TETC 2014: My Take Away

Photo of a sticky note on my iPad

photo by Andrew Atkins 2014

TETC for a First-Timer

Earlier this week I had the chance to attend TETC (Tennessee Education Technology Conference) for the first time. I jumped at the chance to go because I like going to conferences and I like technology. The only other conferences I have attended have been for the NCTE and NWP. Those were big national conferences, so TETC was my first time at a state-level gathering. It also gave me a chance to see the new Music City Convention Center for the first time.

Overall I thought the conference organizers did a good job putting everything together. I never expect any of these types of events to go off without a hitch, so the 1 or 2 changes to session topics didn’t bother me that much. The first session I had planned on attending did have an unannounced change, but I just found another session to sit it on.  I guess my biggest complaint was having to wait so long for the schedule to come out–the Thursday before the conference. I was getting a little antsy by then because I really wanted to plan out what to attend.

My Take Away from the Day

As I plotted out which sessions to attend, I made a deliberate effort to avoid any vendor sessions because I really didn’t feel like sitting in on an hour-long sales pitch. I was looking for ideas I could use in my classrooms right away without having to beg my administrators to buy something. While I didn’t come away from the day with a notebook full of mind-blowing, game-changing new tools or techniques to use, I did come away with 3 or 4 ideas on a list that I felt made the day worthwhile. Here are some of the items from that list:

Google Apps

The first idea that made my list is that I need to go back and really look at, evaluate, and learn more about all the various Google apps that are available. I have been a big fan of Google since almost day 1. I even had a friend in IT hook me up with Gmail before it was available to the general public. But, for some strange reason, I haven’t used many of the other tools they offer. As I sat in the first break-out session of the day, the presenter was talking about Google Forms and some of the other apps and I decided that there are lots of ways I can use those in my classes. As she was talking about Google Docs being used for collaborative writing–which I had before and read tons about–it dawned on me that I could use it in my journalism class, along with Google Forms. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized this before, but when it came to me as I sat in that session, I decided that I needed to look at all of Google’s apps and maybe think about them again, or in new ways.

Remind101 and Celly

I don’t remember which session I was in that introduced these apps, but I immediately liked the idea. Both of these apps allow a teacher to send out group text messages as reminders or alerts for students and parents about tests, assignments, or anything else. The reason that I plan on using this type of app is that neither one of them require that any phone numbers be exchanged. All i have to do is give out the instructions for signing up to my groups, and whoever signs up will get those alerts. They don’t get my phone number and I don’t get their number. Additionally, people cannot reply back to the alerts, the whole thing functions as a 1-way broadcasting system. Celly looks a little more advanced because it allows you to alter the appearance of the website interface option. Remind101 seems like it is a little simpler to set up. At this moment I think I am going to try Remind101 for my classes because it doesn’t require anyone to make an account when they opt in for the alerts. Celly does. I plan on trying remind out with one class to finish out this year and then roll it out for all of my classes at the start of next school year–if all goes well.

My Last Take Away from TETC2014

The last bit of take away I want to address here is blogging. I have used blogging with most of my classes for the last 3 or 4 years, but I think I need to reevaluate how I approach it. I don’t think I have done a very good job with it when it comes to my students. I want their blogs to be more than just a “OK, now that we have read this story, or novel, write something about it on your blog.” I would really like for the students to have a more authentic experience of writing a true blog. I probably need to devote some of my summer break to exploring some possibilities in that area.

 

How do you use technology in your classroom? How do you use blogs with your students? As always, feel free to leave comments or shoot me a question.

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Using the Ipad as a Personal Response System in the Classroom: A Look at 2 Apps

Ipad and Laptop

TechGeekTeacher's Ipad and Laptop

Putting eClicker and Socrative Through a Workout

As I have mentioned before, one of the things I immediately wanted to do in my classroom when we started our 1-1 Ipad pr0gram this past fall was find a way to have my students take quizzes and tests using their Ipads that gave them some immediate feedback and save me some time grading. While I still haven’t found that magical app that will do absolutely everything I want for absolutely free–or at least really cheap–I was presented an opportunity to take another stab at this particular wish this week.

An administrator at my school recently asked me if I was familiar with the eClicker app. I said that I had installed it back during the summer, but I hadn’t really tried to use it that much, but would be willing to give it a try because I wanted to try out another app that was similar and pretty new to the app scene.  So, I decided that I would put both Socrative and eClicker through a trial by fire in all of my English classes. My plan of attack was to administer 2 quizzes to each class where they would use each app for one of the quizzes. While the quizzes weren’t the same, they did cover the same material.

Before administering the quizzes, I decided that the most crucial criteria was stability/reliability, ease-of-use (for the students and teacher), and flexibility (in terms of options). Here is the break down of what I noticed about eClicker and Socrative before I had my students take the quizzes and then after all my classes had used them:

What eClicker and Socrative have in Common

  • Both are Personal Response Systems/Smart Clickers: Students can use them to enter responses to questions which can be projected onto a screen
  • Both Require a Student App and a Teacher App: The student app for both only allow for responses to questions. The teacher apps allow for the creation, editing, and management of quizzes. I will say that when it comes to making the actual quizzes, it is much easier to do on a laptop.
  • Both Utilize a Website: The websites for both apps store the quizzes and allow editing, creating, and managing. Both apps sync with the website so that the individual questions and question sets are consistent.
  • Neither App Requires a “Server” Type App: This is pretty straight forward; once you have the teacher app and the students have their app, you are good-to-go–no need to install a server app on a laptop to act as a go-between since both apps work on your local wi-fi network.
  • Both Allow for Categories and Tags: Being able to put quizzes into categories is pretty handy, but being able to put tags on individual questions is really helpful because you could build up a large question collection over time and use that to change things up on old quizzes or make new ones.
  • Quizzes Can be Taken Using a Browser: Both systems allow students to take any quiz using a web browser–that is nice to have if a student doesn’t have his Ipad for some reason.

Some Differences between eClicker and Socrative

  • Cost: While the student app for both is free, the eClicker teacher app costs $9.99. Socrative’s teacher app is free.
  • Types of Questions: Both apps allow multiple choice questions. Socrative offers open-ended questions and eClicker does not. eClicker can put photos and drawings into questions which Socrative doesn’t.  Socrative features a team game mode and exit ticket mode and eClicker doesn’t have either of these.
  • Quiz Reports: eClicker reports can be emailed–but they are plain text files. Socrative will email reports that are in a spreadsheet and much easier to read.
  • Running the Quiz: While both systems have a student and teacher app, Socrative will allow a quiz to be started from the website while eClicker’s quizzes have to be started from the teacher’s Ipad. This may be a factor in what I noticed about stability/reliability which id discussed below.
  • Pacing: Quizzes on Socrative can progress according to a student’s own pace or by the teacher tapping the button to go to the next question. In eClicker the quiz questions change at a predetermined interval (which can be changed). Because the quiz had to be pushed from my Ipad, everyone had to be logged in and ready to go before the quiz could begin. With Socrative students didn’t have to wait on their classmates to login before they started.
  • Stability/Reliability: This is easily the most important piece of the puzzle for me. If I am going to use any kind of system, it has to be dependable and rock-solid in terms of reliability. Socrative was clearly better in this category. eClicker was a problem in every single class because students would disconnect or the app would freeze. In one class we never got to the point where the students got to actually take the quiz with eClicker. Before everyone could get logged in and I could launch the quiz, half the class would disconnect. And when they reconnected, the other half would drop out. In the other 3 classes which actually started taking the quiz, 3 or 4 students would freeze or disconnect in the middle of the quiz. This was never a problem with Socrative. When I asked each class which app they liked better, they all chose Socrative–probably because of this one problem area.

The Bottom Line

For what I want to do in my classroom, Socrative is the clear choice at this point. While it may not have absolutely everything I wished, it does enough that I can feel comfortable using it for some of the quizzes I give. Since it is a fairly new app, I hope that a future update will introduce the ability to include images with questions. I also really like the fact that it is totally free–I hope it stays that way.

I also wish that eClicker was more reliable and that I didn’t run into so many problems with maintaining connectivity with the students’ Ipads. I really like having that picture option. But with so many students getting disconnected it presents too many headaches at this time for me to use it. I hope they fix that in the future.

What Personal Response Systems or Smart Clickers do you use in your classroom? What system would you recommend? If you have used eClicker or Socrative what has your experience been?

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3 Ways the iPad Can Improve Your Classroom

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

Every teacher wants to improve the life inside the classroom–for both student and teacher. While I do not consider myself an expert on using the iPad in the classroom, I thought I would post some ideas about how it can improve some aspects of life in the classroom. The following suggestions come from my experiences thus far with using Ipads in my classroom. At my school we are almost 3/4ths of the way through our first year with a 1-1 iPad program with our students.

Better Classroom Management

One of the impacts the iPad had on my classroom that I noticed is that it got me moving around more. By using the Splashtop Whiteboard app to control my laptop and thus control the interactive whiteboard in my room, I can move around the room more and monitor my students’ activity. Just the simple act of not having my back turned to the class helps keep students on task. Being able to more around more also allows for more 1-1 interaction with students who might have a question about something being discussed or on the board. Any teacher will tell  you that being able to keep an eye on what is happening in the classroom is a good thing. The iPad definitely helps with that.

Improved Assignment Collection and Distribution

In a previous post I’ve written that one of the first things I wanted to try with the 1-1 iPad program at my school was make my classroom as paperless as possible. I am still sticking to that move and don’t see any way I would go back to handling my assignments the traditional pen and paper way. The biggest benefit when it comes to distributing assignments digitally through email is that students who are absent get the assignment faster. They don’t have to come track me down and get a slip of paper in order to get their assignment–it is already in their inbox.

Emailing the assignments also allows the students to plan ahead with a little less stress when they know ahead of time when they will miss class. Recently a senior came to inform me that they were going to be absent later in the week. As he started to ask what assignments he would miss for that day, he stopped himself before finishing the question and said, “Wait. I’ll just be sure to check my email and get it from there.”

As far as collecting assignments goes, having every assignment turned in as either an email or a blog posting cuts down on the size of stacks of paper on my desk. Usually the only stack on my desk is a test or quiz. To keep track of blog assignments I use Feeddler Pro to aggregate the feeds from my students’ blogs. I have them sorted into class period and can tell who has posted the assignment with just one quick glance.

Most typical homework assignments are turned in via email. By using a Gmail account set up just for homework,  every assignment is available for review whenever, and wherever, internet access exists.  Gone are the days of lugging home stacks of homework to sort through. Setting up folders (labels in Gmail) keeps things organized and setting up filters to auto-sort incoming emails really saves a lot of time.

Implement Student Portfolios

I’ve always loved the idea of having student portfolios. I’ve never been crazy about–or very good at–keeping up with them. Folders and binders take up room and are a pain to look through. Bringing the iPad into the classroom makes the creation, storage, and review of portfolios a lot easier to implement. In fact, it is almost impossible to pass up the opportunity. Just by having students use their iPads to turn in their assignments via email which I  then sort into folders, I unwittingly created portfolios for every student. I have every assignment every student has turned in for the whole year available with a couple of touches or swipes on the iPad screen. That can come in pretty handy when it is time for parent-teacher conferences.

Having assignments on a blog is also pretty handy. The research project for my senior literature class is going to be on the students’ blogs instead of being submitted in a folder or binder. No need to worry about where the projects can be stored.

Having assignments on the blog also can help with parent communication. Twice this year I have had a parent ask about a low grade for a blog assignment. I was able to send the url for the student’s blog to their parent as part of the response I emailed. This allowed the parent to see for themselves that the post was either late or was not done.

Another option some teachers use for creating student portfolios is Evernote.

At the start of this post I stated that I don’t consider myself an expert at using the iPad in the classroom–I am always looking for new ways to improve any aspect of my students’ experience in my classes. So, if you have any ideas on how to do that, please share them.

The iPad and Changes for Teachers

A Stack of Books

Some book on one of my classroom bookshelves

Time to Change My Ways?

Bringing technology into the classroom presents many challenges for students, administrators, and teachers. No matter how much time teachers and administrators invest in planning before a tech roll-out of some new system, it seems that a greater amount of time is spent playing catch up. What do I mean by this? Well, from my personal experience it boils down to spending a lot of time thinking of ways to use something before school starts in August and then spending even more time once school starts adjusting that plan.

This readjustment typically comes from some aspect of the classroom experience or procedure not working quite the way I anticipated. In years past, this readjusting was contained to various lessons or activities and how they might need to change in order to be more effective. Thoughts like “This novel didn’t seem to grab the class’ attention the way I hoped. Maybe I should try a different one.” Or, “I don’t think I explained this concept as well as I anticipated. Maybe I need to present it differently.”  Those types of thoughts are pretty normal for teachers–at least I think they are.

Now all my students have iPads and I find that other types of questions are popping up as I think about my classroom. Sure, I pretty quickly planned on going paperless before the school year began; but now, I am beginning to think more and more about HOW students learn in this new digital classroom. I am beginning to think more and more about HOW I need to adapt the way I teach in this new digital classroom.

For example, in my dual enrollment American Literature class today I was going through a PowerPoint presentation about Rationalism. I was going through this much the same way I have every year. Today, however, I was very conscious that there were only 4 or 5 students out of 21 taking notes as I went through the slides. I know not every student is going to take notes–even if they were writing them down on paper. But the number actively taking notes today seemed very low–especially for a college credit class.

I am pretty certain that when it comes time for a quiz or test, the notes those 4 or 5 students took today will find their way to everyone else in the class: All with the simple push of a button.

Where Old PowerPoints Go to Die

This has stuck with me all day. I have thought about note taking in our new iPad environment before today; but it usually centered on what app the students could use to take the notes, or what I could do to encourage them to take notes. Now I am starting to wonder if I should change the way I present new information to a class.

Now I am starting to wonder about the day when I have to introduce our next area of study in American Literature. When the day comes for me to introduce Romanticism, should I just break out the PowerPoint with all my nice slides listing characteristics? Or should I approach my class and students in a different way? Maybe I should just say “We are going to begin studying Romanticism in American Literature now. Go online and find the characteristics of Romanticism and share them with me and the class.” I could even say “Everyone in this row find the characteristics. Everyone in this row find the differences between American and European Romanticism. Everyone in that row find the American authors most commonly associated with Romanticism.” And so on and so forth.

Is it time for many of my PowerPoints to head off to the presentation graveyard? Is it time for me to make that move from being the “authoritative repository of information” in the classroom to an “information guide” for my students? I know I have a great deal more thinking to do on this particular subject. It will probably be one of those subjects I continually question. And that is one of the things we teachers are supposed to do.

How do you handle introducing new information to students?