Friday, February 10, 2017

Are You Connected?

I wasn't always a connected teacher.  Early in my career, I did not have access to technology in my classroom like I have had in the past few years.  If you really want to dive into, while 2005 doesn't sound that long ago, the world of educational technology has come a long way since then.  We are talking about days before smartphones, iPads and other tablets, Chromebooks, and a lot of the great apps and programs that we all like to use today.  In fact, I remember having an overhead projector in my classroom with binders of transparencies that were provided by textbook (textbooks! See below for my explanation) companies, given to me by other teachers, or ones that I had made.  Whiteboard markers and cleaner were a hot commodity.  If I could get all of my classes together from the first couple years of my teaching career, I would apologize to them for how terrible of a teacher that I probably was at the time (I have come across some of those kids in recent years, they are pushing 30 now, and some of them have thanked me for being a good teacher, so at least I made a difference in a few lives).  Since then, as my skills and technology have advanced, I like to think that I am a much better teacher.  

Disclaimer: I am not 100% anti-textbook.  I believe that they can still serve a SMALL purpose.  If you are doing your job as an educator, you should be able to build lessons centered around things that are not from a textbook.  Reading is an important task, and using a textbook for small readings is fine, but working with a book with the goal of covering the entire thing is unrealistic and out of date.  My AP US History students were expected to read from their text, in addition to other items, but my other classes were assigned a book as a supplement.  If I was to start my own school, I would save hundreds of thousands of dollars by not purchasing books and instead use that money to purchase devices and train my staff on those devices and how to build lessons that are innovative from sources other than a textbook.  

My first dive into really becoming technologically savvy came in about 2010.  I had just moved to a new school where more technology was available to teachers and students were expected to graduate with technology, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  Coupled with the technology was an emphasis on project-based learning.  I had to adjust to those expectations as a teacher to be better for my students.  To help in integrating more, with parental permission, I had students set up Gmail accounts that I could use to push out assignments and activities, send general announcements, and have students collaborate digitally.  Just as I was getting used to the system, my school was selected as a pilot to roll out Google Apps for Education, which gave each student an account.  The rollout was cumbersome at first, but eventually, I became the tech savvy person that I am today, simply by toying around with the Google tools and other things that I discovered along the way.  I love telling people that I am self-taught when they ask me where I got my technology degree from; I got it from the University of Me.  

However, one thing that I could not settle on was the best way to demonstrate my skills through the Internet and communicate with my student digitally.  My first foray into a website was a Weebly site that I had a for a few weeks several years ago.  I did not love it and felt that the time I was putting into it was not worth it.  Then I used a website that was provided by my school district where I could put some basic information and push out assignments, but it too was not something of which I was a big fan.  My next venture was using Google Calendar.  I created a Calendar for each of my classes and shared it with my students.  I was able to post assignments, announcements, and other items to it, but it still required students to email or print any work.  It worked, it was better than my previous sites, but it still wasn't quite what I wanted.  So going into the fall of 2014, I was in limbo again.  

I went to a training on the Canvas LMS.  This was more like what I was looking for!  However, in my time toying with it, I found it to be something that would be very complicated for my students and I would spend more time training them on the program than I would be teaching my curriculum.  But a couple of weeks before school was to start, my dilemma was solved when Google introduced Google Classroom.  Looking back at it now, it was very "feature deficient" at the time, but it did everything that I wanted it to do.  From that moment on, I was about 95% paperless until last year, when I was able to go fully paperless.  I had also built a Google site, but I didn't put a great deal of work into it because Classroom provided everything my site would have.  I recently created a tutorial on starting with Google Classroom and some of the basic and intermediate functions of the program.  You can see the video above.  

The badge/logo that I created for my "brand" and website.
Now that I am out of the classroom, I felt that it was time to build a site again, a place where I could share that things that I am passionate about, the presentations that I have delivered, and of course, this blog.  After some comparison shopping between Wix, Weebly, and the new Google Sites, I settled on building a site through Weebly.  I even went out and bought a domain from Go Daddy and produced a graphic to promote my "brand".  After a couple of days work (really, only a few hours over that time, Weebly is very user-friendly), I had a functional site that looked good.  However, as happy as I was, I still felt that something was missing, even though I couldn't figure out what it could be.  My answer came after listening to an episode of the Google Teacher Tribe podcast.  So much of what I have to share is in my Google Drive, is Google related, and my blog is through Google's Blogger platform.  Why not build a site through the new Google Sites?  Sure, there are a few things that Weebly could do that Sites wouldn't, but Sites would allow me to embed my Drive files, the site itself would be saved in my Drive, and I could still use my domain.  Rebuilding my site would not be too tedious; I had started to build a sample site when the new Sites came out.  Essentially, I was able to transfer the info from my Weebly site over to the Google site.  The finished product can be seen at www.andersonedtech.net.  

The new website provides many different things.  Obviously, this blog is featured and you'll be able to access my posts from the site.  I also have included some screencasts and videos that I have made, including the Google Classroom video I embedded earlier in this post.  I have linked some presentations that I have given at workshops and conferences; feel free to bookmark them and use them with your colleagues.  There is also a little bit about my background story and a contact page.  While I am not expecting to become the next educelebrity, I hope that what I share here and on my site will help somebody in some way.  Please take a moment to have a look at my site; your feedback on how I can make it better is 100% welcome! 

In closing, I am still waiting on word on the administrative positions that I interviewed for in the past few weeks.  I am very excited to think about what the future has in store for me, but if it doesn't happen right now, I really enjoy that position that I have now.  So for now, it's the "hurry up and wait" game.  Until next time...