WE USE OUR GOOGLE APPS ACCOUNTS TO SET GOALS, REFLECT, AND SELF-DIRECT OUR LEARNING

Though I have been using Google products in my language arts classroom since 2006, this is the first year that ALL of my students are starting the school year with their own Google Apps accounts. This means that we can get started using Google right away to complete the all-important tasks of setting goals, reflecting, and self-directing student learning.

First of all, the students will become familiar with Google apps – and just how intuitive and easy-to-use they are – as they utilize Google Drive for all of their compositions.  To get the ball rolling and to set the example for them, I’ve created – or updated – all of my handouts through Google Drive this year, and I’m sharing them electronically with my students as links on my classroom blog.  By accessing my materials through Google Drive, students will see the layout and get a good idea for what they can do within Google Docs.

Also, we are using Google Sites to create student-managed, electronic, customizable, free portfolios.  These portfolios will house examples of their work from each of our units of study, the goals they set for themselves, their reflections as they make progress toward achieving those goals, data from all sources of assessment from throughout the year, and other artifacts that pertain to this work.  We already have the first few features set up, and as we get further into our curriculum, we will set up and add to the rest of it.

After each unit of study, the students will also use their portfolios as they practice their presentation skills.  Students will present their work – as well as how it connects to their future work and the world in which they live – at the end of each unit.

We will also be utilizing Google Reader as we delve further into our independent reading, so that students can customize and individualize the reading material available to each of them.  Students will self-select the blogs which they would like to follow and read on a regular basis.

There are tons of other ways we are already utilizing our Google accounts this year (Groups, BrainPop, Images, Forms, etc.), but Drive, Sites, and Reader are the ones I plan to focus on most here on the blog.

I am so happy to say that the first few days of school have been a great success, the portfolios already look fabulous in their initial stages, the students are enthusiastic, and I am excited to see just what they will be able to create with these amazing Google tools this year.

What did YOU do in school today?  

WE ARE GETTING READY

With just a few days until my new students start school, I wanted to put together a video tutorial for them (and their parents) so I could free up our valuable class time that I would otherwise have to use by showing the students how to find information on the blog, where to find resources, or how to leave comments.

Since the students will learn how to use the blog at very different rates (based on their own comfort level with technology and their interest in actually utilizing the blog), a video tutorial is the perfect way for me to get this information out to them.  Students (and their parents) can watch, pause, or replay the video at their own convenience at home and as often as needed.

To make the video (on my very OLD MacBook in need of new updates) I used a FREE online service called Screencast-O-Matic.  It did not require any downloads or login, and it worked nicely with my very old operating system.  I was able to record the video and upload it to YouTube absolutely free. (There is a paid version which – I’m sure – will work a lot faster than the free one. But free is free.)

Here is the video tutorial that I made for the blog:

There are a few more free screencasting options that I want to try, but I would definitely use Screencast-O-Matic again.

What did YOU do in school today?

TEACHERS LEARN FROM STUDENTS

With more and more technology finding its way into schools all the time, there is a lot for teachers to learn. It can be intimidating to pick up a new device or try out an unfamiliar program. We are lucky, though, because some of the best technology instructors come into our classrooms each day; they are our students.

Recently, one of my 7th grade students showed me how to save a shortcut for a web page to the home screen of an Apple product. Only having my iPad2 for a few months, this was exciting news to me.

I created a short audio recording, with screen shots from the iPad, to explain how this feature works.

Even if you are already familiar with the “add to home screen feature” (as many of my colleagues were when I shared this news with them), check out this short video anyway. I created it with a free iPad app called Educreations.

The Educreations app allows you to create a tutorial with multiple pages, add photos, add audio, and draw with a variety of pen colors. I found it pretty easy to use. (Of course, as with any audio tutorial program you use, rehearsal will make it even easier to create valuable resources for your students.)

Add to Home Screen Feature for Apple Products

What did YOU do in school today?

(*Note, the Educreations app offers an embed code to use with blogs, but when I use the code here, it just gives me a link, not an embedded video.  I’m not quite sure at the moment if I’m having a WordPress issue or an Educreations issue…)

WE “ARMOR” OUR ELECTRONIC DEVICES

Damaged student iPod Touch.

NOT INDESTRUCTIBLE
The concern many parents have about sending their children to school with expensive, hand-held electronic devices is pretty much the same concern we teachers have about bringing our own devices to school.

We know that — especially at school — things “just happen.”  Stacks of books get knocked out of arms when we’re bumped into in the crowded hallways, supplies accidentally fall off of desks during classroom activities, students absent-mindedly leave their latest fashion trends in locker rooms and the items mysteriously go missing, glasses get stepped on during recess, etc.

It would be unrealistic of us to think that our electronic devices will be any less susceptible to these types of mishaps than the rest of our property.  Even so, that is absolutely no reason to keep the devices at home, bubble-wrapped in the box they came in!

Survivor by Griffin: in pink and black

THE SURVIVOR
A colleague of mine, who had the unfortunate experience of dropping her iPad2 and shattering the glass, researched options for protecting her replacement and came up with the Survivor case by Griffin.

This case claims to be military tested, promises to absorb vibrations (and even shock from being dropped), and helps to reduce potential damage form the elements such as water, wind, and dust.  One look at this protective case, and you know it means business!

Trusting my colleague’s experienced judgement and after trying out her case while in school, I decided to purchase one for my own iPad2.  I replaced the “pretty”, light green cover that I had been using with the Survivor case, and I’ve found that it makes a world of difference in how I use my device.  A stronger, sturdier case on my iPad2 has freed up some of my worry and hesitation about using the device in school.  I feel like I am using it to its fullest potential now.

Griffin is not the only company making these sturdy cases, and the iPad2 is not the only device for which they are available.  Searches on sites like Amazon may produce sales and special deals (which is where I found mine).   This link to a post by the blog, OT’s With Apps, lists a few of the other iPad options.

Bringing or sending an electronic device to school in full “armor” will put everyone a little more at ease and make it possible for parents, students, and teacher to focus on the full capacity of what the devices can actually help us learn and do.

What did YOU do in school today?

NOT EVERYTHING WE DO IS HIGH-TECH

It is easy to be impressed (and for many, understandably intimidated) with today’s quickly advancing technology.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of apps out there and to get caught up with finding the newest and latest ones all the time.  And especially now, with Apple’s launch of new tools that will allow educators to make our own, interactive e-books, it is easy to find an app that can pretty much improve upon, enhance, or replace nearly everything we do – even in the classroom.

There are apps that simulate a white board and marker or a paper notebook and pen, so do we still need to use the real thing?  There are apps that simulate magnetic poetry, board games, and puzzles, so do we still need the real thing?  There are apps that  simulate science experiments and dissections, the sound of the ocean, the call of birds in their natural habitats, and pretty much anything else you can think of, so do we still need the real thing?

Yes, of course we do.

My answer is actually a resounding YES!

Especially in education, we need to keep low-tech options available, updated, and as current as the latest apps.  The apps we use today were not born and raised in an entirely virtual, digital world.  The technology we are using was born out of a tangible, and tactile world.  Much of it exists because its “real-world” counterparts exist.  Tomorrow’s technology may be even more advanced and even more realistic and thought-provoking, but as educators we need to ask ourselves, as we immerse ourselves entirely into a high-tech world, “Will it really?”

The famous quote by Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress” comes to mind whenever I ponder this question.  The answer I come up with, is that the thought-provoking struggle and conflict that arise when using low-tech supplies, dimensional and malleable materials, substances that we can smell and taste and get our hands dirty with, will generate new, original thinking in our tech-friendly students.

As we explore the newest advances of technology, the smell of a brand-new composition notebook, the quick click of the buttons on a calculator, the gurgle of liquids as they are poured into beakers, or the sensation that a newly sharpened pencil sends up the arm when it furiously flies across a sheet of paper, can not be left – entirely – behind.

Combining high-tech with low-tech resources will undoubtably enhance our students’ learning opportunities.  I believe that the combination will result in tiered, differentiated, multi-sensory, and self-selected learning experiences that will take our students to even higher understandings and more creative thought.  If they are constantly exposed to what the technology does not do, but what its “real-world” counterpart does, and vice versa, the possibilities will be – virtually – endless.

Our world has a place for all of the above, and so do our classrooms.  Our role as educators is now to figure out where and when – and in what combination – each tool and resource is best utilized.

What did YOU do in school today?

WE USE ABC NOTES

READING RESPONSE WORK
No matter what grade level we teach, we ask our students to respond to what they read.

Gone, are the days of the “book report” and instead, we now expect our students to think deeply and respond to literature.

Ultimately, we are teaching literary writing skills that students will use for the rest of their lives, and whether they are going to write an essay, a review, or criticism, they need to become comfortable with taking notes and recording their ideas while they read.

Asking students to “jot” the ideas they have while reading – on something like a sticky note – often incites a chorus of moans and groans.  Many of them absolutely hate doing it.  I even had a student recently and dramatically tell me, “Post-Its are the death of me.”  However, the bottom line is that we need “evidence” of the students’ thinking while reading, and those sticky notes are just so darn easy to organize and move around in notebooks, charts, organizers, and so on.  Many educators keep going back to using them simply because they aren’t sure how else to go about it.

The monotonous act of peeling off a new sticky note from the stack, writing the idea on it, and adhering it to the book sometimes makes reading that much harder for readers who already struggle  – or it becomes the “straw the breaks the camel’s back” for reluctant and unwilling readers.  The last thing we want to do, as educators, is turn kids off of reading.

HOW TECHNOLOGY CHANGES THINGS
Today’s technology provides new options for these students, and for us.  The available technology makes it possible for students to show evidence of their thinking in different ways, and they never have to touch a piece of paper if they don’t want to.

One remedy that has presented itself for students who use readers like Nooks, Kindles, or the iPad, is the way that they can actually create and organize notes right there, inside the electronic book.  This is a great option for them, but not all students have such readers.  (This option is a future blog post in and of itself!)  For the students who are still reading “old-fashioned”, paper books, there is another way to integrate technology and accomplish the goal of proving thinking while reading.

The ABC Notes app for Apple products is a current favorite app among my students.  They love it because the notes look just like sticky notes that we use in class and can be customized for color and size.  Students find the app easy to navigate; creating new notes, organizing the notes, and deleting them is very easy to do and does not require much time to learn. The students can color code the notes, add small images, or change the font style or color if they choose.   They can tilt or rotate the notes on the screen if necessary, and the notes expand to accommodate the amount of text typed on them.  The notes can then be exported easily, either one by one or all at once, through email.

The free version of this app allows for one “desktop” at a time, and the paid version allows for multiple “desktops.”  Most of my students use the free version and simply export their work and then clear the app before beginning a new set of notes.  I do like the idea of keeping multiple sets of notes, however, for middle school students, fewer notes to organize inside the app may actually be a good thing.  Clearing the app whenever they begin a new set of notes gives them a fresh start each time.

Once the notes have been exported through email, students can continue editing them, or they can save, print, or store them to be used later.  Because the notes are already in typed format, students can also copy and paste the ideas electronically when elaborating on their ideas further, as with formal essay writing.

I chose this app to share because I’ve noticed struggling and reluctant readers start to read much more and produce better evidence of their thinking while reading when using this app.  They enjoy it, and there are absolutely no moans or groans when my students are asked to record their thoughts while reading – if they get to use this app.

WHAT THE APP MAKERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT IT
BEAUTIFUL APPEARANCE:
• 88 backgrounds to choose from
• 45 note skins
• 27 badge designs & 115 icons

EXTREMELY FUNCTIONAL:
• 15 virtual desktops
• Scale, rotate and drag notes
• Easy to edit, duplicate, move between desktops
• Supports any iPad orientation

SHARE YOUR NOTES:
• Email notes and desktops
• Copy note image to any application
• Synchronize notes between iOS devices
• Save notes as image and place to lock or home screen

What did YOU do in school today?