Link of the Week: Hack Education

Pile o' Paperclips

Pile o' Paperclips

A Blog for Teachers and Tech

I suppose I should start this week’s first post with an apology for last week. I only created one post last week because I was overcome by spring-break, the end of the grading period, and our final yearbook deadline. So please forgive my dear readers.

Since my first two post for Link of the week featured the authors Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card, I thought I would offer up something a little different this week. So, with that in mind, I thought I would provide a link to a blog I find very useful for information relating to technology use in education: Hack Education

Hack Education is a blog by Audrey Watters who, among other things, is a tech journalist and freelance writer. The blog provides very good insight into technology-in-the-classroom issues as well as looks at new technology that may be useful to students or teachers. I first ran across the blog because it sometimes pops up in my list of articles in Zite. After reading a couple of the articles, I bookmarked the site, subscribes to the RSS feed so that I wouldn’t miss a thing.

Hack Education also offers a weekly podcast–but at this point in time I haven’t listened to any of those because podcasts aren’t my thing usually–just to be honest.

Anyway, I enjoy the blog and hope you will as well.


As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.


Classroom Technology: What the Students Say

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

An Informal Survey

In a previous post I wrote about an informal survey where I planned to ask my students their thoughts about technology in the classroom. So, I decided this post would be about the students’ responses to my question. I didn’t conduct this as a formal essay where they could score things on a Likert Scale or choose from an array of responses to a number of questions; so, there won’t be any spiffy-looking pie charts or bar diagrams. I basically just asked the students to write a journal entry in response to the following:

How would you like to use technology in your education? Think about daily tasks as well as larger projects. What other technology–software, apps, hardware, devices–is out there that could be used? What technology do we already have that may be underutilized?

I tried to keep the question as wide-open as possible just so I could see what kinds of responses the students would give. As I said in the post where I discussed my plan to do this, I was hoping for some ideas that I could immediately us–but I wasn’t expecting that. I think what the students wrote did just that; I didn’t get any ideas or suggestions that I can immediately put into action. But, I did get some that provide some food- for-thought when it comes to planning for the future.

So, here is a run-down of their summarized responses separated into some basic categories.

Devices/Hardware They Wanted to Use

  • Phones-especially iPhones: The students who mentioned using phones said they wanted to use them to access information since they already use them for that outside of school. They also mentioned that they have their phones with them at all times.
  • Kindle: A lot of the students said they wanted digital textbooks in some form or another; but only a small number mentioned using a Kindle specifically
  • Video Cameras/Digital Cameras: This was another commonly mentioned item(s) among the students.
  • Ipads: Our school already has a 1-1 program using Ipads but they all wrote about their use of them. Almost all of the students said they liked using them. They also said 1 or 2 other things about the Ipad that I will discuss later in the post.
  • Laptops: A large number of students said they would like to use laptops–especially Macbooks. Several of the students who said they like using Ipads also said they would prefer using laptops. One student said that Ipads seem more “game oriented” and laptops had more of a “work feeling.” I thought that was in interesting view.
  • Console Gaming Systems: While only a few students mentioned using specific games systems, those that did said they could be used for educational purposes. But, none of them provided any specific examples or ideas of how to do that. I tend to agree with the thought that games–and even video games–can be used for educational purposes. For instance, I can imagine an assignment that has students write about how the world presented in a game like Assassin’s Creed compares with historical information. English teachers have an advantage in areas like this–we can easily adapt just about any topic into some sort of writing assignment.

Activities Wish List

I wasn’t really certain what to call this category but the idea or items listed here have to do with what my students said they wanted to start doing, or doing more frequently with technology and their schoolwork.

  • Photo Editing: Several students wrote that they would like the ability to do photo editing tasks as part of projects–or even have classes dedicated to photography and photo editing with Photoshop or similar programs.
  • Video Conference: Some students thought it would be educational to use Skype to talk to students in other schools or countries. Some students also mentioned using Skype for sick, or absent students.
  • Videos instead of Lectures: I found it interesting that some of my students were proposing a “flipped classroom” approach without using the actual term that is so hot and trending right now in education circles. A few of the students who mentioned video said the video would let them get a lecture at their own pace.
  • More research: Some students said that they wished they had more assignments that required them to conduct research on the internet now that they had the Ipads in class.
  • eTextboks: Almost every student who gave some kind of serious answer in their response mentioned that they wanted to use digital textbooks.
  • Apps for Grades: Some students wanted apps that would let them check their grades from their Ipads. I believe this is offered by some grading systems, but the service we use at our school only offers an app for faculty to use.
  • Interactive Whiteboards: The students who mentioned Promethean Boards or Smart Boards–any kind of IWB really–said that THEY wanted to use them instead of the teachers mainly using them.
  • Assessments: Another frequent “wish” students discussed in their responses is that they wanted to use the Ipad to take more tests and quizzes. This is also something I want to do as well.
  • Social Media: One student who wrote about this summed it up by saying they should use the websites they use every day in their life outside of school. Another student suggested using Twitter to discuss different topics in English class. Other students mentioned site like Reddit and 4chan.
  • Blogs: Some students proposed using blogs to turn in their assignments instead of paper or email. They thought this would make it easier for them to keep track of  and be aware of the assignments they had completed.
  • Virtual Dissections: A few students said they would prefer to do virtual dissections as opposed to the real thing.
  • Connectivity/Collaboration: One of the things that some students felt was underutilized in terms of their Ipads at my school is the ability to connect to other Ipads in order to do some group projects.

What Students Like about the Ipad in Class

  • Allows for more ways to take notes: Some students said they took photos of notes and others recorded audio as alternatives to the traditional writing.
  • Better ways to organize all their work for different classes
  • Having everything in one place–notes, assignments, planners, presentations, their work, etc.
  • Their grades improved: While this certainly isn’t the case for every students, there were some who felt that their grades improved from using the Ipad. I will hazard a guess and say that it is due to the organizational aspect many students liked.

Some Surprises

This last list is for some of the things students said, admitted, or suggested that surprised me in one way or another.

  • Powerpoints are overdone: Some students felt these are used too often and a few even said they felt like they weren’t very good at using them when giving a presentation.
  • The Good and the Bad of Technology and the Ipad: Several students said that technology made education less boring; and just as many would often go on to write that it could also be a distraction.
  • Real World Applications: One student wrote that however we use technology in the class its use should be geared towards real world applications they will face in their future. I thought this was pretty forward-looking for a teenage student to write about.
  • Tools don’t benefit the student: Another student wrote that is didn’t really matter if they used a laptop, or Ipad, or some other gadget. What really mattered was the software, apps, and services they had access to and what they were asked to do with it that really benefited them. I was really blown away when I read that.
  • Use the Ipad for the traditional school-wide announcements: Probably the most unexpected suggestion on how to use the Ipad came from one student who said the administration should use the built-in Messages app in iOS5 to make the announcements that usually come over the PA system. I just thought this was a really good idea that I like a lot–it might be a bit tricky to pull off though.

So, those are some of the things students mentioned in response to my question about how they want to use technology in their education. It certainly isn’t the most scientific approach, but it does give me some things to think about.

What do your students think about technology in the classroom? What types of tech do they want to use? What types do they use?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Technology in the Classroom: Time to Ask the Question

Student IPad

A student IPad in a Spanish Class

Let’s Just Ask Them: What Technology Do You Want in the Classroom?

I’ve said it before: I like to do something different on Fridays. That applies to posting on this blog and what I do in the classroom. So, in that spirit of mixing things up a bit, I thought I would write a short post about what I plan to do in some of my classes today.

I plan on conducting a survey of my students to see what ideas they have about using technology in their education. I want to find out what kinds of ideas they have on how we can use some of the available tools in their day-to-day school life. I’ll carry this out by having them write what amounts to a journal entry to answer that question. I intend to leave the door pretty wind open as far as the possibilities they can bring to the table.

I’m not really sure what I will get–if I get anything at all. But, I do hope to get 2 or 3 ideas that I haven’t thought of at some time or another. With some real luck I might have a student mention something I can try pretty quickly. The foundation for these hopes of mine come from the fact that the students are more immersed in current technology than I am. They are the digital natives, I am the immigrant.

Maybe they can come up with something that has slipped by my attention. Maybe they can alert me to something that will allow me to do some aspect of my job as a teacher a little better. Maybe they can tell me how to use something we already use to its full potential. Maybe they can see that they have a vested interest in their education. Maybe they can learn that the tech around them can be used for more than just checking in somewhere, updating their status, or playing a game.

That is probably a lot to ask for–but there is no way to know if I don’t ask. I confess that the idea of making things in the classroom more student centered or oriented has been on my mind a lot lately. As I have been reading more articles from around the web recently, it seems that I keep running into certain topics more and more. “The flipped classroom” and “gamification” are two such topics that I seem to be running into more and more. Alongside this, there is what I am observing in my classes on a daily basis. The way my students approach the material I present is changing–has changed from 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago now that our school has a 1-1 IPad program.

Life in the classroom is changing. Whether we think it shouldn’t, whether we think it should, whether we think it is right, whether we think it is wrong, whether we think it is for the worse, life in the classroom is changing. And if we educators want that change to be for the better, we had better learn to ride the wave and change with it. We can’t teach the same way as teachers in the 1950s or 60s taught. The 21st century world outside of the classrooms and schools has changed–is constantly changing because of the technology we have. If schools are meant to prepare their students for that changing world, then teachers have to change how we engage our students as they prepare for life in a world which is more dependent on the technology which is shaping it in greater and greater degrees.

So, shouldn’t we at least ask at some point what our students think is important for their future when it comes to technology and how they use it?

I try to follow-up with the results of my little survey in a post in the near future.

What do you think? What do your students think about technology in the classroom?

As always, please feel free to comment and offer some suggestions or tell me I’m full of crap. If you like this post or blog please follow it on Twitter, like it Facebook, or subscribe to it. The more the merrier.

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?

The Dog Ate My iPad

A photo of my iPad

A photo of my iPad

I thought I would do a short post today and maybe change the tone a bit from previous posts for variety’s sake. Over the summer, as I prepared for our school’s implementation of a 1-1 iPad program, I devoted a lot of thought to ways that I could use the iPad in my classroom. As I researched what other teachers were doing with iPads and tried out various apps myself, I didn’t quite prepare for eventuality of students who did not have their iPads with them for class.

I suppose I was too worried about how I was going to use this new tool and keep the kids on task with theirs. It never occurred to me that I was going to adapt to the 21st century versions of “The dog ate my homework…” So, here is a list of the excuses I have heard so far this year–along with my thoughts on them.

The Reasons/Excuses I Hear the Most for Students Not Having Their iPad:

  • I left it at home/in the car: I’ll give people 1 time on this–just because I left mine at home one day.
  • Somebody took it out of my locker: I’m not sure what to make of this one; but it never fails that the students has it within the next 2 class periods.
  • Somebody hid it from me: I usually take this to mean that they forgot where they set it down and just don’t want to admit it.
  • I …can’t find it/lost it/forgot where I put it:
  • A teacher (usually described as unreasonable) confiscated it: This means that teacher caught you playing a game, or texting, or Skyping.
  • It is not working: 99.9% of the time this is solved by turning it off and then back on.
  • It won’t email: This usually means they didn’t do the homework, or they forgot to hit send.
  • It is frozen:The turn off/turn on move usually works on this one too.
  • The screen is broken: I usually cringe at this one because I can just imagine what my parents would have said if I broke something like this when I was a student. The best broken-screen story for the year so far is the student who left it on top of the car, drove off, and didn’t realize what they had done until a neighbor called them and told them they found it in the road.
  • The doctor told me not to use it for a while: This one may be a legitimate reason for students who had concussions. I do have an urge to check up on this.
  • It needs to be charged: I take this to mean that they have been playing games every chance they get during the day. This is usually followed up with “I don’t have a charger/can’t find my charger/no one will lend me a charger” excuse. I haven’t kept a count, but this could be the number 1 excuse I hear.

Usually if a student does not have his/her iPad I let them turn the assignment in on paper (which now irritates me because of my attempt to go paperless), or if it is possible I send them to the computer lab. For repeat offenders I knock off points for late work or give them a zero; it just depends on the situation and the assignment.

What excuses do your students use? What is one that really stands out from the crowd?