WeTeach_CS – Everyone Needs to be Digitally Literate

weteachcs-stacked-orange-largeAnother conference has come and gone.  I attend  a great many of these over the course of a year and one thing I have noticed is that most of them are too big.  TCEA is a wonderful place to share and learn but it is very easy to get lost. Bringing thousands of people together to share ideas, oddly enough, makes sharing those ideas much more difficult.  This is not the case with the WeTeach_CS Computer Science Summit, held each year in Austin at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus.  (That name appeals to me for some reason).

WeTeach_CS is a program sponsored through the Center for STEM Education by  the University of Texas in Austin with the express purpose of promoting Computer Science Education in Texas High Schools.  They are deeply involved in promoting Professional Development for Texas Computer Science Teachers and probably are best known for providing $1000 stipends for teachers who are willing to become certified in Computer Science and to teach it in the State of Texas.  WeTeach_CS provides training and resources in all aspects of Computer Science with a focus on helping teachers successfully pass the TEA 141 exam to become a certified Computer Science Teacher in Texas.  They provide support and resources for currently employed CS teachers to insure that students in Texas High Schools have the best access to Computer Technology and Education available.  They also act as advocates for Computer Science Teachers and educators in general.

To those ends, the staff of WeTeach_CS, led by Dr. Victor Sampson, Director of the Center for STEM Education, and Dr. Carol Fletcher, the Deputy Director of the Center for STEM Education, sponsor a summit meeting of interested Computer Science Teachers, Administrators, Technology Support Staff, and Vendors from across the State and around the Nation.  This event, ably organized behind the scenes by Amy Werst, Manager of Programmatic Operations for the Center, is a great opportunity for educators to share techniques and ideas with their peers from across the state as well as a place be become informed on the condition of Computer Science Education in Texas.

I have been privileged to attend this summit for the last two years (2015/16 and 2016/17) and I can say that, unlike many conference type events, this one is worth the time and effort to attend.  In the past I have attended trainings where the primary function seemed to be getting as many potential customers in front of as many vendors as possible.  Many of the “educator sessions” turned into sales pitches for whatever product the vendor was selling.  While I recognize the need for sponsors and that sponsors should receive benefits for the investment they make, it is very easy to take this to a level so extreme that it ceases to have any educational value at all.  (Advice to all event organizers of this type: Limit vendor/sponsors to the absolute minimum necessary to fund the event and make sure that the content they are providing in their sessions is actually useful to people who aren’t going to buy their products.)

I believe WeTeach_CS Summit organizers hit the balance perfectly.  Aside from main corporate sponsors (IBM and Oracle this year – Thank You Both Very Much!), there were only about 6 vendor sponsors in attendance.  This for a conference of a couple of hundred attendees.  The tables were located in the common break area and the vendors were not intrusive at all.  The sessions they presented were informative and useful, even to people with no intention of purchasing anything.  In short, they were an asset to the meeting and not a distraction.  It would have been very easy to fill the common area up with vendor tables and the organizers could possibly have made more money but I believe that the conference would have suffered.  Hats of the Amy, Carol, and everyone involved for doing a great job organizing.

The facilities provided by UT were, as usual for the university, top notch.  I am anUT Associate Faculty with the OnRamps program as well as a budding Bootstrap presenter and so I frequently attend meetings and presentations at various locations within the University of Texas.  I have never had a bad experience with any UT sponsored event.  The WeTeach_CS Summit for 2016/17 was an excellent reflection upon the University of Texas and the value it places on education in the State of Texas.  (I’m saying this even though I graduated out of the A&M system so you know it has to be true).

If Carol, Amy, and the other attendees of this conference are any indication, the future of Computer Science, and education in general, in Texas, is bright. Given the projected growth of the Computer Industry and all things digital, I would say that the future of the economy and the welfare of the people of Texas is also bright.  At least it will be if Carol Fletcher has anything to say about it.

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Teacher Tools – Day 3

htmlToday my picks for useful teacher tools are both related. HTML stands for Hyper-text Markup Language. It is the code used to create web pages, among other things. The code allows us to present text and other visible features through an HTML aware browser and allows us to create links to other documents using the anchor tag.

Every teacher should be able to write basic HTML and know the common tags.  Teachers should also be familiar with creating and uploading web documents to a site.  HTML is becoming the most common way to present content to students both in the classroom and remotely.  LMS systems like Canvas or Moodle all use HTML to present content and they allow you to edit HTML tags in order to more accurately control the material that you present in your classroom pages.  Being able to control the placement of text around an image, for example, is important to the presentation of your material.  If your pages are difficult or uncomfortable to read, it is likely that students will not read them.  You owe it to yourself and your students to learn the basics of HTML and web design and to use those tools as you create your materials.

The other part of this partnership is the use of Cascading Style Sheets to format and control the appearance of your material.  It is an established design principle that content and formatting should be separate.  Having the information in a different document from the formatting instructions allows you to change the appearance of your material without having to modify, or even touch, your material.  You can also edit your content without having to wade through presentation markup.  The current web model uses a markup technology called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to accomplish this feat.  The content is stored in an HTML document as basically paragraphs of text with no formatting.  The paragraphs are tagged with class and id names that allow the author to assign presentation information even down to a single letter of a word or sentence.  CSS allows us to separate and update presentation and appearance for an HTML document without having to disturb the content and without having to search through the content for formatting tags.  To become a better teacher in the 21st century classroom you should commit right now to learning at least the basics of HTML and CSS and then establishing an online presence.  Build an educational philosophy page, a curriculum vitae, or a blog site to discuss the things that are important to you.

Useful Skills in Canvas

Canvas_vertical_colorDuring this edition of Technology in Education I will demonstrate the easiest method (that I know of anyhow) to integrate video into Canvas pages.  This technique will work with YouTube, Microsoft SharePoint, or any other video hosting service that allows embedding via the iframe tag.  Once again we will be using the HTML editor.First we need to select the video we wish to embed into the page we are editing.  On YouTube, videos that are available for embedding, as most are, will have a link to create the embed code for you.  You will merely need to copy this code and paste it into the html already in your page.  If we wish to include this video from OnRamps, for example, we first need to find it on YouTube…chrome_2017-03-10_17-22-58

Once we have located our video we need to find the “Share” link located directly under the title…

chrome_2017-03-10_17-26-10As you can see, the “Share” link is marked with a curved arrow and the word “Share”.

 

 

 

 

Clicking that link will reveal the sharing options we can make use of. The option we want to select is “Embed”.

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Selecting “Embed” will generate a snippet of html code containing our “iframe” that will allow us to embed the video into our page and have it play as though it were part of the page we are creating.  We need to copy the highlighted code and then paste it into the page we are editing using the HTML Editor.

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Once the code is pasted into our page’s html we can click the “Save” button and view the results of our work…

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Your students will be able to watch this video, assuming they have access to YouTube, without the distraction of the “Up Next” list along the right border of the page.  .

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They can access only the material that you want them to view.  Be aware that if the video is hosted on a secure server like Microsoft SharePoint, your students may have to provide a username and password to access the content.  If you look carefully at the code pasted in the example above you will notice that it says whitesboro.sharepoint.com rather than youtube.com as the source of the video.  This is because I am forced to download all videos originating from YouTube and re-host them on our SharePoint video server because students at my school do not have unlimited access to the YouTube site.  It does not matter what source you use, as long as their material is available via an “iframe”

If the material in this post has been of any help, please leave a like a comment, if nothing else, to let me know you are out there 🙂

 

Live From TCEA…Sorta

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I am currently at the premier technology education event certainly in Texas, and possibly in the world.  This is my 5th such event in as many years and so I am not exactly a newbie to this environment.  I have seen a great many changes, some good and some bad, but the one constant ingredient I find is the caring demonstrated by the educators here.  While we may not all agree on what is best for our students, we can all agree that we want the very best for our students.  I am proud to be surrounded by such professional and caring individuals

Having said that, the other draw to this incredible meeting is the amazing amount of technological innovation being displayed here.  The leading technology players in the world gather here because they know that teachers are an excellent source of sales and we seem to be drawn to toys.  Perhaps we like toys because we like kids.  Who knows?  All I know is that I am exhausted and off to bed.  Hope to see you tomorrow in Austin.

OneNote Classroom Notebook Creator

onenoteiconAs you may know, I am a huge proponent of the OneNote®Classroom Notebook system created by Microsoft®.  I realize that it was not originally intended for education and that it is primarily a business application, however, it works really well for information presentation as well as storage and evaluation.  Serendipitously it is ALSO a great business application that students will be familiar with when they enter the workforce in a corporate environment.

To teachers who have SharePoint® available it could not be easier to install and use the product.  Classroom creator is available as a free download in the SharePoint App store.  Someone with admin. permission can install it and then it is available for all to use.  It took me, with no previous experience, about 10 minutes to get it up and running on our domain.  Once the app is installed it is incredibly easy to follow the instructions to create notebooks, add students and teachers, and publish your class notebooks to the system.

Students find the application to be intuitive and easy to work with.  They really enjoy the collaboration area that allows their contributions to appear in real time.  I generally open that section of the Notebook on the class smart board during topic discussions.  All entries are labeled with the student’s name so inappropriate comments are never a problem.  Once discussion is complete, I direct the students to the Content Library to begin the day’s assignment.  I can either create a worksheet or lab page individually for each student or I can simply create a page in the Content Library and have the students copy and paste the questions into their personal homework sections.  The sections are completely private and available only to myself and the each student.  They do the work, I grade the work and enter a grade on the homework page that they create.  Once the grade is entered, any further entries onto that page are labeled and time-stamped to prevent students from changing grades or answers.

It is very easy to create content for lessons in OneNote.  Images can be copied and pasted easily into pages.  Video can be embedded or even recorded directly into the page.  Audio can be synchronized to follow along with text and images and other embedded objects can be made searchable with OCR.  There is a very friendly community of users accessible online to provide help, and, as a member of the Office Suite from Microsoft, the control ribbons will be very familiar to most people.  Objects like Flash or other presentation content can be linked and will open in their native players at a click.

There are some features that I wish were available, perhaps in a special educational version of OneNote.  I would like to see OneNote support OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) to allow ActiveX controls or other native support for different formats.  I would like to see VBA support so that Macro creation could be made simple.  I would really like to see a way to lock pages within the student’s notebooks to prevent unauthorized or accidental editing.  These are the only real complaints that I have with an otherwise excellent application.  Microsoft really found a winner here.

Just a quick thought about safety…

Public schools tend to shy away from social media, sometimes violently.  On the other hand, the world is moving rapidly in that direction.  Nearly every aspect of life is impacted by social media and the digital world.  We do our students a disservice by not preparing them for the digital life they will be exposed to when outside of school.  We need to prepare out kids for the real world.

Students spend a great deal of their lives online.  In my experience they are woefully unprepared for the dangers they are exposed to.  People, for example, who live in a large urban area, become used to the threats they9ipArbkiE face daily.  They know instinctively when to cross streets or in what areas of town they can go alone at night.  The Internet is the biggest city ever conceived.  It contains many of the same types of threats.  Just because people are not physically threatened it does not mean that the threats are not real and the damage they do inconsequential.  Students need to learn what to watch for.

Parents are not adequately preparing their kids for the digital world.  It is not a lack of concern on their part, but a lack of knowledge.  This blog, for the next few issues, will provide some resources for parents to aid them in ‘net proofing their kids.  With any luck at all, someone will read this article who has issues with children, especially teens, getting into situations online.

Probably the most useful piece of advice I can give is “Know What Your Kids Are Doing Online”.  I am willing to bet that 75% of teens in Whitesboro have a social media account that Mom and Dad know nothing about.  You need to involve yourself in your kids’ lives.  Know their friends.  Know where they hang out.  Yes, they will hate you.  They will accuse you of snooping into their lives. They will make all sorts of dire and dramatic pronouncements about your impact on their social lives and standing in the community.  They will stay safe.

Stay tuned for more but in the meantime, if you have questions about anything in particular, please leave a comment below.

Movin’ On Up (Education-wise that is)

Sorry to have been so slow in posting but I have run into a new project to occupy all my spare time it seems.  Today I was accepted into the College of Business and Education Masters Program at WTAMU (West Texas A and M University) or simply West Texas State in Canyon for you Texans out there.  I will be pursuing a Masters of Education in Instructional Design and Technology.  It is a very practical program with a great deal of real world skills in web design, video design, curriculum design, and not so much of an emphasis on theory.  I passed my preliminary selection interview today and was accepted into the program by the director, Dr. Rose.  Because I have a fairly extensive background in things technical, especially web design and video editing, I will be allowed to substitute some advanced research projects on lieu of the basic classes normally required for the program.  And best of all, the Hazelwood exemption deals with the cost.  Yaaa Army!!

Anyhow, I am going to use this blog as a conduit to organize and pass on my research to my professors.  If the posts begin to seem a bit out of sync, please by aware that I have NOT lost my mind, I am posting on specific subjects for grades.  Meanwhile, Thursday I go back to Frisco for day three of my 30 hour digital fluency seminar.  Thus far it has been enlightening and I will share more when I have a moment to organize my notes.

Speaking of Notes; don’t forget to recommend Microsoft OneNote Classroom Notebook Creator to any educators you meet.  It is a great way to provide interactive lessons for your students and give them an avenue to collaborate among themselves.  I am learning that true digital fluency and a truly blended classroom is not so much about using technology in the class, but allowing technology to provide means for collaboration and dissemination of the products created by the class.