Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Technology and adaptability

Earlier this month my colleague posted four apps that saved her teaching life!  Similarly, I have encountered this blessing, but have had my fair share of moments where technology has seemingly “turned against me.”  To many, this could be viewed as a negative, but it has strengthened my abilities to adapt and think on my feet—and as a middle school teacher adaptability is one of the important tools in the teaching toolbox.  
                                                       Woman doing yoga with laptop Royalty Free Stock Photo

For example, my social studies class took a virtual field trip to The Battle of Bull Run and discussed without a sound being uttered in class.  The “Bull Run” app and “Edmodo” were hard at work and so were my students.  I loved every minute of it and so did they.  (For the record, I do encourage talking and interaction in my room!)

Conversely, to use a football metaphor, technology requires the user to drop back and punt at times.  I began the school year with the idea of online science notebooking!  I have always had my science students create interactive science notebooks.  I thought this would be the year to save some time, copying/paper, and bring yet another opportunity for my students to see these iPads at work, and for a crucial tool used in my classes.  I spent much of the summer creating my example notebook, working on lesson plans for students to set their notebooks up, and even downloading the rubrics to place in their virtual notebooks.  It was going to be perfect!  

The first assignment for my students was to load the rubric on to the rubric page of their virtual notebooks.  The internet was freezing, the app was freezing, and my kids were freaking.  I stopped, regrouped, and had them add me as a collaborator.  I spent the rest of that class period on my computer loading rubrics while they found pictures for the cover of their notebooks!  We continued trudging through for about a week taking notes in this format.  We then had to draw a diagram.  We couldn't do that with the program I was trying to use so I had the students practice drawing their diagrams on “Screenchomp” while I loaded the diagram into each of their online notebooks.  Other issues included internet connection issues during open note quizzes.  It’s unfair to let students use their notes when only half of their notes were visible and they weren't able to add links. Nothing went as planned.
I had to take a step back from my plan and regroup.  Technology is not perfect and I needed to be flexible and do what was best for my students.  I had to offer the students options and allow them to find the program that worked best for taking their notes.  This allowed them to take even greater ownership in their learning.  It was different for both the teacher and the students.  Some students still use our original program, some use “Evernote” which along with “Evernote Peek” gives them a chance to study.  Other students use “ScreenChomp”, notepad, “iBrainstorm”, or “inkflow”.

Great strides have been made to modernize our schools, classrooms, and curriculum; however, if Rip Van Winkle woke up tomorrow morning, he’d first be able to recognize a school and its classroom quicker than anything else.  It is essential that we make education relevant for today’s students each and every day.  This is just one of the many steps needed to improve achievement.  As a 1:1 iPad classroom, I never imagined how much they would positively impact my classroom.  While they don’t fully replace paper, pencils, and books, these iPads can run circles around the same instruments good ole Rip would recognize and be comfortable with.

What apps have you found helpful for taking notes?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The 4 Apps That Saved My Lessons

In the last year or so, there have been many times when my carefully laid lesson plans blew up leaving imaginary shards of paper all over the classroom. 

Explosion Photo Credit: kevin dooley 

I'm sure that has never happened for most of you. However in case it does, I'm going to offer you a few suggestions from my experience of how to save your lesson.

    Recorder Plus saved my test.

I had to be gone on an afternoon I had a test scheduled. For a world languages teacher, this is an issue. Part of the test was to be oral and I can't trust a substitute to give the oral part correctly. So what did I do? I recorded the oral part on the Recorder Plus app and emailed it to my substitute. He played the clip and the test went on without a problem.

 Songify saved my last 10 minutes

Another difficulty for world language teachers is getting students to speak in class. They quickly tire of talking to one person or five people or even 20 people. A question and answer session gets difficult, so they take shortcuts. The Songify app has created a whole new way to get them to speak and to be entertained as well. They record their voice and the app puts their words with music to create a song from their words. I have even used it to have the entire class practice a section of vocabulary. Two students can talk to each other and be recorded or the whole class can stand in line and be recorded with their word. It takes no time at all to record. As you play it back they are carefully listening for their voice and their words in the target language. I love to use it at the end of the period to fill in those last few minutes and reinforce the most important words.

   VoiceThread saved my 2nd period class.

Another difficulty that is faced by some middle school teachers is field trip day. For those of us that are EA (Elective Arts) teachers, field trip days create an interesting dilemma. We only have very few students who did not go on the field trip. Normally, those students did not stay behind because of behavior issues. It is often a monetary issue. Therefore you want to make it an interesting assignment. On this day when I had two excellent students in class for two days, Voicethread was the solution.  They created visual flash cards of the verbs we were learning. They took a photo of them acting out the word. They recorded their voices in Spanish and in English with the pictures saying the vocabulary words. This created a video of pictures and vocabulary words. 

    Splashtop saved my entire day.

We are also in a brand new building this year which of course means there are unforseen things that go wrong within the building that have never happened before in this building. So when there was something wrong with a pipe and something was leaking from the ceiling, the maintenance staff had to fix it. In the fixing, they had to close off one wing on one floor, which included my room. So I was kicked out of my room for the day. What do you do when you use a class set of textbooks and no longer have access to those? A movie! So I found The Buena Vista Social Club movie online. Today seemed as good as any for the kids to learn about Cuban music and to learn to read subtitles. The perfect space for this new lesson, the auditorium! After a little tweaking and some student help, we figured out the sound system and were ready to go. Then I realized I wanted to stop the movie and talk about what they were seeing to give them some background information. That is difficult because I would have to leave the auditorium and go into the sound booth. Then I remembered, Splashtop! I wirelessly connected my Ipad to my laptop through the Splashtop app. There was the video ready to be paused and started at my discretion. The rest of the day went rather swimmingly. I could pause to answer questions, clarify what they were seeing, and ask some of my own questions.

I must warn you though technology is not always so nice to us. Stay tuned for the post later this month when technology turned against my colleague. 

What apps have you found that have saved your lesson plans?