Tech Tuesday

Finds and Thoughts about Tech Integration

Web 2.0 Reflection

June5

I am taking an educational technology course as a part of my CAGS program. An assignment that I had to complete was a reflection on some Web 2.0 tools. I thought I would share my thoughts here. As always, your comments are welcome!

“Web 2.0 How-To For Educators” by Solomon and Schrum shares a plethora of tools for educators and students alike. Many of these options help advance teachers pedagogy as well as meet student learning objectives.

Blogs have been around for some time now; however, the purpose and results are still relevant. Blogs or an online journal or web-log were one of the first leaps into the notion of web 2.0, giving many users the ability to contribute to an online world. The Internet no longer belonged to computer science professionals only. Anyone can express his/her thoughts and ideas through posts or journal entries that are available to anyone else on the Internet. Blogs are a great place for educators to reflect on practices and share what they are doing in the classroom. Furthermore, if blogs are set up to be public or even to a select group, conversational exchanges may take place in commenting.

The same holds true with students contributing to blogs. Being able to share his/her work with a potential worldwide audience instead of just the classroom teacher can be motivating to students and drive the writing process. Blogs also are ideal avenues for many types of learners in expressing his/her knowledge in often a non-threatening environment that affords the writer plenty of time to formulate ideas before sharing. When expectations, parameters and guidelines are established, blogs can be a rewarding experience that helps students learn real world communication skills.

Microblogging sprang out of blogging, giving the user the opportunity to contribute short bursts of information on the web. Twitter is one of the most popular examples of microblogging that many teachers use for professional development. The key to Twitter is that the user types only 140 characters or less to his/her followers. These short writings are perfect for passing along a website address as a resource or to send out a request for resources. This free service has allowed teachers to connect with educators worldwide and build what is often referred to as Personal or Professional Learning Networks (PLN). In order to see the power of Twitter, one has to invest a little time and gather up contacts to fully experience the benefits, and for this reason, this microblogging platform can be a hard sell to busy teachers. Likewise, it can be like drinking from the fire hose with rapid tweets that appear constantly. Learning how to filter and curate are essential, and again that takes some time.

Twitter has found its way into the classroom as a distribution method to families with teachers tweeting out what’s happening. Many schools have Twitter accounts to which people subscribe, receiving notifications and usually lots of pictures of the great work taking place. Twitter is a wonderful system to reach busy families and even keep extended family connected. It’s also a good way to drive traffic to your blog or other work online with a simple share of an address in a tweet. While young students are not permitted to use Twitter due to age restrictions (13+), teachers can invite their followers (in the form of a tweet) to visit their students’ blogs, granting an even wider audience for sharing and collaborating.

Podcasting is a take on the old radio show. A person audio records a segment and then posts it to a site where there is RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed capabilities. In other words, the beauty of podcasts are that they are a way to express thoughts and ideas, and the audience can subscribe to the feed, so that whenever a new “show” is posted the user can get it right on his/her device. Hence, that’s where the “pod” derives as the practice started on iPods and specifically through iTunes. Images or even video also can be added to these “casts” making them Vodcasts. Due to the ease of their creation on most devices, podcasts are readily available on all topics. Educators can find one and subscribe. It’s a convenient way to find out what other people in the field of education are doing as one can listen while driving or going for a walk all from a mobile device. This medium also is appealing to those who prefer the audio and/or visual modality to reading.

The same holds true for students of all different skill levels and learning preferences. With a simple recording app and a secure, child-friendly hosting site, teachers can give students podcasting or vodcasting as an option for reflection and sharing of ideas and work beyond the classroom walls. Creativity can be sparked with fun ways to display and assess student knowledge. Of course, attention has to be paid to privacy concerns of children with certain guidelines about what is put out there on blogs and any online service. Moreover, parental permission has to be obtained. However, students will learn practical digital citizenship skills. Plus, they will have a real audience for their work which is very exciting.

Productivity Tools, in particular Google, can be a teacher’s and a student’s best friend. Two of the key features of using a Google service such as Docs and Slides are flexibility and collaboration. Google saves “to the cloud” and not to a specific device. A user can start working from his/her iPad, and then later at home, go on the same Doc on a computer and continue working. This aspect has been a game changer with students being able to work at school and from other locations in order to complete assignments at another time. Furthermore, if a teacher is working on a grant utilizing Docs, other members of his/her team may be given sharing permissions to go into the same Doc synchronously or asynchronously to contribute to the writing when it’s convenient. There is no more attaching and sending the latest update of a project among group members via email. Everyone (teachers and students) can access the Doc live online and see the latest version of a draft. In addition, through commenting features, editing and developing ideas are promoted and fostered. Potentially, a teacher or a student can work with anyone in the world with such a tool, developing the skills needed in today’s careers. School districts can help facilitate this type of environment through the creation of teacher and student accounts. Specific parameters can be set to make the experience safe and appropriate for various age levels. With the introduction of Google Classroom in the last few years, delivering and managing this online assignments to students is very user friendly for even the youngest users.

Teachers and students have two roles that they play in today’s web: consumers and creators. Apps or applications that run on mobile devices or through online subscriptions are readily available. Many apps can be for entertainment or productivity. In school, the focus is on apps that assist with the learning process. Teachers may use an app that tracks behavior or can send a message blast out to families. Apps may be chosen for students that help a student practice a math skill or watch specific videos on a topic. In this regard, the user is a consumer. There are apps, however, that shift the role to creator. For example, apps that record videos and voices turn a device such as an iPad into a creation tool. Apps that build multi-media collages from photos and talking avatars produced by other apps and then consolidated into one output for sharing with their teacher or another targeted audience further demonstrates the creation capabilities. As with other tools, the management of these apps and the devices does require attention to updates and safety measures on the part of the school. The increased accessibility to curriculum for all students is tremendous and definitely shines through in enthusiastic and engaged classrooms.

With all of these tools available, it’s important to keep in mind that a tool is just that – a tool. It can’t replace a teacher. Yet, the good news is it can advance a teacher’s practices through deliberate use and promote student growth through thoughtful, calculated implementation into the learning process.

Keep Up-to-date on Google Classroom

May15

One thing that I appreciate about Google Classroom: it’s constantly evolving. If you are an avid user, I’m sure you have noticed the “pop ups” from time to time explaining new features. Unfortunately, if you’re like me and in a hurry, you may dismiss those “pop ups” without a single thought in order to do what needs to be done at that moment. (We’re never busy, right?!)  And then life happens… and you forget to explore the new feature… cycle repeats until a colleague mentions it, and better yet, shows what s/he is raving about.

Well, I found something that may help keep you in the loop  even if you are an impulsive dismisser: The “What’s new in Classroom” page from Classroom Help. This page is updated monthly by Google itself, giving links that lead to clear visuals on how to use a new feature.

Other ways to stay “in the know”…

So check these out and, perhaps, you’ll be THAT super, cutting edge colleague who now helps everyone else out.

Snow Days & Distance Learning

March27

Snow…

That’s become a dirty word in a lot of school systems.

Granted, we all love a random day off, but after too many, you suddenly realize that the school year will continue well into that period of time when students (and staff) shift into “summer vacation brain”, making instruction not so effective.

Many districts have tried Blizzard Bags (with and without success) to keep student learning from being interrupted on snow days. There are many reasons why such an endeavor may or may not work, from student resources and support at home to the structure and quality of the activities created.

My district has investigated the possibility of making up some of our snow days this school year with “Distance Learning Days”. Essentially, students would make up a specific snow day by completing a certain number of assignments (based on a developmentally appropriate number of minutes) that correspond with the missed day. Since we are looking at this from the perspective of making up days and want to make this endeavor family-friendly, students would be given a two week window to complete that Distance Learning Day’s assignments at home on their own schedule.

I was very excited to talk with a colleague this morning who had started thinking about this proposal. She had started a folder in Google with a Doc dedicated to each Distance Learning Day. She has given permission for you to peek at what she’s drafting here! (Thank you, Ms. Anderson!)

What you will notice is that she is developing a workflow for herself and colleagues to collaborate on building these Distance Learning Days as well as for students to complete assignments that address specific learning objectives in an efficient, clear manner using digital tools and services.

For example, this folder can be shared with all the members of her teaching team, including specialists. Let’s say that her students missed music class or strings class, that specialist will be able to type in an assignment on the chart she created for that day. That way when she links this Google Doc in her Google Classroom, students will have the expected work all in one place for easy access. Furthermore, many of her grade level team is teaching the same content at the same time as she is. Therefore, they will be able to work together on the creation of high quality assignments in this space and then make a copy of the Doc to tailor to that specific classroom’s schedule for the snow day that is being made up.

Ms. Anderson and I also talked about how familiar subscription services such as DreamBox, BrainPOP and Typing Club may be utilized by students at home with directed assignments. For example, the teacher may make a short term assigned focus in DreamBox that addresses that snow day’s math learning standard/lesson. The teacher can access the results of the work right in the dashboard of the program, proving that the work was completed and what next instructional steps the teacher can take with that student. In BrainPOP, students can be instructed to watch a movie in a content area like science or social studies and take the built-in quiz. The student can fill out a Google Form that reflects on the learning as well. The Form can be “generic” so that it may be used for lots of topics at BrainPOP and other future Distance Learning Days. The Form’s results will be submitted to the teacher and archived via a Google Sheet, demonstrating learning and holding students accountable for the work. (Of course, a teacher even could sign up for My BrainPOP for more great services and feedback opportunities!) In Typing Club, a teacher can make specific assignments as well or just indicate a set number of minutes for keyboarding practice. The service logs all of the work that students complete in order to check expectations and see progress right on the teacher dashboard.

And there are so many more Google apps and non-Google services that could be harnessed in the creation of authentic activities that meet student learning objectives. Plus, the opportunity to “flip classrooms” with teacher instructional videos… and differentiating and personalizing the assignments so that all students can get what they need and feel successful

I think we really could take control of these Distance Learning Days and craft them into wonderful opportunities for advancing student learning and teaching practices.

(Disclaimer: We all understand that if there is no power or access at a student’s home or even the local library that these outlined digital activities would not be able to take place. For synchronous Distance Learning Snow Days, alternate plans and materials would need to be ready for students or more time allotted for the completion. Making up days with the two week grace period gives us a lot more wiggle room for digital devices and services to be available and operational.)

An Idea for Sharing, Collecting & Organizing Links From Socrative (or Anywhere)

February13

At a PLC meeting this winter, group members were talking about not reinventing the wheel with Socrative quizzes that they had created in math. In Socrative, there is the ability to share a quiz to an email address; therefore, the team was beginning the process of sending each other these quiz links.

While I love the idea of sharing these resources, I was envisioning a possible nightmare for them: overflowing inboxes full of emails with these links that would have to be addressed and organized. The emails would come in randomly, too, as people shared new quizzes throughout the year. I’m also assuming that the sender would have to enter each person’s email address every time.

An idea that I proposed to streamline this whole process was the creation of a Google Form. Every time a PLC member wanted to share a Socrative quiz, she would copy the quiz link and then enter it into a Google Form that would organize the information into a Google Sheet that all PLC members could access. Members now could go to this Sheet to get the quiz links. Additionally, a member could set up individual notifications for the Sheet by going into the Tools menu as shown below:

Notifications would keep them from forgetting to check the Sheet for the latest links.

There also is another advantage to collecting and organizing these links via a Form: more specific details about the quiz can be included and archived that are not options in the Socrative sharing method.

For example, subject area and topic may be collected along with the link. Then when a teacher visits the Sheet for ideas, it is clear what the quizzes assess. There also is a place for notes on the Form for any other specifics about the quiz, such as titles, targeted audience, modifications, etc. The Sheet would be able to be sorted by subject area and topic for easy retrieval of all quizzes in that area and/or topic.

Here is an example Form from my Guided Math PLC.

We are all doing so many great things… how are you sharing, collecting and organizing them?

Noodle Tools with Google Docs

February6

I have been assisting a colleague recently on having students meet a science objective, specifically for space exploration. The students have completed research and have been walking through the steps of how to cite  sources and make a Works Cited List online that will be included in a student choice final project. We have used NoodleTools once again at our school, but needed to figure out the navigation of using the service with our Google accounts. I documented our managerial findings in the following screencasts.  I decided to share them this week via this blog in hopes that they may help others who are teaching the important work of citing sources. These videos are rough, but I love the spirit of working with a teacher to figure something and then documenting it via video as a reference… as we all need those reminders, and even copious notes don’t always give us the full picture.

How to export a NoodleTools Works Cited List to Google Docs

How to cite an image in NoodleTools

I’m sure there are many more things that could be captured via video.  NoodleTools has some of their own resources here that answer many how-to questions, like using it for the first time through G-Suite. Of course, I am happy to help, too.

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