20% Time: Playing with Tech for Classroom Use

Posted by Annie Brown on January 15, 2016

Google's now well-known policy of allowing its engineers to spend twenty percent of their time exploring something that interests them has the goal of boosting innovation, creativity, and productivity. This idea of a "Genius Hour" has taken off in other workplaces and even some schools where kids are given more flexible time for exploration.

After attending the CUE conference about technology and powerful learning, Mary Hendra, Associate Program Director for Facing History in Los Angeles and Organizational Innovation, was inspired by this idea and her passion to incorporate technology into classrooms.

powering up

Mary brought back copies of Untangling the Web: 20 Tools to Power Up Your Teaching by Steve Dembo and Adam Bellow for each member of Facing History's Teacher Leadership Team, a group of teachers who meet regularly and are dedicated to implementing Facing History's approach and materials in our classrooms. She proposed that each of us take the gift of a book and stipend to explore whichever tech tools we found exciting. Who doesn't love a free book?

At our leisure over the summer, we each browsed through the book and tried out the different online tools. This school year, each teacher is experimenting with one or more new tools in her classroom. Over the next few months, you can read about our experiences and the response of our students. The experiment is underway!

A preview

I found the book so exciting, that I decided to try out everything - cover to cover. As a preview to the future blog posts, I wanted to review a few of the tools I thought would be helpful, even transformative for my classroom with the idea that they might inspire you as you begin your new semester.

Bellows and Dembo divide the book into five main categories: curation tools, artistic or creative tools, presentation tools, social networking tools, and a hodgepodge of other tools.

Curation tools are web-based pages that help you organize and share materials from the web. Edu Clipper appealed most to me. It is kind of like Pinterest for teachers and students. This is an online bulletin board that can be used to gather and share resources between member of a teaching team. Instead of emailing links and articles back and forth, resources can be added and categorized on this website. Teachers and their classes could also create or share a resource board for a research project.

In the category of "Artistic Tools", the authors included WeVideo which is like an online version of IMovie or Windows Movie Maker. I used this with my classes last year and thought it was great -especially for collaboration between students. Because it is a web-based platform (meaning it is on the Internet instead of an individual computer), students could work on the film simultaneously from different locations without having to save and splice their two videos together later.

In the same category, I got really excited by iPiccy which seemed to be able to do basically everything that Adobe Photoshop does, but it was free and easier to figure out. With their online tool, you can add layers and filters to photos which includes being able to add text, stickers, and drawings onto photos. It also makes photomosaics/collages of a set of images. The authors suggested combining this tool with Wordle--another tool discussed later in the book. Worldle takes a set of words--perhaps generated by a class responding to a question or from a brainstorm--and generates a word cloud that graphically displays the responses with popular word choices appearing as larger. Using iPiccy, advanced teachers could to edit and color the Worldle word cloud to really grab students' attention.

Under "Presentation Tools" PollEverywhere caught everyone's attention. This online poll can be used to ask a quick question or to conduct a survey before class as a jumping off point for a lesson or to conduct a check for understanding later in a lesson. Students don't need a computer to participate, a smartphone or just a phone with text messaging will do. The results can be displayed "in real time" (as students type in their responses) which can create a buzz about the lesson around the room.

The book also provides suggestions for how to incorporate social networking tools that are familiar to many teachers and very familiar to students such as Twitter and Skype. I highly suggest getting a copy of this book for the fun of it. Even though it seems like websites become obsolete so quickly, these have all been vetted for longevity and are likely to be around for a while. With spotty wi-fi on school campuses and a lack of computer labs and carts for students, it can be a challenge to bring your classroom into the twenty-first century. But, looking at these tools will inspire you to try!

Next up in this series:

  • Rebecca Berger shares a lesson on identity that incorporated 2 tools: Lucid Chart and Today's Meet.
  • Read all of the posts in this series on "powering up" Facing History lessons.
  • Subscribe to receive future posts!
  • Watch Bellow give one of the keynote addresses at the 2015 CUE conference and get some instant gratification 

Topics: Powering Up Facing History Lessons, Tech Innovation

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