Edmodo - Safe, Collaborative Learning

Edmodo is a safe and secure on-line collaborative educational environment for teachers, students and parents.  Teachers can use Edmodo to communicate directly with students or to address the class as a whole.  With the ability to post notes, assignments, alerts, quizzes and polls in a "Facebook" style learning environment, it suits the needs of both student and teacher alike.  Parents love it as its an easy way to keep them informed of classroom activities, assignments, grades and school events.

With unique user accounts for teachers, students and parents,  the communicative control is in the teacher's hands.  Teachers can communicate directly with a class, individual students, other educators, or may send posted messages to parents.  To ensure a safe, secure learning environment, students can only communicate with the teacher or if permission has been assigned, they may communicate with the class or group.  Students do not have the ability to communicate with one another.  Parents only have the ability to communicate with the teacher and their own child.

Edmodo can also be used as to create Professional Learning Communities within a school to improve student learning or you might choose to broaden your horizons beyond your own educational institution by joining an Edmodo Community.


Additional features of Edmodo include a grade book, an event/assignment calendar and your own resource library where you can store an unlimited number of files and links.  Are you a Google Docs/Drive user?  If so, connect Edmodo to your Google Docs/Drive account to easily access existing files and attach them to notes, assignments etc.  The only limitation is the max file size for upload is 100mb.

Whether you're looking for a classroom or school based Learning Management System(LMS), Edmodo is definitely worthy of consideration.

Want to learn more?  Check out Edmodo in Action for resources related to getting started.

What You Can Learn from Summer Vacation

This is a revised version of  a post that was originally published on 08/29/11:

As many educators return to the classroom to begin a new school year, I thought I'd share some  reminders and advice that I learned while on summer vacation.

The Background

Life is good.  After spending a wonderful summer in Canada at the cottage, I've now returned to work in Singapore.  While on the long return flight, I reminisced about a great summer and got thinking about what I had learned while on vacation.  There was one thought that stuck out in my mind.  It was an incident in which not only had I learned something, but in which I was also taught a life lesson.  It's a lesson I'd like to share with you as many of us return to the classroom shortly.

The Story

I've been spending my summers on the water since I was a kid.   One of the things I learned was how to sail.  It's something I enjoy doing to this day.  My dad taught me how from the ground up, with lessons on how to rig the boat, important terminology like starboard and port, how to read the wind, etc.

Since the time she was very young, I've shared my love of sailing with my daughter, Haylee, who is now 10 years old.  I haven't really pushed her into it, but she would often accompany me pleasure sailing in a Sunfish or Laser or in races on her grandfather's Mirage 25.  She's always enjoyed the experiences but up to this summer, she has essentially been along for the ride(or so I thought).  That all changed recently.

One afternoon, I had just returned to shore after an hour of windsurfing, when I was greeted by Haylee, who, unbeknown to me, had been keeping a watchful eye on me from shore.  She announced to me that she wanted to windsurf.  Without giving it much thought, I immediately came up with a number of reasons why I felt she wasn't ready, including the fact that she'd never sailed before on her own, couldn't read the wind and wasn't physically strong enough to hold the 4.5m squared sail.

All of my reasoning was based on the incorrect assumption that she would need to learn the same way that I did,  step-by-step, in a systemic order,  from the ground up.  Boy, was I wrong.

Being the persistent little darling that she is, she wasn't going to take no for an answer.  So after providing her with a few elementary techniques, I put her on the water, fully anticipating that she would struggle and that I would be vindicated in yet another example of father knows best. Again, boy was I wrong.

Not five minutes after taking to the water, Haylee had lifted the sail from the water and was sailing!  I couldn't have been prouder of what she accomplished.  At the same time I was disappointed in myself for initially discouraging her.

The Lesson

I had made the incorrect assumption that Haylee was going to need to learn how to walk before she could run.  That she would need to understand the theory before she could apply it.  That she would need to learn the same way that I did.  That she learned the same way that I did.   Boy, was I wrong.

Sometimes we just need to provide the tools and then get out of the way and let self-guided learning take place through curiosity, trial and error.  That's when discoveries are made and the magic happens...

You go, girl!


So, as we begin another school year,  perhaps you can learn from my experience and apply it to how you teach your students.  Please remember :

1.  Students need encouragement
2.  Students all learn differently.
3.  Students have different entry points.
4.  Students have different skill sets that they bring to each learning opportunity.
5.  Students need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.

Have a great school year and happy sailing!

Teaching, Tourism and Technology

One sector of the economy that has been dramatically altered by technology is the travel industry.  The rise of travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity etc. has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of travel agents and ultimately given the consumer the power and the tools to become their own booking agent. But, be that as it may, travel industry shows and travel fairs are more popular than ever and attendance figures at these events are significant.

With these facts in mind, I recently had my students investigating the rise of sustainable tourism or eco-tourism and it's importance as a growth segment within the travel industry.   In determining a way for students to demonstrate their knowledge and share it with one another, I decided that students would conduct their research and then create an exhibit that they would then promote at a travel fair.

The results of this approach were overwhelmingly successful.  Students demonstrated a great deal of engagement in the completion of the task and relished the opportunity to showcase their work.   Through peer-evaluation, they carefully analyzed each others work and concurrently learned about  various sustainable tourism initiatives throughout the world.  The competitive nature of having their work standing side-by-side with their classmates created a climate of healthy competition that raised the quality of their work dramatically.

My takeaway from this experience was that the creation of a meaningful learning task that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and then apply it remains as important as ever.  But the creation of an environment in which we can all learn from one another offers the greatest benefit.

How does this relate to Technology?

The ultimate reward that technology offers to education is the its ability as a communicative tool to help, inform and educate others.  In designing assessments for my students in the future I will continue to seek learning opportunities that allow students to showcase their skills, expertise and knowledge to a wider audience and not just exclusively to the teacher.

Edtech Tools for 2012

Don't know if you've had a chance to watch the video or read the 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates or not, but in the event you didn't read it in it's entirety, you may have missed what he has to say about some Edtech tools that are making a difference in today's classrooms.  I've embedded the video and provided a portion of his letter to give you Bill's take on Edtech and to share links to some of the resources he references that you may not be familiar with.  It's definitely worth a look.

Social networking is one of the most promising areas, because it helps teachers and students connect in ways that naturally augment what’s going on in the classroom. Services that use social networking, like Edmodo, are really starting to take off because teachers can manage all aspects of the classroom using a platform with which most people are comfortable.
I’m also excited to see more and more schools “flip” the classroom so that passive activities like lectures are done outside of class and in-class time is used for more collaborative and personal interactions between students and teachers. Khan Academy is a great example of a free resource that any teacher can use to take full advantage of class time and make sure all students advance at their own pace.
Great work is also being done by companies that are thinking beyond simply digitizing textbooks (is this a shot at Steve Jobs and Apple???). CK-12 Foundation, Udemy, and Ednovo have great teacher- and community–generated content. A simple example of how powerful the community can be in this area is TeachersPayTeachers, a marketplace that facilitates the sharing and exchanging of lesson plans and other materials developed by teachers themselves.
We’re also just starting to see how impactful gaming can be in an educational context. MangaHigh and Grockit are successfully delivering fun, competitive, game-based lessons that drive greater engagement and understanding. Zoran Popović, at University of Washington’s Center for Game Science, is taking this even further through some amazing work creating games that automatically adapt to each student’s unique needs based on their interactions with the computer.
Many of these new tools and services have the added benefit of providing amazing visibility into how each individual student is progressing, and generating lots of useful data that teachers can use to improve their own effectiveness.
But how do most teachers figure out what’s available and right for them? There’s not yet a good answer to this question. Good technologies remain unused, and teachers spend too much of their own time and money. That’s why I’m launching a project this year to build an online service that helps educators easily discover and learn how to use these new tools and resources.  

I think there’s no limit to what a teacher with the right tools and information can do. 

Bill's Annual Letter: Good News and a Challenge from The Gates Notes on Vimeo.

Xtranormal for Education

Xtranormal is a great tool that allows for the easy creation of animated movies.  Just how easy?  Well, according to the tag line, "if you can type, you can make movies" and I'd have to agree that it's just that easy.

You start by choosing from hundreds of actors and in addition to controlling what they say, you have the ability to control their emotions, gestures and voices.  You can type or record the dialogue and the characters automatically lip-sync your words.  I recommend writing the script or dialogue for your movie using a word processing program and then copying/pasting it into the dialogue box.   In addition to controlling what the characters say and how they say it, as the director of your movie you can also select backgrounds and control camera angles, add sound effects and more.

Initially, there was only a single version of Xtranormal, but recently Xtranormal for Education was launched.  For a cost of $10/month for teacher access and $0.50/month for students, teachers have the ability to set-up classes and create assignments (the students submit these to your dashboard)  in which the teacher has the ability to control the types of characters/scenarios the students will use for a particular assignment. 

I used Xtranormal for Education in a high school economics class for their Independent Study Project.  To introduce the project details to the students, I created an Xtranormal video which I used to kick off the project...

So what do the students think of Xtranormal?  They found the user-interface highly intuitive and welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge/understanding of key concepts in a way that catered to their visual-verbal strengths. 

Here is an example of student work...

In terms of where and how you choose to use Xtranormal in your classroom, the possibilities are endless.  In terms of the justification of why you would use it,  the use of Xtranormal provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of essential or enduring understandings (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) and extend their learning in a differentiated manner.

So, why don't you give Xtranormal a try?