Thursday, January 31, 2013

On to a new approach, but 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. 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