Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Through Choice, Students Work Many Skills

I love giving my students choices; it really works their brains beyond the usual activity and allows them to become more invested and constantly engaged in what they are doing!  

For our beginning of the year Social Studies instruction, we started with map skills, latitude and longitude, and geography.  Students had to label three different maps using a set of clues that went with each map.  They worked with a map showing longitude and latitude, a map showing continents and oceans, and a map showing the physical features of the U.S.  In order to find the answers to the clues and aide them in labeling their maps, I provided them with a few resources including Google and atlases.  I didn't tell them what to do beyond that, I just told them to get the work done!  

It was a multi-step activity through which they had to navigate mostly on their own, deciding how they could best get the job done.  I of course provided some guidance, such as questioning their thought process when they had searched Google images for the word "map," and were then overwhelmed by the amount of choices they were given.  I asked them "How could you narrow your search to make it easier for you to choose which map to use?"

It was great because they were working their decision making skills from the get go, starting with choosing which resource would be most effective in helping them to label their maps.  They had to discern how they would enter their search on Google in order to find a map that would successfully help them to label their blank map.  For example, if they are labeling a physical map of the U.S., they can't use a map that only shows the states and capitals of the U.S.  They used reasoning skills, problem solving skills, and logical thinking.  And as usual, I allowed them to collaborate and work with a partner...after all, two heads are better than one!  

Although we have access to the technology, there are some students who have days, or find that for that specific activity, they just prefer to go "old school," close up the tablet, and choose the good ol' atlas as their resource.  Just think about how much more thinking the students are doing through this process as compared to if they were just given a map and told to use it to label their own blank map...  
They literally don't have to think at all for that.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Blendspace (Formerly EdCanvas)

I discovered Blendspace (formerly known as Edcanvas) last year when my students and I first received our Samsung Galaxy tablets.  I believe I came across the resource on either Edmodo or Twitter when we were just diving into using our devices in the classroom, and I was trying any web tool I could fit in. At the time I was toying around with the idea of starting some flipped class and blended learning styles and was really getting away from the whole stand up and "deliver" the info to your students.

I always questioned the thought of me just giving them the information that they were responsible for learning.  How would they learn if I just gave it to them?  Shouldn't they be discovering?  Even if it was just introductory info.  I mean, I always remember myself as a student and the things that I remembered most, were research projects, papers I'd written, information that I discovered on my own and was not just fed...   

Anyways, we started to go towards a more independent/partner discovery based introduction to the material we would be working with.  My theory was, that the students would be more invested in what they were being exposed to, and therefore have a better chance of retaining the information.  My thoughts were also that this technique and practice in school would prepare the students to be able to complete the same type of work at home independently, when we eventually would completely venture into the flipped classroom style.

I remember the first lesson I used Blendspace for.  In word study/grammar, the lesson told me to engage the students by reviewing or telling students the definition of an analogy.  I knew there had to be a better, more engaging way to go about it.  Even though the curriculum only allowed for a few minutes, I felt that my students would benefit from more time being spent on going through a few different resources and finding the answers to the questions themselves.

I gave the students the questions up front so that they would have a purpose to their work, and it wasn't like they were just "watching some YouTube videos" to see what they could learn.  I gave them a QR code which linked them directly to Blendspace.  They loved it and were completely engaged:  They were also prepared for the discussion that followed their independent study.

I have included links to some of my lessons here.  

I felt that Blendspace was the perfect web tool to organize the digital content that I wanted my students to review.  It is simple, clearly organized, and allows them to have direct access to the right materials, when we don't have the time for them to Google and determine their own resources. 
Blendspace allows teachers to quickly search any topic in various forms of digital content through either YouTube, Google, Vimeo, Flickr, Educreation, or Gooru with one simple click.  You can link websites, articles, upload files- documents/pictures, insert from Dropbox, or from Google drive.  You can drag and drop resources, and add text or a quiz.  There are different templates you can use to display the resources and you can purposefully put it in the order you want the kids to view it.  You can view and copy other users' lessons that have already been put together:  The resources are endless and I personally think it's genius!
Students researched Cinco de Mayo and put together a presentation that we shared with a 7th grade class from Iowa via Skype which led to a friendly, cultural discussion and tons of learning!

 I also used Blendspace to put together some resources on Project Based Learning for one of my assignments for my Gifted and Talented certification this summer.

This year, I have many plans for Blendspace.  When my students start taking their tablets home in a few weeks, I will be organizing their digital content in Blendspace and they will access it through Edmodo, which now has a Blendspace app directly linking the two so it is that much easier to deliver content to your students!  They will also be using Blendspace to find and organize their own resources for research, projects, genius hour, etc., etc.!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Just "digital worksheets" or much, much more?

     As another year has begun, I have found myself turning more and more to technology for our everyday tasks, but I will have to admit:  I am not doing it just for the kids!  Technology engages me more in my lessons, allows me to plan and prepare more quickly, and it's eliminating my paper load!  I had the latter half of last year with our tablets and now the beginning of this year, and I am wondering what a whole year of 1:1 tablet instruction will look like? 

     Although, I recently read a blog post about how some people think teachers are not going about integrating technology in the right ways, and that some are just using it for "digital worksheets."  (See article Digital Worksheet Rant Hurting Progress)  This of course caused some self-evaluation as I thought about how my students spent an obscene amount of time Friday completing their summative word study assessment on Polaris Office on their tablets.  (Only to find out also, that I mistakenly included the answer key at the end of the test when I uploaded to Edmodo!)  The test was void anyways.  Should I have just given them a paper copy?  Did I assign the test on Edmodo just for the sake of saying that I was integrating technology?  And I questioned myself, Am I also guilty of just giving my students "digital worksheets?"  I quickly came to the conclusion that no, I am doing much more, after I reviewed all the ways so far this year that I have had my students utilize technology in the classroom. 

     I look at it differently than just giving them "digital worksheets"... after all, it is no easy task to complete a document on Polaris Office on a Samsung Galaxy for the first time.  I think my students are practicing a number of strategies and problem solving skills when they are completing this "digital worksheet" and going about the process of turning it in through Edmodo. 

     First of all, they are using problem solving strategies and they themselves are discovering the best way to go about completing their document or assignment.  Along with completing their test digitally, they are acquiring the skills necessary to navigate and manipulate a device with fluency.  They are children and students of the 21st century and one of my jobs as a 21st century teacher is to prepare them for their future, which is a little different than how we were all prepared for our futures.  I believe that by integrating technology daily, and having the resources to put the technology into the hands of my students, that not only am I making my students excited about school and engaging them more in their work, but I am allowing them to become technologically fluent.  By dealing with a multitude of technology applications and web 2.0 tools on a daily basis, it will become second nature to them.  They will be ahead of their peers in technology skills and abilities and they are only in 5th grade!  They can figure things out before I do, and this will only help them in the long run, further developing their technical talents and embedding the love of technology at a young age. 

     Now I am not saying that everyone is taking to it easily, there are the ones who struggle and who will always struggle, but any exposure will benefit them.  They attack the tasks that I give them, they struggle through navigating the applications and web resources, but in the end, I can see that they are so proud of themselves.  I am too.

     And to think, we are only at the beginning of the year.  I have so many plans and I can't wait to see where they take us!

     Conclusion:  If you have access to the resources, integrate technology as much as you can!  "Digital worksheets," independent work, collaborative projects, book talks, etc., you name it!  Your students will love it, and will work hard at it, learning along the way and preparing themselves for their future...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Across the US: Book Talks via Skype

This past school year, my students and I had many opportunities, one basically leading to another.  As you may have read in some of my previous posts, my class was given the privilege to chat with explorer Mark Wood as he was preparing for his ascent of Mt. Everest.  To go along with this experience as we talked to and followed him on his journey, we did a daily read aloud.

My principal suggested that we read the novel Peak, by Roland Smith to supplement this experience.  My students LOVED this novel, even though it may have been a little mature for them, but the description of the experience was as close to real as it can get!  As we were reading the novel together, we would check Mark's updates of his status on Facebook from Everest and the stuff he was describing we were learning about through our novel at the same time!  This novel led my students and me to study the country of Nepal, learn about the people and their culture, look up facts about Mt. Everest, and google pictures of frostbite and of the equipment that explorers use to climb the mountain.  

My students became so involved and curious about Mt. Everest and the experience that Mark Wood was having, that they looked forward to coming to class every day and engaging themselves in our study of this explorer and the intimidating task he was trying to accomplish.

Also by being involved in the Skype call with Mark, I was able to establish other connections with teachers.  We were able to connect with a class in rural Montana, who also had the opportunity to connect with Mark on Mt. Everest.  There happened to be a student in this class who was also reading the book Peak.  From this, we came up with the idea of connecting with the class through Skype to share thoughts and comments on the book Peak.

They gave a short summary of the book, they talked about their favorite part of the book, they talked about what they would have done if they were the main character, and they also gave their opinions about the theme of the book.  After we talked about Peak though, the other class began to share about a book series that they were reading called Everest.  Again, the students gave summaries and basically gave book reviews of the series to my class, which in turn built their interest in reading the series.

Soon, the students were asking each other their own questions and some of the questions my kids came up with wowed me!  Again, this was towards the end of the year, so their learning of things we did in the classroom this year was evident.
One student asked:  "How does your book Everest relate to our book Peak?
Another students asked:  "Can anyone relate to any of the characters in the story?"
One of my students commented that the series Everest was like Hunger Games in a way.

The richness of the discussion was so beneficial for my students, and their ownership of what they were saying during the discussion was evident.  Since they were connecting with students from a different state through Skype, they put forth a different sort of effort and excitement than they would have if we were just talking amongst ourselves in the classroom...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Edmodo for in class book discussions!!

This year, in order to start working towards a flipped classroom, we started using Edmodo to post in class assignments and homework assignments, as well as videos and Power Points that students could view at home.  Throughout the year, I also had my students respond to questions that I posted on Edmodo in reponse to a lesson, video, or Power Point that they had seen.  I used it as a quick formative assessment.

Towards the end of the year, after we finished reading our third read aloud as a class, I was toying around with the idea of using Edmodo to house a book discussion.  I had not decided on a topic and was considering making it an extra, out of class thing that the kiddos did.  

The idea continued to evolve, and the brilliance of this whole occurrence was that the topic of the book discussion actually came from one of my students!  : )  We would compare and contrast the themes of our three books as a culminating activity of the year.  

I was telling my students about the assignment and I started to post it in front of them.  When I was finished posting and we started to discuss a little bit, my students just started posting responses on their own!  So, in this moment, I scrapped my lesson for the day and went with the kids.  I put on some music and let them have an online book discussion right there in the classroom, each student on his or her own device, and I on my teacher computer at the ActivBoard, monitoring and taking part in the discussion!

This was amazing to me for many reasons:
1.  The prompt came from the mind of a student.
2.  The student's became so excited about it, that they could not wait to get home and do the assignment, but they started on their own right in class.
3.  It gave ALL of my students a voice in the discussion.
4.  I could see thinking that most of them would not have normally shared in class.

I am a bilingual teacher, so many of my students are reluctant to participate in discussions.  This gave them the opportunity to have time to think about their comments and feel comfortable posting them.  Also, I had a girl who was a selective mute in my class and without this technology, she NEVER got the chance to communicate with the rest of the class. In this way, she was able to have a voice!  

One more unbelievable occurrence, was that when I sat back and observed my students as this "digital talk" was happening, I began to see little discussion circles starting to develop.  The technology use was bringing out REAL discussion between the students.  They would check with someone sitting next to them about their comment before they posted it to make sure everything sounded right.  They would tell each other that they agreed or did not disagree with an idea!  They were taking responsibility and ownership of their thoughts and comments!
It was absolutely wonderful in that moment and once again, I was so impressed with (and surprised by) my 5th graders!  

I could see that they actually did learn something this year:  to think deeply about a literary text and to respectfully discuss with others.

Our conversation is below...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creating Culturally Aware Future Citizens

I created my first actual "lesson" on Skype in the classroom!  (YAY for reaching goals and checking off things on "TO DO" lists!)  Then I used Twitter and Skype classroom to promote my lesson, and actually found the classroom that we ended up connecting with, through Twitter. 

The lesson dealt with our culture here in Texas, as students researched the REAL reason behind the recognition of Cinco de mayo in Mexico and the United States.  They hear about it so much here, that I thought all of my students should know about it.  This assignment also brought up some great discussion.  To begin, we discussed what our culture here in Texas is like, and then I had the students think about WHY our culture is how it is.  We discussed our proximity to Mexico and Central and South America and students shared their thoughts and experiences of immigrants coming through Texas to get into the U.S.
To begin their research, they scanned a QR code and were linked to an edcanvas that was organized with a few different resources they could use to research the topic.  This activity engaged students through reading and writing and they focused on summarizing and determining important details.  When they presented the information, they were able to practice their speaking and communication skills, (which we have been honing in on a lot lately with Skype).  They learned about the history of cinco de mayo and how we celebrate it today.  They compared what most people "think" Cinco de Mayo is about "just some tacos and a margarita" as one of my students said, to the real reason.

It was great to watch my students research, because the population of my students is about half and half African American and Hispanic.   I love to see their minds open up as they learn about culture!  It was funny, because it seemed that some of my African American students were more interested in Cinco de mayo than my Hispanic students : ).  I even had a student show his Salsa moves during our class!  My Hispanic students were also dancing in their chairs when the Mariachi music played on YouTube and had smiles spread wide across their faces! 
Studying different cultures and gaining an understanding of each others' cultures gives my students a common ground to stand on together, and a stronger way to connect with each other.
The real magic happened though, when we were able to connect with a 7th grade class from Iowa and share with them what we had learned.  One of my students opened up with telling about all the different Spanish speaking countries that his classmates come from:  Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc.  He struggled through the pronunciation of the names of the countries, but the learning that happened, was beautiful : ) .  Our students presented the information they learned as the 7th graders listened intently.  We then asked their class about what their culture was like up in rural Iowa...
I will say, having done a few Mystery Skypes, that I almost liked this Skype better, as it was more relaxed and I saw my students act in a more comfortable, social way as they communicated with these students from Iowa, and I was very impressed by their curiousity.  Our conversation quickly moved from geography, to what their school was like, to what they were studying in school, to NFL football, and finally to the excitment my students show when they tell someone about their tablets! 
Some questions that were asked between the classes included:
What is middle school like?
What is the class and school size?
What is your school mascot?
What is your state bird? 
What sports do you like to play? 
What crops are grown there? 
What is your favorite field trip you've gone on?
How many of you have visited Mexico?
What is the temperature like there?
How did you do on your state tests?  (one of my faves!)
What is the food like there?
How many of you have lived in Mexico?
How many of you have visited Mexico?
What are your favorite things about Mexico?  (To which a student responded:  "I liked that I was able to walk everywhere and my parents just let me go anywhere on my own.")
This was such an eye-opening experience for all of the students involved, and I love watching (most of) my kids grow more and more confident in their communication skills and willingness to talk and connect with others each day...