I began EDT 601 with the hopes of gaining practical and applicable knowledge about using tools that would help me deliver engaging and appealing lessons. I think this class has accomplished that, because I know that I have been able to reassess the way that I use technology already, learn new ways to deliver lessons, and link the technology with things that I do in my classroom. I am very grateful for the things that I have learned both from Steve and from my classmates, from the practical tips and tools (⌘h!) to the awesome ideas that I can apply in my own classroom. It has been an awesome course!
It’s always a great feeling when you find the perfect tech tool that not only fulfills a need, but does so in such a way that makes your life easier. However, there are times when you find that tool, but it doesn’t work as well as you wish, or worse yet, it stops being updated and falls off the face of the world wide web. I’ve had this experience twice, and it has become a source of irritation and frustration.
Sometime last year, I took a course with Susan Baum that focused on Creative Learning. One of the assignments we needed to fulfil was to create a digital space that could serve as an interest center about a unit of study that had multi-entry points for our students. The most recommended tool that we use at that time was Glogster. If you were to survey those who took the class with me, most of us were cursing the slowness of the website and the clunkiness of the interface. What could have taken only one or two hours to produce took half a day, even with the dedicated bandwidth. The spinning pinwheels of death danced before our eyes ceaselessly before many of us finally relented and said, “This is good enough.”
Almost a year later, however, I have used this Glog more than a few times, and it has proved useful enough that I am toying with the idea of making Glogs for all the works that I teach, or even asking the students to create them. My only wish was that the endeavour wouldn’t be so painful to produce. That is the only thing that hinders me from assigning it. Glogster would have been the perfect tech tool to use, if it hadn’t been conceptualised, created, then left alone to waste away in the space of the world wide web.
Another tool that seems to have run its course is iProcrastinate, in fact its homepage opens with a note saying that its developer has stopped working on it in favour of other projects.
In my years of teaching high school students, iProcrastinate has been the most consistently, and successfully, used time-management app that they have used. And if it helps IB students map out their lives, you know it must be good. I was extremely excited to share it with my current Grade 11 students as they begin the Extended Essay and was equally disappointed that it wasn’t something that they could benefit from anymore.
If there’s one thing I realised from this class, it’s that tech, like learning, like life, is fluid and we, as consumers and creators of all this technology, must be fluid as well. Heaven forbid we as teachers become like the prehistoric Glogster or the outdated iProcrastinate while our students and the rest of the world zoom ahead.
Today was an experiment in marrying class with real life. Today we held an IB Fair for the Grade 10 students and their parents. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to flex some of my new tech muscle and create a pecha kucha presentation for the Group 1 offerings for next school year. I was ready to pair what I had taken away from the Zen Aesthetic with the Pecha Kucha presentation style and knock everyone’s socks off. This wasn’t the best idea that I have had, but it did make for an interesting learning experience.
I will admit that I should have spent more time practicing, but in the practical world with assessments to grade, lessons to plan, and paperwork to fill out, practicing fell off of my list of things to do and out of my brain. When the time came for me to present, I did my best, cutting out a lot of information to ensure that I would not be left behind by my slides. I felt comfortable doing this because I knew that I would be able to answer questions afterward and I could always put the information in my school blog as well.
This is what I presented: IB Fair Group 1
Things went well during the presentation with parents, though I did have to field some questions after the presentation. I could see that the parents were listening more to what I had to say rather than reading it off of the screen behind me. Students told me that their parents thought I had spoken well and that they were intrigued but appreciative of the fact that I spoke succinctly. So, all in all, I think it was successful and I didn’t embarrass myself as much as I could have. And I can be completely honest when I say that I look forward to being able to do another pecha kucha, and getting my students to do them as well.
As my grade 11 students begin their Extended Essay, I thought it would be an appropriate time to do some research of my own and make a list of tech tools that might be able to help them. Here is what I came up with:
Research and Gathering Data
While the instinct is to turn to Google with every query, there are other scholarly databases that academic institutions can subscribe to for access to resources. EBSCOhost is one of those, providing students and teachers with journals, articles, and other primary sources. The only caveat would be that if you don’t have a subscription, it won’t be much help.
This tool doesn’t need much discussion. The ability to create and disseminate survey forms then receive and collate the data that comes in is unparalleled by any other tech tool.
Evernote is extremely useful. But instead of trying to explain it myself, I found this review from PCMag.com that sums up why I love this tech tool.
This app from Ginger Labs combines writing, typing, and voice to make note taking fun and accessible for many. The only hinderance might be that it looks like it would work best with a stylus.
Wunderlist is an amazing list-making app that is downloadable onto your desktop so that you can keep track of all your to-do’s no matter what gadget you are using. The thing that keeps it on top of the plethora of other similar apps is that you can share lists with others, which makes my job as EE advisor and coordinator just that bit easier.
For those days when you know you will need to juggle more than one task, 30/30 by Binary Hammer can come to the rescue. This task manager allows you to set a working cycle of anywhere to one minute to one hour. The only thing you need to do is work without distractions until the timer tells you to stop. From their website:
“The original concept has been around awhile, but the basic idea is very simple:
• You work for 30 minutes, focused only on a single task. WITH NO DISTRACTIONS!
• When the time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for 30 minutes.
And then you repeat the cycle: work/break, work/break – 30/30, 30/30.
The tasks you do are completely up to you. The activities you do during breaks are also completely up to you.
That’s it! Extremely simple. Extremely effective!” (http://3030.binaryhammer.com)
So there they are, my top choices of tech tools that can help move research along, especially when working on something as extensive as the EE.
One of the challenges of being bombarded by tech these past few days is picking and choosing the tech tools that will be useful in my classroom. The ones that I’ve really been drawn to (Google Classroom, Google Slides, Google Docs – notice a trend?) are easy to implement in any classroom and work towards expanding my reach in terms of not being limited to 50 minutes blocks of time that students have with me in my room. Now I can share slides (like this one I shared in my previous post), have students collaborate on one document and still be accountable for their contributions, give comments straight onto work, and share documents with a few clicks and a bit of dragging.
Google Docs is easily a favourite of mine. As seen in my screencast, I use it for everything from taking notes to sharing instruction sheets to assessments. I tried something new this semester, by having groups collaboratively take notes on one Google Doc. I asked them to colour-code their answers and to make sure I had access to their documents. Here is an example of student work.
Google Classroom is a new concept to me. I had no idea it even existed! At my new school, we were encouraged to use Edmodo, but I never really took to it and never really pursued it, since when I asked the students how they liked it they replied that they didn’t. Google Classroom is easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to set up. I had a classroom going in under 5 minutes.
The “Create question” feature is something I know I will use a lot if my students respond well to this platform. It allows me to throw questions out, gives them time to think about their responses, draft them, and post them without me feeling like I need to move things along like I do in our traditional classroom.
I also love that due dates are clearly stated. Handling five different classes with five different preps, I sometimes confuse due dates even when I write them down. This is handy because it gives me one less thing to have to remember.
As I was setting up the Google Classroom, the idea that the walls of my classroom are no longer the boundaries of learning struck me. No longer do my students have to rely solely on those 50 minutes of class time for learning, nor should they in this day and age of technology.
I like to presume that all teachers everywhere will sometimes, hopefully not often, have “one of those days”. Maybe a lesson didn’t go as planned, maybe kids bombed an assessment, maybe all they got was blank stares when they asked a question. Today was one of those days for me. For me, it was a packet on Macbeth with my Grade 10s and their responses that left much to be desired.
Then this video happened.
While the point of the video was for us to reflect on how we teach our students, I thought it more appropriate with what had happened earlier in the day to think about how my students were trying to teach me something. It was their version of being enraged. Something about that packet had turned them off.
Granted, teaching Shakespeare has never been as simple as Ten Simple Steps, and it never will be. There have been countless discussions about whether or not he should even be part of curriculum. But therein lies the beauty when a kid who never thought they’d come to love The Bard begins to “get it”, or when the quiet kid finds his voice when reading lines aloud.
But, going back to the packet and the problems I faced, I knew that this was not the way to be going about instilling a love and passion for Shakespearean drama. But it didn’t begin like that. In fact, when we were building up to Macbeth and I asked my students to present creative work, they went above and beyond what I was hoping for.
Now the challenge of how to check for learning and understanding remains. I feel like I have a few options, thanks to the EDT 601 course.
1. Let the students have a voice.
I could ask the students exactly what disengaged them about the packet. For all I know, it was the deadline that I had set or the amount of pages to fill out. But I’m resolved to have this conversation with them and give them a voice.
2. Employ a tech tool for quick checks.
3. Encourage them to get creative.
Maybe they could create a Wiki page for younger kids to use about the play. Or maybe they want to turn a monologue or soliloquy into a rap.
At the end of the day, instead of feeling down and out, I feel excited and energized to see my Grade 10s tomorrow. (Hopefully they feel the same way!)
UPDATE: After having an open, no-holds-barred talk with my Grade 10s, they were able to express that a good number of them had difficulty with one particular portion of the packet. It was refreshing to hear them speak about the importance of the packet and how it helped them further understand Macbeth. They, as a class, decided to continue with the packet as a graded formative and I can’t be happier that we stopped and took the time to talk about it together.
This quote hit me in the gut. Hard. While reading up on the Zen aesthetic, I had to stop and reflect on the way that I use presentations in my own class. More often than not, my students are bombarded with this:
At least Bill Gates had some visuals.
While we were sharing our quotes through the Making Thinking Visible routine that closely resembled Circle of Viewpoints (each teacher representing their own viewpoint), all the quotes that were chosen drove home the point that what I had been providing my students in terms of presentations was not using the tech as well as I should be. Especially since I have seen evidence of my subpar modelling rubbing off on my students.
It was timely that we talked about the importance of keeping presentations to their most efficient minimum, as I was working on a Google Slide presentation to use with my Gr 12 class. I spent a good amount of time paring the content down to just bare bones.
Big diff? I hope so.