Throw It Against The Wall and See What Sticks

One of the things that I love about teaching is the never-ending opportunity to try new things and to work towards finding better ways to help the students that we work with. For those of you that know me, you know that integrating technology with my practice in the classroom is something that I am excited about. I wanted to take a little bit of time tonight to talk about those online tools that I have tried in the last while. Some of the things that I will mention are definitely keepers. Othersare things that I have not tried much yet, but am excited about trying. Click the title for a link to the website for each.

Google Apps for Education

My class gets a lot of use out of Google Apps. I kind of consider it our home base. It is my fallback for anything related to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. I have used Google Forms a little bit and am excited by the possibility for easily creating surveys and collecting feedback from students, but it is not something I have a lot of experience yet. My fifth grade students were really quick to catch on to how to log on and use the apps and really need very little in the way of technical support from me to be independent. I find it so far relatively east to administer and, like pretty much everything on this list, it is free. (Yay for free!)

Google Classroom

Google Classroom is another useful (and free) service from my friends at Google. It allows me to create a document and easily distribute a copy of that document to each student in my class. They can then work on the document on their own and submit it to me. I would use it even more if each of my students had access to a computer in the classroom all the time. Unfortunately this is not the case, but I use Google Classroom to distribute templates that I want my students to work on or frames for writing or note taking that I would like them to have access to.

Freshgrade

I have talked about Freshgrade a little bit in previous posts, but it is another service that gets a lot of use in my classroom. It allows me to create an online portfolio and gradebook for each student that is instantly shared with their parents. I, or the students can upload files, pictures, comments or video. The site can create reports, and while I know some teachers have used this feature, I have not tried it yet. If there was one new tool I recommend someone learning more about, this would be it.

Nearpod

Nearpod is one that definitely falls into the category of things I have not tried yet, but I am excited to try. It allows you to create presentations that are cast to students when they open an app on a phone or a tablet. It allows students to follow along, but also incorporates interactive elements such as poll questions, videos or a cool feature where students can draw to provide feedback. It allows teachers to see student responses immediately and would be an awesome way for a teacher to get quick, formative feedback from students. I am looking forward to giving this a try once all of my students have an iPad in their hand at the same time.

Kidblog

Kidblog is a site that I have talked about before, but I will go through again. It is a site that allows you to provide all of your students with a blog, which then feeds into a class blog. I am able to moderate both the posts and the comments that students make to one another. I have set the blog so that only other members of our class can see it, but still we have almost 25000 hits over the last two years. I have seen an improvement in the writing of many of the students as they feel they have an audience.

Symbaloo

I have always found it difficult to share web addresses that I want students to access. I find that either it takes them a long time for them to type it in or they make some kind of typo that takes away from their time on the site. Symbaloo is a way for someone to share bookmarks to websites that you want your students to see and it looks really easy. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I will be looking into it soon.

Scratch

Scratch is a visual programming language designed for kids by the good people at MIT. It is an easy way for kids to get into coding and the kids can make some pretty cool things. I have had students make their own versions of Pong and Pacman and have tried their hand at creating a side scroller kind of like Mario. The site has some excellent tutorials that you can see side by side with the area where you can do your coding. I think it really does help students to develop logical thinking, as they try to figure out how to get their program to do what they want it to do.

Conclusion

As I have written this post I have realized just how many web based tools that I have tried with my students over the last couple of years. I find it exciting. Let me know if there is anything out there that I really have to try that you are having success with. Also, if you want to try any of these tools and need some support, let me know and I will see if I can help you out.

Advertisements

My First Try iMovie/Youtube (Stations of the Cross)

As I mentioned yesterday, today our school had our annual Holy Thursday retreat. As part of that retreat, I had my students create models of the Stations of the Cross. They did a great job and I am very proud of their efforts. When the students had finished, I took photos of the models and used iMovie to create a video out of them. This is my first try at creating an iMovie video and I really liked how easy it was to use. It was a lot of drag and drop and it did a lot of the work of making the video look good on its own. I then uploaded the video to Youtube. This was my first try at that as well.

Below is the link to the movie. I would love any feedback in how I could make it better. Keep in mind that I am looking for feedback for the video producer, not the artists. Thanks.

Click here for the video.

Live Blog Garage Band Workshop

I am really excited. IC is taking over the Apple Store tonight. Five of us signed up for the Garage Band workshop that the Apple Store offers for free in the evenings. I am going to try to blog about our experience in real time as we go.

5:40 Arrival

9:45- We are all ready to go and getting ready to learn

6:00 We have learned the drums. On to keyboarding. It is really difficult to hear, but are finding iris easy to catch on to.

6:15- Time for us to learn about the smart guitar. I love that you can make a song even if you can’t play an instrument.

6:20 A discovery! There are apps that work with garage band can be downloaded in the App Store!

6:30- We are learning how to record our voices over our songs.

I know I haven’t written a lot, but we had a great time and learned a lot.

Technology Is Great… When It Works

Do you know what one of my most vivid memories of elementary school is? Filmstrips. Nor a specific subject, or grade, or activity. Filmstrips. Do you know why? Because they never worked. Without fail, every appearance of these clever little pieces of technology would make an appearance, the class would be forced to sit and wait for fifteen to twenty minutes while the teacher tried to figure out why the danged thing wouldn’t work.

This story continually repeats itself in our schools, replacing film strip projectors with VCRs, DVDs, smart boards, projectors, internet connections, or computers. Teachers and students that are eager to embrace technology meet with frustration by infastructure that doesn’t work the way it should.

Why does this happen? I think there are two main reasons for this. The first is bugetary. Schools do not have the money to afford the latest and greatest, nor do they have the means to upgrade and replace when things aren’t working at full efficiency. They try to keep computer labs together with borrowed parts and duct tape until they have the money to replace or upgrade.

The second reason is expertise. Most of the people that are implementing technology in our schools are teachers first with a little bit of technical expertise instead of techies that are somewhat interested in education. This means that many schools do not have anyone on-site with the technical knowledge to fix anything more than basic problems.

With  these limitations in mind, what  can teachers and schools do to minimize the impact of these technical problems? I have three ideas:

Be Patient and Persistent

As with anything else worth doing, it is important that teachers do not give up on technology because there are technical difficulties. The learning that technology can assist with is worth the trouble. Embracing technology means that we are meeting kids where they are at and provides us with the opportunity to help to guide students to be positive digital citizens as they move into their future.

Be Strategic

I think far too many schools have jumped into the implementation of technology before they were ready. They either did not have appropriate infastructure or expertise for the technology to not cause frustration. I did this very thing this year when I got excited about Google Apps For Education. I set up accounts for all of our teachers and students and did class sessions to teach all of them how to access this service. It was only after all of this that I figured out that the program was not working the way it should. Not surprisingly, teachers and students got frustrated and stopped using it. We have still not got it working properly, months later. I should have been more strategic in how we implemented the program.

Embrace A Culture Of Learning

Our school staffs will probably never be filled with techies that have the expertise to solve our more complicated problems. I do, however, feel that when a school embraces learning for everyone, that people will persist even when things go wrong and be able to better help and support each other instead of being overly reliant on one or two individuals.

This is a journey that my school and I are on right now and I am excited to be embracing change with them. If you have any ideas to share on how to more effectively weather a storm of technical issues, I would love to hear from you.

Ensuring Online Privacy and Safety For Students

I have written previously about all of the opportunities that new technologies are providing for students to be both consumers and creators of knowledge. These opportunities are exciting  to me and motivating to students. All of these new opportunities  do, however, need to be tempered with a view to ensuring the safety and security of our students in this online world. In the rest of our school environments we ensure that we lock doors, fence in our property, provide tumbling mats, and ensure that students are supervised by adults when participating in school activities. It is important for schools to put the same amount of thoughtful care into our students’ online school environments. How can we do this? I have a few suggestions.

Make Sure Your Networks/Hardware/Settings are Well Thought Out
It is important that before we  put technology in the hands of kids that we think about things like firewalls, virus protection, and network and app security settings have been planned out in a thoughtful way. Just as we wouldn’t set our kids to play on a playground tgat hasn’t been properly set up, we shouldn’t let our kids into an online environment that hasn’t been thoughtfully planned out.

Moderate
I love having my kids blog. It allows them to share their learning with a broader audience that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I do also know from experience that there are times that kids write things that are either insensitive or downright rude. That is why I moderate our blog. I need to read and approve all comments and posts before they go online. This allows me to be a gatekeeper between what my students write and what they make public.

Set Guidelines
As teachers we work out guidelines for what we expect from our students in all areas of our physical classroom. Why would this be any different online? Students need guidelines that remind them what information should and shouldn’t be shared, what your expectations are forvthe activity that they are participating in, and how you want them to interact with others.

Talk To Them. Often.
I think I do a pretty good job talkin ng to my students about online safety. It is a topic we talk about in one form or another every few months. It never fails, though, that at least once a year someone will come and talk to me about other students with open instagram or facebook accounts, youtube videos that no one knows about, or someone finding ways to be hurtful to others online. These are the teachable moments that we need to embrace that allow us to have a discussion with our students.

The safety of our students is of paramount importance to all of the teachers that I know. We need to work together to ensure that their online environments are as safe as their physical environments.

Audience

When I first started writing this blog I told myself that I totally didn’t care who read it and that I would be perfectly content for it to be read at all. That attitude lasted until the first person actually read it. Right now, I think I average about three readers a day. My colleague and friend Joy (she does’t know it yet, but I really want her to write a guest post for this blog) and a couple of other people. I have discovered that it doesn’t really matter the number of people reading, but it is exciting to have an audience.

This experience has been an important lesson to me as a teacher. Audience matters. Our students need an audience for their work beyond their teacher and their parents. They need their peers. I think many of them yearn for an audience even broader than that. Technology has opened up our kids to be and to create for a global audience. They are doing it already. Many of my atudents over the last few years have created instagram accounts and posted youtube videos that the adults in their life have no idea about. Some budding writers are posting stories on fanfiction.net that would put to shame the pieces that they write in school for their teachers.

The question then becomes how we as educators can tap into these energies while at the same time teaching lessons about online safety and citizenship. How can we give our students a global audience for the work that they create and hopefully increase engagement at the same time. As I have mentioned before, my class writes a blog, but I was hoping that anyone out there in my audience could share with me what they are doing to engage their students with a global audience.

Communicating Student Learning

For a long time now, I have been thinking of ways that I can better communicate student learning with parents. This term has given me the opportunity to put some of these  thoughts into action so I thought I would share some of them.

Blogging
My students all have a blog. In it, they write once a week about something that they have been reading. They also have the opportunity to comment on the writing of others. It is hosted on the  kidblog platform, which is easy to use and allows me to moderate both posts and comments. Our blog has had almost 20000 views over two years, and since it is not public, that means that my students or their parents have seen it that many times over the last two years.

Changes to our Report Card
For our second term this year we are piloting a few changes to our report card template. It has allowed me to spend time with my students talking to them about their strengths as a learner and to set goals for the coming term. For the first time in a long time there have been some elements of report writing that I have really enjoyed. Reports go out next Friday. I am looking forward to hearing feedback from parents.

Freshgrade
One of the things that has made me most excited this term has been trying out a web based tool called Freshgrade. It allows me to and my students to create and update an online portfolio of their learning. We can share files, take and post photos and make comments about the learning that is going on in our classroom. It also has a gradebook component that allows me to share students’ assessment data with their parents. There are three easy to use ipad apps that tie the program together.
I am really excited about moving forward and growing even more in the ways I communicate student learning with parents. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love it if you commented so we could all learn together.