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.

Link of the Week: TodaysMeet

My Ipad

My Ipad

Online Discussion in the Classroom

For this week’s link of the week I thought I would suggest a site that my colleague over at AWritableLife introduced me to over the summer: TodaysMeet. After having used this a few times this year with different classes and grade levels, I can honestly say that this is a great resource for the classroom.

TodaysMeet allows the teacher to create a room for online discussions. It honestly only takes a few seconds to set up a room and get the ball rolling. When you create the room, the site gives you an address as todaysmeet.com/your_room_name that you share with your students. Once the students go to that address, they just sign in with a name and can begin contributing to the discussion. No one has to sign up for any sort of account or even give an email address. You just think of a name you want to use for the room, tell the site how long the room needs to be up, and that is that. Plus, the site will work on Ipads. If you are lucky enough to be part of a 1-1 program this is a great benefit.

If you happen to teach at a school where Twitter is blocked, like mine, then TodaysMeet is a great alternative. The comments are limited to the same number of characters as Twitter, so students get the Twitter experience with having to choose their words carefully. When I have used this in my classes, we have even used hashtags to make things easier to follow. So, if you have ever wanted to host a tweetup for a class, this is an easy way to do that if you are blocked.

My 2 Favorite Aspects

The aspect I like the most about using TodaysMeet is that I have been able to get input from students who I never hear from during a traditional class discussion. I have noticed students who I would have thought were clueless about what we were reading had some really great insights to offer. That is a priceless thing and has reminded me to not judge students so hastily. Along with this, I have gotten more discussion about texts compared to times when we discussed things outloud.

The second aspect of TodaysMeet that I really like is that once we have finished the discussion I can save the entire transcript of the meeting. I usually save it as a PDF file and email it to all the students when we are preparing for discussion or essays questions at test time. When my senior, college credit class was discussing The Crucible the transcript for that session was 40 pages long. That is a pretty hefty study resource.

I really recommend you check out the site. I know I plan on using it even more next year and will devote time this summer trying to dream up some different ways to use it.

How have you used online discussion in your classroom? If you have tried TodaysMeet, what are your thoughts about it?

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.

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?

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.

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.

Link of the Week: Hatrack River

A Stack of Books

Some book on one of my classroom bookshelves

Another Favorite Author

Recently I decided to begin a weekly feature wherein I wrote a short post about blog or website that I particularly enjoy or find useful. This week’s post is the second in that series.

I chose the website of another favorite author, Orson Scott Card, as this week’s link. I decided to focus on Card’s website because of a recent incident involving  a who read from Card’s most famous book Ender’s Game being put on leave because a parent said it was pornographic. So, in response to what I consider the most ridiculous piece of news in awhile, this week’s link is for:

Hatrack River The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card.

I became an instant fan of Card the first time I read Ender’s Game. I went on to red the sequels and the companion Shadow series; all of which served to solidify my status as a Card fan. For several years I have had my students read Ender’s Game and it may be the book they have enjoyed the most. It is a rarity for any of the students I have taught to say they did not enjoy the book. Many of them go on to read the other Ender books on their own. I can’t think of any other book I have ever used that fosters such interest or engagement.

Your's Truly with Orson Scott Card

Your's Truly with Orson Scott Card

I first ran across Card’s website when I began using the novel in class, and I also became an instant fan of it. While the bulk of the site is devoted to Card’s books, there is a section devoted to recent articles he has written as well as another section of research materials for students and teachers. The research section is what makes this site really stand out for me and I always recommend it to students who sometimes decide to write about Card or Ender’s Game for an assignment.

So, from a teacher’s standpoint it was an easy decision to make Hatrack River this week’s link. You should check it out sometime–it is worthy of a visit–or several.

Have you used any of Card’s book’s in your classroom? Which of Card’s books have you read? What is your favorite?

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.

Tuesday: 5 Favorite Blog Posts

My clean iPad screen

My clean iPad screen

For today’s post I thought I would do a quick roundup of some blog posts that caught my attention at various times throughout the day.

Anyway, these are just a few posts from other blogs I found interesting and thought I would share. Enjoy.