My third through fifth grade students recently completed the Hour of Code hosted by Code.org. I initially heard about this opportunity by reading about it on one of my favorite blogs to follow: Engage Their Minds by Terri Eichholz. With the approval of my principal, I signed my computer lab students up. I have to be honest and say the promise of 10G of free Dropbox space for signing up a class was a definite draw for me! In addition, there were other prizes being awarded to schools who registered the entire student population. I registered without realizing I would not have them all in the computer lab during the week of December 9-15, 2013 when the events were to take place. (We had some benchmark testing days and early release days in December). The week we returned from Christmas break became our Hour of Code week. There were seven different platforms to choose from. I “test-drove” several before deciding on the Tutorials that Teach Beginners module with Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. After the first ten minutes of my first class of third graders, I realized it was a winner! I had over 60 students a day, (I have a class of 3rd, 4th, then 5th graders each day for 1 1/2 hours in the computer lab) for a total of 300+ students participate. Every single day yielded the same results – 100% ENGAGEMENT. Some students completed all 20 puzzles in the time allotted, and wanted to do more. The students who did not finish all the levels wanted to get back on the website. According to Hadi Partovi, the purpose of this endeavor was to introduce students all over the world to the discipline of computer science. According to Computer Science Education Week, over 23,000,000 accessed the Hour of Code resources. I polled my students through Edmodo to get their insights about the experience. Here are the results:
These results tell me that even though over half (57%) of the students rated the activity as Medium in difficulty, almost 87% said they enjoyed the activity. In other words, it posed a significant challenge for them, but they enjoyed being challenged.
Image from http://learn.code.org/users/sign_up.
So, what now? The code.org website offers activities for going Beyond the Hour of Code. One of the activities is a 20 hour coding course called K-8 Intro to Computer Science. My principal is giving students the opportunity to participate by coming to the lab every day for 30 minutes until they complete the course. I had students indicate their interest by filling out a Google form I posted in Edmodo. According to the data from the form, I have 36 third graders, 35 fourth graders, and 42 fifth graders that want to learn to code thirty minutes a day! I am so thankful for people like Hadi Partovi and the opportunity the organizers of the Hour of Code have given to so many, young and old alike, to discover an appreciation for computer science and its place in our world.
Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/aneye4wonder/ used under a Creative Commons license.
Mark Clements, in his blog post titled “The Importance of Reflection in Education” states that most students do not understand that initial failure is part of the learning process, and that is why reflection is so important for them. He makes the point that teaching students how to reflect on their learning is time consuming, but without it there is no real “learning” taking place. Unfortunately, in the educational culture we are currently in where presenting an increasing amount of content is required, teachers feel pressured to cover the material. There just does not seem to be enough time to allow students to reflect. I am not a typical classroom teacher. I see each student for 45 to 75 minutes once a week. I am not under the pressure they are under to get the core subjects mastered, and yet I feel the temptation to skip the opportunity for reflection because of the time it requires. We were all encouraged this year to build in that time for reflection for ourselves and our students. I committed myself to doing just that at the beginning of the year. Most of our teachers have some sort of bulletin board where students post their reflections. I started with a wall outside the computer lab that said “Learning that Stuck.” At the beginning of the year, I had students write their reflection on a post-it note and stick it on the wall.
Since I have over 300 students in the computer lab each week, the wall became a little crowded. That is when I decided to go to a digital solution. After the first two weeks of school, we began using Padlet to post our learning. It is very easy to create a qr code with the url generated in Padlet so other teachers, students, and parents can easily scan the code to see what students are saying about their learning. Right now it looks like we have plenty of room to share our Learning That Stuck.
I have so neglected my blog this year. It is not because there is nothing going on in the computer lab. On the contrary, students are learning and doing amazing things this year thanks to the help of Symbaloo and great ideas from other bloggers like FreeTech4Teachers, iLearn Technology, and Engage Their Minds. The problem lies with me and my disconnect (I do not know a better way to describe it) with the written word. I have a mental block when it comes to taking my thoughts and transferring them to written language. It takes so much mental energy to complete a blog post about what we are doing in the lab, I procrastinate to the point that it seems untimely to write anything at all. I am making a confession here hoping someone who reads this blog can tell me a magical cure. I have been inspired by my co-worker and great friend, Pam Cranford, who is constantly posting on our White Oak Elementary blog and school Facebook page, and Terri Eichholz at Engage Their Minds, who blogs almost daily about the things going on in her classroom. As a matter of confession, I want to be those two ladies when I grow up! But for better or worse, here goes:
The past two weeks have been crazy in the computer lab because everyone’s schedule is out of sync. We have benchmark testing days, special reward days, early release days…you get the picture. During the month of December, we incorporate a Countdown to Christmas in our daily Morning Announcements. Last year, I created all of them using Keynote (inspired once again from what I learned from Pam Cranford) and Christmas images I found online or photographed myself. I screen captured the Keynote slide using JingPro last year. This year I am using SnagIt. This year, I decided to have my students who are in the computer lab during this time create them, and they are truly AMAZING! They create their own image or background using TuxPaint (a free download) and screen capture it. Our lab is equipped with MacBooks, so that part is easy for them. (Command, Shift, 4) They drag that image onto a blank slide. Then they create three textboxes, (1) number of days (2) the words “days until” (3) Christmas. They animate each one of the text boxes to create the countdown. I save it to a flashdrive where I load it to my computer, use SnagIt to screen capture playing the slideshow, and then import the created video into iMovie where the morning announcements are created. Embedded below is a tutorial the students use to learn the process. You can go to our Morning Announcement channel and watch any of the December videos to see their creations. The introduction and ending for the morning announcements was also created using Keynote.
I am so grateful as a public school teacher of technology for all the wonderful resources available on the internet that inspire and motivate my students to learn. Edmodo is a social networking site that allows my students to practice good digital citizenship while “chatting” with one another while allowing me to publish assignments and instructions in a safe, efficient way. Voki is a program my students use to create talking avatars to extend and cement their learning. Animoto is a wonderfully creative slideshow tool that allows my students to be exposed to mashing together graphics, music, and text. BrainPop is a great source for over 700 quality videos on a wide range of subjects that include activities and quizzes for students age 8 to 14. Facts4Me is a website created by a retired teacher who was frustrated with the lack of resources available to her elementary students for research purposes. Facts4Me contains ninety categories with more than one thousand reports, and more are added continually.
Public school teachers in the United States spent $1.6 billion from their own pockets in educational products in the 2012-13 school year, according to a National School Supply and Equipment Association study. Read more: http://www.dailynewstranscript.com/news/x511626034/Teachers-spend-out-of-pocket-money-to-perk-up-classrooms#ixzz2gKg4SMpJ
That is just what teachers do because school budgets often times do not have the funds to cover everything a teacher might wish to provide her students. From professional development to classroom resources to subscription based websites, teachers all over the world reach in to their own pockets to give their students the best advantage possible and make their job easier to manage. I am very grateful for websites like Animoto, that provide free educational upgrades, but I also understand that the creators of the awesome websites my students and I find very useful have the right to be paid for their hard work and ingenuity. There are two web services I opted to pay for this year out of my own pocket.
One is Professor Garfield. I teach a unit on Digital Citizenship to my third through fifth graders using a variety of resources. One of the resources I depend on is the Professor Garfield videos and activities from Infinite Learning Lab. I discovered over the summer that their resources now require a subscription. Their classroom subscription for up to sixty users is $39.00 a year. I have a computer lab equipped with twenty-eight macbooks, so that is the subscription I purchased.
Symbaloo is another service where I have opted for the premium account, and I am loving it! Symbaloo has made my job in the computer lab so much more manageable and time efficient. I thought I had hit pay dirt when I discovered I could set browser preferences to open to the web pages I chose. I would go to the computer lab over the weekend, turn on all the computers, sit down at each one and open the sites I wanted students to visit that week, set the preference, and then close the browser. Then I discovered Symbaloo! From the comfort and convenience of my home, I can create webmixes that contain all the websites I want my students to have access to. I have the computers in the lab to automatically open the browser when I turn them on, and the browser automatically is set to my Symbaloo site. The only problem was I had the computers logged in to my Symbaloo, and sometimes the student would log out. I would have to log them back in. I also had a problem with students, either accidentally or purposefully, deleting tiles from my webmixes. I even had a student create a tile on one of my webmixes that went to a very inappropriate site! Thankfully, our filters blocked the content!
Enter Symbaloo Premium. For $34.99 a year or $49.99 for two years, a premium user gets a custom URL and up to 50 users on the account. My premuim account works from a dashboard, which allows me to create as many webmixes as I like, customize a white or black list of websites, turn on and off the visibility of each webmix as I see fit, and gives me the control to determine what a user can do within each webmix. I have created eighteen webmixes under my account, of which six are currently visible to students. I can control them all from a single computer anywhere.
Click on the image below to go to my Symbaloo.
I opted to pay for these two subscriptions personally because my district is already doing so much for me and my students. I am so fortunate to work in a district that always strives to provide what is best for students. My district has already provided my students access to Brain Pop, Facts4Me and Smilebox.
The first week of school, all the teachers are intent on explaining the expectations for each activity students may be involved in. At White Oak Elementary School, we use the CHAMPS program to teach expectations where C stands for Conversation, H stands for Help, A stands for Activity, M stands for Movement, P stands for Participation and S stands for Success. Each teacher was encouraged to have the CHAMPS expectations posted somewhere in their classroom.
One of the activities in the lab is getting ready to leave the lab. Under the P for participation is the expectation that students clean up their workspace. They should log out and close the browser, close the lid of their computer, put everything back in their headphone bag and place their headphone bag back in the drawer, throw their trash away, push in their chair and line up ready to leave. It frustrated me last year when students would forget to do those things, like push in their chair. To motivate them last year, I had a grid on their computer assignment chart where I gave them a mark for not doing their job. At the end of the six weeks, I would draw a number. If it is their computer number and they did not have too many marks, they could pick something out of the treasure chest. This year, I told the students no one would be receiving marks, because everyone was going to do their job correctly. They would help each other remember to get their job done. The pen container on the table will help them remind each other. The student will look at the picture posted on the side of the container facing them. It will be their responsibility to make sure everyone at their table did THAT job before lining up. The four pictures are headphones, chairs, trash, and computer.
I did something the first week of school this year that I have never done with my students before: I made them a promise. I promised they would be successful in the computer lab this year. One of the great advantages of being a teacher is the long summer break that gives me the opportunity to really reflect on the past nine months. This past summer, after careful consideration, I realized my frustrating moments with students the vast majority of the time was due to a failure on my part. I got very frustrated when students struggled with listening and following directions without realizing I have done the task I was asking them to do so many times it had become second nature to me, whereas, they may have never even seen the website I was asking them to go to. This year my plan is to videotape or screen capture my instructions and post the video on Edmodo. That way, they can watch it as many times as they need to. They can watch step one, pause the video, complete step one, then watch step two, etc. Even better, I will create a qrcode of the url where the video is hosted so they can scan the code with one of my iPods or their own smart device and watch it there so they can work on their computer simultaneously.
I did tell my students, though, the promise had to be a conditional promise. I could only keep my promise if they were a student that ROCKS.
So we had a great discussion of what each letter stood for and what that behavior looked like before students checked the class roster posted on the wall to see what computer they were assigned to this year. After retrieving their computer from the table, students opened Edmodo from our Symbaloo webmix and logged in.
They added themselves to the grade level chat room and began typing to each other. After allowing time for them to get use to the platform, students switched gears and began using the chat room in Edmodo as a backchannel while we watched the video posted below:
We talked about how Mark Bezos’s statement was true: Every day may not present us with the opportunity to save someone’s life, but everyday presents us with the opportunity to affect one. We talked about how we affect the life of everyone we come in contact with: either positively or negatively, for the good or for the bad. We choose.
Before leaving the lab, we had a discussion of why it is so important that we log out of a program we may have logged in to. One of my frustrations last year was students failing to log out before closing the browser even after being reminded multiple times. When my third graders were in the lab Monday, I realized for the first time students were closing the browser, thinking that they were logging out! Talk about an epic failure on my part of teaching the specifics! I can joyfully say ALL my students this week were successful in logging out of Edmodo!
Before leaving the lab, I had students write one thing they learned on a post-it note and stick it on my board right outside my door. I plan on doing that each week with all of my classes. After another week or two, we will move to a digital platform like Padlet to post our learning. This is going to be a great year of learning in the computer lab!
To introduce the project, students will view the video of the power of one life (used with permission from the creator). They will then watch the following portions of It’s a Wonderful Life (4:11-11:38, 1:49:40-1:52:36, and 1:56:52 to the end) to understand the driving question of this project. A backchannel using the fourth grade chat room in Edmodo will capture students’ responses to the videos while allowing them to practice good digital citizenship and proper grammar and sentence structure.
Driving Question – What effect did the life of the historical figure have on Texas, and if applicable, on my own life?
Students will be paired with a partner. Each group will draw the name of one of the historical figures. The group will use guided research to find information to record on their data collection sheet.
The students will produce a short essay using first person to describe their famous person and their contribution to Texas. When the essay is complete, each group will produce a “talking head” by following these steps:
#1 One partner will video the other partner’s mouth ONLY reading the essay. They will use the iPod Touch to make the recording. They will upload the video to Youtube.
#2 The students will screencapture a picture of the face of the famous person, preferably facing forward with a full view of the mouth. Since my students use Macbooks, the screencapture is in the PNG format. In order to make the image poster size, the students will need to change the image to a JPEG format by double-clicking the image on the desktop to pull it up in Finder. Click on File, Export, change the format at the bottom to JPEG. Go to www.blockposters.com and drop in the image. Make the image 2 pages and choose landscape and letter. Students will print the poster, cut and tape together.
#3 The students will then create a QR Code of the video on Youtube. They will go to the Youtube video page and copy the URL. Using the QR Code generator site at qrcode.kaywa.com, they will paste in the URL and create the code. From that page, students will screencapture the code. The students will need to drag the code on to a document in Pages to print it out in a 1″ by 1″ size to glue on the poster.
#4 The posters will be displayed in a “Famous People of Texas Talking Heads Gallery” in one location in the hallway for all students to scan.
TEKS Covered in this project:
Social Studies: 113.15(b)(2)(B)(E), (3)(C), (4)(B),(5)(B)(C), (17)(D), (20)(A)
ELA: 4.13(A)-(H), 4.15(A)(C)(F), 4.16(B), 4.17(A)-(D), 4.18(A)-(H), 4.19(A)-(I), 4.20(A)-(C), 4.21(A)-(F), 4.22(A)(B), 4.25(B)
Technology Applications: 126.A(b)(1)(A)(C), (2)(A)(C)(F), (3)(A)-(D), (4)(C)(D), (5)(A)-(G), (6)(B)(C)(D)(E)
I am so grateful to my district for obtaining a site license to BrainPop. Students seem to thoroughly enjoy the method BrainPop uses to present content. In the last few weeks, all students have been assigned two BrainPop videos a week in the Digital Citizenship category. Below is screenshot of all the videos in that category.
Due to benchmark STAAR testing on Tuesday and Wednesday, I did not have students in the computer lab for technology. On Thursday and Friday, the third, fourth, and fifth grade classes watched the last three BrainPop videos together on the white board while using Edmodo as a backchannel. According to Wikipedia, “Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks.” The students were on the floor with their laptops. They had logged in to their Edmodo account and selected the grade level chat room as the group to post in. While watching the videos, they were able to post their comments and reply to each others’ comments in Edmodo. Below is a screen shot from each grade level chat.
Using Edmodo in this way served several useful purposes. First of all, the load time on the videos is much quicker when only one computer is accessing the website instead of twenty-four individual computers. The most powerful purpose, though, is to give students the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching to them all year. Before posting or sending anything over the internet, ask yourself these two questions: “Am I willing for the entire world to see it?”, and “Would I want that shared/posted about me?” Below is a short clip of the exercise:
Last week was one of those weeks that left me questioning if I was in the right profession. I left school Monday highly frustrated. It happens to me about three or four times a year. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my job! I highly respect and appreciate my co-workers and administrators. I just get overwhelmed at times with what I regard as poor student engagement: in other words, not listening to instructions and allowing their brains to process the instruction and turn it in to action. As an enhancement teacher, I see six different classrooms of students a day. That calculates to over 120 students. I get them 45 minutes, once a week. When the Intermediate students come to the computer lab, I feel a great deal of pressure to manage the time they are in there in the most efficient way possible. The students come in, get their headphone bags that are laid out on the counter, great me with a handshake, and then have a seat on the floor in front of the projector. I explain the job they are to complete by demonstrating using the white board as well as writing helpful information, in case they get “stuck”, on the chalkboard. What frustrates me is when they go to their computer and do not know what to do. I do not have the time to show each one individually the steps they need to take to get their job done. After explaining my frustration to my principal, Mrs. Parker, she suggested I use the “ask three, then me” approach. I immediately implemented that strategy the following day. Students must ask three other students before asking me if they have a question about the assignment. I believe that strategy is going to lower my frustration level, but I had an idea over the weekend that I believe will be even more advantageous – introducing Class DoJo.
I had come across Class Dojo on Richard Byrne’s FreeTech4Teachers blog in September. I thought it looked like a great tool, but did not know how it would work for someone with over 300 students until this weekend. I created 15 classes and populated them with students in less than an hour. (I have five third grade classes, five fourth grade classes, and five fifth grade classes.) Now here is how I will use it. When the each class comes to technology, I can use the Class Dojo app on my iPad to walk around the lab while students are working. If they have to ask another student about directions that were given at the beginning of class (ask three, then me), I will denote that as a negative behavior. If a student responds in a friendly and helpful manner, I will denote that as a positive behavior. At the end of the week, I will look at each grade level and determine what class had the most positive points. When that class comes to the lab, I will randomly pick one person to come to the treasure chest. Using Class Dojo in this way will allow me to set up a weekly competition between classes within each grade level. I believe this approach will encourage students to be better listeners AND encourage them to respond kindly to their classmates that need a little extra help.
Here is a screen capture of my classes:
I cannot believe eleven weeks of school are already in the history books! Although my blog does not reflect it, students have been busy in the lab working toward getting their web license. As students finish the Digital Citizenship unit in Moodle, they are beginning a new unit that was created over the summer. In July, I took advantage of the opportunity Google offered to take their Google Power Searching course to earn a certificate and become a better Google searcher. I enjoyed the course so much and learned a great deal of useful information that I felt my students would also benefit from, so I created a course in Moodle for them to access. I included twelve of the lessons found in the Google Power Searching course. The third graders do lessons one through four, the fourth graders do lessons one through eight, and the fifth graders do lessons one through twelve. The lessons consist of the Google video and a short assignment that shows me they watched the video. I decided to have them turn the assignments in to me through Edmodo. In Edmodo, I created an assignment for each lesson. Students log in to Edmodo, click the Turn In button and leave a response or upload a file, depending on what the assignment calls for. I spent some time this weekend grading the assignments. Since I have over 300 students, I was a little apprehensive about how much time I would need to commit to in order to get the assignments graded in a timely manner. I was SO pleasantly surprised! Not only was the grading quick, it was a great deal of fun, as well. In some cases, I was even able to award badges to students for going the extra mile. Below are a few images of the process:
Google Power Searching Unit in Moodle
Google Power Searching Lessons in Moodle
Google Power Searching Lesson Two in Moodle
Assignments for Google Power Searching Lessons in Edmodo
Edmodo Grading Page
Edmodo Badge Page
Google Power Searcher Certificate