Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This Little Piggy Went to the App Store

This little teacher went to the Apple Store.  This little teacher stayed in her classroom.  This little used lots of technology.  This little teacher used none.  This little teacher went wah wah wah all the way home.

photo by edenpictures

Which little teacher are you?  Which little teacher do you want to be?  These aren’t all the little teachers out there, just the number of toes on one foot!  There are many many more types of teachers out there.  In today’s world there can’t be much talk about teachers without the word technology popping its name up.  So how important is technology and when integrating technology what’s really important?

Over the past year I have had the wonderful opportunity to oversee a few classrooms in our district where each student had access to a device provided by the district.  Some had laptops, some had tablets.  The teachers and I were truly excited about the opportunity for each kid to have a device.  We spent hours in the summer exploring the devices, exploring classroom management of the devices, and also exploring new ways to teach.

What’s the most important feature in their classroom?  In our field, Instructional Technology, we often look at the technology and train teachers on the technology.  With these classrooms we tried something a little different.  We looked at pedagogy!  Although, curriculum is the place to start these teachers had just spent much of their time with the new Common Core and Essential Standards.  They had the content knowledge.  

Pedagogy!!!!  That was the place to start.  Or was it?  We have stressed and  evaluated over the year our different lessons and looked for ways to improve.  Many of the teachers in the pilot have shifted from front of the classroom teaching to more authentic learning using PBL or a similar methodology.  There have been many great successes in student learning and each teacher has grown tremendously in making their classroom more authentic.  This change has led their technology implementation rather than the technology taking the lead.

But is this really the most important piece?  In a recent blog post I expressed how important listening, reflecting and understanding human needs are.  In my opinion, there is no piece of technology that can replace this critical piece.  Relationships are most important when motivating anyone about anything.  So with that, positive relationships and building trust in the community should come first when it comes to technology integration in the curriculum.  We must take this time!

It is the critical first piece that we often times neglect.  Sometimes we get so busy and hear the buzzwords technology yada yada that we forget the persons behind the technology integration.   What if we first turned off the buzzing so that we could truly connect with the important people that could make this integration truly happen?

Photo by: Cindy Andrie
The revelations from this past weekend and the experiences I had come at a perfect time.  Our district is moving to a Mobile Learning Community (MLC) environment.  This is similar to many district’s initiatives of BYOD or BYOT.  With the movement of students bringing in their own devices there are many questions that arise.  What if kids text during class?  What if they are on different websites than the one I directed?  The list of what ifs could go on and on and on.  

In thinking about these questions my big “what if” is, What if we build positive relationships with trust, respect, communication and forgiveness with our teachers and students?  With these attributes, many of the questions and concerns that we have will fade away.  Many of the issues we think we will have or have had in the past will simply become non-existent.  Relationships are hard work but when cultivated and tended with care, the results could be plentiful and exciting.  

Just imagine a world where teachers and students go wee wee wee (with excitement) all the way to school and all the way home.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My First PBL!

Ok, so I know what you're thinking: "Two posts in one day?  Usually she doesn't even post every month!  What's blown up her skirt?".  Yeah, well, it's Spring Break and I have a lot of free time to catch up.  I also quickly realized I wasn't going to get much done at home so I came into work and, as a result, you got 2 posts in one day!  

Anyway, to get to my point, I finalized my first PBL today!  Whoo hoo!  This is pretty exciting stuff here.  Some of you might be thinking "What is a PBL?".  Well, to answer your question, PBL stands for Project based learning (or sometimes referred to as Problem based learning).  If you've never heard of it, look into it and learn about it.  Marty's PBL Symbaloo was created by Marty Creech and was shown to me in a PBL professional development workshop.  I found it to be very helpful and insightful.  It's pretty fascinating stuff.  The basic idea is to get students to learn information by creating projects or solving problems/scenarios.  They are having to figure things out on their own, with some guidance, as opposed to us spelling it out for them.  This is, from what I can tell, meant to replace your standard powerpoint lecturing and worksheets. FYI: I fell asleep just thinking about that.  

Now, if you are one of those teachers, don't feel discouraged or think I am putting you down by saying that.  I have just been shown a new light and feel like it is an AWESOME approach to student learning.  I'm a changed teacher. If that works for you keep chugging down that track.  But, may I present you this question:  How many worksheets does the average working adult complete?  I can honestly say my boyfriend has never brought home a worksheet to do that must be completed by the next day and he works for a multi-billion dollar corporation.  

Now, please understand that I have not completely re-done all my lesson plans....yet.  I still have powerpoints and tried-and-true worksheets I give out to my students.  DisneyWorld wasn't built in a day. All I'm saying is that it's obvious that our standarized tests are moving away from the multiple choice format and more toward an open-ended problem solving format.   

A Speech Never Given

So I was asked to speak at a meeting on March 21st at our Education Building about my experience with the tablets this year.  I took this opportunity  & responsibility very seriously and spent several nights preparing what I think is a pretty good speech (of course, I'm slightly partial).  Unfortunately, I never got to give it because my car battery decided to give out on me that morning and leave me stranded at a grocery store about 15 minutes from where the meeting was which left me scrambling for a way to get to work and left little room for anything else. Awesome timing right?  Yeah, tell me about it.  A new car battery and $100 later, I still have the speech and have decided that I would post it in the blog so that I could still get my message across.  So, here it goes:
     Before the tablets, I was a pretty standard run-of-the-mill science teacher.  I did some labs, hands on activities, lots of notes, and lots of worksheets.  All pretty standard stuff.  Isn't that what they teach us in college?  I can honestly say that having these tablets, has made me a better teacher.  But before I get into that, let me start by saying that I applied for this technology with a few narrow-minded goals in mind:

  1. Less time at the copy machine
  2. More online labs and interactives
  3. Easier access for student research

What I didn't realize was that this technology would totally change the way I think about teaching and student learning.

     Last summer, I researched all sorts of interactives & virtual labs & couldn't wait to let my students go crazy with them..  What I quickly realized, once the semester started, was that one of the biggest flaws with the tablets was that anything with Java or any interactive (including virtual labs) could not be done on them.  I was IMMEDIATELY discouraged. I also realized there was going to be a lot of wifi connectivity issues.  One class period the WiFi worked and 20 minutes later it wouldn't.  Passwords and IDs would go back and forth between working and not working which, as you can imagine, became frustrating for eager kids & a teacher with a lot of ideas.  It was also impossible for students to save work on a USB flash drive or their student ID numbers & quite a task trying to find work that got saved on the tablet itself.  However, from those ashes came a few sparks:

POSITIVES:  I became much less of a control freak & much better at working on my toes.  I always have a back up plan & my kids became much less impatient & much more flexible.  The students also quickly figured out that they could find ANYTHING when their grade depended on it.  Shocking.  Even though it was much more difficult to save stuff, it could still be done.

     I feel like I got too easily discouraged with the tablets simply because they didn't necessarily work for everything I initially wanted them to every time I wanted them to.


  1. Great for research & leads toward a student-centered class where they take an active role in their learning
  2. Grade for portable access to technology and/or apps to get outside the class (Example: Geo caching to learn about latitude and longitude)
  3. MUCH faster boot up compared to the laptops, which take an average of 5 minutes to load up.
  4. They allowed me to have a virtual classroom centered around Edmodo where they, as the student, take more responsibility for their learning.  This also helped take the pressure of missing/make up work off me because everything we ever do in class in on Edmodo.
  5. Allowed me to teach 21st century computer skills and fun new presentation skills (even my non-teacher friends have benefited from this experience!)
I was very worried that the constant WiFi and Java issues would overshadow anything positive my students could get from having the tablets in my class.  It was quickly brought to my attention that even with all the flaws and issues, my students got a LOT more out of the experience than I ever expected.  I have had so many of my students come up to me to get me to remind them of a website or tool that we used for a project in class that they want to use in another class.  I can tell that it has boosted their self esteem because they are producing higher quality & more creative projects than students with less technology skills.  I've also had teachers telling me how awesome one of my former students' projects are because they use websites and/or tools I had shown them or taught them in class.  I could not have been prouder!

Having the tablets has given me back my lost motivation to create more project/inquiry based activities and to move towards a more student centered classroom.  I may have had a lot of technical issues with these tablets, but I feel like for that motivation alone, if nothing else, is why these tablets have made me a better teacher. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I love when teachers try new things!!!!

I was recently at Kennedy Learning Center and observed Yvette Thiel trying mastery learning with her students.  I was blown away by the research, preparation, implementation and reflection that she had done.  I asked her to share her experiences as a guest blogger.  Below is her experiences.

"I have been experimenting with technology in my 8th grade math class and am able to have one-to-one with students and computers.  Along with this, I have also been experimenting with mastery learning.  There have been some bumps to work out but, overall, I am very excited about the results that I am seeing. My entire class period is not all online.  I tend to think of it as a modified flipped classroom.  They are getting the videos in school.  And during that time, I am free to support other learners as the work out the tasks they are given.
The weeks work is prepared ahead of time and I create individual packets for the students.  The front page of the packet details the tasks that the students are to complete for the week.  Each task lists an Essential Question, how students may work (alone, pairs, group, with teacher), and what checkpoints they have to complete.  Checkpoints are what I call my formative assessment prompts.  Students check in with me at designated times to be sure they are on the right track. At that time I can adjust any misconceptions or confusions. I also provide a rubric for any work that will not be expected to be perfect.
Students are all working at their own pace, so often I am able to conference with students one-on-one or in small groups.  These conferences are very brief.  But because students are all working I have time to address their questions.
I keep a checklist of where students are at in the process.  The best part is students who are absent just jump in where they left off.  I do have some students who lag behind everyone else.  However, these same students are the ones who were not completing work before.  My demands for mastery have forced them to complete work and to a high standard.  I also keep these students for tutoring times if I need to. As a result, their productivity has increased.
Each packet begins with a PowerPoint that I have created and uploaded into a Voice Thread.  Students access this video through Edmodo. The packet has a copy of the slides so the students are able to follow along with me and complete the examples.  Often times, students will re-listen to these videos throughout the week or before a test if they are confused or want to review. Some will even listen to slides more than one time.  I love this.  I don’t find myself so frustrated for having to repeat myself.
I found some other videos online that I thought were fantastic.  But some students really struggled with them.  They like when I prepare my own videos better and have the handouts for them to follow along with me. It is crucial I don’t get long winded on these videos.  I have to be straightforward.  If they need a repeat they can rewind.
Videos are not the only thing I use. I use a combination of many types of activities.  I have purchased a few aps from Edmodo and sometimes I have activities for the students to practice using one of the Aps.  Or I locate something online that will help them practice the skill. I am trying to use some tasks from Georgia and performance tasks from other places for the students to complete in groups or with partners.
At the end of the packet, I have an online assessment for the students to take.  I have discovered that if I give them a practice assessment I can address, one more time, misconceptions or any confusion they may have. As a result test scores are better. Meaning I have less need for remediation. I have discovered that frequent assessments are better than waiting to the end of a unit.  I try to break each week into a mini-unit with a quiz at the end.  However, because students work at their own pace not everyone is finished at the end of the week.  They carry over to the next week.  Therefore, the pacing is flexible for each student’s needs.
I am still trying to work things out to make sure that everyone is learning the most in each class.  Sometimes it seems a little chaotic with so much going on.  But the productivity for individual students has greatly increased.  I think this is more due to the mastery learning.  Knowing that they can get an A they just have to keep trying has been very motivating for some of my more unmotivated.  Using the videos and the group work gives me the opportunity to facilitate student’s individual learning." 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On to a new approach, but first....to reflect on Last approach

Before I talk about my new approach...

Let me begin by reflecting on the fall semester.  I welcomed the new year eager to meet the challenges of not only implementing the devices that I have been given privilege to use in my instruction, but also the challenge of teaching 2 new courses that I had not previously taught; Integrated Math II and III.  Little to my knowledge the task of adjusting my geometry curriculum to the new common core curriculum would prove to be a greater challenge than any of us could have expected.

I consider myself open to trying new things and learning how to adjust my teaching to the needs of the students in my classes.  I understand that not all students learn in the same way, nor at the same pace, and this requires for me to seek to use a variety of approaches to the present the content and skills needed for understanding.  Thus much of the reason for my desire to have the laptops to assist in diversifying my instruction to meet the different learning styles and strengths of my students.

I struggled all semester with staying on top of planning my classes with the new demands of the curriculum and the new Integrated math classes, much less developing and implementing any lasting method of using the laptops on a regular basis as a means of instruction.  I have been disappointed at my lack of success in organizing myself to the degree it demanded to plan lessons for each day with the use of the laptops.  I was suggested to do it with one class, one unit at a time, but when I started a lesson in one class with the use of the technology, I would get excited and try to do the same thing in the other classes.  But, as I developed each lesson, I would then present in class and need to make adjustments, as we ran into unforeseen challenges; students inability to navigate the touch pad mouse, their lack of competency of navigating the internet, my links not being correctly attached to whatever document we were working in, etc.  So, these adjustments would take more time, and I just didn't have enough time or patience to do this for all the classes (of which I have 4 preps).  I would then get overwhelmed and discouraged, eventually abandoning the new approach, resorting to methods I had previously used.  I have reflected much on my struggle and my disappointment, seeking to find answers, find resolve, find a way this technology to my students in a meaningful way to benefit their learning.

...to be continued

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Endings bring new beginnings!

Well, another semester has come and gone and  I can definitely say that I have learned more in this semester about teaching, technology, and classroom management than I have in previous years. Below I have listed some of the big things I've learned having these tablets in my classroom along with any solutions I came up with.

  • LESSON 1: Always double check websites.  Even if you have used them in the past and they worked, you ALWAYS need to double check websites!
    • Moral of the story: Do your homework
  • LESSON 2: Technical difficulties will happen, no matter how much you prepare for them.  It can happen all day or in one class period of the day, but they DO happen.
    • Moral of the story: Be prepared for them.  Have a back up plan.  I've gotten pretty good at working on my toes.
  • LESSON 3: Even if you get students to sign contracts saying they won't download programs/apps/whatever onto the tablets, you will ALWAYS have a few rebels in the bunch.
    • Moral of the story:  It's good to have ALL your students sign contracts.  That way, when disciplinary actions must be taken the students can't claim there are ANY surprises & neither can parents.  You can view my Anti-Bullying ContractLaptop/Tablet Contract I make my students & their parents sign before being allowed to get on any technology in my class by clicking the words above.
  • LESSON 4: Teenagers are smart.  They know a lot about technology and might even know more about it than you.
    • Moral of the story: Use it to your advantage & nonchalantly make them your "tech crew".  If you're lucky, you can have them in each class.  Then apply the "ask 3 before me" rule so they aren't coming to you every time there is a bump in the road.
  • LESSON 5: No matter how often you use a website, EVEN IF IT'S DAILY, you will always have students that will forget their log in information.  
    • Moral of the story:  I created a Website Log In Sheet (<--Click to view)& gave it to each of my students.  They were required to write down the websites we used often (Evernote, Edmodo, Glogster, etc) and then added any websites they used over the course of the semester.  This was great because there were some students who learned and tried out a lot of websites from my wall of "Useful & Creative Websites" so they had room to write down their log in information and keep up with it.  The students appreciated it too because it allowed them to take it with them to other classes and put their new technology skills to use in ALL their classes.  This was a very proud moment for me as a teacher.
  • LESSON 6: There will be lots of people on board, excited, and even asking you questions about how they use what you're doing in their own classes.  You will also have those that think you let students text & play on computers all day long & never get anything done.
    • Moral of the story:  I know you can never please everyone.  I also know that if nothing else, my students learned a lot about 21st century technology and how to use it to their advantage.  I know that these skills will help them in their future endeavors and I am glad that I had the opportunity to help them and be a part of that learning experience for them.  
  • LESSON 7: Tablets are definitely more tricky than laptops.  Due to this, students prefer laptops over tablets under most conditions
    • Moral of the story:  Technology is great & I have become a firm believer in bringing technology into all classrooms.  I was fortunate enough to get laptops at the end of this semester which allowed me to give the students the best of both worlds, then allowed them to pick which technology they preferred.  Unless we were moving around, students ALWAYS preferred the laptops over the tablets.  From what I gathered from the students, it is for the following reasons:
      1. The Polaris program (the tablet's replacement for Microsoft Word) is not 100% compatible with Microsoft.  We ran into the problem several times where students wrote papers or created powerpoints with the Polaris program and went to present them on my school desktop computer and pictures and features didn't show up.  This was very frustrating for them.
      2. The battery life is significantly lower on the tablets than it is on the laptops.  Since I tried to incorporate the technology into ALL of my class periods, this quickly became a problem.  
      3. Any programs/virtual labs/interactives that use flash or java don't work on the tablets 99% of the time.  The times that they do, either only certain parts of it work, or it will stop working and students will have to reload the page which in some cases makes them have to start all over again.  This began to frustrate students very quickly.  
        1. This was a HUGE problem for me because as a science teacher, most of what I wanted to do with the technology used the flash player (Examples include: Virtual labs, interactives on tough concepts, Glogster, Prezi, ReadWriteThinking Press, and USATestPrep).  It quickly became that the tablets were used for internet research, edmodo, and a few apps.
      4. Students are much more familiar with doing school work on laptops than on tablets/android products.  One of my students put it perspective for me by saying, "Working on these tablets is like trying to do my homework on my cell phone.  I wouldn't try to type a paper or make a powerpoint on it, so why would I do it on this tablet?  It's pretty much the same thing."  I thought it made sense.  
      5. Since there was no USB outlet and students weren't signing on to their student account, it was difficult for students to save their work and then access it later. It also made it difficult for students to find a way to get homework they've been working on in class home so they can work on it their as well.  This made it hard to try to implement my "paperless classroom" like I had originally anticipated at the beginning of the semester.  Now that I have laptops I plan on trying to put that effort back into full swing for the upcoming semester.
     There has been a lot of learning happening with myself and with my students.  The difference in the quality of projects from the beginning of the semester to the end of the semester was significant.  They went from doing simple powerpoints to doing interactive & visually pleasing Prezis, Glogs, Wallwisher boards, etc.  
     In my project based learning classes, it also gave them the opportunity to be creative in their own right which boosted moral and indirectly improved their public speaking skills.  When the students are excited to share what they have created and learned it makes them forget how nervous they might have been and enthusiastic to show off their work.  A lot of times they were showing me websites and programs I hadn't heard of before to fit the needs of whatever project I had assigned them which was excited for both myself and the students. 
     I am overwhelmingly excited to see where a new semester of technology will take me.  Now that I have both laptops and tablets one of the new challenges I face will be to find a happy medium in balancing the use of both.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Come to our Colony!

I gave my students an assignment to research the different colony groups (New England, Middle, and Southern Colonies). They used google presentation to create their presentations. I had used this before in a training I did over the summer, but I thought the students would enjoy this tool because they could all simultaneously edit the same presentation at the same time.

I created small groups in Edmodo and posted the different link in each of the small groups. This way, the only people that would be able to access the link to the presentation would be the students that were assigned to that small group. Well, the time came to start the presentations and Murphy's Law came into full force...Edmodo was down and not working! I tried to think quickly and decided to post the different links on the Symbaloo. I reinforced Internet etiquette and how we never access or change work that was not ours. I even demonstrated this to the students using the google presentations. I was so excited about this assignment and my students were too!

As I said, Murphy's Law...My students did great; however, being that other teachers in the county also have access to my symbaloo, they also had access to the presentations. As one group was working, someone started deleting their work and typing inappropriate things on the presentation. I knew it wasn't anyone of my students doing this so I only assumed it was a student from another school that was using the symbaloo. My kids did as much as they could, but it was difficult to finish the assignment when somebody was messing with their work. They were getting very frustrated. Once edmodo was working again, I had them create a post within their small group telling me about what they liked about this presentation method and what frustrated them. They had some very insightful things that will definitely help me to run this better in the future.

Another thing I had them create was a "Choose Your Own Adventure" video that had to do with their colonies. This part of the assignment was kind of thrown on them at the last minute because I wanted to see how they would handle it (plus I had only just learned how to create one of these using Youtube). I have created a link to their finished product. It is rough, but considering the little amount of time they had to do this assignment, I think they did quite well! When you pull up the video, you will be able to click on which colony group you would like to visit! I hope to do more of these in the future to work on our standard that deals with persuasion. I would love to hear any one's ideas!

Colony group 1

Colony group 2