Archives for category: Tech Tools

Connecting with the community is one of the greatest challenges of every school that I’ve worked in.  Too often, we settle for the excuse of “That’s just the way it is in (fill in any town in America)”.   I would argue that communities that are the most difficult to engage are the communities that most desperately need to be heard from in order to improve our schools.

In the coming school year, we will be using Celly to connect with parents.

Cell is a free service that allows users to create “Cells” or groups of users that can engaged in a text message dialogue.   Cells can be set up for classes, teams, clubs, PTO, or the entire school.

How it works;

Users create accounts, then sets up Cell.

Other users can set up an account using their cell phone, then join the cell that was created. Once they join, they will be able to participate in the text dialogue.

Celly can be used to deliver announcements to all group members such as;

“Report cards going home today, make sure you ask your child and celebrate their hard work!”.

It can also be used to poll participants to get feedback.  This will make for an easy way to get community feedback on school decisions.

For someone who doesn’t like the sound of his voice, Celly is a much preferred option.  When I record a message using our Alertnow system, I record and rerecord the message at least 4 times.  I would much rather send a text alert.

This will be a great resource for connecting with families and ensuring a two way dialogue.

Bullying is a problem in every school.  School leaders must take proactive measures to ensure the safety and comfort of every student in the building.  Students will not learn if they are not comfortable.

Picture taken from http://www.hopewellva.gov

As much as we encourage every student to come to administration with reports of wrongdoing, it doesn’t always happen.  After a meeting with my principal, we decided to add another resource to our fight against bullying.  We want students to be able to text message us directly to report anything that they would not be comfortable doing in person.

Using Google Voice, we were able to set up a free account.  This will allow students to report discipline violations through text messaging.  While we just established the service, I believe it will be a great resource to our school’s fight against bullying.
Google Voice is a free service that has a ton of great features.  If you’d like to learn more, be sure to visit their sight.  Our school district uses Google email services, but the feature of Google Voice was blocked.  I had to set up an alternate email address for our school.  This wasn’t a problem because I was able to forward all received texts to my work email.


Collecting feedback from stakeholders is essential for the growth of your school.  Learning what you are doing well, and what you could be doing better is a great practice for any leader.

In January, my principal and I sat down with every teacher in the building and discussed four topics.  This was not an opportunity for the administration to give feedback, but rather to listen to what the teachers had to say.

The four questions we asked were;

-What is going well in your classroom?

-What is one area you want to focus on in your classroom?

-What is going well in the school?

-What do we need to focus on schoolwidel?

We listened and took notes of everything the teachers had to say.  Then using Wordle we created visualizations of the teacher feedback.

As a visual learner, I would much rather look at information than read it.  This also makes it easier to spot trends in what people are focused on.

In the future, I plan on using Google Forms to conduct the survey so that I can just cut and paste responses into Wordle.

Learning from our teachers provided great feedback as to what we need to focus our efforts on as we finish this year, and plan for the next.  The experience also helped build community and trust with teachers.

When the iPad came out, many hailed them as the future of education. Since then, Apple has done a lot to position themselves as the solution to school technology.  With the announcement of iBook textbooks, they are focusing even more on the education sector.  While I’m not super excited for the prospect of textbooks on the iPad (see below), I think iPads offer limitless solutions to the classroom.

Our school recently purchased our third cart of 30 iPad 2s.  Since their purchase, the first two carts have been used almost daily.  I’ve seen students in the hallways, outside, on the floor, and just about every other place possible working on projects for class.

The iPads are not solving any of the major problems in education, but they are engaging students in a way that they enjoy.  I believe that it is our job to make school enjoyable, fun, and relevant to our students.  If we can do this, while teaching content, we will ensure the success of a larger percentage of our students.

When I go to conferences or workshops, it is common practice to see almost every educator on an iPad.  They are ubiquitous with professional growth.  We need to offer that same opportunity to our students.

Yes, iPad are “sexy” and sleek and in the words of our students “awesome”.  But they are also functional, practical, and useful in any type of classroom.

And by the way, yes some of them will break.  It is a natural consequence of usage.  This cannot stop us from putting expensive technologies in the hands of our students. We purchase simple silicon covers from Monoprice.com for $3.24 per unit.  They are cheap and prevent the iPads from sliding off the desk.

The reasons that I don’t like iBook textbooks.

iTextbooks will probably not save money over paper books. They cost $15 per year and must be repurchased each year.  If the student is assigned an iPad, then the textbook must be purchased for each student enrolled in that particular class.

Although iBooks allows teachers create textbooks, they will only work on iPads.  While this doesn’t sound terrible, we must think to the future and not bind ourselves to one brand of technology.

The issue of copyright must be brought into the discussion.  Very few educators are originators of content (This isn’t a bad thing).  We recycle and repackage ideas and materials to meet our students needs.  If we do this while authoring an iBook, who is responsible for the infringement of copyrights?

Now, more than ever before, we have a huge pipeline of information at our fingertips.  While information is great, we need to be able to use it effectively in order to impact what is happening in our schools.  School leaders need to find ways to siphon information from this pipeline without being overwhelmed.  Once found, we need to put that information to use.

Technology gives me access to a network of resources.  For example, my iPad has changed how I consume information.  There are so many apps that make consuming topic-based information easier.   One of my favorite apps is Zite; a personalized magazine for your iPad.  It compiles news articles and blog posts from the categories you specify.  Some of the categories that I follow are education, leadership, e-learning, and technology.

An RSS feed is a great way to get daily updates from all the blogs that you like to follow.  It is way too tedious to individually go to each site.  An RSS feed will collect the daily posts into one place for you to catch up as often as you like.  Google Reader is a great place to start.  If you aren’t sure who to follow, click here to subscribe to the same feed that I use.  By no means is it totally comprehensive, but it is a good place to start.

What do I do with this info?  Use it now by putting into practice what I learn, share with staff or other professionals, or store in Evernote so that I can get to it later.  Evernote has provided me with an online storage system for all of the articles and sites that I come across.  Later, when I need to find an article, I can search my Evernote account and easily have access to all the resources that I’ve collected.  Here is a blog post from “The 21st Century Principal” on how school leaders can use Evernote.  Eduleadership Radio, a podcast by Justin Baeder has a show dedicated to “Evernote for Administrators“.

The first step to plugging into a PLN is getting access to resources and learning what others are doing.  The next step will be taking a proactive role in your network of professionals.

I started using Jing over the summer, and have found countless uses for it personally and professionally.

Jing can be used to create a screencast or a screenshot.  Screenshots can be drawn on and annotated to highlight information, or give more detail.  My number one use of Jing has been giving teachers a visual guide to something that would normally be a long list of steps. Below is an example of a mid-year review that I needed my teachers to sign off on.  Rather than create word based instructions, I sent this Jing.

Teachers found it to be very useful, and it exposed them to a new tool they could be using in their classrooms.

Jing also allows users to create screencasts.  I use screencasts all the time to walk users through more complicated computer processes (see screencast below in my post on using Google Forms for walk-through observations).  The free version of Jing allows for up to five minutes of recording.  This seems like a lot, but five minutes goes quickly.

I hope you find Jing as useful as I have.