Monday, October 31, 2011

Moving Beyond Our Desk AND The Classroom

Integrating the iPad into our classrooms here at Zeeland East High School has not only challenged me and my colleagues to rethink just about everything, but it has also prompted our students to move beyond the old way of doing things.

Rather than standing tethered to our desktop computers to take attendance or to click through a presentation, the iPad has allowed us to move about the room while accomplishing the same tasks. With the Splashtop Whiteboard app on our iPad, and the Splashtop Streamer installed on our desktop system, we can actually take attendance while out amidst our students. Likewise, old PowerPoint presentations can now be run using this application without needing to click keys or wrangle a mouse on our desk. Even better, this same app allows for annotating, drawing, and highlighting right over the content we’re projecting onto the screen in the front of our classroom. The result? More engaging presentations AND the freedom to roam about the room – an essential freedom, especially when working with a group in need of extra classroom management. And it’s this same freedom to work remotely that I was surprised to discover some of my students engaging in just recently.

Nearing the end of our culminating project in one of my 10th Grade English classes, some groups were still scrambling to get their work off of the ground, others were putting the finishing touches on their collaborative efforts, and a few were stymied by some of their teammates being absent. However, there was one particular group that surprised me with their creative solution they found for the absence of one member on their team: the Skype app. I had just finished meeting with one of the teams to check their progress, so I proceeded to check my email, only to find that the absent student had emailed me to see what he was missing in class today. Before I replied to his request, I walked around the doorway to check on his group, only to find their team leader sitting with her iPad propped up next to her with that same student’s face filling her screen. As I approached her, the absent student shouted, “Hey, Mr. Jacob! Did you get my email?” I was stunned. When I asked his teammates what they were doing, they told me that they were Skyping him so they could continue working on their project without having to wait for him to return with the information they needed. What an awesome moment that was! There that student was, sitting up in his sickbed, collaborating with his team so they wouldn’t fall behind on their work. It was quite a moment for me.

No excuses for not having their work ready on time. No excuses that they didn’t know how to reach their teammate. These sophomores did some critical thinking, planned ahead, and made things happen in a way that we couldn’t have imagined happening prior to the arrival of the iPads. This was truly a moment of discovering that, through a little bit of technology, and a little bit of creative problem solving, students can empower themselves to be better collaborative learners. And we as teachers can see how leaving our desk behind is almost as good as students discovering how to leave the classroom behind to reach out to their peers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Social Studies on the SmartBoard

Using the SmartBoard in interesting/new ways has been a bit of a challenge for me this year. I am good at using the projector (daily) to display student responses/writing, worksheets for modeling skills, and read aloud books, but am working to integrate the SmartBoard software/programs into daily math, science, and social studies. I have been recently working on a Zeeland history unit in social studies and tried the following lesson on 'determining the past or long ago'...
2nd Grade Social Studies - History: We read the book, The Ox Cart Man, together using the projector the first day. The second day, we took a closer look at some of the pictures and words. We thought, like historians, about the information that we could gather from the pictures and words about the past. We talked about comparing the pictures and words with how things are today. Using ImageMate, students were able to come up to the SmartBoard and circle things in the pictures or words on the page that were clues into the past. On the third day, students completed a morning message (SmartBoard Notebook file) with a different illustration (using ImageMate) from the book. They were asked to circle and write about the evidence they found that proved this book took place in the past, just like a historian would do.
My students were more engaged in this book this year because they could come up to the front and "show" other kids their thinking. They could "teach" the others about the evidence they found about the past and what it told them.
I think this is another small step in the direction I am trying to go with my 'daily technology integration'. This did not take along time to plan because I was already doing this lesson in the past, but it did take some rethinking on my part. It was well worth the time and it was more memorable for my students understandings about 'the past'.
(Thanks to K H-A for helping me with this post.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Technology Ride

It's truly amazing what is produced when teachers and students get excited. I would like to share a story from Creekside. Mr. Ashby recently made a big change. He moved from 1st grade to 6th grade and he has "taken the bull by the horns". He quickly jumped onto the roller coaster ride we call Technology Twists and Turns here at ZPS. He hopped on the roller coaster right away. His first twist of the year was having his 6th grade social studies students do a scavenger hunt on Google maps. You can view the assignment here. He was quick to share how excited the students were, especially when they found their own house! (It sure is fun seeing teachers excited!)

Scavenger Hunt

His next turn on the coaster took him to recording commercials. Mr. Ashby has provided us with a short description of the assignment. Assignment: Create a commercial to advertise for a destination either to visit or to move to. It has to include research for population, weather and local attractions, but that information has to be used in the advertising (this is not a report about that place). The students created a power point presentation, then saved the slides as .jpg files. They wrote a script and recorded it using Audacity. The voice files and pictures were imported into moviemaker and saved; they had to line up the pictures with their script. We did not have time to put music in, but we'll do music for the next project!

Student Project

Hats off to Mr. Ashby and his 6th graders at Creekside. Keep on riding through the twists and turns of technology!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Student Conceptions Driving Instruction

One of the many great ways to transform our learning environment through iPad integration is in the way of gathering real time student artifacts and using it to direct face to face classroom discussions. Real time response systems, clickers, or classroom response systems have been around for awhile now and used to be tied to a remote control type device.

Since then this instantaneous response system has evolved to web-based response systems and iPad compatible apps. Using these sites and apps gives every student a voice in responding to questions and provides teachers real time feedback based directly on student understanding. Imagine how this can transform our face to face time with students?

Consider a few uses: students complete a lecture or video then navigate to a Google form and answer five questions based off the content. The teacher can pull up the spreadsheet of responses and see immediately what conceptions students are forming and can scaffold instruction accordingly.

Or perhaps students are directed to the teachers Poll Everywhere site at the beginning of class for a 5 question warm up based off of the previous day's content. In real time responses are aggregate on the screen giving the teacher data and understanding of what their students are understanding, from here teachers can regroup their class to spend more time with those who need it and allow those who don't need reinforcing the opportunity to work ahead independently.

There are many great ways to collect student artifacts and use them to drive your instructional time Survey Monkey, Question Press, Poll Daddy, and thatquiz are all web-site based tools that offer some sort of free or educational plan. As well there are iPad/iPod apps that provide similar experiences and student data. Try using one of the above sites or find a great app and see what it tells you about your students understanding. Or, even better, show the class results to your students (in a safe way) to allow them to see what they are and are not understanding. Let their conceptions drive your instruction and their learning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Starting Today to Change Tomorrow

At the end of each day this first month of school, I found myself thinking how will I help these kids become readers and writers by June? How will they learn to ask questions and find answers to their questions as researchers? How will they learn how to add and subtract this year? These are the questions that I tend to have at the beginning of every school year, but this year I found myself also asking how can I use technology to get them there?

First I panicked! Then I decided to start small. After reading a poem about clams, we used google images to look at pictures of clams. Using the smart board and google, I showed them how to type in clam and click images. Ta-dah! They were amazed! Now every time we read or discuss something unfamiliar they want to research it on google images. It got even more exciting the day we read about a panda at a panda reserve in China. I showed them how to use YouTube to watch videos of the pandas at the reserve. They couldn't believe it! Google images and YouTube have helped us to take trips to places we read about or to look up pictures of things we read about. It has been a tool that allows students learning English to see pictures of items we're talking about. The kids can see how I type in a search in google and click images even if they can't do it independently yet. And without even planning a lesson on research, they have learned how to ask questions and find answers to their questions.

What have I learned this year about teaching first grade students how to use technology? Exposure is the best place to start.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Technology Changing the Way We Learn

Throughout the last couple of years I have been trying to stretch myself as an educator. I recognize that the only way we will continue to meet the needs of our students is to continue to grow as a learners ourselves. One area that I have dedicated to learning more about is using technology to enhance learning. To say the least, this was out of my comfort zone. I decided to jump in with both feet and be ready to face each mistake I made head on.

I quickly realized that there are many fifth graders who knew more than I did when it came to programs that were available. At first this was discouraging, then exciting. We were able to collaborate on a different level where the teacher became the student. Talking about empowering the student! They ate it up and we both learned a lot. I have figured out that it doesn't matter where we are as a learner, as long we are open to new learning experiences. This lesson proved very important to me as Zeeland moves forward with our 1:1 initiative.

At the elementary level we have not received our Ipad's yet. I actually feel this is a blessing. As I have been working with staff in my building, I have been amazed at the technology they are integrating in their classrooms on a daily basis. I can see each teacher inching into their personal "stretching zone". Great things are happening and amazing things are yet to come. I like that we are waiting for the Ipad because teachers are truly changing how they teach, looking at technology as a whole, not just depending on the Ipad. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely excited for our school to get such an amazing device. I just love to see our building changing how we teach on a greater level than just a device.

As we all know, there are thousands of companies working to out do Apple and replace the Ipad. Devices will come and go. By changing how we think, not just what we use, we better prepare ourselves and our students for the future.