Scream for HELP? Or “Google It?”

Leah Bruosta, fifth grade teacher here and I.NEED.HELP! What happens when I need help with technology in my classroom? To whom do I turn? Well…. the easy answer as one of the “technology” favoring teachers is to “Google it.”  I Google it, then I ask someone who might know, then I forget about it for a while, and then reengage in the puzzle.  PS – When did “Google” become a verb? Because it is one, and I rarely use it in the noun form anyway…
Definition of Google: Merriam Webster
Merriam Webster suggests that to google is a verb! Hallelujah!

 

I have been wanting to ask students to do more and more pre-writing digitally.  Their writing lacks organization and this used to be a larger part of our practice in fifth grade. My research question this year revolves around writing engagement when technology is utilized.  So far, I am impressed with their speed and skills with word processing, and have noticed that they are in need of organization.  “Googling it” didn’t render me with the answers that I hoped for.  I wasn’t able to find “editable graphic organizers” or “lock tables” so that students would be able to edit — I even had a hard time explaining to colleagues what it was that I wanted.  I could make a PDF form (I think I know what that is!???) and have students edit it — good idea, but it didn’t work when I “made a copy” for each student on Google Classroom.  With some fancy saving strategies and trying to skirt the issue, it was figured out- but how do I explain this twenty-seven step, nonsensical strategy to students? Nothing was as simple as I had hoped.  So I kept asking around.  And I think I have hit on something today.  Our technology specialist attended a professional development course wherein she designed just this type of graphic organizer that students can manipulate.  And would you believe it, it fulfilled her requirement for Special Education PDPs!? Next step: check out this class!

 

Digital graphic organizer created using Google Drawings and shared with students via Google Classrooms.

It’s at this point that I know what I don’t know.  I have more questions than when I began and now I have a place where I plan to ask them —  and a format on which to practice.  Google Drawings… helping kids with writing? We’ll see! 

Technological Vocabulary

In the middle of the year, I embarked on a (short) journey, with students, to determine what methods of learning vocabulary were most effective. I wanted to reinvigorate my understanding of tech as a tool for engagement and learning in the way that @edtechteacher21 and the T21 Program had talked about. (Tech as tool- Tool List – One of my favorite resources.) We started with all of the technology I could possibly integrate, and whittled our way down to old school flash cards, no iPads allowed. (Disclaimer: This is NOT some peer-reviewed longitudinal study, but I do think it’s interesting…and for a teacher as researcher study, I don’t think it’s half bad.)

Method

Every week for three weeks, students learned five new words focused on their usage within the context of The Call of The Wild. I wanted to minimize the variables with the words, I figured limiting the number of words the students were expected to learn might help that.

Each week students worked with the words and technology in different ways.

Week 1Words on Quizlet, group work on words in context with photos in notability Call of the Wild Vocabulary 1 Student Work

Week 2– Words on Quizlet Only

Week 3– Words on hard copy notecards only!

Results

GIF of Ron Swanson making angry face while the camera zooms in.So, first of all, the students struggled with the vocabulary. I’m not necessarily proud of that fact, but that’s just the way things are at times, particularly in 7th grade. (Despite having only 5 words a week we still couldn’t beat 70% average on the summative quiz.)

 

Bar graph that shows student score percentages are higher when there was more technology in week 1 and progressively lower weeks 2 and 3 as we used less technology.
Average scores for the Socrative Quiz by Week.

All students took a self-paced 8 question multiple-choice Socrative quiz on three consecutive Fridays.   There were 72, 67, and 70 students involved in the Socrative quiz respectively and the results are shown in the most simplistic bar graph imaginable to the left. (I still needed help from multiple roommates, in particular, @ZavaskiMD ).  The descending numbers show how student scores decreased as I removed technology from the equation.

 

Conclusions

I have a lot of thoughts, on this preliminary data, and I probably should have continued this study longer, with fewer variables, so that I could have more conclusive evidence. I do think that the data does help to show that when students engage more fully (read: authentically) with words (or really anything academic) they are more likely to retain the information. In this case, it is hard to tell if the group work or the actual technological actions of filling out a graphic organizer with web images was more useful.  I like to think that it was a combination.  The students were able to talk out their understanding of the word using the graphic organizer in notability as well as insert photographs they found on the internet (or in the example above that they drew) that represent the definition.  This personalization of the vocabulary words through notability was the crucial piece, and the Quizlet was a nice addition for students to continue studying.

The conclusion that I came to here, is not that technology use increases student scores, but that authentically integrated technology that increases student discussion and engagement with the material is effective. Technology is not the beginning or the end; it’s a tool to help drive student engagement, and therefore learning.

Embrace the Future

As we enter into the “home stretch” of the school year, I thought I would share a few reflections on the research I have done this year.

A quick reminder for readers: I am a U.S. History teacher at Waltham High School and my research this year has been a qualitative analysis of technology integration in a classroom with no direct 1:1 technology. I have attempted to analyze the struggles, realities, and triumphs of embracing 21st century skills in a classroom with 20th century technology.

As mentioned above, I have attempted to integrate as much technology as possible into a classroom that has inconsistent access to 1:1 technology. The technology-based projects, assignments, and lessons that I created have primarily taken place in the four labs (three computer, and one iPad) in my school.

Part one of progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.
Part one of a “Penultimate” progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.

For the most part, I have been able integrate technology into my classes at least once each month. However, I have found it difficult to maintain an integrated classroom throughout the school year. Although applications have allowed me to sprinkle in technology, I am far from a place that is a truly integrated or “flipped” classroom.

As I reflect on the past year, I find it difficult to isolate just one or two reasons that I was unable to fully integrate technology into my classroom. I know that one of the reasons is that technology in my school is limited and in high demand. This leads to a race to secure coveted lab reservations. So, the lessons where I am able to fully integrate technology are only those which I am able to foresee weeks in advance and book space accordingly. For instance, I planned ahead to have my classes complete the Touchcast assignment and Paperless Research Papers. However, this advanced planning rules out spontaneity. If three days prior to a classroom lesson, I have a stroke of genius about a great way to integrate technology, I won’t be able to make it happen because the lab will already be booked.

The lack of 1:1 technology also limits my ability to give formative and summative assessments online. I have found this to be restrictive. For instance, if I did have regular access to 1:1 technology for my students, I would have been able to use Socrative, Poll Everything, and other similar applications more efficiently. (Aside: since most students have their own cell phones, I contemplated having students use them to access apps like the aforementioned. However, after some thought, I decided against it.)

Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.
Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.

Furthermore, it has been difficult to maintain a flow of lessons that embrace technology integration throughout the school year. I have struggled with the conflicting demands placed upon me as a high school teacher. Teachers are required to cover certain content by particular dates, as bookmarked by required student assessments. This demands a certain amount of teacher-centered learning. At the same time, however, teachers are encouraged to “flip” our classrooms and engage in student centered learned.

The assessments mandated by our school and state, remain traditional and primarily factual tests. For instance, this year I have been responsible for administrating four in-class writing assignments, a midterm, and a final. These are six assessments that took away from classroom time or interrupted the flow of a unit I was teaching. I am not saying that these assessments are worthless. But, in my opinion, they do not measure or give students credit for the skills and ideas learned through innovative, technology integrated lessons. Thus is life, but it hinders creativity.

I feel that we can never truly embrace 21st century learning as long as we continue to employ 20th century assessments. I believe this to be a fundamental problem facing education.

Despite these challenges, I do think I had a fair measure of success with integrating technology this school year. Although I felt restricted in my ability to secure lab time, I discovered useful apps like Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Remind. These apps allowed me to push my U.S. History students to use technology outside of school, for homework assignments. (I chronicled my trials with these apps in previous blog posts). Despite the challenge of sustained use, Google Forms and Google Classroom helped to transform a lot of my teaching this year.

Part three of my brainstorm where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.
Part three of my progress report where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.

Furthermore, at when point when I was able to plan far into the future, my Honor’s Level U.S. History II students completed projects solely using Touchcast. Touchcast allowed my students to participate in a “flipped classroom” while creating projects about a Cold War unit that in previous years, I had taught in traditional ways.

In the end, I have achieved one of my major goals for this assignment: next year, I will have at least two classes of tenth graders that come to my classroom with 1:1 iPads. I am sure there will be structural barriers to navigate, but I am excited to think of new ways to use this technology next year.

Moving forward, I have a few tools in my belt with some of the apps I tried and found success with this year. I have some interesting ideas about how to use iPads for formative assessments. Most importantly, however, I have a new way of thinking about my teaching. I maintain my ultimate goal of achieving a more technologically integrated classroom. I’m not there yet, but I’ll get there one day.

Mr. Robot

My name is Michael DiLuzio, I am a history teacher, and my biggest fear is that one day I won’t have a job because a robot will replace me. In my most pessimistic moments, I think I will be the final generation of an extinct species: the human teacher. If I am being truly retrospective, I think this fear comes out of an acknowledgment that I am at a teaching crossroads. I’m entering my seventh year as a social studies teacher, and I think I am beginning to enter my prime as an educator (hopefully an extended prime).

However, while I am honing my craft, new technologies and innovations continue to pop up that challenge the treasure trove of lessons and pedagogy that I have built as an educator. The bedrock of what I do is beginning to crumble. The stories I tell, the lectures I give, the readings I discuss, the movie clips I play, and the discussions I facilitate already seem as though they are from a bygone era. The style of teaching I grew up with is beginning to go extinct!

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t get up and lecture everyday. I cultivate lessons with primary sources, my students debate important issues, jigsaw difficult readings, “save the last word for me,” “take stands,” walk around imaginary museums, and complete enough exit and entrance tickets to fill the Grand Canyon. They don’t, however, own their education, they don’t drive their own learning through inquiry, they don’t complete project based education, and they are not experiencing a flipped classroom.

Teacher jargon aside. It has become apparent to me over the last few years that the role of the teacher is changing. The teacher is no longer expected to be the “sage on the stage”, but to be a facilitator or a learning partner. At the moment, I am not sure if I completely accept this change nor am I sure that this dichotomy will continue. I’m conflicted about abandoning a lot of the ways that I grew up learning, because I still see a lot of value in teacher centered learning. There is nothing quite like listening to an expert.

However, I do realize that there must be a balance struck to satisfy competing masters: inquiry based learning, 21st century skills, content expectations, and standardized tests. Similarly, I realize I need to evolve as an educator or I will be left in the past. The future of education is ahead of me, and I don’t want to be a twenty-nine year old educator that refuses to adapt. I want to embrace the use of technology and the changing role of the educator.

Furthermore, next year, my tenth grade students will enter my classroom as a part of a growing part of Waltham’s 1:1 technology initiative. These students will have been using iPads as a resource for three straight years. This both excites and terrifies me. This excites me, because I will be able to use this technology to approach my teaching in a multitude of new ways. As currently constituted, when I want my students to have access to a computer or 1:1 device, I need to sign-up for space in one of the many overbooked labs at my school. Although, it is possible to sign-out these rooms when one schedules far enough in advance. The long range planning it takes to secure a lab lacks the spontaneity of transforming a lesson that you are planning on using tomorrow.

In addition, the use of a lab every once in awhile is not the same as truly integrating technology into my classroom. This is why I joined the Waltham Integration Network. I want to work with my colleagues to develop ways that I can more fully integrate technology into my classroom. However, I am still somewhat weary about the entire situation. I want to strike a balance between complete technological integration, project based education, and teacher cultivated lessons that are sometimes (gasp) teacher centered. I think there is a place in education for all of these different types of learning.

Therefore, over the next year I will be trying to answer the following research question: How can I teach 21st century skills and integrate technology into a classroom that does not have consistent access to 1:1 technology?

 

Brainstorm

The above bubbl.us displays a brainstorming session I had when I was flushing out my research question (click to enlarge). 

 

Although this question doesn’t exactly prepare me for dealing with next year’s 1:1 initiative. It does push me to think about ways to change my teaching. Over the next year, I will blog here about my attempts to integrate technology, my triumphs and my many struggles. Tune back in next month to see my progress.