Category Archives: technology

The power of student blogging

As I prepare to move into a grade one classroom on Monday, I have put a great deal of thought into what kind of classroom it should be; a place where my students feel comfortable taking learning risks and sharing their ideas. I am planning to blog with my students again this year, and I know some parents who wonder what their six- year-old might possibly have to say.

My own son blogs here. This is where he writes about things that are interesting to him. At this point, he is most comfortable having me scribe for him as he doesn’t feel confident enough yet to have a go on his own, though he is becoming confident enough to have a go at invented spelling on paper. He particularly enjoys taking pictures around the house and telling about them.

I have been blogging with my older students (grade 4, 5, 7, 8) for several years now, and I have found the old quote to be true: if a student writes for the teacher they want it to be good enough. If a student writes for an audience they want it to be good.

One of my former students blogs here. He updates it regularly on his own and it’s an outlet for him to share his own interests (and I have to admit that I learned a thing or two about Mincraft from him).

In the past I have used blogmeister, which I honestly always found clunky and my students didn’t love it. I have moved over to edublogs in the last few years and have found it to be exactly what I’m looking for: it gives me the control I need, my students have some privacy, and using the app on the iPad makes it easy for students to access.

Grade One

Blogging with children this young will be a new challenge for me, but based on experience and the examples I have looked at I think it is achievable.

Cathy Kassidy blogs with her grade ones with beautiful results. I love that the student entries are not limited to text but that the students feel free to take a learning risk by writing invented spelling on their blog (although the Cathy’s having recorded beside it in standard spelling helps).

The Current Plan
My plan is to have my students blogging using iPads and iPods, using the edublogs app, which largely eliminates the trouble of logging in. First, my students will work with tech buddies, who I happen to have had the good fortune of teaching as a classroom teacher while their teacher was on sabbatical. He is also a techie teacher and comfortable undertaking this with me. Once my students are trained, I think it will be easy for them to add to their own blog. Of course, next year CBE will be moving to IRIS, which largely eliminates the need for an online blogging portfolio, but I still stand by the statement that the nature of the work being public makes it better, so even if it no longer serves the purpose of being a portfolio, I still think it holds value.

Looking forward to trying with my students and sharing the results.

A More Effective Teacher

I took a leap today and had my students begin working on Evernote to keep a journal. I am posting the results here even though the result is not as polished as I would like.

I think that Evernote notebooks have the potential to be an education game changer. As I previously noted on Twitter, I had a student with organizational challenges begin using Evernote about two weeks ago. Here, he is able to store pictures of organizers, record audio responses to some work, and write a journal that is generally of higher quality because the iPad is pointing out his mistakes to him (it has been interesting to watch him work – I can here him say “Oh! That’s how you spell (fill in the blank)? I didn’t know that!)

When he was away for a couple of days, I put his missing work directly into his Evernote and he was able to access everything directly from home.

Today’s work was writing a journal. While I would like to get better at doing this, today was a first step. Ten students wrote their journals in Evernote and I was able to access their work from my desk on my iPad. I recorded feedback for them using Explain Everything and sent them a copy back that they can watch and use to make corrections to their work.

I think this will be a powerful tool for students as I can have a virtual 2 minute meeting with each student after they are already gone for the day and make improvements to their work.

Apps I Love

Finally, I got the Reflection app installed and working. Really great stuff here. I can have students work in their groups on their iPads and three clicks brings up a dock with a “share” option on it. The students choose that and the computer hooked to the projector will mirror the iPad, sharing whatever they do on their screen at their desk.

Evernote, again, is awesome. I have started using it with a student who has trouble getting organized and so far it’s been like night and day. No more papers to go missing. No more “I left it at home on the kitchen counter”. We also had enormous success with this student’s writing today. He was able to photograph the organizer and write on it with Skitch and save it to his Evernote.

eclicker has an updated app for $14 and I splurged. It’s much streamlined over the old version and a great way to have students review. I had groups of students use the “host” version (eclicker presentation) to write multiple choice, true and false, and open question questions that they will share with peers at the next science lesson. The app, brilliantly, allows users to bring in image files and is so easy to figure out I had kids up and running in minutes. The “audience” version (free) allows students to buzz in their answers all at the same time (class review) or at their own pace (could see using this for quizzes).

A colleague showed me sock puppets, and we’re going to try it Friday with our reading buddies. Looking forward to sharing our results with you!

Also, I have lately recommitted to using my SMARTboard everyday in a meaningful way and have had good success this week. More on that later!

21st Century Classroom

I promised my admin that if an iPad 2 made an appearance in my classroom, I would dedicate my next blog post to all the cool stuff it could do, so here it is.

First, I want to note that the “cool factor” isn’t really a factor; yes, the iPads are cool, but I think that if they don’t enhance the learning in the classroom then they aren’t worth the investment.

In addition to what we have already been doing with the iPad1s, the iPad2 has pushed the creation of content light years from where it was. We know that students are already big consumers of content, but how do we make them content producers too?

Building a camera into the technology makes it really intuitive.

So far, I have used it for enrichment with a student who is already weeks ahead on his novel study. In addition to creating a traditional book report, he is in the middle of creating a book trailer with iMovie. The students are practically fighting each other for the next chance to film a book trailer, but my criteria is that their traditional book report be done first and that it be well done. I hesitate to include the movie right now, because it is a work in progress but I think it is valuable to see what is being done, and as I tell my students, creative work is hard to share because we are opening up our hearts to criticism, but criticism often makes our work better. I met with this student about his video and he sees where he will improve it. I look forward to sharing the finished version when it is done.

It has been used to support weaker students by creating oral/visual flash cards of French vocabulary.

To collaborate and brainstorm:

For organization. With 25 students in my regular room and 31 students in my math room, organization is key. I currently have one student (on a rotating basis) every last recess who gets to access the classroom website via the WordPress app and update the daily homework. Students who are absent check the website from home or upon their return and get caught back up.

It has been used to green the classroom by making worksheets digital. This being said, I don’t think digital worksheets are the best way to learn, but sometimes they are an easy way to reinforce a skill set.

It has been used to share as students work in small groups on their iPads and then share to the projector via air sharing.

It has been used to communicate as all of my contacts are loaded into it and I can easily create distribution lists for newsletters and quick communications with parents regarding child progress.

The technology cupboard has been an evolving project, but I seem to have found a solution that works:

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The cupboard has three dish racks from the dollar store, the top rack being for 9 keyboards, the middle being for 10 iPads, and the bottom being for 10 iPods. The bottom rack also houses 2 small tackle boxes: 1 for earbuds and 1 for mics for the iPods.

The Paper Trail

I am now a classroom teacher (and have been for 9 years or so) and a mother to a school-aged child in three after-school activities and I am finding it very difficult to stay on top of everything. As a teacher, I have dates and paper flying at me from every direction and as a Mom, I am on the receiving end of all that paper. My solution is technology.

1. Email newsletters and requests to parents. It appears directly in their inboxes, often with a link that parents can just click to add dates to their calendars.

2. Scan paper with my phone as soon as it comes home. I can search for a digital document with a few clicks, while a paper document goes missing easily.

3. Deal with it as soon as I touch it. Need permission? Sign it! Need money? Pay it! Receiving money at school? Check it, track it, deposit it!

4. Put it all in one place: one calendar, one to do list, one inbox…

5. EVERNOTE! Love! Really! Great place to sort and keep student work, notes, reminders, etc! Also started one for kid #1, because while I love all the work he brings home, where should I put it?

6. Keeping absent students up to date can be a challenge. I find it easiest just to run the correct number of copies of my calendar for absent students, though I would like (maybe with older students?) to keep them on track by having them subscribe to the calendar on their devices.

7. Keep calm and carry on! I think I’m busy now!? Wait until kid #2 is also in school and activities!

Apps I love

I just happened to be resyncing my ipods this morning so I had a chance to go through my apps again when a colleague asked for some advice on some good apps. I thought I would also post here for parents who often ask for what apps are worth the investment. The following is a list of apps I would be hard done by to work without:

Pages: Just a word processor, but it works great for students who prefer to type. I also have a couple of students whose handwriting I have a hard time reading and Pages means that they can communicate their ideas easier.

Dropbox: easy way to get documents from my computer to their device. Love it. I use it with my guided reading program. Most of my books come from Reading A-Z and they open seamlessly.

iBooks: This is where the reading A-Z books open to. It looks just like the paper book without the wasted paper. Have also invested in a few books from iBooks and the kids can highlight and make notes as they read.

Dictionaries: Some are a little pricey, but they are by far the best investment I have made: Collins, Multi, Robert (dixel) Meriam Webster, Bescherelle). My students LOVE looking stuff up that was like pulling teeth to get them to do before. Writing and reading have improved TONS just by having these resources.

Tumblebooks: This is less for my own students, but they read them with their buddies. My four year old loves them and they highlight the words as they read along.

Explain everything: Allows you to import an image and will record sound and drawing as you explain. I haven’t used this with students yet but I want to use it with math evals. I have created a couple of math lessons with this that students can refer back to when they need support.

Evernote: just a great way to organize notes

Chalkboard: Good way for students to reason through math.

Math tutor and World Maths: Good drill and practice

LeaderPost: Kids use for current events. Good for distilling an article down to a paragraph or two.

Sticky notes: kids use stickys as they read for vocab and notes

Flipped

I’ve been back in the classroom for three weeks now, and I think it’s safe to say that “flipped” is a good word for it… It’s a different pace of life than being home with my kids. I don’t know why it surprises me… it’s the same thing every year when we come back from break. Roll out of bed, hit the ground running.

I have been excitedly planning for the use of technology in my class and, as can be expected, I hit some technical glitches right away. The iPads are much slower at syncing than I had anticipated because they all need an updated OS, which seems to reset them. It’s taken an hour each for the two iPads I have done so far. Part of my plan for today’s PD day is to catch up on that front.

The learning curve was steep in the beginning, but I think I have a good app figured out for screencasting. I have been using “Explain Everything” ($1.99). It has some really nice features that allow me to bring in images and video, to draw and record on the screen, and to pause and rewind when needed.

So far, I recorded one lesson with the students. In that lesson I recorded sections where the students were to “pause now and find a solution on paper”. I watched them do it in class time and walked around to watch them work. All of them seemed to be engaged in the lesson and took the time to pause the video at the appropriate spots to work.

After watching the video, students were given some text book questions to do and all students seemed to have had success.

The plan now is to record a lesson and have the students watch at home so that we can ask questions at the top of the lesson, hopefully posting questions to corkboard, and spend the in-class portion practicing. The teacher who covered for my mat leave did a nice job of setting the students up with a math routine and they know that it goes lesson, text book work, duotang work, evaluations.

I think even if I don’t get the at-home portion of the flipped classroom working this year that there is some value in having recorded lessons for students. This could be a good way for more advanced students to work ahead and for weaker students to go back and review.

Flipped

Flipped lesson #1 – Aire et périmètre

The Value of Wonder

This site got me thinking about the value of wonder. I think children have a natural tendency to ask “why” (time spent with my four-year-old will attest to that observation!) The other day, my son asked, “Why do lightbulbs ‘pop’ when they burn out?” I had no idea. But we looked up the answer together here. He asked the question because he had observed something about the world around him. Using the tools available to him (a parent, the Internet), he found the answer. The thing I have noticed about my son is that he tends to learn something and I often think it doesn’t sink in, but then he’ll bring it up in conversation later and I know he has, in fact, learned something. I think that schools should be built more like this. Ask a question because you are genuinely curious about it, using various tools find the answer, choose a way to share what you have learned (blog, write an essay, take a picture, make a movie, talk). Kids learn because it’s fun! They should be able to share their learning in a way that gets them excited. I’m not talking about a free-for-all, do-whatever-you-like approach, but guided inquiry can be really powerful stuff.

The iPad Project

Our Best Buy dollars bought 9 iPads for our classroom and my first impression: totally cool!

Each morning, each table group is given one or two iPads that they use throughout the day. Beginning at 9:00, students enter the room and check the iCal for the day’s events, this way they get straight to work without wasting the first ten minutes of the day, which is so common otherwise.

At present, the students and I are learning to use Pages ($9.99) from the iWork suite. I, for one, love it! Students can download documents from my .mac account and can also store their work there and retrieve it from anywhere. I look forward to learning Keynote ($9.99) as well.

As before, Safari is in heavy use for research purposes and Google is a good first source of information. Students are working on their ability to evaluate resources as good sources of information or weak ones.

Our paper dictionaries have become completely outmoded as students make such heavy use of the digital documents. I have found that with the digital resources available students are much more likely to look words up than they are with paper. Even when spelling doesn’t “count” students like to have things written correctly.

I have also found technology to be invaluable for drill and practice activities such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I look forward to implementing them as a resource for our students who want to work on problem solving.

After one week, I still feel like I have so much to learn, but I am enjoying the challenge!