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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Unrivaled Conundrum: What You Can Do to Secure Faculty Buy-In for Ed-Tech Solutions

One of the easiest ways to facilitate buy-in for a technology product is to center on-going professional development around it. Continued exposure to a tool, especially in a way that showcases effective classroom usage, is a three-way win:
  • A greater percentage of your faculty accepts and utilizes the resource.
  • As a result, your district gets a return on any time and money invested in integrating the solution.
  • Best of all, district students are taught using modern teaching techniques and 21st-century technology.
In the coming weeks, I’ll post a few tips, tricks, and suggestions to help make technology professional development a bit more productive and enjoyable for teachers, administrators, and technology facilitators. Here's the first tip:

Provide Shorter Tutorials Often
Many of today’s web 2.0 tools have a plethora of bells and whistles – features that make tech-savvy teachers giddy – but unnerve or overwhelm the technologically timid.

As you introduce faculty and staff to a new website, resist the urge to demonstrate, in one session, every possible way each site accessory is harnessed. Overviews of site functionality are fine, but don’t stop there.

Instead, present at regular intervals shorter – more digestible – tutorials that spotlight a particular component – and how it could fit into curricula.

For example, when you first expose My Big Campus to faculty and staff, provide hands-on demonstrations of group creation. Along the way, show off items of note – such as Bundles, Schoolwork, discussion boards, and more. However, structure the explanations as teasers to generate interest in subsequent trainings.

A week after the initial My Big Campus exposure, provide a follow-up session on one specific site element – like Schoolwork. Offer attendees up to a 60-minute interactive tutorial on assignment creation, questions types, possible projects, and rubrics.

The next week, schedule a session highlighting a different site facet – online discussions, EduTalk, blogs, wall posts, or Bundles. (Tip: Bundles could be broken into two tutorials – one geared toward uses among colleagues, and another showcasing how Bundles are used between teachers and students.

Lastly, don’t forget to provide ongoing support for your trainees. Of course you can make yourself available. But don't forget to give your faculty a chance to interact with each other between workshops. A discussion board in your session's My Big Campus training group provides the perfect platform for attendees to post inquiries, best practices, and tips for getting the most benefit from the site.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I've Created My Classroom Group: Where Do I Begin Working With My Students Online?

Take the first step to growing your online teaching skills. Attend the free 30-min. My Big Campus webinar tutorials held throughout the week. Offerings highlight popular My Big Campus features and their classroom uses.

Whenever I train educators on My Big Campus operations, teachers frequently ask, “I’ve created a classroom group. Where do I begin working with my students online?”

My advice is to start small: Begin with a feature you think is easy to use; get comfortable with it; and, when you are ready, go from there.

Because I was a middle-school reading and writing teacher, I used discussion boards all the time. At first, discussion boards served as my bellringer/warm-up activity for a particular day. As my students and I grew more familiar with My Big Campus, various manifestations of online discussions took center stage in a day’s lesson.  

Why did I start with discussion boards? Frankly, I love writing. In fact, I sometimes think it’s more natural for me to write than it is for me to breathe. As a consequence, I sought to convey to my students the fun and joy I find in stitching words.

Therefore, through online discussions, I discovered ways my learners could write collaboratively, peer edit, and even challenge me in feats of mental strength – such as creating clever similes and metaphors.

My experiments with discussion boards gave me confidence. Over time, conceiving and harnessing online lessons grew easy.

So – You've got your classroom group. Now, where do you go from here? Attend one the free 30-min. webinar tutorials on popular My Big Campus features. Explore the self-paced training modules in the Library. Ask MBC guide and mentor Bob Campus a few questions, or join a discussion on EduTalk. Gather tips and tricks that will point you in the right direction. The possibilities are limitless.

In my humble opinion, it’s perfectly fine to start small. Capitalize on your strengths; find your niche; and grow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Round-Robins: The Easy Way to Bundle Collaboration and Real-World Writing Skills

With My Big Campus, a lesson can easily bundle collaboration and real-world writing skills.

A familiar collaborative writing technique and the backbone of the activity below, a Round-Robin allows students to communicate easily on a shared writing task. In the process, ideas are exchanged and expanded at a fast clip.

Round-Robins are easy for students to grasp. They can help learners overcome common difficulties – such as writer’s block. Best of all, they’re just plain fun.

Prior to tackling a Round-Robin assignment, consider a skill to reinforce. Leads (thesis statements), point/counter-point debates, battling a strict deadline, writing for a common goal: All are fair game for a Round-Robin. Use your imagination.

Some Inspiration, Please
Inspiration for collaborative writing can come from any source – a book, a picture, a song lyric, or a sound bite. Anything that can help wily word slingers imagine a scene is ripe with possibilities. For example, a picture can be displayed for all to see. Students can then be instructed to compose a story based on the image. A question might accompany the image: What just happened? Write a story that explains.

Lesson – Basic Round Robin
  1. Students open a My Big Campus Bundle, title it, and save.
  2.  Each learner then assigns a collaborator to his/her Bundle.
  3. The prompt is revealed: A picture is shown; Lines from a book are read; A song is played; Or a sound bite is repeated.
  4. Give students time to compose (From three to five minutes might be enough for fledging wordsmiths. Seasoned scribblers can have a few more ticks depending on your goals.) Learners work within text boxes tucked in the Bundle content screen.
  5. When the clock winds down, students save their Bundle – then access their partner’s Bundle. (Allow kids time to locate their partner’s Bundle and process the writing within.)
  6. Reset the timer, and learners continue their collaborator’s piece.
  7. When time is called, steps 4–6 can be repeated, or the class can analyze what has already been written.
  • Initial Thoughts: Before creating the inaugural paragraph, students can be given time to digest the prompt. You and your class can discuss initial reactions to the prompt or angles to address the prompt.
  •  Tight Deadlines: On the opposite end, you may want to prep students for writing against a tight deadline. Test their mettle – giving them no time to digest the prompt as a group. Students commit their ideas to the screen as fast as possible. When the Round-Robin process closes, classes dissect the compositions.
  • Grading: For details on how students can submit their Bundles as a part of a formal assignment, see Grade it here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Character Status Updates: The Real Social Media Trick to Boost Engagement in Read Alouds

Learners can tie up reading, writing, and even history standards in one creative bundle.

While practicing active listening techniques, students use My Big Campus Bundles to create social-media type status updates that illuminate character actions and thoughts.

Click image for greater detail. Character status updates can be spruced up in various ways. Using the Bundle-text editor, learners add homemade cover art and realistic profile pics in no time. Presentation software and a screenshot tool were all it took to produce the "Jurgis" and "J.R." images above.


To prepare students for the lesson below, ask learners to assume the role of the main character in a story. Read a paragraph or two from the tale. Then, as a class, discuss clever lines the character could use to update his or her social media status. Ideas can be posted on the board.

  1. Students create a Bundle, title it, and save.
  2. As a chapter or text is read aloud, students post status updates in separate Bundle text boxes to reflect significant events in the story.
  3. Depending on the class’s skill level, you can have students create status updates continuously during the reading. Or, pause briefly to ask, "What's your status?" – giving learners time to compose thoughts or discuss noteworthy sequences. Tip: Students may resist a grammarian’s dedication to proper punctuation, capitalization – and perhaps even spelling – in their character status updates. Consider a compromise: Status updates can be informal. Students can practice formal writing conventions in the summary exercise highlighted under Variations.

With a little imagination, you can use character status updates to guide learners though a wide range of academic principles – from summarization, perspective, and sequencing to informal dialog, formal writing conventions, and the analysis of fictional/historical personalities. Here's a closer look:

  • Sequence and Summarization: Tucked neatly inside Bundles, character status updates provide a tangible model of story plot. Therefore, harness them to springboard or reinforce discussions on sequencing, summarization, and/or point of view. Tip: To practice summarizing, students compose a one-paragraph summary at the bottom of their Bundle – using the status updates as a reference.
  • Point of View/Perspective: When students are ready, pitch point of view in the mix. Character status updates can be written from a first-person or third-person perspective. Use the exercise to illuminate the difference.
  • Partners: Add a collaborative twist to story plots or events between two fictional or historical characters. Using the edit function, each student connects a collaborator to his/her Bundle. When the day’s reading concludes, partners peck out text to reflect imagined online dialog between characters. Tip: Collaborators can not edit the same Bundle synchronously. Creating a smooth online discussion between two characters can occur asynchronously – perhaps as a part of homework or a multipart assignment.
  • Grade it: Have learners submit their Bundles using the following instructions. From the left navigation on My Big Campus, click Schoolwork > Add New Schoolwork. Then select Simple Assignment from the drop-down menu in the Information screen. Add a catchy title – and perhaps informative directions in the Description field. Then click Save and Continue. From there, click Add New Assignee. Choose the group(s) to which you wish to give the assignment, along with a start date/time and an end date/time. Then hit Save.
Students: To access the assignment, learners click Schoolwork and then the assignment name. From there, they click Bundle, attach their Bundle from the drop down, and hit Submit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Made to Order: The Tool and Tips You'll Need to Teach Sequencing

Teaching the finer points of writing sequences is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Use the following lesson to reinforce the concepts of chronological order, transition words – and even summarization.

Click image for greater detail. My Big Campus Bundles offer drag-and-drop text boxes – the perfect tools to help learners pick up the basics of written sequences.


Prior to the lesson, open a My Big Campus Bundle and compose a sample essay (from four to five short paragraphs) – using separate text boxes within the Bundle to house each paragraph. Your composition should parallel the prompt you’ll later assign to students. Tip: You’re preparing a sequencing lesson. Therefore, include transition words and phrases in the lead sentence of each paragraph. Your effort will help students in later steps.

When your writing is complete, reorder (drag and drop) the text boxes within the Bundle. (Yes, you’re taking the paragraphs out of sequence – reducing the composition to gibberish. Don’t worry.)

Next, display on an interactive whiteboard the Bundle containing your essay. Read the disorganized essay. Then have student volunteers rearrange paragraphs (drag and drop) into sequence – revealing a proper text. In the process, illuminate the transition words and phrases and how those syntactic tools alert readers to a proper sequence.

Independent Practice
  1. Students open a My Big Campus Bundle. Give them time to generate text based on a prompt similar to your example essay. Students write inside the Bundle – using a separate text box for each paragraph.
  2. As the writing deadline nears, students finish their essays and proofread. Tip: Know your classes and their abilities. Spotless work isn’t necessary, but students need time to examine the basics (spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and, especially, transition words).
  3. Once proofing is complete, each student reorders the text boxes (drag and drop) inside his or her Bundle – shuffling the deck, if you will, and then saves.
From here, your creativity comes into play:
  •  Class Efforts: Create a class discussion board, where students attach their Bundles in posts. Display on the interactive whiteboard the Bundle of a student volunteer. Read the Bundle aloud. Ask students to highlight the transition words/phrases observed. Learners can then rearrange the paragraphs into proper sequence. Repeat the process with other student Bundles.
  • Partners: If students display a prowess for sequencing, assign partners. Each student reopens his/her own bundle to add a collaborator. Learners then access their partner’s Bundle to resequence the text boxes – forming the proper story.
Other Variations
  • Summarizing: Toss summarization into the mix once students grasp the above process. Inside a Bundle, learners summarize a story, article, chapter, or novel. They then shuffle the text boxes for others to reorder.
  • Emphasize Transitions: Students compose each paragraph in its own text box. However, learners isolate transition words and phrases in their own text boxes, as well. When students resequence paragraphs, text boxes containing transition words and phrases can be dropped between paragraphs – illustrating how they help readers move from one thought to the next on a page.

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