Is Spring Break for Grading or Relaxing?

How many times have you started Spring Break with great aspirations and ended the week saying, “Well at least I got my car washed”?   Part of this week off for teachers is to relax, rest, and refresh. The other part is a mad scramble to play catch-up on grading and lesson plans before the end of the year. It’s the worst balancing act of all time because if we fail to catch-up on the grading, we come out of break more stressed than when we started.

Spring break is comingPart of the issue is that teachers spend WAY too much time grading homework and other papers that were meant for formative assessment – not for grades. When we do this, we reinforce the idea that school is about grades instead of teaching our students the importance of becoming a life-long learner. We perpetuate the notion that grades tell us how our students are doing, instead of using better measurement tools to see what they truly understand.

If I want to know where my students are on a certain concept, and I’m a high school teacher with 125 students, I can watch their 30-second reflections through Recap in just over 1 hour, and I get so much more insight as to what they do and don’t understand. What do I see if I grade worksheets which they copy from their friends, their parents, or somewhere online?

If I want to know where my students are with their vocabulary, I can check the data from Quizlet to see how well they’re doing with the posted lists (which I had students create). Or, I can use Schoology quizzes and tests so parents have better insight as to how their child is doing with the content being covered in class. Either way, I’m not spending time grading worksheets, quizzes or tests.

If I want to see if my Science students understand a process, I can watch screencasts they create with Explain Everything to demonstrate their understanding of the process. These 1-minute videos can be uploaded to Schoology, graded by using a rubric,  and that information is immediately available to students and parents so they know what they need to work on. If I return their lab report with a C+, does anyone really understand where they failed to connect the content?

So, as you prepare for Spring Break ask yourself, are you going to use this as a time to relax, rest, and refresh? Or are you going to spend your time grading your students’ worksheets that were done by their friends or their parents?

If you feel that teachers should be ‘working’ over Spring Break, I agree. However, our focus should be working on ways to innovate our lessons and our classrooms. Maybe that involves reading a book like Innovator’s Mindset or Ditch That Textbook, participating in Twitter chats like #1to1techat or #tlap, or collaborating on a new lesson with another teacher in a coffee shop. But please don’t waste your time grading things your students never did in the first place.

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Posted in Assessments, Education | 1 Comment

Where were the review games during the learning process?

As we enter the home stretch of the semester and prepare for final exams at the high school level, I can already hear the Kahoot music start and see the projector bulbs burning out from overuse. Quizlet flashcards and games will be running on all the student devices. My question is really simple: Where were the review games during the learning process?

If teachers were only using them the day before a test or quiz, again I ask; Where were the review games during the learning process? With all the data these games and review tools give us access to, why aren’t more teachers using them as exit or entrance tickets? With a simple 3-5 question Google Form, teachers would be able to see how well their students understood that day’s lesson. By using Blind Kahoot, teachers could see how quickly students are grasping a new concept. Simply look at the spreadsheet or the graph of the results in G Forms. What does it tell you? Is there an area where more students struggled? Do you have a follow-up video or mini-lesson you could use the next day to help close the gap for students who struggled? What’s your plan if it’s more than just a few?

Sometimes a simple multiple choice or short answer quiz/review doesn’t really tell us where they’re getting lost. That’s where a 30 second recording can come in handy. Screencastify, Recap, Flipgrid or even the Clips app for iOS allow students to record themselves explaining the process of how they arrived at an answer. With these recordings we can actually hear the exact point at which the student got off track (if they were even on track to begin with).

I can hear the dreaded question now, “Do you know how much time that will take? Thanks to a basic understanding of math, yes I do. Even if I have 5 classes of 24 students each, that’s only 1 hour of videos to watch – yay math! I wouldn’t ever suggest doing videos like this every day, but I do suggest it for key concepts that create the base for other concepts students will be encountering in the coming days/weeks. If the concept is extremely important for future success, it’s worth it to listen to our students and hear they actually ‘got it’, because there is no review game or set of flashcards that will close this gap in the 3 weeks before final exams.

Some people see these tools as ‘more time consuming’ or ‘another thing’, but wouldn’t it save us more time by using this other thing? Wouldn’t it be easier to cover the next concepts and topics if our students had a stronger base under them? For example, wouldn’t it be easier to teach a volleyball player how to jump serve if they already know how to serve overhand, make a proper toss, and have good footwork? I could either spend 30 minutes on each of those things and then reinforce them throughout the season, or I could spend all day in the gym teaching a jump serve to someone that can only do an underhand serve. Everyone involved in the process would become extremely frustrated and the chances for success would be minimal at best.

It might be too late for you to incorporate these tools into this semester, but next semester is over a month away. What new tool are you going to implement that will help your students achieve more success next semester? Who are you going to encourage to join you in your new adventure?

To be clear, I’m not discounting the importance of reviewing material before an exam, or using flashcards to study. They are still an important part of the process, but it could be a more effective process for everyone involved if we had a clearer view of where our students were throughout the process.

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Taking My Flooded Basement to the Classroom

The Background
We came home from a 4th of July party in a storm with torrential downpours. We are one of the lucky ones in a newer development where all our wires are underground and therefore it is a rarity that we lose power. We hadn’t had water in our basement in 10+ years when the sump pump failed. We didn’t lose power that night, but when my daughter was walking through the basement and water began coming up through the carpet, we realized something was really wrong and it was not going to a fun cleanup. The sump pump was still running, but there was a crack in the pipe under the water level, so there was no warning that our basement was about to flood.

How do you cut carpet?
There are 2 ways to cut carpet. When we started, the only choice was to cut it from the top. Even with a brand new razor blade or carpet knife, this takes 2 or 3 slices to get through the carpet and the mesh that holds the carpet together.  We soon realized it was easier to make fewer cuts on the top and then roll the carpet so we could make larger and longer cuts on the bottom – it only took 1 quick run of the blade from the underside!

How many times do we continue to do things the same way, because we can only see one side of the problem? We keep hacking away, our tools lose their ability to cut through the problem, and we lose so much valuable time because we aren’t looking for a different approach or even a different tool. The solution to cutting the carpet was to attack it from another angle. Are we allowing our students to do this in the classroom? Are we collaborating with other teachers to make this happen?

How do you remove water-logged padding?
Due to the water, the weight of the padding was really slowing down our progress. We had tried using a shopvac to remove the water from the carpet, but that was a fail. It didn’t remove the water and we still had padding that weighed too much.  We tried squeezing water out and having someone else shopvac the water. The answer was using the shopvac while the padding was still in place, and then removing the padding.

Sometimes we need to remove a layer to get to the underlying problem. We try helping a student with a problem or a concept but they struggle because the real problem is in a misconception they have in their foundation. We need to utilized formative assessments better. A simple pre-test or review of necessary concepts can give us an understanding of why we can’t get the ‘top layer’ fixed. Then we can use different methods and strategies to fix the bottom layer before we move on.

How do you remove carpet tack strips?
After the carpet and padding were removed, our next challenge was the tack trips. I’ll admit to already stepping on one of these in bare feet because I didn’t want to get my shoes wet. It hurt as bad as you would think, and I now have a sore foot AND wet shoes. I had no idea how to get these little boards off my cement floor, and I had no idea how they were installed. One YouTube video later, along with a trip to the hardware store, and I was ready to go.

How often do we allow students to find the answer or discover the answer? I would have started with a different approach to the tack strips and ended up with a mess. Learning is messy. Why not allow our students to follow their path and record their successes. That should be the YouTube video I find; one with a student explaining how they discovered the best answer.

How do you remove carpet glue?
First of all, the term ‘carpet glue’ is misleading because it actually holds the padding in place – but I digress. There are so many options for removing carpet glue. Use boiling water. Use Acetone. Use Goo Gone. Scrape it with a long handled 4″ razor blade. I asked my Ace Hardware guy, which one is best? His answer, “Depends on your floor, and what you’re trying to accomplish. If you don’t care about the floor itself – then use Acetone and a 4″ razor blade. Your best bet is to try several approaches.”

How do we approach our students in the same way? Depends on the student and what we are trying to accomplish. Some students are going to need that soft approach of water. Some are going to need a more abrasive approach. What we need are the variety of tools (strategies), and more importantly how to use them effectively.

The New Floor
My last job was to find a replacement floor. I knew I never wanted go through this ordeal with carpet again – even though I learned how to handle it. I didn’t want tile, and I didn’t want cement. I found an innovative solution. Vinyl flooring that resembles laminate, but guess what – IT’S WATERPROOF.  Finally, someone saw the need for a new product and spent the time and effort to create it.

How do we encourage our students to FIND the problems like this, and not just solve problems like removing padding, tack strips, and carpet glue. How often do we allow them to search for an innovative solution that solved the real problem like – any carpet in a flooded basement needs to be removed. I’m glad somebody approached the problem differently, because I’ll never be doing this again. My new floor.

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Online Testing with No Internet

Internet Error

Our school has always been a little ahead of the game when it comes to technology. I’ve been there 17 years and on my first day, we already had a campus-wide WiFi network. We are a private Catholic high school of 1,100 students with a 1:1 iPad program that started with all 4 classes of students. We have a classroom set of Chromebooks in case our teachers need/want them instead of iPads for a day or two.  Our current bandwidth is 600 Mbps, of which we use at least 200-250 Mbps on a daily basis.  We use Schoology as our LMS and in an average month, we will have over 1 Million page views in Schoology from students, teachers & parents. Honestly, we have the perfect environment to do online testing with our students.

I encouraged teachers to try more online testing this year and at the end of 1st semester, 31% of our teachers gave their final exams online. We gave each teacher 2 Chromebooks to use as backup devices in case a student had an issue with their iPad and we utilized Respondus Lockdown Browser to keep students locked into their tests.  We had a couple minor issues with students tests not submitting right away, but a couple minor adjustments and we felt great about the results and the ease of accessing data from the exams.

This semester, after teachers saw how effective and easy online testing was, we were up to 43% of teachers giving final exams on the iPads. We even had an English class and two different Biology classes use AMP (Schoology’s Assessment Management Platform) to give their exams. AMP will be able to give us data that’s easier to access and more importantly allows us to create questions that could never be asked on a ScanTron type test.

‘Doomsday’ – Days 1 & 2 of 2nd Semester Exams
Our phone system is internet based, and when we started the first day of exams the phones were down along with the networked computers. However, the WiFi was up and running and we only had a few glitches with the testing. After exams, we rebooted the system and the entire network crashed. It was one of those things we could never see coming. Our core switch went belly-up and took our entire network with it. Since this switch costs about the same as 1/2 a teacher’s salary, it’s not something we keep extras of – nor is it something you can run over to Best Buy and grab on your lunch break. HP could get us the piece by the next day, but we have exams to give before then – Online!

Our teachers were at home scrambling to put together a printable copy of their exams (something Schoology needs to greatly improve on), our tech team helped print them out and make copies – it only made sense since we literally couldn’t do anything else besides clean our desks. Our office staff helped by pulling out stacks of pencils and ScanTron sheets. By the time our online testing teachers walked in the next morning, they all had exams in their mailboxes and were ready to go.

Although our network had been down for no more than 20 minutes over the past 3 years, we ran into the worst case scenario – almost. As one of my friends said, “Well, it could have crashed at 8:00am today”.  So the question becomes, “How do you encourage and support teachers moving to online testing, without creating more work for them?”

Backup Plan Suggestions

  1. As you create an online exam, use Google Docs to type your questions. Then copy and paste them into the online testing program. It doesn’t have to be G Docs, but it does have to be cloud-based.
  2. If you use test bank software like ExamView, make sure you save and print a copy of the test before converting it to an online format.
  3. Have at least 2 spare devices per room, and let teachers know who else near them is giving an online test. They can always send a student to that room first to see if those devices are being used.
  4. Every teacher giving an online test has my cell number so they can text me in an emergency. We have 2 other tech team members and they know during exams, these teachers and students are our #1 priority.
  5. One classroom set of printed exams is the only way to avoid that 8:00am crash without wasting any exam time.  I hate this idea because it defeats one advantage of online testing – trees don’t have to die. But if a system crashes at 8:00am and you have 20+ teachers giving exams with only 3 copy machines… well, you do the math.
  6. Don’t make any network changes within a week of the exams – if possible. Stick with the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  This wasn’t our issue, but I’ve seen it before.

Please feel free to share your ideas for a backup plan. I’d love to hear them and share them. 

Posted in Assessments, Education, GAFE, Learning Management System, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Why Apple Classroom?

As Director of Instructional Technology, one of my most important responsibilities is to ensure that our teachers understand how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. Our teachers participate in PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities) where they are given dedicated time to learn new technology, and how to more effectively use existing technology. Teachers can also make appointments with me to meet one-on-one, or for me to visit their classrooms and coach them as they try new tools or teaching strategies. Even with all of these opportunities, fear of distractions can still be a factor in why teachers are hesitant to use iPads in the classroom.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 9.50.01 AM

One of the tools our teachers have recently explored is Apple Classroom. According to Apple, “Classroom turns your iPad into a powerful teaching assistant, helping a teacher guide students through a lesson, see their progress, and keep them on track. With Classroom, you can easily launch the same app on every student device at the same time, or launch a different app for each group of students. Classroom helps teachers focus on teaching so students can focus on learning.”  I firmly believe the most important part of this statement is, “…helping a teacher guide students through a lesson, see their progress, and keep them on track…” 

The biggest negative of using devices in a 1:1 classroom is the distraction. Students can easily change between apps, and even with a teacher moving throughout a classroom or standing behind the students in an effort to see their screens, the distraction factor still exists.  Responses to these distractions have ranged from ‘take them away’ to ‘only allow older students to use them’. However, the reason we have a 1:1 iPad programs is to better prepare our students for their future.  Their future will always involve devices and distractions, and we are working hard to teach them how to do more than just avoid these distractions. More importantly, we are teaching them how to use these devices in ways which allow them to take their learning farther than we could ever have imagined.  In order to do this effectively, we should encourage teachers to use strategies that “guide students”, and teachers are using more tools to help them “see their progress”.  This combination allows teachers to be more aware of learning gaps, close them sooner and create an environment where students are at the center of the learning process.

These features are very important because it helps reinforce the idea that the iPad should only be used during the school day as an educational tool. As this idea is reinforced throughout the day and teachers’ fears of cheating and distractions are minimized, students will be encouraged to use the iPad in ways that will take their learning and understanding to higher levels. Because teachers can see what apps their students are using in the classroom when iPads are not locked, this can become a deterrent to students who are off task and opening non-educational apps.

Apple Classroom can also be used to lock students into a certain app to take online tests. Teachers are now able to utilize tools for assessment that were previously beyond our comprehension. These tools not only give students faster feedback, which is extremely important in the learning process, but they also allow teachers to use assessment tools that we previously could not have even imagined.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 9.47.45 AM

Lock Feature Clarification

When teachers use the lock feature, it only locks student devices while they are in the classroom. Even if a teacher forgets to unlock an iPad, the iPad will unlock when they leave the classroom, and because it works with Bluetooth, the teacher can only see a student’s device when it is in their classroom. The phrase ‘see the iPad’ is key because the teacher can only see the screen and what apps the student has opened while in their classroom. Apple Classroom doesn’t allow the teacher can’t go into a child’s iPad.

Only the teacher uses the Classroom App. Students will join the class through the Settings app where Classroom appears on the left side –  below WiFi and Bluetooth.

Minimum Requirements

The requirement for a student’s iPad to use Apple Classroom is that the iPad must have a minimum of iOS 11. iOS refers to Apple’s operating system for their mobile devices. To run iOS 11, the iPad must be an iPad Air or Mini 2 (both released in Nov 2013) or newer.

Apple’s release last week at Lane Tech in Chicago, indicated there are going to be improvements to Apple Classroom – including the ability to run it from a teacher’s Apple computer and not just their iPad.

Visit Apple Education

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Building Relationships Through Selfies

At the beginning of the school year, I spent time looking through @JoyKirr’s First 5 Days LiveBinder to find ways to build a positive culture in my classroom. Since I’m teaching a Senior elective (Modern US History), I wanted to make sure I chose a method that would connect with my students. Enter the Selfie Slideshow.  The students were pleasantly surprised by the assignment and they really enjoyed the opportunity to share about themselves. By creating an assignment where students couldn’t use words on slides, it put more focus on the presentation itself and students didn’t have to worry about content – they already knew the content.

After sharing these slideshows I was able to make better connections with my students.  I had a chance to learn about things that were most important to them, and many of them shared interesting things about their culture (gotta love the Foodie).

The Assignment:

  • Create a 6 slide selfie so we can learn about you.

Rules:

  • Each slide contains 1 selfie
  • Each slide contains 0 words (unless they were already on the selfie #Snapchat.
  • The slides must contain the 5 F’s – Friends, Family, Food, Fur (Pets), & Favorites.
  • Students present their slideshow and explain why each selfie is important to them.
  • Students have time after each presentation to ask questions.

Click here to see my example

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Do You Even Know What Our ‘Digital Natives’ Need?

Young digital Native

Marc Prensky popularized the phrase Digital Native as early as 2001 in his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants“. In his article, he focuses mainly on the digital immigrants which are the people new to this world of technology – especially in the classroom.  His explanation of the digital natives is that of a generation who has spent more than twice the amount of time on computers, video games, cell phones, etc… than they have spent reading. He also explains that these students are learning in a different way than previous generations, and focuses on the benefits of gamifying the learning process – even in what some people would see has a ‘higher level’ course that uses CAD (computer-aided design) software. This is truly a different way of learning and involves a major overhaul of our teaching strategies and classroom structure. The most amazing thing to me was the fact that this was written more than 15 years ago.

 

Unfortunately, people have started throwing around the term ‘digital native’ in an effort to explain their students’ familiarity with technology and the resulting gap between the teachers and students. Using this term tends to drive parent and community demand for 1:1 programs in their schools, it drives the need for teacher training in the use of computers and other devices in their classrooms, and it drives the demand for EdTech consultants to prepare schools in their move to 1:1 programs. Although it’s wonderful to see these programs growing throughout our country and beyond, the goals of these programs aren’t anywhere near what Prensky was describing over 15 years ago.

It seems that administrators and school boards generally take a slower approach to technology integration and worry about the addition of devices to the classroom creating a difficult adjustment period for teachers. This approach creates a problem with making actual changes in the classroom. Teachers look for and find, the technology that creates a close fit with what they’ve done in the past. They incorporate tools which help them distribute worksheets or practice problems from the textbook (or their filing cabinet). They use games such as Kahoot which focus on reviewing material.  As teachers incorporate these tools, which tend to be at the Substitution level of the SAMR model, too many administrators see this as ‘integrating technology’ and another box is checked off during teacher evaluations.

If we took time to understand how these Digital Natives learn and how they use technology on a daily basis, it could help us truly transform education. Many of these students don’t know much (if anything) about how to write an email in a professional manner, how to create PDF’s from their documents, or how to properly attach files to an email. These are skills we use in the workplace and skills we expect our students to know, but these are not skills our students need in order to either learn or demonstrate their understanding of the material. Instead, these are the skills we want our students to know in order to fit into our world and demonstrates our misunderstanding of the digital native.

So, instead of embracing these ‘digital native’s’ familiarity and knowledge of technology, we continue trying to fit them into the same educational system their parents went through – except we put devices in their hands. Too many educators accept that our use of electronic worksheets and reading textbooks online is fulfilling the needs of our students and producing the necessary technology integration in our schools. However, making real changes requires true innovation (and please don’t use ‘innovation’ as a buzzword). Innovation is not reflected in digital worksheets or typing papers. Innovation needs to truly reflect how we change the structure of our classrooms and how we adjust the strategies in our classrooms to reach this ‘new’ type of learner.

To some educators, this is a scary proposition because it requires real change and it requires it to happen in a short amount of time. Every year we don’t move further toward project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and gamification is another year we fail to meet the needs and learning styles of these ‘digital natives’. This means we can’t simply be the ‘digital immigrants’ that Presnky describes in 2001. Instead, we need to be the leaders in a digital world and more importantly, the leaders of an educational shift toward building more effective schools for our children.

Image credit: “Young Digital Native” Image Charlotta Wasteson

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