Best of MACUL: Ignite Learning

On Friday, August 8, I attended the Best of MACUL conference at Oakland Schools.  It was jointly hosted by the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) and the REMC Association of Michigan.  The conference was designed to highlight some of the presentations that were given at the MACUL conference in March, mostly for those who were unable to attend.

The Best of MACUL conference ran similar to most conferences, there were one of three presentations to choose from during each hour.  There were four total hours in addition to one lunch hour.  For the full list of presentations and presenters, please see the Best of MACUL Oakland Schools conference schedule/agenda.

App Smashing Your Way to Powerful Learning
(PresenterLaura Cummings, Oakland Schools)

App Smashing, coined by Greg Kulowiec, “is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks.”  It’s not a new idea, but once Kulowiec gave the concept a catchy name, it became the newest buzzword in education.

Cummings demonstrated a few apps on the iPad that worked well together to create digital content that reflected student learning.  These apps help students see that the information they learn in school is doing something.  The paper is no longer the final product; the digital content is.  The students are now producing something they can share on social media.

Side note: Cummings created a Weebly page with links to the apps and project examples.  It also has some excellent links to more information about App Smashing and rules to follow for a successful experience.

I was most impressed with the following apps: Skitch, PicPlayPost, and ThinkLink.  Skitch, as many of you may have heard, is a photo annotating app.  It allows you to add text, shapes, blurs, and crop.  The final image is then saved to the Camera Roll.  This saves students time from having to add annotations in the program they decide to use.  For example, students can then import those images into PicPlayPost, along with a recorded video (reading their paper?) to create a final media collage. See an example of a PicPlayPost collage uploaded to Dropbox.  But what if there is just too much content to annotated on the photo?  ThinkLink creates hotspots on an image that can link to video, images, text, sound (reading the paper in SoundCloud), and even downloading the paper in Evernote.  See an example of a hotspotted image on ThingLink.

Engage Students.  Explore apps, interactive books, and MultiTouch textbooks
(Presenter: Joanna Montgomery, Apple)

“Just because the students know the technology, doesn’t mean they know how to use it to learn.”

Montgomery’s presentation also focused on apps on the iPad.  But while Cummings’ presentation focused on apps that created digital content to demonstrate learning, Montgomery’s presentation focused on apps that had rich content written by academics for use in classrooms.  Montgomery sees a future in which back-to-school lists will eventually include recommended apps.

iTunes U has expanded exponentially since the last time I looked at it.  In fact, course materials for universities is only one-third of the content.  There is a section exclusively for K-12 and another for Beyond Campus (i.e. the Smithsonian, Khan Academy).  Material is not exclusively courses anymore.  Of course, there are many courses, but users can download singular materials from a course.  During Montgomery’s presentation, she showed us some videos and PDFs available from several sources.  All content is screened by at least one educator, so while it is educationally appropriate, there is no guarantee it will be grade-appropriate.  Thus, it is still best to preview material.

iBooks has may books that are beyond copyright for free.  There are also plenty of books available for free.  But Montgomery emphasized caution in using iBooks in the classroom.  The “Top Free” book list is full of erotica.  Teachers are encouraged to have students select a genre when searching for a free book and not using the top list to assist in filtering out inappropriate content.

Showcase Your Classroom Using Google
(Presenter: Jennifer Bond, Walled Lake Consolidated Schools)

Bond using numerous Google products in her classroom to connect parents with her classroom.  She highlighted several classroom blogs that she has created using Blogger.  Since she is a third grade teacher, students cannot have an email address and thus, cannot publish their own blog.  Thus, she is the moderator.  Most often, the students write blog entries in their journals and Bond would choose the best ones, type them up, and post them. Another option for teacher moderation is, using Blogger, set up an email address students where can email posts (this works best if the school has a contract to allow the students to have an email address under the age of 13).  The teacher will then be able to see the post prior to accepting it for publication. Many teachers have been doing this for years, but only showing the best writing in class, not publishing it to the internet.

Google Hangouts was another technology Bond used in her classroom.  She uses it to help connect her class with other classrooms as well as parents.  Sometimes, it is used just for fun.  But be careful…there is a different between Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts ON AIR.  On Air records the entire hangout and automatically uploads it to YouTube after you click done.  There is no editing.  There is no option to not upload.

Creating a Genius in Every Hour: 20 Time in Education
(Presenter: Nick Provenzano,

A number of years ago, Google implemented a policy that employees were to work on a non-assigned project 15% of their week.  In other words, Google would pay them to work on side projects.  Just something fun.  Many people though the executives at Google lost their mind.  Do you know what they got?  GMAIL.  ADSENSE.  And so some people wondered…what if we did the same for education?  What would students achieve?  The concept then became known as 20 Time (easier to give 1/5 of the week).

Provenzano piloted 20 Time in his class last year.  He said it was difficult…when he realized in order to make it truly 20% of the school year, he had to figure out how to get ride of 34 instructional days (yes, there was a deep inhale by the teachers in the room at this moment).  He cut movies, he trimmed his curriculum, and reworked lessons.  Eventually, he obtained those 34 days.  He didn’t even waiver on the commitment when the worst Michigan winter eliminated numerous instructional days.  He kept his word: every Friday was 20 Time work time.

Students were graded on a completion basis, did they write this blog post, etc.  They gave a speech at the end, TED style.  In fact, they organized a TEDx event to showcase some of the projects.

I was amazed at some of the projects that students did.  But the more I think about it, I wasn’t so amazed as I was thrilled that students rose to the challenge.  Given time and encouragement, students are capable of doing great things.

For more information on 20 Time, visit: or

Summer Reading

Summer reading was never a difficult task for me.  In fact, I looked forward to summer vacation because it meant I finally had time to read the books I liked at my own pace.  However, I know not everyone is like me and it may be a struggle to get students to read during “vacation”.  But summer reading really isn’t optional.

Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall. (

The best way to encourage students to read over the summer is to make them want to read by making reading fun. Summer vacation is the perfect time to explore interests without the confines of a curriculum.  During the school year, education is regimented and, essentially, forced upon students.  Many students rebel and say they “hate” school, learning, and/or reading because they just do not like to be told what to do.  By framing summer reading in a context that feels student-chosen rather than force-upon, many struggles will dissipate.

Firstly, we need to answer the question: what is reading?  Is it only a book?  Summer reading can encompass magazines, blogs, comic books, manuals/directions, or anything with words.

Second, we need to establish sources of reading.  Students can read paper copies or digital copies on computers or mobile devices.  Students can borrow materials or purchase them.

Third, we need to consider content.  Summer reading should have no content restrictions, unless it is not age-appropriate.  Students should be allowed to read about cars, princesses, singing, sports, medicine, dancing, grilling, or whatever activity students find fun.  It is also a good time to disregard reading-level and let students read books below (and above) their reading level if they want.  (Remember: the goal is to encourage the student to want to read and to read!)

In English class, students have mostly read “literature”—books that are not popular fiction and rarely connect with students.  Students read for an academic purpose during the school year.  For summer reading, students should read for an enjoyment purpose.  Parents should not give their students quizzes or ask the student to write a paper after reading.  Instead, informal, old-fashioned conversation will yield the same outcome and increase confidence.  A good example of discussion is this: Ask why the student thought the main character was “stupid” instead of telling the student not to use that word.  Most likely, the student has a great explanation, but is just not using academic language.

So how can teachers and parents find the best summer reading for students?

Popular Recommendations—There are hundreds of summer reading lists available through Google searches.  The local librarian, an employee at the local bookstore, or the Top Books in for iBooks/Kindle/Nook will yield an even larger selection.  A popular TV show or movie “based on” or “inspired by” a book?  Pick up one of the books!  I found I loved reading Kathy Reichs’ books because my favorite TV show is Bones, which is inspired by her books.

Student/Friend Recommendations—Prior to the end school, students can write down what their favorite reading selections are.  The teacher can then compile the information into a list.  Students may be more apt to read a book a classmate thought was really good.

Form a Book Club—Perhaps reading a book as a group is best  because some students need the encouragement of others for the initial push into summer reading.  Friends from school, neighborhood kids, or a group at the library will work out well.  Groups can be of varying ages and give perspectives that students may not see otherwise.

Model Reading—Don’t just tell students to read this summer, show them!  Teachers should show students the reading that they have done for enjoyment.  Parents should read as well during the summer.  It might be worthwhile for a parent and student to read the same thing so they can discuss it together.  (Side Note—My mom did this with my brother and I when the first Harry Potter book was published.  It was so much more fun to be able to talk about the book with my mom and my brother.)

Reading Goals/Rewards—Some students need a little…motivation.  While the Six Flags® Read to Succeed Program® is closed for this summer, the idea remains the same.  Parents or teachers can create a set list of criteria that the reader must accomplish in order to obtain the goal.  Each level should be even more desirous than the previous.  The student can either “cash in” at a specific goal level and start over, or keep building until the ultimate prize.  For the Six Flags® program, it’s free tickets to ride the coasters for a day.  You could use gift cards, concert tickets, or whatever that “it” thing is that the reader wants at the moment.  For the Scholastic Summer Challenge 2013, it’s contributing the “World Record” of minutes read to try to reach the Moon.

Do Something—Don’t just read the book, do something with it.  Create something from the book, see a play, watch the movie (afterwards!), visit a museum with artifacts mentioned in the book, encourage someone else to read the book, etc.  The list is endless.

No matter how you approach summer reading, remember to keep track of the reading progress.  You can find printable summer reading logs through a Google search or by using a site like

For more information and ideas for summer reading programs, books, and project ideas, see 5 Ways to Promote Summer Reading by TeachHub, Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading by ReadWriteThink, and Summer Reading and Learning by National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

iPad as the Teacher’s Pet: An Infographic

This infographic was created by @TonyVincent.  It is the most thorough, most informative, and most helpful iPad app infographic for education that I have seen.   This infographic is more than just a .jpg or .png file; it was uploaded to Scribd, so that the included links to the apps or other websites would work.

On Tony’s blog entry for this infographic he also posted links to download a 6-page version to print or a very large 24-page version to piece together to make a poster.

Digital Textbooks

There has been a big push towards using digital textbooks in schools across America and the globe.  Apple just recently gave the movement a giant shove toward digitalization with revamped iBooks app and  iTunes U.  But I haven’t pronounced the print textbooks market dead yet.

Sure I’d love to eliminate having my student’s lugging around a 6lbs literature textbook among 5 other textbooks in their backpack.  Perhaps phasing out of individual copies of textbooks and only having one classroom set would be a feasible idea – but what if the student does not have access to a computer or tablet?  Or that if lending the student the device would require a parent to sign a form that says they will be liable for all damages, including loss – and the parent says no?  Digital textbooks have a promising market in the middle to upper class schools and charter schools, but not in poor neighborhoods.  Thus, there will be a decent market for print textbooks, albeit smaller than it is now.

All the digital textbook information I see right now ties textbooks to specific devices.  Textbooks published through Apple’s iBooks can be published elsewhere, but Apple still takes its large fee.  Textbooks on the Nook and Kindle are pretty much only for their devices.  If the tablet market isn’t going to let all textbooks be available on all devices, the print textbook market will never die.  Perhaps the publishing companies will sell their own tablet for their own books.  Instead of 6 heavy textbooks, students will carry 3-4 tablet devices.  Still pretty expensive and not entirely what the digital textbook market is aiming to do.

Oh but wait, aren’t students supposed to take notes and read textbooks at the same time?  True students can flip between the textbook app and the notebook app to write notes, but what about drawing charts?  I’m all for typing notes in class, but sometimes it’s just quick to have a piece of paper and a pencil to scribble my notes and diagrams on.  We would be wasting time trying to teach kids how to make a ven diagram on their notebook app than it would take to draw the circles on a paper.  Speed is important, especially with the hundreds of benchmarks the government continues to thrust at teachers to have students be proficient in their education.

Just as eReaders and tablets will never kill the paperback book, they will not kill the textbook market either.

What do you think, will digital textbooks completely kill the print textbook market?

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Bilton, Ricardo. “Apple’s textbook plan’s biggest flaw is that it’s tied to the iPad | ZDNet .” Technology News, Analysis, Comments and Product Reviews for IT Professionals | ZDNet., 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2012.   Link to article

Faas, Ryan. “Apple’s new vision of education.” computerworld 21 Jan. 2012: n. pag. ComputerWorld. Web. 24 Jan. 2012.   Link to article