Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.

I’m going to break free from the educational technology tree for a moment to discuss enthusiasm.

Before I “found my calling” as an educator, I spent a small amount of my adult years selling cars.  During that time, I got a chance to encounter countless individuals that knew how to generate excitement.  I’ll always remember how I sat inspired by corporate motivators at Saturn’s national training conference.  “ENTHUSIASM BREEDS ENTHUSIASM” flashed across the powerpoint of the day, and it made a lasting impression.  Although I’m no longer selling cars, I am selling education, and the idea that what we are doing in my class each day is important.

We recently finished up our school year, and most of us are have blown past the enthusiasm gate, and into the “when can I start taking afternoon naps” stage.  In our program, summer begins almost a third semester that runs sporadically across the calendar.  I must stay motivated, and in turn motivate my students in hopes of continued programming.  Without ways to execute a summer class for credit, or allow any paid internships, I rely solely on students who “WANT” to be a part of our community productions.  From fair events to the Fourth of July, our program runs live audio/video streams and produced events all summer long.  In fact, some of our best work is produced during summer months thanks to the passion of some of my most gifted students

Enthusiasm must be shown to create this type of commitment among 14-17-year-old students, with no reward for extra work.  Each year our numbers of summer volunteers have grown to over thirty this coming season.  These students will get uninterrupted and unstructured real-world experiences without the constraints of traditional classroom lectures and labs.

This type of passion and motivation starts from the top down, which to the student, is the educator.  By manufacturing and focusing energy on our lessons we can create enthusiasm that will breed enthusiasm through our classrooms, into our building, and throughout our communities.

Classroom Review: Remind – Communication, Participation, Accountability.

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This year I was asked to lead a professional development lecture over the use of Remind.com in my program.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience as our teachers are now engaging with Remind.com.  Those individuals are seeing a change in the form of accountability and responsible communication with our students.  So below is my story about why I believe Remind.com should be at the top of any educational technology software list, and how it has affected our school and my program.

As an educator of a communications media class, I study new forms of communication daily.  It’s borderline obsessive.  I wear a lot of hats in my school.  Cheerblock advisor, speech team coach, student council sponsor, and a teacher just to name a few.  So there are plenty of opportunities to see the missteps in communications, as well as the challenges of communicating with students.  So I’ve always looked for opportunities in my tiny corner of the education hemisphere to engage and find accountability, without the fuss.  At least some of my colleagues agree that the breakdown of communication can come from the vast gap between a student, teacher, and parent interaction? Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 9.20.43 AM When I first heard about Remind.com, I was sitting with a friend discussing his new coaching gig.  He recently became the new girls soccer coach with schedules to juggle, student attendance, and parents meetings.  He did what every coach, teacher, or sponsor was doing at the time and gathered up personal phone numbers so that he could relay relevant information to the team and keep parents up to date.  So was the world a few years ago until my wife mentioned Remind.  No, I wasn’t fully sold at the time nor did I think it applied to me. But this past year when I was approached by other technology-minded people in the building about using Remind in my classroom and for my organizations I decided to give it another shot.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Remind.com offers many ways that improve communication with my students. Remind immediately gave me access to a communication “store front” the students already had access to.  No need for a second application, or learning a new skill set, texting was immediate.  Setting up an account was easy, quick, and painless.  Within a few minutes of throwing up premade instructions on the projector or handing out PDF instructional sheets, my students began showing up into the categories of “classes” that I had assigned.  That evening I sent out homework reminders, meeting times, even a photo I took of the class earlier in the day.  No worries about juggling personal numbers, or students having access to my personal information.  Using a pre-generated number, and a custom text message code I now had access to send out the information through a clean and easy group message from any device I was currently using. Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 9.22.33 AM I think that is what makes Remind so special.  Communication should be simple, and technology can sometimes scramble our perception of accountable communication.  With Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it is passive engagement.  Students see it, breeze through it, and maybe (if you’re lucky) it caught their attention.  With a text message sent on Remind.com, it becomes a complete personal experience.  Something that students are already familiar with.  After all, it is said that texting remains students number one form of communication.  You get to fill that gap of miss homework assignments, forgotten scripts and turned in forms all by setting up a simple Remind.com account. I’ll end with a personal story about how Remind, even to this day, is changing the way we enhance engagement.  Yesterday we elected a new Student Council.  We are six days from the end of school and time was running out on electing our executive council for the upcoming school year.  I had 5 minutes to take nominations, set up ballots, and find ways to take a fair and honest vote as most of the council was participating in another project in our building.  I sprang into action setting up a Remind.com group.  I then called them all down and had them sign up, which took minutes.  We then took nominations on the floor of the council meeting, spent a few minutes creating a Google form with candidates and positions, and posted the short link URL to the remind group.   Now every member had immediate access to the ballot, could vote from their phones.

An immediate solution to an immediate problem, which is what I hope Remind.com continues to deliver.

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Classroom Review: Soundtrap – The web-based app that changed audio production.

I can honestly say that my fears about not being able to use our iMacs to create and collaborate through audio were entirely unfounded.  What developers are currently doing with web-based applications make living in my post-Apple world not only bearable, but downright enjoyable.

I have two criteria when searching for a “go-to” application.  The user interface has to be small, minimalistic, student-friendly, and it has to be so intuitive that it does what I (the user) expects it to do.  For example, if I’m used to right-clicking to get a particular set of options, I expect to get the same options in a new application experience.

After digging through tons of research about audio editing on a Chromebook, I stumbled upon a web-based application on http://www.soundtrap.com called Soundtrap Beta.  It immediately met criteria number one.  It’s minimalistic without being overbearing but screams easy to use.  SoundTrap houses a multi-track editor, enough space to work on five projects at once, and offers a critical aspect to any educational technology application; collaboration.

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I started an account by signing in with Google, and five seconds later I was in a robust multitrack editor.  In less than a minute, my Blue Yeti microphone was set up.  Soundtrap had already recognized the device and was ready to record.  A full ninety seconds later I had laid out one of the many preloaded beds and recorded a stock voice over we keep housed on our Google Drive.

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I was so excited about the ease of use I immediately asked our advanced audio production class to put it through its paces; producing a thirty-second PSA for college applications.  Moments later as students started their projects, notifications through Soundtrap let me know that they wanted to collaborate.  Accepting the invitations meant I could see their work in real-time.  Making suggestings was as easy as sending a short message, or communicating in the “collaboration” window that Soundtrap provides.  Take it one step further and now I’m video chatting with a student about their project while they upload music beds, sound effects and input their voice over.

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This was a game changer for our program.  No longer were we restricted by the pieces of equipment in production rooms.  Students could now work from home on their personal computers, iPhones, or iPads allowing for collaboration among teachers beyond the average hours of our school day.

Sountrap on the surface gears itself towards musicians who are looking for ways to collaborate on original songs, or mixed.  The preloaded instruments and basic editing features beg for that musical element.  On the surface, it did not fit our needs, but we had to dig deeper.  To find efficiency in educational technology, you have to see beyond the face value of many applications.  Soundtrap allowed us to take a non-traditional route and make it extremely useful in our field of study.  I don’t know if the Swedish based company intended their program to be used by my students, but it’s provided us with an entirely new approach to collaboration and creativity.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post.  I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services mentioned.

The Transition.

Okay, I admit it.  I’m an Apple fanboy.  I have been for most of my adult life, with pretty good reason.  You see I live in the audio/visual/graphics world.  That world is ruled by iMac.  When I took over as educator of a radio/TV program at a small rural high school I walked into a moderately outfitted studio.  Packed to the brim with old technology, and PC computers.  As a graduate of this same program, I was astonished that we ever got any type of production off the ground.  It worked for what we were trying to accomplish, but for someone like myself it wasn’t good enough.  We needed more.

That seems to be most of our concerns as educators.  “If only I had more time/money/technology, I could do some really cool stuff”.  This becomes even more prevalent as an educator of an all tech program.  So I went to work, grants/donations/begging.  Whatever it took.  Slowly, we were able to make that “just good enough program” to an “outstanding program” because of generous donation from a local business who provided us with enough iMacs, cameras, and additional technology to make our program excel for years to come.

That has been the standard in my classroom for the past few years, but with the increase in the 1:1 push I was off to make our program future proof.  I don’t like to sit still, and if we are going to be on the cutting edge of technology we must move forward.  Currently, we are limited to the computers in our room.  Students can use them to edit audio/video/graphics for a set period of time, but can’t collaborate past that.  Although portable I’m not comfortable letting any student take home an iMac for any extended period of time.  With the increase talks to bringing devices to every student in the building, and that talk being centered around Chromebooks and Google Apps I threw my hands up in the air.  I’ve spent a significant amount of time, money, and effort into making our room a full blown production studio.  The Chromebook in my room was set to be a glorified paperweight.

Instead of dwelling on how I couldn’t use that device in my classroom, I got to work.  I weaved in and out of reviews, apps, and recommendations.  I couldn’t let my preconceived notions about a specific device dictate my curriculum.  I had to move our program forward.

So last week I purchased my first Chromebook, and over the next few post I will be outlining some of the really cool pieces of software and technology that I’ve stumbled upon in my journey to make our programs and classrooms more efficient without our iMacs to lead the way.

The Start.

For most educators diving into new technology can be a bit startling. Add in starting a blog and things can get downright brutal.  But with the growing need in our educational communities for “voices of change,” I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring.

My journey into education was rough.  With a career and technical degree and no traditional teaching license, I walked into a classroom with very little background on how to actually manage 20-30 kids for days on end.  Those first few years were tough.  I found that the more I bought into the strategies that were going to make me a more successful teacher, the easier it was to actually teach.

As time passed, I found myself developing as a teacher when I integrated technology into my lectures.  I found new ways to engage my students while making a smooth transition into lab work.  Six years later, while still learning new programs and systems our program has hit a stride, continuing to become a more efficient classroom and media program.

Which is where I am today.  I believe technology in the classroom should empower teachers to become more efficient so they can take their classrooms back.  With the growing evaluation rubrics, teachers have less time to do what their job descriptions ask.  Excitement has to build for any 1:1 initiative to be successful.  I get it, that last part can be exhausting, but if implemented correctly educators could see collaboration and engagement on entirely new levels.

So that is what I hope this blog will do.  Provide a place where I can reflect on my journey into educational technology and lay out a groundwork that can inspire other educators to implement new ideas into their classrooms.

Side note:  A special thanks to a great friend who helped edit my first post.