Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Blog Address

Certainly, you are welcome to read through my old blog posts here.  However, I have moved to a new blog at  Feel free to join me over there for my latest posts.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Launch of our Chromebook Newscast

A few years back, I was asked by my principal if we could start a morning newscast at my K-8 school.  At the time, we didn't have the technical equipment possible to make it an easy process.  It sat in the back of my mind for awhile not sure if it would ever become a reality.

This year, we launched TigerCast!  A weekly newscast produced by our 7th & 8th graders.  The show was made possible because this school year, we went 1:1 Chromebooks in our middle grades.  With the ever increasing functionality of live Hangouts through YouTube/Google+ and each student having a Chromebook, I decided this was the year we could pull off a simple morning newscast.

Our first episode was put together by 5 students.  We had 2 anchors, 2 reporters, and 1 director.  The director was supposed to run the Hangout and did so brilliantly in our test runs.  However, one of the other students didn't show up the morning we recorded, so our director became an anchor and I "directed" the first newscast.  With the exception of me pushing a few buttons out of necessity, the newscast was entirely student produced.

Since I am my school's GAFE administrator, I was able to set up 4 different accounts that aren't student accounts and open those accounts up to Google+.  The Hangout is run live from those 4 accounts so the students don't need to log in to their personal account.  Their school GAFE account doesn't have access to Google+.

We ran 4 different Chromebooks (3 for cameras and 1 for "master control") and broadcast the newscast live to YouTube using the Hangout Broadcast feature.  We used a Blue Snowball Mic on the main anchors and once I get a couple more mics, I will use those for the reporters as well.  I then go in and edit some of the settings on the video and send to our teachers to show to their classes.  Our principal emails it out to the parents as part of her weekly newsletter.

As we get better, we are going to make an intro animation, potentially play pre-recorded video packages using the video/screen share feature, and add an animated background as our technical skills improve.  Below, you can see the first episode.  I'm aware there are several mistakes, but as mentioned earlier, this was almost entirely student-produced and I like for them to learn "on the job."  Feel free to follow along and see the progress my students make on TigerCast!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Newest 20% Project Revisions

Last year about this time, I blogged on the revisions I made to my 20% Project for the school year. This summer, I did some reflection and talked to other 20 Time teachers and made more revisions to how I am going to implement the project.

1.  Specific Day for 20 Time
At the end of the school year, I solicited feedback from my students on what should be changed.  They said they wanted a day specifically dedicated to 20% time.  I gave them autonomy to work on what ever assignment they wanted to work on each day.  When students when got behind on an assignment or had a pressing deadline approaching, they would work on that rather than their 20%  Project.  At the end of the semester, many didn't accomplish as much as they could have because of this and many said that they simply ran out of time. When I pointed out the amount of time they actually had, they realized the had enough time, but just didn't use it as well as they could have. In essence, they asked to be given less autonomy and be told what day to work on their 20% Project.  So, to start the year at least, I'm giving them a specific 20 time day each week.

2.  Negotiate Points
I gave 30 completion points to any student that was able to give a presentation about their project and keep up with their blog posts consistently. I chose 30 points because it was enough points to motivate those students who needed that little extra incentive, but not enough points to be the main motivator or really hurt someone's grade much if they didn't produce an adequate presentation.
This year, I am going to have students negotiate their point total. They will get to grade themselves, but have to defend their assessment. I want students evaluating themselves and their effort.  I don't really want to "grade" the presentations at all, but I got tired of watching some students try to work the system to get maximum points with minimal effort.  We'll see how this works out.

3.  After School Presentations
I had the students give a Ted-style presentation to end the semester.  They give the presentations to the class.  I invited other teachers, parents, and community members to show, but no one else did.  This year, I'm going to schedule the presentations in the evening at school. I'm going to set up our large projection screen and make the presentation a more formal event.  I will promote it and maybe even broadcast it. My 8th graders will do theirs toward the end of 1st semester, my 7th graders toward the end of 2nd semester.  I want the students to share their great ideas and be proud of themselves. Giving them that opportunity will hopefully help get more parents and community members to attend the event.

4. Blog and Email
I still plan to have the students blog weekly, but I will also have them email me after they blog.  I want them to blog so they can work on gaining an audience outside the classroom, but at the same time, emailing me weekly makes them feel a sense of responsibility to me personally as opposed to simply an anonymous blog post reader.

Those are the changes I intend to make for this year.  I love the 20% Project and the students' ideas, but am pretty confident I can get more out of them.  I believe these changes will help me get the most from each student.  Let me know your comments.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What is one way you use technology in your classroom?

Yesterday, I was filling out on of those online entire school corporation job applications.  Today, after a recommendation of a colleague, I was filling out an application for an award given to technology using educators.  Both applications (and others I've seen in the past) had this question in some form, "What is one way you use technology in your classroom?"

Now, this question bothers me and here's why.  My answer is really in what don't I use technology in the classroom.  Narrowing it down to one specific way is difficult and lessens the value of what I do with technology.

For example, this past week, my 7th grade reading class participated in a Hunger Games Simulation as they prepare to read the book.  Each day, students went to a blog that I had created and watched a video giving them directions created by one of their former classmates that now lives in England.

Example of one of the videos:

After they watched the video, they were to follow the instructions.  They were given a variety of scenarios and they had to use what supplies they had earned or traded for to complete the scenario.  They submitted to me through a Google Form a description of their solution.  Based on their actions in the scenario, they would gain or lose points.  They had a Google Spreadsheet shared with me in which they tabulated their score totals each day.

Also this week, my 7th Grade English class students were writing short stories.  They had two videos to watch at some point during the week.  One on Creating Characters and one on Creating Conflict.  Toward the end of the week, they peer reviewed other stories using a Google Form and autocrat script similar to what Kate Baker recently blogged about.  Their reviews and counter responses were immediately and automatically sent to the other student, and also to me through Google Docs sharing.  I could not only review their stories in Google Docs throughout the week, I could also review the reviewers' feedback.  At the end of the week, many of them also blogged about their 20% Projects.

I should mention that while all of this was happening in my classroom, I wasn't even there.  I was in Washington, D.C. on our 8th Grade Class Trip.  While in DC, using the WiFi on the bus and at the hotel, I was able to use an old iPhone donated to the school to blog about the trip with photographs and videos, tweet to parents our locations, check my students work and progress, and answer a few emails with questions from students almost immediately.  Mind you, this is the same iPhone that an Apple Store employee told me would be "worthless" without a data plan and service contract.

So, how do I answer that question?  In just this week, my students and I used video (both to deliver content and connect them to a former student overseas), Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Spreadsheets, an autocrat script, blogs (both to consume and to create), multiple devices, and Gmail all for classroom purposes. This was a pretty typical week for my students using technology even without me present.  How can I narrow that down to one way I use technology?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Research Paper: Explore Day 1

It's that time of year.  The dreaded formal research paper.  I do what we call a No Paper Research Paper because with Evernote and Google Docs, we use no paper.  Last year, I did the research paper unit as a traditional flip.  I frontloaded all the videos before addressing that portion of the research paper.  For example, the kids would watch a video on choosing a topic, or writing a thesis statement, then the next day in class would go through that process.  This year, I wanted to convert this unit to an Explore Flip Apply (EFA) unit.  I'll admit, I have a loose plan going in because I feel that is a key component of the explore stage - determining what the students already know.  So, I envision this unit as a series of EFA activities until the final apply stage is writing their research paper.

Today, I did the first explore with my 7th graders.  The first activity was having the students pull up the website  If you aren't familiar with the site, it is a website with fake information about explorers.  The site looks very credible and the information is almost believable enough to make you wonder about its accuracy.  I had them choose any of the explorers and give a quick read of the information. Three of four minutes of silent reading passed. Some students looked a bit perplexed but kept reading. Suddenly a student says out loud, "Wait a says here he was killed with an AK-47?"  I played dumb and said, "Really? You don't believe that?"  Then another student said, "Mine says he thought he discovered America but then realized he was already there?" Then the flood came: "Mine says he was born in America but he was a Spanish explorer" "Mine said he traveled from 1690 to 1657."  This led into a quick discussion about trusting what you read on the internet.

The next activity in the explore phase was having the students look up a Wikipedia page of something they know a lot about.  We had 6 or 7, One Direction searches, a Kate Middleton search (did you know today is her birthday?), a Notre Dame football search (was a good example of how current Wikipedia can be with information), and a variety of other searches.  I asked students to give a quick read through the page they selected.

The next activity was a free write on 4 questions:
  1. Is this information accurate?
  2. How do you know or why do you believe that?
  3. Is the site well written?
  4. Why or why not?
 We finished the class with the free write.  Tomorrow, we'll discuss their answers in the free write and guide the discussion toward how to check for accuracy of information.

The next steps depending on how the discussion goes tomorrow:
  1. More exploration of evaluating sources will probably be needed later in the unit.
  2. A discussion or free write on how the writing on Wikipedia is different from other writing.
  3. A exploration/discussion of writing without bias using the same Wikipedia site.
  4. An extension activity of revising and editing an actual Wikipedia page for some writing and accuracy practice before starting the research paper.
  5. All this will lead into an exploration activity of choosing a topic and that is when the actually research paper "begins".

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A 20% Success!

Meet Kacy (not her real name).  She's a student of mine.  She's a fairly typical student.  She is bright and capable, but also has her difficulties.  She is a quiet kid, at least to adults.  She is cordial and polite when I talk to her directly, but rarely asks questions on her own.

During the whole process of completing her 20% project, she changed directions 3 or 4 different times.  She finally settled on learning to play a song on the guitar.  She didn't keep up with her weekly blog, so it was difficult for me to monitor her progress.  Since the project isn't really graded, I concerned myself more with helping her in other areas of need and hoped she was making progress on her 20% project.

Then yesterday happened.  The students began presenting their 20% projects to the class.  Coincidentally, another teacher got unexpectedly ill and couldn't find a sub.  So, I took one of her classes in my room so she could leave.  Therefore, the audience was larger than just their classmates with several students that had no idea what our 20% project was about.

I let the students volunteer their order of presenting.  Some were excited to be first or second and take center stage.  As volunteer after volunteer jumped up, I could see her make anxious eye contact with me.  She seemed eager to go, but apprehensive to volunteer.  Finally, we had a moment where no one volunteered and I said, "Kacy, are you ready to present?"  She jumped up with excitement, but then, like many teens, tried to play it off like she wasn't excited.

She went to the corner of the room and grabbed a guitar case she had left earlier.  In her presentation, she talked about her difficulty in deciding on her project.  She discussed how she decided to learn to play a song on the guitar and the process she went through.  I limited their presentations to 5 minutes.  At the end, she sheepishly asked if she could play her song even though it would go over her 5 minutes.  Of course, there was no way I could say no.

Then she sat down, and began playing a Taylor Swift song.  She also sang the lyrics which surprised us all.  She made a mistake part of the way through and had to stop and re-position her fingers.  She began playing again and made another mistake.  This time, she put her head down in embarrassment.  Then, the class began encouraging her on.  Multiple students told her what a wonderful job she was doing.  And the tears began to fall.  But they were tears of joy.  She finished the song to roaring applause. She was clearly uncomfortable with the attention, but was proud of herself at the same time.

When I conceptualized the 20% project for my class, I never imagined this. I thought many of them would learn something valuable to themselves.  I hoped some of them would be proud of themselves and maybe even inspire others.  I never expected tears and such a bonding moment for my class.  What a wonderful gift heading into our holiday break!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Musical Flip

Two years ago, I took on the wonderful, but time consuming task of directing our school's Spring Musical.  These are middle school kids very few with an interest in doing serious theater in the future.  So, rehearsal time needs to be very efficient and focused or it turns into chaos.  And, believe it or not, I am also the Yearbook Adviser and our Yearbook goes to the printer 1 week before the Musical Show.  The more production I can get out of each rehearsal, the fewer rehearsals needed!

Last year, I recorded our rehearsals when choreography was taught and the students were expected to review the videos later and continue to practice.  This year, I had epiphany.  Why not flip the rehearsals?  This year, I am appointing a small team of Dance Leaders.  I will teach the choreo to this small group and record them doing the number.  Then, cast members will be expected to watch the videos prior to rehearsals so they have an idea of what the choreo will be.

I was going to put one of the videos here as an example, but my top notch choreographer copyrights her material and doesn't want it pilfered from YouTube.  I respect that.  So, I just put up photos of last year's cast (mainly because I'm super proud of them) and am looking forward to this years show!