Classroom Relection

What was my least favorite part of student teaching? Making a video of my teaching, then watching it with peers and critiquing it.

What was my most valuable part of student teaching? Quite possibly that same video.


I finished undergraduate and graduate school in the late 1990’s, when mobile telephones were still in bags and required power from a cigarette lighter.  At that time, it was a massive effort to video a lesson in a classroom. Much like watching a video on TV in the classroom, to video a lesson you hauled in a massive tripod and a huge camcorder, complete with a fresh VHS tape, pointed it toward the center of the room, and hoped you didn’t move out of the frame and spoke loud enough to be heard over the air conditioning, students moving chairs, and the bell ringing.


Today, the entire concept of doing video in the classroom is different. We have high quality cameras in our pockets at all times. The idea of taking pictures has evolved from “how many more photos are on this roll of 24-exposure film” to “should I Instagram this or post it to Facebook?” We grab memories all the time and share them with families and friends,  so why not do the same in the classroom.

Fold into this the idea of reflection of our practice.  Athletes do this all the time to improve their swing, throw, or hit. Teachers today have a wealth of tools available to make this reflection easy, but probably the hardest part is something that technology can’t fix: Reflecting on your practice is hard, and sharing that reflection with others is even harder. Simply put: the practice of closing the classroom door makes it hard for many teachers to be open to reflect on their classroom instruction, especially with other teachers.RCA_VHS_shoulder-mount_Camcorder.jpg

I hope that technology is going to change this, though.  Because society has changed the norms around taking pictures and video and sharing that with others, I’m hoping that norm will carry over to the classroom for reflection.

I’ve recently purchased a couple iPads, but more importantly, a couple Swivl devices. The Swivl features a robot that the iPad docks into and bundles a microphone. That microphone, worn on a lanyard around the teacher’s neck, contains a tracker that helps the Swivl robot pan around the room, following the teacher. The microphone captures high-quality sound, and the iPad records the entire session on the device.

It doesn’t end there, though. Where the Swivl really shines comes after the recording ends. Once an online account is created with Swivl, the video is automatically uploaded to Swivl’s secure servers and shared back with the account holder. From there, you can easily review the video. The Swivl Pro account adds lots of great features, including annotating the video, sharing with colleagues, and more. You can also add additional microphones and place them with students, then tune into specific conversations to hear student discussions, figuring out where your lesson was strong and where some reteaching is needed.

Swivl does a lot more, which I’ll likely talk about later. You don’t even need the robot to try out the software, which will work on iOS and Android.  You can see more about Swivl at and consider purchasing one. You can also purchase a Swivl at Amazon, as well as other tools for classroom reflection.

Back to Blogging

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, as you can tell from the post just before this one…lots has changed for me professionally since the last post. I continue to serve as Instructional Technology Coordinator in my 10-school district in York, South Carolina, but I added the role of Public Information Officer about a year and a half ago.  Due to retirements in the district the position opened up, and I was working to coordinate our district’s AdvancED accreditation process, so I asked to take on that role as well to consolidate efforts.

The Public Information Office role has been a lot of fun, but a challenge to keep up with along with the other responsibilities. Being a PIO is a full-time job in all but the smallest districts. Our district is just on the fringe of the Charlotte media market, so we are able to “avoid” attention for some situations, but are frequently looped into stories involving Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools as well as the other districts in our county.  Often times it is a “this happened there, what does York do?” type of story, which doesn’t take much to respond to. Occasionally it is a significant story involving our district, which requires all of my time and focus.

My real goal in the PIO role is the same as other PIOs throughout all organizations: Tell the story of our students and staff. I’ve been successful in that quest a few times recently, including the always-tear-jerking Military Reunion I was able to video just before the Christmas holidays last year.  A York graduate returned home a day earlier than expected and surprised his sister in her classroom.  That video is here:


I’ve captured the Teacher of the Year announcement, student projects including t-shirt launchers constructed in a Physics class, and many more events in schools that only begin to tell the stories inside the walls of our campuses.

I’ve also been lucky enough to be working with PIOs in the other districts in my county who I have leaned on for support and guidance, taking advantage of their knowledge and training. The state’s branch of the National School Public Relations Association is also extremely generous with their time and resources, and like classroom teachers, love to swap war stories when they get together.

I’m going to try to blog more frequently over the next few months, in part to help tell these stories, as well as some personal talk, including products that I’ve bought and like to use, and probably some other random stuff. As with other bloggers, drop me a note and let me know what you think or what you’d like to learn. I’m @tcooper185 on Twitter as well.


30 Day Challenge: Chromebook Wrapup

August is here, which brings me to the end of my 30 Day Challenge with the Chromebook.  I did a pretty good write-up in my Update last week, but I wanted to hit a couple other points I didn’t mention last time.

Cb14-websites-etr-306x2324G data: The HP Chromebook 14 I got came with a TMobile data chip inside which includes 200 MB of data a month for the life of the device.  While on vacation I didn’t need the 4G data much.  But, I didn’t have a data connection while at my in-laws (actually, I just didn’t setup their wireless router for me to access), so I tried out the 4G connection.  TMobile’s connection was strong in their home, and I had been a few days without connecting to Facebook and such, so I made good use of the data.  In fact, I burned through the 200 MB in a short period, doing some Facebook and Twitter browsing, along with checking in with work and personal email.  I’d guess that the 200MB lasted me about an hour of full-on browsing…certainly enough for some Gmail and work email, and a bit of Facebook, but not much more than that.  TMobile has a pretty decent Day/Week/Month pay as you go plan, but I just decided I didn’t need to get online on the laptop that much, and only used my phone the rest of the visit.  Also, the chip inside is only an HSPA+ chip, not LTE, but it doesn’t matter much…TMobile’s HSPA+ connection is more than enough for light browsing…I never found myself waiting.

Keyboard:  I continue to be impressed with the keyboard.  Again, it’s probably from coming from the keyboard on the Surface Pro which is more compact, but this one definitely feels roomy.  Responsive and quiet, the keyboard works well.

Trackpad:  This can make or break most cheap laptops.  This trackpad is very good.  Pinch to zoom works well, along with 2-finger drag to scroll a page.  Tap to click is nice, and the click has a good feel to it when I use it.

Battery: Today I took the Chromebook with me to the dealership to get my car’s oil changed and I streamed Google Music and YouTube along with some web surfing for about an hour.  I’ve been on it another 30 minutes or so, and right now it says I have 73% remaining, or 4 hours and 30 minutes.  That would put me in the neighborhood of 6 hours of battery life.  Not super-stellar, but adequate.  I’ve also got the brightness cranked up since I’m sitting outside, so that probably is a lot of the reason.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the device.  I was working on a Word document using Office 365 online, and was easily able to save the file to OneDrive.  Once it’s there, I can drag it over into Dropbox on a PC.  I could also save a copy of the document to the Chromebook directly, then open it in Google Drive, but I needed to pass the documents on to a grant evaluator and didn’t want to mix Google Docs and Excel, so I’ll transfer them over later.

Ultimately, would I recommend the device?  I think for most everyone, a Chromebook will do what they need.  Connectivity is a must, though… I was early to my oil change appointment so I was sitting in my car, but out of the range of the free customer wifi.  I tried opening Docs, Slides, Sheets, and nothing worked.  All I was able to open was Calculator.  Since wifi is available most everyone someone would want to use a computer in the first place, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The included 4G helps with that as well, but I had already used my 200MB of data for the month and I was too cheap to buy more since I’d be inside within the hour, so I just sat and listened to the radio.  It worked just fine, just like the Chromebook would work just fine for anyone willing to live in the cloud.

Communicating with Parents

Summer break has begun across the country for most everyone, and with that break brings preparation for the next school year.  I plan to write about a few topics this summer, putting out a few web tools and apps that you might find useful. Each week will have a theme as well!

This week I want to focus on communication with Parents.  It is essential to keep Parents/grandparents/guardians involved in what is going on in their child’s classroom, as an engaged parent is a helpful parent. Keeping them in the loop will bring offers of help, spur conversations at home, and preemptively answer questions (maybe even cutting down on emails!)

Three tools to that end:

weeblylogoWeebly is a simple and easy web page creator and host.  Can be created from a computer web browser or a mobile device, it uses easy drag-and-drop design, tons of templates, and more.  If you can use Word, you can use Weebly. If you like Publisher, you’ll be up to speed with Weebly in no time.  Easily and quickly keep parents up to date on class projects and activities.  Try out Weebly for a summer gathering to get familiar with it!  Weebly has for-pay plans, but their free service will work for all classrooms.

2014-06-17_14-56-57Remind is a free “communication platform built for teachers. Using Remind101, teachers can engage their students and parents more effectively without needing to know their cell phone numbers and without having to give their phone number out.”  Basically it is a web-based text message system like those you might sign up for a restaurants to receive deals, but for the classroom. Your parents sign up for your messages, and you can preschedule or send texts as needed. Field trip reminders, papers to be returned, and anything else that fits in a short text message can be sent easily to parents, and no one knows your cell phone number. Open a free Remind account and put in your own phone number to test out the system!

top_header_bar_mbclogo@2x-6cce8a247747d6acad1eeed9246703e9My Big Campus is our district’s Learning Management System, or LMS.  Similar to Edmodo, Canvas, and others, My Big Campus allows full class collaboration online. Assignments can be created and turned in electronically, students can upload and save files to the service, post blogs and upload pictures, and much more.  My Big Campus also has a Parent Portal component which will let your parents keep tabs on their student’s activities and requirements.  Parents can see what is happening in your class and all of your updates, but they don’t see things that other students post, keeping student work private.  Teachers can also share resources with students and teachers. Your district might use Canvas or Edmodo or some other product, so look into that!

Consider all of these tools as you think about new ways to include your parents in your classroom activities!  If you know of others, let me know and I’ll include them in future posts.

So You Got a Surface Tablet…

surfacertThis week at the ISTE 2013 conference, over 10,000 people will receive a free Microsoft Surface RT tablet, exposing over 9,874 people to the world of Surface RT.  I purchased a Surface RT on launch day and used it for quite a while, enjoying the device within its limitations.

If you are new to Windows 8 and Windows RT, the first thing you’ll want to do is create a Microsoft Account.  Similar to a Google Account or Apple ID, it’s the account you’ll use to save your profile and app history, email, and more.  If you already have an Xbox, you can use the same Gamer ID as your Microsoft Account.  Same as with your Skype ID.  Details are on Microsoft’s page here:

Windows 8 is clearly designed for a tablet, which explains much of the backlash Microsoft has faced over the last few months since its release.  Windows 8 runs nicely on the Surface RT tablet, as long as you know about some special features.  In the same way that Apple makes use of off-to-on-screen swipes for the Notification screen, Microsoft does this on all sides of the Windows 8 screen.  

surfacert2Windows 8 and RT does have the familiar Desktop.  Plus, Windows 8 has FULL Office 2013!  You can find out more about pinning apps and more at

Shutting down the Surface RT:  Possibly the most complained about feature of Windows 8 & RT is shutting down the device.  Much like your iPad, you simply don’t need to shut it down, but can close the screen (or flip up the Touch Cover) and it’ll go into Connected Standby. Connected Standby wakes up occationally to phone home and get updates/email/notifications, but then goes back to sleep.  Simply put, treat it the way you do with your iPad.  If you need to restart or shut down, simply swipe from the right, tap Settings, then Power, and select Shut Down.  More details at

I’ll post more soon about the popular apps you’ll want to install, but hopefully the above links will get you started!

Are you at ISTE 2013?  Did you get a Surface RT?  What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

So You Have a Windows 7 Computer…

New computer desks
New computer desks – Manchester City Library, via Flickr

As schools are opening, many teachers are returning to new computers on their desks or in their classrooms.  Not only do these new computers have nice new monitors and clean keyboards, they are likely coming with Windows 7, which is very different in look and feel from older Windows XP computers.  For many, this may be the first time you’ve used Windows 7.

We replaced computers in two of our district’s schools over the summer, giving us roughly 50% of the teachers using Windows 7 while the other half are using Windows XP.  Talk about training trouble!

To start the year, I sent an email to all of my schools using Windows 7 and provided some links to some online tutorials around the changes in Windows 7.  Most users are OK after about an hour of so of using Windows 7, but you may find the tutorials useful for your colleagues and staff.

Some of you may be using Windows 7 for the first time, so I wanted to put together a couple of quick resources that might be useful to you.  The links below are specific to Windows 7 (not Office 2010, but I’ll get those together too!) and show you how to do some of the same things you have done in the past on Windows XP.

Straight from the source:
Direct from Microsoft, these tutorials combine videos with handouts to walk you through various things in Windows 7, including changing your desktop background and screen saver, sounds, adjusting text size, and much more. Lots of good resources here.
While this site is ad-supported, there are lots of video and text tutorials around the use of Windows 7.  I can’t vouch for all of the videos here, but the first few look pretty good.
More tutorials which have you click through various steps to learn about Windows 7.
Please note that, due to the corporate nature of our install of Windows, not all of the features of Windows 7 work as they would at home, but most everything should be identical.

Feel free to share a link to this page and help out your staff, fellow teachers, or even family members!

In 60 Seconds…

Teachers and students love graphics.  Teachers refer to them in textbooks and use them in PowerPoints and other presentations.  Students would rather look at them than a paragraph of text.  Well-designed graphics can help convey a message quickly and easily.  This graphic, “In 60 Seconds…” by shows what happens online every 60 seconds.  I think I’ll use this next school year in presentations to both students and teachers.

2010-2011 Goals

In January 2010 I started work with York School District 1 in York, South Carolina as an Instructional Technology Coach.  I held a similar position (Instructional Technology Specialist) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for 2 1/2 years.  In Charlotte much of the role was project management: coordinating installations of hardware/software, working with financial secretaries and media specialists to order equipment and software, and a small amount of training of teachers. There was essentially no work with curriculum, but I started sneaking some in during my last year in CMS.

In my new job, I get to do a great deal of what I like to do: work with teachers.  In the semester I’ve already been in York, I’ve already gotten into classrooms with teachers to work side-by-side and model technology integration.  I’ve lead training on Promethean software/hardware, wikis, and Web 2.0 skills.  I get to meet with the district’s executive staff weekly and get to help advocate for teachers as well as best practices in instructional technology.  In short, since it’s a brand-new position, I get to do a lot of what I think needs to be done.

There are, of course, downsides.  The position is grant-funded, so my position is only guaranteed until the end of the 2010-11 school year.  I have to administer two state technology proficiency programs within the district, neither of which I think are as strong (or easy to figure out) as they should be.

Just like I did when I created long-term goals for my classroom, I decided to write up my goals for this next school year.  Some should be fairly simple, some depend on the help of other folks.  I’ll update the status of these goals near the Christmas break, as well as at the end of the school year.

  • Setup Moodle server (version 2) for district Professional Development use.
  • Create 2 self-paced or moderated PD classes for Moodle.
  • Recruit and provide support to at least 2 teachers to use Moodle in their classroom.
  • Continue expansion of Wikispaces Private Label service within the district.  Expand use to 25 teachers with at least one class of students each.
  • Implement self-hosted WordPress blogging solution for teachers and staff
  • Work side-by-side with at least 8 teachers, from lesson development to implementation to review.
  • Drive district to implement use of Twitter for parent and staff communication.

These are the big goals.  Not included are fairly typical things like providing traditional professional development in small groups and class settings, research best practices in technology integration, and more.

What do you think?  What am I leaving off?  Have you done any of the above items and have advice or resources?  Let me know in the comments.

Greenville Upstate Technology Conference

I’m getting ready to present two sessions at the Greenville Upstate Technology Conference today. I submitted to present 2 different sessions which I also presented at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Spring Technology Seminar. The first session is my favorite fun session “Cool Websites for Yourself and Your Students.”  I’ve posted the links at a wiki at

I’m also presenting on one of my favorite software application that is on every classroom computer and home computer, Windows Movie Maker.  The session, “Windows Movie Maker, Flip Video Cameras, and You!” is even better than it was a couple years ago thanks to the ultra-inexpensive and very good quality Flip video cameras, which plug in via USB and act as a flash drive.  The wiki with the resources for that session is