Thursday, January 24, 2019

Alexa, I wanna kiss your face!

In the last two days, Amazon has made our Echo Dot Kids Edition devices more useful in the classroom than ever before! Yesterday, I learned how to "whitelist" Alexa Skills for our Kids Edition Dots that were not specifically made as a kid's skill.

What does this mean? According to this article, "Amazon says that the FreeTime on Alexa experience is tailored for kids ages five to 12, and most of the skills and features are appropriate for ages five to nine. Toni Reid, Amazon’s vice president in charge of Alexa and Echo devices, says the company is taking privacy and security very seriously with the FreeTime service and noted that it does not share customer info with any of the developers of FreeTime skills." (Siefert, 2018) Developers had to jump through additional hoops to create kids skills and oftentimes a really good educational skill wasn't available as a kid's edition skill because it was tagged as an "educational skill." 

While at the Alexa Conference last week, I realized that many developers (as well as some Alexa employees themselves) did not realize this was the case. After a bit of trial and error yesterday I enabled the FreeTime service on one of our school own devices and I was able to allow that device to access some very worthy educational skills by allowing them through the parent portal. What did this look like?:

  • I signed into the Amazon Alexa app that was associated with the account that managed the Echo Dot Kids Edition device I was working with. I then started searching for the educational apps I wanted. Specifically for me this time, 123 Math and AskMyClass. 
  • I then downloaded the FreeTime app for Alexa and signed in with the same credentials. 
  • I then launched the Parent Dashboard inside the app by clicking on the "Child" that I had set up already. (This is password protected so that children can't add things without permission."
  • I then clicked on "Settings"/"Add Content"/"Alexa Skills"
  • I was able to swipe on skills I wanted to add to this device.  
Two concerns:
  1. That's a whole lot of steps, maybe there is a shorter way to do this that I am not aware of right now.
  2. FreeTime will not be free after a year grace period that I received when I got the devices this year. 
Next thing happened TODAY! When I opened my Amazon Alexa app today I noticed something new.
  • Click on "Your Skills" at the top of the app
  • Now I see "Blueprints" 
  • Not only do I see Blueprints but I can create them right from the app now. This can be an amazing formative assessment tool on the fly.
This is a gamechanger for the classroom! We can now personalize the use of our Kids Edition Echo Dots with skills that relate to OUR classrooms and do it safely by using the Kids Edition Echo Dot! Alexa, I could kiss your face! I can't wait to share all this with my teachers tomorrow! 

P.S.-ALEXA, did you read my blog yesterday? Am I vain to think I might have been the catalyst for this change????

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hey Alexa, do you want to come to my school?

For the last two years, Bradley Metrock of Score Publishing has brought the Alexa Conference to my fair city, Chattanooga the Beautiful. Due to my reaching out to Bradley last year, I not only had the opportunity to attend this cutting edge event but I also spoke during the conference about Alexa from an educator's perspective.  Last year my mind was blown by the creative geniuses in the room that traveled from all over the world to attend. Last year was an intimate group that allowed me to pick their brains.

This year, Amazon became a sponsor of the Alexa Conference and the attendee list grew! For me, it was nice to walk in and see familiar faces and to catch up with some of the developers. This morning is the last day of the 2019 Alexa Conference and I truly feel fortunate to be a part of this event.

In August 2018, Bradley Metrock of Score Publishing connected me with Dave Isbitski, Alexa Chief Evangelist, because I wanted to create a pilot opportunity using Echo Dot Kids Editions with remotes at our school. Mr. Isbitski and his wife graciously sent 5 devices and remotes to our school to support our concept. We have tried things, adjusted, been disappointed, tried new things, and continue to look for ways to integrate the Echo Dot Kids Edition in our classrooms.

After attending the conference, I have learned that our path in using these devices feels ok. Both the pilot teachers and I have been somewhat disappointed in our path of trying to find ways to intentionally integrate. As I have sat and listened to the struggles and the unknowns of various Alexa developers, I realize I am in a place I haven't been very often as an instructional technologist- not bleeding edge but cutting edge. We are truly part of the first to push through.

Using the Echo Dot Kids Edition means we do not have access to using the wonderful blueprints feature available with the regular Echo Dot. I'll be honest, this is probably the most frustrating thing I've dealt with in regards to the potential of tech in the classroom for as long as I can remember. If teachers could create their own skills (without learning how to code) then they could personalize the use of their voice first devices to meet the specific needs in their classroom. It becomes more than just a timer or generic testing of math facts.

I had the chance to talk to some Amazon Alexa representatives at the conference about why you can't create blueprints for the Echo Dot Kids Edition and while I understand the response, I don't necessarily agree with it. So I find myself wondering "Hey Alexa, do you want to come to my school?" Supposedly Google is working to create a student-friendly voice option. But I see Amazon being soooooooo close to being there. Of course, this makes me wonder what is happening behind the scenes that make Amazon not want to connect the dots I see missing.

Why is the kids edition Dot almost twice the cost of the regular dot? How far are we away from a voice first speaker that is built for the preK-12 educational audience? I realize I am on the cutting edge of this and maybe don't even understand how to best meet my own needs for our school but it seems time for voice to be a part of every classroom Hey Alexa, what's the holdup? Let's move forward and show me (and all educators everywhere) how to follow student privacy laws and use voice first in meaningful ways!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Value of Relevant Learning

Our school's professional development focus for this year is on assessment. As we have been talking about what good assessment looks like I have been thinking about my own life and what assessment looked like as well. This week:

  • There was a focus on looking at the data analytics when using the LMS Canvas.
  • There was a focus on the value of formative assessment for both students and teachers.
  • There was a focus on "Purposeful Work" that supports our Graduate Profile.
I think it is fair to say that assessment can be relevant for teacher feedback in a myriad of ways. A well-written multiple choice test can give a teacher an immediate snapshot of the learning happening in their classroom. This week I shared with our teachers that I believe we are in a period of time that assessing is easier than ever before. Due to technology, we can now know before our students even leave the door for the day what they learned from the day's lesson. Creating quick digital assessments not only lets teachers know how to prepare the course for the next day but with a little training it can also let students know what they need to focus on for the next day as well. I hear a lot of pushback about differentiating and personalization on social media but quite honestly research shows that the use of formative assessments can truly have a transformable impact for students. Teachers have been doing the "show me a thumb up/thumb down- did you get this?" assessment for a long time. With the technology available many classrooms have today, digital formative assessments are both easy to create and accomplish for your students. I'm a big proponent of knowing if your students are grasping the concepts along the way instead of learning they didn't when they take a summative assessment at the end of a unit.

But today we see a big push towards relevant learning or what we now call "purposeful work" at CCS. This can look like many things. For instance, community-based projects, project-based learning/problem-based learning, authentic learning are all things that make students engaged in the learning process. The fear for many educators is that they don't know for sure if their students are truly learning the concepts expected of them. While rubrics and inquiry-based learning feels purposeful, many of our teachers can't help but think "But I know they are going to be tested at the end of the year. What if learning gains aren't achieved with this type of assessment?" 

I personally feel that's where the beauty of digital formative assessment can play a game-changing role. You have objectives you are trying to reach. You also are guiding your students through the process of purposeful work. Knowing daily what they have gained in this process and who you need to have chats with during the process can be attained through this type of assessing. 

I turn 50 next month and I am at that place where I don't remember a lot of the details of my k12 education. I remember people, shocking events, or big happy things but the process of learning...not so much. I will always remember one thing that has stuck with me for all these years that was relevant to my life at that time. I was in a dual-enrollment English class and was asked to write a persuasive open letter to anyone of my choice. There was a newsletter that went out to parents that had really rubbed me the wrong way so my open letter was to our school principal. I saw it as an assignment but my teacher chose to highlight in class because it impacted everyone in the class and because he felt it was well written. That letter changed how I saw myself as a writer. I knew if I felt passionate about something I had the ability to write it in a way that could have a positive impact. 

Relevant learning has the ability to inspire learners for their future. After a rollercoaster ride of various careers, I sit here today being someone that blogs about education on a regular basis. Not only do I share helpful tips about tech integration but I try to focus on the "why." I feel certain that moment back in 12th grade at Hixson High School has a lot to do with it. I was empowered by that moment. I remember being mortified when I realized the teacher was actually reading my letter. You see, I was a fairly quiet student so when he was done, no one could guess who had written it. The letter led to a great classroom discussion and gave me the feeling of educational respect from my peers that I had not experienced before. I was definitely not the smartest student in that class but on that topic, I was the most passionate. Relevant learning has the ability to stick with us, to mold us, and to empower us for something later on. 

So I guess I am writing this post to ask you to not give up on teaching differently. It doesn't mean you can't still assess your students in ways that feel more beneficial to you as a teacher- use formative assessment to know if students "get it" but look for ways that they can also "take it."

Food for thought: Do you remember the details of any multiple choice test you ever took? 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2018

One of the things I love about posting my "Top 10" posts every year is seeing how much I've learned since they were posted. It allows me to see my growth educationally. It also allows me to see what others find interesting regarding what I do day in and day out. Without further delay here are my top 10 most read posts of 2018:
  1.  Changing the Conversation about Technology: A Teenager's Attempt - This is by far my favorite post ever. This post was guest blogged by a student at my school sharing his concerns about the impact technology is having on his generation. My most read post for 2018 actually became part of the curriculum in some of the English classes at our school this year. I'm thankful for Daniel's well-written attempt at being transparent about his journey with social media. 
  2. Authentic Embedded Professional Development? It's Possible - As an instructional technologist, I know that in-service days are limited. This post shows multiple ways I have created learning opportunities for our teachers in unique ways. From embedded into the day of all the students to supporting students hard work and learning from them. 
  3. Navigating Social Media as a Parent  - Being an e-parent is no joke. This post targeted parents by giving them some ideas to help them navigate the social media world for their children. I'm a firm believer that modeling appropriate digital citizenship using social media as a parent is one of the best ways to teach your child how to do likewise. 
  4. Embracing Myself as an Educator- like it or not.  - This seems to be a yearly blog post idea for me. Standing firm in my role as an instructional technologist when I feel like giving up. Transparency as an educator is important for teachers to both trust you and consider what you might be sharing. 
  5. Are Your Children Playing Fortnite Battle Royale? - Fortnite is one of the most popular digital games out there right now. This post was to help parents decide what boundaries (if any) they wanted to create for their children regarding the information shared. 
  6. Talking Social Media with Your Children -There was a time when I didn't believe any students should use social media. I don't believe that anymore. I think it is important to lead our children to use it in God-honoring ways. This is a blueprint to share with children to help them think about what they are doing digitally through a discerning lens.
  7. Why an LMS? Why Canvas? - This blog post comes from our school moving forward in using the learning management system, Canvas, robustly. The concept of this post is to understand the pedagogy in using an LMS and why I feel Canvas is a good choice for our school- an LMS we can grow into.
  8. The Value of Literature - This blog post is more of a personal journey post. After reading the book Wonder, I share my thoughts on its impact on me due to my own personal situations. The book reminded me of the beauty of literature and its far-reaching possibility of connecting authentic moments of our lives to our learning. 
  9. Lesson Revamps for High Agency Learning - As our teachers diligently started inputting their lessons and information into Canvas this year, I found myself thinking about how this timing could be used to better instruction. Technology can be used to digitize things as we have always done or it can be used to change things forward. This blog post suggests ideas for revamping lessons for the better.
  10. Alexa Blueprints- The Possibilities for Education are Growing  - Alexa in the classroom can bring up a myriad of feelings from different sides. As an educator that believes that there are some real benefits in voice user interface, I have hesitantly looked into these possibilities. Seeing this post reminds me it is time for an update on using Alexa in the classroom. Blog post coming soon!