I’m Back…with an Apology

My Bad

 

Well. I’m back. I took “a bit” of a break from blogging…if you can count almost 2 years as “a bit” of a break. Why did I stay away for so long?  Hmm…basically, I think I burned myself out in a rather short period of time. At the time I was becoming obsessed with trying to post more and more stuff in order to drive up traffic numbers.  So, I started following a lot of the advice out their from “professional” bloggers–schedules, post types, post lengths, best times to post, etc. etc.  The result? I sucked the fun right out of writing. I was turning this space into a job and I wasn’t really ready for that.

Why did I decide to come back now and try again? I guess that could be chalked up to guilt. I attended a tech conference for teachers today and in a couple of the sessions I attended one of the messages was how our students should blog and how we should blog. That hit a nerve with me because that was a thought or feeling I had in my mind ever since I abandoned my blog here. I had pushed that thought to the back of my mind as best I could, but it came roaring to the forefront today. So here I am.

How are things going to be different this time? Well, the main change I am going to do is to only write and post when I feel like I really have something to say. No more scrambling and scratching to try to come up with ideas for 3 or 4 posts a week. Maybe some day–but now for awhile. My goal as I write this is to shoot for 1 post a week. Having said that, I would like to write another post this week with my thoughts about the conference I attended today. We’ll see. I’m not going to stress about it.

If there are any followers out there who followed the blog before, I truly apologize for such an extended break. I will try to do better going forward.

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.

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.

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.

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.