Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Celebrating Computer Science Education Week!

Wow! This has been quite a week for me for learning more about computers.

About a week ago, I went to a Google iPod/ iPad PLC (Professional Learning Community) with Matthew Boushey from our school district. This was the third one I went to and I've learned something new from each one I attended. This time, I learned how to turn OFF my iPods. I also learned that I need to close out of programs on the iPods. Otherwise, they are running in the background sucking out the battery life. I need to teach my students to do this, if I can remember how.

The next day, our Mac IT Specialist came in to update my MacBook to use a newer version of Office. I forgot to ask him how to update my classroom cart of iPods to iOS7. However, I did have him install the Chrome browser on the PCs in the classroom, since some of the students complained that the keyboard would freeze up when trying to type in their Google Drive documents and their would be a message at the top of the screen saying that the browser was not up to date. Those browser were IE7 (up to date). At home, I usually use Firefox, but I'm willing to use Chrome or any browser.

This past weekend, I watched as my dad upgraded and cloned my personal home computer. I went from a 50 GB solid-state drive to a 1TB Seagate internal hard-drive. We had to download the software from the Seagate support site to do so, and we used a SATA to USB connector that my dad had previously purchased. We had to use a Windows 7 Disc to "Repair" it once it was cloned, because it had not copied the BootMgr file. Finally, we restarted it and it had all the files from my old hard drive! I learned not to use Solid-State Hard Drives because they cannot be defragmented. Therefore, they take up a lot of space that would otherwise be usable.

Over the weekend, I also learned to use gClassFolders on Google Drive. I am a bit of a stickler for organization. I love how it organizes assignments for my students. Plus, it works perfectly with Doctopus, which I learned to use at the first or second Google iPod/iPad PLC. The great thing about Doctopus is that it allows you to easily make copies of digital documents for your students. The great thing about gClassFolders is it allows you to create folders specifically designed to share assignments with students. There is a pretty cool presentation showing the great combination of the two by Allison Mollica.

Yesterday, all the teachers did a presentation about what they are learning in Writing Trainings we have been attending. It was pretty cool to see the younger grade incorporating "Beginning, Middle and End" as well as Emotions in their writing. As we prepare for the Common Core Standards, I hope I can do enough to prepare my students for the future. I shared the recently released Smarter Balanced sample items. The writing prompt for the Narrative is very similar to what type of prompt students are writing for the MSP.

Today, I had my students do the HOUR OF CODE Challenge. I was really inspired as one of my students who struggles with handwriting speed was one of the first to complete the Challenge. I hope the students will decide to do more coding at home.

This afternoon, I went to another PLC for Google Drive. Some teacher who could not make it to the other sessions, but still wanted to learn how to implement Google Drive asked for it specifically. I was able to share what I had learned about gClassFolders.

I was just thinking about my to-do list for tomorrow. It included me "Making copies" of a lot of different documents. I should really just SHARE many of these through Google Drive as assignments! I can be more productive, since I don't have to wait until the morning when I'm at school to print and copy. Plus, I can save paper and the environment! I've got to go---> going to Drive with Google.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Spelling Research Update

My theory is that when students are given weekly spelling tests, they may memorize the words for the week, but it does not translate into their writing. Therefore they don't really "learn" the words. My action research hypothesis is that students can improve their spelling levels without the need, or stress, of a weekly test. However, I believe that students cannot just absorb words through incidental exposure like reading. There are specific patterns in spelling, and if students are taught these patterns, their spelling can improve.

At the beginning of the year, and right before the end of the quarter, I gave students the Intermediate Spelling Inventory that goes with Words Their Way. Then, I grouped the students according to their spelling ability and assigned homework of words at their level, using Words Their Way. Although a few students did improve their spelling, others actually slipped from the beginning of the year. So, starting in the second quarter, I gave students who had slipped 2 patterns per week to study for homework. Unfortunately, I did not take much time to truly teach Spelling patterns so far this year, other than having students sort the words from the Storytown Lessons. Perhaps, I will be able to teach more patterns in Small Groups as I just began workstations this week (read my other post about that).

I know a third grade teacher at my school also uses Words Their Way for Spelling. I took a survey of students (show of hands) and asked who had that particular teacher last year. Many of my below-grade-level spellers came from that class. This made me question the efficacy of the idea of using Words Their Way with students who are below- rade-level. I started thinking that if I continue to give these students words at their level to spell, they might NOT improve their spelling, as they will not get the exposure they need to grade level words. This is especially true since some of these students have difficulty completing homework, and I don't have as much time as I'd like during class to truly delve into word study with them.

I am going to be making some changes in how I approach Spelling Instruction with these students. Starting after winter break, I will be giving these students worksheets from the Storytown Spelling Lessons for homework. This will give them exposure to words that is higher than their spelling level, but at grade level which is where they NEED to be. I like that Storytown does use words that follow a specific spelling pattern each week and one of the activities is for students to sort the words according to patterns. I still will not be giving weekly spelling tests. So, I will be curious to know if these students' spelling will improve.

As I further reflect on the idea of grouping students by their Spelling levels, it reminds me of something a fellow teacher said at a recent training. "It smacks of tracking." She was referring to the Walk-to-Read program that some schools  use. However, I think it definitely applies to spelling as well. I grouped my Workstation/ Small Groups according to their spelling levels. However, I now realize I really need to push some students so they do not end up in a certain track forever.

Our school spelling bee is coming up in January. My top 2 spelling groups will be challenged to start preparing for that starting on Monday. Their "fluency" station time will be used for them to drill each other on spelling words for the Spelling Bee. There "word study" time is used looking up words in the dictionary.

I will be giving the Spelling Inventory again before the end of the second quarter. It will be interesting to see what the results will be after I make these changes.

A parent made a statement this week that her child may not be putting in the effort to study the words without the stress of a weekly test that she is graded on. If students' spelling levels do not improve by the end of the 2nd quarter, I may test the control groups  (2 other  4th grade classes) and have enough information for my research to influence my instruction.

Literacy Workstations with iPods

This week, I was determined to start literacy workstations. iPods were used at 2 stations, besides the technology station. The timer on the iPods were used at the fluency station as students timed each other reading for a minute. Spelling City was used for the Word Study Station. Students looked up the lists for Storytown by searching for the teacher's name "Glenda Jackson." She has both the third and fourth grade lists on there. Thank you Glenda! At the technology station, students used minis and PCs to access drive.google.com.

My favorite time was after workstations. I decided to let all the students get their iPods out and have a little time to use them. On Thursday (the first workstation day), a volunteer, who is helping with workstations, told me that she was a little "freaked out" that the students all have access to their own iPods. She was a bit concerned that they might not be learning as much by using the technology. She asked if all the students in the school had iPods, and I explained to her a bit about how the T3 program works in our district. I wish she could have seen the students the next day. Again, I gave them some iPod time after workstations, but I said it had to be ELA (English Language Arts) related. The students know that means reading, spelling or writing. They were so ENGAGED and learning. One thing I heard them teaching each other was how to access Glenda Jackson's word list on Spelling City. While the students were on their iPods, I felt like I was able to take a moment and breathe since the students were quietly engaged. That is quite a miracle in my classroom.

I created a really awesome management board. The first 2 rows are for Wednesday. The third and fourth row are for Thursday and the last two rows are for Friday. There are 5 groups and they should read where they need to be by going down the columns. At the bottom are the named of the students in the groups. Together, we came up with "Workstation Expectations," which are posted next to the management board.
At the writing station, students work on the plan for a story when given a prompt. At the reading station, they partner read the main story of the week and answer the Think Critically questions (if they have time). At the teacher station, they read through a Leveled Reader for the week and answer the questions.

I was so fortunate to have a volunteer come into the classroom on Thursday. I adjusted my schedule so that we could do workstations when she comes in. She was able to work with group 2 and 5, which freed me up to make sure the students at the other stations knew what they needed to do. I was thinking that would eventually plan on meeting with those groups, but now I think I will have her continue to work with those students, so I can meet with group 1 part of that day. That is the group that I really should work with as much as possible.

Students were moving to different stations to switch to the next locations, which was the loudest time during the workstation period. Starting next week, I will be changing that, and during winter break, I will be rearranging where the students sit, so they will be sitting with their group during class. Then, they will not need to move during the transition from one station to another. I will have 5 magazine boxes (one for each group), each with 6 folders inside (one for each station). They will take out the folder for the directions/ worksheets for the next station while remaining seated. The only students who may need to move during the transition are the ones using the computers. However, since the students have iPods, they might not even need to do that!

I have already given the students pocket folders (the ones that also have the center section to add hole-punched paper) for their workstation work. I plan on making the center section a word study area to keep all the words they are learning this year. I'm feeling really good about the direction I'm heading in with workstations.