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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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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Memes for Reflection

I was subbing for our film studies class that was watching the end of Singing in the Rain. When the film ended sooner than the teacher anticipated, I was trying my best summon my inner tech nerd I am and find a cool way to get feedback from the students. I can’t tell you how many Google Forms I’ve created and pushed out in the last year, but screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-10-36-49-amI wanted something more creative.

I decided to give them an image to create a meme. As I was in the process of projecting the image, the teacher walked in and said, “Use the meme to tell what you thought about the movie.” We didn’t get too many responses, but the one here was the overall consensus winner.

It got me thinking a little more about using this in other classes, and how a teacher could easily have students do this in any classroom without a lot of setup work, and limiting how much time students spend looking for images. If the teacher puts 4-5 images into a Google folder and shares it with their students; the students have a variety to choose from and can get to work on the meme much sooner.

If students are struggling to create their meme, encourage them to write down some of the key ideas, terms, and content that was covered in the lesson. This reflection will do much more than simply help students put a caption on a picture, it will help them walk through the material and evaluate what they learned throughout that lesson.

After they have time to reflect, they can choose one of the images and create their meme in Google Slides, Keynote, Canva, Adobe Post, PowerPoint, etc…  Once the meme is created, the teacher should have a plan for submissions. It would probably be best if all of the memes were submitted in the same format (.jpg) so it’s easier on the teacher to go through the submissions quickly – especially if they are being shown to the class.

One great way to collect these and expand the students’ audience would be using a Padlet wall where students could post comments on each other’s memes as a form of peer review. Richard Byrne demonstrates how to enable commenting on Padlet walls in his blog post.  See Richard Byrne’s post at Free Technology For Teachers

 

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Blind Kahoot – Building an Engaging Lesson

What is a Blind Kahoot?

It is a Kahoot game created like any other Kahoot game, except in this case the students don’t have previous (or very limited) knowledge of the topic. The Kahoot is used to introduce a new concept or topic and keeps students engaged by answering questions throughout the lesson. Each student is engaged in the process by answering every question and seeing immediate feedback.

Questions

The questions build on each other throughout the lesson. The Blind Kahoot template follows a pattern that helps reinforce what students are learning.

  1. Blind Question – something they haven’t learned yet.
  2. Post a prompt to Explain and Discuss the answer to the Blind Question. This is a great place to add an image that helps explain the blind question.
  3. Reinforcement question – use a series of these to reinforce the concept. They can break it down into separate components, or they can build from easy to difficult. This should not be just 1 single question. I’d suggest 2-3 reinforcement questions.
  4. Repeat the Blind Question – this will help you compare results from the first question
  5. Ask a new Blind Question – thus restarting the process of 1-4.
  6. Periodically ask questions like: How well do you understand this? (scale of 1-4)

Question Times & Types

Typically answer times are longer than a Kahoot game, but it isn’t necessary to give extra time. Sometimes a question that asks for a reaction, rather than solving a problem, can be just as effective in engaging a student’s thought process.

Points

One of the most difficult things about playing Blind Kahoot, is that students are in game mode. They have played Kahoot and other similar games in many of their classes. They know that the first one with the answer gets the points. This creates a real problem in making Blind Kahoot an effective teaching tool.

If you make the questions worth 0 points, students may tune out the game – and therefore the content because they can’t ‘win’. If you leave the points on the questions, students don’t spend time thinking about the problem or new concept in front of them and we miss a great teaching opportunity.

My suggestion is to make the questions worth 0 points, but to reward students with extra credit, an award, a certificate etc… for students who get the most right throughout the process. Also, it would be a good idea to explain not only that you are going to use Kahoot in a different way, but also explain WHY. “We are using Kahoot today, to help us learn something new. Points won’t be important but your answers can earn you extra credit.”

Top Tips

The tips below are from Stephanie Castle . She is an Apple Distinguished Educator and Biology teacher. You can follow her on Twitter at @castlestephanie

Level the playing field

According to Steph Castle, “Blind” Kahoot!’ing works best if you know it is truly blind – not already covered as part of a spiral curriculum. That, of course, means taking the time to understand what your students have learned in other classes. From Steph’s perspective, the first question really catches them off guard, and flips the students straight into questioning mode.

Sneak in some rules

Now is the perfect moment to explain what the correct answer was, and why – for example, a rule that she applied to deduce the correct answer. The second and third questions are opportunities for the students to apply that very same rule, which helps consolidate that knowledge and really make it stick.
When she’s happy that everyone gets it, she might pose a similar question, but with a tiny twist, and an opportunity to introduce a new rule.

Spark critical thinking

She also advocates making the most of being able to embed images and video, and using those to prompt critical thinking. Get them to look BEHIND the pictures and the charts. What is the chart showing? More importantly, what is it not showing?

Blind kahoot template:

They designed this kahoot especially for teachers to quickly and easily adapt for their own subjects. Preview the kahoot to learn the basic structure and some tips that will make even your very first Blind kahoot stand out. Then, duplicate the kahoot and edit to adapt it for your topic and learners.

Click here to see Kahoot’s explanation of Blind Kahoot

App Smashing

Explain Everything – If you are running this game from an iPad, you can leave the Explain Everything app open while the game runs. By simply double tapping the home button, you can switch to Explain Everything and demonstrate what was asked in any of the Blind or Reinforcement questions. You can record these explanations and make them available to students as a video or a PDF.  This allows your students to use the game notes as a reference tool when they begin working with this new concept.

YouTube or Khan Academy – Have videos cued up that might help explain the process, or even show a clip of the video and use that as a prompt for your Kahoot question.

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