Monday, October 26, 2015

Pear Deck in Minnetonka Classrooms- Engaging, Interactive Lessons with Realtime Feedback

Source: Pear Deck
Starting last month, teachers in Minnetonka Public Schools began using Pear Deck with students. Pear Deck is a program that allows teachers to turn lessons into engaging, interactive activities and provide their students with immediate feedback. Teachers can convert existing PowerPoint or Google Slides into these activities, or build them from scratch.

Pear Deck's teacher view (forefront) with student view
This morning in Sara Martinson's freshman English class, students were reviewing parts of speech- verbs, prepositional phrases, subjects, etc. Sara turned the grammar lessons into an interactive Pear Deck. During the lesson, she walked around the room with her iPad which was logged in to the teacher dashboard in the web browser ( This dashboard allows her to see each student's response in real time. The students were on their iPads, also in a web browser, and had entered in a class code at which was displayed on the projector/SMART Board. So there are three views in Pear Deck: the main projector view, each student views each slide on the iPad, and the teacher view which allows the instructor to see all of the students' iPads as they write or complete activities on the slide. Since Pear Deck integrates with Google, the students' names automatically appear on the teacher's view, allowing the teacher to see who is logged in and what each person is doing.

Sara going through a grammar example
using Pear Deck's projector view.
Sara explained to me that in the past, these grammar review lessons would have been slides in SMART Notebook that she projected, and she would have had the students take turns sharing their answers with the class. Now, Sara has found that students are much more engaged with the content because they all have to complete each and every grammar sentence, whereas in the past students might have only paid full attention when it was their turn. Also, as the instructor prior to using Pear Deck, she would not have know how each student was doing, or even if each student was participating. Now she can monitor and adjust her instruction while she is able to individually see each student's work. Sometimes she displayed one of the student's responses to show the class, other times she talked through the question on the SMARTBoard and discussed the solutions.

Source: Pear Deck
She also used Pear Deck's draggable answer feature, having the students report out their comfort level with the different parts of speech by dragging a star on a line/continuum. Answers to questions can also be drawings/sketches, too. She began the lesson by having the students draw an image that highlighted their weekend. Math teachers can have students graph responses and see their equation solutions. The possibilities for any subject area pretty endless and Pear Deck has five different interactive question types.

Student view opening Pear Deck from Schoology on an iPad.
A great new feature of Pear Deck is Takeaways, just released a couple of weeks ago. A teacher can export the complete slide deck into Google Drive by generating one link. Sara did this and posted that link to her first hour class in Schoology as pictured. When students click on this link, it opens up a private copy of their slide deck with all of their individual answers so they can use it to study from in the future. This is a powerful feature that is really helpful for the students.

Pear Deck is just one of the many great tools teachers in Minnetonka Public Schools are using with students in our 1:1 iPad Program for all 6,250 students in grades 5-12. It is an example of how technology in instruction can be used to deepen learning experiences for students and make instruction more efficient and effective.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Google Cardboard- Virtual Reality in the Classroom

One of my sons trying out Google Cardboard
If you haven't tried Google Cardboard yet, you should. Google's virtual reality glasses are paired with their Cardboard app by the same name. Basically it's like adding a View-Master or old-fashioned stereoscope to your phone. The app takes images, Google Maps Street View photos, 360° panoramic images, and more and splits them into a right and a left image for your eyes, so as you look through the lenses in the cardboard goggles it creates a VR 3D-like environment where you feel much like you are there yourself. 

Source: Gadget Releases
I had my kids try out the Google Cardboard to as well as some other apps. They enjoyed it quite a bit. They walked around the Eiffel Tower, Venice, Jerusalem, London, New York, Rome, Mars, and even through the Great Barrier Reef. A few museums are loaded as well with some dinosaur skeletons, airplanes and the Space Shuttle. In each of these places, you are pretty limited to how far you can move around. In the museums, you basically can stand in the middle and turn 360°. They also tried out some of the free VR apps that have been developed for Cardboard, such as Skydive, Racetracks, Roller Coaster VR, and Crossy Road.

Source: GizMag
This whole technology seems to currently be in its infancy stages. 

There was nothing that kept their attention for too long. Some of the images are kind of grainy and that fuzziness may be hard to overcome. I read that some people experience a little bit of dizziness or nausea, but thankfully we did not. I can definitely see that it will be more engaging and attention grabbing as both the interaction within the images as well as the quality of the images improves. Google has released specs for its Jump 360° camera using 16 separate GoPros, as well as made video on YouTube available for VR, so that should help boost the content available. The goggles themselves are not high tech--the flimsy cardboard button/lever in our $12 Domo glasses didn't work, so we had to stick our finger in to touch the phone every time we wanted to walk forward or click. But this is a great design flaw for students to fix themselves, (see farther below). 

Update November 2015: We tried out six different models/brands of Google Cardboard. D-Scope Goggles with a magnet instead of the lever worked the best for us.

Source: Business Insider
In the classroom, I can see all sorts of opportunities for this tool. First, of course, is virtual field trips. Google currently is working on making Cardboard available in its Google Expeditions Program to a limited number of schools. You are already able to go to any place on earth that is covered in the Google Street View app, just look for the Cardboard icon as pictured. So the opportunity to take your class virtually to any place you were studying seems like a great way to make lessons more real. I suppose soon some morph between virtual reality and a Second Life-type avatar environment where you could see your classmates and your teacher in these locations will be arriving, too. A few years ago at the NSBA Conference, I tried on a pair of YouVist Goggles and toured a college campus which was very intriguing. There are endless possibilities for this type of technology.

Another classroom application I see is the construction of the cardboard goggles themselves. Why buy the pre-made kits when you could have each student design and build their own? Google supplies the specifications. It seems like a great project involving math, science, tech, art, and more. Students could add their own features as well as improve features and flaws like the flimsy lever I mentioned earlier. I'd also love to see a larger cardboard glasses that would allow students to use their iPad instead of their phone, too.
"Either way, we think Google's approach to VR is one of the most fascinating. Cardboard will eventually branch out into the kind of consumer gear that's on the horizon from Oculus and Sony, but there's something to be said for making the most dirt-cheap version possible, and using it in ways that can open future generations' eyes a little wider. Change the world first, make a hit product later." Source: GizMag
In a recent podcast I heard about Facebook's $2 billion investment in Oculus, which explained that there are big plans for VR technology in the video gaming industry. I see a lot of potential for this technology in education, too. It's great that Google has made this expensive technology so affordable and accessible for schools as quoted in the GizMag article above. It will be fun to see what developments take place over the next few years!

Related post: Google Expeditions Pioneer Program Visits Minnetonka Schools

Monday, October 12, 2015

What's in a Name? Digital Health & Wellness vs. Digital Citizenship

A few weeks ago at our first quarterly meeting of our District Digital Citizenship Committee, one of the first things the group did was change its name to the District Digital Health & Wellness Committee. In a way, this name change has been in the works for some time. Our committee started a year ago, and each time we met we spent a lot of time discussing digital balance--ways to help our students, parents, and community use technology in a balanced way throughout their lifetime. We also have discussed using technology with empathy, which was a term I repeatedly heard at the National Digital Citizenship Conference last week in Hartford, Connecticut. At this conference, I was pleased to see the words Healthy and Balanced prominently displayed on a slide in Janell Burley Hofmann's presentation pictured. (Janell is the author if iRules and was one of the speakers at the conference.)
View original Tweet
Consider these definitions:
Citizenship-the status of being a citizen-the quality of an individual's response to membership in a community
Health-the overall condition of someone's body or mind-the condition or state of something
Wellness-the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal <lifestyles that promote wellness>Source
The word "citizenship" never seemed to be a good fit with what we are trying to accomplish in our community in regards to technology use. Being a good digital citizen vs. using technology in a healthy way bring to mind different things. By focusing on healthy use throughout one's lifetime--wellness--we believe we can have a bigger, more positive and productive impact. To some, this name change may seem trivial or unnecessary, but for us it felt necessary. I know companies often go through re-branding their products and logos, trying to find something that sticks. We are hoping this re-branding of our efforts will do just that.

What is that supposed to mean?

Last week, one of my colleagues on the committee mentioned our meetings to her son who was home from college for the weekend. She says he instantly didn't understand what digital citizenship meant and flat out asked, "What is that supposed to mean?" When she mentioned the recent name change to Digital Health and Wellness, she said he stated right away, "Oh, I get it. That makes sense." Perhaps we are on to something and it's time to change our national focus, too. What do you think? 

View Slide Presentation from October 1, 2015 School Board Report or Watch the School Board Presentation

Related posts: 

Monday, October 5, 2015

October 31 Days of Kindness @TonkaSchools #TonkaStrong #KindnessInChalk #WeAreOne

This October, Minnetonka Public Schools is focusing on kindness. October is National Cyber Safety Month and National Bully Prevention Month, and as a way to encompass activities around these themes, we are encouraging our students, staff, and community to take part in 31 days of kindness. Everyone should treat one another respectfully and with kindness whether in person or through technology. The lines between our face-to-face interactions and those that occur through technology are increasingly blurred, and often our interactions with others in one arena spill over into the other. Spotlighting kindness is a great way to draw attention and improve our interactions with one another no matter how they occur.

On Friday, October 9, we are taking part in Kindness in Chalk, which is an event started by a Minnesota mom and blogger. Students in Minnetonka Preschool through High School will write positive and encouraging messages in chalk on sidewalks outside of their schools as well as in the community. We will be Tweeting and posting these on our Facebook pages. In addition to this day, there will also be video public service announcements that students are putting together, additional messages encouraging kindness, anti-bullying, and cyber safety Tweeted, posted on our schools' Facebook sites, as well as sent home in school email newsletters. We will include connections in our messaging to using technology with kindness, anti-cyberbullying, encouraging positive use of technology for social media, posting things that inspire, and build empathy. Later this month we will host a webinar for parents with a local pediatrician and child psychologist about helping kids use technology in a healthy and balanced way

You can follow, encourage, reTweet, and spread these messages by following these hashtags: #TonkaStrong, #KindnessInChalk, #WeAreOne, and @TonkaSchools. If your school is participating in Kindness in Chalk, National Bully Prevention Month, or National Cyber Safety Month, please let me know. I’d love to hear about activities from other places.

Read more about Minnetonka’s 31 Days of Kindness on the High School Newspaper Site.