Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: Autumn Laidler's Teacher Twitter Tuesdays

Dear Readers: I'm so glad to announce our first guest teacher blogger! I've had my students (even other people's students) guest blog on this site before. However, this is the first time I've convinced another teacher to take over the keyboard. Well, it was worth the wait as this first teacher guest is the great Autumn Laidler, the gal I blogged about in "Somebody That We All Should Know, Vol 1". So, without further ado, here is Ms. Laidler to share her experiences with Twitter in Education and new forms of professional learning....


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I am so happy to be guest blogging on Teaching Like it’s 2999!  I have been a Jennie Magiera fangirl for a long time and learn from her daily.  I teach intermediate science at National Teachers Academy in Chicago and have 1:1 iPads in my classroom.  In the spirit of Jennie’s blog, I am blogging about something that reflects learning and sharing with technology and has been inspiring to me.

As many of you have read here, recently a group of teachers ran a new type of conference called PLAYDATE.  It was an inspiring day to say the least, but the best part for me was to see teachers at my school new to technology jump in with a new and exciting idea, Twitter Tuesday.  Jenny Lynch and Mia Leonard shared their plan at the PLAYOFF slam to start tweeting with students on Tuesdays.  Jennie Magiera and I had both tweeted with students, but to have new teachers on board and with students from kindergarten, first grade, fourth grade, middle school and junior high was bigger and better.

The teachers were excited but some were still a bit hesitant to jump right in and at this point not everyone had started a Twitter account.  What a perfect opportunity to collaborate!  The PLAYDATE momentum continued and we scheduled a staff mini session to “play” with Twitter.  We kept to a simple plan of having a quick introduction with some Q and A, then  some sacred explore time to play and see how we could make Twitter Tuesday special for our kids and community.

After the session we came up with a few ideas to spark our first Tuesday on Twitter.  We used a school hashtag #ntalearns, came up with a community question that could appeal and apply to our K-8 students and came up with some quick mini-lesson ideas to introduce the tool to students.  Our first grade team even made a Twitter anchor chart to share with students!

The first question was “What do you like best about being a member of our school community?”  The responses school-wide included special things like swimming in our school’s pool, having great friends, learning new and interesting things, having field trips and guest teachers in our classrooms.  Simple question, inspiring answers and interaction between kids who may never see each other during the day because they are a first grader and they are tweeting an eighth grader, yet can communicate and respond to each other with a common tool and community question.  Our Junior High kids were encouraging our Kinder students who were learning to swim, our fourth students wondered about favorite subjects of others and got personal replies from kids around the school.  Community was being built around our favorite things we had in common.  Inspiring.  Read more here.

The more surprising thing was that Twitter Tuesday never really ended!  Teachers continued to tweet throughout the week with the hashtag sharing classroom learning, further questions and ideas from our students.  I visited with Jenny Lynch’s class after Tuesday and had conversations about their tweets, audience was important to them, they found it so amazing that I was reading their tweets and knew what was happening in their classroom.  Jenny also told me that a few of her kids have family members now following them on twitter.  So the learning goes beyond the floors of our school and is now being enjoyed by families! Finding ways to build relationships is central to my teaching philosophy.  Technology has been a surprising tool to do this and this is just one example of its power to connect people.  

I ask that you please follow our learning on Twitter and support our young people by following Melissa Hausser’s class, Anita Huffman’s class, Erin Emanuel’s class and the two teacher’s linked above.  You can also follow my students.

Twitter Tuesday is hopefully the first of many mini-PLAYDATE sessions.  Our plan is to host monthly sessions with a focus on a tool for further exploration.  Our next adventure will be in book creating.  We are growing in our collaboration by adding a Google Hangout with our friends at Burley Elementary who embrace the spirit of collaboration as much as we do at NTA. 





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Thanks, Autumn, for that great post! 
You can learn more with Autumn by following her on Twitter at @MsLaidler or checking out her blog "Science in the City".


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Schoology vs. Edmodo, Round 2 - Also, why Schoology solved my iPad workflow woes

In a previous post from December, I wrote about how I was (sadly) switching from Edmodo (my long-time LMS love) to Schoology. Of the 25 schools I support, 33 classes of students are using a Learning Management System. Since my December revelation, 26 have switched to Schoology and the remainder stayed with Edmodo. I myself maintained both an Edmodo group and started a Schoology course for the twice-weekly after school Student Innovation Team I lead. This, combined with the 33 classes, was a great way for me to learn more about the differences between the two platforms. I've learned a lot, and wanted to share it with you! Below is a quick overview of what we've learned when it comes to Edmodo vs. Schoology.

Why they both rock...
  • Full Collaborative LMS. Both Edmodo and Schoology are full-fledged Learning Management Systems, including assessment building tools, discussion platforms, assignment creators, scheduling tools and announcement boards.
  • Google Drive Integration. Both platforms allow students and teachers to connect their Google Drive accounts. As more and more districts are turning to GAFE (Google Apps for Education), this is becoming more and more necessary. Students can get Google Docs as resources from their teachers, or turn in a Google Doc for a project or assignment. It is simple to link and easy to access in both systems.
  • Interface. Both Edmodo and Schoology feature a Facebook-like interface that is clean, appealing to students and fairly easy to use. Unlike some of their competitors whose interfaces include visually unappealling spreadsheet-like screens and and cluttered menus, Edmodo and Schoology's teacher dashboards and student interfaces are brighter and include clean icons.
  • Free. Both Edmodo and Schoology are free. While some may say that Schoology charges a fee, it is free in all the same ways Edmodo does. They both allow an unlimited number of teachers and students to create accounts and use their system at no cost. They both have app stores, where you can pay to connect third-party apps, websites and programs to their platform. The one place that Schoology does charge is for Enterprise support - i.e., connecting to your district School Information System (such as PowerSchool) and important student data, login information and grades. However, this isn't required and these features are above and beyond what is free in Edmodo as well. So, in essence. They are both equally free.
  • No Email Required. Neither Edmodo nor Schoology require an email account and they both have a simple student-self-sign-up-system (say that five times fast). They use alphanumeric codes (Edmodo's is a bit easier as it's only 6 characters vs. Schoology's 10)

Where Edmodo edges out Schoology...

  • Professional Learning Community. Edmodo has been around longer - about a year to be exact. Perhaps for that reason - or perhaps because of a different company focus - its professional learning networks are more mature and active than those in Schoology. I myself am part of quite a few Edmodo groups and find them helpful to connect with other educators and get ideas. The "discover" link on your page is also a neat tool to find great resources that you otherwise might not come across.
  • Small Groups. Schoology's platform allows for the creation of different classes, and even the ability to invidivually assign quizzes or assignments, but you cannot create small groups. In Edmodo, you not only have the ability to do this, but the tool is easy and intuitive. Moreover, it is possible to have the same students in multiple small groups - a great feature when creating multiple project groups or ability-based scaffolded groups.
  • Badges. This is another great feature available in Edmodo but not in Schoology. If you want to give your students incentives for different achievements, check it out!

Where Schoology has Edmodo beat...
  • iOS App / iPad WorkflowThis was the biggest win for me. I should have honestly put this one first and could write an entire post on it. Instead, I'll just bold the subtitle and make the font red so hopefully you continue to reading to here. The Schoology iPad app solved (almost) all of my iPad Workflow issues. It's a one-stop solution for turning in students' digital work directly to Schoology assignments - from almost every productivity / creation iPad app we use (without having to first put it in a backpack or another file repository as Edmodo requires). It works with any app that allows you to either save the video or image to your photo roll, or open the file into another app. Some examples: Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie, Puppet Pals, Popplet, PaperPort Notes, iAnnotate and Doceri / Explain Everything (the screencasting apps we used to replace Educreations / ShowMe / ScreenChomp). Once the work is submitted it is easy to grade, in Schoology's no-need-to-download-the-files web-based viewer and give student feedback. Students can also turn in unfinished assignments, then access their drafts at a later time to complete their work. The additional submission shows up as a "revision" while maintaining the original file for reference. Needless to say, this sure beats the email, Dropbox.com or WebDAV solutions we'd all be stringing together in the past. 
  • More on the iOS app. Moreover, the Schoology app is more intuitive and developed than the Edmodo app. It allows students to create media (video or picture) to embed in assignments or discussions, open assignment attachments such as PDFs or pictures directly into another app. The functionality of the iPad app is so clean and easy to use that some of my 1:1 iPad teachers who were against trying out an LMS (because they found Edmodo's app difficult to navigate) are now in love with Schoology! Check out this page with support on how to use the Schoology iOS app, and my video to the right with a basic walkthrough of its main features. 
  • Discussions. Schoology has a slew of discussion features not currently available in Edmodo. As there are many, I'll simply bullet my favorites below. For more information on discussions, read this article and check out this video.
    • Discussions are their own category - In Edmodo, if you want students to have a chat discussion, you simply post a note or assignment and allow them to reply to that. However, in Schoology, discussions are their own category that are both gradeable, and assignable. 
    • Reply threads - Students can directly reply to one another's comments in Schoology, and their comments show up as a reply thread (just like in Facebook). This is not possible to do in Edmodo.
    • Media embedded in comments - Students can comment in a discussion with video and pictures - both on the desktop version and the iOS version. This is especially helpful when they are discussion a math problem and they want to share a their written work.
    • Student comment spotlight - Teachers can use a "filter by user" tool to see which of their students participated in the discussion, how often they participated and where their comments are in the flow of the thread. 
    • Shared discussions - Teachers can share a discussion with another course to allow students from multiple classes to join in the same discussion.
    • Comment moderation - Teachers can also moderate comments before they are published.
  • Assessment building tool. Schoology also offers some advanced assessment tools in its assessment builder:
    • Embedded Media - The Schoology assessment builder allows teachers to directly add video and images - even formulas and rich HTML text - to both question and answer portions of an assessment. The result is the ability to have a student match pictures of animals to their appropriate classification. Or polygons to their names. Or even watch a video clip and name the genre. (In Edmodo, you can embed links but not media itself.)
    • Ordering / Sequencing questions - This is another question type available in Schoology. 
    • Assessment Settings - Schoology's assessment builder provides additional settings such as: resumable assessments, timed questions (in addition to timed test), result statistics, and question alignment to state or Common Core standards. 
  • 5/2013 Update: Grade with a Rubric. Schoology also now allows you to grade assignments an assessments with a self-created rubric. Boo-yeah. 
  • Analytics. Schoology also allows the teacher to view a myriad of analytics about student behavior on the platform - including time in course, last time logged in, assignment pageviews and more.
  • Attendance. This LMS also has an intuitve attendance feature that includes commenting and messages to parents.
  • Updates feed. When logging into Schoology, students only see updates (course messages from their teacher) on the left panel and all of their assignments, quizzes and discussions are on the right panel. This helps students to differentiate between what they need to do and coure announcements. Many teachers I work with are using the updates to give the kids an agenda for the day. That way when they log in, they see the period agenda on the left and the to do list on the right. In Edmodo, both types of messages are blended into the same news feed, so students often have a difficult time dileneating the two. While they could look at their notifications, or updates, at the top right of the Edmodo page, the Schoology update feed is still easier for most of my students (as many have commented in the past month).
So who won this round? Schoology. The discussion features, iOS app, and assessment tool were knock outs for us. However, as we say, there are no long term relationships in EdTech. Edmodo has a new app update coming soon, and we're excited to try it out and see what new features it brings. We are all here to find the best tool to meet our students' needs. Hopefully this healthy competition will only drive LMS innovation at a faster pace. So here's to looking forward to round 3.

For more Schoology vs. other LMS platforms, check out this great post by Alice Chen!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The DaVinci (QR) Code: Using QR Codes to share digital student work

One of the things that we've been doing for awhile, but I've yet to write about is using QR Codes to share student work. When your classroom goes 1:1 and you move closer and closer to being "paperless" (although I think it's good sometimes to keep a little paper in your life), sharing student work often becomes a challenge. Afterall, most of their work is now created digitally, so how can you put it on your bulletin boards? Print out a screenshot of their iMovie project or Keynote?

Well, here's a better idea. Instead, house their work on your class site. You can create pages for each subject, project, unit, standard or even student. Then, create QR codes that link to that page. (For a free and easy QR code creator, check out this site.) Next go to your bulletin board and staple up that QR code with a quick description of the assignment, or a picture of the student, if you've decided to organize their work that way. Voila! Student work posted! The kids love scanning the QR codes to see where it takes them - it's like a mystery just waiting to be solved... the DaVinci QR Code! (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

One of the coolest parts about this is when parents come to visit the classroom. Seeing them scan the QR codes and watch their child's iMovie, listen to their audio file or view their Toontastic is just amazing. Moreover, they can "take home a copy" of the work by simply saving the URL on their phone. How often can they do the same with work stapled to a bulletin board?

Another great use case of QR codes is to have student work that is based on the classroom around them. Last year, I had my students find the surface area of classroom objects. They then created a quick Educreation to show their math metacognition in solving that problem. Once they were done, I took the URLs to their work and created QR codes. We taped the codes to the objects in the room and kids could go around and scan an object to see their peers solve for its surface area. In a Kindergarten classroom I support this year, we've done similar projects with younger kids, describing shapes and colors in their rooms. They take pictures of an object and then circle shapes they see. For example, they might photograph a garbage can, put the photo into the Educreation and screencast themselves annotating where they see a circle, or a square, and the colors they note.

Finally, some of my teachers are also using QR codes to make interactive libraries. They are having their students create quick 60-second video reviews (Reading Rainbow-style) and then uploading them to their class site by genre. Then they are posting the QR-code to the review to the book itself or the book bin. Kids can then take their devices to the library when it's time to check out a new just-right-book and view each other's book reviews to make a decision. Especially powerful will be the collection over time as kids can see siblings who were former students in that classroom reviewing potential reads!

I was recently told by a marketer that QR codes are "a dying technology struggling to remain relavant." While that may be true in the marketing world, I think they have some real shelf life in our 21st century classrooms.

This has nothing to do with technology, but please read anyway.

Hello Educator Friends... this quick post has almost nothing to do with technology, except that I'm promoting another blog. My cousin, Axie, is an aspiring Young Adult writer. She's also the creator and author of a blog called "Books are Bread."

If you are a fan of Young Adult fiction, or you teach young adults, this is a great place to find book recommendations, reviews and general hilarity. I highly suggest you check it out. Thanks!

PS: My favorite post so far is this one about YA books that are being made into movies this year. A very useful read....

Saturday, February 9, 2013

#BurNTA Collabo-Crew & #PLAYDATE13


Many recent posts mention a group of educators that have joined in a cross-school, cross-state collabo-rama team. We like to call ourselves #BurNTA as a mash up between two of our schools - Burley and NTA (National Teachers Academy). This team is made up of three educators from Burley - Ben KovacsKristin Ziemke and Carolyn Skibba, joined by three from NTA - Autumn LaidlerAnita Orozco and myself, finished off with a cherry on top - the great Sue Gorman from Racine, WI. While I apologize if you're getting a bit weary of hearing about #BurNTA, I must continue to mention them on this blog as they are are continuously inspiring me. Having a team of colleagues who motivate, challenge and support you is key to successful and ongoing innovation. Afterall, I suppose you can be creative in a vacuum, but what's the fun in that? 

An example fruit of this collaboration is #PLAYDATE13. In a previous post, I wrote about how our #BurNTA team cooked up a crazy idea about a new kind of event... PLAYDATE (People Learning and Asking "Y" - Digital Age Teacher Exploration). Here we set out to create a conference that didn't have any presenters... no presentations. Just time to explore, collaborate and recharge your edu-batteries. We wanted to simply provide a time and space for educators to get geeked about about teaching again and play with tools they've yet to ty out.

So yesterday, after months of planning, PLAYDATE went from being a twinkle in our eyes to a real, live conference. We even worked with colleagues in Portland, OR and Boston, MA to send this idea to both US coasts! In addition to frequent and energized tweets throughout the day, we also brought in off-site explorers by doing a live Google Hangout on the Air to share learning during the PlayOff Demo Slam! To see a quick visual summary of the Chicago event, check out this amazing video by the talented Carolyn Skibba - embedded to the right!

And how did the participants react? Well the evaluations are still coming in, but so far we are smiling. Besides everyone tweeting from both Portland and Chicago with such fervor that #PLAYDATE13 reached the #2 trending spot on Twitter, check out some of the great comments and tweets below! 

Some evaluation comments...
  • "You said it would be different, collaborative and learner centered . . . And . . . It was!"
  • "I loved the time we had to just play and talk to other teachers who might use the tools."
  • "I liked the easy going, 'there are no rules' atmosphere. It was really nice to have the freedom to just explore!"
  • "Thank you for all your hard work and taking the time to put this on! This is the time of year when I get a little run down in the classroom and playdate13 was inspiring and rejuvenating. The sessions and the people around me reminded me why I love Teaching and got me excited and revved up for Monday!"
Some tweets...
  • "I can't get over how awesome  was! Great people collaborating. Love talking, trying, teaching and learning abt tech together!" @mentortexts
  • " power was it was centered on collaboration not presenters. Everyone there wanted to learn and share and create"  @mwhitedg
  • "Sitting in the sun playing with my new tools from as my kids play in the snow. Perfection!" @jmaclaurin
  • "Best thing about  was that I actually made stuff. Less philosophy and theory, more doing.@ShawnMcCusker
  • To see more of the tweets from the day, check out this Storify.

Needless to say, we are thrilled with the outcome and are so thankful to the many people who came out on a cold Saturday morning to learn with us. We do plan to have more PLAYDATEs. Additionally, we hope to soon create a kit so others can have a PLAYDATE in their own hometown. As for now, we are all napping and dreaming up new crazy ideas to put into action.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Google Forms Takes a New Shape!


Perhaps you've noticed - Google Forms has been updated! There are some interesting new features, although - to the dismay of many - they still haven't made it possible to embed media into your form. Hopefully the next update?

Here is a quick overview of some of the new features I've found useful (Note... it is possible that some of these were around in the old version but I am just now noticing... either way, all are interesting tricks to check out):

What's New
  • Copy and Paste bulleted list directly into form: You can now take a bulleted list from a document or a column of spreadsheet cells and paste it directly into a form for the following answer choices: Multiple Choice, Checkboxes or Choose from a List. 
  • Pre-filled form URL: You can create a form and have pre-populated responses for your participants. This is super helpful if some of the answers will be the same for most of your respondants.
  • Choose response destination: Google Spreadsheets only holds the first 400,000 cells. Therefore, for an organization sending out a form that will accrue quite a lot of data, you might want to have the responses saved directly into forms. What this does is prevents the form from creating a spreadsheet. Instead, you download a CSV (Comma Separated Values spreadsheet) file and will get the responses that way. Otherwise, you can still send responses to a Google Spreadsheet. Moreover, you can now send responses to another tab in an already created spreadsheet, consolidating your different Google Drive files! Hooray! Click here for more on form destination.
  • Editable responses: Remember how frustrating it was when you hit submit on a form and then realized you made a mistake - or your students were using a form as an assessment and needed to go to lunch - but come back to finish another time? Now you can go back and edit responses. When saving your form, you have the option to make responses editable! 
  • Make a Copy / Delete all responses: In the past, if you wanted to make a copy of the form, you had to copy the spreadsheet. Now you can copy the form itself. Moreover, you can delete all responses from that form easily using a menu option - rather than clearing the spreadsheet.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts: I am a personal huge fan of keyboard shortcuts. From online gaming to Gmail, keyboard shortcut make my life more efficient and I truly believe I'm saving time. Now Google Forms has keyboard shortcuts as well! For those who are new to keyboard shortcuts, try out this awesome Chrome extension to get you used to using them in Gmail... think of it like training wheels for keyboard shortcuts. Also for fellow Starcraft nerds who want to see keyboard shortcuts at their finest, check out this video

What's Changed

  • How you get to the spreadsheet view: You used to be able to view responses by clicking "view spreadsheet". Now you first need to set where responses will be generated (since, as explained above, there are now choices). Then you will see an option to view the spreadsheet.
  • Confirmation message editor: The confirmation editor is now in the bottom of the screen, when you're editing your form. It's a lot easier to find and edit! Great!
  • Fewer Themes: Google says they are releasing more features soon... hopefully the full list of themes will be part of this update!
  • Summary of Responses no longer truncated: Thanks to Kevin Brookhouser for pointing out this next update! Summary of Responses - the graphical way to view form submissions - no longer truncates paragraph or textual submissions. In the past, it would only show a snippet of these entries. Now they show the entire submission! 

For GAFE users
  • Getting the new Forms: If you are using your school account, you may not see the new forms yet. In that case, have your GAFE administrator go to their Dashboard, then to "Domain Settings". From there they should click on "General" and then "New User Features". If they select "Rapid Release" all the users in your GAFE domain should get these new releases right away!

For more info, check out the Google Drive Blog as well as Google Drive's Google+ page (see posts starting on January 30, 2013 for daily updates, tips and tricks on the new Forms). Also check out this great blog post!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Somebody That You Should All Know: Vol #2

In December, I started a series called "Somebody That You Should All Know" to write about practicing classroom teachers who inspire me. In this second post of the series, I'd like to introduce everyone to two of the (many great) teachers at Burley School in Chicago, IL. Kristin Ziemke and Ben Kovacs are two classroom teachers who are making real a difference in their 1st and 6th graders' lives. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with them over the past year and have been learning so much in the process. Here are just a few reason I think they're both tops.

Kristin is a true innovator; she's constantly pushing boundaries and challenging her 1st graders to become digital authors through blogs, podcasts and other media. When viewing her kids' work or speaking with them in person, you can truly see that they understand the power of their own voices. Kristin has taught her young scholars that no matter their age and size, their ideas are important and they should share them on a daily basis.

The perfect example comes from this 1st grader's blog post. The author was one of the thirteen students presenting App Speed Dating at the Chicago Public Schools Tech Talk on Friday. She was so excited by the prospect of teaching adults a new skill that she blogged this post from home the morning of the conference. Just listen to the zeal in her voice when she says, "I'm so excited to do it because I am teaching adults! It's so exciting!" To add to her students' station as teachers during the event, Kristin even had the forethought to create business cards for them to pass out to their adult learners. Now take the thrill you heard in this girl's voice and imagine her smile as she handed her card out. Wow - student empowerment at its best.

Ben is another great example of an educator who inspires. I actually tried to get Ben to work with me at NTA about 6 years ago. While I didn't have the opportunity to become his colleague then, I have been very lucky to conspire with him recently on cross-school projects, PLAYDATE13 and the recent Tech Talk session. As I've worked with him, I've realized that one of the many great things about Mr. Kovacs is his passion for education. When you speak with him, it is clear that he is truly an educator at heart. Whenever we discuss professional learning, best practices or new technology fads, he is constantly turning the conversation back where it should always be focused: how will this help our students? He is constantly thinking about his kids and what he can do to make his learning environment a better place for them.

We recently had a meet up in his classroom after hours to plan an event. While my room at 6:00pm on a January evening would have been a flourescent-lit cold box, his room - lit warmly with lamps from home, two cozy couches and strewn with student work - was downright pleasant. I could definitely see that this was a place in which even an awkward 6th grader would feel comfortable learning all day, everyday (no offense to 6th graders... but if my memory serves me right, this can be a less than comfortable age). If you'd like to see how happily Ben's students learn in his classroom, check out this video of his kids kicking back and enjoying a hot cup of research.

However, Ben's classroom environment isn't just about nice lamps and soft seats. It's also about the way he treats his students as explorers. His attitude towards their learning is about discovery - not just rote memorization of facts. As a result, his students speak with authority and are more than happy to share their learning with you. When I had the chance to meet one of his 6th graders this week, I was astounded that the student could not only share information articulately but also by his ability truly question. Too often we only ask our students to answer our questions -- or only teach them to ask shallow questions about an assigned reading. However Ben has taught his students to question with a purpose. He's taught them that curiousity is a great thing. And I think that Ben's teaching is a great thing too.

If you aren't already, follow Ben and Kristin on Twitter and check out Burley's iPad blog here. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Student Becomes the Master: Redefining Conference Learning

Yesterday was an amazing day full of learning and student leadership at Chicago Public Schools' 2013 Tech Talk Conference. While there were many amazing sessions, I must say one of the best was put on by students.

The session, App Speed Dating, joined thirteen 1st - 7th graders from Burley School and National Teachers Academy - two Chicago Public Schools on opposite sides of the city. The concept (adopted from Maine's Leveraging Learning Institute) was that ten stations would be set up around the room, each led by a student. Groups of 5-6 adults would rotate through each station in 4 minute increments, getting a hands-on tutorial of a high-leverage educational app. Click here for the session website with a complete list and description of the presented apps.

While there was certainly room for improvement - better "entry ticketing system" so that participants knew which table to start at and perhaps longer station times - overall the session went amazingly well! In the feedback form, participants unanimously agreed that it a great experience: energetic, hands on and engaging.

So what were some ingredients that made this work? Here are a few thoughts:

(1) It was student-led.
Students were the presenters here, and their voices are so much more credible than ours. They spoke from a place of experience using the app, and genuinely demonstrated that yes, a 1st grader can operate it and no, a 7th grader will not be bored by its interface. They were open, earnest and able to answer questions that many adults could not. Moreover, it empowered them to take charge and have agency in their own education. (Here is a great example of one of Kristin Ziemke's first graders sharing her zeal for the day. She was so excited about presenting that she posted a Croak.It blog post from home the morning of the conference.) Too often we have conferences and events where we talk about student learning, but don't do enough to showcase it. Events like the SIT Conference and sessions like iPad Playgrounds or App Speed Dating begin harness the power of student leadership and voice. I'd love to see more sessions like this in future Edu Conferences.

(2) It was hands-on.
This session was hands-on, 95% of the time. With the exception of the first and final few minutes (in which we went over the objectives of the session and structure, then did a wrap up and evaluation), the participants had their hands on devices, working through the apps and learning through doing. So often we attend or present at educational conferences to talk about "best practices" yet, ironically, most conference sessions are presented with the worst possible pedagogy - 40-60 minutes of lecture. No assessment, no differentiation, no learner engagement or collaboration. I myself am guilty of talking at countless participants and yabbering on without giving them time to do or explore. A shift is needed and more conferences are headed this way - EdCamps and PLAYDATE being two great examples.

(3) It was a collaboration of many educators.
Instead of sessions that come from the minds of one - perhaps two educators, this session was not only facilitated and planned by six educators, but also two different schools. Three Burley School educators, Ben Kovacs, Kristin Ziemke and Carolyn Skibba, joined with three National Teachers Academy educators, Autumn Laidler, Anita Orozco and myself. We collaborated from across the city using Google Hangouts and Google Docs. By combining 6 different minds and 2 different schools, we were able to blend perspectives, background knowledge and presentation styles to come up with a more well-rounded session. Moreover, our schools continue to collaborate through cross-grade/subject/school integrated units. Ben, Kristin and Autumn just did a great unit on bats and are currently engaging their 6th, 3rd/4th and 1st graders in an identity unit! Follow #BurNTA on Twitter to learn with them! (Update: See Kristin's post below for more info on these units and also a link to one of her 1st grader's reactions to their conference experience!)