This year we have embarked on an adventure that would make Captain Cook jealous. At Rock Valley, uncharted territory is our game. For a number of years, our students have had fantastic access to technology. We have never steered away from trying new things. We have the Smartboards and once used the associated "Clickers" (aka Responders). We have Apple TVs, iPads, Macbooks, Smart TV's, TouchScreen TV Displays, a 3D printer, Laser Engraver...you name it. With these adoptions, thankfully, came the addition of a technology integrationist (that's me!) who left the classroom to fulfill one of my biggest passions- ed tech that's rooted in best practices. If you've followed my blog long enough, you know that I'd die on the sword for my philosophy of only using technology where it is the BEST tool for the job. After all, it's not about the technology, it's about the learning!
We are starting our fifth year of 1:1 in grades 6-12. Over the last four years, I have watched the technology-skittish turn into 21st-century champions of their craft. I have seen things tried, failed, and tried a new way. I have watched our CET department start up a student-run "real-world" business run, in large part, by computers and digitized machines (more on that in an upcoming post). The pride I have in our teachers and students is extraordinary. I head to conferences and share about what we are doing only to see baffled faces ask "You're doing all of that in Iowa? In a school of 850 students?" Yup.
This year, we branched out even further. In looking at standards and knowing what our kids need to be successful in their futures, and in keeping with our district's motto to "Teach Today's Students for Tomorrow", it was decided that the best way to go about this was to get a device into each student's hand. When coupled with training in best practices and research-based ed tech sites and apps, this is powerful. It was time for our littlest people to see that the 3 R's need to get in touch with the 4 C's of technology integration: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
In keeping with our goal of providing the best tool for the job, teacher input was key. Our fourth and fifth-grade teachers opted for Macbook Airs to suit their curricular needs. Our first through third grades opted for iPads as their Tool de Choix. There are a plethora of excellent app choices to bolster the 4 C's and 3 R's. While our list of apps is far lengthier than this post should ever be, here are a few of the key players we wouldn't be without...
2. Class Dojo- This judo master of free ed tech classroom management had a big facelift this summer to include digital portfolios, in addition to its already fundamentally sound classroom management/behavior tracker. While I am NEVER a proponent of public displays of student behaviors, when done correctly, Dojo can provide students and parents with weekly summaries of both positive and negative behaviors. These notifications can and should be a springboard for communication with the student at home (They made great, positive conversations at our dinner table!). And the Digital Portfolio feature is fantastic. Much like that of SeeSaw (another favorite of mine), students scan their class code and take pictures or videos of their work for private viewing by family members who have set up their account and linked it to their child. Teachers have the option to share Class Stories to the entire group, as well.
3. MackinVIA- This free platform for digital reading has so many extras that make it perfect for readers of all age. With book purchases from our AEA (ESU's for some of you), we have a solid offering of thousands of titles, including audiobooks and alternate language titles. With us also using Accelerated Reader to level books, MackinVIA has the ability to sync with a school's AR login for student testing within the app. Couple that with built-in dictionaries and databases, note-keeping "backpacks", and a robust search engine, kids have all that they need to be supported with their reading and research.
4. Nearpod- This doozie is another favorite for a number of reasons. Besides having a library of ready-made and yet fully customizable lessons at your fingertips (many of them totally free), Nearpod offers a user-friendly platform for creating lessons that are engaging, interactive, and assessable. Not only can you upload those well-crafted Powerpoints of yesteryear for use within Nearpod, you can build in interactive activities within the slides to make it current and in keeping with the goals of 21st-century learning. Nearpod has also fairly recently provided excellent Digital Citizenship curriculum for students in grades K-12. Common Sense Education partnered with Nearpod to create 4 bands of age-appropriate content for teaching students about what it means to behave in this digital world. With paid school accounts, this material is completely free. The cost is not outrageous, though, if you opt to purchase them. They have had specials on and off all summer! We use this curriculum as the core of our Digital Citizenship teaching in the district.
5. Write About This- Our newly adopted writing app has so many incredible features, it was a no-brainer to add it to all of our iPads. To be completely forthright, we used to be avid ScribblePress users. However, this spring, they made a great update to this app. What's the bad news?? All those paid app codes of the previous version were rendered completely useless, and if I wanted to use it, they wanted me to re-purchase all of the licenses. Nope. I don't enjoy being played. Enter Write About This. This nifty app has offered a tremendous alternative with its options for picture prompts, audio-recording options(also great for those with dexterity issues!), and a professional appearance that is easy to share directly from the app. The personalization makes it a grow-with-me writing application that can be used throughout our students' school years.
6. Scan- QR codes have offered teachers a wide variety of easy sharing options, easing the deadly "type in this gigantic URL and don't make any mistakes" direction that used to strike fear in the heart of any educator. QRstuff.com is probably my favorite for creating such codes to link to sites, videos, etc... However, I have noticed in recent years that scanning apps have really taken a nose-dive. We all need to have funds to function, I get that, but many scanning apps have sold out to the highest advertising bidder. This often leaves sideline ads that are completely inappropriate for the school environment. Thus, Scan. This app, while paid, is worth its salt. It picks up codes incredibly swiftly, not requiring the massive amounts of hand-eye coordination that some do.
7. Google Classroom- Being a Google Apps school made this a no-brainer, but I got the sideways stare from early elementary teachers when I first recommended its use in their classroom. "But we don't have homework" and other sentences were quickly chewed and swallowed when we delved into this during our technology in-service day. Now our teachers have a quick way to poll their class, share videos or other websites, provide a Google Doc that auto-generates a student copy for each kid, and neatly stores all of those documents in folders in their Google Drive. Once again, it's a once-and-done sign in that saves the day (and SOOO much time) in the long run.
9. EPIC!- Another reading app, this excellent app provides additional digital titles, audiobooks, and alternate language reading for students. There are no longer student excuses for not finding a book that interests them. Between MackinVIA and EPIC!, there are tens of thousands of options and no need to leave the classroom or wait for a library book to be returned. Teacher accounts are free and students can be entered under your name. However, home use is paid (that's how they make their cash). It's still a definite must-have for schools.
Well, there you have it. I'll be focusing a lot of my efforts this year to giving you specific examples of what we are doing within our school walls. With every conference at which I present, I get more and more requests to share about what we do....so, I aim to please. Until next time...