Famous Last Words; “It should be super quick and easy”

I can’t believe how far my students have come in terms of their technological abilities.   We started the year with many students having difficulty learning to log into their accounts, navigating the Google platform, and typing quickly and easily.  The first weeks took what felt like the entire writing block to log in and type out a few sentences.  We have reached the point where login information is memorized and within a minute students are in our Google Classroom and working on various writing assignments, practicing math, and accessing multimedia resources.  Everything has been going smoothly, so of course, I started to get cocky…

My third graders are currently working on a biography project where they are researching, writing about, and then presenting information about a figure from the American Revolution.  The classroom teacher, ESL teacher and I found a great graphic organizer that students used to take notes on their famous American, and we wanted them to be able to type into it.  Of course it was a PDF, making that difficult, so I had what seemed like a genius idea… “Let’s create a google form, have the kids fill it out with their information, and then I can mail merge the data into text boxes on a Word document, and it will look like they typed into the organizer.” Then came the always famous last words “It should be super quick and easy”.

The students started typing, and then writing time was unexpectedly cut short for a special rehearsal.  The entire class logged off, as they always do, except with a Google Form, your work needs to be completed and submitted in one sitting.  ALL OF THEIR WORK WAS GONE!

That afternoon we learned a very important lesson about using technology: It doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and sometimes you have to start again.

To be honest, the class didn’t even seem to be upset that they had to start entering their information into the Google Form again.  They were also faster typing the second time around, hopefully because they had retained the information they were typing with additional reading and practice of it.  Everyone was very careful to hit submit, and they were very excited to watch me mail merge their information and watch it auto-populate into their graphic organizer.  Once the information was typed in again, it really was quick and easy!

 

Talking before writing: An interview with Goldilocks

Revised Question

How can I use technology to make grade level writing tasks accessible to English language learners and students on IEPs?

 

Our first project in grade 3

Jen Ostayan (SPED inclusion teacher)  and I ( ESL inclusion teacher) set out to help our students write narratives that changed the point of view of the narrator.  We started with the traditional tale of Goldilocks.

What makes the task hard for our students?

Students would have to tell the story from the point of view of Goldilocks.  This meant students would have to use “I” any time they referred, and the correct verb form to go with it.  They would also have to be creative in order to think about what Goldilocks might have been thinking and feeling, and then add that into their writing.

What would we have kids to in order to use speaking to practice before writing?

Students did interviews of Goldilocks.  We paired high and lower students with the high student doing the interview, and the low student playing the role of Goldilocks.  Interviewers asked questions like, “What were you thinking when you saw the house?”  and “Why did you taste the porridge?” The higher student would have the challenge of asking probing questions, the lower student would have the chance to practice what they were about to write using “I” and the proper verb.

What technology would help us and how would we use it?

Our school has Chromebook carts for grades 1-5, but the kindergarten teachers share an ipad cart.  After evaluating the technology, we decided to borrow the ipads from kindergarten because it would be the least cumbersome technology.  We used  the  ___ app.

What did we notice kids were doing while recording their interviews?

Students with quiet voices realized they had to speak up to be recorded.

Students normally hesitant to speak in front of the whole class were very engaged and spoke a lot.

Many groups, even though we didn’t tell them to, rehearsed before recording, or re-recorded to “get it write”.

They made suggestions to each other.  “Why don’t you ask me___” or “Try that again but add _____”    Some of those suggestions included adding difficult vocabulary words.

What happened when it came to write?

Students were highly motivated to write.

Students were able to use “I” without too much effort to tell the story.

One SPED student that we had been previously been unable to engage in writing was so dramatic in her recorded story telling that we put her on speech to text software and she loved the assignment.  It was a real break through for her feeling like she could be a “writer”.

What did we do next?

We had students draw pictures to go with their recordings and they shared the work with their families at open house.

Technology: A Key Component to a Multi-Sensory Approach to Learning

Last year, as I was navigating through the uncharted waters, also known as my first year of teaching, I couldn’t help but notice how limited my knowledge and abilities were on the use of technology in my classroom. About halfway through my first year, I began to use a projector, but pathetically my use of technology ended there. As I went on peer visits in my school, to observe other teachers in my building, I was in awe of the use of technology in some of the classrooms I visited. Students in the middle schools have this amazing resource at the touch of their fingertips, an IPad, and I had no clue how to use it.

At the beginning of this school year, I reviewed different units and lessons from my first year, and I noticed something missing across the board: the use of technology, specifically IPads. This was not okay. I knew I needed to take advantage of the technology available to teachers and students in our district. As I started to think about how I wanted to incorporate technology into my classroom, I knew I wanted to connect the use of technology to the individual styles of learning and instruction present in a special education classroom. As a special educator, I know how beneficial a multi-sensory approach to learning is for students with disabilities. So how can I use technology a means of incorporating a multi-sensory approach to learning in my classroom?

 

The students I teach in my program are auditory, visual, and/or tactile learners. Some of my students benefit from all three approaches, and some students identify only with one learning style. As I get to know my students, I am able to identify how each student learns best, and can then adjust my practice accordingly to fit each student’s needs. However, as a middle school teacher, I know this is not only the time to teach academics and social skills, it is also the time to teach independence. A goal for most of my students is for them to become more responsible in their learning experience. With the technology accessible to students today, it is important for all students, especially those with difficulties in their reading, written expression, organization, etc., to know how to use technology to their advantage.

Students needs to be explicitly taught, and before I can have the expectation that students will use technology to accommodate their multi-sensory approaches to learning, I need to understand myself how this can be done. Through the course of this year, I will be exploring how technology can be used as a multi-sensory approach to learning, specifically for students with disabilities. The more I learn about this amazing resource, the better I will be able to explicitly teach my students on how to use this tool as a complement to their individual learning styles.

Developing a Research Question: Ready, Tech, Go!

Hi, I’m Jennifer Ostayan, I am a special education teacher at the Whittemore School, and this year I will be working with students in three fantastic 2nd and 3rd grade inclusion classrooms.  Previously, I taught inclusion kindergarten for 9 years.   I am equal parts excited and nervous about the WINproject this year, as I feel that tech is really my thing, but not so much the blogging/sharing my work in a public way.  

I am always looking for and experimenting with meaningful ways to enhance my students learning by integrating technology.  I have found over the past few years that technology has been a way for all of my students to participate in a way that meets their individual needs.  My own use of technology use in the classroom has evolved quite a bit over the years.  I often refer to the SAMR Model to frame technology use in my classroom, and a lot of my early work was in the sphere of augmentation, or using technology to improve the functionality of a task that my students could really do without technology at all.  For example, using a drawing program on an iPad to illustrate during writing).  Over time the purpose of technology in my classroom has changed, and I have found that my students are getting the most from the higher level tasks in the spheres of modification and redefinition, and are really using the technology to do something that was not possible before.  An example of this is using the app Book Creator to upload pages of their writing, record their voices reading their words, and then publishing the video of their books being read aloud.

This year, in my new grade levels and role in the classroom, I am starting with a very broad research question: How can I leverage technology in the classroom to allow my students to access grade level content?  My goal is to make sure my students are included the meaningful and complex work that is being done in their classrooms, in a way that makes sense and is accessible to their individual needs.  For the first few weeks of school I plan to get to know my students, deeply understand their needs, learning styles, and what supports need to be in place to help them be successful.  From there I will have a better idea of action steps to take this year, and to refine my research question.  In the meantime, I have included a concept map that broadly looks at the factors that will influence my practice this year.

WINproj

Virtual Field Trips and Student Tour Guides

After reflecting on my research topic and question this year, I think that focusing on primary sources has helped to increase both student understanding and engagement in my social studies class. I believe that students had a deeper understanding of the content being taught in class, which therefore helped to improve student engagement and class discussions. Students learned the process and importance of analyzing primary sources with the support of technology. This analysis helped create lessons that required students to critically think and synthesize information.

Last week I asked my students to complete a Google Form to get feedback from my students about primary sources. When asked how students felt analyzing primary sources at the beginning of the school year on a scale of 1-5, 66.3% of my students responded a score of 3. When asked how students felt about analyzing primary sources now 100% of students responded with a score of either a 4 or 5. I was encouraged to see that my students now felt more comfortable reading and analyzing primary sources.
IMG_2410 (2)I also received feedback that my student’s favorite primary source we looked at this year was Hammurabi’s Code. I agree with my students as these laws provide a shock value when learning what the laws were in ancient Babylon. This was an example of a primary source encouraging student engagement and interest in the content we are learning about.

Nearpod has been my main use of technology to help roll out the analysis of primary sources. This application allowed students to zoom in on images and it allowed me to focus on key points of a primary source. Nearpod allows you to share student work with the rest of the class. One student commented on the primary source survey “I like when you share my answer with the class.” In addition, I have really enjoyed sharing the Nearpod field trip with my students this year. This new feature on Nearpod allows students to virtually travel to the areas we are learning about in class. My students loved this feature! When teaching about the Parthenon, what could be better than taking a virtual field trip to the Parthenon itself? Here is a picture of a student enjoying the field trip. Field trip (1)One student wrote “the field trips are awesome because it feels like you are really at the spot we are learning about and you can see all around it.” Below is a picture of my students on a field trip to the Parthenon.

Next year, I would like to explore the use of Google Maps and Google Tours in my classroom. I am most interested in exploring Google Tours because this application will allow students to be the tour guides of the ancient cities we are learning about in class. Google Tours provides both visuals and an area for students to add a description. I plan to create a project using this application next year. Stay tuned to receive your own personal tour of ancient history!

Students on a virtual field trip to the Parthenon using the application Nearpod.
Students on a virtual field trip to the Parthenon using the application Nearpod.

 

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.

Paperless Research Papers

It’s March… which means we have entered the “Heartbreak Hill” section of the teaching marathon. Not only this month mark the longest stretch of uninterrupted teaching all year, it also marks the point where I embark on the yearly task of teaching research papers.

The month of March consists of me teaching students: why we cite sources, how to research with scholarly sources from peer reviewed databases, how to write introductions, why Wikipedia is not an approved source. And of course, how to capitalize letters… Just kidding on the last one.

In all seriousness, writing research papers with high school students can be frustrating because so much of what humanities teachers do during the writing process is antiquated. Students simply don’t understand the purpose of writing research papers. I think most students believe we are simply trying to make them jump through hoops. “Cite that source!” “Double space that paper!” “Size 12 Times New Roman Font!” These are actual quotes from a nightmare I had a few nights ago!

This is a copy of an assignment I provide to my U.S. History II Honors students. It describes details of the assignment and the requirements of the paper.

As a history teacher at Waltham High, teaching research papers has always been the Wild West. The only requirement placed on teachers is that we have students write a research paper at some point during the year. The assignment itself depends on the teacher. I usually write a traditional research paper with my students.

This month’s blog post illustrates my attempts to utilize Google Classroom and Google Docs in an effort for students to complete research papers without actual paper. I attempted to rely solely on these online platforms for the writing, submission, and grading of papers. Not a radical idea by any means, but also one I had not yet tried.

A screenshot of the first page you see when you enter a Google Classroom. It displays the active classes you have. A screenshot of a few assignments I posted on Google Classroom.

Google Classroom is an application featured through the Google Suite and it is offered strictly to teachers. There is no surprise in the name, it offers an online classroom similar to online platforms like Edmodo. Since Waltham High School (WHS) provides all students with a google account students simply have to log in to their Google Account to access the Classroom application. Students must use their WHS account to access Google Classroom, they would be denied access if they attempted to log in with a home account.

Once students log in, they can join a teacher’s classroom by entering a password that is provided by the teacher. Once inside the

More Google Classroom assignments. classroom, an email is sent to students whenever a new assignment is created by their teacher or when their teacher has returned or graded one of their assignments.

For the teacher, Google Classroom serves as a place to post assignments. Assignments can be anything from a discussion question that asks students to post a response, to an essay that needs to have a document attached.

Over the course of this year, I have used Google Classroom for small formative assessments. This allowed me to familiarize my students with the application, so that we wouldn’t have logistical problems when we depended on it later in the year.  The early use of Google Classroom was building towards my larger goal for the month of March: to use Google Classroom as the sole platform for interacting with students’ work while they wrote traditional research projects.

A PDF attachment of a reading and questions posted on my Google Classroom.

Throughout the year, I have created many different types of assignments for my students to complete in our Google Classroom. The first week of school my students posted answers to discussion questions, and followed links to surveys about themselves. Later in the year, students completed extra credit readings and attached answers to questions. Students also were able to access links to Google Form quizzes (mentioned in an earlier post).

This year I told students that I was not accepting hard copies of their research paper. I know this may seem like a radical move, but I think going paperless makes complete sense. It cuts out excuses about printers and allows students to turn in assignments from any device. Therefore, students were to type their research papers in Google Docs and submit them through Google Classroom. Throughout the month of March, I posted assignments that asked students to attach segments of their research project as we progressed to the final copy. In the end, each student attached a draft of their paper as well as a final, edited copy.

Unsurprisingly, I have really enjoyed using Google Classroom. For one, it has allowed me to go almost completely paperless. Instead of having students flood me with paper, I have electronic copies that I can edit and grade online through Google Docs. Students can see the changes or suggestions I have made and decide whether to reject or accept them.

A paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.Another paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.

More importantly, I find myself grading electronic rough drafts and final copies much faster than paper copies. Therefore, I am saving precious time. Furthermore, I can post students grades as soon as I am done grading and send them an email notification letting them know that I have finished reviewing their paper.

Overall, I think using Google Classroom for project submission andA screenshot of the screen a teacher sees while grading on Google Classroom. Google Docs for essay writing is a no brainer. I think the only drawback to Google Classroom is that sometimes students are stumped by its interface. I have had a few students unsure of where to post on the Google Classroom, so they simply email me the paper. It is a small frustration, but one I can handle.

In sum, I recommend going paperless and using Google Classroom and Google Docs to write traditional research papers. I think it saves time, cuts out excuses about printer and computer problems, and prevents students from losing papers or forgetting to save their papers. And of course, the trees will thank you!

 

Are We Forgetting About Multimodal Assessment?

Between midterms, report cards, meetings, and coaching, my time to blog has, unfortunately, been pushed to the back burner. However, my springtime resolution is that I will be much more consistent. I have been thinking about posting about this particular subject for a while and hope that I do the discontent I feel about this topic justice.

Last year after reading The Call of The Wild I was able to incorporate my first real-deal iPad project. Students worked together on Padlet to create a twitter stream that not only summarized the novel but also worked to show character growth and perspective through word and image choice. Student engagement was high and the projects showed student understanding. You can see student work examples as well as an image I created to help share the project with other teachers below.

 

2014 Student Work From the Call of the Wild Twitter Project using Padlet
2014 Student Work From the Call of the Wild Twitter Project using Padlet

 

Hints and Tips to use Padlet as Twitter for Class Projects
Hints and Tips to use Padlet as Twitter for Class Project

New and Improved Year = New and Improved Project?

As we finished up the novel this year I was excited to tweak the project to incorporate more student choice and really use the iPad to its full potential. The students and I collaborated to create a rubric with summarizing expectations as well as synthesis expectations to prove the students understood the character dynamics and could find quotations to support those beliefs. Students had a ton of ideas to prove their understanding of the novel, some wanted to create Snapchat diaries using Explain Everything, others wanted to compile a mix CD that the character might make, and other students wanted to stay with Twitter or Instagram.  I thought the project was going to be awesome.

During one of the days the students were working on the project, I had an unannounced observation from a few administrators. I received immediate feedback that the lesson and the project as a whole was too low on Webb’s DOK. While I definitely understood their point and the cumulative project of the book could have been a more direct synthesis or analytical project, I saw and still see, a lot of value in the creativity of the project as I had it. By giving this creative group project students were able to show their abilities and understanding through multiple modes of authentic assessment. I saw student work that amazed me, and students realized a passion for graphic design like in this project where a student created character cards for an NFL video game.

Sample of Call of The Wild Player Cards that a group of students created for the cumulative project on the novel.

COTW Madden Player Card 3

I tweeted this out and it was retweeted by Explain Everything and over 3,000 people viewed this group’s work. That is the power of technology, the power of authentic and creative assessment. There is still rigor in that, despite that it wasn’t synthesizing multiple non-fiction texts in an essay format. I am all for including more complex texts but we cannot lose authentic, creative, and multimodal assessment in the process.