Sunday, December 13, 2015

Plato Academy and Superior Schools Collaborate with Schools in Greece to Shape Global Citizens

     It is not a secret that teachers often spend a good chunk of their personal time to do things that are school related, and I am hardly the exception to that rule.  Two weeks ago I took advantage of the weeklong break during Thanksgiving Week to travel abroad and see my family.  While in Greece, I had the opportunity to visit two schools, one in Ptolemaida, Kozani and one in Thermi, Thessaloniki.  Both schools, although very different from each other, offer great opportunities to create global connections with our own schools, Plato Academy Schools.


     The school in Ptolemaida is very special to me, as it is the school I attended when I was growing up.  As I was walking up the stairs of the new building, old, pleasant memories came back like a stream of ferocious intensity.  The voices and laughter of my friends and fellow students echoed in my ears and I have to admit, that these memories brought tears to my eyes. 
     Soon, the warm welcoming of the principal and assistant principal of the school brought me back to reality.  The teachers there gave me the opportunity to teach a class, and even deliver a short session to the whole faculty on Augmented Reality.  Although the technology equipment of that particular school is not the greatest, the teachers enjoyed learning about Augmented Reality in the classroom and saw the huge potential of emerging technologies.

Mr. George Chatzopoulos and Mr. Nikolaos Chatzopoulos
at the Mandoulides School in Thermi, Thessaloniki

     The school in Thermi, Ekpedeftiria Mandoulides, is a private school with a more advanced structure and superior technology.  I met with the principal of the school, Mr. Georgios Chatzopoulos (notice the name: quincidence or fate?), and one of their awesome teachers, Ms. Jeanette Nikas, who were very kind, and very interested in building a collaboration between the two schools, mandulides and Plato Academy.
      I believe that the development of opportunities that foster global connections between schools, teachers, and students is crucial.  Our interconnected world shapes global citizens.  International connections between students of different backgrounds, nationalities, and languages are highly beneficial for everyone involved: students, teachers, schools, and communities.

     I look forward to collaborating with the schools in Greece so that we can all learn from each other on how to best prepare our students for the future.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

2 Simple Ways to Create Digital Textbooks in the Classroom

This article was first posted on Daily Genius in June 2015

Textbooks are an irrevocable part of every classroom, and sometimes, they constitute the classroom, school, or district curriculum. Teachers rely on them to teach concepts, and use them to illustrate examples, share ideas, and assign homework and class work.
However, any teacher who takes his/her job seriously will tell you that there is no textbook in the world that is perfect. This statement couldn’t be more relevant today, because the many changes the Common Core Standards introduced to our nation’s educational system has made many of the mainstream books and textbooks insufficient.
But, what if teachers could write their own books? What if they could write their own textbooks that complement, and in some cases, replace, the always expensive and often outdated textbooks, bypassing the slow textbook adoption policies of large states and districts around the country?
Even more importantly, what if students where given the tools to create their own books and textbooks in which they illustrate their understanding of concepts, and even use these books in the classroom to teach their peers?
Today’s technology makes these, once outlandish ideas, very possible.
There are several platforms teachers and students can use to create digital books that match, and sometimes surpass the quality of traditional books. Two of the most user-friendly and inexpensive tools are Book Creator and iBooks Author. Although both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, they both are capable of creating state-of-the-art digital books that can transform learning in the classroom.


Book Creator is currently an iOS, Android and Windows app, with a web version coming out around the beginning of the next school year. The app is currently free for Windows users for limited time, while it costs $4.99 for iOS users, and $2.49 for Android users, although there are free versions of Book Creator on both the iTunes and the Google Play stores.
Despite some minor differences in features and appearance, regardless of what platform a user prefers, Book Creator’s performance is solid. Book Creator allows teachers and students to create and publish digital books that contain text, drawings, pictures, sounds, and video files.
As such, it offers the opportunity to create lessons that are exciting, and provide unique educational experiences for all students. For instance, teachers can use Book Creator to create a book that serves as an introduction to a concept he/she wants to teach.
Or, a teacher can assemble a book with videos, text, pictures and drawings on a concept that is not covered adequately by the current textbooks. The biggest advantage of these books is that they can be highly personalized and directed at a specific audience. That will enable students to create personal connections to the material covered by these books, which will increase the chances of knowledge retention dramatically.
Teachers are not the only ones who can take advantage of this powerful platform. Students can use Book Creator to assemble resources such as videos, pictures, and text in order to produce a multimedia project that illustrates their understanding in multifaceted ways. For instance, in our school, 4th graders used Book Creator to create a digital book of collaborating math videos, and then used these books to teach 3rd graders a number of 4th grade math concepts.
Here is a short tutorial on how to get started with Book Creator for Windows


iBooks Author is Apple’s free ebook authoring application for iBooks. It is a powerful platform that was designed to revolutionize modern textbooks. With iBooks Author teachers and students can easily write and publish interactive digital books and textbooks that have a professional look and are highly engaging.
Much like Book Creator, iBooks Author users can add text, images, sounds, videos and drawings to their books. However, Apple’s platform is much more diverse and offers a level of customization that can only be seen in professional desktop publishing applications.
Users can use a number of widgets to bulid-in their book review questions, interactive texts and images, 3D objects, Keynote presentations, and even HTML5 widgets that almost everyone can build without coding experience. The final product can be shared with students and enjoyed on an iPad, or, it can be published on the iTunes store.
As one can imagine, the implications of this are staggering. Teachers and students can reach vast audiences and break the barrier of the classroom microcosm by connecting to others on a global scale, as they can create digital books that can be literally downloaded by anyone in the world. The power of connectivity in conjunction with the power of creativity can drive innovation to a whole new level and open the door to a brave new world for all students.
One of the more important responsibilities and duties of a teacher is to encourage his/her students dream and empower them to become masters of their own learning. Teachers and students around the country are creating a small revolution by using technology to create their own books and textbooks. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you ready to join this revolution?