.

IMG_7286

  • Lunch Duty Podcasts (Soundcloud link) or Lunch Duty Podcasts internal (curated by Stone Ridge faculty) – The mission of this team is to podcast compelling audio interviews that elicit teaching wisdom and commentary from working teachers for the edification and amusement of working teachers.
  • SXSWedu.com – Ignore the header that looks like you’re only there to register for next year’s conference in Austin, TX. Just scroll down some and you’ll see a myriad of resources that are available to anyone, even if you didn’t attend. Watch the keynotes if you have the time. They are informative and inspirational. Jennifer Gonzales’ keynote could be a great place to start
  • Cultofpedagogy – J Gonzalez’ incredible, inspiration-rich blog is worth going to every day for ideas and ways to get unstuck! If you sign up for her newsletter, you’ll immediately get a free e-book on how to cut your grading time in half!!! We had the fortune of attending her keynote – link. She’s one of those special educators that after perusing her blog or listening to her just makes you want to be a better, and harder working, teacher!
  • Innovators Compass – I met these folks the night before the conference started. There are many graphical representations on how to push through things and make them happen, but you might like their metaphor on how to get unstuck. Ela Ben-Ur – profile, is a firebrand of a person. Her two-hour workshop on how to use the Innovators Compass to get unstuck packed in at least three hours of information and strategies. She came to education after years as a successful designer at IDEO and brings years of energy and brilliance to the change education space.
  • readwritethink – An incredible resource supported by NCTE. Just click in and start searching! Although the title suggests it’s just for language arts/English teachers, there’s much more than that – give it a click!
  • ck-12 – Incredible STEAM resources for teachers to peruse and use!
  • kathyschrocksguidetoeverything – Great resource for everything edtech. If you’ve ever wanted to find an activity or project that is STEAM-related, take a look here!
  • Cool Cat Teacher Blog – This educator recently moved from the blog format to a more graphically pleasing website (although still technically a blog), you’ll get great ideas, as well as some inspiration from what so many teachers post about their experiences, failures, successes, and more.
  • freetechforteachers blog – Richard Byrne, the creator and aggregator of this blog has been doing this for a long time. He piloted the 1:1 Maine Laptop program before it went live. Lots of collected knowledge over the years as a social studies teacher and more!

IMG_7234Bookmark this blog post as I will continue to update this as I find more and more resources. Email links that you find useful and I’ll add them!

poolAs teachers, we teach because we love working our charges to learn and grow and amaze us. We hope along the way that we amaze our students here and there. After all, we teach subjects in which we are experts, so at times our girls should be enthralled by how well we know our subject matter.  There are so many more reasons why each one of us teaches. This video link from https://topnotchteaching.com shares eleven reasons why we love teaching. The author of the website is a primary school teacher/specialist – reminds me of  “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten.” Wisdom comes from teachers who teach our youth, as well as the seasoned and longtime educator!

As I watched a varsity soccer game after school last week with a high school peer, I was feeling pretty good about how the year had started (always different, always filled with new things, always exciting, regularly draining). As I sat there enjoying the game, it was clear that although my high school counterpart was enjoying supporting her girls, she shared that she just needed to take a break from the report cards and comments that she was writing for the first quarter. That took me aback because I was just settling into the new year. She wasn’t complaining, just sharing what it is to be a teacher at a rigorous and effective high school in the DMV. There is no downtime. We do what we do because we know that we won’t be coming up for air as soon as the year starts!

I do think this video would be worth viewing whenever we as teachers feel overwhelmed – when we feel like there’s know getting off the conveyor belt until June! Enjoy, take a deep breath, pause, refresh.

smiley-163510_1280Greetings and hello after a long hiatus. End of year, summer, start up of the new year has found me in the trenches and unable to reflect or find things to write about. You know – life gets in the way. I hope it was an eventful summer and fall for you all.

I’ve just had a birthday, so you’ll excuse me if this post veers into reflection or big ideas. Birthdays have a tendency to do that.

Another big milestone for me is that this is the first job in education where I’ve begun a sixth year in the same place. In my teaching infancy I found it refreshing and mentally necessary to seek other teaching positions around every two to five years. Sometimes, this was a necessity as my wife’s job changed or the commute was a drag, but I know that my mind and body nudged me to move on in a semi-regular basis. Let’s see, The Bronx New School, TW Miller Elementary School in Wilton, CT, Loudon Country Day School in Leesburg, VA, The Langley School in McLean, VA, Flint Hill School in Oakton, VA, and now Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD. Whew!!!

Perhaps it’s my age and the phase of my life that I’m in, but I seem to want to stick things out and see what the future brings with Stone Ridge. I’m inspired by inspiring teachers who are exciting and and helping their students become thoughtful, caring, and inspiring themselves working for 15, 25, even 40 years at this wonderful institution. I would love to continue to do the same for the foreseeable future here at Stone Ridge.

I don’t ever want to stay someplace where what I do is stale and non-changing. I’m a bit older, perhaps a bit more crystalline in my thinking, but I hope to continue to support students and teachers as they become more and more tech-savvy, tech-intelligent, and yes, even tech dependent. There’s no putting all of this tech stuff back in the tube.

I’m appreciative to have a director of technology and innovation who had the vision six years ago to develop an program that has had an exponential impact on how the community of SR views and uses technology. Add to that a supportive and incredibly talented and caring ed tech team, as well as a responsive and deeply committed IT staff and you have the perfect edtech team. For many years in education I felt that eventually someone would figure out that I had no idea what I was doing. Entering my twenty-fourth year of teaching, I have to finally give way to the notion that I know what I’m doing and that I must do it pretty well. I work for and with an incredibly committed group of middle school teachers, from newbies to experienced well beyond 25 years and more, that appreciate what my role is here and actually like seeing me when I pop in! I’ve learned so much from them and I hope I’ve helped move each of them into a more technologically comfortable space.

So, join me as I enter this next phase of my journey – the first year after the fifth year of my time here at Stone Ridge! So much more to come.thank-you-407397_1280

button-1015632_1920This may seem as backward and antiquated as you can imagine, but the Stone Ridge MS asks students to NOT use google to search for homework or activities and projects for school. Before anyone starts a campaign against our Neanderthal-like thinking, let’s start with some background.

  • Stone Ridge has one of he most comprehensive and well thought out collections of resources accessible on the internal side of our website. It would be nice if this came free, but we believe that the companies and people who put these resources together and vet them, should be paid for their hard work.
  • We believe that all students should give credit to the authors and owners of website or resources where we get our information from. We should also work had to use proper citations when using various resources – many of these resources make it easier to cite and reference their material.
  • Even when safe search is turned on in student browsers (by default), there is still a possibility that inappropriate content, be it in words or maybe even worse, images or video, can still make it’s way onto a student’s screen.
  • Both the Library and the Ed Tech team do ongoing work and present activities regarding online safety, citizenship and using online resources in an effective way.
  • In the summer, SR requires an hour-and-a-half MS student/Parent Orientation session that introduces MS students and families to the technology program. Students also receive their 2 in 1 devices at that time and are instructed on how to use these devices, as well as discuss the Responsible Use Policy that goes over the dos and don’ts when using school-owned laptops and using the school network. In this orientation, we let families know that we ask them not to use google search at school, but they can decide if they will allow their girls to use google (or other open ended search engines) when at home or in their care.

So, with all of that information, does it make sense to try to enforce this rule, even though everyone and their grandmother use google outside of the classroom setting? We at Stone Ridge still say yes. Let us explain our thinking on this. It’s complicated.

First, the art or skill of deciphering whether or not a website you find using google search is unbiased, without agenda, and accurate takes a long time and even adults have a problem with this  – There are stories that teachers actually have listed this website  – https://www.allaboutexplorers.com/explorers/ as an actual resource that their students used for their research. Take a look at the link. It looks good and the explorers names are spelled correctly. Take a gander  at Christopher Columbus bio and you’ll immediately see that it’s a hoax. In actuality, it’s a website that was made for teachers to TEACH students how to spot fake or inaccurate websites. It even has lessons or activities that show you how to use allabouteplorers.com the right way!

Secondly, during student’s middle school years, they work hard to follow rules and do what their teachers ask of them, but it’s also a time when they begin to exert their independence and sometimes do the opposite of what’s asked of them in the classroom. Outside the classroom, families, siblings, friends type things to find in google all the time. For the most part, this process is useful and mostly harmless. We’re certain that as a parent you and your child(ren) have come across google search queries that are not exactly what you had in mind and on a  regular basis, you’ll see things that okay for your eyes to see, but maybe something that would be hard to explain to  your younger ones. In the worst cases, images or words or even videos might pop up that would take a long long time for you “unexplain.”

Finally, a google search that brings up a youtube video can be even more problematic. It’s not necessarily the video that google points you to (it CAN also be the video), but it’s the comments or suggested videos thatpool show up all around the edges of a youtube video that can cause scars for life! Some of the most offensive comment threads happen in these areas of the web. It’s generally a good idea to keep our middle schoolers eyes away from these spaces.

During their time in the middle school, students learn how to evaluate websites and how to use key words to have more effective web searches. Between our MS Librarian and the ed tech team we  work to expose them to accurate and usable websites, as well as coach them to use our amazing virtual resources. By the time they reach the 8th grade, we begin to loosen the “no google search” reigns a bit and even allow them to use google towards the end of the school year because once in high school, their teachers will expect them to make smart choices when researching online AND their grades will be impacted if they make bad reference and resource choices.

Whew! That was a lot of words used to explain something that we think makes a lot of age and developmentally-appropriate sense. We hope it makes sense to you, as well.

Google Doodle

Greetings! You probably see a Google Doodle once or twice a day, but don’t realize what it is. Google Doodle is the graphic that goes above the Google search box when you type google.com. For the most part, it’s just an image of the word Google that has interesting artwork or stylings that honor a specific birthday or discovery or landmark occasion. The Google Doodle above was shown on October 31, 2010 honoring a 17th century woodcut piece of art. Here’s a link to 23 memorable Google Doodles – link from wallpaper.com.

Today, however, like many Google Doodles, it’s more than artwork. To honor what would have been Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday. You can either just type in google.om or go to this link, It’s the reading of her iconic poem, Still I Rise heading up the page on this 4th day of April. I think it is poignant that it is also the Google Doodle on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jrs. assassination.

If you have an five extra minutes and want your girls to listen quietly to a beautiful poem, I recommend, turning down the lights and clicking on this Google Doodle and let the words speak for themselves!

Enjoy at your own peaceful risk!

IMG_2653 IMG_2654

There are few activities that are generally forbidden during the school day: rough housing in the hallway, screaming for no good reason, spinning wooden rulers on sharpened pencils, slamming locker doors, and making and launching paper airplanes. Me, I have a problem with velcro, but that’s another story. For the past two weeks middle school students had the opportunity to make a paper airplanes WITH the permission of their tech teacher – me. Inasmuch as this seems like a lot of playing and goofing off, students had and opportunity to explore the following concepts and develop specific skills:

  1. Follow instructions
  2. Be critical of instructions
  3. Understand what makes a good airplane – weight, balance, symmetry, increased area to allow for air to affect flight,
  4. Think about what branch of engineering has to do with making airplanes, gliders, jets, etc.
  5. Research SR virtual resources to help design and make a better airplane
  6. Write critically, to write instructions for their paper airplane
  7. Make a paper airplane from another student’s instructionsIMG_2712

With the maker space the engineering office and the hallway the wind tunnel, our girls took their task seriously and created a myriad of designs, some effective, others not so much. We tried to reduce the waste of paper by using some paper from the paper bins of teacher workrooms, as well as cut in half pieces of paper for initial designs. Overall, the girls were sensitive to waste and kept it to a minimum.

Although we’re not done with this activity, it has been a respite from standardized testing, start-stop weeks due to snow, late openings, and last minute quizzes and assessments due to the end of the quarter. Yes, the girls are learning and researching and making things and failing and trying again, but they’re having fun doing so!

Which way do I turn?

Which way do I turn?

I wish I coded back in the day when I was in high school and one of my classmates tried to convince me that coding and programming was the wave of the future. Well, I didn’t bring my surfboard back in the late ‘70s and missed those enormous waves before the internet, smartphones, tablets, twitter and Snapchat!

I can do this!

I can do this!

Our hope here at Stone Ridge is that our girls will be regularly exposed  to the many entry points, projects, and activities that involve coding in their tech classes so much so

Can we do this next week?

Can we do this next week?

that a percentage of them will change their ideas of what they’d like to do in high school, college, and beyond. Last week, we completed the Hour of Code school-wide week with the middle school choosing from a selection of activities found in code.org. It was clear from the tone and tenor of my classes that I actually need to find even more opportunities for them to tinker, experiment, Screenshot 2015-12-09 at 11.43.03 PMand create with coding and programming. One of the most engaging coding activities our girls partook in was the robot rattle activity – link. Our girls used a visual coding program, Scratch, to plug in code to manipulate a virtual robot arm to move, lift, pick up and drop objects in a virtual space. Their ability to think creatively and understand that these actions are the building blocks to eventually program real robot arms, legs, may well be the thing that hooks them! ManyScreenshot 2015-12-09 at 11.45.08 PM
of our girls worked so hard that they forgot that class was over. I adjusted this week to extend the Hour of Code. Let’s see if I need to give them even more time to tinker when we get back from Christmas break!

From B&H Website

From B&H Website

Please know that I wear the badge  “Tech Nerd” as a compliment. Myself, I have a the pictured wireless 3D printer sitting in my office at home. I call it research. My family calls it a problem. :)

I digress. A teacher recently asked me for advice on how to pick and choose a 3D printer for her high schooler. I started my reply to her, but I realized it might be worth posting in my blog, just in case anyone was facing the same decision. I’ve done some editing of the email, but it generally went like this:

Samantha, It’s great that your high schooler is wanting a 3D printer. There are so many options out there, compared to 10 years ago when it was Makerbot or bust, for the most part. Certainly, there are many build-from-a-kit printers, as well as order-all-the-pieces and build projects, but it might be best to stick with one that’s already put together so he can concentrate on printing, not fixing.

Here is a list of printers that are ranked and mostly available on amazon.com that might be of interest – https://all3dp.com/1/best-3d-printer-reviews-top-3d-printers-home-3-d-printer-3d/
One thing to be concerned about is viability and support from these 3D printer companies. Over the past few years, I’ve seen several go out of business, which means that their printers don’t have support after the company folds. That’s a risk that might make sense to stick with well known companies, but that also increases prices.
Other things to consider:
  1. Will the printer be for just tinkering or eventual real, useable model creation?
  2. What will the size of your printed objects be?  Our 3D printers can print 8x8x8 inch creations with just one color at a time
  3. Most do it yourself printers have the ability to upgrade their products to create larger build plates – allows for expandability
  4. Do you care about proprietary filament printers? It may cost a bit more, but depending on your build volume, you might not notice the price difference
For some reason, I was drawn to XYZ printers – https://www.xyzeshop.com/us_en/. They were one of the early companies to come out with 3D printers that were almost affordable. My builds have been pretty solid, and about the only thing I notice different from our school’s 3D printer builds is that you have to lay down a layer of glue stick goo on the masking tape-like base provided base or the filament won’t stick. It’s also a bit harder to pry off the plate when it’s completed.
There are several models made by XYZ that I’ll point out here. I have the orange one (second one below) for my own personal use:
Upsides:
  • cheapest, ready to go printer I can find
  • 5.9x.5.9×5.9 builds – at the top of the mini-sized builds
  • Decent footprint – would fit on a student-sized desk
Downsides:
  • Proprietary filaments with a chip (You can’t buy off the shelf filament)
  • Looks like it was made by Crayola for kids (It kind of is for kids, but who cares?)
  • No wifi printing
  • Can’t build large objects
The orange printer I have is now on sale at B&H Photo for $189 GREAT PRICE FOR A READY TO GO WITH STARTER FILAMENT – https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1280962-REG/xyzprinting_3fm1wxus00f_da_vinci_mini_3d.html
  • It has all of the pluses and minuses of the above printer, but it can be set up to print wirelessly. A spool of filament costs $20-$25, though sometimes they have sales on their website
Da vinci printer 1.0 – $239 – https://www.xyzeshop.com/us_en/product/daVinci10Junior – From the xyz website. Don’t know how long that will be at that price, but it is an older version than the two above.
Upsides:
  • Use any filament out there
  • Upgraded printhead, better quality
  • 5.9x.5.9×5.9 builds – at the top of the mini-sized builds
  • Decent footprint – would fit on a student-sized desk
Downsides:
  • Can’t build large objects
  • One color at a time
  • A bit older technology means it might not be supported for much longer
I hope this makes things easier vs more confusing for you and your child. Let me know if you have any questions.3dprinter
Rick (MS Tech Nerd)
Perhaps, some of this information will be interesting to you. If not, you got to read martian or greek for the past 3 minutes!