Sunday, December 6, 2015

Three Tech Things You Need to Try Right Now

Incorporating technology into a classroom is an involved process if done well. Simply seeing a sweet app or site is not enough to create an upheaval of curriculum to place said tech in the limelight of learning.  It's always, always, always about the learning.  What standard am I teaching? Is this the BEST way to teach this?  Those are a few of the key questions that must be uttered and effectively answered before ever putting plans to paper.  That being said, there are three tech-infused ideas that have generated excitement, learning, and mastery of standards that you really must try....like today.
Students work to deduce the location of their Mystery Skype pals.
The first is Mystery Skype. It's like a magical game, using nothing more than yes/no questions, that tests geographical knowledge, mapping skills, directions, and good old fashioned deduction.  There is a spark in the air when kids are conversing with others and can see them, all the while trying to strategically guess the class's whereabouts.  All you need is a computer with a webcam and some sort of projection system so you don't end up with 25 kids huddled around a tiny computer screen. I've run Mystery Skypes that last anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  That's the beauty--the choice is yours (with the cooperation of the teacher with whom you are Skyping).  There are many ways to join this guild of awesomeness.  Formally, you can visit the Microsoft Skype site here.  Informally, Google it. Seriously. You'll get more tips, tricks, and contacts than you ever thought possible. I also recommend using Twitter as a shout out for participants.  Use the hashtag #MysterySkype to hone in further. I'd also love to assist you in matching up with classes.  As a K-12 tech integrationist, I have access to any grade level, and we are willing! (Twitter: @rlangenhorst)

Your second technological ultimatum is the use of QR codes.  While they look like mindless squares of the tv-after-midnight of yesteryears, they are brilliant ways to engage students.  Kids love the empowerment that comes with scanning a code and watching the beauty unfold.  Even if that beauty is a math problem that could have been delivered via worksheet, it now becomes exciting, enticing and something that drives students toward achievement.  There are many QR creation sites out there, but I find myself gravitating consistently to two heavy-hitters. The first, qrstuff, is a great place for making QRs that link to YouTube, websites, Instagram, Dropbox and so much more. We frequently use these in Rock Valley for linking to YouTube readings of stories for independent reading or Listen-to-Reading times as a part of our Daily 5. In the middle and high schools, QRs have become a valuable way to differentiate for our students who require tests be read aloud to them. By creating an oral version of the test via GarageBand or other audio recording method and uploading to Google Drive or Dropbox, one can link that file to a QR.  Voila...adapted tests without students having to leave the room! One of my favorite QR activities involves the second go-to site, this one from Classtools. This QR Treasure Hunt Generator allows users to very efficiently type in questions and answers to form a list of generated (and numbered) QR codes ready to use around your classroom or school. All you need is a few devices with free QR readers on them. At Rock Valley, we have found this to be a terrific way to build review lessons or just create school-wide fun! The site explains each step in layman's terms, and it does all of the hard work for you.  No excuses. Try it.

Students in 4th grade complete a QR code math review game with excitement.



The third thing you absolutely must try is Minecraft as an educational tool.  While a somewhat spendy app in terms of cost, simply putting the app on a handful of devices or allowing
Student devices were brought in to make it cost-effective
students to bring in their own devices or work on the project from home can still make this a very real possibility. One you need to jump on. Minecraft contains a plethora of built-in science, math, and architectural curricular possibilities for starters.  Couple that with some imagination, and you pretty much can tap into any subject area.  For example, our Talented and Gifted program used Minecraft to create historically accurate Jamestown colonies.  Our middle schoolers used Minecraft to create a Cell City, which had students creating various town buildings to represent structures of the cell. With nothing more than a rubric and content knowledge learned in class, students had the opportunity to take this activity anywhere they wanted. Students AirPlayed their work and took fellow students on a virtual tour of their city. Let me tell you, the results were truly outstanding and proved so much more mastery of standards than any test ever could.
Derek takes fellow classmates on a virtual tour of his Cell City.

As we near winter break, I encourage each and every one of you to take some of that time to dream up something new. Try one (or ALL) of these suggestions. You won't be disappointed. I'm always here to help.

Be better today than yesterday.

Rachel