Thursday, April 30, 2015

An End of the Year Project

   You're probably familiar with Billy Joel's 1989 song "We Didn't Start the Fire". It includes a list of over a hundred news headlines spanning 1949-1989. I was driving to work one day this week and I heard this song on the radio. I thought to myself, as I was singing along, why not rewrite a version of this song only change the lyrics to highlight our learning throughout the year? I think we could also make a music video, without the fire, and have a picture slideshow going on in the background. I think this will make a lovely open house project. I'm growing so fond of making videos with my class, I think we might just have to have a film festival style open house next year! It would be even cooler to set it up outside and do it drive-in movie style! We could have popcorn and...okay I'm getting a little ahead of myself with just a couple of weeks until this open house happens. This year a cool video, next year it's a drive-in style media festival. 

Getting started:

My plan for song writing started with some wall charts and a brainstorming session with the class of all of the things we have learned, activities they liked. things that they remember, etc. Then I put all of the words and phrases into a document with dotted lines to be cut out. There were several pages of words, but I intentionally left one page blank so that the students had a place for new ideas if something came up.

Background knowledge:

We have done some songwriting already this year and we have talked about the importance of using using similar rhymes when rewriting a song, and syllable counts to match up rhythm. We have also talked about the chorus and hook, so my class already knows these terms.  We also watch a lot of Mr.Nicky and History Teachers songs, which I love so much I even use the songs as timers when we play vocabulary games.

Putting it all together:

My plan is to assign small groups of students a verse from the song to rewrite. The students will cut out the word strips from our brainstorming session and match them up with rhymes and lines from the song.  I think having the words cut out, so that they can move them around will help with the song writing. Each group will be in the video performing their own verse to the song. The chorus part, I think we will write together as a class after the verses are done. I have a feeling "burning" will be changed to learning, but beyond that I don't know. They're ideas are always better than mine when doing these things, and I've learned to trust in that and let them do the work. I'll just sit back, wear the cool Billy Joel sunglasses and run the video camera.

Visit my Teacher's Pay Teacher's store to download this lesson.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Access Denied

   There is more to this digital divide than students lacking internet in their homes, or schools not being able to provide 1:1 technology in the classrooms.
We are looking at a completely different kind of divide. While access has increased substantially, the kind of access varies. Most minorities in the Pew studies reported using their phone for accessing email and the Internet. In 2010 only 56 percent of African American households reported having broadband access compared to 67 percent of white households (Home Broadband 2010). This creates an entertainment vs. empowerment divide. As one of the Pew studies suggests, you can't fill out a job application through a cell phone or update your résumé on a game console (another way that many minorities report they access the Internet). The divide has shifted from an access issue to a kind of access divide.
From "A New Understanding of the Digital Divide" by Mary Beth Hurtz, Edutopia
  It's not just the kind of access, but also how the technology is used, and what it is used for. I work in a low income/urban school and I have been giving a lot of thought to the issue of equal access lately. I wanted to understand how my 6th grade students view technology, so I asked them to do a "quickwrite" about technology. I told them to say whatever they wanted, that it wouldn't be graded, and that they didn't even have to put their name on it if they didn't want to. I gave them the following questions as a guide:

  • How do you use technology?
  • What kind of technology do you use? At home? At school?
  • What do you use technology for?
  • How does it help you?

   They use tech to gather information, but not to create it. From what I have seen in class and read in their responses, they look up how to spell/define words, get answers to questions from Google and copy and paste text into documents. I don't feel confident that they have the skills to judge the credibility of the information that they find, or the reliability of the source that it came from while they "search up the internet". From what I read, I believe that they view technology as a quick answer to a basic question-a tool to think for them rather than a tool to be used to develop their own ideas through collaboration, discussion, and inquiry.
    Most of their responses regarding how they use tech in school were related to research, printing, typing essays and taking tests. This really bothered me. I work really hard to get students collaborating on projects and to use tech in meaningful ways to create, share, present, develop awareness, compare analysis and spark interest in a topic. Right now they are working in groups of three to create an infographic comparing two representations of a story-one set in the 19th century and one in the 22nd century. When I give them a test (I like to use Kahoot!), I have them create the questions. We make music videos for songs we write about Ancient Civilizations. When research needs to be done, I often create text sets for them, as it can be difficult to get time in the computer lab. I never require typed essays. I am beyond confused as to how their view of technology could be so different from what I practice in my classroom. Clearly I need to be doing more, or doing something differently after reading so many quotes like this one:
"Technology is for searching up stuff and printing stuff out. It is also for having fun."       -anonymous 6th grader from my class
   They predominantly use tech for social media, to play games, and to watch videos when they are bored. According to their responses, they use social media a lot, but I have seen some examples of their social media use-it's mostly attention seeking posts. They obsess over how many likes they got on their "I'm bored" selfie on Instagram.  I've heard several people refer to devices in the hands of young children as "digital pacifiers" and I don't think it is very far from the mark. Unfortunately, a lot of the social media and game play is not monitored by a responsible adult which can lead to cyberbullying, inappropriate friendships with strangers, and general overuse of technology.

   I know that social media is a big part of their lives, so I created an Instagram account for our class and I attempt to engage them in thoughtful dialog through that medium. I rarely get more than a double tap, even though I have explained to them that I want them to comment and interact.

  How would kids of the same age group from a school that has 1:1 tech, coding, Minecraft Edu, 3D printing and all kinds of techie awesomeness answer those questions I asked my class? If you're reading this and you want to compare notes, I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Digital Divide

   I am sitting here on the weekend getting my daily dose of free professional development on Twitter and I see this tweet: 
   As a teacher in a low income school, I'm very familiar with the achievement gap, but this "digital divide" is a new bit of ed-jargon to me. It prompts me to do a bit of research.
Those with computers and access to the Internet are becoming even richer through the power of information, while those without them are becoming even poorer in comparison. From: Digital Divide -Stanford University  
   What has become clear to me is that this is a multifaceted problem. Students in low income schools don't have the access to tech at home, the schools that serve these students don't have the tools, the teachers don't know how to use the tools, and the schools don't have money to spend on professional development to train the teachers. 

   In my opinion, professional development is a major barrier to students accessing technology. I feel like a lot of teachers don't use the technology that is available because they are inexperienced with it and lack the training to use it. Teachers have to learn how to operate and integrate technology at a rapid pace. They have to continue pursuing new information to keep up with the rapid changes in technology, which means they need more professional development time than what was acceptable in previous years. I see all of the cool things that are going on in education through social media, 1:1 classes, engaging lessons with technology, 3D printing, augmented reality, gamification, coding, maker spaces, the development of apps, etc. There are so many exciting things happening in education through technology.  I want my students to experience these things, but I don't have the tools, and if I did it would take me quite a bit of time, outside of my classroom teaching time, to figure out how they can be used.
   I have an iPad to use (for myself) in my classroom, because I bought it for myself.  Most teachers in my school don't even have laptops, let alone tablets. Getting a document camera 3 years ago was such a big deal and I was filled with gratitude for our PTA for this wonderful gift. The WiFi situation has improved, and that by itself is a huge problem if it's not wanting to behave, so I am happy that it's getting better.
   I have to smirk a little when I read about all of these 1:1 classrooms/schools.  At first I thought 1:1 meant that the teacher had a device for one classroom. When I got my iPad I thought that meant I now had a 1:1 classroom. I started looking into what kinds of cool doors that was going to open up for my kids, then I realized I'd have to buy another 29 iPads for us to have a true 1:1 class.   I polled my class once to see how many of them had cell phones because I was wanting to use the Socrative app, and was thinking I could get around the 1:1 issue by having them use their own devices. Less than half of the hands in the room went up.  I've asked about Internet access at home for research writing- same thing. Students in schools like mine need to have more technology than their "rich" counterparts to make up for their limited access at home.These children lack the most basic computing skills, like formatting written documents and highlighting text by clicking and dragging with a mouse, yet they are expected to perform at the same level as their "rich school" competitors on a standardized test that is taken on a computer using these very skills.  And the achievement gap widens.
Research is finding other differences in how economically disadvantaged children use technology. Some evidence suggests, for example, that schools in low-income neighborhoods are more apt to employ computers for drill and practice sessions than for creative or innovative projects. Poor children also bring less knowledge to their encounters with computers. Crucially, the comparatively rich background knowledge possessed by high-income students is not only about technology itself, but about everything in the wide world beyond one’s neighborhood. Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.
 From:  Is Technology Widening Opportunity Gaps Between Rich And Poor Kids? -Annie Murphy Paul

   This isn't by any means a woe is me, my poor school post. You don't need to be in a 1:1 class to be able to do cool things in school. There are some cool things you can do with just a doc camera/projector, an iPad or smart phone, and a no excuses teacher. I just have to think harder and get really creative. That doesn't mean I am okay with my students being at a disadvantage due to their address, but I'm not going to sit back and resign myself to defeat either.

  • I can get my hands on 10 Chromebooks and we can make infographics in groups of three.  I'm going to try to get 10 of my own through because I do have to sign up to use the Chromebooks and other people want to use them too. If I had just 10 that were mine all of the time, that would open up a lot more possibilities for rotating onto a computer or using them in small groups.
  • I can design effective assessments, surveys, polls, and discussions using Kahoot! We can visit the computer lab to take a Kahoot! which is way more fun than a scantron. I can also assess prior knowledge with a Kahoot! survey.
  • I can use my iPad to make videos and enough kids have smart phones that if they are working in groups, they can make movies too. We also watch YouTube music videos from the History Teachers and write our own songs and make our own History music videos. We are prepping for a Mesoamerican Idol episode right now.
  • I can have my students analyze speeches by showing them TED talks with my device and projector.  
  • I can make a blog and have them rotate into the 6 computers in my classroom to log in, comment and post on their own KidBlog accounts.
  • I can increase family engagement by using Class Dojo or Remind.  
  • I can improve upon my own practice by seeking out free professional learning opportunities. 
  If your school lacks technology, it can be discouraging, but it doesn't have to keep you from using what you do have to the best of your ability. Are we building our own 3-D printer? No, but it doesn't mean we have to sit around complaining about the education system that continues to support the rich getting richer. I'd rather spend my time figuring out what I can do, than dwelling on can'ts. Focusing on we can't does not help to build a positive school culture. I can't change the socio-economic status of my students, but I can inspire and motivate them to break through the barriers that it creates. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Edge of Chaos-#CUE15

Some reflections on my first trip to CUE:

Let's get this party started right: 3:00 minutes on the clock  with 
@jcorippo and @HallDavidson. I arrived a little late to my first session of CUE15, so I missed the intro of what was going on here. People were coming up from the audience, with device in hand, to explain some tech tool that they love. It was fast paced and a great introduction to the weekend of learning. I wrote down a long list of things to look up online and figure out on my own, which I am fine with. If you want a complete, step-by-step explanation of how things work, you might not appreciate this PD format. For me, it was the best kick-off PD format ever:  "Weapons of Mass Instruction" (watch the session on CUE's YouTube Channel).

   Some of the highlights from this session:  Thinglink online and in APP format, DuoLingo for ELLS, Zaption, TelegamiGoogle Cultural InstituteYahki, how to Google search like a boss, and how to turn your head phones into a mic. Some of the people who came up for their three minutes of fame were presenters at the conference, so it allowed you a sneak peek at what was to come.

Sugata Mitra-Keynote Speaker
   I was only able to get to one of the three keynote speakers. Everyone was talking about how amazing the speakers were that I missed, but luckily they are all posted on the CUE YouTube channel. I was sorry to have missed Jennie Magiera's Uptown FunkAdam Bellow was the final keynote, but I had a flight to catch and missed it. I'm listening to it as I write this and he is talking about the Digital Divide: "The digital divide is about educational justice." He talks fast and the speech spans a broad array of hot topics.

   The online schedule and the mobile app were extremely useful tools for managing my time and getting to as many sessions as possible. I marked three sessions that I was going to for each time block in the schedule app on my phone. I was so glad that I did because some sessions were so full there wasn't even room to sit on the floor, some sessions didn't turn out to be about what I thought they would be. The Pinterest session, for example, I LOVE Pinterest. I was excited to hear about some thing I could be doing with Pinterest that I am not. The speaker was nice enough to announce that the session was for beginners, and off I was to my back-up session.  You can also download presentation notes, slides, docs, etc through the scheduling app, so when there's more than one session that you want to go to, you can at least get the notes from the session you miss. I added links to some of them in my CUE15 notes.

   Many of the sessions that I wanted to see were very full. If you are going to CUE and you are thinking, Palm Springs, I'm packing sundresses you might want to include pants. You are most likely going to have to sit on the floor at some point in time, or miss a session.  I learned to get to the sessions I really wanted to be able to see about 30 minutes early. Here I am diligently taking notes on an infographic design session from the very back of the room and you can see even the floor is pretty full. Getting lunch was also kind of frustrating the first day. I didn't want to miss a session waiting in line for lunch for 45 minutes. The second day I had snacks galore in my tech bag and a refillable glass water bottle because I'm not trying to add to the plastic continent that's growing out in the Pacific.
   If you miss a session, many are offered as mini-sessions at the CUE booth in the exhibit hall. I happened upon one about using the DoInk app to make green screens. It's not the greatest way to get information on a topic because it's loud, crowded, you're in an exhibit hall, and its a 10-15 min session. It's fine for an introduction to an idea. I had a student help me figure out how to use the DoInk app when I came back to school. Students are such great resources when it comes to tech. They are always teaching me new things.  
   Here is a link to my notes from the conference filled with links to presenters' materials and various web sites: CUE15 Notes

Some things I would do differently next year:

   First of all, going to CUE is a little like going to Disneyland, you can't ride every single ride in one visit to the park. I was frenzied and frazzled trying to get on as many rides as possible and it took some of the fun out of it. I spent a lot of time worrying about getting to as many sessions as possible. I think it's okay to take a session break and sit by the pool with your laptop and revise your notes and explore links from a previous session while it's still fresh in your mind. 
   Plan ahead and get accommodations near the conference. There's a great pool, karaoke, and all sorts of networking and fun to be had with fellow attendees. I think I could get more out of the experience by meeting people and making some new friends as Jennie Magiera explains in the opening of her keynote speech.  I think I could plan better next year and make developing connections with people a priority. There is so much to be learned from what other teachers/schools are doing if you get out of your bubble and start those conversations. We were 40 minutes away from the conference and exhausted from information overload each evening and had to get up at 5:30 AM to get back for the first sessions the next morning. Schedule some time for fun, and don't feel guilty about it, it's important for teachers to connect.
   I really wanted to get to some presentations about designing engaging professional development. I would've liked to see more of it in practice in the sessions. There were a good amount of sessions that followed the old here's a slideshow sit and watch it while I talk format, but several sessions that I attended were more interactive. It seemed I wasn't the only one interested in how we can be doing professional development better. I showed up to one session on the topic 30 minutes early and couldn't even get in the door to see if there was room on the floor. It was refreshing to at least be able to use your phone, tablet, or laptop during the sessions. That sort of thing is generally discouraged during staff meeting style PD. 

And the Learning Continues in the Airport:

   It was great to get to have a conversation, ask questions and solicit advice from someone who you look up to as a pioneer in education. I tried to be cool despite my "educrush" but I did ask for a picture. It was like being a minor league ball player and meeting a hall of famer-I couldn't help it. I remember learning about Kathy Schrock's Shrock Guides when I was going to school to be a teacher, but I won't say how long ago that was for both of our sakes.

Five ways CUE15 has impacted my teaching and learning in the month following the conference:

1. Kahoot! 
I had my students write their own test questions and used their questions to build a Kahoot! on the civilizations of Mesoamerica. They love to Kahoot! I also made a survey Kahoot! for the staff. As the only attendee from my school, I'm expected to share my learning at a staff meeting. I decided Kahoot! would be the easiest thing to start with and I made a survey called "Bringing CUE to You". This will allow the staff to try out the tool in the meeting and allow me to get a better picture of what the staff is interested in learning about from the conference. I realize I am a little late to the Kahoot! party, but better late than never. Quizziz is also on my check this out list, but I haven't gotten to it yet.
2. iMovie and DoInk: 
My media class is making movie trailers that highlight the electives offered in 6th grade for the 5th grade middle school orientation visit. The best one so far is the PE spoof on "The Maze Runner" that we have dubbed "The Mile Runner". My history class is writing songs/raps about the Mesoamericans and we are going to film the performances and have a Mesoamerican Idol contest. We are using the DoInk app to put some awesome green screen effects in our videos. I think we might have to enter the CUE Media Festival next year.
3. Infographics:
My English class read a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle and we watched a Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century cartoon version of the story. They are analyzing changes in the setting and how that affected other plot elements. They are working in small groups to create an infographic to show the comparisons of a 19th century version vs. a 22nd century version of a story and it's characters. It's way cooler than a Venn diagram.
4. Animoto: 
I made a really amazing video showcasing student learning for Open House next month. I plan to share this with my fellow teachers as well, so that they can also have great evidence of student learning to share with parents.
5. Tweet Deck:  
I was already an active Twitter user before the conference, but I was able to learn about tweet deck which has been useful in managing chats. I also learned about setting up a district chat from the people at #ssdchat. I'm not sure that my district has an interest in it at this point in time, but I am ready to help make it happen when there is more of an interest in Twitter. I'm still in the convincing teachers that Twitter is an amazing resource for free PD and that there is a global professional learning network right there if you just click on that little blue bird.

I'm looking forward to creating Thinglinks and Infographics for some flipped PD sessions in my district, becoming a Google certified teacher, and creating a course in iTunes U in the upcoming months.

It was an amazing weekend and I came back to school with so many ideas. I'm looking forward to CUE16.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Global School Play Day Only Once a Year?

A Vocabulary Lesson that Really Sticks in Your Head

   Game-based learning, or gamification, is getting a lot of attention right now. Although these ideas are more about technology and game creation through technology, I have always found games of any kind to be a great tool in the classroom. Playing games is a great way for students  to interact, engage in discussion, and have fun at the same time, but it doesn't have to be technology based to be awesome.       
   For this particular "play date", the game is called Hedbandz, and we are reviewing vocabulary from our Ancient America unit in World History. Students were using critical thinking skills to communicate a clue that would help their teammates guess their vocabulary word in a game that they collaboratively created. I call this a win for the teacher.

   I asked my students how many of them had played the game "Hedbandz" before and most were familiar with it. Fortunately, I had enough students that had the game at home and were able to bring the bandz in from their game to get a class set of 30. Then they went through the chapter and made word cards from the vocabulary in the text. No prep for me, I win round two as well. The day we were going to play, I was at the door to greet them as they came in with a head band on and the word "codex" in it.  I told them they had to give me a clue to get in. 
   I wasn't absolutely sure how the game was going to work in class, but I'm a let's just see what happens kind of teacher, so that's what I did.  I let them tell me how we were going to play. Sometimes it is really nice to take a break from being the person making up all the rules and see what they come up with when left to figure it out on their own. Together we came up with a set of rules and some guidelines for giving clues. Well, I mostly just wrote down their rules. There were some rules that they decided they needed as they were playing and I added those to the list too.
   Here are the rules: You can't say the word or any letters in the word, rhymes, etc. Take turns giving clues. If you cant give a clue, you can play your one "X" card and pass. If you guess your word, you keep the card. If you have gotten a clue from everyone in your group and you still couldn't guess your word, then the word card goes in the discard pile to be played again. The winner was supposed to be the player that collected the most cards, but my students were more focused on playing and just wanted to keep playing-winner means the game is over. Most kids played in groups of 5-6 and I was glad for that because I was imagining a game with 30 playing all together and it being a disaster.  

   Management tip:  If you don't have access to 30 headbandz you could make sentence strip head bandz with a paper clip. I put the plastic HedBandz in a tub in my closet and doused them with clorox and let them sit for 30 minutes after the game. It's probably a bad idea to share any head gear without some thorough cleaning after each use.

February 4, 2015, was the first annual Global School Play Day for students in schools around the world, grades Pre-K to 6 or ages 1-12. Grades 7-12 joined in, too! It's time to start looking forward to GSPD 2016. Register your class/school today!
  I am definitely into this new movement too, but I think it is important to remember that playing isn't just for pre-Ks and it's not just for one day a year. Play as much as possible! I'm turning 40 this year and I still love a good game.