Friday, May 30, 2014

Lessons Learned From Integrating Technology This Year

I feel that my direction with technology in the classroom has changed as the year has progressed. I began wanting to give students leeway to explore with the iPods. I wondered how I could move beyond substitution and augmentation and move to modification and redefinition. However, as the year progressed, I lingered in the substitution and augmentation phase.

Just recently, I gave students a survey to see how comfortable they were with technology at the beginning of the year, and how they felt now. The following link gives the students' results.
Student Survey of Comfort with Technology

The fact that so many students rated themselves as very comfortable with technology at the beginning of the year is due in part to the previous T3 program, as most of my students came from classes of Tier 3 teachers who integrated iPods last year. Plus, most students (70%) had access to a personal device at home, usually their own device. One parent told me that having iPods in the classroom was the tipping point in her decision to purchase an iPad for her child for a birthday present this year. I feel encouraged that I had some impact on students comfort level as a few more students are comfortable with technology now than the beginning of the year.

At the beginning of the year, the students were very excited to get the iPods and it was interesting to watch how quickly they taught each other how to do things on the devices. At the beginning of the year, I gave them iPod time, which transitioned into iPod ELA (English Language Arts) time. Students liked playing with the Opposites app and videotaping themselves read. I encouraged them to use the Spelling City app. As the year progressed, I felt pressured from the looming state test and I moved away from this ELA iPod time and started doing more direct instruction teaching strategies.

To save paper, I had students take tests for their Storytown lessons on At the beginning of the year, I walked the students to the computer lab to take these test. Then, I decided to have them try to take the test using the iPods, and it worked! The only difficulty with this is I have to log into ThinkCentral to score the students' written responses to the essay questions. However, the rest of the test is scored for me.

There has been a lot of training in Writing this year, and I know students love to type their writing. I did not want to teach students how to save (and retrieve) their documents, because I know that is difficult. So. I opted to teach them how to use Google Drive. This became the most useful aspect of technology in my classroom. I used gClassFolders to stay organized and Doctopus to create files for specific assignments for my students to complete. They also shared files with me that they created themselves.

Using the Google Drive app with the iPods was nice as I have a 1to1 device situation. So, students could log into Google Drive just once and then open it up without having to log in. By far, the biggest complication was having students log in. I posted an example of the username on a bulletin board ""which helped.

What was amazing to watch was the moments that students taught themselves and each other different aspects of technology. For instance, students taught themselves how to create Google presentations without any help from me. Watching this gave me the confidence to help the music teacher create Google Presentations for our 4th grade musical that students performed at the high school. Also, I will be using a Google Presentation for show my colleagues what my students learned. If you are part of my school district, you can access this presentation here.

Students used the commenting feature of Google Drive to "chat" with each other and to offer feedback on writing. At the beginning of the year, a few students went on Drive after school to chat much like adults would use facebook or twitter. Please feel free to read some of my previous blog postings about integrating Google Drive. I am really looking forward to using Google classroom next fall. I wish Google would approve me for a Summer preview.

The opportunity to integrate iPods has allowed me to think bigger as I move forward. This summer, I hope to utilize the time away from the daily pressures of teaching to examine the Common Core State Standards we will start using next year in more depth. I want to align Kahn Academy videos with these standards and assemble a way to start to flip my classroom next year. So, the students learn the math concepts at home by watching these videos and come to school to practice them. I have already signed my students up for, but they only use it if I tell them to do so, or if I set aside specific time during the school day for this purpose. I may assign specific questions on that site for homework next year (if they still offer it for free to teachers).

As I had a low-completion rate for homework assignments this year, I wonder if students would have higher rates of completion if the homework was to watch a video and complete a set number of questions on a website. If students have not watched the video assigned, then the rewards of flipping a classroom may not be achieved. I would have to teach the same concepts in class, as I would hope they would have learned at home by watching video. Also, I wonder if there is a way to track whether students actually watched a certain video to have accountability. Plus, some of my students do not have internet access at home. So, I would have to consider how to provide equity to these students without seeming punitive. I could offer them time to watch these videos during recess.

There are so many considerations to take into account as a teacher. Already, students feel comfortable using technology. Eventually, technology will be just one more tool in my teaching repertoire I can draw upon. I will continue to delve into technology deeper in order to positively impact student learning.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Reflections on Google Drive

When I first introduced my students to Google Drive, my goal was to have them use a word processing program without needing to teach them how to save and retrieve their files. The students discovered the commenting feature and used it as a way to chat with each other.

A few of the students discovered the Google Presentation feature on their own. They created presentations of their own choice during any free time we had in the computer lab.

Just recently, the music teacher wanted to create a PowerPoint to use to display pictures for the 4th grade musical that students will be performing at the High School. We created a Google Presentation for this instead. I like the fact that I can insert pictures from a URL into a Google Presentation.

Now, students are using Google Presentation as one option to create presentations about different Social Studies chapters. Students were broken into groups. Each group was assigned a chapter in the Social Studies book to read and create a presentation for the class about it. These will be presented after my Technology presentation, during the final week of school.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

iPod Management

The state test is over! For this last month of the school year, I finally feel like I can delve into areas I have not felt free to explore with my students before. I am committed to getting the iPods out on the desks everyday for the rest of the school year. So, this means I am making this a part of my morning routine.

Each morning, I take the iPods from bottom rack (#21-28) out of the Bedford rolling cart and put them in a small basket on the other side of the room for students to grab in the morning. This makes it easier and quicker for students to get the iPods in the morning. They keep the iPods on their desks on top of a small mat. The mat is made from non-stick shelf lining material. At the end of the day, I have 10 students at a time return the iPods to the cart. I have them just put them in the slots without plugging them in to save time. Then, I have a student whose job is "Electrical Engineer" who plugs in the iPods. I double check these to make sure all are accounted for and charging.

On Tuesday, I had students take a Technology Survey, using a google form. They used i-Nigma QR Code Reader to scan a QR code to access the survey. Wednesday morning, students researched how laws are made using their iPods. Thursday, they began researching an idea they think should be a law and seeing if it is already a law. On Friday, they used their iPods to take their Spelling Test using Spelling City.

I am not paying for Spelling City this year, but I was still able to have students use the "Spelling TestMe" feature. I had them show me their scores when they finished, and recorded these.

This coming week, I am planning the following activities using the iPods:
-Spelling City Unscramble early in the week, Spelling City TestMe on Friday
-Notability with our Storytown and Social Studies lessons
-Google Drive to create presentations of Social Studies material
-Other apps as they are appropriate.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Professional Development

I hosted a small professional development hour for people in my school needing help with technology related issues. My principal came and we found out that if she keeps her walk-through notes on Google drive, it will not send updates to the teacher (person she shared it with) via email. So, teachers will need to be trained to look at the file when the principal walks through. It will send the principal an email when teachers have written comments. Sometimes, we must adapt to the technology.

Another teacher wanted to build a website. She was trying to use Google sites, but it was not as user-friendly as she would like it to be. Since our school is completely re-vamping our website, the principal advised her to wait until the new site is released. The school is using Schoolwires CMS, and all teachers will have their own webpage.

Today, I showed teachers in my school, which is a great way to keep track of students on task (and off-task) behavior. I showed this to parents recently at parent-teacher conferences. I will be using this for my Research project, which has changed direction on me. Now, my driving question is: Will students get to work on an entrance activity quicker if the activity is on their iPods vs. on Paper.

So far, I have been using Class Dojo to keep track of when students get to work on their paper assignments. This Wednesday, I plan on integrating the iPods in the morning routine. The first assignment will be for students to log into their Google Drive accounts and respond to a writing prompt. I will use Doctopus and gClassFolders to create this assignment. I better get busy with this!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Google Drive - a Teacher's Experience

     During the first quarter of this school year, I kept my grades in an Excel file on a USB Flash drive. I made some copies on my hard-drive, but at one point I became complacent, and only saved on the USB drive. I was given a Macbook Pro to use, as part of the Technology program at my school. One day, I unplugged the USB drive while the computer was sleeping (without  closing out of the drive first). Quite a few of the USB files, including the ones I had been saving grades on became corrupted, and I could not access them again. Fortunately, I did not lose all of my grades.
    Meanwhile, I had begun using my district provided Gmail account exclusively. I also began using Google Drive, especially for students Specifically, I had students type up documents on their district-provided Google drive accounts, so that I did not have to teach them how to Save files and retrieve them. I like that Google automatically saved the students' work. Plus, I could see and retrieve the "Revision History" for students' work. I had one student who was really upset (in tears), because he could not find his file. Fortunately, he typed it in Google drive, and everything was found and restored.
   At the end of the first quarter, I decided to start saving my grades on Google drive, in a spreadsheet. It has done all of the math that I would expect from an Excel file. The great thing is, I don't have to worry about corrupted files or losing work. There was one day when Google experienced some outages, but none of my documents were affected.
   Overall, I have really enjoyed using Google Drive this year. I have expanded to incorporate 2 scripts that make using Drive as a teacher ever easier, and more manageable: gClassFolders and Doctopus. I can create assignments for students (similar to making copies for each student). Plus, any file students create in their Assignment folder is automatically shared with me.
   The people who enjoy Google Drive even more than I have, is my students. They want to type up their writing. They treat the Comment feature as Chat, which is neat for me, as I can monitor these statements. A few of my students have discovered the Presentations aspect of Google of their own.
   Now, I am beginning to thinking of sharing the action based research I have been doing about Spelling Tests. I am thinking that it's time for me to check out Google Drive Presentations for this. Maybe I need to have my students teach me how to use this :).
   I am going to see if Google Spreadsheets have the ability to create Frequency Tables and Line Plots to share the data I've collected. I'm off to check that out...

Spelling Research Update

     By Christmas break, I realized students were not increasing their spelling levels simply by studying words without the pressure of a weekly spelling test. My research showed that students were actually beginning to LOSE spelling skills that they had previously mastered- misspelling words they had previously gotten right. Something needed to change. I did not want to continue my research, or lack of spelling tests, as I began to feel this was detrimental to the students' learning.
    At the same time, I was beginning to lose faith in the Words Their Way Spelling program. I like the concept overall of sorting words and teaching students spelling patterns. However, I think when I grouped students according to their spelling ability, I was putting the students who were my most struggling spellers at a disadvantage, because I was not exposing them to grade-level words. Instead, this "smacked of tracking." The students who came in low would continue to be lower than their counterparts, even if they were exposed to spelling patterns and even if they improved their personal best score.
   I decided to implement Spelling pre-tests and post-tests using lists provided in the Storytown curriculum. One thing I like about the Storytown curriculum is that it does group the words by pattern, and includes a sorting activity each week. For about a month now, I have been doing the pre-tests and post-tests, but I have not been doing the sorting activity. I have been integrating the use of Spelling City for about half an hour each week as well.
   Already, I can see an increase in my students' spelling abilities, between the pre-test and post-test each week. The first week I implemented a pre-test, one of my students came up to me crying because she missed 22 words, out of 25. I encouraged her and said that if she studied, by the end of the week, she would get the words all right. It's been almost two months now, and that same student just got 24 out of 25 words right on the recent post-test. She is invested in studying the words for homework, and it is paying off in her spelling in context as well.
   A few of the parents were really excited when I said I was not doing weekly spelling tests. Others were wary of the idea and had their children take spelling tests at home as part of their homework assignment. My biggest revelation is that students who consistently do their homework and have supportive parents pushing them, achieve better spelling scores and perform better in school overall.
Alas, not all of our students come from supportive homes, therefore we must push them as teachers.
   That is another change I have implemented in the last two months- students who do not complete their spelling homework for the previous week must stay in from recess and write the NEW spelling words 3 times each. Holding students accountable is a priority in helping them succeed.