Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Getting Started with an LMS

A learning management system is traditionally used to support students in an online class.  It is the hub of learning, providing opportunities for teachers to share assignments, assessments, and communications between members of the class and the instructor.  Many of our WRSD high school teachers have found Google Classroom to be very effective in doing this.  But what if we could take it one step further?

As part of the Personalized Learning Grant that we received from PDE, we have researched the best learning management system platforms and found that Schoology has good reason to advertise that it is the best on the market. While many of you may be familiar with it from the iPad course through Eduspire, it has made significant improvements since then.  With what they call “Enhanced Google Integration,” as well as the ability to connect to other top educational vendors, they do not ask that teachers recreate the wheel.  Instead they allow us to connect the best systems in one place to create a hub of learning for our students.

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As the middle and high school roll out the option of 1:1 programs in their buildings, you may be wondering how to make use of this excellent and diverse tool.  When we attempt to personalize learning for our students and allow them to work at their own pace, we find that they also finish at their own pace.  Being able to offer opportunities to deepen and extend their learning becomes an opportunity but also a challenge.  What does that look like?  Instead of thinking in terms of “lessons,” begin to think in terms of “modules,” with us helping students achieve mastery of the concepts instead of passing a test.

Schoology is set up to look like a social media newsfeed (think Facebook).  But you can connect to Sapphire (the new gradebook), Lightning Grader, Google Docs and more (it’s so much more than just a connection).  It takes the focus off of a test and talks more about what their learning was, such as through portfolios or learning objectives.  You can reward students for their progress with badges, too, capitalizing on the digital badge trend.  Student and parent accounts are linked, so parents can see their child’s courses and progress.

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If you aren’t sure where to get started, you can take a look at some courses that have been created by other teachers in other districts, copy and edit the content they have, and make it work for you.  This is especially useful if you teach the same course and use common assessments for multiple sections of the same course.  Administrators and other staff members will be using this system too, so that we are all familiar with this platform to share information throughout the district.

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With the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, some teachers may be creating online course content for WRSD, some teachers may be furthering their blended classroom, or some teachers may be trying to make use of their students’ chromebooks on a more regular basis.  Whatever the reason, Schoology is a tool for any teacher of any content area.  If you are interested in using it, please reach out so we can discuss it further.  I will be happy to help you in using this as an effective tool in your class.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mini Grants Support Classroom Innovation at All Levels

Each year since 2014, the Warrior Run Education Foundation (WREF) has asked classroom teachers for mini grant proposals.  These grants are intended to fund innovative projects or approaches to delivering curriculum, including professional development, which are supported by research and intended to increase student engagement and learning.

Jean Hormell, Chair of the WREF, says, "our goal is to encourage dreaming by teachers and to find the funds to provide those exciting innovations that our regular district budget cannot cover.  The grants give students new experiences.  Our education foundation supports teachers through mini grants because teachers know their students best, and can evaluate what enhancement will best benefit them.  [Teachers] now have the opportunity to take their students to higher levels with new strategies or equipment."

This year's recipients were:

Rickelle Davis, 1st grade
Rickelle received a grant for Osmo, a learning tool that works with iPads to "merge the power of physical play with the digital advantages of real time feedback."  Osmo helps students learn words, numbers, math, non-verbal communication, spatial reasoning, coordination, ESL, STEM, coding, and so much more.  Rickelle will utilize this incredible innovation with her first graders in the fall as part of independent and collaborative learning stations, which will encourage engagement and excitement.

Middle School Library
The middle school library received a grant for 3D printers to add to their maker space.  Due to its process, 3D printing supporting personalized and project based learning.  From idea to reality, completing the steps allows students to organize and put their plans into action.  Advanced students may use CAD programs to create plans.  Early exposure will increase interest in students, which could lead to more advanced study and career paths.  3D printing combines STEM with art, creating STEAM in the classroom.

High School Library
The high school library received a grant for an updated lounge space.  The library is used in so many ways every day, from studying to socializing and everything in between.  Students like to spread out, and enjoy doing so in a comfortable way.  Currently, the library hosts one lounge area, which is definitely the most popular spot.  There are often more students than chairs, and students drag over uncomfortable chairs or even sit on the floor to make sure they're included in the conversation.  A new lounge area will give students a place to communicate and collaborate in a comfortable way.  The high school library now has an opportunity to support students and their learning, simply by giving them a more comfortable place to sit.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Email Tips and Security

This week we wanted to talk about email and it's lack of security when sharing documents and other common tasks.  Below are a few tips that might help you to be a little safer when using email. 

1. Unsubscribing to newsletters you never subscribed to.
A common technique used by spammers is to send out thousands of fake newsletters from organizations with an "unsubscribe" link on the bottom of the newsletter. Email users who then enter their email into the supposed "unsubscribe" list are then sent loads of spam. So if you don't specifically remember subscribing to the newsletter, you are better off just blacklisting the email address, rather than following the link and possibly picking up a Trojan horse or unknowingly signing yourself up for yet more spam. So, just click the button in gmail that says report spam.

2. Not closing the browser after logging out.
When you are checking your email at a library or cybercafé or other public computer, you not only need to log out of your email when you are done, but you also need to make sure to close the browser window completely. Some email services display your username (but not your password) even after you have logged out. While the service does this for your convenience, it compromises your email security. To avoid this, click the three dots in the upper right hand corner of chrome, then choose "History" and "Clear browser history." Please note that while it will clear it from that computer, it does not clear it from your account. If you have questions about that, please see me.

3. Not using the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) option.

When you put a person's email addresses in the BCC: rather than the CC: window, none of the recipients can see the addresses of the other email recipients.

New email users often rely too much on the TO: because it is the default way of sending emails. That is fine as long as you are writing to just a handful of people. But if you are sending mail out to a diverse group of people, confusing BCC: and CC: raises some serious privacy and security concerns. It takes just one spammer to get a hold of the email and immediately everyone on your email list gets spammed.

Even if the honesty of the group isn't in question, many email programs are setup to automatically add to the address books any incoming email addresses. That means that some people in the group will inadvertently have added the entire list to their address book, and as a result, if one of their computers is infected with "Zombie" malware and silently sends out spam emails, you will have just caused the entire list to get spammed.

BCC: is also nice because then you don't have a long list of email addresses before the actual message.

4. Trusting your friends' email.
Most new internet users are very careful when it comes to emails from senders they don't recognize. But when a friend sends an email, all caution goes out the window as they just assume it is safe because they know that the sender wouldn't intend to hurt them. The truth is, an email from a friend's ID is just as likely to contain a virus or malware as a stranger's. The reason is that most malware is circulated by people who have no idea they are sending it, because hackers are using their computer as a zombie.

It is important to maintain and keep updated email scanning and Anti-virus software, and to use it to scan ALL incoming emails.

5. Sharing your account information with others.

We've all done it – we need an urgent mail checked, and we call up our spouse or friend and request them to check our email on our behalf. Of course, we trust these people, but once the password is known to anybody other than you, your account is no longer as secure as it was.

The real problem is that your friend might not use the same security measures that you do. Your friend might be accessing his email through an unsecured wireless account, he may not keep his anti-virus software up to date, or he might be infected with a keylogger virus that automatically steals your password once he enters it. So ensure that you are the only person that knows your personal access information, and if you write it down, make sure to do so in a way that outsiders won't be able to understand easily what they are looking at if they happen to find your records.

As always, if you have security questions or concerns, contact your building techspert!