Friday, October 27, 2017

Classcraft Rocks!

Check out my guest post for FreeTech4Teachers below, where I describe the wonders of Classcraft. If you're looking for a way to motivate your students and have some fun in the process, Classcraft has been a real game-changer! Read all about it!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Make Fall 2017 a Piece of Cake with These Must-Have Tech Tools!

Make Fall 2017 a Piece of Cake with these Must-Have Tech Tools

I'm not gonna lie...this summer has been a bear. Actually more like a self-inflicted bear attack. For many, summer is a time of rest and renewal. But, because I am an incessant glutton for punishment, I have both taken and taught online graduate courses, presented at local (Northwestern) and national (ISTE) conferences, and attended a Google Summit, all while fulfilling an extended school contract. I'm like that last oyster cracker in a bowl of tomato soup...fighting to stay afloat while soaking in my surroundings. My brain is full. Thankfully there are such things as Facebook file saving and social bookmarking tools. If I had to rely on this 44-year old brain to retain all of this without such reminders, it would be hopeless.

That said, I am so excited to begin another school year! At the end of May, most of us leave school looking like one of the evil Minions. By August, we are ready to start anew. It's one of the things I love most about teaching and instructional coaching... the ability to start with a clean slate. I have spent significant time thinking of the top tools I want to introduce to new staff upon returning this fall. Lucky for you, I am sharing with you first!

Now before I share, if you're new to my blog, let me reiterate my mantra. "It's not about the tool; it's about the learning!" If you go about technology integration with a focus on the tool or equipment, you're doing it wrong. You (and hopefully your entire district) must have a framework by which you operate. As I teach my graduate technology courses, it becomes brutally apparent just how many schools have not adopted a framework for technology integration. SAMR, TPACK, and Triple E are all valid frameworks that are backed by research. If you aren't aware....enlist the power of Google and come aboard.

Once you have an idea of what true tech integration is, you're ready to start adding to your shopping cart. Teaching is like being a chef. Like any great recipe, there are many ingredients that need to be combined just right to help you create that delectable treat. Technology is just one ingredient. Once you bake a cake, the individual ingredients are no longer visible. They are stirred, sifted, folded, and baked in order to complete the right reactions needed to transform. Tech integration is no different. When melded with the other components of your curriculum, no one thing should stand apart. It should be seamless. It's pretty easy to fall into the "Oohs" and "Ahhhhs" of a cool new tool or app. Run away from that trap. While it's ok to be excited about trying some new thing, show your students that you're excited for them to show what they know instead. Now, without further ado, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your school year.

First ingredient: a social bookmarking site. There are so many out there, but I always resort back to Draggo . It's easy to use, drag-and-drop interface and coordinating bookmarklet make it so easy to save sites. It even allows you to save to an inbox when you aren't quite sure what category you want it in. My memory sucks, plain and simple. I am inundated with so many resources on a daily basis that I have no prayer of keeping up without a simple tool such as this. You're welcome.

Second ingredient: a student work repository that can double as parent communication. There are a few I recommend here, primarily based on the age of your student and preferences. Class Dojo and Seesaw are my favorites for elementary. They are interactive, fun, and keep parents connected. Each has it's own set of special features that set it apart from another. Dojo's Mindset videos are pretty awesome and get rave reviews from the students I know who have viewed them. Both are free and come in web and app form. For older kids, I recommend Google Classroom. Parents can still be kept abreast of what's happening, with the added independence of operating through a student's school G-Suite account. Google Classroom can also be used in the elementary with ease, if even only for a simple way to get links, assignments, and information out to students!

Third ingredient: video embedding resource. I shy away from calling it Flipped Teaching resources because video embedding resources can be used for so much more. Need to adapt assignments for special needs students? Done. Need to create a bilingual resource for an EL learner? Done. My favorite tools for this are Edpuzzle and Wizer. There are a ton out there that do similar things, but I suggest finding one and really digging into all of the features before expanding your horizons. With Edpuzzle, videos are at your fingertips and creating questions to ask within it is a task that does not require an advanced technology degree like some resources out there. Wizer, claims to be a digital worksheet maker (I really hate that tag line), but it makes up the bad advertising with some really inventive ways to get students digitally interacting with material. Both of these tools have a robust user-made collection from which to borrow ideas.

Fourth ingredient: student interactive quizzing (self or simple correcting). Formative and summative assessments both have their time and place. These are tools I love for testing kids on progress and understanding. The first, Nearpod, can be both student and teacher-paced. Not only can you put videos, links, pictures, and text into Nearpod, but there are a host of pre-made Nearpods done by others that you can copy and tweak to fit your needs. I not about reinventing the wheel! The other one I want to bring to the forefront is Quizlet Live. Many of us have used Quizlet for years. However, within the last year or so, Quizlet Live was added to the mix (free!) and it adds an element of collaboration to the mix because students are grouped together in teams automatically, and the material that appears on each kid's computer is different. Meaning, the definition to a term will be on one computer and the actual term will be on someone else's in the group. Students must talk and share in order to make correct decisions. Quizlet Live also adds the element of competition on which students seem to thrive. 

Fifth ingredient: digital citizenship material. There is a plethora of resources out there designed to educate our youth on Internet safety and proper use, most of which have been vetted by reputable experts. However, there are two teacher-friendly avenues I head toward every time. We don't have time to figure out every little lesson and add that to already heaping full plates. The folks at Common Sense Education and ISTE have partnered with companies like Nearpod and Google to put together my two go-tos. Nearpod's digital citizenship curriculum is already leveled, categorized, and covers 8 elements of digital citizenship well. We have implemented this in grades 1-12 in our school with much success. Even in its first year, we had a glorious collaboration between librarian, school counselors, and our MS/HS computer teacher to ensure that the material was being delivered. While we have tweaking to do this upcoming year, I see it as an essential tool for schools and teachers who like to save time and use high-quality products at a very low cost (there is a free lite version for each level). The second go-to is new, and I'm in love. The free game, from ISTE and Google is called Interland. It combines game-based learning with digital citizenship, and it's, dare I say, FUN!?! I played it for awhile and quickly found myself immersed. Another win for Google with this encouragement to "be Internet awesome!". Check it out here

This is, in no way, a complete list of sites I recommend for the school year. There are so, so many resources I use on any given day. However, by following the recipe (and adjusting and substituting when the need arises), you will set up your classroom for successful technology integration and your students for success. Best wishes on a fantastic start to your 2017-2018 school year!

Better today than yesterday!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

GooseChase Scavenger Hunt App Review


Part of what I love about my job is my interaction with our student-based tech team known as the TEACH Team (Tech Experts and Computer Helpers). This group is a compilation of 25 of the most creative, technology savvy thinkers in our middle/high school student body. I have the privilege of leading this group through trainings, activities, and the daily grind of working our Help Desk. They are our testers, our drop-everything-and-go fixers, and our guinea pigs. The most recent guinea pig extravaganza involved the testing of a scavenger hunt app that I've researched and played with but had never had the chance to implement.

The app is called GooseChase. This is where formative assessment meets mobility and creativity! The premise of the app is to serve as a host for scavenger hunts of any kind, and it truly does deliver. Claiming to be a "scavenger hunt for the masses", GooseChase makes it very easy to add what it calls "missions", both of the pre-made and self-made variety. It could easily be used for the standard youth group or party game scavenger hunt. That use alone would make it a worthwhile download. However, it's the way that it can be used in education as an assessment tool that really gets me pumped!

I wanted a way to formatively test my students on their tech skills, ability to adapt to a challenge, and problem solving techniques. Hence, the birth of the RV TEACH Team Test of Wits and Wisdom scavenger hunt. By creating a free account online here, and downloading the coordinating app here or here, I was able to easily create a game that assessed the various skills I needed to, while offering a fun, movement-filled way in which to do it.

The game consisted of several of the pre-made missions and a large collection of my own missions that really put my kids to the test (pun intended). There were silly missions that had students challenging others to arm wrestling matches and capturing video of the event. There were missions that checked for tech prowess by using Google Advanced Search options to locate images with noncommercial reuse licenses. There were audio missions, social media missions, text missions, and physical missions. There were dance missions, interview missions, selfie missions, and photoshop missions. As you can see, GooseChase offers such freedom to create exactly what you want.

To get a hunt going, you must give it a start and stop time when setting it up. You can opt to password protect your game as well (definitely a suggestion when you're doing this for an assessment such as this). Students then go onto the app, which is available for any mobile device, and create a log in. They are then allowed to sign into the game. In the free version, you are allowed up to 5 teams. This worked perfectly for my small group.

The real beauty of GooseChase, though, is found in the real-time uploads and points tracker. When creating a GooseChase mission, you can assign points. There are some recommended point values or you can select a custom point value. Within the Mission List Stats on the right (see photo), you can see how many questions and to what value you have assigned them. As the game is progressing, I can stay at "home-base" and watch the activities/submissions roll in. I have the ability to decline any that don't fit the bill, so the speak. I may or may not have had to wipe tears generated by hysterical laughter from my cheeks more than once.

This really is an app you have to try! It is suitable for any age as long as they can read the missions. It makes learning and assessment engaging and enjoyable for everyone (including the teacher). And, frankly, once the end of May rolls around, we are all feeling it... that mental struggle.

Give this a shot! Go on a wild GooseChase with your students. Literally. I promise that it will not disappoint.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Classroom Full of Dipsticks

A Classroom Full of Dipsticks

No, it’s not what you think. In the education world, a dipstick is a playful moniker that refers to any formative assessment used to gauge learning as it’s being presented. Evaluating student progress is an essential part of instruction. While summative assessment is a useful and necessary tool to solidify that standards were met, waiting until the end to figure out that kids aren’t learning the material is disastrous. Think of it this way… By checking the dipstick, you know when your car is in need of oil. So, you add more to it. Fail to monitor your oil, and you risk destroying your engine. Hence, the dipstick reference. In  order to be successful, students need to be constantly checked, reinforced, and “have their oil topped off” if they are in need.
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So how do you find ways to efficiently monitor understanding without it taking away from valuable instruction time? That’s the $100,000 question. It’s all about balance. Instruction without intentional focus on the needs of students points to “covering” material instead of ensuring that student standards are being met. With a few high-, low-, and no-tech options, in just a few minutes, teachers can gather a plethora of information that should direct the path of the next lesson. Regardless of which ways you choose to track student progress, your classroom should be chock full of them. Below are a few of my favorites.

High-Tech: (Uses technology exclusively, some basic operator knowledge is needed)

  • Realtimeboard ( whiteboard creator. Students record themselves solving equations, etc… 
  • GoFormative ( get live results to questions and provide feedback through your device
  • TodaysMeet ( discussions about the topics. Students and teachers can use it to pose questions and get feedback during the lesson.
  • GoSoapbox ( Create quizzes, polls, discussion questions, and even social Q&A. Extremely self-explanatory. Real-time interactivity. Includes "confusion meter".

Low-Tech: (Uses some technology, good for all ages)
  • Kahoot ( multiple choice game
  • Socrative Space Race- team-based game 
  • Classtools Twister ( create a mock Tweet of what you learned
  • Google Form- a short quiz over the day’s material can help you measure understanding
  • PingPong (iOS App)- mult. choice, true/false, text, and image-based activities where students of any age can answer by entering a room code
  • Nearpod- sign on with a room code, real-time results, reports provided
  • Tagxedo- word collage of key concepts/ideas for the day’s lesson

  • Ticket Out the Door- use a post-it note to write what was learned or solve a problem and stick it to the door on the way out
  • Sketch-it- students draw or create a cartoon of the concept
  • Color Cards- Red- STOP (needs help), Yellow (I’m stuck/confused), Green (good to go)
  • Intrigue Journal- most resonant concepts of a lesson in an ongoing notebook (can be done online)
  • Question/Sentence stems- fill-in-the-blank sentences about key concepts
  • Five Words- sum up the day’s concept in 5 words 
  • Postcard- students write a “postcard” about what they’ve learned for the day. (Added real-world connection and increased quality would be to actually send one out daily.)
The list of formative assessment options out there is really only limited by your imagination and ability to Google. Keep the main focus on ensuring your assessment is used to gauge where kids are in their learning. Collect hard data on that progress, and use that data to make needed changes to your approach. Be forewarned, after 20+ years in the classroom, I'm telling you that sometimes that means scrapping the whole lesson in lieu of something that may work better. By making use of your "dipsticks", you are virtually guaranteed to see positive results in your students and keep those mental engines running smoothly.